Friday, August 27, 2010

Someone You Can Root For

Is it just me—or has this summer’s movie line up been pretty dismal?

I haven’t seen many movies this year—but the ones I have gone to all seem to have one thing in common, and it’s not good: Characters I don’t give a damn about.

Kurt Vonnegut’s second rule of creative writing is this:
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

I think this should apply to screen plays, short stories and novels alike. And I guess that’s where I find the following movies lacking good character(s) (just to name a few)….

THE EXPENDABLES: I won’t say I had high hopes for this film and I did think selected moments were fun (the ensemble cast, Mickey Rourke as the tattoo artist, the Jet Li/Dolph Lundgren fight scene were all good) BUT I can’t say that I cared about what might happen to any of the primary characters. And why should I? Essentially the main characters were all paid assassins out to kill a bad dictator. Who should I care about here? The paid killers or the “bad” guy about to get killed? The title said it all in this case. The characters didn’t really matter a lot in this movie, all expendable. There were explosions-a-plenty, lots of gunfire, stabbings, severed body parts, gratuitous wrestling scenes, but no noble motivations for the audience to grasp onto, no underdogs to cheer for, no characters that were unique or captivating. (Contrast this movie with the original Rocky, one of the great underdog stories of all time--also written by Sly Stallone.)

PREDATORS: I thought the opening to this movie was great and the alien setting cool, but the further this movie progressed, the less I cared if any of the characters made it out alive or not. Should I root for the sex offender (maybe the character with the most complete story arc), the South American drug lord (he buys it way too early so that would have been a bad choice), the wimpy “doctor,” or, or—well I really found no one to root for, except maybe the Predators. But that’s not supposed to be who I’m rooting for is it? Is it? The only good news to come out of this movie? Adrien Brody if he chooses to follow Arnold’s and Jesse’s lead is now assured a governorship somewhere.

THE LAST AIRBENDER: My wife, son and I have been viewing the Nickelodeon series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” this summer. We’ve found it very entertaining—mostly because of the charming characters and their interplay. Somehow M. Night Shyamalan (whose movies I otherwise really enjoy) missed the endearing parts of the characters in his movie and instead focused on checking off plot points. In the cartoon Uncle Iroh is one of my favorite characters with his quiet wisdom and love of tea. Aang (the Avatar) also laughs frequently and takes time out to play and enjoy life amidst the seriousness of his journeys. Somehow all these character moments were missing on the big screen version.
One of my fav Airbender episodes, for when you have 22 minutes:

I could go on but I won’t. All I’m really asking of Hollywood—and you if you’re a writer for the screen or otherwise—is for you to give me someone, anyone I can care about and want to spend time with in your writing. Give me someone funny, or charming, or in danger, or struggling for survival, or trying to save the human race or someone just quirky enough to be interesting. You get the idea. And I’ll try to do the same.

By the way, a few other 2010 movies that failed my character test: Legion (horrible movie on many levels--it made me long for the apocalypse), Ninja Assassin (rented this one—a blood fest), The Wolf Man (I liked it for other reasons, but not for the characters), Clash of the Titans (all the characters in this movie were sacrificed to the God’s of CGI. Terrible).

My favorite pictures so far in 2010 for great characters: Youth in Revolt (go Nick Twisp/Francois Dillinger!) and Iron Man 2 (What’s not to love about a one-man arsenal with a drinking problem? But don’t get me started on the annoyance level of Pepper Potts). Do you have a favorite character from a movie this year? I’d like to hear about it.


Jon said...

You don't like Pepper Potts? Is that a Glyneth Paltrow thing?

This summer has been pretty bad. I hear Toy Story 3 is fantatstic (not surprising, since it's Pixar), so I'm planning on making that soon. I also liked Iron Man 2, Inception, Winter's Bone, and Scott Pilgrim. With the possible exception of something I've forgotten, that was about it...

Bad Summer.

I'm glad you guys have gotten into Avatar the Last Airbender. I love that series.

Mark Teats said...

Jon; Toy Story 3 was an omission from my list... I'd definitely put it on the good end of the spectrum for characters... very true to the other movies in that series (although a little dark and intense I though for my 7 year old). Inception was good but I thought they could have done much more with the dream aspect. I want to see Scott Pilgrim and Winter's Bone (the latter was at my neighborhood theater exactly 1 week and I wasn't quick enough--so I'll be renting/netflixing it). The Last Airbender is awesome. I'm very impressed by the well thought out story line.

Jon said...

Did you finish the series yet? I really like the way they wrapped it all together. And you're right, that Tales of Ba Sing Say (sp) is one of my favorites too.

Brenda said...

I would agree that Toy Story and Iron Man II were amongst the better movies I've seen this summer. Inception was outstanding on the visual aspect, and I truly felt for DiCaprio's character. Not having seen that many movies this summer that weren't rated G, my only addition to the list on the good side for the summer is Nanny McPhee Returns. Charming! :)

Shawn Enderlin said...

Yes, dismal year so far. But I have hope! I plan on seeing Scott Pilgrim this weekend so we'll see.

Actually, the best movie I have seen so far this year is one that actually came out last year: Crazy Heart. Talk about good characterization...

PS did I just do a bad by bringing up a non-genre movie? ;-)