Don’t Believe the Hype – Issue Six Assassin’s Creed Trailer

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Over the last twenty years, Hollywood has tried to crack the code for successfully adapting video games to film.  Their latest attempt is called Assassin’s Creed, starring Michael Fassbender.  Once again, this is a disaster waiting to happen onscreen.

When the popularity of video games exploded in the 90s, movies were coming out left and right.  Now, are any of these movies good?  In this era, favorites such as Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation killed any Hollywood desire to make movies based off of video games, for a few years anyway.  But there is one film from that era that came close to cracking the code.  In fact, it is the closest we have ever seen—Mortal Kombat.

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Not even close.

No, Mortal Kombat is not good in terms of quality, but it IS fun.  Not only were the action scenes enjoyable, but also the music added a new (and memorable) layer to the characters.  Aside from “Get over here!”, the Mortal Kombat theme song has become the most popular part of the movie.  Mortal Kombat gave hope to us all that video game adaptations could be at least entertaining, and, of course, make a lot of money to guarantee more of such movies.  Granted, a lot of its financial success was due to timing.

In the mid 90s, the “Mortal Kombat” franchise was at its peak.  Many other video game films, such as Street Fighter and Prince of Persia, failed mainly because they came out long after their respective franchises left the spotlight (and because they were not good films).  Sadly, even though Mortal Kombat succeeded at the box office, Hollywood could not build on the momentum.  Now, let’s jump back to present day, with “Assassin’s Creed”.

Pictured: franchises NOT at their peaks

It is one of the biggest games of the last ten years.  Ever since “Assassin’s Creed II”, the games have received mainstream success.  But, after that game, the momentum went downhill.  The Assassin’s Creed movie could still be a huge success, but I think Hollywood waited too long after the franchise’s peak to make it.  By comparison, the second “Mortal Kombat” game came out at the same time as the first Mortal Kombat movie.

Most people have complained about everything with the present era of “Assassin’s Creed”.  In this game, you are a character who is related to past assassins.  You have to be “plugged in” to become whichever past character is necessary for a certain mission.  These scenes were atrocious, and I continued to despise these scenes after every ensuing game.  Once again, we will have to watch scenes just like that in the upcoming movie.

So can Assassin’s Creed be an excellent film?  In light of recent history of the franchise and video game adaptations, I say no.  Example: the new Ratchet and Clank film, I bet nobody even knew this happened.  It came out less than a month ago and did nothing at the box office.  It was intended for families—but THEY didn’t go see it!  This summer, Angry Birds and Warcraft will hit theaters.  If they flop, don’t ignore that as signs that Assassin’s Creed will too.

14045_poster2.jpgFinally!  The future of video game movies is here!

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The Movie Buff Dilemma #1–“You Like That?”

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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The theatre is the essential place to enjoy a film.  Not only do you get to see a film on the big screen, but you are also witnessing magic.  Sure, that might be too high of praise (considering the large amount of bad movies that come out); still, it’s true for the good ones.  About twice a month, I try to experience this enjoyment.  But if I’m seeing the movie with someone who’s not a movie buff, I dread these three words after it ends: “You like that?”

Calling yourself a movie buff can be a curse.  And it’s a double-whammy if you’re a filmmaker.  Seeing a movie with non-movie buffs/filmmakers can be a nightmare.  Every time, the stage is set for my failure.  Typically, there is about five of them, and they’re all ready to fire that 3-word round.

The question feels harder to answer each time.  It’s like telling someone at the gym who uses their back to bench press: sometimes you shouldn’t say anything.  And that is what I’ve tried to do, but boy are they clever.  Instead of giving me time to think before I give my essay on the movie, I am put on the spot when I hear, “You like that?!”.  It’s sad that all I can think about is Kirk Cousins yelling that in my ear.

Now I know what you are thinking, “Gosh Matt, you love films and are outspoken; you should love to give your opinion!”  True, I do love to attack films I don’t like (The Dark Knight), but it’s different when everyone around you is going to see a movie for fun.  That is the biggest problem, how do I turn off my critical side, so that I don’t spoil everyone else’s good time?  It’s especially difficult when the movie is terrible; you have to fight every urge to turn to your relative/friend and say something like, “Boy, looks like the lighting director called in sick for this scene.”  And soon after that, you’re thinking about starting a podcast devoted solely to bashing the movie, in the hopes that someone out there will actually ENJOY listening to you.  So what do you do when normal people want your opinion on a film?

Well, the simple “I enjoyed it” always works.  Now, if you don’t like lying to the ones you care about, then you need to switch to plan B—the bathroom.  Hopefully, going to the bathroom for ten to fifteen minutes will make everyone forget that you even saw this movie.  Give it a few more minutes, and they may even forget that THEY saw the movie.  The biggest score would be if your friends start talking about something completely different, allowing you to walk away, scot-free.  It’s bullet proof!

So why does everyone want to know your opinion?  Better yet, why do they need to know right after the film ends?  Isn’t that why you bring your lady friend—so you don’t have to talk to her?  Also, what happens if she doesn’t care about movies as much as what you do?  Well, then you might be saying to yourself, “I wouldn’t date her anyway!”  Don’t lie to yourself, especially if she enjoys the essential things in your life, like Bruce Lee.

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Pictured: my date, asking, “You like that?”

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Pictured: me.

Throughout the movie, not only will you be thinking about the bathroom because you are terrible around women (that’s just me….I think), but you are also thinking, “please don’t ask the question”.  She could ask to marry you, and THAT would be better than asking you about the movie.  Who on their first date wants to hear you talk about how the main characters weren’t developed enough for you to care about them, especially when it’s an action movie?  Or better yet, who wants to hear someone talk about the breakdown of the fight scene and why cutting so much destroys the chemistry of the two fighters?  If you were bored watching it, then how do you think she will feel listening to you?

“You like that?”  How do you get rid of such a common question?  Never allow anyone to know that you enjoy movies “a lot”.  The reason?  They will want to debate with you, and prove that you are wrong in that YOU DO, in fact, like that.

Don’t Believe the Hype! Issue 5–Affleck Solo Batman Movie

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Amid the rumors of “creative differences” between certain directors and DC, regarding their shared universe, the one ray of hope that continues to shine is a Ben Affleck-directed solo Batman movie.  But, how do we know this ray of light is nothing more than a mirage?

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Going to hammer more tires, are we?

Batman v Superman had many problems.  Although a lot of that can be placed on Zack Snyder, it’s not all his fault.  Remember, the movie had a massive agenda–setting up umpteen different movies within two-and-a-half hours.  Plus, it was trying to tell two classic stories at the same time (Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman).  Typically, studios are responsible for shoehorning in set-ups for future films (Marvel with Age of Ultron), and more characters than necessary (Sony with Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Warner Bros. with Batman & Robin).  Since DC is clearly dead set on making a shared universe work, what’s to say they aren’t going to try the same tactics with their go-to cash cow’s solo film?  That said, I ask this: how much can Affleck do to make the solo Batman movie a good one?  Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo are all solid, well-regarded movies that he has directed.  So, it seems like a no-brainer that Affleck’s Batflick will be good, right?  Not necessarily; the DC movies are made by companies, not directors.

Written and Directed by $$$

Do you really think any director would insert into his or her own movies references to ones that won’t come out for 2+ years?  I don’t think even Snyder would do that to himself.  He proved that he can tell a focused, self-contained story with Man of Steel (albeit not a good one).  As I mentioned, setups for franchises and needless inclusions of characters (Wonder Woman in BvS) have typically been attributed to studio tampering.  What’s to say the solo Batman movie won’t be mucked up with a forced setup for a Batman and Wonder Woman team-up movie, or a team-up movie with Batgirl and a new Robin?

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They’ll never learn.

The DC movies are investments more so than actual films.  When any movie studio, not just DC, pumps five to ten years and billions of dollars into something, of course they want to play it by the numbers.  Hell, look at how safe Marvel has been playing it with every film since Iron Man.  What I’m saying is that, for how great of a director Affleck is, he will ultimately be a director-for-hire.  He will not have free reign to make a legitimately good film.  Even the veteran himself, Steven Spielberg, said over fifteen years ago that even he has to fight for creative freedom, not with other creatives, but with bankers (p. 52 of the book Steven Spielberg: Interviews).  Film is a business now more than ever, because there’s money to be made in not just the U.S., but also action-movie-loving countries like China.  In other words, companies feel the need to appeal to a much wider audience (translation: make movies less about people and real problems and more about the action).

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Look, kids!  It’s Ben Affleck fighting DC for his creative freedom!

When you look at the failure of a big-studio blockbuster like Batman v Superman, don’t be like everyone else by blaming the directors, actors, etc.  Blame the studio.  After viewing Batman v Superman, I blame DC for making the film feel like one long commercial.  DC is failing by trying to do a condensed version of Marvel’s business plan, and I believe it’s naive to think they won’t continue this plan with the Batman solo film.

Between BvS, the ill-advised Suicide Squad (it’s like Avengers if they were bad guys–creativity strikes again!), and the undoubtedly rushed Justice League, I feel sorry for Affleck, because he has spent the last five years letting people know he is the real deal.  Now, it seems that his legitimacy as an actor and director are being exploited by DC to lend credibility to their half-baked attempts at a cinematic universe.  When it comes to doing the inevitable Batman solo film, what can’t be ignored is that Affleck faces the possibility of reliving Daredevil, even if he is also the director and writer this time around.  This time, though, it will be different.  No matter how bad the film is, it will inevitably turn a profit, and more films will follow, leading to a decade of suffering.

Choreography 101:  Why Tony Jaa Never Broke Through

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By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Ten years ago, Tony Jaa was one of the biggest names in martial arts.  For a while, Jaa was on top of the world.  Not only was he getting compared to Bruce Lee, but also he was the first martial arts star outside of China.  Although he had everything in place, the fame wore off shortly afterwards.  If you are trying to break into this genre, look at his career as an example of what not to do.

If we are talking talent, Jaa has it as a martial artist.  My first experience with him was in The Protector.  One of the most influential fight scenes was the one-shot fight in the restaurant.  Impressive as it is, the movie had many other fights that showed off Jaa’s skills.  As a martial artist myself, I don’t know how he did some of those moves.  In fact, I can’t believe the man didn’t get injured.  Apparently, Jaa could do no wrong.

Before Jaa did The Protector (a worldwide release), he did his biggest movie, titled Ong Bak: Muy Thai Warrior.  I personally liked The Protector more, but the scene where he bursts through fire with a running knee was classic.  With this film, Jaa primed himself to be the next biggest action star.  That is until he himself ruined that.

My biggest complaint with him in his films is that he’s not a character.  What do I mean by “character”?  If you look at the big five (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Sammo Hung), they all have distinct personalities onscreen.  In all of Jaa’s films, he is just the guy that can flip around and swing a crazy knee.  Even though martial arts movies are about the action, we also want to see someone who’s relatable to us.

He also never developed characters in his movies.  In The Protector, the entire movie is of him never speaking and running around beating people up.  Sure, you could say, “All I want is action!”.  But wouldn’t you miss the great wisdom Lee brings to the table in Enter the Dragon?  Or Jackie Chan’s humor in Police Story?  Tony Jaa was more emotionless than Arnold in Terminator.  Even though Jaa’s flaws were shown in these movies, I was willing to give him a break.  After all, they were only his first couple of films.

Tony Jaa knew how to destroy opponents, but never knew how to tell a story through a fight scene.  Where there’s a story there is also tension and anticipation, which (ideally) make the finale much more exciting.  Look at The Protector’s final battle.  It’s ten minutes long (after six other fights), and it stays well past its welcome.  Jaa beats up the big dude, then he has to fight him with Elephant bones, and finally cuts off his tendons.  But, like I said, the movie had so much action-packed excitement that such blemishes were excused.

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After 2006, Jaa disappeared from the scene until he returned to do Ong Bak 2 in 2009.  In another article I talked about martial art sequels being the death of a career; this movie is the best example.  Ong Bak 2 and 3 were disasters.  They brought nothing fresh to the series.  Jaa directed these movies too, which did not help matters.  The difference between him and Bruce Lee is Jaa is a martial artist, while Lee is an artist.  Sadly, the failures of these two films were only the beginning.

Jaa later did many other sequels, such as The Protector 2, Killzone 2, Furious 7, and now XXX 3.  Protector 2 was a joke, and all of the others either show him as a background character or were a flop.  A certain fight in Protector 2 blew my mind on how stupid it was.  Tony Jaa sets his shoes on fire and has a slow-motion fight with fire (which is obviously CG, by the way).  The fight is so poorly choreographed that it’s laughable.   And once again, Jaa hardly acts in the film.

I hope people will remember Tony Jaa for what he did in the early to mid-2000s.  Was it as impactful as the big five?  No, but he made two excellent films.  If he could have had an Ang Lee or John Woo direct him, I think Jaa’s path as an actor would have been far more impactful than two cult classics.  When looking back, Jaa was a perfect example of someone with amazing skill, but not an amazing personality.  We as an audience remember the action of an action star, but we also remember the character.  That is why the greats have survived for decades.  On the bright side, Jaa is only 40, so he has plenty of time to break through.  By comparison, Donnie Yen was 45 when he broke through with Ip Man.

Don’t Believe the Hype! Issue 4: Star Wars: Rebels Season 2 Finale

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It has been a couple of weeks since the “big” finale of Rebels, so I wanted to take a step back to analyze why the season finale did not work for me.

We all knew it was going to happen—Ashoka Tano versus Darth Vader.  What we didn’t know is that in the same episode Darth Maul fights Ahsoka, and the Inquisitors, who are fending off a temple.  The episode sure was filled with a lot.  In fact, too much.  All I ever hear about is this show has cool ideas, but a lot of filler.  Why would you utilize three of your biggest characters in the show in the same episode?  Not only does that diminish the impact they have on the show, but also it’s a wasted opportunity to explore such potentially rich material.  I feel that this episode could have been spread over a few episodes.

For the most part, the episode is hard to watch because of the extreme difference between this show and Clone Wars.  The most annoying difference is in the tone.  This show tries to be serious, but comically stumbles.  When Darth Maul appeared and told Ahsoka his plan to train Ezra, I laughed.  We know Maul to be a brilliant mastermind in war, yet he picks this loser to be his apprentice?  What also makes this show less serious are the color tone, drawing schemes, and direction.  For a second, let’s compare the two Clone Wars shows (the most recent one, and the one from 2003).  We can agree that the animation is totally different, but they remain serious.  I think it’s because the two shows portray their characters “equally”, and they work in the universe that each of them built.  With Rebels, that’s not the case.  One minute you have Vader destroying an entire fleet.  The next you have Inquisitors escaping via lightsabers that are used as helicopters(?). It seems like this show can’t decide if it wants to be like the cartoonish 2003 Clone Wars show or the dead serious 2008 version.

I mentioned that Ahsoka, Maul, and Vader are all in this episode.  That is another problem–none of those characters are Rebels characters.  You can even say that the story is not even a Rebels story.  Instead, this episode felt like Dave Filoni’s attempt to finally finish his Clone Wars series.  That’s cool and all, but don’t make the main characters take the back seat in their own show.

Yes, we got to see Ashoka versus Vader.  That’s a great idea, but the execution was poor.  Lighting and color did so much for The Clone Wars.  I remember many episodes where Maul would be enhanced by lighting, to where his eyes and diabolical speeches were you knew he wasn’t a throwaway character.  Each time I see Darth Vader in this show, I instantly say, “This is a kid’s show.”  I know people are going to say to me, “Well, dur!”, but don’t forget that this show, prior to its premiere, was advertised as “the new Clone Wars.”  So, how can the two shows not be compared?  Whether or not you agree with the right to compare, the bottomline is that the lighting and animation of the villains are too cartoonish, which robs them of being convincing threats.

I used to think that Rebels was a new direction for the better.  Instead, we are seeing that this show is not intended for people who get what Star Wars is.  Instead, the powers that be are looking for a new audience.  By doing so, they not only have to retell stories, but also tell it in a less mature way.  Hopefully, Rebels is just a stepping stone for Filoni’s next adventure.

Choreography 101: Please Light the Fight!

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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After watching Batman v Superman and Netflix’s Daredevil, I realized that nobody cares about lighting anymore.  What is lighting?  Why use this ancient technique?  Well, I’m here to tell you that lighting is one of the most important devices to use in storytelling, preferably in dialogue scenes.  But, I will try to shed some light on how lighting can make a fight scene special.

Movies like BvS feel so emotionless mainly because the lighting is non-existent.  Lighting is supposed to show how serious a situation is (like, ya know, fighting a godlike creature without killing numerous civilians in the process).  Lighting also helps to show us who the characters are, so that when they are in a fight, we care about them.  In fact, lighting can be part of a character signature look (picture how Don Corleone is lit as he sits behind his desk in The Godfather).  If that same lighting was used for everyone else in that movie, it would, obviously, not be as definitive of Don Corleone. 

But, when watching BvS, it’s very clear that there is no distinct lighting for anyone.  This is a problem because not only does everyone look the same, but also it sets the tone for everyone to be the same.  In Fist of Fury, the starkly different lighting of the protagonist and antagonist creates tension between them.  The lighting on Bruce Lee makes him look heroic, and the villain’s lighting, of course, makes him look evil.  How can you tell that, you ask?  Villains usually have shadows underneath their eyes, while protagonists have a glow to their figure. 

Logical lighting is part of what qualifies film as art.  Now, you maybe thinking, “What a film snob!  Good day!”.  Well, don’t leave yet, because I’m not done.

My biggest complaint with Daredevil is that you cannot see any of the fights.  I wasn’t a big fan of season one fight scenes, but at least I could see the characters’s actions.  What is so cool about a scene that is too dark to see?  This was a problem in all thirteen episodes.  Inexcusable.  In Empire Strikes Back, the Luke vs. Vader fight scene is dark, yes, but you can still clearly see everything that’s going on.  With Daredevil, it’s almost like the crew knew what they were doing.  I believe that the reason why people make their scenes so dark is that they know their fights are weak.  That said, when you can see the fights, they are very lame.

As I mentioned, lighting can do some unique things, such as build tension.  It can reveal sweat on the two fighters, or emphasize something you would normally not see in a fight.  The scenes in Batman (1989) make good use of lighting.  Not only do they make the action scenes feel like a fantasy, but also it creates a unique universe.  With BvS, the lighting makes us feel…like we’re in the real world…I guess?  Regardless of the filmmakers’ vision in terms of lighting, the movie looks just like the Daredevil show, which looks just like The Dark Knight.  At least Batman ’89 looks different from Superman ’78, and even from the other Tim Burton movie—Batman Returns.  And that is the beauty of lighting: you can use it build your characters and your universe, while making the audience feel real emotions.

There’s no easy way to say it: lighting is a dying art.  More people need to realize why certain movies/ television shows don’t look great.  The reason is that the lighting is not there.  Lighting is one of the harder things to do and is a time-consuming job, which is why movies and TV shows do it less in our fast-paced production world.  Maybe we can try to evolve lighting to enhance our fights and story instead of downgrading films and using “going for realism” as an excuse for laziness.

Action Review: Eye in the Sky

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by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Eye in the Sky is not your normal action film.  To be honest, I don’t know if it even is an action film.  However, it has traits that a good action film should have.  This weekend, I got to watch Alan Rickman’s last major role, and I was not disappointed.

The movie doesn’t take long to set up.  The main three characters, played by Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and Alan Rickman, are introduced and are defined within ten minutes.  It also helps that the movie is only 100 minutes.  Shorter running times often force the film to move straight into the conflict, rather than adding scenes that aren’t needed.

It has been a while since I have seen a small movie.  What I mean by a small movie is that the scope of the movie only focuses on a small group of people in a specific, limited situation. It’s about a certain select people who are in danger, not the fate of the world.  Overall, the conflict hinges on a little girl who is playing next to a house. There are armed suicide bombers are in the house, and her proximity to the house means she would die if an airborne drone were to strike at the terrorists. Who knew a movie can cut so deeply over a small problem? That’s what makes this movie intense.  Not only can every human understand what the problem is, but you follow the little girl throughout the movie.  This helps the conflict build as she becomes someone you want to see survive.  How many times do you watch an action movie and feel emotional by the end?  Not many.

In Eye in the Sky, the character’s personalities are shown through their decision making.  Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren are strong leaders who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Aaron Paul is a new pilot whose never experienced war, but follows orders. The rest of the government officials have most likely never experienced battle.

Helen Mirren, who has worked on the case surrounding these terrorists for six years, is fixated on getting the job done.  Not only does she know what is at stake (the little girl’s life and the repercussions of the missile fire), but also she has a task to do, and she wants to prevent as many casualties as possible.  I could never accomplish what Helen’s character did.  But, I can see her point of view.  In her mind it’s either one girl’s death (followed swiftly by a PR nightmare), or potentially watching eighty people get killed as a result of her failure to strike at the terrorists.  On the other hand, the little girl has a face.

Giving the collateral damage a face makes the story more powerful. For example, in Star Wars, the audience cares a lot about Alderaan when it gets destroyed by the Death Star because we have seen and gotten to know Princess Leia, and understand how much her home means to her.  Contrast this with the destruction of the Hosnian system in The Force Awakens. Because we know so little about those affected by the disaster (or might have missed the system’s name even mentioned), as an audience, our ability to sympathize is significantly lessened.  Besides giving the girl a face, how the filmmakers showed her character, as a peaceful child who respected her elders and worked hard, was very effective. She was also innocent to the events happening above her.

As the film progresses, the stakes are continually increased.  At first, the mission was one of capture, and suddenly it became shoot to kill.  At this point, the situation gets more serious.  The stakes do rise, and they make sense for the film.  The opening scene sets up the little girl in the story too, so that the audience isn’t shocked that she is part of the conflict in the movie.

The final twenty minutes is gripping, but also ends it the best way possible.  In the end, you leave with a lot of questions.  Personally, I knew I could never do what these people do, but also realize that nobody should have to make those choices.  But in this movie, the ending wisely keeps it clean.  Yes, it is a serious topic, but it is tamed.  What also helped me enjoy this movie was that it didn’t beat me over the head constantly with its point.  Eye in the Sky is a great film; and in a world of huge blockbusters, it proves that less can be more .  The story delivers from beginning to end.  It is not the greatest movie of all time, but never tries to be.

Rating: 9/10

+ The entire cast

+ Pacing of the film

+ Build up to the main conflict

+ Gives a lot to question after viewing

+ Ending is great

– Wish the end had a little more impact