Most Lethal Movie Character

Today, the Washington Post ranked the number of on-screen kills actors have had in action movies. They put Arnold Schwarzenegger at number one.

I wish to issue a correction to this. The number one on-screen killer was Slim Pickens who played Major Kong of Dr. Strangelove. At the end of said movie, he rode a nuclear bomb that struck a Russian base, unintentionally setting off a nuclear deterrent weapon that wiped out the planet and all the inhabitants.

That is all.

Script Writing…

There are two things that really inspire people artistically. The first occurs when something is incredibly good. You can bring up several directors and comedians on Wikipedia and they’ll have a small section dedicated to other directors, comedians and philosophers who have inspired them to greatness. Fantastic writing charges me to keep trying.

The second is when someone takes something you love and screws it up.

For example, there has yet to be a truly amazing movie about the Punisher for one. Thomas Jane’s The Punisher was probably the most successful of all three (yes three) Punisher films, and yet was not a huge success. It has garnered a cult following and was financially successful, though not a box office smash. The first and third, starring Dolph Lundgren and Ray Stevenson respectively, were not amazing commercially nor critically. The irony is that Garth Ennis produced some incredible source material with the Punisher Max imprint. I own almost all his work on the Punisher and it is applause worthy in its execution.

Born

How good was Ennis? Even the origin story, the stereotyped, boring birth of the hero, rocked. Garth Ennis’ Born took place during the Vietnam war, with Captain Frank Castle leading his men on patrols into the jungles and dealing with military bureaucracy. Instead of life-long lessons in the middle of puberty, we get hard edged tests of morality that Castle already knows his answers to.

It’s incredibly bizarre that someone has taken the time to create a magnificient, powerful character with intriguing stories. And no one has yet to do him justice on the screen.

Of course, the Punisher is not the only character or franchise to get shafted by the Hollywood machine. And for some of these, Hollywood is trying to correct the problem. The recent reboot of Conan did so poorly, they’ve actually asked Schwarzenegger to come back. If they decide to make the new movie about King Conan, it will be interesting to see if Arnie’s experience as the Governor will be relatable on the big screen.

But the most recent failure that has prompted me to say something is Silent Hill: Revelations 3D.

The first movie was alright. It was a horror franchise, which lowers the bar of expectations. But it was reasonably faithful to the source material and visually appealing. The story made some sense. A lot of it was based on the first game, but they were willing to take elements of other titles. It was also financially successful, earning around $97 million out of a cost of $50 mill. 

The most recent movie took the majority of its basis from the third game. And apparently, it has failed the test badly. The critics, who weren’t really impressed with the first one, were not as forgiving the second time. It is not yet a commercial success, although with a price tag of $20 million, it is somewhat likely to at least earn back what it cost.  What’s even more scary is the fact that this movie happened to have some decent acting talent to it, including Carrie Anne-Moss, Sean Bean and Malcolm McDowell.

It is a Halloween miracle that they decided to skip the second game, which so happens to be my favorite. Which means its still open to development. Silent Hill 2 flourishes on the elements that can be better related on the big screen. Character development, dialogue. An intriguing story of guilt and personal demons over the monsters and cults.

So I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at script writing, a different media compared to the short stories and novels I am used too. With the right actor and right script, Silent Hill 2 could smash the video game-movie stereotype over its knee. Done wrong, my soul will be murdered. The cause of death? Cynicism.

The sad fact is, whomever is picked as the director will have more power than the script writer would. And video game inspired movies always tend to attract real bottom-of-the-barrel directors. Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson for example.

Ideally, a growing number of people are determined to prove that video games are art, and I am among them. The problem is that this definition has failed to be carried to another media. But art is universal, it should be able to be crafted beautifully on the big screen. There must be a way it can transition, and well. Until it can, Roger Ebert is being proved correct in his assertion that games cannot be art.

Origins, Origins…

So I just watched the first (and thus far only released) episode of Awake. The premise is simple if a bit strange; a detective, his wife and his son were involved in a car accident. The detective then isn’t sure if he’s awake or dreaming, when he goes to sleep, he visits two worlds. In one, his son survived but his wife didn’t. In the other, vice versa. And somehow, the details of his cases in one world reflect the other, despite the fact that (thus far) the crimes are different, but committed by the same person.

After finishing the episode, the sneak peek of the next episode immediately brings up hints about how and why this detective, played by Jason Isaacs, is experiencing these two alternate worlds. Desperate to keep their baby alive, the show’s producers put the detective’s son on the line in the next episode, hoping that a snap of drama and the possibility of finding out the origin of this psychological phenomenon will keep audiences hooked.

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

I have to say that this kind of bugs me. For some reason, it feels like American audiences (or at least our television and movie producers) have an obsessive need to clarify the origins of everything unusual. While the origins of a problem need to be clarified in order to diagnose the solution (as House would be quick to remind us), does every situation or every character need a completely fleshed out background story?

Why?

To understand the nature of my complaint, take a look at the past three Conan the Barbarian movies. In the first with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rebooted third with Jason Momoa, the developers felt they needed to explain Conan’s childhood and origins.

What makes this strange is that Robert E. Howard never actually clarified Conan’s origins. The only crucial detail* Howard ever gave was that his father was a blacksmith, and that Conan had a wandering foot. The two origin stories where Conan was taken by slavers and the other where his father was slain by a power hungry madman were never part of the original Conan tales.

I remember reading (though I can’t recall where, probably IGN) about the new and rebooted Spider Man movie coming out. The author suggested that Marvel skip the whole origins story. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been done, we get it, we don’t need to hear it again. Not only do I recall it from the first movie, I have seen it retold in no less than two animated series.

Do heroes and villains always need origin stories? Heather Ledger’s Joker didn’t in The Dark Knight. Look how unforgettable he was.

I guess I ask all this because of my own writing. I would say about two thirds of my tales have addressed origin tales for both heroes and villains. Yes, even villains who die off at the end of the story get origins and reasoning, an explanation for their dastardly deeds. They hurt people because it is worth their time too. And probably because they enjoy it.

I guess it worries me because one of the heroes of my stories does not get a background. There is a story of course, about all the other supporting characters and the villain but not for the hero himself. Or perhaps I’m going about this wrong. Maybe he isn’t the hero, but an element that just happened to be there to help the main characters. Man, am I glad the story is only in draft form.

* – There are details I missed/forgot in my first draft, but Howard did keep Conan’s origins fairly vague. Thanks to Al Harron for this tip and correction.

Additional Music for Writing

I do this for Aiur! ... Wait, wait, wrong game.

I do this for Aiur! ... Wait, wait, wrong game.

So a day ago, Narravitium and I were chatting about the works of Aaron Dembski-Bowden. I mentioned that his book titles Soul Hunter and Blood Reaver made me wonder if they were influenced by the Legacy of Kain game series. Oh no, of course the Night Lords legion aren’t vampires, but they damn well feel like them sometimes.

Still, it’s a stretch of the imagination. But the plus side is that I remembered some damn fine music for writing. So I raided my old game collections to find some ideas. Time for a nostalgic trek.

  1. Ozar Midrashim, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver OST.
    I certainly liked the Legacy of Kain series. They were not the best made games technically, but the story was solid and involving and the puzzles were a turn on. I hear rumors, unconfirmed, that a reboot maybe in the works but we shall see. This link is actually both Ozar Midrashim and the ending credit music, but both are quite good. It’s an incredible piece that screams “war against the light” in my mind.
  2. Artificial Sky, Armored Core 3 OST.
    Armored Core is another of my favorite game series and has a faithful cult following. Both my brother and I loved playing it. I like the customizations and the nice multiplayer aspect to it. I await the day that the developers really create an end-all game that is fully networked for co-op and competitions. I may talk about the background of Armored Core in a later blog entry. You may also want to check out Precious Park but it has lyrics.
  3. Contra Rock-Metal Remix, by Vomitron.
    Contra is one of the most beloved of games by testosterone junkies. Imagine a movie with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in their prime, killing alien possessed humans and no limit to the amount of ammunition. And then forget the movie and just turn it into a game, and that is Contra. Sadly, a lot of these old school NES game series have not transitions as well to newer consoles. But someday, someone will do it right. Maybe a game that mixes first and third shooting with side scrolling levels and…
  4. The Legend of Zelda Orchestrated, by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
    I loved the old school Zelda games. The newer ones took the series in a slightly different direction. That, and they kept pumping them out non-stop. The over-franchising kind of ruined it for me, but I don’t hold it against people who love it anyway.
  5. Staff Credit, Final Fantasy Tactics OST.
    Sigh. I love this song. It reminds me of the challenges I faced, the characters, the story and plot that were deeper than an ocean. It makes me nostalgic for the first game I ever owned on the Playstation and, to this day, one of the greatest games I will ever play. I know, I know, new titles for Final Fantasy Tactics came along, but they just weren’t as incredible from what I played. The direction Square Enix has taken the Final Fantasy series in general has been too goofy for me. But I still have my classics.
  6. Love Song, Dragon Warrior 2 OST remixed.
    Old school as they come, Enix software was the only real competition Squaresoft had in NES RPGs for quite a while. The first game was simple, but they got better, adding parties and abilities and developing better stories and characters. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to listen to this song.
    But thou must!
    But thou must!
    But thou mu- okay, I’ll stop now.

    I really hope this line is used in The Dark Knight Rises.

    I really hope this line is used in 'The Dark Knight Rises'.

  7. Batman Level 1 Remix, by Farmhouse Media.
    Sunsoft made a decent platform game when it brought the Batman series to the NES. But the one thing that has stuck with the gamers throughout the years has been the very impressive soundtrack that came with it. Take a hard look at the sheer number of remixes for that game. That, and the fact that he’s the goddamn Batman.
  8. Megaman X – Storm Eagle Theme Remix, by Chikusho Sound Team.
    There are many harder and faster remixes than the one issued by Chikusho Sound Team. But I pulled myself back and reminded myself that the music I’m finding is primarily for writing. If you want something more intense however, check out the Powerglove Remix version.
  9. Double Dragon theme, by NESkimos.
    If there was anyone I’d want to see do a Double Dragon remake, it actually would be Rockstar Games. And I’d want them to reboot the series, adding some moral grey areas that let the player decide between being the good or bad, taking over gangs and the streets or helping people out. And as a result, which of the two brothers you are at the end of the game. The Warriors on PS2 was both my favorite game and one of my favorite movies. That sir, is a remake and franchised game done right.
  10. Main Theme Orchestrated, Secret of Mana OST.
    So too many of my themes have really focused on pumping up their audience. This one is much slower, much more mystical. The game itself was mystical as well, being a 3-player RPG that my buddy Ben and I played throughout our youth. It was a colorful game, a very basic fantasy story. It’s a shame that future titles just did not deliver like the first one, but I’ll never forget the first title.

Warrior

Coming to theaters on September 9th, 2011.

Coming to theaters on September 9th, 2011.

Thanks to Gofobo.com, I got my hands on advanced movie screening tickets for Warrior, which doesn’t come out for another two weeks. I didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it involved two brothers and a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting tournament. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was in for a treat.

Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte) is a former Marine and former alcoholic, now sober and sorry for past abuses towards his two sons and wife. One day after church, Paddy’s youngest son and wrestling prodigy Tommy (Tom Hardy) returns out of the blue to have a father-son chat. Meanwhile, Paddy’s eldest son Brendan (Joel Edgerton) struggles to make ends meet while working as a high school physics teacher. Brendan and his wife Tess (Jennifer Morrison) work three jobs between them and are still dangerously behind on their mortgage.

When Brendan moonlights as a prize fighter for extra cash, he is swiftly terminated from his teaching position despite the best attempts of principal  Joe Zito (portrayed by the always likeable Kevin Dunn) to prevent it. Tommy takes up training again at a local gym where he floors a local contender for an upcoming Sparta tournament and impresses the gym owner. But when both Brendan and Tommy learn about the tournament however, anyone can see their fateful collision course.

The movie mixes two genres strangely but fairly well, being both a sports martial arts movie and a family drama. Many modern martial arts movies do this to some degree, such as the Rocky series or Cinderella Man starring Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger, but always between husband and wife. It certainly shares a strong kinship with The Fighter starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, both movies being family dramas on top of prize fighting.  But the fighting in Warrior is simply a byproduct of the strife and struggles the characters face. This fight of brother against brother was probably going to happen sooner or later, while the themes of this film were not as discrete as they were in The Fighter.

The directing deserves a respectable nod for its careful application of blue lighting and the right mix of sports event cinematography to regular camerawork within the story. The plot throws in plenty of twists and turns as details surrounding the characters’ pasts are revealed. There are no bad guys in this movie, and you don’t know just who to cheer for as you reach the end.

Still I have to strike a few points for two things. First, the lack of blood and bruises. This was probably a conscious decision to keep the PG-13 rating and relax people who do not like on screen gore. Maybe a director’s cut version will solve this, but the beatings these guys took seemed less intense without massive post-fight shiners. The second was the application of a few over emotional factors, like the ending music and the military chorus. Gavin O’Connor, who makes a cameo appearance within the movie as tournament founder J.J. Riley, was banking on some patriotic military appeal. Which is fine if it were a touch more subtle. I also wonder if O’Connor was playing with the idea of an alternate ending, and is in fact doing these screenings to gauge audience reactions to the decide on which to use for Warrior‘s release.

But the acting in this movie is outstanding. All of the actors, both major and minor, manage to subtly blend this chemistry on screen, letting you easily pick up the friendships and the rivalries. Everyone is on point, mixing the smiles and rib poking with checked frustration and unfinished business. Praise is due to Jennifer Morrison for overcoming the stereotypical worried wife that we’ve seen with Zellweger or Talia Shire, who played Rocky’s Adrian. Instead of the hysterics and tears, Morrison puts on a performance of pouted-lip resignation when she sees she cannot change her husband’s mind. But this blossoms into amusing antics, such as spending the entire day watching her cell phone for news and pretending not to be worried.

Nick Nolte’s character is pitiful to watch: humbled before God and trying to make amends, however unwelcome, with his two sons. Although infinitely patient with his angry children, his rambling character manages to jerk sympathy where none is likely deserved. It’s perhaps unfair to judge him because we only see the echoes of who he was and the results of his actions. Joel Edgerton successfully combines both brains and brawn with his character’s esoteric background, indirectly luring his students into cheering for him as the guy they all want to be.

Hardy's character is not so much shown to the world as he is 'unleashed.'

Hardy's character is not so much shown to the world as he is 'unleashed.'

But the real spot light is on Tom Hardy, who is phenomenal. Hardy has completely replaced the charming Eames of Inception with Tommy Conlon. The loveable accent is gone and in its place is something from the rougher side of New Jersey. Instead of charming wit, we have Tommy’s checked fury which creates an atmospheric tension so thick, it chokes you.  But never does it get out of control. It just broods in a menacing hulk of a man but never explodes outside the ring. To be put in the same room as this man would probably terrify you, if only quietly. And best of all, Hardy proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Christopher Nolan‘s decision to cast him as Bane in the upcoming film The Dark Knight Rises was no mistake. Tom Hardy could easily be an action movie star as huge as Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone, but also fully capable of acting and portraying a deep role. His pairing with Christian Bale will be legendary.

Warrior is a solid flick with appeal enough for everyone. Check it out, if only to pump yourself up for next summer.