The Difference Between "Good" and "Great"



I often find myself asking what the difference is between a film being “good” and” great.” Why is it that I don’t look at a film like “Thor” as highly as I do films like “12 Years A Slave”? What separates these into different categories of movies?
This is a question that I have a difficult time answering, especially since my criteria keeps changing, depending on the film. One of my fundamentals of film criticism is watch the film on its own terms and let it speak for itself. To not compare it to any other existing work. As much as I’ve broken this rule in the past, like with “Frozen” and “The Bishop’s Wife,” I do try to stick to it.
I guess a better term for it would be a guideline, instead of a rule.
The difference between “good” and “great” is going to vary from person to person. To me, it is all about a state of mind and how each word makes you feel. “Good” is pleasing, positive and uplifting. While “great” is inspiring, motivational and ecstatic. I feel the same way about those movies which fall into the same categories. 


An example of a good movie would be “Cowboys & Aliens.” It is a by-the-books, fun, and enjoyable ride from start to finish. It does not really stumble at any point, but it understands the ridiculous situation that it has presented and just takes that ride for all it is worth. It is a well-made, good-looking popcorn film that does not disappoint. 
While for great movies, on the other hand, I’ll use my go-to pick, “Jaws.” While on the surface it may appear to be another popcorn film, it becomes something far more by adding character to itself. “Jaws” stands out above other films because of its atmosphere of tension and dread of an impending shark attack. We know something is lurking beneath the water and it can rip us to shreds, but when and where will it strike? It tries to be like a Hitchcock film, while still having the friendly and inviting atmosphere of a Spielberg film.


Perhaps that is the main difference between these two types. A good movie will merely try to entertain the audience to the best of its ability, and normally succeeds. A great movie, on the other hand, will not only entertain, but enlighten. To add character and depth to an already good idea. 
Does this mean that popcorn films like “Thor” and “Cowboys & Aliens” can only be good movies? I don’t think so. It is difficult, but some of the better mindless action films I’ve seen have proven to revile in their ideas that I fall in love with them for their heart and effort. 


For example, I believe “The Avengers” and “Pacific Rim” are just popcorn films, but goddamn if they aren’t the best popcorn films I’ve ever seen. They understand their genre and what makes it so unique from any other type of film, and focus their time and efforts on those aspects. This makes the films not just fun, but also honest and one-of-a-kind. They are simple, but filled to the brim with passion and admiration for their craft. I love them for that.
In fact, love is a big, unspoken part of this topic. Whether the filmmakers love for cinema is translated onto the screen or I simply fall in love with a movie, it plays a part in how I see the film. It is difficult to consistently entertain an audience, but it is even harder to get them emotionally invested and care about your story. It is why I love a good movie, but why I also have even more respect for a great movie. 
One last note worth mentioning is the lasting effect that a particular film as on me. While a good movie might entertain me while it is on, it doesn’t leave much of an impression on me when it is over. I might recall events from the film and how much I liked certain scene, but not much else. While a great film will be stuck in my head for days or weeks after I watch it. Not just scenes or moments that stuck out, but what the film was trying to say and how it presented it. How the film moved and looked, and the style of its presentation. 


In a film like “Django Unchained,” its not the gory shootouts or constant swearing that sticks with me, but the quiet and more somber moments that Django and Doctor Schultz share as they discuss their plans or even a German fairy tale. The scenes that take the time to let the film breath and speak for itself. The conversations feel real and genuine that you believe and care about every word they say. That is the mark of a great movie.
So, in the end, it honestly depends on each individual movie. Yet, there is a distinct difference between “good” and “great.” If I were to describe what it is that separates the two, it would be character and an understanding of cinema. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a good movie, it is better to be a great one. But, with my rating system, it’s even better to be a fantastic one.

"Transcendence" (2013)



What? You were expecting Johnny Depp becoming a computer and Morgan Freeman talking about how he’s unstoppable? Too bad, you get a much better movie.
Independent movies and small group movies often take huge risks that will either fail miserably or work spectacularly. They will do this as a way to make their films stick out from all the others.
Part of the reason I often cannot get invested in independent movies and short films is because they fail to grab my attention. These films will, more often than not, tell the story of someone we all know but with little unique characters thrown in and with little deviation. If that’s the case, then there isn’t much going on there. Why should I care about something that I’ve seen a million time before and will see another million times?
Occasionally, you come across a short film that does get your attention and not only peaks your interests, but also makes you want to get invested in the story and characters. One such film is Chris Mirjahangir’s “Transcendence” and the world he has created within this story. Not only are the effects at the level of a major motion picture, but the lore and mythology behind this film makes it an impressive, compact experience. 
A family has just returned from a weekend of camping in the mountains, only to find that a car on the side of the road that has bodies surrounding it. Baffled by what they find, they are soon captured at gun point and taken to a small group, where their leader tells them about a recent demon attack that has begun to wipe out the human population.


When I watched “Transcendence,” I first noticed how much it paid homage to the Godzilla films, without directly referencing them. The roars of the demons are reminiscent of certain Godzilla monsters, especially Destoroyah. While the soundtrack contained hints of music from the long-running series as well, making it feel like throwbacks to the many attacks of the king of the monsters. This makes the movie work in subtle and unique ways.
Speaking of the music, this helps add to how big and impressive this movie feels. The music is performed by a full-piece orchestra, which is nearly unheard of for a short film. The effects on the demons are also on the same level, especially since each demon has its own unique design and always has battle scars and wounds that carry over. It makes the film feel massive in scope and budget, as if this was done by a Hollywood studio.


It is made all the more impressive when you realize most of it was done by Chris Mirjahangir. 
The world of “Transcendence” is one of the more intriguing aspects, as we learn more about how the demons work and the idea of transcendence. To the people who survived the demon attack, these monsters are more than just a legend. They are an inevitability and they must rise above it. 
To find so much out of a compact film is stunning to see unfold. If “Transcendence” isn’t giving us wonderfully executed action sequences, it is filling us in with tragic characters who only care about survival against an impossible enemy. It quickly establishes mood and atmosphere with just a few quick lines and never lets the audience go. 
I’ll take that over Johnny Depp becoming digital any day.
Final Grade: A- 

The Morale Of The Story is…



Welcome to another new section of my blog, entitled “The Morale Of The Story is…” 
In these posts, I will be summarizing my feelings on the morale to be learned from each movie I look at. These morales will be life lessons that I believe can be applied in the real world and can be used to better your experience throughout life. 
This will be used to show that even the dumbest and brainless of movies can still teach the audience something, even it is as simple as appreciating what you have. 
With that said, let’s look at the morales of the many Disney animated films of recent years. I feel these are fairly straight forward morales and anyone can understand, but need to be addressed anyway. With that being said, let’s look at the morale of…


“Cinderella” (1950)
Never wear glass slippers under any circumstances. They don’t fit you very well, they break easily and apparently have a deep connection to princes. And who wants to marry a prince and have to deal with all that royalty crap? 
“Peter Pan” (1953)
Pixie dust is the elixir of life. Steal every fairy you come across and you shall rule the world.
“The Jungle Book” (1967)
Next time you get lost in the jungle, be sure to befriend the bears, orangutans and elephants. But stay away from the tigers, because they’re the real bad guys. They’ll kill you, unlike the panthers.
“The Rescuers” (1977)
When all hope and faith seems lost, your aunt is using you to collect rare and dangerous gem and has crocodiles as her pets, never fear. The mice are always on your side. 


“The Brave Little Toaster” (1987)
Your toaster, electric blanket, lamp and vacuum will chase you halfway around the world (and apparently all the way to Mars…yes, “The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars” is a thing that exists).
“The Little Mermaid” (1989)
Stalk someone you just met and only know through passing glances (and apparently collecting giant stone statues of them) and they will eventually fall in love with you. That’s how love works, right?
“Beauty & The Beast” (1991)
There is a monster inside of all of us, waiting to be let out. And within that monster is a hunky pinup model, waiting to be “let out.”
“Aladdin” (1992)
Genies will always make jokes and references to Groucho Marx, Johnny Carson and Jack Nicholson. Even if they don’t exist yet. 


“The Lion King” (1994)
You can either run away in fear of the past or learn from it. Except when you doubt yourself and more fear starts to set in, no one is behind you or standing up for you. Unless it all turns out what you believe is your past is a lie…So really the morale is never take responsibility for what you’ve done, because nobody will be behind you, unless you didn’t do it.
Have I mentioned this movie isn’t as good as people make it out be?
“Pocahontas” (1995)
“They’re not like you and me, which means they must be evil” is one of the worst lyrics I’ve heard in any song. Ever.
“The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” (1996)
Priests are evil. Never trust anyone in a cloak or longingly sniffs the garment of gypsy. 
“Hercules” (1997)
Always invite Hades to your party. Trust me, it will cause far less stress in the future.


“Tarzan” (1999)
Man = evil. Apes = good. Man-ape = savior of all ape-kind. Audience = confused.
“The Princess And The Frog” (2009)
The guidelines for spells and deals with shadow demons must come with extensive loopholes, written out in detail, highlighted the key points in case of a court case.
“Tangled” (2010)
A frying pan is the ultimate weapon. Tell this to MacGuyver and his head will explode. 
“Frozen” (2013)
Eternal winter isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. It’s good for the ice business, many snow days for the kids, no shortage of fresh water, the season is consistent and the temperature is only around absolute zero. That’s serviceable. 
That’s all I have for now. I hope you learned a thing or two about something that you could use in the real world, because there is so much that movies can teach us. I felt these morales were quite obvious, so next time I’ll be sure to look at some of the more obscure lessons to learned from cinema.

Film Pet Peeves: One Book = Multi-Movie Deal



While turning books into movies is nothing new at this point, a recent trend in Hollywood has been to take the last book in a critically acclaimed series and turn it into multiple movies.
This phase in Hollywood began when adapting “Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows,” the finale of the seven Harry Potter books. At the time, it made sense. The series had lasted this long, had been filled to the brim with memorable characters and needed proper buildup to the final climatic battle between Harry and Voldemort. Furthermore, this way they could add in even the minor scenes in the book that would otherwise be cut from the film, so you’re pleasing both diehard fans of the movies and the books. 


But then they started to go a bit more crazy with it. 
This recently happened with finale in the Twilight franchise, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn.” The Twilight film series has far less ground to stand on than the Harry Potter movies, because by comparison, the source material is much more lively and captivating, the world is far more fleshed out and the characters are likable. Not to mention, the Twilight films are laughable at best and painful at worst. 


So to break up the last book into two movies does not seem like a way to talk about the novel’s points in greater detail, but just as a way to cash in on a fade and make twice the money they would have otherwise. 
Then you get an upcoming attempt to do this with the last “Hunger Games” book, “Mockingjay.” Yes, there are going to be four “Hunger Games” movies, even though there should only be three. This one also doesn’t get me excited, because I still feel that the idea of the Hunger Games has been done many times before and done better, like “Battle Royale.” Though “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” did do something new and added some charm to this otherwise uninviting world, I’m not holding my breath with either “Mockingjay” films.


The worst offender of this trend is Peter Jackson’s attempt to adapt “The Hobbit.” By far. Not only has he decided that to go back to Middle Earth and do a prequel to his excellent “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy, but he has decided to take one novel, and turn into three movies.
I have just one question for Mr. Jackson: Why? Other than the obvious answer of “money.”
Let’s put this in perspective. By comparison to any of the “Lord Of The Rings” books, with material and length, “The Hobbit” is miniscule. This novel isn’t even close to the length of just one in that massive trilogy. Yet Jackson was able to take all three books and turn each one into its own movie. Granted, each movie is close to four hours long, but to be able to cram so much of a gigantic book into that time span is a wonderful achievement. 


So how is that a book much shorter than any of the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy must be turned into three movies, with each movie lasting over three hours?
There’s a point where covering every part of the novel just is not a good enough reason to make us wait well over six hours of film just to get to Smaug finally attacking a town. Is it really necessary to add Legolas to the story? Or Radagast?
At some point, it stops being entertaining and becomes merely a test of patience. Fans of the novel might eat it up, but others just keep looking at their watches waiting for something interesting to happen.


These types of films are being looked at as “adaptations.” Something based off of another source material being adapted to a different medium. I do not look at it like that. I see these merely as “movies.” A piece of entertainment done usually as a way to tell a story by camera, lighting, actors, editing, etc. As a film, I choose to look at the work on it’s own individual merits, without ever being compared to any other piece of work, including something that this particular work might be based off of. If the film stands or falls, it would be by it’s own words and values, not the values of others.
As such, this style of breaking up one book into multiple movies is unnecessary, annoying and only serves as a way to make lots and lots of money. I don’t care if the film is being as faithful to the source material as possible, that is not an excuse to make it longer an opera about turtles eating molasses in slow motion. 
Just because you can add in every scene from the novel into your movie doesn’t mean you should. Cut these movies down. Edit out scenes that don’t add anything to story and don’t look back. Do not break it up into multiple movies just for the sake of money, but for your art form. 

"The Raid 2" (2014)



One of the more enduring types of films are the ones which take a simple concept, yet add heart and passion to the work. 
Movies like “Ip Man” work so well because they don’t try to add in an enriching story or flashy effects. “Ip Man” stands out above most other martial arts movies because it sticks to what it knows and draws the audience in with the main character’s love for his family and work. These types of movies don’t have much depth to them, but they don’t need to.
Another recent film to do just that was “The Raid: Redemption” a martial arts film out of Indonesia that offered up a simple premise: A group of cops storm a large apartment complex filled with attendees hopped up on drugs, in an attempt to get the gang leader at the top of the building. 
What made “The Raid” work so well was the stunning and well-choreographed action sequences, with each fight feeling wholly unique. On top of that, there is doubt amongst the cops as to who is corrupt and working for the gangs. Yet there is no doubt that the lead character, Rama (Iko Uwais), is straight and is fighting solely for his wife and unborn son. 


“The Raid” very quickly gained a cult following and is now been hailed as one of the best martial arts films in decades. Naturally, the popularity has not gone unnoticed and has led to a sequel, “The Raid 2.” Going in, I expected more of the fun stuff that made the first film so enjoyable. Imagine my surprise when I found “The Raid 2” was so different from the first, yet just as entertaining. 
Directly following the events of the first film, Rama has decided to purge the city of all its corrupt cops and gang leaders. To do so, he must now go undercover and infiltrate the Jakarta crime syndicate by befriending the son of the biggest mob boss, Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo). This includes going to jail and protecting his son, and later becoming a hired body guard for the family, all while learning that the son, Uco (Afrin Putra), no longer wishes to live in his fathers’ shadow and make a name for himself, even if that means destroying everything his father has built. 


“The Raid 2” differs from its predecessor by its detailed focus on the story of Rama and the Bangun crime family. The story of “The Raid: Redemption” was basic and to the point, never adding in anything that was not necessary. The new film takes the time to develop the relationships between Bangun and Uco, and even on rival gangs and how they plan to overthrow Bangun’s empire. 
The fighting is still as excellent as it was in the first film, with each fight contributing something different. The stand out fights here are ones that involve a rival gangs top assassins fighting Rama, with each assassin having a different quirk. One always has his hood up and likes to fight with a metal baseball bat and has befriended a deaf girl who loves to dual-wield hammers. 


One of the more standout characters is a Bangun hired assassin, nicknamed ‘Koso (Yayan Ruhian). He has spent the last fifteen years working as the go-to source for killing, but he doesn’t do it for the money or the thrill, but because it was the only way he knew to provide for his son. Though due to his profession, he could never see his wife or family and was forced to live on the streets as a bum. 
This tragedy eventually leads to an extended action sequence with ‘Koso fighting over a hundred guys in a night club with any weapons he can find, including beer bottles, tables and throwing guys off of the second floor. 
Many more moments in “The Raid 2” stick out to me than from “The Raid” because of the distinct characters and their fighting styles. There weren’t many people that stood out in the first film, because it was much more about the martial arts. This time around, there is a bigger focus on the story of Rama and his need for vengeance in his city. 
The motivations of each characters seems justified and no one is so over the top to the point of being ridiculous. It is just the right amount of drama and tension to make the action sequences have plenty of weight and strength to them. 
Final Grade: A-

Film Pet Peeves: Wrestlers As Actors



Imagine for a moment, during the 1950s and Hollywood is bigger than its ever been, that as a way to pull audiences in even more, studios suddenly started to hire boxers like Muhammad Ali in starring roles.
Any film like that would have been laughed off screen long before opening night. So why do we tolerate nowadays?
Since the late 1980s, Hollywood has certainly been hiring many wrestlers and martial artists for leading roles in their films. One of the first instances I can think of is Roddy Piper taking the star role in John Carpenter’s 1988 film “They Live.” This would eventually lead to acting careers for people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and many others. 
Most of this came about when filmmakers realized that professional wrestling was, shock-of-all-shocks, fake. The fights were scripted and pre-planned far in advance, with most wrestlers having to memorize lines for speeches and pretending to have actual emotions and feelings towards other wrestlers. 


To Hollywood, this screamed that wrestlers had acting potential. If they could pretend to fight in the ring, then why couldn’t they pretend to fight on camera? 
Here’s the thing: While a good wrestler might be great at reading lines, that does not make them actors. A wrestlers job is to put on a good show; to entertain the audience while they are on stage and to contribute to the atmosphere of wrestling. 
The job of an actor is far different. An actor should not just entertain or please the crowd, but convince the audience that this is an actual person, with flaws, needs, wants, strengths and a past that we should care about. They are not just putting on a persona, like a wrestler, but stepping into the shoes of another life. 
Something like that is tricky to pull off and even more difficult to make the audience care and relate to this person. The sign of a great actor is when you believe you are no longer watching someone pretend to be another person, but that this is the other person. Tom Hanks does a wonderful job of this in many of his roles, including “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away,” “Saving Mr. Banks” and “Saving Private Ryan.” 


While I don’t expect a wrestler to ever reach the level of acting of Tom Hanks, I do expect a certain level of quality acting when I watch any movie. I’ve yet to see any former wrestler give a decent performance in any movie. 
In the case of any performance by Dwayne Johnson, his acting is stilted, unnatural and often comes across like he’s filming a commercial instead of a movie, with him playing towards the camera as if he’s trying to break the fourth wall. Other wrestlers, like Hulk Hogan or Roddy Piper, just give cringeworthy pieces of dialogue that either make me squirm or laugh at the movie instead of with it. 


The only times I remember wrestlers being halfway decent actors is when they’re playing wrestlers, like Randy “Macho Man” Savage playing Bonesaw in the first “Spider-Man” movie. His exaggerated facial expressions match with an over-the-top performance to give us a fun little scene. It only lasts a few minutes but it is a hilarious few minutes. 
Outside of those types of roles, I do not think wrestlers should ever be used as actors. Performing to a crowd and performing for a camera are two very different things. If someone is able to pull both of those off, that is outstanding. I’ve yet to see a wrestler make the transition to cinema and make it work. 
Unless they have a history of acting classes, they should just stay in the ring.


The Dilemma with Sherlock



One of the biggest television hits of the last five years has been the BBC’s version of “Sherlock.” 
This is due to a multitude of things, including taking the classic detective and moving him into modern-day London without really changing who he is. He is still the most intelligent man in the room, carefully analyzing every little detail about the human behavior, yet still having the social behaviors of a three-year old. 
Another reason is the actor playing Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch. His energy and passion for the role really leaks onto the screen as he gives long speeches of information and deductions at lightning fast speeds. Cumberbatch makes the role of Sherlock fun, down to even his little facial expressions as his eyes light up when he gets a case. 
These two elements combine, alongside others such as the wonderful writing by Steven Moffat and still captivating mysteries, and you get a timeless tale of an insane detective. 
Yet it seems that other television studios have realized the popularity of this show and have done their best to ride its success, whether they know it or not. 
Two shows immediately come to mind: CBS’s “Elementary” and Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow.” The former more so, because it is literally taking the same premise: Sherlock Holmes in modern day, except he has relocated from London to New York. 
While “Sleepy Hollow” is another classic tale of mystery and intrigue, but updating it so that the creators could make interesting situations. In this case, it is the tale of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman (though most of what I’ve seen shows him not riding a horse, so could he really be called a “horseman”).
Another possibility is ABC’s “Once Upon A Time” which takes classic fairy tale characters and puts them into modern times as well, though most are not aware they are from fairy tales. To be fair, “Once Upon A Time” is taking its own spin on it with juxtaposition between the real world and the tales and not just completely copying the source material. 
So why has “Sherlock” spawned so many other shows trying to copy its success?
The answer is elementary: Television producers have been doing this a long time. This is nothing new.
One of the more recent cases is “The Office,” which was originally a 14-episode series in the United Kingdom, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, but eventually spawning an American series of the same title, which lasted nine seasons and over 200 episodes. Heck, this sparked a trend in ‘mockumentary’ television shows, which would eventually lead to programs like “Modern Family” and “Parks And Recreation.” 


Or how about the family sitcom boom of the early 1990s? Shows like “Roseanne” and “Married…With Children” were some of the instigators to other big name shows like “Home Improvement,” “Saved By The Bell,” “Boy Meets World” and “Full House.” 
The release of these shows are normally not coincidences, but studios seeing a television show is popular and doing their best to draw in the same people who like those shows. 
A good show though will do its best to make the similarities between the two programs hardly noticeable, which is why “Modern Family” feels so distant from “The Office.” Then you get a studio that won’t even try to hide that they’re blatantly copying something, and then you get “Elementary.” 
So, in the end, I hold nothing against “Sherlock.” It is still a wonderful show and it’s not the shows fault that studio executives wanted to copy it. That’s just the way television works and Steven Moffat and his crew should be flattered for that.