Dune: Part One

There’s a moment in Jodorowsky’s Dune where the titular director, discussing how Hollywood canceled his version forty years ago, pulls a fist of euros out of his pocket and shakes them at the camera. “This system makes us slaves,” he cries, “With this devil in our pocket. This paper…It has nothing inside. Nothing!”

In the moment, the gesture feels melodramatic. A bitter cry from a man who was denied his chance to ascend to greatness. But after watching first Lynch’s Dune, and now Dune: Part One, it seems prophetic.

Where Jodorowsky’s version of Dune sought to change the consciousness of its viewers, and Lynch’s Dune tried to convey the weirdness of a future as far from ours as we are from the inhabitants of ancient Sumer, Dune: Part One is seeking to…tell us the story of Dune.

Yet even with this lowered ambition, the film is a failure. Dune the book fascinates in part because of its many colorful factions, all vying for power. But Dune: Part One doesn’t have enough ambition to be a Game of Thrones in space. Mentats here are just bland, faithful servants, denied even their name to let the audience know how special — and central — they are. There’s no mention of the Space Navigators’ Guild, leaving Spice’s centrality to space travel just an abstract thing, a line a character says while standing in the right spot wearing the right clothes, and nothing else. The Spice itself is barely present, looking more like someone turned a glitter filter on than a thing worth killing over.

The result is a film with no depth and no stakes, the world of Dune flattened to something completely mundane. It is a clockwork universe, made with stunning special effects and actors moving in expensive costumes.

In his past films, Villeneuve’s lack of interest in the human was an asset. Both Arrival and Blade Runner: 2049 benefit from a style that is distant and alien, the former because it seeks to convey an alien perspective, the latter because it centers on an unfeeling android. But Dune doesn’t work unless the galactic stakes are connected to the personal, the planetary drama interlocked with the familial. Dune: Part One leaves the galactic stakes mostly untethered, and the family drama unexplored. We get an adaption that is faithful in every sense but those that matter.

If only there was something human at the heart of it all, some emotion, some sense of life and purpose. But Dune: Part One is content to just let events play out, with no rhyme or reason behind them, just toys — beautiful toys — going through the motions, propelled by money, and rewarded with the same.

Movie Rewrites: Iron Eagle

My wife and I are only six years apart in age, and yet our childhood pop culture was completely different.

For example, I know if she starts singing along to a song I don’t recognize, it’s a 1970s radio hit. She knows all about The Partridge Family and Three’s Company, shows I’ve heard of but never seen. Minstrel hobo chic is her fashion jam.

But move into the 1980s, and the roles reverse. She’s never seen Fraggle Rock or Duck Tales. Doesn’t know Bon Jovi or Journey (or Def Leppard or R.E.M. or Bauhaus or New Order or….).

So we’ve made an effort to introduce each other to our respective pop landscapes. It’s interesting to find places where we overlap (MacGyver) as well as the gaps (I’d never even heard of The Rockford Files before her, and she had no clue why I was so excited to hear that She-Ra was getting rebooted on Netflix).

All of which is to say, we watched Iron Eagle this week, as part of introducing her to 80s movies I loved as a kid. And it did not hold up well.

What I remember as a scrappy-kids-rescue-the-grownups movie, a sort of Goonies adventure with higher stakes and fighter jets, is actually a harrowing tale of how a group of teenagers infiltrate a military base, steal a bunch of weapons, then invade a sovereign country, kill dozens of members of its military, and destroy a major oil refinery, all for one downed American pilot (who was violating the country’s airspace).

Questionable morals aside, that might be forgiven, if it were at a good movie. But…it’s not. The Eagles are thinly sketched, the lead has no charisma, the timeline is way too short (only three days between “go away kid” and “you’re the finest young man I know”??), and the climatic battle with the “villain” is just ridiculous.

Only Louis Gossett Jr comes out well. His character isn’t written any better than the others, but he’s just so damn good as an actor that he breathes life into Chappy through sheer force of will.

But! We talked it over, and we think the movie’s salvageable. At this point it’d be a reboot, but that’s ok; it gives us license to do the extensive rewrite the movie needs.

What to Keep

Chappy. Chappy Chappy Chappy. He’s the real heart of the movie, the mentor tying everything together, and that needs to stay. We need someone with the right mix of charisma, maturity, and gravitas that can play him, like Denzel Washington.

We also keep the central conflict of the story: Military pilot is shot down in a hostile country and held captive. Their eldest kid and that kid’s friends — with Chappy — plan and execute a bold rescue mission.

I also like the story of how Chappy first met Doug’s dad. It’s sad, but true, that a Black man getting mistaken for janitorial staff is just as plausible in 2021 as it was in 1986.

We also keep the idea of The Eagles Flight Club as a place where certain military brats hang out, and as a group of friends to help with the rescue.

And we’ll keep the general sequence of how the final third of the movie plays out, with Doug ending up on his own for the rescue mission (accompanied only by Chappy’s voice) after things go wrong, the attempted blackmail of the country’s leaders to free his dad, and the need to evade a pursuing force once he’s got his dad in the plane with him (but more on that later).

What to Change

So, we’ve kept the bones of the story: A military-brat teenager is going to get help from his group of friends and an older pilot to go on a daring rescue mission in a foreign country using aircraft. But we need to shift things so that it’s both more realistic and less jingoistic.

We start by altering the nature of the Eagles Flying Club. Instead of being a bunch of military brats who have “the whole base rigged,” it’s a group of kids who work on and fly old planes. That airplane graveyard that Doug takes his date to? That’s their source material, where they go to get good deals (because their parents don’t make a lot) on parts and planes that they then fix up and fly. So right away, we position Doug and his friends as clever, hardworking underdogs, not bratty teens.

We also need to up the diversity in the casting. Half of the Eagles should be women. There should be more than one PoC. The US military (and thus, military families) is diverse, and we should show that on screen. Ideally, the Doug character himself is not White.

Okay, so now we’ve got the casting, and the reason the friends hang out put together. Now we give them an early challenge, to show who they are and how they work together: the Snake Race scene. But we make a few alterations: the bullies are not just bullies, they’re fellow military brats. But their parents are wealthier (higher-up officers), so the planes they fly are expensive and new, not the buckets of junk the Eagles cobble together. The main bully got in to the Air Force Academy, while Doug was shut out.

So when the main bully taunts Doug about his rejection letter, it’s the culmination of a lifetime rivalry for these kids. And when Doug accepts his challenge to race, the stakes are high in terms of pride: it’s the Eagle’s junkyard plane against the bully’s new Cessna. No motorcycles involved.

Doug still has to take the (shorter) risky route, because the bully’s new plane flies straight and fast down the (longer) easy way. And that’s how he wins the race, because he and his friends have modified the old plane to perform better under such stressful conditions.

Just a few small tweaks, and we’ve taken this scene from “why is this in here? is that a motorcycle in a movie about planes?” to “oh shit there’s no way they can beat that fast new plane in that hunk of junk.”

Then, just as they’re celebrating their victory, they get the news: Doug’s dad has been shot down.

Here we keep a lot of the beats from the movie, but we spread them out over time, and we don’t have anyone just waltz into a Situation Room and get access to Top Secret reports and a high-ranking Air Force officer. The Air Force stonewalls Doug and his family; they get most of their information from news broadcasts (yay, journalism!). All they know is where he got shot down, and why, and that the government is negotiating for his release (or worse: the government is not negotiating for his release, because “they don’t negotiate with terrorists, and that includes rogue states”).

A month passes. Not three days, not a few hours, a full month. Doug spirals, spending more and more time in the simulator, ignoring his friends, going through the motions with his family.

It’s Chappy that pulls him out of it. Chappy that chews him out after that he takes up the Colonel’s simulator time (and Doug is mouthy about it). Chappy that takes gives him a job, working with him at the local commercial airstrip.

And it’s a story from Chappy, about a rescue op that almost went bad, that inspires Doug to mount a rescue for his dad. Not one that uses military equipment, though. What he imagines is a stealth mission, where they get in and get out without being caught or recognized.

Because the head of the military in the country that’s holding his dad is a fan of…old aircraft. He has a collection of old planes that he’s bought from various places over the years, painted and fixed up. He likes to take them out himself, without any guards, just for the thrill of it.

So that’s how the Eagles plan to get into the country’s airspace: They build copies of some of the planes in the enemy general’s collection, so they can pretend to be just him on a joy ride.

No theft of military hardware needed, this time. No hijinks on the base that would end up with the kids spending their lives inside a military prison if they got caught. Just good old fashioned elbow grease and research.

They do still need some military intelligence, though, to track where Doug’s dad is being held and the disposition of the country’s air defenses (so they know how to fool them). This they have to steal — or maybe Chappy provides it? — but that’s it.

Chappy’s role is still advice and planning. He knows the hardware they’ll be up against, knows how to teach them to avoid triggering any reaction that will get them killed. But he doesn’t have to aid and abet them ripping off the US military, this time.

He also doesn’t go. His role during the mission is going to be monitoring everything from the ground, pulling up fresh intel as they need it, and coordinating everyone. He doesn’t fly any of the old planes they fix up. That’s what the Eagles are for.

This lets us continue to fill out the Eagles as characters (because they’re in the film more) and gives us more possibilities for the rescue (because they’re part of the mission now).

So, they spend weeks (not days) planning the rescue, and working on the planes (to make them match the enemy leader’s collection). They contact other Eagles Flying Clubs around the world — thanks to the internet, there’s franchises all around — to have a place to stop, refuel, and repair on the way from the US to the country where Doug’s dad is being held.

Just as they’re putting the finishing touches on the plan, that’s when they hear that Doug’s dad is going to be executed in three days. So we get the scene where Doug can’t sleep and Chappy shares war stories with him, but this is after their relationship has been built up over time, so it’s both more believable and more poignant.

They set off! Things are bumpy from the beginning, of course. One of the old planes starts having engine trouble over the Atlantic, and only just touches down on the borrowed runway in rural Spain (cue shots of sheep running from the incoming planes). So they have to leave it behind, along with its Eagle pilot (to repair it and fly it home).

They lose another plane as they’re crossing the Mediterranean, getting close to the country where Doug’s dad is being held. A sudden fog blows in, and one of the plane’s instruments starts malfunctioning. Unable to see, its pilot is forced to climb up and out of the fog, which uses up too much fuel. It’s forced to turn back.

Only Doug’s plane is left. He thinks about turning back himself; there’s no way the plan will work with just one plane. Chappy gives him the “I’m right there in the cockpit with you” speech, bolstering his confidence.

He makes it over the border successfully, and when contacted by ground control manages to fool them into thinking he’s part of the leader’s entourage. He heads for the prison.

This is when they switch deceptions (and where the other planes would have been handy). As he closes into the prison, Doug switches on an electronics package his Eagles worked up. At the same time, another Eagle on a fishing boat off the coast unfurls a huge makeshift radar dish on deck, and activates another one. We see the air control at the base near the prison react to seeing an American warship appear off their coast, followed by a radar ping off an F-18 (!) deep in their airspace.

Then Doug contacts the prison, issuing his threat: He’s part of a strike force sent to get his dad out. If the captured pilot isn’t put in his flight suit and set on the tarmac within an hour, the warship will start launching cruise missiles at strategic targets in the country.

The prison scrambles to comply, while contacting the leader for instructions. The leader is skeptical; he orders them to go ahead and release the American, but to set snipers over the runway and prepare their own fighter craft.

Hearing that they’re moving his dad, Doug relays the next part of the plan: His fighter is going back to the warship, and the pilot will be picked up by a civilian aircraft. He switches off his electronics package, and the “F-18” vanishes from their radar.

This makes the leader deeply suspicious. He orders visual confirmation of the warship’s presence. A scout plane is duly launched, headed to the coast to confirm.

Meanwhile, Doug prepares to land. Watches them take his father out of the prison, shove him into a jeep, and wheel him down the runway. He makes his final turn, landing gear down.

And then the scout plane spots the “warship” in the bay: Just a fishing boat, with a smiling, waving, Eagle in it.

The leader orders the snipers to fire, just as Doug touches down.

His dad falls, shot through the shoulder. Panicked and enraged, Doug lifts off again, followed by machine gun fire. He looks back at the runway, sees his dad moving, pulling himself along till he’s behind the jeep, using it for shelter.

Doug can’t leave him there. Thinking quickly, he flies back over the runway, a little down from where his dad is. Drops his spare fuel tank, which explodes on contact, creating a wall of fire on the tarmac that obscures the vision of the snipers. Under its cover, he’s able to land, grab his dad, and take off again.

But they’re not safe. Three enemy fighters from the base set off in pursuit. Doug doesn’t have any weapons, so it’s just his flying against theirs, as they race for the coast.

And it seems like he’s bested them! They’re almost to the Mediterranean, when six more fighters show up ahead of them on radar. They’re caught.

That’s when we hear the American accent crackle over the radio, letting the enemy fighters (and Doug) know the six planes ahead are real F-18s, and suggesting they do not engage with Doug’s plane.

The enemy fighters break off, not wanting to take on such odds. The Americans offer to escort Doug back to base. Doug follows, though he wonders what base they’re referring to.

…Which is revealed as they pass back through the fog near the coast, and come out the other side, where an aircraft carrier is waiting!

Along with Chappy, who “convinced a Navy friend of his” who “was going to be in the neighborhood” to let him come along (and bring his carrier).

And that’s how they work up the cover story for the rescue: The aircraft carrier strike group carried it out, not the Eagles. This gives the military the win, and lets the Eagles off the hook for the whole thing.

There you have it! An updated Iron Eagle, ready for remake in the 21st Century. We keep the emotional heart of the story, and many of the beats, but we deepen the characterization, broaden the representation, and up the realism.

sits by phone, waiting for Hollywood to call

How to Fix: Fate of the Furious

I love the Fast & Furious movies. Yes, even 2 Fast 2 Furious (Roman cracks me up).

I’m not even a car guy. I just love the stunts, the emphasis on practical effects, and the way they juggle so many charismatic characters on screen.

And the way the series embraces heart, with the emphasis on family, and (especially) the tribute to Paul Walker they built into the ending of the seventh movie.

That ending was so powerful (confession: I cry every time) I never saw the eighth movie. Until last week, after binge-watching the others to put me in the right mindset.

And I gotta tell you: Fate of the Furious is the worst Fast & Furious movie I’ve ever seen.

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

What Went Wrong

Beyond the bad dialog (of which there’s plenty), and the numerous close-ups of characters staring into computer screens (which is exactly as boring as it sounds), Fate of the Furious has deep, fundamental problems with the story it’s trying to tell.

Cipher’s motivation (pause for eyeroll at the character’s name) is so vague you get the feeling the script just has EVIL VILLAIN PLOT written out for the scenes where she’s supposed to explain what she wants.

If she wants nukes, then as a hacker, wouldn’t it be easier to steal the Russian missile codes, then seize control of a land-based missile? You know, one that can’t be sunk or stuck in the ice? And if you can hack the security on hundreds of cars at once, why do you need an EMP to get into one abandoned base?

And what are the nukes for, anyway? She’s going to play world cop? The anarchist hacker is going to take on the job of hall monitor for world governments? Really?

Since her motivation is silly and her plan is vague, there’s no tension in any of the set pieces. We know she’s going to lose, because she’s the EVIL VILLAIN. With MAGIC HACKING POWERS. Yawn.

And what does she need Dom for, anyway? His role in the great nuclear football caper is to — wait for it — cut a hole in the side of a car using a tool anyone could use.

That’s it. That’s his vital job.

Oh, wait, he also has to drive the EMP into a base and set it under a sub. So hard.

It’s not like they could have, I dunno, suborned a shipping company, then had someone unload the EMP box under the sub, could they?

Since Cipher as a character doesn’t make sense, and her need for Dom isn’t obvious, then there’s no reason for us to get invested in any of what happens.

Yes, I know there’s a baby involved. The timeline on that kid doesn’t make sense, either, so my suspension of disbelief is blown there, too.

Finally, a special shout-out to Scott Eastwood, who is a terrible actor performing a useless role. Really, who needs him around, when we’ve got Kurt Russell?

How to Fix It

To fix it, we’ve got to reach deep into the engine of the plot, and completely rebuild it.

Let’s start with Cipher’s motivation, and work backwards from there.

Instead of wanting to steal nukes and play cop, she wants to steal a submarine as a broadcast platform. The plane she’s been using has to land periodically for supplies and to refuel. Not to mention it’s got to constantly calculate radar coverage for every country’s military in order to keep from being discovered.

Much easier to use a sub, and stay underwater for as long as you need. Surface only when you want to broadcast. There’s plenty of ocean that’s international waters, where she’d be legally free to be. And the nukes in the submarine would ensure world governments kept their distance.

So now we can keep the end set piece, where they go to get the sub. But now the sub is a specific means to an concrete end, not some remote-controlled toy.

And how is she going to steal the sub? Well, she needs Russian nuclear codes in order to make the threat of them credible (not that she wants to use them, mind) and she needs massive drilling equipment to punch a hole through the ice so she can get the sub into the water without having to move it off the base.

She needs to steal all of this, then, and then get the drilling equipment in place, across the ice, while launching an assault on a Russian base. Easiest to steal the nuclear codes while they’re in transit with the Russian Defense Minister. Only way to get the drilling equipment into place is to convert some big rigs into monster racing cars, and train a team to drive them.

She’s going to need a expert driver, and an expert leader.

She’s going to need Dom.

But how to get him to work for her?

Her first attempt is actually part of the opening race sequence. When we see Cipher, she’s introduced as just a local hustler, under an assumed name. It’s her that Dom’s cousin owes money to. It’s her that he races for slips.

Oh, and here’s where we gotta swap out the actress. I love Theron, but she’s not going to be believable as Cuban. So we get Halle Berry. She’s the right age, she’s an amazing actress, and we can play off her Bond girl days by filming her like she’s just eye candy early on, then revealing that she’s the genius-level antagonist for the movie.

Now we can drop the “oh gosh my car won’t start, silly me” scene between Cipher and Dom. Because we establish her as a hot racing badass, easily Dom’s equal. We establish that she’s willing to cheat, in the way she has her goons try to wreck Dom during the race. But we also establish her as having some honor, as she gives Dom her respect.

And we explain why she’s kidnapped Dom’s kid. That’s an escalation, something she does reluctantly, because her gambit with his cousin failed.

When she recruits him, we drop in a few extra lines to clue the audience into what’s happening, and why Dom is going to act the way he does:

Cipher: “Do it for your family.”

Dom: “I got my family right here.”

Cipher: “Not all of them.” shows video

But we don’t show the video on-screen. So we, the audience, are going to spend the next X minutes wondering what part of Dom’s family she just threatened. Brian and Mia? One of the gang? Another cousin?

That’s building tension.

Meanwhile, we have the assembly of the gang, all the prelude to Dom betraying his team. But it’s not an EMP in Germany they’re after. Instead, Hobbs’ team is supposed to be protecting the Russian nuclear codes from being stolen in St Petersburg.

That’s why Hobbs et al would get disavowed if they’re caught: They’re operating not just on foreign soil, but on Russian soil.

So this first set-piece now has higher stakes. It’s nuclear codes, not a random EMP. And it’s on the streets of St Petersburg, not some random base in Germany. We don’t even need to know Cipher’s full plan at this point, because there’s enough here for us to take what happens seriously.

Since we’ve eliminated the EMP and moved the nuclear codes set-piece, our second one has to be different, too. This one — where Dom faces off against his team — is where Cipher’s crew (with Dom) steal the drill parts they’re going to need. They’re taking it from a North Sea oil company, so it’s in the UK, which is why Dom can arrange a meeting with Shaw’s mother. And it’s the first time we see what Dom’s been building for Cipher: the first of the racer-modded big rigs.

We still get Dom versus his team, we still get to see how they can outsmart and out-maneuver him (using the harpoons). He gets away because a) the big rig is really strong, and b) Cipher hacks Letty et al’s cars so he can get away. No zombie cars, just a very personal attack on Dom’s old crew.

This sets us up for the confrontation at the sub heist. Letty and her team have to build their own big rigs, both to maneuver on the ice and so that they can’t be hacked by Cipher. We get a quip about how they used to rob those trucks, and now they’ve got to drive ’em.

And now our final set-piece makes sense, and is more interesting. We’re going to see Dom, Letty, and the gang drive these huge trucks across the ice, which they’ve never done before. It’s a race against time, as Letty and the gang try to dismantle the drill before it can punch through the ice and Cipher escapes in the sub.

Oh, and we keep the scene where Shaw takes out a plane full of goons while carrying a baby. That’s just magical.

And there you have it. Shift a villain’s motivation, re-arrange a few of the heists, and everything lines up. We have a Fast & Furious movie worthy of the name.

And while we’re wishing, let’s get Ryan Reynolds to play Little Nobody, ok? Set up his character for Hobbs & Shaw, and give Kurt Russell a break (because we don’t need two nobodies, do we?).

More Social Distance Streaming Recommendations

We’re halfway through the third week of shelter-in-place here in California.

It’s starting to feel almost normal, this staying home and avoiding other people thing. Natural to move aside when walking on the sidewalk to avoid passing within six feet of someone else. Odd to think about leaving the house.

But then I think about going out for coffee and donuts, or driving out to the bookstore, and I remember. What we’re doing, and why. And what we’re trying to prevent.

I hope you’re own stay-at-home is going as well as it can. That you’re safe, have enough food, and don’t have to worry about being kicked out by your landlord.

Here’s a couple more shows to keep your mind occupied while we wait for the viral storm to pass:

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

I didn’t want to like this show. True, it’s about a programmer, which should immediately draw me in, but it gets everything about being a programmer at a startup wrong, right from the very first episode. It’s the equivalent of the lazy “enhance” trick we’ve seen on too many shows, drawn out into an entire plot point. It rankles me, every time.

And the lead is….let’s say bland, shall we? The main character is the least interesting part of the show.

But the rest of the cast is phenomenal, the musical numbers are both weird and fun, and it nails the mix of guilt, hope, and love that comes with caring for a terminally ill family member.

So I’ve been gritting my teeth through the software-world bits, and enjoying everything else.

Source: Hulu

Birds of Prey

Ok, not a TV show, but have you seen this movie? It’s currently battling it out with Thor: Ragnarok in my head for the best superhero movie of the last ten years, and I thought nothing would ever get close to Thor.

It’s got goofy comics action — one scene has Harley shooting people with glitter bombs — fantastic fight scenes, a crazy sense of humor (wait till you see what Harley will do for a breakfast sandwich), and incredible sets (one scene takes place inside multiple rooms in a fun house).

The cast is phenomenal, with the exception of the kid playing Cassandra Cain (but she’s young, so can be forgiven).

My wife and I found ourselves watching it twice in a row one night (the second time with the director’s commentary on) and I didn’t even mind. It’s that good.

Source: Online Rental

How to Fix: Blade Runner 2049

What Went Wrong

Almost nothing. This is a gorgeous movie, an obvious labor of love that evokes the spirit and setting of the original flawlessly.

And yet. There were some plot points that didn’t quite add up for me. Some sour notes in this otherwise perfectly bittersweet symphony of a movie.

Take Jared Leto. No, I mean take him away, please. He’s too young to be playing the character of Wallace, who, if he was saving the world in the mid–2020s, should be in his mid-forties by the time the movie starts. Leto sports a beard, true, but that doesn’t make him look any older. Instead, he looks like a kid that shaved off his dad’s beard and glued it on backwards. Threw me out of the setting every time he was on-screen.

Then there’s the rebels. They pop out of the woodwork late in the third act, and we’re supposed to believe they not only have a plan for a rebellion, but they’re about to execute it…if they can just…get…more…time. And that requires killing a human that doesn’t know anything about them? Because any knowledge Deckard may have had is about three decades out of date.

Finally, Joe’s “conversion” to the rebel cause is a little sudden. Their leader gives him at the end is just a few sentences. Too slender a reed to hang a turncoat on.

How to Fix It

Fixing Wallace’s character is easy: recast him. There’s plenty of middle-aged actors that could give the role the gravitas and menace it deserves. Jude Law. Idris Elba. Mads Mikkelsen. Pick one. (I think it’d be interesting to see the role gender-flipped, as well, though some of the commentary on man-reduces-woman-to-just-her-reproductive-function would be lost, in that case)

Fixing the rebels is harder.

The simplest way would be to just drop that plot thread altogether. It’s only given a few minutes of screen time, and it’d be just as convincing for them to be concerned for the child on its own merits, as well as worried about what Wallace will do if he masters replicant reproduction (a line like “Imagine it. An infinite number of slaves, living forever, never their own.” would fit in fine).

But I think the best way would be for the rebels to reveal to Joe that there’s not just one replicant child. During Freysa’s “join us” speech, she explains that Rachel and Deckard’s baby was just “the first of many.” She steps back, and we get that overhead shot of Replicant after Replicant standing there, all about Joe’s age. Freysa explains that once Rachel and Deckard showed it could be done, they made others, and hid them, too.

And there’s more: because they had real childhoods, the second-generation Replicants can pass the Replicant tests as human. They’re free.

When they have enough for their own off-world colony, they’ll pick some new planet and settle it themselves: a new world, where no Replicant will ever be a slave, ever again.

But that dream will be destroyed if Wallace gets his hands on that first child.

That’s the cause that Freysa and the others were willing to die for. Not one child, but many. Not some far-off rebellion, but a long-waited-for escape.

How to Fix: Guardians of the Galaxy II

Damn, what a missed opportunity.

I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and hoped the second would be more snarky fun.

Instead, it’s a stiff, nonsensical mess.

What Went Well

The fight scenes and set pieces are absolutely stunning. I mean just gorgeously filmed, with excellent special effects, and clever shots.

The soundtrack was similarly inspired. Any Cat Stevens fan is a friend of mine.

Zoe Saldana continues to do great work with slight scripts. And Kurt Russell was a great choice for Ego.

What Went Wrong

Ye gods, so much.

Almost everything feels stiff and forced. The weird sniping between Rocket and Peter is overwrought and comes out of nowhere. The opening credits sequence with Groot is cute but completely drains the background fight of any tension. The feud between Gamora and Nebula feels rushed and shot through with bad timing, from the “not ripe” yaro root joke that falls flat to Nebula’s kamikaze run entrance that has absolutely no effect on anything else that’s happening.

So many things seemed designed to drain the events of any meaning. Yondu loses his control-hawk, but it doesn’t matter because he gets it back within a day of getting captured. The Sovereign tracks them across the galaxy, but it doesn’t matter because their pilots are so bad they can be held off by one ship while Peter flies around asking for tape. It doesn’t even matter that they “kill” so many Sovereign pilots, since their ships are all remote-controlled drones. Nebula takes out Yondu for a bit, but it doesn’t matter (in the sense of her becoming the new captain) because the writers want to make jokes about Taserface.

Then there’s the big, gaping, passive hole at the center of the story.

Peter’s relationship with his dad is supposedly at the heart of the plot, but there’s no tension there, either. Peter is never forced to choose anything, he just gets carried along with events. He meets his dad, and just goes along home with him. He finds out his dad is evil, and then immediately is forced to go along with his plans (until rescued by his friends).

There’s no drama, no moment of choice anywhere. It’s just one set piece after another, all of which we know the Guardians will come out on top for, until credits roll.

How to Fix It

We start with the spine of the story: Peter and his encounter with Ego. We strip out the parts that add fake tension: he killed Peter’s mom, he smashed his walkman, etc. We take out the forced usage of Peter as a battery.

Instead, we push Peter into a terrible choice: his father or his friends.

Maybe Ego is dying, and only Peter can save him by staying on the planet and serving as a second battery. Or maybe Ego promises Peter he can bring his mother back, if only he helps him “recharge” by overtaking those planets he’s placed seeds on.

Either way, we need the climax of the story being Peter making a choice. He needs to be forced to choose either the father he never knew, or the ragtag family he’s assembled on his own. We need to see both choices as something Peter could do. Whatever he chooses, he’s going to lose something.

And then we can echo that conflict out to the other plotlines. Nebula can still take out Yondu, but then have her take over the control of the Ravager ship. She jettisons Yondu and Rocket out of an escape pod; they’ll have to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, she’s decided to take the ship and track down Gamora, for her revenge.

When she arrives, it’s in the middle of the battle between Ego, Peter, the other Guardians, and the Sovereign. And Nebula will have a choice: to protect her sister, or to stand by and watch her fall.

Meanwhile, Yondu and Rocket are facing a choice of their own. Having hobbled over to a nearby star system to lick their wounds, they have to decide what to do next. Yondu tries to induce Rocket to join him as a Ravager, saying something to the effect of “this is where you belong.” They can steal a ship, and then keep stealing, for as long as they want. No Peter to keep them from grabbing a few batteries when they want.

But then they see news of the Sovereign fleet heading to Ego’s planet, and they realize their choice could mean all of their friends will die.

Finally, we need to fix the character of Mantis. Currently, she’s Ego’s plaything. Her role in the story is to be a love interest for Drax. She doesn’t affect the story in any way, or have any choice she has to make.

So let’s give her one. Make her one of The Sovereign, a mutant named Bug that the gold people think of as a mistake. She stows away on the Guardian’s ship to get away from the home where everyone hates her. Drax discovers her during the initial fight with the Sovereign, and decides to take her under his wing.

The rest of her storyline can play out normally from there, with one twist: during the final battle, she gets contacted by the Sovereign command with an offer: betray the Guardians, and earn a hero’s welcome back home.

More than polishing up the dialog, or making the actors do more takes until it feels natural, or dropping the weird cameos from Howard the Duck and the Watchers, it’s these changes that will push the movie into a meaningful, purposeful shape.

How to Fix: Rogue One

What Went Wrong

Almost everything. From casting, to story, to editing, this movie is a step backwards for the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s start with the protagonist. Throughout the movie, she is almost completely passive. I don’t know if the actress is any good or not, because most of her screen time consists of her gazing gratefully at the men that are doing things for her.

Compare this with Rey, who we see surviving just on her wits and her skills in her first few minutes of screen time.

An example of how blatant her passivity is: in one scene, there’s a glorified claw game that needs to be manipulated. Not difficult, certainly something that anyone with any manual dexterity at all could use. But rather than grab the controls herself, and execute the mission we’re supposed to believe she passionately wants to succeed, she hangs back and let’s the nameless guy next to her take over.

Her actions are just one piece of the story that’s problematic. At several junctions, characters make decisions that are out of step with what we know about them, and don’t make sense within the world as a whole. Why assassinate an enemy scientist, when you could capture them? Why send a signal to a fleet that you’re on the planet surface, when the reason they’re there is because they know you’re on the surface?

Why film a 2-minute scene with one of the classic villains of cinema, just for him to throw puns?

Perhaps the film as shot would have better explained all of these inconsistencies. But the edited film is so choppy, so eager to hop from place to place and set of characters to set of characters, that it becomes a confusing mess. We never spend enough time with the protagonist to care about her, or any of her companions (save for two, which I’ll get to later).

Again, I can’t help but contrast it with Episode VII, which used long takes and wide establishing shots to give us a sense of mood and place. And for the protagonist, it takes its time letting us know who she is, following her for a day before the main storyline gets going.

We get no such chance to learn about the protagonist of Rogue One. Only 2 min scene followed by 2 min scene, emotional beats chopped off at the wrist, ad infinitum.

How To Fix It

The real tragedy to me about this movie is that the core story is fantastic: Imperial scientist is working for them against his will, and instead of collaborating, uses his position to undermine them from within. Daughter finds out, and decides to mount a rescue. In doing so, she has to “go rogue,” rebelling against the rebels to get what she wants.

That’s a great story. It directly addresses the moral problems in the Star Wars universe, where we’re supposed to celebrate the destruction of a battle station on which hundreds of thousands of people were living and working. Were they all worthy of death?

Unfortunately, that story has been buried underneath disconnected characters, sloppy editing, and a tension-free plot.

We need to make some major plot tweaks, trim several characters, and bring the focus back to the central character.

We open by fleshing out the party scene that was a 10-second fuzzy flashback in the film. It’s a good-bye party for her dad, one last night of drinking and dancing in his Imperial uniform before moving out to farm country. Jyn’s sneaking downstairs to grab some extra dessert after bedtime, mostly oblivious to the dialog between her father and the Director (who is trying to convince him to stay, ribbing him about getting his hands dirty, etc). She gets caught, of course, giving her father a chance to sweep her up in arms and dote on her, calling her by her nickname.

Right away, we establish that we’re going to humanize the Imperials a little, and that our protagonist’s allegiance might be ambiguous.

Next we show the family at work on the farm, years later. Jyn doing chores, eating with her parents.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s their old family friend, the Director.

Her father invites him inside, outwardly friendly but it’s clear there’s tension between them.

They talk. The Director pushes her father to come back to work. Says he can’t do it without him. When her dad refuses, the Director responds with a threat: “You won’t like it when I come back tomorrow. I won’t be alone.”

Her dad again refuses, and the Director leaves. Her parents stay up late, talking about what to do. They decide Jyn and her mom should leave at first light, heading to the shelter.

But when the Director returns the next day, with troops, as promised, they’re ambushed by a rebel squadron. Jyn and her mom flee as her dad is captured, but her mom is killed in the crossfire — by the rebels.

Jyn gets to the shelter, waits as she was told, where she’s found by Saw.

Now we’ve established a lot of backstory in just a few scenes: the ambiguous relationship her father has with the Empire, the dangers of living in a civil war, and why Jyn might hate the rebels as much as she mistrusts Imperials.

Next scene: Jyn a little older, running a scam for Saw. We learn Saw is a scoundrel, one of those living just outside the law that sometimes help the rebels, sometimes the Imperials, as suits them. She returns home, flush with cash, when she sees a rebel leader leaving. She confronts Saw, finds he’s been helping the rebels out, sometimes without pay. Angry that he’s working with those that killed her mother, she strikes out on her own, leaving Saw’s home and his friends.

So now we have more backstory, another layer to Jyn’s personality. And we’ve introduced Saw, and know who he is and what he’s doing in the movie. We care about both, the protagonist and her surrogate father. We can take either side in their argument, and feel justified.

Next we see Jyn, a little older now, committing another theft. She gets caught this time, and sentenced to a labor camp for her crimes. It’d be nice if we could see an example of swift-but-cruel Imperial justice here. It would give the audience a reason to lean toward the rebel side later on.

The rebels attack the prison transport, freeing everyone, including her. Most of her fellow prisoners are rebels, but she curses them. They restrain her, take her back to base — can’t let her go, she’ll run right to the Imperials and give them away — where they find out who she is, and her connection with Saw.

Saw, it turns out, is their only connection with a mole deep inside the Emperor’s Death Star project. The mole’s used Saw to pass intelligence to them for years. Saw’s holding the last message for ransom, though. He says it’s too important to let go without getting properly paid for it.

The rebels make Jyn a deal: if she meets with Saw, and negotiates a fair price, they’ll let her go.

She agrees. They assign her Cassian and the droid as her minders (jailers), and send her off.

She still meets Chirrut and Baze, but not as strangers. She knows them both, because she grew up on their planet. They know where Saw is, and readily take her there (after disposing of the Stormtrooper patrol that tries to grab them).

Notice: we don’t need any backstory on Cassian, or the pilot, or any mysterious goons working for Saw that capture them. Since everyone knows each other, we can spend more time showing what matters. Also, the stakes are higher, because these characters all have relationships with each other.

We also don’t need any scenes showing Director Krennic and his problems. Why do we care? It’s enough to see the Death Star looming over the horizon, and firing on the city. We can find out later they did it just to test-fire it.

So, we have Jyn reunited with Saw. This scene is filled with tension now: will he welcome her back? Will she put aside her antipathy for rebels long enough to get free?

And: what’s the message Saw’s holding on to?

Saw is glad to see her, still feels guilty for letting her go. Won’t stop working with the rebels, though. He’s seen too much of the Imperial yoke to want to wear it forever. Jyn says she doesn’t want to negotiate, that her jailer should do that.

Saw tells her negotiating won’t be necessary. Because the message is for her.

That’s when he takes her back and plays it for her. She hears her father for the first time in years, explaining how he was taken from her, and how he’s been working against the Empire from within.

This scene is the turning point of Act One. The moment when Jyn starts to have something to live for besides herself. And when she starts tilting toward the rebel side.

We still have the Death Star blow up the town, and Saw’s people have to leave. He doesn’t hang back to commit a pointless suicide, though.

Instead, the pilot kills him.

We don’t know anything about the pilot at this point. We’re told he defected, and so Cassian breaks him out of jail when things start collapsing around them. He breaks off from the group, though, and finds Saw gathering some last-minute things to take with him (including the message from Jyn’s dad).

The pilot shoots Saw, then hurries to the transport. Tells everyone Saw died under a pile of rubble. Too bad the message was lost.

Because the pilot’s a double agent. The Emperor’s set one of his classic traps for the rebels: give them what they think they want, but be there to snatch it away at the last minute.

Now we’ve got a reason for the pilot to matter, for the audience to care about him. And to worry about Jyn’s survival.

They get back to the rebel base, where they’re assigned to go fetch Jyn’s dad, now that they know he’s the mole.

Cassian still gets secret orders, but they’re to kill her father only if it looks like he’ll be captured and interrogated by the Imperials. Since he’s been their mole for so long, if they fail to get him out, the Empire can learn exactly how much they know, and change it so their knowledge is useless.

They get there, stage a rescue, but it all goes bad when Imperials bomb the place. The pilot, forced off his vantage point by Cassian (who was readying his sniper rifle), used the opportunity to sneak off and radio them what was going on.

So no Director Krennic, but we still have Cassian make a choice not to kill Jyn’s dad, when it’s clear the mission has failed and the Imperials know about their mole. He and Jyn still have a fight as they take off in a stolen shuttle, but this time it’s him as the only rebel against her crew of rogues, instead of Jyn the captive against a group that Cassian leads.

When they get back, there’s more reasons for Jyn to abandon the rebel cause. She makes her case to the Council — shrunk to just a dozen people, instead of seemingly everyone in the rebellion crowded into one room — but they decide not to go after the Death Star plans. They want to prep for a conventional assault on the station, they don’t want to waste people and resources on a likely suicide mission with dubious benefit.

She’s crushed, wondering what to do, when Mon Mothma takes her aside. She can’t give her any official backing, she tells Jyn, but she can see that she gets off the base safely and has access to enough equipment to pull off her raid to get the Death Star plans.

So there’s hope. Jyn gathers her crew — the defecting pilot, the two temple priests from her childhood — and starts prepping the raid. Cassian comes to her, asking to be part of it, to prove to her that he can be trusted.

She agrees, and her crew is complete. There’s no group of redshirts going with them. They’re going in stealthy and quiet, using the pilot’s knowledge of the facility and her ability to get into places she shouldn’t to pull it off.

One more change: as they’re stealing the shuttle for their mission, and asked for the call sign, she tells the pilot: “Tell them our call sign is Rogue. Rogue One.” It’s a symbol of her independence, her refusal to submit to authority of any kind, no matter how seemingly benign. She’s on the rebel side, for now, but she’s not really a rebel. She’s a rogue.

When they get to the planet, things still go pear-shaped. The pilot betrays them again, radioing Darth Vader that the rebels are there.

His betrayal turns out to be a boon, though: since he’s connected them to the Imperial network, they’re able to get a signal to the rebel fleet that they’ve gotten the tape, and they should send a ship into orbit to receive the transmission.

So we still get our space battle, with the rebels sending in more and more ships to both get the plans and then try to get their people off the surface (which is the real reason they need to drop the planet’s defense shield). We still have Jyn’s squad being picked off one by one, as they race against time to both get the plans and get them transmitted off-world.

But having spent so much more time with them, as a group, we care more. The victory — their victory — comes at a high price.

How to Fix: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

What Went Wrong

Man, this movie tried to pack it all in. Dark wizards, magical creatures, conflict between governments and the individual, romance, the tension between preserving wild beasts and keeping people safe. It feels like they didn’t think they had enough material for a single movie, so they stuffed it with extras to try to fill it out.

Unfortunately, they had enough material for at least three movies. Stuffing them all into the same film just squeezed them all so they couldn’t breathe.

But we can fix that.

How to Fix It

Break it up into three different movies.

There’s at least three plots I can see that could carry their own films. First, there’s Scamander and the gang searching for the fantastic beasts that escaped from his bag. Second (the least-fleshed-out plot), there’s Langdon Shaw (son of the newspaper man) and his attempts to impress his father with a big scoop. Finally, there’s Graves and his hunt for the obscurus’ host.

Each one of these could easily be their own movie. It would give us more time with all the characters, allow their relationships to deepen, and give more time to setup Graves as a friend that betrays Scamander and the gang, instead of leaning on “oh that’s Colin Farrell, he’s definitely the bad guy.”

So how would we fill out each of these plots, to make them a full movie?

The first plot doesn’t really need anything. Having Scamander come to New York and meet the other main characters while trying to re-capture his fantastic beasts is enough. This time, though, we make Graves a friend of the group, someone who understands them and argues with the President (who is the antagonist for this first film) for leniency.

Of course, Graves is only doing it because: a) he wants to use Scamander’s knowledge for his own ends, and b) the beasts in question are illegal, and anyone willing to break laws is a potential ally of his.

Also this way, we don’t have to have Kowalski lose all knowledge of Queenie. We can give them a proper happy ending, with them starting a secret romance.

The second plot needs the most filling out. We already have a hook to get it started, though: Scamander comes back to New York to hand-deliver his book to Tina. While there, they go to see a circus, where there just happens to be a magical creature that’s been captured. It’s on display as something other than it is, and everyone thinks it’s fake.

But: Shaw’s son suspects it might be real, and starts investigating. Meanwhile, Scamander and Tina are arguing because he wants to rescue the magical beast, while Tina (and her bosses) want to keep it under wraps, for fear of revealing magic to society at large.

Eventually, the creature escapes, forcing all four of the gang to join forces again to track it down and trap it before it causes so much damage that Shaw’s son gets his scoop. After they succeed, we get to see Scamander’s mass obliviate trick (just not the whole city, that’s ridiculous). Shaw’s son, frustrated and angry at being embarrassed in front of his father, stumbles upon the Second Salem group, who tell him what he’s come to suspect: witches live among us.

The third movie is the hunt for the obscurus. Scamander is again visiting Tina — maybe to ask her to marry him? — when Creedance’s powers start to spin out of control. This time, when Senator Shaw is murdered, we’ve got a lot more invested in the newspaper family, and Langdon’s step forward with the “solution” for his father will carry a lot more emotional weight.

We get the same climax, the same reveal of Graves as the villain, etc. But now we’ve spent three movies with all these characters, and everything that happens means more.

How to Fix Deadpool

This movie was surprisingly good. I’ll admit I know nothing about the comic book character aside from his appearances in Squirrel Girl. But it felt like Ryan Reynolds has been working his whole life to be able to play this role, and it fits him like a leather gimp superhero suit.

There’s actually nothing to fix here. Honest. It’s funny, irreverent, and personal, exactly what it needed to be.

Nothing to fix.









What Went Wrong

Ok, you got me. There’s one thing that bothered me: it got a little cliché at the end.

Vanessa getting kidnapped because the bad guys can’t find Deadpool, I understand. Vanessa getting tied up, I understand. But Vanessa helpless until Deadpool can rescue her? Felt too typical, too normal, for any movie, let alone one that was going out of its way to be different.

How to Fix It

Rather than push Vanessa’s character into damsel-in-distress mode, I’d prefer her to escape on her own. Preferably, via her mutant powers.

There’s a perfect moment, after we first see her tied up, and then Deadpool shows up. The villains’ backs are turned while they banter with Deadpool. That’d be a great moment for Vanessa to suddenly color-shift, and then become invisible.

When the villains turn back to sneer at her, she’s gone. They pop open the container, wondering how she escaped, but then get distracted again by Deadpool.

She uses the fight to wriggle her way free of the constraints, then hides, coming out to deliver her sword blow to the villain just when needed.

It’s a small change, but giving her a mutant power — one that she’s presumably kept from Deadpool — gives her character a little more depth, a little more mystery, and letting her use it to free herself is both more in line with her character (strong and independent) and subverts the clichéd ending.

How to Fix Captain America: Winter Soldier

I loved this movie when it came out. It was interesting, well-paced, and felt like it did justice to all of its characters, no matter how minor. Not to mention the events of this movie aren’t just taken seriously, they pushed the ongoing MCU TV series and movies in a different direction.

But re-watching the movie revealed a few flaws.

What Went Wrong

In a word: cinematography.

The camera is moving throughout the movie, jostling and shaking back and forth constantly. Its particularly egregious in most of the fight scenes, where the trembling camera combines with super-quick cuts and bad framing to render them illegible.

The scene where Black Widow and Captain America are sitting talking inside Falcon’s house? The camera constantly dips down and tilts, so that different parts of Black Widow’s head are in frame every couple of seconds. What did the shaky-cam bring to this scene?

It seems the camera only stands still for the CGI shots, like when the heli-carriers are taking off near the end of the film.

How to Fix It

Simple: stop shaking the camera. We’ve had the technology for shooting movies in a stable fashion — even action scenes, mind you — for a few decades. Use that.

We’ve also got to reframe most of the shots of the movie. The sequence where the Winter Soldier, Cap, and Black Widow are all fighting around an overpass is in particular need of a re-shoot. Most of the shots are at odd angles, with any background that could help orient the action completely out of frame.

This is a great movie. It deserved to be shot clearly, without the headache-inducing edits that chopped movies like Quantum of Solace into a boring mess.