This summer I have been going back to school at the movies. I am seeing brushstrokes and devices in films that not only make the experience more enjoyable but far more interesting and layered. Frankly, all the movies I've seen thus far have run the gamut from bad to excellent, and I have picked a few teachable things from each. I've been very fortunate to have an "escalating" experience, in that each subsequent film I have seen has only gotten better, less the last one. Regardless, they are all bringing different lessons to the table.
Iron Man 3 - Love the ideas behind Iron Man 3...but execution is everything.
Some surprises don't work: if you have strong material to adapt, don't toss it out the window to be "hip".
Pay-off your toys: nothing is worse than showing a bunch of really cool stuff...and then barely showcasing at all. The final battle of Iron Man 3 is the most disappointing climax in a Marvel film since the final battle in Iron Man 2.
Remember your audience: if your core demographic is young boys, don't have your protagonist tell a boy in the film he doesn't need to be an [insert needless obscenity] for feeling sad that his father left. It's irresponsible.
Fast and Furious 6 - For all its faults, the screenplay of Furious 6 (according to the title frame of the film) is one of the better action screenplays of the last few years. If the Avengers is going to be the template for studying how to do a superhero team movie, Furious 6 should be a requisite piece of additional viewing/reading.
Establish the relationships in act 1; invert by act 3: No spoilers, but this flic does it...and well.
Know your strengths; Play to them: If there's anything Justin Lin and company know about the F&F franchise, it's what works: the moral gray and a complete disregard for the real world. These are comic book fair for people who enjoy antiheroes without capes or armor.
It takes VERY LITTLE to make ending conflicts earned: The script for Furious 6 sows its seeds early, waters them with brief but memorable moments, and ends them with satisfying conclusions.
Man of Steel - My full perspective on Man of Steel is elsewhere on the blog, but here's some specifics that I did not highlight in it.
Give minor characters weight: A supporting right hand heavy hitter is worth 50 nameless thugs in an action scene, and a few well-placed lines can make a minor character one worth watching.
Don't be afraid of scale: If big consequences are at stake, then the cost of stopping them should be high.
But Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees: of course, if things get too big and loud and long, many will get bored. Extended destruction without visible consequences feels false.
Wolverine - So close yet so far from being the perfect comic entry to such a loud summer season.
Ask Yourself: Does my sci-Fi really need this bizarre thing or not? Just because you can fill a story with strange beings doesn't mean you need to. And when you give them powers specifically geared toward solving writing problems, it can feel cheap.
Human drama can and should carry a story. When you lose sight of that in favor of an action-laden final act, it can damage all that came before it. So, if you are making a smaller film, it can stay small and still have weight.
Sometimes saving the kitten means killing the kitten (At least for some troubled antiheroes). For those who don't know, "saving the kitchen" is an industry term for establishing your main character's heroism early in the story. But that can be done in many interesting ways.
There you have it. Looking forward to learning more this fall.