Comic-Con Marketing 2017

While it may have started as a humble gathering of nerds, Comic-Con has grown into a behemoth of a marketing event. Studios come to meet their fans head on and give them a sneak peak into what’s to come. It breeds loyalty from fans and allows creators to meet them head on to get a read on what’s working with them and what isn’t.

What I’m saying is I love Comic-Con. But the best part is the way a new movie or TV series will introduce itself to the fans at Comic-Con. These trailers are so early in the marketing process that they rarely look like what the final film will be. For example:

That’s the original Suicide Squad trailer from Comic-Con in 2005. In the old days a first look trailer like this was only for those who attended the con, but now that’s a futile endeavor. Everyone has an HD camera in their pocket. That trailer leaked, so they officially released it. Which means we can see how the marketing started dark and moody and wound up at Comic-Con the next year as… well…

So yeah, in no particular order let’s take a look at some notable trailers from this year’s Comic-Con with an eye towards how they’re introducing, or re-introducing, themselves to their fans.

Bright

Bright is, ironically, also a David Ayer film like Suicide Squad. This one, however, has a much harder uphill battle towards garnering an audience. It’s an original story about cops in a Los Angeles that features Orcs and Elves. It’s also written by Max Landis, who’s pretty divisive among fans.

Yet I like this trailer. They know Will Smith is their secret weapon and they introduce the world in a clean mundane way. Fairies are nuisances, not special. The marketing wants us to see this as a story about race relations. Then it takes a turn into the weird, and no there’s no cool way to say, “that’s a magic wand.” The trailer takes a turn into a siege movie narrative. The marketing wants you to know you’ve seen this movie before, where two cops find a million dollars or something in a bad neighborhood and have to escape. This version is just going to be the most fantastical version of that.

Plus I really like that song.

Marvel’s Inhumans

I have a lot to say about this show. Namely that it shouldn’t exist and is a bad idea and looks, visually, terrible. But I kind of have to commend this trailer on construction alone. The song it’s wielding with all the subtlety of the Doof Warrior is Human by Rag’n’Bone Man. A choice that induces eye rolls right until that final line of the trailer that single handidly make this project interesting. Well, that and Ken Leung. I’ll watch Ken Leung in anything.

That being said, the most fascinating aspect of this series is how it’s trying to create an event from nothing. Simply putting this into IMAX theaters does not guarantee an audience for that kind of overblown premiere. These characters are complete unknowns to general audiences, and they look insanely cheap here. The marketing isn’t even sure how to sell us this. You have to know what an Inhuman is from Agents of SHIELD to get the significance of a city of them on the moon, but it doesn’t show the city on the moon. Then it becomes a political drama with, again, zero subtlety. And then it becomes, in its final moment, a rumination on genetic superiority.

Basically, it’s a mess. From Iron Fist Showrunner Scott Buck.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The previous trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle was more of a teaser than anything. This new trailer is a much stronger introduction to the film. It’s damn good to. It’s clear up front that this film intends to expand on the world of the first. It’s got the action of the original with the addition of the Statesmen and all of the hollywood celebrities who’ve been cast on that side. They have no intention of showing you what the villain’s plan is, instead showcasing Brits and Americans taking the piss out of each other while kicking ass. I’m for it.

There’s also zero attempt at hiding the amount of Colin Firth in this film, as opposed to another movie near the bottom of this list. What’s great is that Colin Firth still cannot confirm or deny he’s in the film despite everything we can see on screen. They’re just making fun of how these movies operate with secrecy.

The Gifted

Is an X-Men TV series a good idea? Yeah. Totally. It’s called Legion, check it out. The Gifted is a tougher call to make, and this piece of marketing just feels… off. For example, I find it extremely frustrating when the blond girl asks, “How do you think we got out of that ship?” and they don’t show us any piece of that. That’s a perfect setup for a shot to hook us! Instead this switches focus to the Not-X-Men talking about how much they wish the X-Men were there. Then there’s the hero shots with everyone’s code names followed by two teenagers with normal ass names and no clear shots of what their powers actually are.

Also, if they want to make mutations seem like a gift, why are the power shots all destructive? There’s no wonder, powers are either mundane or dangerous, despite the lip service otherwise. And then there’s the last line talking about that one guy’s girlfriend. It’s a joke, I guess, but it’s also the only one in the trailer. Which probably makes it the best one in the pilot. It’s just a messy trailer, and I know TV trailers are hard since you’re often working with one episode of footage, but the only people this is grabbing are die hard X-Men fans.

Star Trek: Discovery

Speaking of die hard fans, I am absolutely a Trekker. I’ve mentioned this before. I have been waiting for a new Star Trek series for a very long time. This trailer looks like it’s for an exciting science fiction series, but it doesn’t quite feel like Star Trek. From the first line, “All life is born from chaos. The world doesn’t always adhere to logic.” this piece of marketing is poetic, sturm und drang, instead of the scientific roots of the original series. Logic is Star Trek’s bread and butter. The production design is excellent, and the overall plot on display here is for a dark war narrative against the Klingons. This will undoubtedly be the most serialized Star Trek series ever, but dude, Harry Mudd shouldn’t be scary. The dude is completely ridiculous.

This is marketing that feels at odds with the TV series, but closer in line with the movies as they currently exist for good and ill. Now maybe that’s calculated by the marketing to pull in any fans who arrived with the new movies, or maybe this is what Discovery will be like. I know I’ll be there, but I’ll be really salty if I have to pay for CBS All Access just to be disappointed.

Stranger Things

Now this is an excellent TV trailer. The marketing knows what worked about season one. They bring on the time period in both aesthetics and music choices. They’re leaning into the halloween trappings of this season with Thriller dictating the piece. They’re making it clear that all of this is fallout from what came before. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. And before you ask, they even show you that Eleven will be back.

It must be easier to market sequels, because you already know what works.

Westworld

What’s fascinating about this trailer is that Westworld has only been back filming for about a week. They’re showing us almost everything they’ve got in this. Yet they had great and evocative shots in the can for this trailer. The music is their speed, there’s plenty of death, and seeing Delores take out people with a rifle on horseback is damn satisfying. So is William’s smile at the end. It’s a signal to the fans. The revolution begins now.

Ready Player One

Got to be honest. This teaser is way too proud of itself. The voiceover is fine as a lead in to the plot, I just hope it isn’t in the final film. The dirty real world looks great and the stylized Oasis looks far out. It’s the stuff like, “Cinematic Game Changer Stephen Spielberg” and “Ernest Cline’s Holy Grail of Pop Culture”. Calm down WB, the book has serious flaws and Spielberg definetly doesn’t like being called a game changer.

This teaser is showing off the Oasis. It’ll be grand but not otherwordly. You’ll recognize the elements in it. The Iron Giant, the Delorean, it’s all waiting for you. Wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by safe pop culture instead of in the dreary real world? Look, we have Tom Sawyer by Rush! It wants us to want to live there and adventure there. We want to be in that impossible car chase. Now, if all goes well, the film will make us confront that want.

Justice League

This must be the third trailer for Justice League, but it’s the first one since Wonder Woman became the de facto leader of the DCEU and it shows. Diana, and even Themyscira, are front and center here. She opens the show before they remind us Superman is dead. Good idea, because not everybody saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They do that thing where news reports fill us in on what’s going on. I hate that thing. But anyway the bad guy we don’t know, like at all, shows up and we get hero shots of all the new characters.

Shout out to the “No Lanterns” line on behalf of my Green Lantern love alone.

The villain doesn’t matter in this piece. It’s about the heroes and they’re coming together. It’s about how cool their powers look. Batman says they’re all held back, but the trailer shows them all being flawless and awesome. Except the Flash. He isn’t a fighter. It shows you how Cyborg… actually I still don’t have a read on Cyborg’s personality here. He’s just… cool? Like all the other ones? Like, yeah it’s cool that he takes over Batman’s… thingy? God I have no context! Why is he entirely CG!?

Also they straight up lie when they Superman was a beacon who inspired people to be better. That’s reductive of their argument in the previous film! In that he was a Christ figure worshiped by people and in the previous film he was an illegal alien feared by people. This incarnation of Superman has never once been seen as inspirational in the text of these films.

That being said, I do like the exchange between Alfred and Batman. “I don’t recognize this world.” and, “We don’t have to, we just have to save it.”

Look this trailer is almost entirely hero shots with out of context, and very important sounding, dialogue hanging over it all. It’s about as Zack Snyder as you can get. The bit at the end with the Flash was good but why are we pretending Superman is in this movie? We all know he’s in this movie. They’re digitally erasing his mustache so he can be in this movie.

Alright, the best for last.

Thor: Ragnarok

First of all, this trailer somehow picks up exactly where the teaser left off. Thor and Hulk meeting. But it uses that to go back and quickly run through the plot elements we learned from that one. Thor loses the hammer and winds up on an alien gladiator planet. It’s quick and simple, this trailer isn’t about that aspect of the story. This bit of marketing is about Hela and Thor’s new team.

Bruce Banner gets to be our perspective on all of the zany space and Asgardian aspects of the plot, but he’s also the Hulk. The Hulk is a champion of the fighting pits and he’s clearly in control so much that Bruce doesn’t even know where they are.

Cate Blanchett gets to chew the scenery to pieces as Hela with a disturbingly comics accurate head piece. She relishes every line she has and quickly makes it clear she’ll be more interesting than the Dark Elves from the last Thor. She’s not a queen or a monster, she’s a god, and my god do they make her look tough. She’s busting Mjolnir, fighting in the rainbow bridge, taking out the Valkryies and all of Asgard.

Neither Valkyrie nor the Grandmaster are the focus of these, but Loki is here because he’s still a massive draw for the fans. They couldn’t possibly hide him. Everything looks bright and colorful and more apart with Guardians of the Galaxy than anything else. Plus it looks aggressively fun.

This too is full of hero shots, but when dialogue is spoken they typically show the person speaking. They pause for jokes in the middle and the end, and they let the villain shine. People know Thor. This doesn’t need to sell us on him. It needs to sell us on what he’s up against, and this does just that.

 

 

It’ll be interesting to see how the marketing campaigns for these evolve over time, especially the really early footage first looks. Be sure to poke around the internet for the other trailers released over the weekend! These are only a few with the most to talk about.

-JP

PS, It’s kind of my life goal to be on a panel at Comic-Con. We’ll see if it ever happens.

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Game of Thrones is Long Form Storytelling at Its Finest

Game of Thrones is back. Winter is here, as evident by the oncoming army of white walkers, complete with ice zombie giants, to the north of The Wall. This premiere was momentous to say the least, and not because of the apocalypse bearing down on Westeros. It’s huge because of the scattered character moments we’ve been building to for years. Game of Thrones is a perfect example of emotional catharsis in long-form storytelling. It’s the definitive reason why television can tell a better story than any movie ever could.

In season one, episode one, Daenerys Targarian has been exiled from Westeros for her entire life. She and her brother seek to return home and reclaim their rightful throne, but it will take an army to do so. She starts out as a pawn, used to marry into command of the Dothraki army. Instead, both her brother and Khal Drogo die and she takes command. She continues to sweep eastward, racking up more and more titles along with more and more followers. Finally, she has the army and the ships to travel to Westeros where, for the first time in her life, she sees her ancestral home Dragonstone.

Arya Stark has been on the run since the end of season one, seeking out her family so she could be safe again. She thought she would be safe with her older brother Robb, but when she arrived where he was at the Twins, the Red Wedding had just taken place. Both Robb and her mother were dead. She gave up on searching for family and instead sought the skill to extract revenge on everyone who attacked her family. She trained with the faceless men and returned to the Twins, where she slits Walder Frey’s throat, wears his face, and poisons all of his men who participated in the Red Wedding.

The Hound was escorting Arya to her aunt in the Vale when they came across a simple farmer and his daughter. The farmer offered them pay and room if they stayed to help with his farm. Instead the Hound stole from the farmer and left. After being left for dead by Arya, he was found by some kind pacifists and nursed to health. When those pacifists were killed, he took up arms once again and joined the Brotherhood Without Banners. On their journey northward, they take a night to rest in that same farmers home. The Hound discovers the farmer’s body clutching his daughter’s. He chose death for them both over starvation. That night, in the freezing cold, the Hound gives them a proper funeral.

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These three moments form the backbone of the seventh season premiere of GoT, but also perfectly exemplify the specific thrills of well-executed long form storytelling. We were there when Arya was with her family in Winterfell. We know how much she loved her brothers, her mother, her father. We’ve been with her, hoping she would catch up with her family, agonizing when she missed them yet again. We were there when she made her list of people she’d like to kill, even when she didn’t have the skill to do it. We saw her train and we saw her kill the Waif and walk away from the house of Black and White. It’s been a long trip, but every step along the way feels in line with who Arya is at that point in time (give or take a stabbing on the street) so that when she kills Walder Frey in the sixth season finale we’re excited for her to begin executing her vengeance.

And so she kills an entire house. A moment that’s arguably bigger than her emotional journey. This one is cathartic for the fans, as the Red Wedding remains THE pivotal moment of Game of Thrones. A painful reminder that the game is dangerous, and being good will not guarantee victory. For a lot of fans, their faith in their favorite characters wavered. Are any of them safe? Is this show just going to continue hurting me?

And then Walder Frey called his family to dinner.

Wait. Wasn’t he dead?

And then he calls his men “brave” for stabbing a pregnant woman to death.

Wait. That’s Arya!

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Because we know the rules, the character, as well as we do, the show doesn’t need to tell us what’s happened until after it’s already happened. The same goes for the Hound and that father and child. Even though I didn’t explicitly remember he had stolen from these people, it became clear immediately that he knew who they were. After his own near death, and his time with Ian McShane, it’s clear the Hound has changed in at least one respect. No body should be left out in the cold. Watching this cold blooded killer bury these two on a night that feels cold just to watch makes it clear that the character we thought we knew has changed. He’s getting softer. But we know the world; it’s so well drawn, and we wonder if this will make him weaker in the fights to come. And there are many fights to come.

Which brings me to Daenerys. For the entire run of the show there has been Westeros, and there has been Daenerys. They talk about each other, but they don’t intersect. They are on different continents. They have promised her arrival since the first episode and this week it finally came. Friggin’ finally. It wasn’t explosive, it was quiet. She steps on the beach, walks past the picturesque rocks, and comes upon the coolest throne in the seven kingdoms.

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Seriously wish they had a bigger budget when they made the iron throne

Finally she comes to her war table and with a few words snaps everything to come into focus.

“Shall we begin?”

Everything before this point was prologue. It moved all of the characters into place so they could be the people they need to be here at the end, but it didn’t feel that way. Jaimie needed to be trapped with Brienne to distrust Cersei. Cirsei needed to lose her kids to become the Queen. John needed to join the night’s watch to learn of the white walkers, and he needed to die so he could leave them. Every victory they gain, every homecoming and meeting between characters, sweeps us off our feet because both we and the characters have been waiting for these moments.

There isn’t much time left either, which means a lot more of these moments are in the works.

-JP

PS, but also, like, Stannis bumped uglies with the red woman on that war table right? Eeeeeewwwwww.

Who Is YOUR Spider-Man?

For any character existing in pop-culture long enough, there will be plenty of different interpretations of them. Superman has existed for over 75 years and we’ve seen a multitude of live-action movies, cartoons, and of course comics. Every audience member has a certain interpretation that imprints upon them. There own definitive version of the character. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Mark Hammil’s animated Joker, Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four and Matt Fraction & David Aja’s Hawkeye.

Thanks to the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming hitting theaters, I’d like to share the version of Peter Parker that imprinted on me. J. Michael Straczynski & John Romita Jr.’s Amazing Spider-Man (2001-2007).

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This was slightly before every change in creative staff led to an aggressive renumbering of a comic book series, which is why Straczynski’s run began with issue 30 in June, 2001. It found adult Peter Parker checking in on his old high school in Queens. He takes up an offer to teach at the school part time, providing its own kind of homecoming for the title character.

But it’s later when things get weird. Peter meets a guy named Ezekiel.

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Ezekiel has the same powers as Peter, knows who Peter is, and has his own personal beliefs on where their powers come from.

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He brings up this idea that Peter’s spider powers might actually be mystical in origin, making Peter a kind of spider totem warrior. The text never answers this one way or the other; it’s up to the reader to decide how much they buy in. But one character certainly does, a new baddie named Morlun who nearly kills Peter. Morlun consumes the spirit of totem warriors and wants to chow down on Peter. Morlun is especially notable for two reasons. One of which is that he would be retconned into a member of a multiversal Spider-Man hunting family to be the big bad of Spider-Verse.

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Morlun is the one on the right with the cane

The other reason is Peter walks away from Morlun so beaten and exhausted he passes out on his bed. And then Aunt May comes in.

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But the story took a break after that issue because by then it was December, 2001, and a certain event had changed the world irrevocably in the months prior.

***Trigger Warning***

 

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Issue 36 is set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In it, Spider-Man and many other heroes arrive on the scene too late to stop the tragedy, but nevertheless join in the clean-up efforts. Now, I was 8 years old at this time and did not have the mental fortitude to comprehend what had truly occurred. But I can tell you, seeing images like these helped:

Earth’s mightiest heroes stood side-by-side with the firemen, first-aid workers, and military members who existed in the real world to protect us, and it made them stand out as one and the same in my mind. I’ll never forget this comic. Not even that time Doctor Doom cries due to the senselessness of it all.

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It’s not perfect

Spider-Man is THE quintessential New York superhero. To have him ignore such a substantial and transformative event in his city would be like the friends from Friends never once bringing it up in their series.

What’s that? They don’t? Huh.

Either way, Straczynski chose to confront these dark times, but also knew not to dwell on them. Which is why the series comes back to Aunt May in the following arc.

 

***End Trigger Warning***

May accepts and learns to support Peter as Spider-Man. Peter makes up with Mary Jane (who he had been estranged with) and takes on an upstart new Doc Ock with the help of the original. Peter takes on more and more totem warrior themed bad guys. Peter hangs out with Doctor Strange a bit. And then…

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In comic books they like to renumber because a fresh reader is more likely to jump into issue 1 than issue 324. But they always know what the real score is. Which is why they bring the real numbering in when an important milestone is reached, and this particular run hit issue 500 of the Amazing Spider-Man.

Here’s the skinny. Peter breaks time. He sees both an older version of himself and his own origin story. He can interfere with either one. Save himself from his future death or prevent himself from ever becoming a hero. Ultimately he lets both events play out. From there he has to fight all the way from his origin to the present to save the world. Reality? The stakes are high.

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He winds up beneath piles of rubble. An underwater base falling apart around him. In front of him the cure to an illness Aunt May had at the time. This event was in Amazing Spider-Man 33. The first Amazing Spider-Man 33. In that moment it’s real. If Peter fails again, then Aunt May dies this time. Only Peter’s even more tired than before, and he’s lifting an underwater base plus the water pressure atop it. And god dammit he does it.

ICONIC.

Peter saves the day, the world, everything. And nobody knows what it took. Except Doctor Strange, who gives Peter the gift of one more conversation with Uncle Ben. As drawn by John Romita Sr!

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Peter fights Loki, has one final closing chapter with Ezekiel, there’s a not-so-great arc that implies Gwen Stacy actually slept with Norman Osborn before he killed her. Seriously.

The series continues on until Civil War, where Peter reveals his secret identity to the world.

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Civil War itself doesn’t explore the ramifications of this, but Amazing Spider-Man does. It shows how the world en masse reacts, it shows how J. Jonah Jameson reacts, and it shows how people like the Kingpin react. Which, unfortunately, leads to the end of my Spider-Man.

Kingpin has Aunt May shot. Peter makes a deal with Mephisto, who’s essentially the devil, to trade his marriage with Mary Jane for Aunt May’s life. Time is rewritten so he and MJ never got married, Aunt May is saved, Peter’s secret identity is hidden again, and I stopped reading Spider-Man. That is until Miles Morales came along.

What makes this series great isn’t necessarily all the bad guys Peter fights, or even the widening mythology Ezekiel attempts to bring in, it’s a laser focused understanding of Peter and his surrounding supporting cast. Also, he gets that Spider-Man is just a guy in a suit who messes up all the time.

Plus it’s funny!

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It does my favorite Spider-Man bit which is when he rolls his mask up part way to eat.

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It does my other favorite Spider-Man bit, which is when he just hangs out and talks to new yorkers.

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For all its ups and downs and an ending that forever disconnected me from the character, this particular run on Spider-Man imprinted itself on me. For some it might have been the Ultimate Spider-Man comic by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley. For others it was probably Toby Maguire on screen in 2002. For me it started right here, and that’s why this was MY Spider-Man.

-JP

PS, read this post after watching Spider-Man: Homecoming. You’ll understand exactly why that particular movie is resonating with me so well.

 

 

Framing the Past in The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu is harrowing, painful to behold, and impeccably crafted. Filled to the brim with exceptional direction, production design, and performances across the board. There’s one element I want to speak explicitly about, and that’s the flashbacks in the series.

The world of the Handmaid’s Tale is not an old dystopia. In fact, it’s only about two years old. The conflict of declining birthrates have been around for a while but Gilead, the radical christian country that burrowed out from within the United States like a zealot Xenomorph, has only recently arrived. It’s an element I personally had trouble digesting at the start of the show. That people could so quickly bow to a regime change as violent as this. But there’s as much to be gleamed from what the flashbacks choose not to show us.

Happy memories are framed very specifically in the Handmaid’s Tale. They are tight on the subject. On June’s husband and daughter in the ocean. On Moira and June at the college party. Moira and her daughter at the aquarium. The backgrounds are out of focus, the conversations and moments intimate. We’re with them. Tight in these happy times. The most interesting example of this framing happens on June and Luke’s date.

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June and Luke sit in a cafe somewhere with a window taking up the entire back wall. A frame within a frame. Inside the cafe people eat and talk. It’s all fairly innocuous. That’s the point, as both characters admit they probably shouldn’t be dating. Outside the window, children play. Little girls in red. Little girls in red led around by teachers or nannies. Essentially the future is outside that window, and right now there’s a barrier between June and them. But she’s the one on the inside and they’re the one’s on the outside. Eventually she’s going to have to enter that world.

These framing choices represent how we choose to see the past. For June those are her happy memories, but if we were to open up the frame just a little bit we would see more signs of the world coming undone. Once those signs become impossible to ignore, those flashbacks open up to show their effect on June and her family.

It’s a cold world where any stranger is a potential threat. You find yourself looking around for more oncoming elements of Gilead in their lives. It speaks to the smart film making behind the harsh story that makes you want to come back for more.

Flashbacks are a dangerous expository device that can be more cumbersome than useful in storytelling. Where The Handmaid’s Tale succeeds is they put emotion over information. Yes, we are learning how the world got this way, but we’re being told this in a non-linear order. What matters in an episode is how those memories inform us of June’s current emotional state, not what they can tell us about world history.

They do this not just with what is in the text but with what is in the frame (or what is outside it), which is the whole point of a visual storytelling medium. Information can be conveyed through language, dress, color, location, and most importantly by what the camera chooses to show us.

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The past was full of good times, maybe not perfect, but the present is just so much worse. So we focus tightly on those good moments and flush out everything surrounding them. It’s similar to life, though we don’t live in a dystopia– and feel free to make a comment like, “yet”, based on the current sociopolitical climate. Seriously this show could not be more timely –and that’s just one of the many reasons The Handmiad’s Tale connects so deeply with it’s audience.

I’ve literally never said this before online but, if you can get your hands on a Hulu subscription, do so. This series is worth the price of admission alone.

-JP

PS, that being said, good luck on the existential drama sure to follow watching a few episode. Especially the third episode. You’ll know what moment I’m talking about when you get there.

Coming Back to an Idea

As a writer a lot of my time is spent exploring a narrative idea. I’ll come up with a hook for an idea. A first five pages, if you will, and then attempt to craft the story around it. The problem is, I often abandon an idea once I become sufficiently bored of it. It’s not as much writer’s block as it is coming to the conclusion the idea wasn’t as good as I initially thought.

This happens on literally every story I write. I’ve come to the conclusion that a part of my process is a page 1 rewrite, usually between drafts 3 and 4. Those are the ideas I’m very passionate about. The ones that nip away in my brain so I can abandon what wasn’t working in the first couple drafts, keep what did work, and build around all of that. With other ideas I can’t quite peg down what works other than the basic idea. Those I allow to fall away. I forget about them for a while.

Then all of a sudden they come back and they click.

Most of the time it’s during that time between getting into bed and actually falling asleep. See, when I can’t get to sleep I tell stories in my mind which eventually lead me to sleep. Which is, like, the best. Seriously guys sleep is so dope. Anyway, recently the stories the bubble to the surface have been some of my older ones, but this time they click in ways they never did before.

I think the reasoning for this is simple. I’ve gotten better at writing. That’s not meant to sound pompous but some of these ideas were from high school or college (or admittedly much more recent times) and the writing I have done recently has vastly improved my capabilities. Dungeons & Dragons has also done me a great service. When you can’t control the characters you learn to operate the environment and people around them, a great skill for storytelling. Alongside that, co-hosting a podcast that breaks down specifics of a TV series gave me great insight into how an episode is constructed. Oh my god this post sounds so pretentious.

So I’m coming back around to old projects (Including this blog. I have to stop randomly abandoning this blog) and this time I’m doing them justice. Then, somewhere around their third draft, I’ll rebuild them from the ground up. I’m excited. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about my writing for a long time.

This is basically my reason for explaining why I haven’t been posting here for so long. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, it’s just that I haven’t been writing here. But I find this blog keeps me honest and keeps my working so let’s keep the party going. Here’s an informal contract between you and me; dear reader, I promise to post at least once a week. What will be in the post could be anything; it all depends on where the fun is. That’s Jordan Peele’s writing strategy, go where the fun is, and it’s working out pretty well for him so far.

Today’s post is short. They won’t all be.

-JP

PS, I’m not joking about that sleep thing. Like, I wouldn’t sleep for 10 hours but man those 7 or 8 I do get are stellar.

The Fast & Furious Guide to Titles

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly judge one by its title. It’s your first step into the book’s world and, unlike the cover, is actually made by the book’s writer. Same goes for video games, TV, and of course movies. One franchise has turned the simple element of its titles and turned them into a singular art form, wherein merely the reveal of said title is massive news. That franchise is also the single greatest film franchise on the planet. I know it’s the greatest because this happened:

Incredible.

There are 8 movies currently in the Fast & Furious franchise. These are their titles:

The Fast and the Furious

2 Fast 2 Furious

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Fast & Furious

Fast Five

Fast & Furious 6

Furious 7

The Fate of the Furious

Every one of these titles tells a story, both of the film, society, and what was happening behind the scenes. Each one is brilliant in its own way. But they all start from one place, the beginning.

3

Live life a quarter mile at a time.

The Fast and the Furious really is just Point Blank with cars. Well, cars and FAMILY. That core idea of family is what has allowed this franchise to bloom like it has while still retaining a semblance of depth beneath its bluster. This first title tries to convey that depth by speaking hyperbolicly of the central players in the film. They are the fast. They are the furious. But which is which? Vin Diesel wins every race against Paul Walker, which would make him the fast. But he’s also the one who’s accused of beating someone to death with a wrench.

Fun fact, throughout the franchise Torettos pick up wrenches to weaponize. This happens again in Fast Five and Furious 7 as a call back to the serious crime that makes the police look into Vin Diesel.

He clearly has anger issues, so is he the furious too? Is the title really just speaking uniformly about Vin Diesel, or do we give the title of “the fast” to Paul Walker simply because he can’t be referred to as “the furious?” We may never know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that this title would set the template for everything that came after. Just about the only rule for future entries into the franchise would be the required appearance of either the word “fast” or “furious.”

Of course they decided to make a statement straight away on the sequel.

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How Fast Do You Want It?

To follow up a movie like The Fast and the Furious, all the sequel had to promise was that it would be faster, or more furious. But no, this wouldn’t simply be faster. It would be TOO FAST. TOO FURIOUS. You won’t be able to handle how fast and furious this movie truly is. Look at those neon lights coming off of those cars. The world will fall away and it will merely be us and our speed. Our fury will be all encompassing. We are no longer describing the characters, we are describing the world we are about to enter. You are not prepared.

Fun fact, this is the worst film in the franchise.

Since Paul Walker was the only returning star from the original film, this film couldn’t be sold as the continuing adventures of Dom and Brian. Instead it was marketed as the next level. The chases would be bigger, the bromances deeper, the ladies hotter. They would do that thing where a car drives under and through a truck. It followed the rules set by the first, utilizing both “fast” and “furious” and introducing a new one. This series doesn’t just use the number of its entry, it bathes in it.

Then the third film completely disregarded that rule.

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On the streets of Tokyo speed needs no translation.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the most divisive film in the franchise. For many, like myself, it is the best entry in the series, for others it is the weakest. This is probably because it ditches the entire original cast in favor of a southern boy with the thickest accent known to man going to Tokyo where he learns to drift, cool racing where you skid around corners. I do it in Mario Kart all the time. The title is clearly a dry run for the alternate universe version of these movies where they go straight to DVD and each one is titled something along the lines of, The Fast and the Furious: Havana Nights, The Fast and the Furious: Philadelphia Wheelie, or the like. But instead the return to physical cars and the beloved character of Han brought many fans in to watch, that with a cameo by Vin Diesel in the end brought the series back from the brink.

Fun fact, this movie is actually sixth in the series timeline.

The title is comprehensive. You’re getting the fast, who in this case is Drift King, you’re getting the furious, who is absolutely Lucas Black, and they will be Tokyo Drifitng. It’s the most economical title, but that also makes it stand apart from the others. It breaks the rules, but that’s alright. That’s actually the third rule. There are no rules.

For example, how to confuse your audience by using the original title again but just slightly differently.

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New Model. Original Parts.

Fast & Furious takes the undercurrent of 2 Fast 2 Furious that it describes the franchise and not the characters, and works it like none other. Behind the scenes this was when the words saga and mythology started being thrown around for the franchise. It was the beginning of something bigger while also being much smaller than what would follow. The film itself is the most utilitarian and necessary of the sequels. It had to get Brian and Dom together again so they could go off on adventures and nurture their bromance. It’s probably the darkest of the franchise, with Vin Diesel investigating the death of Michelle Rodriguez, but it also has the most exhilarating finale.

Fun fact, there’s a sequence in this film where Vin Diesel reconstructs Michelle Rodriguez’s death through sheer car knowledge. A sequence that turns out to be entirely wrong when Michelle Rodriguez turns up alive 2 movie later.

Again a Fast & Furious movie refuses to use a number. Again it makes sense. Fast & Furious is the soft reboot of the series. An ideal entry point to come in on and stick around for the ride. Just make sure to buckle up, it’ll be f– well you see where I was going.

Except nobody expected what came next.

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Feel the Speed. Feel the Rush.

Something I learned early in school was to choose between either writing out numbers or just entering the digit. Fast Five took that rule, looked at 2 Fast 2 Furious, remembered there are no rules, and threw it out the window. Again it feels like the title is describing the Fast Five in this film, but there are eleven central characters in this movie so which five are the Fast Five. Let’s assume Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, then I assume you add Tyreese and Sun Kang because they came over from the other films, but then who is the fifth fast? Is it The Rock? What happened to the furious? I know people are angry in this movie. Is that no longer relevant? More importantly, why do the words Fast and Five share the same F? Is it a metaphor for Vin Diesel’s bromance love triangle tension between both Paul Walker and The Rock? Probably.

Fun fact, this is all practical:

Fast Five is the peak of the series. After this one they were on a hot streak, which is why the titling gets a little lazy moving forward.

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All Roads Lead to This.

For much of the marketing for this one I felt they lost their way with titles. It was simply an earlier title with a number at the end. I expected better from The Fast and the Furious. Then, in the movie itself, the title appears as Furious 6. The first word and the ampersand deleted entirely. Surprising the entire audience with a reminder that they still know what they are. This one wasn’t describing the franchise but the Furious 6, most likely including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, and Jason Statham (stay past the credits!). This is also the last movie to take place before Tokyo Drift in the timeline, so technically this movie is fifth. Oh, and they’re back to typing digits!

Fun fact, Rita Ora starts a street race at night in London in this film, implying that this is a regular thing she does.

Technically, since this film is Furious 6, that puts it in an odd position next to its follow up.

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Vengeance Hits Home.

Literally! Jason Statham blows up Vin Diesel’s home! Furious 7 will always be connected to the unfortunate passing of Paul Walker. It feels like it was heavily rejiggered from something different, but it also has the scene where they all drop from a plane onto a mountain road to catch a bus with a super hacker on board. So yeah it’s still amazing. This is also the first time the number of Furious people syncs up perfectly with the core team. They’re The Rock, Michelle Rodriguez, Paul Walker, Vin Diesel, Tyreese, Ludacris, and Jordana Brewster. It also has the second best ending of the series, but for compleely different reasons than the first.

Fun fact, this will make you cry:

There are three eras of Fast & Furious. Pre-Rock; counting The Fast and the Furious through Fast & Furious, The Crew; counting Fast Five through Furious 7 (notable for every one of these featuring a number in the title), and following this we enter the Post-Paul Walker era. They knew they had to shake things up moving forward, and the perfect place to start was the title.

Family no more.

Surprisingly it took until the eight film for this series to use an outright pun in its title. F8 and Fate being interchangeable in the marketing. Well played. It sends a message of moving forward from the tragedy of Paul Walkers passing into the future for these characters. The plot also plays into the balancing effect his character had in the stories. Vin Diesel is adrift without his bromance, and his beef with The Rock is evident on screen as well as off.

Fun fact, The Rock called a cast member in this one a “candy ass” and though we all thought it was Scott Eastman, it turned out to be Vin Diesel whose ass was candy.

Eight movies in and these movies are still finding new ways to title themselves, a surprise and delight every time. May the next two, yes two, have titles as elegant as the Fate of the Furious, bearing the beautiful return of the word “the” in the title.

Thought for the record, it looks like the Fate of the Furious is that they just kind of forgive each other no matter how egregious their past crimes were. Like, the things Vin Diesel does in this movie are about on par with some of the stuff from Civil War, but while the Avengers broke up the FAMILY is as strong as ever. Hell they even let Jason Statham sit at the table when he shouldn’t because he KILLED HAN.

Fun fact, Han’s full name is Han Seol-Oh.

-JP

PS, This wound up taking itself far more seriously than I intended. Much like my own interest in these movies.

The Defenders: Hallway Fights Power Rankings 2016

In the history of humanity there have been many locations to fight. War zones, college campuses, main streets, docks, and even airports, but in 2015 we became aware of the ultimate location to fight in; the hallway. Hallway fights give all the awesome of a normal fight, but with the added claustrophobia of being in a hallway. Nobody does hallway fights better than The Defenders over on Netflix. That’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. So now that all four shows has arrived, the time has come to rank every hallway fight they have gifted on us.

Except for Jessica Jones. She doesn’t fight in hallways. Hers would be the red headed step child of these series if it weren’t also the best of all of them.

Anyway, there are a couple things to be aware of in these fights. First off, quality of hallway. Is this a nice hallway with lots of tchotchkes to throw around? Is this a random aisle somewhere? Just kidding, the only kind of cramped spaces we want here are hallways. Aisles don’t count. Secondly, how stylish is this fight? Sometimes hallways get a little boring and we have to pay attention to the fight in the hallway. Is this fight an entertaining one? Lastly, how bad did the bad guys get wrecked? If there’s a take down that makes you think, “Ooh. They’re never leaving this hallway.” then that’s got to count toward the rank.

With all that in mind, we have about 6 hallways fights to parse through so let’s get started.

6. Danny Rand and Davos vs The Hand – Iron Fist

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Look, I may not know a lot about Iron Fist in the comics, but I do know a lot about hallways. The hallway in this fight is cramped and yet a ton of bodies get in there. Still, there isn’t even video of this fight online and it is far from the best in Iron Fist. If you want to watch it, track down episode 10 of Iron Fist.

Fun fact: almost none of the great fights in Iron Fist actually feature Iron Fist!

Quality of hallway: Tight as hell

How stylish: Not nearly as stylish as it should be

Ouch moment: When the guy got punched? with the Iron Fist? I don’t know, this fight isn’t actually very memorable.

5. Danny Rand and Joy Meachum vs The Hatchet Men – Iron Fist

When a group of Chinese thugs break in to kidnap Joy, Danny rushes to the rescue. This is in episode 4 and it is a breath of fresh air for the series. While the show plodded along for its first two episodes or so, but when the hallway fight shows up you know you’re in a Defenders show.

Quality of hallway: Hey this is a nice hallway! Very well lit with a lot of space for spin kicks. I’m pretty sure this is in a hotel, so these guys are just lucky no one stepped out of their rooms at this moment.

How stylish: The music is poppy, the fight feels fun, there are hatchets, and they even get some split screen in there. Oddly split screen only shows up one other time in the show, way down the road in episode 12. It’s not even in a hallway then either, it’s in a foyer. Why even bother?

Ouch moment: When Danny busts out the Iron Fist to break that guy’s hatchet. Technically nobody is hurt, but that man’s morality for sure took a beating. Not so much an ouch moment as a “moralouch” moment. Hah! Okay I’ll be over here.

4. Matt Murdock vs Biker Gang – Daredevil

Step aside Iron Fist because the king of Defenders fights is here. Daredevil! Though really Iron Fist you have no excuse for your weak fights. In episode 3 of season 2, Daredevil attempted to outdo it’s legendary hallway fight in season 1. Daredevil’s been having a rough night. He’s been chained up on a roof, argued with the Punisher, and had a gun taped to his hand. Still, once he’s beaten up the Punisher he has to get him out of the building teeming with angry biker thugs. DD throws Frank into an elevator and goes wild on the bikers. But there’s one major problem, it barely takes place in a hallway! What is this, a stairwell fight power ranking? Come on!

Quality of hallway: Before Daredevil, a little dingy. Could use a paint job. Huge. After Daredevil, dark as hell and covered with shards of glass from all the lightbulbs. Nice one red, you ruined this hallway.

How stylish: This is a cool and long fight. They use some clever editing to make it look like a single take fight. Plus, forcing a gun into Daredevil’s left hand with a chain wrapped around his right changes up his fighting style completely. And one last thing, Daredevil fights are great because he always gets exhausted by all this. He even stops for a breather here. Why don’t any other fights do this?

Ouch moment: Daredevil gets that chain around a man’s neck and pulls him over the side of the staircase so he drops several flights. See, if he had stayed in the hallway he could have walked away from this.

3. Luke Cage Raids Crispus Attucks – Luke Cage

For the first couple episodes, Luke Cage teases this moment. Luke breaks into Crispus Attucks, a community center now controlled by Cottonmouth, takes everybody down and steals the bad guy’s money, all while keeping his ipod ear buds in place throughout. Now that’s talent. I for one will never tire of watching Luke walk through bullet after bullet fired his way, plus there are like three different hallways in this fight!

Quality of hallway: Well it’s Harlem so… In all seriousness, the hallways are fine community center hallways, except for that last one that’s been modified with a cage door. Now that’s a nice hallway.

How stylish: The man is listening to “Bring the Ruckus” as he literally brings the ruckus. Just like the entirety of Luke Cage, this is stylish as hell.

Ouch moment: That poor fool behind the cage door. He just keeps firing and Luke just keeps coming. Then he just pulls the guy into the door and shrugs him off. Damn.

2. Frank Castle vs Prisoners – Daredevil

Honestly this is all on the Kingpin. Wilson Fisk convinced Frank to go to prison because he could get him close to a man who knows about the massacre that killed Frank’s family. He gets Frank into that man’s cell block, Frank gets the info he needs and kills him. Then Kingpin double crosses the Punisher and leaves him in the cell block with all the angry friends of the man he’s just killed. This was always going to be painful, but this is also the only fight here where one man straight up kills everybody else.

Quality of hallway: As a prison cell block, this hallway really stands out from all the others. The white walls and stark lighting let the blood really pop, and there is a lot of blood. 10/10, good hallway, would recommend.

How stylish: Again, the only fight here with gratuitous murder. It stands apart from the crowd. It almost makes me want the Punisher in his own show. Though I still don’t for the record. He’s a better foil than a lead.

Ouch moment: Honestly there are a lot to choose from. The hatchet at the end (hey! hatchets show up twice!) stands out for sure, but if I have to pick one moment it’s when Frank falls next to another inmate and just goes at him with his shiv. That’s the moment I realized he was going to kill all of these people.

1. Matt Murdock vs Thugs – Daredevil

Of course this was going to be in first place! The hallway fight that introduced us to hallway fights. In episode 2, after a group of thugs kidnaps a little kid, Daredevil tracks them down to their secret hideout and takes them all down. It’s brutal, it’s exhausting, and it helped put these Netflix shows on the map in a big way. Without this scene its hard to say if any of these hallway fights would exist, and for that I thank it.

Quality of hallway: I wouldn’t want to hang out in this hallway for long periods of time. The lighting is trash, but I worry if it were better I would find puke on the floor. It’s a good hallway for a fight but not much more.

How stylish: Unlike that hallway fight in season 2, this one truly is one take. One brilliant and hard to watch take. You can see the energy drain from Daredevil-by-way-of -Dread-Pirate-Roberts with each attack and, unlike in other shows, just because he hits a guy it doesn’t mean they don’t get back up. This is their hallway after all, and nobody wants to lose a fight in their hallway.

Ouch moment: For sure when the one guy takes a microwave to the face! That’s the whole reason I made this category!

Those are our Defenders Hallway Fights Power Rankings for 2016! Later this Summer our heroes come together to truly become the Defenders, and between you and me I heard there first meeting is a hallway fight.

#HallwayFights

-JP

PS, But seriously Iron Fist is kind of a mess. If you watch it, watch it for Colleen Wing and Claire Temple. Honestly we should all just thank god for Claire Temple every day.