No, Marvel films are not despicable

So Martin Scorsese goes out and says that Marvel movies are “theme park movies” and then Francis Ford Coppola follows up by calling them “despicable”… Much hate coming from these legendary figures of cinema, responsible for such greats as Goodfellas and The Godfather.

You can understand where they’re coming from, because they have spent their lives pushing for cinema to be a true art form with something messages and themes embedded in their craft. In comparison, Marvel movies such as The Avengers are primarily made to drive merchandising sales to the important and lucrative 12-45 years old demographic.

But does that make them any less important to culture? I say no. The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have their place in storytelling culture (along with the auteur films) because they have a positive influence over our kids that is desperately needed in this day and age.

A modern version of legends and fairy tales

When I was growing up, I was obsessed with the Arthurian legends – Arthur’s relationship with his sword Excalibur, and Lancelot’s relationship with Arthur’s wife Guinevere. These stories were great to inspire grand adventures in my head, and also some life lessons about loyalty and your best friend’s wife.

I don’t know why, but it doesn’t seem as if the Arthurian legends are as popular with kids anymore. You can’t blame the Marvel movies either, because they faded out of popularity long before movies like Guy Ritchie’s and Antoine Fuqua’s attempts to make Arthur cool again failed. Likewise, a Greek friend of mine tells me that he’s not familiar with the Greek myths like Achilles and Hector because he didn’t grow up with them despite being brought up in Greece.

So the MCU movies have come to fill this void left by the absence of ancient legends. It sucks that kids are not exposed to the old classic stories, but at the same time they still need legends to look up, to guide their social development.

Whether it’s Arthur and his sword or Captain America and his shield, what they represent is great to fuel the imagination of children (and adults) with the wonders of storytelling. Society needs stories like these to drive and inspire us. The exact form they take is irrelevant, so long as they are present and fulfill the human need for grandeur.

A lot of film reviewers will always favor the classics, and will take any opportunity to insert the phrase “French New Wave” into their writing. Being aware of the classics and their influence on modern cinema is great, but to automatically discredit modern popcorn cinema is a little snobby. It’s the same with children’s books, and if this philosophy was applied to music we’d forever be listening to Mozart, and Michael Buble covers classic jazz tunes volume XXXVII.

So give the kids their superheroes! I’m confident that some day, they will grow up and their love for these stories will push them to look for more, and from here they’ll discover the original stories that inspired the Marvel superheroes. But for now, it’s good that they have Cap and Iron Man.

If for no other reason, look at the other franchises available for kids like LOL Dolls and Shopkins. These toys don’t even pretend to have a shallow story; the Shopkins cartoon is just a series of punchlines loosely strung together.

A consistent inspiration for serving the greater good

I get it: many MCU films are rehashed versions of each other, recycling similar epic shots and grandiose orchestral soundtracks. Structurally, Doctor Strange is like a beat for beat remake of Iron Man 1, with magic replacing technology.

But I’ll argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s good that we have a consistent source of inspirational heroism and straight-laced good guys. Captain America is always out to do the right thing. Iron Man’s quest is to protect the world from harm. Thor is the most ridiculously desirable man in the Nine Realms, lusted after by men and women, yet he’s committed to the one partner.

We live in a pretty sad time now. The news is always full of depressing news, world leaders treat women and working class people like objects, and pop music is all about getting drunk and getting what’s yours.

Even videogames and movies are trending towards R-rated antiheroes.

Which is why it’s important to have heroes to look up to, who display the qualities we want our children to aspire towards.

Real life is full of gray areas and a simple black and white perspective in stories might be simplistic, but our children don’t have to be exposed to the complexities of real life yet. Right now, it’s enough for them to want to be “the good guy”.

Girls can kick ass

There is one particular shot in Avengers: Endgame that had a lot of haters up in arms. It basically assembled all the female superheroes in one sweeping epic shot, and together they charged to cut a path through Thanos’ armies. Admittedly, it was a little contrived, but I still felt it was awesome to watch.

I was really interested to see how my 6 year-old daughter would react to this particular shot. Would she jump to her feet and cheer? Would she stare with mouth open and a sparkle in her eyes?

When the time came, there was zero reaction from her.

I asked her if she noticed anything commonalities between the heroes in this shot, and even played the shot again for her.

“Erm… They work together as a team?”

“Anything else?”

“They all have super powers?”

She had grown up with all these MCU movies where gender was such a non-issue, so it has become a common concept for her that females can be dominant and powerful. In the case of Captain Marvel, a female can also be the most powerful of them all.

And this is an agenda that the MCU has been pushing for a long time. I don’t care if the objective was to poach merchandising revenue away from Barbie and LOL Dolls – the end result is still a substantial cast of characters that convey the concept that females are not just foils or damsels to be saved.

Martin Scorsese cannot make the claim that any of his films have been headlined by a woman. Coppola has Peggy Sue Got Married, but that’s one film in 57 years of his career.

On that note, I can’t wait for Valkyrie to get her own spin-off movie where she hooks up with Queen Elsa.

They make parenting easier

There are so many MCU movies at this point and they’ve done a ton of stuff on screen. What that means is we have plenty of supporting evidence to teach kids a range of different lessons.

Maybe this doesn’t do much for the art of cinema, but it does so much for my mental well-being!

Shower time

When my son didn’t want to take showers, I showed him Iron Man’s armor tear-down sequence from the beginning of Avengers, where robot arms take off bits of his armor as he walks into Stark Tower.

Now shower time is that walk into Stark Tower (aka the shower), and I just make machine noises as I take off his clothes and diaper.

Brushing teeth

Kids don’t like to brush their teeth. Making them do so can be a nightly hassle that leads to fights.

But they do like Spider-Man, and if you Google Spider-Man brushing teeth, guess what you find?

Eating in a tidy manner

My son has this habit of pinching bits of food and eating them in small pieces. That leaves a lot of crumbs all over the table and floor.

So I showed him the post-credits scene from Avengers where they’re eating Shawarma, where you distinctly see Thor picking up his entire sandwich to take a big proper bite. And now I can tell him to eat like Thor.

Dealing with grief

My grandmother passed away recently. I wasn’t sure how to explain this to them. How do you tell a child that you’re feeling a little hollow inside? That something has gone missing but you should try to remember them in a good way?

Luckily there is Infinity War and Endgame to help you.

Cinema is storytelling, and Marvel tells stories

Has Kevin Fiege and his team at Marvel Studios contributed to cinema as much as Scorsese and Coppola have? Maybe not, but it’s all relative and these guys have set a really high standard. But you can’t downplay what Marvel contributed though, because there is a wealth of good stories in there to inspire kids and grown ups. It’s just camouflaged under merchandise and blockbuster explosions.

How you see yourself matters

Nathaniel Branden wrote in The Psychology of Self-Esteem: “There is no value judgement more important to man, no factor more decisive in his psychological development and motivation – than the estimate he passes on himself.”

This certainly isn’t a new idea. Many people have expressed this sentiment in many ways.

I’ve been told “Don’t take criticism from someone you wouldn’t ask advice from” a lot on the writing forums.

One of the most quoted is this gem from former US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:

“Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Yet it’s still a concept that many of us fail to grasp. I’ve been in rather toxic work environments where negativity and often-baseless criticisms are the norm, and I am not proud to say I let it get to me all the time.

It should not bother me, but it just does. I’m human, and humans draw both strength and weakness from their emotions. And so, I get affected by the numerous shallow nitpickings.

But why should I? While I’m not the world’s foremost expert in social media marketing, I’m still the most experienced and researched in this field when it comes to my workplace. The complaints and criticisms come from people whose experience in the matter is limited to having a personal Instagram account.

So maybe Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom isn’t working for me. It’s a nice succinct quote and all, but maybe I need someone that had a greater emotional impact on my phone early childhood and formative years.

I need Jennifer Connelly in the movie Labyrinth, patron saint of the misunderstood (and my first childhood crush). I need her, standing defiantly against the mighty David Bowie in the Labyrinth, declaring with no uncertainty in her voice: “You have no power over me.”

So no, I’m not going to feel bad today. You don’t get to do that to me, because you’re nobody. You’re not even the Goblin King.

How to write better movie reviews in 3 easy steps

The-Words

Movie reviews are an easy first step towards professional writing. When I was a magazine editor, I let a lot of first-timers try their hand at movie reviews as a test.

But sadly, I’ve also had to edit a lot of movie reviews that failed to do that one key task every movie review is meant to do: help the reader decide if the movie is worth watching.

However, it’s an easy fix, and you can write a compelling movie review by following three easy steps!

Start from the End

The most important step towards a better movie review is to figure out the key takeaway in your review. It’s like the key argument in an essay; without it, people don’t know what you’re trying to say.

Since you’re probably writing your movie review in a blog, an easy workaround is to scroll down all the way to the bottom of your blogging screen and find the Excerpt section. Most people write this last, but you’re going to write this first.

excerpt

Most people work their way downwards, so they’ll write their review train-of-thought style, come to this portion, and then ponder for 20 mins trying to summarize the entire incoherent review. By starting from this section instead, you’re challenging yourself to establish the one key takeaway of your review from the get-go.

At it’s simplest form, your review’s key takeaway can be something like: “This movie sucks.” But a more interesting review might have a message like: “The Shining sucks because of its self-indulgent director.”

Think about the movie you just watched, and try to figure out the one big takeaway from it. I promise you, once you know what you want to say, the rest of the review will be more focused and interesting to read.

Here are some examples of key takeaways to get you thinking:

  • A supporting actor’s performance saves an otherwise boring movie.
  • Insanely good chemistry between lead actors took this rom-com to the next level.
  • Immersive visual effects made me feel like I was in another planet.
  • Not sure what the buzz is about because this feels just like any other horror movie. Haizz…
  • Ben Affleck is the most thought-provoking Batman ever.

Structure your review

Here’s how most movie reviews are structured:

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It is like clockwork, even if some of the steps are switched around. Movie reviews tend to follow this template because movie reviewers think they need to cover all the major attributes of the movie or else they might come across as film industry noobs.

But the sad thing is that while these can help a reader grade the various departments of a movie’s production team, they don’t necessarily answer the question: “will I enjoy it?”

So remember that key takeaway in step 1? Take that and roll with it. Structure your review around that takeaway, and set up sub-sections that elaborate pointers which are relevant to the message. Write a conclusion that revisits the key takeaway, so the reader is clear what you want to say.

Again, it’s not unlike the essays you wrote in school.

You should end up with a structure like this:

  1. Key takeaway
  2. Supporting point 1
  3. Supporting point 2
  4. Supporting point 3
  5. Conclusion and reiterate key takeaway

If you color-code the content in your review, it will look a bit like a juicy burger with warm soft buns.

burger

Edit it with fresh eyes

The wonderful thing about a structure is it keeps you focused. If you’re trying to say that you enjoyed a movie because it had epic visual effects and a powerful soundtrack, don’t include a paragraph about the supporting actor’s affair with the director – unless your message is about the supporting actor getting more screen-time and better lines than the star.

Undoubtedly, your first draft will have plenty of these off-topic tangents and you will feel pretty proud of the punchlines or the tabloid research you put into them. So don’t do anything about them now.

But take a look again the next day, when the novelty wears off. Is it still an entertaining paragraph with wit that rivals a Shakespearean sonnet, or maybe you just want to quickly put on your pants and sneak out of the room before it wakes up?*

Edit, edit, edit. Edit all of that crap out. If it doesn’t serve the message, it doesn’t belong.

Remember: you’re writing to help someone decide if they want to watch a movie, not so you can show off.

Stay on target, and you’ll be fine

That’s it. Three simple steps to a better movie review. If you figure out your message, and you stick to the point, you’ll already write a movie review that is better than most of the stuff floating on the Internet.

If you have any good tips of your own, share them in the comments below, thanks!

Good luck!

If you’re interested in writing for magazines, I’ve got some advice in this other post.

*Here’s an example of something that can be edited down the morning after.

Kerrigan Makes New Friends

My daughter turned 5 recently, and this year I wanted to give her a special one-of-a-kind present. So I slaved away at my computer for a couple of months, writing and illustrating a children’s book for her that features our favorite StarCraft character.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with any project I’ve ever done. The look on her face when I surprised her was priceless, and watching her read it herself makes me so proud!

Anyway, since this book isn’t for sale or anything, I thought I’d share it with you guys in case you like StarCraft too!

Writing without plotting

When I was 18 or 19, I read a Syd Field book and instantly fell in love with the concept of the 3-act structure and properly plotting out your story. Since then, this ideal has dominated all my creative endeavors.

My writing always follows a structured plan, be it a screenplay, press release or magazine article. Recently, my blog posts are now plotted out using headers as chapter guides*.

When I was young and copying out drawings from comics, I’d draw a character’s eyes first and then draw outwards from there. I’d frequently draw myself into a corner or edge of the page. Continue reading

The life changing magic of tidying your friends list

When I was working at Carousell, I did a lot of research into this tidying guru named Marie Kondo. You might have heard of her and the KonMari method of tidying before.

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KonMari might write a lot of weird stuff about talking to your clothes and touching stuff to see if they “spark joy” but there is a lot of truth in her method. If you keep your life tidy, you’re able to focus on the things you really want out of life.

And I’ve come to learn that this isn’t exclusive to clothes and old books; it works for your social media friends list too!

Continue reading