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Rise of Skywalker Teaser Theory

This occurred to me after listening to someone on a podcast question Kylo’s wacky flight tactics in the Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer. It’s true, it is definitely weird and artificially staged. But why? I think it’s because this teaser trailer isn’t showing you what you think it’s showing you. 

The opening shots have Rey alone in the desert, bracing herself for something. A ship races towards her, low to the ground. Before it reaches her, she turns, ignites her lightsaber, and flips over the whole thing. It’s a standoff. A fight. A battle of good versus evil. 

Except it isn’t.

If Kylo was trying to kill her, he’d shoot, but he doesn’t. He would fly in from above for a clear shot, but he stays close to the ground. She knows he’s coming, and is waiting in the right spot. And when she jumps, her trajectory could put her just over the top of the ship… or, land on top of it.

They’re on the same side

You see, it’s because they’re on the same side. Rey and Kylo have teamed up, and are going on the attack. I’m positive. If you listen to Luke’s voice over, he says: “We’ve passed on all we know. A thousand generations live in you now. This is your fight.” He’s talking to both Rey and Kylo, about defeating the Emperor. 

Rey is calming her nerves because she doesn’t know if trusting Kylo is the best option. Or perhaps what they’re about to do is extremely dangerous. Either way, the plan is to pick up Rey in a super hasty move, and then either sneak in somewhere, or attack something – together

Kylo has betrayed his darker side, and Rey is perhaps going against people’s wishes, so they’ve both moved a little closer to grey. That’s what I think, anyway. It’s the only way this sequence works.

We’ll see in December.

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From the Raiders Story Conference

Lawrence Kasdan — Before we kill this monkey, I want to really make him a villain. What if he is along when they’re headed out to the friends. The ambush takes place and as Indy is fighting them off, the girl jumps into a basket to hide and the monkey leads the Arabs to the girl. That’s how they get her.

George Lucas — That’s good.

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This Should Be a Movie: ZOIDS

Most people in the US haven’t heard of ZOIDS, which is nothing short of a national disgrace. They’re a toy range that stood alongside Transformers and Masters of the Universe in the toy aisles of the 80s, complete with their own mythology, epic characters, and comic series from Marvel. Look at this big red elephant:

To catch you heathens up, ZOIDS themselves are a race of giant robotic mecha dinosaurs controlled by drone pilots that are locked in an eternal war for control of the planet Zoidstar. The good guys are the Blue Zoids and the bad guys are the Red Mutants, and they damn well want to rip each other to shreds.

The toy line itself has a convoluted history. Originally released in Japan as Mechabonica in the early 80s, it was then released in the US under the new name of Zoids. These did well, and were subsequently rebranded as Zoids in Japan. The designs were tweaked once again and given new individual character names and backstory for release in Europe. By 1985, the toys were reintroduced in the US as Robostrux (with no backstory or supporting media), rebranded in Japan as Zevle, sold to Kenner in the US and re-relaunched as Technozoids, and so on ad infinitum. I like to think if the US market hadn’t suffered this brand fragmentation, it would have been a huge property like the European release.

In the UK, most boys had Zoids. They were too cool to ignore. The robot designs were a cut above the majority of kids toys, looking like they’d just jumped out of a fierce James Cameron movie. They were motorized (either wind-up or battery operated), meaning they could walk under their own power, and you had to assemble them yourself, like a Lego kit on steroids. Their imagined scale was massive, and the box art, TV commercials and overall product design only added to that.

The ace in the hole was the Marvel UK comic, published weekly as a dual title with Spider-Man. Marvel UK could turn rat turds into gold (as demonstrated by their amazing Transformers run), and their penchant for violent, cinematic storylines permeated all the way through the Zoids run. It bought the toys to life in a visceral way, and added some odd spiritual overtones that I never fully understood as a kid (the war between the factions is overseen by a weird immortal dude called The Namer, though I can’t remember why.) Comics legend Grant Morrison wrote a  bunch of these, hence the high quality factor. You can read the whole run here.

The comic took huge inspiration from movies such as The Terminator, Aliens, Blade Runner and The Thing, and that, plus the grandiose beauty of the Zoids themselves, would make for a hugely satisfying cinematic experience. Leaving the exact plot of the comic aside, if a crew of humans were to discover the planet the Zoids were warring on, all hell could break loose. And if the crew in question had someone among them that didn’t exact stumble upon this planet by accident, but lead them there in search of a family member, and subsequently draws them into the fight… well, you’d have an emotional barnstormer of a story.

Zoids are still going strong today, with the Japanese market supporting new toys, a number of anime, various games, and reissues of classic kits. With the movie industry leaning so heavily on IP these days, it’s genuinely surprising that something so screen-ready has been left undisturbed for so long. I think it’s down to lack of familiarity in the US, but you could argue that ‘undiscovered’ factor, combined with a built-in audience in other markets, is the best of both worlds. Get Neill Blomkamp on the phone immediately.

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Disney x Coach

I did the concept, storyboards and art direction.

Live action by http://trevorundi.com

Animation by http://fluxmedia.co.nz

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CHILDREN OF MEN

Hindsight has been kind to Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. At the time the film didn’t break any box office records, but it was lauded for its eerily prescient take on what society might look like on the brink of collapse. Never flashy or over the top, it was a classy, understated achievement. Only now is its influence apparent.

Set in London in 2027, after a global flu pandemic and years of human infertility, journalist Theo Faron (played by Clive Owen in a career best role) is contacted by his ex-wife, Julian, to aid her and her group of radicals smuggle a woman named Kee to the coast. He enlists help from his government-appointed cousin Nigel (who has largely disconnected his feelings from the world), and his old friend Jasper, a retired political cartoonist caring for his paralyzed wife.

Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.

It’s a essentially a chase movie in structure, as Theo and Kee run from their pursuers, stumbling into the crossfire of an almighty battle to regain control of an immigration camp on the way. It’s a desperately human struggle, with lives hung on to by a thread. Very tense stuff.

The backdrop to all this is important. We see the final moments of a society burdened by challenges it cannot cope with. Overwhelming migration, political unrest, disease pandemics, terrorism.

These all looked fairly sci-fi ten years ago, but are numbingly regular occurrences today, leaving us with entire countries lurching towards the right in response. It’s food for thought, and Children of Men doesn’t paint a very rosy picture of how we deal with such big issues.

Visually, Children of Men ushered in a new set of tools that hadn’t been deployed like this before. The now famous unbroken shot of the attack on Julian’s car was so novel, people didn’t notice how impossible it was the first time they saw it. The big battle inside (and outside) the abandoned building at the end is also a high watermark. As with the rest of the film, it’s not designed to call attention to itself, more to put you inside the scene. It does that brilliantly.

Oddly, a scene that sticks with me is one that doesn’t often get talked about; Theo escaping from the farmhouse at dawn. It’s done in such a way that you can totally put yourself in his shoes. It’s minimal. There’s no music score. Barely any sound at all. It plays out in what feels like real time. The threat is life and death, and it all comes down to whether he can walk on gravel lightly, and open a car door without noise. The shot of him rolling the car down the hill, silently, with a group chasing on foot is so real and so tense it’s almost unbearable, and the relief when he escapes is palpable.

From the first blast of chaos in the opening scene, to the ambiguous ending filled with hope and uncertainty, Children of Men is a mature attempt to look at humanity’s future. It’s freaky that it turned out to be such an accurate one in some respects, but all good sci-fi hits the bullseye, whether it be good or bad (think of HG Wells predicting mass evacuations of British cities 50 years before it happened).

It’s a bleak film, but there’s beauty here too. Beauty in the truth of sorrow, survival, grief and hope. For me, one of the best movies of the 2000s.

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Great Character: Ahsoka Tano

Adding a new lead to Star Wars, with its iconic characters and a voracious fanbase, is nothing short of daunting. How do you top Darth Vader? Obi-Wan Kenobi? Muftak and Kabe?! It aint easy being the new kid at school, and true enough, the introduction of Ahsoka Tano had most people rolling their eyes in derision.

After watching the Clone Wars movie (starring a farting slug called Stinky), I was definitely in that camp.  I thought Ahsoka was annoying, slight, and a token addition to appease the kids in the audience. But I’m happy to say I was wrong. Dead wrong. Ahsoka turned out to be the greatest addition to Star Wars since sliced portion bread.

Season one was still a little underwhelming, but by the time Clone Wars got to season two, something had kicked in creatively. The character of Ahsoka just took off. In one memorable episode, Ahsoka is helping lead a huge ground attack, holding her own in battle, defying orders and being unapologetic afterwards. That’s when I started to take notice. Was I crazy, or did this get really good? Answer: It got really good.

Ahsoka is a badass

Ahsoka is an excellent Jedi. Sure, she messes up like everyone else, but then she fixes it. She cares about what happens, and acts. I love seeing main characters who are capable when facing tough situations, who aren’t just succeeding because of luck. She’s comfortable being a leader, is naturally brave, and has a certain confidence that people who excel at something have. There’s no swagger and arrogance. She’s got two lightsabers and gets things done.

She’s important

She’s working alongside Skywalker and Kenobi, two of the greatest Jedis who ever lived. She knows Yoda and Mace Windu. She leads missions for the Republic and commands large amounts of troops who absolutely respect her. In short, she’s a major part of the Star Wars universe in a way that new characters sometimes aren’t. And it feels like she belongs there. The writers made her as well-rounded and as interesting as her peers. And in terms of story, she almost changed the course of the whole Star Wars saga. Which brings me to my next point.

She was right all along

Throughout the Clone Wars, a running theme is that the Jedi didn’t see their enemy coming. They fucked up, basically. But you know who did see it coming, and tried to warn everyone? Ahsoka. She was right about Palpatine and the Sith and how people were being framed. The storyline of her bringing all that to the Jedi Council’s attention and what happens after is one of the greatest in all of Star Wars (and I say that as a die-hard Original Trilogy fan). It’s a hell of an arc, and there was so much more to say. How do you deal with that much of a betrayal, by good people, when you’re 100% in the right? That is why people wanted more Clone Wars.

In fact, Ahsoka Tano fits in so well to the Star Wars universe that it’s almost hard to believe she didn’t exist until after the Prequels. She’s not only the key to understanding Anakin’s story, she’s also the hero he failed to be. Presented with a similar path, Ahsoka handles all of her choices differently.

You’ve got to hand it to the Clone Wars team. They pulled off the impossible.

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Movie recommendations part 2

Black Orpheus

This is one of the most beautiful films ever made. Shot in Rio De Janeiro during the Carnival of 1959, it’s a retelling of the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

It’s so colorful and vibrant and filled with energy. It’s like being on an amazing holiday, but one that is marred by an epic love tragedy from which you will never recover. The leads, especially Marpessa Dawn, are hard to take your eyes away from, and if it feels like they are dancing their way through the whole thing, that’s because they are.

Black Dynamite

A parody of blaxplotation movies almost on par with Airplane in the accuracy of its subject matter and sheer density of gags.

Like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, it’s expertly poorly made on purpose, with actors looking at the camera and booms getting into shot. Michael Jai White definitely knows how to play an action lead, but I didn’t know he was so funny. His timing and delivery are impeccable. Definitely underrated.

The Black Hole

Disney’s famous attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars. This is a truly weird film. It’s aiming to join the wave of spectacular blockbusters that defined the late Seventies and Eighties, but it’s stuck firmly in the old way of doing things.

It has the odd pace of something like The Forbidden Planet or Fantastic Voyage, too ponderous and formal after the breakneck pace of Star Wars, and the naturalism of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The music is good, the robots are good, the cast is good, the concept is good. It doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, but is still worth watching, especially for the freaky ending.

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Homer’s Donut Allergy

homerCheck out my Simpson’s spec called ‘Homer’s Donut Allergy’. I researched for hours to see if the premise had been done, and I don’t think it has, but who the hell knows?

This owes a huge debt to ‘Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song’ by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein, which is absolutetly jam-packed with funny ideas. I ripped them off so hard.

Download the pdf here: HOMER’S DONUT ALLERGY

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This should be a movie: POWER PACK

I love Power Pack. Compared to X-Men or Spider-Man, it’s a lesser known Marvel comic, but it sits alongside those characters (hell, they even interact with them) as one of the great titles of the 80s.

It’s about a group of four kids, all brothers and sisters in the Power family, who are granted superpowers by an alien horse that crashlands on Earth. They each have different abilities, hide their identities from their parents, avoid bullies, do their homework, and fight aliens intent on stealing their father’s research on anti-matter.

If that doesn’t sound great, I don’t know what to tell you.

What makes this comic so interesting to me is two-fold. First, the kids are really young, but the stories keep the full-on action tone of a regular comic book. The team find themselves in serious danger, go up against huge threats and find themselves under extreme pressure. These events are not fun for them, they’re downright frightening. Their fragility makes you feel things that would normally wash over you unnoticed in a regular superhero story. Responsibility put on a person’s shoulders before they’re ready is extremely compelling.

Secondly, it’s about kids, but it’s not aimed at kids. It’s aged up to an older audience. Think of something like E.T. or The Sixth Sense, where the story is taken with a level of seriousness that makes it satisfying. That is the way to do it, and they got it right.

The kid’s powers, and their personalities, don’t just play well off one another, they kind of fit together like a puzzle. The eldest, Alex, can control gravity. He feels the most responsibility and assumes the role of leader. Julie can fly at unlimited speeds, and tends to take care of everyone. Jack is able to change his mass and size. He is the quickest to get upset, not ready to deal with pressure yet. Katie, the youngest, can turn objects into energy, and discharge it as a weapon. She’s the most powerful, and a complete innocent, which is a great combination. She’s still learning right from wrong, and needs protecting from some of the situations she finds herself in, emotionally and physically.

The stories are pretty out there, forming the science fiction part of the universe that the Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange live in. The balance and interplay between the kids is extremely well constructed. They learn as they go, absolutely need each other to succeed, and barely scrape by even when working as a team. Plus their powers are cool as shit.

Would that work in a movie? It could.

If it was taken seriously as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that is. The tone would have to be aged up and aggressively protected. It would need to be communicated that this is not a kid’s movie, it’s a superhero movie that happens to have kids in it. Then it would need some child actors behaving like real, intelligent, believable kids. Finally, it would need to aim high with regards to spectacle and action.

Tough sell, but then everything a tough sell until it’s a success. But it would be so unique. And if they can make Guardians of the Galaxy work, they can definitely do Power Pack. Personally, I would kill the last Kymellian to see it.

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MOVIE RECOMMENDATIONS

Timecrimes

Timecrimes is an insanely clever time travel/horror thriller from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo. The major difference between this and other time travel movies is that the protagonist only goes back in time one hour. What could go wrong? A lot as it turns out, and the problems and paradoxes pile up on each other.

I know firsthand how hard these things are to write, so to be able to keep events straightforward to follow, while still head-hurtingly complex is an amazing achievement. It’s also creepy as hell, and has a distinct ‘Lost’ vibe, which are all good things in my opinion.

Time Bandits

This is arguably Terry Gilliam’s most complete film. Sometimes an idea with broad appeal can be overwhelmed by a idiosyncratic director, but here his particular vision is fully realized. Obviously it’s still a little bonkers: a bunch of dwarves on the run from God, who they stole a time map from, gatecrash into the bedroom of a young boy called Kevin, who gets dragged through time and space, until some evil dude catches up with them and turns into a carousel.

It makes complete sense to your child brain. The effects and production design are pulled off perfectly, and there’s excellent cameos from lots of Monty Python people and a ton of famous stars.

Time Masters

A very intense French animated movie about a boy being stranded on an alien planet, and a crew attempting to rescue him. It is way out there in terms of sci-fi, with concepts such as a sentient planet of faceless angels, “water-lily like organisms blooming into dozens of empathic, sentient, primary coloured homunculi” and a big egg that you talk into.

The majority of the movie was designed and storyboarded by Moebius, so it benefits from his vast imagination. The co-produced French/Hungarian animation is great (especially the two cute flying dudes). It’s fairly violent and unnerving, and the ending blew my tiny mind as a kid.

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