SoulHonky RX: Diagnosing SPECTRE’s Problems

For a boring movie, the latest James Bond film SPECTRE is proving to be a film that I can’t stop thinking about. Unfortunately, it’s not because the movie was good – it’s pretty much a bore – but because it seemed so close to being a good movie but they opted to take the easiest, most boring choices each stop of the way.

I feel like this is the kind of film that can teach people a lot of lessons about bad filmmaking but I don’t feel like wasting too much time on a film I already feel like was a waste of 2+ hours of my life so I’ll throw a couple here now and maybe throughout the week, I’ll post more lessons.

But for now, let’s get started and LET THE SPOILERS COMMENCE!

The first lesson we can learn from SPECTRE is:

Ingenuity is King

The opening shot of Spectre sets up the main issue of the entire movie. It’s an impressive single take in an impressive locale with great costumes and James Bond is just walking around. While the shot is technically impressive, we get no information from it. You could cut out the entire shot and the scene would change at all.

After the shot, James blows up hotel and then chases after the injured villain. And by “chases”, I mean he walks after him. It ultimately leads to big fight in a helicopter but what could have been an amazing set piece ends up being mostly a lot of walking after people. And that, in a nutshell, is SPECTRE.

The mistake the movie makes is that it puts us in the vibrant energy of the Dia Del Muerte parade in Mexico City and then barely utilizes it. It’s perfectly set up for a game of cat and mouse. The opening shot could have exposed potential escape routes or henchmen lying in wait but it offered nothing. The parade was filled with costumes and masks; Bond and his nemesis could have kept cloaking their appearance, trying to outwit their opponent.

Nope. They just walked. And some people got in the way.

In a similar waste of a set piece, Q finds himself stuck in the gondola of a ski lift. One bad guy is in the gondola with him. Then another comes in. And then, in arguably the simplest and most cliche escape, some tourists come in and Q scoots out just before the door closes.

(And that escape wasn’t just a letdown for the audience, it didn’t do much to raise the pulse of anyone involved. Such a close call would probably give people a sense of urgency but after Q escapes, he heads to his hotel room, where no bad guys are waiting for him, none ever come, and Q, Bond, and Madeline Swan go about their business as if the the while gondola moment never happened.)

“Spectre” is, quite simply, a boring movie and it is because the film leaned heavily on the impressive locations to gloss over the fact that James Bond doesn’t actually do anything. He’s literally told to go somewhere to find information, which he then finds with little effort of his own, and then he follows where that info tells him to go. The most creative he gets is seeing a mouse run into a wall and thinking, “Hey, maybe there’s something in that wall.” Really, the most difficult thing he does is seduce Monica Belluci, who inexplicably has been told all the information James needs.

I always complain about Blunt Force Cinema but this is yet another example of it. James has no problem getting to where he needs to be and the only real hurdle to jump is fighting the bad guys who are following him. It’s not “We have to go here and overcome A to get B”, it’s “So I’ll walk right into A to get B and then, shit, these bad guys showed up AGAIN?!”  So besides not being creative, Bond is also almost completely reactive in the film, which makes James Bond a dull boy.

Big Reveals Require Big Impact

You know your movie is doing something wrong when someone can be told the two big twists in the film – that 1) Max was working for the bad guys and 2) that the villain was Blofeld, who is James’s adopted brother – and it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

An effective twist makes you reconsider what you saw and believed and changes the way you look at the film the second time you watch it. The twists in “Spectre” don’t change the way the story unfolds at all. Max is never trusted by anyone and is always trying to shut down Bond. The fact that his motives are not as on the up-and-up as he makes it seem doesn’t change that and, in the film, is almost treated as an afterthought.

The reveal of Blofeld is even less consequential and, even worse, is delivered at a moment when there are far more pressing issues. James Bond is strapped into a seat and about to get his head drilled and we’re supposed to care about the bad guy’s name? It reminded me of the reveal of Kahn in Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s pure fan service and almost laughable given the situation it happens in. “Before I drill into your head, I’m going to tell you… I NOW GO BY MY MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME!”

(In the grander scheme of things, I actually think the Blofeld reveal, which seems to be lazily retrofitted into the other films, diminishes the previous films. James wasn’t a great spy hunting down evildoers, he was a target who was simply adept at overcoming his would-be assassins, who still managed to take out the two women he cared the most about. All of which makes James look far less effective as a secret agent. Which is an impressive in a film series in which the hero’s been telling people his real name the entire time he’s been a “secret agent.”)

Finally, when you reveal the big end game of a film, there have to be some serious stakes involved. In SPECTRE, Blofeld explains to Bond how he is going to get an amazing surveillance system that will see the entire world. He does it while standing in front of an amazing surveillance system that is seeing the entire world. To a certain extent, the entire goal in SPECTRE is to make it so when hacking all of the security systems in the world, Blofeld only has to remember one password for all of the systems instead of the multiple ones he has to deal with now.

So the big reveal for Blofeld was, “James, you see this amazing global surveillance system? I’m going to upgrade! UPGRADE! Oh, and that guy you never trusted is the one helping me, but you probably already knew that.”


I have some other lessons like the importance of keeping to the theme and why having an unknown villain often weakens a film or series of films but this is all for now. And honestly, having written this, I already feel like I wrote too much about this film.

#Fridebate: Bruce & Caitlyn Jenner – Halloween Costume

I haven’t seen anything about this yet; maybe people are waiting until it happens to feign shock as if nobody saw it coming but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the more popular/controversial costumes for couples this year was Bruce and Caitlyn Jenner and it was this year’s Costume to Launch A Thousand Thinkpieces. (Even worse, what about a single person in a half-and-half costume with one side being Cait and the other being Bruce?)

Is it offensive? Is it less offensive if straight couples do it than gay couples since then the genders would be “correct”? Is putting correct in quotations offensive?

What say you… both people who read this blog?

What is the goal of a biopic?

“Steve Jobs” is a very good movie, which is especially impressive because I’m not sure that Steve Jobs really had enough going on in his life to make for a great movie. He’s an interesting man and had some moments along the way but it’s not the most filmic life out there.

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took some dramatic license with the film, breaking it into three parts. In what almost felt like a kind of Christmas Carol riff, the film has Jobs, right before he has to go in front of a large crowd to introduce a key product (Macintosh, NeXT, and iMac), getting visited by key figures from his past and present. Obviously, this fictionalized set-up leads to: encounters that never happened, time-shifts to move arguments so they happen at that time, and – in possibly the most ironic move, completely ignoring the existence of Jobs’s wife and three kids.

Now, as always happens nowadays, there are a lot of thinkpieces and You Didn’t Fool Me stories pointing out all of the inaccuracies in the film. (And to be fair, I’ve complained about it myself at times.) We’ve seen the same thing for almost every biopic that has come out recently. “The Imitation Game” was a screenwriting Oscar but altered the story to make a more interesting character. “American Sniper” introduced a rival sniper who Chris Kyle didn’t really have any run ins with and made him a motivating factor for Kyle. While these changes certainly alter the story of the man the movie is about, is that wrong? Is the goal of a biopic to represent the man as closely as possible or to tell the best story?

To say that changing biographies is a recent event ignores the long history of American legends and tall tales. People have always embellished stories. Hell, one of the great movies of all time, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, is almost entirely about this phenomenon, ending with the great quote, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

At the same time, is there something to be said about who we make legends? American Sniper’s Chris “The Legend” Kyle was a lightning rod, known for making up stories himself and having a less-than-PC take on the people he was supposedly liberating in the Middle East – should we question “American Sniper” more because perhaps he isn’t the kind of person that we should be lionizing? Steve Jobs was apparently a monster to work for; is it wrong to leave that out or try to give him a happier ending? Do we need to show all of the sins of James Brown or can we celebrate the genius entertainer in “Get on Up”?

And where do we draw the line? Is having Alan Turing make a potentially treasonous decision in order to hide his sexuality too much? Is ignoring the backdrop of the war that Chris Kyle was in appropriate? And can we say “Well, it’s a case-to-case basis” when then what should be in or out will be shaded by our own individual takes on the subject?

Ultimately, I think the only consistent approach is that people need to just accept that biopics are works of entertainment, first and foremost. (Hell, a lot of people have Fargo as one of their favorite true crime stories and it’s completely fiction.) If you care about it being factually correct, acknowledge the films that stick closest to the story rather than ripping apart films that do what films have always done. (That being said, if the movie’s flaws can be used as a jumping off point for a deeper discussion about the subject or bring more attention to their true story; by all means, call it out. But these articles that just point out differences and fictional additions seem rather pointless to me.)

At least, that’s my take on it.

What can we learn from: Jem & The Holograms

By Sunday morning, most of Hollywood was abuzz about the horrific opening bow of Jem and the Holograms. The Blumhouse/Universal production was one of the worst openings in film history after getting bad buzz from fans of the original cartoon and lousy reviews from critics.  So where did the film (or rather, the marketing, since I, like everyone else, didn’t see the movie) go wrong? What can we learn from this dismal showing? I’m sure there’s a lot went wrong but I think there are three obvious lessons that we can take from this.


The key to a successful remake is maintaining enough of the source material to appease the original fanbase while delivering something fresh that will attract new fans. Jem & The Holograms succeeded in doing the complete opposite. They lost the original fans by making such drastic changes that there weren’t holograms in movie version of Jem & The Holograms. Instead of holograms, they offered a fairly standard Innocent Person Makes It Big, Struggles with Fame story that wasn’t likely to draw in anyone, nevermind the ever-fickle youth audience, who aren’t going to be enticed simply because Jem finds fame via a viral video. So basically, the movie got greenlit because it was “Jem & the Holograms” but then they alienated the people who actually watched the show and didn’t give the kids who never heard of the show any reason to be interested in it.


For the past decade or so, Hollywood has had a fetish for taking properties and making them darker or grittier. And it almost never works. But whenever something like the James Bond franchise succeeds with that direction, Hollywood decides to keep going with it. And then you end up with Jem and the Holograms with no holograms.

The fact of the matter is that, as Katharine Trendacosta wrote at io9, Jem is an absurd show.

“It starts with the death of Jerrica and Kimber Benton’s father, leaving the elder Jerrica an inheritance of a music company, an orphanage, and a secret base filled with instruments and run by a supercomputer which can project completely interactive holograms. Yes. I know.”

Or better yet, as director Jon Chu said:

“We had versions of them being transformed by holograms, but it got complicated, because if you really think about the cartoon, it is confusing. Is she turning into a totally different person? So people don’t recognize her – do you have to have a different actress? You know what I’m saying? All the sisters, the people in the cartoons know that they’re the sisters, but they don’t know that it’s Jerrica, so there’s a lot you have to explain live action that a cartoon can get away with.”

What Chu, Blumhouse Production and Universal Pictures didn’t seem to understand was the fact that making a more realistic Jem defeated the entire draw of a show that had the tagline “Truly Outrageous.” People weren’t watching the show to see the crushing emotional impact that fame had on young Jerrica and her friends. They were watching because a lot of crazy shit happened. Oh, and no, you don’t need to explain the details Chu mentioned any more than you have to explain how a suit and pair of glasses somehow makes Superman completely unrecognizable.

Making Jem without the absurdity is like remaking Mr. Ed and asking, “But what if the horse didn’t talk? How can he talk?”

BONUS TIP: If you’re remaking a kid’s cartoon and the guy you hired to direct it says, “It’s confusing”, it’s probably not the right fit.


You’d have thought that “Frozen” would have taught this lesson but here we have a film that dumps all of the adventures of the original show and instead focuses on everyone’s feelings. The big moment for Jem in the two trailers of the movie is… deciding whether or not to sign a solo contract. Which, of course, leads to more tears.

For the love of goddesses, let the hijinks ensue! I’m not saying turn Jem into Resident Evil but let them have some peril in their lives other than “My friends are totes mad at me!”


Now, obviously, making these changes might not have saved the day and made Jem and the Holograms a hit but it would have at least given them a fighting chance. Instead, we have another franchise biting the dust earlier than it should have. Although, honestly, a straight-to-DVD sequel might be the best thing for this franchise – let someone have free reign to play up the silliness and they might have something worth watching.