Thursday, September 24, 2009

Memo to JJ Abrams

To: JJ Abrams
From: Brian O'Rourke, A Moviegoer Of Little To No Importance
Date: 9/20/09
RE: Mission: Impossible IV

There's been a lot of buzz recently about two sequels: Star Trek 2 and Mission: Impossible IV. Mr. Abrams, you are no doubt receiving more advice, ideas, and feedback than you know what to do with regarding Star Trek 2, so I won't burden you with more of the same. I was wondering, however, if you'd care to listen to some advice on how to make the next installment of the bumpy and uneven series that is Mission: Impossible into a really good movie.

To begin with, let's recap the series thus far. 1996's Mission: Impossible turned the concept of the TV series on its head. In the first twenty minutes of the movie, Ethan Hunt, our hero, watches helplessly as each member of his team dies pretty a horrific death while on a very important mission. To make matters worse, after Hunt has seen all this happen, the brass accuse him of the murders and of being a double agent, selling secrets on the side. I say this movie turned the series on its head because Mission: Impossible the TV series had always been more of a team show. The better episodes employed intricate plotting, where each character had an important role in the mission, and thus the stories had many moving parts. This really amped up the suspense and the fun of the show. By virtue of killing off Hunt's team in the beginning of the 1996 film, the movie necessarily became more of a one-man show. On the whole, the first film is well-shot (of course it is, because the underrated Brian DePalma directed it) and well-acted, and the opening thirty minutes of the movie create a real sense of paranoia in the spy world of smoke and mirrors. There is a great set piece in the middle of the film, too, where Hunt manages to break into the CIA, which has been parodied time and time again in the ensuing thirteen years. It's a decent film that comes off the rails toward the end because of hopelessly convoluted plotting and the ridiculous final action set piece.

Without exaggeration, MI: II is one of the worst movies I've ever seen in the theater. The sequel essentially turns Hunt into an American James Bond, a somewhat roguish agent who bickers with his handler, and who of course manages to find the time while on a mission to meet and fall in love with a beautiful woman. John Woo sticks to his own rule of having at least three chase scenes in every movie he makes, and really does little else. The mask trick is overused in this movie and that unfortunately carries through to the next film. And gone again is the team aspect that made the series so cool: Hunt, a larger-than-life super spy, braves it mostly alone throughout. and the usually cool Ving Rhames is along for the ride only to remind us of how dangerous and cool Hunt is.

MI: III is the best of the series. Its plot is more plausible than the first film; the action, while over-the-top, isn't overblown like in the second film; and Abrams allows most of his characters to develop into people with real interpersonal relationships. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laurence Fishburne make the most of relatively small parts, and the plot has some really good turns. Still, though, Cruise dominates the story, and much of the plot is devoted to Hunt balancing the demands of his career with a normal married existence. The film could have been called Family Life: Impossible, and the title would have been just as appropriate.

So, what do I have by way of advice for MI: IV? If you haven't already guessed it, here it is: go back to the concept of the TV show. Make the mission the most important thing going on in the plot and allow it to dominate the second act. Make this next film into more of a team effort, where every character has an important job to do, as opposed to just waiting around for Hunt to work his magic and scrambling to keep up with him while he's working. Put all of the characters in danger. Make us think the mission could go wrong at any juncture, not just when Hunt is involved. Make it so the mission really does seem impossible.

Each movie so far has shown Hunt at odds with his administration. Let's not go there again. Let the focus be on the enemies from without, as opposed to the enemies from within. A good old-fashioned good guys versus bad guys scenario will actually be a breath of fresh air in this series.

Finally, you transformed super spy Hunt into a seemingly real person in MI: III. Bravo, well done. That was a nice counterpoint to the cartoonery of MI: II. But we don't need any more of that. If you want to continue the spy managing a real home life thread, by all means do so, but don't make it the point of the movie. If you want, turn Hunt into the next Jim Phelps, a character the series has been sorely missing, a true leader, not a maverick agent who occasionally needs help from other spies.

Or, just go ahead and do what you want because you seem to know exactly what you're doing, if Star Trek's box office is any indication.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Helpful Product

I found this by clicking through a google ad. It seems like a useful product for anyone who has trouble with their sleep schedule. Sometimes it's hard to catch up on sleep when you have a busy life, or constant interruptions. I know if my windows are open, the buses or motorcycles will snap me out of my slumber and it's always hard to get back on track.

Four Stories is still here. Keep an eye on the blog for more updates in the next few days.

- Nick

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mystery Project

Changes are coming soon for Four Stories. We'll have a big announcement at the end of the month about the future of Four Stories, Brian, and me. In the mean time, enjoy this blog entry I posted yesterday on the Sobriquets' blogger blog.

Does anyone else religiously follow box office returns for Hollywood films? I've been doing it since I was a kid (when we looked at the news on something called "paper"). As many of you know, I've been particularly interested in the performance of the new Star Trek movie, being a fan of the franchise and of JJ Abrams.

Star Trek has been faring well, posting the lowest declines from week to week of any film this year. While I would imagine the quality of the story, production values, and marketing probably influence a film's box office performance the most, some reviews have attributed Star Trek's success to another factor: optimism.

Star Trek as a franchise has always reflected a rosy view of the future, honoring the wishes of its creator, Gene Roddenberry. This did not change for the latest installment. However, the most successful "reboots" of franchises in the last few years were Casino Royale and Batman Begins, both dark and brooding films. So when I saw Terminator Salvation last week, I wondered why it was performing much worse than anticipated.

Both Terminator and Star Trek have questionable stories, well-known characters, lots of explosions, slick special effects, and young, talented casts. There are many differences, for sure. But the most obvious difference is the setting. Why do more people in 2009 prefer the utopian sheen of Star Trek over the post-apocalyptic gloom of Terminator? Where would you want to spend your two hours?

And hey, The Sobriquets are doing things again! We're playing shows, finalizing EP artwork, and practicing in our new space. We're all very happy about that.

- Nick

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brian's New Novel Now Available

Brian's new paranormal thriller, The Unearthed, is now available from Lyrical Press. If you haven't bought it already, you can get it here. This is Nick saying that it's awesome.

And Four Stories? We're still here. We've been working on some exciting new projects that we'll be announcing later this year. Plus, we've solved our technical difficulties and will be releasing The Lost Episodes of Four Stories soon. And by "Lost", I don't mean LOST the TV show, I mean that the episodes were lost somewhere on my computer. LOST the TV show won't be mentioned in those episodes.

Or WILL it?

Four Stories. Coming to an internet near you in 2009.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Stories 2 - Nate Green Interview

In this second supplemental podcast, we interview author Nate Green. We discuss his short story, "Prison Darkness" as well as his upcoming novels. Brian also gives us an update on his projects. Links we discuss in the episode:

Thanks for listening!

MP3 File

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Announcement: Authorial Intrusion

I'm thrilled to say that we just recorded our very first author interview with local area novelist, Nate Green. The episode will number among our More Stories segments. I refer to it as our Authorial Intrusion episode, well, because I like really bad jokes.

In this upcoming podcast, we talk to Nate about his short story, "Prison Darkness," which you can purchase in electronic or print format here. Nate's story is part of an anthology published by Niteblade. In fact, we recommend you buy it because a) it's an awesome story and b) we speak about "Prison Darkness" fairly in-depth, so there will be spoilers abounding. It'd be better to read Nate's short story before you listen to the podcast.

We also talk to Nate about the literary concept of tragedy, the writing process in general, and his works-in-progress. It's a short, but thoughtful, discussion of writing, and Nick gets some great one-liners in during the interview.

This episode will be released shortly. Keep an eye out for it! In the meantime, go read Nate's story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

JJ Abrams and Co. Boldly Went...

...for it and succeeded with the new Star Trek trailer. Check it out here. The film looks great. I was fortunate enough to see it in the theater so I also had the surprise factor working in my favor.

I've been worried about this movie since day one. Not because I doubted Abrams or his cadre of writers working on the picture, but because it has so many reasons to fail. Fans of the original series versus fans of the movies versus fans of Star Trek as a whole versus the general movie-going public. Everyone has an opinion on what Star Trek should be, so I was worried that it was doomed from the start because there'd be no way to reconcile the various concepts of Star Trek.

But the trailer's quieted some of those concerns for me. Could this film be what Star Wars in '77 was?