Out of my funk, no small thanks to folks who chimed in here and emailed me, and a friend who took me out drinking on Monday Night. Ales cure what ails me.
I've seen a couple of movies with well-crafted plots lately, and I thought I'd mention them here.
HANCOCK is a grouchy superhero taken under the wing by a struggling marketer. The writer did himself a favor and gave Hancock a long way to grow, but they earn sympathy for him gradually by revealing his character and past. The threesome psuedo love affair is a little sketchy and weird--the immortal chooses the mortal guy...why? Because she really loves him? Maybe; but what about Hancock, magnetic north to her south? What happens in another thousand years after these folks are long dead. I thought the attraction between Hancock and the woman was better left to simple physics or "the rules" of their abilities, rather than sexual. Sexual attraction unnecessarily complicated matters in an effort to dumb them down for movie-goers. (Film writers have long since felt that friendship expressed between men and women must resolve itself with sexual attraction. I guess they think it's the only thing audiences can understand. It's one of the major failings of Hollywood and one of the many reasons I'm very selective about the film and TV I watch. Many novelists know better.) But besides that tweak, the plot was extremely tight. Every adult character ( the child was really only a device) grew and changed. My major beef with this film is the marketers aimed it at kids. Every kids' film I've seen has advertised HANCOCK. Shame on them, for it's laced with profanity and adult themes.
WANTED (dumb name) was a typical "Luke, I'm your father" with a nice twist. Now, I saw the Twist coming from a mile away (one of the curses of One Who Constructs Plots is that it's tough to pull one over on us) but the brutal action, the hero achieving his goals, properly motivated villains who were absolutely the heroes of their own stories...all very well-done. The "romance" didn't take the sexual route, but deftly resolved into mutual respect between fellow assassins. It also acted as a device to humanize a hero who is a cold-blooded killer. Interestingly, the writers did not imbue their hero with remorse over this beyond failing in his first mission, and the writers tied that unraveled knot by letting our hero be spot-on in his second thoughts. They also pulled no punches with making the violence ugly and brutal. Killing is a messy business, the writers seemed to say, and staying alive while doing it is even messier. But mostly, I liked that the hero is what he is; his journey about Fulfilling His Destiny, and there's no getting around the fact that he's an assassin. Showing remorse would have felt like an apology; rather, the writers chose to advocate their story over and over, down to last line of dialogue.
Between these two films, I prefer WANTED, though I think I enjoyed HANCOCK more. WANTED made me uncomfortable in a way that HANCOCK just couldn't, because the WANTED writers put absolute faith in me, the audience. And when a writer does that, he fulfills that contract that's as old as Story itself: This is my world. Enter at your own risk.