Category Archives: Movies

Storytelling Icons

I don’t know if this is age, experience, or truth (likely a combination), but it feels as if storytelling in the new millennium has become superficial and shallow. Many of the movies and TV shows I’ve seen appear to be mere strings of icons so well-worn we don’t even think about them.

It’s as if the vocabulary of storytelling has expanded into LEGO® pieces connected to build colorful plastic stories lacking in nuance and detail. Special pieces (like little people or wheels) make the model a bit more real-seeming, but those same complete parts get used and reused.

And some of them have started to really annoy me…

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Razzie Awards for 2018

It’s always nice when reality pats you on the back and says, “You got this one right.” Sometimes that doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Reality seems to enjoy confounding us. For me that seems especially true when it comes to taste in entertainment.

So I was delighted and gratified to see The Happytime Murders, Holmes & Watson, and Robin Hood, all nominated for Worst Picture for this year’s Annual Razzie Awards. They share the honor with Gotti and Winchester. (See the full list at razzies.com.)

It’s so nice to know I’m not alone in boggling that someone actually made these movies!

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Spoonful of Psychopathy

My disdain for reboots means that, out of the gate I’m not inclined to have much anticipation for Mary Poppins Returns. Factor in that it’s a musical fantasy for and about children, and there is even less to attract me. It’s just not my cup of tea, Earl Grey (hot) or otherwise.

I have a sister, younger by a few years, so the original Mary Poppins, with Julie Andrews, was an annual fixture in our house. Along with The Wizard of Oz and that excruciating Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation. I was already a hard-core science fiction fan by then; these family-friendly fantasies bored me silly even as a kid.

I think even then I was just too aware of the implicit psychopathy behind it all.

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Idiot Clowns

Nope. Never liked’m.

Watching the Thanksgiving episode of the rebooted Murphy Brown on CBS, where Murphy decides to cook dinner with easily anticipated and well-worn results, it struck me exactly why I don’t find the show very funny. And why I really don’t find any of the CBS comedies since the 1990s very funny: Idiot Clowns.

In general, it’s why I don’t find a lot of comedy very funny. Idiot Clown comedy requires an idiot clown — someone so stupid they are unaware of basic reality, a blindness forced on them to enable a (typically) lame joke. I find it cheap and easy and without much value.

More to the point, I just don’t like idiots or clowns in my entertainment.

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Actors Ain’t All That

As someone whose high school and college education focused on writing and storytelling (through stage, film, and video), I’ve long been askance at how much culture reveres actors while not paying as much attention to the writers who provide their words or the directors who control much of what they do.

I do not at all mean to suggest actors aren’t also artists who bring important skills to the table. In college, I had to find people willing to act (for free!) in my productions — I couldn’t tell my stories without them — so I’m well acquainted with their importance and skills.

My point is only that the stories we love owe as much, if not more, to the writers and directors who create them in the first place.

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Reboots

The other night, I watched the first episode of the CBS reboot of Murphy Brown, and my first thought is that I hope it gets better. A lot better. The only part I liked was the cameo by Hillary Clinton playing “Hillary Clindon,” a potential secretary for Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown. (If I remember the original show correctly, Brown had a long and troubled history with secretaries, which puts a bit of icing on the scene.)

Seeing the main characters again, for me, was awkward and close to cringe-worthy. They seem very much a product of their era (1988-1998) and didn’t translate well across the two decades that have brought so much social and technical change.

Part of the problem might be that I find CBS half-hour sitcoms tediously dull, cliché-filled, totally unfunny, marshmallow realities.

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I Don’t Like Dinosaurs

I should probably start by hastening to add: I don’t dislike dinosaurs, either! It’s an ambiguity of English that when one says, “I don’t like X,” it can mean one has negative feelings about the ‘X’ in question, or it can mean just that one has no positive feelings for it — that one is neutral (or perhaps not interested enough to have an opinion).

It’s an easy jump from “don’t like” to “dislike,” so the phrase, “I don’t like X,” is usually taken that way. But I have wiring in my brain that makes me see it more literally — as failing to have a liking for ‘X’ — so I often have to clarify what I mean.

And what I mean is that I have zero interest in dinosaurs.

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Surreal Science Fiction

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Sci-Fi Saturday post. (I didn’t post at all in 2017, so it’s been a long time since I’ve written a lot of things.) But last night I watched Mr. Nobody (2009), a slightly surreal science fiction film that I found hugely engaging and affecting, and it inspired me to write about it.

The truth is that Mr. Nobody isn’t actually surrealism — it does have a concrete narrative, but it’s a jumbled, imaginary, and fantastic one. That can sometimes be the case with really good science fiction. A common trick SF authors play is keeping you guessing until they reveal their mysteries.

Mr. Nobody isn’t particularly mysterious, but it does require that you pay close attention!

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What is Fiction?

robert-fordAt one point in HBO’s Westworld (don’t worry, no spoilers) Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) gives a speech about stories, about the value of fiction. He references a belief that fiction elevates — or at least illuminates to good value — the human condition. The belief also holds that those who read a lot of fiction are in some sense “better” people.

The idea is controversial on several grounds. Firstly, it’s hard to define what makes people “better,” and you can’t measure or test what you can’t define. Secondly, even if “better” is defined, not everyone will agree with the definition. Thirdly, there’s a nature-nurture aspect that makes comparisons like this very hard to tease out of any data you can gather.

Maybe a place to start exploring the idea is to first define “fiction” and go from there…

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Movies: Star Wars VII

star-wars-viiSo,… I finally saw the most recent Star Wars movie the other night (it has already made its way to cable; meanwhile, I’m still waiting for Interstellar and Ex Machina to show up). Those who know my value system with regard to science fiction, with regard to movies, and especially with regard to science fiction movies, warned me I that I probably wouldn’t like it very much.

But I already knew that was likely just because of who directed it (same guy who nailed the Star Trek coffin shut), so I approached watching it with very low expectations and without any oxen to gore (since I was never really a fan and never really got into the characters or story).

And even so I still really disliked it. A whole bunch.

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