JSDC
XXXII. Loose Ends & Film Threads< Previous Chapter | Next Chapter >

To Travel 

Each time you come home is different.

All the way in Virginia the little kitty who was my friend died and was buried in the backyard.

The Grizz put her down here. He painted “Peanut” in black, but the weather erased her name away again and again. Thus it came to pass that he used his magnifying glass to burn the letters into wood so that even rain and wind could not forget.

That was the first story M.Sto told me when I got home.

Before Peanut, The Grizz did not want a cat (he hated cats), but two little girls holding kittens swayed him to say yes. We were to take care of her so that he did not have to be involved...

Peanut always did like him best.

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Proof 

Miss Stover, Today I perused your “Random Facts” and I have to admit that I am doubtful of the validity of at least two and up to as many as five of the factual statements. Perhaps you should provide some evidence, photos or otherwise, to help the skeptics. Best, Zach

JSDC Random Fact

Listen here, Zach Morris, I'm busy with like eight different amazing projects. However, I will now give you one example to stand for all and you will then see the light.

Fact: The Grizz hides liquor in his office inside a bag labeled "Electrical Parts."

Here is the office.

Here is the bag.

Here is the Turkey.

Zing! Take that:

Kelli loves A.C. Slater.

And all of the random facts are true.

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Harry Potter is Dead 

Goblet of Fire is so mucked up, that I don’t even know where to start.

First, I apologize on behalf of the storytelling industry to anyone who has not read the books, for I am afraid you were confused.

I also say an ashamed sorry to those who have read the books; you know what might have been.

Moving on, I could list 100 writing and directorial issues in this film: When did this franchise become a comedy? Why are we spending multiple scenes in the ball and skimming over the setup at the beginning that has to do with the core of the story? What about continuity? Relationships? Focusing on what’s important and building it properly? Pacing? How about craft in screenwriting in general!

What was this film even about?

I tire of writing the same review each year. In the past, I have been rather delicate with Potter. The truth is:

It is the writer’s fault. Fuck him.

Followed by the director, but I’m not sure to what degree.

And WB as a whole. (I’m certainly not going to try and sort that mess out.)

Search up The Dead Sto Scrolls for more Potter if you like.

I’m finished with the films.

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Exposition 

I finally saw War of the Worlds on DVD.

Studios should definitely hire Morgan Freeman to do voiceover at the end of every confusing/shite film so that he can explain the end of the plot in two lines.

I mean, this is easier; then they don't have to go to the trouble of showing what happened regarding the end of the climax/falling action/resolution of the story, or anything else they feel like leaving out.

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Aslan on the Move 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a good enough movie. I had some issues with the second act, but the film is a solid enough B- that I won’t pick.

The first act is well done. And the bit of battle scenes we get to glimpse are visually great because the movement and participants together add up to something we’ve never seen before. I could compliment more (Swinton has possibilities), or criticize (all of the choices made are obvious), but I don't think I could say anything that you wouldn't know from seeing it yourself.

Narnia fans shouldn't be disappointed,

My warning: Those who don't know the books might be expecting something that Narnia is not. Unlike Harry Potter, the books are definitely written for children and rather slim and simple, which is part of what makes them well-loved. Furthermore, LWW is full of lessons you've already learned a thousand times over and said lessons are presented in a manner that you've seen quite a bit. To a child, however, the story and the telling are new.

So it is that this is a predictable epic for imaginative children past, present and future.

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Modern Myth: Beauty and the Beast 

I do not know much about the story of King Kong. I know the iconic poster from back in the day and I know of the swatting planes thing, and that is all. Thus, I look at Kong with no expectation or prejudice, save what marketing has promised and what I know of team Wingnut’s abilities.

Kong I rather think I should have liked more. Technically, it’s sound. Narratively, it’s not and is not nearly as flawless as we are accustomed to in a Peter Jackson epic.

This version of beauty and the beast doesn’t snag me as it does some people, so perhaps I’m the wrong person to ask. I question how timely the telling of this tale is. (Which, I argue, is an important part of the evolution of myth.) Jackson is still King of making a moment with no words. Some moments in Kong, however, felt forced and there were a couple of slip-ups that the aware will notice, (i.e.: someone knows something that they were never told on camera so it wasn’t set up). Also, supporting characters have no arc and are lost in the third act, which really surprised me.

Regarding the score, I thought the main theme was… unmemorable. Especially for something so epic and long. (At times, it does feel long. And usually I adore Peter Jackson’s long epics.)

I’d like to comment on the acting, but this is a director’s film. Know this:

I don’t know that much about Serkis’ work as Kong, but from what I know of his Gollum work, I am amazed at the contribution he has made to this film and to acting+technology. This is probably a bigger deal than we currently realize. Especially for actors.

The action writing is fantastic in that the writer continuously yanks the carpet out from under the protagonists, keeps upping the stakes... All the things you do to make it good. But, are all the action sequences organic? No.

Oh and there’s one moment in the trailers they totally should have left out because it diluted the moment in the film. Fucking tricky-ass marketing. I can’t blame them; they need to get you out to see the thing first, but dammit it would have been so much stronger had I not already seen the setup.

So add it all up and what I declare is: If the story appeals to you in the slightest, then you will enjoy it and certainly should see it at the theater as it is one of the better films this year.

(Please note that this has been a shitty year for films, especially for anyone who has been waiting for the big adventure story.)

PS: I assume that the last line of the film and the relationship between Hayes and Jimmy are throwbacks? It's silly to force in the past regardless, but if they’re not throwbacks, then I really don’t understand.

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Story Solving 

First, let me say that there is no answer to "what makes good art?". Only a feeling. And then a bet.

Why do I talk about film?

I have no desire to be a critic. I don’t read movie critics. Most people I know don’t even read the big ones, so do I expect people to come here looking for the ultimate word? No.

And I dislike that critics are often trying to get in their clever bits. You know, that quote that sums up the movie so nicely that it might appear on a poster. I am annoyed by things like Rotten Tomatoes, a site that attempts to math reviewer quotes into a percentage. But, when you read the quotes in context and look at the work, often the numbers don’t make sense.

Because art cannot be measured. Or can it? I have said in my book that it cannot.

I talk about movies because I’m trying to figure it all out, really. I see what works and what I like and what burns me artistically. So that’s why I talk about film on JSDC. That is why I like to discuss movies and see what you might think about them, too.

In pursuit of trying to figure it all out, I said this about the movie King Kong:

This version of beauty and the beast doesn’t snag me as it does some people, so perhaps I’m the wrong person to ask. I question how timely the telling of this tale is. (Which, I argue, is an important part of the evolution of myth.)

I received a fair amount of mail for that one.

“What do you mean?!” readers cried, exasperated.

“How could Beauty and the Beast be outdated?!”

It’s not outdated; it’s a timeless myth.

“How could a classic like Kong be outdated?!”

Uh, see these fucking tights. Kthanksitcanhappen.

No but really, I spent six minutes on an art site and fell upon a few visuals that show how Beauty and the Beast is timeless and how it can manifest itself in many different ways. One of these ways repeats:

Example One | Example Two

Can you think of other modern Beauty and the Beast stories? What about new ways in which the story might be told in a more timely fashion?

I might like to switch up the gender roles like Aladdin did for Cinderella, but of course way differently, my dear. Then I might like to ground the beast in modern day, i.e. a sort of beast that might be plausible in our times. Perhaps I’d genre it magical-reality.

Of course I’m not working on anything like that. So I won’t.

Anyway, is anyone else confused by the marketing for Tristan & Isolde?

1. “Before Romeo & Juliet, there was...” They think we need a reference in order to recognize a love story? Actually, the story is not that R&J-ish. It’s more Guinevere & Lancelot-ish. Or at least that’s what the trailer portrays.

2. Why the hell is there an Evanescence song in the trailer? Did they not have their score together or do they think that an over-played Evanescence will pull in young people?

Marketing stunts make me suspect that a film will be bad, which is too bad because I was going to see this one. Now, I’m waiting to see how reviews go, which usually means I’m not going.

I know it’s tricky, but,

Fredrick Douglas said,

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

Bring me thunder.

Bring me thunder, or nothing.

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V is for Verbigeration 

It has been a long time since I laughed hard in a theater. Screening V for Vendetta changed that.

During the previews, they (wisely) decided to show the following back to back:

Trailer One
Trailer Two

Do I need to tell you that the crowd cracked-up at the first shot of the hero at the beginning of Trailer Two? Or about the laughter that followed when a character turned to the hero and said, “There’s something you’re not telling me.”?

I have never adored an audience so much as in that moment.

And Phillip Seymor Hoffman is so good. Even in previews. I would hire him immediately.

Same goes for Mr. H. Weaving, who is the man behind the mask (V). Not an easy thing, pulling off a masked protagonist, but they did an OK job. Weaving is mostly to thank for that bit.

Here’s the main thing you need to know about the movie: It’s a Wachowski Brothers film. You saw The Matrix 2-3, right? V is better than those, but the Ws are still doing that message thing they do.

The Matrix was a very clear script. They had their talky-talky bits and it worked. (See blue/red pill scene, see Oracle scene, see Agent Smith and Morpheus scene… .) Matrix 2-3 was convoluted and they got lost in their own preachy-ness and attempts at irony. (See entire movie—Actually, I wouldn’t if I were you: It's not very good.) I am a fan of the talky-ness and preachy-ness and symbolism and messages and themes and irony and the other things that spur the Ws to create art, but there are many of subtle things to learn from the mistakes they make in pursuit of those story elements. I saw a lot of wasted opportunity. Genre screenwriters: There are lessons for us here. Take notes.

Their trouble lies in that they often let the message, the theme, the Wachowski-isms, lead in place of character motivation and plot. When you follow the latter elements, the theme comes out naturally in the telling instead of feeling forced and inorganic to the story. Unfortunately, the Ws are becoming known for sending tedious, mixed messages instead of the awesomely clear ones present in the first Matrix film. All they need to do is tighten up their scripts.

In addition to the “mixed message” issues, the Ws have some show-don’t-tell problems regarding the exposition. Sometimes the trouble is not in that they don’t show but instead in what or how they show. Slight character motivation trouble and too-easy plot fixes also stick out. There are solid sequences and, on the other hand, cliché moments and scenes (you will notice a scene we’ve already seen Natalie act in a different film this past year). It’s a good thing that V isn’t a minute longer.

It’s hard to pull off a genre film screenplay wise, then to shoot and edit it and still pull it off yet again and again in each production phase of the story. V isn’t a good genre movie, but it’s not a terrible genre movie either, and for those reasons I won’t pick it apart further. Half of the audience cheered a little after the movie. If it’s your sort of thing, you’ll probably like it fine. It's at the same level as Kong, but for completely different reasons, and I liked it at least a little better than Kong because it was timelier in the telling. (Although, it's timelyness is less potent on the heels of such social, question asking dramas as Brokeback, GN, GL and Syriana. And forget that "vision of the future" thing; there really isn't one.)

Speaking of timely, if you’re going to talk about the month of November so much, then as a rule you should have to release your movie IN NOVEMBER. There’s something… unseasonable about V.

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X-Movie 

Fine, I admit it: I’ve seen X-Men 3 and was withholding review. Nerds, you may now stop e-mailing me. (I am still your father.)

You know why I held it: As I’ve mentioned, I tire of writing the same review for each of these letdown films. I am also fairly certain that you are tried of reading that same review, and can probably tell all on your very own why a film doesn’t work.

Because the thing is, a motion picture story is greater than the sum of its parts. Not one sequence that’s killer. Not the cinematography. Not one character or actor who shines….

It must be greater than the sum of its parts.
The whole is different than the sum of its parts.
11 good football players may not make for a good football team.
This equation for a good team is the true challenge, and task for the master.
Here the story works and comes alive.

At achieving this, a movie is either successful or unsuccessful.

Read: Good or bad.

X-Men is not good, therefore it is bad. Here’s pretty much how it goes down: Cringe! Already, cringe!: After the first scene they’ve diverted from the main storyline… Show don’t tell, that was ghey, cringe, oh no; more bad dialogue, cringe, cringe, cringe, not even close to believable, Patrick Stewart hates his lines, pointless action, emotionless violence, that was cool but emotionless, too convenient, too convenient, show don’t tell, blah, blah, blah, can I see that? No? OK, fuck you, then, but I’ll still watch… So wait, he just died or something?… How many Dell placements do I have to look at? It’s distracting me from the TV I’m supposed to be watching that is playing a video with important exposition that better be important because you’re making it look important.... Dell, Dell, Dell, Oh! Curseword, curseword! …But only one because it’s PG-13 so it just sticks out as that one curseword… More lack of motivation, bad direction, cringe, ghey, ghey, ghey, bad wig, “Get it? He’s an angel! Watch the symbolism as he swoops around and with climactic music in the background and…” moments that don’t work so everyone laughs, everyone dies and I don’t care but at this point I almost expect it and am stifling laughs, but other people are not… Core character dies, they snigger loudly. What a waste of story potential. This movie is bad. “Nooooo!” Wait, you’re kidding me. Really? You went with the old “Nooooooo!” moment? Bad wig does not get destroyed. That was ghey and, truly,

What?

Yes, Ratner is a hack. And I don’t even care enough to look up what committee wrote the thing, but they suck as well. Hack, hack, hack.

Sorry, people.

Blame yourselves, you pay for it and every now and then even the ones with potential fail you (seems to be happening more and more, eh?), but they only get away with it because you pay for all the bad stuff all the time. By the way the trailer for The Pirates of the Caribbean looked as hella ghey as the one for The Da Vinci Code. Partially for the same reasons (intense look, intense look, intense look), and then for some really different ones (squid-people?).

Anyway, hey, at least now from the previews (following the eight commercials I paid to see, following the slides of advertising and audio advertising I had to watch and listen to or else forfeit my seat and thus also paid to see) at least from those previews, I now know what the fuck a Tokyo Drift is.

Did you know Paul Walker isn’t even in that movie?

3 Fast 3 Furious would have been the bestest title.

The end.

(Or not really because we killed everyone off except the bad wig but still left two, not one but two, open-ending scenes that we couldn’t sequence together because we couldn’t figure out how to tell the story without two buttons so we put one after the credits kind of like they had to do with The Chronicles of Narnia but more obvious and bad and anyway this leaves it open just in case X3 makes one zillion dollars before everyone forgets how much it sucks and in that case we can make another one and make even more money and hey don’t complain because at least we’re giving Stewart and McKellan work.)

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Substituting for Courage 

So people are getting excited because it looks like the caliber of movies might be picking up as usual as the holiday and awards season comes ‘round.

…Except the year in film has been worse than usual (hey, you bought it, sucka) and the caliber doesn’t look as good as usual, as good as the marketing tells you.

The seams are starting to show, the audience grows tired of being bombarded, which isn’t good for anyone, artists, investors…. anyone, in the long run. …Of course, maybe I’m wrong because yesterday someone said to me, “I’m really looking forward to The Prestige: It’s going to be awesome! Director of Batman, yeah!”

What.

I then felt this huge disappointment because of the pending disappointment waiting for that gent, because an audience member was excited about a movie that… well…

What do you think it will be? Can you tell by the marketing and production? This is your week to take over the editorial here on JSDC. Here's what’s coming out:
Flags of Our Fathers
The Prestige
Marie Antoinette
Babel


I’m just saying, this raping-of-story-so-as-to-make-the-upfront-dollar shit is breaking my heart and I aim never to be a part of that mess.

But are things looking up now that the appearance is that the films are “quality”? Like I said, you tell me.

..centuries from now our great-great-great-grandchildren will look back at us with amazement at how we could allow such a precious achievement of human culture as the telling of a story to be shattered into smithereens by commercials, the same amazement we feel today when we look at our ancestors for whom slavery, capital punishment, burning of witches, and the inquisition were acceptable everyday events.
–Werner Herzog

Oh! And, incidentally, if you think that NBC show Heroes is good, you are wrong, fooled and have been ripped-off. (Suckax2.)

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Artability 

Links to thoughts on films I screened a while back (viewing films early can be a bore: You have no one to discuss them with):

Pan’s Labyrinth
Curse of the Golden Flower


Of the many films I saw this year, the ones that are good:
The Fountain
The Queen
Little Children


I didn’t see, but am curious about:
The Departed
Notes on a Scandal
Apocalypto


Children of Men is my “close enough,” I suppose. People will like it despite its not being great. And compared to all the big-budget, sub-par crap that has been released, it’s at least interesting premise-wise and production-wise. The parts they did include in the story are good. The characters are lacking somewhat, however, and when I thought we were at the second act climax it turns out we were at the end leaving me to think, “Where is the rest of the movie?”

I joined Netflix solely to finish catching up on Battlestar Galactica. Season one is terrific. I’ve just started season two.

Last week I (finally) saw Requiem for a Dream. It was a little before my time and I doubt that the ridiculous Regal Cinemas in Northern VA showed the film, anyway. So, yes, I finally found my way to the story. When my roommate handed over the DVD for me to borrow, I asked, “Is it depressing?”

“It affects people in different ways,” he answered.

I felt that way about The Fountain, so I knew exactly what he meant. Requiem is, of course, very different than Aronofsky’s latest in terms of subject matter. Regardless, I loved the film. It is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and overall.

Interesting: An article about the MPAA issues that Requiem faced.

I want to see the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.

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