Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

I was in a foul mood all last week, so when a friend offered her opinion of a movie I’d recently enjoyed, deeming it “fairly good, while predictable,” I took it as a passive-aggressive reference to my low-brow viewing choices.

Naturally, she did not mean it that way and (thankfully) I have a strict “reread before hitting enter” policy when posting to social media, so no damage was done, but it did get me thinking.

The movie in question is of the “coming of age” variety and my friend’s evaluation was, to be frank, pretty spot-on. The movie is predictable, as we follow a young man growing up, navigating the pain of early adulthood until, at movie’s end, he comes to terms with his father’s history of absence and utter unreliability.

Predictable. Trite. Cliché. I’ve used these words to describe (in negative terms) both books and movies. I’ve done so here on this blog, and usually I’ve not been kind about it. So, why do I look down my nose at some formulaic works, yet enjoy others? Why do I consider some works to be entertaining, even though they are utterly predictable?

We’re all familiar with the old argument about story archetypes, how many there are, and how old. According to common wisdom, there are only seven archetypal plots (though opinions differ, and widely so). Whether this is true or not, formulas are used to build stories, especially in film—the coming of age plot, the rom-com, the murder mystery—and they are often followed to the point where you can set your watch by what happens on screen. Eighteen minutes into an episode of Murder, She Wrote? A body is going to drop in three . . . two . . . one . . .

Why do we enjoy such stories, even when we know how they’ll work out? And when do we not enjoy them?

I returned to the movie under discussion, and found that my enjoyment had nothing to do with the story’s predictable nature. I knew the boy would grow up and be happy. I knew the boy’s father would remain an irredeemable two-dimensional deadbeat dad. I knew the boy would have some sort of confrontation with his father and, in so doing, accept his own adulthood. I knew all this would happen, and to be honest, those were the least engaging sections of the film.

What grabbed and held my interest were the differences, the ways in which the writers deviated from the expected. As one example, it was how a collection of men—grandfathers, uncles, and pseudo-uncles—cooperated to raise a boy, communal fathers to an abandoned son, a composite role model that was both counterpoint and counterpart to the flawed original. The formula, that’s the foundation on which the whole is built, the scaffolding that supports what is new, but it’s the differences that set it apart.

Absent these differences, that’s when formula is a problem. That’s why the 1998 shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was a flop: simply filming it in color wasn’t enough of a difference.

But with sufficient differences, ah!, now we have variations on a theme, the same story told from a different point of view, and we enjoy the result. Otherwise, we’d never watch another rom-com, see a new staging of Macbeth, or read another mystery novel. We’d be all “Been there; done that,” and set off in search of the totally new (and good luck with that).

Some will argue that there are no original stories; that everything is an interpretation of one of the seven archetypes; or a fanglement, a mash-up of two or more to fashion what merely seems new. I disagree but will allow that, in most cases, it is true. We do tell the same stories, over and over, and we enjoy the retelling, the predictability.

So, when I begin to fret that my current work-in-progress is just another old tale retold, I’ll make a point of remembering the differences I’m working into it. Style, setting, sub-plot, backstory, characterization, tone, structure, pacing—differences large and small all adding to a unique outcome.

Formulas just are; it’s how we employ them that determines if they’re worth the time.


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OK, Boomer. This is for you.

Last week, we signed up for a month of Disney+, and did so specifically to watch Peter Jackson’s documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back.

The Beatles were the soundtrack of my earliest youth, before I even knew who they were. I saw them on Ed Sullivan (“Why are all the girls screaming?”) and when my family took a road trip to Disneyland, I saw posters for them pasted on every block in L.A. (“Hehe. They spelled ‘beetles’ wrong.”). By the time I really knew who they were, they had begun to change, shifting from the classic rock and roll of Hard Day’s Night to the more musically complex tracks on Rubber Soul and Revolver. I followed them devotedly into their psychedelic phase, reveling in the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that swirled around them during the Sgt Pepper/Abbey Road years. And, like most people at the time, I blamed Yoko for everything in the global post-mortem of the band’s break-up.

It’s no surprise, then, that I was willing to drop eight bucks to sign up with Disney+, just to watch Jackson’s three-part documentary about that final period.

What was a surprise was how moved I was by it, and for totally unexpected reasons. (more…)

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A lot of today’s pop culture cinema leaves me cold. Superheroes. Vampires. Zombies. Especially zombies.

What is it with zombies? I don’t watch The Walking Dead. I don’t get all fidgety waiting for the next zombie apocalypse video game. And I certainly don’t queue up to see the latest action-packed, gore-spattered, plucky regular-guys facing walls of crazed, offal-eating zombies.



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Miss me? Did you even notice I was gone? Hehe…Probably not.

Either way, it was an interesting holiday fortnight, writing-wise—a couple of rejections, a friend had his book series canceled, another friend’s newest got some great reviews, and one of my books is going out-of-print—but the one piece of writerly news that really sparked a discussion was a bit involving CBS, Paramount, and Star Trek.

You remember Star Trek, right? That other sci-fi mega-franchise. The one with good writing? The franchise that actually did break new ground?

Yeah. That one. Star Trek.


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“I didn’t see that coming.”

That’s something you’ll rarely hear me say when watching a movie or video. Truth be told, seldom does a plot-line surprise me to the point where I sit back and blink. Here’s a movie/show that not only made me say that, but also made me pause the playback to understand why I was caught so by surprise.


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Going to the cinema is a less-than-optimal experience for me. Rude audience members, sticky floors, cell phone bleeps and ringtones, and neighboring theater boom-boom-bleed-through make the experience rather … challenging … for a purist. Last week, however, I took a couple of days off for our anniversary and, since Seattle is currently suffering under a heat wave and we’re both a couple of heat-wimps, we opted for midday movies at the cinema. First showings on a weekday mitigate the downsides of the cinematic experience while leaving the upsides (massive screen, surround sound, that distinctive popcorn smell) intact.

We saw two movies in the theater and watched one at home and they were — as this post’s title suggests — excellent, good, and great.


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Remember those miniature license plates for your bicycle? The personalized ones with your name on them? Cute, right?

Yeah, I hated those damned things because they never had one with the name “Kurt”. I also hated Romper Room because at the end when Miss Nancy took out her magic mirror and searched to see who was out there in televisionland, she never saw me. No Kurts in televisionland. Not once. Not ever.

So, when I learned that my kid-universe included an actor named Kurt Russell, he immediately earned a soft spot in my heart.

Which explains why I have a copy of Tombstone in my video armoire.

It does not explain why I have also have a copy of Wyatt Earp.

Nor does it explain why, this past weekend, I watched them both, back to back.


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