Is the Big Screen Still Worth It?

I was talking to someone about the new Jurassic World movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. They were telling me how unimpressed they were with the story. I sympathized, of course. Nothing has ever come close to Jurassic Park, the original. But we also agreed that there is nothing like the big screen for visuals and sound. Nothing is quite as cool as hearing Hollywood’s version of a T-Rex scream  in a theater setting.

However, it’s also true that the bar has been raised. If Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom‘s story is bad (and I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know), is it really worth it to spend the money and time, sit next to strangers, and fight the traffic just to hear big sound and see a big screen? It all depends on your priorities, time constraints, financial situation, and why you go to the movies in the first place.

If you go to the movies to enjoy a communal event, traveling to the theater for a group experience is part of the fun. Movie theaters will always hold a place in society. They provide a way to experience story as a bonding and entertaining event. To that end, movies that reach the widest audience, have the most crossover appeal, and are the easiest to understand, will probably always do best in the theater atmosphere. The Marvel-type movies, big action films, easy romantic comedies, and animation provide mass appeal. They are generally non-controversial. And they allow us to relax our brains for a couple of hours in the company of friends, family, and junk food.

However, some of us do not watch movies to relax our brains. Having our brains stretched and worked on is part of the entertainment. Character-driven movies, independent films, foreign films, documentaries, and art-house films are more likely to draw this type of crowd. Each individual movie may not be profitable enough to show on a big screen. But, now that streaming has become such a popular way to view content, studios can create intellectual content without going bankrupt. These movies don’t require large screens or booming audio, so they can be enjoyed on a large or a small screen.

The smaller screen also appeals to people who just want a distraction for a few minutes. I think all of us fall into this category at times. During a busy work week, there may not be enough time to venture out to a theater, or dive into a deep, character-driven tale. Dropping in on a streaming show or movie for a few minutes, knowing that you can pick it up right where you left off, is the essence of the “on-demand” system.

This wider range of content is good news for writers and consumers. People are still hungry for story. And, now that there are so many other options besides theaters and cable, those of us who like niche movies and shows have a greater variety of options. I can usually find something interesting to watch on Netflix, for example, since they have everything from old movie classics to their own original programming, and everything in between.

Virtual reality may eventually become another way to enjoy entertainment. VR provides a personalized, interactive experience that is unlike any previous movie or television experience. The kinds of experiences that are becoming possible through technology may present additional challenges for writers, producers, and consumers alike. But, in the meantime, regardless of your reason for engaging in entertainment, there is likely something out there that can satisfy even the pickiest of viewers.


Peace and love,



A Bad Ending: You Get Me

{This is a discussion of the film You Get Me (2017). Director: Brent Bonacorso; Writer: Ben Epstein}

In real life, endings are almost always sad (except the end of a work day).

In movies, however, endings tend to be happy. We know that, in real life, good people die, couples break up, failure happens, and life is not always fair.

But in the movies and on television, we don’t want to see that. We get enough of real life in real life, so we usually want to feel good at the end of a film or show.

However, what happens when a happy ending is, nevertheless, BAD? By bad, I mean, unsatisfying, trite, or too easy.

I watched a teen thriller the other day called You Get Me. I wasn’t expecting much. It was a teen version of Fatal Attraction, basically. But it was better than I thought it was going to be. At first. The cinematography was enthralling, the music was good, and the acting (for the most part) was good.

What sucked was the ending. I wasn’t expecting any surprises, and by gum, I got none! But I started wondering why I was still unsatisfied, even though it ended as expected.

I think I was unsatisfied because I got no final thrust. Given the nature of the story, I wanted to feel a little beaten up by the end. I can live with a trite ending, but please mess with me a little bit first! Make me sweat for it. Make the trite, happy ending feel well-deserved. Don’t make me feel like I received dessert without eating my vegetables. I want to feel so relieved at the end, that, trite or not, I need a break from the tension.

But there was no tension. It’s like, at the end, they scooped mashed potatoes onto a white plate and followed it up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Please, smash some gravy onto those mashed potatoes! Slop some melted chocolate all over that ice cream!

If someone is going to get kidnapped, or if you’re going to kill off some expendable character, for example, stick it right in my face. Show it to me! Make me suffer with the victim for a little while. Don’t turn away, shy. If you’re going to rip off Fatal Attraction, then rip it the fuck off! Give me the creeps, make me feel bad for the villain a little bit, make me want to jump into the screen and get revenge.

Sadly, You Get Me was pretty good until the end. They set everything up nicely then got cold feet. They raised up my expectations a little bit, then kicked me square in the booty. Thanks for playing. Next.

However…if you want to look at pretty people living in Malibu, and you have an hour and a half to spare, You Get Me is not a complete waste of time.

Have a great weekend!


The Godfather: Storytelling is Manipulation

I watched The Godfather again the other day. I believe it was only my second time all the way through, though I’ve seen bits and pieces of it over the years.

It is one of my favorite movies (duh!), but I started wondering why. The characters are racists, sexists, adulterers, murderers, drug pushers, back-stabbers, liars, and overall criminals. In general, if a movie offends my morality too deeply I’ll stop watching it, regardless of how many awards it has won. So, why do I love these characters, even though, especially in real life, they would not like me?

I like the characters, and the story, because they are spoon fed to me gently. The movie opens with the sad wailing of horns, a refrain that will play over and over throughout the movie. Even if you hadn’t seen the movie, you would get the impression that you were going to see a sad story. You feel ready to empathize.

The Godfather title comes on the screen. It has puppet strings over the “father” part. So, we subtly get the impression that someone is going to be manipulated, or feel out of control. This  prepares us to feel sorry for that situation, to care. We’re not put in a judgmental mood, in other words. Again, we’re ready to empathize.

Next, we see a man with an accent talking to us, looking into the camera. His first words are “I believe in America.” Yes, he turns out to be just another person begging for a favor from Don Corleone, but we don’t know that yet. We’re ready to like this guy and embrace what he has to say.

Next, this guy tells us a story. It’s a riveting and emotional story of a good girl, his own daughter, getting abused. By now, we’re totally sucked in, wondering who’s going to right this terrible wrong. And who does it turn out to be? None other than the Don. We’re ready to approve of whatever punishment the Don metes out to this heartless abuser. The movie has prepped us to accept murder and violence as justified. Why? Family. Family is everything, right? Any one of us would kill for our families, especially our kids.

It’s genius. We don’t discover all their problems until later. By then, we don’t care as much. Michael is our guy, and he’s trying to do the right thing. He just wants to help his father. Plus, he’s sexy. And he’s the marrying kind. We don’t become scared of him until the end, but he has our loyalty by then. By the time people are killing for him and kissing his hand, we’re married to him too, just like Kay. What can we do at that point? (Watch The Godfather II, I guess, which I will do!)

Storytelling, at the end of the day, is manipulation. As storytellers, we have to know how we want our audience to feel, and then not let up until they feel that. In order to do this, however, we have to have empathy. We have to have a genuine understanding of how human beings think and feel. The more natural empathy you have (which is a gift that not everyone has), the better writer you are capable of becoming.

The fact that Coppola, Puzo, Brando, Pacino, Duvall, and the rest of the crew could make me, an arrow-straight, law-abiding, moralistic black female care deeply about a bunch of racist, sexist, murderous Italian men is no small feat. And it’s not just me. My mother saw this film in the theater when she was pregnant with me. She held her pee until the end because she couldn’t bear to miss any of it. Wow!

I hope one day I can write a story that’ll make a pregnant woman hold her pee.

Peace and love,


The Shape of Water – a Critique of its Love Story and “Representation”


I read an interesting article about The Shape of Water the other day. The article 18_05_05_The_Shape_of_Watercelebrates the idea of “queering” in the movie – non-traditional love between “queer” bodies – in this case a mute woman and a “monster.”  The author, Stephanie Monteith, seemed to love the movie as a discussion of the monster as “other,” as a way for us to examine our own humanity through the idea of the monster.

I like Stephanie’s point, but I didn’t really like the movie. It didn’t work for me because I thought the theme was too blatant and simplistic. It felt like Oppression Olympics. The movie had pure, uncomplicatedly good characters: a mute woman, her black female friend, and her gay best friend, all struggling on the brink of abject poverty to save the sweet, loving monster from the horrible, uncomplicatedly bad rich white man who practices unflinching bigotry and cruelty.

I think humans (and monsters) are more complicated and faceted than that, so I tend to get bored with statement pieces that have angel and devil-people functioning as stand-ins for a discussion about social justice. I have no problem with movies that discuss themes of social justice, as long as the story and characters ring true.

The exception, for me, are morality tales, which I love. These stories tend to have very simple plots, and a main character who struggles with his own contradictions. In these stories, the main character is usually the only complicated character, and the plot may or may not be plausible, but the moral struggle rings true. The movie A Simple Plan is my favorite morality tale. I think Fatal Attraction and The Firm (the movie, not the book)  also fall under that category.

The Shape of Water appears to be using the love story to make a statement. But, the love story didn’t quite work for me either. I believe the notion of pure unselfish love would have been more powerfully advanced if the woman and the creature had not had sex, at least not until she had been transformed into a sea creature.

The Inter-species sex introduces a strange element that takes away from the idea of love being selfless and sacrificial. Picture Rise of the Planet of the Apes where Will fought for the life of “Serena” instead of Caesar, and they made love in a tree. Will’s love for Caesar was no less poignant without the “love story,” and Elisa’s love for the Amphibian Man would have been no less touching without the sexual component.

Once Elisa dies and comes back as Amphibian Lady – since their true love had already been firmly established – sex makes sense at that point. Before that, you wonder (well, I wonder) if she was simply horny and desperate. She was a daily, vigorous masturbator, after all.

Having Elisa and the Amphibian Man consummate their relationship in the water – as equals – would have been a lot more beautiful and romantic in my opinion.

So, while I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the more obvious “messages” in The Shape of Water, and while I found the inter-species sex a little creepy and unnecessary, I love it when something unusual gets top honors. I hope the success of the movie will inspire the industry to continue thinking outside the box.

Incidentally, I believe that no group can claim true equality until the individuals in that group are looked at realistically – not all good, not all bad. Not villains. Not angels. Not comic reliefs. Not magical saviors. Not innocent victims who need rescuing. Not sexualized. Not asexual. Not serving merely as support props for the mainstream (white) character. And not as quirky side-kicks who appear when needed, and conveniently disappear when not. Three dimensional characters, just like real people, hold multiple and contradictory characteristics at once. There are no saint groups and no sinner groups.

We’re getting there, but I believe we still have a ways to go.

Peace and love,






Hypothetically – a short film

This week I watched a short film called Hypothetically, written and directed by Isaac Ravishankara. I liked it so much I watched it three times, not including the times I backed up to watch something again. It’s only about 6 1/2 minutes, and I thought it was great.

Why did I like it? I think I liked it primarily because I like films that involve the strange psychology of relationships. The twist was set up nicely. It was funny. It was timed well. And the ending was satisfying.

**spoilers (kind of) below**

But, another reason I liked the film is because I was the girl in this situation. Kind of. Once.

Due to the meddlesome interference of an ex-boyfriend’s female friend (boyfriends and their female friends could fill a whole other blog), this boyfriend – call him B – was going to break up with me. He had already told this female friend – call her C – that he was dumping me. I knew it was coming, and I didn’t really care. There had already been too many ups and downs with this individual.

So, after a day at the beach with friends, we sat down to talk by ourselves.

O.K. Here it comes. Good!

But then…something shifted in me.

As he gave me his break-up spiel, I decided in my head, and then out loud:  “No.”

Much like the guy in Hypothetically, B looked surprised. No? Who says “no” to a breakup? Just…no.

But the reason why I said no is because I knew that if we broke up, it would be because of other people: his manipulative drip of a friend, C; my friend, D, telling me that B was useless. Drama, drama, drama. I told B that before we decided anything, we would need to give it a real shot. Make a real go of it.

So, instead of breaking up, we started over.

The second we were done talking, the aforementioned villainess, C, who always seemed to be in the vicinity, came up to me to “console” me on the break-up. I just nodded and smiled. She would get her little bubble burst soon. And did.


So, she remained my enemy. And B and I broke up down the road, on our own, for reasons not involving C.

But my “No” remains something I’m proud of.

Is there some nonsense you need to say NO to this weekend? If so, do it!

Peace and love,


When Your Own Mind is Your Worst Enemy – Eyes Wide Shut

There is no “when,” actually. Our own minds are always our worst enemy. The experience we have of the world takes place between our two ears much more than it happens “out there.” That is not to say that there is no objective reality, as some people believe. But, objective reality is not as responsible for our happiness as what goes on in the recesses of the mind.

Eyes Wide Shut (screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, inspired by the novel by Arthur Schnitzler) illustrates this perfectly. Alice and Bill have been married for eight years, one year beyond the infamous “seven year itch.” Both of them behave inappropriately at a Christmas party, but not in unforgivable ways. However, the seeming innocence of their respective flirtations betrays a deeper discontent lying just beneath the surface.

During an argument, Alice reveals that in the prior year, while she and Bill were on vacation together, she entertained a fantasy about another man. She is brutally honest and, perhaps, unnecessarily detailed, in recounting the depths of her lust for this stranger. She does nothing more than exchange a glance with this man. Nevertheless, at that moment, she says she was ready to give it all up – Bill, their daughter, and their future – just to have one night with this unknown man.

Bill takes this hard, of course. But if he had had some emotional distance from her marijuana-spiked confession, he might have realized that this fantasy was not only foolish, it had more to do with her than with him. Had she been dumb enough to actually pursue this fantasy, she would have, no doubt, regretted it. This handsome stranger probably could not have lived up to her fantasy. He might have been an asshole. He might have been terrible in bed. He might have had a disease.

But Bill does not have emotional distance from either his own thoughts or his wife’s. He is cut to the quick, not only because of jealousy. He is also shaken to the core because his wife’s revelation overturns all of his prior conditioning regarding female fidelity. He assumes he can basically take his wife for granted because “women just don’t think like that.” In other words, women don’t crave sex outside their relationships. But, he’s wrong on both accounts. The movie (and the world) is full of lusty women perfectly willing to have uncommitted sex and/or cheat on their loving partners.

But, while his wife’s confession was regarding a fantasy, Bill’s indiscretions are all too real. He kisses two women – three if you include the masked kiss at the party. He goes to a hooker, stopping only because his wife happened to call. He goes to a sex party and almost cheats again, stopping only because he was kicked out. In his pursuit of “strange,” he spends over $700 of his family’s money in one night. He sinks so low as to call his lovesick patient whom he had kissed, and then rejected, earlier, only to be stopped by the fact that her boyfriend answers the phone. He even goes back to the hooker, willing to sleep with her roommate when she’s not there. This time, the only thing that stops him is the discovery of the hooker’s HIV diagnosis. You would think almost exposing himself to HIV would have woken him up, but, nope. Not quite yet.

So, Bill’s fidelity is technical, rather than actual – and, thus, basically non-existent. Whether his unfaithfulness emerges due to torment over imagining his wife with other men, or whether that’s simply an excuse for him to indulge his own desires, he has been played by his own mind. He has fallen for a false image of “something better out there” that, in reality, is a hooker-y, pedophiliac, HIV positive, drug addicted, seedy world of deception, betrayal and pain. He brings this pain into his family life during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year for families – Christmas.

Alice’s statement at the end is very telling: “The important thing is we’re awake now.” The fantasy of something better “out there” has ruined many potentially solid relationships. There is nothing “out there.”

The ego-stroking that people get from exes, sexy strangers, opposite-sex “friends,” porn, and dating sites is an illusion. Chasing that illusion will likely cost you what you already have. The men and women in our fantasies are only flawless in our minds. In reality, they are the same, and probably worse, than what we already have. Had Alice known that, she could have laughed off her fantasy rather than spend their whole vacation thinking about it, then sharing it with her husband a year later. Had Bill known that, he could have chastised his wife for her careless confession rather than literally walking the streets looking for some kind of revenge or distraction – stirring up drama and pain that may take years for them to fully heal.

One of Alice’s final statements is that “Maybe I think we should be grateful.” She goes on to refer to their past “adventures,” but I wish she had stopped there. Maybe we should just be grateful. Grateful for the love we have, rather than thinking there is some escape in the attentions of other men and women. The fantasies may come up in our minds, but we have the option of seeing them for what they really are – reflections of a mind that has wandered away from the present moment, and forgotten to be grateful. The mind will always crave what it doesn’t have, compare the past to the present, think what it has is inferior to what others have, and long for admiration without first giving it to others. In short, the undisciplined mind is a source of misery.

So, let’s do our best to not be our mind’s bitch. Let’s be grateful for who we are, and for whom we have in our lives. Let’s offer praise and appreciation to ourselves, rather than constantly seeking it from the outside. Relationships are what we make of them. If we take our partners for granted, we will soon discover that others view them the way we used to  – and will take them off our hands for us. But, if you are the one who is being neglected or taken for granted, the answer is not in the arms of another man or woman. The answer is a frank conversation, a clear request for what you want, and a graceful exit if they won’t comply.

Remember, the most powerful sexual organ is the mind. Take control of yours so you can have the relationships you deserve.

Peace and love,