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,