The Hunger Games, Cabin in the Woods, and Moral Choices

While I am going to review neither The Hunger Games nor Cabin in the Woods at length (at least not now), I did want to write a piece comparing the two.  More accurately, contrasting the two, because I had completely different experiences with each.

I went into The Hunger Games knowing very little about the story, other than what I could glean from the trailer.  It looked like a watered-down version of Battle Royale, so my expectations were somewhat minimal.  Meanwhile, Cabin in the Woods was a must-see because of the involvements of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.  And, as I found out after I began to watch, Amy Acker.  Note to any filmmakers who happen to be reading:  everything is better with Amy Acker.  Give her work.

Both movies tell very different types of stories.  Both nevertheless have very similar background failings.  Both kept me involved in their stories right to the climax.  But I walked out of The Hunger Games enchanted – twice – whereas Cabin in the Woods disappointed me enough to not earn the repeat business I had been planning to give it.  Why?  What’s the difference?

[Spoilers ahead.  Proceed only if you dare.] (more…)

Published in: on May 18, 2012 at 11:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Muppets, and Sweetness in Cinema

I finally got around to watching the new Muppets film.  It wasn’t a question of whether the film would be good.  Jason Segel was writing it; I knew it would be both faithful to the characters and a lot of fun.  I think it was more a matter of being burned out after what I can only describe as a sub-par year at the movies.  That made me a little risk-shy.  The film would be good, sure, but would it be good enough?

The short answer:  Yes.

The longer answer is, of course, more involved. (more…)

Published in: on January 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Roger Ebert Is Wrong, Part 2: The Meaning of the Image

Today’s column is the second in what I envision to be a multi-part series, disputing some claims made by noted film critic Roger Ebert.  I think Ebert is perhaps our foremost film critic today, and I agree with much of what he says.  But occasionally I come across something I think is just wrong, and I’d like to talk about those remarks and what I see as their implications.


Ebert, from his review of the film Being There:  “In the much-discussed final sequence of Being There, Chance casually walks onto the surface of a lake…When I taught the film I had endless discussions with my students over this scene.  Many insisted on explaining it:  He is walking on a hidden sandbar, the water is only half an inch deep, there is a submerged pier, and so on.  ‘Not valid!’ I thundered.  ‘The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image, it is not permitted to devise explanations for it.  Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier — a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more.’”


My response: (more…)

Published in: on December 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Star Trek or Star Wars?

It is the question that divides my generation of science-fiction nerds:  Star Trek, or Star Wars?  It was inevitable that I would have to address it someday, so I thought I’d get it out of the way.

Which is better?   (more…)

Published in: on December 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm  Comments (2)  

The Gordian Joss

Since writing a draft of this piece, I have done a thorough search and found that a poster on the Whedonesque board seems to have come up with the same basic idea before I did.  He/she even talked about it using “Chosen” as a reference.  While this makes me green with envy, at least I can still discuss the trope I thought I found…


Once upon a time, Alexander the Great traveled to Phrygia.  While there, he solved the problem of the Gordian knot, a legendary tangle of bark that supposedly resisted all efforts to untie it.  The way I originally heard the legend (since confirmed, sadly, to be propaganda), it was claimed by prophecy that he who could untie the knot would be ruler of all Asia.  Alexander found the solution – he cut the Gordian knot in half.

This playing with semantics is probably why he never reached the Ganges.

I bring up the legend in order to name and discuss a trope.   (more…)

Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Roger Ebert Is Wrong, Part 1: Images and Ideas

Today’s column will be the first in what I envision to be a multi-part series, disputing some claims made by noted film critic Roger Ebert.  I think Ebert is perhaps our foremost film critic today, and I agree with much of what he says.  But occasionally I come across something I think is just wrong, and I’d like to talk about those remarks and what I see as their implications.


Ebert, from his review of the Fellini film :  “The critic Alan Stone, writing in the Boston Review, deplores Fellini’s ‘stylistic tendency to emphasize images over ideas.’  I celebrate it.  A filmmaker who prefers ideas to images will never advance above the second rank, because he is fighting the nature of his art.  The printed word is ideal for ideas; film is made for images, and images are best when they are free to evoke many associations and are not linked to narrowly defined purposes.”


My response: (more…)

Published in: on December 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

How Do You Get Publicity?

Gentle readers,

One reason I found it so easy to drop this blog earlier in the year is that I was discouraged by the lack of feedback I got on my stories. I knew some people were visiting my site, but they never left tangible tracks. No comments or e-mails for me to read for encouragement or feedback. I never understood why bloggers felt such a need for those comments. I do now.

So I’ve been putting some thought into how one might get readers here. Hijacking your computer is probably out of the question, so failing that: (more…)

Published in: on December 7, 2011 at 7:53 pm  Comments (2)  

“The Screech Cue,” and Get Smart

Yesterday, I wrote about a writing device that Orson Scott Card thought was no longer useful. Today, I’d like to write about one device I loathe. I call it “The Screech Cue,” and it is sadly a staple of lesser sitcoms and film comedies. It’s the bottom-of-the-barrel gag that writers resort to when they’re trying to pad an episode or go for a cheap laugh. Its use should be criminalized.

“The Screech Cue” is so named because in my experience, the most egregious uses of it happened on Saved by the Bell, and their target always seemed to be Samuel “Screech” Powers. But you’ll see it on every other comedy as well, and the butt of the joke is almost always the awkward and/or stupid person in the cast. (If it isn’t either of those, it’ll almost certainly be the snobby vain character.) You’ve seen the setup a million times, I’m sure. It goes like this: (more…)

Published in: on December 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Is The Ticking Clock Ticked Out?

A while back, on the written recommendation of Nathan Shumate, I bought a fascinating book on writing action scripts written by William C. Martell.  Martell is a professional screenwriter who has sold quite a few scripts, and purports to know (with excellent reason) what it is that the people who make films want to buy.  There are quite a few chapters of the book devoted to various tricks that the screenwriter can use to involve the audience in the narrative, among them the classic Ticking Clock.

A few days ago, I read Orson Scott Card’s review of the recently released Justin Timberlake vehicle In Time.  In a otherwise mildly positive review where he mocked the premise of the movie but praised its ability to interest the audience, Card had this to say about a scene where the mother of Timberlake’s character dies in his arms, as her time literally runs out: (more…)

The Dangers of Self-Censorship

Do you have this problem as well?

I want to write.  Fiction, particularly.  I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember, ever since I first realized that those biographies and fantasies and children’s books I loved were written by people.  What’s that?  There are people who write as a career?  Where do I sign up?

The problem was that I didn’t know how to get started. (more…)

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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