Watching Jennifer’s Body

When my friend and I arrived at the Winchester 23 to see “Jennifer’s Body” last week, the parking lot was empty.  We thought were at the Century 24 down the street, where bad movies open to die an unwatched death.  A few more people arrived after we settled down inside the theater, including a couple who talked during the moving because they were either drunk or stupid (hard to tell in the dark).   As the Shepherd Derrial Book says in the TV series, “Firefly,” there’s a special level in Hell that’s reserved for child molesters and people who talked in movie theaters.  Like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” (cue music), we found ourselves in that special level.

I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to watch this movie.  I read that Diablo Cody (who wrote “Juno”) was calling this the “anti-Juno” movie, where the story focused on the bad girl doing bad things rather than the good girl doing good things.  Being able to deconstruct your own work, doing a reverse transformation, and adding a twist are the hallmarks of a good writer.  Because I was in the middle of writing on my own horror short story about teenagers and a shopping cart possessed by a senior citizen, I found myself deconstructing “Jennifer’s Body” to figure out what works and what fails in this particular horror tale.

The story begins and ends with a Needy (Amanda Seyfried) being in a women prison facility for murdering her best friend forever, Jennifer (Megan Fox), narrating how she ended up there and being able to kick a nurse across the room by explaining what happened before.   I don’t like this form of storytelling.   I prefer that a story be told straight through.  Other than serving as bookends for the tale being told, I don’t see why this movie couldn’t be told straight through.

The first thing we find out is the location: Devil’s Kettle.  A town named after a waterfall of the same name, where a part of the waterfall spills into a hole that no one knows where it goes.  Turns out that Devil’s Kettle Falls is a real waterfall in Minnesota except the movie version looks like a bathroom sink made out of marble surrounded by a whirlpool of water.  The town appears to be fictional.  The high school mascot is a red devil (obviously), and where else would you have a virginal sacrifice to Satan (that comes later).

Since Needy is a blond and Jennifer is a brunette, we got the classical Betty and Veronica archetype of the blond being the good girl and the brunette being the bad girl. I struggled to like Needy (way too nerdy) and took an instant dislike to Jennifer (looking for trouble).  This probably has more to do with Archie proposing marriage to Veronica rather than Betty, which makes Archie an idiot in my book.   (I have nothing against brunettes; I just like good girls more than bad girls.)   Jennifer drags Needy away from her innocent boyfriend (who complains about his girlfriend being kidnapped all the time) to go to a roadside bar to meet a rock band that plays some very U2-ish music.   Like any good horror story, people die if they have drugs, premarital sex, and/or liberal politics.

Since the band leader had identified Jennifer as a virgin (taking Needy’s word when she overhears them talking), a mysterious fire breaks out that kills most of the people inside the bar, including high school students and a teacher, and Jennifer is kidnapped while Needy watches helplessly from the roadside.  Jennifer is sacrificed as a virginal offering at the waterfall to have Satan’s grant the band’s request to be rich and famous, and the knife tossed into the pool below the waterfall but it doesn’t go into the hole.  The request is granted but not as expected because the instructions downloaded from the Internet weren’t that explicit.  Because Jennifer wasn’t a virgin, a demon took possession of her body with a craving for boy flesh.

When the boys start showing up dead and eaten a month after the bar fire, Needy goes to the school library to pull out a book of demonology to discover what’s going with Jennifer.   What school libraries in post-Reagan America still carry books on demonology, witchcraft and liberalism?   Mine didn’t.  The public library did.   (If you want to spook out a librarian today, ask for a book on building nuclear weapons.)  Only the school libraries in “Carrie” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” would stock books on those topics.

I enjoyed how one student explains that if something appears on Wikipedia, it must be true.  Or how Needy explains to her boyfriend how real evil is different from high school evil.  I’m quite certain that both of these lines appeared in one form or another in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and the movie itself reminds of an extended conflict between Buffy (good girl) and Faith (bad girl) that also played out against the Betty and Veronica archetype.

There are two pairs of counterpoint scenes involving beds that I enjoyed and detested.

The most publicized scene was the extended lesbian kiss that establishes a psychic connection between Needy and Jennifer in Needy’s bed that eventually leads to the counterpoint scene where they fight to the death in Jennifer’s bed.  I don’t know if the underlying message should be that teenaged girls spend an awful lot of time in each other’s bed.  A good horror story requires counterpoint scenes (or references) that defines the characters and foreshadow the conflict.   My own horror short story that I finished writing today had a half-dozen references.

The other counterpoint scenes happens at the same when Jennifer takes down the goth boy (their shadows cast against the wall when the blood and guts are tossed) and Needy loses her virginity to her boyfriend (an almost top-down camera view).  This is where the psychic link between the two girls comes into full play.  While Needy losing her virginity wasn’t overly explicit, it comes across to me as being pornographic.  Porn is almost always the kiss of death in a horror story.  When used in moderation, restraint, and well integrated into the story, sex can be a powerful force.  When the boyfriend asks if he’s “too big,” the scene went over the top for me.  If I had a popcorn container, I might’ve hurled.

The best part of the movie is where Needy escapes from prison through the use of the demonic powers she inherited from a bite while fighting Jennifer, locates the knife used to sacrifice Jennifer’s body in a gully off the river, and hitch hikes with an older man (J.K. Simmons, a.k.a. Juno’s father, making a cameo appearance) to track down the rock and roll band.  While the end credits are rolling, a series of Beatles-like still pictures shows the band getting out of the limo, entering the hotel, checking out the hotel room, and doing stupid things.  A security camera shows a lone girl wearing a hoodie entering and leaving the corridor before a mob of girls stampede through to see the band.   Then girls then screams in horror.  A series of crime scene still photos shows how the band members were sliced, diced and filleted.  A priceless revenge.

As for Megan Fox’s body, not much is shown.  What is shown reveals her to be a scrawny little thing, and I don’t find seeing ribs on a woman to be that sexy.  Without the CGI special effects from “Transformers,” she isn’t that hot.  This is supposed to be her movie debut away from the “Transformers” franchise, her bad girl character seems to fall flat.  Maybe she would do will to play Betty rather than Veronica in future movies.

 

Extract Of Dysfunctional Reality

When I saw “Extract” this past weekend, I expected a movie about seemingly normal people caught up in situations that leads to morally compromising choices that no one in their right mind would entertain and someone dropping dead for no good reason.   I wasn’t disappointed.  This is a Hollywood genre that I like to call dysfunctional reality.

Small businessman Joel (Jason Bateman) finds himself stuck at work and an overly talkative neighbor, Nathan (David Koechner), that prevents him from getting home before 8:00PM, and, once his wife, Suzie (Kristen Wiig), puts on her sweatpants, he is so out of luck in getting laid for that night.  If that wasn’t bad enough, a larger company is offering to buy out his extract flavor factory, and his workforce is more interested in bickering with each other that accidents routinely happen.  After one of his employee, Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), loses a testicle in an extended accident that involves everyone on the line, a dysfunctional reality settles on Joel.

The movie starts with Cindy (Mila Kunis) at a guitar shop looking to buy a $3,000 USD guitar for her Dad’s birthday, and, once the two sales clerks are falling over each other to get something from the back room, she walks out the door with the guitar.  At a nearby pawn shop, the clerk is throwing $20 USD bills at her when she tells him about how her poor Dad had just died.  After glancing through her collection of Midwestern driver licenses, and reading an article about the factory accident with the realization that millions of dollars could be gain in a personal injury lawsuit, she gets a job at the factory to learn of Step’s home address to cozy up him and starts stealing personal items from everyone else.

Meanwhile, Joel confesses his martial problems to his bartender, Dean (Ben Affleck), who loads him with booze and a horse tranquilizer pill that’s supposed to be something else, and offers him devious advice about setting his wife up with a teenaged gigolo to pretend to be the pool cleaner to cancel out any the moral qualms about having an affair with Cindy.   (Recycling the 1970’s answer to any problem with sex, booze and pills.)  After sobering up with a killer hang over, Joel changes his mind only to discover that the gigolo had started early after recovering from his hang over and proven himself to be too effective.  Now anger and guilt replaced the long suffering frustration to animate the conversations between husband and wife.

Gene Simmons of KISS fame plays a personal injury attorney, Joe Adler, who seems to be the only sane person in the movie when he explains vulgarly how the monetary value of a man with only one testicle is the holy grail of personal injury lawsuits.  After Joel refuses to pay the holy grail number, the attorney offers to drop the suit in return for slamming Joel’s testicles in a door as adequate compensation for his Step’s loss.  But even the attorney is not immune from this dysfunctional reality when Cindy sets him up to steal his fancy sports car and drives off into the sunset.  I think Simmons performance rivals Meatballs’ performance as a strict fundamentalist father in “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny.”

Joel eventually figures out Cindy’s game, sleeps with her, goes about righting the wrongs of this dysfunctional reality, and reconciles with Suzie at the funeral of their talkative neighbor who keels over after she tells him off.  You can’t have a dysfunctional reality movie without one person bumbling into his own death.  Which is why “Extract” reminds me of “Burn After Reading” (which I hated) with the gym instructor accidentally shot dead by the Treasury officer who never fired his gun before, or “The Lady Killers” when a fallen criminal is tossed on top of a garbage barge passing underneath a bridge.  When everything returns to normal, you have to wonder why these people put themselves through this in the first place.

This is the kind of movie that makes me glad that I have a normal, boring life with few moral complications. Then again, I’m a writer.  All my characters suffer whatever stupidity that I can think of.   Except I don’t think my imagination will ever be as twisted as what Hollywood is putting out with these dysfunctional realities.

 

Review – Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs

I read the reviews from the The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle describing the new “Ice Age: Dawn of The Dinosaurs”movie as being scientifically inaccurate because the last great ice age occurred after the dinosaurs been wiped out by a meteor.  Funny.  I thought this was entertainment rather than a documentary.  Or maybe the reviewers are scientifically stupid?

I’m at a lost to understand why this movie is considered to be scientifically inaccurate because a pocket of dinosaurs continued to exist into the ice age.  Such a situation is unlikely but not that far fetch.  A possible new species of humanity, homo floresiensis,  was discovered on an island in the Far East.  The ancestors of these small people settled there during the ice age when the ocean levels were low, and, isolated from the rest of humanity after the ice age, evolved into a new species.  They lived until about 12,000 years ago when a possible volcanic eruption wiped them out, which is fairly recent in geological time.

I enjoy the Ice Age movies only to see the squirrel in his pursuit of the acorn that is always out of his reach.  This time he has new female competitor/lover for the acorn with the opening scene set to “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls (there’s an instrumental tango version of this song later on).  During the course of the movie, we see them going through all stages of love until they forget all about the acorn.  When domestic bliss becomes too much of a burden, chasing the acorn becomes more appealing.  I once took a date to a hole in the wall jazz club when I was in college.  The woman jazz singer was describing all the different stages of love, and we left at midnight when she was describing how love sucks.  The way the movie ends with the squirrel losing both the acorn and the love interest reminded me of that moment.

As for the rest of the movie, I really didn’t care.  All the fat jokes got replaced by penis jokes.  (Not that I can complain too much about that since I wrote a novella about a chain-smoking vampire hunter with a wooden stake in his pocket that’s a phallic fantasy when looking up a dream dictionary.)  The only bright spot was the swashbuckling Buck the weasel voiced by Simon Pegg, with the best lines, characterization, and action scenes.  The 3D work was handled exceptionally well in comparison to other 3D movies that came out this year.

As for scientifically accuracy, I would care only if this movie was a documentary.

 

Review – Burn After Reading

Burn After Reading Movie PosterSince the Coen brothers directed “Burn After Reading,” I was expecting something in a similar vein to their earlier dark comedy, “The Ladykillers,” about a group of bumbling robbers digging a tunnel from the basement of a black woman’s house into a casino vault next door. While it had some hilarious moments, the cat stole the show. When one of the robbers blasted his finger off, the cat took off with it, and, at the end of movie, dropping the finger from a bridge to a garbage barge passing underneath that the robbers used to dispose of tunnel debris and dead bodies, which sums up the stupidity in the movie.

When CIA analyst Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted for an “alleged” drinking problem on the job, he either quits or got fired since no one knows for sure. (Another character remarks about Washington, D.C., “Everyone in this town who quits is actually fired.”) He goes home to tells his wife, Kate (Tilda Swinton), that he’s writing his memior. She thinks he went off on the deep end and consults a divorce attorney because she’s having an affair with his best friend, Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney).

Harry hits the Internet dating scene for serial one-night stands while his wife is away on an extended business trip. He meets Frances (Linda Litzke), a trainer at the Hardbodies Gym, who believes that she needs plastic surgery to find Mr. Right (although she seems respectfully hot for a middle-aged woman). Osborne gets kicked out of his house to live on his boat, and Harry stays with Kate while seeing Frances.

After a compact disc with the memoir and financial records are found in the locker room (accidentally left by the secretary for the divorce attorney), Linda and her co-worker, Chad (Brad Pitt), decides to blackmail Osborne for cash. When that fails, they storm the Russian embassy to get a better deal. The Russians, in turn, informed the CIA, as the information they provided was worthless. As Chad snoops around the Cox house to get more info to give the Russians, he is accidentally shot to death by Harry, who is proud to say that he never shot his gun in 20 years of service for the Treasury Department. Things spiral out of control as paranoia runs rampant.

The movie was dark, if not under lit, and humorless. With the exception of cutting remarks about spouses that only married people in the audience found funny, this wasn’t a funny movie. Even with Brad Pitt playing a total idiot all the time wasn’t that funny most of the time. Was this movie about a CIA screw up that involves married people having affairs, or married people having affairs that the CIA feels obligated to clean up after? The CIA chief (J.K. Simmons) sums up the entire mess as being much ado about nothing, which was the funniest five minutes out of the whole movie.

Ceramics, DVD’s & Books

I was expecting a quiet day at my ceramics class on Saturday with many of us glazing our last pieces for finals next week. Since this week was the annual three-day ceramics sale that funds the ceramics program at San Jose City College, our studio space was overrun by former instructors and students who made the pottery wheels disappear, swept and mopped the floor, and rearranged the tables to display an overflow of ceramics coming out of boxes in newspaper wrappings.

Those of us still glazing our pieces got shoved into the far corner to share limited space among the numerous buckets of glazes. A pain since we our large pieces weren’t that simple to glaze. My large piece, Janus, the Roman god of doors and beginnings, in 25 pounds of recycled clay, took two hours to hand-paint a half-dozen glazes on. After that got put on the shelf for the kiln, I dipped an abstract teapot into two glazes, and made a test glaze from powder for four test pieces. I went home more exhausted than usual, spending the rest of the weekend watching DVDs and reading books.

THE DVD’S

Battlestar Galactica: Razor DVD“Battlestar Galactica: Razor,” a two-hour movie that’s being sandwiched between the end of Season Three and the beginning of Season Four of the popular science fiction TV series, set on the Battlestar Pegasus after Commander Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber) takes command. Newly promoted Executive Officer Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen) recalls joining the Pegasus with Rear Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes) shortly before the Cylons attacked the colonial fleet, and becomes suspicious of Captain Kara “Starbucks” Thrace (Katee Sackoff) during a mission to track down an old Cylon starbase. Meanwhile, Admiral William “Thrusher” Adama (Edward James Olmos) recalls his younger days (played by Nico Cortez) during the first Cylon war, falling out of the sky from an aerial battle that destroyed his ship to parachute on top of a hidden Cylon basestar conducting secret experiments on humans to create the biological-based Cylon. Past, present and future collides in a final battle between the Pegasus and the basestar.

Flight of The Living Dead DVD“Flight of the Living Dead” (a.k.a, “Zombies on a Plane”) was a DVD that I wanted to get last month. Horror movies generally follow a set formula (i.e., teenagers involved in sex and/or drugs die a horrible death in the 1980’s slasher films). The formula for this zombie movie is that anyone with an attitude on the airplane gets killed by the zombies. A laugh riot ensues as you got all the crazy stereotypes—scientists “who should know better” transporting a sexy carrier of the zombie in the cargo hold, young lovers cheating on each other in the restrooms, a fast talking criminal handcuffed to a dour cop, an air marshal who looks like a drug rehab dropout, a professional golfer polishing a putter with a whiny wife at his side, and a nun overwhelmed by sinners and zombies alike—on a doomed airplane over the Atlantic Ocean in a severe electrical storm. The funniest zombie was the one who couldn’t undo his seat belt and desperately tries to bite at anyone running past by his aisle seat. The ending was somewhat predictable as the plane crashes somewhere with the usual assortment of humans and zombies surviving the wreckage. If you’re a zombie fan, this is a pure zombie fest.

THE BOOKS

Genshiken Volume 9“Genshiken: The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, Volume 9” by Kio Shimoku just came out. This is the first magna series I ever read, starting with the first volume that came out in 2005 and I’ve pre-ordered every volume since then. There’s no overriding story arc in this slice-of-life series about an odd assortment of Japanese college students who are fans of anime, video games and cosplay, but don’t fit in with any of the other clubs. The story I identify the most with is Ogiue’s decision to submit her work professionally. She asks her boyfriend, Sasahara, who has a part-time job as a manga editor, to critique her work and she reacts badly when he tells her that her 50-page managa lacks focus. When he visits her the next day, he’s surprised that she had revised her work overnight, which isn’t easy considering the amount of drawings and text involved without using a computer, and proclaims that the new version is better. When she pulls out an 80-page story for him to look at, he wonders if their relationship can survive the critique process. I’m disappointed that this was the last volume of the series, as most of the club members from the beginning are now graduates.

incommandofhistoryI started reading “In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing The Second World War” by David Reynolds. Most people know that Winston Churchill as the widely quoted leader who led Great Britain during the darkest hours of World War II, but very few know that it was his writings that funded his long political career (which is quite different from today’s politicians panhandling for money). After being tossed out of office following the war, and finding himself short of money, he embarks on writing a six-volume memoir of the war as a follow-up to his five-volume memoir on World War I. If you’re a history buff and/or a writer (I’m both), this book will interest you.

Review – Half-Life 2: Episode One

Half Life 2 Episode One Video GameI finished playing Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC) last night. So here’s my review of the game with some major spoilers.

I didn’t enjoy re-entering the Citadel to stop the reactor from exploding because the choice of weapons was the gravity gun and the super gravity gun. While there are lots of interesting puzzles that need the gravity gun to solve, I took no joy in flinging soldiers to their deaths when something else would have done a better—and far bloodier—job than that. Besides, how many times do you need to see the ragdoll physics in action?

The game picks up speed during the escape from City 17 as the other weapons become available along the way. There’s nothing like being trapped in a basement full of zombies with no lights while waiting for a slow-moving elevator, or being pinned down by sniper fire in a bombed out building as roller mines are everywhere. I really enjoyed the rock-style soundtrack kicking in while clearing out the hospital of zombies. (I could have used a few rusty saw blades for some serious slicing-and-dicing action with the gravity gun.) Just after collecting all the weapons available in the game, Barney shows with the crowbar (the very first weapon in Half-Life).

Another part that I didn’t enjoy is escorting several squads of civilians from a warehouse to the train station under enemy fire since the A.I. were unusually stupid enough to get themselves killed without my help.

The last part is taking out a Strider with the RPG on a high platform with a wall of sheet metal for protection. Just remember that the rockets from the RPG will go wherever the red laser dot is. So if you fire off a rocket, duck behind the sheet metal, and the red laser dot is on the sheet metal, the rocket will do a U-turn to blast into the other side of the sheet metal. I spent 30 minutes dying that way until I figured out why the rockets kept looping around the Strider (impressive physics) to hit me (not so impressive).

I haven’t played the game with the audio commentary on yet but I hear that it’s just as good.