In Defense of JUMANJI

JumanjiWhen you visit rottentomatoes.com, they only give Jumanji a score of 50%. Ouch. Roger Ebert called it “gloomy” and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it only a C+ implying that the story did not live up to the special effects. Double Ouch.

Yes, Jumanji is not a perfect film. There are moments that make me squirm, like when Robin Williams is attacking some wild vines with a sword and shouts “Harvest time!” That is not the only embarrassing shout in the film, later Judy (played by a young Kirsten Dunst) holds a checkout lane gun up at a person’s eyes and shouts “Price check!” To help emphasize the bad joke, the camera cuts to the cash register where it declares “no sale.”

Not to be a grinch, but many of the classics we love aren’t perfect. I’ll even give you a cherished example. In The Wizard of Oz, when the witch orders out her monkey army to get Dorothy she references a scene that was edited from the film. She explains to her monkeys that she had sent out bugs to tire them out first. Of course, we don’t see the fabled “jitterbug” scene happen (and probably for very good reason, it sounds incredibly cheesy). But, unless you know the history of the film, this really doesn’t make any sense at all. What bugs? What did the bugs do to them? How does a bug bother a scarecrow and a man made of tin?

Now in saying all that, I’m not comparing The Wizard of Oz to Jumanji, even though they both have many similar themes (returning to a home, forging a new family, friendship, etc.) and buy into the great myth that underlines most children stories (a normal child swept away into an adventure to find they are special). The Wizard of Oz is a classic and will never disappear. I can’t say the same for Jumanji in the future, and that makes me a little sad. There is a good chance that over time it might become nothing more than another chapter in all those future biographies of Robin Williams that are certainly being planned right now.

I love the film Jumanji. It is comfort food on the screen for me. And since the tragic death of Robin Williams (our hero Alan Parrish) I have watched it three times… and there is a good chance I might be watching it again soon.

Continue reading

Toto the Spy: Dealing With My Little Brother

TotoThere is a legend around my brother’s beginning that may or may not be true. But really stories like this are best with partial truths, so I would rather not know how right this may be.

I was in preschool and my friend Gabe Gaddy (Yes, that is his name; I may have misspelled it though) brought his little baby sister in for show-and-tell. The reaction from the kids in the room and the teacher hit a nerve with me. Maybe it was jealously, I’m not sure, but when I went up for my turn I announced my mom was pregnant and I was going to have a little brother.

Yeah, I did that. Made up the entire thing.

Here is where things get a little muddy, either the story got back to my grandmother (who was head of curriculum for the school district) or it was the teacher calling my mother to congratulate her (I always like to imagine the story making it to my grandmother and her reaction), whatever the case my parents heard, putting them into a little bit of a pickle. Either they break the heart of their only son and have him announce his mistake in class (something that surely would have been memorable), or…

Less than a year later I had a little brother. Continue reading

The Conundrum of Men in Capes

Even Superman writes!Superman was always my favorite superhero. There was always a lost operatic elegance to his story in my opinion. Yes, he saves cats from trees and helps old ladies cross the street, but he is alone among us. One of us, and yet not really one of us. A lost relic of another world, another time.

One of my favorite character debates comes around Superman. See, I love breaking down what makes a character or a story work, and here is the one I always like to throw at writers, is Superman pretending to be Clark Kent or is Clark Kent pretending to be Superman.

I love that!

See, Christopher Reeve had Superman be the real person and Clark Kent the performance, but more recently, TV shows like Smallville and Lois and Clark had it the other way around. What does that mean really? Everything to the character, little to us in the real world, of course. Our boring and drab reality where men don’t fly, and magic and superpowers only survive in our imaginations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about superheroes over the last few years. Mostly that is because of my son. The one nearby me as I write this, wearing Justice League PJs, Star Wars slippers, and holding a Superman toy from the film Man of Steel. He is five.  Continue reading

Talking About Some Deaths in Literature

Death is kind of on my mind a lot recently. My grandfather (who I wrote about here), died on February 9 and the loss of him and how it has impacted my every day thoughts had really made me think about death in relation to a lot of things around me. In my author-esq head, it’s not surprising that literature found its way into the mental ramblings (or should we just be honest and call them distractions from reality?).

It seems many times we don’t take “dead” very seriously in literature. Unless it is gruesome (Hi, George R.R. Martin!), or the other characters are seriously changed because of it for the worse (Seriously, why did Little Nell have to snuff it?), many times it seems to float past us as a plot device. Is it because we have a long history of people returning to life in books so it doesn’t feel as final? (Aslan, Gandalf, every comic book character, and most religious stories, etc.) The corpse is rarely there in a story, unless it has just happened; that could be part of it as well.

Death in writing is a plot device. It is a tool both sharp as a knife and as a blunt as a sledgehammer.  We cheer when bad guys die. We look at a death sacrifice as heroic, not thinking of the final end that just happened to a character.

Is it simply because we don’t see characters as “human?” So maybe it is more a fault of us writers that a readers feels, or doesn’t feel, the loss. There might be something to it. I wrote a book, MEGAN, that is built around a death and I tried to show a character from being told of the death of another with all the initial stages of acceptance over the course of a day. Hmmm… Probably why the work isn’t as popular on amazon.com than my time-traveling adventure, My Problem With Doors. So clearly, death is not a selling point.

There is a lesson there  I learned that you will not need to now. You can thank me later.

Sometimes a death can slip right by, almost as an afterthought. My favorite example of this is the first Harry Potter book. One thing I love to point out to people is that Harry Potter begins with a double homicide. Yes, we see the scene later in the series (We get a little description in the first book, just a taste). And while JK Rowling does her best to take a light approach to that first chapter (Vernon in all his heavy-set foolishness), it doesn’t change the fact the story really started the evening before when Voldemort went into the home of the Potters and slaughtered them gleefully. Continue reading

Why This Writer Feels Guilty For Loving SHERLOCK

Let me say this off the bat– SHERLOCK is one of the best written TV series I have ever had the pleasure to watch.

I love all the twists and turns and surprises in each episode. I think the actors are great in their parts and I look forward to each new episode. I’ve already seen two of the three new episodes of season two, and it is even better than the first season. As a fan, I hope the series goes on for another 10 years.

OK, I got that off of my chest.

Now, let me say I feel slight tinges of guilt for loving and supporting the series, because it is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vision. Oh, they are his characters (the main ones, albeit with cell phones), but they are not his stories, his world, his words, his adventures, his time period. The creators are–to put it bluntly and completely on the table–taking what they want from his stories in piecemeal, and remaking it for their own profit.

Again, I love the series. I want it to go on, but it does set a precedent that makes me a little concerned. Because of this series’ success are we going to see “new versions” of classics all over the place? Is that a good thing? And more importantly, does it give the respect to the original artist that they deserve for their own creation?

Consider this, if SHERLOCK wasn’t such a well-made, well-written series would we be as happy around the enterprise?

If it was crap, I can guarantee you that the Sherlock Holmes fan sites around the world would have risen in protest around it. The fact it is good, helps. So do we say, it is OK to “reinvent” an artist’s creation as long as it is good?  And who defines good? I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t trust TV executives to make that call for me. Continue reading