Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Movies: Sex, Strangers

This weekend and last I decided to catch up on my summer movies. This weekend I caught Iron Man (for the second time) and The Incredible Hulk, and I’ll write more on them later, but last week I saw Sex and the City and The Strangers, both of which I had some fairly shallow thoughts on.

First, Sex and the City. I was a fan of the series. Not to a rabid extent, definitely not enough to make it my life’s aspiration. I had one annoying friend who would always spend every night out in NYC cooing how we were “soooo Sex and the City” while knocking back Cosmos. (Which, first of all, I assume that true Sex and the Citiness is like true Coolness – the more you proclaim yourself to be it, the less you actually are.) And this was only three years ago, when the SATC culture was already pretty long in the tooth. But I did watch every episode and sniffle at the finale. So I was excited to see the movie. And overall, I wasn’t disappointed…but I wasn’t thrilled either. It took me a while to figure out where it fell flat for me. I liked almost all of the character arcs (I was bummed that Sam, my favorite character, felt like she actually regressed a bit from where we left her in the series). It had some great moments. Overall, it was pretty solid. Then it hit me: the structuring was way off.

I realized this when I noticed it felt overly long to me, though I couldn’t point to any specific parts that could have been jettisoned. And, in fact, SATC is only about 10 minutes longer than Iron Man, a movie that felt really tight and had me riveted the whole time. And I don’t think it’s that SATC is overly long, it’s just that it was basically written as a seventh, five episode season. Which is awesome…but not a movie.

See, I’m working on this new theory, guaranteed no one’s ever thought of it before: every story has its own medium. Groundbreaking, right? I know, this is like the time that I excitedly shared a Deep, Meaningful Writing Revelation I’d had over the weekend (and a couple of daiquiris) with some of my writer friends, only to realize as I explained it that it basically boiled down to “write what you know”. But stay with me here. I feel like every idea, every plot, every set of characters, all have mediums – novel, play, screenplay, etc – they’re best suited for. But they’re not always written in the best medium. How many shitty books have been turned into awesome movies? And, of course, the number of shitty movies that have been borne of awesome books proves that sometimes a story is really only meant for one medium. Am I saying that SATC shouldn’t have made the leap to the big screen? No, it could have been done, but I think it needed a more traditional plot structure to keep the momentum going. By the third of fourth climax, the audience is ready for a comedown, and most are not up for another big plot twist.

It comes down to the two traditional types of plot structure, Aristotelian versus episodic. Or, as one of my writing teachers explained it, male versus female, wherein the Aristotelian (male) rises towards one big climax and then comes down, and episodic (female) is a series of ups and downs. Naturally, most films are Aristotelian structured and most tv series are episodic (hence “episodes” - clever, right?). The thing is, with a tv series, after one climax we get a week’s refractory period to gear up for the next round. But trying to jam four or five climaxes into a two hour period is as painful in the movies as it can be in other settings.

Next up, I went to see The Strangers. I’m a horror movie nut, and summer makes for slim pickins for anything not popcorn blockbuster. The fact that the summer horror movie I’m most anticipating is called Midnight Meat Train is downright alarming. (Oh, who am I kidding – it stars Will Tippin and Brooke McQueen and it’s called Midnight Meat Train – of course I’m ridiculously excited.) At any rate, The Strangers seemed like it could be good horror movie methadone until the inevitable glut of scare flicks in the fall. And, you know, it didn’t entirely disappoint. If I’d Netflixed it or caught it on HBO or something, I would have said it was quite good. But at $10 a pop, it didn’t quite deliver. It was basically Vacancy with more attractive actors (sorry, Wilson brother without amusing nickname). It unfolds pretty much how you expect it to, with scared people running around, in a fittingly prescient manner, like chickens with their heads cut off. Even when they manage to get ahold of a shotgun, they still get thoroughly whipped by the masked creepos. The moral of the movie seems to be “violence is random and destructive”, but having spent a few years in a fairly crime-ridden area of New York City, I didn’t really need to part with $10 for that kernel of wisdom. Ah well, at least Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler are good actors and entertaining to watch. And I do still think it’s a movie worth catching, but the small screen will do it justice just fine.

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