Character Assassination

What can ruin a good story for you?

For me, if I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care about the story. I felt that way while watching the film Public Enemies – John Dillinger was a horrible person, and I couldn’t invest any energy in caring whether he was caught or betrayed or killed. His charisma wasn’t enough to make me care, the cat-and-mouse game he was playing with the Feds wasn’t enough to make me care, his Johnny Depp-ness wasn’t enough to make me care. I was completely detached from the film, just waiting for it to end. (And trying to spot my friends Bill and Shannon Butler, who were swing dancing extras in the movie – the only thing that made watching it worthwhile.)


Likewise, I have a friend who hated La Femme Nikita, because the title character murders a cop in cold blood at the beginning of the film, and he couldn’t forgive her for that. Never mind that the story was about transformation and redemption – and about how society says it’s okay to be a monster, as long as you’re a monster on the right side of the law.  (Yeah, I loved it. But I get why he didn’t. )

We all have sins we consider unforgivable.

I just finished reading Menfreya in the Morning, by Victoria Holt. It was written in the 1960s – a Daphnie du Maurier-style Gothic romance, set in the early 20th century.

I was liking it a lot, the style is spot on: sweeping rocky coasts, a glorious old manor gone to seed, horseback riding accidents, political scandals, rumors of a ghost in the east wing – the whole Gothicky works. The main character, Harriet, is likable: a lonely, odd, smart girl with a despised limp, who ends up capturing the heart of Bevil, the man she’s been in love with since she was 10 and he was 20. He’s a gorgeous Lothario, and the most eligible bachelor in all of Cornwall. Even after they get married about half way through the book, she can’t really believe that he wants her – he’s had a lot of affairs in the past and still flirts with women more beautiful than Harriet.


The marriage happens early on, because the rest of the the story is tres Rebecca: what with the dark suspicions about her husband’s infidelity, the ghost in the east wing, the sinister governess and all. So, although they have an ideal honeymoon, when they get back, those little dreads begin to take hold. One night they have a major disagreement over Harriet’s best friend, who is also Bevil’s sister. After the argument, Harriet is furious with him, and announces that she’s going to sleep in the other bedchamber. He says no, he wants her there with him. She refuses.

Aaaaannnnnd he rapes her. It isn’t spelled out as such, but it’s pretty clear what happens… her arms and back are covered in bruises the next day, and she describes it as “the most soul-shattering experience of her life.”

Okay, I thought. Do I put the book down now? But Holt doesn’t pull her punches. She takes care to express the rage, humiliation and fear Harriet feels, and especially the loss of her autonomy, the realization that whatever she wants, he’s stronger, he’s her husband, and she has no way of fighting back.

Meanwhile, there’s a kind young man lurking vaguely in the background, and I started wondering whether Harriet was going to ultimately end up with him. Would her husband die? Then I thought, wow. This is a totally different book than I thought it was going to be.

EXCEPT IT’S NOT. Harriet makes excuses for her husband, and eventually learns that she was wrong about the sister, and he was right, and all her suspicions about Bevil’s infidelities were unfounded, and he really just loves only her and she loves only him and those two crazy kids work it out, by gum.

Fuck you, 1966.

What story was ruined for you by a character’s actions?



The Worst Movie Ever?

(Originally posted at The Scribblerati)

Last weekend a few intrepid friends and I sat down to my husband’s stellar waffles and watched what some folk call the Worst Movie Ever. This was not my first experience with a movie that had laid claim to that disreputable title; I have sat through many a Worst Movie Ever in my day.

Brave, you say? Not really. I can’t make it through one of these cinematic dingleberries without the help of the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or one of their current incarnations (RifftraxCinematic Titanic). Take away the constant humorous riffing from those professional Bad Movie Watchers, folks with much stronger constitutions than yours truly, and I’d be rendered a quivering pile of goo, all sense of beauty, truth and artistic integrity forcibly drained from my very cells.

But I digress.

In this particular instance, the Worst Movie was Troll 2, an experiment in, let’s for the sake of argument call it ‘filmmaking,” that fails so extraordinarily in its efforts to be remotely good that it ends up being bizarrely entertaining in its own right. We watched the Rifftrax version. A few highlights:

  • It’s a movie called Troll 2 that not only is not subsequent to a Troll 1, but also contains no trolls.
  • It features one of the hammiest performances in the history of the universe, in the form of the actress playing the goblin queen. Even if the film had been made on Planet Pig, with sets carved from pure Cumberland Gap spiral bone-in ham, she’d still be the hammiest thing around.
  • And speaking of ham, the makers were clearly anti-vegetarian, or at least anti-eating your veggies, because the goblins (not trolls) turn all their victims into trees or vegetable goop before consuming them – and our young hero saves the day (spoiler alert!) with a double-decker bologna sandwich. That’s right. You heard me.
  • And then there’s the PG sex scene featuring a young man and the goblin queen both biting a corncob, which then (presumably due to the heat of their encounter) explodes into popcorn. The scene, incidentally, has no relation whatsoever to the rest of the story, except perhaps a tenuous tie to the fact that the goblins do love them some veggies. Even in the boudoir, it seems.

Here’s a sample: Troll Clip

And of course, there’s a documentary about it.

Truly awful? Yes. But I have to say that Troll 2, popcorn sex notwithstanding, is a little too snappy and cheery to honestly deserve the Worst Movie trophy.

So then, what constitutes a truly awful movie?

The obvious: Bad writing. Acting so terrible it barely counts as acting, and actors that are inherently unappealing. Incompetent directing. Abysmal, laughable special effects. Lack of continuity.

But what constitutes the Worst Movie of All Time? To qualify, the movie has to have that certain something extra. In my mind, it’s a pervasive atmosphere of oppressive creepiness: not the creepiness derived from good horror writing and cinematography, but that icky, dirty feeling you get when you realize you’re witnessing actors as puppets, forced to perform the director’s particular twisted proclivities for his own titillation. (Honestly, I get this feeling from Tarantino’s films too, although in every other respect they’re exceptionally well done).

Ed Wood’s films fit this profile, except there’s something so gleefully innocent about his strange quirks (not the least of which was his desire, against all reason, to be a filmmaker), that I don’t feel that deep. soul-besmirching uncleanliness that only the worst of the worst can bestow upon its viewers. 

There are two movies that I feel might qualify for Giant Turd Trophy (I just made that up, but I think it needs to happen) and both have been given treatment by Mystery Science Theater 3000. The first is Eegah – a picture from the 60s featuring Richard Kiel (Jaws from the James Bond franchise) as the last surviving caveman, and a pie-faced squishy, greasy, whiney young male ‘star’ (the director’s son, natch).


What’s the opposite of sex appeal? Sex repel? Well, you’ve got it, Mister! 

Eegah contains a truly repulsive sequence, in which the young hot female lead is trapped in Eegah’s cave with her father, played by the director, where she performs a series of humiliating tasks, including sitting on her daddy’s lap and shaving him. *Shiver*

The second, and probably champion, is Manos, Hands of Fate (or, translated, ‘Hands, Hands of Fate”), a dank and depressing devil story, in which an entirely incompetent family is trapped in a desert hotel by a big-kneed manservant. The movie features a scene where dead, ensorcelled gossamer-clad devil slave ladies have a big old pile-up girl fight accompanied by ghastly saxophone music. The scene goes on and on and on. And on. Also, the female lead gets repeatedly (and very awkwardly) pawed by Torgo, he of the big knees.


You can’t see his knees here, but sufficed to say, they’re whoppers.

There is something so horribly weighty and depressing about Manos, that after watching it, one is left with a sense of ennui that lingers for hours, much like that feeling you get after waking up from a really oppressive, really stupid dream.

So then, now that I’ve thought it through, I highly recommend throwing a Troll 2 party (Rifftrax style): sure it will hurt your brain, but feed your friends waffles and plenty of mimosas, and eventually they’ll forgive you. After all, it isn’t actually the WORST movie ever made.

The Ultimate “It’s A Wonderful Life” Quiz

It’s the most Wonderful time of the year!

Join me, won’t you, in celebrating that fuzziest of holiday movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. I will give the answers in a later post. For now: Guess in the comments – and MERRY CHRISTMAS!


It’s a Wonderful Life Trivia (Pretty difficult.)


  1. When a guy taunts the young man to open the pool beneath the gym floor, he says, “What’s the matter, ___________, jealous? (Fill in the blank. It is a joke, but it also happens to be the character’s last name.)
  2. The actor who played the young man in the above question was way more famous for another role. What was that role?
  3. When young Mary says “You like all the boys,” how does young Violet respond?
  4. What is Sam Wainwright’s catchphrase?
  5. Young George Bailey’s druggist boss almost poisons some children by accident. What disease do they have?
  6. Uncle Billy is drunk after the party celebrating Harry Bailey’s marriage. The true story is that after Thomas Mitchell (the actor playing Uncle Billy) exited his scene with Jimmy Stewart, a set hand accidently knocked over a whole props table, making a huge clamor. Mitchell improvised a line from off camera, and the whole thing stayed in the movie. What is that line?
  7. Uncle Billy has some unusual pets. Name three of them.
  8. When Mary Hatch asks George whether or not he likes Harry’s new wife Ruth, a grumpy George replies “Of course I like her, she’s a ________!”
  9. George steals a football uniform for himself after he falls in the pool. What number is on the jersey?
  10. What is Mary Hatch’s brother’s name?
  11. When Mary loses her robe, what kind of bush does she hide in?
  12. What is Clarence the Angel’s favorite book?
  13. What does George’s dad die of?
  14. After his experience with Clarence, what three things indicate that George Bailey is back in the real world?
  15. What two Muppets are named after characters from the movie?
  16. Mary makes a picture that says “George Bailey Lassos the Moon.” In the course of the movie, what else does she say he lassos?
  17. What is George’s dream job?
  18. After Nick kicks George and Clarence out of his bar, he rings his cash register repeatedly, and says what? (6 words)
  19. What award does Harry Bailey receive?
  20. What is the name of the Bailey’s housekeeper?
  21. After the run on the banks, how much of George and Mary’s money is left?
  22. Potter offers George Bailey a yearly income so large it makes George drop his cigar. What is the amount?
  23. When George comes home in despair after Uncle Billy loses the $8000, his daughter is playing the same carol over and over again on the piano. What is it?
  24. George and Mary’s son is writing a Christmas pageant. What decidedly non-Christmasy character has a part in his play?
  25. What is the name of Zuzu’s teacher whom George abuses over the phone?
  26. According to one of the head angels, Clarence has the IQ of what?
  27. What is the name of the house George and Mary move into?
  28. (Two parts) Who discovered a mostly-unknown Gloria Grahame, the actress who played Violet Biggs? What major musical role did she go on to play?
  29. Frank Capra had to fight the censors, because the ending of the film wasn’t up to code. What didn’t he do to one of his characters that was against the rules? (And which character?)
  30. Name 2 of the 3 buildings George says “merry Christmas” to at the end of the film.

Good luck!


You guys, I watched Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Elysium last night, and they’re the SAME MOVIE.

So.  I watched 3 movies last night, and 2 of them were the strikingly parallel Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 and Elysium.

Stick with me, here, for a moment. (And also, SPOILERS.)


It is a story about a follicularly distinctive man, whose greatest desire is to land his dream job /  not die a hideous death from radiation poisoning.







In order to achieve his goal, our hero must embark on a dangerous mission to a beautiful place … FoodAnimalJungle 2013-08-09-elysium_interior_concept_art

with a technical MacGuffin in tow.

BSUSB_by_Chster_V     Elysium-2013-Movie-Poster

                                                                              BSUSB                                                                                   Brain-downloady-thingy

Our hero has a ragtag group of allies, and a love interest with an adorable daughter / strawberry. This daughter / strawberry’s life is threatened by the evil corporation / government.

MV5BNTcwNzI1ODYxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzEzNzM5OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR9,0,214,317_AL_    Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2-Barry-the-Strawberry


The evil corporation / government has robots. Big, scary, strong robots to do their bidding.


The only way to take on these robots is to become somewhat of a robot yourself.


Meanwhile, our hero and his friends are dogged by a violent and unpredictable Sharlto Copley / fast food staple.

sharlto-copley-kruger-elysium-293x350   2881395510d91714671430da95074f1d (2)

There is a president who is eventually betrayed by his right hand woman: Jodie Foster / an orangutan named Barb.

2   barb2

However, our hero’s priorities are muddled, and eventually he realizes that his own goal isn’t as important as the future of humankind / sentient produce and friendship.

aaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd SCENE.

Oh, and the third movie I watched was Philomena. I’m still working on how to tie it in with the other two films. All I’ve got so far is that the evil nuns = killer robots.