Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

Magical Mystery Caffeine

April 13, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

I’ve often bragged that I’m addicted to absolutely nothing, except my children.  Without giving illegal or dangerous addictions even the respect of a mention, I’ve actually evaded the all-American addiction of caffeine.

This has a good news/bad news effect.  I like the fact that I am not in need of caffeine, and that I can drink as much or as little as I want without any unwanted side effects.  I don’t like the fact that when I do need something in my system to keep me alert, I have nothing to turn to.

I knew once I graduated from college that I would never touch coffee.  I’ve heard that most people start drinking the sludge either in the military or in college, and all for the purpose of staying awake.  Personally, I believe I’m immune to caffeine’s electricity.  On the few desperate occasions that I’ve downed Mountain Dew after Mountain Dew in an effort to stay awake, I’ve never been rewarded with any kind of energy boost.  I can send two liters of Coca-Cola down my gullet, and crawl into bed for a long night’s nap.  While in college in the ‘80s, Jolt Cola was introduced, and I have to believe that college campus sales alone kept the company afloat.

Jolt was basically a gag product.  It said right on the label “All of the sugar and twice the caffeine!”  It was as if the marketing team behind it was laughing at the American consumer, saying, “Go ahead, we dare you.  Buy this in public, so everyone will know that you are a junkie.”  Yet, it sold like spiked hotcakes.

Not like my friends.  Their good news is that the crud is waiting for them every morning, whether at work or home (or on every street corner now!).  Their bad news is that they cannot function without it (and are, thus, addicts).  I know several human beings who advise others not even to say “hello” to them until they’ve had one entire coffee and about 20 minutes for it to work its alchemy on their nerve endings and vocal chords.  It’s rather sad.

Unless you’re me.  Then, it’s rather humorous!  (Insert evil echoey laugh here.)

Elemental Titles: No Help Whatsoever

January 21, 2011

by Thomas M. Pender

It’s only a little bit better than entitling a movie A Movie.

Regardless of dynamic scripting, phenomenal casting, cinematic triumph, box office returns or critical acclaim, at some point in a film’s evolution, a title is chosen.  Film titles can be funny, deep, symbolic, simple, long, short, or cryptic.  Each of these works in its own way.  What a title should never be, in terms of assisting an audience in choosing films to attend, is nondescript.

Imagine there are no such things as movie trailers or television commercials; that the only tool you had in order to choose a film was the title itself.  What would you suppose Ben Affleck’s recent release The Town was about?  The laying out and construction of a city?  The banding together of a town’s citizens to defend it against outsiders or aliens or a cholera epidemic?  You most likely would not imagine that it was about a small band of bank robbers.  The reason you probably wouldn’t guess this is because the title says absolutely nothing about the actual plot.  In fact, unless you know where Ben Affleck’s films are usually set, which is Boston, you wouldn’t even know which “the town” the title was talking about!  Some years ago, a film won high praise and numerous awards for its recounting of an AIDS victim’s treatment by society, but in the process, the film also smeared the reputation of a city for no good reason.  The film Philadelphia was not about The City of Brotherly Love, and certainly not about how Philadelphia doesn’t care about AIDS patients.  It was about a man who happened to live and work in Philadelphia.  There was no reason to bring the entire town into a storyline that had nothing relevant whatsoever to do with the physical setting of the story.

Compared to The Town, however, at least it can be said that Philadelphia was a bit more specific.

Similarly, naming a film after its main character is not much help.  Unless the character is real (Gandhi) or well-known (Tom Sawyer), his or her name up in lights is not going to tell the public much at all.  Who in the world is Jerry Maguire, and why would I want to see a movie about him?  Even the publicity photos of that project – a side shot of Tom Cruise laughing – was no help.  It was not a biographical film, or even a fictionally biographical film.  It was about a short time in a character’s life.  His name was not significant to the plot, nor did it help promote the movie.  One recent film, which was about a man’s entire life, from bizarre beginning to bizarre end, could have gotten away with being called simply Benjamin Button, but the well-renowned F. Scott Fitzgerald had the imagination to title his short story– and the film’s source – something more descriptive and intriguing: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

I never really warmed up to the title of television’s L.A. Law, either.  Sure, it was about a law firm in The City of Angels, but the title made it seem like it was about the citywide legal system, not a specific firm and its staff.  A few decades later, creator David Kelley attempted the same trick with Boston Legal, with the same results.  Great show, misleading name.  Kelley, in fact, could well be the king of simplistic place/people titles, with Ally McBeal, Lake Placid, Doogie Howser, M.D., and Mystery, Alaska in his portfolio.  The TV shows Ally and Doogie at least existed within a medium that traditionally names shows after characters, and there, it is acceptable, because you can center an entire series around a character that will eventually (the creators hope!) become familiar to the public by name.  A one-shot story on the big screen, however, is not really the place for titles like Jim Smith, Barbara Hoover or Mike.  I just made these titles up, but if you think I’m exaggerating, recall Kevin Kline’s project entitled Dave.  Even adding one relevant word to that title – like President Dave – would have helped draw people in.

It’s not wrong or bad to name stories after places or characters, but it should be common sense to make sure the title element is really relevant to the plot, and the title should be framed in such a way that describes and promotes the project, or at least stirs curiosity.

This is why “Rubber Chicken Soup” is not called “Blog.”