* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we always have an opinion about whatever Hollywood chooses to throw at us. It takes a guy like David Martin to get to the bottom of it all. When you're done checking out his latest and greatest, click on the link below or on our blogroll to purchase his most recent humor collection "Screams & Whispers" on Amazon.

Recent Movie Reviews By A Retired Guy

By: David Martin

12 Years a Slave
This one’s a true story based on the life of Solomon Northup, a free Negro who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery for twelve years. It started out with a strong promising narrative but by the end seemed somewhat disjointed. However, that might have something to do with the fact that I forgot to take my afternoon nap that day. So about halfway in, I dozed off for thirty minutes or so and woke up to find Solomon on the verge of being freed from slavery. What I saw was very good but since I only got to watch about two-thirds of the movie, I can only give it three stars. ***

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
First off, this movie is not aimed at a mature audience, much less a senior audience. I read somewhere that it’s mainly for ankle-biters. Combine that with the fact that it’s only showing in movie theaters and it probably comes as no surprise that I have not seen it, much less reviewed it. I’m not about to drive to the mall, pay $15 for a ticket and an equal amount for popcorn and a drink for something that will be out on video in six months. Even then, I’m not likely to watch it. The last movie I saw in a theater was Lawrence of Arabia which I think tells you all you need to know about me and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. No stars.

I gotta admit: when I saw that George Clooney and Sandra Bullock were starring in a movie called Gravity, I figured it was going to be one of them nutty romantic comedies that the wife usually likes. But to my surprise, it’s really more of an action-adventure film. Well, not so much action or even really adventure since it’s mostly just the two of them floating around in outer space. But it kept my interest and I didn’t fall asleep even once, which automatically rates it more than three stars for me. ***½

All Is Lost
The wife really likes Robert Redford so I figured we’d give this one a shot. I dunno — the guy’s even older than me, so I don’t see the attraction, but she’s always saying that we need to do something together and I figured this was a relatively painless way to get her off my back. Plus I got it out of the library for free, so already it’s got two stars in my book. Unfortunately, it only managed to add another half a star to those two. If you thought watching Clooney and Bullock float around in space for an hour and a half was boring, try watching Redford on a boat by himself for even longer. Mind you, I never cared much for that book The Old Man and the Sea back in high school either, so consider that. Still, two and a half stars. Period. **½

Captain Phillips
Now here’s a movie I can recommend. It’s got Tom Hanks as the captain of a freighter kidnapped off the east coast of Africa. Lots of tension and high drama and a satisfying end as the US Navy finally wins one. There are lots of convenient spots to pause the movie so you can get a snack, go to the bathroom or call your local paper to cancel your subscription because the paperboy didn’t put your paper in one of those protective plastic bags. My son, the film studies graduate, says he prefers the Danish movie A Kidnapping on the same theme, but he forgot to tell me that it’s in Danish with subtitles. If I wanted to read a movie, I’d buy a book. Anyway, Captain Phillips is great and I give it four and a half stars. ****½

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are bound and determined to make your next screenplay a success, with the uncanny wisdom of Matt Hunter, alias Erwin Alistar.

Erwin Defeats The Elephant — Screenwriting Tips — Blog Post #1 By Erwin Alistar

By: Matt Hunter

After the phenomenal success of my hit screenwriting book, Erwin Defeats the Elephant (based on my tip that your movie’s hero should face a challenge the size of an elephant), I’ve decided to start this blog to continue educating screenwriters. It has been a humbling pleasure to see that burgeoning and veteran screenwriters for every major blockbuster film have utilized the lessons in my book to successfully tell a well-structured three-act story — especially humbling after my recent divorce, not to editorialize (however, like I say, make your writing personal!).


• Make Your Main Character The Best He Can Be

The main character is the center, the focal point of your screenplay — our hero. For the sake of this article, we’ll name our hero after me, Erwin! (Like I say, always put yourself into your work!) Now, every emotional and plot conflict in the story revolves around the hero, Erwin. So in that case, it’s best that your hero is a cool guy, who is well liked and super awesome at playing the real guitar – not the Guitar Hero one.

• Every Movie Should Have A Leading Lady

It’s important that our Erwin have a leading lady — a total knockout to chase after. Sticking to my previously taught three-act structure, this heroine — who, let’s say is named Emma Blonski, from, I don’t know, Peoria, IL, 5’6″, with piercing blue eyes like a stoic doe — will first be noticed by your Erwin in high school, will not be attracted to him, and then will fall madly in love with Erwin when he does something awesome in Act III, like stop a terrorist plot, save the Earth from annihilation, or get unanimously voted Prom King by his peers / score the winning touchdown at the big homecoming game (if you go this route, make sure you show Erwin working out at the gym and getting ripped — it’s super important that he’s ripped).

• “Erwin Defeats The Elephant” — Addendum

As I’ve taught, Erwin must face a problem as big as an elephant. But make sure Emma is there to see him do it.

Addendum: Erwin’s antagonist, or “elephant,” is a large, negative force in his life — like a foreigner with a gun, a giant lizard monster, or an ex-wife – and must be called something like, say, Patricia. This enemy will try to get the best of your Erwin in Act II by belittling him, bringing up his absolutely platonic relationship with his mother, taking all his money and eventually divorcing him. But Erwin will prevail in Act III. He always does. And anyone who thinks differently should say it to my face!

Note: Make sure Patricia is there to see Erwin succeeding and doing just fine without her.

Things to avoid:

— Your main character shouldn’t be so self-involved with his goal that he utterly forgets about his loved ones and dog (because putting down a beloved friend of 13 years costs a lot of unnecessary screen time that he just can’t afford right now, especially after the divorce and moving into an apartment).

— If your Erwin starts to gain a “pop tart” belly, a phrase his former leading lady might coin regarding his sudden weight gain, force your character to go work out.

— Your Erwin should not mix alcohol and antidepressants. It’s a cliché sign of depression.

— If Erwin doesn’t want to wake up every day and work on his main goal, like writing a marketable screenplay, MAKE HIM. This can be done in a montage.

— Remember: Show. Don’t tell. For example, instead of a therapist telling Erwin that he needs to get over the divorce, show your Erwin going out and having a one-night stand.

There you go, everyone! Brand new tips that I guarantee will help you sell that screenplay and get your movie made by a big studio. I can’t wait to see these tips implemented into today’s silver screen blockbusters the next time I — or a certain woman of Illinois who’s in her mid-fifties, is hopefully single, and knows how to use the Internet — goes to the theater.

Unrelated note: Please leave a comment below if you went to West Peoria High School Class of ’75 for a chance to win a FREE TRIP to Hollywood, CA!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where nostalgia for even the most hideous PBS productions reigns supreme. Brian Boone shows you where the honey pot is.

The Most Salacious Passages From “Berenstained: My Life As A Berenstain Bear,” By Sister Bear Berenstain

By: Brian Boone

It was always something with Mama.

“The Bear family eats too much junk food!”

“The Bear family watches too much TV!”

“The Bear family never picks up after themselves!”

No matter the fleeting problem of the hour, Mama would lay waste, armed with a trash bag and a smug sense of purpose, making some grand pronouncement about how our lives needed to change and immediately. How she’d shriek and scream about how we, as children, were deeply flawed.

Reprehensible. Shameful. Then she’d unplug the TV, or sweep up all our toys on the ground into a trash bag, or load a trash bag with all the junk food in the kitchen, which we’d only rarely eaten, as Mama had made it well known that the Beary Snacks and Bear-E-Os were “Mama’s special bad-day treats.”

Invariably, in the middle of it all, Papa would hear the yelling from down in his woodworking shop, and, taking a good hour to steel himself with liquid courage for one more showdown with the monstrous, sneering and intimidating shell of the woman he’d married, would calmly come in and offer up a solution that didn’t involve shrieking, insulting the character of his children, throwing away all of the Beary Yums or losing out on TV for a week. Something sensible, reasonable and obvious, like offering to build a shelf so our messy room could have some storage, or merely suggesting that we buy less junk food.

Then Mama would calm down and act as if everything was fine. We’d all go to our bedrooms and lie awake for hours, shaking. Papa would go back down to his shop, but really down to The Honey Pot, and Mama would quietly rustle around in the kitchen, seeing if she maybe hadn’t thrown away all of the Grizzly-Dee-Lites.

* * * * * * *

I am often asked if “Sister Bear” is my real name. The truth is that I was never given a name.
What kind of parent doesn’t name their child? It’s so necessary, even compulsory, that few even consider its importance. Mama couldn’t be bothered. I was born in the woods of Bear Country in an upstairs bedroom in a hollowed-out tree, so it wasn’t like she needed one for a birth certificate, but still. A name symbolizes so much.

She never even came up with a nickname, or some kind of term of enbearment. Just “Sister,” which is damaging to a girl’s sense of worth and identity, that her only excuse for a name is contingent on that of a man, in this case, my brother, Brother. He may have had it even worse — before I was born, our parents just called him “small bear.” After I was born, he was suddenly “Brother” and I was “Sister.” Only in retrospect can I see how disturbing it is to name your offspring “Brother” and “Sister.”

* * * * * * *

Maybe she had an OCD-related fear of something happening to the hundreds of jars of rotting honey she kept in the basement. Maybe she was embarrassed that she had to walk with a cane by the time she was 30. Maybe she was ashamed of being morbidly obearse. Whatever the reason, my mother only left the treehouse once or twice a year. I now recognize that most of these problems — the brain damage, the weight, the neuropathy — had something to do with undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabeartes.

Not only did she rarely leave the house, but when she actually got out of bed she never got dressed. She wore that same blue-with-white-polka-dots housecoat and matching floppy nightcap all day, all night, every day, every night, for decades. On the extremely rare occasions that she did leave the treehouse — to get more honey or to force the family on a walk (“The Bear family needs to get some exercise!”) — she still wouldn’t change, dressing up that stained, crusty, putrid smock by trading out her sleeping cap for a straw hat with a feather in it. As if that would fool the Bear Country gossips.

* * * * * * *

I realized that my situation was not normal around the time pubearty began, and that my only solution was to get out as soon as possible. Rapid changes to my body let me in on a shocking truth that had been hidden since my birth from everyone. Including me.

I wasn’t actually a girl.

Even then, at 11 years old, I knew instinctively that this had something to do with Mama. When I confronted Papa about it, he simply said he didn’t want to talk about it, then choked back a couple of sobs, then hightailed it out of there, right back to his shop (or The Honey Pot).

I tried to ask Mama about it, waiting until I could score her on one of her good days, which meant less of a chance that she’d accuse me of having a bad case of “the gimmes.” I grew impatient, and, expecting a grand pronouncement that “the Bear family is too impatient!” I asked her anyway.

“Mama, why did you pretend I was a girl?” I asked her, bearly above a whisper. She rocked in her chair, pretending to knit a scarf but really just wiggling the needles around in a pile of yarn.

“Mama Bear needs little girl cub. Mama needs girl cub. Girl cub. Girl,” she said distantly, over and over.
From clues ascertained from old pictures and what Brother can remember, I’ve been able to piece together a few scant details of my birth. She went into labor while she was alone. Papa was out chopping wood with Brother to make him a big-boy bed, as his old one would be needed for me. I believe that this afforded her the opportunity to deliver me, check my gender, and, when it wasn’t what she wanted, slap a pink bow on my head and name me Sister. And that was that.

The night I figured it all out, I couldn’t sleep; I was angry and confused and trying to process everything. While lying there, awake, praying Mama wouldn’t come in and proclaim that “the Bear family asks too many loaded questions!” I heard Papa clomp in. After some shouting, I heard a door slam. And then, according to Brother, he took the roadster into town to buy a pack of beargarettes. That was the last time anyone in Bear Country ever saw him.

If you’re out there, Papa, I’d love to see you again. Lizzy Bruin and I have three cubs now. They’d like to meet their grandfather and give him a great big bear hug.

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where we are very fond of any sport in which grown men get to beat each other with sticks. Our good friend Bruce Harris has the Stanley Cup story you've been waiting for.

Reasons Why Your Name Is Not Engraved On The Stanley Cup

By: Bruce Harris

You can’t skate — even if you are a goalie, you need to be a skilled skater. Let’s face it, slipping and sliding on the ice isn’t going to get you very far in hockey. On the other hand, you may be the world’s best skater with tons of awards and ribbons to prove it. That won’t help, because…

You don’t play hockey — while this will greatly reduce the chances of your name appearing on the Stanley Cup, it does not totally exclude you. There are a number of non-players (coaches, for example) whose names appear on the Cup. Did I hear you say you are a terrific skater and a fabulous hockey player? Tough luck…

You played hockey prior to 1892 — bummer. You were one of the star players of your day, your team won championships year after year, but all pre-1892. The Stanley Cup was as real then as Al’s Jiant Jewel Warehouse in the cloud. The good news is you have a job. The bad news is…

The National Hockey League does not employ you in any capacity — unless your pockets are deep and your hobby is buying and selling team franchises, if you fall into this category, you’re done. Your name will not appear on the Stanley Cup. You have no chance. Give it up. Try another sport. Take up golf. There is always the Master’s and a chance to wear the green jacket. Go for it. It doesn’t matter if…

You are female — Interestingly, this does not automatically disqualify you from having your name live on in the Hockey Hall of Fame. No sir. A number of females have that honor. However, if your name isn’t Marguerite Norris, Sonia Scurfield, Marie-Denise DeBartolo York, Marian Ilitch, Denise Ilitch, Lisa Ilitch, Carole Ilitch Trepeck or Charlotte Grahame, you’re not smiling. Smiling is good, especially since…

You have a full set of teeth — like being female, this does not automatically prevent your name from being listed on the cup, but it certainly doesn’t help your chances. Something else that will not help your chances…

You pronounce the word “about” as “a bowt” rather than “a boot” — the odds are long enough that you’ll ever see your name on the Stanley Cup. Why decrease your chances more than necessary? Speak properly and keep your hands to yourself. Be a goody two-shoes. You’ll be able to brag…

You’ve never spent time in a penalty box — no, the doghouse doesn’t count. What’s so bad? You sit and watch the action like the rest of the fans, only you get paid not to play. What’s a mere two minutes or more out of a lifetime? Especially a long life, except…

You can’t pass a physical — you have bigger problems than worrying about a name inscription on a cup. If you fall into this category, you might seek a lifestyle change, one that involves a higher calling, one where…

Father, Reverend, or Rabbi precedes your surname — religion and sports, like religion and politics, don’t make good bedfellows. Usually, but not always, a decision to pursue the clergy precludes a career on ice, especially when…

The word “puck” makes you salivate — the problem is, you associate “puck” with “Wolfgang,” and ‘Game Day’ means Mini Prime Burgers with Remoulade and Aged Cheddar Cheese. Still, that’s nothing if…

You suffer from Pagophobia — Google it. That’s a really bad inhibitor. If you suffer from this affliction, it’s likely you don’t know about back-checks, fore-checks, cross-checks, and…

You define “check” as a form of payment — really? Banking is probably more your cup of tea and you are probably from the good old USA. Baseball is your sport. What? You’ve never seen the Toronto Blue Jays play? I don’t believe it…

You’ve never heard “O Canada” — you don’t deserve to have your name on the Stanley Cup.

Okay, you are not only an expert skater, you are a highly skilled hockey player in the year 2014, you are a male gainfully employed by the National Hockey League, you are missing a number of teeth, especially front teeth, you pronounce “about” as “a boot,” you are in peak physical condition, you are not the least bit religious, you’ve spent over half your life in a penalty box, you are as comfortable on the ice as you are in your own home, “puck” has only one meaning and it has nothing to do with the digestive system, you live to check, you check to live, and you’ve known the words to “O Canada” since you slept in a crib. But, your name is still absent from the Stanley Cup. The rub is, you’ve been playing your entire NHL career with the Blues, Sabres, Canucks, Capitals, Sharks, Panthers, Coyotes, Predators, Jets, Wild or Blue Jackets. Demand a trade!

* Welcome to The Big Jewel, where humor goes to die, but sometimes also to be reborn. Our good friend Kent Woodyard has long written the "Non-Essential Mnemonics" column for McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Now the best of those columns have been collected into a book. And we are publishing the introduction to said book. Life is good. To order, please click the link in our blogroll on the right-hand side of this page.

Non-Essential Mnemonics: Just The Essentials

By: Kent Woodyard

(Note: Today’s feature contains excerpts from Kent Woodyard’s first book Non-Essential Mnemonics: An Unnecessary Journey Into Senseless Knowledge, out now from Prospect Park Books.)

Here’s a question for you: what did you eat for dinner on this day, three and a half weeks ago (Thursday)?

Assuming the night in question wasn’t the scene of a cataclysmic breakup, a violent spectacle of bodily fluid, or some combination thereof, and assuming you weren’t at a Presidential inauguration, Cirque du Soleil show, or some other similarly transformative event, I’m guessing you have no idea.

And it’s not just dinner three and a half Thursdays ago, is it? If I were an irresponsible gambler, I’d bet you can’t remember most dinners that occurred before, let’s say, yesterday. And I’m not picking on dinner either. If you’re anything like me (and why wouldn’t you be?) you probably can’t remember most of your life that predates the last moon cycle.

Sure, you’ve got a cracked cell phone screen, some unread e-mails, and a growing collection of scars and receipts giving evidence to the passage of time, but the lion’s share of your life experiences — the ones that didn’t occur in emergency rooms, national parks and police stations — have likely dissolved into a fog of half-imagined recollections that may or may not have happened in the way you remember, but which almost certainly involved a Taco Bell drive-thru at some point.

I once heard that people forget 80% of the things they learn in college. Most people take this to mean that 80% of college is a waste of time, which is generally correct. The broader point here, though, is that all of us will forget nearly everything we ever learn, and there’s no point in getting all weepy about it.

But what if there was a way to stop forgetting? What if there was a way to capture those fading memories and imprison them forever in the musty cellar of your brain? What if we could all acquire a Good Will Hunting-esque level of long-term recall that would amaze our friends and foil our rivals while scoring numbers from vaguely exotic coeds at college bars?

Well, scrape your brains off the ceiling — there is. They’re called mnemonic devices and they’re magical.

Mnemonic devices are insidious little tools used by educators to ensure information stays lodged in students’ brains decades after it is needed or desired. Depending on your attention span during grade school, and your tolerance for unnecessary consonants, you have likely met dozens of these devices over the course of your formal education. “Dozens” could mean “at least two.”

Mnemonic devices are the reason I can still recite the order of biological taxonomy and the colors of the rainbow fifteen years after I have had cause to do either. They are the reason I can name more Schoolhouse Rock songs than United States Senators. They are the reason I know that the Great Lakes spell “HOMES,” but have to request a new password every time I use PayPal.

Don’t ask me how they work. It’s got something to do with science, and — like all science that hasn’t been narrated by Morgan Freeman or turned into a condiment — I have little interest in it. What I’m interested in are results, and the results of mnemonic devices speak for themselves.

Think I’m exaggerating? Finish this sentence: “‘I’ before ‘E’ except…” Every third-grader knows that one. Or how about this one: “now I know my ABCs, next time…” Every first-grader knows that one. And this one: “‘More rum,’ demanded the matador…” What, you don’t recognize that one? Well let’s get started then.

“More rum,” demanded the matador. “Damn the tequila. Just rum — Jamaican and bitter.”

And there you have it: a mnemonic for the names of Matt Damon’s twelve made up brothers in Good Will Hunting. (Marky, Ricky, Danny, Terry, Mikey, Davey, Timmy, Tommy, Joey, Robby, Johnny, and Brian)

But why stop there? How about this one:

After leveling Ukraine, Genghis Khan marauded across the Urals leaving tattered “Khan Rules” banners everywhere.

This one you surely recognize as a brief (and mostly false) history of the Mongol Empire’s westward expansion. But did you know it is also a mnemonic for the countries of the former Soviet Union? I bet you didn’t. (Armenia, Latvia, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Lithuania, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Estonia)

Got time for one more? Of course you do. You’re on the Internet.

Screen Actors Guild

You know SAG as the principal labor union responsible for representing American film and television performers. But why would you ever need to know that? Why is that in your brain? Let’s repurpose it for the work it was born to do: to serve as a mnemonic for the members of Simon & Garfunkel. (Simon and Garfunkel)

Look at that! You now know the members of Simon & Garfunkel and I’ve got a good feeling that you won’t forget them again for a long time. That’s how it is with mnemonic devices. Once read, each of them will immediately and indubitably transform itself into acquired knowledge that no amount of drinking or professional football playing will be able to erase.

Whether you are a graduate student, a homeschool mom, an aspiring community college professor or merely a weekend memory enthusiast, I encourage you to begin nurturing your affection for mnemonics today. Then and only then can you be certain that, while you may never remember what you did last weekend or what you had for dinner three and a half Thursdays ago, you will always remember the names of Will Hunting’s imaginary brothers.

And isn’t that enough?