Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Posting

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is an okay action movie and a piss-poor showing as something which claims to be part of the pedigree of The Lord of the Rings. The movie has its bright points, but these are dwarfed (pun!) by egregious choices of pacing, characterization, and overall content which plague the movie. I'm not going to laud the good parts, because the good parts stand on their own merits: most of the opening scene with Smaug, the battle at Dol Goldur, much of the actual Battle of the Five Armies, most any scene which involves Bilbo or Thorin.

But here's a pretty extensive list of what the movie did wrong. There will be spoilers, obviously, as well as crass language, because if nothing else I am sophisticated as fuck.


Alfrid, the cowardly toady to the Master of Laketown, receives more screentime, lines, characterization, and overall attachment to the movie's general plot than all of the following characters who also appeared in this movie:

Bifor, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Smaug, Beorn, Saruman, Galadriel, Elrond, Radagast, Sauron, The Nine, The Master of Laketown, Bard's Children, Dain

Aside from Dain, I'm almost entirely certain that the majority, if not all, of the characters comprising the laundry list of dwarves that appears before the dragon do not have any lines of dialogue at all.

In terms of sheer screentime, he also comes damn near to Azog and Bolg, who are the movie's primary antagonists, and he certainly has more lines than both of them, since they mostly just snarl and swing about outlandish weapons. Now, a character like that might not at all be a bad choice for a second-stringer. He's an everyman, not an unstoppable force of nature protected by plot armor and good looks like Bard or every named elf who ever existed. A character like that could give a great bit of perspective on the problems facing the survivors of Smaug's Laketown rampage.

The problem is that Alfrid is not made out to be that character. His physical appearance and role in the film is meant as a call back to Wormtongue, a slimy, self-interested opportunist who cares only about how he personally can benefit from every situation. There's no reason for viewers to grow attached to him or to put a stake on the situations in which he finds himself. And while Wormtongue's appearances in The Lord of the Rings are treated with the gravity which a scheming saboteur deserves, Alfrid is the comic relief in this film. He is an inept, Snidely Whiplash wanna-be villian who is an asshole to other people simply because he can, not because he should. And while bumbling, oafish dickheads have been a narrative staple for centuries, one of two things will invariably happen to them. Either they will:

1) Learn and grow as an individual, either evolving into a serious, canny antagonist or realizing the error of his ways and defecting to the side of righteousness, which also carries with it an automatic swelling of his INT and WIS scores .


2) Remain the same jackass character, but receiving right proper comeuppance and reckoning by the plot's close.

Alfrid does neither of those things, and he comes away from his misadventures during the Battle of the Five Armies with only his pride suffering permanent injury, not that he had much pride to begin with, mind you. He shows a sort of low cunning early on when he attempts to worm his way into Bard's good graces, but every other character there is wise to his mechinations and keeps him at arm's length. He is told to accomplish various mundane tasks necessary to his protection and survival, tasks at which he fails miserably, because Alfrid is apparently so stupid as to not realize he could only stand to gain by at least putting on a veneer of affability and at least trying to pull his weight.

But, instead, he does none of those things, and what's his karmic reward at the end of the film? Dressing up as a woman, stuffing a comically oversized brassiere full of what remains of Laketown's gold, and skulking away from the titular battle without a scratch. Yes, this inept asshole manages to evade not one, but two, armies of orcs, one of which is thrust balls-deep into the ruins of Dale where all the Laketown survivors have shacked up. To put insult to injury, in the middle of this chaos and carnage, Alfrid's last scene plays out over a couple of minutes and painfully reminds the audience that talking is a free action.

Bard has just fought off some steel plate-clad orcs in order to save his children from their nefarious blades. The dwarves of Erebor, all thirteen of them, have just sallied forth and their added presence to an army of hundreds has turned the tide of battle. Bard rallies his men, and some women (yes indeed, the women of Laketown take up shovels and cudgels because, as one lady puts it, "Why should the men be the only ones to die? We can swing weapons just as well as they can!" This lip-service to gender equality rings hollow after considering Alfrid's crossdressing is played for comedy, but at least this gal knows what's what) and prepared for a push to link up with the beleugered elves and dwarves. As this is happening, and CGI orcs trundle about in the background of the shot accomplishing nothing of importance, Bard takes note of Alfrid and his gold-filled bra as the weasel tries making good on his escape. They have a talk about Alfrid's perpetual cowardliness, and this greasy-haired, bad-toothed fucker baldly admits that he always has been, and always will be, an abject shithead. Rather than put an arrow in this guy, or running him through, or doing anything that would help balance this prick's scales of comeuppance, Bard does this:

"Alfrid, your slip is showing."

Then turns his attention back to the nonthreatening CGI orcs in the background. Alfrid, meanwhile, scurries over a small pile of rocks and is never seen again.

Fuck you, Alfrid, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


As is the norm, the elvish race gets its dick sucked so hard that's it's a surprise and a wonder that it hasn't fallen off from lack of blood flow. Legolas the physics-warping immortal will receive his own section in a short while, but for right now let's just focus on the elvish army led by their king, Thranduil. To their credit, the elves provide succor to the hungry masses of Laketown and Lee Pace's acting is as wonderful as ever in the role, a perfect blend of Machiavellian cynicism and aloofness that perfectly captures the disdainful feeling of noblesse oblige elves have for the lesser races of Middle-Earth.

Thranduil and his dire elk carve a path through the orcish ranks later on but I can't be mad; authority equals asskicking, after all, and the dwarvish general, Dain Ironfoot, wrecks untold amounts of orcish face (in part with his face, no less) in a manner so eerily similar to a high-level, multiclassed fighter/monk from Dungeons and Dragons that the dungeon master in me immediately committed to including a character of that sort in my campaigns as soon as possible. The leaders of these two armies are more or less at parity with one another upon the Ultimate Badass Scale, and to be frank their combat shenanigans are far more gratifying than those of Immortal God Legolas.

The rest of the elvish army, though, is as deserving of an unending series of cockpunches as the poster of the average Youtube comment.

Okay, so there's a glorious scene right after the introduction of Dain Ironfoot, portrayed by Billy Connelly in a way so fucking masterful that it made my asshole clench with joy. The first of the orc armies has arrived on the field of battle and the dwarves, who had minutes earlier been ready to fuck up all kinds of elf army, pivot their forces to face the new threat. They craft a wall of riveted metal and pikes in the orc army's path with precision and perfection that The Clock King would be amazed, and the orcs, being orcs, charge right at it. The anticipation of the moment the charge hits is tortuous and every fiber of the viewer's being is invested in the moment the thundrous crunch of metal and flesh hits the senses.

But, seconds before the front ranks of orcs are to be transformed from intact to perforated, the elvish armies leap over an eight-foot high wall of impenetrable dwarvish steel using their scimitars like Final Fantasy dragoons to impale the orcs before dancing further into the clusterfuck without a care in the world. All the aforementioned tactical precision, all the promise of payoff for the viewer, evaporates because hup-dee-doo elvses are the bestest!

See, I get that elves have a superiority complex in Jackson's Middle-Earth. They need to be the center of attention because, well, they always have been; after all, they are favorite race of the Valar and were intended from the beginning to be better than everybody else. But as favored-by-the-gods as elves might be, they aren't stupid. Prideful yes, entitled yes, dumb absolutely not. So why do such a silly and short-sighted a thing as jump over an allied army which is arrayed in a tactically advantageous position? Haven't the elves constantly harped on the bloodlust and mortal frailty of the other races? Why would they suddenly be possessed by a death-wish?

As an addendum, the CGI for the elvish forces looks really bad compared to the other armies, especially when they're doing robotic formation shifts to allow Bard or Thranduil or other persons of importance to pass through the ranks. It looked like and reminded me (and not in a good way) of the movements of the titular Golden Army from Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. And that movie came out in like 2008. A carryover maybe from one of Guillermo del Toro's script iterations for the film series?

Fuck you, elves, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


Okay, so Legolas is in this movie again. He doesn't do very much of anything relevant to the plot, but he's still inexplicably the most important character after Thorin, Bilbo, Azog, and Gandalf (and he has more screentime than the latter two, to boot). Gotta ride that nostalgia train! Choo-choo!

Legolas in The Desolation of Smaug was an acceptable concession, a way to tie the prequel movies more tightly to the film trilogy which predated them. He doesn't appear in the original book, but he logically must have, since what else would Legolas have been doing if not slumming around his dad's forest realm? And, sure, he did some silly Legolasian action antics, but those were fairly tame. More video gamey than his deeds in Fellowship and The Two Towers, but not as patently absurd and gravity-defying as the shit he pulled in Return of the King. He also didn't overshadow too-too much of the main cast, including canon foreigner Tauriel and her hamfisted romance arc.

In Battle of the Five Armies, forget all that shit. This Legolas, despite existing chronologically before the tamer Legolas of the earlier movies, is Return of the King Legolas with IDDQD engaged. Here's a graph of Legolas' power level in the movies as the order they were released:

Looks innocuous, right? But when we plot this out based on the series' internal chronology....

There is no narrative reason for him to be so superpowered in this film. That he discards this frightening level of competence, for no reason, in time for Fellowship is a shameful example of power seep and a gigantic middle finger to the people who give half a shit about how chronology in a narrative works.

Here is a list of ways in which the character of Legolas defies common sense, the general rules of good narration and continuity, and the laws of physics:

He teleports from Laketown to Mount Gundabad, a place which lies at the far north end of the Misty Mountains, and back again just in time to save the day, along with Tauriel. In Desolation, Gandalf remarks that it is a journey of two hundred miles to swing north around Mirkwood when the dwarves express apprehension about plumbing its shady depths. The Misty Mountains lie some days to the west of Mirkwood, which lies some distance west from Laketown and Erebor. This could all be forgiven if some sense of the passage of time were made, but the movie's pacing makes it seem as though everything that is happening in the film takes place over the course of around five days.

He rides a bat half his size, at times inverting his body completely, by holding onto the beast's legs as it flutters about. None of his weapons, least of all his arrows, are dislodged. He kills it by somehow rolling it over so that he is above the bat, letting him stand on its body so his hands can be free to nock and fire an arrow into its skull. He then drops dozens of feet and lands on the top of a crumbling tower without any harm done to him.

He drives a troll with maces for legs by jamming his sword into the back of its skull in a way that's clearly meant to be evocative of the way he killed the cave troll in Fellowship, except that scene was cool and not pointless and stupid.

He outpaces the pull of gravity by leaping from stone to stone and using something (momentum? Doubtful.) to swing his body to solid ground as the tower on which he has been fighting Bolg for about fifteen minutes begins collapsing. Though I will grant that the fight was choreographed and done really well up until that point.

He can inform his father via either telepathy or osmosis that he has unresolved mommy issues. These problems are solved in the same breath that Thranduil tells him to seek out Strider, son of Arathorn, because we have to tie in more references to Lord of the Rings! Keep in mind that Legolas shows no sign of having met or known Aragorn in Fellowship.

Fuck you, Legolas, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


I'm not going to be That Guy and focus overmuch on the fact that this is an elf-dwarf romance arc in a production set in Middle-Earth. I'm judging this movie as the movie is, not on what the canon of the books says it should be.

I am, however, going to shit all over the elf-dwarf romance arc in this production because it's fucking bad. It exists for no reason other than to exist because some marketing guy cynically determined that a love interest would put more asses into seats and more money into the producers' pockets. It adds nothing meaningful to the plot, adds little of lasting value to the characters of Kili or Tauriel, and is so profoundly corny in its execution that I just might have pulled something rolling my eyes so hard.

I think that maybe what Jackson et al were attempting was injecting a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story tragedy into the narrative. After all, Kili is doomed by canon, and there's no way, no way, that Peter Jackson would change Kili's ultimate fate. Not after seeing the boundless nerdrage that erupted over excising the comparatively minor character of Tom Bombadil from Fellowship. This can work, but only if the romance is between characters who have more dimensions than a sheet of paper. There's no reason for a viewer to be invested in a coming together of star-crossed asshole lovers when their respective roles in the narrative are "the pretty-boy dwarf" and "the only relevant female in the whole fucking sausagefest, who also happens to be hot."

Their initial falling-in-love in Desolation was hackneyed and forced and somehow this love blossomed to the point that Kili can shit quasi-poetic love serenades after the characters see each other for only the fifth time in their lives. Seriously, here are the times Kili and Tauriel see and interact with each other over the course of Desolation and Five Armies:

1: The dwarves are captured by the elves after escaping the spiders in Mirkwood. Kili flirts with her by equating his penis to a weapon. Classy as fuck. Give this dwarf a monocle.

2: Kili gives her a magic dwarf loverock in the dungeons and tells her a groan-inducing sob story. This simultaneously manages to melt Tauriel's heart and wet the crotch of her leather leggings.

3: Tauriel assists the dwarves in escaping Mirkwood during the barrel scene by murdering some orcs, though not as many orcs as Legolas.

4: Tauriel appears in Laketown during Bolg's assault. She helps save Kili's life by casting Neutralize Poison and murdering some orcs, though not as many orcs as Legolas.

5: In Five Armies, she has a brief exchange with Kili before he passes on, after he is stabbed by Bolg. Rather than allowing her to avenge her lover in a way which might actually be too great a concession to a competent female character and something of a redemption of this tired romance arc, she gets her shit wrecked trying to murder an orc, then Legolas cleans up for her fifteen minutes later. She kisses Kili's corpse and chokes out a puerile lamentation on how much love hurts. Thranduil further hamfists the point of telling, rather than showing, actual, true affection by coldly stating, and I paraphrase, "It hurts so much because it is real."

That's it. The best scene, in my opnion, is the one in Laketown when Tauriel heals Kili's morgul-arrow wound, and if that had been the jumping-off point for the romance, and if the writers had managed to keep their heads out of their assholes, maybe that arc might have paid off. She saves his life because she's genuinely a good person, he is eminently thankful and, in dwarvish fashion, pledges to repay his life debt to her at any cost. They have some scenes together, get to know one another as individuals instead of cliches, develop a friendship, Kili dies, Tauriel can be legitimately sad. This is a barebones, inarguably trite arc I've shit out over about three minutes of thinking and writing, and still a better love story than Twilight The Hobbit. Just because this iteration and style of love might have turned out platonic doesn't make it any "less real." Sexual love isn't the only kind of love. Christ, any writer who is thinking about including a romance arc in his or her project should take the time to read Plato's fucking Symposium.

Fuck you, Kilriel or Taurili or whatever they call it shippers, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


Smaug is in the movie for about ten minutes at the very beginning, at which point he is promptly offed by Bard using his son as a crossbow. I don't think crossbows work that way. Wouldn't the pressure needed to fire that bolt with as much force as was shown...oh, right, we can forget physics when the plot demands.

I firmly believe that the previous movie should have ended with Smaug's rampage and death, but the opening stinger (seriously, Smaug is exanimated before the movie's title appears) is a very nice scene with one teensy caveat. I'm going to let this video clip from an amazing 2004 film sum up my biggest problem with Smaug's scene:

Yup. Smaug may claim to be wise and cunning, but when push comes to shove he pulls the same tired villian crap as badguys from Silver Age comic books and suffers for it. And the saddest part is that those opening minutes are some of the tensest, best parts of the film; that and the raid on Dol Goldur which happens around twenty minutes later.

Fuck you, Smaug's role in this movie, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


Beorn is in the movie for about fifteen seconds. You read that right. Here's a conversation I had with a friend online regarding the movie:


And that's it. That's Beorn's role in the movie. I understand his presence is going to be expanded upon in the extended edition, but there's a little problem I have with that.

Why include him at all in the theatrical cut if it's for fifteen seconds of inferred, offscreen carnage? This shit, where a content provider creates the content but teases it out in sloppy iterations, is exactly the same crap as what's happening in video games nowadays. I'm not opposed to extended editions of movies with added content, but if you're going to do that, DON'T HALFASS YOUR PRODUCT BY SLOPPILY TEASING MORE WILL EXIST DOWN THE ROAD JESUS SOCKFUCKING CHRIST. I mean, they're only going to release the theatrical cut of the movie in April, the special edition a few months after that. People are going to eat that shit up, and the producers and studios know it.

Fuck you, Beorn's "inclusion" in this movie, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


There is a certain measure of disbelief that should take place in an action movie. This is because it is, well, a movie. Now, there's nothing wrong with an action movie being stylized and exaggerated for purposes of enthrallment, as long as it fits the tone and style of the movie in question. The Matrix did it really well. Pretty much any Zach Snyder film can do it too. Fuck, even goddamned pingpong Yoda from the Star Wars prequels is legit from a rules-of-that-universe standpoint.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are more firmly grounded in a conventional view of how physics and momentum work than, say, a Bugs Bunny cartoon. For the most part, things move really close to how things would in the real world. Furthermore, most of the combat is fairly realistic and the armies which clash with one another do so with verisimilitude.

I am curious, though, how a ragtag, untrained bunch of lightly armed, unarmored displaced cityfolk are able to hold their own against a legion of orcs in steel plate mail and fuckoff axes and spears and swords who have been bred specifically for war. Orcish armor is worse than useless, judging by the ease with which, say, a random teenaged boy can lop off orcish heads and eviscerate innards with only a shortsword. Looks like meat's back on the menu, boys!

I've already covered Legolas' crimes against physics, but Azog pulls a fucking dumb one at the end too. He and Thorin have been fighting for some time on a frozen-over lake that exists because fuck you fighting on a frozen lake is awesome reasons that's why. And it was a pretty awesome fight. Thorin even won, mostly because Azog is a stupid albino orc who attached a chunk of rubble the size of a dwarf's body to a chain and swung that around. It was a good plan, except for the part when he broke all the ice swinging it around like an idiot, basically killing himself in the same way that Mario defeats Bowser in Super Mario Bros. 3. And since his plan consisted solely of swinging that morningstar around, well....

So Azog plummets into the icy depths and Thorin falls onto a solid stretch of ice, exhausted from his battle. We see Azog's body floating under the surface of the ice, his eyes closed. Thorin watching him warily, gets up, follows Azog's drifting course, because he's dumb.

Azog's eyes open, he impales Thorin's foot with his stabby-arm, and then his body crashes through the ice.

The actual fuck???

This is ice which took multiple blows from Azog's improvised morningstar before breaking up. How on Middle-Earth did he get the necessary leverage and force to break through a pane of frozen water many inches thick?

Fuck you Azog, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.


There are other problems, but they're comparatively minor things. Where did the goats Thorin and Co. rode up to the fight with Azog come from, and where did they go once they arrived up there? Why was the choice made to brush aside all the closure regarding the deaths of Thorin, Fili, and Kili, and to gloss over that potentially amazing, emotional scene with Balin telling Bilbo, "We'll feast and sing songs, and then lay them to rest," when the interrment of Thorin under Erebor is a pretty big deal in the novel? What were the screenwriters thinking during the scene in which they showed Thorin tripping balls and being swallowed by bad CGI gold in his dragon-malaise, when up until that point Thorin's paranoia and actions, and Bilbo's reactions to them, had been the most enthralling of the movie's plotlines?


The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies is not a bad movie. It's not a waste of dollars to see it, especially if you go into it with low expectations. Hell, I came out of the theater with a higher opinion of it than I'd had going in. When the movie is great, it really is great, and as you're watching the movie and caught up in all the action, you almost fail to notice the little things that don't add up, that keep the movie from being great, rather than just individual scenes.

I don't regret revisiting Middle-Earth, as they say, one last time, but the Middle-Earth of 2014 is not the same Middle-Earth. The things are there, names and objects and places, but their souls are lacking. This movie, more than any other of the prequel trilogy, kicks aside what makes Middle-Earth distinctly Middle-Earth, and instead transports us into Dynasty Warriors or Total War with a Lord of the Rings mod applied to it.

Fuck you, Peter Jackson, and fuck you, Peter Jackson.

Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Made a Liar Out of Me

2014 started off frigid and full of hate. Temperatures which hovered around thirty degrees below zero Fahrenheit proved absolutely remarkable for business, and the Dominion saw a fine surge of custom despite the fact that the bulk of releases were crap that only saw limited theatrical release which nobody in the Saladolsa area had ever heard of. The year seemed destined for brightness and mirth.
Then one of Fernando's regular customers came in to rent one evening and all the good omens were flipped topsy-turvy thanks to Fernando's wretched penmanship and said customer's notions of entitlement.
This person had been coming to the store for years and years, since well before Fernando took over as the Dominion's steward. She was not a perfect customer (few are), but she had never stolen anything nor broken anything and any late fees which she racked up would, eventually, be paid off in slow one- and two-dollar trickles. She came in on this occasion to rent some movies and she also decided to purchase one of Fernando's extra copies of World War Z. She selected, in addition to the purchase, three new releases and two older titles.
Fernando writes up the slip like he had for this woman countless times before, only this time she opts to pay with a check. That's fine; Fernando has no reason to suspect anything out of the ordinary with regard to her bank account's credit. She fills out the check while Fernando mills about the shelves retrieving her stack of movies. The total had come to sixteen dollars: eight for the purchase, and eight for two of the new releases. It was a rent-one-get-one-free day, so the other three movies were rendered gratis beneath that aegis.
She writes the check out for $15, doubtless because Fernando's penmanship is a blight to the world about on par with endometriosis, and Fernando remarks on this when he returns to the counter. "You're a dollar short, but it's no big deal. Check's already written," he says.
"What do you mean, a dollar short?" she asks.
"It's supposed to have come to sixteen dollars. But, like I said, it's no big deal."
"Wait, why sixteen?"
Fernando blinks. "The purchase is eight, and then the two new releases."
"Wait, I thought I get one of those free."
"You did."
"Then why is it sixteen? Shouldn't it be fourteen?"
It does not even dawn on Fernando to ask why she would make the check out for fifteen dollars in that case. Instead he is at a loss for words. "Er...no."
"Because you have the purchase, and then two new releases. They come to sixteen."
She half-closes her eyes for a moment. "I just did the math, and it comes out to fourteen. You're charging me for the one new release when you shouldn't."
Fernando is confused. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Shouldn't I get two of the new releases free and then pay for one of the old ones?"
Fernando tries to put things as politely as he can. "Er...no. The rentals have always been done in tiers like this."
"Tiers?" she asks. "I don't under...." She trails off in confusion while scratching her cheek.
"It goes by the number on the tag, descending, for which ones are free."
"Wait, so I'm paying for the new ones before the old ones."
"That doesn't seem fair at all."
Fernando wallows in a mire of pure consternation while putting on a facade of geniality. "It's been done this way every single other time you've come in to rent."
She ruminates on things a bit more. "And you do it like this to everybody?"
"Yes. Not just me, but the owners before me, and the owner before that, and probably even going back further all the way to when the store was first founded. That's the policy."
"It sounds like you're ripping people off."
Fernando cannot even find the energy to get upset at her noxious accusation. He is quite effectively trapped, for any justification he could give for why he insists on being inflexible--primarily that Fernando is not going to make an exception for her which would doubtless be abused, nor is he going to permanently change things so that he runs the risk of earning up to fifty percent less income on a rent-one-get-one day by letting old titles go first--would be taken in the worst possible light, for she has already convinced herself that Fernando is in the wrong and she is in the right.
So he shrugs and reiterates, "That's the policy and always has been the policy."
She then thinks for a little longer, and says, "I probably won't come here anymore."
Fernando shrugs again. He might perhaps have apologized that she feels this way, but he does not particularly feel like lying to her. Instead he tells her, "Have a good evening," and waits for her to perhaps ask that she be refunded.
Instead she takes her movies and leaves.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Annual Abscondments IV: In Closing

2013 was a busy, busy year for Fernando's more roguish clientele, though the nefarious acts of thievery came in bursts: first late February/early March, then a second wave in July, and finally an end-of-year push in November. It proved Fernando's worst year yet in terms of lost inventory; twenty-one of Fernando's beloved and not-so-beloved movies were torn from his loving embrace and taken into the unexpected custody of a great wide spectrum of ne'er-do-wells.
This is their obituary.
Expendables 2, Wanderlust, The Notebook: A lady comes into the store, one who hadn't been in since the days of the old Keeper. She had some late fees from that elder age, $21. Fernando informed her of this fact and, against all odds, she agreed to pay them off.
So how'd that work out for you, Fernando? You earned $30 only to lose about $60 in inventory. Look on the bright side: if you keep this up there may be room for you on the executive board of a major financial institution. And on the brighter side, you no longer have a copy of The Notebook available to recommend as a dumb-silly romantic chick flick.
I Am Number 4: High school kid comes in and sets up account, rents one movie, never returns it. He came back to the store on one occasion in the company of some of his less-lawbreak-y peers and Fernando shamed him so thoroughly that he actually put down five bucks towards his debt. 
He still owes Fernando $35.
The Greatest Game Ever Played: Because if you're a thirty-something woman setting up an account whose sole purpose, apparently, is to steal something, best make it a mediocre movie about golf that had otherwise never been rented in all the years Fernando worked at and owned the Dominion.
New Year's Eve, War, 24: Redemption: Remember the guy from way, way back who trashed a copy of Ice Age and then visited the store not long after Fernando took over in the misguided hopes that new ownership would erase his debt? Yeah, he, Fernando later learned, at some point hooked up with a gullible young lady who set up an account and, apparently, rented for him by proxy. Three pieces of Fernando's inventory went missing but at least two of those three were uninspiring renters even when they were fresh and new and the third, while a decent, testosterone-laden popcorn flick, was not of any particular importance in the grand scheme of things.
But hey if either of them ever return to the store down the road I can feel justified affixing the "saga" tag to this affair.
Warm Bodies, Cabin in the Woods, 127 Hours: Kind of a twofer with the next entry. See below.
Beautiful Creatures, Real Steel: Okay, so, two guys in their late teens/early twenties come to the store at the same time and both of them set up accounts to rent some movies. One of them is from Happyrock, about thirty miles away; the other is more local and claims an address in Melvinsburg. Fernando checks out the licenses and gets phone numbers from them (one of which is a local land line) and rents to them.
When the movies had been out for three days, Fernando calls them up in turn to request that they bring them back in. The cell phone goes to not-set-up voicemail and Fernando leaves a message. The other one rings and rings and no one picks up. The following day, Fernando tries again. Still voicemail, still no response.
This repeats for a number of additional days until, finally, somebody picks up on the landline, a woman.
Fernando explains the situation to her and asks that she inform the young man that his movies are still out and if he could return them promptly. The woman tells Fernando that he is "out of state for work." Fernando asks that she pass along his request and to check around if, perhaps, the movies were sitting there at home. She agrees to do precisely that.
Buuuuut she never called him back, and Fernando also never did get in contact via cell phone with the guy from Happyrock.
Stand Up Guys, Prometheus: A middle-aged woman comes in to rent a pair of movies and they don't make it back. When he calls her up to find out what is going on, she tells him that she gave them to her son to drop off on his way back to school. Fernando lets her know that her son never did drop them off, and that he would appreciate it if she could double-check with him to make sure they make it back the next time he comes home.
Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Muppets: Okay, sometimes people wake up on the stupid side of life. This pair of customers set up an account back in April, after having just moved into the area, and had been absolutely exemplary renters up til then. They were genial, treated Fernando like an actual person, and almost never late; when they were, they killed off their late fees immediately.
Then, one afternoon, they rented the above movies and they didn't make it back over the next three days. Fernando found this peculiar, so he called them up. One of them answered and told him that their car had taken a dump on them and that they were terribly sorry about everything, and that they would bring them back promptly once they found someone to give them a ride down to the Dominion, for they resided well into the boonies. This sounded good to Fernando, so he wished them the best and told them they could hash out everyone once the movies got back in.
Alas, they never did, and all of Fernando's subsequent calls went unanswered. What a pity, what a waste.
Now You See Me, Despicable Me: The girl who'd gotten a sorta-but-not-really divorce from her boyfriend a few years back dropped by and rented these movies, which never came back. She ignored Fernando's requests to return them, and now Fernando's sympathies lie with her jilted ex, wherever he may be.
The most embarrassing part is that she used a full stamp card for a free rental on Despicable Me. Would she have had it if Fernando had been less kind when she initially asked him to divvy up their communal stamps?
The Purge, Disaster Movie: Fernando tries not to judge people based on their last names and familial relations, but sometimes circumstances make it so incredibly hard to do. The young lady who rented this, by all appearances, comes from a family of thieves: her parents rented some things back under the Old Keeper's watch and never returned them. Then her older sister rented some things a few years back and never returned them.
Now, of course, she has rented some things and never returned them.
Fuck it, the next time somebody with that last name stops in, Fernando is going to be King Dick and let his prejudices run their fullest course.

Not a day goes by on which Fernando does not lament the passing of every one of these unfortunate abductees. Yes, even you, The Greatest Game Ever Played, even you. In fact, your loss is felt most keenly of all.

The question remains: What promises does 2014 hold? This Fernando cannot say. Truth be told, he seems to have driven away most of the assholes and recent weeks down at the Dominion have been, well, enjoyable. No entitled women coming to manipulate him into free things. No characters from days gone by stopping by to put into motion their inscrutable goals. No curious and random new faces with wretched spatial judgment.
Just the normal, genial customer base who rents movies, returns them mostly on time, and clears up any small late fees with a humble apology.
In short, the Chronicles seem to have wound down. Like in every closed system, the occurrence of random and interesting things decays as entropy increases and said system approaches a uniform, vacuous state. Rather than continue to draw out the unnecessary by milking a franchise (such as this is) until even its bones have been rendered down and snorted by a dwindling number of consumers (such as it is), as is the case with a certain industry that revolves around the production and distribution of motion pictures, it is time, I feel, to bring this book to a close.
There shall be other happenings, other tales of woe and dread, and even occasional tales of uplifting experience, I'm certain. Entropy is almost inevitably stalled out in the short term by random occurrences. Perhaps a fluctuation in fate will jar a new wave of content appropriate for the Chronicles of Fernando H. Stevens.
But until and unless there is such a time, let me tell you of a man who, in the late summer of 2010, made the lifechanging decision to cast his lot into the realm of weblogging through the collation and recording of happenings of great intrigue and of possible interest to souls other than himself. The wrangling with irate word processing programs, the mostly-kept rigor of deadlines, and the random acts of God which threatened the stability and structural integrity of his Chronicles did not daunt him. 
That man was one Fernando H. Stevens.

He had a blast, and he hopes you did too.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cold As Ice

Saladolsa's snowy season has, to this point, been one full of profound discomfort and chill. The temperature barely broke into the double digits most days and Fernando's large office windows were drafty portals to a frozen hellscape of blowing, gritty snow and patches of ice.
Fernando did what he could to keep the store clear of impediments to entry: he ventured outside to clear away the drifting snow and made sure to scatter salt over what his orange snow shovel could not remove.
One evening, the phone rings. "Hello, Dominion of Movies."
"Yeah, I wanted to let you know that we'll be keeping out the movies we got from you an extra night."
There is a pause just long enough that Fernando takes this as a cue to respond. "Alright, that's fine--" he begins, only to learn that he had inadvertently cut off the woman, one of Fernando's best customers.
"Our car just won't start," she continues.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Fernando says when he realizes what he'd done.
But the woman takes this to be an expression of remorse for her car troubles. "No, don't be. There's nothing you could do about it. We'll come in and pay the late fees tomorrow probably."
The jilted not-a-conversation continues with Fernando only now responding to her inoperative car woes. "That's fine. It's like two degrees out and I feel like you're not the only one. Don't worry about it."
"I'm sorry?" she asks, sounding confused.
"Wait what?" Fernando also asks, and assuredly confused.
"Maybe we should start over," the woman says.
There is a pause of five or so seconds.
"Okay," she says with a nervous giggle. "Our car won't start, so we can't get back the movies we rented until tomorrow."
"That's fine," Fernando responds. "It's hateful outside and I don't blame your car for not starting. Don't worry about the late fees, since I wouldn't want to go out into this crap either."
"What, really?" she asks.
"Yes, really. Just don't let it spread that I'm not a heartless bastard."
She laughs. "You are the best. Thanks so much!"
"Welcome. Stay warm." Fernando hangs up, then looks around the thankfully empty store.
"The epitome of social class," he mutters, returning to his seat.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


One of Fernando's regulars comes into the store one afternoon not long after opening and takes a quick look at the new release rack. "All your Wolverine is already out?" he asks, scowling.
"More like they haven't yet gotten in. I'm expecting all of them back today."
"Okay, how about this," Fernando's customer says. The Keeper hears the skritch of velcro as one of the other rental tags is torn off its case. "Hold this one for me and when the other comes in I'll come down and pick it up."
"That I certainly can do," Fernando says, taking the tag from the gentleman and placing it reverently on the desk in his office. "Did you want me to give you a call?"
"Nah, I'm gonna be running around for a little while anyhow. I'll stop by after I get gas at the station and see if you got it in."
Fernando nods. "Sounds good. If it gets in, I'll hang onto it for you. No promises, though."
And so Fernando's customer departs to complete his errands. A few minutes later a car pulls into the parking lot and a family of father, mother, and daughter clamber out. Fernando is fairly certain they owe him money, but not positive; he could not recall their names, since they had not visited the store in a rather long while, but verification would be swift and sure once he asked their indentity and he took a gander at the late list.
Anyhow, they fan out throughout the store and the two adults chat amongst themselves. Mainly they complain that all of Fernando's copies of Wolverine are out and they rather rudely, in that passive-aggressive not-a-whisper, point out that the Dominion "never has anything good in."
Ignoring or overlooking, of course, that if copies of the goddamn movies are present at opening from the night before without having been rented, the business model is doing something terribly wrong.
The daughter asks if they can rent something else but the mother (who is the one Fernando suspects of owing money) puts her foot down and tells the youngster that if the movies the grown-ups want isn't in, she "doesn't deserve" to rent Smurfs 2. At this moment, two more vehicles crunch over the snow in the parking lot simultaneously. One of them is the gentleman who had just been in. The other one is a truck owned by a man who had, on the previous day, come in and rented Wolverine. Fernando rises from his chair, scoops up the other tag which he had been asked to hold, and walks up to the counter to begin filling out a rental slip in anticipation of things to come.
Fernando's earlier visitor parked slightly closer to the front door, so he is the one inside first. "Did it make it?" he asks.
Fernando points over the man's shoulder at the second gent crossing the parking lot, who carries a stack of three movies. "He's got one, right there."
The mother, having deduced something potentially interesting albeit irrelevant to her own sad life is amiss, has since sidled closer to the counter to listen in on the conversation. The father and daughter are off in the kids' section of the store doing Pazuzu-knows-what.
The chimes tinkle and the second man enters. Fernando takes the films from him. "Thank you much." He sets two of them behind the counter and leaves the third, Wolverine. The second man squeezes past the mother, who lurks near the archway, with a low, "Excuse me," and browses the rental racks.
"Which ones did you bring back?" she asks him.
"Uh, The Thing, 2 Guns, and Wolverine," he answers.
Meanwhile, the transaction between Fernando and the first man has been completed. "Thank you much," Fernando says as the man walks out with his movies. "Have a good evening." He gathers up the rental slip and sets it on his desk, then goes about returning the rental tags for the other two movies to their cases out on the floor. He is peripherally aware of the woman approaching the counter.
"Yeah, I heard you got a Wolverine in." the woman tells Fernando.
Fernando briefly glances over at her. "I did, but it just went out again," he says, replacing the remaining cases on the shelf.
"I wanted that one."
"I'm sorry," Fernando tells her. "I am expecting my other copies back, if you would like me to hold one for you and let you know when it gets in."
"Why did you let that other guy just have it?"
Fernando blinks. "Because he asked nicely for me to hold a copy for him." He pauses, mulling over precisely how large a dick he wanted to be at this moment. He arrives at the conclusion "titanic." "And if I had put it out onto the floor, I would not have kept that promise."
The woman's mouth becomes a hard line and she fixes a death glare upon Fernando's uncaring self. The Keeper repeats his earlier offer, "Did you want me to hold one for you and give you a call if I get it in?"
"No," she hisses, sotto voce. "We're leaving."
"Alright. Have a good evening." With that, Fernando weaves through the rental racks to return the other two tags to their homes.
He ignores her so thoroughly that he does not even give a cursory glance over his shoulder when the door chimes jingle twice in rapid succession from the family's departure.
The second man rents three movies and has the social grace not to comment on what had just transpired.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


The lady who tried to fleece Fernando out of rentals multiple times in the past decided to return to the store one evening. Why, Fernando had no idea, as he had been fairly certain that he had driven her away with his no-nonsense tone and immovable position on giving her an endless chain of gratis rentals. Maybe she was a glutton for punishment, or her avarice fueled a temptation that could not be resisted.
Nonetheless, Fernando greets her and she, not surprisingly, does not respond, caught up as she was in her own world and doubtless plotting her next move. So Fernando returns his attention to the internet while she browses the store. She comes up a few minutes later with a pair of tags for Turbo and Monsters, Inc. Fernando fills out the slip and takes her money and she leaves.
The following day, her vehicle pulls into the parking lot and she climbs out with her movies. The chimes jingle and before Fernando knows it, she stands before his counter, her perpetually irate expression made even more intimidating and vampiric, for her lips are pressed together so tightly as to not exist at all. "This one didn't work for me." She holds the case for Monsters, Inc. in her hand vertically, so Fernando can clearly see the colorful surface of the disc in case he needed to be reminded about how his inventory looked.
"That's no good," Fernando says, rising from his seat and crossing the office. "Let me take a look at it."
"It just didn't play at all," she insists, setting the case down on the countertop rather than passing it over into Fernando's outstretched hand.
"Peculiar. Let me pop it in my player and see. What exactly didn't work about it?"
"It wouldn't load at all. It just spun in the disc holder." She pauses for a breath, then appends with a generous dollop of vitriol, "This is not the first time this has happened."
Fernando ignores that. He powers on his DVD player and places the disc on the tray. When he pushes the button to close said tray, the woman suddenly shouts, "I didn't use a DVD player!"
Fernando looks over his shoulder and blinks rather confusedly. "Then...what? Like a game console?"
The DVD player faintly hums and churns. "Three-sixty?"
"Well, that's probably the cause of your problem. This disc was pressed in what, like 2001? It's older than some of my customers. Newer players, especially ones in consoles, don't like playing nice with geriatric discs like this one."
The woman puffs out a snort through her nostrils.
Fernando follows that up with a question. "Did you ever try this in an actual, like, DVD player?"
The woman folds her arms across her chest. "No."
"Perhaps you should try that tonight and see if the disc treats you better in that instance." Fernando pushes the power button to his television and, lo and behold, there's the DVD's title screen featuring music by Randy Newton. "It seems to be working fine for me." He pushes the eject button, replaces the disc in its case, and passes it back over to the woman.

She looks as though she wants to say something more, but decides against it and instead skulks out.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We're the Necrotizing Fasciitis

A woman in her late 30s comes into the store one evening. She is a semi-regular customer and had not been to the store in a few months. Fernando greets her and she greets him back. Hell, she even goes beyond the bare minimum of social nicety to ask Fernando how he has been since she last saw him.
"I'm well. Keeping on keeping on, doing the best that I can," he answers. "Yourself?"
"I'm good. My daughter is having a slumber party tonight, so a bunch of her friends are over and they wanted me to pick out some movies for her. Do you have We're the Millers in?"
"Yeah, that's right over here," Fernando tells her, exiting the office to pluck one of the tags from the case. The front reads EXTENDED CUT in big yellow letters, and the woman notices this fact and is likely savvy enough to realize what it entails. She picks up the case and reads the back. Her expression sours and her eyes narrow as she scans the great large box on the back side which has the laundry list of reasons the movie is rated R.
"This is unrated?" she asks him with a slight frown.
"Profoundly so, yes," Fernando tells her. "It out-Hangovers The Hangover."
"Is it just raunchy humor?"
"That, and I feel like I would be remiss not to warn you about the spider bite scene."
"Why, what's so bad about it? It doesn't sound so bad."
"Well, the bite is on a penis."
Her expression wavers between confusion and bemusement. "That still doesn't sound--"
"They show the penis."
The woman stares at Fernando, blinks a few times, then quietly places the case back on the rack. "Let's not get that one, then. Probably not a good idea for twelve-year old girls to be seeing that."
"Probably not."
She scans the rack with a frustrated sigh. "There aren't any other good comedies in right now, either." She taps the case for Grown Ups 2 irately, for all copies of that film were leased out at that moment.
Fernando shrugs. "I can recommend Monsters University."
"Why, is it funny?"
"It has its moments. Mainly it's because it's a good movie. Great movie, in fact. Not quite as good as Monsters, Inc. but by no means does this render it low-quality. I'm old so I'm not allowed to like new things as much as their earlier iterations. It's a nine instead of a ten, is all."
"That sounds really good actually. I'll take it."
And that's how it's done.