Film Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Dir: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, Danny Huston, David Thewlis
Runtime: 2hr 21min
Spoiler Level: Light, discussion of any spoilers will take place under a “Continue Reading” tag and will be preceded by a bolded warning.

Though reactions to 2016’s Batman V Superman were polarizing at best, Gal Gadot’s debut as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman garnered a significant amount of praise. Her role in the film also served as the beloved character’s first (and long overdue) silver screen appearance, and set the stage for her very own film – arguably the first major superhero movie to focus on a female character, if you ignore Elektra and Catwoman, as I do. And may I just say… IT’S ABOUT TIME.

images.jpgPersonally, I’m not a lifelong Wonder Woman fan, so my first real introduction to her (outside of Cartoon Network’s old Justice League show) was Batman V Superman, and though her screen time was limited, her impact was huge and she was one of the major highlights of the film – and it piqued my interest for her solo outing. Her initial appearance created some buzz, but also raised some questions… the main one being, can a superhero film centered on a female hero succeed in a male-dominated genre?

At last, we have an answer: and Wonder Woman totally delivers. Not only can it stand against some of the more “landmark” superhero films, it qualifies as one of the better ones – and Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince / Wonder Woman carries the film with just as much (if not more) strength as her fellow DC counterparts and even the Marvel tentpoles, like Captain America and Iron Man.

Wonder Woman follows the titular hero from her idyllic childhood on the mythical island of Themyscira to her eventual involvement in the War to End All Wars. As she strives to defeat the cause of hatred in the hearts of mankind, Diana discovers that the world outside her isolated island home is not the place she thought it was and she struggles to determine what her role should be – or if she belongs in the world of men at all.

DC has burned us before (I mean, I didn’t bother with Suicide Squad but I got the gist)  but where previous installments fell into horrendous spirals of “too much” and “not enough” in various categories, often coming across as more convoluted than captivating, Wonder Woman is a solid superhero outing with an excellent cast, superb music, jaw-dropping action, and an engaging story that is a thrill from start to finish.

As far as casting goes, DC has done pretty well so far, and Wonder Woman is no exception. Gal Gadot is equal parts charming and intense – she pulls off the ultimate badassery of the titular character as she campaigns against evil, while also channeling the earnest naivete and curiosity of Diana as she strives to navigate the intricacies of the world of men. Chris Pine is affable, yet serious as Steve Trevor, an army captain who introduces Diana to the world outside of Themyscira and supports her in her mission against Ares, offering his guidance and witty remarks. Their chemistry is electric, and their interactions are both a source of humor and heart throughout the film. The supporting cast is full of great performances – with Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, Robin Wright as Antiope, David Thewlis as Patrick Morgan, Danny Huston as Ludendorff, Elena Anaya as Doctor Poison, Lucy Davis as Etta Candy, Saïd Taghmaoui as Sameer, Ewen Bremner as Charlie, and Eugene Brave Rock as Chief – but really, it’s Gadot and Pine who steal the show with their emotionally-charged, dynamic partnership. I legit cared about both of them; they created reasons to be invested in their individual arcs, their relationship, and the overall plot.

Where most DC films thus far have fallen short on the “humor” track, Wonder Woman’s got humor and charisma without completely losing the darker, gritty tone of its predecessors. Parts of the film do feel hopeless; the saccharine “everything will be okay” sheen perpetuated by comic book films is peeled away to reveal real, raw darkness – some of which cannot be defeated entirely. The action is mostly superb, the pacing is decent, and the scenery is gorgeous; it’s one of the most visually-engrossing films I’ve seen this year, as it successfully portrays the bleakness of war-torn Europe, utopian beauty of Themyscira, and the grey gloom of early 20th century London. The music, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, builds on the previously-introduced Wonder Woman theme from BvS (which is SO FREAKING GOOD) and generates new pulse-pounding accompaniment to Diana’s battles and the landscape of WWI. All in all, this film does a great job of maintaining balance – where previous films have either been “too much” or “not enough” or some catastrophic fusion of the two, Wonder Woman stays on course and the end result is a film that essentially fires on all cylinders, despite a couple of stumbles.

For a movie that is starring a woman and is helmed by a woman, the “feminist theme” of the narrative is not overt or over the top. It’s woven naturally into the dialogue and through the actions of the characters, but there’s no harping; no soapbox preaching. Basically, Diana doesn’t talk about kicking ass – she just does it, and in spectacular fashion, too. The film also carries a powerful message about the nature of man, and delivers it exceptionally well. It’s a theme that many superhero films have heralded in the past, but this film manages to do so in a way that feels fresh and new, not just a regurgitation of the same old stereotypical tropes.

Of course, as with all good movies, there are some negatives. Parts of the dialogue in the third act toe the line of heavy-handed on the corn front, but there’s always a sprinkle of cheese or two in a film adapted from comic books, so it’s not exceptionally bothersome. The action is a bit hard to follow at times, with the frequent slo-mo and CGI and pacing switches, but I’ve come to expect that as par for the course when it comes to DC films. Though the action gets a bit distracting at a few points, the fight sequences are absolutely beautiful 95% of the time. The “No Man’s Land” bit in particular is, to put it bluntly, f*cking BRILLIANT.

Say what you want about Zack Snyder, but it’s pretty obvious that he cares 1000% about the properties he/DC is adapting to the big screen. He didn’t direct this one (I love him, but that’s probably a good thing), and yet, his influence is definitely felt in some areas (the slo-mo, the fight scenes, his typical trademarks, the story) and if we hadn’t gotten a glimpse of Diana in BvS first, the buzz surrounding this film might not have reached such a high mark on the hype-o-meter. He’s made some missteps, and DC/Warner Bros have definitely mishandled things in the universe thus far, but if this film is any indication, the daughter of Zeus may have steered this franchise back on course.

Under the stellar direction of Patty Jenkins (I am soooooo looking forward to seeing more from her), for the first time, a DC film actually comes across more of a sleek, polished machine with heart rather than a muddled mess that tries too hard, with a clear and coherent story, some of the best action scenes to come out of a superhero film in recent memory, and a cast of charming, compelling characters that it is easy and exciting to root for. Jenkins succeeds in portraying the softer side of Diana coupled with her incredible strength in a superhero origin tale that is engaging from the sands of Themyscira to a snowy war-torn village. The DCEU has been off to a stumbling start, but hopefully the bombastic Wonder Woman will help garner some momentum that will carry into November’s upcoming Justice League and beyond.

Overall rating: 9/10

WARNING: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED.

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Writing Rewind #3: Wings of Fate Chapter 1 Part 2

I can feel a headache brewing already… which means it’s time for part 3!

Last time, we met our beloved hero, Heiwa, who lives in the countryside with his grouchy grandmother and his terminally-ill mother. Now, we get the first taste of the plot, as Heiwa receives a mysterious (and likely poorly written) letter…

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

HERE WE GO! To set the scene, Heiwa just got some mail…

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I mean… I invented a new branch of the military for this story, and that probably was… erroneous. Definitely would have applied a different tactic if I were writing this for the first time today, but I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, because it would require a massive overhaul. Regardless, on a superficial level, I could definitely improve the way my fictional military branch presents itself. That letter is just a big ol’ ball of NOPE.

Here are the changes I pinpointed…

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Ahhhhhh, so much to cut out, so little time! Well, actually, I do have time; that’s why I’m doing this. Anyway… like so many parts before this, it suffers from “Too Much Detail” syndrome, and the only cure is extensive slashing. The letter is way too verbose, and there’s also some phrasing to rework, but nothing that major (for once).

Here’s the fixed version:

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Short, sweet (I guess), and to the point. Well… the point was for the letter to be vague, but intriguing. And the shorter it is, the better, so not to over-emphasize.

Later, Heiwa is watching television with his mother… in WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL. But we do learn a bit about Heiwa’s deceased cliche – I mean, father.

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In ninth grade, I obviously did not know the difference between “interlude” and “prelude.” So, that’s great. Also, I think Izumi has “smiled weakly” three times in this chapter alone, and TWICE in this segment. Good grief.

My initial scan yields this:

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Again with the emerald orbs!!!!! GAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Anyway, per usual, there’s a lot to rework to fix some awkward phrasing and general issues, and a couple of cringe-worthy and superfluous sentences to axe.

Here is the fixed version:ch1p2secondfixed

Much more concise, and nothing was lost. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of trying to ensure the reader knows EXACTLY what you are trying to day, but really, I think it’s more about providing the framework, and allowing them to build their own mental picture around it. You don’t need to provide them with a fully-furnished house and try to convey each little feature in painstaking detail. There’s a balance to be had; a balance that eluded me way back when…

Lastly, to bring chapter one to a close, we have our hero reflecting on his day…

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WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK, PAST ALLIE?!?!! I reread this and whispered “oh my god” under my breath about sixteen times. I cringed myself into the next plane of existence. This is utterly AGONIZING, from “jade colored eyes” to “please, star” and everything else. I mean, the concept itself is totally cringe-inducing, but I definitely can make it less so without cutting the whole thing out… though I really, really want to. Sadly, (SPOILER ALERT) the “wishing star” theme returns later… much later, though. So I have time to recover from this.

So, obviously, I was able to concoct some changes…

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There’s some of the typical wording fixes to make, but it’s going to be quite a hefty order to make this less cringe-y. Time to grab my trusty scissors (also known as ctrl + x) and get to work!

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Ahhhhhh. So much shorter. So much less… painful to read.

I was a real sentimental fiend back in the day, so there will be more instances of this type of (cliche-riddled, hopelessly optimistic, saccharine) writing as we proceed… I can hardly wait to share it with you. The good thing is, it’s definitely making for a cautionary tale, and even though I can’t actually steer my past self away from this writing, it’s already been a helpful experience to be able to recognize my errors and fix them now, so many years after the fact.

Next time, we learn about the “mission”… sort of. Secrets will remain, but we also get to meet some other members of our main cast! And a certain icy general might make another appearance, so stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Mission. Until next time!

Film Review: Everything, Everything (2017)

Dir: Stella Meghie
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson
Runtime: 1hr 36min
Spoiler Level: Light, mostly; discussion of the ending will be below a “Read More” and will be preceded by a bold warning.

I have a policy about films with approval rating below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is to not spend money to see them in theaters unless I have some sort of investment in the story/previous films/source material. Even scores in the 50’s are questionable. But, since I read and enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s YA novel Everything, Everything last year, I figured I might as well head out for Tightwad Tuesday and see how well the pages transitioned to screen.

16601948_699564803538333_7623149780067371960_o.jpgEverything, Everything follows 18-year-old Maddy (Stenberg), who suffers from an illness that severely cripples her immune system and basically makes it impossible for her to go outside. But when Olly (Robinson), a boy her age, moves in next door, Maddy starts to wonder even more about what she is missing out on. As she and Olly grow closer, Maddy decides that she wants to experience everything, no matter the cost.

Overall, I’m not a stickler who believes that book to movie adaptations have to be 100% accurate and true to the book, so I’m usually not a “the book is so much better” person. For a novel to make the leap to screen, changes always have to be made. Always. Sometimes, the changes can be for the better, as with The Lord of the Rings, or they at least stick mainly to the source material, like Harry Potter. However, they can also totally decimate the work on which they are based, like the Percy Jackson movies. Sea of Monsters is flat-out unforgivable.

Luckily, Everything, Everything, while it trims plot-lines and neutralizes characters, doesn’t fall into the “decimated” category. From what I remember of the novel, the film stays close, and the heart of the work – Maddy’s relationship with Olly, and her evolution as a person – is not severely damaged by the changes. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but I’d say it’s acceptable, and nowhere near Percy Jackson territory.

Stenberg is charming and bright as main character Maddy, and Robinson is equally as effective as her co-lead, Olly, although he does need a haircut. I’m glad he managed to escape that crazy dinosaur park, though. Unfortunately, Olly also gets less development than Maddy; they touch on his history and the issues he’s facing with his family, but don’t explore as deep as the book does, which made his character seem “unresolved” in some ways. He’s kind of relegated to “cute boy next door with some emotional baggage” but doesn’t get as much exploration or resolution. As a pair, their chemistry is convincing, but their connection suffers from the same pitfalls as several similar films/projects; it treads the dangerous line of “insta-love.” I didn’t really feel that way about the book, as their relationship seemed to grow over a greater length of time and with much more conversation, but in the movie, while their relationship is totally adorable, the risks that Maddy ends up taking just seem… a bit rash. But hey, it’s teenage romance, and maybe I’m getting jaded in my old age. I will say that as a duo, Maddy and Olly are mega adorable and felt more or less like a real young couple than some unrealistic idealization of teen romance.

The “texting” sequences are especially impressive and engaging; I liked the visualization of Olly and Maddy being inside Maddy’s architecture projects, speaking face to face, as opposed to through a screen, as it helps to better portray the development of their romance. The little pop-ups representing their email/text interaction works too, but I’m glad it didn’t dominate the entire film. Could have done without the narration, though; that’s something YA novel adaptations can’t seem to get away from, but it’s a superfluous inclusion that defies the “show not tell” mentality and undermines a viewer’s ability to draw conclusions on their own. Like, there are other ways to include exposition without a narrated info-dump at the beginning. Also, I must say, the astronaut is definitely the best supporting character in the film.

Other supporting characters of the fairly small cast include Maddy’s mom Pauline, played by Anika Noni Rose. Her portrayal is equal parts calculated and loving as she juggles the dual role of mother and doctor and grapples her own demons while dealing with Maddy’s illness. Ana de la Reguera is great in her role as Carla, Maddy’s nurse, as she does a great job of showing how Carla sympathizes with Maddy and wants her to experience at least a few aspects of a “normal” life. But really, it’s Stenberg and Robinson that helm the ship, and they do a fair job of plucking at your heartstrings; it’s easy to root for them and hope for a happy ending, even in the face of such bleak, unrelenting odds.

As far as other elements go, the music is nice; I’m not a big fan of insert songs, but the choices seem to fit the narrative, and the score was charming, if not exactly memorable. I loved how Maddy’s wardrobe changed over the course of the film, reflecting the growth in her character – even Olly trades in his signature black for a spot of color at one point. The sets are decent and the colors pop, and, as I mentioned before, the visuals are utilized in a compelling way. All in all, each portion of the film is solid and comes together smoothly; it looks and sounds great.

If you’re a fan of Yoon’s writing or are a hopeless YA fan (like myself) just looking for a way to pass a rainy day, then Everything, Everything is definitely worth a watch.  It’s a touch cliche, it’s escapist (to a degree), and it’s a love story – all the ingredients of great young adult media But if such content really isn’t your style, it might be wiser to sit this one out.

Overall rating: 7/10

DISCUSSION OF ENDING AND SPOILERS BENEATH THE “CONTINUE READING,” YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Writing Techniques: Music

When it comes to my own writing projects, I typically construct playlists to listen to while working. I LOVE when I read a great book and the author includes a list of songs they listened to while writing, either on their website or in the back pages. It helps readers get a glimpse into their process, in a way – to peek at their inspiration.

The full playlist I listened to while writing I’m With You can be found here. Now, the playlist is quite long, so for this post, I thought I’d take just a few selections from the list and explain the impact they had on the writing process. No major spoilers, though. If you’d like to read I’m With You and see the results of the playlist for yourself, here is the link to buy from Amazon! It’s available in print and e-book formats, and is also available in print on the Barnes and Noble website.

Dead Hearts by Stars
This song was pivotal in the creation and evolution of Remiel as a character. Not only for the lyrics, but also for the general sound, which I found incredibly unique from the first time I heard it. To me, this song evokes sadness, but it also seems cold and detached, even when exploring something very visceral – which was fitting for Rem’s personality.

If There Was No You by Brandi Carlile
Valkyrie and Ramus were created as characters long before the plot of I’m With You was finalized. Their original roles were quite different (one of them was originally a hit-man, one had two-toned hair, etc) and they have undergone many changes in personality and background as the narrative evolved into the final version, but their relationship (both the good aspects and the problematic) remained largely unchanged throughout development. This song was a partial inspiration in that regard, as without the other, their characters would not be complete.

Light by Sleeping at Last
A major idea I tried to explore in the novel was the idea of “family,” though not always in a typical sense. To me, this song emulates the influence/impact a person can have on another, whether it be via familial connection, friendship, or some other meaningful relationship. Since the main characters forge bonds with one another over the course of the story, weaving themselves together into a makeshift family, and they each come to be important to one another in some way, the content of this song seemed very appropriate. Also, I like how it sounds.

People Help the People by Cherry Ghost/Birdy
I think people are more familiar with Birdy’s cover of this song, which is amazing, but I will always prefer the original. I love all of Cherry Ghost’s work, which is criminally underrated. Overall, this song’s tone and sound is what I derived the most inspiration from, but one line in particular is what stands out to me the most, and that is: “And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it,” which reminded me of the sibling relationship between Ciarán and Remiel, and how they support one another.

Dead Man’s Suit by Cherry Ghost
This song sort of served a dual purpose – I consider it thematic for the novel, mostly for the unique sound it has, and also because my play count for this song was extraordinarily high when all was said and done. It’s one of those songs that really hit me when I first heard it, and I never skip it when it comes on shuffle. It is also a partial influence for the character of Ernest Morrigan, Rem and Ciarán’s father, due to some particular lines of lyrics.

Six Weeks by Of Monsters and Men
Along with Your Bones, King and Lionheart, and Silhouettes, this song was pivotal during the writing of chapters 17-19, largely for their sound and lyrical content. Six Weeks, in particular, influenced the development of Cinderflynn as a character, and it, along with some of the other Of Monsters and Men songs on this list (from their first album – the second wasn’t out at the time of the first draft) were on repeat as I wrote those portions of the story, and were a definite factor in the development of the narrative and the overall tone. Of Monsters and Men have a very distinct “mountain sound” to their work that I sought to emulate while writing those chapters, and their songs provided a lot of inspiration.

The Story by Brandi Carlile
In addition to being one of my favorite songs of all time (OF ALL TIME, I TELL YOU), this song was also one I listened to for the general feel of the story/themes. If I hit a snag with writer’s block, this song helped drag me out of it. This song was my rock. I think if the main cast had a theme song to tie them together (you know… like the Power Rangers… or the Planeteers… or the Transformers, maybe) then this would be my choice, because the main characters are bound by their own stories, as well as “the story” that brings them together.

Coming Home (pt. 2) by Skylar Grey 
I listened to this song (the version sans the rap part) while I wrote the closing chapters of the novel, as it definitely struck me as an “ending theme.” It symbolizes the end of a journey; a determination to see something through to the end, until it is time to return “home.” The final stretch of a laborious journey. Etc, etc.

My Silver LiningFirst Aid Kit
This song wasn’t released until I’m With You was in the editing phase, but it still provided a boost of motivation as I worked through rewrites and tweaks to the manuscript. Because if there is anything the main (and supporting) characters needed during their ventures, it was a “silver lining” to their respective circumstances. Also, it’s a total jam, man.

DemonsImagine Dragons
I liked this song for the overall tone and theme, but also as a partial influence for Kaz’s personality and his mentality. Several characters grapple with their own demons over the course of the narrative, so the song is fitting for the plot, but I listened to this particular tune during chapters 23-24, as I tried to convey that, though someone may be plagued by demons, it is not impossible to overcome them.

Believe by Mumford and Sons
This song didn’t come out until after I found out my manuscript was going to be published, but I added it to my playlist during the editing process. To me, the song explores what happens when belief falters and doubt sets in – but also about overcoming those difficulties, or striving to restore dedication in a cause. And that is the main plight that Ciarán faces in the story; his world gets flipped upside down, and he no longer knows what to believe. Through the course of the novel, he must learn to cope with new circumstances; to find belief again, after his perspective gets utterly rearranged.

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

Writing Rewind #2: Wings of Fate – Chapter 1 Part 1

Because the chapters of this monstrosity are so long (the first was 10,000+ words and it’s one of the “shorter” ones if you can believe it) I’m splitting them each into at least 2 parts. Some may even be 3, depending on the content. Since I’m only including snippets instead of the full draft, which means large cuts in plot and context, I will attempt to assemble some semblance of a story from the passages I select. Don’t want y’all to miss out on the extremely well thought out and plausible plot I devised ten years ago!

Last time we dissected the problematic prologue, which introduced a mysterious “mission.” This time, we meet our hero, and my very first original protagonist (of some kind of substance) – Heiwa! So let’s get started with Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter.

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch1p1

*sigh* Here we go again… bogged down with excess description and detail.

If it wasn’t cringe-worthy enough in itself, I envisioned this piece as an “anime/manga,” hence the random Japanese phrases strewn about. But that’s the least of the issues, here, so I’m not going to bother pointing them all out. Rest assured, I am mortified by them.

Every sentence just keeps going, and going, and going, when it has already conveyed the message and does not need any further explanation.

Also, way, way too many adverbs. I’m actually not as anti-adverb as some folks tend to be (within reason), but I do think they should be used sparingly. A decade ago, I was a huge advocate of adverbs; but I didn’t really know better. Still… I look forward to hacking through them. Might get my word count under 200,000 with that alone!

So, an initial scan yields this:

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Time to get rid of that awkward phrasing and those pesky adverbs! Not to mention the overly-descriptive passage about Grandma. Her character becomes clear later through dialogue and her interactions with others, and doesn’t need to be so overt from the get-go. We don’t need a full description in her first appearance. Or ever, really.

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Despite losing some description, Ritsuko’s character and personality still seems to come through, as does her relationship with Heiwa. And it could be done in far less words! Imagine that!

*cracks knuckles* The next bit is going to be… well… a challenge. But it does show just how bloated this entire story is, as there are passages like this throughout the piece.

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SWEET JESUS. Where to START? I almost wish I could highlight all of it in red.

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While some degree of description is necessary for setting and for characterization, as blindly leading a reader into a story probably isn’t wise, I think I laid it on a little too thick. And by “a little,” I mean way too thick. There does need to be set-up of some kind, especially since the story is futuristic, but an exposition dump is almost always a bad way to approach it.

These revelations should be more gradual, especially when it comes to the protag; we’re going to be spending 22 chapters with this guy, so not everything needs to be spelled out right at the beginning. Especially not in such a callous way, either – the listing of his flaws comes off as trying too hard to show what a “screw up” Heiwa is, or to downplay him on purpose; like making a girl protagonist “clumsy” just to give her a flaw. In retrospect, the message doesn’t need to be quite so heavy-handed, as his personality unfolds throughout the introductory chapters and doesn’t need to be foisted upon the reader right at the start.

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The word count for the selection was more or less halved, and nothing was really lost. Everything that needed to be said is still there in a more concise manner. Heck, it could probably be trimmed even more! HECK, I PROBABLY COULD HAVE LEFT IT ALL OUT. But, I digress… onto the next snippet!

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I thought the last section was bad, but now, I… am beginning to regret doing this. I’m not sure I can take it. I might just shrivel up and die of embarrassment.

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FIRST OF ALL, THAT CRINGE-TASTIC RED HIGHLIGHTED SENTENCE HAS GOT TO GO. That is so, so, so bad. “Green orbs.” I am horrified. LAY OFF THE EYE DESCRIPTIONS, ALLIE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Sadly, as I have seen the rest of this work (being the one who wrote it, and all) I know it will only get worse from here on out. Much worse.

Also, lots of awkward wording and phrasing that needs to be refined.

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Whew, the cringe is gone! Well… most of it, anyway.

The last portion for the first part of the chapter (because I don’t think I have the energy to any more of it today… I need a break to ponder my life choices) features another character; Heiwa’s mother, Izumi.

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*gets out the scissors* TIME TO START CUTTING!!!!!!

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Izumi doesn’t need to spell out her entire life story and the progression of her illness all in one chunk of dialogue. Especially since it has already been discussed previously, and it is partially explored in the paragraph that follows it. It’s just too much, and can be narrowed into something that is more efficient.

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AH, much better! So much is gone, but not much is lost. Izumi’s personality and her situation peek through without bombarding the reader with info. Subtlety is a virtue… one I did not understand a decade ago.

That’s it for today – I’ve done enough damage! Next time, we’ll tackle the second half of Chapter 1… which is, unfortunately, similar to the first. We’ll discover what “the letter” means and how it will affect our hero, Heiwa. Hopefully, I can whip the latter half of the chapter into shape without splintering my sanity.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Dir: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russel
Runtime: 2hr16m
Spoiler Level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE UNDER A “READ MORE”)

MV5BMTg2MzI1MTg3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU3NDA2MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgBack in the summer of 2014, I knew nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy, but when Marvel’s film adaptation rolled into theaters, my best friend and I decided to venture out to see it on opening night. I knew there was a raccoon involved, and I do love my nocturnal, trash-eating rodents, so I figured it would be worthy entertainment for a Thursday night.

However, I did not expect it to become my favorite installation in the MCU up to that point. The original Guardians is an action-packed, visually-engrossing space opera laden with laugh-out-loud humor and fantastic music, and 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a worthy sequel and excellent addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, even though it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of quirky charm of the first.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 follows the titular band of space misfits as they continue their travels through space and adapt to their new role as “heroes”, but after a mission goes awry, they must work to resolve their internal conflicts while also navigating various precarious situations, including the question of Star Lord’s parentage, the sisterly rivalry between Nebula and Gamora, and Baby Groot’s inability to understand even the most basic directions.

Naturally, with such a stacked cast, it’s easy for the more “supporting” characters to get shoved aside so the main cast can bask in the spotlight, but GotGv2 does a decent job of balancing the plot and the narrative focus between all of the characters. I think this contributes to the somewhat “nonlinear plot” of the film, as this film is far more character-driven than it is plot-driven, but that’s not necessarily a drawback; in fact, I think it’s the film’s strength. Each character seemed to get their own sizable piece of the action, and in most cases, the character arcs “overlap” to help ensure enough time is devoted to each person/creature. Gamora has to grapple with her dysfunctional relationship with Nebula, which also gives the viewer a better look into Nebula’s motivations. Drax strikes up an unusual (and hilarious) friendship with Mantis, and Rocket finds an unusual kinship with Peter’s old mentor/guardian Yondu (Michael Rooker), which also opens a window into Yondu’s past as a ravager and his history with Peter. Peter struggles to reconcile the dreams he once had about his real father with the reality of his actual father, Ego, in addition to dealing with an “unspoken thing” with Gamora. And Baby Groot is… well, he’s Baby Groot. Every moment he is onscreen is a moment to treasure.

But this focus on the characters only seems to add more of an emotional impact to the film, even if the result is a less “plot-driven” film than the previous one. I mean, while there’s a solid plot and all, the individual stories and plotlines are kind of loosely interwoven until the climax, where they all crash into one another; but instead of stretching the story too thin, I think it adds a unique sort of depth. After all, a film about a superhero team should give adequate screen time to each of the members, and this film does a great job of doing just that. It didn’t feel like anyone got left behind, and certain events over the course of the film packed more of an emotional punch because of the enhanced focus on the entire cast, not only the leads; this is especially apparent in the treatment of Yondu and Nebula, who get more of a layered portrayal this time around.

New additions to the cast include Pom Klementieff as the empath, Mantis, who expresses a genuine naivete and wide-eyed sweetness that balances out some of the “rougher” members of the team. Mantis contributes to a lot of big laughs throughout the film, especially through her interactions with Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Kurt Russell oozes confidence and charisma as Star Lord’s father, Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki is “gold” in her appearance as High Priestess Ayesha of the Sovereign, though her screen time is limited. Also, Sly Stallone is in this for a hot second – didn’t know that until I saw the opening credits.

Much like with the first film, the music in this film is fitting for the plot and all around fantastic to listen to, and the effects are amazing, per usual – especially the design of Ego’s Planet. There’s plenty of action, and several sequences that are just an absolute blast to watch, especially in IMAX/3D. Plus, for a film/property that is generally more light-hearted in tone than other Marvel installments, GotGv2 isn’t afraid to land a roundhouse kick right to your feels in a couple of spots. Unlike Mantis, the film is beautiful – on the inside, and the outside.

Alas, with the good comes the bad; while the film features several legitimately hilarious moments (I’ll discuss a couple of them under the spoiler cut), some of the humor feels a bit forced and awkward, especially in the beginning – though obviously, this might differ for other folks depending on their sense of humor. It takes a bit of time for the film to find its groove, and a few jokes failed to hit the mark. However, Drax (along with his interaction with Mantis) is definitely the comedic heart of the film, along with the lovable Baby Groot. Everyone gets a few quips, and the film eventually finds a rhythm and sticks to it, despite a faltering start.

If you’re a fan of the first film, or just love a good, humorous jaunt through the distant reaches of the universe with a twig, a couple of aliens, a human/celestial, and a cybernetically-engineered trash panda, then prepare yourself to get hooked on a feelin’ (again) by Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2.

Overall rating: 9/10

SPOILERS BENEATH THE “READ MORE,” YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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