2017 in Review

FGT100717

With 2017 ready to bow out and 2018 coming to invade, I think I can honestly say that this past year was a good one.

Personally, and I’ll keep it short since this blog is mostly about my hobbies, was pretty good. The wife and I bought a big dumb house (hooray mortgage) that we pretty much redid (painting really blows). The big dog ended up having heartworms, so yeah, that was fun. While the little one had to get gnarly teeth pulled. Other than spending a metric shit ton of money this year, all in all, it went swimmingly. Oh, and I added to my anime-inspired tattoo sleeve – added Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke to my Cowboy Bebop. Next up: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I’ll leave my writing for the last since that’ll be the longest. In terms of my other hobbies I tend to blog about – I’ve seen/read some badass things this year. From movies to TV shows to books, I can say with aplomb this year was excellent. Now I know that I should have done some more blogs this year about all of the things aforementioned, but sometimes I didn’t want to spoil things (aka The Last Jedi, Stranger Things 2). So I might do a post about them this coming year.

I have a new favorite show: The 100. I seriously don’t know how I missed it until this year, probably the whole YA/CW stigma. But damn, this show is amazing and gets better with each season. One of my other favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire, ended this year and I am super sadface. I will say that this season was stunning and one character’s death was probably the most well done TV death I have ever seen. Just beautiful. Emotional.

I’d have to say IT was probably the single best movie I saw all year. It (pun intended) was just perfect. It had everything – tension, drama, scares, humor, teenage angst. I just flat out loved it from start to finish. I’ll stand by it, but I loved The Last Jedi (come fight me bro). TLJ really flipped the Star Wars world on its collective head and I loved every minute of it. OK not every minute because that one scene with that one character (we all know what I’m talking about) was very cheesy. And I don’t care if people hate it, I loved it. It’s no Empire, but definitely up there with the best of them. Some of my other top films seen this year were VVitch, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049.

This year, my goal was to read 30 books. While I didn’t reach that goal, I did finish with a respectable 27.5 (still reading that other half but won’t finish prior to year end). A few of those books were rereads (Elantris, Watership Down, Voyage of Jerle Shannara) but most were brand new. Majority of them were fantasy, but I did dip my toe into YA this year (more on that later). A couple of them are beta reads for critique partners, but I’m counting those because they are full manuscripts. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been published because someone took the great effort to write them (both were excellent btw). I’d say Blood Song and Nevernight were the top two new books read this year. I will admit, I had to put down three others due to first person POV, I just have such a hard time with 1st person. So hard.

Now to the meat of this year end review – my own writing.

2017 was illuminating for a multitude of reasons. I know I don’t know shit, but I feel like this year really helped clean the muck off so to speak. At the tail end of 2016, I worked with an agent/editor on my passion project. After he lovingly tore it apart, I truly came to understand what the story needed to become – albeit to a point. I spent years writing this thing and in one fell swoop, I learned my story was trite and boring. Overdone. It was disheartening to hear it. But ever the optimist (hey I’m a Chicago Cubs fan so back off) I set my mind to fixing this story of Brynn and Hunter, vengeance v. duty of faith. Long story short, I thought I fixed this story. But I was wrong.

Something just didn’t feel right about it. I changed many things: the setting, the religion, the magic system, points of view. But it still didn’t feel complete. And then I went to my first writer’s conference. Though I grew up in the shadow of Chicago, there really wasn’t a huge writing fellowship, a group of fellow writers. Twitter has really helped grow my world in that manner, but the big thing was moving to Texas. The Writers League of Texas is amazing. I won’t stroke the ego anymore than this, but joining the WLT has been a boon. And their annual conference really helped a ton. I met some great writer friends and had some interesting ideas pop into my head.

You know how they always say you should listen to your wife, well in this case, I should have. Even though she hasn’t read much of my writing (waiting until I’m satisfied with the story) she has always said my style is very YA. So after hearing this and talking about my story at the conference, I came to the revelation it should be YA. I did the edits, toned things down, de-aged the characters, all the fun YA stuff. The story really did pop more. But, I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

I know YA is trending toward more adult themes like sex and violence, but even with toning the story down, it didn’t feel right. I have a creepy sick villain and he had to be taken out in the YA version. That didn’t sit well with me. My main character, Brynn, likes to swear (same with a sky pirate). I didn’t want to lose all of that. But I tried. So I ended up taking the darker parts/characters/plots out and went to put that into a separate book. Nearly finished with that book. But always in the back of my noggin was the original plan for my trilogy. I couldn’t shake it.

And then came the true enlightenment. And it came while playing Final Fantasy IX (of all things).

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing that game, I highly suggest it. The reason that game inspired me was the whole package it contains – humor, tragedy, tension, rage, friendship, love, idea of self, fast pacing, darkness. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is my story contains all of that. Yes, I tend to write more YA, but the story has to have that darkness to it, that grimness. It has to be dense, fully fleshed out, the world-building has to be adult level. But that doesn’t mean my YA writing can’t fit into that mold. They can co-exist. And then I remembered something that agent/editor said to me – I can write different characters or scenes using different genres. For example, my main characters of Brynn and Hunter can stay more YA style. It fits them. It always has. Minus the swearing by Brynn. My soldier character is definitely grimdark. He sees so much violence, commits violence and has a bleak outlook on life, wavering confidence in his honor. My villain was written to be more like a horror character, especially because he deals with the supernatural. Top it off, I changed the setting again, took the premise of my magic system from a separate WIP, changed some POVs, took out a YA character and gave her a complete separate story. Now I think I’m finally satisfied on where the story sits.

To put all that into perspective, none of this would have come about if I didn’t open myself up to other writers. I have 4 excellent CPs. One (Amanda) I met at the conference, and the other 3 (Claire, Lana, Dewey) via Twitter. What has really helped me the most is by reading their stories. Amanda writes YA fantasy about mermaids and Atlantis. Lana about Slavic mythology and witches (in YA first person no less). Dewey writes Middle Grade adventure/fantasy. And Claire does YA fantasy/sci-fi. Out of all four of them, Claire’s stories are the ones I would veer toward normally. And that is the beauty of having CPs. I’m getting a chance to broaden my horizons, read different types of stories and viewing them in a different mindset than just plan ole reading them. Working with CPs gives the opportunity to read someone else’s story, but also provide constructive feedback, in addition to receiving it. Seeing these other genres/stories has opened my eyes to what my own story is missing. The ideas just won’t stop. I even bring a critical eye to published authors works, see what they did, how it works. It has been amazing to have this transformation and it has really set me up for success that I didn’t have in the past.

Also, even if they don’t read this, I really just wanted to give a massive shout-out to Amanda, Claire, Lana, and Dewey! Thank you all!

Even though my goal for 2017 was to get on the path to publication, I think I can say I achieved it. Sure I haven’t scored an agent, but damn, they would’ve had a shitty story. I know that what I learned this year has set me up for success this coming year. My goal for 2018 is to land that agent. Without all the growth this year, I know it never would have happened.

Bring on 2018!

What I’ve Seen: IT

download (1)  IT by Andy Muschietti

Brief Summary:

Based on the Stephen King novel (and updated to take place in 1988-89), the movie follows seven teenage kids as they are haunted by a strange creature – It. It takes the form of multiple fears for the children: sometimes as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a Leper, a headless boy, among others. It is an ancient evil that comes back every 27 years to feed, mostly on young children, by use of their fear. After the seven friends – the Losers Club – all realize they have seen the creature, they come together to defeat it.

What works:

One thing Stephen King does well, is create believable friendships of children (see Stand by Me). If you have ever read the book IT, then you know the Losers Club are excellent characters, they feel real, they talk like real friends, you care about them. The 1990 TV miniseries, you didn’t feel that, but in this movie, damn you definitely feel like these kids are actually friends. From the snappy dialogue – boasting and roasting, to the in-fighting of teenage friends, this group feels so realistic, I found myself naming my friends at that age in their roles. The child actors were so into their roles, it didn’t feel forced at all and the movie stood taller because of it.

Pennywise was creepy AF. Tim Curry will always be Pennywise to me, but that is because I was growing up when that TV miniseries came out. He creeped me the hell out (still does), but Bill Skarsgard more than ably fills in as the clown of evil. In fact, he is much more creepy than Tim Curry, much more evil, more childish, more brutish and all around terrifying. I usually don’t get scared in horror movies, but he definitely gave me some goosebumps.

The jumps & scares. I hate torture porn (like Hostel & the Saw movies after the first one). Don’t like it and don’t think it is scary. I love horror movies with slow burns, ratcheting up the tension, playing on fears. IT does this to a T. Every scare was well-placed and felt real, especially relating as a teenager. Those things would have scared the piss out of me and I found myself jumping a few times when the scare came. But the best part was because of some the absurdity of Pennywise. The herky-jerky movements were amazing and really sold the terror of the scene.

The absolute best thing about IT was the humor. I already mentioned the kid actors being awesome, but they were laugh out loud sometimes. It made the movie fun. Really fun. And then the theater would laugh at itself after the scares because we all agreed it was fun. And to top it all off, the rock fight was just a blast, I don’t think a scene made me laugh as hard as the start of it in quite a long time.

What didn’t work:

I found very little I didn’t like with this movie. The only thing I could nitpick is the one scene where Pennywise did his dance. I know that scene was humorous and gonna make a popular gif, but it was a bit out of place for me.

Rating:

5 out of 5

I absolutely loved this movie! When I saw they were remaking IT, I was ecstatic, I loved the book and I still enjoy the TV miniseries. I eagerly waited for more to come out and the marketing of this movie was fantastic – there were red balloons all over Austin, TX the day of release. This movie scared me, made me laugh, and all around was such a fun time, I can’t wait to see it again.

What I’ve Watched: The VVitch

The_Witch_posterThe VVitch via Prime.

Brief Summary:

Taking place in the early 1600s, a Puritan family is ousted from their community due to their faith. Taking up residence near a foreboding forest, the family settles and builds a farm, though the crops are failing. When Thomasin, the oldest daughter, is playing with the newborn child, it is abruptly taken from her without her understanding how. The child, taken by a strange older naked woman murders the child. Thomasin is accused by her mother and twin younger siblings of witchcraft. Her family being tormented by the eerie world around them pushes their faith to the test. And their survival in a harsh land.

What works:

Holy eff this movie is creepy in all the right ways! This isn’t a standard horror movie at all. There are maybe only one or two actual moments of jump. It is a slow burn, and it is the world the characters live in that makes it scary. I truly loved this form of story, the cheap thrills grow old after a while.

The biggest thing that makes it creepy is the music. I mean seriously, this music is so eerie that it was a power unto itself. The guy created a hodgepodge of instruments together and called it the Apprehension Engine. (for real, check it out online) The music is so profound and dark that each scene is magnified because of it. And the slow burn of the story goes hand in hand with the music.

One really cool tidbit (and could really turn off casual viewers) is that the characters speak in the literal language of the time. They say “thee” and “thine” as well as an array of other phrases that aren’t commonplace anymore. It really made me pay closer attention to the world than I would have if they used modern English. I thought it was brilliant. It was also great the director only used natural light, which made the night scenes all the more frightening.

Anna Taylor-Joy was amazing as Thomasin. There was an air of the unknown in her performance, but it was so grounded that it made her believable. She is devout in her faith, but everything happening to and around her family shakes that belief. While I loved the father and mother (both Game of Thrones alums), it was Thomasin’s movie.

Add in the fact that the witches were so damned creepy, it was excellent.

What didn’t work:

Nothing. And I mean that. This movie was flawless.

Rating:

5 out of 5

I don’t know how this movie didn’t get more press or attention. It was absolutely scary on every level. I don’t get scared all the easy from movies, but this one definitely had me on the edge. The world was so perfect that after 5 minutes I forgot it was a different time period altogether. And the ending was just so creepy and vivid. I loved this movie!

What I’ve Watched: Ghost in the Shell

past-projections-1421869

Ghost in the Shell (live action) came out in 2017 and just released on DVD/Blue-Ray.

Brief Summary:

For those not familiar with anime or anything that is awesome, then you probably don’t realize that this movie is based on a famous anime/manga series. In the near future, humans are routinely “upgraded” via cyber enhancements (arms, faces, bodies, mind, all that jazz). But the next step is creating a full-blown cyborg with a human mind. Enter Major. She is the first of her kind, and becomes a sort of badass counter-terrorism cop. Until she learns more and more about her past. And then all hell breaks loose because robots don’t know how to stop when on a warpath of human vengeance.

What works:

Boy howdy is this film gorgeous to look at! The story takes place in a metropolis and advertising has gone above and beyond our current means. Giant holograms show the newest products. It is simply beautiful to look at. This film really fills this world with gorgeous imagery that James Cameron would rival. This is really the star of the movie.

The theory of self is prevalent and I think it works. Contrary to many complaints this movie received prior to release (from Westernizing a classic Eastern series, whitewashing, etc.) I thought this movie maintained the base element of the GitS story. This is about a cyborg with a human brain, but no memory of her past. A good story begs the questions of why me? Who am I? And I think this movie did a good job showing this (though there could have been more additions to it to make it truly pop).

Scarlett Johansson was great. I don’t care about the whitewashing aspect (though I get it from some ends), she was the Major in my mind. Take out the fact she is white, and you have the perfect actress for this role. If you have seen the anime, then you know that Major is stoic, calm, kick-ass, holds-no bar and slightly humorous. This is what we have come to expect from ScarJo. I thought she perfectly captured the Major.

The rest of the cast was spot on. I loved the guy who played Batou and obviously the Chief was fantastic. Him even speaking Japanese was a good way of balancing this world. He was also a bad ass m’effer if you catch my meaning.

What doesn’t work:

While I loved the basic plot and all the action scenes, I felt like there were times the movie just plodded along. I think the director/writers wanted to walk the line between true cyberpunk and action that they should have just chosen one side. This is where the anime completely outshines the live-action movie. Pick one and go with it.

Along those same lines, I think the backstory was a bit meh. I think they should have weaved more in with the action and thus going with the more cyberpunk aspect of the two. Major is completely complex, as well as cybergentics in general that they didn’t do enough to highlight that.

Pre-conceived notions. What I mean is that this movie got so much criticism before it even got released. From the whitewashing conundrum to the fact this is based on a beloved anime/manga, too many people panned this movie. And I think that played a part in this movie not working. Sure the director, actors, anime creator all weighed in on it, but I think subconsciously that took away from what truly could have been amazing. Diehard fans will always bitch about the sanctity of their favorite works (myself included!) but I think the directors didn’t have the guts to use the source enough, thus going in a different direction which came out as an action movie with superhero-like tropes. It was always going to be tricky to appease the fans, but going for the masses was a misstep here and all the bad criticism before the movie even started filming had to have had some sway on the movie as a whole and I certainly felt it while watching it.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5

I truly enjoyed this movie. I really did. Though I wish it had the sense to go more closely to the source material because that is so rich in itself. The visuals are wow and I liked the actors chosen. Sure the dialogue was a bit blah, but all in all, I think this movie was good, not great, but good.

What I’ve Watched: Wonder Woman

past-projections-1421869

Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins & Zack Synder. My first movie review for this site will be of the DC Comics Universe film.

Brief Summary:

Introduced into the movieverse in Batman V Superman, Wonder Woman gets her own spin-off/origin story. With the current craze of superhero movies, this was bound to happen. Picking up from a thread in the BvS movie, Diana Prince in present day receives a gift from Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) in the form of an original photograph of her and some unknown men in WWI attire. From there, the viewer is brought back into Diana’s memories as a child living among her Amazon family (yes those mythical Amazon women of great strength and ardor!) Diana’s mother doesn’t want her to train to be a warrior, but her aunt begins to train her in secret. The reason is that the Amazons are the only ones who can defeat the second-coming of Ares, the God of War. Montage happens and it is then we are introduced to Steve, an American spy, who magically comes into the island of the Amazons. Followed by Germans, Diana and the Amazons are pulled into the world against their wishes. Diana leaves with Steve with the idea that she is meant to fight Ares and stop the great war. Normal superhero movie stuff happens and people die, the hero has moments of disillusion, but eventually beats the bad guy.

What works:

Who doesn’t want to see a kick-ass Amazon on the big screen??? I mean seriously, who wouldn’t want that? The mythos of the Amazons are a font waiting to be mined. I studied Archaeology and the Amazons are a gift that should have seen more screen time in movie history.

Diana’s Wonder Woman is such a nuanced character that Gal Gadot was perfection playing her. There is the level of bad-ass and nurturer within Gadot’s performance that is the essence of Diana. She will fight for what is right, but also doesn’t want to fight just to fight. But as all heroes must overcome, Diana had to justify her actions to herself, whether her belief was right or wrong. Gal Gadot stole the show in that regard.

Unlike most superhero movies, this movie had a relatively light tone, even against the backdrop of WWI. The rapport between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine made the characters feel real and life-like like no other superhero movie since The Dark Knight. The stakes were high, but they never felt like it was world-breaking, only high for the main characters, which was a breath of fresh air in the DCU or MCU. I enjoyed the smaller personal stakes vs the world stakes. Yes it was there with Ares, but it wasn’t the sole focus of the film.

I enjoyed the way Diana views war in general. She is a warrior, but she doesn’t want to fight for the sake of fighting, she wants peace and fights because she has to. I thought it was a good metaphor for WWI in general. People were drawn into that war only because they had to (and I’m not just speaking toward America here). The world had shifted at that time and a great calamity had come to the world, but many fought because they had to. I liked how the movie paralleled that motif on a personal level.

The casting was spot-on and I thought the movie worked well with the dialogue, the practicality of a superhero/goddess in the midst of early 20th century Europe, the pacing, the plot overall and the climax.

What doesn’t work:

Too much slow motion! I can’t stress enough how this took me out of the film. Way too much of the slow motion in the fights from the very first moment. I don’t like that type of visual story-telling. I can deal with it in bits, but this was way too much.

Also, way too much of Diana’s hair blowing in the wind during the slow motion. It was like a music video of a pop singer.

I understand that Diana’s whole thing is love conquers all, but I felt it was too rushed and a bit heavy-handed with the addition of her and Steve having sex. I thought the whole scene of them dancing was amazing and they could have shared a kiss then and there. I didn’t need the next scene. It just didn’t fit for me in the scheme of things.

Was it me or did Ares look like he stepped out of a Skyrim commerical??

Rating:

4.5 out of 5.

Definitely the best movie of the DCU by far. I think the direction of the character is amazing and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Diana’s Wonder Woman.