January

It’s been a while, I know. There’s lots to write about, but not just yet. As I start to get back into actively using this site, I’m planning on writing an update blog post and a review. For now, however, I thought I’d share this.  I looked back through some of my previous work, and this attempt at poetry stood out to me. Enjoy!

The air bites my skin and fills my ears with every gust

As I carry groceries from the car,

The sign from the store still lingering

‘Now hiring, inquire inside.’

It’s been nearly a week since I got the call.

Their loss, I’m supposed to think.

You got their attention, didn’t you?

Three whole interviews!

This was supposed to be my new start.

The red door squeaks open, louder than usual.

There’s a deafening quiet to the cramped foyer.

I drop my keys into my bag.

Mail’s here. None for me. Up the steps I go.

3+ years of experience. New beginnings.

That practice isn’t covered under your plan.

New member discounts through the 15th.

Tell me how you handle feedback.

There’s nothing new about this. I’ve heard it all before.

Stray dead leaves flutter on the branches

outside my window, toughing out the winter.

If you can call this winter. It’s barely snowed.

When did winters lose their longevity?

I could start tomorrow with them doing…something.

What’s a good song to learn first?

3+ years of experience. Again.

My room is a mess. Some tea sounds nice.

I suppose it’s all too new to judge, but still…

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Nostalgia in Film

Musicals are tricky. Because they’re not super popular like Star Wars or Harry Potter, there’s a financial risk involved with it. When done properly, however, they’re worth the risk.

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La La Land’s premise is almost too simple, following two love-struck artists struggling to make it in Los Angeles. Through failed auditions and soul crushing record deals, Mia and Sebastian’s dreams are what carry them through their time together. They challenge each other to be true to their passions, even when the unforgiving nature of show business beats them into the ground.

La La Land is one of those movies that’s great because of how it was made more than the story itself. Most of the songs are done in one uncut take, which adds a certain energy to each scene. Costumes and locations are designed in such a way to infuse the urban sprawl of L.A. with bright nostalgia, paying homage to classic films and iconic landmarks around the city. Ryan Gosling had to learn to play piano for the film. Emma Stone and Gosling were both singing on set. The effort that went into making this movie shows, and that’s probably why it works as well as it does.

It’s rare to find a movie-musical that’s so grounded, positive, and all around inspiring to dreamers everywhere. Flitting between whimsical and painful with relative ease, the movie is engaging from start to finish. The characters are somewhat lacking in true depth, but the theme of dreaming in spite of all is a driving force into this movie and somehow more timely than ever.

I’ll keep it short this week, seeing as the actual story isn’t all that complicated. If you get the chance to check out La La Land, I highly encourage it.

 

If you’ve seen La La Land, let me know what your thoughts are. Share if you liked it!

 

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!

 

Is Brand Extension a Problem in Entertainment?

I’ll answer the question posed in the title right now: it honestly depends. With several exceptions, the most anticipated films set to come out in the next few years are associated with Marvel, Star Wars, DC, and Transformers. Several of these movies have been fantastic triumphs that explore the human condition in a way few popular movies have managed to since. Others are simply an excuse to watch things explode on a big screen. Now the Harry Potter universe joins their ranks.

The question about brand extension is especially relevant to Harry Potter, given that very few people asked for this specific movie. When The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came out, I assumed the film industry was finished with the Wizarding World for some time. The movies had reached the end of the books. The final scene at Platform nine and three quarters played out almost exactly the way I envisioned it when I read it, right down to the music.

It was a fantastic ending to a record-breaking series, which begs a question: Why make a movie about a completely unknown character set in the same universe who loses a bunch of animals in 1920s New York? I’ll answer that after I talk about the plot.

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***Spoiler Alert***

It turns out the ‘20s was a terrifying time for witches and wizards everywhere. The shadow of Gellert Grindelwald, the most powerful dark wizard at the time, lurks in the backdrop as havoc is wreaked around the world, and now, in 1927, strange and mysterious things are happening in New York City.

We follow two interwoven stories throughout the movie. The first is of Newt Scamander, the Wizarding equivalent of Charles Darwin, who has stopped briefly in New York towards the end of extensive travels around the world. However,  a mix-up with Jacob (a No-Mag, the American term for a muggle) leads to Scamander’s false arrest by ex-auror Tina Goldstein, the loss of his case and even more of his creatures. With the American wizard’s strict government aware of his unregistered presence, Scamander, Tina, her sister Queenie, and Jacob must avoid them to recover his specimens before they expose the existence of witches and wizards.

Meanwhile, Percival Graves, Auror and Director of Magical Security, is tracking down the source of magical destruction around the city. He believes that Credence, a teenage orphan associated with a witch-hunting propaganda cult, has information about an Obscurus, a powerful parasite that manifests itself in young witches and wizards who repress their abilities. After escalating incidents leads to several deaths, Graves gives up on Credence’s abilities and blames Scamander for the incident, only to learn shortly after that Credence is the Obscurus. In a fit of rage, Credence unleashes the Obscurus and terrorizes the city.

Scamander and Graves confront each other indirectly over Credence. Scamander and Tina work together to calm him down, believing that Scamander can remove the Obscurus from Credence. Graves, however, attempts to convince Credence that he can help him more than Scamander. It all comes to naught, however, as every member of magical law enforcement in New York descend upon Credence, destroying him.

When Graves declares his true intention of releasing the Obscurus to expose the magical world, Scamander figures out Graves isn’t who he says he is. With a quick cast of ‘revelio’ and assistance from one of his creatures, Graves’ disguise disappears, revealing the dark Grindelwald in his place. With Grindelwald under arrest, Scamander uses his creatures to erase the incident of the Obscurus from the minds of the No-Mag population, including, to Queenie’s dismay, Jacob, and leaves for London.

***Spoilers Over***

If the lengthy description didn’t give it away, this is a busy movie, and there are minor plot threads I didn’t even bother touching. It’s setting up a franchise and introducing us to unfamiliar aspects of a beloved universe with swaths of adoring and unforgiving fans. Which brings me back to a question posed earlier: of all the topics in the Wizarding World, why this one?

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As it turns out, this spinoff is more authentic than any of the other Harry Potter films. We’ve never met any of these characters before. There’s no opportunity to say ‘that’s not how he was in the books’ or ‘it was better in the books.’ The originality makes it much easier to lose yourself in the 1920s aesthetic and enjoy Scamander stammering awkwardly as the introverted explorer slowly learns to open up or marvel at Graves’ hypnotic focus as he executes his duties with precision.

The lessons this story teaches are fairly obvious ones, but the stories of these characters makes the lessons so resonant. The controlling nature of the wizarding government draws some parallels to the discussions about  government control of its citizens, keeping Queenie and Jacob apart from a burgeoning attraction that pains them throughout the film. The Obscurus sends a blatant message about the risks of hiding your true self, and you can see through Credence’s toxic circumstances why someone could so willingly repress who he or she really is (and the dangers of doing so).

The biggest reason this movie works so well is because of the time period. Not only does this movie tell a fairly succinct story in and of itself, the reveal of Graves being Grindelwald in disguise opens up a trove of untold history in the Wizarding World. After all, Grindelwald was touted as the most powerful dark wizard of modern times before Voldemort rose to power. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, since we know so little about this period of Wizarding history.

I went into this movie with a lot of skepticism. No one I knew asked for a movie about an obscure author of an in-universe textbook. It seemed like a push from Warner Brothers to milk more money out of the Harry Potter name, even if JK Rowling, one of the most authentic and generous women in the entertainment industry, wrote the screenplay. Its deeply constructed world and slightly less deep emotional well made the film far more enjoyable than I anticipated. Even though spinoffs and brand extension are a plague to many moviegoers out there, Fantastic Beasts is a fine example of  how to do it properly.

 

If you’ve seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, let me know what your thoughts are. Share if you liked it!

I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!

On Poetry: Happy Monday!

Reviewing old projects can be useful to see how far you’ve come as a writer.Last week I was reviewing some of my high school writings just to see what I had written when I was younger.

Turns out we ended up focusing a lot on poetry. I mean, a ton of poetry. Besides a couple short stories, a 5-minute script, and some descriptive exercises, it was all poetry. Some of it was halfway decent, too.

Why is poetry such a heavy focus in English classes? It’s not a rhetorical question. I’m genuinely curious. Is it because of the precise nature of every single word, line break, and punctuation that loads every stanza with meaning? Maybe becase it’s been around for centuries? Does it have to do with the diversity of the genre? Haikus, limericks, pantoums, and epics. Okay, I haven’t tried writing an epic poem, but my teachers introduced me to a bunch of diferent styles over the years. I’ll have to look it up this week.

Personally, the deliberate nature of poetry always intimidated me. I can write a short story fairly easily and then edit it later, but something about the significance of cadence, rhyme scheme, alliteration, and a plethora of ther things add more pressure to write the perfect words in the perfect order. That weight makes each work more difficult edit, so I always hesitate to give feedback when I see poetry in my writing group.

Then again, people grow when they try new things. Even though I don’t enjoy writing poetry, I’ve written some excellent poems in the past, meaning I have the potential to write more good poems. I’ll be trying to write some original poetry going forward while I edit Elements and develop my next book.

The rest of the week awaits. Happy Monday!

What’s Next?

“2016 was the worst.”

If you haven’t seen or heard that expression at some point during the year, I would be beyond impressed. Between dramatic shifts in the political climate, worsening of humanitarian crises across the globe, and a slew of celebrity deaths, it’s been a tough year for humanity and the planet.

Not everything was terrible about 2016, however. Renewable energy sources have grown more affordable than every, there were notable moments of compassion amidst the chaos of mass shootings and civil wars, and despite an overwhelming number of dissappointing blockbusters, surpising gems such as Zootopia, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them delighted audiences (review pending on the latter, since I may need to see it a second time).

Personally, 2016 was rough. I waded through tricky employment situations all year long, which in turn led to some serious effects on my writing productivity. Hence, my absence since early November.

I also realized I’m not nearly as well as I thought I was, mentally. Someday soon I’d like to write it all down and share those revelations to people, but not just yet. I’m still figuring it all out.

It wasn’t an awful year, though. I took several road trips to visit people and meet some new ones, connected with a bunch of incredible writers and learned a whole bunch about how the world worked.

As a writer, I took ninth place in a writing contest, finished both the first and second drafts of Elements, and started my second novel, Uncommon Eyes. Not too shabby, and there’s definitely room to grow.

Writing all this down certainly helps me look at everything anew. Yes, this past year was a challenge, but there was a lot that came out of it that I’ll be able to build on moving forward this year. A positive attitude goes a long way, right?

Since it’s the time of making goals, here’s what I plan on doing for my writing this year:

  • Send Draft 3 of Elements to an editor, possibly an agent, by March 1st
  • Submit five short stories to magazines (only one of which is written and polished)
  • Write the first draft of Uncommon Eyes
  • Publish here at least twice a week: one blog post on Monday, one review every Wednesday, and (if possible) one story or writing exercise every Friday

That’s all I can think of for right now, as far as getting things started for the new year goes. For better or worse, 2017 will be an exciting year for everyone out there. Here’s hoping it’s more positive than 2016 overall!

And Now For Something Completely Different!

With all the vitriol/passion this election has elicited, I needed a break from it all. I headed to the movies and saw Doctor Strange, the fourteenth installment in an unprecedented franchise that sparks its own interesting discussion about creative expression and corporate influence in the film industry.

People grumble about Marvel movies these days. They’ve been coming off the assembly line for the past eight years. Some folks are tired of big, flashy action movies or that they want something original. A lot of the criticism/cynicism towards these movies is valid.

For one thing, the market is flooded with superhero movies, and they’re not stopping anytime soon. Just next year, Marvel is releasing three more movies, DC is trying to right their ridiculous ship with two more installments to their attempt at a cinematic universe, and Fox is releasing another X-men movie.

If that doesn’t turn you off of comic book movies, how about the fact that they all have the same basic plot? Think about it. Hero faces a major setback, discovers something new within himself, uses that to overcome some big threat and save the day, and looks good on camera the whole time with just enough humor thrown in there for good measure. It gets generally predictable after a while.

That’s where some of the lesser known characters come in and shake things up. The formula may not change that much, but their worlds do more than enough to make it interesting.

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***Spoilers Ahead***

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy surprised audiences with the objectively bizarre premise and relatively grounded plot, so too does Doctor Strange thrill as it explores an untapped aspect of Marvel’s deep, complicated universe: magic.

Pure, unadulterated magic.

Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), one of the best neurosurgeons on the planet, loses function in his hands after a car accident. Fueled by arrogance and frustration, he expends all of his resources on every treatment imaginable to regain his fine motor skills. He pushes away what few people he has in his life in his manic desire to return to normal, eventually tracking down a mystical lead in Nepal. Little did he realize the literal mysticism he was falling into.

Strange is a reluctant hero simply looking to get his old life back. Once his mind is opened to the possibilities of the universe by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), he puts his entire being towards understanding the mystic arts with the hopes of healing himself. He ends up being remarkably proficient, but throughout the movie he’s reminded of how little he knows about the world he’s stepping into, especially in his confrontations with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), the token bad guy whose plans will destroy the world.

In the end, it’s Strange’s intelligence that saves the day, not an all-out brawl like we’ve come to expect from superheroes. There’s still plenty of action, but there’s no literal final blow that determines the outcome.

***Spoilers Over***

A lot of this story follows Marvel’s tried-and-true origin story formula. However, it’s focus on the mystic arts allows for an emphasis on knowledge via supernatual scholarship, giving a fresh take on morality tropes that command center stage in most superhero movies and comic books in general.

As the title of the film implies, the entire movie’s story is about Strange, who Cumberbatch plays with the intelligence and charm people have come to expect. His journey towards rediscovery and healing is consistently at the focus, almost to the point that the other characters’ struggle seem inconsequential. The strongest example comes from Strange’s pre-sorcerer life. I had no idea what his ex-lover’s first name was (played by Rachel McAdams) until halfway through the movie. One more minor spoiler: On one hand, it was certainly a bold choice to forgo the romantic tropes most entertainment can’t live without. On the other hand, she comes across as more of a passive observer, a fleeting reminder of Doctor Strange’s life before becoming a sorcerer. Maybe that was the point? Regardless, she paled in comparison to Strange.

There was also controversy over casting Strange’s mentor, the Ancient One, who was traditionally an older Asian man. That’s not a stereotype at all (sarcasm, of course). Instead, they picked a damn good English actress, opting for whitewashing over forcing a respected Asian actor or actress into a racial pigeonhole. There was no politically correct option here, and that’s that. The social dialogue will continue as it always does, leading to progress down the road. In the end, her character was interesting enough, and Swinton performed well.

If you like fantastic worlds and entertaining movies that aren’t super deep, this is a pretty cool movie. It’s full of trippy visuals and action scenes that strike a blend between The Matrix and Inception with the colors of deep space nebulae. Plus, the funniest gags are from an inanimate object. Honestly, it was plenty different from the other Marvel movies for my taste, not to mention a great break from the current political climate.

 

If you’ve seen Doctor Strange, let me know what your thoughts are. Share if you liked it!

 I’m always looking for new stories, no matter the medium. If you know of any great books, movies, or video games that you absolutely love, let me know in the comments and, if I haven’t checked it out, I’ll add it to the list!

The Day Before: Happy Monday!

Life beat me down last week, so I didn’t get very much written. That’s why I was absent all last week. There was a scare with my car which ended up resolving itself, although it threw me into a panic. Despite living in a big city, when your needs depend on owning a car, it definitely puts a hold on your life.

On top of all that, work is work and it’s now November. That means NaNoWriMo, which means a new book to start! It’s called Uncommon Eyes. It takes place in the last weeks of a high schooler’s senior year and follows his ruminations and life as he nears the end of this chapter of his life. There’s a good cast of characters that I’m having a blast fleshing out, and it’s shaping up to be a good story.

However, I’m already behind. I need to write around 2,000 words a day to reach my 50,000 word goal by November 30th. Doable, but difficult. I’m excited for everything to come together, and it should be one hell of a November.

Tomorrow, however, I have one item that absolutely has to get done: voting!

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Yeah, the President is on the ballot this year, and no matter your beliefs, odds are you find at least one of the candidates terrible, so why bother? But the President can only do so much. Congress and the Senate all have substantial power, and tons of Congressmen and Senators are up for reelection. There are also plenty of local positons and laws, as well. That’s why I’m heading to the polls. There are too many important choices to be made on all levels of government, and it’s up to us to make it.

Voting talk over. I can’t wait for this election to be over. For now, I’m done writing for the day.