Sacrificing History for Story

maxresdefault

I was never an enormous fan of Johnny Cash as a child. That being said, I remember watching Walk The Line and being captivated by it. The music was fantastic, and I was surprised by the strength of the story.

From that point on, I grew to love biopics. Despite the creative license these films tend to take, they introduce me to aspects of history I wouldn’t have known much about otherwise. Milk and A Beautiful Mind in particular stand out, as does the most recent one I saw.

The Imitation Game tells the story of the forefather of the computer, albeit with some fictionalized aspects. Alan Turing was an English mathematical genius in the mid 20th Century. Published at 23, Cambridge Fellow at 27, he was recruited into a secret military program tasked with breaking the German’s infamous Enigma Code, which none of the world’s most powerful countries at the time could crack. What resulted from the team’s effort was the world’s first computer.

The film is at once a moving, powerful story and a wonderful tribute to a genius who was never truly appreciated in life as he was in death. The work completed by him and his team remained a complete secret until decades after V-E Day. On top of all that, the most unexpected message surrounded civil rights. Turing was homosexual during a time when it was considered a crime of indecency.

imitation-game

***Spoilers for the film ahead***

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley steal the screen as Alan Turing andfellowncryptographer Joan Clarke, coworkers turned ‘romantic couple’. Granted, the film exaggerates the nature of their relationship and adds in plenty of additional components to make the story more dramatic and exciting.

Besides making Turing far more awkward in the film than he was in real life, the film jumps through time to tell as much of Turing’s story as possible. There’s the story of the Enigma Code and Project Ultra during WWII. There’s a police investigation in the early 50s and the resulting castration. And there’s a series of flashbacks depicting his boarding school years with his closest (and only) friend, Christopher. When Turing creates the computer that cracks the Code, he names it Christopher. Years later, when criminally charged for his sexual identity, he elects to chemical castration instead of imprisonment so he could remain with his only link to his childhood friend.

This is the core of The Imitation Game’s story: Turing’s enduring connection to Christopher and his desperation to honor him, for Turing first learned of cryptography (the study of codes) through Christopher. It’s also the film’s biggest inaccuracy, much to the chagrin of historians, for there was no Christopher. The way the film reveals information, from the significance of breaking the Enigma Code to the reason behind Turing’s decision to avoid prison makes the historical inaccuracies completely worth it.

***Spoilers Over***

Sacrificing historical accuracy is fairly common in biopics. Most audiences don’t particularly care, however. Movies are about entertainment, and while the accurate story is compelling in its own right, The Imitation Game tells the same story with its own Oscar-worthy flair, complete with just enough relevant social commentary. I enjoyed the movie more than I was expecting, and I’d been eager to see it ever since it came out.

Man, I love good biopics.

 

If you’ve seen The Imitation Game, let me know what your thoughts are.

 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!

Advertisements

You Can’t Like Everything Out There

Everything I’ve reviewed and shared on this site, I’ve given a glowing stamp of approval. Not as in a ‘glow-in-the-dark’ stamp or a ‘radioactive glowing stamp’, but I enjoy everything I’ve shared on my site thus far.

This time, however, I didn’t completely love what I read. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s debut novel, chronicles his early adult years in an thinly veiled fictionalized account. What follows is two hundred fifty pages that disregards structure in favor of a free-form story that reads, at times, more like a stream-of-consciousness loaded with fantastic quotes such as this:

728bf3f4f0033ab6abc9d9dd360c1e8d

The frank, candid nature of Fitzgerald’s descriptions of college life and early adulthood were quite risqué when the book was published in the early 1900s. Lots of alcohol, substances, and wild love. That type of information is much more commonplace now, however, so the value of that is a bit lost in this modern day and age.

To be honest, Fitzgerald’s writing in this book felt dry to me. I definitely recognize it’s good, it just didn’t resonate with me. Even though I struggled to finish it, I could definitely relate to a lot of the stories and messages Fitzgerald was recounting. Stories about growing up always connect to people, even if the writing doesn’t appeal to me.

I’d still recommend that everyone give this book a read, even though I didn’t like it as much as other things I’ve reviewed. It was a seminal work for its time, and from a writer’s standpoint, it’s helpful to read other well-received books so you can learn something that you can try in your writing.

If you’ve read This Side of Paradise, let me know what your thoughts are.

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 hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!

A Wonderful Return to the Wizarding World

hp15_q4_030_key_art_images_pottermore7b

This review has a bit of a backstory, I suppose, so I won’t be going much into plot or anything. A couple weeks ago, we had a mini family reunion in Pittsburgh. It’s a great city, one I could absolutely see myself living in at some point.

Another thing to know is that my whole family has been Harry Potter fans since The Sorcerer’s Stone. We used to argue over who read the books first when they came out. I remember we chased my Dad around the yard because he got his hands on The Half-Blood Prince before the rest of us did.

With that being said, my sister has a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I had begged her to send it to me, but she’s understandably protective of it. So, being the introvert that I am, I asked if I could borrow it during the mini reunion and finished it within four hours. Don’t worry, I didn’t abandon my family. I just, you know, read the book around all the activities. They even let me sit off in the corner, away from  them, while I read the script. I love my family for that.

635858907825037917505879172_hogwarts-school

Back to the book, though.

Everyone knows J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. The Cursed Child is the eight official story in the series, and it’s different from any of the other books. Firstly, it’s a play. Lots of dialogue, minimal description. I read it in an afternoon. Secondly, it doesn’t follow the traditional story structure of the other books. It picks up after the Epilogue of The Deathly Hallows, where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are sending their kids off to Hogwarts. What follows is a whirlwind adventure that spans four years in the Wizarding World.

I haven’t talked to many people about The Cursed Child, so I had no expectations going into it. That may have been one of the greatest decisions of my life, reading-wise.

I didn’t expect the heart-wrenching story of expectations, love, and reconciliation. Rowling revisits all our favorite characters as adults, plus explores other characters in a deeper fashion than in the books. There’s also the kids: Albus Potter, Harry and Ginny’s second son, and Scorpius Malfoy, Draco’s kid. The adult angle gives new depth to the original trio (even Ron, who still serves a fair bit of comic relief), made even deeper by the children.

Does this live up to the hype that anything Harry Potter related carries? I think so. Hogwarts is back through fresh eyes. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are as familiar as always. The story gripped me more emotionally than anything I’ve read in ages. I grew to love reading in no small part because of Harry’s adventures in the Wizarding World, and Rowling has recaptured that in her newest tale.

I definitely encourage you to read this book. If you can afford to see the play, too, go for it. I’m sure the magic doesn’t lose any luster on stage.

 

If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, let me know what your thoughts are.

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 hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!

RWBY: Grimm Eclipse

official_logo_for_rwby

 

One of the beauties of independent companies such as Rooster Teeth is the sheer creative freedom they’re allowed. They can create things how they want, when they want.

Rooster Teeth took the internet by storm back in 2003 with the launch of their web series Red vs Blue. Since then, the show has entered its fourteenth season, and they’ve created tons of live-action shorts, a gritty miniseries (Day 5, which I’ll be reviewing in the next few weeks), and RWBY (pronounced ‘ruby’), a 3-D anime-esque web series that spawned its own video game.

Developed by their lead animator Monty Oum, RWBY takes place in the sci-fi/fantasy world of Remnant and follows the lives of four girl as they train at Beacon Academy to fight monsters born of darkness and uncover plots to destroy civilization as they know it. With over-the-top fights, well thought-out characters set to grow dramatically over ten seasons, and (especially in the later seasons) fantastic writing, I may actually be looking forward to season four of RWBY more than the next season of Game of Thrones.

***Minor Spoilers Ahead***

That being said, when I played RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, I couldn’t help but feel a bit letdown, at least by the story. You play cooperatively alongside up to three other players, investigating malfunctions in the security network, hacking and slashing at monsters along the way. Upon discovering someone’s tampered with them, you and your team are guided by your professors at Beacon to unearth the source of the mystery. Eventually you learn what’s going on is a classic mad scientist plot to mutate the monsters, and then you have to fight your way through even more of the monsters to destroy the mad scientist’s lab and put a halt to his experiments. The game ends with you and your team getting extracted from the final level, and that’s it. No final confrontation with the mad scientist or anything. It ends rather abruptly.

***Spoilers Over***

My biggest issue with the game is how hollow it feels compared to the show it’s based on. RWBY relies on strong characters who are also excellent fighters to carry the story forward, but with Grimm Eclipse the story just sort of…exists. Most of the exposition and dialogue comes from radio communication with the professors. Even though you’re playing as one of the main characters, they hardly speak outside of quips or one-liners, which isn’t what I expected from characters I know and love. The game relies on intense fighting and rapid-fire gameplay to engage people, and after ten levels (it’s a fairly short game) it can get a bit boring.

The other interesting thing is that there isn’t much of an explanation about each character at the beginning. You choose whether to play a single player game or a team game, pick your character, and dive right in. There’s no tutorial telling you what to do. I’ve never played a modern game that does that. It can be a bit jarring to people that have never seen RWBY before.

However, I love RWBY, and that’s what makes the game fantastic for me. Rooster Teeth made a game that would appeal to fans who want to play as their favorite characters, walk through setting from the show, and kill monsters. If you aren’t a fan of RWBY, this game will definitely not have as much appeal to you.

Despite a lackluster story and somewhat repetitive gameplay, I really enjoy this game and will probably continue playing it for some time. This is Rooster Teeth’s first game, after all. They created RWBY, which has only gotten better with time. I can only expect the game will continue to improve as well.

If you’ve played RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, let me know what your thoughts are.

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!

Stardust

stardust-5

 

I’m on a Neil Gaiman kick, I suppose. He wrote the novel this movie is based on, and because of that, it’s been on my radar for years.

Stardust harkens back to the wonder of The Princess Bride, but with a little more magic in it. It’s a hybrid between a fairy tale and a fantasy adventure geared at children, and I couldn’t help but revel in nostalgia as I watched this movie. It truly is reminiscent of classic Disney fairy tales.

In a small English village that lies near a wall bordering a magical kingdom known as Stormhold, Tristan Thorn promises to bring a fallen star to the love of his life in return for her hand in marriage. When he finally finds the star, not only is she far different from what he expected, but now he has a target on his back. Danger lurks around every corner, from princes squabbling over their father’s throne to witches seeking their lost youth to flying pirates.

Stardust is picture-perfect in so many ways. The hero is a lovestruck underdog. The ruthless captain has a secret double-life. The witch is maniacal. People get turned into animals as punishment. It’s traditional, European fantasy in so many ways, yet Gaiman’s style is all over this: diabolical games amongst princes, a clever, intelligent companion for the hero, and just enough bizarre inhabitants to keep you on the edge of your seat.

To be honest, this movie isn’t quite as nuanced as Gaiman’s usual work. The characters are fairly straightforward, and you don’t have to look much below the surface to fully appreciate them. That being said, this is a film made for children. With a (mostly) light-hearted soundtrack, fun action pieces, and a perfect ending, Stardust’s slight twist on fairy-tale tropes helps make it more accessible to a wider audience. It’s definitely worth watching, but I’m even more excited to read the book. Yeah, I’m one of those people.

 

If you’ve seen Stardust, let me know what your thoughts are.

 

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!

Fragile Things

I could write a thesis defense about why Neil Gaiman is one of the best living authors out there. I probably won’t write a review of American Gods or Neverwhere, since I’ve already read them, but I recently read Fragile Things. It reminded me of just how wonderful his writing is.

 

Many authors started out writing short stories before they write a novel. They’re the perfect medium to develop an understanding of succinct, driving, and focused stories. Dozens of magazines publish short stories. They’re a popular medium for aspiring writers and veterans alike. Stephen King wrote many, many short stories before publishing Carrie. One of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut books is his collection, Welcome to the Monkey House. Since Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors, it makes sense that Fragile Things is one of my absolute favorites.

 

This is a collection of several dozen short stories and poems he wrote over the years, including the Hugo Award-winning short story “A Study in Emerald” and Hugo Award-nominated “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” Every single tale reads with an effortless grace that descends into a slightly mysterious realm that captivates the imagination in a way that no one else can. His prose blends the everyday world with something magical that lies just below the surface.

 

The other incredible thing about his writing is the literary depth every single story possesses. This holds especially true for his short stories, which pack so much into only a few thousand words that, upon first reading, you only skim the surface. Every word from October’s story carries immense weight. You’ll feel the tingling realization that the girls at the party aren’t what they seem. At the end of each story, you’re left with more questions than answers. Gaiman’s work shines in a way that can only be matched by writers who have been writing their whole lives.

 

I think I’ll leave it at that. There’s far too much brilliance in this collection for me to do it justice in a review such as this. Maybe I’ll write a blog post about it and delve into some of my favorites from the collection. All I can say is this: go read this book. It’s fantastic.

 

If you’ve read any of the pieces from Fragile Things, let me know what your thoughts are.

 

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!

Kick-Ass

0c270325601926e366681046b32dcad6

This past week I found Kick-Ass at the local library, and I had to pick it up. I’ve seen the movie adaptation a few times. It’s irreverent, at times dark, and hilarious. For a comic book movie, it wasn’t too bad. It’s fairly faithful to its source material, although some of the flair and power of Mark Millar’s story faded away in the translation from comic to film.

Kick-Ass is published by Marvel Comics, but none of its iconic heroes exist in this universe. The comics do exist, however, which inspires high-school nerd Dave Lizewski to become a real-life superhero…and sucking at it over and over again, as he constantly tells himself.

Dave’s voice plays a tremendous part in the power of Kick-Ass. He’s sarcastic to the point of self-deprecation about his complete inability to talk to girls or his ‘superhero abilities’. He and his friends curse (and they actually say ‘fuck’ instead of ‘#%*@’, like most traditional comics) and even use the word ‘retard’ fairly liberally. His direct, straightforward way of thinking may put a lot of people off right away, but Dave truly sounds like a teenager. I know that may not seem like a big deal, but a lot of writers struggle to write young people authentically.

Speaking of things that may be off-putting, this story doesn’t shy away from gratuitous violence. John Romita, Jr illustrates the grit and gore of a fight with a gripping energy. Every fight is bloody. When people get shot, sinew and blood spurts out the other end of the bullet hole. A preteen girl cuts people apart with deadly precision alongside her father. This story doesn’t coddle its readers, not one bit.

I don’t want to say more about the story. It’s fairly similar to the movie, but the book is far less campy and has a couple of twists that make it surprisingly powerful. Through all of the language and violence lies a sobering story about people trying to make a difference in the American tradition of superheroes. If you’re looking for a non-traditional comic book story, I’d recommend giving this a shot.

If you’ve read 2 Sisters, let me know what your thoughts are.

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 hadn’t read it, I’ll add it to the list!