Tag Archives: plot

Review: Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox

I liiiive! (Finally done being sick and through the hard part of all my dental work, ugh.) And to start us off is a review of a book series that is quickly going to become one of my favorite series, so you can bet as new books are released, I’ll be reviewing them!

The first in the Amaranthine Saga, Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox begins with the title character, Tsumiko, coming into a surprise inheritance from relative she didn’t even know existed. It is the beginning of her introduction into a world that the rest of humanity is just becoming aware of–that of the Amaranthine, also known as the Rivven. To her surprise, she is a powerful reaver, humans who work alongside both humanity and the Amaranthine to insure peace between the two. And to make things awkward, aside from a new home, she also inherits a person–an Amaranthine butler named Argent. But Argent is no willing services, and foxes are not to be trusted on either side. Tsumiko will have to find her place in this new order of things, as will Argent, though neither is what they would expect.

So, confession time. I read the “original” version of this, that being the fanfic that the bare-bones-basics of the premise came from. I even follow forthright’s blog here on WordPress, so you know I’m a fan. ^_~ That being said, I tried to take a step back and look at this story with fresh eyes. It was a lot easier than you would think. While I can see some of the core characteristics haven’t changed, Tsumiko, Argent, even Sansa and Michael have taken on enough changes that they became their own persons. The world building was also sufficient in that regard to help separate it.

The part that stole my heart the most was the plot. I went in with a very vague knowledge of what was going to happen, but didn’t know how well it would translate to original. Lo and behold, forthright did some amazing work bringing something new to her long time readers. It deviated down some fun ways (I squealed at Gingko’s relation to Argent, for example), and it also added some substantial bones to what was otherwise a very fluffy story. I was caught up in what was going to happen next completely. I think one thing that still bugs me is the rogue dragon(s), but I figure those must be series questions. The climax was also not quite what I would have wanted. I don’t know if the pacing was off, or if its because there were two different “big” problems that had to be resolved in a particular order rather than together. Either way, the third act felt too long.

(Ginny is probably about to call me a hypocrite, but mine doesn’t go quite as long, leave me alone. :P)

Like I said previously, the characters personalities were solid, without depending on their fanfiction counter parts. I had a lot of fun with Argent’s double speak, and even in deciphering the cats’ personalities. Even the religious overtones weren’t overbearing, and I think bringing a different faith in helped break it away from its source material. That being said, as strong as they were in personality and dialogue, there was some lack in the character descriptions. Sometimes it was better than others, such as with the Amaranthine. But aside from being petite and I assume Japanese, I don’t know much about Tsumiko’s looks! This may seem a little picky, but I like to know exactly what I’m dealing with unless the writer is purposefully trying to make it where the reader can insert themselves into it.

Worldbuilding wise, I wish we had gotten some more in England. While Stately House got given plenty of time and attention, as did the surrounding area, England felt like a very rushed pass-through. Same at Akira’s dorm, though at least that served a solid purpose (and my feelings for it are probably link to my feelings over the climax). The Amaranthine culture though was very well developed. It took a second read through for me to grasp everything that I was reading. I really liked how there were very few blanket answers to how things worked too considering how varied the Amaranthine were in types. But even they didn’t have perfect knowledge, which kept them from getting to ridiculous, Tolkien elf territory.

Overall, this book was a delight. I highly recommend it for multiple reads, as new details will be constantly making themselves known, and the characters themselves don’t grow old, just more faceted. Here’s hoping the second is just as big of a success.


Review: Descendants 2

Okay, I’m late to the party, but I’m still determined to keep reviewing this movie series (I’m…ignoring the animated shorts unless forced). I was pretty hyped for this movie, especially as the actors kept saying how great it was turning out. And I see what they were talking about! I’m just…not as sure I agree?

Descendants 2 takes place months after the first film, with Mal and Ben firmly in a relationship…and very much in the public eye. When Mal suffers from anxiety over the level of pressure, there’s an inevitable fight that leads Mal to assume that she has made a mistake, returning to the Isle. Unfortunately, she and the other villain kids left some enemies behind when they turned good, and they will take any opportunity for revenge. The other VKs will have to convince Mal to return, and learn that they are both from the Isle, and from Auradon, and they can’t just abandon either side.

In a lot of ways, I can see why the cast and crew were so sure the sequel was a stronger movie. The story was much tighter this time, with a constant sense of suspense and the character reasoning was apparent to the audience. It was also not afraid to make fun of itself and the cliches of fairy tales, such as true love’s kiss. I was really excited by the show of growth in Mal’s powers, and I hope that is continued to be played with. Auradon seems determined to shove all the magic out, which is annoying, but Mal’s magic keeps asserting itself, so I’m hoping that will end.

New character wise, I feel like we’re beginning to drown in them. I’m not getting enough to be invested in all of the characters, and it forces the old characters to stay in their little story-boxes rather than having a chance to keep up the arcs that were started in the first film. In particular, while Carlos got more of a show this time and Evie got a little bit too, it was very much a focus on the new characters, Mal, and Ben. If the third film is going to introduce even more to the line-up, some cuts are going to have to be made. It took three viewings for me to catch that Lumiere was even present in the film, besides being a name drop early on, which while admittedly more of a nod than anything, is very telling to me.

Appearances, the bedrooms took a change again, which if you count the animated series for sake of argument, that means there have been three different looks to these bedrooms. Consistency apparently means nothing. (I have a feeling that because they are using this one castle that gets used for everything as their primary shooting location for the school, it’s made things extra difficult.) The costumes were great, and I like that there was a character reason for the Mal hair changes, which in trailers had me going, “WTF?” There were some cool details to the costuming, though, and unlike some of the outfits from the original film, these all seemed to be more in-line with each character. (Okay, some of it was still awful to look at, but that’s teen fashion in general sometimes.)

I think where I ended up disappointed the most was with the music. Some of it was great, things that continued the type of music from the first movie. Those, I was happy with. But much like the random Broadway music that had me going, “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE,” this time it was the hip hop. I did okay with the battle-song between the two groups, Uma’s group and the VKs…barely. Uma’s villain song on its own though just made me cringe. I guess they were trying to make use of the talents they had available, but it just didn’t work for me. Of course, my dislike of most hip hop is a well-known fact, so unless it really makes sense or is done in such a way that it works (like Hamilton, I will admit), then I would rather it stay out of my stuff.

The ending was full of sequel bait. Uma’s little repeat of the, “You didn’t think that was the end of the story, did you?” line, Dizzy getting invited to the school, Evie having a list of similar kids who deserved a second chance. This could go really well for the franchise…or rather poorly. It sort of depends on what direction they keep going with it. If they cut down the characters and stick to a little more consistency in terms of sound, I think it will continue to be the success that it has been. The characters are good, the actors are good, the story is finally where it needs to be. Hopefully, it won’t backslide in the third movie.


Review: Justice League-The Flashpoint Paradox

There are two animated movie versions of the Justice League making the rounds, and you can tell them apart by animation styles and who is voicing Batman. One of them has touched on an alternate reality plot line that caught my interest on YouTube, and I just had to watch it.

The Flashpoint Paradox centers around the Flash–Barry Allen–as he is hit hard with the loss of his mother on his birthday. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself in a different timeline where she lives. Not only that, but Gotham is not the city he remembers. Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne, but instead his father Thomas. It seems like it wouldn’t be half bad, except there are other ripple effects. The Amazons and Atlantis are at war. There’s no Superman, and Cyborg works for the government. It’s a mess, and Barry needs to get back to his own time to make sure this doesn’t happen there. But there’s a trick to it, and it’s going to make him realize how important his own actions in his world are.

So, if you didn’t catch it, the whole Thomas Wayne as Batman was the thing that caught my attention. It was a very different Batman, and one that was sort of weird for me to adjust to. Yet it was very fascinating to see how the change, of Bruce dying instead of his parents, led to his father taking up the same mantel that his son would have. And then to counter that, we have a very different Joker. I do wish we had gotten to see Martha Wayne as the Joker in full rather than the little scene that showed who she was going to become after losing Bruce. I’d rather have that confrontation than the little fight with Yo-Yo. But the differences between Thomas and Bruce were cool to see and surprise Barry with, and I was all tearful at the end with what happened there too between them.

I also thought the war was very poorly explained. I mean, I followed along with it, but there was a certain level of random involved too. It also seemed really contradictory to Wonder Woman’s and Arthur’s characters as we know them. I mean, half the point of the Amazons living on their island is they are no longer going to be involved in the world of Man, and suddenly they are conquering Europe? And Atlantis was supposed to be a secret, even from the Amazons, so that even further makes no sense. And as for the affair? Just…ewww. This is probably something that the comics had the time to explain well, but the movie didn’t and it was rushed as a result.

Character-wise, there was a lot to cover and very little time to do it. It left a lot of things feeling rushed, as they try to show what this world did to all the characters but struggled to keep the story going at a good pace. Thomas, Cyborg, and Flash were the ones who really got the chance to show who they were. Everyone else was cardboard flat, and we could have done less with them. It might have involved restructuring or changing the comic book story, but since there was a time issue, focus was obviously desperately needed. Or maybe even dividing the movie into two parts, though that would make selling it more difficult. Either way, something was needed. I also felt like the reason why Flash couldn’t enter the speed force was pretty obvious as far as the source of the differences, despite them trying to cover it up and explain it as something else.

There was one thing that was shown well, and that was the world-building. Even if it was bloated with characters, the differences in the time streams were both obvious and organic. Chains of events led to the differences, a rippling effect of one thing being off. I like that when they went to save Superman, he was the buff farmboy we were expecting but a scared young man who was under developed due to lack of time outside of his containment. Batman was older and it showed, as was the amusing way they went with what happened to the Wayne fortune. Again, the war was poorly explained, but the effects it had on the world were well shown, even down to Cyborg’s enhancements. I get why they wanted to show everything, because it is all very interesting to look at and see what small changes can cause.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and it actually helped me appreciate the Flash more. He has never been my favorite DC hero (which admittedly, I deal with Wally West more than Barry), but this helped me appreciate him a little more. It also added a new layer to my love of all things Batman, which really didn’t need the feeding.


Writing: Music as Inspiration

Okay, so when it comes to music and writing, there are a lot of different “camps” as it were. Some people listen to music as they write because it helps them focus, while others find it to be a distraction. Some writers make playlists for their stories, either before they start writing or after. Some only touch music if they have a dancer or singer or whatever as part of the story and need music for that reason.

I’m sort of in an odd camp. I can’t listen to music as I write most of the time, because it inevitably distracts me. I do have to have some sort of noise, which is why I have YouTube or the TV on with some sort of background nonsense, be it a series that I have seen almost all of the episodes of multiple times (Criminal Minds or Law and Order: SVU), or a movie I’ve also watched several times (with exceptions, Marvel movies don’t work), or video game let’s plays. But I do use music for writing.

See, sometimes when I listen to a song, I will peg it as a background song or an inspiration song for a scene, and listening to it always reminds me of how the song will go. This was particularly prominent in writing Ten, because several of the scenes (some of which got cut) came to exist because of listening to particular songs. I even ended up using songs as chapter titles as a result. When I got stuck writing something because it was giving me issues for whatever reason, I’d go listen to the song I’d assigned to that chapter to help my brain get in the mood and emotions of that particular scene. In my case, I built my play list both before and as I was writing, because I plotted an arc, wrote it, and then plotted the next arc. It helped the story shape itself organically, and the music helped me set the tone for each chapter and the book as a whole.

The trick with using music as inspiration is to not to be extremely literal with it. Problem one with that is because if you are literally including lyrics as dialogue in the text, you are going to run into copyright issues. Problem two, most music has the same topic, they just have different phrases and tones. For me, I listen to what the rhythm and words are telling me. Songs of defiance or even upset at an ex turn into fight music for me, because of the speed and the anger that they emote. Break up songs can sometimes be about families or friends rather than loved ones. Love songs can apply to someone that the main character is interacting with that doesn’t necessarily mean romance between them, just wanting a relationship, platonic or otherwise.

Music appeals to people on different levels, and you really have to figure out which camp you belong to on your own. I can’t tell you to turn off the music if it helps you put words to a page, and really if someone tries to tell you how to handle music with your writing and acts like they know it all, well, they are lying. To paraphrase Mercedes Lackey books, there is no one true way. I will say, don’t get stuck in a rut with it. If you are struggling, the first thing I would suggest changing up is your sound environment. If you listen to music, stop for a while and see if it helps, or do what I do and change to a non-music sort of background noise. As you age, your preference will probably change, so just keep an open mind to trying different things to see if they help you when you get stuck.


Review: Boycotts and Barflies

…Okay, some background. I read this story when it was still a fanfic, specifically Twilight fanfic back when I thought the books were silly fluff reading for the age demographic that I still technically was in (a.k.a. before the train wreck that is the last book) and I loved it for what it was. Now that it’s original… Well, I’ll get to that. But now you know there’s history.

Bella Swan Grace Parks and her three friends are sick of endless dates with men who don’t meet their standards. Their solution? A boy boycott, for six weeks until the New Year. Well sort of, they are still allowed to flirt and go on group dates (so the bet is sort of pointless). It’s all in good fun, until Grace meets Edward Michael Andris and his friends meet hers. Surprisingly, the boys are also on a bet of their own–this time to meet “nice girls” and no longer allowed to date the girls they meet while bartending, casually referred to as barflies. Hijinks ensue as everyone remains determined to win the bet…or are they?

Okay, so romance novel: likelihood of some of this happening is non-existent. It’s merely a tool to set the two main protagonists against each other so they have conflicting goals. And between it and family interference, it actually works for…most of the book. She even had a really good idea for the bet exploding in everyone’s faces. The problem that no one caught in the fic’s transition to real publication, is that the ending just sort of…coasts. The conflict at the end where we find out not only what the boys have been up to but supposedly Grace’s two best friends just blows over in favor of a romantic night out. There’s no satisfaction with that. These girls lied to her, the boys lied to her… It shouldn’t end that easily, even if it was supposedly to help Grace realize her own worth.

Speaking of self worth, there are some good points and there are some bad points to characters in this book. On one hand, the dialogue and the banter between characters is hysterical. I’m not completely sold that the ages fit the dialogue, but I am willing to hand wave it because it is funny. And there is good chemistry between all of the characters, and delaying any actual sex scenes means it avoids the trap of being so heavy with them that it’s uncomfortable to read. I even appreciate the fact that the fact most singles can’t afford to live by themselves is acknowledged, so unlike most romance novels finding places to be together is a real challenge.

On the other hand… A lot of the issues with the Twilight characters carried over, even with the filing off of the serial numbers. The friends aren’t fleshed out enough or given enough flaws to make sense. The fact Grace is so insecure isn’t ever really explained well besides pretty fish in a small pond that got transplanted and hasn’t moved on yet. (BTW, this sort of insecurity is common in teenagers, but we tend to grow out of it in our twenties.) And maybe this is me knowing the source material like I do, but I don’t think the serial numbers were filed off enough. They tried, I give her credit for trying, but I could still see what it once was. Considering how she had set up the fic, it was hard to take it to original fiction and leave it still intact enough for her fanfiction audience while being separate enough that no one saw the original fandom unless they were looking.

The thing that I think irks me the most is the way the guys treat the girls they pick up at the bars and the way they are written. It’s painful and horrible disrespectful to women in general. It was sort of nudged at being inappropriate by the fact the girls were sort-of-sort-of-not barflies by definition and the guys were forced to re-evaluate it, but still. The term itself bothered me. As did the way these girls treated the boys they went out with. It’s one thing to find the date boring, but really, a dinner date is hard to be entertaining if you aren’t an entertainer by nature. One of the girls is admittedly shallow and won’t go on a date with someone who isn’t high on her personal taste list. Both sides were equally painful, at least from my standpoint, and really had the potential to cause a lot of hurt feelings and didn’t because the author didn’t want them to.

Much like its source material, Boycotts and Barflies ranks as a good lighthearted read that is amusing as long as you don’t look at it too closely. It suffers some from being prior fanfiction that transitioned over to original fanfiction, but it did so to hold on to its humor. The more you reread it, the more it starts to wear, so maybe save it as a once every three or four years thing.


Review: She Slays Monsters

Something a little new here, this play recently showed at the University of Oklahoma’s theater program, and it struck enough chords that I felt the need to review it. Let it be known, reviewing a play is a little trickier than reviewing a movie or a book. Each production, each show, is a little different, all depending on how they worked together. I’m going off of the way the story was shown this particular time, and how it was designed to appear to the audience. Another production might be different. We’ll see.

The story revolves around Agnes as she seeks to cope with the death of her family, including her younger sister, Tilly. She and Tilly had a difficult childhood growing up together, with neither really understanding each other. Agnes is given a second chance when she discovers a notebook Tilly wrote in: a Dungeons and Dragons module that while only half-finished, contains some hints of her sister’s life. With the help of some of her sister’s friends, she starts to piece together what she didn’t know about her sister…and what she didn’t know about herself.

As a person who plays Dungeons and Dragons… I could tell that no one in the cast or at least the production team actually played. No offense meant to them, but they were obviously relying on their consultants with the local game shop to make sure things looked right…as much as possible. While I’m willing to give some slack since DnD has changed a lot over the years, I can’t help but wonder how much of it changed due to the cast not knowing what questions to ask or the game shop to answer. Which of course in turn makes me ask how many notes the playwright put into the script. You can’t always rely on people to do the research for you, and I feel like he should have placed some more hints into what certain creatures and characters looked like.

Which somehow gets my brain to costuming. Tilly looked great, as did Agnes. What irked the shit out of me–and this was written in the script via dialogue, so I place no blame on the costuming team whatsoever and think they did great with what they had–was the way some of the other characters dressed. You get that some of this is meant to be empowering for these party members, and the people who play them, but there’s something that almost every DnD/fantasy MMO player who is also feminine-leaning will tell you: they hate having no other option but to dress their character in bondage outfits or chainmail bikinis. And I mean we hate it. It hit so many offended buttons for me, right off the bat, and sort of colored the rest of the way I saw the play. Normally, you can say that it gives the production team a break as far as finding or making armor (as an excuse). Except that I know for the fact that SCA is an international organization that is usually up for working with people in exchange for publicity, and cosplay has created all sorts of cheats, that it shouldn’t actually be an issue.

At times, a lot of beats were cringe inducing unless you kept the setting and the age of Tilly in mind. You had to remember it was the 90’s, you had to remember she was fifteen when she died, you had to remember that she lived in a small town. It was too much from a story standpoint because we were watching this play out, we didn’t have the ability to rewind or flip back a few pages to remember important facts to keep things in perspective. While some of the monsters were named after people in her life, creating interesting moments for Agnus to interact with, it just sat weird to me because the way they worked into the story didn’t make sense. I think he was relying on Tilly’s age to explain it…except I was a fifteen year old writer, and I wouldn’t have done anything that blatant. It felt like the writer was trying too hard to make the audience see the parallels between Tilly’s real life and the life inside the game.

Because the writer in question is a fight choreographer, I have to pick on that a little too. This is where it’s hard to tell what was a production choice and what was written into the actual play without having a copy of the script in my own hands. But all of the party members used melee weapons–practical for a play, not so much for a party. The only healer was Tilly, and she was limited severely (more than I think even early DnD would limit a level 20 paladin). There was no magic-centric class. And even then, everyone used swords, daggers, or a battle axe (with the occasional shield). There are a lot of interesting options available, even in the early DnD stages, that could have helped spice up the monotony of the fighting and made the party make so much more sense. Of course, better spacing of the fighting and making it less random as hell would have helped too. While that’s part of DnD, this…pushed it severely, especially for a play. (Okay, I could nitpick the actual fighting in this case, but that would be cheating and I’m spoiled with my own experience.)

Some of this was very…trite and tropey and not what I expected of this play. I may have had too high of expectations because this was (I thought) written by someone who was in the know about this aspect of geekery. But I ended up feeling a bit disappointed in the writing, in things that I have issues with as a player myself, and in how this tried to show DnD to the world. In the audience, I heard people talking about the game like it was old and dead, like no one had played Dungeons and Dragons since the 90’s and like the game hadn’t changed. And you know what? They are right in a way. No self-respecting DnD group would function like this, at least not anymore.


Review: Fast 8

Sometimes, I just want to veg out when I watch a movie. Lots of explosions, funny dialogue, great fight scenes, and I’m happy. (Ginny and I are best friends for a reason, ya’ll.) Extra bonus points? If Vin Diesel is in it. I have an embarrassing crush on his geeky butt, so if I get to watch him in any capacity, I am happy. The Fast and the Furious franchise is one of the ones where I get all of that, so of course it’s one of my favorites to watch, to the point I’ll even pay ridiculous theater ticket pricing to see it. (Of course, when I sat down to watch Fast 8: Fate of the Furious, I belatedly discovered that I somehow MISSED FAST 7, but I blame grief for Paul.)

Summary (non spoiler, but you best be warned there are some ahead): Things seemed to be looking up for Dom Toretto. He’s on his honeymoon with the girl he thought he lost, no one is after him, things are finally calm. Except they really, really aren’t. Secrets are coming out into the open, including the mysterious Cypher who has a personal stake in Dom’s happiness…or lack thereof. Dom is going to have to work against his team, the clock, and any doubts he may have about who he is in order to get out of this mess. But the rewards just might be worth it.

Okay, so one thing I love about Vin is how versitile he is, and this movie shows some of it. Dom has always been the mastermind in the group, and the big dog who isn’t afraid of joking around with his teammates. But this time, we get to see some of the doubt, and some of the anger, that Dom carries with him. This movie hints at some of the earlier comments earlier in the movie that had been left behind as the gang grew up, about living for the speed and the street racing. The concept of family has always been important to Dom, but this movie really hammers home where his priorities are. I loved seeing this different side of the character, seeing Vin really show his acting chops, and providing a solid contrast to some of the other characters.

Dwayne Johnson’s character, Hobb, got to show something beyond big and scary this movie. While they seriously hammed up his strength in some awesome ways, he’s less stiff and more amusing to watch now that he’s transitioned from being an enemy to being a babysitter on a job, to finally being part of the team. But really, the Brits were the best part of this movie and they completely stole the show. I won’t tattle on who belongs to who and what they do… But they steal the show and they are utterly priceless. I was in hysterics the entire time. I also liked a character who got introduced as I think the replacement for Brian’s character, especially since Hobbs has never been as by-the-book on legals and such as he was. Brian brought the cop-component to the team, understanding how that worked. Hobb is military and it shows. The new character seems to be bringing that cop element back to the team, provided he sticks around.

Sadly, there was a character who I didn’t approve of how they used her. Let it be known, I am NOT on team Lettie. I felt like she should have stayed dead, or taken on a sister-role when she did come back. The chemistry between her and Dom has never been there for me, especially compared to Elena who I felt fit him better, and who I loved as a character too. The route they take with her makes sense in some ways, because I can see her sacrificing her own happiness for Dom’s and the rest was just waiting for the best timing, but… I know why they killed her. It wasn’t even because it made the most sense story wise, because there was no reason to keep her alive for as long as they did only to kill her as a reaction. It was the writers trying to cut off a loose end because of people like me who hated the way they went and wanted to hold on to hope that Elena and Dom would end up back together. To the writers, Lettie and Dom is the way it is always going to be, and they wanted to be clear about it. Ugh. (BTW, George Lucas did this to shut the Luke/Leia shippers up too.)

Story and world building wise…the movie excels at ignoring the laws of physics and how things work, but it also knows how to laugh at itself about it. Tanks and orange sports cars, the ways you can blow up your engine and smoke your tires, and hacking car computers to make a zombie march… all of it is completely ridiculous, but it helps make for a fun movie as you wait for the next surprise. It keeps one-upping itself in terms of what is going to show up next, and I keep waiting for them to run out of them. (So far, they haven’t, but I haven’t heard of a Fast 9 yet either.) I do feel like the cast is getting a bit bloated. I love the characters, but it’s getting increasingly hard to focus on them in a story without relying heavily on the previous movies to know who they all are.

You don’t watch an action movie for its complex story telling or its plot twists. Most of the time, you know where the story is going and who is going to win in the end. You go for the characters, and for the sheer joy and excitement it gives you. So leave your logic at a door, and head off to see the snarky family love that is Fate of the Furious.


Review: Age of Adaline

I remember being intrigued by the trailers for this movie but never getting around to seeing it theaters. Well, I’ve rectified that, and what do you know, a romance movie that doesn’t make me want to drill my brain out!

Due to an accident when she was twenty-nine years old (the first time), Adaline has stopped aging. Her daughter now has to pass as her grandmother. Her only friend who she has been able to keep through identities is only possible because she is blind. Adaline lives in fear of being discovered, but is she truly living? She starts to question that when she meets Ellis, who reminds her of what she once had. But there are complications with being immortal, and sometimes they come to catch up with you in the most unlikely of places.

The genre for this one is a little weird to nail down. Normally when you are dealing with immortals, some level of fantasy is involved. But this time, there’s an annoying little voice over guy who goes, “Noooo, there’s science involved!” Not real science, my sort of soft science that sounds technical and doesn’t rip me out of my movie experience by making me go, “Really?” and is from far enough in the future they may manage to avoid getting called out on it…maybe. (After self-tying shoes and hover boards happened on time, I can’t exactly argue against it.) So it’s sort of straddling the line between urban fantasy and soft sci fi with a heavy reliance on the butterfly effect.

This movie is a loving ode to San Francisco. The setting just breathes life and is almost a character in and of itself. They really took the time to find all these little historical nuggets of information and to portray them in such a way that we the audience could see why they were so loved by Ellis and Adaline. Maybe I’m just a history nerd, but I love a movie that acknowledges the past and the touches it leaves behind for all of us to discover. Plus they wove it into to Adaline’s history, and her own personal struggles, that you just felt like this movie couldn’t have been set anywhere else and been the same.

The characters are quirky and I love them. Adaline never stops learning, and she is so much fun to watch her use that knowledge to beat the ever loving tar out of the boys. I love how she holds on to her routes back in time but isn’t living in the dark ages of technology either. (I made a comment to Ginny about pluses of being a vampire, you hold on to your stuff until it becomes vintage and in and then you just have to refurbish/adjust it.) And Ellis doesn’t try to change her, he doesn’t want her to be anything less than who she is. And he can stand on his own too, as proven by his date choice, and he’s just as stubborn as she is which is probably a good thing. Even William hit you close to home because he was trying to grapple with this thing he thought he had dealt with and now it’s coming back at the absolute worst possible time.

I am a known hater of most modern romance movies, but this one is a smart one. There is definite humor, but it’s smart humor, not people being gross or overly sexual or idiotic. It’s little things like Adaline making the joke that she was reading Norwegian in Braille just to screw with Ellis, or really the entire Trivial Pursuit game, that was priceless. And what this allowed you to do was really focus on the emotionally moving parts of the movie. About Adaline still trying to mother her daughter, only to get the tables flipped. About the past, and how there are several great loves in a person’s life. Just…ugh. I could gush forever about this story. Is some of it really annoyingly vague, like what Flemming is supposedly doing in her life or has done in her life, and who the men who came for Adaline at one point were working for? Yeah, but at the same time, it kept its focus on what it wanted. On conquering fears and remembering the past without being afraid of it, to truly live.

As someone who has held on to parts of her past and struggled with healing, this movie really spoke to me on a personal level. I’m not surprised how hard it was for Adaline to stop running because I’ve been there myself. And she got a happy ending, which puts this movie about a couple of others I can think about that do similar things but go all tragic at the end. If you haven’t seen Age of Adaline and you like some smart, gentle romance, I highly recommend it.


Review: The Help

This is my big guilty pleasure movie. It’s one of two that I can never turn away from whenever it comes up. I highly recommend it, and I decided to write a post about why.

The Help, based off of the book by the same name, is a movie set during the Civil Rights Era, where the South was rampant with racism, and the biggest offender was the person people would least expect: the housewife. Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan is the daughter of such a culture, but is horrified by it. Aibileen Clark is a grief-stricken maid who works to keep some semblance of a life after she lost her son, working for a woman suffering from postpartum depression who is unable to acknowledge her own daughter. Minny Jackson is an outspoken maid who has the unfortunate problem of working for the most racist woman in town, as well as suffering from an abusive husband. Skeeter ends up being the tool for several black maids to express the awful conditions of the working help in the South as conditions continue to plummet, as well as the stories of occasional kindness from their employers, by helping them publish a book telling their stories anonymously.

The characters of this movie are what make it, as well as the actresses who play them. I am well known for quoting Minny’s line about the people around her giving her heart palpitations with their actions, and she is by far my favorite character. (Though Skeeter has her moments of awesome). And through both those women’s sass, we have Aibileen as this stalwart figure of seriousness, which is really her being the one who has been impacted the hardest by the racism of the times. She’s lost her son to it, and is alone in this world as a result except for Minny’s friendship. But through the course of the story, these three women discover more about themselves through their actions and through sharing their stories with each other and the rest of the country. It allows them to grow and change their lives, though whether for the better is from a matter of perspective in some cases.

As for setting, the scenery and costumes are to die for. Of course, I love the fashion of that era, so the entire movie makes me squee. I also love the little touches that they do to help establish the setting. Things like the black and white TV during the coverage of various Civil Right movements, Skeeter bringing up Jackie Kennedy and how she has never looked more regal, the uniforms for the maids and for the waiter at the local diner. The diner period, which I am also a sucker for. It was also right there that this was so the South, from deviled eggs with paprika, the love of pie and fried chicken (we take that very seriously around here), that the accents were really sort of secondary for me. I do like that everyone had a drawl of some sort, but they also varied it some, which makes sense because it varies a little bit from person to person in my experience. (I don’t have one until I’m either being super sarcastic or super angry, for example, and mine has a definite Texas lilt to it.)

The part of the story that does sort of irk me is that the story is meant to be about the lives of these black maids, about what they had to live and go through and their way of taking some of that agency back. What irks me is that we had to have this teenage white girl (I say teenage, I’ll be kinder, she’s a recent college graduate) be their mouth piece. Yes, she gives them the advance from the books, but she’s the one who builds up her career off of it. This could just be the time of the book’s fictional writing. If Aibileen had written it, she may not have been able to publish it. We also wouldn’t have had Constantine’s story. But I think it may have made for a stronger book and given the maids even more agency over their story. It also would have given Aibileen an even stronger ending instead of the rather ambiguous one that she currently has.

Overall, this is always going to be one of my favorite movies. I love the relationships these women have with each other, the way they tell stories, the fact that even though there are some romantic subplots, it is a majority female cast that instead talks about life, about the issues of their times, about their families and their friends and their work. It isn’t another rom-com or Bond girl set-up, and at the same time it has tension and forward momentum. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it for a Saturday or Sunday binge watch. I promise you won’t regret it.


Review: Captain America – Civil War

I had issues with Age of Ultron (a lot of people did), and while some of my issues are very specific to my love of Hawkeye, some just dealt with the lack of characterization, the lack of acknowledgement of the previous films, and some serious suffering of dialogue in very of snarky quips. Civil War was by nature set up to be the next big team-up movie in the MCU, and was the first chance for it to salvage its reputation.

And boy, did it deliver.

Set (sort of) at the same time as Ant-Man, Civil War details the signing of an agreement between over a hundred nations in the world to bring the Avengers in check, turning them from a private organization into something controlled by a UN panel. The problem? Not all of the Avengers agree with the decision. The ink isn’t even dry when the first conflict arises where the Avengers are needed, and a choice is made that draws the line between Captain America, Iron Man, and those who side with them. But nothing is black and white, not when personal motives are involved.

OMG, this movie. Where do I even start? Okay, characters, because they are why you go see this movie. We had a wonderful catch-up with where some of the characters are emotionally after films, such as Tony (and his relationships with his parents and with Pepper, his guilt, etc.) and Wanda (where she’s at with her powers, the loss of her brother and home, her feelings for the Vision), that went unaddressed for a while. The women finally weren’t shafted into the role of love interest and little else. I think my favorite line is one of Wanda’s (let’s be honest, she and another character I’m about to get into stole the show). “I can’t do anything about their fear. I can only control my own.” I’m paraphrasing, but that line, ugh, my heart. The women got to kick ass, take names, make their own decisions, and stayed true to their own characters, even with faint nods to Natasha’s botched attempt at a relationship with Banner.

Also, we have the best Spiderman now, we do not need another. I thought his costume was a little too bright in tone compared to the others, a little too simple in terms of just being cloth but supposedly Tony has had an eye on this kid for a while, but otherwise I was very impressed with him. I especially loved the touch of Tony using Steve’s words to get Peter to his side, that was brilliant. (According to my friend  Brandon, this was a symbol of Tony realizing he needed a Steve on his team, a point I agree with.) We didn’t get some long, drawn out explanation of his powers, which was great since God knows, we’ve had the origin of Spiderman shoved down our throats enough. And Aunt May looked like an actual aunt, not a grandmother. I loved how someone tried to shut him down as far as chattering in a fight. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is going, “Hi. We haven’t met yet. I’m Clint.” As to parallel that this kid is on the right track, ignore the crusty military types. Just…wow.

(Also, THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME REAL CLINT! I HAVE MISSED HIM SO!)

There was so much clever writing in this movie, I can’t even explain. Like, without giving away the big plot twists, let’s just focus on a few little things. That moment when Bucky struggles to get Steve to understand that yes, HYDRA was controlling him but he still did these horrible things, telling Tony that he remembers all the people he killed, I had the epiphany that he is meant to represent what these accords will do the Avengers over time. I mean, we all know that they would be blocked from doing many of the time sensitive things they need to do or would be severely hampered (since most of the MCU movies take place in about three days, give or take). But he represents the jobs where they were sent in and they didn’t need to be there, the political power-plays, and the damage that they would do to them psychologically and emotionally.

Tony also came to represent how personal investment ruined the ability to rationally approach a problem, something commonly explored in this movie where so many people have suffered over the years, both at the hands of HYDRA and other villains…and just by the efforts of the Avengers to stop them. His own festering guilt drives him to make one set of decisions, his desire to protect the people he considers family drives him to make another that contradict the first…and then in the end, when an attack hits him personally, all the rational reasons he had fly out the window. But I think Tony grew in this movie, more than he has in any of his solo movies outside of the first, and that excites me…even if I wish he wasn’t doing a fourth Iron Man film (sorry, those just haven’t jived well with me lately). Vision suffered from a similar problem, since his emotional investment with Wanda bit him in the butt in a way he wasn’t expecting, but I feel like Tony really had the big moments of it.

A throw-away brilliance is the return of Russo. For those who may have forgotten (I did), the Secretary of State in Civil War is the same dude who released Red Hulk on Manhattan back when Edward Norton was Bruce Banner. That should terrify you. In addition, Black  Panther did have a good story arc to help introduce him well leading up to his own film. This is coming from a person who hated this character going into the movie, wasn’t going to go see his film, was hoping he didn’t ruin the movie for me. I have never gotten a good opinion of him. But this movie helped change my mind considerably. I liked him, I’ll go see his movie. They did a good job.

If I had to nitpick something, it would have to be the camera work and one element of the story. The camera got better as the film went on (or I adjusted to it, not sure which), but shaky camera syndrome was bad early on, particularly in fights. It made it hard to track what was happening, though that could be because I know some stage combat myself and track out of habit where a blow is going in case a sword goes flying when it isn’t supposed to. The other is a massive SPOILER, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it yet. The death of the Wakonda king at the UN conference didn’t affect me like it was supposed to. I thought the man was a self-righteous ass, so  him dying, even with the obvious grief of his son, didn’t make me go, “Awww, poor babies,” it made me go, “Whelp.” But then, I have daddy issues, so you gotta actually work to get me invested in your character before you kill them.

Overall, this is a fantastic ride. While it’s getting to where its hard to follow the MCU without previously seeing any of the other movies, Civil War does enough recapping that you might be okay if you come in with some general knowledge rather than specific viewings in your memory. And I highly recommend it.