Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Bat-Affleck


It's been, what? Two or three days since the announcement that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman (World's Finest, to the comic book readers) movie allegedly coming in 2015. I'm going to break my usual form and give my personal take on the manner, considering the fact that I've been a fan of Batman since I was about six years old and I have personally modeled myself after him.

I'm livid.

Beyond livid, if we're being honest.

However, I've had enough time to calm down and rationally explain why I believe Ben Affleck is a horrible choice for the Caped Crusader.

First off, I mean no disrespect to him or any of his fans. If you're excited about it, hooray for you. In fact, I don't even think Affleck is that bad an actor. I think he's alright.

But here's the thing: I don't think they chose Affleck because he'd be a good Batman. DC/Warner Bros announced at San Diego Comic Con that the World's Finest movie would be out in 2015. That was last month. So, think about it: they announced the release of a movie almost exactly two years before it would come out...and it's not even in pre-production. Hell, I don't even recall hearing the rumor of there being a script yet. All they had at the time was Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill. Then, at the press release for Bat-Affleck's reveal, they claimed production would start in 2014. That means they are attempting to make a high budget superhero film in less than the standard two years it takes to make a summer blockbuster.

It is my personal opinion that DC/WB panicked. Just...flat out panicked because they're so focused on making money and "competing" with The Avengers/Marvel that they made a hasty, stupid decision. I'm in the geek circuit. I did not hear anything about auditions for the new Batman. NOTHING. I don't even think they bothered looking. They just put the word out and the first big star to say yes (notably, AFTER Christian Bale said no) is who they chose.

This infuriates me to my absolute core.

What DC/WB doesn't seem to understand is two things: (1) why the Avengers is so profitable and (2) that the DC fanboys and fangirls don't want a World's Finest movie if it's rushed and slapped together.

The Avengers became the third highest grossing domestic film in the United States for dozens of reasons--great casting, great directing, a fantastic script, gorgeous effects, and a general sense of fun and camaraderie between the actors, production team, and the fans. But here's the main reason: Marvel actually seems to give a crap about the fans. They listen. They took their time and they picked the actors who fit the characters, and who would do the characters we love justice. Do you know why they could afford to do this? Well, that's part two. Marvel knows that we will wait for it. Marvel understands that fans WANT to see the Avengers represented as awesomely as they appear in the comics, and that they don't need to slap together a title and some actors and shove it out on the silver screen just to make money. Marvel knows that if they make a quality film, we WILL go see it. So they made one. They got one of the best writers/directors around and they did the damn thing, and they didn't care what DC decided to do in retaliation.

Whereas DC sat with its thumb up its ass, snootily believing that the Batman franchise would carry them through the next decade. The Nolan Batman trilogy was nothing short of brilliant, but guess what? That's the only good thing on DC's recent hero track record, until Man of Steel came along. They seemed to not realize this fact until Iron Man 3 came out and kicked the 2013 box office in the face with a big smile. So they panicked and they said to themselves, "Oh my gosh, guys, if we don't do something quick, Avengers II is going to win 2015 and since we literally have not even tried to make films for any other members of the Justice League, we'd better do something about it! Uh, yes, we're totally going to make a Batman/Superman movie a mere three years after the Nolan film! No need to actually take our time like we did with Henry Cavill and narrow down our choices so that we pick someone who looks, sounds like, and can embody one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. Just slap a mask on anyone with a square chin and we'll be golden!"

I mean it. It is 2013. We have no Flash, no Wonder Woman, no Hawkman, no Martian Manhunter, no Aquaman, no Green Arrow, no Black Canary, and Green Lantern's been in the freaking Phantom Zone because everyone hated the movie so much that they can't decide if that universe even exists anymore. There was no attempt in the Man of Steel movie to create any sense of continuity. Why? Because DC doesn't have faith in its own damn work, and it has even less faith in us fans. That is unacceptable. They believe in the "wait and see" approach, and that is what is killing their brand and their profits. They waited to see how all of the Avengers' solo films would do, and then they waited to see how the Avengers would do, and then they waited to see the response to the Avengers II plot and character reveals, and now all of the sudden they want to act because they want their piece of the pie. No. That is not how you should be treating a franchise and characters that have been beloved since the 1930's.

You hire people who are right for the job. You read the damn comics. You talk to the fans. You listen to the criticism that you have received from your previous films. You sit down and you do your damn homework and you make a great film. It's that damned simple. If you do all of that, THEN you get to make a billion dollars globally. I'm not saying DC needs to copy Marvel's exact methods. They need to understand what Marvel is doing correctly and emulate that if they want any of the other heroes aside from Batman to make money and do well.

Having said all of that, I'll now address my problem with Ben Affleck.

He's not Batman.

Just...he's really not.

Now, this isn't to say all the men who have played Batman in the past via the silver screen have been Batman. However, each of them brought some aspect of Bruce Wayne to the table that you can at least argue is true to the character. For instance, Michael Keaton brought the intensity to Batman, but he was a pretty lousy Bruce. Val Kilmer brought the quiet intelligence and tortured soul of Bruce, but he was a lousy Batman. George Clooney brought the playboy aspect, but he sucked as both Bruce and Batman. Christian Bale perfected Bruce Wayne and played an excellent Batman, but he did miss a few beats here and there with his voice problems.

What in the hell is Ben Affleck going to bring to the table?

That's what made me so angry when I heard the news. I've watched some Affleck films. The guy is a good comedic actor and a decent dramatic actor. But he looks and sounds nothing like any incarnation of Bruce Wayne that I can even try to picture in my head. I'm not talking about physicality alone. I'm talking about presence. Ben Affleck could walk up to me in my room right now and wrap his hands around my neck and threaten me, and honestly? I really don't think I'd be all that intimidated. It's not just the buttchin and the big blue eyes. The way he walks, the way he carries himself, the way I've seen him act in other roles, is why I'm against him as Batman. I simply cannot see him putting on the mask and actually scaring superstitious cowardly lots of criminals.

It is here that I have to bring up a tiring discussion that will no doubt make some fanboys hate me: Daredevil.

I hated that movie.

Granted, not with a passion. More like disdain. I just thought it was badly written, poorly shot, dreadfully cast (with the exception of Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin, rest in peace, sir), and all around awful. And I know all the little fanboys and girls insist, "Watch the director's cut! It's much better!" but guess what? They didn't release that version in the theater. You can't undo that. You can't fix all your mistakes after the movie screwed a dead horse. If they wanted to make a better movie, they'd have released a better movie. And honestly, I've never seen the director's cut, but I sincerely doubt it fixed the nine billion problems with that movie anyway. It was just not well done.

My point is that Daredevil is also supposed to be an intimidating comic book hero. He's not as dark as Batman, but he's intense and driven. And I saw Ben Affleck trying to pull that off and he failed miserably. I understand that he was still young in his career, but I truly don't believe that he has the presence to be Batman.

I don't believe that I can see him with his hair slicked back wearing a million dollar suit running a billion dollar corporation. I don't believe that I can see him training with Ra's al Ghul, or Lady Shiva, or Zatara. I don't believe that I can see him out-thinking the Riddler, or flirting with Catwoman, or battling the Joker to save someone's life. I. DON'T. BELIEVE. IT. It's not because he's a bad actor. He's not. It's the character that doesn't fit.

Bruce Wayne is a dichotomy of concepts. He's brooding and hurting, but he's also got this wondrous sly sense of humor. He's constantly insisting that his mission is solo, but he naturally attracts people to him because he has a noble heart and despite all the darkness in him, he loves people. He is a wide spectrum of emotions and beliefs and ideas. He's got a depth to him that has kept him as one of the most popular heroes since his creation in 1939.

And all of that I am supposed to see in the star of Gigli?


I cannot accept that.

So, there you have it. If that makes me a close-minded, awful person, then so be it. I'm keeping my $10.50 in my pocket where it belongs. I hope the movie doesn't suck. I hope that people who want to see Bat-Affleck enjoy it.

I will just not be one of them.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Little Lost Babou

So I rescued a little orange kitten today.

My friend and I wanted to hit the park because we didn't want to go to the movies or dinner because that's what we always do, so we headed to this place called Rainbow Springs. We were supposed to go tubing, but as bad luck would have it, the moment we got there, a thunderstorm brewed. We decided to try swimming instead so we stayed in the car and waited out the storm for about half an hour. The rain slowed down and we got out and started walking towards where we thought the springs were.

Along the path, we both heard this peculiar mewling from the bushes. I stooped and looked under a bush and found a tiny kitten no more than a month or two old hiding under a leaf. I knelt and beckoned him and he came right over to me without any hesitation, which led me to believe that he might have been abandoned, or got separated from his mother. Most feral/stray cats and kittens aren't that friendly, so I figured we could take him to a shelter and he'd get adopted quickly. After all, he didn't have any visible injuries or diseases (trust me, I took enough classes as pre-vet to know) and so we took him back up the path to the car. We then get in the car and Google the nearest shelter.

We get to the shelter. We read the sign out front. It says they are at capacity and cannot shelter any more cats or kittens. But thankfully, a girl inside hands us a flyer to another shelter. We call this shelter. They close at 5:30pm. It is 5:15pm at the time of the phone call and the shelter is over ten miles away. We beg the lady to please stay open and haul ass across town. I call the shelter a SECOND time and tell them we are up the street and not to lock us out because there is no other shelter in the entire city that is open and neither of us have the experience to take care of a month old kitten. We get there at 5:35pm.

The gate is closed.

The phone goes straight to voicemail.

And we are left sitting in a car in the rain with a little kitten with no home.

Why am I writing about this at two am? Well, this seemingly wretched experience reminded me of why I'm an author in the first place.

I know a lot of people who would have heard the kitten and simply kept walking. Maybe they'd coo, "Aw, poor thing. I hope his Mama finds him." There's nothing wrong with that. It would have saved an entire two hours of hair-tearing frustration as my friend and I then had to drive to a Publix, buy a bottle and baby formula for the kitten who was mewling his head off to be fed, and then call around our friends to find someone to take him. I would have done it myself if I lived alone, but I don't.

However, I believe that it is my job to help those who can't help themselves, even in a matter as small as a stray kitten. Actually, saving a stray animal was on my bucket list and while this afternoon was by far one of the most frustrating days of my life, I'm still glad I did it. Call me pretentious, but it reminds me of a quote from Castle when Rick told Beckett, "You're the one who honors the victims." I think that because I am just a skinny, awkward, nerdy girl without that many accomplishments, I should still do good wherever I can. I don't expect to be rewarded. I don't expect to be praised, hell, I don't deserve it. But I think being a writer means doing the right thing both on the pages and outside of them. I would never have gotten to sleep tonight if I had left that kitten--we dubbed him "Babou" after the ocelot from Archer because he was a fox-eared asshole, cute though he was--in the rain by himself, crying for his mother. There isn't much I can do in this life that will make a difference. I'll probably live an ordinary life. I'll probably die an ordinary death. But it's moments like the ones with Babou that remind me of why I write stories. Conflict isn't always on a grand scale. Sometimes life is made of tiny battles with few rewards, and some that don't seem substantial.

But it's two in the morning and I'm smiling because one little kitten is safe inside and warm and well-fed, and it happened because my friend and I were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

If that's not good writing, what is?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Things Avatar: The Last Airbender Taught Me About Writing

Have you seen this show? If you have, high-five. If you haven’t, hold up your left hand, extend your first finger, and jab yourself in the eye. Hard. After you see the eye doctor and he okays your vision, then go out and buy the DVDs. It’s that good.

And in honor of the announcement that its sequel, The Legend of Korra, is returning to the air September 13, 2013 at 7:00pm EST (so what if I wrote it on the calendar, DON’T JUDGE ME), I will spend a minute talking about all the wondrous things this delightful animated show has taught me.

1.      Underage characters are just as interesting as adult characters. Anyone with experience in reading Young Adult fiction, or who frequently watches cartoons/anime "intended" for children, has heard this tired, common complaint. Unfortunately, a lot of folks think that just because a novel/short story/cartoon/anime stars a child, it won’t be as good as something with a teenager or adult protagonist. This is such pure bologna that it should be represented by Oscar Meyer. Children are interesting. They are engrossing. They are capable of incredible things, whether they are good or bad. Avatar: TLA knew this right out of the gate. It introduced us to one of the most amazing spread of characters in all of animated history. Every kid had their own personality, their own agenda, their own beliefs, and their own dreams/goals. It is simply staggering to know that there are seven main young characters (and that’s just the ones central to the plot: Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Zuko, Suki, and Azula) and every single one of them develops and changes over the course of three seasons. Age only determines the way certain things unfold within a story. It often does not limit the spectrum or scope of things that happen. These kids still deal with all the horrible parts of life that adults face at one time or another: violence, rage, hatred, racism, sex, fear, faith, and that’s just for starters. The writers (affectionately called “Bryke” for Brian Konietzko and Martin Dante DiMartino, because both their names are a mouthful) did not treat their audience like drooling infants. They wrote the Gaang the way all shows should hope to—with balance, maturity, and respect.

2.      ‘The Chosen One’ trope is not always a cliché. Everyone knows this trope: the “one” who is prophesized to end a war or battle of some sort. It’s been around since the Bible days—Jesus, Luke Skywalker (or Anakin, if you decide to believe that the Star Wars prequels exist), Neo, Harry Potter, and John Connor are just the ones I can rattle off the top of my head. Sometimes it can really wear on the nerves when one character’s actions will affect an entire society, or even a world. For instance, while I generally disagree with the massive hate over the Matrix sequels, one of the main reasons they were disliked is because after Neo got all his powers, he stopped being an underdog, and a normal guy in an abnormal world. If not written properly, the Chosen One can destroy a story and make the reader want to throw your book across the room. I hate to point fingers (usually), but the Fallen series by Thomas E. Sniegoski also had this problem: a bland, douchebag character who was “the Chosen One” and yet all he did was selfishly bitch and moan, neglect his duties, and get people in his life murdered. 

However, ATLA was a refreshing change from the tired stereotypes of the Chosen One. First of all, Aang is freakin’ adorable and peppy and cheerful and wide-eyed and goofy. It’s so easy to like the kid. You’d have to actively try to hate him. His idealism is what makes him both strong and weak throughout his journey, especially his struggle to find a way to stop Firelord Ozai without killing him. The show laid bare all of Aang’s inner turmoil and expanded on everything he learned from his friends and his enemies. I think all writers should watch the show and takes notes, especially those who might consider writing a Chosen One character at some point in their careers. 

Another important factor that ATLA got right was to PROVE why Aang was the Chosen One: for his skill, his love of the world and the people in it, and his ability to unite them. That can go haywire quickly. Anakin Skywalker via the Star Wars prequel had this problem in spades. Through all three movies, everyone kept talking about Anakin being the one to “balance” the Force, and yet we’re never shown why. He NEVER shows any great potential, other than the potential to whine incessantly, glower creepily at Padme, and throw temper tantrums that result in murdering lots of people. He had some Jedi skills, but not enough to warrant all that attention. ATLA avoided this and proved that there is a way to do it right.

3.      Don’t be afraid to explore other cultures. Alright, lower your pitchforks. I’m not one of those black writers who believes that white people are the devil. I am, however, realistic about what’s out there in the main media. When it comes to fantasy and science fiction genres, white characters are predominant. Often, it happens because there are just a ton of incredibly talented writers who happen to be white. Still, there is a stigma whispered about that minority characters/writers can’t bring home the bacon, and that’s just not true. ATLA integrated several different cultures—Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Indian, Eskimo, and that’s the tip of the iceberg, hahaha I made a funny—and still knocked it out of the park without (a) being offensive or (b) compromising great storytelling. This is another aspect I think other writers should make a note of for the future. Culture is what makes the world go ‘round. At the end of the day, all writers end up talking about can boil down to how similar or different their characters are from one another. There are beautiful and hideous things about every culture. We should explore them, and explore them without restraint. A character’s race should never be a deterrent. If it is well written, it can be enjoyed by a person of any background.

4.      Women are awesome. I really don’t need to go on long about this one. ATLA has some of the best female characters of all time, bar none. I mean, Toph. Just…TOPH. If you somehow don’t worship the ground she earth-bends, then there’s always Katara, Suki, Azula, Mai, Ty Lee, Princess Yue, June, Avatar Kyoshi…I could go on for ages. ATLA knew how to write girls, and write them better than a hell of a lot of other shows. Mostly because Bryke knew that girls are the same as boys—they have emotions, thoughts, fears, and desires. There were very few stereotypes to be had and every character had a purpose in the show. That, to me, is one of the greatest things that ATLA accomplished in its run.

Honestly, I could probably go on longer, but I have to stop worshipping at some point because my knees are tired. Seriously, though, if you haven’t checked it out, please do. It’s worth your time, believe me. I’m glad to have grown up with a show that believed that I could handle a great story and didn’t talk down to me. It’s something we should all have, no matter how old we are.


New review for The Black Parade

Got another review, this time from @textandteas. It can be read here.

She's also got a Tumblr and a blog, if you're interested in following her book reviews. She sticks with a short and sweet style, which I quite like.

Happy reading!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Things Bad Movies Taught Me About Writing

So I just watched Jack Reacher last night because my parents claimed it was alright.

It was not.

And that is an understatement.

However, it’s not like this is the first time I’ve seen a hair-tearingly stupid movie. I have also subjected myself to A Good Day to Die Hard and RIPD this year. Yes, yes, I should have known better, but when you’re wrong, you’re dead wrong. Still, every horrible experience I’ve had sitting in a theater has taught me something.

1.      Respect your audience’s time. Specifically, I am referring to pacing a story. Jack Reacher had abysmal pacing. For instance, the first five or six minutes of the film has absolutely no dialogue. I have seen movies where this is effective and sets the mood. In this particular film, it felt pretentious and exhausting. It didn’t enhance the evil nature of the bad guy and it didn’t make the character we were introduced to seem intelligent or quirky. It was just boring and unnecessary. Pacing means that the events of your story glide into each other, whether it’s a romantic scene followed by a violent scene, a violent scene followed by a humorous exchange, an action scene followed by a quiet denouement, or any combination of different sequences. If at any point during your movie, a non-idiotic audience member checks his/her watch, something is deeply wrong. This is not to say that everything should be fast and hectic—that was one of the main pitfalls Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole—but you have to spend time on things that matter and omit things that aren’t relevant to them.
2.      Write good characters and we can pretty much sit through anything. Think about ten of your favorite films off the top of your head. How many of them have premises that are absurd if explained out loud? I know plenty of mine do. However, if you write enjoyable or relatable characters, your audience won’t care that the plot is silly. Perfect example: Clive Owen’s hysterical action flick Shoot ‘Em Up. About 99% of what happened in that movie was physically impossible and ridiculous. Why did I love it? Commitment, man. Clive Owen nailed every single one-liner with his perfect deadpan expression and I adored his character—carrot chewing, cynicism, and all. What’s the reverse of this effect? A great plot with horrible characters. We’ve all seen it before. Hell, I can rattle off examples with ease: My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Push, Jumper, The Last Stand, and the aforementioned RIPD. In my personal opinion, those movies had plots that sounded interesting that were executed horribly. Some of them failed for several reasons, but the common element is unlikable characters. Jack Reacher had this problem as well. There were exactly two types of characters: morons and douchebags. Some were a combination of both. Terrible writing will strangle a great concept in its crib and you’ll be left there weeping. Many writers advise to build a novel, script, or short story from the character outward. I agree completely. We have to like the guy or gal we’re riding piggyback with or nothing will pan out.
3.      Commit. I have an entire laundry list of awful movies that I love with full awareness that they are awful. I am able to freely admit this because 90% of the bad films I enjoy committed to their premise or their characters. For instance, my number one guiltiest pleasure of all time is Hudson Hawk. No, no, don’t close your browser yet! Let me explain. I love Hudson Hawk, if only because everyone—and I mean, everyone—in that silly mess of a film committed to that incomprehensible, ludicrous script of theirs. They just nailed it. No one half-assed any of their scenes and so the movie turned into the beautiful butterfly of horribleness as a result. To me, nothing is worse than being mediocre or half-hearted. I’ve read plenty of books in time and the ones that frustrate me the most are the ones that don’t commit to an idea. I try not to name examples, but the main offender on my list is 'City of Bones'. Great concept, great conflict, great world building, but one truly half-assed main character. I just couldn’t get into it even though I liked Jace and Simon and the other Shadow Hunters just fine. Clary was a loaf of Wal-mart brand bread to me—bland, dry, and forgettable. This is not to say the books are bad. Not in the least. I actually think the writing is quite good and I recommend them with no remorse, but that series is something I can never get into because I feel like the author didn’t commit to making Clary a distinct protagonist. I believe this is possibly the most important part of the writing process—setting the main character apart from her supporting cast and from characters outside of the novel itself. I am the first person to slam the 'Twilight' novels, but at least Bella Swan was her own person. True, she was a perfectly repugnant person, but she was still an individual and no one can really replicate her. (Though E.L. James tried her damnedest.)
4.      Weak villains will kill your story. Not physically weak villains, mind you. Villains who aren’t threatening are also something that makes me want to kick puppies. Jack Reacher was definitely guilty of this. Mr. Potato Head—sorry, Jai Courtney—was kind of intimidating if only for being a cold-blooded sniper, but his “boss” was the least scary villain I’ve seen in ages. Oh, gee, he has one blind eye and no fingers! Bring me my brown pants! Building up a good villain is one of the most important parts to a story because otherwise, your protagonist—no matter how charming and funny and cool—will have no dragon to slay. Winning an unwinnable war is what makes someone a hero, whether that war is literal or not. Creating a slimy, obsequious villain is essential to draw a line in the sand and make the stakes as real as they can ever get. Want an example of what happens when you don't do that? The Happening. ‘Nuff said.

Luckily, 2013 is not over yet and so I have plenty more good movies to wash the bad taste out of my mouth. Stay tuned, as I might revisit this concept since awful films have much, much more to offer as examples of what not to do as a writer.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Recent book review for The Black Parade

My lovely friend Margaret read and reviewed my book.

You should totally check it out. Some nuanced, thoughtful criticism from a great up-and-coming writer.