Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Preemptive Critic - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(This Preemptive Critic review will be a little longer than usual. Cut me some slack. I'm in mourning).

I would moan in despair at the sight of Michael Bay taking a massive dump on my childhood, but let's be honest - that dump started in 2007 and continued with Nickelodeon's eye-blindingly-bad animated reboot series. Bay is merely the latest in a long line of offenders against my beloved Ninja Turtles.

I love the original 1987 animated series and I adore the '90s movie trilogy (yes, even the third one that people keep saying is crap. I say people are full of it). I still watch the films when I get the chance and I still love them. The original Ninja Turtles was cheesy '90s nonsense and I loved every minute of it - to the point that kids at school made fun of me for liking Ninja Turtles (the girls all thought I was weird for liking something boys liked and the boys wouldn't let me play Turtles with them because I was a girl. Screw them - I could play it on my own).  My Turtles were bright, colorful, funny while also being serious and mature when the occasion called for it - but never too serious that they couldn't end an episode on a funny moment. If I had to point to something that started me on the path of loving good superhero stories, without hesitation, I would say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Leonardo was always my favorite, but I still harbor a soft spot for Raphael).

But this mess - where do I even begin? It's too dark and gritty, for one thing. I cannot see my jokey, fun-loving Turtles playing well in this atmosphere. The designs are clunky and unrealistic (see also Transformers). They've changed the story drastically (the Shredder isn't Splinter's long-ago nemesis, which is where most of the drama of the original came from). Besides, Nickelodeon has basically trashed the Turtles franchise with their lackluster animated TV series (I saw a few episodes and it sent me into the fetal position, it was so terrible). There was that movie back in 2007... never mind, that was bad too.

And dammit - Michael Bay! Lemme tell you a story - a few years ago, I went to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon over 4th of July weekend (the movie theater back home was doing a special matinee showing for the holiday). Most people cite the unrealistic action sequences and stupid storylines, but that isn't what ticked me off the most in that movie. The moment that ticked me off was when Michael Bay expected me to buy the fact that a glorified porn star was dating Shia LaBeouf's character. It only got worse from there - it's one thing to make a mindless popcorn flick, but he takes "mindless" to a whole new level that I refuse to descend to. It kills me that people would willingly fork over their hard-earned money to keep this guy in the movie-making business (that does nothing for my already-low opinion of society in general). When it was announced that Bay was producing a new Turtles movie, I wept openly. My beloved childhood heroes that I took hits for from the snotty girls and dumbass boys were on borrowed time as it was, but here is the final nail in the coffin (it's probably the same braindead dumbasses that keep Michael Bay in business, now that I think of it).

It may make millions of dollars at the box office, but that makes little difference to me. These aren't my Turtles - not even remotely. You can't have a faithful-yet-updated adaptation by throwing out everything that made the original wonderful. And that's precisely what they've done here.

For finally killing off the Ninja Turtles franchise, I preemptively hate this movie.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Teenage Humor Over Teenage Angst - Review of "Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Rennison

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on July 9, 2011**

Title: Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson
Author: Louise Rennison
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Date of Publication: April 2001

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -

There are six things very wrong with my life:

1. I have one of those under-the-skin spots that will never come to a head but lurk in a red way for the next two years.
2. It is on my nose
3. I have a three-year-old sister who may have peed somewhere in my room.
4. In fourteen days the summer hols will be over and then it will be back to Stalag 14 and Oberfuhrer Frau Simpson and her bunch of sadistic teachers.
5. I am very ugly and need to go into an ugly home.
6. I went to a party dressed as a stuffed olive.

In this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones's Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it's "Fabbity fab fab!"

My Review:
I read this book per recommendations from my students.  I was a little wary because of the title (and other titles in the series), but I gave it a shot and I’m glad that I did (to be truthful, the title’s probably just for shock value).  This is a perfectly hilarious book poking fun at a typical teenage girl’s hopes and fears and all the drama that she gets pulled into (as teenage girls are wont to do).  The book is written as Georgia’s diary and she’s as honest as any girl would be if she knew nobody would ever read what she wrote.  There are so many funny parts, but I think my favorite is when she’s spying on a classmate and how horrified she is when she finds out what a thong really is.  Plus, I adore the wonderful “Britishisms” that pepper the narrative (there is a glossary at the back of the book – which is funny in its own right – for readers who don’t quite know what Georgia is referring to in some instances).

The only complaint I could really have is that it’s a little far-fetched to believe that a girl would have her diary on hand to detail every little stray thought every five minutes as though Georgia were on Twitter (some of the entries do that) – but it ultimately adds to the humor.  Since it’s written as Georgia’s diary, there isn’t much of a “plotline” other than following her through a school year, but that didn’t bother me.  It was nice to have a light, fluffy read after some of the heavier stuff I’ve been reading and I’d like to tackle the rest of the series.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mental Illness Sucks - Let's Help It Suck Less

I've got something I want to talk about - mostly because this morning I learned about Altered Perceptions, an anthology of "behind the scenes" work from a lot of fantastic writers, many of whom are my favorite authors (the others are ones I just haven't read anything from yet). It's for a great cause too, which I will expound upon throughout this post.

I rarely, if ever, talk about my own issues with mental illness. I certainly have never brought it up 'round these parts, simply because my blog is part of my escape from the stresses that trigger my mental illnesses and I'd like to keep this place free from those things. But, I also think it's important to talk about it and for once, I think I want to open up about it to someone that isn't my ever-so-patient and wonderful roommate (even though she says it's totally okay and she'll listen whenever I need her - bless her forever).

I have anxiety and depression. The former is way worse than the latter for me, but the former has a nasty habit of turning into the latter. It routinely kicks me in the butt when I’m not looking and when it does, I go into a zombie-like funk for weeks on end (usually it means I go out of my way to not talk to anybody - don’t return calls or texts or emails unless absolutely necessary. During these times, leaving the house is nigh-on an Olympic event). It gets worse when I’m under a lot of stress brought on by work or financial issues. Coincidentally (and I use the term sarcastically), that is EXACTLY what life’s been throwing at me since Christmas (thus far, 2014 has been a heinous bitch to me). Fortunately, I do have ways of managing it and my condition is nowhere near as severe as what a lot of people have. I take medication for it and as long as I get enough rest and some time to myself, I’m usually okay (except when I’m not - it’s complicated).

I hate talking about my mental illness because I know other people have it so much worse and I don’t want to sound like I’m whining when I have no reason to. I've had some very scary thoughts when I've been in one of these funks. These are thoughts I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, thoughts I don't think I'll ever be able to speak or write about because they are so crippling. And even though I “know” that it’s my brain having one of its funny turns, it still feels very, very real. It’s not something that you can pull yourself out of easily. I can’t count the number of times I've heard “Just be happy!” (or some variant thereof). It actually makes my anxiety worse because I can’t just flick that “happy switch” and I feel like a terrible failure because I can’t do something that is such a simple thing to most people. So, I get anxious because I’m expected to do this one simple task, and I can’t do it and it’ll be the worst thing ever if someone finds out that there’s something wrong with me because they’ll yell at me about what a horrible person I am and my life will be forever ruined so why even try anymore?

(And there you just saw the kind of bullshit my brain hands me on a nearly-daily basis. What’s stupid is that I know it’s bullshit. Yet, I can't help but believe it. Anxiety is a self-sustaining little bastard).

Mental illness is a weird thing - there’s no straightforward way of dealing with it that works for everybody. One kind of medication can work for one person where the same medication can have devastating effects for someone else. Some people need a certain kind of diet, some use service animals. It’s only been in recent years where it’s something that people actually talk about as a legitimate medical condition. It’s also only recently that I've been able to piece together that it’s actually a genetic condition that runs in my family (both sides, as it turns out). I used to think that certain relatives of mine were just stupid drunks - but it turns out that it was most likely the anxiety manifesting itself as alcoholism. While the deck was already stacked against me, I'm also lucky that I live in a time where it's good to discuss such things and ask for help and not be treated like you're some dangerous creature.

Back to Altered Perceptions: a group of authors - many of whom I’m already a huge fan of - are banding together to help one of their number, Robison Wells, pay off a substantial pile of debt incurred because he struggles with severe mental illness. Authors like Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells (Rob’s brother) and Larry Correia and Jessica Day George and Shannon Hale and Mary Robinette Kowal and Ally Condie and Brandon Mull and Josi Kilpack and Sarah Eden and a bunch of others are putting together deleted scenes from their novels into an anthology (more than deleted scenes, now that I read the description more carefully - things like early drafts, unpublished short stories, cut chapters, original non-fiction). $10 gets you an eBook copy of the anthology and the ranking system goes up from there (it’s all on the donation page at the link above - check it out). I would buy this just to have access to new content from some of my most very favorite authors - but because mental illness is such a personal thing for me, I would buy this even if I wasn't familiar with anyone working on it.

I hope this endeavor is successful. I hope that it not only meets, but exceeds the goal. I know that the authors involved have all promoted this thing already, but I wanted to bring attention to it, even if just in my own small way. Mostly because I've been learning about my own mental illnesses for the last few years and my heart goes out to everybody - whether they're a best-selling author or simply a fan - who deals with this. It's a bitch to handle. As bad as my own case is, I can't fathom what Rob Wells goes through. But it's awesome to see a group of fantastic authors use their talents to help a friend in need. Also, maybe just hearing Rob's story will help someone else with their own mental illness - if only to see that you can live a full life and have success in spite of your challenges.

Just as a footnote - reading is one of those things that helps me cope with my anxiety. In fact, some of these authors have already helped me through some of my darkest episodes and don't even know it. Just last month, I finished The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson and I credit that novel with pulling me out of some extremely dark depression (I finished Shannon Hale's Dangerous in the same space of time as well, so some credit goes that way too). I don't know what kind of conclusions you or I want to draw from that, but it is fitting that this is a thing that's happening. So, I encourage you to donate what you can. Ten bucks gets you a pretty awesome anthology from some fabulous writers and it'll be a kick in the pants against one guy's mental illness.

(Just in case you missed it - the link is here too:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Something Special for Easter

I just wanted to put together a special post of my favorite songs and quotes about the Savior for Easter. Whether you celebrate the religious aspects of the holiday or if your observances are more of a secular nature, I hope that you'll find peace and joy during this time. It's just as important - if not moreso - than Christmas. Without Easter, there would be no reason to celebrate Christmas.

It's probably just because I've been dealing with Life Stuff lately, but all these things have a special meaning for me. All of these things combine to make up my testimony of the Savior. I share it in hopes that it will help someone who's having a hard time or just wants to feel God's love. Either way, I wish everyone a happy Easter!

(from "Sunday Will Come" by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin)

 11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

 12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
(Alma 7:11-12)

"Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says,  we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.

I testify of the holy Resurrection, that unspeakable cornerstone gift in the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ! With the Apostle Paul, I testify that that which was sown in corruption will one day be raised in incorruption and that which was sown in weakness will ultimately be raised in power." - from "Like a Broken Vessel" by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

"As we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." from Preach My Gospel Lesson 2: The Plan of Salvation

26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:26-27)

"If there had been no fall of Adam, by which cometh death, there could have been no atonement of Christ, by which cometh life.

"And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.

"I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

"But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

"God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin." - from "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane" by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
(Matthew 28:5-6)

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
(John 20:15-16)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Choices, Factions and Well-Written YA Romance - Review of "Divergent" by Veronica Roth

(Seeing as how I'm kind of obsessed with this series since seeing the movie, I thought I'd bump this review up and post it for Throwback Thursday a lot sooner. Enjoy!)

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on January 3, 2012**

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Reading Level: 16 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) -
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. 

My Review:
In the library system where I work, you can always tell the really good books.  When brand new books come out, there's always at least a month or so where those books are constantly on hold and anyone who wants a turn just had better take a number.  The really good ones are on hold for a couple of months and the really, really, REALLY good ones are on hold for about six or seven.  "Divergent" came out in May 2011 and it still has a hold list rolling out the door and down the road.

But just because a book is popular doesn't make it good (naw - DUH!)  My readership is well aware the issues I had with "Uglies" and that is one that continues to be on the request list.  But, with the Christmas holidays coming up and my need for something on the "light and fluffy" side during this break (seeing as how I've been tackling "The Wheel of Time" series the past two months, most anything else would qualify as light and fluffy by comparison), I decided to give "Divergent" a shot.

I will be as upfront about this as I can be - "Divergent" gave me a distinct "Uglies" vibe about halfway through the book.  Could I point to anything specific?  Not really.  Maybe it was the aspect of teenagers teaching teenagers how to do stupid things (like zip-lining down a skyscraper for the fun of it? Yeah, that's an "Uglies" thing).  It could be the Dauntless training Tris and Co. have to go through, but "The Hunger Games" did something similar and it didn't bother me there (even though the Dauntless training is more or less a period of "Yeah, we know you're going to be accepted into Dauntless - when is stuff going to start happening?") However, that feeling didn't last (Thank Gallifrey) and "Divergent" turned out to be much better.

One thing I enjoyed about this book is that the important surprises were well-placed and were actually - well, surprising (hm... fancy that).  I was so impressed by one in particular that I'm not even going to mention it here because I'd like someone else to be surprised by it.  I will give you a hint - it's not the reveal that Four is Tobias (let's be honest - that one was telegraphed in by the end of chapter 6.  At least, I think it was chapter 6 - I don't remember specifics.  But don't get the impression that I was bothered by that).

Another thing - and this is something I harp on quite a bit, but I certainly can't be the only one who feels this way - I was so happy that there are no contrived and crappily-shoe-horned-in love triangles in "Divergent."  There was a moment where that could have happened, but thankfully Al bit the dust and Tris and Four are able to let their budding romance blossom as the plot progresses.  In fact, the Tris/Tobias pairing is one of my favorite things about this book specifically because there is very little drama around the relationship itself.  Oh sure, the both of them have their own issues and problems they deal with individually, but they kind of help each other through those problems and it's quite a joy to read.  It's one of the more better-written romantic relationships I've read in YA fiction in quite a long time.   

(That being said - Woe betide the story if some heretofore unknown trollop or he-man swoops in to make an unnecessary and idiotic love triangle.  This story has plenty of outward drama and conflict to create an enjoyable plot)

I have to talk about the ending a little bit because that was my favorite part of the story. Honestly! I'm not being snooty about it or anything.  The climax was one of the most satisfying things I've read in a while and I'll tell you why that is - it's because I could follow what was happening.  Many action-packed endings I've read have so much action and description going on that I can hardly tell who's doing what, where the characters are, who's died and who's on our side.  Roth kept this surprisingly simple and to-the-point without sacrificing any of the intensity or edge-of-your-seat-ness that makes a good climax.  Oh, and I'm quite pleased that Tobias didn't end up being captured by the Dauntless/Erudite/Fishbait faction so Tris has to spend all of the next book pining for him.

A note on the setting - the summary says that this takes place in a futuristic Chicago and perhaps it does, but the specific setting really doesn't matter.  I think there was one specific mention of a certain building in Chicago (and it shows how important that mention was that I don't remember the name of the building), but this could have taken place in the futuristic version of any city, really.  But if that's what Roth wants it to be, it's not a terrible bother.

Where would I set "Divergent" on my Sliding Scale of Excellent Dystopias? Since I just made that up, I would have to say it ranks with "Matched" - that is slightly below "The Hunger Games," but heads and above better than "Uglies" or "The Bar Code Tattoo."  Worth your time to pick up and certainly worth your time to finish so you can feverishly anticipate the next installment (titled "Insurgent" and due out May 2012).

Monday, April 14, 2014

The First Reasonable Plan Since This All Began - Review of "Once Upon A Time: The Jolly Roger"

This post contains SPOILERS for Once Upon a Time Season 3, Episode 17, "The Jolly Roger." Read at your own risk!

Oh sweet mother of angels, pirates, and mermaids - Once Upon a Time, THIS is what you could be!

Last summer, I discovered ABC's show about fairy tale characters living in modern times and trying to get back home. That was when I'd initially finished watching Season 1 on DVD, which I quite enjoyed. I've since watched Season 2 and been keeping up with Season 3... and I'll be honest - it's kind of gotten dull. Most everything that can be done with the main characters has already been done and it was starting to feel like the writers had run out of ideas. Even the prospect of including characters from stories like The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel fell flat on their faces (well, the Rapunzel storyline more than The Little Mermaid - I mean, that princess in the tower could have been anyone. There was no point to all that hair). Honestly, the Charmings are bland, Henry's annoying, and that stupid love triangle between Emma, Neal, and Hook was just... ugh! The only characters I really like anymore are Regina, Rumple, and Captain Hook (and yes, I realize that all three of these characters are... not exactly "villains" - more of anti-heroes. But damn if they aren't compelling to watch!)

I often ask myself why I am still watching this show.  Even on weeks that I am most certainly NOT going to watch, I find myself catching up on Hulu. I guess I see how good this show could be and how much it is just not living up to its potential - instead of finding new ways to tell these stories, they just shoehorn the characters they've overused into these incredibly boring tropes.

However, last night's episode "The Jolly Roger" had me standing up and cheering again. Because THIS is what OUAT could and ought to be!  I even want to call out the writer - David H. Goodman - by name and publicly applaud him for this idea. Not to mention the actors - particularly Colin O'Donoghue and Joanna Garcia Swisher for stellar performances. Even Rebecca Mader - whose Wicked Witch of the West I haven't really been that enthralled with to this point - put in one of the most convincing villain moments at the end.

So - what made this episode different from all the others? For starters, the focus isn't on the Charmings. At all. Snow White isn't in the flashbacks trying to appeal to Hook's better nature and Charming isn't there doing... whatever the crap he does. In fact, the Charmings get to take Henry (who hasn't had a convincing thing to do since Season 1) off to run over mailboxes in David's truck and that's the extent of their involvement (I will say that this second half of Season 3 has benefited greatly from Henry not remembering anything about Storybrooke. He's just happy in the corner playing Xbox or whatever and I am happy for him to stay there. I'm counting down the days until they can send that boy to college and we won't have to look at him on a regular basis. He contributes nothing to the plot anymore). Regina and Emma go off to get Emma to figure out how to use her powers, which - IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME!! How long has Emma known about her magic and she hasn't used it? Hell, if I had the choice between summoning fire to roast someone's ass or shooting them with a gun - I'd choose fire. Now that Neal's dead (oops - spoilers) it seems that Emma is going to be put to better use than sitting around debating her conflicting loyalties and pining for her baby daddy (sorry - I just kept waiting for Neal to do something interesting and it never happened. Other than him dying to resurrect Rumplestiltskin. In terms of Characters Who Actually Do Something, I say we viewers got the better end of that trade-off).

Thus, we are left with Captain Hook. Who also has been improved since Neal's death, in that his bid for Emma can be taken more seriously. Beyond that, though, Hook is faced with a choice. He remembers the past year that's been lost, but he's not telling anyone about it. This episode goes into why - at least in part. Hook's crew wants to go off and search for their ship The Jolly Roger so they can get back to their old pirating ways. Hook - well, Hook's had a taste of being one of the good guys and he's not sure that he wants to go back to being a scoundrel. Even before Season 3.2 starts - we have a flashback of him in a pub in the Enchanted Forest paying off a barmaid that his men gifted to him as part of a post-robbery celebration. Hook is not the dastardly pirate that he tries to pass himself off as - but neither is he this squeaky-clean hero-type.

Enter Ariel - who hasn't found Prince Eric since everyone was sent back to the Enchanted Forest. And since Hook has a reputation for being a good guy as well as a sea-faring pirate, Ariel thinks that he can help her find her prince, who also has a penchant for sailing the sea. Hook agrees, especially since there is strong evidence that Eric was captured by the same people who have his ship.

Back in Storybrooke, Ariel shows up again with the same problem. She can't find Eric - but Hook, Snow, and Belle (who is finally used to her utmost potential in this episode) come to her aid. Hook is a little reluctant to help, but he agrees since he is the one who knows the most of what happened during the "Missing Year." Snow eventually leaves the main action to be Henry's "not-grandma," leaving Hook and Ariel to look through Mr. Gold's shop for clues as to the whereabouts of Prince Eric.

I've got to talk about Belle here for a bit. Even though she doesn't have a whole lot of screentime, what she does have is used beautifully. In recent episodes, she's had to deal with Rumple's kidnapping and imprisonment by the Wicked Witch, but instead of moping and pining about it, she's going through all the things in Gold's Pawn Shop (which Rumple/Mr. Gold left to her when he thought he was going to die - long story) and organizing things, cataloging them, running the shop the best that she can. She provides the ray of hope that Snow White usually does, though to greater effect, since that's kind of becomes Snow's one and only character trait lately. But Belle's sense of hope is more pronounced because she has gone through so much and is still going through a lot. There is one line that sums her optimism out the best - when she agrees to let Ariel look through the shop for anything belonging to Prince Eric, Belle says "Maybe good news will be contagious." It was a small moment, but it was so indicative of the situation that all of Storybrooke is dealing with and we didn't need to gather the whole town in a room to look at each other with suspicion until Regina yells about... whatever.  It helps that Belle and Ariel have already established a solid friendship with each other (in the only episode from Season 3.1 that didn't have me throwing things) and I want to see more of that - not necessarily from these two characters, but I would like to see more relationships between these types of "secondary" characters.

Hook finds a cloak belonging to Prince Eric in Gold's shop - he recognizes it because Ariel had it in the Enchanted Forest when he met her before. Belle casts a tracking spell on the cloak which will enable the cloak to find Eric. The cloak flies off and Hook and Ariel take off after it. After a while, the cloak lands in the water in the Storybrooke harbor and disappears into the sea. They both take it to mean that Eric was lost at sea and Ariel looks devastated - but at the same time, she says that it's better that she knows where Eric is, rather than looking and never finding him.

Before I get to the climax of the story, I've got to end the Enchanted Forest storyline - the storyline that nobody but Hook can remember (and the one that he's not telling, but it's evident that he's not about to talk about it). He and Ariel find The Jolly Roger and Hook faces down Blackbeard, who's taken over the ship. They fight and Hook wins. He's about to kill Blackbeard when Ariel stops Hook because Blackbeard knows where Prince Eric is and if Blackbeard dies, Ariel will never find Eric. Hook ignores her and makes Blackbeard walk the plank anyway. Ariel yells at Hook - that he is not a hero, that he is just a scumbag pirate and that's all he'll ever be. Ariel leaps into the sea and becomes a mermaid and goes off in search of her prince, leaving Hook to think on Ariel's accusations and to regret that he is not a better man.

Folks - THIS is the kind of character that Once Upon a Time's Captain Hook should be. Hell, this is what they should be doing with ALL of these fairy tale characters. And I don't just mean putting princesses in pants and giving them weapons and making them warriors as well as eye candy. I mean giving them good backstories and motivations and doing interesting things with them (that have nothing to do with terrible home lives because that trope has been done to death and it's not even a surprise anymore - not just in OUAT, but in most fairy tale retellings. Gregory Maguire's Wicked started it and no one's had an original idea since). Captain Hook in popular culture is associated with Disney's foppish dandy who's obsessed with killing Peter Pan and scared of crocodiles. And this Hook kind of started out that way, but he's since been given a chance to expand as a character - he's a bit of a lovable roguish scoundrel (not unlike Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds). Hook wants to be better, but he's not sure about leaving behind his previous life - whether or not he can do it, let alone if he should.

That brings us to the ending of the episode. Hook runs after Ariel to tell her everything that he knew of her during the "Missing Year" - that he made a mistake and it cost her chance of finding Prince Eric and that he regrets his actions and he's sorry for it. He also confesses that he knows what it's like to love someone and never having them. Ariel asks who it is that Hook loves and he says it's Emma Swan.

And here, my friends, is the best reveal that Once Upon a Time* have ever given us!

"Ariel" reveals herself to actually be the Zelena (the Wicked Witch of the West) in disguise. When Hook admits that he loves Emma, Zelena curses Hook so that the next time Hook kisses Emma, Emma's magical powers will be taken from her. Hook says that he'll warn Emma and Regina and everybody of Zelena's plans, but Zelena comes back with the threat that she will kill everyone that Hook cares about - including Emma and Henry - if he breathes a word about her plans. Zelena is at her absolute best in this moment. THIS is the kind of vengeful Wicked Witch I thought we would be getting. She's vindictive and nasty and just plain wicked (if I may use that term). And if I get more of this in the lead up to the season finale, I will forgive that stupid twist of her being Regina's half-sister (good grief - how much more convoluted can these family trees get??)

Hook goes back to the Charmings' loft, despondent and in despair. He finds Emma, who's been practicing magic with Regina. And she's actually getting quite good! She summons an image of the real Ariel, who found Prince Eric a long time ago and they're living happily on an island off the coast of the Enchanted Forest that was not affected by the Wicked Witch's curse. So, Hook is happy for Ariel, who found her happy ending, in spite of his screw-up.

Now, we've all seen this trope where a character keeps vital information away from the people they care about in order to save their lives (Harry Potter did it, Spider-Man did it - just to name a few). But this is the first time that I actually believe that Hook has no idea how to deal with this situation. He's never been anywhere near this kind of thing. He's been a pirate since time immemorial. Any goodness he once had is gone - even though he's slowly been turning over a new leaf, he's still not comfortable with admitting that to anyone, least of all himself.

This is the kind of meaty storytelling that this show is capable of and that I would love to see more of. I mean, they've worn out the possibilities surrounding the Charmings and Regina and Henry - let's delve into some of these other side characters that haven't had a chance to be fleshed out. We haven't seen hide nor hair of Cinderella since "The Price of Gold", which was the 4th episode in Season 1 (that was also written by David H. Goodman and it remains one of my very favorite episodes - I think there's a correlation here). Sleeping Beauty's been abandoned by the writers, Rapunzel didn't get much of a character arc (let's face it - that whole episode was just a waste) - bring back some of these characters and let the main ones rest for a bit!

At the end of the day, Captain Hook was given a marvelous character arc in this episode and all the little hints and plot threads that they've been weaving with his character - one key reason why I keep watching Once Upon a Time, in spite of all my complaints about the show - are starting to come together and I couldn't be more pleased (unless next week's episode continues this grand tradition and this wasn't a one-time fluke, that is).

This was a long post, but the episode gave me so much to parse and digest - that's the sign of a fantastic story! I hope I'll find cause to wax lyrical about next week's episode, but that's until next week. In the meantime - I've gotta go watch this one again!

This should have been my first clue that this episode was going to be amazing.
Hook disguised as a knight! *fangirl swoon*
*Given that one of those reveals was that Peter Pan is in all actuality Rumplestiltskin's father - I don't know that this was a terribly great compliment. Still, my point stands.

EDIT: I went back and watched older episodes of Once that featured Hook because, well, why not? And I find I have to amend one of my earlier statements - it's wasn't "Ariel" that was the only episode of 3.1 that didn't have me throwing things (because there was plenty of opportunity for throwing things there). The honor of being my favorite episode of 3.1 goes to "Good Form" which, given the timey-wimey way I watched Seasons 2 and 3, was actually the first episode I saw that really featured Captain Hook in any prominent way. Beyond being my intro to my eventual favorite character, I just loved how different it was to most everything else I'd seen. Especially seeing how dull Season 3 had been to that point - having an origin story for Killian Jones was just a lot of fun and I've since gone back and watched it four or five times. So - there's that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

There Is Not Enough *headdesk* In The World...

They're splitting Allegiant into two movies. Sweet Mother of Rassilon - WHY?

And yet... no one can muster up the gumption to do a Wonder Woman movie...
I swear I read something a couple a weeks ago that said unequivocally that this was NOT going to happen (Can I find that article now? Of course not!) And I was quite relieved. Apart from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which actually had enough material to warrant a split (Goblet of Fire also should have been split, but let’s not open that wound today - since I already did it here), none of these YA novel adaptation movies have needed that extra film to tell the whole story. But I guess someone changed their mind. And I am really tired of this trend. It was good for the first one, but now it’s just stupid. I mean, they might as well just trot out promotional materials that say “We don’t give a shit about your favorite stories - we really just want all your money!” Usually I’m happy to give them my money if the product is good and I feel like I'm getting of quality in return. But when it’s so blatant that this is what they’re doing, it makes me nervous about the kind of movies they’re going to put out.

Let’s just break it down here - like I said, Harry Potter needed the split (more than it actually got, if truth be told). Breaking Dawn (fourth book of Twilight)... well, we could have a whole conversation of whether the fourth book was even necessary, let alone an extra movie (Full Disclosure: I only saw Breaking Dawn, Part 1, with the caveat that I would watch it with RiffTrax commentary. Even that couldn’t salvage the sheer awfulness of that movie and I didn’t even bother with Part 2).

The next one on the chop is Mockingjay, which is still baffling to me. I mean, they got all of the necessary material from Catching Fire into one movie. In terms of essential plot elements, Mockingjay does not have anything more than Catching Fire does. In fact, I would venture to say that Catching Fire actually has MORE in terms of story and would have needed the split far more than Mockingjay does. But it’s Mockingjay that gets the split, simply because the studios don’t feel the need to go out and find something else to fill that release date with. Or whatever the thinking is behind this stupid fad.

If The Hunger Games films don’t need this trope, the Divergent trilogy needs it even less. While Divergent the book and Divergent the movie were so good that it hurts - there is still a long way to go with these movies. Insurgent as a book suffers the most from being over-long (I’m right in the middle of re-reading Insurgent and I’m already finding places where the story could be edited down to be more interesting. It’s not a terrible book by any means - there are some very excellent scenes and character moments in this story. But material around them is padded down with a lot of excess that isn't needed and I’m hoping that gets worked out of the screenplay). Allegiant returns to the greatness of Divergent, but that ending is a sore point of contention with many of the fandom (personally, I see why it ended that way. I may not like the way it ended from an emotional standpoint, but from a storyteller’s standpoint it was a gutsy call and I applaud Veronica Roth in taking such a risk. And it doesn't bother me the way it bothers other people. Hell, I’m re-reading the whole series, aren't I?) Now that I think of it, Insurgent could probably be pared down enough to give some of Allegiant’s story to that movie! (There is precedent for such things - some of what happened in the book The Return of the King went into the movie for The Two Towers and vice versa. But that was a situation with timelines and plot-threads running through the whole series. Still - it works out in the long run).

The Divergent series does NOT need four movies. But it’s going to get them anyway. And the storytelling is going to suffer because of it. That makes me sad. Because the overarching story is SO good and SO worth your time, but the executives and the accounting eggheads just see dollar signs and want to bleed these franchises dry until there’s nothing left to enjoy anymore. Part of the fun of these things is that there is an ending and they don’t go on and on forever and they don’t overstay their welcome. We as fans may say “it’ll be sad when this whole thing is over” because we’ll have to say goodbye to our favorite characters and we love them a lot - but there is such a thing as too much. And if you had an endless supply of just one thing, it would become stale and boring and you’d get sick of it. And there is nothing more tragic than having something you once loved so much become stale and boring.

Obviously YA fiction is a viable market for filmmakers - maybe these efforts would be better suited to finding other YA properties that would lend themselves to good film adaptations. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier comes to mind, as does Matched by Ally Condie and Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. In fact, I would sacrifice my left kidney for a good Shadow and Bone movie. As much as I love Divergent, Shadow and Bone is in the same class. But no, we have to keep beating the same franchises to death instead of trying to find something new and interesting.

C'mon, Lionsgate! You know you want to!
Well - at least we’ll always have the books. They don’t disappoint as easily.

Seeing as how a lot of my initial reviews of a lot of these books are on my now-defunct book review blog, I really need to keep up with my "Throwback Thursday" thing that I've let lapse AGAIN! (argh)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Winter Soldiers and Snowstorm Patriots: Review of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

Spoilers! Herein contains a very spoilery review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier!!

It's no secret that I positively adore the way Marvel Studios has crafted their Cinematic Universe. And the acquisition by Disney has, in my opinion, only expanded their ability to tell brilliant stories. Even the integration of Agents of SHIELD on television has been fantastic (despite a bunch of bellyaching from entitled fanboys, but I ignore that. Agents of SHIELD is awesome and anyone who says otherwise is selling something).

I managed to stay spoiler free for this movie for the most part (and here is where you should look away if you still haven't seen the movie)... ... (spoiler buffer)...




(end spoiler buffer)

I knew that the Winter Soldier was Steve Rogers' childhood friend, Bucky Barnes because the fans of the comics pointed that out in the lead-up to the movie. And that's about where my knowledge ended. But I was NOT prepared for the onslaught of new information this movie presented.

First off - I have to talk a little bit about some misleading information in the trailer. It's obvious from the trailer that Robert Redford is the villain of this piece (and I'm glad that he was because I'm not a fan of the guy on principle and it would have made my skin crawl to actually have to cheer for him in a Marvel film), but it was starting to look like Nick Fury was even at odds against Captain America. And I am very glad that did not turn to be the case.  But what did turn out to be the case - holy cow! Let's just start from the top -

I love that we get to see Steve more or less integrated into modern life, but still working out a few things (all this time and he still hasn't see Star Wars??) He meets a war veteran by name of Sam Wilson while he's out on a run in the park and the rest of us think "Yup - second tier Avenger, right here!" Now, Steve's still the same nice guy that we all know and love - but he's also a SHIELD... not agent, exactly. More like a highly-skilled operative. Steve learns that SHIELD has been developing an arsenal of helicarriers (that Tony Stark advised on a bit, apparently) that will enable SHIELD to take out baddies before they do anything at all - this project is known as Insight. The theory of the idea sounds okay on the surface, but in practice it doesn't sound real great to Steve. He realizes that he doesn't like being just a pawn in Nick Fury's chess game - and things really have changed from the world that Steve knew before he because a super soldier. Against this backdrop, Steve visits his old flame from the WWII pre-SHIELD, Peggy Carter, who looks to be suffering from some type of dementia or Alzheimer's (nope, you didn't hit nothing important - just my feels), and then he takes a trip to the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian, which results in even more feels. If ever there was a fish out of water, it's Steve Rogers.

Meanwhile, back at SHIELD, Nick Fury is having a hard time accessing a super-high-tech flash drive and it's bugging the crap out of him, so he asks a buddy of his, played by a very crusty Robert Redford, to delay Project Insight. Long story short - a bunch of thugs attack Fury and he dies. But not before he gives Steve the super-high-tech flash drive and tells Steve not to trust anyone at SHIELD because they've been compromised. During this, Steve encounters a mysterious assassin that all the trailers and posters have told us is the Winter Soldier.

When Steve refuses to tell SHIELD the details of Fury's death, SHIELD operatives try to capture Steve and he ends up on the run along with Natasha Romanoff. Along their merry adventures, they discover that Hydra (remember the Red Skull and the Nazis in Captain America: The First Avenger?) has been manipulating SHIELD into creating Project Insight for them and that the world is a lot more complicated than anyone initially thought. They've kept Toby Jones's (of all people) brain downloaded on ancient data tapes locked away in a basement that can only be accessed by the super-high-tech flash drive. Basically, Hydra's gone underground in their quest for world domination. And the Winter Soldier is a key component of that manipulation, assassinating people who get in the way of Hydra's plans (including, it is inferred, Howard and Maria Stark - from a headline clear in the heck from the first Iron Man movie. Never let it be said that Marvel doesn't know its own story). The way Hydra intends to continue their domination is by spying on everybody - knowing everything about their lives and using that information to predict how they will act, so they can take out anyone who might be thinking of rising against them. Which immediately reminded me of this:

(Harold Finch is one of the Avengers and no one can convince me otherwise).

Oh, and by the way, Steve finally finds out that the Winter Soldier is his old pal Bucky that he thought was dead. And Hydra's been doing some nasty experimentation on Bucky since he was captured in 1944. Bucky doesn't remember Steve - the poor guy doesn't even remember his own name!

This whole story is so heartwrenching from beginning to end. I knew Marvel was going for the emotional twists in Phase 2 and I'm really glad they are - but man, I almost can't take it! I mean, our heroes win (more or less), but SHIELD is in shambles and Nick Fury's on the run (oh, he's really not dead. Even when he "died," I kept waiting for him to come out of the shadows and have a plan. Which he did - but not necessarily the plan I wanted). The way it ended - I wonder if the characters from Agents of SHIELD are going to make a movie appearance at some point.  Because the Hydra goonies are still out there (at least one of them is - that guy who was fighting Sam Wilson at the end. Oh yeah - Sam is actually the Falcon, by virtue of these super-cool mechanical wings that he was trained to fly with in the war. Which is about the coolest damn thing ever!) and nobody trusts SHIELD and Natasha's cover is blown to pieces (wait a minute! Where the crap was Hawkeye in all of this??) - they need to rebuild SHIELD somehow. And the players are there, if they want to bring in Agents of SHIELD. Which, I think they will. And the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron will probably bring that into play.

(Calling it now - Agent May from AoS is a Hydra operative. Guess I'll see tomorrow night).

Some more about Bucky (oh my poor, poor heart - the post-credits scene in the Smithsonian...) I loved Bucky in Captain America and I was mad that he died in that movie. But, this being the comics, no one ever stays dead. Honestly, I think Bucky has the potential to be a character like Loki - someone who you should hate, but you can't for Reasons. Where the Reasons for not hating Loki is that he's a charismatic bastard, Bucky's Reasons are going to be that he's got a lot of backstory to tell and a lot of material to work with. There is a lot they could do with him, which is unusual to happen with a Marvel villain (at least, up to this point in the movies). Mostly, they've just dispatched the bad guys and gone on to the next plotline, but they've left Bucky's ending hanging, which intrigues me endlessly (maybe he'll get his own movie at some point - who knows? Hell, there have been rumors of a Loki movie, so why not?)

Loved this movie, loved how intense it was (there were points that I thought Steve was done for), loved how it's integrated elements from other Marvel movies (even that douchebag senator from Iron Man 2 was a Hydra guy! I thought we were done with his crap) - this is Marvel at it's uttermost best and I'm glad that I wasn't spoiled for the twists and turns. I love how complex this universe is getting and just how good the stories are. These may have started out as action-y popcorn flicks, but there is some meaty storytelling going on here, and as long as they keep giving me that, I will keep spending money to see these films.