The Blackcoat’s Daughter Review

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. 

I saw the trailer for this movie a few years back, but only got around to seeing it after spotting it in my recommended videos on Netflix. The premise seemed interesting and I was in the mood for a good horror movie so I thought I would give this a shot.

What better movie to watch while in self-isolation during the apocalypse than one where two girls are stuck at their private school with the devil?

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The end result was a mixed bag for me.

While the movie had far more going for it than it had against it, there were definitely a couple of issues I had with the finished product.

For one thing, this movie’s pacing is painfully slow.

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Don’t get me wrong, I like a slow-burning horror. In fact, a slower pace can greatly benefit a horror flick  because it gives the story enough time to build atmosphere and suspense.

That being said, I think the momentum of this movie was a bit too slow and plodding to keep my attention. There were so many times that I caught myself browsing Facebook between scenes, no doubt missing clever little Easter eggs in the process. I can appreciate the fact that the director doesn’t believe the audience has an attention span of a gnat and seems to understand story is the most crucial part of a movie as opposed to throat-slashers hiding behind every corner…Nonetheless, I wouldn’t have minded if he cut certain scenes short by five or ten minutes. It was successful in creating a creepy atmosphere, but I wish more attention had been payed to the relationship between Rose and Kat seeing as they are supposed to be the most important characters in this story.

Speaking of characters, I was disappointed by the treatment of Rose in this story. She didn’t seem to have much of a character arc apart from believing she has been impregnated by her boyfriend, only to discover she isn’t sooooo….kind of makes you wonder why that was even in the movie to begin with if it was going to be of no consequence to the story or her character development. I think they had a shot of creating an interesting character dynamic between her and Kat, but it wasn’t properly explored. Rose seems to exist solely so she can be murder fodder for Kat’s demon. Even her final moments were a massive anti-climax as she didn’t even have an opportunity to run. She was just shanked in the hallway and slowly bled to death. Perhaps that was the point and I’m just too obtuse to understand her death’s deeper meaning.

The twist about Joan being Kat was way too obvious, in my opinion. The casting director did a phenomenal job as Emma Roberts is a dead-ringer for Kiernan Shipka…..but therein lies the problem. They looked so much alike that literally the first scene I saw Joan in I thought “Oh, this must be an older Kat.” 

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I think if they left out the part about her being in a psych ward until later or showed her with longer or hair dyed a different color, this twist would have been better executed. Because I knew she was an older version of Kat, I was able to predict with a high degree of accuracy what was going to happen later on. 

That isn’t to say the movie didn’t subvert my expectations at all, however.

I was surprised to learn that Bill was actually Rose’s father and I was impressed by how skillfully the director played our expectations against us.

I assumed–as I’m sure many did–that Bill had ulterior motives for picking up Joan from the bus station. After all, why would a stranger go out of his way to help a young, attractive woman he knows nothing about for seemingly no reason? Sure, he has his wife with him and he maintains a respectful distance from her at all times, but these could be red-herrings to convince her to lower her guard.

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The scene where he talks to Joan in the hotel room is genius because the director convinces the audience Joan is the vulnerable one in this situation. She’s naked except for a towel. Her shoulders are rounded and she’s nearly bent double on the bed, clearly uncomfortable with his being there. As soon as Bill starts talking about God and destiny, the levels of awkwardness reaches new heights until we are sure he’s going to pounce….and then he doesn’t.

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It turns out he was helping Joan out because he genuinely wanted to do good. He was a grieving father that was using his faith to find meaning in his loss. He didn’t pick up tramps from the bus station because they’re easy pickings, but because he believed God was meticulously placing them in his life so that he could fulfill some sort of purpose.

Bill was never the threat in this situation, Joan was.

This makes his death towards the end all the more tragic.

Speaking of deaths, I appreciated that the gore and violence didn’t come across as overly staged. The deaths in this movie felt startlingly real. There was plenty of blood, but not so much as to be excessive. The executions of the murders was well done also. The way it was shot, you could feel every stab, every puncture, like you were actually watching a snuff film of some sort. There was nothing artsy about them, they were heart-stopping in their banality.

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The demon was understated as well, shown only as a silhouette or shadow on the wall. I thought this was an excellent choice as it gives the creature an air of mystery. I jokingly referred to It as the devil, but it is never made clear what It is. Is It the Devil? Is It one of his followers? It’s never explained and I thought the movie benefited from this ambiguity.

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As for the killer herself, I didn’t expect to be thrown for such a loop. It was clear from the off this was going to be a “demon possession” story, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as psychological. Unlike in most possession stories, Kat is not pleased to be freed from the demon’s influence. In fact, she is so lonely that after escaping the asylum, she willingly seeks out the demon again in hopes of being reunited with it, only to find the demon has abandoned her forever and she is well and truly alone.

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I have no clue if this was intentional on the director’s part, but this makes an interesting metaphor for toxic relationships. So many people find themselves in a partnership with a person who is obviously no good for them purely because they don’t want to be alone. It doesn’t matter if the person is using them, or turning them into a horrible person (in Kat’s case, a murderer), they will still go back to them because it’s better than being lonely.

I love this concept……but I wish we could have gotten a better idea of what Kat was like before this demon possession. We are given a small taste of her isolation, but her conversion took almost nothing. Considering how slow the pacing of this film was, you think they could have devoted just a smidge more time to fleshing out Kat’s backstory. I’m not saying we needed an in-depth character analysis, but she swallowed the whole “yo, your parents are ice” thing real quick.

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You have to be REAL desperate to accept the Devil’s friendship request.

Personally, I found this film to be better in retrospect than upon initial viewing. I’ve since looked at several videos about it and I find I’m starting to like it more and more. As a matter of fact, I may watch it again so I can doubt check and make sure I didn’t miss anything.

So, in a nutshell, I guess this was a nice diversion from all the Coronavirus B.S.

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The Amulet of Samarkand: Book One of the Bartimaeus Series (Spoiler-Free Review)

I don’t have any recollection of people discussing this series in the early 2000s. I only have vague memories of Bartimaeus’s face leering at me from atop a bookshelf at our school library in middle-school. I chose to read it only because I discovered it among my fiancé’s books from his childhood home. It left enough of an impression on him that he had decided to keep it (along with the other two books in the trilogy) all these years so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say, I’m glad I did.

In spite of the fact that I’m obviously not in the age demographic this is targeted towards, I enjoyed this just as much as a child would. In fact, I think I enjoy it more as an adult than I would have as a kid. Much like Harry Potter, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I believe this is both to the book’s credit and its detriment.

The plot itself isn’t difficult to follow by any means, but some of the vocabulary used in this book might have gone over my head as a child and caused me to lose interest. Hell, I actually had to look up a few words up in the dictionary, especially the architectural terms, because I, a 26 year-old woman, didn’t know what a “cornice” was.

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Considering how much is going on in this story, the book handles world-building in an impressively clever way. Rather than doing massive exposition dumps, bits of information are sprinkled here and there, playing in the background of the bigger plot. It makes sense for this to be the case as Nathaniel, a 12 year-old boy, isn’t going to care about adult things that don’t directly effect him, and yet we, the readers, can ascertain what is really going on in the world these characters live in.

Speaking of characters, unfortunately, I found most them to be quite dull and one-note, especially those of the female persuasion. I’m not going to cry “sexist” because I don’t think this was done intentionally, but it’s worth noting. Mrs. Underwood in particular is criminally underdeveloped considering she has such a huge impact on Nathan’s life. I wouldn’t expect for her character to have an arc or elaborate backstory, but she seemed to have no personality outside of being a good person.

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That isn’t to say that all the characters were uninteresting, however.

I thought Nathaniel was a unique protagonist for a children’s book considering his moral code is significantly underdeveloped. While not a “bad person” per say, Nathaniel clearly has an ego and covets renown from his peers. He also falls prey to a lot of the same classist prejudices and narrow-minded beliefs many magicians hold. Prejudices he is not cured of by the story’s end.

It’s clear Stroud is playing the long-game when it comes to Nathaniel’s moral awakening and that suits me just fine. I always find it annoying when characters just intrinsically rebel against what they have been taught all their lives simply so the writer can portray them as being “special” right from the off. It’s much more realistic and cathartic for characters to change organically by having their beliefs questioned throughout the narrative.

As for Bartimaeus….I love him. I suppose the whole “sassy other-worldly creature” trope is old at this point, but dammit if I didn’t find him endlessly entertaining. His interactions with others of his kind are some of my favorite moments as you get a clear understanding of how “demon” culture works. I thought the bullet-points were a bit excessive in places, but on the other hand it gives the curious reader more insight all without bogging down the plot with unnecessary details.

I hope in the books that follow we will be able to dive even deeper into Bartimaeus’s past. I know that might slow down the plot a bit, but I found all the nuggets about his previous summonings and experiences to be interesting and I would love to hear more about it.

All in all, I enjoyed all the world-building, twists and turns, and spirit of this novel.

It leaves you with enough questions to keep you longing for Book 2, all without feeling like the entire things was just a set up for the sequel.

If you are looking for a fun, engaging read to ward off your quarantine blues, I highly recommend it.

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Why Canon Matters

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR DOCTOR WHO SERIES 12 FINALE EPISODE. 

I know I said I was done with Who but I promise this isn’t just another reason to rag on the series 12 finale and why The Timeless Children is undoubtedly the most insulting episode to anyone that cares about Doctor Who and its history.

The more I thought about this episode and all its foibles, the more I realized I had to say on the subject of canon and continuity as a whole. I’ve seen many different shows and movies fall pray to the desertion of both the holy “Cs” and they have suffered in quality as a result. This is particularly common in TV shows within the fantasy and science fiction genre.

There is the commonly used defense within the Who fandom that postulates that Doctor Who canon has always been messed up and, therefore, doesn’t matter. After all, it’s a show where “anything can happen” so it stands to reason any changes made (no matter how contradictory to the themes and history of the show) are to be accepted.

Firstly, I reject the premise that “anything can happen” in a story regardless of how mercurial in nature the narrative may be.

When you create a fictional world it is imperative to create continuity (or “rules” if you prefer) so the viewer knows what can and cannot happen in this world.

Harry Potter cannot use an AK-47 to mow-down Death Eaters, Walter White cannot use telepathy to melt Gus Fring’s head, and Joe from You can’t use vampire mind-control powers to win Beck’s affections.

Why? Because these things would interfere with each stories’ internal logic.

This isn’t to say there can’t be twists along the way that may call into question previous notions about a character’s past or motivations, but these twists should complement rather than contradict the world in which they are taking place.

If you just haphazardly throw in an unplanned twist that messes with logic of that respective universe, you usually end up with one of these guys.

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Let’s use Who as an example.

If the Time Lords gained regeneration energy from The Doctor as a child, how did River Song obtain regenerative abilities? Presumably, if the Time Lords weren’t given regeneration energy from exposure to the Eye of Harmony this shouldn’t be possible and River Song should be entirely human.

If Ruth is supposed to be The Doctor before Hartnell, why is her TARDIS a police telephone box when its chameleon circuit had not been broken yet?

Why didn’t Clara see any of the female Doctor’s when she jumped into The Doctor’s time-stream?

Why did the Time Lords need to give The Doctor more regenerations when he literally has an infinite amount of them?

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The answer is simple: Because the change in the canon wasn’t supposed to happen.

Imagine someone gives you a jigsaw puzzle as a gift. You pour all the pieces onto the table and work for hours to recreate the picture you see on the box. However, it quickly becomes apparent the picture isn’t forming the way it is supposed to. In fact, many of the pieces appear to be from a different jigsaw puzzle altogether. When you confront your friend on why this is, they explain to you that this is how it’s supposed to look and, if you don’t see it, you’re an idiot. And so you give it another try, forcing the pieces together, bending them and contorting them so they will fit within the whole. You take a step back only to realize no matter how much you try to bend the pieces, they do not–will never–form a coherent picture.

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This is what it is like when canon is tampered with arbitrarily. Anything you change in the past will invariably have a ripple effect, causing everything that happened prior to the “amazing revelation” to no longer make sense.

This drastically hampers the audience’s capacity to suspend disbelief which negatively impacts their ability to be engaged in what they are watching.

I don’t know about you, but if I am forced to do mental gymnastics in order to justify creatively bankrupt decisions in my media, I tend to just give up.

If “anything can happen,” then why does anything matter? If a character dies they can just be brought back to life through some improbable means. If a “rule” prevents a character from obtaining their goal, it can be retconned with or without explanation.

There’s no reason for the audience to internalize any new information because it will only be discarded at the writers’ convenience.

This robs the story of tension, mystery, heart and everything else that makes a good story worth telling.

I’m perfectly fine with subverting an audiences expectations, but just because something is shocking that doesn’t mean it’s good.

Thanks for reading!

My Thoughts on “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) Spoiler-Free

I would like to preface this review by saying I have absolutely no emotional ties with Sonic the Hedgehog in any capacity.

I did not watch the cartoon, I did not buy the video games, and as I child I had no interest in doing so.

The only reason I chose to see it was because it was an excuse to squeeze out some more girl-time with a group of friends of mine who had fond memories of the guy.

That being said…..I thought this movie was awesome.

No, really.

It was good.

I’m just as surprised as you are.

It didn’t exactly break new ground, but this was a well-written and fun movie.

What made the movie so great in particular was how well the titular character was handled. It would have been so easy to make him just another annoying, migraine-inducing yapper that spouts out cultural references at every given opportunity. Instead, they brought a real vulnerability to the character that I had not anticipated. He’s a lonely guy that finds solace in observing people around him. When it finally dawns on him just how alone he is in the universe, it’s genuinely heart-breaking.

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Jim Carrey was….Jim Carrey. While I don’t know much about the lore of Sonic The Hedgehog (yes, there is lore), it seems to me that casting anyone else in the role of Dr. Robotnik would have been a misstep. Jim Carrey was more like a cartoon character than the actual cartoon character and never did it feel out of place. I wonder if the director actually gave Jim Carey any direction in these scenes, or if they just plonked him down in a room with a camera and space mech and said “go for it.” Either way, the end result was a masterpiece of cheese.

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That being said, I was caught off-guard by how well the jokes landed in this film It’s a kid’s movie so I was expecting low-brow humor, but this movie was funny for everyone. One gag in particular had me laughing so hard I went into a coughing fit.

What worked in this movie’s favor was it was self-aware without being ashamed of itself. It knew it was a movie about a blue hedgehog so it didn’t take itself too seriously, nevertheless, it never insulted the audience. It didn’t feel like it was another cash-grab from an idea-starved industry. It was a true love-letter to the fans of the franchise and it seems to be profiting from

I’m pleased to hear it had the best opening to any video game movie in history. I personally think I liked Detective Pikachu a bit more (come on, Pikachu is voiced by Deadpool), but this was still an incredibly fun movie.

If you are a fan of sonic, you will love it.

And even if you are like me and have no pre-established connection with the character, I’m still confidant you will enjoy it anyway.

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Thanks for reading!

Doctor Who The Hell Cares Anymore

****Warning: The following contains spoilers for Jodie Whittaker’s run of Doctor Who. Reader discretion is advised****

A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of posts where I pontificated on the possibility of a female Doctor and, while I understood the backlash surrounding the character’s gender swap, I considered it the show’s only possible move.

By the time Moffat announced he was leaving the show, Doctor Who had devolved into a paint-by-numbers soap opera with worn-down concepts. Characters were flat and one-dimensional, consequences were nonexistent, and the show was slowly rending itself apart with retcon after retcon after retcon.

I didn’t want The Doctor to be a woman because of representation, I just thought this was an excellent opportunity for the show to be reinvigorated.

I was excited for the chance to start over. It had been so long since I actually wanted to watch Who. Moffat’s flagrant disrespect for his predecessors and the intelligence of his audience had driven me nearly to the breaking point.

Chibnail would breathe new life into this stale show.

So…..how is Chibnail’s era of Doctor Who?

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If you thought constantly bringing characters back from the dead and undoing series cannon for jokes is bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, Princess!

Because we’re taken’ that bullshit and dialing it up to 13, baby!

Not only are we supposed to believe that The Doctor’s first incarnation was a girl—

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Yeah, not only was she a girl in her first incarnation…..

SHE’S NOT EVEN A TIME LORD!!!

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According to series 12, The Doctor was a little girl that fell out of a portal and was experimented on so Time Lords could develop regeneration. Uh huh. They are seriously suggesting The Doctor’s first form was a female.

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It wasn’t enough that The Doctor is a woman now--oh, no–we now have to go back in time and rewrite the entire frigging series so we can show how woke we are. I’m not going to lie, Doctor Who has always been a bit preachy, but are you kidding me? Are you actually kidding me? 

The question I cannot get an answer to is why? Why did The Doctor have to be a woman in previous incarnations? Why did they have to spit on Hartnell’s Doctor, on all the years that came before? Why is it not enough that she’s a woman now?

You know what makes this even worse?

It’s not even an original story. 

The entire premise is lifted directly from a Doomsday comic.

Originally known as “The Ultimate”, Doomsday was born in prehistoric times on Krypton, long before the humanoid Kryptonian race gained dominance over the planet about 250,000 years ago. It was at that time a violent, hellish world, where only the absolute strongest of creatures could survive.[4][5] In a cruel experiment involving evolution, intended to create the perfect living being, the alien scientist Bertron released a humanoid infant (born in vitro in a lab) onto the surface of the planet, where he was promptly killed by the harsh environment. The baby’s remains were collected and used to clone a stronger version. This process was repeated over and over for decades as a form of accelerated natural evolution- Wikipedia 

Uncanny, wouldn’t you say?

The Doctor—the most infamous Time Lord in all of Gallifrey—isn’t even a Time Lord.

Doctor Who has taken many a dump on it’s own lore, but this….this.

This is like finding out Harry Potter wasn’t actually a wizard but a house elf that was enchanted to look human.

This creates so many problems I can’t even list all of them or this post will be as long as War and Peace.  Here’s a link if you’re interested in some of the major plot holes this revelation has created.

I once thought that the constant rotating door of writers of this show would ensure it’s survival. With new voices being brought in, new show-runners taking the show in unique directions, it would be revitalized but this isn’t the case. From what I can tell from Moffat and Chibnail’s eras, the head writers simply have too much ego.

They want their run to be the definitive era of Who and they don’t care if they have to destroy all the hard work of previous generations to do it.

Moffat retconned the destruction of Gallifrey, completely undercutting all the character development The Doctor went through during Davie’s era. Now, upon watching series 1-7, the scenes where The Doctor talks about being the last don’t land with nearly as much impact because we know he isn’t. Or wasn’t.

Chibnail, in his turn, has destroyed all the emotional tension of Moffat’s era surrounding The Doctor’s death because now we know he (she, they, whatever) was never actually in any danger to begin with because The Doctor is immortal! 

Oh…and I guess River’s ultimate sacrifice was completely meaningless as well.

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Come to think of it, doesn’t this mean that every person—every single solitary person—that has ever died for The Doctor died in vain?

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This suddenly got a lot worse didn’t it?

The offenses didn’t start here. Chibnail gave us perhaps the most boring incarnation of The Doctor ever created, a bloated Tardis crew with no real character development or intrigue, lackluster stories as well as preachy messages so on the nose they make you sneeze.

The show has become so mired with contention Antiques Roadshow beat the season finale in the ratings.

Let me repeat that: Antiques freaking Roadshow beat Doctor Who in the ratings. 

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Simple: People stopped caring.

Now that the novelty of The Doctor being a woman has worn off there is nothing to drive people to this show.

I don’t even blame political correctness as many are wont to do.

I blame laziness and ego.

You can’t save a bland story by tacking on a “save muh planet” message onto it. It doesn’t matter if your cast is diverse if they are underdeveloped planks of wood. Nobody cares if The Doctor is a woman if she’s annoying and doesn’t bring a new spin on the character. She’s not even The Doctor. She isn’t funny or clever. She’s like a side-character in her own TV show, clever when it’s convenient and utterly useless when it’s not. Super inspiring guys!

Ratings are in free-fall.

The fanbase in the United States is basically nonexistent.

But they refuse to listen to any manner of critique, choosing the same path as many creators are these days and blaming the fanbase for not liking their product.

If you don’t like Doctor Who in its current state, it isn’t because the writing is bad, it’s because you’re a bad person.

You are an alt-right troll that doesn’t like progress.

I thought Chibnail’s era of Doctor Who would be a breath of fresh air, but it’s more like a fart; a loud, smelly fart right in our faces.

No doubt there are people who will bend over backwards to defend the changes to the cannon. For whatever reason that appears to be an unavoidable reality with this show. It doesn’t matter how many dumb decisions are made, people will always clammer to defend it with paper-thin arguments that should win them a gold metal for mental gymnastics.

I’ll leave them to it.

I give up on this show.

For good this time.

I just don’t care anymore.

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Schrödinger’s Author: Is the Writer Dead or Not?

 

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For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author theory, but I’ve been conflicted on where I stand on the subject.

While it is obvious that a writer’s experiences, biases, and other factors greatly shape a writer’s work, I also believe that it is essential to divorce a writer from their written material.

My reasoning for this is manifold.

For one, if you don’t exercise this practice, you are going to miss out on a lot of good writing. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. I believe talented authors can often be quite charming people. Nevertheless, like is the case with many professions, the ones that are truly phenomenal aren’t always the most humble.

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This goes double for authors of yesteryear who undoubtedly hold (by today’s standards) a whole host of problematic opinions. There are some who believe we should remove books from school curriculum or from the cultural sphere because the person who wrote them is a bigot.

It’s a nice thought that we can wave a magic wand and eradicate all harmful figures and their influence from our past, but in actual execution this isn’t a realistic feat.

If we rid ourselves of every invention, scientific formula, or book, etc because the person who created them suffered from some moral failing, we would all still be painting cave walls by campfire.

The simple truth is that sometimes bad people can create great works of art and sometimes its necessary to concentrate on the product and not necessarily the person who made it.

There is also the issue of gate-keeping that has become prevalent in today’s literary circles. It would seem that writers are being barred from writing about certain topics and creating characters of different races, sexes, or religions simply because the writer isn’t a member of these groups. Or, if they are a member of these groups, they aren’t x enough to be talking about said groups.

While I’m all for encouraging writers of different backgrounds writing about their own experiences being a part of a traditionally marginalized group, I don’t believe shaming people for writing about people and cultures outside their own is going to lead to a positive outcome.

I’m also sure everyone is aware of the new trend amongst author’s to-erhm- “improve” their work by adding unsolicited tidbits that were not in their books in order to make them look more progressive.

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Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

By killing the author, we don’t have to take these things into account because the author is dead.

However, there is another side of this coin. 

In 2017 Poet Sara Holbrook decided to take a standardized test for middle-schoolers and found herself unable to answer certain questions….about her own poetry.

Apparently one of the questions didn’t even have the correct answer as an option. The test asked why she, Holbrook, chose to write the poem in two stanzas. The reason, Holbrook explained, was because she is a performance poet.

The breaks in the poem were placed there so she could take a breath.

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So does The Death of the Author theory apply here? Is she allowed to call this interpretation of her work b.s?

If you ask me, she is.

She is pointing out the issue with implying authorial intent that doesn’t exist, something I have long argued against. Sometimes the curtains are blue because the author wants to convey sadness, but sometimes the curtains are blue because….they are blue.

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After reading this article, I was forced to confront my previous stance on whether or not a writer’s intention should factor in to the interpretation of their work.

I like the idea of readers being able to derive their own meanings from stories, but occasionally they get what the writer meant so fantastically wrong it seems as though the author has no alternative but to step in and say “no, that’s totally not what I meant, you  idiot.”

Where does that leave us?

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and I propose a compromise: Authors may give context to their work, expanding on themes and metaphors that may or may not be self-evident within the text….

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if an event did not explicitly take place in the novel (or supplemental materials such as prequels and short-stories within this universe), the event is not cannon. The same can be said for character attributes or relationships.

Think of the work of fiction as a painting in a museum. The artist is allowed to commentate on what they were trying to achieve with the piece. They are not permitted, however, to remove the painting from the wall and begin painting over it, adding bits that were not there before. They can only address what is there and the meaning behind it.

If the author says the character was LGBTQ but gives no evidence to this in the books– Not cannon. 

If the author says the main characters all died in the end but left the book on a cliff-hanger—Not cannon.

If the author says the zombies in the book were meant to represent the impending threat of climate change–Cannon.

If the author says the main character’s killing of the villain was a symbolic representation of them killing a part of themselves–Cannon.

Overall, I still believe it is more important to look at the story itself than it is the author that wrote it, but I realize it’s a much more complicated subject than I previously anticipated when first writing this post.

That being said, I’m interested in hearing about what you guys think.

Thanks for reading! 

Diary of a Pantser Turned Plotter: Status Update

I wrote a couple weeks ago about my conversion from a pantser into a plotter.

Since then I have continued to hammer away at this outline and I thought it would be interesting to talk about my experience with it so far.

Firstly, I still find my new and improved method of plotting leaps and bounds better than my leap-of-faith “strategy” of my pantser days. Knowing I’m creating a roadmap and not frolicking aimlessly through a dark forest where I will be eaten by some manner of nameless beast is a relief I can barely put into words.

However……there were a few misconceptions I had about being a plotter.

For one thing, I was under the impression that if I used this method I would never get stuck.

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This is not true.

As the novel progressed, more and more characters came into the fold. Characters that demanded to be developed with hopes, dreams, and background.

Then there was the world-building to be considered, all the countries, and histories, and landmarks, and cultural norms, etc.

Sometimes I ran out of ideas and wondered if my advancing of this country would call something else I had written into question, forcing me to re-write an entire religion/national history.

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I took a bit of a respite from plotting to mull over what the plot/characters should do next and I have discovered that I will just have to plow through and potentially draft a new outline should this one take a turn I wasn’t anticipating.

I thought outlining would be a lot faster than this. I was under the impression I would be able to finish it in about a week or so and have done with it.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

It probably doesn’t help I have a full-time job, a withering sense of purpose, and a wedding to plan.

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I suppose this is what I get for attempting to write an involved fantasy when I have the attention span of a canary with ADHD.

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Even saying all this, I am glad I have given being a plotter a chance. It has forced me to be active in my story-telling rather than passive. So often while I was writing my stories, I would place certain details like world-building and the like on the back-burner, thinking I would “just fix it later.”

While “fixing it later” was an option, I was oftentimes so overwhelmed with the prospect of having to change things, I usually ended up abandoning the project all together.

By mapping things out I feel like I am in control of my fictional world.

Furthermore, I feel like I’m doing my characters a favor by giving them a fully fleshed out world to populate rather than a half-backed skeletal plane where they have to stop what they are doing every five minutes because their dumbasss writer doesn’t know what holiday they are supposed to be celebrating or what town they live in.

Plotting hasn’t been a fairy-tale solution to my problem but it has helped.

Personally, I recommend it.

How to NOT Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps

To anyone that has read this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret I love reviewing stories in all forms of media.

It enables me to think critically and learn what makes a story fail or succeed.

I owe much of my growth as a writer to watching other reviewers discuss what they did or didn’t like in stories and, more importantly, why.

While I don’t claim to be a professional critic, I believe there are certain steps one can take in order to not suck at reviewing.

1. Know Thyself 

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Before you can judge something, it is important you have examined your own personal tastes and biases. These, as well as your own experiences, will influence how you digest media. 

I read a review on  Ford v. Ferrari in which the “critic” spent the entire article berating the movie for being about white guys and….that’s it.

She failed to mention anything about the writing, characters, lighting, cinematography, editing, music, or anything relevant to the story. I learned absolutely nothing about the film or whether or not I would have enjoyed it.

I felt like I was reading a diary entry by a moody teenager that was angry at her father rather than an actual review someone was payed to write.

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It’s fine to have opinions whether they be political or otherwise, but it’s important you are able to compartmentalize. You have to ask yourself if you dislike something because it is genuinely bad for the story/characters, or simply because of your own intrinsic biases.

2. Don’t Nit-pick

If you look closely you will find flaws in every form of fiction. Perhaps the writer described a character as having brown eyes in one chapter and then mistakenly refers to them as cerulean a hundred pages or so on. Yes, this was something the writer or editor should have caught in re-writes, but honestly it isn’t that big of a deal.

There are entire channels on Youtube dedicated to nit-picking *coughCinamaSinscough** and while they can be amusing to watch, unnecessary emphasis is placed on minuscule infractions.

Small things can add up over time, but if you are constantly hammering on things that are essentially inconsequential to the main story or details most people wouldn’t notice anyway,  you need to reevaluate.

Most people don’t care.

Or if they do, they don’t care that much. 

If a problem is big enough it will find you.

3. Don’t Be an Elitist Prick 

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Having a degree in the medium you are reviewing is a wonderful resource. You can apply what you have learned from your studies in order to give informed opinions. I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling from watching video essays and attending lectures by people who studied extensively in their respective crafts.

The issue is some use their education as a trump tool, believing that their opinion is greater than the unwashed masses because they own a piece of paper that says Department of English or Department of Film and Media on it.

The truth is most people don’t care whether or not you have a degree. They care if you can provide them with an interesting or humorous perspective.

While the average joe might not be as well versed in the arts, they are still capable of snuffing out what works and what doesn’t in a story. Remember, most stories aren’t for the elites. They are for the other 99.9% of people.

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4. Don’t Insult People Who Like What You’re Reviewing 

I recently watched a review of Joker by a Youtuber named ralphthemoviemaker in which he makes a huge mistake.

In this video, Ralph essentially calls everyone who enjoys the movie a moron. But he doesn’t stop there. In fact, most of his review seems to be directed towards people who enjoyed the movie and how dumb they are for not sharing his clearly more researched opinion.

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I will be the first to admit I have ridiculed many a property, so I don’t have a problem with him badmouthing the movie.

But insulting people who like it is an extremely bad move.

By doing so you all but guarantee your audience will disregard everything you say on the subject. Worse still, it will turn people who might have otherwise agreed with your assessments against you.

It’s not even an argument that can be supported with evidence.

Why are these people stupid? Because they like something you don’t?

Are people that like blue smarter than people that like pink?

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This brings me to my final point-

5. Remember It’s Your Opinion

I don’t believe all opinions are created equal. Some are weak and easy to refute when presented with enough evidence. However, it’s important to realize that there is really no one “correct” opinion when it comes to art.

In the end, art is just one big Rorschach test that is influenced by our unique experiences.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express pleasure, disdain, disappointment or any other emotion that comes with examining stories. But we need to be open to other interpretations of the messages we consume and cognizant of how they may resonate with other people.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Converted From a Pantser into a Plotter

I think most people in the writing blogosphere know what a pantser and plotter are by now, but just in case you don’t, here’s a quick definition:

A “pantser” is someone who writes based on their intuition, or “flying by the seat of their pants.”

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Actual footage of me as a pantser

A “plotter,” however, well….plots.

That isn’t to say pantsers don’t have a picture in their head of where the story is going, they just trust more in their innate ability to navigate the story.

I used to be one such person.

It was fun.

You discover this brave new world with characters and settings, world-building and plot. Every action is unpredictable, every environment as new to you as the characters. It’s basically like the universe is telling the story to you and it’s up to you to transcribe it for others to read.

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The winds pick up and the story accelerates faster and faster until you look at the clock and discover it’s nearly 11 p.m.

You reluctantly carry yourself to bed, head buzzing impatiently for the new day to begin so you can start the whole process over.

The next day comes and you sit before your desk, ready to feel the metaphorical winds in your hair yet again, but then…..

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You get stuck.

You have no idea how your MC is going to vanquish their enemy. The momentum of the story is lost. Worse than that, you know the beginning and tiny fraction of the climax but absolutely nothing in between.

You wrack your brain for a solution, but nothing comes. You doubt the validity of your own talents. Eventually, you either convince yourself the story was never worth telling in the first place, or you form the delusion you’re just “taking a break” from this story until something comes to you.

Your computer becomes a graveyard of incomplete projects.

This was my story.

It wasn’t as though I’d never tried to be a plotter. It just seemed to me as though I wasn’t cut out for it. The muse didn’t like restrictions, you know?

I didn’t need Siri to tell me to turn left at the stop sign. My heart would lead the way!

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…….Except it didn’t.

Or it only lead me to a certain point and then ditched me.

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My muse after I hit a plothole

I spent so many nights marinating on my affliction. I was a failed pantser and a failed plotter. So what was I to do?

After a long while, I found myself once again bitten by the writing bug. Yet again, I tried playing it by ear only to fall flat on my face for what felt like the 550th consecutive time.

And so I decided I would give plotting one more try……

Holy shit was that a good idea. 

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Turns out I was doing the whole thing wrong.

Rather than slowly building up to a story, planning out the characters and their arcs, I tried boiling my entire story down to a couple of sentences jotted on notebook paper. Mostly because–while I acknowledged the benefits of plotting– I simply didn’t want to do it. I was aching with anticipation to get started. I wanted to craft sentences not make a map.

Maps are boring.

Writing is fun.

What I didn’t realize is it didn’t have to be that way.

Instead of relegating my entire novel to 500 word essay, I made an outline for each. I broke them down based on what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted the characters to think and feel, and how it impacted the plot.

I was able to create cultures and histories as well as characters and plots.

I anticipated plot-holes before they happened.

I could re-work and experiment with story elements without having to completely start over from scratch because I hadn’t actually begun the writing stage yet.

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Most importantly, I saved myself weeks, months, maybe even years of turmoil trying to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s still hard work and I do get stuck occasionally. However, it takes a lot less time to re-write a plot-map than it does to completely restructure your story over again because you decided to go another direction.

If being a panster has been working for you and you’ve had no issue completing projects, God bless you, you beautiful freak of nature.

For the rest of you that have found yourself frustrated and directionless, I whole-heartedly recommend you give plotting a serous looking into.

It’s not nearly as boring or regimental as it sounds.

I’ve actually found it more enjoyable than flying by the seat of my pants because I actually have confidence that my story is going in the direction it needs to go.

If it worked for someone like me, I’m willing to bet it will work for many of you.

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Happy Writing!

 

 

Thoughts on “You” Season 2 Netflix Series

Warning: The following contains spoilers for season 2 of You. If you have not seen this season but would like to, reader discretion is advised. 

I confess over the years I’ve become jaded towards thrillers. True-crime podcasts left me feeling cold. Shows like Law and Order and CSI were all cookie-cutter snore-fests that made me question the whole crime genre.

I began to despair that I would never find another show with bite. One that would leave me on the edge of my seat, craving more.

Then…. there was You.

There You were with your unique first-person perspective, biting social commentary and oh so binge-worthy content. You constantly kept me on my toes. You gave me many a sleepless night. You sent my heart racing in a way no other show has.

When I learned You were to have a second season, I was pleased. So pleased. And when the day finally came when I could watch You….

You sucked.

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There’s no nice way of putting this, this season was a mess of catastrophic proportions.

I wasn’t expecting this season to be as good as it’s predecessor but holy shit–

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While there were issues with the plot and the pacing, I think the biggest reason this season is a failure in my eyes is because the characters are so woefully bad.

Time for an autopsy everyone!

Let’s begin with Candace, Joe’s ex-girlfriend and returnee from the grave.

We, the audience, are expected to route for her as a matter of course. After all, she was a victim of a terrible crime and left for dead by someone she trusted.

But I cannot get behind this character.

Is it because she is a strong, independent woman trying to bring down the toxically masculine man?

No, it’s because she’s a complete dumbass.

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Let’s review: She knows Joe has a body count. She knows he has gotten away with unspeakable things in the past. She knows she has no evidence to back her up. And she knows she’s been off the grid so long people wouldn’t notice if she disappeared. That being said, she decides her best move is to confront this guy, with no backup and threaten him.

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Thanks to the power of plot convenience, she is spared. At least temporarily. For a while she is graciously out of the limelight, but when she comes back she only serves as an unnecessary distraction.

Candace disguises herself as Amy Adams, flirts her way into a relationship with Joe’s girlfriend’s brother and then….does nothing but lob veiled threats at Joe. She claims to be “protecting” people, but she waits so long to tell Love about Joe. Why didn’t she just say she was his ex? Why didn’t she expose him earlier?

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What’s so tragic about all this is they could have made Candace a good character. They could have made the revenge plan a viable plot point as well.

Instead of threatening Joe outright, she could have covertly stalked him and found out who he was lusting after. From there she could have set a trap and exposed him for who he really is. Joe is the POV character and narrator of the show, but they have broken POV before. They could have had a 20 minute flashback to everything Candace has been up to since season 1 and shown us her masterplan for getting back at him.

But Rachael, we wouldn’t have gotten that cliff-hanger at the end of season 1!

Easy fix: Joes discovers an anonymous note accusing him of the murder which spooks him into leaving town.

So the story would be basically the same only, you know, not completely stupid.

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Speaking of stupid, let’s backtrack to Candace and Joe’s first meeting at the coffee shop post-Beck murder. Since the screen-writer never clued us in, it’s up to me to ask the obvious question: Why doesn’t he just kill her? No one else knew she was there and it’s doubtful anyone would be looking for her. All of his problems would have been over.

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Candace: You would go to prison as you. You would sit there for the rest of your life and think you’re a good man. I’m going to show you who you really are. And when you see it, you’ll be begging me to turn you in. It’s going to be really fun fucking destroying you.

Joe:

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Unfortunately, Candace isn’t the only disappointing character in this season. 

Our ensemble cast is a veritable assortment of a-holes.

Delilah and Ellie Alves, the residence of Joe’s new apartment complex, are supposed to come across as spunky and independent, but I could not connect with them.

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From the moment they meet Joe they are antagonistic towards him for no discernible reason. Even when he is helping them out he is insulted and accused of “man-splaining.” I know he’s a psychopathic murderer and worthy of scorn, but they don’t know that.

Many people seemed to latch onto these people, but I just couldn’t. Delilah is a bitch of epic proportions and Ellie was a tedious know-it-all.

Then there are the twins

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Forty isn’t a terrible character. The issue is he shouldn’t be in this show. He clashes with the tone of You something terrible. In season 1, You was a show engrained in reality. Yes, there were the occasional funny moments sprinkled in but most of the situations were plausible, the characters were three-dimensional, and the stakes were real. In season 2, he takes the show to near cartoonish levels of silly. The scene where he and Joe are tripping balls is straight out of a Hangover movie.

Love, it must be said, is a pretty underwhelming successor to Beck.

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I wanted to put Beck through a wall many times, but she was a well-written character. Her past demons, deeply imbedded insecurities, and her damage made for a realistic person and it was heartbreaking watching her go through all the devastation Joe brought to her life.

Love, on the other hand, is a major step down in terms of character development. Frankly, even with her co-dependent brother and dysfunctional family, she is pretty dull. It wasn’t until the end, after we discover she is as crazy as Joe, that she actually starts showing promise.

Since her previous husband died from a mysterious disease, I was kind of hoping she had secretly poisoned him because she found out he was cheating or something. Sadly, his death seems to have been a result of natural causes. Pity. Even after we discovered her murderous past….I found it difficult to care because the quality of the show had deteriorated so much.

Then, finally, there is Joe.

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Sigh.

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Remember how in my  previous post about You I said I wished they had discussed Joe’s backstory a bit more? Yeah, I take it back. It was basically you’re paint-by-numbers my-daddy-beat-my-mommy/mommy-was-a-whore scenario. It didn’t add any new or interesting dynamic to the character and the child actor they got to play young Joe could not emote for shit.

I know I shouldn’t be hard on a child actor, but it’s difficult being invested in a scene when one of the pivotal characters looks like he’s stuck in a calculus class taught by Ben Stein.

That wasn’t the only Joe-related issue of this season either.

A major plot thread of this season involved Joe’s eyes being opened to the monster he truly is. As Candace promises, he finally understands the pain he has put other people through….

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Normally I applaud character development, but in this case it fell flat for two reasons.

Problem #1: Joe has high-functioning narcissistic personality disorder

Someone with his level of psychosis  would not have the self-awareness necessary to question their behavior on this level. He may acknowledge he has done bad things, but he is able to compartmentalize it all under the banner of “love” and “protection” and thus cleanse himself of guilt. 

This is evidenced by his behavior going all the way back to season 1.

When he discovers Beck’s friend Peach has been taking lewd photographs of Beck without permission, he is disgusted, noting how much of a violation this is. It doesn’t even occur to him to examine his own actions from an outside perspective and realize he has done literally the same thing by inserting himself into Beck’s life.

Only he knows what Beck deserves. Only he can help her reach her full potential. It was his responsibility to weed out all the toxic people in her life.

It’s a humorous scene, but it’s an honest one. This is how people like Joe genuinely think. They are lying, manipulative, hypocrites that are virtually incapable of self-reflection.

Problem #2:  The season was much slower as a result of Joe trying to be a better person.

What made season 1 so captivating (apart from the superior character writing) was the shock-value. You never knew what depths of depravity Joe would plumb to next.

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The intensity was turned up to 11 in every episode.

What was he going to do with Benjii? How would he deal with Peach’s codependent control over Beck? How would he evade detection? Could he actually make things work with Beck and get away with it all scot free?

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During this season, however, they pulled all the punches.

I never felt like anything was at stake. Mostly because I didn’t give a crap about any of the supporting cast.

The most excited I became was when Forty and Joe were reenacting his confrontation with Beck while high on LSD and Joe begins strangling Forty to death!

source.gifAnd….then Joe stops.

This was a common thread. Almost every time we thought someone was going to get killed, or Joe was going to do something super messed up, the writer’s would pull us back. They were really trying to push for A CW vibe with comedy and drama rather than what we came for a.k.a a serial-killing psychopath.

I didn’t want to look further into Love’s life. Her family is dumb. Her brother is a nuisance. The Old Joe would never let that happen.

Come on, writers, what are you waiting for?!

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As for that ending. That….stupid ending.

You mean we went through that whole bs about how he was going to be a good person now for no reason. You denied us high-stakes, intricate plans, and general messed-upness for nothing!

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Honestly, I could go on longer, but I believe this is a good place to cap this review.

TLDR; this season was a disaster.

The characters sucked.

Nothing anyone did made any sense.

The plot was stupid.

This was a disaster.

They should never have made a follow-up to season 1. It was a perfectly good self-contained story that didn’t need to be continued.

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Goodnight, You. 

May you suffocate in your glass prison of death.