Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cover Reveal for Truth or Dare!

The steamy sequel to His Wicked Games...
After their passionate, heated weekend at the Cunningham estate, Lily and Calder have decided to take their relationship to the next level. But love in the real world isn’t all fun and games—especially when it becomes clear that Calder still harbors his share of secrets.
When Calder suggests they hold off on sex for a while, Lily knows something is seriously wrong—and she’s not afraid to pull out the big guns. She makes Calder a proposal he can’t refuse: an ongoing match of Truth or Dare that she hopes will bring them closer together both physically and emotionally.
But as the contest increases in intensity, so do the stakes, and suddenly Lily and Calder have to face the question they’ve both been avoiding: what sort of relationship do they have when they strip away all the games?

*drumroll*...


Gorgeous, right?! Want want want want want. But all I can do is add it to Goodreads, gnash my teeth, and wait. (Patience is not my strong suit.)

If you want to hang out more with the lovely and inimitable Ember Casey (and who wouldn't?), here's her blog and Goodreads.

And if you haven't checked out His Wicked Games already, get on that STAT.

Hansel and Gretel and Genre

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters currently holds a proud 14% on Rotten Tomatoes. If you look through critical reviews, you'll see endless iterations of "falls short", "takes itself too seriously", and "not all that dark/gritty". Reviews mainly brush it off as a stupid movie; all gore and no scare.

So, marketing.


In general (in general - obviously you can make arguments for more, but that gets into debatable subgenre) mainstream movies are one of 7 genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Comedy, Historical, SciFi/Fantasy, Children's, and Horror.

Now, two things.

1) While romance novels are almost uniformly looked down upon, in film, it's horror that by its nature can't be taken seriously. Horror movies are regarded as "second class" in the film world. Much like how you will never see a romance novel (that isn't written by a man and labeled "serious literary fiction") up for a Pulitzer, you will never see a horror movie up for an Academy Award.

2) Hollywood is very good at marketing movies that fit squarely into one of those genres. Indiana Jones? Yessir. The Blind Side? Of course. The Hangover? Got you covered. But when you step a little bit outside of the box, Hollywood basically throws up its hands and says, "PICK ONE, YOU GREEDY JERK; WE DON'T HAVE ALL DAY TO EXPLAIN YOUR HISTORICAL ACTION-ADVENTURE RELATIONSHIP STUDY DRAMA."

All this is to say, when I saw the H&G trailers and their snarky self-awareness mixed with gleeful carnage, I knew exactly what it reminded me of.


Sleepy Hollow has become sort of a retroactive cult classic, in the way that a lot of Tim Burton movies have these days. It, like H&G, was a gritty horror-esque retelling of a legend. And, like H&G, it was marketed as a straight horror. And again, like H&G, it wasn't, although it wasn't really anything else either.

Both H&G and Sleepy Hollow are genre-defying movies with strong comedic, horror, and character elements. When I say character elements, I don't mean that we're seeing "deep" portrayals of the human psyche (although, what does that really mean? Again, it's all marketing - we wait for movies to tell us which ones we should analyze). I just mean that the characters are interesting enough to reward acceptance as something other than simple stock cardboard cut-outs.

I think it's fair to say that at the very least, both Sleepy Hollow and H&G are competently put together movies with cohesive tones that tell a coherent if predictable story, and at least make an effort to be entertaining while doing so.

Whether or not you like them (and I don't actually like Sleepy Hollow), these are movies that some degree of thought and enthusiasm went into. They deserve to exist. I can't say the same for a lot of the phoned-in pandering offerings that I see at the box office these days.

Marketing is so dangerous because it's so powerful. If you market a movie as a horror, moviegoers are expecting a horror movie. And they're judging it by horror standards. That kind of thing can kill a movie that may not deserve the derision it gets.

Plus, genre exists for a reason, and movies like this that dance around the outside of genre often have difficulty finding an audience. Neither H&G or Sleepy Hollow are straight horror; there are definite horror elements, but they're not really trying to scare you. Both movies have funny moments, but they're definitely not comedies. They're both going for a sort of satirical goofy tone, but they're not actually satirizing anything, so they're not parodies. Both movies irritate historical fans, since they're certainly not historically accurate - hell, I don't think H&G is even meant to take place in any particular real world historical period.

These are movies that exist on their own terms. They had a vision that had very little chance of success due to its "low-brow" tone, and went for it anyway. If you like movies that have a very clear idea of what they are and are willing to sit back and enjoy the ride, you'll probably enjoy them. If not, you may easily be frustrated by these movies' unwillingness to pick a single direction and stick with it.

H&G isn't the kind of movie that gets made very often today. It was much more prevalent during the lusher economic times of the late 80s and early to mid 90s. We actually had a fair number of movies back then that played around with genre, with varying degrees of success.

This one was the one that tried the
hardest to aim dead center between
comedic action and serious
drama. It also did the best both
critically and financially.
This one went for a mostly straight
historical drama angle. It did well
enough that I was surprised we didn't
see more like it.
This one was straight comedy. It also did
by FAR the worst. Which I don't really
understand; I actually like this movie
a lot. It's hard to tell whether the blend
of history and comedy is the problem,
or if it's just harder to sell a black
main character. Maybe both.
But none of these movies have really stayed in the public memory or become relevant to film today, and I think a big part of that is because of marketing. We're so used to these movies with hooks - how do we talk about a movie without a simple, succinct hook? What happens when we actually have to discuss it in detail in order to discuss it at all?

In today's extremely homogenous film environment, I'm glad that a movie like H&G got made. I'm extremely glad that it made money; enough to earn a sequel, anyhow. And I hope we'll see more like it.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blurring the Lines Even Further


Blurred Lines lyrics:
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you're an animal, baby it's in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don't need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker 
Yeah, had a bitch, but she ain't bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it's almost unbearable
Then, honey you're not there when I'm
With my foresight bitch you pay me by
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that
So I just watch and wait for you to salute
But you didn't pick
Not many women can refuse this pimpin'
I'm a nice guy, but don't get it if you get with me
See, here's the thing. I don't think that Blurred Lines is trying to be offensive to or dismissive of women. I've heard some people say that they think the song is flat-out uncomfortable with its repeats of "I know you want me", but there's also endless repetitions of her grabbing him and hugging him and generally signaling that she probably wants him, so that's justified enough. The song is just about mixed signals from a girl who wants casual rough sex.

(By the bye, only T.I. could have gotten away with that second verse and still sounded easygoing and likable.)

But the song contradicts itself in fundamental ways that show how we don't believe that it's even possible for a woman to be free with her sexuality.

First off, those lines about "Just let me liberate you/Hey, hey, hey/You don't need no papers/Hey, hey, hey/That man is not your maker". Why does this woman need the male singer to liberate her? A man tried to domesticate her and failed. She's already refusing to change. Does a man have to agree to accept this woman as she is in order for her to be truly liberated?

(SPOILER: yes.)

This is a song about casual sex - "he tried to domesticate you, but baby you're an animal, it's in your nature". So it doesn't matter what the man is like in a relationship; all that matters is the sex. And yet we have the juxtaposition of "Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you/He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that" and "I'm a nice guy".

Blurred Lines fails as a woman-positive and sex-positive song because it doesn't believe in its own message. It doesn't believe that a woman can truly just enjoy sex for the sake of it. The singer has to clarify that he's a nice guy to make himself desirable material: not desirable as a sexual partner, since we've established that she doesn't want sweet sex. But the song still believes it's important to clarify the singer in the context of a relationship in order to present him as truly desirable to a woman.

The video is more of the same (we'll just talk about the clean version, not the explicit one - which is essentially the same except more naked; when you can see the woman's breasts the objectification is more obvious, but that video also features one of the women obviously purposefully ignoring the command "shake your rump, get down, get up" for humorous effect. So... draw, I guess).

The men treat the women like props - moving around them as the women make pouty faces at the camera and don't react. The women have no control over the events of the video, they simply parade through the scene in order for the men to react to them and then carry on. And I do mean that literally; they just walk across the screen, in and out, repeatedly. The women literally don't even react to anything the men do - they don't even look at the men, even when the guys are touching them or blowing smoke in their faces.

To wit: the men are personalities; the women are bodies.

Fortunately for Robin Thicke, he picked two of the most charismatic men in music to work with. Pharrell looks like he's just walked onto the wrong set by accident and it's hilarious; T.I. is suave without being slick. (Robin Thicke is trying to get on their level, but he's really uneven - those closeup seduction shots of him just do not work, even as an exaggeration.) Their affability and goofy approach to the over-the-top sexuality of the song keeps it from being a total trainwreck. But I can't feel completely good about Blurred Lines, which is a shame, because I'd like to.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The New Adult Adventures of the Greek Muse Thalia

CASE FILE: EYRE

The only thing worse than being unemployed is working for your dad.

This should never have happened to me. I've got capability up to my ears! I had the best tutors in Olympus - first I had Chiron neighing at me for like twelve years, and then Daddy said that if Aristotle was good enough for Alexander, he was good enough for me. Even back then I thought I had spent enough time in school, but Daddy was like, twelve years studying under a guy with hooves does not a well-rounded education make. Whatever.

Anyway, I FINALLY get out from under my parents thumb, right? And it was beyond necessary because they fight so much that they ought to sell tickets. Blah blah cheating, blah blah encouraging cultists, blah blah please just let the Titans escape because I cannot take this another second.

I was so excited to finally be out on my own. An adult! I go wandering around Greece thinking that maybe I could be a philosopher, or a senator, or even scribing would be okay...

And then I find out that the unemployment rate for educated women in ancient Greece is like, ALL OF THE PERCENTS.

Eventually I ran out of mortal money and had to come home with my toga tucked between my legs, and don't think my sisters have let it go for a single second. "Oh, the family business not good enough for you? Don't want to inspire great works of art? Have to live on Mount Olympus and eat ambrosia? Thalia, have you gotten any messenger pigeons back from those resume tablets you sent out?"

I'm gonna make Puck turn them all into the asses they are.

What I'm saying is, it's not like I wanted to be a muse. I never claimed to be all that good at it. So what happened next is not even my fault.

I did my whole little [TRADE SECRET OF THE GODS] thing and next thing I know I'm in Thornfield on my very first assignment going, "Jane, honey, have you thought about this? Because gotta tell you, this guy is kind of sketch."

Jane was super cute in that way where she wasn't exactly beautiful, but she had urnfuls of personality. She could have used some fashion advice, but I kept that to myself.

"I believe you may exaggerate a little. Mr. Rochester is somewhat... unique, it is true, but I do not believe he means any harm. It is simply his way."

"Girl, his house has caught fire like eight times in three months, and he flirts by dressing up like an old gypsy woman. That is not the behavior of a normal person. He's real hot tho."

"You see?!"

Erato and Melpomene have been harping on me ever since I got back, but to Hades with them. I think Jane's gonna be fine.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Am Not Free

In the United States Constitution, it promises all people "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". And yet, I am not as free as a man. And if you're a woman, then neither are you.

I am not free to walk down a street alone without fear. I am not free to make the same wages as men. I am not free to make decisions about my own body - especially not in Texas. I am not free to make decisions about my sexuality without judgment. I am not free to speak out in a room full of men and be accorded the same respect. I am not free to claim harassment or assault if I was drinking or wearing certain clothes or making too much eye contact or somehow otherwise "asking for it".

I am not free.

I love America. I love this huge, fantastically diverse country; the most non-homogenous country on the entire planet. We are a nation of idealists - every one of us, every one of our families came here because they believed in the promise of a better life. A more free life.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says that, "Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."

Look at his diction. Decorum. Appropriateness of behavior or conduct; propriety.

Thousands of women raising their voices and asking to be heard is not appropriate?

You and I both know that this is not about fairness. If it was, the Texas Senate would not have attempted to blatantly thwart the court of justice by purposefully altering relevant court documents.

Is perjury "decorous" or "decent", Rick Perry?

This bill - this battle - is not about abortion. Nobody wants more abortions. They are a last-ditch effort; a wrenching last resort. And I'm quite sure that Rick Perry knows it. If this bill was ever simply about the beliefs that a majority of men hold about abortion, it isn't anymore. Now it is about the right of a woman to make her own choices, with her body and her voice.

Rick Perry and his supporters may disregard the voices of thousands of women demanding to be heard. But they won't stop speaking. Neither will I. And eventually, our voices will be heard.

I am not free. But I am a believer in freedom. And I am a believer in the people of America.

#StandWithWendy

In case you missed it - this was a pretty incredible thing to be a part of, even hundreds of miles away.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Women in Combat

There's been a lot of talk in the news lately about female soldiers for a variety of reasons:

1) Women being allowed to fight on the front lines
2) Sexual assault claims
3) Special forces opening to women

I'm only talking about 1 and 3, although 2 plays its part.

Women in America have been pushing for a long time to be allowed to fight on the front lines and to try out for the Special Forces.

Think about that for a second.

To be allowed.

I don't know how to explain how wrong this issue is any better than that. Who is anyone to tell a grown woman that she can't fight for her country in the capacity she's capable of? We're told that "Americans do not want their women hunting and killing the enemy". Well sorry, nameless and faceless Americans, but I don't care what you want.

The main argument against fully integrating (yeah, these arguments always look so good later on in history, huh?) women into the armed forces comes from plaintive cries of WHY DON'T YOU REALIZE WOMEN'S PHYSIOLOGY IS DIFFERENT, THEY ARE WEEEEAAAAAKKKK. And it is absolutely true that a majority of women have different capabilities than men.

Were you listening? I said *different*.

See, what usually happens during the passionate spiels by men about how it simply does not make biological sense for women to be allowed (allowed) in combat, is at some point they will slip and say something like, "War is brutal and bloody. It's no place for women." and, "This isn't Women's Rights 101 for the feminazis". At which point I stop having any respect for their point of view, because it is clearly coming from a place of agenda. And the agenda is to deny the basic right of autonomy to 51% of the population in order to keep the status quo in place.

If these hand-wringers were actually worried about the optimal utilization of female soldiers instead of WE CAN'T LET THE WIMMENS JUST DO WHATEVER THEY WANT GAWD DO YOU KNOW HOW HARRRRD IT WILL BE FOR US TO DEAL WITH, they would be begging The Powers That Be not for restrictions on female soldiers, but to apply brainpower to finding the best use for female soldiers.

Because while most women are not physically capable in the same way as men, not all men are huge hulking brutes easily capable of tossing a 250 pound fallen comrade over their shoulder on the way out of a firefight. There are variations in build amongst men, and the military has shockingly seemed capable of adapting to use all these different men in the best possible way.

Fully integrating female soldiers into the military does require more serious thought - but not about whether we should do it. Women are not nails, and dear old Judeo-Christian patriarchy is not a hammer. Good leadership utilizes its assets by understanding the strengths of its individuals. If the military is unable to use female soldiers effectively, it's not the fault of female soldiers - it's the fault of shoddy leadership.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Why Superhero Movies Aren't So Super

Here's a movie joke: "Have you seen the superhero movie this summer?"

*cue hysterical laughter*

Here's a list of some of the superhero movies we've had come out between 2010 and now (June 2013): 

Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, The Amazing Spiderman, Thor, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Jonah Hex, Captain America, X-Men First Class, The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel SOMEONE GET ME A GLASS OF WATER, STAT.

There is an industry-wide problem with tentpole movies (aka hugely expensive movies that are expected to bring in the big ticket dollars). It's tied into the way that movies are shopped and funded. Especially in a bad economy, it's real tempting for The Powers That Be to only fund movies that come pre-equipped with platforms. The industry has had a boom of success with previous superhero movies, so that's what studios jump toward. After all, why would you fund a total unknown over a comic book adaptation with a built-in audience?

The problem with superhero movies in particular is twofold: First, superhero movies, for a variety of reasons, tend toward very similar themes and conflicts. Second, when you have investors that are already only willing to fund these tentpole projects, that means that they are by default unwilling to allow a lot of creative changes.

Why are all superhero movies similar? Do they have to be? Well, yes, to a degree. All movies that center around a certain device (for instance, Boy and His X movies) are going to necessarily be similar because they are appealing for the same reasons and explore the same issues. At their hearts, are ET and  Free Willy all that different? Both are movies about a young boy's friendship with a non-human, and how he grows as a person as a result of the relationship. That's it.

At their base level, superhero movies are about what happens when you take an ordinary human and give them extraordinary powers. It's a dramatization of being given responsibility in real life. To a certain extent, it's essentially wish fulfillment - we all want to believe that when the chips are down and the weight of the world is on our shoulders, we'll pull through.

Giving a person superpowers might sound like it opens up a ton of possibilities, but in terms of storytelling, it's actually incredibly restrictive. In order to have the audience sympathize with your character, they must use their powers to fight the good fight. Otherwise, they're killing people by default.

So now your superhero is a crime-fighter. But regular crime isn't a problem for your superhero, due to their powers. That means that at all times there must be a greater threat at work, some more-powerful power coming after them.

This means that every superhero story is a man v. man story, in terms of Ze Big Plots. There is often a secondary theme, but these are almost uniformly either Don't Let Uncle Ben Die (aka no, you cannot stop being a superhero, get your shizz together), or Sorry the City is Busy Washing Its Hair (aka, everybody hates and fears the supehero for his differences and ability to crush them with his thumb).

And that's another thing - I do mean that these stories are man versus man. All superhero movies are remakes of comic books that date back to somewhere between the 1940s and the 1970s. Minorities of any kind were not well represented in those time periods, and by "minority" I don't mean "literally smaller percentages of the population", I mean "anyone except white straight men". Sometimes we shoehorn a woman or a black guy into the remakes, but only one at a time, let's not get crazy here. 
Hope Black Widow is enjoying the back of
the box! And The Avengers is the best of
the entire superhero genre in terms of
inclusivity.
Does this mean that superhero movies are bad by default? No, of course not, and we've had some worthy offerings from the genre. But it does mean that superhero movies are a bad choice to have dominating the film industry. They're exclusive and restrictive to storytelling and creativity.

Next time, we talk about the business side of superheroes, and where this trend is leading...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hey Baby, What's Your Typology?

I think most of us love categorizing ourselves into groups. It's why we have things like Team Edward/Team Jacob and the four Hogwarts houses. We're all self-obsessed and like examining how we tick.

The Myers-Briggs personality test is known for being probably the best in the business. I'm not a psychologist, but I will say that I've taken the test three times in my life (and now four, thanks to zee interntz). It had been awhile since I'd taken it, and I thought, hmm, it's just a little yes or no internet test, and it's been some time, I'll probably be something totally different...

Oh hey. Lookit that.
So, I'm curious! Here's the test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp. It's not the ludicrously long one, but as far as I can tell it's works pretty well. If you feel like it, take the test and tell me if you think it's right, or if it's about as accurate as your horoscope.

(For the record, yeah, my type is about as accurate as it possibly could be.)

Good Adaptations: They exist!

WHEREIN I SAY NICE THINGS ABOUT A THING. MAYBE TWO THINGS. No, really!

I think there are two kinds of good adaptations when you come right down to it: those that take the source material apart and remake it into something different, and those that want you to experience the source material as exactly as possible.

Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet is one of the latter. Check out this exchange (and I'm picking one with R&G just because I love them and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead):

GUILDENSTERN
The queen, your mother, in most great affliction of
spirit, hath sent me to you.
HAMLET
You are welcome.
GUILDENSTERN
Nay, good my lord, this courtesy is not of the right
breed. If it shall please you to make me a
wholesome answer, I will do your mother's
commandment: if not, your pardon and my return
shall be the end of my business.
HAMLET
Sir, I cannot.
GUILDENSTERN
What, my lord?
HAMLET
Make you a wholesome answer; my wit's diseased: but,
sir, such answer as I can make, you shall command;
or, rather, as you say, my mother: therefore no
more, but to the matter: my mother, you say,--
ROSENCRANTZ
Then thus she says; your behavior hath struck her
into amazement and admiration.
HAMLET
O wonderful son, that can so astonish a mother! But
is there no sequel at the heels of this mother's
admiration? Impart.
And now look at the Kenneth Branagh version:


Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet is set 200 years in the future, and yet, there is no actual content changed. He uses the medium of film very effectively to emphasize funny or sad bits, and to keep the audience engaged with characters like Ophelia who might normally fade into the background, but all of the dialogue is exactly the same.

This is not a mark against his creativity. Kenneth Branagh wanted to bring Hamlet to life, and he did it wonderfully.

So, then there's the other way.

The Eagle is a (sadly) little-known 2009 Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell movie that was marketed as a historical action movie instead of the character study it really is. This isn't even one of these movies where you have to dig for the true meaning - nope, every single last bit of it is about the relationship between two men whose relationship changes from master/slave to brothers.

Look at this film clip, and then read the text of the book, of the same scene:



And in the book:
“Are you sure that you can trust that barbarian of yours in a venture of this kind?”  
“Esca?” Marcus said in surprise. “Yes, quite sure.” 
The other shrugged. “Doubtless you know best. Personally I should not care to let my life hang by so slender a thread as the loyalty of a slave.”  
“Esca and I—” Marcus began, and broke off. He was not going to make a circus show of his innermost feelings and Esca’s for the amusement of such as Tribune Servius Placidus. “Esca has been with me a long time. He nursed me when I was sick; he did everything for me, all the while that I was laid by with this leg.”  
“Why not? He is your slave,” said Placidus carelessly.  
Sheer surprise held Marcus silent for a moment. It was a long time since he had thought of Esca as a slave. “That was not his reason,” he said. “It is not the reason that he comes with me now.”  
“Is it not? Oh, my Marcus, what an innocent you are; slaves are all— slaves. Give him his freedom and see what happens.”  
“I will,” said Marcus. “Thanks, Placidus, I will!”
The beauty of this is that both scenes hold exactly the same content. Both are about a wounded ex-soldier hearing about his father's legion's lost eagle and deciding to take his slave on a quest to win it back from the wilds of Britain.

What the filmmakers did - which, frankly, I think is brilliant - was to keep the story the same but change the relationship between Marcus (the ex-soldier) and Esca (the captive slave).

In the book, Marcus and Esca share an instant connection, and have to figure out how to navigate being friends around the boundaries of their different cultures and baggage. Marcus doesn't understand Esca, but watching him try earnestly is rewarding enough to carry us happily through the book. There's this wonderful line about walking in without leave near the beginning that really encapsulates the slow burn of their relationship:
He never asked about those days, nor how Esca had come into the Calleva arena, because something about his slave, some inner reserve, warned him that to ask would be an intrusion, a walking in without leave. One day, perhaps, Esca would tell him freely, but not yet.
(Amazingly, this is not a romance. I think. But they do settle down and build a farm together and never marry I AM JUST SAYING.)

In the movie, Esca is bought for Marcus against his will and they bond in spite of themselves: Marcus is bitter about his discharge from the army and Esca is bitter about being enslaved. We the audience see that these two men are kindred spirits, wounded fighters struggling to find a purpose in life, and over the course of the movie we watch as they slowly come to this realization themselves. The movie is also much more intense, which fits an action-packed hour and a half as opposed to the leisurely stroll we take through the book. (I'm just sayin, there isn't any tearful, "I thought I lost you," in the book. And yes that actually happens. God, this movie was marketed so poorly.)

Both are valid interpretations of a relationship between two unfortunate but noble men, and notably, each is more palatable to the culture it comes from. Mid-1900s Britain (where Rosemary Sutcliff wrote) understood the fatalistic nature of two men who could accept a rough hand dealt to them and keep pushing forward. America circa now might not get that attitude, but two bitter characters who find solace in each other despite themselves... well, you can see how that might resonate.

All this is to say that, while there are a hundred thousand ways to mess it up, it's also possible to make a good, valid adaptation that adds something to the source material. Personally, I prefer movies and books like The Eagle that allow me to look at the source material in a different way... but that just leads me to the zillion and a half incarnations of Sherlock. And I don't want to get into that.

Do I?

*sob*

Tell me what your favorite adaptations are in the comments! :D

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Trust in Perspective (and why you shouldn't have it)

Rory Miller is a security expert, and his blog post "Trust in Information" is directed toward other security experts, or at least wannabes. So why do I think you should read it?

Because if you filter what he's saying through the lens of a casual observer, the basic point of his post is just as relevant.
"In my experience social scientists are very in tune and correct about some things.  They know the way that relatively rich, educated, genteel, polite, educated undergraduates think.  They know how other extremely educated, privileged academics think.  And living in one of the most intellectually inbred worlds possible, they believe they know how all people think. "
This is how we all are, to some degree. It's why we're capable of holding different opinions in the first place - if all people operated under the same values and logic, there would be no political parties.

We all understand our own social group very well, and we have difficulty comprehending how someone else could think differently: "How could these Republicans want to ban abortion?" "How could these Democrats want to legalize gay marriage?" And these differences right here are some of the smallest differences you can really have, given that they're opinions largely held in their most vehement form by members of the relatively affluent and educated middle and upper classes of America.

I like the way that Rory Miller explains it in his post (but then, I tend to like the way he explains most things. Read his books; they're fantastic). Whether you're applying it to security (dirtbags out to rob you think with different logic and codes than you), to writing (my 18th century Indian heroine would not think like a 21st century white woman), or just to daily life (this person's opinion truly does make perfect sense to them, even though I feel like they're speaking Klepton), it's worth a second glance.

Friday, June 14, 2013

When You Stop Trying to Make an Adaptation and Start Just Trying to Make Money

I've seen The Hobbit about four times now, and I squealed out loud in the theater when the dwarves sang and the Wargs showed up.

So please, nobody come after me with an axe when I tell you that The Hobbit is a terrible adaptation.

Is it a terrible *movie*? Well... I like it, and not in an ironic or snarky way. I genuinely enjoy the movie. But does that make it good? Not really.

See, the problem with The Hobbit is that all of its good parts come directly from the book that it adapts. Which makes me think that it would've been a great movie IF THEY'D JUST STOPPED PADDING THE DAMN THING.

The Lord of the Rings was a cultural phenomenon that changed the way movie franchises were created, sold, and marketed. You could argue that Harry Potter also helped, but I think the main way that Harry Potter contributed was as backup, to confirm that LOTR wasn't a fluke. Because the Harry Potter movies suck (sorry people who like them, they do!). LOTR is a series of skillful, masterful movies that are both fun and emotionally effective. It's hard to argue with their merit.

The Hobbit is their successor in a whole lot of bad ways.


Right now we're living in the age of the superhero. We've mined so much material from comic books that we've actually created a hydra of Marvel movies that operate together as well as separately (at least you brought me Jeremy Renner, Avengers).

Superhero movies are a testament to brand name recognition and the hesitance of investors in uncertain economic times. New scripts are unknowns, you have to take a gamble that they'll catch audience eyes. But known franchises? Hey, you've got a built in audience! Why would you pass that up?

And so we come to The Hobbit, which has been stretched out of a relatively simple, jovial children's book into the bastard son of LOTR, the Silmarilion, and studio executives hissing, "MOOOOOOAAAAAARRRRR."

Here's the plot of The Hobbit: Dwarves want gold, so Gandalf helps them put together a team and they traipse across Middle Earth to find it. 

Here's the plot of the first Hobbit movie: Dwarves want gold, so Gandalf helps them put together a team, but Thorin's whole family fell to gold-lust and got involved in a blood feud with this one bigass orc who comes after them right now because shut up he was busy for the last 50 years, but also The Dark Is Rising in the forest of this wizard so he's coming after Gandalf to get help with the Necromancer and *pant pant pant*

The best parts of The Hobbit movie are taken straight out of the book, and that's not just the nostalgia goggles talking. The problem with adding in Bigass Revenge Orc and Necromancer and Totally Not Evil Saruman is that these things distract from the goal of the journey, which is to reclaim the homeland of the dwarves. In LOTR, the goal is to kill the ring. We split our focus and follow the plight of the peoples of Middle Earth in order to understand WHY this ring has to be destroyed. The split focus is necessary in order to give Frodo's quest weight.

In The Hobbit, why is our focus divided? Well, you could say that Bigass Revenge Orc helps develop the characterization of Thorin. But why? Thorin is the leader. He wants to get his home back because he's king. We don't need another reason. We understand the quest for a rightful throne. 

And as for the Necromancer, Radagast, and the Not Evil Council, they affect the company of Thorin and Co. not at all. Their sole result is to act as a prequel to films that have already been released. They serve no narrative purpose whatsoever. 

Peter Jackson split The Hobbit into three films for the sole purpose of making money, and possibly to add some bonus geekery, and the film is infinitely weaker for it. There was no narrative purpose to the changes they made. So yes, The Hobbit is a bad adaptation, because it is not an adaptation of the The Hobbit! It's an adaptation of The Hobbit + The Silmarilion + Some Shit We Added About Dwarf Wars and Single Revenge Orcs + Studio Greed.

The Seeker is the DOA nominal adaptation of Susan Cooper's famous The Dark Is Rising young adult fantasy novels. The screenwriter they hired "didn't like fantasy". The story was immediately changed both for reasons (to make it more like Harry Potter) and for ...reasons (she mentions Vikings! Let's add in a ton of Vikings! The kids love Vikings, right?). The main characters were changed from English to American (even though the movie takes place in an English village), the plot was torn apart for no clear reason, and even the name was changed.


Odds are pretty good you've never heard of it, and there's a reason for that. The author hated it, the movie bombed immediately upon release, and it proudly holds a 14% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

As much as it pains me to use it as a (slightly) more positive example, while Transformers is also a bad adaptation, Transformers is aided by the fact that there had already been several different incarnations of the source material. It operated in a state of flux, so nobody was too surprised when Michael Bay took what he wanted and threw out the rest. But I ask you this: why did Michael Bay make a Transformers movie and turn it into a PG-13 CGI actionfest? Was it because he loved the source material? Hell no. It was to cash in on that sweet, sweet brand name recognition.

Probably some people can change things purely for Teh Profit and reap the rewards ( in fact, Jim Butcher stated about his hugely successful Dresden Files series that, "When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files."). But generally speaking, I think it's almost a guarantee that if you change something solely because you want to cash in on a trend or stretch out the material, it's going to fail, or at the very least be unrecognizable as an adaptation.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Funny Side of PRISM!

Maybe I'm a sadist, but I can't help but be amused at one part of this whole NSA debacle. I thought I'd share, so that you'd know there's light in the midst of all... this.

DARK MENACING PHOTOGRAPH

AHHHHH THEY USED THE WORD DYSTOPIA

POWERPOIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINTS

Every time I see "NSA" trending on Twitter or people posting shocked Facebook messages or sending carrier pigeons to their elderly grandpeople, all I can think of is the fact that some poor beleaguered intern at NSA HQ is going to have to go through Every. Single. One. of the mentions to evaluate the terrorist threat.


Hi, interns! :D

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It is a truth universally acknowledged

I have a confession to make. Up until about a week ago, I never liked Jane Austen.

The gasps of horror are echoing in my ears. I know! And it's not like I didn't try. I read Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility (twice), Pride and Prejudice. They just left me cold, you know? Northanger Abbey was clever and all, and I identified a bit with Eleanor in S&S, but I just couldn't really understand what all the fuss was about. I mean, people worship this woman! There's a whole Austen culture! It is a truth universally acknowledge that her books are pure undiluted awesomesauce and anyone who disagrees is a godless heathen!

Somehow I trundled along for years, bereft of the understanding of the Austen, a little puzzled, but complacent.

And then I happened to stumble across a link to Jane Austen's letters. I'm terminally nosy - not so much with people alive right now, but absolutely with people long since dead - so I thought, well, what the heck? Might as well check them out.

It took me about five minutes to read, "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal," and I was lost.

Something just clicked in my head, and I just got it. This woman was hilarious and sassy and smart and I wanted to have her over for tea to cackle about Mr. Next Door's antics. She had things to say, dammit, and now I wanted to hear all of them.

It was away to Gutenberg, and I plowed through all those novels I'd neglected. And this time I got it - Jane Austen's novels are so timeless not because they necessarily draw staggering conclusions or even are fantastic romances, but because of their unerringly poignant observations on human nature. All these people in her novels are people we know, doing things that we've seen. She takes a scene, dials it up to 11, and then draws arrows pointing to everyone's inconsistencies.
“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”
Well said, Ms. Austen. I'm glad that I'm finally able to appreciate you as you deserve at last.

What about you guys? Have you ever grown into a book?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why Are You Torturing Me With Your Artistic Vision

Aka, the bad side of adaptations, as requested.

I think that we can all agree that when you adapt something, you don't want the adaptation to be identical. That would be purposeless. You want to make slight changes in order to further explore the source material (the different interpretation of the central relationship in The Eagle book and movie) or open understanding of the material to a wider audience (Lord of the Rings).

It's really difficult to succeed at this in a way that will both delight fans of the source material and draw in new fans of your adaptation. Luckily, there's thousands of ways to fail!

Most books or movies have a few key themes or ideas. For instance, The Chronicles of Narnia = Jesus is Awesome and His Dark Materials = Atheism is Awesome.

Hello, boring children. I think I'd rather just sit through
a sermon than have to follow you lot.
Both of these movies fail in similar ways. Love it or hate it, both of these books are all about their respective messages, and both of their movie adaptations were afraid of treading too heavily. So they softened the messages, focused on the characters, and thereby weakened the story. In a story that's all about a theme or idea, the characters tend to be more symbols than actual personalities. If you try to tread lightly on the message, then you darn well better beef up the characters.

If Narnia had tried to give its characters personalities past "young and nice", "older and nice", "boy and nice", "sulking wonder", it might have worked. But they chose to stick with the book "personalities", when those characters are basically symbols. Susan is simply not as nuanced or interesting as a crownless king who spends 80 years playing in the mud rather than trying to get his throne back.

Then there's movies that try to explore different aspects of the source material, like Tim Burton's adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.


Yeah... this poster is pretty accurate.
While the book and the 1971 movie are Charlie's story, the 2005 movie focuses on Willy Wonka himself. Rather than being an entertainingly vicious morality tale about the boy equivalent of Cinderella, the 2005 movie focuses on... Willy Wonka's daddy issues.

(P.S. Tim Burton, you should get those looked at.)

It's too bad, because it's clear that a lot of time and money and love went into the 2005 movie - the sets are gorgeous, the actors are carefully directed, and there's a lot of neat twists like having each musical number come from a different decade. But unfortunately, the film fails, because the movie simply does not work as Willy Wonka's story.

Part of the problem is that Johnny Depp's stammering, serial-killer-grin performance just isn't all that likable. But a bigger issue is that the mechanism for the story is Charlie going through all these tests to see if he's worthy. So now we've divided our focus for the movie - we've got a saintly kid going through tests to determine his worthiness, and a cheshire smile weirdo freaking out over his daddy issues. The tension in the movie is divided in half: will Charlie prevail, and will Wonka spank his inner muppet? This wouldn't necessarily be a huge problem if we liked or cared about both characters; unfortunately, we care about neither.

The original movie/book worked so well because we had interestingly awful characters failing the tests around Charlie while Wonka was fascinatingly menacing in the background. The 2005 movie zooms the lens in on Wonka, but strips him of his interest by making him quirky instead of menacing, and delving into a past in a way we never wanted to. Less is more, filmmakers, when are ya gonna learn that? After you've remade every horror movie ever, I'm guessing.

And then there's movies that try hard, but completely miss the boat in every direction. So how about that John Carter? Aka, the biggest box office disaster since Cutthroat Island (another movie you've likely never heard of, that looks like a Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off but was made almost a decade earlier).

John Carter is interesting, because it doesn't fail so much as an adaptation as it just fails as a movie.

How interesting. A dude on a thing.
There's definitely a marketing element to the "where did we go wrong" - - John Carter? Who? Release a show named Sherlock and we get it, but John Carter doesn't have the same cultural resonance that it had 60 years ago, and Disney, you should have known that. I know that non-horror science fiction movies are generally about as successful as The Host, but at least John Carter of Mars TELLS us something. Hell, you couldn't go with A Confederate on Mars? Something, anything!

But I think the real problem is that A Princess of Mars (the book this movie was adapted from) simply was never a very compelling story to begin with. It got popular because it was in the right place at the right time. It was one of the first planetary romances (that term, uh, doesn't mean exactly what it sounds like) and had the proper "swashbuckling":"cool space shit" ratio to keep audiences happy. It didn't get famous for being good, it got famous for being first-ish. So as a movie, well, it's another "white guy stumbles into a war and wins it for the natives" story. And, uh, we have a lot of those.

And then there's movies that fail completely to have any understanding at all of their source material. Let's look at Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, an adaptation of a YA novel. Here's a quote from the source material:
“Looking out of the window at the infinite sky, I prayed out, 'Dear Baby Jesus, I am sorry for my sin, even though I do not know what they are, which seems a bit unfair if it is going to be held against me. But that is your way. And I am not questioning your wisdomosity. In future, however, would it be possible for my life to be not so entirely crap? Thank you.” 
Now here's a scene from the movie:


Oh. Oh, wow. Oh... ow, actually. That was physically painful.

The book barely has a plot; it's the diary entries of a boy-crazy and completely self-centered teen girl. It follows her for a year... and that's pretty much it. The book's strength is in its absolutely hysterical prose. The main character's observations on life are hilarious and memorable.

The main characters do fairly closely
resemble their literary counterparts.
That's about the highest praise
I'm able to give this movie.
The movie is... I don't even know what this is. It's like a Disney made-for-TV movie where even Disney said, "We have too much shame to air this." The movie is true to the plot of the book (such as it is), but instead of expanding on or even using the hilarious source material, attempts to amuse us through humiliation. The girls in the books embarrass themselves occasionally, yes, but the humor comes from what they learn (or choose not to learn) from their experiences.

Love can't always win the day, and it certainly doesn't always make a good movie. (Try again, Tim Burton, there's always Alice in Wonder... oh.) Complete disinterest towards your source material probably won't, either. The thing is, it's always easier to fail than it is to succeed.

I think the key may be in understanding what makes the source material work. We love endless incarnations of Sherlock Holmes because that relationship between a cold, brilliant man and his loyal companion is so very compelling. You can interpret this any number of ways and we'll be interested. Sherlock Holmes is a fairly easy hook to get right, and so you see a lot of at least decent interpretations of it. But then there's movies like The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen that overload on empty plot and CGI rather than delving into our characters, which were the whole hook to begin with!

Adaptations are like any art: you have to understand the rules in order to break them. Understand how a story works, and you'll be able to rearrange it into something captivating. Fail to understand that, and you get...

Awwwwwwww HELL no.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adaptations: The Good, The Bad, and the Bay

Why even make adaptations?

If a story is good, why re-tell it? We've already read the story of Jane Eyre: why make not just one, but literally dozens of movies re-telling the same story?

For that matter, why take a concept and move it around in space or time so that you can re-tell it that way, a la the zillion and one Pride and Prejudice re-tellings? Why not just tell your own story, if you're going to change things anyway? Why tread old ground, when people could just read the original?

This is a gross generalization (as all generalizations are), but I think we can generally group adaptations into one of three groups:

1) Did it for the love - Wanted to explore different aspects of the story, or wanted to help it reach a broader audience.
















2) Did it for the money - MAKE IT RAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN



















3) I love money, and I... money love? This thing I love is fantastic, but I'm willing to futz with it a bit to get butts in seats. I'll get this thing out there, and they can go read the source material later.
















Is there anything wrong with wanting to make money off an endeavor? Of course not! Some really fantastic books and movies and art have come out of somebody who really wants to make a buck and happens to have a story to tell.

But when it comes to adaptation, the intent of the creator is going to necessarily transform the approach that creator takes. Lord of the Rings is a perfect example - while everyone involved with the project clearly loved the material, they were willing to make changes to adapt the material to the perceived needs of the audience, rather than stay as faithful as possible and expect the audience to keep up. The story sprang from a desire to put Tolkien's work on film, but a number of issues that the creators struggled with had nothing at all to do with the source material - look at Arwen, Warrior Princess getting put in... taken out... put in again... taken out...

We almost had this instead of Fainting Couch Arwen.

The focus of your storytelling matters, which is why we're looking at them this way. But these aren't judgments. Passion is no guarantee of a good movie.

Oh Will, you and your
questionable career
choices.
During this little miniseries I'm going to refer mainly to movies as examples because any given movie I mention is going to have been seen by more of you than any one book I want to talk about. So! What should I start with - the good, the bad, or alien robots from outer space with inexplicable bodily functions? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Adapt Me

I'm kicking off a mini-series about adaptations: why they work, how they work, and some more why, because that's how I roll. Overalyzedly.

Just for funsies, these are the top three films that I would love to see made.

1. The Persian Boy


I know, I'm not hard to guess. But I absolutely adore Alexander the Great (I have an entire bookshelf devoted to him, and back in high school I wrote an ill-advised romance novel starring him. Let us never speak of this again) and although I actually own three different copies of Oliver Stone's Alexander (The Movie. Yeah, That Kind of Sucked, Here's the Actual Movie. No, Really This Time!), the thing is a travesty. Alexander may have had some interesting love life shennanigans, but the majority of his time was spent leading. Not crying.

Even Colin Farrell looks doubtful
about this.
2. Dragon

When I was a kid, YA wasn't what it is now, and I never really got into children's books. Between the ages of about idk young and 16, the majority of what I read was either scifi or fantasy. And I learned quickly that books with "dragon" in the title A) were almost never about dragons, and B) almost uniformly sucked.

This book did not suck.
This book is a horribly subtle and clever blend of scifi and fantasy with a truly nasty but delightful protagonist. Vlad is an assassin and mafia member by trade. He enforces a district. The text doesn't shy away from how brutal he is, and yet he's so singular and charming that we can't help but like him anyway.

I don't even know how this worked on paper; I can't see it working well on film. You would need to take the witty intelligence of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and dial it up to 11.

Still, want.

3. Protector of the Small

This is an accurate cover, but not a
very attractive cover.
I love Tamora Pierce's stories of Tortall. Her best known works center around Alanna (a girl who hides her identity to become a knight and bring glory to the kingdom single-handedly) and Daine (a girl with wild magic who can speak to and transform into animals). And while those are wonderful books, their protagonists are... em... Well, they have a lot going for them. Good looks, magical powers, strong in battle, everyone loves them...

Enter Kel.

Kel is plain and stocky and distinctly unmagical. She's not charming; in fact, her taciturn stoicism tends to make people dislike her. She wants to become a knight, and now the system allows for it. And yet the system goes out of its way to make everything near impossible for her. She's stuck in the middle - there's no cause for dramatic gestures like Alanna, and yet her situation is horribly unfair. All she can do is either give up or stick it out.

I really, really love Kel, and I wish I'd gotten to read about her growing up. I would have really related to her as a kid. Not only do I love Kel, but I absolutely adore the entire conceit behind these books. They're a deconstruction of the nominal vaguely European mystical King Arthurish fantasy world. Kel wants to be a lone heroic knight, but quickly learns that there's no real place for lone heroes in the world - what do they do? Ride around in circles until a quest appears? The world needs leaders, yes, but the kind that will attempt to train border patrols out of groups of unwilling ex-cons.

And a few honorable mentions...

4. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Snarky steampunk tragedy. Awesome.

5. The Odyssey. I'd really love to see a version of this that embraced the dangerous, fae feel of the journey he takes, and embraces Odysseus's cunning and intelligence. I could see Johnny Depp playing an excellent Odysseus.

6. The Hobbit.

Tell me what book you'd love to see get made into a movie!