On Three… Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

For those of you who have not read an ‘On Three’ review before: I review books after the 3rd chapter and determine whether I’m going to continue reading or not. Most agents only give a book three chapters (or the first 50 pages) and I find it’s gauge enough to know whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not. Sometimes I’m wrong but hey – what’s life without a little surprise?

Preamble: 

Image result for aftermath chuck wendig

Sometime between Christmas 2019 and New Year’s Eve of 2020, I went to see The Rise of Skywalker. And let me just tell you, weeks later, I have absolutely no idea how I feel about it.

  • It’s beautiful – sure.
  • Great Characters – obviously.
  • Pacing and structure? New Phone Who Dis?

I watched the first three films when I was six years old. My Grandparents only had three videotapes for kids. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Free Willy, and The NeverEnding Story. So whenever we visited, this was all I could watch.

And if that doesn’t deeply explain my psychosis nothing will…

Anyway – because of this, I’ve always held a warm, safe place for Star Wars in my heart. Or so I thought. I wasn’t amazed by the prequels, but I’ve come to appreciate them for developing the world. Wasn’t a fan of Rogue One (don’t @ me) and let’s just pretend The Solo Story didn’t happen… and I’ll die on the hill that The Last Jedi is wonderful because it actually attempts a slightly different narrative than a simple rehash of old storylines.

Was I secretly a Star Wars snob? Was I unable to enjoy anything except the original trilogy?

My best friend is the complete opposite – the Star Wars franchise can do no wrong (except for Last Jedi, he hates that film). And it amazed me we could both love a Franchise, for completely different reasons. At completely different ends of the spectrum. I asked him if he’d read any of the Star Wars books. He said no.

Time to test my snob hypothesis then – I bought Star Wars Aftermath. And my journey began…

aftermath

Aftermath opens straight after The Return of the Jedi, and the second Death Star is destroyed. But there’s no time to celebrate. The Empire still has factions of power, and as the statue of Palpatine is pulled from its plinth, Imperial Police (Stormtroopers in black) arrive and a battle breaks out in the middle of the square.

Nothing like throwing us in amongst the action. The characters, even though barely introduced in this opening scene, are empathic and real. Families protecting themselves. An angry mob fighting back against a cruel establishment.

The next three chapters cover a range of characters, and interestingly for me, hover over the perspective of an Imperial Admiral – Rae Sloane. Ambitious, tempestuous, strong and flawed – I love her already. And whilst I know I shouldn’t want her to win, her motives are clear and reasonable. Which makes her a fantastic antagonist. The world-building and settings are tangible and I’m really enjoying the pace of this narrative.

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I don’t tend to read a lot of Scifi – for reason’s I’ve explained in this tweet:-

But! Aftermath’s pivoting between perspectives, the soft references rather than heavy-handed ‘remember this guy from the first film? We brought him back! Even though he’d definitely be dead! HAHA!’ – It all works.

So if you’re worried that you might be a Star Wars snob – which might be true for me – give this book a read. I’m really glad I chose this to be my first read of 2020. I just hope it ends in hope because – with the world as it is outside, I need my Star Wars escapism safety blanket.

 

#Gothtober – Gothic Listening

Gothtober

Back in July I wrote a blog post about music being influential on writing, explaining that writers craving silence and solitude was a stereotype and ABSOLUTELY NOT how I like to write. Click here if you want a little slice of recap.

But a TLDR is: Some writers finds the blank page daunting, and music can help break numerous barriers.

And whilst music and literature might not seem synonymous, they both have tangible effects on us as human beings. When you’re a child you learn to sing along to music, keep to a beat and co-ordinate through music, whether that’s through music lessons or simply conditioning within the home. For example, my dad loves The Squeeze, so I know all the words to Up the Junction. (Test me). Equally, your parents might have read to you as a child, instigating your journey to reading and writing. Both are creative outlets developed and intrinsic to the person developing them. They’re large parts of everyone’s lives, whether they realise it or not, and the wider you explore both subjects the more you’ll get out of life and the wider cultural world around you.

The music I play when I’m writing is always curated to suit the mood of my writing.

So, with that in mind. I’ve created a playlist for you to listen to. Check it out on Spotify (not a spon – I don’t have NEARLY enough followers for that yet) and let me know what you think. What music do you listen to when you’re writing?

What was the last film you watched? – Victoria and Abdul

Victoria and Abdul PosterWay back when – when ‘drama’ wasn’t twitter beef or insta hashtags, but something people did for entertainment and to win a goat (actual facts, look it up), there were two main types.

Comedy

Tragedy.

Comedies would be filled with lots of little mishaps, but inevitably ended up with a cathartic happy ending.

Tragedies – didn’t. They would be filled with comedic elements, but make you cry your little eyes out. And the British – if I do say so myself – are really bloody good at comic tragedies. Victoria and Abdul is an example of this.

 

Here’s why: (PS. Spoilers)

The screenshot opens in Agra, our lead (played by Ali Fazal) begins his morning with prayer. The camera then follows him walk through Agra to where he works, following his feet with only a few shots of his face. We meet exactly one English soldier on his way to work, who is rude and obnoxious and calls Abdul Karim and ‘idiot’. Now, English comedy (at least from where I’m sat) has always played on how aware it is of the classic ‘Englishman’. Here we have a British film, showing the audience how ridiculous British-isms are. There’s no doubt the Englishman is rude, but Abdul carries on his way – showing that this behaviour is the norm, the English ruin everything (even a nice walk to work) and everyone else just ignores them.

This is then carried on for the next sixteen minutes, hammering home the idea that English traditions are completely underwhelming or simple-minded to those looking from the outside in. There’s a great juxtaposition between the two ‘Hindus’ as they keep being called. One is excited to be in England, one can’t wait to be home. This second character (played by Adeel Akhtar) even goes as far as to compare the English to ‘Barbarians’ because of what they put in sausages. The two Indian men are told their new costumes were designed to look ‘authentic’ even when Abdul points out they’re nothing like the traditional costumes. And they look so bored!

As course after course of food comes out, there are casual side glances, rolling eyes, stares, and sighs. All little details that show how disappointing the whole thing is. But what makes this absolutely genius is Queen Victoria (played by the true queen herself Judi Dench) is asleep. She’s awoken to receive a coin, makes eye contact Abdul and the opening titles (16 minutes in mind…) flash across the screen practically screaming – this is it. This is the relationship that could save her. If you’d like to know more about their true relationship, Vanity Fair has written an amazing article all about it.

The queen is, at this moment in her life anyway, bloody miserable. Her husband is dead, her lover is dead, her children are horrible and she’s sick of being bossed around. She’s clearly dying of boredom and because the English can’t help themselves, there are even jokes about her constipation. But here is this person, a complete contrast to everyone she knows. He’s excited to talk about carpets, to teach her his language, to talk about what being a Muslim is like and she’s revived by his enthusiasm. She encourages him to bring his wife to England, and unlike everyone else, isn’t terrified of this woman whose face is covered up or different. It’s exciting. And it’s lovely to watch.

Image result for opening scenes of Abdul and VictoriaWhich means the moments of contrast are stark and terrifying.

Servants shutting doors in Abdul’s face, being put in cold and isolating dorms, but most importantly – the constant backstabbing.

Bertie, Prince of Wales (played by Eddie Izzard) is a nasty, scheming little man who begins with the household – who already are at odds with Abdul – and then with Abdul’s friend Muhammed.

This is where Muhammed becomes my favourite character. His speech to the Prince is 10/10. He refuses to sell out his friend, well aware that he is dying because of the awful English weather. He’s proud of his friend for playing the game so well, and when he dies (I did warn about spoilers) the English are there to ruin it again.

Because everyone is so focused on making sure the queen is okay, his death passes with only two moments of note. The first is when Abdul’s serving boy runs up to Abdul to tell him about Muhammed, and the next moment is his funeral. I was seconds away from tears.

Abdul is then alone – as his wife and mother-in-law get 0 lines – with only the queen to protect him. The court are on his back constantly, looking for any reason to have him removed. And once the queen dies, he’s sent back to India and all of the letters and journals they shared together where destroyed. Now I’m for real crying. Damn you. Damn you cinema!

The film comes full circle, with Abdul waking up in Agra, and then walking through the streets. He returns to the Taj Mahal gardens, where a large statue of Queen Victoria has been put up and he keeps his promise to stay by her side. And isn’t that bloody lovely/heartbreaking.

I spent a lot of time talking about the money with Big Hero 6 – because I wanted to make a point that whilst I didn’t like it, clearly others must because it rolled in the dollar as it were. Victoria and Abdul have done pretty well, grossing $61,000,000 worldwide so far. I, personally, think it’s worth all of the awards. And has redeemed Stephen Frears after Tamara Drewe for me.

Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree or if you want to share your opinion. See you tomorrow!

What was the last film you watched? – Big Hero 6

Short answer: Big Hero 6

Long answer: Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6, Disney’s answer to Hero Movies, won an Oscar for Animation, made $56,000,000 dollars in its opening weekend and then went on to quadruple that in gross profit. It scored highly with critics and audiences alike, being described as ‘agreeably entertaining and brilliantly animated… briskly-paced, action-packed and often touching.’ 

Image result for big hero sixBut to be honest, and otherwise unhelpful, I wasn’t a massive fan. Let’s start with the plot:- (Spoilers)

We are introduced to Hiro Hamada through a robot battle. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Robot Wars, Transformers, or Real Steel – this intro was for you. We’re brought in to think they’re giant robots doing battle, until the camera pans out and you see that it’s two people controlling their robots much like in the tv show Robot Wars. Except there’s no fun narration from Craig Charles. Hiro steps up to challenge the reigning champion and eventually wins. When the reigning champion acts like a child who’s had their favorite toy destroyed (because he essentially had that happen to him) he reacts to physical violence. Towards a 13-year-old. Now, up until this point (and we’re only a couple of minutes into this film), there hasn’t really been any danger for our protagonist, who we assume will be Hiro because he won and because he’s on some of the posters. It seems a bit extreme, but thankfully there’s an ex-machina ‘Older brother arrives on a moped to save the day’ moment so we can breathe a sigh of relief before watching a ridiculous non-car chase as the two brothers try to escape. I say try, because they both get arrested. Turns out, whilst battling robots isn’t illegal in San Fransokyo, gambling on these robot battles is. Who knew?

For the next ten minutes, we’re driven through the world through Tadisha Hamada’s eyes. He wants to encourage his brother to be a better person and to use his brain for something better. He wants to make his parents proud. He wants to show his brother his nerd school. And this is the bit where ‘fast-paced’ seems like a kind way to say ‘info-dump’.

When Tadisha takes his younger brother Hiro to his college/university, he introduces him one by one to Go Go, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred. We’re then introduced to Callaghan, the professor of the university. This all happens very quickly, and we’re shown details of differing personalities of each. Here’s my problem with this. There are now so many characters that I don’t really care about any of them.

Hiro is a moody teenager, pure and simple. Tadashi is the kind soul who wants the best for everyone. Their aunt Cass has two minutes screen time, repeats the same joke as Tadashi, and spends most of her time talking about food and hugging people. Go Go is cold and aloof. Wasabi is clearly OCD. Honey Lemon is over excitable and Fred is the classic frat party stoner (who we later find out is also a billionaire baby). And we’re introduced to all of this information in a succinct fashion because? Because the characters will be important, and these little idiosyncrasies are what make them the heroes they’re going to become? Also, Tadashi has been at this school long enough that he’s tested Baymax 84 times before he works. He’s got his own workspace, and these people are described as his best friends; so how does Hiro not know about them until now? Why does it take Tadashi getting arrested alongside his brother to introduce Hiro to this school? ‘For stories sake’ isn’t good enough in my opinion. And it means that at 23 minutes when Tadashi sacrifices himself to save someone and dies – I felt nothing. Sorry.

There’s a clumsiness to the writing I didn’t expect. Casual Frankenstein references. The fact that when Baymax needs charging, he acts drunk rather than sleepy. Why? For the slapstick comedy? Of which there isn’t really any in the rest of the film. There are a few moments where Disney makes an effort to subvert our expectations. When The Eye of the Tiger starts playing, this is the moment when Hiro has no ideas or plan at all. Baymax makes a funny noise when he does the fist bump and has to deflate and inflate himself, which did make me giggle. But it was difficult to have an emotional attachment to anything other than Baymax. Hiro is clearly consumed by anger, and it’s only his friends that keep him from becoming Callaghan or another villain of the same ilk. And the fact Baymax becomes sentient enough to stop Hiro from removing his care chip. (That’s never explained by the way).

There were five other American/British CG Animated films to come out that year. The Book of Life (Net $99.8 mil), The Boxtrolls ($108 mil), How To Train Your Dragon 2 ($618.9 mil), Penguins of Madagascar ($373.6 mil) and Postman Pat the Move (£8.6 mil).

I’ve included the amount these films made to show that actually, Big Hero 6 ($222.5 mil) was average. I don’t expect Disney to be average. Disney should be miles ahead. The Book of Life is majority 20th Century Fox, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 + Penguins of Madagascar are Dreamworks and Fox. I’m not including that to slander either company. Far from it, they’re big games in animation. And that’s why I expect more from Disney. They are the company for classic children’s storytelling through animation. But even though Big Hero 6 is PG, it doesn’t really feel like it’s for kids. Certainly not kids old enough to understand the emotional distress Hiro is feeling, because he refuses to feel it. He shoves it out of the way until it’s useful in problem-solving. Or Baymax finally explains what he means by ‘Tadashi is here’ and shows the video he’s somehow recorded and saved.

I’d like this film more if:

1. Tadashi did something to engage the audience more than just save his brother. Like maybe being the sole caregiver, until Aunt Cass steps in once he’s died.

2. We got more time to get to know the friends and the university.

3. Everyone had known Fred had money and that was a joke from the start, rather than ex-Machina millions.

4. Baymax had had more personality. It is, after all, fictitious. He could be more sentient before he decides to protect his care chip.

So no, I wouldn’t spend any more money on this film or any sequels hereafter. I probably wouldn’t watch it again unless it was the only thing on television, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.

Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree or if you want to share your opinion. See you next week!

Who is your favourite Director?

Okay, so, I did a bit of research into this because I thought the answer was going to be super simple and then it wasn’t. And the reason it wasn’t is that people aren’t super simple. Our tastes change as we grow and learn, but the styles and techniques of the films we love have been immortalised and don’t change. Obviously.

I’m not a film theorist, but something I do enjoy doing is watching video essays exploring film theory, specifically screenplay analysis and critical theories I’m familiar with within literature put towards the visual medium. I promise, if this isn’t the kind of thing you’re looking for, I’m not going to to go in heavy with this stuff (even though I love it!). But if you are interested, I’d recommend checking out the following youtubers: Lindsay Ellis, Lessons from a Screenplay, and Nerdwriter1. But it’s due to my over-zealous nerdiness that I found choosing my favourite director so difficult. It’s no longer about just watching a film and thinking ‘Good Job! – I enjoyed that’, because I’m more aware of the work they’ve put into it.

So here are some honourable mentions:

John Hughes: 

I went through a phase of only watching John Hughes films on repeat, and considering I’m a being with a very short attention span, I think that says a lot! It was all about the dialogue, the soft colours, (sometimes musical interludes) and the sincerity of the stories Hughes crafted. 10/10 John. Would recommend.

Wes Craven: 

“Wes Craven has become synonymous with genre bending and innovative horror, challenging audiences with his bold vision.” – that’s straight from his IMDB page. For me, it was the intelligence it invoked in the audience watching his many, many films and television shows. The Twilight Zone, Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street. His horror films make you feel intelligent with the dialogue and plotting, before pulling the rug from under you and scaring the living daylights out of you. And it’s psychological enough that you don’t have to worry about it not being terrifying on a second viewing.

Sophia Coppola: 

I would describe Coppola as an ‘auteur’ – AKA a director creating content that explores authorship in contrast to the ‘shallow superficiality of Hollywood’ (thanks Lindsay Ellis). She’s a great director, with a distinguished style and personality. And the interior meaning within the work is inherently feminine – which for me is important because I don’t believe femininity should be considered a negative trait at all. She was the first female director on my list when I started thinking about my favourites (which says something about the very heavily masculine world she’s working in). She was almost usurped by Patti Jenkins or Lone Scherfig who arguably have more works and more recent works worth noting, but she’s the queen for me.

Okay so – for the favourite directors:

I took a few things into account when curating this list. The first was the emotional and psychological impact these directors had on me as I grew up. The second was the adult analysis of their skills (with what little qualifications I have on that) and the third was, petty, but the sheer number of 10/10 in their portfolio.

3. Edgar Wright. 

I’ve not met an aesthetic I’ve liked as much as Edgar Wright’s. And if you’re unsure what I mean then check out this video that goes through it. The man is a genius. His style lends itself so perfectly to visual comedy (another video if you’re into it) but he’s also not afraid to let his audience feel. Baby Driver has some really dark moments, framed in bright colours with white noise so you can feel them without feeling rushed to move on with the plot. Hot Fuzz gives you the complete understanding of the main character’s isolation from a short montage of images. Wright spent days filming one shot for Shaun of the Dead because it had to be perfect. His detail orientated, character-driven stories and authenticity are what makes him so bloody fantastic! (in my humble opinion).

2. Joss Whedon. 

Joss Whedon is not a nice person. He’s “allegedly” fired actors for getting pregnant, cheated multiple times, emotionally abused his wife, he’s included rape subplot storylines that seem to be there for the pure conflict of it all, clearly isn’t as pro-feminist as he’d like to be, and his main characters might be female, but they’re tiny and they’re put through the absolute shitter. Excuse my language. But Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, Serenity, and Doctor Horrible are all a part of who I am as a person now. And he directed that shit so…

1. Ang Lee. 

I didn’t even know Ang Lee had such an important role in my film tastes until I looked into it. His subtle genius has given us the best adaptation of my favourite Austen story Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Do you know how good a film has to be to get a ten year old interested in subtitled films!? And before Marvel created the MCU, Ang Lee gave us Hulk – a film way before it’s time, science fiction and fantasy, action and intrigue. The man’s a genius and well deserving of all his awards an accolades. He is an auteur, and his films are classics for good reason. He’s my number 1.