So You Think You Can Write-Part 3: Creating Characters, Beyond the Cliche

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To paraphrase my favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice, I am a studier of character. Whenever I watch a movie or a TV show or read a book, I want to invest in the people more than whatever happens to them. What do they do? What are they thinking? What kind of people are they?

Even the most basic of plots can be compelling enough if the characters are written well. One example of this is The Guardians of the Galaxy (both Vol. 1 and 2). The plots of both movies are simple, but the characters are what make the movies interesting and compelling. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1 sets up what kind of people the characters are (and yes, I include the talking racoon and the giant tree as “people”). Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 introduces more personal stakes and shows the group coming together as a family unit. The action, music, and humor all contribute to the movie, but what people end up remembering (aside from the catchy songs) are the things that Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot all experience.

When you’re creating a story, you want to create characters that aren’t stereotypes or cliches. If you’re writing young adult and know about the basic Breakfast Club archetypes, figure out a way to develop beyond the typical athlete, brainiac, princess, basketcase, and criminal. Power Rangers (2017) did this by giving each of the characters a personal stake in the story and characterization that goes beyond their high school label.

Jason starts out as the typical jock, star of the football team. However, he is tasked with the responsibility of being the leader and making sure everyone gets along. Billy is the brainiac, but he’s also on the autism spectrum and is grieving over his deceased father. Through befriending the rangers, Billy learns how to be more social without having to change who he is in essentials and he sees the rangers as his family. Zack seems like the cool high school delinquent, who always cuts class and hangs around the mines and train cars. In reality, he has the responsibility of taking care of his sick mother and fears losing her. Kimberley is the spirited ex-cheerleader, but her past as a mean girl causes her to wonder if she’s worthy of being a ranger. Trini starts out as being a “new kid on the block,” wanting to socialize, but never fitting in. She later reveals that she struggles with stuff relating to her identity. The way that she sees herself conflicts with what her parents want her to be.

All of these characterizations seem simple enough, but anything that goes beyond the norm makes for great writing. If you have a young woman who acts cold and distant, figure out why she’s so standoffish beyond a tragic backstory. Wonder Woman is a great example of female characterization. She has some tragedy in her backstory, but it does not define her as a person. Your young woman might have issues with her parents, like most other teenagers, but it can’t be her only defining trait.

Creating a character is basically like going on an archaeological dig: you start out with the bare bones (personality, physical appearances, likes, dislikes, etc) and have to dig deep to figure out what kind of person your character is. That means figuring out their backstory and what they want out of life at the time that your story starts.

It’s important to create a cast of diverse characters, and I don’t just mean making sure that you have characters of different ethnicity. Each character should have a distinct and unique personality. Even when you use the Myers-Briggs or the Four Temperaments, there are still ways to make two people with the same personality type and temperament unique.

I challenge you to create at least five characters that you think feel unique to you. Who knows, what you create might end up creating the players to a wonderful story.

Defenders: A Review

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As a fan of Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve had a hit and miss relationship with the four Netflix Original Series shows. On the one hand, Daredevil started off well, but got muddled in the second season. I liked aspects of Jessica Jones, but I don’t think I could watch it again because Kilgrave is a living nightmare and I didn’t feel like Jessica had any hope of moving forward by the end of the series. Luke Cage is okay, but the violence feels all too real considering current events. Iron Fist felt too derivative and mediocre.

Defenders, much like Avengers, is the story of how these four street-level heroes become a team in order to take down the Hand, an ancient criminal organization. Daredevil and Iron Fist have the most at stake, since they have dealt with the Hand in the past. However, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones still have their own character arcs as well, wanting to help the people in their neighborhoods whose lives are being affected by the Hand’s conspiracy.

The action in this series is top notch, from the signature hallway fight to the fight between Luke Cage and Iron Fist and every other brawl in between. And the overall story is solid. The members of the Hand all want to prolong their immortal lives, especially Alexandra (played by Sigourney Weaver). They resurrect Elektra to act as their enforcer.

Matt Murdock’s character arc centers on trying to live out a normal life as a lawyer while still having the desire to fight crime as Daredevil. He is the only one who actually needs to hide his secret identity, since his double life could cost him his job and all the cases he won. Elektra’s return brings back issues for Matt Murdock who’s still not over her. While I understand their relationship, it’s not what you would call a healthy one.

Danny Rand starts out as being a single-minded, immature man-child, wanting to take down the Hand at any cost. Through meeting the other Defenders, he learns that he doesn’t have to follow his duty alone. His scenes with Luke Cage are my favorite scenes in the series, which makes sense because they’re best friends in the comics. I only wished that there was a scene where they talked about their taste in music. They also fight well together, as evidence in the fight with Alexandra’s minions.

Luke Cage acts as the conscience of the team, not wanting innocent people to get hurt. He has a lot to live up to as the Hero of Harlem and while he doesn’t have a lot of personal stakes in the series, he’s smart enough to go along with everything, even when things don’t make sense. He is also the hero who captures one of the members of the Hand. He’s better at escaping an attempted kidnapping than Danny, sad to say.

Jessica has the least amount of character development, given that she has the least amount of personal stakes and connection with the Hand in this series. She’s still isolating herself, not taking on any clients except for someone who provides the MacGuffin. By the end of the series, Jessica finds the resolve to start working again. And while I like that Jessica and Luke got some closure in terms of their relationship, I still ship them so hard that I wanted them to have at least one “ship tease” moment. Since Luke is still in a happy relationship with Claire, my Jessica/Luke ship is not gonna be sailing off anytime soon.

The major villains in Defenders are Alexandra and Madame Gao. The other three members of the Hand play second fiddle. Alexandra takes it upon herself to raise Elektra as the Black Sky, the Hand’s living weapon. Madame Gao is trying to keep the Hand from falling apart and proves to be a surprisingly good fighter. She’s also very intimidating, in spite of her age. Elektra, however, is the most complex villain in the series. Even though she is tasked with helping the Hand achieve their latest goal of gaining immortality and destroying New York City, she still has feelings for Matt. In the end, she chooses her own path, though where it will lead her and Matt is still unknown.

Overall, this series is worth watching, but I recommend not binge-watching everything at once. I don’t regret spending my weekend watching it, but watching the series one episode at a time helps to remember all the little things more. And thankfully, aside from one gratuitous sex scene, the violence is the only thing that makes this series MA. It’s a soft R rating overall. Watch it for the action and the character development. These guys are awesome.

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 2: Creating a Story

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Once you get the idea for a story, the next thing you need to do is plan out the story.

In the writing world, there are two kinds of people. Or really, three: Plotters, Pantsers, and the In-Betweeners.

Plotters are people who write a thorough, detailed plot outline, complete with character profiles and information on worldbuilding. The details that go into their novels can fill an entire notebook. Pantsers are people who just take the ideas in their head and write out the story as they go, with only a vague idea about where the story is going. I consider myself an Inbetweener. A Plotter with Pants, so to speak. When I create my stories, I create a plot outline with the major events in mind, create character profiles, and research the worlds that my characters live in.  However, once I have a basic outline, my characters, and an idea on where everything will take place, I write out all the major events and then fly by the seat of my pants trying to fill in the gaps in between.

Whether you’re a Plotter, Pantser, or an Inbetweener, research is an important part of the pre-writing process. Read books within your genre and look into the stuff that relates to the events and people in your story. Even if your novel takes place in high school, you will want to research potential places for your characters to hang out, the music your characters listen to, the kind of movies they like, etc. These details will enrich your story.

If you’re not sure how to organize all these details, I highly recommend that you read John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. Even though the book is for screenwriters and movie makers, it gives you a lot of details about what makes a great story. Movies make for a great template because the best movies out there all tell unique, compelling stories.

So which kind of writer are you? Are you a Plotter? A Pantser? Or somewhere in between?

 

So You Think You Can Write-Part 1: Ideas

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You might have been wondering where I’ve been for the past month. I spent the month of July working on the 5th draft of my novel Love Notes. I also got to go to a writing conference in Chicago and had a really great experience from the trip.

Now that my latest draft is finished, I’m taking a break to let my draft sit before I start editing. I decided that from now until December, I want to do a weekly blog post series about writing.

I believe that anyone can write, in the same way that Anton Ego learned that anyone can cook:

Not everyone will make the New York Times Bestseller list or become the next JK Rowling. However, a great writer can come from anywhere and I think everyone can learn a little bit about how they can improve themselves as writers, even if it’s just limited to writing in a journal or blogging. The real purpose of writing isn’t to make money or to become famous. We write to understand ourselves and the world around us.

But the question is if we want to write, where exactly can we get ideas?

Start by taking a notebook everywhere you go. I recommend a pocket-sized notebook or a composition notebook, something that can be easy to carry around and take with you wherever you go. Use a pen that can write easily or a pencil. You can start by just writing about your day, no matter how boring it may seem, or just go somewhere and people watch.

Write down what you see around you, even if it’s just the stuff in your house. Try to describe everything that you see. Then open up your other senses. What do you hear? What do you smell? What kind of food can you taste that’s nearby? What is the surface you’re sitting on feel like? How do your clothes feel on your skin?

You can also write about whatever is on your mind. Is something stressing you? Is there something you wish you can tell someone, but you can’t spit it out? Do you want to ramble, but don’t want to post it on Facebook or Twitter? Use your notebook to let it all out.

These are all basic ideas to just get you on the ball for writing in general. If you want to write a novel, the seeds for a possible book are going to be found in these seemingly ordinary observations.

If you’re not sure where to start as far as story ideas, try using classic literature as your inspiration. One great example of a reimagining based on classic literature is the Jane E. series by Erin McCole Cupp. This three-part novella series is inspired by Jane Eyre, but places the Gothic Romance in a cyberpunk world. I highly recommend it. However, I don’t recommend ripping off whatever book series, TV shows, or movies are popular right now. These things are great as a starting point, but don’t just copy and paste plots you like without contributing anything original. Nobody likes a plagiarist.

You may not think your life may be all that interesting, but just think of the “what if’s” in your life. I came up for the concept of Love Notes from a “What If”: “What if I actually stuck things out with my piano lessons and dedicated my life to playing classical music instead of writing?” I also combined this “What If” with my recent experiences in dealing with anxiety. In many ways, I was basically writing Love Notes as a way to show myself how far I’ve come.

The best writing advice as far as finding ideas comes from Jenna Moreci, YouTube vlogger, writer, and Cyborg Queen: “Write the book you want to read.” (I highly recommend watching her YouTube channel. She has great writing advice and she’s hilarious!) If you like mysteries, then write a mystery. If you like sci-fi, write sci-fi. And if there’s a book you always wanted to read, but you can’t find it, like say, a sci-fi novel that doesn’t take place in a dystopia, try writing it out yourself.

My challenge for you today is for you to get out there and write down every single idea you have in your head. Just get to writing today. Next time, I will talk to you guys about planning a story out once you get an idea that you really love.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming-A Movie Review

 

It really feels like Spider-Man has, in fact, come home. Even though the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy started off well, it ended on a sour note and while Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man was cool, there were too many plot threads left hanging and The Amazing Spider-Man was trying too hard to be dramatic.

What makes Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spider-Man movie so far, toppling all the ones that came before it? It kept itself grounded and wasn’t afraid to be funny. Similar to Deadpool, the movie has its own sense of self-awareness that gives a feeling of authenticity to the audience. Without going into spoilers, I will explain this sense of authenticity through the characters. It’s really because of the characters that the movie feels legit.

First of all, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the most adorkable little baby who needs to be protected at all costs. As a high school sophomore, Peter is eager to prove himself to Tony Stark, wanting to stand alongside the Avengers. Unfortunately, he constantly gets in trouble in school for missing classes or being late.  In spite of his initial mistakes, Peter is able to realize that he needs to be the “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” since someone needs to look out for the little guy. (Side note: It would’ve been nice if Defenders got a shout-out in this movie.)

One common complaint about Marvel is that there aren’t enough memorable or well-developed villains. Most of the good Marvel villains are either on Agents of SHIELD or the Marvel shows on Netflix. Aside from Loki, there hasn’t been a villain in the films that audiences found compelling. Until now.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a sympathetic antagonist, created from circumstances unique to the MCU. He starts on a road to hell paved with good intentions. He is willing to do everything just to make a living, even though it means developing a resentful attitude. But unlike every other villain, he doesn’t jump across the Moral Event Horizon. He’s more of an anti-villain by the end, thanks to an act of great mercy that I can’t go into further without spoiling the villain.

The supporting cast as a whole give the movie great levity and help the audience empathize with Peter. Peter’s best friend, Ned, acts as the audience surrogate. He’s excited about Peter’s new abilities and wants to be part of the action, but quickly learns the downsides of having a double life. Liz Allen is a surprisingly sweet popular girl, showing that she has brains behind her beauty. Even Flash Thompson provides some good levity and gets a small level of comeuppance for bullying Peter all the time.

Aunt May is great in this movie, but the granny glasses and frumpy clothes feel like a visual dissonance to her first impression in Captain America: Civil War. It could be argued that she’s dressing ugly on purpose because she’s not over what happened to Uncle Ben or not interested in having a relationship in general, but much like Calista Flockhart, it’s near-impossible to try and make Marisa Tomei look old or ugly.

Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man is the perfect mentor for Peter, especially when you consider how different the two of them are. It’s clear that Tony doesn’t want Peter to follow in his footsteps and end up alienating everyone, but all Peter can see is the hero he’s admired since he was a kid. Peter is the closest thing Tony has to a son and their friendship is a heartwarming one.

The only character who fell short in this movie is Michelle, played by Zendaya. While she had all the coolest lines, she didn’t do anything else. She was basically a Tumblr Snowflake. You know, those girls who complain about all the politically incorrect things wrong with history but still fangirl over Alexander Hamilton? In Michelle’s case, she’s got a crush on Peter, but instead of acting on her feelings or trying to just be friends or be more involved in his life, she’s just on the sidelines, snarking and reading a book. Give Michelle something to do, writers!

I highly recommend this movie to older kids who are probably the same age as Peter in the movie, as they will find themselves relating so much to him. Even though the idea of “great power” and “great responsibility” are still a prominent part to this movie. Peter deals with the consequences of neglecting his everyday responsibilities. Older Spider-Man fans will love all the nods to the overall Spider-Man mythos, too, and some shout-outs to a certain 80s movie.

I give Spider-Man: Homecoming a 9/10 for bringing Spider-Man into the MCU in a way that feels authentic and real.

Eve The Awakening-A Book Review

I discovered Jenna Moreci while browsing for writing tips on YouTube. She’s snarky, funny, and intelligent when it comes to knowing what makes a good story. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before I ordered a copy of her debut novel Eve The Awakening. My copy is autographed!

So what is this novel about?

In the distant future, humanity has discovered a type of mutant that they call “chimeras” or “chimes” (pronounced kime, rhymes with lime). Evelyn Kingston was a girl whose chimera powers manifested after her parents died in a traffic accident. Over a decade later, the world is now dealing with Interlopers who are hunting chimeras and causing destruction for reasons unknown. Wanting to get away from it all, Evelyn goes to college at Billington University. Of course, not everything there is what it seems to be.

I love this novel. It’s not perfect, but the good outweighs the bad.

First of all, I love the world they live in. It feels like something out of the Marvel comics, with chimeras being Moreci’s version of the X-Men. Even as Eve adjusts to life in college, there is always a tension lurking under the surface and by the time I got to the last few chapters, my nails were bitten down to the quick. Chimeras, based on what Eve has shown, are powerful, but not invincible and the Interlopers are equally intimidating, but thankfully not overly powered. Even though I know Jenna hates setting up places, I could easily imagine Billington and all the other places Eve went to, as well as all the fight scenes.

Most of the characters are compelling as well, especially Eve and Jason. I understood Eve as this skeptical loner who emerges into this new role of being a leader against the Interlopers. Jason is equally endearing because he’s sweet and considerate and the best guy to have fighting by your side. The romance that develops between them is genuine and thankfully undeterred by love triangles and stupid misunderstandings.

The supporting characters are definitely unique, with their own distinctive voices and plenty of diversity. My favorite side character is Sancho, btw. Filipino firecracker.

The entire story had me hooked from beginning to end. There are seriously no “filler” scenes. In fact, in spite of the fact that the book is over 500 pages long, I was left wanting more. The story is driven by both character and plot and the underlying tension, as well as the wonderful relationship that Eve and Jason have are basically the fuel that drives it.

Now I said before that this novel isn’t perfect. There’s no explanation for why exactly chimeras are considered the scum of the earth and the reason why Billington is set up doesn’t make a lot of sense, either, especially considering the people they hire to be their teachers. If the founders were pro-chimera, why hire people who are anti-chimera and accept students with anti-chimera views?

Eve initially checks off a lot of boxes on the Mary Sue Litmus test: meaningful name, gets special treatment,  is described while she looks at herself in the mirror (even though this novel is written in third person), and doesn’t get along with other girls. Aside from Eve, most of the female characters are two-dimensional. They all start out hating Eve or being fake. Madison especially didn’t make sense to me. What exactly were her motivations in this story? I knew her purpose to the plot, but her motivations were all over the place.

Regardless of the flaws, I still recommend Eve The Awakening to fans of sci-fi and comic books, especially if they are fans of X-Men, Buffy, or Agents of SHIELD because there are a lot of elements of all three things here. I especially like how Jenna wrote out the third act of the novel. She was able to play around with a very familiar movie trope and still have you going “That sneaky *bleep*!”

If you are a writer, check out Jenna Moreci’s channel on YouTube. If you’re interested in the book, click the link here to get it on Amazon.

The Importance of Being Mantis

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What exactly makes Guardians of the Galaxy so beloved within the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe? Aside from the soundtracks, the real driving forces behind Guardians of the Galaxy and the sequel are the protagonists. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 gives everyone character development that takes them from being “Space Avengers” to stand-out individuals. It also introduced Mantis, Ego’s adopted daughter, played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis is a unique character compared to the others in the movie and even in the larger scope of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

 

Up to this point, the female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have either been very stoic and efficient in battle (Black Widow, Gamora, Daisy Johnson) or love interests that are relegated to supporting roles (Pepper Potts, Jane Foster). Mantis, however, is neither a love interest nor an action girl. Instead, she connects to the Guardians of the Galaxy by her empathic abilities. The fact that her character arc centers on emotionally connecting with others and sharing her social awkwardness is a breath of fresh air when considering how often people want women in the media to either be tough, strong, and stoic or the emotional damsel in distress or just act as fanservice.

 

Mantis is the first character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I could say is the character who is most like me. Given that the MCU has been around since 2008, it’s hard to believe that it took almost a decade for Marvel to introduce a character like her. It’s not to say that I didn’t like The Avengers or the Guardians or the Agents of Shield or the Defenders. I love all of them to certain extents. However, something that made Marvel comics appealing was that it introduced characters that felt relatable, like an average teenage boy from Queens suddenly getting spider abilities or an average Muslim girl from New Jersey suddenly being able to stretch and shrink her body. While Mantis is by no means an average human being, she was based on a half-Asian human character from the comics. What makes her relatable to me is her social awkwardness and empathic abilities.

 

In an interview with Carson Daly, Pom Klementieff said:

In Marvel movies, we’re used to seeing badass and strong female characters, which I love…But it’s cool to show something else, you know, to show someone who’s less self-confident, who’s a bit weird.

 

Throughout the movie, Mantis connects to the other Guardians, especially Drax (played by Dave Bautista). It makes sense, given that they’re both socially awkward. However, what really seals their friendship is when she uses her empathic powers on Drax as he reflects on the loss of his wife and daughter. She breaks down in tears while he looks out at the beautiful scenery with a smile. It’s not certain whether Drax is at peace with what happened or if he happy that he’s just starting to move on. What is certain is that Drax finally found a friend who understands his grief.

 

Of course, my shipping radar went off the roof with how Drax and Mantis interacted with each other. I find relationships based on emotional connection and attraction very appealing. However, it’s made explicitly clear that Mantis and Drax find each other physically repulsive and do not want to pursue anything romantic. This averts any ideas of the emotional, empathetic one being anyone’s designated love interest.  (Apologies to the Drax/Mantis shippers.)

 

In a world that’s trying to figure out the ideal heroic woman, having a character like Mantis is a step forward in the right direction. It’s important for young girls to know that there are times that call them to be strong, but they shouldn’t discard their ability to empathize with others. The purpose of stories is to create empathy for people we wouldn’t normally connect with. Mantis shows that there is a great strength in being empathetic. Having empathy allowed Mantis to find people who cared for her as a person, a new family beyond just Ego and her empathic abilities actually helped in the inevitable final battle. I seriously can’t wait to see what she does in the next movie the Guardians appear in!

Shadowmancer: A #ThrowbackThursday Book Review

I first read Shadowmancer back when I was in middle school. On the surface, it seems like this novel that takes place in a sleepy little English countryside fishing village would be the last place for an 18th century apocalypse to occur. In fact, Shadowmancer is similar to the gospel of John or the book of Revelations in its rich complexity and imagery. There are layers upon layers of metaphor and subtext as shown in this passage:.

The sky grew darker and darker and the full moon was blotted out by thick black cloud as streaks of lightning flashed from sky to sea, exploding in the water. A lightning sword hit the ship. The mainsail cracked, then crashed to the deck, sending startled crewmen bolting from their hammocks.

As they rushed on deck, another sail crashed down, splitting the deck in half and sending shafts of splintered wood into the air. The ship lifted and dropped with each wave; a crewman was thrown through the air and into the cold sea, never to be seen again.

“A direct hit,” shouted Demurral, laughing and rubbing his hands together in glee at the sight. “One more strike and the Keruvim will be mine.”

He raised the statue into the air and chanted more magic. “Wind, hail, lightning, thunder and wave.” The sea rose at his command, each surge growing higher and higher. Breakers like black fists smashed against the ship, almost engulfing the vessel.

Two local villagers, Thomas Barrick and Kate Coglan join up with a mysterious African man named Raphah to stop the main villain, Vicar Obadiah Demurral, from destroying the world. Demurral rules over the local villages with an iron fist, but the power he lords over the villages isn’t enough for him. He dabbles in dark magic that gives him the power to raise the dead, creating creatures called the Glashan, and steals the Keruvim (the MacGuffin of the story) with the hopes of using it and its other half in a ritual that will bring on the apocalypse.

Thomas starts out as your typical village street urchin. With his father dead and his mother in the hospital, he calls the vicar out on his hypocrisy and greed, lamenting his own poor status. He gets pulled into the action when Raphah rescues him from drowning. Although he is uncertain, Thomas is resolved to help Raphah on the mission to get the Keruvim back from Demurral. A young village girl, Kate Coglan gets thrown into the adventure when she tries to kill a Glashan, a zombie that Demurral raises from the dead, using the power of the gold Keruvim.

Raphah, the mysterious African from Cush, arrives in this small English countryside village to get the Keruvim back to his people. He’s the oldest of the trio and helps exposit important information regarding the dark magic and otherworldly creatures shown in this story. Prejudices towards Africans are prominent and he even gets branded as a slave, but his determination to do God’s will makes him a compelling character.

What makes Shadowmancer compelling to read is the attention to detail and the overall atmosphere. Whenever I open this book, I find some new detail I missed, another piece of the puzzle that adds depth and it entices me to read the book again in search for more. Most of all, I love why this book was written. In an interview with Christianity Today, GP Taylor said:

“I was out there talking to a church group about the threads, the dark and sinister threads through children’s literature. At the end of one of these nights, this woman came up to me and said, I think you should write a children’s book, but have the main theme of a God who’s triumphant. On the way home this stuck with me.”

Shadowmancer is a complicated, challenging read that fantasy fans will definitely find intriguing because of its dark atmosphere, threatening villain, and the timeless storyline of three unlikely heroes who, despite overwhelming odds, help to defeat the dark forces that were bent on destroying their world. I recommend this book for fans of dark fantasy and young adults who love a good Gothic atmosphere.

Much Ado About Nothing (2012 Joss Whedon Version): A Movie Review

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Did you know that after he filmed Avengers, Joss Whedon made a modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play? It’s not surprising when you look into Joss’s personal history with Shakespeare. The cast of Buffy would often talk about how during the summer, they would hang out at Joss’s house and read Shakespeare plays. (Incidentally, I would gladly eat a heart in the marketplace to be a fly in the wall for those summers.)

This adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has a wonderful cast.  Whedon alumni actors include: Clark Gregg and Ashley Johnson from Avengers (Johnson was the cute blonde waitress that Captain America saved), Nathan Filion and Sean Maher from Firefly, Reed Diamon and Fran Kranz from Dollhouse, Tom Lenk from Buffy, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel. Angel fans, grab your tissues because this will be the only chance to see Fred Burkle and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce get the happy ending they deserve.

There are many interesting things in this adaptation, aside from the fact that it’s set in the modern era. First of all, the film was shot in black and white, giving it the feel of an Old Hollywood movie.  The beginning of the film showes that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, which would explain their coarse behavior towards each other. When Hero and Claudio meet, it’s implied that they knew each other before Claudio went off to war, hence why they rush to get married so quickly.

Speaking of the war, it’s never stated outright what kind of war Benedick and Claudio came from, but it’s implied that it’s a mafia war, as Don John and his cohort are seen being led to Leonato’s house in zip-tie handcuffs. The mafia war implication serves as a reason for why Hero allegedly sleeping with someone else before her wedding was such a big scandal. She was accused of sleeping with the enemy!

The film highlights the main story arc between Claudio and Hero, putting their relationship to the test. When Hero fakes her death, she is seen watching Claudio’s remorse at her funeral from a distance. In spite of the fact that Don John tried to ruin Hero’s reputation and relationship, Claudio was ready to atone for his idiocy. (They even have a joke that involves a black woman glaring at Claudio while he says “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.”)

In spite of how people may perceive the play, this is actually the best adaptation I’ve seen. Putting my fangirl bias towards all things Whedon aside, there’s this tendency for people to think that Much Ado is essentially a romantic comedy. It isn’t. The implication that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, but never married is there in the text. When Don Pedro asks Beatrice about Benedick, she says:

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

It also serves as the reason why she can’t marry Don Pedro. It’s a back-in-the-day thing, but since Benedick and Beatrice were involved, he had to marry her in order to make their relationship legit. It’s not a “boy meets girl” romantic comedy. It’s about two relationships that fell apart and need to be set right. Of course, since this is a modern adaptation, it’s also clear that Beatrice and Benedick still have feelings for each other.

Did I mention, by the way, that I love Amy Acker in this movie? She is a wonderful Beatrice and the chemistry she has with Alexis Denisof sizzles. They both have scenes that involve slapstick, the characters hiding or jumping around to eavesdrop on their friends’ conversations. It’s hilarious to watch. They may not have the strength that Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson put into their performances in the 1993 film adaptation of this play, but you can argue that this adaptation feels more intimate.

Even though not all the actors in this film have the nuance and gravity of classically trained Shakespeare actors (looking at you BriTanicK), the major actors all gave memorable performances. My favorite is Nathan Fillion’s version of Dogberry, who comes off like Richard Castle meets CSI Miami. He says all his lines with perfect seriousness, which makes scenes like this all the more hilarious:

Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

Overall, I highly recommend Shakespeare fans and Joss Whedon fans to watch this film. I also recommend to listen to the commentaries on the DVD. There’s with just Joss Whedon, who explains how they filmed the whole thing at his house. He is amazing with commentaries. Then there’s the cast commentary which basically has you laughing from start to finish.

Now, can we have an adaptation of another Shakespeare play with the cast from Buffy? Like say, James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Moana’s Vocation: An Analysis

Moana’s story is unique in many ways. While the villains may be lackluster, the music is amazing. My favorite thing about Moana, though, is how the movie portrays what it means to have a vocation. While The Crown shows how the vocation of queenship negatively affects the people in Queen Elizabeth’s life, Moana’s story is a more positive portrayal.

As I’ve stated before, many people figure out their vocation at a very young age. Moana’s vocation is twofold: She needs to be the chief of her people, but she is also called by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti to where it came from. She quickly learns, thanks to her grandmother, that in order to truly be the chief of her people, she has to answer the ocean’s call first, because her people were descended from voyagers, but forgot about that part of their life because of how dangerous the ocean became.

Answering the ocean’s call meant leaving her family behind, much like those who pursue religious life do. Men go to a seminary or monastery and women go to the convent. In the process of becoming a priest, a nun, or a brother, they are required to learn a lot of things. Out in the ocean, Moana learns how to be a good wayfinder, thanks to Maui’s mentoring.

Throughout the movie, Moana is tested in her resolve to stick to her vocation. She first gets tested when she gets hurt on her first attempt to sail beyond the reef.  Maui constantly tests her patience.  She faces obstacles such as the Kakamora and Tamatoa. She even loses her resolve when Maui decides to leave after Te Ka nearly defeats them. In spite of all that, the spirit of her grandmother returns and asks Moana “Do you know who you are?”

“I Am Moana” basically summarizes what it feels like when a person discerns his or her vocation. A Catholic can interpret that “still small voice,” the voice that calls Moana, as the Holy Spirit, reminding her about what she needs to do.  When she decides to be the one to take the heart to Te Fiti, she goes back to the ocean and gets the heart back, restoring order to the ocean and her home and even giving Maui a new sense of purpose.

When Moana returns home, the people of Motunui become voyagers again and it’s clear, from how the movie ends, that Moana’s adventures are just beginning. It shows that a vocation is something you have for life. For Moana, that means continuing the tradition of her voyaging ancestors and being the a good leader to her people.

I highly recommend Moana because it’s an excellent movie with a positive message for kids. It shows them that following your heart doesn’t mean being a rebel. It can mean becoming a leader and growing in wisdom.