Spring Spectaculars

Welcome to summer! Last Thursday marked the longest day of the year and the official first day of summer, so I’m here to recap some of my favorite finds from this spring. Here we go!

Circe

The long-awaited second novel from one of my favorite writers, Madeline Miller, was released this spring and it did NOT disappoint. As usual, Miller brings a beautiful touch of humanity to the deities of Greek mythology. This book follows the story of Circe, daughter of Helios and one of the first witches of all time (you might recognize her name from The Odyssey). It is a journey of discovery and empowerment, and the spells aren’t even the most magical thing about this novel. Readers familiar with The Song of Achilles can expect another marvelous dose of Miller’s poetic prose and quotable lines.

circe

Big Little Lies

This HBO show came highly recommended to me by three people who know me very well, but it still took me months to get around to watching it. I binged the entire show in one day, and then immediately watched it again over the course of the following week. It is a masterpiece. The first minute of the show reveals a murder, but we don’t know who was killed, or who the killer was. The next six episodes take you back to the beginning, introducing you to characters without telling you who did what. There is no clear protagonist, because you can understand the perspective of each character and their motivations. At any given point, the killer could be anyone, and anyone could have died. The finale is extraordinary and ramps the tension up to 100. Perhaps my favorite thing about the show is that it actually allows women’s stories to be the focus, rather than letting male perspectives dominate things. This is a show about and for women– about their strength and perseverance and choices and support for each other. It is hauntingly beautiful, brilliantly cast (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley), and impeccably written. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Please keep in mind that the show carries a content warning of domestic violence, abuse, and rape. 

big little lies hbo.jpg

Jurassic Park

The book! I first watched this movie back in high school, and while it was certainly enjoyable, I didn’t entirely understand the hype. I went through the full trilogy in college, and then of course watched Jurassic World when it was released in 2015. But I picked up the book by Michael Crichton this spring and was completely floored. No one told me what a phenomenal piece of writing I was in for! Originally published in 1990, I felt the same way about this novel as I feel about Dracula: I wish I could have read it when it was first released. Before it sparked an entire genre. Before it was commercialized, monetized, and parodied. Before time and acclaim and movie deals revealed every conceivable twist and character introduction and plot point. Because even though I know plenty about the universe of Jurassic Park (just like I know plenty about vampires), this book had me quite literally on the edge of my seat. Crichton is a master of building tension and foreshadowing. He utilizes varying POVs with such success, and crafts an adventure that is wholly absorbing even if you already know the story.

jurassic park

The Greatest Showman

So here’s the thing. I really like musicals. I love the production and the drama and the glitzy song/dance numbers. I’ve watched Burlesque more times than I can count for those very reasons. But these days, there aren’t really many good musicals being released. La La Land fell so short for me. Sing Street was almost as laughable as Rock of Ages. Hairspray tried. So did Into the Woods. But Greatest Showman hit so many of the right notes (pun absolutely intended). Keep in mind that in order to avoid the reality of Barnum’s rise to fame, the movie is more of an “inspired by” take on the tale rather than a “based on a true story” body of work. However, the movie pairs gorgeous costumes and choreography with the best musical soundtrack since Chicago. Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but it actually is full of great songs. Although it’s too late to catch it in theaters, I would highly recommend watching this movie on the biggest screen you can find– all the extravagance was made to be immersed in.

the greatest showman silhouette

Red Rising Trilogy

Some of you might remember when I read the first book in this series and how much I loved it. I ended up devouring the rest of the trilogy– even though I took two weeks to read the final book because of how anxious I was that everyone I cared about was going to die– and loving it. Dystopian novels tend to be one of my favorite genres, and I haven’t come across anyone who does it better than Pierce Brown. His timeline stretches over the course of several years, but manages to fill the span seamlessly and without feeling forced. His diversity isn’t quite on par with my ideal scenario, but he imparts so much strength and bravery to his characters. The books are an easy read, almost like YA, but unlike a YA dystopia, these books don’t shy away from the brutality of the situation. I’m not putting any fan art from the series here because spoilers, but PhantomRin on tumblr has some stellar characters interpretations and if you’ve read the books you should absolutely take a peek. #BreakTheChains

red-rising trilogy


And that’s that! These were some of my favorites from the past several months. Did you read or watch anything this spring that stood out to you? If so, let me know in the comments!

Spotlight on Cinematography: Frequent Frames

I know I’ve mentioned before how often you start to notice something once you begin looking for it. It’s like the phenom of being told you have a lucky number or that a specific animal is representative of your spirit guide. Once your brain has identified that number/animal as noteworthy, it notices every one it sees. I feel the same way about visuals in film– once I start paying attention to specific frames, they start popping up all over the place. So here are some frames that I have noticed repetitively lately!

Focal Points

This first trio of frames isn’t quite as specific as the others I’ll be touching on, but it’s something that I have found to be so beautiful and grand. Intentional focal points are utilized in virtually every single movie, just on varying scales and to different degrees. The ones we’re taking a look at here are monument-sized and are impossible to ignore. The size of the objects could easily dominate the frame and detract from anything else that is happening, but the skill with which they were executed lends a feeling of imposing awe to the scenes that are taking place.

byzantium
Byzantium (2012) || Sean Bobbitt (DP)
deathly hallows part two 2
The Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011) || Eduardo Serra (DP)
the-fall
The Fall (2006) || Colin Watkinson (DP)
Peepholes

Perhaps one of the most iconic frames of all time, it would be heresy to talk about this technique without including the one that started it all: Norman Bates in Psycho. This moment has become rather common-place, which makes it all the more enjoyable when films offer a slight twist on it, as seen below via Iron Man’s mask in The Avengers.

psycho
Psycho (1960) || John L. Russell (DP)
hanna eye
Hanna (2011) || Alwin H. Küchler (DP)
iron man eye (the avengers)
The Avengers (2012) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
Windshields

Another common frame, this shot offers far less flexibility than the previous ones. A car is a car is a car, and a windshield really only affords so many options. The reason I enjoy this shot though is because of the instantaneous literal framework it provides. Whatever we already do or don’t know about the characters or the scene, the windshield frame acts as a picture frame, giving the viewer a look into a momentary tableau.

safety not guaranteed
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) || Benjamin Kasulke (DP)
whats eating gilbert grape
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) || Sven Nykvist (DP)
the hangover
The Hangover (2009) || Lawrence Sher (DP)

All Time Favorites: Books

Well that was an unexpected hiatus.

I spent most of my spring months writing and compiling my second manuscript, which ended up utilizing every ounce of my creative energy and spare time. But here I am! And today, as a follow up to my post about my favorite films, I’m going to be talking about my favorite books. I get a lot of questions from people– both in real life and on the internet– about my favorite books and movies, and having these posts seems like a super helpful way to pass along recommendations. So here we go!


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

the girl who circumnavigated fairyland in a ship of her own makingConcept: book one in a five book series, this follows the adventures of a young girl who gets whisked away to Fairyland. Think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, if the MC was more like Arya Stark.

Why I love it: I’ve talked about this book several times on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that I’m bringing it up yet again. My favorite books are ones that make prose feel poetic, and Catherynne M. Valente is a true master of her craft. This book perfectly marries whimsy and poignancy, and each character is crafted with such loving care. For the sake of transparency, I will say that, while all the books are lovely, I find the first book to be the strongest in the series.

The Night Circus

the night circusConcept: two young magicians are locked in an extended competition, with an enchanting circus as their playing field.

Why I love it: Erin Morgenstern’s writing style is so much like my own, but with a talent for capturing the big picture that I could never hope to accomplish. Her world-building is phenomenal, and she has perfected the art of ambiance and atmosphere. I have heard people complain about her descriptions not being descriptive enough, but I have always found the book to play up the best parts of my imagination. Morgenstern highlights sensory details, such as the way a certain food smells, or how a particular fabric moves, or the specific type of light illuminating a space. She leans on very specific and tangible moments, and lets the reader use that knowledge to fill in the rest of the world. I’m also a big fan of non-linear storylines, and this was one of the first ones I ever read back when I was in high school.

Fates and Furies

fates and furiesConcept: a non-linear love story told in two parts– the first half from the POV of the man, the second half from the POV of the woman.

Why I love it: I don’t have the words for how much I love this book. I love the way Lauren Groff writes about Florida. I love her little asides to the reader. I love the way she slowly reveals the humanity of her characters. I love the success with which she encapsulates 50 years of time in a single novel. I love the beauty of her prose. I love all the emotions that the book captures, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the anger and bitterness that is such an important part of the full spectrum of emotion.

The Virgin Suicides

the virgin suicidesConcept: a retrospective look at the deaths of young sisters, told in a dossier-styled narrative by neighborhood boys who are now grown.

Why I love it: similarly to The Raven Cycle, this is a book that could have easily relied on the MPDG trope to carry the story along. The main characters in this book are a group of attractive and elusive sisters who seem to hold the entire male population in their thrall. However, Jeffrey Eugenides miraculously manages to bring dimension and humanity to each of the sisters in turn, and crafts a haunting and breath-taking tale. Bonus points for how brilliant his prose is.

Song of Achilles

song of achillesConcept: a retelling of the Trojan war through the eyes of Achilles’s lover.

Why I love it: Madeline Miller is the light of my life and if you haven’t picked up either this book or her new novel, Circe, you are missing tf out. Her writing has a lyrical quality to it and manages to pull on your heartstrings in the deepest of ways. She re-frames familiar myths to bring humanity to gods, and utilizes romance as a thread in a tapestry rather than making it the entire focal point.

Dream Thieves

the dream thievesConcept: book two in a four book series, this focuses on the character of Ronan Lynch and his mysterious powers.

Why I love it: my obsession adoration for The Raven Cycle is no secret. Neither is the fact that Ronan Lynch is a pure angel baby who must be protected at all costs. And neither is the fact that Maggie Stiefvater weaves magic with her words. I never would have thought book two of a series would end up being my favorite, but after reading this series four times through, Dream Thieves remains impeccable in my eyes.

The Magician’s Nephew

the magicians nephew

Concept: book six in the renowned seven book series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. This is essentially the origin story for Narnia, and follows the discovery/creation of the realm readers had already come to know and love.

Why I love it: Narnia was always near and dear to my heart growing up, but as an adult, Magician’s Nephew is the only book in the series that still connects with me. The book explores the world in a new way and takes a walk back in time, introducing readers to younger versions of characters we already know.

Runner Ups: Red Rising, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Cress

All Time Favorites: Films

 

True Favorites

These are the films that I’ve watched more than once (and in the case of Amelie and The Boxtrolls, watched more than ten times) and am consequently certain of their places in my all-star lineup. These are the movies that held up over multiple viewings, and in some cases, have even improved.

The Fall

Concept: A young immigrant girl is bored at a hospital and befriends an injured stuntman. He tells her a story to help pass the time, and we see that story through the lens of her vivid imagination.

vlcsnap-2015-04-04-08h52m17s49

Why I love it: This is my number one favorite film. Everything gets a little murky after this, with no discernible order to the favorites, and they often shift rank based on my mood– but this is a clear cut and unquestionable first place. The Fall has an impeccable storyline with small Easter eggs noticeable on second and third viewings. The cinematography is breathtaking and the costuming is stunning. There is an inventive narrative approach, largely thanks to utilizing the lens of the MC’s imagination, and the characterization that progresses throughout the film is impressive as can be. If you haven’t watched this film yet, then you are really and truly missing out.

Carol

Concept: Based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 book The Price of Salt, the film follows the story of a salesgirl who meets an older woman around the Christmas season. Hardships ensue as their relationship becomes more intimate and subsequently, more elicit.

carol cate blanchett

Why I love it: In my opinion, this film excelled in a lot of the places that Blue is the Warmest Color fell short for me. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post that will discuss the male gaze in film!) The chemistry is quietly powerful and it lends a simmering undercurrent of tension to the entire viewing. The film also showcases one of my all-time favorite uses of color theory. I’m hoping to share a full post about how it does so in the future, so for now I’ll just say that color plays as important of a role as any of the characters do. Carol is one of my favorite adaptions as well, and you can read more of my thoughts on that transition here. And last but not least, Cate Blanchett is the light of my life.

Léon: The Professional

Concept: After the death of her family, a young girl is taken in by a middle-aged assassin. Their relationship is somehow simultaneously complicated and simple, but as the story progresses, things become less clear-cut.

leon the professional

Why I love it: Honestly, I think this is a film that shouldn’t work but it somehow does. Twelve-year old Natalie Portman stuns in her first ever feature film, especially given the subject matter. What makes this film one of my favorites is the way quiet interactions take on so much meaning within the scope of this super off the wall scenario. Nothing about the situation is normal, but somehow that allows the humanity to take center stage. It’s a brilliant bit of story telling, and one that tugs on my heartstrings every single time I watch it.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Concept: A dysfunctional family undergoes an exceptionally dysfunctional and challenging period in their lives as their patriarch attempts to insert himself back into their lives.

the royal tenenbaums

Why I love it: I think everyone has a favorite Wes Anderson film. It’s hard not to. His aesthetics are magnificent and his characters are all so unique, and this film is no exception. As much as I adore Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums will always hold a very special place in my heart. Something about the arrested development and extensive cast of characters (and the dalmatian mice, obviously) just connects with me. I once wrote an entire paper for a college course about the movie and it’s the only Anderson film I own on DVD.

Butter

Concept: A young girl in the foster care system finds an unexpected passion in carving butter. She ends up rivaling the area’s most headstrong southern belle in a regional butter sculpture competition.

butter jennifer garner hugh jackman

Why I love it: I grew up in Texas, and remember all too well the massive butter sculptures at the state fair every year (one year there was a life-sized cowboy on horseback). This film fills that very specific setting with an amazing cast: Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Oliva Wilde, and Ty Burrell. If there’s anyone I love more than Cate Blanchett, it’s Oliva Wilde. Each character has a huge personality, and somehow they all manage to mesh seamlessly with each other. It’s a very specific style of humor– it’s weird and satirical and sarcastic, and it’s quite possible that this is my very favorite comedy to date.

The Boxtrolls

Concept: An orphan boy is raised by a small group of agoraphobic trolls who collect trash. They live underground and are being hunted to extinction due to a campaign of fear and propaganda from the evil exterminator. Also, cheese.

the boxtrolls

Why I love it: It’s no secret that I love a well-executed animated film, and I think I love this one most of all. I’ve seen this feature more times than any other movie in the world, and each time it charms me in new ways. It’s witty and imaginative, and amusing without feeling trite. In a world of animated movies like Trolls and The Emoji Movie, which tend to leave plot and characterization by the wayside, Boxtrolls is a blissful haven. The cast of voice actors is sublime (especially considering Elle Fanning’s most recent voice work in Leap! left much to be desired) and the animation itself is perfectly suited to the subject matter.

Runner-ups: Amelie, Rise of the Guardians, and Cry-Baby


One of the Good Ones

These are the films that I have only watched once thus far, but that really connected with me in the first viewing. Although they struck me as sublime upon that initial viewing, I would require a re-watch to be really certain.

Paris is Burning

Concept: A documentary following the lives of the people who were largely responsible for the birth of the drag scene in the 1980s. It focuses on balls, voguing and “the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.”

paris is burning

Why I love it: I went through a very brief documentary phase early last year, and out of the dozen I watched, this was the only one that really connected with me. It is heartbreaking in its honesty, and there is a tangible sense of both hope and fear throughout the entire film. It is beautifully composed, but more importantly, it tells such imperative stories, both on a cultural and individual level.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Concept: A young boy in the foster care system gets his last chance with an older couple living in the New Zealand bush. Shenanigans (and a national manhunt) ensue.

hunt for the wilderpeople

Why I love it: I should probably preface this with saying that I adore Taika Watiti. I was introduced to him via What We Do in the Shadows, and only became further enamored with him during the course of the Team Thor shorts that were released during the Captain America: Civil War marketing campaign. I’m definitely late to the Hunt for the Wilderpeople party, having just watched it last month. But boy oh boy did it blow me away– I think I experienced the full range of human emotion throughout the hour and a half viewing time. Watiti somehow manages to meld his quirky humor with a deep sense of humanity for a story that is poignant and enjoyable.

The Handmaiden

Concept: A Japanese heiress is being courted by a conman. She has a mysterious uncle. That’s all I’m going to say because it’s a far more enjoyable viewing if you don’t know the storyline.

the handmaiden

Why I love it: Plot twists abound! It’s not very often that I come across a plot twist that fully catches me off guard, but this story kept me guessing at every turn. Chan-wook Park did a brilliant job in approaching the multiple POVs, and each of the three acts brings a new perspective to what you thought you knew. In addition, every frame is visually stunning, as are the costumes. I can’t wait to watch this a second time and see what hidden things I pick up on now that I know the storyline. This isn’t like any love story you’ve seen before.

Runner-ups: Captain Fantastic, What We Do in the Shadows, The Longest Week

Great Idea, Poorly Executed

They always say you should under-promise and over-deliver, but today I’m going to be talking about books that over-promised and under-delivered. Whether it comes to you via a personalized recommendation or a dust cover, sometimes you hear about a book that sounds just about perfect. There’s not really any feeling like diving into such a book with a load of anticipation and excitement, only to progressively realize what a letdown it is. Here are some of the books that did that for me.

The Circle — Dave Eggers

Concept: A social media conglomerate infiltrates every aspect of the world. Imagine Google and Apple and Facebook were all one platform/company, and that entire company was consolidated on a self-contained and self-sufficient campus where all the employees lived and worked and shopped and partied. Then imagine that monopoly-styled social media/cult decided to apply their policies and insidious over-sharing to the entire world.

Why I was excited: This idea is up there with the recent Black Mirror episode Arkangel in terms of things I think about on a very regular basis (coincidentally, I think Arkangel was poorly executed as well). Social media is becoming an integral aspect of life, and it’s not a stretch to imagine a world in which everything is conducted over those platforms. Super-corps like Amazon and Google are already expanding into new sectors, and I’ve said more than once that someday those two companies will probably rule the world. It’s a spooky concept, largely because it doesn’t take a huge stretch of imagination to picture a world where social media runs everything and everyone is “transparent”. In our current world of live-streaming, apps that track “likes” and interactions, and global networks of online friends, the world of The Circle doesn’t seem very far off.

the circle

What didn’t work: When I first started this blog, I wrote a post about my pet peeves in female characters, and that post was largely sparked by the main character of this book, Mae. Mae is, hands down, the absolute worst female lead I have ever read. She is an insult to women and it is glaringly obvious that she was written by a male writer. She’s sickeningly one-dimensional (to be fair, the majority of the characters are), excessively contentious, overly and vocally emotional, easily distracted, overtly sexual (all within horribly written and trite sex scenes), and consistently jealous.

The book features very little plot development outside of events that propel the concept rather than the characters, and there is zero understanding of human behavior. People just accept that they are going to be on camera 24 hours a day for the rest of their lives, and the only people who don’t agree with it are painted as these crackpot outliers.  The foreshadowing was obscenely heavy-handed (gee I wonder what that vicious killer shark in the office aquarium could possibly be alluding to). The entire story was undercooked, as were the characters and plot points. Eggers made little to no attempts to make the technological advances believable, and didn’t even bother to give a set time frame so readers could know how far in the future this is supposedly taking place.

“There were a handful of times when I looked something up, or asked the opinion of someone more tech-savvy than I am, but for the most part this was just a process of pure speculative fiction.”

Dave Eggers on future tech

Who did it better: I don’t know if anyone has really delved into this concept yet? Obviously, 1984 does a pretty stellar job with the concept of being watched and how that impacts behavior, but it’s the social media aspect that I’m so fascinated by. If you know of a book that has a similar concept, please let me know because I would LOVE to read a better version of this idea. Social media and oversharing give me the willies.

The Hunger Games — Suzanne Collins

Concept: In a dystopian society, children are forced to fight to the death, which somehow serves to enforce the power and control of the Capitol. The various “districts” are kept separated from each other to prevent communication and uprisings, but a teenage girl in this year’s games inadvertently starts a rebellion.

Why I was excited: Honestly, I just really love a good dystopian world with a rebel uprising. Even more so when those rebels are young folks trying to navigate the experience of growing up while simultaneously saving the world. Add in some borderline gladiator fights being broadcast around the world and I’m in.

the hunger games

What didn’t work: I haven’t read these books since they came out… because I really hated them. I remember being over the moon for the idea, but gradually finding myself more and more disappointed (and dare I say, disgusted) with the route things took. Even at the ripe old age of 14, I loathed love triangles with a passion, and Gale and Peeta made me want to set fire to those damn novels.

More to the point though: why kids instead of criminals? Why not force any other group except children to engage in gladiator-style showdowns? Regardless, Collins’s writing style is really not well-suited to this concept. She tends to be descriptive in the wrong places and bland and unimaginative everywhere else– I don’t really need three paragraphs about a dress, but I would like more than two sentences about the giant cornucopia in the arena. Also, Katniss is a total Mary Sue. Sorry not sorry, she really is.

Who did it better: I know that the common comparison is to Battle Royale, which I unfortunately haven’t read. However, if it’s teens fighting to the death that you want, Red Rising really knocks it out of the park and features a far more believable premise in a far more immersive world.

Annihilation — Jeff VanderMeer

Concept: This is a tricky one to describe, given that the book was so damn vague about everything. Essentially, a strange biological invasion is very slowly spreading from the mysterious “Area X”. Expeditions fail to safely return, and a new group is sent in to try and chart further progress. We’re thrust into a world that’s kind of (not really) that different from our own. There are some weird creatures that are eerily sentient, strange lights and brightness, a gelatin monster in a tower/tunnel, lots of words that don’t make sense, and that’s basically it.

Why I was excited: I wrote a full review (see link below) about this book a while back, and I mentioned that I read the book because I saw the trailer. The trailer made it all look very exciting and mysterious, and even the blurb for the book made it sound similarly intriguing and eerie. A excerpt from the dust cover reads as follows: “They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.” I mean come on– what’s not to be excited about?

annihilation

What didn’t work: Aside from the unpredictable narrator, pretty much none of it worked for me. The book presents loads of questions but provides no answers, and the whole thing feels like a long drawn-out fever dream instead of the psychological thriller that the synopsis makes it out to be. It would be the kind of dream where you’re listening to someone tell you about it, and you can tell it really resonated with them because they were there for it all, but they can’t really convey the specific atmosphere that made it resonate with them in the first place. I largely blame VanderMeer’s writing style for the atmospheric shortcomings. It had a lot of potential, but there’s very little that’s actually said and even less to be found between the lines. It spools on and on without actually saying much of anything or creating an immersive world. His descriptions are distracting and his prose is clunky, and it all just serves to take the reader further out of a world that’s extremely challenging to get into in the first place. You can read my full review here, where I complain a bit more eloquently.

Who did it better: I don’t have an exact literary example, but I recently watched The Machinist for the first time and I think this book could have (and should have) felt like that film. I had an elevated heart rate the entire time the movie was playing. From start to finish, there is a tangible tension because you know something is wrong, even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. Annihilation had the potential to harness that same uneasy energy, and it would have been infinitely better for it. It also would have been infinitely better as a short story instead of a novel.

Uglies — Scott Westerfeld

Concept: A futuristic world features what appears on the surface to be a utopian society that requires all teenagers to undergo a surgery which makes them beautiful and happy. They are told that the operation is the great equalizer and that this way of life is so much better than the lifestyle of the humans who destroyed the planet and decimated natural resources. Plot twist: the surgery actually infects parts of the brain to make people complacent and ignorant. And so begins the epic saga of Tally Youngblood and her efforts to restore free will to the world.

Why I was excited: Are you picking up on a common theme here? I really like stories about dystopian societies and the people who try to fix them. Like The Hunger Games, I read this book back in my freshman year of high school. Unlike The Hunger Games, I really loved this book at the time and found it to be quite successfully executed. In a fit of nostalgia, I re-read the full trilogy in February, and needless to say, I didn’t find it so successful this time around. However, I don’t find the concept any less intriguing. The idea behind the surgeries in the story is that we put so much stock into physical appearances. There are so many references to the old days when people judged others based on their skin tone, or people forced themselves to throw up because they felt inadequate. Sound familiar? The surgery gives everyone the same olive skin tone, the same BMI, as well as similar heights and bone structures. It’s supposed to bring peace by imposing physical equality. It’s easy to see how the leaders of the story’s society thought this could be beneficial. Unlike the other books on this list, there wasn’t a tyrannical dictatorship or a mega-monopoly that took things too far, just a group of people who looked at the world and saw that something needed to change.

uglies series

What didn’t work: The biggest sticking point for me was the surgeries. These reconstructive surgeries completely revamp bodies: they peel back skin, change facial bone structure by shaving down the bones themselves, add height by introducing additional vertebrae, synthesize muscle tissue and hair follicles– all in an overnight surgery. The operations are impossible in their scope and inconceivable in their lack of recovery time. Westerfeld is a talented writer, but his descriptions consistently and repeatedly fall short. He fails to fully explain any of the technology that makes these surgeries (and all the other feats through the books) possible. In this regard– and several others– the trilogy progressively gets worse. The surgeries become increasingly intense and invasive, going so far as to create super-powered humans with faces like wolves (?!?). Of course, this all takes place in the course of a single year, so our MC is only 16 during all of these events.

Who did it better: Red Rising features an important reconstructive surgery, and instead of taking 12 hours, it takes closer to six months. The patient is in excruciating pain, has to undergo extensive physical therapy, and the surgeries come in waves instead of all at once. It’s believable, and because that surgery is the groundwork for the entire plot, it makes the rest of the story more believable by default.


While I was writing this post, I picked up a few common themes between these books: all of them had weak female leads, all but one were made into movies, and all but one were clever dystopian societies. When it comes to the film versions, I felt that all of them were just as poorly executed as the books, but in different ways. For example, Hunger Games vastly improved on the visuals and settings that Collins’s descriptions left lacking. However, it failed on simple items of importance, such as the source of the mockingjay pin.

We all know how much I love a strong female lead, and now I’m realizing how much I gravitate towards dystopian societies. So if you have a recommendation for me, drop it in the comments! As always, thanks for reading ♥

Spotlight on Cinematography: Shades of Blue (round two)

the life aquatic with steve zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) || Robert Yeoman (DP)
beetlejuice
Beetlejuice (1988) || Thomas Ackerman (DP)
charlie and the chocolate factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) || Philippe Rousselot (DP)
fear and loathing in las vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) || Nicola Pecorini (DP)
la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
iron man 1
Iron Man (2008) || Matthew Libatique (DP)
the royal tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) || Robert Yeoman (DP)

Fashion in Film: Menswear

For someone who can’t match anything except black to white, I really do have a strange fascination with fashion. It’s something I haven’t delved too deeply into on this blog yet (although I do have the beginnings of a category for it) but it’s one of my favorite parts of an immersive film. I feel like menswear is a largely underappreciated aspect of costume design, so I thought I would take a minute to touch on some of my favorite menswear moments in film. Enjoy!


The Place Beyond the Pines || Costume Design by Erin Benach

Anyone who knows me knows that my very favorite outfit on a guy is a fitted white tee and dark blue jeans. That’s it. Whether it’s crisp and clean or slouchy and stained, there is something so simple and nonchalant about the combo that makes it feel timeless. In film, the simplicity of the outfit allows character traits and demeanors to take center stage. In The Place Beyond the Pines, Luke wears an oversized tee and acid splashed jeans that serve to make him look simultaneously tough and aloof. His devil-may-care attitude is played up by the wardrobe choice and fits seamlessly with the storyline.

place beyond the pines

Also see: Wade Walker (played by Johnny Depp) in Cry-Baby and Jim Stark (played by James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause


Django Unchained || Costume Design by Sharen Davis

All too often, men’s costumes are reduced to monotone suits and nondescript outfits that might as well have been pulled from a department store. Thanks to costume designer Sharen Davis, however, that was the furthest thing from the case for 2012’s Django Unchained. Every wardrobe change is meaningful and feels like a step down a path of self-discovery– none of them more so than Django’s green bounty hunter garb. It is functional yet stylish, and in it, he looks like his true self: a hero.

django unchained

Also see: No one. This outfit is unparalleled.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them || Costume Design by Colleen Atwood

I may or may not have a thing for lanky boys with floppy hair and freckles. Bonus points if they’re a little awkward and have eyes that crinkle when they smile (I’m looking at you, Andrew Garfield). The icing on the cake of this very particular look is the outfits that they are typically paired with. In most cases this means soft sweaters and eyeglasses, but in the best cases, this means Oxford shoes and rumpled button downs. No one does this look better than the one and only Newt Scamander. A cosplayers dream, Eddie Redmayne’s costume for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a tailored combination of peacock blue and mustard yellow. The layered outfit, the hemmed trousers, and the tiny bowtie somehow add to his overall vulnerability while simultaneously making him look polished and oh-so-very English. Designer Colleen Atwood says of the look: “I felt like he was a bird or one of his fantastical beasts. I wanted him to look regular in the world to pass, but also to be exceptional in a sort of subtle way.”

fantastic beasts and where to find them

Also see: Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) in The Breakfast Club and Ronald Miller (played by Patrick Dempsey) in Money Can’t Buy Me Love


A Streetcar Named Desire || Wardrobe by Lucinda Ballard

While certainly not the pinnacle of fashion, dirty tanks and trousers are still iconic, almost entirely thanks to Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Stanley in 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Of course, that fame was largely due to the fact that Brando was a total dreamboat strutting around with his muscles rippling under a sheen of sweat.

a streetcar named desire.jpg

Also see: Donny Donowitz (played by Eli Roth) in Inglorious Basterds and Tyler Gage (played by Channing Tatum) in Step Up


Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid || Costume Design by Edith Head

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid absolutely devastated me when I watched it in college. I’ve watched 983 movies in my lifetime (but who’s counting), and this is one of only two that had an ending that really stuck with me. The ending doesn’t have anything to do with fashion, I just had to get that out of the way. The wardrobe choices in this film are all about practicality. Every item of clothing has that soft look that comes with wearing the same exact thing every single day, and the layered clothes probably smell like sweat and sunshine. Combined with the neck bandannas and flat brimmed hats, the whole ensemble comes together realistically, but also stylishly, and that is thanks to the effortless suaveness of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. They make dusty coats and rumpled trousers look like haute couture. Cowboy chic to the max.

butch cassidy and the sundance kid

Also see: Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) in A New Hope and Jim Craig (played by Tom Burlinson) in The Man From Snowy River


Pretty in Pink || Costume Design by Marilyn Vance

While I’m sadly not a big Molly Ringwald fan, Pretty in Pink was a high school favorite for one big reason: Ducky. I have a hunch that I might feel different if I were to rewatch it now, but at the time, I found Ducky’s loyalty and sense of humor to be downright marvelous. His fashion sense only made him seem more delightful, even though I could never quite tell if he was quirky without trying to be, or if he was actually trying really really hard. Either way, his bolo ties, layered looks, and small shades are still the absolute coolest in my book.

pretty in pink

Also see: Sing Street‘s music video ensembles.


The Great Gatsby || Costume Design by Theoni Aldredge (1974) & Catherine Martin (2012)

I suppose no list about menswear would be complete without a mention of suits. They say a bespoke suit is the male equivalent of extravagant lingerie. And whoever “they” are, they aren’t entirely wrong. There is something so divine about the crisp lines of a tailored suit. A good suit can transform the wearer, elevate the scenario, and delight the company. And no one is a better example of this than the late, great Jay Gatsby. You can take your pick between Robert Redford or Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal– the effect is the same. He is, after all, the man with the cool, beautiful shirts.

 

Also see: Harvey Specter (played by Gabriel Macht) in TV’s Suits and Dr. Robert Laing (played by Tom Hiddleston) in High-Rise. And James Bond, probably


The Fall || Costume Design by Eiko Ishioka

I would be truly remiss if I didn’t at least mention The Fall. I’ve talked at length about my adoration for Eiko Ishioka’s costume design, and her work on The Fall is no exception. The over the top presentation of the colors and styles are a perfect match for the rest of the film, and all of the bright primary colors work in perfect sync to create a flawless set of costumes.

the fall lineup


Runner ups include: Erik Killmonger’s hip museum outfit in Black Panther, Willy Wonka’s posh velvet suit and top hat in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chris Hemsworth’s deep v-necks in Rush, Roux’s everything in Chocolat, Sam’s boy scout chic in Moonrise Kingdom, Ben’s red suit in Captain Fantastic, Tarzan’s loincloth, Armie Hammer’s turtlenecks in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Tyler Durden’s bizarrely colorful statement pieces in Fight Club.


What are some of your favorite film moments in men’s fashion? Let me know in the comments below! 

Spotlight on Cinematography: Shades of Green (round two)

And we’re back! I was hoping to share an official post about color in film before starting a second round of color-themed cinematography posts, but hopefully it’ll be coming along soon! (It’s one I’ve been planning for a long time.) In the meantime, enjoy this batch of green frames!

la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
captain fantastic
Captain Fantastic (2016) || Stéphane Fontaine (DP)
the handmaiden
The Handmaiden (2016) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)
atonement
Atonement (2007) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
saving private ryan
Saving Private Ryan (1998) || Janusz Kaminski (DP)
moneyball
Moneyball (2011) || Wally Pfister (DP)
django unchained
Django Unchained (2012) || Robert Richardson (DP)

Review: Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight

Sometime last year, I saw a blogger talking about Before Sunrise and how it was her favorite movie. I didn’t think much of it until a week or two later, when something ended up on my dash referring to the Before trilogy. Now that caught my attention: three movies following the same couple, set in real time? Far more interesting than a standalone romance plot, if you ask me. I added all three films to my watchlist, but honestly didn’t think much of them for a while. But then I watched Boyhood and realized that Richard Linklater might possibly be a storytelling genius, which left only one option: a movie marathon. The first lazy Sunday I had in February, I sat down and watched all three movies back to back to back. I don’t know if this post counts as a review or not, but I’ll definitely be rambling about all three movies and my thoughts on each one. Thanks for looking!

Before Sunrise (1995)

While watching this movie, I found myself with a similar reaction as I had to Boyhood, albeit on a lesser level. Despite the quietness and meandering pace of the story, I couldn’t help but be wholly invested in what was happening. It seemed sacrilegious to even think about scrolling through my phone or cooking food while bearing witness to two people connecting in such a human way.

before sunrise

What worked for me: Linklater has a way of telling stories that resonate, and I think that’s largely due to how he captures basic human interactions. A lot of romance movies (and lots of movies in general) feature a plot point or character interaction that is wholly unrealistic. It can make it difficult to relate, even if it’s a beautiful or touching moment. The power of Linklater’s stories is the humanity of them– they’re so peaceful and unassuming. He manages to capture day-to-day moments and frame them in a way that feels a little more charming– as if the light was hitting them just right and making them look almost magical. I think he’s the visual medium equivalent of Billy Collins.

What didn’t work for me: Honestly, I would’ve totally bought into their relationship if not for one thing: Celine is WAY too good for Jesse. She’s clever, opinionated, mature, funny, and honest (and French, of course). He is none of things. He’s cynical and derogatory and irresponsible. In many ways, he feels like a manchild that she will be responsible for educating and elevating. She reminds me of myself in a lot of ways, and maybe that’s why I struggled with their interactions. It was impossible for me to ignore his red flags, and I wished she had been more up front about calling them out.

Favorite moment: The poet writing them the piece using the word “milkshake”.

Before Sunset (2004)

I think the first and third installments would have benefited from being the same length as this one. The impending time of departure carries a lot more weight for the viewer when you can feel the end sneaking up on you. I felt like Hawke and Delpy had even better chemistry here than in the first film, and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the natural flow of their conversation and interactions.

before sunset

What worked for me: Chemistry aside, there was one thing that really got my mind to spinning. As a disclaimer, I’m rather a fan of conspiracy theories (my personal favorite: Idaho doesn’t exist). My theory isn’t quite as preposterous as that one, but I googled it and apparently I’m the only one thinking about it! I couldn’t find a single post, review, or article, so here it is: is no one talking about the possibility of Celine being a figment of Jesse’s imagination?? I think he made her up.

What didn’t work for me: I have one huge qualm with this installment: how in the world did Jesse become a writer?? Sorry, but he’s dull as hell and previously showed no artistic inclination or creativity. However, his sudden and miraculous transition into becoming a writer did spark my aforementioned conspiracy theory, so I guess I can’t really complain.

Favorite moment: The last two lines. That was the most impeccable ending imaginable and it gives me chills just thinking about it.

Before Midnight (2013)

To be fair, I think this installment was probably far more profound for viewers in the same age group as Celine and Jesse. Those who had been following the trilogy since 1995 had aged along with the couple, which indubitably made their arguments and challenges far more relatable. However, it was my least favorite, largely because all those red flags I saw in Jesse 18 years ago come roaring to the surface and Celine is stuck with the aftermath.

before midnight

What worked for me: The opening scenes remind me so much of A Bigger Splash, which I mean as the highest compliment. The idyllic nature of Greece just feels so soothing and drowsy. It makes me want figs and sparkling wine on a sun-baked veranda. It was also interesting to see the two characters interact with other people for the first time. It was a risk on Linklater’s part, and I think it paid off.

What didn’t work for me: gaslighting, gaslighting, gaslighting. Jesse invalidates Celine’s emotions, disregards her reasons to be angry, and continuously attempts to sweep her feelings under the rug. He calls her “the mayor of crazy town” and belittles her for “carrying that much feminine oppression”. It was really disheartening to read IMDb reviews and realize how many people thought Celine was “being a bitter bitch” or was “totally overreacting”.

before midnight review

The ending also felt like a total copout. Watching Celine resign herself and dumb herself down at the cafe broke my heart. She had been making compromises for so long, and it felt like each time she did, she lost a little more of herself. You could actually see the moment she gave up.

Favorite moment: Celine storms out of the hotel room for the third time, but this time she leaves the keycard. The finality of that moment was so sublime, and the fact that she intentionally left it behind made me gasp out loud.


Overall, this was a deeply enjoyable and admirable undertaking. It’s rare to see such dialogue heavy films, much less ones that successfully execute such a specific stylistic choice. While I had my qualms throughout the series (primarily with Jesse being the worst), it was well worth the lazy Sunday to watch all three films in succession. I’ll probably be perusing more Linklater projects in the future, as I really haven’t come across another storyteller like him.

Spotlight on Cinematography: Cyclical Skyviews

Remember that time I mentioned that once you see something that connects with you, you start to notice similar things elsewhere? Well, this is another stellar example of that! I had grabbed the below still from Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq and set it aside, but had no idea what I was going to end up using it for. But once it was in my head, I started to see similar frames with similar compositions all over the place. I’ve been really excited to share this collection for a while, so thanks for looking!

chiraq
Chi-Raq (2015) || Matthew Libatique (DP)
requiem-for-a-dream
Requiem for a Dream (2000) || Matthew Libatique (DP)
the discovery
The Discovery (2017) || Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (DP)
closer
Closer (2004) || Stephen Goldblatt (DP)
uss callister
USS Callister (2017) || Stephan Pehrsson (DP)
mirror mirror
Mirror Mirror (2012) || Brendan Galvin (DP)
harry potter and the order of the phoenix
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) || Slawomir Idziak (DP)

Recent Reads: Red Rising & Ready Player One

Throughout the process of writing this post, I realized how much easier it is to write reviews for books you don’t like. I read these two books in the middle of March, devouring them in less than two days each, and I was absolutely over the moon for them both. There’s a lot more to talk about when books let me down, but I’m super excited by how great these two stories are, so here we go!

Red Rising –– Pierce Brown

Talk about your pleasant surprises! This book was a total home run for me. It’s like Harry Potter meets Ender’s Game. There’s a dystopian space society featuring a caste system, high powered humans, stunning technology, an undercover rebel, and fierce competitions pitting teens against each other in fights to the death. It’s brilliant. It’s stark and gritty and strategic and it was so much more than I was expecting (I bought a hard copy after reading an e-book version, so you know it’s real). It also introduced a character by the name of Sevro who is quickly on his way to becoming one of my favorite male characters of all time.

What worked for me: I seem to have been reading a lot of books lately featuring young MCs, and it doesn’t always come across as wholly believable (looking at you, Six of Crows). But for the first time in a long time, the youth of the characters feels legitimate. We’re thrown into this group of entitled 16 and 17 year olds and suddenly we’re surrounded by arrogance, emotion, posturing, and unbridled rage. Vendettas arise, lines are crossed, and there’s no shortage of angst. These teenagers are out in a wilderness and are engaging in the most cutthroat game of Capture the Flag imaginable. Some of the characters find themselves stepping up to the responsibility and leading, while others devolve into their basest selves. It’s all very Lord of the Flies and it totally works.

I also appreciated the integration of female characters as a natural and powerful presence. Even though the MC is a male, he surrounds himself with strong women, and at one point, his two military lieutenants are both young women. It brought to mind the part of Black Panther where T’challa was told to surround himself with people he trusted and he chose strong and brilliant women. The ruler of the entire galaxy is a women, and the familial structures alternate between patriarchal and matriarchal. The representation left a bit to be desired, but overall, the female characters were strong, varied, and refreshing.

The writing style is a stellar example of stylistic choices heightening the mood of the story itself. I touched on this way back when I wrote my Annihilation review and referenced the mind-boggling House of Leaves as a benchmark. Red Rising features a crisp, almost stark, writing style that totally plays up the militaristic tone of the entire plot. Everything is written in a clinical and expository nature, which outlines in no uncertain terms what is happening, what is being felt, and what is being planned. The entire book revolves around strategy, and the briskly clear-cut writing styles emphasizes that in the best kind of way.

What didn’t work for me: Although the female leads were solid, Brown does have a bad habit of basing the majority of derogatory comments on feminine traits (“he cried like a girl”/”they flaunt their weapons like girls with new toys”/”you sound like a girl, I thought you were tough”). For a world set centuries in the future and filled with powerful women, the jabs feel out of place and too reflective of our current misogynistic society.

I think  the only other thing that brought me any frustration was the litany of house and family names. It feels very George R.R. Martin-esque in some spots, and in a book filled with planets, moons, and caste titles, the huge amount of characters and their allegiances can be a bit tricky to keep track of. Some of the houses have the same names as the planets, and different families have loyalties to one or the other or both.

Overall rating: Honestly, I think I would give it 9 out of 10 stars. It’s a super enjoyable and immersive read, and I’m so excited to dive into the rest of the trilogy. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s 11 reasons why you absolutely should.

red rising

Ready Player One — Ernest Cline

Ready Player One quickly became one of my favorite books back when I first read it in 2015. It came as a recommendation from a friend, and while I rarely end up enjoying recommendations, I could instantly tell something was special about this one. Over the years, it has become my go-to recommendation for people who don’t really like to read, especially if those people are 20-something year old males. Although I have less than zero interest in seeing the upcoming movie (because boooo, adpations), I saw the trailer in theaters and realized I was sorely overdue for a re-read. I blazed through the book in a weekend– which might have been even faster than I devoured it the first time– and to my surprise, the book totally holds up.

What worked for me: Like Red Rising, the writing style in the book plays up some of the best aspects of the story. Ready Player One takes place almost entirely in an online virtual reality world, and Cline creates this world for the readers. He’s the kind of writer that I could (probably) be if I wasn’t extremely lazy/my mind didn’t go so much faster than my words. His attention to detail is utterly flooring, and all of that hyper-detail helps to make the reader feel like they’re in VR as well. It’s a stroke of genius on Cline’s part, because he doesn’t just say that everything in the online world is perfectly rendered, he actually takes the time to show us that it is. It’s as immersive as writing gets, and for a story about virtual reality, it couldn’t have been more perfectly executed.

Wade, the main character, has a lingering aura of wish fulfillment, but overall, he’s a pretty splendid MC, especially for a nerdy white male. He’s relatable and honest, respectful and brilliant. I knew he was a likeable character when he opens his locker and his only decoration is a picture of Princess Leia posing with a blaster pistol. Anyone who doesn’t choose Leia in her slave bikini is okay in my book.

What didn’t work for me: Like I mentioned above, the wish fulfillment can be a bit heavy-handed in a few spots. Although Wade has spent his entire life in the online world, his incredible hacking abilities and memory retention can feel a wee bit far-fetched. However, there is no doubt that he also has shortcomings in this regard, which become obvious when he doesn’t make a few connections for the second key.

Overall rating: Although this is one of my favorite storylines of all time, there are a few gratuitous plot points that I find pretty difficult to ignore. For this reason, I would give it a solid 7.7 out of 10. For a far more intellectual reaction to Ready Player One, I highly recommend Michael Moreci’s think piece.

ready player one

Spotlight on Cinematography: Seeing Red

It’s no secret that I love red on the big screen. It’s my favorite color to watch be utilized, largely because it elicits such specific reactions from viewers, consciously or not. I just shared a post about the red dress in film, and how it can be used in such a variety of ways to achieve different thematic results. Someone recommended I do a similar post, but without the fashion aspect. So here we are! I have an extensive folder filled with my favorite red frames, so it was loads of fun to go through them and pick selections for this post. Enjoy!

Desire — Amélie

There was a summer of my life where I watched this movie on a weekly basis. I relate to Amélie on so many levels, and the whimsy that takes a front seat in the story truly delights me. While I’m not a huge fan of the overall color palette in the film, there are a couple of color choices that were really brilliant, and this frame is one of them. The overhead shot adds to the effect of Amélie being lost in a sea of red, which helps to increase the mood of aching desire that is so important throughout this movie.

amelie
Amélie (2001) || Bruno Delbonnel (DP)

Love — Captain Fantastic

This was one of my favorite films of the entire year, and I could honestly write an entire blog post about what made it so successful to me. It’s such a tender story about a father doing his very best by himself after his wife is no longer in their lives. It is clear from the very beginning how much he relied on her throughout his life and that they were two sides of the same coin. After their untimely (and unwanted) separation, we see Viggo Mortensen wearing his one suit—a red one. He wears it twice throughout the course of the movie, and both times are to bid her farewell. It was a stellar costuming choice, largely because it is such a visceral and vivid color, one we traditionally associate with romance and passion. As he tells her goodbye for the last time, his suit manages to feel like a torch, a beating heart, a love letter.

captain fantastic
Captain Fantastic (2016) || Stéphane Fontaine (DP)

Longing — Atonement

I include frames from this movie so often in my cinematography posts, and with good reason. Seamus McGarvey is one of my favorite cinematographers, working on projects from Nocturnal Animals to We Need to Talk About Kevin. He has a real knack for setting up frames to convey varying emotions and moods (and in movies like We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is especially crucial). He’s a master of building tension through angles and symmetry, and the below frame is no exception. Atonement is one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen, with a plot twist that literally took my breath away. There is a tangible undercurrent of longing that the entire film is built upon is and relies upon, and I don’t think it would have been as successfully felt if not for McGarvey. Here, the pairing of the red curtains and the sliver through which the character is looking work together to emphasize the “outsider looking in” nature of the entire story. You can physically feel how badly she wants to be on the other side, to move forward.

atonement 2
Atonement (2007) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)

Scheming — Big Eyes

This is a pretty recent viewing for me, and one that was largely fueled by Christoph Waltz’s presence (I’m not a big Amy Adams fan). He tends to just play variations of himself, but he’s one of my favorite villainous actors of all time because of his charismatic nature. There’s something extra sinister about a bad guy who comes off as so appealing. In this scene in Big Eyes, the character is not only lying in wait for potential clients, but he’s also about to pass off someone else’s art as his own. The red glow of the hallway makes the cheerful club seem a bit more ambiguous, and serves to hint to the viewer that someone is up to no good.

big eyes
Big Eyes (2014) || Bruno Delbonnel (DP)

Passion — Chicago

I feel like this cellblock tango scene is probably on some “Top 100 Most Iconic Scenes” list somewhere. Even people who haven’t seen the movie can often recognize this frame. This entire song/dance number is lit in red light (with one important thematic exception) which ramps the sensual and passionate nature up to 100. It’s no coincidence that this scene is all about women murdering their husbands—crimes of passion, as it were. The red light helps to convey a lot of that important passion and heat to the viewer.

chicago
Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)

Anxiety — Neon Demon

For the sake of transparency, I’m going to come right out and say that I did not finish this movie. I found very little about it enjoyable, aside from some of the visuals. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from being watched in a theater—so much of it was shot in low lighting, making it hard to see on a smaller screen or brighter room. However, there are a lot of strobes and colored lights throughout the film, all of which serve to ramp up the discomfort and anxiety that the main character feels over her surroundings.

neon demon
The Neon Demon (2016) || Natasha Braier (DP)

Tumult 

Is there anyone with quite as much angst as the Kylo Ren? Rian Johnson did a splendid job of playing up Adam Driver’s acting chops by choosing to bathe so many of his scenes in red. The scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room is a particularly apt example of this. In this scene, Kylo is fighting a mental battle on just about every level. He is trying to choose who to help, and pondering how that will change things moving forward. This frame shows him with a bowed head against a field of red. The huge amount of the bloody shade in this frame screams at the viewer that Kylo is facing a brutal struggle.

last jedi
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) || Steve Yedlin (DP)

Winter Wins

Spring is almost here! While the first day of spring is still officially a week away, the beginning of March always feels like the beginning of the new season for me. Like my fall media intake, this winter was pretty visually inclined as well. Here are my top five favorites from the past several months!

The Handmaiden

I know I’m late to this party, but wow. What a treat this film is. Stoker has long been one of my favorite films, so I don’t know why I waited so long to check out another Park Chan-wook project. The structure of the film is impeccable, the varying POVs is seamless, the set and costume design is gorgeous, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. I watched the movie without knowing anything about the storyline (something I’m a huge fan of doing and highly recommend), so I was completely caught off guard by the plot twists and resolutions. This is now up there with Carol in terms of my favorite love stories, and one I’m super eager to watch again.

the handmaiden

Six of Crows

I mentioned this duology in my recent post about book series, so I won’t talk about it too much here. However, coming from someone who hated the Grisha trilogy, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were so enjoyable. There’s a great character lineup, government infiltration, solid representation, and of course magic and assassins. It’s rare to read a book that successfully meshes six MCs and their point of views, but Bardugo executes it surprisingly seamlessly. Each character is unique and has their own set of driving forces and issues, but they interact as a group as well. I almost didn’t give these books a chance because of my dislike for the Grisha trilogy, but I’m so glad I did. (Artist credit here)

six of crows

The Dressmaker

Another one I’ve mentioned recently, this movie was directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and was my female director pick for January. I love good costume design in a film, and in that regard, this viewing was delightful down to the last detail. Considering I can count on one hand all of the Kate Winslet movies I’ve ever seen, it seems noteworthy that she has ended up on my list of favorites both this season and last season. This is an Australian movie from 2015, based on the book by Rosalie Ham. If you’ve been following my cinematography posts, you might have noticed the name Donald McAlpine pop up a lot. He’s an extremely talented DP who happens to have worked on many of my favorite films. He has an extraordinary eye for framing, and this project is no exception.

the dressmaker 4

The End of the F***ing world

Okay. So I first binge watched this when it was released, and really really enjoyed it. I talked about what it does right in my mini-review on You, but didn’t go very in depth. I just rewatched it again in January, and being aware of the storyline allowed me to really absorb the chemistry and characterization of the two main characters. Their on-screen interactions are so natural and charged, and it was a stroke of genius to include both of their internal narratives in tandem. The soundtrack is absolute perfection as well, and overall it’s a show worthy of multiple viewings. (I recommend watching all the episodes  in quick succession, preferably in one day if possible. It allows the story to build and the character connections to become more tangible.)

the end of the fing world

Black Panther

Because I included The Last Jedi on my last favorites list, I was hoping to include another accessible blockbuster here… which ended up being entirely too easy after seeing Black Panther. I’ve been struggling with pacing in a lot of recent releases, and while I felt the same about Black Panther, Ryan Coogler absolutely knocked this out of the park in virtually every regard. This is a beautiful and empowering and important story, filled with impeccable casting and paired with a stellar soundtrack. The costume design was flawless (more to come on Ruth E. Carter in a future post) and Coogler’s inspiration from Ta-Nehisi Coates (who is undeniably one of the most talented writers of our time) made this script sing. Representation matters, and bearing witness to how uplifting and important this story is has been nothing short of magical. As Christopher Orr aptly puts it: Black Panther is more than a superhero movie. (Bonus: the second after-credits sequence was enough to make my heart implode.)

black panther


So there you have it! These were my top five favorites from this winter. Did you read or watch anything this over the past several months that stood out to you? If so, let me know in the comments!

Spotlight on Cinematography: Faceoffs

For some reason, this was a challenging post to put words to. I want to talk about how impressive a character can seem if they’re framed properly, about how tension between two characters can be tangible if they’re framed properly, and how groups can be so imposing if– you guessed it– they’re framed properly. But words are hard today, so let’s just jump right in!

I’m going to start with a few frames featuring solo characters. I think this is a largely underrated and unnoticed aspect of film that many viewers might not pick up on, but there is so much potential to character introductions, and it feels rare to see that full potential being met. For that reason, I wanted to start with my all-time favorite first appearance: the one and only Marla Singer.

The below frame is a stellar example of showing instead of telling. We don’t really know anything about Marla at this point, but the instant the camera turns to her, it’s impossible not be in awe.

fight club marla
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)

Straying away from first appearances, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m including a Donald McAlpine frame. The symmetry, shadows, and coloring of this character presentation all combine to work within the drama of the movie itself, and the tension of this particular scene.

moulin rouge frontal
Moulin Rouge (2002) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

The visuals of a character walking away from a fire/explosion/burning building is an age old technique. We see it in westerns, in spy flicks, in super hero movies, etc. But rarely do we see it paired with a femme fatale garbed in handmade haute couture. And boy oh boy does it work. What a force to be reckoned with.

the dressmaker 2
The Dressmaker (2015) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

Two people sharing a scene can run the gamut from stale to sensual. Characters can interact romantically, angrily, averagely, and so on and so forth. However, my favorite way for two people to share a frame is always when it’s charged with tension. This could be in a passionate way (a la cellblock tango in Chicago) or in a fearsome way (a la the xenomorph edging into a frame with a petrified Ellen Ripley).

The Handmaiden is an exquisite film, with every scene beautifully arranged and the characters perfectly positioned. But one of my very favorites moments was the one seen below. The repetition of the branches, the color juxtaposition of the costumes, and the locked eye contact all combine to create a tense and breathtaking scene.

the handmaiden 2
The Handmaiden (2016) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)

Speaking of tense, how about this faceoff from the recent Black Panther? The tension is tangible between the two royals as they size each other up and stare each other down. Largely thanks to the negative space and forceful eye contact, you can feel the heat between the two of them.

black panther
Black Panther (2018) || Rachel Morrison (DP)

It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched Hanna, and while I wasn’t over the moon for it back then, the final scene at the abandoned theme park has always stayed with me. This wide angle in particular is such a brilliant frame. Between the wolf head and the body language, the space between the two characters feels like a living thing, one Hanna is utterly determined to keep in existence.

hanna
Hanna (2011) || Alwin H. Küchler (DP)

Most of us have some sort of familiarity with standing in front of a large group of people. Either we are being watched, or we are doing the watching, and both carry with them their own sort of weight. It isn’t every day that a character is faced with a huge group of people on screen, which is part of why the below frames are so enjoyable.

In this frame from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, using Alice’s POV was a brilliant choice. Paired with the sea of white clothes and blankly expectant faces fading into the distance, you can almost feel the panic setting in.

alice in wonderland
Alice in Wonderland (2010) || Dariusz Wolski (DP)

A Cure for Wellness is easily one of my most hated films. However, it is undeniably incredibly visually appealing. From start to finish, the movie focuses on repetition, reflections, and uncomfortable focal points to institute an undercurrent of unease. You can’t shake the feeling that something is off. This eerily centered frame is no exception. The color coordinated balls, the lines of the pool and staircases, and the razor sharp focus of the group in the pool combine to leave a tinge of discomfort with the viewer due to the unnatural perfection of it all.

a cure for wellness
A Cure for Wellness (2016) || Bojan Bazelli (DP)

While I wasn’t wild about the storyline, Girl Asleep (directed by Rosemary Myers) is another shockingly beautiful film. Based on the play of the same name, the film utilizes an almost constant feeling of being watched to inject tension and unease through the movie. Between the dark forest, characters in masks, mirrors, and clever framework during school scenes, you can feel the discomfort of our main character.

girl asleep
Girl Asleep (2015) || Andrew Commis (DP)

Fashion in Film: The Red Dress

So I was watching Requiem for a Dream for the first time back around Christmas, and was really fascinated by the use of the symbolic red dress, both for Sara Goldfarb and Marion. I set aside a frame from the film for a future post, and since then, have been slowly squirreling away red dresses to utilize. From the woman in the red dress in The Matrix to an entire wardrobe dedication in Bedazzled, red dresses have often functioned as symbolic articles of clothing. I’m super excited to share what I’ve found, and am really looking forward to touching on all the ways the color red is utilized to drive a certain message or mood home. Enjoy!

Defiance — The Dressmaker

I watched this movie in January and was absolutely over the moon for the costume design. Every single dress, glove, throw, and shoe is magnificent in its usage and presentation. Kate Winslet plays Myrtle, an estranged young woman from a small and secluded town in Australia. Her presence is unexpected and borders on unwelcome, and her every decision is an act of defiance against the traditional roles that the town still relies upon. She goes against the grain in just about every way, and her choice of outfits for a rugby  match is an exquisite example of that. In this context, the red dress symbolizes an outlier and even a bit of a rebel by highlighting the person who isn’t afraid to make a scene. (If you like fashion in film and haven’t watched The Dressmaker yet, you’re really missing out.)

the dressmaker
The Dressmaker (2015) || Costume Design: Marion Boyce & Margot Wilson

Power — Black Panther

First of all, the wardrobe for Black Panther was utterly impeccable. Ruth Carter paid so much attention to every detail, from historic accuracy to color themes for certain characters (i.e. Nakia always wearing green). The choice to garb the guards (especially Okoye) in all red was an excellent decision. As I’ve discussed before, the color red instantly alerts viewers to the importance of something happening on screen. It is a color that can elicit strong emotional responses, and even heighten heart rate and breathing. To garb a fierce warrior in red serves to emphasize that power and the strength that she has. I’m specifically choosing the red dress from the Busan casino scene for this post because it strikes me as so empowering that dolled up or not, Okoye was a force of nature. In this context, the red dress functions as a symbol of raw power and sheer skill.

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Black Panther (2018) || Costume Design: Ruth Carter

Passion — The Rum Diary

In terms of wardrobe, The Rum Diary is one of my favorite films of all time. As much as I love decadence, there is so much to be said for the sleek and subtle costuming of this film. Everything Chenault wears is so strikingly simple that it’s impossible to pretend like the clothes aren’t extravagantly expensive. Crisp diamond earrings, neutral dresses that look as if they were made for her, and red lipstick that goes on so smoothly it can only be Chanel– these are the trademarks of Chenault’s wardrobe. There is a scene where Chenault cuts loose and dances with a stranger at a jazz club, and the chemistry between them is electric. You can feel the tension while watching the scene, and I owe a large portion of that to the power of the red dress. In this context, the red dress serves as a vehicle of heightened sensuality and chemistry.

rum diary
The Rum Diary (2011) || Costume Design: Colleen Atwood

Longing — Requiem for a Dream

This is the frame that sparked this blog post. Although the red dress is an important plot point much earlier on, this feverish scene takes place toward the end of the film, after viewers have been taken through the emotional and mental ringer. We have seen our characters fall into such darkness and instability, and there is something utterly heartbreaking about the immense longing that Harry conveys as he moves towards Marion at the end of the pier. Her simple red dress is rustling the breeze, she is centered in perfect symmetry, her surroundings a blank canvas that make her stand out all the more. Harry has a razor sharp focus, perhaps for the first time in the entire film, and all that matters in that moment is moving towards her. In this context, the red dress heightens the focus and longing of the moment, and functions as a focal point to pour all that yearning into.

requiem for a dream
Requiem for a Dream (2000) || Costume Design: Laura Jean Shannon

Seduction — Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Would any list about red dresses be complete without the iconic Jessica Rabbit number? Jessica Rabbit is a vastly underappreciated character, and is one who is often reduced to little more than a sex symbol. Her famous line “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way” hints at the depths that lie beneath her surface. I’ve seen so many great posts about her and her characterization (one of my favorites: a theory that she’s asexual despite being boxed into her sex symbol status) and her outfit is a popular choice among fan art and cosplayers alike. She’s devoted and loyal, and is willing to put herself in unsavory situations for the sake of her husband. She makes it clear that she puts value in things other than physical appearances, which hints at her desire for others to value those same things in her as well. She’s clever when it comes to solving mysteries, sensual within the scope of her job, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s BS (bear trap hidden in her cleavage, anyone?) I get the impression that she resigned herself to always being judged at face value, and for that reason played up the sexuality she was “drawn” with. In this context, the red dress functions as a symbol of sex appeal and sensuality, able to be utilized as a tool of the trade.

who framed roger rabbit
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) || Costume Design: Joanna Johnston

Lust — The Great Gatsby

Baz Luhrmann is my favorite director for one big reason: decadence. From Strictly Ballroom to Australia, Luhrmann’s films make my heart sing– and The Great Gatsby is no exception. There’s hundreds of posts and articles about the wardrobe in this movie, largely thanks to Daisy’s costume design. And while those gauzy gowns are nothing short of ethereal, I’ll actually be focusing on someone else today: Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson. Because virtually everyone has read the book at some point, I don’t think Myrtle counts as a spoiler, but consider yourself warned. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is having an affair with the wife of his mechanic. She is a dewy and bright woman, and her husband is a worn down man who struggles to give her all that she wants. Tom comes along, all shiny cars and crisp suits and the rest is history. There’s this moment in Luhrmann’s movie where Tom and Nick are at the mechanic’s shop getting gas, and Myrtle floats down the stairs wearing a dress with red ruffling along the neckline, and there’s a flurry of stolen glances and touches. Later, the two are in an apartment together and Myrtle is wearing head to toe red. Tom can’t keep his hands off her. In this context, the red dress seems sensual and full of lust, acting as a magnet or a homing beacon to the object of Myrtle’s desire.

great gatsby
The Great Gatsby (2013) || Costume Design: Catherine Martin

Love — Pretty Woman

Like Jessica Rabbit’s ensemble, this gown is pretty much as iconic as it gets. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, or isn’t at least familiar with it, so it probably comes as no surprise that it is on this list. Vivian wears this stunning floor-length red opera gown at a point in the movie where it’s clear both of our leads are catching the feels. In this context, the red dress seems decadent and romantic, and catches the attention of the viewer to show them that something has changed.

pretty woman
Pretty Woman (1990) || Costume Design: Marilyn Vance

Spotlight on Cinematography: All Lined Up

My personal Instagram features many a photo of crisp clean lines. Whether it be rafters or sidewalks or warehouses, I am endlessly enamored by the orderliness and structure of long lines. It’s one of the things that always elicits verbal responses from me when watching a film, and I never get tired of seeing new ways they’re showcased. Below, I’ve gathered some of my favorite film frames that use lines to highlight something or someone. Enjoy!

american beauty
American Beauty (1999) || Conrad Hall (DP)
secret life of walter mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) || Stuart Dryburgh (DP)
mr nobody
Mr Nobody (2009) || Christophe Beaucarne (DP)
high rise
High-Rise (2015) || Laurie Rose (DP)
byzantium 2
Byzantium (2012) || Sean Bobbitt (DP)
dark knight rises
The Dark Knight Rises (2012) || Wally Pfister (DP)
a girl walks home alone at night 2
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) || Lyle Vincent (DP)

On Book Series

I’d be lying if I said series, both in books and in film, don’t exhaust me sometimes. The thought of an endless litany can wear me out to even consider, especially if it’s for a series that hasn’t yet been completed. It happens to me with TV shows that are still being aired (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), with book series that go on long hiatuses between novels (Song of Ice and Fire), and movie sagas that seem as if they will stretch on indefinitely and infinitely (Star Wars). There is something so daunting to me about jumping into a series that is not and may never be truly completed. I have a special place in my heart for series that follow their natural course instead of spinning their wheels ceaselessly. It’s why I loved Parks and Recreation all the way through, unlike The Office which had that weird two season slump that seemed as if it would never end. All that is to say that I have a lot of respect for authors who let stories run their natural course. So without further ado, here are some of my favorite book series!

Fairyland

I’ve mentioned before how much I adore prose that reads like poetry. For years, I struggled to write creatively outside of free form poetry, and I think I carried that affinity for rhythmic flows with me through my adult years. Books like The Virgin Suicides and Song of Achilles have very special places in my heart (and on my bookshelf) because of the lyrical nature of their narrative.

Catherynne M. Valente is the author of my favorite book series, known as the Fairyland Series, and she does lyrical prose better than anyone. The first book of her five-novel arc is titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and when I read it for the first time, I cried like a baby. It has heavy Alice in Wonderland themes, but with more logical rules and a more Arya Stark style heroine. Two of the leads, September and Saturday, are on my favorite female and male character lists, respectively, which speaks to the quality and consistency of Valente’s characterization. I’ve recommended this series more than once on this blog, and I’ll recommend it again here. It’s the most beautiful book series I have ever read, and it connects with me in new ways every time I return to it.

the girl who circumnaviagted fairyland in a ship of her own making
Artist Credit: Anne Lambelet
The Raven Cycle

I should probably stop writing about this series on what is starting to feel like a weekly basis— I think it’s starting to make me look a little one-dimensional. But honestly, it’s just that good. I love these characters like they’re my own children and I may or may not have a massive fan-cast post sitting in my drafts at this very moment.

In the past year or two, I’ve found myself with a growing appreciation for really solid characterization. One of my first posts on this blog was about my pet peeves in female characters, and it was entirely too easy to come up with specific examples for all of those annoyances. I have such a soft spot for flawed characters that a reader can still identify with– no Mary Sues or manic pixie dream girls or excessive wish fulfillment roles. The Raven Cycle has some of the best characterization I’ve ever come across, especially considering the sheer number of characters that are important throughout the course of the four books. Every single one of them is dynamic and unique, with their own set of flaws and weaknesses and desires. It’s nearly impossible not to connect with them, because their humanity emanates from every page of the books. Maggie Stiefvater, like Valente, is an incredibly talented author who possesses a huge capability for writing goosebump-inducing prose. Her work has a lyrical nature that is so deeply embedded with nostalgia and longing.

the raven cycle
Artist Credit: BLuwish via deviantart
Six of Crows

So this was a recent read for me, and not something I was expecting to enjoy, much less devour. This duology takes place in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, which was a trilogy I was sorely disappointed by. To my slight frustration, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom take place after the Grisha trilogy and are set in the same world, so they are far more enjoyable for readers who are already familiar with the Grishaverse. There are many references to places, people, politics, and Grisha knowledge that would largely be lost on readers who hadn’t previously read the Grisha trilogy.

With that being said, Six of Crows excels in all the ways that the Grisha trilogy fell short for me. The characterization is spot on, the interactions are natural, the representation doesn’t feel like an afterthought, and the action is plausible and immersive. Bardugo’s writing feels like it came a long way between Ruin and Rising and Six of Crows, even though they were only a year apart. I read the e-book version of Six of Crows, and picked up the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, the instant I was finished with the first one. It’s rare for me to enjoy an e-book so much that I buy a hard copy, but I purchased the hardcover versions of both books immediately after completing them.

I really only had two qualms with the duology: the ages of the main characters, and the immersion of the settings. The first is a simple shortcoming, but it’s one that many other readers struggled with as well. The MCs are just too young to be believably engaging in the activities that they do (I wont say much on the topic for the sake of avoiding spoilers). My second complaint, however, is more of a personal preference. I’ve always been deeply impressed by Bardugo’s world-building– she crafts incredible political tensions, governmental structures, layered intrigue, and wholly viable geographics. But for some reason, I struggle to really visualize and immerse myself in her individual settings. From the Ice Court to the Crow Club, I always find her descriptions a bit lacking for my personal taste. I noticed the same thing in the Grisha trilogy, and can’t help but find myself a little disappointed by her visuals (or lack thereof).

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom was also my first experience with a duology. The fascinating thing about duologies as opposed to trilogies is that the middle of the full story arc falls in between the two books, as opposed to the second book of a trilogy. For people who love a good cliffhanger, this is a wonderful treat, and Six of Crows pulls it off splendidly. The turn at the end of the first book propels the entire story forward in a huge way (again, vagueness in the interest of spoilers). Jodi over at Publishing Crawl has a great post on how to successfully manage this format, for anyone who might be interested.

All in all, Six of Crows has been my favorite read of 2018 thus far. It’s like Oceans Eleven meets Rogue One, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good heist story. Bonus: I’m a huge sucker for good fan art, and this duology has an abundance of it ♥

six of crows 2
Artist Credit: Kevin Wada via tumblr
The Lord of the Rings

Oh Tolkien. How do I love thee, let me count the ways. Much to my embarrassment, I still haven’t gotten around to picking up The Silmarillion, which I know would give me even more reasons to adore Middle Earth. I’ve mentioned in the past that I first read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten or eleven… and that I really struggled with it. I wasn’t allowed to watch the movies unless I read the books, so I did my best to slog through the seemingly endless litany of names and places. Subsequently, for much of my high school and college years, I thought I just wasn’t a fan of Tolkien’s writing style. But then, I picked the series back up last summer for a re-read. And I fell in love with Middle Earth all over again.

What a master of his craft Tolkien was. I think it’s safe to say he was one of the single largest influences on the fantasy genre, and that his work impacted the literary sphere in an incalculable way. Tolkien created an entire language during the process of breathing life into Middle Earth, a feat that baffles me to this day. While his prose can be dense and his world is whitewashed, it’s impossible to not appreciate the scope of his creativity and ingenuity. Merry and Pippin will forever be some of my favorite literary characters, and I honestly hope I come back as a hobbit in my next life.

the fellowship of the ring
Artist Credit: haleyhss via deviantart
A Song of Ice and Fire

Similar to The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire is nothing short of a massive undertaking. World building is seldom seen to the extent that Martin utilized for this series. Between his family houses, generational history, and plotted maps, he has crafted a vastly impressive world over the past 15 years. I’ve discussed before that I feel as if the books and the show are best as companions to each other rather than standalones, and I’ve also discussed in detail my issues with some aspects of the series.  While I’m not sure if this book series is necessarily one of my true favorites, I’m including it here for one reason: continuity.

For four books, Martin blew me away with his skill at connecting storylines and bringing loose ends together. I can’t even wrap my head around how much work it must take to maintain a chronological stream of narrative told by a litany of different characters. I often wonder if he has an entire wall full of names and strings and time lines, or maybe a life size chess board with different characters on different squares. While I didn’t really enjoy the latest book, A Dance with Dragons, it was still thrilling to see how the big picture is starting to form. Pieces are falling into place in slow motion, and it’s incredible to think of the amount of foresight Martin must have had from the very beginning to be able to mesh so many stories together now.

game of thrones
Artist credit: jasinmartin via deviantart
Harry Potter

So here’s my deal with the Harry Potter universe: at this point, I think it’s become far too dragged out. The original seven-book series was pure undiluted magic. Bringing the schoolbooks to life was brilliant. Pottermore and Harry Potter World were strokes of genius. But it’s started to feel like overkill. I was one of the very few who enjoyed reading The Cursed Child, but even I can agree that it felt a bit like a money grab. And now, a whole new movie series revolving around the tiny Fantastic Beasts textbook feels rather gratuitous, especially with the addition of Ilvermorny and a whole new set of houses. (But to be fair, Newt Scamander is my precious angel baby who I love more than life.)

However, Harry Potter was (and remains) a spectacular feat and one of the most immersive examples of world building I have ever come across. The amount of creativity and ingenuity it takes to pull an entire world from the ether is flooring. Spells, potions, transfiguration, magical laws and occupations, transportation, wand lore, and creatures were materialized at our fingertips. Growing up in a hyper-conservative religious household, Harry Potter was strictly forbidden due to the magical themes. I didn’t have the opportunity to read the books until the summer before I left for college, and since then I have re-read the series every year. I think it speaks to the skill with which they were written that they are just as enjoyable to read at age 24 as they are at age 11. J.K. Rowling has one of the most creative and inspired minds of our time, and it’s nothing short of an honor to have such magical books in our lives.

harry potter lineup
Artist Credit: Loquacious Literature via tumblr

So what do you think? Have you read and enjoyed any of these series? What are some series I should try next? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Spotlight on Cinematography: Neon Lights

It’s funny how once you’ve noticed something, you start seeing it more and more frequently. I really loved the below frame from La La Land, featuring a focused pink neon glow over a club entry. After seeing that frame, I started to notice more frames featuring that dreamy pink glow. Here are some of my favorites!

san junipero
San Junipero (2016) || Gustav Danielsson (DP)
la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
guardians of the galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) ||  Ben Davis (DP)
charlie and the chocolate factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) || Philippe Rousselot (DP)
american hustle
American Hustle (2013) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
fear and loathing in las vegas
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) || Nicola Pecorini (DP)
moulin rouge
Moulin Rouge (2002) || Donald McAlpine (DP)