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 them all 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 (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.

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!


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.

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)

On Why I Hate War Movies

Inspired by: 12 Strong (trailer), The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow is the only female to have ever won an Oscar for Best Director. Since 1929, the first year the Oscars ran, only four women have even been nominated (Italian director Lina Wertmüller in 1977 for Seven Beauties, New Zealand director Jane Campion in 1994 for The Piano, Sofia Coppola in 2004 for Lost in Translation, and Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker) and from those four, Bigelow was the only one to have actually been awarded the Oscar. But here’s the thing: I am 100% certain that Bigelow would not have been awarded an Oscar if her film had been about literally anything other than war.

Oscar nominations for Best Picture often feature a war movie: Hacksaw Ridge in 2017, American Sniper in 2015, Zero Dark Thirty in 2013, The Hurt Locker in 2010, and so on and so forth. There were also the lesser war-centric nominations of Bridge of Spies in 2016, The Imitation Game in 2015, and War Horse in 2012. This year, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film Dunkirk is up for Best Picture and Nolan received a nomination for Best Director. The very first Oscars ceremony ever saw Wings win Best Picture, which goes to show that the academy has always adored and honored war movies. No less than sixteen war movies have won Oscar awards for Best Picture, and over five times that many have won Oscars in various other categories.

Now that some background is out of the way, prepare yourself for the incoming unpopular opinion.

My senior year of high school, my friend had me sit through Act of Valor. I felt appalled by what I was watching– I was sick to my stomach with the intensity and violence and fear of it all, bothered by the glorification and theatricality of the entire scenario, and guilty for feeling that way at all. Two years later, my college boyfriend tried to convince me to see American Sniper with him. By this point I was starting to come to terms with hating war movies, even if I couldn’t completely put my finger on why I hated them. It’s a complex thing to feel this way about this specific genre. I couldn’t really understand why I had so much trouble sitting through Saving Private Ryan, or why Black Hawk Down left a bitter taste in my mouth for weeks.

Experiencing negative feelings over the form of entertainment heralded as the pinnacle of patriotism wasn’t something I really knew how to handle, much less verbalize. I grew up with four brothers and a hyper-republican father so war movies were commonplace– Lawrence of Arabia was the very first movie I have memories of watching at home. By the time I started my second year of college, friends I had known for years were in all the branches of the military: Marco in the Marines, JP and Anthony in the Air Force, Carlo and Vivian in the Navy, Ryan and Lindsey in the Army. How do you express your opposition to war movies (and war in general) without coming off as being opposed to soldiers and veterans?

Over time, as I grew increasingly aware of current events and my surroundings, I stopped feeling guilty for disliking the genre. I realized that it isn’t a question of whether or not the depicted situations were difficult for American soldiers– of course they were (and are). It’s more a question of what other stories we’re leaving out in order to tell how hard it is on American soldiers.

The criticism here isn’t against soldiers. The criticism is against a military machine, glorified and propagated through the films we’ve been surrounded by for generations. The leadership of this industry has allowed misinformation and praise to be spread to the point that it’s painted in black and white: if you don’t support war you’re unpatriotic; to die for your country is the greatest honor imaginable. George Elerick says that “somehow patriotism, nationalism and identity have seemingly come together in such a way that most Americans don’t know how to separate themselves from these ideas. There is a religious zeal to American nationalism and its relationship to foreign policy.”

Recent war movies such as Zero Dark Thirty and the upcoming 12 Strong have a feel of moral justness. There is an overarching theme to them that the portrayed Americans made the right choices, were justified in what they did, and were even noble in their actions– despite being the invading forces in a foreign country. I can’t help but worry about the influence of the military industrial complex on American viewers. It is undeniably profitable to always have an enemy, which seems to lead to the dramatization of certain threats– even if that comes at the expense of peace. Elerick also states that “Consciously or not, these movies are teaching us that all behavior is justified under the guise of nationalism. […] Movies play a role in presenting back to us our own fears, wants, desires, dreams and nightmares. Whether they are given to us on our own is the question we should be exploring.”

In his think piece on Dunkirk, writer and filmmaker John Ott outlines it like this: “War is by its very nature a high-drama enterprise. The stakes are not only life and death, but the fate of nations. It is natural for filmmakers to be drawn to stories set during war.” These stories are packaged to be entertaining, and maybe that’s because we’re so eager to be entertained by them. But that’s not the whole story, and it never will be.

This is why films like the documentary The White Helmets are so imperative– because we need truthful accounts to show us the utter devastation and havoc that we help to wreak, to show us the real effects of scenarios that are glorified in movies like 12 Strong and American Sniper. To show that our involvement in foreign countries has led to mass destruction, hundreds of thousands of deaths, humanitarian crises, widespread diseases due to a lack of sanitation, and political radicalization that continues to inflict terror on innocents. To show us the other side of the story.

The White Helmets (2016) || Orlando von Einsiedel (Director)

This is why films like Eye in the Sky are important– because we need to be shown how much of the “boots on the ground” image we’re fed is just kids following orders from up the chain. To be shown how that chain of command leads to men in suits in their ivory towers, ordering things– oftentimes without truly seeing the whole picture.

eye in the sky alan rickman helen mirren
Eye in the Sky (2015) || Gavin Hood (Director)

This is why films like Atonement are so rare– because finally, we bear witness to the pain of war rather than the glorification of it. Because even in movies that attempt to show the reality of war, they are still painting soldiers as heroes worthy of endless idolization.

Atonement (2007) || Joe Wright (Director)

But herein lies the issue: none of those three films are American. The White Helmets has a British director and a British producer. Eye in the Sky features a South African director and a British screenplay writer. Atonement was directed by an Englishman. American war movies aren’t like the ones listed above. Not only are Americans not being told the whole story in our gun-touting, explosion-blasting, shoot ’em up films, but the films that do tell the whole story often don’t even make it across our radar. And there’s a reason why.

Remember at the beginning of this post when I was talking about the Oscars and mentioned Wings being the first ever Best Picture? It just so happens that it was made with hands-on support from the U.S. military. In fact, a lot of American war movies were. Medium’s must-read exclusive article, written by Insurge Intelligence, outlines the documents that revealed the full scope of the relationship between the Department of Defense and Hollywood.

“When we first looked at the relationship between politics, film and television at the turn of the 21st century, we accepted the consensus opinion that a small office at the Pentagon had, on request, assisted the production of around 200 movies throughout the history of modern media, with minimal input on the scripts. How ignorant we were. These documents for the first time demonstrate that the US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.”

-Tom Secker and Matthew Alford

From Top Gun (which was paired with Navy recruiting booths in cinema lobbies after showings and led to a reported 400% increase in Navy recruitment) to Transformers (aimed at a young audience and filled with thrilling action and civic duty turned splendid heroism), these movies are shoving pro-war messages down the throats of viewers. While arrangements like these mean that production costs go down for filmmakers, it also means that the Department of Defense gets to veto creative choices, scripts, and portrayals if they feel it doesn’t paint the military in a positive enough light.

“Our desire is that the military are portrayed as good people trying to do the right thing the right way,”

Philip Strub, Director of Entertainment Media at the US Department of Defense

Medium & Insurge explain: “When a writer or producer approaches the Pentagon and asks for access to military assets to help make their film, they have to submit their script to the entertainment liaison offices for vetting. Ultimately, the man with the final say is Phil Strub, the Department of Defense’s (DOD) chief Hollywood liaison. If there are characters, action or dialogue that the DOD don’t approve of then the film-maker has to make changes to accommodate the military’s demands. If they refuse then the Pentagon packs up its toys and goes home.” Having this much control over so many aspects of such popular films is nothing short of insidious and dangerous. By portraying themselves as sparkling poster children, the military is ensuring that the average movie-goer is seeing only the best parts of the war machine. They place themselves on a pedestal. Author Lawrence Suid coined the phrase “mutual exploitation” in regards to the relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. military. “The U.S. military gets incredible publicity and recruitment advantages, and the film industry gets equipment, locations and authenticity.” he explains.

“When Ridley Scott went to Morocco to film Blackhawk Down, the U.S. Army was so gung-ho to immortalize this bit of military derring-do history onto celluloid forever, that they not only supplied all the weapons and vehicles for the film, but they actually provided a real life Ranger regiment to train and advise the filmmakers for their film about an embattled Ranger regiment in the Battle of Mogadishu, in Somalia.”

-Thought Co’s exposé on military support of war films

So what’s the issue with this? Plenty of filmmakers strike deals with other institutions to allow themselves access to locations and props. Surely it’s up to the filmmakers themselves if they want to sacrifice the integrity of their script for the sake of production value, right? The problem is that the military is a governmental structure. The Department of Defense is a huge arm of the executive branch, and as such, should not be able to dictate what information is being spread about them. Some people believe that this falls under a breach of First Amendment rights, some believe that it’s entirely fair game. I believe that it’s bordering on propaganda.


Thought Co sums it up perfectly: “Pentagon support of filmmaking likely shaped the type of movies we got throughout the first half of the 20th century. When one considers the effect that cinema has had on shaping culture, it’s not a big leap to suggest that Pentagon subsidies for filmmakers might have very well helped shape parts of our American culture.”

And now we live in a culture that borders on a fiscal-military state, that sends children to invade foreign countries and kill younger children, that puts war on a pedestal and produces glamorized tales of these wars packaged as entertainment.

So whether it’s Act of Valor with its line about the worst part of growing old being the fact that people don’t find you dangerous, or American Sniper applying the analogy of soldiers being sheepdogs to protect the sheep from the wolves to the entire Iraq War, keep in mind that American war movies are not the whole story. What is the rest of the story? The rest of the story is that during some periods of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, more U.S. servicemen have killed themselves than have died in combat. The rest of the story is that in the first two years of U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East, the U.S. and coalition partners have conducted more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with nearly 11,000 of those strikes coming from U.S. aircraft and resulting in an estimated 4,000 civilian deaths. The rest of the story is that America’s military spending is astronomically higher than anyone else in the world, with the 2017 military budget clocking in at $611B, nearly $400B more than the second highest military budget in the world. The rest of the story is that the level of indifference to non-American lives on the part of the U.S. military and DOD is staggering: U.S. military forces were directly responsible for approximately 10 to 15 million deaths during the course of the Korean, Vietnam, and two Iraq Wars. There’s more to the story than explosions and heroism and happy endings tied in nice bows. There’s always more.

Spotlight on Cinematography: Reflections

In film, a reflection is rarely just a reflection. It says something about the character, about the moment, about what is being realized or learned or considered. Zack Sharf says: “A mirror shot is never just a mirror shot, and each image speaks volumes to the respective movie’s themes.” Duality, turmoil, hesitation, tranquility– reflections often allude to the fact that there is more going on beneath the surface than the character has admitted to. Below are some of my recent favorite reflections.

Atonement (2007) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
ex machina
Ex Machina (2014) || Rob Hardy (DP)
a cure for wellness 2
A Cure for Wellness (2016) || Bojan Bazelli (DP)
The End of the Fing World
The End of the F***ing World || Justin Brown (DP)
life of pi
Life of Pi (2012) || Claudio Miranda (DP)
Byzantium (2012) || Sean Bobbitt (DP)
chicago 2
Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)
moulin rouge
Moulin Rouge (2001) || Donald McAlpine (DP)

The Raven Cycle: Tarot and Translations

I’ve mentioned once or twice how much I love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle. But what I haven’t mentioned is that very few books in my lifetime have made me fangirl as hard as this series doesI just completed my third reading of the series in January, and somehow loved it even more this time around than the previous two turns. There are a few pieces of knowledge that have made the books even more enjoyable for me, so I wanted to compile them here on the off chance any other readers would benefit from them.


As a beginner reader of the tarot, seeing the references in the books was extremely enjoyable. I wanted to collect all of the references to specific cards from all four books and outline their meanings and significance, because I feel that it sheds a lot of light on the characters themselves, especially Adam. I did leave out a couple of instances where Adam pulls a card to assist him with Cabeswater, but aside from that, every card used in the books should be here! Most of the interpretations were pulled from The Biddy Tarot for her simple wording and thoroughness.

three of swords

Three of Swords || Interpretation: Painful separation, sorrow heartbreak, grief, rejection. The heart is symbolic of emotion and beauty, while the piercing swords reflect the ability of logic and power to harm the physical body and the emotions of a person. The sky is heavily clouded and rain pours down violently, representing a grim moment in time.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Calla was the first to speak. She flipped the three of swords around for the man to look at. On her card, the three swords stabbed into a dark, bleeding heart the color of her lips. “You’ve lost someone close to you.” (Book 1, page 122) || Appearance: Calla/Persephone’s reading for Greenmantle — “The card was the three of swords. It depicted a bloody heart stabbed with the aforementioned three swords. Gore dripped down the blades. Maura called it “the heartbreak card.” Blue needed no psychic perception to feel the threat oozing from it.” (Book 3, page 75)

five of pentacles

Five of Pentacles || Interpretation: Isolation, insecurity, worry, financial loss, poverty. The Five of Pentacles, like the fives in the other suits, portrays a situation of adversity. Both appear to be living in poverty and with little or no possessions. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Maura touched the edge of the five of pentacles. “Money’s a concern,” she noted. On her card, a man with a crutch limped through snow under a stained-glass window while a woman held a shawl beneath her chin.” (Book 1, page 123)

knight of pentaclesKnight of Pentacles || Interpretation: Efficiency, routine, conservatism, methodical. The Knight of Pentacles, like the Knights of the other suits, represents work, effort, and the responsibility that follows upon the dreams of the Page. His eyes reflect careful thought and consideration. The Knight is engaged in the often toilsome, routine efforts required to realize the dreams of his heart. He is building the foundations to support his dreams and his goals. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Persephone touched the first card she had drawn. The knight of pentacles. An armored man with cold eyes surveyed a field from the back of a horse, a coin in his hand. […] Persephone finally spoke. In her small, precise voice, she told the man, “You’re looking for something.” […] Calla’s card, beside Persephone’s, was also the knight of pentacles. It was unusual for two decks to agree exactly. Even stranger was to see that Maura’s card was also the knight of pentacles. Three cold-eyed knights surveyed the land before them.” (Book 1, page 124)

the towerThe Tower || Interpretation: Disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation. The Tower signifies darkness and destruction on a physical scale, as opposed to a spiritual scale. The Tower itself represents ambitions built on false premises. The lightning bolt breaks down existing forms in order to make room for new ones. It represents a sudden, momentary glimpse of truth, a flash of inspiration that breaks down structures of ignorance and false reasoning.|| Appearance: triple reading for Whelk — “Her attention moved from the Tower, which meant his life was about to change dramatically” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam —  “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card, where men fell from a burning tower (Book 2, page 357) || Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “All of the women had turned over five different versions of the Tower. Calla’s version of the Tower perhaps best depicted the card’s meaning: A castle labelled STABILITY was in the process of being struck by lightning, burning down, and being attacked by what looked like garter snakes. A woman in a window was experiencing the full effects of the lightning bolt. At the top of the tower, a man had been thrown from the ramparts – or possibly he had jumped. In any case, he was on fire as well, and a snake flew after him. “So we’re all going to die unless we do something,” Calla said.” (Book 4, page 10)

page of cups
Traditional Rider-Waite card

Page of Cups || Interpretation: A messenger, creative beginnings, synchronicity. The Page of Cups, like the Pages in all the suits, represents some sort of beginning or renewal. The Page of Cups indicates the surprising and unexpected nature of inspiration that comes to us from the realm of the unconscious and the spirit. || Appearance: triple reading for Whelk where we find out this card represents Blue — “the last card in the reading, the page of cups. Blue glanced at her frowning mother. It wasn’t that the page of cups was a negative card; in fact, it was the card Maura always said she thought represented Blue when she was doing a reading for herself. You’re the page of cups, Maura had told her once. Look at all that potential she holds in that cup. Look, she even looks like you. And there was not just one page of cups in this reading. Like the knight of pentacles, it was tripled. Three young people holding a cup of full of potential, all wearing Blue’s face.” (Book 1, page 124) || Appearance: twice in the one-off for Gansey — “As she flipped it over, she let out a little helpless laugh. The page of cups looked back at Blue with her own face. It felt like someone

page of cups blue
A possible Blue look-alike

was laughing at her, but she had no one to blame for the selection of the card but herself. When Maura saw it, her voice went still and remote. “Not that one. Make him choose another.” Blue replaced the card and shuffled the deck with less drama than before. When she offered the cards to him, Gansey turned his face away like he was pulling a raffle winner. His fingers grazed the edges of the cards, contemplative. He selected one, then flipped it over to show the room. It was the page of cups.” (Book 1, page 150)|| Appearance: single card for Blue by Maura — Maura gave Blue’s hand an affectionate shake and flipped over a card at random. “Ah, there you are.” It was the page of cups, the card Maura always said reminded her of Blue. In this deck, the art was of a fresh-faced young person holding a jewel-studded goblet. The suite of cups represented relationships — love and friendship — and the page stood for new and budding possibilities. (Book 2, page 10)|| Appearance: hinted at in whole-life reading by whole group — “Does this mean she’s going to leave?” Orla asked, tapping on another card and referring to a different she. “Probably,” Maura sighed. (Book 4, page 13)

two of swordsTwo of Swords || Interpretation: Indecision, choices, truce, stalemate, blocked emotions.  The blindfold shows that the woman in this card is confused about her situation and that she can see neither the problem nor the solution clearly. The swords she holds are perfectly balanced, showing a balanced and stable mind, and that both sides of the situation need to be addressed. The crossed swords are also symbolic of the need for a truce and the Suit of Swords indicates that the problem at hand needs to be resolved using logic and intellect. The waxing moon to the right of the woman shows a new beginning arising out of the solutions found for this problem.|| Appearance: one-off for Adam — “Selecting a card, Adam presented it to Maura. “Two of swords,” she said. “You’re avoiding a hard choice. Acting by not acting. You’re ambitious, but you feel like someone’s asking something of you you’re not willing to give. Asking you to compromise your principles. Someone close to you, I think. Your father?” “Brother, I think,” Persephone said. “Do you want to ask a question?” Maura asked. Adam considered. “What’s the right choice?” Maura and Persephone conferred. Maura replied, “There isn’t a right one. Just one you can live with. There might be a third option that will suit you better, but right now, you’re not seeing it because you’re so involved with the other two. I’d guess from what I’m seeing that any other path would have to do with you going outside those other two options and making your own option.” (Book 1, page 145)

deathDeath || Interpretation: Endings, beginnings, change, transformation, transition. The armour he is wearing indicates that he is invincible and unconquerable. Indeed, no-one has yet triumphed over death. The horse that Death rides is white, the colour of purity. Death is therefore the ultimate purifier. All things are reborn fresh, new and pure. || Appearance: one-off for Gansey — “Flippantly, Gansey snagged another card, clearly finished with this exercise. With flourish, he turned the card over and slapped it on the table. Blue swallowed. Maura said, “That’s your card.” On the card on the table was a black knight astride a white horse. The knight’s helmet was lifted so that it was obvious that his face was a bare skull dominated by eyeless sockets. The sun set beyond him, and below his horse’s hooves lay a corpse. […] “I thought that psychics didn’t predict death,” Adam said quietly. “I read that the Death card was only symbolic.” (Book 1, page 151) || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)

ten of swordsTen of Swords || Interpretation: Defeat, crisis, betrayal, endings, loss. Despite the ominous images, there are positive aspects to this card. The sea before which the body lies is still and calm and the sun is rising in the distance beyond the mountains, indicating that the darkness will soon be dispelled. Thus, each new beginning must come from an end, and with every defeat are sown the seeds of future victory.|| Appearance: not within a reading but for Mr. Gray’s situation — He leaned to pick up one she had missed. “This fellow looks unhappy,” he observed. The art depicted a man stuck with ten swords. The victim lay on his face, as most people did after being stuck with ten swords. […] “Good news for him is that the tens represent the end of a cycle. This card represents the absolute worst it’ll get.” (Book 2, page 110) || “The Gray Man’s hand hung down and Maura stroked it. “This is the ten of swords,” he guessed. Maura kissed the back of his hand. “You’re going to have to be brave.” The Gray Man said, “I’m always brave.” She said, “Braver than that.” (Book 2, page 334)

king of swordsKing of Swords || Interpretation: Clear thinking, intellectual power, authority, truth. On his left Saturn finger is a ring, symbolic of power and taking his responsibilities seriously. The King wears a blue tunic, symbolic of a desire for spiritual understanding, and a purple cape, symbolic of compassion combined with intellect. The sky is relatively clear with a few clouds, representing general mental clarity. The trees in the background appear motionless and reflect the stern judgement of the King. || Appearance: Persephone’s interpretation for Mr. Gray — Persephone’s quiet voice cut through Maura’s and Calla’s increasingly loud competition. “The king of swords.” Everyone turned to look at Persephone […] The Gray Man’s hand hovered obediently over the deck. “Top or bottom?” Persephone blinked. “Sixteen cards from the top, I believe.” […] The Gray Man carefully counted the cards, double-checked his count, and then turned over the sixteenth card for the others to see. The king of swords, master of his own emotions, master of his own intellect, master of reason, gazed out at them, expression inscrutable. “That’s Mr. Gray’s card,” Persephone said. The Gray Man turned the card one way and another, as if it would reveal its secrets to him. “I don’t know much about tarot. Is it a terrible card?” “No card is a terrible card,” Maura said. […] “And the interpretation can be very different at each reading. But. . . the king of swords is a powerful card. He’s strong, but impartial— cold. He is very, very good about making decisions based upon facts instead of emotion. No, it’s not a terrible card.” (Book 2, page 112)

the hanged manThe Hanged Man || Interpretation: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you. || Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. Persephone pursed her lips. Adam’s eyes drifted from the first card […] to the second, where a man hung upside down from a tree. (Book 2, page 357)

nine of swordsNine of Swords || Interpretation: Depression, nightmares, intense anxiety, despair. She appears to have just woken up from a bad nightmare, and is obviously upset, fearful and anxious following her dream. Nine swords hang on the wall behind her and the base of the bed is decorated with a carving of a duel in which one person is being defeated by another.|| Appearance: Persephone’s reading for Adam — “The Tower. The Hanged Man. Nine of swords. […] That third card, that utter despair. He couldn’t take his gaze from it. Adam said, “It looks like he’s woken from a nightmare.” (Book 2, page 357)

the magicianThe Magician || Interpretation: Power, skill, concentration, action, resourcefulness. The Magician is the bridge between the world of the spirit and the world of humanity. His magical table holds all four suits of the Tarot, each of which represents one of the four primordial elements of the alchemists – earth, air, fire and water. These symbolise the appropriate use of mind, heart, body and soul in the process of manifestation. || Appearance: Adam’s draw for himself — “I’m pulling another card.” […] Adam cut the deck, laid his hand on each stack. He took the card that felt warmer. Flipping it, he placed the card beside the nine of swords. A robed figure stood before a coin, a goblet, a sword, a wand — all of the symbols of all the tarot suits. An infinity symbol floated above his head; one arm was lifted in a posture of power. Yes, thought Adam. Understanding prickled and then evaded him. He read the words at the bottom of the card. The Magician.” (Book 2, page 357) 

three of wands

Three of Wands || Interpretation: Preparation, foresight, enterprise, expansion. From this height, he can see all that lies ahead and is aware of the impending challenges and opportunities. The three Wands surrounding him are firmly planted in the ground, reflecting his commitment to his future plans.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. Three of wands: build a bridge across the stream with these three stones.” (Book 2, page 396)

seven of swords

Seven of Swords || Interpretation: Betrayal, deception, getting away with something, stealth. The Seven of Swords shows a man sneaking away from a military camp with a bundle of five swords in his arms. Two other swords remain planted in the ground just behind him. His expression exhibits a sense of over-confidence and mocking, as though he felt absolutely sure of his success of getting away with the theft. However, in the distance a small group of soldiers can be seen to the left of the thief, and one of them holds a sword upraised.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone helped him see what the cards were trying to say. […] Seven of swords: Just dig out the biggest of the stones and put it in the tri-colored car.” (Book 2, page 396)

the devil

The Devil || Interpretation: Bondage, addiction, sexuality, materialism. The goat symbolizes the scapegoat, the person or thing upon which people project the inferior side of themselves in order to feel better about themselves. Thus the Devil is the scapegoat we blame for our troubles in life. The Devil has an almost hypnotic stare, bringing those who come near him within his power. At the foot of the Devil stands a man and a woman, both naked and chained to the podium on which the Devil sits. They appear to be held here, against their will, but only closer observation, the chains around their necks are loose and could be easily removed. This symbolises that bondage to the Devil is ultimately a voluntary matter which consciousness can release. The man and woman wear tiny horns like those of the Satyr – they are becoming more and more like the devil the longer they stay here. The dark and doorless cave implies that the Devil dwells in the most inaccessible realm of the unconscious and only crisis can break through the walls.|| Appearance: Adam/Persephone reading for fixing Cabeswater — “Persephone turned over a card. The Devil. All of a sudden, Adam was quite certain of why they were hurrying.” (Book 2, page 398)|| Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126) || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Ronan — “Ronan turned his head sideways to read the cards. Something with flames, something with a sword. The Devil.” (Book 4, page 141)

the empressThe Empress || Interpretation: Fertility, femininity, beauty, nature, abundance. The Empress is the archetypal Earth Mother. The Empress is surrounded by a beautiful, lush forest with a stream running through it, demonstrating the Empress’s deep emotional connection with Mother Earth and life. She draws her sense of peace from the trees and the water and is rejuvenated by the energy of nature. || Appearance: Adam’s reading for fixing Cabeswater — “He slapped down three cards on the concrete floor. Death, the Empress, the Devil. […] Three sleepers, yes, yes, he knew that.” (Book 3, page 126)

knight of wandsKnight of Wands || Interpretation: Energy, passion, lust, action, adventure, impulsiveness. The Knight of Wands is seen riding upon his horse, which rears up in the intensity of the Knight’s quest for success. The Knight’s face bears the determination of one bound to succeed. || Appearance: Adam’s scrying for Cabeswater, noticed by Blue — “He placed a random card on the warm hood. His unfocused eyes skipped over the image — a black-smudged knight on horseback carrying a vine-wrapped staff — and began to remake it into something wordless and dreamy. Sight was replaced with sensation. A vertiginous feeling of travel, climbing, rightness. He covered the image with his hand until he got his eyes back, and then he put the card away. “Knight of wands?” Blue asked him.” (Book 3, page 305)

queen of swordsQueen of Swords || Interpretation: Quick thinker, organised, perceptive, independent. The Queen of Swords sits high on her throne with a stern look on her face indicating that no-one can fool her. In her right hand, she comfortably holds a sword pointed to the sky, and her left hand extends as if she has something to offer to others. Behind her is a spring sky, different from the winter settings on most other Swords cards, and this has an emergence and growth quality to it. The sky is clear, representing her clarity of mind as she considers matters of the intellect.|| Appearance: whole-life reading by whole group — “”Does this mean she’s still alive?” Maura asked, tapping on a card in one of the branches – the Queen of Swords. “Probably,” Calla grunted.” (Book 4, page 13) || Note: I’ve seen people write in their reviews that they thought this was referring to Persephone and were consequentially disappointed when she didn’t return. However, because the card is the Queen of Swords, it is undoubtedly a reference to either Piper or Neeve.

Untranslated Latin

Throughout my third reading, I also noticed that there are several instances of intentionally untranslated Latin throughout the four books. I jotted down the translations in the margins of my hard copies and figured that I would share my findings for anyone else who might be interested in doing the same! Please note that I do not speak any Latin whatsoever, so these translations were pulled off Google. As such, I cannot attest to the correctness of the grammar.

Book 1, page 115: “You know what they say about men with large bags,” Ronan replied. “Ostendes tuum et ostendam meus?” = I’ll show you mine if you show me yours

Book 2, page 121: “In indiget homo battery,” muttered Ronan. = a man needs a battery -or- a similar battery is needed

Book 2, page 128: “Occidet eum!” begged Orphan Girl, clinging to Ronan’s leg.  […] The girl sobbed out, “Ronan, imploro te!” || Occidet eum = kill || Ronan, imploro te = Ronan, kill him

Book 2, page 230: “Adam was in the dream, too; he traced the tangled pattern of the ink with his finger. He said, “Scio quid hoc est.” As he traced it farther and farther down on the bare skin of Ronan’s back, Ronan himself disappeared entirely, and the tattoo got smaller and smaller. It was a Celtic knot the size of a wafer, and then Adam, who had become Kavinsky, said, “Scio quid estis vos.” He put the tattoo in his mouth and swallowed it.” || Scio quid hoc est = I know what that is || Scio quid estis vos = I know what you are

Book 4, page 35: “Periculosum,” she warned. “Suscitat.” = peril awakens

Book 4, page 74: “Operae pretium est,” Orphan Girl said. = it is worthwhile 

Book 4, page 221: “Miseria fortes viros, Ronan,” Adam said. = Fire tests gold; adversity tests strong men

Book 4, page 284: Adam studied the tattoo that covered Ronan’s back: all the sharp edges that hooked wondrously and fearfully into each other. “Unguibus et rostro,” Adam said. = claws and beaks –or- with beak and talon, or tooth and nail.*

Book 4, page 394: Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit,” Ronan said into Adam’s hearing ear = and perhaps one day it will please us to remember these things

*So this line shows up twice in the fourth book, and many readers view it as a phrase of endearment between Ronan and Adam. The two translations are similar in wording, but one carries infinitely more weight. “Claws and beaks” could simply be a way for the boys to refer to themselves, an endearing line that has meaning to them within the scope of their interactions. However, “with beak and talon, or tooth and nail” is far more loaded. We’re all familiar with the phrase “fighting tooth and nail” and when this line shows up for the second time at the end of the book, Ronan is indisputably fighting with all he has. This interpretation implies that Ronan (and Adam) will always fight for what they have and what they love.

Spotlight on Cinematography: Dark, Dark my Light

Darkness and stark light in movies help to create negative space, which functions to draw the eye to certain focal points and heighten drama. Sometimes, negative space also creates a feel of tension by emphasizing the solitary nature of an object or highlighting the lack of surroundings. In scenes like the one from Chicago, seen directly below, the shadowy negative spaces makes the glitz and glamour of the scene really stand out. The frame from Moonlight, however, uses shadows and negative space to emphasize the space between the two boys, thereby increasing the tension of the moment. Extreme light and extreme dark are both useful visual tools for filmmakers.

Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)
moulin rouge
Moulin Rouge! (2001) || Donald McAlpine (DP)
la la land
La La Land (2016) || Linus Sandgren (DP)
fight club
Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)
moonlight 2
Moonlight (2016) || James Laxton (DP)
Hero (2002) || Christopher Doyle (DP)
Stoker (2013) || Chung-hoon Chung (DP)
snow white and the huntsman
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) || Greig Fraser (DP)
we need to talk about kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
neon demon
The Neon Demon (2016) || Natasha Braier (DP)
mr nobody
Mr. Nobody (2009) || Christophe Beaucarne (DP)
The Matrix (1999) || Bill Pope (DP)


On Adaptions

Prompted by: Annihilation

Book-to-film adaptions are difficult. Some are certainly more fraught with challenges than others, but it is a huge hurdle to do a good book justice. I think that people largely underestimate the sheer volume of adaptions that are out. Most people know that movies like The Notebook, The DaVinci Code, and The Shining are based on popular books. Fewer people (but still a lot) are aware that movies such as The Godfather and Jurassic Park are also adaptions of books. But when it comes to movies like Forrest Gump and even Mean Girls, most people have no idea that they were based on books at all. High Fidelity, Requiem for a Dream, The Dressmaker, Breakfast at Tiffany’s… all books. The number of times I’ve been watching credits and seen the phrase “based on the book by _______” continues to blow me away.

These days, it seems like any book that makes it big gets turned into a movie. From Gone Girl to The Girl on the Train, popular books are being snatched up for movie deals left and right– not to mention books that came out half a century ago (I’m looking at you, A Wrinkle in Time). Half of me is proud of these authors, proud that they crafted a story so deeply enjoyable that they have been able to make a small fortune off of them and transition them to a new medium. But the other half of me squirms with discomfort over the fact that Hollywood execs are going for so few original scripts. Studios like A24 have been doing an increasingly impeccable job of giving inventive and creative scripts a chance, which makes it exciting instead of uncertain when they do spring for adaptions such as Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk at Girls at Parties. Overall though, I tend to avoid adaptions in theaters, especially when they’re on stylistic novels like Room or The Song of Achilles (more on that below).  But without further ado, here’s some of my favorite examples of successful adaptions.

Fight Club

This is, hands down, the best book-to-film transition I have ever seen. The casting was sublime, the pacing was perfection– especially given that I felt it wasn’t ideal in the novel, and the subliminal messages throughout the movie help to recreate and heighten the same sense of disease that the book draws upon. There are some aspects of the book, such as the “I am Jack’s ________” lines and the anti-consumerism themes, that manage to have more impact in the movie, possibly due to having such a visual connection with the narrator. I also feel that the storyline as a whole benefited from the visceral images in the film. My only qualm with Fight Club— both the book and the movie–  is that is has the same effect on certain male groups that Rick and Morty does. Rather than realizing that the stories are a commentary on what is wrong with society, some people place characters like Rick Sanchez and Tyler Durden on a pedestal.

fight club


Based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, the film adaption was released in 2015 and was my favorite film of the year. The strength of the adaption is that it absolutely nails the calmness of the book. Both mediums have a soothing cadence to them, a quiet sort of chemistry that nestles inside your chest. The subtlety of the romance itself is exquisite in the film and pays so much respect to the era that the book was written in. In 1952, coming out as a gay woman would have been nigh on catastrophic. This lends an aura of secrecy and subtlety to every single interaction between the two women, something that the movie displays flawlessly. Lingering glances and fleeting eye contact, swollen silences and unassuming lunches, casual comments and small talk– these are things that the vast majority of heterosexual viewers didn’t pick up on as romantic, whereas queer viewers are entirely too familiar with the language. In fact, some critics complained that the film was “cold” and detached. In an age inundated with overt innuendos and transparency, it can be difficult to pick up on the undercurrent of energy and longing that runs through Carol. This is certainly one of the best adaptions I’ve ever seen, and one that breaks my heart every time I watch it.


Lord of the Rings

The primary issue that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series faced when it came time for adaption was time constraints. The book trilogy was incredibly complex and features so much material that plot points like Tom Bombadil and The Sacking of The Shire would have only felt shoehorned if they had been included in the movie adaptions, so it is understandable why they were left out. Speaking of time, however, I do feel that the passage of time was not properly conveyed in the movies. Seventeen years pass between Bilbo’s birthday party and Frodo’s departure from The Shire and the quest itself takes over a year to complete. Aside from that, there are really only two things I take issue with: Frodo telling Sam to go home on the stairs to Cirith Ungol, and Aragorn’s near death when he falls over the cliff. While Legolas and Gimli’s on-screen friendship is lacking in comparison to the books, I think the majority of the characterization was spot-on, especially that of Merry and Pippin and Gandalf. Don’t even get me started on Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, but I felt that he succeeded in many ways to bring the scope and scale of such a beloved world to the big screen.

fellowship of the ring

Harry Potter

Again, the main issue with adapting an entire book series is the time constraints. I am rather of the belief that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would have vastly benefited from being made into a TV series rather than a movies series, but of course that would have come with it’s own full set of challenges. Things like Peeves the Poltergeist, Neville’s full background, S.P.E.W., and Dudley’s “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” line are all things would have enriched the movies… but also would have added noticeable run time to the films. The movies are not without their flaws. From the casting choices for Albus Dumbledore to destroying the Elder Wand, I think the movies left much to be desired. However, what made the series such a huge success (and why I’m including it on this list) was the fact that it was accessible for both readers of the books and new fans. The movies feature a slew of small hat tips to the books, which enriched the viewing for everyone who had been following along for years, while still making it entirely accessible for those who had never opened one of the books. The undertaking of bringing such a layered and detailed story to life was monumental, and I think that the four directors did a surprisingly good job of illustrating the aspects of the wizarding world that many readers held near and dear to their hearts.

goblet of fire

Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire

I’ve talked about my issues with this show in a previous post, but I didn’t discuss how much I feel that the books and the show should be required companions for each other. I watched the first four seasons of the show a couple of years back, but only picked up the books this past fall. To say that Martin’s undertaking is ambitious is the understatement of the decade. His endless litany of characters, names, historical events, and houses often feels more like a religious tome than a fantasy novel. I’m not ashamed to say that I likely would not have even made it through the first book if I hadn’t already watched some of the show. Having a familiarity with the main characters (and a lot of the secondary ones) made the story far more enjoyable and immersive. With that being said, the show is severely lacking in many aspects. There are a number of plot points and character subtleties that didn’t make it on screen but do so much to flesh out the world and the people. After finishing the books, I re-watched the first three seasons and had very mixed feelings. There are a lot of things about the show that I simply can’t justify. Merely on a lit nerd level, it’s really difficult to watch all the unnecessary ways in which the show deviates from the books. But on a deeper level, the amount of violence and sexism that repeatedly takes place on screen is something I struggle to watch, for various reasons. I don’t have any intentions of continuing the show, but I can’t recommend the books enough to anyone who is a regular watcher.

a song of fire and ice

Room & Virgin Suicides

I almost didn’t include this section, as I haven’t seen either of these movies. However, both films were nominated for various awards and were clearly well-executed. So why won’t I watch them? As I’ve mentioned before, I’m absolutely over the moon for prose that reads like poetry. The Song of Achilles always leaves me breathless and/or in tears for that very reason, as does Valente’s Fairyland series. While poetic prose is my favorite stylistic trait when it comes to novels, I’m also a huge fan of inventive narrators in general, such as Jack in Room. The Virgin Suicides has been one of my favorite books for close to five years, largely because of it’s blend of unique narrative and beautiful prose. I find myself deeply attached and endlessly in awe of these novels almost entirely due to their writing style. Of course the characters and the settings are wonderful as well, but I only connect to them in the first place because of how they were written. It seems to me that regardless of how well filmed or perfectly cast these movies may be, they will still be unable to properly capture the writing style that made me fall in love with them in the first place. I hate to think that I will watch these movies and forever associate the film choices with the novels. I would rather have the books remain flawless for me than try and mix the two mediums.

So what do you think? Did you enjoy these adaptions? Leave a comment below with your favorite page-to-screen adaption! 

Spotlight on Cinematography: Sparks Fly

Now that my first round of color-centric cinematography posts is wrapped up, I wanted to pause and explore a couple of other themes. These seven frames all feature fireworks and sparks as a focal point. It’s exciting to see how such a variety of movies uses a similar item in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.

Disclaimer: Thus far, I have only posted frames from films I’ve watched and that is a habit I have every intention of sticking to. However, the below frame from The Theory of Everything popped up on my dash and was such a perfect addition that I had to include it. This will be the very rare exception of including a frame that wasn’t hand-picked after a viewing.

the man who cried
The Man Who Cried (2000) || Sacha Vierny
theory of everything
The Theory of Everything (2014) || Benoit Delhomme (DP)
wonder woman 2
Wonder Woman (2017) || Matthew Jensen
The Great Gatsby (2013) || Simon Duggan (DP)
order of the phoeniz
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) || Slawomir Idziak (DP)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)(Screengrab)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) || Andrew Lesnie (DP)
v for vendatta
V for Vendetta (2005) || Adrian Biddle (DP)

On Simple Stories Well Told

I watched a lot of films in 2017, and I found myself with a growing affection for simple stories well told. In today’s Hollywood, it feels like most blockbusters are all explosions and drama and excess. They’re full of fillers and, as director Eric Swiz puts it, they end up feeling like “movie-flavored” productions rather than real movies. There seems to be less and less emphasis on proper characterization and meandering stories. Instead, more and more emphasis is being placed on catching the attention of viewers, however fleeting that attention may be. Movies like Batman vs Superman and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets feel like they were made to be trailers, not full stories. The goal is to get viewers to spend money on a ticket, not necessarily to make a movie that they will connect with. This makes it all the more surprising (and reassuring) when films like Moonlight make it to the forefront of the public sphere.

As I’ve grown more fond of these simple stories, I’ve noticed a common thread running through their reviews: they’re boring and slow and their endings are unsatisfying. To which I have only this to say: sometimes, so is life.


I wanted to start with an example that a lot of readers might have seen. This 2014 piece directed by Richard Linklater is a daunting 2 hours and 45 minutes, something that had me putting off a viewing until very recently. Nominated for a handful of Oscars and Golden Globes (and winning over 170 awards) this is nothing short of a meandering masterpiece. Within five minutes of this movie starting, I was utterly immersed. I didn’t look at my phone or eat a snack or do anything else except watch the film. Following the normal life of one normal boy, this story winds through 12 years of life, marking both pivotal points and unassuming events in his childhood. On the surface, it almost feels like nothing much happens. There are no deaths or spectacles or dramatic reunions, and you often feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. But there are relationships and conversations and evolution and this is what fleshes out a beautiful and subtle tale of growth. It is a quiet story, one that illustrates how much we change through the years and how our goals and dreams often change with us. It’s difficult to explain the magic of this movie and how deeply it connects with you as you’re watching it, but if you haven’t already seen it, I recommend it highly.

Boyhood 2014) || Richard Linklater (Director)
Drinking Buddies

Featuring Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, and Jake Johnson, this might very well be one of my favorite viewings from 2017. It follows the stories of two intertwined couples over a short period of time and the impact they have on each other. It’s a romance film, but it’s not like the romance films that end up on the big screen. There isn’t a dramatic ending, there isn’t a knock-down drag-out fight, and there isn’t a cheesy soundtrack playing when people kiss. It’s quiet and emotional and believable, and it ends like it started: without fanfare or debacle. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoiling the story, but it’s a very candid look at interactions and the human experience, and one that I can’t recommend enough. Bonus: it’s currently on Netflix!

drinking buddies
Drinking Buddies (2013) || Joe Swanberg (Director)
Spa Night

This 2016 Korean film is brilliant in a very quiet way. The use of negative space throughout the film heightens the overall mood by not using a soundtrack, completely eliminating physical touch, and even minimizing the main character’s self-expression almost to the point of removing it entirely. I think the strength of this movie comes from it’s day-to-day moments and how simple tasks and experiences can be both uplifting and heartbreaking. The movie ends with another average action in another average day, highlighting that in real life, many stories don’t have a happy ending or a neat resolution. This movie is so grounded in the challenges of day-to-day life that it is virtually impossible not to connect with it on one level or another.

spa night
Spa Night (2016) || Andrew Ahn (Director)
7 Chinese Brothers

Following the escapades of a struggling 20-something, played by Jason Schwartzman, this 2015 indie comedy was significantly more fun than I was expecting. A lot of reviewers were flustered over the fact that the film never referenced the title, but not only does the exact phrase show up, but where it shows up is a huge metaphor as to what this movie is all about. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll catch it. An excerpt from my Netflix review is as follows: “Not all films have to feature a grand adventure or a huge plot twist to be enjoyable. This may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a really enjoyable character study. A simple story well told, in many ways.” Bonus: the dog actor is Jason Schwartzman’s real-life dog!

7 chinese brothers
7 Chinese Brothers (2015) || Bob Byington (Director)
Imperial Dreams

This 2014 film starring John Boyega is heartbreaking to the nth degree. We watch a young man, just released from prison, desperately trying to make a safe and legal life for his son. The film doesn’t sugarcoat anything and demonstrates the crippling nature of a system built to work against you. There is a quiet grittiness and honesty to this story that crawls into your chest and wraps around your heart. You want so desperately for the main character to succeed at such a simple wish: to take care of his son. Your heart breaks each time another challenge is presented and he is made to feel that it is his own shortcomings that are stifling him. The bittersweet nature of the entire story feels hopeless in some places and awe-inspiring in others, but it is never anything less than honest.

imperial dreams
Imperial Dreams (2014) || Malik Vitthal (Director)
My Life as a Zucchini

This 2016 French stop-motion film has a run time of one hour and six minutes– but I was misty-eyed long before that point. This story follows the life of a little boy called Zucchini who ends up at a French orphanage. I have long been of the belief that animated films are not automatically children’s films, and this is an exquisite example of that. Dealing with profound themes in a simple way, there’s a lot that can be found between the lines. In addition, the fact that it doesn’t make any attempts to fill up the run time is certainly one of its strong points. It’s a peaceful story about a tumultuous time, and is handled with a kind of delicacy that is very rarely seen. It is tender without being overly sentimental, and honest without being explicitly open. It was one of my favorite viewings of 2017 and I would be lying if I said I don’t think it deserved the Oscar over Zootopia.

my life as a zucchini
My Life as a Zucchini (2016) || Claude Barras (Director)

Spotlight on Cinematography: Shades of Red

I’ve talked about the color red before, in regards to Tarantino and Anderson‘s use of it to drive home drama and importance. It’s an intense color that is visceral in a way no other color is. I’ve arranged these frames in order of presence/intensity, but I think all of them utilize the various shades in an amazing way. Enjoy!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) || Gary Trousdale (Director)
chicago 2
Chicago (2002) || Dion Beebe (DP)
star trek into darkness
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) || Dan Mindel (DP)
Byzantium (2012) || Sean Bobbitt (DP)
american werewolf in london
An American Werewolf in London (1981) || Robert Paynter (DP)
we need to talk about kevin
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) || Seamus McGarvey (DP)
mr nobody
Mr. Nobody (2009) || Christophe Beaucarne (DP)

On Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Prompted by: The Secret History & The Raven Boys

I’m sure most of us are familiar with manic pixie dream girls by now, but just in case, here’s a quick overview: Coined by critic Nathan Rabin in reference to Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” She is unavoidably quirky, overtly charming (often because of her quirkiness, sometimes through her aloofness), and is, 99 times out of 100, the love interest of the male protagonist.

“A type of female character depicted as vivacious and appealingly quirky, whose main purpose within the narrative is to inspire a greater appreciation for life in a male protagonist.”

-Oxford Dictionaries’ recently canonized definition of the MPDG

If you’re struggling to think of an example, you can pretty much insert Zooey Deschanel’s on-screen essence in just about anything she’s ever been in. The problem that this trope creates is twofold: it typecasts certain actors, and more importantly, it reduces female roles down to one-dimensional objects of infatuation.

“When you get sent scripts and you see you’re always playing someone’s girlfriend when you want to be the central role, it’s so depressing.”

-Zooey Deschanel in regards to being tired of being cast as a MPDG


The holy trifecta of MPDGs in film is Claire in Elizabethtown, Summer in 500 Days of Summer, and Sam in Garden State. However, the presence of the manic pixie dream girl has thoroughly infiltrated the lit world. In fact, they’ve been around for much longer than the term has been. From Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower to Camilla in The Secret History, these manically dreamy girls pop up like daises (coincidentally, that’s a pretty popular name for the MPDG) in novels both old and new. Usually, the MPDG takes a backseat to our main (male) character. In The Secret History, this means she talks significantly less than any of the other (male) characters. In Looking for Alaska, this means she crashes her car and dies– which propels the main (male) character into his self-realization phase. Her personality is filtered through the rose-colored glasses of our male protag, and she usually ends up vanishing sometime before the third act so our brave boy can ~discover himself~. If you haven’t ever come across an MPDG in literature, you can pick up virtually any novel by Haruki Murakami or John Green to find one.

Here’s the thing about manic pixie dream girls: they really can seem quite delightful. They’re undeniably enjoyable to read, at least when they’re first introduced, because it takes a certain amount of whimsy and creativity to write them. They have unique names and quirky personality traits and most of the time they have dyed hair and green eyes. They’re vibrant and electric and people gravitate towards them. So why are they problematic? As I mentioned earlier, the big issue is that it reduces a unique female character to nothing more than a trope, which is problematic all on its own. But one of the reasons this is so frustrating is because it’s such an easy fix.

Maggie Stiefvater is the author of The Raven Cycle, a four-book series following the adventure of four prep school boys and their one female friend, Blue. Sounds like trouble already, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Except it’s not. Stiefvater is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, an incredibly talented writer. She makes paragraphs feel like listening to your favorite song on the radio while you’re cruising at night with the windows down. She weaves stories that drip in nostalgia and make your heart ache with the beauty of it all. And the vehicle that carries all of that emotion is her characterization. Every single character is resplendently unique and unavoidably important. Every single one has a part to play within their own character arc as well as in the grand scheme of things. But if it weren’t for that, all of them could easily feel like manic pixie dream girls (and boys). Blue only eats yogurt and wears crochet leggings in the summer. Gansey chews mint leaves and bought a warehouse to convert into a living space. Ronan is a high schooler with elaborate tattoos and a secret love for farming. Adam has freckles and a shy voice and can fix just about anything wrong with a car. There’s a family of psychics living under one roof, a handsome hitman with a penchant for 70’s culture, a Bulgarian who makes Molotov cocktails and loves street racing, and a 7 foot tall giant who lives in a house full of cats. Each character is quirky in one way or another, and could easily be one-dimensional without flaws or struggles or arcs. But Stiefvater makes sure that isn’t the case. She makes sure they all function both as cohesive groups and as individual characters. They work within their romantic storylines and outside of them as well. They are brave and scared and lonely and hopeful. They have secrets and share their lives with each other and throw temper tantrums from time to time. They are whole characters with whole personalities and it’s impossible not to adore them. (artist credit here)

raven cycle 3
Artist: flockeinc via tumblr

(If you haven’t read anything by Maggie Stiefvater yet, you’re missing out. She’s a master of magic and beautiful prose and slow burn relationships.)

My creative writing professor in college told us that all characters should be like the yin-yang symbol: the darkest characters should still have a spot of light, and the brightest characters should still have a spot of dark. No one wants to read about a glossed-over girl who doesn’t have anything wrong with her, just like no one wants to read about the dark villain with the mustache and black hat. To relate to a character, the reader must be able to see them as human. Not as just an object to be obtained, not as a quirky caricature, not as a disposable plot point. And so therein lies my issue with manic pixie dream girls: they are quirky objects, hard to obtain but easy to dispose of.

While the MPDG trope is a device that is in desperate need of some work, I’d be remiss to not share a secret about it. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, I think about how John Green would write me as a manic pixie dream girl. It’s reassuring to know that my collection of vintage china and my color-coded bookshelf would be whimsical, that my compulsion for neatness and my ripped cuticles would be marks of my quirkiness. That my gray-green eyes framed by glasses and my literary tattoos would be attractive. So if nothing else, the trope sometimes helps me to reframe myself and remember that there are always parts of ourselves that are delightful.

Review: You (Caroline Kepnes)

I never thought I’d be writing a “review” for a Did Not Finish but I think people deserve to be warned about the dumpster fire that is this novel.

you caroline kepnes

I’m pretty sure this is a new DNF record for me– I only made it six pages before giving up in disgust. I picked it up after seeing a review on Emma’s blog saying it was one of her only favorites of 2017.

It’s essentially a stream-of-consciousness narrative, written in 2nd person. So basically, you’re reading everything that our narrator is thinking. Which would be really great, if our narrator wasn’t a hyper-pretentious, misogynistic man-child and a judgmental piece of trash. Here’s some of the standout lines from the first two chapters:

  1. Your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. (Congrats, Joe. You managed to make me hate you by the second sentence of the entire book.)
  2. “No, you’re not like those girls. You don’t stage Faulkner and your jeans hang loose.” (Anything along the lines of “you’re not like other girls” is an instant and enormous red flag for me.)
  3. “You sneeze, loudly, and I imagine how loud you are when you climax.”
  4. “This guy is, what, thirty-six and he’s only now reading Franny and Zooey?”
  5. “You could be buying it because you read on some stupid blog that she’s Courtney Love’s biological grandmother. I can’t be sure that you’re buying Paula Fox because you came to her the right way, from a Jonathan Franzen essay.” (FYI: there is no ‘right way’ to come across a book or a song or a movie. Different people have access to different things and it’s great that a wonderful piece of literature crossed their path, regardless of how it got there.)
  6. “You giggle and I wish your nipples were still hard.”
  7. “You hand me your credit card even though you have enough cash in there to cover it. You want me to know your name.” (Or you’re an arrogant garbage boy who can’t conceive of people allocating money for things other than you.)
  8. “He waits near her apartment and stages a run-in. Brilliant, romantic. Love takes work.” (Idolizes the stalking is love trope, naturally.)
  9. “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. Except for you, Beck. These past few days, I’ve learned so much. You put your tiny hands to work on yourself when the mood strikes, which it does, often, which reminds me of another joke in Hannah, where Mia Farrow teases Woody Allen that he ruined himself with excessive masturbation.”
  10. “Besides, I like that you take care of yourself instead of filling your home and your pussy with a string of inadequate men.” (Add a nice dollop of slut shaming and Danielle is out of here.)

I dropped the book after that line. My hypothesis was that Joe was intentionally written to be abrasive and appalling, but I really don’t want to spend my time absorbing an entire book from the POV of an awful person. So I went to goodreads and read the blurb, then proceeded to read all the spoilers, then all the one-star reviews to assure myself that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this. Then I finally read Emma’s review.

The thing is, I totally get what she’s saying.

It is creepy, because it’s so within the realm of possibility that a boy at the store finds you attractive and then takes it too far. I can understand, in theory, why people like and connect with the book. But I can’t justify sitting through so much slop for a trite and violent end. Perhaps the plot would have been better packaged in a different narrative style to make the entire ordeal feel less normalized? Because that’s what this book does: normalize stalking and violence and the sexualization of strangers.

At least half of the 4 and 5 star reviews I read on goodreads talked about they found themselves rooting for Joe during the book. How even though they know he’s gross and sadistic, they still sympathize with his character. And on one hand, I absolutely think that’s an impressive feat for a writer: to have written their villain well enough that people can associate with him on a human level. But on the other hand, that’s just downright disturbing. That would be like telling Hard Candy from the POV of the pedophile. There is no excuse, no logic, no justification for stalking a stranger and killing people to reach her.

I watched the new Netflix original series The End of the F***ing World last week and was surprised to find that the first episode has a similar premise to this book. A troubled young white male targets a firecracker of a young white female and shenanigans ensue. Except the show handles it deftly and tenderly and creatively. There isn’t any hyper-sexualization of female characters, there aren’t endless asides about how subpar other people are because they don’t like the “right” things, and there isn’t any excessive vulgarity used for the sole sake of shock effect. Because the show is still new, I’m not going to say much about it for those who haven’t watched it yet. But I will say this: it’s a tender coming-of-age story in a wholly unique frame. If you tried to read You and couldn’t make it past the third chapter, try watching The End of the F***ing World.


Eiko Ishioka: A Master of Her Craft

Japanese art director and costume designer Eiko Ishioka was virtually unparalleled when it comes to the amount of detail and excess that she put into her work. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I love opulence and decadence in a film. It’s one of the reasons Baz Luhrmann is one of my favorite directors, and I can’t help but wonder what one of his films would have looked like if Eiko had designed the costumes for it.

Today marks six years since her death, so I wanted to take a quick minute to highlight some of her spectacular costume designs.

the fall wedding
The Fall (2006)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Her costumes were over the top in the very best of ways, always featuring an extraordinary attention to detail, as well as combinations that most designers wouldn’t even think to attempt.

the fall lineup
The Fall (2006)
mirror mirror comp
Mirror, Mirror (2012)

Eiko had the ability to maximize the potential of ordinary objects of clothing. Whether it was by elevating a hood to an item of mystique and wonder or turning a simple black collar into a work of art or, she had the magic touch.

dracula 2
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

It was a mark of her genius that she was able to create two wedding dresses for two different movies that could not have been less alike. The inventiveness and ingenuity that went into both gowns is a thing of wonder.

Her ability to work with colors across the spectrum and combine them to create works of art is something that is rarely seen, especially on the scale of grandeur that Eiko utilized.

the fall lilac
The Fall (2006)
mirror mirror
Mirror, Mirror (2012)

I find her to be the most talented designer of our time, and the film world is a less beautiful place without her.

Review: Heartless

-this review contains spoilers-

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

When I started reading Heartless, I totally forgot that it was a Queen of Hearts origin story. I had this book on my reading list for ages because of my adoration for Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but by the time I finally got to pick it up, I had forgotten what it was even about. That is probably why a lot of my annoyances while reading the book came from the shoehorned Alice in Wonderland references. Between the pepper chef, the rocking horse flies, the smoking caterpillar, the line about the Tweedles, the jabberwocky, hedgehog croquet, and Cheshire himself, I found myself gritting my teeth with the obviousness of it all and how unlike Meyer it was. Then I got to the end and realized that this was actually all backstory for one of the most iconic villains of all time, which placated me a little bit– but not very much.


Because with that being said… I don’t think this is a solid origin story. At all. Meyer’s characters and plot points would have worked so much better as a retelling similar to The Lunar Chronicles, which used their original fairytales as a touchstone rather than as a strict reference text. For example: while the traditional Wonderland aspect carries over well in that Hearts is full of frustratingly obtuse folks, I found myself infinitely more interested in Chess than in Hearts. It seemed counterproductive for an entire world to be created (especially one created by Melissa Meyer) only for us to spend no time there. Instead of absorbing a fresh new world with fresh new rules and characters, we had to spend this entire story trudging through a slight variation of the same world we have been force-fed for ages.

For years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I loved it so much that I did an entire stylized photoshoot around it, was gifted a first edition of the book (swoon), and even considered a tattoo inspired by the story. [Emma of Emma Reads Too Much has some pretty spot-on thoughts on Carroll’s original book that you should absolutely read here.] Unfortunately, there have been so many renditions and interpretations of it that it has lost much of its magic for me. I hated Tim Burton’s two movies on the subject and have grown to loathe the excessive amount of themed gifts found in bookstores and indie shops.

The themes of time and repetition in Heartless were reminiscent of Burton’s concepts, and the endless litany of overt references to the original book felt self-gratuitous. This was the opposite of why I was excited for a Wonderland-themed book by Meyer in the first place– she has left me delighted and entranced by her inventiveness and originality, while still making the reader glow with twists on traditional references (i.e.: a cyborg foot for Cinderella’s shoe, a satellite orbiting in space for Rapunzel’s tower). Sadly, this book left me disappointed by absolutely everyone except Jest and The Sisters.

I was particularly peeved by the Marchioness and ‘Hatta’. The Marchioness was the true villain of the story. She’s controlling, verbally abusive, and is endlessly fat-shaming the main character. I couldn’t believe that no one ever stood up to her, especially in a book by the Melissa Meyer, where the leads tend to be brave and stand up for themselves. I wanted so badly to adore Hatta. Carroll’s Hatter is one of the most off-the-wall and quirky characters of all time, and as much as I disliked Burton/Depp’s rendition, he still managed to make me feel emotional and nostalgic. But Hatta is a sorry excuse for the dynamic and heart-breaking character he could have been. When we’re first introduced, my thought was “a female Hatter would have been a nice change” but that quickly turned into “wow I totally ship Hatta and Jest over Cath and Jest.” Which isn’t out of the normal for me, but then! It turns out! That Hatta loved Jest all along! But never said anything! I cry foul. That’s queerbaiting if I’ve ever seen it. I disagreed with people who claimed BBC’s Sherlock and Watson was queerbaiting. I even partially disagreed with people who felt that Albus and Scorpius’s relationship in Rowling’s Cursed Child was queerbaiting. But this was shameful. To hint at it for 300 pages only to reveal the truth and have Jest killed without ever knowing, leading Hatta to go mad with sorrow, is despicable. I expected so much better from Meyer than half-baked LGBTQ+ representation.

I’ve been so enamored with Meyer’s brand of kickass female leads– with her women and girls who solve things and save people and stick up for others and strive to be better– that Cath was an unparalleled disappointment. She was indecisive, spineless, whiny, and intolerant. As I’ve mentioned before, indecisiveness is a big pet peeve for me. Cath’s repetitive reasoning and cyclical complaining was downright exhausting, especially because she never did anything to actively change her fate. Insta-love also plays a huge role in this story, which is something that automatically sets me on edge. I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles three times, and have always been pleased by the fact that Meyer writes the romance in a way that leaves the reader very invested without feeling that it’s the centerpiece of the story. Heartless utterly fails in that regard. The warring world of Chess and the endless deaths occurring there are apparently insignificant in the face of a month-long love affair.

Long story short, Heartless left me disappointed in more ways than one. I’ve come to expect much better from Melissa Meyer than under-cooked storylines and half-hearted characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland always has, and always will, deserve better.


When I first started this blog, I wanted to do something called Eye-Roll Reviews. The idea came to me after reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which had me rolling my eyes on every page. I haven’t read any such books (until this one) since I started writing reviews on here, so I haven’t quite worked out how to format such a review. So for now, I’m just going to list my eye-roll-inducing lines, in case any other readers were annoyed by the same things.

“It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy.”

“But she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.”

“Impossible was his specialty. The way he had touched her hand had awoken something inside her she had never felt before. Something giddy, but also nervous. Something curious, but also afraid. And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”

“Romance. Passion. Love. She had never experienced them before, but she imagined they would leave her feeling like that dream had. Like the Joker did, with his quick smiles and witty remarks. She felt like she could talk to him for hours, for days and months and years, and never tire of it.” (Girl, you JUST MET HIM.)

“He did, however, offer his elbow, which she accepted, folding her fingers around his arm and surprised to find more muscle there than his lithe frame would suggest.”

“Overnight her life had become a whirlpool, sucking her below the surface.”