On Book Series

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

Fairyland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

game of thrones
Artist credit: jasinmartin via deviantart
Harry Potter

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

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

harry potter lineup
Artist Credit: Loquacious Literature via tumblr

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

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

Carol

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.

carol

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 to 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
gatsby
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 Deus ex Machina

Prompted by: The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Deus ex machina. Latin for “God from the machine” and often loosely translated to “the god in the machine.” Originally, this expression was a reference to an actual machine used in the performance of Greek plays. A physical device would be used to bring the actors playing gods onto the stage. Sometimes this was a crane that would lower the gods from above, or sometimes a riser that boosted them up from a trapdoor in the stage. The concept of introducing gods into the story was often used to resolve conflict or conclude a plot point.

god in the machine

By I, Sailko, CC BY 2.5

Today, the term is used to reference a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the unexpected intervention of a new character/object/ability/event/etc. The key here is that regardless of what this new thing may be, by its very definition, it shouldn’t have been previously queued up or alluded to. This means that a true deus ex machina will likely leave the reader saying “What! Seriously?!” after its appearance, because there really wasn’t any way for them to have seen it coming. While utilizing this plot device isn’t always lazy, it does seem to be most often utilized by lazy writers.

Popular debates over possible deus ex machinas include: the elder wand/wand lore/wand ownership in Rowling’s Deathly Hallows, the eagles in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Thoros of Myr repeatedly bringing people back to life in Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

The book that got me pondering this plot device is the third and final book in Erika Johansen’s Tearling trilogy. As a little recap: I devoured the first book in the series, The Queen of the Tearling. It featured some of my favorite elements in a story: a strong female lead (who doesn’t display any of my major pet peeves), no overt or unnecessary romance, well-written political intrigue, and inventive and original world-building. The second book, The Invasion of the Tearling, wasn’t quite as solid but was still thoroughly enjoyable. Johansen included a lot of flashbacks through the eyes of a new character, which made it a little more difficult to stay grounded in the main storyline. However, it’s easily forgivable because the character featured in the flashbacks is dynamic and brave as well. Then comes the third book, The Fate of the Tearling. While the first half of the book isn’t flat-out disappointing, it is clear from the start that it is nowhere near as strong as the previous books were. Sadly, Johansen seemed to have painted herself into a corner and created the biggest cop-out of an ending that I have ever read.

-SPOILER ALERT-

Our heroine uses time travel via her sapphire to alter the timeline and create a happy ending in which no one except herself remembers what happens. All of the characters we spent two and a half books connecting with are suddenly obliterated and their storylines are erased. The battle royale that the entire trilogy was building to is eliminated in the blink of an eye. There is no showdown, no reveal, no resolution. Just a tired trope.

The argument that some fans have made is that because the sapphires were present all along, it’s fine that they demonstrated these excessive powers and magically resolved everything. People have also said that Kelsea was a selfless queen who was willing to do anything to protect her people, even if it meant suffering alone for the rest of her life. While those are both fair assertions and might eliminate the possibility of the sapphires being a deus ex machina, neither of them change the fact that it was a lazy choice. Proper story outlining and planning would have eliminated the need for such a drastic and uncharacteristic move.

-spoiler-free content resumes below-

I think my issue with plot devices like this is that they just end up feeling like a betrayal of the characters that we’ve grown attached to. I discussed lazy betrayals in a previous post, and I think it’s a similar situation here. It seems safe to say that most readers want their favorite characters to make choices and moves that are on par with what we already know about them. We want our writers to do them justice because that’s what keeps us immersed in the story. And immersion is the mark of a truly good story.

Kings of Some Things

After finishing Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle for the second time, I was thinking about how much I appreciate the tenderness with which she writes her male characters. Because I already created a post about my favorite female characters, I thought I would go ahead and whip up a list of my favorite male characters. Enjoy!

Books

Dobby: My pure angel baby. Far and away my favorite character in the HP books, Dobby is a wholesome soul who does his best to be himself in a world that was not made for him. His penchant for socks and his adoration for Harry are just two of the characteristics that make him so lovable. (Artist credit here) || “‘Socks are Dobby’s favorite, favorite clothes, sir!’ he said, ripping off his odd ones and pulling on Uncle Vernon’s. ‘I has seven now, sir. . . . But sir …’ he said, his eyes widening, having pulled both socks up to their highest extent, so that they reached to the bottom of his shorts, ‘they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!'” -J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire

Saturday: Companion to September from Valente’s Fairyland series, Saturday is a blue marid from the ocean who can grant wishes– under certain circumstances. He’s a soft spoken creature with a tender heart and a knowledge of time and space that rivals any astrophysicist. I’ll keep recommending the series until the day I die, so you might as well pick up the first one now. || “She leaned in, and kissed her Marid gently, sweetly. She tried to kiss him the way she’d always thought kisses would be. His lips tasted like the sea.” -Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Ronan Lynch: Bad boy extraordinaire, Ronan Lynch is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a heart attack, a car crash, an oil spill. He’s a magician beyond your wildest imagination, a farmer with a secret and a soft spot, and he must be protected at all costs. (Artist credit here) || “Ronan’s smile was sharp and hooked as one of the creature’s claws. ‘A sword is never a killer; it is a tool in the killer’s hand’.” -Maggie Stiefvater, The Dream Thieves

Merry & Pippin: Quite possibly one of literature’s most dynamic duos, these two hobbits are nigh on inseparable, hence my including them as one unit (even though I prefer Pippin). Merry is the smarts and Pippin is the… comedic relief? They are witty to a fault and set in their cushy hobbit ways, but they don’t hesitate to stick up for their friends and do what is right. ||“‘That’s what I meant,’ said Pippin. ‘We hobbits ought to stick together, and we will. I shall go, unless they chain me up. There must be someone with intelligence in the party.'” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Comics

Dream: Moody, broody, and omnipotent, Morpheus is a wise and petty demigod of sorts. Ruler of the dream world, he has moments of shallow vindictiveness and moments of heartbreaking compassion. His ten volume arc was published over the course of 14 years and garnered endless acclaim– for a good reason. Neil Gaiman is an unparalled writer, and the life he breathes into Dream is passed on to us. || “But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want, is getting what once you wanted.” -Neil Gaiman,  Sandman #19

Ghüs: He’s a humanoid seal. Who rides a walrus. And wears yellow raincoats. Nuff said.|| “Ghüs has been a lot of things in his day… but sweet is not one of those things.” -Brian K. Vaughan, Saga Vol. 5

Peter Quill: With the exception of DC’s Bombshells series, the comics I read the most of is Guardians of the Galaxy. And Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, is a gem in the galactic group. A little more tenderhearted than the movies portray him, Peter Quill is just a man trying to save the galaxy and his friendships. || “I don’t mind dying like the valiant intergalactic hero that I am… but the least you could do is pay attention!” -Peter Quill, Earth-616

Movies/TV Shows

Leo Fitz: Scottish scientist and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Leopold Fitz is equal parts brilliant and dorky. He has a soft heart and looks for the best in people, as well as using his genius to create inventions to help others. He’s also half of a beautiful slow burn relationship, which I historically have a huge weakness for.|| “There’s nothing wrong with the data in my head.” -Leo Fitz, Agents of Shield, #2.11

Han Solo: Problematic fav. Han is definitely the outlier on this list– he’s cynical, arrogant, unreliable, and honestly, a bit of a f*ckboi. But he’s also the most realistic character in Star Wars and he ends up coming through in more way than one. Not to mention, he’s a hell of a pilot. #hanshotfirst || “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” -Han Solo, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Lito Rodriquez: A closeted Mexican actor in the Sense8 cluster, Lito is beautiful and emotional and brave and tender. He spends the vast majority of two seasons learning how to do what is right instead of what is easy, which is both relatable and hugely encouraging. || “In the end, we’ll all be judged by the courage of our hearts.” -Lito Rodriguez, Sense8, #1.8

Peppermint Butler: A master of the dark arts, Pep But is devious in his spare time but unequivocally loyal no matter what. Long-time advisor and caretaker to Princess Bubblegum, he is the only member of her kingdom who sticks with her when she is exiled. He brings her tea, helps her prank usurpers, and assists with saving Marceline the Vampire Queen. || “Say ‘hi’ to Death for me if you see him, he lives in a castle made of light.” -Peppermint Butler, Adventure Time, #2.17


It’s been increasingly refreshing to come across more gentle boys with good hearts over the years. Toxic masculinity is a deeply damaging and pervasive part of our culture, and the more we present boys with alternatives to the stoic and degrading men that grace our pages and screens, the better off the world will be.

Runner-ups included Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, Jake the Dog & Finn the Human from Adventure Time, the MCU’s version of Loki Laufeyson, Onion from Steven Universe, and The Gray Man from The Raven Cycle.

My Love Affair with Cinematography

Prompted by: re-watching LotR

I am such a sucker for cinematography.

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos have, in my opinion, the best video series out there on film and cinematography: Every Frame a Painting. Their series has come to an end, but if you haven’t already watched some of their work, you’re truly missing out. Their very handle perfectly sums up the magic of cinematography– it is truly art.

So what exactly is cinematography? Essentially it’s what the viewer sees in any given frame. It’s composition and angles and light and shadows.

“The cinematographer—also known as the Director of Photography, or “DP”— is responsible for all the visual elements of a film… He or she makes every creative choice related to composition, lighting, and camera motion—anything that audiences can see in a given shot.”

Abigail Schoenberg, Contributing Writer, Harvard Crimson

While a DP is responsible for those visual elements, they are chosen through very specific conversation with the director. The DP is the one who brings the director’s vision to life, so it is of utmost importance that the two are allies and agree on creative choices. As a director, having a DP that you can rely on and trust in is an absolute game changer. The two individuals inform and support each other throughout the creative process, from day one all the way to color correction in post-production. We can see how a close relationship between the director and the DP magnifies stylistic choices through the work of director Wes Anderson and his most frequent director of photography, Robert Yeoman. Yeoman has worked with Anderson for over 20 years on no less than 8 films, working alongside him on films from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s no question that Yeoman has been an instrumental part of bringing Anderson’s visions of symmetry and color schemes to life through his own choices of lenses, lighting, framing, and positioning.

Cinematography connects with different people in different ways. Some viewers like wide angles, some like symmetry. Some like orbital shots, some like overhead shots. Some people may not even realize that what they like so much about a film is the cinematography. Regardless of their level of awareness though, from super hero movies to romances to arthouse films, a good DP makes all the difference.

like crazy
Like Crazy (2011) || John Guleserian (DP)
furiosa
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) || John Seale (DP)

I still remember the first time I saw a frame that made me audibly gasp out loud in the theater. It was 2012 and I was watching Django Unchained, which was only the second time I had seen a Tarantino film. Growing up in a very conservative household, my media intake was strictly limited, and Tarantino was definitely not approved viewing. There’s a scene that takes place in a cotton field where Jamie Foxx’s character points his gun and takes precise aim at a man fleeing on horseback. He pulls the trigger and the camera angle changes to a cropped shot of the cotton. We hear the hoof beats of the running horse in slow motion, and then…

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Django Unchained (2012) || Robert Richardson (DP)

A fine spray of bright red spatters the pristine white cotton. I watched Django Unchained three more times that year, and every single time there was something about the cropped frame took my breath away. And so began my documented love affair with cinematography.

But then, when I was re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer, I realized that my delight with well-framed shots had actually started much much earlier.

Balrog Fall
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) || Andrew Lesnie (DP)

In fact, it had even started earlier than that. The Prince of Egypt was the first movie I ever saw in theaters, and even at the ripe old age of four, certain shots stood out to me.

prince of egypt
The Prince of Egypt (1998) || Brenda Chapman (Director)

I still gasp out loud when I’m watching movies and a particularly moving frame appears. I “mmm’ed” out loud at the end of Fight Club. My toes curled with bliss at the opening of Evolution.

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Fight Club (1999) || Jeff Cronenweth (DP)
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Evolution (2015) || Manuel Dacosse (DP)

Cinematography will be a frequent topic on this blog. Whether a monthly collection of favorite frames or a closer look at the work of a particular DP, it is something that I find to be an endless source of joy and fascination. So join in on the fun and leave a comment! What are some of your favorite frames?

On Lazy Betrayals

Prompted by: Moana and LotR

Before I start, I should probably make it super clear that when I first saw Moana back in November 2016, I LOVED it. I was absolutely over the moon for the lead woman of color, the lack of romantic subplot, and the soundtrack. I loved it so much that as soon as I left the theater, I texted Mr. Swiz and told him that it was an absolute must-see. So he went to see it and after he got out of the theater, he told me how much he… was disappointed with it. It sparked a fun conversation about representation and appropriation, the monetary nature of the movie business, and betrayals. I’ll leave those other heavier topics for another time, but today I want to talk about the betrayals. An excerpt from our conversation is as follows:

“A young viewer enjoys a story well told because it takes them somewhere, and they’re not thinking at all, at least probably not on a conscious level, about how the protagonist’s goals inform their character, or how the obstacles they might face define their journey and so on and so forth. When Maui inevitably turns his back on Moana before the third act, a less-jaded Swiz may have been anxious, instead of unsurprised, about his inevitable return.”

I didn’t think much of it at that point in time, largely due to the other conversation topics, but also because it’s a Disney movie and Disney movies tend to follow certain plot points  (see Shang leaving Mulan on the mountain, Han’s infamous “if only there was someone who loved you” line, etc.)

As some of you know, I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy this summer after more than a decade since my last reading. I found the books far more enjoyable and immersive this time around (for some reason my 10 year old brain struggled with the litany of middle earthen names) and upon completion decided to re-watch the movies as well. The movies feature several big departures from the book story line, some of which make sense given time constraints (eg: Tom Bombadil) and some that I wholeheartedly support (eg: Arwen having more to do than serve as a three-sentence love interest). However, there is one scene in the movies that really and truly irks me. During the ascent of the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, Gollum uses lembas crumbs to frame Samwise and as a result, Frodo tells Sam to go home.

frodo sam

My frustration over this betrayal reminded me of Maui’s betrayal from last year. And it got me to thinking: what IS the deal with Maui’s entirely too predictable disappearance and reappearance? He leaves Moana after their first attempt to restore the heart, in a betrayal that many viewers saw coming a mile away. And even more predictable is his reappearance, right when Moana needs him the most. As it turns out, TV Tropes has a name for them both: Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure and Changed My Mind, Kid, respectively.

You can view other examples of them here and here 

The fact that there’s such an abundance of examples available leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. I think there are certainly situations in which a betrayal is in-character or is even necessary. For example, Hans’ betrayal of Anna is Frozen is a sublime plot twist, and Han Solo’s departure in New Hope is 100% on par with what we already know about his character. But I’m rather of the belief that relationship drama– in any kind of relationship– shouldn’t be the sole thing keeping the story moving forward. A good writer should have other tricks up their sleeve to propel the story towards the desired climax.

In the book, Frodo and Sam made it through Mordor without any departures or betrayals, which spoke volumes about their relationship and the trust they had in each other despite all the odds. Why couldn’t they have done the same in the movie? Why couldn’t Maui have been injured or Moana’s spirit defeated by something other than Maui’s disappointment? Why couldn’t the two have maintained their friendship and found a different way to arrive at the point of perfecting their teamwork?

I re-watched Moana a few weeks ago, and while I might have been frustrated by the plot-mandated friendship failure, you can bet your bottom dollar I sang along with every word of ‘I Am Moana’.