Movie review: Divergent is delicious

I didn’t read Victoria Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I have this thing about reading popular books. I don’t like to read them until the hype dies down. Also, my time is so limited these days that any spare time I have I try to work on my own writing. It’s unfortunate because reading is my guilty pleasure. There’s nothing more I love than curling up with a good book. But when I read, I feel guilty because that time is time I could be using to finish my own work. I’ve made a deal with myself: in between writing I take a few months to read everything I stacked up on my nightstand (see what I did there?) – decompress from my own mind if you will, and then start on my work after I’ve had a chance to truly step away from the world I’ve created and been working in and start fresh again.

So… in a few months I will get to it, in addition to about twenty other books I am foaming at the mouth to read. However, like Hunger Games (I know, I heard your audible gasp, didn’t get to read that either) I will read after seeing the films and while part of me worries the film will influence the images and characters of the book, I know my mind and know that I am pretty good at letting it make up its own mind and not be driven by whatever images the film drove.

I saw Divergent last night and liked it. I thought it was a pretty high quality film, like Hunger Games, and not at all like Summit’s Twilight films. (Those vampire weaves, come on!) Also, I really love Shailene Woodley — I think she’s a pretty talented young actress — and I like Theo James. He’s different from some of those actors out there right now. Of course he was also in Underworld Awakening, one of my favorite movie franchises ever, so well, I am a little biased. Kate Winslet’s performance was a bit underwhelming. She is capable of so much more, so part of me wonders if she was in the film because  her daughter asked her to be, like Glenn Close did when she took the role of Cruella Deville for Disney’s 101 Dalmatians? Is her daughter that old? I don’t know. It’s a theory so don’t hold me to it and frankly, I don’t have the time to look up whether or not she has a daughter (can’t remember at the moment) and if so, her age.  It was nice to see Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn. AND…a strange twist (or maybe purposeful), Shailene’s co-star from The Spectacular Now (which was underwhelming, I will admit) Miles Teller, as well as her co-star from The Fault in our Stars, Ansel Elgort. Is it really just a small world, or does Shailene have incredible pull with her film’s casting directors in getting her friends jobs?

I thought the movie also did a great job bringing to life Roth’s dystopian Chicago. Dystopian novels bother me a bit because of their settings, but I like to see how director’s bring them to life on the screen and make them a bit raw and sexy (is it ok to say that?) and not creepy and morose. And well yeah, I will admit, love Tris and Four. I am a sucker for YA/fan fiction couples. But doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that why these books are so popular?

Perhaps my favorite part of the film was 1) the painless tattoo Shailene’s character Tris gets. No wonder everyone in Dauntless is tatted up. If it was a sticker like approach now, I’d be in that chair, stat! And 2) the presence of more than one Ellie Goulding song in the film. Two of my favorite Ellie songs are featured in Divergent: one, “My Blood”, featured in the film, and two, “Beating Heart,” which is featured on the credits. I am obsessed with the latter, but don’t be fooled. Was totally obsessed by the former when it first came out, too. I love Ellie’s music. Totally, and completely. Nothing she does bothers me. I could listen to her all day. Which is why it was a pleasant surprise to also hear her cover of Active Child’s “Hanging On.” Including all three below because her voice is stunning.

“Beating Heart”

“My Blood”

“Hanging On”

 

Divergent was delicious and I am anxious to see the second film. Who knows, maybe I will read the trilogy before the second film comes out. I should be finished with my second novel by that time (shit, I hope so!) and have some trips planned in the coming months. Maybe my mind could use a nice deep dive into Roth’s dystopian’s world.

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New adaptation of Romeo & Juliet set to hit theaters…and the trailer is THAT good

“These violent passions can have violent ends.”
One of the most epic lines ever written to an English major. And now thanks to “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, looks like a new generation will soon be introduced to it and more from Shakespear’s epic love story Romeo & Juliet ,as a new adaptation of one of the most beloved love stories of all time prepares to hit theaters.
I just stumbled upon the trailer today and at first, I will admit, I groaned. I wasn’t sure if the world was ready for another take on the story that has been told, copied, and retold countless times over the years. It’s been seventeen years since Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film adaptation  (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) and in my mind, it could be another seventeen because no screen adaptation could ever compare to Shakespeare’s original work. But I will admit, the new trailer did its job and now this movie is on my To Watch list.
There is no US release date yet, but the trailer is already creating buzz, thanks to a Twitter campaign of #FORBIDDENLOVE, and an emotionally charged track by the ethereal Zola Jesus called “Skin.” If the tune sounds familiar don’t be surprised. It was recently featured on my favorite show, “Vampire Diaries” (season 4, episode 11). And, I may have introduced you to Zola last year when her track “Trust Me” was the soundtrack to the book trailer for “Rapture”, the conclusion to Lauren Kate’s “Fallen” series.  Her sound is raw and for me,  always good for those moments when I am writing and need to sink into a moment and really feel the emotion of a scene. Check out the track and trailer and let me know what you think of both. And for goodness sake, if you’ve never read Romeo & Juliet, please do so. Now.
Romeo & Juliet stars Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth, as well as “Homeland” star Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, “Gossip Girl’s” Ed Westwick and Stellan Skarsgard.

The power of relationships in supernatural reads

People ask me why I am such a fan of supernatural genre stories, YA specifically. There’s lot of reasons but at the core, it’s because they’re not just about monsters and demons, but so much more. They’re about the power of our relationships, familial and first loves. About coming of age and the journey one goes through as they evolve from teen to adult. They’re of love and loss, of hope and despair – of all the incredibly confusing, incredible, breath taking emotions we are given the opportunity to experience, no matter whether we are mortal or immortal.

Take The Vampire Diaries for example. I’ll admit I like the show better than the series for a few reasons (read main reason: Ian Somerhalder), but the part of the books that’s always stuck with me is the bond between the Salvatore brothers. The show has nailed to perfection. There has been many times Damon and Stefan have been there to save the other, and while the love triangle is usually what gets hearts aflutter, it’s the strength of their brotherhood bond, of family, of willing to do anything to protect the other, no matter the status of their relationship at the time, which is the excellence for me.

When my novel Aberration was reviewed by a book blogger a few months back she called it “an emotional book that deals with past and family and the way our perceptions of events change over time, as they become memories and how our friendships shape us but can also hold us back.”  For me, this was the ultimate compliment because I’d successfully done for one reader, what so many YA writers have done for me: taken a simple element of young adulthood and connected it to a much larger point of exploration.

When beginning a story in addition to starting with the ending, which I’ve written about before, I also pick an emotion and use it as the fuel for my character. In my next book (Bound, out this summer) the emotion I chose was anger. Some may think its confining to choose one emotion, as it may limit the character’s range in what they will think or feel. But it doesn’t. In fact, it’s the opposite. It gives them a place in which to start from and evolve. It can lead to the discovery of such incredible new emotions – the character’s journey a rich and exciting experience to create.

Writing is so many things for me, creating new people and places a complete and total joy. But it’s also about evolving me a little bit through my characters. Learning from their experiences and growing as they grow. Its a journey of self discovery of myself that I don’t realize I’ve been on until the last sentence is written.

I can’t wait for everyone to read my next book. I’ve grown, my characters have grown, the themes I am exploring have grown. It’s exciting and exhausting and…well, you’ll just have to see.   Until then, keep reading and don’t be afraid to feel. After all, it is what makes us human.

Movie Review: Stephenie Meyer’s The Host

I really wanted to like the screen adaptation of The Host – a book I devoured when it first arrived, reading back to back three times before I was able to put down. You loyal readers know this about me – I’ve written about my passion for the story and excitement for the movie more than a few times. So really, it should come as no surprise that I did indeed see it this weekend (four years in the waiting, I could not wait another day!) and while I didn’t love it, I didn’t exactly hate it either.

I think when you love a book so much it’s impossible to hate the movie, really. While on one hand the movie almost always seems to fail to live up to expectations because nothing can possibly top the images and feelings the writers’ words stirred in the readers’ heart and mind. On the other, seeing the story and characters you loved come to life a thrill, even if the acting is horrible. As in the case of Twilight – I devoured those books too, and it was fun seeing that story come to life, even though the acting was ghastly. Net net – while I love seeing my favorite reads come to the screen, it usually takes a truly amazing movie to really bring it to life, at least for me.

I don’t want to dissect the movie; it feels a bit like talking behind friends back. But, in the spirit of a movie review, I will highlight a few areas that I feel compelled to discuss.

1. Talented Saoirse a miss among the lovely Diane Kruger, eye candy & William Hurt

Since news first hit that Andrew Niccol had plans to adapt the book for the screen, I, along with other fans, eagerly awaited word on who would be cast in the main roles of Wanderer, Jared, and Ian, and of course, how they would portray the thoughts of Melanie, the body Wanderer inhabited. If you aren’t familiar with the story, let me quickly break it down for you: Earth has been taken over by an alien race called Souls. A peaceful group, they have invaded the bodies of humans, turning our society (one they see as violent and full of pain) into one of peace, kindness and honesty. Because the story’s narrator is a Soul called Wanderer who has been placed in a human (what they call Hosts), a girl named Melanie who refuses to fade away, it creates a main character that is two voices, two distinct characters, in one body.

While there is no doubt Saoirse Ronan is fantastic young actress, more than capable of pulling off the role of Wanderer/Melanie (see her in Hannah? Wow, crazy!), in this role for me, it wasn’t a fit. Melanie is supposed to be tall, athletic, with olive skin and dark hair. Additionally, she is supposed to be from Arizona not Louisiana – a component, that besides one shot that takes place overlooking a Bayou, seemed to be irrelevant.

While Wander’s nature is not one of violence or physicality, when Melanie commands her own body, we see the athleticism in her. Also, Melanie’s understanding of the desert Wanderer finds herself lost in is actually pretty important in the book, which is why being from Louisiana makes no sense at all. Her knowledge of the deserts in the Southwest helps Wanderer live when she finds herself wandering (no pun intended) for days on end, without water and in excruciating temperatures, in search for Melanie’s love and family. It is Melanie’s smart thinking telling Wanderer what she should do to survive that saves Wanderer from death.

Think about that for a moment: an alien is invading your body and every hour that passes, falling deeper in love with the man you love, and wanting your family to be theirs; your precious memories visible to them, at the same time, also becoming theirs. Wouldn’t you just let it die out there in the desert, even if it came at your death too?  I know I might, especially if the alien’s life could lead others like them to your loved ones’ door. So, deciding to help the alien  which has taken over her body is a key moment in the book, and the chapters around Melanie and Wanderer in the desert critical, as they lay the foundation for a friendship between the alien and the soul of the Host she has invaded, Melanie. This in itself is pretty powerful and incredible.

Also,the voice over of Ronan (how Niccol gave Melanie a voice – in the book we read her thoughts, in the movie we hear them) was more Valley Girl than tough girl who would do anything to get her man back. Not to mention, the voice over were small quips, which there are in the book, yes. At the same time, there are some pretty deep conversations between Melanie and Wanderer that bring the reader through the evolution of their relationship, and I felt this was marginalized in the movie.  There was no sense that Wanderer loved Melanie, willing to die so she could have her body back, nor any sense Melanie loved Wanderer, willing to let go of her body so Wanderer could remain and be of better help to those she loved.

So, in the end, the casting of Saoirse, despite her talent, was a miss. What do I think Melanie should have looked like? Well, I and other fans think it should have been:

melanie 1

 

 

 

 

instead of

melanie2

 

 

 

 

 

Diane Kruger, however, was an incredible Seeker – a Soul whose main job is to find any remaining humans. While in the book the Seeker is described as being tiny, with short dark hair, Diane Kruger was the perfect actress for this role. So while my mind always pictured The Seeker to look like this

seeker1

 

 

 

 

 

 

she turned out to be

seeker2

 

 

 

and it wasn’t so bad.

Also, I loved Max Irons  (yes, Jeremy Irons’ son) as Jared and Jake Abel (I am Number Four, Percy Jackson) as Ian. It didn’t exactly suck to look at them for two hours. I do think their screen time was wasted on gratuitous shots of their very pretty faces, instead of exploring the emotional connection between the two characters and Melanie/Wanderer. That could have upped the ante on the movie and really hit at the story’s core story line.

Lastly, William Hurt as Uncle Jeb was exactly as I pictured and a perfect cast.

2. The fabulousness of “lab technician couture” in a dystopian future

Gattaca and In Time are among some of my more favorite dystopian themed movies, the look and feel of those films fitting into what Variety calls (in their review of The Host) “lab technician couture.”

dystopia1

dystopia2

 

 

 

I’ll admit, when reading The Host, I never thought about the clothing style of the new Soul inhabited earth. Meyer had described them as always in black, so my imagination pretty much just thought of well,  black. But costume designer Erin Benach did an outstanding job using Theory, Zara and custom white suits to bring the style of the Souls in charge (like The Seeker and her colleagues) to life. Styles on the alien occupied Hosts included vintage bridging modern look (think of Don Draper heading to Hawaii on vacation) on the men, and cropped pants and sweaters on the women. Silver Lotus sports cars and motorbikes completed the look of the Soul run future Earth, while natural, earth tones that blended into the Arizona desert, helped to give the humans the feel of a group at war and in hiding.

styl1

style2

style3

style4

style5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Exploration of what it means to be human and the indomitable power of love

 One of the biggest reasons I thought a film adaptation of The Host may be hard, is the complexity of emotions and psychological journey in the main characters; subtle nuances in how they think and act that frankly, would be hard to translate to film. It’s one of the main reasons why I loved the book so much – the journey Wanderer and Melanie go on together and the journey I went on with them, loathing Wanderer at first for taking over Melanie’s life, falling in love with her beau and family, only to in the end, come to love her Host as a sister, choosing her Host’s life over her own. It’s pretty powerful in the book and on screen, the strength of their connection was lacking.

Also, the story of Wanderer and Ian was powerful in the book – he falling for her because of who she is, not what, nor the body she inhabits. As Ian says in the book, “It’s not the face, but the expressions on it. It’s not the voice, but what you say. It’s not how you look in that body, but the thing you do with it. You are beautiful.” That emotion, that chemistry between the two fell completely flat on screen.

And then there was the great story line many of us were anxious to see unfold on screen – Jared and Melanie, and the incredible sexual tension between Jared and Wanderer, he wanting and loving Melanie, knowing she is inside of her own body somewhere, while at the same time knowing its Wanderer in control. I love this relationship triangle because they go through a lot int he book, and even though Wanderer is living in the body of the girl he loves, Jared too, comes to care for Wanderer. “You are the noblest, purest creature I’ve ever met. The universe will be a darker place without you.”

There are so many more relationships the book version of The Host explores. They’re all important as they relate to all of the different relationships we can have as humans. All of them – man and woman, mother and child, friend to friend – they are all important and at the heart of one of the book’s core themes: what it means to be human, and the transformative power of love. On screen they were brushed over, the movie choosing instead to instead focus on the Seeker’s search for Wanderer, not the journey she goes on while in hiding –  learning to love, and essentially, become human. I understand why – it makes for a good Sci Fi flick, but I think lovers of the book will be disappointed.

My two cents? If you haven’t read the book go get it now and read it, and don’t worry about seeing the movie in theaters. Save yourselves a couple of bucks and rent when it comes to DVD.

Couple cool things to look forward to, however: the Souls when out not in their Hosts are breathtaking (IMHO) and exactly what I thought they would look like. The song used in the movie trailers (“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons) is used during the end credits and one of my favorite jams at the moment. And, finally, the movie ends just like the book, teasing us that a sequel is possible.  In February, Meyer confirmed a sequel is in the works, part of a three book trilogy that would be called The Seeker (book 2) and The Soul (book 3). It’s been almost 5 years since the first book, so think I will dive in again for read #4, in preparation for said sequel (wouldn’t it be genius marketing to announce its arrival in stores this summer once the flick has left theaters?) and in attempt to remember all of the subtleties that drove me to love the book to begin with.

New review for ABERRATION on Masquerade Crew

Thanks to sites like Masquerade Crew, indie writers (such as myself) have an incredible opportunity to reach readers with our work. Writing can be lonely, seeking representation dream crushing, but knowledge around publishing and community support can be incredibly empowering… and uplifting.

There are a great many reasons why I went the Indie route, even though I did have positive feedback from a few agents that were interested in exploring ABERRATION.  In the end, Indie route is what worked for me. Would I have loved to have had a marketing team behind promoting my first novel? Sure. Would I have loved to have conducted a multi-city book tour? Sure. Would I love to have trailers and artwork and fans by the thousands clamoring for an ARC of its sequel? Sure. But…through this experience I’ve met an incredibly warm and accepting community whom I am proud to call friends. They offer advice and support and most of all, when the writing blocks come (and they ALWAYS do) they are there, at ungodly hours, offering encouragement and support. And that my writing friends, is one of the biggest reasons I went Indie for my first book. Its a success that can not be measured in books sold or checks cashed.

So, thank you Masquerade Crew for taking the time to read ABERRATION, my first novel, and sharing your thoughts, honest and candid, in your review. I loved reading your view on my book, “a coming of age drama, an emotional journey and a story of discovery.” I loved to hear you thought the characters were “well-imagined, the plot engaging.” I was even OK with the honest feedback around the ending — endings, after all, are highly subjective — because you took a chance on an Indie writer. You took a chance on someone unknown. You took a chance on someone just wanting one person besides themselves to read the characters that were as real to them as they were in their book. You took a chance on me, and for that I will always be thankful.

That’s all us aspiring writers really want for our words after all. To be read.

Movie Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

I’m late, I’m late, for a very important…blog post! Ugh, sorry readers. I am behind…again! Seems to be my mantra lately. But I know you understand, you yourself being tucked away under the covers with a good book, headphones on listening to a fabulous new band, or hand in the popcorn tub watching a few flicks. Am I right? Thanks, I knew I could count on you. 😉

So, onward with the review.

I saw The Great and Powerful Oz after a well orchestrated marketing campaign pretty much convinced me I needed to see it, the question — who turns into the Wicked Witch — looming in my mind thanks to carefully crafted trailers. I researched online, dug through community forums (yes, I was that obsessed) and then, alas, Disney ruined it for me by releasing mugs with Mila Kunis’ face as the Green Faced Lady!

So, while the veil had been lifted before opening weekend, I hoped the movie would still excite me. First, let me caveat my feedback with this: I love prequels. Especially for stories that have been enjoyed by readers /movie goers for years. Gregory Maguire’s Wicked was brilliant – the musical, incredible (admittedly, it made me cry). And hello, Star Wars, Episode 3, where we finally find out what caused Anakin to turn into Darth Vadar (love!) Hello, genius!  All this said sadly, I didn’t completely love this one.

To be candid, the movie fell flat for me.  I see what Sam Raimi was trying to do with the film, preserving the look and feel of The Wizard of Oz, a beloved masterpiece, and incorporating it into this flick with new characters. But in an era where film-making has been heightened to greatness (ahem, Pixar anyone?), it actually underwhelmed me, much in the way Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland did for me. The little China girl was sweet, and the settings imaginative, but I don’t know…it just felt forced. And the acting…sigh.

There was no “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” moment. And while I know it wasn’t a musical, there wasn’t that one moment that would help preserve it into viewers hearts for years to come. James Franco was wooden, and while I love Rachel Weisz, her performance underwhelmed me as well. I expected more from her. Take for example Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel (Lord of the Rings). Everything about her portrayal embodied the character in her command of the screen. It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. And for Rachel Weisz’s Evanora, the Wicked With of the East, she seemed like a cranky bitch that never got her way and that’s about it. No real evil.

Mila Kunis is gorgeous and (SPOILER ALERT!) before she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West, there are a few nice scenes with her and James Franco’s Oz. But post transformation, the green faced witch we have all come to know and fear looked too fake, not nearly as scary as the original, and the laugh, while close, not close enough to the original cackle that has been the cackle heard around the world for decades.

See what I’m sayin?

I can’t say anything about Michelle Williams’ Glinda the Good Witch of the South. I was completely uninterested in her. The only cool thing about her was the black hood she wore while visiting her father’s grave in the cemetery toward the beginning of the movie. That’s about it. Oh, maybe her dress. That was pretty. But you can’t go wrong with white gowns, really.

So, in honor of the Merry Old Land of Oz that I love and adore….one of my favorite scenes from the original.

Oh, and as a bonus, check out this awesome TV ad from British mobile provider, Orange, This Wicked Witch is even better than that from the movie.

Warmth for Warm Bodies

What makes us human? Is it our ability to think and act, to live and laugh, or feel and love. This question and the later likely answer is surprisingly one of the themes to Warm Bodies – the ZomCom featuring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer, in theaters now.

Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer star in Now I dubbed it ZomCom because 1) it’s the genre most used to describe the book by Isaac Marion that inspired the movie, and 2) I think its just one of a handful of romantic comedies featuring zombies coming our way because now that Twilight is over, teens need some new walking dead being to swoon over. I mean hello, check out one of the movie images left –  Twilight anyone?  Even the so called big actors like Brad Pitt are getting their zombie on, with the soon to be released World War Z. That’s not a romantic comedy, but you get the drift. Zombies are the next big business for studios.

I’ve never been into zombies. Ever. 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later scared the hell out of me. There’s something about the dead walking around in a decomposed, brain eating state that’s never sat well with me. But apparently zombies are en-vogue. Guess if I watched Walking Dead I’d know better. That show is fever pitch. But I digress….

I saw Warm Bodies this weekend and while it wasn’t my first choice (sometimes that darn Fandango is hard to navigate, i.e. I screwed up on the movie times!), I liked it. It was for the most part a comedy, but there were a couple of moments that made you think beyond the lunacy and blatant mockery of the teen targeted supernatural love genre films, and ponder with a little more seriousness about the importance of the human connection.

Nicholas Hoult’s narration of main character R is comical , but it also (if you are in the mood to read beyond the first crush premise) gives the viewer a serious glimpse at what it means to be human – to have hopes and dreams and thoughts and fears and ask the question what, more than anything, at the end of the day, makes us human? The answer – love. The notion of love, the ability to love, and being in love.

I’ve always liked Hoult. He was incredible on Skins — the original version on the BBC, not the self indulgent, train wreck version MTV introduced most American audiences to — and I hope we see more of him in years to come. It looks promising in that department, with Hoult starring in films getting a lot of marketing push in 2013, including Jack the Giant Slayer, Mad Max: Fury Road, and X-Men: Days of Future Past. And Teresa Palmer (I Am Number Four) wasn’t completely insufferable as R’s love interest Julie. Of the younger actresses out there I can actually stand watching her and she and Hoult make a good looking couple. I hear he and Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence broke up. So maybe…

Another surprise was the soundtrack, which wasn’t filled with indie tracks, as has been the case with recent teen supernatural franchises, but classics like Guns n’ Roses “Patience,”  Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” the always classic “Missing You” by John Waite, Bob Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm,” and M83’s “Midnight City” to name a few.

While the film is yet another “Romeo and Juliet” twist — Shakespeare should get some kind of post humous kick back for how many plot lines his plays have inspired in the supernatural love story genre — it was a fun flick that wasn’t too serious after a pretty heavy week, and made me laugh out loud more than once. For that, I recommend it. You can probably wait until it hits video, but I like supporting little movies that could.

Since the moment it debuted M83’s “Midnight City” has been a favorite on my playlist.  So, what better way to wrap up my review than by sharing the official video for the hit, not to mention one fun note for Hoult fans: the song comes at a great moment in the movie. Hoult in the shower. You’re welcome.