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.

Movie review: The return of Veronica Mars

veronica_marsA long time ago, we used to be friends…

I loved the TV show Veronica Mars. Love, love, loved it. It was only on for three years (2004-2007) but during those three years I watched religiously. Whenever the show’s opening credits rolled, accompanied by the Dandy Warhol’s “We Used to Be Friends,” I’d get excited. It would  be a few years before I would be bitten by the Twilight bug,  but even then I had chosen a team for our female hero’s paramour, and that was Team Logan.  I loved Veronica and Logan together because they were the quintessential couple that shouldn’t be: he, a cool but dysfunctional  guy, thanks to his movie star turned killer father. She, the school pariah thanks to her father, the former Sherriff, having been set up by dirty cops sending his reputation and hers, into the garbage. It was everything about YA drama that I love:  hate you/love you story lines.

When I learned last year a movie was in the works after years of outcry from fans to bring back the hip, tech savvy Nancy Drew of Neptune High, I was stoked. Yes, you read that, stoked. It had been six years since the show ended and a lot of us in the VM fan universe had not been satisfied by the way the series ended: an incomplete story line and unsolved love triangle. For years  the rumor mill swirled around a possible show reprisal, followed by desperate hope for a made for TV movie. Something, anything, that would bring back Veronica, and Logan, and everyone else that made the show enjoyable, to give us just one last look in the seedy, lavish, often crime ridden world of Neptune, California.

While many of the shows stars and producers had expressed interest in doing a VM movie over the years, words are hardly enough to get a movie made. So when producer Rob Thomas put up a Kickstarter page to solicit donations, fans flocked to the site (including myself) donating whatever they could. Thomas’ $2 million goal was reached within hours, and by the end of the campaign, a record breaking $6 million had been raised proving fans would do just about anything to get a Veronica Mars  movie made. I’m glad sites like Kickstarter exist. It gives projects that may not otherwise see the light of day, a chance to be made.  Which is exactly what had been the case with VM.

I saw the movie on Saturday night. Thanks to a limited theater release, the movie also premiered on PPV, so I got to enjoy it from the comfort of my own couch.  It would have been fun to see on the big screen, but I am glad I got to curl up with my favorite blanket and save a few bucks. While I loved seeing everyone again, it did feel a bit like a  made for TV movie, and truth be told, would have been a bit bummed to have spent $12.50 on a ticket. However, I do respect what they were able to do on their limited budget and like that the movie answered some of the basic questions that many fans had been asking since the show ended, including the biggest: would Logan and Veronica ever get back together?

Sounds like reviews have been somewhat favorable. I don’t know if it was big enough of a hit to spawn a sequel or two, but it was nice to close the book on a show that was such a part  of my 29 year old heart in what I felt was a pretty satisfactory way. Could it have been better? Sure. But for $6M they did good. The chemistry was still there with Veronica and Logan, however admittedly, he was less Wily and she while still snarky, a bit more serious than catty. Maybe it was the story line – he being accused of murder and she back to dealing with some of the same a-holes that made her life miserable as a teen. But even during the show’s run, the snark combated any drama that came their way.  I did love Veronica had a chance to have her own slice of redemption against the popular girl that made her life hell back in high school. (No spoilers!) All I will say without going into details, is that every girl dreams of that moment, no matter how far they have come or cool their life is now. So from the mentions that were a flashback to the show (“our story is epic“) to the  song’s end credits (the show’s opening credits music back in the day), it was a nice walk down memory lane.

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.

My reading challenge — YA/supernatural/urban fantasy vs. contemporary/classic fiction

In recent weeks I’ve spent a lot of time in my library. Yes, I have a library. Not of estate proportions, but one that is big to me because it holds copies of books I can’t bear to part with, books that only recently captured my heart and can’t imagine a future without, and books that continue to inspire no matter how much time passes. It’s amazing to me that even after decades, there are books that I can pick off the shelf, open up and turn to page one, with the same excitement that I had the first time I curled up with it 5, 10, and in some cases 30+ years ago.

It may sound like I am obsessed with the YA/supernatural genre. As of late, that has been a lot of my interest because as I said before, life is heavy as it is and why bog it down with serious reads. Just to clarify (in case you were wondering), I’ve read my share of classic and contemporary fiction. I mean, I’ve done…my…time. I’ve studied it, analyzed it, hid works on the bookshelf because after a semester studying nothing but said novel, I could bare it no longer. (Sad but true. Case in point: Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I am still waiting for the love to return with that one. ) So, trust me, when I say I’ve done my share of serious reading time, I’ve done it. Not that the books I have been reading lately aren’t serious….but you get what I’m saying, right?

We all enjoy a little escapism now and then – visiting places that don’t exist, getting to know people who aren’t real but very well should be because they are someone we’d like to know. Hell, I even write with this goal in mind: to create places readers will want to visit, characters they will want to meet, and a world they will want to live in, if only for a short while.  But in living in these worlds, I’ve missed out on some of those that left an impression on my mind and in my heart.  Some of these novels may have been too heavy at the time – more daunting than I was ready or interested in that moment in my life. But I’m ready to revisit them…with a twist.

Beginning next week I am going to start a new reading challenge. For every new YA/supernatural/urban fantasy book I read, I am going to follow up with a contemporary or classic work of similar theme and then review the two side by side. In most cases some of the contemporary or classic works I may have read. But in some cases, they will be those I started and perhaps put down or thought about reading but never got around to. But regardless, this time, I will finish them because with this experiment I am hoping to shine the light on the similarities in literature and the indelible power of the written word. I want to be able to illustrate no matter the story line, no matter the genre, it’s the power of the story, the characters, the words, and draw inspiration from these voices old and new, as well as hopefully, inspire others.

Here’s a look at a few of the pairings in queue:

  • Pure by Julianna Baggott & Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts & Jack Kerouc’s On the Road
  • Arise by Tara Hudson (Hereafter, book 2) & Jane Austen’s Persuasion
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn & Dante’s Inferno  

What do you think? Can you see what I’m doing with the pairings?  Have you embarked on a similar challenge? Do you want to share a suggested pairing? Let me know…I’d love to hear from you.  Until then, up first:

vs.

Book review – Underworld, book 2 of Meg Cabot’s Abandon Trilogy

I finished book #2 of Meg Cabot’s Abandon trilogy last week and have to say one thing – thank God for Meg Cabot. And I’m not saying that because she wrote a story that kept me turning the page, despite its events only spanning one day, or the fact its heroine is yet another 17 year old girl attracted to a man with supernatural powers. But because said man is a tall, dark and handsome stranger she can’t get out of her mind and THE ultimate bad guy – the lord of the Underworld.

I was intrigued by Cabot’s retelling of the Persephone myth when I was drawn to the first book of the series Abandon. But imagine my delight when I discovered the first person narrative from the story’s main character Pierce Oliviera was the most natural writing I’d read in a long, long time. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed the writing of recent YA reads. I have. But so often it’s the stories I love, not the characters because they are more often than not,  so blinding in their naivety I find it hard to believe their emotions are real because they in themselves hard to see as anything but. I want my characters to pull me into their mind and into their stories, and take me for a ride. I want to crawl into the pages for just a look at the world they see, because the way they see it is so profound and compelling. That’s what The Host was like for me – a world that was so complex, so full of pain and fear, that despite its setting on a post-alien taken over Earth, I wanted nothing more than to take a walk in the caves alongside main character Wanderer and just hang out for awhile.

I guess I’ve seen this in adult fiction as well – non descriptive characters that are nothing more than a vessel to tell the story. (Hello Anastasia Steele, Fifty Shades of Grey. Could she really have fallen for a guy who is into BDSM, even though she never had boyfriend or sex before?) But as of late, I’ve been missing a narrator that even though she may be young, is still believable because despite the age, she possesses a sense of self, a sense of self- awareness, and a sense of believability.  Even though there is some language that appears awkward (the main character referring to “checking herself, before she wrecks herself”), the way Pierce carries herself, the way she is connected to others, and the way she comes to terms with her feelings, is very symptomatic of a 17 year old girl. I mean hello, I was one once, and I remember every emotion, as complicated as they were, and Cabot does an incredible job of hitting those emotions on the head.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Cabot has been able to master creating stories and characters loved across a diverse audience, from teen/tween, teen/YA, and adults for over a decade. But I am pleasantly surprised by the Abandon trilogy and can’t wait for its conclusion to come out next year so readers of the series finally get the answer to the question they have been asking since the beginning: what happens when you’re alive and in love with the ruler of the Underworld?