Monthly Archives: January 2017

Film Review – Captain America: Civil War

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I will admit this review is more than a little bit overdue. The main reason being is that I had been so excited about this film when it came out in the cinema, that when I left disappointed that I had been so bored, annoyed and angry about the film, I didn’t feel like writing a review. I didn’t want to think about, so I just moved on.

Naturally of course when it came to doing a Marvel Movie marathon over the festive holidays, I couldn’t just ignore the film, so I watched it again, and I desperately tried to be objective. I really just can’t be. I hate this film, for a singular reason.

It is not a Captain America film – it is an Avenger’s film marketed as a Captain America film, where Captain America doesn’t even get to be his own protagonist – he has to share the role with Tony Stark, who is my least favourite Marvel character to start with, and also be the launch platform for Spiderman and Black Panther. Seriously, I’m surprised a kitchen sink wasn’t thrown in the battle in the airport, because Marvel literally threw everything else into this film. I half expected Mjolnir to shoot past the battle scene at one point.

Fine the plot made sense, the characters didn’t really do anything that was out of character, and you can’t deny that it is a decent film. It has its highlights when Bucky and Falcon snipe at each other, but other than, nah, not for me.

None of that stops me from being bored while I watch it; frustrated while the heroes fight each other but don’t actually mean it the majority of the time (unlike Superman and Batman who were at least having a proper go at each other for all of two minutes); and angry that the sequel to The Winter Soldier (which got me hooked onto the films in the first place) is actually a sequel to Age of Ultron. UGH!!!!

If you’re a fan of the MCU then yes it is a must see film, however literally the only consequences of the film is that Captain America and Tony Stark now only talk via voice over letters (vast improvement on the bickering really, and you only hear Steve’s voice), and the Black Panther is actually a decent character, whose film has potential. Other than that, despite having a bit of a scrap the characters didn’t really have a Civil War, and its proved that Accords or not, you can’t imprison those that step out of line because even without his shield Captain America’s able to break them out.

Pointless film.

Film Review: Assassin’s Creed

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I will admit I did not walk into the cinema with particularly high expectations – I mainly walked in because my husband, who has been playing the games for years, wanted to go and see it. While I know the concept behind the game, and the basic plots in the games, I wouldn’t exactly say that my half-hour attempt of playing the first game myself makes me an expert.

However, I really should consider walking into a cinema with lower expectations more often, because after being severely disappointed with the likes of Batman vs Superman, and Captain America: Civil War after being really excited about them, I can honestly say that I walked out of Assassin’s Creed a lot more satisfied than when I did with the other two.

I genuinely enjoyed myself. I mean there isn’t much in the way of plot, or of character development, and there was a lot less happening in medieval Spain that I had hoped there might be, but I actually liked the film.

I mean I’m not head over heels in love with the film, but if you are looking for a film that doesn’t require you to concentrate too much on remembering intricate plot details that become relevant two hours later then Assassin’s Creed would suit you, because not much brain power is needed. And I mean that as a compliment, because honestly I sometimes just want to relax and switch off.

With Assassin’s Creed you can kick back and relax  and just watch some pretty impressive looking action sequences, that are interjected with maybe just a little bit too much talking. You also get to watch some very notable and acclaimed actors actually proving they are very good at their jobs by doing the very best they could with not much in the way of substance in terms of the fantastical science fiction concepts that were even a bit of a hilarious notion in the games, neither mind in a film.

I liked what they did though; it is hardly going to be a beacon I will use as an example of great writing and subtle character development, but sometimes entertainment doesn’t need that.

Book (Re)Writing – The Grand Plan

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I don’t think small.

In many, many ways the fact that I cannot think in small terms is one of my biggest faults as a writer; I find it impossible to write a short story that doesn’t develop into a novel because I just do not know how to stop myself.

However, as a person it is something that I do take a great deal of pride in. I’m not someone who follows the ideas of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to the letter, and you’re not supposed to, it is a guideline, and each personality type themselves has a broad spectrum of differences within it.

For years though I thought that because I couldn’t think on small terms, it was a character fault because my brain would literally run away from the small idea that I really needed to think about and onto something vastly bigger than it was meant to be. On getting to know my MBTI type, which is INTJ, being a visual master planner is what my personality type is all about. I don’t think small, I have a complex imagination that can draw up master plans and implement them, down to the smallest detail.

For years I have been setting myself the same resolution at the beginning of each year. Draw up a grand plan for the books you intend to write.

And I sort of did – I drew up a list of books I planned on writing, a short summary, and there I had it a ‘grand plan’.

Cue Rocket the Racoon and his belly laugh.

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I didn’t have a plan; I kidded myself into thinking I had a plan and then just got on with writing, which is what I wanted to be doing.

And this is how I have ended up in the mess that I’m in now, because I didn’t follow what is actually my greatest strength – I had a bit of a plan, but because for years outlining a story felt like I was killing creativity that seat of my plans writing could bring to me I resisted.

So admittedly, all I have done so far is make a list of books I want to write, but I’m not stopping there. Since I’ve been writing this blog series, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking and I’m going to use that thinking to write a plan first, and then re-write the book.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s actually taken me this long to come to this conclusion. Drawing up the plan first, properly detailed plans is how Terry Brook’s, an author I admire a great deal, describes how he plans his novels in ‘Sometime’s the Magic Works’. He’s successful, and like me he writes high fantasy series that spans centuries in the same story world.

Honestly how I’ve managed to ignore his advice for all these years is beyond me – but then again a lot of people share Stephen King’s advice of write at least X number of pages every single day, so maybe it wasn’t as difficult as you would imagine, and the guilt that comes from not doing that occasionally hits me, but not as often any more.

So, write a grand plan, or a plan, or at least have more than a vague idea of how you are going to get from the beginning of your story to the end, and I recommend the ‘But…Therefore’ method of plotting.

Now brain focus…

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

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I will admit I was introduced to the world of The Man in the High Castle via the Amazon adaption for TV rather than the book. I wasn’t even really fully aware of Philip K Dick’s wider work, because while I’m a massive science fiction fan, I’ve never been much of a reader of the genre, and I’ve never seen the other adaptations of his work.

I will say that for anyone who came across the ideas behind the story via the TV series first, and is now interested in the source material, there are quite a lot of differences – the TV series makers have certainly been very complimentary of the original material, but they have expanded upon the plots, the story world and the developed the characters differently, so don’t expect what you see on screen in the book.

However, I am whole-heartedly glad that I have read this book, because it is simply sublime. Science Fiction is normally more straight forward, in your face, fiction. The Man in the High Castle though read more like a literary novel, full of subtle nuances and gently developed characters.

 

I could say a lot about the plot and the story world, but for me the very best part of this book is definitely the character development. While I certainly enjoyed the story of Frank Fink and Mr Tagomi, I very much preferred the development of Robert Childan and Juliana Fink.

Juliana in the book is a very passive character, and while I’m not keen on the ways in which she is portrayed in very stereotypical slightly sexist ways, she really does step up to the mark when required to do so, and proves herself as someone that is not to be underestimated. And of all the characters reading the novel within the novel The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, she herself is singular in that she figures out the truth behind where the material came from and its meaning.

It is in a way a shame that Philip K Dick never managed to finish a sequel for the novel, as it would have been very interesting to not only see more of the world he created in his counterfactual history, but it would have been very interesting to see what Juliana could have done with the knowledge that the ideas behind the novel within the novel were true.

However, of all of the characters Robert Childan was most certainly my favourite, not necessarily because he is the most sympathetic of characters, but he certainly had the best epiphany about how he as an American is treated by the victors. As much as he appreciates and admires Japanese culture, and uses his country’s history to develop his connections and power, he becomes someone who is proud of the new artistic developments of his countrymen despite the Japanese disdain for it. It is one of the best character arcs that I’ve read in ages, and it was great to see an underdog, who figures out he’s an underdog no matter what he does, find something that cannot be taken away from him.

I highly recommend the book to anyone, as it is a truly fascinating read and the interconnections between the characters’ plots are subtly woven into the wider fabric of the story world. It is quite literally a masterpiece in how to interweave a story told from multi-perspectives.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

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It is rare that I find a book that is both thought provoking, interests a me both historically and scientifically, and is deeply unsettling in places.

The book is an argument of possibilities of the direction that humanity in the 21st Century is heading. I’m not familiar with the author’s previous book Sapiens, but I have been told is an account of how we have become who we are now; I’ll get around to it as it sounds just as interesting as this book. In comparison to his previous work though, Homo Deus is an argument for where humans may end up in the future based on the avenues being explored in the 21st Century.

His arguments are based on the notion of how a change from seeking authority from a supernatural deity to the ideas of humanism and the worth of the individual, has driven us forward into a war where humans will now seek immortality, where current biological theory has reduced us to mere algorithms, and that dataism, where big data corporations will be able to predict your decisions before you make them and then also make important decisions on your behalf, will become the new ‘religions’ and authority of the future.

Thankfully it was noted that this were just possibilities, and not the path we will definitely follow, because as interesting and as thought provoking aspects of the book were, the idea that humans who cannot afford to evolve into immortal super-humans will become a lower caste, useless to society, is horrifying. As much as I would like some of my health problems, mainly my asthma, solved for me, I wouldn’t really want immortality at the expense of those who cannot have the same opportunity.

It was also as equally unsettling to read that free will is just an abstract concept, and dataism could become our new authority in making decisions – or really having them made for you based on predicted behaviours and massive data analysis beyond the capacity of the human mind. I’m not a religious person, nor am I am atheist – I’ve always identified as agnostic, but I’m fairly decided that dataism is not the future I would want to have.

As unsettling as I found the book though, I really enjoyed reading it – I like having my thought’s provoked, and I can certainly say I will be thinking about the ideas in this book for a long time to come. I definitely recommend it.

Marvel Revisited

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One of the things I have done on my blog is write about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I reviewed the films and wrote about my love of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of the grand plan I had for my blog in 2016.

Having spent a good chunk of my festive holiday re-watching the films in a marathon, I thought it was a good time to actually re-visit what I used to think about the MCU. My original post on the MCU was honest and full of a great deal of hope.

I was honest about disliking Tony Stark, and I had a great deal of hope about the future of the MCU. However, people change – my grand plan for 2016 was based on being really excited about the films of major franchises.

Most unfortunately one of the recent conclusions I have made about franchises, affects the MCU the worst. One of the things I loved most about the MCU was the Infinity Stone story arc. I had felt that the complex and interconnected universe of films was finally beginning to pay off.

However, while I’ve not reviewed them yet the additions to the MCU from 2016, including Civil War and Doctor Strange haven’t propelled my excitement for the MCU into new heights – when I wrote that I was excited, it was because I was genuinely excited. I was excited going into the cinema to see the films for the first time. I came out of Doctor Strange still buzzing (less so with Civil War), but I did do with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.

And it was very much to do with the slightly chunky, probably not needed, reveal of the fifth infinity stone in Doctor Strange. I felt insulted that its reveal was for the ‘audience’, as if somehow if it had simply been mentioned that it was an ancient and powerful relic from before the universe, the audience wouldn’t make the connection. UGH!!! Why would the term of ‘infinity stone’ be universally known? Why did the connection to the MCU need to be made so darn clearly, as if it’s audience was clearly stupid and needed the addition buzz of the wider universe arc to make them love the film even more?

Let me answer those questions – the term wouldn’t be universal, the stones would probably have different names in different cultures, across the world and the universe, you know because people are actually diverse. Oh and Marvel, your audience isn’t stupid – we have invested a lot of time into loving the MCU, we would have figured out that Strange’s power over time was caused by an infinity stone. It might have even been a nice reveal for a later film, like Loki’s Sceptre was from one Avengers film to the other. Just a thought Marvel.

As much as the MCU is something that I enjoyed, its time as one of my favourite things is coming swiftly to an end. I will see it out until the end of the Infinity Stone arc, purely because I do want to know what happens, but I’m currently doubting it’s ability to hold my attention beyond that – someone bringing Agent Carter back to my small screen is the only thing I’d really pay attention to if it happens after the film universe has lost my attention.

There are two reasons for this change of heart – one being that having watched all of the films in sequence in the last couple of days, the initial excitement I felt just isn’t there anymore. There isn’t enough complexity in the MCU as I find in other franchises to keep me wanting to go back to them again and again.

The other reason is a one I’ve figured out in recent weeks when I’ve been thinking more about Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts – the MCU, (and X-men and DC as well) don’t inspire me. I haven’t come out of an MCU marathon inspired by the characters, plots and story-world to go out into the world and produce my own characters, plots and story-world.

I’m actually kind of left a bit empty really, probably because the original source material (comic books) just doesn’t float my boat. I’ve been writing a lot recently about my own writing and re-discovering what inspires me, and I came to a pretty harsh conclusion – superhero franchises based on comic books don’t inspire me as a creative person. I had been drawn in with ease into the hype of a massive cinematic universe and I have been left empty of my own creativity because of the ease in which these characters and stories be can be told and then forgotten.

I feel as if I had disposed of my creativity’s needs with the same ease that Marvel uses to dispose of its villains.

So in revisiting the films, while the MCU certainly will always have a place in my heart, and I’ll made trips to the cinema at least for the coming couple of years as the Infinity Story is wrapped up, the shiny gleam that MCU used to offer me has dulled quite a bit.

Also, I will admit Tony Stark is not as bad as I used to believe – he had been outshone by Thor and Captain America, but in truth he’s gone up a little in my estimations and they have come down a bit, so they are all on a level playing field now.

Still love Loki though – that will probably never change.

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A Young Writer’s Notebook – Reviewing 2016

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Last year was not an easy year for ‘A Young Writer’s Notebook’. I started this blog back in 2013 with the idea that my blog would be about writing, and my thoughts on writing. I had been inspired by two things – the TV adaptation of ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ and also by a sketchbook of an artist I know well.

The former I simply twisted the title a little bit and made the blog about my thoughts on writing. The latter though was more inspiring. I’m not a particularly artistic person – I love art but because I didn’t show talent in it I wasn’t encouraged in school to pursue it. I didn’t really understand what a sketchbook was for. To me art is the finished product – a sketchbook though is how you get from the idea to that product, which I learnt a couple of years ago at my friend’s exhibition.

Notebooks for me have always been the equivalent to the sketchbook though I didn’t know it – inspired by ‘Sherlock’ I turned the notebook into the modern day equivalent. A blog.

And I have never once treated this blog like a notebook. Very little of my writing on this blog is actually to do with my writing. It is to do with my thoughts on writing (via The Key to a Great Story) and then later the addition of  Young Writer’s Review.

While I did once have my Notes on Life Series, and I occasionally blog about what ever crochet project I deem worthy of sharing with you, I very rarely go beyond a planned blog post. Blog posts for me are either reviews or part of a blog series.

And this is where I feel as if my blog has lost the plot a little bit. By the beginning of 2016 I’d been blogging for nearly two and a half years, and I’d completed my largest blog series to date about creating a great story, and I was floundering for a plan. Enter in one little article I read about the films to look out for in 2016, and bingo a plan arrived.

Most of the films I was excited about in 2016 were part of a franchise (I know sit down, you must be so shocked by that!) Some of these franchises have been around for a while, including Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and even Harry Potter. Perfect I automatically had dozens of blogs all lined up for 2016 that I could plan and write in anticipation for the latest instalment of the franchises. Essentially I could blog about my favourite fandoms and I didn’t have to think too much.

I think I managed to get about as far as Captain America Civil War being released before I had driven myself utterly insane, because I hadn’t just kept to the plan of the franchises I was (emphasis on the word was) excited for, I expanded that to include tv series series I had been having a binge on, with a series by series review that could easily supply me with a few dozen more posts.

You have to understand though that for the first half of the year when I was doing this, I wasn’t doing it for the number of hits per day, (I will admit I was trying to build up a bigger audience) I was doing it because what I was hoping was that I could open up discussion with like-minded people about the fandoms I love. It sort of worked.

Despite being of the millennial generation though, and while I identify as a millennial, in many, many ways I’m also not. There are people on the internet who have been dong this for a lot longer than I have, who were blogging about these things at the time of their release not years later. While I nearly always find people are willing to discuss an old book, the world of TV and film is a lot less receptive to that – I was naive.

I was an industry of producing reviews for everything little thing I was watching, and while I actively sought new and original things to watch (such as High Rise and Anomalisa in the first half of the year, and then more recently the likes of Mulholland Drive and Kubo and the Two Strings, none of which I had predicted would make an impression on me this year) I also ended blogging about Austin Powers in what I can only describe as desperation (I mean it is a cult classic, and I love it, but I didn’t need to blog it though).

The turn of the new year always makes me very reflective on the journey I took in the previous year, and all I can say is thank goodness for Zootopia. I still haven’t reviewed Zootopia, but seeing it and realising its potential as the most important film of 2016, made me stop and really wonder why I had ever thought the franchise plan for my reviews was a good idea.

Seeing it, and thinking about it stopped me in my tracks, I took a break from blogging, and I actually started to enjoy films and tv again, because it was for fun, not an examination and a reviewing exercise to be undertaken. My crazy life in 2016 got a bit in the way as well, but the second half of 2016 was definitely a lot less productive and for the better really.

So what are my plans for 2017 and A Young Writer’s Notebook? Well I haven’t really got one yet.

I still have my current writing series Book (Re) Writing to dip into, but that doesn’t really have a structured plan; it is more of on outlet for me rather than as a guide for others. I have a few loose ends I’d like to tie up on some of the franchise reviews I have, and I think I might revisit a few thoughts I’ve had in the past about these franchises, but actually other than that I haven’t got a clue.

And I think I will be happier for it.