Into The West

I felt like this song was appropriate for the end of the year and a new beginning, and it’s a new version you might enjoy. Happy New Year! Congratulations on making through 2014.

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Year in Review: 2014

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

Emily and I at The Green Dragon in Boston.

I can’t believe another year has passed already. I’m starting to feel old, and I’m only 22 (almost 23!). Last year around this time I posted a short review of my year—exciting stuff that happened (I graduated!), books I loved, movies I saw. I thought I’d do the same thing this year because, even though nothing as exciting as graduating from college happened, I did read some amazing books and see some amazing movies.

lovelyphotoI’ll start with books. One unconventional book that I absolutely adored was Lovely: Ladies of Animation, a collaborative art book featuring personal work by Lorelay Bove, Brittney Lee, Claire Keane, Helen Cheng, Lisa Keene, and Victoria Ying. I went to their exhibit in Burbank at the Center Stage Gallery and it was amazing. I love their artwork, and anyone into art, animation, or Disney should check it out.

sinnerNovels I loved include Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys, a story about a hard working girl from the French District in New Orleans. The writing was wonderful and the characters colorful. Another colorful book was Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis, an “Arabian nights” type story set in India. Both those books are full of very different cultures, vibrant and interesting. Another book full of culture is Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse. The culture in this book is fictional, but heavily based upon Roman and Greek culture. I am incredibly excited for the next book, The Winner’s Crime. And speaking of waiting, I waited so long for Maggie Stiefvater’s Sinner, a stand alone companion novel to her Wolves of Mercy Falls series. If any of you like Maggie Stiefvater or werewolves or hot OTP couples, definitely check out this book. All of these books are incredible, and if you haven’t read them, put them on your “to read” list.

The-Theory-of-EverythingAs far as movies go, I enjoyed the adaptation of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which was not only a moving story set in World War II, but also incredibly close to the book. I also liked The Theory of Everything, the movie about Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane. The acting was amazing. And I know this is not a movie, but I also loved watching ABC’s Once Upon A Time. It was a fun, fairytale adventure with lots of twists and turns and villains. I can’t wait for the next season to come to Netflix.

Me under a tunnel of books.

Me under a tunnel of books.

It is difficult, nigh impossible, to top the traveling Emily and I did last year, going to London, Oxford, and Paris. This year was not as exciting, but we did get around. We went to Boston, walked the Freedom Trail, tasted the marvels of Little Italy. On the West Coast, I also visited The Last Bookstore, one of the most famous bookstores in Los Angeles, and it was quite the experience. Emily and I are closing off the year in Chicago together, so more adventures are yet to be had!

I can’t wait to wrap up 2014 watching Lord of the Rings in Chicago with my best friend, but I’m also looking forward to 2015. Hopefully it will be an exciting year and bring about some changes. I’m still thinking about what my resolutions should be, but hopefully they are big and exciting! I hope your new year is the same.

The Last Goodbye

The_Hobbit_-_The_Battle_of_the_Five_ArmiesWatching The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is sure to be an emotional experience for any Lord of the Rings fan. It marks the end of an era, the end of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations, the end of over ten years of waiting and watching. It’s been a long, crazy ride, but since the Tolkien estate is unlikely to release the rights to any other Tolkien works, the ride is now over.

It’s a bittersweet ending. I have enjoyed a lot of things about the Hobbit movies—Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, seeing the Shire again, watching the White Council in action. But most of the sweetness comes from the memories of Peter Jackson’s original trilogy, his wonderful adaptation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It’s not that the Hobbit movies are the “bitter” part of the bittersweet ending, but for a finale, it has been disappointing.

I’ve watched these Hobbit movies (An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug) with people who have both read and not read the book. In general, I’ve found that people liked the first movie, did not like the second movie, and are split over the third movie. I understand that separating the book from the movie probably makes The Battle of the Five Armies more enjoyable, but I didn’t have to make that distinction to enjoy Jackson’ original trilogy, so I don’t feel like doing that for Jackson’s farewell to Middle Earth.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo

Martin Freeman as Bilbo

I think almost everyone agrees that stretching this short children’s novel into three movies was a big, money-grasping mistake. All films are filled with unnecessary wastes of time, from more new characters and action sequences than any viewer cares for. Most of these scenes were in the second movie, which was by far the most filler of all the movies, but it also caught up with the third film. Why did the movie spend so much time with the sleazy Alfred from Laketown when he was a cheap Grima Wormtongue knock off? I don’t know. Why have there been so many orc chases in all of the movies?

I understand that when adapting a book to a movie, there have to be some changes, but I thought movies like The Book Thief and The Fault In Our Stars taught us that there don’t have to be that many changes to make a good movie. After all, if a book has a good story, that story will translate to a good movie. Here are the changes in The Battle of the Five Armies that I thought detracted from the story.

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel

Tauriel. I know that Peter Jackson and his writing team thought there needed to be a bigger female presence, but Tauriel felt like a cheap rip off of Tolkien’s female characters in Lord of the Rings. The romance between her and Legolas was stale and Tolkien would balk. The romance between her and Kili was cheesy (I can’t believe the same people who wrote dialogue Aragorn and Arwen wrote the dialogue for Tauriel and Kili), and Tolkien is rolling in his grave. It also felt like a cheap rip off because Jackson actually did rip off his own tricks from the original trilogy, like bathing Tauriel in light like he did Arwen, making her a warrior like Eowyn. Also, Tauriel is not canon. You can change canon in little ways to make your story work but you cannot create entirely new main characters. You just can’t.

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Bard (Luke Evnas) facing down Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Smaug. The second movie ends with the dragon flying to Laketown to destroy it, so naturally that’s where the movie picks up. The first thing that happens is Bard kills Smaug. It’s so anti-climatic for that to happen first thing and then have to move on to the battle so quickly. It would have been much more effective storytelling to end the second movie with the slaying of Smaug. I can’t believe Jackson and company couldn’t see that.

Azog. Peter Jackson and team thought they needed more agency to push the storyline, so they had an orc with a personal vendetta against the dwarves chase them. Of course, they wouldn’t have needed this agency if they hadn’t made this tiny book into three movies. But my big issue with Azog in this last movie is when he fights Thorin, Kili, and Fili. In the book, Thorin and his nephews die fighting in the midst of a battle to defend their homeland and their people. By staging a fight with Azog high above the battle, Jackson took away the meaning of their death. It was nothing more than this personal vendetta of revenge when it was suppose to be a valiant redemption. It wasn’t meaningful. I didn’t even cry, and I sob when I read this part of the book.

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Lee Pace as Thranduil

The ending. The subtitle of The Hobbit, given by Tolkien himself, is “there and back again”. The story ends with Bilbo returning home to his hobbit hole Bag End. The movie had that part, but it felt so rushed. Thorin dies, Bilbo heads off after a short goodbye to the dwarfs. This movie is the finale to LOTR movies as we know them, but the closure felt rushed and in hurry. Maybe I’m nostalgic and emotional and needed more time to process the ending of this era, but I would have liked a more meaningful ending, like the ending of The Return of the King. I also thought Thranduil’s exit from the story was rushed. Thranduil in general probably deserved more screen time, as some of his mystery character motivations were left half developed. But maybe I’m biased because I think Lee Pace is amazing.

In the end, I was disappointed by The Battle of the Five Armies, but all three Hobbit movies in general. There were things that I liked—the casting, mostly. But after Jackson’s incredibly successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, I guess I expected more. By stretching the book into three movies, adding new characters, and taking unnecessary and harmful tangents into the story, Jackson and his team feel short of what could have been a miraculous adaptation. Perhaps after the success of LOTR they thought had had more artistic license, I don’t know. But maybe they missed Tolkien’s original intent of The Hobbit. Maybe they tried to make it too much like Lord of the Rings. Either way, The Hobbit movies were not what they could have been. That’s not to say they were a total waste. When I have the urge to see Bilbo Baggins on screen, I can turn to these movies, but ultimately, these movies simply make me yearn to see the superior Lord of the Rings adaptation.

Into the West

Into the West

Women Warriors

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

A recent comment on the post about Graceling by Kristin Cashore got me thinking about female protagonist. While I strongly agree with this post from the Disney blog about being a strong girl/woman, especially the part where you don’t have to be a warrior to be a strong woman, I was thinking lately about the role of the female warrior in society, particularly literature and art. Female warriors are trendy. It’s cool to be a kickass woman who can best a man in a fist fight/gun fight/sword fight. I’m not saying that these women aren’t cool—Zoe Washburne is the coolest woman ever—but simply being a woman warrior doesn’t make you a good character.

I find several main issues that compromise female warrior characters in literature, film, and television. One is believability. Films are the big culprits of this problem, pitting 90-pound petite beauty stars against 300-pound ex-football pros and having the girl win. I’m not saying it can’t happen through intelligence, training, or quick thinking, but when it comes down to a lot of the hand-to-hand combat scenes in action films, I don’t believe that a super thin actress only cast for her sex appeal can drop kick a heavy stuntman. Unless you’re Summer Glau.

Gina Torres as Zoe in Firefly.

Gina Torres as Zoe in Firefly.

On the whole, it’s unbelievable that the daintiest of women are the action stars of contemporary cinema, but another issue I have with female warrior stereotypes is that they’re completely masculinized. Women don’t have to be men to be heroes. They don’t have to be men to be warriors. They can be feminine, kind, gentle, and still kick ass when provoked. There has to be a balance between perpetuating unrealistic images of the size 2 female warrior and the counter image of the steroid-abusing muscular female warrior. In order to find this balance, I’ve examined two of my favorite female warriors from literature that I think successfully present the female warrior archetype.

Eowyn from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

Eowyn is lady from the royal house Rohan in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Tolkien based the Rohirrim culture on Viking culture, referring to them as “Vikings of the plains”. As a shield maiden, Eowyn is skilled in combat, proving her skill by killing the Lord of the Nazgul. (If you don’t know what a Nazgul is, go read The Lord of the Rings right now.)

Miranda Otto as Eowyn in Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's work.

Miranda Otto as Eowyn in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s work.

I’ve heard many arguments against claiming Eowyn as an incredible female warrior, most harping on the fact that she gives up her warrior ways to settle down with a man after falling in love. But this is exactly the problem with people’s ideas about female warriors. People think that in order to be a female warrior, all you can care about is fighting. You can’t fall in love. You can’t stop fighting. Female warriors have to constantly remain independent, badass fighters who are above love and peace. But that’s ridiculous. No one imposes that idea on male warriors. They’re applauded when they accomplish their task and settle down into their hard-won peace. But when a female warrior does this, she’s suddenly compromising her values.

People often make female warriors two-dimensional. Their only interests and skills are in fighting. They aren’t allowed to have emotional complexities. They can’t have insecurities or weaknesses or crushes. But in the title ‘woman warrior’, the warrior part is not the defining word. Woman is. Women warriors are women, and rather than their femininity being a part of their warrior character, their warrior traits are a part of their character as a woman. Women can be warriors and also be shy, gentle, cooks, bookworms, tomboys, mothers, insecure, brave, and anything else that makes a person a person. They can also love peace.

Tolkien’s message about Eowyn hanging up her shield and turning to a life of love and nurturing wasn’t that women don’t belong on the battlefield. It was that fighting is only valuable and necessary to preserve peace. After the fighting is over, men AND women must give it up to now heal the people and the land. Eowyn choosing Faramir, choosing love over fighting, isn’t a defeat of feminist principles. It’s the overcoming of her insecurities and despair to find hope and a full heart in another, which is what Tolkien wanted for every male and female character.

Hunter from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

The Neverwhere radio theater adaptation cast. Sophie Okonedo as Hunter second from right.

The Neverwhere radio theater adaptation cast. Sophie Okonedo as Hunter second from right.

For those of you who can’t understand a female warrior who gives up her shield and sword, there’s Hunter from Neil Gaiman’s book about “London Below”, a magical realm beneath London that sucks in normal guy Richard Mayhew. Richard finds himself caught up in a quest to help Door, a girl from a family gifted in creating openings wherever they want. To help them on their quest, Door enlists the help of Hunter, a woman famed throughout the land for hunting and killing the most dangerous beasts in the world. Hunter is not a 5’4”, 90-pound actress cast for her smoldering eyes. Neither is she a deep-voiced, overly muscular woman from the 1936 German Olympic team. She is an athletic, strong, determined, smart woman who has built her skill and reputation through experience and hard work. She is good at what she does, better than any man at what she does, but she is both completely believable and uncompromising.

Gaiman doesn’t use her to beat the reader over the head with the idea that woman can or must be warriors. He doesn’t use her as a politic or social statement. Hunter just is. She does what she does as a character not because Gaiman is making a point, but because she is serving the story. Hunter is not perfect. She’s has severe flaws, which make her interesting, realistic, and complete as a character. She is just another character in the book, equal in status to Richard, Door, and the other characters. The book isn’t all about her just because she’s a female warrior. She isn’t better than the other character’s because she’s a female warrior. Being a woman warrior doesn’t make her special at all, which is why it is so special. Gaiman treats Hunter like a normal character, like being a female warrior is no different than being any other character, which is why I like Hunter so much.

Wonder Woman in the New 52 by Jim Lee.

Wonder Woman in the New 52 by Jim Lee.

I love strong female characters. I love women who kick ass. Female warriors are some of my favorite characters in all of literature—film, television, and comics included. But I hate the stereotypes that often go along with these characters. Yes, they can be independent, but that doesn’t mean they have to shut themselves off from love. Yes, they can be strong, but they don’t have to be men. Women warriors are women first and warriors second. Their warrior nature is a part of them, but it is not just them. Women are not just warriors. They are so much more, and writers should not limit them to such.

But I’ll get off my soapbox now. I have a hankering to watch Eowyn slay the Lord of the Nazgul in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation now.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue-Lily-Lily-BlueThose of you who follow YA author Maggie Stiefvater have probably seen—via Tumblr, Twitter, or some other media—tales of the pre-ordered copies of the 3rd Raven Boys book Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The truck carrying the pre-ordered copies from the Fountain Bookstore was in an accident. Scholastic sent early reader books instead of Blue Lily. Maggie went on tour and wasn’t home to sign the books because they arrived late. It was a long and involved process that eventually brought Blue Lily to my door, but it was well worth the wait.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue continues the story of Blue Sargent, the daughter of a town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, and her involvement with the “raven boys”, boys who attend an elite private school in the area. Richard Campbell Gansey III is searching for a long dead Welsh king, transported from England via magical ley lines that run through the earth. Ronan Lynch can pull things from his dreams, from cars to ravens. Adam Parrish is a scholarship student who still works three jobs to pay for his tuition, and Noah Czerny is dead. They are an odd team on an odd mission, but if there’s one thing Maggie Stiefvater does well—though she does many things well—it’s characters.

Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater

In the first book, The Raven Boys, Stiefvater brings a variety of different and interesting characters to life. The next book, The Dream Thieves, developed the characters a bit more, though the plot was mostly stationary. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was more exciting because stuff actually started happening. (Spoiler alert!) Blue’s mother is gone, searching for Blue’s father and Glendower underground. Something terrible happens to Persephone, another psychic in Blue’s family. Blue and her boys find the daughter of Glendower (the Welsh king they’re after). At first she seems crazy, but then she seems psychic. And then she seems somehow connected to Blue. Gansey and his friends are getting closer to finding their dead king, but everything in their personal lives is heating up.

Adam deals with the lawsuit with his abusive father while struggling to serve Cabeswater, the magical forest they awakened, and its physical and spiritual needs. Ronan, on top of being Ronan Lynch, is trying to find a way to extend Cabeswater’s power to save his brother. Blue’s mother is missing, and Gansey finds himself drawn more to Blue, even though they both know a relationship is impossible—for sake of the group dynamics and the fact that Blue’s fate is that her true love will die if she kisses him.

raven

In all of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, characters rather than plot are her forte. She creates interesting, passionate, lively, and unique characters that readers can’t help but love. Sometimes, though, even if you have awesome characters, you still need a little plot to help carry the story, which readers didn’t really get in The Dream Thieves, but after three books Gansey and Co. actually find one of the sleepers buried on the ley line. They’re finally measurably closer to finding Glendower. And then at the end of the book, they start something big, which we will find out about in the next book.

I liked Blue Lily more as things started happening in the book, and it set up a lot of things to happen in the next book, which is exciting. Those of you who love Maggie’s other books—The Scorpio Races, Sinner, etc.—will enjoy Blue Lily, and those of you who, like me, were getting a little antsy for something to actually happen, you will like this book too. I can’t wait for the next book to find out what happens to Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah.

Big Hero 6

Big_Hero_6_film_posterWalt Disney Studios has seen several different ages throughout its history. Under Walt himself the studio experienced a golden age, releasing such movies as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. In the 1990’s, the studio saw a revival of its animation studios—known as the Disney Renaissance—with films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Now, decades after the Golden Age and Renaissance, Disney Studios is experiencing yet another revival. Sparked by The Princess and the Frog, the first animated princess movie released in some time, this new revival quickly switched from traditional 2D animation to 3D animation with the popular Tangled and smash hit Frozen. But after three new princess movies, I’m sure the 6-12 year old boys were beginning to feel a tad neglected by Disney, despite charismatic male characters like Flynn Rider and Wreck-It Ralph. So before tackling another princess movie—Moana, the story of a Polynesian princess with a talent for navigating expected to be released in 2016—Disney released a new animated film featuring a male protagonist.

Hiro

Hiro

Big Hero 6 is about a young prodigy named Hiro living in the Japanese/American city of San Fransokyo. After graduating high school at 13, Hiro wastes his genius in “bot fights”, an illegal robot fight league. His older brother Tadashi, also a genius, tries to convince him to do something with his brain, encouraging him to apply to the local tech college. Though Hiro is having none of it, Tadashi takes him to his lab to meet his friends and colleagues—high speed chaser Go Go Tomago, neat freak Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon, and average intelligence school mascot Fred. Tadashi also shows Hiro the project he’s been working on—healthcare robot Baymax, designed to take care of people’s medical needs. While at the lab, Hiro meets famed tech engineer Robert Callahan and becomes determined to go this college.

In order to get in, Hiro designs a new set of micro-bots that conform to the imagination of whoever wears a special headset. After his presentation at the university, the conference hall catches fire, and Tadashi rushes in to save Callahan, who is still trapped inside. The building explodes and Tadashi is killed. Devastated, Hiro sinks into depression, unable to find a reason to pursue his education or any endeavor at all. That changes when he rediscovers Baymax, left behind by Tadashi. After Baymax discovers that someone has replicated Hiro’s micro-bots and Hiro realizes that the fire that killed Tadashi was no accident, Hiro becomes determined to find the person responsible for Tadashi’s death.

From L to R: Fred, Go Go Tomago, Baymax, Hiro, Honey Lemon, and Wasabi.

From L to R: Fred, Go Go Tomago, Baymax, Hiro, Honey Lemon, and Wasabi.

After upgrading Baymax, Hiro brings in his friends Go Go Tomago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon, and Fred to help him catch the man who stole his micro-bots and killed Tadashi. Together, they all form Big Hero 6, and with the help of his friends—especially Baymax—Hiro realizes that he can’t let himself become consumed by thoughts of revenge. And that it is better to help people than to follow selfish motives.

There are a lot of endearing things about this movie. Baymax is a quite adorable and loveable robot. Hiro and Tadashi have a great relationship, as do Hiro and Baymax, and Hiro and his team. Throughout the movie they learn to work together to accomplish things, and they keep each other on track when one of them—Hiro—begins to stray from their mission. As with most Disney movies, Big Hero 6 is full of humor that will entertain children and adults. The cityscape of San Fransokoyo is fascinating, and the movie is fun and engaging.

Baymax

Baymax

Children and adults, boys and girls, will all enjoy this movie. It is an excellent deviation from Disney’s princess line. The superhero nature of the film leaves it quite open for another one, two, or twenty follow-up films. We may be seeing a lot more of the Big Hero 6 team, and I hope we do. I enjoyed the movie and look forward to watching Baymax again once he hits DVD.