Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Death to Mary Sue! (Or, why Twilight sucks)

There a thousand reasons why The “Toilet” Saga is one of the worst things to grace modern literature and cinema (except perhaps its adult counterpart, 50 Shades of Gray… blech!) I could discuss the forced love triangle, the absolutely appalling and immature writing of Stephenie Meyer, how any potentially cool secondary character is ‘eclipsed’ by Bella, Shovel-face, and whiny-wolf. I could go into how the books are filled with ideals gone wrong, a poorly constructed fantasy world that consistently contradicts itself, dysfunctional/incestuous family values, or the cringe-inducing inner monologue... Yet, there is one aspect that is more annoying than all of these things combined (if you can imagine that). The worst thing crime writer can commit, writing in the voice and style of Mary Sue.

So who is Mary Sue and what does she have to do with Twilight? The definition of Mary Sue as given by is very well put. It states:

A Mary Sue is a character in a work of fiction who exists primarily for the purpose of wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. She plays a prominent role in the work, but she is notably devoid of flaws or a complex personality, and she usually represents the pinnacle of idealized perfection. All of the other characters love Mary Sue, because she is extraordinarily helpful, talented, beautiful, or unusual, and she often drives readers absolutely crazy because she is one-dimensional and too idealized to be realistic. The male equivalent of a Mary Sue is a Gary Stu.

Stephenie Meyer may in fact be the biggest offender of Mary Sue writing of all time. Her Mary Sue is Bella Swan.

First of all, I’m into good, meaningful names for characters, Isabella and Swan are both beautiful names, but how pretentious is it to name your main character something that means beautiful swan? Seriously.

Bella is essentially the world’s most boring teenage girl and somehow she gets a vampire- a guy who’s been alive for over 100 years and seen everything- to fall obsessively in love with her. I mean this guy has over a century of culture, intelligence, and experience and for some reason he just can’t get enough of Bella. But if that weren't enough, oh no, another mythical creature- a werewolf with abs of steel- ALSO is obsessively in love with her too. Oh dear, she has TWO hot, magical men who love her. What’s a girl to do?

But Mary Sue doesn’t stop there, she’s hungry for more. Bella is also the only human who somehow is resilient to any vampire’s powers… convenient. She gets to finally marry Edward and before she becomes a vampire, she gets to have a child, which is supposed to be impossible for vampires, but she’s Bella so she has to be allowed at least one child, right? So after the gut-busting, alien birth of Renesmee (her daughter who is more beautiful and enchanting than anyone ever, of course), Bella gets to become an immortal vampire. She gets to be 18 forever. She gets super strength and power and gets to be even MORE beautiful than she was before and glimmer in the sunlight. She gets to be a part of the Cullen family who seem to have money coming out their rear ends. They make her and Edward the perfect dream cottage filled with Pottery Barn’s entire fall collection.

But wait, there's more… did I mention that since she is a vampire now, she and Edward get to have endless, amazing vampire sex because vampires stay hot, young, and beautiful forever and never get tired? However, this makes no rational sense because in Meyer’s world vampires don’t have blood, a pulse, or beating hearts. I'm no science and anatomy expert, but last time I checked blood coursing through your body is the means by which you can become sexually aroused, so therefore how can Meyer's vampires even have intercourse? An awkward thought, but seriously, she didn't even consider that before going into pages and pages of vampire softcore porn?

Renesmee will become full-grown by the time 7 years have passed. She grows incredibly fast and therefore Bella and Edward don’t have to deal with diapers and late nights for more than a few months… convenient…again. They feared she would grow too fast and die, but some random tribal people from Brazil appear out of nowhere and let her know that her child will get to live to be at least 150 years old, if not older, so she gets to have her precious Renesmee forever too. Convenient… again

Bella’s impervious-ness to vampire powers makes her what's known as a “shield” so even if they get attacked she will always be able to magically shield those she loves. Also, Bella gets “super self-control” meaning that though she’s a ravenous newborn vampire, she miraculously can fight the urge to rip human throats, and because of this she can still have a relationship with her human dad and mom. Convenient… AGAIN

*Side Note: Bella’s dad, Charlie, is the best character in the whole series. Team Mustache-Dad!

Stephenie Meyer is the age of most of her readers, who are in fact not teenage girls but women 30-50 who want to relive their teenage fantasies through the vessel of the mighty Mary Sue. It’s quite sad, really. Not that older people can’t enjoy young adult fiction, I personally do, but it’s just bad writing and story development. If you are an aspiring writer, like me, let this be a message for us all. Stay away from Mary Sue!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"The fire rises!" ~ The Dark Knight trilogy...

Wow, so yet again extremely overdue for a post. This is ludicrous and I am sorry to myself and my readers. It’s been one of the hardest and most wonderful years of my life. Under a lot of stress and my health has also suffered under stress, but I am taking time out from a lot of extra activities to restore my health and for my craft. Time out to be able to devote to writing my blogs and screenplays I love so dearly.

So while my post is overdue, so is the topic, but it is none-the-less sincere. I meant to write this in July. So in order to keep my blog current I am pledging to post at least one blog a month, more if I can, and since this holiday season is filled with excellent films there is sure to be a lot to write about. Anyway, let’s fall through the sands of time and discuss an amazing trilogy.

I know these days it’s almost a cliché to say you are a Christopher Nolan fan, but… I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan! Very few artists have inspired film viewers and makers the way he has. I do not elevate people, because we are all human and no one is without flaw or the inevitable ability to fail or disappoint, but he has done so little of that in the way of his artwork that it is something to be admired. His films can be said to have their own genre. They’re a little bit fantasy, a little bit action, a little thriller, a little drama and a whole lot of film noir.

This year we saw the end of his epic Dark Knight Trilogy, his beautiful retelling of the Batman legend first born in comic books. I can say I am personally saddened. I could have watched him make batman movies forever, they were so great. However, I do know that artists don’t want to be stuck in the same thing for too long and be known for only that. All things must come to an end, so I guess it’s time had come.

Nolan brought Batman to a whole new level of realism, mystique, and emotional depth. What could have been (and has been) done in a cartoony way before has been revolutionized. Now don’t get me wrong, that sort of fantastical way of super hero storytelling has its place (in stories where heroes that actually have superpowers) and I personally love those stories, but Batman has always been a character whose walk was born in tragedy and had to fight on the darker side of justice and the movie screen.

To have one movie with a deep symbolism is a feat, to have two movies is an achievement and to have three is a masterpiece. There are a million and one things I could discuss about The Dark Knight Trilogy, but the main thing I want to unravel is “the pit” and how Batman makes a literal and figurative climb from the pit of sorrows into glorious light. It is this symbol that ties the entire trilogy together.

In The Dark Knight Rises when the villainous Bane tosses Bruce Wayne into the pit of despair, (the prison from which Bane himself escaped from), it would seem hope is entirely gone. It is said that this prison is inescapable, and when your body and spirit are broken entirely like Bruce’s, it seems all the more impossible.

There is a point where Bruce tries to climb out and then falls. He has a flashback to his childhood (a scene from the first film) where his father comes to pick him up after he falls into the well that would one day be the doorway to his bat cave. This also stages one of the most memorable lines of the series: “Why do we fall? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up again.”

Bruce’s fall into the dark bat cave as a child is symbol for the place he’s been his whole life. He breaks his arm, but is broken in more ways than one. Soon after, his parents are tragically killed in front of him. Bruce did not have much time to be a child but was tossed violently into adulthood, and oftentimes adulthood is like a dark cave full of vicious bats. A place where we are broken.

In all three films Bruce struggles with his identity as man being engulfed with his identity as a symbol and his desire to quench the thirst for justice in both his city and his heart. In this way, he embraces the darkness of where he fell, not that he becomes dark or evil, but that he learns to stand though broken and afraid. I thought this was beautifully shown in the scene where he comes back to the bat cave as an adult and the bats begin to swarm. He is afraid, but slowly he rises letting them brush past his body fully accepting of the dark place he is in and what he must do to conquer it. An astonishingly powerful scene.

But becoming a knight in the darkness of course comes with a high price, mainly the compromises he makes in concealing truth and making emotional decisions. This is portrayed subtly throughout the films in showing that though Batman wears armor, he still is bruised and beaten by the evil he faces. This is where the conflict of the two identities arises. He is a purely powerful symbol, but underneath still a vulnerable man, a child covering his face from bats in a cave. In The Dark Knight, he compromises a lot because of his feelings for his childhood friend, Rachel, and he loses sight of his objective, thus allowing himself to transform into the man we see at the beginning of Rises: crippled, wrongly accused, living in the shadows, and lost in sorrow.

This brings us again to Bane’s banishment of Bruce in the prison with a beaten body and hopeless heart. Bane assumes that Bruce will give up and when he does Gotham will easily fall. What Bane cannot anticipate is Bruce’s earnest devotion to run his race to the finish. Even after he has lost everything and nothing left in his hands Bruce truly proves his heroism in his action to finish the job saving the city he promised he would restore. After much pain and healing, Bruce makes several attempts to climb out of the prison, but each of them fail. The prison doctor advises him to make the climb the way the child who escaped did, without rope, without something to catch him when he fell, a full-fledged risk. Risk fuels passion, and passion can make impossible things possible.

The moment Bruce makes his final, rope-less climb and the prisoners are chanting at him to “rise” in a boisterous chorus is nothing short of breathtaking. This is the moment of rebirth where the Dark Knight truly rises. Bruce finally leaves the bat cave he has been in since the day he fell as a child, the rush of fear washes over him as he leaps and finds his grip on a stone shelf. He makes it, he conquers, and walks out into the bright sunlight. He is no longer broken, he is a man who has risen with new life. (Sounds an awful lot like someone I know).

The end of the film, and the series, is so poignant and exhilarating my heart pounded thunderously in the walls of my chest. What concludes the “rise out of the pit” is Bruce passing on the torch of his symbol to young Officer Blake, whose legal name is Robin (and the nostalgia kicks in!) Blake may actually be a better Batman than Bruce was because he has a nobility and purity in his heart despite the horrific things he has seen and been through. Blake’s passion for justice and restoration will help him carry Batman to the finish line of the race Bruce originally started. Bruce finally gets to live a life in the light, as does his love Selina, and Robin gets to become the hero he longs to be outside the parameters of the law. The Dark Knight rises indeed and his wingspan covers years of legendary comic book storytelling with epic magnificence. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

"Death favors no man..." ~ Snow White and the Huntsman

I love fairy tales, they are my favorite stories. The darker the better, though I do like light and funny ones on occasion too. Fairy tales are another form of parables, as they are stories with deep meanings put very simply and memorably. I am glad these kinds of stories are making their way to the big screen again, as I hope to one day make my own live-action, fairy tale epic or two. Not only that, but we as a culture are hungry for stories of passion and purpose, stories that reveal truths using imagination and bringing up fresh water from the wells of our dreams.

It was the beautiful banner (above) hanging in the cinema that hooked me into seeing Snow White and the Huntsman. The visuals of the film are just as captivating their promotional artwork and trailers promised. Breathtaking cinematography captures not only a phenomenal setting, but also emphasizes the importance of color in storytelling. It was rich with the fantasy element but also raw and choppy to bring realism to the scenes. This film had much of the feel of Elizabeth: The Golden Age in style right down to its strong, metal-plated heroine, and all woven with the magnificent score provided by one of my absolute favorite film composers James Newton Howard. I could go on and on about the technical proficiency of the film, but my aim is always the film’s heart and for fairy tales that is the most important element.

I worked for a theater company when this movie was out, and whenever people would exit the auditorium I would always hear someone say, “ But, Charlize Theron is so much prettier than Kristen Stewart….blah, blah...” Sorry if I sound pretentious, but, these people obviously missed the entire point of the film.

Queen Ravena is aesthetically more beautiful, why shouldn’t she be? She poured every bit of money, effort, magic, and time into making her outer appearance young and beautiful forever. Ravena also missed the point. If she had cultivated her inner character half as much as she cultivated her looks, she would have been much stronger in every way.

The point of the story is that Snow White focused more on her inner character. She spent most of her life looking dirty and shabby in prison, and spends almost the entire film staying that way. She isn’t wasting precious time on perfecting her outer appearance; her heart and her time are dedicated to helping her people and seeing the success of a good and righteous kingdom. Her strength and passion, purity of heart, and nobleness of intent are what made her fairest. Her passion inspired men to fight at her side, whereas Ravena only used magic and fear to do so. In that light, who of the two is the more powerful one?

Ravena grieves from years of abuse and instead of preventing abuse to anyone else, she uses her suffering as a weapon. She is highly against men and blames them, claiming that men only want what is young and beautiful and that both of those things are the source of power. Ironically, she is enabling the very thing she stands against. By using her beauty, and even her sexuality to a degree, as a weapon, she is saying that those things are the only way a woman can become powerful. It’s an extremely counterproductive and non-progressive way of thinking. So the reason she is so easily defeated in the end was because Snow White had found the way to truly govern people and leave a lasting impression through the strength of good and noble character. Ravena had only put her vitality into her beauty, and since beauty always fades, she would never be capable of true and lasting power.

Instead of pushing against men, Snow White actually draws her strength from them as an equal. The Huntsman, for example, is key to Snow White discovering her own confidence. Instead of doing everything for her, he teaches her and stands with her. It takes him a bit to see her strength, but when he does he doesn’t let her just sit there feeling sorry for herself, but encourages her to defend herself and her people.

Oddly enough, even with two men who love her, this movie isn’t very much about the romance. Her childhood friend, William, is a man of good character, but lacks the fiery personality and presence of the Huntsman. The Huntsman was easily my favorite character. Though he is definitely very rough around the edges he has a poetic and gentle inner spirit. The speech he speaks over her “dead” body was absolutely beautiful. I don’t know if it’s the words themselves or the simple and direct way Chris Hemsworth has with line delivery, but who hears “…you’ll be a queen in heaven now and sit among the angels…” and isn’t melting? Chris Hemsworth is showing more and more that he can carry a movie. His acting and screen presence have grown tremendously and I look forward to seeing him in more challenging roles in the future.

This isn’t an original story, but it is a very original way of telling it. For instance, the scene where she kisses William poses a very well-done change. Typically, the Queen comes as an old beggar woman to tempt Snow White with an apple. For obvious reasons, that would not work in this story. So she comes to her as her dear childhood friend and the apple is part of a game they played. Coming to her as someone she trusts is far more treacherous than using the guise of a stranger. Also, it’s more believable and yes believability is important even in a fantasy, perhaps even moreso in a fantasy.

Another change I really enjoyed was the way they presented the dark forest. The beloved Disney version shows Snow White fleeing for her life and hallucinating frightening images in the darkness. In this version there are plants camouflaged in the ground that emit a cloudy gas (drugs, pretty much) that make you hallucinate and that is what makes the forest so terrifying. As the huntsman puts it, “the forest feeds off your weakness.”

So it's common knowledge that I hate Twilight and everyone in the world seems to hate Kristen Stewart, but she honestly wasn't bad in this film. She wasn’t Bella. She does have some things she could work on in her performances, for example she has this natural way of having her mouth open ALL THE TIME. She isn’t the first actress I’ve known to do this, it’s a personal habit, but it’s definitely distracting. Anyway, with time she has the potential to grow and learn, especially after she scrapes the final awful Twilight movie off her plate.

Though I really enjoyed this film, I do regret that it didn’t have as much character development as I require in films, so points taken off for that. Thirty minutes longer for characters and plot development would have made this good film great. I know I say this every time I write about a blockbuster these days, but rushing stories is a huge pandemic in contemporary film and it must be cured. There is no excuse for it in a fairy tales especially, when the epic-ness of the story is already there and you have only but to flesh it out. We are nothing, filmmakers, if not master storytellers. The means make the ends more satisfactory, and what happens in between Once upon a time and Happily ever after is even more crucial than those famous lines themselves.