Book Review: Seeking Unseen, by Kat Heckenbach

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since this book was released. Released in 2012, that makes it seven years to be exact. I haven’t done justice to some of my writing friends by putting off reading their books, but I’ve recently made a commitment not only to read more, but to purpose to read more of those books I should have made time for long ago.

Finding AngelKat’s books are at the top of my list, as someone who has poured a lot into me professionally. I read and reviewed the first book in her Toch Island series, Finding Angel, way back in 2013. This morning, (having reread Angel over the summer) I finally finished the second book. I’ll have to put a book or two between this one and the third, but I’m determined to finish this series within the next few months.

I’ve also been notoriously critical in most of my reviews. Since 2013, I’ve sort of mellowed in this department. I reread my review of Angel and cringed a little. Maybe I was too critical. Upon my second reading, I’ll gladly take most of that back. Continue reading “Book Review: Seeking Unseen, by Kat Heckenbach”

Did Guardians of the Galaxy 2 jump the shark?

GOTG2**A MOSTLY SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

I sat at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, watching the credits scroll by and waiting for the bonus scenes. I glanced at my friend and he had the same puzzled expression that I did. He asked, “What did you think?” I replied, “I’m going to have to process this.”

And process it I have. My friend and I discussed our mixed feelings about the movie all the way to our homes. I realized that something was really bothering me about the movie and I made two crucial thoughts on that ride.

First, I had the distinct impression that the producers/writers/director had surveyed all of the most popular Marvel movies to date, cataloged all the most successful scenes, and developed a formula for what they thought would be the perfect Marvel movie. Then they proceeded to make GotGv2 using that formula.

Second, with the issue of escalation an all too real problem in Hollywood, especially with on-going franchises, I had a sneaking suspicion that I just watched Marvel “jump the shark.”

If you’re not familiar with that term, let me explain. It comes from a 1977 episode of Happy Days, where Fonzie proves his bravery by water skiing and ramps over a shark…all while wearing his trademark leather jacket. The term has come to refer to an instance in any TV show or recurring franchise when the show presents something utterly absurd for the sake of novelty and ratings. It’s what ultimately happens through escalation, where there’s constant pressure to “raise the stakes” in story telling. And the writers are beginning to run out of ideas.

Speaking of pressure to raise the stakes, that’s also typical of any sequel. Producers feel pressured to top the first one, bring back all of the audience’s favorite gags, but also try to force in a better sense of artistry than they did before. Often sequels crash and burn because of it. This movie could have just been a typical sequel.

So did Guardians of the Galaxy 2 jump the shark? Let me give you some of my observations:

  1. Too many layers. Every character has some kind of emotional conflict/back story and subtext that they are trying to resolve. EVERY. CHARACTER. It was just too much to keep up with. Which leads into the next point…
  2. None of those layers were executed well. Sure, if they’d stuck to one or two there would have been screen time enough for proper development. But this movie has seven or eight. Let that sink in a moment. The audience is expected to emotionally connect on the subtext of seven or eight character journeys.
  3. The formula. Remember I mentioned it felt formulaic? That’s because it did. Go cherry pick the best bits of your favorite Marvel movies and there’s probably an equivalent somewhere in this one.
  4. While we’re at it, let me repeat my other previously mentioned thoughts: pressure to raise the stakes and typical sequel problems.
  5. Weak overall plot. The whole adventure felt very forced. From the absurd opening antagonists that wouldn’t go away for the whole movie, to the primary antagonist that felt like he just showed up and said, “Hey! Let me be the bad guy!” All the different character layers, escalated stakes, forced antagonists, and horrid excuse for an inciting incident, made the plot disjointed and confusing.
  6. babygrootBaby Groot. I think the producers knew about everything I’ve already said. They knew the script had major problems. So they tried to disguise it with Baby Groot. Because who could hate a movie with Baby Groot? Don’t fall for it. It’s a sleight-of-hand gag.
  7. But Baby Groot wasn’t the only funny thing. Everything was funny. It was almost like watching a Saturday Night Live sketch. Every shtick and cliche they could find to play for a laugh, they did. Thirty seconds of screen time could hardly pass without some attempt at a joke.

But the moment that made me think they “jumped the shark” can be summed up in one word. Pacman. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. That moment was just one absurdity too much.

Bottom line, this movie felt like a money-making scam. Throw some special effects and a cute Baby Groot at the audience, play up every possible joke you can, and they’ll pay to come by the score…so why waste money on good writing?

I really wanted to like this movie. Instead, I feel like I just witnessed the beginning of the end for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I say that, because I have a horrible feeling that Thor: Ragnarok is going to be exactly the same as this.

I’m still hoping that SpidermanHomecoming will redeem Marvel for me this summer. Fingers-crossed…

-odk

(Now you may commence bashing me.)

Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

gavin-stoneLast night I had the opportunity to pre-screen The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. Actually, I had the opportunity last week, but due to some technical issues I didn’t get to until last night.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is Walden Media’s and Vertical Church’s latest offering in the ever growing faith-movie industry. It’s about washed-up child star, Gavin Stone, who has become a media badboy as an adult. After a particularly wild party, Gavin is sentenced to 200 hours of community service. He serves these out at a church in his hometown, where he has no choice but to reconnect with his estranged dad. Gavin also charms himself into the church’s stage production to get out of mopping floors, and takes the role of Jesus. It stars Brett Dalton (Gavin), Anjelah Johnson-Reyes (Kelly), Neil Flynn (Waylon), D.B. Sweeney (Pastor Allen), and Shawn Michaels (Doug).

When I was asked if I’d review a movie in which Grant Ward (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Jesus and the Janitor (Scrubs) is his dad? I said, “Yes, please.”

The movie opens this Friday (Jan 20, 2017) in theaters. As a matter of full disclosure, I was provided an advanced screening from Inspire Buzz marketing. However, as I always do, I will give you a completely honest review. Continue reading “Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”

The man who forgets…

eleventhglassA few days ago, my friend and author Kat Heckenbach made this observation on Facebook:

Realizing, as I watch Doctor Who Season 7, that Clara Oswald is not lacking anything. She is really awesome. BUT. There was no mourning time for the Ponds. That is why the transition didn’t work. For some reason, the move from Rose to Martha to Donna to Amy/Rory…it all felt like it was going in the same direction. But going anywhere away from Amy and Rory…there just needs to be time to mourn, and we weren’t given any.

Being a Doctor Who fan who actually remembers and watched Classic Who when it was still new, I am of the opinion that #11 (Matt Smith) actually embodies Classic Who the best of the modern Doctors, that Moffat’s writing for #11 is more true to the Classic Who methodology, and that Amy and Rory were more typical of Classic Who companions. I know not everyone agrees with me in this, but that’s not really the point of this blog. I bring up those opinions because the transition from the Ponds to Clara and saying goodbye to #11 was a big deal to me.

So as I was considering what Kat said and the subsequent replies, which covered things like having to say goodbye to the Ponds too many times and Moffat’s split loyalties in writing between Who and Sherlock, and a great joke which I’ll include at the end, I realized that, even though I too felt something odd about the transition from the Ponds to Clara and a weird misstep in Eleven’s goodbye, Moffat really did get it right.

Continue reading “The man who forgets…”

Book Review: I Am Ocilla, by Diane M. Graham

I Am Ocilla

Open your heart and mind to the simplicity and complexity of a name.

I know only my name. Beyond that is confusion, a void where fantasy and reality swirl together. Fairies, Giants, Elves, Dwarves, ancient Keepers, and…Dragons? A dark soul threatens the Five Kingdoms, but I am powerless to stand against him, overwhelmed by phantom memories, broken and lost.

Somehow, I must live. I must find my purpose. There are friends to love and battles to fight.

I know my name. Perhaps that is enough.

I am Ocilla.

This is my story.

In our current book economy, where writers can rush to publication, by-passing the traditional gatekeepers, and throwing good writing principles to the wind, there’s a lot of junk out there. And the problem is, you can’t tell anymore what is a properly good read and what is a waste of your time and money. It’s become a mine field, a dart shoot, a flip of the coin. So more than ever, the educated reader must depend on good solid honest reviews before taking a chance. Sadly, most reviewers are just as random now as the books they review.

Continue reading “Book Review: I Am Ocilla, by Diane M. Graham”