GotG Vol. 2 – or let’s talk about plot, baby

Three things that saved GotG Vol. 2 from total bust:

  1. The characters and their relationships – namely, the first movie;
  2. The Chain by Fleetwood Mac;
  3. Nebula and Yondu.

I also have to give them credit for avoiding a giant hole in the sky and opting for a subterranean climax.

Twice as many things due to which it sucked:

  1. The unbearable pointlessness of the Sovereign;
  2. Forced humour;
  3. Yes, we get it. Little Groot is cute.
  4. Angst overload;
  5. Drax as a comic relief character;
  6. The James Bondian “let’s pause so I can explain my evil plan to you”.

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Let’s Talk About Plot

Recently, there has been an influx of “big” movies without plot. This post was in my head after the remake of the Fantastic Four. It was there after Dr Strange. Suicide Squad, anyone? I’m really really sorry that it was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that has prompted me to finally write it.

We really do not need to refer to Aristotle to know that every story needs to have three parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. Logic entails that the beginning serves as an introduction to the story and its characters, the middle is in fact plot development which introduces the conflict and where the story reaches its climax, while the end gives us resolution and conclusion (we should be so lucky).

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Boys and girls who are writing superhero movies as of recently have decided to forgo introduction and plot development for something I will call a reminder. For approximately one hour (if we’re lucky, it’s just one hour) we are reminded about how cool the characters are, how familiar we are with them and the “universe” and how much we love it all. The reminder is also full of WHAM! BAM! KAPOW!

And then WHAM! BAM! KAPOW! – the climax of the movie. The end.

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Pretty much like the structure of this post.

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So, what is wrong with Ghost in the Shell…

….aside from all the painfully obvious things such as:

  1. Not enough ghost, a lot of shell;
  2. Two-dimensional characters;
  3. Explaining of things that are obvious to a 2-year old;
  4. Non-existent villain;
  5. 1995 view of the future
  6. Pathetic attempt at exploring the discorporation of consciousness?

All those things fade in the wake of the fact that 21st century has no fucking imagination whatsoever.

Cyberpunk is not a novel concept, but still it is a concept (or genre if you will) that can be perfectly set into modern society because we are in fact living it.

  1. Mega-corporations rule the world (and control our lives)? Check.
  2. Seamless merging of life with information technology? Check.
  3. Unbelievable technological and informational advancement? Check.
  4. Artificial intelligence? Check (more or less).
  5. The lines between real life and online life blurred? Check.
  6. Big Brother’s watching us? Check.

And what does Hollywood do? It takes a 1995 classic Japanese anime and makes a live action movie without adding absolutely nothing to it. I don’t think any of us here, in 2017, perceive that in the future we will be driving our own cars (made in the 80s, from what I could tell).

Mind you, I did enjoy the movie at several points, most of which included Michael Pitt and Takeshi Kitano. It is not total bullshit. There were  moments in the movie which made my time (and money) worth the while.

However, the movie has left me with two very important questions:

1. If I were to make a cybernetic soldier, would I make it/she/him 160 cm tall?

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2. Can we somehow stop them from ruining Akira?

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5 Freak-out Films

Movies, books, TV shows… Even those which seem as nothing more than mindless entertainment, if positioned properly within a life-cycle, can leave an indelible mark. Maybe it is not the dictionary definition of experience (every language should have a word equivalent to vicarious, btw), but it is nonetheless something you’ve been through. As with any and all experiences, the effect often depends on how much of yourself you put into the process, but sometimes you simply have no choice.

I believe I would not be who I am today if I haven’t read certain books at a certain point in my life. The same goes for movies. The best examples are probably Star Wars and Star Trek which have shaped the way my imagination works in space. However, when I am tasked with imagining a robot, the first thing that pops up is that very chic guy from the Forbidden Planet.

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I was prompted to write a post about movies which freaked me out by the recent release of the live action Ghost in the Shell and the first IT trailer.

Think. Which movies freaked you out so much you still shudder when you think of them? (NOTE: I’m not talking about Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo).

1. Stephen King (beyond time)

Long before I even knew what a Stephen King was, I developed an epic distaste for clowns, and I never managed to develop a balloon fancy – something which most kids seem to have had at one point or the other. Sewage and drains have held no appeal for decades due to fear of floating. Needless to say, there is Misery and Kathy Bates who decided to use a sledge hammer and mash Jimmy’s legs. No blood. No gore. And I was physically sick. The fact that both books were disturbing on a whole other level is a matter for a different post.

2. Enemy Mine (1987)

Some years ago Boyfriend Mine and I were discussing 80s and 90s movies and he mentioned Enemy Mine at which point I had an epiphany because I realized that he was talking about one of THE movies.

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In this movie, one of the main characters is an alien, which is in itself perfectly normal. Now this alien, who I’d considered a dude, turns out not only not to be a dude but to be pregnant, because it’s “that time”. I think this movie was a major step on my road to realization that being different is cool, that you just need to try and understand and accept those differences.

Jurassic Park paraphrased it nicely in 1993: “Life finds a way”. Then Feyerabend expanded on it: “The only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes”, after which Le Guin pretty much nailed it (as she usually does, the vixen): “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

3. Waterland (1992)

I’ve had disturbing dreams for years. Sometimes I thought those were caused by repressed memories. Then one day, some years ago, I stumbled upon Waterland on TV. It would seem that it is not very good to watch it when you’re 7 or 8 because it causes serious mental scarring. I’d thought there was something seriously wrong with me. Ok. It’s possible that there is something very wrong with me, but at least I know a part of it was caused by Waterland.

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I really don’t want to go into the specifics because to date I prefer not to think about those.

4. Monster (2003)

Back in early 2000s when I watched Monster I decided that I am done with drama, tragedy and “difficult” movies. I decided nothing is worth the misery and anguish, no matter how good or how true it was. I think it took me a month to recuperate from the desolation and hopelessness of the world and “human” beings depicted in this movie. This one really f#$%&d me up.

5. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

I’ve saved this one for the end because it might debunk the tentative claim I have made about not being crazy. I’ve had this dream when I was in high school. It was all cyberpunk-y and totally cool. It was one of those that stick with you because it’s as realistic as it is improbable. And there I am, walking around town and I notice a DVD of something called Ghost in the Shell. Mind you, this was before I was into anime and all things Japanese (now you’re thinking about hentai, aren’t you?). The moment I’ve noticed the cover I knew that was what I’ve dreamt about. It was extra weird. The conviction that I’ve dreamt a movie that someone actually made. Now, I’m a rational person and I’m aware that it is possible that this was the same situation as with the Waterland. But I could not recall ever having seen Ghost in the Shell and the weirdness of that moment, the certainty of that particular déjà vu still disturbs me.

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I will, however, like to end this one with a hearty recommendation: I, Daniel Blake. I cannot remember how long has it been since I’ve seen a movie so beautiful and so heartbreakingly painful. A masterpiece.

 

Lock, Key – no smoking barrels

I find myself lost for nice words (jaded?). I mean, I really enjoyed Lock and Key, and here I am struggling to write down the reasons I liked it, with a prepared list of things that were poorly executed in the book.

The positive aspects, which made me read the book in three days and have a hissy fit for having forgotten my Kindle at work one day, are just too damn ethereal. It’s not about the characters. It’s not about the plot. It’s about that general feeling that seems to encompass you when you’re reading a worthy book. It infuses every minute of your day and makes it different.

Lock and Key made my days somehow softer. It made me calmer and more serene. The story goes pretty much as Goodreads says it goes. It’s not very original nor is it exactly ground-breaking in character development. It even has one of my least favourite things – first-person narrator. But it worked for me, even though throughout the whole book I was painfully aware of all the things that could have been done better.

What sealed the deal at four stars is a quote which made me realize I need to stop bitching and feeling sorry for myself.

Needing was so easy: it came naturally, like breathing. Being needed by someone else, though, that was the hard part.

Yeah, I knoooow. It’s lame, second-grade stuff, but sometimes you need someone to remind you of that lame second-grade stuff you forget along the line. They don’t stop being true, we just dismiss them, thinking we’ve outgrown them.

I’m pleased that my new vague blog category has not been a complete failure, because this books fall easily into the Maximum Coze category. I guess it wasn’t a fluke after all.

How to Read the Bedwyn Saga

If I’ve ever wondered if there is such a thing as too much historical romance (I didn’t) I know the answer. There is. Really. I’ve read six and a half Bedwyn Saga books in a span of one month. It’s really difficult to say at which point I started feeling slightly mad.

If, at any point, you were (or are) interested in giving the Bedwyns a go, I will not dissuade you. I think that, if historical romance is your cup of tea, you really should. I had loads of fun, right until the moment I overdosed. And now, after going cold turkey a week ago, I am getting the shakes.

I am wiser now, though, and here I share my wisdom with you on how to read the Bedwyn saga:

  1. Read A Summer to Remember (#0.6) regardless of your interest/disinterest in the Bedwyns. It’s great. It really is. It’s true.
  2. Then go on to read Slightly Scandalous (#03)
  3. Take a break, breathe. Wear sunscreen.
  4. Go back to the Slightly Married (#01)
  5. At this point, if you’re not interested in Wulfric Bedwyn you should stop reading. If you are, jump to Slightly Dangerous (#06)
  6. If you’re feeling slightly bored, you might go on to read Slightly Wicked (#02) – it’s fun, although irritating at times.
  7. If you have developed any interest for Morgan (WOW!) go read Slightly Scandalous (#04) and if you actually managed to get “a feel” of Alleyne as a character (DOUBLE WOW!) you might (not sure, though – I’ve put it on hiatus) enjoy Slightly Tempted (#05).

I do wish I haven’t gone on this crazy binge because maybe, just maybe, I could have appreciated the series more. Actually, I’m almost convinced that would be the case.

Give Me My Binary Opposition

I’m really sick of being strong. Of enduring. Of keeping it real. Of gritting my teeth and pushing forward with a vengeance. I need a fucking break. Give me it. I need some leeway. I just need a minute or two where I can let go, be dependant, a pathetic, malleable jellybean.

Of course I’m ashamed of this. I’m ashamed of this desire to have the privilege of being weak. I’d probably hate it. I’d probably go mental from having someone guide me with a firm hand through even one moment of my life. I’d kick and scream, be all like:

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Still, I need my binary opposition to make sense of the world.

A Feeling to Remember

Have you ever sat by the river, watching the endless flow of placid water, listening to the rustle of leaves on the summer breeze? Have you ever sat in silence feeling the warmth of sun rays filtered through the branches on your face? Have you ever closed your eyes to better hear that moment of serenity? If you have, than you have an idea of what it felt like to read A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh.

I did not fall in love with Kit, the male protagonist, nor did I wonder what it would be like to experience the things Lauren has experienced. I did not feel compelled to rush through the pages, inadvertently skipping whole sentences to see what happens next. I was not frustrated by the “unnecessary” events and descriptions which did not deal with the two protagonists.

I did not grin excitedly.  I smiled contentedly.

Normally, only the books that fall into the Personal Edification category can arouse anything similar. The fact that I enjoyed a book intended for the Guilty Pleasure section this much is surprising. Novel. Strangely exciting.

There is nothing guilty about the pleasure I’ve had reading it. A Summer to Remember is a beautiful, unassuming book. I absolutely loved it and have enjoyed the writing style, the dialogue and the many characters it manages to portray wonderfully. I respect the way it reflects the period (Regency) in which it takes place in every aspect – even when norms and propriety are toyed with.

It’s not really easy to write about this book, but where words fail, I’m sure that the fourth panel of the little comic below will best explain what reading A Summer to Remember felt like. I do wonder whether the new category “maximum coze” will have additional entries.

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The First Cheap Thrill of 2017

During my seven-day tryst with flu, I have come to recognize there are some, albeit few, benefits to being unable to exercise any type of exertion. Putting aside that you might have to do some actual work while burning up at mild 38.5 degrees Celsius, you don’t (really) need your mental faculties to be at their peak to engage in these benefits.

  1. You can read silly books to your heart’s desire
  2. You needn’t explain to anyone why the fuck you are watching Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Jane Eyre AGAIN.

Flu is what brings about the first  Cheap Thrill of 2017 to my blog.

I’ve stumbled upon Storm and Silence on Goodreads (trending in some context) so I’ve decided to take it up when shit got too real.

Key words: 19th century, London, feminist, suffragette, tall, dark, curt, brooding, gender bender, guns, fights, France, balls (the kind you need a gown for), commerce…

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Storm and Silence (read here) suffers from a serious case of ADHD. Its story lines disappear and reappear indiscriminately, with no sense of proportion and position in the grand scheme of things. For example there’s a story line about Ella (sister) and her love problems which took up so much of Thiers attention (for some unfathomable reason).

Boring. Uninteresting. Superfluous. Boooooooring. Skip-skip-skip. Don’t care.

After putting the reader through superfluous torture with Ella, Thier decides he no longer has any interest in it and ends the blasted thing in just a couple of pages. Could’ve done that sooner. Like before introducing Ella as a character.

There is more than one thing that warns against reading Storm and Silence such as:

  1. The main character Lilly, whose point of view we follow, balances on the edge of lunacy for the best part of the book.
  2. It takes I would say about two thirds of the book to actually get an inkling that  Rikkard (blah name) Ambrose (that’s the tall, brooding dude) is supposed to be an actual human being
  3. The end of the book is stupid, ridiculous and impromptu as the conclusion of the Ella-storyline.

However…

It’s kind of a cute book, with all its quirks and general “is-this-really-a-book” feel. I liked it. It was fun. Even when it was irritating the shit out of me I still had a grin on my face. Despite all of the above, Lilly grew on me and I ended up really liking Ambrose even though it took forever for him to take shape. Yes. It is possible it was the flu doing the liking.

However…

I have also red In the Eye of the Storm (read here). Unlike Storm and Silence, the no. 2 actually gives of a unified feeling and can be mistaken for a book. In the Eye of the Storm can face many historical romances and not blink. While Storm and Silence dabbles with adventure, In the Eye of the Storm brings it on and takes it seriously. The major fault which both instalments share is the extent to which you have to suspend your disbelief in order to digest some of the things that happen.

However…

We who are in the business of Cheap Thrills and Guilty Pleasures suspend our disbelief like you wouldn’t believe. So, I intend to read the third book here and I fully expect to be entertained.

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Homo Mensura

The Flanders Panel
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Part of the infamous and no-longer-neglected Mini Book Club (featuring moi and Lukre)

Throughout most of the effort of completing the Flanders Panel, I genuinely hated the thing. I despised its inability to give depth to its characters, its inaction and unnecessarily long-winded philosophical musings. Reading it was a horrible experience. Truly, an excruciating feat. There’s nothing happening in this book. There are characters which talk a lot about what’s happening (which is nothing). It’s a jumbled mess of art, chess and dime-store philosophy which only dabbles in mystery.

But (I’m still having difficulty accepting there’s a but!), having completed it, it seems that the objective suckiness of the book has been misplaced by what I have decided it was lacking,

My participation in the recreation of the story has rendered it not-so-horrible. My irritation with the lack of proper emotional response of the characters to the atrocities in the book has, inadvertently, infused them in my mind with exactly that. Even though the flat protagonist Julia has failed to be appalled and heart-broken, by noticing her failure and purely by thinking about how she should have felt, I have somehow redeemed this bad piece of writing. This does not happen often, and I don’t know why it happens with some books, while not with others, but I ended up not giving a one-star review.

I’m a bit distraught by this, but at the same time I love it because it reflects that which I love about books – the words they contain and the stories they tell are subject to endless interpretation of the reader and how much that reader dedicates himself or herself to the process. The whole process is so delectably unstable and open – beautiful.

As I usually do, I rummaged through Goodreads in search of positive reviews which only confirmed that we only think we are reading the same book because it has the same content.

The Flanders Panel still sucks, tho. It’s one of those books that should have been good, because it has all the ingredients. However, as we all now, it’s crucial to know just what to do with those ingredients.

One damp afternoon, Arturo Perez Reverte sat down at his usual table in the quasi-artistic cafe El Museo, somewhere on the way from La Navata to Madrid. Quasi-artistic because its clientele comprised of art enthusiast and connoisseurs. Salvador Dali, who would meet his demise in January next year, never sipped absinth in the dim, smoke-infused interior while pondering the finer nuances of artistic expression.

Arturo was looking through the newspaper he found lying languidly on the table. He looked up briefly when the waiter inquired of his beverage of choice.

“Gin”, he replied, smoothing out his moustache, “with a twist of lemon, if you please.”

He went back to the newspaper, stopping at the art section. Apparently, there was a possibility of Spain housing the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.

August Thyssen, the founder of the Thyssen family’s financial empire and a passionate art collector would not be found in El Museo, Arturo thought, without malice or envy. He liked El Museo. He liked the reproductions which hung on the wall and the quiet discussions about art and an occasional game of chess which included more pensive stares than actual moves on the board.

The lanky waiter set the lemony gin on the table with a polite word or two, prompting Arturo to look up and smile. His smile froze beneath his moustache when his eyes caught a game of chess being played under the reproduction of the Arnolfini Portrait.

Being one of those art enthusiasts, he had a vague idea about the Flemish school and Van Eyck, but his knowledge of the 15th century was far from vague. All those bits and pieces of information, some larger, some smaller, coagulated in his brain to form an idea that will take the form of The Flanders Panel.

A Year in Life

Some 15 years ago I had a big fight with my mother. I was in high school (yes, I am that old) and we were watching the latest episode of Gilmore Girls. This was before Netflix, before binge TV. This was in the world of Napster – when it took hours to download a single song. This was a world in which, after a weeks’ worth of downloading you had an album to burn on a CD (a round disc with a hole in the middle which went into that slot in your computer, you know – the cup holder). Back then you could use your mobile phone for five things: call, text, calculate, wake up and play the snake.

In that world, in that particular episode Rory gets hurt after going for a drive (to get ice-cream) with Jess in a car that Dean had built for her. Lorelai, being a Jess-hater that she was, freaks out at Jess’s role in the accident. I don’t remember the particulars, but basically she blames everything on the irresponsible, token bad-boy of the show. She’s presenting her frantic case to Luke when I remark she’s overreacting and that she’s being a bitch about it just because she doesn’t like Jess.

At that point my mother says, calmly, that I shouldn’t comment because I don’t have any children. Today, my mum and I have a relationship akin to Rory and Lorelai. Back then we were Lorelai and Emily. So I freaked out, of course, because I believed (and I still do) that just because I have not experienced something first hand doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have an opinion about it.

All hell broke loose because the fight transcended into a fight about my right to have an opinion, to voice it and to have my opinion acknowledged. Note, it was a MASSIVE fight.

This is, I think, why people care about Gilmore Girls. Female people, that is. I think every mother wanted to be Lorelai to her daughter and every daughter wanted Lorelai to be her mother. With all its ups and downs, it was a relationship we wanted.  Some of us wanted to go to a fancy private school and live in a fairy-tale little town. Most wanted Dean, Jess or Logan. But I think it all boiled down to that mother-daughter relationship.

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It was hard not to get excited about A Year in Life, because it reminded me of how much I wanted to see how everyone was doing. It might sound sad, but fictional characters make out a significant part of my life and, often, they don’t give you closure. Closure rarely happens in fiction, because you don’t want the fiction to end.

Yes, A Year in Life did not show me what I wanted to see. There are some things that I consider stupid and unnecessary, but it didn’t diminish anything about it. Because I always thought what happens in Gilmore Girls just has to happen that way. It’s how it’s supposed to be, because that’s how life goes. Silly, I know, but I have always accepted the plot as a fact of life. Sure, I believe that some (most) plot choices in A Year in Life were made due to the availability of the actors, but I don’t care because it’s Gilmore Girls. It’s the way it should be.

2016 has been one of the lousiest years in my life. Made me question pretty much everything. Everything but my family. And that’s what Gilmore Girls is essentially about. It’s about family, and people you consider to be your family. Frankly, I think that family can get you through everything, even 2016.

In case you were wondering…

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