glitter_n_gore: (jean gray)
Like every other thirteen-year-old girl in 1996, I was in looooove with Leonardo DiCaprio. He was just so gosh-darn cute, and he had two sweeping, tragic romances out one year after the other, and he had that lovely Italian name--how could we resist? Leo was my generation's Robert Pattinson, and I still have the scrapbook to prove it. The fact that he could actually, y'know, act, was beside the point.

It's hard for me to look at the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet without my nostalgia goggles on. I loved it then, I still love it now, and I honestly have no idea how much of that is my residual fangirl self and how much is my analytical reviewer self who thinks it's a genuinely good movie. So bear with me here--I'm biased, I know that, I can't help it.

0006fe1d

What I do know is there's a sizeable contingent of people who can't stand this movie, and I understand why. Usually their reasons come down to one of two things: either the decision to modernize the setting but keep the original text, or Luhrmann's flashy direction. Both are impossible to escape and hit the viewer hard from the get-go. So if either of those things bug you, it's gonna be a hard movie to sit through. Personally, I've always had an affinity for the uncompromisingly weird, so it never bothered me. Plus, if you happened to be studying the play in school at the exact same time (which I was), the modern context made the language a little more accessible--not so daunting and archaic.

The resulting film is one of the stranger interpretations of the classic play out there, but one of the most faithful at the same time. That's pretty impressive if you think about it. Additionally, because it is such a faithful adaptation, it makes a perfect case study for the classic Elizabethan tragedy.

Read more... )
glitter_n_gore: (jean gray)
Shakespeare Detour: West Side Story

I'm tackling these in the order I first saw them, although as it so happens West Side Story also has the earliest release date of the films I'm looking at. This 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 musical swept the Oscars and enchanted audiences for decades. The music alone is searingly romantic even without any context to back it up, and I've heard "One Hand, One Heart" in actual weddings in the real world. This retelling takes place in contemporary New York--well, contemporary for the time period in which it was created, meaning late '50s/early '60s--and makes some fairly signficant changes in the relationships between the characters, and the ending.

west-side-story_l2

Our young lovers are here represented by Tony (Richard Beymer), a former member of street gang The Jets, now trying to earn an honest living and waxing poetical about this extremely vague dream he keeps having; and Maria (Natalie Wood), the younger sister of rival gang The Sharks, who at the start of the movie wants nothing more than to go to the big party and hang out with the cool kids. Also, she's supposed to be with this guy Chino, but she just doesn't love him that way.

Now, while the overall structure of the original play gets changed a little every time it's revisited, even in traditional adaptations, there are a few key scenes that I feel need to happen in order for this to still be the "Romeo and Juliet" story:

-The love-at-first-sight meeting between the two lovers

-The balcony scene/mutual declaration of love

-The death of Mercutio

-The death of Tybalt

-The tragic finale with the deaths of the two lovers

West Side Story covers most of it pretty faithfully, hitting a lot of the same beats and unfolding at roughly the same pace. However, in this version, "Juliet" gets to live.

Read more... )
glitter_n_gore: (emma)
Welcome to the first of my Shakespeare Detours! This is a sub-category of my Film of the Book series that I didn't foresee, but since every single one of the Bard's timeless plays have been adapted to film multiple times (3 and counting this year alone), I felt it warranted discussion. This is an introduction to my first subject of study, and a personal favorite: Romeo and Juliet.

(Side note: people always seem to think my favorite Shakespeare play is Macbeth. No idea why.) (And yes, this is my sarcastic voice.)

So, there's a new movie adaptation out directed by Carlo Carlei, starring Hailee Steinfield (True Grit) and Douglas Booth as the titular leads. I'm told screenwriter Julian Fellowes has something to do with Downton Abbey, which everyone but me is obsessed with apparently. As of this writing, it's barely cracked a million at the box office (only $500,000 on opening weekend), and reviews have ranged from dismissive to scathing. Rotten Tomatoes tallies opinions at a measely 22% "rotten."

Now, I've occasionally liked movies that critics and audiences alike were fairly unimpressed by, such as Silent Hill: Revelation and John Carter. Personally, I wrote off this movie as "not for me" the second I first saw trailers for it, and the reason is quite simple: they changed the language. >__< No. When you're adapting Shakespeare, the one thing that adamantly does NOT need "fixing" is the language. Not unless you're moving the entire story to a different setting and time period, and sometimes not even then. (This version did neither, by the way.) SO yeah, I was prejudiced from the get-go.

All that aside, cinematic quality is not necessarily a requisite for driving up box office numbers and generating a decent profit. Just looking at the other box office toppers this week, one of them has a Tomatometer rating even lower. Also, as any literary or theater geek will tell you (with rare exceptions), R + J is not highly rated as one of the Bard's best works. But it is easily his most popular--in his day as well as ours--and the fact that it continues to gain followers many centuries after its first performance speaks volumes to its enduring success. Something about this story resonates with people no matter what era we're in. It seems like every new generation gets a fresh revisiting to swoon over.

The 1960s had not one, but two extremely lucrative and popular film adaptations of the play: Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (which is still the highest-rated among critics and movie-goers alike), and West Side Story (a musical transplanting that moved the story to contemporary New York and added a racial prejudice angle to the animosity between the two families). When I came of swooning age in the mid-90s, we had Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, which remains my favorite to this day, and not just for nostalgic reasons. There's even an anime version that turns Juliet into katana-wielding vigilante.

As it happens, Carlei's version is actually the second Romeo and Juliet movie that came out this year. Although I don't know how many filmgoers picked up on the other one being an adaptation because, well, in that case the Montagues were zombies. (Warm Bodies. It also has the best critical reviews since the Zeffirelli version in 1968. I'm not kidding.)

So where's the love for this latest movie? Are today's teens simply not interested in the idea of tragic romance? Do they not care about classic literary tales without something else--like zombies or whiplash editing--to spice things up? Has this story finally worn out its welcome to the point where it's no longer relevent to the current cultural atmosphere?

I don't think so.

Read more... )
glitter_n_gore: (midori sours)
So, in order to expand my literary horizons and give myself a list to cross things off of (I do like my lists), I've created a new reading list entitled, You've Seen the Movie, Now Read the Book! That's actually the file name, and yes, I saved it as a Word doc.

One of the books on this list is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version is the movie I've seen). I'm about halfway through it right now, and keep putting it away and coming back to it in smallish bits. I haven't been able to go through it all at once for two reasons: 1) The ebook I got is a horribly formatted free download (Most of the classics are free downloads, but OH GOD, please break your paragraphs! Break them! Have some mercy!); 2) I just don't like Jane Austen, despite giving her the ol' college try, whatever the hell that means.

But I'm not here to talk about that. It's fine for what it is, just not my thing. What I want to talk about is the assertion of so many Jane Austen fans I've met that insist her work--and this book--isn't "romance." Now, in fairness, I've never been a fan of romance, so I'm not an expert on the subject by any stretch of the imagination. However, I have a working knowledge of genre conventions in general, and the way category romance is perceived by the general public. (Read: not favorably.) The widespread idea is that category romance is poorly written, sex-heavy, full of one-dimensional characters, and just overall not that good. Jane Austen, on the other hand, is mostly regarded as a fine author of classic literature. She had her detractors (just ask Charlotte Bronte), but her work has stood the test of time and is widely read and appreciated all over the world.

The truth is that modern romance is often dismissed by some folks before they ever read a word. Yes, there's a lot of crap in the genre as a whole, and yes there's a formula that most romance writers adhere to, but the same can be said for any genre, in any time period. The only factors that truly categorize a work of fiction as "romance" are these: characters meet, sparks fly, circumstances keep them apart, eventually said circumstances are overcome, and then characters achieve Happily Ever After. That's it. And as far as I can tell, Pride and Prejudice follows that to the letter. There's some family drama going on as well, and it's got plenty of humor, but the main plot thread follows Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy untangling various misunderstandings and getting to their Happily Ever After. To be fair, I haven't finished it yet, but that's where this is going, right?

So here's what I wonder: Are Austen's fans decrying the label of "romance" in her defense? Is this really about the book, and Austen herself, being mis-categorized, or do people just want to jam a crowbar of separation between Austen and the painted maypole that is the modern category Romance with a Capital R? Seriously. Tell me. Because if we're breaking down the elements of romance into their most basic parts, I don't see the difference. And even though I still don't care for Big R Romance, I've read enough of it to know that there is some quality fiction out there. (For example: Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie; or Ilfayne's Bane by Julia Knight.)

Just something to think about.
glitter_n_gore: (clockwork orange)
This post is somewhat spoilery--consider yourselves warned.

First and for the record: yes, I'm a Battle Royale enthusiast and dedicated Asia Extreme fangirl, but we aren't here to talk about which futuristic dystopia about a totalitarian government annually pitting its children against each other in a last-man-standing duel to the death came first or did it better. I do have a preference, but they are very different stories, and I happen to believe Suzanne Collins' claim that she hadn't read or even heard of Koushoun Takami's novel before writing hers.

So, what are we here to talk about? Well, first let me direct you to this excellent post by [livejournal.com profile] seanan_mcguire: Some thoughts about gender and literature. The Internet is no stranger to gender wars, especially the really nasty ones, and somehow they seem to be getting worse. In the literary quadrant of said wars we have YA paranormal romance in one corner, with their pretty dresses and broody Type A alpha love interests; in the other, we have so-called "boy books" about action and adventure and coming-of-age. The biggest point of contention being, not the actual content of the sub-genres, but the gender of the main characters and, by extension, their assumed target audiences.

Let me put it another way: certain readers who prefer not to read books with female protagonists say they avoid them on the off-chance that a romance will happen. As someone who isn't fond of romance on the whole, I get this . . . kind of. It has a twisted logic to it. Twisted, because, well, not all books with female protagonists are about romance. Just as not all books with male protagonists are without it. Using gender as an excuse to make assumptions about a book's content is perfectly ridiculous.

Now, about The Hunger Games... )
glitter_n_gore: (romy)
Greetings! I have many updates in my adventures in querying, and writing in general because I just don't seem to be satisfied unless I'm working on about three or four things at once. (I don't understand it either. I just can't stop myself.)

In Query Letter Hell: I have a response from the agent who read my full. It's "no." A very polite form rejection, they have too many clients to take on anyone else right now, thanks for sending it to them and being so patient, etc.--the usual deal. I knew what it was and what it would say the second I saw the letter. This one stung a little. I imagine this is how it works in the querying process, though. The further you get along the path of "maybe," the more disappointing it is when you eventually get the "no." Also, because this one actually took the time to read the manuscript, that says to me that my query letter is good, but the story itself might be lacking. Which means I might have more revising to do.

And here is where that little voice in my head pops up and chirps, "Does that mean we can put off the synopsis some more?" and I sternly tell it, "Dammit, NO!" I will figure this mess out if it's the last thing I do. (Which it might well be.)

So, speaking of the synopsis: I put a better one together, more lean, that makes a little more sense, and got some excellent feedback on it. So now I have a clearer idea of what I need to do with it, and how to make that happen. Still don't want to though. I think most writers hating doing these things.

As far as my other works-in-progress go, here's the word count tally:

LUCID, my YA urban fantasy/horror story: 28,000.

DEMIGEISTS, an older idea that's been knocking around my head for a while, a ghost story set in a school: 3,000.

THE TIME GHOST, my NaNo from last year, going in a decidedly different direction: 600.

Now, let me talk about THE TIME GHOST for a moment here, because it's my most substantial WIP right now apart from LUCID: I wound up with a grand total of 75,000 words once I finished my rough draft, making it the longest story I've ever written, ever. However, since I have a tendency to write short, I was struggling to make that word count and wound up with a LOT of padding to fill it out. I haven't yet mastered the art of writing economically and still making the story last long enough to fill a book.

However, here's what I discovered after looking at the manuscript again: the plot is wretched. It's messy, incohesive, hard to follow, and doesn't make sense. It's only towards the very end that it starts to get interesting, but after that it quickly falls apart again. What I did well with the manuscript was world-building, getting a handle on the government and species of my futurist, interplanetary peoples, and creating a top-notch monster. The characterizations are....not my best. I have one that I like enough to keep. So he's staying. Everything else, I'm rewriting from the top. Hence the low word count.

Also, this newer approach is veering into romance territory. I don't read much romance--meaning, I can count the romance novels I've read on one hand, and can only think of one that I actually enjoyed. It's just not my genre. With that in mind, if I'm going to write a story that blends sci-fi and romance, I need to do some research.

So I asked for advice from the good folks at AW, got some reading recommendations, and a brilliant suggestion: read a couple of the shorter, category romances and study them, not for style or wordplay, but for plot structure and pacing. The goal is to see how the romance/courtship plot fits in with the other half of the plot, how they mesh together, the amount of time spent on each, etc.

I don't see myself becoming a romance writer on the whole. But this is fun--I haven't had homework in a long time, and I've bought myself some black and white composition books to take notes in, because I love those things.

The first book on my required reading list is Ann Aguirre's Grimspace, a futuristic romance that I found shelved in science fiction. I actually bought Grimspace last week, because Aguirre is one of the authors who publically supported Jessica Verday in that YA anthology fiasco I blogged about last time, and in turn I wanted to support her. The fact that she's on my list of recommendations is just lucky. It's a space opera type novel, which spaceships and distant planets and government-issue androids. So far, it reminds me a little of Star Wars and a little of FarScape--both of which equal WIN.

Ending with Jessica Verday's The Hollow, which I finished just this week, I have now read 16 books total this year.
glitter_n_gore: (samara)
Many of you know about the dysfunctional love/hate relationship I have with Twilight. Many more know what a gigantic success that series is, and a trip through any major bookseller will reinforce that success by all the paranormal romantic YA books on prominent display. I've decided to call this trend The Sparkle Phenomenon. If you don't understand that reference, let me direct you to [livejournal.com profile] cleolinda's fantastic glossary of all things Twilight: http://cleoland.pbworks.com/Twilight

One of the biggest criticisms directed at Twilight and its successors is the way the female characters are portrayed: they're often bland, weak-willed, and void of personal interests or goals outside of a relationship with some brooding, handsome boy, usually supernaturally inclined in some way, and the boy dictates the terms of the relationship and more in varying degrees of possessiveness and manipulation. The naysayers say these books are antifeminist and put the women's movement back several decades, reigniting the traditional gender roles we've fought so hard against for so long. There's a great essay entitled "YA and Rape Culture" here, which uses as its example Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush--a "romance" starring a fallen angel that sounds frankly horrifying.

To be perfectly honest, I don't mind fiction that upsets or even terrifies me. I'm a fan of dystopias and supernatural horror after all. The disturbing aspect of these books isn't the action that unfolds between the covers, but the reactions of young readers to them. I have no problem separating fact from fiction in these contexts--I have a zero tolerance policy towards controlling jerks in real life--but what worries me is that so many teenagers don't seem to notice that the relationships in these books are neither normal nor healthy, and often wax poetical over how much they wished they had someone just like Edward, or Patch, to come and sweep them off their feet. Here's another essay on that part of the Sparkle Phenomenon: Do Books Teach or Reveal? And another word from Cleolinda on the subject of bad boys in literature: My thoughts on Twilight, let me show you them. (Scroll down to Point no. 2.)

Amy and Cleo both raise some great points, and this is what I think folks need to keep in mind when they complain about successful books with bland, weak, or even masochistic female leads: There is no lack of strong females in YA literature. Katnis in The Hunger Games; Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials; Tally Youngblood in Uglies; I have many, many issues with PC and Kristen Cast's House of Night series, mainly the juvenile vernacular, but I do appreciate Zoey Redbird's stubborn streak and proactive attitude. The good stuff is out there. My point here is that writers of YA fiction have every right to do whatever they want with their worlds. Their job is to entertain, and as a writer, I'd be pretty pissed if someone told me to change the tone or theme of my work just because they didn't like the ideas some kids might get from it. The problem isn't with the books themselves. It's that the overwhelming majority of YA sales are going towards a certain type of book. If teenagers wanted to read about strong females kicking ass with or without a romantic partner, that's exactly what they'd do. The sales would reflect that--and with The Hunger Games, maybe things are already moving in that direction. But for the moment, they're reading about Mary Sue types falling hopelessly in love with big, strong, superheroes who push them around and tell them what to do. That's what worries me, because I don't understand how something like that became so popular in the first place.

I've always gravitated towards strong characters in fiction. Even if they have issues, such as being antisocial or even psychotic, characters who own their identity and get things done are always my favorites. (I'll be blogging about some of my personal favorites soon, but that's another project for another day.) Twilight lost me at the "lion fell in love with the lamb" line--not so much that I quit reading (to my occasional dismay), but that was the moment I realized I could never relate to Bella as a character. Ever. And I discounted her narration as biased and untrustworthy from then on out. If anyone calls me a "lamb" to my face, you can bet I won't take it as a compliment, and I might just have to prove how wrong they are. However, I was raised to own my identity and not let anyone else tell me who I am. Looking at the essay linked in the second paragraph showed me just how rare that is, because I can't see myself following any of the "rules" outlined about how polite females are supposed to behave. I err on the side of standoffish and bitchy (as my ex-boyfriend knows perhaps a little too well), but considering the alternative, I'm kind of okay with that.

What I'm wondering is just how widespread that mindset is. Obviously someone--many someones, all over the face of the globe--believes so strongly that validation by a man is required for one's self worth that they'll delve into a romantic fantasy with that very plot at the center. I know the teenage years are hell on self-worth, but I honestly don't remember feeling unworthy or "less" than my classmates on account of not having a boyfriend. I had crushes--oh, lordy, did I--but I had plenty of other things to occupy my time than pining over them. I've discovered over the years that I'm better than most with self-esteem, but I'd like to hope I'm not completely unique in this.

Anyone else like to chime in on this? I know I've rambled here, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately and wondering where all the attention given to this "romantic" YA trend comes from.

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