Movie Review: The Woman in Black

“I will never forgive.”

 –  Jennet Humfrye, The Woman in Black

 

I admit it! Yes, I only watched this movie because I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe “Expecto Patronum” some evil spirits. Don’t hurt me!

Sorry, but lately when I’ve been mentioning this movie to people, or telling them I’ve seen it, they usually reply with, “I bet you only watched it because the guy who played Harry Potter is in it.”

You got me. Congrats.

But if you are one of those people, stay tuned. Because I’m here to tell everyone that not only is this movie very good, but it’s very good for reasons besides its actors (who, by the way, were excellent).

 I’ll start off by saying if you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend not reading any plot summaries beforehand (and don’t worry, this review doesn’t have spoilers). The simple yet tightly wound storyline is what powers the movie, giving it the power to latch on to your mind and keep you asking the same question over and over again:

“How the Fawkes are they going to explain everything that’s going on right now?”

Be patient, my viewing friends. Because they do explain, and while it’s the kind of twist we think we should’ve been expecting, we realize we actually weren’t.

Let me back up. The setup: Arthur Kipps, played by an all-grown-up Daniel Radcliffe, is a lawyer whose wife died four years ago giving birth to their son. It’s his job to visit a property at the edge of a small British town and sort through the legal paperwork of the house, since its owner—a woman named Mrs. Drablow—recently died. But the townspeople are secretive in their interactions with him, especially on the subject of why most of the town’s children have died in accidents over the years.

So as I said, what really holds our attention is the mystery behind the plot. The movie’s pacing is strange, but works to its fullest advantage: the first forty minutes or so are all backstory of the town and house, but with plenty of jumpy little scares along the way. The next half hour is devoted to Arthur’s journey through the house, which had me on the edge of my seat for the entire time. Then, the twist and climax, which both are within twenty minutes of each other. Then everything closes with one final twist on the ending, and on a surprisingly gentle note, the film wraps up at just under an hour and a half.

There are only a handful of characters that play out the story, but each of them is powered by a strong actor who brings them to life. Most of the characters are quite likable, something I found unusual for a paranormal suspense movie, and the story treats them in just the right way.

I promise I’m trying to incorporate dislikes into my reviews, but unfortunately I can’t think of many for this movie. It’s free of gore and (mostly) blood, rounding it out as a psychological scare rather than a cheap one full of people getting ripped in half. The acting is superb. And the story itself never misses a beat, spoon-feeding us the answers we’re craving. I suppose my biggest complaint is the fact that I was able to watch it without any nightmares.

So, in conclusion: this movie is unique because it’s a suspense/thriller suitable for those who hate suspense thrillers as well as gore violence. If you’re looking for a short, frightening but not-too-disturbing scary flick that has quality actors and an intelligent plot, pick this one for Halloween.

Of course, tonight is Halloween, so you can’t really do that. But mark it on your calendars for next year, at least.

Rate: 9 out of 10.

 

On a slightly related note, as one of my friends pointed out, today is also the anniversary of James and Lily Potters’ deaths. Yeah, “Happy Halloween”…enjoy the candy, sickos.

Hurricanes and Halloween

“I got a rock.”

 –  Charlie Brown

 

First of all, no, I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet. I can see why you might think so, between my week-and-a-half absence as well as our good friend Sandy slapping the stuffing out of the east coast, but I can assure you I’m perfectly fine and haven’t suffered any injuries other than death by homework.

I realize that going more than a week without posting is normal for some blogs, but I hate being inconsistent and will try to keep my future dry spells under four days. Underscore on ‘try’ and attachment of apologies.

So, then. My first topic…Hurricane Sandy.

First of all, I hope everyone stayed reasonably safe and their possessions/dwellings are relatively intact. I should say upfront that no matter what your situation is, you automatically have the right to complain about it to me. Because I myself didn’t lose power at all, had no trees or damage whatsoever in our yard, and my evening was spent watching The Avengers on our big-screen projector while writing and sipping hot chocolate. So you could say I have very little room to whine.

There were several things about Sandy I found interesting before the storm even hit. The fact that it had not one, two but at least three Twitter accounts was a bit strange, especially to someone like me who doesn’t have Twitter and thus missed the coveted privilege of Retweeting the storm’s updates such as “I’m comin, fools!”

Probably the most notable thing about this whole event was the unending supply of ridiculous names the media whipped up for this storm. ‘Sandy’ itself isn’t a particularly intimidating name by any stretch, and ‘Hurricane Sandy’ almost sounds like it should be the main character of a children’s book detailing how hurricanes form.

And ‘Frankenstorm’ is just stupid.

I apologize to whoever the first person was to coin that term, but couldn’t you have been a *smidge* more original? We understand the humor. This storm is the mixing of two smaller storms. So it’s a new creation, like Frankenstein. And it’s close to Halloween. Tee hee.

Well, let me switch off my cynical side for now and move on to Halloween.

It’s sad, because this is my last Halloween as a kid. Next year I’ll be a legal adult, which is scary, and somehow I don’t think there’s trick-or-treating in college. So this year I hoped to go trick-or-treating—yes, I was prepared to do that—but due to the storm and the business of my friends I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Nonetheless, I helped decorate my house and went to several Halloween parties dressed as Joe Lamb, the main character of Super 8 (which meant dark jeans and a green button-up similar to the one he wore for the first ten minutes or so of the movie).

In addition, I passed the time yesterday afternoon by carving a pumpkin. Luckily I found an Iron Man template online, but I’m still not sure how well it worked.

 

So yeah, I’m hoping my last Halloween will be fun and not too affected by the storm’s damage. I’ll probably sit at home, watching Criminal Minds after finishing homework. I’ll also gorge myself on sweets like most days of the year, except this time I won’t feel too bad about it.

I’ll also write a review of the movie Woman in Black, which I’ll post on here tomorrow night. So in the meantime, Happy Halloween. Don’t be afraid to be six years old again…acting your age on days like this is overrated in my opinion.

On Writing: My Writing Persona

 “I sometimes go to my own little world, but that’s okay, they know me there.”

 –  Joel Hodgson

 

Due to the fact that the internet is a large and, at times, rather terrifying place, I have—as you may have noticed—put very little information about myself on this blog. The most I’ve said is that I’m a guy in my senior year of high school, I’ve written several unpublished manuscripts, and I love the movie Super 8 (for which this blog is named).

And no, I’m not going to break that streak of silence tonight by divulging every personal detail. But I am going to tell you a bit about myself as a writer.

As I haven’t told you much about myself, I don’t know what you picture when (if) you think of the person behind this blog when they’re creating its content. Perhaps you imagine a teenager with six friends on Facebook, glasses worthy of Professor Trelawney, and a laptop on which he plays minesweeper for twenty hours of the day.

Or, maybe you picture a sketchy dude in sketchy clothes, sitting in the darkest corner of his basement, typing furiously on a laptop and staring at the WordPress stats pages waiting for views to trickle in.

In both cases you’re incorrect. Believe it or not, I do have a life outside of writing. The depth of that life is questionable, but it exists nonetheless.

Seriously. I don’t do this all the time.

But, I’m actually quite off topic. Today, I wanted to talk to you about my persona as a writer.

Regular me is pretty much average everything, with relatively few quirks other than an unhealthy obsession with the Harry Potter franchise and the need to suck the fun out of my class schedule by drowning it in AP courses.

But then, there’s my writing persona. Which is something that nobody is too familiar with, regardless of whether you know me personally or not.

Well, prepare to be enlightened.

 

The best way to describe my writing persona is to describe the person who sits down at my desk and punches out a chapter, article, blog post, revision…whatever happens to be on the agenda for the day. That person looks the same as me, but if you watch them, you’ll notice a few things.

First of all, they’re more than likely drinking a glass of Welch’s sparkling red grape juice. Nothing makes me feel fancier and more writer-esque than sitting down with a wine glass filled with non-alcoholic wine  as I work. If you’ve never tried this incredible drink, I’d highly recommend it…be sure to check it’s non-alcoholic, obviously. And make sure it’s red grape (white will do in a pinch; it tastes the same but is bright yellow rather than dark red). The taste is as implied…grape juice, but with enough fizz to make your eyes water.

Second of all, this writer is most likely listening to either a) Classical Music or b) Soundtrack.

Classical music relaxes me. I don’t listen to it for fun, or anytime except when I’m sitting down to write…but when I do, it makes me feel more intellectual. My personal favorites are Pachelbel Canon in D and the Bach Double Concerto in D Minor. Vivaldi works, too, which is my current eardrum entertainment.

As for soundtracks…

What can I say? I love movie scores. Especially when they relate to scenes I’m trying to write. For sad, emotional bits I go for “Dumbledore’s Farewell,” “Lily’s Theme” and “Harry and Hermione,” all from the last handful of Harry Potter films. Epic tracks include “The Sinking” from Titanic, “Phoenix Rises” from X-Men: The Last Stand and “Inferi in the Firestorm” from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

In addition, two especially emotional songs I’ve listened to more than a few times are “Davy Jones” from the second Pirates and “Arrival at Aslan’s How” from the incredible Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian score.

So that’s how I get myself focused, particularly when writing fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, though…I write regardless of my surroundings, and unless I can find a spare hour or two in the evening, I have to adapt. This means writing in places like a packed gymnasium, empty library, silent corner or cacophonous school bus. I’ve written battle scenes on my phone and death scenes at home while listening to “Gangnam Style.”

Those who do know me personally probably know well that I carry around a dark blue composition notebook, to school and anywhere else I go for more than an hour or two. Most people assume it’s one big story I’m writing, but in reality, it’s just a source of paper. I never have just one project (book, short story, blog post) on my “to do” list, so the pages of my writing journal are spattered with bits of all three. This is all just temporary for when I get home and have the chance to decipher my handwriting mess and type it out in its proper word document.

But, I’ll talk about writing by hand vs. typing later.

So, there you have it. You’ve been introduced to my more intellectual and expressive alter-ego who enjoys writing for fun. He thanks you for taking the time to read this.

If you wanted to follow his blog via email, I’m sure he would be very appreciative, too.

(Some Of) The Most Ridiculous Things I’ve Seen on the Internet

“The underlying problem with information found on the internet is that it is difficult to verify its authenticity.”

 –  Abraham Lincoln

 

“Local singles in my area are INTERESTED in me? It must be because of all the free iPads I’ve won!”

Okay. The primary reason I wanted to blog about this tonight—other than the fact that you’re probably getting sick of all my reviews—is because the internet has some strange things floating around on it. I just wanted to share the few I’ve come across recently, purely for your enjoyment.

So enjoy.

 

Yahoo! Answers:

Ah, this little fun site. We’ve all seen some horrifically ignorant questions thrown out here. My personal favorite, logged under the “automotive repair” section of the site, reads as follows:

(Property of Yahoo Answers. Seriously, I claim no credit for this. I promise.)

After quelling my fits of considerable laughter, I took a gander at the top responses. And oh, they did not disappoint. The top few were comments such as:

  • Pour water on the keys…it worked for me!!
  • Well, maybe we would give you a straight answer if you stopped yelling, geez 
  • THIS HAPPENED TO ME LAST YEAR IT IS FOREVER IRREVERSIBLE!!!!

 

And that, kids, is why books are the best resource.

 

Facebook:

I addressed the topic of Facebook a few weeks ago, mentioning some of the insanely strange pages I’ve encountered on there. Which reminds me, I would like to add one more to the list:

Its profile picture depicts two fingers next to each other, crossed. The one behind has a robber mask drawn on it, along with a knife in its “hand.” The other finger has a terrified look drawn on his face.

The name of the page?

“Click on LIKE or the finger DIES.”

Additionally, while we’re on the subject…there are quite a few Facebookers across the web who recently have  updated with statuses such as: “Like if you brush your teeth!” “Like if you enjoy breathing!” “Like if you enjoy Oreos…ignore if you want to be cast into the fiery depths of Satan’s lair for the rest of eternity while people who enjoy Oreos pelt you with sharp stones!”

To those Facebookers…

Please stop.

 

Amazon:

The “Fifty Shades of Gray” trilogy was listed under the bestselling books…

In the “education” section.

Need I say more?

 

News Stories:

As I’ve paroozed various article sites for school projects, I’ve come across some strange, strange news clips that actually happened. Here are the most interesting headlines I’ve seen.

  • Man Buys Gift For His Wife Who Attacked Him With a Kitchen Blade (the gift was a hot pink revolver)
  • Man arrested, charged with arson on his own house
  • Armless Woman Refused Service At McDonald’s (Apparently a woman was driving through the McDonald’s drive-thru using her feet, pulled up to the window, and upon asking for her food was told—and I quote—“Girl, you ain’t got no arms.”)

 

Google:

Oh, Google…it’s probably the most used site in the world, and yet it still has flub-ups such as a recent incident in which someone spotted a body on the “Google Maps” street view. Yes, a body, as in a human corpse. (Luckily, this was later discovered to merely be a girl who happened to be lying in the street when the cameras snapped the image).

This is exactly why the internet is only as good as the people who run it. For all of our technology, we can only trust it as much as those who operate it.

Speaking of which…has everyone heard of those Google glasses?

If you haven’t, they’re essentially Iron Man’s mask compacted down into transparent glasses. Google is with you all the time, so you can voice commands for it to perform to give you information on the spot.

As several people on the internet have already suggested, every time I see someone with Google Glasses, I’m going to run up to them and yell: “Google Glasses, image search diarrhea. Safe search…off! Open first fifty results in new tabs!”

Then I’ll run.

Taken by Surprise (Movie Review: Taken 2)

“Listen to me carefully, Kim. Stay focused; this next part is very important. Your mother…and I…are going to be taken.”

I’m somewhat upset right now, because yesterday—having read critics’ opinions that this movie was awful—I prepared a pun for my own review. “The producers have Taken this series a bit 2 far.” I’m upset; I can’t use that now…because as it turns out, I loved every minute of this movie.

Before I start: let me clear the air and say that when it comes to movies, old or new, I’ll always start my reviews of them by specifying whether or not said review includes spoilers. That being said, this particular one doesn’t.

The general premise: Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), his wife Lenore and daughter Kim go on a trip to Istanbul. There, a group of men plot and carry out revenge against Mills for his killing their friends in the last movie.

My first thoughts back in June, when I heard that a sequel to Taken was in the works:

  1. Wow, his daughter has some horrendous luck
  2. How are they going to make this different from last time?

The screenwriters addressed both. Instead of his daughter being kidnapped once again, the setup is reversed: Mills and his wife are both taken, and it’s up for Kim to rescue them (with Mills helping her from the inside).

I know it seems like I’ve just ruined the movie for you, but the thing is, that’s only the START of it. From there, Mills sets out to track down both his wife and daughter, as well as the man who took them so they never have to worry about this again.

What I liked about this movie:

  • It wasn’t anywhere near the same concept as last time; it was a nonstop chase with everyone going in different directions rather than a one-man hunt
  • The daughter and mother had much more expanded roles throughout
  • There was a definitive villain
  • It easily had as much heart/emotion as the last movie
  • Much more thought was put into the script this time around

I know, most of the critics and moviegoers disagree with this. I think the reason people didn’t like this movie is the same reason I didn’t enjoy the second Sherlock Holmes as much as the first: because it felt different.

This was nothing like the first film, where someone gets taken and Liam Neeson goes on a boss rampage to get them back. Instead, a chaotic mess results in he and his wife being kidnapped, and escape is only the first step in the nonstop adventure.

I was afraid it would just be full of car chases, shooting and not much else. There was plenty of that to go around, but also included were several touching scenes between Mills and his daughter, a rebuilding of romance with his wife, and an excellent one-on-one conversation with the movie’s villain.

If you’re worried about there not being any of the clever hunting techniques that we loved in the first movie, don’t be. Neeson still has the skills, as demonstrated at one point when he has his daughter set off grenades so he can count the seconds until he hears them. Liam Neeson is still Liam Neeson, every bit as awesome as he was the last time around. Slap that with a more intelligent script, and this is one enjoyable movie.

That being said, I want to end by warning you not to get your hopes up if you haven’t seen it yet. While the movie contains many positive aspects, it also goes in a completely opposite direction in terms of plot. If you want to see the Mills family’s story move forward, you’re getting exactly that, and it’s pretty entertaining. But if you want to be blown away, don’t expect to be. Just because it’s well-made doesn’t mean it’s the best movie ever…it just means everyone did their job in keeping the sequel from being the total wreck many people were anticipating.

So, in short: if you want more Liam Neeson in a new, fresh storyline with expanded backstory, you have it. Just don’t go in with any assumptions, and you might be pleasantly surprised by where the plot takes you. As for me, I came home last night already excited for a third installment.

And then one little snag occurred to me.

So, who’s left to take?

Rate: 7 out of 10.

On Writing: Characterization

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

 –  Ernest Hemingway

 

I apologize. For a blog that’s supposed to be mostly centered around writing, this is only my third post discussing the subject. The problem is that not many people are writing books, and I want to balance posts like these with generally relatable ones. I promise to do a better job of that in the future.

So, then. One of the first steps in writing a novel is writing characters. This is fun, right?

I think it is. I love being able to create a person and make them exactly how I want, from hair and eye color to personality and quirks. But one downside is that when you write a book, you need characters that push the story in the right direction.

More than once, I’ve made the mistake of writing a book around a plot. What I mean by that is I focused on giving the plot all kinds of twists, then created a few generic characters to throw in it. The people I made were like an ugly pair of shoes: they were cheap and happened to fit.

What makes Harry Potter such an amazing series?

When you think about it, it doesn’t really have anything to with the plot. The whole “unbeatable wand” thing is a tad clichéd if you ask me. (Though I’m not saying it should have been omitted in the slightest. J.K. Rowling has an incredible gift for making clichéd things cool again).

No, really the parts that make us emotional—spoiler alert—are when we see Dumbledore getting blasted off the tower, or Harry and Ginny kissing, or Snape crying while clutching Lily’s body.

Those are all powerful scenes…but kisses, crying and killings happen in many stories, and in fantasy novels they’re almost expected.

The difference in this case is that we’re so emotionally attached to the characters—either loving or hating them—which is why we get so into it. That’s the reason why we forget to breathe when we watch Harry walking to his death, or else stand up and cheer when Molly Weasley kills Bellatrix.

So yeah, good characters are important. But they also should fit the story, so they don’t seem out of place. Beyond that, they’re a mix of contrasts that the author has to balance. How much relatability do you sacrifice to make the protagonist unique? How clichéd are you willing to make the villain so people can enjoy them?

And, of course, what I think is the most important rule…

You have to make the characters likable.  Or, at least, some of them. It’s fine—good, even—to throw a few in there that we can’t stand. Just make sure there are some that are at least semi-enjoyable.

Case in point:

A week and a half ago, I was required for my literature class to read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I didn’t enjoy the book, but I was glad I read it, and the movie featuring Tom Hardy (who portrayed Bane in The Dark Knight Rises) was an excellent adaption.

The reason I didn’t like the book was not due to the nineteenth-century writing style—though that was indeed a contributing factor—but because every single character is a different form of what are essentially the most unpleasant human beings ever. The story is full of greedy rich people, prejudiced power holders, drinkers, and backstabbers.

Heathcliff, the main character who we’re supposed to have the most sympathy for, falls in love with a girl who marries someone else. So, to get back at her, he marries her husband’s sister.

At one point in the novel, the sister (Isabella) straight up asks Heathcliff why he married her. And he replies with—and I quote—“You’re my PROXY for PAIN!”

Well, that escalated quickly.

So yes, my meager advice is that if you’re writing a story, put thought into the characters. Pick likable ones to drive the story, people who we wouldn’t mind tagging along with and getting to know. Then form some bad ones who we love to hate, so we can cheer when they fall or be on the edge of our seats when they come close to dominance.

See? Now you’ve got readers hooked. If you have good characters, it’s easier to write a good plot that will work with them, and together they can propel your story into a complex maze that we want to escape. (The Hunger Games comes to mind as the best example of this).

And, to finish it off, good names are important. A name conveys the depth of a person…because it’s the name YOU, the creator of this human being, picked for them. Also keep in mind that the first names of characters are probably most important, because those are most likely the names that they’ll be referred to by for most of the story. We know the name Hermione a lot better than we know Granger.

So, that’s about all I have to say on that subject. I probably won’t post until the end of the week; I’ve started reading Mark of Athena and want to finish it before writing a review. In the meantime, in the spirit of my first post, I’ll leave you with a random fact so you can at least say you learned something.

Most cigarettes, for added flavor, contain ambergris. Which, in case you were wondering, is whale vomit.

Enjoy your week.

Getting Ready for School Dances: Guys vs. Girls

“It’s not a stereotype if it’s always true”

 –  Daniel Tosh

 

The last thing I want is for anyone to misunderstand me…first of all, I don’t see the comedian Daniel Tosh as any deep prophet with words of wisdom. His quote just happened to fit the subject of today’s brief entry.

I understand I’ve been posting a lot lately, and this will be the second to last one for a few days. But I just wanted to put up a quick list I came up with sophomore year, detailing the preparatory routines for guys and girls when it comes to school dances. It seemed only fitting, as my school’s Homecoming dance is tonight. I’m sorry if I sound naïve, or if I generalize too much. I’m sure not all girls and guys are like this.

What Girls Do to Get Ready For Dances:
 
1. Buy a dress  three years before several weeks prior to the dance. 
2. Buy 20-inch heels that look like torture devices one year before  several weeks prior to the dance
3. Take a shower ten hours prior to the dance
4. Do their hair eight hours prior to the dance
5. Undo what they just did and re-do their hair
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for several hours
7. Do their nails and let them dry
8. Put on that special eye goop with that tong-like surgical instrument
9. Smear that special eye goop with all the cotton swabs in the entire house
10. Take half an hour putting on slip-on shoes that you’re going to take off an throw in the corner when you get there
11. Go downstairs and pose for “paparazzi”
12. Post 500 pictures on Facebook
13. Leave for the dance
 

What Guys Do to Get Ready For Dances:

1. Buy a shirt several days before

2. Maybe iron it. Maybe.

3. Shower, then put on shirt, pants, tie…take your time, sir.

4. Take a nice picture or two

5. Leave

 

So yes, I understand it’s more complicated for guys if they have a date, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. This is the core of it.

That’s all for now. Time to get ready for my last high school Homecoming dance.