An Infinite Victory (Movie Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

“I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now, these moments are not stories.”

–  Charlie

 

Perks of Being a Wallflower PosterI apologize for the late review, considering that this movie came out back in September. But I only just saw it recently myself, and I figured since the DVD is coming out in a few weeks, I would offer my opinions for those who didn’t drive three hours to find a theater actually showing the film.

The premise: well, first of all, let me say that you should read the book before you watch the movie. Luckily it’s one of those movies that you can understand perfectly well without reading the book; in fact, come to think of it, this is probably one of the most inclusive adaptions I’ve ever seen. But all that aside, I’d still strongly recommend reading the book beforehand.

That being said, for those who aren’t familiar, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age story about Charlie, a boy starting high school, who quickly befriends oddball step siblings Patrick and Sam. As he struggles to survive his freshman year, he learns several things about growing up, including dealing with problems from his past.

If that sounds bland to you, don’t be fooled. This thing is dripping with intelligence as well as emotion.

What I liked:

First of all, I appreciated how the film, much like the book, didn’t dress up high school as a cute, magical place where everyone gets along. The dialogue felt realistic, which is impressive, all things considered. I immediately loved Patrick from the moment he was told by his shop teacher, “Alright, Nothing, go ahead and read,” and Patrick opened the book to page one and said, “Okay, Chapter 1: Surviving your fascist shop teacher who needs to put kids down to feel big. Oh wow! This is useful guys, we should read on!”

Second of all, the film was a perfect adaption. It didn’t include every tiny detail from the book, but the feel was exactly the same. The story was intact. And instead of including every shred of dialogue from the source text, the script creates new thoughtful, humorous lines (though, of course, it preserves the most important bits). One of my favorite new lines is when Sam says to Charlie, “You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think it counts as love.”

Minor storyline spoilers ahead:

My favorite part, easily, was Charlie’s mental breakdown scene. It includes everything essential: the beautiful music, the flash of scenes from the movie, and of course Lerman’s acting (“Stop crying. Stop crying.”)

The ending monologue is perfect.

“I just want you to know that I was in a bad place before I started high school and you helped me. Even if you didn’t know what I was talking about or know someone who has gone through it, you made me not feel alone. I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now, these moments are not stories. This is happening…and in this moment I swear, we are infinite.”

I think that about sums up…well, everything. About everything.

 

In Conclusion: It’s all too obvious that the author, Chbosky, wrote and directed this adaption himself. He obviously strives to create a new experience that’s still faithful to the old one. And it is an infinite victory.

Rate: 8 out of 10.

My Sword and Shield (On Revision: Stage 3)

“A mere friend will agree with you, but a real friend will argue.”

–  Russian Proverb

  

Well! Back to business. That pesky process of editing that pesky novel, which at this point has probably been sitting unfinished for far too long.

I know mine has. Due to the dragging of my own feet as well as the busyness of others, the final clean-up of my manuscript is being stretched out much longer than I’d have liked. I suppose I should be grateful that the universe is forcing me to take my time on the last polish-up of my work, but I’m not. I’m just ready to declare it done.

And so tonight I blog about what I like to call “Stage 3” out of the three stages of editing. First, there was basic plot tidying up. Then there was the deep, word-by-word scrub. And now, voilà, the final rinse-off, then your baby is all clean and ready to be shown off (alright, in my defense, that sounded much less creepy in my head).

So. What, then, is my final test before I declare my work complete?

Glad you asked! In theory, after plot errors and wording errors are nailed down, the manuscript should be perfect. Technically speaking, there should be not a single blemish in all of its eighty or ninety thousand words.

But we both know better than that, don’t we?

Okay, enough dancing around the solution. I’ll just tell you: my final test is I read the entire manuscript aloud. Cover to cover, as a matter of fact.

But wait, there’s more!

Remember those pesky Ideal Readers I mentioned about a week and a half ago? The ones who are the living definition of the kind of people I write for? The ones who are so level-headed that if they like the finished product, you know without a doubt that it’s ready?

Yeah, I kind of have to read the manuscript to them.

Allow me to explain why.

The final read-through is when you put your story to the test. Remember all those times in the writing room when you read over a particularly putrid bit of dialogue, cringed and said to yourself “I’ll fix it later”? or, even worse, “I’m sure it sounds better to other people”?

Well: there is no later. And, to really put a pin in your balloon: it probably doesn’t sound better to other people.

But I’m getting off track. Here’s my point: reading aloud forces you to make the book as perfect as you can get it. Your brain—or mine, at least—just can’t engage in “make it perfect” mode if the book is being read in the privacy of your locked bedroom.

But then you read your story out loud, to…oh goodness, people! Human beings, with beating hearts and pituitary glands and real ears that connect to real minds that are analyzing your story as you read!

Am I making any sense here? By reading your story out loud to the people you wrote it for, the point isn’t so much what they say about it as what you say to them about it. If you have to pause in the middle of a sentence and apologize for how bad it is—which, I’m sorry to say, I’ve already done several times—then that’s a flaming red flag you need to take care of.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: we need other people to push us to be better. And there is no one more perfect in the world to push me than the ones who the story is meant for. The fact of the matter is, I would rather fight off a pack of rabid squirrels with a spork than read my ideal readers something that isn’t my best. Call it the pride that comes with being an author, the nerves that come with being human, or the love that comes with friendship. All three are here. And all three together are what get me in the mode to find any final errors in my story.

When I sit down with my laptop, look my two IR’s in the eye and start to read them my book, if there’s a single freaking word out of place, I catch it. Instantly. And I have to apologize that it isn’t perfect, that I’m not either, and then I make a furious mark on the document to fix the error later.

And if one or both of your ideal readers tells you it’s bad? Well, then you just go cry in a corner.

Kidding. But as the epigraph of this post states, real friends argue with you. More often than not, it’s for a reason.

 

One of my favorite songs, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” has a lyric I absolutely love. It says, and forgive all the spacing:

“I hear Jerusalem bells a-ringing

Roman cavalry choirs are singing

‘Be my mirror; my sword and shield,

My missionaries in a foreign field.’”

I’m charging into a battle where my odds of survival are hilariously low. And yes, I’ll probably fail. But the first step to surviving an impossible battle is to have a good sword and shield to defend yourself against whatever the world might throw at you.

And I have the best two anyone could ask for.

Whole Grain Grilled Cheese is Disgusting (And Other Things You Learn on a Winter Campout)

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.”

–  James Dean

 

I’m getting a feeling that within the next few months, if not sooner, I’m going to have some standard in place to mark the blog posts of mine that I know for a fact will be uninteresting to the majority of readers. Because trust me, with high school graduation coming up, and college…well, writer me will be busy.

“But you run this blog, you silly teenager,” I hear you muttering. “Surely you can just do away with the boring posts.”

Well, no, I can’t. Not really. I don’t know if any other writers experience this, but there are some things you just have to not only write down, but put out there for people to see. Even if barely anyone reads it, you need to put it out there.

Call me selfish; that’s fine. You won’t be the first or last.

The point is that this, much like my nostalgic blurb back in December, isn’t interesting. I respect you enough to tell you that. If you don’t enjoy reading about a random kid going winter camping with his scout troop, then please: walk, don’t run, to the nearest exit. If you do enjoy reading about such things, then by all means sit back, relax and enjoy.

As I mentioned back in December, my scout troop goes on campouts quite a bit. Once a month, to be exact. This month’s was at a local camp site, from Friday night to this morning (Sunday). Basically this is a summary of what all happened, give or take.

 

Scene 1: Friday Night. Curtain…open.

I got dropped off with all my heavy gear that was supposed to keep me warm (which, to be fair, it did). After a quarter mile walk down to the camp site, we indulged in several more quarter-mile walks back and forth to haul all of the troop gear and set up our eating area. Luckily that only took until about an hour past sundown.

Okay, so we had to set up our tents in the dark. There are worse problems to have.

Friday night was essentially spent walking around talking, sitting at picnic benches talking, and staying up until 1:40 in the morning talking. That last part was only in my tent, though. You’d be surprised how philosophical I can get at 1 AM. Or, maybe you wouldn’t.

 

Scene 2: Saturday

Essentially, I can summarize this day with brevity: we built shelters. To sleep in.

A more difficult task than it sounds. One does not simply build a shelter to sleep in when you’re camping in the middle of the woods. First, you have to find a spot. My friend and I, henceforth referred to as the shelter-builders 8000, spent most of the morning doing that. We had just cleared out the spot when lunchtime came.

And then, everything crashed down in one single moment.

Okay, not really. But we did find out that the scout in charge of buying our food—my shelter-building buddy, incidentally—decided that it would be a wise decision to buy whole grain bread to use in cooking our grilled cheese sandwiches.

Well, let me tell you something. There’s only one possible reaction you can have when you’re in the middle of the woods, hungry, and you’ve been informed you’ll be eating grilled cheese on whole grain bread:

World Burn

Needless to say, we spent a good hour into the afternoon yelling at my friend’s food choice. Then it was on to shelter-building.

This was tedious, but fun. Shelter-building was something I’d been doing for the past five years in scouts, and this was the last time I would get the chance. My friend and I finished at sundown. You can be the judge.

Shelter

Looks awesome, right? And yes, that is a foil space blanket over the entrance.

Dinner was chicken quesadillas and chicken noodle soup. After that was some card-playing, walking around talking, and just good old hanging out with everyone. Was it cold? Yep. Did we yearn for electricity, for plumbing and heat and a roof? You bet. Was it fun?

Absolutely.

And then, sleep. Only not really.

It’s not that our shelter wasn’t well-designed. It held in heat pretty well, actually. But this was my last campout before I turn eighteen, become a legal adult, and thus become banned from ever tenting with my non-adult scout friends again.

Which is awful.

So, my last night tenting with another human being was spent staying up late—not midnight late, but late—talking to my best friend in the troop, the one who helped me build my shelter. Maybe it’s just because I’m a writer, but I consider talking to be one of the most valuable things in the world.

The discussion topics were as generic as they come. High school, girls, driving, girls, writing, and girls were a few of the talking points. It was a bonding experience, talking about random stuff sitting in a Hunger Games-esque shelter. I even forgave him for bringing the whole grain bread.

This sounds boring, I know. Not to get philosophical, but hopefully others feel this way: life isn’t like a story you write, where you get to know each and every character involved. In life, every person is their own main character. And when you read about experiences such as this one, it probably means nothing to you. The fact is, none of my personal experiences will mean much to anyone else. Because no one else has met who I’ve met, seen what I’ve seen, or had friends as incredible as mine.

And that’s exactly why those things are so precious to me.

 

When you’re younger, you don’t have to worry about ever letting go. But there are no exceptions to the ‘too much of a good thing’ rule, in my opinion, and even fun times can run together if you have too many. So I just try to enjoy the ones I do have.

I’ll close on this note: I’ve always believed that the thing about making memories is that you never know when it’s happening.

This past weekend proved that wrong. There are some moments that are so filled—whether it’s with adventure, humor, love, or all three—that it’s impossible not to be absolutely certain you’ll remember them.

And those are the moments I live for.

Why Nicki Minaj is a Genius Selection for American Idol Judge

“I done put the pressure to every thug I knew. Quack quack to a duck and a chicken too.”

–  Nicki Minaj, “Roman Holiday”

  

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fine if you like Nicki Minaj. Hey, that’s cool. There’s a lot to love about her, I’m sure, though I’ve never been curious enough to look.

When I heard she was the newest judge on American Idol, I was as shocked as…well, pretty much everyone. Her selection to the program inspired one word, and one word only, blaring at the front of my mind.

WHY?

Yes, music is subjective, just as art and writing are. But when someone sings a song with a refrain such as “I beez in the trap, be-beez in the trap,” one or two red flags should be going up in the brains of Idol’s producers. Are we seriously supposed to believe that not a single executive manager of the show raised their hands and said, “Hm, maybe we should find someone else”?

This afternoon, I realized there must be a reason why. There has to be some secret behind Idol’s production team, some master plan of theirs that I’m failing to see. With a head cold and a surprising amount of time, I had the chance to go looking for the answer. I started by analyzing some of the highlights of Miss Minaj’s hits.

And here’s what I had to work with.

  • “They said I got five in a pasta bowl but don’t go against Nicki; impossible.”
  • “Your favorite rapper prolly suck. As for me? Icy; hockey puck.”
  • “Im chillin at the top, I got ample time. Bite me…Apple sign. Ha.”
  • “And the ad is global; your ad is local. When we shot it was a lot of different agricultures.”
  • “When I’m sitting with Anna, I’m really sitting with Anna. Ain’t a metaphor punchline, I’m really sitting with Anna.”
  • “Chimpanzees is hatin but I take it all in stride. Put her in a jungle with bananas on the side.”     
  • “You bad, but Nicki is badder. Step ya cookies up, go get you a ladder.”
  • “I’m startin’ to feel like a dungeon dragon. Raah, raah, like a dungeon dragon.”

Step aside, Thoreau. We have a new poet in the house.

 

And so, then, my epiphany. In one flash of a moment, while swallowing the last spoonful of my vegetable soup, I realized how brilliant American Idol will become tonight. Why the producers are wizards of cable programming.  Why, unbeknownst to many if not all of us, Nicki Minaj is going to save this show like a wise healer.

Let me explain my logic. What is everyone’s favorite part of American Idol? Is it watching people achieve their dreams? Seeing ordinary singers become superstars? Discovering the new talent of the next generation?

Yeah, nice try. Admit it: you watch it to laugh at all the abysmal singers who trip over their own voices.

Not a crime! So do I, more or less. Okay, so I’m not really laughing at the bad singers—I at least respect them for pursuing an impossible goal, and I admit my own writing is probably just as horrid as the amateur attempts on this program—but let’s all agree: like it or not, half of the Idol entertainment stems from humiliation.

And so, my dear reader, I’ll end this blog post now. Why, indeed, is this singer a genius choice as judge?

Allow me to answer your question by asking you a question in turn:

What could be more humiliating to a prospective singer than being told ‘no’ by Nicki Minaj?

On Writing: Ideal Readers

“No two persons ever read the same book.”

–  Edmund Wilson

 

Hi there! I’m sorry about my inconsistencies this past week or two…busyness pays us all a visit at some point or another, and for me it’s not so much “when do I have time to blog?” as it is “when do I have the energy to write a post that isn’t awful?”

Well, I tried my best, readers. Here goes.

I’m rapidly finishing Stage Two of the revision process of my manuscript, and barreling towards Stage Three at lightning speed: reading the entire story aloud. Once that’s done, I’m done, at least for now. Will the manuscript be perfect? Of course not. But it’ll be about as close as I can get, at least for the time being.

But before I enter that stage—and of course, blog about it, as you no doubt suspected I would—I want to say a few words about the concept of an “ideal reader,” because it’s an interesting way of thinking that I think can apply to all writing in general.

I was first made aware of this concept from Stephen King’s book, On Writing, which I highly recommend. I now defer to Mr. King:

“Someone—I can’t remember who, for the life of me—once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has an ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of the story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what they’ll think when they read this part?’”

He goes on to say:

“If you’re writing for anyone besides yourself, I’d advise you to pay very close attention to their opinion. You can’t let the whole world into your story, but you can let in the ones that matter most. And you should.”

“Call that one person your Ideal Reader. He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time: in the flesh once you open the door and let the world back in to shine on the bubble of your dream, in spirit during the days of the first draft, when the door is closed. This is perhaps the best way of all to make sure you stick to story, a way of playing to the audience even while there’s no audience there and you’re totally in charge.”

This is interesting to me. Back when I started writing my manuscript in eighth grade, I was writing strictly for myself. No one was to see it, no one was to know it existed…in fact, no one even knew I wrote at all for the first two years I did it. And the poor quality of my work reflected that isolation.

I believe now that other people push us to be better. Not just in writing, but in our lives in general. No, I’m not equating writing to all of life itself, though it isn’t the worst comparison in the world.

But let’s get back on track. Ideal Readers.

I think all writers have them. Even if they aren’t writing strictly for one person, or for specific people in general, then they’re at least writing for a certain kind of person. This is usually reflected by the genre, if it’s a novel.

I need to have an I.R. An Ideal Reader keeps me anchored while, at the same time, pushing me to be better. When I write a humorous line, I’m trying to make them laugh. When I write a fast-paced action scene, I’m focused on holding their attention. That’s what, I think, all storytellers do. Even if their Ideal Reader is someone in their own head.

And me? Who’s my Ideal Reader?

I have two, actually. My story is a YA Fantasy novel, aimed for thirteen year olds. I wrote it for two in particular, and they’re the two brightest thirteen year olds I’ve ever met.

No, I didn’t write it because of them, but they’re the reason it is what it is today. Not only do they have faith in the novel—even though they’ve never read the finished version—but they have faith in me. In the end, the story is theirs. I write for those two.

The reason I wanted to talk about Ideal Readers is because of what Stage Three of revision involves: reading the entire manuscript aloud. Everyone has their own way of doing this; I myself realized I can’t do it unless it’s for my two ideal readers. Will it happen? No, sadly. But this isn’t a perfect world, and writing isn’t a perfect art. There are other ways to meet the end goal, and I’ll find one.

So, those are my thoughts on Ideal Readers. Maybe everyone has one; maybe not. But in any case, I don’t think it’s possible to write beautifully if it’s only for yourself. I certainly can’t do it. In the end, we all need people to push us to be better.

I once read that “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

I’d like to believe that’s true.

My Thoughts on the “Sherlock Holmes” Movies

“Apologies, Mr. Holmes, for summoning you like this. I’m sure it’s quite a mystery as to where you are and who I am.”

“As to where I am: I was, admittedly, lost for a moment, between Charing Cross and Holborn, but I was saved by the bread shop on Saffron Hill. The only baker to use a certain French glaze on their loaves – a Brittany sage. After that, the carriage forked left, then right, and then the tell-tale bump at the Fleet Conduit. And as to who you are, that took every ounce of my not-inconsiderable experience. The letters on your desk were addressed to a Sir Thomas Rotherham. Lord Chief Justice; that would be the official title. Who you really are is, of course, another matter entirely. Judging by the sacred ox on your ring, you’re the secret head of the Temple of the Four Orders in whose headquarters we now sit, located on the northwest corner of St. James Square, I think. As to the mystery, the only mystery is why you bothered to blindfold me at all.”

 –  Sir Thomas and Sherlock Holmes

 

Sherlock HolmesI think the above quote (if you took the time to read it; which, let’s be honest, you probably didn’t) is a perfect example of why the first Sherlock Holmes movie in the Robert Downey, Jr. franchise is infinitely better than the second.

To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the first movie back when I saw it in theaters three years ago. Call me slow, but I had a hard time understanding some of the rapid-fire British accents. I missed some of the witty dialogue and explanations (which, trust me, there were plenty of both).

The second time, I found that subtitles lifted the movie to a new level. Seeing all of the dialogue made me realize how cleverly it was crafted, and just how well-made of a film it was.

I suppose that’s the thing I like most about it, in a nutshell: the quality. This movie has great re-watching value, and not just because it’s a mystery. All of the action, events, dialogue and situations are tightly woven together.

And of course, who doesn’t love Robert Downey, Jr.? He demonstrates his skills as an actor by flawlessly giving the titular character a personality we can’t help but love, highlighting the character from the books while showing off his own unique humor.

There are extra Holmes-esque touches added to the story that were quite clever, such as his explanations of fights and the integration of some original Holmes quotes. All of this, when carried by the all-star cast, it’s an adventure I personally am happy to see again and again, even today.

And then, there’s the sequel.

Okay, I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about Game of Shadows. My initial impression was that it was great, but not as good as the first one. That’s more or less true today, though it’s still hard for me to pin an official opinion on it. I liked the opening and loved the finale. I also enjoyed the Holmes/Moriarity scenes.

But, sadly, the second one had too many flaws for me to put it on my ‘favorites’ list. Holmes’ fight explanations are diminished. There is no actual mystery to be solved. The middle is kind of pointless. And yet, all of this might have been forgivable if only (spoiler alert) Irene Adler, played by the brilliant Rachel McAdams, wasn’t axed before the opening titles.

That, producers, was a mistake. And replacing her with some random gypsy lady didn’t earn you any points in my book.

But, I am hopeful about Sherlock Holmes 3, which is currently being drafted by the same screenwriter who wrote Iron Man 3. And if only they could bring back Irene Adler—which is entirely possible, since we never actually saw her die—they would have, I think, a hit on their hands better than the second.

 

In conclusion: the Sherlock Holmes franchise reboot is done in all the right ways, with top-notch actors, clever plotting, and (in the case of the first movie), ineffably witty dialogue. Even if the sequel doesn’t do much for you, the first one has few faults and is worth re-watching time and again.

Rate: 8 out of 10.

Book Review: The Book of Lies

“Life is filled with trapdoors.”

 –  Brad Meltzer, The Book of Lies

 

The Book of LiesI’m sorry that tonight’s book review is on a story that, most likely, quite a few people haven’t heard of. Brad Meltzer is a New York Times Bestselling Author known for his political thriller novels. This isn’t a genre that normally grabs my interest in particular, but The Book of Lies is one I (initially) found hard to put down.

Published in 2008, The Book of Lies is a National Treasure-esque adventure, outlined as follows in the publisher’s summary:

“In Chapter Four of the Bible, Cain kills Abel. It is the world’s most famous murder. But the Bible is silent about one key detail: the weapon Cain used to kill his brother. That weapon is still lost to history.

In 1932, Mitchell Siegel was killed by three gunshots to his chest. While mourning, his son dreamed of a bulletproof man and created the world’s greatest hero: Superman. And like Cain’s murder weapon, the gun used in this unsolved murder has never been found.

Until now. Today in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Cal Harper comes face-to-face with his family’s greatest secret: his long-lost father, who’s been shot with a gun that traces back to Mitchell Siegel’s 1932 murder. What does Cain, history’s greatest villain, have to do with Superman, the world’s greatest hero? And what do two murders, committed thousands of years apart, have in common?”

It’s an excellent concept for a story. I saw this on the library shelf back in 2008 and got the chance to read it over that winter break. Once I started reading, I finished it in only two or three sittings.

I saw this book on the same library shelf at the start of winter break this past year, 2012, and decided I’d give it another whirl. And though I read it through just as fast as before, my newly sharpened literary mind found a lot more to complain about, too. Now armed with personal pros and cons, I direct my energy to this review.

What I liked: there was obviously a good deal of thought worked into the text. The premise lends itself to a mind-twisting adventure, and Meltzer delivers on that front. Once the answers start to trickle in, the plot thickens, and from there it’s hard not to be curious about what happens next. There’s the occasional humorous moment, too, which I always appreciate.

What I didn’t like: well, the main complaint I’ve heard about this book (and agree with) is its unrealistic feel. Yes, there are some twists and revelations that are just a little too hard to accept. Granted, you’ll have that with any story of this genre, but in this particular case it was just a smidge too unbelievable.

The dialogue and characters are both hit-or-miss from start to finish. Some of the characters are cardboard and clichéd, with dialogue that sounds like it came right out of The Twilight Zone. And yet others are well developed, genuinely interesting, and have realistic-sounding dialogue that fits the story while simultaneously moving it forward.

I’m torn about the ending. Many people hated it for its abrupt conclusion, without any real explanation or tying up of loose ends. I’m a bit more forgiving than most, if only because I was ready to let the characters go by that point. The mystery was solved, at least for the most part. Let’s pack up the band and go home.

 

So, in conclusion: this isn’t a perfect book, but it does keep you reading. In the end, it offers a mix of good and bad entrées. Is there enough good to make it worth indulging yourself? I’d say so.

Rate: 6 out of 10.