Movie Review- X-Men: Days of Future Past

“You built these weapons to destroy us. Why? Because we are different. You have always feared what is different. Today was meant to be a display of your power, instead I give you a glimpse of the pain my race can unleash on yours.”

–  Erik Lensherr, Days of Future Past

 

dofpI’ve always been a huge fan of the X-Men film series, despite never having read the comics. I even managed to enjoy The Last Stand and Origins when many people loathed them. But, no matter what your stance is on the other entries in the X-Men franchise, I think one common opinion everyone will share is that this newest film, Days of Future Past, is the best X-Men to date. I’ll discuss why, making sure to keep it spoiler-free.

About ten months ago, I wrote a review of The Wolverine, which mostly focused on the post-credits scene that set up DOFP. We got to see the return of both Magneto and Professor X, which were welcome sights since The Last Stand.

DOFP takes place in the year 2023, about a decade after the original X-trilogy. By this time, a race of mutant exterminators known as the Sentinels have risen up and hunted mutants nearly to extinction. We’re immediately thrown into the action with all of our favorites—Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Kitty, Iceman, etc.—meeting up to try to go back and time and stop the Sentinels from ever being created.

And thus, we have our setup: Wolverine, the one of them whom is truly ageless, sends his consciousness back to his younger body to convince the younger Charles and Magneto to work together and stop the Sentinel program from ever being initiated.

Of course, as you’d expect, this movie is a lot of fun. We get to see most of the cast members across the franchise interact with each other, occasionally across time. Bryan Singer—writer and director of the original X-Men films—effortlessly weaves together everyone’s characters, back stories, and motivations.

It definitely has a different feel from the other movies. It’s bigger, more epic, and tells a darker story. The cartoonish antics of the first film are shed in light of more symbolic imagery and a more grim world. Charles is a broken man, and Magneto is still his same old human-hating self.

What I liked: oh, it’s hard to pick just one. Probably my favorite thing about this is the epicness of the ending battle. As you can imagine, with this being a time travel movie, multiple battles happen in different eras simultaneously.

I love how well this movie treats the fans. It brings back all of our favorite cast members and really puts them into action. For one thing, the effects are dazzling. For another, there are a plethora of juicy Easter eggs and subtle references for die-hard fans of the franchise, such as myself. There are flashbacks to each of the other previous movies in the series. The story takes care to explain a great deal, including the fates of most of the characters from First Class, as well as those in the original trilogy.

However, I will say my one irk with the movie is that it didn’t quite feel complete. For one thing, we don’t get an explanation as to how Professor X and Magneto have returned. Naturally, being a time travel movie, we get to alter a few parts of the franchise, including some of the most rage-inducing plot messes from The Last Stand and Origins. However, this also opens a load of doors that are just sort of left hanging.

The ending is good! Truly, it’s satisfying. But it’s also incomplete. When Logan wakes up in the “new” present day, so much is different. And it’s a nice, heartwarming kind of different. But it’s also baffling. How the hell did all this get to be how it is now?

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None of it’s explained. And that’s frustrating, even if we love how everyone ended up.

And finally, the post-credits scene is quite mouth-watering, but only to those who have read the comics.

In conclusion: this movie does so many things right, is every bit as epic as it promised, and has the best effects to date. Even if the story doesn’t end on a closure-filled note, it still ends on a satisfying one.

Rate: 8.5 out of 10.

From High School to College (To All My Twelfth Grade Friends)

“Life is too deep for words, so don’t try to describe it, just live it.”

–  C.S. Lewis

 

If you’ve been reading my blog for at least a year, then you’ll perhaps remember getting a bombardment of posts from me one year ago starting around now. It was my last week of high school, and I took advantage of the craziness to share my thoughts on my favorite high school novels, common hallways behaviors that annoy me, and most of all, what it’s like to move up the grades.

In myfirst post during that famous week—the one on May 13th—I ended it with this:

I’ll close this by saying one last thing. Earlier, I mentioned that I often wonder where I’ll be in the future. So I think I’ll take this opportunity to do it again, on my blog this time: I wonder where I’ll be a year from now. One year today, on May 13th.

Hey look! It’s been a year already!

But more than that, I’ve been hearing a lot of current seniors start to reflect on what it’s like to leave high school, to grow up and make that transition to college. Well, for anyone wondering what that feels like, I’ll do my best to lay it all out.

To my awesome twelfth grade friends:

One year ago today, I was where you are now. I was beginning the end of my high school career. I was absolutely full of excitement, because I only had seven days left in this hellhole known as twelfth grade, and I knew exactly where I was going to college, and I was so ready to get out of here and have the best summer ever and go off to a new place to make new memories.

But, I was also scared.

Not at this point, so much. I was scared of what it’d be like to say goodbye to everyone, but it wasn’t time for that yet. I still had the summer.

The last week of high school is going to feel exactly how you think it will. It’ll be full of wrap-ups in your classes, early grade closings, and perhaps last-minute projects from your crueler teachers. Your lack of motivation to do these projects will be spectacular.

When that last day finally comes, you’re going to be in shock. At first, you’ll be surprised how normal the day seems. You walk through the front doors like usual, meet up with your friends like any other day, and go to your classes.

But then the goodbyes kick in. You have to look at the classmates who you’ve sat with this whole year or maybe more, and tell them goodbye permanently. No, “see you in the halls next year.”

The close friends? Those goodbyes aren’t rough, not yet. You’re going to see them this summer! You can hang out whenever you want! The worst kind of goodbye is that kid who’s been your lab partner all year who still has a few years of high school left. Or your chorus classmates who are still underclassmen. All those people who you’re friendly with, but you aren’t close enough to see each other outside of school.

The last day of high school goes on, and you find yourself more and more in shock. You’re really leaving this place. This is the last time you’ll hear the school bell, or jam yourself through the hallway.

Before you know it, the final bell rings, and that’s it. You’re done with high school forever. And now is when the feels really kick in.

For me, the trigger was saying goodbye to my favorite teacher, who had constantly been there for me since literally day one in the building. Holy crap, was day one really four YEARS ago? It seems like just yesterday you were a scared freshman sitting in advisory trying to look like you couldn’t care less about fitting in, when really it was the most important thing in the world.

But! Good news: your feels dissolve at the first grad practice. Tedious rehearsals have a way of igniting your for-the-love-of-Jesus-get-me-the-hell-out-of-here mentality. That mentality persists all the way until you walk across the stage and get handed your diploma.

Senior week will perhaps become the best week of your life. It was for me, at least. My friends and I opted for an alcohol-free beach trip that still has some of my favorite memories. It’s certainly worth celebrating: you’re done with high school! Finally!

The summer after high school goes exactly how you think it will. You hang out with your friends more than you ever have before, because you know you don’t have much time left. There’s a ticking clock, and it feels like it keeps ticking faster.

Around the end of July, you start to realize how little time is left. Your parents keep nagging you about shopping for dorm supplies. You’ve met your future roommates, or perhaps you already knew them. And eventually—sooner than you wanted—your friends start leaving.

Most of the goodbyes are simple, unexpected; platonic, even. “We’ll video chat every week, right?”

But there’s always those one or two goodbyes that you’ve been dreading all summer, those one or two people who have been your lifeline for years and who you can’t even imagine living without seeing or talking to every single day.

Seniors, I’m here to tell you those goodbyes will be every bit as painful as you’re imagining them to be. You’ll hang out with those special people one last time. Pretend you don’t have to say goodbye. But then you will, and you’ll watch them drive away one last time, then you’ll go to your room and realize that for all of your wanting to leave high school, you never appreciated just how much you had while you were there.

Perhaps that painful goodbye is someone who’s more than a friend. Maybe it’s the person who you met and instantly clicked with, and you just wonder how you can meet someone who’s so right for you, then be forced to leave them behind.

I know that feeling, because I had it last summer. I had a perfect girlfriend, one who I got a crush on the second day of ninth grade but only had the opportunity to date for the last six months of it. And I had to make that painful goodbye, since she—in what I later realized was the smartest move ever—opted to not try the long distance thing.

That goodbye feeling is indescribable.

And finally, before you know it, it’s your turn to go. And you do. And that’s that.

Seniors, college is everything you’re imagining it to be. And it’s also a place where everything you imagined happens in a completely unexpected way. You make new friends who you didn’t think existed. You keep in touch with the old ones.

Some of the olds ones change for the worse, exactly like you’re afraid they will. And you stop talking to them. And you let them go, even though that was the thing you were afraid of doing the most.

And afterwards, you’re okay.

I say all of this because I experienced every bit of it. I had that amazing Senior week. I made those painful goodbyes. I met those new friends. And I let go of several old ones, people who changed so much that I didn’t even know who they were anymore. And it was so much easier than I’d imagined.

And now I’m here. It’s my last week of my freshman year of college, everyone. And it’s been the best school year of my life. Yes, there have been a few rough patches. But I’ve had so many good times and so many new friends. And you have to trust that you will too, even if it means parting with the people who you don’t think you can live without.

Because you can. I promise.

To all of my friends about to graduate high school: live it up now and never forget how good this part of your life is. And have that best summer ever. And believe that you’re moving on to amazing things, because you are.

Trust me, I know.

On Writing: Writing and Pitching a Series

“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

–  John Dewey

 

A few weeks ago, I received a question on one of my older writing posts. This was from someone who was writing a series, but having trouble making book one “long enough” to reach books two and three. This question intrigued me enough to write a post about it.

There are a lot of people out there whose advice goes something like this: “If you want any shot in being published at all, completely forget about ever doing a series and just write this one book, you naïve plebeian.”

I half agree with that philosophy. First of all, I know exactly what it’s like to pitch a series, because I’ve done it before. When I was sixteen, I began querying a YA Fantasy project I’d been working on for a few years. At this point, I’d written most of the books in my potential series of seven.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get very far with that. I was spreading out my creative energy so thinly across multiple projects, I wasn’t devoting all my attention just towards the first one.

Since then I’ve shelved the fantasy project and focused my efforts on my contemporary YA novel (which is up to three full requests, yay!) but, I do plan to come back to the fantasy project someday. And I do plan to pitch it as a series.

However, there’s a right way to do that.

Again, I truly sympathize with the ideology of plotting out an entire saga, and having tons of elements from book one affect things in books six or seven. But I also think that for a series to truly flourish, you have to let yourself “re-create” it along the way, know what I mean?

For my fantasy series, I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in all of the books; at least, for the most part. I certainly knew enough for that to influence the way I wrote book one. And when I come back to it, I’ll revise book one carefully, keeping certain parts intact so they can set up events in future books. But, I also can’t let these feel out of place during the story.

There are many people—and I used to be one of them—who get so excited about the events in book two or three that they rush book one. This is entirely understandable, but it doesn’t fit well in the publishing business. Book two won’t see print if book one sucks. It just won’t.

With you and I both agreeing that’s unfortunate, what can we do about it?

Glad you asked!

How I approached my “series problem” is I took a deep breath and told myself that I will always be a creative person. And I will always get new story ideas. And if I channel every drop of my creative energy into just (just!) book one, then when the time comes to write book two, there will be more creative energy there to write that one, too.

See what I’m getting at? It’s a balancing act. On one hand, you should keep the series potential in mind, and maybe let that influence certain plot points in book one. But on the other, much more important hand, you have to let yourself get creative and put all your effort into book one, so that it can do well enough on its own. That won’t happen if you “just make it long enough” to be a bridge towards sequels.

Another thing that sucks, but you have to keep it in mind anyway: each book should have its own story arc which builds up, reaches its peak, then gradually concludes by the end of the novel. Do you have to wrap everything up? Of course not! That would defeat the point of a series. But look at the Harry Potter novels. Sure, the whole threat of the Dark Lord taking over is there for the entire series, but each book has its own self-contained adventure (the Triwizard Tournament, the Chamber of Secrets being opened, etc.)

I know for a fact that most agents, while possibly willing to sign on multiple books, prefer to be pitched them one at a time. That makes it easier for the writer, too. Now you only have to write one query letter, and one synopsis! If a book does well enough, and there’s the right amount of suspense at the end, there will be demand for a sequel.

Like anything in writing, it’s a balancing act.

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Happy balancing.

On Publishing: “No Response” Agents (My Thoughts)

“Success is something you attract by the person you become.”

–  Jim Rohn

 

Two days ago, my dream agent requested my full manuscript, thus brightening an otherwise dreary Wednesday. However, I’m not here to talk about that, as there really isn’t much to discuss. Instead, I wanted to share my thoughts on the hot topic of agents and their varying degrees of interaction with hopeful queriers.

Translation: here are my thoughts on how some agents give the kindest rejections and others don’t even reply to you unless they want more material.

It’s an interesting topic, isn’t it? But after all, this is a strange industry. A cover letter is supposed to be a formal proposal that you’re submitting to a potential business partner. In any other industry, that would warrant a definite response. And yet in publishing, it’s becoming more and more common for agents to have a policy of, “I’m only going to reply to you if I like your letter.”

When I tell my friends of this, they usually respond with, “That would make me mad if I were you.” But honestly, it doesn’t. I understand that some agents are busy people and don’t have time to respond to every proposal they receive, especially considering that some queries are nowhere near coherent. But I do think that there’s a right way to reject people.

Some agents I’ve submitted to make it a point to respond to every query, and they say if you haven’t heard back within x-weeks, re-send. Those are my favorite kinds of agents.

Even if the rejection is your standard “Dear Author” form, at least I have closure, you know? I can check that agent off the list.

Personally, I would aim to have that policy if I ever became a literary agent. However, I understand that some people are still crazy busy and can’t manage to reply to everything. That’s why some agents use a policy along these lines: “While I try to respond to every query, if you haven’t heard back within x-weeks, please consider it a pass. You will receive an auto-confirmation when we receive your query.”

That last part makes a world of difference. I’m entirely fine with a silent rejection as long as I know it’s indeed a rejection, and not a glitch in my email system. Queries get lost in cyberspace. Agents’ emails crash, as do authors’. If I send a query and never receive so much as an auto-confirm, I’ll never be sure if it was read and passed, or simply lost in the internet.

Once again, I understand that agents are busy. Truly, I can appreciate that, and I have no hard feelings towards most. There’s only one type of agent I have a real problem with, and that’s the agent who promises to reply to all queries, then never does so.

A while ago, I queried one agent who looked especially promising. Her guidelines specified that she aimed to reply to all queries within a certain amount of weeks. I waited, the weeks went by, and no response.

Normally, I would’ve assumed my query was lost in cyberspace. But, as it happens, I was also following said agent on Twitter at the time. About a week after the response time frame had passed, she tweeted a sentence or two from several queries which she’d deleted without response because they were such a quick pass. Mine was among them, being cited for “lack of specificity.”

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I’m not bitter about the rejection; hell, that’s the best kind, because it included feedback. But I would’ve preferred to hear that from an email, not a social media feed which I happened to check.

My bigger point here is that while I don’t hold a grudge against agents who treat queriers badly, I do have an enormous amount of respect towards the ones who are courteous—even in dealing with the slush pile. I accept this is a brutal industry, but I think that some agents (and I place extraordinary emphasis on ‘some’) view queriers as people who are so used to rejection that they won’t mind at all if their proposal is deleted without a promised response.

Again I say, I’m completely fine with agents who say, “If you haven’t heard within x-time, please consider it a pass.” No problem! Now I can mark my calendar and hold my breath. But likewise, if you say “You’ll hear from me in x-time, one way or another,” then prospective authors count on that.

The other thing I think people can sometimes forget is that the agent-author relationship is a professional partnership, and that requires mutual respect in equal amounts. If an agent sends me a kind rejection, even if it’s a form, I think, “Man, that’s a loss; he/she would’ve been great to work with.” But if an agent gives a specified period to reply and doesn’t (and obviously received and read it), then I admit I do feel a slight bit of, “Well, I’m not sure I’d want to work with them anyway.”

I’m sorry if I sound naïve or whiny, but what I’m trying to explain is that the kindness and respect of an agent, even a rejecting one, is a warm and welcome feeling in the business of querying. It truly does make a difference between my image of some faceless lady in an office versus a real human being who’s friendly and personable but simply doesn’t connect with my material.

In any case, the two agents reading my work at the moment have been every bit as respectful and friendly as I could hope for.

To them and every other agent out there who treats the slush pile kindly…thank you!