News, Reviews and More!

Hey, all – sorry I’ve been offline for so long! Lots of stuff going on right now – some good, some bad. I’ll try to catch you up! Okay, so the news first:

Publications

I read a werewolf novella by Joshua Werner and loved it so much I just had to write a review! My review of Rampant can be found in the May issue of Bloodbond, a werewolf-, shapeshifter- and vampire-themed magazine published by Alban Lake Publishing. The other content in the zine is all fiction, poetry and artwork pertaining to shapeshifters and vamps, so if you’re as crazy about creatures of the night as I am, be sure to check that out!

Up next: I have two stories coming out this August in Chicken Soup for the Soul books! Yay! The first story, “One Step at a Time,” is about my cat Sputnik’s miracle recovery from a severe health crisis. That can be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Really Did That?, which will be available on August 8. The second story, “Out of the Mouths of Strangers,” is a bit more humorous and includes MANY embarrassing moments from my junior high and high school years. That one will be published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind of America, which comes out on August 29.

 

Movie Reviews

In other happy news, I was fortunate enough to see THREE superhero movies in the last several months. Here’s what I thought of them:

Logan

A good movie, no doubt. High-quality and well-written. I do question the need to make this an R movie. I’m not sure that was the right way to send off the character (at least Hugh Jackman’s version of him). Wolverine has many younger fans who wouldn’t be able to see this film, and therefore wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to their favorite character. My other main issue with Logan is that it isn’t a well-balanced film. This is one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen in recent years. Virtually every character dies. And before they do, the majority of them suffer from physical and mental illness, as well as torture at the hands of their enemies. There is very little humor, and very little hope. The tone is dark and stays that way throughout, rather unrelentingly. Also, the f-word is overused. When I hear it that many times in a row, at a certain point the writer in me starts thinking, Couldn’t you have come up with a better, more creative expletive?

Despite everything, this still was a really good movie. Definitely worth seeing, but I’m not sure I’d want to own it. My suggestion: rent it when you’re in a good mood. If you’re already feeling low, this movie will only bring you down further.

Wonder Woman

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see this movie. Now, I can’t imagine NOT having seen it. Wonder Woman is pure magic. Unlike Logan, this movie is perfectly balanced, with just the right mix of hope, humor, action, romance and sorrow. This is the first female superhero movie to come along in…geez, I don’t even know how many years – and it delivers in a BIG way! Just seeing those powerful Amazon warriors training on their horses in the beginning of the film…I got chills. I didn’t even know how much I needed this movie until I saw it. No matter what your gender is, I promise you will leave the theatre grinning and hoping the next Wonder Woman movie is coming out sooner rather than later. Readers of this blog should be glad I don’t have a lot of time right now, otherwise you’d be getting a 5,000-word post raving about Wonder Woman.

My suggestion: See it!

Captain Underpants

I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with all three of my nephews, and I really enjoyed it. Though much of the humor is of the bathroom variety (as you can guess from the movie’s title), the core story of friendship between the two main characters is touching. As a writer (and a big superhero fan), I loved that the MCs are an author and an illustrator who created their own superhero and publish their own comic book. The fact that they get to see their creation come to life before their eyes – something any writer would give up their pinky toe to see happen – only adds to the joy of this film.

My suggestion: If you’ve got kids between 7-11 years old, take them to see it! They won’t be disappointed, and neither will you. 🙂

TV Reviews

No, no, I didn’t forget about the TV shows! That would never happen.

Last season, two shows tied for first place: Limitless, for being so friggin’ awesome in its first season, and Supernatural for being so friggin’ awesome in its ELEVENTH season! Both shows demonstrated amazing creativity and I had such a great time watching them that it was impossible to choose. I give them both a 9.5 score for the season. Runners-up included my old love, The X-Files, as well as the sparkly newcomer, Lucifer.

Some friends of mine were disgruntled about TXF, as it seemed the network might just be drawing us in with Mulder and Scully, only to reboot a new version of the show starring the recently introduced characters of Miller and Einstein. Personally, I’m withholding judgement until this actually happens. The last time I checked, Season Eleven was listed as a “sure thing” – with the original cast – so we’ll see. I do like the new characters, but Mulder and Scully need to be the stars. Always.

This season I had to make some sacrifices and only watched a few shows religiously. Among those were Lucifer and Supernatural (duh). I loved the mom-drama on both shows, but in the end, Lucifer won out for just being incredible from start to finish. Last year was a little hit-and-miss for me, but this year was DYNAMITE. There was much more focus on the supernatural elements of the show, and the emotions were running a lot higher this year, too.

I’m glad they at least established the beginning of a romance between Chloe and Lucifer. When shows wait too long to introduce romantic interest between the leads, the characters can get stuck in the friend zone. Then, if the writers do decide to put them together down the line, it’s very awkward. (Castle was one show that got this right, while The Mentalist waited too long). The characters don’t have to be together all the time – we just have to know there’s some attraction between them.

Oh, and the Lucifer finale? I just have one word: WINGZZZZZ!!!!! Also, Lucifer gets mega-points for not killing off any beloved characters in the finale. Unlike Supernatural :(. Um, some of those people can come back…right? Please???

Elsewhere on TV: Chicago Fire: We needed more time to get to know Anna before they killed her off. Grimm: Why the heck did they cancel this amazing show??? Emerald City: Too caught up in the glitz of its concept to deliver on an emotional level. This is Us: If you’re not watching it yet, start now! Great show, with many alums from other shows we love, including Smallville and Supernatural. Plus, it’s not getting cancelled anytime soon, so you can watch without fear.

Novel Update

Some of you may recall that I was in the process of editing one of my novels. Last time I posted about it, the book was at 150K words. Now, thanks to an awesome writing partner (and her equally awesome son), the manuscript is at about 106K and still shrinking. That’s down from 300K, people! Cutting your book IS doable.

For more help on cutting words from your manuscript, check out this post:

http://www.rachellegardner.com/how-to-cut-thousands-of-words/ 

Loads of great advice in the comments, too, along with a wonderful quote that sums up the cutting process:

“Every word you cut gives its power to the words that remain.” ~ Cathy’s brother

Wish me luck in getting my book down under 100K, and I hope to be back soon with more news, reviews and other goodies!

~Gretchen

 

Movie Reviews: X-Men Days of Future Past and The Wolverine

WolverineBlog

 

As a young girl growing up with two older brothers, I was frequently exposed to their questionable entertainment choices. I can clearly recall sitting through repeated viewings of such films as Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein, Time Bandits, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Wrath of Khan. As an adult, I’ve grown to appreciate most of these movies as classics (though I admit, Time Bandits is still lost on me…). But as a little kid, these movies represented pure boredom – lots of grown-up humor and situations that I just plain didn’t get. One thing I DID love, however, was watching the old X-Men cartoon with my middle brother – and my passion for those characters and stories has stayed with me for life. X-Men may very well be my oldest fangirly obsession! And, lucky for me, my adult years have been filled with awesome live-action depictions of the mutant-filled adventures I grew up with:

X-Men: Days of Future Past:

I was totally psyched about this movie from the moment I saw the first trailer. Not only do I love X-Men, but I go crazy for time travel stories, so this flick was tailored specifically to fit my tastes. Also, I could tell that Wolverine had a really prominent role, and that always works well for a Wolvie-girl like me. With my expectations sky-high – fueled by kick-butt previews and rave word-of-mouth reviews from family members – I was worried about being let down by the actual movie. Thankfully, it turned out to be everything I hoped for. I left the theatre completely satisfied and mega-excited about future X-Men movies.

The highlight of Days, for me, was the relationship between Logan and Xavier (both past and future versions). Just the look on old Xavier’s face when Logan is lying on that table, fighting invisible enemies or making little hurt noises as he’s drowning…Heartbreaking. And when Logan tells young Xavier to still find everyone – Storm, Scott, Jean – and still create the X-Men, even if the future can’t be saved…such an emotional moment.

James McAvoy, who plays young Xavier, is top-notch. My mom, who’d never seen X-Men: First Class, commented, “At first, I wished they had picked an actor who looked more like Patrick Stuart. Then, after about five minutes, I didn’t care what he looked like anymore – that actor WAS Professor X.” Well said, Ma! Quicksilver was another spotlight performance – Evan Peters definitely stole the show during his scenes. I wondered if maybe they should have used him more, but then decided a small dose was the perfect dose. There might be such a thing as too much Quicksilver. Can’t really look at Jennifer Lawrence these days without thinking, “Katniss!” Not her fault, just a fact of life.

Michael Fassbender (young Magneto) was strong, as usual. One of my friends commented after the film: “I’m traumatized when Magneto tries to kill other mutants!” I hear you, sister. To have Erik instantly attempt to murder Raven did seem a little extreme. Then again, it fits with his character’s behavior in Last Stand – there, too, he immediately betrays Mystique once she’s no longer a mutant (right after she saves him, no less!).

Would have liked to see more Storm, Bobby, Kitty, old Professor X, old Magneto, but you can’t have everything. Heard complaints of “not enough Bishop,” and I get that. He IS undeniable in his awesomeness, but he hasn’t been a main character throughout the movie series thus far, so suddenly bringing him to the forefront would have required a lot of backstory and other stuff they didn’t really have time for. I’d rather have a well-balanced, well-paced movie than a jam-packed mutant-fest that’s more concerned with covering everybody’s favorite character than telling the story.

It DID hurt to not see Rogue for basically the entire film, and not even have her really mentioned, but that one little look by Logan at the end told me everything I needed to know. Obviously she had died at some point, and it was too hard to even think about, much less discuss. The peace and joy in Logan’s face as he sees her alive once more is a thing of beauty. (In case you didn’t notice, I ship Rogan.)

Even though the movie made MY year, some of the friends I saw it with weren’t quite so elated. I was scared to ask our one friend what she thought, because she doesn’t like Wolverine, but she said she didn’t mind him so much this time around. The character seemed less arrogant/intrusive, she said. I suggested maybe it was due to him being in such an odd, unfamiliar situation (future self in past body and all that). Her response: “I think maybe it’s just that he was a lot older.” And I thought, “Dang, she nailed it!” The Wolverine in this film had a wisdom of age and experience that not only softened him in some ways, but made him more open, honest, and less concerned with self than ever before. I don’t know how Hugh Jackman did that, but hats off. Also, he looked great with that little touch of grey in his hair. Not sure why old Wolvie had grey, seeing as he’s not supposed to age, but I still dug it.

As far as nitpicks go, there were much bigger ones than that, and my less-than-elated friends were happy to point them out. Complaints ranged from “Why does Professor X look like himself and not the dude whose body he woke up in at the end of Last Stand?” to “Why does Kitty suddenly have a power she never had before?” Eager to defend the movie, I tried my best to come up with answers: Xavier doesn’t really look like himself, he just uses his power to project a familiar image into people’s heads. Kitty can control space (phasing through objects), so maybe she could eventually learn to manipulate time as well.

In general, I think people were most happy about the fact that the movie served as a reboot, bringing back many of the characters killed off in the death-fest that was Last Stand. Can’t say I disagree. 🙂 Massive plot holes or not, this movie was an entertaining ride with good pacing, lots of humor, and some real emotional punch. Super excited to learn what happened in the years spanning Logan’s memory gap – did Raven help or hurt him? Does he currently have his adamantium, or did that never happen?

And what will be next for all of our freshly-resurrected mutant friends? When the next release date rolls around, you know I’ll be sitting in the hush of a dark, popcorn-scented theatre, on the edge of a cushy maroon seat, just waiting to find out. 🙂

My score on the “Skip it, rent it, or buy it?” scale: Buy it!!

The Wolverine:

Despite my love of the character, I had low expectations for this film. I hadn’t seen any previews beforehand, and didn’t even know what it was about, other than some ninjas would probably be involved. I figured it was another prequel about the time before Logan joined the X-Men, and that thought didn’t excite me. It’s not that I hated X-Men Origins: Wolverine or anything. It’s just that I didn’t LOVE it. Something was missing – they tried to cover about eight different stories, not to mention a thousand-and-one new mutants, and it ended up feeling like we were fast-forwarding through Logan’s history, rather than experiencing it as it unfolded. There was a lot of rushing, a lot of action, and very little time to become attached.

As I watched the opening scenes of The Wolverine, set in WWII Japan, I sighed. Another prequel, just as I thought. But then, something happened – Logan woke up! It was just a dream, a flashback. And then something even more incredible happened: JEAN was there! At this point, my heart was pumping hard and fast, because suddenly I knew this wasn’t a prequel. This was something different entirely: a solo Wolverine adventure set after The Last Stand. Thumpity-thump.

Watching this movie unfold was like opening a present you didn’t notice was sitting under the Christmas tree until you were cleaning up balls of crumpled paper and ribbon so the cat wouldn’t eat them and barf. It was a gift to Wolverine fans, and I enjoyed every moment of it. The pacing was excellent – there was *gasp* actual downtime between fight scenes.

There was time to get to know and care about the new characters being introduced. There was mystery, action, hurt/comfort, humor, romance, culture, and a deeper internal storyline about Logan coming to terms with what he’d done to Jean. The flashbacks were expertly interwoven with present-day action. The effects were excellent, save only the CG bear, which could’ve looked a bit better, but I have issues with CG animals in general. (Like in Prisoner of Azkaban, did they really NEED to use a FAKE dog? Come on, people…)

I loved how at the climax of the movie, small details from earlier in the film came into play and were important, like the way to properly hold the Samurai sword. Details matter. Pacing matters. Good, well-balanced storylines matter. If you forced me to pick one thing to complain about, I’d say I would like to know more about how the science worked – how they suppressed Logan’s mutation, how they would be able to transfer it, but honestly, the science in any X-Men movie is going to be sketchy at best, and it didn’t really bother me. I was totally grateful for this movie – it more than made up for any letdown I experienced from Origins. THIS is the Wolverine movie everyone should see.

Also, on a more shallow note, Hugh Jackman has NEVER looked better than he did in this flick. It took my breath away – no joke. I was like, DANG. He was so beautiful, he practically glowed. They had his hair really nice, too – just barely tweaked up at the sides. That’s it all takes – no need for those gigantic ocean waves cresting on his head. Whoever did his hair for this movie should do it for ALL the X-Men movies from now on. No exceptions. But good hair and prettiness are just icing. The cake is the movie, and it left me so satisfied that I immediately wanted to watch it again – which I did the very next day. 🙂

In the end, the image that sticks with me the most is that of Mariko, lying beside Logan as he awakens from a nightmare. She calmly strokes his claws – completely unafraid of the wild, threatening look in his eyes – until he comes down from his panic. Mariko tells him the story her grandfather told her about “Kazuri,” an animal with sharp teeth and long claws. A creature who would protect her from all bad things. This moment resonated deeply in my heart, taking me back to childhood, and the core reason why Wolverine is my favorite: Because I, too, was a little girl once. A little girl with fears and nightmares. And then one day, my dad put up a Wolverine poster in our basement. I remember him adjusting the lighting, turning it up and down until it fell on the poster just so. Dad said, “If someone breaks in, I bet that poster will scare them away…” A silly idea now, but back then I believed. In that moment, the Wolverine became our family’s protector, MY protector. And I guess in the deepest depths of my heart, that’s what he’ll always be.

My score on the “Skip it, rent it, or buy it?” scale (prepare to be shocked): Buy it!

Up next: Great Reads, Volume 2 and November Race results (expect to hear about Supernatural’s 200th episode, the epic Fire/SVU/PD crossover, Severide’s new wife (?????) the long-awaited Caskett nuptuals, and my new full-on obsession, Forever!). Also, Mentalist fans please take note: the final season of The Mentalist begins airing Sunday, November 30th, 9:30pm ET – MUCH earlier than initially reported. It’s our last chance to see Jane, Lisbon and Cho in action, so don’t forget to tune in!