January 27, 2014

The Week in Preview: Sherlock, Catching Fire and ... a surprise? [In Good Time]

Catching Fire (2013)

Better late than never, I present to you, my review of Catching Fire, 2013's sequel to The Hunger Games, and I'll even give you advanced notice of my angle, simply because I'm so nice like that. While I am writing a comprehensive review to let you know whether you should see it, and to generate discussion if you already have, my main thesis will be that Catching Fire is a far superior movie to The Hunger Games (2012). 


It's about time to talk about The Empty Hearse. Sherlock Season 3 aired on January 1st in the UK and January 19 in the US. Without spoiling too much, let's discuss what went on and what degree of awesomeness it went on in. I'm not sure if that made sense. To avoid spoilers, there may not be so many words as pretty pictures, meant to entice those of you who've yet to see it to CATCH UP already!

In the distance

I'm reading Pillars of the Earth for the first time, so you can expect a review of Ken Follett's great historical work from the perspective of a late-comer to the game. I'll say right now that I'm shocked, and that the amount of shock gives George R. R. Martin a run for his ... gold dragons (? I'm not nearly enough of a Game of Thrones expert, it's sad) ... And I'll get on watching that TV series, what fun!

I read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling almost a year ago, and I didn't review it because I didn't have a fantasy angle, but these days I'm listening to the audiobook of Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal (Philosopher's Stone in Spanish) and some echoes have come up. I realised just how dark Harry Potter is from the beginning, and got to thinking in particular about what an abusive upbringing he had in the Dursley household. A glimpse into Rowling's more adult writing makes Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone all the more black when you have a better sense of the mind it comes from. If you haven't read The Casual Vacancy, you won't know what I mean, so I'll give you a hint. There are certain gross-out bodily functions that I expect to read about in a Chuck Palahniuk or Stephen King novel ... if you know what I'm saying. Now Jo could be up there with George R. R. Martin and Ken Follett! (almost ... not quite ...)

I've got a review copy of Kory M. Shrum's Dying for a Living. It comes out on March 4th, and my review will arrive around the same time. Yay!

And then I'm going to re-review The Way of Kings in anticipation of Brandon Sanderson's second book in the Stormlight Archives, Words of Radiance, which is released March 4th, and I have a pre-order coming! Then I'll re-cap Once Upon a Time in time for season 3 part to to begin, March 9th. And somewhere in there or after, I'll catch up on my reading and review A Storm of Swords in time for Game of Thrones Season 4 (which airs April 6th, new trailer Feb 9th) and The Hunger Games books one and two, by Suzanne Collins.

The next Star Indie Spotlight will be on Mark Wayne McGinnis, author of Scrapyard Ship!

That oughta take us until April or so! I hope you'll come back and drop some thoughts. Or musings. Or whatever suits you.

January 24, 2014

Casting Some Starlight on Indie Star J. R. Wright: And Along Came Spider [quickie time]

And Along Came Spider by J.R. WRIGHT: 4.5/5 STARS (Get it on Amazon)

"When it comes time for Martina to change up her life, she abruptly quits her job as a night nurse at a small local hospital, climbs into her old car, and leaves home. From all outward appearances, Martina Spalding is an attractive young lady looking for love and a new life. But underneath is a spitfire with a pistol she's not afraid to use, which surprises even her when she discovers her best friends life is in danger. What transpires thereafter is a thrilling and suspenseful ride to unmask the killer, with a few wrong turns and bumps along the way. During the transformational journey that ensues, Martina earns her nickname in earnest: SPIDER."

On the Facebook page for Musings by Starlight, I promised this week to answer the question of why my name is featured prominently on the strikingly beautiful cover of J. R. Wright's new book, And Along Came Spider, a Martina Spalding Thriller. Well, I've been editing J. R. Wright's books for half a year now, and when I was asked to do a little writing for the first of the Spider series, I jumped at the opportunity to add little words here and there and everywhere until the book had just enough of me in it to warrant an editor's credit so front and centre. I'm deeply grateful to Mr. Wright for giving me so much credit, but more than that I'm grateful to have a job where I get to read one hell of a thrilling ride, while even exercising my creative writing muscles.

That said, my choice to feature J. R. Wright's as the Indie Star Spotlight for January is a little biased, but I do feel that this novel is his best work to date (but do check out the Legend of the Dawn series for a Western adventure story), and I think I have a right to share my opinion, biased or not! So here's the honest opinion of And Along Came Spider:

There's a lot going on for Martina Spalding, given that ever since she left home, her simple life has spiraled out of control. Marti is one hell of a girl, and the situation she finds herself in is wrought with danger and unfairness, but there seems to be some sort of karmic order, because in exchange she gets the kind of friendship that only comes around once in a lifetime, and I don't mean from Mr. Love Interest, I mean from her best friend, Gloria Gillen.

Fun, fast, and dirty for a book about a virgin.

I hope you enjoyed this month's Indie Star Author. I don't know about you, but I don't read nearly enough independently published fiction, so every month or so I hope to review an indie novel for some supportive and honest promotion (the best kind, if you ask me.) 

To indie writers: While I have a fair supply of books to get me started, I am in the market for review copies of independently published fiction, with a preference for science fiction and fantasy. It won't be the first time I've accepted a book as payment for labor. I will feature your book on Musings by Starlight, first come first serve, and post the review to Amazon (and where ever else you please). While I can't promise five stars, I can promise a promotion that is thought out, fair and honest.

January 20, 2014

The Desolation of Smaug Indeed:

The Hobbit Part 2 review time

Dwarves and Elves in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I did not come to steal from you, O Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy. I merely wanted to gaze upon your magnificence, to see if you were as great as the old tales say.
Starring Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug, Stephen Fry, Stephen Colbert (kind of) and Evangeline Lilly, plus the old familiars (Ian McKellan, Orlando Bloom, Cate Blanchett), what could go wrong?

Not much, to be fair. It exceeded most of the expectations in terms of pacing and following the books closely enough without adding too much unnecessary garbage. Remember, as soon as Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be broken into THREE freaking parts, we all jumped in with the criticism that they would be three dragging, slow movies bogged down by excess material. Instead, the length of the series let Jackson (and screenplay writers Guillermo Del Toro et al) keep just about every scene from the book, while adding Legolas in (what would a LOTR movie be without his ridiculous facial expressions?) and keeping things from feeling too rushed.
Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
In fact, I didn’t feel that there was too much Legolas and Tauriel. Maybe it all comes down to whether you love Evangeline Lilly and want as much screen time as possible devoted to close-ups of her face, or whether you don’t know who she is (which is the only reasonable explanation for not loving her. Just saying.) I’ve said many times that I fall asleep during your average fight scene (or car chase, great battle, anything with action really) but who could fall asleep watching Legolas play hop scotch over dwarves floating down river in barrels while shooting orcs (without missing)? Not me.

And despite the backlash, I stand by my tweet that Tauriel's hair color is an ugly shade of orange unworthy of framing Evangeline Lilly's luminous visage.

We couldn't have asked for a better Bard. Luke Evans stood up to the role of Middle Earth man-hero, upholding Boromir's glower, the harshness of Eomer, and the compassion of Faramir (sometimes), without Denethor’s anything. A job well done, sir.
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
You have no right to enter that mountain!
Meanwhile, Stephen Fry was hardly recognizable, which is awesome. I mean, it’s not awesome if you didn’t realize it was him, in which case you need to watch again, but it’s awesome that he transformed so fully into such a dislikable character. For me, Fry will always be Deitrich, that gay comedian and talk show host in V for Vendetta. But there’s none of Deitrich’s graceful dignity in the Master of Lake-town. Instead there’s a revolting, greedy, brutish little man.

What did go wrong was the handling of source material. I’m not complaining here about the inclusion of scenes that didn’t occur in The Hobbit; I said I’m happy with Tauriel (and no one complained when Liv Tyler got oh so much more screen time proportional to the all of 60 words devoted to Arwen in the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy.) The length of the three installments ensures that nothing important need get cut, which keeps us devotees sated, so that’s not the problem either. But what made Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series utterly flawless wasn’t the choices of what to include and what to remove, (Team Bombidil forevs!!) it was how heavily it relied on the foundation of Tolkien’s powerful writing, particularly the use of his exact wording. The deviation from that established standard is the only reason I can point to as to why Bilbo’s conversations with the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent, fell flat, despite the opportunity there for the chemistry and mastery of actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug the Magnificent in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
"You have nice manners for a thief and a liar."
Other than Smaug’s opening lines, “Well, thief, I smell you. I hear your breath. I feel your air,” and the odd “barrel rider” epithet, the screenplay writers free styled this one, and worse yet, they did that thing that makes this particular member of the audience take a little doze: they turned the encounter from a “conversation” with the great dragon into a damn action scene. And a boring, slow paced one at that. We’re long past being impressed by CGI dragons skating across millions of coins, I don’t care how detailed and individual each gold coin is. Because I’m sleeping.

The dialogue between them is closest to its source material when they are actually interacting, but in between the snippets of conversation, Smaug just chases Bilbo around the mounds of treasure blowing fire at him. Snore. Only about a third of the dialogue is verbatim from Tolkien, which might not sound so bad, but when I go back and re-read Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, almost all of the spoken passages are familiar, because they appeared in the movies word for word (which, as I’ve mentioned, makes a re-read a much bigger treat than you think).

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Ponies take some catching, I believe, after a long start. And so do burglars!
The wording might even be close enough, but the pacing is entirely off. Reading the chapter “Inside Information,” there’s nothing but movement in the talk between Bilbo and Smaug, and the plot as it unfolds, due to Bilbo seeing the Arkenstone and Smaug deducing (Sherlock!) that Bilbo is working with the dwarves and has been to Lake-town, where he may have allies.
By my count, the scene of just talk with Bilbo and Smaug is about 12 minutes total of screen time, which is kind of a lot, but maybe it should have been longer and had more of the tangents and side conversations that made it so compelling in the first place. And for sure the scene deserves that much time, except that it was ever so much less clever and intriguing than the ten minutes it takes to read the brilliantly composed chapter. The scene that I most looked forward to, given its perfection in the original composition and the casting of Sherlock and Watson (yep), was one of the weakest in the film, and the series thus far.
And after that we get little mess there’s the snooze-inducing battle in Lake-town, the visually stunning yet dreadfully boring molten gold attack on the dragon, and all that nonsense with Tauriel and the kingsfoil. Haven’t we done that routine twice before, Tolkien? Oh wait, eagles. Right. The rule of LOTR is that everything happens twice. See Arwen (and Aragorn) saving Frodo with kingsfoil. Hobbit, dwarf, same thing.

“She is far, far away from here, and she walks in starlight in another world.” And what was up with Kili and his “Do you think she could have loved me?”

Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel the Magnificent (hah) in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
He's quite tall for a Dwarf. Do you not think?
Sorry if that was a harsh review. Keep in mind, I did start with lots of nice things to say. Plus, the voice acting really was quite masterful. Any disagreements? Feel free to air your grievances; that’s what the comment board is for.