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How My Teenage Protagonist Fatigue Bit Into YA Classic Sweethearts

500Here there be spoilers.

You know that particular sinking feeling you get after finally sitting down to watch a film you meant to see in the cinema, one all your friends recommend, but you’ve been super busy and now it’s 3 years later and other films have come along, and as you clear the 2 hours in your schedule for the film that you’ve heard so much about you realise you’re not going to like it?

That pretty much sums up my feelings towards Sara Zarr’s Sweethearts.

The, ‘friends,’ in question are Young Adult blog Forever Young Adult, my go-to for searching out new books. In the time I’ve been reading the blog I’ve tripled how many books I read per year, (to about 40; the girls at FYA and The Book Smugglers frequently hit over 100). Sweethearts is important business at FYA, frequently referred to as the gold standard with a reverence usually reserved for YA goddess Sarah Dessen.

The book is about a teenage girl named Jenna and her relationship with Cameron Quick. As children, Jenna and Cameron had a bond built on their outcast status, (Jenna was overweight and Cameron had a troubling home life), and when Cameron disappeared years ago she believed him dead. The narrative skips between their present day reunion and her memories of their childhood together to explore their relationship.

The story is touching and poignant. There’s one paragraph where Jenna realises that her mothers version of events, (which Jenna sees differently), is so important to her because it’s part of her foundation. Jenna doesn’t want to crush that by speaking up, but she also understands that her point of view is valid too. It’s an insight into the ways we live with ourselves and our decisions, and to the older reader it’s the beginning of Jenna seeing her mother as a person, understanding that her mother’s stories can be true and simultaneously contradict Jenna’s true stories.

Indeed the only problem that leapt out at me as a legitimate criticism was the underdeveloped peripheral characters. They seem to exist purely for Jenna’s benefit, especially her gentle and overly-accommodating stepfather Alan, and her best friend Steph who is the most blatant example of a rom-com movie best friend I’ve seen in a while. They took me out of the book every time they appeared, and unfortunately this problem extended to Jenna’s mother as well. I appreciated that a mother/daughter relationship played an important role in the book, (for the same reason I loved Pixar’s Brave), but the mothers behaviour felt erratic. For one thing she openly accepts Cameron back into their lives after letting Jenna believe he died. It’s one of those plot elements that seems to exist only in fiction so it’s already pushing the boundaries of belief, and her mother’s reaction nearly pushes it too far. It might have been more effective if Jenna had convinced herself Cameron was dead to explain why he never got in touch, but instead her school mates told her Cameron died and her mother never corrected her, thus her joy at seeing Cameron feels naïve at best since it will clearly jeopardise her relationship with her daughter.

I was also surprised that she believed Jenna’s story about her traumatic visit to Cameron’s house without argument. For all the dark mutterings of, ‘what’s going on in the Quick house,’ (Cameron’s father is clearly abusing him), it’s never explicitly said, and Cameron himself is practically mute. It would be natural to deny that her daughter was nearly a victim of Cameron’s father, as believing it is emotionally damaging and would also negatively impact the internal narrative that is so important to her. None of these individual problems are deal breakers by any means, but the contrast of Alan and Steph with a side character whose motivation made my head spin from one chapter to the next was jarring.

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Everything else was just an unfortunate confluence of my own reactions and baggage that left me outside looking in, rather than specific issues with the book itself. As a result of reading a lot of YA lately I’m suffering from a kind of Teenage Protagonist Fatigue, and while 18 year old Jenna is likeable she makes the kind of mistakes you grow out of including many instances of withholding the truth. Not a huge problem on it’s own, but when you read a lot of YA it has a cumulative effect. JUST USE YOUR WORDS. (Note: In the first Harry Potter film when Harry and Ron realise Hermione’s trapped with the troll and go after her, why don’t they tell a teacher? Seriously why?) A fair amount of drama in this book comes from Jenna refusing to just TELL people about Cameron Quick. I happen to think the One Sentence Rule can be broken whenever there’s a credible emotional reason for the person to withhold information, (i.e. it would cost them more emotionally than they would gain through clearing up misunderstandings), but Jenna’s age really shows in her certainty that if her friends knew about her past they wouldn’t want to know her. It’s true that at her age a tragic past with a child that was being abused likely wouldn’t be handled with the necessary maturity and sensitivity by her peers, but that’s not the reason she keeps quiet. She actually doesn’t want her friends to find out she used to be fat and unpopular, and learning the truth about Cameron will mean revealing her own past as well. So I was frustrated, but I also wanted to hug her and tell her that when you’re older no one gives a damn about that kind of thing, and that’s it’s very okay to cut ties with anyone who does.

The Teenage Protagonist Fatigue also altered my view on Jenna’s relationship with boyfriend Ethan, who isn’t so keen on learning about the real Jenna. Ethan’s not so much a bad guy as he is immature and unsure of how to approach Jenna’s shared history with the sexy new guy. Ethan has a narrow view of what a relationship is, (and who Jenna is), just as Jenna herself sees their relationship as a box to be ticked in the, ‘Now I’m Normal,’ list. Their relationship is ultimately unsatisfying to both of them but they’re reluctant to end it. It’s realistic, yes, but in this relatively short book my patience was tested every time they were together because the interesting story lies with Cameron, and every time Jenna contemplates breaking up with Ethan I wanted to tell her to just do it already because dragging it out is worse personally and narratively.

The baggage that bothered me most though was only partly induced by Teenage Protagonist Fatigue, and showed up every time Jenna felt guilty for getting mad at Cameron when she had every damn right to. Cameron is endearing, and we’re on Jenna’s side in forgiving him his rough edges because we understand that it’s not all his fault. But the kid’s infuriating. He turns up when he feels like it, doesn’t explain himself, and generally acts as mysteriously as possible. By the end of the book I found myself organising a PowerPoint presentation on all the reasons Jenna was allowed to be mad, and why that didn’t make her a bad person. If someone turns up at your house unannounced at 3am Jenna, getting mad is the correct response. If someone neglects to get in touch in 9 years and suddenly shows up, getting mad is the correct.. a fine response I imagine, it doesn’t exactly happen often. I still advocate getting mad though.

Every time Jenna feels guilty about being annoyed with Cameron, I was frustrated but I also empathised with her underlying struggle. It’s not just that Cameron’s past justifies his behaviour; she doesn’t want to get mad with him because Cameron doesn’t deserve for anyone to get mad at him. Like a really extreme version of being let off chores because you fell off your bike, the subtext is that Jenna wants to save Cameron any ire because he’s been through so much, even when that ire is her own perfectly justified response to his difficult ways. It’s heavy stuff, and the first time I’ve felt like I wasn’t experiencing Teenage Protagonist Fatigue because of immature behaviour but because the character was too young to fully deal with the complexity of their situation. It’s easy to see why Jenna focuses on her simple love for Cameron at the expense of more difficult emotions. But I’m not Jenna, so I wanted to tell her that getting mad is good for her, because her emotions are trying to protect her from potentially damaging behaviour, and that is way beyond the realm of objective criticism. It’s something I might not feel had I not read a lot of YA books recently, and it probably wouldn’t cause disappointment if my expectations weren’t so different from what I found. I was expecting swoony romance, and instead I was focussing on the fact that if Cameron wants to turn up at Jenna’s house at 3am for greater privacy with her that’s fine, but he has the capacity to call ahead and chooses not to. Calling ahead would demonstrate basic understanding of how outside the norm his actions are and respect for Jenna’s feelings on that. It’s not that his actions are fundamentally wrong, but he doesn’t call.

Everything is on Cameron’s terms, and he can’t seem to understand that he and Jenna have not been on equal ground the last few years since she didn’t have the same information he had. He’s not bad for failing to understand this, but there’s something in the way he brushes past it. Nor is it Jenna’s fault that she doesn’t yet understand there’s a difference in being mad at a person and wanting them to change behaviours. That it’s possible to love someone and still get answers to direct questions and get a full nights sleep. It’s about respect and boundaries and making space for each other in your respective lives, and a whole host of difficult, time-consuming things that aren’t paramount to teenagers.

So yeah, heavy.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with looking at the story this way, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with shaking your head at Harry Potter for thinking it was ever going to work with Cho Chang, (though I imagine the intention is for you to connect with the characters and remember those first flutters of romance rather than remark on their foolishness), but it does change your reaction to it. It adds a third frame to the story: 9 year old Jenna and Cameron provide the centre, framed by their reunion years later, further framed by our view as a reader and the sadness inherent in realising we can never go home. Jenna and Cameron see their bond as pure, and as a reader I wanted them to have that but not necessarily each other. I feel like as a younger reader I would be rooting for them to stay together and recapture that simple pleasure they felt in the others presence as children. In reality though I felt like Jenna would only grow more frustrated as she comes to realise that while she loves Cameron, she can’t count on him in the way adults need to. However, while this detracted from the teenage feelings of infatuation I thought I’d find, it actually added to the pure love story, as it felt like a final act of love for Cameron to leave.

That’s a lot to get out of a 200 page book with a heart biscuit on the front.

So I hope you can see how; this is a damn fine book well worth a read, and; I was disappointed, are two true and contradicting stories. I was expecting to connect with Sweethearts on a more visceral level, but instead I was stuck in that third frame, admiring the story but never in it. That’s my baggage, and it’s why I can objectively tell you this book is brilliant but I can’t recommend it the way Forever Young Adult can.

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8 Moments of Misogyny in The Pill Trailer

  1. A white man patronising a woman. That’s new.
  2. ‘You actually think that I would be here if I had a girlfriend?’ Ah, refusal to answer straightforward questions. Is there a surer way to get a human to trust you well enough to let you put a part of yourself inside them?
  3. Contraception is the woman’s responsibility. Obviously. Stop inconveniencing men with your icky girl stuff ladies! Take your lower salaries and pay for their dicks to do whatever they want without consequence. How else will they respect you?
  4. Some sexually active women are not on the Pill. There are a variety of reasons this may be the case. None of them are your goddamned business.
  5. Only women who are drunk or crazy have one night stands. One night stands never take place between two regular people who just want to have consenting fun with their adults bodies and aren’t looking for relationships.
  6. ‘Mindy is a little emotional.’ Um, for asking for a little decent behaviour from a fellow human during a stressful time rather than fratboy teasing? For slapping this supremely slappable asshat?
  7. ‘Fred has a big problem.’ You can tell his is a legitimate problem because his font is blue. Blue is for men, who only ever have real, tangible problems, like business mergers or crazy harpies who won’t do what they tell them to. Mindy’s font is pink which is for girls, who don’t have real problems. They have emotions. Stupid, groundless, inconvenient emotions.
  8. ‘You’re twisting everything and putting words into my mouth.’ I just saw you call her family snakes. Ain’t nobody put those words in your mouth, friend. That was all you.

Apparently this film has won multiple awards. I can only judge the trailer since I refuse to expose myself to anything more than the 5 viewings of said trailer it took me to write this post. Has anyone actually seen this? Is it as misogynistic as it looks? I cannot.

I hate to leave this on a sour note so I present you with Turin Brakes, ‘Emergency 72,’ a soulful, sober look at the emotional impact of of deciding whether or not to use the morning after pill.

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The Nose Buddy Is Such A Dick

dicknose

Get ready to read the word ‘dick’ a lot.

For as long as I can remember I have suffered with sinus problems, (began no dating profile ever.) My daily experience is a continuous pressure headache. Bending forward is a problem. Whenever I need to talk for long periods of time, (causing me to breathe through my ill-equipped nose), I automatically factor in lying-the-fuck-down time afterwards. It’s been the background radiation of my life for so long that I only realised how ridiculous it had become once tuning it out became a full-time endeavour. So for the last 5 months I have been embroiled in the medical business of Sorting This Shit Out.

It currently accounts for 6 doses of medication a day. My head feels worse than ever because I’m eschewing the decongestants and painkillers I overused to manage it, and because I don’t LOOK ill I feel like a neurotic stereotype every time I bring it up. This is compounded by the generally unimpressed response I receive to it, but as a migraine sufferer I’m used to that. The scepticism of others, (bosses in particular), bleeds through in language; if someone believes you they say you have a migraine, if they don’t then you have one of your migraines. It’s like a form of medical gas lighting, implying ownership over something inherently neutral, and like the pain in my sinuses I’m keen for it to stop.

janice

Nasal ladies don’t have a great reputation

Enter, quite literally, the Nosebuddy.

4 months into the cycle of fluctuating medications my doctor suggested I try a, ‘nasal douche.’ I have never, in all my life, felt more adult than when I heard this suggestion without laughing. She recommended I try using a 20ml syringe filled with saline solution to, ‘flush,’ my sinuses. She added that a lot of people are put off by the name, but I was suffering. I was ready to try anything.

20ml

Do not flush your nose with a syringe. It’s near impossible to use, and 20ml syringes are so hard to find that the third pharmacist I tried suggested I try the local pet shop. I did just that, but I didn’t find any because BUNNEHS.

Once I acquired a syringe I began the practice once a day, but instead of improving with time I actively got worse. Remember when Peter forgot how to sit down? Yeah, like that. The basic process is to pour saline solution through one nostril and let it flow out of the other like some kind of Victorian magic trick, but in practice I achieved this maybe 20% of the time and only ever through one nostril. So I turned to YouTube to help me through it, and thanks to this lovely gentleman I, ‘powered through’.

Look at his face. THAT is the face you make when nasal douching. (Heh, ‘nasal douching.’ ) It is exactly like the feeling you get when you jump into a swimming pool without closing your nose.

After my 14th time getting saline solution all over my shirt it became clear that the problem wasn’t my technique, it was the tools. So I did some Interneting  on the subject and found the neti pot; a container specifically designed to clear the sinuses as part of yogic practice. (Incidentally, yoga is one those things made difficult by blocked sinuses. It’s not the only reason I can’t do headstands by any means, but it is a factor.)

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There are different types of neti pot, and I think this is the more traditional kind. I really wanted one of these. It looks so civilised. But in my heart of hearts I knew.

I would end up with the dick pot.

nosebuddy

Look at it. Pretend I never mentioned that it resembled a dick. Do this, and tell me if you can see anything but an erect, springy penis attached to a jug.

It had the best reviews. They mentioned things like durability, and ease of use. There were other options but in nose flushing, as in life, I was drawn to the dick.

The big, (ahem), day arrived. According to the woman on the packaging, I was going to enjoy this encounter. Enjoy it, or plot someone’s murder by the looks of it.

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I’m not coming back for 30%, I’m coming back for EVERYTHING

The NoseDick has a line to indicate how far you should fill it. It holds approximately 568ml. That’s 28 times more volume than the 20ml I’d been struggling with. You are meant to boil the water and let it cool before filling the NoseDick but I put it in too hot, so to speed up the cooling process I poured the water out of the NoseDick and into a larger container. What I didn’t realise was that the spout design causes the water to thrust out in an upward stream like so.

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Only in your nose.

It spilled everywhere. It missed my laptop by a splatter, and all the while I tried valiantly to deny the dick. It was like there were two of me; an adult with a sinus problem, and an adult who kept looking around to see if anyone else would mention the enormous pink dick in the room.

With heavy heart and heavy nose I came to use my new NoseDick. It’s.. powerful. More fit for purpose than the syringe certainly, but still difficult. You are supposed to use half of the solution for each nostril, but it’s hard to calculate when to stop since the solution you’re measuring is forcibly invading your nasal cavity.

It’s also just plain hard to concentrate with a stream of warm liquid gushing in your mouth.

I have never been more confused about where to look.

oh, fuck

No, seriously what the fuck’s happening right now

The initial entry and disengage resulted in a fair amount of spillage. It was definitely an improvement over the syringe, but so is just randomly throwing water at your face and tipping your head back.

The NoseDick comes with instructions to follow this ordeal with something called Bellows Breathing, which I can’t be doing right since not only did I feel worse afterwards, but it felt like I was inducing a panic attack. It also sounded like I was having vigorous sex, and given the overall phallic nature of the adventure so far I probably should have expected that. Yet in the same way I’ve never been so adult as I when I didn’t laugh at the phrase, ‘nasal douche,’ I’ve never been as naive as when I felt surprise at the sex sounds emanating from my nose.

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The paragon of innocence in the face of depravity

This was all made more traumatic by the knowledge that I absolutely could not laugh while using the NoseDick. I came dangerously close when I realised that involuntary swallowing leads the stream to pause and then resume once you’re done, but swallowing is unavoidable since the process takes a fair amount of time, (AMIRITE). I once laughed during a family members funeral. Perhaps my second most naïve moment in life came when I thought that was as inappropriate as laughter could possibly get, but at least that only caused emotional suffering. Laughing with the NoseDick inside you would certainly lead to choking, and if a friend of mine was using it I would mock them mercilessly. But my friends all have clear sinuses so my brain had no choice but to turn on itself.

Part of the problem is the dry nature of the instructions. It’s quick to use words like simple and easy, and for obvious reasons, but it could be tempered by a few sentences reassuring you that it’s an odd feeling, it’s messy to start with, and not to worry if it goes in your mouth. (AMIRITE. AMI – I give up.) As a consumer, and indeed a person, I appreciate positivity but I appreciate being spoken to like an adult who probably doesn’t want to stick a dick up their nose even more. I’ve already bought the product, at least level with me.

It wouldn’t actually be so bad if the instructions acknowledged the dick. A kind of dick-sclaimer if you will.

‘Welcome to Nosebuddy! For the relief of congestion and an aide to better health, Nosebuddy makes a wonderful.. Look, it’s a dick, okay? We know it’s a dick. It’s okay. We know dick, we studied it. Just relax and let us do this.’

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There does exist a book on using neti pots for better health, but on the Amazon page one helpful reviewer noted that the book and the practice were apparently best for already healthy people who want to be even more healthy. As the process was recommended by my doctor I think it is relevant to my condition, but I’m glad that reviewer mentioned it. Often things are advertised as devices that work for everyone, just as meditation is often suggested to help with anxiety and mood but actually shouldn’t be attempted during bouts of depression. When you feel desperate, it’s crushing to try the supposed magic cure and realise it doesn’t apply to you.

This is probably a little deep for a blog post that has used the word, ‘NoseDick’, 9 times at this point, but I’d like to live in a world where manufacturers recognise that the people most likely to search out their product are chronic sufferers/extreme cases and advertise this to guide people in the right direction, rather than either fail to mention it or only do so after purchase. It’s hard enough when you’re suffering from a painful condition, without getting your hopes up for something not designed to help you but instead designed for the healthy masses.

As for me, I’ll persevere with the NoseDick because it’s currently the best course of action. If you were looking into the neti pot to clear out city grime, (something I never considered until frequenting the London underground), or to enhance your breathing practice, or any of the other reasons people would choose to do this when they don’t have to then I’d steer clear of the NoseDick. Not because it’s a bad product, but because it can be accurately referred to as a NOSEDICK. Repeatedly. In a blog post inspired solely by the NoseDick-ishness of it all. Run. Save yourselves, and think of those less fortunate. Meanwhile I’ll be adding to my in-case-of-sudden-death contract with friends.

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And my NoseDick

NoseDick, AWAY!

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Why the Trailer For the Thor Sequel Hates You

Thor-castleBack in the dark days before we knew if Marvels gamble on The Avengers would pay off, the thing I liked most about Thor was the contrast of a simple story with the fantastical world of Asgard. Keeping the story low-key allowed Thor to interact with our world and the Marvel film world at large, and believing in the character of Thor helps us believe in Asgard. (To contrast how badly this can go, see: Green Lantern. By which I mean read reviews. Don’t actually go and see Green Lantern.)

I want to believe in Asgard. Like Tron: Legacy, it exists in a cruel alternate visual landscape where everything is magnificent, and all things point to a higher power. It’s wonderful because it’s fantasy, meaning real people on this Earth with jobs and haircuts find beauty in the same things I do, and it’s cruel because I CAN’T LIVE THERE.

So to say I was saddened by the news that the Asgard of the sequel Thor: The Dark World closer resembles the Game of Thrones palette is an understatement. It’s not like The Avengers doesn’t have currency now, so why take away from the most easily identifiable, daring element of the cinematography? Is it to bring Thor more in line with the relatively un-fantastical world of Iron Man, the series highest individual earner? Is Game of Thrones now so ubiquitous that everyone imitates it? Because I do not need Loki/Thor in my life. With said frustrations in place, I look to the trailer and –

-DAMN, WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING AT ME?

It’s shouting, right? I’ve watched it three times and I still have no feel for this movie, just a slow trickle of blood coming from my ear.

We’re all agreed at this point that Marvel films are a guaranteed viewing, so why is this trailer SO. LOUD?

And why do I feel like I’ve seen it before?

Let’s examine:

The average movie in the UK is preceded by 10 minutes of adverts, and 3-5 trailers. That’s approximately 12 minutes of VERY LOUD ADVERTISING before your film begins. My local cinema also likes to throw in an advert for special events such as ballet and opera set to dubstep to show off the power of their speakers. At first, it was startling to see something so non-linear. I was used to seeing adverts for the multiplex itself as cheesy, inviting me to buy my tickets in the foyer, today! As with so much cinema advertising this new thing was impressive the first time I saw it and exceedingly irritating every time since.

This is especially egregious towards the end of a season when the general adverts before the trailers haven’t yet moved on to the next seasons crop, featuring instead movies which have long since left theatres. I always find it eerie, like watching the first audition tape of a young star with the full knowledge of their future rise and fall. I know I can’t change the box office fate of these films, so I feel embarrassed by their naked eagerness, asking for the love of an audience that no longer exists. (If that’s too much baggage to carry into a 30 second ad for The Lone Ranger then I’m sorry, I just have a lot of feelings.)

The first time I saw The Avengers in the theatre there were 3 decent enough trailers which set the mood nicely, (I wish I could find what they were, but Google is not forthcoming), followed by this trailer for the Mel Gibson movie How I Spent My Summer Vacation/Get the Gringo. This was Gibson’s first mainstream release since his racist rant in 2010, and judging by the collective clenching of the audience’ buttocks it was a huge mistake. It was such a strange choice, such a substandard, out of place trailer, that for weeks I was convinced that peoples negative reaction to the first 20 minutes of The Avengers stemmed from the heaping dose of WTF they were served prior to it’s beginning. Trailers are supposed to whet the appetite, not act as an endurance test.

Just to check that I’m not overreacting, I’m going to try again.

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Don’t worry about me, I’ll just be throwing up in this corner.

The last 20 minutes of Man of Steel were painfully loud. Buildings and eardrums were shattered. The difference is that Man of Steel earned my pain with the preceding 2 hours of entertainment whereas the Thor trailer is using that pain as an INVITATION. The Man of Steel trailer actually managed to sound gorgeous while hinting at the grandiosity within; Thor just hits me with his hammer.

The issue of aural abuse in movie trailers has been deftly addressed by, (the excellent), Yourmoviesucks; in 2009 the use of short bursts of loud, low tone music was used to great effect in the trailer for District 9. Inception followed suit with a story-significant theme by Hans Zimmer, and while it’s loud as all hell the music plays a big part in what works about Inception, imbuing it with an authority The Dark Knight Rises never achieves. This style of music has been appearing frequently in trailers since then, becoming a trend that no longer need have anything to do with the film it’s actually selling. I can only assume this now mindless volume exists to create a response to the experience that we wrongly interpret as a response to the film itself. Understand I’m not saying that a loud trailer is an inherently bad thing; used correctly, by which I mean in relation to the material, we have the trailer for The Great Gatsby.

I still haven’t seen Gatsby, and even though I’ve read less than stellar reviews by critics I trust, that trailer still makes me salivate. That was damned impressive in the cinema. At the 1.50 mark everything ramps up, building on what’s gone before and creating a feeling of DRAMA and ROMANCE without spelling out the plot. That’s not bad in less than 3 minutes, and it’s where so many fantasy/science-fiction trailers overdo it; they use their time to relentlessly build tension that they never break. Incidentally, comedic trailers often suffer from this problem in reverse; they cut tension too soon, such as in the trailer for We’re the Millers which has only 8 seconds of build-up before cutting the music for an unfunny one-liner. The effect in both cases is that they feel like they’re trying too hard.

The general formula for fantasy/science-fiction trailers is as follows:

Brief flashes of scenery + Characters looking serious + Booming music + No, more music + MUSIC. MUSIC. ARE YOU WATCHING THIS MOVIE YET?? = Ticket sales

It’s often the case that the images in these trailers have no meaning to us as an audience unless we are familiar with the source material. Even though the source material may vary in theme, execution and intended audience, the similar presentation causes them to blend together. For example:

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is about a rebellion bordering on war in a dystopian society based around a cruel and politically-charged game that sees children forced to murder each other; The Mortal Intruments: City of Bones is about a young woman in modern day New York who becomes embroiled in the supernatural battle for Earth, featuring angels, vampires, demons and werewolves; Thor: The Dark World is about a god with a sociopathic brother and astrophysicist girlfriend with a story that spans worlds.

Yet all 3 of their trailers look exactly the same. Most noticeably they all feature a variation on dramatic music that builds throughout the trailer, and they all employ the same editing technique of fading to black after a few seconds of each image. This method adds up to more of a feeling towards the trailers, (that they are, ‘epic’, and, ‘exciting’), than a specific explanation of plot, although plot points may be mentioned. They all share wide scenery shots and hand to hand fighting. They are also all approaching the event horizon where their trailers feature more black screen than actual trailer.

The result is that each individual trailer may appear pretty cool, but viewed together you have to look closely to see what sets them apart from each other. Since these trailers all have a similar tone we’re forced to make our decision on rather shallow grounds, like a movie version of Choose Your Own Adventure. The basic movie is the same, but you can choose whether you want to play with:

  • A. Gods and physics.
  • B. Angels and vampires.
  • C. Dystopian death games.

Part of the reason this drives me wild is that audiences are looking for reasons to dismiss movies, and with good reason. Going to the cinema represents a significant time and monetary investment for entertainment when viewed against what people have available at home. I’m sure you’ve read an article at some point about film premises arriving in twos; Dantes Peak and Volcano, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, The World’s End and This Is the End, the list goes on. (White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Help, I can’t actually stop.) Even though these movies may be completely different in their execution and themes, their advertising comes down to a few images and a 3 minute trailer, and the average movie goer will further reduce these down to, ‘those two Snow White films’. I personally believe it’s not what you’re about that matters but how you’re about it, but your average movie goer isn’t looking to put in a lot of research. So to this day I find myself insisting to people who don’t want to hear it that The Social Network is in fact great cinema and not just, ‘the Facebook movie.’ (The Social Network trailer is brilliant, and a great example of consistency across the board as the poster, trailer and soundtrack all perfectly reflect the actual movie.) The point is that you want your audience to be able to choose your movie as the one they want to pay for in the few minutes and images you have to occupy their brains, so it’s in your interest to make sure they can pick your movie out of the clutter.

The homogeny of these trailers might be aggravating from my point of view, but there is a reason for their similarity. This type of trailer is attention grabbing. It gives the impression of scale, both in the movie and in real life; part of the reason these movies needn’t explain themselves is because they are franchises. Their core audience is probably already planning on seeing the film regardless of the advertising, and this comes across in their trailers. It’s less like these trailers are asking for your interest, and more like they’re telling you to get on board already. The formula itself isn’t bad, it’s the overuse of the conceit that dilutes it and diminishes the impact of each individual trailer when viewed alongside the others.

The same thing has happened to movies visually thanks to the overuse of teal and orange. Essentially, humans are present in most films, and flesh tones occupy the orange side of the spectrum. As teal is on the opposite side of the spectrum it creates the greatest contrast making it visually appealing, which is why so many films feature unnaturally blue backgrounds and impossibly tanned humans. What started as innovation in the field of colour grading has been reduced down to a quick and easy technique for adding visual interest to a film. This is especially thoughtless when your characters have no business being orange, such as in The Wolfman where despite a lack of sun or self-tanning products, the characters maintain a vigorous orange glow. It also serves to create a larger cinematic landscape where despite huge differences in story and setting, everything looks exactly the same. In fact the teal and orange trend is so prevalent that I don’t know why I was surprised to find it dominates all three posters for my aforementioned fantasy/science-fiction trailers, but I was amused by the synergy. (The Thor poster isn’t quite so obvious, but I find it interesting that despite the different location settings of these movies they all feature people standing against symbolic weather conditions.)

The_Mortal_Instruments_-_City_of_Bones_Postercatchingfirethorposter

You choose to GO OUTSIDE. You are killed by bad weather.

The cumulative effect of these similarities in trailers adds up to an over all feeling, like the smell of a Lush cosmetics store, or the taste of a Subway sandwich. They have a generic taste you Can’t Actually Taste. It doesn’t matter what I order, the sandwich is just a delivery system for the Subway sandwich taste. Likewise, regardless of the film being advertised, all my brain can see is a Genre Trailer. (If you’re interested in the formula for comedic trailers, it’s basically this.)

So even though I understand how it came to this, it makes me sad that the trailer for the Thor sequel blends into the background, so determined to beat me over the head with its SERIOUS SCORE and SERIOUS IMAGERY and OVERALL SERIOUSNESS that it forgets to actually show me anything. The louder it screams, the easier it is to ignore. We all know the cast already, we know Loki is a great addition to a film, we know Chris Hemsworth is ripped and we know that establishing shots of city vistas implies their imminent destruction. What I don’t know is anything about the plot. What have I actually gained by watching that trailer?

thor

Um

thor

I..

thor

NO. Damn it, you don’t get to win me over that easily, Thor. I have my principles and your rippling back muscles won’t change my opinion about the overall bland brashness of your trailer or the ultimately deadening effect of every genre trailer following the same formula. You’ll have to do better.

idris

Yes, Heimdall/Idris Elba/Stacker Pentecost. Jaegers would do the trick.

Let’s just take a minute with the idea of a Pacific Rim/Thor crossover.

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Scott-Pilgrim-vs-The-World-scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world-23711799-1920-1080

thor2

Hollywood, make it happen.

Although I’ve focused mainly on trailers here, I’d like to take a moment to note that there are lots of elements that add up to the cinema experience. From the teal and orange posters to the air-conditioned air, the sound muting carpets to the packets of sweets and popcorn that overwhelm your tongue but fail to satisfy your stomach, there is a certain feeling to the cinema that remains the same no matter what film you’re viewing. I mentioned in my review of The World’s End that while I loved Pacific Rim I felt distant from it, and the reason I mentioned that is because ultimately what I’m looking for at the cinema is connection. I don’t view cinema as an escape from life; it’s a chance to go further in. It’s a chance to sit down and let myself go for a few hours, to see what the filmmakers, actors, cinematographers and composers have chosen to share with me and how I respond to it, free from commentary and prior judgement. It’s why I always walk into a film wanting to like it, and it’s why I don’t accept, ‘Well what do you expect?’ as an excuse for films that don’t try. (This Means War, I am looking squarely at you.)

I’ve always found the, ‘cinema feeling,’ comforting, but I don’t want it to dull me to the experience of film. Film is a form of durational media, meaning it takes time to absorb. It’s not something to simply be sat through and then ticked off your viewing list, it’s a shifting thing that changes onscreen each moment, interacting with our moods and reactions and our current views in life. Each viewing of a film is coloured by our knowledge of film as a medium, which grows as we age giving us a deeper appreciation of why we respond to films the way we do. I believe that film reflects us back to ourselves, and I want to be awake for that.

Thor: The Dark World is basically guaranteed big business anyway. It would be great if its trailer used that platform to show us something new and interesting. Since this entire gamble on a superhero universe spanning multiple films has paid off in a huge fashion, how amazing would it be to see this innovation used in Marvels advertising too?

That’s why I object to blindly following a formula that disguises your story instead of selling it. That’s why I’d rather be engaged as an audience member than smacked over the head with how TERRIBLY IMPORTANT THIS MOVIE IS. I’d rather be treated as a human than shouted into submission.

And if that’s too much to lay on a 3 minute trailer for a superhero film then I’m sorry. I just have a lot of feelings.

3

41 Reasons Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is Ridiculous

Here there be spoilers.

Last night I saw Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. I liked the first Percy Jackson film well enough. It’s undemanding stuff, but the source material, (by which I mean actual Greek myth, not the Percy Jackson books), is always interesting and Logan Lerman is likeable even at half capacity. So how does Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters stack up?

It’s ridiculous.

This film is so ridiculous that the titular ‘Sea of Monsters’ contains only one sea monster. It’s so ridiculous that I *think* the girl behind me was talking the whole way through, but I couldn’t tell for sure because the music never lets up, as if afraid that given a second to think the audience will realise just how ridiculous it is. It’s so ridiculous that 20 minutes into the film the list of ridiculous things had already grown so long that it hindered my ability to actually watch the film. It’s by rote filmmaking with stock characters in stock situations so heavily borrowed from other films that the characters and their motivations no longer reflect real human behaviour. In fact it’s so ridiculous that I can no longer talk about it in paragraph form. So without further ado, I present to you a list of everything that happened in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters that was ridiculous:

Note: This is only applicable to the Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters film, I’m not taking the books into account as the film should be able to stand on its own.

1. Despite an opening intro, no attempt is made to explain the powers, (if there any), of anyone who is not Percy Jackson. Considering the first movie was released in 2010 I could have used a refresher.

2. Camp Half-Blood is totally half-baked. Good luck figuring out; how many kids there are; what exactly the teachers do; how long it’s been established.

3. Champions are specifically chosen for the films driving mission of finding the Golden Fleece based on their combat abilities and strategic skills. Percy and his friends form a separate, unsanctioned mission team because.. Um.. No one knows. They just do, because they do.

4. There is no way these kids are a day under 23.

5. There’s a lovely animated exposition scene explaining Percy’s quest through stained glass, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Following the same type of scene in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Helllboy 2: The Golden Army, and even Kung Fu Panda 2, it doesn’t feel organic to the film but instead like whoever was in charge put the scene in there because that’s the part in a fantasy film where the charming animated scene goes. Stained glass, while a lovely visual choice, is also a strange thematic choice as it has F-all to do with Greek mythology.

6. There are so many walk and talk scenes that even Aaron Sorkin would say, ‘Okay enough’. Characters who were standing still or doing jobs prior to our protagonists arrival just stop what they are doing in order to walk purposefully forward while providing exposition. It’s like the director thought the only way to convey that they are on a quest was to have them physically moving forward at all times.

7. Logan Lerman’s eyebrows are wonderful.

8. Mist. Ugh. There is this magical potion called Mist that’s used to hide the fantastical from being seen by the outside world. It’s made clear that the main characters witness Tyson, the cyclops character and Percy’s half-brother, gain an extra eye as a result of the potion. Except they enter a coffee shop where their servers have extra arms and glowing eyes that the patrons can’t see, but which our protagonists clearly can. So what were these people using to keep themselves concealed? It can’t be Mist since that works on everyone. Is it a spell? Grover, the satyr character, uses crutches to get around the fact that even in jeans his legs clearly work differently than most peoples. Wouldn’t it be more convenient for him to use the Mist and do away with the crutches which are surely less convenient to him as an individual and them as a group than Tyson’s sunglasses which can easily be used to cover his one eye?

9. At one point Grover is accosted on a main street outside a busy coffee shop in broad daylight and pulled into one of those mythical film alleyways that make people 2 feet away magically unaware of what’s going on. The entire coffee shop sees a gang of young men attack a man with crutches and throw a young woman to the ground, but no one even looks mildly interested. Why even bother concealing the fantastical world if no one gives a fuck about it anyway?

10. Except when Tyson loudly proclaims the Capitol building to be Olympus. Then every extra – I mean, ‘person’ – stares suspiciously at them. Why? Because they are the main characters and the script calls for it, that’s why.

11. Oh my God I’m not even halfway through this list.

12. The bad guy, Luke, is hilariously wooden. At one point he delivers a speech about vengeance with a totally straight face. To a casket. He also tries to convince Percy to join his cause, in what must surely be a bluff because he has never shown any interest in the idea up until then, and Percy claims to be tempted on account of his self-doubt issues. You know, the issues he’s specifically outlined by saying out loud, ‘I doubt myself,’ and which haven’t actually affected his actions or personality in any way. Imagine the horror of self-doubt so high that you form your own kamikaze team to complete a mission that already has a perfectly good team assigned to it.

13. This bothers me in a lot of films but when the good guys are being physically held back by the bad guys, it’s SO OBVIOUS they’re not really holding them back.

14. No seriously, stop mentioning that Percy is a good few years under 20. I’m not buying that any of the cast don’t have mortgages.

15. Back to Mist, the Deus Ex Machina that Deusn’t; none of the cyclops have any problems with depth perception, yet Annabeth still makes a crack about it. How is this related to Mist? I was rooting for the film hard enough that I actually tried to make a case that Tyson’s fine ability to judge distances was based on his temporary eye, but since none of the other cyclops have trouble with distances and it’s previously been addressed that the effects of Mist are an illusion, that means he judges distances just fine with just the one eye. Proving once again that Mist is totally pointless.

16. Multiple times a character will say in whispered tones, ‘We’ll find Grover’, as though any of the characters were acting like they gave a fuck.

17. Annabeth is racist as fuck towards cyclops, yet every time she doles out an insult to the very sweet Tyson no one questions her on it. I was thinking the whole time it was because she’s supposed to be the Hermione of the group so at some point we would find out she’d read about them right? Nope, it’s due to a past experience, yet when Percy asks her why she never told him she says, ‘I don’t like to talk about it.’ Except for EVERY TIME YOU WENT OUT OF YOUR WAY TO PUBLICLY DEMEAN TYSON WHO AS FAR AS WE AND THE OTHER CHARACTERS CAN SEE HAS GIVEN YOU NO REASON NOT TO TRUST HIM. But do any of the characters take her aside and point out that she’s being a real dick towards a friendly and that unless she can give them a concrete reason for her behaviour she can kindly shut up with her racist comments? No. She says something racist, they ignore it until the appropriate time for flashbacks.

18. I hope Leven Rambin and Douglas Smith were well paid for this film because they’re easily the best thing about it and the only characters who got any audience response.

19. Except Nathan Fillion who gets to wear a traumatised look as he says that all the best TV shows get cancelled. HA!

20. They encounter a beast called a hippocampus which is a kind of sea horse – you can tell because aside from it’s colouring the head is clearly modelled on a horse. Despite living in the sea. It’s eyes are horse eyes. It’s neck is a horse neck. Like every other design in the film it’s so literal, so obvious that it really cheapens the whole thing. Anthony Stewart Head as a centaur is Anthony Stewart Head’s torso on a horse body. The design has the added bonus that he always looks like he’s about to tip over. The bad guys have a minion who’s a large muscly guy painted green. No one misses an opportunity to say, ‘Oh my gods,’ or, ‘Damn you straight to Hades!’ The only thing that isn’t literal is the title.

21. Despite riding this hippocampus a fair distance with their legs calf deep in water the protagonists arrive at their destination bone-dry. If I get soaked every time I ride a log flume there is no way these kids got on to that yacht without falling over and waiting for their shoes to dry for the next 6 hours.

22. That IS a nice boat.

23. Percy is the de facto leader of his team for no discernible reason, but it does lead to one great moment when they’ve been captured and Annabeth asks him what they’re going to do. He replies, ‘I never called him brother,’ and proceeds to have a small meltdown over Tyson’s, ‘death’. It is hysterical only because I began to play an alternate scene in my head where Annabeth – up until this point the most effective member of the team – realises he’s useless to them and cuts the others free leaving him behind to mutter incoherently to himself.

24. The abandoned amusement park showdown is nice, mainly because it reminded me of how excited I am for Divergent.

25. The sea healed Tyson? But Zeus couldn’t heal Thalia? The sea healed him when you already have a magical healing device in your movie and had absolutely no need to introduce this bizarre plot element?

26. Early in the film Nathan Fillion, (I refuse to call him Hermes), says he bought something from, ‘deity-bay,’ and I have repeated it to myself approximately 100 times since.

27. After Percy figures out a plot point that was foretold to him by three sisters we flash over to those characters knowing he’s done so. They are psychic enough to know this is happening yet not psychic enough to know the kids couldn’t afford the cab fare. There is no point whatsoever to this scene.

28. I’m not a fan of nearly anything that happens to Grover in this film. He’s kidnapped early on for no real reason, (ostensibly they need satyrs to find the fleece, except for how they really don’t). I hate to say anything to enforce the negative stereotype that cross-dressing is inherently funny; I think it’s damaging and especially so in a film aimed at young audiences. They’ll have plenty of time to learn prejudices when they’re older, give them those few precious years when a man in a dress isn’t automatically humiliating because the state of being a woman is itself inherently humiliating thus demeaning women and cross-dressers. No? You’re going to play it for laughs? Okay. Should I even point out that he’s the only prominent black character in the film? I shouldn’t? Okay then. I’ll just go back to repeating, ‘deity-bay.’

29. The film actually has some lovely visuals. There’s a rainbow motif that I can only assume is there to appeal to young children; the hippocampus is rainbowed, the sparks bringing Kronos back to life are rainbowed, and the, (singular), sea monster’s gut is rainbowed. The monster’s gut in particular is GORGEOUS. It has stained glass flesh like an iridescent fish, and it’s cavernous belly is like a cathedral. It’s really, really beautiful, and it’s inevitably interrupted by an encounter with confederate zombies. Because of course.

30. The other characters deference to Percy makes no sense; at the very end an event unfolds which sees Annabeth and Grover run yelling for Percy. It’s established that the other kids at Camp Half Blood have no particular respect for him yet they all stand back as Percy approaches – for no reason, it has more emotional and personal resonance for Annabeth – because, well he’s the main character.

31. Employing the, ‘If you don’t like your destiny then write a new one,’ trope would have more of an impact if Percy writing his new destiny didn’t just equate to his stabbing something real hard.

32. Thalia comes back to life thanks to the Golden Fleece, but she’s now the same age as Percy and the others despite having died around age 10. What?! So if the Golden Fleece was placed on the bones of a 60 year old who died ten years ago, they would come back aged 70? Or 100 years later, would they come back 160 and promptly die again?

33. The ending is so abrupt, like they just ran out of things to sa-

34. percy1

There’s

35. percy3

 No

36. percy4Way

37. The Three Musketeers in 3D - World Premiere - Outside ArrivalsThey’re

38. percy6Under

39.percy7 Twenty.

40. God I’m excited for Divergent.

41. Deity-bay.

1

The End is Nighy: The World’s End Review

Here there be spoilers.

It’s my suspicion that The World’s End wouldworlds make a great double bill with The Cabin in the Woods – both films whose first five minutes seem too small to bring about the apocalypse, but the build-up irrevocably leads you there as if it couldn’t be any other way. I love the idea that it was, of course, Gary King who brought about the end of the world. Who else? Without Gary, Andy and Steven never would have been in Newton Haven shouting with him at The Network that night. Without Gary, Earth would be just another link in the chain. Without Gary we’d probably pass the Ofsted. But in Gary King’s mind, there is no world without Gary King. Dear God, he’s Neil Clough.

The cast is above and beyond as you would expect from an Edgar Wright film, (although Martin Freeman and Rosamund Pike as a brother/sister duo don’t get much of a look in). My only sadness with this film is that it takes so long to see any indication of our apocalyptic story, (or at least it felt that way – I’m sure I’ll see more foreshadowing in later viewings. Seeing an Edgar Wright film once is like seeing 5 minutes of any other film whilst drunk), that by the time it starts I felt like I was being pulled out of a character piece so meticulously crafted it could have been a play. Peter’s disappointment/anger/resignation that the bully didn’t recognise him feels a little cheapened by the brainwashed reasoning, because it touched on something so real to start with. Watching Martin Freeman’s character, Oliver, get tighter and tighter wound lacks payoff.

I guess I was just digging my heels in when I realised that these brilliantly realised characters would not all get their moment, and it’s to Wright and co.’s credit that the two films continue on in tandem without murdering each other, never better evidenced than in the fight between Pegg and Frost in The World’s End, (pub, not film). The INGB, (It Never Got Better), fight broke my heart. The stark truth of Gary’s words, (they told me when to go to bed), just breaks through the screen. Pegg is devastating. Anyone who’s ever witnessed someone in recovery knows Routine and Discipline are key. But what kind of life is it? What is it to face the truth about the world and realise you were lied to, that nothing was going to be handed to you because of who you are, how charming, how convinced of your own legend. The feeling is that Gary King never had a plan. Gary King expected life to fall into place and when it didn’t he carried on as Gary King until GARY KING was the armour he wore and any threat to that could not be tolerated, because what lay underneath was a scared, broken teenager who had as much resemblance to a functioning adult as the Voldemort foetus at the end of Harry Potter. He knew that bravado was all he had, and he wasn’t completely wrong about that since it’s that bravado that saves or dooms us all. It’s so startling I felt really shaken by it. It gets right under the skin of recovery, in a way that reminded me of Rob Delaney’s Cory Monteith piece; it’s not so much It Gets Better as it is It’s Awful and Hard and May Potentially Break Your Teeth But What Else Are You Gonna Do, Huh? Now Get in the Goddamned Van.

I connected more with this film than any I’ve seen in the cinema in a long time. My inner commentary shut up and shrank away, which is a rare fucking occurrence. I adored Pacific Rim, but couldn’t fight the feeling I was seeing it from a distance, (due to a combination of 3D, cocktails, exhaustion, and the disorienting feeling of being thrust into a world in full-swing), but for whatever reason I was completely in The World’s End, whether through the groundwork laid by Wright’s previous films or the material, I don’t know. It isn’t afraid to go to Those Places. It’s up to you if you view Gary’s ultimate fate as triumphant or sad. He’s the fucking Borg of the series, but his circumstances for happiness are met. He’s in Cartman levels of denial over what he’s done.

Speaking of South Park, I did feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of male characters in the film; Rosamund Pike’s role is oversold in the adverts, and I just needed a break from all the manness. In general it would be nice to see Wright tackle more female characters in his own work – his female characters in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are some of the most well formed female characters in a non-female driven film in a while so we know he’s capable of it. Mind you, in Pike’s first mention she’s objectified by the other characters, and in her first appearance she’s accosted by a male character for sex on the basis she was clearly asking for it. I’m not sure this was intentional, but it is tragically accurate.

So the Cornetto Trilogy comes to an end, and I cannot wait to get my grubby hands on all three of them. I’ll be thinking about The World’s End for a while, but thinking about it now, I just find myself wondering how many times Andy has come to Gary’s rescue. If nothing else the film proves that at the end of all things, Nick Frost just might save us all.

0

I Am The Bouncer Of My Soul

I love Gala Darling – she may be made of actual magic. (I’m not convinced that isn’t the true nature of Dark Matter – picture that scientific announcement; ‘It’s FUCKING. MAGIC.’) In one of her wonderful pieces she points out that one way to have confidence is to realise that just because other people have opinions about you, doesn’t mean you have to take them on board, and for some reason that phrasing really stuck with me.

In my homeland there are a fair few pub boats, boat homes, boat restaurants, and boat nightclubs. Like regular nightclubs they have bouncers, and I’m having a lot of fun imagining that I’m the bouncer of my own thoughts. It feels powerful, to stand on the boat and decide who is allowed entry. Who’s too drunk. Whose ID is out of date. Who has a bad track record. Whose opinions do I trust to wander about my boat.

Of course now and then I find stowaways, but the beauty is I can still kick them off simply by tossing them into the water. Bouncer Self is not to be fucked with, and she’s quick on her feet.

Gratuitous picture of Kirk classing up the joint

Fucking. Magic.