APADO, Thoughts, Writing

What Makes A Good Character? (Tess’s Character Theory, part I) {APADO #13}

(you’re reading APADO, my wittle one-post-a-day-for-a-whole-month series that i somehow haven’t failed yet.)
(a bunch of disclaimers: i’m not a master author, in fact i legit just called myself a fauxthor™ and it’s true. however, i’ve received a lot of praise for the characters i come up with. i’m going to try to ride the line between hoarding the knowledge i have and puffing myself up bigger than a wacky arm-waving inflatable tubeman. let’s hope i don’t step into either too much.)
(and now i’m like “isn’t it a bad thing to doubt myself? but isn’t it also a bad idea to think you know more than you actually do?” hello anxiety, i haven’t missed you but here you are.)
(now let’s turn this into a series)

APADO 13

Characters are an integral part of fiction. Actually, they’re more than half of what storytellers worry about. They can make or break a story, and they often do – which is what we’re going to take a look at today.

Trigger warning: my preferences are weird. Even if you don’t agree with everything I say, please be nice about it.

I recently sat down and watched Interstellar.

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Let me first preface this by saying that I’m not a scientific person and only understood about 52% of this film’s dialogue. There was a lot of infodumping, which I’m not a fan of.

(quick, poorly-written plot rundown for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie: earth is dying and no one’s sure how to fix it. cooper, our main character, is alarmed that his daughter’s bedroom seems to be alive – there are morse code patterns in the dust in the floor, books falling off the shelf in morse code messages, etc. they say pretty much two things: a set of map coordinates and the word “stay”. visiting the map coordinates reveals the secret location of nasa’s last base and the main plot: earth is about to become really uninhabitable and cooper, due to his experience as a fighter pilot, will be needed to help execute one of the two plans. “plan a” is to relocate all of earth’s population to another planet. “plan b” is to leave the population to die and take 700 new embroyos to a new planet to start a new colony and save humanity. all the characters are on different sides of this ethical question. cooper and his team fly off into space to have a look at some planet prospects. long story short, nothing looks good and everything’s sad and we lose one of the crew members. they’re running out of fuel, too. in order to get to the last chance of a planet, cooper volunteers to go off into the black hole that’s messing with the time of everything and honestly i didn’t catch how all of this is working because infodumps. once in the blackhole (which somehow works as like a time sphere/way to communicate with the past and future?) cooper realizes that this was a horrible idea and he should never have come and tries to tell his past self to “stay” (books coming off the shelves and stuff). i have no idea what happened here. murph is grown up now and gets stuff going back on earth because he can also somehow communicate with her through this watch that he gave her. everyone evacuates, somehow they rescue cooper, cooper learns that his female friend went to start that embroyo colony on the last planet and that she’s all alone and vows to go rescue her. THE END.)

I was extremely disappointed at the end of it. I was expecting this movie to be amazing – it’s Christopher Nolan, for crying out loud. Though I will give it props for its amazing visual effects, terrific music, and interesting take on the “end-of-the-world” idea, it commits a sin that makes me never want to see it again: blank, thin characters.

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Now, I understand that I am not the target audience for this film (it’s very popular in the nerdy, scientific circles) but this is a problem that could have been fixed with just a little more time and a little less word salad.

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Yes, they have a few motivations and remotely memorable personalities, but they don’t seem to do anything. Things are happening all around them, and they react to them, but their reactions are the only thing they’re giving to the movie. The black hole, the space travel, the time discrepancies and the emergencies push out the characters and take over the plot.

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And we never answer the big ethical question this movie asks (save the living or start over?) because the characters don’t have enough screentime or enough depth to make a choice. They’re weak, passive, and almost forgettable.

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I could have loved this movie if the characters had been given more time of day. It was visually beautiful, sported terrific world-building, had a larger-than-life stake, and would have made an amazing point if they had gotten around to answering their ethical question. They didn’t answer the question because the characters were too weak to form a good opinion.

Interstellar was a frustrating movie because the characters weren’t allowed to lead the plot.

Now, an example of a horrible plot with terrific characters: Thor: The Dark World.

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(Please lower your stones.)

This is a hated movie. This is a weird movie. This is one of the “worst” Marvel movies in the entire franchise, and yet I enjoyed it way more than I should have. Its merit is with one thing and one thing only: the characters.

(quick plot rundown: there’s this creepy alien liquid virus called the aether, unleashed in some ancient battle, and it’s super gimmicky and the sole reason why this movie is weird. after the events of everything in all the movies leading up to this in the MCU, loki’s being imprisoned for invading earth, thor is trying to make peace in what’s going to be his new kingdom, and jane foster, his girlfriend, is really wishing he were around more often. there’s going to be a cool cosmic convergence thing happening, which will make people be able to travel between the nine realms and meet eachother, yay. a portal has already appeared in a warehouse. although jane and darcy don’t know where it leads to, it definitely takes things places. jane, without realizing it, follows a similar portal and gets infected with the aforementioned space virus, the aether…and it really doesn’t make sense. meanwhile, back on asgard, heimdall, everyone’s favorite gatekeeper/living nest camera tells thor that he can’t see where jane is anymore, prompting him to go to earth to find her. he finds her, she’s full of aether juice, and it’s not good. we learn that the aether is connected to this creepy pale dude named malekith who plans to take over the nine realms…or something. he wants the aether cuz it’s apparently able to be weaponized. he attacks asgard looking for it, because thor brought jane there, and frigga, thor’s mother, dies protecting her. malekith and his dudes are barely repulsed. thor has a plan, and it’s a hairbrained scheme, really, but it just might work and it’s all they can do. with the help of loki (who thor convinces to help him based on frigga’s death), the warriors three, sif (who’s causing tension because she’s romantically interested in thor), and jane, thor goes to try to find and stop malekith. which he sort of does. thor and loki trick him into getting the aether out of jane, but they fail to destroy it and loki dies (well, he doesn’t really, but we don’t know that yet). the aether isn’t in jane anymore (?) but it’s now roosting in malekith. the convergence is imminent. the warehouse portal apparently led to the place where they were, so thor and jane (minus loki and everyone else) go to earth to try to beat malekith, who’s planning to unleash the aether while the convergence thing is going on and so destroy all the worlds. they have a big fight, thor beats him up, he gets crushed by his own ship and dies, the aether is contained in an infinity stone and stashed away, problems have been solved and yay life is good until the next thor adventure, which i didn’t like but oh well. THE END.)

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Yes, we have a similar weird space-themed plot with confusing element (what exactly does the Aether do again?) and word salad. Yes, we have a movie almost devoid of anything good. It’s the exact opposite of Interstellar: the plot is horribly paced and confusing, yet… I liked it. And I certainly wasn’t the only one.

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It’s obvious now that the main difference between Interstellar and Thor: The Dark World lies in the characters. In T:TDW, the characters are actively driving the story, despite the Convergence-thing being out of their control. They’re going after the cosmic liquid space virus. They’re reluctantly teaming up.

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In fact, most of the conflict is character-centered, despite this movie’s overly-massive stakes. This doesn’t make it any less confusing, but it makes it infinitely more likable.

If the characters had been reactive, this movie would be utter trash. It still kind of is. But the characters bring it from a -70 to a 5/10.

The point:

yes, I just praised Thor: The Dark World and trashed Interstellar:

If your characters are flat, uncompelling, and make no choices of their own, they can take your A+ amazing plot and turn it into something without a soul.

If your characters are well-rounded, decisive, and bounce well off eachother, you can take something confusing and weird and make it mostly enjoyable (even if it’s still confusing and weird.)

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A story is only as good as the people who are making it happen. As an author, the very worst thing you can do is just make them react to what’s going on.

tl;dr: Good characters are proactive.

Sayonara for now,

{Tess}

(what have i done?)

 

 

 

Review

Movie Review: Dunkirk (no spoilers!)

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Dunkirk is unlike any other film I’ve seen. Once you’re past the advertisements and the lights dim in the theater, you’re no longer sitting on your tush in the air conditioning. The room around you becomes frigid, you begin to breathe through your mouth, the adrenaline builds up within you, and you’re there, on that beach, for one of the most thought-provoking two hours of your life.

Disclaimer: All thoughts are my own and are not endorsed by anyone other than myself.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is the story of, frankly, the British evacuation from the French beach of that name. With German bombers flying over to try and annihalate the 400,000 British and French soldiers on the beach and hundreds dying daily, the outlook for them is pretty bleak.

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The most interesting thing about this film is the lack of dialogue. I don’t think there are a hundred lines in the whole movie. Most of the experience is in what you see and what you hear.

My favourite film genre is war, so naturally I’ve seen a lot of the classic war films. This one definitely stands out in a couple of ways:

  1. The colors. Most war movies have a theme of brown, green and black (very warm colors). This one was a lot of grey and blue, which made it feel very cold. That and all the water on screen had me walking out of the theater freezing to death.
  2. The music. If you go and look up the soundtrack, you’ll find that there is a ticking noise in the background of every piece. This ticking noise did not cease for the entire film, giving a sense of urgency (time is running out).
  3. The characters. I only caught the names of two of the characters (Peter and George). In addition to these, there was the infantry soldier (I later found out that his name is Tommy – nice allusion to Tommy Atkins!), his friend, and two pilots. It was incredibly realistic in the way that you recognised them by face, not name.
  4. The kind of intensity. There was little to no blood or gore in this film (I only remember seeing blood once). Yet, it was as riveting as Band Of Brothers (a slightly more intense HBO series. Rated TV-M for a reason) without being as violent as that series is. I think the most deaths happen by drowning, which was true. More soldiers drowned trying to get away than those who were bombed on the beach.

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There are genuine Spitfire planes in it, not just CGI. Also, the music is by Hans Zimmer – also a reason to go and see it. And if you’re a One Direction fan, I believe Harry Styles plays a character in it. I’m not a 1D fan, so I didn’t catch that until I went and read the Wiki page did extensive research.

All in all, Dunkirk is one of the best films I think I’ve ever seen, and if you can watch it in IMAX, you should. That wall-to-wall screen just throws you into it.

For those who are a little more sensitive or under 13: You can find the full content advisory as to exactly what’s in it here – I highly suggest doing this. There aren’t any unwarned spoilers. Another thing I would advise is to not watch this movie alone or at night – I am over 13 and went with my brothers, my mum, and my granddad to a matinee.

Verdict: GO SEE NOW! 

Review

Movie Review: The Fate Of The Furious

Precautionary statements:
This review will contain major SPOILERS. If you don’t plan on watching the film, or if you are the kind who likes to know everything about a flick before watching it, then this is the review for you.

This review also will get rambly at parts, so stay with me. I have a lot to say about it.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Yesterday, courtesy of my wonderful mum, I went to see The Fate of the Furious. I hadn’t been to theater since The Peanuts Movie, so I was pretty excited…but a little turned off by the previews, I might add. Seriously, it was a 3-2-1-1: three sensual movies all rated R, two beat-sheet action films, one really creepy horror film. Seriously, no one needs to see movies about playboys, mummies coming back to life, lifeguards who obviously aren’t doing their jobs, or anthromorphic apes fighting humans. Apes have the wrong anatomy to ride horses, anyways!

But there was one film I actually did want to see. How many days is it till Dunkirk comes out?! Look forward to a review for that this summer :).

After kind of being shell-shocked by all the evil previews, I was quite relieved that the film finally began. If you want a rundown on the plot, go Google it. 😛

I went into this film without having seen any of the previous films or a true action movie (National Treasure doesn’t count, does it?), so I was eager to see what would befall my adventure-loving spirit.

Content-wise, this movie is pretty good for PG-13. There is a good bit of swearing, but certainly less than Band of Brothers. I really don’t see that as a problem when the ones watching it know not to imitate, i.e, anyone over 13. Frequent uses of the “Big Five” swear words, plus a couple of British ones (we’ll get to that!). There is only one scene with racing party girls (you know, the one’s at the beginning and end of those car-racing games at the arcade), and it barely lasts thirty seconds. I was forewarned, and you can be too – look away when you see the first one. When you see an engine out of your peripherals, then you can look back.

Action. Sooooo much awweesommme acctionnn. I have a weak spot for things blowing up and big brawls and whatever, so I was really excited. Seriously, cars began to drive themselves. Seriously, whoever has a GPS in their car needs to tear it out. That’s terrifying to think that your car could be one of the ones that Cipher hacks to fly out of the parking garage onto the convoy carrying the nuclear football. Or one of the ones she controls to chase said convoy. And the part where they have Dom trapped in the grappling hooks? AWESOME. Until he hoses them and flips all their cars. 😥

The story of this started right after the movie started. There was no fiddling around waiting for something to happen. Seriously, Cipher was introduced in the third scene. But the previous two weren’t unimportant either – for someone who hadn’t been following these characters for seven movies, I liked Dom the minute I saw him. And when he agreed to race for his cousin’s (or was it his nephew’s?) car, I was like, “Yay! A race!” The Cuban N2O won after all. I would never have thought of throwing the car in reverse to avoid the rapidly flaming engine. He won, but threw the car into the ocean. And gave his cousin/nephew (I can’t remember which) his ’70s Impala. Wicked!

The characters of this film were the kind that you liked on sight. I loved Dom and Letty the moment they leaned over the engine, Luke Hobbs the minute I saw he was a family man, Deckerd the Brit the minute he began to trash talk. Well, my like for Deckerd may have been because he was British. And that he didn’t get riled up when Luke told him he was going to beat his blank like a Cherokee drum.

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Left to right – Deckerd, Rhodes, “Mr. Nobody”, Roman, Cipher, Dom, Letty, Tej, Ramsey, “Little Nobody” Eric, and Luke.

My personal favourite out of these characters was Letty. I loved to see a combat-boot-wearing, kick-your-rear kind of woman who’s not catty, who’s sensitive but not flowery, and believes in Dom no matter what everyone else says. She didn’t over-wear her makeup. She wasn’t a throw-in because the team needed a girl to make the sexist activists happy. She wasn’t an advocate of feminism (finally!) She was an honest-to-goodness good character, and her attitude toward the others was something that should have been modelled long ago.

Letty is on the team because she wants to help. She isn’t trying to “show everyone what girls can do” or “show the men that she’s just as good as they are”. In fact, she’s the one who supports Dom in everything he does. Even when the rest of the team is convinced that “Dominic Toretto’s gone rogue”, she still believes that he knows what he’s doing. Which pays off in the end, because he did sort of know what he was doing. It was when his son got involved that things got complicated. Whoa, spoilers. :P.

I have to say that my favourite scene was when Deckerd gets Baby Toretto, later named Brian, out of the plane. It is extremely funny.

I found out from my mom that the reason they named the baby Brian was to commemorate a cast member who died in a horrible car crash. That was a nice way to remember him without CGI (I was shocked to find out that you could do that!).

Some people say that this film is unrealistic, but hey, isn’t every movie? I really think this flick was fun, action-packed, and awesome. If you’re not touched by swearing, then I would suggest that any action-loving person go see it.

I’m sorry this was sort of scribbly, but with a movie as free-flowing as this one, I figured the review ought to be the same way.

Final verdict:

YEA!

(for good characters, non-stop action, and visual appropriateness. AND BRIAN TYLER DID THE MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

{Tess}