Thursday, June 4, 2015

TV Series Review: How I Met Your Mother *SPOILERS*

Okay, I think it's been long enough. If you haven't seen the finale of HIMYM by now and have somehow managed to avoid spoilers (and of course plan to watch it at some point), STOP NOW. This is a spoiler-riddled review.

I really like the TV series How I Met Your Mother. I think it's clever, funny, and gets better as your go rather (which is rarely the case with sitcoms whose characters using get cartoonish by the end). It took me awhile to get into it, but once I did the characters and ongoing bits really put this show on my favorites list. I was a late comer to HIMYM so my opinions may differ from someone who watched it weekly as it was coming out. The only season I actually watched live on a weekly basis was the final season. If you watch it this way...the short episodes can feel less than satisfying and almost frustrating. I've heard fans say they didn't like the show after such and such a season or hated the final season, etc. and I think this has something to do with that. When you're able to watch back to back episodes 2-3 at a time or even a whole season in a week or two---it feels completely different.

I have to say, I disagree with those who thought later seasons weren't as good. They were certainly formatted differently, but they kind of had to be to get all the lose ends tied up.

I was impressed with the writers ability to make the series cohesive. With this sort of concept (a father telling his children the story of how he met their mother) you expect that they're writing without knowing where they are really going with the story and as is therefore to be expected, the first season referenced the mother a lot, but the following seasons plots didn't seem to have much to do with the mystery mother we all want to meet. So once she makes her appearance---how on earth will she live up to the hype? It seems inevitable that the show would kind of fall apart towards the end.  Yet, in my opinion, they pulled it off.

I even liked the final season (which a lot of people apparently hated), but I absolutely hated the final episode. Or rather, inititally I hated it. I hate it less now that I did when it aired, but I'm still not sure they chose the right ending. Here's why:

- I'm not upset that the mom dies

First, I want to point out that I'm not upset that the mother dies. Disliking the ending had nothing to do with that. The sad subplot of the mom getting sick and ultimately dying, doesn't bother me in the least. If anything, it makes it feel a little more real and explains why the dad would be telling "her" story to their kids so expansively.

- They ruin Barney

My biggest complaint is that the finale ruined the character of Barney for me. The writers claimed to be keeping him more consistent with who "he is" as a character and they do give him some redemption (in the form of a daughter that he loves and grows up for), but honestly---it just pissed me off.

I had grown to really like Barney and they basically ruined that by turning him back into a shallow, womanizing, in and out of everyones life, character. From the very beginning they have implied that there's more to Barney that meets the eye. You start to wonder if he really hooks up as much as he says he does or if it's just a way to cover up the fact that he wants something real with someone and is scared about finding it. They spend the last few seasons really showing how good of a friend (and person) Barney really is. He is no longer a cliche in the show, but a multilayered and interesting character. The Robin/Barney romance was done very well to make you really root for them and think---hey, this works for them. The fact that they spent multiple seasons convincing me that Barney was ready to settle down and that he'd do anything for Robin---only to have it dismantled in one episode with no real warning, just UGH. If the writers always planned for this ending, I feel like they intentionally wasted my time. It's bad enough that you allowed a character to basically abuse and objectify women for nine seasons for the sake of humor and without consequence; but you redeem that character slowly over time and then just say "never mind" in the last episode? Seriously, I think that was the biggest slap in the face to the fans of your show and of Barney.

Yes, I do understand that it can be argued that the daughter was the culmination of Barney's transformation, but it was harder to buy that when he was allowed to revert for like a decade or more and I was only given about 10 minutes to process and accept the change in his trigger towards goodness. It came across as a quick fix by the writers to avoid the criticism that they ruined him. I'm sure they don't see it that way.  

- Ted and Robin are not Ross and Rachel

HIMYM is often compared to Friends. The primary romance in Friends was Ross and Rachel and they too end up together in the end. But Ted and Robin are not Ross and Rachel. Ross and Rachel were on again, off again the entire series. The timing was frequently never right, or even if it was, something derailed their relationship, but you basically believed they were meant to be and would end up together eventually (yes, in the final episode). It was clear that was where things were going all along. They even had a kid together along the way so there was no getting out of each others lives. Predictable? Maybe. But also inevitable and satisfying for fans. This is a sitcom after all.

Meanwhile, Ted and Robin don't even feel like a good fit. They want completely different things and would have to really change who they are to be compatible. Not to mention, the last couple seasons are a steady progression of Ted letting the idea of Robin go and really coming to terms with the fact that Robin and Barney are good together and that he's going to find someone whose a good fit for him as well (and does!).

Was everyone else really rooting for them the whole time? I felt like the finale forced them together because that's what everyone wanted. It was okay to let Ted truly end up with the mother. I really liked and was rooting for Robin and Barney. I think it helped really sure up Barney as a character and member of the group. I think Robin herself was more likable with Barney. Was it for the sake of realism? (Because what are odds all three couples would last and not get divorced?) Was it for the sake of not being predictable? (Though some might argue Ted and Robin is more predictable than Ted and Tracy). Whatever the reason, I felt a little betrayed.

- I really liked the mother

In the later seasons they start to finally integrate meeting the mother back into the plot and slowly you get glimpses of how this is all going to come together. Just the fact that they were able to do that pretty seamlessly and make it all make sense without a lot of inconsistency (back to the very beginning of the story no less)---is pretty amazing.

For awhile there, the show seemed to not really be about the mother at all. How were the writers going to convince us this was in fact a story about the mother? Well, by making all the small details and relationships Ted had relevant to meeting her (and showing how they both are better off for it taking so long to meet). They do this by developing Tracy well, even so far as to spend time on her own back story. That's no easy task. They pulled it off and that made the finale feel like a slap in the face. Yep, the writers somehow manage to make you actually like the mother and convince you that she really is perfect for Ted and this was meant to be---only to just kill her off in the final episode so that he can get back together with Robin? Um...okay.

- I don't really like Robin or think she's a Feminist role model

Robin was always pretty self-centered and annoying. She gets better and funnier as the show goes and she opens up more to her friends. Barney improves her greatly (as mentioned above), but the final episode takes me back to not liking her that much. She chooses herself, and her career, over her husband, her friends, and honestly doesn't seem better off or happier for it. The fact that she doesn't conform to gender stereotypes and is pursuing her career could be an attempt to make her a strong feminist character. But how can that be seen as positive when she's famous, but unhappy; successful, but alone. She's determined, yes, but she's also incredibly self-centered. She doesn't seem like a positive role model to me.

Basically, this ending communicates that Robin will spend the next 20 years more or less miserable and with no close friends---then she will be given a happy ending that she doesn't seem to actually deserve. I mean, I'm not saying I want Robin to be miserable. I just think allowing her to find happiness with Barney, or no one at all, would have been preferable to Ted. Either I was pandered to (Ted and Robin are meant to be! Blue horn! See!?) or the writers wanted to do something different (ha! you thought he'd end up with the mother didn't you! got ya!)---either way, it felt like they didn't trust us with the ending we deserved.


I should note that I did like what they did with Marshall and Lily in the final season and appreciated all the ways that they tied up lose ends. Overall, I still really like the show and found it funny to the very end.

I just felt like the show had this golden opportunity to pull off a cohesive storyline around their original idea (which is hard to do). They somehow, brilliantly and slowly introduce you to the mother and create characters you love---then pull the rug out from under you.

The writers said they had two endings to choose from: the depressing, but realistic ending where the mom dies versus the alternative where the mother lives and everyone is happy, and they picked the more complex, real ending.

Why not a third ending? One that is realistic, but doesn't feel like you tricked us? Why not allow the mother to die without stomping on her memory with a forced Ted and Robin blue horn cliche? Why not allow Barney and Robin to have lots of problems but ultimately reconcile? Why not ANY other ending, really?

I thought time had given me some perspective to be okay with this ending choice, but I guess I'm still not over it.

Author Review: John Green

This post started out as a review of Looking for Alaska, but I recently finished Green's entire bibliography (for books, and he's busy making movie adaptions so I doubt he'll publish anything new any time soon) so I figured I'd just do a post of my overall thoughts about John Green's writing.

My introduction to John Green was The Fault in Our Stars which I read upon the insistence of my 12 year old niece about a month prior to the release of it's film version. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved that book and Green's writing so I decided to pursue his other works. I bought An Abundance of Katherines because I liked the humorous concept but it didn't grab me immediately the way TFIOS did in it's first few pages. A few months down the road Audible had a special deal on Looking for Alaska, Green's debut novel. I purchased the audio version of the book to listen to. Turns out, John Green's books translate well to spoken word. I've since listened to Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson via Audible as well. Young adult novels seem to be enjoyable in this format due to the "easy writing" style and dialogue heavy plot lines.

John Green has some what of a predictable style. All his books are plotted very similarly. Katherines, Paper Towns, and Looking for Alaska all have a teenage male protagonists who don't fit in. Each finds a place socially and secures one or two male best friends who are kind of easy going/laid back to contrast the insecurities of the main character. All of these male leads encounter strong female characters who are fascinating, mysterious, and troubled in one way or another. Much of the plot centers in some way around the pursuit of knowing and understanding (or attempting to rescue) this girl and falling in love with her along the way. Each book has a different outcome to this pursuit---one character gets the girl and is happy, one character doesn't get the girl but get's close, and one character doesn't get the girl and doesn't get closure---but they all read very similarly. His debut, Looking for Alaska, is probably the strongest of these three. It tackles difficult issues and asks hard questions. The characters in Alaska are undeniably relatable and he gives an accurate picture into boarding school life. Paper Towns comes in second with an intriguing and mysterious plot, but less than satisfying ending. An Abundance of Katherines was a disappointment. I wanted to like it, but I just didn't. Aside from a protagonist who got on my nerves, I felt like the plot never really went anywhere and the humor seemed forced. I did enjoy Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which was co-written with David Leviathan and I still love The Fault in Our Stars which I feel was strong because of his personal extreme with the subject matter and the strong female lead.

I once wrote this on Facebook about TFIOS: "It feels cliché to include this book what with all the hype and attention its gotten this year, but trust me…this is so much more than a YA romance. It’s existential, funny, full of doubt, questions, and hope. I wish it had been written just for me so I didn’t have to share or hear anyone talk about it tritely. It meant a great deal to me."

Overall I like John Green. He's a good voice to have in the YA genre because he seems to genuinely care about teenagers and wants his books to be relatable and helpful. It's good to see realistic fiction bring written for and loved by teenagers, and even better when it still can be enjoyed and meaningful for adults as well. Green is not a perfect writer, but he strikes me as being a very genuine person and that is reflected in the things he chooses to publish. (Also he's goofy, nerdy, and smart---and I like those traits as well). 

Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 Movie Recap

We all know I love movies and see a lot each year---so obviously I have to give my 2014 recap of movies that came out this year. You can see how this list compares to my most anticipated 2014 list here.

Here are the movies I saw this year:

(After writing it down it feels like a lot but this includes in theaters, on DVD, on Netflix, Red Box, at friends houses, etc. so it really comes out to about 2 or 3 movies a month and considering John Paul and I's favorite/go-to date night is watching a movie at home once a week or two and we only get to the theaters for the ones we most want to see---it's not totally unreasonable, haha).

Odd Thomas
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
I, Frankenstein
That Awkward Moment
The Lego Movie
Vampire Academy
Winter's Tale
Anchorman 2
Captain America: Winter Solider
Heaven is For Real
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
X-Men Origins: Days of Future Past
The Fault in Our Stars
Begin Again
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
A Most Wanted Man
Edge of Tomorrow
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Giver
The Mazerunner
Mockingjay: Part 1
Exodus: Gods and Kings
The Hobbit
Wish I Was Here
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Big Hero 6
Dumb and Dumber To
Into the Woods
Gone Girl
American Sniper
Big Eyes

Here are the movies I have not seen yet, but intend to:

The Monuments Men
Earth to Echo
Magic in the Moonlight
The Hundred Foot Journey
The Theory of Everything

So I think the worst or most disappointing movies this year were:

A Most Wanted Man
Left Behind*
Vampire Academy

*I'm just assuming, I didn't actually see it.

Noah and A Most Wanted Man were both done really well and had some incredible acting but just failed overall as movies. Noah had some amazing visual sequences, but just really didn't deliver as far as plot, climax, and overall satisfaction (In contrast, Exodus did much better on all these fronts). A Most Wanted Man was cast perfectly and had a lot of potential but ultimately was hard to follow, a little boring, too long, and anti-climactic. Vampire Academy failed on basically every front. It was truly awful. Many YA adaptions are, but this one in particular had very little to redeem itself. Which is a shame since the books are entertaining.

My favorites are:

Captain America: Winter Solider (okay, all the Marvel movies)
The Lego Movie

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Short Story

I've been reading so much lately that I haven't had much time to write about it. (And I'm always watching movies). This blog is quite neglected. I'm working through the Maze Runner series in anticipation of the film, I read all the Vampire Academy books (though it's hard to say why), finally got around to Ender's Game, reread Divergent and finished the trilogy, have been reading theology books by Keller, Stanley, and Chandler when I have the time, read the entire Selection Series, started another John Green novel and countless others that I've had to put back on the shelf for now (sorry Jesus Feminist and Cassandra Clare)

But I'm starting to get bored of YA which has dominated the past 6 months for me as I prepared for movie adaptions. I need to inject myself with some fine literature. I've decided to read some John Steinbeck novels---the funny ones---and I've gotten very into short stories as of late. I was always a fan of short stories ever since I started reading Flannery O'Connor, but I never really pursued them. Now, with less time to read, but wanting to get some high quality literature in, I'm turning to the short story.

Short stories are artful and underrated. And they can give you an appreciation for authors you may not have previously cared for.

I, for example, do not enjoy reading Hemingway. I realize he's considered a literary genius, and I understand why, but the understated and sparse writing style just isn't my cup of tea. I prefer the rich details of Faulkner. Both of these authors (both friends and rivals) represent a generation of writers that did it all. Poems, short stories, novels---nothing was out of reach. And I miss that. Modern writers are often pressured to keep to their genres and categories. It's hard to gain respect in other forms of writing once you're known for one. But back to Hemingway. I'm not a huge fan of his novels, but I'm finding that I like his short stories. They're sparse, but contained---and therefore often poignant (or infuriating).

Yes, short stories are something that we need to revive. If I was an English teacher, I might even focus on them since the provide for a quicker and easier read that is still rich enough to teach from.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: The Selection

"The Selection"
Written by: Kiera Cass

Look y'all, I like YA literature. I also have a soft spot for dystopian themes. One of my favorite adolescent books is The Giver. The Giver was somewhat innovative back in 1993 (over 20 years ago) when Lois Lowry published it. It was one of the first modern dystopian books targeted towards children and probably helped pave the way for books like The Hunger Games. The biggest challenge The Selection series faces is that YA dystopian is extremely overdone these days. What with Divergent, The Hunger Games, Ender's Game, and a slew of others---the genre is over saturated and no longer considered creative.

To it's credit, the concept for the Selection series is intriguing. It's a blend of dystopian, reality TV, and fairy tale. What girl doesn't love a good fairytale? It's like Cinderella meets the Bachelor in Panem. It was fun to read and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it. Still, it feels like a guilty pleasure. There is so much to critique. The writing, while not distractingly bad, is nothing special. The plot is extremely predictable. The characters feel a bit simplistic. A feminist critique would probably tear this book to shreds. The main character (America Singer) is arguably a strong female lead (in a predictable she challenges the prince and doesn't change who she is sort of way) but at the end of the day this a Princess book that probably makes young girls dream about wearing tiaras and fancy dresses more than leading a country. It also has quite a bit of blatant social commentary. I feel like the best social commentary or critique is the one that remains ambiguous. When you just come right out and say it the story starts to feel like the author's personal soap box, a tool to get their opinion heard, rather than a nuanced story that raises questions about the world we live in. To make matters worse, the authors acknowledgements at the end of the book sound as if they were written by a middle school girl. Perhaps a middle school girl with a gift for writing, but writing that is only considered good because she is 13.

I know that children and adolescent literature can be done well even when it's genre specific. Harry Potter is possibly the best example of a long fantasy series that is well-written, supremely plotted, and accessible to both girls and boys, adults and children, highly educated and average readers. From an purely objective position this series just isn't going to go down in history as one of the best. I predict this book will be optioned for a really terrible movie franchise (following in the footsteps of Beautiful Creatures, I am Number Four, Vampire Academy, and all the other horrid YA adaptions trying to hitch a ride on the success of Twilight and The Hunger Games) that won't make it past the first movie---but we'll see.

Is it possible to recognize that a book is not very good and still like it? Apparently so because despite all the obvious reasons to hate this book---I rather enjoyed it and plan to read the other installments.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Book Review: Shadow & Bone

"Shadow and Bone"
Written by: Leigh Bardugo

This is a pretty unique contribution to the YA/Fantasy genre. I wouldn't say the writing is amazing, but it's certainly not terrible. I enjoyed reading it. The world created by Bardugo is pretty complex (complete with LOTR style maps and categories of beings that are new and hard to keep up with at first). It seems to have very heavy Russian influences---geography, clothing style, language, etc. It's almost like an alternate history for Russia/Eastern Europe---one that takes place in a time that must have been long ago, yet has an added magical element that takes it into the fantasy realm. 

I'm interested to see where the trilogy goes from here. The story of book one was interesting and I can see what the overarching conflict of the series will be, but as a stand alone it was a bit anti-climactic and obvious to me. I am also wondering if it will get optioned for a movie and become the next big thing in YA entertainment. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Book Review: The Fault In Our Stars

"The Fault In Our Stars"
Written by: John Green

Honestly, this review sums up my thoughts perfectly so there's no need to even write my own. The book has been on my radar basically since it was published. I heard they were turning it into a movie and thought maybe I should read it before then. A couple weeks ago my 12 year old niece finished it and insisted I read it immediately so that we could discuss it. So I picked it up and found that it caught my attention in the first couple of pages. Many good books take awhile to warm up, but it's a pleasant surprise and experience when you find one that you get sucked into right away. It's a quick read. Even just reading in my spare time it took under a week to finish. YA literature appeals to me and I often wonder if what I enjoy reading is actually any good. I think this one is. It's thoughtful and funny. It asks all the existential questions that I struggle with daily, had a witty humor and that was just my taste, and though often described as sad---I found it surprisingly hopeful.

It's possibly one of my all time favorites and I plan to read it again. I am looking forward to the movie adaption in June and have picked up a few other John Green titles to see if his other books are just as good. I hope so!