Thursday, March 23, 2017

Doctor Strange Review

I recently saw Doctor Strange (twice!) and loved it so much that I thought I should write a review!
 

Beware spoilers.

The Plot
Stephen Strange is a highly successful and highly paid surgeon. He is also highly arrogant, which is why a car accident that disables the use of his hands is hard for him to come to terms with. He spends his fortune trying experimental treatments to heal his shaky hands. Finally, nearly out of money and options, Strange travels to Nepal to find healing in mysticism. Instead, he kinds Kamar-Taj, a magical order that protects earth from attacks from other dimensions. He learns magic initially to heal his hands but then finds himself involved in something much bigger: the protection of earth from a dimensional being called Dormammu.

While I loved this movie, the plot was my least favorite part.
Doctor Strange is a little like a salad. The plot is the lettuce, but not just any kind of lettuce. No, the lettuce is the kind of lettuce that you get in a grocery store kit whose expiration date is tomorrow. Despite its wilted lettuce, however, the salad still tastes good because of what you put on top. By adding fancy dressing, nuts, dried fruit, and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds, the salad is no longer sad and droopy, but it is exciting and fresh. For Doctor Strange, the cinematography, characters, and theme are the dressing.
The reason that the plot is the lettuce is because it's a plot that I've seen before: a successful man loses what makes him successful and goes on a journey to heal/find himself; he realizes in the end that he's a part of something much bigger than whatever made him successful in the beginning.
Marvel managed to make this storyline interesting because of the other elements of the film, so let's examine them, shall we?

Special Effects
I think everyone agrees that the special effects in Doctor Strange are very impressive. The fight scenes in the mirror dimension looked like they were taking place in a kaleidoscope.


I loved the parts where Doctor Strange was in another dimension. He first experiences this at the beginning of the film when the Ancient One shows him her power. The doctor is shown some strange stuff.

I bet it was intentional that they used Doctor Strange's hands for this part, seeing as he came to Kamar-Taj to heal his hands.
The second experience in another dimension is at the end of the film when Strange goes to bargain with Dormammu. The colors are gorgeous.
 

The effects in this movie can be really weird and slightly psychedelic so not everyone may enjoy them. Personally, though, I loved them.

Characters
Doctor Stephen Strange is, like the plot, pretty basic. He does, however, have good character development. He starts out the movie as arrogant, self-centered, and self-sufficient.
Doctor Strange's self-interest is evident throughout the movie. When he first loses the use of his hands, he refuses help from his friend Christine. He prefers to do things, such as shaving, himself. When his hands shake too much for him to shave, however, he lets his appearance fall into disrepair.


When he first comes to Kamar-Taj, he is skeptical first of the magic that they use—preferring to stick with his knowledge of science—and second of his own abilities. It takes a life-threatening situation to motivate Strange to use magic. Later, he only fights and kills someone to save his own life.
By the end of the movie Strange has changed, though. This is most evident during the climax. Rather than a big fight scene, Strange goes to bargain with Dormammu, who is trying to consume earth. Doctor Strange sacrifices himself by containing himself and Dormammu in a never-ending time loop. Instead of thinking only of himself, he decides to save earth. I loved this ending because it showed Strange's character in two ways: first, in his growth. Second, in that he is an intelligent man and not necessarily a fighter. It makes sense for his character to outsmart Dormammu rather than destroy him.
One thing I did not like about Strange's character is that once he starts believing in his abilities to use magic, he quickly becomes one of the most skilled sorcerers in Kamar-Taj, yet as soon as he is thrust into a real fight, all of his alleged skills are nullified and it is apparent that he is still a novice. I hate it when stories do that. If your main character is great in training, make him or her great in battle, too. This works the opposite way as well: if your main character is horrible at fighting in training, make him or her horrible in battle (or, you know, if they've never had any training, don't let them win against their highly trained opponent *coughcoughReycoughcough*).

Christine Palmer is a nurse at the hospital that Doctor Strange works at. It is hinted that they were romantically involved at one point but are still friends now. I liked her character. When Strange insulted her friendship she demanded an apology. When he didn't respond she left and didn't come back. She didn't even respond to his emails.


Girls, if a guy treats you like a jerk, look to Christine as an example of what to do. Distance yourself emotionally (and physically, if need be) from him until he not only apologizes, but also shows in his actions that he has changed.
Although there is not enough screen time to show Strange's changes toward Christine, he does apologize to her. She is willing to forgive him and help him again.

The Ancient One is the leader of Kamar-Taj. The only things that we learn about her are that she is very old, Celtic, and doesn't like to talk about her past.


She is an interesting character because she is protecting earth from dimensional threats while drawing power from the Dark Dimension (where Dormammu lives) to keep herself alive so that she can keep protecting earth. The Dark Dimension is a negative thing, as the villains are also drawing power from it, yet the Ancient One feels that the risk outweighs the outcome. She thinks that she is doing the right thing. Other characters do not.

Mordo is Strange's friend and mentor at Kamar-Taj.

C'mon Internet, let's make this picture into a meme!
From something he says early in the film we learn that he came to Kamar-Taj to learn how to defeat his enemies. What kind of enemies, I wonder? Because the Ancient One deceived him about her connection with the Dark Dimension, Mordo is disillusioned with the sorcerers and he leaves. An end-credits scene shows us that he has created for himself a mission to rid the world of sorcerers as there are "too many." I'm looking forward to seeing what Marvel does with him as there is a lot of potential for his character.

Wong is the librarian of Kamar-Taj and one of my favorite characters. A running gag throughout the movie is that he doesn't laugh which creates humor for the audience.


 I don't know if Doctor Strange's cape counts as a character, but I'm going to mention it anyway. There is some magic that is too powerful for a human to use, so the sorcerers imbue items with magic. The Cape of Levitation is one such relic.


It chooses Doctor Strange to be its master and spends the rest of the movie taking care of him. It rescues him when he falls from high places, it helps him fight, and it even wipes away his tears (much to his chagrin). It reminds me of the Magic Carpet in Aladdin. I can't wait to see more of the cape!

As far as villains go, Kaecilius is pretty much Anakin Skywalker. He's a good-guy-gone-bad who betrayed his magical order in order to follow a dark lord who has promised him life.


Dormammu, like Kaecilius, is a standard villain. He is a dimensional being who wants to take over earth.


My only question is: why do people always want to take over earth? Aren't there other planets out there?? Are they having as much trouble as earth is with aliens and creatures from other dimensions??? I mean, not only does earth have to deal with all the creatures from the Marvel universe, but it also has to deal with the Goa'uld, the Borg, and every single Doctor Who villain ever! Can't we get a break??!

Themes
One of the biggest themes in this movie is that there is more to life than what makes you successful. Doctor Strange finds his identity in his work. When he loses the use of his hands, he has no identity anymore. His whole life becomes a search for a way to get his hands back. Christine tells Strange that there is more to life, but he doesn't understand that until the end of the movie. I really like the ending scene of the movie because Strange lifts up his hands and they still shake. He has not fixed his disability, but he accepted it, and he has accepted that there are other paths in his life that branch off from the main one that he thought he would walk on forever.

Another theme is where power comes from and how one uses it. The sorcerers draw on power that lets them interact with different planes of existence, but there are some powers that have too dangerous of consequences to explore. One of these is the power of time, as contained in the Eye of Agamotto. Another of these is the power contained in the Dark Dimension. Still, the Ancient One uses power from the Dark Dimension to keep herself alive so that she can do good throughout the centuries. Doctor Strange uses power from the Eye of Agamotto to save the earth. The use of both of these powers is forbidden, yet good characters use it for good purposes. This raises the question do the ends justify the means? If someone is using prohibited power for good, does that make the power good? How much of this power can be used before it corrupts someone?
Marvel often poses questions of morality and power in their movies, and I love it. Such questions are fascinating to contemplate.

Two other themes that I noticed were science vs. belief (when Doctor Strange first comes to Kamar-Taj) and taking lives vs. saving lives (Doctor Strange, as a doctor, has taken the Hippocratic Oath—has this changed into a Hypocritical Oath now that he is fighting and killing villains?).

Humor
Finally, I want to say a note about the humor in this film. Marvel's humor is great and although it is subtler in this movie than in previous movies, it is still there. One of my favorite moments is when Wong's stolidity is finally broken and he bursts into laughter after Doctor Strange defeats Dormammu. My other favorite moment is this exchange:


Finally, a disclaimer: there is some language in this movie and an allusion to characters sleeping together. Additionally, there is some mystical/psychedelic stuff that some people may not like. Otherwise, Doctor Strange is a pretty clean movie (besides some intense scenes, that is).

This may be my favorite Marvel movie yet! (Though I do love the Thor movies... Speaking of which, I can't WAIT for Thor: Ragnarok!)

Have you seen Doctor Strange? What did you think?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lessons Learned from Fantasy

Last month, Jenelle Schmidt hosted "Fantasy February," which was a month-long celebration of one of the best genres in existence. She started a game of tag about "Life Lessons Learned from Fantasy." DJ Edwardson wanted me complete the tag, so even though it is no longer February, I thought I'd do the tag and talk about several lessons that I've learned from fantasy books.


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien taught me what a true hero is.
A hero is not someone with super powers or a champion of men. A hero is an ordinary individual who has enough courage to stand up to dragons. When his friends have been captured by trolls or goblins or elves, a hero is the one to step into a leadership position to rescue them. A hero is the one who, after he finishes his heroic deeds, just wants to go home and live in peace and quiet. He does not want glory and riches; he just wants a pipe and a nice cup of tea.


The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien taught me two things: there is always hope, and sacrifice is noble.
The darkness in The Lord of the Rings is a formidable foe. There is so much death and destruction that falling to the shadow seems inevitable. There are, however, little moments in the books that show that there is still hope. Many of these moments come from Sam. He says, "There is some good in this world, and it is worth fighting for" and "Even darkness must pass."
There is tremendous sacrifice to ensure that the darkness will pass. Sam sacrifices his future to go with Frodo to Mordor. Rohan sacrifices itself to go to the aid of Gondor, even though there is only a glimmer of light left to fight for.
Our world, like Middle Earth, is under the power of a dark lord. But we, too, have hope. Our hope lies in Jesus Christ who died to save us from Satan. This hope is lived out every day by people extend kindness to strangers, who give grace to those around them, and who sacrifice themselves for the good of others.


King's Warrior by Jenelle Schmidt taught me that a princess does not need to be either a perfect Mary-Sue character or have a I-need-no-man attitude to be a representative of the female sex in a novel.
Kamarie is an excellent example of a well-written female character. She may start out a little arrogant about her sword fighting and horse riding skills, but she grows a lot over the course of the novel. She is a wonderful blend of femininity and toughness. She is the type of character that I want real girls to read about, and she is the type of character that I want my female characters to emulate.


(WARNING: BIG SPOILER AHEAD ABOUT THE ENDING OF MISTBORN!!!!!!!!)

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson taught me how central a charismatic character is to a series.
I knew almost as soon as I started The Final Empire that Kelsier was going to die. I knew this because he was the type of character that steals the book and there can't be two such characters in one novel, and all the reviews I had read about this series praised Elend as being the best character. When Kelsier died, however, I felt that the life went out of the series. The second book featured political discussions, but it lacked the action and humor that the first book had (at least until the last 150 pages or so). I learned that killing the charismatic character may not always be in the novel's best interest.


(WARNING: BIG SPOILER AHEAD FOR THE END OF THIS BOOK, TOO!!!!!!!!)

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen taught me about unreliable narrators.
Before reading The False Prince I had never experienced an unreliable narrator before. When I reached the end of this book and Sage revealed his true heritage, I was blown away. Everything I had read up to that point was changed because of this revelation. Now, I am a little warier to trust everything book tell me.


The Princess Bride by William Goldman taught me that you don't have to take your own writing very seriously.
Basically, you can do whatever you want with your writing. William Goldman does. He pretends that he is simply "editing" The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern, an epic history of Florin and Guilder. Goldman intersperses real facts and modern expressions with his own made up world, and it's all written in glorious, satirical prose. I hope to write lighthearted stories like The Princess Bride where readers agree with everything I say because I am The Author and I Say So.

And there you have some of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from fantasy books! What are some lessons that you have learned from fantasy (or other genres)?

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Last Two Months in Pictures

I said in my last blog post that the past two months of school have been harder than all of last semester, but there have been good moments, too! Here are some of them:

I made dinner for my friends. Dutch stamppot and rookworst!

We have done a lot of studying at the library. This old man reading the newspaper with his magnifying glass caught my fancy.    

I went on my first "date" for one of Joseph's cinematography projects. Bekah was my waitress. It was a fancy restaurant. They served vegetable-oil-wine. (Well what else are you supposed to do on a dry campus??)


We went on several walks on the frozen lake.


We rode the shuttle, too. 

I'll leave you with the beautiful Midwestern sunset:
 
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Rest

The past two months of school have been harder than all of last semester because of classes, friends, and mental well-being. All five of my classes required heavy reading, my friend group faced troubles, and I had a Low Self-Esteem attack that made me overthink everything I—and everyone around me—said and did. Now, it is Spring Break and I am home for a much-needed break.
Only, I haven't been enjoying my break as much as I hoped to because I've been feeling guilty about not accomplishing things.

I like to think that I'm a hard worker—I'm certainly good at making to-do lists—yet, I've struggled with laziness in the past. It's something I will always struggle with.
When I came home from school and spent the first two days of break lying on the floor doing nothing but watching Youtube videos, I started to worry.
Am I going to spend my whole break lying here watching Youtube? Am I going to waste all of my time? Shouldn't I be using this free time to do all of the things that I couldn't do when I was at school?

Things To Do At Home That I Couldn't Do At School:
-Clean out my inbox.
-Catch up on blogs.
-Write and schedule blog posts.
-Figure out banking-related stuff.
-Start searching for a summer job.
-Exercise.
-Work on my novel.

Although I had a to-do list, I couldn't make myself do any of the things on it, and that made me feel horrible about myself, so I started asking myself some questions.

Why am I feeling guilty? Because I'm not accomplishing things.
Why aren't I accomplishing things? Because I am exhausted.
Why am I exhausted? Because I just survived an extremely difficult two months of school.
Why is it not okay to take a break? Because I don't want to waste my time. I have the opportunity to do a bunch of stuff right now instead of lying here watching Youtube. I don't want to be lazy.

Spending a day watching Youtube is my definition of laziness for myself, because I have wasted so much time doing that in the past. Watching Youtube doesn't add to my life in any way and I don't have anything to show for it afterward. It is so much easier, however, to lay around watching Youtube than to work on a project, even if it's a project that I enjoy like writing a story or reading a book. It is especially easier when I have nothing motivating me but self-imposed deadlines.
If I have assignments due for my teachers, it is easy to say no to Youtube in favor of completing my work.
But, when I say, Abbey, your goals for this weekend are to read The Prince by Machiavelli, write two blog posts, and edit ten chapters of your novel, it is easy to push aside these goals and do nothing instead.

I haven't figured out why my self-imposed goals are less important in my mind than goals given to me by others, especially since I feel so horrible when I don't complete my self-imposed goals.

Maybe it is because I don't respect my own goals as much as I respect goals that are given to me by other people.
Maybe it is because I don't know how to rest.

Maybe I need to respect my own goals.
Maybe I need to learn to rest.

Here are four things that make me feel rested:
-Going on a walk.
-Playing piano.
-Listening to classical music while doing art.
-Writing out my prayers.

Maybe, when I need a break, I should do these things instead of watching Youtube, for rest is important.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."
Exodus 20:8-11.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Beautiful Books: January 2017

~Beautiful People is a monthly linkup for writers hosted by Cait at Paper Fury and Sky at Further Up and Further In.~


1. What were your writing achievements last year?
I re-wrote the fantasy novel that I have been working on for the past two years, and I focused on characters. I also attempted to write a few short stories, though I haven't finished any of them. Additionally, I wrote a lot of blog posts of which I am proud, and I earned A's on all of my college essays (though one was, technically, a B+/A-)!

2. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?
My biggest goal for 2017 is to finish my fantasy novel. If I can, I would also like to write/finish several short stories. If I can't write them, then I would at least like to outline them. Tentatively, I am thinking about writing an anthology of scary stories (my Gothic Literature class inspired me). Also, my sci-fi cafĂ© story idea is still cooking in the back of my mind. It's not fully baked yet, but I have high hopes that the oven timer will sound its completion soon!
 
3. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!
My fantasy novel! Though have learned a lot through the enjoyable process of editing this book, I am ready to finish this story.
 
4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?
I hope to continue refining my essay-writing skills. Also, I hope I can continue growing in my characterization and streamlining skills.
At the end of 2017, I would like to have a physical copy of my finished manuscript in front of me. (And my secret hope is that I will have published something in my school's literary journal. But, shh! Don't tell anyone!)
 
5. Describe your general editing process.
Since I've only editing one book before this one, I don't have an editing process yet. The one I've been using for this novel has been working well, though. I started by working on my plot, and then I worked on my characters. Now, I'm working on my plot and characters again. After I finish with them, I will look over the draft for wordiness, decide if I need better word choice, and fix grammar mistakes.
 
6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think [your most recent] draft turned out?
A seven. It was much better than I expected and it has a lot of potential, but it still has a lot of work to be done to it. Luckily, I can see exactly what needs to be done! All I need is the time and motivation to do it.
 
7. What aspect of your draft needs the most work?
In addition to my characters, my world building still needs work. I don't have to worry much about one of my races since only one of its members is in the story. Finn's race, however, I have renovated since I decided that I didn't want him to be an Elf. I've made up my own race, which means a lot of rewriting later in the story. Hopefully, I can write them well enough that people don't think they are Elves.
 
8. What do you like the most about your draft?
The cleverness and humor. I didn't remember that my story was so funny! I'm taking this as a good sign: if I'm entertained by it, certainly my audience will be entertained, right?
 
9. What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers?
Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?
After I finish this draft, I will have several people read it. Then, I will work on edits based on their comments, and word choice and grammar edits. After that, I don't know. I want to publish the story somewhere, but I don't know yet if I want to self-publish it or go the independent or traditional route.
 
10. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?
First of all: Congratulations!! You wrote a whole novel! My advice to you is to take a break from your story for several weeks. Then, start looking at it again. You will see the problems and have to come up with solutions. Sometimes, letting other people read your work helps you figure out problems and solutions.
No first draft is perfect, but nearly every story has potential, so find problems, find solutions to those problems, and make your novel the best that it can be!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Long and Winding Editing Road—It Begins Again.

~I've been inspired by Katie at Spiral-Bound's "Editing Diaries" posts to do my own editing series. Currently, I'm in the process of editing a fairytale-fantasy novel I wrote in 2014, and I want you to join me on this journey! Maybe, together, we can learn a few things about writing along The Long and Winding Editing Road.~

I figured that Christmas break would be the ideal time to begin the fourth draft of my fantasy novel. Despite a number of major changes to my characters, I had the fanciful idea that I would be able to finish the fourth draft during my three week break. I made excellent time through the first third of the novel; but, the second third took me by surprise. It has always been the most difficult part of the novel as the characters are between quests and nothing much happens. It is a time for character development and a time for me to lay the foundation for things to come later in the story. In past drafts, I have taken out much content from this middle section. This draft has been no different. In fact, I took out two chapters, and allocated their necessary parts to different chapters.
I've never had to make big cuts like this before. It's liberating to highlight several thousand words, hit the backspace key, and see them disappear (don't worry–I have them saved somewhere else!). It's fun to make these cuts, knowing that I am streamlining my story and making it better! I feel like a real writer.
I did, however, run across a roadblock. This roadblock has come in the shape of a character. Surprisingly—nay, miraculously!—the character who is giving me trouble is not Finn. Finn is behaving himself (for once). No, King John is giving me trouble. He's my villain and I've never felt solid with his characterization. During the last draft, I had a better handle on his character; because I was focused on my main characters, though, I couldn't devote as much time to him as he deserved. Over the summer, I wrote part of his backstory in short story form. That helped me understand him better.
Now, I have printed out the fourteen chapters that make up the middle section of my novel. I plan to go through them very carefully so that I can...

-Continue streamlining this part of the story so that the audience doesn't get bored. I want every scene and every character interaction to have purpose.

-Fix King John's character. I want to write him in such a way that the audience feels exactly how I want them to feel about him. This is going to be tricky, since I want them to go from despising him to sort-of liking him to despising him again. Since this is how my main character, Rozella, feels about him, I am hoping that the audience will follow her feelings.

These two goals are going to take precision to complete, which is why I printed out these chapters.

I don't know how much I will be able to work on them during the first eight weeks of school because I have a lot of classwork. My workload drops significantly during the last eight weeks, however, so I hope to work on my story then! I will keep you updated.

Are you writers out there working on anything exciting at the moment?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Obligatory End-of-Year Post

A lot happened to me in 2016.

Out of my fourteen goals for 2016, I only completed four, half-completed four, and failed at six.
I did not perform in a musical, get a piano student, write four pieces of nonfiction in January, host a Dutch-themed dinner party for my friends, practice voice five out of seven days in the week, or read the books that were on my reading list.
I did, however, do better at eating no sugar (I went sugar-free over the summer), exercising, prioritizing other things over the Internet, and reading nonfiction.
I re-wrote my fantasy story. I memorized and performed Sinding's "Rustle of Spring" on the piano, which you can watch here. I figured out college and, to some extent, life. Most importantly, I grew closer to God and put more emphasis on persistent prayer.

What else happened in 2016?

Well, I moved to this blog from Dolls, Books, and Things That Matter. We've had 56 good posts here, nearly all of which I am proud of. Some of my favorites have been The Long and Winding Editing Road series, which I hope to continue this year; a post on why singleness is okay; the exciting adventures of Sharon and Dudley as they try to win fortune and glory; A Shakespeare Appreciation Post on the Bard's 400th death-day anniversary; the Silmarillion Awards; and the essay I wrote about the conflicting feelings I felt when my grandpa died.

Many of my recent blog posts have been about college. That has been the biggest change in my life this year. I have met wonderful people, enjoyed lovely classes, and learned a lot about interpersonal relationships and living on my own.

March 30th marked my one-year anniversary of being migraine free.

I read fifty books. My favorites were...
-Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson, a biography of one of my favorite composers Dmitri Shostakovich.
-The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.
and
-Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

What do I hope to accomplish in 2017?

-I want to give my blog a makeover, including changing the name to "Regarding Reading, Writing, and Sometimes Life." Additionally, I hope to post at least once a month, if not more.

-Eat less sugar and exercise more.

-Read thirty-five books (perhaps Anna Karenina? perhaps Anne of Green Gables? perhaps some Arthur Conan Doyle, of which I have many? perhaps some Herman Melville, of which I also have many?).

-Continue to do well in school.

-Find a home church in Minnesota and continue growing in my relationship with God.

-Finish my fantasy novel.

While this final goal is a big one, I have confidence that I can complete it! But, more on that in my next post.

Do you have any goals for the upcoming year?