10 Things I Loved about THE BATMAN

I had the pleasure of seeing The Batman with a friend on Sunday. Not only was it my first theater experience in over two years, it was one hell of a movie. I loved it.

Coming into this movie with no expectations, I didn’t know what to expect, in a lot of ways. I’ve been lukewarm on the DC universe’s approach to its movies, never quite knowing what their goal is for a given movie, so I didn’t pay much attention to the press tour leading up to this release.

Having seen the film now, I can safely and excitedly say that The Batman is a great movie from beginning to end, and Robert Pattinson is a great Batman.

I’m going to run down my favorite things about this movie, without spoilers. If you watch (or have already seen) the trailer below, nothing on my list will be a surprise to you.

My 10 Favorite Things about THE BATMAN

I’m going to say this is in no particular order, except the order that these are flying off my fingertips.

  1. Robert Pattinson’s brooding Batman and Bruce Wayne. Without speaking to the movie’s plot, I will say that I loved Pattinson’s portrayal of the Dark Knight in this film. He was brooding and tortured and honestly intimidating. I don’t know that any previous live-action Batman has felt as menacing to me as this character.
  2. Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred. I had no idea Andy Serkis was playing Alfred in this film, and he was amazing.
  3. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon. He was smart and subtly charismatic in the way you expect a younger Jim Gordon to be.
  4. The gritty Gotham. This was one of the more unique Gotham settings we’ve gotten in a Batman film, at least recently. The setting felt more like a comic book version of Gotham while still being believable. It seemed like it could still be a real city without feeling generic.
  5. The interplay of the various villain characters. This is a hallmark of Batman films, where multiple villains are bound to show up in big power plays. One thing that stuck out to me was the surprisingly personal moments that a few of the villains share with our titular character. These were not bland archetypal evil-doers with outlandish schemes. These were people with goals and motivations and fears, and that really helped to sell the plot.
  6. Cat Woman. Zoe Kravitz’s Selena Kyle was dynamic, could hold her own, and had incredible chemistry with Robert Pattinson’s Batman. I’m all in on those two.
  7. The Bat-mobile and car chase. You saw a piece of this in the trailer above, where the person Batman is chasing is shown in an over-the-shoulder POV. This is used to great effect during a car chase scene that is perhaps the most visceral car chase I’ve ever watched.
  8. The music. Again, the trailer shows some of the movie’s hand here, but there are two famous songs that are used and melded with a riveting hook to incredible effect that never gets old throughout the film.
  9. The details. This is the type of movie that has a lot going on to direct the viewer’s attention — lighting, silhouettes of characters, colors, and emotional facial close-ups. But there’s also a lot going on in the background. There are no extras looking awkward in any scene in this movie. Even in random corners of the frame, the actors are making it feel like a live scene, rather than a staged frame.
  10. The tone. I think the gritty, dark films can too easily fall victim to trying too hard to be edgy. It’s not trying to shock the audience with unnecessary gore or brutality, and it doesn’t drown the viewer in a cynical worldview. The grittiness envelopes the characters and drives a lot of the suspense and foreboding, but it’s beside the point. There is a lot more to this story than its gritty tones.
  11. One more for good measure! The mystery. This film is framed as a noir detective story, and Batman makes a convincing problem-solver. This style of storytelling helps to drive the plot and much of the suspense leading up to the final sequence, when the hero’s journey is ultimately revealed.

Well, those are my brief thoughts about THE BATMAN. I’m thinking I might need to see this in theaters again, because I can’t stop thinking about it.

Have you seen it? What did you think?!

Steve D

Midway Checkpoint: The Wheel of Time Show’s Jam-Packed Ambitions

Back in September, I allowed myself to get a little pre-hyped for Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time series, and I promised that I would check back in after the first couple episodes. The Wheel of Time show currently has six episodes released, and I have watched the first five, so I am definitely overdue for this post.

Spoiler warning: I will be discussing events in the TV show only, through episode 5–which maybe means this isn’t really spoiler-y. Anyway, anything that has happened in the first five episodes is fair game for this post. Although I am a current book reader I will not bring up any events from the books that have not yet been depicted on the show.

Honestly, I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot to spoil at this point in the series, which is maybe part of the problem I have with it so far. These first five episodes feel so packed with plot-building, and world-building, and characters, and movement that I have to imagine it’s difficult for casual viewers to keep track of everything and everyone that’s happened so far.

In five short episodes we’ve seen seven primary characters–Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Moiraine, Lan–come together, split apart, and (almost) reunite in Tar Valon, while also meeting half a dozen other characters who appear to have some part to play this season. Stepin, Liandrin, Alanna, Logain, Eamon Valda, and Aram all seemed poised to round out a pretty full cast of characters and factions with whom that party-of-seven would have to contend. Stepin has already off’ed himself, and Aram seems to have exited the story for now, but this is still a list of characters I would…

a) never have expected to meet or be asked to care about in the first place,

b) never have expected to meet this quickly,

and c) don’t think quite fit together in an 8-episode season that is now more than halfway over with no clear central conflict having yet emerged.

The one through-line of all of this is that no one knows who the Dragon Reborn is yet, which, fine, that’s a mystery for people who haven’t read the books. But it doesn’t feel like a conflict to me.

I think my point here is that this show, so far, feels like an oversized plot that does not take the necessary steps to make me care about these people. I care, at the moment, because I’m reading the books, but that’s not enough when viewing this show in isolation.

Onto more positive notes…

Okay, I don’t want to be all cynical about this show, because I am enjoying it for what it is. The acting is great overall, the landscapes and set pieces are stellar, and the story has a compelling pace.

Listening to a podcast interview of showrunner Rafe Judkins has me confident that the man behind the curtain knows what he’s doing in trying to adapt a massive story to the small screen, where we do not have the luxury of 400 pages to tell the first part.

The first three episodes, which were dropped all at once on Prime, are heavy on lore and trying to get the viewer to even understand what the hell the Dragon Reborn is supposed to be. In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that Prime decided to present the first three episodes all at once. I think episode one on its own would have been too jarring for most people; it moves at a break-neck pace, introducing a host of characters and tons of lore, has a thrilling climax, and then ends with barely a moment to breathe.

Episode 4, in which Nynaeve discovers her ability to touch the One Power in stunning fashion, is when I decided I liked this show. I can see past the overloaded plot if we get moments as powerful as that a couple times per season.

Three more to go

Looking ahead, it’s hard to believe that this season is only going to be eight episodes. I really have no idea what sort of “ending” this first season could possibly have, unless they decide that season one is just a prologue.

All in all, I’m enjoying watching this show, but I have lingering concerns that the showrunners have tried to pack too much into so short a season for it to have much meaning. I hope to be proven wrong.

Steve D

Book Review: KNIFE OF DREAMS sets up an epic final act for THE WHEEL OF TIME

I recently finished reading Knife of Dreams, The Wheel of Time #11. You may remember that in my previous entries about some of the books in this series, I have lamented the plodding pace of the narrative, especially for particular point-of-view characters.

After a few books’ worth of dragging plotlines, Knife of Dreams finally brings some real momentum to this series, and ties off a few narrative threads in the process.

For the most part, the reader spends several chapters with a particular character at a time, watching their narrative unfold in more depth. Unlike in previous books, however, there is actually forward progress with the main characters, and Jordan even returns to each character towards the end of the book to see where they’ve landed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was glad to find it spent the most time with only three of the primary characters: Mat, Perrin, and Elayne. There are check-in sections with Rand, Egwene, and others, mostly serving as compelling placeholders for things to come in the next book(s).

The three or four smaller plot lines that are all tied off in this momentous installment is clearly guiding the reader and each of the characters towards one thing: the Last Battle. With only three books left in the series — I say that as if each book wasn’t more than 600 pages — Knife of Dreams is definitely setting up the end game for the series.

I’m not ready to forgive the narrative slog that was books 7 through 10 (especially 10). I can see that groundwork that Jordan was laying for the mini-climaxes in previous books. I’m just not convinced that it needed to take as long as it did to get to this point.

Anyway, I feel like I’m over the hump of the middle part of this series, and I’m ready to jump into the final three books, which were completed by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death. The Gathering Storm (book 12) will be my first introduction to Sanderson’s writing, so I’m excited to see how he adapts Jordan’s story and narrative style. Then I can start reading Sanderson’s own work!

Steve D

Book Review: JURASSIC PARK delivers thrills and layered plot-building

I just finished listening to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton on Audible, a book I probably should have read years ago, but I’m glad I finally checked it off my list.

Jurassic Park the movie is one of my favorites ever, so I was excited to finally read the original novel that inspired it — and compare how the film adaptation differed from the novel.

I really enjoyed this book and basically couldn’t put it down for a few days. Overall, the characters each had unique voices, and the plot was compelling.

To my surprise and enjoyment, the first part of the novel builds up the background of Ingen, Hammond, and some other key players. There is a fair amount of techno jargon, but Crichton writes it in such a way that is accessible and, just as importantly, believable, at least as far as science fiction can be believed. These sections serve to enliven the story as it progresses, providing the reader with much-needed context to feel the weight of the story.

These early sections are then interspersed with vignettes of doctors or others encountering unidentified “lizards”, but none of the characters are able to piece together the clues. In this way the tension very slowly builds.

By the time the main characters arrive at Isla Nublar to tour the park, the reader is nearly overwhelmed with dread over the mystery “lizards” terrorizing the local population, the industrial espionage of a rival bioengineering company, and the shady, or perhaps negligent, designs of Hammond and the creators of Jurassic Park.

The story is incredibly layered with detail about all of the flaws with the park. There is no fatal flaw, but there are many tiny ones that create a perfect storm of a disaster, isolating the characters on this island in a nightmare scenario.

The action was thrilling but not overwhelming, and the plot kept pace as the situation continued to unravel. Ian Malcom’s continuous diatribes about chaos theory could be tiresome for some readers, but I found these more philosophical sections quite engaging.

The narration of the audiobook was great as well.

Regarding the film versus the novel, I find it quite remarkable how well the film adheres to the spirit of the novel, even if several key characters and plot points are either changed or omitted entirely. Those types of changes are to be expected when adapting such a detailed novel to film, but it only makes me enjoy the movie more knowing that it is a worthy reflection of Crichton’s story, even if it looks a little different.

Steve D

Balancing Reader Feedback with Story Constraints

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Today I wanted to bring up an interesting conundrum I’ve been facing as I write the third draft of Uprooted, The Herb Witch Tales #1. In a story that is effectively about how one family — and one woman in particular — deals with her entire life being upended, I’m now trying to add more characters.

Uprooted is also a novella. I only intend for it to be 35k-40k words if I can help it, so adding more characters seems counter-intuitive on the surface.

Alpha Reader Feedback

Back in December I asked a couple people to read the second draft of this story and provide some feedback. One of my readers gave me great feedback that I’ve really tried to take to heart in this rewrite.

She said that in settings like mine — a small village in a firmly patriarchal society and culture — the characters would likely have much stronger kinship ties than I had demonstrated in my draft. I focused intensely on the nuclear family of my characters, but that left this reader asking about their immediate relatives, cousins, siblings. aunts and uncles, and the like.

The crux of the story is that tragedy strikes this village, causing my characters to flee. With this now expanded family dynamic, my characters are not as isolated as they had been, but the dynamics of their struggle change. They now have to feed 10 or 15 mouths rather than three or four.

But that’s also 10 or 15 more names to keep track of as the story progresses.

Too Many Characters?

I agreed 100% with this feedback, and I built out a family tree for my protagonist’s family and their clan. This meant that I had to explain what happened to a lot of those family members alongside the more immediate narrative of my characters. What I’ve noticed is that in my third draft, I have to decide when to talk about these extended family members, and when to leave them out.

It should be obvious that the larger clan is still traveling together, and I don’t want to have to list the actions of every single member each day. But I also don’t want to ignore these characters’ existence. After all, they make up the immediate support system for my primary character. She needs them, and thus the reader needs to know something about them.

So I’ve had to figure out how to balance these additional tertiary characters within the more personal plotlines of the three or four characters who really drive the story. If I were writing a full-length novel, I could consider POV sections for a few of these tertiary characters, but Uprooted is not that type of story.

My general rule of thumb has been twofold:

  1. Take a quick tally of the family as they’re moving or something is changing so we (both the reader and I) know where they are.
  2. Try to include these family members in particular scenes, even if they’re just in the background or only offer one line of dialogue.

I think/hope that this makes it clear that these characters are important to the larger family dynamics, but doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many names to remember.

Discussion Time!

How do you feel about tertiary characters in a novella? How many is too many?

Steve D

Back to Basics: World-Building in an Established Universe

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’m late! I intended to finish this post on Tuesday night, but that obviously didn’t work out. I’ve gotten away with writing entire posts the night before for a while, but it finally caught up to me. Anyway…

As you all may know, I’ve been working on two short stories this year together called “The Herb Witch Tales”. While these take place in the same fantasy universe as my first novel, I’m working with completely new characters, in a different time, and in a different region. I’m in new world-building territory for the first time in years.

This has raised some intriguing questions as I try to develop a story with the same richness of setting as the first. Continue reading “Back to Basics: World-Building in an Established Universe”

Making a Character Death Make Sense

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

I’ve spent way too much time this month rationalizing and over-thinking a character death in my story that I knew was definitely coming. Fortunately, after talking it through with my human sounding board (my wife), I think I’m ready to write The Death Scene.

And I’d like to share some insights I’ve picked up along the way. Continue reading “Making a Character Death Make Sense”

#Review: THE ENCIRCLING SEA Continues to Intrigue in Roman Britannia

36350564. sy475 The Encircling Sea is the second book in Adrian Goldsworthy’s historical fiction epic about the Roman presence in Northern Britannia.

I listened to the first book in the seriesVindolanda, on Audible last month, and it was not a difficult decision for me to jump right into the second.

The Encircling Sea is an excellent sequel that establishes its own narrative while clearly connecting its characters and its plot lines to the first story. Continue reading “#Review: THE ENCIRCLING SEA Continues to Intrigue in Roman Britannia”

Building a Plot through Dialogue

Plotting the first draft of a novel can be difficult. Oftentimes, you’re not sure exactly where the story is going until you get there. Weaving together multiple characters, their micro-conflicts, and the larger plot is impossible unless you already know how the tapestry should look.

I’ve been having trouble recently with writing my first draft for The Warden of Everfeld: Legacy. Some of that has been due to travel and other things going on in life, but a big part of it has been a bit of writer’s block. Luckily, I found a way around that, at least for now. Continue reading “Building a Plot through Dialogue”