Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"The Open Portals - Part 2" Now Available

Check it out! Part 1 of my new young adult sic-fi/fantasy novel "The Open Portals" is now available on Kindle for $2.99 at the link below:

"The Open Portals - Part 2" by Katelyn Rushe on Amazon

Just as things are looking hopeful for Amber Brenin’s mission back to Earth, an enemy fleet attacks the island where her team is resting and forces them to split up. Those who can fight must stay behind to fend off the invaders while those pivotal to the mission must find the island’s open portal and go on without their allies. It’s one of the many compromises that Amber will have to make as the war on Rökshena escalates.

Joined by Joe, Guido, and her father Robert, the girl soon returns to Earth and begins her task of recapturing the Voxacustos one by one. Tensions run high as her party sees the destruction that the creatures have brought to her homeworld, and over time, her anger evolves into something much harder for her to control. Relief comes when Earth’s militaries combine forces to aid the mission, but if nothing can quell Amber’s raging emotions, then everything on Earth and Rökshena will be lost forever—starting with Amber herself.

Also check out these links to Part 1 and both parts of the first book, "The Last Creator."

"The Last Creator - Part 1"
"The Last Creator - Part 2"
"The Open Portals - Part 1"

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Trouble with Daenerys

I'm three episodes away from being caught up on Game of Thrones (since a financial fledgling without HBO can only legally view Season 7 by subscribing to Moochers with Friends), but I think I've seen enough of the show to have a pretty well founded opinion on every major character. One character that I want to discuss my opinion on today is Daenerys Targaryen.

She's easily the most iconic figure to come out of this series, being a white-haired beauty in blue who decimates whole armies with her trio of dragons, and she's always been one of the biggest fan favorites. She also gets praised by a lot of critics for being a strong, independent female character with a compelling story arc who builds herself into a powerful ruler from nothing and breaks all sorts of new ground in the fantasy genre.

...So it pains me to say that I really don't like her.

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe her story is handled a lot differently in the books, or maybe getting into the show this late means I didn't get to see the events of her story unveil with the proper cultural context surrounding me. Or maybe all the memes, fan art, cosplays, and so forth that I've seen built her up in my mind as a bigger badass than she actually was when I finally saw the show. I don't know, but from what I've seen so far, I think she's an entitled little punk who doesn't deserve most of the respect that she has.

When you really get down to it, Deanerys's two biggest assets that got her where she is are that her body is fireproof and that she has three dragons to do her bidding. The problem is that she never did any work to obtain these assets. She was born with the ability to endure fire, rather than having to build up an immunity to it, and she was given the dragon eggs as a wedding present and just imprinted on the dragons when they hatched. Any time she tries to resolve a conflict with something else like diplomacy or strategic planning, she fails and resorts back to these two assets -- and then she sees these cop-out successes as good reasons to strut around and demand submission from every kingdom she comes across. I wanted to reach through the TV screen and high-five Jon Snow when he shot down her arrogant little list of reasons for why he should kneel to her when they first met in Season 7.

What's worse is that for as much as Daenerys relies on the dragons to resolve everything, she hardly ever puts any effort into training them. She teaches them one command to breathe fire, and that's pretty much all we see. When the dragons start to misbehave, she just locks them up without attempting to correct their behavior and then they all turn on her until they just decide to obey her again. Where's the character growth in that?

What's frustrating about all this is that Daenerys did start out as the clever, adaptable character that I expected her to be. You see her work to earn the respect of her husband Khal Drogo and his people in Season 1, learning their language and becoming more assertive, but then she gets the dragons and it's all fire and blood from there. Okay, I know "Fire and Blood" is the motto of her family, the House Targaryen, but I do find it pretty darn hypocritical that she keeps telling people not to condemn her for what a tyrant her father was while she keeps proudly toting his family name and credo.

To be fair, I know that Daenerys does have good intentions. She wants to rid the world of slavery and establish equal rights for all people. Those are noble causes, but her way of accomplishing them is all wrong. For starters, she's extremely ignorant about the cultures that she tries to reform. She doesn't bother to learn anything about their ways before seizing control of them. She just decides who are the good guys, who are the bad guys, and then takes over and gives everyone what she feels they deserve.

She never considers the big picture or long term effects of anything, and when those things start to creep in and break down the new foundation she's trying to build, her ability to rule falls apart. She starts to behave almost like a petulant child when this happens, sometimes threatening her more experienced advisors when they make suggestions that she doesn't like. She does this until the first brown-noser tells her that whatever she wants to do is best, and then she just burns everything down. And fine, she had to be headstrong like that at first to rise above all the abusive, sexist manipulators whose mercy she was at in the earlier seasons. However, she accomplished that rather quickly and then suddenly seemed to stop growing.

What's more, for all the revolutionary things that happen on her orders, she never does any of them herself. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that her current number of personal kills is still 0. She tells her guards, executioners, and dragons to kill people for her and then pretty much just watches them do it. And no, riding her dragons around while telling them to burn armies alive doesn't count as using a weapon herself. If she wants respect as a ruler, she needs to learn how to get her own hands dirty and deliver the sentences that she passes -- to paraphrase a wisdom that Jon Snow lives by. Otherwise she's never going to get in touch with anything or become a better ruler than her father.

To the show's credit though, I think this is all the point. They're showing us how easy it is for a hero to fall from grace and become a villain if they don't act wisely. Season 7 marks the first time since the start of the series that Daenerys has to make compromises in order to further herself, and it's great. I don't know if this development was George R.R. Martin's plan for future books or if the show's screenwriters came up with it themselves, but I think it's been needed for a while. I won't give up on Daenerys yet, but no matter how much older she is than her book counterpart, she still has a lot of growing up to do.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Joffrey vs. Ramsay

I'd avoided watching Game of Thrones ever since the show premiered in 2011. That wasn't because I hate popular things or because I'm on Team Tolkien, or even because I don't have HBO. It was because I knew that I'd get sucked right into the show and that watching it would pretty much eat up all the time I normally spend writing. Well, I started watching the whole series on DVD last month and I skipped my August blog entry as a result.

Now that I've had time to reflect on what I've watched, I want to discuss one debate among fans that's come to my attention: Joffrey Baratheon versus Ramsay Bolton.

These characters may not be the two biggest villains in the series, but they're probably the two worst human beings that we see in it. Both are sadistic, hateful chauvinists who disrespect their relatives, humiliate the disabled, abuse people physically and psychologically, torture and kill them for fun, and have babies murdered to secure their own political positions. They're both undeniably evil, but which one is worse?

Age seems like a good tiebreaker at first. Ramsay Bolton is a full grown man, but Joffrey Baratheon is only nineteen at the time of his death; if he was monstrous enough to give Ramsay a run for his money at such a young age, imagine how much worse Joffrey could've become if he'd lived longer. The fact stands though that he didn't, which gives him a shorter rap sheet than Ramsay. Also, it's pretty doubtful that Ramsay was any less monstrous as a teenager.

On the other hand, you can argue that Ramsay is at least partially the product of a harsh upbringing. Unlike Joffrey, who was born a prince and had a relatively stable family unit, Ramsay was the illegitimate son of a then-unmarried lord and he had to grow up with that stigma. He also had to spend his entire life under the threat of getting discarded if his father married and had a legitimate son. It's easy to imagine this making him bitter, perhaps to the point that he'd find joy in tormenting legitimate nobles like Theon Greyjoy and Sansa Stark. And of course, his father was a horrible person that he probably inherited his cruelty from and lives to spite. You can actually understand the reasons behind most of Ramsay's actions, as atrocious as they are.

Joffrey, in contrast, is just a spoiled brat with power. He was never mistreated or deprived of anything before becoming king. He just hates everyone because they don't show him the respect that he thinks he deserves because of his bloodline. Some of his cruelty is premeditated, mainly the things that he puts Sansa through, but he commits most of his worst actions on impulse in response to being humiliated. His behavior is also partially due to his parentage, since we see that his mother Cersei Lannister was an entitled little snot as well growing up. However, even she objects to Joffrey's behavior and is frequently threatened and undermined by him for it.

Think of Ramsay and Joffrey as ice and fire. Ramsay always manages to stay cool and calculating when he's angry, and thus his cruelty remains focused on just a few key people. Joffrey handles his anger like a volcano erupting; he doesn't think, he doesn't care, he doesn't focus, he just makes a mess. And when you have an entire military that's obligated to do your bidding, you can make some pretty big messes.

I think the best way to decide who's worse is by getting down to the bare bones of who these characters are. If you strip away all of Joffrey's power, he's a helpless punk. We see this from how easily his elders chastised him before he became king. For Ramsay, receiving power was just icing on the cake. He was already formidable before he became a lord -- which he achieved by killing his father, by the way -- and what made him so formidable was that he was always smart enough to know the most efficient way of tormenting people.

Why did he torment people before he had power? Because he liked playing mind games with them.

Most of the awful things that Joffrey did were done in front of a large crowd. He was insecure, so he liked to make examples of people in front of his subjects to discourage everyone from questioning his rule. Even when he did things without an audience, he usually did them to send a message to someone who challenged him.

Most of the awful things that Ramsay did were done behind closed doors. People usually weren't even aware of what he was doing at the time, and when it came to interrogating prisoners, he often took things a lot farther than his superiors wanted him to.

Joffrey liked being cruel as a means to an end, but Ramsay liked being cruel for the sake of it. I think that's more than enough to qualify him as the more evil of the two.

Congratulations, Lord Bolton. This is one battle of the bastards that you did manage to win.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Farewell to the Planet of the Apes

I've never mentioned this before on my blog, but I'm actually a huge fan of the Andy Serkis Planet of the Apes movies. Almost embarrassingly huge. I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes four times in theaters, I've made memes and fanart, and I created my own OC character who's a gibbon because I've always wanted there to be one in the series. I even used to post Chuck Norris-style "facts" about Maurice the orangutan all over the internet to try and build the character's fanbase because I love him so much.

And for the record, Maurice doesn't ride his horse. He levitates himself with his superpowers and just holds a horse in place under him so he doesn't look more impressive than Caesar. Maurice is humble like that.

As you can imagine, I was anxiously awaiting War for the Planet of the Apes, and I finally got to see it this past Sunday. So what did I think of it?

Frankly, I think this movie gives The Dark Knight a run for its money. But let's look back on the Apes reboot trilogy as a whole first.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

It's astounding to see War for the Planet of the Apes and realize that it's in the same series as 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As much as I love Rise, there's no denying that it can be a very silly film. Most of its human characters are laughably one-dimensional, the apes are way too intelligent before receiving the virus that's supposed to enhance them, and it leans on one contrivance after another in order for its story to happen. The movie fails so much at depicting how biology labs, ape sanctuaries, and police squads function that I question whether the filmmakers did any research at all.

Despite that, you can tell that there's something a lot more compelling and meaningful underneath all of that. Rise is a summer blockbuster that spends its first two thirds almost entirely on heartfelt character development and centers around someone who (for the most part) can't speak. It's a character study first and foremost, and it tackles difficult moral issues while exploring concepts like self-identity and hubris. I should also mention that Andy Serkis's performance as Caesar really is some of his best acting and that some of the CGI ape effects are pretty darn impressive, even looking like tangible creations at times. And yes, the film does have a lot of entertaining action scenes.

It's actually pretty interesting to read about older drafts of Rise's screenplay. It sounds like the filmmakers wanted it to be a lot darker and more challenging originally, but eventually toned it down and lightened the mood. My guess is that Fox Studios pushed them to play things safer and simpler since Tim Burton's 2001 "reimagining" had a lot of people leery about another Planet of the Apes picture.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The second film obviously fared much better. Dawn's post-apocalyptic setting allowed it to scrap all of that real world red tape and focus just on the characters, and Rise's success gave the sequel more freedom to be gritty and complex. In place of the mustache-twirling corporate creeps and bully stereotypes, we get human characters who are mostly good at heart but willing to oppose the apes out of desperation. We even see a lot of parallels between the character dynamics in their group and the ape characters. What's more, the main villain is actually one of the apes whose tragic backstory makes him intriguing and sympathetic to a point. All of these things really blur the lines between species and give an interesting commentary on what defines humanity.

Granted, Dawn does still have its share of silly elements, but it earns them. You can have a stock, self-proclaimed "asshole" character if you surround him with well fleshed-out ones. You can have an acrobatic final battle on top of a burning city if you've fully built up the conflict and the stakes. And when you give us a charming, atmospheric scene with little dialogue where characters bond over a 60's song whose lyrics reflect and foreshadow the events of the plot, you are totally allowed to follow it up with a bonobo on a horse firing machine guns in both hands while howling in rage like Rambo.

Seriously, that's got to be the most ridiculously amazing shot in the whole trilogy.

I will admit though that the extreme anti-gun message in Dawn is pretty awkward when you remember that this franchise once starred the president of the NRA. Then again, the Tim Burton film featured said president delivering that same message himself, so this is much less awkward by comparison.

War for the Planet of the Apes 

And that brings us to the new film. We get a lot more nods to the original Planet of the Apes movies in this one than in Dawn, though not nearly as many as in Rise. In fact, the references in War serve more as setups for the original film (or more likely, a future remake of it) than they do as homages. Even the music sounds similar to the original's score at times, which is a pretty clever touch.

We do get a slight downgrade in the villain and a lot less moral variety in the humans this time around. There's one little girl who's good and everyone else is an ape-hating soldier. There's also a female chimp that I'm pretty sure was just thrown into the script in response to the complaints about Dawn's near lack of female characters. She doesn't hurt the film though, and neither do the humans. In fact, their overall ruthlessness actually contributes a lot to the story's concept of the human race starting to devolve; they're losing their humanity in more ways than one.

War is by far the darkest and harshest film of the three, but never once does that tone feel forced or manipulative. It's all done to show that the script isn't pulling any punches in addressing its themes. It explores the definition of humanity and how hatred can corrupt noble intentions, just like Dawn did, but it also deals with emotion versus logic and reason versus instinct with the external conflict of man versus beast as a metaphor for that. The big twist in it is that it's the apes who view the world more humanely than the humans do. Most poignantly, it conveys that sometimes the best way for good to overcome evil is not to destroy it, but just to endure until evil destroys itself. I don't know many other summer action flicks that can pull that off and still exhilarate an audience.

And for a bit of levity, this is the movie where the apes finally grant my wish from six years ago and solve a problem by throwing poop at someone. I don't care how super-intelligent they are; they were born as normal apes and they should have remembered a long time ago how effective that tactic is.


I think a big part of why these new Planet of the Apes movies turned out so well was the way that their releases were paced. Ever since Lord of the Rings, a lot of film franchises have fallen into the mindset that they need to crank out an installment every year in order to stay relevant, but more often than not, this results in a lot of very rushed, mediocre, unmemorable films. This series took its time though, and not only did that allow the filmmakers to create the best movies they possibly could, it also gave us more time to grow attached to its world and characters before the story ended.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out just a couple months after I graduated from college, and over these past six years, I've evolved and matured right alongside this trilogy. These movies have become really special to me because they represent a transformation, an ongoing change throughout the stages of one's life. They show that those changes can be daunting, but if you approach them thoughtfully and carefully, you'll pull through to the end.

And if it seemed like overkill to say that War for the Planet of the Apes gives The Dark Knight a run for its money, I should reveal that the Joker actually got his scars from Maurice the orangutan.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Beginnings" TV Series Teaser Poster

First teaser poster for the show "Beginnings" that I'm involved in. It's based on the post-apocalyptic drama/comedy book series by Jacqueline Druga, who is also our executive producer and screenwriter.

Look for it on Amazon Prime this Fall!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Unbalanced Duos

I recently got reacquainted with the first three Pirates of The Caribbean films, or as I tend to call them, the two good ones and that one that you have to watch to give the second film an ending. The third film, At World's End, certainly has a lot of cringe-worthy elements for a lot of fans, but one of the elements that bothers me most is the arc of one of my favorite characters, Ragetti.

Don't get me wrong. His overall arc from a mumbling, dog-like sidekick to a cheeky, erudite badass is fascinating. What bothers me about his character arc in the third film though is how much more of one he gets than his partner-in-crime Pintel. Practically every scene in At World's End that features these two has Ragetti upstaging Pintel, getting the spotlight without him, and generally being treated like he's a way more important character.

The problem with this is that before At World's End, these characters were introduced and always presented as a duo. We see duos all the time in movies like this, often as comic relief, and their purpose for being a duo is that they offset each other. They can have a leader and follower dynamic, but the two characters are supposed to work together and be of equal value in the story. Giving more attention and development to just one of them over the course of the narrative can reduce the other duo member to a pointless character, which is what happens to Pintel in At World's End.

Pintel and Ragetti aren't the only character duo in film to have balancing issues. Fans of the Hobbit films often point out how much more focus the dwarf Kili gets over his brother Fili despite them being a pair. The roles of Merry and Pippin in The Lord of the Rings are pretty equal in the books and don't change much in the films, but it's clear from the staging and editing that the filmmakers liked Pippin more. I even think that Jake in the first Blues Brothers movie gets the spotlight a few too many more times than Elwood. Why does this happen?

In some cases, it may be in response to fan preference. Jake Blues was played by John Belushi in the original Blues Brothers sketches on Saturday Night Live, and Belushi was a more energetic performer than his costar Dan Aykroyd. Because of this, Jake was probably more memorable and more liked by viewers than Elwood, so the writers decided to give Jake more material when it came time to write the film. Similarly, Ragetti's wooden eyeball and more sympathetic portrayal in the first Pirates of the Caribbean probably made him stand out more than Pintel, so the writers expanded his role in the sequels to appease fans.

Another reason why duos lose their balance could be that one member just shows more potential for personal growth. Kili, Pippin, and even Ragetti are the younger and more naive halves of their duos, so they naturally have more to learn and more growing up to do. That often speaks more to writers, which is fine, but as the writer, you have to do something with the other duo member to offset the more compelling one's growth. Duo characters are usually together because they have a unique and firm understanding of one another, so any notable change that one of them undergoes is going to affect the other.

I think one of the best examples of a film duo done right is the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars. Their personalities are strong and distinct enough not only to complement each other when they're together, but also to make both of them interesting when they're apart. They each get a fair amount of alone time in the spotlight, but neither one ever outgrows the other because they're kind of designed to need each other.

R2-D2 is pretty much the only character that C-3PO can rant and complain around without getting dismissed, and C-3PO is the only major character who can always translate what R2-D2 is saying. Each one can only achieve his full character potential when the other is present because they're the only characters who fully allow one another to have a voice. They're equal opposites who complete each other -- a whirring, beeping, blue and gold yin yang.

The simplest advice I can think of for writing a good, balanced duo is to almost think of it like adopting twins. If you're going to bring a pair into the picture instead of just one character, then you need to be willing to raise both of them. Explore and celebrate the bond that they have, encourage them to be individuals but not to forget each other, and above all else, treat them fairly.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

No One Gastons Like Gaston

I know I wrote pretty favorably of the new Beauty and the Beast film in my last entry. I even went so far as to call it superior to the 1991 original in a lot of ways, but now that the hype over this version is calming down and I've seen it again, I think it's only fair to discuss at least one of the ways that it pales in comparison. Changing anything in a remake is a gamble, and when it comes to changing something about a character, the results can be hit or miss. Sadly, I think that the new film's version of Gaston is a miss.

The whole point of Gaston's character is that he's the same way that the Prince/Beast was before meeting Belle. He's shallow, selfish, brutish, boastful, and simple-minded. He's also meant to be the epitome of everything that's wrong with the people in Belle's town, as is shown by how much they admire him for having all of those above mentioned qualities. In short, his character needs to be instantly unlikeable and impossible to take seriously.

Just look at his introduction scene in the original film, where we see him shooting ducks out of the sky in the middle of town. Killing hapless animals by the sack-load paints a lousy enough picture of his character, but the fact that he's doing it in the middle of a crowded village where the birds could fall on anyone illustrates how inconsiderate he is even to the people who admire him. You know right away what kind of a person he is.

In contrast, the new film instantly misses the point of Gaston by making him a war hero who's returning home from battle. I guess the idea was to give the townspeople a more realistic reason for admiring him so much, but Gaston's  contribution to the story's theme is supposed to be that he's stupid and selfish. It makes little sense that someone like that could achieve the rank of captain in the military and even less sense that he would risk his life to serve his country in the first place. The film tries to explain that he joined the war effort because he likes fighting, and it can be argued that he also likes bossing around subordinates and receiving medals for his exploits, but as we saw in the original film, there are easier ways for a sociopath to channel his bloodlust.

This sacrifice of character for the sake of realism can be seen all throughout Gaston's screen time in the new version. Two other examples of it are the scenes where he attempts to woo and propose to Belle. In the original film, he goes about it in his usual narcisistic way, bragging about himself and paying no attention to Belle's input because he assumes she adores him. He tosses her favorite book into the mud and casually says that women getting ideas from reading is bad for them, then he assembles an entire wedding outside her house before even proposing to her because he can't imagine why she wouldn't say yes. He's so unabashedly pig-headed that you can't help but be entertained by him.

The new film scales back both of these scenes so much that they actually make Gaston's character inconsistent. He begins his first talk with Belle by offering her flowers and complimenting the book that she's reading, which he admits that he hasn't read himself. Not only does this make him seem sensitive and even humble to some degree, but it contradicts his lines in the song "Belle" where he clearly explains that he only values Belle's beauty and doesn't care about her personality. Gaston shouldn't be making any effort to impress her; he should think that his mere presence is enough to win her over.

The proposal scene takes this even further. In addition to scrapping the whole preemptive wedding setup, the scene has Gaston argue his case to Belle by pointing out that unmarried women in their town become beggars when their fathers die. It's such a compelling argument that Belle can't even offer a good rebuttal. This kind of logic and tact simply doesn't work coming from a character who spends one of his first scenes hitting on his own reflection with all seriousness.

That makes all of this so unfortunate is that these inconsistencies and Gaston's overall more subtle portrayal make him totally unmemorable in the new film. I either don't know what his character is about or I find him so underwhelming that I tune him out altogether. Heck, he gets out-shined by his sidekick in a song called "Gaston" that's supposed to be all about him and how great he is, and Gaston's own contributions to that song are so low-key that they seem to sap energy out of the scene. That doesn't make a good villain.

I don't blame actor Luke Evans for this portrayal of the character. He gave the performance that he was told to give and the idea behind it simply didn't translate well. That seems to be a flaw with a lot of these recent Disney remakes; story elements, pivotal moments, and characters themselves either get rushed or watered down for some reason and a lot of their emotional resonance gets lost as a result. I still think there are plenty of very good things in the new Beauty and the Beast, but there were three core characters that it had to get right, and it only managed that with two. I don't like to disagree with the beautiful beast of Meat Loaf, but when this happens in a remake of a beloved classic, two out of three can sometimes be a little bad.