Romeo and Juliet (2013) – A Movie Review

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Unfortunately, Juliet, this is not always the case.  The 2013 cinematic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet got a few things right, but it mostly missed the mark.

Just so you know, spoilers abound.  “Uh, Scott,” you say, “it’s Romeo and Juliet … you can’t spoil it for us.”  Just you wait, friend.  Just you wait.

As soon as the film opens, it becomes obvious they changed the prologue.  Yes, one of the most famous prologues of all time … altered for no discernable reason.  Surely this is an aberrance.  Surely they would not change Shakespeare’s lines throughout the entire play?  Guess what?  They do.  … and not for the better.  Sometimes it’s subtle, not overtly noticeable, but at other times it’s downright jarring.  You should know, I’m fine with leaving some dialogue out.  I’m not a Shakespeare zealot.  But literally removing dialogue and replacing it with inferior words and phrases that clearly do not belong?  Unforgivable.

I’m a positive guy, though, so let’s first discuss some things I did like.  There were a few.  I appreciated that they made Romeo a little more stoic and thus believable when he fights Tybalt and Paris.  They tend to make Romeo get lucky against Tybalt, or overwhelm him through blind rage, but in this case, Romeo outfought the Prince of Cats.  I also felt glad that they actually included Paris at the tomb and showed Romeo slaying him, which, in my opinion, is integral to the character.  They included the Friar at the crypt, which, again, is so very important.  The locations were beautiful, the costumes appeared authentic, the weaponry looked impressive and, more importantly, dangerous.

Sadly, the list of things for which I do not approve is far longer.  Mercutio is, frankly, boring and now related to Romeo, which alters the character in such an extreme manner that he is no longer recognizable or engaging.  Instead of his death proving a pivotal moment in the plot, it served instead as a footnote.  Benvolio looks about twelve years old and does not for an instant carry the gravitas the role demands.  Rosaline actually appears and speaks, which negates the mystery of the woman who first captured Romeo’s heart.  Tybalt comes across as pure crazy instead of half-crazy, rendering him totally unsympathetic.  Lady Capulet is actually likable and says not one mean thing to Juliet—this of course neuters the drama midway through the film.  Lord Capulet is far less manic than the play implies and, as a result, far less dangerous, which also sterilizes what should have been an emotionally charged moment when Juliet refuses to marry Paris.  Romeo, while a little more masculine in terms of mannerisms, voice, and fighting than previous incarnations, emits not one ounce of passion or romance.   Again, this new direction destroyed much of what made Romeo so identifiable (and, yes, annoying).  Juliet did not strike a chord with me at all, thus doing a great disservice to the character.  In the play, Juliet is assertive, clever, charismatic, and wise beyond her years.  In this film, she mumbled a lot and didn’t even come close to shining until her death scene.

The Friar, though, is perhaps the greatest failure of the film.  I hoped to be amazed when they included him at the tomb, something most adaptations refuse to tackle, but found myself left unsatisfied.  Instead of the Friar abandoning Juliet to her fate, this Friar begs her to join him, and when she won’t, tells Juliet he will hold of the guards until she’s said her goodbye to Romeo.  When the Friar returns, escorted by the guard, he looks horrified to find that Juliet killed herself.  This is such a fundamental deviation in the Friar’s established character that it changes the entire film.  The Friar was a coward in the play; he left Juliet to her fate in order to save himself, and was then caught by the guard.  He knew Juliet would kill herself, and left her to it.  To make him a naïve hero in this film was a grave misstep.  Consequently, the error is inconsistent with the movie as a whole.

Furthermore, while the older actors in the film did a fine job even if their lines were misguided, the younger actors, particularly those playing Romeo and Juliet, did not appear to fully understand the depth of their characters.  In fact, it was quite apparent that the actors in the film were doing just that, acting.  I didn’t believe for a minute that I watched dynamic, living characters on the screen.  There was no hint of magnetism between Romeo and Juliet, nor any loyalty between Mercutio and Romeo.  The two most powerful relationships in the play were reduced to the equivalent of a table reading—dispassionate, uninspired, and flat.

Honestly, I have to wonder if the director and producers understood the timeless themes of the play at all.  They cheapened a play that, I feel, encapsulates humanity’s greatest weaknesses and strengths when it comes to both love and lust.  They reduced it to a fast-paced, fancy, made-for-TV movie without a hint of profundity.

I have no problem with artists adapting The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet as long as the core of the play remains intact. However, once characters start behaving radically different, once dialogue is mindlessly tossed in, and once themes are ignored or trampled over, it ceases to be an adaption and instead becomes a travesty, no matter how pretty it is.


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Dialogue Versus Description

Because I much prefer to read dialogue rather than description, it seems only natural that I also use far more dialogue in my writing than I do description.  This can be a tricky thing, though, because too much dialogue can overburden the reader, especially if it’s forced or stiff.

I think I first noticed that I liked terse writing when I discovered both Paul Auster and Cormac McCarthy.  I want to make it clear that I am in no way comparing myself to either of those two enormous talents, but their particular styles spoke to me, and their methods couldn’t help but influence my own writing.

Abundant description is, for me, tedious.  Don’t get me wrong, description is where writers such as Michael Chabon truly shine because it is an opportunity for them to display both their fertile imaginations and their mastery of the sentence.  Consequently, while I am not a fan of description, I do appreciate well-constructed writing.  However, I have always been a writer (and reader) far more invested in characters, and I want to digest the story through their thoughts and words with few roadblocks.  As you probably guessed, I correlate ample description with roadblocks.

In all honesty, I don’t consider myself a master of the written sentence.  I don’t pretend to know every rule of grammar in existence, nor, frankly, do I much care.  For me, the characters’ story is the most important thing.  It needs to be rich, exciting, fast-paced, and if there is anything that does not contribute immediately to the progression of the story or the illustration of a character, then it doesn’t belong.

In my mind, the reader can deduce far more from a character’s words than through a narrator’s description, and it means more to the reader because there is no buffer.  I enjoy discovering character through words and action. When I read I like imagining the tone of the dialogue based upon what I know of the character.  Certain characters speak certain ways, use certain words, and even employ certain tones.  The narrator can provide all of that information, but the reader becomes far more invested by earning those nuances through personal mining.

So, the difficulty is in making sure that the dialogue is realistic, pleasurable to read, and serving a purpose.  Too much dialogue is just the narrator executing a sneak attack.  Too little dialogue wastes the reader’s time, as well as the story’s.

It’s a delicate balance, but one I enjoy trying to achieve.

I’d love your opinion on the matter.  Do you prefer dialogue or description?  Be sure to provide an explanation.

The Lego Movie – A Movie Review

Though there are a million perks to having children, one of them is that you get to go to kids’ movies without anyone giving you funny looks.  When my five-year-old and I saw the preview for The Lego Movie, we both cracked up, especially with the Batman bits.  We knew we had to see it when it came out.

Truth be told, however, we’re not really a Lego family.  I was more of an action figure kid, so the Lego does not hold the same mystical power over me that it did over some friends.  Nonetheless, it looked kid-friendly, funny, and because there aren’t that many movies out there for kids, we went.  Plus, Batman’s in it, and I’m kind of a Batman guy.

I’ll be honest, at first I thought it might be a little too intense for my daughter.  Though it wasn’t overtly violent, there were lots of explosions, gunfire, and fast action.  We’re a Disney, Jr. family, so my child isn’t accustomed to such all-out spectacle.  I leaned over and asked her if it scared her, and she said no, she loved it.  So there you go.

It was a funny movie, to be sure, and it also impressed visually.  Of course, everything was in the shape of a Lego, so, unless you’re a geometry fan, I wouldn’t say it was pretty to look at, but certainly impressive.  I had some concerns that it would turn into a giant Lego commercial, but that never happened.  Like I said, we’re not a Lego family, so I’m not even sure if every Lego shown in the film is an actual toy available for purchase.

As the movie wore on, though, I found myself drifting a bit.  The story made sense, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere.  It got a little repetitive, and, honestly, I just started to wonder how much longer until it ended.  I dismissed these facts due to it being a children’s movie.  I presumed the meandering plot was simply the byproduct of lazy creators.

My mistake.

The final act of the movie brilliantly explained why the plot seemed a little childish, and then, somewhere between the cracks and crevices, a message arrived.  Actually, two messages arrived, one for the parents, and one for the kids.  Of course, my kid picked up on the message to the parents as well, which made me proud of her.  I can’t really discuss it without spoiling the movie, but you old Lego collectors with children better loosen you grip.

All in all, The Lego Movie entertained.  The jokes were funny, the action blazed along and, at times, struck me as fairly intense.  I particularly enjoyed all the cameos by other Lego toys (super heroes, famous movie characters, movie monsters, etc.).  Also, if you kept your ears sharp, you could figure out some of the voice actors, and many of them were very surprising and sounded like they were having a great time.

Again, the most surprising element of the movie arrived in the final act, and it made the entire movie work for me.  The final act proved a stroke of genius by the creators, one that made perfect sense but also caught me completely off guard.  Though the film is primarily aimed at kids, the grown-up audience can take away something special as well.

If you love Lego, you’ll probably cherish this film.  But even as casual fans, we enjoyed it, too.  How could we not?  It had Batman in it!

(Oh, and I dare you not to sing “Everything is Awesome” as you walk out the theater.)

The Flash: Rogues Revolution (Volume 2) by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato – A Book Review

I love the Flash.  I’ve loved the Flash since childhood.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I especially loved Mark Waid and Geoff Johns’ runs on the Flash. I loved Barry, then I loved Wally, and then I loved Barry again (and I’m anxiously awaiting Wally’s return).

The New 52 felt unnecessary when it came to the Flash.  After all, Barry Allen had only recently returned to the role and Geoff Johns went to a lot of trouble to adapt the Flash’s world to accommodate Wally, Jay, and Barry.  But, even with that said, I didn’t mind the (sort of) reboot.  Comics are a perpetual medium, and companies must freshen things up as a whole every so often.

I’m telling you all of this because I like the Flash.  I really like the Flash.  I want to like the Flash.  And while I love The New 52 Flash’s art and its dedication to interesting layouts and an unrelenting sense of forward momentum, I can’t help but feel the stories are a step behind.

For me, and this is only my opinion, this volume of The Flash feel frenetic, and that’s good when it comes to art depicting the Fastest Man Alive, but not helpful when it comes to coherence.  The plots are rushed, the characterization is spotty (Barry’s a bartender now?), and the dialogue … Well, that’s one of my main sticking points.  The dialogue is clunky.  I really hate to criticize, but all of the characters’ sounded the same to me.  I did not get a sense of a distinct personality from any of them.

Finally, granting the Rogues super powers is another step in the wrong direction.  I believe part of the Rogues’ charm was their ridiculous technology.  Next to Batman, Flash has some of the best villains out there, but unlike the Batman, they were really just crooks with some nifty gadgets.  Did anyone ever really think they stood a chance against a man who can move in the blink of an eye?  Johns did a wonderful job of conveying this irony during his first run on the title.  I understand the intent may be to make them more of a challenge to the Flash, but giving them super powers isn’t the way to achieve it.  I would instead have perhaps amped up their equipment, given it a more modern touch somehow, or, perhaps, rounded out their characterization.  Again, between Waid and Johns, it would be hard to add more depth to them, but simply giving them powers seems too easy and, ultimately, boring.

Now, I admit that I could be wrong.  Perhaps there is a master plan in the works here, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit.  Perhaps Manapul and Buccellato are playing the long game, and what seems haphazard and disjointed will ultimately be a complex, interwoven tale that satisfies.  As of right now, though, I’m hesitant to believe this is the case.

Will I keep buying The Flash?  Probably, because I love the character, the art is some of the best in the industry, and, from what I hear, creative changes are looming.  I’ve followed this character since the early 80s and I see no reason to stop now, even if the actual storytelling isn’t my cup of tea at the moment.

Cupid’s Conundrum: A Valentine’s Short Story

Cupid’s got a bit of a problem. He now appears old and decrepit, and he’s lost his will to spark romance. In fact, on St. Valentine’s Day, he’s content to merely mope on a park bench, sulking. What has brought Cupid to this lowly state, and is there any way Bernie and Patti can renew his vigor to unite lovers?

This humorous short story is available through the Kindle or Kindle App for only $00.99.  If you’re looking for a tale to warm your heart and tickle your funny bone, I hope you’ll give it a read by clicking HERE!

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker – A Book Review

I discovered this book through a positive review within the pages of Entertainment Weekly, and, I must admit, the premise really captured my imagination.  I’ve long found golems and genies fascinating, and the idea of making each a main character in a book set against late nineteenth century New York City, well, that’s a concept I can certainly support.  I found myself truly excited to read this book.

Wecker did not disappoint.  Not only is her idea a good one, but she is also a fine writer.  In fact, while I detest the confines of “genre,” some may find her style far more literary than expected.  She really strives to write beautiful sentences.  Furthermore, the vastness of her fertile imagination continually impressed me throughout the novel.  She does not restrict herself to New York City alone, her story also visits locales hundreds, even thousands, of years into the past throughout Europe and the Middle East.  Moreover, while I know nothing about the different communities within New York City from over one hundred years ago, she seems accurate with both her description and characterization.  It’s rather obvious she did her homework.

My only complaint is that the story went on a little too long.  I feel that about fifty pages could have been cut out, but that’s simply my opinion and many would certainly disagree.  With that being said, the last eighty or so pages move at a vigorous pace and I honestly could not put it down.  I’m especially glad that while it threatened to become a love story, it never fully dove into those waters.  It honestly had a touch of everything – horror, action, romance, fantasy, even humor.  In the end, though, it came to us through a literary lens, which is one of the things I most appreciated.

Wecker executes an intricate, well-woven plot that, ultimately, fits together seamlessly.  She clearly put a great deal of thought into this book and it is a credit to her that her writing style lived up to the richness of the plot.

For those seeking pure horror or overt swords and sorcery, I would look elsewhere.  But for those seeking a very well written tale driven by its characters with exquisite detail and ample using of magical realism, The Golem and the Jinni is for you.