Movie Review: The Host (2013)

May 1, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

the-host-poster

There is only a handful of times in a life that one will see a movie that is so laughably pathetic that they don’t even know how to react to it. The Host is one such movie.

Based on a book written by the skilled pen of Stephenie Meyer, the author who bestowed upon us the Twilight Saga, The Host tells the story of how mankind has been mostly taken over by an alien race. These aliens, who look like big dandelions and are called “Souls” (convenient), inject themselves into human bodies and use them as hosts (hence the clever title). The consciousness of the original human owner is erased and replaced by the alien, who still retains the human’s memories and knowledge. One particular alien called Wanderer takes over the body of a young girl, Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), whose consciousness refuses to subside and battles the alien for control of the body. The alien is moved by this wonderful love Melanie had as a human with Jeremy Iron’s son, Max Irons, but there’s also some other dude (Jake Abel from I Am Number Four — Kevin Bacon’s son?) that fancies her — cue patented Stephenie Meyer love triangle.

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Twilight. Shudder.

I can imagine this kind of story working as a novel, but as a film (especially one that is merely hoping to cash in on Twilight‘s popularity) it just had no chance. I tried to give The Host a genuine shot, but the plot had more holes than Prometheus and the love triangle made the one in Twilight seem like the greatest love triangle of all time. I found myself either shaking my head or bursting out in laughter from the unintentional hilarity for almost the entirety of the torturous 125-minute running time.

Technically, the visuals and the direction of Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, In Time) are fine. Even the performances from the all-star cast (which also includes William Hurt and Diane Kruger) are not too bad, considering the lines they had to spew out. But there is little anyone could do when the source material and the screenplay and dialogue are so awful. For starters, Saoirse Ronan has conversations with herself all throughout the movie because she is, um, trapped within herself. Trust me, it’s stupid.

Then there are the questions. Of all the relationships in the world, the alien is moved by one between a young girl and guy who have known each other for a couple of months? WTF? Why does Wanderer (“Wanda”) go from hated enemy one second to the most beloved and trusted ally the next? Why does Jake Abel go from wanting to kill Wanda one second to wanting to make out with her the next? Why does she have to make out with people for contrived reasons? (There is, I swear, one scene where the guys take turns making out with her). The list goes on.

And the ending, which I will not give away, is the icing on the cake. You have to see it to believe it.

What else can I say? The Host is dull, lacking in tension, excitement and heart, and just plain absurd. Avoid it if you dare.

0.5 out of 5…

The “I can do better” writer’s syndrome

April 22, 2011 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing

Could you do better than this man?

One thing I have noticed lately, especially on forums, is that certain nameless, faceless people think they can do better than some of the biggest selling authors out there — Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, Stieg Larsson — just to name a few.  Even the ones that come short of actually saying it imply it with their trashing of the author’s writing and shock that their books have sold so well.

Sorry to break it to those people, but you can’t.  If you could, you would have done it already.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with critiquing a writer or a piece of work.  Even the most revered masterpieces have their critics.  People have different tastes, and no piece of writing is ever going to please every reader.

But to say you can do better is a big call.  There is so much that goes into putting together a novel than these ‘I can do better’ people can fathom.  Sure, luck does play a role, sometimes a significant one, but at the end of the day, a mixture of skill, talent, perseverance and determination is imperative in putting together a bestseller.  And time — finding the time to actually complete it is probably the biggest obstacle of all.

The truth is, good writing alone is not enough to sell books.  It’s about meeting the demands of the market, bring at the right place at the right time, and having an interesting idea.  An idea that appeals to the masses.

Dan Brown, the creator of The Da Vinci Code, is an oft-targeted author.  His writing is, admittedly, nothing spectacular from a technical standpoint, but it’s adequate.  He also has his strengths, being an excellent craftsman of page turners.  But is that why The Da Vinci Code was such an international phenomenon?  Of course not.  It’s because he identified something when he read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and realised that it would make an awesome premise for a thriller.  At least one that would be highly controversial.

But was that all he needed, a good idea?  Of course not again.  He must have spent hundreds of hours researching and piecing the story together, and who knows how long he spent creating the novel’s many cryptic puzzles?  Then, he had to actually write the damn thing.  I recall reading somewhere that for every page of The Da Vinci Code, there were another 10 pages that ended up on the cutting room floor.  How can anyone not find that an impressive effort?

There are times when I am reading a particular writer’s work and I don’t think it is any good, and I start wondering if I can write something better.  But I tell myself that it’s one thing to tell yourself that you may have the potential ability to do it, but it’s another thing altogether to actually get it done.

E-Book Millionaire Gives Hope to Aspiring Writers

March 6, 2011 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Websites

Source: smh.com.au

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to an article about 26 year-old Amanda Hocking, who is apparently making ‘millions’ in the e-book market on Amazon.

Being an aspiring novelist, I was intrigued by her success, especially since there’s been nothing but depressing news lately on the publishing front with the collapse of RedGroup Retail, the owner of both the Borders and Angus & Robertson bookseller chains in Australia.

Can a writer really become successful selling e-books on Amazon?  Well, Hocking has.  She prices her books between 99 cents and $2.99, but gets to keep 70% of all sales.  She reportedly sells around 100,000 books a month, so by my calculations that would net her between $70,000 and $210,000 a month.  Those are numbers any writer with commercial aspirations would die to have.

Anyway, I looked up Hocking’s blog here, and learned that she is American, and she writes paranormal romance, which means that she probably owes some of her success to that person who wrote a love story between a human and a vampire (and a werewolf).  Hocking’s the bestselling author of Trylle Trilogy and the My Blood Approves series.

However, what I found most interesting came from her post on March 3rd, which really put things in perspective for me.  I’ll just quote her directly:

Everybody seems really excited about what I’m doing and how I’ve been so successful, and from what I’ve been able to understand, it’s because a lot of people think that they can replicate my success and what I’ve done. And while I do think I will not be the only one to do this – others will be as successful as I’ve been, some even more so – I don’t think it will happen that often.

Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.

I don’t think people really grasp how much work I do. I think there is this very big misconception that I was like, “Hey, paranormal is pretty hot right now,” and then I spent a weekend smashing out some words, threw it up online, and woke up the next day with a million dollars in my bank account.

This is literally years of work you’re seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn’t writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore, which sucks and terrifies me.

I also have this tremendous sense of urgency, like if I don’t get everything out now and do everything now, while the iron is hot, everything I’ve worked for will just fall away. For the first time, I truly understand why workaholics are workaholics. You can’t stop working, because if you do, it unravels all the work you’ve already done. You have to keep going, or you’ll die.

Or at least that’s how it feels.

How about that?  I admit, I was one of those people that thought, maybe this is just some girl who got lucky riding the Stephenie Meyer wave, pretty much like how she described it above.  But of course, while she must have had some luck along the way (as most successful writers do), she succeeded because of hard work and persistence– not just in writing and editing but also in promoting and marketing her books.

While I do envy Hocking’s success, what I envy most is her determination and sense of urgency.  She’s not an overnight success, even if that’s what the media is painting her out to be.  She has been writing for years, written 19 books, with 8 novels and 1 novella published.  She didn’t get e-published until April 2010, and since then has sold 900,000 copies across 9 titles.

That’s the mental stuff I need to develop — that burning desire to work every waking moment I get, continuously striving to perfect my craft and work.

Kind of like what Charlie Sheen is doing right now — making the most of his life (and winning!).

The Depressing World of Publishing

August 4, 2010 in Novel, On Writing

I’m back into the swing of things with my writing course, which has so far been extremely satisfying and enjoyable (for the most part).  Two of my subjects this term are editing and writing feature articles, both aspects of writing I’m really looking forward to.  The classes this first week have been small (less than 10, though a lot of people who were supposed to be there didn’t rock up) — and about 50% of students are ex-lawyers!  That says it all, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it was interesting and depressing to learn about how difficult it is to crack into the publishing world and how difficult it is to stay there once you make that breakthrough.  It’s hard, it’s rough, and for the vast majority, little money to be made (especially in a small market place like Australia).

For starters, most big publishing houses these days don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts.  They just don’t have time for slush piles, 99% of which is unpublishable drivel anyway (or so they say).  That means you need a literary agent, but not many agents accept people who have never been published.  Does that even make sense?  You can’t publish unless you can get an agent but you can’t get an agent unless you’re published.

Secondly, publishing has evolved into an industry where it’s all about making money.  Gone are the days where commercial fiction is used to prop up the literary fiction that generally don’t make any money.  If your book is unlikely to sell, then chances are the publisher won’t even consider it.  It could be a masterpiece, but if there is no market for the book, it’s unlikely the book will see the light of day.

There are some boutique publishers these days more willing to take on unknown writers and literary fiction writers, but the money to be made there is very small (clearly not enough to live off) and their budget for advertising/promotion etc will obviously be a lot more limited.  But at least there’s a chance.

Thirdly, and relatedly, it’s hard to keep books on the shelves these days with the increasingly accurate counting of book sales (thanks to systems such as Bookscan).  Bookscan essentially tabulates real sales from most bookstores across Australia (I’m sure there are similar systems across the world) into an exact, concrete figure.

This is important because back in the old days it was easier for publishers to inflate the success of their writers by manipulating the numbers.  For instance, you may print 5,000 books in your first run, and 4,000 of them are sold to bookstores.  The publisher might then say you sold 4,000 books, which is technically true — but of those 4,000, perhaps only 2,000 are sold from the stores, with the rest returned.  Now, there’s no hiding the truth.  If you sold 163 copies, you sold 163 copies.

So if you finally managed to get that first book published but it sold poorly, your chances of getting a second book published becomes that much harder.  You can’t even go to another publisher and lie about the success of your first book because they’ll have all the numbers right there in front of them.

Fourthly, and also related, is the fact that books don’t stay on the shelves for very long.  New titles that don’t perform well are pulled off the shelves within 3 months.  3 months!  How does that even give people a chance?  How can you build any momentum, any word of mouth?  It may take 3 months just for some people to read the book!

The need to make money out of every book on the shelf as become a recurring nightmare for aspiring authors.  That’s why we have the vicious cycle of the same books remaining on the bestsellers lists every week — you know, the Stieg Larssons, the Stephenie Meyers, the JK Rowlings and the Dan Browns — because these books are proven sellers.  People tend to gravitate to what’s “hot”, what everyone else is reading.  Hence instead of bringing in new books, book stores prefer to stock new versions (often just different sizes and covers) of existing titles to freshen them up a bit — the best example I can think of are the movie-tie-in versions and the Twilight red page-edge versions.

Let’s face it, the chances of becoming one of those superstar authors mentioned above are a hundred million to one.  Those guys can live (well, except for Larsson because he’s dead) off the sales of one book for the rest of their lives.  For everyone else, they’ll have to keep writing.

The advances on royalties for new authors in Australia are excrutiatingly small.  Essentially what they do is make a prediction of how many books you will sell, and then multiple that by 10% of the price of the book.  So if the book costs $30 and they think you will sell 2,000 copies, then your advance is $6,000.  Considering the book may have taken you 10 years to write, that’s not a lot of money.  And if the book ends up selling more than 2,000 copies, then each additional copy sold will earn you 10% in royalties.

The problem is, in a small market such as Australia, selling around 15,000 to 20,000 (in total) would be considered successful.  Even if each book is priced at $50, that’s still only $75,000-$100,000 — not exactly money you can retire on — and that’s only if your book is a success.

Look, there are still plenty of local success stories out there, such as Rebecca James (author of Beautiful Malice), which I talked about in this post here.  But these are rare, rare cases.  It’s like winning the lottery.

Few authors can become international superstars like Meyer and Rowling, but there are many minor to moderately successful writers who have been snapped up for multiple book deals at a price equivalent to working in a decent job (say $100,000-$200,000 a year).  That’s a pretty comfortable living.

However, the pressure of churning out one or even two books a year could take the fun out of the writing, and more importantly, the quality of the books will suffer.  Can you imagine being contracted to write one book every 12 months, especially if you say took 5 years to write your first one?  Can you write one every 6 months, and expect to put in the same amount of effort and ensure the same level of quality as your previous books?

That’s exactly why we have so many reasonably well-known authors (not going to mention names) that seem to continuously bring out new books, but each one is worse than the next.  It gets people wondering why the quality of their new stuff is so much less inspiring than their old stuff.  But at the end of the day, they still sell, and that’s what publishers care about.  After all, they are the ones putting up the money.

So it’s hard to get an agent.  It’s hard to get published.  It’s hard to stay on the shelves.  It’s even harder to get republished.  The money is unlikely to be good.  And even if you do get signed for more books, it might not be exactly what you were hoping for.

And yet, despite all of this, I continue to write, and I continue to dream.  Why?  It reminds me of this awful movie I just watched (review coming shortly) where a woman says that her daughter is studying and wants to get into creative writing.  Her male companion is shocked and says, “But how is she going to make any money?”  The woman responds stoically, “She’s doing what she loves.”  I can relate to that.

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

July 2, 2010 in Movie Reviews

Twilight hype continues to rage around the world with the release of the third film in the “Saga” — Eclipse.  I just went to see it with my sister who is visiting from out of town.  She’s not a Twilight “fan” per se, but she was excited.  I on the other hand, having read the book at the beginning of the year, was a little more ambivalent about the whole thing, but still wanted to see it.

Well, the third instalment of Twilight fever was a bit of a “meh” affair.  It picks up where the second film left off, with Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) in blissful love with her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), and neglecting her werewolf best friend Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), who has a hopeless crush on her.  But all is not well because people are dying under mysterious circumstances in Seattle and it appears Bella is the ultimate target.  Who could it be?  Trust me, it’s bleedingly obvious.

Director David Slade (who directed the impressive 30 Days of Night and the excellent Hard Candy) probably did all he could with this one.  While it contained the most climatic dramatic and action sequences of the series thus far, Eclipse had me yawning and laughing (at the unintentional humour) more regularly than I should have.

The novel version of Eclipse is referred to by many Twilight fans as the best of the Saga, though I personally thought it was very long and not much happened until the very end.  Plus that Bella is really annoying!  So to be honest I thought the movie was better than the book because it only took up 2 hours as opposed to a couple of weeks and still managed to essentially cover all the main points of the novel.

By now we’re all familiar with the core characters and their traits, so we don’t find out anything new about them.  What we have is more of the same old from the last two films (sexual tension and corny dialogue), but even more dramatic and intense.

Bella continues to be torn between two “men” who love her and can’t decide what she wants to do with her life.  I’ve been a fan of Kristen Stewart since Into the Wild, but there’s no denying that she was irritating in this one.  Her acting was better (she showed more range than that singular “I’ve got something stuck in my throat” expression) but it didn’t make Bella a more sympathetic character.  There were many whispers of “slut” throughout the cinema during a couple of scenes!

Rob Patz’s Edward Cullen takes a bit of a back seat in this one, even though he has more screen time than in New Moon.  He is still disgustingly sweet and overprotective, but he felt strangely hollow.  It may have something to do with the constant strain on his face and in his voice.  Give the poor guy some metamucil.

Again, it’s up to Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black and his ripped bod to save the show.  Lautner has some horribly melodramatic lines, but to his credit, he manages to pull most them off without generating laughter.  He’s the only central character out of the three to develop any sort of connection with me.

The returning cast (such as Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Dakota Fanning, Ashley Greene and Kellan Lutz etc) do a solid job with their smaller roles, and it was good to find out the back stories of some of the vampires and werewolves through flashbacks.  However, the casting of Bryce Dallas Howard as the villain Victoria was a terrible choice to replace Rachelle Lefevre.  She has the same long red curls but has zero menace.  A real disappointment considering what a fantastic actress she is.

To sum it all up, Eclipse is a passable effort for the third film of a blockbuster franchise.  Nothing about it is great, but I can’t exactly point to anything that was done too badly.  It gives fans what they want — which is more mushy stuff between the three leads, plus more vampire/werewolf action — but it’s unlikely to turn non-fans into new fans of the Saga.

3 stars out of 5

PS: It was interesting to see several characters sporting Justin Bieber haircuts.