film

Fall 2017 Issue is Now Available!

Fall Cover

The Fall 2017 issue is here!

Check out some amazing pieces of writing and art for free via Amazon.com. This free edition is only available as an ebook. Make sure to download the Fall 2017 issue before September 1st. Click here to get your free copy.

Print versions of the Fall 2017 issue will also be available on blurb.com for only $11! Get yours here. Hurry, this sale will only last until September 1st!

We will also be selling print issues (while supplies last) at every Writer’s Workshop Reading Series event, starting Tuesday, September 20, from 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the University of Nebraska Omaha Art Gallery or Milo Bail Student Center, depending on where the reading takes place. You can see a list of the reading series dates and locations here.

Slipping Into Something a Little More Uncomfortable with “The Lobster”: Tone in Visual Story Telling

In a sea of summer Rom-Coms and big-budget franchise films, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ the Lobster emerged much quieter but just as decadent with an interesting aftertaste.

To briefly explain, the narrative centers on a society in which being single has been deemed illegal and the concept of love, impractical. Hours after his wife has left him, our protagonist is forced into a hotel where he must find a new companion within 45 days, based on even the most inane similarities, such as being nearsighted or be turned into the animal of his choice to try again in that realm. The plot alone is enticing, but what really makes the film work is how the story is presented. Like any good dystopian sci-fi film, the viewers are made to feel unsettled, presumably to invoke cultural or self-reflection. The Lobster is far from discreet in its criticism of a culture that commercializes swiping right to find a soulmate but it also pokes fun at the over-romanticization of “the single life”.

Although dystopian in nature, the world presented looks no different than our own, creating an eerie sense of reality that makes the subtle but strange sci-fi elements (like a random camel roaming in an out of frame) pop. It’s made even more uninviting by creating a sideline perspective; much like Scorsese’s Raging Bull, the audience watches the confrontations from a distance, from behind branches, or passenger seats of the car— almost as if we aren’t supposed to be seeing it. Yet, with long tracking shots and scenes devoid of any musical cushioning, we’re stuck. Stuck searching for any sense of warmth and relief— much like the main character.

The hotel represents the rational side of a partnership with indifference and consistency proving to be the quickest way to a mate (and if that doesn’t cut it, you get the bonus of a child to smooth things over). The environment is muted, a bland barrage of yellows and greys. Everyone dresses the same and most, if not every interaction is spoken through soft, monotone dialogue. Every act of passion is met with horrific punishment, whether its a man having his hand burnt via toaster for pursuing his “animal nature” or a woman’s screams from failed suicide attempt ignored. These shots are not short. The pacing of the hotel sequence drags and is done so to raise the tension in these characters. Stress, anxiety, and almost boredom stack on each other until the protagonist eventually escapes. Suddenly the screen is filled with a burst of color.

The second act of the film in which the protagonist lives with the Loners in the woods acts as a stark contrast to the hotel, filled with a lightness and that the audience quickly laps up. The pacing speeds up and just as we are getting comfortable a newfound and naturally intimate relationship, we’re reminded that there’s no in between in this world. The group sneaks into the city to gain supplies, posing in couples, but the protagonist and his love interest stick out without the lushness of the woods to hide them. And in this world, you are either blandly together or vividly alone. After they return the love interest is blinded, taking away the near-sightedness that had matched them.

Although we’re shown scenes of them attempting to continue the relationship, filled with the hope of a happy ending— of beating the system, the final shot is of her sitting alone. She waits for him to return after blinding himself as a sign of true love. The viewer sits waiting for a release, any sign of commitment, and we’re left wanting as the last thing we see is her alone.

The question ever-present in the Lobster is this: what is worse, being alone and “free” or being loved and less alive? And much like the ending of the film, no one knows the right answer, so, we sit and wait to decide what we would— or should—  do if placed in these circumstances. Even the promotional posters speak to this absence of an answer to what we’re really looking for by having both characters lovingly embrace empty space.

Lanthimos has created a message that stays with his audience well after the lights come back on, and he did this not only through the intriguing world he created but in the way he served it to us. Pacing, lighting, color, sound, and staging are all crucial seasonings added into the pot that makes this type of narrative so striking. Trust me, there aren’t many fish out there in the sea like this one.

To see more  discussion of visual storytelling technique and development of craft in film, check out the marvelous youtube channels, Every Frame A Painting and Channel Criswell

To read more reviews of “The Lobster”:

“The The Lobster (2016) Is Thought Provoking Indie-Weirdness – Movie Review”

“Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘I just think it’s interesting to start a dialogue’”

“The Lobster review: ‘like nothing you’ve seen before’ “

“Why ‘The Lobster’ Is So Lopsided”

It’s Kind Of A PSA

A speaker last week jokingly said to my class, “Always tell writers you admire that you admire them, they like that”.

And then I remembered something— a longstanding regret.

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cover of Vizzini’s novel, published 2006

For those who are unaware of who Ned Vizzini is, he wrote many quirky takes on sci-fi, such as the Other Normals and Be More Chill, but is most well known for his novel, It’s Kind of A Funny Story, originally published in 2006, and made in to a movie in 2010 starring Ema Roberts.

its-kind-of-a-funny-story.17034

cover of the 2010 film adaptation

The book was about a teen who commits himself to a hospital after phoning a suicide hotline and his interactions and reflections with and about the people he encounters. Vizzini was very open about the fact that the book was inspired by his own hospitalization for depression in 2004.

I read this book when I was 16, when I was battling my own demons along with the other side effects of my high school career. It felt like fate.  I became engrossed in the novel, sitting on that last page and sobbing like I was saying goodbye to a person who really understood me. Afterwards, I took to the library and was thrilled to find Vizzini’s autobiography entitled Teen Angst, Naaah.

I had expected to find a dreary, self-deprecating man, instead I found a charming, awkward individual. I am fully aware, as a writer, that we don’t always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to stories about ourselves. But since he was so open about his mental health, it was surprising to me to find such a wonderful voice within. I found myself at times commenting on how normal he seemed.

In the back of his autobiography there was a link to his website where he encouraged people to email him about writing, books, and their lives. I wrote four drafts of an email but never sent it. I convinced myself that even if he did read it I would get the generic, “just keep writing”, or “it’s so nice to hear you say that”.  Even though I had spent so much time with this voice, I didn’t think I could connect the way I’d wanted to.

And honestly, I still don’t know if I would’ve. Authors are busy after all. But when I found out that his demons had gotten the better of him in 2013, there was nothing I had wished for more. Even if he didn’t respond— even if he didn’t read it, I wish I had emailed him to tell him how impressed I was with his storytelling, his character development— how much I wanted to mirror that skill in my own writing. I wish I had told him how much he had meant to me as a person when I read about his teenage years, his awkward but entertaining thought processes; how well spoken, and witty he was in interviews.

I admired him for all he was, and still cherish what he’s left behind on the page.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you all to tell those whom you admire— that you do. I bet they’ll like that.

You can see his website here

To read more about National Mental Awareness month, see here

Are the Classics Getting Too Kitschy?

Let’s face it— original ideas are a rare thing to find these days. With the countless comic book adaptations (enough with the Spider Man reboots, please. Give us time to grieve for Gwen!), slightly off-putting live-action remakes, and Disney re-dos, I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that classic literature would find its way into the mix.

Re-imagining of classic works, itself, is not the issue, Warm Bodies, Clueless, and 10 Things I Hate About You are a testament to what a good adaptation can do for dense literature. But man, has it been hard out here for a proud Austenite lately. Pride and Prejudice is a popular story: it’s easy to follow, overflows with witty and charming characters, and does, admittedly, seem to work in any period with its social commentary. But this timelessness has also been its curse.

In 2009 vampires were “the thing” (not even Abraham Lincoln escaped the trend). So, of course, Darcy being the dark, mysterious, and the brooding man that he is, was cast in the role of the vamp in Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. Other than seeing it plopped on every “popular YA” table in bookstores, I heard little about the book and was less impressed when I found myself flipping through the pages. I do not fault the author for anything, mind you, book deals are hard to get and sometimes ‘ya gotta pander. But that doesn’t change the fact it was fanfiction soon forgotten.

In 2012 the internet series the Lizzie Bennet Diaries took over Tumblr. It put the Bennet sisters smack in the middle of the growing popularity of vlogging. The series, again, is not bad— but absolutely replaces the richness of character development with comedic parody that doesn’t always land.

You see where I’m heading—

Yes, this year was the arrival of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the big screen, and I was not surprised in the slightest. Since the outbreak of the Walking Dead, zombies have become the go-to and everyone is hoping to use them to catch a bite of success.

Critics weren’t taking it.

“This gimmicky reworking of Jane Austen’s classic uses deadpan decapitations to satire the prim costume drama but its gags are ultimately unearned.”

—Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian

“Tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt substantial audiences.”

—Andrew Barker, Variety

But what’s the problem with kitsch in media like this? People like kitsch, right? From lava lamps to memes, kitsch culture is something that has been deemed almost admirable. Kitsch has been able to poke fun at the iconic and the “cool” in media that’s made to be consumed like fast food, quick and dirty.

But for those purists, those hardcore lovers of literature, this type of relationship is a little unsatisfactory. Kitsch adaptations are like the friend you love to party with, the ones who’re always good for a laugh but then are nowhere to be found when you need them. Are these relationships worth having?

What do you think? Are kitsch adaptations just another form of flattery or an eye-rolling affair? Do they have a place in the literary world? Let us know in the comments!