Movie Night: I Kill Giants

Year: 2018
Genre: Fantasy/Drama
Cast: Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, Madison Wolfe

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Barbara Thorson struggles through life by escaping into a fantasy life of magic and monsters.

IMDb

I’m not a super big fan of graphic novels (which isn’t to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have much experience with the medium), so it came as a pleasant surprise to realize the origin of this charming, sad and rewarding tale came from illustrated pages (and quite acclaimed ones, as I understand it).

Not that this should – or did – affect my take on the film itself, which stands strong in its own right. Masterfully crafted – somewhat in the style of Peter Jackson’s take on The Lovely Bones, with a seamless blend of intimate personal shots and grandiose, epic CGI giants – the visuals nonetheless serve only as a backdrop to an intense and rewarding story of love, despair, loss, grief and renewal.

Going into the movie with no previous knowledge of the story, and having seen it billed as ‘fantasy’ with glorious posters of villainous-looking giants, it genuinely wasn’t clear to me for a large portion of the film whether the titular creatures were real, or merely in the imagination of the protagonist, played ably by Madison Wolfe. When the truth is finally revealed, it’s done in a truly heartbreaking manner, and by the end of the movie I wasn’t crying ugly tears, you were.

Unfortunately, this touching story of growing up with tragedy seemingly flopped hard on release, with IMDb showing it making less than $500K globally on a budget of almost $15M. One of the reviews there implicates a terrible marketing campaign, which I mostly agree with; I was expecting the movie to be an action/adventure giant-killing romp, when in fact all of that serves only as the scenery for a touching growing-up drama.

Despite the poor reception, for me this was a flawless piece of cinema, albeit in a somewhat niche category, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in the sadder side of things.

10/10 would watch again.

Movie Night: Mortal Engines

Year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Cast: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving

In a post-apocalyptic world where cities ride on wheels and consume each other to survive, two people meet in London and try to stop a conspiracy.

As odd as it might seem, I’ve never really fully embraced steampunk. I mean, I appreciate the aesthetic, the blend of the modern and the antique, and the way in which it borrows from fantasy to allow things to work without true explanation, or scientific backing. And yet somehow I’ve never read a steampunk novel, or watched a steampunk movie. Until now.

I will admit that I have a soft spot for anything by Peter Jackson, and the way in which he brought Philip Reeve’s classic to life is a visual feast. From the conglomerate blend of London, reimagined as an enormous tank (hundreds of feet high) with all the classic landmarks of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Underground (and was that a piece of the Gherkin I saw fronting the whole thing?), to the airships that combine hot air balloons with jet engines, this is, to the eyes at least, a steampunk dream come true.

But of course, stunning visuals is only to be expected with anything involving Peter Jackson (see The Lord of the Rings), but of late it seems he’s struggled to tell a compelling story. Many of his more recent films have been critically panned, including the unfortunate Hobbit movies, and even The Lovely Bones, all of which were based on long-beloved books. In fact, Peter Jackson seems only capable of creating remakes and adaptations, but I don’t fault him for that, because to me, I think he does a bang-up job (that’s a good job, in case you were wondering).

You see, I think a lot of people misunderstand what Peter Jackson is trying to do. He doesn’t create films for the box office, nor does he pander to the lowest common denominator. I’ve read scathing reviews of Mortal Engines by supposed critics who clearly didn’t take the time to research the original source material, or appreciate in any way that Peter Jackson is making the films that us, the readers, have always wanted.

And therein lies the beauty of this film. It doesn’t explain; it doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. Mortal Engines is a faithful adaptation, true to the aesthetic and true to the plot. If you really want to understand the depth and complexities, you really need to read the book. Many of the events, character motivations and indeed scenarios don’t make 100% sense without context, even though Jackson does manage to cram a lot of world-building and exposition into a (for him) rather modest 2-hour runtime. And if the plot seems kitsch or predictable, it’s because it’s an adaptation of a 20-year-old book whose plot is essentially the same.

I wish I’d seen Mortal Engines when it was released; Peter Jackson, and director Christian Rivers, deserve considerably more credit than they were given for this film, and to see it on the big-screen, I imagine, would have been spectacular. That being said, it’s still a delight in HD or 4K, and I’m glad I finally got around to watching it, because it’s now taken a special place for me in my film collection.

Of course, it’s never going to get a sequel, which is a shame as there are three more books to adapt, but Hollywood is run by the box office, and when a film actually loses money, you can’t expect much more to come from it. Here’s to hoping it becomes a cult classic over time, because it deserves it.

9/10 would watch again.

What It Means to Self-Publish

Yesterday marked the launch of the third book of The Redemption of Erâth, entitled Ancients & Death. And whilst I’m excited as can be about it, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Redemption of Erâth is an ongoing fantasy series chronicling the journey of Brandyé and his friend Elven through the fantastic and dark world of Erâth, in an effort to save their world from the overriding forces of Darkness. Volumes 1 & 2 are on sale for $0.99, and the third, Ancients & Death, is now available through Kindle and Apple Books.

Being a self-published author is a double-edged sword, because whilst it gives me the flexibility to create exactly what I want in a timeframe that suits me (although I must admit, some kind of deadline might’ve helped along the way), it also means the onus is entirely on me to succeed. And that success is difficult. Very, very difficult.

The thing is, pretty much anyone can self-publish these days. The quality of self-published novels can be dubious, from poor editing to outright terrible writing, and it’s into this crashing sea of mediocrity that most self-published books are launched. And even if the quality of the book is above-average (as most authors think their writing is), you’re then faced with the challenge of convincing readers of that fact.

And good luck with that, because gaining readership as a self-published author comes with its own unique challenges. Very few people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash on an author they’ve never heard of, and even less so when they learn that the author published themselves. There’s a kind of reassurance that comes with knowing a publishing house backed an author – even though there is a lot of traditionally-published trash out there, too.

I have enough insight into my novels to know that they are good, if not necessarily great; I’ve had enough feedback from publishers, professional editors and readers to know this. I’m not worried about the quality of my writing. But the goal of any author is to be read, and this is where the great difficulty lies. I’m not in it to make money – not outright. There’s no way I could sell enough copies to equal anything resembling a salary for the past three years. But if I can just get people to read it, I’ll be happy.

So most of my readership comes from free copies that I’ve given away, either through personal contact with readers or through giveaway websites such as Prolific Works or Voracious Readers Only. And I don’t mind – it gets the books into people’s hands.

But for every hundred copies given away, perhaps ten people will actually end up reading it. And for every ten reads, perhaps one person will review it. And of that 1% return-on-investment, it’s a toss-up whether they’ll even like it or not. And it becomes discouraging, because of course I want people to read it, but I also want them to like it. Really, I want them to let me know that they liked it. It does wonders for the ego.

So what does it mean, truly, to self-publish? It means endless effort and work, constant anxiety, hit-or-miss advertising, sales in the single-digits, and readers who don’t read or review. It means a lifetime of crippling self-doubt, until every once in a while someone posts somewhere in the annals of the world wide web, and just maybe, you come across it.

And every single review – each one out of a hundred – becomes so meaningful that it gets you back to the drawing board, the keyboard or the pen and paper, and you start it all over again.

Because sometimes you just have to write.