Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: Disruption by Jessica Shirvington

Photos don't do this cover justice!
Title: Disruption
Author: Jessica Shirvington
Pages: 416
Published: 1/4/2014 by HarperCollinsPublishers Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher):

What if a microchip could identify your perfect match? What if it could be used against you and the ones you love?

Eight years ago, Mercer Corporation's M-Bands became mandatory. An evolution of the smartphone, the bracelets promised an easier life. Instead, they have come to control it.

Two years ago, Maggie Stevens watched helplessly as one of the people she loved most was taken from her, shattering her world as she knew it. Now, Maggie is ready. And Quentin Mercer - heir to the M-Corp empire - has become key to Maggie's plan. But as the pieces of her dangerous design fall into place, could Quentin's involvement destroy everything she's fought for? In a world full of broken promises, the ones Maggie must keep could be the most heartbreaking.


Jessica Shirvington is my kind of writer. She has the uncanny ability of knowing what her readers want and delivers it with a punch. She packs her books full of interesting characters, brilliant and thought-provoking premises, heart stopping action and swoon worthy romance. She's a master of YA, perfecting voice and authentic teen characters, and is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

I first heard about Disruption at last year’s Australian Writers’ Centre meet-up where Jessica Shirvington was the guest speaker. As a fellow graduate of the Australian Writers’ Centre, I’ve followed Jessica’s prolific career (she’s written seven books in four years!) with interest. I had read 2013’s Between the Lives in two evenings so my expectations for Disruption were very high. 

The premise of Disruption is brilliant. Whilst it takes some time to comprehend the ins-and-outs of the M-Band technology and the laws surrounding its use, once protagonist Maggie puts her plan into action, there's no stopping the excitement, suspense and drama. Disruption reads like an out-of-control train, although it's clear that Shirvington has masterfully crafted the destination well before the train started moving. It's a breathless ride and you won't be disappointed with where you end up. 

Whilst the premise is exciting and unique it is Disruption's small cast of characters and their interactions and relationships that keep your eyes glued to the page. They are the most interesting bunch I’ve read in a long time. In the beginning of the book, Maggie is a resourceful and unflinching teen action hero, like a young Sarah Connor. Due to a troubled past and loss of her father, she's hardened and cynical, ready to take on anyone who will stand in her way.

Which brings us to Quentin, who is not only Maggie's major obstacle but the key to rescuing her father from M-Corp. Quentin is likeable and well-rounded with his own journey of self-discovery to take. Often the male characters in YA novels are there to serve only as the love interest, however, Quentin has his own role to play.

The romantic relationships are the heart of Jessica Shirvington's novels, which is taken a step further in Disruption where romance is also the foundation of the plot, driving the pace and emotional impact, which contrasts Maggie’s often callous drive for revenge. 

Jessica Shirvington is a cinematic writer: every moment is impactful and visual, the scenes and characters leaping off the page with action, tension, romance and emotion. Despite the serious and tense plot, Disruption is also surprisingly funny, thanks to Maggie's hilarious sidekick Gus. I loved the repartee between Maggie and Gus and hope the sequel Corruption includes more Gus “screen time”.

Disruption is easily the best book I’ve read so far in 2014. I simply adored reading about Maggie, Quentin, Gus and their world, and I can’t wait to return for Corruption.

Many thanks to HarperCollinsPublishers Australia for providing the advanced reader copy, it’s simply stunning!

I give Disruption 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Movie review: Vampire Academy, and translating books to film

Not all good books make for good movies. In fact, a film often pales in comparison to the original source material. This is due to the fact that they are two very different mediums with unique story telling traditions and techniques. There’s a fine line between being too faithful to a book versus making changes that work for the medium. Filmmakers don’t want to offend fans of the book, yet they also want to draw in new audiences. It’s a balancing act. But they shouldn’t treat the mediums the same, because as audiences, we certainly don’t.

Reading a book is a personal, mostly solitary experience; the process can take weeks or hours, depending on our reading habits—or spare time. Movies, on the other hand, are restricted to around two hours of (mostly) uninterrupted viewing. We have limited time to explore the characters and plot. Subtlety is often glossed over and background details and mythology are rushed. Lately mainstream films show preference for action and spectacle over quieter, meaningful story telling. There isn’t the same space to breathe and explore as in novels. There isn’t the same time to read between the lines. Therefore, film is often a much more blunt form of story tellingdon't get me wrong, I'm a huge proponent of both film and novels.

Although the mediums are different, much of what works well in a novel should translate easily on screen. A good story, is a good story, right? Often I’ll read a book and think, yes, this would make a great film. Either the scenes are highly visual or the story is immediate and impactful. However, when I read Vampire Academy, whilst I enjoyed the book, I was unsure how well it would translate to the big screen. Much of the novel is spent setting up the characters and their relationships (like many first books in a series) and there were only a few key scenes I could visualise as being successful on the big screen. As I mentioned in my review of the book, the heart of the story focuses on the friendship between two best friends. This personal and intimate focus is hard to replicate within a two-hour movie timeframe, hence I was hesitant to watch the film.

Yesterday, I finally watched Vampire Academy with a group of VA fans. Whilst I had read some negative reviews, I was determined to go in with an open mind. It helped that I was surrounded by VA fans, the buzzing atmosphere was contagious. Yet after the credits rolled, I had to collect my thoughts before I could voice my opinion on the film. Whilst I had no overwhelming love for the big screen rendition, I didn’t dislike the movie either. It was fun and enjoyable, although I was left feeling a little indifferent about the experience. 

Certain parts of the film worked well, I particularly enjoyed Zoey Deutch’s snarky and sassy portrayal of the character Rose, yet other elements were not as successful. Due to the film's restricted duration, there wasn’t enough time to build empathy for Lissa’s plight (played by Lucy Fry). Another element I didn’t fully connect with was the romance between Dimitri  (Danila Kozlovsky) and Rose. Again it felt too rushed, although the end scene was highly enjoyable and succeeded in replicating the book’s blend of romance and humourOther plot lines that resolved well in the short running time included the character arc of Natalie and her father. However, subplots involving the scheming, revengeful Mia and the confusing behaviour of the school’s headmistress, felt muddled and unresolved.

Whilst Vampire Academy was not the most successful book to film adaptation, it was certainly not a bad film. However, I believe VA would have been more successful as a television series, making the smaller, intimate moments more meaningful. The extended timeframe of a television series would provide the opportunity to delve deeper into characters, allowing us to connect and empathise with them over time. I really wanted to be moved by the emotion in Lissa’s final speech, but unfortunately I felt disconnected from the goings-on. The film was too bogged down by having to introduce the book’s mythology and various characters in a short space of time to allow for a stronger emotional response. If the plot and mythology had unfolded week-by-week on the small screen, this would have greatly improved the audience’s connection to the story and characters.

Unfortunately, due to low box office attendance, it appears that a Vampire Academy sequel may be off the cards, for now, anyway. Whilst I empathise with VA fans’ desire to see more of the series on-screen, I would advocate for a television series, rather than another film. I believe this would provide a more faithful and satisfying rendition for fans and newcomers alike.

What's your favourite book to film adaptation? I loved Warm Bodies, both the novel and the film. Please let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Movie review: Veronica Mars

For years the future of the cinema-going experience has been in question, its downfall predicted since the invention of television. Further doubt was cast over its longevity with the release of cable TV, on-demand downloads and home theatres. The question remains: will people continue to venture out into the world, sit next to strangers while they eat noisy and odorous foods and pay over $20 to watch a film that may or may not be worth the money? Well... I believe the answer is yes. There’s something magical (I know… I use that word a lot) about going to the cinema. It’s not just about the film, but the experience.

Last night was the most exhilarating movie-going experience I’ve had for a long time—probably since seeing James Cameron’s Avatar at Imax on release day. There was a tangible hum of excitement and pure joy in the air. And this wasn’t due to ground-breaking visual effects or eye-popping 3D, but rather the return to a great story. And that great story was Veronica Mars.

I’ve been a Veronica Mars fan, or a Marshmallow as we're called, ever since the TV show aired back in 2004. The show was fresh, witty, contemporary, compelling, often heart-breaking, mysterious, adventurous and jam-packed full of lovable 3-dimensional characters. Plus the actors were all superb in their roles; I still believe Kristen Bell, who plays titular Veronica Mars, is the most underrated actress of her generation. And I have yet to see any other first season of a TV show that is as satisfying. I was hooked early on, although, sadly I was in the minority. The show was abruptly taken off air in 2007, ending on a cliff-hanger—much to my horror. I've never fully recovered from the loss of Veronica Mars, surviving only by re-watching the series annually.

When I heard there was going to be a movie, brought to life by Kickstarter and dedicated Veronica Mars fans, I was ecstatic. I looked forward to any chance to see the beloved characters on-screen again. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how great the film would be, and even more surprising was how large the Veronica Mars fan base had grown since 2007. Suddenly, it appeared as though everyone had, or was, watching the show. The cinema was packed, not a spare seat in sight—in fact tickets sold out in less than 20 minutes. It was wonderful to see such enthusiasm.

The movie is set 10 years after teenage sleuth Veronica Mars graduated from high school. She returns to her seedy hometown of Neptune, after receiving a call from old flame Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) who finds himself embroiled in (another!) murder scandal. That boy has some serious bad luck*. Neptune has gone downhill since Veronica left at 19, when she decided to turn her back on her instinctual private investigatory ways and study law. Lucky for us, she decides to return to Neptune for one last case...

Veronica’s homecoming happens to coincide with her 10-year high school reunion; a party that is so over-the-top and packed full of gleeful cameos it had the audience leaping off their seats with enthusiasm. Not only is Veronica returning home to reconnect with old friends and loved ones, but we are too.

The movie also contains various kicks to the stomach with twists and turns I didn’t expect, although I should have, considering the masterfully twisted plots of the TV series. It is action-packed, funny, sharp, heart-warming, heart-wrenching and bursting with Veronica Mars inside jokes and nostalgia. I’ve never sat in a cinema surrounded by such enthusiasm. People were laughing, clapping, gasping and crying out in glee and shock at every turn. I was surprised that the entire audience didn’t break out into song when The Dandy Warhols’ “We used to be friends” played at the end of the film. For a Veronica Mars fan, the film is perfect. The only issue I had was that it ended. 

I don’t believe I would have enjoyed the film as much if I had watched it on my computer or TV. Movies are meant to be shared with others and I cannot thank Hoyts Australia enough for screening Veronica Mars for us Aussie Marshmallows. And, of course, thanks to Rob Thomas for creating such wonderful characters and stories. Please don’t make us wait another seven years for the next instalment!

For those of you who have no idea what Veronica Mars is all about, I urge you to buy the TV series. Then watch the movie and let me know what you think. You won't be disappointed!

*See seasons 1, 2 and 3 of Veronica Mars for more examples. :)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Oscars 2014: and the winner is...

I love the Oscars. And that’s not just because I work in the film industry, am a self-confessed movie geek or enjoy seeing all the gorgeous dresses sweeping down the red carpet—although all of that is true—it’s because I love the inspirational acceptance speeches. That’s my favourite part. I love hearing grown men and women talk so openly about their dreams, about believing in yourself and striving for the top. These are all things we're encouraged to talk about as children. Unfortunately, as we get older and real life responsibilities set in, we make compromises. We stop talking about our dreams and goals and focus on the practicalities of every day.

I was eight years old when I decided I wanted to work in the film industry. I had been blown away by Jurassic Park and was determined to be a part of movie-making magic. As I got older, my dream expanded. Not only would I work in film but I would also win an Oscar. My dreams were big, like most kids’ dreams are. Of course, when I went to University to pursue my goal of working in animation and VFX, I scaled down my expectations. I knew it was unlikely that I would ever win an Oscar, so I shifted my focus to working on great, award-winning films. I wasn’t giving up on my dream, but redefining it.

Throughout my career, I’ve been extremely lucky to work on films that have won awards. And although I’ve never been on that glittering Oscars’ stage, I’ve felt the overwhelming joy of being part of a team that brought an amazing film to life and had their efforts acknowledged by the Academy. I still think back to the 2010 Oscars where Avatar won Best Visual Effects and it’s one of the highlights of my life. I will always treasure that night.

When I watch the Oscars, I’m reminded that the desire to follow our dreams is something we should not grow out of. Whilst we might not achieve exactly what we dreamed of as kids, if we work hard, we’re likely to find something equally as satisfying. It's also wonderful to share in the excitement of other people's successes and hear their inspirational journeys. Last night, I particularly enjoyed Jared Leto’s acceptance speech as well as Lupita Nyong'o’s and Robert Lopez's and Kristin Anderson-Lopez’s. If you are ever doubting yourself and your dreams, you should check out their speeches to stay inspired and keep your dreams alive.

And the great thing is that we all have different dreams and paths to follow. As well as winning an Oscar, I’ve always wanted to be a published author. What about you? What are your dreams? How have they changed from when you were a kid? I'd love to hear in the comments.