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Book Review: Between Black and White

Upon reading Robert Bailey’s first novel, The Professor, I felt it was quite the thrilling tale, and it is a novel I highly recommend. I took some time before picking up the sequel, Between Black and White. Little did I know that I would finish it in four days, something I’ve never accomplished with a book of its size. 

Between Black and White picks up immediately following the events of The Professor, from the perspective of a side character from the first book. Bocephus Haynes is convicted of a murder he is convinced he didn’t commit, despite all evidence mounting against him as the culprit. With nowhere to turn, he summons The Professor to try his case.  The Professor isn’t convinced he can try a murder case, a field he’s completely inexperienced in, but he bites the bullet and takes it on. With the help of his new legal partner, Rick Drake, The Professor begins to uncover clues about the case which could provide an alternative to the evidence and the culprit.  However, much like the last novel, there are demons on the other side who don’t want The Professor to succeed, and are willing to take violent measures to do so.  It’s a race against the clock for The Professor and his team to keep their friends close and their enemies closer, as the life of their client is at stake.

The Professor was able to take a simple civil case and turn it into an adrenaline trip.  Right from the beginning, the novel pulled the reader into what would otherwise be a boring case. The story was backed by genuine characters and a real understanding of the law on Bailey’s part. The antagonists were absolutely ruthless, and the power of heroic characters was what ultimately allowed the good guys to succeed.  Between Black and White shaves away any flaws from The Professor, and amplifies the good stuff. Between is absolutely non-stop in its plot, character development, action, and suspense. It expands the premise from the first novel and introduces new characters, while capitalizing on what made the first novel great. 

What specifically makes Between better than The Professor is that it knows how to handle its story and characters with elements of law.  The Professor spent a lot of time investigating the case and on the trial itself.  In Black and White, the investigation takes up less time and is usually blended with some action to keep the pace going.  The trial, while even more high-stakes than its predecessor, doesn’t take up much time either.  The characters from the first novel are also greatly expanded upon. In addition, Black and White also has more villains, many of whom don’t reveal themselves until late. The Professor’s villain was that of a puppet master, whereas Black and White has more of a group of villains conspiring against the heroes, an element which is advantageous for this type of story… 

One thing I mentioned in my Professor review was that the novel made great use of dramatic irony to keep the reader interested. This element is still used here, but to a greater effect.  In The Professor, the reader knew what the villain’s plan was as the story delivered the clueless reaction from the heroes. Black and White is more sparing with its information. It teases, but it still leaves the reader asking questions and adds to the element of surprise. 

I can do nothing more than recommend that you read Between Black and White, but read The Professor first.  It is an absolute roller-coaster ride from start to finish and doesn’t let up. The characters are lovable, the law elements are once again handled very well, and it contains one of the most shocking character revelations I’ve ever read.  Do yourself a favor, support an author, and read this book.  You won’t regret it. 

You can purchase Between Black and White here.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; March 2016

Book Review: The Hum And The Shiver

I rarely come across a fantasy or sci-fi novel in which a majority of the plot lulls, or is at least lacking excitement. Novels of this genre, though each unique in their own special way, almost always begin with a hook to draw the reader into the story; usually an action scene, or something wildly dramatic. A writer friend of mine says that if the reader isn’t invested by page 10, the author is doing it wrong. It is also rare for me to come across a "bad book".  It is a fact that there are very few "bad" books due to the amount of heart, soul, and effort required of completing a novel-length story. But the times when I have read something less than stellar, it was typically because the story wasn’t engaging, or spent so much time in a lulled state that I felt no reason to continue reading.  Books like these I keep hidden in a drawer until I decide to read them, or I eventually donate them.  

The Hum And The Shiver by Alex Bledsoe may be the only book I have read which, in my opinion, is by all outward appearances a slow novel, but engaged me in its story the entire way through.  There is no "hook" within the first ten pages.  There is little to no "action" until the final third of the novel, which by most standards isn’t the least bit "exciting".  The story is simply a large group of characters living their everyday lives in a setting.  What makes it so engaging is a damn good mystery, which makes for one of the most creatively written novels I’ve ever read. 

The story is set in a small, east Tennessee town which clearly has a past and an extensive lore to it.  The reader catches glimpses of this lore through the eyes of two outsiders, a preacher trying to start a parish in the town, and a reporter. The reader is as clueless to this mystery as these outsiders, however neither of them are the main character.  The main character and her close-knit friends and family are the ones who have been shaped by the town’s past and lore, as has every other character who lives there. Because of this, the characters never discuss the lore of their people. They live in a secluded town, and they never reveal their secrets to the occasional outsider.  Because every character in the story, aside from the two outsiders, has been raised in the lore, no one discusses it. There is simply no need for them to.  It’s a clever way to write a mystery.  What makes enduring the entire book worthwhile, is just how interesting the culture of the town is.

Bledsoe creates a lore in this book which is so unique and creative, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  It is so well thought out that the reader keeps asking questions with every turn of the page. Why do they do this? Why can’t they do that? What does that word mean? The residents of the town are passionate about their traditions as they force them on the main character, and through her pain, the reader can only wonder why they are so explicit. But again, they never take the time to explain the lore because everyone is already engulfed in it. All is eventually revealed, but it takes a journey of establishing real characters with real emotion to get there. 

And that is what makes Hum and Shiver feel so genuine amongst its over-the-top lore.  The characters are vast, unique, and genuine. They speak to each other about their culture in everyday conversations. Their actions and dialogue are further humanized by the fact that their culture is flawed. Characters, like in politics, disagree as to how things should be done, which creates steaming conflict. But, once again, the reader never knows the why behind people’s anger because they need not discuss the details.

The Hum And The Shiver is one of the most captivating novels I have read, and it didn’t have to shock me every few chapters to do it.  It is a mystery which keeps the reader asking "Why?", and keeps pages turning from start to finish. Its clever use of plot elements keeps the story at so steady a pace, yet it surprisingly works and ultimately pays off. On top of that, mystery behind the lore alone makes this story worth the read. For that, I can do nothing more than recommend it. 

You can purchase The Hum And The Shiver here.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; February 2016

Book Review: Darth Plagueis

James Lucano ventures to an unknown area of the Star Wars mythos in Darth Plagueis.  It’s a piece of Star Wars lore very few can say they are familiar with, as it was only alluded to in one of the better sequences of Revenge Of The Sith.  However upon reading this novel I can not only say that the mysterious Sith Lord is not only one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars mythos, but the narrative around him is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read in a novel for a long time.

The character of Darth Plagueis is typically overlooked or unheard of among casual Star Wars fans due to the lack of information provided about him in the films.  But anyone who has read this novel should shutter at the mention of his name. Readers follow Darth Plagueis throughout vast portions of his life and learn about how he was raised, became a powerful political figure in the galaxy, and eventually a Sith Lord.  What makes Plagueis’ character work is self confidence.  He thinks he’s too big to fail, and even when he encounters a flaw in the plan, he goes to desperate measures to mediate the situation.

Another great aspect to Plagueis’ character is how he explains The Force in relation to both the Sith and the Jedi.  The Jedi are never at any point perceived as a good thing in this novel, and readers are convinced that perhaps the light side isn’t such a good idea in and of itself.  Plagueis does this by showing that not allowing emotion to play a factor in one’s use of The Force doesn’t allow the user to achieve its full potential.  Anyone who has watched the films gets the gist of this concept, but the way Plagueis handles the situation makes me want to turn to the dark side.  I never want to be a Jedi after reading this book, and I can only question the reasoning behind staple characters such as Obi Wan and Qui Gon Jinn, and how they would willingly submit to an organization such as the Jedi Order.  The book perceives Jedi training in a negative light, and for a good reason too.   Why would anyone want their emotions suppressed for the sake of good?  The dark side wins in this regard.

One of the best things about Darth Plagueis is the way it sets up the events of the prequel trilogy, and the finale actually occurs during the events of The Phantom Menace.  We get to see Darth Maul’s origins, the formation of the clone army, and how different aspects of the so-called "Grand Plan" were funded through Plagueis’ political power.  The best part?  Palpatine’s training.  We witness Plagueis’ acquaintance with Palpatine from his youth, and the imagination is challenged to somehow find a look for a young version of the lovable Sith Lord.   I don’t think any two perceptions of him will be similar.  We see how the dark side works through Palpatine’s training as he is driven to such desperation by Plagueis he has no choice but to submit to him.  As a Sith Lord, we see how Palpatine formulated his rise to power as the Supreme Chancellor, and the novel wraps this in a clever way by making the laughable events from The Phantom Menace not only understandable, but serious. 

Darth Plagueis, though it has some lull spots, is one of the best books I’ve read in awhile.  It manages to take a character the Star Wars fanbase knew little about and make him one of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars mythos.  It utilizes the Star Wars galaxy to its fullest potential and isn’t afraid to harp on issues that publicly defaced the saga in the prequels.  If anything, this guy deserves a solo film, and I wish that Disney would consider making this novel canon again, as right now it’s considered to be in the "Legends" lineup of novels.  Though for now it remains non-canon, any diehard Star Wars fan should give Darth Plagueis a read.  It’s fun, compelling, and will give readers a better appreciation for being Star Wars fans. 

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; July 2016

Originally Posted to MoviePilot: Why Does Dreamworks Want You To Forget The Prince Of Egypt?

Last year, I began writing a blog on Moviepilot, a sight which I haven't touched since August.  The first article I wrote on the site was an analysis of why Dreamworks seems to ignore one of their earliest films, The Prince of Egypt, from a marketing standpoint.  To date, it's my most read article at over 50,000 reads.  Upon posting it, Moviepilot began to butcher my article by removing images I used, adding in new images, and even editing my own words.  This is one of many reasons why I left Moviepilot, and am now writing independently on my site.  I would encourage you to refrain from using Moviepilot as a means of expressing your film opinions, but if you enjoy it, I'm not going to stop you by any means.

Here is the original article with some slight grammar and language edits.  Enjoy:

Why Does Dreamworks Want You To Forget 'The Prince Of Egypt'?

Long ago, back in the days when animated films weren't afraid to try something new, Dreamworks produced a little flick known as The Prince of Egypt, an animated musical about the Biblical story of Moses, and the Exodus.  Simply stating that out loud only goes to show how a movie like this was destined to fail from the start. However. Prince turned out to be not only an achievement in animation, music, and film making, but became what I consider to be possibly the greatest animated movie of all time. The film is beautiful with breath-taking shots, angles and hand-drawn backgrounds. The music is spectacular and does what many musicals fail to do nowadays, which is move the story.  However, as years go on, Dreamworks has leaned to no longer acknowledge The Prince of Egypt. I mean, it's not like it's been removed from their official cannon, and you can still buy it through film services.  But just about everywhere I look, Dreamworks is putting all of their attention toward some of their more recent successes such as How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and even some of their oldies which weren't even that great to begin with.  This is very unorthodox to studios such as Disney, Pixar, and even illumination which continue to market some of their earliest movies.  

I wanted analyze this issue, and ask the question of why there seems to be a marketing prejudice to this film by its own creators.

Reason 1- Religious Aspect

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Having been raised in a religious environment myself, I’ve been exposed to 2 different types of Biblical film adaptations:

The first, are very cheaply made animation segments about Biblical stories designed for children which only serve the purpose of communicating a Bible story to pre-schoolers. These do their job well, but fail to do anything groundbreaking in terms of film making, let alone don’t hold up very well.  

The second, are big budget epics based off Bible stories which attempt to put an "original spin" on such story.  These films include recent productions such as Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings and History Channel’s The Bible. Films such as these have definitely become a trend in the last half decade. However, most of them fail to straight out tell the story, and tend to insert random content which has nothing to do with the original story. Elements like these only serve the purpose of entertainment, or for the filmmakers to give their own original take on the Bible. The only live action film off the top of my head which does this well, would be Passion of the Christ .

Prince, though technically neither of these, would probably fall into the latter category, because Dreamworks is a big budget company.  With that, it is odd that they were able to accomplish 1- A mostly faithful adaptation to the Exodus with almost no changes that would be considered too offensive; and 2- They were able to do it in an age where Biblical films (and even faith films for that matter) would crash and burn. Prince was able to rise to a level of quality that very few films manage to achieve.

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

So, Dreamworks ignoring this film because of religion (sort of) doesn't make much sense on its own.  In an age where we tend to censor media so as to not offend varying groups, I have read dozens of comments from non-Christian, non-Jewish, and even non-religious individuals who say they love this film. Hell, you can ask just about any movie-buff nowadays about Prince, and many are familiar with it, and love it to death. 

So despite so many people loving the movie, Dreamworks still cuts their acknowledgement from it, and I have evidence to hammer this home.

In 2014, Dreamworks celebrated their 20th anniversary by re-releasing all of their films on newly formatted DVDs and Blu-Rays. At Target, I was able to find every film they made except The Prince of Egypt. They even had a triple-feature DVD of the studios' 2D movies: The Road to El Dorado, Sinbad of the Seven Seas, and Joseph: King of Dreams. Prince was nowhere in sight. So, why the triple-feature contained the direct-to-DVD "prequel" to Prince ('Joseph' being a bland movie, and wildly inaccurate portrayal of the source material), but didn't actually contain Prince really leaves me scratching my head.  Why would they not re-release this movie, given a trend in Christian-based filmmaking, and a mostly positive public opinion?

Reason 2- The recent Prejudice to 2-D animated films

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Animation nowadays usually tends to be classified "kids stuff" through the minds of general audiences-- I say usuallyPractically everyone is familiar with Pixar and their tendency to make more mature films that both adults and their kids can enjoy. Audiences in the modern age are almost entirely uninterested in seeing a traditionally animated (2-D) film on the big screen, let alone just watch one with their family. This is probably because most adults in the modern era associate traditional 2D animation as "kids stuff" because when they were kids, they had hand drawn cartoons and movies from Disney, Warner Bros., etc.; As those same people entered adulthood, the world saw the dawn of 3-D animation which seemed to be respecting the maturity of its audience.  Pixar surprised the world with Toy Story which made use of a lot of humor adults could relate to, which was mostly unseen in 2-D films at the time. Dreamworks used the same humor with their first film, Antz, which was incredibly edgy for an animated film, and a lot of adult language, a huge no-no for animation at the time.

My childhood was when hand-drawn animation was dying and shifting over to 3-D animation, so the films I saw in theaters, or at least remember seeing in theaters, were both 3D films like Finding Nemo, and 2D films such as Brother Bear or Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. In addition, my family owned almost every traditionally animated Disney movie from the previous century on VHS. So growing up, I was well exposed to 2D animation and I liked it. I considered it normal, and could find value in it.  This is something that most families show their kids nowadays, so future generations can be exposed to 2D animation, and appreciate it for years to come. 

Then you have some kids (which there are a lot of them) who only take interest in 3D animation. 2D, is art; It's entirely hand drawn, so it requires a lot of work, but in the end, 2D comes out beautifully and is a spectacle to look at. This is where the problem for kids comes in. Most kids nowadays just don't enjoy looking at "art". They want detail, realism, something they can immerse themselves in, and not simply watch. Kids are growing up in an era where animation has reached near-realistic levels of detail, and is being used in every animated movie, and even most shows in the modern era. 2D is still used limitedly in TV, but because budgets are cheaper, those shows are mainly generated in computers. Even then, pretty much every show which uses 2D has to make use of some CG elements in order to express certain elements of the story. 

My point is, 3D is something kids can more easily see and relate to because it looks more realistic to a child's mind. Children, until they can develop a conscience to understand what a full length film is saying from start to finish and retain it, are mainly into the film for something to look at or listen/sing to. For me, this conscience wasn't developed until I was about 8, 9 or 10, and by then, I was able to appreciate what I watched as a child all the more. So if kids are losing more and more interest in 2D because of a surplus of 3D detail, they want something they can see as realistic and can relate to, which also has the comical energy for them to watch at their very young maturity level. This is why 3D animation is the go-to for children of today, unless they are exposed to classic 2D films thanks to their parents.

Unfortunately, unless we continue to show future generations the beauties of 2D, future generations may only be exposed to 3D animation, given its rapid growth in the market. With multiple studios not willing to give 2D another shot, this outcome might be inevitable.

Now, back to Prince. Dreamworks only has a total of 4 (technically 5) 2D films on their roster. Prince definitely rises above the other 3 on terms of quality level; it's a powerful film. The other 3, on the whole, are just okay in my opinion. The animation on the other 3 are still great, but don't do achieve anything on the level that The Prince of Egypt did. So, given that Disney wasn't doing that great with their 2D films, and it was given that audiences were losing interest, Dreamworks ultimately decided to ditch their 2D projects altogether, despite some projects being very popular among audiences.

Another reason is that Disney had 70 more years worth of 2D films than Dreamworks did, so people are much more likely to go back to Disney's 2D roots than Dreamworks'. Most general audiences will even mistake Dreamwork's 2D films for Disney's because "the mouse" had dominated the industry for such a long time. 

Reason 3: Dreamworks' Recent Successes

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Through most of the 2000s, Dreamworks still acknowledged Prince of Egypt as "a thing". For a long time, Dreamworks had poor success with their films all-around, outside of the Shrek series. Then Kung Fu Panda came along in 2008, which sparked a new era of breakout success of Dreamworks. This was a time when Dreamworks was finally making movies that had a little more effort and heart put into them. This, combined with the massive success brought on by the Madagascar franchise and How to Train Your Dragon (which quickly became many people's favorite movie from the studio), Dreamworks was finally making quality films, which for the time, were outdoing the Disney juggernaut, outside of their Pixar studio. 

Nowadays, Kung Fu Panda and HTTYD are big franchises. While Dreamworks recently went through another drop in quality within the last two years, they've made more money off these movies alone.  Additionally, they've found even more success from their migration into TV, Netflix, and the Internet, and the numerous direct-to-DVD shorts they put out. So, logically, maybe Dreamworks has decided that they just don't need The Prince of Egypt, as they have multiple properties that have brought them breakout success, which makes re-releasing Prince on Blu-Ray, completely unecessary. 

Reason 4: Regret

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

While this isn’t the strongest reason, there’s a good chance that Dreamworks simply treats the Prince era like a part of their past they wish to forget.  Between 2000 and 2004, Dreamworks was releasing some awkward films (Sharktale anyone?), which is believable conclusion;  Many studios have some trouble finding their footing in their earliest years. It still seems odd though, given that their head-honcho Jeff Katzenburg wanted Prince to be a mature story, and not a fairy tale like their rivals Disney put out for so many decades. 

Conclusion

If you haven't seen The Prince of Egypt, please see it. It's on Netflix, and multiple other video services which just doesn't do the film enough justice, given the spectacle that is this movie.  Dreamworks is still skeptical about marketing the film because of religious sensitivity in our modern society, a decline in use of 2D animation, and the company putting more effort into their latest successes.  Will Prince continue to be an underrated classic? I don't know.  Would I like to see it re-released on Blu-Ray? Absolutely.  It’ll take a miracle for that to happen, but still, there can be miracles when you believe. 

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

(Article Originally Posted March 25th, 2015 to Moviepilot account: dbrash_nation. Original article: http://moviepilot.com/posts/2811250 )

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; March 2016