Movie Review: Downton Abbey
Are you obsessed with the melodrama of The Great Gatsby? Do you love the various plotlines of Jane Austin's novels? Then you would love the Crawley family and the world of Downton Abbey. Set in the early 20th Century, Downton Abbey is created around the village of Downton in the British countryside. You are introduced to the Crawley family and the world of upstairs and downstairs living with Lords, Ladies, servants, and Countesses. Lord and Lady Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) have three daughters Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael), and Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) Crawley. The Dowager Countess, Violet Grantham (Maggie Smith), who also frequently visits Downton with a sharp tongue always in tow.
Downton Abbey, created in 2010, was originally a television series for Masterpiece. In the series, you are introduced to all of the various characters of upstairs and downstairs and get a glimpse into their lives intertwining at Downton. Downton Abbey's six seasons takes you on a whirlwind of romance, drama, and melodrama with happiness and sadness. It is the perfect storm of a soap opera set in the eras of the Victorian, Edwardian, and the Roaring '20s. Although the television series ended in 2015, it left on a cliffhanger.
In September of 2019 the film, Downton Abbey arrived. Leaving off from the series Lady Mary Crawley-Talbot (Michelle Dockery) and Thomas Branson (Allen Leech) have officially taken over as the heads of Downton. However, there is always a twist when it comes to Downton. If you are a major super fan of Downton, you will appreciate the beginning of the movie. It starts with a letter of high importance, just like the series. However, this time around the message brings a surprise, a visit from the royal family. The film is geared around the anticipated arrival of their Majesties at Downton Abbey and the village of Downton.
The film, like the series, captures the era beautifully with its cinematic imagery. The film was made for the big screen, so there are grand and breathtaking shots of Highclere Castle and the grounds. The costumes also capture the essence of imagery of the era as well. Creating the illusion of being in the 1920's glamour and life of luxury. Everything is created on a grand scale allowing the viewer to be immersed in the world of Downton. The film will leave you in awe of 1920 Britain. That will leave you begging for a cup of tea and feeling quite royal. You will finally get the answers to the anticipated cliffhanger left in 2015.
Downton Abbey also has companion books for the film and series as well as cookbooks, and history books regarding the world of Highclere Castle, the signature of Downton Abbey. The film is now available on DVD/blue-ray and digital copies where they are sold. I recommend seeing Downton Abbey the film. The cinematic imagery is fantastic; the music is a blend of classical meets jazz-era. The costumes land you right in the middle of the 1920s immersed in a gothic style castle. The characters are hilarious, a little aloof, and spectacular. If you end up loving the movie and want to watch all six seasons, they are available on DVD/blue-ray in most stores. They are also available on Amazon Prime, and if you are a subscriber to PBS Passport, all six seasons are there, including behind the scene extras if you are fascinated with the series. Downton Abbey, the movie is a great film, and you can watch it without seeing the series first. It is an excellent film if you want to find an escape from the craziness of modern life.
Book Review: Ranger's Apprentice
Ranger’s Apprentice written by author John Flanagan is a young adult series that focuses on the life of main character Will. Following Will, reader’s will be thrown into a life-long journey starting with book one The Ruins of Gorlan. You’ll meet shady characters, explore an organization known as the Rangers, run into odd creatures, and wish to be there with a multitude of the characters. With eleven other books to explore any reader will find themselves embracing the clear and beautiful world-building Flanagan provides, whether it be the forests of Araluen or the frozen tundra of Skandia. Not only is the world-building well done, John Flanagan is a master of imagery. From intense battles to mundane coffee-making he gives the reader a stable backing to understand and see what is going on.
For fans of fantasy, writers in the making, avid readers, or someone in need of new series to start, John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice is a must read. The imagery and world building showcase how a simple plot can expand into something much more. Even if you aren’t a fan of world building, each character introduced has dynamic potential as each may not appear to be what they actually are. You can also follow the series as it continues to expand on John Flanagan’s Facebook page. In addition, if you need more after Ranger’s Apprentice, John Flanagan also has two other series that share the same world. One is a prequel series that focuses on events that happened before events in the Ranger’s Apprentice. The other series is known as the Brotherband Chronicles and focuses on Skandia and the youth growing up there.
Do you like superheroes? Do you like teenagers… okay you might be one? How about teenage superheroes? Well, that’s just what you get when you listen to The Bright Sessions, a science fiction podcast created by Lauren Shippen. The show follows a group of teenage atypicals, or people with strange and usual abilities, and their mysterious psychiatrist who focuses on atypicals, Dr. Joan Bright. Atypical powers range from mind reading, to spontaneous, panic-induced time travel, and mind control. The Bright Sessions can be found on Spotify, YouTube, and Luminary.
The early episodes are structured as Dr. Bright’s recordings of her therapy sessions with her different patients, with her voice memos to herself about each case at the end of each recording. There is little to no sound effects, keeping the focus on the characters and their words. In the first few episodes the main characters are introduced, one-by-one, via Dr. Bright’s sessions with them. The first is Caleb; he is a high school football player who can feel other people’s emotions. Then there’s Chloe, a college artist who can hear people’s thoughts. Sam is a very shy and a time-traveler. Damien can coerce people into doing his bidding, normally bad things, that would send people to jail or at least prompt a conversation with the police. They are all connected of course by Dr. Bright, who may not be as altruistic as she seems in marketing her services to “strange and unusual” types who don’t know where to go for help.
Aside from the thrill of eavesdropping on someone else’s therapy session, the acting and the slowly unwinding conversations are compelling and reveal details about the characters and their relationships with each other. And the sinister government conspiracy they may all be unwilling a part of. The Bright Sessions cover a range of topics from love, mental health, and adolesence.
The episodes are short, around 15-30 minutes long, with the longest being an hour. The podcast sometimes jumps in time between episodes, as if it’s working through an archive of Dr. Bright’s recordings that isn’t quite complete or organized. The show is great for binge listening because seemingly throwaway details often become important later on giving you the eureka feeling when the detail is brought up again. They’re also mini-episodes within the main episodes; these are not essential to the storyline, but they give you more information about the characters while not progressing the plotline.
Since its release in October 27, 2015, the main series has ended and a spin-off series on Luminary has started, The AM Archives, with episodes slowly being released to Spotify. This podcast picks up right where The Bright Sessions ended. So, listen to The Bright Sessions first or fear the spoilers!
Lauren Shippen hasn’t stopped there, either; in 2017 she announced that a TV adaptation is in the works. Lauren has also written a book, The Infinite Noise, with the plan to release two more books each following various characters from the podcast. The Infinite Noise is about Caleb and his classmate, Adam, a love story that started with The Bright Sessions. This book takes a look at what happen away from Dr. Bright’s recorder.
Knives Out: Movie Review
When the family of renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) gathered to celebrate the patriarch’s 85th birthday, events transpired that they could have never predicted: at some point in the night following the party, Harlan Thrombey was murdered.
This blockbuster who-dun-it murder mystery film was released on November 27, 2019, and currently remains in theaters until February 25, 2020. It comes on DVD at the end of November 2020 on Netflix. The movie pays homage to the style of Agatha Christie with an all-star cast, which includes but is not limited to: Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer and Daniel Craig as the debonair Detective Benoit Blanc who tries to find the truth in the pandemonium that is the Thrombey family. Their sheer disarray led to a series of quirky red-herrings from a mismatched band of investigators that no one would expect to advance into the case.
Overall the film received a 97% Certified Fresh and a 92% Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes and an increasing acclaim for the film itself. The film had an incredible amount of twist and turns in the stories that left the audience guessing and suspecting who the true murderer was. The story itself was unlike one I had ever seen in a who-dun-it where Johnson took his own liberties with the genre. It is this wild cast of characters and a mystery that makes the audience question every turn that would pique everyone’s interest.
I have always enjoyed murder mysteries, especially ones that add humor into the story line to keep you interested and engaged. As suspicious and problematic as the characters were, in their own way, they were incredibly interesting and well done. A well-executed murder mystery is a true test of a good writer, and so to experience an example such as Knives Out help could inspire writers to write quirky characters and plotlines.
This January, in the midst of creating the fourth edition of Hot Dish Magazine, our editors sat down with former editor Tanner Jensen. Tanner had assisted in creating Hot Dish Magazine’s earlier editions, particularly playing a hand in the third issue. Now, however, Tanner attends graduate school in the city of Boston. He is working to get his Masters in publishing and writing at Emerson University. In addition to graduate school, Tanner is also working as a paid intern for a remote internship where his bosses live not only in the United States but also internationally.
Tanner was generous enough to take time in his busy schedule to talk to the current Editors of Hot Dish and discuss how he got involved and learned from his time working on the magazine. Tanner was quick to say how the real-world application of Hot Dish has helped him with a multitude of class assignments and his internship so far. Furthermore, he commented on how Buena Vista University’s Digital Media program had also assisted him and furthered his ability going into graduate school. Tanner recalled in one of his classes that they had to work with a new program and almost none of the other students knew how to work it. But thanks to his time in Digital Media at BVU, he understood the software quickly.
Some advice Tanner left for the Hot Dish crew included keeping focused on what is ahead of the team in the editorial process and being sure to remember that we are working with high school students. Due to the fact we do work with high schoolers, the editors had to make sure they not only understood the editorial process, but that the students were continuously given support for their work and as writers who have had the courage to submit their work for possible publication.
Tanner left us with one last piece of advice before getting back to work by saying, “I hate cities.” We expect to see Tanner back in the small-town Midwest soon after graduation.
1. Get your story Peer-Reviewed!
-Have someone you know, and trust, look at your work to let you know if your missing spelling or have grammar errors. Who knows, maybe they will find that you forgot to write a whole paragraph.
2. PROSPECTIVE IS KEY!!!
-Much like my tips for poetry, in your short fiction focus on the point of view. The power of POV is almost more important in short fiction than poetry.
3. Sensory Details, Sensory Details, Sensory Details!
-Heighten the reader’s senses with sensory details. Short fiction has more word count to play with then most poetry. Use this to your advantage and really dive into the sensory information surrounding your story.
4. Broaden the viewpoint.
-Do not just focus on the sight the POV gives, try considering other factors. If you are writing from the POV of someone looking at an old picture think about the time difference the two have. What underlining plot does this give the story? What senses do time force your reader to experience?
5. Have a clear plot.
-You won’t believe how many people forget to have a plot to their story! Don’t be one of them. Your story can have as many amazing details and senses as possible, but if it does not have a plot it isn’t a good story.
6. Surprise yourself!
-While you should have a plot to a story don’t make it feel like you're writing an academic paper. By rule of thumb if you are writing and find yourself surprised by were the story went, then your reader will be just as surprised. It may feel like the story wrote you at times, but it’s that feeling that just may get your story published.
1. Pick an image.
-Sounds basic right? Well when you want to write a poem about a certain image it is almost imperative you know exactly which image you want. For the Hot Dish Challenge, we provide the images for you. Just pick one and start writing.
2. Don’t just focus on the story of the image, but instead think about the senses it provokes.
-Poetry is not just what you can see, but what you can experience through all senses. Focus not only on the sight of the image but also the sounds, taste, touch, and smell that radiate from it.
3. Be specific with your details.
-Piggybacking off of number two, be as detailed with your senses as possible. Don’t generalize these details, but do not feel like they all must be positive senses either.
4. Prospective is key!
-When you think and later write about your chosen image what sort of prospective are you going to use? Who is narrating, telling, seeing, or hearing this story? Is it the young child across the street? The older gentleman with a hate for phones? Is it you as you see yourself in the image? Prospective is key and can help you provide more specific sensory details to spice up your piece.
5. Pick a form that helps you get at these sensory details.
-Another way to help you write sensory details besides prospective is adopting a format that limits how you can write a piece. My favorite form for beginners is called the 10 to 1. In a 10 to 1 your first line starts with 10 words, then 9, then 8, until you get to a one-word line. This form forces a writer to consider word choice and gives the writer natural points of emphasis that they can fit into. There are other easy and more advance forms of poetry you can try that may help you get the sensory details out of your chosen image.
6. Let your imagination go!
-Just like number 1 this sounds basic right? Surprisingly it isn’t! When you pick an image, an immediate reaction is that you have to write about the story the artist of the image wanted it to tell. Or at least the poem has to be about the most pronounced things in the image. This is not the case!!!! The image is there to serve you the writer. If you’re writing a poem based of the image of a house it does not have to be about the house. It could be about a bird in it, or the person(s) looking at the house.
7. Have fun with it.
-Trying to incorporate these different aspects into your poem may seem somewhat stressful or difficult but don’t feel like it must be. One aspect of this challenge is to not only challenge you, but to allow writers to explore different avenues of writing that appeal to them. Write to have fun!
Advice from the Editor of Hot Dish Magazine
1. Before you submit have a friend or family member peer-review your work.
- It’s also good to have a second pair of eyes to point out grammar and spelling mistakes.
2. Research the magazine you are submitting to.
- For example, Hot Dish Magazine is a literary magazine in the Midwest, however if you have been researching us you would see that this year we are going National.
3. Read what the submission guidelines are.
- Hot Dish Magazine is only for High schoolers 9-12. Therefore, if you aren’t considered in grades 9-12 then your work won’t be reviewed by us. Just like Hot Dish many magazines have guidelines that highlight who can submit, what you can submit, and when you can submit.
4. Be mindful of entry fees
- Paying to submit isn’t all that bad. However, if you are newer to the literary world or simply money poor there are plenty of magazines you can submit to for free. Sites such as submitable.com even make it easier for writers to find these magazines and submit to them.
5. Include a brief cover letter that covers who you are and why you wrote this piece.
- As an editor myself I know that I won’t always look at someone’s cover letter first. However, it is still important to include one that gives an author bio and in our case something that inspired this piece.
6. Don’t be disheartened by rejection.
- We all get rejections; it’s just how the literary world is. As a writer it hurts to be rejected repeatedly, but as an editor it still difficult to decide which works to accept to thier magazine. So, while you may be sad about being rejected keep pressing forward and know that the editor is also sad about having to reject work.
7. Ask for feedback from the editor.
- Not all editors will have time to give feedback, but some like Hot Dish Magazine will immediately give you feedback. So, if an editor gives feedback to some writing of yours and asks for revisions give them a response. If not, it is always alright to email the editor to see if they had some feedback to give you.
8. Keep records of failure as well as success.
- Not only does this give you a sense of being proactive, it will also help you later down the road when you need to know where your poems have been published before.
9. Continue to submit material year-long
- Whether you are a new writer or well published writer you still need to constantly be submitting material to magazines. This is how you get published as well as build up relationships with a multitude of editors. Whether or not you get accepted, continuing to submit is still getting you something.
10. Be mindful of your simultaneous submissions (submitting the same poem to different magazines)
- While simultaneous submissions are a good way to get your poems out, some magazines do not permit simultaneous submissions. This may be the case for some magazines you submit for, but many will allow simultaneous submissions. If one of your simultaneous submissions get accepted, be sure to let the other magazine you submitted the same piece to know. It will be a great help to them and doesn’t lead to the awkward conversation that you already got it accepted elsewhere.
Book Review: Sour Heart
By Olivia Wieseler
Sour Heart (2017) by Jenny Zhang is a collection of short stories about the lives of immigrant children in the United States. Having immigrated to New York City from Shanghai, China, when she was five years old, Zhang often writes about Chinese American identity and coming of age in a new country and culture. Her stories in Sour Heart are no exception.
Each story in this collection is from the point of view of a different Chinese American immigrant child. While the stories reflected much of the hardship that Chinese American immigrants had to go through searching for a better life, some stories did not focus on that but rather themes that all people go through: peer pressure, sex education, going to college, annoying siblings, over-protective parents, desire for freedom, and more. I think these themes interwoven with the theme of immigrant identity help make each character more human and help the reader to empathize with the characters and their hardships as immigrants to America.
While Zhang uses almost a different narrative structure for each story, they are all draped in poetic language. The powerful imagery Zhang used was often organized like a stream-of-consciousness. Her first story in the collection, “We love you, Crispina,” had the most prevalent use of this style. While unique and perhaps more realistic, it did make the stories somewhat difficult to follow at times. Overall, however, this style works to give the reader a sense of putting him/herself in the shoes of the narrator. One of my favorite parts about the structure of the collection overall is that each story is interwoven with each other, barely noticeably, as the families encounter one another briefly in their search to make their lives better in America.
Personally, it wasn’t until about halfway in that I started to enjoy the collection. It could have been because of the slightly difficult following of the stream-of-consciousness style of writing or some of the unexpected mature content. However, it finally started growing on me, possibly because “The Evolution of My Brother” struck my heart personally. The narrator showed how her tight bond with her much younger brother began to loosen as her desire for freedom and independence sent her away to college:
“…and now that I am on my own, the days of resenting my parentes for loving me too much and my brother for needing me too intensely have been replaced with the days of feeling bewildered by the prospect of finding some other identity besides ‘daughter’ or ‘sister.’”
I would recommend this collection of stories to get a taste of Chinese American immigration stories while still being able to relate and empathize because of the coming of age themes throughout each story.
Zhang has also published a collection of poems called Dear Jenny, We Are All Find, a non-fiction book called Hags, and has written a plethora of essays for Rookie, an online magazine for teens.
Book Review: Welding with Children
By Jhareese Walker
Tim Gautreaux is a novelist and short story writer who was born in 1947 in Morgan City, Louisiana. Some of his published books are: The Missing, The Clearing, and Welding with Children. In an interview with Dayne Sherman, An American journalist, Gautreaux said, “I just learned along the way that writing comes from living. Living doesn’t come from writing. The best way to learn how to write about children is to have a couple of your own” (Sherman). Gautreaux exemplifies this mindset in his book Welding with Children published by Picador in 1999. Welding with Children is a collection of eleven short stories that have a common theme of portraying the lifestyle of a southern working-class families.
There were a few stories that really intrigued me, but there was one story in particular that stood out to me more than the others. The short story “Welding with Children” is a great story simply due to the self-realization the main character experiences throughout the story. Bruton, the grandfather in the story, serves as his own life lesson. By watching the four children of his own children, he finds himself in need of some self-improvement once he notices that the actions of the children are the product of their parents’ standards. By the end of the story, Bruton attempts to turn the children to God: “’Does your mamma ever talk to y’all about, you know, God?’ ‘My mamma says God when she’s cussing Melvin,’ Tamynette said.” (Gautreaux 8). While not having done the greatest job of raising his own children, he wants to do better by his grandchildren. A few things that I like about the text was the southern dialect that Gautreaux included within the story. He seems to include a little of himself and his heritage throughout the whole text. Also, in another short story called “Easy Pickings”, Gautreaux writes about an old lady who gets robbed by a man that goes by the name of Big Blade:
Big Blade growled, giving the old woman a push toward her screen door. ‘I want your money’…’Well, I be damn. Ain’t you got nobody better to rob than an ol’ lady whose husband died twenty-nine years ago of a heart attack in a bourrée game holding ace, king, queen of trumps?’” (Gautreaux 63).
Many of the stories in his collection are unique scenarios which make each story fun to read. Many people might enjoy this text because each story can be fun to read even for the students that don’t usually like reading. Each storyline in the collection is unique which instantly can draw the reader to the story. Not only can it be fun to read, but there are life lessons that can be taken from each of these stories. Being able to read a text that is fun, yet possesses the capabilities to be informative, is special and is not something that every book can do.