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Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

1 Apr

Not long ago, I decided to sit down and finally watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I was ambivalent about watching it because (1) I was never really a hardcore Harry Poter fan (mainly because I just didn’t catch the wave of Potter Pandemonium when it first rippled through America), (2) the previews didn’t get me very excited and, (3) call me a Debbie Downer, but I thought the premise was a bit silly. I mean a foreign wizard irresponsibly loses his magical beasts, adding trouble to an already magically-troubled America? (Great! Let’s give that man a visa!)

Despite these things, I understand that Rowling is a very clever writer, which I both appreciate and admire. That being said, I had to give it a try. So today, I’m sharing some of my thoughts about Fantastic Beasts, though I don’t intend this to be a full-blown review or summarize the plot in any way.

(Want a video version of this post? Check this out!)

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Books & Movies

7 Dec

Hey, folks.

As you probably tell by my inert progress bar, heh, I haven’t been doing much writing of late.  Not sure when I’ll get back to Project Element 7.  I’ve kinda just been pondering about…things.  My life in general.  What’s important to me, what isn’t.  And in my ponderings I’ve discovered something quite disturbing: I’m kinda sick of the Internet right now. *collective gasp* I no longer want to be on it any more than I have to.  Though, of course, it’s still very much a necessary evil.

Maybe that means I’ll also have to change my writing habits and somehow detach the Internet from it.  Hmm…

Anyway, back to what I was really planning on talking about.

First, the movie.

I went to see Hugo on Monday with a friend.  Generally, I really liked it.  Especially in 3D.  The movie didn’t make extravagant use of that feature, yet at the same time I couldn’t imagine watching it in the regular theatre.  Somehow, the 3D version just brought the story that much more to life.  You really felt like you were in this romantic take on Paris–‘k, ‘cept for the fact that pretty much everyone was speaking English.  Anyhow, the images were so clear.  You could actually see dust floating though the air.  It was a neat experience.

The pace was unusual, though.  Like in anime where they sometimes have those long awkward silences… But Scorsese’s silences were of the intentional kind, so for me it kinda worked.  It was still awkward in an almost Frenchy, quirky way, but that’s just part of the charm of the movie.  That said, I can see why a few reviewers criticized the movie for its pace, considering it’s supposed to be for children, too: kids may grow bored at first until the pace picks up some later on during the film.  With our go-go-go culture (here in the U.S. anyway) the use of negative space like this just isn’t something most kids would be used to.

Another point I’ve seen critiqued is Scorsese’s attention to (for some it may be more like “lecture on”) film history.  If you’ve ever seen Inglourious Basterds, you’ll know what I mean.  But personally I liked these bits.  Why shouldn’t filmmakers educate their viewers a bit on the history of film every once in a while?  I, for one, learned something new and found it to be entertaining.  It was all tied into the plot anyway, so it’s wasn’t exactly trivial stuff.

One last thing I liked were the child actors: Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz.  Asa especially said some pretty insightful things for a kid–though, I guess the credit goes to the writers for that, heh.  The whole movie was thoughtful.  It had its light, playful moments and its dark, brooding ones and was overall delightful, imo.

And I don’t know the name of the singer during the end credits, but she has a really nice voice.  And the fact that the lyrics were in French and therefore largely incomprehensible to me only added to the magic.

Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

…Oh, yeah!  I also watched Another Earth which I really enjoyed from an artistic POV, though from a scientific POV some may have one or two gripes about it… Also, Brit Marling, the main actress in the movie, wrote the story herself–which I thought was impressive.

Now, about a book.

One day I was thinking about how I never use the Literati my grandmother gave me for graduation and how sad that was, and I happened to be on Goodreads at that time. While there I saw an ad for an international bestseller called The Time In Between by María Dueñas (her blog is in Spanish, FYI).  So I figured, hey, why not buy that on my Literati?  Try to finish reading a novel on that thing. (So far I’ve gotten too distracted while using the device to get through an entire book. -__-)

The novel is actually pretty good so far (still reading it).  It has a simple storytelling style and does a lot of telling instead of putting the reader right there in the moment, but somehow that’s okay with me.  My inner critic was mumbling things about this at first, but the story and the characters are so immersing that eventually he just had to shut up.  Also, it’s on the longer side, over 600 pages, but that’s what I’m used to, heh.

Why is it an international bestseller?

Well, I could suggest several reasons, but I’ll tell you why I personally am liking it thus far.

  1. It’s got espionage.  Um…hello?  (I’ve barely scratched the surface of this element in the novel, though the threads are certainly being woven…)
  2. The supporting characters are great–a real strong point for Dueñas.  They’re all so interesting.  Especially the smooth and charming Ramiro; you just know right away he’s going to be trouble.  In any case, I’m really enjoying the characters.
  3. I can relate to the main character, Sira Quiroga, the daughter of a humble seamstress.  (Immediately, I thought this might be another Coco Chanel story, but…that seems unlikely at this point.)  After a few unfortunate life events take place, she decides to open up her own business sewing clothes for expatriates in Morocco.  Since I’ve been considering doing something similar with interior design, the story strikes a particularly resonant chord in me just for this reason.
  4. It explores a place and time in history that is uncommon to see in fiction–at least on this side of the world.  It starts in 1935 just before the Spanish Civil War (SCW) and trails into WWII.  Before reading this novel my only exposure to this locale during this point in history was in an art history class learning about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica and while watching Pan’s Labyrinth (set some years after the SCW, yet the story is heavily influenced by it).  That said, I find a return to this theme and setting of the SCW quite interesting.

There are other reasons why I like this novel, but those are the main ones.

So that’s what I’ve been up to–in the storytelling department, anyway.

How about you folks?

Watch any good movies lately or read any good books?

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously (Unless You’re Writing Something Serious)

15 Jun

I promise: this one is going to be short today because I want to get back to working on my story, heh.

So I Went & Saw Super 8.

Big deal, right? 😀

I’ve got mixed feelings about the ending of the movie, but overall I have to say…

IT WAS A LOT OF FREAKIN’ FUN.

You can’t really tell how much fun this movie is just by looking at the trailer, but trust me, it is.  It was also scary at times (I’m telling you, the sound effects had me going), and the kid actors were great to watch.  (Elle Fanning did an especially wonderful job, imo.)  I think I was reading a review on Rotten Tomatoes that said something like, “Super 8 reminds us why we love the movies.”  (Oh no, here it is.)

It’s true!

It was like this legit old school way to tell stories (there was a certain way about the stunts and characters), something I haven’t seen since I first saw The Goonies on TV (which, btw, was maybe six-or-so months ago).  The characters were so Steven Spielberg.  It was great.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about then you are totally missing out!

What I Took Away From The Film As A Writer

It’s pretty simple, really.

Watching Super 8 reminded me of why I started writing this monster-of-a book: I wanted to write an adventure story that was fun to read and even more fun to write.  (I can only imagine how much fun J.J. Abrams had making that film with Spielberg producing.)  But when you’re kind of a perfectionist…sometimes “fun” can go out the window in pursuit of, well, perfection.

I have a bad habit of slipping into this mode when I’m not watching, when I’m working on the novel or anything else requiring serious effort, though it usually only happens when I spend less time writing the thing than I do thinking about it.  Once I turn on the conscious critic, it’s over.  Now, usually some really great ideas come out of these morose periods, and in many ways I find it absolutely necessary to go there every now and then, but the danger is that one can stay in this place for way too long.

Don’t let that be you.

You know what I do now when I’m feeling depressed about how far along I still have to bring my story so that it’s at that shiny place I want it to be?  I watch a really good movie–not read a good book (because I’ve come to realize that I’m too likely to get depressed, to be honest) but a movie.  I also listen to really great music, the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard.  I am a highly visual-auditory learner, so when I see and hear the best being played out before me it always reminds me of why I want to tell my own story, and by the end I simply cannot wait to get back to what I’ve been wanting to do all along: tell the best story I can.

I’m inspired by the best to produce my best.  I wanna can that bit of awesomeness, take it home, crack it back open, mix in some original ingredients and serve up my own greatness, thank you very much.

Of course, you can fall into the trap of always watching movies or listening to music and then never get anything done, but that’s true with just about anything.  In moderation, though, these things can inspire.

So Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

…or else you may lose your joy of writing!

Oh, and here’s the movie trailer for Super 8 if you haven’t seen it yet (ha!):

What do you do when you find yourself taking writing too seriously?

Thoughts on Dialogue & How Espionage Fiction Sometimes Does Stuff Better

25 May

(Ha!  I forgot to do spellcheck before I went trigger-happy with the publish button!  Sorry if you got that version first.)  You know, I think I actually watch more movies than I do read novels, and I’m not sure if that’s exactly a great thing, considering I’m supposed to be a writer (of novels).  However, when I’m watching movies now I’m not just in it for the entertainment.

When you start learning to write a novel you also start to look at the world differently because you want to know how great stories come to life and how to write them yourself.  You do so more critically and analytically.  You begin to ask more questions, smarter questions.  Why was that line so particularly witty?  How did they get the dialogue to always maintain that sharp quality of wit?  Where did they get the idea for that scene?  How did the writers figure out how to tie all of these details together so beautifully?

Yesterday I went to the store with my mom and they just so happened to be selling a bunch of (actually) really good movie titles for just $5 each.  When I got home I decided to watch Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig playing James Bond, and before I even popped the DVD in I realized just how much I loved that film.  Some of it’s ridiculously over the top and unnecessary, like the opening scenes–the part I call “where Bond runs like a black man,” haha (I mean why climb up, only to come back down again?)–but even that was wonderful to watch.  I mean, that man Bond was chasing could move.  He was a freakin’ monkey!

One reason I love this movie is because, well, it’s got espionage, action and adventure–hello!  Best combination in the world!  Also, this is the kind of novel I’m working on.  (Though, I admit, the espionage bit of my WIP is just as unlikely to happen in real life as in most of Bond’s adventures, but that’s exactly why people watch it, I think, because it is so outlandish.  Though, I must say, Casino Royale is considerably more believable than its predecessors–probably because, for one, the gadgets are so much more realistic).

Another reason I like the film is because of the dialogue.

I’ve noticed something happening a lot in espionage fiction.  I’ve only read five books in this genre (one a Le Carre that I couldn’t finish because I really found it to be too dense for my taste, and a sixth I got distracted from and must return to soon), but every single one of them seems to excel in the dialogue department.  And when I compare them to most fantasy or scif-fi novels I read…well, there really isn’t any comparison.

One of the reasons I think the dialogue in espionage novels is so good in comparison is because characters are able to make rapid-fire and/or offhand remarks referring or alluding to actual historical figures and events: the Cold War, Jesus Christ–“Christ!” is a popular expletive, particularly in Brit lit, that’s often used in the most amusing of ways–World War II, Hitler… Those seem to be the most popular, and one can see why: they are some of the most influential events and persons the world’s ever seen.  M does this near the beginning of Casino Royale when she starts talking about how much grief 007 always gives her; she says:

I give him double-O status and he celebrates by shooting up an embassy. Is the man deranged? And where the hell is he? In the old days if an agent did something that embarrassing he’d have a good sense to defect. Christ, I miss the Cold War.

This ability to reference and allude to real-life events lends the espionage genre a certain propensity for richness and nuance that’s hard to duplicate in science fiction and fantasy stories where the setting is a make-believe world, simply for the fact that it allows writers to play with what readers are already familiar with.  It’s like telling an inside joke; in order to get the punchline you assume that your audience is already “in the know” and therefore will be able to “get” what you’re talking about.  It’s a mighty convenient platform to build on.

When you’re writing fantasy set in a secondary world of your own making, though, you simply don’t have this kind of luxury.  Not to the same extent, anyway.  So I’ve been wondering how, then, can a writer get this same quality of dialogue when s/he’s starting off with a much more meager shared base of knowledge with his/her readers?

Why Building a History Can Do Your Story a Favor

If you get into deep worldbuilding for your novel and create your own world, there’s always the possibility that you might go overboard with it.  Of course.  However…if you’re smart about what you choose to develop and what to leave alone, it can most certainly be used to your advantage.

(This would be so much more convenient to write about if I was already published, heh, but I’ll do my best without giving too much away.)

Say you’ve built this world, right, and you’ve come up with some figures who’ve left their mark on history.  If they’re dead and long-gone, how do you still manage to bring their influence and characters to life on the page?

For one, just having your characters making mere references to them is enough to bring those figures into existence.  In my story there’s a woman who has become notorious for her treachery as a double agent, and I’ll just call her Agent Feruupa for now (I’ve talked about her here before, actually).  In everyday speech her name has become synonymous with treason and is even used in part as a noun.  “The Feruupa Fiasco,” one of my characters calls her betrayal (only because she actually got caught).  Sometimes characters, when they’re speaking about someone treacherous, might even say something like, “She pulled a Feruupa on him.”

If you can build a character, even a dead one, that is unique to your world’s history and represents something larger then introduce them to readers naturally over time and use them in a way that is relevant to the plot and themes of your story…then I think you have a chance at weaving that much more richness and realism into your tale.

That’s my theory, anyway.

One Last Look At Casino Royale’s Dialogue

There’s something else this movie does with its dialogue that I find particularly attractive: subtlety.  Sometimes its better not to say precisely what you mean because taking the indirect route may actually have a stronger effect.  Take this line, for instance, where M has just had Bond injected with a tracking device.  (This is only shown, not explained.)  What does he say instead of going for the obvious and just asking, “Is that a tracking device?”

So you can keep an eye on me?

More words, but in the end I think it works so much better because it also reveals some of that wry character we’ve come to love about Bond.

This may seem like a very insignificant thing, but I feel that many times as a writer it is all too easy to take the obvious, easy approach to crafting dialogue.  If you ever come across a line you’ve written that just seems too straightforward and bland, consider a more indirect way to say it–and always try to write in character.  I think this is a great way to deal with scenes that are meant to be emotionally gripping, tender, or perhaps intimate–like in the middle of a romance.  Sometimes even saying nothing at all and opting to describe body language is better than having a character utter what could come across as cheesy or insincere.  (Unless, of course, that’s what you are going for.)

Just something to think about!

What tricks have you learned about writing better dialogue?

Personally, I love writing dialogue.  That’s really your chance to let much of your characters’ personalities shine through.  I also love paying attention to body language and portraying that across the page.  Movies have the advantage in that you actually see all of this happening, so to be able to capture some of this in written form is both challenging and fun, I think.

Have you any insights you’d like to share?  Also, have you considered any of these techniques before?  Do you think they’ve helped you to write better dialogue?  Lastly, are there any writers in particular who inspire you by their dialogue?  (I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s lengthier dialogue style, actually, and I hope one day I’ll be able to capture audiences with just as much wit and insight into the human condition as he!)

THE AVENGERS ARE COMING!

7 May

Okay, so tonight I just saw Thor.

It was pretty cool–funny, entertaining, action-y with a bit o’ romance (and explosions)…all the things you could possibly want from a movie (though, sorry, minus the classic car chase scene)–but I felt the ending was expected from the very beginning.  I never really got the sense that Thor was ever in that much danger.

But that’s just me.  (And I never read the comic books, so it’s not like I had any foresight into his character to begin with.  My dad, however, was a big comic book reader, so I have him to inform me of all the little ways the movies alters from the original stories or hits them spot-on–because he’s nitpicky like that.  So yes, Dad was the one who wanted to see the movie the most out of the family.)

And since I’m not really one to write full movie reviews…that’s pretty much all I have to say about Thor.

What I am excited to talk about is another upcoming movie with yet another classic comic hero who was featured during the previews: Captain America.

Okay–Confession Time

Again, I say I never read these comic books, folks.  It just wasn’t part of my life.  (If my dad still has his old comics books, he’s never shared them with me. So I blame it on him!)  My closest experience with Captain America was in the early Nintendo games.  I was really young then, and all I could ever manage to do in the one title I owned was throw his shield around and jump all over the place.

I think I had a better time with Kirby, to be honest.  (He was big, round and pink, and he incessantly puffed his enemies away.  *shrugs* What can I say?  He had that rare kind of appeal.)

Nevertheless, I’m still entirely excited to see Captain America.

Why?

Well, remember when we were talking about dieselpunk, and I was kind of whining about how nothing cool and set during that era (1920s to 1950s) was being produced in film or fiction?  (At least not that I know of; I’d love some updates if there are.) *ehem*

NEWSFLASH: TIYANA CAN COMPLAIN LESS NOW.

At least temporarily.

Because folks, the upcoming film Captain America is totally dieselpunk.  Check this, if you haven’t already:

(Okay, I just totally went all ecstatic inside while watching that, even though I’ve seen it several times before.)

Now, if I have to explain why this is dieselpunk, then you clearly do not understand what this movement is all about.  (All right, maybe I’m just being mean now.)

One of the coolest things, imo, that this movie has going for it–and I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has no attachment to the original comics–is the use of technology.  They’re using it to engineer a super soldier to fight Hitler and his Nazis, for one.

How cool is that?

And have you seen the automobiles?  They practically scream dieselpunk.  Not to mention the brief shot of that sleek-looking aircraft flying in.  And those costume designs…

Basically everything about this movie says dieselpunk.  (And holy moly!  I just learned Joss Whedon is contributing to the script.  Now I absolutely have to see this movie.)

So maybe my reasons for wanting to see this film are more stylistic than because I’m actually a hardcore fan of the character (which I’m not).  I’m a stylist at heart.  Though, don’t get me wrong: I appreciate substance just as much as the next gal.

With that said, I hope that when Captain America does hit the theatres it delivers on all levels.

What Do You Think?

Have you seen Thor?  What was your reaction to it?  Also, is anyone else looking forward to seeing Captain America, as well?

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec!

21 Apr

Sometimes it’s amusing to learn how people discover your blog.  Take “Top Searches,” for example.  In the past week I think the weirdest one that’s led here is undoubtedly “nyxnissa lesbian.”

Hm… I don’t think I ever discussed lesbians before.  (Though, I have mentioned Nyxnissa.)

Ah, well, that’s not what I really wanted to talk about today.  I’ve got a quick movie review for you, dear audience!  Finally got around to watching this strange piece of work.  It’s quirky, it’s fun, it’s whimsical…

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you:

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle BlancSec! (Or, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec!)

As you can see, it is a French film.  That may be enough information for you, lol, but if not read on!

About the Film

The Extraordinary Adventures was originally released about a year ago in France.  But it’s so wonderful and unusual (and likely little heard of here in the states) that I just have to share it with you!

The movie is based off a comic series, actually, of the same name.  You can actually preview the first volume of the comic and even purchase it on Amazon, if you so desire.  As for the movie, it is viewable in French or English and/or with subtitles.  Though, I recommend it be viewed in French with the English subtitles, if you don’t already understand French.

The Story

The story takes place in Paris, France of 1912.  There is an elderly man, up to something decidedly occult in his apartment, with a nagging question on his mind: Is there life after death?  Next thing you know that pterodactyl egg over in the museum has come to life and Paris is suddenly in uproar!

Meanwhile, the lovely and daring Adèle Blanc-Sec, played by Louise Bourgoin, is finishing up a book-signing (she is a journalist and writer, you see) so that she might hurry on over to Egypt to consult a certain dead pharaoh’s doctor on the matter of her terribly, tragically ill sister.  Through a series of ridiculous events, Adèle manages to pluck her sought-after mummy from its tomb, evade the local authorities and emerge unscathed and victorious with her prize.  She then packages said mummy for transportation along with her other luggage back to Paris, where she may consult the elderly man–who just so happens to be a scientist with a knack for bringing things to life–from aforementioned apartment and bring her catatonic sister back to vibrant life.

The rest is complete absurdity and mayhem of the utmost degree!

I should mention that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the movie is not just the outlandish adventure but Adèle herself.  She is incredibly feisty, sardonic and entirely capable of accomplishing whatever it is she sets out to do, thank you very much.  Here is a still of our leading lady:

…and when she’s not being a lady, shamelessly charming men to do her bidding–the true Adèle:

(Yes, as brief as it may be, there is some nudity.)

Overall, the film is very much absurd and implausible–which makes it all the more endearing!  It is what it is, and I’d give it five stars for being so much fun.

For more information and an interactive experience sure to please, you can check out the film’s official website (you can view it in English) and discover the Paris of 1912!

About the Director/Writer/Producer

Luc Besson was the guy behind several successful films, but perhaps he is best known for his work in The Fifth Element.  He’s also known for Leon: The Professional, Taken, and The Transporter series.  But The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is quite different.  Still, it maintains that sense of wild adventure you’d expect from Besson.

…And that’s a wrap, folks!

It’s lunchtime then back to work for me.

Oh, I almost forgot the trailer (an English version):

Thoughts on Black Swan

4 Mar

>I just got back from seeing the movie Black Swan at Harkins for the first time today, and honestly…I’m pretty conflicted about it.

Why?

Let’s start off with the good.

Natalie Portman was excellent.  I can see now why she one an Oscar for her role.  I was 100% immersed in her character Nina.  In fact, a lot of the time, I felt I was her character.

I think that says a lot about Natalie as an actress.  She is so good that she makes her viewers forget who they are yet at the same time enables them to see themselves reflected in her role.  That’s how I felt about her performance, anyway.

But really, for me it goes deeper than this.  I get what it means to be that nice, sweet girl, that one who (more or less) never gets into trouble.  That one who strives toward perfection in her work and is devastated, or at least pretty upset, as she realizes that her work is not as perfect as she’d hoped.  I understand what it feels like to be told to “let go” and “live a little” yet continue to refuse because it could mean risking coming in contact with the darker side of one’s self.  On all of these points I could identify with Portman’s role as the delicate (and ultimately imperfect) Nina Sayers.

Because that’s what it means to be human.  Nina’s way of life is just one of many ways to be human.  A flawed, tragic human, but human nevertheless.

It’s ironic, really, what happens to Nina in Black Swan because what she really does is trade one form of perfection for another, so that the area she once was “perfect” in (or at least perceived to be perfect in) is compromised so that she might become “perfect” in another way.

And that’s where my conflicted sentiments about the film come into play.

That Typical “Good Girl Gone Bad” Story

There’s a part in the movie where Thomas (I guess he’s the head honcho of the dance company Nina works for), played by Vincent Cassel, is trying to get Nina to “open up” to him and stop being so inhibited.  He asks her bluntly, “You’re not a virgin, are you?”  (Really, you should hear the tone he uses here.)

Nina, after some time, replies softly, “No.”  (And actually, I didn’t believe her when she said this, like she was just too ashamed to admit it in this harrowing-prick-of-a-man’s presence; but maybe that’s just my interpretation of Natalie’s acting.)

Thomas then smiles as says, “So there is nothing to be embarrassed about.”

. . .

Why should it be “embarrassing” to be a virgin in the first place?  Why can’t it simply be a choice, a way of life?  (Ooo, don’t even get me started on this point.)  Honestly, if I was in Nina’s position, I would have pimp-slapped that man.  (Actually, I wouldn’t have even taken his invitation to have drinks alone with him in his home in the first place.)  But if this one exchange doesn’t say loads about the overall lack of morality in this film, then I don’t know what does.

Even worse is the fact that Nina chooses to become what she does by the end of the movie and sees it as “perfection.”  It’s disgusting, to be frank.  Horrific.  But inevitably, I guess that’s what the whole movie was about.

What I Took Away From This

I realize I’m making some very subjective remarks here, but that’s just the nature of this post.

What I can say is this: I truly do admire the beautiful, weird, fantastical poetry of the overall film and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Nina.  There were a lot of things I could have done without (like the unabashed lesbian sex scene), but for the most part I enjoyed the film.

I felt it achieved the thing I talked about on Wednesday evening, about “creating an experience,” because Black Swan was most definitely an emotional experience, and the creepy, fantastical element only enhanced that experience.  It was beautiful and ugly all at once.  Light and dark.  Good and evil.  The White Swan vs. the Black Swan, essentially.

If there’s one thing I can take away from this film that applies to writing fiction, it’s that fantasy can be used to create unique situations which highlight the themes of humanity, making them larger than life.  And since I’m writing fantasy, I think that’s just great.

Have You Seen Black Swan?

If so, what are your thoughts about it?  How did it make you feel?  What, if anything, were you able to take away from it?