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Netflix's very careful, non-spoilery summary: "The new starship Enterprise and its crew's first mission to explore the mystery surrounding the creation of Far Point Station on the planet Deneb IV."

There are two elements of this opener, one of which involves Q putting Picard & Co. on trial as proxies for the human race for crimes against... humanity? The universe? Crabgrass? Or something. (This part of the episode plays out like the worst job interview ever, complete with crazy outfits and impossible questions.) The other involves (obviously) the "mystery" of Far Point station, where everything is built to exact StarFleet specifications by some ~*~mysterious~*~ means and everything that people want keeps magically appearing. I use the sarcastic tildes and stars above because the idea that people (especially Star Fleet engineers) would dismiss this magical perfection as "just a coincidence" when they know that the planet doesn't have the materials to do this is ludicrous. The opening exposition dialogue between Riker and Dr. Crusher is really odd in this respect. My mental summary was:

Riker: Everything's too weirdly perfect here!
Crusher: LOL, you're such a suck-up.
Riker: But, APPLES!
Crusher: If only this cloth had an ugly pattern.
Shopkeeper: (eerie stare)
Riker: BUT!
Crusher: Whoa, this cloth has an ugly pattern!
Wesley: That pattern wasn't there before!
Riker: See?! Something weird--
Crusher: It's just a coincidence. Good luck with that sucking up while I reveal my angtsy past.

Seriously, StarFleet doesn't seem like an organization which would ignore weird coincidences, especially not on planets where it wants to build a permanent base. Of course, there's an explanation: Spoilers, just in case.Collapse )

The solving of this mystery leads to the other part of the episode, which is Q's trial for humanity, in a courtroom that's rumored to be modeled on one in the year 2079, after some event called "The Atomic Horror." It appears to be canon that ST:TNG's working model for our immediate future is that Mad Max does happen at some point, and that armies drug up their soldiers to get them to perform... better? Run faster towards their deaths? Or something. The courtroom is filled with people who look like they're all in a community theater production of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and Q has this awesome scissor lift chair that I noted as, "must own." Q and Picard have a snarky battle of words; Q uses his infinite cosmic powers to ice Lt. Yar like he's Mr. Freeze in an old Batman episode; and while this is all very dramatic, it's weird sequence of events. The pacing is really odd, with a lot of reaction shots from all the characters involved, and they all look awkward and grouchy.

This leads me to my other area of surprise in the rewatch: everyone is awkward and grouchy around each other. More spoilers!Collapse )

There is something interesting character building that I had forgotten: Geordi, for example, reveals that using his visor means that he can effectively see, but that he's in pain most of the time, and he's not going to let Dr. Crusher meddle with his brain to deal with that pain if it means he can't do his job or be himself. Geordi is a total badass. I also liked the revelations between Crusher and Picard, even if the entire tone was awkward; it still felt right, given what they'd been through together. Data and Riker's first meeting was pretty nice, too.

Awesome-est part of the episode: DeForest Kelly! And Majel Barrett Roddenberry's familiar voice.

Signs it's not the future:
* Picard orders the Enterprise to cease all internal communications in order to fool Q; he says they should use "print outs" instead. ZOMG.
* The lighting in this episode is very odd: sort of florescent, but weirdly dark in patches.

Signs that it's the future:
* Cloth is sold in cylinders, not in bolts! THE FUTURE!
* The Enterprise's elevator technology is YEARS ahead of ours. Years, people.
* Far Point station is in the form of a city with a pointy spire at its center. Pointy cities = always the future!
* People are always poking at wall computers, although it's never clear what they're doing (except for the time when Riker uses the computer to find Data in the Holodeck.) Wall computers! THE FUTURE!

Next time: Everyone gets some virus that makes them act drunk; Lt. Yar goes to that planet where she has to fight some guy's wife. This should be good.

2015 Resolutions, Pop Culture Wise

2014 has been a good year for pop culture activities, even without SDCC tickets. I've been lucky enough to see about half of the movies that I wanted to; I've read 53 books (it would be 54, but I abandoned one because of sheer boredom/desperation); and I've had wonderful times speaking to many fun, knowledgeable, and interesting people about shared fandoms and pop culture interests. I hope 2015 brings more of the same, especially since there is Star Wars to look forward to, and Avengers, and Agent Carter and all my returning favorites and, really, far too many upcoming titles to entirely list in one entry.

I do have a bunch of projects that I want to bring to fruition in 2015, some of them big, and some fairly small and relaxed. In no particular order:

1) A Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell reread, to get ready for the BBC adaptation. My target date for this is January/February, just so I'm not attempting to finish such a long book too close to the release date. I'll blog about this in chunks as I go through it, and if there's anyone who wants to join in, I can get more specific about these chunks and when I plan to have them done. :)

2) Yebisu and I are planning, thanks to Netflix, to do a Star Trek: The Next Generation re-watch, probably two episodes a week. I'm hoping that the two episodes a week format will help balance out some of the truly regrettably bad episodes that I remember from the first few seasons by contrasting bad with good, or at least passable. I'll blog about this, too.

3) Photography of the action figures in SOME format; I just haven't settled on what yet.

4) A far more cryptic pair of projects, one of which hinges on acquiring new skills, and the other of which depends on time. I'm remaining cryptic in hopes of actually accomplishing both and/or confusing my older self when I review these entries years from now.

The Hobbit: Orcs Ruin Everything!

My subtitle for the last installment in this franchise was, "The Hobbit: Everything's Coming Up Arrows!" and after careful reflection, I came up with a few more for this final chapter:

The Hobbit: Everyone Has an Ironic Steed!
The Hobbit: Women and Children First!
The Hobbit: Orcs are the WORST. (Also up for consideration: the title above, and Orcs are the jerkiest jerks ever.)
The Hobbit: Wait 'till HR hears about this!
The Hobbit: No, seriously, let's catch the express bus to Gundebad, we can hitch a ride back afterwards.
The Hobbit: Not without my mommy-/daddy-issues! (Close second: Family is sooooo embarrassing.)

I don't mean any of these in a mean-spirited way; I really did enjoy the film, and there are so many beautiful elements in it that I'm willing to ignore a lot of weirdo plot contrivances (most notably that the map of Middle Earth that I thought I had pretty clearly in mind was *completely* wrong.)

Spoilers, I suppose...Collapse )

In summary: Lots of fun all around. I've read some pretty negative reviews of this film, and I'm not sure what the reviewers went into the film wanting. It's called "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies," not "The Hobbit: Peter Jackson sat down and asked YOU what you wanted out of a Hobbit movie," for gosh-sakes. There are five armies, there is a mountain of cursed dragon gold, and there are more than a few heroes. What did everyone expect, Citizen Hobbit? The Maltese Dragon? I don't know. Anyway, I thought it was fun and diverting, and that's exactly what I wanted when I went in, so that was perfect.

What Happened, Sleepy Hollow?

I used to be so excited for the Monday night block of shows. But Gotham has been... somewhat uneven (another entry for another time) and Sleepy Hollow has become even uneven-er. This used to be a show that I would unreservedly recommend to all and sundry because it was so much fun. Somewhere along the line this season, though, that fun just drained away, and last night's mid-season finale clinched it for me.

Specifically, a lot of spoilers:Collapse )

And even more specifically, solving a problem like Katrina:Collapse )

I do love this show. I love Abbie Mills, and the Mills sisters working together (and the episode with them last week was the strongest all season long). I love Crane vs. 2014. I loved Abbie's speech in last night's episode about how she wasn't going to let Moloch take away any more people--that's the core of part of the reason I love the show right there: it's a story about a strong woman, who is surrounded by other strong women (because in the scene in the church before Henry showed up was Abbie, Jenny, and Katrina vowing to shop evil, with Crane chiming in, a rarity for a mainstream network show.) Most of the men on the show (when a romantic subplot isn't ruining everything) are compelling characters in their own right, and I want to know their stories, too, but the most interesting thing about the story remains Abbie, and her facing down evil with a platonic partner. I want the show to go back to that, and stop shoe-horning in people I don't care about, and subplots that go nowhere. I'd like it to be funny again, too. Basically, I want to go back to that feeling of recommending it to all and sundry, not the way I feel right now which is, "It's OK, but..."

Happy Things: Big Hero 6

Yesterday, Yebisu and I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Big Hero 6, which is one of the rare movies that I didn't want to end because it was so beautiful and so entertaining, and because the ending of the film provided a springboard for so, so many stories that would be equally as fun and interesting as the movie itself. This isn't to say this was a perfect or flawless film, but it's pretty damned good in almost every respect, and that is saying quite a lot.

There are quite a few plot summaries that are easily available on the web, and I don't want to add to what's been already said in that respect. Some of the plot aspects that I found especially interesting, though, had to do with the depiction of science and scientific process. Science, although it provides our heroes with their gadgets and weapons, isn't a solution to all problems, or something that's so simple and quick that it looks like magic. Instead, science is something all of the characters think over carefully, and get their hands dirty for. In one pivotal (and very touching) sequence, we see that one of the characters went through so many proto-types for a project that he forgot which number he was on, and what time of day it was. Being smart and willing to approach problems through trial and error is never, ever shown as a liability for any of the characters, and the story is richer for it. No one gets a free pass to becoming a hero/heroine.

The design aspect of this film, from the robots to the city of San Fransokyo, is excellent. It's hard to say where to begin with this: the Golden Gate bridge has been re-imagined in the most wonderful way, and a lot of classic SF buildings have, too. (I crossed my fingers that City Lights would appear, but it didn't, to my slight disappointment.) Everything in the city, from the signs to the trolleys, was just beautiful, and if the whole movie had just been a tour through the city, I probably would have been good with just that. (Note to my subconscious: If you want to add this city to your map of dream!San Francisco, please, please, please go ahead.) But there was more than that--all of the objects and homes and buildings around our characters felt right. Hiro's home, in particular, has that "lived in" patina of family photos/fannish posters/random pictures on the wall and discarded projects and games strewn around the floor of his bedroom that make it feel like a real space, not just a CGI, story-necessitated one.

The overall plot is the only place where things start to get shaky: for anyone who's seen a film before (or read the works of Joseph Campbell), certain aspects are visible miles away. This is a mostly a pretty kid-friendly film, although death and revenge are two of the major plot elements, so perhaps think carefully before taking younger kids. But if your kid is up for it, you won't be disappointed. Stay until after the credits have rolled to catch a scene that is just... well, it's hilarious, and I was so happy because it validated a theory that I'd formed halfway through the story. :D

A Rare Misstep for Sleepy Hollow

Parts of last night's episode worked well enough, but the central plot device of the episode was the disturbing Mystical, Forced Pregnancy trope. These kinds of episodes never end well for me, because they either become a political screed (any episode where Camille Paglia is a spiritual consultant worries me greatly) or they are gross and wrong and hit all my squicks.

On the plus side, though, it should be said there was plenty of time for Abbie to be awesome, and I liked the inclusion of Reyes and the local police force as "Abbie's army," although that plot arm made me nervous because if it had gone wrong, I was worried that Abbie might have lost her job. I also thought that Sleepy Hollow is the only show I know where a disguised PSA about Election Day suddenly becomes plot relevant and is genuinely entertaining. I also loved the final dialogue at the end of the episode, where Crane realized how much he loves Katrina, and he and Abbie were able to shore up their resolution to defeat the bad guys.

On the minus side, I have the following concerns:

1) Who are Henry's minions? Cultists? Sorcerors? Rogue demons? (What's a rogue demon? Heh.) I feel like this could be resolved so easily with just a few lines of dialogue, and it would lend urgency to the story. After all, what's Henry going to do next week when all of these thugs are in jail? Does he get them from rent-a-thug? Are there more? Do they have a health plan and benefits? Etc.

2) I am very tired of the is-she-or-isn't-she-EBIL plot meandering for Katrina. Just really tired of it. Seriously--either your character is evil or she's not, and we need some definitive plot confirmation one way or another.

3) And speaking of Katrina: OMG, where to begin? I began to wonder if the real reason the show has held back on letting her come into the main timeline is because a witch as powerful as she is would upset the balance of reality. If Katrina is as powerful as the story says she is (and the glimpses we've gotten every now and then), then she could, almost single-handedly, make things work out for our heroes in the coming battle. I would rather see her try that and die heroically than be stuck in the background as a half-neutered character.

3a) DAMMIT, mystical forced pregnancy trope: I don't like to see characters suffer like that, and I really don't like the idea that women's bodies are incubators that can be highjacked and used for demon baby vessels anytime. It's also lazy writing: if Moloch could have done this from the get-go, why didn't he try it sooner, and with anyone else? Nope, it had to happen at this specific time to this specific character. (Yes, it was inferred that Henry's minions had tried with other people to no avail, but OF COURSE it works exactly the way it was supposed to when it was Katrina's time.) It's almost as if this storyline was a punishment for her omissions of truth previously. (UGH, the implications of the whole thing give me the heebie jeebies.) The resolution was also ridiculously rushed and particularly deus ex machina.

I started thinking about this trope and wondering if there were ANY narratives that did it "right," or if it was even possible to do right at all. The only other show I could think of that attempted something similar was an Angel episode from first or second season where Cordelia gets magically knocked up overnight and we had to go through the whole "pregnant ladies eat crazy things!" blah blah. Is there any show/storyline where this trope has been used for anything other than a rape allegory? Can it even be done without inspiring some level of squick? And what would it take to retire this particular trope from the writer's handbook? ;p

My Only Ghost Story

Happy Halloween, to all those who celebrate it!

I've been reading some AWESOME scary stories lately (one over at Jezebel bothers me very, very deeply, and I'm really, really glad I didn't read it alone at night!) and in the interests of adding to the general level of scare, I thought I'd share my only experience with a ghost. It's not particularly scary, but it was a pretty unnerving experience in both halves.

When we lived in Vancouver, we rented a basement apartment. I was initially against this, since I thought it would be dark and dreary. Instead, it turned out to be a wonderful space, painted white, with gorgeous hard wood floors. Yebisu and I loved it, and it was relatively close to UBC on the bus line. All of the public transport options were easily accessible from our apartment, including the trolley that ran on old-fashioned train tracks a few blocks over. Our neighborhood was laid out in a fairly straight grid pattern, so I never had a problem getting lost as I got to know it, and to top it off, it was a pretty quiet location (except for Chinese New Year and Halloween, when all of neighbors would set noisy fireworks off.)

One night in late September, I awoke around 2:00 AM to see a man standing at the foot of our bed. He was tall and pale and wore lumberjack style overalls and a plaid shirt. He was staring down at his hands. Fear gripped me and I started to shake Y. awake. For those who don't know, Y. is a terribly hard sleeper (years of being in the army reserves have given him the ability to fall deeply asleep almost instantaneously, no matter where he's sleeping) and he was slow to wake. As I shook him, I looked to the foot of the bed again. The man was starting to move, but incredibly slowly, like a slow-motion movie that was one frame too short. He was beginning to look up. I shook Y. harder, and eventually, he woke up as I turned on the light. The man was gone. Y. searched the entire apartment and found no one--the window next to us was locked tight, our doors, too. Y. assumed I'd had a bad dream, but I've never had the sleep paralysis that leads some people to ghost-story-like waking nightmares. As I thought over what had happened, I realized that I didn't feel that scared. It was out of the ordinary, of course, and it surprised me, but there was no lingering terror, no sense of malevolence from the thing at the foot of our bed.

I held onto the story for a few months, until our friend M. came to visit. M. had some amateur ghost-hunting experience and listened to my story. Then she asked if she could use some equipment to look at our room. Under a UV light, she found a long scratch on our bedroom wall that didn't appear when the regular lights were on. It was about the height the ghost-man's hands had been as he stood at the foot of our bed. M. walked around the neighborhood with me, and when we came to the train tracks, she speculated that the spirit/ghost had been looking for them. After much consideration, I came to the same conclusion, and I think now that the thing at the foot of the bed was lost and the scratch on the wall was a marker that he'd been there, a breadcrumb on the forest path. We never saw him or anything else again, and whatever he was, I hope he able to find where he was going.

Constantine Reportage

Full disclosure: I am not a super-fan of this character, but I like him well enough that I stayed up late last night to watch the pilot of the show. (I regretted this somewhat this morning.) And I'm pretty OK with the decision to watch the thing, because there was enough Done Right to balance out the Wrong/Annoying/WTF. In many ways, this episode felt really like a pilot and not a presentative episode of what the show's going to be like as a whole: lots of exposition crammed in (and I mean crammed into every second of almost each shot, for good or ill), characters not really standing out (other than Constantine himself), and a whole lot of "look, look, this is cool and shiny! People will like it! Buy it!" I fervently hope that this frenetic, sales-focus approach will dissipate over the next few episodes and just let the stories breathe, because there is a lot that the writers can do here with a lot of talent.

Among the Things Done Right: I like Matt Ryan as Constantine--he looks perfect, and even though his accent isn't, strictly speaking, correct, it's good, and his speech has the cadence and tone that I imagined for the character. He's good at weary, but not whiny at all, and he acts like a man who knows the cost of too much and not enough power. His looks, as I said, are almost eerily like the character stepped off the comic book page. Of course, when we see him as a person, I kept thinking, dude cannot tie a tie! Depending on your feelings about the character, this either makes him adorably rumpled or distractedly uncaring, both of which (again) Matt Ryan carries off well. The settings around him were a bit on the generic side (probably to hide the fact that they are NOT London), but the effects for the spirit world overlaying ours were very, very nicely done. I also like the look of the magic that we saw--wards and glyphs all over the place, a lot of dramatic flame, and a nice bit of scare/ick during the cold open involving cockroaches. Another plus was Jasper's hideout, which is basically the most awesome occult library ever, and contains the helmet of Doctor Fate(!)*, as well as a bunch of other, plot-related things. The entire episode could have taken place in this setting, and I would have been fine. Harold Perrineau's appearances were good in the same way, although far more cryptic. Still, though, an entire episode of his character and Constantine sniping at each other, and I'd put up my feet and settle in quite contentedly.

But the flip side of this is that because there was Harold Perrineau's character, and Chas, and one other guy whose name I've forgotten, the token female character got almost totally sidelined, even though she was supposed to be a featured character. (I know the actress isn't a regular on the series, and her character was written out by the end of the episode, in a way that felt like a DM trying to compensate when a pivotal PC suddenly has to leave the table early.) I felt sorry for her, mostly. The dynamic between her and Constantine was very much like the Doctor and a new companion, and I think people's experience of the show depended a lot on their tolerance for that sort of power imbalance. Half of the dialogue was like this:

John: [Cryptic statement about Liv's powers/the occult/adversaries.]
Liv: [Reasonable question or freakout about any of the above.]
John: [Deflection or cryptic warning about adversaries.]
Live: *eyeroll* or *distracted*

Matt Ryan's performance saved this from being condescending nonsense; he never acted as though he knew more than she or thought her inferior. It seemed more like he was juggling too many things in his head to answer properly. The other half of the time, a plot element would come along and interrupt the conversation, stopping any power imbalance talk in its tracks. In the end, I really didn't blame Liv for leaving, although it was mostly because I hadn't even had a chance to invest in her one way or another.

My biggest other quibble with this pilot was the decision to bring Constantine's past mistakes forward so quickly. The adorable-child-in-peril plot device is something that really, really grates on me, because there's only so many times it can be used before it gets old. This episode brought it out... about four times in total: twice in flashback, once in explanation of said flashback, and once in person during the big showdown at the end. I think a far more effective method of introducing this plot element would have come at the very end of an episode that built to it. After a prolonged fight against a much scarier demonic villain, a sidekick character demands to know why Constantine risks life and limb to help people he's never met and/or barely knows, and in a tight close up, he says something like, "Wasn't fast enough before. Never gonna let that happen again." BAM--compelling character shown through his actions, rather than just words, and a tortured soul to boot. I think it's fine for characters to mysterious pasts or refer to stories we never learn the entire truth about. Not everything has to be Chekov's gun. I would have preferred a more straight-up urban fantasy adventure, with implications around the edges instead of front and center.

My only real WTF about the whole thing is that for a show that features demonic villains, angels, and magical powers, there was absolutely no appearance of the word "God." Constantine only invoked a Creator, and when he did other spells, he named symbols ("the power of the Star of David, the power of the Cross.") I'm a bit confused at the absence of any larger divine presence, and while I'd like to think it's because the writers are rejecting the standard either-or, good-evil, God-Devil dichotomy, I suspect the truth is more aligned with fears of alienating religious viewers. I need to go back to the comics now and see what sort of spells Constantine uses there.

But I'm eager to tune in next week, because as I said before, this show has a lot of elements that I do love, and I think with some time, it could really grow into a strong contender for an awesome, fun DC show. Given their track record thus far, I'm willing to give them a lot of leeway to get it right.

* If this means that Zatanna gets an appearance later on, I will probably die of SQUEE.
So, the cold open for last night's Gotham featured a character we'd never met before, high on a Plot Device drug, running screaming at the camera. This image pretty much encapsulates the show for me: it's loud, it's not subtle, and if I'm willing suspend a lot of disbelief, it's fun in a "did they really go there?" sort of way. The best scenes involve Jada Pinkett Smith and her mob boss character's machinations, sexual and otherwise. The worst ones... I dunno. There's a lot of violence that's mostly necessitated by the plot, and there are a lot of minor villains who serve as antagonists of the week. The show is exceedingly well cast, but the writing feels kind of flat and predictable: Antagonist is introduced, Gotham City Police react carefully and sensitively like a blunt instrument and beat lots of people up, Jim Gordon does some detecting where no one else will, villains plot, and confrontation, and then foreshadow-y, meta-plot scene and credits roll.

My other big problem with this show (and, to a slightly lesser extent, Arrow, which we're catching up with on Netflix) is that I have yet to see any reason why Gotham or Starling City is worth saving. Gotham, in particular, is a dingy, grimy, just plain awful place that doesn't seem to have any kind or altruistic citizens, just wall-to-wall gangsters, homeless druggies, and criminals, with a few rich people here and there to be offended by the very presence of the lower class. Even the trees in the final moments of last night's episode were dirty--it's a freaking park on a sunny day, and the trees were just patches of dingy green and darkness. Seriously, TV shows, what gives? I don't think it would be a stretch to have an episode centered around someone who's trying to do actual, genuine good in these cities, not as a vigilante, but as a social worker or community advocate (and Councilman Blood on Arrow doesn't count, since we have yet to see him actually doing anything in the very community he's meant to represent.) All cities have their issues with crime and poverty, but I have yet to travel to a city that doesn't have any good people in it, or a nicely landscaped park or museum with adequate lighting somewhere. Further, adding some nice people or places wouldn't diminish the grimdark tone the writers/production people are going for, it would make the dark seem darker by comparison. Come on, shows, surprise me! Make me want to visit Gotham or Starling City!

I'm definitely enjoying this season of Sleepy Hollow more, but last night's episode brought up a few problems: Spoilers, of course.Collapse )

A Few Thoughts on Gone Girl

A lot has been written on Gone Girl, both book and movie, lately and I've been impressed at the topics of discussion that have come up because of it, mostly because they are things that people do not like to talk about: the failure of marriage, as an institution, to provide for all parties involved in a way that compensates for all the sacrifices they make and the identities that people assume to cope with that failure. When I watched the movie with a single friend of mine, I turned to her at the end and joked, "So, hey, feel like getting married now?" and she laughed but then vehemently replied, "No way." Actually, the audience at the showing I saw was pretty worked up throughout the whole thing, and I think there were a lot of people around us thinking much the same thing. Marriage isn't usually a villain in any equation, and seeing it act like that here is at turns awkward (Amy's diary monologues about wives who control their husbands like Dancing Monkeys) and outright disturbing (Nick's sheer cluelessness about what his wife does with her time; Amy's multiple, casual re-fabrications about her life.) People around us laughed at some points, but it was an uneasy, restless laughter that left a sad tinge to the credits.

The other thing that really impressed me about the film was the number of facades that the movie presented us with: Amy and Nick's house is a blank, bland slate, colored in beige and wimpy green (not actually verdant, just the pale cousin of bright, lifelike green); Nick's bar is as generic as it gets (almost down to the level of grit on the windows, which I got the feeling the set decorators measured to be absolutely, disgustingly perfect); and all of the landscapes in the movie are either empty (the vast fields that Nick and the army of volunteers comb through, or the vague blankness of the cabin in the Ozarks where a pivotal mistake is made) or prefab and fake (Nick's office has no decorations, only a computer and a desk, cementing his status as "fake professor.") I kept expecting the characters to go around to a back of a building, only to discover that it was just a false front on a Hollywood backlot. It's a shell of a movie--a beautiful, exquisitely constructed shell that's hollow on the inside, just waiting for one of the characters to come back and truly inhabit it.

All this said, it's not a "fun" film, or a simple narrative. The book is easy to read--Flynn's sharp-witted prose just slides by like nothing else is happening and as a "need to know what happens next" type of book, it shines. The film is like that, too, relying on an excellent script from Flynn and reasonably quick pacing. But neither of them is a settling experience, and both of them made me feel like I'd watched someone else's homemade, creepy porn by accident. I'm still trying to brain bleach out a few of the images and sentiments. They're both worthwhile pieces of work, but not for the faint of heart, or those who want black-and-white endings.


I know I'm a grown woman, and that I should be doing more responsible things at the moment, but there is something just so lovely about sitting down with a pile of comic books and reading them from cover to cover, regardless of time and chores, and the general mundanity that is life.

In comics:

Rat Queens, Issue 8: Violet's origin story gets told in a highly satisfactory fashion, with some very sweet moments between her and her mother, and some sour ones with her family as a whole. I especially like the first two pages, where Violet is getting dressed and it's made abundantly clear that a) the artist knows how armor works, and b) Violet is not your standard comic book lady with an unreal body. In any case, the story unfolds, and it's very, very bittersweet as it's contrasted with the final page of the issue. I love this comic!

Thor, Issue 1: The only disappointment in the whole haul, mainly because the new Thor is only in the whole issue for two pages. I'm eager to see Lady Thor in action, and while the two-page spread of her lifting Mjolnir was beautifully colored and dynamic, it was frustrating as a whole for a comic about her to only feature her for a moment. The art in this is very nice, though, and hopefully when the next issue shows up, new!Thor will have more to do. Also, some frost giants to battle, because there sure were a lot of them in this issue. (And their toenails are grotesque. GROTESQUE.)

One other, minor disappointment: still no word on how original!Thor will keep those abs now that he's not wielding the hammer anymore. Will he have to go to the gym like the rest of us?? Inquiring minds want to know!

Gotham Academy, Issue 1: This is a lot of fun, and it has a lot of promise. My only quibble with it is that it's too short! The first issue is setting up a lot of plot elements: our heroine's angsty past with her mother and other students at the school; conspiracies in and around the school itself; and whatever the monster in the walls is. I wished that there was more time to let the story unspool just a little bit more, instead of "here is this character! that one! look, it's Bruce wayne!" That said, I'm looking forward to the next issue, and hoping that the pacing will pay off in the long run.

In graphic novels:

This One Summer, words by Mariko Tamaki, art by Jillian Tamaki: The artwork in this is just gorgeous, and it captures perfectly the "summer at the seaside" that I was lucky enough to experience as a kid. The plot is very subtle but sweetly compelling, a coming-of-age story for the main character, Rose, mostly, but also the story of her friendship, her parents' relationship (which is not relegated to the sidelines, like a lot of YA literature might; I really appreciated the fact that the adults in this story were real people, too, not just paper tigers or imparters of Important Truths about Adulthood), and her awkward crush on the local convenience store guy. There's a sudden twist or two towards that the end that propels the action of the story into overdrive, but that's what summer is often like: a whole lot of leisure, and then the sudden realization that it's all about to be OVER and you need to do something, right away, before you lose the chance. I'd recommend this to a number of my friends, and to anyone who's spent any time at a summer resort as a kid. The sheer nostalgia alone is worth the price of admission.

Gotham, OK & Sleepy Hollow, Yay!

No spoilers about Gotham, except to say that I like what I've seen so far, and the casting is perfect for almost every role. It does feel very organic, like this could have happened before other Batman!verse events, although the timelines are off for a few of the major characters. The only quibble I have with it (and I realize it's pretty damn ridiculous) is since almost all the characters are villains/heroes in the making, Yebisu and I started wondering if every character had some significance in the story's future; we forgot that sometimes an ugly mob thug is just an ugly mob thug.

Of more immediate squee-ish interest to me is Sleepy Hollow. Spoilers ahoy!Collapse )

Trailer Park:

* Dammit, Annabelle trailers: I do not need another phobia. While I'm sure the actual movie won't be that scary, whoever edited these trailers (there were two) is to be commended for making the whole thing as spooky and awful as possible. Also, who buys a creepy-looking doll like that? What the hell, people?

* Kingsman: I am all for Colin Firth as a suave British secret agent who can kick ass, but this movie appears to have some worrisome strikes against it: 1) February release date--not January dumping ground, but not prestige, either; 2) Lea Michelle appears to be in it, with a British accent (uhm...); and 3) How is this not The Avengers, but without Emma Peel?

Enthusiastic Book Rec: The Cuckoo's Calling

It's a great pleasure to heartily recommend The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling), mostly because it's been a long time since I've been so invested in a story and its characters, but also because it made me gasp aloud not once but twice, with two reveals that I did not see coming at all. This book is all the things that Rowling did well with the Harry Potter series, but a different story and setting, and, obviously, much more adult tone throughout. One of the things that Rowling does especially well is create characters who I sympathize with, and this book had it spades, from the gruff, wounded detective who is the hero of the story, to the homeless, drug-addicted friend of the dead woman who seethes with anger and resentment, but is ultimately portrayed as human, and not just a plot device. Another excellent element of this story is its plot, which moves along briskly enough, but slows down when necessary to give its characters and settings time to breathe, to come alive and make sense.

To be honest, this book was also a pleasure because it reminded me why I love the mystery genre. I'd gotten soured after reading a succession of books where women's bodies were in pieces, bits and limbs of victims everywhere, but with no soul. It's a misogynistic trend that bothers me, and I was a little wary of starting another story that featured a female victim. But The Cuckoo's Calling never glorified or overindulged in the violence that lead to the murder. Instead, there was a lot of discussion of who the murdered person was, and why her life mattered to people. That's a welcome change from the scores of serial killer books where bodies pile up namelessly.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a densely plotted and populated mystery that takes place in a modern, urban setting, with a flawed hero and resourceful sidekick. Hell, I recommend this book to just about anyone who enjoys a good mystery.

Legend of Korra: Season 3 Finale (ZOMG!)

Before I get into the main part of what I want to say, a universal complaint: Attention, cable networks! If you take a beloved show with a devoted fanbase off the air unexpectedly and put the rest of the remaining episodes of the season on your website for viewing, please:

1) Make sure your website is easily navigated and loads properly on all browsers;
2) Load the episodes in a good enough resolution so that the beautiful animation work can, in fact, be seen on all browers and devices; and,
3) Make sure your website can handle the traffic so that the episodes don't crash halfway through and then refuse to reload at the point where they crashed last.

Dammit, Nick. I get that this show doesn't make bank the easy way that Spongebob does, and that it presents a marketing challenge, but you're losing out on a lot of money from older fans (who, historically, have a lot more to spend) and building your reputation as fan-unfriendly network, which hurts in the long run.

Ahem, now that I've gotten that out of my system: on to the spoiler-rific talk about the Legend of Korra Season 3 finale and episodes leading to it.Collapse )

Ahem. Yes, that is my dignified squee for the moment. What an amazing show. This season more than makes up for the lackluster plotlines in the previous seasons, and even they aren't that bad. But this season felt real, and the stakes were so GODDAMN HIGH that I had to remind myself to breathe throughout the final 45 minutes of the finale.

... So... Season 4? :D
Recently, while I was visiting my sister, I finished watching the first season of "The Carrie Diaries" on my AirBnB's host's Netflix account and griped to my sister about it next morning. I went into a few reasons why I was dissatisfied with the show and after a minute, my sister spoke up. "Why," she asked, "Would you waste your time on something you hate so much?" I backpedaled a bit, and tried to explain what had drawn me to the show in the first place (the awesome of Freema Agyeman--much minimized, alas; 80s clothing; somewhat interesting character arcs for a few of the minor characters), but it was clear that my sister thought I was 100% crazy, and that she'd never heard of hate!watching anything at all.

Generally, I don't hate!watch shows much. America's Next Top Model, for example, is fun with a glass of wine and MST3K-style snarkery, but it's usually the same thing from episode to episode, and I move on. The problem occurs when a show that I like veers from 'genuine pleasure' to 'guilty pleasure' category, and then into hate!watch territory. Once Upon a Time went from "oh, wow, this show is so much fun, I need to watch every episode obsessively" to "OK, this is getting little over the top, but still fun" and, finally, "who are all these people and why should I care about them?" I guess if that's the case, a long, slow demise, then I don't feel so bad about hate!watching a few episodes in the hopes that the whole endeavor will slide back onto the quality side of the equation.

More problematic, though, is the show that goes from "genuine pleasure" to hate!watching at alarming speed. This is where I am with SyFy's Defiance. There are a lot of reasons I want to like it: there's a dynamite ensemble cast who have a lot of chemistry together; the setting is interesting and the world-building, although muddled, compelling; and the themes of the show and the individual storylines within it are mostly interesting. Add to this a lot of diverse roles for female characters and slightly dystopian sci-fi feel to the whole thing, and bam, it should rock, right?

Well... not as much as I'd like.

For one thing, not since Lost have I had so many questions about the larger meta-plot of the story that are going largely unanswered. The frustrating thing about this is that many of these could be answered with a few lines of dialogue. I don't need an exposition dump; I just want to know a few things that would help me understand the characters and their motivations better. For instance, the show is set in the near-future, after an alien invasion/colonization effort went bad. Why is there no anti-alien sentiment? Where's the "Aliens go home" graffiti that I'm sure would adorn many, many buildings in this setting? Further, the Earth Republic (a kind of grumpier UN, at least as far as I can make out) seems to have no greater goals than messing with our heroes/heroines' plans. Wouldn't they have some bigger idea? Why do we never hear about them trying to do good things, like starting up manufacture of medicine and infrastructure?

Equally frustrating is this show's depiction of women. On one hand, there are a number of interesting, diverse roles for female characters. Jaime Murray is excellent as Stahma, an alien woman dealing with newfound power and the cost to hold onto it. There's also Doc Ewell, whose dry sarcasm is perfectly timed and in sharp contrast to the earnestness of those around her. Julie Benz plays Amanda, the town's (now ex-) mayor, with a lot of poise, except when she's being menaced by memories of her rape at the hands on an unknown assailant when she was younger. This sexual assault is on its way to becoming a major plot point, and, really, all the women on this show have been shown sexually threatened, assaulted, or wounded at some point, whereas the men (with one notable exception) have not. It's gotten so frustrating that I'm beginning to wish there was a pact that authors/writers/showrunners (for this show and all others) could sign agreeing not to use rape or sexual assault as a plot device. I don't care that it "develops" the character further (because there are other, more effective and less rape-y ways to do this just as effectively), or that it's "realistic" (because sci-fi and fantasy are chances to do something that isn't necessarily realistic.) It's not even very original. I would like to watch one episode of Defiance that doesn't show one of its female characters wounded, assaulted, or threatened sexually. Just one.

And that worst thing is, this show has a lot of potential to be fascinating. I've never seen a mainstream piece of work approaching a tricky subject like cultural appropriation in such a thought-provoking way. I also like the religious systems the aliens brought with them that are slowly being revealed in fits and starts, sometimes clearly menacing, but always completely alien and convincing. As I mentioned before, the cast is fantastic and the special effects work well with the story and feel organic. I don't want to end up hate!watching this show... but I don't see how much longer I can watch it for pleasure, either.

Sleepy Hollow Trailer!

OMG OMG OMG: longer teaser trailer is here!

*No one appears to be dead (except for those who were already dead, see comments in the Cons section), which is what I thought, so YAY!
*Abby and Crane are back in action together again, and hopefully defeating all evil through shear force of AWESOMENESS. XD
*Jenny appears to have more to do this time around, which is also AWESOME.

*Goddamn zombies. Will this be the season that forces me to confront my phobia? Dammit, people, I didn't feel like doing that this fall. >:{
*Katrina appears to be very much damsel-in-distressed. (Oh, see, I have this pretty necklace for you, why don't you love me and sing in my opera house, oops, wrong media.) Hopefully, this plot line is dispatched IMMEDIATELY and then everything goes back to being awesome.

Aw, Sleepy Hollow, I have missed you so much! Can't wait for the opener.
This entry will discuss events that happened up to Episode 5, "The Metal Clan." I know that more episodes have been leaked, and if you know any spoilers concerning those, I'd appreciate them being kept under a hat.

In general...Collapse )

And specifically about Lin:Collapse )

I really like the two episodes a Friday night format, even though we're in the Friday night death slot. It feels more substantial as two episodes, and it gives the plot more time to unfold, rather than suffering from endless recapping.

Thoughts on Twitter (Super-Meta Edition)

I've been on Twitter for about a week now, and for the most part, it's a lot of fun. I especially like the ability I have now to keep connected with places/institutions that I like (the @SFMOMA feed in particular is really nice--not too many posts, but gorgeous photos of the works there, and thought-provoking questions) and cool people from present and past (getting back in touch with my old Smith roommate is really, really nice, as is seeing what my current LJ/DW/RL friends are up to.)

However, kyrielle was right that Twitter is like a party where if you stop talking, people tend to forget about you and move on. It's also a party where a lot of conversations are out of context and I have little idea what's going on in some of them. One of my favorite fanartists is currently in the midst of a multi-tweet rant about people hating on her work because of its visual style (or at least, I think this is what is going on, and she hasn't given any context as to what started the rant in the first place.) I've gotten the hang of conversing with other people (although read out of context, I'm sure those tweets make very little sense.)

The other thing that is continually challenging to shortening my thoughts to 140 characters. I'm used to a blogging format like, well, this one, and it's tricky being less than expansive. The whole thing reminds me of an exercise I did in elementary school where we supposed to imagine that we were composing a telegram* and had to limit our words from 150 down to 50, with the word STOP for periods and FULL STOP for the ending. The temptation to insert the word STOP into my tweets is there, but then I think, whoa, that is five characters that I need! So, no telegramming tweets for the moment.

* A TELEGRAM. A FRIGGIN' TELEGRAM! At the time, I remember that my Mom had a few old telegrams that someone had sent her Mom, and I was pretty impressed with those. This does make me wonder what R. will be astounded that I have an actual, physical copy of, and whether he'll be given an assignment to compose a Tweet and view said assignment as crazy/outdated.

Is my Aunt Minnie in here?

The San Diego Opera has been in a state of flux for the past few months or so, due to a lot of financial problems and management issues. A few months ago, the Board announced they were closing outright at the end of this season (despite having booked next season and sending out promotional material.) Great outrage followed, and a lot of fundraising has ensued, including this awesome opportunity to see the classic Marx Brothers film "A Night at the Opera" with live musical back-up, with all proceeds going to benefit the opera. I would adore seeing this movie on the big screen except that the 19th is the last night of work for me. *swoons dramatically* Still, I share this because a) it's awesome, and b) I wish more organizations would put together fun, innovative fundraisers like this. I would probably give away a lot more of my money!

(Only disadvantage: seeing this movie on the big screen means that you can't fast-forward through the insipid love song between the two romantic leads, which is usually what I do. Ah, well, nonetheless awesome.)


Awesome Links for a Sunday!

Just thought I'd bring these links over here (they're languishing on my Google+ account, but then again, there is a lot of languishing on Google+ these days): We Are Comics, a wonderful blog that aims to show comics fandom's diversity by encouraging its readers to submit their photos and fandom origin stories. Such a lovely, positive step for fandom as a whole, after a lot of nonsense for the past few months.

AND, an amazing Kickstarter campaign here for a video game based around ritual dance combat. This one looks like it's in danger of not meeting its goal (although it did have a very ambitious fundraising goal, all things considered), and I'm really hoping that someone will come out of nowhere with a lot of money, because this game looks like so much FUN. I wish I could back for more, but that's not feasible right now. Check them out!
For the spoiler-phobic, don’t read more!Collapse )

Tl;dr version: It was so engrossing that I completely forgot to eat the packet of fancy cookies I’d smuggled into the theater in my purse. It’s the best movie in the MCU to date, at least in my humblest of opinions.
At the movies:

The Wind Rises/Kaze Tachinu: A beautiful and effective movie, and well worth seeing on the big screen, especially if you have any interest in aircraft, imagination and the creative process, or Japanese history. I could wax rhapsodic on so much in this lovely film, but the most important highlights include:

1) This is an unconventional biopic, in that there is no clearly defined villain for the hero to defeat, but a series of specific engineering and historical obstacles that influence his designs and decisions. What emerges instead of an A-to-B-to-C-to-ending plotline is a portrait of a man's soul, and a careful exploration of the question, "what if something you create is used for destruction?"

2) The backgrounds, especially of the protagonist's home and Tokyo in its early days, are simple beautiful and, like so many Ghibli films, lovingly depicted in a spectacular amount of detail. I cannot wait to watch this again on DVD to see all the little things that I missed this first time around.

3) I never thought that I would ever be interested in aircraft design (especially for war) in anything other than an academic way. To my great surprise, this film convinced me entirely otherwise.

4) The dream sequences in this are the best part. I would give almost anything for the lucid experience the movie portrays, and for the elegant, relaxed depiction of beautiful and terrible things.

In sum: see it in theaters if you can. It's not appropriate for very young children, and even older children may find it a bit dull. (There is intense, extended dialogue about rivets, wing design, fuel line placement, and tuberculosis.) The English dub turned out to be very nicely done, but I'm eager to hear it in Japanese, too.

Veronica Mars: I enjoyed this very much, but it felt more like a pilot episode of a new series instead of a feature film--which, don't get me wrong, would have made my day. If the credits had started to roll, only to be replaced with the words, "Veronica Mars makes her return to TV in 2015," I would have been on my feet cheering, because this film gave us a lot of interesting plot points that could easily extend into a season-long plot arc. In Veronica's absence, Neptune has gotten better and worse, and all the characters have grown and changed in (mostly) interesting ways. I did love seeing Veronica getting back into her girl detective mode with very little difficulty, and I like thinking about the ways the plot could go. (Wallace and Mac's new jobs alone could provide enough plotlines to keep a season humming along nicely, too.) It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I saw it in the theaters.

In books:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs: I've been thinking about this book on and off ever since I've read it, and not in entirely good terms. It reminds me of the days when I would binge-read a long, completed fanfic and only later think, "Wait, what the hell did I just read?!" (Cassandra Clare's "Draco Dormiens" series springs immediately to mind in this category.) Like a really good fanfic, this book had its strong points: eerie vintage photos accompany the narrative and help set an overall creepy tone that mostly holds up pretty well; the pacing is fast and furious and the stakes appropriately high. But also like fanfic, there are too many points in this story that felt overly contrived or rushed, and in this case, I couldn't shake the feeling that someone had made a set of specific suggestions for Riggs to follow and instead of holding true to this vision, he cleaved too truly to the suggestions, for better or for worse. This book is already in development for a movie (Tim Burton is currently attached as a director) and the franchise opportunities must be sending up dollar signs for the studio and publisher. I only hope that future installments allow Riggs to reclaim his own vision and develop the characters more completely and in a less, well, fanfic-y way.

In graphic novels:

Blue is the Warmest Color, by Julie Maroh: The artwork in this is simply gorgeous. There's so much depth and emotion wrapped up in all the shades of grey, and when the color blue does appear, it's startling and effective. (I think the story lost a bit of momentum when full color was introduced about two thirds of the way through.) The plot I didn't love quite as much; it read like an opera, a little like La Boheme updated for a gay coming of age story set in France in the 1990s, complete with a tragic ending and tragic-comic middle. But there's an undeniable pull to the story, even though it's familiar and sad, and I like the framing device of one of the characters reading the other's diary to recount the events of the story. It's also explicitly erotic and honest about the main characters' desire for another. I really hope this book makes its way onto required reading lists at colleges around the country, and not just as an object of controversy.

Witty Analogy Title Goes Here

I was talking with my Mom today and lamenting the fact that out of the Best Picture Oscar nominations, I've only seen two, American Hustle and Gravity. Before R. came along (and before there were 10 Best Pictures nods), I tried to make it a point to see all of the nominees because, so, if for no other reason, I could at least sound educated in my snobbery. But now that there are so many movies, and we have to arrange expensive babysitting almost every time we go out, seeing all 10 is just not in the cards. And not to mention the fact that I just can't handle the "tough" movies that I used to think were important. The me of ten years ago would say, "Boys Don't Cry was a tough, sad movie, but I'm really glad I watched it because it's compelling, and precisely because it is tough. That was a version of someone's life." Whereas the me of now says, "Augh, I spent all afternoon watching my son like a hawk at the playground and trying to squeeze work in during the twenty minutes he wasn't running around. I cannot handle violence and sadness and all I want is puppies, beers, and The Lego Movie." (This second statement is slightly simplified, but I have said some variation of it in the very recent past.)

But then I started mourning the loss of the old, pre-mother, rabble-rousing, political me, and tonight I decided that I would watch a "tough" movie on Netflix to prove to myself that I still could. I chose "Blackfish" because I've been on the fence about it for a while, I think it's about an issue I should know about as a San Diegan, and it was ironically next to "American Horror Story" on our instant queue. And it turns out that the ironic placement turned out to be not far from the truth: "Blackfish" is an American horror story, and it's one that everyone should watch once so that the narrative it tells stops being real and fades into the nation's collective memory as "a really stupid thing we used to do, like discrimination of various sorts, disco, and aspics." More, with some profanity.Collapse )

This movie is in sharp contrast to "The Wolverine", which Yebisu and I finally got around to watching last night. It was a really frustrating movie: parts of it were really good, and parts of it were so embarrassingly bad that I caught myself cringing more than once. For the record, I think anyone writing a movie set in Japan (or any part of Asia, realistically) should go through their script in pre-production and substitute the word "stereotype/-ical" every time the word "dishonor/-able" appears. Seriously. It would highlight so many problems.

Allow me to slice--ha ha ha--through those problems.Collapse )

I don't mean to make this sound as if it were a total waste of time. I really liked the female characters in this. Out of the three, not one of them was ever a damsel in distress, and all three were distinct and different in their motivations. To top it all off, the female villain was actually pretty badass, and the final fight scene between her and another character was properly thrilling. I also loved the fact that the movie was shot in Japan, and not somewhere in L.A. that looks vaguely like Japan. There is one hilarious sequence that takes place in a love hotel, and it never got squicky or stupid, just stayed uniformly funny the whole time. The final scene that sets up the next X-Men movie was a little tacked on, but it wasn't too over the top and worked fairly well with the rest of the story. Yebisu was also particularly impressed with the opening sequence, and I liked how deftly one character's personality and background were set up in a matter of brief scenes. Maybe watch this movie with some beers and cheap sushi, celebrating its good and bad points simultaneously.

Movie/Comic Book Recs, as of 1/17/14

In Comics:

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon & Hawkeye: Little Hits: I liked both of these slim trades. The artwork is nicely stylized and punchy, and it seems authentic to its many subjects. Hawkeye as a character becomes more and more well-rounded, although I will confess that some of the other characters (especially the multiple ladies vying for his attention) tended to blur together. But the stakes are high and righteous, and the villains appropriately scary/ruthless/cruel to make the stories have real teeth. My favorite installment of the both volumes shows up at the end of #2, where the story is told entirely from Hawkeye's dog's point of view. This might sound like a cutesy gimmick, but it defies all expectations and leaves almost all the other previous stories gasping in its innovative and touching dust.

At the Movies:

The Monuments Men: OK. So, the internet joke is that when you bring up the Nazi's to win an argument, you automatically lose (or so says Godwin's law.) In the case of this movie... well, I can think of no better way to say this: The Monuments Men Godwins itself. I blame this bizarre phenomenon on the fact that the script relied heavily on telling and not showing, the story often undercut its own suspense, and the characters, although sometimes engaging, were mostly a collection of cyphers and stereotypes. More, with spoilers...Collapse )

tl;dr version: It's not the worst movie ever, but I think you'd be better off saving your admission costs and buying the book instead.

The LEGO Movie: Everything is awesome! Ha ha, no, not exactly, but as kids' movies go, this was funny and clever, and you could really do a lot worse. Generic Lego Construction Guy Emmett lives his life according to every instruction manual possible, but, through a bizarre series of coincidences, comes to realize this way of living is shallow and meaningless, and it's up to him to be the hero of his own narrative. I liked this story for its overall message that sometimes the best thing you can do with toys is play with them, and that there's no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you're being creative and true to yourself. There's also a certain shade of "Generation Me" to this movie that grated, and I will say that I was disappointed that the female characters didn't have more to do. (Wonder Woman, in particular, was chumped out several times. I suppose that Superman got equal treatment in this respect as he was annoyed by Green Lantern, but it didn't seem comparable.) But I like any movie with a slightly anarchist take on childhood, and the Aristophanes shout-out sealed the deal. It's a lot of fun, and the opening sequence reminds me of the best Japanese music videos that I watched on Space Shower TV years ago, super kawaii and genki, and hard to resist.

Books & Comic & Manga Recs, as of 1/25/14

In Books:

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb: This book is the definition of a vital read. It's not easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, to read Malala's account of being shot in the face by a Taliban soldier and her recovery, or to hear the story of how the Taliban temporarily forced her family (and many, many others) to relocate twice in a very short amount of time. But this work a testament to Malala's vision of what an education can bring her, and so many girls like her. It's also a testament to her family as a whole, who weathered this whole storm with amazing resilience. In particular, Malala's father stands out as a brave man who believes in his daughter's rights and intelligence, and never lets her down. I hope many people will read this book and have it renew their dedication to fighting for social justice and education for all, worldwide. Heartily recommended.

In Manga:

Sweet Rein, Volume 1, by Tsukuba Sakura: This is an adorable manga with perhaps the silliest premise I've ever read: high school student Kurumi discovers that she's a Santa Claus (yes, that Santa) and that a handsome boy named Kaito is her servant, a magical reindeer bound to do whatever she orders him to. (Now that I type it out, it does sound pretty ridiculous.) I bought this out of sheer disbelief more than anything else, and what sells this story is the sincerity that Tsukuba puts into almost every panel and line of dialogue. Like many shoujo manga heroines, Kurumi's a good-hearted girl who wants to do what's right, and this story gives her ample opportunity to do just that. The threadbare will-they-won't-they-fall-in-love romance subplot between her and Kaito gets played more for laughs than any serious conflict; it's pretty clear that they'll be a couple by the end of the series, if not sooner. The only remaining problem is how to construct any other obstacles for Kurumi to overcome, since there doesn't seem to be a Grinch-like character lurking on the horizon. Honestly? It's adorable and sweet, and I liked it despite myself. Definitely be looking for Volume 2.

Angelic Layer, Volume 1, by CLAMP: Somehow, I missed out on this classic CLAMP title a while back and am only now just getting to it. It's not my favorite work of theirs (at least, not yet, but I do have a full second volume to get around to) and in some ways, it highlights what's weakest about their work: characters who little to no clear motivation; ridiculously fast plot that comes, seemingly, out of nowhere; and the barest excuse for conflict (in this case, a televised game between psychic toys connected to their owners.) On the other hand, though, it's tremendously entertaining despite all these problems, and I'm looking forward to the next installment, even as some plot twists loom (in a highly untwisty manner) over the story as a whole. Our erstwhile heroine, Misaki, finds herself drawn to the game Angelic Layer after arriving in Tokyo and seeing it on TV for the first time. She's aided in this by an eccentric genius who counsels her on how to craft her own doll (or, Angel), who, of course, is not what he seems. For plot reasons, Misaki is an able controller/fighter and quickly finds herself in the midst of a high stakes tournament, making allies and enemies along the way. CLAMP brings their trademark gorgeous artwork to all of this, particularly in varied character design for humans and Angels alike. There's also a lot of amazing, dynamic artwork for the battle sequences, which are surprisingly exciting and very easy to follow. So, even with the poor points, this is still an entertaining, fast-paced read, and I did enjoy it rather more than I expected.

In Comics:

Octopus Pie: There are No Stars in Brooklyn, by Meredith Gran: As an antidote to the shoujo sweetness above, I read this delightfully subtle story about Brooklynite misanthrope Eve Ning, her roommate Hanna, and a handful of other characters who inhabit the newly-college-graduated, still-sorting-out-their-lives scene in NYC and its environs. I'm betting that a lot of the New York jokes sailed right over my head, but fortunately, there are plenty of other jokes that ring true. Gran's artwork is perfect--distinct and funny, and with an eye for just the right details to make the story ring true. A lot of fun.



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