retsuko: snarky quote :) (capital letters)
In Manga:

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, Keiko Tobe, Volume 1: As I said over at GoodReads, I'm not too keen on this one.


Behind the Scenes!!, by Bisco Hatori, Volume 1: Where to begin? This is more frenetic and sillier than Hatori's previous works (and after Ouran Host Club, that may sound a little hard to believe, I know, but it's true!) It's also a little harder to get a handle on, story-wise. Shy, artistic, and sensitive Ranmaru Kurisu is trying to navigate his way through his first year at art school with little success when suddenly he meets the Art Squad, a club that specializes in making props, set dressing, and costumes for the four other film clubs at the school. The Art Squad is full of unique/weird personalities, including Ryuji Goda, the Art Squad's president/leader/resident goofy idealist who always bites off more than the club can chew. (All of the characters are named after Hatori's favorite Western film directors, so Goda for Godard, Ruka for George Lucas, etc.) The four rival film clubs on campus all bicker with each other, and with the Art Squad, and most of the drama comes from one of two plot hooks:

1) Will the Art Squad be able to fulfill the production requirements of the other clubs in time?! and,

2) Will Ranmaru grow up and find his way in the world?!

Both of these are pretty good plot generators, but I guess I don't know whether to invest in Ranmaru or not; he's not much of character beyond "diamond in the rough" yet. It's clear that Hatori already has, though, and since she succeeded in winning me over before on numerous other occasions, I'm fully willing to give her the benefit of the (silly) doubt on this one. If there's going to be romantic tension between him and Ryuji, I really hope Hatori lampshades it immediately, the way she did in Ouran, because it was so damn funny. (Bring me all the fanfic, please!) I do recommend this to Ouran fans, and anyone who's looking for silly shoujo fluff. If it gets more serious, I'll let you know.
retsuko: martha jones from 'doctor who', in black and white (martha)
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.
retsuko: (Default)
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.
retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
In Books:

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, by Darwin Cooke: The artwork in this is fantastic--I love the way that blue wash turns into noir black as the story unfolds and the overall visual style is Mad Men meets James Bond. But the gender issues in this story are disturbing enough to make this read two stars instead of three or four: women are disposable dolls and bodies, to be screwed and left for dead, or made into helpless pawns. This book doesn't do well by its male characters, either. By the end, I started to feel like this was masculinity via vein-popping caricature (I'm not kidding about the vein thing--it's actually a minor plot/descriptive point.) If you enjoy noir detective stories and are willing to ignore the strings of violent and cruel deaths, you'll probably enjoy this quite a lot; unfortunately, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

The Art Forger, by B. A. Shapiro: In all fairness, this book really isn't a bad piece of writing and shouldn't be lumped in with the one above. However, it does fit into the category of "can't believe I read this" due to its detailed and fascinating explanation of how a forger goes about recreating (convincingly) a famous/stolen piece of art, in this case, the Degas painting stolen from the Gardiner Museum in Boston. I liked the main character, although I couldn't believe how naive she was, given the past that she was coming from, which unfolded in fairly riveting detail throughout the story. Impressively, a lot of the minor characters are fleshed out in interesting and perceptive ways over the course of the book, instead of just remaining stereotypes. This was an easy and fun read, and I found myself very invested by the end. This is a book, though, that I wished I'd saved for the beach, because it would be perfect for a leisurely summer afternoon: engrossing, but not too challenging one way or another. I do recommend it for that!

At the Movies!:

The Great Gatsby: Uhm, wow. Yeah, I actually saw this movie, and I'm still wondering what the hell was up for most of it, or why the audience was expected to care about any of the characters and their whiney, pathetic, little lives. On the other hand: CLOTHES! SPECTACLE! METAPHOR! Seriously, the costuming and set dressing alone were so pretty and amazing that I was willing to forgive a lot of bullshit... but there was an awful lot of bullshit, and it went on and on, too. It got to the point where I started to go in little thought circles that went like: DiCaprio, if you say 'old sport' one more time, I'm gonna walk out of here and... ooo, wait, what's Carey Mulligan wearing now? SHINEY. And OMG DiCaprio's pink suit is so handsome that I just can't think about any of the stupid stuff right now... and look at Jordan's dress..., etc. etc. So, I suppose if you really love clothes and fashion, and crazy parties writ large on the big screen, this is the movie for you, but if you don't like to hear about Rich White People's Problems, perhaps seek out another movie.

Two side notes about this film: 1) I had been worried that the current trend for out-of-period music in period pieces would engulf this movie in annoying volume, but it was not that bad, and the soundtrack makes effective use of some lovely Gershwin music right when it's most needed to complete the spectacle, so that's a plus; and 2) I have no idea why would you ever need to see this movie in 3D. Aside from snow falling and the car chase, there is nothing that would be improved by special effects and pinch-y glasses. Save your $4, people!
retsuko: (fierce!)
In the midst of all the brouhaha that is life, I have been reading! Huzzah!

In Books:

Cold Days, by Jim Butcher: SPOILERS AHOY. In a nutshell, though, this book was the very definition of enjoying something whilst acknowledging its problems. )

I don't want to make this sound as if I didn't like the book; I did, but I was distracted by side problems too often to really feel invested in the main problem. Thomas was my favorite character in this one, and Murphy gets plenty of kick-ass page time, much to my great satisfaction. I really do hope the next one is a little less frenetic, though.

A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire: This started slowly, but then it picked up quite a bit, with a tremendously gripping set piece in the middle of the narrative that was worth the price of admission alone. If the first book in this series was a tense thriller, this installment was more like a Miss Marple or Poirot locked room murder mystery... except that the violence was more visceral and the stakes were even higher for the heroine. There's an overarching sci-fi tone to this book that was lacking in the previous one, and I'm curious to see how that thread of plot will play out (if at all) in the future books.

American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld: Reading a fictionalized biography of Laura Bush presented some strange challenges; for example, I kept trying to substitute back in the names of the real people involved with dealing with the events of 9/11. In fact, that cognitive dissonance made the whole work read a little eerily--I'm reading about Charlie Blackwell no, George Bush, no, Laura Bush and Lindy Blackwell and the Blackwell clan, no... wait a minute, that can't be right... I went round and round in circles for a few minutes every time I picked the book back up after a pause. (This sensation reminded me of the semester at Smith where I took an immersion German literature class and a Japanese class back-to-back on Tuesday/Thursday mornings. For the first ten minutes of the second class, I would sit there, completely dazed, waiting for everything to start making sense in the other language again.) Still, regardless of the fiction vs. real life problem, this was a very good read, gripping and swift. If anything, it's the most compelling argument I've ever read for the continuation of the modern feminist movement, but it's also a good story of a woman who married a man who completely surprised her with the scope of his ambition.

In Illustrated Books:

Drawing From Memory, by Allen Say: This beautiful book chronicles Say's development as a very young artist, mostly immediately after WWII, as Japan rebuilt around him, up until his departure to the United States at age 15. As is always the case with Say's works, I was struck by the genuine sense of nostalgia and true emotion that suffuses the work with a larger than life quality that's very rare in children's books these days. This book has probably ended up on a lot of YA shelves, but I think this is an instance of a work that is truly "all ages" without being dull or condescending. I cannot recommend this enough.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, by Kazu Kibuishi: I really love Kibuishi's sense of style and layout; the characters in this sepia-toned story inhabit a world of robots and gunslingers--a Deadlands game come to life. My major problem with the narrative is that the story that's told starts without a lot of preamble, which would normally be fine, except that vital parts of the story are somehow untold, and therefore confusing. Daisy Kutter, gunslinger/outlaw turned shopclerk, is bored silly with her new (to her, anyway) life and volunteers/is coerced into taking the proverbial One Last Train Job... except, of course, that it's not what it seems. The story that unfolds has some pretty predictable betrayals and twists, but the characters seem flat and underdeveloped. I far prefer the short story at the end of the volume, which better showcases Daisy's strengths and spins a tenser, more gripping tale in a shorter space of time.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
In Books:

I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, by Craig Marks: I gave up on this about 100 pages in. Here's what I said on Goodreads: "I don't think that I was the target audience for this work. After about a hundred pages, it was just a blur of people talking about cocaine-fueled orgies in between making videos, casual misogyny, and poor business decisions. I should say that I am highly impressed at the author's interviewing and editing skills; without careful thought and planning, this work would have been even more disorganized and confusing. And it is amazing to think that the cultural influence that MTV had came from such a tiny germ of an idea executed by people who had almost no idea what they were doing at the time. This said, it completely lost my interest in the long list of interviewees and overall tone of the book, which was self-congratulatory and completely unaware of the implications of its content." I still stand by that. I was hoping my impression would have changed with a few weeks' time, but I'm still dissatisfied.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me, by Ellen Forney: I'm already looking forward to reading this again. It's a very honest, open look at Forney's grappling with bipolar disorder and how she overcomes it (and what this process entails.) I've been a fan of hers for a while, and I'm amazed after reading this that she was able to create the excellent, insightful comics that she does/did, given what she was going through at the time.

How to Be a Woman, by Catie Moran: An excellent, funny piece of writing, with an honest, wry tone. Essential reading for any card-carrying, 3rd wave feminist. Hell, it's essential reading for just about anyone!

Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire: I did enjoy this book, but I cannot remember reading anything like it, where I was so worried that the main character would die (despite the fact that I know she's the protagonist through the whole series.) She had so little to go on, and the forces she was up against had so much. Honestly, I kept wanting to hug her and tell her it would be all right, even as I suspected that it wouldn't. McGuire has a great eye for character and setting, and her descriptions of San Francisco make it a living backdrop, not just a location for the story to have short scenes in. I'm eager to read the next book in the series, but after a little while, when I've had some time to let my worry-urge rest.

On DVD/Netflix:

The Five-Year Engagement: Sometimes when you watch a movie, there's ONE SCENE that is so much better than anything else that the rest of the film just wastes away in comparison. The Five-Year Engagement was one of those movies, where there's a terrifically funny scene about three-quarters of the way through between Emily Blunt and Allison Brie. It was so good, in fact, that I wished the film had just been those two funny ladies, being their awesome, hilarious selves. The rest of the story has some OK bits, but nothing measures up to that particular sequence.

The Campaign: What a determinedly odd movie. Parts of it were funny, but other parts of it were so over the top, I don't know what to think about it.

Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Season 2: Perhaps I've been reading Escher Girls a little too much, but the women's character designs in this are really starting to bug me. It's one thing to have to simplify a costume or a body shape for the sake of easy animation, but when all the female characters have the same exact body proportions, it really starts to get dull, visually speaking. (And, for the record, these measurements appear to be 38-18-42.) The other annoying thing is the rebranding of the show to write out the token regular female character (Wasp) and token regular person of color (Black Panther) in favor of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. Wasp and Black Panther could easily hold my attention as a super-team all by themselves, and their absence in the recent storylines is distressing.
retsuko: (they wrote whut?!)
J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, comes out today to much speculation and to some incredibly snide reviews. The reviews are so vitriolic/fawning that I still have no idea whether or not I actually want to read the book, only wonder at the hatred some people apparently harbor for Rowling. (Socialist rant? What?) I mean, really, some of these quotes are written as if Rowling and the critic got into a catfight at a bar the night before. This only further supports my wish that she had published this work under a pseudonym; I suspect that the reviews would read a lot differently if the expectations from her famous series weren't hovering this new book's reputation.

In the department of books that I have actually read recently, there's The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, which tackles the thorny question of, "Do kids kill art, or does art kill kids?" The parents of the Fang family, Caleb and Camille, are famous performance artists who have incorporated their children into their work for years; their children, Annie and Buster, have become adults who are barely able to function in the real world. All of these characters are profoundly selfish and self-absorbed people, yet I couldn't bring myself to hate Annie and Buster, mostly due to the fact that they'd found the courage to survive their parents' art installations and the determination to break ties when it was necessary to do so. As for the assertion that kids kill art (or the opportunity to make it)... well, I can say from immediate personal experience that this is true. On the other hand, when you make the decision to have those children, you have to revise your expectations. I think my dislike of the parents in this story was the fact that they refused to revise their expectations and continued behaving just as selfishly as they had before. The answer to this, that art kills kids, is proven in spades by the rest of the book, as the depth of Annie and Buster's troubles becomes clearer and clearer. The final twist of the plot is so preposterous that ordinarily, I would have quit reading, but by that point in the story, I really expected nothing less from the people involved. There are some very funny moments in this book, and Wilson has a very deft touch with dialogue and scene setting. If you're a fan of dysfunctional families and people getting past their childhood issues, this book is written for you; if you don't like stories about children being utterly and completely on their own, I'd urge you to avoid this story. I'm glad that I read this, and it was definitely funny in places, but overall, I'm left with a wariness for stories like this, and I'm unable to pinpoint just why.
retsuko: antique books (books)
J.K. Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, comes out today to much speculation and to some incredibly snide reviews. The reviews are so vitriolic/fawning that I still have no idea whether or not I actually want to read the book, only wonder at the hatred some people apparently harbor for Rowling. (Socialist rant? What?) I mean, really, some of these quotes are written as if Rowling and the critic got into a catfight at a bar the night before. This only further supports my wish that she had published this work under a pseudonym; I suspect that the reviews would read a lot differently if the expectations from her famous series weren't hovering this new book's reputation.

In the department of books that I have actually read recently, there's The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, which tackles the thorny question of, "Do kids kill art, or does art kill kids?" The parents of the Fang family, Caleb and Camille, are famous performance artists who have incorporated their children into their work for years; their children, Annie and Buster, have become adults who are barely able to function in the real world. All of these characters are profoundly selfish and self-absorbed people, yet I couldn't bring myself to hate Annie and Buster, mostly due to the fact that they'd found the courage to survive their parents' art installations and the determination to break ties when it was necessary to do so. As for the assertion that kids kill art (or the opportunity to make it)... well, I can say from immediate personal experience that this is true. On the other hand, when you make the decision to have those children, you have to revise your expectations. I think my dislike of the parents in this story was the fact that they refused to revise their expectations and continued behaving just as selfishly as they had before. The answer to this, that art kills kids, is proven in spades by the rest of the book, as the depth of Annie and Buster's troubles becomes clearer and clearer. The final twist of the plot is so preposterous that ordinarily, I would have quit reading, but by that point in the story, I really expected nothing less from the people involved. There are some very funny moments in this book, and Wilson has a very deft touch with dialogue and scene setting. If you're a fan of dysfunctional families and people getting past their childhood issues, this book is written for you; if you don't like stories about children being utterly and completely on their own, I'd urge you to avoid this story. I'm glad that I read this, and it was definitely funny in places, but overall, I'm left with a wariness for stories like this, and I'm unable to pinpoint just why.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

Embassytown, by China Mieville: Mieville has so many ideas in his books that I sometimes worry that the story is going to explode in a metaphorical spring-snake-out-of-a-can-of-"party-nuts" surprise ending. The plot in this book wasn't like that, exactly, but I began to feel like all the fabulous ideas came at the expense of something else. Read more here... )

Spindle's End, by Robin McKinley: A birthday present from [personal profile] orichalcum, and well chosen. I like McKinley's matter-of-fact, wry authorial tone, and I like the way the characters grow and thrive in her words. I did find that a lot of the suspense was suddenly deflated at a particular plot point, and after that, it didn't build again in the same way, but that's neither here nor there, and more a fault of the story she's retelling than this book.

The Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: I adore the previous two books (The Shadow of the Wind & The Angel's Game) in this loosely affiliated trilogy, but I'm sorry to say that this one fell a bit short. The A-Plot, set in the story's present, feels oddly weak when held up against the B-Plot, a Count of Monte Cristo-esque prison escape story featuring someone who's ostensibly not the main character of the book... except that he is, and the A-Plot main character's motivations (other than being the best friend in the whole damned world, apparently) are unclear for the bulk of the story. I still recommend the first two whole heartedly, and maybe this one would read more strongly if I'd just read the first ones... huh. I may try that sometime and see if my opinion changes.

Polterguys, Volume 1, by [profile] psychoe: It's no secret that this work is done by a friend of mine, the afore-tagged Laur/psychoe. I'm pleased to report that this first installment of her manga work is just spectacular, from both the art and storytelling standpoint. I'm not saying this just because I'm her friend, but because it really is that good! )


Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This was an excellent movie, although perhaps just a tad overlong. No matter: the food porn in it was beyond compare, and the people being profiled were open and honest. If you like sushi at all, you need to see this film. If I weren't sick, I'd be out eating sushi right now because of it.
retsuko: snarky quote :) (capital letters)
In Books:

Bleeding Out, by Jes Battis: So, I have really loved these books and was sad to read that this one would be the last. I understand that Battis has another career and other projects. However, I am very disappointed in this narrative, and I don't really feel like it was a fitting end for any of the characters, except one, and she was not the main one. More, with spoilers: )

Anyway, the failings of one volume don't mean that the rest are bad, and I don't want to steer anyone away from these books. I would say that the first half of the series is excellent, and well worth your time. The second half, and particularly this last book, is really for die-hard completists and masochists like myself.

At the Movies/On DVD:

Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1: I have tried to keep my opinions largely to myself on this whole thing because, as the internet advises us in one of its few wise moments, it's OK to not like things, but don't be a dick about the things you don't like. However, the Twilight movies are utterly bewildering to me, and they are not improved with alcohol and good snarkery from witty friends. I really don't understand the popularity of these things when they are so poorly paced, written, and acted. OK, yes, in theory, I can see the viewership squeeing over RPatz and TLaut (who really is fairly easy on the eyes, I will admit), and I suppose that with a lot of squinting and excuse-making, the Bella/Edward love affair could be a kind of crazy-stupid that people wax all gooey-eyed about. But this movie...! It was dull beyond my wildest dreams. Even when there was action, it was poorly edited and I couldn't see what was happening. It should be exciting! Vampires v. werewolves! Except... well, the fight scenes were done as though a group of teenagers with no real-world fighting experience was RPing the whole thing, and pausing to argue about the rules along the way. Further insult to injury! )

The Amazing Spiderman: This was surprisingly entertaining. Sure, there were pacing problems here, too, but the acting was so good that I didn't care. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have real chemistry together, and Martin Sheen and Sally Field class up the whole experience something fierce, which is ironic since Martin Sheen works to class himself down, mostly succeeding. Stan Lee has the funniest cameo he's ever had in a Marvel movie. There are all these wonderful little details in it, like the perfect set dressing of Peter's room and the awkward poses of the high school photos he takes. Hell, even his camera is perfect. I enjoyed this so much more than most of the other superhero films I've seen recently.
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

The Other Family & The Best of Friends, by Joanna Trollope: Trollope continues to impress me with her skill at handling multiple characters and their points of view, as well as her nonjudgmental authorial tone (although some her characters happily judge away, for better or for worse.) These books are master classes in dialogue and quick, accessible description. I'm eager to read more of her work.

In Graphic Novels:

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media, words by Brooke Gladstone and pictures by Josh Neufeld: Gladstone credits Scott McCloud's phenomenonal Understanding Comics as a source of inspiration, and it's an apt comparison. What McCloud sought to do for comics and graphic novels, Gladstone seeks to do for media and the way we've come to consume it, and she succeeds with flying colors. This is a thought-provoking, wise piece of work that challenges any reader to reconsider what is truthful in popular media, especially news coverage. In particular, her chapter on war coverage is revealing and equal parts depressing, historical, and inspiring: depressing for the simple truth that the media can easily create a conflict where there is none or shape the events of a conflict to fit any truth the public sees fit; historical in that she traces the history of war coverage journalism in the U.S. in an exhaustive but never dull fashion; and inspiring in that she challenges each reader to more closely examine what is she/he is seeing and NOT seeing. Gladstone is never overly preachy or self-righteous, and her self-deprecating humor is a nice touch at several especially poignant and difficult sections of text. I want to use this book in every class I teach from now on! Highly, highly recommended!

In Manga:

Uglies: Shay's Story, Words by Scott Westerfeld and Devin Grayson, pictures by Steven Cummings: This was rather disappointing, especially because while I was reading the original trilogy, I thought to myself, if there ever was a series begging to be made into a manga, it's this one!. The way that Westerfeld described the Pretties (augmented human characters) made me think of manga, with its unsettling ability to create characters who seem too doll-like, too perfect to be real. The Pretties in this manga don't look that much different from the regular, un-modified human characters, and they certainly don't appear to be so beautiful and perfect that Uglies instantly feel like obeying them. In fact, most of the so-called Uglies looked like already perfect manga characters: there were no real variations in body shape or skin tone other than freckles and high cheekbones that aren't really all that difficult for any competent illustrator to do. Even worse, the Specials didn't look all that scary--again, the idea I came away from the original books with was that these were people who'd been augmented to look more feral, more dangerous, that their beauty was poisonous. Instead, they just looked like big, buff guys in battle armor. Only Dr. Cable came close to looking the way I'd pictured her, but her appearance was too little, too late. It didn't help that the story in this installment is weak teenage romance and made Shay into a whiney, unsympathetic character. Personally, if someone was illustrating my work, I'd be telling a different story, one that was far more world-building-based and less on the soap opera side. This volume felt like a wasted opportunity.

A side note: I have just started Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel's latest work, and while it looks amazing, it is DENSE. I plan to read it carefully, and probably won't be able to post about it right away. Still, based on the first chapter alone, I can safely say this is a strong, honest piece of work.
retsuko: antique books (books)
I've read two books lately that were bursting with amazing ideas and great language, but both of which fell strangely flat about two thirds of the way through. I'm hard pressed to understand why: in both cases, I was highly invested in both the plot and the characters; there was some top notch writing in each as well. But Zoo City (by Lauren Beukes) and Swamplandia! by Karen Russell left me feeling... a bit cold and wrung out, not at all what I expected after their dynamite beginnings and middles. Read more, with spoilers. )

On an utterly unrelated note, [profile] yebisu9 and I caught In Time on DVD a few weeks ago. After the movie was over, we had a long and involved conversation about said movie's dystopian economy and how it made absolutely no sense at all. The premise--that time is money and the poor live on a day-to-day basis--is an intriguing one, but the execution was flawed at best. The prices were off on everything: a cup of coffee cost three minutes, up from the previous day's two? A bus ride that lasted an hour cost two? A stay in a swanky hotel for one night cost two months? The people in this dystopian future had apparently never heard of seconds, or simple laws of micro- and macro-economics. The whole moral of the story was incredibly belabored and, on the whole, too overdone for our tastes. In recalling it since, I've only thought about the ludicrous price schemes and wondered why, other than the obvious, plot-necessitated reasons, the people didn't rebel sooner.
retsuko: (plothole?)
On TV:

Torchwood: Miracle Day: ... uhm. This was a really, really mixed bag of a show. On one hand, it was incredibly compelling; I hated waiting between episodes to find out what was happening, and I was genuinely worried for several of the characters, especially our two remaining heroes, Gwen and Jack. But on the other, there were some real missteps with this plot that sort of poisoned the well for me. I'll blog about them under the cut, with lots of spoilers. )

In Manga/Comics:

Gate 7, Vol.1, Words & Pictures by CLAMP: I want to like this. It's my favorite CLAMP setting (modern day Japan with ghost stories), it has GORGEOUS artwork, and it looks like the story could unfold in a reasonably linear fashion. I just wish that CLAMP could stop depicting characters who look underage (or who behave incredibly childishly) as sexualized. Hana, the character in question, is oddly sexual at weird points in the story, and it's jarring. To see a character go from acting like an adorable little child who loves noodles in one panel to sexually available lust object in the next panel is... creepy. It's a little too much like Chobits. The other thing I'd like to see out of this story is the main male character developing a little agency instead of letting other people run his life. It's great that he's kind of a sweet nerd who loves Japanese history and Kyoto, but if I suddenly found out that I might have a magical power that could influence a centuries old magical conflict, I'd sure be asking a few more questions. But this is only Volume 1, and I'm more than willing to wait and see where the story goes. Damn, the art's pretty. It's hard to stay mad at CLAMP.

Ultimate Spiderman, Issues 2 & 3, Words by Bendis & Pencils by Pichelli: I really love the plot this comic is exploring and Miles Morales is a great character. If I suddenly gained superheroic powers, I'd probably be terrified, too. Quick, go and out, and read this! Pichelli's pencils continue to be great, too. She has a real eye for facial expressions.
retsuko: (caffeine)
In Books:

Uglies & Pretties, by Scott Westerfield: If there was ever a series that should be turned into a manga, it's this one. Westerfield's description of the Pretty People is a homogenized manga vision waiting to happen, with larger eyes, smaller mouths, and cheekbones to die for. (Not to mention perfect teeth, symmetrical features, moving tattoos, perfect clothes, etc. etc.) And the good news is that the manga is forthcoming! I look forward to reading it. However, the books themselves, as they are now, are quite good, too. They can truly be classified as "page turners". I went through the first one in about three days, and that's saying something, considering that I've been managing a fussy one-year-old, two classes, and various other commitments. The world that Westerfield imagines is dystopia at its worst best (or best worst, whichever you prefer.) On a post-apocalyptic Earth, all children are raised to believe they are Ugly, but that's OK, because they'll be made Pretty on their sixteenth birthdays. Except... what if you don't want the operation? And who's really in charge of what's considered beautiful? (One of the most chilling details of the books is that all Pretties have the same color skin, on the basis that it's the most Pretty and eliminates conflict.) The heroine of these books is Tally Youngblood, who starts off as a reluctant participant in what appears to be a minor rebellion, but ends up taking more and more perilous risks for what she believes in. (I haven't read the third book of the series yet, so please no spoilers.) I am very pleased in these books exist in contrast to the emphasis on physical beauty at all costs that seems to permeate American society and hope that readers will question standards of beauty as a result of reading these works. Hand this to your nearest teen reader!

The Baker Street Letters, by Michael Roberston: Harmless, but pointless. Two brothers, who I could never get a mental picture of (because there were no descriptions of them in the story), rent law offices from the bank that has its premises on 221B Baker street, and one of the conditions of their rent is that they deal with the letters that arrive for Sherlock Holmes. The younger brother, who has a variety of problems (most notably Plotdriveitis), sets off to LA to investigate two of these letters and his hapless sibling follows. Then there's some subterfuge involving the failed L.A. subway project, a few funny lines where the British brothers are mistaken for Australians, and a convoluted ending where one of the main characters is somehow ruined financially because he does the right thing. It was a fast read, but I couldn't really bring myself to care about anyone involved. At book group (which this was assigned reading for) I heard that this has been optioned for a TV series here in the U.S., and all I could think of was a snarky whine about this show doing its predecessor, Murder, She Wrote, proud. Yeah. Not a total waste of time, but not a good use of it, either.

The Ronin's Mistress, by Laura Joh Rowland: OMG OMG OMG. This series is SO GOOD! And it gets almost no attention or press, and I just want to weep. In this installment, Rowland gives us her interpretation of the popular 47 Ronin legend, complete with psychosexual drama, ritual suicide, and palace intrigue, all used to great effect. She also pushes her characters to their breaking points, in the best possible way. At this point in the story, our hero, Inspector Sano, has made so many enemies that the other shoe is going to have to start dropping, and soon. Rowland gets the drop started in fine fashion and parcels out some excellent character development for many of the regularly appearing characters, along with a truly engrossing murder mystery, told in a Rashomon-style multiple points of view approach. Of course, the thing that worries me is that the shoe is still dropping, and even though Sano solves the central mystery, he ends the story in a worse position than when he started. Future installments will no doubt have me shouting advice and recriminations at the characters, because nothing good can come from this, and I am very invested in almost everyone in the story. SO GOOD! Damn! You can start the series here, or at the beginning (Shinjuu), but either is well worth it! Damn!

In Manga:

Naruto, Vol. 28: I'm fairly excited to finally get past the time skip and see how all the characters have grown. But I'm worried that this story is teetering on the brink of the too-many-characters!chasm and the plot is about to focus on the characters I don't care about so much. I can see that Kishimoto wants to raise the stakes for our heroes (and token heroine) by elaborating on the villains and their elaborately slow and complicated plan. But I can tell I'm about to lose patience with said elaborate, slow plot, mostly because it doesn't have the ring of truth. It's one thing to have a "long con" plot device, but you have to keep referring to the con, somehow, even just in passing. ("I'm just biding my time here!" Thought Character X, as she faked a smile in Character Y's direction.) In the case of Naruto, the con appears to be so much waiting and seeing that I don't think it's ever going to stop being a con. Which is very frustrating, at least for this constant reader.

In Concert:

I had the good fortune to see The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with a live orchestra and choir soundtrack last night. If this is touring in your city, I cannot recommend it enough. Howard Shore's score is beautiful, and the performance is moving and lovely, especially the performance of "May It Be" by a singer who I suspect is better than Enya (no autotune was necessary!).
retsuko: (surprising read)
In Books:

Dracula: The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt: You know that something's wrong when one of the reviews at the beginning of the book sings its praises by saying "At least it's not [X]!" In this case, it was a review saying that "these vampires don't sparkle!" Vampires are quickly becoming the most wrung-out monsters in modern horror, and when the greatest accolade you can think of is that they're not the bottom of the barrel, the problem is, there's still a lot of barrel to go through to get to the top. Anyway, I would venture to say that this is one of the worst vampire books I've ever read. The amount of gore described was unnecessary and counterintuitive as a sequel to a book that contains virtually no gore, only well-placed trickles of blood. DtUD doesn't just trickle blood; it oozes with it, in an effort to be what the writers no doubt thought would be shocking (but is, instead, boring.) This book is like a coherent piece of long fanfiction: there are pairings (Mina/Dracula = OTP!!4Ever!!OMG!!1!!), pretentiousness (minor characters from the original appear in the sequel, or have honorary buildings named after them), a few minor good ideas and occasionally decent writing (the combat is well described, and the writers switch between various characters' POV with relative ease), but an overall sense of "I can't believe I just read that!" And if I hadn't been proctoring the SAT on an early morning and brought other books, this wouldn't have gotten finished. Poor Bram Stoker--he's even a character in this novel, and comes off as a whiney, desperate opportunist who didn't know the worth of his work. Attention, descendants of famous authors: do not attempt to write sequels unless you are already a writer who knows what the hell you're doing. Don't embarrass yourself and cheapen your relative's literary legacy.

Also: Can we have a moratorium on Jack the Ripper stories? Yeah, yeah, unsolved gory crime, dead prostitutes, sensationalism, etc. etc. But. It's. All. Been. Done. Before. Let's stop giving this our attention and focus on better literature.


The Green Hornet: This really should have been called Kato and the Green Hornet, since it's Kato who's really the brawn, brains, and finesse behind the whole hero deal. While the screenwriters went to great lengths to show us that, hey, our feckless, rich boy hero really does grow up and gain super-strategy powers, they didn't stick--Kato has already spent far too much time in the movie designing cool cars and weapons, kicking ass, and strategizing how to handle the bad guys. It's a good thing that Seth Rogen as Britt Reed/Green Hornet is fairly likable and I didn't spend my time wanting to bash his head in. (Well, maybe a few times I did. But those parts were short.) Jay Chou/Kato is much more interesting to watch and much, much easier on the eyes. Generally speaking, this film falls into the "mostly harmless" category--it's not the best or worst superhero film I've ever seen, but it was diverting and silly and I enjoyed it. Still wish Jay Chou had gotten better billing, though.

Comic/TV Recs, 5/31/11

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011 11:55 am
retsuko: (wendy reads)
In Comics:

This isn't really a comic, per se... I really need to bust out an Original English Language tag. But it's a little hard to classify this work in the first place, so I'm sticking with the generic 'comics' and 'books' label.

Anyway, Will the Super Villains Be on the Final?, Volume 1, words by Naomi Novik, pictures by Yishan Li: This was... not what I expected. Obviously, writers aren't limited to one particular genre or setting, and I didn't expect Novik to write dragons-and-tall-ships sagas forever. But this genre, YA OEL manga, with a modern-day, comic book superhero story, isn't where I ever thought she would end up, and the results are somewhat uneven. On one hand, the heroine has a very cool superpower (atomic manipulation) and is paired up with a funny, kind empath best friend on their first day of studies at Liberty Vocational, a school for aspiring teenage superheroes. There are also some very complicated questions about the ethics of superherodom, which are introduced in a natural and interesting fashion (along the lines of a class where aspiring heroines/heroes must debate the eternal "needs of the many vs. needs of the few" issue.) But the book itself... it's an oddly spineless read. It should be interesting, funny, and engaging, but it doesn't feel that way. I get the distinct impression that this was a manga written by committee, with Novik on the masthead. All the trappings of the shoujo manga genre are there: the ridiculously clumsy heroine, the conflicted love interest, and aloof classmates who're snobby for plot-driven reasons only... And when they're put together like this, the genre as a whole comes across as hollow and foolish. I cannot believe that the heroine is as clumsy as she's shown to be, or has no other ambition besides wanting to go out with the cute guy (who she's only met the day before). The villain's plan seems unnecessarily convoluted, while the other adults in the story are, for the most part, unsympathetic and authoritarian for reasons that are, as yet, unclear. I don't know what to make of this; it's lightweight and silly, and it should have been a good distraction, but I couldn't help feeling like I was wasting my time. And I don't associate that kind of guilt with any of Novik's other works. It as if she came up with a plot, got distracted, and let the editors and artist do whatever they wanted. Although some manga benefit from collaboration, this one didn't, not by a long shot. (I'd be happy to share this copy with anyone else who wants it, just to see if I'm really being too snobby.)

On TV:

Ugly Betty, Seasons 1-3: I like that this show always defies my expectations in the best way; just when I think I've nailed where the plot is going, it surprises me with a twist (dramatic or small). And I love that the characters grow and change, not just the main character. I do not, however, like being right about the main character's latest love interest, who turned out to actually be a real jackass. Anyway, fluffy fun, and a very likable way to spend my time feeding the baby.
retsuko: (wendy reads)
In Books:

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi: This is a book group read, and winner of various important sci-fi awards (Hugo/Nebula), and it wears its pedigree proudly. I can see why it won all the prizes; the world it presents is rich, layered, and thickly populated and plotted. But this is the kind of thick plotting that rubs me the wrong way. Some authors have a very light touch with the universe they've created and know how to hint at details that flesh out the plot, rather than detract from it. This book, on the other hand, practically screams on every page, "LOOK AT THIS SALIENT DETAIL NO THIS ONE WAIT THAT ONE MIGHT BE MAJORLY IMPORTANT OH WAIT OVER HERE!" And it makes for slightly tiring reading. Add to this an almost constant switching between 7 or so main characters, and uncountable numbers of second-tier, important characters, and it's a bewildering story. Reading this is like eating a very rich, dense cake baked by a world-class chef after a heavy meal: you know it's delicious, but you're feeling stuffed barely two bites in. A lighter touch would help me want to finish in time for group, and in general, too. Bacigalupi would benefit from sitting down with an author like Laura Joh Rowland, who obviously has millions of details but judiciously weighs how many she can include before the narrative overbalances. I prefer her lemon chiffon cake to Bacigalupi's tiramisu pie with Reese's Peanut Butter Cup frosting and vanilla bean ice cream.

(Also, note to authors: allow yourself one use of the word "fecund" per book. Anything more is a bit on the excessive side.)

In Comics:

Scott Pilgrim vs., Volumes 1-6, by Brian Lee O'Malley: When I saw the movie, I blogged about realizing that I'd been just a touch too snobby when it came to reading the comics it was based on. And it turns out that the comics were well worth the read, just as light and fun as the movie, except for the ending. The final volume packed in a lot more action and pathos than I was expecting based on the story leading up to them; I'm equally impressed with the character development and defeat of the Big Boss/Main Villain, who really was a jerk and whose plans for the heroine were incredibly gross and creepy. But most of all, I liked seeing Ramona grow and change with the course of the plot, and her final, astral combat actions were just awesome. Scott... well, he was a tough sell as a hero, and I wasn't as invested in him as I was in the other characters. Still, it was fun to see him realize what he really wanted and take the steps necessary to make it happen. I am a little sad that the movie edited Kim's role so heavily, but perhaps it was for the best, since I had a lot of unanswered questions about her. It was also nice to see Knives get a more definitive and appropriate ending. Stacey Pilgrim and Wallace Wells were made of awesome and win in both movie and book version. (It also helps that O'Malley choose to end with one of my favorite images in all of literature: a leap into the unknown. So simple, and so perfect for this story about becoming an adult!)

I wasn't sold on the artwork, still, although it was appropriate to the story and its tone. I'd like to be able to tell the characters apart at first glance, not on second or third, and then sometimes based on what they were wearing. (An artist friend of mine once told me that she saw her greatest challenge to create characters who were still recognizable when they were dressed in surgical scrubs and masks. Very few artists can successfully pull this off.) But, hey, the story was fun, and that's what matters the most.
retsuko: (book of evil)
The New York Times has an interesting discussion here on the growing trend for dystopian topics in Young Adult literature. Among the debaters are several YA authors, experts and professors. (Adding a young adult to that mix would probably have been appropriate as well.) Why are books like The Hunger Games so popular right now? The answers are diverse and interesting; the short essays by each contributor are well worth the read. For my money, though, there's another answer that none of the contributors touches on: the great majority of dystopian YA books contain sophisticated writing and content that shows the readers that the author respects them enough to not condescend. For example, The Hunger Games is a violent and scary book, and Collins doesn't pull any punches (pardon the euphemism), and therein is the key to its success. (If Collins had had the scenes shift away the fighting and violence instead of portraying it and its consequences honestly, the book would have been a lot less effective and popular.) Or, for another example, the His Dark Materials series contains some very complicated philosophical and religious themes that most YA books eschew. (Perhaps the failure of The Golden Compass as a movie lies with the fact that the screenplay completely abandoned these themes.) Young adults are just that: young adults, and as such, want to read works that treat them like adults, not idiots who just want simplified romance and toothless conflict.

I remember reading Bridge to Terabithia when I was about eleven. The themes and characters in that book rang incredibly true to me, and the death of one of the major characters was made all the more bittersweet because of the honesty the author treated it with. (The ensuing guilt and grief is raw and true, and entirely realistic.) The book did not have the falsely sweet, almost sing-songy, tone to it that other books dealing with death I'd read had. Terabithia gave me the knowledge necessary to deal with death when I did encounter it, and I can say I'm a better person for having read it. It wasn't a work of dystopia, per se, but it was serious and important without taking itself too seriously. Books like these wax and wane in popularity, but I think the serious side of YA will always be there, and it will always be necessary.
retsuko: (girl reading)
In Books:

Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan: This was an awesome birthday present from [ profile] orichalcum, given to me not only because of the good writing, but also largely because of the bulk of the plot taking place at my alma mater, Smith College. (Sullivan is an alum.) And, for the most part, Sullivan nails it. Her description of life at Smith is sharply observed--everything from the awkward first year (note: NOT freshmen, get it?!) house meeting to the way that friendships form, change, disintegrate, and heal. (Although I did start to wonder if Sullivan had a weird obsession with the fabled "freshmen 15" weight gain: she brings it up at least three different times over the course of the whole novel. Maybe I wasn't paying attention at Smith, but I cannot for the life of me remember any of my fellow students gorging themselves the way she describes!) She also captures the Smith experience of graduating student expectations: you will DO something with yourself. You will NOT waste your life. Social responsibility is YOURS. What, you've got nothing for the alumnae magazine? What's wrong with you? While some of the later plot twists are a little over the top, the majority of this book is a thoughtful, understated look at the way education shapes us, for better and for worse. I highly recommend this to all my Smithie friends.

Crystal Rain, by Tobias S. Buckell: If there's one way to turn me off a book, writers, it's having all of your characters of color speak in a patois of broken English. A hero with amnesia, secrets locked up in his brain that the villains want? OK, fine. Slightly low-tech science fiction world? Yeah, sure, I'll buy that. The Gods walk among humans from time to time? Well, fine, it's your to-do. BUT: having the said white hero speak perfect English while his wife and son have dialogue like, "A long time ago, all we old-father them had work on a cold world with no ocean or palm tree" means that I cannot get invested in your narrative, no matter what literary tricks you promise to pull down the line. (Book club read, not my choice.)

Poison Study, Magic Study, & Fire Study, by Maria V. Snyder: I speed-read through the first one of these, sailed through the second, and plodded through the third. I can't quite say what bogged the story down for me so much. Was it the somewhat pasted-on romance between the two lead characters of the first book? No, although I had to work to actively put their age difference out of my head while I read the books. I think it was more the expanding of the cast of characters from about five to twenty-five in the last two books, and the feeling that those additional twenty weren't exactly fleshed out. The other thing that bothered me about these works was that sexual violence was a major impetus for all three plot lines. (OK, the third installment not quite as much. That time, it was human sacrifice. o_0;;) I'm starting to have issues with the standard rape-and-revenge plot lines; yes, it's a major motivating factor for any character, but... for every book? Hasn't your main character gone through enough yet? Perhaps what really got me was that I liked the heroine so much in the first book, and the stakes for her simply surviving the plot were almost too damn high to be believed. After that, the stakes dwindled somewhat, and I started wishing for a decent therapist and a steady job for her, instead of further attempts on her life and sexual/political intrigue. These books are definitely worth a read, but those with rape/sexual assault triggers should probably steer clear.

A general memo to all fantasy and mystery authors: Not everyone who's into BDSM is a serial killer/sexual predator in training. I'm getting tired of the reveal of the villain's collection of "evil"/deviant sex toys and all the other characters shaking their heads in disgust.

In Manga:

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, by Moto Hagio: First of all, a word on this beautiful book. Fantagraphics has put together this collection in a gorgeous hardcover package that's well worth the $25. Besides the comics themselves, there's an extended interview with the author and her translator, as well as the highly informative article from The Comics Journal giving the background on the author and the significance of her work. The comics themselves... are quite wonderful. They're at turns funny, creepy, touching, and haunting. Perhaps the strongest of the collection is The Iguana Girl, about a little girl whose mother is convinced that her child isn't human--an iguana at best. The story, which unfolds over the girl's lifetime is slow and steady, told in short bursts of narration and picture until the entirely surprising conclusion jumps out towards the end of the story. Hagio tackles a lot of issues that are relevant to readers of all nationalities like dealing with grief and loneliness, abortion, and the tricks that memory can play. All in all, this is a highly satisfying piece of work, and it most definitely belongs in your manga collection. :)
retsuko: (cute but evil)
In Books:

Night Passage, by Robert Parker: I appreciate that Parker is able to slide comfortably between dialogue and narration like it's no big thing. One tells the story better than the other, sometimes, and he's not afraid to dump whichever one isn't serving his narrative at the moment. As the hero, Jesse Stone is compelling without being anywhere near one hundred percent "good"; he's a real person with real problems. The villains are just skillful enough to be a little menacing, and the setting is ably described with a minimum of set-up. I am sad that Parker died recently, and so I will never have a chance to tell him how much I enjoy his work.

In Movies, by extension, thoughts on books:

Toy Story 3, with guest appearances by The Velveteen Rabbit: I cannot emphasize enough that, despite its G rating (and what's with that?!) and aggressive marketing campaign, this is not a movie for young children. After the film was over, in the ladies' room, I overheard at least two Moms have damage control discussions with their little ones: "Yes, there were some scary parts. And there were sad parts, too. But it was just a story, right?" Yes, it's just a story. But it's the kind of story that would have terrified me as a child. Cut for fairly gratuitous spoilers. )

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the movie; I really liked it. It's a very satisfying story, coupled with some beautiful animation. The stuffed animals' fur, in particular, looked so soft! I wanted to touch them very much. (Especially the Totoro plushie!) The worlds the characters inhabit are all richly realized and rendered, including a wonderful sequence at the beginning that's clearly meant to be part of Andy's imagination of the adventures his toys are having. (Like all good kid logic, toys that have no relevance to one another find excuses to be involved in the whole story: Buzz, Jesse, and Woody are crime-fighting allies! The Potato Heads are criminal masterminds! Little sister who's just wandered in and knocked over the elaborate tinker toy construction is a 50-foot tall, alien baby!) The final fifteen minutes or so of the movie are genuinely moving and bittersweet (hell, the final half hour is an emotional roller coaster). But I think my favorite idea of the entire film is its most subtle one, and it revolves around the question of what form love should ideally take. That's a meaty question for any movie to tackle, let alone one that's ostensibly aimed at children, and the answer (and its various permutations) is heartfelt without being maudlin or sentimental.

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