retsuko: martha jones from 'doctor who', in black and white (martha)
This is a crazy pair of episodes: one that was really pretty good, and one that was... well, uhm, I'll take it to the comments.

Lonely Among Us: Are You Aware Everyone is Behaving Strangely? )


Signs that it's the FUTURE:
* Uhm... energy being? The idea of colonizing another planet is pretty standard sci-fi, so there's that, but, generally, both of these episodes would have worked out in non-sci-fi contexts pretty well.

Signs that it's NOT the FUTURE:
* Dude, why doesn't the Enterprise have a firewall? This is the third time where the computers have just shorted out and/or been vulnerable to alien attack. If the ship is so sophisticated, surely the engineers planned for the computers to be invulnerable, at least in most of the ways that it counts!

* Also, the lighting in these episodes is STILL SO WEIRD. Everyone in Engineering apparently works in total darkness OR with the help of one florescent lightbulb.

Unintentionally Funniest Lines:
* A possessed Crusher, on what had happened to Worf: "A temporary... mental aberration." (I love this excuse, and will use it from now on, as much as possible.)

* Picard, on uncertainties: "Why has everything become a 'something' or 'whatever'?"
retsuko: (spoilers!)
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. )

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
retsuko: martha jones from 'doctor who', in black and white (martha)
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. )

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. )

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.
retsuko: (yay doctor!)
Today, I had the first real day off in a long, long while, and Yebisu and I had a lovely time seeing two different pieces of entertainment that centered around the same trope, the aligning of the planets/stars. How each version of the story used and abused the trope was an interesting bit of comparison.

First off, there's Thor: The Dark World. My expectations for this were really pretty low. I wanted something fun and relatively light, and even with the ominous title, I hadn't seen or heard anything that indicated it would be dark and serious. It was, perhaps, heavily told at times, but there was nowhere near the awkwardly exhausting constant moral dilemma-posing of The Dark Knight or Watchmen. I suppose the worst things that could be said of this installment of Thor had to with the following spoilers. )

Anyway, the aligning of the planets in Thor:TDW lead to some very interesting/amusing chase sequences near the end, and some fun science-y stuff at the beginning, and so that was a plot trope well used! So much fun!

A quick side note: if anyone can explain to me what the hell was going on in the first credits extra scene, with Sif and The Collector, and the Stone of Plot Driving, please do so in the comments. I pride myself on being up on my comic book meta-plot knowledge, but this completely stymied me. (I mean, it's a Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in, but what its significance is was utterly unclear.)

Then, there was the finale of Legend of Korra. This show has had a very uneven season; it's felt rushed in many places, and just when I thought there were too many characters already, the writers decided to add at least five more. Like many fans, I've been getting antsy since the show was moved into the Friday Night Death Slot. I know that Nick wants easily marketable things, and I suppose this is another entry for another time, about gender and capitalism and feminism and so forth. But anyway, in the last five episodes, the show finally regained its footing, and there were cliffhangers galore with stakes so high that I felt sure there'd be a string of dramatic/child-unfriendly deaths. Spoilers for the entire season. )

All in all, it was a good ending that leaves a lot of plot openings for future seasons and I HOPE it doesn't get cancelled. Now, more than ever, I cannot wait to watch this show, and the one that preceded it, with my son. I think I'm almost as excited about this as reading Harry Potter with him. :)
retsuko: (spoilers!)
Somehow I've made it to lots of movies in the past few months and not blogged about them! To whit:

Man of Steel: This is one of the most beautiful movie soundtracks I've heard in a long time; it sounded hopeful, which is a quality a lot of music aspires to, but very little actually achieves. The main theme was gorgeous and subtle, and I liked the way it slipped around the edges of scenes and moments. The rest of the movie... well, subtle and gorgeous aren't words I'd use to describe it, but it wasn't terrible or terrific. It just was. I liked seeing smart!Lois Lane, and I loved the scary female villain, Faora, and there were several very good examples of showing and not telling, most notably the first truly heroic act Clark attempts as an adult. (If running onto a burning oil rig to rescue its trapped workers isn't super-heroic, then I don't know what is.) But the whole of the film felt rather flat and contrived. It didn't help that General Zod looked a lot like Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute on the "The Office" (I kept expecting Zod to try and sell paper products or beets to the bewildered people of Metropolis) and seems to have attended the acting school of "Come on, skull, pop out of my skin!" Maybe bargain matinee-worthy if you've not seen it and/or are invested in the Superman mythos?

Much Ado About Nothing: As counterpoint to all the bombast of Man of Steel, this movie is all fizzy and spritely fun until it's suddenly not, which I think is more Shakespeare's original's fault than anything Whedon or his cast did wrong. I'm convinced that Amy Acker was born to play Beatrice; she embodied the role in every good way, and I was so happy to see her showing off her marvelous range and dramatic gifts all over the place. It's a strange little story--contrived drama! star-crossed lovers! dumb assumptions about foolish things!, but I knew that going in, based on the title alone. :)

The Heat: It's not Bridesmaids, but it's respectably hilarious and actually has quite a bit of tension and pathos at its core. I think Paul Feig is trying to sneakily jumpstart a national dialogue about terribly lonely people and how they live their lives (or don't), and the majority of the pathos lay in both of the main characters tackling that solitude they'd built around themselves, or that other people had built around them. It was actually a little touching to see genuine feelings and personal growth in the midst of violence and profanity. Definitely get out and see this if you have the chance; it would be nice if this made a nice little profit and showed the studio, oh, hey, lots of people would like to see more movies with cool ladies in them! Surprise! Sarcasm!

Fast and Furious 6: This was surprisingly excellent in many ways, and its diverse cast and largely gender-balanced script put so many other movies to shame that... well, I'm going to say this, even as I disbelieve I'm espousing the statement as a whole, but: HOLLYWOOD COULD LEARN A LOT FROM THIS MOVIE AND ITS SUCCESS. Ahem. I didn't think this was a waste of time at all, not by a long shot, and Yebisu and I have been having a very entertaining time ever since catching up on the ones in the middle of the franchise that we missed (which, so far, haven't been as good #6.) I did tire of the macho slugfest towards the end, but that's how I feel with a lot of guy movies, so... still, as a whole, it was awesome, fun, and entirely stupidly entertaining. (Also: Han/Giselle = OTP forever!)

In the trailer park department, other than the Hobbit, Part 2 trailer, I think I've not seen anything that I've been super-excited for. I was doing pretty well with The Conjuring trailers until the one that was with The Heat started pushing my "OMG-Children-In-Peril" button, so that one's back in the DVD watch pile.
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
Wreck-It Ralph: I saw this in a theater full of adults, 90% of whom groaned as the requisite toy commercials played before the actual movie. One of them said, ruefully, "I guess we're just not the target audience for this." But the funny thing is, I left the theater thinking that we (adults) were indeed the target audience. Why else would there be all these visual references to games that most kids have never played and likely never will? (I mean, Tapper? What kid is going to want to run out and play that?) And why else would there be some very complicated themes about the construction of your identity, the nature of true love in several forms, and the salvation of the soul? If the previous sentence makes the movie sound heavy and exhausting, it's not at all, and therein lies its genius: Wreck-It Ralph is an eye-candy dream that, despite having a guy with freakishly huge hands as its hero, moves along in a fun, breezy manner, where the difficult themes are never overdone and the story is never in service to the toy-selling. The voice casting was top-notch and that really helped (although Sarah Silverman skated a very fine line between cute and annoying.) This is a movie that I look forward to showing my son, and is no waste of time for any grown-up with an open mind.

Skyfall: A LOT of spoilers are up ahead... I'm not kidding! Proceed at your own peril if you've not seen the movie. Read more... )

tl;dr version: I really enjoyed it, despite its shortcomings. It's nice to see a Bond movie that knows when to take a cue from the Bourne films, but keeps the inherent Bond-ness to the whole affair intact.
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: (soots)
When I see a movie as over-hyped and disputed as "Avatar", it's often hard to just view the film as a whole, a coherent story/product, without thinking of all the blog essays I've read bashing it and the general consensus of "pretty but MEH" I've heard from most people who've already seen it. And I'm very well aware of the violence inherent in the system political problems that are inseparable from the main story. So I'm pleased to say that even with all the problems, there is still a highly beautiful piece of filmmaking in here--not subtle by any means, but filled with gorgeous, captivating visuals of amazing creatures and a truly wondrous world.

OMG TEH PRETTY: The plants on the planet Pandora are simply gorgeous and reminded me of deep sea creatures. The trees are majestic and stunning; there are floating mountains and bioluminescent flowers; there are cool horse- and dragon-like creatures, and the whole thing is one big feast for the eyes. Really, I would have been happy if the entire movie was spent flying around the planet, looking at all the native flora and fauna, and being immersed in a completely different world. The 3D elements of this part of the movie were absolutely worth the extra $3 to rent the glasses.


Ahem, James Cameron? SUBTLETY: LOOK INTO IT! Spoiler-rific comments follow... )

In short: James Cameron produces something that, while it has significant political issues, is a solid, entertaining, and beautiful piece of work. The story may be overdone and hackneyed, but, by gum, I was on the side of the native people fighting back against the white colonizers, and it's pretty hard not to be. Well worth the bargain matinee and extra 3D admission.


Trailer Park: "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" looks like a great deal of franchiseable fun; Tom Cruise does not entice me at all to see movies anymore; and "Piranha 3D" looks a terrible, goofy throwback to monster movies of the '50s and '60s.
retsuko: (surprising read)
In Books:

The Cloud Pavilion, by Laura Joh Rowland: OMG THINGS DO NOT LOOK GOOD FOR OUR HERO! Spoilers like WHOA. )

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore: I need everyone to read this book so that I can talk about plot specifics, because I would hate to spoil this for anyone, and also because it was just a damn good read. While this is technically a YA fantasy, I would not hand this out to just any kid--the violence in the plot is very high, and Cashore's descriptions of it pull no punches (ha, ha.) Without giving away too much, I can say that I have not read a book like this in a while--that obsessive need-to-know feeling came and grabbed on to me about page 40 or so and did not let up until the very end. Cashore knows how to write fight scenes in a way that both keeps the story going but puts the reader smack in the middle, worried that one of the blows might land on them. Great, layered characters abound, and there's a villain with a truly terrifying magical power. Highly, highly recommended!

In Manga:

Rinne, Volume 1, by Rumiko Takahashi: Takahashi was my "gateway drug" into the world of manga, way way back in junior high, and I'm always excited to see her name on the shelf, especially if I can get in on the ground floor (or first volume) of her incredibly long narratives. Rinne appears to be borrowing heavily from her previous works (a mysterious boy! an ordinary girl! supernatural hijinks!) and from the current manga-world obsession with shinigami (death gods), but I see potential here for something greater, with a Takahashi twist of humor and gravitas. I also like that the conflict, so far, seems to stem from the main male character's relationship with his grandmother, and not from a series of increasingly ugly villains. The main female character is plucky but not annoyingly cheerful. Definitely worth looking into, especially since this is supposed to be a near-simultaneous release with the Japanese installments.

Yotsuba to!, Volume 9, by Kiyohiko Azuma: The gentle good humor of this manga never ceases to delight me. In this volume, Yotsuba and her Dad buy a teddy bear (it makes a sound like a sheep: meeeeeeh, to Yotsuba's delight), Yotsuba attempts to help out one of her neighbors by bringing coffee over, but can never make it between houses without spilling the entire mug's worth (to her despair), and there's a trip to a hot air balloon festival. It's an idyllic view of everyday life, but never too sentimentalized or overdone. I'm also getting some fabulous kanji practice in.

In Movies:

Sherlock Holmes: I would have been willing to forgive this movie a lot of plot foibles were it not for one my most despised Hollywood visual motifs surfacing before the final act. How do we know that Holmes is a tortured genius? Because HE WRITES ON THE WALLS (in lieu of a chalkboard or whiteboard), and then grimly contemplates WHAT HE DOES NOT KNOW until a MOMENT OF REVELATION comes along. I'm willing to put up with this sort of thing in "House" because most of the time the rest of the script is interesting enough and the mystery compelling; however, in this movie, there wasn't enough interesting or compelling to go around. The entire thing felt like an Indiana Jones matinee, except with Holmes and Watson flailing around London and fighting off thugs of assorted toughness. In fact, the whole thing felt like a half-baked RPG campaign in which the DM was sort of making things up as he/she/it went along. The ideas were there (the occult plot was initially intriguing, and felt appropriate to the Conan Doyle world) but the execution of them was sub-par at best. The story was also held back by the under-utilization of Irene Adler (and by the casting choice of Rachel McAdams, who, while very pretty, does not have the presence to truly make this character seem like Holmes' equal) and an over-reliance on too-fast editing. There was a very clumsy set-up of a sequel. All in all, a rather disappointing outing, especially taking into consideration the good casting of Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, who do make a nice Holmes/Watson team (and are easy on the eyes.)

Flow: For the Love of Water: This is a highly worthwhile documentary, but, man oh man, is it ever depressing. I will never buy another bottled water again. And I am so glad that I live in a place where the water is (at least reasonably) clean and safe. But as with Food, Inc., there was the problem of too much overwrought emotional appeal, and the thread of the argument got lost amongst the anti-big-business ranting. Really, I think a lot of leftist film makers need to take their hands off the wheel and just let the facts speak for themselves. For example, in one of the most aggravating cases in the film, the filmmakers focus on townspeople in Michigan who were suing Nestle for draining their water tables for the bottled water plant one town over. Nestle continued to drain the water during the trial, despite repeated evidence that draining was destroying the local ecosystem and the townspeoples' livelihoods, stating that they (the company) had a right to that water. This is so egregiously wrong that I wanted to throw things. The filmmakers did not need to include a clip from Hitchcock's The Third Man to illustrate how big companies don't care about people; all of their proof was right there on the screen.
retsuko: (eels in the photobooth)
Dear Flashforward: There's so much here that I like, but it's bogged down with a lot of stupid and very poor pacing. More spoilers, more plot advancement, less treating the viewers like two-year-olds-with-no-long-term-memory, please! )

Dear Office: Aw, don't ever change. Well, maybe a little, but not much. We need more subtle scenes, like Tobey showing Pam how to throw a punch, as if he's been planning to punch Michael for years, but never quite worked up the guts to do so. We need more Andy singing and more thwarted Dwight. I would dial down the awkward a notch, but that's just me.

Dear Code Geass: WTF. I mean, sincerely, what the hell is going on here? You can either have a re-write of world history and a rebels-taking-down-the-empire show, OR you can have a harem-esque, high school romantic comedy drama anime. Mixing the two leads to some really, really weird moments. It's like Star Wars with a cast of far more cliched characters, reset in a Southern California high school; Darth Vader's the superintendent of schools, Luke Skywalker's a scrappy transfer student with a plan to cancel all pep rallies, and Princess Leia's the captain of the swim team. It works well, but only sometimes, and in that weird, fanfic-y way that doesn't necessarily equal quality. Oh, and did I mention that there were giant robots? It gets crazier, with spoilers! )

Constant Viewer

May 2016

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