retsuko: (hugs)
I've had the great pleasure of seeing "When Marnie was There" and "Inside Out" in these past few weeks, and I'm convinced that they would make an excellent double feature. Both of them feature female protagonists who are on the cusp of puberty and maturity, and both movies come at the issues that puberty brings, but from completely different angles. "Inside Out" is a lot more action-filled and a good deal louder than "Marnie" but really, one is the flip side of the other, as they're both meditations on what growing up means and how we deal with adversity.

"When Marnie was There" is a lovely entry into the Studio Ghibli canon. The story focuses on Anna, a 12-year-old asthmatic adoptee whose internal life is filled with turmoil and loathing. Worried for her health and mental state, her adopted mother sends her to spend the summer with relatives who live in the country, and leave her to her own devices, although they do meddle as they try to set her up on a "friend date" with some local girls that, predictably, turns sour. Left alone, Anna finds herself talking to the lonely girl who lives in the deserted house across the tidal marsh, Marnie. But Marnie comes and goes without warning, and her stories of her life (all rendered in gorgeous attention to detail and period, as expected from a Ghibli film) sound off, somehow. I don't want to spoil the ending, and so I'll stop summarizing the plot here, and shift over to discussing how richly everything in this story is rendered: the colors! The emotions! The textures! (The textures alone are worth the price of admission; I could imagine the feel of almost everything in that movie under my fingers as it went along.) What's really gorgeous about this movie is the love that is packed into every aspect of the production. It has a soul, a rich, empathetic soul that serves all the characters with equal measures of respect. I wish that I had seen this movie when I was a depressed adolescent tween, because I think it would have healed my soul in return for viewing it (although I would never, ever have admitted that to anyone.)

"Inside Out" is a little more accessible to all ages than "Marnie" (which definitely requires an attention span and patience to fully enjoy) but it's really all about the same difficulties of growing up and accepting parts of ourselves. You've probably seen the trailers and know that this is a movie about the voices in a tween protagonist's head as she copes with a great deal of life changes (moving, new school, parental strife, etc.) What I'm pleased to say about this is that it's not the gender essentialist nonsense that I feared from the first few trailers I saw, and that the imagination that fuels this movie is electric and boundless and beautiful. It treats its protagonist's mental crisis with the same gravity that "Marnie" does, and we see the solution from the internal side, rather than the external one. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but I can say that the mental landscape this movie lays out is absolutely perfect, and very well observed. This is a movie that I wouldn't mind seeing in theaters again at all, because I'm sure there were a million things or so that I missed. "Inside Out" is the best Pixar movie I've seen... well, maybe ever, although nothing will beat the first ten minutes of "Up" or that sequence in "Toy Story 3" for making me cry. It's absolutely worth seeing on the big screen. I don't want to oversell it, so please just go and see it. (And then come back and talk to me about it, because I have some stuff I want to run by you.)
retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
I've been thinking about "It Follows" ever since I saw it, mostly in two ways: 1), what the hell was up with that ending, and that plot twist, and that plot element, etc. and, 2) intellectually, I know this is impossible, but I don't want to turn off the lights because what if it is there?! I've seen horror movies before that lingered for a few days, but this one shows no signs of letting up and it's a rare movie that can scare me for this long. It's also a beautiful movie, another reason that it's sticking around in my brain, with its empty houses and landscapes, the whole thing feels like an exploration of a hollow shell. This film also reminds me of a particularly fiendish RPG that a player came into knowing only the most basic of rules, and upon leaving, said player knows very little more than what they started with, only that there was... this thing and there were rules and consequences, and there was an unrelenting sense of dread from start to finish. Seriously, there is only one jump cut in the whole movie (and it's reasonably warranted by the setting the characters are in at the time) and the rest is this perfectly timed to build tension and inevitability. So I want to recommend this movie to all and sundry. There is minimal gore if that turns you off, but the threat is not minimized because of this; there is character development of both obvious and subtle varieties; and there's a lovely sense of timelessness and universality that, again, a lot of movies (horror or not) want to capture but fail.

So, go. See it. Not alone.

Cinderella! *swoons*

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 07:23 am
retsuko: lady rainicorn and princess bubblegum from the pilot episode of Adventure Time (PB + Rainicorn)
I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but probably not for the reasons that anyone else in the theater did. A side note, before I begin, has to do with the Frozen Fever short that played before the movie. It was... cute. So cute. And so merchandisable. It reminded me of the articles I read about the Sailor Moon manga's plot being timed around various school holidays and celebrations in Japan so that brand new merchandise would be on the shelves in time for girls to see it during breaks. In this case, Elsa and Anna got new dresses (ka-ching) and there were little snow golems that appeared every time Elsa sneezed (d'awww, plushie!) The song that accompanied the major plot was cute, but it didn't have the staying power of the songs in the original movie. I guess I'd call the whole thing harmless, if it didn't seem to be such a cash grab.

But, yes, anyway, the movie itself. The Good parts: the costume porn was Spec. Tac. Cular, and the set dressing excellent. I could have watched an entire movie set at the ball, because I suspect there was more set dressing (of the food porn variety) that there wasn't time to show. The animals that Cinderella talks to were actually cute, not cloying. The transformation (and "de-transformation") sequences were top-notch. Helena Bonham Carter appeared to be having the time of her life as the Fairy Godmother.

Not-So-Good: It's been widely observed that parents in Disney movies don't last long, and this movie had that issue in spades. Not only do Cinderella's parents die from Plotdeviceitis, but the Prince's father died, too, of some unspecified malady. (3 parental deaths in one movie is a lot!)

Another thing that stuck in my craw was the constant reiterating of Cinderella's saintly mother's dying advice: "Have courage and be kind." While this is good advice, it's not especially nuanced or universally applicable, although this movie gamely tried to prove otherwise. This phrase started to annoy me on the level that "With great power comes great responsibility" did in the first Spiderman movie. It's one thing to explore an idea, but it's another to bludgeon the audience repeatedly with it. There were scenes that showed this idea effectively--Cinderella admonishing the Prince not to hunt the stag, for example, was a very nice way to show us this dictum in action, but annoyingly, the writers worked the aphorism into the dialogue at the end of it, blergh--but the idea hovered over the entire thing so omnipotently that it was like a single-minded deity running the entire show.

On the good side, there was a lot of effort made to humanize the prince, which is nice, I guess, because my memories of him from the animated movie are somewhat on the "cardboard cutout" side of things. In this case, the Prince was so handsome and winsome that the first scene he appeared in... well, it was like the first scene in Maison Ikkoku where Kyoko meets Coach Mitaka, he turns around to greet her, and he's so handsome that his teeth sparkle. I honestly kept waiting for this Prince's teeth to sparkle like the bishounen hottie he was meant to be. Fortunately, he wasn't a jerk or smarmy during any of this, and as it turned out he was smart enough for a pivotal plot twist to take place. So yay for that? But he's not the star of the thing... Cinderella is. And Lily James is just lovely, and she played the whole thing as well as she could. But I didn't leave the film liking Cinderella as a character any more than when I'd come in, and I feel like there was a real missed opportunity there. There's a lot that's good about the original animated film, and the story is timeless and appealing, but I wish this version, with all its beauty, had set its sights just a little higher in terms of character development for its heroine.

A side note: if making animated princess films into live action spectacles is the new thing, can we please do The Princess and the Frog next? Tiana is the BEST, Lottie is hilarious, New Orleans in the 20s would be a great setting, and I would pay all the monies to see that.
retsuko: snarky quote :) (capital letters)
My subtitle for the last installment in this franchise was, "The Hobbit: Everything's Coming Up Arrows!" and after careful reflection, I came up with a few more for this final chapter:

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

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

Spoilers, I suppose... )

In summary: Lots of fun all around. I've read some pretty negative reviews of this film, and I'm not sure what the reviewers went into the film wanting. It's called "The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies," not "The Hobbit: Peter Jackson sat down and asked YOU what you wanted out of a Hobbit movie," for gosh-sakes. There are five armies, there is a mountain of cursed dragon gold, and there are more than a few heroes. What did everyone expect, Citizen Hobbit? The Maltese Dragon? I don't know. Anyway, I thought it was fun and diverting, and that's exactly what I wanted when I went in, so that was perfect.
retsuko: lady rainicorn and princess bubblegum from the pilot episode of Adventure Time (PB + Rainicorn)
Yesterday, Yebisu and I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Big Hero 6, which is one of the rare movies that I didn't want to end because it was so beautiful and so entertaining, and because the ending of the film provided a springboard for so, so many stories that would be equally as fun and interesting as the movie itself. This isn't to say this was a perfect or flawless film, but it's pretty damned good in almost every respect, and that is saying quite a lot.

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

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

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

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

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

At the Movies:

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

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

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

American Hustle: Some movies are linked in my head with the experience I had in the theater when I saw them; for AH, it's going to be forever associated with being unable to get seats far enough back and feeling sick during the disco sequence. Also, everyone's faces were magnified, like, seemingly a million times larger than normal because of the close seats, and after a while, that gets really, really weird. Anyway, it's a good movie, and even though I didn't like feeling nauseated, I really enjoyed it as a portrait of some profoundly shades-of-grey, no-moral-absolutes people. Whenever I watch a heist movie/story, I'm waiting for the denouement, and AH's does not disappoint. It was just a little hard to root for people who were so completely deluding themselves (even though the narration of the story acknowledges that very fact.)

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Redux: I went and saw this with my Dad, who thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to nitpick every detail when it was over. I am sorry to say that when that spider popped out, even though I knew it was coming, I still jumped and made a little squeak of surprise. Dammit, Peter Jackson! On a second viewing, the pacing of the story seemed even more glacial, but I was to better look at the beautiful design work that's largely hidden in the background. The elves of Mirkwood have a slightly different sensibility from Rivendell, and seeing that again, checking for details and so forth, was highly pleasurable. And Tauriel is still amazing and kickass.

In Books!:

Bossypants, by Tina Fey: What a fun, likable book! Fey writes as if she were sitting across from you at the dinner table, recounting stories of the history of SNL/30 Rock, celebrity culture, and parenting with equal weight and it's just lovely, like discovering you have a tremendously funny cousin you didn't know existed.

The Impostor's Daughter, by Laurie Sandell: As a counterpoint to Fey's book, I read this book in one sitting, unable to stop myself. Then as I was adding it to my GoodReads profile, I went through some of the comments, and, well, OUCH. A lot of people think this work is selfish and shallow, and that the author shouldn't have written about her father's actions, or brought her family's turmoil into public discourse like this. I'm of very mixed minds about this. It's a crazy-amazing story and Sandell's father is a highly flawed but compelling figure, a man who lied his way through life and destroyed his family's and friends' financial stability, yet Sandell remembers him fondly, too, as the man who told her wonderful stories and encouraged her in her artistic and academic endeavors. This book also details Sandell's own response to uncovering this story as an adult, and her prescription drug abuse that eventually leads her to rehab at the end of the story. This work strongly reminded me of This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolfe (which also deals with a destructive father figure), and I began to wonder if people would have been as hard on Sandell if she were a man writing about his relationship with his mother or father. The only major difference is Sandell's choice to include her own, present-day struggles with drugs. I think her inclusion of this part of the story is a highly brave act that allows her to reclaim the narrative from her father's reach, and tell her own story, even though that story is one that's been told more than a few times. As she says in an interview that functions as the book's afterword: "My hope is not to reconcile with my dad, but to emerge from this experience relatively unscathed." To even reach that conclusion strikes me as a strong and brave choice, and I commend her for putting these words and pictures on paper.
retsuko: (Default)
In books:

Thanks to Goodreads' list-making capabilities, I have a record of the 57 books I read during 2013. Of those 57, I didn't finish 3, for reasons related to lack of time, boredom, or disgust. Out of the remaining 54, 4 were non-fiction (which I'm proud of, since I'm always trying to read more non-fiction; left to my own devices, I know I'd be stuck in an endless loop of shoujo manga and urban fantasy that wouldn't really teach me anything new about the writing process or the world at large.) 14 were graphic novels or manga, the best of which was Saga. I'm eagerly awaiting the third trade paperback of this excellent series!

In general, I've stayed away from reading that was excessively dark this year, mainly because I just didn't have the mental energy to deal with sadder subject matter. In this spirit, I'm currently reading I Am Malala and Tiny Fey's Bossypants at the same time--I read Malala's book until I get too sad, and then I switch over to Fey's as a counterpoint. It's a slightly disjointed reading experience, but it's better for my soul. (It does help knowing that Malala's book has a reasonably happy ending, too.)

I'm not sure how many books I'll challenge myself to read in this coming year, but I certainly hope to beat my record this year.

At the movies:

Somehow, I've managed to see quite a few movies this year, which is a miracle of sorts. I still haven't seen American Hustle, but it seems as though that will definitely linger in theaters for a few more weeks, so I still have time. I saw a lot of movies this year on Netflix that were pretty good, and I also managed to see a lot of things in theaters. My favorites are "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Frozen." (I kept imagining these two as a sort of messed up double feature, in that order. They're both about familial relationships, and the mental traps that we set for ourselves and each other.)

There aren't any movie properties in 2014 that I'm chomping at the bit to see (at least, not that I'm aware of) but I'm sure there'll be some great things anyway, regardless. :)

Yay, Frozen!

Friday, December 20th, 2013 09:22 am
retsuko: (hugs)
Last night, my Mom and I went to see "Frozen" and I was not disappointed!

But, before that was an animated short that I have very mixed feelings about. )

Fortunately, the movie itself was even better than I'd anticipated. Spoilers ahead! The songs were great, the imagery imaginative, the characters compelling, and the snowman was not annoying after all. )

Note: if you stay to the end, there's a cut scene after all the credits that's very short and funny, and within the credits themselves, there's one joke that's almost hidden amongst legal boilerplate. Check it out!

Also funny side note: next to me, there was a woman who was Really Into the movie, gasping in surprise at some plot points, pointing frantically at the screen at others, and at one dramatic juncture, whispering loudly, "Hurry up!" It was actually kind of sweet to observe out of the corner of my eye.
retsuko: (spoilers!)
Like the tin says: spoilers! )

In non-spoilery bits:

* Did anyone see it in 3D? I think there were a few sequences that might have been made more exciting with that, but I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

* How does everyone pronounce Smaug? My Dad, when reading it aloud to me, always pronounced it as "Smog," but all the actors had a thing with "SmOWgh" going on. Other than my Dad ironically referencing the annoying pollution problem, was he totally off the mark? :S

* We shelled out for Arclight again (*sighs*), at a 21-and-over showing. I still think movie chains that encourage alcohol consumption are missing out on potential merchandising profit by not offering drinks that are relevant to the movies being shown. For example, I would have bought mead at a Hobbit showing, or I would buy a martini at a James Bond showing, etc. etc. But it was the same old liquor, and overpriced at that.

* In the trailer park: Christopher Nolan's new project is inscrutable, other than using stock historical footage; "Edge of Tomorrow"/"All You Need is Kill" is either going to rock or suck, but it's still hard to tell which; and "Jupiter Ascending" looks like the Wachowskis are attempting something completely ambitious, visually speaking.
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: (girl & her dog)
In Movies:

Gravity: Yes, the soundtrack is overbearing, but WOW this is a movie about a woman, and it is often tense and frightening, and I was impressed at how often the filmmakers made the audience sympathize with a female character--heavens! It's so simple that it's revolutionary! And the shots of space were just lovely. All in all, I'm really glad I saw this on the big screen, and in 3D... for the first time in, well, ever, the extra money seemed really worth it for a "you are there" experience that I don't feel like I've ever had before. I also think Ryan Stone is a character who needs to be up there next to Ripley in terms of putting up with so much crap from one story.

In Comics:

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2, Words by Brian K. Vaughan and pictures by Fiona Staples: I've been meaning to blog about this for a while now, but I'm loving this work, which is like Perdido Street Station twisted into the Star Wars universe. It's relentlessly imaginative and violent, and I'm a little surprised at myself for liking it so much. Staples' artwork has a lot to do with that--all the characters have unique and interesting faces, even when they're covered in blood or contorted in suspicion. So amazing.

Empowered Special: Nine Beers with Ninjette, Words by Adam Warren, with pictures by Adam Warren and Takeshi Miyazawa: To be fair, I was already on this bandwagon, but DAYUM this one-shot really ups the pathos! It's so persuasively sad throughout that I wondered if Warren made himself cry at any point during the process. It's also a really good counterpoint to the normal series, which is usually quite irreverent fun. Miyazawa's artwork is a nice plus, too.

In Manga:

Gate 7, Volume 4, with pretty pictures and random words by CLAMP: I'm a little amazed at myself for jumping on his bandwagon at all, because I thought I was pretty much done with this whole series, but then I picked up Volume 4 and it did not disappoint as much as I thought it would. My original quibbles are still there (Chikahito does not behave like ANY teenaged boy I have ever met, the meta-conflict is confusing, Hana is still weirdly sexualized, etc.) but for once, this volume's story works fairly well, and even though there are some familiar CLAMP tropes here (adorable child secretly planning to torture everyone, for example), they seem reasonably new and interesting in this story. As usual, the artwork is a thing of beauty, particularly the attention given to a spirit tiger that aligns itself with the main characters. Hana's magic is still gorgeously rendered, too. It's so hard to stay mad at CLAMP!
retsuko: (girl & her dog)
In Books:

The History of Us, by Leah Stewart: Two thoughts about this book vied for supremacy in my mind as I read it: 1) this is a book about whiney white people and their pathetic little problems, and 2) aw, crap, I know people exactly like this, and it's so true. I was immensely pleased when, towards the end, Stewart deftly acknowledged my number one problem by having one of the whiniest of the characters acknowledge her privileged position in life, and that she and her siblings had had it pretty good. After that, the number two issue took over, and I was very glad that I'd read the book, which features some rather damaged people making poor decisions and then dealing with the fallout, all set around the central issue of house and home. I share some choice quotes beneath the cut. )

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, by Fiona Carnarvon: From my GoodReads review, While it could have used a bit more editing in the middle (the section about the First World War drags on and on, although I suppose that's how the war must have felt to those who lived through it), there is no doubt about the current Countess of Carnarvon's sincere admiration of her ancestor's efforts and spirit. If you are looking for juicy gossip, Downton Abbey-style, you may be disappointed, but if you're looking for a well-researched historical portrait of the time period, the house, and a few of its occupants, this book should be satisfying. It's not a work of amazing high literature, but it's interesting and well-researched, and I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

Snaps, by Rebecca Kraatz: What a neat graphic novel--almost too short in some ways, but exactly perfect in others. Kraatz spins a narrative of characters' lives interwoven with each other and the second world war, all based on an old photo album she bought years ago at a flea market on Vancouver Island. I really liked this.

At the Movies:

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters: Holy moly, Anthony Stuart Head was a centaur! OK, so, obviously, there were other things going on in this film, but every time he was on-screen, I couldn't get that fact out of my head. It was just so odd; a voice in my brain kept insisting, something is WRONG with Giles!. Anyway, there were things wrong with this movie as a whole, too, although it was certainly an improvement on the first one in the series. I think the main problem was that Luke is not a particularly scary nor compelling villain; in fact, his main threat appeared to be blanding the main characters to certain... inaction. Or something. I did love the scenes with Nathon Fillion and Stanley Tucci (who gets a terrifically funny line about Jesus being a better God than any of the Greek ones because of his skills with water and wine), and the mechanical bull monster scene at the beginning had a lot of proper excitement in it. Also, the kid playing Tyson, Percy's half-Cyclops half-brother, was perfect for the role, and his acting made the other actors do so much better that when Percy mourned his Tyson's apparent death, the movie lifted itself out of "average" and into "compelling." But overall, it didn't feel like it had much of a soul, which is sad, because the books are brimming over with soul, fun, and personality, and I hate to see that narrative drained.
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.

An Ending...?

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 09:32 pm
retsuko: (fierce!)
Yebisu and I watched "Mama", which is an excellent suspense film... except for the last fifteen minutes, at which point the plot overbalances, the story slips into slo-mo, and all the buildup from the previous story evaporated into no scary payoff and a very clumsy set-up for a sequel. (I say 'suspense' on purpose because while there were a few jump scares, the story was more atmospheric and creepy than genuinely terrifying.) In fact, the whole ending reminded me of an RPG where the players are suddenly dithering about what to do, and the storyteller is too kind to step in and make some action happen, or hopes that they'll find another solution to the problem altogether. Anyway, this wasn't the first horror movie to dash my hopes like this; Splice was another where the whole equation fell completely apart, to a ludicrous and embarrassing degree.

So, I started to wonder: what's the most satisfying way to end a horror movie? How would I have ended "Mama" in particular? There's nihilistic approach of "everyone dies," which sometimes makes sense, sometimes not, and I don't think would have worked well in this storyline. There's also the magical "everything's fixed!" method, but that would have been equally unsatisfying, given the set-up the film had presented. I started to think of great horror movie endings, and all I could come up with off the top of my head was the twist "gotcha!" at the end of the excellent Korean horror movie "A Tale of Two Sisters", which I don't want to give away here, but was so good that I thought about the movie for weeks afterwards. The ending of "Cabin in the Woods" is certainly... uh, definitive, for lack of a better word. Horror stories are some of the most difficult to end, simply because the audience's expectations are going to be so high, and the permutations of the conclusion to the story will radically change people's perception of the movie as a whole, whereas with other genres, I think there's a little more leeway.

But now I'm curious: what's your favorite horror movie ending? Least favorite? Spoilers are fine. I'm far more interested about what makes a horror plot successful than preserving my knowledge of a few movies/TV shows.
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!

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