retsuko: snarky quote :) (capital letters)
These two episodes weren't awful, but they weren't great, either. I think the writers were in a rut of trying lots of new things in an effort to see what stuck.

The Battle: The Ferengi are back... and they've brought a Count of Monte Cristo-level complicated revenge scheme with them! )

Hide & Q: Everything's going along contrived but fine until something awful happens. )

Signs that it's THE FUTURE:
* Dr. Crusher says she rarely encounters headaches and the common cold is eradicated. Wishful thinking there.
* The Enterprise's bed technology is YEARS AHEAD of ours! (Seriously, not even a fancy mattress or something? Picard's bed looked like he was at a particularly joyless Motel 6.)

Signs it's NOT THE FUTURE:
* Well, any story involving Q usually necessitates future tech so that Q can show off his powers by messing with it. Both of these episodes need to take place in the future to work, and nothing feels out of place this time around.

Unintentionally Funniest Line:
Geordi: "Worf! Is this your idea of sex?!" (And, thus, a thousand terrible fanfics were spawned.)

The writers' 'ship=Geordi/Yar. This comes out of nowhere! And then is never mentioned again for the rest of the episode!
retsuko: (yay doctor!)
Before I begin, a brief side note: last time I posted, [profile] foreverinasmile and I were talking and she graciously listed her 5 favorite episodes, and then asked me the same question. I suddenly realized that aside from "The Inner Light" (which is one of my top 5 science fiction stories EVER, which is why I know the name), I had almost completely forgotten the actual episode titles, but rather, the arresting plots and images that came out of some of my favorites. So, without any further ado, the things I'm looking forward to:

1) Holodeck episodes: Data as Sherlock Holmes and Geordi as Doctor Watson; Picard as a film noir detective.

2) Character development episodes/scenes: Crusher teaching Data to dance for Chief O'Brian's wedding; Data's daughter; poker games; Worf attempting to be a parent to Alexander; Spot, and Data's efforts to learn music; and that one where Picard and Crusher almost but not quite confront their UST because of some crazy alien hostage situation.

3) Crazy images: Cellular peptide cake (with mint frosting!), which is probably the most bonkers episode that stands out in my memory; that one where everyone de-evolves for some reason; Worf delivering Keiko's baby in a turbolift shaft; the Borg (all of the stuff involving the Borg); and the Cardassians (who I will hard pressed not to type up as Kardasians.)

Things I'm not looking forward to include: Barclay and the holodeck (*cringe*); the Cardassians (ugh, just thinking about that torture scene); that one where it turns out Starfleet Command has been infiltrated by mind control aliens and the plot line is never brought up again; that one where everyone is addicted to a stupid game except Wesley and some girl he has a crush on; and more Ferengi nonsense.

Speaking of Ferengi nonsense, let's get to the rewatch stuff, because the Ferengi figure prominently in the first episode! The Last Outpost: Your alien images continue to shock us. )

So, as a palate cleanser, Where No One Has Gone Before: I'm not the Doctor! )

Signs it's THE FUTURE:
* Even though everyone references it, except for the Captain's Log, it appears that no one has to do any paperwork! Hooray!
* Engineering has barstools. Seriously. Hooray?

Signs it's NOT THE FUTURE:
* Aside from ragging on the awful sweater crocheted abomination that Wesley wears in the second episode, I've got nothing. Other than sickbay's bizarre lighting, these episodes manage to stay firmly in future tech territory.
retsuko: (cool yuuko)
OMG OMG OMG: longer teaser trailer is here!

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

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

Aw, Sleepy Hollow, I have missed you so much! Can't wait for the opener.
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: (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.

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: (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: (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: (hugs)

Snow White and the Huntsman: This was surprisingly good! The design aspects of this production, from costumes to sets to creatures, were all excellent; there is a strong sense of imagery and purpose that runs through the whole thing. I'm actually a little sad that I didn't get to see this on the big screen. Charlize Theron is magnetic. The aura she creates for herself in this role was like a dying star, burning bright and dangerous, but always just on the edge of turning into a black hole. Everything that surrounded or clothed her was beautiful and pointy. (Her wedding dress, with its exoskeletal shoulders, was probably the best example of this, but the raven cape was pretty great, too.) I also liked the way the story shifted between different character's perspectives at pivotal moments, suggesting that meaning and interpretation was everything in the world, and giving greater heft to the idea that power is not what it seems. There is one scene where the filmmakers borrowed a little too much from "Mononoke Hime", but perhaps there are others who argue that they borrowed a little too much from Lord of the Rings as well, so maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Making a fantasy movie--and one that is a retelling of an already-told, multi-versioned story--without repeating anyone is pretty damn difficult these days, and these filmmakers did their best. See this on the night before your D&D game, to get in the mood.

50/50: It's so tempting to snark away this movie by saying I only enjoyed half of it, but that's the truth. Half of this movie was touching, even a bit of a tear-jerker, while the other half featured the main character and his douchebag best friend behaving selfishly and thoughtlessly. I think if Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn't such a likable guy and brought a lot of humanity to the character he was playing, I would have given up fairly quickly. The story, which is every young person's secret nightmare (perfectly healthy guy gets diagnosed with surprise!genetic!rare!cancer, from which there is only a 50% recovery rate) careens between genuine sentiments (I dare anyone to watch the scene where he's going into surgery and his mother doesn't want to let go of him, without crying) and frat house highjinks (medicinal weed=score!). This film read almost like a guy's "chick flick": yes, there are feelings that get talked about, but at no point do these feelings infringe on the main character's "rights" to do whatever the hell he wants. There's also one alarming plot point that pops up at the end that sets off all sorts of warning bells on my ethics radar. All this said/snarked, the virtuoso acting jobs from Angelica Huston and JGL are worth watching, and this might be a good movie to show to young guys who need to learn to empathize, or gain perspective that their lives could be a hell of a lot more precarious. (If anyone has seen it, and wants to rag with me about the scene with the painting, I will happily do so, though. That pissed me off beyond measure.)

On TV:

The current season of Adventure Time, with spoilers up through "I Remember You": This is the best show I'm watching right now; it has the most compelling characters and is bursting with original ideas and jokes. )
retsuko: watanuki freaking out with a pig in his hands (omgwtfbbq!)
I'm not sure exactly where to start with this movie. On one hand: it was worth seeing on the big screen. On the other: What the hell was that?!

Spoilers, and general discussion along the lines of SUBTLENESS: LOOK INTO IT. )

In sum: Uhm... I can't summarize this into "yay" or "meh". Those with body horror triggers/squicks may want to avert their eyes at least three times. Those with birth horror triggers should probably steer clear of the whole thing. I'm not sorry we saw it, but it's nowhere near the awesome that the first Alien movie was. The design aspects of the ship itself, though, were beautiful, and the spectacle of the whole movie is undeniably amazing. It's uneven at best.
retsuko: (tea room)
In Books:

Paris My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate), by Amy Thomas: This book made me SO HUNGRY, hungry for pastry, and more specifically, hungry to go to all the places that Thomas ably and happily describes.

But before I wax eloquent on the food porn, I want to start by saying that I'm really impressed how honest Thomas was about her time in Paris. (She spent two years there writing as a copywriter for Louis Vuitton.) It would have been easy for her to write a breezy, shallow memoir only about the food she ate, never touching on what it's like to move to a different country/continent all by yourself. But Thomas doesn't choose this easy route and instead writes frankly about the hard times, too. Paris isn't an easy culture to get a handle on, and it's not always a place that's welcoming to foreigners. Thomas doesn't whine at great length about her difficulties, but she does describe events and feelings that should very familiar to anyone who's spent a long time abroad: weekends spent entirely by oneself; coping mechanisms that suddenly fail or turn self-destructive; and the enormous significance that simple or nostalgic experiences suddenly take on. Thomas had expectations about Paris, for good and bad, and she writes about all of them in a conversational, informal way that didn't make me feel like I was sitting in on her therapy session, but more like we had met for tea and she was making small talk while we waited for the sweets to arrive.

And those sweets: OMG OMG OMG. I don't often get so worked up about food writing, but with each passing cake/pastry/crumble/amazing culinary experience Thomas described, the more I wanted to throw everything away, bundle up R. and Yebisu, and head to Paris for a year. Macarons! Why the hell isn't there a place in San Diego that makes them the way she describes them: "I bit into the shell that, poof, crunched ever so delicately before collapsing in a delightfully chewy and moist mouthful. And then the storm of flavors hit me. Bright raspberry, exotic lychee, and a whiff of rose. There was so much power in that pretty little thing. It was a delicacy packed with skill, imagination, poetry, and God, give me another one!" I read that and, in internet parlance, *dies and is ded*. This book made me realize that I've been eating a "translated" (for lack of a better word) version of some desserts here in the U.S. for far too long. Thomas does write about bakeries in New York City, but I can tell that her heart lies in Paris (except for cupcakes, which America has squarely cornered the market on.) She writes about more than macarons, too, of course, and the descriptions of all the food are loving, complicated, and reverential.

I really cannot recommend this lovely volume enough. It's a fast, fun read, but there's a serious backbone to it that I really admire. Hand this to your favorite pastry enthusiast, or to that student you know about to do Junior Year Abroad.

In Manga:

Kami-sama Kiss!, Volumes 1/2: Ever since Beauty Pop finished, I've been trying to find a shoujo manga to take its slightly-guilty-but-ultimately-very-satisfying-pleasure on my reading shelf. This manga isn't going to be it, and that's very disappointing. I *love* the concept: ordinary girl with money and family problems finds herself given powers of a minor neighborhood guardian/god, and has to negotiate those and her feelings for her assistant, a grouchy kitsune who initially roots for her to fail but gradually falls for her as well. Unfortunately, the execution is not good. The artwork is pretty standard shoujo and all the characters, even the supernatural ones, look generic and interchangeable. More annoyingly, the meta-plot moves along at a snail's pace while the heroine ditzily insists that she has to keep going to high school (despite her new-found supernatural powers) and deals with minor problems there. I should love the tengu-turned-J-Pop-idol, but even he falls flat. So disappointing!

Why can't I find a shoujo manga with 1) decent artwork and realistic dialogue, 2) a slight supernatural twist, but mostly real world setting, 3) a heroine who isn't defined by her clumsiness but overall loyalty to everyone who doesn't appear to give a damn about her, and 4) that doesn't end abruptly at 10 volumes?? *sigh*

At the Movies:

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: I had been waiting to see this thing for such a long time, and I was not disappointed at all. (Yebisu and I managed to sneak it in a few weeks ago.) This isn't a big, contrived romantic comedy, where the two love interests "meet cute" and then have to overcome paper tiger obstacles to be together; instead, it's a story firmly based on honest feelings and real life problems. There's also the most light of sci-fi touches--this is a genre that I'd call something like, "almost real world, wishful thinking sci-fi". In this case, in the near future, wouldn't it be great if we could reclaim some barren desert land to construct a salmon run? And against this palest of sci-fi backdrops, a love story unfolds--tentatively, sweetly, and sensitively. I loved this movie. It was really great to see people being nice to each other for a change, and not have mind-numbing violence every other frame or so. (There is one bit of action involving a fish hook that I was not anticipating, and I don't want to give away--but it's very well done, a nice little Indiana Jones touch.) I'm looking forward to reading the book this was based on.
retsuko: (fierce!)
I've seen two movies recently with Chris Heimdall in them, but neither of them had any shirtless shots of him to make up for their other errors. I'm trying to dial down the disappointment, but it's a little difficult.

First of all, there was The Cabin in the Woods, with spoilers: )

And then there was "The Avengers." Yeah, yeah, after all my grumbling about how I wasn't going to see this newfangled nonsense, you young people get off my lawn, etc. etc., [profile] yebsiu9 pulled out his most-excited voice and shiniest eyes and the reviews were decent enough that I didn't feel like I could refuse.

My favorite scene was the one at the very, very end, after the credits rolled. Without giving it away, I can safely say it's the sort of thing I normally have to go to fanfic for, and to have it as part of canon narrative... well, it's nice to know that other writers want to have the same sort of scenes I want to. :)

More talk, with spoilers! )

This is a lot of Joss Whedon for a few weeks. In fact, not since Buffy/Angel/Firefly were on TV have I had so much JW storytelling in such a short amount of time. And it's funny because it reminds me in short order what I love (banter, and not as an afterthought, or intended to further a franchise) and hate (kickass female characters with infinite possibility for power and agency... until they don't) about his writing all at once. CitW and Avengers are some of his better work, but neither one is perfect.
retsuko: antique books (books)
There have been very few books that I've simply not been able to finish. I've even lasted for months on just one book. But once or twice, there have been books that I simply stopped reading, not out of active dislike but rather because I completely forgot about them. For example, I was reasonably entertained by Life of Pi, and was about halfway through when one day I put it down and forgot about it. Months later, I came across the book while cleaning and couldn't remember what on earth was going on, so I never finished it all. This is a weird reading sensation, a literary deja vu, because of the same maddening sense of non-closure and the nagging feeling that you've been familiar with the work on some level before.

Weirder still, though, is the works that I have finished, adored while I was reading, and then never thought about again. I cannot tell whether this is just a temporary issue that's due to all that's going on in my life, or because the works themselves aren't actually that good. In the case of The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, I really enjoyed it during the reading process. I recommended it to several friends and profusely thanked Yebisu, who'd given me the hardcover for Christmas. I was so invested in the plot that I stayed up late to plow through the last fifty pages, and then I felt very excited and pleased. But here it is, only a few weeks later, and I cannot remember who the main characters are, exactly, or the book's ending, although I do remember the central drive of the story and its unique setting. Does this mean it has no staying power? It certainly seemed well written at the moment when I was in the thick of it, but now I cannot bring to mind any specific phrasing or sentences that I especially liked. Odd.

I also enjoyed The Artist very much while I was watching it, but haven't really thought about it since. (And, I suspect, we should have seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy instead, because Yebisu didn't care for TA at all.) There was more drama and pathos than I was expecting (I had been led to believe that the movie was more in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy than what it turned out to be.) I do remember that the black and white was simply beautiful, and the soundtrack was very nicely done. There was also a funny sequence that played with sound in the main character's nightmares, and the dog was adorable. But I haven't gone back to the film once, or thought about any of the shots that I liked. I do remember thinking that it wasn't quite as clever as the filmmakers wanted it to be, and that it felt a little like a film class project waiting to be taken apart. But it wasn't a bad movie at all, just not particularly memorable in the long run. Still, well worth seeing on the big screen if you want gorgeous black and white--that, I suppose, is the one thing that really sticks with me. This movie brings my Oscar Best Picture tally to two, and I far prefer The Descendants, although I have no idea which will win.
retsuko: (love this show)
Last night was the 'Work of Art' finale! ... and I almost forgot about it, which is saying something. As much as I enjoy this show, I don't have the raw, visceral need to follow it that other shows (reality and otherwise) have elicited. Perhaps it's because the drama (especially in the final episode) feels so manufactured, and as such, my contrary nature says, "Ho hum, not real, why not go to bed early?" But I'm still glad I caught the finale, which had a semi-surprising, but very satisfying result. Spoilers ahead! )

In non-spoilery talk, I do want to say that China's fashion choices last night were crazier than anything she'd previously worn on the whole season, and both of them were overdone and extremely terrible. For the first half of the show, she wore an outfit that made her look like a blueberry (a *plastic* blue beret and a rounded blue dress with matching heels), and for the second half, at the gallery show, she was wearing a black and white number that looked as if she'd been walking past a palette factory that exploded, covering her Victorian nightgown in large black and white disks. With her crazy Bjork hairstyle, the whole concept for her clothing appeared to be something like "Uptight Nanny Secretly Wants to Party With Self-Absorbed Art Critics and Runny Mascara." All season long, her stylist apparently decided that China should look like Carrie Bradshaw, since the real life Sarah Jessica Parker is an executive producer on the show. The problem is that Carrie Bradshaw had more personality than China and even with all that personality, half the outfits she wore looked insane and terrible anyway. The resulting look for China was Lady without the Gaga, Tea with Carrie Bradshaw, a distracting and bizarre mix.

Speaking of distracting and bizarre, I've seen two superhero movies in the past two weeks, and they were both only mildly engaging. "Captain America" and "Green Lantern" were supposed to be all kinds of thrilling, but both ended up being mildly diverting at best.

I was more entertained by Captain America, and this largely had to do with Hugo Weaving's presence. My Dad's assessment of Weaving's villainous character, Red Skull, in the comics is, "Man, that guy never goes away!" Weaving made me believe this villain would never go away, either--he had too many plans up his military, mutated sleeves for that. And, really, his mockery of Captain America was spot on: here's a guy in a ridiculous costume, running bravely towards the mortal peril with apparently little else to fight with than his gumption and gosh-darn-it-American-ness! If I were the Red Skull, I'd roll my eyes at that, too. Captain America himself came off as 2.5 dimensional. I liked his motivation, succinctly stated as, "I don't want to kill anyone. But I don't like bullies." But Chris Evans was weirdly flat in some places, and the script shied away from giving him true character. There's a great moment about three quarters of the way through where Captain is mourning the loss of a friend, and he reveals to the love interest that because of his increased metabolism, he can no longer get drunk. I would have loved for this quiet scene to go on just a little bit longer, because it made him a lot more relatable. But instead, we were back to the action moments later. Whee, Tommy Lee Jones! Don't drive that car off a cliff! OMG! etc.

Far less successful to me was "Green Lantern", and this mainly had to do with Hal Jordan himself. I have to ask: was he really that much of a self-absorbed douchebag in the comics? He came off like an overgrown frat-bound teenager, and it bothered me quite a bit that everything and everyone in the movie hero-worshipped him. (That scene with Blake Lively in the bar was... well, turn off the visuals, and just listen to the dialogue alone. It sounds like something else that involves dubious consent.) I was excited to see non-humanoid aliens, but they were only in the movie for a very short time. Anyway, I got heartily sick of the whole affair about halfway through and spent the rest of the movie playing Thread Words on my Kindle. The next time I looked up, the bad guy was attacking a generic city and causing lots of property damage. Pretty much par for superhero movies.
retsuko: (stars)
Pictures of the sets and weapons from the filming of the live action Rurouni Kenshin are here.

And, of course, as neat as it is to see the sets, I'm far more curious about the actors themselves. And based on the characters, we'll probably be able to figure out what the script is like. For those unfamiliar with the Rurouni Kenshin manga, there are two major plotlines over 28 volumes. To do either one of them justice in the space of a standard 2 hour film will be spectacularly difficult. I wonder if there's a new story or adaptation of one of these plotlines in the works and how much say Nobuhiro Watsuki (the creator of the original manga itself) has had in the process. Regardless of the plotline, though, I think this movie's success is really going to come down to the actors, because if the characters are flawed, the whole exercise may seem pretty silly. RRK is a funny manga in parts, but it's meant as a fairly serious story. Its flaws largely come from the shounen manga conventions it embraces: ugly villains and crazily drawn-out fights against said ugly villains and their uglier-still henchpeople. If the script focuses exclusively on the battles and not on the character development, the movie will fail. It's all well and good to have fight scenes, but you need balance, and not just in the form of comic relief. To adapt the good mix that is the whole story of RRK will be tricky at best.

I'm also thinking about anime/manga adaptations of beloved classics. I recently had the misfortune to sit through the anime version of "Tales of Earthsea", and I never, ever thought I would say this of a Studio Ghibli film, but it was AWFUL. A terribly confusing plot mixed dull characters made for... well, I can think of all kinds of invectives to hurl, but I'm holding back because it's Ghibli, and the backgrounds were pretty. If you want to see pretty backgrounds and some dragon animation in the last five minutes, go for it. Otherwise, just don't even bother, especially if you love the Le Guin books. I haven't read them in years, and even I could tell they'd been mangled. Yeesh.

But then, I think of the live-action adaptations I've seen, like Onmyouji and Mushi-shi. Both of these movies kept what made the manga compelling, and in both cases, even pushed the envelope a bit, adding a little more background here, a little more action there (or, in the case of Onmyouji, a little more ritual dance combat here and there, for an overall effect of AWESOME!). While these films didn't have especially huge budgets, they succeeded because of a mix of good storytelling, acting, and script. I fervently hope the RRK movie is able to do what these two did, and not fall into the Tales of Earthsea trap.

Movie Walk Out!

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 08:49 am
retsuko: (eels in the photobooth)
There's an interesting essay over on The Onion's A.V. Club page about whether you should be able to ask for a refund from a theater if you don't like the movie. I've never, ever walked out of a movie, although I have received refunds and free tickets from a theater when there were projector problems (in the case of one of the "The Mummy" films, the movie was so bad anyway that the projector breaking down didn't really bother me; in the case of "Doubt", I did notice a strange shadow on the screen throughout the whole film, and was pleased that the manager of the theater was waiting at the exit, freebie tickets in hand and apology at the ready.)

There have certainly been movies that I wanted to walk out of, but didn't do so because I was with someone else. For example, "Event Horizon" was awful and gross, but I was with a friend who didn't seem bothered by the content, so I just waited for it to be over. (After the movie, a guy in front of us was going on and on about how great it had been, and my friend and I walked to our car, silent. After a long while, she said, "I wish I could have seen the movie he saw, because it sounded really cool.") "Mortal Combat 2" was so laughably terrible that I couldn't take seriously at all; it also helped that the theater was filled with drunken frat boys who kept screaming "MORTAL COMBAAAAATTTT!!!" at every conceivable opportunity. The film itself was horrifically stupid, but the viewing atmosphere was fabulous. And the part of me that doesn't like hyper-violence wishes I had walked out of "Kill Bill, Part 1", because, well, I just can't un-see things.

But, in general, I feel like asking for a refund from the theater itself is counter-productive. The staff didn't make the film; they're just showing it to you. You're paying for the opportunity to sit in the theater and watch a movie, not comment on its content. If you want to vote with your dollars, shouldn't you have already done so before walking into a movie? There are plenty of reviews out there that will tell you if the film is your cup of tea, and even though I think the ratings system is deeply flawed, at least it gives you some indication of what you're about to see. But perhaps I am overthinking it. I know that some people just walk into a movie, judging it by its poster and crossing their fingers. Do they get a refund if they don't like the content?

[Poll #1761434]

I try to come up with a straight answer to this and keep going around in circles. Say there was a scene in the movie that you were utterly unprepared for, even after doing research and reading reviews; would that warrant a refund demand? And how soon is said refund demand appropriate--10 minutes into the movie? 20? The end? There's a detail of the social contract here that I'm definitely confused about.

In all honesty, there are other matters that I feel far more inclined to complain about at the theater, most notably the exceedingly overpriced popcorn and candy. And, then, of course, there are the movies that I WISH I could have walked out of, because they were unpleasant ("American Beauty"--how I despise that film) or boring ("Meet Joe Black" = UGH). Anyway, given how rarely I get to theaters now, I hope never to walk out of a movie and plan to do my review-reading homework as diligently as possible.
retsuko: (oh my!)
The first two items below have a '60s setting and/or publishing date. And in some ways, they're remarkably similar, particularly in regards to the social problems they present. But, hey, fashion advice guide and superhero movie... worlds apart, right?

At the Movies:

X-Men: First Class: I enjoyed this very much, although there was a pivotal point in the plot where I wanted someone, anyone to say, "Boys! Boys! There's plenty of time for bickering about ideology and the nature of humanity later! Right now, we've got a crisis on our hands!" But I liked how this movie was basically the story of a bunch of social misfits coming together to stop the forces of depression, hatred, and darkness. Yay for the ragtag group of individuals! Boo to the either/or logical fallacy!

Other yay points:

* Sebastian Shaw may be an evil bastard, but wow his interior decorating skills were top-notch! Did you see the gorgeous wallpaper in that submarine?
* Charles' pick-up line was a thing of nerdy beauty.
* Eee! Cameos! Eee!
* Moira MacTaggart = made of awesome, win, and chutzpah.

Some difficult points:

* There was a little too much retconning for my taste, especially in the final plot twist. I find it hard to believe that Professor X would do that.
* Gender/race representation problems. These have already been talked about at great length by better persons than I, so I won't go into it here. Darwin's mutation was So. Cool! Why couldn't he have survived, dammit?

Anyway, so, yeah. I liked it a lot, although I'd also pay money to see an expanded version of the middle of the movie where Erik and Charles travel all over the place recruiting mutants. That film would be exceedingly relevant to my interests. I'd also pay to see something like, "How Moira Got Her Groove Back", but I suspect that's even less likely to get made.

In Books:

How to Dress for Success, by Edith Head: If only this book did not have the problems it does, I would recommend it to all and sundry. Edith Head, costume designer to the stars and fashion guru, is a down-to-earth writer (with a little help from a named editor) and her advice, when it's not mired in '60s weirdness, is actually quite practical and useful. As she says in the introduction, "If your liabilities seem overwhelming, remember this: in more than twenty years of designing for and dressing the world's most glamorous women for motion pictures, theatre, and television, I have yet to meet one who is physically flawless. Most of the beauties you think are perfect have defects just as you do. But they have learned how to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative." She has a great number of suggestions that make a lot of sense: make sure you can move in the clothes you buy by moving in them before purchasing them; don't spend your money on trends that will be passe by next year; assess your body type and what flatters it, and shop accordingly. In her final chapter, she exhorts women to clean up their minds as well as their wardrobes and go forth boldly for the things they want in life. It's a fast, breezy read, and it's laid out in a pragmatic, easy to understand manner.

But there are many, many signs that it's from the '60s and rather dated. For one thing, Head insists that hats are the accessory that will make any outfit work, and that Nice Ladies should have enough hats to match their best outfits. She also spends a large part of a chapter dictating how wives should make sure their husbands dress ("It is very often some little defect in a man's wardrobe that keeps him from looking his sartorial best, and here again your wifely wisdom and loving care can go to work.") and her list of fashion icons is made up of only white women (the darkest skin tone she discusses is "olive".)

Still, there's some good advice here, and it's a funny love letter from almost forty-five years ago. I suspect Head would be appalled by my wardrobe, and the wardrobe of most Southern Californians'. After all, I have no outfits for entertaining and my current favorite hat is a Vader baseball cap.

Without the '60s setting, and on TV:

Doctor Who, "A Good Man Goes to War": Spoilers for the entire series so far. )
retsuko: (i have a chainsaw!)
At the Actual Movies: (Why yes, we still go to those, although I mentally weep at full price tickets and think fondly back to the days of $6 showings, back when we could go to the movies *whenever* we felt like it, BUT ANYWAY.)

Bridesmaids: So funny, so funny, so funny! A lot of it in the "so wrong it's funny" category, but I didn't care. There were all these great little touches, like the party favors at the ultra-rich character's bridal shower (labrador puppies = d'awwww!) or the world's most fiercely fought tennis match. Like all good comedies, this one had a lot of serious themes at its heart, and some of those were things that generally aren't discussed. For example, what do you do when it looks like your best friend is abandoning you for someone else, and that someone else is everything you're not, or aspire to be? What's appropriate as a gift when you really can't afford anything at all? The answers the story provides are varied and entertaining, and I laughed, a lot. Honestly, though, I also felt rather sorry for the main character, who appeared to have just been through a series of terrible setbacks: the business she'd sunk a lot of money into failed, her boyfriend left her when said business failed, and when the story starts, she's working in a retail job she's obviously ill-suited for. And then her best friend gets proposed to and all her problems start to snowball. Although I wouldn't have handled some of things the way she did, I can see why she reacted the way she did. (Anyone with serious embarrassment squick may be better off avoiding this movie, although I do think the comedy's good enough that it's worth getting past to enjoy the main story.)

There was a lot of B.S. about men not going to see this movie. "A bunch of women? Why would I see a movie like that? Excuse me while I continue this testosterone experiment a DERP DERP DERP." (I was making my goofiest face while I typed that last sentence.) I would like to state for the record, that [ profile] yebisu9, who is indeed a man, enjoyed this very, very much and said later that it didn't matter that all the main characters were women, that it was simply a funny film and a good story. And to any studio exec who thinks that men can't ever see a movie about women (the horror!), I'd like to point out that at the screening we attended, there were a lot of men (I'd estimate about 40% of the audience) and they were laughing just as hard as the women around me. As long as we think that men can't see movies by/for/about women, we're going to be to stuck in a cultural and intellectual patch of quicksand and unable to move forward. It's 2011, people, and the world did not end. Let's do away with outdated gender stereotypes.

(Seriously, all soapboxing aside: it was funny! And awesome! And that scene with the glass of lemonade is hysterical.)


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: This was... disappointing. The first one was so good, the second was reasonably OK, but this third installment was, for lack of a better phrase, dead in the water. I tried to pinpoint what the problem was: the special effects were mostly very, very good. (The minotaurs looked fantastic! Hhmm. That sentence might already have identified the major problem.) The main actors were all good; the script wasn't too bad, although there was some very heavy-handed religious symbolism at the end (that's largely Lewis' story's problem, though.) But the editing was terribly confusing--at one point, the story skipped from late at night to early morning with no warning or prompting whatsoever, leaving the audience to only guess at what had just transpired. Likewise, during the fight scenes, I had no idea of what was going on.* Add to this the problem of Eustace. Eustace is a tricky character. He's a whiny brat with no initial storytelling purpose other than annoying the main characters, Edmund and Lucy. And while he does change through the course of the story, it takes too long and the screenwriters seemed to think we'd be sympathetic to him faster than I was comfortable with. However, ultimately what really seemed to hold this movie back was its unwillingness to trust that Edmund, Lucy, and (now King, and easy on the eyes but light on presence) Caspian could carry the story. There were constant flashbacks to Susan, Peter and the White Witch, and even when they weren't in the scene directly, they were mentioned every 15 minutes or so. I think the screenwriters wished that the stronger characters from the first two movies could be around, but there was no way to do that without utterly desecrating what Lewis had written. In the end, as Yebisu wisely observed, "for a movie supposedly about magic, there's not much of it in here."

* Although this seems to be a problem with *all* movie fights and action scenes these days. I know editing is often difficult, but I'd give all editors bribes to slow down their work in action movies, just so I could find out what had really happened.

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