retsuko: (Default)
In Movies:

Iron Man 3: Now I know what that giant bunny was doing there! Being symbolic and spoilery! )

On TV:

Doctor Who, Spoilers through "Nightmare in Silver" (which, in and of itself, was a pretty awful title; it sounded like a terrible fanfic written by a 15-year-old who thought themselves quite clever...): Read more... )

The Office, Series Finale: That was a really lovely ending, exactly how I want to think about that group of people. I'm surprised the writers, actors, and staff pulled it all off, but they did, and well done, too!
retsuko: (yay doctor!)
I've made up a tag (below) solely for this entry, and I suspect I'll have cause to break it out again.

Spoiler-rific talk for the first two new episodes of Who, The Rings of Akhaten and The Bells of Saint John. )

Short version: they're fun, but I can't help feeling like something is missing. I think this series needs to get its sea legs more, and I'm optimistic that this can happen.

Speaking of sea legs, next week, it's snakes (or possibly just one snake) on a sub! Whee!
retsuko: (tea room)
I've seen, read, and experienced a lot of wonderful pop culture this year, and I'm still boggling over just *how much* I've gotten to experience at all, given that my son turned 2 and spent much of his time unintentionally taking up mine. (99% of the time, that's great, but the other 1% is tough.) I've been lucky to get anything done at all! Fortunately, what I have been able to reward myself with is on the top-notch side of the equation.

Movies! The usual suspects, with a late entry of 'Argo', a tremendous, tight piece of filmmaking. )

Books! Are you my influencing machine who knows how to be a woman/space girl/consulting detective/mother, or just a cloud atlas? )

TV Shows! Escapism in the form of ensemble comedy and music. )

If I had to wear a t-shirt with a design that encapsulated my pop culture choices of 2012, it would definitely be a collection of awesome ladies all having tea at the same table. (Princess Bubblegum would be hosting and discussing futurism with Sonmi-451; Alison Bechdel and her mother would be facing off against some of Joanna Trollope's family characters; Hushpuppy would be comparing monsters with Zita the Spacegirl; and everyone would have a "Leslie Knope for President!" button.) Before I forget about it, here is a tremendously interesting video that showcases the roles that women had in Hollywood/mainstream film this year:

This leads me into my hopes and dreams for 2013 and pop culture: More here. )
retsuko: (yay doctor!)
It seems that in every time-travel related movie/tv show/short story/etc. these days, there's a part where the characters complain about how time travel is a fundamentally headache inducing plot device. Invariably, these discussions are cut short, either by literal violence or by a sort of conversational misdirect, like silly words ("wibbley wobbley timey wimey... stuff") or a put down from one of the speakers that amounts to a bit of linguistic violence ("stop asking questions, stupid!"). I'm not sure what these conversations ultimately do for the script itself, other than add little moments of levity between action sequences, or provide an opportunity for the writers to appear metaphysical. Most of the time, I do love these moments because watching the characters do the mental gymnastics required to facilitate the plot without giving the viewer/reader a headache is funny.

First up on the headachy time travel front is "Looper", which is the movie that "Inception" wanted to be--exciting and intelligent, with great acting and a very tightly constructed script. Most of the time in movies today, I think to myself that the writers could have cut twenty minutes out of middle and nothing would be missed; in the case of "Looper", those middle twenty minutes were important and well-used. Spoilers ahead, but I'll try to keep the ending out of them. )

In a semi-related genre, spoilers have been unavoidable for the mid-season finale of "Doctor Who". I made it there fairly unscathed, but in the interests of not ruining it for others: Spoilers for everything, especially the ending. )

Side note, from the trailers: The Lioness Mother, who defends her child against almost all evil (even from BEYOND THE GRAVE), appeared in several trailers. There was the monster!Mother in Guillermo del Toro's "Mama", who appears to be Sadako's cousin, given her fondness for grotesquely bent limbs and stringy hair; contrasted with Judi Dench's mastermind!Mother/M in "Skyfall", where the strong intimation is that Mother loves you enough to kill you dead for plot purposes. I'm not sure what this heralds about feelings towards mothers right now, but it's a slightly nicer trend than zombies, so I guess I can get behind it.
retsuko: (cool yuuko)
In Books:

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold: This was an excellent book, although reading it felt, at first, felt like a real slog. Bujold is a highly accomplished storyteller, of course, but her prose is so dense that the first quarter of the book felt like an overstuffed lasagna. Just when I thought I'd finished with one layer, bam! There was another, and it had more meaty detail than the last! And once I got used to this, then it was fine. I enjoy lasagna-books, even if they're a little slow to get into. At times, though, it was so dense with personal politics, royal intrigue, and character development that I forgot that I was reading a fantasy novel. Mentions of magic would eventually make their way back into the story, and about halfway through the book, when we came to the titular curse, I finally got into my stride with the characters and the setting and it was a fantastic read. I loved the scope of the conflict, and I was highly impressed that minor details, mentioned only a few times in passing, turned out to have a large influence on the plot as a whole, and that no character was forgotten. Greatly enjoyable overall!


Happy: This popped up on Netflix, a documentary that neither Yebisu nor I had ever heard of. It turned out to be a solid piece of short filmmaking, although there were still a few sequences that were overly long. The ideas and questions the film asks ("what is the nature of happiness?"/"why are some people happy and others are not?") are simple, and the answers they produce are incredibly interesting. My only problem with the story was somewhat problematic depiction of African tribes, a sequence that made me worry that the writer and producer had never taken any sort of anthropology courses in their lives and were romanticizing the events they saw in an irresponsible fashion. But the rest of the movie was so interesting, and the people profiled are highly compelling. The individual stories of happiness reveal some amazing people who've overcome tremendous odds or are giving of themselves in a wholly beautiful way. (The European banker who quit his job and moved to India to minister to the sick and dying in one of Mother Theresa's charity homes brought tears to my eyes. This is compassion at its absolute best and most essential.)

On TV:

Doctor Who, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" & "A Town Called Mercy": Cut for any spoilers... but mostly general thoughts here. )

In other, random notes, I have seen two horror movie trailers recently that involve people moving into a house, finding a box of old movie reels/VHS tapes and watching them to REVEAL HORRORS that happened to the previous residents of said house. Besides "twisting" (read: sneaking around it in an effort to appear clever) the found footage convention that is making its way onto so many people's bad lists right now, I can't think of any narrative reason for any character to watch these movies. If I found any movies/photos/personal memorabilia from previous residents of a place we were living, I don't know what I'd do, but it sure as hell wouldn't involve nosing through any of it. I mean, who says, "Oh, hey, let's watch these old, unlabeled movies! For kicks!" What if it was gross amateur porn? You'd sure regret that choice in a hurry.
retsuko: (aw yeah!)
In Books:

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1): There was a lot of exposition in this book, and even though I enjoyed it quite a lot, I found myself growing annoyed at the tendency for pivotal action sequences to be interrupted with prophetic and/or plot-related dreams. I think Riordan had a much greater challenge in adapting Egyptian mythology for a children's book than his previous series (the Percy Jackson books) because there are a lot more Greek myths that are (on the surface, anyway) kid-friendly. In the case of Egyptian myth, there's a lot of incest and dismemberment that doesn't make for socially acceptable children's literature today. Add to this the difficulty that the two main characters were parent-less for the majority of the story, and I imagine that this might have been a bit of a hard sell to publishers. So, I'm willing to forgive the overly expository nature of some of the book. It was really quite entertaining, and I liked the two main characters, although I found Carter a little bit more easy to follow, while Sadie was a bit on the bratty side. It's also nice to have another children's book that acknowledges race issues instead of just ignoring them. (Carter and Sadie are mixed race and how this has shaped their identities is carefully explored, especially in Carter's case.)

In Comics:

Ultimate Spiderman, Issue #1: The Spiderman reboot that features Miles Morales (in the wake of Peter Parker's supposed death, which I predict will be revealed as fake in 3... 2... 1...) is a very interesting story and one that I look forward to reading more of. Although a frustratingly short installment, it's packed with drama and intrigue, although the sources of that drama, etc. are not exactly the traditional comic books villains; at least, they aren't yet. Instead, the dramatic set piece of this story is Miles and his family at the lottery for 3 spaces in a coveted charter school. Sara Pichelli's pencils on this sequence were excellent. The degrees of discomfort, hope, fear, joy, and embarrassment on all the characters' faces were rendered in very sharp and poignant detail. (I especially love the composition of three panels where Miles stares at two of the students who didn't win.) What I especially enjoy about this comic, though, is that there is, as yet, no excessive moralizing. Not once has anyone uttered the phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" (which is a noble sentiment, but if I hear it said one more time, I will puke.) Instead, the storytellers seem content to rely on the story itself to present these ideas. Clearly, a moral dilemma is being set up for Miles in the form of his ne'er-do-well uncle, contrasted with his faith-in-the-system father, but again, this isn't overdone or fake. I hope that Brian Michael Bendis and the creative PTB will let this story unfold organically and without too much speechifying. I'm definitely interested in the next issue.

On TV:

Doctor Who: Spoilers for the entire season ahoy! )
retsuko: (cute but evil)
In Movies:

Fright Night: Just the right amount of scary! (Not enough of Mr. Tennant looking hot, but that's just my opinion.) And I admit that I can see why people swoon over Colin Farrell, because when his character wasn't being a creepy jerk, he sure was easy on the eyes. There was some good fighting in this, too, and I mean that in the best possible way of a RPG character with very few stats in those areas doing the best he could and thinking outside of the box. And, courtesy of Marti Noxon, I'm sure, there was one extremely funny and well-timed Buffy joke that made me squee quietly. This is good fun, with a few in-your-face scares, but nothing so horrible that it will ruin your dreams or make you regret you saw it. (Although I suppose people who have no tolerance for gore need not apply--there was some, but nothing approaching my squick level.) This is the kind of summer movie that I like: fun, even silly in parts (Mr. Tennant's stage production as Vegas magician Peter Vincent is thing of cheeseball beauty), just a little bit of creepiness and a lot of suspense that adds up to a well-told story.

In Books:

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield: Speaking of creepy in parts, this is the kind of ghost story I love, and Setterfield knows exactly how to parcel it out, piece by mysterious piece. I'm only halfway through, and cannot wait to finish. (Although that will mean the book is over, which will be sad. Also, duh.) I also love that I'm having a very hard time placing the main plot's era. I assume post-WWII, but it really could be anytime after about 1800, and that keeps changing my impression of the characters. Nonetheless, I like the continual guessing, and I love the book references, and I love... hell, I just love this book. I sincerely hope others do as well so that we can talk about it when I'm done!

On TV:

Doctor Who: The Rather Crazily Titled, "Let's Kill Hitler": Spoilers! )
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: (helen/tesla read)
In Books:

Looking for Calvin & Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip, by Nevin Martell: This book--which is interesting, funny, and engaging--is like reading a Drawing With the Left Side of the Brain exercise; specifically, the exercise where you draw negative space around an object to get a better understanding of the object's shape, weight, and light. In this book's case, Martell is working with the biggest negative space of all; he's trying to write a biography of a man who rejected any and all offers of fame, money, and steadfastly refuses to grant interviews. Martell comes from a true fan's perspective, and cheerfully admits his fandom up front. The book's a pet project, one that took him far beyond what he thought it was going to be. In the process of interviewing everyone *except* Bill Watterson, Martell presents as true a picture as he can of the man, his cartoon, and its lasting influence on comic book art.

While I was reading this book, I found myself simultaneously impressed by and mad at Bill Watterson. I admire anyone who sticks to their principles, and in Watterson's case, the chutzpah it took to do this is evident. In some ways, I think the strip is better for it, and will stand the test of time better when it's not commodified and collectible. (As much as I love comic books, the collectibility standards drive me crazy--I'm not making an investment, I just want to read my stories, dammit!) And yet, on the other hand, I'm sort of disappointed. I am not a fan who thinks that a creator/author owes me anything; I don't obsessively try to follow the lives of authors and artists who I like. It's a nice treat if I get to meet them in person and tell them that I like their work. In the case of Bill Watterson... well, I'd just like to shake his hand. I'd like to tell him that when my sister was in 4th/5th grade and professed to "hate reading," Calvin and Hobbes were the books that got her hooked and that she poured over them on long car trips. I'd like to tell him how much I love the illustrations of Hobbes when he's stalking Calvin, or Calvin's Mom's world-weary expressions of consternation (having seen them on my own Mom's face and waiting for them to alight on my own in no doubt short order). I'd like to thank him for not selling out. A negative space portrait is certainly a beautiful thing. It's just no handshake.

In Manga:

Kingyo Used Books, Vol. 3: This delightful series that is a love song to all things manga and reading continues and includes stories about the horror manga works of Kasuo Umezu, Sailormoon, and the lives of manga re-sale agents (sedori). While the meta-plot barely gets advanced, that is not the point of these stories at all. I only wish that I could go to a really good used manga store and buy all the manga that are the subjects of these stories! Especially the out-of-print ones!

XXXHolic, Vols 18-19 and "Final Guidebook": Many fans have already lamented, at great length, the somewhat unsatisfying ending of this series, and I'm sort of reluctant to jump on that bandwagon. Yes, I would have preferred a somewhat tidier ending for all the characters, but I've given up anything approaching a clean, tidy ending with CLAMP. That's just not their style. What can I say without spoiling the whole thing? The final pages of the manga are beautiful, and classically CLAMP, with birds, smoke, and butterflies; they make the purchase price of the entire volume so worth it. The accompanying guidebook has the usual plot summary, character essays, a recipe for molten lava cake, other artist tributes, and a fortune-telling game that informed me I was most similar in personality to Himawari, which makes me very happy. I'm sorry it's over, and that certain events within the storyline happened, but it's CLAMP's party, and I was just glad to be along for the gorgeous ride.

In Movies:

Waste Land: I ending up teaching with this movie, which on the surface, sounds like a real downer: it's about the lives of the catadores, the "pickers" of recyclable material in the world's largest landfill in Brazil, and their interactions with the conceptual artist Vik Muniz, who's one of my favorite living, modern artists. However, instead of being depressing, this excellent documentary is a commentary on the transformative power of art, and the mysterious connections between people. This is also an excellent movie that stands as an antidote to "first world problems." Seriously, it's just fabulous. I'm sad it lost in the Oscar race this year, especially after seeing the effect it had on my class. 5 Stars!

On TV:

Doctor Who, Series 6: Spoilers for The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon )
retsuko: (fabulous jack!)
In Comics:

Frenemy of the State, Issue 1, Text by Rashida Jones, Christina Weir, and Nunzio DePhillips, Pictures by Jeff Wamestar: I love that Rashida Jones' inspiration for this comic was along the lines of "What if Paris Hilton is actually laughing at all of us and her whole persona is all an act?" Unfortunately, the execution of this premise is somewhat wobbly so far. Even with three authors, there's a major plot confusion problem: flashbacks should be labeled more clearly, or time doesn't appear to flow well in the story. The artwork is good enough, but strangely plain when I think more detail would be appropriate. After all, Paris and her ilk are all about the accessories and little details; any characters based on them should have the same touches. But there's good potential here for the socialite-turned-spy story to become interesting and funny, and I am intrigued to see how the cliffhanger ending gets resolved. Tentatively into this for the time being, if, for no other reason, to read more comics written by women.

Demo: Stranded, Text by Brian Wood, Pictures by the ever-awesome Becky Cloonan: I love how this story takes the seed of "if you could go back time and tell your previous self something" and lets that seed grow and grow into a tremendously touching and well-observed story about growing up and defeating the demons that (literally) haunt us. Elisabeth is a time-traveller who uses her ability in her work to make deals for companies, although it's never specified just what she's making deals about (stocks?). But she's haunted by her past history of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her father, and the story largely unfolds as she travels back in time to try and fix these scars. As usual, Becky Cloonan's artwork is pitch-perfect for the story and the swathes of dark ink hint at more behind them, leave the characters stranded on pages or illuminate a particular expression that makes the story click. I hope, hope, hope that she will be Comic Con because I want to thank her for telling such complex and beautiful stories with her brushes and ink.

In Movies:

Sex & The City 2: Uhm... I'm not sure how to approach this. It wasn't as bad as I expected, but it... was really bad in places. I mean, racial/cultural sensitivity is not the point of this film, not by a long shot, but more of it would not have gone amiss. (A lot more.) On the other hand, I went in expecting very few things and was not too terribly disappointed. There were insane outfits (yay!) and there were a few good character-building moments (Miranda is still my favorite character, by far). But this movie felt like it was written by committee, and out of however many writers, there was only one who really liked the original series and didn't want to portray the women as caricatures of themselves. For example, there's a sweet moment when Carrie leaves a very generous tip for her butler at the swanky hotel they're staying at after she's learned that he only gets to see his wife every three months. The note she writes, urging him to use the money to go and see his wife sooner, is classic Carrie and reminded me why I liked her so much. But then she's freaking out a second later like a 60s sitcom housewife screaming at a mouse on the floor over something stupid, and I thought, will you just shut up already? The central conflict of the movie (Carrie and Big's decision to remain childfree) is an interesting one as well, but it's drowned out by the cacophony of sexually related puns (not all of which are bad, per se, just kind of forced), sequins, and an entirely unnecessary visit from an old flame. This movie also contained a laundry list of situations that made me ask Who does that?

To whit:
1) Charlotte bakes cupcakes in a vintage Vuitton pencil skirt. Who does that?
2) Carrie goes shopping at a spice market in Morrocco Abu Dhabi in a Dior t-shirt and ballgown skirt. Who does that?
3) Samantha applies hormone cream to her lady bits at work, in her glass-walled office. Who does that?
4) Stanford has swans at his wedding reception. Also, Liza Minelli performs "All the Single Ladies", which is a sequence of... something. Who does that?

It's not that I expect complete and total verisimilitude in my romantic fluff movies, but the more time I spend wondering about what kind of crazy lifestyles the characters lead, the less time I spend caring about the movie in general. I feel a great affection for this series, even though I acknowledge it's not perfect. I'm just disappointed that the movie brought the series' flaws to the forefront, instead of its strengths.

On TV:

Doctor Who: "Vincent and Me": No spoilers, just great affection for this episode. Simply put, this is sort of journey I'd love to take with the Doctor. And the line about Michelangelo being a whiner? Priceless. [EDIT to add: spoilers in the comments for previous episodes.]
retsuko: (spork!)
Just when I am short on funds, the completed series of MTV's Daria is released on DVD. Daria, like The X-Files and Star Trek: The Next Generation, was one of the few geeky bright spots during my high school years. (Jezebel has a wonderful write-up on it here, along with a requisite, poorly recorded YouTube clip.) I was never as sarcastic as Daria, and I couldn't master her almost emotionless facade, but I was so happy to find a kindred spirit on the airwaves that I didn't care. Her high school was filled with stereotypes that I encountered on a fairly regular basis in my own school experience (particularly the brainless cheerleaders and jocks, who would try to get me to do their work during science labs) and her running commentary on the situations she was faced with were nothing short of brilliant. Given that my own mental running commentary could never be spoken aloud (to speak aloud in a bad situation was to be noticed, something I desperately wanted to avoid), watching Daria do it was a thing of beauty. I was lucky that like Daria, I had several great friends who made it bearable. My Jane Lane's were just as geeky as I was, and there was great comfort in being able to talk to them about anything and everything. But Daria was like the friend I didn't have, and seeing her on TV was just as comforting as my real life friends. Somewhere out there, I thought, there is someone who writes and thinks like me, too, and I will meet them one day. High school may be receding in the rear-view mirror of "Thank God that's over" but my fondness for this series will not.

Speaking of geeky goodness, last night's "Lost" was... odd. A hugely mythological origin story, but riddled with confusing non-answers and strange associations. I wanted to like it, because there were a lot of interesting details and a ton of Biblical references. But, mostly, I kept thinking of the writers' insistence at Comic Con several years ago that there was a scientific explanation for everything involved with/happening on the Island. Last night's episode was not scientific in the slightest, and proves that this comment was made before they knew how the series would end. I don't begrudge them not knowing their end game, but this sort of thing sets up weird expectations for me. Anyway, we're down to just two episodes (is it two or one?) before the finale, so I sincerely hope that as many loose ends as possible get tied up before the end.

Finally, in more geeky goodness, and thanks to some friends with cable and some friends who know all the best places on the internet, I've caught up on the new season of Doctor Who! Spoilers through Episode 5, Flesh and Stone )
retsuko: (girl reading)
In Books:

L.A. Outlaws, by T. Jefferson Parker: This was a good book group read, with three reasonably compelling characters and a fairly well-moving plot. I have to give Parker props for telling the story in one character's point of view by switching from third-person past to first-person present, and it worked surprisingly well. Also pleasing to me was the setting, which was mainly northeast San Diego county area, and therefore very relevant to my address.

Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde: I desperately wish that Jasper Fforde could pen an episode of Doctor Who. Fforde's narrative gifts would be well served by the Who production team, who could, without a shadow of a doubt, produce the props and monsters that inhabit Fforde's work and Fforde would write a world so convincingly alien that it wouldn't matter where the episode was shot. This latest work of his is perhaps his most dystopian and it's oddly chilling in places. Fforde posits a future where people can only see in shades of a certain color and a rigid social hierarchy based on these colors has sprung up. Carnivorous swans and man-eating plants menace from all sides and citizens fear a terrible disease called Mildew that spreads, plague-like, slowly, across the country. I'm only halfway through the book, but I'm desperately curious to find out what the Something That Happened to the Previous People was, ostensibly in the year 2084. I also have high hopes for the main character, who's not as much of a twit as he pretends to be. Very worthwhile read; Fforde is a gem of a writer.

(What I'd really like to read after this is some decent Thursday Next/Doctor Who fanfic. Not necessarily as a romantic pairing, but just seeing those two worlds intersect. The Doctor arguing with Thursday about his status as a fictional character would be highly, highly entertaining.)

In Movies:

How to Train Your Dragon: We saw this in 3D and were glad we'd paid the extra money to do so. I wanted to touch everything in sight: the wood that made up Vikings' homes, ships, and shields; the grouchy-looking sheep that warily grazed in the fields, and most of all, the dragons themselves. The animators have outdone themselves with the dragon designs, especially in the teeth department. But there's a strong narrative that's not overwhelmed by all the pyrotechnics of the special effects and furry/scaly things and stands quite well on its own. Our hero, Hiccup, is supposedly the most useless Viking in the entire tribe, scrawny and unable to do anything well in combat. His father, the leader of the tribe, is mortified that his son isn't a "proper" Viking and too short-sighted to see that while Hiccup may not do well in battle, he has an aptitude for strategy and tactics. Hiccup's inventions, machines designed to fight the dragons that swoop down and steal the tribe's sheep, never work until one day... they do. And Hiccup suddenly finds that he cannot bring himself to kill the dragon that he's felled. The story unfolds from there, a little slowly, but surely, as our hero comes to realize that all the assumptions of dragons being merciless killing machines has been wrong. Hiccup's dragon, named Toothless because of his retractable teeth, is a marvelous creation and the animation is lovingly done. Toothless reminded me, at times, of both a cat and dog, the best parts of both. The best parts of the movie are when Hiccup and Toothless fly, taking the time to work out the little problems in their partnership. This is a pretty male-dominated movie, but it's nice to have a hero who's willing to risk everything over his certainty in his own knowledge, not his prowess in a fight.


Spellbound: I'd been very excited to see this classic Hitchcock film, recently released on DVD and remastered. How disappointing the parade of vintage sexism was, then. Even the Salvador Dali dream sequence couldn't make up for the rest of the film, which lacked any sympathy for its main female character, a psychiatrist in love with a patient, doing all sorts of crazy things to prove his innocence of a crime that he couldn't quite remember. I can see why Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman were the idols of their day; both of them are great actors and have a good chemistry with one another. But all the chemistry in the world couldn't make up for the sexism in the script ("A woman in love is operating on the lowest field of intelligence!"), poor pacing, and a strangely tidy conclusion.

Up in the Air: This is a modern companion to Death of a Salesman, and come to think of it, this film and that play would be how I'd bookend a comparative literature/film course on "The Consequences of the American Dream". "Up in the Air" features virtuoso acting from Clooney, Farmiga, and Kendrick, but the story, much like the life of the main character, is all sound and fury that never truly lifts off the ground--or the few inches that it rises for as soundly dashed by a sad (and to me, entirely reasonable) ending. The most beautiful parts of this film occur in airports and hotels, places where the main character thinks he's "home", always on the move, with no human connection whatsoever to ruin his system for efficient travel. I don't think I've ever seen an American Airlines Admirals' Club photographed with such reverence. I don't want to say that this is a horribly depressing film; there's real heart here, but it's not immediately obvious and it doesn't linger. I'm glad I saw it, but I don't need to see it again for a while. I wonder how it will look in fifty years: hopelessly dated? Still true?

On YouTube:

Doctor Who: The End of Time, Parts 1 & 2: Netflix, for whatever reason, was taking forever to add this, so I finally just gave up and watched on YouTube. As I had expected, the YouTube copy was very poor quality. (The vocal track was about a second behind the visuals, which made for odd, anti-climatic speechifying.) I think I'm the last person on LiveJournal to have finally seen it, but in the interests of general propriety, spoilers follow under the cut. )
retsuko: (conversation)
First things first: updated photos are here! I felt more gutsy this year about approaching people and asking for photos; I've tried to include the best ones.

On Saturday: I got in early and somehow got funneled into a long line to get into the Exhibit Hall. There was a lot of buzz in the air because the autograph sessions were setting up, too, and people were lining up for that. [ profile] yebisu9 snuck into the line to get us a place for the Quick Draw panel and I eventually went to join him, trying not to trip over the small encampments of people texting, reading comics, or catching a few more moments of sleep before the Con started to fully swing.

Prior to Quick Draw, we sat through Marvel Comics Presents Super Hero Squad!, a panel to showcase Marvel's newer, more kid friendly animated show that features chibi versions of all your favorite heroes. We obviously weren't the target audience for this, but the voice actors were all having a great time, and performed a mini-skit about the heroes and villains showing up at the Con. (Dr. Doom: "This Con is enjoyable, but $8 for a hot dog?! Even I am not that evil!") The best part was watching Stan Lee, who voices the mayor of SuperHero City. As I mentioned last year, Stan Lee is like a benevolent and charming uncle who truly loves comics and comic books and is utterly thrilled to be at the Con. Seeing him is always a happy-making experience, and his presence definitely made this panel for me. The animation of the actual show is cute, although weirdly stylized. However, this panel was a mere appetizer for the main course...

Quick Draw!: Every year I look forward to this, and every year it does not disappoint. Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw!, and Norman Lloyd did super quick cartooning on subjects from "New Jobs for the Incredible Hulk" (government-appointed president of GM! Ballet teacher!) to "scariest Con guest" and played pictionary with famous people like Peter David. The art is then auctioned off at the CBLDF auction. Watching this is like an episode of "Whose Line is it Anyway", but with drawings and often far, far funnier.

The One Panel Panel: After a brief foray to the Exhibit Hall floor, we ate lunch and attended this thought-provoking panel with Charles Vess, Larry Mander, and Michael Allred, who talked about one panel that they were especially proud and/or influenced their careers. (Hope Larson was supposed to attend, but pulled out the last minute due to illness, which was too bad, especially when I saw the panel she'd been planning to talk about!) All three men spoke about how they composed each panel. For Mander, the panel he'd chosen was the moment where he realized that his Beanworld layout would work ("two and a half dimensional" he called it); Vess' panel inspired a then-relatively unknown writer named Neil Gaiman to write in to the magazine Vess worked at and the conversations between them eventually lead to the beautiful Sandman Midsummer Night's Dream story; Allred had selected a panel that had to be shown across three pages because it was so long and talked about why he wanted to do something with the action filtering along like that. I asked about possible repetitions of panel layout and all three confessed that they'd had it happen, sometimes over a period of ten years from seeing a picture once to then unconsciously repeating the layout! All in all, it was a fascinating look into what goes into a panel in terms of layout/composition and what it takes to draw in that style.

After that, we spent more time on Exhibit Hall floor, and then Mith joined me and we all went out for dinner.

In the evening, we had planned to go to the Torchwood/Dr. Who screening. However, when we arrived, the line snaked around the outside of the room and down the other side and there was a sign saying "Room has reached capacity!" A Con staffer confirmed this and told us to find something else to do and we stood around, disappointed and surprised. Fortunately, [ profile] yebisu9 and C. counseled waiting for the end of the line to come around and then see what the seating situation was like and sure enough, they were right: we did get into the room and we got seats together! So, that was good.

But even better was that before the screenings, Russell T. Davies, David Tennant, and John Barrowman came out on stage. And I don't usually act like this, but... Reader, I fangirled. Total squeeage occurred (although not as loudly and crazily as others nearer the front of the room), especially when John kissed David and Russell and then pretended to faint. They urged us to come to both panels on Sunday (as if the audience needed any further urging!) and then the showing began.

As for the Torchwood episode, I had somehow missed that there were four episodes previous to the fifth one we were watching and saw MAJOR SPOILER only in flashbacks, so a lot of the gravitas was lost on me. (I imagine this was worse for [ profile] livyanne and C. who were seeing the show for the first time.) I do think that an alternative title for this episode arc could be Torchwood: Adorable Children in Peril (Now with more thorny moral dilemmas!). This doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it; we just need to catch up on what we missed in order to find out what the hell was going on in the first place.

Dr. Who: Planet of the Dead was a great deal more entertaining and had some of the best monsters I think the writers have come up with since the stone angels. Michelle Ryan made a very good companion and had a lot of chemistry with David Tennant; the supporting characters were compelling (if briefly on screen) and the visuals were just wonderful. This episode reminded me of why I'm enjoying the show and the characters so much.

On Sunday:

We arrived just in time to get in another HUGE line for Ballroom 20 and spent about an hour waiting. I fielded a call from my Mom and Dad to wish me happy birthday; they both commented on the general hubbub in the background. We had a nice chat with the man behind us, who revealed that he loved comics so much, he named his daughter Storm. But finally the line moved and we were in to see: The Dr. Who panel! )

And then some shopping, and then out to lunch with [ profile] livyanne and then some more shopping and then headed back home where we played Munchkin Cthulu, went swimming, and had dinner and birthday cake.

Overall Con Impressions (Final Version): I'm going to write this up tomorrow or Tuesday when I'm feeling less tired and my thoughts have gelled. Short version: it was great, but DAMN those lines!

May 2016

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