retsuko: (fierce!)
Recently, while I was visiting my sister, I finished watching the first season of "The Carrie Diaries" on my AirBnB's host's Netflix account and griped to my sister about it next morning. I went into a few reasons why I was dissatisfied with the show and after a minute, my sister spoke up. "Why," she asked, "Would you waste your time on something you hate so much?" I backpedaled a bit, and tried to explain what had drawn me to the show in the first place (the awesome of Freema Agyeman--much minimized, alas; 80s clothing; somewhat interesting character arcs for a few of the minor characters), but it was clear that my sister thought I was 100% crazy, and that she'd never heard of hate!watching anything at all.

Generally, I don't hate!watch shows much. America's Next Top Model, for example, is fun with a glass of wine and MST3K-style snarkery, but it's usually the same thing from episode to episode, and I move on. The problem occurs when a show that I like veers from 'genuine pleasure' to 'guilty pleasure' category, and then into hate!watch territory. Once Upon a Time went from "oh, wow, this show is so much fun, I need to watch every episode obsessively" to "OK, this is getting little over the top, but still fun" and, finally, "who are all these people and why should I care about them?" I guess if that's the case, a long, slow demise, then I don't feel so bad about hate!watching a few episodes in the hopes that the whole endeavor will slide back onto the quality side of the equation.

More problematic, though, is the show that goes from "genuine pleasure" to hate!watching at alarming speed. This is where I am with SyFy's Defiance. There are a lot of reasons I want to like it: there's a dynamite ensemble cast who have a lot of chemistry together; the setting is interesting and the world-building, although muddled, compelling; and the themes of the show and the individual storylines within it are mostly interesting. Add to this a lot of diverse roles for female characters and slightly dystopian sci-fi feel to the whole thing, and bam, it should rock, right?

Well... not as much as I'd like.

For one thing, not since Lost have I had so many questions about the larger meta-plot of the story that are going largely unanswered. The frustrating thing about this is that many of these could be answered with a few lines of dialogue. I don't need an exposition dump; I just want to know a few things that would help me understand the characters and their motivations better. For instance, the show is set in the near-future, after an alien invasion/colonization effort went bad. Why is there no anti-alien sentiment? Where's the "Aliens go home" graffiti that I'm sure would adorn many, many buildings in this setting? Further, the Earth Republic (a kind of grumpier UN, at least as far as I can make out) seems to have no greater goals than messing with our heroes/heroines' plans. Wouldn't they have some bigger idea? Why do we never hear about them trying to do good things, like starting up manufacture of medicine and infrastructure?

Equally frustrating is this show's depiction of women. On one hand, there are a number of interesting, diverse roles for female characters. Jaime Murray is excellent as Stahma, an alien woman dealing with newfound power and the cost to hold onto it. There's also Doc Ewell, whose dry sarcasm is perfectly timed and in sharp contrast to the earnestness of those around her. Julie Benz plays Amanda, the town's (now ex-) mayor, with a lot of poise, except when she's being menaced by memories of her rape at the hands on an unknown assailant when she was younger. This sexual assault is on its way to becoming a major plot point, and, really, all the women on this show have been shown sexually threatened, assaulted, or wounded at some point, whereas the men (with one notable exception) have not. It's gotten so frustrating that I'm beginning to wish there was a pact that authors/writers/showrunners (for this show and all others) could sign agreeing not to use rape or sexual assault as a plot device. I don't care that it "develops" the character further (because there are other, more effective and less rape-y ways to do this just as effectively), or that it's "realistic" (because sci-fi and fantasy are chances to do something that isn't necessarily realistic.) It's not even very original. I would like to watch one episode of Defiance that doesn't show one of its female characters wounded, assaulted, or threatened sexually. Just one.

And that worst thing is, this show has a lot of potential to be fascinating. I've never seen a mainstream piece of work approaching a tricky subject like cultural appropriation in such a thought-provoking way. I also like the religious systems the aliens brought with them that are slowly being revealed in fits and starts, sometimes clearly menacing, but always completely alien and convincing. As I mentioned before, the cast is fantastic and the special effects work well with the story and feel organic. I don't want to end up hate!watching this show... but I don't see how much longer I can watch it for pleasure, either.
retsuko: (cool yuuko)
Waaaay too much TV lately, but all of it on the heels of some tough personal stuff, and soon to be followed by An Edifying Book Report. Also, one movie!

At the Movies:

Beautiful Creatures: So... sometimes I watch a movie or a show, and I wish the main characters weren't the main characters, and that a side character would step up and be the main character instead. In this case, it was Emma the librarian, played with steely layers of awesome by Viola Davis. The more I found out about her character, the more I wanted to swing the camera around to point at her and have her tell her life story. ("Hi, I'm a seer and unwilling-but-destined librarian for a group of quasi-immortal sorcerers who supposedly have a worldwide network with libraries connected via underground tunnels and I can talk to the dead. These quasi-immortal sorcerers drive me crazy with their self-righteous bullshit, but I take my work seriously, and I'll be damned if I give up anything before I'm good and ready to do it at the appropriate moment. Tea?") This isn't to say that the rest of the characters were bad or boring, but the teenaged love story paled in comparison to the world-building that struggled to take root in the background. I got the distinct impression that the authors of the original work had two goals in mind: 1) out-do Twilight with a better, slightly healthier romance, and 2) write up some cribbed notes from their best RPG sessions. Beautiful Creatures feels like a good role-playing game, as told by a storyteller who thinks that she/he had come up with something 100% original, when it's more like... about 50% original, but even the tried and true stuff was pretty good, so the players weren't complaining. The story unfolds in pretty standard teen romance fashion, but with the magic v. religion lens firmly in place, and with a villain who managed to be scary about two and a half times. The two teen leads were good actors and imbued the material with as much life as they could muster. The adults carried out their roles with varying levels of success, given the cheese in the settings and kudzu around them. It was a fun movie, a bit saggy in places, but I think it helped that I went in with almost no expectations. And I still wish I could have turned the story around to focus on the NPCs, er, side characters. Maybe rent it some night when you need something diverting and not too challenging.

On the TV:

Lost Girl, Season 1, and first episode of Season 2: I really, really enjoy this show, for a number of reasons which are too numerous and spoiler-rific, so are listed under this cut. )

All things considered, it's an excellent show, and one I'm glad to be able to watch most of on Netflix streaming.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Season 3 Finale: I really enjoyed it, mostly because it felt like a mini-Broadway musical, complete with songs about every mood and whim that took the characters along with the plot. It also addressed an interesting question about the world-building of the show itself, one that I've been wondering about for quite some time: if the ponies' cutie marks somehow are tied to their given vocations, what happens if you end up with the wrong one? (Why, yes, I have been putting far too much thought into a cartoon aimed at selling toys to girls ages 6-10, why do you ask?) That question wasn't really answered, but at least it was raised, and everyone got to sing, and the ending was sincerely sweet. I'm actually on board with the big plot development, and I wasn't thinking that would happen at all. A nice ending to a somewhat short and rather uneven season.

Adventure Time: Fionna & Cake, "Bad Little Boy": So, Donald Glover was PERFECT as Marshall Lee's voice, and I liked the twist on the original conceit of the episode. (Does this mean that we're going to see someone else write Fionna and Cake fanfic in the next installment? I'd love to see Princess Bubblegum's rejoinder to Marceline's assertions in this episode.) I also like that there was so much singing in this episode, although some of the songs didn't quite hold together the way I'd hoped they would--I was hoping for "happy earworm" and instead there was a great deal of "dueling dialogue through song" that I've already forgotten most of. Still, it was an excellent episode and makes me long for the day when Fionna and Cake is its own entity. (I also have to say that the funniest bit was that Pendleton Ward's voice for Lumpy Space Prince was exactly the same as Lumpy Space Princess's.) It made me want to dye my hair blond for Comic Con so I could cosplay as Fionna!
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: (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: (love this show)
I think very few people are tuning in for Bravo's "Work of Art" reality TV show this season, and this makes me a little sad. I realize this show doesn't have a lot going for it; it's so-called "reality TV" (strike one), it's about modern art (strike two), and it has some pretty crazy casting choices, both on the part of the judges and contestants (strike three, change the channel.) But despite all these failings, I can't help but love it. Even with the overly edited nature of the episodes, the terrible, terrible "art", and weird characters, I think it's an interesting idea, and its execution, although deeply flawed in some areas, is fascinating to behold.

Of course, the idea that anyone is going to find the "next great American artist" via the reality show medium is patently ridiculous. Likewise, the idea that art produced in the course of a twelve-hour challenge is somehow going to be fresh and original, is laughable at best. (Can you imagine asking great artists of any century to produce a masterpiece in a set amount of time? It's happened, but very, very rarely.) In fact, the testing format is more like the SAT, and like any standardized test, it rewards a set kind of thinking that isn't necessarily indicative of creativity. The judging criteria so far has skewed towards picking out obvious crap (the word "derivative" is, so far, the worst insult flung) and getting rid of it, while favoring pieces with "stories" (what these stories are, it's really hard to tell) or works of art that take the artists out of acceptable comfort zones. The challenges have run the gamut from interesting (create a museum installation around the theme of motion, which one only of the teams managed to pull together) to standard (create a piece of pop art, creating consternation among some of the competitors about the definition of pop art.) But even in teams, or individually, the artists are hampered by time and financial constraints, and their creativity appears a bit stilted at best, and utterly absent at worst.

But what I love about this show is that the questions it shakes in the modern art world's face: What is modern art, and what's its purpose? Who is allowed to judge it, the creator or the patrons? Where is all the money coming from, and do those sources allow for true creativity? Can someone with no artistic education be considered a true artist? None of these questions are easily answered, but the narrative dances around the edge of them, offering answers here and there before hastily pulling back into reality show convention. (So far, there is no clear villain, although I think the editors are very sad that the tear-prone, creepy photographer Cathryn lost last week's challenge.) The modern art world, as personified by the judges and personalities at the gallery, is a mystifying and snobby place, filled with money (if you know who to sell to) and pretentious, overly judgmental statements. (For example, one of the judge's words to the deaf contestant about his piece not addressing how deaf people use Facebook is pretty much one of the rudest, most facile things I've ever heard on TV.) It's no wonder that the competitors have all banded together; even if their mediums and subject matter are all completely different, it's better to support one another instead of sniping or snarking. Even the contestant who's named himself "The Sucklord" is a pretty tolerable guy, despite his overly exaggerated concern that the women in his life are going to "cut his bawls off" every time he does something wrong. All of these contestants have at least some talent, and how it's going to serve them in the art world is a great question. It's what I want to see play out.

I should I say there is one thing I want to smack the editors for, and I have no idea if it was from the hypocritical higher ups at Bravo, or from some other force, but I find the censorship of women's breasts to be pretty laughable. In the pop art challenge, one woman photographed herself, topless, holding a plastic water bottle. During the actual photograph session, when she was posing, her breasts were pixelated out. But the photograph itself was depicted on TV, completely un-pixelated. And this was a high quality digital photographic print, with every detail shown to the audience. What on earth is the difference between taking a topless picture for a camera, and showing the topless photo that that camera took? Absolutely nonsensical.

Anyway, regardless of stupid censorship standards and art world pretentiousness, I'm curious enough to stick around and see which artist wins. At the very least, watching host China Chow's insane fashion choices is entertainment to last me for an entire week. I hope others will give this show a chance, not only because it's a good show, but also because I'd love to have someone else to talk about it with.
retsuko: (princess bubblegum)
In Books:

Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher: I promise this review will be SPOILER FREE because [ profile] yebisu9 hasn't read the book yet and has had to put up with my comments and exclamations as I read. (Things like, "No way!", "Whoa!", and general fist shaking at Jim Butcher.) I've had vague discussions with him about the plot: It takes place in Chicago. There are some characters. They do important stuff. These jellyfish-like accolades are so deliberately vague that it drives me crazy to even say them, but Yebisu is fanatic about not being spoiled, and I don't want to ruin the reading experience. Anyway, in slightly more helpful (but still not too spoilery) terms, there are some characters, and the stakes are really, really high for all of them. If Changes (the previous installment) was The Empire Strikes Back of The Dresden Files series, Ghost Story has shades of Return of the Jedi, but its conflicts are different, and the outcome is by no means a tidy "everyone is happy with their lot" ending. (Definitely no Ewok dance party, either, and I'm sure the majority of characters in the story would be appalled with me even suggesting that one might happen to occur.) This is an incredibly satisfying read, and I have to give Butcher major props for juggling so many plot points so efficiently. In one case, I thought he had simply forgotten about [plot point X], but nope! With fifty pages left, he picked it right back up! Very nicely done, sir. I bow to you! To all fans of this series, I do not think you'll be disappointed. Newbies, this is not the place to start the series, but it is a series that's well worth starting.

(Thanks again for the hardcover, [ profile] orichalcum!)

In Manga:

Read or Dream, Vol. 1: Mostly harmless. I mean, I read it, and it was cute, but it didn't wow me, or make me wish I could rush out immediately to buy the next volume. I suppose it's a bit like the vague spoilers that I mention above: there are characters. They are three sisters who love books and have magical powers over paper. They do stuff, like helping people find stolen books and aid sick, adorable children. For no apparent reason, the story takes place in Singapore. Or Hong Kong, I can't remember which. The artwork is pretty standard shoujo manga, but nothing special.

On TV:

Adventure Time With Finn & Jake: I am trying to have an embargo against new shows, especially with the distressing news about TV taking lots of minutes off your life. But this show is on when I'm feeding R., and it's so completely silly and wonderful that I'm completely taken in. It nurtures my inner 8-10 year-old boy as well as entertaining my female, adult self with a combination of witty writing, wacky/gross humor, and great comic timing from the voice actors. The viewing experience is made even more awesome by the artwork of one of the character designers, particularly the fact that she draws suggestive pictures of the two main female characters. I hadn't intended to blog about the show, though, except for the latest revelation: that one of the episodes next season will feature a gender-swapped cast!

This is made of so much awesome and win, because this is basically what my imaginary stories were like around age 8 or so. (Although I wouldn't have known what the word 'ice-blocking,' and its ruder variant, meant.) (Further awesome in the form of Neil Patrick Harris as the voice of Prince Blowpop.) I wish more shows were open to this sort of experimentation with storytelling format! However, given the flack that the creators of the show are receiving over this, I'm worried that Cartoon Network will get scared and back away. Please, don't! This is too awesome not to keep going with!
retsuko: (love this show)
One of the side effects of breastfeeding is that I am suddenly parked on the couch for long spans of time, with very little use of my hands. Reading is basically out; I tried it several times and it takes either a very lightweight book (in terms of actual weight, not the content, ha ha!) or magazine, and even then it's really the luck of the draw whether it will work or not. So, I've been watching a lot of Netflix things, some old and some new. Catching up on every 'Futurama' episode is good, and at about the intellectual level I'm at these days, what with the very patchy sleep and all.

In Manga:

Rinne, Vol. 4: I did manage to read one volume of manga, and this is it. Fortunately, this was a very good volume, which heaped trouble on trouble upon our hero's already overloaded and in debt head. Hero's father turns out to be a good-for-nothing spendthrift who has nothing better to do in his (after-)life except create get rich quick schemes that don't work out and ultimately ruin his son's life. Our heroine continues to be completely oblivious to the hero's feelings for her, to somewhat plot-contrivance degrees, but this is a Takahashi manga, so I don't expect the love story to happen in the first 20 or so volumes. In the meantime, there's lots of comedy and glimpses of an underworld that apparently runs on scantily clad demon ladies and ridiculously handsome demon guys... and despite our hero's warnings to the contrary, the heroine never seems to keep away from ending up there. I would like the hero to catch a break, but I'm not holding my breath.

On TV/Netflix:

Avatar: The Last Airbender: So I held off watching this series for a long time. There were a lot of reasons why, some better than others. But I shouldn't have held out so long because it turned out to be pretty good! Copious spoilers ahead. )

Better Off Ted: I am amused that everyone I have talked to who's watched this show swears it was based on *their* office with [insert name of X huge company here]. If this is indeed true, then I weep for the soul of the American workplace. While I'm doing that, though, I'll be watching this sly little comedy with no laugh track (yay!) and a cadre of excellent actors.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand: [ profile] orichalcum recommended this and even though [ profile] yebisu9 and I have enjoyed it so far, I feel like it's pushed the TV-violence envelope even further than the most recent season of 'True Blood' did. I'm not sure I like that fact too much. OTOH, I do like several of the characters, and I'm reasonably intrigued such that my interest outweighs my gross-out factor. I will admit that I went into it thinking that if it were good, I would show an episode to my humanities class; ten minutes in, I realized that if I did that, I would probably create all kinds of controversy on campus and possibly get fired. So, a cautious yay for the time being.
retsuko: (love this show)
I will admit that I was pretty psyched to see that all my favorite shows (with the exception of "V") are coming back this fall, and am looking forward to reconnecting with beloved plotlines and characters I love to love (or love to hate, as the cases may be.) Without much further ado:

House: I really, really hope that this season has our misanthropic hero back to his normal old misanthropic self, except for the times when he's with his new love interest. Because, really? I tune in to this show to see Hugh Laurie acting like a bastard. I really don't give a damn about contrived moral and ethical dilemmas, and I would prefer not to see adorable children or pregnant women in peril. The appeal of this show largely lies in Laurie's impeccable delivery of insults to people who (most of the time) deserve them. In fact, 90% of the time, House acts as my Greek Chorus, confirming my beliefs that everyone on a dramatic TV show lies (because, if they didn't, where would the episode go??) and saying snide and inappropriate things to people who've behaved in bad ways. And it's all very cathartic, and snicker-worthy, and I am very pleased. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed this premiere episode because of its departure from the usual formula, and because of Lisa Edelstein's very wonderful performance. She and Laurie have amazing chemistry and watching them interact was more touching than I expected. So, yay for "House"! Now, like I said before: no more adorable children in peril plots, please! I can't stand them anymore.

In the guilty pleasure department, there is Hellcats, which is arguably one of the stupider shows I could be squandering my time on. But my pregnancy-addled brain that craves simplicity and safe excitement is completely sold. Or at least it was, until last night's plot line, in which our main character effectively practiced law without a license in order to show her meanie/hawt law professor that his assignment wouldn't get the better of her. (Meanie Prof assigns her a "top secret" project: research X case and report to him about it; said case doesn't exist, so Main Character and Annoying Fellow Student file a complaint themselves on behalf of the named party, so the case *will* exist. Ha! Take that, meanie prof!*) For some reason, this egregious storytelling error got me all flustered and annoyed afterwards. I like my guilty pleasure TV to be free of real life implications in all major ways, and this was a pretty major real life deal-breaker. You think I'd be more invested in complaining about the utter lack of feminist deconstruction of the whole "cheerleading is empowering!!~!@1!" line of the plot, or the part where everyone on the show is ridiculously good-looking. (Seriously! It's like Derek Zoolander was in charge of the casting! There was even break-dance fighting in this last episode!) But no, what really annoys me is the law thing... well, that's where my brain is now, anyway. Anyway. Will I watch again next week? Given my brain power at the moment, survey says... most likely. Maybe some cheetos will improve the viewing experience...

* I also hate the storytelling trope of the Impossible Assignment. I have given open-ended assignments to my classes before, and ones that I knew were difficult, but not impossible to actually to do. Giving students an assignment that's literally impossible to finish/complete (without resorting to cheating), in order to "teach them a lesson" about failing and build character? Bitch, please. Way too arrogant for words.

May 2016

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