retsuko: (comfortable with uncertainty)
In Movies:

Never Let Me Go: During the last thirty or so minutes of this film, I was in tears or near tears the whole time. R., who had woken up from a nap, looked at me in alarm every time I cried, and I had a little dialogue with him that went like this:

Me: *sob*
R: (alarm)
Me: No, no, honey, Mommy's not really sad, it's just a sad story.
Movie: (Something sad happens)
Me: *sob, weep*
R: (Further alarm)
Me: No, sweetheart, it's just a story. I'll be fine when it's over.
Movie: (Further woe)
Me: *more of the same*
R: *more of the same*
Movie: *more of the same*

This is not to say this is a bad movie, and it was one that I definitely appreciated on artistic and literary levels. It was just hard to take, especially since the plot faithfully followed the book, and I knew exactly (*exactly*!) what was coming. And it is a pleasure to see a reading experience so completely and thoroughly recreated. What was added made sense for the plot and the world that the story was trying to build, and what had been taken away was appropriate to making a strong film. The acting was magnificently, quietly good. Carey Mulligan has this 1% otherworldliness about her that made her perfect as the main character, the witness to and participant in the bad things that were happening. If anything, the effect the movie had on me is a testament to the effect the book had on me when I read it a few years ago.

So, yeah, it's not easy or "fun fun fun" but it's some excellent movie making, and I'm glad I saw it.

On TV:

Eureka: This show and my reaction to it reminded me of Arthur Dent's consternation over the entry on Earth in The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. "What do you mean, 'mostly harmless'?!" I initially turned this on because it seemed entertaining, not loud or overly violent, and was something I could have on in the background while I was feeding R. and not feel guilty about. And then I got sucked in. Would I go out of my way to watch this when it airs on SyFy? No. But I am pleased to watch on Netflix, and I was disappointed when I ran out of episodes. The two central love triangles aren't particularly interesting to me, but there are enough side characters that I care about that I'm willing to overlook the boring "who should he/she end up with" blah-blah. My only quibble with this show comes from the writing, particularly in regards to characters who are supposed to be smart (genius level, apparently) but say and do consistently stupid things. I also feel sorry for the main character getting saddled with a lot of expository dialogue simply because he's supposed to be "dumber" than the other characters. But there's a lighthearted energy about the whole enterprise, and I'm able to ignore the occasionally overly contrived dialogue. Plus, kudos to the writers for being gutsy enough not to go with the easy answers in several important plot twists, as well as kill off a major character in the middle of a season (instead of waiting for sweeps week.)

Sanctuary: I adore this show very, very much, because the writers aren't afraid to pile on the cheese, all of the cast is HOT HOT HOT, and there's some interesting mythology at the heart of most episodes. I was trying to summarize the plot on the phone yesterday for a friend of mine and I realized how crazy it sounded. Suffice it to say that if you enjoy supernatural stories with a modern setting, Amanda Tapping (who is fab, BTW), a random appearance by Tatsuya Ishii (!!!), Nikola Tesla (as a vampire, it's complicated, see previous note about how preposterous the plot is), monster stories, urban myths, or a HOT HOT HOT cast, this is the show for you.

Transgeneration: More seriously, this documentary about four college students attempt to sort out their transgender identities and lives is sobering, touching, enlightening, and funny all at the same time. One of them is at Smith College. I am curious to see how my alma mater will handle this kind of issue.

Now I find myself without a show to watch on Netflix instant streaming. I tried to watch "NewsRadio" the other day (I like Phil Hartman and Dave Foley) but couldn't get around the highly obnoxious laugh track and quit after the first half. "The Office" and its ilk have spoiled me in terms of not having laughter cues pointed out in very obvious ways! And there are only so many Dr. Who/Torchwood reruns I can watch. I'm definitely open to suggestions here.
retsuko: (bookmarks)
With a newborn around, there aren't a lot of chunks of time to read or watch things for extended periods. So the reading and viewing projects that have been most successful have been things that I didn't mind being interrupted on a regular basis. I really should have completed my "Short Stories for Tired Times" project that I started several years back because I need them more than ever. However, Netflix does pretty well in a pinch.

In Manga:

Library Wars: Love and War, Vol. 1: This was my one manga for the month, and honestly? I was a little disappointed. The premise of the story, that citizens have formed a private defense force to stop the government from seizing and destroying censored works (which appears to be almost all books), is an interesting one, but the execution of it is mired by a rather forcedly plodding romance between the main character and her commanding officer. The obstacles for them to overcome in order to be together feel paper-thin, more plot device than genuine problem, including the very obvious rival for the heroine's affections. I would much prefer a more action-driven plot that featured some actual book saving. As it is, there's only one instance of this, and it appears only at the end of the first volume. Equally frustrating is the main character's constant belittling of herself and her abilities. I understand that it's a shoujo manga; that the main character is the first and only female character in an all-male group; and that the author wants to build tension, but it reads as forced and damages my impression of the story as a whole. Apparently, this manga is based on a popular novel, which I am now very curious about. Does it world-build further and get into the politics that brought the book censorship front and center? Is it a scathing comment on government corruption and the obsessive need for conformity? Some big ideas like these would make this rise above standard romance and into something better.

On Netflix:

Pressure Cooker: This is a touching documentary about one teacher at an inner city Philadelphia High School and three of her students who are preparing to compete in the city-wide Culinary Arts competition. For all three, making it to the finals means a chance at much-needed scholarships that represent a chance to succeed at the college level. It's instantly clear how much this teacher loves the students, and her devotion to them (even as she's yelling at them for not doing various tasks correctly) is strong even in the face of little money and very little support from the school district. What I liked best about this film, though, was that the camera-people had caught little moments that illustrated the bonds between families. For instance, one of the students is on the cheerleading squad and participates in a big cheer competition; her father, whom she's only just really met within the past year or so, is watching in the bleachers, until her team wins. Then he's on his feet shouting "That's my daughter!" with a look of pride and disbelief on his face, and it's obvious how surprised he is at this own capacity for this kind of fatherly joy. While I do think some judicious editing could have taken place at a few points, this is an excellent documentary, and leaves you feeling happy for everyone involved.

Damages, Season 1: An onion of a show, layer after layer of double-crossing, scheming, and manipulating from every character for every conceivable reason. I wasn't sold on the main character at first, but I'm coming to like her very much, even as I watch her change before my eyes. The story (at least, for the first season I'm in), despite working on two timelines, is well structured and well told. Glenn Close is fantastic, although I would hate to have a boss like her. I have no idea how the season's going to end, and that suits me just fine. Huzzah for tightly plotted, tense legal drama!

A Bit of Fry and Laurie: I mention this only because after watching it and several episodes of Blackadder with Yebisu, I had a dream that was in the '80s video quality and included the British accents of both shows. Thankfully, it was without a laugh track, but it did have the non sequitur quality that the Fry & Laurie show loves.
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: (required vamp reading)
In Movies:

Let Me In: I had a long argument with myself about whether I should see this or not. The original is so good that it really doesn't need remaking, I thought, unless you're making it for the lazy masses who don't want to read subtitles. But then a line in a review caught my attention: "If a story is good enough to be told once, isn't it good enough to be told again?" I mulled this over, gently sent my snobbery off an errand and then snuck out of the house while it was gone so as to see the movie. And the pay-off was 99% of what I hoped: "Let Me In" is a solid film that doesn't copy the original, exactly, but keeps almost everything that made the original so good, atmospheric, and masterful. What it adds is mostly fairly good: the New Mexico locale and the 1983 setting work well (I thought there was no other place that would embody the desolate solitude of the Swedish original; turns out I was wrong), the 80s soundtrack is well-integrated and at times endearing and funny. Perhaps the best addition is a prop, the exact nature of which I don't want to give away, but hints more at the backstory of two of the characters in a wonderfully succinct and touching manner. What the American version does add that works somewhat less well is more gore. This vampire girl is truly a monster, and she moves like one when she feeds, attacking her victims in a decisively animalistic way; on the other hand, the CGI never feels forced or overdone (scrambling up trees and buildings, she slips and struggles, not graceful but entirely predatory). But the acting jobs from everyone involved are amazing and easily make up for the violence and gore factor. The only way that this film falls short is the lack of subtlety in its message: that the bullies who threaten our hero are more monsters than any supernatural force. (Hearing Owen scream from pain and fear as he was tormented was far worse than avoiding seeing the really gory moments.) But the both versions end on a pitch-perfect note, and both deal with the horrors of everyday life contrasted with the greater struggle of good and evil, and the consequences of evil on the human soul. The remake is well worth your time, especially if you like your horror relatively slow and tension-filled, and filled with characters who are achingly, truly human.

And, Signs revisited: And speaking of contrasting everyday life with horror, [ profile] yebisu9 and I re-watched this last night. I had a wonderful time remembering seeing it in theaters with [ profile] karabean and [ profile] dunkelza and then regretting seeing it as I listened to the trees swaying Right Outside My Bedroom Window as I was trying to go to sleep. I know that the general consensus about this film isn't good; people seem to find the story contrived and the scares pointless. But I'm going to commit sci fi blasphemy and argue that this is a damned good movie, and that the only reason it may fail as science fiction is because it really isn't science fiction: it's a dramatic character study that just so happens to have science fiction elements. And even though some of the scares are contrived, there is nothing quite like the grainy video footage about 2/3 of the way through, of the creature invading the children's birthday party. That you cannot see its face makes it even worse: the unnamed, unidentifiable horror, contrasted with the mundane party hats that the kids are wearing is a hundred times worse than seeing this thing right out in the open. And it's no surprise that the thing won't show its true face; the central conflict of the story (Graham's struggle to regain his religious faith and the cause that led to this crisis in the first place) isn't revealed, either, until almost the very end of the story, when the dramatic tension has reached a boiling point for everyone involved. The aliens aren't so much aliens as they are personifications of demons that Graham's internalized since the death of his wife and their threat against our heroes is only as real as his faith, which slowly but surely comes back, healed and renewed. What a satisfying story! So glad I watched it again. (And glad that there aren't too many trees that sway menacingly outside our apartment.)

On TV:

Undercovers: I really, really want to like this show, but there's just something missing that makes it, sadly, not possible for me to do so. It feels a little too much like a poorly run Spycraft RPG, with the requisite plot twists and turns as told by a 17-year-old game master whose view of the CIA is limited to what he's seen in James Bond movies and on late-night TV shows like that one with Pamela Anderson as a bodyguard. I was actually pretty excited to see it, because, hey, a show with two leading characters who aren't white (*gasp*! On a major US network?!), with sexy costume changes and exotic locales? I should be so there! And yet... after two episodes, I am left a profound sense of "meh". It doesn't especially help that other than our heroes (who are likable enough but oddly flat), there aren't any characters who I really like or identify with. I also find especially annoying the convention of "if you have one spy skill, you have them all!". For example, in the most recent episode, Tish Jones Samantha shows off her skills in "sexpionage" (*snerk*), interrogation, surveillance, and bomb defusing. Call me crazy, but I was under the general impression that just because you can do one of these well doesn't mean you're automatically great at the others, especially the bomb defusing part. I know this is meant as a fast-paced comedy show and that I am probably taking it far too seriously, but it rankles of lazy writing, and of 17-year-old game mastering skills. I would like to see something written for those of us with at least 25-year-old game mastering inclinations.

Also, on TV, House's 2-episode score card so far:
Adorable Children in Peril: 1
Writers Breaking Episode Formula: 0.5

More formula-breaking and fewer adorable children in peril, please!

May 2016

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