retsuko: antique books (books)
It's a great pleasure to heartily recommend The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling), mostly because it's been a long time since I've been so invested in a story and its characters, but also because it made me gasp aloud not once but twice, with two reveals that I did not see coming at all. This book is all the things that Rowling did well with the Harry Potter series, but a different story and setting, and, obviously, much more adult tone throughout. One of the things that Rowling does especially well is create characters who I sympathize with, and this book had it spades, from the gruff, wounded detective who is the hero of the story, to the homeless, drug-addicted friend of the dead woman who seethes with anger and resentment, but is ultimately portrayed as human, and not just a plot device. Another excellent element of this story is its plot, which moves along briskly enough, but slows down when necessary to give its characters and settings time to breathe, to come alive and make sense.

To be honest, this book was also a pleasure because it reminded me why I love the mystery genre. I'd gotten soured after reading a succession of books where women's bodies were in pieces, bits and limbs of victims everywhere, but with no soul. It's a misogynistic trend that bothers me, and I was a little wary of starting another story that featured a female victim. But The Cuckoo's Calling never glorified or overindulged in the violence that lead to the murder. Instead, there was a lot of discussion of who the murdered person was, and why her life mattered to people. That's a welcome change from the scores of serial killer books where bodies pile up namelessly.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a densely plotted and populated mystery that takes place in a modern, urban setting, with a flawed hero and resourceful sidekick. Hell, I recommend this book to just about anyone who enjoys a good mystery.
retsuko: (Default)
Linguistic issues:

* "gets under my skin" seems like an idiom that Crane wouldn't know.

* Smart. Phone. :D

* In-ter-net. If he had said interblag, I would have died.

Plot issues: Spoilers! )
retsuko: antique books (books)
In Books:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), by Mindy Kaling: I enjoyed this volume of chatty, breezy essays, although I would love to just cut out the chapter about dieting completely. If you skip that (which is easy, since it's the first one), the rest of this book is a rewarding, effortless read that sounds as if Mindy Kaling is your best friend and just happened to run into you at Starbucks and sure, she can hang out for a few minutes. The best material concerns her improbable rise to semi-, writerly- fame (including a section about the terrible apartment she and her friends lived in together in NYC) and her thoughts about why comedy is important. In particular, I loved this line from her afterward, which is written in a question and answer format:

"Q: Why didn't you talk about whether women are funny or not?
A: I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be a tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn't. It would be the same as addressing the issue of, "Should dogs and cats be able to take care of our children? They're in the home anyway." I try not to make it a habit to seriously discuss nonsensical hot-button issues."

I wish more people in media thought along these lines and resolved simply to line up more female comedic talent, not have pointless arguments about why can't ladies tell jokes. In any case, if you enjoy The Office (American version), celebrity gossip from a unique perspective, or just want a fun book to pass the time, this is the one.

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, originally by Madeleine L'Engle, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson: There are books that read like dreams you had in the past, that feel utterly new and comfortingly familiar at the same time. I am pleased to report that Larson's able and loving adaptation of L'Engle's work fits firmly into the deja vu, "oh I have read this before, how wonderful it is" category. The landscapes/dreamscapes/trans-dimensional spaces in this book are rendered in perfect detail, particularly the horrifying moment when Meg and her friends try to tesser away from Camaztoz, and the Black Shadow nearly takes control of her mind. Her body falls to pieces and the only thing holding her on the page is her father's hand, reaching around from the previous page. It's visceral and creepy, and it makes Meg's later actions all the more heroic: to do what she does, when she knows the exact price of failure, is a courageous and beautiful thing. Larson's illustrations of the characters are very faithful to the descriptions in the book, especially Calvin, who is not particularly handsome. Larson leaves him as an awkward 14-year-old, tall and lanky, with a weird-shaped nose, and this makes him very human, very relatable. I also loved the way Meg and her Mother looked, juxtaposed on the page, present and future in one space. I think fans of this book will be very pleased; in fact, I'm already planning to give it to several people for the holidays. But, please, stymie my gift-giving efforts if reading this will make you happy! (Which it will.)

In Comics:

IDW's Doctor Who/Star Trek: The Next Generation Crossover, Issue 5: I had hoped that the weird art style would grow on me, or at least cease to look odd, but I am sad to report this is not the case. Currently, the plot advances in incremental and painfully slow steps; this work reminds me of someone who writes fabulous fanfic, but rarely updates. I'm beginning to suspect this would be a much more fulfilling and compelling story if it were presented in trade paperback format, instead of parceled out in bits and pieces. This issue contains a lovely, well-observed dialogue between Amy Pond and Captain Picard, which reads like, well, for lack of a better term, the reason that fanfic was invented (sadly truncated: a conversation that Rory and Dr. Crusher have about the importance of needing real people in the medical field, even with the advancements in technology.) Unfortunately, the rest of the story is bogged down explaining why Captain Picard hates the Borg, and with the plot's insistence that he get over this problem. I want to enjoy this story and recommend it to others, but at present, it's stalled between "wait, what?" and "jebus, people, just get on with it!"
retsuko: (artist etc.)
When I was a kid, I read differently than I do now. I loved narratives with immediacy; I didn't care for lengthy background and details (at least, I didn't think I did.) The best reading experiences that come to my mind were the ones I had during the summer, or on long car trips when there was nothing else to do but read, and no one was about to suggest a better activity. And it was at those times that I craved stories that were exciting in a particular way, that made me feel like I was standing next to the main characters or had so many things happening that I couldn't wait to turn the page. This action didn't always have to be Indiana Jones-style death trap/escape from Nazi's; in fact, I really enjoyed plots where there was a great deal of mundane action. (The Ramona books, for example, are a wonderful illustration of this: things happen at lickety-split speed, but they're simple, everyday activities and problems which I could easily relate to.) But the movie-style action-packed narratives were great, too. I pored over Choose Your Own Adventure books, and I read the Hardy Boys novels pretty exhaustively, even though I realized they were basically the same thing over and over again. In these stories, things happened one-after-another, crazy-action-pace, but it was OK, because the characters were so good, and the pacing never ran into overly confusing territory.

But the King of Narratives Where Lots of Stuff Happens But Not Too Fast and It's OK Anyway Because We're The Good Guys (or, NWLSHBNTFIOABWTGG for not so short) were the Tintin books, which I adored beyond measure. And I am pleased to say (by a very roundabout way of introduction) that the Tintin movie captures the spirit of NWLSHBNTFIOBWTGG in all of its summer-reading glory, and in 3D movie format. Lots of stuff happens! (Model ships! Betrayals! Comedy! High Seas Adventure! Opera! Funny Animals! Chase Sequences!) But not too fast! (At no point in the movie did I feel like I was exhausted or wrung out, and the kids around me certainly didn't feel this way, either.) And it's OK anyway, because we're the good guys! (The script writers wisely chose to keep Tintin a relative paladin/cypher, and that makes his actions both heroic and accessible.) The CG didn't bother me like I thought it would and the characters looked like they'd just stepped off a page of Herge's wonderful illustrations. In fact, I was so trying to compare all the characters and backgrounds with my memory of the original books that I almost forgot I was watching a live-action movie of them. Much of the dialogue is lifted verbatim from the books, and I am incredibly pleased to report that Captain Haddock gets to say "billions of blue blistering barnacles!" more than several times. I should also add that the opening credits are intricately beautiful and relentlessly witty, and pay homage to the spirit of the Herge originals. Hell, the whole movie is a loving homage to Herge, and I'm fairly sure that he would be very pleased with the outcome.

In a similar category of "Lots of Things Arbitrarily Happen At Once", Marjane Satrapi's book The Sigh is a lovely fairy-tale style story about a Prince of a mysterious country, and the woman he falls for, whose courage and ingenuity grow in leaps and bounds throughout the tale, despite arbitrary and somewhat confusing limitations on the part of the world that it occupies. Satrapi's accompanying artwork lends drama and weight to the work. It's nice to see her working in color after Persepolis. Reading this story reminded me of the sick days I spent in bed going through the volume after volume of illustrated Grimm's and Andersen's fairy tales.

And then, on the far more serious side, and from a country that could probably use a bit of escapism because, well, YIKES doesn't even start to cover it, there's Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh, by Anne Elizabeth Moore, about her mission to educate young women there about the art of making 'zines. Moore's story, which reads a little like the unpublished and more personal half of a women's studies doctoral thesis, lays out the stark realities and challenges that she was confronted with, like the fact that most of the parents of the girls she teaches are too afraid or scarred to discuss what happened to them and their families during the Khmer Rouge, or the issue that the girls she teaches are very concerned with a particular kind of femininity, one which doesn't necessarily include 'zines, or Moore's style of working and teaching. But Moore doesn't lose sight of what she's trying to do, and if depression bothered her, it certainly doesn't appear to have slowed her down. This zine and the ones her students produced are a passionate argument why democratic media should exist, and what form it may need to take, even if it seems rudimentary and slow. I especially liked the excerpts in the back from her students' 'zines. This book isn't one kid!me would have enjoyed (there's some pretty appalling details from survivors) but it's a book that adult!me enjoys for separate reasons. A lot of things happen in it. A few of them are action-packed crazy, but most of them are everyday life events, some of which I can easily relate to (Moore's explanation to her ESL students of why Playboy magazine is a double-edged sword for American women is a thing of honest, truthful beauty). But reading this, I found myself turning pages quickly, wanting to know what happened next and how Moore would deal with it. In some ways, this was the best of all possible worlds: reading like a kid (need to know! exciting! righteously good!) and reading like an adult (need to know! remind myself to understand this part of the world better!).


To those who are only reading my public entries: Thanks for sticking around and bearing with me through January. It's been a rocky start to 2012 and my on-going resolution to do four public entries a month got stymied by work-related deadlines, and then by the world's most annoying error message, "Bad unicode input." I was finally able to get this thing to post after cutting and pasting individual paragraphs. :p Anyway, more from now on!
retsuko: (artist etc.)
In Comics:

Locke & Key, Guide to the Known Keys (One Shot), Words by Joe Hill and Pictures by Gabriel Rodriguez: This is a good jumping-in point for newcomers to the story; this is also a good one-shot for those who've been interested in this work, but are suspicious of horror comics. The scares in this story are minimal, and the main plot is, in a large part, a beautiful tribute to Windsor McKay's Little Nemo, as well as an establishing plot point for the origins of some of the keys in the story. The cover, by itself, presents a lovely piece of artwork, rendered in Rodriguez's fine pencils and Foto's luminous colors. As I've said before, this is a great read, a modern comic masterpiece in the making.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Reason (Volume 3), Words and Art by Tom Siddell: It's nice to read this in one installment, instead of in one-page-three-times-a-week bits and pieces. Not to say that Siddell doesn't update regularly (he does, much to his credit), but the story is more coherent when read as a whole piece of work. In fact, when the whole series ends, I look forward to sitting down and reading all the books cover to cover, so that I can get a sense of the larger story, instead of the parts and pieces here and there. Still recommending this, although not as a jumping-in point. Like Lost or The X-Files, this is an epic without an easy middle point, only Volume 1.

In Manga:

Kingyo Used Books, Volume 4, Words and Art by Seimu Yoshizaki: How psyched was I that this volume concerned a manga that I've actually read?! For once, I wasn't on the outside looking in! (The manga was Ranma 1/2!) This volume, more than any of the others, made me eager to track down the other works mentioned in the story, especially a volume of ghost stories, a cute early work of Moto Hagio's, and a book of short stories that sounds like it should have been licensed and translated LAST YEAR for its arresting subject matter and artwork. As usual, the Kingyo bookstore is filled with manga lovers and the people they've helped reconnect with favorite works, and the stories in this volume carry on that tradition. There's a love letter to manga at the end that's incredibly heartfelt and sweet. A wonderful translation as always, definitely a good buy to add to your shopping list!

At the Movies:

The Muppets: I don't want to give away any of the insanely wonderful and funny details of this movie for anyone who's not seen it; suffice it to say that I had a smile on my face from the beginning all the way to the end. Bret MacKenzie's songs are excellent and the whole affair is perfectly paced so that I never felt like any of it was overdone and forced. I didn't quite buy one major plot aspect, but that's really not important. What's important is that the movie (and the Toy Story short that precedes it) is clever without being too showy about it, and the emotions are genuine and evocative. Take a small kid to see this, or just go see it yourself. It's the perfect antidote to the holiday blues.
retsuko: (river w/ gun)
There is an excellent essay by Laura Hudson here that is specifically about the new DC comics relaunch and its gender issues, but really can be taken as a comment on comics fandom as a whole. It's awesome, and I really don't have much to add to it, except for the fact that the pages and panels from 'Catwoman' that Hudson uses could just have easily been from any other superheroine title and the analysis would still be just as on point and valid.

In any case, the issues with the depiction of women are one of the reasons that I often hold back on saying what I'm fan of. Since "nerd" is undergoing a sort of semi-cool Renaissance, I can usually mention my love for "Doctor Who," the works of Jim Butcher, or any of the Harry Potter books and movies without fear of reprisal. But one word about comic books and people start getting that judgmental aura of "I thought you were smarter than that" or giving me these expressions of utter bewilderment, usually followed by the question, "why?" And I must admit that I answer that question myself every damn time I step into any comic book shop. It does help that my local comic supplier, Comickaze, is run by an excellent staff of knowledgeable guys who have never once made me feel uncomfortable or weird. But in other places, at other stores, I have felt the distinctly unpleasant feeling of Difference, (or Otherness, in academic parlance). Seeing a wallpapering of posters of female comic book characters in bikinis, with bodies that are completely impossible in every sense of the word, is a depressing experience. Why keep reading books by an industry that largely imagines women to be merely men with breasts? Why bother looking at titles that depict women as objects to be sexed up, used up, and thrown away? Am I just indulging some kind of nerd-specific masochism?

Every time I start asking these questions, or see too many women in bikinis, I close my eyes and think of all the awesome women I know or know about who are involved in the comics industry, or in the independent fringes. I think of [ profile] psychoe and [ profile] ashears's amazing artwork and how one day, I'm going to say "I liked them before they were cool" in an annoying hipster voice. I think of cartoonists and writers like Kate Beaton, Moto Hagio, Natasha Allegri, Tracy Butler, Gail Simone, CLAMP, Momochi Reiko, Hope Larson, Naoko Takeuchi, Yuko Shimizu, and many, many others, too numerous to list here. I remember all the amazing female characters who I've read and loved, like Storm and Kitty Pride, Francine Peters, Rose (from Bone), Faiza Hussein, Lizzie Hexam, Elissa Megan Powers and Ninjette, Nico and Gert and Princess Powerful (from Runaways), and all the characters whose stories I haven't read yet. But mostly, I think about opportunities.

Comic books as a medium are an amazing opportunity for artists and writers to tell stories in a unique and powerful manner. And I have hope that this industry will come to its senses, even if it has to go through a horrifically prolonged birth process to do so. (Although I will admit the DC Relaunch is one hell of a contraction.) There's more than enough opportunity to go around to keep the industry afloat. Why not fix the sexism problem? Imagine twice the money. Imagine the marriage of idealism and commerce. Imagine a day when no reader has to ask the question "why?" when she or he steps into a comic book store.
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.
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! )

May 2016

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