Monday, December 2, 2019

His Dark Materials: Armour

I'm a week behind, with another episode having already aired, but - Lee Scoresby has arrived! Iorek Byrnison has arrived! Serafina Pekkala... has been mentioned! Let's face it, things don't get cracking until these three turn up.
It opens with Lee and his daemon Hester singing with each other on his balloon, and it's just magical. Right there they manage to capture the bond between human and daemon in a way that the previous episodes just couldn't.
And without missing a beat, they dive straight into the exposition, which lands with a heavy clunk. You know, I think this scene will pretty much sum up the show in its entirety: moments of true transcendence side-by-side with leaden info-dumps.
But Lin Manuel Miranda has spoken about what a big fan he is of Pullman's trilogy, and he certainly brings an energy and liveliness to the project that's been missing so far. A bar scene has him fighting with locals while Hester shouts out advice and instructions (which again, portrays the human/daemon bond better than anything we've seen so far) and his motivation grants him a little subplot in which he goes searching for Iorek's armour (even if it doesn't go anywhere).
Though they're characterizing him as a bit more of a con-artist this time around, even a pick-pocket. Eh, I suppose it's not that much of a stretch from what appears in the book.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Woman of the Month: Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern
I very rarely chose a real woman to be my Woman of the Month, since this is blog is fundamentally about various films, books, television shows and games (see its name). But at the end of 2019, looking back across the course of the year, there's really no one else I'd rather talk about than New Zealand's Prime Minister: Jacinda Ardern.
I voted for Jacinda in the 2017 election, and was elated when she came out on top. She's currently the world's youngest female head of government, and New Zealand's first prime minister to be pregnant while in office.
Although her policies largely focus on child poverty, social inequality and the housing crisis, she's best known on the world stage as the woman who led us through the grief and horror of the Christchurch mosque shootings in March, and her political responses to the tragedy: refusing to speak the gunman's name out loud, personally offering condolences and support to the victims, introducing stricter gun laws, and co-chairing the Christchurch Call summit, which aims to hold tech companies more responsible for the ways in which hate and terrorism is promoted on social media sites.
For the record: she is not perfect. Nobody is. There are plenty of issues here in New Zealand that need attention she has not given them (namely the protests at Ihumātao, which aim to stop a housing development on Māori land) as well as a few ill-advised comments about religious freedom (which should be the freedom to worship in peace, NOT the freedom to persecute others). It's deeply important that political figures are not treated as flawless celebrities.
But she also manages to be openly compassionate and trustworthy in a way that so many politicians simply aren't, and I couldn't help but smile at the teenage girls I overheard at work after Ardern's speech in Hagley Park: "I heard Jacinda speak, and I feel so blessed."
It's been a tough year, not only for Christchurch, not only for New Zealand, but the entire world. Through it all I've been immensely grateful that a woman with intelligence, compassion and empathy has been in the driver's seat.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Reading/Watching Log #47

Finished a ton of stuff this November, though a lot of it was started in October (or earlier) and took a while to work through. But it's been a good month, with all my favourite subjects: girl detectives, eerie fairy tales, suspenseful thrillers, period dramas, and at least one Disney princess.

Monday, November 25, 2019

His Dark Materials: The Spies

This was very much a transition episode, moving Lyra from Mrs Coulter's sphere of influence to the safety of the gyptians (with the promise of the north on the horizon), but it also made me realize something about my reading experience with Philip Pullman's trilogy, and why I'm not totally blown away by this adaptation.
So much of the joy of reading Northern Lights is in the way Pullman tells the story, his choice of prose and careful parsing of information, and those are things that any television adaptation cannot hope to capture. More than that, my enjoyment of the books is an intellectual joy rather than an emotional one.
I don't have a vested interest in Lyra or any of her relationships, rather it was always the slow uncovering of the theological mysteries Pullman had woven and the rich settings in which it all took place that engrossed me. I'm re-reading the books for the first time in years, and I just want to pore over all the strange little details and clever turns of phrase.
It was in this episode, when I saw the gyptian canal boats which were just your standard canal boats that I realized this just isn't going to capture that indefinable aesthetic Pullman crafts.
And that's okay. The books are unique in ways that are so difficult to describe (not helped by the fact they were incredibly formative texts for me) that I knew going in that I should just enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

International Men's Day: Top Ten Favourite Male Characters

It's International Men's Day, and I've decided to celebrate by showcasing some of my favourite male characters.
What they all have in common is a deep sense of kindness and compassion for others - which unfortunately, are traits that are not only in short supply these days, but often looked upon with contempt and ridicule. I'm reminded of a line spoken by Naomi Watt's character in The Painted Veil in which she scoffs: "As if a woman ever loved a man for his virtue," and looking around at the type of men that fandom usually stan for, it's not hard to see her point.
Or as Simone Weil wisely put it: “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
That assertion is up for debate, but an unfortunate side-effect of the assumption it raises is that heroic fictional characters, those who try to make the world a better place either through small acts of kindness or great feats of derring-do, are often dismissed as uninteresting, whereas those who commit themselves to violence, hatred and destruction are considered as sympathetic as they are fascinating.
Putting aside fandom's preferences, because YES I KNOW it's just fiction and shipping isn't morality, I still want to draw attention to the portrayals of good men in our media. Because simply put, I like seeing depictions of gentleness, compassion and empathy in any type of human, and it's Hercule Poirot who put it best in Evil Under the Sun: "To count - to really and truly to count - a [person] must have goodness or brains."
So these are some of my favourite male characters, not because they're morally compromised, or conflicted, or have sad backstories that justify their serial killing - but because they're fundamentally good people, and no less interesting because of it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

His Dark Materials: The Idea of North

The second episode of His Dark Materials covers a lot less ground than the first one, basically covering just one chapter of the book (whereas the last episode managed four). Yet for all of that, it makes the most of the power plays between Lyra and Mrs Coulter in the latter's opulent apartment, and adds strands of its own in subplots concerning Magisterium agents and the gyptians.
But though it was nice to slow down and delve into the complexities of Mrs Coulter, I'm a little unsure about the original scenes that fill in a few gaps which Philip Pullman had no interest in exploring. I recall an interview from him years ago in which he said "only tell the reader what they need to know", which accounts for great swathes of material throughout the trilogy that goes entirely unexplained.
In this current clime of over-explaining everything, in which every character has a backstory, every plot-hole must be plugged, and everything eventually ends up in a comprehensive encyclopedia published by the author, it's quite astonishing to read Pullman's trilogy and only get the bare essentials of what you need to know. If it's not essential to the story, it remains a tantalizing mystery.
How he managed to pull this off without seeming lazy or slapdash is a feat in itself, but it's part of where the trilogy gets its power: knowing that there are things forever beyond our ken.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Links and Updates

We're heading into the final stretch of 2019, so what's the horizon for the end of the year?