Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stay Calm and Tell Stories: A Reading List for Self-Isolation

It’s official: all of New Zealand is in lockdown. I was at work on Monday, though the library itself was closed to customers, and that night Jacinda Ardern announced that all non-essential businesses and public venues would be closed for the next four weeks (today and tomorrow will be the grace period for people to start shutting things down).
The good news is that I was prepared for it: my father’s cousin is a doctor who warned him that this was a) serious and b) something that would last for a while, so that message was passed onto me about a week ago. The panic-buying has officially started, but I’m well-stocked. On the whole everyone is pretty calm: the government put a plan in place and has been following it for a while now; the local news stations have been wonderfully informative and Jacinda herself projects a sense of calm and competency.
I’ve no doubt there’ll be a few wankers who will make things difficult (despite all the warning signs, some people just didn’t bother to prepare) but on the whole the general feel is that we’re in control and nipping this thing in the bud. The number of cases is now over one hundred, but people are recovering and there have been no deaths so far.
So what to do when you’re in self-isolation? I’ve always got a pile of books to read and shows to watch, but I think it’s important to choice your material wisely. Don’t for example, watch HBO’s Chernobyl. Seriously, that would be a really stupid idea. Not something that I would ever do. No way.  
Be smart, and choose something from my recommendations: eleven chill, spiritual, life-affirming stories to read/watch while in self-isolation:

Monday, March 16, 2020

Links and Updates

The coronavirus has reached the South Island of New Zealand with (so far) one confirmed case, so it looks like we’ll be heading towards shut-downs and self-isolations soon enough. For now at least, life carries on as usual, but with a lot more hand sanitizer. I hope everyone out there is keeping safe, and not going crazy with panic buying.
I haven't done one of these posts for a while, because I am looking forward to precisely three upcoming projects, and no more…

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Meta: My Favourite Little Women...

My head is still full of Little Women, and since there have been so many adaptations over the years, I felt it was time for a post that ranked the best portrayals of each character. By which I mean the four sisters, their suitors and other important characters (I won't bother with minor characters such as Hannah or Mr March).
And for the record, I wouldn't dare say that my choices are the objective best, but rather are just my personal favourites that you can agree or disagree with as you see fit.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Woman of the Month: Brea

Brea from The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
There was a bounty of riches when it came to the portrayal of female characters in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Its trio of protagonists were made up of the rare configuration of two girls to one boy, a good chunk of the story focused on a High Queen and her three daughters, and the decision to make Gelfling society a matriarchy automatically put dozens of women into positions of power.
The two female leads were very different in personality, status, background and narrative purpose, but as much as I loved Deet’s quiet, understated bravery, it was Brea and her scholarly pursuit of knowledge, in an arc that involved research, problem solving and communication, that I really latched onto.
Brea’s role is to be an information-gatherer, but she also exists at the centre of the show’s family drama as the third daughter of the High Maudra, and one that doesn’t always live up to the expectations laid upon her. But her tendency to always get herself into trouble is the trait that makes her journey possible: she’s always asking questions, seeking answers, burrowing deeper.
So her role in the overarching story is one of discovery; of uncovering hard truths about the world she lives in and sharing them – even with those that don’t want to hear. After being granted a vision of a strange symbol, her curiosity leads her to a sentient rock creature concealed in a cavern under her mother’s throne, which in turn guides her to a desert dwelling where all the answers to the Skeksis’ true nature is waiting.
In light of this role as a truth seeker, I feel it really should have been her and not Rian who puts out the call to arms to the rest of the Gelfling clans through the fire (especially since everyone would have been more inclined to believe the daughter of the slain Maudra). But hey – her notebook, her relationship with her two sisters, and her discovery of the crystal shard all have their part to play.
From a technical point of view, I think Brea managed to have the most expressive face of all the Gelflings, whether she was thoughtful or frightened, desperate or tearful, and at times you forget you’re watching a puppet. That was the real joy of this show, to see an underrated art form once again be brought back into the spotlight, in such a way that expanded and enriched what was already a cult classic.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Reading/Watching Log #50

I am now one month into my New Year’s Resolution and it’s amazing! Female characters improve exponentially when they’re in the hands of female writers and directors, and I’ve enjoyed an abundance of stories that showcase them in all sorts of lights: as heroines, as villains, as complex and flawed mothers and writers and princesses and thieves.
Following on from Greta Gerwig’s take on Little Women, I revisited the 1994 version (probably closest to my generation’s heart) and the one from 1949, which are fascinating in their contrast, particularly regarding what scenes each one choses to adapt, and what sister they decide to focus on.
I made sure to see Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey in cinemas (I went in with no expectations, and it was fantastic!) and somehow ended up reading a lot of books based on Greek/Roman mythology: a witch, a princess and a goddess all made it onto this month’s list, along with a graphic novel about a young Wonder Woman.
It’s not perfect: in the three female-centric television shows I’ve watched there have still been fridged women, simply because certain toxic tropes run so deep into the patterns of storytelling that we’re not even close to rooting them all out. But even just the change to female-led (or at least female-friendly) stories has done wonders. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year…
(There are spoilers for pretty much everything I discuss under the cut, so tread carefully).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Standing Tall #27

Now this was one of my absolute favourite giraffes. Called Moa Giraffe by Mandii Pope, it was located by the Cashmere Valley Reserve (specifically, the playground) which was the perfect place given its connection to the natural world and its sense of fun.
This extinct bird is one of the iconic symbols of New Zealand, but obviously a two-legged flightless bird doesn't translate too well into the form of a giraffe. Yet Pope found a way: by painting its back legs to look like moa legs, and covering its front with native ferns, complete with two large eggs and baby hatchlings.  
Its body is covered in feathers, its nose is painted as a beak, and its ears and ossicones have become feathers. The finishing touch is a Māori Koru Headband (so we can infer this is a female giraffe, if the presence of eggs wasn't already a giveaway). 
It was one of my favourites, just for the novelty of the idea and the way it was carried off. A moa that looks like a giraffe. Genius.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Top Twelve Best Film/Television Moments in 2019

This is over a month late, but it’s taken that long to summon enough energy to summarize 2019. Here in New Zealand, it was marked by two terrible tragedies: the terrorist attack that claimed fifty-one lives at two mosques, and the eruption of Whakaari on White Island that killed twenty-two people. This isn’t taking into account the injuries both physical, mental and emotional.
But the latter was a natural disaster, the former was man-made, and as many said at the time, it destroyed the innocent of this country. Though it wasn’t our first mass shooting, it was the first that has been so racially motivated and certainly our biggest hate crime.
We’re coming up to the anniversary in March, and though it brought out the best in some (most) people, it also brought to light the unmistakable racism just brewing beneath the surface of our seemingly idyllic culture.
Working at my local library I was approached by an elderly man who opened the conversation with: “there are over a million Muslims in America, isn’t that scary?” which is without contest the stupidest thing anyone has ever said to me on so many stupid levels, as well as the elderly woman who complained about how taxpayers were going to pay for the funerals of the victims and the other elderly man who dropped: “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,” like it was the most profound fucking thing anyone has ever said (by this time, I was seasoned enough to challenge him on it).
If there is one consolation, it’s that all these people were in their seventies, which means their stupidity and hatefulness will be dead in the ground along with them sooner rather than later (too harsh? Don’t care) but it’s a chilling indictment of what’s really going on in some people’s brains – especially since they were clearly motivated by the attack in their decision to say these things aloud.
The underlying sense of victim-blaming combined with bizarre resentfulness that they were not the victims of a Muslim terrorist attack is grotesque, and openly smeared on their smug, entitled, wrinkly little faces.  
That’s not even getting into the ongoing prejudice and racism towards Maori in New Zealand, which certainly isn’t going to go away any time soon (choice quotes from customers: “they’re as cunning as a Maori dog,” and the old git who rambled on about the double-standards Pakeha are subjected to before my colleague dropped: “my husband is Maori” into his stream of verbal diarrhoea. He buggered off rather quickly after that, but guess who got an earful of his nonsense next time he decided to visit? Me, it was me).
So yeah. This has been the worst year since 2016 in terms of the horrible things that’ve happened in the world, all the more so because terrorism finally came to our isolated little islands, which I’ve long since believed (naively) would always be spared such horrors.
In the world of fandom, things weren’t much better – in regards to quality, not actual human suffering, obviously.
A staggering number of popular shows and franchises came to an end in 2019: PoldarkOrange is the New BlackA Series of Unfortunate EventsElementaryiZombieKilljoysInto the Badlands – even stuff I haven’t gotten around to watching yet, like Jane the VirginGothamMr Robot and Veep. There’s more scheduled for the chopping block in 2020: ArrowThe Good Place and Anne with an E have wrapped up, soon to be followed by the final seasons of VikingsThe 100HomelandHow to Get Away with Murder… even Supernatural and The Big Bang Theory, after what feels like an eternity.
The Netflix Marvel shows came to a premature end, cheating both Luke Cage and (believe it or not) Iron Fist out of third seasons to wrap up their storylines, and among movie franchises we saw the X-Men go out with a whimper, How To Train Your Dragon manage considerably better, Toy Story 4 negate pretty much everything the last three films tried to teach us, and whatever the heck M. Night Shymalan’s Unbreakable trilogy was. Even It: Chapter Two brought home the concluding sequel this year.
And of course, the big three: The MCU, Game of Thrones and Star Wars. Ironically the one I cared about the least stuck its landing the best, whereas the latter two are currently undergoing a world-wide memory scrub.
Unsurprisingly there’s going to be a LOT more coming from all three of these franchises, but I find myself in a blissful state of calm knowing that I’m not going to watch any of them. I haven’t even seen TROS yet, and I doubt I will for a while given that fandom is a nightmare, it doesn’t sound very good anyway, and I’m totally oversaturated by the whole thing. I think it’s time we as a whole stepped away from these big blockbusters and sought out smaller, more interesting projects, which have a greater chance of being good (or at least thought-provoking) and result in fandoms that aren’t as insanely hysterical.
So it was the end of an era in many ways, and I had plenty to keep me busy: I got through all the Disney Princess films with a friend who had never seen any of them, cracked down on my TBR books and now only have a few thousand left to read, and saw some great stuff like The Dark Crystal: ResistanceCarnival Row, and the third season of Stranger Things. I suppose His Dark Materials fits in here too, as it was a treat to see it re-adapted for the screen, though it wasn’t anywhere as good as it could have been.
It was also a good year for the theatre, and I got to see Aladdin on stage, Swan LakeThe Wind in the Willows and Measure for Measure. Some times it makes all the difference to see a live performance instead of something on the screen.
There was also plenty of Alfred Hitchcock, though he’s not going to fit well into my New Year’s Resolution: to focus on stories that are female-centric and female-written. If 2019 taught me anything it’s that male writers in general (not in specific cases) still have a staggeringly long way to go when it comes to depicting female characters in ways that don’t render them as victims, sacrifices, nurturers, villains, or vessels for some dude’s redemption, emotional growth, or man-pain.
With that in mind, I’ve tried to make the following list something of a tribute to the women who didn’t get horribly treated by their respective stories in 2019…