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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Women of the Year: A Brief Retrospective

Okay, so I have one more thing to post before getting to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For the past year I've been choosing one woman per month to showcase on my blog, and it's though it's been a difficult task, happily the difficulties have arisen from a surplus of great female characters, not an absence. Now that the year has come to an end, I've posted my twelve Women on the Month on Tumblr, and I thought I'd expand the project to some of the ladies who didn't make the cut – not because they weren't fab in their own way, but because – well, when you limited yourself to only one per month, not everyone can be included.
So here's my list of the great female characters I discovered or revisited this year; those who I found the most inspirational, the most enjoyable, the most well-rounded, the best written and performed.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Downton Abbey: The Finale

Well, that's it. Downton Abbey is over.
I'm...not entirely sure what to say. It's been six years since the show's inception; that's over half a decade of these characters in this setting, and now it's all come to a close in a rather swift and unsentimental manner.
As it happens, I've had all six seasons playing as background noise whilst going about my daily chores during the gap between the end of the last season and Christmas Day, so I had everything that preceded this finale fresh in my mind while watching.
Well, almost. I saw Star Wars the day before watching this, and my thoughts have been pretty much obliterated by the experience. So I have no idea whether Downton Abbey's final episode felt lacklustre in the wake of a mind-blowing movie, or if it really did go out with more of a whimper than a bang.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rewatch: The Tunnel: S01E04

The advantage to shows which start slowly is that as they continue, they get discernibly better week-by-week as the plot kicks in and the tension ratchets up a notch. I was pretty riveted from start to finish this time around, with the various detectives pooling their resources in the hopes of finding Delplanque before he dies of hypothermia. Elsewhere, subplots that have seemed rather irrelevant are getting sewn into the fabric of the murder case, with various clues dished out as to how the killer is pulling all this off. It’s like watching a huge jigsaw puzzle be slowly pieced together.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The 100: Long Into An Abyss, Spacewalker, Remember Me

Okay I cheated. I couldn't resist the siren-song of the third season's trailer, so I went ahead and marathoned all the remaining episodes of this season. As such, from this point on I'll be reviewing with foreknowledge of how things pan out, which eliminates the chance for any speculation, but at least lets me examine these three-episode portions from within the context of the entire season.  

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: The Others

So was anyone else watching The Others fifteen years ago? Probably not, as it sometimes feels I'm the only person in the world who knows it ever existed in the first place.
Not to be confused with the Nicole Kidman film of the same name or the bad guys of LostThe Others ran for a single season of only thirteen episodes back in 2000 before getting cancelled without much fanfare. It's never been released on DVD and probably never will be. There was no critical acclaim, no cult following, no fandom campaigns to save it – the show just slipped quietly into that goodnight.
But as it happens, I have a fascination with shows that are prematurely cancelled. There's something so unfulfilled about them: that although their premise was strong enough to get them on the air, they just didn't manage to garner enough of an audience to carry their story through to its natural conclusion.
I couldn't tell you what it was that drew me to The Others in the first place, as it was too long ago that I watched its original broadcast. However, I ended up with all the episodes recorded on videotape which I staunchly refused to erase for years on end, so obviously it had some effect on my teenage-self – and when I happened to chance upon the full episodes on YouTube last month, a walk down memory lane was in order.
SPOILERS for a show that ended fifteen years ago...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Arrow: Seeing Red

I'm so close to the end I can taste it...
This episode is essentially forty minutes of misdirection before it swerves into a game-changing murder. While the audience is distracted by Roy and the effects the mirakuru have on him, sending him rampaging around the city and focusing his hyper-rage on Thea, the episode is all the while setting up Moira Queen's swansong.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Rewatch: The Tunnel: S01E03

So I’m beginning to get the hang of this show’s format. Every week the detectives inch closer understanding what the killer is trying to achieve, whilst new side characters are slipped in and given their own subplots that may only seem tangentially connected at first, but eventually end up being fairly crucial to the overarching flow of the series.

As much time is spent on these periphery characters as it is on our lead investigators, which means that there’s the danger of what I call AAK syndrome (that is, Audience Already Knows syndrome).
Because the viewer is given access to information that the investigators are not, the show spends a fair bit of time showing us Karl and Elise figuring out stuff that the audience is already aware of: that Suze was stealing medication from the nursing home, that Suze and Gemma had the same pimp, that the teenagers who find the veteran are not involved with his kidnapping. But there are a few clever ways in which they manage to avoid the pit-falls that comes with this “viewer knows before character” style of storytelling...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Downton Abbey: Season Three

In the lead-up to the final Downton Abbey Christmas Special, and in preparation of a forthcoming "Best Downton Abbey Moments" post, I've gone right back to season one and started watching from its inception. Well, not "watching" exactly, but I've had it running as background noise while getting on with study/chores/writing. Having just finished season three I thought I'd transfer my original review (posted on LiveJournal) to this blog for the sake of posterity.  

I found some of my predictions and complaints interesting in light of where the show has ended up, and my thoughts on Sybil's death are (I think) still relevant three seasons later – though I couldn't help but add a few little updated comments in italics.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The 100: Many Happy Returns, Human Trials, Fog of War

So in my last review I talked a bit a lot about Clarke and her tenacity, and I've come to realize that her behaviour at Mount Weather reminds me a lot of Harry's in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Just as Clarke refuses to give up her suspicions surrounding the Mountain Men, so too does Harry insist that Draco Malfoy is up to something during their sixth year at Hogwarts.
But whilst J.K. Rowling was running a double-bluff, relying on the wrong conclusions Harry drew about Malfoy in The Chamber of Secrets to make us believe he was just being paranoid, The 100 has a fairly straightforward utilization of The Conspiracy.  

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Rewatch: The Tunnel: S01E02

The plot thickens as the killer’s patterns and motivation begin to reveal themselves, a few more supporting characters are introduced to the mix, and another dramatic murder closes the episode.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The 100: The 48, Inclement Weather and Reapercussions

The airdate for the third season of The 100 has been announced, which means it's time to get season two under my belt. Quickly.
When we last saw what remained of the 100 at the end of the first season, they were largely divided. Finn and Bellamy raced off into the forest, Clarke, Monty and Jasper were taken by Mountain Men, Raven was left abandoned in the drop-ship, Octavia and Lincoln decided to head toward the ocean, Abbie and Kane (and the rest of their people) crash-landed on the planet, and Jaha was left in the remains of the Ark.
So in writing this review of the second season's first three episodes, it's easy enough to follow each separate strand one at a time, as for the most part there's little interaction between the disparate characters (with the exception of Finn/Bellamy temporarily teaming up with Abbie/Kane).
Here goes...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Women of the Month: Donna Meagle

Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation
Usually these entries come pretty easily to me, but it's been a struggle to decide what female character should be showcased in December. Other potential candidates ranged from Downton Abbey's Mary Crawley to X-Men's Emma Frost to the Loathly Lady of Arthurian legend. But who was the right pick for 2015's final Woman of the Month?  
As it happens, I've spent the last eleven months gradually wending my way through all seven seasons of Parks and Recreation, my logic being that since it ended in February this year, it was as good a time as any to watch it straight through from the beginning. And what a great show. I laughed, I cried, I did all the things a viewer is supposed to do when they're emotionally engaged with a television series. By the time I reached the final episode I didn't want it to end, particularly as I had grown so attached to its cast of characters.
And there were plenty of women to choose from. Leslie Knope, for her ambition and work ethic and inability to give up. The unapologetically sardonic and dour April. Ann, that beautiful tropical fish/rule-breaking moth/powerful musk-ox/poetic land-mermaid. I could have even gone with Jennifer Barkley or Ethel Beavers or Diane Lewis.
But at the end of the day, there's only one contender: Donna Meagle. Why? Because she's the character I most aspire to be.  Donna Meagle has mastered the art of self-love. She knows what she deserves. She values herself. She relishes the finer things in life and sees no reason to feel bad about it.  She truly enjoys her life.
For a long time one of the show's running gags was the richness and mysteriousness of Donna's life outside of work, and it was only in the later seasons that this was given the attention it deserved, focusing on her love-life, family relations and personal goals for the future. We’re also given more layers to her characterization: her warm heart, her beautiful singing voice, and her sharp understanding of those around her.
She's summed up best in the episode that has the rest of the office choosing their individual spirit-dogs – but after much deliberation and a little drama, it's decided that Donna doesn't have one. Because she's a cat.
And of course, we can't forget the precious gift she gave this entire generation, the one we'll all carry with us into the future and pass on to our grandchildren: Treat Yo Self Day.
I love her, and can think of no better New Year's Resolution than to strive to be more like her.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Arrow: The Man Under the Hood

To borrow a quote from Gandalf: "the board is set, the pieces are moving..." which is an appropriate summation for this episode, and the last episode, and quite possibly the next episode as well (I haven't seen it yet).
Though I can get a bit snarky in these reviews, I do enjoy Arrow (I wouldn't be writing about it if I didn't) and I'm in it for the long haul. That said, there's been some tripping up on the way to this season's finish line, and this episode in particular felt very "bitsy" in terms of what it was trying to do.
Which was to move things into position for the finale, deal with the fallout of the last episode's revelations, introduce two new characters for the spin-off, present the possibility of a mirakuru cure in the flashbacks, and bring back Roy. There's no thematic or narrative unity in any of those tasks, and as a result this episode felt like a checklist of things that had to be ticked off in order to proceed to the next one.
So, let's go through them all one by one.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Rewatch: The Tunnel: S01E01

The Tunnel: Sabotage is scheduled for early next year, so now seems as good a time as any to revisit the first series. Back in 2013 I made the decision not to watch the original Scandinavian drama Bron/Broen, partly because I didn't have time, and partly because I didn't want to watch two shows in quick succession that have virtually the same plot.

You probably know the setup by now: the dead body of a woman is found at the exact mid-point of the Eurotunnel, her head in France and her feet in Britain. Two sets of investigators are dispatched to the location: on the French side is Elise Wasserman (Clémence Poésy), a young Brigade Criminelle Captain with an Ambiguous Disorder (probably autism or Asperger's) that goes largely unmentioned, and on the British side is middle-aged Karl Roebuck (Stephan Dillane), an easy-going father of five children (to three different mothers, though he’s happily married to the third).
Yet when the time comes to move the body, it becomes apparent that they’re dealing with not one but two victims: the head and torso of the missing French MP has been severed at the waist, and the legs belong to a British prostitute that disappeared several months ago. Naturally, this forces the two sides to work together to track down the culprit.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Standing Tall #13

This giraffe is aptly named The Builder and is located where the Park Royal Hotel once stood. Now the site is called The Commons and serves as a welcome bit of green space in the middle of the city, though I have plenty of fond memories of the hotel: watching the Christmas Parade from its walls, riding up and down the glass elevator, and having bunch in its atrium with my aunt and sister.
Designed by artist Paulina Porebska, the giraffe is also apt in the sense it was sponsored by Harcourts, one of our real estate companies. I also think of it as a tribute to all the international rescue and construction workers that came to aid Christchurch in the clean-up effort.
The hard hat and fluorescent vest is familiar garb for any of the builders in the city, but I love the "skin" of the giraffe: a bright royal blue. Because why not? And it was a great contrast to the yellow. 
(In case you're wondering why I'm sticking my tongue out, it's because it was a hot day and I was wearing jeans. Not a good idea).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Arrow: Deathstroke

I will get through this season, so help me!
This was a fairly pivotal episode, one in which secrets are revealed and agendas become clearer, though at the same time the main storyline was complete nonsense. In order to recruit a bunch of convicts being transferred to a newly rebuilt wing at Iron Heights, Slade stages a diversion that involves kidnapping Thea off the street, sending a live feed of her to the mayoral candidacy debate, and leading the police and Oliver on a merry dance around the city.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Links and Updates

The last time I made one of these posts, the full-length Star Wars trailer was released the very next day. I've been dying to talk about it ever since.
On a scale of one to ten on the "how much do you love Star Wars?" spectrum, I would place myself at about a seven. I enjoy the films (even the prequels) but have never read any of the supplementary material or watched The Clone Wars – I wouldn't even know where to start. The original trilogy wasn't what I would call an intrinsic or formative part of my childhood, as it wasn't until I was about ten or eleven years old that I watched them in their entirety (and for some reason I ended up seeing The Return of the Jedi first).
But I enjoy them immensely, am looking forward to sharing them with my nephew, and fully appreciate their importance in cinematic history.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: Crimson Peak

This may sound impossible, but Crimson Peak was nothing like what I expected, and yet exactly what I expected. All the promotional material would have you believe it's a Gothic Horror, a misconception so great that Guillermo del Toro felt compelled to take to Twitter and insist that it was a Gothic Romance.
This difference became clear to me within the first twenty minutes of the film, which spends more time on the budding courtship between Edith Cushing and Thomas Sharpe than it does any of the nightly spectres. As such, I was left with my paradoxical statement: that Crimson Peak wasn't what I initially expected, but once the ball started rolling I knew exactly how it would unfold.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E08

Well, that was ... that.
I'll admit it, over the last two weeks I fell into something of a Mary/Branson vortex. Deep down I knew it was never going to happen, and I could understand the logic of it not happening, and I will continue to appreciate their platonic (and now explicit) love for each other, but I enjoyed their rapport so much this season that I let myself get caught up in the hope that Fellowes would pull a last minute switcheroo and surprise us all.
In the lead-up to this episode the various ship manifestos strewn across the internet calmed me down a little (off-the-wall theorizing usually has the opposite effect on my expectations that such echo chambers usually create) and I've come to the conclusion that when it comes to plot, writers will throw all sorts of red herrings into the mix. But when it comes to shipping, what you see is what you get.
Which of course, is exactly why viewers often take the path less travelled (or the ship less sign-posted) when it comes to the relationships on their screen – they prefer the slow burn to the obvious route.
But I can live with that disappointment. What I'm really galled at is the way the long-simmering Edith/Mary feud was handled. Because I was confident it would play out far better than it was.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review: Indian Summers

It's the easiest thing in the world to reach for Downton Abbey as the natural comparison to Indian Summers, though in fact it better serves as a contrast. Both are period pieces set within a decade of each other, both focus on two distinct classes of people, and both are preoccupied with capturing a particular time and place. But let's be honest – Downton Abbey is a love-letter to the past, giving the occasional hat-tip to sexism, racism and classism, but ultimately existing as tribute and homage to a bygone era.
Indian Summers is infinitely more critical about the period it portrays (India in 1932 during the waning years of the British Raj), ensuring that the class/racial tensions that exist between characters sits at the core of every one of its myriad plots. Unlike the more soap opera storylines of Downton Abbey, which could be transplanted into the modern era without much tweaking, Indian Summers is a story deeply entrenched in the events of history, with characters fundamentally shaped and changed by them.
The difference between the two shows is captured most clearly in the portrayal of Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) and Cynthia Coffin (Julie Walters). Both are matriarchal figures, both are considerably powerful woman, and both are played by beloved British actresses. But whereas Violet Crawley is given few foibles in regards to her old-fashioned views (spouting classist, sexist, and – if not racist, than at least highly xenophobic – opinions) the narrative still adores her, inviting the audience to laugh affectionately at her harmless prejudices.
In sharp contrast, Cynthia Coffin is deconstructed within an inch of her life. Initially presented as a warm and friendly club-owner still mourning the death of her husband and displaying a motherly affection for one of our main characters, her layers are gradually peeled back across the course of the first season's ten episodes to reveal a racist, manipulative and extremely nasty individual.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E07

Let's play a game I like to call Take It Out Of Context.
A distraught woman stands in a darkened hall. A man watches her from the nearest doorway and then quickly approaches to clasp her hands. Both of them are on the verge of tears as he tells her: "You’re frightened of being hurt again. But let me tell you this, you will be hurt again, and so will I, because being hurt is part of being alive. But that is no reason to give up on the man who is right for you." Overcome, the woman breaks away and rushes upstairs, the man sadly watching her go.
They're lovers, obviously. Or at least on the verge of becoming so. Right?
Nope, it's Tom and Mary, once again proving that more emotion and vulnerability exists between the two of them than it does with any of the love interests they've ever had – including Matthew and Sybil. YEAH I SAID IT.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Woman of the Month: Sooni Dalal

Sooni Dalal from Indian Summers
I've been sitting on my review for Indian Summers for months now – I keep meaning to finish it, but other projects are forever cropping up and demanding my attention. But as it's currently airing on American television, I'll commit to completing it within the month - and as a reminder to myself, I've decided to make one of its many compelling female characters my choice for Woman of the Month.
What makes Sooni Dalal stand out is that she's the light in a story that's very much told in shades of grey. No one is wholly good or bad, and every character exists on a wide spectrum of virtuous to corrupt behaviour. The cruel are capable of great kindness, and the well-meaning can make horrendous mistakes.
Yet Sooni is someone the audience can truly trust, simply because she's the only character who isn't lying about who she is or what she wants. With the passion and idealism of youth, she's staunchly opposed to the rule of the British Raj and is highly critical of her older brother Aafrin's job as a clerk to the Private Secretary to the Viceroy of India. In many ways she operates as his shoulder-angel – if such angels were judgmental and temperamental little sisters.
She is often in over her head when it comes to her political beliefs (a stint in a jail call after attending a rally shows her the ugly side of civil disobedience), but no one can doubt the sincerity of her conviction. Yet at the same time she sits at a fascinating intersection of gender and politics, for though she fights for Indian independence, her father is quick to point out that the education with which she fights it is the result of British colonization.
She's outspoken and brash, and incidentally, quite lovely as well. But for now at least any romantic entanglements play no part in her story arc, and by the end of the show's first season she's been placed in a position (narratively speaking) that may well influence the course of her country's history.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Despite the date on this post, I celebrated Halloween yesterday thanks to international time zones, though it's clear that the holiday really hasn't caught on in New Zealand yet. I went out and specially brought a bag of Kit-Kats in anticipation of trick-or-treaters, and do you want to know how many turned up at my door?
In a way I suppose it's a good thing, as I've never understood the logic of teaching children not to take candy from strangers, only to set them loose once a year to do exactly that – but I was all prepared for the occasion, and am now forced to withstand the siren call of chocolate in my fridge before I can foist it all onto someone else.
But as I do every year, I re-watched Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, one of my favourite spooky movies of all time. The atmosphere, the suspense, the characterization – I know it's not considered Burton's best by a long shot (in fact, many consider it the first sign of his waning talent as a director), but it was the first horror movie I ever saw on the big-screen and I've loved it ever since.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Standing Tall #12

Fittingly, this gold giraffe was situated outside the Christchurch Casino, and they bought it permanently after the charity auction. Called We Are Worth It by Lin Klenner, my guidebook tells me it's meant to "reflect that beneath the rubble is a heart of gold".
Much like 3#, which was painted solid silver, there's not a lot of detail to admire, but it made for a striking landmark under the building's awning.