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Monday, September 28, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E02

We start with the downstairs morning dance of getting breakfast prepared, and it hits me that this is the last season. I'm going to miss this!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Standing Tall #11

This was one of the very first giraffes I came across, and I was under the impression that the orange/yellow colours and pointing arrows were symbolic of the rising sun and the upward movement of the Christchurch rebuild.
Turns out it had more to do with the law firm Anthony Harper, who commissioned this particular giraffe to commemorate its 150th anniversary. Designed by Alejandra Diaz, it had a good position on Worchester Bridge and I personally prefer my own take on the meaning of its colour scheme/symbolism.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vixen: Episode 5

This is a couple of days late, but never mind!

We’ve finally arrived at the real meat of the story – which happens to take place in the penultimate episode. As I said last week, I've no idea how they're all going to wrap this up in under five minutes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Downton Abbey S06E01

Well, we've arrived at last to the very final season of Downton Abbey. I think it's safe to say that the show has reached its use-by date, and all that remains is for Julian Fellowes to usher out the Crawley family and servants with as much dignity as possible.
That said, I do think that a lot of viewers are needlessly vitriolic about the course the show has taken in recent years. Certainly it's not as good as it used to be, but for the most part I don't think it had any particularly high storytelling ambitions in the first place.
To accurately recreate an era drawing to a close, to explore the relationship between the upper and lower classes, to be light and frothy and occasionally witty – that's the purpose of Downton Abbey, and it's been pulling that off successfully for the last six years.
I'm hardly emotionally invested at this point, but I want to see this out to the end...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Links and Updates

Last weekend I went to see Spamalot at the Isaac Theatre Royal; which was due to open back in 2010 but had to be postponed after the Christchurch earthquake. Having been delayed by five years, it was rather surreal to sit down and finally see it unfold (thank goodness we didn't buy tickets the first time around).
It was a lot of fun, though I had the same problem with it as I did with The Phantom of the Opera – having seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail so many times, I knew most of the gags and routines (the swallow debate, the Trojan Bunny, the Knights that say Ni, the Black Knight and his flesh wound).
But as well as being a musical, it also had more of a unifying narrative than the film, largely thanks to the frequent appearances of the Lady of the Lake (who, in a twist that makes no sense whatsoever, also turns out to be Guinevere).
It was a fun night, and no doubt a relief to the actors and other performers to finally reach their opening night.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Vixen: Episode 4

This was definitely the best episode so far! If you've been on the fence over whether or not to watch, then this is the instalment that should help you make up your mind. But come on, these episodes are only five minutes long! Surely no one is that strapped for time.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: The Legend of Korra: Book One: Air

This weekend I took the opportunity to rewatch the first season of The Legend of Korra, and wow – who can deny it was a discouraging beginning? Naturally expectations were high after the success of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and with the exception of a few overzealous Zutara shippers who seemed convinced that developments such as Aang/Katara marrying and having children was a direct pot-shot at them, most people were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next Avatar.
It didn't quite work out the way we expected. Character development was stilted, the storyline was resolved with a hat-trick of deus ex machinas, and too much time was wasted on that tedious love triangle. (Why are writers convinced that audiences want love triangles? Is it because of Twilight? Is that what's to blame?)
But by looking back in hindsight from the vantage point of all four seasons, I found myself warming up a little to Book One. Yes, there were some missteps, and no, nobody cared about Pro-Bending, but for the most part these issues were ironed out in subsequent seasons. Reading back through the post I made just after the season finale aired, it was obvious that I was disappointed but still hopeful – and I'm very grateful that I hung in there for the duration of the entire show.
So here it is, the review I wrote back in July 2012, reblogged here for the sake of posterity. I found it interesting that many of my initial complaints were dealt with across the duration of season two (though the show didn't really hit its stride until season three), and maybe you'll recognize some of your own disgruntlement after Book One wrapped up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vixen: Episode 3

There's not a lot to say about this one, for it exists largely as a transitory episode, comprised of the time-honoured superhero tradition of bringing a single confidant in on the secret, and in finally bringing Arrow and the Flash up to speed on Mari's existence.
They actually turn up on her doorstep looking like this.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Standing Tall #10

I'll admit I was initially a bit bewildered by the title of this one: Zarafa's Blue Mandala's by Jeremey Sauzier, but a little research filled me in.
Zarafa was a female Nubian giraffe who was sent as a gift to King Charles X of France by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1827. She lived in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris for 18 years, and her stuffed body is currently still on display in the La Rochelle museum. Mandalas are ritualistic symbols found in India that represent the wholeness of the universe, here portrayed in blue and white to reflect delicate china patterns.
Put them together and you've got a striking blend of history and religious symbolism, though the sculpture was somewhat unfortunately placed in the shadow of a large stone pillar covered in advertisements. As such, it sort of slipped my notice when I visited it for the first time; now in hindsight it's clear what a lovely design it had.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Review: Beyond the Briar

A few months back I mentioned attending a small ceremony for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, where among other things I got to meet my fellow nominees. Among them was Shelley Chappell, who was in the running for Best New Talent on the strength of her short story anthology Beyond the Briar.
We exchanged emails, we did lunch, and I came home with a copy of her book. As those who follow me on Tumblr will know, my dash is filled with art, illustrations and gifs that demonstrate my love for fairy tales, so I'm always on the lookout for a fresh take on the old material. 
Beyond the Briar contains four stories based on Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, though with a little gender-flipping and setting changes, Shelley manages to turn the familiar beats of each story into something innovative and unexpected. Once they're removed from the traditional European backdrop, it's interesting to see how the mythologies, traditions and flavours of international cultures can change the shape and flow of the old stories.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Vixen: Episode 2

Do you know what comes after action-packed cold opens? Exposition of course!

Vixen handles it pretty well; in fact they manage to package all the requisite information in quite an interesting way: first through a flashback to ten-year old Mari, and then through an encounter with an archaeologist professor which holds traces of romantic chemistry before it's revealed he's secretly selling our heroine out. Darn it, he was cute!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Woman of the Month: Giulia Farnese

Giulia Farnese from The Borgias
Watching all three seasons of The Borgias gave me plenty of candidates for Woman of the Month, most obviously in Lucrezia, the girl who goes from na├»ve innocent to political player, and Caterina Sforza, the woman who proudly identifies herself as a freak of nature due to the fact she lives her life with the power and freedom of a man. Either one would have been a shoe-in for this post, but instead I found my thoughts turning to Giulia Farnese, a woman who begins the drama in the rather inauspicious role of mistress to the Pope.
She may seem like an odd choice for Woman of the Month, but across the course of the three seasons, Giulia manages the impressive feat of surviving her relationship with a Borgia. Other assorted lovers, associates and enemies of the family do not fare as well, but Giulia is characterized right from the start as a woman of cool intelligence – more than that, a woman devoid of jealousy or resentment when it comes to potential rivals. And it's perhaps this very trait that secures her future.
Having pointed out to Lucrezia that the lack of control women have over their own destinies often pits them against each other, she elegantly defies this stereotype by befriending (or at least allying herself with) the Pope's former mistress Vanozza Dei Catteni, seeking out her advice and assistance on more than one occasion. It is Vanozza who counsels her to accept Rodrigo's wandering eye and to procure for herself a palace and pension, so that when the Pope's affection finally does wane, she has the means to carry on her comfortable lifestyle. In return, Giulia passes much of her wisdom on to Vanozza's daughter Lucrezia, teaching her how to use her charms and beauty to her advantage.
It's a welcome change from the usual role you would expect a character like Giulia to play – that of the jealous mistress, hateful of any competition and terrified of losing her position in her lover's affections. Instead she's portrayed as a deeply pragmatic woman, well aware that her position as Rodrigo's mistress is a temporary affair, and clever enough to prepare for the winter of her life while she has the chance.
Hers is a story of quiet, dignified survival; an outcome achieved with so much poise and composure that it's almost soothing to watch.