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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.

Downton Abbey: S06E06

Eep, I'm pretty late for this one, but hey – at least my Polytech assignment is finished!

I'm enjoying this season more than any other since the first, and I can't help but feel that Julian Fellowes' writing has been reinvigorated by the fast-approaching finish line. There's no excuse now for stalling or backtracking; the end is in sight and so he can plot his episodes accordingly. As such the show has a forward momentum that's been missing for a long time.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: X-Men Evolution

My assignment is finished! Time to celebrate!
It's been over a decade since X-Men Evolution first aired between 2000 and 2003, but I enjoyed it enough to record most of the episodes on videotape – yes, in those days we had to resort to such arcane measures if we wanted to have copies of our favourite shows. My sister in particular completely loved it, and though those old tapes are long gone, all four seasons of the show are now freely available on YouTube.
One of the biggest questions that arise when you're about to rewatch something you haven't seen in years is: will it hold up? There have been so many films and books I wish I'd never tracked down again because my memories of them were so rosy it was inevitably a let-down when I returned to them as an adult.
But I'm happy to say that X-Men Evolution is still pretty good. Not without its flaws, but still a coherent and rewarding piece of television. Like I said in my last post, the inevitable point of comparison is X-Men: TAS, which (as much as I adored it as a kid) has not aged well. It's certainly not unwatchable, but I can't help but feel that a viewer unused to the distinctive style of nineties cartoons would be utterly bewildered by it. And possibly a bit scared as well.
But X-Men Evolution is something you could sit a small child in front of, knowing they would understand the gist of what was going on – at least most of the time. So here's my controversial opinion that will no doubt draw the ire of anyone out there in their late twenties/early thirties: X-Men Evolution tells a better overarching story than X-Men: TAS. Indubitably.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E05

I suppose after an episode like last week's, it's only natural to have a rather tepid follow-up. At least, for most of its run-time. I can't fairly say that Lord Grantham vomiting blood all over the dinner table, complete with his wife getting caught in the spray, is "tepid."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Links and Updates

Okay, I know I was supposed to have my X-Men Evolution review up this week, but my Polytechnic assignment is looming, so I've had to put it on hold. But don't worry, it's coming. And I've got TONS of stuff to say about it, especially when it comes to Rogue. Heck, I may have to write a meta about the role of teenage girls in the X-Men franchise when I'm done.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E04

This episode was a GIFT. Easily the best one they've had in years.
We'll start with what I was most excited about: Gwen's return to Downton. I was spoiled for her arrival, but I wasn't sure whether she would get the chance to mention Sybil (and my heart was set on it). And then... oh man, it was better than I ever could have expected!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Review: X-Men The Animated Series

If you grew up in the nineties, it's a safe bet that you watched X-Men: The Animated Series, and in so many ways it captures that decade to perfection: the fashions, the hairstyles, the music, the totally radical codenames. In the same breath, one has to admit that in just as many ways, it's dated badly

But it's also a fundamental part of X-Men history, introducing the story and characters to a non-comic book reading audience, drawing in a lasting generation of fans, and leading to countless playground arguments over who was what character.  It perhaps even paved the way for the current film franchise.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Arrow: Birds of Prey

Yes, I'm still chugging along with Arrow, though at this stage I'm at least one whole season behind. Apparently season four has just started, though it feels like only yesterday that season three aired. Is it just me or do hiatuses feel shorter when they're for shows you don't regularly watch?

As the title would suggest, this is a female-centric episode, and for the most part they deliver on that implicit promise. And surprise, surprise, taking the focus off Oliver actually makes for a pretty good episode – as Suicide Squad already proved, the last episode I watched over two months ago.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Downton Abbey: S06E03

Well, Fellowes is scoring some major points this season – so much so you can tell the end is nigh. Marriages, pregnancies, new love interests, old characters ... With the greatest obstacles being fuss over a hospital and squabbling amidst the servants, you can tell a definitive happy ending is on the horizon.

But I'm calling it now: Lord Grantham will be deceased by series end. There's too much emphasis on his indigestion for it to be a coincidence, and it'll be the most potent symbol of the class system breaking down since James Cameron sunk the Titanic.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review: Pryde of the X-Men

People who follow me on Tumblr know I've been on a bit of an X-Men blitz recently. The upcoming release of X-Men Apocalypse (possibly the last in the franchise, along with the final Wolverine spin-off) has reawakened my love for these characters and their unique place in the superhero genre.
But I'll get to the films in due course. For the moment I want to head back to the small screen and my childhood to revisit the incarnation of the X-Men that I grew up with. X-Men: The Animated Series ran from 1992 to 1997 and is generally considered a valiant and influential (though since dated) attempt at capturing the spirit of the characters and the most famous story-arcs of the comic books.
A trip down memory lane was in order, but why stop there? From 2000–2003 another animated series called X-Men Evolution was aired to coincide with the successful release of the first feature film, and though this one belonged more to my little sister's generation (they were "her" X-Men in the same way the nineties cartoon was "mine") I remembered it fondly.
Then I found out that a third animated series called Wolverine and the X-Men was released sometime around 2009, one I had never seen (or at least never recalled seeing) and which was cancelled after only one season. And of course, there's ten Hollywood films and counting – the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy, the spin-off trilogy, and the cross-over.
The path seemed clear. I had to watch all of it. So I did.
And yet I'm not going to start this retrospective with any of the above projects. Instead I'm heading back to the very first appearance of the X-Men on screen. (Well almost – apparently a few had guest-roles in The Fantastic Four and Spiderman cartoons, but I have to draw the line somewhere). An animated television pilot called Pryde of the X-Men was originally broadcast in 1989 but never picked up for a full season.
That its title is a bad pun on the main character's last name pretty much sums up why.
X-Men: Eighties style.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Woman of the Month: Mari McCabe

Mari McCabe from Vixen
Is it any surprise that I went for Vixen as October's woman of the month?
I know that Arrow has its problems, but I will give it credit for one thing: exploring and sustaining its ever-widening universe. It has currently spawned two spin-offs (The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow), an animated web series (Vixen, naturally) and even retroactively incorporated a character from an otherwise unrelated cancelled television show into its continuity (Constantine). It's comparable to what Marvel are doing on the big screen, but in some ways on an even larger scale.
And so the exciting thing about Mari is that she's introduced to us as part of a much bigger world; simultaneously making her stand out and blend in.  One of my favourite tropes is Hero of Another Story, which (when used well) gives us the sense that there's a lot going on outside the experiences of the main character; that meaningful battles and important events can occur without their involvement.
Such is the case with Mari, who is very much the main character of her own story, one in which Barry and Oliver come across as unwelcome meddlers. It would have been very easy for the writers to make her a typical Mystery of the Week in the ongoing adventures of Arrow and the Flash, but instead she's kept front and centre of the action. They're the guest stars, as well as convenient tools used to demonstrate just how powerful Mari is.
But what I like most about her is that she's an adult. Unlike Oliver and Barry, who have to go through a lot of character development across the course of their respective shows, Mari comes across as a grown woman: mature, self-assured and in control of her destiny. (Obviously there's nothing wrong with character development, but it's nice to occasionally get someone who is already fully-formed). 
Another interesting touch is that Mari's motivation is based entirely on her desire to find out about her background – and a totem is less valuable for its magical abilities as it is as a clue to her past. Though in saying that, she naturally joins the ranks of vigilante superheroism by the end of the show. 
There was some disappointment that Vixen was introduced as part of a (very) short-running  web-series, with episodes barely clocking in at five minutes. But as there's still plenty more to learn about Mari McCabe, hopefully her story has performed well enough to warrant Megalyn Echikunwoke appearing on one of the three Arrow-related shows in the near future.

Vixen: Episode 6

We’ve reached the final episode, and I feel that my appetite has only just been whetted on all things Vixen. Altogether these webisodes have clocked in at just under half an hour, and as I suspected, more than a few shortcuts have been taken when it comes to wrapping up Mari's story. Or at least this particular story.