Monday, February 1, 2016

Links and Updates + Reading/Watching Log #1

Last December I watched as Korra and Asami walked hand-in-hand into the spirit world together. This December I watched as Rey used the Force to call Luke Skywalker's lightsaber to her hand. If this keeps up, I may not survive whatever next December has in store...

Things that happened in 2015
2015 was a pretty good year on a personal level, mainly because I finally made some headway in regards to all those big scary decisions about what you'll be spending the rest of your life doing. Which for me, involved getting a new job at Fendalton Library and studying towards a diploma in Library and Information Studies.
As mum would say, I've finally found my niche – but as a special bonus, I'm enjoying it.
I also accepted a Julius Vogel Award for Best Fan Writing in June, a ceremony which amusingly enough took place in the library I now work in. In hindsight, perhaps it was fate, or a sign, or something along those lines.
It was also a good year for my theatre-loving-self considering the Isaac Theatre Royal reopened after the Canterbury earthquakes – which means I finally got to see The Phantom of the Opera (my guiltiest of guilty pleasures) as well as A Midsummer Night's Dream and Spamalot. More recently I saw Mary Poppins at the relocated Court Theatre, and it was rather fascinating to see the differences between book, film and stage show.
One of the reasons P.L. Travers hated Disney's adaptation was because he changed its tone so drastically in the shift from page to screen, but the show manages to blend the songs of the Sherman Brothers with a storyline that feels more in the spirit of Travers's novel. For instance, the song Supercalifragalistic is given a new context, sung not at the race course but at a secret shop that specializes in selling letters and making words.
There's also original material (unless it appears in one of Travers's later books that I haven't read yet) such as a statue at the park coming to life and a terrible new nanny arriving at the Banks house that Mary has to defeat in a sing-off. Really. Other things are omitted completely (the tea party on the ceiling is one of the very few things the film kept from the books, yet it's been excluded here) but there's an attempt to recapture the original strain of darkness and mystery that Mary possessed in the novel. There's a knowing smirk that never leaves her face.
So it made for a nice Christmas present for my mum, who mostly enjoyed the sight of a bow falling off a performer's costume, only to be picked up by the little actor who played Michael Banks. For the rest of the scene he was trying to hide the fact he had picked it up, which at one point involved him sticking it up his jumper (only for it to fall out again) and by the time he silently handed it over to Mrs Banks, my mum was struggling not to burst into laughter.
Christmas generated a small hoard of presents, though most of them were books I'd accumulated over the course of the year and given to my folks to give back to me. But whatever – now I've got a good little pile of books to look forward to by the likes of Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Neil Gaiman and Cathrynne Valente.
But it wasn't all good news. Just before Christmas my lovely cat Phantom died. She came to us about ten years ago as a stray, making her the quintessential example of the "we didn't adopt her, she adopted us" cliché. She was very curious and managed to get in a lot of scraps, but for a feral cat she had the sweetest, calmest nature imaginable.
This belied her appearance, for as a very large black cat she looked rather like a witch's familiar, but despite loving company (she would always choose to be in the room you were in) she was never needy or annoying. She just liked to be near people, though not necessarily right next to you – in this she was a welcome contrast to my aunt's old cat who would try to get up on your knee while you were sitting on the toilet.
We get sentimental about our pets, but she really was a lovely cat – and also a funny one. Here she is after one of her mystery day-trips, covered in green moss:
And I'll never forget the time my friend brought her little daughter around. Phantom took one look at the toddler lurching toward her with outstretched hands and bolted: not simply out the door, but around the back of the furniture and out the door, just to maintain as much distance between herself and this terrifying embodiment of overeager childhood as possible.
So it was a good year and a bad year – but since this is a fandom blog, let's start talking about that.
Things to look forward to in 2016
The Golden Age of television continues, and I'm currently swamped with everything on offer. But coming up this year are three of my favourites: the third seasons of Penny Dreadful and The Musketeers, and the fourth of Orphan Black.
2016 also means the return of Indian SummersThe Fall and The Tunnel (speaking of the latter, there's been a recent Angel Coulby interview; a somewhat rare occurrence so check it out) and the release of The Legend of Korra comic books.
2016 is also the Year of the Superhero, more so than usual, with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, the Suicide Squad, Gambit, Doctor Strange, the Avengers and the X-Men making big screen appearances. To be honest I'm feeling a bit of superhero fatigue (especially since there are as many television shows to go along with the film franchises) but I'll be in the movie theatre for X-Men: Apocalypse at least.
Then there's Moana. And Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And Ghostbusters. And just to tide us over until Star Wars Episode VIII, there's a Rogue One teaser trailer floating around (in very bad quality, though I'm sure that'll be rectified soon).
And hey, here's i09's definitive list of Science Fiction and Fantasy films to look out for in 2016.  
Reading/Watching Log #1:
This year I'd like to start keeping a reading log as I used to do on my LiveJournal, detailing what I've read and watched every month. Though I love focusing on individual television episodes thanks to their format and structure, there's a lot of other stuff I enjoy without feeling the need to go into any great detail!
I'm currently watching four shows: the third seasons of The 100 and Black Sails, the second season of Agent Carter, and the first season of The Shannara Chronicles, though I've also manged to make a significant dent in my TBR pile. Which is to say it's no longer brushing the ceiling.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
I've been meaning to read this one for ages (I follow someone on Tumblr who occasionally posts GIF sets of the film) and it didn't disappoint. Probably best described as a novella, it centres on a small group of girls at an Australian boarding school, who inexplicably vanish while on an excursion to the famous landmark of Hanging Rock.
We never discover what happened to them (though apparently there's a missing final chapter that contains the answer, but I have reservations about reading it) as the story instead focuses on the reactions to the mass disappearance: the effect it has on the school, the community, the teachers and the remaining students.
In short, the mystery is less important than the fallout, and altogether it's a spooky, taunt, atmospheric read.
The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
I've read plenty of Brooks's novels, though little of his early work. Knowing that the television series was being adapted from this novel, I thought I'd better catch up before the show started, just to have a point of comparison.
It's a pretty straightforward swords-and-sorcery novel that's captured in broad strokes by the television show: a half-Elf healer, an Elf princess and a Rover girl set off to save the world from Demons by restoring a magical protective tree to full health.
Most of it is pretty predictable, but one main character's journey ends surprisingly enough that it'll be interesting to see if the show will remain faithful to it.
Bad Moonlight and Halloween Night by R.L. Stine
Geez, I used to eat up these books when I was a tween, and taking a walk down memory lane seemed like a good idea at the time. Who knows if these stories are even written by the same guy, or if there are a thousand ghost-writers involved, but all the things I remembered from tweenhood were here: overwrought teenagers, plenty of fake-outs, chapters ending on cliff-hangers (usually revealed to be either dreams or misunderstandings on the next page) and twists so outlandish that you could never see them coming via any logical thought process.

Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James
I picked this one up at a local book sale, and was fascinated to find that a lot of the motifs and themes of Western fairy tales turned up here as well. Naturally, there are references to samurai, daimyo and sake, but also trifold quests, beautiful princesses, brave youngest sons, and mysterious beings in the guise of beggars.
The term "fairy tale" may be a Western concept, but it's interesting to see how universal some of our stories truly are.

All in the Blue Unclouded WeatherDresses of Red and Gold and The Sky in Silver Lace by Robin Klein
Another trip down memory lane, but this time a more rewarding one. Robin Klein was one of my favourite authors when I was younger, an Australian author who has a gift in portraying the mentality of teenage girls, as well as beautiful turns of phrase: "the water lapped at moored fishing boats, but it wasn’t a cheerful come-on-lazybones sort of nudge – it was more like hands clapped in deliberate spite to scare a flock of birds."
Perhaps her most memorable work is this trilogy of books which focus on the three youngest daughters of the Melling family: dreamy Heather, tomboy Cathy, and bookish Vivienne.
Think of it as L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, but with less sugar and a lot more salt, for though both authors share the same wry sense of humour, Klein has no time for sentimentality. It's hard to explain her gift, only that she's a master at capturing that phase of life in which you possess the egotism of childhood but the crawling self-awareness of adolescence, as well as all the little jealousies and insecurities which are inconsequential to adults but catastrophic to teenage girls.
Each chapter is a vignette of their lives: poignant, funny, bittersweet and sharply drawn. If you can get your hands on these books, know they've got my recommendation!  
Doctor Who: Season Nine (2015)
The best thing I did for myself this year was to stop reviewing Doctor Who. This gave me the chance to relax, switch my brain off and watch the latest season without any pressure to analyse what I was watching.
As such I found myself lowkey enjoying it – though I can't say I cared much for the overarching Hybrid mystery, I thought Maisie William's turn as Ashildr/Lady Me was intriguing, and sufficiently explored the curse of immortality in some fresh and interesting ways.
Peter Capaldi was as good as ever (especially in Heaven Sent) and though Jenna Coleman's Clara never really popped for me as a character, she got an intriguing send-off which was undoubtedly a deliberate inversion of – and commentary on – Donna Noble's tragic fate. That said, I should have known Moffat wouldn't really follow through on the character's death.
Sherlock: Christmas Special (2015)
Another Moffat-run show that I'm perfectly happy to just watch and then promptly forget about. Amazingly enough, it didn't seem to create much of a flurry on-line either: despite following plenty of mainstream blogs on Tumblr, only one GIF set of the episode crossed my dash – and it was of Mary Morstan.  
By this point Moffat/Gatkiss have gone completely overboard with the mind-palace conceit, and continue to have absolutely no idea how to write women (I believe their hearts were in the right place when it came to their take on the suffragette movement, but that doesn't change the fact the early feminists are portrayed as psychotic serial killers who murder men in cold blood for crimes that amount to "being jerks", and have Mycroft state that men must "let" them win, as though woman's emancipation depended entirely on men agreeing to it) but whatever. The Victorian setting was fun, I guess.
Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2015)
I never watched Parks and Recreation while it was on the air, instead picking it up after it had come to an end after deciding that its conclusion made it as good a time as any to start watching. Okay, I tell a small lie: my sister and her boyfriend hooked me up with season three a few years ago, but it wasn't until this month I finally wrapped up all seven seasons.
What's to say that hasn't already been said? The small town of Pawnee, Indiana doesn't realize what a gift it has in Leslie Knope, the ever-optimistic and devoted civil servant, who truly believes her community is special and that she can make a difference. It just goes to show, if you believe in something long and hard enough, it'll come true.  
Across the seven seasons we watch as Leslie's team becomes a family, facing obstacles in both their personal and political lives, and dealing with the success or failure that follows. It's a defence of local government, a celebration of female friendships, a series of adorable love-stories, and it gave us Treat Yo Self Day. What a gift.
Conviction (2007)
There are at least twelve different things called Conviction, but this one is the 2007 British crime drama that follows the police investigation into a twelve year old girl's murder. Watching it was part of my on-going attempt to seek out and watch the backlogs of Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby's work, and this had the latter in a surprisingly large role – though sadly not a hugely interesting one (she's the supportive/confused girlfriend of one of the investigators).  
After two cops decide to take a suspected pedophile into custody in an attempt to scare him into a confession, they take the charade a little too far and end up with a dead body on their hands. What follows is a Macbeth-like exploration of guilt, accountability and justification as they scramble to hide what they've done and get on with their lives.
It's a little slow to start, and has a few plotlines that fall to the wayside, but grows more compelling as it goes on.
Sense8 (2015)
Here's a show I'd love to review in more depth, but – like the early seasons of Orphan Black – I'm intimidated by just how good it is. It's easier to describe my viewing experience, which is to say I watched the first couple of episodes, and became transfixed. Everything else was put on the backburner so that I could finish what I started.
I tried to do it justice in my Big Worlds on Small Screens column, but it's one of those shows where the less said about it, the more you'll enjoy it. So can I just wave my hands in its general direction and say "watch this please"?
Okay, here are three tidbits that'll hopefully get you on board. 1. It's shot on location in Chicago, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Seoul, Reykjavík, Mexico City, Nairobi and Mumbai. 2. While some shows struggle to make even one character compelling, Sense8 effortlessly manages eight, plus an array of various supporting characters that are bursting with life and vitality. 3. The above two points carry the show. Seriously, there's a story here of the danger-and-espionage kind, but it's actually less involving than the locations and the characters. Just... think about that for a second.
Sense8 was the second project by the Wachowski siblings I watched this year, and certainly the superior one (see below).
Jupiter Jones (2015)
A female led science-fiction space opera film? I wanted to love it, I really did, and it's not like I didn't enjoy it – but try as I might I just couldn't embrace it as the "space trash" it was widely heralded to be. The visuals were beautiful and the ideas were interesting (I'm a sucker for reincarnation) but the story so cluttered and inelegant that I had no idea what was going on at any given point. There were bounty hunters? And Jupiter owns the planet? Something something bees? She's getting married now? And what's up with Eddie Redmayne? Did he watch Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons and think: "too subtle"?  
Naturally I'm all for a female lead, but somewhere between Mila Kunis's performance (like the rest of the film she's not bad, just oddly detached) and Jupiter's passive characterization (despite being repeatedly described as distrustful and cynical, she can be easily swayed into just about anything, from selling her eggs at a fertility clinic to getting married to a complete stranger) I was left with the realization that she's certainly not going to be joining the ranks of Ellen Ripley or Nyota Uhura or heck, even Trinity in the annals of science-fiction fame.
It's not unwatchable by any means – I'll certainly see it again at some point and probably like it much more the second time around, but... well.  
The Wiz Live! (2015)
This television special followed in the footsteps similarly live broadcasts of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan on NBC, and created a brief but enthusiastic splash on my Tumblr dashboard. I knew I had to check it out when I saw the GIF set of Uzo Aduba in a massive golden dress descending from the heavens as Glinda the Good Witch, despite my lack of familiarity with the Broadway show it's based on.
A retelling of The Wizard of Oz with soul/R&B music and an all-black cast, The Wiz is actually more faithful to Frank L. Baum's original story than the MGM film (the slippers are silver instead of ruby, and the witches of the north and south aren't conflated into a single character).
What set this apart from its predecessors is the obvious effort that went into it. Not that the cast of The Sound of Music and Peter Pan weren't trying, but this was clearly treated as something a bit more special: the performances, the costumes, the set pieces – even the Cirque du Soleil got involved! It looks great, it sounds great, and you might see one of its main characters as my next Woman of the Month...
Song of the Sea (2014)
Why did I wait so long to watch this film? As a huge fan of the gentle pace and beautiful animation of The Secret of Kells, this should have been at the very top of my to-watch list. Maybe I was just saving it for a rainy day, because deep down I knew it would be like a balm to my soul – and it was.
Drawing on the myths and legends of Ireland, Song of the Sea focuses on a family of three: a single father, a sullen son, and a little girl who doesn't speak. Their wife/mother vanished years ago, and the reason why soon become clear to the audience: she was a Selkie whose transformative powers have been passed onto her young daughter. Cast into a protective role, older brother Ben is soon given the task of finding his runaway sister and helping her defeat the terrible Owl Witch.
You could send hours unpacking the film: like how the cruelty/kindness of a fairy taking away her son's sadness only to leave him as a creature of stone is an act that's reflected in the children's grandmother whisking Ben and Saoirse away from their father and who bears a strong physical similarity to the fairy in question.
Much like the films of Hayao Miyazaki, it knows when to slow down and let the audience absorb the world they've been introduced to. It knows the power of the folklore it's based on. It knits together visuals, theme and foreshadowing/payoff to perfection. It's one of those stories you've never heard before, but feels deeply familiar because it manages to touch that deep wellspring of ancient tales that have been around as long as human beings have been on the planet.
Do yourself a favour and WATCH THIS.

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