Sunday, February 17, 2019

Review: Gabriel Knight: Temptation

No, your eyes don’t deceive you: there is one more canon Gabriel Knight story, a comic written by Jane Jensen herself for the first game’s twentieth anniversary. With illustrations by Elisa Pavinato and colouring by Bruce Brenneise, you can read the whole thing here.

Given that the story takes place after Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, and coincided with the release of the first game’s remastered edition, I suspect it was written in the hopes of renewing interest in the franchise and continuing the games (the last one ended on an open note, after all).
But since this came out back in 2015 and there’s been no word since on Gabriel’s future, it would seem the attempt was unsuccessful. So let’s just enjoy Temptation on its own terms…

Friday, February 15, 2019

Links and Updates

 I usually wait for a while before posting these Links and Updates, because promos for all the stuff I’m interested in usually gets released over the course of several months or so. But just within the last few days (and in one case hours) there has been a deluge of new trailers, images and announcements that have made me sit up and say: “hey!”
So here’s what’s on the menu:

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Xena Warrior Princess: Orphan of War, Remember Nothing, Giant Killer

A new year means a new season of Xena Warrior Princess! I’ll continue to post my back-catalogue of Xena reviews here, three at a time, which make for a nice space-filler between all the rest of the writing I’m trying to catch up on.
As the show moved into its second season, the writers shifted into new territory when it came to Xena’s characterization and her ever-more-convoluted backstory. Most of what we learnt about her in the first season (that she was a damaged, angry teenager who never lost an underlying sense of honour) gets reconfigured here, and we’re shown a Xena who was betrayed and abused to such an extent that she became little more than a feral monster.
There are more long-lost relatives thrown into the mix (as we discover in the very first episode) and many of the guest stars aren’t old friends from “ten years ago” searching for Xena’s help, but rather her past victims that are now seeking revenge, justice, and/or closure.
It would be pointless to try and put a time-frame around all this stuff, and yet the show somehow manages to keep things fairly consistent – in tone, if not details. It’s not the first time long-running shows have tweaked the personality of its main character (Leslie Knope changed drastically between seasons one and two of Parks and Recreation) and even in the midst of Xena’s contradictory flashbacks, Gabrielle’s arc from na├»ve tagalong to seasoned warrior moves along at a consistent pace.
So here we go, into season two…

Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 is not just a perfect sequel, but a perfect movie – though the fact it’s a perfect movie is entirely contingent on the fact that it’s also a sequel. A debut film simply would not have had time to lay the necessary groundwork to do justice to the questions that Toy Story 2 tackles, and its success derives directly from how reliant it is on ideas raised in the first movie, on character development that flows organically from our established understanding of Woody and Buzz, and on expanding their microcosmic world in new and interesting ways.
A story in which Woody seriously considers leaving Andy for a museum in Tokyo could not have existed without one in which he realizes his precarious position in Andy’s affections. A story in which Buzz goes on a dangerous journey to rescue his friend from this folly could not have existed without one in which he’s convinced by that same friend that being a toy is a noble calling.

And a story that explores the impermanence of toys in a child’s life could not have existed without one that already dealt with some of the fears they grappled with in their day-to-day life, whether it was being damaged, lost, or replaced.
So with their first sequel, Pixar demonstrated they knew what a good follow-up should be: a story that expands on the original without repeating it, one that builds on ideas and relationships that have already been established, and one that takes the familiar characters off in new and interesting directions. You can apply these rules to all the best sequels, from The Empire Strikes Back to The Dark Knight to Paddington 2.
Nobody regresses or forgets lessons already learnt; instead they move forward and learn new ones, which are supplemented by new characters, locations and set pieces – none of which are introduced for their own sake, but to better highlight the story’s central theme.
That theme is best summed up in The Dolls’ House by Rumer Godden, another writer of toy stories that I just-so-happen to be reading at the moment, who wrote: “it is an anxious, sometimes dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose, they can only be chosen; they cannot do, they can only be done by; children who do not understand this often do wrong things, and then their dolls are hurt and abused and lost.”
So if the motivating fear of the first Toy Story was the possibility of getting lost and ending up in the hands of a cruel playmate, then Toy Story 2 is about a much more inescapable fate: the abandonment that comes when a child inevitably grows up; of toys being shelved and forgotten and discarded over time.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Woman of the Month: Sara Crewe

Sara Crewe from A Little Princess
For a while now I’ve been thinking about the term Mary Sue, and how irritating it is when it’s adhered to characters who don’t deserve it. Something that used to define an original character who was inserted into a fanfiction in such a way that made them the centre of the universe, is now mostly used to describe female characters that can walk down the street without assistance. A girl who does stuff? What a Mary Sue!
I’m exaggerating a little, but not much. And all that got me thinking about Sara Crewe…
A Little Princess is by no means a perfect book, not in its prose (Burnett does much better in The Secret Garden), not in its structure (too many contrived coincidences) and not in its moralizing (which seems more heavy-handed with each passing decade). Though it never tips entirely into cloying sentimentality…well, it gets pretty close at times. As well as this, some aspects have dated terribly, mostly in regards to the class divide between Sarah and Becky.
But there is an undeniable power to the story, though it’s hard to put your finger on exactly why. Is it Sara’s imaginings? Her Riches-to-Rags-and-Back-to-Riches narrative? The subtle strain of magic that infuses the plot? Whatever it is, there’s a potency to the story of Sara Crewe that’s largely due to the portrayal of Sara herself. Burnett describes her thusly (in a passage that you may remember Wesley reading to Fred in Angel):
She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things, and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.
Admit it, this is a girl you want to read more about. Throughout the story she suffers the death of her father and the loss of her fortune, and her subsequent inner struggle is to maintain her capacity for kindness despite her degradation. So yeah, it can get a little preachy at times, but Burnett manages to infuse Sara with enough personality (and give her the occasional foible) to keep her relatable.
And it amuses me that Sara Crewe ticks nearly every box of the dreaded Mary Sue moniker: she’s wiser than her years, she can speak fluent French, she’s adored by everyone except the villain, she’s lavished with gifts but never becomes spoiled, she remains good and pure despite the terrible conditions she’s put through, she considers herself ugly but nevertheless has “an odd charm of her own” (and is described as beautiful by the narrative anyway), and is given a typical fairy tale ending in which she vows to provide for the waifs and strays of London.
Is she a Mary Sue? I’d say yes – but this next part is important: I don’t necessarily think being a Mary Sue is a bad thing. Some of my favourite characters have been dismissed as Mary Sues by various fandoms: Guinevere from Merlin, Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey, Rey from Star Wars, Nausicaa from The Valley of the Wind, and you only have to look at the vast differences between those three characters to see that the requirements for Suedom are so broad that you could fit practically any female character into the category.
But if we take the term Mary Sue to mean a character that encompasses genuine goodness and popularity, authentic intelligence and friendliness, honest talent and desirability, then I’m at a loss to explain why they’re so hated. I’d argue that there are two types of Mary Sues: the well written ones and the badly written ones, for even though the term Mary Sue was originally coined to indicate bad writing, it has now slipped so far from its initial purpose that the definition needs reconfiguration. In the minds of many it’s no longer a tool, but an archetype.
Sara Crewe is an archetypal Mary Sue, but Burnett walks a fine line, never straying into goody-two shoes territory, never contradicting Sara’s vaunted goodness with scenes of selfishness or pettiness that go unremarked by the narrative, and never turning her into an unattainable angel of perfection. Burnett doesn’t break the “show don’t tell rule”, she doesn’t spent pages gushing over how wonderful Sara is (in fact, she’s rather matter-of-fact about her extraordinariness), and she allows Sara to have moments of weakness.
In short, she’s what I would call a well-written Mary Sue.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Reading/Watching Log #37

I’m posting this log early since my long-awaited holidays have finally arrived and I’m flying up to Auckland for my birthday! I’ve been looking forward to it for ages, and the main event will be seeing Disney’s Aladdin on stage at the Civic Theatre.
It’s certainly going to be a year for that character seeing as the live-action film opens in May, though it did lead to an amusing conversation with my hopelessly confused work colleague when I tried to explain it all to her (in her words: “so Will Smith is coming to Auckland?”)
As you’ll see, January was defined by Star Wars graphic novels (specifically ones focused on Darth Vader) and A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I binge-watched over the course of two weeks (two episodes per day).
Between the two of them, it was a rather grim start to the year, so I also watched Crazy Rich Asians and the first season of Brooklyn 99, as well as the first books in my Treat Yo Self stack of reading material.
Details on the trip when I get back!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Top Twelve Best Television/Film/Comic Moments of 2018

Back in 2017 I comprised a list of some of my favourite moments of that year’s television: the scenes that made me laugh, cry, shriek, or just appreciate the fine art of storytelling.
I couldn’t do the same in 2018, simply because I didn’t watch as many shows, at least not ones that aired that particular year. But I really enjoyed crafting my “best of 2017” post, and always wanted to do another.
So I’ve made myself a fresh list of great on-screen moments, though I had to broaden my horizons to include both films and material that aired before 2018. I’ve put moments that featured specifically in 2018 at the top of the list, though otherwise there’s no order or ranking here.