Apr. 4th, 2013

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Television

Parks and Recreation is still easily the best goddamn thing that I watch every week. And it's been holding that position for a solid two years now, so. I don't think I've written about it yet on this blog and frankly I don't have a lot of things to say about it that haven't been said before (and likely better) by others, but: it's brilliant television and if you're not already watching it, you should be. (I'm of the opinion that the first season is totally skippable though.)

It took a few episodes to warm me over, but I am now officially in love with The Mindy Project. I think in many ways it's the spiritual successor to 30 Rock but (and please don't shoot me for saying this because I LOVED 30 Rock) in some ways done better. The lead is still a smart, successful woman who is damn good at her job even though her personal life is in shambles, there's still a wacky cast of co-workers (and a secondary male lead who gets his own secondary character arcs) that are in turn funny and/or poignant, and the style of humor is still that particular blend of surreal absurdist mixed with so-true-to-life-that-it-hurts comedy that seems to characterize all the best of the most recent television sitcoms. Where I think The Mindy Project improves upon 30 Rock's formula, however, is a) the fact that our heroine Mindy has more than one close female friend and that Mindy's interactions with her diverse group of female friends often play an important role in most episodes, and b) there's an awful lot less of the gross femininity-bashing and wink-wink-nudge-nudge-we're-only-doing-this-because-it's-ironic sexism that 30 Rock so often indulged in. Mindy is the character who would have been the butt of the jokes in 30 Rock (see: Jenna), but in The Mindy Project everything that she is and everything that she stands for is unabashedly celebrated without ever denigrating other flavors of femininity as being less desirable, less progressive, less feminist, less whatever.

Film

Recently watched and now firmly in the why-the-hell-did-I-wait-this-long-to-see-these-films-because-they-are-GREAT category: Pitch Perfect, ParaNorman, and Amour. "Great" isn't really an adjective that comes anywhere near close to doing Amour justice but hey, let's just roll with it.

Seen recently in theaters: Admission. Loved it. Tina Fey is always great, of course. But in the theater where I saw the film the audience actually burst into applause the moment that Lily Tomlin's character first appeared onscreen. Because Lily Tomlin is legitimately just that awesome.

On a recommendation from a friend I recently indulged in both of the Lyrical Nanoha movies, which at first I was skeptical about because I was mostly lukewarm on the series, but oh my god, these movies are really fantastic. Taken together they're five solid hours of gorgeously-animated magical girl badassery full of female friendships and family relationships driving the entire plot and just wow. Of course I share the same criticisms of the films that nearly everybody else in the universe has expressed so far: yes, the films are both so much more about Fate than Nanoha that they really should have been named after Fate instead of Nanoha (not that I don't love Fate but come on it's almost disingenuous to name the films after Nanoha when Fate is the real star of both), and yes, the transformation sequences with the detailed nudity on underage female characters (nipples and all JESUS CHRIST) are pretty damn inexcusable. Thankfully, however, the transformation sequences only happen once per each film, so they're easy to fast-forward through. And other than the transformation sequences there's basically zero fanservice on any of the underage characters, which is pretty damn refreshing to see in a magical girl franchise intended for an adult male audience.

Also, I saw this one months ago but have neglected to rec it here: A Letter to Momo. Everybody should see this film. It's weird and beautiful and moving and funny and important in a way that I can't really describe in words. It may be sacrilege to say that this is an improved, better version of My Neighbor Totoro but... it really is. It deals with the same thematic setup (children move to a new rural home, encounter nature spirits, and deal with a crisis when one family member gets sick and another appears to be in immediate danger) yet in a deeper, more mature way that still manages to be appropriate for and accessible to a child audience. But the nature spirits in Momo are an entirely different breed than those from Totoro: much more in keeping with Japanese tradition, Momo's supernatural creatures are alien, dangerous, and frightening, even when they're trying to help out the human characters and/or providing comic relief. These are not the cute, fluffy, cuddly forest gods from Miyazaki's nostalgia-tinted view of Japan in days gone by. They are much stranger and darker but also much more interesting to watch, not unlike the human characters in the film as well. Anywhoo, this film is finally starting to garner some critical attention in the English-speaking world (I think it's playing in the Boston International Childrens' Film Festival this weekend?) so if you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely check it out. It is so, so worth it.

Relatedly: Little Witch Academia is basically perfect. Just perfect.

Comics

Zahra's Paradise is a graphic novel that deserves waaaaay more attention than it's getting. Of course it's a politically important book (Iran! Democracy! Political dissidence! Women fighting against oppression!) but in case you're the type of person intimidated by reading a "political" comic let me assure you: The pseudonymous authors use a brilliant, expressive, cinematic art style that makes the complex narrative accessible to any reader without ever once compromising the story or dumbing down anything for the benefit of knowing-approximately-jack-shit-about-the-Middle-East readers. In other words, even if you know approximately jack shit about the Middle East, you can and you should still read this book. It's a beautiful, painful story that will stick with you for a long time and it will be impossible for you to walk away from the book without a much deeper and better understanding of Iran than you had before opening its pages. Which is really the whole purpose of the book in the first place.

The Flowers of Evil continues to impress me with its so-true-it's-painful dissection of the wannabe-edgy, alienated teenage mind. Whether you think it's a "good" manga or realistic in any sense of the term (and I'm on the fence about both to be honest), it's still totally different from nearly every other shounen manga out there, and a fascinating read for that reason alone.

Hawkeye is still the reason that I give Marvel my hard-earned money every month. Young Avengers... not so much, not anymore.

Attack on Titan/Shingeki no Kyojin. Cripes where do I even start with this one. For a long time it's been clear that this isn't really a story about plucky humans fighting evil man-eating giants, the same way that Eureka Seven was never really a story about cool rebels fighting an oppressive government in giant robots (even though it took the main character half the series to reach that realization), and the same way that Evangelion was never really a story about plucky humans fighting giant aliens (even though in its original incarnation the stuff that Hideaki Anno intended for the series to really be about was so poorly-executed that yeah the giant robots and aliens really were the point by the end, hence everybody hating the original ending, okay this is a really bad example I should stop now). So then what the hell IS Attack on Titan really about? Without giving too much away, I'm going to riff on Batezi's brilliant post about the series and say that thematically it cuts straight to the heart of our two deepest fears in the modern age: the power of bass-ackwards organized religion as a force for regressive social stagnation, and the mindset that drives those who have been wronged to justify acts of mass terrorism as a way of striking back against the faceless enemy "other." In exploring these themes, of course, Attack on Titan dives into all sorts of dark territory about how the human mind and the human heart works, in a way so visceral and real that in terms of thematically-similar media I can come up with few truly comparative examples save for perhaps The Snowtown Murders (particularly with Bertolt's story jesus christ dude) and Harvest of Empire ("all of humanity is your enemy" until you get to know them and then they're not faceless others anymore and then uh-oh). But of course on top of all of this there's also badass giant-slaying action and fucking awesome characters all of that great bloody, gory fun every chapter. Attack on Titan is that rare, rare series that manages to do awesome grimdark bloody action horror really well AND blend it successfully with complex psychodrama that ISN'T shallow, pretentious, or poorly-written the way it so often is when clumsy attempts at human psychodrama rear their ugly head in your usual run-of-the-mill survival horror stories. Isayama isn't a clumsy writer, and Attack on Titan continues to be a brilliant series. Go read it now and spoil yourself silly before the anime starts airing this weekend. If you can stomach a story where most of the main cast gets eaten alive by giants, that is.