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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.

Smash.

May. 27th, 2012 01:21 pm
nenena: (Devi - Flaming Tara)
You know that a show is truly, truly terrible when Liz Lemon makes a completely non-ironic and earnest joke about it being terrible during the season finale of 30 Rock. Ladies and gentlemen, Smash is that show. And yes, it is every bit as terrible as everybody says it is.

But like Liz, I stubbornly stuck with watching the show all the way up to the bitter end, because despite how completely awful it was in so many regards there was also just enough in terms of nuggets of television gold buried beneath all of the poorly-written, melodramatic crap that I couldn't give up on the show completely. I just couldn't.

Of course, it helps that the show is a musical about a musical, which is always a fun concept in and of itself. It also helps that Smash stars some absolutely phenomenonal singers and actors, and that I am willing to sit through forty minutes of insufferable stupidity every week as long as it means that I get to hear Megan Hilty sing, or get to watch Leslie Odom Jr. dance, or get to listen to Jack Davenport sneering through his every line of dialogue, or get to watch Angelica Houston being amazing in her every scene because she's Angelica fucking Houston. Overall the cast of Smash is so talented that it's almost ridiculous. ALL of these actors and actresses deserve a better show than this, and they're all doing an incredible job with the crap dialogue and crap scenarios that they're given to work with. Ultimately it's the acting that saves this show even though the writing is doing its goddamn best to destroy it.

I think this is the first time I can ever honestly say that I enjoyed a show primarily for the actors and not for the characters. But enjoy the show I did, somewhat. Even though MY GOD were parts of it so stupid that I actually felt myself getting angry at the show for being so terrible. So I guess this is the big long post where I try to sort out and write down all of my feelings about Smash, since if I suffered through fifteen episodes of this crap I might was well have some thinky-thoughts about writing and characterization (as in: HOW NOT TO DO) to show for it.

But first, let's start with a few things that Smash did well.

1. Tom and Sam. Christian Borle and Leslie Odom Jr. are absofuckinglutely fantastic actors, they have amazing chemistry together, and their respective story arcs are great. I especially loved the whole drama with Sam's family being disapproving of his career as a dancer rather than disapproving of him being gay - which is realistic, relatable, and definitely stepping outside the usual stereotypes in terms of how Black and/or Christian characters are portrayed with their attitudes toward homosexuality. Smash is also LIGHT YEARS ahead of certain other shows that like to pat themselves on the back for being oh-so-progressive in terms of portraying gay relationships on screen and yet never show the gay couples kissing, touching, or engaging in any sort of sexually-charged banter or flirting whatsoever. Yes, Modern Family and Glee, I am most certainly talking about you two. Smash actually shows its gay couples engaging in physical flirting, sexual banter, kissing, touching, and even in bed together. You know, the same way that it portrays the heterosexual relationships on the show. Smash does much more to normalize the portrayals of gay relationships among its characters in 15 episodes than Modern Family has done in three full seasons. Now, to be fair, neither Tom nor Sam's portrayal is perfect. In fact, Sam spends most of the first half of the season having no characterization whatsoever other than a) liking sports - which he has to mention in his EVERY LINE OF DIALOGUE - and b) being Ivy's gay best friend who exists solely to be Ivy's gay best friend. But once Tom and Sam start dating and Sam starts to, you know, actually be portrayed as a character with complex personality traits, things get a lot better. A LOT better.

2. Eileen. Angelica Houston is an amazing actress, I loved the character's entire story arc, everything about Eileen is awesome, and if I actually can bring myself to watch the next season of Smash it will probably be solely to watch Eileen be fucking awesome in every scene again.

3. Ivy, with an asterisk. We'll get the asterisk behind the cut, but first: Yes, Megan Hilty is every bit as amazing of an actress as she as a singer. Yes, I loved (nearly) everything about Ivy as a character. I ended up rooting for her so much that it was kind of scary. I loved how she was flawed and imperfect, selfish and manipulative yet vulnerable and needy at the same time. I loved how hard she worked and how hard she fought for her dreams. I loved how good the show was at making me feel for Ivy and at making me want Ivy to win, despite the fact that Ivy was much less of a nice person than Karen was. I think that the show truly succeeded in making me feel like Ivy DESERVED that leading role, even if she was a flawed and imperfect person, and for that I can only tip my hat at the writers and say: Well done.

And now let's talk about what the show did horribly, horribly wrong.

Behind this cut are major spoilers for the entire first season. Well, 'spoilers' if you're the type of person who considers 'the Titanic sinks' and 'Romeo and Juliet die' to be spoilers. )

Meme time!

Apr. 1st, 2012 03:09 pm
nenena: (Default)
Fandom Tennis Match Meme:

Okay, here's how this is going to work. You comment with a fandom question. I answer it and then ask you a question that has some thematic relevance to the question you asked me.


[personal profile] redbrunja asked me: Cut for question and answer. )

Ask me questions!
nenena: (W.I.T.C.H. - Irma rocks)


Ice-T's reaction shot is the best part of the video.

Other things:

1. Vera Brosgol's dialogue-less, 35-page comic "What, were you raised by wolves?" is brutal and beautiful and will rip your heart out. Hat-tip to [personal profile] slakemoths for the link.

2. Holy shit these background moments in this week's MLP episode. I completely missed both the Twist drama and the fact that the elderly pony that Sweetie Bell sang about was at a funeral.

3. The Art of Animation (NSFW) is the best thing on Tumblr, possibly one of the best things on the internet period. The blog is also useful as ammunition for dispelling the myth that Asian artists only create anime/manga-styled works.

4. Well, I dunno why people are coming here instead of watching [community profile] shibusen for Soul Eater news, but since some of y'all seem to have missed this: Not! chapter 11 is now available on the YenPress website. Yes it was released the same day that it was on Japan, yes there is a message from Ohkubo to US readers and a cute bonus drawing of Tsugumi in this month's chapter, and yes this month's chapter is awesome. Also Ohkubo may or may not have changed the spelling of Anya's name again, I dunno but when I get my copy of GanGan tomorrow I'll know for sure. But in the meantime, everyone who wants Soul Eater news should join or at least watch [community profile] shibusen. There's even an RSS feed for all of your syndication needs!

5. Meanwhile, over at MTVGeek, Brigid Alverson interviewed Kurt Hassler about Soul Eater, Soul Eater Not!, and working with Square Enix Japan on making the simultaneous release of Not! happen. It's a interesting read, but for me the best part is when Hassler actually starts describing Not!'s relationship to Soul Eater and it's so beautifully clear that he GETS exactly what's appealing about both series and how they're different and why Ohkubo is a kick-ass artist. He also gets exactly what consumers want, he really gets it:

Hassler said he, and other publishers, know what people want: "They want it quicker, digitally, with no territory restrictions," he said. "We know all this, but knowing it and making it happen are two different things."


There's also some interesting information about why Yen+ isn't available on the iPad yet, even though Yen Press's other books are. In short: Holy app infrastructure technical limitations, Batman, this shit isn't as easy as it looks!
nenena: (Default)
In case anybody is interested!

This month's issue of Bust (basically the high-budget, low-brow version of Bitch Magazine) features a lovely photo spread of Will Arnett dramatically holding a bulldog, another photo spread of Tracey Morgan buried in a pile of inflatable plastic animals, and an extremely well-written article about host clubs in Japan. Unfortunately there is a terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE blurb on the front cover of the magazine in reference to said article. "Just a Gigolo: Meet Japan's Boys For Hire." Uh, NO. But the interior article is a thousand times better than the godawful cover blurb would have you believe.

And this month's* issue of Otaku USA has Soul Eater on the cover. And y'know, I'm normally not at all interested in magazines like Otaku USA, but I picked this one up and flipped through it while I was at Borders today, just out of sheer curiosity. I expected the Soul Eater article to be a total fluff piece. What I found instead was that it was a deliciously, unabashedly, brazenly feminist analysis of the series, complete with scathingly direct comparisons to Bleach and Naruto. The article was neither a fluff piece nor even a review of the series, not really; rather, it was focused almost entirely on the gender roles in the series, and how the glorious subversion of Maka can exist side-by-side with the more (*ahem*) traditional character types like Blair, Tsubaki, Liz, and Patti. The whole thing was incredibly well-written, with a lot of well-supported points and wickedly snarky tidbits sprinkled throughout. So I was pleasantly surprised by that article and I ended up buying the magazine. And, as it turns out, pretty much every single other article in the magazine is pure fluff, just like I had feared they would be. But that Soul Eater article? That article is glorious. BTW, the lovely Soul Eater article was written by Daryl Surat, so hats off to him for bringing the rocking feminist media analysis to that article!

Journalism: Sometimes, people actually do manage to do it right.

* Correction! It turns out that the magazine that I bought today isn't the current issue of Otaku USA. I bought the April 2010 issue. According to the Otaku USA website, however, the June 2010 issue should be the current issue on the newsstands. Fail, Borders. Fail. I shouldn't be surprised, however, since my local Borders has a tendency to not exactly be current with the available issues of certain niche magazines. So, for the record: The Soul Eater article is in the April 2010 issue of Otaku USA magazine. Which was published in February. Natch.