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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Women of the Month: Avatar Korra and Asami Sato


Korra and Asami from The Legend of Korra
When I first began this little project, I established some rules for myself – namely that I would pick only one female character per book/show/film to focus on each month.
Well, rules are made to be broken, because there's no way I can choose between Korra and Asami at this stage. And the best thing about The Legend of Korra is there were plenty of other candidates to choose from: Lin or Suyin Beifong, Jinora or Ikki, Kya or Kuvira, Opal or Pema, even Katara or Toph. Any one of these ladies could have easily filled this slot.
But I'm going with Korra and Asami, for reasons that should be quite obvious by now. This is a long one, so it's going under the cut...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Links and Updates

Here it is, my End of Year Roundup. I was going to fill the intervening days between Christmas and the New Year with plenty of meta and reviews, but as it turned out, I overdosed on Korrasami reaction videos/tributes and ended up running out of broadband. So that's the main reason I've been so quiet this past week.

Link Roundup: Korrasami

It's been over a week now since the finale of The Legend of Korra aired, and the tributes, metas and articles are still coming in thick and fast. Most of them focus on those last three minutes, but there's been an outpouring of love and appreciation for the series as a whole. Here are some of my favourite links:

First of all, confirmation of Korrasami as an Official Couple from Bryan Konietzko and Mike di Martino.

This compilation of reaction videos, which actually made me more teary than the episode itself!


The ones worth watching in their entirety are from Seanimenet (you can tell he knows something is about to happen, but he can't quite figure out what) and from Kristronuovo (shipper joy personified).

This fantastic run-down (pre-confirmation) of how the final three minutes of the show were structured, comparing it to the ordering of final bows on the stage (the least important cast members go first, the most important go last), and what it says about how Korrasami was telegraphed.

An adorable comic that shows Varrick's side of his "hang-gliding off the tower" idea.

A woman with a gay son shares her feelings over the finale and what it means to her family.

The Vanity Fair article which talks about the subversive and progressive elements of the show (not the official VF website, but for some reason it's not loading for me).

The AV Club review, which concentrates on the feminist themes of the show in its entirety.

The Mary Sue comments on both the Korrasami endgame and the Korra's relationships with women.

I09 has a hilarious and poignant recap/commentary of the final episode.

About a month (maybe two) before the finale aired, a couple of Korrasami-themed secrets (here and here) popped up on Fandom Secrets. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the delicious, delicious irony in the comments. Warning: the second one gets a little wanky, but it's worth it for the snotty comments that insist Korrasami is never going to happen.

Which also gives me the perfect excuse to pop out my favourite GIF!

"They said it would never happen!"

A TV tropes review called "In Defence of Korrasami" is worth a quick read. Unfortunately the comments inevitably spiral into wank, but the initial review captures my personal views on why the ship works so perfectly and why the myriad of excuses for calling it "out of left field" or "pandering" are complete bullshit.

This adorable Korrasami video.

This fan-art (safe for work). And this one (also safe).

A retrospective of the entire series.

Another pre-confirmation meta that lists evidence for Korrasami, and points out some details that I had missed.

Tor rips apart the "just fan pandering" nonsense right here.

This great meta on why Korra apologises to Asami for her absence, and not Mako/Bolin.

For reasons that are beyond me, I delved into the comments section of the Internet Movie Database, but amidst the homophobia and other related garbage, there was this rather lovely comment (which I'll repost here, as I won't blame you if you want to avoid IMDB):

I feel the way Korra and Asami interacted in episode seven made it very clear that they liked each other and felt some tension, with Korra blushing at Asami's compliment and Asami acting somewhat angry she had been gone for so long. It had been two years. Feelings for people can boil up even in time they're apart. Korra felt she could trust Asami with her fiery emotions when she was out of control, and it was clear to me in season three that Asami cared for Korra. In episode seven, there was not a single question in my mind that at least Korra liked Asami that way. I just didn't know if anything was going to come of it. It was subtle, while I actually perceive the three pairings you mention as a bit overdone/overemphasized.

As for the final scene itself, the way I see it is it's not a blatant thing, and that's half the beauty of it. Neither of them confesses love. It's kind of a sneaky, sudden, somewhat crazy situation where Korra's just like, "Hey, what if I ask her on vacation alone, just the two of us?" If you are interested in a same-sex friend and neither of you has made explicit potential sexual interest in the same gender, this is exactly the sort of way it goes down in real life--at least that's my opinion. So I thought it was really cute that both of them, probably a bit nervous, feelings somewhat apparent but completely unconfirmed, were heading into the spiritual world together, probably hoping to move into being more than friends sometime during their vacation.

Had the two of them made interest more clear, I feel these last few moments of the show would have robbed of their passion and beauty. Love can move impetuously, in jolts and sudden accelerations. This development suits Korra's personality well. That Korra and Asami's metaphorical dance was quick and timid, in my opinion, was much more charming than any long, lovelorn gazes at the moon or bold declarations of love. To me, it was a humble and ironically unambitious pairing. And I know I could get a lot of flack for saying this, but personally it was the most realistic romance for me in either series.

Ditto.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Legend of Korra: Day of the Colossus and The Last Stand

It's over.

And yet it hasn't really sunk in that this was the last time I'll be seeing these characters in a brand new episode – it's all reruns from here on out. I suppose there's a chance of a comic book continuation (Korra and Asami exploring the spirit world together? GIVE IT TO ME NOW) but for all intents and purposes, this was it. The end.

So how did this fare as not only a seasonal finale, but as the Grand Finale of the show itself?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Review: Boy, Snow, Bird

Boy, Snow, Bird is one of those books that's been hovering on the periphery of my awareness for a while now. I had seen the positive press, glanced over a few intriguing reviews, heard about the general premise. So when I finally caught sight of it at the library, I snapped it up.

Before you go any further, know that the book is structured in such a way that an important revelation occurs at its halfway mark. It's a long time coming and involves a considerable amount of setup, yet in many ways it forms the crux of the story. Other reviews aren't shy about discussing it, so if you want to experience the story with no foreknowledge whatsoever, then it's best to give this and other reviews a wide berth.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Arrow: Broken Dolls

Look at this! After a prolonged hiatus I decided to check-in with Arrow. I'm still barely into the second season despite the third being well underway (though from what I've heard, there have been some extremely questionable creative decisions), but last night I just had a hankering for the hooded vigilante.

This is a typical episode in many respects: the A-plot deals with a frightening but not-particularly-interesting villain and the rest of the run-time is devoted to edging all our main characters toward the next bout of character development that's required for the overarching plot.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Standing Tall #3

So as much as I've enjoyed all these Giraffes dotted around Christchurch, a couple of them are ... slightly uninspired, shall we say? This one is called Rifraff Giraffe by hairyLemon and it's – as you can see – solid silver.

It was still an arresting sight, especially against the backdrop of half-constructed buildings, but let's just say this wasn't my favourite. (I don't know what was going through my head at the time, but I don't look particularly impressed in the photo either).


 

Review: Dates

I'm not usually one to watching something just because an actor or actress I like is in it, but I've been half-heartedly following the progress of the Merlin cast, and it's that which drew my attention to Dates. Not only does Katie McGrath feature in a single episode, but Will Mellor (who played Knight Valiant way back in season one of Merlin) has a more substantial role that spans several episodes. 

Dates is a nine-episode series of half-hour instalments, detailing the interactions between strangers that have contacted each other on a dating website and agreed to meet up. What follows is best described as nine short vignettes of their time together, structured entirely around the date itself. There are no glimpses of any other part of their lives beyond the time spent on their dates, and we learn nothing of their backgrounds beyond what they chose to talk about. Almost by necessity the acting has to be of high standard, as most of the episodes revolve around "talking heads" – that is, actors simply exchanging dialogue with each other. To make this engaging for an audience is each actor's personal challenge.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Legend of Korra: Kuvira's Gambit

We all knew it was coming: the moment when Kuvira crosses the line. Arguably this has already happened, what with her detainment camps, kidnapping of the Beifongs and creation of a superweapon, but this time (as they say) it was personal. This time she sacrifices something she loves in order to achieve her goal of conquering Republic City.

Which is poor old Bataar Junior. But I'll get to that.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Before reading, please be aware that this review contains SPOILERS for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Though it won't be released in the US until December 17th, it's been out for a couple of days in New Zealand (and a few other countries) so consider yourself warned. When I say there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, I'm not just winking at those who have read the books and know about the character deaths. This is about the film in its entirety.

So ... have you ever wanted to watch one hundred and forty-four minutes of CGI figurines fighting each other? Because that's pretty much this entire movie in a nutshell. It's very apparent at this stage why they abandoned the subtitle There And Back Again in favour of The Battle of the Five Armies, and it's because by this point any resemblance to Tolkien's modest little story (relatively speaking) has been obliterated. This is all about the spectacle.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Review: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Continuing with my reposting of previous Hobbit film reviews...

Last year I said of An Unexpected Journey that it was two movies: an adaptation of J. R.R. Tolkien’s book and a prequel to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This instalment is definitely more of the latter than the former – in fact, there are times when it’s clear that Jackson wants to skip passed the elements of Tolkien’s story and get to his own ideas ASAP.

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Two years ago (yikes, was it really that long ago?) I sat down to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This was my review, which I've decided to repost here in anticipation of seeing the last in the Hobbit trilogy tonight (I'll post The Desolation of Smaug tomorrow, and The Battle of the Five Armies on the weekend).

***

But before I discuss The Hobbit, I would also like to draw your attention toward this brilliant interview/article about Fran Walsh – Peter Jackson’s partner in both work and life, who for reasons pertaining to their children made a conscious decision long ago to keep away from the spotlight. But she is clearly a key player in bringing The Lord of the Rings franchise to life – along with her collaborator and friend Philippa Boyens. Among the many insights the article has to offer is their take on the women of The Lord of the Rings...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Links and Updates

It's been a pretty grim few months. I'm not an American, but I've been watching the Ferguson protests with a mixture of disbelief and horror, and for someone living in New Zealand I think it's of reasonable importance to note that most of my information has been coming to me through social media. There has been a reasonable amount of coverage on the news, but they're not taking a particularly nuanced view of the situation.

So as the protests continue, I think it's important to remember that a) the world is watching, and b) they're watching through the likes of Twitter and Tumblr, not media outlets. To lose access to this form of communication would be the quickest and easiest way to cut off our awareness of what's really going on – so I hope and pray that this won't happen.

***

At the same time all this is going on, I've been trying to inch myself into the Christmas spirit. I put up my Christmas tree, I went to see A Christmas Carol at the ballet, I took my nephew to the Santa Parade, and I went to check out the Christmas windows at Ballantynes Mall (Christchurch's oldest department store, which puts on a seasonal window display every year).  

And of course, Christmas shopping. So far presents include second-hand books, a candle, and agreements not to exchange gifts. Yes, it's going to be a very frugal Christmas, though I know I'm going to have to splurge on my parents sooner or later (I'm thinking maybe a restaurant gift-card so they can go out for a decent meal).

And here's my Christmas tree:


I went for wintry theme this year, playing with the idea that you could be wandering through a deep forest and stumble across this tree covered in birds and snowflakes and (my favourite part) a little fairy house.


My nephew's verdict: "cool." At three years old, I don’t think he's quite grasped the concept of puns, so I'm going to assume that he was being sincere.

***

This trailer for The Little Prince caught me completely off-guard:


It's just magical. I've devoted entire pages to picking apart movie trailers, but this one just makes me want to gaze at it starry-eyed. The animation shift between computer graphics and stop-motion animation doesn't surprise me given the director (who used similar tactics in Kung Fu Panda), and the whole thing just looks stunning. I'll be putting this one on my calendar.

***

A new sub-column is happening over on Helen Lowe's blog, in which I review films under the banner: "Sci-Fi and Fantasy Films You've Probably Never Heard Of". I know that title is just asking for a number of snarky comments from viewers who of course have seen all the films I plan to tackle, but hopefully the silent majority will be introduced to an innovative project that they otherwise would have missed.

***

I'm seeing The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on Friday! I might repost my reviews for the first two instalments and finish up with my thoughts on this one in the weekend.

Standing Tall #2

This is number two of the Standing Tall Giraffe display that's currently dotted around the city. This one is called Imagine by Gwilym Devey and is located (along with one other) outside the half-ruined Cathedral.

I loved the patterns on this one, for despite the absence of autumnal colours, it reminded me of falling leaves and cold sunsets.


 
 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

If you were to cover a billboard with the names of all the main characters to appear throughout Frank L. Baum's Oz series, and then blindfold yourself and throw a dart at the board, I'd say there would be a 70% chance that you would hit the name of a female character.

To say that the Oz books have feminist subtext is not an exaggeration. Baum's mother-in-law was a renowned woman's rights activist, and Baum himself was the secretary of Aberdeen's Woman's Suffrage Club. It's no coincidence that the most powerful characters in Oz – for good or evil – are women, that most of the societies there are matriarchal, and that its chief explorer is a Plucky Girl from Kansas.

So naturally, Hollywood decided to forego all this girl-power nonsense and concentrate on the backstory of the Wizard instead.

Railing aside, I watched Oz the Great and Powerful after writing my meta on Glinda and Elphaba, out of sheer interest in what this film would do with these characters. Let's keep this short: it's bad. Not just how they characterize the Witches, but the whole film in general.

Review: Clariel

Whether he's writing YA or Middle Grade, Garth Nix is one of my favourite fantasy authors. There are three reasons as to why I find his work so engrossing: amazing female characters (always protagonists), fascinating world-building, and sheer originality.

Bells of diminishing size that are used to subdue the dead, the personified days of the week, monstrous creatures posing as little white cats, houses that are as large as countries, familiar aspects of folklore that are reshaped to fit the contours of his own original worlds – these are just some of the marvels that Nix mixes into his stories, but his real gift is in describing them in such a way that makes them feel both wonderful and organic.

It's hard to describe, but he has this knack of pouring intense creativity into prose that contains and controls it. As a result, nothing ever feels outlandish or cumbersome, even when certain concepts technically are outlandish or cumbersome. Perhaps those who've already read some of his work know what I'm driving at here, but Nix really does have a gift when it comes to shaping his imaginary worlds, and it's in making the weird seem extraordinarily normal.

SPOILERS FOLLOW...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Woman of the Month: Stella Gibson


Stella Gibson from The Fall      
  
There's only one more episode of The Fall's second season left, and it's managed to maintain the quality and suspense of its first. Detailing the police investigation surrounding the search for a serial killer in Belfast who targets attractive brunettes with high-earning jobs, Stella Gibson is called in from London to help reinvigorate proceedings.

Gillian Anderson is amazing as Stella, bringing a demeanour to the character that caught me completely off-guard. On my initial watch, I was surprised by just how cold Stella was, almost to the point of finding her difficult to empathise with.

But then, that’s the point. Because Stella Gibson doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. This level of detached calm on a male character would either be considered normal or demonstrative of his commitment to the job, but on a female character it’s actually rather unnerving. What becomes clear over the course of the show is that Stella is totally, utterly, indescribably unapologetic about who she is and what she wants. Whether it’s in her professional or private life, chasing leads or propositioning a co-worker for a one-night-stand, she’s utterly confident and unashamed.

Furthermore, the writing doesn’t seem particularly interested in giving her any clich├ęd “flaws” just to give her “obstacles to surmount” (let’s be honest here, on most other shows the temptation to make their female lead an ex-drug addict or socially inept or a recovering victim of domestic abuse or hobbled by rampant misogyny in the work-force is usually too great to ignore). Instead Stella is allowed to handle the case and her sex life with complete autonomy. No slip-ups. No attempt to “take her down a peg.” No personal demons that threaten to overwhelm her.

She’s in charge and she’s practically infallible. And why shouldn’t she be? It’s awesome, and she’s so comfortable in her abilities and her own skin that it makes many of her male colleges visibly unsettled. Not that she gives a shit.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Meta: The Evolution of Glinda and Elphaba

This is probably only the twelfth or so time that I've mentioned going to see Wicked in Sydney last month, but now at last I have something more substantial to say about it. After watching the stage musical it struck me just how much L. Frank Baum's original story has been reconfigured, reshaped and restructured since its publication in 1900, especially regarding the Good Witch of the South and the Wicked Witch of the West.

The gradual change is reminiscent of our treatment of the Robin Hood legends. They began as an oral tradition in which Robin Hood was originally a serf and/or a rather dark figure of folklore. Anonymous balladeers shifted the action from Barnesdale Forest in York to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. Friar Tuck and Maid Marian were late additions, included to counter the pagan influences of the old tales. The Elizabethan upperclass appropriated and reimagined him as one of their own: the Earl of Huntingdon who willingly gave up his wealth and title in order to fight for justice.

The old songs and folktales eventually gave way to the printed word, each new writer changing, adding or expanding various components of the stories. Sir Walter Scott popularized the idea of setting the story in the time of King Richard and Prince John; later writers took this further and made Robin a Crusader who fought in the Holy Land only to return home and find corruption had flourished in the King's absence.

The 1938 film brought Guy of Gisborne to the fore as one of Robin's more dangerous enemies. In the 1980s, Richard Carpenter's Robin of Sherwood introduced the idea of a Saracen as part of the outlaw band, a trend that has continued into most subsequent adaptations. Most recently, the character has appeared in rather questionable circumstances on both Doctor Who and Once Upon a Time.

My point in sharing all this is to illustrate that a similar phenomenon has occurred over time with The Wizard of Oz. As each generation goes by, more new content is grafted to Baum's books until it's near-impossible to separate the content of the adaptations from the original story. The Broadway musical is based on Gregory Maguire's novel, which was inspired by the 1939 MGM film, which was adapted from L. Frank Baum's original book, which was drawn (at least in part) from traditional fairy tales. All four versions of the story have their roots in the same watering hole, but each one is drastically different.

But one thing remains the same. Despite all the revisions and variations of the story that have saturated popular culture, each one is structured (to some extent) around and between two poles: the Good Witch and the Evil Witch – the women we now know as Elphaba and Glinda.

Out of simple curiosity, I want to track the evolution of these two characters from start to finish; from book to stage musical. Moving through the compendium of Oz-related material, it's fascinating to see the progress of these two women, and how the years have shaped them.

The Legend of Korra: Operation: Beifong

Things are certainly heading toward the grand finale now, with the Beifong clan reunited (and reconciled) and Kuvira demonstrating the power of her super-weapon. Once again Korra takes a bit of a backseat, with most of the action focused on Lin, Suyin, Toph, Opal, and other assorted Beifongs.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sleepy Hollow: The Akeda

Well, we made it. Sleepy Hollow is on hiatus.

It's been a pretty rocky road, especially when compared to the smooth sailing of season one. It's easy to say that any first season of a new show has the advantages of innovation and novelty to recommend it (Once Upon a Time and Heroes spring to mind), but more often than not a show improves as it goes on, usually peaking in the third or fourth season (after which the writers run out of ideas).