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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Orphan Black: One Fettered Slave

So it's not just work that's making these reviews late, it's that there's so much to process in each episode, and a part of me doesn't want it to end. It's hard to believe we only get one more episode of Orphan Black before it's over forever.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Orphan Black: Guillotines Decide

Late again, but it's been a busy week! Last week's preview of Orphan Black refused to show anything of this episode, which was a dead giveaway (no pun intended) that one of our regulars was not long for this world. The moment Sarah kissed Siobhan on her cheek and called her mum, I knew it would be Mrs S. C'mon, that's not even a spoiler, they were telegraphing it in neon lights throughout the entire episode!
So although I'm sad, I can't say I was upset. It didn't come as a huge surprise, and as death scenes go, it was a dignified one. Killing off minority characters is always a risk, but for every ten female characters that get fridged to make a male character sad (I've already seen two this year on Versailles and Into the Badlands) there's one that goes out on her own terms, looking fantastic and taking her killer down with her.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Dutch

Dutch from Killjoys
If there's one type of characterization I really love, it's a tough exterior hiding a vulnerable gooey centre. Such is the case with Dutch (real name: Yalena Yardeen) from SyFy's Killjoys. In many ways she's a total power fantasy: a bounty hunter with fantastic hair and a smirk to rival Natalie Dormer's who flies from planet to planet collecting warrants for large sums of money ... but of course, there's a dark backstory just waiting to be exposed.
She's deeply reminiscent of Firefly's River and Dark Angel's Max (who were also trained as living weapons), but where River was psychologically damaged and Max emotionally stunted, Dutch has set up very strict moral limitations on herself, striving to keep her abilities in check so that she can better distance herself from her past.
But she's not a grim, stoic killing-machine, which is a trap plenty of writers fall into when they're told to write a "badass female character". Across the episodes Dutch is allowed to be playful, tearful, distraught and afraid – even if those emotions don't come to her quite as naturally as others.
Her tale is one of self-identity and found family. When we first meet her she's already escaped a long-term abusive relationship with a father figure who was training her to become an assassin, and gone on to form a much healthier platonic bond with her partner in the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition. But if Khlyen and Johnny represent the two sides of her – the broken and the functional halves – then it doesn't come as much of a surprise when Khlyen's return sends her into a tailspin.
Ultimately she's defined by two internal drives: the protection of her crewmates and a need to understand where she came from. Always the question lingers: if it came down to it, which one would she chose? As I've only watched the first season, I don't yet know the answer...

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reading/Watching Log #19

Though it looks like I got through a lot of material this month, the majority of shows were watched last month and finished up in the first few weeks of July. I only managed one film and a couple of books, but there was plenty of variety here: a couple of period dramas that were either sentimental or goofy, two sci-fi shows (an old one and a new one) and a trip down memory lane thanks to a podcast that focuses on pulpy teen thrillers from the Nineties.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Orphan Black: Gag or Throttle

So far this season has been solid but also a little ho-hum – until now! Suddenly things have been kicked into high gear, and for the first time I felt the writers were paying attention to the story as it unfolded, rather than gathering the pieces together for the show's final act.
This was the long-awaited Rachel-centric episode, and though we've had glimpses of her upbringing before, this delved much deeper into her past, her psyche and her relationship to the show's themes of female autonomy and nature vs nurture.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Orphan Black: Manacled Slim Wrists

I can't believe we're officially over halfway through the final season. I feel I should be more emotional about it, but though this season has certainly improved its suspense and stakes, I'm still not as engrossed as I used to be.

If anything, this season has the slight air of a checklist, with each major (and minor) character being brought on stage, given closure, and shuffled off again. We've had the demise of MK, the return of Adele, an appearance from Krystal, and – oh look! – Gracie is turning up next week. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact you would expect it for a final season, but there is a deliberate "let's wrap up this loose end" quality to the story that's not entirely organic.
And we've now gone two weeks without Felix!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Links and Updates

I don't think I've ever had two "Links and Updates" posts this close together before, but – wow! It's been one heck of a weekend. Maybe I should wait until Comic Con (which starts in a matter of days) but so much has been thrown at us by Disney and the BBC that I have to post about it now.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Orphan Black: Ease for Idle Millionaires

So even as the fifth season of the show trundles along without its usual sense of suspense and urgency, this episode threw some interesting spanners into the mix: namely that P.T. Westmoreland may be a big fat fraud.
That Westmoreland is the evil genius behind Neolution and that he's of a preternatural age has been something I've simply assumed is true. Because of that I've been a little bewildered by the scenes of Mrs S questioning the nerds about the history of Neolution and Westmoreland's biography. Was any of it necessary? Why was the show wasting time showing Mrs S trying to establish something we already know is true?
Unless of course, it isn't true. A couple of episodes ago Westmoreland was explicitly referred to as The Man Behind the Curtain, and we all know how that turned out in The Wizard of Oz. He was a complete phoney. More clues popped up across this episode, including evidence that Westmoreland is very ill (so... not immortal after all?) and a lack of familiarity regarding Charles Darwin facts, despite having supposedly gone to school with him.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Links and Updates

Last Friday I came home to a trifecta of exciting news. Firstly, that Sense8 was being given the chance to wrap things up with a final two-hour special. Secondly, that the covers for Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage had been released. Thirdly, that the first trailer for The Changeover, an adaptation of Margaret Mahy's novel and one of the seminal books of my early years was out.
I went to sleep that night feeling very satisfied – and woke up with the flu, one that I'm only now just starting to shake off.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Orphan Black: Let the Children and Childbearers Toil

Yeah, I'm still playing catch-up. I've been as sick as a dog this week, and haven't been able to do much but groan and flail my arms, so this may have to be a quick one if I want to get it done before the next episode airs.
It's time for another round of "guess who's not really dead". Susan Duncan, last seen getting stabbed by Rachel, and Virgina Coady, implied to have been shot at point-blank range by Ferdinand, are both still alive and – well, not really kicking. But alive.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Wonder Woman

Diana Prince from Wonder Woman
Well, who else was I going to pick?
Making her debut in last year's Batman vs Superman, and generally considered to be the best part of that film (though I enjoyed it, flaws and all) Gal Gadot's Diana of Themyscira was a quintessential One Scene Wonder, appearing only sporadically throughout the film before turning up to help defeat Doomsday in the final act. Whoever cut the final trailer must have known the impact she'd have, as her appearance at the climax was used as the preview's trump card.
So despite fandom fears, I had a feeling her solo film would be a success – and so it was. My review can be found here, and Diana is truly its star: infused with conviction and empathy, wisdom and innocence, strength and gentleness. It makes for a wonderfully (no pun intended) three-dimensional character, one that's allowed to be unworldly without being comically na├»ve. Here is a woman who will coo over a baby and delight over ice-cream, then thoroughly beat the crap out of German soldiers.
But Wonder Woman has been around much longer than this. She was first invented in 1941 by psychologist William Moulton Marston as a deliberate response to all the male superheroes that dominated comics. In this he was helped by his wife Elizabeth Marston and their mutual partner Olive Byrne, and inspired by the women of Greek mythology: namely Artemis, goddess of the hunt (who of course, the Romans called Diana).
Her next big appearance involved a transition from comics to television with the 1970s show starring Lynda Carter. I'll admit this was a little before my time, which is a shame since it's still considered a beloved cult classic. After that, the character faded a little from mainstream pop culture, finally appearing in the animated Justice League and the 2009 straight-to-DVD film. In both cases, Diana wasn't particularly well-drawn. The former was rather haughty and "a little stuck-up" (to accurately quote another character) and the latter's story was overshadowed by some awful gender politics (let's just say Steve Trevor is a chauvinist sleazebag and leave it at that).
She's popped up elsewhere over the years, including cameos in Young Justice and The Lego Movie, but not until the release of her own blockbuster film has she truly re-entered the cultural zeitgeist. All you need to know is that I went with my mother to see Wonder Woman, and she ended up really enjoying it, despite not being a huge superhero fan.  
So with the big-screen Justice League and a Wonder Woman sequel (now confirmed to be directed by Patty Jenkins) on the way, it's a great time to be a fan of female superheroes – especially if you're a little girl. As someone remarked on Twitter, we now live in an age where Rey is a Jedi-in-training, the Ghostbusters are women, and Wonder Woman is one of the top-grossing superhero films of all time.
(Kids these days, they're so spoiled!)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Orphan Black: Beneath Her Heart

It's the seasonal Alison-centric suburban hijinks episode! However, the show managed to shake up its usual formula, adding plenty of continuity and a little poignancy, thereby reclaiming some of the show's magic.
We get a flashback to the early days of the Clone Club, in which Beth was still around, Sarah not yet on the scene, and Cosima and Alison about to meet for the first time. In fact, this may be the earliest chronological flashback we've had so far, back when Alison's life was first starting to crumble under her feet.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Reading/Watching Log #18

It's been a very slow month in terms of my reading/watching habits, mainly because I've just finished three intense weeks of job training. But I got through intact, and am looking forward to establishing a routine that'll allow me enough time for my usual pop-culture intake. Until then, it's slim pickings: a couple of books, a couple of movies, and no television shows (save American Gods, which I've written about separately).
did however manage to revisit three versions of Murder on the Orient Express: the original novel, the 1974 film and the ITV adaptation. As you've probably guessed, it was indeed brought on by the trailer for Kenneth Branagh's take on the famous mystery, out this November. Be warned, I may talk obliquely about the solution under the cut.
(And yes, my Orphan Black review is coming).

Sunday, June 25, 2017

American Gods: Come to Jesus

Here we are, the end of season one. I was interested to see on what note this season would finish, and I have to say I'm surprised it was a tease of The House on the Rock. They've certainly paced themselves considering that particular location was an early pit-stop in the novel, but at the same time it's been fascinating to see what changes have been made – both here and in the story still to come.
And finally, Kristin Chenoweth appears!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Orphan Black: Clutch of Greed

So is anyone else feeling an odd disengagement? All the pieces are in place: the clones, the conspiracy, the suspense, the twists – and yet I don't feel myself as pulled in as I usually do. This may have had something to do with the "Rachel targets Kira and has to be smuggled away" plot playing out for the millionth time (albeit with lampshade hangings and an eventual subversion) or the shock death that was as unpleasant as it was perfunctory, but I'm just not feeling it this season.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: Wonder Woman

I'll admit I was a little trepid about seeing Wonder Woman: as I seem to mention all the time, I'm a little fatigued by the overload of superhero movies, not to mention prequels and origin stories. Wonder Woman is all three, and though I desperately wanted it to be good, I had my reservations.
But it turns out those early reviews were correct: Patty Jenkins has given us a film that's joyous, poignant, exciting, colourful and even thought-provoking at times. Despite the fact there's nothing hugely surprising or original in terms of the plot (I foresaw every beat), it's told with such clarity of purpose and reverence for its lead character that it's impossible not to be drawn in.

American Gods: A Prayer for Mad Sweeney

I loved this episode. Let me just start by saying that. It was funny, poignant, dark, sweet, and I was moved to tears by the ending. Back when I first read Gaiman's novel, I'd have thought you crazy if you'd said I would one day get choked up over the interactions between a walking corpse and a six-foot leprechaun.
(Insert obligatory "I can't believe he's Porntache!")
Granted, the episode is a strange choice for a season's penultimate episode, and it's a definite misstep to side-line Shadow and Wednesday this close to the finish line. It reminds me of Galavant's second season, which focused on King Richard at the expense of the actual protagonist.
It wasn't that Richard was a bad character, but you have to time these things. For instance, Avatar: The Last Airbender knew it had to wait until the second season before airing an episode that centred entirely on Zuko.
But when taken on its own merits, this is one of my favourite episodes – not just of American Gods, but of any show – period. There's something profoundly satisfying about stories that go "full circle". You see it in the final words of The Lord of the Rings ("I'm back") or when Jack closed his eyes for the last time in the finale of LOST.
It's a natural part of storytelling, providing balance and resolution, and this episode was all about the beauty of coming full circle with both characters and plot.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Orphan Black: The Few Who Dare

So the fifth and final season of Orphan Black – my absolute favourite show – has started airing at a very inopportune time: the middle of job training, in which my attention and energy is almost exclusively elsewhere.
I want to be able to savour this final adventure with the clone club, and I debated whether to hold off watching it until training was over ... but I don't have that kind of self-discipline. Thankfully I'm already halfway through the three initiation weeks, so in a matter of a few days I can settle down with the final stretch of a truly great show.
(I've also got Wonder Woman and the latest episode of American Gods to review, but we'll get there!)

Friday, June 9, 2017

American Gods: A Murder of Gods

I'm in the middle of training for my new job, so this'll have to be a short one (as well as a belated one).
The show goes very much off the beaten track – and Gaiman's written word – for this episode, which may account for its slightly different vibe. If you hadn't read the book, I wouldn't be surprised if you could guess the material here wasn't derived from the novel, as unlike Git Gone, another largely original story which focused on Laura's state of mind, A Murder of Gods didn't quite mesh with the rest of the show. It's hard to put my finger on why.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Nomi Marks

Nomi Marks from Sense8
There's only one problem with the entire second season of Sense8 being released on Netflix: I raced through it in a matter of days. Why didn't I pace myself? Why didn't I prolong the enjoyment? Like a kid with a chocolate bar I just didn't have the self-discipline for delayed gratification.
For those not in the know, Sense8 explores the concept of a brand new species of human called "homo sensorium", in which eight people born at exactly the same moment end up psychically connected to one another. It sounds like a simple enough premise, but the Wachowski siblings turn it into something truly sublime. This is a story in which eight people strewn across the globe can not only interact with each other, but pool their skills and resources into a single body.
When it comes to shows with ensemble casts, viewers make much of deciding who is "the heart" or "the mum" of the group. Here, Nomi holds the interesting position of being the mind of her cluster. In this nexus of characters, she's the one who links them together with information and planning, a nice reflection of her hacking skills.
Given her occupation as a political blogger and hacktivist, her strained relationship with her parents regarding her transition, and a frightening first season arc that involves what can only be called "medical gaslighting," you can't help but feel that Nomi represents some very personal issues and opinions held by Lana and Lily Wachowski.
But it's more important to note that they avoid making her a perfect angel, as she's certainly not without her flaws. On being told via her sister that their father considers her narcissistic, she unconsciously proves his point when her speech at her sister's rehearsal dinner ends up being mostly about her (with a few pointed barbs at her parents for good measure).
And yet a little self-absorption isn't a deal breaker. By placing her at the intellectual centre of the cluster, Nomi attains the position of mastermind or string-puller behind the other sensates. When it comes to the overarching mystery of the show, involving past clusters and shady conspiracies, it's usually Nomi heading the investigation. Her hacking skills have frequently been utilized in the cluster's assorted missions; and at times her abilities reach near god-like proportions (from another country entirely, she manages to scare the crap out of a bad guy by threatening him through an automated car park gate).
Funny, clever, and with a firm grasp on who she is and what she wants (I doubt it's a coincidence that her name is phonetically pronounced "Know Me"), Nomi doesn't just contribute technological knowhow to the cluster, but also wisdom and compassion born of experience.
Also, her relationship with Amanita has got to be the most adorable of the entire show. Well, maybe second to Lito and Hernando.

American Gods: Lemon Scented You

By this point the general feel of the show has been established, as well as its overarching plot: there are old gods and new gods, each preparing for war with each other across all the states of America. We're with Mr Wednesday (the Norse god Odin) and his man Shadow as he recruits his fellow old gods for a final showdown, something that hasn't failed to escape the attention of the new gods.
That's it in a nutshell, but it's worth pointing out that it's taken us five episodes to reach these conclusions. The show has not been in any hurry to outline what the plot is, and it's been through several seemingly unrelated vignettes, exploring the existence of the gods in America, that insight (or exposition) has been presented, especially regarding the rules concerning the relationship between gods and mortals.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Reading/Watching Log #17

This month's subject matter: post-apocalypse dramas, fairy tale romances, outer-space survival, 1960s espionage, and the usual dose of superheroes. This month's unfortunate theme: imperilled women. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Links and Updates

I have some news: I have a new job! I've been offered (and accepted) a Library Assistant position, and my training starts at the beginning of next month. This naturally means I'll have a lot less time to post on this blog, but I'm looking forward to the work ahead of me. Among other things, it'll speed up the process of getting my plane ticket to England!
It's been a rough week in terms of global news, with humanity continuing to prove its commitment to Being Awful, and even my usual remedy of unwinding with books and shows didn't do much to help considering the season finale of Into The Badlands. (Let's just say that 2016's trend of fridging female characters has continued).
But there have been other fandom treats to distract us, many of which I'm sure you've already seen...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

American Gods: Git Gone

I knew that more depth on Laura was coming, but I definitely didn't expect it to take up an entire episode! Having read the book earlier this year, my impressions of her are a little vague – most of the time she seemed more plot-point than character, so I was intrigued to hear that Bryan Fuller was taking the opportunity to provide some insight into her thoughts and choices, especially in what was already going to be a sprawling show.
Expanding material derived from the novel is one thing, but much of what we learn about Laura here is completely original – and given my own bout of existential crisis last year, a little harrowing to watch at times. Emily Browning's Laura Moon is a woman who finds nothing meaningful or interesting in life, dragging herself through the tedium of her daily routine as she waits endlessly for something to wake her up (figuratively speaking). It never comes.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Excalibur

With the recent release of Guy Richie's King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the subsequent reviews (let's just say they have not been kind), I decided to revisit what is generally considered the best filmic adaptation of Arthurian legend.
To say "best" is relative. The truth is that Hollywood has never managed to get a handle on the stories of King Arthur – perhaps because the mythology is so sprawling; perhaps because Arthur himself isn't anything like the typical anti-hero that modern filmmakers love, perhaps because he's quintessentially British in a way an American industry can't quite grasp (as opposed to Robin Hood, whose devil-may-care, stick-it-to-the-man attitude translates much better to Hollywood sensibilities).
If Arthur has a flaw, it was his inability to condemn his wife and best friend out of love for them (at least not until it was too late), or how his commitment to law and justice alienated allies looking for special favours. Or, you know, that one time he slept with his half-sister who then gave birth to an incestuous bastard who eventually killed him on the battlefield.
In any case, not of it translates well into the "flawed hero" archetype. In fact, a lot can be read into Guy Ritchie's interview in which he says:
I think where the pitfall has often been is trying to make King Arthur bland and nice, and nice and bland. The two qualities make rather compatible bed companions. Unfortunately, they’re not interesting to watch. Luke Skywalker was always the most uninteresting character in Star Wars because he’s the good guy. Good guys are boring.
With that attitude, is it any wonder that no one has ever done King Arthur justice? But John Boorman certainly made the attempt, and though the result is a rather strange affair, with composite characters, shifting perspectives, massive time-skips, and hefty symbolism to get across some of the finer details, it has a hypnotic quality that makes it worth at least one watch...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

American Gods: Head Full of Snow

Obviously this episode left everyone buzzing over that love scene, but I'm going to take a step back and look at the wider context, as by this time it's becoming clear that certain ideas and images strewn through the first three episodes are linked in significant ways – even if we can't see the pattern yet.