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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Faerie Tale Theatre: Sleeping Beauty

No, I haven't forgotten about Faerie Tale Theatre, it's just that my free time has been whittled down to practically nothing. Next on the programme is the show's take on Sleeping Beauty, which puts a spin on the usual proceedings by relocating the story to Western Europe (allowing for some crazy accents) and throwing in some subplots involving undesirable suitors along the way.
It's also the most racy of the episodes (so far) with several jokes that are bound to go WAY over the heads of younger viewers.
This is not taken out of context. What you think is happening is happening.

But what makes this one really different is that for the first time it embraces the definition of "faerie tale theatre". Not only does it take place on a soundstage with fake plywood trees, but our narrator is a woodsman who talks directly to the audience as well as to the prince and his squire (which serves as a framing device for the whole thing).  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Sally

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas
My new least favourite reason to hate a female character is because she's “just a love interest” – especially when it's applied to characters that are embroiled in fandom shipping wars, making the integrity of the accusation rather questionable. (Female characters that are liked or tolerated are suddenly critiqued within an inch of their life the moment they catch the interest of the male hero. It's pretty damn transparent and I've seen it happen dozens of times: Guinevere from Merlin, Mai from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Echo from The 100).
Would it be nice if all female characters were able to have storylines outside of being a love connection with a dude? Of course! But in real life there’s no such thing as a woman who is just a love interest, and even when that narrative is grafted onto a fictional woman it doesn’t mean she’s a waste of space or an affront to feminism. I think this is best illustrated in Sally from A Nightmare Before Christmas.
As far as I know, she’s a fairly popular character, yet not many people point out the fact that everything she does throughout this movie is driven entirely by the fact she has the hots for Jack Skellington. She sneaks out at night to watch him perform at Halloween. She spends half the movie fretting about how he might come to harm in his attempt to hijack Christmas. She rescues Santa Claus in an attempt to help him clean up the complete mess he's made.
And yet she’s still a great character – easily the most intelligent and thoughtful resident of Halloweentown, who manages to bag her man by the end of the film. Her role as a love interest doesn’t subtract from her appeal, and one of my favourite scenes has her pull off a Gender Flipped Romeo and Juliet scene, in which she sends up a basket of homemade treats to Jack’s window while she waits on the ground outside. It’s adorable.
There are other parts of Sally's characterization that give her depth: her great longing for freedom, the way she utilizes her detachable limbs to escape, her precognitive abilities (remember the scene when the dandelion she's holding turns into a Christmas tree and then catches on fire?)  but her biggest motivator is Jack.
So next time you see a female character get dissed for being "just a love interest", ask yourself why she's being dismissed as such and whether that narrative role makes her any less unappealing as a person. In Sally's case, the answer is no.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reading/Watching Log #21

I made September "Finish What You Started" Month, which meant I had to track down all the book series I had started and never finished. And there were quite a few – I only made a small dent in the large pile of library books currently stacked against my dresser.
It was also time to play catch-up on the viewing side of things, with me heading all the way back to the Nineties to finally put the first season of The X-Files under my belt. I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena Warrior Princess as a kid, but this is my first introduction to Dana Scully, the third great feminist icon of that decade. It feels like I missed out on a formative experience, though the show was a bit too scary for me back in the day.
Oh, and I watched the first seasons of two shows that the entire world has been urging me to watch: The Handmaid's Tale and Stranger Things. They couldn't be more different, but now at least I can join in the conversations at the water cooler at work.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword

If nothing else, Guy Ritchie's take on the King Arthur mythos epitomizes the phrase: "everything but the kitchen sink." No matter how you otherwise feel about the film in its entirety, you can't say you were ever bored.
But what struck me was the realization that Guy Ritchie clearly wasn't all that interested in the Once and Future King – this would have worked so much better as a Robin Hood movie, and after reading this interview it's obvious that he harboured flat-out disdain for the quintessential character of Arthur.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Game of Thrones: Predictions

I should probably wait until the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is about to air before posting this, but hey – I'm still hyped up on the fumes of the seventh season finale. Here are my predictions on who will live and who will die...

Friday, September 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars
Ahsoka Tano is nothing short of a miracle. First appearing in the pilot movie of a television series that wasn't initially well received, introduced as a Padawan apprentice to Anakin despite having never been mentioned in any of the preceding films, and characterized as a brash teenage girl who had difficulty following orders (fandom hates a teenage girl at the best of times, making her butt heads with male authority figures was practically a death sentence), she was poised to become the most loathed Star Wars character since Jar Jar Binks.
Roger Ebert himself had this to say about her: "Ahsoka Tano, by the way, is annoying. She bats her grapefruit-sized eyes at Anakin and offers suggestions that invariably prove her right and her teacher wrong. At least when we first met Yoda, he was offering useful advice."
The deck was well and truly stacked against her, and so what happened next was astounding: she became one of the most popular characters in the entire franchise. In what is perhaps the most breath-taking case of Rescued From the Scrappy Heap since 24's Chloe O'Brian, the show's writers stuck to their guns, course-corrected the ship, and turned Ahsoka into an earnest, loyal, conflicted, brave and ultimately tragic figure.
And make no mistake: The Clone Wars is fundamentally her story. Rey might be the first female protagonist of a Star Wars film, but the distinction of first female protagonist period goes to Ahsoka. She grows from a fourteen to a seventeen year old across the course of the show, and despite its format – a series of mini-arcs that focused on a wide range of characters – its underlying structure was built upon Ahsoka's maturation.
Here is a child-soldier that was thrown into mortal danger, forced to watch people she cared about suffer and die, driven into leadership roles far beyond what would normally be expected of someone her age, and who is eventually betrayed by the very Jedi Order that raised her. Yet for all of this, she does not break; she does not relinquish her moral compass.
In this respect it's fascinating to watch the dynamic between herself and Anakin, not only for its brother/sister/student/mentor rapport, but in the way each one is indelibly shaped by the conflict tearing up the galaxy around them. Each one goes through their own personal crucible set against a backdrop of war and hate and violence, but only she emerges with her soul still intact.
The culmination of her character arc at the conclusion of the fifth season adds a particularly tragic note of irony to her story: leaving the Jedi Order may break her heart, but it also saves her life. More than that, it leaves a series of "what might have been" questions in her wake. Had she not left the Jedi Order, would Anakin have fallen to the Dark Side? Would she have been enough to keep him tethered to the Light? We'll never know, but it serves as a reminder that it's our choices more than our circumstances that define who we are. Anakin broke, but Ahsoka remained true to herself.
(Oh, and did I mention her distinctive fighting style? She has two lightsabres, each one wielded not as a sword but a dagger, the blades pointed inwards and used to shield her body. It's cool).

Reading/Watching Log #20

So I only finished five things this month. Five things. That's terrible! In my defence I've been reading/watching a lot more than this, I just didn't manage to finish any of them in August. In any case: one good book, one bad book, the conclusion of a great show, the middle of an entertaining one, and the penultimate offering of a frustrating one.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Orphan Black: To Right the Wrongs of Many

And it's over. I've been on the Orphan Black rollercoaster since day one and now that it's come to an end I'm not sure how I feel. A little bereft, oddly nonchalant and mostly satisfied? That's a weird combination, but it's where I'm at.
Truth be told, this season wasn't hugely compelling, and many of the deaths felt more perfunctory than shocking (MK's especially, but even Mrs S's to a certain degree) and a lot of my attention was diverted by what was happening over on Game of Thrones and Still Star Crossed. To paraphrase Mary Crawley, I'm sad the show has ended – but not as sad as I thought I would be, and that makes me sad.
In my mind I imagined this finale differently: there would be an elaborate and ingenious subterfuge carried out by the seestras and their allies, with clones impersonating each other three levels deep and every skill-set being utilized in surprising ways and a couple dozen twists and "oh shit" moments – but the show opted for a more lowkey resolution. I can't really hold it against them.

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.