Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Buff: Big Hair

After a brief sojourn for the holiday proper, Movie Buff is back, with the 2010 Disney Princess Flick, Tangled.

Thoughts, numbered, but in no particular order:
1) I thought the male lead was voiced by Owen Wilson, for a little bit, and thought he was smug and annoying.  Then I realized it was Zach Levi of Chuck, and thought he was charming and flamboyant.  I am fickle.
2) By taking a story that features a heroine raised by a magically knowledge woman posing as her mother, Disney has combined the evil stepmother with the evil witch.  Slow clap.
3) In case you're unfamiliar, the film is essentially the Rapunzel story, with added overtones of defying overprotective parents.  Disney takes a bold stance against satellite parenting.  Also a stance against literally sucking the youth out of your children.
4) It also added animal sidekicks, because... Disney.   If there aren't animals slavishly dedicating themselves to largely oblivious humans, then how we will be able to sell toys based on them?
5) On a related note, I kind of want to see a version of Les Miserables where the part of Javert is played by a horse now.
6) Early in the film, they show Rapunzel's growing dissatisfaction with her tower home via a montage of her doing all her daily activities: cleaning, swinging, ballet, reading, murals, etc.  While it's an effective scene, a part of me was actually thinking, "sounds pretty sweet to me."
7) A note to would-be tower prison wardens: if you don't want your captive daughters to yearn for the outdoors, you should probably not include open windows in your tower design.
8) It's surprising how aware I was of gender roles in the film.  I've watched a few animated kid flicks recently: How To Train Your Dragon, (obviously, since I did a review on it) Paranorman, and Brave.  But even Brave, which was explicitly about a girl's relationship with her mother, didn't quite scream "pay attention to gender roles" like this film did.  I think it's because the film isn't just a kid's film that happens to feature a princess as the lead; it's because it is a Disney Princess Film, and as such, it seems to funnel itself into such an interpretation above all else.  It's not bad on that score, really--the princess and thief pairing brings to mind Aladdin, but Rapunzel is much more the lead here than Jasmine ever was, and she isn't anyone's prize.  At the same time, I think I'd really like to see a Disney movie that featured a girl with other female friends.
9) On the note of gender awareness, it plays kind of weird in retrospect that the male lead, Eugene, voices the narration in the intro and outro.   Narratively, I can see the point, in that he won't show up for a while, and it's important that the audience realize he's coming.  And he explicitly says this is Rapunzel's story, not his, which is also important.  But at the same time, making him the narrator makes him, in a strange way, the author of her story, and that doesn't seem right.  And in another film, I may not have noticed it, but here... Disney Princess Film.  Gender spotlight.
10) There have been no good songs in a Disney film since they switched from 2-D animation.  This is probably not a coincidence.

Conclusion: I liked it better than Brave.  Not better than the dragon one.  Probably equal to Paranorman, but only because Paranorman had such a great climax.

EDIT: It's been pointed out to me that the movie is actually called "Tangled," not "Twisted." The mix-up is clearly Gregory McGuire's fault, not mine.
Later Days.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Triad: Superheroes, Cthulu, and some fiction

Guess what!  We're still doing the Book Triad segment! This time, we'll be looking at

Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy by Graham Harman
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
Superheroes!: Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films by Roz Kaveney

Reviews after the break.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Random Quotations: Don't Get Me Started on Nate Grey

"The Marvel Universe, by contrast, has always glorified in the proliferation of timelines to an extent that it sometimes becomes almost impossible to keep straight in one's mind, yet somehow it remains accessible to most examples: Rachel Grey is the daughter of Scott Summers and Jean Grey but was born into a timeline, came to the present from a dystopian future that never happened.  Cable, her half-brother, Summers' son by Madeleine, the woman he married when Jean was supposedly dead, was sent into the future to have a disease cured and came back when he was significantly older than his father."--Roz Kaveney, Superheroes! Capes and Crusaders in Comics and Films. 

I'm still waiting for the story where it turns out that Cable is his own grandpa.  Granted, it would mean displacing Corsair, but I think we'd all be okay with that.  Anyway, Kaveney's book is very good; it balances accessibility with depth to make a real study of what makes superhero comics worth investigating.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Bibliophile: Chocolate and Lemon Tossing at Quest U

Movies viewed so far today: Fletcher and The Goonies.  But I wasn't really paying a lot of attention to either, so no expanded reviews.  Instead, let's get down to business: book business, as Quest University, Squamish, BC. 

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain

Sounds like Grad School.  This is Bibliophile.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Parenthood Trap, Or Go Play Somewhere Else, Cat

The movie marathon has been broken by a, well, TV marathon.  My, I certainly know how to live my vacations to their fullest, don't I?  Anyway, between readings and writings today, I've been plowing through the first season of Parenthood.  It's a 1 hr drama about the lives of an extended family: four adult siblings, two grandparents, and six grandchildren.  I'm jumping into the show mainly because its showrunner is the same guy behind Friday Night Lights, the show I burned through last summer.  The fact that its regular cast includes a lot of my faves doesn't hurt either.  There's Peter Krause, from Sports Night.  Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls.  (And apparently my crush on Lauren Graham has advanced to the point where I'm automatically against any plotline involving boyfriends for her character because it should be me, I guess?  Which isn't creepy at all, I'm sure.)  And the kids include Mae Whitman, better known as Ann from Arrested Development (her?).  At 24, she's probably getting a little sick of playing a teenager--though the guys from Gossip Girl had it a lot worse. 

Anyway, in the first dozen or so episodes, the show deals with a lot of family related issues, some general, some very specific: we see Krause and his spouse deal with Max, their son whose recently been diagnosed with Asberger's Syndrome.  And another sibling, a powerful female lawyer, deals with the fact that her daughter seems to prefer her friend's stay-at-home mom to her.  And another sibling is faced with a son he didn't know he fathered five years ago.  And so forth.  None of it is particularly out of place for a family (although the variation of the deadbeat father story is getting there), and the show lacks even the football season momentum that provided the backbone for the similar low-key Friday Night Lights.  But it works.  With good casting and simple stories, it works.

It's making me articulate my feelings towards another, similar show--or at least, one that's similar in broad strokes: Modern Family.  I might have mentioned a few times on this blog, but I think Modern Family is overrated.  It's got a good cast, and good writing, but it's lazy.  It doesn't push any boundaries.  It's the same sitcom we've seen a hundred times before, with the "reality TV camera" conceit added on.  So what's the difference between that and Parenthood?  Why do I think one is quality, and the other is less than it could and should be?  And why is my brother's cat still sitting behind the big screen TV, a position it has been in for the last hour?  Well the hell is so captivating back there?  ...Sorry, I got distracted.  I can't answer that last one, but I think the answer to the other is stereotype.  Modern Family relies on stereotypes to a pretty high degree; the father's old, his wife sounds funny, the gay couple is Gay, except look, one of them is also "comically" butch, there's a smart daughter and a stupid daughter... it just feels like they're characters playing roles for the sake of a joke.  And there's nothing wrong with that--as long as it's a good joke.  Otherwise, it's the same act, over and over.  Parenthood, on the other hand, feels like it earns its low-key stature, by trying to be true to its characters, by treating them as people.  Also, it uses Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" as a theme song.  That's clearly another one in the win column.

Later Days.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Quotations: Wider and Larger. That's what she said.

"There was your mistake.  There was your error.  The error all women commit.  Why can't you women love us, faults and all?  Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals?  We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason.  It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love.  It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us--else what use is love at all?  All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive.  All lives, save loveless lives, Love should pardon.  A man's love is like that.  It is wider, larger, more human than a woman's.  Women think that they are making ideals of men.  What they are making of us are false idols merely.  You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses.  I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now.  ... Let women make no more ideals of men!  Let them not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you--you whom I have wildly loved--have ruined mine!" --An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde.

My first pick for today was the exact same Invisible Cities quotation I used a year ago.  Points for consistency, I guess.  So instead, you get another passage from An Ideal Husband.  I didn't like a lot of things about this play; this passage encompasses a lot of its problems, combining some lovely sentiments with some rather questionable and largely ridiculous gender statements.  But at least it's less depressing than Young Adult.

Later Days.

Movie Buff: And No One Learned Anything, Forever

Watched another movie.  I watch a lot of movies.  Is this the start of a marathon?  ...Maaaybe.  Anyway, the current film is Young Adult.  Its plot is that lead character, after leaving her home town for mild success in a small city, returns home, with the singular hope to inject some meaning in her life by seducing her old boyfriend, now married with his first child.  Dear God, this is a horrible, horrible film to watch if you're nearly 30, still in school (the mild success of a PhD student), and home for the holidays.  My physique is a little more Patton Oswald than Charlize Theron, though, so I don't have to worry about breaking up any marriages any time soon.

Seriously, it's a good film, although not in a way that can even remotely be described as uplifting.  I classified it as a comedy, and that couldn't be more wrong, in either the sense that comedies make you laugh, or, like the classic Greek version, a comedy is a story where everything is resolved happily in the end.  More than anything else, it's a character study of Mavis Gray, Theron's character, and what it means to define yourself entirely in terms of an escape from where you grew up--and then continue to fall apart, because that's not enough.  The film deals heavy in that "uncomfortable" side of the comic spectrum.  It kind of reminds me of Carnage, with a much tighter focus.

...And it's kind of a downer.  I'm going to watch Adventure Time till I get smiley again.

Later Days.

Movie Buff: Everywhere There Be Dragons

I just got finished watching How To Train Your Dragon, a mere two years beyond the movie's original debut.  It's the touching story of a boy who convinces his fellow Vikings to stop murdering dragons, and to enslave them as beasts of burden instead.  Awwww.

Dragons are interesting in genre fantasy, because there's so many varying portrayals, usually in terms of their intelligence.  Sometimes, they're basically human smart, as in, say, Timothy Zahn's Dragonback adventures.  Sometimes they're more cockerspaniel level, as in this movie, or the Discworld series (at least, most are).  And sometimes, they're much smarter than humans, as in Ursala Le Guinn's Earthsea.  Eragon, The Hobbit, the Pern series, Game of Thrones, Dragon and the George, the Farseer Trilogy, Havemercy (Cyberpunk dragon), Chronicles of Narnia, Name of the Wind, Myth, Cretien de Troyes, and Beowulf--lotta dragons.  TV Tropes even has a trope for it, "Our Dragons are Different," looking at how every fantasy series needs its own dragon.  Even more than the unicorn, the dragon comes up.

Dwarves, Elves, even monster races like the goblins and orcs and such are basically there to provide human species proxies, allowing us to displace the human Other onto something that don't exit.  Dragons are (probably) the most common example of the next step, as they're part human, and part animal. 

Not sure where I'm going with this.  Dragons are cool, I guess?  Also, I loved the collection of British (and Scottish) voice actors from the film:Gerald Butler, Robin Atkin Downes, Craig Ferguson, Ashley Jensen, David Tennant.  It's probably culturally insensitive to have so many UK folk play Vikings, but what else can you expect for a show glamorizing dragon enslavement?

Later Days.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Take It Out or Leave It In: Questions of the Muppet Christmas Carol

Back way back (or maybe way back way back--when the blog shifted from a course assignment to whatever it is now) I did a post on my favorite X-Mas specials.  And at the top of the non-ranked list, is Muppet Christmas Carol.  I watched it again with friends last night, and it still stands up.  The comedy and adventure is a little less than Muppet Treasure Island, but the story is much stronger.  It's a hard one for a Muppet adaptation, because the plot really doesn't leave much for them to do; Kermit as Bob Cratchett is an obvious one, but the rest of the cast, from Fozzie to Miss Piggy, don't come so naturally.  But they did it, and it works.  Frankly, I think the sets for their dilapidated 19th century England hold up a lot better than that other Victorian musical movie, Sweeney Todd

One of the things I notice--and I notice this every time--is that they cut out the song "When Love is Gone."  And that led to a debate with my friends whether the song ever existed to begin with.  Some of us (including me) remember it being there, and some of us do not. A bit of Wikipedia research revealed the mystery: studio execs had cut it out of the first theatrical release of the film, over Brian Henson's protests.  It got reinserted into the 2002 video release, and taken out again in the 2005.  What clip could possibly inspire such controversy? 
See for yourself:

(Technically, this is the song, plus some extra bits before it; the extra bits provide some context.) Now, the really surprising thing, once I did some digging, was that I found that this wasn't the only song that failed to make the theatrical version. There were two more that were written, sang, but never filmed. We're going to look at both of theme quickly too. Beeker and Bunson, in "Room in Your Heart." Well, this one being cut is no mystery. It's... not very good. It's no "Feels Like Christmas," or "God Bless Us All," and it's sure as heck no "Marley and Marley." At under two minutes, it still manages to feel too long. Plus, the character mapping didn't work very well; Bunson's not really known for his love and caring. It's just a little too preachy, in a movie where the "good model" characters tend to show more by example than telling. Sam the Eagle, in "Chairman of the Board." This one's slightly better. It fails more in terms of plot, in that it muddies the waters a bit too much for a children's flick. Sam's gung ho capitalist, patriotic spirit was often used in the show to poke a bit of fun at a certain type of American overblown self-importance. In the film, then, he demonstrates overblown faith in capitalism and the education system. That's pretty heavy stuff, given the audience and goal of the film, which is more an individual story than a systematic critique. And that brings us to "When Love is Gone." Like "Room in Your Heart," it's edging more towards preaching than most of the film, as Scrooge basically gets sang at for a few minutes. Like "Chairman of the Board," it's getting into issues beyond the purview of little felt puppets--romantic love doesn't really fit with the themes of the film. And, more importantly, it falls into the big problem with the Christmas Carol story: there's nothing for Muppets to do here. I can see why execs looked at it, and decided that people would find it boring. But honestly, I think it's the big turn of the film--the narrative crux. It's the moment when Scrooge the Younger solidifies into the bitter man he'll become, and the moment when Scrooge the Older starts to remember what he gave up. Neither Cain nor the actress are great singers, but when present Scrooge starts singing a duet with his past love... that moment gets to me. It's the perfect counterpoint to the exchange at the beginning of the scene: "I love you, Belle." "...You did, once." You can convey so much through those words. I'll admit: I had a version of the Christmas Carol with "When Love is Gone" in it. And every time, I'd skip over that scene. But to know it's there, to know that the characters went through it... that's important, I think. One line to go out on: Ebenezer Scrooge: You're a little absent-minded, spirit. Ghost of Christmas Present: No, I'm a LARGE absent-minded spirit! BaDUM-bum. Later Days.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry shaved his chest? It's like that.

Apropos of nothing, my facial hair has finally reached the rate of growth where it requires daily shaving to keep it under control.  It's a sad state of affairs, and there's nothing for it but to declare a growth of the Winter Beard.  FOR ALL OF TIME.  Or at least until I see my mom and/or brother next week, and they tell me to shave it.

Later Days.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bibliophile: Idle Hands at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

“Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

We go over a university's new books, and pick out some highlights.  We are discerning and conscientious.  We are Bibliophile.

This week, we're looking at BC's Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  More after the break.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Quotations: People are Like Art

"MABEL CHILTERN is a perfect example of the English type of prettiness, the apple-blossom type.  She has all the fragrance and freedom of a flower.  There is ripple after ripple of sunlight in her hair, and the little mouth, with its parted lips, is expectant, like the  mouth of a child.  She has the fascinating tyranny of youth, and the astonishing courage of  innocence.  To sane people she is not reminiscent of any work of art.  But she is really like a Tanagra statuette, and would be rather annoyed if she were told so."  --Oscar Wilde.  An Ideal Husband.

I recently made a breakthrough with my new iPhone.  See, you can't walk down the street reading a book.  It's socially unacceptable.  Ridiculous.  Crazy.  But it's fine to walk down the street staring at your iPhone.  A few ebook downloads later, and I've got a library on the go.  A library filled with things like Oscar Wilde plays. 

Later Days.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Little Things

It's funny how the smallest things are the ones that decide our day to day mood.  Case in point: there are some big forces at work in my life, at moment.  Dissertation-wise, there is regular writing, and a sense that I'm moving forward.  Workwise, there's that First Person Scholar launch, which I mentioned previously.  On a personal level, I tried out speed dating last Sunday, and the results of that have been... interesting.  And I'm heading back to Saskatchewan in a little over a week, and I'm really looking forward to seeing my family again.  So yes: some big things.

And yet, at this exact moment, it's the little things that are having the biggest impact on my mood in the here and now.  In the here and now, I'm at a coffee shop, after spending the morning in my office, working.  So the first big effect on my mood is the small thing called "drinking a cup of coffee."  I pretty much never drink coffee except when I'm at a coffee shop, and so the caffeine has a big influence on me; if I stop typing, I'm pretty sure I can hear myself vibrating.  So that's one.  The other is much more related to this particular coffee shop.  It has two washrooms.  In one washroom is a sink.  Are you with me so far?  Great.  Now, this sink has a single knob faucet.  It looks like this:

And, even though I've been coming to this coffee shop for about a year now, for the life of me, I could never figure out how it worked.  We had a similar looking faucet at my childhood home in the upstairs bathroom. Turning clockwise was warm, counterclockwise was cold.  But this faucet didn't turn clockwise or counterclockwise.  For the longest time, I assumed it was broken, and darted into the other washroom to finish my ablutions.  Then I noticed the sink was often wet, which meant that it was not broken--I just couldn't figure it out.  Didn't turn left, didn't turn right.  Can't push it forward, can't push it downward.  My lexicon of faucet manipulation was exhausted.  It was only today, in some perverse pique of perception, that I pushed it backward, water streamed forth, and I felt disproportionately proud of myself for figuring out how a sink works.  That's small thing two.

And three. Three is about a door.  to start, it's important to note that a university locks most of its doors on the weekend.  Special locations, such as libraries, often have some hours, but most of the buildings are locked when it's not a weekday between 9 to 5.  So if you're a student with offices in such a building, you're out of luck getting in.  Or, to phrase it personally, I'm out of luck.  Except for That Door.  There is one door to the building my office is housed in that is almost always unlocked.  (I will note that there are a lot of other doors between the would-be enterer and the rest of the building that you must have keys to in order to progress further; this isn't a "how to rob the grad student buidling post.)  And that unlocked door means a lot to me.  It means I have access to my office at any time.  It means that, whatever is happening in my personal life, there is a place for me, a professional place where I can dwell.  A place for me.  (And for my very nice office mate.)  This week, I lost that: they're doing excavation in front of the doorway, and they've roped off the door.  And every day, I go to leave campus, I go on my usual route, I see the door, roped off, and I am infuriated all over again.  Honestly, who starts an excavation in December, anyway?  Yes, it's been unseasonally warm, but still.  Still.  There hasn't actually been a weekend between the excavation starting and now, and I don't work most weekends anyway.  It's the lack of the option to do so that gets my goat.  You took my door, universe!  I want it back!  That's small thing three.

Three small things.  And yet, at this moment in time, they matter to me as much as any large thing.  People are funny that way.  Or at least I am.

Later Days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

First Person Scholar Launches

I haven't been posting here much recently; that'll change soon, I promise.  In the meantime, while I can't imagine there's very many who read this regularly and don't follow me through other venues, just in case, I wanted to point out that the grad student periodical First Person Scholar has launched.  As the about page suggests, we see the site as a way to fit some of the gaps left by game scholarship, with more direct engagement with videogames, and a faster rate of publication.  We also a place to work out ideas before developing them into larger pieces for journal publication.  And I say we, because I'm on the editorial board.  (Surprise!)  I won't say which member of the editorial board I am, to preserve some shred of my anonymity, but I'm there, rest assured.  It's kind of amazing to see the thing in existence, after talking about it for so long; this has been in the pipeline for at least half a year now, if not longer.  At the moment, I have to say that best thing about it is probably our smooth design interface, courtesy of our editor-in-chief Steve Wilcox.  And while we've populated the site with our own work for now, we will need the submissions of others to keep things going in the long term.  We don't have a general submission call up yet, because we want to get off the ground first, but if you've got a game studies idea burning a hole in your pocket, stay tuned.

Later Days.