alexxkay: (Default)
I finally got around to reading this, some months after its release, but at least before the new season of Twin Peaks itself. Short review: mixed, but indispensable for the serious T P fan.
At more length:Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
My latest "media to watch while stretching" has been old Warner Brothers cartoons. I'm watching via the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, which are in essentially random order. And I've made a fascinating discovery. I used to think I was a Chuck Jones fan. Seeing lots of cartoons from various eras in quick succession, I find that I am *actually* a fan of "Charles M. Jones". The vast majority of his classic work was done under that name. Once he was popular enough to get billing as "Chuck Jones", his work became much more self-indulgent, and not as good. Sort of similar to prose authors who get "too big to edit", maybe?
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
My latest media obsession is Da Vinci’s Demons. And I bet many of you would like it as well. It’s a historical fantasia about the Italian Renaissance in general, and late 1480s Florence in particular. Our hero is a young Leonardo da Vinci, who is totally channeling the Robert Downey Junior version of Sherlock Holmes, while simultaneously playing Assassin’s Creed II. If the historical da Vinci ever made a speculative sketch of a gadget in his notebooks, you can be sure that Leo will eventually get around to building and using a working model of it on the show.

I say “fantasia” rather than “fantasy”, because the fantastic elements are fairly restrained. More than once, while reading wikipedia about one of the historical characters, I discovered that something I thought quite implausible was actually historically true. Or at least was riffing on something true. They do seem to have some form of psychic time travel going on, but even that is pretty restrained. Not that they feel married to historical accuracy. While most of the show’s events are at least strongly inspired by history, they are quite willing to fudge timing for dramatic effect. In season 1, this fudging can be up to a couple of years, and in season 2, they go up to a couple decades in at least one instance. But we are following the general outline of late 1480s world history.

And it is *world* history. While focused on Florence, various cast members travel surprisingly large distances due to plot exigencies. Most of the travel time is elided, but it does help explain why each relatively short season takes about a year of calendar time.

Being a cable show, it has quite a lot of sex and violence. Neither aspect seems particularly gratuitous, at least most of the time. I am happy to see that the treatment of characters as sexual beings is close to gender-equal. Indeed, there is one hilarious scene where what starts as a metaphorical dick-wagging display changes into a 100% literal one :-)

In addition to all the fun genre elements, the show has a serious political point of view. The first season’s tagline was “Free the Future”. The show explicitly takes the position that Leonardo (and Florence under the Medicis) are literally inventing the modern world that we now live in. And that this small spark of enlightened secular humanism is under constant threat from a variety of outside autocratic forces.

After watching the first few episodes, I liked the show, but was worried that it would jump the shark at any moment. That worry remains, as they seem determined to walk the edge of what they can get away with in terms of narrative plausibility. Yet (at least for me) they haven’t fallen off that edge yet. The middle of season 2 got a bit draggy, but the pace completely picked up again by the end of the season. And in the last episode, they dropped a bomb that they’d been keeping in their pocket for a long time, which totally recontextualized a major part of the show. Y’all should go and watch the show, so I can talk about it without it being a spoiler :-)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
[livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I recently watched Twin peaks (a rewatch for me, first time for her). Seeing it in a post-Buffy world, one character looks very different. Nadine Hurley, unfulfilled shrew turned super-strong high school student, is clearly a Chosen Slayer Gone Wrong. Perhaps the Black Lodge intercepted her Watcher before he could get to her? Is the Black Lodge a kind of Hellmouth? Someone having prophetic nightmares in the town of Twin Peaks would hardly stand out at all, but without a Watcher, she might not realize that she should be acting on those nightmares.

This is now headcanon for me :-)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Well, that was OK.

Some quite good bits (Joss dialogue, Lola, the annoyed woman during the early espionage scene).

Some annoying bits. I know that in a TV action show, especially a pilot, you don't want to waste time on exposition if you can possibly avois it. But I was bothered by the fact that the good guys mostly travel around in a gigantic jet plane capable of holding multiple ground vehicles -- yet seemingly have no problem grabbing or delivering those vehicles to alleyways in the middle of New York. I mean, this is the Marvel universe, I'm sure they could handwave an explanation that was plausible enough in context. But I feel the need for at least a handwave, and I didn't get one.

Some bits I found downright problematic. spoilers )
alexxkay: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I watched the BBC TV adaptation of "Have His Carcase" recently. Well, we watched the first half together, and then I skimmed through the second half. I guess that's the meat of the review right there. But more details may prove useful.

Turns out that there were two sets of BBC TV adaptations of Wimsey. Five books were done from 1972-1975, featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter (including the "Five Red Herrings" that Kes and I liked so much better than the book). An additional three were done in 1987, with Edward Petheridge as Peter. "Have His Carcase" is from this run. Interestingly, none of the 70s ones feature Harriet Vane, whereas all three of the '87 stories do.

The Good:
* Harriet Vane, as played by Harriet Walter, seemed spot-on to me.
* Most of the dialogue being verbatim from the book.
* Fun, quirky character actors to play the fun, quirky bit parts.
* Good period sets and scenic locales.
* Harriet Vane whacking Henry Weldon in the head with a ping-pong paddle.

The Bad:
* Bunter being extremely tall, conventionally handsome, and far too young to have been a sergeant back in the War.
* Extremely compressed beach scene, losing much of the charm of the text.
* Slow pacing, including overlong shots of travel and scenery, and multiple lengthy flashbacks and lingering shots to make sure you See The Clue.

The Ugly:
* Lord Peter's characterization. Blame to be divided at least between the actor and director, possibly others as well. No chemistry to speak of between him and Harriet. Worse, Petheridge doesn't seem to understand the nature of Peter's performativity. Sayers' (and Carmichael's) Peter frequently plays the part of a babbling twit, as a deliberate tool, usually intended to get people to underestimate him. Petheridge's Peter seems perpetually put out that people take him for a babbling twit, while he is actually being Serious. This attitude is especially fatal to the scenes where he is discussing his feelings for Harriet. Admittedly those scenes do *get* Serious in the book, but they have a much richer and more nuanced emotional tone. In the TV version, it starts Serious, drops to bathetic, then ends on a note where Peter looks like a thoroughly unsympathetic stalker.

I'll grant that the Peter-Harriet relationship is a very complex one, and not one that most actors (or directors) could trivially handle. But I'm certain that better results can be achieved than were in this production. An open opportunity for someone to tackle in the future...
alexxkay: (Default)
Kinda disappointing. As it happens, [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I ended up watching the mid-70s BBC TV adaptation of this before I read it. That adaptation took a lot of liberties, but ended up telling a much, much better story. It had far more characterization and humor in it. Also, a great deal more of Lord Peter himself, and of Bunter. The book spends many, many chapters on police procedural stuff without any particularly fun characters present.

This was quite a contrast, coming right after _Strong Poison_, which is *full* of character moments, humor, and even romance. Maybe Sayers was worried that she was getting too far away from the traditional core values of her genre. FRH does have an extremely intricate Fair Mystery in it. For my taste, *too* intricate. Railway timetables and maps are not (to me) obvious subjects for drama and excitement.

There are some bright moments, mostly revolving around Peter's personality: Taking a young girl for a fast ride in his car; throwing himself into a recreation of the murder -- in the role of the murderer -- with *utter* enthusiasm. But on the whole, I doubt I'll be re-reading this one. I might well re-watch the TV version, though, and I do recommend it.
alexxkay: (Default)
Caught the first two hours of the new version of The Prisoner on AMC last night.

I enjoyed the callbacks to the original, but this is clearly *not* a remake, but a reimagining. I think it owes almost as much to Lost as to the original Prisoner. It also seems to be hitting on the allegory aspects much harder, and much sooner.

Not sure I approve of the disjointed storytelling style. It fits with the more dream-like, drugged tone of the current version, but it frequently feels like narrative cheating. This village seems even less real than the original. The original series started with an assumption of normal physical reality, and only made you question that on rare occasions, mostly near the end of the series. This one *starts* by denying ordinary physical reality, and only gradually hints that there may be a 'mundane' explanation for what's going on.

Ian McKellan is, of course, marvelous. I was dubious about having only one Number Two for the whole thing, but the difference in the background setup seems to naturally demand that.

I am *so* not used to watching commercials. I can't just tune them out, but the breaks are too short to do more than a quick bathroom break. Also, Palm managed to erode all the Cool Points they earned for sponsoring this show by showing the *same* *damn* commercial *five* times. Also, is it now common practice to show previews, not just for the upcoming show, but the upcoming *act*? I found it all greatly distracting. I may wait and bittorrent the whole thing in a week or so, rather than sit through more of this aggravation.

Definitely interesting enough for me to commit to four more hours of it (though not necessarily the accompanying nonsense). Withholding overall judgment until I see where they are going.
alexxkay: (Default)
Finally got around to catching up on the end of the current season Spoilers ho!

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
Finally got around to catching up on the end of the current season Spoilers ho!

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
A recent(-ish) Doctor Who episode sparked some interesting thoughts. Setup: The Doctor and his Companion end up just before a major historical disaster on Earth. The Companion wants the Doctor to avert the disaster, or at least rescue as many people as possible. After all, meddling and saving people is most of what he does. The Doctor refuses, on two grounds:
1) There exist "fixed points" in history, which "must not" be changed.
2) As a Time Lord, he "just knows" when he's at such a point.

These principles have some unexplored story possibilities. For one thing, what makes a "fixed point"? Is it a completely natural process, like gravity or evolution? How fixed are they?

For another, the Doctor could end up in a similar situation on an alien world, for once, and the story could be about him trying to do what he can within the constraints of the "fixed events". Ted Chiang's recent Nebula-winning novella, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" shows one way of handling such a story. AFAIK, the show has never played with this idea.

Of course, in the course of the rest of the episode, they end up undercutting the notion, since it turns out that the Doctor *must* intervene to *cause* this particular disaster (in order to avert a worse one). And he didn't "just know" *that*, which suggests that he was just being an arrogant, lying prick earlier. Sigh. I wish there was a show out there that actually catered to my desire for plot logic.
alexxkay: (Default)
A recent(-ish) Doctor Who episode sparked some interesting thoughts. Setup: The Doctor and his Companion end up just before a major historical disaster on Earth. The Companion wants the Doctor to avert the disaster, or at least rescue as many people as possible. After all, meddling and saving people is most of what he does. The Doctor refuses, on two grounds:
1) There exist "fixed points" in history, which "must not" be changed.
2) As a Time Lord, he "just knows" when he's at such a point.

These principles have some unexplored story possibilities. For one thing, what makes a "fixed point"? Is it a completely natural process, like gravity or evolution? How fixed are they?

For another, the Doctor could end up in a similar situation on an alien world, for once, and the story could be about him trying to do what he can within the constraints of the "fixed events". Ted Chiang's recent Nebula-winning novella, "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" shows one way of handling such a story. AFAIK, the show has never played with this idea.

Of course, in the course of the rest of the episode, they end up undercutting the notion, since it turns out that the Doctor *must* intervene to *cause* this particular disaster (in order to avert a worse one). And he didn't "just know" *that*, which suggests that he was just being an arrogant, lying prick earlier. Sigh. I wish there was a show out there that actually catered to my desire for plot logic.
alexxkay: (Default)
So I finally caught up with the rest of the second season. Losing patience with this series, fast. Plot Logic and Science were never in the building to begin with. But I'm beginning to get tired of the never-ending angst and depressing story lines. Spoilers below.Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
So I finally caught up with the rest of the second season. Losing patience with this series, fast. Plot Logic and Science were never in the building to begin with. But I'm beginning to get tired of the never-ending angst and depressing story lines. Spoilers below.Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
Watched some video stuff with [livejournal.com profile] kestrell on the Monday holiday. Short reviews: Torchwood season 2 has a first episode full of goofy fun. Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was ultimately disappointing. More details (and minor-to-middling spoilers) below the cuts.

Tirchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang )

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales )
alexxkay: (Default)
Watched some video stuff with [livejournal.com profile] kestrell on the Monday holiday. Short reviews: Torchwood season 2 has a first episode full of goofy fun. Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was ultimately disappointing. More details (and minor-to-middling spoilers) below the cuts.

Tirchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang )

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales )
alexxkay: (Default)
This weekend, [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I watched the first season of "Jeckyl", a new show from the BBC. This is not just a retelling of Jekyll and Hyde, but a modern-day sequel, with thriller and SF elements added to the basic horror flavor. Tom Jackman is a research scientist with an unusual problem; it's *like* a split personality, but his alter-ego has physical differences as well. The two sides of himself have an uneasy truce, but it's showing signs of strain, especially once his dark side discovers that Tom has a wife and children. And who is behind the mysterious black van that has been shadowing (both of) him lately? Was Robert Louis Stevenson's book *really* a work of fiction?

This show is written by Steven Moffat, and cements my opinion that he is a writer to watch for. He also wrote the wonderful Britcom "Coupling", and several of my favorite episodes of the new Doctor Who. (A week from Friday, the Sci-Fi channel should be showing his latest ep, "Blink", which is far scarier than it has any right to be.) The dialogue scintillates, and the plot moves along at a serious clip. It's a one-hour show, but each episode feels like it's got a movie's worth of events in it. They play interesting games with flashbacks and flashforwards to fill in background and provide suspense, but not so much as to make the story hard to follow. It's well thought out, without any obvious plot holes leaping out at me (though some of the Bad Guys really need to review the Evil Overlord Handbook).

The actors are brilliant. James Nesbitt gets to display a broad range of technique as both Jackman and 'Hyde'. Gina Bellman (who I last saw playing a total ditz on "Coupling") plays his long-suffering wife Claire, who turns out to have a lot more strength of character than anyone thought. Paterson Joseph (who played the Marquis de Carabas in "Neverwhere") plays a delightfully slimy American secret agent (Kes thought he was channeling the Shrub). There's also a fun lesbian couple, but I can't say much about them without it being a spoiler.

There aren't a lot of special effects. Jackman and 'Hyde' differ mostly through subtle makeup changes. The part of me that pays attention to the craft of storytelling was impressed at the number of ways in which they managed to suggest visually impressive scenes without actually having to spend the money filming them. And, as this is a horror story, they leverage the viewer's imagination to powerful effect.

This first season is six episodes long. It comes to a good conclusion, but definitely leaves open the possibility of further stories about these characters. Highly recommended.
alexxkay: (Default)
This weekend, [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I watched the first season of "Jeckyl", a new show from the BBC. This is not just a retelling of Jekyll and Hyde, but a modern-day sequel, with thriller and SF elements added to the basic horror flavor. Tom Jackman is a research scientist with an unusual problem; it's *like* a split personality, but his alter-ego has physical differences as well. The two sides of himself have an uneasy truce, but it's showing signs of strain, especially once his dark side discovers that Tom has a wife and children. And who is behind the mysterious black van that has been shadowing (both of) him lately? Was Robert Louis Stevenson's book *really* a work of fiction?

This show is written by Steven Moffat, and cements my opinion that he is a writer to watch for. He also wrote the wonderful Britcom "Coupling", and several of my favorite episodes of the new Doctor Who. (A week from Friday, the Sci-Fi channel should be showing his latest ep, "Blink", which is far scarier than it has any right to be.) The dialogue scintillates, and the plot moves along at a serious clip. It's a one-hour show, but each episode feels like it's got a movie's worth of events in it. They play interesting games with flashbacks and flashforwards to fill in background and provide suspense, but not so much as to make the story hard to follow. It's well thought out, without any obvious plot holes leaping out at me (though some of the Bad Guys really need to review the Evil Overlord Handbook).

The actors are brilliant. James Nesbitt gets to display a broad range of technique as both Jackman and 'Hyde'. Gina Bellman (who I last saw playing a total ditz on "Coupling") plays his long-suffering wife Claire, who turns out to have a lot more strength of character than anyone thought. Paterson Joseph (who played the Marquis de Carabas in "Neverwhere") plays a delightfully slimy American secret agent (Kes thought he was channeling the Shrub). There's also a fun lesbian couple, but I can't say much about them without it being a spoiler.

There aren't a lot of special effects. Jackman and 'Hyde' differ mostly through subtle makeup changes. The part of me that pays attention to the craft of storytelling was impressed at the number of ways in which they managed to suggest visually impressive scenes without actually having to spend the money filming them. And, as this is a horror story, they leverage the viewer's imagination to powerful effect.

This first season is six episodes long. It comes to a good conclusion, but definitely leaves open the possibility of further stories about these characters. Highly recommended.
alexxkay: (Default)
Over the last week, I've been watching lots of theater-based media.

First up, was a recording of the recent BU production of Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe. [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I had seen a different production about four years ago. My god, this play has become a *hell* of a lot more timely since then!

It's all about a Chief Executive who thinks that his branch of government is the only one that matters, and that he should never have to compromise (and who whines when people try to get him to compromise). He also views political offices as gifts for his friends, or (under duress) bribes for his foes, with no acknowledgement that offices might come with duties as well as revenues, and that certain competencies might be desirable in the office-holders. Of course, in the play, this monster faces strong opposition; something that our current monster sadly does not.

Mind you, the production took no steps to underline this. It was a straightforward design, in period dress. The parallels were just obvious on the face of it. Well, they did make one change which seemed to be in service of timeliness. Near the end of the play, when the deposed Edward is being imprisoned in flithy conditions and tortured with sleep deprivation (all in the original text), there's a scene where, in the original stage direction, Edward has his face washed and shaved in "puddle water" as a further humiliation. In this production, the jailers forced Edward's head into a bucket of water for mock-drowning, several times, which made the Gitmo connection quite explicit. And it's an interesting connection. His captors want no information from Edward. No explicit motive is given for his harsh mistreatment. The only two that come to mind are 1) to break his will, so that he doesn't pose any further threat to the state, or the more likely 2) simple sadism. Human nature hasn't changed much these last 400 years, there are just new excuses for the same old behaviors.

But enough about politics; I should say at least a few words about the production. It was well above-average for amateur theater, and their primary concern was with telling the story clearly and compellingly, which they did. The costumes, as I said, were period (or at least decent approximations). The nobles were all armed with swords, and the swords themselves were sufficiently distinct that they were a useful aid in keeping the large cast of characters identified. Sadly, they decided not to do any significant stage combat; but their symbolic stand-ins for the battle scenes were well executed and short. They did have a pretty good severed head for the final scene. Like most modern productions of Elizabethan theater, there were too many dramatic pauses, but otherwise the actors were quite excellent. I will definitely make an effort to catch the next show this company puts on.

A friend had loaned Kes the first two seasons of Slings & Arrows on DVD, and we have now watched them both. What a marvelous show! For those unfamiliar with it, it's about a Canadian theater company putting on Shakespeare (and other) plays, and all the travails -- and passionate love for theater -- that go along with that. The show is structured along BBC lines, with each season being a mere six 'hour-length' episodes, describing a specific story arc. There is one major Shakespeare play at the center of each season (Hamlet and Macbeth for the first two), and the storylines that weave around the actors and directors tend to echo the themes of that play, in ways both obvious and subtle. In some ways, this is the TV series version of Kenneth Branagh's movie "A Midwinter's Tale".
alexxkay: (Default)
Over the last week, I've been watching lots of theater-based media.

First up, was a recording of the recent BU production of Edward II, by Christopher Marlowe. [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I had seen a different production about four years ago. My god, this play has become a *hell* of a lot more timely since then!

It's all about a Chief Executive who thinks that his branch of government is the only one that matters, and that he should never have to compromise (and who whines when people try to get him to compromise). He also views political offices as gifts for his friends, or (under duress) bribes for his foes, with no acknowledgement that offices might come with duties as well as revenues, and that certain competencies might be desirable in the office-holders. Of course, in the play, this monster faces strong opposition; something that our current monster sadly does not.

Mind you, the production took no steps to underline this. It was a straightforward design, in period dress. The parallels were just obvious on the face of it. Well, they did make one change which seemed to be in service of timeliness. Near the end of the play, when the deposed Edward is being imprisoned in flithy conditions and tortured with sleep deprivation (all in the original text), there's a scene where, in the original stage direction, Edward has his face washed and shaved in "puddle water" as a further humiliation. In this production, the jailers forced Edward's head into a bucket of water for mock-drowning, several times, which made the Gitmo connection quite explicit. And it's an interesting connection. His captors want no information from Edward. No explicit motive is given for his harsh mistreatment. The only two that come to mind are 1) to break his will, so that he doesn't pose any further threat to the state, or the more likely 2) simple sadism. Human nature hasn't changed much these last 400 years, there are just new excuses for the same old behaviors.

But enough about politics; I should say at least a few words about the production. It was well above-average for amateur theater, and their primary concern was with telling the story clearly and compellingly, which they did. The costumes, as I said, were period (or at least decent approximations). The nobles were all armed with swords, and the swords themselves were sufficiently distinct that they were a useful aid in keeping the large cast of characters identified. Sadly, they decided not to do any significant stage combat; but their symbolic stand-ins for the battle scenes were well executed and short. They did have a pretty good severed head for the final scene. Like most modern productions of Elizabethan theater, there were too many dramatic pauses, but otherwise the actors were quite excellent. I will definitely make an effort to catch the next show this company puts on.

A friend had loaned Kes the first two seasons of Slings & Arrows on DVD, and we have now watched them both. What a marvelous show! For those unfamiliar with it, it's about a Canadian theater company putting on Shakespeare (and other) plays, and all the travails -- and passionate love for theater -- that go along with that. The show is structured along BBC lines, with each season being a mere six 'hour-length' episodes, describing a specific story arc. There is one major Shakespeare play at the center of each season (Hamlet and Macbeth for the first two), and the storylines that weave around the actors and directors tend to echo the themes of that play, in ways both obvious and subtle. In some ways, this is the TV series version of Kenneth Branagh's movie "A Midwinter's Tale".

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Alexx Kay

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