freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)


Whedonesque on Tumblr yesterday made the comment that "Rogue One is an excellent Star Wars film and in some ways the best Firefly movie since Serenity." Hah, I thought. Flip, I thought. Smart-arse. Also, in the event, after watching the film this morning, I am forced to conclude: correct. I loved this movie, although in a very different way to Force Awakens: it's a denser, darker, chewier, less swashbuckling thing, all political sweep and gritty, desperate acts of resistance. I very much like this review, which contends that the film basically both rehashes the manifest iniquities of 2016, and offers some sort of potential antidote. But there are also definitely Firefly echoes; ragtag team of jaded misfits and hopeless causes struggling against fascist empires, leavened with one-liners and driven by strong character interactions. Also, spaceships. Spaceships are cool.

The film doesn't merit a Pros and Cons list, because there weren't too many cons, so have a sort of random listy thing. Spoilers! here be spoilers! )
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Saw Force Awakens yesterday. Three things. Non-spoilery things.

  1. That was Star Wars. That felt like Star Wars. That was, in fact, so much like Star Wars it was almost comical. It's like JJ took a judicious sampler of the most Star Warsy character archetypes, tropes, plot points, flavours, conflicts, visual cues, scenes and confrontations from the original trilogy (we do not speak of the Prequels of which we do not speak), and simply remixed them. It's like a concentrated essence of three Star Wars movies in one. He must have simmered it for ages. Some of the world-building is a bit perfunctory, I have absolutely no sense of how this political landscape has developed after the fall of the Empire, and I suspect JJ himself doesn't really know, but it's such an intense burst of Star Wars on the palate, it's easy to forgive.
  2. That wasn't just a film, that was a statement of creed. Its ultimate upshot is to ally itself so closely to the original films that it effectively obliterates the Prequels of which we do not speak. Those were, it is delicately suggested, an inexplicable error of taste. JJ has managed, in fact, to give us something resembling an address to the horrible Darth Vader plot of the prequels - a reworking of the teen angst rebellion theme with more actual human content and a far better actor. (I love, incidentally, how few of the main cast are classically Beautiful Hollywood People. Ren possibly qualifies, but she has a bit of a girl-next-door quality; mostly we have fascinatingly craggy or characterful faces, and a non-WASP aesthetic preponderates to a pleasingly large extent. I adore Finn to a slightly unseemly extent, he has that broad-faced, honest, slightly perplexed thing going. I can't help but feel that JJ is infinitely better suited to the swashbuckle of Star Wars than he ever was to Star Trek's more thoughtful spaces, but across both franchises one of his huge strengths is his casting.) This is possibly why it felt a bit like set-up - we have rehashed the originals now, which has cleared the decks, and hopefully the next two films will be able to strike into slightly newer territory.
  3. We have a female lead. We have a self-sufficient, efficient, geeky female lead who consistently and effectively rescues herself, and whose accurate tech-babble has as its direct cinematic ancestor Kaywinnet Lee Frye. We have not only a girl-hero, but random women in the background busy being doctors and techs; we have a female Asian pilot in the Resistance wing. (Although Captain Phasma was criminally underused, I hope she's heavily in the sequel). The partial-Yoda-analogue (who I loved) is female. Carrie Fisher is doing her thing with Leia. And the film is breaking box-office records. Take that, Hollywood patriarchy! Women can too lead a blockbuster action franchise. Which we already knew, but allow us to gleefully rub your nose in it.


In short, if you hadn't already gathered: squee. Slightly qualified squee, in that I slightly wish the film had given us something new in addition to stating its faith, but it's a good faith, and there's lots of space for newness in the sequels. Apparently this generation's Star Wars is no longer Guardians of the Galaxy, it's now Star Wars. Which is as it should be.

By way of celebration, this is one of my current favourite things in the universe ever, neatly conflating my Star Wars fangirliness with my love of a capella harmony. It's a thing of joy.

freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This house smells of cake. Lots of cake. Really rather a lot of different cake, because I am (finally!) having a housewarming tomorrow, and the exigencies of space being what they are, have advertised myself as being At Home to visitors from 2 to 7pm, drop by when convenient, tea and cake if afternoon, booze if evening. This morning was very full of cake. I think I entered a sort of cake-baking fugue state, actually. I got into a rhythm. I looked up after a blurred and indeterminate amount of time and there was cake on every surface in the kitchen. There is blackcurrant jam in my hair, butter adorning my front, and a rather delectable Guinness/chocolate batter mix down what for want of a better word we'll call my cleavage. I am more than somewhat vanilla-scented and feeling astonishingly happy.

The laser-focus baking spree was partially motivated by fear, because in addition to the usual concerns (will anyone come? will there be enough food? enough glasses? enough things for them to sit on? will they all fit?) we currently face the merry South African challenge of whether or not Eskom, in its infinite inefficiency, will suddenly hit us with load shedding. They say not, but I don't trust them an inch. It would be just my luck to have something delicate in the oven when the lights die. The inscrutable gods of power are mostly quite good at pulling the plug punctually within their stipulated times, but only mostly.

You can also deduce from context that I'm on leave, calloo callay, and contemplate with joy three and a half weeks in which students can't get at me in person. Tomorrow is also one of those mad random South African public holidays, which is why I can plonk a housewarming onto it. Fittingly, my car system launched into Franz Ferdinand (inevitably, having gone from Eurythmics to Fleet Foxes) on my way home from work on Friday, my last day for the year. "It's always better on holiday!", it warbled. Hence my subject line. I hear you, Cosmic Wossnames.

Randomly, my At Home card for tomorrow. Because I had fun making it, and there's an offchance I left someone vital off the To: list, because it's the end of the year and I'm exhausted, so what little brain I have at the best of times has trickled sadly out of my ears. If you didn't receive this and are a Cape Town realspace friend who wishes to assist in celebrating my state of domicile, please email me!



Art evilly nicked from Brian Kesinger, whose Otto and Victoria are a whimsical steampunky delight. I hope he doesn't mind.

We Can Do It!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014 05:44 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It may have come to the attention of my more alert and observant readers that I am a happy, geeky bookworm and have quite a lot of books. Really, rather a lot. Enough that, despite the fact that I moved into this house with eight tall bookshelves courtesy of a munificent Evil Landlord and subsequently imported another courtesy of Pam, I still had seven boxes of unshelved books piled in my study. This, too, after a relatively ruthless weeding process chronicled in these very pages. As far as books go, I am unashamed to admit that I have a Problem.

Fortunately, for such problems there are benevolent friends like Jo, who enjoys, by her own admission, a Project, and who possesses not only power tools and the will to use them, but considerably above basic cabinet-making expertise, an actuary's numerical precision, and more organisational skill and energy than is strictly fair or necessary in this imperfect world. As a result of which there has been, of an evening over the last few weeks, a sort of blur of activity in my living room, resulting in piles of planks, a small cloud of sawdust, and a satisfying and slightly bewildering tendency for bookshelves to arise, phoenix-like, from the whirlwind at a rate a smidgen in excess of half a bookshelf per hour. It has also revealed my own predilection for Handmaidening, if there is such a word: I derive an unholy kick out of facilitating efficient systems, and if Jo behind a power drill is anything, it's an efficient system. By the end of the process the balletic precision of our movements would bring a tear to the eye of efficiency experts. It really makes things go a lot faster if there's someone anticipating the process to hand the cabinet-maker tools, nails, planks, pencils, screws, gin-and-tonic, and that vital bit of stuck-together wood she was using to space shelves, so that she doesn't have to stand up or climb down ladders every two minutes.

It made, I have to say, my feminist wossnames incredibly happy. Not just the self-determination of bookshelf building - and I will look at those shelves for ever after with nostalgic joy because Jo built them and I helped - but something about efficient women with power tools. All Rosie the Riveter. Definitely speaking to that bit of me that's only mostly heterosexual, possibly because the patriarchy.

So I have five spanky new bookshelves, and my books are Housed, dammit, and all we have to do now is work through the mutual and perfectly symmetrical guilt feelings that have arisen because Jo feels bad about me paying for the materials for her Project, and I feel bad about all the time she's spent building me bookshelves. We freely admit that these are entirely irrational feelings that have nothing whatsoever to do with the considerable pleasures and achievements of the process, and that the two impulses do cancel each other out. The gin definitely helps.

And, look! Bookshelves! All full of books! (or, to be perfectly accurate, books and DVDs. I have a DVD problem too. Memo to self: Go digital. But not too digital. Because some things need to be tangible, and you can't help friends make furniture for your Kindle files.)

Photo0094
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Warning: if you follow this link you will end up playing 2048 with Chris Evanses until (a) Chris Evans has lost all meaning, (b) life has lost all meaning, and (c) you are curiously soothed and in something approximating a Zen state. I recommend it.

On a related note, I also recommend the new Captain America, which is the Winter Soldier one, and which feels considerably more like a darkish political thriller with good character conflict than it does a superhero movie, badass Nick Fury car chases and multiple exploding helicarriers notwithstanding. I think it's a good film, and an interesting take on the mythos. Also, apparently one can go to see the film on the third day after it opens and still have four people in the cinema, if you choose the 9am Sunday show. I love 9am Sunday shows. They're also curiously soothing. The timing also reduces to a minimum the number of people giving me patronising looks for wearing a Shield T-shirt to a Marvel film. Weirdly enough, it happened to be on the top of my t-shirt pile.

The soothed Zen state has materially assisted the trauma of being back at work after a ten-day break, I have to say. I was aggressively nice both to students and to my Troublesome Boss all day, and only pulled my stitches once. If I have to be wandering around in a post-operative stitched-up state, it's also nice to know that the histology for the bits of flesh they nibbled off me is 100% clear, no dodgy precursor melanoma cells. And fifteen stitches. The nice nurse lady counted them for me. They do them all in a giant spiral single thread, it's terribly neat. I feel like a sampler.

The subject line is Magnetic Fields, although (a) you don't get to the Chris Evans in his underwear until right towards the end of the 2048 game, and (b) I think I may have used that particular quote before for another post. However, I figure that if my life causes me to need subject lines about pretty boys in their underwear more than once in a year or so, I'm probably doing OK.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
falcon

In the Department of Oh Dear I Am A Sad Geek this gif made me go "oooh, sexy!" in heartfelt tones when I saw it first. Not because of Anthony Mackie's butt, although I admit it has its aesthetically pleasing qualities. But because the articulation of the mechanical wings is just so damned cool. I really like the character line-up for the new Captain America, I've always liked Falcon. Looking forward to the movie.

I am still in the throes of orientation, the second programme now, another 11-hour day after which I am deaded by bang. The second programme is a bugger because it's doubled, I give 90 minutes of curriculum talk followed immediately by 90 minutes of the same curriculum talk to a different set of students, followed by another hour of briefing students on technical transfer credit thingies. Then I go and run registration. In between all of the above I must have micro-advised fifteen to twenty different students who stop me with queries as I dash between venues. I have earned my deadness, is all. I shall continue to be incoherent for a while yet. Usually I'm human by March or so. Oh, lord.

Since the subject line is taken from the Magnetic Fields' "All my little words" and is prefaced with the statement "You are a splendid butterfly", I must admit to having chosen it purely for its incongruity value. Sorry.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
thor-dark-world

In the Department of Trundling Off Happily Alone To See Sunday Morning Movies (it's a thing), I saw THor: THe Dark World on Sunday. (For some reason those Hs really wanted to be capitalised so I'm allowing them to kick up their little heels). It was really rather a lot of fun, rating highly enough that it's probably not a bad film even given my superhero-metre's embarrassingly low threshold of enjoyment. The fast-becoming-traditional random observations follow, suitably vague so as to avoid spoilerage.

  • This is a particularly loopy mix of science fiction and the purely fantastic, but it pulls it off mostly by not quite taking itself seriously - there are some lovely moments of humour in the film, it's far less straight-faced than the first one.
  • There are enough plot twists in this that I rather enjoyably didn't see all of them coming, although to be fair it was a Sunday morning before my first cup of tea. (A deliberate strategic choice on account of how I hate having to duck out of today's really long movies because of a tight bladder).
  • The film offers, thematically, a complete mirror inversion of the Thor/Odin set-up in the first film. It's surprisingly thoughtful and makes interesting points about power and war. Also, I like both how Thor is being characterised, and how Chris Hemsworth plays him. He's kinda sweet and, like Riley, something of a doofus.
  • Is it just me, or does some miraculous Bechdel-test-passing miasmic force of not-actually-conventionally-awful-gender-roles somehow cling to the Thor franchise? It's by no means perfect, we still have Jane Foster being damselled all over the show, but she does continue to kick science butt and trade sarky dialogue with Darcy, and it was enormously refreshing that the only really gratuitous, lingering, objectifying camera shot in the film (apart from the Mercedes ad which preceded it, in which I disgraced myself with a fit of the giggles because, really, overcoded car porn) was the one of Thor's naked, glistening biceps. If we have to live in a media world given to objectification, at least it can damned well be equal opportunity objectification. Also, Sif. And Frigga being a warrior queen.
  • Loki is simply delicious. I do not at all get Tumblr's preoccupation with Loki as a desirable romantic option (because honestly, mass-murdering psychopaths are even less redeemable than most of fanfic's bad boyfriend choices), but he's trickster god to the hilt in this and has some really good sarky lines. Possibly I might be tempted to attempt to redeem a mass-murdering psychopath if he's sufficiently linguistic.
  • Extremely cool dark elf spaceships, interesting space-warping grenades, Christopher Ecclestone chewing evil scenery with commendable restraint, Heimdall kicking arse and taking names, incredible floating things, gravity inversions, and an extended action sequence which gives free play to the bastard offspring of a dodgy threesome between a superhero showdown, an Elder God summoning and a game of Portal.
  • A perfectly, deliriously wonderful cameo of Chris Evans doing an impression of Tom Hiddlestone's impression of Loki doing an impression of Chris Evans's Captain America. That man's actually a sneakily good actor, particularly when taking the mickey out of himself. (Still love his turn in Scott Pilgrim.)
  • It's worth sitting out the credits, because there are two easter eggs - one fairly standard just after the main credits, and one right at the end which gives a wonderful, whimsical, random closing image which kicked me out of the cinema in a happy state of giggle. As did the film, actually. Not profound, but fun is likely to be had.

Subject line is, of course, Buffy, about Riley, circa Season 4, "Something Blue", which is coincidentally quite one of my favourites because Buffy/Spike.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Today I did verily sign my life away, or at least great financial tracts of it, as a result of which I have a New Car. She is cute. And new. She has all mod cons, like a driver's door which actually opens from the inside. And she's cute. And shiny. And new. With the new car smell. I keep having to go out into the front garden to pat her bonnet and confirm that she actually exists and is mine, all mine! (evil cackle). She's a Hyundai I10, which I have been driving near-endlessly during driving lessons and know to be compact and fun to drive.

Mature reflection, i.e. random inspiration, suggests that her name is Minerva, on the grounds that I'm going to inevitably festoon her with wols of various sorts, and besides, Minnie Bannister. Not to mention Minerva McGonagall. I feel the name has good precedent in the feisty lady department.

Here is Hobbit making friends, by dint of touching noses, which he did about three seconds after I parked her.

Minnie and Hobbit

Subject line quote obviously from the Goon Show, specifically The Flea, one of my eternal favourites for its unholy rip-off of Samuel Pepys, and for its depiction of Min and Henry running a flea circus.

eeeeeeeeeeeee!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 11:50 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
That, dear readers, is not the squeal of brakes screeching to a halt. Au contraire! That is the ecstatic squeeing sound of an Exemporanea who is, for the first time in about ten years, a legal driver. Because this day I did, finally, after over a year of more angst than you would have believed possible, utterly pass my driver's licence. Verily. That bitch is passed. I have the bits of paper and the state of post-traumatic wibble and the inky thumb to prove it.

For those of you who haven't been following along at home, the driver's licence saga has been epic and full of angst and woe. I passed my test in Zimbabwe when I was sixteen, but never got around to obtaining the SA licence based on it after I took out SA citizenship. When the hedge-trimmer bastard stole my wallet, I had no way of replacing the Zim licence because even if the Zim bureaucracy wasn't a nightmare Cthulhoid thing of corruption, devastation and despair I'm no longer a Zim citizen. I had no option but to retake the licence from scratch, which means (pauses for ritual shudder) K53.

K53 is a bitch, and the task of overwriting 25 years of bad driving habits with the ritualised observances of the K53 cult is severely not trivial: fighting to conform to K53's rather rigid demands has made me feel utterly useless. But in a weird sort of way that wasn't the problem. The problem was the extent to which being forced to re-prove my basic adult competency absolutely did my head in. Seriously. I have issues with being a valid grown-up at the best of times, courtesy mostly of the unpleasant things academia has done to me, and you have no idea how infantalising it is to regress to that adolescent status, and to feel that a basic skill you've taken for granted for decades - and that represents not just competence, but power over your own life - is suddenly illegitimate. This is the second time I've taken the test, and no-one but my therapist knows that I was taking it, or that I took it a first time and failed it about a month ago. (I should add, for posterity and in the spirit of gloat, that I failed it the first time in the yard, because I was freaking out. This time I passed the yard test without a single negative mark.) It was painfully obvious that I would be utterly unable to deal with casual driving test mention in conversation, and that any incidence of someone giving me the slightest bit of teasing about it would probably end literally in tears. Honestly, I have not been rational on the subject.

But now I'm a grown-up again. I can buy a new car, and hopefully the chance sighting of a traffic cop will no longer excoriate my lawful good soul in guilty anticipation. And if another wretched hedge-trimmer steals my wallet, I can replace the licence with only the standard level of bureaucratic irritation (and also, I have to say, without having to invoke another whole set of issues about Zimbabwe, and exile, and loss).

In short: wheee! There shall be righteous gin this evening, celebrating not only my legalisation, but the fact that I managed to drive the EL's car for six months without a licence and without hitting anyone. Also, if anyone needs a recommendation for a really good driving instructor, mine was bloody brilliant.

The day's fanfic rec is all about the cars, naturally. And robots, because Tony Stark's bots are simply cute. Still on the copperbadge kick, this one is Steve and Tony and Dummy on a road trip. Robot Trip. Fun.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Oh, hooray, as of today I am on leave for two and a half weeks. Given that I've spent the last week dragging myself around with a cold in the head and a hacking, bring-me-a-lyric-soprano-and-a-garret sort of cough, this is possibly not a moment too soon. I am surprisingly unrepentant at the idea that for the rest of the month there are no curriculum advisors available for any strangely dislocated student who happens to wander in over the vac. They can just deal, is all. There's work ethic, and then there's just silly. While there are not sufficient wild horses in the multiverse to prevent me from actually reading my work email while I'm on leave, I have sternly resolved to answer only those I deem emergencies. (All the students who email me will infallibly assume that it's an emergency, but I reserve the right to deal with their post-adolescent narcissism as I see fit).

As a good start to my holiday, you absolutely need to watch this Jazz-Age-style cover of Mackelmore's "Thrift Shop". Because of reasons. Also because the band is called "Postmodern Jukebox" and should therefore be rewarded.



Subject line quote is, strangely enough, from Mackelmore's "Thrift Shop". Some of the other options were even ruder.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
This picture came over my Tumblr feed today, and is making me subtly happy. The artist is Brenoch Adams, whose site repays a browse, lots of lovely and slightly quirky sf and computer game concept art. I love that the tall, gangling, slightly threatening robot in this portrait is so utterly subordinated to the little black girl. And I love that she's black, with the kicky hair-style: not your usual sf stereotype at all. Mostly, though, I love her expression of slightly feral glee. That girl and her robot are going to take over the world. Watch out, world.

Brenoch Adams: Robo Guard

In the spirit of the power of small girls, have a piece of fanfic which crosses Roald Dahl's Matilda with Tony Stark. No, really. From the reliably readable copperbadge, and with extra X-men diss at no extra charge.

poised to flee

Saturday, 18 August 2012 10:08 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Gawsh. There's that weird way where a complicated trip hoves to on the horizon for months, as a sort of substantial and slightly threatening mirage, and then suddenly the cats are all over you in generalised insecurity, the netbook contains one and a half finished papers and about twenty different maps to various hotels and universities and medieval abbeys, the suitcase is straining at the seams, there are evil little Clexane syringes in the hand luggage, and the Evil Landlord is tromping around the house preparatory to shunting you off to the airport in the next hour. I have a sort of generalised sensation of "eek". Also, excitement. Also, irritation, because Lufthansa, bless their lack of traditional Teutonic efficiency, won't let me check in online, and I'm terrified I'll end up without an aisle seat, climbing over my compatriots in cattle-class hell at two-hourly intervals until they rise and slay me. I am prepared, if necessary, to wave doctors' letters and weep gently.

I am, however, getting better at this travelling thing. The thought of all the public transport connections between me and my first paper (car to airport, plane to Jhb, plane to Frankfurt, plane to Brussels, tram to station, train to Ghent, tram to hotel, walk to venue) is not in fact inducing panic. I have grown as a person. Also, I am prepared to embrace, regardless of expense and with a sense of wicked self-indulgence, the creed of taxis if pressed to it.

I shall see my mother, post-Nesbitted, in about a week. I shall see the London horde, post-mothered, in about two weeks. I shall see the internet again in just over a day. Excelsior! My banner with a strange device reads "PERAMBULATION".
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Cape Town! currently the locus at regular intervals of storms, heavy rain, hail, high winds, cats puddled around heaters, a soaring electricity bill, and that savage bite in the air that tells you somewhere in the fortunate upcountry there is snow. I am, needless to say, an extremely happy pervy cold-weather-fondler. This last is despite a certain amount of unavoidable angst, given that I leave for a three-week overseas trip on Saturday, and while plane tickets, hotels, visas and various other bits and bobs are duly sorted, I have only written one of the two papers I'm supposed to be giving. (For no adequately defined reason, an entirely unnecessary re-read of Memory, Sorry and Thorn appears to be implicated in this last dereliction of duty). However, deathless insights into feminist re-writes of "Aschenputtle" will buy it over the next few evenings, stat. News at eleven.

In support of this, should there be, as yesterday, a brief and unlikely lull in the atmospherics resulting in a resurgence of the worry-factor, there is always the soothing option of http://www.rainymood.com/. It was clearly designed specifically for me, and I'll probably run it nonstop during the February heatwaves.

And, by way of inspiration, there are always the Bulwer-Lyttons. This year they have caused me unholy glee in the SF section by the perpetration of ungodly puns.

Professor Lemieux had anticipated that his latest paper would be received with skepticism within the small, fractious circle of professional cosmologists, few of whom were prepared to accept his hypothesis that our universe had been created in a marijuana-induced industrial accident by insectoid aliens; nevertheless, he was stung when Hawking airily dismissed it as the Bug Bong Theory.

Hee.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Another of those upsy, downsy weeks. On the downside, I've been fighting off a sinus infection, with its inevitable tandem partner of a glandular resurgence, since about Sunday. (I am now entirely unable to prevent myself from picturing Sinus and Glands on a bicycle made for two. I blame Supernatural). On the upside, this means I've been off work since Tuesday, on instructions from my nice doctor, and it's been really very nice to simply bum around at home - I've clearly needed the rest.

On the downside, the antibiotics she prescribed taste bloody 'orrible, and cause me to make that cat-encountering-weird-smell face twice daily, to the amusement of all beholders. On the upside, there haven't actually been any beholders. (I am now entirely unable to prevent myself from picturing self, lurgi-ridden, surrounded by Beholders peering over my shoulder with those giant bulbous eyes. I blame D&D).

On the downside, the pile of plaintive student complaints has been gently accumulating all week, which means that Monday will be a bit torrid. However, on the extremely upside, I may even forgive my Cherished Institution the work it throws at me, as it has also decided to throw me Money for purposes of maddened conference travel. The dual-fairy-tale-conference Great Belgium/England Trek for August/September is a go! I am very happy: if they hadn't funded me I would have had to withdraw my accepted papers and cancel the whole shindig, which would have been sad.

Also on the extremely upside, I have been applying balm to my wounded post-Mass-Effect-3-lousy-ending sorrows by playing Kingdoms of Amalur all week. Amalur combines the quest/crafting/happy wandering ethos of Skyrim with a combat interface straight out of Dragon Age 2 (lots of leaping around and fancy moves, with kick-butt spells), except that it's single-character. The visual aesthetic, with a rather attractive, slightly cartoon feel and a serious tendency to cute (the little warbles and gurgles made by brownies as they innocently poddle about, just before they snarl viciously and attack you, are utterly adorable) and shiny (lots of glowy stuff, bright, clear colours and pretty flowers) is straight out of Zelda, circa Windwaker or so. The combination is making me very happy, although I am perfectly willing to admit that I am easily charmed at the moment owing to shortage of brain. And, no, I still haven't forgiven ME3. Bastards.

Final, utter upside: two days of weekend still to go. I may yet survive this.

big damn heroes

Sunday, 13 May 2012 08:43 am
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)


There’s a post from Joss on Whedonesque where he refers to his latest, box-office-record-breaking movie variously as “The Scavengers”, “The Availers”, “The Ravagers”, “The Lavenders” and “The Avoiders”. I could wax lyrical on the way in which every single tongue-in-cheek substitution is perfectly accurate for a particular facet of the movie (my slashy-subtextual defense of “The Lavenders” is a particularly fine piece of justificatory acababble), but mostly I’m just happy at the way in which Joss’s characteristic self-deprecation also perfectly encapsulates the mood of the film. The Avengers managed to construct itself as that chimeric and mythical entity which is at once a big-budget summer-tentpole blockbuster, with all its attendant boom and glitz, and a character-driven movie with an actual plot. It has heart and swash and its slightly angsty superhero tongue firmly in its cheek at crucial junctures, and consequently works as only something by Joss can work when it’s working well.

You may be noticing a slight subtextual hint that I enjoyed this movie. I loved this movie. I mean, I’m the world’s easiest sell on superheroes, you flap a cape at me and my inner “Whee!” takes over, but I also love the archetypes enough that, while bouncing happily in my seat, I am also supercritical about how they’re depicted. Joss, of course, gets it. While not quite descending to the levels of grit and angst promulgated by Nolan’s Batman, Avengers is simultaneously an ensemble film, a comic book movie, and one about real, live individuals. It partially rides, of course, on the success of its predecessors - both Thor and Captain America were amiable, character-driven pieces, and Iron Man was rather more than that - but its strength is in its ability to synthesise those individual backstories, simultaneously recognising the angsts and drives of the individuals while subjugating them to the needs of the group. And I am, as always, absolutely about the superhero ensemble. Joss himself acknowledges that the common trait of all these superheroes is their isolation, to a greater or lesser extent, into a world of their own - super-wealthy playboy, man out of time, alien god, assassin, sniper, Jekyll-and-Hyde entity afraid to be among people. In spite of that, he pulls them together into a whole that is coherent, functional and, by the end of it, even joyous, without ever losing sight of individual motivations and abilities, or stretching our credulity too far. (Inserts such as revelations of Nick Fury's manipulation of them contribute materially to this). It's quite an achievement.

The action in this film is pretty much non-stop, so it's interesting to look back on it and realise quite how character-driven it is. There's a particular skill with which the wildly varying power levels of the different superheroes have been integrated and balanced: Black Widow's martial arts training isn't even faintly in the same class as the powers of a Hulk or a god, but the script manages to assert her value nonetheless. (It's a particularly lovely bit of footwork which affirms the part-superhero, part-normal powers of Captain America, who resolutely remains my favourite character in the ensemble). Primarily, though, the explosions and what have you never feel gratuitous; they feel consequential, integrated, and in addition, they're also fun. This is absolutely not Batman. There are moments which epitomise the sense of superheroes as the sheer pleasure of agency, Hulk bounding around the show slapping aliens out of the sky in a sort of joyous abandon, or Iron Man "bringing the party to you". I also love the film's sense of play with the geeky stereotypes which speak both to comic book fans and to Joss's own following - one of my favourite moments in the film is Coulson geeking out over Captain America and wittering on about the pristine set of trading cards he wants signed. (Also, slashy subtext ftw).

No rhapsody about this film would be complete without noting that Joss seems to have pulled off the impossible, particularly, with the Hulk: the Avengers Hulk restores my faith both in the myth and in superhero film-making as a whole. It's possibly a bit odd to talk about the Hulk being humanised, but that's precisely what happens - certainly in the special effects, which neatly avoid Plastic!Hulk and integrate Hulk and Bruce Banner essentially and credibly via the motion capture, but above all in Mark Ruffalo, and in the script. Actor and writing work perfectly together to create not only a credible, world-weary man who retains something resembling a sense of humour about his situation, but also a rather endearing monster who stands not just for unrestrained violence, but for an unrestrained, childlike joy. If Hulk embodies a lack of sophistication, a stripping down to essentials, then the film demonstrates, vitally, that this does not only apply to the "smash" aspect of the character. Hulk is an important component in the film's address to a swashbuckling essence of superheroes: not the angst and conflict, but the simple coolness of magical, unlikely power. Hulk vs Loki is one of the great vignettes of the contemporary superhero story, both an assertion of evil's inevitable destruction within the superhero paradigm, and an amused and knowing nod to stereotype, comic-book power, and the villain's rueful subjugation to narrative expectation.

There was a terrible fear in watching this film, that a geek icon like Joss wouldn't have been able to pull it off. His experiences with Fox (hiss, spit) demonstrate all too clearly the extent to which a confident creative integrity is subject to the whims and warps of marketing. Marvel has generally a much more sane and coherent approach to their mythos films, but the fact remains, if Joss couldn't make something of this movie, it would have suggested, inescapably, that the giant blockbuster superhero ensemble simply couldn't be done. Thank the cosmic wossnames that it can, and the Marvel write-in campaign to put Joss behind the sequel starts here. I'm in.
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The new Avengers trailer is bloody exciting, and has me all whipped up into a frenzy to see this movie. Which is, of course, the point; but it also underlines how much trailer-making is an art, and how seldom it's done well. The movie looks as though it's going to provide the ideal balance between human (or superhuman) drama and kick-butt action, which is, after all, no more than we expect from Joss. If you haven't watched it, do: it's guaranteed to raise your heart-rate. In a good way.



And it has The Moment! Remember The Moment? Of course it has The Moment. This is Joss.



Apologies for the terrible screen capture, it's an extended version of The Moment with the camera swinging around (about two minutes in to the trailer) and it doesn't translate well into a single static viewpoint. I could do random analyses of the back-to-back pose and the circularity of the camera enfolding the heroes in their own self-contained world and separating them from the evils which beset them, but I'll be merciful and leave it as an exercise for the student.
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This morning I woke up to thunder, and petrichor, and a tight cluster of alarmed cats around my feet. They hate the thunder, and slink through the house on a sort of ambulatory cower. I, on the other hand, drove up to work in the pelting rain laughing like a loon, and uttering little shrieks of joy every time the lightning arced across the mountain. Still a highveld girl at heart, and I miss thunderstorms on a deep and physical level which I'm only really conscious of when it actually thunders.

They're a very bodily experience, thunderstorms. Not just because the feel and the scent of heavy rain and the vibration of thunder are so deeply sensual, but because, I think, the air is so charged. I feel electric: alive and tingling. It also helps that the thunderstorm has cleared the air and cooled things down after two days of intense, sticky, ennervating heat wave, causing me to revive like my drooping and underwatered garden. If we're going to go the highveld route of heatwaves as the necessary foreplay to a climax of thunderstorm, I can endure them a lot better.

Yesterday's heatwave was also made endurable, of course, by a sumptuous champagne breakfast with jo&stv, followed by lounging in the swimming pool. Followed by lots and lots of Skyrim. Prancing around a snowy virtual landscape is probably the next best thing to actual air conditioning. My game at the moment, however, is subject to sudden rains of Stormcloak and Imperial corpses, who descend unexpectedly from thin air and thud to the ground, causing city guards to become quite naturally concerned. I'm imagining a concerted effort of giants somewhere launching them irritably into the air a long way off. Also, my dog is floating. I think the last patch broke stuff again. Sigh.

Last three days of registration to survive. Wish me luck.
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As a by-product of the ongoing attempt by [livejournal.com profile] tngr_spacecadet and cohorts to inculcate me into Lotro, I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special the other night. (It was in the Briefcase of Doom, the which contains the two portable hard drives [for a slightly Heath Robinson value of "portable"] which contain the Lotro install, that it may not cripple my bandwidth allowance. For which relief, much thanks. Also, nested parentheses.)

Anyway. The Doctor Who Christmas special was a happy discovery. I've been slightly disappointed in the Stephen Moffat incarnation this last season, it's been a bit whiffly and more than somewhat prone to the Russell Davies brand of giant galloping emotional excess in clumsy symbol form. Certainly nothing as good as "Blink" or "The Girl in the Fireplace". Clearly producing a series causes inherent disintegration of the plot-fibre.

But I loved "A Christmas Carol". It's vintage 11th Doctor - he really is quite endearingly off-the-wall, both in content and delivery, and manages to be madly quirky and individual while maintaining continuity with Tennant's version. (Thus, incidentally, making me realise that there really wasn't much continuity between Ecclestone's version of the Doctor and Tennant's). It also demonstrates the happy-making fact that Moffat fundamentally gets not only time travel, which we knew, but A Christmas Carol itself. I am a pervy Dickens-fondler at the best of times, and have also spent chunks of the last eight years or so teaching A Christmas Carol to second-year lit students on an annual basis, and I have considerable investment in the novel and more than the usual quotient of opinions.

Moffat nailed it. What the Dickens ghost trope is, first and foremost, is a time machine. The supernatural element in the novel is a plot device which allows him not only to access past and future with vivid immediacy, but to compress a lifetime's worth of experience, insight and emotional change into one night. It's not realistic for Scrooge to reform instantly unless something non-realistic is driving it, and the Tardis is a beautiful replacement for the Spirits, the more so because time-hopping is allowed literally to change history and memory, not just insight into them. The ice-stored people are a lovely embodiment of theme, both Dickens's and Moffat's: emotional stasis, cold-heartedness, refusal to change. And the fish, while a mite mundane for my taste, are beautifully weird and occasionally enchanting.

This episode made me giggle frequently and cry at least once, although that last void where prohibited by viewer not actually being a hopelessly over-emotional dingbat. I am inclined to be sanguine about the new season, which is providing cool and interesting trailer images, notably the Doctor playing up to a Stetson.



I will also be inclined to write about it frequently, for as long as LJ holds up, which isn't much, at the moment. The tendency of its servers to exist in a supine condition is beginning to get my goat. Please note that this blog is currently mirrored on WordPress, at http://docinatrix.wordpress.com/, although with a fraction of its actual personality as I haven't been able to migrate the comments. If the urge to blog hits me while LJ is whups, fellover, I shall probably pop up over there instead, ultimately permanently if they don't bloody sort this out. Pshaw.
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Observe the extreme self-control with which I refrain from making some sort of lame subject-line pun about pilgrimage, or something. Although it was: I've been looking forward to Scott Pilgrim for months, on account of (a) hopeless Brian Lee O'Malley fangirling, (b) hopeless Edgar Wright fangirling, and (c) general nerdy indy-music video-game fangirling.

So, first off: wheee! I am somewhat thoroughly immersed in the comic books, having read the whole series three times since August, when I bought them in a bizarre and distributed acquisition spree across two airports, three bookshops and the length, lingth and longth of Britain. I <3 Edgar Wright. The mood, tone and feel of the film is pitch-perfect; it's almost impeccably cast, cleverly scripted, and the editing and cinematography are always competent and occasionally bloody marvellous. It's in spirit and very largely in plot an extremely faithful adaptation, with whole chunks of dialogue and framing of shots stolen wholesale from the comics. It made me giggle with unseemly glee rather often. (Particularly, for some reason, in the first Sex Bob-Omb song. I don't know if it was simply the dreadful Canal Walk sound, but the whole thing came across with the absolutely perfect incoherent repetitive garage-band distort. It made me very happy.)

Here be spoilers or whatever. For both film and comics. )

Quibbling aside, however, I loved this movie - I loved its speed, its ability to mimic the comics in a narrative construction which is all about inconsequential juxapositions, its faithful visual renditions not only of characters but of all the video-game nods and elements. I loved the over-the-top framing of the fight choreography and the way that the film didn't fulfil my fear that they'd disrupt its central fantasy conceit, that Scott Pilgrim can kick anyone's butt. (So many contemporary fantasy films bog down in "The Hero Acquires His Skills". It's trite. The comics make me very happy in their complete refusal to examine how it is that Scott does what he does). I loved the music. The music made me nostalgic for my days in a garage band, and I've never even been in a garage band.

This is one for the DVD collection. I shall happily re-watch it whenever I want to break out my delusion that Hollywood can make movies which are sensitive to their source material, and are able to embody the happy, essentially innocent fantasy of a world in which the extra geeky dimensions are unquestioned and joyously real. Or whatever.
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Need I say what an enormous and wonderful boost it is to my inner fangirl to share a birthday with Joss Whedon? It's fate. It's Kismet. It's the Cosmic Wossnames, telling me that I have every reason in the world apart from my recent acquisition of Still Flying to re-watch Firefly yet again (once I can tear myself away from the script iniquities of STNG), and in fact I should get my shit together and actually track down a copy of Dollhouse sometime, or surrender my fangirl buttons to the hollow square of drummers.

So, this birthday thing. I wasn't going to do anything about it this year, I'm still a bit shellshocked from my dad's death and the debt issues and the three-week glandular fever attack and what have you, and definitely don't feel partyish. However, the dread jo&stv persuaded me to do a small, spontaneous dinner thing this evening, so we're going to trundle into town and pig out at Jewel Tavern, my all-time favourite Chinese place. This is not a birthday celebration so much as an excuse for crispy duck with pancakes - I'm really not expecting presents from anyone this year.

Except ... I bumbled out of my bedroom door this morning, more than usually dazed after another night of sleepwalking (woke at 2am and 4am, turned bedside light on and off in sleep twice, and switched on heater for no adequately defined reason), and stubbed my toe on a large, square, gift-wrapped box sitting mysteriously outside my door.

"Hmmm," I thought.

The envelope on the outside was inscribed, in the Evil Landlord's characteristically precise capitals:
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY! ON AVERAGE, 41 IS JUST AS SIGNIFICANT AS 40 AND 42."

"Hmmm," I thought. Cute.

Inside the envelope was a copy of a certain recent XKCD strip, annotated thusly:

"Meanwhile, on a train in Glasgow..."



"OMFG!" I thought.

In side the box was a brand new netbook. Packard Bell. Black. Cute. Tiny. Just what I'd been planning to acquire for myself sometime towards the end of the year when I've placated my credit card and all, and very similar to [livejournal.com profile] d_hofryn's one that I drooled all over a couple of weeks back. Will allow me to stay connected to Teh Internets during this UK trip, and look up actors on IMDB while I'm actually watching TV, and not fool anyone when I take it to a coffee shop, and the whole thing. Did I mention, ineffably cute?

I have simply to say, eeeeeeeeeeeee! Best birthday present EVAR!, which is saying a lot given my significant history of incredibly cool presents from my lovely friends. I have a deeply, absurdly generous Evil Landlord who not only gets my cultural references 100%, but also clearly listens to my burblings a lot more than I think he does, as I don't think I've mentioned wanting one of these more than once in his hearing, in passing. I am a very happy Extemporanea, and have been joyously fiddling with it all morning in default of actually doing any work.

I also have to say, modern tech has revolutionised birthdays in more ways than one. Today I have received:
  • One Netbook;
  • birthday greetings via email from my mother, co-workers, the university Alumni association (with animated fireworks) and a whole bunch of friends;
  • birthday greetings via Facebook and Twitter from a whole bunch more of friends;
  • SMSes from three stores where I have accounts and even more friends (mad props to [livejournal.com profile] librsa for recursive self-referential email/sms greetings); and,
  • three cellphone calls from friends in two cities.
Thank you all! I was trying to more or less ignore this birthday, honest. Doomed. In a good way.

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