grrr, aargh

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 02:57 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Last night was deeply annoying, because (a) lights, none, and (b) so many legs! As well as (c), residual Age of Ultron grumps.

I am narked with the City of Cape Town because they confirm a load-shedding session so much at the last minute. I checked the loadshedding page four times yesterday, and every time it was "load shedding suspended until further notice." Then they cut us off at 8pm, at the point where I'd assumed we were safe for the day, right in the middle of the first episode of Daredevil, which is a new Netflix series which is doing a slow build thing that definitely doesn't need to be arbitrarily suspended. Although, in retrospect, having to feel my way across the living room in the pitch dark was at least thematically appropriate. (I'm reserving judgement on Daredevil for the nonce, I kinda like what they're doing, it's gritty and real and Charlie Cox is marvellous, but it's currently moving very slowly and I hope they sort the pace out a tad).

"So many legs!" is a quote from Cole in Inquisition upon meeting the giant albino spider which lives under the Crestwood keep. There was a sudden, huge and inexplicable spider in the corner of the bathroom last night, just above the shower. Arachnids are clearly evil because they choose to manifest (a) in the moment when the room is illuminated by flickering candlelight which most efficiently conceals them in shadows until you're really close, and (b) in the room in which you are most likely to be wandering around naked, and thus unprotected from arachnid multi-hairy-legged scuttling by any form of civilised armour. Bastards. Having stripped completely and wandered towards the shower, I spotted the spider, thought, "Hell, no", backed away slowly and went to bed unwashed, shutting the bathroom door behind me so the wretched thing couldn't infiltrate the house. It was gone this morning, hopefully out the window rather than into a dark bathroom corner from whence it can more unexpectedly pounce. I am a wimp, but somehow it all seems more horrible when you're trying to eject spiders without the benefit of electricity.

I have worked out why Age of Ultron annoyed me so much. It's not actually because of the final, headcanon-ruining upshot of the story. It's because absolutely none of the narrative and character arcs which led to that outcome felt earned, deserved or properly explored. I could adjust my headcanons if the film gave me any bloody grist whatsoever to my imaginative mill. But it doesn't: the romance isn't substantiated, the death isn't justified in any thematic sense, the departures are glossed over, the whole thing feels like random events cobbled together randomly, rather than an actual plot. Joss can do so much better, and I tend to agree with this article, which argues that the Marvel meta-marketing drive has constrained the director to the point where he is completely hamstrung in trying to give the story any sort of satisfying shape.

Also, while Joss Whedon is definitely still my master now, I can't help thinking that his particular brand of feminism, which resides mostly in strong female characters, is in a weird sort of way slightly out of date. He was groundbreaking at the time with Buffy and Firefly, but levels of feminist awareness have overtaken him - simple strong female characters simply don't cut it any more, we need a more pervasive critique which the Marvel straitjacket certainly doesn't permit. (See: leaked CEO email giving a demonstration of beautifully spurious logic: bad female-led superhero movies bombed, therefore all female-led superhero movies are bad and will bomb. To which we answer, succinctly and pointedly, "Ben Afflek's Daredevil". Because really.)

In other news, my mutant foot has died down to its usual shape and is only rather red and mottled. Antibiotics and two days with my feet up have settled its hash onetime quick. Now all I have to deal with is the nausea occasioned by the antibiotics...
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Mostly my movie-watching life has been on hold lately, because Inquisition. Turns out there is no contest between gaming and watching DVDs: gaming wins. However, apparently the grip of the game loosens a bit when I'm on my, what, seventh or eighth play-through? So I have both gone to the movies, and watched some of the Pile of Unwatched Reproach, which is probably twenty DVDs high, in between navigating a Qunari mage through a by now incredibly familiar Thedas. Leading to a scorecard which looks something like this:

Big Hero 6. Disney animated thing with cute bulbous robot. It's a cute bulbous superhero film which I thoroughly enjoyed, because it's both cute and science-positive. Also, its deliberate rip-offs of Iron Man, among other films, are hilarious. Bonus cool swarms of evil microbots, cool nerd stereotypes and cool affirmations of non-violence. A-, because fluffy, but relegated to "probable comfort re-watch" pile.

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies. Um. Martin Freeman is still a tiny hobbitoid acting god. Bard wants to be Aragorn when he grows up, and probably could be. Thorin's downward spiral wasn't as heart-rending as I expected it to be, possibly I'm becoming old and cynical. Peter Jackson still suffers from irredeemably self-indulgent narrative bloat and completely inexplicable plot choices, and IMNSHO he stuffed up the actual battle something 'orrible. Wasted Fili and Kili's sacrifice, weird relocation of Thorin's confrontation to unnecessary and rather lame towers rather than the battlefield, and it made absolutely no tactical sense whatsoever. Did he run out of budget for background fighting? Also, no Bilbo shouting "The eagles are coming!", rotten swizz. B-, visually cool but overall strangely uncompelling, Martin Freeman notwithstanding.

Basil the Great Mouse Detective. This was, weirdly, teaching research, on account of how I'm teaching Sherlock again this year and am becoming unduly fascinated by the endurance of the Holmes/Watson mythic archetype across different iterations. This one has a classic Watson and a rather annoying Sherlock who has surprisingly large numbers of points in common with the current BBC one. Amazing how the tall&thin vs short&solid visual image is retained in so many versions. Entirely predicable Disney film in the slightly less accomplished pre-Aladdin mode. C, but will will show clips in class because the parallels are interesting.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Saw this on Sunday morning (about 10 people in the 9am showing, score!) in sheer self-defence because my Tumblr feed is trying to spoil me. I am entirely unable to say whether it's a good movie or not because my ships and personal headcanons have been so thoroughly Jossed that I'm all quivering with outrage, injury and sulk. I've read a lot of Avengers fanfic, and it turns out I'm really invested in the Avengers as they currently stand, and I want to keep on thinking of them like that, living together forever in Avengers Tower and fighting crime, not with the new team make-up going in the new direction. It was certainly a fun film, visually exciting, good character interaction, amazing fight choreography, but bleah. I decline to assign it a score on the grounds that I'm not reasonable about it. I spent most of Sunday unconscionably depressed and killing things in Inquisition with more than the usual levels of vindictive satisfaction. Phooey.

On the upside, they also gave us the new Star Wars trailer in big-screen 3-D, and it made me weepy. Apparently I'm imprinted on that universe, but also the new images are correctly gritty and feel like Star Wars in a way the prequels-we-do-not-mention did not. A new hope!

whups, fellover

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 10:49 am
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I'm trying to work out why this is so funny.

Possibly because Giles, who is quite one of my favourite Buffy characters, and it's beautifully edited, but mostly I suspect that there's just something inherently funny about Chumbawamba.

I am Still Sick, although much, much better - now at the pale/shaky/weedy end of it, with occasional coughing and a throaty contralto, instead of the hacking-consumptive-bring-me-a-place-to-die bit. Doc has put me off work until Thursday. On mature reflection, this was sensible and necessary, because doing anything much makes me fall over, or at least want to.

(You can attribute the Cassie Claire weed-smoking Gandalf subject line to the fact that I rewatched the second Hobbit film last night, which only served to reinforce my convictions that (a) Martin Freeman is a tiny hobbitoid acting god, and (b) BC was born to voice the more intelligent sort of dragon.)
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Much-Ado-About-Nothing Branagh Much-Ado-About-Nothing Whedon

We have this rather erratically-implemented movie club thing, where we select two movies with a related theme and watch them back-to-back, with a break for food, traditionally something on rolls. (In this case, chicken prego, and a dashed good thing too). Finding thematic links between films is actually ridiculously easy, on account of (a) humans are pattern-recognising animals, but mostly (b) there is nothing new under the sun, particularly in Hollywood. This time my choice cannot be said to have stretched our comparative ingenuity to the utmost: we watched the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, mostly for nostalgia, kicks and to establish a baseline, followed by the recent Joss Whedon version of same. It was a deeply Shakespearian afternoon, and a fascinating juxtaposition which achieved in spades the kind of enriched viewing through comparison and emphasis which is the whole point of the exercise. (Although, note to self: I possibly need to invest in a hearty supply of toffees for our next movie club, I can't seem to stop myself from commenting out loud while we watch and it has to be maddening to my co-watchers. Gluing my jaws together probably beats an actual gag.)

I adore Shakespeare because of his language, which practically defines the category of "the good shit" for my dodgy getting-high-on-words proclivities. Much Ado is simultaneously one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, because of the hyper-linguistic relationship between Beatrice and Benedick, and one of my least favourite, because that flow of (slightly undergraduate, insult-based) wit isn't ever quite enough to mask the brutality and basic misogyny of the Hero plot. To a greater or lesser extent both the Branagh and the Whedon versions modernise the play, but there's no updating that beastly subtext of women as objects of exchange whose value is in the male perception of their virginity. For a comedy the play is surprisingly cynical about romantic love: Beatrice and Benedick's re-negotiation and rediscovery of each other is drastically undercut by the absolutely superficial nature of the Hero/Claudio relationship, which slides continually in the language of its representation into purely venal images of value and wealth. And that aborted wedding scene is simply brutal.

It feels more brutal in the Branagh version, I think perhaps because it's such an exuberant film and the contrast in tones is thus particularly cruel; Whedon's film is moodier, not just because of the black-and-white, but because of slightly darker undercurrents of unease and unhealth in the relationships, and less emphasis on the spark and snap of the language. If nothing else watching the two films together made me realise how utterly, beautifully trained British actors are - they inhabit and embody the words in a way that even brilliant American actors don't. American mumbling is probably more naturalistic, but I'll take enunciation any day. The tonal contrast is very strong in the different settings as well - the Branagh has that idyllic pastoral thing going and a strong sense of relaxed, exuberant peasantry as backdrop, whereas the Whedon is a tighter, smaller, rather restrained setting, more mannered and less earthy. Whedon's black-and-white format is effective, as is the weirdly unspecific periodicity - it often feels 50s in costume and manners, but there are cellphones and very modern cars. We decided in the end that the hints were towards a sort of Mafia setting, which is a nifty interpretation of the names (Don Pedro etc), but also one of the few modern Western milieus in which that nasty feudal-structure / violence / women-as-objects vibe is realistically present. Also, it has to be said - I covet Joss Whedon's house, which is where the whole thing was filmed. Beautiful spaces. Jealous.

It's very telling, to watch not just two different directors' interpretations back-to-back, but two different sets of actors in the roles. High points: both Beatrices are amazing, with enormous emotional strength which made both Benedicks feel weaker by comparison. On mature reflection I don't think that's entirely to do with the actors, though, Shakespeare's play simply constructs Benedick as a bit of a twit, a resonance which both versions pick up on with rather entertaining slapstick elements. (Although I have to say Amy Acker is also very good at these). I loved Clark Gregg's Leonato, but Whedon's film gives him comparatively less to do (although he was particularly great in the Hero denunciation scene). Nathan Fillion's very funny Dogberry was a far more restrained and nuanced interpretation than that egregiously horrible Michael Keaton one; the security guard schtick was fun, as was the presence of those two lads from Britanick (they do Eagles Are Turning People Into Horses and Trailer For Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever), who appear to have a mutual fanboy thing going with Joss. Hero doesn't have much of a presence in the play, but Kate Beckinsale's version (wtf? Kate Beckinsale? Good grief, I'd completely forgotten this was her first big role) is far better acted than Jillian Morgese's, which was a complete non-event. Sean Maher's Don John is beautifully, slitheringly evil and makes you realise how utterly dismal poor Keanu was in that role, my peculiar fondness for the match between the character and the actor's tongue-tied physicality notwithstanding. (I also really enjoyed the gender-swapped Conrade).

I love both these movies, enough that my feminist spluttering at its nastier bits doesn't overcome my simple joy both at Shakespeare's language and wit, and at the directors' and actors' enjoyment of same. It was lovely to see all the old Whedonverse favourites trotting out their Shakespeare stuff, it gave the play an intimacy and immediacy which was very effective. But I came away from the watching experience mostly with a sort of nebulous wish for a time machine and a cohort of RADA trainers, to spirit Whedon's cast away for some forcible re-education in diction and emphasis for about a year before they actually filmed. Shakespeare's language is brilliant, but archaic and at times convoluted; you have to spit it, not swallow it, if you want to convey its nuance to a modern audience. Half the time I had to seriously concentrate on making sense of it, to an extent where I wondered sometimes if the actors themselves were making sense of it, and that's not a feeling the Branagh version ever gives you. I fear I'm still a pervy Brit-fondler at heart.

Subject line is obviously Much Ado, Leonato describing the Beatrice/Benedick relationship. Shame on you if you didn't recognise it.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It's like a saint's day, really. On this day we all watch really well-written television and superheroes. And possibly do the Dance of Joy. And curse the indifferent South African film gods who are not releasing Much Ado About Nothing anytime soon. Bugger.

The driver's licence seems to have been a weird sort of blockage in my life. Now that I have it, things are falling into place - some of them contingently, others coincidentally. The nice car people have approved my finance application, and sometime this week I should have a new car, into which they are currently putting an alarm system for which they are randomly not charging me anything despite the fact that it doesn't come standard. I'm not sure what to make of this. Either there's a hell of a lot of leeway in the deal they put together for me, or I'm a really good risk. I have also (this is the coincidental bit) suddenly found and sent to the nice agent lady in France all of the necessary documentation for a change of agent for the French house, which has been a sticking point for the last few months. Clearly it's enabling on some fundamental level to be all legal suddenly.

Let's hope that the sudden aura of Can Do extends to the various other things I should do in the next week before I go back to work: finish the Nesbit paper, fill the veggie boxes in the back courtyard, make some clothes. Also watch the new Star Trek, the new Superman, and mourn the fact that I've left it too damned late to re-watch the new Iron Man. Is it just me, or have superheroes actually taken over the world? As my final trick, I shall also find some way to stop Hobbit from sitting next to my screen and patting the cursor, it's adorable but not entirely conducive to productivity.

In the spirit of thematically-linked fanfic recs, the only Buffy fanfic I've ever really enjoyed is the Barbverse, which is all Buffy/Spike. It takes a sharp left turn at the point where Buffy and Spike are having naughty moments all over the show, and simply assumes that Buffy isn't a twit and doesn't try to deny or hide the relationship. The result is both entertaining and satisfying.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
It is utterly delightful to me that Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the creator of the Middleman, writes Middleman fanfic. Today, a Christmas card which is also a Middleman/Star Trek crossover. Also, the chortling screams of hipster mockery, "flingety-flangety-foom", a Psionic-Level-Obstructing-Telekinesis-Deterring-Extrasensory-Vibration-Inhibiting-Cloud-Emitter, the Phynberg Oscillating Framizam, a legion of angry baobab trees, and Furious Ferrets as hateful harbingers of helium-filled hatred. Alas that this show ended so prematurely. I loved it so.

In other news, Friday Wol wears a hat. Because he can. (It's the feet that get me.) He is also wishing me slightly indignant luck as I go forth to acquire, come hell or high water, a new car today. *girds loins*

The hero of Canton, the wol they call Jayne. Or something.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I went in to the framing place in Claremont this morning, to drop off a complicated framing job. They're lovely people, and have done good work for me in the past, but they always look at me a bit funny owing to the fact that it's a slightly classic, pedestrian sort of shop, filled with fine art reproductions and local paintings, and I usually want to frame something-or-other I've acquired off the internet. (My art tastes run decidedly pop). So it was a bit weird when the nice man recognised the Star Wars characters; he didn't know Firefly, but when I said "space western" he rather shamefacedly confessed to a love for Star Trek. (He's a Voyager enthusiast. Someone lend me Voyager.) So, in the midst of pedestrian fine art reproductions we had an animated ten-minute discussion which ranged all over Star Trek, Ridley Scott, Prometheus, Blade Runner and all the Aliens movies, of which he is a fan. It was beautifully incongruous. Our tribe, apparently is everywhere. Lurking. Where you least expect them.

I spent the rest of today grading job applications from psychologists and counsellors and social workers, oh my. The occasional pained yells were at the grammatical and stylistic solecisms in the cover letters. If I had to do this sort of thing more often (and had more authority in the process) no-one would ever get hired. Twenty years teaching university English will give you a lot of deal-breakers.

(The Firefly posters in question are these ones by Secret Alice. I love them. Have a random Captain Tightpants.)

o captain my captain

Sunday, 15 July 2012 04:36 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Various wamblings in the comments of my last post have vouchsafed me an Insight, or possibly a Revelation, or at very least a Brainstorm. Which is to say, gawsh, but there are an awful lot of really rather attractive men prancing around contemporary popular culture under the sobriquet of Captain. Is this officially a Thing now? have we all succumbed to the appeal of militarism, or authority, or uniforms? Also, boots. Captains wear good boots. And, judging by the evidence, a lot of them wear good coats. I am cutting this to remove long strings of photos from innocent Friends feeds. )

joss sticks

Friday, 13 July 2012 01:24 pm
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I was very confused by the newspaper billboards this morning, one of which appeared to read "SA DOGS SECRETLY HELP PATIENTS TO DIE." I drove for about ten minutes musing about the story. Hounds of Tindalos? genetically modified hyper-intelligent right-to-die spaniels? weird trained killer attack throwing Pomeranian death cults? In fact, mature reflection suggests that it actually read "SA DOCS SECRETLY HELP PATIENTS TO DIE", but it makes for a much less interesting world.

For no adequately defined reason, random Friday is randomly Joss-focused. I don't normally read Tree Lobsters, but [ profile] wolverine_nun pointed me at this lovely strip.

And Pajiba linked to this rather zen and pointlessly soothing video editing together all the Chinese bits from Firefly. Hmmm. I think I'm due for a Firefly rewatch, I'm having to mute far too much of Chuck for serious enjoyment.

freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
I am a sad fangirl. I still get an unholy kick out of sharing a birthday with Joss, who is 50 this year and still comfortingly older than I am, and who moreover validates my fangirling utterly not only by intelligently being born on the same date I was, but by producing things like The Avengers, thus neatly conflating several of my personal fixations. (I shall leave identifying the exact fixations as an exercise for the reader).

I have had a lovely birthday, doing not much in an entirely self-indulgent way - playing computer games (which is no different to a lot of other days, then, but without the guilt), eating chocolate, chatting to random lovely friends who dropped by for one reason or another, and going out to dinner with the usual crew to La Mouette, whose winter special tasting menu is a damn fine thing. There is still a ridiculous amount of chocolate in the house.

The computer games have not been materially assisted by the affectionate nature of the Hobbit, whose favoured position is recorded for posterity below. I need my right hand in Amalur for moving forward, parrying, swapping weapons and chugging healing potions, so it's not an entirely felicitous confluence of cat and gamer. The aching wrist from the heavy Hobbit-head, however, neatly balances the aching wrist on the mouse hand from clicking "attack" and clenching all my muscles while I swear.

I should point out that the weird brown box/paper thing behind Hobbit's left ear is my Evil Landlord's idea of a good birthday present, which is to wander into Tomes, the larney chocolate place in the Waterfront, and request two of every kind of dark chocolate they have except the ones with coconut. He is a civilised man and knows me well. Have also scored tea and chocolate biscuits, groovy clothes, cute cat-toys, interesting plants and umpteen wishes from people all over the show, for which my happy, grateful thanks.

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.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
Yesterday was Star Wars day, which means, ye gods, it's May. You can tell by the weather, which is still pleasingly damp and becoming bloody cold with proper wintery gravitas, and my state of fret. I give a conference keynote in less than two weeks, and the paper currently consists of about six pages of notes with "aargh" written at intervals, and a giant pile of books on the school story, through which I propose to wade this weekend.

You must forgive my lack of blogging: my moments of free time, of which there have been significantly few owing to an insane rash of meetings interspersed with angsty students, have been pretty evenly divided between finding succinct and creative ways to be rude about the Hogwarts idea of education, and retreating from same into a re-play of the first Mass Effect. (Because I played so badly first time around. My skills and tactics were horrible - I realise, post the Mass Effect 2 experience, that I managed to play the first game entirely without using cover, which does explain the wear and tear on the medi-gel. This time round I am pwning it slightly more handily, as well as picking up all the bits I missed).

It also means it's a new month, and time to acknowledge my debts. (This is becoming easier given that my blograte is so far down. This is a temporary state of things, I promise.) Reading chronologically, April has nicked bits thusly:
  • 2nd. I actually have no idea where I dredged this up, it's one of those phrases which has passed into the proverbial lore of the slightly pretentiously gothic. It's actually Falstaff, from Henry IV Part II, a play I have never actually read. (Although I studied Henry V for A-Level, and am rife with opinions about it). The correct quote is "We have heard the chimes at midnight". I vaguely associate it with Thurber, although I suspect that's just the slighly ponderous gait of the phrase.
  • 3rd. A quote from a rather amusingly sadistic nursery rhyme sort of thing, in which there were three in the bed and the little one said "roll over", so they all rolled over... etc. In retrospect, it's rather dodgy. You start out with a veritable orgy of ten in the bed, and whittle them down until the little one ends up splendidly alone and going to sleep. I remember my mother singing this to us, I have absolutely no idea where it originates. It does resonate rather well with my sleeping habits, though.
  • 10th. A fragment of Magnetic Fields in marginally depressive mode. The song is "Infinitely late at night", off their album I; the flavour of the tune is sort of languidly-swaying French-ballady, a mode I associate with the fake-Frenchy elements of "Those Canaan Days" from Joseph. (News from the front: I can still recite all the colours of Joseph's bloody technicolour dreamcoat).
  • 17th. "Jade Lady" is the name given to Phyrne Fisher by her luscious Chinese lover Lin. It refers to her tendency to look like a Manchu princess apart from the bright green eyes.
  • 20th. The obligatory David Bowie quote, here from "Cat People", which is a song I seem to mine fairly regularly for quotes, it being strangely congruent with my interests.
  • 22nd. Quote and song title from Postal Service, one I've actually used before, but it's such a lovely image. (Although the song is apparently about nuclear war, it has an odd balance of apocalyptic and sappy: "I've got a cupboard with cans of food, filtered water, and pictures of you/ and I'm not coming out until this is all over...")
  • 28th. I actually referenced this one: Joss Whedon on cats.
  • 30th. Quite one of my favourite quotes from The Avengers, entailing probably my two favourite characters in the film, and deploying the nicely Whedonesque balance of reference, fan service and tongue-in-cheek, ironic reinterpretation. Postmodern, in fact. Damn, I must write that review. Maybe tomorrow, if I conquer the school story theory.
Allons-y! Dissing Dumbledore waits for no man, although it may actually wait until I've finished Virmire. Dammit. My self-discipline is not only a small, fluffy, reluctant thing lurking on a rock somewhere, it's lurking on a rock while hunched manically over a computer game and refusing to be distracted. Sigh.
freckles_and_doubt: (Default)
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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The Avengers trailer has been tabbed in my browser for about four days, which means it auto-plays every time I boot up and load the browser, forcing me to watch it yet again. Oh, fiddlesticks. Oh, darn. All those lovely men being superheroic and flip with authentic Joss Whedon dialogue. Daily. Oh, woe is me. Of course, a superhero movie doesn't have to be particularly intelligent or actually good in any way to make me ridiculously happy (viz. the Fantastic Four Secret Shame), but I'm really looking forward to this one. Apart from Scarlett, who's just a pain.

So, update on the Great French Bank Account Fiasco! I attribute solely to this recent experience my sudden need to re-read Going Postal, which I did yesterday, possibly in morbid fascination with successful cons. Last week's unsuccessful attempt to illegally boost EUR4150 from my account has been superceded by this week's perfectly successful removal of EUR4150 from my account. (This bastard is nothing if not consistent). The bank are being very sweet about it and managed, after much scurrying, to reverse it yesterday, but apparently the thrice-accursed spawn of financial evil (the thief, not the bank. The bank are lovely) actually sent them a hard copy transfer request with all the correct banking details and (drumroll!) my correct signature. This is, to say the least, disturbing. We seem to have ruled out Eric the Hedge-Trimmer, the nice policeman assures me that said Eric has been righteously incarcerated for the last two weeks, so unless he's part of a Ring, it's probably not him.

What it is, is someone who has laid hands on enough of my private documentation to include both a bank statement and a signature, a conundrum which my immersion in Ngaio Marsh and her ilk is responding to by causing a little-used detective gene to come to attention. The availability of my signature is not surprising, I must sign several thousand pieces of paper every year in pursuit of my legitimate admin activities, but its coincidence with the bank statement is considerably curiouser. The bank statement must have come from my study, or from the postal service before it came anywhere near me - I don't carry those around. (I still think it's mostly likely that someone nicked it from the postbox outside our gate). The signature could have come out of something in our recycling, I suppose. Both together could have been accumulated by a half-hour spent sitting outside our house sifting the recycling in conjunction with rifling the postbox, but it would have been rather obvious. Both could also have been lifted off my desk, but I don't really see how. (Apart from anything else, the giant pile in my inbox is giant, and frequently weighed down by the Hobbit). I am gently revolving a third theory, that both were the result of someone digging around on the hard drive of my old computer, the one which was stolen a couple of years ago. But I really don't think the French bank details were ever on there; hell, they're not on the current one, which means it's not even that my nice new wireless wossname has allowed someone to hack me. In the immortal words of Detritus, it a mystery.

The whole thing is causing me (in addition to the moments of incandescent rage, because how bloody dare he) to become horribly paranoid, and to spread that paranoia around a lot. Anything that goes into recycling, for example, is going to be shredded into teeny tiny bits. All correspondence at all about anything whatsoever is going to go to the box number, not the postbox. I've put another padlock on the postbox, in a futile stable-door-horse-bolted sort of gesture, but I don't trust it. I shall discuss with the nice bank people the possibility of simply shifting the whole bang shoot to another bank account, although that's going to be a royal pain in the butt. But I ask you, nice witterers: do you know where your bank account details go? what bits of paper are innocently being recycled? Can you say you are safe? she says in the thrilling tones of a bad drama trailer or an insurance sales pitch. It happened to me! it could happen to you!

And while we're at it, are you making sure you exercise your feet on long plane journeys, too? My mother didn't raise me to be a cautionary tale, but if it's a gig that ends up being any use to anyone else, I'll take it.
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Gah. One of those days when I've boiled the kettle four times and still haven't managed to make the cup of tea. This is the time of year when I most hate my job: I am juggling four major and complicated organisational challenges, at least part of all of which involves students phoning me up and being plaintive. The Nibbled To Death By Hordes Of Mice quotient is very high. Also, insomnia last night doesn't help, while I lie awake remembering important things I haven't done. Just to add to the joy, the campus internet has decided to nominate today as one of meditation, which means there's a fractional delay on every letter I type. It's very annoying.

On the upside, the amazing people at Loot have apparently arm-wrestled the Evil Anti-Season-4 Smallville Cult into submission, because my copy has apparently been shipped. Owing to Smallville's tendency to finish its seasons on cheesy cliffhangers with practically everyone possibly dead or incarcerated in insane asylums, I'm more than usually twitchy at the lack of instant gratification. Also, I really miss Joss's tendency to damned well finish a season arc. It suggests an actual confidence in the return of his audience which the Cheap Shot Cliffhanger simply doesn't. Sigh. I am, nonetheless, rather looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with oodles of kryptonite, bucketloads of teen angst, the ongoing train smash that is Luthor family dynamics, and Clark Kent's cheekbones.

Now I shall go back to assessing the curricula of student appeal cases, wrangling OLs, fielding plaintive admissions emails and herding curriculum advisors into training. Much of the actual hard grind of finishing up handouts and websites and things for these projects is, alas, going to be done this weekend. I think my Evil Landlord's fell influence on the weekend work front is rotting my moral fibre.
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The very first crush I ever had was on Superman, the Christopher Reeve version; going by the date of the movies, even with the characteristic Zimbabwean delay in releasing them, I must have been about twelve years old. It was a very childish crush. Whether as Superman in skin-tight primary colours or as Clark Kent with his goofy, farmboy dweebishness, Superman's a good guy, and thus ultimately unthreatening to a twelve-year-old's devotion. It's an uncomplicated good: of all the superheroes Superman must be the most clear-cut, his angsts alien and distant and human only at one remove. He's all the more a good guy because his powers are almost limitless, and he's bloody near indestructible; not for him the hard-won grittiness of Batman, or Spiderman's joyous exploration of every possible combination of swooping and string. Superman is possibly my favourite superhero because he's just so reassuring to watch, the epitome of strength modified by chivalrous restraint.

Fortunately, Smallville mostly seems to get all of the above. I cannot say this is great television, or even great teen television; watching it over the last couple of weeks has been a guilty pleasure very much akin to an ill-advised and dodgily enjoyable relationship with an extremely hot young man about twenty years my junior, motivated mostly by his cheekbones, slightly bone-headed sweetness and naively earnest desire to please. This series wants to be Buffy, with all of Buffy's use of the supernatural to explore teen angsts. It wants to be Buffy so bad it hurts, but alas, it simply doesn't have the brain. It is, nonetheless, extremely watchable, its best episodes kicking in at somewhere around the middling-solid of Buffy, and some of its narrative and mythological choices being interesting and creative.

The whole problem with Superman is that he's invulnerable and pretty much invincible, which doesn't offer a whole lot of potential for narrative tension. This, of course, is what kryptonite was made for, and one has to be struck by the way that the series weaves Clark Kent's inherent limitations into the fabric of life in Smallville: kryptonite arrived, in large quantities, in the same meteor shower that delivered the young superhero, and liberally peppered the Smallville landscape. From there, things simply fall into place with an audible click that's almost too pat: of course kryptonite crystals will be present at the moment of narrative climax, rendering Clark's powers moot, or in worst case scenarios turning him momentarily evil. (I hate red kryptonite in this series: it destroys everything I really enjoy about Superman, which is his Lawful Good-ness. Also, Tom Welling brings the pretty in large quantities, but his acting skills, at least this far, are not quite up to Evil!Clark, who really needs to be played by Damon Salvatore to be in any way compelling).

Apart from the eternal quadrille with kryptonite, the show so far revolves around two main tensions, Clark/Lana and Clark/Lex. The Lana thing is making me realise how good Joss is at this, in that Buffy's relationships were never this eternal electron-orbiting-a-nucleus thing, doomed never to touch. Buffy's relationships were mostly disastrous, but by gum she had them. Here, Clark's gosh-darned secrecy is a sort of repulsion field, always pushing Lana away with misunderstandings or secrets or save-the-world priorities which exclude her at the moment when you think they might actually stop being bone-headed teenagers and get it together. It's so inevitable you stop hoping after a while. As an exploration of the price of a superhero identity it's frequently poignant and insightful, particularly in the ramifications of secrecy out through the Kent family and Clark's friends, but in terms of narrative satisfaction, not so much. Of course, I'm only halfway through the second season, so they might still surprise me, but the pattern of eternal-foreplay-no-climax is beginning to wear on me.

On the other hand I'm really, really enjoying the Clark/Lex relationship. Lex is interestingly conflicted, and his beyond dysfunctional relationship with his father is a twelve-step how-to on creating supervillains. His complexity is beautifully set off against Clark's stubborn and slightly one-dimensional nice farmboy thing, but you still believe in their friendship. Again, the necessity for secrecy about Clark's powers is cleverly used to complicate the relationship, with a horrible inevitability which allows you to appreciate its necessity at the same time that you can watch it effectively destroying Lex's struggles towards light rather than dark, people rather than power. For a Lawful Good guy, it's ironic how Clark's interactions with Lex are an ongoing betrayal headed inevitably and horribly for disaster. It's also fascinating to watch the incestuous intertwining of Luthor and Kent fates in an unstable web of deceit and compromise and manipulation. (Is it just me? I really don't like the actor who plays Jonathan Kent. I don't believe he's a good guy).

The problem with Superman is that everyone knows the story. I'm impressed, actually, by how the writers of the series have used this to layer the interactions between the characters; it has something of a Greek tragedy's attitude to fate. The series is possibly most fun, however, in its throwaway nods to the mythology, its larding of the episodes with passing, deadpan references to men of steel and tights and secret identities and being from another planet. It's playful and, again, poignant, and makes me wish I'd actually read some Superman comics at some point. (Memo to self: hit Loot).

So, overall I suspect there are a good few seasons of Smallville in my future. There are moments when I wander out of the room in the middle of an episode in sheer frustration or embarrassment or irritation, but its pleasures are many. Why, yes, Smallville, you may take one of my favourite superhero mythologies and expand it for my viewing pleasure for ten seasons, with a modicum of insight and an attractive and largely likeable cast. Happy Christmas to you, too.
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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:

"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 [ 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 [ 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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Well, that was pretty awful. The older I get, the worse I handle late nights (and, it has to be said, the Demon Drink). Becoming horizontal at about 11pm after a particularly vociferous closing session to Neil's game (we won!), I thereafter spent several frustrating hours pursuing a small, blinking, bi-coloured light around the walls of my room at about head-height. Then, as hypnagogic hallucination gave way to actual dream, I sat through a dreary and interminable faculty selection committee where, despite the fact that I was actually one of the candidates, I had to watch all the rest being interviewed. No-one on the committee would explain why this was necessary, merely looking knowing and making off-hand remarks about how the candidates weren't actually the candidates, anyway. In the middle of it all the Dean's secretary, prompted by an incomprehensible crisis of some sort and acting on a direct instruction from the Dean, hustled me off to catch a plane to Bombay. I still don't know why. I am, however, once more a little frayed.

In an effort to inject some slightly more positive energy into the day, herewith a list of Things I Have Recently Enjoyed.
  • The new Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals. I spent Monday evening ensconced on the sofa with the Hobbit, chortling at intervals. Terry Pratchett is still very much Terry Pratchett, although I found the book a little scattered and over-busy in its themes and sub-plots: I suspect we're seeing actually a very good writer coming up against the slightly over-simplified limitations of his genre, and being driven to complicate them. The result is a bit cluttered, but the characters are as always warmly human, the digs at both football and academia are very happy-making, and the issues being explored (prejudice, mostly) are real and sharply pointed.
  • Supernatural. About halfway through the first season: I am somewhat charmed by this series even though its monster-of-the-weekishness is not the only thing it's ripped off from the X-Files. (I swear you could do a direct episode correlation chart). Like the X-Files, it works because of the dynamic between its central characters, who are rather nicely-drawn brothers with a fairly realistic array of tensions, affections and differences. Also, extended road-trip. The actual working-out of the Supernatural Dingus Du Jour is not about reality at all, and I get a bit miffed about lack of consequences such as arrest, but it's a reasonably endearing watch.
  • Buffy Season 9, i.e. the comics. Joss lets loose without budget constraints, leading to Giant!Dawn, Fray crossovers and whole episodes inside someone's supernatural head. I'm finding the artwork a bit variable - love some versions of the characters, hate others - but the plots are interesting and compelling, and it's a lot of fun to watch the characters develop post-Sunnydale. Buffy is considerably less annoying, too.
  • [ profile] smoczek's fajitas. Yum.
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Friday randomness is random, apparently. A Christmas pudding and a piece of holly to anyone who can find the connections between these items, I certainly can't.

The internet connection on this benighted campus has been going through wild mood swings lately; part of it has been Ickle Firsties grappling with Groupwise and accidentally setting up autoforward loops, mailbombs to the entire student body and other inane bandwidth-choking digressions. Dear little gazelles, all wild-eyed and apt to dash off herbivorously in unlikely directions. They do make it difficult for me to restrain my misanthropic impulse to club them to death in quivering herds.

My French visa should be ready on Tuesday. The consulate people were very sweet and are ridiculously efficient. Also, it's an ill wind. In the course of hunting desperately behind my desk for the attestation d'accueil, I turned up the remains of the box of bittergingers [ profile] librsa gave me months ago, which had fallen down there somewhere in the course of my highly self-controlled rationing of the box to make it last longer. Yum.

Friday linkery! because I can. I call on all witterers to support the utterly worthwhile cause of voting for the name of the next NASA space station module. Naturally you will vote to name it Serenity. It actually fits beautifully with the other node names, but more importantly is causing Browncoats the world over to carol "Shiny!" in tones of glee.
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Stupidly hot in Cape Town at the moment, and my trip to the orthopod yesterday was through smoke and flame (fires on the side of the mountain, fortunately smallish and contained). Verdict - I've managed not to actually tear this cruciate ligament, yay, although he is of the opinion I should have the op to repair the one on the other leg, since vaguely unanchored floppy-gearbox motions in the knee joint will lead to arthritis in later life. It's weird how medical science has changed in only the twelve years since the partial dislocation which tore the ligament - then, I was advised not to have the op as it was invasive and ran the risk of stuffing up the joint even more. Now it's routine, non-invasive, arthoscopic. Shall put it to my medical aid and see what happens.

Today is the last day of serious orientation activities, I'm hobbling, headachy and have a hacking cough, but the end is in sight. I'm even more or less keeping to my Friday resolution not to snarl at students. In celebration, have some random linkery.

  • I found a new webcomic. I recommend that you read Gunnerkrigg Court from the beginning, its weird-school-story is understated, lateral and surprisingly sophisticated in its explorations of science and the mystical. Also, bonus myth-geek references, often visual and in passing.
  • Courtesy of Making Light, random picture juxtapositions which make a pithy feminist point. Obama, unicorns, fangirling, etc., you know the drill.
  • Speaking of unicorns, heh. Kitch as all get-out, curiously satisfying. Also from Making Light. Where do they find this stuff?
And, finally, in the Department of Amusing Tabloid Headlines, HAUNTED BY EVIL HORSE! Now I have the triple-Whedon Bad Horse chorus from Dr. Horrible wandering gently round my backbrain, snickering. Which reminds me, the DVD should be out soon. Internet rumour has it that all the commentary on the DVD extras will be sung. I squee.


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