Saturday, December 29, 2012

Les Miz Movie Rambling

I'm fine; the bullet bounced off my corset.

So the Les Miserables movie musical finally came out, and to deservedly mixed reviews. The songs were pretty chopped up (most noticeable and damaging in "Confrontation," "Master of the House," "Look Down," "Plumet Attack," and "One Day More," in my opinion), but the sets looked great. Honestly, there was never any way crowds weren't going to come out en masse for this, and it was perfect for a Christmas pastime. Was it an instant classic? No. Did I cry? Yes. Multiple times? Yes.

Should have gotten Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel to coach this scene.

To get this out of the way: yes, Anne Hathaway was good. I wasn't in the "Anne Hathaway = best Catwoman ever!" camp, but man, did she give a great performance here. While I agree with a lot of Mick LaSalle's criticism regarding what happens when they make the showstopping songs intimate and whispered, I disagree with what he says about Hathaway's "I Dreamed a Dream." When she got to "but there are dreams that cannot be,/ and there are storms we cannot weather," you could hear the entire theater scrounging around for their Kleenex.

I thought Samantha Barks's "On My Own" was near perfect: belted, passionate...and still on a scale that worked for the film. But then, girl knows what she's doing. (I think the grit that Lea Salonga brings to Eponine still makes hers my favorite, though.) BTW, love this quotation from Barks from this interview: "I can't believe I actually spat in Ali G's face!"

When Eponine says "don't rob the house," don't rob the fucking house.

I love ethereal siren/angel/ghost-creature Amanda Seyfried, but there's not much to do with the role of Cosette. Ditto for ultimate trustafarian Marius. I told my mom immediately after the movie ended that I thought Eddie Redmayne sounded like Kermit, and she thought I was crazy. All the reviews seemed to love him, and I thought maybe I was just biased, but then...validation!

Congrats to Mrs. Lovett for finding a husband who's far more cheery than Sweeney Todd yet has the exact same morals and fashion sense. Seriously, never eat anything Helena Bonham Carter has cooked.

One day Tim Burton is going to wake and find that Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Alan Rickman, and Johnny Depp have all left him for Tom Hooper.

When Javert started throwing punches at the ABC guys, all I could think was, "fightin' 'round the world!"

Sure, Tugger could have saved him from the Seine, but we
know how Tugger feels about Russell Crowe's singing.

Javert putting the medal on Gavroche's corpse was sort of maudlin and didn't really feel true to where his character was at the point (still cried, though). It also annoyed me a little bit since Eponine's corpse was right there, and in the novel she's the dead person he recognizes in a quick flash of humanity, and hey, if you're going to go back to the book and have Fantine's teeth ripped out... But I guess in the context of the musical/movie Javert and Eponine haven't really had any interaction, while Javert and Gavroche have.

Even with Hugo's lengthy history of the Parisian sewers and ruminations on how much it blows to drown in poop, I was somehow not prepared for the OH MY GOD THEY'RE IN POOP scene where Valjean rescues Marius. Valjean needs a "world's best dad" mug, 'cause carrying your daughter's boyfriend through rivers of poop to get him to safety is really above and beyond.

As annoying as I find the Marius/Cosette nuptials, I loved in the novel how Marius's grandpa and Valjean get so, so, so into wedding planning. If Marius's grandpa had grabbed Cosette's hands and squealed, "DRESS SHOPPING!!!" it would have taken the movie into Mamma Mia! territory, but it also would have been pretty true to the book.

Joker and Harley Quinn's biggest rivals at Villain Prom.

Yeah, they're terrible people, but when Thenardier led his wife away by the hand after they were kicked out of the rich kids wedding, it made me sad to think that in the novel, Madame Thenardier has died in prison by that scene.

Eponine's part in the "Come to Me" reprise was axed. What gives? I mean, yeah, it's kind of weird for a dying man to be visited by the spirit of the girl who had a crush on his son-in-law, but still.

Heaven = being in an Occupy Paris camp? Forever? I hope they get to stroll around the Luxembourg and have some pain au chocolat at some point.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notre-Dame de Paris Pity Party

A movie musical? Oh, like Mamma Mia? That's cute, I guess.

Everyone* is super psyched about the movie adaptation of the Les Miserables stage musical that's coming out on Christmas. I'm psyched. I've been psyched for a while. I am crying right now because I am not currently watching Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter perform "Master of the House." There is even an advent calendar!

*Correction: Grumpy Cat is not psyched about Les Miserables.

But as excited as I am, I can't help feeling a little sad for other Victor Hugo novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame, of which I am also a huge fan. Everyone's freaking out over Les Miz, and there's Notre-Dame just sitting there abandoned like Quasimodo in the church's free baby bin while no one makes advent calendars for it.

Les Miz is close to my heart, and for me conjures memories of escaping by reading in gardens and cafes during a difficult time. I saw the musical afterwards and have the soundtrack on my iPod. Notre-Dame is a far more recent read for me, and I was surprised by how much it grabbed me. I love them both. However, as much as I love Les Miz, it can kinda be subtitled "How many people have to die so Cosette and Marius can have their boring, bougie wedding?" Spoiler alert: a lot.

I was trying to take a thoughtful picture but it turned out like porn.

Audiences generally want some sort of happy ending, preferably romance-related. Even though almost all of everybody's favorites get killed before the end of Les Miz, Cosette and Marius survive to register at Williams & Sonoma which makes Valjean happy, so...mission accomplished? Meanwhile, Notre-Dame's just like, "yeah, everyone died..." The last few chapters are like Disneyland's Small World ride, except instead of passing by different idyllic but stereotypical scenes of kids holding hands, you pass by scenes of people getting their brains knocked out, dying from shock, being hanged, getting tossed off cathedrals, starving to death in a pile of corpses, etc. It is basically Joss Whedon's fondest dream.

So Les Miz has a supposedly happy ending and advent calendars and Grumpy Cat memes and Anne Hathaway method acting by dying of TB, but does it have a scene where a guy and a girl are having a sex in a hotel room and the girl's pet goat is also in the hotel room and then a second guy whom the first guy allowed to watch the sex stabs the first guy during the sex? Spoiler alert: it does not.

Obviously the choice centerpiece scene for Auguste Couder's 1833
Scenes tirees de Notre-Dame de Paris.

Notre-Dame also has the most beautiful man/goat relationship ever written (same goat as above). While struggling writer Pierre Gringoire's fake marriage to Esmeralda doesn't net him any sex, it does gain him custody of the little white trick-performing goat, Djali. The goat becomes Gringoire's dearest friend (not that high a bar - Frollo was his only friend previously) and he is certain she shares his feelings. Like Esmeralda, Quasimodo, and Frollo, Djali too is accused of being the devil (man, the 1400s were rough), but survives and gets the story's sole happy ending: a daring escape and new life with Gringoire.

Yeah, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys get married, but that happens off-scene and everyone knows he's going to cheat on her anyways (he was the stabee in the hotel sex scene).

FYI, Esmeralda is not generally topless.
Also her necklace is supposed to have a shoe on it.

Notre-Dame also has Jehan Frollo du Moulin in its corner. Jehan is Frollo's spoiled little brother/"other" kid, who always gets cut out of adaptations, which is too bad, because he is hilarious. Jehan is nothing like the rest of his family. While Frollo and Quasimodo are content to stay inside the cathedral to do their alchemy/bell-ringing, Jehan is a loud, obnoxious extrovert. His main activities are drinking, bullying, and hitting up a frustrated but enabling Frollo for money. When the gypsies rise up to take Esmeralda from Notre-Dame, he joins the fight on a whim and is promptly killed by his adopted brother Quasimodo. But hey, at least unlike Les Miz's Grantaire, he manages to not be passed out drunk through his book's central uprising. This is actually a pretty huge accomplishment for Jehan.

Jehan just being Jehan.

See? Notre-Dame de Paris has lots of cool stuff, Les Miserables. It doesn't need your star-studded premieres or forthcoming Oscar statuettes. In fact, once Frollo cracks the riddle of alchemy, they can have all the solid gold Oscar statuettes they want!

And to be honest, Notre-Dame being the forgotten sibling to Les Miz seems to be an American/British (or just English-speaking?) issue. Notre-Dame, from what I could see during my trips to France, is a bigger BFD in France. The Maison de Victor Hugo is scant on Les Miz artifacts, but full of awesome Notre-Dame stuff like the above Couder panel, early editions, and this poster:

It was in a stairwell and also I am a terrible photographer, ok?
Quasi's at the top, then we've got Frollo, Djali, Esmeralda, Phoebus,
and Jehan being drunk in the background.

The big reason Les Miz is so popular in America is definitely the musical (you think all the people psyched for Les Miz have slogged through Hugo's Waterloo and sewer lectures?). It's a great musical. And it's in English. Notre-Dame became a record-breaking, wildly popular (and more modern) musical in 1998, but it's in French, so we don't get much of it here. Maybe if a subtitled movie musical is made of that musical, we can get some Notre-Dame fever stateside. There is a subtitled DVD (je ne comprends pas bien francais?) I'm trying to track down, but fortunately some of it, like any recorded thing, is on Youtube. Here is the signature song, "Belle," in which Quasimodo, Frollo, and Phoebus creep on Esmeralda while sounding amazing:

So obviously Notre-Dame is doing just fine in its home country. And hey, Notre-Dame de Paris is the novel of outcasts! While Fantine is raiding Lady Gaga's prop room for premiere press is the perfect time for Notre-Dame to be tragically relegated in the secure yet cold embrace of the cathedral's walls.

Etchings: various public domain, both accredited to Gustave Brion thought not sure about the first
Grumpy Cat: all the majesty of the universe and the internets
Statue: Esmeralda and Her Goat by Antonio Rossetti
Painting & poster: my own terrible photos from the Maison de Victor Hugo in Paris

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hawkeye Initiative: a Beautiful and Confident Speedo

If you even slightly brush up against comics & geek culture, you might have seen word of an Initiative...a very sexy initiative...

Bow-chicka-wow-wow! Sexxxy leg-lifting by Xahn. And Greg Land.

It's...the Hawkeye Initiative! And it's pretty genius. Critically thinking comic fans have challenged the objectification of women in comics for a very, very long time. From Friends of Lulu and the countless women profiled in Trina Robbins's great From Girls to Grrlz, to Women in Refrigerators, to more recent entries like Fuck No Greg Land and Escher Girls and Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters, feminist comic fans have tried to get across to creators, publishers, and other readers why the art form's objectification of women is shitty. But it's been a difficult battle. The usual response is along the lines of "but men in comics are objectified too!!!" And then this gem is whipped out like a rock-hard Gotham City Sirens boobie*:

Rob Liefeld don't need no life sketching.

But, as Noelle Stevenson (creator of my one of my fav webcomics, Nimona) points out, the whole point of "objectification" is right there in the word: object. It doesn't mean "unrealistic" or even "wearing Spandex." It means object. Which is what, as much as some like to deny it, women are often viewed as. Objects. Things. Things to be pretty (no matter what!). Things that are supposed to smile at you. Things to have sex with. Things to provide boobs. And it's pretty clear in comics that female characters, no matter how supposedly powerful, are sex things. Sex things for the consumption of young male comic book readers, as Michael Chabon pointed out in his novel about the beginnings of comics, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. So while male superheroes are typically depicted in poses of power and strength, female superheroes are often shown more as pin-ups** than warriors - and not just any pin-ups, but pin-ups twisted into bizarre, boneless shapes meant to show off their boobs and butts. Their main purpose is to titillate, not show heroics or tell a story.

But for those still in denial, the difference between male characters' powerful ripped bodies and Spandex and the objectification female characters are subjected to is made all the clearer by the simple act of switching the characters' poses. This isn't entirely new (awesome guy Kevin Bolk subjected the bepenised Avengers to the Black Widow's fate in this much-shared work and other awesome guy David Willis explored what the female gaze would mean for male characters), but by throwing having-a-moment archer Hawkeye into the shoes of various female comic book characters, the movement has found its mascot.

By Lauren Armstrong. Ah, remember the frenzied defense of the original?

So, sorry, but people who see women as people read comics, and they're not going away. In fact, some of them make some pretty awesome comics.

*btw, here is a great comic with boobies that look like boobies
**yes, pin-ups can be fun and sexy and even feminist, but that's another discussion

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Eating Cronus: Journey Into Mystery 645 (SPOILERS)

Kid Loki ain't kidding around, bird.

Alas, the Journey Into Mystery run of comics uberscribe Kieron Gillen is over. JIM #645 came out today, and I'd suggest you grab it soon if you haven't already. There were only a handful left at the shop when I went on my lunch break. With beautiful art by Stephanie Hans and a hell of an ending, this was quite the finale to Gillen's story about longtime villain Loki reincarnated as a teenager. So 'bout that ending...

10/25 Edit: Never mind, after re-reading and looking at other reviews, I think I was way too optimistic in my interpretation of the ending. :( 

When I started reading Journey Into Mystery and first saw magpie Ikol, the spirit of Loki's evil, former self, I thought, "Loki's gonna have to symbolically kill that bird sometime." But I thought it would be more, uh, Miss Julie-ish. A quick neck snapping/decapitation or whatever. Maybe followed up by tossing the dead bird off the World Tree. Instead we got a full-on bloody, feathery, live self-cannibalization. Obviously this is more visceral and has added shock value, but I think it was a solid, legitimate choice. Loki has simultaneously rejected, subsumed, and consumed his former self. Perhaps self-destructive Loki's most (or second most) literally self-destructive act was also his most self-constructive. The act seemed more like a reversal of Cronus devouring his young than the Ouroboros...hopefully. 

Journey Into Mystery 645

So what's next? Well, we don't have to worry about Loki dying from bird flu. As we know from Marvel NOW! Point One, Loki ends up in New York doing some head-hunting for SHIELD to get the Young Avengers up and running again (that series starts in January 2013). I think it'll be a good move to get Loki out of stagnant Asgard and have him interact with other characters. We already got to see his chemistry with badass America Chavez (AKA Miss America), and I'm looking forward to seeing him work with fellow magic-boy-with-kinda-weird-Scarlet-Witch-connections Billy Kaplan (AKA Wiccan). How Loki ends up in New York is still not answered. I'm kind of hoping Thor decided to take Loki there to raise him and is now the hottest single parent at the Park Slope grocery co-op. Can't you just see him hefting five 50-pound bags of organic fair-trade flour on each shoulder? 

And hopefully the new environment will offer Loki a bit more support and guidance as well. Loki needs mentors who can enforce boundaries with him and in whom he can confide. Sometimes you need a trusted adult you can tell things to like "I have a crush on this girl but she's the embodiment of my maybe-daughter's severed hand" or "today I almost had to destroy myself to save the universe but instead I literally devoured part of my being." Yes, he has Thor, who loves him more than anyone and always will, but Thor is, in Loki's words, "the biggest, sweetest idiot in the whole nine realms." Loki needs Thor's unconditional (to the point of being ridiculous) love, but he also needs someone who is not going to be dazzled by his bullshit. Nick Fury, Tony Stark...really anyone who will say, "Where are you going, young man? What? No, you cannot blow up Stonehenge. Where the fuck did you get that idea?"

Does OSHA not have jurisdiction over SHIELD?

Random notes:

-Glad they cleared up that whole incest question...not that Loki and Leah really seemed to mind? For a while there I thought Daimon Hellstrom was going to be a way age-inappropriate Han Solo, but nope, Loki & Leah duncurr. 

-Leah best be coming back at some point. The people demand more Leah, Marvel! And please don't let Greg Land near her.

-Thor and Loki have another DRAMATIC HUG. I mean, sure, "promise me if I turn evil again you'll kill me" sort of calls for DRAMATIC HUG, but can they ever just have a casual bro hug? 

-Hela has the best wedding outfit ever, even if we only see a little of it. Tyr's mustache remains stupid. 

-Will Fandral ever tell Volstagg the secret of condoms?

-Tom Hiddleston (AKA Marvel movie Loki) wrote a letter for the "Journey Into Stationery" section! :'D

Crikey, indeed.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Will the Internet ever run out of cats? Answer: no. As in the oeuvre of unfairly slighted Nobel Prize in Literature nominee Haruki Murakami, cats are a constant. Centuries from now, when all life on Earth is gone except for AI, generations of computer-generated beings will rifle through ancient files of cat videos and gifs in virtual history museums, bemused by mankind's obsession with these small mammals and yet finding themselves inexplicably drawn in themselves. So here are some more kitties that have rocketed to online fame! 

CATS ON THE INTERNET 1: Maru, Meme, Winston, and Luna the Fashion Kitty
CATS ON THE INTERNET 2:  Lil' Bub, Henri, the cats of Big Cat Rescue, and Pusheen

Tardar Sauce is unimpressed.

A.K.A. Tard, Grumpy, Grumpy Cat. With her dismayed yet resigned frown, Tardar was destined to become an Internet sensation. A picture on reddit, and that destiny was reached. Like Lil' Bub, Tardar and her brother Pokey were born with deformities. But while Bub's misshapen face makes her look laid-back and optimistic about everything, Tardar's makes her look perpetually pissed. Hey, you'd be mad too if you looked like this. And, in actuality, Tardar's owner says she is quite happy, playful, and healthy despite her disabilities. Regardless, Tardar has already become a meme and a meeting and eventual odd-couple romance between her and Bub have been predicted.

Colonel Meow wants his scotch.

Continuing in the vein of scowling kitties, here we have angry-faced giant wolf-creature Colonel Meow. Impossibly fluffy and disgruntled-appearing, Colonel Meow demonstrates how myths of monsters and other bizarre cryptids get started. I mean, if you got a quick glimpse of him at night, what would you think you saw? A were-wolverine worthy of taking on the chupacabra? Fortunately, when he was found by the side of the road, the Himalayan and Persian Society was called instead of the tabloids. Nonetheless, he still ended up on Anderson Cooper's show.

Snuggle buddies Shorty and Kodi!

Dramatic Shorty and playful Kodi are two fairly normal kitties (no grumpy faces, no Maru-like special skills, no Luna the Fashion Kitty wardrobe), but they are blessed with a skilled filmographer/editor as an owner. With humor, snark, and sweetness, the pair's silly games and tender moments are captured on video. Kodi was introduced to the family recently, and while at first he and Shorty were not so pleased with each other, an epic love/abusive relationship/BDSM partnership soon flourished.

Chase contemplates where to sit next.

Chase No Face was in a terrible car accident when she was just a little stray kitten. Thanks to good Samaritans and great veterinary care, Chase survived despite losing much of her face. Her eyes will always need round-the-clock care, but looking at her blog and Facebook profile show that Chase is a normal kitty; like all cats, she loves sitting wherever she wants, taking up all the space on the bed, investigating the annual Christmas tree, and riding in her Batmobile. She also (with the help of her owner) reminds people to be kind and not judge a book by its cover.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Murakami Party or Winning the Nobel Prize Is So Mainstream

You said it, Green Apple Books.

So, despite having great odds, Haruki Murakami did not win the Nobel Prize in Literature today. Nor did it go to Alice Munro. Instead, that prize went to Mo Yan, who, to be fair, sounds pretty interesting. But whatever, right? Awards are always subjective and of dubious long-term merit anyways (here are all Nobel Prize in Literature winners). Now Murakami fans don't have to worry about complaints that our favorite author is over-hyped, and we can say "finally" and be eye-rollingly smug and disaffected like adults when and if he does take the prize in the future. So let's have a little Murakami party! Time to make some spaghetti, pump up the Janacek, face some unsavory history surrounding the Asia-Pacific Wars, pet a cat, and be surprised by our periods. And maybe play some bingo.

My introduction to Murakami came in college, when I was taking a class on the short story. In this class, the Murakami story we read was "A Shinagawa Monkey," photocopied by the professor from the New Yorker (readable here or in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman). What so gripped me about Murakami? His knack for writing women like they're - you know - people, his cool nonchalance with stepping into the bizarre, and the utter modernity of the story with its car dealership and costume-jewelry-wearing therapist. Part of me felt how some contemporary viewers of Impressionist and Impressionist-era paintings of absinthe drinkers and train stations must have felt: that this was the world, or at least some part of it, as it really was at that moment. Quite a feat for a story featuring an anthropomorphic name-stealing monkey.

I immediately wanted to read more. I started with The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and was captivated by the epic of a missing cat and a missing wife, a psychic prostitute and a terrifying politician, and the repressed horrors of Japan's wars in China. From there on, I tore through Murakami's oeuvre. I'm not sure I can name a favorite, but The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Norwegian Wood, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World are all included. I also have a soft spot for After Dark, and I know Kafka on the Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart are all-time favorites of many.

Murakami has had this effect on quite a mass of readers. In early October 2008, I visited a friend who was living in New York. It happened to be the weekend of the New Yorker Festival, and Murakami was there. We went to see if there were tickets left for his talk, but they were long sold out. However, he was doing a signing that day. And it just so happened that I had brought After Dark with me on the plane. We got to the venue early and were still nowhere near the front of the line. But we were in before the line was cut off. Desperate, teary Murakami fans begged those who had gotten in to bring their books in to be signed. When my friend and I made it to the front and I presented my book for signing, Haruki Murakami asked me how I was. Naturally this turned me into the creepy valleygirl I always turn into when meeting writers and artists I admire (sorry, Kim Addonizio), though hopefully my high-pitched "Good thank you how are you I love your work" sounded fairly sane.

He asked me how I was, guys.

Some years later, when 1Q84 was first released in the US, Green Apple Books here in my hometown of San Francisco had a midnight release. I wasn't sure what the turnout would be (it was a weeknight, after all, and not Harry Potter), but the store was packed. Sure, one could argue it was a hipster nightmare (think skinny jeans and plaid instead of wizard costumes), but it was exciting to see so many people excited for a book. That excitement is as much a part of the culture of literature as the artist toiling in obscurity. 

On Muni in the early hours of the morning with my brand-new book.

That's what I love about Murakami. The excitement is genuine, not just about celebrity. There is excitement in being pulled into his richly imagined worlds. An excitement that is tempered with reflection on the quirkiness and sameness that make us human, with pausing to look up a musical or literary reference. Maybe Murakami will win another year; maybe he won't. But whether he does or not, we've got quite the library to read and re-read.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Elementary & Sherlock

Like A.V. Club's Myles McNutt, I was hoping to go into CBS's Elementary without comparing it to BBC's Sherlock, which I recently started watching. But, as McNutt admits, as hard as one can try to not compare them, it's almost impossible not to. They're both modern-day adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, with Elementary conveniently appearing well after Sherlock had established itself as a darling of fans and critics alike. The inevitable rivalry was heightened when Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock's Sherlock) implied Jonny Lee Miller (CBS's Elementary's Sherlock) took the job only to sustain his LA mansion & trophy wife lifestyle, which was either cutting bitchery or a misquote. Basically, the two are going to be compared, and that might not be favorable to Elementary.

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is an arrogant dick. And his Sherlock should be an arrogant dick, because Sherlock is kind of an arrogant dick. But while Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock's dickery comes from a place of arrogance, it also derives from his honest confusion regarding social norms and is tempered by his breathless enthusiasm and poignant vulnerability - which is why although he belittles and irritates the people in his life (Watson, Mycroft, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, etc.), these same people humor and protect him rather than punch him in the face (although Molly should seriously punch him in the face). And, with the help of threat-happy manic pixie dream villain Jim Moriarty, he's learning, gradually, just how much those people mean to him in return. Nothing like "Imma kill all your friends and also dance" to bring things into perspective.

They mean nothing! Now leave me to my pouting couch.

Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock is more of just an asshole addict. Which is totally fair, considering that in Doyle's stories, Sherlock had quite the taste for you know what. But Miller's Sherlock's assholishness is laced with aggression, as seen in the pilot when he screams at a female assault victim (which, to be fair, gives Lucy Liu's Watson a great opening to shut that shit down). In last night's episode, "While You Were Sleeping," when Sherlock breaks into an apartment without a warrant in front of the police and the resident, there's a clear "fuck you, I do what I want" vibe. In Sherlock, when Sherlock technically breaks the law - for example, by withholding evidence in "A Study in Pink" - it's more of a "I am trying to solve the case and I need that to solve the case so why would I have given it to you kthxbai" vibe. Miller's Sherlock is not as immediately endearing as Cumberbatch's, but this does give the character ways to develop that are very different and still affecting. I did like how in last night's episode we saw more of how Sherlock views his addiction: he's still in denial and a bit ashamed. He's hiding his rehab stay from others, disdainful towards his group sessions, but also gently urges a drugged-up lawyer to get help while simultaneously bullying him for client information.

I think A.V. Club user Nate the Great (yes, getting into those peer-reviewed sources now) states the gist of the differences between the two series well in his/her comment on the the A.V. Club's review of last night's episode: "Elementary is a police procedural using the character names for people who haven't read [Arthur Conan Doyle]. Sherlock is written by fans of [Doyle] for fans of [Doyle], and it's a clear loving tribute." This feel absolutely true. Elementary is a procedural and could be any procedural. Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes could be Melody Lee and Brian Smith and it would be another unconventional detective/long-suffering sidekick series, albeit with less character than Monk or Psych. Despite last night's violin shout-out, there's not much Holmsian about it. Sherlock revels in its Doyle roots in a clever way, while making something new and much fresher than Elementary despite more closely sticking to the Victorian source material.

Plaid is British, right?

That said, I adore, adore, adore Lucy Liu's Watson. Emotionally wounded yet a tough cookie, Liu subtly gives Watson strength and reservedness. Still getting over a tragedy that ended her career as a surgeon, she's a work in progress like recovering addict Holmes. And it's clear Holmes recognizes and appreciates her crime-solving talents, even if she's still doubtful of herself.

So I'm not ready to give up on Elementary yet. I think TV could use some more male/female platonic friendships, and there are parts I'm finding engaging. Will they do more with Watson's male Mary (Ty) Morstan? I'm also interested in learning more about "what happened" in London, which Watson has deduced concerned a woman. Was it Jersey girl adventuress/opera singer Irene Adler? They are near New Jersey, and Watson knows from Sherlock's father that Sherlock once loved opera, which Sherlock now vehemently denies. Or could the woman be a fem Professor Moriarty? BTW my dream fem Professor Moriarty is totally boho-frumpy and surrounded by books and drafts of Ph.D. candidates' theses while plotting crimes. I want Selma Blair in ankle-length skirts and lumpy sweaters. Just saying, Elementary crew.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review - Professor Moriarty: the Hound of the D'Urbervilles

I've found this whole "novel-length fanfiction of public domain works swarming bookstores" a little trying. Not because I have anything against fanfiction, our modern populist pulp (indeed, I long for the day when someone makes two straight male characters I've written have sex, because then I'll know I've made it), but because there's something just so eye-rollingly trite and opportunistic about Mr. Darcy novels written for bookclubs.

Fortunately, Kim Newman's 2011 novel, Professor Moriarty: the Hound of the D'Urbervilles, is not like that. Intensely researched and deliciously witty, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles takes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mirror image of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson - master criminals Professor James Moriarty and Colonel Sebastian Moran - and makes them the stars, with right-hand-man Moran narrating. While Holmes and Watson lived together on Baker Street and were served tea by Mrs. Hudson, in Newman's world, Moriarty and Moran are flatmates on Conduit Street and are waited on by Mrs. Halifax, who runs the brothel downstairs. Like Holmes, Moriarty is quite asexual, however, and his interactions with the prostitutes are mostly limited to lending the resident dominatrix his professorial accessories and asking them to care for his beloved pet wasps while he's out.

As Tumblrific as that sounds, Newman keeps very much with what we see of the pair in Doyle's very limited showcasing of them, and doesn't make them young, hot, and in love (although there sure ain't anything wrong with that). Moriarty is Doyle's elderly math teacher. Moran is Doyle's adventurous but over-the-hill hunter.

Not exactly (the amazing) Andrew Scott.

The different adventures in the book each parallel one of Doyle's famous detective stories. There's the titular story, obviously, and also a blackmail case involving New Jersey opera singer/adventuress Irene Adler and her sexy photos titled "A Shambles in Belgravia." It's obvious these were written separately, but that works perfectly for mirroring the episodic Sherlock Holmes saga. Perhaps my favorite story here is the unabashedly ridiculous and oddly charming "The Red Planet League," in which Moriarty seeks revenge on his most hated enemy ever: Sir Nevil Airey Stent, a rival mathematician who has ridiculed Moriarty's academic work! The plot involves Mars and vampire squid, and somehow Newman holds it all together.

I was very impressed with this "holding together" skill of Newman's. There are endless references to other famous works in the mystery genre and British literature, humorous asides, and inside jokes that build and build upon themselves, yet never does he lose Moran's voice. Moran's the epitome of myopic Victorian Empire hubris, and he makes for an entertaining narrator.

You're not dead, Holmes? But I threw a rock and you and then left!

You can be entertained for quite a while, too. A surprisingly hefty volume, The Hound of the D'Urbervilles had me laughing over a number of Muni bus rides and made two flights in between San Francisco International and Charles de Gaulle Airports much less painful.  

My only complaint was that a certain aspect of the ending felt rushed and unresolved. Of course, Doyle's ending to the franchise was why furious Victorian readers bullied him into writing more, so perhaps that should be a kudos instead to Newman. 

Moriarty and Moran illustrations from original Sherlock Holmes illustrator Sidney Paget.

Friday, August 24, 2012


From the catless cat lady who brought you Cats on the Internet 1, which featured superior beings Maru, Meme, Winston, and Luna. Here are four more of the excellent kitties that rule the internet:


It was hard to pick a photo of LIL BUB for this, because any photo of Bub is automatically amazing. Famously odd-looking Bub is not a tragic case of over-breeding, as many who first see her often assume. She was the sole kitten with dwarfism in a litter to a stay cat. Along with dwarfism, Bub has no teeth and some other issues. Fortunately, she found a loving home! Bub is fun and fearless, traveling Times Square like it ain't no thang for a Good Morning America segment, going for outings in the park, and working as a paleontologist. In my mind, she and Luna the Fashion Kitty would be perfect for a cat buddy comedy. Luna's all about fashion, frills, pink bows, and diva-like behavior. Bub's laid-back, gregarious, and unconcerned about peeing on herself. After some Odd Couple hijinks, they could bond over their passion for supporting animal adoption. This show can go in the time slot after the Vautrin and Javert buddy cop series.

Well, if it isn't this guy again...

Oh, le grand ennui du chat noir Henri. It is totally possible I identify way too much with Henri. Squidward is my spirit animal, after all. You think your cat is having a relaxing day, just lounging around? Pah. Not if that cat is anything like Henri. And if it is, it is a cat and can't email Henri to commiserate, leaving Henri alone in a world devoid of a kindred spirit once more.

The cats of Big Cat Rescue!

These cats are many, and big (and not so big)! Big Cat Rescue, located in Florida, provides rescued cats with large, engaging habitats and minimal human contact. It's as close to the wild as most of these cats - rescued from illegal zoos/sideshows, backyard breeding, car accidents, etc. - can get. I think my favorites are Cameron and Zabu, the lion/white tiger "married couple" rescued from a roadside zoo. Even though lions and tigers would never be together in the wild, these two were so bonded that Big Cat Rescue kept them together, giving Cameron a vasectomy so that they wouldn't breed and have "ligers." The folks at Big Cat Rescue are staunchly dedicated to giving these wild animals the best quality of life possible, as their plethora of hilarious enrichment videos shows.


So here's the first cat in this epic series that is not a "real" cat. Yes, do not be fulled by the photorealistic image; Pusheen is an animated gif! And an incredibly cute one at that. Whether celebrating the Curiosity Mars rover landing or exploring uses for marshmallows, Pusheen does it adorably.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Steam Punk Huck

Diani and Devine's re-imagining.

Back in March, I wrote about my desire for a good Huckleberry Finn adaptation. One that went beyond "white boy has adventures!" In the comments, fine fellow Edward Nickelson pointed me to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Robotic Edition) by Gabriel Diani and Etta Devine.

It's quite a few months later, and apparently a Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer TV series is in the works, and while it does have (presumably) robots, it doesn't sound like it goes beyond "white boy(s) ha(s)(ve) adventures!" The official press describes it "as an adventure-themed reinvention that revolves around the two famed literary characters who re-meet as young men in their 20s and form an investigative firm in a bustling and steampunk New Orleans."

Now, I wouldn't mind watching a show created by suddenly sentient Tumblr (and let's face it, bromance + detectives + steampunk is just the sort of thing Tumblr would pen after gaining HAL-like awareness) because I enjoy cupcakes and manly cuddles. And Huck and Tom as detectives isn't totally out of left field. It's canon in one of of the dumb sequels Twain wrote.

This happened.

Honestly, I don't know why this is bothering me so much. Is it because it seems so cynically crafted? Is it because Tom is kind of a dick? Because I'm anxious about how the series will handle race? Because I'm overly possessive of the dark genius that is Huckleberry Finn? Because I'm bitter no one wants to publish my 83-line blank verse poem/thesis on Huckleberry Finn?

I guess it's hard for me to reconcile the Huckleberry Finn that inspired this California College of the Arts show with the blinders-on, old-timey fun so often inspired by Tom Sawyer.

Hypocritically, I totally make exceptions for 1995's Tom and Huck, the Fifty Shades of Grey for tween girls in the 90s.

I was going to marry you, Brad. :( Thanks, this Tumblr.

Maybe this will be totally awesome. I mean, it's New Orleans, steampunk, bros. But why bring Tom and Huck into that? But I'm delving into my douchey fangirl whining default mode again. It's totally possible Jason Richman and David Zabel will bring the life and nuance to these characters that other adaptations have sorely lacked.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Movie News Musings: Jay Gatsby & the Avengers

I need a reassuring cuddle from Leo as well.

Still reeling from the news that 3D Art Deco Bootlegger Explosion Orgy is being pushed back to summer 2013. Apparently I was more reliant on the promise of a December spent watching both Les Miserables and The Great Gatsby than I should probably admit. Much has been made of the odd statements from the studio insisting that a story that ends with SPOILER ALERT a guy who's just turned thirty and seen the American Dream destroyed musing, "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" is an obvious summer blockbuster. Yeah, it's Baz Luhrmann and flashy as fuck, but really? Is the car going to turn into an evil Transformer and battle Myrtle? Maybe Gatsby's swimming pool is full of gasoline and explodes? This is especially stunning since the movie has been so anticipated. Hello, this happened:

Now Great Gatsby will be battling more traditional blockbusters like Iron Man 3. At least that means that maybe in summer 2013 we'll be treated to a Tumblr cartoon of Gatsby and Stark having a rich man fight involving silk shirts. This hope will tide me over.

In better news, it was announced today that Joss Whedon will be doing the Avengers sequel when it films in 2067 or whenever. This is a huge relief for me, because after seeing how well Whedon handled the layered characters of Avengers, it made me wince to imagine someone else handling the next installment (yeah, it fails the Bechdel test, but Black Widow and Maria Hill are kickass and don't have to get naked). Plus, you know Loki fanboy/actor Tom Hiddleston would have been sad if Loki were written poorly, and a sad Tom Hiddleston would be like all the world's kittens and puppies crying.

But speaking of kittens and puppies crying, the one worry this gives me is...who's Whedon going to kill off, since he can't get through even a damn musical comedy web miniseries without that? Maybe Clint or Natasha after they declare their love for each other? Adorable Bruce? The most obvious choice is probably Loki with some sort of redemption death and Thor crying. I'll cry too if this happens, but I'll be consoled by the fact that to Loki, death ain't no thang and he can always come back as a plucky teen.

Loki does what he wants.

Loki image from Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself cover.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Batman Fangasm and Nitpicking (Spoilers)

Back in May I wrote a blog post fretting over the Dark Knight Rises trailer. It was called Douchey Fangirl Whining, and boy was that title appropriate. I loved this movie. I never should have doubted Nolan. It wasn't perfect, but neither was Dark Knight. Damned if he didn't not only take on the daunting challenge of following up Dark Knight and throw in working almost the entire Inception cast in there and pull it off. This isn't really a review, just scattered thoughts I'm too excited to not write down.

Spoilers below!

Hot villain in Nolanverse? Facial disfigurement time!

Favorite things:

-After Dark Knight's intricate, instant classic opening, they had to step up this film's early action sequence, and they did. It's not a masterpiece like the last one, but still impressive and a crowd-pleaser.

-How gorgeous was everything? Beautifully shot. Beautiful effects.

-Stock broker screaming on the back of Bane's motorcycle. Lol.

-I was ready to cringe at Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, but she did a good job. Some of her lines were corny, but she brought depth to the role.

-Bane beating Batman around forever while everyone watches silently. Whoa.

-As dark as that was, Nolan's borrowing of images from current events were the most harrowing moments. From Abu Ghraib's hoods and mock executions to Los Zetas' strung-up bodies, Nolan studies evil in all its forms: perpetuated by governments, gangs, corporations, and individuals.

-Bane was brought into being to break Batman backs over his impressive thigh and chew bubblegum, and in this movie his face has been destroyed by the plague or something so he can't chew bubblegum.

-Cillian Murphy shows up as Scarecrow again, and is hilarious and menacing. Him doing the Judge Joker thing was welcome humor, and not overdone.

-Talia! Not totally unexpected, but well executed. Marion Cotillard was perfect for the role. I was having a fit when they were spinning Bane as Ra's al Ghul's kid, and when they turned it around it was neatly done.

-Talia/Bane. OMGWTFOTP. Not totally new to the canon, but this time it's swoooooooon. Tom Hardy's eye-acting in this scene was powerful and perfect.

Oh, husband. Stop that and get into a well tailored suit.

WTF things:

-John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) knows Bruce Wayne is Batman because his parents also died, duh.

-Uh, Commissioner Gordon, you kinda caused the Two-Face thing. Remember? The corrupt cops you insisted on keeping on the force despite Harvey's investigations? Remember that at all? No? Don't make me break out naked rollercoaster.

-Juno Temple, why are you here? There is literally zero reason for your part to be in the script.

-So this MacGuffin software erases you from all databases. And Selina Kyle/Catwoman wants it so she can clear her name and start anew. Boy, is she going to be pissed when she discovers Google.

-Someone should go back in time to Knightfall and tell Bruce to just get some old guy to punch him in the back. Could have avoided that whole Jean-Paul thing.

-Batman can jump just as far as an undernourished little girl. Hooray?

-Bane is unstoppable. Unless you do some push-ups in prison. Then you're good.

-Also, his Venom mask is now...what exactly?

-John Blake will be the next Batman. I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Fervently. He's one of our best actors. Period. But...what is he going to do to criminals? Play twee music at them? Defeat them in Zoolander-style walk-offs in gorgeous suits? Yeah, he kicked ass in Brick, but that was against fellow high-schoolers. Maybe he could take on Baby Doll. Possibly the Ventriloquist as long as Scarface isn't around. He is willing to put children into dangerous situations, though, so he has that Batman trait going for him.

-Argh, I thought we were promised no Robin. And then they had to have John Blake's real name be Robin. Don't make me break out my crowbar.

-Speaking of which, yeah, as I feared, the zero mention of Joker, or even Arkham, was kinda noticeable. Cillian Murphy rocked it in his Scarecrow cameo, but it also reminded the audience that oh, hey, what about Arkham? Were those inmates released? Wouldn't Bane want to utilize them as well as the Blackgate inmates? On the other hand, I can't imagine a scenario where they could have mentioned the Joker and have it make sense. I'm just going to assume when things got cray-cray and Arkham was let loose, the Joker and Dr. Quinzel took off for a tropical island.

-Speaking of couples escaping...the ending was just no. No. Unless you think Alfred's imagining things, it's stupid fluff. I understand the desire for a less crushing ending, but it made no sense. And it made this scene a little too relevant:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

When I told my mom I had seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, she told me that she had read many reviews that praised it, but no reviews that really said what it was about. And I had the same problem trying to explain the movie, a narrative film with forays into surrealism and metaphor, to her. What is it about? A girl. A parent and child. A hurricane. A community. A planet. It's difficult to expand on, perhaps because one of the film's greatest strengths is in director Benh Zeitlin's commitment to letting the film just be.

It's the dreamlike story of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a six-year-old girl living with her father Wink (Dwight Henry) in the Bathtub, a quickly disappearing island on the other side of Louisiana's levees. They live in patched together trailers filled with debris and mementos. Hushpuppy is largely left to her own devices, conversing with a mother long gone and listening to the heartbeats of her chickens, pigs, and dogs. Their neighbors' situations are mostly the same: a collection of people who have separated from the rest of society and make do. They might joke about the rising water taking away their home, but they refuse to believe it will actually happen. When the "big one," a hurricane that might or might not be Katrina, does finally strike, the surviving parties of those who didn't evacuate must band together closer than ever. But with rescue choppers hovering, how long can they stay in their beloved, beautiful wilderness? 

Wallis as Hushpuppy and Henry as Wink.

But despite being a social services nightmare - what with townsfolk ignoring mandatory evacuations and kids not going to accredited schools and staying with whatever kindly drunken neighbors take them in - it's easy to see why the residents are so fiercely committed to remaining on their island. The Bathtub way of life, with its joyous celebrations, close community, wide-open naturalness, and feeling of freedom, is far more appealing than the cramped, florescent-lighted shelters and overwhelmed community hospitals they would likely be living in otherwise. 

The girls of Bathtub journey to the changing shoreline.

The cast is mostly composed of first-time actors, Louisiana locals. Dwight Henry is a baker, but with the desperation and determination he brings to Wink, you'd never know this was his first acting role. And Quvenzhané Wallis is quite the first-grade-aged artist. Her performance thankfully lacks any of the annoying, cloying mugging common in child actors. Instead, she is tough, wide-eyed, and intuitive, and very much a six-year-old. When Hushpuppy doubts her father's plans for staying, you can see it in her eyes and body language without Wallis overacting. Her strength makes her moments of vulnerability all the more deeply felt.

Beasts of the Southern Wild opened last weekend in a limited release, but it seems to be in more theaters (at least here in the SF Bay Area) this weekend. I definitely recommend checking if it's near you. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Read This Webcomic: Nimona


Nimona is the new webcomic of plucky young illustrator Noelle Stevenson, who was propelled to internet fame via The Broship of the Ring (her take on the epic with skinny jeans instead of leggings) and various other fanart offerings. Now she's focusing on her own work, which can be a tricky and frustrating move for an artist beloved for a particular expected output. I'm really enjoying "Nimona," but since I'm an English major who can't just enjoy simple things (not even veeps with sandwiches), let me dissect it!

The story follows supervillain Ballister Blackheart, who finds overly enthusiastic and pugnacious shapeshifter Nimona foisted upon him as sidekick - even though he'd rather not have help battling longtime archenemy Ambrosius Goldenloin. At first I thought the comic was just Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer (or Kate Beaton's nemeses) with a Mary Sue - and it kind of is, but as the story continues its own charms are on display. For starters, Nimona is stocky and butch, and it's great to see variety like that with female characters, especially in comics and geek culture in general (group side-eye, everyone). I also like how Stevenson plunges into her world of science, magic, high-rises, and medieval sword-fighting with confidence and zero explanations. 

I'm sure once Nimona reappears (at the moment Nimona seems to be dead, but I'm guessing not really, since the comic is called "Nimona") we'll see more of her developing partnership with Blackheart, but for now the main interaction has been between Blackheart and Goldenloin. The essential superhero/archnemesis relationship has been analyzed by self-reflective comics, parodied by multiple Adult Swim shows and the like, and slashed to death by fangirls. And the relationship here, between Captain Hammerish bimbo Goldenloin and Dr. Horribleish beta-male Blackheart, is pretty fanservicey. Stevenson wears her love for Blackheart, and all her characters really, on her sleeve. But she has left room for interesting developments and plenty of humor.

Anyways, it's a fun comic, and also beautiful. Stevenson's figures are expressive and lovingly rendered, and the muted color palette gives the comic a storybook feel. It's a treat every Tuesday and Thursday, and still new enough to be catch-upable. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lace in the Forest: the Art of Katy Horan


I first saw Katy Horan's art at her 2008 "Into the Deep Dark" show at Anno Domini and was immediately fascinated by her folkart-inspired paintings. True to the show's name, these paintings seemed to depict the women of some ancient, isolated society living in a deep, dark forest. The images so captivated me that to this day they come to mind when I walk in the woods.

The women in paintings such as Decoration and When the Horned Maidens Gather (below) are engaged in "womanly" crafts (quilting, sewing, crocheting, etc), but there is nothing delicate about these activities. They are in the woods, surrounded by animals. However, they are at ease, looking relaxed and comfortable in their warm, handmade garments as they go about their tasks. They are at one with nature and have nothing to fear from it.

When the Horned Maidens Gather

Which isn't to say these are gentle, pastoral scenes. The trees look foreboding. There are no green groves or fields of flowers. There are bears, skulls, and labor. A society of women, communing with animals, performing secret rituals - such an idea has long been a source of both fascination and fear for patriarchal societies, seen in ancient Greece's interest in all-female nature cults, the Puritanical terror of witch covens, and endless fantasies about Amazons. This "darker" femininity is especially evident in paintings like When the Moon Is Full, Feather Magic, Crystal Magic, and Blood (below). Here we have knives and nudity that doesn't care about the male gaze. Womanhood is not just about gentle crafts but blood and survival. That these works are on wood augments the feeling that these woman are hardy and natural.

Blood was my first "real" art purchase (and in other words...a large percentage of my art collection). It depicts two woman: one a young woman wearing a fox mask, the other a slightly older woman wearing a buffalo mask. They are at different stages of their lives, but united by the common blood of their womanhood.


While still exploring femininity and the intricate patterns she's become known for, Horan hasn't gotten stuck in a rut. Around 2009, she moved away from painting full scenes of ritual, instead focusing on single figures represented by synecdoche or otherwise abstracted, obscured by or composed of volumes of lace. The lace is delicate (and painted on paper instead of wood) and yet perhaps monstrous in how it seems to consume the figures. These works also show a slightly different color palette for her. In her earlier work, browns and taupe are the predominant colors, with brick red and pale yellows often seen in fire or the women's clothes. With its dusky blue, green, and salmon against the black and white, this lace is livelier than you'd expect. 


More recently, Horan has lessened the abstraction of her figures slightly and moved into grays and whites. These seem to be older women, closed off from the world. Their lace coverings hide bodies and keep secrets, but also express beauty and skill. A single lace veil or doily would be fragile and ephemeral, but with layers upon layers they form something substantial. The "spinsters" of this series might be alone, but they are also resilient. I definitely recommend looking at the larger pictures on Horan's website, because the detail in the Horan's painting of the lacework is stunning with its precise patterns and subtle white-on-white layers.

Spinster 3

It's been interesting to watch Horan's work mature. As different as the more recent paintings are from her paintings from just a few years ago, they all feel connected, as if part of a growing thesis on womanhood and an on-going self-challenge of skill. I'm eager to see what direction she'll take with her art next.

 Horan and her work at 2011's "Bloom & Gloom" show at Swarm Gallery.

Image Info:
Photographs of Blood and Bloom & Gloom show mine; all others from Katy Horan's website.