juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, film, 2016, dir. David Yates
Going into this already inundated by criticism helped, because it allowed me to recognize the problematic bits, know they had been engaged, and not sorry over them so much that ruined the rest of the experience. (That said: where are the Jews in this New York & cast of Jewish surnames?) I thought this was decent. I liked the characters, and thought the effects were charming; the conflicts, both overarching and localized "where to find them" plot, are less successful—predictably paced and too disconnected from one another. The worldbuilding falls somewhere in between: there's a fantastic sense of place but the adaptation of wizard culture is clumsy; the magical beasts could add such new life to the world! but their magical characteristics are gimmicks, and their behavior is subservient and anthropomorphized, which undermines ... everything, really. Ultimately, this provided what I came for, that Harry Potter-film escapism composed of rich visual aesthetic, larger than life characters, and just enough underlying emotional subtlety; but it wasn't great.

How to Get Away With Murder, season 3, 2016-2017
If this series is The Secret History of procedurals—the push/pull of exaggerated, idealized academia and intimacy set against the social breakdown fostered by secrets and murder—then this is the season of consequences, of the trickle up to Keating's career. I didn't know my respect of Viola Davis could grow more profound, but it has—she does an outstanding job of portraying a complex mix of vulnerability and strength. The plot elsewise is okay—the danger in a series with this premise is that it can grow too convoluted, undermining and/or overlooking previous events while chasing the next cliffhanger; but the way that things fall out, the in-fighting, the effect on extended cast, the hints of underlying intimacy (especially in Michaela's apartment!), use previous events to good advantage. I enjoyed this a lot.

Frailty, film, 2002, dir. Bill Paxton
This would have been a significantly better story given: 1) no twist ending—the twist is exceptionally predictable and could have even been written in, but wasn't, and as is it serves only to undermine the potential character study of brainwashing/abuse/delusion, 2) better acting—it's a small cast, and there's a huge burden on the child actors, and no one can stand up to it (Bill Paxton in particular has some cringe-worthy acting in high-value scenes), 3) better effects ... I didn't discover until this writing that this came out in 2002! I thought it was older ... the corny effects combine with the so-so acting to undermine the premise, to turn it from compelling and unsettling to a gimmick. Nice idea, but skip this one.

Tag, film, 2015, dir. Sion Sono
What a weird film! It's almost successful, mostly on account of the acting and because, in broad strokes, the feminist themes work: an intimate relationship between women, fighting the nightmare of gendered social expectations. The tone is certainly remarkable, if not successful: grindhouse meets arthouse, strange and humorous gratuitous violence played against surreal reoccurring imagery and dream logic. But here's the thing: it engages in an awful lot of objectification despite the feminist subtext, and the reveal is a bit of a mess, a lot of an anticlimax, and isn't awfully empowering. This is no Sucker Punch, but sometimes resembles one.

Sense8, season 2, 2017
I forgot, until viewing the S1 summary, how much of this show is ridiculously contrived action sequences, the motivations for which I'd largely forgotten—and few of which really matter because, as the summary reinforces, the heart of this show is 25% speculative concept/plot and 75% queer orgy found family feels. And I really love those precise feels, and I'm mad about the circumstances behind the show's cancelation for precisely this reason: it's so id, so gay, and there's not much else that does what it does—I want it to set president, not be quietly erased. I don't have a lot of feelings about plotting vs. interpersonal in this season (I don't, frankly, think it improved remarkably over the previous season), but I found it so engaging, as always: I love these characters, the film techniques, the voice and style; it's a consistent pleasure.

Dig Two Graves, film, 2014, dir. Hunter Adams
Phenomenal sense of time and place; a ... mixed handling of racial issues: uses g*psy slur, but it's period-appropriate; it acknowledges racism and its consequences, but also capitalizes on stereotypes for aesthetic and plot purposes. I have a lot of mixed feelings, here. It pushes the hell out of my Southern gothic aesthetic buttons, and I love the initial setup, the haunting use of liminality. But some of the "magic" evoked is pretty corny (as well as fulfilling racist stereotypes), and as the narrative progresses—spoiler spoiler spoiler warning—and everything is given mundane explanations ... mundanity makes for a tricky reveal: it's innately underwhelming, despite the substantial themes and the title drop. I liked this, and wanted to like it more, but kept running into caveats.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Please help me, I am forever so behind on these, & what I do not record I will forget forever.


Time of Eve, anime, 2010
This has an ideal runtime and microformat. The individual vignettes aren't particularly in-depth exploration of speculative concepts/worldbuilding/the laws of robotics; they're equally fueled by pathos and the human condition, so the short episode length gives room to develop those things without allowing them to grow maudlin—a good emotional balance. The effect is cumulative—not especially cleverly so, it's pretty straightforward "interwoven ensemble with overarching character growth," but it's satisfying. I wish this pushed its speculative/robotics elements further, but, frankly, I'm satisfied with the whole thing, it's engaging and evocative and sweet and I sure do like androids.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, season 1, 2017
I'm surprised to find I enjoyed this more than the book series—and I didn't love the books, but didn't expect them to improve upon adaptation. The weakness of the books is how much depends on the meta-narrative and how little of that there actually is; rewriting it with a better idea of what that narrative will be, and with more outside PoVs, makes it more substantial and creates a better overarching flow. The humor is great, the set design is great, it feels faithful without merely reiterating, a condensed "best of" the atmosphere and themes; a sincere and pleasant surprise. I'm only sad that the second season isn't out yet, because the Quagmire Triplets were always my favorites.

The Great British Bake Off, series 6, 2015
They finally got rid of the awful, belabored pause before weekly reveals! That was the only thing I ever hated about this series, and I'm glad to see it go. This is a weird season: weekly performances are irregular and inconsistent and vaguely underwhelming; the finale is superb. It makes me feel validated in my doubts re: whether the challenges and judging metrics actually reflect the contestants's skills, but whatever: it has solid payoff and this is as charming and pure as ever. What a delightful show.

Arrival, film, 2016, dir. Denis Villeneuve
50% "gosh, the alien/language concept design is good"; 50% "I really just want to read the short story" (so I immediately put the collection on hold). Short fiction adapts so well to film length that it makes me wonder why we insist on adapting novels: the pacing is just right, the speculative and plot elements are just deep enough to thoroughly explore, there's no feeling of being rushed or abridged or shallow. What makes this worthwhile as a film is some of the imagery, alien design (the language really is fantastic), and viewer preconceptions re: flashbacks as narrative device; it's awfully white and straight and boring as a romance, though—underwhelming characters with no particular chemistry, although I like Amy Adams's pale restraint. If I sound critical, I'm not; I thought this was a satisfying as a 2-hour experience.

Interstellar, film, 2014, dir. Christopher Nolan
I have a lot of feelings, and most of them are terror: wormholes! black holes! water planet! time as a dimension! space, just as a thing in general!—I find all this terrifying, in a fascinated by authentically panicky way. The imagery and plot does a solid job of making these concepts comprehensible and still vast (save perhaps for the fourth+ dimension—the imagery there almost works, but it's so emotionally-laden and interpersonal as to, ironically, make it feel localized, small). But Blight-as-worldbuilding is shallow, and a lot of the human element is oppressive and obvious, which deadens things; I wish more of it were on the scale of Dr. Brand's love or the effects of relativity: private motivations for the characters, sincere and intense but with limited effect on the setting or plot. But as a speculative narrative, one within the realm of the plausible but intentionally alien, distant, and awe-inspiring, this is effectively the space version of the disaster porn in a disaster flick—space porn, is that a thing? It's captivating in a nightmareish way, which, I suppose, is exactly what I wanted.

Legend, complete series, 1995
One of Devon's childhood shows, which he got as a birthday present, so we watched it together. It's honestly not as awful as I expected. The frontier setting is less idealized or racist than it could be, but still has a great atmosphere; the character dynamics are hammy but sincerely endearing; the mystery plots are episodic but decently written. Not a new favorite, shows its age, and the mix of tone and science fantasy Western makes it understandably niche, but it exceeded expectations.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
The OA, season 1, 2016
I can't talk about this show without spoilers; be ye warned. Insofar as the purpose of a piece of media is to engage and stimulate, this succeeds. I don't find it necessarily to decide or clarify the "objective truth" of OA's story, but I do think the show tries to do too much in putting it into question—it's a slow, spread-out narrative, and then so much is crammed into the many hanging threads of the final episode; it's cheap and underdeveloped. But I'm sold on that slow narrative, in both structure and content, from the modern set dressing to the speculative elements to the framed narrative to the unreliable narrator; that it's a contemporary/SF movie given a 10-hour runtime actually makes it more immersive. I'm even more content than not with the final episode, more for the purpose it achieves than how it does so, although I don't know how they can make a second season work after the intentional and strained ambiguity of the finale. This was an experience—not always successful, not always smooth, a little smug and back-weighted, but it held me; I wanted to read about it and talk about it after I finished watching, all signs that I was engaged.

Santa Clarita Diet, season 1, 2017
This is sincerely charming; so charming that I can overlook the fact it's essentially a quirky White suburban romantic comedy. It's gleefully morbid, excessively so, shamelessly so, overshooting gorn and landing in the territory of corny but legitimately icky—which must be the counterpoint that I need to sell me on the rest. (It helps, too, that I love Drew Barrymore, although they really don't know how to do her hair.) I wish the pacing were better, I wish the season had any sense of finality—instead of just feeling like it had finally developed a larger plot, none the least because the premise is the more engaging narrative. But while I bounce off most humor, this worked for me. It's endearing and gross and dark and I approve.

Sherlock, series 3 and "The Abominable Bride", 2013-2014 and 2016
Spending a while away from this show really serves to highlight its flaws upon return. It's not half so clever or logical as it needs to be, borrowing poorly from the source material as far as cases are concerned. It's overacted; the humor misses its mark. Sherlock himself is wildly unpleasant, and scenes like John's forgiveness on the train are simply—ironically—unforgivable. And then there's an episode like "His Last Vow," which manages to expand on the original material, which hammers home the show's dynamic and characterization, which is tightly written and uses the obtrusive styling to its best advantage. My sum experience with BBC Sherlock tends to be negative, but it's highlights like that which make me keep trying.

Finding Dory, film, 2016, dirs. Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
This is such an active, compassionate, empowered narrative about disability, and some later scenes are fantastic. I sincerely appreciate the depiction of accommodation and internalized discrimination; it's tear-jerking in the right way, substantial but uplifting. But a character magically overcoming an injury/disability is unequivocally awful; and I've seen arguments that the humorous exploitation and derision of other disabled characters functions both to depict a discriminatory society and invite viewers to question why they participate in it—except that it doesn't, the humor goes almost entirely unchallenged, and it's wildly out of place and disgusting. I went into this having read some criticisms, and I'm glad for that—or I probably would have stalled out at the one-third mark. The sum is positive, but there's no excuse for the missteps—ever, really, but especially in this context.

The Joy of Painting Netflix Series, Bob Ross: Beauty is Everywhere & Chill with Bob Ross
Full episodes of the show's entire run are also on YouTube, so I'm still watching Bob Ross—but I didn't discover that until watching the Netflix compilations. They're composed of selected episodes from later seasons (~27-31), which makes for the highest quality video and most familiar techniques (in narration, painting, and filming). Chill is winter scenes, and many of Ross's winter paintings are warm-toned and a bit fuzzy; this is the selection that grows most repetitive, but I also watched it during winter in a moment of kismet: during the stress of the holidays, Netflix gave me Bob Ross. Beauty is Everywhere is general landscapes and seascapes, but a solid selection of those, highlighting a number of the black-canvas paintings which Ross particularly loved and I do too. There isn't a particular reason to watch these selected episodes, they're hardly the only good ones, but they are good, consistently watchable, and have all the markers that make this series enjoyable.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Person of Interest, entire series, 2011-2016
This reminds me a lot of Fringe: a crime serial with a speculative premise that becomes increasingly predominant; an imperfect found family, confronted with apocalypses of increasing scale. (See also: Buffy, X-Files—the negotiation between episodic and overarching in speculative television has been a long conversation.) I'm a sucker for this setup, and a bigger sucker for the themes at play, for artificial intelligences and human/machine intimacies; and the premise also opens the door to creative tropes and narrative techniques, to flashbacks and alternate realities, to structural inversions (like the functions of the numbers in 2.22 "God Mode"). It's sometimes inconsistent, sometimes too playful, sometimes repetitive in structure (especially the pacing of the action sequences), but I sincerely love it, both for its genre-mashing premise and for the characters (especially Root and Shaw).

For the Love of Spock, film, 2016, dir. Adam Nimoy
This is endearing. It touches on a lot of things, all with approximately equal depth—and while some topics summarize nicely in eight minutes, others feel cursory: giving the gay guy a few sentences to talk about slash fandom is particularly insufficient. But the balance between Leonard Nimoy's private life, his career, and the character of Spock is more successful. There's an earnestness here, a sympathy, an active humor; it hits all the right notes and it's what I wanted it to be: informative in a non-exhaustive but honest and consumable way, and, primarily, cathartic.

After the Dark, film, 2013, dir. John Huddles
A shaggy dog story by way of an iterated thought experiment, which is both its strength and failure. The unexpected narrative style briefly engages some interesting tropes, and the parallels between classroom and experiment, and between iterations, may not live up to all the philosophical name-dropping but are interesting. It helps that, despite the slick, implausible teen styling, the acting is passably strong. But there's no real sum to the various parts, and the tone vacillates and fizzles out at the end. This is engaging but not quite satisfying.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9, s6-7, 1997-1999
I actually picked this rewatch back up midway through s5, which is where I'd left off (a few years ago), but as near as memory serves s6-7 were entirely new to me. (Their airdates overlap my family's residence in the UK, which may explain it.) I decided to continue my DS9 journey now because I wanted something socially-aware but escapist, and this is Devon's favorite show to rewatch and so it seemed like a safe bet. I was wrong. It was exhausting. The Dominion war means that late s5 and s6 alternate between grim war episodes and comedy relief episodes, many of them independently successful, but creating an inconsistent overall experience. (Devon later told me that he skips a lot of s6 episodes when rewatching.) S7 has a new major character and a large multi-part ending which stretches some plotlines too long yet still manages manages to back-weight and rush the finale. But this is still far and above the most ambitious and successful Star Trek. I adore a lot of individual tropes (Trill symbionts and Bajoran religion, primarily) (but also Odo!), but it's the cumulative effect which is most impressive: the uncompromising exploration of the Bajoran Occupation, a Black captain, the stationary setting which demands a larger and more consistent plot, even Armin Shimerman's quest to salvage the Ferengi make for an overarching set of themes which aren't always successful but are frequently, intelligently, pointed in the right direction, more demanding and more thorough than many equivalent themes in other Star Trek series. This wasn't the comfort watch I was expecting, but I think I value it more for that.

Voltron: Legendary Defender, s2, 2017
This has much better pacing than the first season! It's more cohesive, less pointlessly episodic while still maintaining that structure, and has better foreshadowing and ramp up; the cliffhanger is less pasted on. The personal/interpersonal focus is shifted: the strife/teamwork between the paladins is less emphasized, even taken for granted; but the focus on Shiro and Keith is bigger and more integrated into the worldbuilding than anything else so far. I could nitpick—the animation isn't as smooth as s1, and the unlockable power-ups is a predictable trope; but that last is occasionally really effective (as with Shiro) and the overall effort is just such a pleasure. This may be less iconic than s1, but it feels like the show has really settled into itself.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi), anime, 2016, A-1 Pictures
Time-traveler solves the disappearance of a fellow student from his childhood is a deceptively big concept with a deceptively small, interpersonal execution, and the truth is somewhere in between: the speculative elements are scaled down, secondary to the relationships that fuel the plot, but that plot grows increasingly convoluted and suspenseful. It's an ambitious effort, and successful in large part because of the way the many elements balance once another. (And I will never be over that fantastic gimmick with the opening credits.)

Voltron: Legendary Defender, season 1, 2016
I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this, but it's not perfect. The animation is fantastic, which gives the action and characters so much life; I genuinely love everyone except Lance (I wish the default protagonist weren't the male-gaze asshole) and every inter-character dynamic (even those with Lance). But after the overlong establishing sequences, the plot grows episodic and goes nowhere—it feels like watching any other serial SF show, with predictable premises and storylines. Against that stagnation, the sudden uptick in plot and the ridiculous cliffhanger at the end of the season feel like an insult. But while I normally have a hard time with "made for kids, accessible to all audiences" because I can't switch off my criticism (and can never tolerate comic relief), Voltron engaged me. I'll absolutely watch season 2. (That all said, I could never not laugh at Voltron's cat fists and fuzzy cat slippers and cat hat, I know this is the design Voltron has had forever and that they are being faithful to the source material, it still looks ridiculous, I'm sorry.)

Zootopia, film, 2016, Disney
Charming animation and worldbuilding, great dialog, and I'm a sucker both for mystery plots and cop buddy dynamics. But I'm not sure I loved the themes—"the disenfranchised also foster social unrest/aim to benefit from inequality" is a common trope that creates a false equivalency between the targeted hatred of oppressors and the justified anger of the oppressed, and while I think it's the exact opposite of the film's intended message, it's present and it's gross. This was a fun watching experience, but invites critical viewing it can't stand up to, and left me uneasy.

3%, season 1, 2016
I love survival games and in a similar way understand the appeal of dystopian meritocracies—but I hate the YA tropes/poor writing/unbelievable worldbuilding they tend to come packed in. 3% has pieces of all of that, and yet I sincerely enjoyed it. Television is a better format for this series than a book or film series because there's more room to flesh out the characters without constantly trying to reinvent the plot. That the competitors are 20 years old also helps—it's an appropriate age for the personal growth tropes and some of the interpersonal dramas of the genre, but sheds the adolescent-love-triangle tone. But maybe the best divergence is that there are so many people of color. This is less glamorized than most examples of the genre it hails from, despite maintaining a lot of genre concepts and tropes; I don't think it's necessarily revolutionary, but it's absolutely more successful. I'm glad to see Netflix diversifying the work they produce, and will watch season 2.

Yuri!!! on Ice, anime, 2016, MAPPA
As a sports anime, this isn't groundbreaking; as queer sports anime, it's not ideal representation—but I understand the source of its limitations and I think it navigates genre conventions and "appears subtextual, is actually textual" better than not. It does a lot in little space, with surprisingly clever plotting and details, but what really sold me is the sincerity of the character development and the romance. Yuuri's anxiety and its effects on his performance and interpersonal relationships mimic the emotional dramas of other sports anime, but have a more sincere, sympathetic arc; the central romance engages a number of queerbaiting tropes and then sidesteps them to explore sincere passion and how people build relationships and romantic intimacy. It's really just ... heartening to watch, not super angsty but emotionally accessible. I sincerely enjoyed it.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, miniseries, 2015
I'm surprised by how much I liked this, and I expected to like it. The set and costume and makeup are all beautiful; the special effects are sometimes TV-quality but still so evocative. I'd forgotten how successful this narrative is, and/or I'm a better consumer (I was particularly stricken by the women—not an impression I had when I first read it) or I liked this more than the book or I simply need to reread the book; the way in which these characters gain exponential depth as they interact, escaping the limitations of their respective tropes, is particularly fulfilling. What a pleasure to watch.

Dark Matter, seasons 1-2, 2015-2016
Six strangers forced to work together is how found families are born, and this absolutely lives up to its tropes. The cast is made up of heavy-handed archetypes but I love lots of them—especially all the women of the core cast (the android's character growth is especially good.) But mutual distrust also creates a lot of miscommunication-as-plot, which is a trope I detest. I've now mentioned tropes four times, which is indicative: this is pulpy Syfy-channel material, with appropriate pacing, plotting, budget, and the ideal arena to engage tropes with gusto, which this does, and I love it for that.

They Look Like People, film, dir. Perry Blackshear, 2016
I'm not sure how to discuss this one without spoilers, so be ye warned. I found this unexpectedly effective as a horror film—it has a strong grasp of tension and pacing and the evocative unseen. But these are also things that freak me out, personally (face blindness is not-infrequently the experience of "have people been replaced by not-people that I'm supposed to assume look the same?" and "is this face correct? is this what faces look like?"), which biases my reaction. Some have lauded this for its human, empathetic depiction of mental illness; it is that, but I'm still not on board with eliding mental illness and speculative themes, and constantly linking mental illness and violent actions. I find myself of a mixed but ultimately positive opinion, and this certainly does a lot with tone and horror despite its tiny cast and budget.

The Girl in the Book, film, dir. Marya Cohn, 2015
A thorny, private, messy personal trauma given a cathartic, neat resolution—so it hits all the right notes and I understand the intent, but it still feels limited. I like the narrative structure, though, exploring the sequences of events in one timeline, their longterm impact in the other. But I can't help negatively comparing this to Blue Car, which was thematically similar but much more messy and bittersweet in resolution: equally important representation, but refusing to be so neat.

Twin Peaks, season 1-2, 1990-1991
Fire Walk with Me, film, dir. David Lynch, 1992
(Spoilers be ye warned, again.) I made multiple false starts on this show before seeing it to conclusion, which I feel is in some way indicative of my overall experience. There's so much to talk about! I'm underwhelmed by some of the iconic elements, the soap opera plotting, laborious pacing, and "quirky" townsfolk—but I love the effect of the ominous and surreal set against that mundanity. The plotting goes off the rails after Laura's arc, and the new romances are a horrible choice—but I love the increasingly prominent role of the Black Lodge. (What imagery!) But I take strong issue with the way that Lynch uses disability to indicate strangeness, in the townsfolk and surreal dreams and the Lodge. I loved Fire Walk with Me, because as much as I admire a successful narrative in absentia it's empowering to make Laura subject (rather than object) of the narrative and Sheryl Lee's portrayal is intimate and convincing. Twin Peaks and I had a rocky start, and I couldn't imagine rewatching it for fun, but I came away with strong opinions and a lot of love for the bits I loved (speech in the Lodge & the entrance to the Lodge; the characterization of Dale Cooper and Audrey Horne in the first arc, and the relationship between them) and love, also, for for its ... intent and iconic cultural effect, I suppose, more than the actual product.

On Tumblr: Dale Cooper vs. Professor Layton; David Lynch uncritically presenting the Other was weird.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Red vs. Blue, seasons 1-13, 2003-2015
I came to this just to understand Devon's references, because he quotes the first few seasons a lot; and then it ate me alive. I have a narrow sense of humor, and the jokes here can absolutely be problematic, but it's frequently hilarious, with fantastic delivery and surprisingly effective simple staging. And as the show matures, it snowballs: always harebrained, but increasingly complex and character-driven; the CGI is breathtaking, the pacing superb; and I love the characters, I love so many of them so passionately, and I would never have predicted that. That something this inane and weirdly constructed can be so successful still surprises me, but, man, what an experience.

Black Mirror, season 3, 2016
All of these episodes are on some level mediocre—except "San Junipero" [imagine here a 20min pause, weeks after watching this episode, that I spent looking at fanart and gifs of this episode because I will never be over it], which is phenomenal. It's also the biggest departure from Black Mirror's tone, so perhaps my ongoing issue is just with Black Mirror itself, and with its smartphone dystopias and one-note worldbuilding, its speculative-in-the-mainstream shoddy work; none of this season manages to be harrowing and have an intriguing premise, expect perhaps "Playtest" (deadened by predictable tropes) and "Hated in the Nation" (deadened by runtime). But "San Junipero" is tightly written, with economic plot delivery and a stubborn, sensitive interpersonal focus; the acting is fantastic, the tone equally indulgent/nostalgic and emotional; the love story convincing and validating. I have rarely been so impressed with any single episode of anything, and it can easily stand alone. It made the season worth it for me, and I'd recommend it even if you've never watched Black Mirror.

Sphere, film, 1998, dir. Barry Levinson
What an intriguing premise, what predictable execution. I think "in a confined environment, everyone doubts and turns against one another" is a pretty tired narrative, but I was ready to be sold on the psychological stress of a first encounter and the social fallout among the human crew—it could be a refreshing twist on the premise. But the alien aspect goes almost entirely unexplored; even the concept of the unknown, of the what and why inside the sphere, is barely touched. There's some good monologues and character acting, but this is otherwise dull, doing a disservice to its setup and first third, with a particularly weak ending.

III: The Ritual, film, 2015, dir. Pavel Khvaleev
The framing narrative is incoherent, but the central story is about a young woman journeying into her sister's dreamscape in order to cure her of disease—also incoherent, but to good effect; a lot of the markers it hits are predictable, and some imagery is ungrounded, but I love dreamscapes and this one is evocative. I love the focus on bodies (but wish it interrogated the link it makes between illness/bodies/gendered experience/mental state), the liminal spaces and use of transitions, and the way that arbitrary personal symbols exist alongside overtly literal imagery. This reminds me of Silent Hill, if less successful: confront the monsters that represent your inner demons while some inexplicable cult plot occurs around you.

On Tumblr: screencaps.

Hellboy, film, 2004, dir. Guillermo del Toro
I had vague impressions of remarkable, intricate imagery, but it looks like most of that is in the second film. This one's special effects have aged well, and the special effects makeup is fantastic; it uses that to do interesting things with bodies, and those details—Abe's hands and gills, Kroenen's monster design—are so satisfying. But the set designs aren't particularly memorable, and everything is so predictable: the pacing, the plot structure, the comedic timing; Perlman (whom I love) delivers a distinct but hammy performance. I did love Liz (less so her place in the plotline); that couldn't outweigh how tired I am of speculative sexy Nazis, a trope that I think is harmful and objectively unforgivable. I wish I could watch the second film! (It's not on Netflix.) I think I'd like it better, if only for the visuals. This first one is hit and miss.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Stonehearst Asylum/Eliza Graves, film, 2014, dir. Brad Anderson
There's so much going on here, all of it about halfways successful. The movie can never decide if it's horror, romance, satire, or just an excuse for Gothic extravagance, so is all of those things without total success—it has a fantastic aesthetic, but the tone often contradicts itself. But I'm surprised how watchable this is as an asylum movie—it's a narrative that makes me nervous, but the "inmates take over the aslyum" premise means that representations of institutionalized violence are limited in scope and cast as overtly problematic; that said, the implied farce of the inmates in control is its own microaggression; that said, the narrative affords them a surprising amountof respect, despite the occasional condescension. Eliza is well developed, and her gendered condition treated with the respect—which the obligatory romance and "cure" undermine. It's complicated! The plot's fine, the aesthetic is great, the tone is inconsistent—but it's the themes at play which I find myself remembering.

The Silenced (Gyeongseong School: Disappeared Girls), film, 2015, dir. Lee Hae-young
This makes a tonal shift in the second half, from gothic mystery to action thriller; I appreciate the first half more, but to my surprise the shift didn't lose me—largely because the writing remains solid, no dumb twists, just foreshadowing carried through. This is visually superb, so beautiful with such luscious imagery; I love the themes, the female intimacies (this movie has one (1) male character, bless), and the exploration of sick bodies, revenge/cure fantasies, and the social manipulation of women. This is a quiet gem, and I want more people to watch it.

Tumblr posts: visuals; women and illness narratives.

Penny Dreadful, complete series, 2014-2016
I am so conflicted! This is an aesthetic treat, and the way it engages gothic genre and penny dreadful reiteration of urban fables is compelling; there's some solid casting and the dialog is fantastic—and Eva Green steals the show with the depth of her affect and the way she epitomizes the show's aesthetic. But the plotting goes south midway through season 2, growing messier and more predictable (especially in character deaths and villain motivations, see: killing minority groups, vilifying female power), and the end—both the focus on Ethan in s3, and Vanessa's death—are especially flat. There's fantastic tropes at play here (especially the found family dynamic) and some truly phenomenal episodes (especially the flashbacks); I'm surprised how effectively and respectfully it elides trauma, mental illness, and speculative elements. But it comes out to be a bit of a mess, and not inevitability: the overarching plotting could've been better.

Supernatural, season 11, 2015-2016
The big bad of this season wildly overreaches while managing to remain entirely predictable—I don't know how the show could ever have pulled off a big-G God arc, and it shouldn't have tried; Amara's character arc is simplistic and her imagery underwhelming. Yet, somehow, this season has some of my favorite stand-alones, chief among them 11.4 "Baby," a Impala PoV about the daily grind of hunting which is everything I love of this show; I also adored the return of Lucifer, and Misha Collin's acting; and Enemy Mine of the last few episodes; and developments in the Sam/Dean dynamic. Supernatural is always inconsistent, but this was an unusual inconsistency: the small and personal parts of this work beautifully while the overarching plot spirals, forgotten, into the sun.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Once Upon a Time, season 5, 2015-2016
The Dark Swan arc exceeded my expectations—it has a constrained focus and the plot twists are vaguely convincing (a OUaT rarity!); the interpersonal and character arcs sold me, especially those between Emma and Regina. The resolution is weaker—as the focus shifts off Emma, it flounders. The Underworld arc, by contrast, is a mess entire: boring imagery, and the Greek myths are out of place (although I love Greg Germann and enjoy the Hades/Zelena relationship). As always, the problem with OUaT is its insincerity: there are so any plot twists that they lose their effect; it's hard to get invested in expectation of a twist, so the rare sincere moment lacks impact. Anyway: The land of untold stories stretches the show's premise but revives its creativity and makes it less Strictly Disney; I wonder what season 6 will be like.

Stranger Things, season 1, 2016
Frequently incredible: the atmospheric genre mishmash, the aesthetic as thick as pea soup, the tight writing, the great acting—especially from the children, about which no one as surprised as me. The triple plotline and the genre-awareness means that the plotting has to be strong, and it is—until the last episode, where it's so strong, so neat and obvious with obligatory sequel bait, as to strangle out the mystery and depth. I wanted something braver in scale and less obvious in resolution. Finale complaints aside, I truly adored this. It's a bit like The X-Files (without the monsters of the week), a bit like Twin Peaks (but faster paced), so 80s gothic; genre-aware and engaged in discussion about genre; the aesthetic is captivating—I've rarely been so lost in a show: at the end of each episode, the real world felt uncanny. I can't wait for season 2.

Splice, film, 2009, dir. Vincenzo Natali
I love this as a strange incestuous family drama with weird imagery and sexy body horror, which is the first three quarters; I like it less as an obligatory action sequence stripped of complex characterization and replaced with trite gender commentary, which is how it ends. The special effects are necessarily strong, and the visuals engaging; the acting is good. I was pleasantly surprised, but the ending remains a let-down.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, television, 2014, Neil deGrasse Tyson presenting
My complaints first, because they matter: the human element threatens to overshadow the science, the pacing slows in the middle third and wants structure, and the overlong section on global warming is preaching to a choir & puts the onus on individuals while failing to address the political/industrial solutions which will affect necessary change. That aside, this is fantastic. It's accessible without feeling simplistic, Tyson is engaged and engaging, and above all it conveys a profound awe, scale, scope. The CGI helps. It needs better structure, and some topics were belabored while others went unexplored, but honestly I was captivated.

Deep Impact, film, 1998, dir. Mimi Leder
I appreciate the somber tone, the on-screen named character depths, the interplay of national politics and personal narratives (although the kids are tiresome); the pacing is more predictable and less successful, transparent drama-fuel, and the actual disaster is too localized and back-loaded—some post-disaster survivalism would benefit the tone. On the whole, more effective than good: it's a welcome somber deviation from the disaster movie genre while still fulfilling genre tropes, but isn't particularly memorable.

The House at the End of Time (La casa del fin de los tiempos), film, 2013, dir. Alejandro Hidalgo
Expect spoilers, because it turns out this is less horror than it is time travel. The setting and tone are fantastic (what a great house); in theory, the time travel is a clever twist on the haunted house premise, but it's too neat—which makes for literal repetition (as it revisits previous scenes with new information) and predictability, especially throughout the second half. The emotional elements rely on child actors and aging make-up, neither of which are convincing. I wanted to like this, but it's too simple and hollow to be effective.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
These are many months belated, and I am ashamed—but better late and incomplete than nothing, because what I don't record I'll forget I watched and never be able to recommend. The takeaways from this batch were: Ravenous, a cult movie that I'm surprised I hadn't encountered before because it is such fun—it feels like it should have overlap with the Saints Row and Repo! "not quite a fandom because it's so small, but there's so many feels in this intense aesthetic and bombastic themes" crowd; Weekend, which has some 201 conversations especially re: gay marriage and a lot of justified anger and convincing intimacy; The Falling, which—I remember watching Heavenly Creatures for the first time and being blindsided by the intimacy and aesthetic and the complex but identifiable themes, and Heavenly Creatures has been for me like The Secret History, a narrative so distinct and compelling that I revisit it frequently while constantly looking for something that satisfies the same hitherto unknown but now ever-present narrative desire—and The Falling does that.


Ravenous, film, 1999, dir. Antonia Bird
The gayest film about cannibalism not based on Hannibal. The humor can be overbearing, but it creates a surreal, overwrought tone which absolutely works. The pacing is strong, and while the second half is fairly predictable the content and character dynamic are so good—I love these themes, bodily intimacy and the taboo and power dynamics and coercion and cannibalism and homosexual overtones, and Ravenous fulfills them with bombast and dark humor and great imagery.

Tomorrow, When the War Began, film, 2010, dir. Stuart Beattie
An unquestionable waste of time. Everything is horrible, from the stock characters (and improbable overage casting) to the telegraphed relationships to the oppressive action sequences and soundtrack to the petty stupidity which fuels much of the plot. And that's to say nothing of the xenophobia and racism! This is awful, and I should have stopped watching at the midway point when I realized as much. (Great title, though.)

The Road Within, film, 2016, dir. Gren Wells
The acting is consistently good, the relationships work overall, and there some empathetic depictions of frustration without tipping the film into the territory of dour. But it's all too predictable, easy, even saccharine. I'm glad to see narratives about mental illness, and so would rather this than nothing, this doesn't contribute much to the conversation. Still, a watchable 90 minutes.

Weekend, film, 2011, dir. Andrew Haigh
A very close, somewhat rambling character study. There's not much movement or plot to speak of, and it manages to hit a dozen predictable gay story touchstones (coming out, gay marriage, infidelity) and indie movie clichés, but it's utterly convincing and often compelling: a lived, diverse experience, an intimate conversation with a stranger, exponentially more complex than many similar narratives—and the mumbled impromptu dialog never goes too far off the rails. I didn't always enjoy this, but it's unquestionably strong.

The Hallow, film, 2015, dir. Corin Hardy
Supremely mediocre. There's such potential in the imagery and setting, and I admire the unexpected lack of subtlety with the speculative elements, but the horror has extraordinarily predictable timing which makes the pacing feel manipulative and hollow (no pun intended). It leaves no lasting impression, and also fails to have any personal or metaphorical depth: characters barely exist and next to nothing is said about the changing social role of the fairies, despite the deforestation premise. An uninspired work with some great imagery.

Uncanny, film, 2015, dir. Matthew Leutwyler
The first half is promising, the second half a disappointment—because the narrative hinges on a plot twist which manages to be predictable without having any convincing foreshadowing or build-up, which undermines the otherwise interesting premise and destroys almost all character development. There's icky gender/rape issues at play here, too, and the final twist/sequel bait is laughably awful. I love android narratives but still wish I hadn't bothered: skip it.

The Falling, film, 2014, dir. Carol Morley
There's little plot to speak of here, and much of it is buried under the intense school girl/English countryside/coming of age/sexual awakening/psychosomatic illness/mental illness in (young) women/intimate relationships/lesbian/incest aesthetic—and I don't care, because every one of those descriptors is phenomenal and this film fulfills them. The ending is too neat, undermining a lot of early work done to explore the inextricable relationship between the socialization of young women, concepts of illness, and proscribed/natural/enforced behavior. But all the rest is pretty fantastic. This reminded me a lot of Heavenly Creatures and Cracks.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Death Parade, anime, 2015, dir. Yuzuru Tachikawa
Ending spoilers: Read more... )

The two core characters are phenomenal; the world is unique and strange. The rules of the universe immediately appear unfair and fatally flawed, so it's rewarding to discover that's exactly the point of the show. The actual execution is a bit rough, especially the middle episodes and the wildly inconsistent tone, but by the end everything coalesces on an instinctual level. But, for me, the reveal of the protagonist's death sours that emotional payoff.

Awake, season 1, 2012
An engaging effort that doesn't hold up to, but does invite, close scrutiny. Speculative procedural is a unique combination, but it's a lot to manage. The episodic crimes are simplistic, not unforgivably so; but they want overarching characterization to sustain them, and that, too, is unfortunately episodic, especially in the son. The parallel universe concept is intriguing, especially the uncertainly of its validity or cause, giving the show a fragile, subjective atmosphere. But it would have been more successful if they'd known it would be just one season: the last episode feels more red herring than resolution, but there's no time to explore it. I am the ideal audience for this genre crossover, and I'm glad I watched it, but it could have been better.

The Machine, film, 2014, dir. Caradog W. James,
So much potential, not quite realized. There's some neat underlying ideas here: how to teach a robot to pass a Turing test; the evolved language. And there's some nice imagery, only a little ruined by the predictability (eyes: always the indicator of strangeness) and the gendering and body of the machine, feminine, blonde, nude, beautiful, potentially vulnerable. But the interpersonal aspects are so simplistic and the plot so predictable that the potential has no chance to shine.

Experimenter, film, 2015, dir. Michael Almereyda
Wouldn't it be neat if a biopic that makes a point of discussing race, the effects of race, and the erasure of race didn't cast a white person in the role of its Jewish subject? Yeah, that'd be neat. But Sarsgaard is strong, and the film is otherwise enjoyable—the subject and the sympathetic portrayal of Milgram's reactions to criticism of his work more than the experimental staging. In pieces, those elements work well, especially Milgram addressing the camera; but the effect entire, and the green screen in particular, is obtrusive.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I recently completed The Great Star Trek: TOS first viewing; I grew up on TNG and Voyager and DS9, but had never watched TOS until just now. As I watched, I read along with Eugene Myers and Torie Atkinson's re-watch, here on Tor.com, with the third season on The Viewscreen. Torie's analyses I found particularly relevant, both because she came it from the same position as me (familiar with most of Star Trek, but not with TOS), but particularly because of how she examines and confronts Roddenberry's attempts, successes, and failures in exploring and representing equality.

Star Trek: The Original Series, complete series, 1966-69
This exceeded my expectations. It's not as forward-thinking as Roddenberry's vision demanded, which I don't think the time period excuses, given Roddenberry's intent. But the intent is so good, and more than occasionally effective; the underlying sense of wonder is inspiring, the cast and the inter-character dynamics are phenomenal, and Spock—Spock I adore, and I now understand how much Nimoy brought to the show and character. The number of authentically enjoyable episodes balances the amount of formulaic or ridiculous drivel, and while the third season lags it only feels like a preponderance of the bad elements that were there throughout—although most of the series clichés, especially Kirk's womanizing and the lady of the week, seem to come from this season rather than the show entire. I regret that the show prioritizes the return to status quo, but it was inevitable consequence of the genre's development. In sum: not near corny as I expected it to be; dated, flawed, certainly, but authentically enjoyable. I agree with Torie Atkinson's thoughts in the Star Trek Re-watch: Season 1 Wrap-Up: the sincerity and unidealized optimism is surprisingly effective.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, film, 1979, dir. Robert Wise
I can appreciate this for what it is: an homage, love letter, and the celebration of an effects budget. The same things which are wearisome—namely, the long, slow shots of the ship and other special effects—are in some ways the most endearing: it's almost fanservice, the frank admiration of some of the most beloved bits of TOS. Pity about the recycled plot, and putting the band back together stymies character progression (although Spock, as always, is strong). TMP isn't great as a movie, but I appreciate it as a revival.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, film, 1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer
Not much I can say that hasn't been said. Khan's characterization feels flat—I wanted something more than the definitive obsession with Kirk. The rest of the cast fairs far better, with solid characterization and character progression; I adore Spock in the captain's seat, and the intercast dynamics are fantastic. This successfully translates the feel of the show into movie format: similar ethos, movie-appropriate pacing, and a satisfying number of subplots; the end is strong. But I fail to find it as memorable as TMP—perhaps because it's simply more traditional and successful a film.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, film, 1984, dir. Leonard Nimoy
Another one that I enjoyed, despite general consensus. I love successful narratives-in-absentia, and so respond well to a story that orbits an absent character. And how lovely, to see McCoy given more complexity. This is a smaller, more private story; melancholy, personal, heartsick; the destruction of the Enterprise contributes significantly to this tone. I hate back from the dead plotlines in principle, and I didn't care one whit about the B-plot or the villain; the film certainly has flaws. But the small parts of it which work well I treasure.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, film, 1986, dir. Leonard Nimoy
A humorous installment is well-timed and surprisingly effective, and—other than the ridiculous premise—this has great pacing and strong character moments. TVH absolutely tips towards embarrassment squick, but it never oversteps, thank goodness. It's charming and silly, the cast has just enough substance, and it's utterly engaging to watch—but not, ultimately, particularly memorable or complex.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, film, 1989, dir. William Shatner
I could have done without. There's some well-intended elements—namely, to give glimpses into the backstory and private lives of the crew—but they're ineffective; meanwhile, the humor is cringe-inducing and while the plot echoes some reoccurring series themes, it does a poor job of it and the fake god is particularly clumsy. I wish it had gone in a different direction—I would have loved to better explore the experience of a Vulcan with emotions.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, film, 1991, dir. Nicholas Meyer
This is such a rewarding endnote. The murder-mystery plot isn't flawless (the courtroom scene is frustrating, despite the appearance of Michael Dorn; the clue-search aboard the ship tends toward silly), but the balance of the plot's momentum and the depth of the metaphor is almost flawless. I love to see Kirk confronted, to see him proven wrong and forced to change; I love a bit less Spock's flaws, but the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dynamic in this film is some of my favorite in the series entire. This may be the most enjoyable and watchable of the films—and final voice-over and the signatures on the stars was the most perfect of all possible conclusions. (Reader, I cried.)

This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun, and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man ... where no one has gone before.



Bonus, crossposted from Tumblr: In defense of 3.20 The Way to Eden )
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show), series 5, 2014
There's something reaffirming about British reality TV. It's certainly edited for drama, as this series's Bingate proves. But it feels less exploitive and competitive, more heartfelt. This was just so lovely to watch, playful and passionate and with engaging variety. I'm not sure I'd feel the same if I watched multiple series, but all reality TV dulls with repetition. I enjoyed this for what it was, and didn't need more.

Jessica Jones, season 1, 2015
My dislike of Daredevil made me hesitant to watch this, despite positive fan response. I should have listened to my gut. It does so many things right in its depiction of rape and trauma survival, even female characters—female showrunners help immensely, who would have thought!—and I appreciate that. But the larger story failed me: the noir/action styling is tiresome, the tie-ins to Marvel movie-verse out of place, and the plot is a string of twists motivated by unreliable characters—sometimes unreliable because of Kilgrave's mind control, as often unreliable for unrelated reasons, all of it off-putting. It's not you, Marvel (okay, well, sometimes it is); it's me. This isn't my thing. (Longer thoughts on what didn't work for me here on Tumblr.)

We Need to Talk About Kevin, film, 2011, dir. Lynne Ramsay
A necessary DNF; I remembered at the halfway mark that narratives about unwilling mothers and problem children make my skin crawl. Half of the movie is enough to get a feel for it. Swinton's performance is powerful; other characters, even eponymous Kevin, feel stiff, their functions too singular. The jumpy piecemeal narrative is stressful, but creates tension. I have no doubt that this film does what it intends, but I feel like I've encountered the same narrative—as intriguing and unsettling, as ultimately unproductive—in more watchable form in Law & Order episodes, of all things. This was, intentionally, but for me fatally, unpleasant.

Hide and Seek (Amorous), film, 2015, dir. Joanna Coates
A group of young adults absent themselves from society to live in a beautiful house in the country and begin a closed poly relationship—my perfect premise. This does every predictable thing that can be done with this setup—a disruption by an outsider, the threat of monogamy—but it's unique in one respect: the relationship survives. That never happens in this sort of story! It's refreshing and idyllic. Otherwise: the plot is slim, characterization thin; the acting is acceptable, but sells the awkward start better than the established relationship. The style is light, hazy, sunny, indie-artsy. This isn't a profound film, but I appreciate that it exists. And! queer representation! that isn't entirely drowned out by hetero configurations! (but is somewhat.)

Hide and Seek: longer thoughts. )
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Supernatural, season 9, 2014-15
Rowena is a delight, and I enjoy Crowley's progression—bravo to the show for exploring how soft he's gone. Otherwise: a disappointment. The Mark is too reminescent of S8's post-Purgatory effects, but significantly less compelling. The big bad is a mess—is it Styne? Rowena? the Mark has no face and so makes for an indistinct and unsatisfying enemy, and the show fails to capitalize on the quandary of how to win a fight when the only face of the enemy is yourself. Charlie's death is as predictably problematic as this show can conceivably be; the sudden twist ending is transparent sequel bait, and the entire last episode has predictable pacing. This is midgrade, messy, unremarkable Supernatural.

Circle, film, 2015, dir. Aaron Hann & Mario Miscione
I'm a sucker for this sort of survival setup, yet this did little for me. What makes survival games work is the way that individuals react to life and death competition, but there's no room for characters here. Instead, Circle has soundbite distillations of "American values," cursory and unproductive caricatures of sexism/racism/homophobia. Tension sustains the film, but the staccato pacing doesn't allow for tension to build or the narrative to flow. It's constrained and frantic and small, distinctly not awful; the end is strong. But I'm unimpressed.

The Duke of Burgundy, film, 2014, dir. Peter Strickland
Beautiful, rich, but too self-aware. This is a gorgeous dreamworld of texture and sound and scripted erotic play, balanced by heavy emotional emphasis which is at times almost unpleasant to watch because the character's needs are so transparent. But it can get lost under artsy montage, the worst of which is a dream-sequence entered via a crotch close-up (I mean, really); it's too smug and too arty. I think of this better in retrospect than I enjoyed it at the time—great potential, a bit too much beauty, and it doesn't work with my sense of humor.

Cloverfield, film, 2008, dir. Mat Reeves
I went into this thinking it was a monster delay film—I suppose I was mistaken, because the monster is all over the place, and inconsistent, and too convenient—most especially the presence of the smaller parasites. As a found footage film, this is decent, although I never grew invested in the interpersonal elements which are necessary to ground the apocalypse. The scale of the disaster is nice, although the monster itself is bland. In sum: merely competent.

Broadchurch, series 2, 2015
The writing here is better than the first series: less episodic, more cohesive as a whole. The casting and character arcs remain strong, especially Ellie, both in her family life and in her interactions with Hardy. But the emotional register and atmosphere are banal. It's uncreative: compare to Tana French's In the Woods: similar dual cases, small towns, PoV even, but the atmosphere is much more intense and the emotional focus has more intent, simply has more to say. The circumstances here are strange, even contrived, but most of the dynamics are disappointing in their normalcy.

Black Mirror, series 1-2 & Christmas Special, 2011-14
The natural result of mainstream media picking up spec-fic with the self-satisfied smugness of one who thinks they've come up with something new while failing to realize they have no genre experience to support them. Slick, well-acted, and pointedly cruel—but riddled with plotholes and unable to do anything with the potentially interesting near-future scenarios other than to see their effects on the entirely uninteresting lives of mostly-white straight people. It's watchable but the satire grows tiresome, obsessed with the petty evils of social media, and it buries its potential in over-trod emotional ground. Everywhere, every day, I can see upper-middle class white marriages fall apart due to possessive husband and frigid wives; there's better vehicles to explore "everyone records every moment of their lives" and "I spoke with the avatar of my dead partner."
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
You're Next, film, 2013, dir. Adam Wingard
I admire this film's dedication—the violence is messy, imperfect, and keenly human; the ruthless body count makes for lively pacing and a dogged gallows humor. But the emotional register is flat. No doubt the estranged family is meant to be obnoxious, but they're still awful to watch; the motivations and reactions to stress are both lackluster. This worked for me up until the kitchen scene deaths, which tip the balance into outright ridiculous—I needed less horror staging and more content. The competent final girl is an interesting play on the trope; otherwise, this isn't interesting at all.

How to Get Away with Murder, season 1, 2014-2015
I kept waiting for this show to disappoint me, and it never did—which says a lot about both its early buildup and its late-game followthrough. HtGAwM shows a commitment to season(/series)-long writing which I rarely see in television, and while it can tend towards the dramatic that still makes for utterly satisfying character and plot arcs. In premise, this reminds me of Donna Tartt's The Secret History (and where the premise is less romanticized and intimate, the authority figure is more directly engaged—a worthwhile trade) with a dash of serial crime; high-stakes social elements played against murder make for rich character drama, supported by the phenomenal casting, particularly Viola Davis; the script is tense and clever, especially the non-linear first half of the season. (It also reminded me of Damages, but it's significantly more fun to watch.) It's obvious, but I adored this.

Creep, film, 2014, dir. Patrick Kack-Brice
Too many jump scares, too early and often, destroy any buildup; but the real drawback is that this is predicated on the belief that we will be surprised, or at least interested, to discover that an affable white male adult would turn out to be dangerous or creepy. The horror elements are so unsuccessful as to be bland, and the aforementioned creep is merely off-putting and never compelling. Give this a miss.

Upstream Color, film, 2013, dir. Shane Carruth
The first third of this film is deeply disquieting and effective; the rest is laborious, steeped in indie cliché—the mumbled dialog, the minimalist aesthetic, the long blank stares, the cryptic and pretentious emotional reactions resting on vaguely sexist gender roles. The concept beneath that is tenuous but interesting, but honestly, who cares: the wrapping leaves too much to be desired.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion, anime film, 2013, Shaft
Spoilers, be ye warned. The pacing is all over the place, but it works—and, honestly, that near-idyllic opening is almost as good as the twist that follows. I have mixed feelings about this film: as a continuation, Homura's labyrinth is almost too small and her rewriting is certainly too large. I prefer the former, because PMMM is one part interpersonal and one part apocalyptic, and Homura had the most interpersonal investment and want for exploration/resolution. To end that story on a purely happy ending would have been rewarding, but tonally insincere. To end it instead on such a large, bitter scale is in line with series ethos, but cheapens the phenomenal end of the anime series through sheer redundancy. So much is right, here: the far superior art quality, the fantastic aesthetic, Bebe!!, the reveal of Homura's fate and the worldbuilding that occurs around it, Kyubey's characterization, the emotional release of the aborted Good End. But part of me feels it was unnecessary, no matter how financially sound, to revisit this world.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Following, film, 1999, dir. Christopher Nolan
I love the initial setup, the dehumanization/violation that comes from an desire to be intimate with strangers; likewise, the character growth that follows the path of this obsession. But as a thriller, the twists are too neat—it's competent, with engaging non-linearity and good pacing (although the final twist is predictable), but it's too traditional and the thriller aspects overshadow the far more interesting relationships that fill early parts of the film. In short, exactly what I'd expect of Nolan's first effort.

WataMote (Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!/No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular!), anime, 2013, Silver Link
This is one of the better depictions of social anxiety that I've seen. It also has some circumspect trappings, but—to give the show the benefit of the doubt—that may be because Tomoko lacks awareness, failing to question her own internalized misogyny in particular: unfortunate without narrative context, but realistic. WataMote frequently feels like it's on the edge of failure: too painful, too exaggerated, too crass, at moments even too optimistic. But the humor serves both to lighten the mood and to explore the pessimism that piggybacks onto anxiety, and when the show looks towards a hopeful ending it does it without dismissing the Tomoko's ongoing problems. I'm frankly thankful that this imperfect little story exists.

K, anime, 2012, GoHands
The larger than life ensemble cast color-coded for your convenience reminds me strongly of Durarara!!, but K's not as half clever. Still, I enjoyed it. I have a few quibbles: the fanservice is real and it's miserable; the first few episodes are funnier than they need to be and slow the plot. But the large cast creates a number of fantastic characters and compelling dynamics, and even the aspects that aren't particularly complex have satisfying emotional appeal. This is more engaging than it is intelligent, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Wakfu, animated, season 2, Ankama Animation
The only real downfall of Wakfu's fantastic first season was that it took too long to develop momentum. I'm disappointed that the second season has the same flaw: there's too many episodic episodes—with (heavy-handed) foreshadowing, to be sure, and each is fun individually, but they slow the pacing. Otherwise: amazing. This has one of my favorite ensemble casts, and I remain in awe of the strong characters and their dynamic, meaningful interactions. And when it gets going, the plot is great—the last ~4 episodes are worth the wait. There's some disappointing off-color humor in this season, but despite that and other quibbles I honestly cannot recommend Wakfu too highly. Give it a try, it may surprise you.

The House of the Devil, film, 2009, dir. Ti West
Insufficient. The slow-burn suspense almost works, but the end doesn't pay off—the frantic pacing of the climax should be effective, but there's no substance: little cultural or personal framing for the evil, no relationship between villain and victim, it just doesn't say much. I suppose narrative purpose isn't essential to horror, but I prefer it—especially in something that requires investment rather than simple entertainment, as Ti West's films usually do. At least I liked this more than The Innkeepers!

Once Upon a Time, season 4, 2014-2015
The messiest season by far, this one just rolled off of me. There's good bits in the Elsa storyline—although the Frozen girls feel particularly out of place even in this hodgepodge (although not as much as Cruella!)—it's sensitive and surprisingly good-willed, a nice change from OUaT's "dark" retellings. The Heroes and Villains arc is less successful: Belle's moment of definitive bravery is fantastic, but it's undercut by the plot that follows; inverting heroes and villains makes for messy storytelling rather than anything meaningfully subtle. At its heart, this is just more OUaT, with all witless storytelling and bad makeup and interesting character dynamics you'd expect—but this is my least favorite season so far.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Guardians of the Galaxy, film, 2014, dir. James Gunn
Oh, Marvel, I am so tired of this setup. Fridging a woman to create backstory, a cast of varied dudes with a token smurfette, a single female evil villain sidekick to counterpoint the smurfette, and pretending that raising an eyebrow in self-aware mockery of your tired tropes erases the fact that you're just ... reiterating tired tropes. Marvel has been wearing on me for a while, and this is a particularly reiterative example. It's still a lot of fun, lively and with a miraculous soundtrack, but that's not enough for me.

Mirai Nikki (Future Diary), anime, 2012, Asread
Oh, the unspeakable degree to which I came to care about this show. It's not unlike Death Note: a high concept, overcomplicated by additional rules, working often to explore but sometimes to overshadow interesting character dynamics; it's too heavy-handed with its psychotic characters and most plot twists exists to create sudden and insubstantial character growth (most especially, the inexplicable fridging of any character who has made a sudden redemption), and its size and complexity run away with themselves. But the Yukki/Yuno dynamic is fascinating. I came to this expecting formative yandere, intriguing in premise but exaggerated in execution—but what makes the show work is Yukki's feelings for Yuno: how swiftly he transitions from taking her as a necessary companion to having feelings for her, despite, even because of, the worst of their situation and her personality. There's a surprising subtlety, and the dynamic is often convincing. Also a slick, clean style with a great run-length. I'll probably read the manga someday, and was unexpectedly satisfied with everything Mirai Nikki had to offer.

Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko's Basketball), anime, season 2, Production I.G
The pacing and narrative of this season is particularly predictable, but it's worth it finally see more of the generation of miracles. The character arcs are predictable, too, but they're so satisfying that it doesn't matter—Aomine's in particular, but also Kagamine's and, always, Kuroko's. This is the very sportiest of sports anime; it's almost surprising that Kuroko is so ridiculous—the magically developing new skills that are key to each win is particularly tiresome, and exist more to create tension than characters. But under the exaggerated special moves and sports bonding, there's some surprising finesse in the characterization, in Aomine's passion and Kuroko's anger, which I truly enjoy.

Paradise Kiss, film, 2011, dir. Takehiko Shinjo
My life is spent crying because of ParaKiss. This film is probably the worst of the three versions, but I still loved it. Some acting is stiff, the costume and character design are insufficently over the top (Arashi and Miwako, especially); but there's a charm and magic to seeing everything in live action, especially the studio. The manga ending is far superior, but this toned-down version of George works well to deliver a happy ending—and the moments which are most important, at and after the fashion show, are flawless. ParaKiss is one of my favorite stories of all time, and I loved revisiting it.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
A Simple Plan, film, 1998, dir. Sam Raimi
A straightforward but effective take on the premise of a small, uneasy group forced into a conspiracy. It's discomforting to watch for exactly the right reason: everything feels justified yet is obviously unacceptable, and that tension provides significant immersion and momentum. The ending is overwrought and hinges on coincidence, but to be honest I didn't much mind. If you can overlook the limited scope and obvious flaws of the film (the all-white, nearly all-male cast among them, although there's some interesting class dynamics at play), this entirely satisfying.

Jupiter Ascending, film, 2015, dirs. Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
This reminds me of YA literature: consumable trash filmed through a female lens—which doesn't make it magically non-problematic, but does make it a refreshing take on wish fulfillment. I don't care for the amount of spectacle; the action scenes in particular grow wearisome. But to my surprise, I love the my-love-interest-the-bodyguard dynamic, male as powerful and useful but subservient to female choice—full disclosure, this is a trope I adore (see: my love for Enslaved), but I'm still surprised that Jupiter Ascending pulled it off so well; I shipped the hetero leads and, let me tell you, that never happens. Anyway: not great, but a different and much improved variety of trash, and worth two hours of my time.

Big Hero 6, film, 2014, dirs. Chris Williams and Don Hall,
This should feel like merch bait, and it's so emotionally heavy-handed, and the antagonist(s) are shallow and I could do without the manpain motivation, and the end is predictable. And yet: I cared; I cared immensely. It's manipulative but effective, the character design is simplistic but charming, and Baymax is phenomenal. This is how to do mascot characters! Make them adorable and a little silly but also make them central to the story, make them the emotional lynchpin as well as the comic relief. (Great soundtrack, too.)

Kill la Kill, anime, 2013, Trigger
I loved Gurren Lagann, which was successful because it looks a simple concept and spiraled (ahahaha) it larger and larger—it was a deceptive, brilliant, effective device. Kill la Kill isn't simple and it certainly isn't brilliant. It's so energetic and ridiculous that it takes some time to adjust, but I did—and I enjoyed the show. To my particular surprise, I like the emotional and interpersonal arcs; they're hamfisted and obvious but have just enough underlying nuance, and the result is endearing. (Most especially, Mako.) But the plot's a mess. Spiral Power is an entire show worth of fridge brilliance; clothing-is-evil-except-not-also-fanservice lacks cogency and purpose. Is it unfair to compare this to TTGL? Probably, but oh well. Kill la Kill had bits I liked but as a whole was an unsuccessful successor.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (When the Cicadas Cry), anime, 2006, Studio Deen
Let's all take a moment to appreciate just how well the When They Cry series handles bad ends. They become tools to explore how a limited cast reacts to wildly different stressors, to explore multiple permeations and sides of the same story, and, best of all, the cumulative effect of the bad ends is the whole point. There's no frustrating dissonance between persistent viewer memory and reset character timelines—instead, the gap between them is the core the plot. Of course, the series originated as a visual novel—but games screw this up all the time! When They Cry is an aware, engaged, utterly satisfying take on the trope. (I've talked about this in length on Tumblr.)

The art is simplistic. The empty-eyed psychopathic tendencies of apparently all schoolchildren can be repetitive, although Keiichi's paranoia is a compelling change of pace. Higurashi isn't hugely refined, to be sure. But the scenery-chewing is its own delight, and what this series gets right I simply adore.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Alien Planet, television, Discovery Channel, 2005
This has all the caveats you'd expect: episodic pacing, dramatic bookends before trailers, interview clips clashing with CG imaginings, too strong an attempt at narrative, some weird personifications (and why are both robots male?). But who cares! If you enjoy speculative evolution, then this is fantastic. And if you've never explored speculative evolution, this is a fantastic starting place. Barlow's alien world is creative without trespassing into the ridiculous, and this version of it stands the test of time despite all the CG. (I should read the original book.)

The Future is Wild, television, 2002
In 13 episodes, this can grow repetitive—the episode formatting, but also the way each ecosystem is divided. Otherwise, this is lovely. It has a good balance of creative projection and current evolutionary examples, and the three future settings offer plenty of variety. While this lacks the intense thrill of some speculative evolutions—it's certainly less grand than Alien Planet—it's fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable.

Caprica, season 1, 2010
Although packed full of good intentions, this is so desperate for drama that it's frequently incoherent and sometimes lets action overshadow content. See: my thoughts on Caprica as soap opera. On the whole, this works as a Battlestar Galactica prequel, purely because it engages character backstory and similar themes: if you're invested in BSG, there's thoughtful content here. But as a standalone work, this is promising but fatally flawed.

Daredevil, season 1, 2015
The last three episodes nearly make this worth it: they have more momentum and weight; for as gritty as Daredevil intends to be, not much of significance happens to anyone whose name we remember until these final episodes, when the stakes finally raise. Otherwise, I found this tiresome. It has that trademark Marvel-film feel: hypersaturated because comic, gritty because live action. But it runs long, and the themes (vigilante angst in particular) get played out.

Manhunter, film, dir. Michael Mann, 1986
I disagree with general consensus: William Petersen is lovely, but he falls flat here. Nearly all the times he's meant to spill forth with repressed fervor are stilted, and throw the film's careful emotional balance askew. But I appreciate Dolarhyde (toned down and more convincing than his book appearance), and I liked this deceptively unassuming Hannibal. The film feels dated in a delightful way, synth soundtrack especially; it has some great small moments that work beautifully. But I regret that Will Graham failed to impress me.

Dead Ringers, film, dir. David Cronenberg, 1988
If you're me—and, luckily for me, I am—this is a delight. This film could be made just for me: unnaturally close twins have their relationship brought into question by an outsider, who ironically highlights but also endangers their codependency. Its metaphors grow strung out and exaggerated, but in a way that remains successful: it's at once heavy-handed and dreamlike, the literal surgical separation of non-conjoined twins. (Of course Cronenberg also directed Crash, which shares thematic, fevered intimacy metaphors.) The slightly dated aesthetic and slowish pace didn't even bother me, so perfectly suited was this to my id.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Breaking the Girls, film, 2013, dir. Jamie Babbit
The plot twists are written for their own sake rather than to develop any sort of interior logic, which means that as this gets twistier—especially in the last ten minutes—it tanks. But the premise is intriguing, and the atmosphere of idyllic sunny California populated by the rich and obsessive and cruel caries much of the film; it's watchable.

The One I Love, film, 2014, dir. Charlie McDowell
The premise is whimsical and unique and spins a normative couple's story into something much more lively—but as the plot unwisely grows meatier, it derails what's working well and replaces it with half-cocked, unsatisfying sci-fi. Good casting, the improv dialog is a mixed success (frequently charming, but as often mundane), more interesting than I expected, a thoughtful effort—but it fails.

Elena Undone, film, 2010, dir. Nicole Conn
I like this more than I expected. There's a freshness in the characters and their relationships, a joy and life and convincing connection; it's more of a coming of age than a seduction, empowering and suffused with agency. All the surrounding trappings are a disappointment: I could distinctly do without the smarmy soulmates theme and the ham-fisted religious bigotry, but they don't quite override what makes this film refreshing.

You Will Be Mine (Je te mangerais), film, 2009, Sophie Laloy
In theory, this is perfect; in practice, it's lacking. The relationship is extreme without being wholehearted, and the views of the women involved too piecemeal—Marie, in particular. There's a sense that she's more powerful than the narrative lets on, which has such potential and intrigue, but it goes unexplored. The atmosphere, casting, and concept are all lovely, but the execution lacks conviction; I came away disappointed.

The Babadook, film, 2014, dir. Jennifer Kent
It's not flawless: the message can get lost when it feels more like gaslighting (the police station scene, in particular); while the Babadook imagery is phenomenal, the supernatural elements have an overblown and comic vibe; the ending is almost but not quite unforgivably neat. But this is suffused with intent, from set design to metaphor; a beautiful, claustrophobic, effective film about grief—and, as much, about single parenting a difficult child. Yet I didn't love it. It's just too unpleasant to watch, the frustration and isolation too real and sympathetic, and clashing with the grandiosity of the horror.

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juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
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July 2017

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