Category Archives: Reviews: TV

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Dear Blog,

Long time, no posts. I hope you aren’t angry with me. I haven’t updated you in three months. Your lack of activity coincides with the arrival of Titus. Titus happens to be the Kindle I got for Christmas…

As much as I love the smell of new books and the feel of paper, it’s convenient to be able to borrow books from the library at 2 AM in the morning. Here’s a list of everything I’ve read on Titus so far (in order of reading):

  • The Duchess War — Courtney Milan
  • Viscount Vagabond — Loretta Chase
  • When Patty Went to College — Jean Webster
  • The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Cecil B. Hartley
  • The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Florence Hartley
  • The Heiress Effect — Courtney Milan
  • A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong — Cecilia Grant
  • To Catch A Heiress — Julia Quinn
  • The Romance of Lust — Anonymous
  • The Countess Conspiracy — Courtney Milan
  • The Actress and the Rake – Carola Dunn
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown — G.K. Chesterton
  • Songs of Innocence and Experience — William Blake
  • Lord Roworth’s Reward — Carola Dunn
  • Captain Ingram’s Inheritance — Carola Dunn
  • The Devil’s Delilah — Loretta Chase
  • The Good Soldier — Ford Madox Ford

 

Archer and Rin are ready to crack some skulls.

2. Aside from reading too much, I’ve managed to start and catch up with a couple of anime series:

  • Baby Steps (an unfortunately named series, yet interesting in its own way. Prior knowledge of tennis not required)
  • Carnival Phantasm (oh my god the sugar rush of fan service)
  • Knights of Sidonia (a good bit of science fiction)

I also finished the first season of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. I’m looking forward to the new season, which starts airing this month. I think it’s superior to the original Fate/Stay Night series. (The prequel Fate/Zero is still my favorite installment of the franchise, though.) 

I don’t watch a lot of western animation, but Adam and I finished The Legend of Korra. We are now currently consuming the fifth season of Archer. Such a depraved lot of characters! I love how Jessica Walter plays pretty much the same mother she was on Arrested Development. 

 

3. For live-action television, I’m ashamed to admit I binge-watched the first season of Broadchurch over one long weekend. That’s eight hours of following the red herrings and trying to fathom the shifty behavior of all the characters. That binge made for one emotionally wrecked weekend! I was so tense my nails bit into my palms, yet I couldn’t stop watching.

Hardy's ready to crack some skulls, too. Right after he takes his medication...

Broadchurch’s second season, which I’m currently watching on BBC America, lacks the  intensity of the first. It does, however, make me think of a new subtitle every week.

(These subtitles have mild spoilers. To read, highlight the text below.)

The Adventure of the Dying Detective

How Ellie Got Her Groove Back

There is Only One Bed

Everybody Lies, thus Danny’s Murderer Will Obviously Get Away with It

OMG Charlotte Rampling Plays a Barrister, I Loved her in Swimming Pool, I Can’t Stop Watching Now 

 

Hardy and Miller’s developing friendship is one of the best elements of the second season. Whenever she gives him a little punch in the arm for doing something stupid, I just have to go “aww.” They have some subtle comic moments, like the scene where Hardy offers Miller a hug and she just gives him the stink eye.

Not enough people give David Tennant the stink eye convincingly, I wonder why it’s so entertaining to watch. Suddenly I miss Donna Noble…

On a side note, I feel like I should make a David Tennant shirt. On one side it will say “The Worst Cop in Britain” and on the reverse, “the Best Doctor in the Universe.” Yeah, that sums up all my David Tennant feelings.

 

Dr. Henry Morgan doesn't crack skulls. He probably collects them. Some of them were probably his friends...

4. Still on the topic of live-action television, Forever continues to hover somewhere between guilty pleasure and good TV. I still believe this show exists to put Ioan Gruffudd in a variety of period costumes. By my reckoning, so far Dr. Henry Morgan has been shown wearing 1) Regency attire, 2) Victorian duds, 3) World War II gear, 4) an early ’80s suit, and 5) his natty modern suits and scarves.

The show’s team must be enamored (like me!) of Gruffudd’s old work: Amazing Grace and Horatio Hornblower. I suppose the man can’t help it if he looks good in a cravat and tight breeches.

Forever has yet to resolve its recurring immortal serial killer problem. Right now, it’s at a strange impasse, and sometimes it doesn’t interest me as much as the murder of the week stuff. I get the feeling the show’s making its mythos up as it goes along, à la The X-Files.

As to rooting for a lost cause, I’ve pretty much given up on Constantine. While some of the episodes were just bloody brilliant, nobody else seems to realize it.

I haven’t watched the last episode on DVR because let’s face it, I just know that the series won’t be renewed and I’ll be left agonizing for years over some unresolved cliffhanger. Gah. Matt Ryan deserves better than this.

Side Comments of the Month XIV: What I Did during my Blogging Hiatus

Side Comments of the Month XIV: What I Did during my Blogging Hiatus

I know I haven’t updated my blog for almost two months. This is when I tell people that 1) living can get into the way of blogging and 2) this is the real reason my blog is called “The Return of Lucky Parking Girl.” I’m always returning from something or somewhere. Sometimes I disappear into a haze of work, without time for contemplation; sometimes I just get lost in the corridors of my mind.

I do find my way back out again.

This amuses me so much.

1. Since I last updated, I spent a couple of weeks in Canada, visiting my boyfriend. We took a road trip to Edmonton, which is a six-hour drive from where he lives. Among the usual things that couples enjoy—superhero movies and Japanese food—we also went to a giant water park, and attended the harvest festival at Fort Edmonton.

I’ve been to Fort Edmonton before and I’ve always thought it to be a charming place. There are tons of other outdoor museums that try to capture the feel of living in the past, but somehow I adore the enthusiasm of the staff at Fort Edmonton.

For instance, we entered one of the smaller houses and found three staff members—in full costume!—slaving away on a 19th century wood-burning stove, arguing about the best way to make their fruit jelly. The girls’ aprons were stained, and their male companion took off his bowler hat. All of them had that caught-in-the-act look on their faces! Full points for verisimilitude.

 

This Constantine needs to smoke more and be less nice. Otherwise, he's a dead ringer for his comic book incarnation, a.k.a. a young Sting in a trench coat.

2. In the past few months, I’ve also gorged on pop culture. My viewing hours seem firmly divided between two genres: animation and live-action shows that feature British guys stranded in America.

For the latter, I’m all caught up with Forever (I’m so glad this is getting a full season, it’s a guilty pleasure) and Constantine (as a Vertigo fan, this show makes me happy; if they ever run out of Hellblazer canon, I hope they consider cameos from Death or Timothy Hunter). I’m a little disappointed that John Oliver went on vacation so early. His show gave me my weekly fix for investigative journalism, so I hate that it’s suddenly taken away from me! I’m not sure if re-watching the salmon cannon in action will make up for it.

Maybe I should just crawl back to Jon Stewart now that he’s finished Rosewater. I doubt if Stephen Colbert will take me back.

For all the animation I’ve watched, re-watched, and caught up to current episodes, here’s a partial list:

  • Steamboy (beautiful but exhausting)
  • Samurai Champloo (a modern classic)
  • Mushishi (Zen poetry and fake folklore, be still my heart)
  • The Legend of Korra (interesting plots)
  • Kill La Kill (good grief fan service)
  • Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (let’s see if this can overcome Fate/Zero as my favorite version of the franchise)

 

A Mansfield Park AU. Based on an old joke that kicked around the Republic of Pemberley for years.

3. I finally finished listening to the ten-part radio drama adaptation of Mansfield Park. Produced by BBC 4 back in 2003, it features two now-famous actors: David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch. Felicity Jones happens to voice Fanny Price, and while she’s not as well-known as the guys, well, maybe The Theory of Everything will change that.

I tend to stay away from Mansfield Park adaptations because, quite frankly, modern writers don’t know what to do with Fanny Price. For instance, the 1999 film version tried to make Fanny a feminist. It also made Tom Bertram a soulful tortured artist, instead of a spoiled heir! I thought it was awful.

So I’m really happy to report that this radio drama is probably the best adaptation so far. All the actors just nailed it. Cumberbatch made such a sweetly befuddled Edmund Bertram while Jones just had the delicacy to give life to Fanny, who retains all her hesitation and shrinking violet tendencies.

Given the limitations of the medium, Fanny has new lines and scenes that don’t appear in the book. (For instance, she tries to comfort both Julia and Maria during their romantic disappointments, only to be rebuffed.) While I feel that book-Fanny was wholly incapable of reaching out to her snobby cousins like that, compared to the changes made in the 1999 film, I think it still worked out.

Tom Bertram’s role is also expanded in this version. I suppose the writers thought it an awful waste if they didn’t give David Tennant more speaking lines. (I originally wondered why they didn’t cast him as Henry Crawford, but James Callis did a bang-up job with that role. He just oozed with charm and sleaze.)

In any case, Tennant played Tom with a jaunty bounce in his voice; during the “Lovers’ Vows” rehearsals, he just kept stealing the show. His scene near the end—where he confesses his “sins” to Edmund—was also quite touching.

So, yeah. If you want to listen to this adaptation, it can be downloaded right here. You can thank me later.

Side Comments of the Month X

Side Comments of the Month X

1. I’m a firm believer in serendipity. So when I get unexpected invitations to book launchings, I go. Last week’s chance event was Kate Perry’s book launch at the Presidio Social Club.

I’m usually shy around absolute strangers—especially in a tightly knit crowd—but the atmosphere was warm and accommodating. Kate and her team made me feel at ease at once! I haven’t started reading her book, Say You Will, but it’s now in queue on my “to read” shelf.

I met some fabulous people like Regency romance author Sara Ramsey, who just kept me in stitches. I had a good time and I can’t wait for more events like this to come my way.

 

2. Adam and I just finished the latest South Park three-episode arc. It’s a fine skewering of Black Friday, HBO’s A Game of Thrones, and the never-ending video game console wars.

I always adore South Park episodes that have the kids role-playing. It’s amusing to watch Stan and Kyle in medieval attire, debating the merits of the Xbox One versus PlayStation 4. This arc doesn’t surpass the brilliance of Imaginationland, but it tries hard. The social commentary has a clean bite.

In these episodes, Eric Cartman channels his inner Littlefinger while Kenny unleashes his love for blonde braids. Kenny’s newest incarnation as magical princess Kenny is the polar opposite of his other alter ego, Mysterion. I don’t know which alter ego I like better.

 

An example of the film's beautiful symmetry. And I'm not referring to Christian Bale's cheekbones, either.

3. When the weather is temperamental, nothing compares to curling up on the sofa and watching a guilty pleasure on Netflix. So over the weekend, I found myself watching Equilibrium (2002) again.

I’ve had a thing for Christian Bale forever (trust me to have a crush on him since Empire of the Sun). Sure, I loved him as Batman, but his portrayal of John Preston brings on the giggles and the glee. The look of consternation on his face when he first holds a puppy is priceless.

Equilibrium has many hammy moments, and maybe mixing guns and martial arts is an idea that the Mythbusters should debunk. I don’t know. I think these elements are balanced out with the film’s beautiful shots and immaculate symmetry.

Among dystopian movies, Equilibrium not as bleak as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or as hip as The Hunger Games. Still, I re-watch this film when I want to see Christian Bale kill as many opponents as possible. He never disappoints.

Side Comments of the Month IX

Side Comments of the Month IX

My current books for review, courtesy of San Francisco Book Review and Penguin USA.

1) I have no idea how I landed on the Penguin Books marketing list but I was stoked they sent me a preview copy of Nora Roberts’ latest book, Dark Witch. It was absolute serendipity. The day before the book arrived, I was staring at all the Roberts novels in the Berkeley Public Library, puzzled over which book I should check out first. But getting a free book solved my little conundrum!

I wish I knew who to thank for this unexpected treat. Since I don’t, I will just say this: thank you, anonymous person at Penguin USA, for putting me on your mailing list. I want you to know I am an absolute sucker for free books.

 

 

The awesome Ender's Game poster by Martin Ansin.

2) This weekend, I watched Ender’s Game with my ten-year old nephew. As one of those books I felt was unfilmable when I first read it, I checked it out mainly to satisfy my curiosity. The adaptation shifts many things about but it’s a perfectly satisfying science fiction film. I liked it. I’m glad I didn’t stay away just because Orson Scott Card is Not a Nice Person. Some days I do manage to convince myself that yes, “the author is dead.”

I was relieved that most of the controversial scenes in the book were toned down and that the ages of the characters were adjusted. Like the adaptations of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, Ender’s Game would have been impossible to film if they stuck to the original ages. (Ten year-old Kirsten Dunst played the six-year old vampire Claudia; a fourteen-year old Maisie Williams first played nine-year old murderer Arya Stark. At the start of Card’s novel, Ender is six.) I think Asa Butterfield did a good job as Ender Wiggins, a child with a fragile psyche and the instincts of a killer.

When I read the book, I really loved the idea of a mind-controlled video game. I don’t know what I was expecting but the filmmakers visualized the game well. While I was disappointed that Valentine didn’t have enough screen time, with so many scenes toned down or cut for a PG-13 rating, it was inevitable that some subplots would be discarded, too.

On a fangirl note, Asa Butterfield has the most intense blue eyes I’ve seen on the large screen since Elijah Wood first wore hobbit feet.

 

A Space Brothers manga cover by Chuya Koyama.

3) I haven’t seen Gravity yet but two other fictional astronauts have kept me at the edge of my comfy chair. Adam and I got totally sucked into the ongoing anime series, Space Brothers (2012). Its Japanese title is Uchuu Kyoudai.

The Nanba brothers, Mutta and Hibito, love space exploration so much that they do goofy things like trace the progress of the International Space Station and look for UFOs. As kids, they both swore that they go into outer space. As adults, though, only one brother is on the road to reach his goal… until the other one gets a huge wake-up call, and becomes hell-bent on catching up.

Space Brothers is set a few decades into the future so some of the technology feels like pure science fiction. Yet I can’t doubt the rigorous training for astronauts—both mental and physical—that’s depicted in all its minutiae. From  JAXA to NASA, both Mutta and Hibito jump through hoops just for a shot at their shared dream.

While sometimes heavy-handed with extolling the virtues of scientific discovery, the real soul of Space Brothers lies in the strong, complicated bond between the two main characters. They’re always competing and yet they’re always protective of each other. It’s sibling interaction at its best.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the only other series I can think of that depicts such a complex sibling relationship. If you loved that aspect of FMA and can appreciate “info dump” series like Nodame Cantabile and Bakuman, Space Brothers is definitely worth checking out.

 

Side Comments for the Month IV

Side Comments for the Month IV

This represents a fraction of the number of books I've read and skimmed through over the past six months.

1. I might as well come out and say it—I’m writing my first genre novel. I started last October. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come and gone and yet I am still plugging away. I broke the 60,000 word barrier a month ago. Since my personal goal is at least 100,000 words, I have a long way to go.

This is a huge achievement for myself, as all my previous attempts at writing a full-length novel have failed. It’s easy to get discouraged with a personal project when one doesn’t have much self-confidence. I hope I just didn’t jinx myself with announcing this project!

Progress on this current project has been slow since I’ve been eagerly reading up on 19th century history, social customs, and language. As a reader, anachronisms are a major pet peeve of mine, so I think I am going completely overboard with research. I started a database of archaic words and idioms, in the hopes it gives my depiction of the era more credibility.

I actually suffered a bit of a setback recently. In the middle of fact-checking, I found out a natural calamity occurred in the neighborhood where my novel is set. It infuriated me that I hadn’t known about it before. After a few days of seething, I got back to work and decided to scrap two entire chapters. It’s gotten to the point I can almost laugh about it. At the time I really felt like banging my head against the wall.

Littlefinger and his kitten companion plot world domination via AU fanfics. Tumblr, fire your engines.

2. Adam and I have finished The Wire. Now, the next time I watch Game of Thrones I am going to be thinking, Damn it, Carcetti, you used to be my favorite political sleazeball, now you’re just the sleazeball that let me down.

When we started watching, Adam told me that Aidan Gillen acts more like Littlefinger in The Wire than he does in Game of Thrones. Perhaps this statement will not make sense to anyone who hasn’t read all the G.R.R. Martin novels yet, but really, it must be seen to be believed. (He certainly wins my vote for having the cutest animal companion on an IMDB page.)

Anyway, season five was amazing. The ending was absolutely satisfying—even the heart-breaking moments were good. Most of the loose ends were tied up, and almost everyone who mattered—whether it was in season one or season four—came back for one last scene, whether it was in a montage or a cameo. I know it’s a hipster thing to fawn all over The Wire but the show does have incredible writing and plotting. If I had watched it while it was airing on TV, I probably wouldn’t have had the patience to wait week after week. But seeing it marathon-style was a schooling in crime fiction writing.

And McNulty, I’m through talking to you. I rooted for you and you broke my little fangirl heart.

An Instragram snapshot of the exhibit.

3. Two weeks ago, I went downtown with my sister and our friend Mabel to check out the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the Asian Art Museum.

The warriors they had on display were larger than I thought they would be. I do not think they are equal to the size of Chinese males living during that era. The warriors had large, beefy hands, too, which I found absurd. Nevertheless, everything else about them was impeccable, from their hairlines to their armor.

Some of the figures still had traces of their original finish. While there were colored simulations of how the warriors must have appeared when they were first made, I actually prefer them with their current muted shades. I grew up with that mental image, so the idea they were originally painted garish colors seems an anathema to me. I first encountered their original coloring in a recent copy of National Geographic. I haven’t gotten used to it.

Aside from the warriors, the exhibit also showcased many gold and brass ornaments, some still covered with thick layers of patina. The real stand-out among these objects were the horses.

Now, I do not consider myself a horse person. As a child, I didn’t go through that classic “I want a pony” stage. The last time I was impressed with a horse, it was a beautiful ceramic specimen I saw in the Art Institute of Chicago. But those terracotta horses. Jesus Christ! Their craftsmanship made my jaw drop. They are beautiful and majestic, and they looked great from every angle. If it was possible, I would prostrate myself in front of the artisans who made those horses and asked to be made their unpaid apprentice.

The exhibit ends on May 27, so there is still time to catch it. If you are in the area, please check it out. Go for the warriors, but stay for the horses. It might be easier than flying to China.

A promotional still for Parade's End. Courtesy of BBC and HBO.

4. I also finished watching HBO-BBC’s new mini-series, Parade’s End. I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch will ever get tired of wearing top hats and World War I uniforms, because he seems so well-suited to the Edwardian era.

I’ve never read any Ford Madox Ford or Edith Wharton, but Parade’s End reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993). The geographic and temporal settings differ but they both involve male leads who are just dying to commit adultery. Yet due to their own scruples and sense of honor, they can’t seem to bring themselves to do the deed.

The main difference may be the women they are thinking of cheating on. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is married to a saintly wife, while Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) is shackled to the most manipulative, unfaithful bitch in London—she’s like a flapper version of Cersei Lannister. Have I said too much?

I enjoyed Parade’s End—it’s not for the impatient or those who dislike subtlety—but then I also happen to love that historical era. There’s not much in the way of fan service—Mr. Cumberbatch only takes off his shirt in the fifth episode—so if you are looking for cheap thrills, you need to look elsewhere.

For Cabin Pressure fans, there’s an added kick: Roger Allam (the guy who plays Douglas) shows up at a commanding officer in the last episodes. Every time he popped up on screen, I kept thinking, “why do I know that voice?” And then something on TV Tropes clarified it all for me. (Ye gads, Douglas outranks Martin once more! My mind is blown!) After that realization, all it needed was John Finnemore as a subservient batman. Now that would have turned Parade’s End into something incredibly surreal. I’m glad the BBC held off on that.

Side Comments of the Month III

Side Comments of the Month III

There is a mild spoiler for Life of Pi in this post. To read it, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

1. My annual winter visit to Saskatoon resulted in the consumption of a lot of mass media, including thirteen manga volumes of Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s Neon Genesis Evangelion, some re-reading of Calvin and Hobbes, and a bunch of other books.

Detective McNulty knows exactly what the f*ck he did. An HBO poster.

Since Adam is taking a course on HBO’s The Wire (2002), I “helped” him with homework and watched seasons one to three. I haven’t followed a police procedural since I weaned myself off CSI: New York, so it was engrossing. Why did I spend the 2000s watching Tony Soprano in therapy when I could have been ogling following the clues with Detective McNulty? It boggles the mind.

2. I also caught two vastly different films this month. Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained has lots of blood and exploding guts. Christoph Waltz should be declared a national treasure and Leonardo DiCaprio needs to play more villainous roles. Their performances are riveting, so once they were off-screen I was less interested. I feel this weird urge to apologize to Jamie Foxx, who did a great job. The last act of the film just felt too long.

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is a lovely bit of cinema. I overheard one woman in the theatre calling it “Hollywood artistic,” a phrase I found amusing if yet degrading. Life of Pi certainly seems more accessible to a larger audience than Ang Lee’s other films like Lust, Caution or The Wedding Banquet (which I both loved, by the way), but it doesn’t make it any less ambitious. I usually hate 3D but there was nothing quite like seeing an entire zoo drowning in a turbulent ocean.

Maybe I’m just biased, I have a soft spot for any director who has the balls to tell Emma Thompson to “stop looking so old.” Ang Lee must have balls of steel!

I digress, though. It was entirely fitting for me to watch Life of Pi in Saskatoon, since Yann Martel is probably the most popular contemporary novelist who lives there.

3. The restaurants in Saskatoon continue to be great. For such a small city, there are so many good places to eat. While I didn’t get to each brunch at Poached again, Adam did take me to The Rook and Raven twice. I like it there. We also revisited Truffles Bistro, because nothing says Canada like French cuisine.

4. Now that I don’t have to get on another plane for a couple of months, I think I can start listening to the new season of BBC Radio 4′s Cabin Pressure. Every time I mentally dubbed the pilots Douglas and Martin, the plane I was riding would be subject to some freak delay—like frost on the wings in SFO, one of the largest airports in the world without anti-frost equipment. “Douglas” cheerfully informed us passengers that wings frosting over in San Francisco happens once a decade. I’m dead sure “Martin” refused to fly until the sun came out. This resulted in a three-hour delay that made me miss my connecting flight.

Moral of the story: do not dub any real pilots Douglas or Martin! None of them look like Benedict Cumberbatch, anyway.

Side Comments for the Month II

Side Comments for the Month II

1. I am ashamed to say that my book backlog is piling up with no end in sight. While wading through research on nineteenth century history, I am also concurrently reading Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka in Love and Jorge Amado’s The Discovery of America by the Turks. I’m studying for my finals, too.

In the midst of this mental over-exertion, I was lucky to receive a complete set of Dream of the Red Mansions for free. My copy editing class had a field trip to Sinomedia, a San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in Chinese and Asian titles. While touring their facilities, I had a nerdgasm because they had stuff like a hardbound boxed set of the complete Lu Xun.

So many books, so little time.

Chinese literature happens to be a frustration of mine since my university days, when I was unable to take the survey course on the topic due to scheduling conflicts. The literature department never offered the class again, either—for someone who took six units of Chinese language, it was unbelievably infuriating. (I decided on Chinese because all the hip cats were taking Japanese for their language requirements.)

Since those days I’ve managed to read some of the classics in translation on my own—Journey to the West, the Tao Te Ching, the short stories by Lu Xun, and a lovely poetry anthology edited by Wai-lim Yip. (I also have an anthology edited by Cyril Birch but I prefer Yip’s translations for some of the overlapping material.)

Despite these forays, my sense of self-education always felt incomplete because I hadn’t tackled Dream of the Red Mansions. Also known as Dream of the Red Chamber, it is one of the four masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. I felt that if I was worth my salt as a student of Asian literature, I just had to read it. (A similar moment occurred after taking the survey class on Japanese literature, when my professor announced we would not tackle the entire Tale of Genji. I’m proud to say I read that on my own too, even if some of the hip cats sneered at me for the effort. I was told by these well-meaning types that “real” Japanese kids don’t bother with it. I thought this was a ridiculous argument for being too lazy to even try.)

Good intentions aside, a complete, unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber proved difficult to find in Manila back then. So you can imagine my disbelief and excitement when I was presented with these volumes last week! Just receiving these copies ends an on-and-off search that started in the late 90s.

As soon as I can concentrate on it, I will definitely sink my teeth into these books. I hope I am up to this challenge.

 

A low-res shot from up front.

2. In more news of Things I Should Have Experienced Fifteen Years Ago, my sister and I watched the Toad the Wet Sprocket gig in San Francisco and it was a satisfying musical experience. I was happy that the audience wasn’t terribly geriatric, like the time I watched Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy, not the SF Giant.)

A local band called Luce opened for them and I think they were the best front act for me to encounter all year. Toad played through the entire Dulcinea album and I was ecstatic to hear Stupid, Nanci, and Windmills live after all this time. Even at the height of their popularity, I don’t think Toad even toured Asia. Back then I resigned myself to never seeing one of my favorite bands… and this was even before they broke up. It’s nice that they got back together again, and more importantly, they are in the middle of writing and recording new material.

If you wish to live vicariously, Toad recorded some tracks from their San Francisco gigs and it’s available for digital download over here. All proceeds from the EP will be going to Amnesty International, if you care about those things. So please don’t be an ass and try to pirate the EP, okay?

At the gig I picked up Glen Phillip’s Coyote Sessions. I’ve been following Glen’s solo career since Abulum and a new release is always a welcome addition to my iTunes. I’ve given the entire CD a couple of listens and my favorite tracks are “Still Carrying You” and “The Song is Still Here.”

 

3. On the anime manga front (can there be such a secret organization in existence… The United Anime-Manga Front? Instead of Internationale their theme song will be Fly Me to the Moon and its card-carrying members will wave red flags featuring the profiles of Hayao Miyazaki and Totoro? My imagination is running away with me on this cold afternoon…)

As I was trying to say before I interrupted myself, Adam and I finished Ergo Proxy and revisited Baccano!, courtesy of the official Funimation channel on YouTube.

A DVD cover for Ergo Proxy featuring Vincent Law.

Ergo Proxy was all sorts of confusing. Each subsequent episode left me slacked-jawed and mumbling strange things to myself. As far dystopian science fiction goes, it’s a competent, elegant series, as soon as I had all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot firmly in my head. It’s not a series to watch in the midst of a debilitating depression or if you have the attention span of a goldfish.

Baccano!, of course, is famous for its skewered nonlinear storytelling — it hopscotches all over the place. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of time to re-watch a series, but Baccano! is one of those odd gifts that keeps on giving.

On a meta level, this time around nothing quite gave me the giggles as much as imagining Ichigo Kurosaki delivering Claire Stanfield’s lines. Graham Specter’s ridiculous declarations became more tolerable when I imagined Kyon delivering them to Haruhi Suzumiya, too. (Perhaps I should stop looking up voice actors and all the various roles they’ve had.)

Lastly, we are in the middle of watching the time-traveling series Stein;s Gate. I admit I got curious about this series due to this fan video. So far, the worst thing about it is its blatant misuse of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, the lab-coated main characters are adorably paranoid and madcap. I hope it continues to be satisfying.  Nothing is more infuriating than a good concept marred with a muddled, prolonged end (Eden of the East, I’m looking at you.)

 

4. I don’t know if I will find the time or energy to send postcards this year. In case I don’t write at length again in the coming days, happy holidays, everyone! I hope everybody I like (and a few I don’t) gets stuffed with food, drunk on spirits, and manage to do lots of silly things they will regret the next morning. That’s really the best I can hope for everyone.

Review: Dumbledore as a Detective

Review: Dumbledore as a Detective

While going through the DVD section of the Berkeley Public Library, I lucked out and found Michael Gambon in ITV’s Maigret (1992-1993). Since the mental image of Dumbledore as a detective earlier captured my imagination, I just had to borrow it.

I’ve been watching the twelve episodes all out-of-order since not all of the DVDs are available at the same time. Still, I have to say that the series is a perfectly corking bit of work. Gambon’s expressive voice is crisp even if the video quality (alas!) is not.

Gambon makes an excellent Jules Maigret, whether he’s chasing criminals or the freshest seafood and local wines. Gambon just makes it seem natural that a French Chief Inspector should speak so authoritatively in English.

Screen captures from the first episode. Images from Granada Television.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading some Simenon, but not enough to make me a hardcore fan. This adaptation brings to life all the minor officers in the books, from Sergeant Lucas to all the young detectives who flock to Maigret for mentoring. Madame Maigret was cast a bit younger than how I mentally pictured her, but the actress does well so I have no complaints.

From the six episodes I’ve seen, my favorite is currently “Maigret’s Boyhood Friend.” Edward Petherbridge is excellent as the sleazy Leon Florentin, whose been living off his mistress and the cash gifts of her four other lovers. Of course when the woman is murdered, Maigret spends a lot of time wondering if his loser buddy is the real killer!

I know Petherbridge mostly from his romantic portrayal of one of my favorite detectives—Lord Peter Wimsey—so I couldn’t help from sniggering with joy with his character in this episode. He’s such a good, solid British actor, I hope I can dig out more of his work.

Hitting two birds with one stone—surveillance work and eating well.

Now, some mystery lovers insist there are only two types of fans: the hardboiled and the cozies, and never shall the two types mingle. It’s rather silly, seeing how much I love the genre.

In my mind, the Maigret books represent the beginnings of contemporary police procedurals. Here’s a guy who’s not an amateur genius, but an honest, working man of the official police. He’s not a Golden Age silly ass with arcane habits and hobbies. Yet he’s also not a cynical private eye who boozes up in speakeasies with double-crossers and corrupt cops.

Upright but not uptight, Maigret is the kind of police officer whom you’d actually want to live across your street. Michael Gambon plays the character so well, I almost wish he hunted out bad guys for real—especially when the bad guys turn out to be murderous little grannies.

Series Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Series Review: Pride and Prejudice (1995)

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on November 13, 2008.

 

I just finished watching the BBC mini-series version of Pride and Prejudice (1995). I borrowed it from Paul, who shares my passion for Jane Austen. Is anyone else interested in watching Colin Firth go all ga-ga over Jennifer Ehle? Damn, the eye sex between Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet was so intense I thought my laptop was going to burst into flames.

Jennifer Erhe and Colin Firth, ignoring each other. A BBC image.

So did I enjoy it? Yeah. Is it better than the others? Hmm. Read on.

It’s not the first adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I’ve seen, of course. I first read the novel in grade six and I’m a rather jaded Janeite. I already had high expectations since the hardcore fans at the Republic of Pemberley seem to like this version best.

I knew it had to be better than the 1940 film version starring Laurence Olivier. *heavy shudders* Oh, that godawful tripe! The story was highly compressed, the era was completely wrong—damn it, Elizabeth shouldn’t be wearing Victorian hoops!—and all the Bennet sisters get husbands in a patchy ending. Ugh.

What I found adorable about this version was its fidelity to the text. It devoted many scenes to Wickham’s friendship with Elizabeth, which is hardly touched upon in the 2005 film version starring Keira Knightley. It was great in delineating Lydia’s unconscious descent into folly, and it took great pains to show Elizabeth’s relationship with her eccentric father and her friendship with the Gardiners. (In Patricia Meyer Spacks’s The Female Imagination, she mentions that the Gardiners are the only stable, mature relationship in the novel. So I find it nice to see them portrayed decently. They are usually reduced to bit parts.)

And Mr. Darcy. Oh, Mr. Darcy. No wonder Bridget Jones’s Diary was written. I wonder if Jane Austen would have wanted so much screen time spent on her most famous male lead. The script pandered to its female audience by devoting many scenes to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy, trying to shed light on the hidden aspects of his character. Fencing practice? Check. Swimming half-naked? Check. Strange flashbacks where he shows up in Elizabeth’s mirrors? Check. I found the last bit a little too much for my taste. I’d love to marry Mr. Darcy myself, but no ghostly apparitions, please. Matthew Macfadyen may be the most yummy Mr. Darcy, but Colin Firth is more… combustible?

And a word on Mr. Collins. Oh God. That has to be the creepiest Mr. Collins I’ve ever encountered! It was not just his ugly comb-over either—it was the combination of pompous buffoonery and lecherous glares. It was like a strange mixture of Wormtail and Padre Salvi.

I didn’t watch this to compare versions but it’s almost impossible not to do so. If you ask me how much better I like it better than the 2005 film version, I’m going to hem and haw about it. The Janes were both sweetly angelic, the Lady Katherines were both menacing, and the Marys and Kittys all ridiculous in their own ways.

It’s difficult to say which version is superior. Both adaptations wanted to go to completely different places in the audience’s mind. The 2005 film captured the romance and imagination of Elizabeth Bennet’s wit, humor, and self-doubt. I loved the film for strange things, like Elizabeth’s swing being kept near the pigs and, oh dear, Mr. Darcy drenched in the rain, and Mr. Bingley’s awkwardly endearing proposal…

But the 1995 miniseries has so many good moments, too. Maybe it all boils down to how much time you have? If you only have a passing interest in Jane Austen and two hours to spare, I suggest the Keira Knightley film. If you’re a bit more patient and want to know exactly why Colin Firth has a huge female fan base, the miniseries is the place to start. It’s debatable whether he’s the definitive Mr. Darcy, but he sure does has a pair of fine eyes.