Category Archives: Side Comments

Thirty Days from Now…

Thirty Days from Now…

Thirty days from now, I’m getting married. I’m excited and scared and hopeful, all at the same time. It’s going to be a quiet civil ceremony—just my immediate family and the judge will be there. Adam sees this moment more as a legality, the prelude to the joint clan celebration we have planned for Mexico next year.

As a woman whose life has been plagued with legalities and little pieces of paper, though, it’s been nerve-racking. A little piece of paper earmarked me as an American, even if I’ve lived most of my life outside the country. During my childhood, some family members sued each other—just a little matter of fraud and disinheritance, due to forged little pieces of paper. Now little pieces of papers tell me I can’t be in the same country as my husband-to-be, unless we get more little pieces of paper to supersede everything else.

Little pieces of paper are the very devil.

Despite all my anxiety, I’m still giddy. So many things are going to change. I’ve spent too many hours contemplating my new name and my new byline (Rachel Anne Epp? Rachel Calabia-Epp? Rachel Anne M.C. Epp? Rachel McEpp?) and looking for shoes that fit (winter fashions aren’t kind to brides looking for white close-toe heels.) I can’t concentrate on anything for long before my mind reverts to bridal details, and the word count for my novel has dwindled to nothingness.

It’s almost impossible to craft a happy ending for my long-suffering characters when I’m trying to get to my happy beginning.

Did I just type that? Oh God, shoot me now. I hate it when I wallow in clichés.

 

2. There are so many other things I wanted to talk about but I always feel as if I’m running out of time. It’s been months since I wrote any new entries for this blog, and I feel as my pop culture backlog has become a monster. I’ve wanted to discuss so many things:

  • the first two seasons of Hiromu Arakawa’s awesome Silver Spoon
  • the current episodes of One Punch Man
  • recurring character tropes in Rumiko Takahashi (sorry, I just started watching Inuyasha with my nephew)
  • the second season of Knights of Sidonia (good grief why is this show so messed up?)
  • RIPPER STREET <3 (all caps are necessary because this show is great)
  • ZOMG David Tennant’s evil stalker with a crush in Jessica Jones

Also, my list of unanswered romance writer novel questions keeps growing:

  • Does Julia Quinn have better book sales when her books have one deflowering scene vis-a-vis those with multiple sex scenes? (no seriously, this is an important question)
  • When is Courtney Milan going to write another historical?
  • Will Marion Chesney’s backlist on Kindle ever go on sale?
  • In historical romance quartets, why does one book always feature a rape survivor? Like, seriously. It’s annoyingly predictable. It’s usually the third book in the series. Why does the traumatized ice queen heroine always have to be a secret rape survivor? There are other physical and emotional traumas to write.

I think it’s unfair that the heroes get an infinite variety of traumas to overcome. Usually it’s PTSD and gentlemanly limps but I’ve also encountered:

  • blindness (Theresa Medeiros’s Yours Until Dawn)
  • sensory issues (an old Amanda Quick novel whose title I can’t recall) 
  • mental illness (Loretta Chase’s The Mad Earl’s Bride
  • illiteracy (one of the recurring male characters in Anne Gracie’s Devil Riders Quartet) 
  • dyslexia (Miranda Neville’s Confessions of an Arranged Marriage, Julia Quinn’s The Lost Duke of Wyndham

I have yet to read any historical romance in which the heroine suffers and overcomes these things!

(Incidentally, I listed some examples beside each affliction. Highlighting the titles might spoil the plot of the novels, though.)

Perhaps it’s time for someone to write a Regency romance in which the wallflower debutante had a childhood accident with a hand axe and she now suffers from phantom limb pain. The hero, a secret rape survivor, must find the proper way to waltz with her when she doesn’t have a hand to gracefully drape over his shoulder.

Yeah, I’d read that.

 

3. I don’t know when it’s going to happen but in a couple of months, I’m also going to revamp this blog and probably get a new domain name, something that will reflect my new coupled status. Adam used to have a blog, and once we’re married I’d love to him to start writing random things again. We used to write random things together. Obviously, if we do that now, the current title of this blog will have to go. I’m still wracking my brains for a clever new name. Hmm… It’s difficult to think of something all-encompassing, he might alternate between Legend of Zelda fanboy rants and scholarly discussions on Charles Dickens, you know? Between my anime observations and historical romance stuff, it might be a cornucopia of crazy. (But a good kind of crazy.)

Anyway, what ever happens to the future name, design, and content of this blog, please wish us luck on our new journey.

 

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 XIII

Side Comments of the Month XIII

All children need a sweater with their names emblazoned in large letters.

1. You know why I like HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver? Because here’s a show that talks about everything a week late, and it makes absolutely no apologies about it. In this speed-obsessed world, oh my God, I have found a kindred spirit.

The show seems designed not to butt heads with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Last Week Tonight is a weekly show; it deals more with international politics; there hasn’t been a celebrity guest promoting a new book. As an occasional Daily Show fan, this is great. I don’t need to divide my loyalties.

I love Oliver’s outsider view of American politics. It’s amusing that it takes a British comedian to tell an American audience what half the world already knows: “Hey, you guys, you aren’t the center of the universe. Really.” I enjoyed his insightful background on the Indian elections and his insinuations that Pom Wonderful Juice is made with Pomeranians. (The cheeky corporate response can be seen here.) In less than two months, the show has tackled everything from the death penalty to dictators with mommy issues.

Alas, his teeth are awful, his hair is sometimes unkempt, but oh, he does have nice dimples. Not convinced yet? As part of the show, John Oliver also posts silly things on Twitter, like this photo.

 

2. I really miss Space Brothers. Every time Saturday rolls around, I torture myself with the thought, “Will there be an episode tonight?” and the answer is always a resounding no. I can’t remember when an anime hiatus bummed me out so much, mainly because I’m not used to watching an ongoing series.

Ginko smokes too much.

As a consolation prize, every week there’s a new Mushishi episode, and that’s great. The second season of Mushishi started broadcast in Japan last April. It’s amazing  that there’s a seven-year gap between the first and second seasons. Can you imagine a live-action series with a seven-year hiatus? Me neither.

Mushishi focuses on a myriad of supernatural creatures called mushi. Mushi can mimic the abilities or needs of “normal” life forms but they are invisible to most sentient beings. Most mushi can cause major havoc when distressed or disturbed.

Ginko, a white-haired, chain-smoking itinerant medicine man, spends his time researching the various mushi. Ginko’s the only main character and he’s usually a passive observer, when large themes like love, betrayal, death, and disfigurement unfold along the Japanese countryside. The mushi often acts as catalyst to emotions already brewing in the hearts of normal men and women; Ginko’s just there to document the action.

Mushishi is sometimes tranquil, sometimes terrifying, but it’s always thought-provoking. Even the unsettling parts of Mushishi have a calm, dream-like quality to it. I can imagine lots of people being bored out of their skulls with Mushishi. But I like it.

 

Artwork by HBO illustrator Robert Ball. See more of his gorgeous work at beautifuldeath.com.

3. As usual, I’m not going to comment on the latest Game of Thrones episode. I’m going to observe, however, that George R.R. Martin and HBO are now a rare Western example of the “Overtook the Manga” trope. This happens when a television show’s ongoing production is moving faster than the writing of the original material. A show facing this predicament has limited options: create filler arcs, go into alternate continuity, or stop production in order to be a faithful adaptation.

Game of Thrones is simply too popular to stop production. As a live-action series with a cast that ages in real time, this is simply unthinkable. By revealing the plot points (and possibly the ending) of his unfinished novels to the series writers, George R.R. Martin pulled off a Hiromu Arakawa. I’m relieved and excited Martin did this, so the show can keep to their schedule and wrap up ahead of his publication timetable.

(For those unfamiliar with Hiromu Arakawa, she’s the mangaka behind Fullmetal Alchemist. She knew that production on the anime series would go faster than the manga, because FMA was a monthly title. It was gutsy for her to reveal the entire plot of her unfinished series to an entire production crew. What if they “spoiled” it for her readers? What if they didn’t respect her thematic vision?

For FMA, Arakawa’s gamble paid off. The animators decided to create their own arch-enemy and the ending of the first adaptation has a starkly different conclusion than Arakawa’s manga. They killed off characters and created new ones yet somehow managed to keep the flavor of the franchise. I don’t know how many people still love the first anime adaptation but when it first came out, it was pretty damn good.)

Right now, no one can predict where or how A Game of Thrones is going to go. It already has padded out scenarios for some of the main characters. The next seasons will definitely blend book canon, filler, and perhaps some ludicrous leg-pulls. Now knowing Martin’s plot, will HBO pull off a good pragmatic adaptation? Will it just completely fuck everything up? After the show is done, will Martin just turn around and say, “damn it, that’s not what I told them”?

Has anyone else realized that if George R.R. Martin dies now, in situ, the HBO ending might be the only closure millions of readers will ever get?

I repeat: I’m both relieved and excited. I’m also terrified.

Side Comments of the Month XII

Side Comments of the Month XII

I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since my last post. Bad blogger. Bad, bad, blogger. The weeks have been tough, with me getting a bad case of strep throat. Before I fully recovered from that, I got rear-ended in my first accident in three years. I could say more about this but I feel oddly reticent. I also don’t want to harp on the horrible things. So onwards with the good:

1. I got free books again, and lo, none of them are romance novels: The Moon Sisters and Your Perfect Life are YA; Dark Eden and Fiend are science fiction; Numbercruncher is a graphic novel; The Art of Castlevania is a companion book to a video game; and The Luminaries is an award-winning literary novel.

To be perfectly honest I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to read these texts! If I made time for all the books I wanted to read, I would live forever and never get any sleep.

 

2. Remember the time when I said I only cared about Doctor Who when it affects my friends? I swallow my pride and take it all back. As much as I hate to appear inconsistent, yeah, I pretty much like Doctor Who now, or at least I like it enough to try watching the episodes in order. I used to watch half an episode all the time, mostly when David Tennant’s crazy eyes would get a close-up.

My eleven-year old nephew (ever the completist) recently borrowed the 1996 TV movie and I found Paul McGann adorable. So now I find myself binge-watching Christopher Ecceleston’s episodes, and suddenly all the stuff that I didn’t understand in the 50th anniversary episode makes sense. Yup, my nephew dragged me to watch that at the cinema too.

Perhaps this is a case of fandom by Stockholm syndrome. It’s okay. At least it’s not Pokemon or Twilight. There are just some bandwagons that should never be boarded.

 

3. Speaking of bandwagons, I’d comment on the latest episode of Game of Thrones except I have nothing new to add to that conversation, except a gleeful die Joffrey die

I also have to say, I was quite underwhelmed with Margaery’s necklace. Is that the best King’s Landing had to offer? I don’t think much of their jewelry shops, then. Sansa and Cersei had better bling. Maybe there’s a missing scene where Cersei hoards all the good jewelry for herself?

 

4. Since Space Brothers is on hiatus, I’ve returned to my roots and I’m now on my biennial Honey and Clover kick.

I first watched this series in 2007 and it’s been a perennial favorite for me to re-watch and re-read. With only twenty-four episodes and ten comic book volumes, Honey and Clover may seem like an easy read, but it’s full of unfulfilled longing, with equal parts of humor and melancholy.

Of course it’s about five friends in art school who don’t know what they are doing with their lives.

Honey and Clover helped me discover Spitz, my favorite J-rock band. It also made me aware of the sub-genre of josei manga, which are comic books written for an older female audience.

When I was in university, everyone was reading Banana Yoshimoto. Looking back, Kitchen, N.P., and Lizard could have easily been written and serialized as a josei manga.

I always worry that Hollywood will discover Honey and Clover and think of making an American adaptation—it’s been a popular franchise in Asia over the past decade, with both film and television adaptations, so I think it’s a matter of time before that happens.

Aside from a live-action Evangelion, this is my anime nerd nightmare because I don’t think the dynamic between the main characters will translate well to another culture. I look at the American remakes of Shall We Dance? and Dragon Ball Z and I just cringe.

So, yeah. Honey and Clover. Don’t let the theme song of the first season throw you off. (It’s the only annoying song on the soundtrack.) This series is brilliant.

Side Comments of the Month XI — Post-Holiday Catch-Up

Side Comments of the Month XI — Post-Holiday Catch-Up

Top row: books courtesy of the SF Book Review and some angels connected with the Young to Publishing Group. Bottom row: gifts from friends and Adam.

 

1. I got another haul of great books this past holiday season. I know I shouldn’t crow that friends and strangers send me books, but damn it, I like big books and I cannot lie. I had to part with so many books when I moved countries, so there’s a pleasure in rebuilding the collection.

These babies are now in my ever-growing Books To Read pile, which still is bigger than my new Books Finished and Now Must Review pile.

 

2. Last week, my family drove to the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation to see the newly opened Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

My nephews spent a lot of time waiting to sit in a real hovercraft while I had silly fun with  the “give your robot facial expressions” terminal. A family friend, Kevin, lamented that Hans Solo trapped in carbonite was nowhere to be seen, aside a ton of Boba Fett-related props. I didn’t even notice these omissions until he mentioned them because there were tons of other cool models. I especially liked Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sweet, scratched-up ride from Episode IV: A New Hope.

Since I was feeling queasy that day, I skipped The Millennium Falcon Experience. I didn’t want to risk throwing up midway. Lots of people at the exhibit were unable to see it too due to limited seats. If you’re planning to visit this exhibit—it runs until February—I highly recommend buying all your tickets online.

 

3. Adam and I just finished watching all the episodes of Rock Lee and his Ninja Pals (also known as Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth). For a gag anime that features tons of cross-dressing and silliness, the last episode had at least three shifts in art styles during a furious fight scene. I think the animators wanted to outdo themselves for the finale! It was unexpected.

This show is the animated equivalent of cotton candy and Pop Tarts. I think I will miss it.

We have now returned to more serious, age-appropriate fare like Mushishi and Space Brothers. 

 

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 of the Month VIII — the Casual Fan Edition

Side Comments of the Month VIII — the Casual Fan Edition

We called it "X-Men Live."

1. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of watching Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, now on its August run at the Berkeley Rep. It never occurred to me that I’d have the opportunity to watch these giants of theatre in action, so I felt incredibly blessed.

The performance went well. At one point Stewart fell flat on the ground and I almost had a heart attack—I wanted to call 911! Thankfully, it was just his character’s drunken stupor. It’s amazing how Stewart still has complete mastery over his body. I know people half his age who don’t.

Several times during the play, Stewart and McKellen sat opposite each other and got all snippy with bon mots. During these moments, I half-expected Billy Crudup to wheel in a glass chess set. No, that didn’t happen. But it would have been cool if it did.

No Man’s Land is a depressing play to watch if you hang out with a) old people, b) alcoholics, c) writers, or d) any combination of the above. Still, I’d watch it all over again in a heartbeat if I could. Hell, I’d probably watch McKellen and Stewart read a phone book out loud, they have so much expression in their voices and their faces.

 

2) I watched two “old” movies, The Hunger Games (2012) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), just in time for their sequels.

Despite my distaste for shaky cam, The Hunger Games was okay. It’s a slick, well-made popcorn movie. Jennifer Lawrence made that film a blockbuster; I think her performance alone sustained my interest.

Incidentally, I know the battle lines are drawn between fans of The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. If anyone is asking, I prefer Battle Royale for its development of minor characters. The other tributes in The Hunger Games do not get the same treatment. The one thing Battle Royale doesn’t have is Jennifer Lawrence.

(I think I am working my way backwards through this trope. In the future, I might tackle The Running Man or The Lord of the Flies.)

A romance with BRAAAINS.

I tend to avoid horror movies so Shaun of the Dead was a pleasant surprise. I think I was worried it wouldn’t entertain me as much as Hot Fuzz (2007). Despite the zombies, Shaun is a sweet romantic comedy. I find the concept so refreshing I might even give Warm Bodies a try now.

Nick Frost plays such a jerk in Shaun—I have to say I agreed with their beleaguered roommate on so many counts—so I’m counting the days to World’s End. I want to know which Nick Frost shows up: “Nice” Nick or “Jerk” Nick.

Of course, I’m also waiting for Martin Freeman to have some speaking lines in a Simon Pegg movie. Martin Freeman is great in comedies.

 

3) Here’s a quasi-serious question for anyone reading this: is it possible to a casual fan nowadays?

I’ve been pondering this question ever since my brother-in-law asked me, “do you know who the new Doctor is, and do we care?”

I could actually answer his question because I lurk nerd sites like i09 and the Mary Sue. I might be crucified for saying so, but I only care about Doctor Who when the show bothers my friends, because I hate to see my Facebook wall explode with nerd rage.

I remember asking my friend Mary Ann, a longtime Doctor Who fan, where to start watching and she was at a complete loss. I think she started watching Doctor Who when she was in her mother’s womb, and for that reason I feel that getting into Doctor Who is like getting into Star Trek: it’s a lifelong commitment. I don’t have that sort of time or energy.

My brother-in-law snorted at this idea. He said he just read some good Doctor Who novels when he was a kid, and he just thought of them as alternative reading material to The Hardy Boys. “It’s possible to like something without going nuts over it,” was the subtext.

That made me remember… I didn’t grow up on the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, I went straight from junior editions of Sherlock Holmes to the complete, unabridged canon when I was twelve. The anecdotes and the conversation may seem pointless, except it illustrates my idea of “lifelong commitment.”

So… is it possible to be a casual fan of anything nowadays? Sometimes I feel it’s impossible, when the internet is booby-trapped with hardcore fans intent on protecting their “turf” and misogynist trolls persist in thinking that fake geek girls exist. What do you think?

Side Comments for the Month VII – the Mindless Violence Edition

Side Comments for the Month VII – the Mindless Violence Edition

There are spoilers for Battle Royale and Hellsing Ultimate in this post. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text with your mouse.

 

The "class photo" from the ending credits of Battle Royale is a disquieting coda to the film.

1. In Things I Should Have Viewed Ten Years Ago, I finally got around to watching Battle Royale (2000) on Netflix. It’s a beautiful movie. Now that’s what I call gratuitous violence done right! It also has just the right amount of gravitas. While watching I tried not to get attached to any of the characters in case I’d have to see their heads blown apart. The massacre in the lighthouse is especially poignant. I was rooting for the guy with the GPS system; unfortunately, he does not survive.

Incidentally, I can’t believe that the mousy male lead, Tatsuya Fujiwara, also plays the villainous Light in the Death Note movies. He will play Shishio Makoto in the upcoming  Rurouni Kenshin sequels, too. I think I need to catch up on my live action film adaptations.   

Going back to Battle Royale, though, the film ends on an optimistic note in spite of its high body count. I haven’t heard good things about the sequel, so I’ll probably won’t touch it. I might check out the novel. But yes, I’d love to see Battle Royale again.

 

2. Adam and I also finished watching Hellsing Ultimate (2006) a few days ago. It’s one of those anime series that I cannot figure out if I liked it or not. It has a lot of objectionable content, ranging from gratuitous amounts of blood to rape (specifically, mind rape and necrophilia.) While I seek out violent entertainment of the Quentin Tarantino variety, I do draw the line at scenes depicting the rape of a murder victim, with the violation carried out in full view of her young daughter. That’s just sick.

Still, objectionable scenes aside, Hellsing’s vampire anti-hero is fun to watch. I never latched on to the sparkly vampire trend so I’m happy that Alucard is a throwback to the old gothic traditions. I do wish, though, that Hellsing Ultimate’s basic plot was more than Vampires versus Immortal Nazis. Nazis can get so tiresome

Hellsing Ultimate reminds me of the second season of Code Geass with its ability to make my eyes roll hard, with such things as the Vatican deploying its secret army of gun-toting priests. There’s also a female character perennially addressed as “Sir” in complete ignorance of the proper forms of address. (That seriously does not make sense. Integra

I like giant robots.

Hellsing is supposed to be the last member of an ancient noble family. Even if she was a marchioness, a viscountess, a baroness, or a baronetess in her own right, she should still be addressed as Lady Hellsing.) Call it nitpicking but a major theme of the story is the love of tradition and the continuity of the social order. A character that’s supposed to uphold these things wouldn’t allow anyone to call her Sir. I know it’s irrational on my part, but this bothers me more than the gun-toting priests!

 

3. Lastly, I caught Pacific Rim with my nephew and my brother-in-law over the weekend. I know it’s not doing well in the United States, but since I am a fan of Stringer Bell I hope it earns most of its money back overseas. Pacific Rim is a great popcorn movie. No heavy cerebral processing is required! The film definitely satisfies the ten-year old boy part of me that wants to see Giant Robots Fight Giant Monsters. I love that my two adopted home cities, Manila and San Francisco, are both destroyed within the first five minutes of the film. 

Pacific Rim probably the closest thing I’ll get to a good live action Neon Genesis Evangelion film. Even if it doesn’t have a whiny Shinji or a tsundere Asuka, I’ll take it.