Tag Archives: HBO

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 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.