Killjoys Season 1

What a great show. The worldbuilding is really incredible. There are only ten episodes in the first season, but there’s a lot packed in there, and it never feels like an info dump. Bits and pieces are parsed out in fairly episodic early adventures, giving you all of these pieces that fit together, building for a grand finale. Sometimes when shows do this, especially RTD era Doctor Who, it can feel incredibly forced, but this feels natural.

It does so much with just ten episodes. It introduces and makes you care about so many characters without making a big deal of it. There are the three leads, but also a bunch of side characters who wind up being important. They’re introduced and built up in a really gradual good way, so by the end I care about them. It builds up all these little pieces to get me invested in not just the leads, but everyone, so when they’re put in peril at the season finale I really care.

God, what a finale. All the pieces come together, cohering into a great adventure that doesn’t entirely get resolved, but teases about what comes next.

At the end of the last episode I texted the friend who told me to check it out, like, really? That’s where it ends? And now I have to wait? That isn’t fair, I need MORE, RIGHT NOW.

It’s just so good. I can’t wait until the second season. They set up so many super cool things, and now I want to see how it all works out!!!! I’m still waiting for Dutch’s backstory to be more than casual orientalism in space clothes, but there’s clearly more going on than we’ve seen yet, and they still have a chance to be better.

There’s still a lot of ways this could go wrong. A great start is only worth so much as long as they can keep it going or find some sort of satisfying conclusion. The first season is ten episodes of the world getting bigger and bigger — I’m not sure where they’re going to go from here, but I’m really excited to find out.

Killjoys is like, my dream kinda trashy beautiful sci-fi show. It isn’t serious/grim/dark like Battlestar Galactica, but it’s substantial. Amanda Tapping shows up in a tiny role, which wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but it never feels like a proper sci-fi show until a Stargate actor makes an appearance. There’s a character named Khlyen, who I thought was named “Klein” but of course not, because it’s a sci-fi show. Of course it’s spelled Khlyen. That’s the level of grand they’re aspiring to.

There was a phase where I watched a lot of fairly mediocre but enjoyable sci-fi shows, but then they all disappeared, or I grew up, or something. It really sucked. This is better than most of those things, but it has the same spirit of fun.

The first season was great, I can’t wait to see what goes comes next. Absolutely worth checking out if sci-fi is your jam.

Ricki and the Flash

I rarely go to movies in a first run theater, but my mother and I needed to get out of the house for an afternoon, and had a great time seeing this. I can see my own relations in this mess, but it also makes me feel relatively normal in a fun/weird way.

Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep, and of course fabulous. Mamie Gummer is fantastic as her mess of a daughter. I really liked her character, who’s breakdown is the inciting incident of the whole plot. Yet it still seems like there should have been more about her. Rick Springfield doesn’t get a whole ton to do as the Flash’s guitarist/Rick’s kinda-boyfriend, but he’s really great. It’s very much Ricki’s story, and all of the intriguing side characters suffer from it, never developing as much as I want.

I generally like Diablo Cody scripts, but she definitely isn’t for everyone. The dialogue wasn’t as affected as her work can be sometimes, but it has its moments. The music is actually pretty good, definitely better than I expected.

The very end was kind of schmaltzy, but I think it earned it. It deserved the big finale with a lot of feelings — excessive, maybe, grandiose, sure, but that’s fitting for a wannabe rock star. Overall, a pretty great time.

Welcome To Me

I really liked this movie, even though I’m still not sure if it was more funny or sad. It was unique, and I appreciated that.

The premise — Alice, a woman with borderline personality disorder who’s living on disability benefits, wins the lottery and decides to make a public access show about herself is intriguing, and it’s well done here.

Kristen Wiig is fantastic, as expected. This role gives her a lot to do, and she’s great, making Alice into someone who’s fragile while still knowing what she wants and knowing how to get her way.

The rest of the cast is solid too, but it’s all Wiig’s show, literally. The show-within-the-movie, “Welcome to Me” is a trip. We see bits and pieces of it, as well as behind the scenes. It’s full of oversharing, and super weird, but Alice doesn’t really realize how weird it is. It’s kind of magical, but also terrible.

There’s something nostalgic about the premise. Alice wants to be Oprah, but no one’s Oprah anymore. Alice has old episodes of Oprah’s talk show recorded on VHS tapes, and the whole idea of a talk show that speaks to the whole nation seems to be going the way of the VCR. I remember when I was younger, I’d get home from school, and watch Oprah’s show with my mother, a disciple who subscribed to O and was inspired by the diets and lifestyle. It feels like since Oprah went off the air no one has taken her place? (Ellen is something different.) Not that there is an absence, but that there is no longer a need for a single central figure because there are so many other voices.

Welcome To Me does acknowledge this new world at the very end, when Alice loses her show, but continues on making her own videos. While Alice has a very strange and specific story, it says something about the time we’re living in. A lot of us grew up watching Oprah, wanting to be Oprah, wanting to have that kind of influence and audience, which is unobtainable. But now there’s a whole new way to be a star, the world of youtube and micro celebrities. It isn’t really the same, it’s on such a different scale, but it’s still something.

It’s a fascinating little movie with a lot to pick a part. It’s very uncertain, and in some ways that hurts it, but that also means it’s very open. It doesn’t give a lot of answers, and it never passes judgment, which is important. Alice’s show isn’t good, but it’s her show, and her creativity and views are never invalidated.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

adjectives: dreamy, atmospheric, intricate, dazzling, scrumptious, otherworldly

Am I describing The Night Circus, the novel by Erin Morgenstern, or Le Cirque des Rêves, the book’s main setting?

The majority of the action takes place within the circus. I’d argue that the circus is the main character. As I reader I became more invested in the character as a place than what happens to any of the people involved, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are moments where the characters do shine, but mostly only ornaments, baubles decorating the circus. The action and romance plots are both in service of the circus.

It’s a beautifully written book, full of vivid and enchanting description. The story is intriguing, and the whole thing moves along easily and pleasantly.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the book, it struck me as oddly hollow. It may have been too much of a fairy tale for my taste — everything that happens seems destined, playing out perfectly. There were twists, but none that startle, nothing that interrupts the way the book progresses like finely made clockwork. That isn’t necessarily a flaw, but there is never anything visceral, never anything that took my breath away. It came close, but left me wanting more.

The Night Circus the novel never manages to reach the level of spirit and importance it gives to it’s title setting. It is a lovely shiny distraction, but nothing more.

Annie (2014)

What a fun piece of garbage. This is not a good movie, but I enjoyed it a lot anyway. I grew up with the 1980s movie version. It was a much loved video rental pick, and these songs were a large part of my childhood. I have enough nostalgia for this music that I was always going to enjoy this movie, at least a little bit. Quvenzhané Wallis is adorable and charming as Annie, which makes the whole thing mostly work. Even when it shouldn’t she’s super cute, and I want her to be happy, and wind up caring.

The twenty-first century updates mostly work, or at least aren’t actively bad enough to make me upset. It still mostly makes sense. The social media bits were actually pretty smart. I suspect the 2014 pop culture references won’t age well, but there’s a Twilight franchise parody in the middle which is so perfect, and renders all complaints irrelevant. Honestly, it might be the best/smartest part of the movie.

The character of Hannigan suffers from being sweetened up, instead of getting to be an unrepentant villain. Also because Cameron Diaz is just not very good in the role. The pop culture bits here feel very nonsensical, the comedy isn’t very funny, and she doesn’t have a great voice.

Jamie Foxx is fine, and has some really good moments. His songs all wind up being Jamie Foxx songs which is a little bit odd for the rest of the musical, but whatever.

There were not one, but two, completely unnecessary heterosexual romances shoehorned in. I really like Rose Byrne’s character, Grace, but forcing her to be the love interest was a boring decision. There are so many more exciting ways to take that relationship, but yawn, compulsory heterosexuality.

I can’t actually advise watching this movie unless you already like Annie, or if you’re watching it with kids. I’m pretty sure this would be less annoying than the 80s version? But I can’t say for sure, because my memories of that are pretty vague, and I’m not going to risk ruining it’s perfection by seeing how it holds up. I’m sure there are kids who’ve taken to the remake the way I took to the original, and I bet they’re having a great time. That’s what really matters. It’s fun.

 

why I write book reviews

I was recently talking to a friend about the different things I’ve been writing, and I told her that I had been making myself write at least a hundred words about every book I read and every movie I watched. She asked, “Why? You know you’re not in school anymore.”

I do know that, and I think part of why I started doing this is because not being in school kind of freaks me out. I like school, and I’m good at it. I like thinking and writing about literature, which is why grad school is probably somewhere in my future. I like taking the time to think about what I’ve just read or seen, and trying to explain it to someone else. I’m a really fast reader, and having to write makes makes me slow down and process more thoroughly. 

Also, I was recently looking through my read books page on shelfari, and I have stronger memories of books that I’ve had to write about in some context. This shouldn’t be surprising, but books I’ve written papers on stick around stronger in my head. Writing a little bubble review for my pet blog isn’t the same thing at all, but still, having to put my impression into words makes the impression stick around longer. Also, if I do forget my reaction to a book I can come back and find what I wrote about at the time.

This is basically a public journal of my reading habits. Doing this writing, and having these reflections, would be valuable to me, even if no one else finds it interesting. Whether anyone else finds it interesting is well… If you’re reading this, maybe you do.

Reading my book reviews is probably more interesting than reading my thoughts about writing book reviews. I’m sorry about that.

Regular programing will resume shortly.

The Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis

Ian Tregills’s Milkweed Triptych, Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War, and Necessary Evil are a compelling alternate history adventure. They start before the second world war, with a Nazi scientist who is experimenting on children to give them incredible powers. British intelligence’s response to this is Milkweed. It starts as a simple operation, but then spy Raybould Marsh (our central protagonist throughout the series) brings in his school friend, Lord William Beauclerk, who knows something about the supernatural. Will introduces Milkweed to the world of Warlocks, grumpy old men who speak an ur language, negotiating blood sacrifices with other worldly beings to have their will done. Things happen — excitement, adventure, magic, etc.

There’s really good worldbuilding. The rules made sense, but the story never felt overwhelmed by exposition. It was cool how there are two different sorts of supernatural/sci-fi elements going on at the same time.

Balancing Marsh and Will’s perspectives, the book includes the German precog, Gretel, and her brother Klaus, who can walk through walls. Tregillis does a fantastic Klaus a sympathetic character by showing all of the different ways he is being manipulated. More of my enjoyment in these books comes from the plotting and worldbuilding, but there are solid character moments too.

The second book goes past world war two, into the cold war, an era I’ve rarely seen dealt with in alternative histories. It moves the story away from battlefields, and into more subtle political conflicts. Seeing a spin on this time period was fun, and I’d be interested in seeing other takes on it.

I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end of the second volume that sets up the third book, but trust me, it’s a doozy. A friend of mine gave up on the books halfway through the second, and I can see why someone would — things get dark, and it doesn’t seem like any sort of satisfying ending is possible. But then Tregillis manages to do something very smart and exciting to set the story off on in a new direction. I’m going to talk to her about it, and try to convince her to give them a second try because it really does pay off in the end.

There are times where it definitely edges close to the line of being bleak and compelling and tragic vs just being bleak for the sake of being bleak and gritty. Overall I think it works, but there were moments as I was reading where I wasn’t sure if I could go with it, especially in the first book, but as I understood more I started to trust the author.
Overall, a fantastically captivating read. I finished the first book and immediately had to track down the sequels. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this sort of thing.