Thursday, December 24, 2015

Just discovered: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

Thanks to this article, I put the Australian import Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries in my Netflix queue and last night I gave it a try.  I was so delighted with S1E1 that, despite it already being past my bedtime, I just had to watch the next episode.  You see, Phryne Fisher (pronounced "Fry-nee" and played with panache by Essie Davis, recently of The Babadook (which I still haven't seen)) is a fantastic character and one unlike almost any on television - Agent Carter comes closest.

In the first episode, Miss Fisher returns to 1920s Melbourne after some unspecified time abroad, and wastes little time setting up shop as an amateur detective, in part because playing cards is "boring."  She apparently grew up poor but as a result of WWI, inherited a title and scads of money.  She is a flapper in her 30s or early 40s (again, unspecified, but one character calls her a "spinster") - she is gorgeous and exquisitely garbed in beaded gowns, high-waisted pants, marabou feather boas and Chinese silk kimonos.  She is very smart, clever, funny, perceptive, loyal and generous, but doesn't suffer fools.  When she is smarter than all the men in the room, she deftly sidesteps their chauvinism and goes on doing what she wants.  She drinks, drives scarily fast, carries a golden gun and thinks nothing of climbing up the outside of buildings.  She loves men and has plenty of casual sex, all on her own terms; she refers to her diaphragm as "family planning."  By the end of the second episode, she has acquired a new maid, sportscar, foster child, mansion, butler, two hired men/drivers and the grudging respect of the handsome detective inspector. 

Her first two cases involved not only murders, but also cocaine trafficking, rape and illegal abortions, gambling and abused orphans - but the show has a soft touch and a light tone.  Phyrne Fisher is simply marvelous and I can't wait to see what else she does. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bits and pieces

Things do fall off around here when I don't have a regular recapping gig, don't they?  Plus schedules tend to get out of whack around the holidays and everyone is flitting about, hither and thither.  Mr. Mouse and I haven't done too much hither and thither-ing, luckily, and our holiday plans are contentedly at-home.  We just finished watching the second season of Fargo, which is the one of the few scripted shows we watch together (Better Call Saul will be the next, when it returns in February).  If you haven't been watching Fargo (or Better Call Saul, or Justified, for that matter), you really should.  This second season had a much higher body count than the also-excellent S1; it was also funnier and just full to bursting with a talented cast.

I also recently watched Jessica Jones which I absolutely loved.  I had thought to say something profound about it, but sites like the A.V. Club and The Mary Sue are full of well-written recaps and articles; just google it and you'll find oceans of discussion.  It isn't easy to watch with its discussion of sexual, emotional and psychological abuse, but it is an important discussion.  Krysten Ritter is phenomenal in the title role, ably portraying the complex, damaged Jessica.  If the only thing you've seen David Tennant in is Doctor Who, you're in for a shock:  he is charming, yes, but also terrifying as the sociopathic, abusive victim.  The rest of the cast is really good too and it's refreshing to have most of the major players be women.

In stark (pun intended) contrast to Marvel's strong, grounded Netflix offerings is Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron.  I watched it last night and, as much as I love Joss Whedon's work, this one left me underwhelmed.  And exhausted, frankly, from all the CGI battles.  After watching the more realistic fights and stuntwork in both Jessica Jones and Daredevil, the AoU CGI just left me cold.  I appreciated the small character moments and humor - Natasha and Bruce; Hawkeye getting some actual lines; everyone giving Captain America a hard time for being an old fogy - but it all just seemed overstuffed and a bit frantic.  I will say that James Spader knocked it out of the park with his Ultron voice work.

What's next around here?  I'm watching S2 of Sherlock and also the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, and next up in my DVD queue is the remainder of S4 of Game of Thrones (so far behind!).  I just finished S2 of Penny Dreadful which I ADORE and am anxious to continue on with S3.  There's always something - and I'm always up for suggestions.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mini book review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman, is historical fiction taking place in New York City in the early 1900s.  It is told from a couple points of view: Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant making his living as a photographer in Brooklyn; and Coralie Sardie, who performs as the Mermaid in her father's "museum" / freak show, which competes with the other, larger attractions in Coney Island.  When Eddie, a witness to the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, is hired to find out what happened to a lost young woman who had escaped the fire, his life becomes intertwined with Coralie's, as she tries to extricate from her father's clutches.

I actually found the romance between Coralie and Eddie to be the least interesting part of this book, instead finding the details of the two terrible fires - the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Dreamland Fire - much more compelling.  I had never heard of either of these two disasters before this book.  The Triangle fire was particularly sad, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City, in which 146 immigrant garment workers died, either burned to death, because their bosses locked them in the work rooms, or killed when they jumped from the building's eighth, ninth and tenth floors to escape the flames.  The Dreamland fire happened just months later, when exploding light bulbs at the amusement park ignited tar that was being used to patch a roof leak.  Over sixty exhibition animals died and the once-elegant park was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mini book review The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I think the most important question is: how has it taken me this long to read The Golden Compass, the first book in His Dark Materials, a beloved YA fantasy series by Philip Pullman.  I suppose it's because it came out in 1995 and I was just a few years out of college at that point, not spending much of my time reading YA fantasy.  But now that I am much, much older, I am happy to have discovered the series.

The Golden Compass follows young Lyra Belacqua and her shape-shifting daemon Pantalaimon as they discover that the world is much bigger and more complicated than they were led to believe.  At first ensconced among the aged academics at Jordan College, Lyra has run wild for the first twelve years of her life.  But children have started disappearing in the town and strange deals are being struck behind the College's closed doors, and Lyra soon finds herself at the center of it.

There is a lot of world-building on which to come up to speed quickly here, daemons (an animal familiar, bonded to every person at birth, which can shapeshift until its human partner reaches puberty at which point the daemon settles into its truest form) and armored polar bears and canal-dwelling gypsies and hot air balloons and treacherous relatives and dead children and the Northern Lights.  I got sucked in quickly, my interest only fading slightly towards the very end when it was apparent that things were winding towards the next book in the series.  Lyra is an interesting, imperfect protagonist - I am looking forward to seeing what she gets up to next.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Walking Dead S6E8 "Start to Finish" 11/29/15

Is it possible that an episode dealing with the demolition of the protective wall around Alexandria and the subsequent influx of hundreds of zombies is boring?  Yes, it is very possible.

The episode opens in scaredy Sam's room as he draws disturbing pictures of walkers and listens to "Tiptoe through the Tulips" (not the Tiny Tim version) over and over again.  Sam is damaged goods, we get it.  Doesn't make me care about him at all.

So the clock tower comes down, crashing into the wall, and just moments later the herd of zombies that was clustered outside is inside, filling the streets.  Every human denizen panics, shouting and screaming and firing off head shots and running for safety.  Deanna even acquits herself very well, standing at Rick's side and shooting zombies fairly efficiently.  She gets knocked onto some metal, however, and cuts her leg badly.  Morgan and Carol momentarily forget their quarrel and run for it; Carol falls, hitting her head hard, and Morgan helps her into a house.  For a moment, it looks like Maggie is going to be the big character kill of the half season: the walkers chase her up a ladder and she ends up pulling herself up, by sheer upper body strength, to safety atop a lookup platform on the wall.  Eugene almost gets himself bit when he finds a walkie-talkie on the ground (Daryl's voice is coming through it and Eugene, terrified, says "Help," thus answering the question as to who said "Help" a couple of episodes ago) but Tara and Rosita save him, dragging him into a garage and slamming the door on the approaching zombies.  Rick, Deanna, Gabriel, Jessie, Carl, Ron and Michonne take refuge in Jessie's house (where Judith and Sam already are).  So that's everyone, pretty much, separated and hunkered down, and wondering WTF do they do next.

Outside the wall, Glenn and Enid stare in horror at the damaged wall and the swarming zombies.  Enid is all for cutting and running, believing that there's no hope.  Glenn is all, our friends are in there, my pregnant wife is in there, I'm not giving up.  He heads off, leaving Enid with a sad face, trying to figure out what to do.

At Jessie's house, Sam is on the verge of a freakout at all the hubbub around him: Judith wailing, Deanna bleeding everywhere, people shouting and running around, zombies pounding on the walls.  Rick checks on Deanna.  Michonne has stopped the bleeding from her leg wound but they also find a bite on her side.  Deanna: "Well, shit."

The Morgan and Carol show.  She's in rough shape, woozy and bleary-eyed.  Morgan thinks she may have a concussion but when he tries to take a look at her head, she pushes him away.  He notes that she doesn't trust anybody.  Carol:  "Some more than others.  But you're dead last."  They both kind of chuckle at that.  When she tries to stand up, she staggers and he helps her sit down again.  "Carol, whatever we have to settle, it can wait.  It has too."

In what may be one of the worst ideas EVER on this show:  Doctor Denise IS ALONE IN THE ROOM WITH MORGAN'S CAPTIVE WOLF.  WTF is she doing there?  I realize he's wounded and his hands are tied but still.  He's a psychotic killer and even with his hands tied, I'm pretty sure he could hurt her.  I get that she's hiding out from the walkers but she could wait out in the hallway and not in the SAME ROOM.  Also, she decides she might as well see what she can do about his wound while they're waiting.  So.  Much.  Stupid.

Here's my issue with Rick.  The show has decided that he's the hero and so they keep writing him so that the other characters keep putting him in charge.  But he's not any good at it.  He's unstable and his plans/ideas get a lot of people killed, over and over again.  And yet the survivors keep making him their leader.  Alexandria was doing pretty well until Rick and his gang showed up.  Now at least two-thirds of the original Alexandrians are dead and the wall is down.  Part of it is just bad luck, and zombies.  But part of it is that he is not a good leader.

Carl sees Ron heading into the garage.  He follows Ron in there to see if he's okay and no, Ron is not all that okay.  He gets in Carl's face about how Rick gets people killed.  Carl tries to smooth things over but Ron is feeling desperate.  He locks the door to the house, putting the key in his pocket, and then pulls his gun on Carl.  He fires a couple of shots, breaking windows and alerting zombie passersby to the human presence.  Rick and Jessie, hearing the ruckus, try to get into the garage but can't with the locked door.  Rick busts the door down and they find the boys in there, Carl desperately trying to blockade the broken windows, Ron doing not much of anything to help.  It's no use and zombies start pouring in.  The humans retreat to inside the house, trying to barricade the now-broken door with a sofa.  As they try to hold back the flood of walkers, Rick asks Carl WTF was going on in there.  For some reason, Carl covers for Ron, saying that they were just fighting against the walkers.  Ron, meanwhile, has picked up his gun and scampered into another room so Carl follows him.  Carl pulls his own gun and takes Ron's away without any further fuss.  Carl:  "Look, man, I get it.  My dad killed your dad.  But you need to know something: your dad was an asshole."

There's a lot of talking in this last "fall finale" episode, a lot of talking for what should be an action episode.  Deanna and Michonne talk a lot about Alexandria's future and what each woman wants, for the community and for herself.  Deanna and Rick talk a lot too, about how he's the new leader now (ahem).  Deanna says that he needs to be the leader of everyone in the community, not just his people.  Because like it or not, the Alexandrians are "his people" now too.  Also talking: Tara, Rosita and Eugene.  Until they decide to get out of the garage they're stuck in.  Luckily, lock-picking is within Eugene's skill set.

Eventually, the group at Jessie's house can no longer keep the zombies out of the house.  They retreat upstairs, blocking the stairwell with a sofa.  It is holding for the time being.  But it won't hold for long and Rick decides that they'll have to make their escape to the armory using the old "wearing zombie guts" camoflage.  Father Gabriel and the Alexandrians are like OMIGOD ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME but Michonne and Carl are like, yeah, we've done this before - you just gotta keep quiet and they think you're one of them.  Little Sam comes out of his room and is all, I CANNOT DO THIS.  Jessie pleads with him, asking him to pretend that he's brave because they just cannot stay here any longer.  Michonne checks on Deanna, telling her that they're leaving.  Deanna says that she's got a gun and she plans on using it on herself soon, before she turns.  Blah blah blah.

Carol takes advantage of Morgan's back being turned to make a break for it.  She runs back to the Wolf's cell, where Denise has gotten him hooked up to IV antibiotics.  Morgan is hot on her heels though, and they immediately have a stand-off.  Morgan is all, no killing/every life is precious (which, I love you, Morgan, and I get it, but no, in this world, every life is NOT precious).  Carol is all, I will kill you and then I will kill him so that no one else has to die.  Heh.  They fight and, because Morgan has a big stick, he knocks Carol out.  But then the Wolf lunges to his feet and knocks Morgan out.  He grabs Carol's knife and menaces Denise, who pleads for all their lives and then, kind of awesomely, shouts at him, "You are so full of shit!"  Then Tara, Rosita and Eugene burst in and the Wolf grabs Denise, holding the knife to her throat.  He makes them give him their guns and then he walks out, still holding Denise.  There's nothing they can do to stop him.

Once everyone is coated in zombie guts (Judith is tucked underneath the bespattered bed sheet that Carl is wearing), they go downstairs.  Rick has instructed everyone to be silent and they slowly move through the herd milling about on the first floor.   On the porch, they clasp hands so as not to get separated.  It's working, they're making slow progress, they're moving through the zombies unscathed.  And then poor, stupid, traumatized, useless Sam:  "Mom.  Mom.  MOM!"

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead