Friday, June 29, 2012

Great Moments in Television: Skins Series 1, Episode 8, Effy


Before you get all huffy, I’m talking about the UK Skins, not that thing that was on MTV and shall never be spoken of again.

For those who are not familiar, Skins is a UK show about a group of sixth-form (essentially the last two years of high school in the British education system, where students are prepared for A-level exams, which are used in university admissions) friends who party, fall in and out of love with one another, and try to figure out the meaning of it all. Each episode focuses on one of the core characters (and sometimes one of the fringe characters), presenting the world from their point of view, so that individual episodes can be stylistically distinct.

The show takes huge artistic risks, which sometimes pay off beautifully and other times fail spectacularly, but it always manages to capture the desperate intangible yearning of being an almost adult.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Sweet Valley High Project #2: Secrets

In which I reread every Sweet Vally High book and provide thoughtful insight into and analysis of the various anecdotes of the Wakefields, Patmans, Fowlers, and other famed denizens of Sweet Valley, California. (This post originally appeared on my previous blog, I Love/ Hate Celebrities, which is no longer active.)

Episode #2: Secrets

Sweet Valley High book 2 starts exactly the same way book 1 did: with drop-dead gorgeous Wakefield twin Jessica complaining about how hideous she is. But Jessica is not actually worried about her appearance; she's just fishing for compliments, which her "best friend" Cara Walker obligingly provides. I say "best friend" because we are told that the reasons Jessica likes Cara are that 1) Cara loves gossip even more than Jessica does, and 2) Cara is really pretty, but not quite as pretty as Jessica Wakefield. Well duh, I mean, she's a brunette. It's weird to read this early caricature of Cara Walker in light of who she becomes later in the series, but lets not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Cara is the girl who loves gossip. Period. But Caroline Pierce is also the girl who loves gossip, period. At this early stage, the only detectable difference between Cara Walker and Caroline Pierce is the fact that neither Jessica nor Elizabeth like Caroline Pierce.

Lady-Centric Sword and Sorcery Fantasy

So Game of Thrones ended its season, not to return until 2013, and you’re fiending for more epic fantasy. You’ve read all five books, so those are out of the question, and besides, that’s not exactly what you’re in the mood for right now. You’ve been watching rapings and killings for months. You know that George R.R. Martin has been praised for his willingness to let awful things befall his main characters, which is a rarity in mainstream fantasy, but still, you wish things would work out once in a while for the characters you have grown to know and love. You know that Martin is just attempting to be faithful to the Medieval-type society he has created when he puts his female characters in such powerless fixes, but still, you just want to read something where the ladies have some control over their destinies. Well you’re in luck, because I have compiled a list of fantabulous lady-centric sword and sorcery fantasy, especially for you! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Opening Lines: Chime by Franny Billingsley

Franny Billingsley’s Chime is a whirlwind of beautiful prose and chilling imagery, and the opening lines are no exception:

“I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.”

Fictional Role Models: Black Widow

After Iron Man 2 came out back in 2010, I was surprised to hear so many people talking smack about Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the Black Widow. “It was lame,” one friend said. “She sucked so hard,” another said. “I thought she was fine,” I replied, and they gave me pitying looks. This year, when I read the DC new 52 title Winter Soldier, I understood why they were so upset: Black Widow is awesome. She is a tough confident woman with deadly skills and moral complexity. And Iron Man 2 had reduced her to a hot babe in a skintight jumpsuit.

But I wasn’t sure that was completely Johansson’s fault.

When The Avengers came out a few weeks ago, those same friends were pleased to report that she was “fine” and even “surprisingly good” as the Black Widow. When I finally got around to seeing it myself, I was thrilled with the character.

SPOILERS AHEAD! (Although box office returns suggest that many of you have seen this movie.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Castle Waiting and Beasts of Burden: Comics Don’t Have to Be Dark to Be Good

Sometimes I feel like books and comics have to be filled with unhappy characters with depressing problems in order to be considered serious adult literature by whoever decides these things. But it doesn’t have to be like that! Yes, friends, it is possible for comics to have a buoyant tone, a happy ending, and cute animals and still be excellent works of art and literature. And two books I recently read, Castle Waiting by Linda Medley and Beasts of Burden written by Evan Dorkin, art by Jill Thompson, are excellent examples.

Great Moments in Television: The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries season 1, episode 22, "Founder’s Day"

My decision to watch The Vampire Diaries was primarily based on nostalgia. Having read and loved L.J. Smith's books when I was in junior high, I was thrilled to see them having a rebirth both on the NY Times bestseller list and on the small screen. And only partially because it gave me many opportunities to exorcise my nerd rage in a health way by informing people who called TVD a Twilight ripoff, “Actually, these books were originally published in 1991, well before Twilight.”

The first episode was fine. Nothing I was too excited about, but good enough to keep me watching. But then it happened; sometime during the middle of the first season, I stopped telling people I watched TVD because I used to love the books and started telling them that this was THE BEST SHOW ON TELEVISION and if they thought they were too cool to watch it then they were MISSING OUT. All of this came to a head in the season 1 finale, when the show became so awesome, that even satirically self-described bastion of “critics/hipsters/snobs/douchebags,” the AV Club (aka, one of my favorite web sites) had to sit up and take notice.

Major spoilers ahead! (Although if you haven’t watched this yet, what are you doing? It’s on Netflix Instant and in case you didn’t hear me before, it’s SO good.)