A Wrinkle In Time

It’s always fun to pull books from my archives, especially ones that were so formative to my taste in literature, and have stayed with me ever since.

a wrinkle in time

This week, I’d like to discuss the classic children’s series A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. It tells the story of Meg Murry, her brother Charles Wallace, and her new friend Calvin, as they are tasked with rescuing Meg and Charles Wallace’s father from the clutches of evil – no joke. Dr Murry is a physicist who had been working on tesseracts and their use in travel. One day about a year before the beginning of the book, he disappears without a trace. The three kids proceed, accompanied by the odd ladies Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which, on a mind-boggling adventure across the universe.

The great thing about a series like this, is that even though the plot is generally so fantastical, the reader can’t help but follow along for the ride because the author makes the characters so real. Meg, for all she discovers about herself over the course of the first book, starts out basically as a delinquent – she’s not a particularly good student, and often picks fights to make up for it. Calvin, on the other hand, is the third oldest of eleven children, is relatively smart and athletic, but otherwise considered the odd one out of his family. He takes comfort in spending time with the Murrys as a change of atmosphere. Charles Wallace is the unusual one – completely aware of himself from a very young age, he didn’t start talking until he was four, and then it was in full and complete sentences with complex vocabulary! The only two average characters in the series are Meg and Charles Wallace’s twin brothers, Sandy and Dennys, who are featured in a later book titled Many Waters.

If there was ever a series of books I read growing up, that I’d like to see portrayed on screen, I think this would be it. What I didn’t realize before sitting down to write, of course, was that it was done in Canada, back in 2003. As such, I am unaware of how well the stories were conveyed, but I do still think it would be interesting to see given the full treatment.

This was probably the first series of books to help me bridge the gap from just reading fiction, to igniting my interest in science, science fiction, and fantasy. I’m due for a re-read, and I recommend it to you as well, whether it’s your first or third time looking at it.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Who Censored Roger Rabbit

Upon recommendation from our leader Mr Gogal after posting my first book review of the summer, I delved head-first into another interesting tale. He knows I’m mostly into mystery, action/adventure, and fantasy stories, and handed me something I came to realize sat squarely in my wheelhouse.

roger rabbit

I’m talking this week about Who Censored Roger Rabbit, by Gary Wolf. It features a world where cartoon characters exist in three dimensions alongside human society. Well, not quite alongside – segregation is a heavy theme that’s touched on at nearly every opportunity, and is even integral to the mystery’s resolution. The narrative is told from the perspective of the private investigator, Eddie Valiant, who is approached by Roger at the beginning of the story to look into his employment contract. Roger claims he was promised to be made the lead character of his own comic strip, which was never fulfilled. Eddie is reluctant to take on a Toon client, but does so anyway with the offer of a considerable sum of money as payment. When Roger and his boss later turn up dead, he decides to finish working the case anyway, to satisfy his particular brand of integrity and curiosity.

In the grand scheme of things, there were really only three aspects of the story I struggled with. One was the constant mention of segregation. I started to wonder pretty early on if this book was allegory for the ongoing civil rights struggle, despite its otherwise off-the-wall nature. The second thing was how long it took me to wrap my brain around the concept that the Toons didn’t actually talk audibly. Except for those few who actively suppressed it, most non-humans spoke using comic strip speech bubbles. It was interesting because it introduced the added aspect of another way to express how a character was feeling, but it made for very tortuous “he said, she said”. Third, there was an awful lot of alcohol and cigarettes. I figure this is more due to the genre and era, but it still bothered me how much emphasis was given to them.

I was told before starting, that Mr Wolf kept the culprit a secret until the very end. I didn’t believe it, because usually there are hints at it all along the way of the plot, but it really is true. There’s a tiny bit of foreshadowing in a couple places, but there’s no actual indication of who the culprit is until Eddie comes to the conclusion himself. It’s refreshing, in light of how most mysteries are written nowadays. I was also told that it doesn’t have much in common with the movie version, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but since I only watched that once many years ago, I’ll need to see it again before being able to comment properly on it.

Paper copies of this book are in limited supply, and even the mass market version is more expensive than anything on the shelves that happens to be more recent. I recommend that if you decide to pick this one up, grab a digital copy to your favorite reading device.

Rating: 4th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A First Look at The Odd Couple (2015)

[Please note, this was written before episode 2 aired]

In this era of remakes and reversionings, it seems like it was only a matter of time before someone started looking at the old sitcoms. What better way is there to tap into nostalgia than in half-hour comedic bite size chunks, after all?

This seems like a slightly different case, though. The Odd Couple was originally based on a stage play by Neil Simon, even as it was made into a movie in 1968, a television series in 1970, and then a sequel movie in 1998 (and a couple other unsuccessful versions along the way). This new television series stars Matthew Perry (Friends, Mr Sunshine) as the generally unkempt Oscar Madison, and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Sean Saves the World) as the super-tidy Felix Unger.

odd couple

Right up front, this show presents a lot of opportunities that it doesn’t seem interested in banking on, especially with respect to gender identity. Oscar and Felix are recently separated from their wives (the latter being quite a bit more recent), and Felix shows up at Oscar’s apartment looking for a place to stay and a shoulder to lean on. Upon seeing the state of the living space, he immediately goes about working his magic to make it presentable. He even endeavors to cook for Oscar’s friends when they come to visit. It’s sadly at this point when the writing slides distinctly into catering to stereotypes, no pun intended. Felix’s gravitation towards tasks that in the past would have been dominated by women, along with his choice of foods to serve, cause Oscar’s friends to question Felix’s sexuality. Oscar takes steps to brush it off with the line “he [seems] like it, but he’s not”. In the multitude of productions over the years, Felix has been played with varying levels of flamboyance, so it really felt like they dropped the ball by addressing the issue with anything other than a defensive “well, why does it even matter?” The fact that it was followed up by a mention of the “token” minority member, didn’t help either. Luckily, Felix was out of the room at the time, so he may be able to salvage it in the future. It would have meant more coming from Oscar, though.

If this was just about two very different people trying to figure out how to co-habitate, that would be one thing, so I’m really hoping this isn’t a case of media taking one step forward and two steps back.

I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms because I don’t like being told when to laugh, but I think I’ll try to keep an eye on this one just to see what they end up deciding to do. According to listings, there are only seven episodes, and it says it’s completed.

 

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

The Lego Movie

[For the record, this article was completed after the recording of the “recommended viewings of 2014” podcast.]

Everything is awesome! Or, at least that’s what Emmet Brickowski would like to believe.

Yes, I’m talking about the Lego Movie. Having gone into my first viewing after only seeing a trailer or two, and not reading any summaries, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect besides nostalgia and hilarity. Well, it served up both of those things, and a good bit more.

The-Lego-Movie

The movie opens mid-battle, between the wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), and Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell). As Vitruvius is nearly defeated, he recites a prophecy about a “Master” Lego builder who will save the world. Skip forward a few years, and things have calmed down quite a bit, to the point where there’s vibrant utopian city life. Everyone follows “the instructions”, a reference to the classic booklets containing step-by-step illustrations that come with most Lego sets. Along comes Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) – a rather plain construction worker minifigure who’s sole purpose in life is to fit in with his coworkers and garner their approval. One night he notices someone moving around the work site after hours, and decides to follow them. It turns out the woman is looking for something called the “piece of resistance”, and tries to warn him off her trail. Following his refusal and a tumble through the earth below the construction, a piece of something (very notably not a Lego) gets stuck to his back. She identifies it as the item she seeks, and declares him a “Special” minifigure.

This movie rated unbelievably high on the nostalgia meter. Anyone roughly “Generation Y” or older (and possibly some younger) will remember having bins at home, filled with randomly sized and colored bricks that they could use to their imaginations’ content. We remember the evolution of the minifigures, and the introduction of more and more specialized building sets. As such, it’s very easy to see this story from both the league of specials’ point of view, and that of Lord Business. That all being said, there are several levels the movie runs on, and children will get a very different experience out of it from the adults who watch it with them. Even people who were never really into Legos will likely find something to latch onto, whether it’s the story itself, or the mass of memes it’s riddled with, or the surprise twist at the end. It’s the kind of movie I wish I would have been able to share with my grandfather.

Musically, there isn’t much variation. There’s a lot of repetition of the song “Everything is Awesome”, and most of the rest of it is background music. That’s actually okay, though, because it drives home the drone mentality that the average minifigures are accustomed to. On the other hand, the film is visually stunning… and it can’t afford not to be. The audience has to be able to see every piece of every build, and the animation team really delivered. The first part of the closing credits is even proper stop-motion.

Please go see this movie.

Rating: 6th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Gatchaman (2013 live-action film)

In the not-so-distant future of a timeline where the Earth has been taken over by the mysterious “Galactor” organization, five people come together in an effort to defeat them and restore the planet’s freedom.

That’s the premise of the 2013 live-action movie “Gatchaman”. I’d heard some rumors shortly after the release of this movie, that it wasn’t actually all that good. Despite that, I wanted to see for myself and pass my own judgment. Admittedly, I didn’t remember much from the original animated series besides the design of the team’s fighting suits, so the cast ended up being the main draw. Most notably featured was Tori Matsuzaka as Ken, the team’s leader. There had been some concern that he was being type-cast in first position, since he’s probably best known for his role as Takeru Shiba in “Samurai Sentai Shinkenger”. And there were a lot of echoes of Takeru in his portrayal of Ken. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The rest of the team was rounded out by Ryohei Suzuki as Ryu, Ayame Gouriki as Jun, Tatsuomi Hamada as Jinpei, and Go Ayano as Joe, each of whom also has an impressive resume of his or her own.

The great thing about a story like this, is that since it’s a five-person team, it’s basically a sentai, and is able to pick up on some of the typical tokusatsu tropes. Even though there’s no visual assignment of colors, per se, it’s easy to see where the basic color theory would lie – Ken as red and Jun as pink, and then probably Joe as blue (no associations with Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger intended since these names were chosen in the early 1970’s), and Ryu and Junpei as yellow and green. Plus, the heroes all survive, if a little worse for wear. Also: borrowed from Kamen Rider is the idea that the good guys and bad guys both effectively use the same power source. This allowed me to predict one twist in the plot, unfortunately, although it was followed up by one I very much did not anticipate (but probably should have).

One thing that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit was how much it felt like I was watching a western-style super hero movie, ala something out of Marvel or DC. A Japanese film should feel Japanese, right? Upon doing a little research into the original series, I discovered that this was actually kind of the point. “Gatchaman” was intended to have a more western feel to it. Okay, so where does that leave it, then? There were a lot of explosions, and the animation was pretty, and the fight scenes were pretty. But it didn’t really feel any different than if I was watching “The Avengers” or “Harry Potter”.

The result of all this is that it probably did take itself a little too seriously. It was fun to watch at home on a quiet afternoon, but I’m not upset that I was unable to see it in the theater. As a warning to people looking for the nostalgia factor: I don’t know how it stands up to the original story.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]