Saturday, December 29, 2012

Helen (live action movie), via Netflix

Helen is an understated drama. Very, very understated.

This post includes some spoilers.

Synopsis:

When 18-year-old Joy goes missing, the police decide to film a reconstruction of her last moments. They plan on showing it on TV in the hopes of jogging people's memories. Out of several volunteers, they select Helen, a girl who attended Joy's school, as the best stand-in for Joy.

I'm not sure if the police ever actually do the reconstruction, but they do walk Helen through what she'll be doing. All she'll really have to do is wear the clothes Joy was wearing, including a bright yellow jacket, and walk where they tell her to walk. Helen goes further, however, visiting Joy's parents after they invite her over with a promise of helping her with her math studies (Joy was good at math), looking around Joy's house, and getting to know Joy's boyfriend.

Eventually, Helen, who lives in a care home (foster care? some sort of orphanage-like institution?), decides that she would like to know more about herself.

Review:

This movie does not end in a satisfying way. There is no payoff. All those many quiet scenes did not culminate in anything I could comfortably call an ending.

Alphas, Season 1 (live action TV series), via Netflix

Alphas is a science fiction series. The first season is 11 episodes long.

Synopsis:

Psychologist Lee Rosen leads a small team composed of what he refers to as "Alphas." Alphas are people with enhanced abilities. Gary, who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism, can read electromagnetic wavelengths with the power of his mind - this means he can access security cameras, cell phones, and more without even touching them. Bill is a suspended FBI agent whose "fight or flight" response triggers enhanced strength. Rachel can enhance or shut down any of her senses, basically making her the team's walking crime lab. Nina can, via eye contact, override others' willpower and make them do whatever she wants. Cameron, who becomes the group's newest member, has enhanced hand-eye coordination, balance, and motor skills.

The group works to find and stop dangerous Alphas before the public can become aware of them and their abilities. As the season progresses, they begin to wonder if they're doing the right thing. The government they work for seems to be willing to do whatever they please to Alphas, even the Alphas in Rosen's group. However, Red Flag, a group of Alphas resistant to being shut down and labeled by regular people, doesn't seem to be much better.

Review:

Alphas gets a “meh” from me. It wasn't bad, but I kept being reminded of other, better works. Also, those who get twitchy about lots of science-y hand-waving being used to explain superpowers should probably stay away from this show. I think I flinched when I realized that Rachel's ability to enhance her senses allowed her to see at a microscopic level. And I flinched again when it seemed as if the show's writers forgot that, in the first episode at least, enhancing one of her senses meant her other senses no longer worked – that drawback quietly disappeared in later episodes.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Stepford Wives (live action movie), via Netflix

The Stepford Wives (2004) is a dark comedy.

I haven't seen the original 1975 version, but I somehow already knew what the "Stepford wives" were. I think maybe my mom told me when we were talking about the newer version after it first came out?

This review contains SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.

Synopsis:

Joanna, a successful TV network president, has a nervous breakdown after being fired from her job. Her husband, Walter, quits his position as vice president at the network and tells her they're going to settle down in a nice, quiet community in Connecticut called Stepford.

Although Walter seems to fit right in, Joanna is a little horrified by Stepford. All the wives are perky, perfect, and brainless. They're completely devoted to their husbands and children and enjoy doing housework. It's all radically different from what Joanna is used to. She feels a little better when she meets a couple friends - Bobbie, a brash novelist, and Roger, a flamboyant gay man - but her rocky marriage makes her wonder if maybe she shouldn't give the Stepford way of life a try.

Joanna soon realizes that things aren't quite right in Stepford, but will she be too late to save Roger, Bobbie, and herself from being turned into creepily perfect Stepford spouses?

Review:

Every time I saw this movie in stores, I was tempted to get it, but I always passed it by, figuring it wasn't going to be something I'd want to rewatch. When I noticed that Netflix had it and that it would be removed from their catalog soon, I decided to finally give it a try. By the way, one of several things I already like about Netflix over Crunchyroll is that you can see when something is due to expire just by scrolling through your queue online. Now if only Netflix had a less pathetic collection of anime...

Okay, back to The Stepford Wives. I'm not sure what, exactly, this movie was going for. Joanna's “women are better than men” behavior and thinking was over-the-top. She was entirely career-minded, to the point that she barely saw her husband and children for over a year. Stepford was over-the-top, too, in the other direction, with gaggingly perfect wives who had no minds of their own and who acted  happy to be that way. I assumed that a happy ending, if there was one, was going to involve husbands and wives meeting each other halfway. If the actual ending was supposed to be seen by viewers as being a happy one, and I'm guessing it was, then I was wrong.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Eden of the East the Movie I: The King of Eden (anime movie), via Netflix

Eden of the East the Movie I: The King of Eden is a mystery/thriller set in an alternate history in which Japan was hit by several missiles in the recent past. The anime TV series, Eden of the East, set up the story, and this movie continues it.

Synopsis:

This movie takes place 6 months after the events of the Eden of the East TV series. Saki has spent the whole time searching for Takizawa, who disappeared shortly after saving Japan. She only has a few clues to go by: Takizawa's phone and a message from him saying that he'll meet her at their special place. Saki is convinced that their "special place" is in Washington, D.C., but new developments indicate she is probably wrong, and so she heads to New York instead.

Before disappearing, Takizawa ordered Juiz to turn him into a king. Then he had his own memory wiped. Juiz's method for fulfilling Takizawa's request to become king finally starts to become clear: she is slowly erasing Akira Takizawa's identity and replacing it with that of a new Akira, one who is supposedly the illegitimate son of the prime minister of Japan. Juiz seems to be aiming at having Akira become the prime minister's successor after he steps down.

Unfortunately, several other Selecao are still in play, and not all of them wish Takizawa well. One Selecao leaks information that links Takizawa's new identity as the prime minister's illegitimate son with his past actions dealing with the missiles that struck Japan, making the amnesiac Takizawa a very sought-after young man. Not even the help of Number 11 and Saki's friends at the now-successful Eden of the East project may be enough to save Takizawa and Saki and get them safely back to Japan.

Review:

I realize that there are a lot of people out there who are absolutely wild about this series, and I can see why. For once, we have a (nearly) contemporary-set anime starring young adults who are still trying to find their place in the world. No high school students who suddenly discover they have super powers. No fan-service moments every 5 minutes. Very little in the way of the usual anime cliches. The original TV series sets up a fairly solid mystery/thriller...which just happens to end before everything has been wrapped up. For those who were frustrated by that, watching the movies is the next natural step.

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal (live action TV series), via Netflix

Terry Pratchett's Going Postal is a 3-hour long fantasy TV series (miniseries?) based on Terry Pratchett's book. I've reviewed the audiobook version of Going Postal.

There are some slight spoilers in my post.

Synopsis:

Moist von Lipwig is a con man who finds his choices drastically reduced when he is captured and presented before Lord Vetinari. Faced with either certain death or becoming the new Postmaster and resurrecting Ankh-Morpork's postal service, Moist understandably chooses to become the new Postmaster. After a failed attempt to escape his new job, Moist gets to work and keeps an eye open for ways he might come out on top. One of the first things Moist does is learn what makes his two employees tick. To the elderly Tolliver Groat, the most important thing is being promoted. To Stanley, it's pins. Stanley is a very enthusiastic pin collector.

It's not long before Moist finds out that the fates of the previous Postmasters, and he begins to worry that the curse that got them will get him too, especially when the letters crammed into the Post Office start making him see visions of all the victims of the supposedly victim-less crimes he committed. Unfortunately for him, one of those victims turns out to be Adora Belle Dearheart, the woman he has fallen head-over-heels in love with.

Somehow, Moist has to get the postal service running smoothly again, deal with some truly cutthroat competition, actually deliver everything he promises, and convince Miss Dearheart to trust him again after she finds out the truth of what he did.

Review:

I had a lot of fun with this one, which is not to say it didn't have its issues. I do consider it to be better than the other Discworld adaptation I've seen, The Colour of Magic. Rincewind, the main character in that one, is probably my least favorite character in the entire Discworld series. Moist is so much more fun to watch than him.

Netflix

My parents decided to indulge my love of movies and TV shows by gifting me with a 3-month Netflix subscription. That means my viewing options have expanded a little, while my reading time has probably dropped like a rock. I had planned to plow through a couple thick books in my TBR pile during my break from work, and it looks like that's not going to happen. Maybe I'll at least start one of them?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Inu x Boku Secret Service, Season 1 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Inu x Boku Secret Service (aka Inu x Boku SS) mixes comedy, romance, and the supernatural with a bit of drama. It's 12 episodes long and is based on a manga series.

There are some slight spoilers in this post.

Synopsis:

In the world of this series, there are certain families which are partially descended from supernatural beings. In each of these families there is one member who is a "throwback" - the blood of their supernatural ancestor runs more strongly in them than anyone else, and they are essentially a reincarnation of that ancestor. Ririchiyo is a throwback and has spent her whole life well-cared for, but unloved. Her parents do not view her as their child, and her family as a whole takes care of her primarily because legend has it that throwbacks bring their families prosperity.

Ririchiyo's defense mechanism against all of this has been to act like a haughty, stuck-up princess. Her prickly behavior is designed to keep others from getting too close and potentially hurting her, and yet she hates herself for hurting those around her. When she reaches high school age, she decides to live on her own at Maison de Ayakashi. Outwardly, Maison de Ayakashi is a home for the super-rich, with each resident rating a personal bodyguard. In reality, all the residents, including their Secret Service bodyguards, are descended from supernatural beings.

Ririchiyo intends to keep to herself, but this become impossible almost immediately. Despite not requesting one, she finds herself with a super-loyal bodyguard named Soushi, who asks that she make him her dog. No matter what she says to him, he smiles and stays by her side. As the series progresses, Ririchiyo makes friends and finds herself wishing to become closer to Soushi. Unfortunately, between her prickly-ness and his overly-formal behavior, becoming closer is not an easy task. An arranged marriage and darkness in Soushi's past complicate things further.

Review:

This is a tough review to write. On the one hand, I liked this series, a lot more than I expected to. On the other hand, aspects of it made me feel icky.

Kimi ni Todoke - From Me To You, Seasons 1-2 (anime TV series), via Crunchyroll

Kimi ni Todoke is a slice-of-life romance series. The first season is 25 episodes long, although I should note that, for some reason, Crunchyroll failed to include episode 16. From what I've read, episode 16 was just a recap episode with a bit of filler, so I don't mind not getting to see it. The second season is technically 13 episodes long, but episode 0 is a recap episode.

This post includes some spoilers.

Synopsis:

Season 1: Sawako is a gentle, sweet, naive girl who wants nothing more than to be friends with everyone in her class. Unfortunately, she bears a striking resemblance to Sadako, the creepy girl with long black hair in The Ring. Everyone in Sawako's class calls her Sadako, and the more she tries to connect with them, the more she creeps them out.

The only exception is Kazehaya, the most popular boy in Sawako's class. He goes out of his way to be nice to her, and he understands her when no one else seems to. Ayane and Chizuru decide to befriend Sawako as well, and Sawako finds herself overflowing with gratitude that she has met such nice people. Although Sawako eventually realizes that Ayane and Chizuru have grown to genuinely care for her, she continues to think that Kazehaya is only treating her as nicely as he does everyone else in their class. What she doesn't realize is that Kazehaya has a huge crush on her.

With Ayane and Chizuru's help, and the interference of a rival, Sawako finally recognizes that her feelings for Kazehya have grown from admiration into love.

Season 2: Once Sawako realizes her true feelings for Kazehaya, she finds it impossible to treat him normally. Kazehaya notices this and has no idea what it means or how to deal with it. Does Sawako no longer want to be around him? Is he bothering her? Kazehaya feels guilty as he realizes he's always done whatever he wants around Sawako and never taken into account her feelings (I disagree with this, but it's how he stated he felt). That never seemed to be a problem before, but now Sawako barely even looks at him or talks to him anymore.

Interference from a well-meaning-but-clueless classmate named Kenta only makes things worse. Kenta misunderstands a comment of Kazehaya's and tells Sawako that Kazehaya is in love with someone else. Kazehaya becomes more and more concerned that he's causing problems for Sawako. As the misunderstandings pile up, it seems like the rift between Kazehaya and Sawako will widen until nothing can bridge it.

Review:

When I first heard that NIS America had licensed this, I couldn't wait to get it on DVD. Then I learned that buying the whole series would set me back anywhere from $140 to $210. They looked like nice boxed sets, true, but that's still a lot of money, so I resigned myself to waiting, possibly forever, for a more affordable release. Then Crunchyroll announced that it had acquired the streaming rights to the series, and I thought to myself, “Hurray, a way to at least watch it without breaking the bank!”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (e-short story) by Kate Aaron

Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire is a m/m fantasy short story. It's 9,300 words long, which came out to 23 pages on my Nook, not counting the "here is some other stuff by the author" page at the end. This is work 1.5 in Aaron's Lost Realm series.

I'm not sure what counts as spoilers in a work this short, especially one that doesn't actually tell a story (more on that in my review). So, I'll just be safe and say my synopsis has spoilers.

Synopsis:

Ever since he was a child, Fenton knew he wasn't like everyone else. He wasn't interested in girls. Not only that, although he liked men, he didn't have any desire to have sex with them. This becomes a problem when he meets Alec. Although Fenton loves Alec, he feels no more desire to have sex with him than with anyone else. This puts a rift between the two men that only widens after their relationship is discovered and they're cast out of their village.

Eventually, Alec leaves Fenton for someone else. A distraught Fenton ends up in the arms of Kali, a vampire who swears he can give Fenton what he needs, desire demonstrated not through sex, but through blood drinking. However, even as a vampire by Kali's side, Fenton still doesn't feel he belongs. When Kali leaves him for someone else, it seems as though Fenton might be alone forever. Then he hears of Prince Skye, a fae so compassionate that he spared the vampire Azrael after finding him in the hands of a bunch of witches. For the first time in centuries, Fenton feels hope, and he is consumed with a need to meet Skye.

Review:

When I saw that this story and the next work in the series, Fire & Ice, were tagged “asexual,” I decided to give them a shot. I wanted to see how an asexual character would be handled. Since I hate reading series out of order, I bought the first work, Blood & Ash, as well. If you've been keeping track of my recent reviews, you already know I was disappointed by Blood & Ash. Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire (hereafter, FTLV) wasn't an improvement.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Blood & Ash (e-novella) by Kate Aaron

Blood & Ash a self-published erotic m/m fantasy novella, the first in Aaron's Lost Realm series. It's 34,000 words long, which came out to 115 pages on my Nook.

My synopsis is a little spoiler-y, but there isn't really all that much story to spoil.

Synopsis:

The fae are at war with a group of powerful witches that wants to have the fae Realm for their own use. While the King of the Fae and Prince Skye are off fighting the witches, Skye has left Azrael, a vampire, to protect his younger brother, Ash. Ash is instantly attracted to Azrael, and confused by that attraction - he's never heard of men being interested in other men before. Azrael comes on to Ash but then backs off, worried that his feelings for Ash might cause him to succumb to bloodlust.

When Ash is captured by the witches, Azrael frantically searches for him. Although they finally give into their feelings for each other, can their relationship last in the face of Ash's status as the prince of a people that distrusts vampires and that historically has only ever been heterosexual? (This question is not answered in Blood & Ash, by the way.)

Review:

I wanted to like this, I really did. I bought it because the other two works in the series, Fenton: The Loneliest Vampire and Fire & Ice, had aspects in their descriptions/tagging that appealed to me, and I hate reading series out of order. Taking a chance, I bought all three. Now I wish I hadn't. I can only hope that Aaron's writing improves as the series progresses.
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