- Posted by Johanna on February 25, 2014 at 3:44 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
Out today is Thor: The Dark World on home video. (It’s been available for digital purchase since the beginning of the month, February 4.) Your options for purchase are as follows:
|Thor: The Dark World 3-D combo pack||Thor: The Dark World Blu-ray||Thor: The Dark World DVD|
The only multi-disc pack is the 3-D version, which comes with two Blu-rays, one standard, one 3-D, and a digital copy. The other versions are single discs, either Blu-ray or DVD. Which means that there’s no way to get a Blu-ray/DVD combo without paying twice. And the Blu-ray version is widely available at roughly $20, the same price as the previous movie’s Blu-ray + DVD + digital copy edition. So customers are being asked to pay more for less.
Clearly, Disney seems to think that doubling up is either something fans no longer care about (not the case, judging from Amazon review comments, where people talk about how handy the DVD is for car players, loaning out, or other purposes) or something we should be required to pay for. After all, they’re the company that for a while was charging $5 more for a digital copy with its combo packs.
I’m no longer qualified for Marvel’s review copy list, so I was expecting to buy the movie today. But when I realized this was the situation, I passed. I’ll wait until the price goes down, since for a single Blu-ray that isn’t a must-have-immediately, I aim to pay about $10. If I could have gotten a combo pack (a format that matched the previous film), I would have paid the $20 on release day.
It’ll be interesting to see if more of Disney’s releases follow this pattern.
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 9:53 pm
- Category: Manga Reviews
- CREDITS: by Kyoko Okazaki
- PUBLISHER: Vertical; $16.95 US
Although similar in tone and approach to her Pink (but with a stronger, less episodic storyline), Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter may be more approachable. It’s a more recent work, for one thing, and the subject matter may be more sympathetic.
Liliko is a top model, beautiful and well-built. She knows she’s in demand, so she treats those around her — so long as she’s not in public — like dirt. Her secret is that she’s a creation of plastic surgery, almost totally reconstructed, and now the work is beginning to break down. Her boss and her mother see her as product, so they’re working to keep her marketable. She’s an investment, something that needs to stay desirable to make back her costs.
She’s afraid of losing her lifestyle, since she’s gotten used to being spoiled. But she can’t sleep, which affects her skin, and she’s taking too many pills to compensate. Her plan is to find a rich man to marry, but her popularity is a two-edged sword, not something the well-off necessarily want to be associated with.
Liliko is awful, someone you love to hate, but Okazaki still makes her, in the midst of her anger and acting out, someone you want to keep reading about. Many women will identify with her rants about how much hard work, time, and money it takes to be thought pretty. The procedures she — and others — indulged in require continuing maintenance, which costs. There’s no choice, though, once you get on the merry-go-round; the techniques cause breakdowns, which require more work, but if you try to stop, the degeneration accelerates. There’s no going back to youth.
Liliko is driven to be popular, but she has no one who really knows and cares about her. She creates a twisted dependency in her assistant instead. She’s told to rest, but she doesn’t know how to be alone. She’s a media creation, a lonely star like so many others. Her fear of aging is a common one in our youth-obsessed culture, and it requires more and more soul-destroying work to avoid.
The visual medium of manga makes perfect sense for a story about being observed all the time. It’s a cautionary tale about wanting stardom, fame, and fortune, familiar in its structure but oddly unfocused in its ending (explained by a morbid editorial note that talks about the author being struck by a drunk driver in 1996 and still recovering). I’m very glad that Vertical is bringing these women-focused stories to the English market, since not many companies support such challenging material.
Sean Gaffney makes a good point about the title, reminding us that a “helter skelter” is a British term for a roundabout slide, one that makes you want to go back to the top even after reaching the bottom. Many who read these kinds of stories think “ok, that happened to her, but if it were me, it would be different. I’d be smarter/stronger/healthier about it all.” Okazaki even hints at that idea with the presence of Liliko’s younger competition, a natural beauty who keeps modeling without apparently losing her mind. Helter Skelter is a depressing, gripping look inside the kind of personality who seeks out the validation of modeling, of wanting one’s appearance affirmed by the public, at any cost. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 6:19 pm
- Category: Manga Reviews
- CREDITS: by Kyoko Okazaki
- PUBLISHER: Vertical; $16.95 US
Pink was originally published in the late 1980s, and I think it helps make sense of it — however much the story does make sense — to realize that culture had different expectations and obsessions then. It was the tail end of a decade devoted to consumerism and appearance and money, where everyone worked hard to afford the branded clothes and status symbols that showed you knew what mattered. Yet this story of young people on the loose in the city, unsure of what to do and seduced by money and sex, is also timeless. All they want is love and happiness, although those definitions can change.
You can tell the book is for mature readers from the two opening pages, both nude shots of the protagonist, Yumi. She’s an office worker by day, call girl by night in order to make enough money to buy meat for her pet. She has a crocodile because she finds the beasts “strong and they look cool.” She also loves the color pink because it looks happy. She’s a young woman valued for her appearance, drifting through life without thought to the future.
Her dad still pays her rent, and she doesn’t get along with her stepmother, a gold-digger obsessed with her appearance. Yumi has a younger step-sister, Keiko, who comes over to visit frequently and seems much older than she is. The stepmother is fooling around with a boy toy, Haruo, an aspiring novelist who doesn’t have anything to write about. Haruo, Keiko, and Yumi meet, argue about the croc, and hang out together.
Kyoko Okazaki’s art doesn’t look like what we think of as a typical manga. Instead, it’s sketchy, suggesting a portrayal instead of delineating every detail. It reminds me of fashion illustration, where evoking how something will look is more important than capturing specifics. It’s almost cartoony, suiting the sometimes ridiculous subject matter. Although black and white, there are sections of grey tone applied in large chunks to provide emotion and depth.
The little girl is bloodthirsty and the older one borderline insane when she’s not being shallow. The sexual encounters and sometimes crude language that run through the story might have been more shocking over 20 years ago. Now, though, Yumi’s decisions are almost quaint. (We’ve seen her type more often in popular culture since then.) There’s an air of playfulness throughout the book that may seem at odds with some of the content, but at the core, Yumi is still young, beautiful, hopeful, and accepting of what life brings.
The chapters are strangely incidental and weirdly fantastic, as when one of Yumi’s clients gives her a magic seed (and steals her clothes in return). As they progress, the story twists in unexpected ways, but Pink always shows the ennui and uncertainty of young life in a big city. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Rainbow Rowell
- PUBLISHER: St. Martin's Griffin; $18.99 US
Fangirl is an amazing story, the kind of college experience we all wish we could have.
Cath is a fanfic writer, and a good one. She is best known for stories pairing up Simon Snow, boy magician, with his vampire roommate Baz. She used to write with her twin sister Wren, but they’ve been growing apart. Even so, Cath is surprised when Wren declares she’s going to room with someone else as they go off to college.
Cath’s first year is quite the transformative experience, as she has to cope with a surly roommate, Wren’s overreaction to being on her own, their left-alone dad, her own social anxiety, and a couple of guys who might be interested in her writing in different ways.
Rainbow Rowell’s grasp of dialogue and character is astounding, creating a richly real cast that I wanted to spend more time with. She also gets the internet. I’ve read several books that tried to capture the magic of online communities and friendships, and they all felt very artificial, leading me to ask why someone would bother with the book when they could just read the internet directly. Rowell instead doesn’t overdo the references, although her fanfic examples are both authentic and entertaining. She clearly understands geekdom, with just the right amount and type of mentions.
I haven’t had such an engrossing reading experience with a novel in a long time. Rainbow Rowell is going to be releasing a graphic novel illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks through First Second Books. Although it’ll be some time coming, I can’t wait to see it. In the meantime, I’ll be reading whatever other Rowell I can find.
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Sarah Mlynowski
- PUBLISHER: Delacorte Press; $17.99 US
Out next month is Don’t Even Think About It, a mash-up of Gossip Girl and The X-Men by Sarah Mlynowski.
When 22 high school sophomores in New York City get flu shots, none of them expected the side effect of telepathy. Now no one can keep secrets, and they find out what their parents and classmates are really thinking.
Pi is the unofficial leader of the group, a girl who’s constantly working hard to make her intelligence apparent because she needs to feel exceptional. Cooper’s a good guy everyone likes, which makes it even more surprising that his girlfriend Mackenzie cheated on him last summer. Tess isn’t super-skinny, which makes her insecure, particularly about her crush on best friend Teddy. Olivia is shy, so using her ability to read minds makes it easier for her to start dating, but how much should she change herself to please a guy? Renee is outgoing and chatty, so it’s a shame she winds up the only one in the class without an injection.
As the book proceeds, we learn more about these characters’ impulses and motivations, and I found myself caring about them. Everything’s so emotional, anyway, for teenagers, and the added device of knowing, instead of just wondering, what other people think about you (or that they’re not thinking about you at all) makes it all more poignant and dramatic.
I was also glad to see that this young adult novel, although it would make a terrific series beginning, actually had a conclusion, such that reading just this volume is satisfying. Too many others I’ve read recently end on cliffhangers. While readers may be wondering what happens next after finishing Don’t Even Think About It, it’s because the characters came to life for them and have lots of further potential, not because the author used an artificial trick to avoid ending the story she’s telling. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 9:33 am
- Category: Movies/TV
I have fond memories of watching the original Dallas with my mom, mostly just to see the clothes and the Texas setting. (We lived in the state at the time the show debuted.) I gave the new version a try, but for some reason, I didn’t stick with it. Perhaps because the next generation seemed so young to me now, perhaps because there’s just a lot of good TV out there and not enough time. The theme song still has a weirdly Pavlovian effect on me, though, reminding me of just how outsized so much about Texas is.
The show continues from the original, with J.R.’s son John Ross (Josh Henderson, the weak link of the cast) trying to run the family oil company but clashing with uncle Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) and his son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe), who wants to invest more in methane and alternate fuel technologies. As well, both the younger men are involved with Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster) and Pamela Rebecca Barnes (Julie Gonzalo). It’s still very much a soap opera among the rich and powerful, with sex, betrayal, blackmail, and murder all on display.
I was curious about this DVD set, because the second season was being filmed when Larry Hagman, who played the irascible cornerstone of the show J.R. Ewing, passed away, and so a number of the special features are dedicated to his legacy. Episode 8 focused on the character’s funeral. The four-disc set contains all 15 episodes of season 2, plus the following extras:
Deleted scenes for almost every episode.
Fashion Files, short (3-minute) discussions with Brewster and the costume designer, Rachel Sage Kunin, about key costume items from selected episodes. It’s insightful about what elements they’re trying to highlight about the characters.
An extended version of “J.R.’s Masterpiece”, the funeral episode, with over 7 extra minutes, available with or without commentary by Cynthia Cidre (creator of this version of the show and writer of that episode) and Michael Robin (episode director).
“Dallas at PaleyFest 2013″, a half-hour panel appearance with the cast members and creative team.
“The Battle for Ewing Energies: Blood Is Thicker Than Oil”, 12 minutes on the family plots that drive the show and how J.R.’s death affected them.
“Memories of Larry Hagman: A Cast and Crew Tribute” (10 minutes) was particularly memorable for me due to the then-and-now photos. It’s not many people who play the same role 34 years apart. The participants all have great, playful, revelatory stories about Hagman, particularly Brenda Strong (who plays Ann Ewing, wife of Bobby). I admit, this piece brought tears to my eyes.
“One Last Conversation With Larry Hagman”, an unedited interview that runs seven minutes that seems to have originally been created for publicity use, covering basic questions about how Hagman worked on the show.
I’m not converted to seeing Dallas as a must-watch, but I really appreciated the honors to Larry Hagman and the chance to see him one last time. The third season of Dallas returns tomorrow (Monday) night on TNT. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 23, 2014 at 8:44 am
- Category: Books and Prose
- CREDITS: by Michelle Richmond
- PUBLISHER: Bantam Books; $15 US
I thought at first Golden State was going to be more science-fictional than it was, since the backdrop is a vote for whether California will secede from the United States. That’s not the point here, though. It’s really an exploration of the life choices and relationships of Julie, a doctor at the VA who’s having a really challenging day. The secession is just a symbol of potential future, whether breaking up allows for more options than staying with something troubled and full of problems.
Julie is fighting to get through the crowds and riots on a broken ankle to reach her formerly estranged sister Heather, who’s just gone into labor. Everything is complicated by the presence of a former patient who’s developed an unhealthy obsession with her. Plus, she’s about to get divorced, which leads to her thinking of both the good times and bad in her marriage. Her husband is a deejay, a voice on the radio who brings in songs as commentary as what’s happening.
The novel’s structure is full of time jumps. The reader doesn’t learn the full story until the end, which drives the desire to keep reading to find out what’s really going on. Why does Julie have issues with Heather? Why are kids such a fraught topic? What’s with the patient — whose demands often spur more flashbacks, as Julie tells him bits of her story? At times, the excess of the dramatic events seem a bit too much, as though the story wasn’t interesting enough without the risk of death.
I enjoyed the read, although I’m not exactly the target audience for a story about how broken your life may be without a kid. (At least author Michelle Richmond doesn’t make the desire seem universal, just something that affects Julie, which this person who chose not to spawn appreciates.) The paperback version I read comes with supplementary material, a short interview with the author, a music playlist, and a set of discussion questions. I imagine a book club would have a lot to discuss in regards to this story and the choices the characters make. (The publisher provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on February 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Mark Waid; art by Paul Smith, Loston Wallace, and J. Bone
- PUBLISHER: IDW Publishing; $21.99 US
Out next month is a dynamite pairing of two comic properties with old-fashioned flavor. Rocketeer / The Spirit: Pulp Friction works so well because the creators know their stuff. The characters sound right (and different from each other), their histories are acknowledged (without leaving out readers who don’t know them), and the look is nicely retro, clear and easy to read.
It’s 1941, and the Spirit, Commissioner Dolan, and Ellen Dolan go to Los Angeles, where they run into Cliff Secord, the Rocketeer. A Central City alderman, against granting exclusive broadcast licenses to the burgeoning medium of television, is discovered dead in the California city. Betty, Cliff’s pinup girlfriend, found the body. There’s something of an impossibility, though, since Dolan saw the dead man eight hours before on the opposite coast, and back then, it would take most of a day to get from one location to another.
The premise, written by Mark Waid, starts out with the characters fighting, then teaming up in the classic style. Cliff’s mechanic Peevish turns out to be a war buddy of Dolan’s, which makes the two title heroes feel even sillier after their in-flight squabble. Although it’s some gorgeous choreography, arms and legs akimbo in mid-air.
Paul Smith’s staging in the first chapter is incredible, full of distinctive panels, many of which could be used to sum up the pulp feel of the story, from Betty’s picture poses to the Spirit, seen through a snowy city window. It’s a shame that the series wasn’t able to keep the same artist throughout. The second chapter, drawn by Loston Wallace, has expressive figures but less creative layout. J. Bone’s second half is more stylized, making the girls particularly seem more “cutesy-pie”.
Betty finds the Spirit attractive, which makes Ellen jealous and annoys Cliff. And the background, looking at monopoly control of the airwaves, is quaint and yet timely in its analogies. As well, it provides aspiring actress Betty a reason to stay involved in the story and eventually be rescued. There’s also an undercurrent of East Coast vs. West, New York vs. LA.
I normally wait for collections for miniseries, but given the art changes and cliffhangers, this probably would read better in monthly issues. Regardless, it’s a fun retro ride. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)