Category Archives: About a . . .

Watching Orphan Black as a Faceblind Person

I’ve written about my face blindness before — what it means is that I generally recognize people by things like hair, clothes, context, and voice inflection before faces.  My face blindness isn’t as bad as it could be, and I mostly get along just fine, but it’s bad enough to interfere with my life, especially when I see people out of context or after long gaps.  As a gauge of severity, let’s put it this way: I’ve never not recognized my parents after not seeing them for a while, but I always worry I won’t.

So I was a bit nervous about trying to watch Orphan Black, despite the entire Internet telling me to.  Because, especially given the skills of the lead actress, I was afraid that there would be moments when the “reveal” would depend on me recognizing that two women with completely different deportments and hairstyles had the same face, and I wouldn’t.

Well, considering that I just watched two seasons of Orphan Black in two days, clearly my faceblindness didn’t impede me too much!  In fact, for anyone else who’s bad with faces who is hesitating over watching this show — you’ll be totally fine.  Once you pick up on who the clones are at the beginning, which the show is very, very clear about pointing out in multiple ways, it’s smooth sailing.  (In fact, since the show asks all viewers to differentiate the clones based on things other than face, it might be even easier to watch than other shows — I have a lot of trouble on some shows with people of the same gender/age/race having similar hairstyles and I mix them all up, whereas here, they have to make sure that doesn’t happen or everyone will mix them up.)

But if you want some interesting notes about the experience:

(here there be spoilers through the end of Season 2)

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Firefly Asian Dream Cast

"For a universe that's supposed to be half Chinese, Firefly sure doesn't have any Asians."

Part of xkcd comic http://xkcd.com/561/. CC-BY-NC.

I love Firefly.

It’s is a brilliant show, and one of the parts I love most is worldbuilding that mixes the U.S. and China as the dominant cultures in a far-flung space-faring future.  The characters are all fluent in Chinese, wear Chinese-inspired clothing, eat with chopsticks, and wear white to funerals.

Therefore, the fact that the show has no Asian actors in leading roles is a very troubling and uncomfortable thing.  It’s hard enough for Asian actors to succeed in Hollywood; it’s even more depressing when a work of media steals the shiny bits of our culture and then gives no opportunities to Asian-American actors.

“Maybe there weren’t any Asian actors up to the job,” people say, every time this comes up.

Bullshit, says I.

Don’t get me wrong — I adore Firefly’s cast.  But . . . just for fun, behold my Asian Dream Cast!  The rules were as follows:

  1. The actors had to be of East Asian descent and work in the U.S.,
  2. The actors had to be actively doing television (as opposed to purely film actors),
  3. As much as possible (just for my sake), I wanted actors I was familiar with,
  4. To avoid driving myself crazy, I did this as if we were casting in 2014, rather than trying to figure out how old people were ten years ago.  Scanning the list, it looks like most of these actors could have played the same roles I’ve cast them in in 2002 anyway, and the ones who couldn’t would have been easy to cast with actors currently ten years older than the role (as noted below, River would have been far easier to cast older, and I had a list as long as my arm of possibilities for Kaylee).

I imposed rules #1 and #2 because I wanted to prove that it is just not true that there isn’t a fantastic slate of talented East Asian-descent actors doing American television.  #3 was just because it’s more fun for me if I’m familiar with the actors I’m talking about!  (#3 was the most limiting.  I’m famous among my friends for not having seen enough movies and never knowing who any of the actors are.)

Now, drum roll, please . . .

Firefly East Asian Dream Cast

(cut because of lots of video embeds)

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Book Recommendation: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, by Zen Cho

I’ve been wanting to recommend this for a while, but the author’s website was down when I first read it, and I wanted to link to it, because ONCE YOU START READING IT YOU WILL WANT TO BUY IT BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.

This is an epistolary romance novella (yes! I read a romance!) in the form of a journal, set in 1920’s London.  And it’s AMAZING.  We have delightful (and diverse!) characters, romance tropes turned completely on their heads, and a heroine who has sex purely because she’s curious.  She’s CURIOUS!

Jade’s wit is wonderfully incisive and she has a way of writing about her own life that is funny and intelligent and deliciously analytical.  I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book.  The whole thing is available for free, serialized on the author’s website:

http://zencho.org/category/my-stories/the-perilous-life-of-jade-yeo/

And here it is on Amazon because really, this novella deserves All the Sales: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0087NQRM2

Read it, buy it, and enjoy.

Ten “Favorite” Books

I was talking to a friend today about making a list of our top 10 favorite books.

The decision is so impossible it almost feels meaningless.  I’ve read thousands of books in my lifetime.  Once I sat down to list how as many titles as I could remember reading, and I hit 500 without breaking a sweat — just of titles I could remember off the top of my head.  I have over 600 paper books just in my personal library.

And my favorite books have not always been the best books I’ve read, either.  And the ones I like to reread the most are not even always my favorites!  Sometimes I have sentimental attachments.  Sometimes a book pushes every button I have while still having problems I could write a thesis on.

So I thought, here’s an interesting exercise: try to think of the first 10 (fiction) books that might land in the “favorite” category.  The books that reached in and twisted my soul around.  The books that spoke to me so personally that I felt they were written just for me.  The books that I reread, over and over and over again, for no particular reason.  Write down the first ten of those that come to mind.

10 Books That Touched Me

  1. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman The one paperback in my library I took with me across the country.  I don’t know if it’s my favorite book, or even the one I’ve reread the most.  I just know that it’s like warm blankets and white rice and hot cocoa.  Comfort food.
  2. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones I’m cheating a little by putting these in the same line item, but they’re in the same universe and remain connected in my mind.  Everything I love about fantasy is wrapped up in these perfectly-written books, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I related to Nick.
  3. Bloodchild, by Octavia Butler The first Octavia Butler I read and still my favorite.  Unbelievable how much some of the stories made me think.
  4. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury I don’t actually remember much of this book, to be honest.  What I do remember is almost crying at the beauty of the prose.  Multiple times.
  5. 1984, by George Orwell It’s the ideas behind Orwell’s dystopia that push this one onto the list.  1984 is the sort of book that simultaneously terrified me and engaged me.
  6. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare Okay, I’m definitely cheating by putting this all as one line item, especially as there are still some histories I haven’t read, but otherwise once I thought of Shakespeare he would’ve taken up the whole rest of the list.  I’ve read, studied, and performed so many of his plays, and they’ve spoken to me in so many ways.
  7. V, by A.C. Crispin I wrote about my relationship with V here.
  8. The Story Girl, by L.M. Montgomery I owned most of L.M. Montgomery’s books as a kid, and this was my favorite.  I can’t count the number of times I reread it.
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams Spaceships that hang in the sky the same way bricks don’t!  I’ve only encountered one other writer with Adams’ sheer mind-blowing creativity, and she isn’t published yet. ;)
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle I used to reread this book every two years like clockwork.  I still remember explaining proudly to my second-grade teacher what the fourth and fifth dimensions were.  And of course there were all the sequels . . . (Many Waters has made me quite snooty about my Noah’s Ark knowledge in the context of the recent movie release.)

Okay!

It’s an interesting mix.  Half male authors, half female authors.  Staggeringly skewed toward books I first read as a child (8), with only one book I discovered in college (Deep Secret) and two books I discovered post-college (The Merlin Conspiracy and Bloodchild).  Three fantasy, six science fiction, one contemporary (for its time), and Shakespeare.  (Oddly, most of the books I thought of but didn’t feel “favorite” enough were contemporary, like The Joy Luck Club and The Twinkie Squad — there’s something about speculative fiction that hits my kinks much harder, that makes me think much more.)  One media tie-in book (for a series I never saw).  Seven adult books, and four books that would probably be considered young adult.  Only one author of color on the list, which I think is indicative of the fact that I made little effort to diversify my reading when I was young, and most of these books are books I read young.  (Oddly, I can name a plethora of authors of color I did read as a kid — in particular, I know I read quite a few books by Asian-American and African-American authors — but most of those books were contemporary, which we’ve established does not speak to me quite as loudly for some reason.)

Ender’s Game would have been on here if I’d been able to reread it since I found out about Card’s homophobia.  It’s not that I hold it against the book; I just . . . don’t pick it up anymore.

How correct does this list feel, if I weren’t naming the first ten books that felt like favorites off the top of my head?  Well, about half of them feel like books I’d kick and scream at if something else pushed them off the list, so I’m going to go with about half right. ;)

What about you?  What are the first ten “favorite” books you can think of?

My Thoughts on Movies I Saw for Free

I wrote this last year but kept delaying posting it because I kept thinking I would watch Lincoln. Since I was starting to write one up for THIS year, I figured, what the heck, I’ll post it a year late.

So, because I work in Hollywood, I get screener DVDs sent to my house of some of the movies that are up for awards every year.  (And if they don’t send DVDs, they often give me downloads or free movie tickets.)  Here are my brief thoughts on a subset of this year’s free movies:

(mild spoilers for Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Hitchcock, Les Miserables, and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)

Silver Linings Playbook:  Well-written, well-directed, well-acted, and their screw-up of the “big move” was one of the best-crafted actions in a movie scene I’ve seen in a long time.  But I have a bone to pick with Silver Linings Playbook, which is . . . how did nobody tell me this was a ROMANCE???  I’m watching, and watching, and watching, and suddenly, BANG, in the last ten minutes, I realize the entire plot structure was a ROMANCE PLOT STRUCTURE!  I thought it was a drama that was going to end unhappily with everyone miserable or dying, dammit.  I felt very duped!

Argo:  First half: Awesome.  And I was rolling on the floor at the (all too true!) portrayal of Hollywood.  Second half?  Eh.  Way too many exactly timed close calls that were Hollywoodized in just for the DRAMA of it.  Plus, I didn’t think any of the hostage characters were very well-developed, which means I couldn’t bring myself to care as much as I wanted to about their eventual escape.  I would have much preferred to see more antics of the producer and the SPX make-up artist.  (Also: The whitewashing, of course, pissed me off.  We’re at a time when Hispanic people are systemically being painted as non-patriotic, non-real Americans, and here was a golden opportunity to show a Latino as an American hero . . . not.)

Hitchcock: The cast was spectacular.  The story of making Psycho was fascinating.  Alas, if only they could have stuck to that story.  The forays into Hitchcock’s strange daydreams/night dreams messed up the pacing and confused what would have been an excellent film otherwise.  (Also: I want to marry Helen Mirren.)

Lincoln: Didn’t watch it at first because they didn’t send a DVD.  Then they sent one and I . . . still didn’t.  Sounded heavy, so we kept procrastinating on watching it.  I’ve heard it’s narratively pretty problematic (i.e. racist), so I’m not too bothered.  Maybe I’ll watch it eventually.

Les Miserables: . . . no comment.  (We tried to watch it with copious amounts of alcohol; we really did.  We started the fast-forwarding about five scenes in and still couldn’t even make it to the halfway point.)

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Expected it to be a bunch of awesome elderly British actors getting up to hijinks, and it was completely as advertised.  I’m generally not a fan of the Exotic Location Teaches White People a Very Important Lesson stories, but I was too busy watching Judi Dench being adorable to worry about it much, and from what I can tell (not being Indian) they did have a diversity of reasonably well-developed Indian characters.  (Also: I tend to like movies that don’t focus on young twenty-somethings.)  Other thoughts: Judi Dench and Maggie Smith are both near eighty, what?, and I desperately wanted Penelope Wilton to whip out a badge and say, “Harriet Jones, former Prime Minister!”  (Yes, we know who you are.)

The Impossible: After reading this review, I refused to watch it, even for free.

It’s Okay, He Wasn’t a Main Character. (Or White.)

So I watched the pilot episode of Killer Women, and I’ll probably start watching the show.  (This doesn’t say much, as I have a very low bar for cop and lawyer shows, but yeah, it’s a fun show so far.)

Buuuuuut there’s one thing about the pilot that really annoyed me . . .

(spoilers follow)

Tricia Helfer, aka Molly Parker (whom I’ll hereafter refer to as Six) is talking to her DEA love interest and trying to convince him to go into Mexico after a mother and child who were kidnapped by a drug cartel.  DEA love interest at first says no, then, after Six’s intense, er, persuasion, he says okay, but it’ll just be the two of them, and he’ll only use one of his Mexican contacts.  “We’ll probably die,” he warns her as he walks off.

(We know already that they’re not gonna die.  Right?  Right.)

So they infiltrate Mexico along with DEA LI’s one Mexican contact, who gets them in.  Naturally, there’s a shootout as they try to get the mother and little girl out.

Naturally, LI’s Mexican contact gets shot and killed in the shootout and our two main characters get away.

(And by the way, both our main characters are attractive and white.  Just to add to the picturesque contrast here.)

Six and her LI get out of Mexico with the female plot devices kidnap victims and have heroically saved the day.  In the final scene, they’re all smiling and relieved and all is wonderful because the daring and break-the-rules Texas Ranger Six has brazenly rescued her plot devices and she and the LI have emerged unscathed as heroes.  There’s a palpable sense of relief and heroism and all-American patriotism and the good guys winning the day.

Nothing is ever said of the poor Mexican dude whose bullet-riddled body was left in the drug cartel’s compound.

Which.  Okay.  Seriously?

They got LI’s contact killed—they got someone killed—and the narrative’s going to play that as an Awesomesauce Win, no second thoughts, not even a drunken toast in his name in the bar afterwards?  Unless the writers are trying to frame their MCs as having some level of sociopathy or dissociation from other people’s deaths, there’s something seriously wrong with that in a narrative.  If you want your heroes to be, y’know, heroic, playing off the death of someone who helps them as unimportant, as something that does not impinge an unsullied victory, is a rather poor writing decision.

How I Would Rewrite That Atrocious Gun Scene in “The Newsroom”

The Newsroom is a great show.  I do have some doubts, however, on whether Aaron Sorkin has any idea at all how to write a believable Republican[1]—Will is supposedly a red-blooded conservative, but we’ve seen him smoke pot, bully a (gay) man to the point of cruelty over not being supportive enough of gay rights, and freak out over people carrying guns (one of whom was his bodyguard, and both of whom were licensed).  If we saw him rant about fiscal conservatism and shrinking government alongside these things it’d make more sense, but, y’know, we haven’t.

I thought the gun episode would have been a perfect time to showcase some more Republican-esque beliefs and make him a more believable conservative.[2]  Also, it would have been nice if it hadn’t been utterly failtastic in the way people handled firearms!  So, I give you:

HOW I WOULD REWRITE EPISODE 4, PARTICULARLY THAT ATROCIOUS GUN SCENE:

  • The team is going over how the gun lobby has misrepresented the debate (which I think was all well done, incidentally; I’m constantly reassuring my friends in the gun community that Obama does not want to come steal our weapons[3]).
  • Will goes on a date with the crazy woman.  He goes to get the marijuana from her purse and sees the gun.
  • He freaks out a little bit.  He asks her about it.  (So far I’ve changed nothing.)
  • Now, instead of WAVING THE MUZZLE ACROSS HER with the gun fully loaded (WHAT), what if he’s freaked out and doesn’t want to touch it?  And what if he’s pro-gun in the show instead of anti-gun, and his freaked-out-ness is despite him being pro-gun?  I know a lot of people who are good with guns in theory, but absolutely disturbed by them in practice.
  • Then, how about if the woman takes it and unloads it, NOT POINTING IT AT HIM, and gives him the line from the show about being a liberal from the South.  Then what if she says something like, “I thought you were a Republican.”
  • And maybe he says he is, but he’s still not sure he’s comfortable with a gun in his living room.
  • Instead of POINTING THE GUN AT HIM, she cites some statistics about gun ownership reducing violent crime rates.
  • Instead of POINTING THE GUN BACK AT HER, he confesses some doubt over the veracity of those statistics, or agrees with her but says dating someone who’s carrying just freaks him out, or admits that it feels different when he knows he’s with someone who’s actually armed, or, I don’t know, ANYTHING BUT POINTING A GUN AT HER.
  • Later, he talks to Olivia Munn’s character about setting him up with “Annie Oakley,” and how about if she says something like, “I thought you were a Republican” and he has a continued crisis of theoretical Second Amendment beliefs versus feeling freaked out by his date packing heat in her purse?  Instead of Will having some sort of bizarre across-the-board condemnation of firearms despite being a Republican, what if this encounter makes him question his pro-gun Republican beliefs?  NUANCE, Sorkin, NUANCE.
  • Above all, don’t end the episode by lining it up with the Gabrielle Giffords shooting.  Not because of my personal feelings on guns, but just because it felt really emotionally manipulative.  Like an episode in which the characters debate domestic terrorism defense ending with 9/11 would.  The Giffords shooting was a huge tragedy, and it felt cheap to use it to cap an episode about guns.

You know, I’m totally fine with the show’s narrative coming to the conclusion that the benefits of gun control outweigh the benefits of gun rights.  But in the past (see The West Wing), Sorkin has been better about at least showing the various sides of political arguments, of having a reasonable voice of dissent that shows not all people who believe XYZ are evil irrational monsters.

To sum up: Why did the one woman who carried in the episode have to be painted as a crazy lady, and why did Will dismiss gun ownership as crossing-the-line insane despite being a Republican, and why did every sane character dismiss gun rights as not even worthy of debate instead of there being a single rational line expressing the other side of the issue . . . and above all, why did the two characters point a firearm at each other despite both being coded as knowing something about guns?  Seriously, the flagrant gun safety violations bothered me more than EVERYTHING ELSE in the entire episode.  Forget the politics; if you have the least iota of firearms knowledge or experience, YOU DO NOT DO THAT!

  1. Or woman, but that’s a different story.
  2. I’m pretty slanted on the liberal end of the spectrum myself, at least on social issues . . . but I do so hate informed attributes in characters.  I’d rather see a believable character I disagree with than a shell of a character whose views are entirely inoffensive to me.
  3. Of course, the state of California is another story . . .

Thoughts on the Movie “The Heat”

What you should know about me first: Action comedies rock my socks.  As long as there’s just enough plot to hang the banter and gunfights on, I am there with my popcorn.

And The Heat?  The Heat delivered like no other action comedy has in years.  Rock.  On.

Of course, I also dug it because it’s a buddy cop comedy starring two women.  How often does that happen?  It’s so rare I can’t think of another one ever, yet I can think of plenty starring two dudes.  So, was this movie Oscar material?  No, but it wasn’t trying to be.  Was it a solid addition to the action comedy genre?  Hell yeah!  And I think it’s great that women can be the madcap, wild, brawn-before-brain action stars too—just like I want to see Asian men headline dumb romantic comedies.

More thoughts (some spoilers):

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Book Recommendation: The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley

How much do I love this book!

I just finished it, and I did not want it to end.  You know how some books you finish because you want to know what happens?  I wanted to know what happened, yes, but I was also enjoying reading it so damn much.  I really, really hope there’s a sequel!  I think I genuinely loved every page of it.  It’s just so much fun!  The plot is sharp, the writing is excellent, and the characters are fantastic.  The story is intense enough that I wouldn’t classify it as “light” in the same way, for instance, Douglas Adams is—there’s definitely plenty of nail-biting suspense and some panicky, worrisome, or downright tearjerking moments as the plot takes turns for the worse—but it’s witty and wildly creative and made me laugh out loud at several points.

Oh, and did I mention how well O’Malley handles gender?  Not just because he’s got a female protagonist (who is awesome, and does not read as a male fantasy, or a “man with boobs,” or someone who’s trying to be a Strong Female Character, but instead reads as a real person), and not because he’s got a bunch of women in main roles who dash about passing the Bechdel test and driving the plot together, even though that’s also true.  But because his women aren’t defined by their femaleness.  He has a cast of diverse, fantastic characters with all sorts of quirks and strengths and faults, and somewhere around half of them just happen to be women.

I really don’t know what it says that I’m this gleeful about seeing this in a book.  But I am.

Anyway, here’s a bit more about the book:

(no major spoilers, adding a click-through just in case . . . edited to add: included below is now an AWESOME book trailer I just found!  Really, this is how to do book trailers!)

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Star Trek: Into Darkness, This Time With More Rant and Many Links

So . . . in my initial reaction post, I expressed my disappointment with this movie.  Walking out of the theatre, I thought it an “eh, enjoyable” action flick but a depressingly terrible Star Trek film.  I ranted a bit about the sexism and the racism and Certain Writing Decisions, but I had liked enough elements to feel it was merely mediocre.

The more I think about it, the more I think that it might not even be a good movie, and as far as being a Trek movie goes, it’s rapidly devolving in my head to “practically a desecration.”

Here’s what I’ve been mulling about (with links!).  Warning: If you liked the movie, you probably shouldn’t click.  I have no wish to rain on anyone’s happiness.

(Spoilers below.)

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