Showing posts from September, 2009

Thoughts on the New TV Season, 2009 Edition, Part 2

In which things go from bad to worse. I realize, academically, that this year is probably no worse than any other, but it sure feels as if there's a lot more crap to wade through, and it's certainly not helping that there isn't a single show whose pilot has hooked me completely. Plus, the returning shows are extremely variable-- Dexter and How I Met Your Mother have been very good, Dollhouse an extremely mixed bag, and House a profound disappointment. Oh well, let's take a look at the most recent batch. Accidentally On Purpose and Cougar Town - Two comedies about an older woman/younger man pairing. In Accidentally On Purpose , Billie (Jenna Elfman, sporting a heroically awful haircut) is a thirty seven year old film critic who, having despaired of her boyfriend committing to her, starts a fling with a twentyish man, which quickly leads to her becoming pregnant. Cougar Town 's Jules (Courteney Cox, looking absolutely smoking after having more or less ditche

District 9

It's been nearly three days since I saw Neill Blomkamp's District 9 , and I'm still not sure whether I liked or disliked it. Or rather, I know that I had both reactions, but I'm struggling to decide which one wins out. This seems appropriate for a film as rife with contradiction as District 9 is: an independent film--made outside of Hollywood, filmed and set in South Africa--which is also an effects-laden, action blockbuster which has scored more than a hundred million dollars at the box office; an allegory of apartheid which has been accused of racism . And then there's the film's bi-polar script. Its political, thought-provoking first half follows, pseudo-documentary style, the vain and empty headed Johannesburg bureaucrat Wikus Van Der Merwe through the titular slum, where twenty years ago stranded alien refugees were corralled and interned, as he lies, manipulates and threatens them into giving him some legal justification for their upcoming deportation

The City & The City by China Miéville

For China Miéville to name a novel The City & The City seems almost redundant, a meta-statement on his entire career. There is perhaps no other fantasy author who is as closely associated with cities as Miéville, and responsibility for the burgeoning popularity of urban landscapes in traditional fantasy (not to be confused with the urban fantasy subgenre) may very well be laid squarely at his feet. Cities, in Miéville's novels, have an existence that transcends their geography, inhabitants, and institutions. Their discovery, understanding, salvation or destruction is often at the crux of his plots. In his novels and stories, one encounters shadow cities, accessible only to a select, initiated few ( King Rat , Un Lun Dun ), cities disconnected from geography ( The Scar , Iron Council ), cities as living organisms, to whom humans are as barnacles on a whale's back ("Reports of Certain Events in London"), and, of course, the sprawling, dying metropolis of New Crobuz

Thoughts on the New TV Season, 2009 Edition

One of the blessings for the Jewish new year (and a happy 5770 to those celebrating it) is 'let the year and its curses end; let the year and its blessings begin.' There's a similar failure to learn from experience at work, I think, in the fall pilot season. Every year, producers and viewers alike line up excitedly to present or review the new crop of shows. And sure, there'll be a decent one or two in there, but also a lot of dross to wade through, most of it made up of clones of last year's success stories or remakes of the last decade's hits. Most of the heavy hitters (and the returning shows) won't begin their seasons until next week, but here are my thoughts on a few of the new shows which have had their premieres in the first half of the month. Glee - From Television Without Pity to The New York Times , everyone has lined up to crown this show, about a high school teacher who resurrects his school's glee club and the group of misfits and lose

Why I Won't Be Watching Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino is in Israel this week to promote his Holocaust action-comedy-exploitation film Inglourious Basterds , and this afternoon he gave a press conference. Film blogger and critic Yair Raveh live-blogged the event, including Tarantino's response to the inevitable question of whether there are red lines in filmmaking, and whether the Holocaust lies beyond them. (It should be noted that this is my translation from Hebrew of Raveh's no doubt hasty translation of Tarantino's English answer, so I may be losing meaning and nuance. The gist, however, seems quite clear.) (UPDATE: Raveh has posted a video of the press conference.) I've been asked why I didn't make a Holocaust film. Well, I did make a Holocaust film. But I think that in the last twenty years Holocaust films have been very depressing [the literal translation of Raveh's text is 'bummer,' and I'm not sure what Tarantino's original word choice was] because their focus was on

Sarah Hall Roundtable

Not to be confused with the Lavinia conversation , in the last couple of weeks I've also been participating in a discussion of Sarah Hall's recent, Booker-longlisted novel How to Paint a Dead Man , organized by Ed Champion and including Frances Dinkelspiel, Sarah Weinman, Miracle Jone, Mark Athitakis, Peggy Nelson, Brian Francis Slattery, Kathleen Maher, Anna Clark, Jenny Davidson, Michael Schaub, Amy Riley, Traver Kauffman, Judith Zissman, and Anne Fernald. Ed has all five parts of the discussion up at his blog, including, in the last one, a response from Hall herself. Also of potential interest: my review of Hall's previous novel The Carhullan Army ( Daughters of the North in the US), part of my review of the 2008 Arthur C. Clarke Award nominees, at Strange Horizons .

A Discussion About Lavinia, Part 3

Earlier this summer, Niall Harrison organized a discussion of Ursula K. Le Guin's most recent novel, Lavinia , with Nic Clarke, Jo Coleman, Adam Roberts, and myself. The first and second parts of the discussion are up at Torque Control and Punkadiddle , respectively, and part four should be up shortly at Nic and Jo's blog, Eve's Alexandria (UPDATE: here it is) . Here is part 3. Abigail Nussbaum: I have to wonder just to what degree we're justified in calling Lavinia a fantasy. Jo and Nic both point out the natural magic of Lavinia's religion, but it seems just as valid to me to read these descriptions as being of Lavinia's worldview as they are of the actual world she is living in. What I liked about the descriptions of religion in the novel was that they depicted people for whom the divine is mixed with mundane, for whom gods are a constantly palpable presence whose influence intrudes on their lives through dreams and omens. But I don't think it

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: Sense and Sensibility Thoughts

I've been promising myself to write something substantial about Sense and Sensibility since before I even had a blog, and one of the reasons I've taken so long getting around to doing so is that it tends to fall through the cracks. It's not a perennial favorite like Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion , nor a work I didn't get along with in my teens, and which I can set myself the goal of reengaging with as an adult as I did with Mansfield Park and Emma (and really, it is time to try to do the same with Northanger Abbey as I promised I'd do only two years ago). I liked Sense and Sensibility when I first read it (though at least some of that affection is due to the transcendent Emma Thompson/Ang Lee adaptation which I watched soon after finishing the book for the first time) and I come back to it every now and then, but not so much with the enthusiasm one feels when returning to a beloved work as with a grim determination to finally, once and for all, work the