Friday, 21 September 2018

TV Show Review: Twin Peaks, Seasons 1 and 2

Pros: some great storylines, good representation, cultural impact

Cons: some hokey storylines, slow pacing, occasional over the top acting

When Twin Peaks aired on television in 1990 I was too young to have been watching and old enough to know what a phenomenon it was going to be. And it was a phenomenon. Most shows at that time were episodic, so if you missed one episode it didn’t matter (as they generally aired at one time on one day - and in reruns, if the show was popular enough and you could catch those episodes). So a show with a continuous storyline that required you see every episode, in order, was unusual. And then there was the hype around the tag line: Who killed Laura Palmer?  

Rewatching the show as an adult, it’s interesting what still worked, what didn’t, and what from the various storylines I remembered all these years later.

First off, I remember the show being quirky and mysterious. I did not remember it being a soap opera. And it most definitely is a soap opera.

Season 1 starts off with a 2 hour made for TV movie. It sets out the mystery of Laura’s death, the coming of FBI agent Dale Cooper to Twin Peaks to investigate the murder, and a decent number of the people who live in the town. That season ended on a cliff hanger when the season was riding high in the ratings. It’s surprisingly coherent in storytelling, with little jokes continuing from episode to episode (like the bizarre conferences going on at The Great Northern Hotel). As an adult, Agent Cooper’s mysticism didn’t work so well. If the FBI en mass actually worked the way he does in this show, no one would trust them to solve cases. While he does examine the evidence he’s got too much reliance on dreams and whatnot for me to believe any sheriff would follow his lead.

Season 2 solves the murder of Laura Palmer a third of the way through. The special feature on the DVD set I watched pointed out that solving the murder so soon was a mistake. Once Laura’s death was solved, the allure of the show vanished and all you were left with was the soap opera. And while the characters were interesting, the increasingly lurid storylines just weren’t compelling enough to get the show a third season. Until 25 years later.

A few things really impressed me about the show. As I said, the storytelling on the whole is impressive. There are a large number of storylines and quite a few of them are resolved. 

The DVD special mentioned that Josie Packard was originally written as an Italian woman, but they liked Joan Chen’s audition so much they rewrote the part so she was from Hong Kong instead. Deputy ‘Hawk’ was played by an actual Native American. I was also impressed by representations of disability, like Donna Hayward’s mother who’s in a wheelchair (and it’s never explained why) and Nadine Hurley’s missing eye. Season 2 has a trans woman (played by David Duchovny - X-Files started in 1993) and while her scenes can be awkward at times, it’s still impressive in terms of representation for its time (for our time too, to be honest).

Almost every character in the show has some quirk. And they’re pretty in your face obvious, like the log lady carrying a log that speaks to her and FBI Director Gordon Cole’s propensity to shout due to his difficulty hearing. On one hand it made some people feel like caricatures, while on the other, it made the town feel more realistic.

The music was great, offbeat and quirky to match the characters. We had the soundtrack so I still remember all the different character themes.

Watching it nowadays it’s a fairly slow moving, often boring show. There are a lot of panning shots and close-ups that last too long. Some of the storylines are just comically bad and some of the resolutions disappointing as they depend on mysticism of some kind. The acting is often over the top (especially Leland Palmer, whose scenes of grief are hard to watch - and make me wonder if Lynch was trying to show how callous people are in the face of others’ grief, expecting them to get over tragedy quickly as it’s hard to watch someone else break down).

The show had a huge impact at the time and still has its moments. I don’t think I could watch it again though.

I tried watching the more recent 3rd season and just couldn’t. It was so slow and several episodes in still had no plot. Some things are products of their time and there’s no going back.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Shout-Out: Paramnesia by Brian Wilkinson

Nora Edwards finally has everything she wants out of life, including the boy of her dreams, until one night that dream turns into a nightmare. On their way home from prom, Nora and Andrew are attacked by a supernatural creature called the Revenant that sucks the souls out of the living in order to feed itself. Nora manages to escape from the creature, but Andrew is not as fortunate. Although Nora suffers loss that night, she gains something as well: the ability to see the dead, including her recently deceased boyfriend. Whether the skill is a gift or a curse is yet to be determined, since those around her assume Nora's erratic behaviour is due to "paramnesia," a disorder in which a person confuses dreams with reality. She's also attracted the attention of the Revenant's masters, who need to preserve the secret of their supernatural existence and will stop at nothing to prevent her from talking. Nora, along with Andrew and her living and dead allies in the Deadish Society, quickly finds herself in a battle for her life--and the souls of her city.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Book Review: Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Pros: interesting characters, great setting, unique mystery

Cons: more details of bodily functions than I needed

Kaaro’s criminal past and his abilities as a sensitive have trapped him in the role of government agent. His assignment is to live in Rosewater, a city surrounding a mysterious alien biodome that once a year heals those that stand within a certain area, and learn what he can about it. When the sensitives around him start getting sick, he realizes that change is coming, and tries to finally uncover the mystery of the alien, his abilities, and what they mean for the future.

The book mostly takes place in Nigeria in 2066, with flashbacks of Kaaro’s life, particularly around 2055, when he was first recruited by S45 and Rosewater was founded. I don’t know much about Nigeria, so it was great reading about how it might look in the future, with several chapters taking place in Lagos and neighbouring areas. There were food and religious references and translated lines in some of the regional languages.

Kaaro’s an interesting character. He starts out apathetic to what’s going on around him and slowly comes alive as he falls in love during the course of the book. He’s an avowed coward and thief, so he’s not the easiest protagonist to like, but his life is very different and so carries the book well.

While you don’t learn too much about the aliens they are unique and make the mystery compelling. Some early information doesn’t make much sense (like using anti-fungal cream to reduce psychic abilities) but they are explained in time. As the story progressed I found it harder to put the book down.

I could have done without some of the mentions and descriptions of bodily functions. While the sexual ones at least gave character information (even if I didn’t feel I needed to know about every erection he had), on a few occasions bowel movements were also mentioned.

If you’re looking for unique science fiction, pick this up.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Graphic Novel Review: Gravity Falls Lost Legends by Alex Hirsch

Pros: fun stories, good artwork


Schmebulock the gnome narrates four new stories of the Pines family in this graphic novel based on the TV show. In “Face It” Pacifica wants magical aid removing a wrinkle, “Comix Up” sees Stan trapped inside a comic book, “Don’t Dimension It” has Mabel lost in the multiverse, and “Pines Bros Mystery” is an adventure from when Stan and Ford were kids.

There are new journal pages and puzzles to solve, and the stories fit in nicely with the show. Be sure you’ve seen both seasons as one of the stories may be spoilery otherwise. There’s little character introduction, so if you haven’t seen the show you won’t know who anyone is or why they’re doing what they’re doing.

The artwork matches that of the show, though in some panels Ford and Stan’s heads are a bit too large for the bodies they’ve got.

Overall it’s a fun book with some cute additional stories.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Shout-Out: The Echo Room by Parker Peevyhouse

The only thing worse than being locked in is facing what you locked out.

Rett Ward knows how to hide. He's had six years of practice at Walling Home, the state-run boarding school where he learned how to keep his head down to survive.

But when Rett wakes up locked in a small depot with no memory of how he got there, he can't hide. Not from the stranger in the next room. Or from the fact that there's someone else's blood on his jumpsuit.

Worse, every time he tries to escape, he wakes up right back where he started. Same day, same stranger, same bloodstained jumpsuit.

As memories start to surface, Rett realizes that the logo on the walls is familiar, the stranger isn't a stranger, and the blood on his jumpsuit belongs to someone-or something-banging on the door to get in.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Book Review: Ash and Silver by Carol Berg

Pros: lots of plot twists, interesting characters

Cons: opening drags a bit, some questions of how the Order works in practice

Two years into his training to become a knight of the Order of the Equites Cinere, Greenshanks learns that his real name is Lucian de Remeni. His memory was wiped when his service began, and it quickly becomes clear that he left a lot of important things undone before he joined the Order. Now caught in numerous plots and unsure of who to trust, Lucian works to understand his past while saving the future of his world.

The two year gap and Lucian’s memory loss made it difficult for me to jump back into the story. It felt more like a new story rather than a continuation. Once hints of his past started to surface things began to pick up. The second half of the book was a whirlwind of action and I had trouble putting the book down as the plots within plots slowly unravelled.

There’s a lot of mystery and intrigue, more interesting because while the plots mostly overlap through Lucian, many of the players are unaware of each other. Seeing things purely from Lucian’s POV, it’s hard to know who he should trust and what actions he should take.

I loved all of the new characters, particularly the knights. Commander Inek and Fix were great.

I did have some questions about how the Order remained secret considering it’s populated by Purebloods, people under tight Registry regulation. Do the knights remove all trace of their past lives? That is, do they remove memories of them from their loved ones and removed their names from the registry so that they’re not considered runaways? Or are their deaths faked when they join? Lucian’s wasn’t so why aren’t people looking for all these missing Pureblood men?

There are quite a few major plot twists and my emotions were jerked around quite a bit the last few chapters. I liked that the ending ties some things up but leaves others open, with the world continuing on.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Uffizi Digitization Project

Open Culture recently had an article about the Uffizi Digitization Project. Basically, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, has been digitizing their collection of Greek and Roman sculpture and releasing the 3D images online. It's not done, but they've got a nice selection of statuary (altars, busts, statues, etc.) that you can click on and then view from all angles. I love that so many museums are digitizing their collections. And I'd love to see more museums put 3D images up so you can see the whole object, not just the 'front'.