Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Watched in 2014

As I posted recently, my blogging has been at an all-time low this year, even if I’ve been keeping up things on Facebook. I wrote about The Walking Dead, The Leftovers, The Knick, and Game of Thrones (just so I’d have one show that didn’t begin with “The”).  But I’ve seen a lot of film and television in 2014 that I didn’t share with y’all, and so here are some of my favourites:

Whiplash: Probably my favourite film of the year, this is a dark and gritty look — think Black Swan for musicians — at the pain and suffering that classical and jazz musicians must endure at extremely high performance levels. When a guy strives to be the next Buddy Rich and makes it into the most elite band of New York’s most elite music school, he meets a teacher who believes that breaking down a person’s resolve, self-confidence, and self-esteem are the only ways to make them build themselves back up again. The performances by JK Simmons and Miles Teller are utterly stunning. I think Simmons has the Best Supporting Actor Oscar wrapped up. I can’t recommend this movie highly enough.

Locke: A much quieter film, it takes place almost entirely in the worst car ride one man could possibly have without getting into an accident. While the premise doesn’t sound like much, you have to watch this film for one of the most remarkable one-man performances you will ever see. Tom Hardy (yes, Bane) delivers a sublime performance as one man falling apart, while constantly using his dashboard phone to call several people to try desperately to maintain the foundation of a building he’s overseeing while his real world crumbles to the ground around him. Other than Hardy, you only hear the voices of the other actors, but it’s a who’s who of the best British stars today, and Hardy puts in such a stunning performance I half-wish no other great movie had come out after this one so he could just take that Oscar for himself. 

The Imitation Game: I’ve spent a lot of time this year with Benedict Cumberbatch (as mentioned, and what my publisher would like me to continue mentioning, I’ve written a book on Sherlock that will be out in fall 2015), and he never ceases to amaze me. In this film he plays Alan Turing, the brilliant young mathematician who created the machine that eventually deciphered the unbreakable Nazi code machine, Enigma, which ended up shortening the war considerably and saving innumerable lives. But what the justice system did to him following the war — having absolutely no knowledge of his incredible contributions to saving their lives — is nothing short of inhumane and horrific. The final moments of the movie will have tears streaming down your face for what was done to him. In 2012 at the opening games of the London Olympics, the British brought out the father of the Internet to show all of their great achievements; they decided to hide the horrible thing that was perpetrated upon the father of the modern computer.

Boyhood: One of the best part of movies is discussing them with friends afterwards, but after my husband and I saw this film I was left awed, heartbroken, moved, overjoyed, and speechless. By filming a boy in real time, for several weeks every year from age 6 to 18, Richard Linklater (who never seems to disappoint me) has created a masterpiece of quiet subtlety. I felt like I was watching the next 12 years of my son’s life, and it was heartbreaking to see it move so fast, and see how life can be like sand falling through our fingers, with no pause button. An extraordinary achievement in film.

Only Lovers Left Alive: This might be the best vampire film I’ve ever seen. And it stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston. I don’t really need to say anything more. Just go see it.

Derek: My brother bugged me to watch this show for ages, and I finally sat down and watched season 1 in a single afternoon. Despite starring Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington, it’s not a comedy. It has hysterically funny moments, but it’s meant to be a drama about a mentally challenged man — Gervais — who lives in an old folk’s home and is the heart of the place, along with Hannah, the woman who singlehandedly seems to run the place when funding runs out at the beginning of the first season. Being a nursing home, it’s inevitable you’ll lose people, but when they die, it’s the effect of their loss on Derek that is so heartbreaking. I just watched all of season 2, along with the Christmas special, yesterday, and it’s equally devastating. I think the finale of season 1 and the special are the two highlights of the series (and as my friend Dave warned me, there’s an episode involving a dog in S2 that will make you cry), and they both had me laughing out loud while tears streamed down my face. I think this is Gervais’s crowning achievement.

Black Mirror: I’ve only watched a handful of episodes, but if you haven’t watched this show yet, YOU MUST. It’s an even weirder and creepier Twilight Zone, all showing the dangers of technology. One is an indictment of Facebook, another of Twitter and social media in general. The Christmas episode that just aired (starring Jon Hamm) explores even deeper things that I can’t talk about without spoiling, but the show is a brilliant and satirical look at the world we have created around us.

Orphan Black: Each week of the second season, I couldn’t wait for a new episode and thought S2 was even more brilliant than S1. Tatiana Maslany continues to be utterly genius in every scene, and the cloning took on more symbolic and emotional significance in the second season. I’m probably not 100% on board with the Tony character, but the rest of it was amazing, including an hysterically funny and shocking homage to Pulp Fiction that might be my favourite TV moment of the year.

The Affair: The first season just wrapped on this one, and I loved it. It was the best pilot of all of the fall shows that I saw, and the performances by everyone in it — Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson, and Maura Tierney — are stunningly real. The main premise is that West and Tierney are a married couple with four children who go on summer holiday in Montauk. Wilson and Jackson live there, and Wilson (Alison) and West (Noah) begin a torrid affair. What makes the show so great is that the first half of each episode is told through the perspective of either Noah or Alison, and the second half by the other. Watching the story twice is never boring, but instead offers a wealth of clues: in his version, her hair was down and sultry, her skirt skimpy; in her version it was pinned up neatly, and his wife was rude to her and dismissive of Noah. The reason they're retelling the story is because someone has been murdered, and they're involved. SUCH a good show that dips a little in the middle, but roars to the end in a rather explosive manner.

Transparent: A show available on Amazon, it’s rightfully appearing on many best-of lists because it is so damn good. Jeffrey Tambor plays a dad who knows she’s been a woman trapped in a man’s body her entire life, and now that her children are grown and she’s moving into her twilight years, she’s decided she’s going to live the rest of her years as a woman, Maura, and needs to tell them. Her caustic ex-wife, Judith Light, is hilarious and amazing, the kids are all messes, and it’s only when Maura’s secret comes out that you discover the family is riddled with them. Another transgender friend of hers says that when she was making the change, she was told to look around her, and that none of those people would be with her in five year’s time. “Was it true?” Maura says, a look of desperation on her face because of how much her family means to her. She simply quietly nods. While there are very funny moments, it’s a devastating show at times, and it has the best ensemble cast of any other series this year.

Utopia: No, not the reality show that bombed, but the genius British sci-fi miniseries about a group of graphic novel fans who stumble upon a massive global conspiracy involving how the world’s population is ballooning, and one person’s horrifying solution. Season 1 was riveting, but season 2 was even better. When Channel 4 announced shortly after the second season had wrapped that they were cancelling it and there would be no S3, I was heartbroken. This one will go down with Firefly and Pushing Daisies as one of my great cancellation upsets. Still, watch the first two seasons if you haven’t already. They really can stand on their own, but I just wanted more.

So what did I miss? Any stellar television or films that you saw this year that I should check out?

Monday, December 29, 2014

My 2015 Pop Culture Resolutions

Hello beautiful people! It’s that time of year where we’re all making New Year’s Resolutions that we say we’re going to keep, but instead should just resolve to stop making stupid New Year’s Resolutions and simply live well throughout the year.

Last year I resolved to not buy a single book. That lasted until the end of February, and I posted about my experience here. So I won’t be making any other batshit crazy resolutions this year.

Aside from the usual — continue to eat well, become more active, blah blah blah — I have one major resolution I intend to try out in 2015: I want to finally check out the pop culture offerings people have been telling me to read/watch for years.

I have ordered season one of Babylon 5, and intend to watch the entire series in 2015. (It helps that I signed up a B5 book this year and therefore need to watch the series in order to properly edit that book...) The first time someone told me I need to watch that show was at a Toronto Trek convention in 2003, I think it was. The show had ended five years earlier and someone was telling me it was perfectly crafted television, that Straczynski had fashioned out all five years before starting on the first season, and that if I was a Buffy fan I’d probably love it. I told him I’d absolutely check it out. That was almost 12 years ago. So let’s change that.

As I mentioned on Facebook earlier today, I am going to finally crack Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and based on advice of two of my friends, I shall begin with Carpe Jugulum and then continue with this handy dandy chart:

I want to reread the Sandman series. I last read it 15 years ago, and I’ve forgotten large swaths of it. Perhaps this should be an annual thing.

I need to finally read that second Game of Thrones book. Seriously, it’s been two years since I read the first one!

Following with the previous Terry Pratchett thing (and Neil Gaiman, for that matter), I need to read Good Omens. No, I haven’t read it. Yes, I know about the radio serial and that it’ll be available for only one month. So I need to read it fast in order to listen to it, and I hope to be able to do so in January.

I’m going to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I bought it as soon as it came out in 2004, for goodness’ sake, but that was the same year my daughter was born, and obviously I got a little busy for that ginormous book. But then the BBC started putting together a miniseries that will soon be airing on PBS, and I don’t want to watch it before reading it.

I need to read American Gods. (Yes, my friend who told me where to start on Discworld just fell over dead of a heart attack when he read that line.) I’ve started it 100 times, and something always comes up that pulls me away from it around page 75.

Man, this is turning into a very Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett–heavy list, isn’t it?

I want to watch Twin Peaks. I watched it back in the day, but not religiously, and missed several episodes, but what I did see I adored. I have both seasons and need to sit down and just binge watch the entire thing.

There are so many other things I need to catch up on that I’ve been intending to do for a very long time, but that’s a pretty strong list already, and if I keep it to a handful of things I might actually achieve this in 2015.

Along with the healthy eating and being more active blah blah blah.

What are your pop culture (or otherwise) resolutions?

Monday, December 15, 2014

This Is Not the Post You Were Looking For...

Hey guys. Yeah, I know. Once again we didn't post on a Walking Dead episode right after it aired. As usual. Last season we managed to post by the Tuesday after the Sunday episode only once, and it was retweeted and talked about and picked up all over. And the following week we went right back to our Thursday/Friday/Saturday/whatever posting.

And the previous post to this one — from November, I might add — featured three weeks all in one post because we just never got our act together to get things over to you.

But then again, that's not really the truth. Which is why this post will be in place of the finale post you stopped waiting for over a week ago. Because instead of focusing on a rushed back and forth chatter between a blogger and her co-writer, I wanted to talk about this blogger and that co-writer, and the problems with doing what we do. And how we constantly hang our heads in shame, but the following week find it difficult to actually do anything about it. And how appreciative I am that despite everything, someone is still actually reading this.

Way back in 2009, we were gearing up for the final season of Lost. I was posting not just once a day, but several times a day, keeping everyone posted on everything that was happening in the world of Lost, from filming rumours to casting announcements to just plain talking about the show. To fill the space between seasons five and six I ran a Lost rewatch, where we watched all five seasons that had aired to that point, and there was a lively discussion each week as I would post three nights a week on the episodes we were watching. At the time, we all had a lot of fun leading into season six. Now those posts still sit there, while some rude person goes through them one by one leaving nasty comments for me to find five years later on what an idiot I am because I didn't see certain things coming, how I'm a Jack hater and don't know shit about Lost. She posts under two different names, but I'm pretty sure it's the same semi-literate person. Sadly, I get all of these posts sent to my email, but I stopped reading them about a year ago when I realized this person had absolutely nothing positive to say.

In 2010 I continued posting like a madwoman. My kids went to bed around 8pm, and I had the evenings to do it in. I worked at an office where we could take a break in the mornings and had lunch breaks, and I'd sit at my desk and post during those times as well. Each week as a new season 6 episode aired, I'd post on it that night, often staying up until 1 a.m. to post some epic piece of writing that I tried to make thoughtful, but in essence was a reaction after watching the show only twice. I used many of those posts as the basis for my write-ups in the books.

And oh yes, those books. Between 2006 and 2010 I published five books on Lost, writing over a million words on the show between my blog and the published material. My husband took the kids to his parents' house on weekends so I could get the writing done, and through the week I posted in evenings and in those precious break periods. This blog was alive. After an episode write-up there could be up to 400 comments (the finale had even more). People were reading, and when you know the audience is sitting out there, you write for them. You're not writing into a vacuum, you're writing for people who have become your friends, in many ways. I was just writing my Christmas cards this week and marvelling at how many of them are being sent to people I know through Lost and Buffy fandom, mostly due to this blog.

When the final book came out in November, and I noticed numbers dropping off because people didn't have Lost to talk about, I announced the Great Buffy Rewatch in 2011. By the end of that year, I was officially exhausted. The beginning of 2012 saw the blog peter off a bit, and so did my numbers. By the summer, I was no longer receiving a salary because I'd moved away and went freelance. I can no longer take a break or a lunch period because if I do, I'm off the clock. I'm paid only for the times I'm sitting at my desk and actually doing real work. If I so much as take a phone call, I'm off the clock. I'm a bad freelancer, simply because I'm so damn honest. Most people would just inflate their invoices and not mention those lunch breaks. I can't in good conscience do that.

Here's what a lot of people don't realize: even when I was getting 5,000 people reading this blog a day — around the Lost finale it was hitting 25,000 per day — I never monetized it. My husband begged me to, watching all those hours he could have been spending with his wife being whittled away in her office as she clacked away on her keys for her beloved readership, but I refused. It would mess it up, it would be difficult to read. I've never accepted any money for this blog.

So now, when I decide to knock off a half-hour early from work (like I am now) and go unpaid for the rest of the day so I can write up something, when I try to give the kids some breakfast and rush down the hall to write up my next pass for Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead and send it to my collaborator so I'm not affecting my actual work hours, when it's 11:30pm and I think, crap, I should probably write up my next pass because my collaborator has been waiting all day for it . . . I'm doing it unpaid. And for someone who's now paid by the job, that's become a lot tougher. And, to be even more crass, when it results in small reading numbers and four or five comments, you wonder if anyone is even out there. Who am I writing to anymore?

Josh Winstead was one of my most avid posters back in the Lost days. Like me, he had a job where he could post on lunch breaks and morning breaks as well, and he was articulate and funny and brilliant, which is why I proposed he and I collaborate on The Walking Dead oh so long ago. And we've done it ever since.

But now I'm a freelancer and my time is extremely limited. Now my kids aren't in bed until 9:30 or 10. And until then I'm doing loads of homework with them and being there for them and talking things through. Personal issues have come up where I'm devoting my time to helping out a family member who needs my help, and whom I'm determined to make better. We have a crazy number of pets that need constant attention. I've got permission slips and am always dealing with teachers in a day and age where parents must be far more hands-on than my parents ever had to be. My kids are both old enough to be involved in separate extracurricular activities and I'm running from one end of the city to the other. And somewhere in there I'm trying to find time to actually see friends of mine, live, face-to-face.

And then I took on another book. Because if I'm writing, I should be paid for it. From May to November of this year I've been working constantly on my book on the BBC series Sherlock (coming to fine bookstores near you in fall 2015), and on the weeks when Josh gets things to me quickly, he waits and waits and waits.

But see, his work changed, too. He can't post the way he used to, and finds his time is sucked up. Some weeks I'm the dud, and other weeks I'll send him a pass on Monday and hear back from him on Thursday. He's a dad, too. And a husband. And one who had to deal with some unexpected health issues that came up in his family last week. It was a scary time, one that ended happily, thank goodness, but one that involved hospitals and worry and sleepless nights.

The last thing on either of our minds was this Walking Dead post.

The Walking Dead is a show about people who stick together in terrible times. It's about the relationship parents have with their children and vice versa. It's about the families we make and not necessarily the ones we're born into. It's about pulling together to make things happen, but knowing when to let go.

When Daryl walked out of the hospital in the finale with a lifeless Beth in his arms, and Maggie crumpled to the ground wailing in emotional agony, I thought it was a beautiful, extraordinary, shocking ending. I loved it. I didn't actually watch the episode until the next day, and somehow managed to remain unspoiled by then. I loved most of the finale, even if I had a few nitpicks. I thought the acting was extraordinary, and I loved the grey areas highlighted in the episode, rather than going all black and white like many other shows would have done.

And ... that's my review. I wrote up a much longer pass and sent it over to Josh and then his world collapsed, and that review no longer matters to me. What matters is that his family is OK, my family is OK, and I enjoyed seeing other people discuss the finale.

Josh and I were chatting earlier today about the lack of bloggage on this episode said I think it's time to retire this blog. He wrote me back an impassioned email begging me not to. So maybe I'll just let it hang around here when I need it. And if any of you need it, let me know and it's yours for the day or the week or however long you want to use it. Someone might as well use it. I read countless blogs and articles every day and rarely post any comments on them, so I should know better than to think of the lack of comments meaning no one is reading. I know a lot of you are still out there.

But I'm finally admitting that it's become a ghost town, with tumbleweeds rolling past, and I no longer want to apologize for that. Every year I open with a post promising to post more that year, and I post less. Without fail. It hangs over me like a weight, like this thing I should be doing but don't. And then I think, why should I be doing it? I have a million other deadlines and responsibilities. And I barely have time to watch television anymore, much less write about it.

If I'd monetized this blog back when it was at its peak, I could probably be writing on here daily because it would be worth my time to do so. But so many other people need my time now, and unfortunately this place that made me so happy, that allowed me to do what I love doing more than just about anything, just has to fall by the wayside because I can't keep up with it. I have kids wanting my time, authors complaining that I take too long to get things back to them, work deadlines to meet, and, frankly, books to be read. (Check out my Goodreads page, which probably gets far more action than this blog these days!)

I miss our Lost days. But if they taught all of us anything, it was that we stick together. So, I'm not going anywhere. I apologize if weeks go by and I don't post anything. When Game of Thrones comes back, I'll be here with Chris Lockett. I lobbied for shorter posts and everyone immediately said that we absolutely should stick to the 5,000-word posts that we've been doing, but to be perfectly honest, they take SO long to write and I'm worried I just don't have that kind of time anymore, not like I once did.

Blogs seem to be going the way of the dodo, but I'm reluctant to give this one up because it's where I met so many people. Yeah, I'm over on Facebook posting constantly every day, so if you want to make sure I'm alive, that's where you'll find me. And many of the things I'm posting over there in short form were what I used to use this blog for in long form.

So I'll stay. And every once in a while I'll have something to say. And feel free to say something back. And know that when I DO post, it's because I miss you guys and just wanted to say hey. Well, that or someone really pissed me off that day and I want to rant about it. :-D

I want to thank Josh Winstead for powering through this season, and even if we didn't make a single post out on time, I had a blast doing them with you, and I thank you so much for sticking with it, my friend.

In case I worried anyone, Josh and I are absolutely fine, and there's nothing to worry about. Last week just hit one of us with a wallop, and the week before hit the other one of us. It's just been one of those seasons, and we tried our best. But rather than think of it as a failure, I actually look back on this season as one of the biggest triumphs, because somehow, with both of us having jobs that prevented us from having any time to post, with both of us having extra work we had to do in evenings, with both of us having two older children, and with both of us having busy family lives, we still managed to get something up here. And you guys managed to still come and read it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now I've got to run and get my kids from school...

P.S. It's now three hours later. I forgot to hit the Publish button before leaving, and my son has a grade 2 social studies test tomorrow that I had to help him study for, my daughter has a ton of math and science homework, and both of them are now running through the house and using my office as their launchpad. It's taken me 10 minutes just to type up this P.S. because they won't stay out. And that, my dears, is how these posts fail to happen on time week after week. ;)