Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Steam heat: Riveted gears up for high adventure and romance

Image courtesy of Tantor Media, Inc.
People are often surprised that as a former English major and writer, I like electronics and gears. The first thing I do when I get a new computer, be it a desktop or laptop, is take it apart. I like to see what’s INSIDE. I may know only some basic HTML code and I’m no programmer, but when it comes to installing hardware, give me a screwdriver and I’m your lady.  Also, the 19th century  (think Jekyll and Hyde, pocket watches, Oscar Wilde) is something that has always captivated me.

This is probably why when Riveted, by Meljean Brook, came my way as a proofing project for work, I was ecstatic. Tough female mechanic on an airship? A sexy expedition leader with a mechanical eye and metal arm? All that spells steampunk, and I am SO on board for that.

The tale is artfully expressed through the soft tones of Alison Larkin,  famed British narrator and actress, who artfully captures the complicated tones of an Icelandic accent in the main character of Annika. Indeed, she slips in and out of various accents as the text dictates with all the ease of a master storyteller. The relationships in this book are complex and daring; defying the concept of “normal,” and widens its scope past the two main characters of Annika and David (the aforementioned sexy expedition leader) without sacrificing the significance of their storyline. The third book in the Iron Sea series; it works very well as a stand-alone, and the author is adept at getting the listener up to speed with the circumstances of the world and the characters.

What truly made this a great listen was the unexpected twists and turns of the plot, and the compassionate themes regarding humanity and its significance amid a cold, hard world of ice, gears and airships. Despite its length (a significant 14.5 hours, take this one with you on a road trip to make the hours stuck in traffic fly by) the pacing of the story is masterful and keeps the listener eager for what’s waiting around the corner while creating room for meaningful dialogue and the cultivation of close relationships – friendships as well as romance.

Ms. Brook’s complex tapestry of technology merged with emotions results in a tale that is truly unique, and will leave you "riveted" long after the final words are ethereally spoken by Ms. Larkin.

Click here to listen to an audio sample.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Critic is coming AnimeNEXT 2013!

the cover of this year's program guide!
 Hey everyone! I will be attending and staffing this year's roundup of AnimeNEXT, the convention held in Somerset, NJ celebrating Japanese anime/pop culture from June 7-9.

I'll be participating in the following panels, along with Dr. Bill Ellis, professor emeritus of Penn State University and owner of Sensei's Anime Gallery, and my colleagues Dylan Ferrara and Casey Schoenberger. Panel descriptions are courtesy of Dr. Ellis.

10 a.m. on Saturday: 

Anime Under the Radar

What's the greatest anime you've never heard of? Maeterlinck's Blue Bird? Alps no Shojo Heidi? Ai to Yuki no Pig Girl Tonde Burin? Gegege no Kitaro? This panel will survey out-of-the-way anime series, some of which are thus far unknown to most fans.

11:30 p.m. on Saturday: 

Bronies Uncensored!

This panel will look at some of the controversial issues raised by the recent emergence of "bronies," or adult fans of the Hasbro "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" series, and how such issues relate also to certain Japanese anime magical girl series. 

11 a.m. on Sunday: 

Collecting Japanese Animation Art

Original animation art from many Japanese anime series, classic and new, is easy to collect at affordable prices. This panel will survey the kinds of art that is available, including cels (painted plastic sheets used in the making of the anime), original production backgrounds, and key animators' sketches. Strategies for acquiring and conserving these artifacts will be covered.

I hope to see you there! Be sure to grab a program guide; I edited and wrote for it and my friend Sarah Moulder of Studio Kitsu designed it.

ALSO: I'll also be taking photos of creative cosplayers and posting the images in a slideshow on my blog here after the con. If you run into me, you'll also get the opportunity for some Insatiable Critic swag; this bangin' bookmark designed for me my Tina Pratt, the creative mind behind the webcomic Paul Reveres.

Check it out:

front of said bangin' bookmark

back of said bangin' bookmark

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Iron Man 3: The Defense of the Self-Made Superhero

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment, Inc.

In the world of American comic book superheroes, most fall into one of two camps: those who were born  or acquired superpowers and those without conventional superpowers who make themselves into a hero anyway.

Pixar's 2004 feature The Incredibles drew this distinction clearly; although the Tony Stark-esque character of Syndrome proved to have malicious intentions built on a platform of poor self-esteem. In fact, one could make the argument that Syndrome and Tony Stark have much in common - Tony, of course, choosing to take the moral high ground.

Iron Man 3 revolves around striving to answer this question both the villain and the hero have:  Is there any way to build yourself into the super that you've always wanted to be, and still love yourself at the end of the day?

Third films are tricky territory for most filmmakers. Audiences are already well-acquainted with base characters so after a requisite catchup a decently paced plot has to carry it through. Robert Downey Jr. has all but adopted Tony Stark as a second skin; a near-absorption shaped equally by the character and by Downey himself. Iron Man 3 had quite large super boots to fill being the first individual Avenger film after the sweeping success Joss Whedon's The Avengers was and is. Also, let's face it, Iron Man 2 sucked. With the exception of a humorous performance by Mickey Rourke, a combination of a fast-talking obnoxious and dopey villain combined with Tony's whining and sniping with Rhodey - it was a weak follow-up to a near-flawless debut.

Another potential concern was switching directors from Jon Favreau, an everyman in every sense (if you've never seen Swingers, which he wrote and starred in, stop reading this post, get it on your Netflix list, and come back to the program) to Shane Black, best known for his Lethal Weapon films. But the switch proved to be a much-needed breath of fresh air, and keeping Favreau as a producer and actor as Tony's overprotective bodyguard was a smart move, since it's clear the Favreau wit of the first two films remains intact.

The Insatiable Critic flashing her arc reactor after viewing Iron Man 3

In this roundup, Tony suffers from a loss of personal identity. His work and home life clearly aren't meshing, taking a toll on long-suffering Pepper and on top of it all, there's a terrorist threatening America through creative means. Then enters the ever drool-worthy Guy Pearce as a possible contender for Pepper's heart. Quips, bullets, bombs and plot points whiz by and hit their intended targets with blazing accuracy. The two-plus hour film keeps up its pace without being breakneck and sticks to its essential plot points. There's too much to show and explain to waste time on the extraneous; thankfully there's no "scene fillers" like the totally unnecessary machismo fight between Rhodey and Stark in the second film. We even get to see Pepper suit up, albeit all too briefly, but it gave me nice Metroid flashbacks all the same.

To almost an extreme effect, Iron Man 3 goes to great lengths to distinguish the man from the suit, to the point of where Tony and the suit are sitting next to one other on a couch and Tony is talking to it as he would an old friend via Jarvis, his eloquent A.I. we've become increasingly familiar with as Tony's voice of reason (and voiced brilliantly by the ever-talented Paul Bettany.)  But towards the end of the film, that envelope gets pushed a tad too hard, and I start getting the sense of the Syndrome character effect mentioned earlier- he has to prove to Pepper and the world that he doesn't need the suits in such an over-the-top way that it smacks of massive insecurity. The ending has such a sense of finality, and yet at the end of the credits we get a note, done in a Bond-like fashion; "Tony Stark Will Return."

WARNING- after this, there be potential spoilers, matey. 

Yes, it's true we love Tony Stark and we love the man that he is. But come on, we all know that we want him to suit back up again. He mutters gravely at the end that it was "just a cocoon." Will he build another one? In essence, he seems to throw that chapter of his life away at the end and me, as a devoted fan, am left unsatisfied (although the bonus scene at the very end of the credits is fantastic.)

It's a great kickoff the summer season, to be sure, and an exhilarating ride - no need to see in 3D; the non gives you a clearer picture and you can save yourself a couple of bucks - but it left me wishing for more of a happy medium between being Tony Stark and being Iron Man. Tony Stark owns unlimited assets, the love of his life, and his sanity again -we know he doesn't NEED the suit, but considering his own creation has saved his life so many times, shouldn't it deserve better?