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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (2/4/14) 3:18am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Slowly, slowly getting back up to speed.]

Movies:   Kiki's Delivery Service
TV:   Rubicon [1x12-1x13] [spoilers]
Books:  <none>

Kiki's Delivery Service
This is the Hayao Miyazaki film about a young witch who moves to a new town and starts a delivery business.  I watched it (for the nth time) recently.

This might be my favorite Miyazaki film.  I think it's either this one or Nausicäa.  This was the one that I first saw when I was living in a kind of shabby apartment in Somerville, feeling sad and lonely, and immediately decided to parcel that movie out, watching the VHS tape for fifteen minutes per day, so it wouldn't be over so soon.

Yes, it's beautifully animated.  Everyone talks about Miyazaki's genius at animated flight, and everything they say is true.  Other animators depict flight; Miyazaki sends you hurtling through the air.  And the city of Koriko is just gorgeous.  It cobbles together European influences to the point that it feels like a Swiss town by the Aegean, somewhere in the English countryside.  The city, more than anything, gives the movie that bittersweet quality that the best fantasy has, where you feel nostalgic for a place you've never been, because it never existed to begin with.

The plot is kind of shambolic.  Strangely, I don't mind this.  I'm usually something of a plot nazi, so I should hate the way the story sort of shambles from one episode to the next.  But there's still a strong emotional through-line.  All the little episodes are about how Kiki learns to take on challenges independently, and they all steadily build up the world around her, with new locations and new supporting characters.  In a way, it's like watching a really amazing webseries.

And each individual episode does a great job of, as the saying goes, chasing the hero up a tree and throwing rocks at her.  And what fascinates me is that they do this without villains.  There's no "bad guy" out there looking to ruin Kiki's day.  It's not a story where somebody's trying to do something very simple (take an object from point a to point b, spend a night in a cabin, attend a company Christmas party), but there's a sinister force out there making that difficult.  No, this is a story where somebody's trying to do something insanely difficult (move to a new town on their own at 13 and start their own business), and the challenges are just hard because they're hard.  In fact, I love how Kiki's gets all sorts of help from everyone.  I love that you can write a story like that -- where everybody's happy to help you out, but even with that, your task is damned tough.

And slowly, we see her business find its footing and take off.  Coming back to this film after many years, this was the real surprise for me.  Suddenly, I'm watching this same movie I've seen so many times and thinking, "Holy crap!  She's *starting her own business*!"  And then I was worried that she wouldn't be able to take care of her initial investments or generate enough of a customer base.  Ah well.  Here I am on the other side of watching my friends start businesses.

I wonder what kind of movie this will be to me ten years from now.

Rubicon [1x12-1x13] [spoilers]
This is the conclusion of the AMC series about an intelligence analyst who uncovers a disturbing, large-scale conspiracy.

I had been warned to lower my expectations.  Even the critics that liked Rubicon said that it didn't "stick the landing", so I went into the end of the season (and, since it was cancelled shortly after, the end of the series) expecting it to go out with a whimper.

And yes, there were some really bad things about the end of Rubicon.  This has been a show about Will Travers tracking down a massive, frightening, powerful conspiracy, and eventually discovering that it was behind both the murder of his boss and the largest terrorist attack since 9/11.  The stakes were steadily raised, with the bad guys following Will, then threatening him, then trying to kill him.  The consequences got higher and higher.  Will got closer and closer to going crazy.

And then... things kind of fizzled.  The series was like a show horse that balked and shied away from making its last jump.  Because, just as they got towards the end, towards the final confrontation between Will Travers and (the exquisitely-named) Truxton Spangler... the show backed off.  It invented reasons why Will couldn't shout about the conspiracy from the rooftops.  It invented reasons why the conspiracy wouldn't just put a hit on Will Travers (again).  It desperately tried to ratchet things back to some sort of steady-state, so that they could start season two in the same kind of milieu they'd spent season one in.

Maybe this is just the type of show Rubicon was -- precise.  Careful.  Controlled.  Measured.  Maybe it could never be bold with its finale.  But I still *wanted* that.  I wanted Rubicon make a bunch of plot moves that you couldn't take back.  Will shouts about the conspiracy from the rooftops.  Truxton kills himself.  The API is left reeling, and perhaps gets indicted.  Everything changes, and you're left wondering what the hell kind of show it could be in its second season.  Instead, we're left with "nothing changes".  Even if Rubicon had gotten a second season, would I have bothered coming back to see a show in a holding pattern?

So that was the bad part -- in terms of the overall, it felt like it was playing things desperately safe.  It was "bridging" to a known ending instead of going past that ending and exploring something new.  But I was expecting bad things, so I weathered this okay.

(Oh, and I didn't dig Andy-as-a-seekrit-spy.  That seemed random, and a bit cliché, and more than a little arbitrary -- i.e., not really supported by her characterization to that point.)

I was pleasantly surprised by how exciting the end was, up to that shrug of a finale.  It was fascinating to watch the team kick into high gear -- or "an even higher gear" -- as they discover Kateb is on the ground in the United States.  The "4:20pm" M. O. from Kateb even made for a precisely ticking clock.  And Kateb's eventual plan -- torpedo a carrier, shut down Galveston Bay for three months, block off Houston's oil refineries, cripple U. S. energy supplies, and do unimaginable damage to the U. S. economy -- was pretty damn fascinating.  Suddenly, every sinister plot on 24 feels like it was invented by a 4-year-old with ADHD.

They also did a fine job with bringing lots of threads together.  Finally, we see exactly how Katherine's investigation was really the same as Will's, just from a different angle.  And we see the stakes getting stratospherically high to taking out this conspiracy -- oh, they're a conspiracy; oh, they're using API information; oh crap, they're using API information to profit on disasters; oh, no, no, they're *causing* the disasters; oh god they're somehow causing attacks on U. S. soil.

So in a way, I finished Rubicon feeling like I was watching two shows at once.  In one, the careful, deliberate watchmakers behind the show saw all the pieces they'd built in the first dozen episodes latch neatly and breathtakingly together; in the other, those same people were terrified to smash the machine to bits and start again, in their second season, with something new.

For next time, I'll finish watching Argo and maybe stick with movies for a bit.  I'm nearing the end of A Clash of Kings.  Soon.  Soon.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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