setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

Some people seemed surprised last week when Arya wasn't able to successfully go unseen by Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. I'm not entirely sure if we're supposed to take her as a master of stealth or if her apparent lack of skill is quite intentional. I'm leaning towards the latter after having looked back over some of my reviews from previous seasons. I really hope it's the latter because then her story makes a lot more sense. Although HBO themselves accidentally leaked to-night's episode last week, I've been good and haven't watched it yet so for all I know many of you reading will see I've already been proved wrong. Either way, I would argue Arya discovering that stealing a magic trick is no substitute for study and training is a much better story.

Back in season five, I was already noticing Arya (Maisie Williams) had a tendency to stare directly at her targets with a pretty telling facial expression. She soon went even further by following her targets around with a wheelbarrow of fish, still staring directly at them and not even pretending to be trying to sell anyone anything.

After being blinded for stealing the magic face changing ability to kill an unsanctioned target--significantly, Arya couldn't have done the job without stealing the magic--she's blinded and starts training as a blind fighter. At this point, George R.R. Martin had set up Arya's life as a series of crushing disappointments but I still had hope that she might become the Zatoichi of Westeros. She starts to get a little better at fighting the Waif (Faye Marsay) with a quarterstaff but her sight is restored before she gets really good at it. Her training with the sword from season one seems to have made her a good fighter when she can see so it doesn't seem like anything was really gained from the blind training.

Here's Arya once again with her patented "I'm undisguisedly dangerous and solemn" stare on her first big post-blindness mission among a theatre troupe. I got my first sign that Arya's incompetence might have actually been intentional when her target, Lady Crane (Essie Davis), actually calls her on it. She actually notices how conspicuous Arya is among the others back stage. Which should be no surprise. While everyone else gabs and bustles about with jobs to do, Arya is busy being silent and staring while moving props and costumes.

Having botched this mission and taken the side of her target, it seems Arya's now going to be a target herself of the Faceless Ones. She seems quite inspired when she comes to this decision, taking a moment to enjoy a sea breeze and immediately falling prey to an assassin.

This all led up to a final confrontation between Arya and the Waif that finally brought the Faceless Ones plot to a conclusion. At what point in any of the episodes I went over above did Arya learn to be good at stealth? She never did. At the time I listed these problems with the climax and conclusion:

1) Assassin from the greatest assassin guild in the world stabs Arya in the gut multiple times and fails to kill her. 2) An actress stitches up what ought to be a fatal gut wound and uses the healing power of opium. 3) The assassin is forced to chase Arya through the streets in broad daylight because of her incompetence. 4) Jaqen says Arya is finally No One just because Arya killed the girl who was trying to kill her which kind of suggests the whole creed is a bullshit veneer for the typical king of the hill set up.

And indeed, now that Arya's at Winterfell in a position of recognised authority, there's nothing about her that suggests she's become "No-One". What has Arya taken from the whole experience with the Faceless Ones? A magic power to change her face. That's it. So far this season Arya's made no mention or reference to those events or how she might have digested the philosophy of the Faceless Ones.

Throughout the first four seasons, we saw Arya's descent into an increasingly desperate struggle to survive while nurturing a growing worship of death itself. Which is no surprise given that death had been the most persistent and powerful influence on her life. The Faceless One plot at first seemed to be about the death of identity but since it was never properly resolved this aspect of Arya's character development also seems to be in limbo. At this point, I would be very satisfied if Arya found she had to pay a price for having skipped so many lessons. I think it could be the only thing that would make her interesting again.

Twitter Sonnet #1025

The perfect photos made the meals for us.
In deed and thought the bending sky was seen.
Awakened by cathedrals in a bus.
In normal pods we called the hero "Bean".
Beside the glowing phone were pictures watched.
There's nothing for the couch we patched at dawn.
If sofas stay then stools and stoops were botched.
Arrange the chairs in rows as though they're gone.
Remembered mountains made their oats complete.
In striving to enrich the bud we grew.
Like nothing monarch Rand can just compete.
The polished stone returned when rock came true.
Behind their glasses reddened bottles walk.
Outside the eyes a rider's come to knock.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

Those looking for more stories about oppressed robots on Doctor Who can check out the 2011 audio play Robophobia by Nicholas Briggs. A sequel to one of the best regarded Fourth Doctor television stories, Robots of Death, Robophobia doesn't cover a lot of new ground beyond putting the Seventh Doctor in the situation but it's an entertaining enough story.

As I noted in my review of "Smile" from the latest season of Doctor Who, there are problems inherent in treating even sentient robots as a metaphor for slavery race relations, problems which rendered the end of "Smile" ridiculous and embarrassing. Robots of Death handles the issue differently, taking time to explore the issue of an emerging sentience in a class of servant machines rather than throwing it in as a twist plot point. Robophobia is less interested in the robots, portraying them all as saintlike, endlessly helpful servants, but as the title suggests, the focus in the story is more on the nature of the the bigotry. Though, more than anything else, the story is a murder mystery.

Set on a transport ship, one of the officers, Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), views footage of one of her crewmates apparently being murdered, along with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), by a robot. We subsequently learn that reports of the events of Robots of Death have been hushed up. When the Doctor turns up very much alive--and not having regenerated--some suspicion falls on him. Seven isn't terribly helpful, either, being in full master manipulator mode, he holds his cards close to his chest, something that proves fortuitous as characters realise there were conclusions about robots and people which Seven hoped they'd come to on their own.

The climax is of course a bit melodramatic but it's an interesting statement about how irrational human hatred can be built on buried or repressed feelings.

McCoy, as usual, gives a great performance and Nicola Walker is good as a one-off companion. She later joins the Eighth Doctor as a companion for a series of audio plays.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

A nice, handsome guy and a nice, beautiful woman are stuck on a deserted island together, not having sex. That's because he's a marine and she's a nun in John Huston's 1957 film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, a sweet, respectful World War II film about commitment to roles assigned by institutions. Taking place on a Pacific island but shot at Trinidad and Tobago, the film is filled with great, effective exteriors and lovely performances but the film isn't quite an effective counterpoint to the eroticism of Black Narcissus.

Why should I think of Black Narcissus? Deborah Kerr plays a nun in both films--Anglican in Black Narcissus and Catholic in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Black Narcissus was the subject of controversy when it was released in 1947, partly because it depicted nuns driven mad by bodily lusts which devotion to Christ was inadequate to overcome. Released ten years later, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison shows Kerr as an Irish nun, Sister Angela, trapped alone on an island until an American named Allison (Robert Mitchum) washes ashore in a life raft.

Huston establishes the story from Allison's point of view and I loved the eeriness as the marine cautiously ventures into the island and through an ominously abandoned village.

There's no hint of love at first sight when he finds Sister Angela alone in the church. The two strike up a very platonic friendship as they work together, making do with the limited supplies in the village and cooperating hunting for a sea turtle He always calls her "Ma'am". Allison's curious about nuns and the two swap info about their respective orders, coming to the conclusion that marines and nuns have a lot in common in terms of discipline, self-denial, and devotion. It's not until Allison gets drunk on some sake left behind by some Japanese troops who briefly occupy the island that he gets to talking about just what these physical and mental uniforms of theirs mean when there's no-one but the two of them.

By the way, even though none of the Japanese troops become characters, Huston never portrays them as inhuman caricatures. A scene where Allison hides in the rafters watching a couple Japanese men getting drunk and playing Go is oddly human and charming and in stark contrast to other World War II films where Japanese troops are portrayed as ridiculous goblins.

Anyway, Kerr's performance is really nice and I can believe someone like her really could be so steadfast in her devotion to not even for a moment be tempted by pleasures of the flesh. And I like how Allison's more aggressive mood when he's drunk is never overplayed and he feels deeply ashamed of himself afterwards. But the film's simply not as impressive as Black Narcissus with its vivid, gorgeous colours and its more complex characters. If the two movies are different sides of an argument, Black Narcissus brings a lot more evidence for its side. By contrast, the more realistically shot Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison oddly comes off as a light fantasy for those who believe in the power of chastity.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

There's a long tradition now of fiction about repressed psychological trauma manifesting in violent telekinetic powers. In 2013, Marina de Van added her own entry to the genre with the unfortunately titled Dark Touch. A pretty, austere colour palette, some good performances, and moments of delicate human feeling aren't enough to pull this film out of a downward spiral. It feels very much like, after a few early good ideas, de Van completely lost inspiration and ditched a series of half formed ideas for a clumsy, cartoonish climax.

Released a year before the far superior Babadook, Dark Touch's cinematography reminded me of the newer film's faded navy blue colour palette, also extending to an improbably coordinated wardrobe. If I see three more films like this, I'm going to call the genre film bleu. It doesn't serve Dark Touch well and seems part of a general lack of a sense that we're seeing real people in real families. The film is about children but the children depicted are all solemnly staring most of the time when they're not in some way dealing with the issue of child abuse. It's like watching something go horribly wrong in the lives of the people in stock photos.

The film centres on a good performance by Missy Keating as Niamh who miraculously survives after her parents are murdered gruesomely by the furniture. I wonder if you'd need to have seen the many other films in this genre to pick up right away that Niamh is the source of the Poltergeist. Hints of her abuse are loud and clear, too, from the peculiar way her parents snap at her and a few suggestive shots of the father's hand and a bruise her baby brother's belly. Her father tries to explain her nervousness as being due to the creaking of a country house--I don't know if it's supposed to seem absurd that we're meant to take this as a creaky old country house.

Niamh goes to live with her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Galin, and their two children. Nat Galin (Marcella Plunkett) seems to have a connexion with Niamh that is never explained, getting psychic flashes into Niamh's mental state and hearing a high pitched sound just before incidents of Niamh's telekinesis.

Niamh doesn't trust any adults, something not helped by the fact that nearly everyone seems to hit their kids with no warning. Even at a birthday party Niamh attends, all the little girls are hitting and berating their dolls. It's hard to tell if they're deliberately trying to antagonise Niamh or if some of this behaviour is in Niamh's head or if they're all imitating their parents. Maybe this disorientation is meant to put us in Niamh's point of view where everything looks suspicious, I'm not sure.

In one very effectively tender scene, a pregnant councillor named Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm) is the first to make Niamh feel safe enough to be held, in part because Niamh likes putting her ear to Tanya's tummy. For the most part, Niamh seems to feel an automatic, silent bond with other children, particularly abused children and a brother and sister she meets at school. Niamh very quickly goes from someone who's helpless to and horrified by her own powers to a deliberate vigilante as she organises a little army of silent kids.

This broad idea eclipses a lot of other threads the film leaves unresolved, like a subplot about the Galins' deceased little girl who was apparently a friend of Niamh's despite Niamh mysteriously lacking any memory of her. Nat Galin is framed as a point of view character and the camera evokes a lot of sympathy for her but her motives and personality are left completely ambiguous outside the actress' performance. But she still gets a lot more than many other characters do.

Twitter Sonnet #1024

The lawn mistook the stone for something felt.
The man's no longer sure of wrapping vines.
The moon resounded 'neath where metals melt.
The dust of sugar monks invade the mines.
Enlarged in part by drams of oranges sing.
Allotted spots, assorted dots arise.
In space the speckled band implies a ring.
The serpent's eye is pretty, sharp, and wise.
A curling fish predicts a reddened sun.
It's on the sea collected in the palm.
The horses in the sky began to run.
A hundred ships abide in lingered calm.
The flour tipped in steel was hard to see.
Combined, a thousand eggs became a sea.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Mitt Romney, many prominent Republican politicians, even both former presidents Bush (though not in as direct language), condemned Donald Trump's words and insensitivity. His failure to immediately condemn and distance himself from his white supremacist and neo-Nazi supporters seemed at best like a cynical calculation and at worst like an implicit endorsement of their views. Trump's tweets and statements were routinely laughably stupid or frightening and vulgar. All of the brightest, funniest, most intelligent, and respected voices in the media were united in condemning, ridiculing, and refuting Trump. It was September, 2016. Maybe some of you are old enough to remember.

To-day, what's different? Well, there's no looming presidential election. No chance to hit a day of revelation where we found out how impotent or possibly disingenuous those voices were.

Sites like gave the odds of Trump winning the election as slim to none. Hillary Clinton lacked charisma but she was obviously far more qualified for the job than Trump and her worst scandal, e-mails stored on a private server, paled in comparison to the mountains of scandal that had accumulated around Trump for decades, running the gamut from sexual assault to misappropriated charitable donations. Surely, anyone voting for him, even if they didn't approve of most or all of what Trump said, demonstrated they considered these things acceptable. Because Trump promised nothing that could possibly make up for that.

When you look at, a leading voice of the alt-right, you don't see articles that explicitly endorse white supremacy. The general lack of articles analysing or condemning demonstrations of white supremacy ought to be a disturbing enough indicator. Instead, though, you see headlines like, "NEVER SATISFIED: PRESS DEMANDS MORE, BETTER CONDEMNATION OF CHARLOTTESVILLE". "DALLAS MAN PUSHES TO RE-BRAND FREEWAYS NAMED FOR DEMOCRAT KLANSMAN".

Who are these articles targeting? They're not stridently championing white supremacy. They don't seem to be advocating a philosophy of their own so much as punching holes in the left's rhetoric. Considering the left is busy condemning Nazis, making the left seem wrong or foolish ought to be a hard thing to do.

At the other end of the spectrum, to-day on Huffington Post there's an inconspicuous article about how Senator Al Franken is returning to appear on Bill Maher's HBO show. It was only a few months ago that social media was united in condemning Bill Maher for referring to himself as a "house nigger" in reply to a bizarre comment from a Republican politician suggesting Maher should work in the fields. I didn't think Maher ought to have used the word, but I was surprised when I saw how strident and universal the condemnation of Maher was on social media. Huffington Post ran an article called "Bill Maher is a Dangerous White Man".

Is he?

Maher, who seemed starstruck when he interviewed President Obama last year--Obama claiming at the time that he watched every episode of Maher's show. Maher, who not only routinely mocks Trump but whose show, long ago, brought to public attention the political savvy of the likes of Al Franken and Arianna Huffington, who once co-hosted a regular segment on Maher's show. When we have neo-Nazis marching in the streets, is this really the time to be calling Bill Maher a "dangerous white man"?

And that's exactly the left's problem.

Maybe you're saying I'm splitting hairs. Maybe you're saying I'm a curmudgeon who's still sore because Peter Davison was branded a sexist because he thought there might be some drawbacks to a female Doctor Who even as he enthusiastically supported Jodie Whittaker. But maybe you wouldn't be saying that if we had an election yesterday.

The idea in leftwing media seems to be if people don't take seriously a small problem of rhetoric or an imperfect understanding of civil rights then a bazooka needs to be applied. And that's what makes it all the easier for Trump to say to the millions of disenfranchised, "Look, they're trying to manipulate you and they're insulting you."

Trump is wrong when he says the left is just as bad as the right. Because the right's problem is institutionalised greed and bigotry while the problem with the left is that it's playing into Trump's hands.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

And everyone continues riding a plot bullet train on the newest Game of Thrones. By the end of "Eastwatch", Sunday's new episode written by Dave Hill, almost no-one is even close to where they were at the beginning of the episode. Some people even managed to get into King's Landing and back. Filled with some nice moments and, as usual, gorgeous locations, I think my current favourite character is Davos (Liam Cunningham).

Spoilers after the screenshot

It was fun seeing him work his smuggler's magic, fast talking those couple of soldiers with some mythical viagra seafood. It's a shame Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had to blunder out--and in a recognisable scarf, no less.

It was nice that Tyrion and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) could meet up again to discuss the events that led to Tyrion's escape from King's Landing, in particular Tyrion's killing of their father. It's hard for Jaime to take but it's clear he kind of gets where Tyrion is coming from. It's a little hint of the family drama that made Tyrion such a great character back in the show's heyday. Now I guess I'm the only one still holding a candle for a relationship between him and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). But she clearly has eyes for Jon (Kit Harington).

Who says Game of Thrones doesn't give life lessons? Here's a tip, lads--you want to please the woman of your dreams, learn to pet the raging dragon between her legs in a gentle and respectful manner. I'm not being ironic when I say I felt like there was a nice erotic undertone to that scene.

But then the old slow burning romantic flame Jorah (Iain Glen) shows up unexpectedly and he and Jon are shipped off to beyond the Wall. Wow, I'm dizzy just from how much ground was covered in that sentence. I wonder if we'll be getting some suitor rivalry between Jon and Jorah.

All these people and armies moving all over the continent, presumably a lot more time is passing than it seems, but Cersei's (Lena Headey) hair still hasn't grown.

Maybe she likes it short. I'm looking forward to seeing her meet Daenerys. Wouldn't it be great if they became friends? Oh, come on, that would be great. Wouldn't it? Well, I guess there's the matter of them both wanting the Iron Throne. Cersei believes that her choices are either losing the war and dying and surrendering and dying so it makes sense she's willing to parley especially now that she's pregnant. She doesn't know yet that Daenerys was willing to spare any of the Lannister allies who bent the knee to her--it would be interesting to find out what Cersei would do if she did know. I don't quite follow the logic that it's better to roast uncooperative families alive than imprison them, especially when Daenerys has her father's reputation to live down.

Do I need to even point out how improbable Jaime's escape was and how silly it was he and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) were cosily chatting on the riverbank? Okay, didn't think so. There's not really any point anymore pointing this stuff out.

I do really like that the show owns up to the fact that Arya (Maisie Williams) is terrible at stealth as Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) easily outmanoeuvres her. Though the fact that he didn't destroy Sansa's message kind of makes it obvious he wanted Arya to find it. I'm not sure why he wants to create a rift between the sisters other than a general desire to sow chaos. Which, as we know, is a ladder. I still find it hard to believe he really wants the Iron Throne, though. As William S. Burroughs put it:

I never wanted to be a front man like Harding or Nixon–taking the rap, shaking hands, and making speeches all day, family reunions once a year. Who in his right mind would want a job like that? As commissioner of sewers I would not be called upon to pet babies, make speeches, shake hands, have lunch with the queen; in fact, the fewer voters who knew of my existence, the better. Let kings and Presidents keep the limelight. I prefer a whiff of coal gas as the sewers rupture for miles around
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

A very exciting new Twin Peaks last night answered a lot of questions and made a lot of connexions in a beautiful way. Things came to fruition that felt like they were carefully set up twenty five years ago and it was a delight to get lost in those trees.

Spoilers after the screenshot

One of the main reasons the new Twin Peaks feels like such a revelation is that it feels like David Lynch shot something drawn from his own experiences while even the best television nowadays tends to be impressions and clever reworkings of other works of fiction. When Andy (Harry Goaz)--who's great in this episode--vanishes from the other plane like a flickering lamp, it feels like Lynch's idea of someone or something actually vanishing rather than effects people sitting around wondering what would be a cool new version of something that's been done a million times before.

We're certainly benefiting from the creative control Lynch has on the show. It was nice to have those atmospheric shots of the woods leading up to the discovery of the eyeless woman, Naido (Nae Yuuki), who seems to have survived getting flung into the void after her encounter with Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). One of the effective ways of making a monster scary is to give it injuries or impairments of some kind--there's something inherently frightening about vulnerability. Naido simultaneously provokes concern and fear--this episode seems to confirm that she's an agent for the forces of good, which seems to indicate she was not in on the plot to trick Cooper. Maybe she was trying to warn him with that strange, urgent, birdlike, unintelligible speech.

The unnamed drunk (Jay Aaseng), who might be the elusive Billy, also provokes alarm for the sight of his injuries. Imitating Naido in the cells, to the great irritation of the sleazy Chad (John Pirruccello), the two create a forest-like cacophony of monkeys and birds and I was reminded of Mike and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) barking like dogs at the oddly vulnerable James (James Marshall) in those very same cells back in the pilot episode. Something about these cells turns people into animals.

And James features in the next scene where we see he's become a security guard at the Great Northern. We meet his co-worker from London, Freddie (Jake Wardle), and learn about the green glove bestowed upon him by the Fireman (Carel Struycken), who until now had been credited as simply ????????? in the new series.

The idea of him being a Fireman makes sense given the fact that he is in opposition to forces of the oft-referenced Fire. His job is to put out the fire. But as Hawk (Michael Horse) told us, Fire isn't necessarily bad. One of the fascinating things about this is that it undermines the idea that the Fireman is simply a force of good. The Arm, after all, had the "Fire Walk with Me" tattoo and seems to draw power by invoking this phrase. And we learn that the first sign of Freddie's new strength with his glove is when he accidentally hurts the "jobsworth" who resisted selling him the glove. Like the cops who don't believe the information from Dougie's fingerprints, this clerk in Freddie's story can't see beyond the common realities of his job to contemplate the possibility of the extraordinary.

Green seems to indicate power and danger. The glove is green, the ring is green, the formica table is green, Dougie wore an ugly green sport coat, and last night Diane (Laura Dern) was wearing green in a green chair.

Still a dragon, yet she seemed to be remarkably helpful. It seemed like Cooper in his life as Dougie was hopelessly cut off from all connexions to his former life and acquaintances, but now we know that Janey E is Diane's sister. The texted message to Diane about Las Vegas a few episodes back seems to indicate Diane knows all this already. Why has she held back and why doesn't she hesitate to divulge information now? A mysterious dame, this Diane.

I love the fact that Gordon (David Lynch) gets prophetic dreams from Monica Bellucci and I loved the flashback to Fire Walk with Me where David Bowie's lines make a lot more sense for the current story than they did in the context of that movie. Those who've seen the extended version of that scene in The Missing Pieces know the encounter ended with Jeffries anguished at realising he'd appeared in Gordon's office at the wrong date. It was nice Bowie ended up on this series in some capacity.

I would so love to see the TV show where David Lynch and David Bowie were FBI agents in the 70s. Though it's great just hearing Miguel Ferrer tell a story.

Finally, well, what can I say about Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie)? She does the same face trick as Laura did earlier in the season but inside is not blinding white light but rather darkness and mismatched human features. Another demon merrily disrupting nature though I doubt anyone's crying for the douchebag whose throat Sarah bit out. What happened to her? Whatever it is, I've loved the slow, sinister build to it all season with shots of her questionable television viewing preferences.

Twitter Sonnet #1023

In sums derived behind the boat we ate.
In tinkling tests the wind described the shells.
Inside the leaves of eyes the tigers wait.
Abnormal notice came through normal bells.
The tin approached inside the radio.
The shaded dreams of armies washed ashore.
The screws and dials turned the audio.
A writhing worm was glowing through the floor.
The leaves became the seeds between the spines.
To hover over lakes of minds they go.
In every cleat the pitcher moves the mines.
The honey takes the diamond very slow.
The hill of ancient stamps presents a face.
Above, the hardened clouds become the ace.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

I'm often surprised by the light-hearted attitude 1940s British comedies take towards World War II. A vivid example being 1946's I See a Dark Stranger, a comedy spy thriller about a naive Irishwoman who becomes a spy for Germany during the war. The film is a finely crafted enough comedy by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and I couldn't help feeling affection for the characters even as I felt its treatment might be a bit too breezy. On other hand, maybe something like this wasn't wholly a bad idea at a time when Britain, Ireland, and Germany were trying to find a way of being at peace with each other after bitter conflict.

The film's opening scene is really remarkable for its context. Set in a pub in an Irish village, an old man tells a story of fighting in the Irish Revolution and stirringly describes killing English soldiers. Mind you, this is a British film. If the Irish characters here seem a bit buffoonish, they're no worse than the English characters shown later on. In fact, they're a bit less buffoonish.

Deborah Kerr, whose Irish accent sounds a lot more natural than her American accent, plays Bridie Quilty who's been raised on the stories of the revolution, her father having fought in it. It being her twenty first birthday, she decides to go to Dublin and meet with her father's old comrade, Michael O'Callaghan (Brefni O'Rorke), to join the IRA. To her disappointment, O'Callaghan has come to accept peace with Britain and tries to convince her to do likewise. O'Rorke plays the character as calm and wise in contrast to Bridie's youthful rashness and I suspect part of the motive with this film was to reassure British audiences that Ireland was an ally and dissenters were sentimental old men and adorable young fools. On the one hand, it's a nice idea to put everyone at ease with each other, on the other, it's a bit patronising. Still, O'Callaghan comes across as easily the wisest character in the film.

Spotted in a bookshop buying books on learning the German language, Bridie's recruited by a German spy who goes by the name of Miller (Raymond Huntley). Of all places, he puts her on assignment in an English town with a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Bridie takes every opportunity throughout the film to curse.

And, wouldn't you know, Miller has her seduce a British officer named David Baynes (Trevor Howard) who says he's there because he's working on a thesis on Cromwell. As with the explicit details of World War II and the Irish Revolution, Bridie never manages to say precisely why she and everyone back home hate Cromwell so much. Discussing slaughter at the hands of Cromwell and his men at Drogheda would risk making Bridie not seem so foolish.

Because the German agent is a buffoon, his assumption that David is an intelligence officer based on the fact that David says he's not in town to fish turns out to be utterly wrong. This puts Bridie into a rage after she's wasted a whole afternoon falling in love with David. Miller's not nearly as buffoonish, though, as the leader of the German spies in England we meet later played by a portly Norman Shelley in a ridiculous check sport coat and boater hat.

Witnessing his interrogation technique of slapping someone in the face a few times can only seem insultingly trite at this point.

But meanwhile, the British COs in the Isle of Man, where Bridie and David end up, are a strange pair of philandering big men with matching moustaches and bald heads who routinely fumble in their jobs.

The film actually shows some British military police getting shot so I wonder how comfortable war veterans were laughing at this movie. But many of the gags are very good and the leads are charming.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

Politically motivated journalists, a mediaeval castle, the second World War, Margaret Thatcher's election, and a particularly nasty mythological creature are all connected in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play Rat Trap. Carried especially well by a performance from Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, this story is funny and sinister and ties its various threads together as nicely as a wad of rats' tails.

Maybe you've heard of the Rat King, the extremely rare case of a group of rats who've gotten their tails tangled up. In Rat Trap, a government scientist begins working in the aftermath of World War II to create a super-intelligent, telepathic being by experimenting with rats, connecting them in such a manner in the tunnels beneath Cadogan Castle. Intending to visit the middle ages and witness some jousting, the Doctor and his companions, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson), find themselves beneath the castle in 1983 where a group of journalists are trying to uncover the truth about the place before it's taken over by Heritage in the wake of Thatcher's election and any unsavoury history can be hidden away.

Just this layering of concept is fun but the characters are nicely rendered, too. The group of journalists the Doctor encounters squabble and have distinct personalities--one had brought along a dog whistle to ward off any dogs when breaking into the castle, at which the Doctor wryly asks if they realise dog whistles attract dogs, not scare them away. Davison is in top form here and I was particularly impressed by his ability to speak great lengths of dialogue in a single breath. He usually played the Doctor as seeming almost out of breath and the impression he gave was of someone who's acutely conscious of time rapidly running out but whose sense of decorum insists that he say everything that needs saying in just the proper way. We see this in Rat Trap when, in rushing from one point to another, he manages to ask very quickly but very politely that he be reminded of a stash of napalm he'd left behind and that he should dispose of it properly when time allows.

Nyssa continues the plot thread started in Cobwebs that finds her much older than she was on the television show. She's given a moment to dramatically chew on the underused point about the Master possessing her father's body. Turlough, meanwhile, has an entertaining adventure in the TARDIS with a defibrillator.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

In the weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour, handsome soldiers and beautiful women are caught in private, passionate melodramas in 1953's From Here to Eternity. The screenplay is much too broad to make most of its stabs for emotion very effective but the actors carry a lot, both for their performances and for their physical appearance.

Burt Lancaster must have the broadest shoulders I've ever seen. He easily encompasses Deborah Kerr in the famous beach love scene, the scene that's misled many people into thinking the film was going to be all about romance. Kerr, in something of a breakout role for her in the U.S., has a fairly small part in the film and a really strange American accent. I wouldn't be surprised to learn she was dubbed. There are a few scenes where the filmmakers seem to avoid giving her as much dialogue as possible--a scene where she and Lancaster are worried about being spotted at a restaurant has a long, continuous shot of her face with absolutely no dialogue. It's like watching a silent film actress--and Kerr really makes it work.

Lancaster's a sergeant named Warden and Kerr plays Karen, the wife of Warden's captain. She's known for sleeping around, something Warden tosses in her face angrily in an unintentionally funny moment just after the two have been going at it in the surf. The film is filled with over the top, hot headed guys.

But most of the film focuses on a private named Robert E. Lee Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift in a wonderful, vulnerable, raw nerve performance. In a plot point nicked from The Quiet Man, Prewitt's a former boxer who refuses to fight now after he accidentally caused permanent harm to another boxer. But the whole reason he'd been transferred to the regiment is because the captain (Philip Ober) wants him to fight for his team. So a bunch of Prewitt's superiors commence giving him "the treatment"--kicking him during training and giving him unfair punishments. Much to their frustration, he takes it all in stride.

He's befriended by a nice, hot headed guy named Maggio (Frank Sinatra) who establishes a dangerous rivalry with the hot headed stockade sergeant, Judson (Ernest Borgnine), leading to two knife fights in the film. Maggio's a good guy whose unlikely misfortune fuels the melodramatic, noble reactions from those around him.

Donna Reed plays a gentleman's club hostess named Lorene, apparently a prostitute in the source novel, which better explains the conflicted feelings Prewitt and she have when he falls for her.

I found myself enjoying the movie most when everyone was just hanging around a bar or the club while Maggio tells drunken jokes and Prewitt plays his bugle mouthpiece, which Reed handles at one moment rather suggestively. But for some reason my favourite visual was Kerr in this dress with what looks like a bunch of wicker disks.

Twitter Sonnet #1022

The tin antennae tune from under clouds.
Like drifting weeds but sharp and hungry leaves.
As the merging shades above become as shrouds.
As holy ants depart with pupa sheaves.
Returning lamps adorn the space at hand.
A liver sorts an ocean if you ask.
I've seen the crows describe a certain band.
In flying carts I can't refuse a task.
A giant hand became the nearest suit.
Some clothes can take a pending hat for song.
Entire towns exclaim sometimes to loot.
In semblance of a sink the trough was long.
The eyes encompass burning ginger fields.
From here a reddish ink composed the yields.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

Normally I'm not a big fan of product placement but I was happy to be seduced by 2017's Atomic Blonde into having a glass of vodka on the rocks. This stylish solo directorial debut by former stuntman Kurt Johnstad is a cool, neon painted contemplation of Charlize Theron's beauty most of the time, and the rest of the time it has her in some really well constructed action sequences.

I can't really say much about the plot. Lorraine (Theron) is an agent from MI6 who goes on assignment in Berlin in 1989, just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As she testily points out more then once, she's immediately made by the KGB and from then on she's in constant peril as she simultaneously tries to track down a double agent named "Satchel" and acquire a list of sensitive names. This list turns out to have been memorised by a guy code named Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) so he becomes a living McGuffin, something that reminded me a bit of The 39 Steps.

But mainly the pleasure in the film is watching Theron with a platinum bob strutting in fantastically chic boots and stilettos through neon haze and shadow. Reviews predictably compare her to James Bond but in her beautiful love scenes with the naive French agent, Delphine (Sofia Boutella), she's nowhere near as annoying as James Bond usually is.

About two thirds of the way through the movie, though, the action aspect of the film really kicks in with a lengthy fight down a stairwell in an apartment building. It seems to be a descendent of the famous sloppy hallway fight in Oldboy though now, after Birdman, it's a lot easier to imitate continuous shots. Johnstad knows this and so pushes it further, having what looks like one shot continue down several floors to outside the building to inside a car driving down the street. And Theron, who apparently trained so hard for this film she cracked her teeth clenching them, does some really impressive work in the fight scenes.

I felt like the plot went through a bit too many convolutions but I wonder if the resulting disorientation was intentional. In any case, the film's not really about that, as I said. It's a bathtub filled with ice, Charlize Theron, and Stolichnaya.

setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

At one point in 1996's Looking for Richard, director and star Al Pacino discusses how difficult it can be to understand people who find Shakespeare difficult to understand. He dismisses the idea that the language is "fancy" as one person calls it and argues that if one just listens and goes along with the story, one will get the gist, even if one doesn't understand everything. The film is a fascinating look at the process directors and actors for theatre and film go through in adapting Shakespeare for a modern audience, using Richard III as a subject. I would've preferred a straight forward adaptation of the play starring this film's cast but its documentary elements are illuminating and fun.

The documentary segments follow Pacino and his collaborator, Frederic Kimball, as they go from the earliest stages of a film production with a focus on casting and discussions with actors. It's funny how movies directed by actors predictably have lots and lots of close ups.

This isn't mere vanity, though. Actors know how much story they can tell with their faces. The difference between the stage and film for Shakespeare is also discussed, with one person, I forget who, observing that the ability to speak in a lower voice on film, without the need of a stage voice to carry across a theatre, allows the actor greater intimacy with the lines. It suggests a more personal connexion between the character and the words.

Pacino interviews a variety of actors and scholars. John Gielgud offers an intriguing though somewhat incomprehensible opinion on the difference between the way American and British actors tend to perform Shakespeare, suggesting it's because the British spend more time in galleries contemplating beautiful art. One can question how true this broad statement is and also whether it's valid in pinpointing why British actors are more comfortable with the material though there's some insight, I think, in the idea that internalising brilliant artifice through rigorous contemplation makes one more comfortable with the scope and beauty of Shakespeare.

The two most interesting commentators, though, were Vanessa Redgrave and Penelope Allen--the latter plays King Edward's wife Elizabeth in Pacino's production. We see Pacino assembling actors in a hotel room to discuss their scenes and it's wonderful seeing how personally the actors attach themselves to characters. Allen's vociferous argument as to her character's motives is inspiring to watch.

Winona Ryder as Lady Anne is probably the weakest point of this production. Her turning on a dime interpretation of the scene where Richard woos Anne is kind of embarrassingly shallow and drains the scene of much of its insight and horror, turning it almost into broad comedy.

Pacino's performance as Richard is really good, as you might expect. He's vicious and magnetic.

The cast also includes Alec Baldwin as Clarence and an underused Kevin Spacey as Buckingham. I saw the film a few nights ago at a free screening at San Diego's Old Globe with my friend, and Shakespeare professor, Edith Frampton. The audience laughed when Spacey, in an interview segment, held forth on the nature of politicians who, in election time, typically promise change and talk about how miserable things are now. This timely comment from Spacey is of course prompted by the timeless insight in the play itself.
setsuled: (Venia Chess)

Sunday's new Game of Thrones, "The Spoils of War", was the most satisfying in quite a while for me and my favourite Event Battle episode since "Blackwater". It was a vivid exercise of one of the best, distinguishing qualities of Game of Thrones--a portrayal of a conflict where there are reasons to like both sides.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Hey, is that Monument Valley? I can't seem to find any site that directly states what filming locations were used but there are plenty of articles comparing Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) and her Dothrakis' surprise attack to a Western. Including this interview with the episode's director, Miguel Sapochnik, who says he drew inspiration in part from John Ford's Stagecoach. It makes sense--maybe Fort Apache would make even more sense--the Dothraki versus a wagon train of Lannister soldiers is kind of like Apaches versus a group of out-of-their-depth U.S. army.

This is the third surprise attack this season, the first one to benefit Daenerys. I would send a memo to both sides stressing the usefulness of scouts and lookouts, there's no reason a massive army of Dothraki shouldn't have been spotted sooner. How Daenerys knew to attack this group and when she decided to is another question that most reviews seem to be skipping over. The initial reactions I saw weren't about how it seemed like a Western but about how Daenerys is finally kicking ass now that she's stopped listening to Tyrion's (Peter Dinklage) clever plans. Is attacking the soldiers conducting spoils back to King's Landing not clever?

Daenerys mentions on the beach earlier in the episode that Lannisters are looting the granaries in the Reach. But the only idea we hear Daenerys put forward is attacking the Red Keep. There are a lot of strategic advantages to attacking the loot train--Daenerys gets to demonstrate the power of her dragons with minimal risk to civilians, also dispatching men who'd been terrorising farmers in the process. She also undercuts Cersei's (Lena Headey) standing with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) and the Iron Bank. It's so clearly a good idea that if Tyrion didn't see it it wasn't because he was being clever. Possibly we'll find out next week he was blinded by his lingering affection for Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as Daenerys seemed to be implying.

Certainly this was one of the highlights of the season so far, watching poor Tyrion watching Jaime being a fucking, tragic idiot. At least Tyrion has good dramatic material even if this isn't turning out to be the season where he'll finally be useful. Still, we don't technically know whose idea this attack was, it would be kind of fascinating if it turned out to be his.

It was also a good idea to have Bronn (Jerome Flynn) be the one who fires off that anti-dragon ballista. It was good to see Bronn again, everyone's favourite amoral, merry man and seeing him against other characters we like is a nice, sobering highlight of the basic ugliness of conflict, if all those roasting soldiers wasn't enough. It would have been nice to have another scene like Arya's (Maisie Williams) encounter with the regular joe Lannister soldiers from a few episodes back but the juxtaposition is still there. Aside from Ed Sheeran, whom I think few of us would mind seeing roasted, it was a nice way of showing these guys have little understanding of the lofty games of conquest and politics played by their superiors. This makes Jaime, and his reluctance to let his men be flogged, all the more effective a counterpoint to Daenerys. Yes, Daenerys avoided civilian casualties, but in the end, slaughter is never pretty.

It might be a pyrrhic victory, too, if it turns out to mean the death of Drogon Dragon, though it really doesn't look like a mortal wound to me.

Meanwhile, at Winterfell, in the drastically less interesting part of the episode, the Starks continue to be dull. The reunion of Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya was diminished by the bad writing both characters have been victims of for the past couple seasons. I can just imagine the conversation:

ARYA: "So how've you been?"

SANSA: "Well, I was still the same idealistic, foolish girl you remember until I was raped, then people started acting like I was a genius, though the only thing I've done so far is ask Littlefinger for help winning the Battle of the Bastards without telling Jon. You?"

ARYA: "I went to train to be a master assassin but I got impatient and stole their magic and came home. I'm now a master assassin who rides openly through Lannister territory."

Nevertheless, the sparring match between Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya was pretty cool and well choreographed. And the two have the beginnings of some nice chemistry.

I'm still not sure why everyone's being so openly rude to Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). Apart from not being very grateful to the man who saved them in the Battle of the Bastards, what is it exactly they blame Littlefinger for? He didn't force Sansa to marry Ramsey and for all we know he really didn't know he was a psychopath. Do they know he betrayed Ned in season one?

Twitter Sonnet #1021

In tapered mugs the coffee points below.
A shining dress adorns a cloudless arm.
The marching flags proclaim a cooking glow.
Penne appeals beneath the crumbled parm.
Foretold like laundry spirals make the sun.
Against no other blanket paces match.
In duels they're much too destined to be stunned.
A forceful flower chomps the pollen batch.
Across transparent cakes grew frosting stones.
Upon the month of romping glitch it blooms.
The text received displayed in vision bones.
A building closely gripped the walking rooms.
Accounts portrayed collected courts in grass.
A plastic double chin was served with sass.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Last night's new Twin Peaks showed the clear contrast between benevolent forces and cruel. It also contained the best arm wrestling scene I've seen in any movie or TV show and the best use of dandruff since North by Northwest.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Looks like a field of stars.

Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has become a master zen fool. He has lost all connexion to illusory human attachments, even identity, and allows the flow of existence to carry him. There's no guile when he becomes transfixed by the dandruff on Anthony's (Tom Sizemore) coat but it just happens to be the right thing to do. I wonder how much Mike (Al Strobel) and the Arm appreciate this new mode of existence for Cooper since Mike had told him he needed to "wake up". Maybe there'll be limits to Cooper's new powers.

There's something unsettling about his success with the Mitchum brothers. When they come into the Lucky Seven insurance building in that conga line the music sounds like a handful of screws dropped in an air duct. And Candie's (Amy Shiels) glee at giving gifts to Bushnell (Don Murray) seems manic. Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) in his new jungle gym at night with a spotlight is almost frighteningly delirious.

A more markedly uncertain reality appears in Audrey Horne's (Sherilyn Fenn) second episode of the new season. We see her questioning her own motives and identity and her relationship with Charlie (Clark Middleton) has become less clear. Last week he seemed to be her husband, now I wonder if he's a psychiatrist who indulges Audrey when she slips into delusional narratives. Or maybe she's in a dream. It almost feels like Lynch and Frost didn't know what to do with Audrey in the new series and decided to use this uncertainty as a prompt. Well, it certainly works, in my opinion, and I'm intrigued. Her desperation at searching for a basic identity, lacking Cooper's contentment, is kind of heart breaking.

Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) shows how malevolence has greater, more logical efficiency than Dougie's brand. I thought the idea of an arm wrestling scene was silly at first but I was completely won over when C tortured the gang boss, Renzo (Derek Mears), not merely with physical pain but with a complete disruption of the rules of strength and dominance that define the world Renzo understands. Cooper's a master Jedi and C's a consummate Sith.

Cherry pie was discussed a lot again this week, both at Lucky 7 Insurance and at Twin Peaks where we have another nice scene at the RR. Becky (Amanda Seyfried) reveals she has a love for the famous pie as well, also revealing she hasn't seen Steven in two days. I'm no relationship expert but firing off several rounds into his girlfriend's door might have made him skittish.

Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) says they've just found something of his father's "to-day" which is either a continuity error or the police have recovered whatever treasure the capsule map was leading to. Lynch and Frost show a genius level attention to detail so it's hard to believe it's an error.

And poor Big Ed (Everett McGill), finally back and, while he seems to be doing better with Norma (Peggy Lipton) than Bobby is with Shelly (Madchen Amick), things are still remarkably unsure with Norma apparently being wooed by some cheesy corporate cutthroat (Grant Goodeve). Honestly, Ed, I wouldn't worry.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

To-day's my sister's birthday and also Robert Mitchum's 100th birthday so happy birthday to you both. Last night I watched Mitchum in 1960's The Sundowners, a relaxing, almost slice of life story about a family of sheep drovers in early 20th century Australia. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it has a wonderful quantity of location footage and real sheep shearing that turns out to be gently fascinating.

The Carmodys roll into frame in a covered wagon with little fanfare during the opening credits. The film does a nice job of bringing the viewer in with a fairly normal group of people who happen to have the lovely job of herding sheep. It reminds me of the obsession poets used to have with the idyllic lives of shepherds--there's something just so pleasant about even the arguments between Paddy (Mitchum), Ida (Deborah Kerr), and their son, Sean (Michael Anderson, Jr.).

The actors do a respectable job at Australian accents, refreshing after movies like Sister Kenny where no-one even bothered. I will say, as much as I love Deborah Kerr, she's definitely miscast here. When they're alone in their tent, Paddy compliments her body, telling her she's how women ought to be shaped, unlike the skinny women they'd seen in town--"Broomsticks, nothing to hang onto." She immediately replies with an amusing and lightly chiding, "Did you try?"

The only problem is Kerr is pretty slender herself. Throughout the movie the script comes back to the idea that Ida has looks that show she's worked hard and in poverty all her life but as fun as Kerr is with some of the snappy dialogue in this film she's just too naturally elegant and poised. In one scene, we see her wistfully watching a society woman in a train and in the next scene we see her in the hotel looking like this:

She has a bit of a tan but mainly she looks as crisp and graceful as any lady of refinement--really more so than most. Her and Mitchum are a really sexy couple, though.

More appropriately anachronistic is Peter Ustinov in a supporting role as Rupert Venneker, an English hired hand that takes up with the Carmodys, the strangest and most intriguing character in the film.

He won't say much about his past unless he's forced to defend his dignity and mention the time he spent as a captain on a Chinese ship or the great family he was born into in England. He seems to strike up a romance with the always charming Glynis Johns as the hotel owner but the relationship doesn't go where you might expect and it's not for entirely mercenary reasons Rupert's drawn to the Carmodys. Some might say what we're seeing is repressed homosexuality, which I think is possible, but there are other equally possible explanations for his isolation which is for the most part only incidentally referred to.

There's a conflict running through the film between Paddy and Ida over the idea of continuing as drovers, as he wants, and settling down on a farm, as she wants, but for the most part the film is episodic. We watch the Carmodys take a job shearing, Ida working in the kitchen. A coworker's wife gets pregnant, a fight breaks out in the road after two trucks of workers nearly collide, there's a brush fire the family barely escapes. Rupert convinces Paddy to enter a shearing competition--and Mitchum is clearly doing some actual shearing.

Mitchum, even in these circumstances, is, as usual, magnetic in his zenlike coolness and idle strength.

The movie ends with a nicely unresolved feeling as though the story of the Carmodys and Rupert is still going on somewhere, pretty much as it was most of the movie.
setsuled: (Default)

This week I listened to a 2011 Fifth Doctor Doctor Who audio play called Kiss of Death which sadly did not feature Richard Widmark and Victor Mature. But it's a nice enough heist story with romance mixed in, focused on one of my top two favourite male companions, Turlough.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) is with the Fifth's optimum Companion group again in this one--Tegan (Janet Fielding), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), and Turlough (Mark Strickson). While the TARDIS is temporarily out of commission for dimensional maintenance, the group are stranded on a space station where Turlough is kidnapped by a couple of thieves. They take him back to his home world along with his childhood lover, Deela (Lucy Adams). Before the events of the civil war we find out more about in Turlough's final episode, Turlough and Deela, who came from families on opposite sides, met in a secret room where the thieves think there's a great treasure now and the only way the room can be opened is if Turlough and Deela kiss.

It's obviously all arranged to get some relationship drama going on and I enjoyed the sinister idea of material gain got from reopening someone's private wounds. An ancient alien security system makes things more difficult for everyone--this is the problem the Doctor focuses on for most of the story, basically playing background to the companions in this one but it's still always nice to hear Peter Davison performing in one of these.

The audio format forces Nyssa to explain in dialogue again that she's much older now than listeners are used to, this story, like the previous Fifth Doctor audio, taking place after Nyssa returns from a lifetime spent on Terminus. She muses a little on how experienced she is now when talking to Turlough about his romantic troubles but it's clear the writers aren't quite sure what to do with aged Nyssa. The initial idea was interesting but I can't see them keeping it up for long.

Twitter Sonnet #1020

Through tapes recovered late we found the proof.
The links appear to make a clearer field.
Too crowded was the team's assembled truth.
And now a waffle iron's fit the yield.
The stomach eggs return like boomerangs.
A catcher's mitt explodes beyond all thought.
In hallowed bins a muppet still harangues.
We'll say that all the drifting down was caught.
In cups predicted now and then it sprouts.
No time was like the present put to paint.
The pots are much too steep for shorter spouts.
The message leaves transmit to us but faint.
A waiting queen resorts to rooks and knights.
A single game could last a thousand nights.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

When thinking of yakuza, one does not normally think of contemplative, almost zen-like stillness. Yet Takeshi Kitano's 1993 film Sonatine owes more to Ozu than Suzuki with its tranquil, unhurried shots of characters sitting and talking about things that don't necessarily move the plot forward. Evidence of the characters' familiarity with violence and fear creeps into the substance of scenes, though, making this a peculiarly sedate and yet striking perspective on life in organised crime.

The film centres on Murakawa (Takeshi Kitano) who is caught up in some kind of intrigue with his own gang and another. Both seem to want him dead but Murakawa barely seems to care, for the most part expressing no emotion but a vaguely melancholy weariness. Eventually, he ends up hiding out at a beach house in Okinawa with a few of his subordinates.

Two of his younger subordinates discover they're from the same part of Tokyo and they have conversations about places and people they both know. A few moments suggest a suppressed homosexual attraction between the two, particularly a scene where the two play with a doll.

Murakawa seems to be keeping his true feelings suppressed as well as he explains to a girl named Miyuki (Aya Kokumai) that despite appearances he's in a constant state of fear and that's why he's so quick and sure with a gun.

He meets Miyuki after a witnessing a young man trying to rape her one evening. Murakawa doesn't seem to care very much about what he's witnessing and doesn't seem like he'd get involved except the would-be rapist becomes angry when he notices he's being watched and attacks Murakawa. We don't find out very much about Miyuki, who falls in love with him, her character seeming to exist to provide an alternate route into a more loving and stable lifestyle, but like the attraction between his two subordinates, he seems cut off from the possibility by his own ingrained patterns of thought and emotion.

Most of the movie consists of scenes of the group of misfits on the beach, playing games that would seem normal except eventually gunplay gets involved. A strange Russian Roulette scene early on on the one hand seems to show Murakawa's methods of inspiring fear are only a front but on the other hand it seems to confirm, along with what he said to Miyuki, that he's on a quiet, inexorable path of self-destruction.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Is it possible for one to be a great artist and also find happiness in a relationship? Many stories have contemplated this question, like the 1946 Aleksandr Ptushko fantasy film The Stone Flower (Каменный цветок), based on a story by Pavel Bazhov which was in turn based on Ural folklore. One of the most beautiful fantasy films I've ever seen, the film tells its story of a young man, obsessed with mastering his art of stone cutting, with chiaroscuro lighting and deliberately artificial sets. Every shot looks like a painting and the special effects are charming.

I hope this poor lizard wasn't injured in being given this crown. She ends up being a Russian mythological figure, the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, played in human form by Tamara Makarova.

We see her taking an interest in the day dreaming young shepherd named Danilo who later becomes an apprentice to a master gemcutter, Prokopych (Mikhail Troyanovsky). Danilo (Vladimir Druzhnikov) soon surpasses his master. He crafts a beautiful stone flower commissioned by a French noblewoman.

As he gains fame and success, he and a farmgirl, Katinka (Yekaterina Derevshchikova), fall in love. But he becomes obsessed with the idea that his stone flower could have been better made, his urge to destroy his creation distracting him from Katinka. Soon the Mistress of the Copper Mountain seduces him into joining her in the heart of a mountain where he can do stone work in isolation forever.

Katinka, saddened by his absence, becomes Prokopych's new apprentice and a pretty good gemcutter herself, one of the more surprising aspects of the story.

I found the scenes where Danilo contemplates destroying his stone flower provoked some real anxiety in me. I guess it's like a metaphor for the Star Wars special editions. At some point the artist needs to give his or her art to the audience and in this may be the real answer to the conflict between artistry and relationships--an artist does have a relationship with an audience and treating the audience like it's irrelevant can be dangerous to the artist's mental health. On the other hand, the Mistress of the Copper Mountain is pretty fabulous.

The whole movie is currently on YouTube, I recommend checking it out for the gorgeous visuals before someone with absolutely no right to it files a copyright claim with YouTube so almost no-one will be able to see the movie for years. Click the CC button to get English subtitles.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

One can take deep pleasure in observing the beauty of human life in its myriad and extraordinary forms, or one can have the sensual pleasure of experiencing them first hand, but it's impossible to experience both at the same time. Having one means sacrificing the other in Wim Wender's 1987 film Der Himmel über Berlin--literally "The Heavens Over Berlin" but released as Wings of Desire to English speaking audiences. I prefer the German title as it expresses better the broad nature of the film's story though the two titles might also reflect that dichotomy of observation and experience. In one sense, it's a beautiful exploration of artistic endeavours while in another sense its a lovely portrait of the human experience. It's quite good either way.

Bruno Ganz plays Damiel, one of many Angels who roam Berlin, invisible to adults. Damiel and another angel, Cassiel (Otto Sander), meet to exchange observations of commonplace yet extraordinary behaviour, like a woman who puts away her umbrella to let herself get soaked by a rainstorm. We see them rest their heads and hands comfortingly on humans in distress and some humans are receptive to the support of the angels even if they can't see them. The angels don't seem to be tied to any specific religion and we see them equally concerned with Jews and Muslims as presumed Christians.

We see them with a wide variety of individuals but the film pays particular attention to three--a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommartin), a elderly poet named Homer (Curt Bois), and the American actor Peter Falk (playing himself).

All three are artists of different kinds. If one thinks of Friedrich Nietzsche's use of the Dionysian and Apollonian dichotomy in art, one can see the actor and the trapeze artist as representatives of the Dionysian, artists who literally put themselves into the performance, while in the film's dedication to "former angels", directors Yasujiro Ozu, Francois Truffaut, and Andrei Tarkovsky, who had all died before this film's release, we can see the identification of film directing with the angels, or the Apollonian--the angels are cut off from personal participation but bring the poetry and revelation of dreams.

I would have said the film's style owes more to Bergman than anyone else but of course Bergman was still alive when the film was released. Not just for the way aspects of the human experience and mind are anthropomorphised but also the tone of the conversations between the angels feels very Bergman in their remoteness, pleasure, and contemplation. But of the three named, the film seems stylistically closest to Tarkovsky in its parts where it avoids attachment to specific characters and it resembles Truffaut in its contemplation of the fundamental nature of human relationships. Its visual style didn't remind me of Ozu very much but in its sense of detachment from and yet love for the complexity of human community I could certainly see the influence of Ohayo or Floating Weeds.

I love Wender's use of black and white and colour. The angels are only visible in black and white shots while colour footage is used to portray the more sensually connected world of human life. It's common cinematic parlance to use black and white to establish scenes as taking place in a distant past but as true cinephiles will tell you there's more to black and white than an evocation of the old. Like the observation of the angels, it transmutes reality to the dream-like, the fantastic, and the sublime. And yet colour is undeniably more complex and reflects a certain kind of emotional intensity--and for its greater realism it grounds the viewer in the more down-to-earth world of humans.

Eventually, one of the angels decides to become mortal in order to experience the sensory pleasures and it's significant that he can't have both worlds. Yet when he finally meets the woman he's fallen for, her immediate reaction is to intellectualise the experience as she discusses what their attraction means on a bigger philosophical level. It's not only angels who can travel between modes of thought, it seems, and perhaps each mode owes its strength to its understanding of and sympathy for the other.

Twitter Sonnet #1019

A language wrote above the beauty's hill.
A thousand tongues partook of wine at night.
A turkey strange departs the woods at will.
No shuffled cards can sure dispel the sight.
In troubles snaking by there's paint besides.
A calibration botched between the points.
A course distorted puts the weeds in tides.
A skull beheld its written name in joints.
Plantains at night recall potassium.
All drained of colour, crimping teeth.
No hue could come to bones for calcium.
The only pigment made subdued the wreath.
A leaden orb upstaged the thatchéd sun.
A circling heart resolves a painted run.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

Sunday's new Game of Thrones continued into the lightning round, as well it might considering this season is almost half over already. Major events are rushed through more to get from one plot point to another than to savour them and what they mean to the characters and most of the dialogue scenes were formulaic. But there were some satisfying exchanges, particularly involving Daenerys, Jon, and Tyrion.

Spoilers after the screenshot

As the show has drifted further from George R.R. Martin's material, the dialogue has very often consisted of a familiar repeated pattern--whiny person versus cool, smug person. Characters often contort well outside their previously established personalities just so Benioff and Weiss, who wrote "The Queen's Justice", Sunday's episode, can make the pattern work. Varys (Conleth Hill), who was once the figure of cool, collected, and scheming, is obliged to become Whiny to Melisandre's (Carice van Houten) Smug so she can lay him flat with that prophetic line about how the two of them are destined to die in Westeros.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has been playing Whiny consistently since about the middle of last season. "The Queen's Justice" ends with him paired with Olenna (Diana Rigg) in the Smug role who delivers her argument, about how she's been ruthless and cruel but Cersei's more ruthless and cruel so she's doomed, with such confidence it almost seems like it makes sense. We have Diana Rigg to thank for that, the show will certainly be poorer for her absence.

Another departure, and this was news to me when I read it in the Wikipedia article, is Ellaria Sand, played by Indiria Varma, who's quoted as saying, "Obviously there’s lots of trimming going on. It’s all coming to a head and you have to get rid of less important characters that the audience hasn’t had the chance to invest in as much. So I was expecting it. I wasn’t heartbroken. And I was like, 'As long as I die on screen…' and they were like 'Yeah!' But of course I don’t die on screen. I stay alive, I’m just not going to reappear. I think it’s really clever." It feels more like a loose thread to me. Despite the fact that she's gagged in her final scene, she basically occupies the Whiny role for Cersei (Lena Headey) to explain her wicked plan for tormenting her and her daughter, which was nowhere near as harsh as I was expecting.

Cersei was almost edged into Whiny herself when Euron (Pilou Asbaek) delivered his prisoners by Jaime valiantly stepped into the role for her. Though Jaime actually made a good point about how capricious the favour of the mob is he wasn't even allowed this moment of wisdom as Euron was already aware of this, too, and one upped him on it. Euron is taking over from Ramsay as the ridiculous supervillain and we witnessed his fleet's miraculous power again this week when it bamfed in among the Unsullied ships. Wasn't the attack on Casterly Rock supposed to take place at the same time as Yara's assault on King's Landing? That Euron sure gets around. With a fleet.

The dialogue between Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harrington) was largely saved from falling into the pattern partly because the Authority role is too hard wired into Daenerys and partly due to Emilia Clarke's performance. She has gotten to be a much, much better actress in the past three years. I don't know if it's acting coaching or greater passion for her work but it's good to see. Jon presenting the problem of the White Walkers continues to feel like a metaphor for climate change but it being paired with a reference to events that make Jon a Christ-figure adds an interesting moral context to it. One could say that in reality the two things are in opposition--the right wing tends to maintain faith that climate change isn't real despite the evidence, here Jon is a figure of faith asking for faith in the absence of evidence. In a way, this works since many on the right consider science a matter of faith. Which is, of course, depressing.

I had to laugh when Jon said the game of thrones was basically like a bunch of children squabbling since that's exactly how I've described his arguments with Sansa (Sophie Turner) at Winterfell. My eyebrows were certainly raised when Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) described Sansa as smarter than she lets on and this week it seemed like Benioff and Weiss really were trying to make her seem smart now but only by lowering the intelligence of everyone around her. This week we see she's somehow the only one who's thought of storing sufficient food and, bizarrely, the only one whose thought of padding plate armour with leather. I would think if the armour smith wasn't doing this already it would be for a good reason, like maybe there's not enough leather for that. There is a lot of leather on the show, though, so I'm pretty sure there's already a suggestion of cattle being slaughtered in unrealistic quantities anyway.

We then see Sansa transfixed by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) basically telling her to anticipate all scenarios. Since this isn't a particularly amazing piece of advice, the fact that Sansa seems so absorbed made me think, "Wow, she's falling in love with him." Which I suppose I'm probably not supposed to think. But who knows? I think it would be great if they actually became a couple.

Final thought: who's the Romulan working for Cersei?


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