setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

This is the famous Wall Drug Dinosaur in Wall, South Dakota, and it features in "THE DINOSAUR TOURIST", a lovely new Caitlin R. Kiernan story in the Sirenia Digest. It may be the story in the Digest to feature the least amount of weirdness, being a simple tale of a man who picks up a guileless young hitch-hiker who's on his way to meet his internet boyfriend. A subtle chemistry develops between the driver and the hitch-hiker with interesting exchanges based on differences in breadth and kind of experience. It showcases Caitlin's fine ability to create the sensory elements of an experience and has the slow, nice pace of all good road stories, which this one is.

I've been reading a lot lately, maybe because I'm in a Japanese class now I suddenly have a contrary urge to read a lot of English. I'm still re-reading The Lord of the Rings and on Saturday or Sunday I reached chapter 4 from Book Four, or the second book in The Two Towers, "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit". And speaking of a slow and easy atmosphere, this is a wonderful chapter which Peter Jackson's film version really doesn't attempt to capture. Most of the basic elements of the chapter are present in the extended version of the film--Gollum fetches some rabbits and Sam decides to cook them, much to Gollum's indignation, who prefers raw meat. Gollum's "What's taters. precious?" line is even reproduced in the film. But there are many differences that completely change the tone and purpose of the scene.

Because Jackson was so focused on creating a film with constant momentum, it's easy to see why he reinterpreted it. But in the book, it's one of the moments that most clearly reminded me that Tolkien was a World War I veteran. After the Dead Marshes and grey, featureless lands of Mordor, the Hobbits and Gollum come to a place that's strangely beautiful.

So they passed into the northern marches of that land that Men once called Ithilien, a fair country of climbing woods and swift-falling streams.

It's easy to imagine soldiers, accustomed to the hellish landscape surrounding trenches, suddenly coming across areas not yet spoiled by the war.

Many great trees grew there, planted long ago, falling into untended age amid a riot of careless descendants; and groves and thickets there were of tanmarisk and pungent terebinth, of olive and of bay; and there were junipers and myrtles; and thymes that grew in bushes, or with their woody creeping stems mantled in deep tapestries the hidden stones; sages of many kinds putting forth blue flowers, or red, or pale green . . .

It's after Frodo has fallen asleep that Sam slowly starts to remember the cookware and formulates his plan to make a decent meal for his master. The wonderful thing about the scene, and the reason Sam quickly takes over the narrative, is that we see him, much more than simply cooking a meal, single-handedly creating a familiar domestic atmosphere, motived both for himself and for the love he feels for Frodo watching him sleep.

Frodo's face was peaceful, the marks of fear and care had left it; but it looked old, old and beautiful, as if the chiselling of the sharping years was now revealed in many fine lines that had before been hidden, though the identity of the face had not changed. Not that Sam Gamgee put it that way to himself. He shook his head, as if finding words useless, and murmured: 'I love him. He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no.'

After all the time Tolkien spends describing their slow, grim, and hopeless journey, it's wonderful that Sam instinctively wants to spend a lot of time and energy cooking and in the process he even turns Gollum into a familiar domestic figure, the lazy and surly servant lad.

'Smeagol'll get into real true hot water, when this water boils, if he don't do as he's asked,' growled Sam. 'Sam'll put his head in it, yes precious. And I'd make him look for turnips and carrots, and taters too, if it was the time o' the year. I'll bet there's all sorts of good things running wild in this country. I'd give a lot for half a dozen taters.'

The beauty in this scene is an interesting contrast to the impatience Frodo expresses regarding Hobbit culture at the beginning. It's easy to think again of men itching for glorious and worthy battle and then finding something horribly different in the first World War and suddenly foolish homebodies don't seem so foolish after all.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Sunday night concluded the season of Game of Thrones with the greatest number of viewers by far--the season finale had over twelve million viewers, easily beating the nearly nine million who viewed last season's finale. At the same time, this has been the most critically disliked season with many reviews talking about the logical problems that are seriously undercutting character dynamics and development. Yet, "The Dragon and the Wolf" did have some good character material, though it mostly didn't come from any dragons or wolves but from lions.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) didn't have a whole lot to do this episode apart from deciding to show up to the big meeting on a dragon and then to fall for Jon (Kit Harrington), making sure that, whoever ends up on the Iron Throne, it'll probably be someone who likes having sex with blood relatives.

Jon's most interesting moment was deciding to stick to his guns and not hide his pledged fealty to Daenerys. He makes a good point that if people keep lying all the time, sooner or later people won't be able to trust anything and everything will break down. Though the opposing view, that the immediate threat from the White Walkers seems even more likely to do that, is good, too. It's a genuine conundrum.

Effective surprise is a tricky thing to pull off with characters and it demands that the audience have some kind of grip on their personalities beforehand. That's why the surprise in Littlefinger's (Aidan Gillen) execution was especially unsatisfying--the retconning of the Vale's loyalty was too recently implemented for people to think they'd easily believe Littlefinger's guilty of so many crimes just because Sansa (Sophie Turner) said so. It makes sense that Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) would be the only one who knew about Littlefinger's crimes but everyone taking his word takes too much as read. But, of course, the point is to get characters out of the way, not to explore characters. I keep being reminded I don't got my head right when I see things like the Unsullied and the Dothraki marching together and I find myself wondering how these two vastly different cultures get along and how Daenerys maintains her relationship with them.

By the way, I don't think Jorah (Iain Glen) has a single line in this episode. Is there anyone among those twelve million viewers who's disappointed the romantic tension that had been built up for years between him and Daenerys has just been entirely ignored this season? I think Glen's much better looking than Harrington, but I guess that's just me. It did at least seem like there was maybe a suggestion of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) pining for Daenerys at the end, which was the relationship I was fantasising about more, so that was kind of nice.

But Tyrion was one half of my favourite scene in the episode. Here's where the surprise was effective--at first I thought, there's no way Tyrion could honestly expect to go into a room with Cersei (Lena Headey) and come out alive. But when he did, it didn't feel dishonest, it felt like I was seeing his genuine insight into an aspect of Cersei's personality that hadn't been totally clear before. That's the kind of surprise I like.

It's surprising given how much we know she hates Tyrion but it's believable because of how we know she feels about her family. Still, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors for pulling off the delicate balancing act in this scene. The tension when Tyrion goes to pour drinks for the two of them is great--he's gambled and he's won but he knows exactly how close it was.

It's slightly less effective when Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) makes the same gambit and I'd rather Jaime stayed by Cersei's side instead of going into exile, though maybe now that she doesn't have any kind of foil her character will transmute in interesting ways.

Anyway, I should mention the cgi was pretty spectacular. So, well done, digital effects people. Now that they've killed so many people off, I wonder who they'll kill next season.

Shit, they're through the Wall already. It's going to take Jon and Daenerys at least twenty five minutes to get their armies up there.

Twitter Sonnet #1028

An aviator tempted paper bags.
The quicker clock combined with gold and gin.
On all the marble toes are linen tags.
To choose the rising sand is not to sin.
In tears of melted plastic came the deck.
Forgetful hands return to gloves unknown.
Behind the careful tongue's a traitor tech.
And by a thousand lights the road is shown.
The sleekest shadow swam the aether up.
Escaped into a pocket shot through space.
In nervous ease she took her coffee cup.
Inside her cuff, an endless linking race.
The band affixed itself to straw for good.
A thousand tramping leaves the walking wood.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Things are really starting to coalesce on Twin Peaks--last night's episode set the stage for next week's finale with victories for both the forces of good and bad. At the same time questions were answered and other answers were teased with ominous implications. The show continues to be a discussion on the lifelong effects of trauma while also continuing to focus on the unpredictability and strangeness of life.

Spoilers after the screenshot

And it looks like we've seen the end of Hutch (Tim Roth) and Chantal (Jennifer Jason Lee). A couple of assassins whose scenes of drifting non-sequitor dialogue, maybe it was their destiny to be taken out by a random nuisance. It seems both a reflection of the fact that you can't plan for everything and that the secret forces of the universe might be helping Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) at every turn.

As one of the FBI agents on the scene mentions, Dougie's home is located on a street called Lancelot Court. It occurred to me again how David Lynch and Mark Frost have seeded references to Arthurian legend throughout the series. If you remember, the entrance to the Black Lodge is located in Glastonbury Grove, the name excitedly noted by Cooper as being that of "the legendary burial place of King Arthur!" One could draw a lot of parallels--Cooper's backstory involved an affair with Caroline, the wife of his mentor, Wyndom Earle. It's not precisely Guinevere and Arthur, but it's close. Like Lancelot, who went mad and lived under another identity in exile, Cooper has spent this past season in exile from all who knew his real self, as a sleep walker going by the name Dougie Jones. Janey E (Naomi Watts) could be seen as an analogue of Elaine of Corbenic, thus perhaps explaining the "E" in her name.

The FBI agents that form Gordon Cole's (David Lynch) team tend to be people of extraordinary ability. As we saw last night, Cooper was immediately displaying his powers, somehow knowing immediately that Bushnell (Don Murray) was carrying a pistol and formulating plans and implementing them with incredible speed. I think this is also why Lynch tends to cast singers with a striking, otherworldly stage presence as agents--Chris Isaak, David Bowie, and Chrysta Bell. He casts real legends as legendary figures.

Cooper's parting with Janey E and Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon) was bittersweet and I felt bad for the two of them. But it's the gentlest incidence on the show of someone learning their lover is not who he or she appears to be.

Watching Twin Peaks next to Game of Thrones is an interesting contrast in how the two shows deal with the impact of trauma, especially rape. While Game of Thrones tends to show that the experience makes people nicer (Theon) or smarter (Sansa), Twin Peaks is more interested in how a violation of trust can destabilise a personality. We finally learn for sure that Richard (Eamon Farren) is the product of Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) having raped Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)--Mr. C and Richard together both embody aspects of Morgan Le Fay and Mordred.

Both Audrey and Diane (Laura Dern) are dealing with the effects of having their trust in Cooper violated, the violation made more severely disturbing by how good we know Cooper is. How much either one consciously knows about the doppelganger can be questioned--the badness in Diane's experience happens before the rape when she can tell something is wrong in Cooper's kiss. Like the identities Diane and Audrey had created through what they believed was the nature of their relationship with, and appearance from the perspective of, the other person, there's a disturbing disconnect between what is felt and what is known.

The lyrics to the song performed by Eddie Vedder in the episode could not have been more appropriate.

One liar's promise drained the blood from my heart
Came a message in the dark

. . .

I stare at my reflection to the bone
Blurred eyes look back at me

. . .

Fearful of dreams, there'll be no sleep tonight
Fine at dinner, dead by dessert
Victim or witness, we're gonna get hurt
A fragile existence with echoes of wrath
I can't stop the bleeding nor the tears from thine eye
There's another us around somewhere with much better lives

This is followed by "Audrey's Dance" and she gets up as if in a pantomime of her old identity but of course she's interrupted, once again by a pair of strangers having a problem in their relationship. And we could say this all goes back to the strange cockroach frog that crawled into the girl's mouth in episode eight.

The whole episode was brilliant but my favourite scene was Diane talking to Gordon, Albert (Miguel Ferrer), and Tammy (Chrysta Bell). That gun in her purse was a potent reminder of why Lynch was once so often compared to Hitchcock--it's hard to think of a better example of Hitchcock's "bomb under the table" philosophy of suspense. I was really worried she was going to shoot Gordon but, of course, two legendary knights were much quicker on the draw.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

To-day it was announced that Tobe Hooper, the director of the great, original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, passed away at the age of 74. I haven't seen a lot of Hooper's films but I really do think Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece. I once wrote about it:

Familiar aspects of the self are a catalyst for a chain of dream logic terrors in Tobe Hooper's 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The self, both physical and mental; an unexamined every day intimacy with flesh and blood is teased out into a cunning, gleefully beautiful and grotesque nightmare. Even the extraordinary skill and talent for filmmaking on display aren't enough to account for the singular brilliance this movie achieves.

You can find my full review of it here.

It seems strange that I'm writing about Tobe Hooper when I didn't spend any time talking about George Romero and very little talking about Jeanne Moreau. Of the two, I'm probably a greater fan of Moreau, but I do love Romero's first two Dead films. And there was a lot more to him than zombies--there's a nice interview with him included on Criterion's release of Powell and Pressburger film opera/ballet of Tales of Hoffmann, for example. I was fascinated to see that Romero was listening to the soundtrack to The Quiet Man when he died.. And I think, out of the ways one could die, that has to rank pretty high up there. I remember John Wayne's character in the film describing the fictional town of Innisfree (named after a Yeats poem) as sounding like heaven when his mother told him about it as a child.

But the reason I wanted to talk about Tobe Hooper to-day was because a few days ago I saw this video from The A.V. Club by writer Paul Scheer listing his top five worst films of all time. One thing was clear to me right away--if these are the worst films Scheer has ever seen, he hasn't seen a lot of movies. Included on his list is Spider-Man 3 which, to be sure, is a bad movie but the fact that it was made with a basic competence in film craft puts it miles ahead of thousands of other films. His number one worst film, The Room, is such an obvious contemporary choice. It is a bad film but, as Scheer points out, it's one of those films which are fascinating in the way it is bad. "So bad it's good", in other words. There's the weird cadence of the editing and dialogue, the exterior shots limply inserted at random, the actors delivering lines with a kind of tonelessness that suggests a complete lack of direction (rather like Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, actually). But what makes the list a crime is the inclusion of Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce at number two.

In my own review of Lifeforce, I talk a lot about what is silly and kind of stupid in the film. But there's a boldness to its gender reversal of Dracula, the real reason for the naked woman Paul Scheer seems to take such pleasure in deriding. He may not like seeing naked women, but saying a film is bad because of that is like saying Singing in the Rain is bad because you don't like musicals. It's not like she's naked on accident. Lifeforce has problems but Mathilda May's body isn't one of them.

I considered at the time writing a rebuttal list. Now that Tobe Hooper has died I feel honour bound. So here's a top five worst films, subject to change. And naturally I'll be drawing from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 a lot.

5. Lost Continent 1951

What makes this film worse than an average b movie adventure film from the 1950s? In the ominous words of Dr. Forrester: "Rock climbing".

4. Manos: The Hands of Fate 1966

Any serious worst movies list must include Manos: The Hands of Fate, or, as Spanish speakers know the film, Hands: The Hands of Fate. Aimless shots of unremarkable fields rolling by at the beginning of the film give way to poorly framed dialogue scenes with bad sound. What more can be said about a movie with so little to say?

3. Outlaw of Gor 1988

Presented in its entirety on YouTube by the officially licensed Mystery Science Theatre 3000 YouTube channel is Outlaw of Gor--no, not Outlaw with Jane Russell, Howard Hughes' legendary mediocre western. Its weirdness makes the Hughes film a cut above this low rent attempt to cash in on the audience for 80s fantasy films like Conan the Barbarian. Outlaw of Gor is set in the fictional fantasy world of Gor, a cheesy sexist fantasy conceived of by author John Norman who very badly wishes he was Robert E. Howard. The film takes Norman's embarrassing fantasy and adds tone deaf performances, sub-Halloween store quality costumes, lousy special effects, and a very unfortunately slumming Jack Palance as some kind of wizard.

2. Track of the Moon Beast 1976

Here's one I don't think gets as much attention as it deserves. My favourite from MST3k's final three seasons on the Sci Fi channel, it has none of the charm of Final Sacrifice and none of the competence of Final Justice. Track of the Moon Beast begins with a prank pulled on the main character that obviously must have looked very effective to the screenwriter but in practice turns out to involve the protagonist looking up and seeing a reflective mask and not reacting to it. This would be awkward in itself but it's followed up by what seems like fifteen minutes of dialogue from bad actors explaining the prank. This kicks off a movie with the luscious production design of blank white walls and characters who memorably drone on about stew recipes.

1. Transformers: Age of Extinction 2014

Finally, here's one from outside MST3k. I know what I said about basic filmmaking competence, but this one gets extra negative points for being the product of predatory greed and cynicism. Most of the worst movies on MST3k at least have some heart to them. If you've seen Tim Burton's film about legendary bad director Ed Wood, you've seen how, even if these guys were lousy at what they did, they at least did it with love and that kind of love gives their films a peculiar charm. Truly, the lowest level of Hell ought to be reserved for films that are designed to exploit the medium as a cold, ugly, moneymaking machine. From my review:

Some movies, we see to be entertained. Some, we see for a transcendent experience, to challenge our intellect, to learn new things about the human condition, to gain perspective. And then some movies are like cancerous tissue; they perform none of these functions but sustain to sustain, drawing resources from product placement and heavily stipulated investments to ensure a profit over the budget required to pay actors who don't care about the project and bloated special effects studios.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

If one watches Doctor Who through from the 1963 première to present, one notices there has been a definite feminist evolution on the show. It's something the writers have been quite conscious of as you can see in the moment in The Five Doctors when the Fifth Doctor has to apologise for the First Doctor automatically ordering a woman to make him some tea. Watching the gradual change on the show gives one a peek into how attitudes about the place of women in work and society were changing in the world at the time. From The Daleks, the second serial, when Barbara, a schoolteacher, fearfully asks fellow teacher Ian what's going on when there's no reason to expect he should know more than her; to the Second Doctor's young math wiz companion, Zoe; to the Third Doctor's first companion, Liz, who was actually a respected scientist. It was during the Third Doctor's era that feminism started being discussed more by the characters in dialogue--Three and Liz are amused and disappointed by a chauvinist administrator who doesn't want her included in a meeting in The Silurians. And when Three's second companion, Jo Grant, was introduced, she specifically mentions "women's lib" in sticking up for herself. Arguably she did need to make her case as the show deliberately dropped the knowledgeable Liz so the Doctor could have a more traditionally clueless companion to explain things to.

The show would take a step back now and then, as in the Fourth Doctor's first season when his companion, Sarah Jane Smith, was reduced to a whiny damsel in distress, which I suspect was a factor in actress Elisabeth Sladen almost leaving the show. But in the Fourth Doctor's second season, partly due to some great improvisational chemistry between the two actors, Sladen made Smith a fuller character capable of courage and ingenuity, which makes for a more interesting dynamic in addition to being less obnoxious.

Anyway, this is all a lead up to me saying I watched the Fifth Doctor serial, Four to Doomsday, again this past week. When I was complaining about the lack of Chinese characters on the show after Talons of Weng-Chiang, someone reminded me that Four to Doomsday has Burt Kwouk as Lin Futu, the head of a group of Mandarin Chinese men detained on the giant spacecraft on which the serial takes place.

I'd completely forgotten him, possibly because he doesn't have much of a role in the serial. He's about for the whole thing but doesn't actually have any significant dialogue until the fourth episode where the Fifth Doctor swiftly convinces him to come over to his side. This was only the second time I'd watched the serial and I'd forgotten other things, too, like the beautiful moment when the Doctor calls Adric an idiot.

I've watched State of Decay and Keeper of Traken a few times but generally I avoid watching any serial featuring Adric. When I want to watch a Fifth Doctor serial, I'm most likely to watch Arc of Infinity (I love the stuff in Amsterdam), Enlightenment, Frontios, and of course, The Caves of Androzani. Though I would say the Fifth Doctor has some of the worst written episodes of the series and it's not all Adric's fault--Time-Flight is tedious and Warriors of the Deep tragically squanders an appearance by Ingrid Pitt.

But the reason I started talking about feminism is because one of the reasons I hated Adric so much was that he took valuable time away from Nyssa. As shown in the first episode of Four to Doomsday, she's a lot smarter and more sensible than Adric but by the fourth serial, in a disappointing throwback to Barbara in The Daleks, Nyssa looks to Adric as a figure of strength and reassurance in a moment of danger, crying out, "Adric!" for no apparent reason. Ugh.

To be fair, it's clear we're meant, in this serial at least, to find Adric annoying--thus the Doctor calling him an idiot. And I kind of like how some of the drama in this serial comes from Adric and Tegan being twits. Though when Tegan tries to run off by herself in the TARDIS, it's a lot more satisfying watching her stomp on the TARDIS manual in her heels than it is to listen to Adric being a snot.

It's hard to believe Peter Davison had to fight for Nyssa to stay--she wasn't supposed to stay on as a permanent companion. I'd forgotten, too, how Adric and Nyssa were written as a pair of mildly competitive children, I'm so used to the nearly romantic chemistry between Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor in the audio plays.

Despite some awkward writing and staging for the collection of earthlings on the ship, Four to Doomsday is a pretty good serial, one of the better in the Fifth's first season. Davison is particularly good in it, at turns guilelessly enthusiastic to learn about this strange place and people, at turns carefully playing the circumstances to outwit the arrogant would-be invaders.

Twitter Sonnet #1027

The alphabet's composed of rubber balls.
You can't festoon a cloud with painted cans.
Forgotten throats will never clear the halls.
Across the yard a hare'll load the vans.
What autumn comes in fire's folded sleep?
What shaky turning bed beheld the cell?
In time with ticking planes the punch was deep.
But careful chords could not replace the bell.
To metal turned the sighing morning grass.
Found late at night but made for dawn it was.
Behind some worlds the stars concealed a mass.
The calmer dream runs as it always does.
At last a certain note returned to blank.
The final eyes could see the islands sank.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

The Wikipedia page for 1973's Battles Without Honour and Humanity (仁義なき戦い), the first in a famous series of yakuza films, says the film is "often called the 'Japanese Godfather'." The single source cited for this assertion is a one paragraph review that mentions the comparison briefly in order to say it's inaccurate. Though the review considers this a positive point, apparently believing the Japanese film displays greater realism, I would argue the two are certainly different but realism has nothing to do with it. The Godfather is filled with memorable characters and effective family drama while Battles Without Honour and Humanity features a collection of character types with leads played by a few remarkably handsome and rugged men. The film doesn't quite rise above a loving celebration of the genre established over the fifteen or so years preceding it, revelling in typical plot turns and deliberately invoking typical plot mechanics. Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter, released a few years earlier, almost feels like a parody of this film, so sincerely does Battles without Honour and Humanity devote itself to well worn devices, despite the fact that the film is supposedly based on a true story. But it has some nice bits of style and the actors are attractive.

This is my favourite shot in the film--the film's hero, Hirono (Bunta Sugawara), having sex with a prostitute and revealing to us in the process his massive fish tattoo. This is his last taste of freedom before he assassinates a rival yakuza boss at the behest of his own comically weak and sobbing boss, Yamamori (Nobuo Kaneko). I can imagine what Don Corleone would say about him.

Yamamori promises to make Hirono his heir after the long prison sentence. The protagonist going to prison for a hit reminds one of Pale Flower while the soldier's admirable loyalty to his unworthy boss is reminiscent of a number of yakuza films, most notably Tokyo Drifter.

Bunto Sugawara as Hirono is certainly an exceptionally good lead, charismatic and rugged. I'd like to see him in some more action films but his character is a bit weightless here. His loyalty doesn't feel very natural and then instances of his disloyalty feel less so.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

What's so peculiarly appealing about watching ducks go on adventures? Audiences and readers have been into it for over seventy years now and Disney's just released the newest iteration, a reboot of Duck Tales which premièred recently. I finally got around to watching the pilot because Disney, a surprisingly YouTube friendly company, has uploaded it for free. And I liked it.

I was a big fan of Duck Tales when I was a kid though even then I became frustrated when the show conspicuously leaned on the typical stock plots, especially ones that didn't really fit the basic concept of the series. My favourites were the ones where Scrooge and the ducklings would go off treasure hunting in foreign lands so I was pleased the new pilot had them looking for a treasure in Atlantis.

I do wish the new show had a little less ironic humour. The original series was partly influenced in tone by the Indiana Jones films so it would spare a moment for the score to evoke a sense of wonder when the adventurers uncovered a treasure. It's fitting since the Uncle Scrooge comics were an influence on George Lucas--so seen through a duck lens, it's very fitting that Disney owns Lucasfilm now. At the same time, one could point to Jar Jar Binks as a sign of how what may have worked in Duckburg does not work in a galaxy far, far away, which brings me back to my first question of why Uncle Scrooge/DuckTales can get us invested in ducks running from booby traps but cartoonish antics are such a bad fit in Star Wars.

One of the ways in which both this and the 80s Duck Tales fall flat is in their depiction of Donald Duck, which simultaneously tries to meet audience expectations for the famous, incomprehensible bird of anger from the great shorts while also representing the more intelligent version of Donald whom Carl Barks developed in his comics. The result on both shows is a character who doesn't quite fit--maybe not so much for a clash in tone, as there are plenty of other goofy characters, but because the instinct for writing any of Disney's classic characters has been absent from the company for at least forty years.

One thing the 80s series got right but the new series inexplicably gets wrong--you'd have thought Disney would have learned from Quack Attack--is in the portrayal of Huey, Dewey, and Louie. At some point, Disney completely lost touch with the essential nature of the triplets' distinctive appeal, which is that they are almost indistinguishable. The wrong-headed theory in current stock storytelling dogma demands that every lead character be distinct and "relatable", nevermind no-one was complaining about the interchangeability of the three nephews.

I'm less bothered by Webby's (Kate Micucci) new nerdy personality. But where the new series really shines is with David Tennant's new take as the voice of Scrooge McDuck.

Everyone knows Tennant as the Tenth Doctor Who but you might also want to check out his Hamlet which is fantastic. In any case, he is probably way overqualified for Scrooge McDuck but he clearly respects the role, bringing an enthusiasm to the character and delightfully creative line readings while imbuing him with enough of the familiar crotchetiness. When he gets the drop on Glomgold, when he wacks anyone with his cane, I get some real, genuine, vicarious satisfaction.

By the way, David Tennant recently appeared on Stephen Colbert's show to promote Duck Tales and Colbert jokingly pointed out the similarities between Scrooge and Donald Trump--having his name on a lot of products, taking pride in his own wealth, etc. I'd just like to point out that it's been well established that, unlike Trump and his "small loan" of a million dollars from his father, McDuck really did work his way up from nothing, albeit with a lucky dime. Also, McDuck is an example of an immigrant bringing vitality to the American economy and in his archaeological pursuits and patronage of Gyro Gearloose it's clear McDuck has tremendous respect and love for science. We should be so lucky to have Scrooge McDuck for president.

Twitter Sonnet #1026

In crowns of curving grass the past embarked.
In tracing trails of dusty coats we go.
The missing page returned and newly marked.
It's strange, it seems, what shades already know.
In forests shaped by starless roofs they watch.
In ready glass the fractured stone was sold.
Alone, the spear acrues another notch.
The ancient roots'll drink what can't grow old.
Received below the lowered clouds, the grain.
The flattened seas of tinder take the warm.
The wind diverts the corn to sheer the lane.
The howling heard subsumes a deathless swarm.
The winter trees become a scattered fence.
A foggy map dissolves the dream of sense.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Some of the most beautiful sound stages posing as exteriors can be found in Fritz Lang's 1955 film Moonfleet. A swashbuckler with a great cast to go with its visual style and exciting story, its only real flaw is that it centres on a child actor who delivers a very weak performance. Still, he's not as annoying as Bobby Driscoll.

There are a lot of reasons one might think of the famous adaptation of Treasure Island made five years earlier--both are told mostly from the point of view of a little boy trying to figure out who to trust among a bunch of roguish characters, even as he's drawn to one sinister but charismatic father figure. Moonfleet is adapted from a Victorian novel that was itself likely influenced by the book Treasure Island.

But instead of pirates, the film deals with smugglers in mid-18th century Dorset. Little John Mohune (Jon Whiteley) has unexpectedly come to stay with his mother's former lover, Jeremy Fox (Stewart Granger). Jeremy is doing well for himself living in a crumbling manor house and living a life of nightly debauchery so he doesn't want some kid around cramping his style. John walks in when a gypsy woman (Liliane Montevecchi) is giving an impressively mad, wonderful table dance for Jeremy's drunken guests.

Among these guests is George Sanders as Lord Ashwood in a somewhat disappointingly small role. Lady Ashwood (Joan Greenwood) has much more valuable screen time later as she vigorously attempts to seduce Jeremy.

This film is under an hour and a half and mostly focuses on John and his hunt for his ancestor's treasure but somehow Jeremy manages to have three memorable lovers in that brief runtime--living with him his Mrs. Minton (Viveca Lindfors).

The fantastic sets are reminiscent of the opening scenes of Treasure Island but Fritz Lang brings a great deal of his own legendary visual instincts to the table. Moonfleet has one of the greatest graveyard sets I've ever seen.

And Lang has a keen sense of how to direct action--the first shot of a peculiar stone angel is as likely to startle the viewer as it does John. And it's not even moving.

The greatest action sequence in the film, though, involves a duel between Jeremy and one of his men in an tavern. The gentleman Jeremy tosses his opponent a rapier but the man throws it away in favour of a massive halberd from the fireplace which he immediately begins swinging around.

If not for the little kid, this movie would be a thorough pleasure. The treasure hunt scenes have a wonderful Indiana Jones feel to them and the dialogue is often delightful.
setsuled: (Venia Chess)

If you're looking for spectacle, you needn't have looked further than Sunday night's new Game of Thrones. The rapid pace of the new season may have sacrificed anything remotely resembling logic but it's led to some undeniably great visuals. Plus "Beyond the Wall" spared some time for character dialogue and the old fashioned tale of a good handsome king and a good beautiful queen falling for each other.

Spoilers after the screenshot

So for anyone like me who was still holding a candle for Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) getting together, those hopes were truly dashed when Daenerys said Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) was "too little". She obviously was sorry to offend Tyrion but clearly the massive Kal Drogo has adjusted her standards. As Tyrion points out, Drogo, the man who raped her after she was forced to marry him, eventually fell in love with her. And Tyrion's picked up on Jon's love, too. Fortunately Jon seems to have made up for his short stature with his trademark guileless urge to do good at any cost.

Once again, that miserable Nibelung, Tyrion, tries to give Daenerys some "strategy" she knows in her heart not to heed and she rushes off to save Jon along with a few other really good guys, including her old right hand man, Jorah (Iain Glen). Suggestions that he might be in love with her have so far been tamped down this season but I still wonder if there'll be any conflict between him and Jon over it. Though the two of them seem to have nothing but respect for each other, as when it occurs to Jon way out in the icy wilderness to give Jorah his sword. It's a shame Jon didn't think of this back at the Eastwatch armoury or maybe on the long voyage up from Dragonstone to the Wall--but, I promised myself I wouldn't harp too much on this episode's logical problems. I used to feel basically alone in doing that but it seems practically every review I read can't avoid discussing them now. A lot of people seem stuck on the fact that the White Walkers had massive chains to pull the dead dragon out of the water. I was more stuck on the fact that the undead still haven't heard of archery. Or any kind of ranged attack.

Well, except for that Darth Maul guy and his dragon killing ice javelins.

Which is why the only logical problem that really bothered me was wondering why the hell the dragons didn't breathe fire on that guy. And it bothered me because I really was invested in Daenerys and I felt bad when one of her children got killed. There's nothing more frustrating than a beloved character's pain being exacerbated by something that doesn't make any sense. It makes me disengage. To quote an Elvis Costello lyric, "You say I got no feelings, well this is a good way to kill them."

But it was cool seeing dragons fighting White Walkers. And what gorgeous locations.

Meanwhile, at Winterfell, Sansa (Sophie Turner) discovers Arya's (Maisie Williams) face stash (not a moustache, I mean a hoard of faces). I loved how the two seemed like kids again when they argued and one suspects Arya is a little right about Sansa's vanity--part of her still is the little girl who wants the fairy tale ending. And the natural feelings of rivalry between two siblings have been exacerbated in Arya by the fact that she's learned not to trust anyone, which was a nice touch. I noticed the writers are starting to retcon the motives of the Vale troops, emphasising that they came to fight for Sansa and not Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). This undermines the basic drama from last season--the whole reason Sansa didn't want to call for aid from the Vale was because she didn't want to be indebted to Littlefinger. But at least it makes it so she has a legitimate claim to a position of authority beyond her heritage.
setsuled: (Default)

It's weird getting used to an absolutely transcendent experience in television every Sunday night, watching Twin Peaks. And it's always different--the newest episode, "There's Some Fear in Letting Go", I doubt left any fan of the old series with dry eyes.

Spoilers after the screenshot

In an extraordinary moment of life and art coalescing, actress Catherine Coulson, who died before filming on this season completed, performed the death scene of Margaret Lanterman. Seeing her looking so frail all season with her hair gone and tubes in her nose, it's hard not to feel the reality in her discussing death with Hawk (Michael Horse). As one of the most recognisable figures of what made Twin Peaks distinct from the beginning, it's appropriate for the death of the Log Lady to be given such attention . . . and the grief in that dim conference room where only a tearful Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) is fully illuminated is . . . well, there are no words to do it justice.

Margaret's not the only character death in the episode. In addition to the abrupt execution of Duncan Todd (Patrick Fischler) and his assistant, it also seems Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) commits suicide though we don't actually see him die.

I loved the way Alicia Witt played Gersten's reaction on the other side of the tree when she heard the gunshot. The way she claws at her hair it's clear she's immediately trying to scrub her mind of any understanding of what she's just heard. She looks up at the trees--we'd been getting point of view shots from Steven of the trees too and I really love how much this season makes the forest a character. There had always been talk about a darkness and a mystery present in the woods around Twin Peaks but since there had to be more limitations on exterior shots in the old series you didn't get to see the forest nearly as much. Now Lynch is using the woods every chance he gets. It's there for bad things and good, as when we see shots of trees and mountains after Ed (Everett McGill) and Norma (Peggy Lipton) embrace and kiss openly in the RR, finally free to be together.

Once again, we have a work of art being interpreted and provoking actions its creator could never have anticipated. This new season began with Dr. Jacobi receiving the shipment of shovels and painting them. Lynch invited us to contemplate them long before explaining how they were tied to Jacobi's political internet show. Who could have guessed Jacobi's exhortation that his viewers shovel out of the shit would motivate Nadine (Wendie Robie) to set Ed free?

Likewise, Bill Wilder never knew that giving Cecil B. DeMille a line about a character named "Gordon Cole" would inspire Lynch to use that name for a character and would also inspire Dougie Jones (Kyle MacLachlan) to be Dale Cooper again.

The new Twin Peaks can function as a public safety video, too. Don't run out into traffic and don't stick a fork in a power outlet. If you didn't know before you're certainly never going to forget now.

Maybe the most amazing segment, though, was Mr. C's (Kyle MacLachlan) encounter at the legendary convenience store. This segment tied the area above the convenience store, first mentioned by Mike (Al Strobel) in Cooper's original Red Room dream (or in the alternate pilot ending), with the old room with torn floral wallpaper Laura (Sheryl Lee) entered through the picture given to her by Mrs. Tremond. In Fire Walk with Me it seemed to connect to the Black Lodge but in a marvellously spooky sequence last night we saw Mr. C walk with a woodsman through the same doorway only to enter a long corridor of complete darkness which occasionally faded into ominously creaking trees.

He finally finds Phillip Jeffries--is he trapped in that ghostly motel? In any case, he's now a massive tea kettle voiced by Nathan Frizzell. My friend Caitlin pointed out to me that this tea kettle resembled one of the machines from the Fireman's home in episode 8.

Speaking of eight, Jeffries motel room is eight.

It's also the number on Freddie's (Jake Wardle) cell.

All these numbers on the show. I hope some mathematician fans are getting a kick out of them, I can't make heads or tails of them so far. Dougie seems to be associated with the number seven a lot. Does it mean something that James is in cell seven?

Poor James. His shy little greeting to Renee (Jessica Szohr) sure got out of control. But it puts Freddie in the same room with Naido (Nae Yuuki) so perhaps all this was arranged. Andy (Harry Goaz) said people are trying to kill her, now she's got the police station around her and a guy with super strength.

Finally, it was confirmed at last that Richard (Eamon Farren) is Audrey's (Sherilyn Fenn) son. This was followed by another strange scene between Audrey and Charlie (Clark Middleton) who is not, as I thought, a dwarf. The actor actually has a form of arthritis that inhibited his bone growth and he was apparently in Kill Bill vol 2 but I don't remember him at all. Anyway, the scene ends with Audrey trying to strangle him and after the way bits of their conversation have resembled things said in the Girls in Roadhouse Booths vignettes and we'd just seen Steven apparently feeling guilty about something, possibly for harming Becky in some way, I wonder if the idea is that actions tend to travel on spiritual currents out into a community. Or maybe through power lines.
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: (Default)

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