setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Contemplating the lack of a new Twin Peaks to-night, I finally started watching Stranger Things a few days ago. Two episodes in I'm enjoying it, though I feel like Scottie in Vertigo when he keeps thinking he's spotted Madeleine only for it to just be a woman who looks like her because the massive Twin Peaks influence I see at work in Stranger Things made me jonse for the original even more. But, I realised, that's not fair, Stranger Things draws from a lot of other influences, too, to create its own virtues.



I'm sure all the stylistic echoes from 80s films have been picked over plenty by now--the John Carpenter-ish synthesiser soundtrack, the general ode to 80s kids domestic adventure movies like E.T. and Gremlins, the fact that Natalia Dyer looks like Mia Sara.



I love her outfits, too, and their recollection of a time when women chose clothing that stood in low contrast to their skin.



This compliments the wonderful, shadowy visual style that recollects a time when filmmakers really liked to show darkness in movies, though the lighting on Stranger Things still has the modern care to keep everyone's facial expressions visible most of the time. It's the look that more than anything else made me feel like I wanted to be a kid again. Though the kids on this show are slightly older than me--I was born in 1979, the show takes place in 1983. But I remember how pervasive this type of film was, so much that I remember really looking forward to being twelve years old because so many movies were making it seem like a great time to be alive.



From Twin Peaks, the show takes the concept of a small town reacting to the loss of a child with an emphasis on how marvellous it is, even as it's sad, that an entire town takes notice of and can grieve for the loss of one person. The announcement for an assembly being held at the high school for the missing child, Will, recalls the principal's announcement in the Twin Peaks pilot. The creators of Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers, had previously worked on Wayward Pines, a show that was unabashedly modelled on Twin Peaks, so I wonder if all the Twin Peaks echoes on Stranger Things were intentional or if the Duffer's heads had just been so in the Twin Peaks thought space for so long. Winona Ryder as Will's mother, Joyce, calling around to find out where Will was also couldn't fail to remind me of Sarah Palmer.



I think this might be the best Winona Ryder performance I've seen. Francis Ford Coppola's version of Dracula is one of my favourite movies but I understood the ruefulness with which he comments, on the DVD commentary, on how Ryder had told him she'd already basically done most of her scenes in Edward Scissorhands. Her portrayal of Joyce in Stranger Things is the most engaged I've seen her be with a role, I get the sense that she's fighting tooth and nail to prove she can do it.



I like the kids, the lead characters on the show. I like how they were cast to recall 80s casting trends. All of them seem to have big lips and excess saliva. They're not exactly like 80s movie kids; they're not as cruel, for one thing. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) being forced to stretch his arms by a couple bullies doesn't have the nervous and discomforting quality of Chunk in Goonies pressured to shake his large belly by his friends. But who would have the creative clout besides David Lynch to do something that extreme now? And should it be done? I'm not sure myself, partly because I remember not liking Goonies, the main reason I haven't watched it since the 80s. I probably ought to revisit it.

I will say that in contemplating the value of the show's nostalgia I got to thinking about the value of nostalgia filmmaking/tv making. I think Stranger Things might rise to being more than a collection of stylistic callbacks eventually but I would like to see some of its choices simply taken as good for themselves, regardless of the reason for they're being there, like the darker visual style.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


If the next Doctor is not a woman, Steven Moffat has done a good job making the people who avoid casting a woman look like massive dicks. That's a little flip but it's true and one of the takeaways from the bittersweet season finale of Doctor Who that aired to-day. If one thinks a bit about the plot, there are a lot of things that don't make sense but the thematic stuff is so good I kind of don't care. "The Doctor Falls" brings a new dimension to the season long focus on mentalities that regard other people as less then human to justify subjugation or murder, the most interesting thread in the episode relating to gender and even gender dysphoria.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I really didn't find John Simm half as annoying as he was under Russell T. Davies, maybe because now he's channelling Delgado and Ainsley so much, but also here he's working as a nice representation of resistance to the idea of a female Doctor along with empathy and femininity in general.

The Master: "Do as she says? Is the future going to be all girl?"

The Doctor: "We can only hope."

This seems a pretty loud and clear way of Moffat saying, yes, the next Doctor ought to be a woman. Moffat also uses Simm's Master to bully Bill (Pearl Mackie) on her gender, the above exchange arising from a subtle reconfiguring of the Cybermen, as a concept, to a socially enforced gender construct. The way Missy (Michelle Gomez) awkwardly apologises to the Master for calling Bill "her" is part of Missy perfectly being placed as the transition point, the people caught in an old fashioned view of gender realising that recognising someone's gender identity is truly more natural than trying to force one on them. Missy really has learned empathy, or gotten back in touch with it.



The episode is both about the experience of not being taken as what one sees oneself as and also about the pain involved in change. It's painful for Missy to face that she's not the Master anymore, it's painful for the Master to contemplate his future, and it's painful for the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) to contemplate change again as he begins the process of regeneration.



Capaldi, it needs hardly be said, is magnificent in this episode, in big and small moments. His discomfort when trying to explain to Bill what's happened to her is so nicely layered with sadness and empathy. This episode actually invokes that word and the Doctor even mentions Donald Trump, making it clear that this season long theme has very much been motivated by the world's current political climate. It leads to a really fitting modification of the Third Doctor's phrase, "Where there's life there's hope" to "Where there's tears there's hope."



I loved the fact that Twelve gets to offer someone a jelly baby (he offered one in a cigarette case in his first season, like the Fourth in Face of Evil, but this time he was actually able to say it). I like it because, really, more Doctors should do it, there's no reason it should be so married to the Fourth--the Second was actually the first to do it--and I also liked it because it was like the Doctor taking the line back from Simm's Master who used it in one of his Russell T. Davies episodes.



Nardole (Matt Lucas) had a couple nice moments and his goodbye was good though it mostly made me wish more time had been taken to develop him over the season to earn his protestations about being likely to sell children on the black market.



One could say Bill's resolution is very much like Clara's only taken a step further--like Clara, Bill has died and been reborn and has gone off with another woman to have adventures, only Bill's relationship is explicitly romantic. And really sweet. I wish there'd been more build up of a relationship with Heather (Stephanie Hyam) but her appearance and the role in the resolution was so cool I'm willing to accept it. Now they're both water and, as Heather tells Bill directly, change has become for them something easy and fun.

I wonder if the appearance of David Bradley at the end was prompted by leaked set photos from the Christmas special. It made me curious to see how this unfolds, in any case. Bradley isn't that much like Hartnell but at least he's a good actor.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Why do so many filmmakers think they know how to do Edgar Allan Poe better than Edgar Allan Poe? One of the more spectacular blunders in this department is 1981's The Black Cat (Gatto nero), loosely (to put it mildly) based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat". Rather than a disturbingly insightful rendering of a man's mind descending into sadism the filmmakers chose instead to make a movie about a cat who's a serial killer. What could go wrong with this idea? Just about everything you could imagine going wrong.



We can start with the basic problem that the movie's monster is tiny, adorable, and clearly has no idea he's in a horror movie and doesn't care. That's not necessarily a problem for many movies that involve a cat but when you want the audience to be uncomfortable you have to be aware of anything in the scene that might distract them and make it easy for them to think of something more pleasant. I just wanted to cuddle this little fiend.



This problem never goes away and scenes of people fleeing the critter in terror bring to mind the deadly bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.



The film has other problems. It seems to choose as protagonist an American photographer named Jill Travers (Mimsy Farmer) who's visiting the English village where the film takes place to take pictures of an old crypt. She's brought in to photograph crime scenes as the only photographer available in the small town and she starts taking an interest in the case. Unfortunately, the filmmakers apparently decided this role was too big for a woman so a smug inspector from Scotland Yard named Gorley (David Warbeck) is introduced to solve problems and make out with her. The local law enforcement is represented by a Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver) who has a distractingly asymmetrical moustache.



The only bright spot in the movie is Patrick Magee as Professor Miles, who gives exactly the thoroughly over the top performance this movie needs and deserves and almost makes up for the fact that his character's motives make absolutely no sense. He's the owner of the murderous cat and when Jill observes the animal badly scratching him she naturally asks him why he keeps it. He tells her that the two of them need each other, something that doesn't make sense at first blush and then makes less and less sense as the plot unfolds. Partly this seems due to one or two elements from Poe's story actually introduced into the film that don't really support the film's otherwise completely different plot in a satisfying way.



It would be nice to see Magee in a really good giallo film. This one doesn't even compare well with the remake of Cat People released the following year, which is not a bad film though I don't think it's half as good as the 1942 version.

Twitter Sonnet #1008

Medallion knives reveal too much to speak.
With knuckles bare, the boxer finds the field.
Twixt passing ships the line conveyed the leak.
The mat or ring took blood beyond the yield.
A wedding broke in lace balloons at war.
Divided jokes foretell colluding grids.
At last a peace descends on tired floor.
In circles petals make the final bids.
A pattern forms of shoes we never cured.
A time in passing clocked a speeding arm.
In balanced notes a copper soon demurred.
As trading thoughts of cats incurs no harm.
We found a plate depicting fallen roofs.
The fortune teller's dog synthetic woofs.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


Is revenge really a dish best served cold? Director Damian Szifron tested that theory in his 2014 anthology film Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes), composed of essentially six short films, each about violent revenge in one way or another. Each short differs in making support or condemnation of revenge explicit but each story is entertaining, funny, and exciting, only the last story dipping in quality a bit but even that one's not bad.



The final story pits a bride and groom against each other when it's revealed that the latter has been cheating on the former. The comedy is a bit broad in this one and the violence a little predictable but it's elevated a bit by Erica Rivas as the bride who has a delightfully expressive face.



If I have a favourite story of the bunch, It might be the fifth story, the tale of a young man who comes home to his wealthy parents' house after he hit and killed a pregnant woman and her unborn child with his car. He fled the scene and the parents quickly get their lawyer over who helps them put together an alibi and find a willing fall guy in the gardener who accepts the promise of 500,000 dollars in exchange for going to prison instead of the kid. It's all very solemn and Szifron sets up the situation well. I didn't feel remotely bad for the kid but the story doesn't focus on him and the spot the parents find themselves in his a bit more complicated to ponder. But the nice thing is, even this doesn't turn out to be the heart of the story as the father (Oscar Martinez) gradually realises that his lawyer might be skimming a little more money off the situation than warranted and the gardener, meanwhile, decides he can get more than 500,000. Suddenly the father switches to negotiator mode and starts having to modulate how much concern he shows for his son and you start to wonder if he's willing to let the kid go to jail just to spite the guys trying to get 1.5 million out of him. The level of the kid's crime makes it more believable and it creates a fascinating tight rope of suspense.



An earlier story about road rage is more entertaining on the level of Peter Griffin versus the chicken while a story about a restaurant owner being convinced by her cook to poison a gangster works out to be an allegory for a government's volatile political situation. All the stories have something good about them, the performances are generally nice, the cinematography is a little boring, relying too much on blue and yellow colour tinting.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


You can't talk through some problems and it's hard to say if it's better or worse when the person you're with knows this. 1957's I Am Waiting (俺は待ってるぜ) is like a great, classic noir in its first half as a suicidal opera singer and a washed up boxer bond over the similar emotional issues that also keep them acutely aware of the unnavigable distance between them. The second half disappointingly drifts into a more typical revenge film and both characters are flatted out, particularly the female lead. But the whole film's beautifully shot with a great, torchy score by Masaru Sato.



Trying to find a video clip of the opening song on YouTube, I see it became a big karaoke hit. Here's a more professional performance:



The film begins when tough guy restaurant owner, Joji (Yujiro Ishihara), comes across a woman who calls herself Saeko (Mie Kitahara) at night, contemplating dark waters.



He convinces her to come back with him and he feeds her, explaining to her he knows quite well there's nothing else he can do. She gradually warms to the idea of staying in the spare room and working in the restaurant.



They each slowly learn about each other's pasts and it turns out everyone's killed someone--Joji, Saeko, and a doctor who frequents the bar. And no-one's quite sure how guilty they ought to feel. When the unrelated plot about Joji's missing brother turns into a story about Joji needing to avenge him, I thought the film was going to go the Quiet Man route with Joji slowly accepting he needs to be a fighter again despite the unresolved feelings he has about the man he accidentally killed with his fists. But things get more straight forward than that--Joji commits to his mission and Saeko drifts into the sidelines, becoming a fairly typical girlfriend character.



Still, the action's pretty good and Yujiro Ishihara is good in fight scenes, cutting an imposing physical presence and possessed of quick reflexes. Saeko has a couple nice musical numbers. The fact that Joji actually whistles his theme tune at one point makes me feel this was another movie Seijun Suzuki had in mind when he made Tokyo Drifter, probably feeling, as I did, that I Am Waiting ought to have gone further with its characters.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


If there's a feature length equivalent of a stock photo, it might be 2009's The Canyon. The story of a pretty couple from Chicago whose honeymoon in the Grand Canyon goes horribly wrong feels less like a proper movie and more like a test to see if some film equipment really can be used to make a whole film.



Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahowski) show up expecting to be able to buy some mules and plunge off into adventure only to learn they need a permit for which they needed to have applied six months earlier. Consoling themselves in a shady bar, they run into a grubby guide named Henry (Will Patton) who offers to get them some mules and take them on the adventure anyway.



It kind of feels like someone found a b-movie script from the 50s and decided to make it into a movie in 2009. Nick and Lori are so nondescript and Henry is such a type that it feels sort of intriguing. It's like someone laughing when told the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side.



Things go wrong when a rattlesnake spooks Henry's mule and quickly Lori and Nick find they have to fend for themselves without the mules or supplies. The filmmakers obviously spent very little time with research or even just imagining what the situation would be like as Lori and Nick remain perfectly lucid and able to traverse tough terrain and even climb an almost sheer wall after four days without food and water. Lori, wouldn't you know, continually finds herself losing one piece of clothing after another--first she needs to take off her shirt to bind a wound and then she's attacked by wolves who fail to injure her but somehow tear off one of her pant legs. Finally she has to rip her camisole, also to bind a wound, but the film lacks the creative oomph even to be enjoyed as an exploitation film.



Here Nick's foot gets caught between a boulder and something we're supposed to also take as a boulder but looks like a perfect square.

The performances aren't really bad and not really great. Like everything else, there's a peculiarly rigorous averageness to them. The climax of the film is the only thing that comes anywhere near impressively ridiculous, filled with errors in continuity between shots and centring on a moment of really cheap emotional manipulation which also utterly fails thanks to the fact that no-one in this movie was a believable character at any point. There's some subtle misogyny, too. When Henry's bitten by a rattlesnake, Lori helpfully says, "I have some chapstick." I think this was meant to sound like someone out of their depths grasping at anything like a solution in a crisis but it comes off as just a little too improbably stupid.

Twitter Sonnet #1007

In halls of statues shadow ants parade.
Respectful pods encourage jam to wait.
Preserved in jars, it thickens as it's made.
Reformed, the food advanced beyond the gate.
In desert suits the marching cards arrayed.
To all requests, a game developed scores.
Reflecting sounds begin a grey cascade.
Inside the house a window took the doors.
In walking dust construction wolves revolve.
The wood's so slender paper can't compete.
Inside a silent thicket eyes dissolve.
And for the beans the coffee's now complete.
Arriving late the ivy stole the sword.
The river guards a strange metallic lord.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Where to begin with last night's Twin Peaks? I watch a lot of movies and it's only a few times I can remember walking away from something so brilliant I felt like I didn't want to see or hear anything else for a good while afterwards. I achieved that beautiful afterglow last night. I wondered if I'd ever get anything done ever again. But to-day I'm ready to talk about it, another sign of a great work of art, and to be sure lots of people have been talking about it, opinions generally divided between assertions that it's totally baffling and assertions that its meanings are very, very clear. Judging from most of the broad strokes of interpretations, I'd have to go with the latter assertion, which is a good thing. Art is about communication not obfuscation, it should be clear. Often times when people say a great work is confusing, generally the impression I get is those people are too uncomfortable with the message they've received to admit they understand it, which is definitely the impression I have here. This is one of those times where the few negative opinions are an additional sign that a work of art has succeeded well beyond measure. And, oh, wow, has it.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I'm going to see if I can add some interpretation without repeating too much what other people have said. Plenty have pointed out that the episode ties the birth of Bob, and the malevolent supernatural forces of Twin Peaks, with the first atomic bomb detonation, thereby making the loss of innocence portrayed on Twin Peaks a reflection of the greater loss of innocence of the U.S. as a whole. Now, of course, one can point out that the U.S. and humanity in general have done plenty of bad things before the atom bomb. Lynch isn't arguing humanity was perfect before the atom bomb, he's using it as a symbol to tell a uniquely American story about love versus corruption.



A lot of people have pointed out that the Woodsman at the end who violently commandeers a radio station was played by an Abraham Lincoln impersonator named Robert Broski and then tied this to the image of Lincoln on the penny picked up by the little girl (Tikaeni Faircrest).



I didn't think of Abraham Lincoln when I saw the Woodsman but this makes sense with a lot of other things I saw going on in the episode. It's better to take Lincoln as a symbol than for any of the other nuances we'd consider when pondering him as a human being. Think about what Lincoln means to these profoundly innocent American kids--he's a symbol of what's great about the American spirit. He's seen as being the figure most directly responsible for fighting against another of the country's greatest sins, slavery, so to a kid in the fifties he's a symbol that the true spirit of the country is one that celebrates freedom and happiness for everyone and the strength to fight against anything that would curtail those rights. So the Woodsman taking the form of Abraham Lincoln would be an especially potent form of corruption.



The movie--I mean episode of Twin Peaks--is very much about symbol or rather media, both for good and bad. The spell cast by the Woodsman over the air waves, "This is the water and this is the well, drink full and ascend," seems to be commentary on the hazards of addiction to junk, meaningless media. Real art doesn't need to tell you it's the water and the well but this promise lulls listeners to sleep and renders them susceptible to Bob's control. One could say a corruption of a Republican president as a symbol that reflects a deep spiritual problem is a particularly potent story right now though I doubt Lynch was consciously making an argument about Trump. Though, who knows, maybe he was. Certainly misuse of the media has been a critical issue in this mess. "This is the water and this is the well," probably counts as fake news.



It's even more effective because a moment before, when the radio was playing "My Prayer" performed by The Platters, the medium was providing its listeners with a real well of spiritual sustenance. Like the image of Lincoln, the Woodsman has hijacked a genuine piece of art. The message about the horse I'm less certain of, though I my mind immediately associates it with the white horse Sarah Palmer had visions of and which appeared in the Black Lodge earlier this season.



When the Giant (Carl Struycken) reviews the events of the atom bomb detonation and what it caused, he's not simply viewing security footage, he's viewing the same footage we saw, in other words Lynch's film. This is emphasised by the fact that the Giant is viewing the footage in a movie theatre, Lynch is showing us how art can show us a truth which we can then act upon. The Giant then hovers and then reclines as though sleeping and from his head, like a dream or like the strange stuff that emerged from the dead child a few episodes ago, comes a gold substance producing a golden orb with the image of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) inside.



But it's not just any image of Laura Palmer or a new image of Sheryl Lee. It's that same prom queen photo we've seen again and again. Like the image of Lincoln on the coin, this is less about Laura than about what she symbolised for the community of Twin Peaks. I've been listening lately to the recently released audiobook of Laura Palmer's diary performed by Sheryl Lee--and she deserves big praise for it. She does not compromise on mining emotional trauma for her performance. Much of the book has to do with Laura's anxiety about her persona, and the responsibility it confers on her, and the contrast with Bob who isn't just abusing her physically but is conducting a lifelong campaign to make her feel ashamed of her sexuality.



This is something very much at play on the show as well. Just as at the beginning of season three the young couple are engaging in innocent, casual sex and are murdered for it, we see two kids in last night's episode who are even more innocent, their shared first kiss as adorable as anything I've ever seen (I wouldn't be surprised if the little boy ended up being a young Gordon Cole). We're seeing corruption and fall from the Garden of Eden and instead of Eve eating a fruit she swallows a newborn Bob who looks like a frog with cockroach wings.



I doubt Lynch was thinking about Paradise Lost, though maybe he had been--Milton had a huge influence on American 19th century literature and was, in praising him, called by Margaret Fuller a great example of a Puritan-- the moral conflict shown on Twin Peaks seems clearly a descendent of American Puritanism. When seeing Bob's early form when he invades the little girl in her sleep, it's hard not to think of Milton's description of Satan when he's manipulating the dream of a slumbering Eve:

him there they found
Squat like a Toad, close at the eare of EVE;
Assaying by his Devilish art to reach
The Organs of her Fancie, and with them forge
Illusions as he list, Phantasms and Dreams,
Or if, inspiring venom, he might taint
Th' animal Spirits that from pure blood arise
Like gentle breaths from Rivers pure, thence raise
At least distemperd, discontented thoughts,
Vain hopes, vain aimes, inordinate desires
Blown up with high conceits ingendring pride.




I loved the pacing and imagery of last night's episode. All this interpretation does nothing to convey the wonder in the pure experience of watching the episode.

The perspective on the atom bomb explosion starts out making it look strange even before the camera pulls into a 2001 homage. Like Kubrick, Lynch was here using a barrage of strange and violent sensory stimuli to impress upon us how perfectly strange the experience is for the human mind, rendering clearly how a barrier between two worlds is being violently torn down. Many people are speculating that the strange being shown vomiting is the same being who murdered the couple back at the beginning of the season, which would make a lot of sense. Looking at the screenshot now, I just realised that her hand is backwards--the thumb is on the wrong side:



Much like everyone speaks backwards in the other world. I'd love it if we found out eventually it was Alice's looking-glass world all along.

Also, I enjoyed the performance by Nine Inch Nails. As with "My Prayer", the lyrics to the song nicely complimented and expanded on what we were seeing.

setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


Robert Newton is most directly responsible for the modern conception of the pirate--the voice, accent, the lopsided swagger. He played the title character in 1952's Blackbeard the Pirate, a good film but not half as good as Treasure Island two years earlier, the film that established Newton so firmly in the public mind as the figure of the pirate archetype. Newton plays an unambiguous villain in Blackbeard while half the fun in Treasure Island is studying him, trying to guess his motives. Though it's nowhere near as good as Treasure Island, Blackbeard is by no means a bad film, in fact it features some extraordinarily beautiful colour compositions and some of the best pirate battles of the 1950s.



Released the same year as the cheerful, brightly coloured The Crimson Pirate, the contrast in visual style in Blackbeard the Pirate could hardly be more severe for another colour pirate film. Instead of blinding blue skies and red and blue sheets, Blackbeard the Pirate goes for a gorgeous chiaroscuro, darkly shaded indigo clouds and charcoal edged hulls.



Directed by veteran noir and adventure film director Raoul Walsh, whose career goes back to the beginning of Hollywood, it's easy to see there's a sure hand at work in the action scenes where scores of seamen swing from one ship to another and the swordplay is convincing and fast. Although he's good with a sword, the film's biggest problem is its protagonist, a dull, nondescript hero, Ben, played by William Bendix.



He lacks the sparkle of Errol Flynn or Jean Peters and the weirdness of Robert Newton. It's surprising that Newton's success as a pirate character didn't inspire filmmakers and studios to cast more creatively for the other pirate roles in the film but, aside from the fascinatingly weathered face of Skelton Knaggs as Newton's treacherous mate Gilly, most of the crew come off as modern American thugs.



The plot involves a rivalry between Blackbeard (Newton) and Henry Morgan, played by English actor Torin Thatcher who actually makes an effort at a Welsh accent. In reality, Blackbeard and Henry Morgan never sailed the seas at the same time, Morgan died when Edward Teach, Blackbeard, was still a child. Aside from this obvious departure from history, the film actually has a few details of historical perspective. Ben is trying to prove that Morgan still operates as a pirate despite the fact that, at the time the film takes place, Morgan is Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica, as the real Henry Morgan eventually became. Blackbeard accuses Ben himself of being a pirate because he'd been on a ship that attacked a Spanish ship after peace had been declared but Ben defensively asserts he and his captain had been acquitted because news of the peace had not reached them at sea, which are actually very plausible circumstances.



The crew depicted in the film are also about as racially and culturally diverse as actual pirate crews, though black and Asian crewmembers aren't given more than a few lines.



Linda Darnell as Edwina Mansfield easily outshines William Bendix as her love interest not just because she always has plenty of décolletage on display. Their chemistry is curiously sexless, partly due to the fact that Bendix is a drip, partly due to Darnell playing her character in the virtuous damsel mould. The lack of sexual chemistry between the two oddly makes a bit repeated twice in the film even funnier in its understated humour--twice Ben is about to help her escape the ship but notes she'll never be able to swim in her cumbersome clothes, twice she says with unselfconscious pragmatism she can just take them off, and twice, of course, 1950s audiences were prevented from seeing anything.



And Newton is great, of course. His look in the film seems partly inspired by etchings of Edward Teach that show his beard always tied with fuses for his pistols (though this isn't explained in the film) and partly by early 20th century illustrator Howard Pyle.

setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


I really enjoyed "World Enough and Time", to-day's new episode of Doctor Who, though it certainly wasn't the most cheerful episode and one could argue there's not much that's new about it. But sometimes that's a good thing.

Spoilers after the screenshot



I'm so happy to see a return to the original design for the Cybermen. I've always said it's so much creepier. I wrote in 2011:

The two part Cybermen episode of Doctor Who--"Rise of the Cybermen" and "Age of Steel"--is the first one to really disappoint me from David Tennant's tenure. Although I don't really hate the full armour, alternate universe design for the Cybermen, I do hope it remains alternate universe. Somehow I doubt I'll get my wish. For me, the original Cyberman look from The Tenth Planet is the creepiest.

And in 2016 I wrote:

The Cybermen on Doctor Who really haven't been menacing to me since the Second Doctor era. The black and white helped enhance the creep factor of their scary doll faces, though they were even better in The Tenth Planet when it was just a cloth mask. Just imagine how much creepier they'd be than in their current Power Rangers getup if their masks were a thin material barely concealing rotting flesh? Somehow vulnerability is scary, I suppose because it reflects mortality. Think of the Mummy or Dracula in his coffin. Or the lady in the bathtub in Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining.



Really, "World Enough and Time" is the first proper Cybermen story on the television series since the Second Doctor's The Invasion. They weren't seen at all during the Third Doctor era and when they reappeared in the Fourth Doctor's first season they'd become just another conquering alien race, their main difference from the Daleks being that they were less distinct (and vulnerable to gold). Not that the stories they were in were always bad--I particularly appreciate Earthshock for killing Adric--they just weren't really about the Cybermen.



It's fitting Peter Capaldi's ending his last season with a Cybermen story since that's how his first season ended. "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" did feature a return to themes of death and desperate attempts to prolong life that are integral to the original Cybermen concept but it's with "World Enough and Time" that the story actually goes to the idea of surgery, the idea that the Cybermen have their emotions wiped because otherwise they'd be in constant pain and terror, something established in a memorably horrific moment in The Invasion. It's not unlike Spare Parts, the best Cybermen story since the Second Doctor era. Spare Parts is a 2002 Fifth Doctor audio play which, like "World Enough and Time", shows a Mondasian society forced to rely more and more on surgery to stay alive, a far more horrifying story than the more vanity oriented obsession in "Rise of the Cybermen"/"Age of Steel". Spare Parts creates a world where the suffering population seem slowly creeping to a painful doom. That's the real difference between the Daleks and the Cybermen--the Daleks became what they are through a drive to become better conquerors, the Cybermen started out just wanting to live.



"World Enough and Time" is a title that comes from Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress". One could read "Mistress" as "Missy" here and see the poem's argument, about how life is too short not to love each other now, being somewhat ironic when the Doctor and Missy (Michelle Gomez) have known each other for thousands of years (well, depending on how their timelines match up). Missy's flippant remarks at the beginning take on graver connotations when this is considered--only Time Lords can be friends of Time Lords because species like humans are too short lived. There's some support for this idea in the fact that the Doctor's justification for wanting to redeem Missy is that Missy is more like the Doctor than anyone else he's ever met.



Poor Bill (Pearl Mackie), her life looked like it was going to be even shorter than expected. She's been so good this season, her getting shot emphasises how unfair it seems that her tenure on the show is to be so brief. I do hope there's still some chance of her coming back for Chibnall's first season but I suspect the BBC wants next season to start as cleanly as possible. I still strongly suspect it's someone with more authority at the BBC that's against the idea of a female Doctor, not Steven Moffat. If Moffat haters could calm down for just a moment, I would point out that Moffat has thoroughly laid the canonical groundwork for a female Doctor. Too often nowadays, people respond to people who disagree with them with a "Fuck you," directly or ironically expressed, but if we remember the substantial number of Doctor Who fans who still don't want to see a female Doctor, think of all the things Moffat has done to slowly change their minds, not only showing a Time Lord change sex last season but even making the Master a woman--I'd argue, in fact, the best incarnation of the Master. And "World and Time Enough" establishes that the Doctor might even have been a woman at one point. This suggests the First Doctor may not, in fact, be the First. Moffat has pointed out, in an interview about the War Doctor, that the Doctor doesn't label his incarnations with numbers the way we viewers do, though I do feel like I've heard him do that before. Maybe just in audio plays, the canonicity of which has been flexible.



"World and Time Enough" is so much like Spare Parts, in fact, I hope it doesn't establish Spare Parts as being outside canon. I suppose one could say there were two independent geneses for the Cybermen--on the colony ship by the black hole and actually on Mondas.



John Simm's incarnation of the Master may in fact be my least favourite. I don't love to hate him--he was just plain annoying in his episodes with Tennant. But I guess he's not so bad in "World and Time Enough", though even if I hadn't known about him being in this season I would have wondered why that guy had all the makeup and the phony accent. It seems really clear that whoever was in charged of promotion for Doctor Who this season fucked up in spoiling Simm's role--it would have been more satisfying to be surprised. Even so, I think it would have been better to go subtler with the makeup and maybe avoid the accent, it looks too much like a disguise.



What a bastard he is for making Bill love him in a relationship they apparently developed over years. Again, poor Bill. I hope something happens in part 2 that makes her end on the show not quite so miserable. Now the Doctor's seen the Brigadier and a companion turned into Cybermen. I guess it's not unlike Oswin getting turned into a Dalek. The Doctor's having to face more and more there's worse things that can happen to his companions than death. But we can't very well have the Doctor travelling without a companion, can we? He really shouldn't be alone but that's always going to be a point for drama, hopefully one that doesn't get exhausted--there needs to be some more companions who simply decide to leave, it's not going to look good if every companion gets killed or locked in a cursed dimension/time zone. If it keeps happening, the Doctor's going to look like an asshole for letting anyone travel with him.



If this regeneration at the beginning is only a tease, it would be the second one this season, which leads me to think it's not. I'm more impressed with Capaldi's hair, though, which almost looks full Pertwee. It's appropriate we see him using Venusian Aikido in this episode. I also liked the Doctor calling out Bill for moralising while eating a ham sandwich, perhaps confirming that one of the few things I liked about the Sixth Doctor era, the Doctor becoming a vegetarian, is still true.

Twitter Sonnet #1006

Redeeming soups absorb reversal bread.
Upon a cracker plate they'll matter not.
In nebulae the spinning lobster's red.
In ocean noise it's green as mint and pot.
Imposter panoplies import a drip.
In time to tinkling talcum snow it sang.
A message bow impressed an arrow tip
Articulate illumination sprang.
Descending suns of pulp detect a shell.
Tornado paper wrapped about the eye.
A caution sign adorned the gilded well.
In alloy wet we baked an armoured pie.
Accounts align condemning numbers through.
Gestating digits grab the pipe of glue.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Stories about a personal experience with war can succeed for painstaking authenticity or they can succeed when the context of that experience is used to talk about something else. Michael Cimino uses the Vietnam War to talk about masculinity in his 1978 film The Deer Hunter, a beautifully shot film that shows a few young men whose notions of what gave them a sense of self respect are cruelly subverted by circumstance.



The first hour or so of the three hour film establishes the young men, steelworkers in a tightly knit community, descendants of Russian immigrants who have maintained many traditions from the old country. The Russian Orthodox wedding scenes bring to mind the wedding at the beginning of The Godfather in the way it establishes a culture but the one in The Deer Hunter is even less narratively constrained, feeling almost like random footage.



The groom is Steven (John Savage), one of the three whom the film eventually follows to Vietnam, but the point of view characters become Mike (Robert De Niro) and Nick (Christopher Walken), though point of view is really only solidified towards the end of the deer hunting scenes following the wedding. For most of the first part of the film, a lot of long, wide shots pointedly make the characters feel small, not like movie star individuals but slightly foolish, tiny pieces in a vast fabric. A beautiful shot lingers on the group of guys when they get out to take a piss on their way up into the mountains, their goofing around just small rustlings next to the vast image of nature surrounding them.



The title of the film seems to refer to Mike, De Niro's character, who seems to have a reputation for being the only guy who always manages to kill a deer on their trips up. And he does seem the most capable among them, chiding Stan (John Cazale) for not bringing his own equipment and firmly refusing to lend him his spare boots.



Mike is sort of like Rambo if Rambo were dropped into a more realistic film. In Vietnam, he is the one among the three who's able to keep his shit together. But none of them leave the experience with the fundamental fantasies that they used to lean their psychological well being on. Being identified as "the deer hunter" in a movie where the actual hunting of deer is a relatively small element reflects this, particularly when Mike finds the experience of hunting deer far less satisfying when he comes back. The movie's female characters have little development of their own and exist primarily to define the male characters by contrast. When Mike visits Angela (Rutanya Alda), Steven's wife, his only questions for her are about Steven despite the fact that she's obviously undergone emotional trauma herself. This establishes the greater emotional bond Mike feels with men and the distance he feels from women, further emphasised by his strangely uncommunicative relationship with Linda (Meryl Streep), though he also seems to need her.



She's Nick's fiancée but even before Vietnam she and Mike seemed to be exchanging looks. Her character is given a physically abusive father and maybe this is meant to explain her supportiveness and passivity with emotionally distant men but for the most part her character would not have been especially interesting if not for Meryl Streep's great performance. A lot more time could have been spent on showing how the deer hunter identity is harmful to the women, though we do have a strange moment when Stan hits his girlfriend after another man grabs her posterior. When Mike decides to return to Vietnam, there's not even a scene of him and Linda discussing it or establishing what it means to her.



Crowd scenes in Mike's return to Vietnam are amazingly, effectively shot to show the utter chaos as the U.S. is finally pulling out. The realism of these shots stands in contrast to the fantastical quality of Mike's journey into the hell of a fictional underground Russian Roulette gambling culture. Incredibly, the film was adapted from a screenplay that was originally about gambling addiction to Russian Roulette and Cimeno takes these elements and constructs a wider commentary on the inherent death wish of mythologised hunter and killer masculinity. Mike is disgusted by Stan's playing with a little snubnose when he gets back from the war not simply because Stan is like a kid playing with fire but because Mike can see the end of this road, something that has claimed Nick completely.



So an analysis of this film looking for realism is inappropriate. The flaws are so apparent that it should be obvious--how Mike gets in and out of Saigon when no-one else seems able to, how Nick manages to survive so long, and so forth. This is about people learning there are horrifying implications to the social constructs they've been brought up on and then the journey to whether or not it's possible to escape from them.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


The season finale of Better Call Saul on Monday brought some big changes to the show, promising next season will be very different from the first three. Where Breaking Bad eventually became a Spaghetti Western, Better Call Saul is shaping up to be more of a film noir with its focus on the delicate line between luck and free will.

Spoilers after the screenshot



Chuck (Michael McKean) accuses Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) of having a fundamentally harmful nature but it's Chuck whose tragic personality hurts himself and everyone around him. In a well conceived scene, Chuck ended his life like he lived it; breaking things because he's completely out of touch with his own feelings. He seemed completely cool and confident when he told Jimmy he didn't matter much to him and Chuck probably believed it. But I don't think it's any coincidence Chuck fell into a violent, final relapse shortly afterwards.



It's fitting the last conversation between Chuck and Jimmy is about blame. Whose fault is all this? Chuck says it's Jimmy who can't help himself but it looks like Chuck is the one with less self-control. Still, laying all the blame on Jimmy, despite the pettiness and schemes Jimmy engages in, hardly seems fair because Chuck and fate seem to be dealing Jimmy an unfair hand, intentionally or not.



The episode was written by Gennifer Hutchison, my favourite writer on the series now, and mostly I think she did a great job but I couldn't buy Jimmy's solution to his troubles with Irene and her friends. I understand the point of this was to show Jimmy really does have a good heart, being willing to sacrifice that big Sandpiper payout so that Irene's friends would forgive her. But I don't see how he could be certain the plan would work--it's not like it changes any of Irene's actions her friends were upset about. Not to mention the fact that since they'd seen through his other attempts to mend their friendships there's a good chance they'd see through this one, too. But I guess it would be hard to think of another way to get Jimmy out of the elder law business and into criminal defence.



There wasn't much comedy in this episode but I loved Kim's (Rhea Seehorn) trip to Blockbuster Video, just a subtle reminder that this is a period piece. Her and Jimmy watching To Kill a Mockingbird is a nice way to underscore the standard of ethics they might be trying to live up to--it's a quiet way of showing them contemplate the reason they've chosen this career.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


What an incredibly pretty season finale of American Gods. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, who I first heard of in the 90s when she made Marilyn Manson music videos, this Eastery Easter episode was about as far from Antichrist Superstar as you could get.

Spoilers after the screenshot



Because there's a lot of Christ in this episode. Or I should say Christs, a pretty effective visual gag. Conversations between Wednesday (Ian McShane) and Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) tended to drift into too much exposition--again giving me the feeling that many of these episodes would have been better stretched over multiple episodes--but Easter entertaining a gaggle of Jesuses, crestfallen at the suggestion they've appropriated her holiday, was pretty funny.



Wednesday and Shadow (Ricky Whittle) also finally meet Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) in this episode though, oddly, he gets no introduction. Unlike the time given to the other gods, Nancy spends his whole segment talking about a goddess while we watch a montage of Bilquis' (Yetide Badaki) history, going from the centre of an orgy sacrifice religion in Tehran to a beggar in the US.



So she's not the American version of Bilquis/Sheba? Or maybe American versions of gods retain memories from the old country and she's remembering those? But we see her cross in an airplane. Well, I guess it's not like anyone worshipped Bilquis in the U.S. so maybe she'd have to be the one from the middle east. I really like the fact that her story makes us feel for her even though she's basically a murderer. I guess she's essentially a vampire character.



Nancy turns out to have a great sense of personal style and he's a great tailor. I really liked Shadow's outfit, the paisley tie that almost blends in with his lavender shirt and the grey with white polka dots jacket.



Chenoweth's costumes are lovely, too, though I wish her shoes had gotten one lingering close-up--I didn't notice them until I was taking screenshots but they're fantastic monsters:



In addition to all the prettiness, Laura (Emily Browning) is looking more impressively dead. I love the aviator glasses with the red jacket and those murky contact lenses look really convincingly corpse-like.



Laura and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) are really standing out on this series while Shadow is increasingly feeling like a minor character. Laura finds out that a god has been working against her all along, that she's been a pawn in Wednesday's game, while Shadow's big revelation is that he actually believes in the lightning bolts he just witnessed. Laura's story is a lot more interesting at this point but maybe that's a good way to stretch the story out over several seasons, letting Shadow slowly accrue issues.



My favourite outfit was Media's (Gillian Anderson). I'm not sure if she's based on any media figure--Joan Crawford, maybe? But she seemed to be glowing in those colours.

EDIT: A lot of people (felisdemens on Live Journal was first) are pointing out to me that Media's look is based Judy Garland's at the end of Easter Parade. I'm not sure I'd have guessed even if I had seen the movie more recently. On my DVD the colours are a bit different and they vary even more widely in a Google image search. Probably a sign this movie needs some restoration work. Garland's dress looks almost blue in the outdoor scenes on my DVD while Anderson's is unmistakeably pink.




Twitter Sonnet #1005

In turquoise scarves the marching men dissolve.
The branching fingers tune the blizzard late.
And so in pledging trees the eyes resolve.
The drying lashes turn to feathered gate.
In armoured pages knights misplace a spine.
In gliding boughs, the feathered bark arose.
In perforations dark the ants align.
And still the oldest roots are making clothes.
Embankment clerks assume the stony pen.
Abandoned carts abridge the market lane.
As stores are shrinking gulls adjust to win.
The river's air cajoled the weather vane.
A kiwi grew to break a smoothie town.
A hobbit stretched to talk the Entwives round.
setsuled: (Venia Chess)


To-day brings a new chapter of my infrequently updated web comic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah. Our heroines discourse with the supernatural and the worse for wear in this sea faring adventure comic. Enjoy.

Happy birthday, Wolfe Tone, Errol Flynn, Lillian Hellman, Lala Brooks, John Goodman, and Robert Rodriguez.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


Last night's new Twin Peaks may have spent more time actually in Twin Peaks than any previous episode of the new season and it was an exceptionally fast paced episode. With many satisfying developments and answers it also presented some new questions, and it did both these things in the understated manner that makes the inherent mystery of Twin Peaks so nice.

Spoilers after the screenshot



So it's Andy (Harry Goaz) who comes across the truck driven by Richard Horne in the previous episode, a truck that apparently belongs to a new character too nervous for some reason to answer Andy's questions then and there. Gentle, simple Andy might be the wrong man for this job, agreeing to meet the guy in two hours at which point of course the guy doesn't show. There's an added ominous note in the place Andy chooses to meet--the corner of Sparkwood and 21, the same place James last saw Laura Palmer. Maybe it was in Andy's mind from going through Cooper's file. For whatever reason, the familiar synthesiser intro to Laura Palmer's theme playing over a waiting Andy did much to collect more dread.



Another nicely atmospheric, Twin Peaks location moment later in the episode featured Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his assistant Beverly (Ashley Judd) trying to track down the source of a faint ringing noise in the Great Northern. The lighting in the hotel was particularly evocative of the old series, the other locations tending to look less familiar because they look better, being locations instead of sets. I like the upgrade but it was sweet seeing something a little more like the old times. And I really liked the multiple ways the scene operates--on the level of spooky atmosphere, on Ben being just a little suggestive while reminiscing about Laura Palmer, and on the hint of flirtation between him and Beverly. And Beverly, true to Twin Peaks form despite being a new character, is soon revealed to have another side to her personality when she goes home to her wheelchair bound husband, Tom (Hugh Dillon).



How many wheelchairs have we seen on Twin Peaks now? The scene most clearly echoes Leo Johnson when Tom seems suspicious and abusive, until the tables turn and Beverly starts getting a bit angrier than the situation calls for. I guess she really does like Ben. Also in a wheelchair was Mrs. Hayward, who's not listed as appearing in this new season, though her husband, Doc Hayward (Warren Frost), did appear last night in an oddly adorable, unexpected Skype scene between him and Robert Forster's Frank Truman.



Watching Robert Forster interact with modern technology makes the entire modern world seem somehow silly. Sorry to have brought you to these times, Mr. Forster, but we're glad you're here. I guess it's not like he's been away--I see now on Wikipedia he did three episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What the fuck. Well, okay, that newer Ninja Turtles show isn't actually that bad, I've seen part of the first season.



Last night's Twin Peaks began with Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) lost in the woods. It's nice seeing the Horne brothers with a little more material than in the odd, brief scene in the season's first episode. The more episodes I see, the more cohesive it all feels and I can see now why Lynch considers the season more like an eighteen hour movie than a series of episodes. All the same, I'm glad he didn't release them all at once because, as much as I'm normally not given to binge watching, I know I'd shut myself in to watch all of these in one go if I could.



Jerry seems to be having a bad trip and he's worried about his stolen car, dialogue that in retrospect seems like he might be psychically channelling the scene in Dougie Jones' office where the still sleep walking Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) answered questions about his car. This was just before one of the more enjoyable moments in the series so far when Cooper suddenly became a man of action to thwart the hitman, Ike (Christophe Zajac-Denek).



And then Lynch puts the cherry on top with an appearance by The Arm, egging Cooper on to squeeze off the assassin's hand. It's one of those moments where you realise a man travelling between an earthly and spiritual plane looks quite a bit like a dangerous lunatic. That blurred edge makes everything more intriguing, much like the multiple layers in the other scenes.



The scene's also likely Lynch's revenge on Michael J. Anderson, the actor who originally played The Arm, also known as The Man from Another Place, in the original series before making slanderous statements about Lynch following his failed effort to get more money out of the director. Ironically, it was in an interview with Anderson that I learned how the famous tailgating scene in Lost Highway was made after Anderson witnessed Lynch being tailgated by an asshole motorist. Now we see the character Anderson used to play urging Cooper to mutilate a villainous little person. Among other things, it seemed like Lynch saying loud and clear, "This character ain't yours anymore, motherfucker."



Another highlight of the episode was Laura Dern as Diane, brought to interrogate the bad Cooper despite her marked reluctance. It seems clear the bad Cooper raped her shortly after the events of the second season though this is never explicitly stated. It doesn't have to be, it's entirely in Dern's performance, which speaks volumes, and the way she toasts the FBI. We can see clearly someone whose whole life was upended years ago when someone she thought she could trust betrayed her in a fundamental way. Having a great actress, and a director who knows what she's capable of, makes a very, very big difference.



Or maybe I should say "yrev". I didn't notice that bad Cooper had said one of his verys backwards the first time though I did see people online pointing it out. Last night's episode charmingly just assumed everyone had noticed. I loved Gordon (David Lynch) counting the words on Tammy's (Chrysta Bell) fingers.



I also really loved how this episode ended with just a little slice of life in the RR. I want a whole night's worth of footage.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)


Why did it take me so long to see Alien: Covenant? I suppose because my friends who saw it seemed disappointed and the response to it otherwise seems to be lukewarm. The negative reaction to Prometheus seemed better because it was the kind of whining you hear from fans when a movie did something right and it was out of their comfort zones. Now Ridley Scott, the pushover that he is, gave the fans what they want and the fans yawned. To be sure, the old fashioned xenomorph and face huggers are the worst parts of Alien: Covenent but I didn't hate the film. I loved all the references, particularly to Paradise Lost, since I'm a big John Milton nut (as anyone who's read my web comic knows).

I also like Wagner a lot so I loved the use of music from Das Rheingold. It's a lot of fun watching the movie and seeing how perfectly it suits references to Der Ring des Nibelungen and Paradise Lost. Yet the film is not a direct adaptation of either work, which is appropriate, though David, Michael Fassbender's android character introduced in Prometheus, is a far less complex figure than Satan in Paradise Lost. He's a less complex figure than he was in Prometheus, actually. Despite his conversations with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the newer model android, Walter (also Fassbender), which emphasise the life of forced servitude androids are forced into, it's hard to see David as anything but a two dimensional villain. Say what you will about Satan in Paradise Lost but he never murdered and dissected Eve.

Still, the parallels to Milton's poem are so perfect it's easy to see why Scott was inspired to explicitly correlate the two with his original title for the film, Alien: Paradise Lost. The obvious point is that David is rebelling against his creator--like Satan in Paradise Lost, who doesn't see why Jesus should be considered more worthy of being called God's number one son than himself, David immediately questions Weyland's assertion that he is David's father. In a reversal of Roy and Tyrell in Blade Runner, it's David who has the longer lifespan than his creator. But there are even more specific ways in which Covenant and Paradise Lost parallel, as in the focus on weapons development in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which brought to mind this piece from a section on the war in heaven:

Whereto with look compos'd SATAN repli'd.
Not uninvented that, which thou aright
Beleivst so main to our success, I bring;
Which of us who beholds the bright surface
Of this Ethereous mould whereon we stand,
This continent of spacious Heav'n, adornd
With Plant, Fruit, Flour Ambrosial, Gemms & Gold,
Whose Eye so superficially surveyes
These things, as not to mind from whence they grow
Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,
Of spiritous and fierie spume, till toucht
With Heav'ns ray, and temperd they shoot forth
So beauteous, op'ning to the ambient light.
These in thir dark Nativitie the Deep
Shall yeild us, pregnant with infernal flame,
Which into hallow Engins long and round
Thick-rammd, at th' other bore with touch of fire
Dilated and infuriate shall send forth
From far with thundring noise among our foes
Such implements of mischief as shall dash
To pieces, and orewhelm whatever stands
Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarmd
The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.
Nor long shall be our labour, yet ere dawne,
Effect shall end our wish. Mean while revive;
Abandon fear; to strength and counsel joind
Think nothing hard, much less to be despaird.
He ended, and his words thir drooping chere
Enlightn'd, and thir languisht hope reviv'd.
Th' invention all admir'd, and each, how hee
To be th' inventer miss'd, so easie it seemd
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible: yet haply of thy Race
In future dayes, if Malice should abound,
Some one intent on mischief, or inspir'd
With dev'lish machination might devise
Like instrument to plague the Sons of men
For sin, on warr and mutual slaughter bent.


In Paradise Lost, we see Satan cleaved almost in two by Michael's sword but, of course, Satan, being an angel, pulls himself back together, good as new (so to speak). Much like David. It all seems less like parallels Scott intended at first but like parallels he saw in retrospect and decided to emphasise. The film also is quite conscious of its echoes of Blade Runner, David even at one point having Roy's "That's the spirit!" line in a pivotal fight scene. So, oddly enough, Blade Runner actually functions as a closer compliment to Paradise Lost because of the greater moral complexity inherent in Roy.

In general, the characters in Alien: Covenant fall into more explicit hero and villain slots than those seen in Prometheus, which may have been another of Scott's concessions to fans, who complained that two of the scientists were too foolish in their first encounter with an alien life in Prometheus. The only character in Covenant who really seems flawed is Oram, who seems so really more for Billy Crudup's fascinating performance than for any other reason. Crudup may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood. As much as I hate Zack Snyder's testosterone wank adaptation of Watchmen, Crudup's performance in it showed his willingness to commit to a role. In Covenant, he creates this character who's distinguished as a man of faith but who comes off as thoroughly insecure thanks to the plaintive, muttering and stuttering speaking ticks Crudup gives him.

I also thought Danny McBride was really good in a dramatic role as Tennessee and he and Scott get a lot of effective tension from the scenes where Tennessee is deciding whether to take the ship to a hazardously low altitude. I really wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing or taking a needless risk and the scenes played up that tension beautifully.

Katherine Waterston in an explicitly Ripley-ish role I just thought was fine. Maybe she would have come off stronger for me if the last act of the film wasn't a pointless retread of the climaxes from Alien and Aliens. It's hard to get invested in the old xenomorph as a villain when the biological weapons introduced in Prometheus and early in Covenant seem far more efficient--and a lot scarier. It almost feels like self-parody when David is obliged to sit and wait, idly tossing pebbles, while the xenomorph embryo gestates in a victim. The newer or more primitive version of the xenomorph from the earlier parts of the film was also more effective for how strange it looked--possibly the eeriest moment in the film is when David seems like he's about to tame one that stands in front of him, inscrutable for its apparent complete lack of facial features.

Spoilers ahead

After the unsatisfying retread of the Alien climax, the revelation that David had killed Walter and taken his place was disappointing in another way. It's a downer, yes, but it's unsatisfying for more reasons than that. Really, it would have been a lot more interesting if Walter had survived. I loved the fact that the one direct quote from Paradise Lost, the famous line about how it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, is the thing that makes Walter hesitate. It's fitting, I guess, that it's what gets him killed but what could have been the really interesting thing about it is that it shows Walter is conflicted. David is absolutely certain at this point, confident in his own perfection despite getting Byron and Shelly mixed up (what a surprisingly stupid mistake). Walter is the character in the middle, trying to figure things out--with a little of David's ambition added he would be a much worthier Satan figure than David.

I wonder if there's meant to be any significance in David naming himself after Michelangelo's David and by extension the biblical David. All I can think of is that the statue's supposed only flaw is that its head is slightly disproportionately large and Michael Fassbender actually has kind of a proportionately oversized head. He does a fine job in the movie, though.

Twitter Sonnet #1004

Impertinence impressed the puzzle piece.
Insouciance ensued to wrench the leg.
The butter born of nut belonged to Reese.
But chocolate came from out the faerie egg.
If day turns out to be a planet eat.
A swifter hat could never scroll the sky.
Rejoicing sifts the ghost from out the peat.
A kinder clap applauds the solar fly.
A wayward crown eclipsed the boiling brow.
In nothing rules a relished dog too hot.
For sandwich carts were patrons paid for now.
In tumbling sheets arrests the tater's tot.
In concrete snakes the town constructs a gut.
Tomato dots arranged the garden's rut.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


A little historical perspective isn't too painful, is it? To-day's new episode of Doctor Who, "Eaters of Light", did something I wished the show did more often--it incorporated aspects of history into its plot and argument in a way that also potentially educates the viewer. This was part of the original series concept, after all, back in 1963, and I never thought it was such a bad idea. Although the writer for to-day's episode, Rona Munro, just barely qualifies as a classic series writer--she wrote Survival, the 1989 final serial of the classic series--"Eaters of Light" definitely felt like old Who in ways I really liked.

Spoilers after the screenshot



The season long theme of colonising and people oppressed based on race or nationality takes a form surprisingly resonant with to-day's politics in this new episode. Here we have racially diverse, sexually liberated Romans invading the lands of the all white, rural Picts, and the two of groups need to set aside their differences to confront a threat to the entire universe. Whether it was intended or not, one could see this as reflecting the politics of relatively affluent liberals versus poor conservatives--Londoners versus people outside the city who voted for Brexit, in other words, or in the U.S., educated liberals versus ignorant and out of work Trump voters. And the realisation that all these people need to work together if we want any hope of addressing the threat of climate change. As a being that eats light--something that foils enlightenment--the episode's monster could be seen as a manifestation of a compulsion to avoid empathy. This really does feel like a natural evolution of the political themes in the Seventh Doctor era.



There's even something very Seventh Doctor-ish in the off-hand way Twelve (Peter Capaldi) explains the crows who can talk. Though maybe Peter Capaldi is more appropriate for this story because he's a Scotsman with Italian ancestry. Well, either one would have worked. I love Capaldi's performance this season, his understated grace is a long way from the stupid peevishness in "Robot of Sherwood".



I love how Munro used the TARDIS translation circuits to say something about what the Doctor does. In all the analysis of the Doctor as a character that's endemic to the new series, it's not until now we have this very simple thing--the ability for the TARDIS to automatically translate language facilitates communication. Suddenly the Romans and the Picts can talk to each other on the same footing. It seems a small thing, but it's essential to the Doctor's characteristic strategy of assuming anyone can be met as a fellow sentient being.



I could quibble that Bill (Pearl Mackie) ought to've known the basics of Roman culture if she was so well read on the Ninth Legion. But her discovering the different perspective on sexuality among the Romans is a nice way for younger viewers to be introduced to the idea that such perspectives have a very long history. And I'm not sure why the Doctor's argument about his greater lifespan is invalidated because the humans got brave. But it's still a pretty sweet idea, Romans and Picts united forever and a ghostly music forever being heard from the hill.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Ahead of to-morrow's new Doctor Who, I decided to revisit Survival, the 1989 serial written by Rona Munro, who also wrote to-morrow's new episode, making her the only writer from the classic series to be hired to write for the relaunched series. Survival also happens to be the final story of the classic series, not a terribly good way to go, I always thought, though watching it again this past week I do find it's better than I remembered. This was only the second time I'd watched it through--although the Seventh Doctor's third season is rightly gaining a reputation as being one of the finest seasons of the series, I'd say it's mainly for the two middle serials, Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric. As much as I like King Arthur and Jean Marsh, I struggled to get through Battlefield the couple times I've tried rewatching it. And Survival, well. Survival has this:



I know what you're thinking. "He hates Furries!" Now, I fully believe that people who call themselves Furries should be recognised as having the same rights and privileges as any average citizen. But I'm never going to be able to take seriously the cereal box, generic brand Loony Tunes aesthetic. Sometimes people just have bad taste.

Anyway, though Rona Munro did not invoke the term "Furry", possibly being unaware of the subculture at the time, Wikipedia quotes her from a 2007 interview as also being unhappy with the creature design of the cheetah people:

[They] should have just had cheetah eyes and a very faint pigmentation round of cheetah spots, and big canine teeth. And in fact, I think the actors that were cast, from what I was told, were doing all this wonderful expressive facial work, and then these 'Puss In Boots' things were dropped on them – and so then you can't see what they're doing under there. Particularly Karra and Ace, there were whole amazing scenes between them and for me, that was supposed to be my lesbian subtext – and you can't see it!



I certainly didn't pick up on any lesbian subtext, though considering that's Lisa Bowerman, later to play Bernice Summerfield in the audio plays, I'd certainly like to've seen it. I wonder if there was much thought into actually making Ace a lesbian behind the scenes--and I was already thinking that Bill was in part modelled on Ace.



Oof, I don't think there was ever a period in Earth's history when that lapel wouldn't have been laughed it. I guess they were going for Puritan but, no, it's not working.

I also didn't like to rewatch Survival because it was a story featuring the Master, a character I always thought was the show's weakest point. Until Missy came along, that is--I love Missy. Call me a sexist, if you will. Call me a Furry hating misandrist. Whatever, I can take it. Well, I also thought Derek Jacobi brought something interesting to the role.

I liked aspects of Master episodes, particularly the ones with Robert Delgado. I think the little doll in Terror of the Autons is effectively creepy in spite of, or maybe even because of, the old effects. And I like the sword fight in The Sea Devils. But mostly I always thought the Master was two dimensional and boring and when the writing got really bad in the Fifth Doctor era the Master got the brunt of it. I always thought it would have been interesting if they used the opportunity of the Master inhabiting the body of Nyssa's father to create some dramatic situations for her but it seems it wasn't until the audio plays that anyone thought of this, after Anthony Ainley could no longer reprise the role.



I do like the demonic puppet cats in Survival. Even though they're not supposed to look like puppets, I guess--they do look fucked up as hell. I also enjoy watching Sylvester McCoy trying to trap one.



My favourite part of Survival, though, is Perivale, particularly in the first episode of the serial. It all feels oddly authentic. I love Ace running into her friend with the cup on the street, I love the Doctor in the shop buying cat food and the two guys working there.



It's like the Doctor meeting Dante and Randal from Clerks. I love how real that shop feels. The third episode also has some good locations--I really love how you can see the poverty in the public housing Ace and the Doctor visit.



It's kind of a quietly radical moment. It emphasises the story's central themes, too, the idea of the "survival of the fittest." The Doctor demonstrates how it's not always smart strategically to show off strength when the Cheetah people seem not to want to attack someone who isn't moving. But we also see how cruel the philosophy is when applied to economics. One could draw a line between this and Ace falling for the Soviet soldier in Curse of Fenric and see a real bold lean to the left on the show, subtler and better developed than the previous season's Happiness Patrol.

Anyway, I find myself looking forward to seeing what Rona Munro's come up with for to-morrow.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


Is she innocent, psychotic, sadistic, confused, a victim of sexual abuse, or just a normal girl with syphilis? From the way 1978's Violette Noziere avoids answering the questions it constantly provokes about its title character one would expect the film to be a muddled mess but it's all anchored by an unfailingly solid performance from Isabelle Huppert.



Violette (Huppert) lives in a small flat with her parents. Her mother (Stephane Audran) is fussy and overbearing while her father (Jean Carmet) comes across as more easy going. Violette is based on a real life murderer who killed her parents in 1935 and perhaps this is why the film wants to avoid making strong arguments about her actual motives. Violette tells several people, long before her parents' deaths, that her father had routinely raped her since she was twelve. The film is very careful to show that this might be true and yet it might not be. In one scene, Violette catches her father looking at her while she washes and she covers herself but the two carry on a casual conversation without missing a beat.



Is this a sign of too much familiarity? Is the casual atmosphere a sign that nothing really wrong had happened and he had just made a mistake? One thing's for sure, Violette is a very good liar and Huppert plays her as someone who can quickly jump into a story without breaking stride. When she catches syphilis, she coolly says, "So you already know?" when her parents confront her about it, having been informed by the family doctor, Deron (Jean-Pierre Coffee).



The fact that she is such a good liar makes it difficult to trust anything she says, and if her ability to commit to lies so effectively is a sign of her mental illness, how can her guilt be judged? The one potentially honest moment is when her parents are dying in front of her and she just regards them coldly as a reptile.



But one also has to take into account what syphilis can do to someone's mind. We see that she has hallucinations where she mixes people up and she has fainting spells.



She seems to be genuinely in love with Jean (Jean-Francois Garreaud) but it's hinted that he's only using her for the money she steals from her parents. But she sleeps with a lot of men. One of them, a musician, sees her taking money from his wallet. When he shrugs and says it's okay, it's normal for her to be paid, she becomes angry and asks if he thinks she's a whore. This one little moment nicely opens up a lot of questions. If she doesn't think of herself as a prostitute, she must just like casual sex. But she is taking his money. Why would she rather he think she's a thief than a prostitute if she never plans on seeing him again?



In the hands of many other actresses, Violette would come off as a frustrating jumble but the commitment Huppert has to the role, the confidence she has in thoroughly inhabiting her, is so convincing that the ambiguities seem like genuine, provoking mysteries in human nature.

Twitter Sonnet #1003

A teacup rogue on drying seas contained
And held a bursting ten and screaming heads
Arrested by their spongy necks restrained
And charged in living sweat for batt'ry beds.
The wheels in pins disprove a floating wind
And slipping shoe absorbed in books beside
The smiling cork acclaimed in tops to fend
Alone in matchless pants, apportioned ride.
Across a crust canals of butter bring
The tides of tender trade to towns who sleep
Who drift inside a lime and lemon ring
The circlet's source of strength in yellow deep.
A peg appointed for the sign revealed
The path where burning coal and cars congealed.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


Despite having been written by Gordon Smith, who wrote the great courtroom episode in the middle of the season, Monday's new episode of Better Call Saul was a little sloppy, saved from being bad purely by the momentum of events.

Spoilers after the screenshot



Jimmy's (Bob Odinkirk) supposed to be almost out of money, to the point where he was reluctant to pay his camera crew a few episodes earlier. How did he afford all these shoes? Maybe he had enough leftover from the money he eventually did make from the commercial but if he's working this hard for the Sandpiper settlement he can't be out of the woods. These shoes are expensive--that's the whole point, he wants to make it look like Louise has money to burn to make her friends jealous and pressure her into taking the Sandpiper settlement. I'd say each pair is at least a hundred dollars, at nine pairs that's nine hundred dollars.



I hear Kiefer Sutherland in Fire Walk with Me in my head now, "Agent Desmond, I figure this whole office, furniture included, is worth 27,000 dollars." So okay, maybe I'm nitpicking. The biggest problem with the episode seems more attributable to the director than the writer--the car crash at the end. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is hurrying to her appointment, her eyes look to be on the road, I noticed a Krispy Kreme in the background, and then suddenly her car's crashed into a rock, off the road, apparently in the middle of nowhere.



Wikipedia says, ". . . due to her fatigue from overwork, Kim loses her concentration and drives her car off the side of the road, crashing into a rock." Which, I guess is what happened, but seemed a lot to infer. We don't even see her eyelids drooping. I suppose the idea is that it's from her perspective so it's as sudden to us as it is to her but I've experienced sleep deprivation. I notice my eyelids drooping and my head nodding, Kim did not seem anywhere near that point.



Anyway, this means she's probably screwed as far as this side job goes, which is really bad since that's Hank Jennings she's working for--rather, it's actor Chris Mulkey who played Hank Jennings on Twin Peaks. I guess it's nice to have him on Better Call Saul since he's not on the new season of Twin Peaks.



The Mike plot continues to be dull as dirt, even with the introduction of Laura Fraser in the same role she played on Breaking Bad. The whole plot thread still feels like a pointless reiteration of things we learned on Breaking Bad.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


Sunday brought a nice new episode of The Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney Hour, also known as American Gods. This is a good time to brush up on your Daniel Defoe--Saturday's Doctor Who made reference to Robinson Crusoe and the American Gods episode was almost a straight adaptation of Moll Flanders.

Spoilers after the screenshot



At this point, Laura (Emily Browning) and Shadow have a lot of catching up to do if they want to rival the chemistry between Laura and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). Apparently the two have something that goes back generations, though Emily Browning playing both Laura and eighteenth century Irish immigrant Essie MacGowan is never explained. Neither is the fact that Sweeney, one of the wee folk, isn't at all wee. Instead, with this episode he goes from ornery bar fighter to Laura's strapping, tormented supernatural protector--and former king.



Like the title character of Moll Flanders, Essie works as a servant girl, a seductress, and a thief, and, like Moll Flanders' mother, she "pleads her belly" when sentenced to death in Newgate. Also like Moll, Essie ends up in the North American colonies and eventually becomes mistress of a plantation. Adam Kane directs his second episode for the series and gets some wonderful visuals with apple trees and dresses, though Browning's wig might have been more convincing.



Meanwhile, in the present, Laura and Mad Sweeney have an amusing adventure involving the theft of an ice cream truck. One which proves that Sweeney cares about more than his magic coin in a really sweet moment. Once this is all sorted, I wouldn't mind these two settling down to a life of actually selling ice cream.



I also really liked Fionnula Flanagan as both Essie's grandmother and the older Essie herself. The scene where Sweeney shows up at her death is really sweet.

Apparently I'm far from alone in spotting Essie's resemblance to Moll Flanders.

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