setsuled: (Default)
2017-07-22 09:54 am

Sharks and Aliens at Comic Con

I haven't been taking many cosplay photos this year. Too many sites are doing a more exhaustive job of catching every interesting and halfway interesting costume than I can. So far I've only stopped two people to ask if I could take their picture.

I loved this woman's hat. She told me the costume is normally meant to be a storm but she added the sharks because of Sharknado and Comic Con. I wonder at what occasions she dresses as just a storm.

I was surprised to see a Lum costume, and this woman was very surprised I recognised it.

She explained to me she had sewn the bikini bottom too but that her husband wouldn't let her wear it because it was too small in the back.

Yesterday was one of the longest days I've spent at the Con, leaving my apartment at 7:30am and not getting home until after 1:00am. But it was worth it. I'll have to wait til Monday to write more about it. To-day, more Con . . .

setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-07-21 06:55 am

Comic Con Crab and Doctors

This crab was on the rocks watching everything outside the Indigo Ballroom yesterday where it turned out there was a panel I wanted to see, a Doctor Who panel, which I'll be posting more about when I have time. For now, here's Peter Davison, Sophie Aldred, and Colin Baker responding to the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor:

Twitter Sonnet #1015

As minty buttons pop the cream of ice,
The grace of ploughing bows impressed a thaw,
Invoked a chasing ray to spark it twice,
The northern lights, a body's moving law.
Excessive spinach fell beside the ore,
The veins exposed in pick and shovel wrath,
Absorbing drops of sandwich, tea, and more,
Awash in chips and ale, its dinner bath.
An ogre's pants upset the drawing man
Beside the storm that brought to hats a fish
Unsuited sharks adorn the festive pan
Outside the pit of bats it was a dish.
The rocks outside uphold the chitin queue.
A coat can be a dress or nightgown, too.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-20 08:37 am

Preliminary Comic Con Post

This was outside Comic Con yesterday. I don't know what it's for but it seemed to say something about dedication.

Yesterday, Wednesday, was Preview Night, I generally just go in to pick up my bag and programme on Wednesday. In previous years I went in that day to pick up my badge but for the past couple years they've been mailing this out. I still had to follow a special route inside, though, because it looks like they're cracking down on people who try to take multiple bags and programmes--the security card system they use at the entrances now is also used at the bag pick up. So if you were planning to make a dress out of just this year's bag (as some do), good luck, it's kind of small this year.

It was more crowded than I'm used to seeing it on a Wednesday. I took a chance and got on the trolley closer to the Con than I normally do but there was still standing room only. I actually live relatively close to the Con but this counts for nothing if you don't actually live downtown. To give you an idea:

After that trolley station people are packed like sardines inside. Even going that far out I'm not guaranteed to get a seat.

There are no panels I want to see to-day so I'm going in relatively late. I plan to just roam the floor to-day. Entries here should be short until after the Con, though, when I'll give fuller Con reports.

Here are a few more pictures from yesterday:

setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-07-19 12:44 pm

Nylon Stockings and Samurai Armour

As difficult and strange as cultural change can be, it tends to manifest very close to home, if not in the home, as in the case of Yasujiro Ozu's 1950 film The Munekata Sisters (宗方姉妹). Two sisters, an older and a younger, have different personalities, one shaped more by pre-World War II Japan and the other shaped more by U.S. occupied Japan. Like Kurosawa, Ozu shows in his film that western conceptions of democracy and personal liberty were in many ways healthy new influences on the culture but, while this film isn't quite as eloquent as his better known films, Ozu does succeed in suggesting there are some things lost in such cultural changes because their value cannot be explained in simple logic.

Ozu makes it crystal clear which culture holds sway over which sister. The elder, Setsuko (Kinuyo Tanaka), always wears kimonos and is generally more reserved in her manners while Mariko (Hideko Takamine) always wears western style blouses and skirts. But as with cultural change in general, it's hard to see how much is due to Mariko's youthful rebelliousness and how much is due to Setsuko being set in her ways.

Certainly Mariko seems in many ways still a child. Her father, Ozu's usual face of tranquil wisdom, Chishu Ryu, chides her for her habit of sticking her tongue out.

Mariko's unsure herself if she's behaving properly and needs reassurance, despite her outward assertiveness, and she explains this is why she reads her sister's diary without her permission, to find out if the elder sister was like Mariko when she was her age. And Mariko is surprised to find Setsuko was in love at one time with a young man named Hiroshi (Ken Uehara) but their affair ended when Hiroshi left for France and Setsuko married Mimura (So Yamamura).

We find out that Mimura also read Setsuko's diary and that's why he's out of work and slowly drinking himself to death. Setsuko runs a bar and supports Mimura, just one of the reasons Mariko thinks she should divorce him. When Hiroshi comes back to town, Mariko makes it her personal mission to get Setsuko and Hiroshi back together.

Mariko has no doubts about her quest but it's hard to say how unhappy Setsuko really is since she has that reserved demeanour, seeming perfectly happy to do the household chores for Mimura, though she does stick up for herself when Mimura's drunk and says unreasonable things to her.

At the bottom of the basic philosophical struggle seems to be a conflict between whether it is better to assert oneself to attain happiness and achievements or whether one should take others into consideration and sacrifice for them--and this dichotomy doesn't always match up with the Japanese and Western dichotomy, sometimes one valuing sacrifice more than the other and vice versa. This makes things all the more confusing as Western ideals of sacrifice set off Japanese conceptions of self-denial.

Being young and championing a very firm point of view of right or wrong, however much she might be insecure secretly, Mariko doesn't understand why it's so hard for people to change their lives, why it's so hard for Setsuko to simply get a divorce and reunite with Hiroshi. One character has to explain to Mariko how difficult it must be for the kamikaze pilot who now works at the bar whose life was once about giving everything up for Japan but is now about just being a waiter.

A quote from Don Quixote with a jaunty Johnnie Walker statue at the bar become less and less funny the more they're shown and the more Mimura drinks and this seems a poignant symbol of the unforeseen consequences of dropping aspects of one culture into another.
setsuled: (Venia Chess)
2017-07-18 07:42 pm

Finding the Best Seat

Well, it's time once again to play the Game of Thrones. Sunday's premiere got season seven off to kind of a meek start. As usual for a first episode of the season, a lot of time was spent refreshing the viewer on the previous season but even for that it seemed like it waffled quite a bit.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The splashiest moment came at the beginning when David Bradley turned out to be Arya Stark, following up her turn as Titus Andronicus with a simpler mass poisoning. It was fun watching Arya's glee on David Bradley's face but Maisie Williams soon resumes Arya duties.

Once again I get the sense she would be the world's most inept assassin if she hadn't stolen magic powers. She doesn't even have a story ready when she's asked why she's going to King's Landing and her encounter with Ed Sheeran's band of Lannister soldiers seems to indicate this is the first time she's even thought about the fact that the common footsoldiers are just regular people unattached to the machinations of Lannister nobility. I guess that's the kind of thing she was supposed to be learning when she was posing as fish monger. But, no thanks, Arya wants the good grades without having to actually learn anything.

I always used to say the Starks were the dullest characters on the show except for Arya. But after her dramatic seaborne departure from Westeros a couple seasons ago she's done her best to take over the legacy of Stark dullness.

Meanwhile, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon (Kit Harrington) are squabbling in front of a full council. Sansa wants to massacre the whole families of traitors, Jon wants to leave them in charge, no one suggests imprisoning them. I am still so on Team Cersei (Lena Headey).

I feel especially bad for her now that Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is constantly whining. When she says the Freys were untrustworthy allies, Jaime argues it's better to have untrustworthy allies than none, nevermind Cersei wasn't saying anything to the contrary. Then when Cersei brings in Urine (sorry, Euron) Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), suddenly Jaime's complaining they're not good enough. You want to wait for a perfect ally now, Jaime? Can Cersei do anything right with you? Why not try being supportive?

My favourite section was Samwell (John Bradley) having to do menial chores in maester training. I've always said I wanted to see more of the mundane stuff in Westeros and here it is. I love how the food he serves is almost indistinguishable from the stuff in the chamber pots he collects. Of course, the plot doesn't make much sense--if Samwell can't look at the forbidden books, what's the harm in someone else looking up how to defeat the White Walkers, like Jim Broadbent's character, who says he believes Sam? It seems like a pretty artificial roadblock to draw things out. It is nice seeing Jim Broadbent. After Jonathan Pryce and Peter Vaughan I wonder if eventually every cast member from Brazil will appear on Game of Thrones. I'm looking forward to seeing Katherine Helmond, if that's the case.

Once again, the show has some amazing costumes and locations.

Twitter Sonnet #1014

The cherry fish in chambers parsed for rice
Upheld the pickle yard, contorted keys
Involved in island growth assort the mice
From small to smaller graces make the trees.
Domestic pop imports a soda can,
In quarters clamped to pin machines affirmed
In shining blue or red or metal tan,
Though some say copper, bronze, or gold's confirmed.
No fleece affronted fifty clicking claws
Impounded by the stalks of dreamy crabs
Collecting coin for church's certain law
Or buying frames to make the metal cabs.
The sounds of mallets make the hollow beat.
In storms, the lounge has grown the softest seat.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-07-17 07:01 pm

Lost Hunters

David Lynch's ability to blur the line between comedy and horror was on admirable and fascinating display last night on the new Twin Peaks. Moving to a meditation on abuse and disjointed affection, last night's episode, "Laura is the One", continued the show's exploration of the basic problem arising between innocent love and jaded selfishness.

Spoilers after the screenshot

More and more, I think Jerry Horne's (David Patrick Kelly) statements on his ongoing odyssey in the woods are reflections or distillations of the whole episode's themes. This time we see him frustrated that his phone is getting no signal and it prompts him to scream, "You can't fool me, I've been here before!" If we distil this moment to its basic meaning, we can see that it is repeated in different ways throughout the episode--Jerry, who's lost, doesn't have what he desperately needs, a phone signal, which would allow him to communicate his need for help. His response, prompted by his distress, is to make a display of strength along with a denial of the apparent reality, claiming false or irrelevant knowledge ("I've been here before"). There's the assumption that, because there was a signal there before, there ought to be one now, based on Jerry's feelings more than anything else.

Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) is lost in another kind of woods, guilty of killing a child, his display of strength is physical violence. He goes to his grandmother, Sylvia Horne (Jan D'Arcy), and when he doesn't receive the aid he did in the past, he shows strength and asserts a right to what she has. Then we see this pattern reflected again when Sylvia calls Ben (Richard Beymer) and she expects more money from him while he considers it unreasonable. This is similar to the situation with Frank Truman and his wife who seemed irrationally aggressive but our reactions to her are tempered when we find out what happened to their kid. So now we see Sylvia, who throughout the first two seasons barely had a presence except as a nag to Ben, has her own reasons for being emotionally distressed and aggressive. And who can blame her.

Poor Johnny Horne (Eric Rondell). That bear with the distinctly Lynchian replacement head is like an instrument of torture but is clearly meant to be some kind of therapeutic device.

Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) has his gentle love song interrupted by a mug thrown out of a trailer window by an abusive Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) who's screaming at a cowering Becky (Amanda Seyfried) about his needs. I guess he is as bad as Leo. He concludes by asserting "I know what you did." Again, a violent assertion of a perceived right based on possibly false or irrelevant knowledge.

My favourite thread in the episode was Candie's (Amy Shiels). Wow, was that strange and intriguing. It starts with a bit that seems like a repeat of Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) chasing a fly in the sheriff's station from the original series. Candie hunts the fly with a red handkerchief but, in what should be little more than a moment of broad slapstick, she smacks her gangster employer, Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper), in the face with a remote control.

It's funny except Candie is bizarrely devastated. Still crying about it later, she wonders, "How can you ever love me after what I did?", much to the confusion of both Rodney and his brother Bradley (Jim Belushi). Her reaction is out of proportion for several reasons, for one because no-one really believes she meant to cause him harm, and another because their relationship doesn't seem to have been on this emotional level. She's one of three girls who seem basically to be living ornaments or errand girls. The Mitchum brothers clearly don't seem ready for her to actually put emotional investment like this in her role, it's as though she's been bewitched by the superficial details. When she muddles a simple task later it's because she seems, like Dougie (Kyle MacLachlan), to have become a sleep walker. The episode's title, and the Log Lady's (Catherine Coulson) message near the end, refer to Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). But aside from a vision of a scene from Fire Walk with Me witnessed by Gordon Cole (David Lynch), we don't see any reference to Laura. Since Leland tasked Cooper with finding Laura, I've wondered if this meant Laura has become an inhabiting spirit like Bob or Mike. Could she have taken possession of Candie? Or maybe we're meant to be looking for her in the characters and thereby scrutinising them differently for that reason.

And where does Dougie fit into this? He has a visit with the doctor, in fact Doctor Phlox, of all people, from Star Trek: Enterprise, John Billingsley. The casting is odd for how not odd it is. We learned in the previous episode that people are used to Dougie having lingering effects from a car accident, so that explains why people haven't been more alarmed by his recent behaviour. It doesn't prevent him from bonding with Janey-E (Naomi Watts) on a physical level. So at least one couple is happy in this episode, though, again, it's a relationship based on a misunderstanding. I loved how Watts is lit in the sex scene:

Of course, I should point out I was right about Albert (Miguel Ferrer) and Constance (Jane Adams), who seem to be on the right track.

setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-07-16 02:33 pm

The Thirteenth Hour

It's Jodie Whittaker, aka the Thirteenth Doctor, seen here where I first saw her in the first season of Broadchurch. Her casting was announced to-day after the Wimbledon Men's Final (I thought it was funny they chose to do it after Wimbledon Men's Final) with this kind of cheesy video:

Here the young Doctor can be seen foraging and she has a lot of work to do laying up acorns for the winter. It's kind of like Planet Earth: Time Lord. Time Lady? I guess "Time Lady" is considered sexist but I'm not really clear on why.

I'm really happy to see a female Doctor. I look forward to seeing what happens in the next season and where new showrunner Chris Chibnall takes the series. I had varied reactions to his previous episodes of Doctor Who but I really liked the first season of Broadchurch, which he created and wrote every episode of. I don't see him approaching the heights of Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davis at their best but I'll be happy to be proved wrong.

I think Jodie Whittaker's a good actress and I look forward to see what she does. And yet . . .

Well, she's kind of normal. Theoretically, being a good actress means she can put in an appropriately weird performance for the Doctor. I don't know. It feels to me like another baby step--throughout the past few seasons, despite the impression you might get from the ravenous Moffat haters, the show has been seeded with little things to build up to a female Doctor, repeatedly confirming a Time Lord can change sex with a regeneration, changing the sex of the show's second most prominent Time Lord character, the Master, and finally the recent finale which is loaded with big hints about a more female future. Hopefully all this helped coax some of the more sexist fans into being a little less sexist and, to make a really optimistic statement, make the world a little less sexist generally. But there's something kind of default about Whittaker. I don't know, maybe it's too much to ask for the first female Doctor to have bug eyes, a big nose, and/or prominent teeth. Or someone like Michelle Gomez who has a wonderful, intense weirdness.

But I'll keep an open mind. I hope she at least gets a weird costume.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-07-15 04:59 pm

Tuber Tank

It's hard to take the talking potatoes seriously. I listened to Heroes of Sontar last night, a 2011 Doctor Who audio play that features Sontarans, an alien warrior race first introduced in the Third Doctor era but which manifest on the show now only in the form of Strax, who's played for laughs. Heroes of Sontar's Sontarans are all portrayed as similarly buffoonish and I wonder if this was an influence on how Strax was portrayed on the show from then on. There's actually an explanation for the foolishness of the particular group of Sontarans in Heroes of Sontar, though, and I was able to laugh at them a little more than at Strax, who I always tended to resent for taking valuable time away from Vastra and Jenny. Heroes of Sontar is an all around decent story.

It features the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) with his optimum companion crew, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson) and follows from a series of audio plays released the previous year in which the Doctor with Turlough and Tegan encounter Nyssa at a point after Nyssa's final serial on the television series, Terminus. Nyssa is much older, having led a full life on Terminus, apparently now the same age as Sarah Sutton at the time of recording the audio play, judging from the CD cover. One reason this setup is a good idea is that Nyssa left the TARDIS before Turlough's subplot with the Black Guardian concluded so any story set before her departure would have to work in that subplot somehow. There's also a hint in this episode, when Tegan teases Nyssa and the Doctor for sounding like an old married couple, that there's meant to be romantic chemistry between Nyssa and Five. Which is a vibe I get from the other audio plays where it's just the Doctor and Nyssa though I don't remember it ever being directly explored. Maybe it's a chemistry the writers noticed but didn't dare explore until they'd aged Nyssa up a bit, since her relationship with the Doctor began, when she met the Fourth Doctor, with more of a father/daughter feel. Or maybe Uncle/Niece. Despite Peter Davison having been so young in his tenure compared to other Doctors he may have had the smallest amount of sexual chemistry with his companions, I think mainly because he tended to have many companions at one time so it was harder to establish a one on one dynamic.

Also, the writing in Five's era is the worst in the show's history, aside from some stand out serials, which is one of the reasons it's so nice hearing him and his companions in some well written audio plays. Heroes of Sontar takes place on an abandoned planet covered with a strange moss, the remnants of a biological weapon. Writer Alan Barnes concocts some nice problems for the characters to solve or escape, splitting the group into pairs, the Doctor and Tegan dealing with one problem while Turlough and Nyssa find themselves battling a moss infection on Nyssa's hand and trying to overcome the infamy of Turlough's cowardice. As bad as the writing was in Five's era, Turlough has always been one of my favourite companions, I sort of wish the audio plays would allow him to actually exhibit more cowardice and treachery than just having the other characters talk about it. Tegan comes off as a little hardier in this story, which is nice, and I don't think it undercuts too much the nature of her departure in Resurrection of the Daleks.

Twitter Sonnet #1013

Electric wings from poisoned soil sprout.
In clouds, the gas conducts a system burn.
The charcoal tips of dreamless horns are out.
From crumpled pages tin has much to learn.
The egg that didn't disappear awaits.
In promised thoughts the brain advanced the team.
About the board a cable sends the mates.
For pawns aglow outside the port redeem.
And not too like saltines the snack was soft.
In crying words the crows turned over cups.
But wooden mills can bear the note aloft.
Inside you'll find a dozen eggy pups.
Apportioned rows of lizard shoes appear.
Along horizons green they're worn by deer.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-14 04:28 pm

17th Century Waters

I finished reading this last night, the autobiography of a 17th century seaman called Edward Coxere (pronounced "Coxery"). It has humour and tension but clearly comes from a time when the novel as an artform was still in its infancy. It has the free-roaming quality of a picaresque as Coxere simply reports one episode after another. It's filled with wonderful detail and incidental glimpses into how people talked and behaved. Coxere describes being sent to France in 1647 as a child in order to learn the language by being brought up in a French household. It's not long before he goes to sea. The book shows how fluid was the national loyalty of a seaman at the time as Coxere served on Dutch, French, Spanish, and English ships.

As I was at first with the Hollanders against the English I continued in this frigate in the wars against the Hollanders till about the peace. I had not been long in this ship but I was made coxswain: so that I served several masters in the wars between King and Parliament at sea. Next I served the Spaniards against the French, then the Hollanders against the English; then I was taken by the English out of a Dunkirker; and then I served the English against the Hollanders; and last I was taken by the Turks, where I was forced to serve then against English, French, Dutch, and Spaniards, and all Christendom.

In one of the more amusing anecdotes, he describes going home to England at last where everyone, including his mother, thought for certain he was Dutch.

My mother, spying of us, says to the other woman, 'Here come Master Dehase with a Fleming. It may be they may bring some news of Ned.' she little knowing I was he. The old man bid me say nothing, he being pleased at the conceit. When we came to my mother, she looked on me, but knew me not, but asked the old man if he could tell no news of her child, not thinking her child stood before her. The old man bid her patience; she should well hear. This was to her but the old tone, I suppose. I discerned the yearning bowels of a mother, yet notwithstanding I kept myself undiscovered awhile, till at last I made myself known with much joy and gladness.

Yes, there was a time when "yearning bowels of a mother" could be written without thoughts of other connotations.

Coxere also describes the period of time he spent as a slave, having been captured by the Turks. As bad as he makes it sound, even worse is his imprisonment in England after becoming a Quaker and refusing to swear oaths.

He describes the personalities of different shipmates, including a captain who's constantly trying to get drunk. Several times he describes having to rig sails and whole masts in disastrous battles or during storms. At one point he describes holing up in a gunroom and drinking wine during an attack.

The copy I found for a few dollars on Amazon is a lovely little 1946 edition marked "discard" from a school library in Montana. It includes a foldout map and Coxere's original illustrations.

setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-13 02:53 pm

Old Jobs versus New Tech

The connexion between making money and survival, for you and your loved ones, as always been fertile ground for drama in stories set in the U.S. 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming dramatises the political struggle between a working class whose sense of morality has been warped by the money-making imperative and a new generation who is so accustomed to economic privilege that abdication of higher moral responsibility seems monstrous. Not all of the implications may have been intended but the film certainly has economic class in mind while presenting, in some ways, the best and most true to his comic roots Spider-Man brought to film: Tom Holland as an unmistakeably adolescent Peter Parker. In some ways, though, the character deviates quite a bit from his original comic book incarnation in order to make its argument on the economic landscape.

Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, is the best villain to feature in an MCU film, largely because he's barely a villain. He's a salvage contractor who's muscled out of the job of picking up alien scrap from the first Avengers movie by the Department of Damage Control, a government department set up by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). This after he'd already spent money on the resources necessary to clean up the stuff so now he and his team have to get creative if they have any hope of bringing a paycheck home. This is the kind of problem Peter Parker would've been familiar with in his original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko incarnation--Peter was constantly worrying about bringing enough money home to support his aunt May and himself. And he certainly wasn't above using his new-found powers to make a buck--something we see in Sam Raimi's adaptation, though I don't remember seeing one of my favourite scenes from the comic, where our hero tries to cash a check made out to "Spider-Man".

No mention is made of May having serious financial woes in Homecoming and Peter seems to feel no pressure to make money. When Tony Stark mentions he can get Peter into a good school, the kid barely seems to notice. It's no wonder he seems to have no sympathy for the lengths Toomes goes to to support his family.

The fact that Peter isn't thoroughly irritating is one of the film's greatest achievements and it's accomplished with the same goal that makes the new Wonder Woman movie work so well--Peter really cares about helping people and he has what seems like a very honest humility.

He isn't a guy looking for a fight, he's a guy looking to help out, and if that involves fighting he's ready to do it. He's not above giving an old lady directions and he's deeply apologetic when he accidentally webs a guy trying to break into his own car. Like Wonder Woman, he's a welcome return to the original idea of Superman, the idea of a really powerful person who really is more interested in making life better for everyone than in stroking his own ego or getting revenge. Like Raimi's incarnation of the character, he's also really excited to be Spider-Man and do Spider-Man things, but he naturally sees this as something he doesn't keep to himself--when some guys on the street ask him to do a flip, he automatically does it. Later, when his friend tries to talk him into showing up as Spider-Man at a party to improve Peter Parker's reputation, he realises how stupid this is and seems like he would have avoided doing it if a crisis hadn't called him away anyway.

The character is also helped a lot by some lessons taken from Deadpool. In addition to giving the mask expressive eyes, the filmmakers also seem to have recognised that the character's awkwardness is a strength and here it makes even more sense when kid Spidey is a but a wisp of a lad.

I hope to whatever gods might be listening that no remake of Back to the Future goes forward but if someone were casting a new Marty McFly I could see Tom Holland being a very good fit. He has a real Michael J. Fox quality, handsome but with a sort of ungainly kittenishness. All this helps make the movie's underlying drama more interesting.

It's hard to believe this movie was wrapped before the election last year. Vulture almost seems like he's meant to be the working class Donald Trump voters while Peter is the Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama who failed to campaign for that working class demographic. On that note, the movie has an optimism in its conclusion I wish I could share in.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-07-12 01:40 pm

Sake, Shogi, Life, Death, and Setsuko Hara

Great crimes, tragedies, and suffering occur alongside the silly, mundane, and lovely. This can be difficult to illustrate in a film but Sadao Yamanaka accomplished it in his great 1936 film Kochiyama Soshun, one of the director's only three surviving films. The influence he exerted on Japan's better known great filmmakers can be seen in how Kochiyama Soshun starts out feeling like an Ozu film and ends feeling like Kurosawa.

Kochiyama Soshun was a real person, a well known figure in Japan from the early 19th century, Yamanaka's film is based on a kabuki play about his life. Played by Chojuro Kawarasaki, he comes across as a laid back, virtuous, and incredibly clever thief. We meet him playing shogi, a Japanese variant of chess, with a man who swindles people on the street by having them stake money on games. But Kochiyama outswindles the swindler, winning 50 ryo. Chess proves once again the universal shorthand for showing a character to be clever. Taking the money back to the gambling den he calls home with his wife, we see him telling her to grant every request for a loan that comes in, one of the ways we start meeting the diverse characters in what turns out to be a mostly ensemble film.

The standout is sixteen year old Setsuko Hara in one of her first films. She plays Onami, a sweet sake seller who's loved by everyone. She already conveys that uncanny, unaffected innocence and affectionate nature which made her one of the most popular actresses in Japan for decades. Her voice is a little higher pitched and she seems to speak a little more through her nose than she does later, maybe a sign of less confidence as a performer, but she's pretty adorable.

Onami's concerned about her younger brother, whom she seems to be acting as mother for. He spends his time at Kochiyama's gambling den and then he gets himself into real trouble when he runs off with a prostitute owned by the local yakuza boss. Onami, who we see is so shy she doesn't even want to enter the gambling den to look for her brother, suddenly finds herself faced with the idea she might need to sell herself to the yakuza as restitution.

A ronin named Kaneko (Kanemon Nakamura) has started working for the same gang though his sense of personal honour keeps him from feeling ashamed of disobeying an order, as when he goes to punish Kochiyama for winning the shogi scam but instead ends up becoming Kochiyama's drinking buddy.

Meanwhile, the film also gives us the story of an older samurai whose knife Hiro stole and then sold to an auctioneer. The film takes its time to follow a couple other guys competitively bidding on the item and then having them run into the samurai, who buys it back from the winner, though he seems convinced that it's fake. It's not perfectly clear he really thinks it's fake--it might be a bargaining tactic. This thread does end up becoming relevant in the end when several seemingly unrelated stories come together for an amazing and brutal fight sequence.

I'd been trying to track this movie down for years until a few nights ago when I found, as happens surprisingly often, the whole thing's been uploaded to YouTube. Check it out before some asshole decides he can claim to YouTube he somehow owns the copyright to this public domain 1936 film.

Twitter Sonnet #1012

The heart's in crossing lines of grey and gold.
Too fast the sandwich burns on greasy pans.
A tired stop removes the wheels of old.
The burning vales of Mars have many fans.
A car bereft of Flintstone feet was dead.
The circuit shadows drift around the room.
In longer gloves, a glory lies in bed.
Along the trails of rubber bats was doom.
Collections grew of variants to chess.
A hundred feathers tripped together first.
An idle bowl contains no worser cess.
Let drowsy monks and gamblers slake their thirst.
The brow became a hat when lines were pulled.
It's always hot when time and space are wooled.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-07-11 04:16 pm

Gangster Goggles

It's harder to applaud a man's decision not to kill when the movie he's in so stacks the deck in favour of killing. In 1958's Rusty Knife (錆びたナイフ), former gangster Tachibana (Yujiro Ishihara) has to fight the urge to kill again even when he learns the yakuza syndicate who seem invulnerable to prosecution gang raped his girlfriend who then killed herself. With its bittersweet Masaru Sato theme song, the point of the film seems to be that ridiculous morality ties the hands of good men--not unlike American films like Death Wish or Russian films like Brat, its ostensibly anti-gangster message works out to be pro-gangster in real life. It's a bit silly but also ominous.

Tachibana's working as a bartender at the start of the movie. Police regularly stop by to try to get him to rat on his former associations but, despite having renounced the lifestyle, Tachibana is still bound by a code of honour. On one occasion, Keiko (Mie Kitahara), the daughter of a man who committed suicide under suspicious circumstances, overhears the cops asking Tachibana about his death.

Meanwhile, Tachibana's young friend, Makoto (Akira Kobayashi), is falling under the influence of the yakuza and takes hush money to party with a disreputable woman. Soon he's in hot water, too, and Tachibana blames himself. But after he killed the man whom he thought was solely responsible for his girlfriend's rape, Tachibana is afraid to take up his rusty knife, despite the fact that every time a gangster is arrested he's almost immediately released when witnesses are paid off or knocked off. Then Tachibana learns that his girlfriend was gang raped and it becomes even harder for him to resist the urge to kill. And, really, any viewer would want him to go on a killing spree at this point.

But it's good to remember how the movie is manipulating the audience. Tachibana was a former member of this gang and are we to believe he'd never heard of gangsters committing rape before? How feasible would it be to learn the identities of everyone guilty in a gang rape if the yakuza control so much of the information? The movie gives a bunch of two dimensional bad guys, how easy would it be to judge who deserves to die in real life? The film presents the idea that one man should be above the law because he's the only good man and the only one who can see clearly. The only way we know this is from how the film manipulates our perspective on the situation. It's films like this that led to later films by Seijun Suzuki and Takeshi Kitano that undermine the presumptions of the genre.

Rusty Knife is well shot with some really nice compositions of shadow. There are a few nice action sequences, including a good truck chase, and its Masaru Sato score is, as usual, great. It's also one of those movies from late 1950s, early 1960s Japan that heavily features the period's lovely, jazzy bar scene.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-07-10 05:55 pm

Secret Messages and Cops

Look at those colours and angles. Diane (Laura Dern) is a dragon on that couch.

Last night brought the most linear, logical episode of the new Twin Peaks season so far, but it was still wonderfully weird and refreshing.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Is it just me or did Constance (Jane Adams) and Albert (Miguel Ferrer) just fall for each other over Major Briggs' headless corpse? They seem like they'd be a good couple.

Don S. Davis, who played Major Briggs in the original series--and was forever typecast as a military man afterwards--died some years ago but he's still a big presence on the new series. The sequence of scenes where Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), Frank Truman (Robert Forster), and Hawk (Michael Horse) uncover the capsule that's been kept hidden by Betty Briggs (Charlotte Stewart) all this time was wonderful. Mostly a call back to the surprisingly tender moment from the première of season two between Bobby and the Major at the RR, the scenes in the new episode were both effectively sweet and engrossing as puzzle pieces falling into place.

Sound is playing a very prominent role so far on the new season. This episode features two examples of a strange hum, both in Briggs' capsule and the recurring mystery hum in the Great Northern.

I love these little scenes between Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Beverly (Ashley Judd). Beymer's mannerisms as Ben have always been strange and funny and the two actors play out these moments well as little pockets of tension. They're fascinating as a potential affair largely because the sound, Beymer's performance, and the knowledge of Beverly's home life make you wonder what else is going on beneath the surface. Ben Horne was always one of my favourite characters--he was funny, sweet, and scary, and sort of like a dangerous, unpredictable predator. At least until he thought he was Robert E. Lee in season two. I'm glad no-one's dwelling on that.

I wondered if we were going to see Johnny Horne (Eric Rondell) in this season. Apparently that's Ben's wife, Sylvia (Jan D'Arcy) with him though we don't get a good look. It suggests Ben's family life is still as dysfunctional and cold as ever, something where maybe he and Beverly might have a lot in common.

Poor Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) continues his bad trip in the woods. He finds himself in an estranged relationship with his foot, which could be seen as a version of what Ben is going through, though it might also be, like his feeling that his car had been stolen a few episodes earlier, a reflection of Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) story, a man whose life is certainly not his own.

Mr. C arrives at the farm and things feel a bit Tarantino-ish for the presence of Tim Roth and Jennifer Jason Leigh. I hope we'll see more of them both. I love the unexplained pair of people motionless on the ground in the background--such a Lynchian detail.

One of Lynch's talents it's easy to forget about if you watch his movies over and over (like I do) is how good he is at crafting surprises that are strange but also just close enough to credible keep you in the reality. I really, really love the three big cops investigating Dougie's case. I love the one credited as "Smiley" Fusco (Eric Edelstein) whose laugh Lynch deploys with surgical precision. The cops are like classic, cynical noir detectives just tipped into the surreal. Even the sergeant who comes in to take the fingerprints--he's in such a good mood and he's got those weird, big gestures, but it's weird like real people are weird.

I wasn't familiar with Sky Ferrera before this but I loved her scene in the roadhouse where she talks about working fast food places and scratches the huge rash in her armpit. I was reminded of the idea Lynch and Isabella Rossellini had for Rossellini's character in Wild at Heart, that she should somehow be both ugly and beautiful at the same time and that the two qualities should be related to each other in a strange way. Ferrera's conversation with her friend (Karolina Wydra) was also like a deranged version of the conversation between Donna and Maddy in the season two première.

Last night's episode ended with a welcome second performance from Au Revoir Simone. This season of Twin Peaks may end up having one of the greatest soundtracks in the history of television.

setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-07-09 03:29 pm

Is It Really So Strange?

Let's just embrace synthesiser with lots of fuzz, let's not call it an 80s nostalgia thing, let's just have it because it's good. That's one of my main thoughts after finishing the first season of Stranger Things yesterday, a show I found to be uneven but with some very good qualities.

Spoilers after the screenshot

It really put me in the mood to watch Gremlins and E.T., among other things. I wish it had hewed a little closer to 80s style, actually. The monster design felt a bit modern, particularly its sounds which seemed to basically be the same velociraptor noises that've been used again and again since the first Jurassic Park movie. The colour tinting and the lighting started to feel more and more 21st century as the show went on, maybe just because I was getting used to the things that were distinctly 80s.

The imdb pages point out lots of anachronisms in their "goofs" pages, some of which I spotted myself, like how none of the Star Wars toys are from the early 80s. But for a lot of these things it's important to keep in mind the limited time and money the creators of the show had. Doing a period NetFlix series is ambitious, in some ways moreso because it's a period a lot of viewers actually experienced so it's harder to get away with things. However, one of the final scenes of the series has the kids playing Dungeons and Dragons again and seems to directly make the point that people should learn to appreciate a story instead of being caught up in the details, which is something I agree with, as much as I enjoy details.

There were some problems with the show I really can't excuse, like its tendency to end dramatic scenes with a jump cut that doesn't explain what happened in the interim. This is done both for action sequences and scenes with important character development. I'm not sure how fast the monster is but there are several shots of the thing just about to grab Will (Noah Schnapp) or Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and we never find out how they evaded the thing when we see them later. Then there are scenes like the first time Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) uses her powers in front of the kids, causing a door to slam shut, and it cuts away without showing us what the boys said to her.

Other times, I felt like the Duffer Brothers and the other writers were intentionally invoking some of the problems typical in 80s kids adventure screenplays in order to show how, as children, we watched these movies and made these problems meaningful in our automatic childhood interpretations. One of the key aspects of the show is in how it divides up the characters--everyone's basically investigating the same thing but no-one's communicating. There are many times in 80s films where it really would be reasonable for the kids to talk to the cops or an adult of some kind but that of course would spoil the basic fun of the thing. Stranger Things takes this and uses it to say something about human nature, how people isolate themselves and divide into factions when it's unnecessary or even counterproductive.

The story of Eleven is an interesting blend of 80s story devices. She's both Lisa from Weird Science and she's E.T. She's the fish out of water female character that makes the young boys feel safe interacting with a girl for once, allowing particularly shy boys to advance towards sexual maturity, and she's the alien who is really just as important to the adult world as the child world, unlike Dungeons and Dragons which the kids are often told just feels important.

Among all the 80s American film references, I thought Eleven floating in a tank while Matthew Modine looked on seemed like it came from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gendo watching Rei in the LCL tank. Maybe it was really a reference to Luke Skywalker in a bacta tank but Elle's relationship with Modine's character was much more like Rei's relationship with Gendo, though the motives of Modine's character were never as fully developed. Anyway, I thought it was kind of funny, intentional or not, that Eleven looked kind of like Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket when she did her power glower. If only she'd called Modine "Joker".

I like that she's given more of her own story than the 80s fantasy girl tended to get. Her difficulty communicating makes the moments where she doesn't meet social expectations more effectively painful. One thing the makers of the show maybe didn't intend but I thought was interesting was the fact that Eleven and Will are never in the same dimension at the same time. Throughout the show I nursed a fantasy that Will and Eleven were alternate reality versions of each other. I felt pretty sure the show wasn't going that way but I liked thinking about the implications if it would. How would Mike (Finn Wolfhard) handle that? Holy shit, I just looked that name up, his last name is "Wolfhard"? And I thought "Wolf Blitzer" was over the top. Why didn't his parents just go all the way and call him "Dirk" or "Steel" or "Rage"?

Twitter Sonnet #1011

Immerse, eject, repeat the swimming song.
Engage, egregious box of rocket juke.
Elope, elliptic lily pad sarong.
Return, resplendent, thin, and diamond duke.
Eclipses climb to troubled times to wait.
Convening vapours rise and now collude.
A haunted council sets a guileless bait.
In moving woods the horses have accrued.
Awake, alight, in trees from eggs to roots.
Arise, afloat, suspicion's hollow ship.
Align, enlist, elicit arm to boots.
Asleep, assuage, uncertain word to lip.
An eyelid sky defends the tender beech.
A wounded rider's carried to a leech.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-07-08 03:59 pm

The Hulda and Industry

Last night I read "Fairy Tale of Wood Street", one of the best Caitlin R. Kiernan stories I've read, featured in the new Sirenia Digest. The story of two lovers who go to see a movie, it's very simple on the surface but tells something much bigger with a kind of magical restraint. There's a sweetness to the understated rapport between the two protagonists, the narrator and her girlfriend, Hana, that culminates in a wonderfully sensual sympathy between a supernatural creature and a human, or the delicate nature of learning to live a life where perceptions are inevitably uncertain. It's also a much better hulda story than Thale.

Yesterday I also listened to a 2011 Sixth Doctor Doctor Who audioplay called "Industrial Evolution", an entertaining sci-fi perspective on the Industrial Revolution, featuring an alien robot who hates machines. The story starts with the POV of Thomas Brewster (John Pickard), a recurring audio play character--a Victorian urchin--whom the Doctor (Colin Baker) has set up with a job in a brass mill in the 19th century. The story complicates the usual narrative of exploitative industrial tycoons and desperate labour forces by introducing a secret alien. Not one of the greatest audio plays, but perfectly serviceable, especially since it feature's Six's best companion, Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Stables).
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-07 05:55 pm

Be a Better Husband or a Better Wife in the Royal Navy

So you want a better life. Why not go to war? It'll very likely improve both you and your spouse, or at least that's the message in Alexander Korda's 1945 wartime propaganda film Perfect Strangers (Vacation from Marriage in the U.S.), a message all the more insidious for the fact that it's a pretty good movie with amazing performances from Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr.

The two basically play two roles each, and maybe a transitory third role. They start the movie off as a dull, miserable married couple, the Wilsons, Robert and Cathy. Robert is a meek, set in his ways bank employee, at one point contemptuously called an "old maid". Cathy is a stay at home wife who never wears makeup and seems to have a perpetual cold. Then Robert finds himself forced to join the navy and, while he's gone, Cathy joins the Wrens, the women's branch of the Royal Navy at the time.

Gradually, both are transformed and the actors carry it off brilliantly in their performances. Donat's body language becomes more relaxed and expansive--maybe going slightly too far later in the film when he's propped himself up against the fireplace while sitting.

Cathy, under the influence of her worldly new cohort, Dizzy (Glynis Johns), starts smoking and wearing makeup. Both separately start to think they could never go home to their stuffy spouses, each has as close to an extramarital affair as the censors would allow--Robert with a nurse who tells him about how her recently deceased husband went from being a boring clerk to an exciting world traveller whose memory she admires, Cathy with an intellectual in a scene Korda lifts almost wholesale from Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale.

When the Wilsons are rediscovering each other in the third act, both are surprised to find the other can now dance, prompting the reply from both, "One picks these things up." The message isn't terribly subtle--join the navy, get the sexual experience that will make you more appealing to the opposite sex. Yet I did find it charming and kind of insightful that both Robert and Cathy felt that they were suffering before because they thought the other needed them and it was this suffering that made each seem so helpless to the other. And Donat and Kerr sell it so well. Donat's best known roles were behind him at this point and this was near the start of Kerr's career so it's also an interesting overlap of two eras.

But I would rather the film had been about Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns having adventures. My favourite scene in the movie is just the two of them on an overcrowded train, taking turns resting their heads in each other's laps.

setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-06 03:55 pm

To All Ye Who Would Go to Sea

I do a lot of research for my comic. Sometimes I think I'd like to put together some annotations just to show how much of it I'm not making up but generally I'm too busy working on the comic itself. Most of my research focuses on seafaring in the 17th century and in particular the English Royal Navy and if you ever plan on writing anything dealing with that subject there's no book I can recommend more highly than The British Seaman by Christopher Lloyd (not the guy who played Judge Doom and Doc Brown). No other book has given me so much of exactly what I really need, which is the day to day experience of the average seaman and a real perspective on how England's institutions affected people on a personal level. It makes use of diaries and journals of seamen from the time which I've tracked down to read in their entirety. One thing that becomes quickly apparent is that it was a really miserable life. The British Seaman quotes from the journal of Edward Barlow, who was a seaman for most of his life in the late 17th century:

I was always thinking that beggars had a far better life of it and lived better than I did, for they seldom missed of their bellies full of better victuals than we could get; and also at night to lie quiet and out of danger in a good barn full of straw, nobody disturbing them, and might lie as long as they pleased; but it was quite contrary with us, for we seldom in a month got our bellyful of victuals, and that of such salt that beggars would think scorn to eat; and at night when we went to take our rest, we were not to lie still above four hours; and many times when it blew hard were not sure to lie one hour, yea, often we were called up before we had slept half an hour and forced to go into the maintop or foretop to take in our topsails, half awake and half asleep, with one shoe on and the other off, not having time to put it on; always sleeping in our clothes for readiness; and in stormy weather, when the ship rolled and tumbled, as though some great millstone were rolling up one hill and down another, we had much ado to hold ourselves fast by the small ropes from falling by the board; and being gotten up into the tops, there we must haul and pull to make fast the sail, seeing nothing but air above us and water beneath us, and that so raging as though every wave would make a grave for us; and many times in nights so dark that we could not see one another, and blowing so hard that we could not hear one another speak, being close to one another . . . There are no men under the sun that fare harder and get their living more hard and that are so abused on all sides as we poor seamen, without whom the land would soon be brought under subjection, for when once the naval forces are broken, England's best walls are down. And so I could wish no young man to betake himself to this calling unless he has good friends to put him in place or supply his wants, for he shall find a great deal more to his sorrow than I have writ.

My copy of The British Seaman is a 1968 edition and I've noticed the really useful books tend to be no newer than 1970. They're often very cheap, too, on Amazon, because they're from libraries trying to get rid of them. I wonder if this reflects diminishing interest in the details of how people lived. Another useful book I found is England's Sea Officers by Michael Lewis--I have a 1948 edition which seems to be the newest edition available. Though one of the interesting things about it is comparing its political sensibility to that of The British Seaman. It reminded me of when I wrote about the 1955 film The King's Thief and wondered at the lengths it went to craft a flattering fantasy version of King Charles II. I wonder if there was a greater desire before the 1960s to see royalty in a positive light. Take these two perspectives on the infamous Ship Money scheme under Charles I.

From England's Sea-Officers:

It was this Commission which was functioning when the great question of Ship-money came up, and, this time, we may find something good to say about poor King Charles. He insisted on the building of the fleet in spite of a rain of criticism and even obstruction from the Treasury-controlled Board of Admiralty; though, since there really was no money available in the middle of the "Eleven Years' Tyranny", the equipment of the ships was shocking, and the payment of the personnel almost non-existent.

From The British Seaman:

The first three-decker, the Prince Royal of 1610, and the first 100-gun three-masted ship, the Sovereign of the Seas of 1637, which was the prototype of all first-rate line of battle ships for the next two centuries, were perhaps the most beautiful ships ever built in this country, but their baroque ornamentation, their garlanded ports and elaborately carved sterns made them useless as weapons of war. The Sovereign of the Seas was the result of the levy of Ship Money. No doubt the aim of such a tax was sensible in so far as it sought to make the nation as a whole, and not merely the ports, responsible for the upkeep of a naval defence force, but the date and the manner in which it was imposed was extremely unwise. The reputation of the navy was at its lowest, its national importance at its least. Buckinghamshire squires might well be excused for knowing nothing about it and caring less.

Twitter Sonnet #1010

A nose reflected by a grin awoke.
A thousand speaking facial features pooled.
They say as yet the mouth alone has spoke.
But shapeless lumps of clay're never fooled.
From tiny parts of brocc'li trees it grows.
From traps designed to slide across the stage.
In shaking shapes they came in solemn rows.
The metal symbols ranged to guess their age.
The sound was like the word or air that sups.
A growing branch of Shallows groups the men.
At dawn the dizzy knight is in his cups.
Perspective sorts the day inside the inn.
The language made of shadow spilled a bean.
A passive shoot begins to grow unseen.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-05 06:12 pm

Empowering Star Wars Women with Babies and Clothes

When it was announced that George Lucas was selling Star Wars to Disney, I was optimistic. I liked the idea that Disney wanted to put out a lot more Star Wars film and television than Lucas tended to--I figured, sure, Disney would make mistakes but more material means more chances to learn from mistakes. But it's hard to imagine how some mistakes weren't easy to avoid, like the new Forces of Destiny animated shorts Disney has put on YouTube over the past few days.

Three episodes have been uploaded as I'm writing this--two starring Daisy Ridley as Rey and one starring Shelby Jones as Leia. Jones doesn't sound remotely like Carrie Fisher, which is to be expected, but it would have been nice if they'd at least found someone whose performance isn't as flat as stale root beer. Anyway, that's not the biggest problem in her two and a half minute short, called "Ewok Escape", which is set between scenes of Return of the Jedi. Keep in mind, Disney says this stuff is canon:

You would think if there was one thing Disney would be sure to get right it was animation. Why would they release something that looks like this? The animation quality is of a parody video and it looks even worse considering these shorts were obviously influenced by Gendy Tartakovsky's hand drawn, 2003 animated Clone Wars shorts. Tartakovsky's style is simple so maybe that's why Disney thought it could be easily replicated. But there's more too what Tartakovsky does than stylistic simplicity. In his Clone Wars shorts as in his Samurai Jack and Sym-Bionic Titan, Tartakovsky uses simple designs to emphasise action, easily setting up contrasts between layers of foreground, background, and character. Tartakovsky's a master at composing sequences of images to tell a story. Forces of Destiny just looks like someone was trying to cut costs.

Another difference is that Tartakovsky had the advantage of being focused on telling a story while Forces of Destiny seems to be first and foremost about branding. Each episode focuses on a female character, part of an initiative at Disney to focus more on women in the Star Wars universe, which I think is great except for the fact that there's little effort put into these beyond this idea. It makes me wonder if this is going to end up like the Marvel exec, Dave Gabriel, blaming their sales slump on the increased racial and gender diversity in their comics. When people are eventually turned off by the lazy shit Disney's trying to push, I can imagine someone similarly saying, "Well, I guess it must be the female characters."

And part of the bad writing here actually has to do with some conservative themes. The first two shorts featuring Rey are about how she's protecting her little BB from a monster who turns out to be friendly anyway. And there's no way I'm considering "Ewok Escape" canon.

You can sense the checklist of appropriate messaging that must have gone through making the entire story, beginning with establishing the Ewoks as an indigenous people the evil Empire is subjugating--which is a fine starting point for a story outline but, for gods' sakes, you really want to do this with the infamous talking teddy bears? Then we have to establish the Ewoks as smart so we're given another of their goofy gags, a rope trip that actually makes the Ewok slapstick in the film look reasonable--and then we need to explain to the audience that Leia's costume change was totally consensual. The episode ends with one of the most weirdly flat footed scenes I've seen in anything. The Ewoks give her a dress, she likes it, she puts it on, and she thanks them. Nevermind the dress is actually kind of plain. But this was apparently so crucial that the story establishes Wicket can translate Basic for the other Ewoks, calling into question what the point was of having 3PO translate later on. Things might've been improved a little bit if the episode ended with the card, ". . . and then Leia watched them devour the stormtroopers."

Fuck, Disney, make an effort.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-07-04 05:50 pm

The Old Moral Compass

Two outlaws, two men of the west, are best friends until one of them switches sides to work for the law. Now one hunts the other. This could describe several Sam Peckinpah films but to-day I'm talking about 1969's The Wild Bunch, a decent Western that wrestles with the difference between following a personal moral code and adhering to social and legal expectations. I like Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid better--it's basically the same story but with a better soundtrack.

The frenemies in The Wild Bunch are Pike and Deke, played by William Holden and Robert Ryan, respectively. I like both actors though I felt Ryan came off a little better and I would have preferred more focus on his personal struggle in pursuing his friend in his new role as a legal killer. But then I guess that would basically be Ride the High Country, which I do like better. Holden is fine in this but Ryan seems more focused somehow.

Mostly I don't find the film very interesting visually. I liked the look of two scenes--one where the criminal gang visits a Mexican village, the home town of one of the gang members, Angel (Jaime Sanchez), because I liked the persistent, really vibrant green foliage in the background as a contrast to the grey and brown foreground stuff.

Angel draws the group into the main contextual conflict, you might call it, being the Mexican Revolution. Angel is a straight forward heroic character, hoping to save his people from the tyranny of Mapache, a general in the Federal Army who, like a typical dictator, divides most of the time between trying to make himself look like a big shot and partying.

This adds fuel to the fire of the movie's argument about the illegitimacy of traditional government figures compared to the moral authority of tough individuals. The other visual I liked in the film is when Pike's gang meets with some of Pancho Villa's forces who take a case of the guns the group stole from a U.S. train. Why Villa's troops don't simply take all the guns, I don't know.

I guess what impressed me most about the film was the stunt work. People do some really dangerous looking things in this movie--in one early bank robbery scene, I don't know how one person avoided getting trampled by a horse. I wouldn't be surprised to learn there were injuries on the set. I have a bad feeling horses may have been hurt during the making of this movie.

All the women in the film, none of whom becomes a full fledged character, are either completely docile or completely treacherous. I guess moral complexity is left to the menfolk. A scene where the group visits some prostitutes at the end cuts between a bizarre encounter between Pike and a prostitute who kind of blankly stares at him while she does her hair and two other gang members trying to get out of paying another prostitute.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-07-03 06:10 pm

Names and Guns in a Void

An experienced, world weary bounty hunter, a dumb kid, a ruthless, beautiful woman, and a killer ride together out to the desert, and for the most part their motives are unclear. 1966's The Shooting clearly has answers to its mysteries and a careful viewing of the film after something is revealed in the climax show its makers knew these answers all along. At the same time, the film is far less concerned with answers than in presenting its characters divested of things that might help the audience sort them, that might give the audience an excuse to stop studying them. So the movie because a well shot, atmospheric contemplation of killing, love, loyalty, men and women, and how these things are translated into archetypes.

Willett Gashade (Warren Oates) rides into a little mining camp on a horse and with a pack mule. His gun holster is empty, something never explained. He finds the grave of his friend and his other friend, a young man named Coley (Will Hutchins), scared out of his wits. A gunshot from nowhere had killed their mutual friend and now Coley doesn't know what do with himself and is liable to panic and shoot someone. Willett does what he does most of the film--he assumes moral authority, confiscating Coley's gun and telling Coley he'll be depending on Willett from now on.

Willett certainly seems the one most worthy of being trusted with authority--though, when I say "seems" that's going to make you immediately wonder if it's true. It may or might not be but Willett clearly cares more about the horses who become exhausted than the unnamed woman (Millie Perkins) who hires Willett to take her to a place called Kingsley. She doesn't seem to care about horses or people very much, irritably dismissing any suggestion Willett makes that might slow them down, and it's not long before Willett concludes she's looking to kill someone.

But despite seeming like she very much wants to handle this killing herself, she's employed a hired gun named Billy Spear (Jack Nicholson) who, despite coming off like he has the world in the palm of his hand, clearly knows little more about the situation than Willett.

"The Woman", as she's credited, doesn't look remotely like she belongs in the 19th century, her hair, clothing, and makeup placing her in a 1960s fantasy version of the west, which is appropriate as this film feels like it's about an interpretation of legends. One could look at her as representing womankind and her presence in the world of mythologised masculinity an inherent disruption. There's a world where everything was understood and had rules--Billy and Willett clearly don't like each other but each clearly knows what to expect from the other. Willett continually warns Coley against falling in love with the Woman. The language Willett uses to talk Coley out of it involves dismissing the value and meaning of physical beauty and the perils of womankind in general. One could read this as his misogyny but the Woman and Billy clearly are dangerous and Coley may well be better off keeping clear of them. The film avoids declaring Coley's innocence or Willett's pessimism the correct response to the situation.

The Woman's insistence on riding the horses to death and her unwavering fixation on her goal manifest in an irritability that doesn't quite make sense for most of the film and reads like the typical, misogynist constructions in 1960s films, like the nagging wives of cop films, but the end of the film also destabilises that presumption.

But the differences between Willett and the Woman can be seen in another way. Most of Willett's concerns are practical--he wants to make sure they have provisions and the Woman seems foolish when she pushes her supplies off her exhausted horse even though Willett tells her it won't keep the horse going any longer, it'll just mean she doesn't have food. But is she being foolish, or has she just found something more important than living? Is such a goal foolish? And why is Willett still going along on this quest?

Every role is well cast. Warren Oates as Willett exudes weary western wisdom, Jack Nicholson of course easily pulls off ornery psychopath, Will Hutchins seems green as hell, and Millie Perkins always keeps her performance somewhere between villainous and steely. The desert looks pale and sterile, the horses look believably ragged.

Twitter Sonnet #1009

A chiselled stone remits the island drink.
In turns the glass and cup composed the ale.
On sliding scales do ship opinions sink.
A tiny frigate took the little pail.
A galaxy traversed the Windex stream.
The smell of cleaner mirrors pooled the eye.
Across the queuing statues mages dream.
In pipes of blasters fans began to sigh.
In foil bones a candy marrow rests.
Abandoned brains ascribe the sweets to Earth.
A changeling walks through sundry forest tests.
In garlic braids the kettle measures worth.
A coat turned out invests its silk in dirt.
An extra vein beneath the sod could hurt.