setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-09-19 07:37 pm

The Former Worst Ghostbusters Movie

Is Ghostbusters 2 really so bad? Well, yes, it has some big, crucial flaws which a few virtues can't make up for. But there are a few virtues. I've certainly seen worse. Like, the 2016 reboot, for example.

Like the Star Wars prequels, Ghostbusters 2 has become a byword for bad followups for popular franchises. The Star Wars prequels, in my opinion, don't quite warrant the casual rancour they get but in any case they're certainly more complex than people give them credit for. Ghostbusters 2, as many, notably Roger Ebert, complained at the time was like a rough draft of the first film, a far less satisfyingly complex version, in other words. The broad outline is there--Dana (Signourney Weaver) is a normal woman whose encounter with the supernatural forces her to bring the vexing and eccentric Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) into her life. The Ghostbusters struggle at first to be seen as legitimate, they're threatened by a vindictive government functionary before the mayor (David Margulies) grudgingly admits these clowns are the only ones who can save the city and they become improbable, everyman heroes right in front of a massive, cheering crowd.

The necessity of rebooting the relationship between Peter and Dana creates a lot of problems directly tied in to one of the biggest flaws in the film, Bill Murray's performance. In the first film, he has his cheap little tricks and jokes, but you could also see why Dana was eventually charmed by him. In Ghostbusters 2, he just comes off as a pushy creep. His saying to her baby that he might have been his father ought to be sort of sweet and sad but it just seems presumptuous and obnoxious. He's filled with nervous energy throughout the sequel whereas in the original his charm was his ability to remain calm with maybe a simmering anger. But what's worse is that his anxiety in Ghostbusters 2 seems to have nothing to do with ghosts or Dana but seems oddly hostile to everything. Like he didn't want to be in the movie.

Egon (Harold Ramis) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), though, actually come off generally well. The film lacks the sense of real guys struggling that the first part of the original film benefited from but I love the idea of Ray having an occult bookshop. And Egon's experiment with the couple in marriage counselling is genuinely funny.

I was a big Ghostbusters fan as a kid--I was ten when Ghostbusters 2 came out and by then I was already close to having worn out a VHS copy of the first film and avidly watched the cartoon series. I don't know if it's like this for all kids, but oddly I didn't think about whether one film was better than the other, I was just happy that there was more. In a sense, kids are easy to please, but despite the fact that the second film is more kid friendly than the first, no VHS copy of it was ever in danger of getting worn out. Why is it, when I had no idea what they were talking about when Ray took out a second mortgage on his childhood home or even really understood what was happening when they were getting kicked out of college I still enjoyed the first film more? Maybe it's because when you're a kid you're used to not understanding the things adults do but still sense an underlying logic so the sense of authenticity was more satisfying even then.

Certainly watching the second film as an adult has provided me with insights I never had as a child, like the mood slime that unfortunately takes up so much of the plot. I can't be the only one who raised eyebrows when, shortly after Venkman speculates on whether the Statue of Liberty is naked under the robe, the guys get inside her and immediately begin spraying love goo from some very phallic guns. Some might be tempted to see this as a metaphorical rape but I see no reason not to see it as consensual--I mean, there's no reason that would make less sense. I don't know if Ramis and Aykroyd were thinking of symbolism when they wrote the screenplay but I actually found the concept peculiarly resonant--because of the thoughtless every day behaviour of American citizens, a destructive natural force has gradually gained power and now threatens their destruction. The Ghostbusters wondering if the city can actually consciously reverse course on environmentally harmful, habitual behaviour surprisingly had me thinking of the reaction to climate change. Suddenly the mood slime didn't seem so silly. How symbolic sex with the Statue of Liberty fits into it I couldn't exactly say . . . and yet I think one could tease out a meaning. Like human behaviour in positive harmony with nature (consensual sex as a representation for a love of liberty) versus human behaviour as a selfish, destructive influence (climate change).

I remember really finding Vigo fearsome as a kid. Now I still think Max von Sydow as his voice is pretty impressive. Peter MacNicol as a foreign man from no distinguishable country is funny as a sort of harbinger of Tommy Wiseau.

I really like the scene on the abandoned subway tracks, Winston's (Ernie Hudson) only real moment to shine, first when a demonic voice speaks his name in the darkness, then when he's struck by a ghost train. The severed heads that appear briefly around the group feels more Evil Dead than Ghostbusters but it works, especially in contrast to the softball subway scenes in the new film. I liked the weirdness of the Titanic coming to dock and Janosz flying in as a demon nursemaid seemed like kind of a nice homage to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

Aside from Bill Murray and the less adult storytelling, I'd say the biggest flaw is the score. Elmer Bernstein's score for the first film is something I associate even more with it than Ray Parker's familiar theme. The Randy Edelman score from the second film just feels like a cheap imitation and it's distracting.

Twitter Sonnet #1035

A night in steady pulses waits again.
In bronze balloons were cast to dream of work.
A shifting eye's behind the system's spin.
And yet the green and drifting spirits lurk.
In to the seat descends a walking lamp.
Beneath the cushions coins're coarse to take.
Above the bait the fish have built a ramp.
But fins refuse to step or scales to bake.
On tongues and tips, retried the trees demurred.
And soft, the step of glancing wisp to pass.
In brighter lights the aether last inured.
As armless birches sway in candid grass.
Misplaced the squash's found asleep inside.
In catered stories roles and hills reside.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-18 04:12 pm

The Continuing Flight of the Orville

Many people seem to feel that the second episode of The Orville, "Command Performance", which aired last night, is an improvement over the first episode and in some ways I agree. It had the first moment that really made me laugh thanks to a cameo by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor as Ed's parents. The scene takes the fractious relationship between Deanna Troi and her mother and pushes it to the higher comedic pitch Orville allows by having them discuss Ed's colon over the main viewer. Yet even this scene doesn't sabotage the reality of the story as a similar moment in a parody might--I believe Ed might have parents who embarrass him this much. And this represents what might be really interesting about the show if it can get through some growing pains, though I might settle for it becoming more of a straight forward space opera--that stuff tends to land more on the show than the comedy stuff does.

I think one of the reasons this episode represents an improvement is actually the directing--surprising given the first episode was directed by Jon Favreau. Robert Duncan McNeill, who played Tom Paris on Star Trek Voyager and who directed several episodes of that series, brings even more of a Star Trek feel to The Orville. The beats at the beginning especially, with an establishing shot of the ship followed by a low momentum scene in Ed's office felt exactly like the beginning of so many Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Next Generation episodes. This episode was again written by Seth MacFarlane and it made me even more eager to see how the show might be with a teleplay by a Star Trek writer.

"Command Performance" combines two relatively familiar plots--humans getting caught in an alien zoo and someone taking command for the first time--you could cite TOS's "The Menagerie" and Data's subplot in TNG's "Redemption" along with many other examples. In this case, the human zoo plot is used to put Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) in a locked room together to hash out some of their relationship issues. It was a nice scene, it helped Kelly feel like more of a character, especially thanks to a nice, open, conversational performance from Palicki, and it really gave a sense of the two of them having had a relationship. The story about the opera and Ed being so high he believed he would be paralysed if he sat still too long was funny in a fairly authentic way.

The other plot centres on the ship's security chief, Alara (Halston Sage), who has to take command in the absence of Ed and Kelly because the normal third in line, Bortus (Peter Macon), has laid an egg and must sit on it for twenty one days, an idea which sounds like it'll be explored more in the third episode. I liked Alara's plot, especially the scene where she rushes down to the shuttle bay after an accident that's ripped an impressive hole in the deck. I found myself really caught up in her anxiety about responsibility and there's also a nice conversation between her and Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) about the burden of command.

Maybe this means I'm getting old but I wish Alara was played by an older actress. I think in the first episode it's established that Alara's species matures faster but I would have liked to have seen some evidence of this in the episode. Her taking the tequila shots from the replicators was a nice bit of humanising but it would have been nice if she'd had a moment where she really showed there was an older mind inside that body. I think there've been some complaints about a young actress being in this role purely for sex appeal. I don't have anything against sex appeal myself, even if it stretches credibility--it is fantasy, after all. But it would have been nice if I could buy into her character a little more. On the other hand, maybe I'm thinking of this as too much like Star Trek--this isn't the flagship so maybe a really young security officer isn't far fetched at all. Halston Sage does a decent job in the role--I found her halting delivery a little distracting but I think she's doing it to sound alien.

Less impressive is Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Finn. Jerald is actually a Star Trek veteran--she played Cassidy Yates on Deep Space Nine, but unfortunately I'm only reminded of how boring I thought that character was, largely because of Jerald's lacklustre performance. But I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me. I liked her reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi, I only wish the name had slid off her tongue a little more naturally. I'm still looking forward to the next episode.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-17 04:03 pm

The Man in American Space

Vast American spaces and Harry Dean Stanton star in Wim Wenders' 1984 film Paris, Texas, a lovely, easy-going, melancholy film about dislocated family. Wenders' beautiful compositions benefit from a brilliant performance from Stanton.

He walks out of the desert at the beginning of the film in a dusty suit and an incongruous red baseball cap. He seems incapable of speech and can't give a name to the man who finds him--it's as though he somehow materialised out in the wilderness. Stanton's ability as a performer is crucial as he manages to convey so much silently with his extraordinarily expressive face.

Eventually his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), finds him and we learn his name is Travis. They travel back to Los Angeles where Walt lives with his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), and Travis' seven year old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Walt and Anne have an impossibly nice home on a hill overlooking the city so Wenders can continue his beautiful compositions of vast American spaces.

Hunter considers Walt and Anne his parents now--Travis has been missing for four years--but it doesn't take him long to adjust to the idea that he has two dads and eventually he wants to run off with Travis to seek out the also vanished Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis' wife and Hunter's mother.

Hunter must be one of the most amiable kids I've ever seen in a movie. He doesn't seem very anxious and never wants to argue. In one sense this is a much more down to Earth (literally and figuratively) story than Wings of Desire and at the same time there's also something abstract about it. Travis, Hunter, and Jane feel like lost archetypes; the independent American man, his hot young wife, and their obedient kid, but the two adults have found themselves all too human and messy to force that dream on the big American landscape. Stanton and Kinski both imbue their characters with much more raw human frailty than the characters' conceptions can take. This is developed when we finally learn about the circumstances under which they parted and we hear it told like spoken prose. Travis tells the tale like it's about some other, hypothetical couple, turning their failed attempt to live out a story back into a story. But it's to show how broken a thing it is.

And Jane has gotten a job where she appears in little erotic tableaus, performing fantasies of cafes and clinics for customers who watch unseen behind a mirror. It's hard not to think of Harry Dean Stanton's everyman looks and Kinski's glamorous beauty as representing the relationship between the average American and the dreams represented in film and television, so one is compelled to read the dysfunction between the two as a commentary on a larger disconnect between fantasy and reality. But the film doesn't reduce Jane to a puppet--Kinski's performance is amazing as she delivers a dialogue about her point of view and her own troubled relationship with the dream.

But it's Stanton's performance that anchors the film. He appears in almost every scene and he creates that magical intersection between the otherworldly and the absolutely grounded.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-09-16 05:23 pm

Metal Monsters Play More than Chess

The Eighth Doctor finally returned to the monthly Big Finish audio play range in late 2011 and he brought Mary Shelley with him. The Silver Turk picks up after The Company of Friends, a 2009 audio play which ended with the Doctor (Paul McGann) dashing off to adventure with the famous author of Frankenstein as his latest companion. The Silver Turk is filled with basic problems about setting and character but writer Marc Platt comes up with some interesting ways of having Mary Shelley (Julie Cox) react to the Cybermen, who are, after all, descendants of her creation.

Intending only to travel through space and not time the first trip, the Doctor accidentally takes Mary more than half a century into the future to 1873 Vienna, something neither of them somehow realise until Mary reads a newspaper at a cafe, despite the fact that fashions changed pretty drastically, as one might expect, in those years. There's a series of mysterious murders where people have their eyes gauged out and meanwhile a miraculous "Silver Turk" is being presented, apparently similar to the famous Turk from the eighteenth century but able to play piano and various games in addition to chess.

It's fun hearing Mary arguing with the Doctor about the motives of the Cybermen--she's much more willing to see their point of view than he is though I'm not convinced the real Mary Shelley would have been. The Doctor only late in the story realises that if Mary Shelley dies then Frankenstein not being published might cause a significant disruption in the timeline, something I suppose we should really blame the previous writer for, not Marc Platt, but it's an awkward moment. I would have preferred an explanation for why the Doctor might not be worried at all. The two have a nice chemistry and it could develop into something better but it so far can't hold a candle to Eight and Charley.

The story introduces a new theme for the Eighth Doctor. It rocks. The television theme would do well to emulate it.

Twitter Sonnet #1034

A boxing glove dissolved in shadow leaves.
The scattered light disrupts the polka dots.
Attacking orange contrasts with crimson sleeves.
Arriving late detectives ink for blots.
The frozen fish moved yet too quick at sea.
A weightless glam to fry in silver sun.
The verdant, shim'ring scales are chilled to lee.
And yet too hot the skin reflected none.
The prison rogues and bandits weighed the cost.
The hanger drew a cat to distant stars.
Across a state a mem'ry wanders lost.
The trout provides a home for desp'rate cars.
The drifting atoms dry and gather to a band.
A long and sinking sun has warmed the land.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)
2017-09-15 02:17 pm

With Such Mermaids in It

It's a cool woman indeed who keeps her poise when her husband brings a mermaid home. Googie Withers manages to carry it off when her husband carries home the beautiful Glynis Johns in 1948's Miranda, a charming comedy that uses a mermaid as a metaphor for the foolish roving eyes of new and soon to be husbands.

A doctor named Paul (Griffith Jones) goes to Cornwall on vacation without his wife, Clare (Withers), and is promptly captured by a mermaid named Miranda (Johns).

She plans on holding him captive in her underwater cave forever until she's taken by the idea of spending some time among humans disguised as a woman paralysed below the waist, one of Paul's patients. She's worried she'll suffer the same fate as her aunt Augusta, who was pickled and exhibited in a sideshow, so she compels Paul to keep her identity a secret from everyone, including his wife.

But when Paul brings a beautiful young woman into the home, who seems delighted to be carried around by men whom she doesn't hesitate to call "beautiful" and shower with other compliments, Clare seems more bemused than angry and she chats knowingly with her best friend, Isobel (Sonia Holm), about Paul's likely ulterior motives.

But Isobel and the servant, Betty (Yvonne Owen), are less amused when both their fiancés--an artist named Nigel (John McCallum) and a butler named Charles (David Tomlinson)--become infatuated with her.

Tomlinson's character might have been comforted to know he and Johns would play husband and wife sixteen years later in Mary Poppins.

The only woman who really likes Miranda is the only woman who knows she's a mermaid--the nurse Paul brings in to care for her played by Margaret Rutherford.

Paul had described Nurse Carey as an eccentric and had apparently decided not to employ her anymore but somehow thinks she's perfect for this job--explained when, upon seeing Miranda naked in the bath, Carey exclaims happily that she's always believed in mermaids.

1948 was a good year for mermaid movies--Miranda was released in Britain the same year Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was released in the U.S. While Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a gentle forerunner of Lolita, lampooning how ridiculous the reality can be when a much older man tries to live out his fantasies with a real young woman, Miranda is more about anthropomorphising those fantasies. Miranda is truly not human, her selfless ease with being a companion to all men, her constant even temper, and her complete inability to fulfil anyone's sexual needs make her very much like a breathing pin-up poster or, to put it in grander terms, like a muse. Indeed, given how much delight Nurse Carey takes in her the latter term might be more appropriate. But just like a pin-up, as much as she freely gives to men she's not troubled at all by her inability to fulfil their ultimate desires. And just like a pin-up, the men look extremely foolish when they want to leave their girlfriends and wives for her.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-09-14 06:03 pm

Carried Along the Gutter

In spite of everything, life carries on, a fact that's both wonderful and horrible in 1937's Humanity and Paper Balloons (人情紙風船), the final film of Sadao Yamanaka--Yamanaka died of dysentery at the age of 28 the following year while serving in World War II. Set in 18th century Japan, it's an ensemble film depicting the lives of various people in a slum community, effectively using comedy and naturalistic character development to show how these people have been conditioned to see one another as disposable.

The film opens on a morning when the community are slowly discovering that an impoverished samurai who lived among them has committed suicide the night before. We overhear some of the gossip that starts to go around about it, and we gather that the samurai was forced to hang himself rather than commit hara-kiri because he'd long ago sold all his blades. Led by a barber named Shinza (Kanemon Nakamura) people in the neighbourhood take the samurai's death as an excuse to throw a party.

The landlord reacts in shock to the atmosphere that's more like celebration than a wake though one suspects he's more worried about property damage.

The film introduces and develops several characters, including an amusing blind man who knows exactly who stole his silver pipe at the party and is just waiting to take it back until after the thief gets the flue fixed.

But mainly the film focuses on Shinza and another down on his luck ronin samurai in the community, Unno (Chojuro Kawarazaki). Unlike his neighbours, Unno and his wife clearly feel the disgrace of their living situation and every day Unno tries to speak to the local lord, Mouri, whose position, Unno believes, was achieved only by the aid of Unno's father. So Unno constantly tries to present a letter from his father to Mouri, hoping to be taken into Mouri's service, but guards at the gate of Mouri's manor invariably turn Unno away and Mouri constantly puts Unno off whenever they meet in the street.

Through all this, Unno acts as though propriety demands he never directly acknowledge that Mouri clearly has no intention of ever employing him. Despite always being turned away at the manor gate, Unno always humbly submits when Mouri tells him he can't talk now when they meet in the street and that Unno should come to the manor the next day. But Unno's despair gradually starts to show through his facade, and he starts to drink more, despite promising his wife he wouldn't.

Mouri is trying to arrange a marriage for a wealthy pawnbroker's petulant, sheltered daughter. Shinza, who's being bullied by the local gangsters allied with the pawnbroker, comes across the daughter alone taking shelter under a temple arch one rainy day.

The movie doesn't take any of the typical routes for a melodrama you might expect from here and we see Shinza and Unno have motives that the language of those melodramas couldn't understand. When Shinza kidnaps the girl, enlisting Unno's aid, it doesn't even seem like he wants money. He certainly has no interest in assaulting her. His and Unno's demands seem entirely based on humiliating the more privileged class, and after this neither of them seems especially concerned about dying. It's an eloquent final statement on the lives they've been forced to lead up to that point.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-13 03:42 pm

That New Science Fiction Series You're Supposed to Hate

I've been kind of fascinated by the extreme gulf between critical and audience reaction to The Orville, the new Sci-Fi adventure comedy that premièred on Sunday. Rotten Tomatoes currently says the show's scored 22% positive in critical reviews but the audience score is 90%. It's not just on Rotten Tomatoes I see this divide--nearly every online review I've read is negative, some downright vitriolic, while in the comments section I see mostly people puzzled and somewhat taken aback by all the negative reviews. The general consensus among the comments I've looked at seems to be that while the pilot episode is flawed the show's not bad at all and has a lot of potential. This is basically my feeling after having watched it.

At Comic Con this year, I was already hearing a lot of jabs at Orville on panels, more than one person calling it a rip-off of Galaxy Quest, which it certainly isn't. The film Galaxy Quest is a spoof centred on the actors on a Star Trek style show while Orville is clearly not a parody at all but an earnest attempt to create a space opera with heavy homages to Star Trek but with a more comedic tone. This might have been close to the Galaxy Quest series that has been in development for a long time but at best I'd say it's two shows in the same genre. If you're angry at Orville for being too much like Galaxy Quest you might as well swear off Deep Space Nine for being too much like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica for being too much like Space Battleship Yamato.

The pilot of the Orville is directed by Jon Favreau and shots of the ship in dock and leaving it are nicely done, clearly loving homages to shots of the Enterprise leaving dock in the first two Star Trek films and I really, really love the idea of wanting to create that sense of awe at the sight of a starship again. Seth MacFarlane in the lead role as Captain Mercer and Scott Grimes as helmsman Gordon Malloy in the approaching shuttle craft have comedic dialogue about drinking too much the night before; it's silly but it functions within the reality of the show. I found this moment, like many others in the episode, not laugh out loud funny but amusing and in its way it enhances the coolness of the space stuff by the contrast.

One of the things that makes the show different from Star Trek and many other space operas is that the Orville and its crew are by no means top of the line. It's not the flagship, it's not an awesome prototype, it's just a nice ship. The helmsman and the navigator, John LaMarr (J. Lee), take the usual buddy dynamic seen between LeForge and Data or O'Brian and Bashir and dial it to something more low brow, though Malloy is supposed to be a great pilot and one of the surprisingly effective parts of the climax is that his "Hugging the Donkey" manoeuvre is actually pretty cool and you can see how it might be genuinely effective and difficult to pull off. These two guys might just be exceptionally regular but I also like the idea of there being some real assholes among the crew--which was sort of Alexander Siddig's initial idea for playing Bashir; you can see he's intentionally playing unlikeable in the DS9 pilot. Even Jayne on Firefly ended up having a heart, though. It would be nice to see one of these shows sustain a real jerk but I don't think MacFarlane intends to go that route.

I think one of the reasons critics hate him so much is the ironic humour on Family Guy has gone so stale. I kind of suspect MacFarlane's sick of it too. What I took away from watching Ted is similar to what I picked up on from Orville--MacFarlane, at heart, has a real, sincere love for the old formulas in sitcoms and dramas. So there's nothing really ironic about him throwing Ed and his ex-wife, Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), together as captain and first officer. He wants a chemistry like the leads on Cheers or Who's the Boss much as he wants to invoke the milieu of Star Trek--not to roast it but to truly keep this kind of storytelling alive. I'm never been a fan of sitcoms like that but I find something endearing about MacFarlane's sincerity, especially since he gets so much shit for it.

That said, I would like Kelly to be developed more. Her motivations in the pilot are entirely based on Ed and I would like to hear more about her motivations that have nothing to do with him. Why did she join the fleet? Did she also dream about being an officer on a ship since she was a kid? The show has several Star Trek directors slated to direct episodes, including Jonathan Frakes, I hope it brings in some Star Trek writers, too.

I do like MacFarlane in the lead. There is something Shatnerian in his unabashed hamminess though he doesn't project authority as much as Shatner does. But I can see as much potential in that being a distinction for the show as a drawback. Time will tell.

Twitter Sonnet #1033

A cup emerged between the lily pads.
A draught impressed in steaming rooms at night.
The other side survived on higher rads.
The blue of sea contained the vessel tight.
Too many veg'tables are on the moon.
A secret book confirmed a fever dream.
In smi'ling Play-Doh men you'll find the boon.
The fitting shapes of blocks aren't all they seem.
In transit apes are caught inside the wall.
Prepared in sight the pudding fell to plague.
The walking voice proceeded down the hall.
The agent's shining limbs are somewhat vague.
The dice replaced a drink within the cup.
The birds of fortune turning home to sup.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-09-12 12:42 pm

The Geisha and the Finances

The moral demands of youth may be untenably expensive, as seen in Mikio Naruse's 1933 silent film Apart from You (君と別れて) about the son of a geisha who's ashamed of his mother's profession. The film is halfway between a melodrama characteristic of the silent era and one of the more complicated stories of financial desperation typical of Naruse's later films. Beautiful compositions and good performances come together for a nice story about tragic circumstances that are painful and, above all, expensive.

Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) is a geisha, introduced in a pleasant scene of well executed silent comedy as she and her coworkers laugh at their madam who accidentally puts her pipe in her mouth backwards.

Kikue's best friend and confidant is Terugiku, played by the stunning Sumiko Mizukubo who turned 100 last year. Kikue asks her friend to help her pluck a grey hair from her head.

The tone of this casual and friendly scene shifts through an ingenious sequence of cuts between title cards, first to a closeup showing Kikue placing the grey hair among several other strands on a peg on her mirror.

Then to a close profile shot of Kikue from the opposite side of the scene's establishing shots after a card quotes her as noting that she's getting old now.

Kikue's worried about her teenage son, Yoshio (Akio Isono). Yoshio's embarrassed by his mother's profession and runs with a street gang, carrying a knife at all times. Kikue is deeply troubled when a messenger inadvertently reveals to her that Yoshio hasn't shown up at school in some time. Kikue later begs Terugiku to talk to Yoshio and make him understand that Kikue has to do what she does for a living to support him and herself.

The sentiments in the film are pretty close to many American films of the time like Blonde Venus or The Sin of Madelon Claudet that play upon a tension between venerated motherhood and the taboo of sexually free women. Naruse distinguishes his film mainly through his characteristic mindfulness of the financial reality behind the pathos. Terugiku's plan to make Yoshio see reason involves simply taking him to visit her home where her parents and siblings all live in poverty and are completely dependant on her.

A romance begins to develop between Terugiku and Yoshio, making him seem more like an obnoxious hypocrite and Terugiku as more saintly, emphasised by her calm and extreme beauty in close-ups. Naruse's later films would make his many female protagonists more complex but his silent films are certainly outstanding.

setsuled: (Louise Smirk)
2017-09-11 05:44 pm

The Many Ways to Fear a Cat

A massive, run down Italian manor serves as a setting for strange murderous games in 1972's cumbersomely titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave). The second giallo film I've seen based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat", it has a lot more elements of the original story than 1981's The Black Cat but it still fails to capture the essence of the story, which is its fascinating psychological portrait of one man's escalating perversion. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key contrives far more commonplace motives for its killer and keeps that character's identity secret for most of the film so the focus is more on a pulpy sex plot than on an examination of cruelty. That said, the pulpy sex plot is pretty fun.

The not especially well off man and wife in the original story are replaced by a jaded, wealthy writer and his strange, nervous wife. We meet them in the midst of one of their many extravagant, hedonistic bashes where half the party-goers are getting naked and the other half are singing.

The cat belongs to the writer, Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), and his wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg), detests the animal. She stabs out its eye one day when she catches it in her dove coop, which essentially means the roles from the original story have been gender swapped. The cat's name, rivalling the film's title for subtlety, is Satan.

But the murderer's identity isn't revealed until later in the film--when it is revealed, it doesn't quite add up with what's been established earlier in the film and feels very much like it was a decision made late in filming.

The highlight of the film is the beautiful Edwige Fenech as Oliviero's niece, Floriana, who comes to stay with the couple after their maid has been murdered. The cool and happily amoral Floriana, who doesn't remotely resemble anyone in Poe's story, is soon having sex, separately, with Oliviero, Irina, and a delivery man.

She seduces Oliviero after catching him sneaking into her room--she's already prepared, wearing his mother's dress under the covers, an over the top 16th century costume--Oliviero's mother was an actress who is frequently compared in dialogue to Mary Stuart for some reason.

It's hard to say exactly what game Floriana's playing but there's definitely some method in her debauchery along with a fetching twinkle in her eye.

Floriana seems to be allied more with Irina, who is verbally and physically abused by Oliviero, but ultimately she's more interested in sexual pleasure and jewellery. The movie errs in not having more of Floriana, spending more focus on Irina, though Strindberg's hard, cat-like face and anxious performance are fascinating to watch.

setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-10 05:15 pm

Listening to the Sounds

Two new Twin Peaks soundtracks came out on Friday, one featuring mainly instrumentals and the other focusing on songs with vocals, mostly songs that were performed in the memorable Roadhouse scenes often featured at the ends of episodes. I didn't need to see many episodes to know that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to have one the most amazing soundtracks on TV in decades. I've listened to the original Twin Peaks soundtracks many times over the past twenty five years so I was predisposed to like new work from Angelo Badalamenti but, as many remarked, there was surprisingly little new music to be heard from Badalamenti on the new series. Given how many of the stars of the show are dead or retired I wonder if Badalementi is okay. I see, before Twin Peaks: The Return, he hadn't composed a score since 2015 and that had been two years from his previous score. On the other hand, David Lynch himself has gotten more and more active in composing his own music for his projects. I guess he can add that credit to directing, sound design, acting, and set design.

I was surprised the score actually included the David Lynch remix of Muddy Magnolias' "American Woman". It sounded on the show like all Lynch did was slow the song down. If you're wondering what the original sounds like, you can hear it here. It does turn out Lynch's remix is a bit more than a slowed down version, I can hear some guitar, among other things, laid over it. But it's amazing how something as simple as slowing it down so profoundly changed it. The original song isn't so bad, it's a sort of pep talk song, for the listener to derive some motivation. It was featured on the soundtrack to the infamous 2016 Ghostbusters reboot and I wonder if that's where David Lynch heard it. His remix is certainly scarier than anything in that movie.

Mainly what his remix does, I would say, is to change the point of view of the song. These are the first part of the lyrics:

Bring the bacon and I'll put it in the pan
Got my own, baby, life is grand
Every move I make is just a part of my plan
And I do it just because you said I can't

Do I look like
The step-and-fetch type?
I'm a whole lotta grown-ass American woman
Do I look like
The walk-all-over-me type?
I'm a whole lotta strong-ass American woman

I know my worth and who I am
Mister if you're hard up, I can spare a few grand
Hell will freeze over and I'll be damned
'Fore I take orders from any ol' man

This is about as much as you get to hear on the show, maybe a little more, and it's difficult to make out the words in the slowed down version. Lynch has taken a song with a fierce, rallying quality and made it alien. The singer is a woman named Jessy Wilson--slowing her down makes her sound male, fitting for Mr. C's theme but more than that it has something of the effect of the backwards talk in the extradimensional realms. The words that, in the original, seem like such an affirmation seem to be mocked by the tone of the remix even as their sentiments are shared--the words express a ruthlessness; "Got my own, baby, life is grand/Every move I make is just a part of my plan/And I do it just because you said I can't." Liberation is great when its yours, it can be scary when it's someone else's, particularly someone boasting about their power.

I was disappointed the instrumental soundtrack didn't include all of the dinner piano music from the end of episode 11, Dougie's meal with the Mitchum brothers. It has a piece called "Heartbreak" which is the more sombre bits of the music heard in the episode but lacks the feistier parts. Welcome to Twin Peaks quotes Lynch as requesting from Badalamenti: "I need some Italian restaurant music. Gimme three songs: one of them should be kinda peppy, one of them should be slow and sad and heartbreaking." The "Heartbreaking" part is good but it's so much more intriguing couched in the peppy parts. That dinner scene was one of my favourites of the series, by the way. Like the other scenes with Candie, the emotional undertones to this scene seem treacherous in ways that never quite erupt. There are a bunch of potential threads for a further season of Twin Peaks or a spin-off but top of my list would definitely be the Mitchum Brothers.

The Music from disk includes the Paris Sisters' "I Love How You Love Me" which reminds me how open the Becky/Steven/Gersten plot still was. I honestly expected Lynch to do more with Amanda Seyfried's character though she basically played the Laura Palmer character on Veronica Mars. So maybe it felt like territory she'd already covered.

Twitter Sonnet #1032

A copper vortex holds a salty proof.
Undoubted eyes forgive the breakfast gong.
In hazy thoughts the video's aloof.
In proven shoes the fact'ry can't be wrong.
Antennae lace remains alone at large.
Attended last the vision hit the board.
The silk on this canal came from the barge.
Without a crew the ship has just a hoard.
A blade was dulled beneath the warping deck.
The stars became as flakes that sink adrift.
In careful lines the car reversed its trek.
The newer shoes could not provide the lift.
Retrieved from vinyl fingers songs "Begin".
"Beguine" became the trees and air again.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-09-09 01:29 pm

Back to the Blue House

I've said before I'm a sucker for stories about groups of characters trapped in a house or a ship or some place else, preferably dealing with a haunting. So I liked the 2011 Doctor Who audio play The House of Blue Fire which begins in a house where four amnesiac strangers have been gathered. Ultimately, the story doesn't go to anywhere especially interesting but the performances are good and I enjoyed the dialogue.

Like most of the audio plays, it's divided into episodes in much the way the old television serials used to be. The first episode barely features the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) at all, focusing instead on two amnesiacs who, because they've forgotten their names, call each other by their room numbers, 18 (Amy Pemberton) and 5 (Miranda Keeling). It's somewhat similar to a short Sixth Doctor audio play from just a few months before this one was released, "Question Marks", where the amnesiacs tried to guess things about each other from their personalities expressed in the process of trying to solve the puzzle. 5 is much more aggressive and cynical than the more open minded and cooperative 18 and I enjoyed the experience of listening to them figuring out how an indoor pool could be covered with leaves and pondering other problems.

I guess one thing Twin Peaks has recently made me very aware of is how much more interesting the questions are than the answers. The final episode of this audio play isn't bad but it really doesn't pay off the scope of mystery it introduces, boiling down to another case of the Doctor versus a big monster. McCoy is really good in this, of course, and he's exceptionally well suited for this story, where the Doctor is finally introduced as a figure with mysterious and unknown intentions.
setsuled: (Venia Chess)
2017-09-08 06:29 pm

The Notorious Deborah Milton

A new chapter of my infrequently updated webcomic, Dekpa and Deborah, is online to-day in which one of our heroines hatches a scheme with dubious ethical support.

With this chapter the comic is now at over 100 pages.

Happy Birthday, Peter Sellers, Patsy Cline, Aimee Mann, Neko Case, and Martin Freeman.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)
2017-09-07 12:46 pm

Who is Haruhi?

If there's one series that would really benefit from a remake it's The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. There's so much I admire about the original anime series, which I just finished rewatching, though. It's really only one or two things that bug me about it.

Number one for the axe would probably Mikuru Asahina and her annoying voice, performed by Yuko Goto. The show premiered in 2006, eleven years ago now, and it could bear a lot of the blame for one of the worst aspects of modern anime, a fetishisation of pretty girls who behave like house pets. There are a couple moments where Mikuru rises above this, particularly in her future incarnation that appears in a few episodes. There's also a moment in the arc where they're shooting the film for the cultural festival and Mikuru advises Kyon not to trust Koizumi--and Koizumi not long after suggests Mikuru's ridiculous naivete is all an act to seduce him. This is a bit hard to believe and furthermore I want to trust Koizumi in his theory about Haruhi because it's the most interesting aspect of the show to me.

The idea that Haruhi is God and doesn't know it, that she must be kept from the conscious knowledge lest it cause unforeseeable chaos, adds wonderful tension to every scene. I love how there are hints that she can read Kyon's mind but it's so subtly carried off you can never be quite certain.

Should I suggest an English language remake? With white actors? We see what trouble the Ghost in the Shell and Death Note remakes have gotten into. It's weird how the forces pushing the political dialogue are deaf to the desires of people in countries they're supposedly so concerned about offending. People complaining about white washing in the Ghost in the Shell remake almost always failed to mention that the film features one of the biggest Japanese stars of the past forty years, Takeshi Kitano, and the fact that almost no-one interviewed among Japanese audiences minded the casting of Scarlett Johansson. There's a subtle arrogance implicit in this omission from the arguments of most crusaders. It's as though two conflicting realities are coexisting in the minds of these politically minded individuals--on the one hand, they have to be concerned about offending anyone, and on the other, they have to ignore the actual interests of people in foreign countries. It's a matter of taking control away from people so that they can have what they're supposed to want. Assuming the motivations are genuine which I don't think they are.

In any case, I wouldn't want to recast Haruhi as white. In fact, I'd want all the characters to be Japanese. I wouldn't want to change any of their names, for one thing, and Japanese high schools are so different from American high schools I feel like it would be a shame to change the setting so I'd want to set it in Japan. Maybe it doesn't need a remake. Maybe it just needs an edit, like the version of Phantom Menace without Jar Jar. It would be so good if it weren't for Mikuru.

Many consider Haruhi, voiced by Aya Hirano, to be the prototypical tsundere. Yet there's a lot more to her than simply a character type. Her anxiety about the meaninglessness of existence in the impossible numbers of individuals around her is really nicely conveyed on the show. It's a normal anxiety for a teenager and her subconscious tendency to manifest supernatural beings and events nicely interact with Kyon's reluctance to be so weak as to empathise with her. Both characters are intelligent and vulnerable in ways that don't seem flat and exploitive.

Twitter Sonnet #1031

The unobtrusive tinsel takes a place.
In dots defined against the lamp it glows.
A power pickled last assumes a face.
For all its shrouds the vintage sand still shows.
Connected Ls beside a seven lean.
A flaring line bisects the digit half.
In empty booths the ghostly nurses clean.
There's noisy worlds inside a golden calf.
Reflecting flame was clothing for the sun.
Outside the newest store the oldest waits.
The faded pigeons yet are not so done.
A checked banana bishop always mates.
A table clock is timing drinks for keys.
A shaking lock is lifting chords for knees.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-09-06 02:11 pm

The Sorcery of Expectation on Twin Peaks

One of the reasons Twin Peaks: The Return kept me glued to the screen is David Lynch's seeming ability to read my expectations and then exploit them to provide a striking experience. It's like he could read my mind and knew just how to pull the rug out from under me. So here's a list of ten times Twin Peaks: The Return went off the rails in a really wonderful, frightening, or funny way.

Chantal and Hutch

Casting Jennifer Jason Lee and Tim Roth as the two ultimate assassins hired by Mr. C to take out sleep walking Agent Cooper already sets them up as significant players. Their meandering conversations about Mormons and philosophising somehow implies they're even deadlier--in standard storytelling parlance it's this kind of thing that usually indicates someone is a particularly formidable killer. It's the main reason the two feel like they come out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, aside from the fact that both actors were in The Hateful 8. So when they meet their end at the hands of some random accountant with anger issues, it's kind of a shock even as it's perfectly in keeping with their story. They who live by the non-sequitor may die by the non-sequitor.


The unseen Billy was teased all season, not just by Audrey Horne but by a man looking for him in the RR and by some of the girls in the recurring vignettes of characters in the roadhouse booths who were never seen again. When one girl talks about Billy having a relationship with her mother her friend asks for her mother's name and Lynch intentionally holds the moment, knowing we're expecting her to say "Audrey". When she says "Tina" instead we start to sense the story about frustrated, diverted connexions perhaps infecting the community on some massive subconscious level.


The three cops investigating Dougie Jones aren't exactly incompetent and they're not exactly masters but their oddness causes us to expect one or the other. From their first scene in Dougie's office they show a capacity to arrest the viewer when one of them, who hadn't spoken for the whole scene, emits his strange, high pitched laugh for the first time. And then it turns out there's nothing really extraordinary about them aside from their very credible, extraordinarily normal weirdness.

The Turnip Joke

Who would have thought Gordon having some foreplay with a mysterious French beauty was a setup just for him to tell a hilariously dumb joke about turnip farming to Albert? But it's Albert's reaction that clenches this scene's play on expectations--somehow his complete lack of response, his completely blank expression, is both odd and yet, characteristic of Albert, impossibly down to earth.


From the early scene where she hunts an elusive fly Candie establishes herself as the fly in the ointment of otherwise smooth sailing. Right up to her final line about preparing so many sandwiches, Candie had a bizarre knack for making everyone stop and wonder just what the hell is really going on. From her over enthusiastic agreement with Cooper that the Mitchums have "hearts of gold" to her intense contemplation of traffic on the Strip, Candie was like a canary in the coal mine of reality, alerting us to some hidden danger that even now remains obscure.

Dougie Jones, coiled cobra

Another reason a showdown with Chantal and Hutch had such a buildup was because of the unexpected revelation that even sleep-walking Cooper could instantly marshal his legendary reflexes and coordination. The gentle, cow-like, grazing man suddenly sprang to life when Ike the Spike threatened him and Janey E. An appearance by the Arm cemented the strangeness of the lighting fury in the scene.

The Sound at the Great Northern

By the end of the series this sound seems to be related to a portal in the Great Northern's boiler room yet we also hear a similar sound when Cooper wakes in the hospital. But for most of the season it was a background noise to Ben and Beverly's sinister flirtations. So while the sound drew our minds to one mystery it really served as a way to inject a strange energy into the chemistry between the married Beverly and her boss. Were the two phenomena related? Given the way the supernatural is intimately connected to personal relationships, I'd say probably. But it's the uncertainty that keeps our attention.

The Walking Woodsman

We see him in the morgue, walking, unnoticed by Cynthia Knox who's busy talking on the phone about Major Briggs' body. The Woodsman just keeps getting closer and closer and finally . . . continues down the hall, not even breaking stride. Somehow this is more disturbing than him actually doing anything, the sight of his walking and the ominous sounds perfectly playing off the grisly mystery involving the body.

Janey E, Negotiator

Dougie's got a bad gambling debt so when Janey E confronts the lone sharks the history of such stories have taught us this can't go well for her or Dougie. But somehow she seems to get her and Dougie out of it by sheer willpower and the ferocity of Naomi Watts' performance. And we never see these schlubs again.

"This is the water . . ."

My list isn't in any particular order but this one is probably my favourite. Why is that chant uttered by the Woodsman on that fateful night so effective? The words he chooses and his tone are a crucial part of it--"This is," he starts out like he's going to give us any radio call sign, "This is TPKR in Chicago and you're listening to--" or whatever. Then he takes it to something primal; "This is the water and this is the well." It reflects the sense of reassurance meant to be intrinsic in such radio announcements and the promise meant to be in there that you're going to hear something that nourishes you spiritually in some way, either with good music or maybe some entertaining talk. Some reassuring human sound, in other words. But by laying it bare in this way, saying this is life sustaining water in this place, the well, where you can reliably go back and get it, is incredibly sinister. The fact that we know such announcements are normally exaggerated and intended to seduce us implicates us as complicit. The mind is forced to loop back on its interpretation and accept this Woodsman's stripped down reality. That's how hypnosis works. It really is a spell.
setsuled: (Default)
2017-09-05 06:24 pm

Conflicts in Space

With all the rejoicing across the internet to-day over the news that Corey Trevorrow is out as director of Star Wars: Episode IX there's naturally been a lot of speculation as to who'll take over the reins. I say; get Gordon Cole! That is, David Lynch. He was, after all, George Lucas' first choice to direct Return of the Jedi and if Lynch makes a pile of money off Star Wars maybe there's a better chance we'll see another season of Twin Peaks. Well, I can dream.

Rumour has it the current front runner is Rian Johnson and even not having seen Last Jedi I wouldn't mind that choice at all just on the strength of having seen Looper and Brick.

In any case, we've dodged a big, dumb bullet, as everyone knows whose seen that garbage heap called Jurassic World. And with everything going wrong in the world to-day it's nice to know one incompetent blowhard has been removed from a position of authority.

Anyway, obviously my mind's still on Twin Peaks.

Spoilers for Twin Peaks after the screenshot.

I found myself thinking about Naido (Nae Yuuki) some more and I realised there was a very obvious question no-one, myself included, seems to have been asking--just what the hell was Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) looking for? What did he expect to find when he got to the right coordinates? Andy (Harry Goaz) said people were trying to kill Naido but didn't say why. This is another reason I don't think Naido was simply Diane (Laura Dern) in another form. If her name is really meant to be a reference to the naido, "inner path", concept in Buddhism, it would make sense if Mr. C, as a force of destruction, might be trying to kill this representative of an internal world. There's no reason he would be hunting Diane after having taken her to the convenience store himself. The death of Naido seemed like it would represent a much greater victory for Mr. C.

I feel like I might have a few more posts about Twin Peaks in me. I'm certainly going to be watching the third season again . . . and again . . .
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
2017-09-04 02:55 pm

A Dream of So Many Sandwiches

Part of me wonders how I can go back to watching any other TV show after Twin Peaks, part of me feels like the brilliance of Twin Peaks has enhanced my viewing experience of everything else. As last night's finale brought home, it is a show about experience, about contemplation of the moment and the potentials that are inherent in every moment. Among many other things, the third, hopefully not final, season of Twin Peaks is the nexus of Hitchcock and Cocteau, where the essence of suspense meets the essence of surrealism in a beautifully, startlingly meaningful way.

Spoilers after the screenshot

It's relatively well known that Laura Palmer's murder in the original series was never meant to be solved, that Lynch and Frost were forced by the network to reveal the killer's identity. The virtue in this original plan became clear to me some years ago when I was watching the series with my sister and I realised how much more interesting every scene must have been for her when virtually any character could be the killer. Like Hitchcock's bomb under the table, there's the suspense of that hidden fact and it compels the viewer to evaluate everything about each of the many characters we meet, to wonder whether some aspect of their surface personality is a reflection or a distortion of some other reality hidden from us.

Like the second season finale, the third season finale brings us more troubling, unanswered questions in the end. Twin Peaks doesn't leave all questions unanswered and not all of the clues lead nowhere--if it did, we'd get used to it and stop being engaged. Andy's (Harry Goaz) mission given to him by the Fireman (Carel Struycken) is fulfilled in a satisfying way as is the destiny of Freddie (Jark Wardle), which seems to have been nothing less than punching out Bob (Frank Silva's picture inside a black ball). The Fireman and the head of Major Briggs (a photo of Don S. Davis) even seem to make sure Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives at the sheriff's station after finally getting to the right coordinates, seemingly indicating how sure they were all the right pieces were falling into place. It was an exceptionally well executed conventional showdown plot with plenty of ingenuity and entertaining ideas. I love the fact that Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) shot Mr. C and that the two Coopers somehow finally made her understand cell phones. There's a mysterious logic at play in Lucy's brain--it's easy to say she and Andy are stupid but I think Lynch's point is that what they have is a kind of intelligence organised in a vastly different way from how most of us understand it.

But on the other hand, that's true of everyone. It's easy to demonstrate by looking, for example, at reviews of the Twin Peaks finale. In an otherwise very positive review by Emily L. Stephens of A.V. Club, she feels compelled to note:

Naido being reduced to a placeholder for Diane is another example of Lynch’s clumsy sidelining of non-white characters. In this case, she’s not even a character, but a symbol of a character.

Why does Stephens reach this conclusion? Because most of Lynch's characters are white? In a finale so full of ambiguities, why is Stephens so sure that Naido (Nae Yuuki) is only a symbol of another character? We can interpret it like Stephens but we can as easily interpret it many other ways. For example, how do we know Diane (Laura Dern) isn't a symbol for Naido?

Naido's name is almost "Diane" in reverse. It becomes "Odian" when spelled backwards. Maybe meaning "Oh, Diane" or possibly "Zero Diane". The Twin Peaks wiki also has this explanation:

In Japanese Buddhism, the term naidō (内道) literally translates to "Inner Path," simultaneously describing "inner teachings" or "[one] within the path" of nature and righteousness.

Is Naido really Diane, or is her assuming the form of Diane a response to Cooper's (Kyle MacLachlan) need?

Incidentally, I recently learned about the second kanji in naido, 道, which means "way". The box on the right represents a severed human head and the line on the left represents a road--it represents an incident in ancient times when a conquering army left the severed heads of their enemies all along the road on their way back to their castle. In could be a coincidence but we've sure seen plenty of severed heads along the path this season.

The seemingly straight forward action climax shifts at one point to having footage of Cooper's stunned face overlaid on the increasingly strange occurrences in Truman's (Robert Forster) office. Like Phillip Jeffries in Fire Walk with Me, the close up of Cooper's face says that we live inside a dream and, indeed, things start to seem more and more dreamlike, especially when Candie (Amy Shiels) and the two other girls working for the Mitchum brothers bring in baskets of snacks. It is a good thing they made so many sandwiches but when did they make them and how did they know so many people were going to be there? Cooper, Diane, and Gordon (David Lynch) going to the boiler room under the Great Northern feels even stranger.

In episode 18, it becomes even clearer that Lynch's aim is to present scenes that do have a meaning but which also require interpretation from the viewer. Information given to Cooper by the Fireman at the beginning of season three starts to come into play--Cooper had been told back then to look out for the number 430 and we see him and Diane drive 430 miles out from some unmentioned location. Then, after checking into a motel, they make love, after which Cooper finds a note that seems to indicate he and Diane have become the Richard and Linda mentioned by the Fireman way back. I love how Lynch's sex scenes aren't just extended ways of saying, "They had sex." Each one is a vital and distinctive part of the story. This one had some things in common with the sex scenes in Lost Highway and there's a sense that Cooper's identity is becoming strange to Diane in this moment of physical intimacy. Her hands seem compelled to cover his face and in the note the next morning "Linda" says that she no longer recognises the person "Richard" has become. Before this, Diane has a vision of herself outside the motel and all together it seems that travelling between worlds has once again required the travellers to inhabit other identities and stories.

But Cooper is still Cooper. It seems twenty five years in the Black Lodge have taught him some magic. But what is he doing? Still trying to save Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)? Is this the story of the little girl down the lane? Is it like Scottie in Vertigo, trying to make reality into a story about himself, a lawman, saving a beautiful woman from untimely death? The chivalrous knight is quick to protect the waitress (Francesca Eastwood) from three assholes in Judy's diner.

In the end, it seems to become a masterfully executed nightmare about a time travel story. Like the season two finale, everything seems to crash into enigmatic disaster. Jeez, I hope there's going to be a season four. I want to know what happens with Bobby and Shelly, what happened to Becky, what the deal is with Candie, I want to see more of Tammy Preston. In short, I want more. But I probably always will.

Twitter Sonnet #1030

Refreshing xylophone appraised the ice.
The party cooled beyond martini chill.
A name too far in sloth exchanged for rice.
A pie awaits upon the autumn sill.
The steam is pressed against the kettle's gut.
The melting air appears on ev'ry brow.
To screaming heat no window now can shut.
A boiling tide consumes the dipping bow.
Two birds ingest a single stone again.
The dream advanced behind the forward moon.
The only chance became a pyrrhic win.
An endless quest may also end too soon.
The absent eyes invite the seer home.
A skipping sound compels the dream to roam.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-03 12:51 pm

Occasionally Not Adrift

It's been really hot here in southern California lately, another year of record temperatures, and once again autumn is shaping up to be hotter than summer. Often in hot weather my mind starts to dwell on movies where characters complain about the heat so this morning I found myself watching Yasujiro Ozu's 1959 film Floating Weeds again.

I was surprised to learn the film's Japanese title, Ukigusa (浮草), translates to "Floating Grass". The term "weed" seems to impose a greater negative connotation for the film's characters. But they are certainly unrooted and disruptive.

Unlike Ozu's best regarded films, Tokyo Story and Early Spring, Floating Weeds isn't as tightly focused on its main characters, its first scenes diffusing and broadening the perspective to include a community, similar to Ohayo. But all these films, and all the Ozu movies I've seen, have in common the idea of bonds being tested or broken by abnormal or extreme circumstances.

The lives of a travelling kabuki troupe are not romanticised for their "floating" nature, the film is very much about how their mode of existence is a disruptive influence for themselves and others. The tendency in fiction, when talking about artists, is to focus on successful and talented artists, but doing so is to neglect what is much more often true, that artists are not typically successful and not always talented--and even if they are, the talent might not be channelled properly. The troupe portrayed in Floating Weeds are not particularly skilled--Ozu's original title for the film was Ham Actor--but the declining popularity of kabuki may as much be to blame for their lack of success. In any case, it's a brutal career that so punishes people for not being masters or superstars.

There's a horrible moment late in the film when an old man, a member of the troupe's staff, cries silently while his young grandson tries to speak to him. His motionless face and lack of response eloquently show how little point he sees in nurturing the confidence of his grandson, a horribly effective statement on just how hopeless the man knows his life is now.

Of course, along with the problems that come with being artists, the members of the troupe are as imperfect as any human being. Without the traditional bonds of family, any mistake or especially bad behaviour can lead to permanent destruction, which is the essence of the film's central tale. Komajuro (Ganjuro Nakamura) has a son, Kiyoshi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), in town, living with his mother and Komajuro's former mistress, Oyoshi (Haruko Sugimura). Komajuro's current lover and fellow actor in the troupe, Sumiko (Machiko Kyo), is naturally jealous when she starts getting clues about these two people who are probably the reason Komajuro brought the troupe to the little town. Both Komajuro and Sumiko do things to each other over the course of the film that from a purely justice minded standpoint would be unforgivable. They don't seem to have the ingrained motivations of a traditional structure to keep them together, any more than Komajuro can claim attachment to Oyoshi and her son. At any time, these floating people can be cut loose and sent along down the stream, by people with comparatively normal lives and by each other.

So it's essential for Ozu to establish a sense of the town without any particular character's point of view, something his characteristic unmoving camera and careful compositions are well suited for. We briefly meet the barber and her daughter, the prostitutes at the local brothel, the men working in the post office, many of whom talk about the kabuki troupe, wondering if it's worth seeing them perform. The whole point of the actors' profession is to make their performance seem valuable in its own right and you can't fault these people whose lives, rendered so beautifully by Ozu, might be full enough without the actors but obviously it's a cruel state of affairs. So cruel Komajuro seems unable to face it in the end, coming off as almost delusional, but there's a suggestion that this illusion can be a foundation of another kind of bond.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
2017-09-02 04:43 pm

Not Seeing It Coming

The Seventh Doctor seems really confident he can save Nostradamus and the rest of humanity from destruction in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play The Doomsday Quatrain. It's an entertaining adventure that doesn't quite succeed in connecting questions about prophecy with questions about what it means to be a sentient being.

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is surprised to find when he visits 1560 Florence that Nostradamus (David Schofield) is predicting an end of the world quite different from the one the Doctor has personally witnessed. Things are further complicated when a young woman from the future (Caroline Keiff) seems to be treating Nostradamus as some kind of experiment and a force of intelligent reptiles tries to take over everything.

It's fun listening to the Doctor outsmart everyone in strange situations but he seems oddly overconfident in this one. His dialogue where he manipulates the reptile leader (also played by David Schofield) is pretty delightful, though.

Travelling without a companion, Seven seems still to be some time away from his appearance in the 1996 TV movie, but it is nice to hear him make use of the sonic screwdriver in this one.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
2017-09-01 06:09 pm

A Barrel of Humans

Humanity is sweet and clumsy in Jacques Tati's 1953 film Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot). The debut film of Tati's Chaplin-esque silent comedy protagonist, the film differs from a Chaplin or Buster Keaton film in that it's not so much about one extraordinary fool but about a population of accident prone people with one sterling example of miraculous clumsiness. There's an affectionate quality to it, though, and alongside the genius for comic situations it presents a strangely sweet experience.

Men and women, young and old, arrive at a seaside resort--some only after a lot of confusion in a large orchestrated gag at the train station.

Everyone seems to be performing in a beautiful but ridiculous ballet. There's the man who doesn't realise his seat has been turned around a moment so puts his card down on the wrong table before being turned around to his own poker game, after which confused arguments erupt. There's the man painting his boat when it starts drifting back into sea.

But the king of these fools is Monsieur Hulot, played by Tati himself.

Here he is in the most impressive gag of the film, one that must have taken incredible skill, timing, and patience to pull off as he allows the tide to pull the paint bucket away and back again, apparently unnoticed by Hulot. He never speaks, like a silent comedy star, though many of the supporting characters speak. None of the dialogue has much impact and the impression, along with the general awkwardness, is of an entire species adorable for its exaggerated belief in the control it has over its world.

There's a suggestion of a romantic plot between Hulot and a beautiful young woman (Nathalie Pascaud) but it never gets very far. She seems to observe the silliness around her with a little more detachment than everyone else and a bit of the affection I think any viewer is liable to feel. There's not quite the bittersweet quality of the more developed romance in a Chaplin film. Part of the charm of Monsieur Helot's Holiday is that nothing so meaningful seems like it could ever happen.

Twitter Sonnet #1029

A blinking light invites an echo round.
Discursive routes erupt in cords of glass.
And here the green cathedral last was found.
Beneath the gates, a thin and tangled mass.
The full completed leaves of mint emerge.
On brothy seas a soup conveyed the bowl.
A cauliflower briefly will submerge.
The heat departs though pencil punctured hole.
Through higher shoes the fibre burns for air.
In cautious steps alarming crowds arrive.
Unsorted seeds become a drunken dare.
From here a class of statue gods derive.
A jelly stakes no learning on the bench.
A washer makes the shadow of the wrench.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
2017-08-31 11:33 am

The Cost of Dreams of Men and Women

It's hard to see precisely where the battle lines are drawn in the conflict between the head and the heart in Mikio Naruse's 1956 film Sudden Rain (驟雨). Setsuko Hara and Shuji Sano star as a young married couple whose unexamined issues are exacerbated by a sudden series of financial woes, portrayed with Naruse's characteristic delicate, inexorable cruelty. This beautiful picture addresses the emerging influence of feminist social change, ably touches on fundamental human anxieties, and has the wisdom to avoid tidy resolution.

Everything seems fine as the film begins--Fumiko (Hara) and Ryotaro (Sano) have a small, obviously inexpensive home and have typical arguments in the morning about whether they should go out more and about Fumiko cutting recipes out of the newspaper they can't afford for her to make. Kyoko Kagawa plays Fumiko's sister, Ayako, and she pays the couple a visit. She's distraught over her husband's behaviour and she needs Fumiko to confide in.

Fumiko is amused by the complaints that seem like high crimes to Ayako. Her husband yawned at a dinner with guests, he flirted with a waitress right in front of her--Fumiko explains that this is simply what men are like and that being married means becoming acquainted with the faults of one's spouse. When Ryotaro comes home, though, helpfully trying to explain the situation that may have caused Ayako's husband to stay out all night, Fumiko gradually becomes angry herself at her husband's dismissive attitude regarding the faults of another man.

There is a literal sudden rain shortly after but the film's title seems more to refer to three problems that strain Fumiko and Ryotaro's already strained finances--a thief picks Fumiko's pocket at the market, stealing her wallet; Ryotaro's boss announces the company he works for is going under; and a stray dog the couple had been feeding has been stealing and destroying property throughout the neighbourhood. People have begun to demand restitution from Fumiko and Ryotaro.

In a more predictable film, the dog would eventually bring Fumiko her lost wallet or something but Naruse never gives his characters that kind of easy out. The dog is an especially effective part of the film. Even as their problems mount, the couple still can't resist feeding the dog and its hard not to see his innocent but destructive hunger as reflecting the same impulse that keeps the couple together despite their problems.

Fumiko calls Ryotaro old fashioned and feudal, not just because he won't let her work to bring in extra money but also because he presumes that he can go back to his home village at any time and earn a living as a farmer. He threatens to do that several times, each time saying how Fumiko would need to stay in the city because country life wouldn't suit her, a slightly cowardly way of floating the idea of separation. Two opportunities present themselves for Fumiko to get work--first as an errand woman for a newspaper, then as a waitress in a restaurant Ryotaro's co-workers propose opening. The argument between the couple over the issue is particularly insightful for the ways arguments tend to go over such ideological issues--Ryotaro says he doesn't want to be supported by a woman and seems to see any kind of work as degrading for her while Fumiko seems insulted by the very idea that one of them is supporting the other by bringing in money, seeing it instead as a matter of maintaining their existence. The disagreement between the two is exacerbated by each being offended by the other's conceptual presumptions.

But no ideas either one has seems to influence their behaviour, illustrated neatly by a really funny final scene which at the same time does nothing to dispel any of the sources of anxiety.