setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Sonnet #1005

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

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

Apparently I'm far from alone in spotting Essie's resemblance to Moll Flanders.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

Sunday's new American Gods was like two episodes mixed together; one good and one disappointing. It all looked good, though.

Spoilers after the screenshot

In the disappointing plot, Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Wednesday (Ian McShane) visit a town populated by gun-toting redneck stereotypes who worship Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen). In the good part, Laura (Emily Browning), Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), and Salim (Omid Abtahi) go on a road trip, looking for a friend of Sweeney's who can resurrect Laura--properly this time.

I would assume the Laura plot was written by Bryan Fuller because it, again, felt more like Dead Like Me than American Gods. I liked the discussion of Laura's dwelling on aspects of her life, this mirrored by Wednesday pulling Shadow away from her so that he can move on. But one of the three writers on the episode is a fellow named Seamus Kevin Fahey, about whom there's little information on the internet, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest he's Irish. He may have been brought on to write dialogue for Mad Sweeney--whoever wrote those segments, they work really well. I love Laura and Sweeney's caustic rapport and the addition of Salim as the meek fellow in the middle is a perfect way to round out the trio.

Meanwhile, in Vulcanville, the story's a bit thinner. The idea that there's a segment of the U.S. population who worship guns is certainly a fair premise but since we don't meet a single one of these worshippers there's no chance to actually explore it. Vulcan himself, despite Corbin Bernsen ably matching Ian McShane in impressively weathered visage, is a thoroughly uninteresting character. His betraying Wednesday's location to the New Gods has absolutely no weight when the New Gods had found Wednesday in just the previous episode and let him go. Even if it did have weight, Vulcan looks like a moron when he forges a god-killing weapon and hands it to Wednesday before telling him he betrayed him. I guess the upside is that this plot won't be around next week.

Twitter Sonnet #1000

A comet black for sudden coal could close
No throat upon a highway neat as night
As fraught as dawn affirmed for soothing shows
And sleepy dram for watchful claims of sight
Of substance staunched of bloodless flow, belief
Encased and opened like a flower head
A deadly draught, a treadmill to relief
But gnawing paints present the only bed
A valley blanket sewn in stories late
To hold the ink, increase the yield in gold
In softened thorns to fetch and sometimes sate
Before the quicker eye can catch a cold.
In speeding shovels air transforms to stone.
In through a needle point it shines alone.

setsuled: (Skull Tree)

There was another nice new episode of American Gods on Sunday, "Lemon Scented You", which introduced some important characters and had one of the nicest side-story vignettes yet.

Spoilers after the screenshot

"Hey, you. Get your damn hands off . . ."

Sorry. I don't usually get George McFly in my head when I see Crispin Glover but there's just something about his Mr. World that unaccountably reminds me of the McFly patriarch. He's odd casting for the part, I would have liked someone more like John Hamm or George Clooney, someone with a banal charm. Glover is so delightfully weird but, of course, that means it's always nice to see him. I love his suit.

Gillian Anderson does much better impressions of David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe than she does of Lucille Ball. I found the music kind of distracting in the Bowie scene but I was tickled by how half her lines were Bowie lyrics. Though, considering I love David Bowie and I like Gillian Anderson, I feel like I should have enjoyed the scene more. Maybe once I start getting the impression that Media is not simply a villain I'll feel better about it. It is a bit ironic that a TV show is portraying Media so far as almost purely an antagonist, though she does seem like she wants to extend an olive branch to Wednesday (Ian McShane).

I've been refreshing my memory on the novel by reading synopses and I'm starting to be reminded of Wagner's Ring operas. I won't go into too much detail for those who haven't read American Gods or seen the operas but Shadow (Ricky Whittle) resembles Siegfried in the Wagner operas in ways he doesn't resemble Siegfried or Sigurd in the Nibelungenlied or the Elder Edda. I haven't read all the different versions of the legend, though, I don't know how much was Wagner's invention or how much he drew from the Norse mythology. It would probably be helpful to read Neil Gaiman's recently published book on Norse mythology.

I feel like Shadow is more definitely defined as a black man on the show whereas his race in the book was sort of a mystery. I could be remembering wrong. In any case, the focus on his race--the significance of him being lynched--and him being a Siegfried figure is oddly starting to make the show resemble Django Unchained, or Django Unchained is starting to resemble American Gods.

It would make sense for Laura (Emily Browning) to be Brunhilde, being associated with the dead and with kicking ass. I wonder why Emily Browning was willing to be naked in this episode but not the previous one. Maybe it's to do with the different directors--"Lemon Scented You" was directed by Vincenzo Natali while "Git Gone" was directed by Craig Zobel. I guess this gets into a gossipy area though I do think it demonstrates how often nudity in film is included to not be distracting rather than vice versa. Shooting around big parts of someone's body for reasons not related to artistic intent always comes off as awkward. It was nice they were able to include that lovely beating heart effect in this episode though Shadow and Laura parting with him saying he wasn't her puppy anymore was a slightly dopey piece of melodrama. I'm guessing when they see each other next we'll learn he simply meant the power dynamic in their relationship had changed. But of course in the interim she has to suffer thinking he doesn't love her anymore.

That cgi vignette was really cool. I hope there'll be more vignettes that aren't live action, the animation seems to allow the makers of the show greater scope.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

It's a struggle to think about any other TV show after Twin Peaks but I guess the new episode of American Gods on Sunday was pretty good too. It's not its fault Twin Peaks casts such an enormous shadow over it. "Git Gone" (named for the Fiona Apple song?) felt much more like Bryan Fuller than Neil Gaiman, in fact it felt like an especially gory episode of Dead Like Me. Graded on a curve that omits Twin Peaks, I'd give it a 7 out of 10. On a curve that includes Twin Peaks, I'd give it a 1.5 out of 10.

Spoilers after the screenshot

So now Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is a more developed character than anyone else on the show. I didn't see that coming. It's a reflection of the difference between writing a novel and writing for television--this episode, which adds a great deal of material not found in the book, has the advantage of being conceived almost entirely for television while everything else is forced to adapt. Part of the inherent problem in this is that so much of a novel with a limited third person protagonist depends on you knowing what that protagonist is thinking, getting their thoughts explicitly, and so far American Gods has mostly avoided voice over narration. This problem is compounded by the fact that Gaiman intentionally created Shadow as a character who's difficult to pin down--it's hard to guess his heritage, his personality is very contained--he's mysterious. This serves the dual function of making the story more about what Shadow discovers than about Shadow himself and helps weave the mystery of his destiny. Shadow is his experiences.

Bryan Fuller has taken a detour to establish Laura as almost the polar opposite of this. And it's emphasised from the way Shadow (Ricky Whittle) expresses the fact that he's happy with her and seems completely unable to understand her discontent. Fuller has created her as a queer figure (as established in Queer theory), spending an entire episode explaining why she died with Dane Cook's cock in her mouth (and certainly, that is baffling). I usually don't have patience with fiction that expects me to sympathise with someone for cheating on their partner but Fuller made me kind of get it in this case. Laura is fundamentally dissatisfied with existence and she's addicted to the adrenaline of rough sex, danger, and transgression to compensate for an unfulfilled desire she can't even define.

I wonder why Emily Browning was unwilling to be naked on this show. Is the show not worthy or were the nude scenes she did in the past done because she felt coerced by the system? One thing's for sure, the fact that we don't actually see her with Cook's cock in her mouth really hurts her death scene. The tight close-up on her eyes was really awkward. I guess there is a limit to what you can show on Starz, or more likely to what Browning was willing to do.

I'm not sure why she encounters Anubis (Chris Obi) if she believes in nothing. Because she worked at an Egyptian casino? Her dodging the test where her heart's weighed against the feather keeps the impression that her self-loathing based on her desires is irrational--really, most characters would become a lot less interesting once you cosmically establish them as definitely good or evil. But I don't quite buy her desire to stop the test or her ability to interfere with it, I think the subject ought to have been avoided entirely.

I'm also not sure why she gets super strength when she's resurrected but it was a cool action sequence. It makes the story feel a bit more like a conventional superhero tale--she's proven her worth in combat.

So that was a decent episode of Dead Like Me American Gods. I look forward to the next episode of Twin Peaks.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Last night's new American Gods was an improvement from last week's. It featured two vignettes unrelated to the main plot, both of which were better than the vignette from last week, and a less suspenseful but more satisfying development in the main plot.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Anubis (Chris Obi) taking the dead woman (Jacqueline Antaramian) up the endless fire escape was a cool image and concept. I wonder if they ran into David Niven on the way. And how like a cat to give its owner the last shove into the afterlife, though maybe it would've been more realistic for the cat constantly to remain on the threshold, forcing Anubis to keep the door open.

The vignette with the Ifrit (Mousa Kraish) and the down on his luck salesman (Omid Abtahi) was even better, following the cool Bilquis sex scenes to provide another fascinating visual mythology for orgasm. In this case, two beings seem to become one, literally.

Ian McShane and Cloris Leachman were nice together.

I guess I misremembered how the game with Czernobog (Peter Stormare) resolved--I thought it was the middle sister (Martha Kelly) who saved Shadow (Ricky Whittle) because he looked like the illustration on the cover of her romance novel. It's been too long since I read the book to remember if that was something that happened or not. I guess Shadow challenging him to another game was interesting. The scene on the rooftop where the youngest sister (Erika Kaar) demands a kiss from Shadow was pretty sweet.

Meanwhile, what a horrific episode of Kids in the Hall. What a shame Mad Sweeney's (Pablo Schrieber) bad luck rubbed off on guest star Scott Thompson.

Wednesday's (Ian McShane) grift was about as entertaining as it was in the book. Mainly the scene made me really want some hot cocoa.

setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

Last night's new episode of American Gods was good, not quite as good as the first one, but not bad. The intro was a bit disappointing and I disliked some of the casting, but Cloris Leachman was great and Ian McShane continues to be an excellent Mr. Wednesday.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I don't know yet how I feel about Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy. It's been over fifteen years since I read American Gods and I gave my copy to a friend about that time. I'm not sure what happened to my copy of Anansi Boys. But I pictured Mr. Nancy as older. Orlando Jones is 49, which I guess is kind of old, not like Ian McShane old, though; McShane and Leachman really sell the "older gods" look. Maybe Mr. Nancy keeps himself looking young the same way Bilquis does.

Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), the Goddess so nice they established her twice. No real developments for Bilquis in this episode but she still looks great and the guy with the erection floating in space like the Monty Python "Galaxy Song" was pretty funny.

I'm not sure why Shadow (Ricky Whittle) assumed Peter Stormare's Czernobog was Zorya's (Cloris Leachman) husband, he looks a lot younger than her. Peter Stormare is 63, but that is almost 30 years younger than Leachman. They could be married, sure, but I don't know why Shadow would assume it. It's a shame they couldn't take the opportunity to have her say, "That's right, he's my . . . boyfriend!" I like Peter Stormare but I wasn't digging the broad Vaudevillian Slavic accent. Fargo Peter Stormare would have been better but I think this is more like Big Lebowski Peter Stormare.

Cloris Leachman, on the other hand, was absolutely perfect. The levels of sympathy and pragmatism expressed in her performance completely absorbed me. When she looks into Shadow's future she talks to him with just the right gravity.

I enjoyed the mysterious quality of the first episode's opening scenes with the Vikings trying to deal with the New World. I liked how much it was about the people of the time in a way most people don't think about and I liked how Odin wasn't seen. By contrast, Anansi dressed in modern clothes lecturing the slaves on what they and their descendants would be facing seemed a bit flat and reductionist. It would have been nice to have seen an Anansi the captives would have been familiar with talking to them in terms closer to their cultural present.

I like Gillian Anderson and I guess she's okay as Media. It would have been nice if they'd gotten someone who could do impressions. I would've voted for Nicole Sullivan, Orlando Jones' co-star from Mad TV, she can do a pretty good Lucille Ball, as I recall.

The game with Czernobog at the end was good. I think I remember how it's resolved, I'm looking forward to seeing it play out next week.

Godly Roads

May. 1st, 2017 05:15 pm
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Last night's première of the American Gods television series was one of the best première episodes of any series I've seen in years. The cast, the music, the editing, everything's well above average even in this day and age of great television.

Ricky Whittle as protagonist Shadow Moon is like no other protagonist on television--muscular and exuding a sense of barely repressed violence, at the same time he's deeply contemplative and sensitive, very much as he is in Neil Gaiman's novel. But the show does the brilliant thing of making him exactly what he's supposed to be but also surprising.

Both he and Low Key (Jonathan Tucker) have the attitudes and appearances of guys who've really been in prison a while and--really, like guys like that--they're also perfectly strange. I like how half Low Key's face seems dead and the other is constantly tugging up into a smirk.

Yetide Badaki as Bilquis is great in a fabulous sex scene, drenched in red with a keenly rendered connexion between orgasm and worship. Much of the show I'd describe as fabulous and dangerous--the scene with Bilquis strangely yet appropriately cuts to the jaws of a dinosaur bar.

And, of course, Ian McShane is perfect as Wednesday.

This is the best translation of a Neil Gaiman book I've seen to screen. His dialogue is superficially clever only to provide a layer to reveal fascinating and insightful undercurrents--like Low Key telling Shadow not to fuck with airport staff and Shadow misinterpreting the moral of the story so that Low Key can reduce it to something suggestively simple. This stuff is well paired with director David Slade who edits the episode with a keen sense of how long a line should linger on the ear and, even more nicely, he knows when to cut in which the throbbing beat of a recognisable tune. I thought this show would be good but it exceeded my expectations.

Twitter Sonnet #988

In croissant snacks the story slowly starts.
A second tea returns to take a fourth.
In compact calculations spring their hearts.
Antennae teeth in pink determine worth.
An amber sky obtains a message sent.
In shadows caught by passing cloud we dream.
The autumn leaves in spring too quickly spent.
The brittle coin confers the thread to seam.
In western times a sortie claimed a foot.
Advances 'long the spine accost the land.
Refrains reroute the desert where it's put.
And only space can cure the lanes of sand.
Burrito eggs are hatching sauce to-day.
Lemon's a lighting too yellow to now allay.


setsuled: (Default)

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