setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

Your average fantasy story relies on some, at the least, improbable things being allowed to occur unimpeded, like the impetuous attractive protagonist and the virtuous attractive love interest having their relationship coincide with the precarious affairs of the state. So effective parodies often make hay by making things more complicated, which is the case with 1956's The Court Jester. Many unforeseen complications take this would-be Robin Hood tale right off the rails despite the best and worst intentions of its characters and the result is one of the greatest comedies of all time.

Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, not a court jester but a former carnival performer who's joined up with the merry men of the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). The Fox is basically Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving to the poor in defiance of a tyrant, Roderick (Cecil Parker), who's seized the throne. The rightful heir is an infant and in the care of the Fox. Part of Hubert's duty is to flash the purple pimpernel on the baby's butt to confirm the lad's royal status to the crew.

Hubert and Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's captains, are charged with taking the baby, hidden in a wine cask, to an abbey where it'll be safe. But on the way, Hubert and Jean fall in love and run into the jester Giacomo (John Carradine in a cameo) who's on his way to the castle. Jean immediately realises it's an opportunity to smuggle Hubert into the castled in the guise of Giacomo where he can steal a key from the king's quarters, enabling the Fox and his men to sneak in and take the castle through a secret passage.

It all seems simple enough, though audiences might have already been disconcerted by the fact that the Black Fox isn't the main character. But now the plates really start spinning because at the castle there are two plots already cooking against the king--one from his daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) and her witch servant, and another from the king's advisor, Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), who's plotting to kill some new rivals for the king's patronage. The comedy comes from how these plots unpredictably intersect due to each player's imperfect understanding of the situation.

Kaye is quite good, not just at the funny stuff but his sword fight at the end with Rathbone has some of the energy and skill seen in the duel between Rathbone and Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. Lansbury is very good but even more crucial is Glynis Johns in a role many directors might have been content to cast with a lightweight. But playing the straight requires a special skill--a big part of how well the famous "vessel with the pestle" bit works is Johns' ability to say the tongue twister like it's so easy she truly can't understand why Hubert can't get it. She also has a pretty funny scene where she convinces the king she has a terrible contagious disease in order to ward off his advances.

setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Wikipedia quotes H.P. Lovecraft, about his Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, as worrying that "Randolph Carter's adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness." Though virtually all of Lovecraft's fiction implies a strange, hostile universe of his conception, usually they feature something roughly resembling familiar, contemporary reality into which the introduction of the strange and horrifying is the more striking. Short tales set in places alien to our world can still maintain that power of strangeness by virtue of being short but The Dream-Quest is novella length. It is a wonderful piece of fiction but for these reasons its strengths are distinct from the rest of Lovecraft's works.

Following the journeys of Randalph Carter through the Dream Lands, the novella is set in fantasy locations peopled with fantasy beings like the small, forest dwelling zoogs, the vicious gugs, and Carter's allies, the ghouls. The story, particularly in its second half, reminds me strongly of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars in its focus on strange armies coordinated by the human protagonist on missions of assault, rescue, or reconnaissance. One of the most significant ways Dream-Quest differs from Princess of Mars is in its constant reminders of how the appearance or odour of the strange beings frighten or disgust the protagonist. We're even reminded of this in the case of some of Carter's allies, like the ghouls:

And Carter shook the paws of those repulsive beasts, thanking them for their help and sending his gratitude to the beast which once was Pickman; but could not help sighing with pleasure when they left. For a ghoul is a ghoul, and at best an unpleasant companion for man.

It might have been difficult for Lovecraft to imagine modern horror and fantasy fans who have often seen what was obviously repulsive before as something that's now attractive and could even be applied to heroes. Yet the strangeness in Dream-Quest functions in this way, whether Lovecraft meant it to or not--the Dream Lands are beautiful and its denizens are fascinating. It's not easy to understand why the former human, Pickman, had chosen to become a ghoul but the fact that he did in itself makes the beings more intriguing. Making the weird regular does not, as Lovecraft feared, dilute the "desired impression of strangeness" but transforms it into something different. It becomes less of a shock and something like a remapping of basic reality where all the landmarks take on a lustre for their inherent unpredictability and danger. The difference from Burroughs' Mars or Tolkien's Middle Earth is that nothing ever truly feels safe even if it feels familiar and friendly. Even the cats, the animals Lovecraft displays a lovely affection for in this story, have something sinister and secret about them, especially after their treatment of the zoogs early on.

So when the protagonists face extraordinary danger, as in the story's climax which takes Lovecraft's skill at conveying a fundamental wrongness in physics and geometry to new heights, the stakes feel higher. The normal human means of negotiating the world through forging friendships and building a reputation seem inevitably fractured and uncertain. Everything is compelled to hide--the zoogs hide in the forest, the ghouls hide underground, the cats are always sneaking. Everyone and everything's existence is not built on strength but in evasion which makes the potency of the final threat all the more effective because it's a revelation of just how meaningless the apparent rules of reality always were, it's the ultimate rug pulled out from under the reader.

But the ending is a consummation of the feelings that had been built up all along by forcing the reader to identify with protagonists described as repulsive. One becomes more afraid for the ghouls when they're captured because they've been described as repulsive. I even felt bad for what happens to the zoogs despite knowing what they planned for the cats. So the cosmology invoked in the end, of gods who are selfish or indifferent, isn't an abstract concept but something concretely felt. You don't have to ask why the gods aren't in love with these people.

So hug your nearest ghoul or nightgaunt. If for some reason they don't tear your face off or disembowel you.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Sonnet #1028

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

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people seemed surprised last week when Arya wasn't able to successfully go unseen by Littlefinger on Game of Thrones. I'm not entirely sure if we're supposed to take her as a master of stealth or if her apparent lack of skill is quite intentional. I'm leaning towards the latter after having looked back over some of my reviews from previous seasons. I really hope it's the latter because then her story makes a lot more sense. Although HBO themselves accidentally leaked to-night's episode last week, I've been good and haven't watched it yet so for all I know many of you reading will see I've already been proved wrong. Either way, I would argue Arya discovering that stealing a magic trick is no substitute for study and training is a much better story.

Back in season five, I was already noticing Arya (Maisie Williams) had a tendency to stare directly at her targets with a pretty telling facial expression. She soon went even further by following her targets around with a wheelbarrow of fish, still staring directly at them and not even pretending to be trying to sell anyone anything.

After being blinded for stealing the magic face changing ability to kill an unsanctioned target--significantly, Arya couldn't have done the job without stealing the magic--she's blinded and starts training as a blind fighter. At this point, George R.R. Martin had set up Arya's life as a series of crushing disappointments but I still had hope that she might become the Zatoichi of Westeros. She starts to get a little better at fighting the Waif (Faye Marsay) with a quarterstaff but her sight is restored before she gets really good at it. Her training with the sword from season one seems to have made her a good fighter when she can see so it doesn't seem like anything was really gained from the blind training.

Here's Arya once again with her patented "I'm undisguisedly dangerous and solemn" stare on her first big post-blindness mission among a theatre troupe. I got my first sign that Arya's incompetence might have actually been intentional when her target, Lady Crane (Essie Davis), actually calls her on it. She actually notices how conspicuous Arya is among the others back stage. Which should be no surprise. While everyone else gabs and bustles about with jobs to do, Arya is busy being silent and staring while moving props and costumes.

Having botched this mission and taken the side of her target, it seems Arya's now going to be a target herself of the Faceless Ones. She seems quite inspired when she comes to this decision, taking a moment to enjoy a sea breeze and immediately falling prey to an assassin.

This all led up to a final confrontation between Arya and the Waif that finally brought the Faceless Ones plot to a conclusion. At what point in any of the episodes I went over above did Arya learn to be good at stealth? She never did. At the time I listed these problems with the climax and conclusion:

1) Assassin from the greatest assassin guild in the world stabs Arya in the gut multiple times and fails to kill her. 2) An actress stitches up what ought to be a fatal gut wound and uses the healing power of opium. 3) The assassin is forced to chase Arya through the streets in broad daylight because of her incompetence. 4) Jaqen says Arya is finally No One just because Arya killed the girl who was trying to kill her which kind of suggests the whole creed is a bullshit veneer for the typical king of the hill set up.

And indeed, now that Arya's at Winterfell in a position of recognised authority, there's nothing about her that suggests she's become "No-One". What has Arya taken from the whole experience with the Faceless Ones? A magic power to change her face. That's it. So far this season Arya's made no mention or reference to those events or how she might have digested the philosophy of the Faceless Ones.

Throughout the first four seasons, we saw Arya's descent into an increasingly desperate struggle to survive while nurturing a growing worship of death itself. Which is no surprise given that death had been the most persistent and powerful influence on her life. The Faceless One plot at first seemed to be about the death of identity but since it was never properly resolved this aspect of Arya's character development also seems to be in limbo. At this point, I would be very satisfied if Arya found she had to pay a price for having skipped so many lessons. I think it could be the only thing that would make her interesting again.

Twitter Sonnet #1025

The perfect photos made the meals for us.
In deed and thought the bending sky was seen.
Awakened by cathedrals in a bus.
In normal pods we called the hero "Bean".
Beside the glowing phone were pictures watched.
There's nothing for the couch we patched at dawn.
If sofas stay then stools and stoops were botched.
Arrange the chairs in rows as though they're gone.
Remembered mountains made their oats complete.
In striving to enrich the bud we grew.
Like nothing monarch Rand can just compete.
The polished stone returned when rock came true.
Behind their glasses reddened bottles walk.
Outside the eyes a rider's come to knock.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

And everyone continues riding a plot bullet train on the newest Game of Thrones. By the end of "Eastwatch", Sunday's new episode written by Dave Hill, almost no-one is even close to where they were at the beginning of the episode. Some people even managed to get into King's Landing and back. Filled with some nice moments and, as usual, gorgeous locations, I think my current favourite character is Davos (Liam Cunningham).

Spoilers after the screenshot

It was fun seeing him work his smuggler's magic, fast talking those couple of soldiers with some mythical viagra seafood. It's a shame Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had to blunder out--and in a recognisable scarf, no less.

It was nice that Tyrion and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) could meet up again to discuss the events that led to Tyrion's escape from King's Landing, in particular Tyrion's killing of their father. It's hard for Jaime to take but it's clear he kind of gets where Tyrion is coming from. It's a little hint of the family drama that made Tyrion such a great character back in the show's heyday. Now I guess I'm the only one still holding a candle for a relationship between him and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). But she clearly has eyes for Jon (Kit Harington).

Who says Game of Thrones doesn't give life lessons? Here's a tip, lads--you want to please the woman of your dreams, learn to pet the raging dragon between her legs in a gentle and respectful manner. I'm not being ironic when I say I felt like there was a nice erotic undertone to that scene.

But then the old slow burning romantic flame Jorah (Iain Glen) shows up unexpectedly and he and Jon are shipped off to beyond the Wall. Wow, I'm dizzy just from how much ground was covered in that sentence. I wonder if we'll be getting some suitor rivalry between Jon and Jorah.

All these people and armies moving all over the continent, presumably a lot more time is passing than it seems, but Cersei's (Lena Headey) hair still hasn't grown.

Maybe she likes it short. I'm looking forward to seeing her meet Daenerys. Wouldn't it be great if they became friends? Oh, come on, that would be great. Wouldn't it? Well, I guess there's the matter of them both wanting the Iron Throne. Cersei believes that her choices are either losing the war and dying and surrendering and dying so it makes sense she's willing to parley especially now that she's pregnant. She doesn't know yet that Daenerys was willing to spare any of the Lannister allies who bent the knee to her--it would be interesting to find out what Cersei would do if she did know. I don't quite follow the logic that it's better to roast uncooperative families alive than imprison them, especially when Daenerys has her father's reputation to live down.

Do I need to even point out how improbable Jaime's escape was and how silly it was he and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) were cosily chatting on the riverbank? Okay, didn't think so. There's not really any point anymore pointing this stuff out.

I do really like that the show owns up to the fact that Arya (Maisie Williams) is terrible at stealth as Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) easily outmanoeuvres her. Though the fact that he didn't destroy Sansa's message kind of makes it obvious he wanted Arya to find it. I'm not sure why he wants to create a rift between the sisters other than a general desire to sow chaos. Which, as we know, is a ladder. I still find it hard to believe he really wants the Iron Throne, though. As William S. Burroughs put it:

I never wanted to be a front man like Harding or Nixon–taking the rap, shaking hands, and making speeches all day, family reunions once a year. Who in his right mind would want a job like that? As commissioner of sewers I would not be called upon to pet babies, make speeches, shake hands, have lunch with the queen; in fact, the fewer voters who knew of my existence, the better. Let kings and Presidents keep the limelight. I prefer a whiff of coal gas as the sewers rupture for miles around
setsuled: (Venia Chess)

Sunday's new Game of Thrones, "The Spoils of War", was the most satisfying in quite a while for me and my favourite Event Battle episode since "Blackwater". It was a vivid exercise of one of the best, distinguishing qualities of Game of Thrones--a portrayal of a conflict where there are reasons to like both sides.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Hey, is that Monument Valley? I can't seem to find any site that directly states what filming locations were used but there are plenty of articles comparing Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) and her Dothrakis' surprise attack to a Western. Including this interview with the episode's director, Miguel Sapochnik, who says he drew inspiration in part from John Ford's Stagecoach. It makes sense--maybe Fort Apache would make even more sense--the Dothraki versus a wagon train of Lannister soldiers is kind of like Apaches versus a group of out-of-their-depth U.S. army.

This is the third surprise attack this season, the first one to benefit Daenerys. I would send a memo to both sides stressing the usefulness of scouts and lookouts, there's no reason a massive army of Dothraki shouldn't have been spotted sooner. How Daenerys knew to attack this group and when she decided to is another question that most reviews seem to be skipping over. The initial reactions I saw weren't about how it seemed like a Western but about how Daenerys is finally kicking ass now that she's stopped listening to Tyrion's (Peter Dinklage) clever plans. Is attacking the soldiers conducting spoils back to King's Landing not clever?

Daenerys mentions on the beach earlier in the episode that Lannisters are looting the granaries in the Reach. But the only idea we hear Daenerys put forward is attacking the Red Keep. There are a lot of strategic advantages to attacking the loot train--Daenerys gets to demonstrate the power of her dragons with minimal risk to civilians, also dispatching men who'd been terrorising farmers in the process. She also undercuts Cersei's (Lena Headey) standing with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss) and the Iron Bank. It's so clearly a good idea that if Tyrion didn't see it it wasn't because he was being clever. Possibly we'll find out next week he was blinded by his lingering affection for Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) as Daenerys seemed to be implying.

Certainly this was one of the highlights of the season so far, watching poor Tyrion watching Jaime being a fucking, tragic idiot. At least Tyrion has good dramatic material even if this isn't turning out to be the season where he'll finally be useful. Still, we don't technically know whose idea this attack was, it would be kind of fascinating if it turned out to be his.

It was also a good idea to have Bronn (Jerome Flynn) be the one who fires off that anti-dragon ballista. It was good to see Bronn again, everyone's favourite amoral, merry man and seeing him against other characters we like is a nice, sobering highlight of the basic ugliness of conflict, if all those roasting soldiers wasn't enough. It would have been nice to have another scene like Arya's (Maisie Williams) encounter with the regular joe Lannister soldiers from a few episodes back but the juxtaposition is still there. Aside from Ed Sheeran, whom I think few of us would mind seeing roasted, it was a nice way of showing these guys have little understanding of the lofty games of conquest and politics played by their superiors. This makes Jaime, and his reluctance to let his men be flogged, all the more effective a counterpoint to Daenerys. Yes, Daenerys avoided civilian casualties, but in the end, slaughter is never pretty.

It might be a pyrrhic victory, too, if it turns out to mean the death of Drogon Dragon, though it really doesn't look like a mortal wound to me.

Meanwhile, at Winterfell, in the drastically less interesting part of the episode, the Starks continue to be dull. The reunion of Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya was diminished by the bad writing both characters have been victims of for the past couple seasons. I can just imagine the conversation:

ARYA: "So how've you been?"

SANSA: "Well, I was still the same idealistic, foolish girl you remember until I was raped, then people started acting like I was a genius, though the only thing I've done so far is ask Littlefinger for help winning the Battle of the Bastards without telling Jon. You?"

ARYA: "I went to train to be a master assassin but I got impatient and stole their magic and came home. I'm now a master assassin who rides openly through Lannister territory."

Nevertheless, the sparring match between Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Arya was pretty cool and well choreographed. And the two have the beginnings of some nice chemistry.

I'm still not sure why everyone's being so openly rude to Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). Apart from not being very grateful to the man who saved them in the Battle of the Bastards, what is it exactly they blame Littlefinger for? He didn't force Sansa to marry Ramsey and for all we know he really didn't know he was a psychopath. Do they know he betrayed Ned in season one?

Twitter Sonnet #1021

In tapered mugs the coffee points below.
A shining dress adorns a cloudless arm.
The marching flags proclaim a cooking glow.
Penne appeals beneath the crumbled parm.
Foretold like laundry spirals make the sun.
Against no other blanket paces match.
In duels they're much too destined to be stunned.
A forceful flower chomps the pollen batch.
Across transparent cakes grew frosting stones.
Upon the month of romping glitch it blooms.
The text received displayed in vision bones.
A building closely gripped the walking rooms.
Accounts portrayed collected courts in grass.
A plastic double chin was served with sass.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Is it possible for one to be a great artist and also find happiness in a relationship? Many stories have contemplated this question, like the 1946 Aleksandr Ptushko fantasy film The Stone Flower (Каменный цветок), based on a story by Pavel Bazhov which was in turn based on Ural folklore. One of the most beautiful fantasy films I've ever seen, the film tells its story of a young man, obsessed with mastering his art of stone cutting, with chiaroscuro lighting and deliberately artificial sets. Every shot looks like a painting and the special effects are charming.

I hope this poor lizard wasn't injured in being given this crown. She ends up being a Russian mythological figure, the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, played in human form by Tamara Makarova.

We see her taking an interest in the day dreaming young shepherd named Danilo who later becomes an apprentice to a master gemcutter, Prokopych (Mikhail Troyanovsky). Danilo (Vladimir Druzhnikov) soon surpasses his master. He crafts a beautiful stone flower commissioned by a French noblewoman.

As he gains fame and success, he and a farmgirl, Katinka (Yekaterina Derevshchikova), fall in love. But he becomes obsessed with the idea that his stone flower could have been better made, his urge to destroy his creation distracting him from Katinka. Soon the Mistress of the Copper Mountain seduces him into joining her in the heart of a mountain where he can do stone work in isolation forever.

Katinka, saddened by his absence, becomes Prokopych's new apprentice and a pretty good gemcutter herself, one of the more surprising aspects of the story.

I found the scenes where Danilo contemplates destroying his stone flower provoked some real anxiety in me. I guess it's like a metaphor for the Star Wars special editions. At some point the artist needs to give his or her art to the audience and in this may be the real answer to the conflict between artistry and relationships--an artist does have a relationship with an audience and treating the audience like it's irrelevant can be dangerous to the artist's mental health. On the other hand, the Mistress of the Copper Mountain is pretty fabulous.

The whole movie is currently on YouTube, I recommend checking it out for the gorgeous visuals before someone with absolutely no right to it files a copyright claim with YouTube so almost no-one will be able to see the movie for years. Click the CC button to get English subtitles.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

Sunday's new Game of Thrones continued into the lightning round, as well it might considering this season is almost half over already. Major events are rushed through more to get from one plot point to another than to savour them and what they mean to the characters and most of the dialogue scenes were formulaic. But there were some satisfying exchanges, particularly involving Daenerys, Jon, and Tyrion.

Spoilers after the screenshot

As the show has drifted further from George R.R. Martin's material, the dialogue has very often consisted of a familiar repeated pattern--whiny person versus cool, smug person. Characters often contort well outside their previously established personalities just so Benioff and Weiss, who wrote "The Queen's Justice", Sunday's episode, can make the pattern work. Varys (Conleth Hill), who was once the figure of cool, collected, and scheming, is obliged to become Whiny to Melisandre's (Carice van Houten) Smug so she can lay him flat with that prophetic line about how the two of them are destined to die in Westeros.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has been playing Whiny consistently since about the middle of last season. "The Queen's Justice" ends with him paired with Olenna (Diana Rigg) in the Smug role who delivers her argument, about how she's been ruthless and cruel but Cersei's more ruthless and cruel so she's doomed, with such confidence it almost seems like it makes sense. We have Diana Rigg to thank for that, the show will certainly be poorer for her absence.

Another departure, and this was news to me when I read it in the Wikipedia article, is Ellaria Sand, played by Indiria Varma, who's quoted as saying, "Obviously there’s lots of trimming going on. It’s all coming to a head and you have to get rid of less important characters that the audience hasn’t had the chance to invest in as much. So I was expecting it. I wasn’t heartbroken. And I was like, 'As long as I die on screen…' and they were like 'Yeah!' But of course I don’t die on screen. I stay alive, I’m just not going to reappear. I think it’s really clever." It feels more like a loose thread to me. Despite the fact that she's gagged in her final scene, she basically occupies the Whiny role for Cersei (Lena Headey) to explain her wicked plan for tormenting her and her daughter, which was nowhere near as harsh as I was expecting.

Cersei was almost edged into Whiny herself when Euron (Pilou Asbaek) delivered his prisoners by Jaime valiantly stepped into the role for her. Though Jaime actually made a good point about how capricious the favour of the mob is he wasn't even allowed this moment of wisdom as Euron was already aware of this, too, and one upped him on it. Euron is taking over from Ramsay as the ridiculous supervillain and we witnessed his fleet's miraculous power again this week when it bamfed in among the Unsullied ships. Wasn't the attack on Casterly Rock supposed to take place at the same time as Yara's assault on King's Landing? That Euron sure gets around. With a fleet.

The dialogue between Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Jon (Kit Harrington) was largely saved from falling into the pattern partly because the Authority role is too hard wired into Daenerys and partly due to Emilia Clarke's performance. She has gotten to be a much, much better actress in the past three years. I don't know if it's acting coaching or greater passion for her work but it's good to see. Jon presenting the problem of the White Walkers continues to feel like a metaphor for climate change but it being paired with a reference to events that make Jon a Christ-figure adds an interesting moral context to it. One could say that in reality the two things are in opposition--the right wing tends to maintain faith that climate change isn't real despite the evidence, here Jon is a figure of faith asking for faith in the absence of evidence. In a way, this works since many on the right consider science a matter of faith. Which is, of course, depressing.

I had to laugh when Jon said the game of thrones was basically like a bunch of children squabbling since that's exactly how I've described his arguments with Sansa (Sophie Turner) at Winterfell. My eyebrows were certainly raised when Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) described Sansa as smarter than she lets on and this week it seemed like Benioff and Weiss really were trying to make her seem smart now but only by lowering the intelligence of everyone around her. This week we see she's somehow the only one who's thought of storing sufficient food and, bizarrely, the only one whose thought of padding plate armour with leather. I would think if the armour smith wasn't doing this already it would be for a good reason, like maybe there's not enough leather for that. There is a lot of leather on the show, though, so I'm pretty sure there's already a suggestion of cattle being slaughtered in unrealistic quantities anyway.

We then see Sansa transfixed by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) basically telling her to anticipate all scenarios. Since this isn't a particularly amazing piece of advice, the fact that Sansa seems so absorbed made me think, "Wow, she's falling in love with him." Which I suppose I'm probably not supposed to think. But who knows? I think it would be great if they actually became a couple.

Final thought: who's the Romulan working for Cersei?

setsuled: (Default)

It was at least six or seven years ago Comic Con expanded beyond the capacity of the San Diego convention centre to accommodate, panels spilling over into all the ballrooms of all the hotels in the vicinity. But it was only this year I finally got around to seeing the Hilton Indigo Ballroom where there were two panels I wanted to see this year, the classic Doctor Who panel on Friday and the Expanse panel on Saturday.

And it looks like the Expanse panel isn't on YouTube yet so I can actually use some of the footage I took.

I mainly focused on writers Naren Shankar and Mark Fergus. In my experience, writers generally have the most interesting things to say on panels, but I couldn't resist getting some footage of Shohreh Aghdashloo as well.

I was a little sorry I missed getting a story Wes Chatham told about being stuck in a harness for some time during a stunt sequence because people had forgotten about him.

Despite the warnings about swearing written on the name cards, the panel previous to the Expanse, for another SyFy channel series called The Magicians, showed a complete lack of restraint with language.

I'd never heard of this show but judging from the crowd it has an extremely enthusiastic fanbase. Among them is moderator Chris Hardwick who seems to be regarded as the moderator of choice for any Comic Con panel. And he is pretty good--I've seen him moderate a lot of panels over the years and after being a bit too focused on himself early on he's really harnessed his talent for hosting to deliver consistently good work, generally finding just the right mix of staying out of the way of panellists and injecting humour and perspective when necessary. He said he'd begged to moderate The Magicians panel, calling it the new Buffy. The panel had a very good rapport so this was all enough to motivate me to check out the series for myself.

It's essentially Harry Potter with grad students. I enjoyed the first episode--I liked how quickly it moved, the references to Narnia were fun, and the use of magic as a metaphor for thinking outside a system was nice. But by the fourth episode I've found myself a bit tired of how whiny the characters are. I feel like this may be my age--it seems like whining is kind of a basic part of how millennials communicate because there's so much focus on nurturing one's own mental health. The fourth episode surprised me by featuring the standard plot of a main character waking up in a mental institution and being led to believe the reality in all the other episodes is his delusion. It seemed like record time for a show to go to a stock plot and, combining this with the whining, I don't feel especially motivated to continue watching it. The actors were pretty entertaining on the panel, though.

Even more entertaining was the panel for Gotham that preceded it, another show I haven't seen, though I have heard of it. My favourite part of the panel was the adorable Camren Bicondova, who plays Selena Kyle on the series, describing the filming of a scene that sounds similar to Selena's transformation in Batman Returns, where Selena is swarmed by cats while lying unconscious in the street. Bicondova described how all the cats but one were too afraid of the rain to actually perform so most of the cats eventually seen on screen were cgi, prompting Bicondova's co-star, Drew Powell, to remark, "Cats are pussies." Which I thought was pretty hilarious but there was a general offended "Oouuuu" from the audience in response. I don't know if it's because kids generally don't know "pussy" originally referred to cats or if they just considered it more important to be offended.

It was hard to get into the Indigo Ballroom that day, I think because Gotham and The Magicians were so popular. The room never filled up on the Thursday I saw the Classic Doctor Who panel, it was still too early for the click-bait attack campaign on Peter Davison to draw the torch and pitchfork mob. I saw panels for three shows I'd never heard of before the Doctor Who panel--Shadow Hunters, Z Nation, and a new Van Helsing series on SyFy that stars a female descendant of the famous vampire hunter, Vanessa Van Helsing, played by a lacklustre Kelly Overton, who was not present at the panel.

Rukiya Bernard, on the right above, plays a supporting character called Doc. Someone in the audience gushed to her about her performance which was the only part of the panel that made the show seem in any way interesting. This panel blurred with the similarly dull Z Nation panel.

Going to panels at the Hilton was nice, the lobby there being much more comfortable, with more comfortable seats, than the convention centre. There were shorter lines there for the bar and their cafeteria cart, too. Their system for getting people into the room was pretty disorganised, though, being the only line I've ever been in for Comic Con with a security bag check, which I suppose is a good idea, but with multiple bag check people it led to some confusion on Saturday when the line ended and dissolved in one spot and then everyone was supposed to line up again in a waiting area.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

Here's Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen from Sunday night's new Game of Thrones, arguably the two most prominent characters in the ensemble series, played by two actors who weren't at Comic Con. Which is fine, there's no reason anyone should have to face the heat and crowds if they don't want to, but I'd have been angry if I'd waited all night to get into Hall H for the Game of Thrones panel which didn't have much to compensate for not having any of the writers, directors, or most popular stars. Not to mention the whole thing, of course, ended up on YouTube anyway:

There are some cute, slightly awkward exchanges between Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, and moderator Kristian Nairn. But for me the highlight of the panel was Nathalie Emmanuel's blue lipstick.

Liam Cunningham was pretty funny, I'll say that. I am glad I didn't have to wait all night to see the panel--I didn't expect to get in, I was aiming for the Twin Peaks panel that immediately followed it, but it was a good thing I did get in because I heard later they didn't clear Hall H fast enough after the Game of Thrones panel to get everyone into the room for the beginning of the Twin Peaks panel. For some reason, all the most popular television series were scheduled for the same day in Hall H this year, beginning with Big Bang Theory followed by Fear the Walking Dead, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Twin Peaks. I suppose the fact that a massive number of people left after the Walking Dead panel indicates that show is still more popular than Game of Thrones, though maybe it's just a reflection of the fact that more of the main cast was on hand for the Walking Dead panels. Certainly, Game of Thrones is a better show than Walking Dead at this point as Sunday's beautiful new episode, "Stormborn", written by Bryan Cogman, demonstrated, flawed though it was.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I feel like we ought to have seen Grey Worm's (Jacob Anderson) grey worm, or lack thereof, just to maintain Missandei's (Nathalie Emmanuel) POV and give us a visual idea of what they were dealing with. I would have liked there to be a little more awkwardness about the oral sex, too. Would Grey Worm really know what to do right away? Her explaining to him what to do would've been a nice way to develop the dynamics of this relationship but as it is it was a pretty scene.

I want to thank the show for finally putting Missandei and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) in a room together, hopefully now I'll stop getting their names mixed up.

It was nice to see Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) finally being given something to do in this episode, Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) whole war strategy apparently coming from him, though Olenna (Diana Rigg) almost immediately undercuts him and the conclusion of the episode makes her seem pretty smart. It really feels like Tyrion's story ended when he killed his father and he's mostly been treading water ever since, which is fine--I'd rather he slip into a supporting role than for the writers to force a bigger story on him, but I do miss the dynamics he was part of in King's Landing.

To be fair to him, I don't think there's any way he could have predicted what happened at the end. A potentially better sex scene between Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Ellaria (Indira Varma) is interrupted when apparently Euron's (Pilou Asbaek) entire fleet, with flaming catapults, somehow got the drop on Yara's ship, presumably the flagship of her fleet.

What a pretty battle sequence. It's a little hard to follow the action once those embers are falling everywhere but that gives you some idea of how disorientating it would be for someone involved, the show here following its own lessons from "The Battle of the Bastards".

It's a little hard to accept what happened, though; there's not much about it that makes sense. So Euron promises to deliver a gift to Cersei (Lena Headey), apparently this was meant to be Ellaria. Why a gift from him is required I'm not sure since Cersei seemed quite open to an alliance. But he acquires this gift by wiping out the invading navy so he's basically done the job he was hoping to get by delivering this gift. And he did it by sailing his fleet into the middle of Yara's fleet with huge flames on his ships. These ships also continue firing on Yara's ship long after Euron and his men have boarded it.

That Euron is one lucky guy. I guess Theon (Alfie Allen) has some luck for once, too, as he seems to have survived the battle by jumping overboard. Presumably they're not that far out to sea?

Meanwhile, Arya (Maisie Williams) continues to fail at keeping a low profile but I loved her scene with the wolf pack and her reunion with her dire wolf. Most of the trademark Stark stupidity seemed to be at Winterfell where Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) were once again squabbling like children in front of their court.

I don't think Jon has once put forward an idea that most people in the room liked. Maybe it's a good thing he's leaving though Sansa hasn't exactly shown herself to be a great leader. Still, you can't do much worse than Jon who assaulted and threatened the very dangerous Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) for no reason and then let him live. With the enemies Jon let live last week, he's certainly living up to his reputation for knowing nothing. If he doesn't get himself killed for real this season I'll be very surprised.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

Here's the last photo I took of Comic Con 2017. A few people were still lined up under those white tents for Hall H even though the last Hall H panel had ended already. It is a nice shaded spot, anyway. It was around 4:30pm--I don't usually leave so late on Sunday but I felt like lingering this year, I really didn't want it to end. Normally I know better than to leave so late because the trolleys that are already packed like sardines throughout the Con are packed at the end like the contents of two cans of sardines crammed into one. With the heat, it was exactly like the bus scene from the beginning of Stray Dog, and I mean exactly like that--sweating people trying to stand nonchalantly with their heads in strangers' armpits. It occurred to me I was wearing a linen sport coat almost exactly like Toshiro Mifune's and that my camera was in the same pocket as the one the pick-pocket takes his pistol from. I thought about how much it would suck to lose my camera to-day. I'd have lost this photo of me with Gigi Edgley, for example.

It was really nice to meet her. I told her how much I loved her performance in Farscape, how I liked the physical mannerisms she came up with for her character, Chiana, an alien woman belonging to a race called the Nebari. She talked to me about how she didn't want to play a human woman wearing alien makeup and so she came up with alien mannerisms.

If you haven't seen Farscape and you like fantasy or sci-fi or just good television or movies, you'd be doing yourself a big favour checking it out.

Edgley and I talked about how much influence Farscape has had on modern television and movies, most obviously on Guardians of the Galaxy, which resembles Farscape a lot more than the comic it's based on. Chiana is one of my favourite characters in the history of television due in no small part to Edgley's performance so it was nice to meet her.

To-morrow I'll start making longer, proper entries about the Con. If I don't sleep all day. I can feel all four days catching up with me.

setsuled: (Venia Chess)

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Sonnet #1014

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

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Sonnet #1011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Striding through cynicism and hopelessness to honestly confront the age old problem of humanity's penchant for self-destruction, 2017's Wonder Woman is a wonder indeed. The philosophical conflict between strong-arm tactics and the hazards of people allowed to be free is the standard underlying story for superhero movies ever since The Dark Knight explored the idea so effectively. Wonder Woman is the first superhero film since The Dark Knight to make that struggle feel like a personal, artistic expression. There's a lot of talent at work in the film, but the lion's share of the credit must go to Patty Jenkins who, if Warner Brothers knows what's good for them, ought to be put in charge of the DCCU from now on.

I was one of the few people who thought the trailers for Wonder Woman didn't look very good. I noticed Chris Pine had a lot more lines in the trailers and they were leaning more on his charm, which made sense, I thought, since Gal Gadot was so bland in Batman v Superman. When I saw the movie, I saw that my impression was both right and wrong. The movie does lean more on Chris Pine and Gal Gadot is bland. But you know who else is bland? Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Gal Gadot is this generation's Arnold Schwarzenegger.

People have compared Wonder Woman to The Dirty Dozen and there's some truth in that but for me the apt comparison is to Terminator 2. The reason Schwarzenegger was never enough to make any further sequels in the Terminator franchise work is because Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong were essential to the film and essential to what made Schwarzenegger's "innocent android figuring out human nature" work. Linda Hamilton in particular gives the necessary contrast of a human being who's been psychically beaten and tempered by the violence of a human world. Chris Pine doesn't give quite so raw a performance but he does give a very good one--he's charming and he's had experiences that make him reluctant to trust Diana's guileless commitment to doing the right thing.

There is some of the fish-out-of-water, innocent lamb with regular guy dynamic at work here, despite the fact that Diana has studied many books on sex (by the way, if you want a much worldier woman in a period comic book series, you should've watched Peggy Carter). There's the perspective that Diana being so inexperienced plays into a patriarchal sexual dynamic that isn't alleviated by the fact that she has superpowers since such things are so divorced from reality. On the other hand, there's a cynicism in this perspective, too, for saying that innocence has no value. That's a big part of the film's point, that Diana is a reorienting influence on Steve (Chris Pine). That neither character has all the maturity cards is to the film's credit, it's not a flaw or anti-feminist.

It's also not anti-feminist to talk about Gadot's beauty and physical performance, which is as crucial as Schwarzenegger's physicality. Jenkins knew this in making the film and delivered great work from the material she was given. When Steve wakes up on the Themyscira beach, we get these enormous close-ups of Gadot's beautiful face peering at him (us) curiously. It feels intrusive and starts to feel oddly good. The cinematography and makeup seem calculated to soften Gadot's features a great deal which becomes a stimulating paradox in the suddenness of her action scenes. Her performance has a bit more ham than in Batman v Superman--the right amount for how Jenkins uses her--her grins and head tilts are subtly strange and I always felt like I didn't get enough time to study her reaction before the camera went back to Pine. It all adds up to create maybe the best example of a goddess put to film that I've seen.

Alongside the effective otherworldliness of Diana, Jenkins ably and shrewdly assembles a group of rough edged humans with Steve's comrades at the pub whom he takes along for their journey into the horrors of World War I trenches. Jenkins gets away with a surprising amount of that horror even in this era of the "grimdark" comic book film, just enough to make Diana's walk across "No-Man's Land" (a thankfully understated joke) so heart-stoppingly beautiful.

I could point out flaws in the screenplay. The varying levels of knowledge and ignorance Diana has don't quite add up, the final philosophical arguments between characters don't quite fit into the catch-phrases they try to use, but Jenkins coordinates everything so beautifully there was never a moment I wasn't completely invested in what Diana and Steve were trying to do and I felt both of their perspectives. Jenkins delivers something that really feels like it touches on the function of an ideal for humanity when contrasted with horrible, messy reality. It's an amazing film.

Several supporting performances were good, among them Ewen Bremner and particularly David Thewlis were absolutely wonderful.
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: (Doctor Chess)

To-day's new Doctor Who is called "The Pyramid at the End of the World" and I guess that's meant in the sense of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe--I wonder if the title was intended as a reference to former Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams. It was a good episode in any case, written by Peter Harness and Steven Moffat, it put the protagonists through some moral dilemmas on a global scale featuring a very clever, effective villain.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I really, really love how the monks are offering aid only for complete consent. Though they do seem to be pretty picky and they may be their own worst enemies in this regard--but it's almost like a reply to the idea that Negan on Walking Dead can rule entirely through fear. The monks know, as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) points out, fear is nowhere near as effective as love. But it's weirdly funny how totally inept the monks are at inspiring love. It's, forgive the phrase, blind luck that things work out their way.

I guess the Doctor just learned a lesson in how it can backfire when you don't tell your loved ones about your troubles. Though, to be fair, it would be hard to see this scenario coming and I'm still not sure how Bill's (Pearl Mackie) consent ends up handing over the whole world. But who knows how the monk's magic works.

I loved how the simulation turns out to be a bunch of threads, like these monks, who I still think are related to the Cybermen in some way, are the Furies. The idea of them only being able to take over by consent resonates with globalist politics, or the relationships the Orange President mentioned by Bill has with foreign powers. I assumed these episodes were filmed before the election but I guess not. Which means the simulation had the wrong U.S. president? Seems like a pretty big mistake for something that's supposed to be so eerily accurate.

"Pyramid at the End of the World" features the first major Chinese character, Xiaolian (Daphne Cheung), on Doctor Who since The Talons of Wang Chiang in 1977*. I'm not sure but I think Togo Igawa as the U.N. Secretary General may be the second Japanese character ever, after the Torchwood character Toshiko Sato's brief appearance in "Aliens of London" from 2005. My happiness at the appearance of such characters isn't so much a desire for political correctness but from the fact that I've always wanted Doctor Who to explore Earth as widely as the Doctor's supposed to have. This was part of the original concept of the show, after all, though I suppose it is cost prohibitive. I guess to-day's audiences aren't likely to accept the cardboard sets seen in the First Doctor's "Aztecs" serial. But since there's a mandate for diversity anyway in casting it would be nice if the show took it as an opportunity. This is an area where the audio plays have definitely outperformed the television series.

*Correction courtesy simon-on-the-river3 on Kinja: There was a Chinese character played by Burt Kwouk in 1982's Four to Doomsday and a Chinese actress, Ling Tai, in 1989's Battlefield. Hong Kong actor Yee Jee Tso was in the 1996 TV movie. That’s still not a whole lot.


setsuled: (Default)

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