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: (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: (Mouse Sailor)

Where do I begin? I'm still in afterglow. It's not often you have your expectations not only met but exceeded but the new Twin Peaks has so far given me what I wanted and surprised me, too. Well, I wanted that surprise but there were things about these first four episodes I was only dimly conscious of having missed. It wasn't just classic David Lynch, it represented sensibilities in filmmaking that haven't been around since the 90s. Lynch shows us what we lose by allowing television to supplant film while at the same time showing us how television can adopt those things to truly be a worthy successor. He demonstrates how important a director is in a medium that is now largely more associated with writers. The atmosphere, the editing, the tone of the performances--I don't think it was simply nostalgia that made me so happy, though it was like dreaming a dream I hadn't had in twenty years. It felt like a door was opened in a room I didn't even know I was in.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Lynch largely forgoes any attempt to bring new viewers up to speed. I think a receptive new viewer might enjoy this purely for the ingenuity of filmmaking but the story doesn't waste any time picking things up right where they were left twenty five years ago with the final episode of season two and the 1992 movie, Fire Walk with Me.

People wanted to see Agent Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) and that wonderful, charmingly innocent yet wise personality from the first episode, so I wondered if Lynch and Frost were going to dispense with the doppelgänger plot right away and try to have a sort of reboot. Maybe a new murder and then focus on the different townspeople and their reactions. Twin Peaks was originally conceived as a soap opera meets a detective procedural. Over the course of the second season, the soap opera aspect became noticeably stale and the detective aspect morphed the show into a supernatural detective series, and this is right where the new series picks up. Even Fire Walk with Me, which focused on the final days of Laura Palmer's life, was more about how the supernatural was an influence on that life and the ways in which supernatural planes interacted with the corporeal world and the FBI. The first shows to exhibit the influence of Twin Peaks, like The X-Files, tended to draw from the supernatural detective aspect while later shows like Veronica Mars or Broadchurch tended to focus on the more corporeal, earlier aspects of the show. In a world increasingly disinterested in stories of the surpernatural, or at any rate such stories that take themselves seriously, the new Twin Peaks may have trouble finding footing with new viewers, if Lynch's filmmaking brilliance can't win the day alone.

Remember what a boring idea it was when Steven Spielberg ditched the mysticism of the first three Indiana Jones films for aliens? Maybe audiences are ready to go back to that place with art more sophisticated than Dan Brown. Michael Cera's character, Wally Brando, introduced in the fourth episode of the new Twin Peaks, made me wonder if Lynch was mocking Shia Labeouf's character in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, who was, like Wally, introduced on a motorcycle wearing the identical costume based on Marlon Brando in The Wild One. We're not meant to take Wally as seriously, though, as Robert Forster shaking his head as he walked away seemed to indicate. Everyone figured out Cera would be playing the child of Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) and Andy (Harry Goaz) but I don't think anyone saw the beat Brando impression coming. But it's perfect--like Lucy and Andy, he's ridiculous while making the audience feel like there's more to him. There's a kind of poetry in his ridiculousness that seems as though it might present insight.

And with respect to Hawk (Michael Horse), I do think it's the bunnies. Lucy says she ate one bunny but we can see two and a half are missing.

I really like Robert Forster as the new Sheriff Truman. I'm sad that Michael Ontkean was unable to come out of retirement--it sounds like he has medical issues--but Forster is fantastic. Along with Lynch himself as Gordon Cole, I feel like we're seeing the face of old wisdom that, like so many other things, we don't see very often anymore. Look at how hard it was getting people to accept Peter Capaldi as the Doctor on Doctor Who.

Gods, that poster.

This leads me to another thing the new Twin Peaks gives us I haven't seen in a long time--a great supporting cast.

A great director can use a bad actor though a good actor doesn't usually hurt. I can't always tell which is which on Twin Peaks which is exactly as it should be. The great number of new people introduced are somehow both peculiar and extraordinarily credible. They're weird and yet very real. The soft cops who seem more interested in the process of getting into Ruth Davenport's apartment than in any bigger picture, the wife who's concerned about guests coming later while her husband's being arrested. The characters are types yet there's things about them that push towards being types of people you might meet than being types of people you might see on a television series. Part of this is that Lynch seems blessedly free of the increasingly neurotic political influence exerting itself in media.

The fat lady in the hotel is a good example. She's believably ditzy, there's no compulsion to give her a moment where we see she's exceptionally intelligent in some way, we don't have the need to get a flash of a whole backstory where she's in some way a badass. But I've known plenty of people like her. Lynch paints with a full palette of characters as he peoples his world. The young man watching the glass box and the girl trying to seduce him suggest full personalities with their mannerisms even as they have pretty simple functions in the story.

I guess they chose a pretty bad time to have sex. Or maybe it was the sex that attracted that weird, shivering entity. The show has always linked sex with the supernatural, often in violent, tragic ways. It's the cosmic judgement or sin that Laura Palmer died for, the inability for humans just to let love and sex happen and be beautiful without imposing ploys for dominance or hang-ups.

Damn, there's so much more to get to. As with Michael Ontkean, I was sad Michael J. Anderson couldn't return to the show, though from what I've heard it's because Anderson was being kind of a dick. Also as in the case of Truman, I really like how Lynch made do in the absence of the old actor, in this case by creating the "evolution of the arm".

As we learned in Fire Walk with Me, the little man in the red suit played by Anderson was in fact Phillip Gerard's (Al Strobel) missing arm. On the new series, where apparently people, living and dead, physically age in the supernatural realm called the Black Lodge, the little man has evolved into a sycamore tree with a bare brain or possibly wad of gum at the top. I wondered if Lynch could really do anything to make the all too familiar Red Room seem strange again and I think he pulled it off by taking things in a decidedly more Alice in Wonderland direction.

Poor Cooper, trapped in the lodge all this time. I haven't even started talking about Kyle MacLachlan! He's so far played three roles on this show. As the sinister doppelgänger Cooper, he shows that Lynch is still the same guy who created Frank Booth and Bob. I can't say I'm a fan of the hair style, but there's something effectively menacing about him, not merely from his aura of effective violence, but for things like the dialogue where he explains how he doesn't "need" anything--he only "wants".

Then there's poor Dougie, who seems not to have even been a real person, but rather a decoy. It's brilliantly sad to think about, this guy who has a wife and kids, yet you do get the impression that there is a lack of something about him.

Anyway. I could write a book. I loved Naomi Watts and the reintroduction of the Horne brothers, Jennifer Jason Leigh, the musical guests, Dr. Jacoby's art experiment in the woods, Albert--gods, Miguel Ferrer is so vital here--Chrysta Bell, Denise Bryson, Sarah Palmer's enormous television with the lions tearing apart their prey. And a million other things I'm leaving out. And there's more to come! We haven't even seen Big Ed yet!

Twitter Sonnet #995

The lonesome foghorn's plastic seeds the lake.
On banks unsafe for rings or horns she'll light.
A blue and hidden key's cocaine she'd take.
The antler shadows grew into the night.
The feathered crown is hitting houses shrunk.
On shaded lawn a frame encased a dream.
Norwegian subs for one eye have sunk.
The feathered watchers are not what they seem.
A fractured floor reveals the certain stars.
Contained in dimming light the shaking cry.
With ease the shot replaced the eyes in cars.
The horns have been and arms can try.
A bunny missing twice must take it black.
The coffee not like oil rights the track.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

This week's exceptionally existential new Doctor Who, "Extremis", tackled the meaning of individual endeavour in a potentially meaningless world. Last week, the show tackled capitalism and this week has gone on to religion, using the Catholic Church as a context but addressing the more universal function of belief. It turned out to be a really lovely episode and featured possibly the most profound statement ever conceived about Super Mario Brothers.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I was saying to a friend of mine a few months ago, Professor Peter Herman at SDSU, that some piece of dystopian fiction seemed prophetic now that Trump is in office and Professor Herman replied, "Everything bad seems prophetic now." I thought of this watching "Extremis", in the scene where Bill (Peal Mackie) finds the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) sitting alone in the White House Oval Office with the corpse of a president who's just killed himself.

Of course, this whole season of Doctor Who was recorded before last year's U.S. election and even if the makers of the show knew who was going to be president they likely desired to avoid any of the attendant trouble in suggesting someone very like the actual president committed suicide. That's probably why the president on the show resembles neither Trump or Clinton, a nondescript white man with black hair. Though the level of intellectual contemplation suggested as a motive for suicide would also rule out Trump. But the story of a world where the truth can't be known because of the sophistication of the lies that shape apparent reality, paired with a portrayal of the U.S. government, couldn't fail to seem like an apt reflection of current affairs.

Which makes the Doctor's solution all the more resonant, the beautifully delivered concept of virtue without hope--reminding me of the line from Aragorn in Return of the King, about "valour without renown." It would be easy to compare "Extremis" to The Matrix but its idea is much more humanistic than a story about a regular guy who ends up being the Chosen One--in this episode, the Doctor discovers he isn't even really the Doctor, in fact not even a real person, and he presents the argument that it doesn't matter because he's defined by his actions. This is also not an idea new to this story--not new to television or even new to Doctor Who but it was beautifully delivered here. I particularly liked the pairing of it with the Catholic Church, emphasising the nature of the question as being an ancient preoccupation of the human mind worth exploring again and again. The bad times which prompt such questions and make them seem particularly crucial, after all, keep popping up.

I loved how the Doctor's epiphany at the climax came in the form of words spoken to him by Missy (Michelle Gomez) when she was in fact repeating words he'd spoken to her. It's even better because we know she probably doesn't mean them, forcing us to analyse the value in the words themselves--there's no hope she believes in deeds done with promise of "no hope."

The Doctor's blindness was another perfect device for this story, the idea of this blind man trying to read a deadly book called "the truth" being a clever metaphorical portrayal of what the process of seeking truth might be--and Capaldi does such a beautiful job allowing the despair to come through which he's fighting against.

Pearl Mackie continues to be good but this episode particularly drew my attention to Matt Lucas. I knew he could be funny but here he was also excellent delivering some straight forward sincere stuff. His dread approaching the edge of the projectors was great.

And I'm going to make a prediction right now--I think these hooded guys are the Cybermen. It makes sense that they'd be the ones to create a vast simulation of Earth--which isn't too far from the idea of Mondas being an alternate Earth. It looks like they're going to be in next week's episode, too, presumably outside the simulation but I still feel pretty strongly we're seeing Mondasians. To those who don't understand why the original Mondasian Cybermen are scarier, imagine those Cybermen look like this but with a thin cloth mask.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

One thing's for sure, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies aren't among the many modern films that use a dull, blue and amber colour palette. In 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, director James Gunn uses every colour in the rainbow, and then some, but manages to keep the riot of colour, characters, and effects in a tight enough bundle to make a very entertaining water balloon of enthusiastic post-modern affection.

My favourite parts of the film were the conversations between Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). It seems the filmmakers sought to pair one big-hearted, simple-minded character with another, which doesn't seem like a concept that would have legs, yet their conversation about beauty was oddly thought provoking, despite the obvious joke in Drax's assertion that beautiful people can't trust anyone. Now the two seem to be on the path to a relationship in which physical repulsion is agreed on as a desirable concept. It's not exactly like Peter (Chris Pratt) compulsively talking about David Hasselhoff at the end of the film in order to mute some of the big emotional notes, but the landscape Mantis and Drax have created has something like the enthusiastically ironic appreciation for pop culture references that pervade much of the film in that there's a pursuit for earnest feeling through the destabilising of signifiers. I've been at university too long.

I was really jazzed to see Ben Browder's cameo. After seeing the first film, I noted how much it owes to the great Sci-Fi television series Browder starred, Farscape, in terms of tone. It seemed James Gunn was acknowledging the influence with this cameo, and I dig it. With Browder putting on that English accent, it seemed like Crichton posing as Peacekeeper.

When the first movie came out, I remember people commenting on how refreshing it was that Gamora (Zoe Saldana) didn't end up becoming Peter's love interest, which generally made me wonder if these people were watching the same movie I was. It seemed abundantly clear that they were intended to have an unspoken attraction, but I guess we needed this movie with Peter directly stating to Gamora than they shared an unspoken mutual attraction. This movie did a better job of having Gamora seem attracted to Peter, though--she can actually be seen checking him out early on. And is it really so strange? To quote John Cleese in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, what's wrong with a kiss? I've been disappointed by the lack of romance in the new Star Wars films and television series, I'm glad this apparently isn't something Disney's mandated for all its properties.

I still don't find Gamora all that interesting. Nebula (Karen Gillan) was a lot more fun and I enjoyed watching her try to sort her feelings out. It's a shame Gillan has to shave her head for these films, though, her hair is so fantastic. If Paul Goddard were the Farscape cameo the two could commiserate.

I read James Gunn made a point of making sure the movie passed the Bechdel Test many times. But he must have misunderstood the test, which requires that two or more named female characters have a conversation where they don't talk about a man. The Bechdel Test website can only find one brief instance in the film that passes and it's actually a conversation in which Peter, Drax, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take part.

Personally, I don't care if a movie passes the Bechdel test or not. As even proponents of the test have pointed out, there are many movies that don't pass while still having great female characters and many movies that do pass while lacking good female characters. But I'm a little intrigued that Gunn was so keen to pass the test but still managed to botch it almost completely. Oh, well. It happens to all of us.

The main plot of the film involves Peter's quest for a father figure with Kurt Russell's character, Ego, and Michael Rooker's Yondu being the contenders. The story explicitly involves creation and hierarchy. The movie begins with the crew doing a job for a race of beings who look down on everyone else for their belief in their own perfection, a concept which becomes a more serious concern for Peter later in the film. Again, this goes back to a digestion of the fundamental artistic motive of the film which celebrates a group of misfits and older movies and television series--like Farscape and Star Wars--that featured similar small groups butting heads with powerful beings and governments. One could look at Peter as Prince Hal choosing between the father figures King Henry IV and the morally weaker Falstaff. Though Yondu turns out to be a little too principled to be a genuine Falstaff. But the film is clearly happy to celebrate the fact that it's not the first to present a hero choosing between being a ruler or an ordinary mortal. Of course, no-one in this film is really an ordinary mortal, but still.
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)

I can think of few worthier targets for evisceration nowadays than capitalism. So to-day's new episode of Doctor Who, "Oxygen", filled me with much more glee than it might have in happier times. Written by Jamie Mathieson, who's quickly become one of the show's strongest writers since his first script for the show in 2014, delivers a deliciously sinister and timely premise with terrific atmosphere and character.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Poor Bill (Pearl Mackie) had a rough episode. But the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) giving her his helmet was one of those old fashioned lovely moments of heroism that still seem to work now and then. And now he's blind, too--still blind at the end of the episode, confirmed by the latest awkwardly looped piece of dialogue; "I'm still blind!" There is someone, I don't know who, responsible for these dopey insertions, usually at the end of episodes under the apparent belief that no-one's going to be able to put things together from the Doctor saying he can't look at Nardole. Hell, I started getting the idea when he kept the glasses on just a bit longer than seemed natural. If that still wasn't enough, there was the trailer for next week, after all.

Though, again, I mainly loved this episode. I do like to get my complaints out of the way first, generally speaking, but aside from that looped dialogue the only other thing that slightly bothered me was the banter about racism. It really does feel like there's a directive at work to discuss race as often as possible this season. Which is fine, but having the racism tables turned on Bill, so to speak, wasn't especially amusing or interesting.

But those suits. What a perfect concept--and that subtle joke I almost missed at the end--"It's the suits!" said the Doctor and I thought, "Yes, we know it's the suits--oh! Not those suits, the suits like the white collar bosses!" This works as a great follow up to "Thin Ice" where we saw the cutthroat capitalist in the 19th century. Now here's the invisible ruthless capitalist of the future, so gone over to machines that we never even see a flesh and bone villain. Just robots carting around the flesh and bone of the victims.

A suit you have to pay for every breath of oxygen, in a space station designed not to be hospitable to anyone not paying for that oxygen. You have to make money so you can pay money or you die. What a great reconfiguring of the intimate, personal impact of capitalism. I'm glad kids are watching this show because this is a great way to get them thinking about the world they're in. This is what good Science Fiction and Fantasy does.

The atmosphere of the story was great, I loved the slow build up as the characters discovered clues. I loved Nardole (Matt Lucas) who evidently needs oxygen. His pleas to the Doctor that they go back to the TARDIS were delivered just right. I loved the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey--the wonderful black void of space instead of thick star clusters at the beginning and the red eyes on the suits that are dead ringers for HAL.

Ever since the show's relaunch in 2005, there's been a compulsion to make the Doctor a Christ figure, something I don't always enjoy. This season I like it. The speech in "Thin Ice" which seems to be based on Matthew 25:40 ("Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.") and now we have the Doctor undermining capitalism by giving and sacrificing without thought of recompense. This is good stuff, especially with a lot of other fantasy fiction encouraging people to be ruthless and selfish. And I'm so going to miss Capaldi when he's gone, especially considering the latest casting rumours.

Twitter Sonnet #992

The air pump showed the bird to ev'ry church.
Escaping lace displayed a petal cloud.
Descending now is heaven in the lurch.
A spinning sink describes a certain shroud.
In pebbles sifted from the foam she scried.
Awoken, Dover's Venus faintly sighs.
Important, aimless gulls together guide.
The infinite revealed encompassed eyes.
Beneath the capes of sod magicians grow.
Elapsing time appears beneath the lid.
At speed conveying notes the molluscs know.
Inquiring horns relax and raise the bid.
The thinning helmet held but little cash.
An ancient concert pin defines the sash.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Coming to the end of the semester, I find myself indulging in reading more things that haven't been assigned for a class lately. I started reading The Fellowship of the Ring again, getting quickly and very happily drawn in. I've probably watched the Peter Jackson movies about twenty times since the last time I read the books but I'm surprised to find I generally don't picture the characters as the actors who played them in the movies. It's not to say I don't like Elijah Wood or Sean Astin, but Frodo and Sam are so different in the book. Frodo's older, of course, and he comes off that way in the way he deals with people. The man I picture is something like Ray Milland. I understand the reasons for the changes Jackson made to pick up the story's pace and give an audience hungrier for young faces someone to be attracted to. But the feeling of a man with years of life experience having contemplative, intellectual conversations with Gandalf by the fire is a nice vibe. I suppose I could say I wish the movie were more like that, but then I do have the book, after all.

The Hobbits as a people are a bit more three dimensional in the book, too. I was surprised by this level of contempt Frodo expresses for his people:

"I should like to save the Shire if I could--though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words, and have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them."

Earlier, Tolkien mentions how the Hobbits have grown complacent due to the Shire's isolation from war. Like so many things these days, I look at this through the prism of Trump. Here's the virtue of Tolkien's dislike for allegory--one can see how Tolkien was likely inspired by the state of England before World War I, but because he doesn't explicitly tie it to that, it invites the reader to look for commonalities in human nature to-day or in any other time. If I think of the people who didn't vote in the last election or were mentally complacent enough to think they could vote for Trump in the name of trolling reality, I can apply Frodo's frustration, which leads me to attempt finding also his love for his people. That's a lot harder.

Considering what happens with "The Scouring of the Shire" in the end, and, from what I remember, the Hobbits' complicity in that, it works as an inversion of the connexion dependence on assembly line, steel working, and coal mining blue collar industry Trump's campaign hearkened back to, and which also seemed to have been a big motivating factor for Brexit. Tolkien was writing about the waste and ugliness of it at the beginning, and here that ugly thing exerts its influence even as it grows undeniably obsolete.

I've always liked how the journey in The Lord of the Rings seems to be from a sort of Victorian world in the Shire into a more mediaeval world to the east. If one does apply Tolkien's experience in World War I, it's an interesting contrast to the progression of poetry from idealised odes to valour in war by Alfred Lord Tennyson to the grim reality of the trenches composed by Wilfred Owen. Tolkien seems to stand in direct opposition to that trend. It's oddly heartening that he could see the incredible horrors of the World War I battlefield and somehow digest it and produce years later a work about beauty and magic.

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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