setsuled: (Skull Tree)

The season finale of Better Call Saul on Monday brought some big changes to the show, promising next season will be very different from the first three. Where Breaking Bad eventually became a Spaghetti Western, Better Call Saul is shaping up to be more of a film noir with its focus on the delicate line between luck and free will.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Chuck (Michael McKean) accuses Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) of having a fundamentally harmful nature but it's Chuck whose tragic personality hurts himself and everyone around him. In a well conceived scene, Chuck ended his life like he lived it; breaking things because he's completely out of touch with his own feelings. He seemed completely cool and confident when he told Jimmy he didn't matter much to him and Chuck probably believed it. But I don't think it's any coincidence Chuck fell into a violent, final relapse shortly afterwards.

It's fitting the last conversation between Chuck and Jimmy is about blame. Whose fault is all this? Chuck says it's Jimmy who can't help himself but it looks like Chuck is the one with less self-control. Still, laying all the blame on Jimmy, despite the pettiness and schemes Jimmy engages in, hardly seems fair because Chuck and fate seem to be dealing Jimmy an unfair hand, intentionally or not.

The episode was written by Gennifer Hutchison, my favourite writer on the series now, and mostly I think she did a great job but I couldn't buy Jimmy's solution to his troubles with Irene and her friends. I understand the point of this was to show Jimmy really does have a good heart, being willing to sacrifice that big Sandpiper payout so that Irene's friends would forgive her. But I don't see how he could be certain the plan would work--it's not like it changes any of Irene's actions her friends were upset about. Not to mention the fact that since they'd seen through his other attempts to mend their friendships there's a good chance they'd see through this one, too. But I guess it would be hard to think of another way to get Jimmy out of the elder law business and into criminal defence.

There wasn't much comedy in this episode but I loved Kim's (Rhea Seehorn) trip to Blockbuster Video, just a subtle reminder that this is a period piece. Her and Jimmy watching To Kill a Mockingbird is a nice way to underscore the standard of ethics they might be trying to live up to--it's a quiet way of showing them contemplate the reason they've chosen this career.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter Sonnet #1005

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

To-day brings a new chapter of my infrequently updated web comic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah. Our heroines discourse with the supernatural and the worse for wear in this sea faring adventure comic. Enjoy.

Happy birthday, Wolfe Tone, Errol Flynn, Lillian Hellman, Lala Brooks, John Goodman, and Robert Rodriguez.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Last night's new Twin Peaks may have spent more time actually in Twin Peaks than any previous episode of the new season and it was an exceptionally fast paced episode. With many satisfying developments and answers it also presented some new questions, and it did both these things in the understated manner that makes the inherent mystery of Twin Peaks so nice.

Spoilers after the screenshot

So it's Andy (Harry Goaz) who comes across the truck driven by Richard Horne in the previous episode, a truck that apparently belongs to a new character too nervous for some reason to answer Andy's questions then and there. Gentle, simple Andy might be the wrong man for this job, agreeing to meet the guy in two hours at which point of course the guy doesn't show. There's an added ominous note in the place Andy chooses to meet--the corner of Sparkwood and 21, the same place James last saw Laura Palmer. Maybe it was in Andy's mind from going through Cooper's file. For whatever reason, the familiar synthesiser intro to Laura Palmer's theme playing over a waiting Andy did much to collect more dread.

Another nicely atmospheric, Twin Peaks location moment later in the episode featured Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his assistant Beverly (Ashley Judd) trying to track down the source of a faint ringing noise in the Great Northern. The lighting in the hotel was particularly evocative of the old series, the other locations tending to look less familiar because they look better, being locations instead of sets. I like the upgrade but it was sweet seeing something a little more like the old times. And I really liked the multiple ways the scene operates--on the level of spooky atmosphere, on Ben being just a little suggestive while reminiscing about Laura Palmer, and on the hint of flirtation between him and Beverly. And Beverly, true to Twin Peaks form despite being a new character, is soon revealed to have another side to her personality when she goes home to her wheelchair bound husband, Tom (Hugh Dillon).

How many wheelchairs have we seen on Twin Peaks now? The scene most clearly echoes Leo Johnson when Tom seems suspicious and abusive, until the tables turn and Beverly starts getting a bit angrier than the situation calls for. I guess she really does like Ben. Also in a wheelchair was Mrs. Hayward, who's not listed as appearing in this new season, though her husband, Doc Hayward (Warren Frost), did appear last night in an oddly adorable, unexpected Skype scene between him and Robert Forster's Frank Truman.

Watching Robert Forster interact with modern technology makes the entire modern world seem somehow silly. Sorry to have brought you to these times, Mr. Forster, but we're glad you're here. I guess it's not like he's been away--I see now on Wikipedia he did three episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What the fuck. Well, okay, that newer Ninja Turtles show isn't actually that bad, I've seen part of the first season.

Last night's Twin Peaks began with Jerry Horne (David Patrick Kelly) lost in the woods. It's nice seeing the Horne brothers with a little more material than in the odd, brief scene in the season's first episode. The more episodes I see, the more cohesive it all feels and I can see now why Lynch considers the season more like an eighteen hour movie than a series of episodes. All the same, I'm glad he didn't release them all at once because, as much as I'm normally not given to binge watching, I know I'd shut myself in to watch all of these in one go if I could.

Jerry seems to be having a bad trip and he's worried about his stolen car, dialogue that in retrospect seems like he might be psychically channelling the scene in Dougie Jones' office where the still sleep walking Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) answered questions about his car. This was just before one of the more enjoyable moments in the series so far when Cooper suddenly became a man of action to thwart the hitman, Ike (Christophe Zajac-Denek).

And then Lynch puts the cherry on top with an appearance by The Arm, egging Cooper on to squeeze off the assassin's hand. It's one of those moments where you realise a man travelling between an earthly and spiritual plane looks quite a bit like a dangerous lunatic. That blurred edge makes everything more intriguing, much like the multiple layers in the other scenes.

The scene's also likely Lynch's revenge on Michael J. Anderson, the actor who originally played The Arm, also known as The Man from Another Place, in the original series before making slanderous statements about Lynch following his failed effort to get more money out of the director. Ironically, it was in an interview with Anderson that I learned how the famous tailgating scene in Lost Highway was made after Anderson witnessed Lynch being tailgated by an asshole motorist. Now we see the character Anderson used to play urging Cooper to mutilate a villainous little person. Among other things, it seemed like Lynch saying loud and clear, "This character ain't yours anymore, motherfucker."

Another highlight of the episode was Laura Dern as Diane, brought to interrogate the bad Cooper despite her marked reluctance. It seems clear the bad Cooper raped her shortly after the events of the second season though this is never explicitly stated. It doesn't have to be, it's entirely in Dern's performance, which speaks volumes, and the way she toasts the FBI. We can see clearly someone whose whole life was upended years ago when someone she thought she could trust betrayed her in a fundamental way. Having a great actress, and a director who knows what she's capable of, makes a very, very big difference.

Or maybe I should say "yrev". I didn't notice that bad Cooper had said one of his verys backwards the first time though I did see people online pointing it out. Last night's episode charmingly just assumed everyone had noticed. I loved Gordon (David Lynch) counting the words on Tammy's (Chrysta Bell) fingers.

I also really loved how this episode ended with just a little slice of life in the RR. I want a whole night's worth of footage.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

Why did it take me so long to see Alien: Covenant? I suppose because my friends who saw it seemed disappointed and the response to it otherwise seems to be lukewarm. The negative reaction to Prometheus seemed better because it was the kind of whining you hear from fans when a movie did something right and it was out of their comfort zones. Now Ridley Scott, the pushover that he is, gave the fans what they want and the fans yawned. To be sure, the old fashioned xenomorph and face huggers are the worst parts of Alien: Covenent but I didn't hate the film. I loved all the references, particularly to Paradise Lost, since I'm a big John Milton nut (as anyone who's read my web comic knows).

I also like Wagner a lot so I loved the use of music from Das Rheingold. It's a lot of fun watching the movie and seeing how perfectly it suits references to Der Ring des Nibelungen and Paradise Lost. Yet the film is not a direct adaptation of either work, which is appropriate, though David, Michael Fassbender's android character introduced in Prometheus, is a far less complex figure than Satan in Paradise Lost. He's a less complex figure than he was in Prometheus, actually. Despite his conversations with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the newer model android, Walter (also Fassbender), which emphasise the life of forced servitude androids are forced into, it's hard to see David as anything but a two dimensional villain. Say what you will about Satan in Paradise Lost but he never murdered and dissected Eve.

Still, the parallels to Milton's poem are so perfect it's easy to see why Scott was inspired to explicitly correlate the two with his original title for the film, Alien: Paradise Lost. The obvious point is that David is rebelling against his creator--like Satan in Paradise Lost, who doesn't see why Jesus should be considered more worthy of being called God's number one son than himself, David immediately questions Weyland's assertion that he is David's father. In a reversal of Roy and Tyrell in Blade Runner, it's David who has the longer lifespan than his creator. But there are even more specific ways in which Covenant and Paradise Lost parallel, as in the focus on weapons development in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which brought to mind this piece from a section on the war in heaven:

Whereto with look compos'd SATAN repli'd.
Not uninvented that, which thou aright
Beleivst so main to our success, I bring;
Which of us who beholds the bright surface
Of this Ethereous mould whereon we stand,
This continent of spacious Heav'n, adornd
With Plant, Fruit, Flour Ambrosial, Gemms & Gold,
Whose Eye so superficially surveyes
These things, as not to mind from whence they grow
Deep under ground, materials dark and crude,
Of spiritous and fierie spume, till toucht
With Heav'ns ray, and temperd they shoot forth
So beauteous, op'ning to the ambient light.
These in thir dark Nativitie the Deep
Shall yeild us, pregnant with infernal flame,
Which into hallow Engins long and round
Thick-rammd, at th' other bore with touch of fire
Dilated and infuriate shall send forth
From far with thundring noise among our foes
Such implements of mischief as shall dash
To pieces, and orewhelm whatever stands
Adverse, that they shall fear we have disarmd
The Thunderer of his only dreaded bolt.
Nor long shall be our labour, yet ere dawne,
Effect shall end our wish. Mean while revive;
Abandon fear; to strength and counsel joind
Think nothing hard, much less to be despaird.
He ended, and his words thir drooping chere
Enlightn'd, and thir languisht hope reviv'd.
Th' invention all admir'd, and each, how hee
To be th' inventer miss'd, so easie it seemd
Once found, which yet unfound most would have thought
Impossible: yet haply of thy Race
In future dayes, if Malice should abound,
Some one intent on mischief, or inspir'd
With dev'lish machination might devise
Like instrument to plague the Sons of men
For sin, on warr and mutual slaughter bent.

In Paradise Lost, we see Satan cleaved almost in two by Michael's sword but, of course, Satan, being an angel, pulls himself back together, good as new (so to speak). Much like David. It all seems less like parallels Scott intended at first but like parallels he saw in retrospect and decided to emphasise. The film also is quite conscious of its echoes of Blade Runner, David even at one point having Roy's "That's the spirit!" line in a pivotal fight scene. So, oddly enough, Blade Runner actually functions as a closer compliment to Paradise Lost because of the greater moral complexity inherent in Roy.

In general, the characters in Alien: Covenant fall into more explicit hero and villain slots than those seen in Prometheus, which may have been another of Scott's concessions to fans, who complained that two of the scientists were too foolish in their first encounter with an alien life in Prometheus. The only character in Covenant who really seems flawed is Oram, who seems so really more for Billy Crudup's fascinating performance than for any other reason. Crudup may be the most underrated actor in Hollywood. As much as I hate Zack Snyder's testosterone wank adaptation of Watchmen, Crudup's performance in it showed his willingness to commit to a role. In Covenant, he creates this character who's distinguished as a man of faith but who comes off as thoroughly insecure thanks to the plaintive, muttering and stuttering speaking ticks Crudup gives him.

I also thought Danny McBride was really good in a dramatic role as Tennessee and he and Scott get a lot of effective tension from the scenes where Tennessee is deciding whether to take the ship to a hazardously low altitude. I really wasn't sure if he was doing the right thing or taking a needless risk and the scenes played up that tension beautifully.

Katherine Waterston in an explicitly Ripley-ish role I just thought was fine. Maybe she would have come off stronger for me if the last act of the film wasn't a pointless retread of the climaxes from Alien and Aliens. It's hard to get invested in the old xenomorph as a villain when the biological weapons introduced in Prometheus and early in Covenant seem far more efficient--and a lot scarier. It almost feels like self-parody when David is obliged to sit and wait, idly tossing pebbles, while the xenomorph embryo gestates in a victim. The newer or more primitive version of the xenomorph from the earlier parts of the film was also more effective for how strange it looked--possibly the eeriest moment in the film is when David seems like he's about to tame one that stands in front of him, inscrutable for its apparent complete lack of facial features.

Spoilers ahead

After the unsatisfying retread of the Alien climax, the revelation that David had killed Walter and taken his place was disappointing in another way. It's a downer, yes, but it's unsatisfying for more reasons than that. Really, it would have been a lot more interesting if Walter had survived. I loved the fact that the one direct quote from Paradise Lost, the famous line about how it's better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, is the thing that makes Walter hesitate. It's fitting, I guess, that it's what gets him killed but what could have been the really interesting thing about it is that it shows Walter is conflicted. David is absolutely certain at this point, confident in his own perfection despite getting Byron and Shelly mixed up (what a surprisingly stupid mistake). Walter is the character in the middle, trying to figure things out--with a little of David's ambition added he would be a much worthier Satan figure than David.

I wonder if there's meant to be any significance in David naming himself after Michelangelo's David and by extension the biblical David. All I can think of is that the statue's supposed only flaw is that its head is slightly disproportionately large and Michael Fassbender actually has kind of a proportionately oversized head. He does a fine job in the movie, though.

Twitter Sonnet #1004

Impertinence impressed the puzzle piece.
Insouciance ensued to wrench the leg.
The butter born of nut belonged to Reese.
But chocolate came from out the faerie egg.
If day turns out to be a planet eat.
A swifter hat could never scroll the sky.
Rejoicing sifts the ghost from out the peat.
A kinder clap applauds the solar fly.
A wayward crown eclipsed the boiling brow.
In nothing rules a relished dog too hot.
For sandwich carts were patrons paid for now.
In tumbling sheets arrests the tater's tot.
In concrete snakes the town constructs a gut.
Tomato dots arranged the garden's rut.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)

A little historical perspective isn't too painful, is it? To-day's new episode of Doctor Who, "Eaters of Light", did something I wished the show did more often--it incorporated aspects of history into its plot and argument in a way that also potentially educates the viewer. This was part of the original series concept, after all, back in 1963, and I never thought it was such a bad idea. Although the writer for to-day's episode, Rona Munro, just barely qualifies as a classic series writer--she wrote Survival, the 1989 final serial of the classic series--"Eaters of Light" definitely felt like old Who in ways I really liked.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The season long theme of colonising and people oppressed based on race or nationality takes a form surprisingly resonant with to-day's politics in this new episode. Here we have racially diverse, sexually liberated Romans invading the lands of the all white, rural Picts, and the two of groups need to set aside their differences to confront a threat to the entire universe. Whether it was intended or not, one could see this as reflecting the politics of relatively affluent liberals versus poor conservatives--Londoners versus people outside the city who voted for Brexit, in other words, or in the U.S., educated liberals versus ignorant and out of work Trump voters. And the realisation that all these people need to work together if we want any hope of addressing the threat of climate change. As a being that eats light--something that foils enlightenment--the episode's monster could be seen as a manifestation of a compulsion to avoid empathy. This really does feel like a natural evolution of the political themes in the Seventh Doctor era.

There's even something very Seventh Doctor-ish in the off-hand way Twelve (Peter Capaldi) explains the crows who can talk. Though maybe Peter Capaldi is more appropriate for this story because he's a Scotsman with Italian ancestry. Well, either one would have worked. I love Capaldi's performance this season, his understated grace is a long way from the stupid peevishness in "Robot of Sherwood".

I love how Munro used the TARDIS translation circuits to say something about what the Doctor does. In all the analysis of the Doctor as a character that's endemic to the new series, it's not until now we have this very simple thing--the ability for the TARDIS to automatically translate language facilitates communication. Suddenly the Romans and the Picts can talk to each other on the same footing. It seems a small thing, but it's essential to the Doctor's characteristic strategy of assuming anyone can be met as a fellow sentient being.

I could quibble that Bill (Pearl Mackie) ought to've known the basics of Roman culture if she was so well read on the Ninth Legion. But her discovering the different perspective on sexuality among the Romans is a nice way for younger viewers to be introduced to the idea that such perspectives have a very long history. And I'm not sure why the Doctor's argument about his greater lifespan is invalidated because the humans got brave. But it's still a pretty sweet idea, Romans and Picts united forever and a ghostly music forever being heard from the hill.
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: (Louise Smirk)

Is she innocent, psychotic, sadistic, confused, a victim of sexual abuse, or just a normal girl with syphilis? From the way 1978's Violette Noziere avoids answering the questions it constantly provokes about its title character one would expect the film to be a muddled mess but it's all anchored by an unfailingly solid performance from Isabelle Huppert.

Violette (Huppert) lives in a small flat with her parents. Her mother (Stephane Audran) is fussy and overbearing while her father (Jean Carmet) comes across as more easy going. Violette is based on a real life murderer who killed her parents in 1935 and perhaps this is why the film wants to avoid making strong arguments about her actual motives. Violette tells several people, long before her parents' deaths, that her father had routinely raped her since she was twelve. The film is very careful to show that this might be true and yet it might not be. In one scene, Violette catches her father looking at her while she washes and she covers herself but the two carry on a casual conversation without missing a beat.

Is this a sign of too much familiarity? Is the casual atmosphere a sign that nothing really wrong had happened and he had just made a mistake? One thing's for sure, Violette is a very good liar and Huppert plays her as someone who can quickly jump into a story without breaking stride. When she catches syphilis, she coolly says, "So you already know?" when her parents confront her about it, having been informed by the family doctor, Deron (Jean-Pierre Coffee).

The fact that she is such a good liar makes it difficult to trust anything she says, and if her ability to commit to lies so effectively is a sign of her mental illness, how can her guilt be judged? The one potentially honest moment is when her parents are dying in front of her and she just regards them coldly as a reptile.

But one also has to take into account what syphilis can do to someone's mind. We see that she has hallucinations where she mixes people up and she has fainting spells.

She seems to be genuinely in love with Jean (Jean-Francois Garreaud) but it's hinted that he's only using her for the money she steals from her parents. But she sleeps with a lot of men. One of them, a musician, sees her taking money from his wallet. When he shrugs and says it's okay, it's normal for her to be paid, she becomes angry and asks if he thinks she's a whore. This one little moment nicely opens up a lot of questions. If she doesn't think of herself as a prostitute, she must just like casual sex. But she is taking his money. Why would she rather he think she's a thief than a prostitute if she never plans on seeing him again?

In the hands of many other actresses, Violette would come off as a frustrating jumble but the commitment Huppert has to the role, the confidence she has in thoroughly inhabiting her, is so convincing that the ambiguities seem like genuine, provoking mysteries in human nature.

Twitter Sonnet #1003

A teacup rogue on drying seas contained
And held a bursting ten and screaming heads
Arrested by their spongy necks restrained
And charged in living sweat for batt'ry beds.
The wheels in pins disprove a floating wind
And slipping shoe absorbed in books beside
The smiling cork acclaimed in tops to fend
Alone in matchless pants, apportioned ride.
Across a crust canals of butter bring
The tides of tender trade to towns who sleep
Who drift inside a lime and lemon ring
The circlet's source of strength in yellow deep.
A peg appointed for the sign revealed
The path where burning coal and cars congealed.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Despite having been written by Gordon Smith, who wrote the great courtroom episode in the middle of the season, Monday's new episode of Better Call Saul was a little sloppy, saved from being bad purely by the momentum of events.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Jimmy's (Bob Odinkirk) supposed to be almost out of money, to the point where he was reluctant to pay his camera crew a few episodes earlier. How did he afford all these shoes? Maybe he had enough leftover from the money he eventually did make from the commercial but if he's working this hard for the Sandpiper settlement he can't be out of the woods. These shoes are expensive--that's the whole point, he wants to make it look like Louise has money to burn to make her friends jealous and pressure her into taking the Sandpiper settlement. I'd say each pair is at least a hundred dollars, at nine pairs that's nine hundred dollars.

I hear Kiefer Sutherland in Fire Walk with Me in my head now, "Agent Desmond, I figure this whole office, furniture included, is worth 27,000 dollars." So okay, maybe I'm nitpicking. The biggest problem with the episode seems more attributable to the director than the writer--the car crash at the end. Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is hurrying to her appointment, her eyes look to be on the road, I noticed a Krispy Kreme in the background, and then suddenly her car's crashed into a rock, off the road, apparently in the middle of nowhere.

Wikipedia says, ". . . due to her fatigue from overwork, Kim loses her concentration and drives her car off the side of the road, crashing into a rock." Which, I guess is what happened, but seemed a lot to infer. We don't even see her eyelids drooping. I suppose the idea is that it's from her perspective so it's as sudden to us as it is to her but I've experienced sleep deprivation. I notice my eyelids drooping and my head nodding, Kim did not seem anywhere near that point.

Anyway, this means she's probably screwed as far as this side job goes, which is really bad since that's Hank Jennings she's working for--rather, it's actor Chris Mulkey who played Hank Jennings on Twin Peaks. I guess it's nice to have him on Better Call Saul since he's not on the new season of Twin Peaks.

The Mike plot continues to be dull as dirt, even with the introduction of Laura Fraser in the same role she played on Breaking Bad. The whole plot thread still feels like a pointless reiteration of things we learned on Breaking Bad.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)

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

Spoilers after the screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

The stakes seem to be getting higher on Twin Peaks as several characters seem to be trapped, unable to move forward. I identified last week a theme of victimised children and that's certainly become even more prominent this week. Along with this, issues of identity and the line between innocence and guilt are being further developed. And of course, it's all beautifully shot and the soundtrack album is going to be phenomenal.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I'm a little sad people seem to be getting impatient with the Dougie storyline, but I guess that's to be expected. It might be the most autobiographical story David Lynch has ever filmed and part of the reason people are having trouble understanding it is that there's a growing misunderstanding of what it means to be an artist. People increasingly believe that great art is produced by formulae, that every effect an artist achieves is due to a master plan. There is plenty of calculation that goes into the work of most artists but most artists will also tell you they have no idea which things they do will have a meaningful impact on people and which they'll barely notice. That's what we see when Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) makes those seemingly meaningless doodles on the case files--and later they surprisingly have real significance to Dougie's boss, though Cooper himself seems to have no conscious understanding of what he'd produced.

Cooper had always been childlike and possessed of a great power of intuition. His experience in the Black Lodge seems to have rendered him a sleep walker and all of his powers of intuition have been enhanced. Or rather, his powers of intuition seem to be the only cognitive ability he has. But it all works as a metaphor for the artistic experience--Cooper starts out finding slot machine wins, a simple display of innate talent. Now he's moved on to something more sophisticated. At the same time, Mike (Al Strobel) implores him, "Don't die", which suggests he can't safely stay in this somnambulist state forever, and this is beautifully expressed in the idea of this great character, Agent Cooper, drowning in the dull life of Dougie Jones. This is the world of algorithms and formula that drowns an artist.

Janey E (Naomi Watts) seems to have all the other side. Her euphoria at the cash windfall has evolved--now she doesn't only want to pay off the 50 grand debt, she's decided to make the surplus from 125,000 even greater by negotiating the debt down to the original 25,000 loan. Now if only she and Cooper can combine their talents to a shared goal.

Cooper's also connected to children--Dougie's boss specifically describes his drawings as a "childish scribble"--and Cooper seems to have an instinctive connection with Sonny Jim (Pierce Gagnon). There are three innocent little boys now--Sonny Jim, the Drugged Out Mother's (Hailey Gates) son, and the poor little boy who gets hit by a car and killed, witnessed by Carl (Harry Dean Stanton).

Poor Carl. He'd already gone places and was happy where he was, as he said in Fire Walk with Me. All he wanted was a nice day in the park but it's Harry Dean Stanton's reactions that sold the emotional impact of the scene more than anything else.

These little boys--it's easy to look back and see them recurring throughout Lynch's films--Isabella Rossellini's son in Blue Velvet, Sailor and Lula's son in Wild at Heart, the child in The Grandmother. That last one, like Cooper now, seems pretty autobiographical and Lynch seems to identify with these kids, helpless in an angry and violent world.

Kids affected by war are mentioned twice--Frank (Robert Forster) and Doris (Candy Clark) had a son who committed suicide, apparently related to PTSD following service in one of the recent wars, and then Carl talks to a young man whose wife was apparently injured in the war. Neither of these characters are literally children but we learn about them through point of view characters who are their parents or old enough to be their parents.

Richard Horne (Eamon Farren), the sinister, predatory guy from the Bang Bang Bar last week, makes it clear he does not want to be thought of as "a kid" and in the process of trying to avoid this identity he kills a child, something he angrily rationalises almost immediately to avoid feeling guilty.

A generally melancholy episode, a mood assisted much by more score from Angelo Badalamenti and a closing song by Sharon Van Etten, also had some lovely lighter moments. Albert (Miguel Ferrer) angrily curses out Gene Kelly though he does so in a beautiful shot. We learn that the legendary Diane has been Laura Dern all this time, which of course makes sense, and back at the RR we see that Heidi (Andrea Hays) finally got her car started.

I also loved the sequence of Hawk (Michael Horse) finding those pages in a bathroom stall. Would those be pages from Laura Palmer's diary containing the message Annie told Laura to write in Fire Walk with Me? It seems likely though I don't see how knowing the good Dale was in the Lodge and can't leave is going to help anything. Maybe that's not all Laura wrote.

Also, is this the Black Spot from Treasure Island?

Twitter Sonnet #1002

All green collapsing matter was glued.
In ev'ry fallen hole arrived the dough.
Interred in cokey urns the drugs renewed.
A finer Hur than Ben will never row.
To set the cruel and metal chin was moot.
For tables growth discussions can result.
You must look out for any miser's suit.
Emboldened bins assay a dust assault.
Reactions mute beside the dropping face.
Above the wires speak with voice in arms.
A bunker stack of coffees start the race.
The oil sees but some of what it harms.
Inside a cauliflower stem's a mind
A hundred botanists could never find.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

The traditional idea of beastly behaviour involves unrestrained lusts without regard for the bonds of human affection or society. 1975's Legend of the Werewolf convincingly presents an opposite view where the uncontrollable animal urges of one man run contrary to a less severe morality in the culture. The film presents a surprisingly positive view of prostitution as an institution and is a nice werewolf movie from director Freddie Francis.

The film might deserve criticism for avoiding some of the more negative aspects of prostitution--the prostitutes in the film are presented as without families and there's no thought given to the fact that many of the women shown would likely have been forced into the occupation for a lack of other options. In this light, the werewolf's attack on their clients could almost be seen as a good thing except that he's motivated by a sense of possessiveness and not any desire to respect the wishes of Christine (Lynn Dalby). It's nice to see that it's this that is shown to be the disease.

David Rintol plays Etoile who became a werewolf after he was raised by wolves, his status as an orphan subtly paralleling Christine's life. After his first years were spent with wolves, he was taken in by a travelling circus as a child and shown as an attraction in a cage, a role he's oddly shown to enjoy eventually. Both Etoile and Christine are forced into occupations at a young age that might be rough, exploitive, and unpleasant to many people but both come to enjoy their lives.

But all is not well in the psyche of Etoile. After he's forced to flee the circus when he transforms and accidentally kills a man, he ends up in Paris where a series of murders begin to occur at the same time. With his guilelessness when he first meets Christine, along with a few of her fellow prostitutes, at the zoo where he gets a job, he doesn't even understand from their innuendos what their profession is. Etoile presents the figure of a country bumpkin exposed to the realities of city life for the first time.

Peter Cushing plays the film's protagonist and narrator, Paul, a police forensic surgeon who decides to investigate these new crimes on his own. Rather than a morally strident Van Helsing, Paul is presented as someone who takes some mischievous pleasure in bending the rules and discomfiting his police supervisors a bit, showing off some pieces of a corpse to a fussy administrator who comes in to chastise him at one point. Paul is quite pleased with himself when the man is forced to leave the room, unable to stand the sight of exposed internal organs. Although Paul is shown to be a man who does not visit brothels--scenes where he interviews the madam and prostitutes of a brothel are played for comedy with his mild embarrassment--he clearly has no moral disapproval for them. He presents a contrast to Etoile in that he is at ease in a world populated by people who are different from him while Etoile is compelled to respond with violence.

It becomes clear that the filmmakers had only one small exterior set to stand in for all of Paris but mostly the film is well put together, Paul's investigation building nicely with the amiable character created by Cushing. The climax shows his ability to empathise pitted against Etoile's psychological disability in his compulsion to respond with violence. There's a sense of how rare and difficult it is for such differences to resolve peacefully.
setsuled: (Default)

Well, that wasn't so bad. I was all set to hate "Empress of Mars", the new episode of Doctor Who, written by Mark Gatiss, whose scripts are usually thoroughly lousy. Maybe he worked hard after his episode last season, "Sleep No More", was a new low even for him. Maybe "Lie of the Land" was so bad that even a Mark Gatiss episode looks good by comparison. Or maybe Mark Gatiss was just born to write Ice Warrior stories as it was "Cold War", the other Mark Gatiss episode I didn't hate, which last featured an Ice Warrior. Mind you, there's still plenty about "Empress of Mars" that doesn't make sense.

Spoilers after the screenshot

If there was any doubt that the writing staff this season were focusing on issues of race and colonial hubris it's certainly gone now. I like the fact that it wasn't a matter of simply making all the British colonisers bad and the Ice Warriors good or vice versa. Though Catchlove (Ferdinand Kingsley) was a pretty lame villain, his motivations generally seemed to be just to do the wrong thing regardless of whether or not it made sense even for a villain. What possible reason was there to keep the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) from examining the sarcophagus? The psychic paper really let the Doctor down this time.

The movie references in the episode were funny. I enjoyed the reference to The Vikings--that is a good movie, by the way--and it was kind of funny seeing it turned about on Bill (Pearl Mackie) when she didn't recognise a reference to Robinson Crusoe. Sadly, I didn't think that was far-fetched. Having just recently read Michel Tournier's Friday for a class, a post-modern revisionist take on Daniel Defoe's original 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, I can say a fair number of college aged students have never heard of the story.

The absurdity of turning an Ice Warrior into a domestic servant--is it a story point that doesn't make sense or is it a credibly senseless act of arrogant colonialism? Well, I guess the episode won me over because I want to say the latter. Still, I couldn't help thinking, "It's the old Ice Warrior in a china shop, isn't it?"

I loved the appearance of Alpha Centauri at the end. I think the idea must have been to bridge the cultural differences of the Ice Warriors in the Second Doctor stories with the more reasonable ones we met in the Third Doctor era. The tense political situation in the episode was even a bit reminiscent of the Peladon stories.

By far my favourite part of the episode, though, was the stuff with Missy (Michelle Gomez) at the end. I so, so want to see these two make out.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

One of the most difficult things for a privileged white person to understand is how thoroughly and in how many ways a lack of privilege affects the life of a black person in the United States. Joseph Mankiewicz's 1950 film No Way Out is an admirable endeavour to provide illumination, particularly for the year it was made. With an excellent cast, headed by Sidney Poitier in his first film role, the movie uses the film noir mode to demonstrate racism as an existential trap.

Exhausted after a day at work, Dr. Luther Brooks (Poitier) gets into bed with his wife, Cora (Mildred Joanne Smith), who affectionately muses on her husband's extraordinarily difficult journey to becoming a doctor. "'A' was your passing mark," she recalls of his experience in medical school. "Not for the others, just for you." As the film had already made clear by this point, Luther was obliged to work twice as hard as his white colleagues just to be considered adequate. Poitier was only 22 at the time but shows he was already capable of a fine performance, his Luther Brooks barely able to contain his rage at the racist rantings of a patient, a thief brought in by the cops along with his brother, both suffering from gunshot wounds.

It's easy to see that Luther's rage isn't simply in response to the irrational hatred from a man he's expected to treat but because he knows that, in this world, the word of a raving thief can tarnish the reputation of a doctor if that thief happens to be white and the doctor happens to be black.

Richard Widmark plays Ray Biddle, the thief, succeeding in making the character thoroughly repulsive. 1950 was a great year for Widmark--he starred that year in two other great films noir, Night and the City and Panic in the Streets, and his role in each film was totally different. Ray Biddle to some extent recalls Widmark's star making role as the villain Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death. But while Udo was pure, psychotic sadism, Ray is possessed of a feverish self-pity from which his pathological hatred is born. Living poor in a bad part of town all his life, like many real life racists, Ray has piled all the blame for his woes on black people.

The film takes time to explore the less obvious, systemic forms of racism, though. We see that Luther would have had no chance getting a job at the hospital if not for the strong endorsement of a respected white doctor (Stephen McNally) who has a scene with a hospital administrator where the two discuss the political benefits of having black employees--and the necessity of taking politics into consideration, further emphasising that Luther can't risk making a single mistake. When Ray's brother dies under Luther's care, for something that could happen to any doctor, Luther's whole career is thrown into jeopardy.

Linda Darnell is also in the film as the dead brother's wife from whom Luther tries to get permission to perform an autopsy to prove his innocence. She exists has a pivot point for the social commentary aspect of the film, coming from the same part of town as the brothers, the film shows her journey to overcome her own prejudice. She also plays a part in the existential drama of the film--she lives in a lousy apartment and has a bad job but she did get away from the brothers and the community they represented, showing someone can build their own identity. But the centrepiece of the film is the contrast between Luther and Ray. In some sense, it reminds me of the relationship between Toshiro Mifune's cop character in Stray Dog with the thief in that film--in a sense, the two men could probably relate to each other under different circumstances. Both were born into disadvantage and hopelessness, though one chose to fight while the other chose self-pity. The fact that Luther's disadvantage was greater and truly inescapable makes Ray seem truly despicable.

Twitter Sonnet #1001

If pelicans consort in valour's lot
Redeeming birds complain for fallen cup,
For jokes too faintly printed show a knot
Along the bottom edge ere clerks'll sup.
Expensive drifts affront the flower forge
Offending fortune, turning tubes to top
Cascading mulch immersed in mud to gorge
The mental grass where green can never stop.
In gaining realms of kicking clods and nails
A coughing hammer rots inside a cone
To keep a cat or dog from biting tails
Or anything but plastics in the zone.
A case of forks disrupts the point of prongs.
To-night a striker tunes to sparking songs.

A Comey Day

Jun. 8th, 2017 06:23 pm
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)

Despite he and Trump having had a "thing", James Comey didn't do Trump any favours to-day. What was the "thing" Comey quotes Trump as alluding to in one of their now infamous private conversations? Comey speculated in his testimony to-day, at the insistence of John McCain, about the "thing": "I concluded at the time, in his memory, he was searching back to our encounter at the dinner and was preparing himself to say I offered loyalty to you, you promise loyalty to me. All of a sudden, I think his memory did not happen and he pulled up short." I guess this is different from a trial where a lawyer would stand up and say, "Objection--speculative!" Speculation is fair game, it seems. It's weird how often Comey was asked to speculate, anyway.

Now, if I were to speculate about "the thing", I'd say it was Comey's announcement about investigating Clinton's e-mails shortly before election night. At the time, that was widely seen as a show of Comey's loyalty to Trump and, wouldn't you know, Clinton's e-mails were made an important part of the committee testimony to-day by Republicans who continually, awkwardly tried to steer back to the issue. Most strikingly McCain, who was so incoherent as to seem physically unwell, insisted there was a double standard simply because Comey had concluded one investigation while another was ongoing.

Of course, now it doesn't seem likely Comey was being a Trump loyalist when he made the critical announcement about the investigation of Clinton's e-mails. But everyone at the time figured he was--certainly everyone on TV. We know Trump mainly keeps himself informed on everything through cable news, much to the consternation of his National Security Advisers. So the "thing", I believe, is this narrative that Trump bought into.

For those of us who don't want the country controlled by a dimwitted creep, Comey having previously seemed to be on Trump's side may be a blessing in disguise, and I think Republicans recognise that and that's why they're trying so hard to re-write history now. Because, with these two investigations, Comey really and truly does look impartial. You can see this is what Republicans are desperately afraid of and that's why they put out the hastily assembled, bizarrely campaign-like attack ads on Comey which seem to say little more than that Comey is politically biased. And has always been biased. Well, fortunately this isn't 1984 and you can't make people forget the narrative from six months ago with a hokey piece of propaganda. At least I hope not.

The Republican loyalty to Trump is really strange at this point. There's something more to it than partisanship. With all the Republicans who came out publicly against him before the election and what, one would think, is the more attractive prospect of a Pence presidency--and the political capital to be gained from pursuing criminal charges against Trump and thereby seeming bipartisan--you'd think all the Republicans on the committee wouldn't be so lock-step. Particularly McCain who's been insulted by Trump and who has expressed words against the orange man. It makes the incoherence of his questions this morning all the more intriguing. I feel like McCain is being blackmailed somehow, if it isn't a medical issue.

Without a proper president right now, it occurred to me that the U.S. feels sort of headless. Then I thought, like The Headless Horseman--and Trump's the pumpkin.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

I'm continuing to enjoy the subtle shifts in Kim's character on Better Call Saul. Monday's new episode also had some nice stuff in Jimmy's continued descent and Mike continues to be really boring.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

One week, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) is explaining that all she and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) did was tear down a sick man, the next she's telling Howard (Patrick Fabian) that all she and Jimmy did was show things for how they are. The fallout from that wonderful courtroom episode, which seems to be the centrepiece of the season, continues to bring benefits in character reaction. Kim's on such an edge she doesn't seem to know how she feels unless she has someone else's reaction to react to.

Her situation with the office she has with Jimmy is similarly ambiguous. It seems she's regretting insisting that Jimmy pay his half or they get rid of the place, but now his pride is involved so she can't cover his half. But this pushes her to take a second case, perhaps unwisely, as insurance.

Meanwhile, the descent into Saul-hood has literally resurrected Slippin' Jimmy. I wonder how much time the show's going to spend before it jump cuts to the end of Jimmy's twelve month suspension. My guess is the première of season four will be, at the very least, "Twelve month's later." It's always a pleasure watching Jimmy hustle, anyway, something I wish American Gods would emulate a bit with Mr. Wednesday. Though, it occurs to me, Saul is played by Bob Odinkirk . . .

I still don't find Nacho (Michael Mando) a very interesting character but the scene with him swapping out Hector Salamanca's (Mark Margolis) medicine was very well played, Hitchcockian with the way it ramped up tension.
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: (Mouse Sailor)

Twin Peaks took a turn for the melancholy in last night's new episode. So far it's been mainly intriguing weirdness but with last night's episode the show subtly shifted focus to the emotional state of victims.

We've now had essentially a five hour David Lynch movie and I can't believe there's more to come. I marvel at the consistency in filmmaking quality and it's so refreshing to have a show that never for a moment assumes I'm stupid.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

For instance, I liked how Lynch never cut to a close-up of the cup Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is holding to explain how Frank (Bob Stephenson) knows that was his coffee. If Lynch didn't have final cut on these, I guarantee some busybody at some point would have said, "No, we have to make it super fucking clear for the morons at home."

I love watching Frank discover he really likes the green tea latte. Such a small, kind of adorable moment. I'm continually amazed how much attention to detail there is on the show, how Lynch just keeps putting together interesting shots. Look at this shot of the Drugged-Out Mother (Hailey Gates)--yes, that's the character's name in the credits.

At some point Lynch or his cinematographer, Peter Deming, said, we need a big red ball in the background to go with her top. Almost everything in her house is grey, red, white, or brown. Her poor kid's shirt is somehow sad and perfect.

We also have another sad moment for a kid when Cooper inexplicably sheds a tear for Sonny Jim sitting in the back of the car. Why? Because he knows the kid's father is gone, probably forever? That his father was only some kind of manufactured decoy?

Going to older children, I loved the scene in the Bang Bang Bar where the sinister guy toys with the teenage girls making eyes at him. It's so horrible--credibly horrible. Nowadays every kid on TV has to be a wiseass but you can see these girls really are kids, just getting a little excited by the guy who's breaking the rules by smoking a cigarette, and one of them, Charlotte (Grace Victoria Cox), takes a risk and immediately gets in over her head. It's both an unusually human moment and a classic Twin Peaks moment.

We finally get a scene in the RR and we finally meet Amanda Seyfried's character, Becky, apparently someone close to Shelly (Madchen Amick). Wikipedia says she's Shelly's daughter but I'm not sure we know that. It's hard to hear Becky and Shelly's conversation, maybe she called her "Mom" and I didn't hear it. My impression was that Shelly and Becky had developed a relationship somewhat like Shelly and Norma's (Peggy Lipton). Becky's last name in the credits is "Burnett", as is the guy she's with, the really skeevy looking Steven (Caleb Landry Jones) so I guess she's actually married to him. I guess he's not as bad as Leo but that's not saying much.

The RR scene is the closest to the kind of scene I might've predicted seeing in a new Twin Peaks series. It's obviously meant to resemble the scene in the pilot where Norma watches Shelly and Bobby outside in Bobby's car. How nice it is that this time Lynch was able to shoot entirely with the location RR instead of using an L.A. soundstage for the interior, allowing for that interplay between interior and exterior.

I like Amanda Seyfried, I look forward to seeing where Lynch takes her. Since Leland asked Cooper to look for his daughter, I've wondered if maybe Seyfried was going to be playing a reincarnation of Laura Palmer. With the cocaine and the bad boyfriend, or husband, she does seem Laura Palmer-ish, though she doesn't seem as self-possessed as Laura.

Age seems to have given Peggy Lipton a more elastic face and I loved how Lynch shot Becky's introduction from Norma's point of view, allowing us to discover the character alongside Norma trying to figure out the situation from a distance.

Poor Frank Truman (Robert Forster)--I guess his marriage isn't quite as bad as Becky's but I did feel bad for the guy. His wife, Doris (Candy Clark), is in the mould of Laura Dern's mother in Wild at Heart though maybe not quite as sinister. The things she's complaining about aren't really that unreasonable--she doesn't want to stand around watching a bucket all day--but her anger is dialled up way further than the occasion calls for. I love how Lynch shoots her from a low angle, raising her arms to the heavens when she says, "black mould!" with Frank Truman seeming to shrink in his chair from the opposite angle.

Poor Cooper, still hardly himself in that ugly lime green sport coat and stranded next to that statue he seems to take a liking to, providing an improbably perfect Lynchian composition even for something directed by David Lynch.

I guess I can't write about this show all day. Sunday seems too far away . . .
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: (Doctor Chess)

As I'm writing this, reports are coming through about incidents in London. I hope it's not as bad as it sounds and I hope everyone comes through the day safely.

To-day's new Doctor Who, "The Lie of the Land", was the first truly bad episode of the season. Written by Toby Whithouse, it comes off as a disjointed version of 1984 modified for current events but without the insight and intellectual process to make such an endeavour worthwhile. Mostly, like so many one off episodes of the new series, it feels like too much crammed into too short a space, but the problem hurt this episode even more then most. Still, it did have some nice elements.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

For one thing, Peter Capaldi looked really good in this episode. I don't like to tell people to smile if they don't want to, I think people should be respected for having feelings other than happiness all the time and they shouldn't be forced to present a lie. But it is true, an honest smile does somehow make people more attractive, and that goes for Capaldi, it seems. I've always liked Capaldi, before he was the Doctor and in his whole tenure as the Doctor, but this is the first time I thought, "What a handsome fellow." I really like that frosted or frayed edge coat.

This scene, where Bill (Pearl Mackie) confronts the Doctor on the propaganda he's been contributing to for the Monks, is one of the main problems in the episode. The Doctor quite convincingly explains to Bill why working with the Monks is a good idea--with a rise of fascist figures like Trump who pursue paths of destruction, having the Monks in charge doesn't sound like it's all bad. Though it doesn't seem like Trump is rounding up and locking up dissenters like the woman at the beginning of the episode--though he has certainly talked about doing it. But after the Doctor made the argument pretty well that the Monks might be a benefit to humankind, it would have been nice for him to provide the counterargument once he'd revealed it as a ruse.

Referring to the psychic manipulations of the Monks as "fake news" also ties the story to current events. Are we to interpret the works of the Monks as one side of fake news or the other? Is it Putin influencing the election or the hysteria promoted by the likes of Huffington Post? Considering the Monks are set up as taking over the world from the fascists through mental manipulation seems to suggest it's meant to be like rigid left-wing ideology, pursuing crusades of identity politics at the cost of finding common ground. Maybe it's a nice thing that the Monks can be interpreted as either one. Mostly I just would have liked something more coherent.

I'm not as sure as I used to be that the Monks are related to the Cybermen somehow. But if they're not, then what is their story? Why do they look like rotting corpses? Did Missy (Michelle Gomez) really encounter them before and, if so, where? And did she learn anything about their origins or motives?

The scenes with Missy certainly were a highlight. Michelle Gomez continues to be a revelation.

It's true, making a people love you is more effective than making them fear you. Look what it did for Bill's mother. It would've been nice if the show had developed the Monks as seductive beings, had made you understand why people might be attracted to order and safety at the cost of free will. Maybe we'll have to wait for Bill's essay.

Twitter Sonnet #999

In lonely human snows the quarry turns.
Robotic barons blast the sort for sport.
Ephemeral revenge Tetsuro learns.
He leaves to find immortal metal's port.
A ticket came in long and tapered hand.
Her yellow willow hair's adrift in black.
In boots and coat he saw then Maetel stand.
Her spinning jewel unwinds the only track.
To Mars where love dissolved before the train.
To ice where irresolution sleeps.
To libraries where conmen stalk the lane.
To empty space where shattered crystal keeps.
And endless planets show an endless need.
All aliens have more than mouths to feed.


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