setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


Last night brought "Krill", the first episode of The Orville not written by Seth MacFarlane and the first written by someone who used to write for a Star Trek series, David A. Goodman. Having worked on four episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise as well as having been a writer for Family Guy and Futurama--the famous Star Trek parody episode--Goodman seems ideally suited for The Orville and "Krill" was pretty good, featuring genuinely tense action sequences, some thoughtful moral dilemma, and comedy.

Spoilers after the screenshot



The episode begins with one of the funnier moments on the series so far as crewmembers are delighted that Bortus (Peter Macon) seems able to eat any and everything. Mostly, though, the comedy was one of the weaker aspects of this episode--Gordon's (Scott Grimes) references to 20th century car rental companies not being particularly funny, though I don't necessarily think it's an anachronism. Who's to say 20th century commercials aren't considered classic art of some kind in the future? Despite this, I really enjoyed the chemistry between Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Gordon.



The Krill actually remind me of the new Klingons on Star Trek: Discovery--they both seem more like vampire Cardassians than Klingons though the vampiric angle is a little more literal on The Orville with Gordon actually calling them space vampires. The differences in the shows' budgets is clear from this similarity; the ships, costumes, and makeup for the Discovery timeline Klingons being for more beautiful and intricate. But as in other points of comparison, The Orville outstrips Discovery with better writing and the Krill's motives are much clearer, being a religious crusade founded on a belief in racial superiority. I'm still not clear on what the Discovery Klingons expect to get from war with the Federation.



Ed's moral delimma is much clearer, too. By the end of the episode, he asks the very natural question, what the hell else was he supposed to do but wipe out the whole crew who were bent on destroying a defenceless human colony? Yet the point that the children he went out of his way to save are likely to grow up hating the Union goes to show that a victory to-day puts the ultimate goal of peace that much further away. This may have been what Discovery was trying to say with Michael killing the leader of the STD timeline Klingons.

Twitter Sonnet #1043

In silent thought the pocket watch debates.
As steeping tea observes automatons.
A molten tide in labs in truth abates.
Solutions sleep within the arced batons.
Without a further car the train relents.
In facts escaping out the spout was steamed.
No celery the sortied troop laments.
Or salary o'er metal wig the dreamed.
To-night the frosted window breaks the page.
Untimely ink reforms to blackest sheets.
The linking numbers walk for love and rage.
The rhythmic heart returns on reddest beats.
The hour pins describe an arcing day.
A lantern lit in green illumes the way.
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


There shouldn't be any mistaking The Orville for a parody now, though I'm sure people still will. Last night's new episode, "About a Girl", is the third written by Seth MacFarlane, making that three more episodes written for The Orville than MacFarlane's written for Family Guy in the past ten years. It presents the kind of issue episode that has been absent from television since Star Trek and while I have one or two quibbles about it I'm mainly excited to see it. The Orville even goes some places Star Trek never dared to go.

The modern trend in television to present season long arcs has led to some wonderful story telling but it makes it difficult to tell the kind of story seen in "About a Girl". Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad Coleman), a couple who belong to an all male species called the Moclan, give birth to an incredibly rare female infant. The mostly human crew of the Orville are shocked when they learn the two wish for the child to undergo a sex change operation.



I was expecting the episode to get more flack for using "gender" and "sex" as synonyms though I haven't seen it yet in nitpicky reviews of the episode. I have seen some anger that these people in the future apparently aren't up on the same sociological literature as some viewers. One could argue that the crew of the Orville ought to be using state of the art terminology but maybe this is an area where a comparison to Star Trek isn't appropriate. The Orville isn't the flagship and it's crewed by at least two people we know to have had troubled careers. So instead of the best minds of the Federation tackling these issues, we have some mostly adequate minds of the Union muddling through.



In this way, the show actually turns some familiar, illogical plot devices of Star Trek into somet more feasible and even thought provoking prompts. It didn't really make a lot of sense that the Enterprise bridge crew were constantly being drafted as lawyers in courtroom episodes, for example. Here, I can believe that Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), with only one year of law training, is the most qualified person available to defend Bortus when he decides he doesn't want to allow his baby to receive a sex change. And we also get some instructive demonstrations of why certain arguments about sexual equality, while satisfying, might not be very effective in getting the point across.



It's satisfying watching Alara (Halston Sage) beat Bortus in a boxing ring and it's funny hearing Gordon (Scott Grimes) on the stand demonstrating that men can be intellectually inferior to women. But virtually all of Kelly and Ed's (Seth MacFarlane) evidence is anecdotal and nearly all of it relies on aliens. No-one who pays attention to this episode will come away thinking men are superior to women, the flaws in Ed and Kelly's arguments are useful to get people to think about what doesn't work when you're engaging with people of an opposite opinion. I really like the fact that what brings Bortus around is watching Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which demonstrates the unexpected power art can have.



The episode is somewhat similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outcast" about a member of a sexless species, the J'naii, who becomes female. The Moclan differ from the J'naii in that everyone is male rather than neither male or female, which should raise a question. How does one define sex or gender in the absence of any other? And of course we find out that the Moclan aren't single sex at all, that the prevalence of male Moclan is at least partially the product of misogyny endemic to the culture. Biological females have been effectively bred out of the populace, something that doesn't seem far-fetched for a technologically advanced misogynist people.

Like "The Outcast", one of the nice things about "About a Girl" is that by recontextualising so much it introduces new ways of thinking about issues and highlighting abstract connexions that might not have even been consciously considered by the writer. It introduces the concept of a basically liberal people allied with a culture that fundamentally rejects more socially liberal values, though at the same time, Bortus and Klyden are a same sex couple in the main cast, something Star Trek hasn't managed to do on television yet, though a same sex couple is apparently forthcoming on Discovery.*



In fact, my only real complaint about the episode is that I wished more time had been spent developing Bortus and Klyden's relationship before getting to this story. The conflicts here would probably have been a lot more interesting portrayed late in a second season. But that's a minor quibble compared to my delight that there's a thought provoking show, willing to engage with issues, that has an enormous number of viewers.

*The relationship between Dax and a former lover's symbiote in a new female body on Deep Space Nine was close but not really the same thing.

Twitter Sonnet #1036

The curling shoe was like a thunder clap.
As winds are bending trees to castle ears.
In just a moment dripped from wooden tap.
The final court arranged a time for beers.
Uncopied eyes arrange around the monk.
A dragging stone arrives atop the game.
The worth of weight was not in how it sunk.
The waiting paint absorbs a shrinking frame.
As sparking space enclosed the ship they watched.
Although the canvas blinked it caught the sight.
Beneath the dime in time to wrench the botched.
In ordered stakes the bet amends the light.
A sign regressed to shell amid the head.
Ideas append the tort remained unsaid.
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)


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



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



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



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



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

setsuled: (Skull Tree)


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

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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

Twitter Sonnet #1035

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


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

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



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



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

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



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


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

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



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



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



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



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



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

Twitter Sonnet #1033

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


I'm often surprised by the light-hearted attitude 1940s British comedies take towards World War II. A vivid example being 1946's I See a Dark Stranger, a comedy spy thriller about a naive Irishwoman who becomes a spy for Germany during the war. The film is a finely crafted enough comedy by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and I couldn't help feeling affection for the characters even as I felt its treatment might be a bit too breezy. On other hand, maybe something like this wasn't wholly a bad idea at a time when Britain, Ireland, and Germany were trying to find a way of being at peace with each other after bitter conflict.



The film's opening scene is really remarkable for its context. Set in a pub in an Irish village, an old man tells a story of fighting in the Irish Revolution and stirringly describes killing English soldiers. Mind you, this is a British film. If the Irish characters here seem a bit buffoonish, they're no worse than the English characters shown later on. In fact, they're a bit less buffoonish.



Deborah Kerr, whose Irish accent sounds a lot more natural than her American accent, plays Bridie Quilty who's been raised on the stories of the revolution, her father having fought in it. It being her twenty first birthday, she decides to go to Dublin and meet with her father's old comrade, Michael O'Callaghan (Brefni O'Rorke), to join the IRA. To her disappointment, O'Callaghan has come to accept peace with Britain and tries to convince her to do likewise. O'Rorke plays the character as calm and wise in contrast to Bridie's youthful rashness and I suspect part of the motive with this film was to reassure British audiences that Ireland was an ally and dissenters were sentimental old men and adorable young fools. On the one hand, it's a nice idea to put everyone at ease with each other, on the other, it's a bit patronising. Still, O'Callaghan comes across as easily the wisest character in the film.



Spotted in a bookshop buying books on learning the German language, Bridie's recruited by a German spy who goes by the name of Miller (Raymond Huntley). Of all places, he puts her on assignment in an English town with a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Bridie takes every opportunity throughout the film to curse.



And, wouldn't you know, Miller has her seduce a British officer named David Baynes (Trevor Howard) who says he's there because he's working on a thesis on Cromwell. As with the explicit details of World War II and the Irish Revolution, Bridie never manages to say precisely why she and everyone back home hate Cromwell so much. Discussing slaughter at the hands of Cromwell and his men at Drogheda would risk making Bridie not seem so foolish.



Because the German agent is a buffoon, his assumption that David is an intelligence officer based on the fact that David says he's not in town to fish turns out to be utterly wrong. This puts Bridie into a rage after she's wasted a whole afternoon falling in love with David. Miller's not nearly as buffoonish, though, as the leader of the German spies in England we meet later played by a portly Norman Shelley in a ridiculous check sport coat and boater hat.



Witnessing his interrogation technique of slapping someone in the face a few times can only seem insultingly trite at this point.

But meanwhile, the British COs in the Isle of Man, where Bridie and David end up, are a strange pair of philandering big men with matching moustaches and bald heads who routinely fumble in their jobs.



The film actually shows some British military police getting shot so I wonder how comfortable war veterans were laughing at this movie. But many of the gags are very good and the leads are charming.
setsuled: (Default)


What if the world is secretly controlled by aliens and the only one who can see them is a cheesy guy with a mullet? I'm not sure if the characters in John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live are poorly developed or are calculated to subvert heteronormative expectations without its stars or studio getting wise. The Sci-Fi concept is nice, its best distinction from something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the daring to incorporate economic class, though this has had the unfortunate effect of the movie being co-opted by the alt-right, prompting John Carpenter himself to speak out recently against anti-Semitic interpretations of the film. I don't think the movie espouses bigotry, I do think it's a bit muddled. Its cheesy 80s action charm sits a bit oddly with the implicit ideology of its concept.

I don't like to foist a sexual identity on people or movies. I think of the Ani DiFranco song "In or Out"--"their eyes are all asking are you in, or are you out and I think, oh man, what is this about?" On the other hand, the movie makes a lot more sense if you assume Roddy Piper's John Nada and Keith David's Frank Armitage are in love.



The movie has the least interesting John Carpenter soundtrack I've heard--most of the time we hear the same three notes on guitar played repeatedly as we watch Nada walk around town, trying to get work or wandering. He finally catches a break with a construction crew though he's discouraged when it's mentioned that it's a union job, at which point the camera cuts to a group of Hispanic workers chatting.



Which seemed like it was playing on a right wing fear of Mexican-American labour unions. But maybe not since Nada does get the job and starts working shirtless, his improbable physique scoped out by Keith David's character Frank.




Nada needs a place to stay so he follows Frank to the shanty town where Frank lives across the street from a church. Frank later mentions having a wife and kids but we never see them. After Nada discovers the magic glasses that lets him see the aliens pretending to be humans, the film has its most perplexing scene when Nada and Frank get into a prolonged, five minute brawl.



It's a good fight scene, obviously Piper's in familiar territory. But it doesn't make any sense. All Nada wanted was for Frank to wear the glasses and the fight erupts when Frank repeatedly refuses to do so. On Wikipedia, Carpenter is quoted as comparing it to the brawl between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen at the end of The Quiet Man. That fight was not a fight to the death and was designed as a way for two characters to work out their issues in a form of cultural subconscious hyper-masculine communication. These issues built over the whole movie having to do with tradition and pride--Wayne's character trying to buy land that McLaglen's felt was his by right, the issue further complicated by Wayne's relationship with McLaglen's sister and--well, you can go watch The Quiet Man. You should, it's a great movie. But Frank and Nada had nothing like that. They basically just seem friendly, if a little brisk, when suddenly Nada, who's anxious about the whole world apparently being taken over by aliens, puts everything aside to grapple with Frank, who apparently just can't put on a pair of fucking glasses.



When Frank finally puts on the glasses--seeing how things truly are--the two check into a cheap hotel room together, although they had to live in a shanty town before, and Nada says sarcastically, "Ain't love grand?" and starts telling Frank about how he was abused as a child. I am quite certain I'm not the first person to comment on what this seems like--I haven't even mentioned how encouragements to procreate through relationships with the opposite sex are part of the sinister subliminal messages Nada is able to see. The only female character is played by the sinister looking Meg Foster (most notable, to me, for playing the casino cashier in the new Twin Peaks).



Like I said, I don't like to impose a sexual identity on anyone, but how does any of this make sense if Nada and Frank aren't discovering a physical love for each other? Either way, Frank is oddly underdeveloped. If the two really are meant to be taken as being in love, it would have been nice if the film explored it more directly.

Aside from the political allegory, the film seems to be well-known for Roddy Piper's line about how he's "here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I'm all out of bubblegum." The bullshitting humour in this reflects the humour found in much of the film, its irony never quite meshing with the ghoulish beings taking over the world and the real threat this presents. Maybe the discord is supposed to be there, though--it's supposed to be discomforting that aliens and Meg Foster are crashing the bubblegum party.

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