Saturday, March 28, 2020

From the Depths of Coruscant to the Clouds of Kessel

I missed Ahsoka Tano's return on Clone Wars while travelling to Japan so I had two episodes to catch up on. "Gone with a Trace" and "Deal No Deal" find the famous padawan on her own after leaving the Jedi order, teaming up with two sisters from 1313, one of the low levels on Coruscant, in more ways than one. These two episodes have been delightful and I've enjoyed the dynamic of the three characters.

Obviously, this was meant to tie in to the projects George Lucas had planned just before he sold Star Wars to Disney--a video game and a live action series, both of which involved Coruscant's underworld. We get a sense of the place in "Gone with a Trace" in which Ahsoka (Ashley Eckstein) falls in with a mechanic named Trace (Brigette Kali Canales). Trace is a bit of a hot head while her sister, Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez), is more of a laid back scoundrel.

I love Rafa. Whoever's in charge of animating her is doing a great job and Rodriguez's slightly raspy voice pairs perfectly with the look and gestures. I love that the first episode ends with Rafa selling the dangerous droids Ahsoka warned her against selling--as Rafa points out, she and Trace need that money to survive. The second episode digs further into the moral argument triangle between the three girls when they end up running spice in Trace's new ship.

Rafa, Ahsoka, and Trace are like Ego, Superego, and Id, respectively. Rafa wants to trade the spice to make money and honour her agreement with gangsters, Ahsoka wants to find some way of using it as medicine, and Trace just doesn't want anyone touching her ship so she dumps the spice without considering the consequences. Despite the irritating presence of Lothcats indicating a greater creative role for Dave Filoni, these two episodes are a lot better than Rebels and I find myself genuinely caught up in the dialogue. Also, it's bloody gorgeous.

In somewhat related news, Ahsoka's voice actress, Ashley Eckstein, has responded to the casting of Rosario Dawson as the live action Ahsoka:

“It has been my dream for 14 years to continue to play Ahsoka Tano in all forms. I will continue to be grateful for opportunities to help create stories for Ahsoka Tano and I am always happy to see her legacy continue. I am only one member of a tremendously talented team of people that it takes to bring Ahsoka Tano to life. The final decisions for Ahsoka are not mine to make and I cannot comment on something that I truly know nothing about.”

Clearly, she's not happy about it. I guess I feel bad for her, but, while I think she does a good job as Ahsoka's voice, Rosario Dawson is a much better actress and she looks a lot more like Ahsoka than Eckstein does. Sometimes artists and casting directors have to make tough decisions and I think this was the right one.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Clean and Rainy

Good morning from my hotel room in Kashihara. It's been raining to-day and almost everyone has an umbrella! People ride bikes while holding their umbrellas up and open! Stores and restaurants have umbrella holders outside though I've been carrying mine in because I've heard umbrellas are one of the few things in Japan prone to get stolen, I suspect because most of the umbrellas are sort of considered communal property once in the holders.

I've been staying in as much as possible but I have to go out for food. I got my breakfast this morning at Mister Donut, the closest thing to a Starbucks around here. The coffee is good, the doughnuts are very mild but not bad. A bit eggy. They have toast, too, but toast is so thick here it's basically cake. It's pretty good. Still wish I could find a place that sells oatmeal.

I had to go to the laundromat yesterday. There was only one other person there, a middle aged woman in traditional kimono sitting in the corner. I tried to stay as far from her as possible and felt twice as awkward trying to figure out which machines were washers and which were dryers. I don't think she liked seeing a white guy there, she stepped out a few minutes later. I'd heard white people get odd reactions, particularly in areas far from major cities, but I'm quite used to being stared at since I've always dressed like a weirdo. Surprisingly, my clothes and umbrella aren't nearly so conspicuous around here. Wandering around Osaka in my black fedora and grey herringbone tweed Inverness coat and black scarf, I got some looks but I've seen several people with big black hats and the Inverness coat looks quite a bit like a certain traditional Japanese overcoat I've seen a few times. Even toting heavy luggage doesn't mark me out much as I've seen several people on the trains and wandering about with big metal suitcases on wheels.

I can't get over how clean everyone and everything is here. The laundromat was in mint condition. All shining steel and sparkling linoleum. The tables were so flat and clean I felt fine using them to fold my clothes. The toilets are legendary, of course, all with bidets and heated seats. I've never felt so clean in my life. It's no wonder the Japanese word kirei means pretty and also clean.

Not that my Japanese is great. I can do simple sentences well enough to get by but smart phones have made things absurdly easy. I don't even have service yet, I'm able to use translator and google maps with wi-fi, which is free in nearly every convenience store and train station. World travel used to require some intelligence, I think, but I'd been noticing for years how people who've travelled extensively don't seem to be particularly, shall we say, brilliant. But now you can buy smartness in a phone.

Just the Doctor and Companion

A peculiarly deserted English village greets the Doctor and Sarah Jane in The Android Invasion. From 1975, the thirteenth season, this serial is from the period where Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen's chemistry had reached perfection. When stony faced android replicants of the villagers do show up, Doctor and companion react in ways to effectively provoke amusement and suspense in equal measure.

Oaks only grow on Earth, apparently, as the Doctor remarks when Sarah initially questions whether they could be on Earth. The pub is deserted, the till has only new minted money. When a blankly staring publican arrives, the Doctor orders ginger pop, which Sarah Jane can't stand.

I love how the android Sarah later loves ginger pop but the Doctor reveals it's the android's scarf that gave her away--and he uses the scarf from the real Sarah like a matador's cape to distract the android so he can knock her gun away with his hat. It's a nice, rapid string of misdirection for the discerning viewer. I love how Four found practical uses for his costume.

This is my favourite of Four's hats--you may notice later, when he fights his own duplicate, he accidentally picks its hat up but then tosses it away in disgust to take his own, apparently identical fedora.

And Elisabeth Sladen's so cute in this. She gets to rescue the Doctor twice--the second time he's tied to a pole. He asks her to take the knife out of his pocket to cut his bindings--of course he has a knife, only an idiot wouldn't carry one--but the tough vines can only be melted with the sonic screwdriver. Otherwise, in its few appearances in the serial, the sonic is very much a highly specialised screwdriver. The Doctor uses it to remove some bolts from a floor panel at one point.

This is a lovely one, better than I remembered. I could watch Baker and Sladen playing off each other all day.

Twitter Sonnet #1340

Connecting signs perspective lanes appear.
Converging tracks were one along the time.
A thousand reasons filled the glass of beer.
The grey and silent figures start to climb.
The channels changed between the screens at night.
A hotter room recedes behind the chill.
Contented cubes became a meal of pallid light.
A dream of oats dissolved in breakfast meal.
With sleepy logic arms invade the sleeves.
The proven touch removes offending gloves.
A kindly phone replaced the healthy sheaves.
The door was black but nothing proveas.
A coat of teeth protects the spring catch.
The wand'ring dog can play the longer fetch.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Casual Dark

I watched three movies on the fourteen hour flight from Dallas to Tokyo. Why sleep when there's a surprisingly robust selection on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me? Of the three, only 2014's What We Do in the Shadows I hadn't seen before. An entertaining film from the heyday of single camera, Office-style mockumentaries, directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi conjure the every day undeaths of a few loser vampires with uncanny clarity.

Clement and Waititi play two of the vampires. Waititi is first introduced, rising from his coffin washboard style, like Nosferatu, an obsequious smile and anxious glances at the camera modifying the effect. He's a fussy sweetheart who often doesn't seem to quite read a situation accurately. He doesn't understand why he can't dress as Blade to a vampire party.

Clement's character is more like a reimagining of Gary Oldman's Dracula if said character were a thirty something, perpetually dwelling on his teenage glory tears playing Vampire Masquerade. Mostly he looks like an unkempt version of the sexy young Dracula who seduces Mina in the Francis Ford Coppola film but Clement dons an incongruous lumpy wig like the older version for one scene in the film. The other vampires similarly seem to have no clear awareness of their lack of cool to camouflage their true natures as horny geeks. Jonathan Brugh plays Deacon, a vampire whose relationship with his human thrall (Jackie van Beek), who procures supposed virgins for the group, is hilarious.

Like The Office or The Thick of It, the comedy does give way to some drama. In this case it's a rivalry with werewolves which dips into genuine horror when they don't seem like a gang of bar hoppers. The comedy earlier in the film successfully endears the characters to the viewer and the surprisingly good special effects combine with the unexpectedness of the horror to make it all very good.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Beautiful Rome

For a perfect pairing of leads and location it's hard to find examples to rival 1953's Roman Holiday. The centrepiece is Audrey Hepburn as the wayward princess on the town, her always entrancing, genuine reactions could breathe life into a cardboard set. But the environs of Rome reflect another glory back, the personality in the fountains and extras lounging in the outdoor cafes establish a powerful chemistry with the actress. Gregory Peck as her perfect gentleman, love interest stands as our point of view and, like him, mostly our participation amounts to watching in wonder.

Whether she's commandeering a Vespa for a mad ride through cafe tables or smashing a guitar over a sinister black suit, it's always nice to see Miss Hepburn. It's never clear exactly what country she's a princess of but there's no mistaking what country she's in. Where else can the divine and the every day combine so effortlessly? It's easy to imagine a man like Peck's character, stumbling upon an innocent girl, in a drug induced slumber on a public bench, and having no desire but to assist her--and maybe get her off his hands.

How very little actually happens in this film. You have the trope of the inexperienced ruler, masquerading as a commoner with the help of an attractive rogue, not unlike Aladdin or The Thief of Bagdad. But there's no pressure for the plot to make the princess learn a lesson about respecting the lower class, there's no pressure for Peck and Hepburn to end up together. As much as we might like that, the realism of them not ending up together makes the subtle bittersweetness all the more effective.

All we need, really, is to spend a little time with Audrey Hepburn in Rome.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Imagining Places

Can you spot the camouflaged Starbucks in this photo? I had my morning coffee there. Walking and drinking or eating in public is traditionally frowned on (though some young people do it) in Japan so I had to sit and gulp down the whole thing there. Fortunately, I was the only customer there.

I guess I made into Japan just in time, it seems they're not letting Americans in anymore. Hearing stories from friends and family about the lockdowns is a bit surreal. The idea of living in Japan has been for so long something I could only imagine and now that it's real the idea of living in the U.S. has become something I can only imagine. I suppose things will likely change in Japan, too, but, then again, maybe it won't get as bad here. It seems terribly unfair that a country like Italy may be suffering due to a culture that's more comfortable with casual physical contact while Japan is benefiting from a culture that avoids it. Mind you, I rather like not having to shake hands with everyone and I love how people respect other people's personal space here. But I generally had the sense that there was something psychologically beneficial about Italian culture.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Togrutas, Towers, and Bears

Greetings from Osaka, where the faceless green bears bathe with impunity. This fellow guards Osaka Station, part of Japan's rail system I'm starting to get the hang of. All places seem to be pretty crowded and everything's still open. I don't know how much less crowded the city may be now than usual but the cafe I wanted to eat lunch at yesterday was packed to capacity, I decided to avoid such a dense grouping of people. To what cafe am I referring?

Tower Records! Tower Records is still going strong in Japan, very strong, stronger than it ever was in the U.S.--I don't remember it ever having a cafe. I miss this store so much--it's been, what, over twelve, thirteen years since they all closed in the U.S.? They closed in 2006, according to Wikipedia. Meanwhile, in Japan, people apparently still love to buy CDs. Someone told me there's an even bigger location in Tokyo.

But the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy continues and yesterday came news that Rosario Dawson has finally been cast as Ahsoka Tano. Just what I wanted, except it's in a supporting role on The Mandalorian. Maybe under Bob Iger's stewardship of Disney+ the writers will be able to work more creatively on the show. Hopefully she won't be simply the boring sideline mom she was in Rebels, hopefully it won't be an episode where she and the Mandalorion size each other up in a fight before learning to respect each other grudgingly in a shared endeavour. My expectations may be too high. I wish they'd bring in George Lucas on this.

Twitter Sonnet #1339

The glacial lightning claimed a distant hill.
Extensive seas combine to make a soup.
In power stews and masks we kept a bill.
A team of duckish faces jump the loop.
An extra tea required nothing bagged.
A tiny wave was never plugged for light.
Reception near the belly often sagged.
In metal shapes the people flew a kite.
Astounding toilets wait in brilliant stalls.
Another flight concludes with water points.
Instead of roofs the fungi lift the walls.
Amusing threads construct the yarny joints.
In sorted bins the building rose to work.
In morning air the beans began to perk.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

On Viruses and the Virulent

Here's a picture from Tennessee. Currently I'm in flight, over New Mexico, I think. Oddly the twelve hour flight doesn't seem like very much time to me. I have a nice seat, the seats next to me are empty and I have plenty of room for my laptop case. I suppose this is a side effect of the Coronavirus. If my attitude about the Coronavirus seems callous or inappropriately casual to you, I would like to assure you I do appreciate the seriousness of the situation. I would be more than happy to self-quarantine and avoid travel if I had a place to self-quarantine to and my job didn't depend on me travelling right now. I've been preparing for this job in Japan for over a year and have made many sacrifices including donating or discarding all of my furniture, selling or donating many of my books, and finally selling my car to a relative in Tennessee. I might have enjoyed staying at the Embassy Suite forever but my funds simply won't allow it. I consider myself fortunate that I'm not one of the many forced to spend the duration of this crisis on streets and in shelters. Maybe I should use language to show feelings of anguish and people may be upset that I don't seem to be participating in the communal dismay. I don't like what's happening and hate that the virus has killed so many people and has made others sick while the changes being made to status quo operations have caused problems that go beyond inconvenience, including staff shortages at hospitals. The reason I may not seem very emotional about this thing, and the reason I seem to be focused on other things, is because this seems to me the most practical and considerate way of conducting myself. Although I feel calm and not panicked, I feel like any attempt to provoke panic or terror in myself places an undue burden on other people. It seems to me an expression of pain, emotional or physical, is a form of cry for help and it takes resources and energy for people to help other people, emotionally or physically. So if I don't actually require such assistance, I would be wasting other people's time if I demanded it when I might contribute more constructive and entertaining things about my particular experience to distract people from what they may be going through. Several years ago, I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he reacted to the news of any death, of anyone in the world, the same way he'd react to the death of a loved one. Since he told me this while not sobbing or appearing in any other way especially upset, I could only assume he avoided news all the time (I know he didn't), he was lying, or he was a psychopath. So I tend not to trust some people when they say it's our responsibility to always be empathetic. You couldn't do that and remain sane. Can you enjoy watching the cute cat video while knowing, right at that moment, someone like you or your loved one is experiencing pain or death? So I respect the seriousness of what is occurring without feeling like I must be experiencing the full extent of the pain internally. I don't think that would do anyone any good. Understandably, some people are more sensitive to the imagery and news than others. Maybe it's because I'm distracted by so many other issues at this time that I'm not feeling the same level of shock as some of my friends. On the other hand, I generally find I'm at my most calm in the middle of a crisis.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Various Ways to be Exhausted

These pretty little pink flowers are growing in random spots beneath a freeway overpass in Fort Worth, Texas. How do I know this? Because I'm trying to get to Japan, naturally. Travelling from Knoxville, my flight to Charlotte was delayed due to fog, causing me to miss a flight to Fort Worth--and then the substitute flight was delayed due to a mechanical issue. So eventually I did end up in Fort Worth but too late for any flight going to Japan to-day. Fortunately, American Airlines was nice enough to put me up for the night in an Embassy Suite so I can't say I'm too upset. I walked to a nearby Wal Mart for supplies--I was happy to see Texas doesn't have fences and walls everywhere to thwart pedestrians like San Diego does.

It certainly has been an eventful five days.

While staying in Tennessee I had no wi-fi and couldn't go to a Starbucks for it because you can't even stay inside a Starbucks for very long--only to go orders are allowed. I found this out early one morning in Birmingham, Alabama. It's probably a sensible precaution but it makes things difficult for me.

Otherwise, the drive from San Diego to Knoxville was heaven. I do love driving. I spent a lot of time going through Texas, of course. To quote Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence, I like the desert "because it's clean," hopefully Coronavirus-free. I swear, if I never hear the word "Coronavirus" again it'll be too soon.

There are so many new Starbucks outfitted with outlets and wi-fi and all the Dennys seem to have wi-fi now. At a Denny's in San Antonio, I overheard a pretty young waitress complaining that she couldn't even buy some supplies for her baby because it was stuff panicked customers had already raided the shop for.

I didn't take many photos on my journey, I didn't have time since my flight was leaving from Knoxville at 7am on Wednesday and I'd left San Diego on Friday. I really wish I could've spent more time in Louisiana. Just the sight of swamps and forests from the freeway was breathtaking.

Here's another photo from Birmingham:

I drove around the historic district at 4:30am. It was too dark for photos. A really eerie experience, all those deserted old buildings with no-one around and weirdly bright street lights. I can't quite describe the feeling it gave me.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Encroaching Flora

Here's a picture from a gas station just outside beautiful Birmingham, Alabama. I don't have time to say much more to-day and there probably won't be a post from me to-morrow until I get reliable wi-fi access again.

Here are couple from Georgia which feels very Walking Dead:

Twitter Sonnet #1338

A tipping truck could block entire lanes.
The mountain rocks were watching chips and tea.
Before the night, the sun adroitly wanes.
A stony slip replaced the widest sea.
A plastic brick was less than Little Slab.
Electric tongues are thin beyond the patch.
A tiny brain was like a paper tab.
A net of shrubs abhor a single match.
A switch converts the sand to brilliant grass.
The trees in swamp await the fading light.
Through pink and yellow beams the drivers pass.
Suspension bridges conduct day to night.
Rotting things abide between the limbs.
Some gobs of green arrest the silver rims.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Asking the Bird

Here's a surprisingly noisy little bird at one of the occasional designated picnic areas scattered about the Texas desert. Adding to the post-apocalyptic feeling of any scrubby desert was a gas station sign limiting purchases of water bottle cases to two per person. Otherwise, I haven't seen much evidence of the Corona virus, though having no frame of reference I suppose every place I saw may have been 50% less crowded than usual. The outlet mall I stopped in to use the wi-fi in Tucson was certainly packed. Despite pouring rain, just like in San Diego, people were wandering around in t-shirts, some of them looking askance at this archaic contraption I carry called an umbrella.

I overheard one guy in a Mexican restaurant in Sonora, Texas speculating I had a sword hidden in the umbrella. A very young white man was my waiter. He was excited to see me reading Robert Louis Stevenson whom he said he reads at the library.

Some of you may wonder why I'm travelling now, at this worst of times, why didn't I stay at home? Well, I haven't got one, for one thing. I'm certainly not alone in that--having been in L.A. recently I've seen the tent cities on the sidewalks are even bigger than the ones in San Diego. Funny how easily the media so often overlooks such things.

I'm lucky enough to be able to stay in motels on my way. Travelling has sure gotten easy thanks google maps and travel sites where I can find decent motels for 50 or 60 dollars a night, often identical, blocky buildings with tiny rooms and weak water pressure. But they have free wi-fi which is all it takes to make them seem like paradise to me.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Clone Droid

Last night's new Clone Wars ended the Bad Batch arc satisfyingly enough with Echo making himself useful and Anakin starting to look a bit more like Vader.

The two stories are an interesting juxtaposition with Echo (Dee Bradley Baker) using his partly mechanised body to assist our heroes while Anakin's (Matt Lanter) decent into the Dark Side will be symbolised partly by the exchange of flesh for machine, becoming "more machine now than man".

Interestingly, last night's episode, "Unfinished Business", featured a moment where Mace (Terrence C. Carson) randomly decides to offer a legion of battle droids the opportunity to surrender. A reply from one of them of the familiar line, "Blast them!" suggests the machines have no such capacity for free will. However frequently we see the battle droids comically bemoan their obvious fates, they're apparently hard wired to take the punishment. It's no wonder Echo has to struggle to prove himself.

Anakin, showing more anger in the kind of ruthless interrogation tactics we've already been seeing him employ, interestingly chooses to cut off the spider alien admiral's mechanical arms--this character, Trench (Dee Bradley Baker), had appeared in a previous episode where he evidently lost half his body in a battle with Anakin. Considering what happens to the clone troopers, as far as free will goes, the series more and more seems to be blurring the lines between the two factions.

Clone Wars is available on Disney+.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Aguas de Marco

To-day I'm leaving California, driving cross country to Tennessee. Of all things, it put me in the mood to watch Lost Highway last night. I thought I might watch something more upbeat but instinct kept urging me back to the tragic tale of Fred Madison. I was also watching Bergman yesterday so maybe I just wanted calm, cool, contemplative film.

I was going to leave yesterday but there was flooding and thunderstorms in Arizona so I thought I may as well wait one more day. Though I'm likely to have to deal with bad weather of one kind or another at some point, at least it's sunny from here to El Paso for one day.

I will keep up blog entries as much as I can but if you don't hear from me it's because I couldn't find a Starbucks, library, or motel with wi-fi.

Twitter Sonnet #1337

Retracted light became the living torch.
Empowered lead became the power source.
A thousand rags were stacked beneath the porch.
Escaping men confound the guarding horse.
A silent whistle stalks the amber room.
A finger files pictures red to green.
In writhing crowds the brains retook the tombs.
Excited hordes exchange the holy bean.
A ghostly face returns to Andy's bash.
Another tape appears upon the step.
The lizard's sax was bright and weirdly rash.
In broken time the yellow lines were steady kept.
The changing current foists on desert damp.
The wind presaged a metal moving camp.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Doctor Beat Goes On

Well, it's been over a week now since what many are calling "the end of Doctor Who". Of course it's not. I was perfectly able to watch and enjoy The Three Doctors this week, the story of one of the founding Time Lords, Omega, and his bitterness over the fact that the Time Lords have rewritten and suppressed part of his history. Sounds familiar. The story also involves the First, Second, and Third Doctors, since it is an anniversary episode, the ten year anniversary, from 1973. The Time Lords also refer to William Hartnell as "the earliest Doctor" in the episode, too, though maybe these Time Lords are simply not among those in the know regarding the Doctor's great secret past.

It occurs to me that everyone angry over the idea that Rey in Star Wars had to have a lineage of Jedi behind her should probably also be angry that the Doctor couldn't simply be an average Time Lord but had to be the foundation of the Time Lords as a species or caste. I suppose it's not considered the same thing, though, because suggesting people inherit personality traits is more politically dangerous than suggesting someone might regenerate into another person with similar personality traits.

"The Timeless Children" is a bad episode though I feel many of the criticisms I hear of it don't quite get at the heart of what's truly lame about it. Sure, it screws up the canon but the show has done that before, many times. The visions of earlier incarnations for the Doctor in Brain of Morbius seem to contradict previous references to Hartnell as the first incarnation, as do the chattering voices of the Third Doctor's subconscious in The Time Monster. Of course, the idea that Doctor Ruth comes before William Hartnell still doesn't make sense of the fact that her TARDIS looks like a police box--Hartnell very clearly indicates it gets stuck in that form for the first time in the 1963 premiere. But Chibnall or another writer could say the Doctor subconsciously sabotaged it to keep a favoured form from earlier. There are a million possible explanations, none of which would probably be satisfying because it would feel like the show covering its ass. It was obviously simply an oversight by Chibnall.

But the "Timeless Children" backstory also contradicts the 1996 TV movie in which the Eighth Doctor claims to be half human. Frankly, I like the "Timeless Children" explanation better. Why should the Doctor have to be half human? To make him more relatable? Do you need to believe Scrooge McDuck is half human to enjoy DuckTales?

The bigger problem is that the actress playing Doctor Ruth is just so boring she takes some of the magic out of it. In that sense, it is a bit more like the backstory for Rey suggested by Last Jedi--Rey's parents could have been nobodies, the Doctor's previous incarnations could have been wholly unremarkable. But who wants a story about someone unremarkable? Even Bartleby the Scrivener was interesting in the end.

Jodie Whittaker wasn't very exciting in that finale, either. It seems like she spent 90% of the episode speechless and slack jawed. Can you imagine Tom Baker spending forty minutes that way? Or David Tennant? Why couldn't Chibnall put as much life into the Doctor as he did the Master? Why wasn't Yaz as goofy as Ryan and Graham? Maybe Chibnall is very careful about how he writes women. Ryan and Graham are reportedly leaving in the Christmas special so maybe this will give Yaz a chance to become more well-rounded. Somehow I doubt it. Considering "Timeless Children" had the lowest ratings of any finale in the series' history, classic and revived eras included, maybe Chibnall won't get a chance. Jodie Whittaker has said she's leaving if Chibnall's ousted. I wonder if the next actor or actress will have to lie face down on the floor with a blonde wig in the regeneration scene.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Mollusc Cuisine of the Stars

Sooner or later, strange poisonous molluscs were going to factor into Farscape. Naturally, they also force physical connexions between pairs of crewmembers, too.

Season Four, Episode Ten: Coup by Clam

Though they're more like squid than clams. It's hilarious when Crichton (Ben Browder) gets annoyed by the "technobabble" explanation in this episode but it is kind of funny, the idea of a mollusc that must be eaten by a single person or everyone who eats from it will share physical symptoms, pain, or pleasure.

This means poor Aeryn (Claudia Black) farts every time Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) does (which is often) and Cricthon feels Sikozu's (Raelee Hill) pain. Maybe the worst off is D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), though, who experiences Noranti's (Melissa Jaffer) orgasm at a very awkward moment.

This kind of thing never happened to Worf. You'd think it would undercut his efforts to interrogate the long nosed doctor (Barry Otto) who tricked them into eating the mollusc.

After a season with many episodes that felt more typical of other shows, it's nice to see this one with a uniquely Farscape-ish predicament. I also like that Crichton and Rygel team up in drag at the end, instead of the usual Crichton and D'Argo, to rescue Aeryn and Sikozu. Crichton in drag looks a bit like Val Kilmer in Willow.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Season One:

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist
Episode 10: They've Got a Secret
Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue
Episode 13: The Flax
Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton
Episode 15: Durka Returns
Episode 16: A Human Reaction
Episode 17: Through the Looking Glass
Episode 18: A Bug's Life
Episode 19: Nerve
Episode 20: The Hidden Memory
Episode 21: Bone to be Wild
Episode 22: Family Ties

Season Two:

Episode 1: Mind the Baby
Episode 2: Vitas Mortis
Episode 3: Taking the Stone
Episode 4: Crackers Don't Matter
Episode 5: Picture If You Will
Episode 6: The Way We Weren't
Episode 7: Home on the Remains
Episode 8: Dream a Little Dream
Episode 9: Out of Their Minds
Episode 10: My Three Crichtons
Episode 11: Look at the Princess, Part I: A Kiss is But a Kiss
Episode 12: Look at the Princess, Part II: I Do, I Think
Episode 13: Look at the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton
Episode 14: Beware of Dog
Episode 15: Won't Get Fooled Again
Episode 16: The Locket
Episode 17: The Ugly Truth
Episode 18: A Clockwork Nebari
Episode 19: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part I: A Not So Simple Plan
Episode 20: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part II: With Friends Like These . . .
Episode 21: Liars, Guns, and Money, Part III: Plan B
Episode 22: Die Me, Dichotomy

Season Three:

Episode 1: Season of Death
Episode 2: Suns and Lovers
Episode 3: Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part I: Would'a, Could'a, Should'a
Episode 4: Self-Inflicted Wounds, Part II: Wait for the Wheel
Episode 5: . . . Different Destinations
Episode 6: Eat Me
Episode 7: Thanks for Sharing
Episode 8: Green Eyed Monster
Episode 9: Losing Time
Episode 10: Relativity
Episode 11: Incubator
Episode 12: Meltdown
Episode 13: Scratch 'n Sniff
Episode 14: Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands
Episode 15: Infinite Possibilities, Part II: Icarus Abides
Episode 16: Revenging Angel
Episode 17: The Choice
Episode 18: Fractures
Episode 19: I-Yensch, You-Yensch
Episode 20: Into the Lion's Den, Part I: Lambs to the Slaughter
Episode 21: Into the Lion's Den, Part II: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Episode 22: A Dog with Two Bones

Season Four

Episode 1: Crichton Kicks
Episode 2: What was Lost, Part I: Sacrifice
Episode 3: What was Lost, Part II: Resurrection
Episode 4: Lava's a Many Splendoured Thing
Episode 5: Promises
Episode 6: Natural Election
Episode 7: John Quixote
Episode 8: I Shrink Therefore I Am
Episode 9: A Prefect Murder

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Sinister Decent from N to Z

The newest Sirenia Digest brings Caitlin R. Kiernan's conclusion to her Cerulean Alphabet, an intriguing set of vignettes covering the letters N through Z. Many of these vignettes may remind the reader of her Agents of Dreamland books as cops, investigations, and strange violent crime come up quite a bit.

The sequence begins with "N is for Nude" which, in its contemplation of a deeper kind of nudity than "unclothed", kind of reminded me of Mike Leigh's Naked but turns out to have more to do with weird murder than that film. Several of the stories deal with phenomena that covey a sense of amorphous threat, including "O is for Ogre", which is a very nice variation on the standard childhood nightmare about a monster in the closet. "R is for Red", meanwhile, makes respectable strides towards rivalling H.G. Wells' "The Red Room" in terms of horror and menace.

Twitter Sonnet #1336

The finless fish returned with questions asked.
Tormented tips advance the fingers west.
The fire sprites have ever entered masked.
The entry route was ranked as seventh best.
Afforded captains blot the check with ink
A stack of wood is books to open eyes.
A healthy rinse defrosts the frozen sink.
And all we sought and wanted, lots of pies.
Reversing steps announced the constant air.
In fleets of gloves the hands could pilot home.
Convenience starts behind the eyeless bear.
An ostrich lamp decides to slowly roam.
A puzzle sleeps, it's draped across a truck.
Entire skies reside inside the duck.

Monday, March 09, 2020

Max von Sydow

It seems hard to believe Max von Sydow could die at this point. But he has, he passed away at the age of 90 yesterday. The man who was so vital in some of Ingmar Bergman's greatest films of the 50s and 60s, who contributed an awesome presence to fantasy films and video games for decades.

Sometimes, when you're young, you take movie stars for granted. Like many things in life, you might not recognise how extraordinary they are until you're older. Much as the fortunate child accepts as a natural fact he or she has food and shelter, you might accept there's a Harrison Ford handy to play Indiana Jones or that Ripley sprang out of the ether fully formed as Sigourney Weaver. One of the first times I really appreciated what a great star is and does was that moment in The Seventh Seal where the knight played by Max von Sydow, standing in the confessional, proclaims to himself in wonder that he, a mortal man, is engaged in a game of chess with Death himself.

More even than the mood conjured by Bergman's compositions or the eerie performance from Bengt Ekerot as Death, Max von Sydow in that moment sells the concept. In the middle of this grim, sometimes funny, film, we're let into the fundamentally wondrous nature of the circumstance. Which is, of course, in part the exhilaration of surviving by one's own efforts. He was a great actor but with his deep voice, gaunt face, and large eyes, von Sydow had presence that went beyond skill or talent.

For any one of the leading roles he played for Bergman, and several of the supporting ones, Max von Sydow might have justly considered himself possessed of a lifetime's worth of accomplishment. His complex role in The Magician uniquely conveys the life of an artist in a world that takes art for granted. His raw, terrified performance in Hour of the Wolf is a big part of what make that film an extraordinary nightmare.

And after that, he went to Hollywood. Not shrinking from bit parts in B movies, he was a king in Conan the Barbarian and Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon. He was also a priest in The Exorcist, showing up later in the film, that incredible presence of his enough to convey the fact that a powerful force contrary to the Devil's had arrived.

His presence was so reliable for so long. A couple years ago, he had a bit of a renaissance thanks to, of all things, a video game, one of the best ever made, as it happens. Skyrim is a great game and it had what not every great game gets--great trailers. Like many great trailers, the voice is key and in this case the voice belonged to Max von Sydow. When you hear him say, "They're already here," you get a chill and everyone knew in their hearts the game was guaranteed to sell millions of copies.

It was little wonder, after Skyrim, he would show up in Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Not as a favour or a gesture of respect to a veteran actor but because he clearly had the goods. Everyone could see he would make their projects better, even if the kids watching had no idea who he was. Fortunately, kids and adults for generations will have the opportunity to discover him in so many ways.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

From Galactic Senates to Tripod Droids

The continuing story of the Bad Batch clone troopers on Friday's new Clone Wars also traded director Steward Lee for Bosco Ng for noticeably better results in the action sequences. This was primarily an episode of running and gunning and sometimes flying. It worked pretty well, thanks to a real sense of the characters' mortality and some fantastic droid designs.

I loved these War of the Worlds-ish tripods, blasting away at the native aliens. Unlike Rebels and Resistance, Clone Wars doesn't shy away so much from visible casualties. The layers of story inherent in every episode and sequence are great, too. I love how Anakin (Matt Lanter) and the clones (Dee Bradley Baker) win over the natives by telling them how it's the Separatists, not the Republic, who are trying to colonise them when, of course, the Republic, renamed the Empire, will be getting up to exactly that kind of thing and is likely already doing so.

I've also been going back and watching older episodes. On Friday I watched the season two episode "Senate Murders" in which Padme (Catherine Taber) finds herself investigating the murder of one of her colleagues. Written by Drew Z. Greenberg, the plot has to do with a bill introduced to the senate that will reduce the production of clone troopers. Supporters of the bill include Padme as well as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa. What I love about this is that this coalition's belief that reduction of troops will result in increased diplomatic efforts is based on shaky, idealistic rationale and, if they're successful, it works against the main protagonists of the show--Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the clones, who are all off-screen for the episode.

There's genuine ambiguity about who's right, particularly as some members of Padme's faction turn out to be dangerous zealots. Padme has to deal with the investigation and arguments about the bill and every moment demands strict attention from the viewer because we're compelled to figure it all out, too. Disney obviously wanted to make Rebels and The Mandalorian more kid friendly but I'd say episodes like "Senate Murders" are much better suited for equipping children to deal with the real world.

Clone Wars is available on Disney+.