Thursday, April 28, 2016
( 7:43 PM ) posted by Setsuled
She was the dreams and the dreamer, the object of delusions and bearer of her own delusions. 1941's Lydia is a romantic film that muses sadly over the illusion of romance. At times stunningly gorgeous with perfect performances from Merle Oberon and Joseph Cotten, its screenplay co-written by the great Ben Hecht, Lydia is a bittersweet contemplation of infatuation.
Oberon plays Lydia. We meet her with pretty bad ageing makeup after she's led a long life as an admired administrator of orphanages for blind children. Even this is a reflection of the film's central theme, that Lydia chooses to become the custodian of blind children. Joseph Cotten plays Michael, one of the four men whom she considers the great loves of her life, and he brings her to a gathering with two of the others. Most of the film is a flashback as Lydia and the three men recount their relationships and Lydia discusses Richard (Alan Marshal), the only man who is not present, whom she loved more than the others.
Another of the men, Frank (Hans Jaray), is a blind pianist who works at the orphanage. He becomes infatuated with Lydia though he erroneously believes she has blue eyes and blonde hair. Bob (George Reeves) immediately corrects Lydia's story about a ballroom where she first met him--first we see a filmed version of her story; a great room with mirrored walls and an orchestra fit for kings; Bob remembers a small room with a third rate orchestra and, crucially, he remembers Michael looking pretty miffed when he whisked Lydia away onto the dance floor.
Again and again, the movie presents these wouldbe lovers having an impression inspired by their own feelings crushed by reality. Lydia, in her recollections, at one point consciously dissociates herself from the woman she remembers--even for her, Lydia is a being perceived, not a being that could have its own point of view.
Lydia comes from a wealthy Boston family--her mother is played with wonderful, sharp strictness by Edna May Oliver. Lydia is incredibly beautiful and it seems as though she and the men spend their lives trying to figure out what to do with this rare treasure that is an exceptionally beautiful woman with exceptional means. She seems like she was meant for a great romance, so they all go through the effort of making one, yet none of it quite seems to pan out. Through it all, Michael is solid and always there for her, but as we know from the beginning of the movie, even that romance doesn't actually connect. The beautiful dream Lydia becomes the real woman who leads blind children through the world.#
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
( 2:55 PM ) posted by Setsuled
If I were to guess the top two anime works most popular with Westerners who don't like anime I'd probably name Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. Which makes it pretty funny there's apparently an uproar about Scarlett Johansson being cast as the main character in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell live action film even though her character is an android and the creator of the original series approves of the casting. Thousands of voices who don't complain about Japanese students who routinely look Caucasian in anime have complained about a white woman playing a synthetic life form with a Japanese name.
Anyway, lately I've been watching through Cowboy Bebop again, watching it through for the sixth or seventh time, I think, marvelling again at how good it is and how it seems to just get better with age. And it does, in many ways, feel more Western than Japanese. It lacks many attributes of the artform with its starkly demarcated traditions for targeting demographics. There's a central male character but he's not surrounded by a harem of girls lusting after him, openly or secretly. There's little of the psychological exploration that marks some of the best anime aimed at boys and young men, girls and young women. Instead, there are references to French films of the 60s and American films of the 70s. Spike Spiegel has more in common with Barry Newman than Ikari Shinji. Faye Valentine may be closer to a standard anime character but even she has something of Anna Karina in her.
Despite the greatness of Cowboy Bebop its creator, Shinichiro Watanabe, has, since the end of Cowboy Bebop, failed to equal his success with that series either artistically or in terms of popularity in his subsequent series. I'd lay the blame at the feet of misguided devotion to post-modernism. On might assume the mishmash of cultural and artistic references in Cowboy Bebop would mean that the fusions in Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy would also work. But without the commitment to the reality of a universe that Cowboy Bebop had, intentionally or not, the other series could only be insubstantial and unsatisfying. Like the French New Wave films Watanabe pays homage to, Cowboy Bebop endures because of its respect to the characters and the motives of the characters, not because it is an erudite collage of media.
But it turns out that Samurai Champloo and Space Dandy aren't the only series Watanabe's worked on since Cowboy Bebop. I somehow failed to hear about, until last week, an eleven episode series Watanabe did in 2014 called 残響のテロル; Terror in Resonance in the U.S. but I prefer the literal translation of the original title "Terror of the Echo". I watched the first episode this morning.
This, unlike Cowboy Bebop, feels very much like an anime--a shojo anime, one aimed at girls. With two attractive, vaguely bisexual young men as protagonists who are charmed by a shy, bullied, pretty girl, one is reminded of shows like Kimi no Todoke, Fushigi Yugi, or even Death Note, given the dangerous nature of those two male protagonists. They're terrorists.
Since the very real world threat the characters embody sets them apart from the supernatural or softball misdeeds that define "bad" boys in typical shojo, Watanabe seems to have been doing something interesting and daring with the well worn genre. He certainly avoids the pitfall of post-modernism. Well, so far--I have only watched the first episode; for all I know, one of the characters will turn into Miles Davis while the girl plays guitar on a Titanic made of gum wrappers.
The first episode has exceptionally good animation and Yoko Kanno's music is really nice. I particularly liked the ending theme.
Twitter Sonnet #865
Replete with timely chokes, the coke was hot.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
( 9:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I missed my trolley stop this evening because I was caught up in Trevelyan's England Under the Stuarts. It's just so much like listening to some charming professor rambling on from memory rather than like reading a history book. He goes on a lovely soliloquy at some points and even forgets to include the actual historical event he's referring to, putting it in a foot note like some slightly embarrassing formality.
Yet though he clung with the honesty of an earlier age to his political principles of Anglican intolerance and royal prerogative, he was too ready to sacrifice his dignity as a man in order to retain his office as a Chancellor. In his sly and curious method of defending his daughter's honour when James hesitated to acknowledge her as wife, in his dealings with the Queen, in his love of splendid living and of high place, he recalls the sordid side of Coke or Bacon. It had been his fate to live too many years among mean men. Clarendon had lost the nobility of Hyde. But when, again in exile, he was thrown back on the resources of his own virtue and intellect, and again set himself, an old and broken man, to complete the great literary work of his life, he seemed once more to enter the pure presence of the friend who had deserted him on the field of Newbury, of whose love he had once been worthy and was again worthy at the end.*
*The King compelled him to resign the Great Seal, August 1667. Parliament impeached him, he fled and was banished, November 1667-April 1668. He remained in exile till his death at Rouen in 1674.
On Sunday night I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright again. What a delicious, perfect film. I guess if there's a weak point it's Jane Wyman as the main protagonist but she's not bad at all. Jean Simmons might have been better or--ou!--Audrey Hepburn! But she wasn't a star yet and Wyman had just won best actress. Anyway, about a film that also has Marlene Dietrich, Alastair Sim, Joyce Grenfell, and Michael Wilding I can't complain. And it's Hitchcock coming out of his long take phase all the stronger at the editing he was so self-conscious about early on.
It seems to me that of all of Hitchcock's protagonists, Alastair Sim is an avatar for his perversity unlike any other. The scene where Sim cuts his hand and rubs his blood on a doll to intimidate Dietrich--and save the day!--reminds me of the story about Hitchcock sending Tippi Hedren a doll in a wooden box. One wonders how often Hitchcock sent people dolls to make point. There are plenty of people who do weird things in Hitchcock movies but none with Sim's self possession and good humour.#
Monday, April 25, 2016
( 2:31 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Don't be fooled by the tranquil atmosphere of this picture of a spider looking wistfully out my bedroom window. He was jumping about quite vigorously and he spent one night with me before I finally managed to catch him and release him outside, where he clearly longed to be.
I also finally managed to get pictures of the parrots that roam the neighbourhood. I've often heard them but up 'til now I'd somehow never seen them. A couple days ago I saw two on the power lines outside my kitchen.
I suppose I ought to talk about last night's premiere of Game of Thrones but, to be honest, I'm much more exciting about the official cast list that's been released to-day for the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks. A cast list of 217 names, a great number of which are interesting for their celebrity or their ties to Twin Peaks and David Lynch's other films.
The inclusion of Balthazar Getty makes me wonder if he's playing Pete from Lost Highway since Lynch has commented that Lost Highway is set in the same universe as Twin Peaks. I wonder how much the impressive number of musicians will be contributing to the soundtrack. It's great to see Julee Cruise on the list and I would be very surprised if we don't see her singing but there are several others who have contributed to Lynch soundtracks before--Trent Reznor from Lost Highway, Crysta Bell, and Rebeka Del Rio from Mulholland Drive. Considering the large number of episodes, maybe we'll be seeing all of these people on stage eventually within the context of the story.
It's nice to see Lynch evidently managed to track down Everett McGill who had retired not only from acting but apparently from civilisation. It's also nice to see Russ Tamblyn's health issues didn't prevent him from appearing on the show. It's great to see David Duchovny confirmed and hopefully the writing for his transgender FBI agent Denise will now equal the sensitivity and intelligence he was already bringing to the role.
It's nice to see both Ben and Jerry Horne confirmed.
I worry a little that this massive cast with so many celebrities is going to end up a show that feels scattered and unfocused. But mostly I'm just excited and I want it to be 2017 now.
Oh, yeah, Game of Thrones. Well, like most seasons the first episode seems to mostly be about getting the audience reoriented. I saw a lot of people in comments sections for online articles about the episode were shocked by the ending which I didn't think was particularly exciting one way or another. I was only surprised the episode ended on this particular revelation which didn't feel any more extraordinary than when we learned Julian Glover's character is in better shape than he lets on. I was sorry Glover wasn't in this episode and I also missed Bronn.
I still don't see how Sansa and Theon weren't killed or seriously injured in that fall.#
Sunday, April 24, 2016
( 4:22 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Hey, pal, that belly you're licking belongs to another man's wife. Oh, the scandal. And only two episodes in on Walking Dead which peer pressure and family expectations finally drove me to start watching last week. Everyone tells me the show gets better later but the first couple episodes aren't bad.
It begins oddly like 28 Days Later with the protagonist, Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) waking up in a hospital that's deserted and thrashed. And I had the same question--if somehow the zombies didn't notice him, shouldn't he check for other patients in his same situation? Maybe not when he's trying to leave for the first time but certainly later when he's got guns and a car and everything?
Well, anyway, that's a nitpick. Rick is a plain good guy, a bit dull, actually. In the second episode he beats up a racist played by guest star Michael Rooker and says something I think is supposed to be badass about how there's no longer black people and white people but only "dark meat and white meat." Which, even putting aside the unintentional racial sound to the metaphor, is really awkward. Are you going to eat the zombies? I don't think that's a good idea. But Michael Rooker is good as the racist guy. He's really despicable, I hope he comes back in subsequent episodes.
I like the use of slow moving zombies instead of the more modern "Running Dead". It makes for a nicely slow story that is more about getting by than getting away. I also enjoyed the odd Butt and Bucket tracking shot from the beginning of the second episode.
Twitter Sonnet #864
The steps of cherry moons proceed through night.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
( 6:42 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Well, we may not be getting a proper episode of Doctor Who until Christmas but to-day the new companion was announced in a two minute miniature episode.
It feels sort of like test footage. I'm reminded of the footage of Sigourney Weaver doing an early version of the cocooned Kane scene for Alien--or the departure scene for Mel from the Seventh Doctor's first season which was originally a test scene. The Doctor and Companion, running from Daleks. It has a very old shoe feel to it. Default Who. In a way it is test footage but for the audience--it's an interesting idea, instead of giving us time to wonder about what she'll be like we're given a test drive right off. That being said, we learn a lot more about the actress than the character, Bill. Her lines are all as generic as the clip--asking what this weird stuff is, making a snide remark about what's familiar now to all the viewers. She seems like a decent enough performer. She's the first female companion since Donna to be average looking rather than perfectly gorgeous like Karen Gillan and Jenna Coleman. I wonder if this was planned to try to convince fans to not look for a romance between the two. More than ever, I'm annoyed the BBC is spending money on an uninteresting Doctor Who spinoff this year instead of a season of Doctor Who. It was nice seeing Twelve again, however briefly.#
Friday, April 22, 2016
( 2:21 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Remarriage is an unthinkable disaster for a parent, at least according to the underlying morality of 1936's Three Smart Girls. Starting out as a lifeless, somewhat quaint revel in the preciousness of children, the film becomes a mildly entertaining screwball comedy in its second half.
All three girls put together aren't smarter than a young Ray Milland who plays a wealthy English nobleman named Michael Stuart. The movie picks up in the middle when a scheme to get a drunken friend to pose as a Count to woo away the gold-digging wouldbe second wife for the girls father goes awry when the girls mistake Michael for the faux Count and Michael plays along. He has a thing for one of the girls, Kay (Barbara Read), and enjoys having the secret from her, watching her alternately vexed and gleeful in ignorance of his identity. He would be unbearable in his smugness if Milland weren't so charming.
Despite this being the main romantic plot, it's the youngest daughter, Penny, who's framed as the star of the film. She's played by Deanna Durbin who's introduced in the opening credits as Universal's great new discovery. I guess she was, since the film and its sequels saved the studio from financial troubles, according to Wikipedia. Incredibly, this movie was nominated for Best Picture. To think at around the same time Universal was making some of their great, classic horror films, this movie was considered to be the studio's big audience and critical darling.
Durbin is cute and shows real talent as a soprano singing three musical numbers--all three of which drag the movie to a halt, though, following the conventional wisdom at the time on how proper musical numbers in films should be, the kind of thing that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were at the time busy rebelling against.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
( 4:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A few minutes ago, I mentioned to someone in class that I'd just heard Prince had died. The student I was speaking to said, "People have been telling me that all day, I have no idea who that is." Like so many things from my youth that seemed a part of universal knowledge, this surprised me at first but then I slowly realised how implausible it would be for a young person to know Prince, especially given how opposed Prince was to having his music available for free in any form on the internet, making it difficult to find examples of his clips now. It hardly seems the time to mention Prince's less admirable personality qualities yet they're part of what makes him fascinating. How could he have been against same sex marriage, for example, the guy who once walked into a department store to try on women's lingerie? The fact is, Prince couldn't be categorised in any way; no-one thought like him, no-one did things like him, really. There was the sense that he really kept analysis at bay and presented a clear picture of his dreams without filter.
The same year that took David Bowie has also taken Prince who reportedly did a brilliant cover of "'Heroes'" in tribute to Bowie. I'd provide a link but the video has been scrubbed from the internet, most likely by that elusive artist, Prince, himself. It goes beyond being a modern day luddite, though; I've heard Howard Stern tell a story about witnessing a small, exclusive Prince concert where Prince demanded to perform in total darkness. In this modern landscape where everything is available instantly, any time, one can see the appeal of trying to recreate a time when an artist carefully crafted every appearance, every moment when he or she was seen or heard.
Now he's dead, at only 57. Still a vital performer and a magnificent guitarist it can be said without a doubt he's gone too soon. Of the ten million different artists who've covered Radiohead's "Creep", Prince's version remains my favourite. For his guitar work and for his reshaping the lyrics to make his version a reply to the original. One of the few Prince performances available online, it was apparently permitted finally by Prince's label a few months ago at the request of Thom Yorke.
Here are some photos I've taken recently, mostly of birds with crazy eyes.
Twitter Sonnet #863
A legion sunk an apple's weight in prawns.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
( 4:54 PM ) posted by Setsuled
"I just want to say, I was here fifteen years ago or something, and, uh, I had no idea what I was doing," said Ben Affleck in his acceptance speech when his unremarkable political intrigue thriller, Argo, won Best Picture at the Oscars, "And, uh, I went out, you know, and I never thought that I would be back here. And I am--because of so many of you who are here to-night, because of this academy, because of so many wonderful people who have extended themselves to me when they had nothing to benefit from it in Hollywood--you know what I mean? I couldn't get 'em a job. I wanna thank them and I wanna thank what they taught me which is that you have to work harder than you think you possibly can, you can't hold grudges--it's hard, but you can't hold grudges--uh," he paused while the audience laughed politely, "And it doesn't matter, uh, how you get knocked down in life 'cause that's gonna happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up."
But Affleck spent his cache of good will no enact a huge grudge on the big screen with Zack Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. To put it like Pop Leibel in Vertigo, he was the mad Ben Affleck, the grateful Ben Affleck and then, finally . . . the sad Ben Afflick.
How could Batman v Superman be a bad movie? It was meant to be a good movie. It was paid for. And how could Ben Affleck have been in it if it was bad? Hadn't he earned the love and respect of the right people? Yes, Ben Affleck is sad, and that's partly why I really do like Ben Affleck. He's genuine. He really wants to believe in what he does. But somewhere along the line in Hollywood, a weird hybrid heart was made in his chest, one that accepted "how things work" in Hollywood while wanting to believe what he was doing was genuine, was real artistic expression. I really think he had convinced himself he was appropriate for the role of Batman.
As much as I hate Zack Snyder, I know Affleck couldn't possibly have been his choice. Snyder, as has been abundantly clear since he had Harry Lennix read lines from the comic at Comic-Con, wanted to make Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in which an older, embittered and scarred Batman finally goes head to head with the idealistic, eternally young boy scout, Superman. Snyder would've wanted someone who looked old with a deep and/or gravelly voice but who could still get in insanely good shape. Maybe he'd have gone with his 300 star, Gerard Butler. Someone like Russell Crowe, maybe. Considering no-one had heard of Henry Cavill, Snyder would very likely have gone for an unknown. Ben Affleck is 43 but you can tell he's going to seem 30 when he's 60. But Affleck is who the studio wanted. Affleck was owed. So despite having already played Daredevil in a notoriously unsuccessful movie, Affleck's headshot was pushed across the table to Snyder who was informed, as though by Dan Hedaya in Mulholland Drive, "This is the guy."
Casting someone other than Ben Affleck would not, in itself, have made Batman v Superman a good movie, but igniting the imagination of the potential audience with someone who embodied not just Batman but the particular manifestation of Batman may have made the film a bona fide box office success. But the people who made the decisions don't know from bona fide. Anyone else playing Batman in the film would have had to contend with the fact that Zack Snyder has no real appreciation or vision for Batman or Superman and that the core concept of the film, the idea of Batman and Superman fighting, doesn't make sense. It made sense in The Dark Knight Returns and scenes in Batman v Superman of Affleck pulling weights with his feet while doing pull ups show that Snyder still loves the enthusiastic machismo Miller so often indulges in. But Snyder's Batman is the most impotently created version of the character ever to hit the big screen. For all the derision justly heaped on Joel Schumacher's two Batman films, Schumacher at least had his own clear artistic attachment to the characters, a clear enthusiasm for exploiting the camp value of the characters leading to stylistic, garish coloured lighting and the absurd nipples on Batman's chest plate. Snyder's film vision of Batman is little more than a greatest hits of other versions of Batman. The movie opens with an amalgam of both Tim Burton's version of the death of Bruce Wayne's parents and Christopher Nolan's version of Bruce discovering the Bat Cave. There's young Bruce falling into the well and being surrounded by a swirling cloud of bats, like in Batman Begins, and closeups of the gunman pulling the pearls from Mrs. Wayne's throat from Tim Burton's movie. As many people have pointed out, Batman's fight choreography in Batman v Superman almost precisely copies fight sequences in Arkham Asylum.
Maybe all this would have been good enough, maybe what Snyder wanted to do was conjure some vague, general, community impression of who and what Batman is for the purposes of this film. But Batman v Superman isn't really a Batman and Superman film so much as it's a Batman film that happens to have Superman in it. Snyder has some idea of who Batman is, or the superficial aspects of Frank Miller's version, anyway, but he has no idea who Superman is. Oh, he's evidently been told by people who do know that Superman is a Christ figure, a saviour for people to believe in. But Snyder is so resistant to actually showing this that, after the film spends time only dwelling on how people criticise Superman for collateral damage and for selfishness, when we're shown a statue of Superman as part of a monument to him, I thought, "Why's he got a statue when everyone hates him?" The movie is set just over a year after the events of Man of Steel yet the public has already gone through worshipping him as a god to criticising him for causing destruction. The problem is Snyder, instead of finding his creative footing crafting a version of Superman that's his own is instead trying to exploit the fruits of decades of commentary on other incarnations of the character.
Snyder finally gives us a scene where Superman saves a little girl from a burning building over half an hour into the movie. This after he's already shown us Bruce Wayne saving a little girl from the collateral, city-wide destruction caused by the battle at the end of Man of Steel and Batman saving people from an underground slave ring. We'd seen Superman save Lois Lane by this point--breaking into a terrorist camp where she's held captive and people criticise him for the reprisals taken on civilians in response to his actions. This becomes part of the primary conflict between Batman and Superman, that Superman is inhuman and doesn't care about all the destruction he causes. Presumably Batman would prefer General Zod had destroyed the planet? Jeremy Irons is pretty good as an oddly bitter Alfred who tries to reason with Bruce but even he never says, "But what about all the people Superman saves?"
Snyder is trying to take the primary criticism aimed at Man of Steel and use it as the conflict for Batman v Superman, which would have been a good idea if Snyder had understood the criticism. He thinks people are criticising Man of Steel for Superman not preventing everyone from dying when actually people were criticising it for not showing that Superman cares that all these people are dying. When people say, "Isn't the point of Superman that he's supposed to help people?" Snyder replies, "You want to make an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs." Not understanding that the omelette is supposed to be the people that Superman saves and the eggs are supposed to be beating up the bad guys, not the other way around. But this comes from a disconnect with the concept of Superman that is far from limited to Snyder. People haven't really believed in authority figures and public servants that way since the 60s. Batman v Superman becomes an allegory for man versus God but how can you really portray that argument when you've never had any appreciation for God, or saviour authority figures, to begin with?
Jesse Eisenberg hams an excruciating Heath Ledger impression as Lex Luthor, spouting what Snyder regards as the deep thoughts where Lex becomes Satan as advocate for humanity in reply to an uncaring God. That's a lot of responsibility put on the shoulders of a character as confusingly developed as Snyder's Superman. It might have been better if Snyder had given no dialogue at all the Superman and left him as a mysterious force but instead we've got the hasty sketches of the good kid from Smallville with Ma and Pa Kent to believe in him and his date nights with Lois which do seem pretty shallow when you think about what else he could be doing. But however negligent he might be, even saving one little girl makes Batman's desire to kill him seem ridiculous.
Visually, the film is more of the drab mud from Man of Steel. Gal Gadot is a dull, uninspiring Wonder Woman who manages to seem shoehorned into a shoe that hasn't even been properly assembled.
So, yes, Batman v Superman is a mess, the ugly child of laziness and selfishness, of stupidity and vanity, of hubris and shallowness.#
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
( 7:31 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Here's the most unflattering shot of Kim (Rhea Seehorn) on Better Call Saul, giddily gazing up at Jimmy's (Bob Odenkirk) new commercial like a schmuck. This after a season featuring several episodes where she was a wonderfully engaging contribution to the series. Despite bad memories from the fallout of the last commercial Jimmy showed her, she's reduced to a happy lump in the disappointing season finale to Better Call Saul's second season.
Mostly the season was good, particularly for the growing relationship--with a subtle, corresponding fracture--between Jimmy and Kim. I didn't really complain that the show's writers decided to walk back the wonderful story of personal liberation that was the first season finale. There was indeed yet more gold to mine in the relationship between Jimmy and his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean). Chuck, clearly the one with more ethical integrity, nonetheless is pettier and more unhinged due to his massive cache of resentment for the unscrupulous brother who constantly gets away with things, who isn't tortured by guilt the way he is.
But the second season finale that focuses on that relationship really just proves it's run its course. The opening scene showing a flashback of their mother on her deathbed seems lifted straight from a recent episode of The X-Files and from there everything started to feel stale. There wasn't a scene in the episode where I didn't know how it was going to end while I simultaneously was thinking, "Surely they've got something better than that." But no. Well, the season finale of Breaking Bad's second season was pretty lame, too, with all its absurd, catastrophic coincidences. I only wish I didn't have to wait a whole year for the writers to fix this.#
Monday, April 18, 2016
( 3:27 PM ) posted by Setsuled
What have we done, attaching all our psychological hang-ups to the beauty of a natural world so much bigger than us? Can you really explain a painting? At its best, Michael Powell's 1969 film Age of Consent is a tranquil and lovely meditation on eroticism, its connexion to the beauty of nature, and the creative process. In its worst bits, it's a mildly amusing comedy and an off-putting defensive argument for an older man to make love to an underage girl. If Powell and star James Mason had made peace with what they apparently wanted something beautiful could have really flourished in this movie. As it is, it has more than enough virtues to recommend it.
This movie was made after James Mason had already played an older man trying to romance considerably younger women (girls really) in both Georgy Girl and Lolita. Unlike those two films he's here not portrayed as pathetic for it. Age of Consent isn't as intellectual as Lolita--that's not to say it isn't smart but it lacks the psychological analysis that's evident in the amusing case of a man who was foolish enough to let his libido lead him by the nose into a relationship with predictably bad chemistry. Powell doesn't make intellectual arguments, he argues with beauty.
It's exciting to see Michael Powell approach the subject of the creative process again, something he dealt with so brilliantly in The Red Shoes. In Age of Consent, Mason plays Bradley Morahan, a famous painter who's lost interest in his medium. He goes to a remote place in Australia and finds a muse in a girl named Cora played by Helen Mirren in her first leading film role.
Mirren had a perfect body and she was stunningly gorgeous. And she already had the instincts of a great actress evident in the quickness and complexity of her reactions. Although nudity was a big part of this film, Powell spends a lot of time focusing on her face during nude sequences, like in a scene where Cora takes off her dress to contemplate herself in a mirror as something an artist might find worth painting.
Powell mostly just gives us her face as we watch Mirren create a subtle process of reaction. Powell was not a director content to make do with a pretty actress as one can see from the great performances given in his films by Deborah Kerr and Moira Shearer. But Marilyn Monroe was a great actress even when she seemed dumb. Powell liked actresses who showed intellect in their faces and this is true for Mirren who was at the time primarily a theatre actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Despite the fact that her character is a credulous teenage girl, Powell didn't assume this character could have been achieved with an actress that conveyed little or conveyed things broadly.
We see her thought process as she's deciding how much she likes from the attractive young man piloting her boat when he tries flirting with her and kissing her. When she shouts back at her abusive alcoholic grandmother, we can see the confusion at the moral rebuke aimed at her natural feelings arising from her just beginning to assert her own perception of herself.
Of course, both of the foils for Cora I've just mentioned are straw men in the argument for a young girl to make love to an older man--the young attractive man who's too rough and aggressive and the overbearing, viciously shaming guardian. Despite Mirren's always fascinating performance, these characters diminish the film a great deal in comparison to the breathtaking sequences of visual beauty.
The Expressionistic paintings created by painter Paul Delprat of Helen Mirren for the film are really lovely and there's a sort of drowsy, soothing quality to the scenes of Mason painting her while she's standing on the beach or swimming nude. There's a conscious attempt to tie what they're doing to the beauty of nature, most explicitly in a shot of Mirren standing waist deep in water while she's being painted and her gaze, which the camera pans to follow, being drawn by sounds of birds coming from the trees.
In another stark contrast to this, the film has a subplot starring the brilliant Irish comedic actor Jack MacGowran as Bradley's schnorrer friend who comes to stay with him and disrupts Bradley and Cora's work schedule.
Bradley's fear of his friend finding out about Cora and getting his lecherous claws on the impressionable girl is partly there to present a contrast to Bradley's purer intentions and partly there for not really necessary comic relief as MacGowran tries to woo another neighbour. He is very funny but the tone of these scenes makes them feel like they belong in another movie. I found myself just as impatient as Bradley and Cora which, to be fair, may also have been part of Powell's intentions.
Twitter Sonnet #862
The fishing line appeared unsought through cork.
Sunday, April 17, 2016
( 3:18 PM ) posted by Setsuled
It was five o'clock yesterday and I was outside a movie theatre. At 5:45 they were showing Batman v Superman and at 5:35 they were showing Deadpool. I hadn't seen either one--my schedule lately has made it difficult to find time to see movies. But I was starting to get an itch to see Batman v Superman as a sort of victory run hate watch. The world has acknowledged it's a failure artistically, that it has failed to please critics and audiences alike, and, really, it is also a commercial failure despite technically achieving just a tiny bit of profit. That mostly due to the first week before people knew any better and it was little more than the hype of two of the biggest superheroes of all time being on screen together. Then the next week it had its historic drop in ticket sales, one even worse than suffered by Man of Steel, showing people are starting to get wiser to DC/Warners' shallow exploitation of its properties. Even Kevin Smith dissed it and he's usually a soft touch--and his friend Ben Affleck is in the movie.
I wanted to see it so I could be part of the conversation, put my two cents in as to why it's not just a bad film but why the tone deaf, profit-hungry forces behind it made it the bad film it is. I've said before a good critic really shouldn't love writing bad reviews but every now and then I just can't help being bad. And oh, how good it would feel to really lay into it. Zack Snyder. The boring douchebag I've heard drone on at Comic Con, the dickface who turned a rape scene in Alan Moore's Watchmen into something like a beer commercial. Who turned Rorschach's startlingly human moment when he was arrested into an airless Matrix fight scene. Who brought Frank Miller's vision of a homophobic Sparta to life against a horde of anachronistic modern day racial and sexual minorities. Zack Snyder: one of the assholes who keeps getting the money despite repeated, consummate vapidity. It's not only good to see some people fall, it's deeply satisfying.
But a friend of mine, Selena, told me her boyfriend refused to give Zack Snyder his money. And I realised he was right. I should pirate the movie. So yesterday I saw Deadpool and gave my money to Fox and Marvel. Well, my gift card.
I've never read the Deadpool comics but I was familiar with the character from occasional mildly funny memes related to him posted on Facebook and Twitter over the years. I knew he was a Marvel character known for breaking the fourth wall, something I never seem to find as funny as other people do. It's kind of a one note joke most of the time, the punchline seemingly being just the fact that Deadpool is in any way acknowledging the fact that he's a fictional character. Maybe I got all of that out of my system back in the 90s with Animaniacs. Really, once the joke is told once, maybe twice, it's over. But Deadpool isn't a bad movie despite a surprisingly limp and formulaic plot, the kind of plot I would have expected the film to be lampooning rather than embracing.
I even didn't mind Ryan Reynolds though I still think of him as the poor man's Jason Lee. Or rather, the rich man's Jason Lee, the version of Jason Lee who's willing to appear in just about anything for money. And yeah, Jason Lee would've been better in the role but Reynolds is serviceable. He plays Wade Wilson, a former preternaturally skilled U.S. soldier who's become a sort of paid bully. We see him meet a prostitute named Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin, his love interest, his flirtations with her providing the most satisfying aspect of the film as their frank one-upsmanship of ironic filth is very refreshing. The real star of this film is the R rating, leading also to some well assembled action sequences filled with splattering bodies and decapitations. New avenues of potential for the superhero on film are explored for the first time. Well, the first time since Sin City. Let's say the potential for a mainstream superhero film.
Baccarin is a great deal more charming than she ever was on Firefly where I always thought she was a little stiff. Though in the latter portion of the film she becomes a pretty run-of-the-mill damsel in distress. The opening credits lack names, instead substituting titles like "The Hot Chick" and the director is credited as an "Overpaid Tool". Which, after my thoughts on Zack Snyder, was pretty amusing to see. But then the movie indulges in most of the things it would seem to be mocking. Vanessa is little more than a hot chick despite the engaging energy of her and Wade's initial flirtation. A big problem with the film is that Wade's main obstacle is his disfigured face. His reluctance at revealing to her that he's alive because he's supposedly ugly now is a cliche that was worn out twenty years ago. And mind you, he's not that ugly.
Certainly not ugly enough for people to be looking at him in disgust when he walks around wearing a hoodie. Instead of providing an interesting character aspect, it just made me feel impatient, despite a few jokes related to it that were funny.
The villain, Francis (Ed Skrein), is insubstantial, however funny it is that Deadpool insists on calling him "Francis" instead of his chosen moniker of "Ajax". It makes an ending that was probably intended to be slightly shocking and subversive seem as shallow as the climax in Man of Steel or Batman Begins. One gets the feeling, once again, that superheroes turn murderous in these movies largely because the filmmakers truly don't understand why they shouldn't.
But mainly Deadpool wasn't bad. It has a nice Ferris Bueller reference I don't think most people recognised.
On a side note, Hollywood's inability to see teeth is getting really strange. What I mean is, no matter how much Wade is tortured in an underground facility designed to activate his mutant powers through physical stress, his teeth always look perfect. When he's disfigured, his teeth are still pearly white. There's a continuity problem at the end of the film where shots of Francis alternately have him with blood on his teeth and with his teeth clean and white, a continuity problem the filmmakers probably didn't notice because perfect teeth are taken as a given. They don't even think about it. That's why all the slaves in 12 Years a Slave have perfect teeth. Obviously it's not as big an issue in a fantasy movie like this but once you really start noticing it it becomes more and more distracting.#
Saturday, April 16, 2016
( 2:23 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The Doctor (William Hartnell) seems to be channelling Nosferatu here over the TARDIS console. This is from The Edge of Destruction, the third Doctor Who story, from 1964, which I watched again this week. Set entirely on the TARDIS and only featuring the Doctor and his companions Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), and Ian (William Russell), it feels, as the Wikipedia entry notes, very like low budget filler. But it manages to be pretty intriguing for that.
If at some point in the upcoming season the Doctor and whoever his new companion turns out to be start trying to kill each other we could put it down to the fact that the mystery introduced in the first episode of this two part serial is never really solved. The tone shifts pretty dramatically from complete psychological confusion and terror in the first episode to the rapid resolution in the second that boils down to a broken spring. Oh, but I do love that, and the Doctor illustrating the problem to Susan by explaining how a pocket torch works.
Yes, Susan, that's why you tried to stab Barbara. There was a broken spring. What a perfectly reasonable solution the TARDIS telepathic circuits found. It's like Roald Dahl wrote the ending to a Samuel Beckett play. The fact that the Doctor spends the entire story wearing a bandage on his head completes the impression that we're seeing aimless madness.
I like how sinister the Doctor seems in the earliest episodes sometimes. It really helps give the impression that he matures later and that we're seeing him in something like his youth here.#
Friday, April 15, 2016
( 3:50 PM ) posted by Setsuled
It's only been two weeks since the last one and already a new Dekpa and Deborah is online. How did I do it? Well, actually I finished this chapter at the end of last year so I could turn it in as a final project for John Milton class. So as you may have guessed, the story returns to Deborah Milton and her famous father. I consider this chapter to be the end of Act One. Enjoy.
Twitter Sonnet #861
At gallop pencil ostriches collude.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
( 6:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The Mafia doesn't believe in coincidence; which makes it bad luck if your bank is robbed while you're holding three quarters of a million dollars for them. The coincidence is a crop duster who was already down on his luck and whose name gives the title to the 1973 film: Charley Varrick. A Don Siegel movie, it mostly lacks the dumb bullshit that pervades some of his more famous crime films like Madigan and Dirty Harry. Instead it's a satisfying fantasy about an average man outsmarting the rich and powerful.
A great deal of the film's strength comes from its unlikely star--although it was written for Clint Eastwood, it's Walter Matthau who takes the role of Charley Varrick. When he brings the money back to his trailer home along with his rash young accomplice, Harman (Andy Robinson), it doesn't seem like there's any hope of escape for the slightly hunched, frowning old Charley when he realises the extraordinary amount of cash they've taken from a small town bank can only indicate it's mob money. Two of their accomplices were killed by local law enforcement already, one of them Charley's wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott). If he'd been played by Clint Eastwood or Richard Widmark we'd already be sighting his comeback a mile away but while Matthau has a gleam of intellect always in his eye that makes it credible we have no real guarantee he's got the moxy to get out of this.
The villains are well cast, too, particularly John Vernon as the owner of the bank. A scene where he coolly explains to the branch manager, Young (Woodrow Parfey), in charge of the bank that'd been robbed that, while he, Vernon, knows Young had nothing to do with the stolen money, the mob might not agree. Vernon frames the interrogation entirely as concern for his friend and yet there's something so steely and cold in Vernon's delivery that the tension is high for the entire scene.
Joe Don Baker plays Molly, a repulsive hitman on Charley's trail. Sure, every time he walked on screen I impulsively thought, "Mitchell!" or, "Oh, Mitchell, what have you gotten into now?" But he sells the sliminess when he grins like an oaf while sucker punching one hapless individual after another. You want this guy to get what's coming to him.
I'm generally annoyed by Siegel's treatment of women in his films. This movie has no real female character and the few who make brief appearances are at least not the abrasive caricatures that appear in Siegel's other crime films. I was only slightly amused by the inexplicable shot of a teenage girl in a tiny shirt mowing a lawn in the opening credits.
The Wikipedia entry says audiences were confused by the film--as was, apparently, Walter Matthau--which I find difficult to believe. It's not a complicated film at all. Charley accidentally takes mob money, the mob wants to find it and possibly kill him, and Charley comes up with clever ideas to stop these things happening. Why's that confusing? I suspect audiences were actually put off by the lack of a "good guy". At the end of the day, Charley is still a bank robber, partially responsible for the deaths of some innocent people at the beginning of the film, yet he's the hero. Such moral ambiguity wasn't quite popular yet for action movie audiences.#
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
( 4:28 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Involuntary solitude is a cruel and maddening circumstance. This is only one aspect of Robinson Crusoe but it's the centrepiece of Luis Bunuel's 1954 adaptation of Daniel Dafoe's book. And of course the ridiculous conceits of the ruling class receive some abuse from Bunuel in this exciting and amusing film of saturated, brilliant colour.
I really love this shot of Crusoe (Dan O'Herlihy) set finally to stomp across the waters to find the companionship he lacks. Bunuel gives more attention to the cat and dog that almost seem to be afterthoughts in Dafoe's book. In Dafoe's version, Crusoe flies into a rage when his beloved parrot speaks the recently deceased dog's name. His finding of the cat on board the shipwreck is shown to provoke a great deal more joy in Crusoe than in the book.
Dafoe's book gives many details of Crusoe's adventures before he becomes shipwrecked on the island, detailing his capture by pirates and his life afterwards owning a plantation in Brazil before finally going into the primary focus of the story, his survival alone on an unknown Caribbean island. Bunuel begins with this shipwreck but makes a point of mentioning that Crusoe had been going to Africa to obtain slaves for his plantation, a morally complicating detail that many filmmakers would have chosen to avoid. But Bunuel was right not to for how Crusoe's attitude toward human bondage is reflected in his attitude toward the native man, whom he calls Friday (Jaime Fernandez), and perhaps to his attitude towards nature in general as a thing over which he has dominion.
The Puritan Dafoe might have complained about Bunuel's emphasising Crusoe's compulsion to acknowledge hierarchy but the philosophical conflict is present in Dafoe's work. A scene where Crusoe is confounded by Friday's simple, logical question about God and the Devil in the book is reproduced faithfully.
"Well," says Friday, "but you say God is so strong, so great, is he not much strong, much might, as the devil?"--"Yes, yes," said I, Friday, "God is stronger than the devil, God is above the devil, and therefore we pray to God to tread him under our feet, and enable us to resist his temptations, and quench his fiery darts."--"But," says he again, "if God much strong, much might, as the devil, why God not kill the devil, so make him no more wicked?"
I was strangely surprised at his question; and after all, though I was now an old man, yet I was but a young doctor, and ill enough qualified for a casuist, or a solver of difficulties: and, at first, I could not tell what to say; so I pretended not to hear him, and asked him what he said; but he was too earnest for an answer to forget his question;
Faithfully reproduced except for the fact that instead of showing Friday to be worried and unsure in posing these questions he appears confident and clever, amused at finding a logical flaw in Crusoe's beliefs, and Crusoe appears absolutely at a loss. Bunuel also omits this follow up:
By this time I had recovered myself a little, and I said, "God will at last punish him severely; he is reserved for the judgment, and is to be cast into the bottomless pit, to dwell with everlasting fire." This did not satisfy Friday; but he returns upon me, repeating my words, "Reserve at last! me no understand: but why not kill the devil now, not kill great ago?"--"You may as well ask me," said I, "why God does not kill you and me, when we do wicked things here that offend him: we are preserved to repent and be pardoned." He muses awhile at this; "Well, well," says he, mighty affectionately, "that well; so you I, devil, all wicked, all preserve, repent, God pardon all."
Some might say Bunuel misses the point. Others might say that with this omission he presents clearly the problem which is only avoided by the assertion that God allows evil to exist in order to test humanity. Why should God need to test humanity if evil doesn't exist in the first place? The non-existence of this evil called sin is easy for someone in Friday's position to contemplate since he's only just now heard of it.
Bunuel also brings in Crusoe's disapproving father. Lacking the introduction with the young man starting in England, the father appears in dreams bearing, like the dream in Ascent to Heaven, Bunuel's talent for surrealism. The bearded and smiling father appears in the crude cave home on the island, upbraiding his son joyfully. Oddly dispersed throughout the scene are shots of the smiling father submerging himself under shallow water, possibly undergoing baptism, possibly drowning, the image being linked to Crusoe struggling in the sea just a few scenes before.