Wednesday, April 16, 2014
      ( 11:38 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

After learning Gustave is concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, an officer in the revolutionary army stops his men beating Gustave and Zero, the hotel's lobby boy, because he remembers Gustave from when he visited the hotel as a young boy. He's mortified his men have treated Gustave this way and after the men have left Gustave starts explaining to his protégé that there is civility in the world before breaking off and saying, "Fuck it." But it's precisely because Gustave so thoroughly embodies this civility that he can't even see it objectively anymore--and what a perfect subject for Wes Anderson, who directed the beautiful film of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Ralph Fiennes, who plays Gustave, bears some resemblance to John Barrymore and Gustave has a fundamentally noble nature and he steals something but otherwise there's less in common between this film and 1932's Grand Hotel than you might think. Though Grand Hotel was shot in 4:3 aspect ratio and so was most of The Grand Budapest Hotel--the square shape which all movies were shot in before the mid-1950s and all television was shot in before the early 2000s.

The recent anime series Kill la Kill did the same thing for flashback sequences and it's a little strange to me that this has already become a communicative artistic choice. In the case of Wes Anderson's film, it's to emphasise the artificial nature of the film, of film, which is certainly quite typical of him. But he doesn't emphasise artifice purely for the sake of emphasising artifice--he shows how beautiful carefully arranged artifice can be which, of course, precisely describes the value of Gustave as a character.

The plot of the film concerns Gustave being wrongly implicated in a murder and involves imprisonment and chases and other fun things but the point is always Gustave, who will interrupt someone reciting a poem when police sirens sound but only while assuring the speaker that the interruption is to avoid imminent capture.

This is one of my favourite Ralph Fiennes performances--this and Cronenberg's Spider make Fiennes a brilliant actor in my mind. Two entirely different roles but in both cases Fiennes succeeds in the task of bringing a sense of natural human reactions through abnormal or extraordinary mannerisms.

Rather than Grand Hotel, the movie I most thought of was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp--which came to mind when a character in The Grand Budapest Hotel mentioned that war "started at midnight", a line familiar to anyone who's seen The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp but I think it was more likely a coincidence than an intentional reference. But bringing it to mind helped crystallise my thought on the newer film--like Clive Wynne-Candy in the Powell and Pressburger movie, Gustave represents an older tradition of civility that may not be at harmony with reality and yet that is partly what is so marvellous about it. The visual beauty of the Wes Anderson film recalls the lavish old colour cinematography, too. Particularly gorgeous are the intense pink, gold, and red shots of the hotel interior, apparently shot partly in a German department store that survived World War II.

I went to see the movie at a theatre I'd never been to before, a tiny place a couple blocks away from San Diego's own legendary Hotel del Coronado. But it was an appropriate venue for more than just that--the building houses only three theatres and the one I was in had only four rows--I'm glad I got there early because only the middle seats would give what I consider to be an acceptable vantage point from which to view a film. There's a gorgeous blue velvet curtain, though, that parts to reveal the screen and a pretty little proscenium--the lighting on it being somewhat less garish than it looks in my photograph.

Twitter Sonnet #616: Rashomon edition

A linen noble wanders lost through ash.
Rain scratches the grey temple gate to white.
The dizzy killer stumbles through wet grass.
False eyebrows are smudged blurring the sight.
The speckled hall of light coalesces.
Drops tracing stone cheeks darken as they fall.
A slighted ghost at dusk convalesces.
Words replacing tones clear numbers on the wall.
Slim bladed hatchets make the bald man's way.
Sobs echo on the polished white gravel.
Hard banded sandals break and shred to hay.
Leaves shiver and wind inhibits light travel.
The Chinese sword reflects all four faces.
The murder is never through same paces.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014
      ( 11:49 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

It's perhaps fitting that a movie about the tragic hubris of an aristocratic mystery novelist is not half as clever as it thinks it is. 1972's Sleuth, the last film directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, uses some of the skeletal structure of detective fiction to tell a story about pride and racism. It features several plot twists I won't spoil for you--though I think most people spot them a mile away. The less mechanical aspect of the story is more interesting but is diminished considerably by a broad performance from Laurence Olivier. If one can get past how evidently impressed with itself it is, it's not an entirely bad film.

Olivier had kind of the same problem Patrick Stewart seems to have when playing comedic roles. An otherwise brilliant actor who completely doesn't understand how to sell comedy, not seeming to realise you need to invest just as much in the character played for laughs as the one who's not. Which results in both actors being given to broad caricatures in comedic roles. The minor role of a French Canadian trapper in The 49th Parallel with a Chico Marx-ish accent showed me this side of Olivier already but I might not have expected it from him in the role of Andrew Wyke in Sleuth, a renowned mystery novelist who lives on an enormous estate.

I suspect it's because a lot of the movie concerns Andrew's feelings towards Milo Tindle (Michael Caine), the son of an Italian immigrant who wants to marry Andrew's estranged wife. Milo visits Andrew in order to talk it over with him.

I think Olivier saw Andrew, accurately, as a man whose embarrassment over the failure of his marriage fuels the manifestations of racial and class hatred that motivate his relationship with Milo. Olivier, seeing this as ridiculous, plays the man broadly, unable to conceal any of his emotions, giddy with his victories, whiny in his anxieties, always projecting with a megaphone.

Caine is better here--I think Caine is a great actor though not a versatile one which helps spoil one of the plot twists much too early in the film. But I certainly believe him as a working class hairdresser, but a cockney, not an Italian (or someone from another part of England, even).

One of the many slurs Andrew labels him with is "a jumped up pantry boy who never knew his place," a line borrowed by Morrissey for The Smiths' "This Charming Man", a song about an aristocratic English gentleman flirting with a young working class man. I'm not sure if Morrissey feels there was a subtext of attraction between the two men in the film or if he just used the phrase to help paint the picture of what sort of charm the man in his song possessed. But from what I've read this morning, Kenneth Branagh prominently features this aspect in his 2007 adaptation of Sleuth.

There is a curious conviviality between Andrew and Milo at times in the 1972 film and a strange moment where Milo puts on a dress and pretends to be wooed by Andrew in a Baroque costume.

I'm not sure it is actually present in the film but it is certainly interesting to think about the red faced fury the two sometimes barely conceal beneath civility manifesting in sexual excitement, more as a commentary on hatred and resentment than anything else.

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Monday, April 14, 2014
      ( 3:00 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
I've spent most of to-day installing programmes and moving files over on my new hard drive Tim helped me install last week. I still have my old one and it still seems to work but it'd been making noise lately and I figured I'd solve the problem before catastrophe happened. So far the biggest struggle has been Winamp--first getting the streaming function to work so I can broadcast music at my Second Life chess club, then figuring out why the whole thing constantly crashes. I think I've solved that latter problem by installing an older version of Winamp from a file I found on my old hard drive. I'm guessing the reason the new one I'd installed was crashing halfway through every song has something to do with the new company that owns Winamp optimising it for Windows 8--I still use Windows 7 and don't see myself doing any different any time soon.

Why do I use Winamp at all? If you can point me to a less bloated programme that plays flacs and allows you to create a randomised playlist instead of just randomly playing tracks I would certainly look into the alternative.

Tim also helped me hook my computer to the Play Station 3 my sister and her fiancé gave me so I was able to watch the new Game of Thrones on my television while eating lunch to-day. Oh, you want my opinion? Well, I think it was a bad idea to put black olives in my cous cous but I enjoyed the rye toast. Oh, you might be more interested in my opinion of the Game of Thrones episode.

Spoilers ahead past the screenshot.

Like everyone else, I hated Joffrey, but I'm still sorry he died before killing Bran. Gods, I hope that fucking Bran dies soon. I hope someone chops him into breakfast cereal and passes him briskly through their intestines in a manner consistent with the health benefits of a food high in fibre like Bran. Fuck the King? Fuck Bran.

I see a lot of people online going with Cersei's assertion Joffrey was poisoned. I haven't read the books but it looked to me like Joffrey choked on one of the bird bones from the doves the dumb blighter hacked to bits with his sword. Personally I think that would be more fun than if he was poisoned.

I don't buy Theon was so broken he wouldn't slice open Ramsay's throat given the opportunity. It seems to me he wouldn't have much to lose.

What beautiful production design at the wedding. Looks gorgeous in high def. Watching Peter Dinklage steeling himself through the little people minstrel act was resonantly painful and made the pay off so much better. The scene where he breaks up with Shae was a little less believable--I don't believe she was so stupid she wouldn't understand him saying, "Look, you stay, you're going to get killed, so I'm sending you away whether you like it or not." Calling her a whore and pretending to be tired of her felt like the cliche of the kid telling the animal to "go on, get," and go back to the forest. We're basically being told Shae has animal intelligence.

But mainly it was a good episode. The ending certainly drove up its value.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014
      ( 12:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

"No wonder Japan lost the war," says a young woman irritably, referring to her husband's rowdy, drunken war buddies who visited late the night before. Yasujiro Ozu's 1956 film Early Spring (早春) is about the futile, endless cycle of a Japanese office salary man's career in the 1950s, a life with no hope of advancement accompanied by the need to continue for survival's sake. But it also explores the fundamental illusory nature of relationships and there are signs of Japan's loss in World War II as an omnipresent symbol of dead dreams. Filled still with the affectionate reverence Ozu had for life, it's also a great portrayal of the subjective and fragile nature of love.

Chishu Ryu, the actor who appeared in almost every film Ozu made, appears twice in Early Spring, at the end and the beginning, both times to remark in conversation how a young man who graduates from school to work in an office is filled with optimism but is gradually made acquainted with the intractable reality of his career. But the male protagonist of the film, Shoji (Ryo Ikebe) finds himself emotionally numbed by more than his job.

His wife, Masako (Chikage Awashima), becomes convinced Shoji is having an affair when he begins to come home from work late consistently or sometimes not until the next morning. And we learn Shoji is indeed having an affair but that's not always why he doesn't come home. Two reasons his wife is sure are excuses are in fact perfectly true--he visits his terminally ill and bedridden coworker, Miura, and he goes out drinking with his war buddies, two of whom (Kurosawa regulars Daisuke Kato and Koji Mitsui) he brings home one night to her annoyance. It's hard to tell if she's more annoyed by their behaviour or the proof that her husband hadn't been lying. Because his honesty on this occasion is only a delay in a matter she senses without doubt is real. After all, she remarks, Shoji forgets the anniversary of their son's death.

And that's how we learn the young couple had a child who died, when Masako mentions it off-handedly in conversation. The revelation helps explain Shoji's distance and his consciousness of the meaninglessness of his endeavours. It's not unlike Masako's flippant reference to Japan's defeat in World War II. But she's not alone, of course everyone carries on like everything is normal, and Masako and Shoji had been carrying on the same way with their marriage. They live in a world of buried trauma. Although Shoji visits the dying man, Miura, almost every night, when he finally learns at work Miura has died, Shoji's reaction is little more than to pause a moment and say expressionlessly to himself, "So. Miura is dead."

It's the young woman from his workplace, nicknamed Goldfish (Keiko Kishi), who initiates an affair with Shoji, kissing him at a restaurant after the two had had a pleasant hike with their coworkers. The impression isn't so much that Shoji wants her as that he can't see any reason not to accept her advances.

Reminding me somewhat of the way Kurosawa used contrasting Japanese and western wardrobe in Drunken Angel to show in the former sense institutional corruption and in the latter an acceptance of more democratic western values, Ozu in this later film makes an opposite statement. Goldfish wears western attire while Masako wears kimonos throughout the film until she decides to leave Shoji. No longer subject to the American censors, in 1956 Ozu was allowed to be more critical of the western cultural influence in Japan, and of course the subtle statement works in conjunction with the spectre of Japan's defeat and the vanished dreams of the culture.

Ozu is famous for rarely moving his camera, preferring low static shots of careful composition. But he moves the camera a couple times in this movie, most strikingly in one shot of an office corridor that reminded me of an eerie shot of a hospital corridor in David Lynch's second season premiere episode of Twin Peaks--after a series of protracted static shots of several interiors, Lynch slowly starts to move the camera forward on the corridor, creating the impression of something happening, a sense of a living being that is unsettling because the mind can't immediately identify the source. Ozu's shot of the office corridor works in a similar way. So much of the lives the people in this movie lead are rote, meaningless, but this quiet movement of the camera says that something is there anyway that can't be quantified and maybe that's why everything else hurts so much.

Twitter Sonnet #615

A truncated free worm bore the grocer.
Trees whisper of drapes brushed with viscous beet.
The agency bean bag held no tracer.
Clamps loosen on spies calmed by kitchen heat.
Baked ziti repeals no invested scotch.
The midi sea calls back to the red beard.
Cracked tipi postcards won't carefully watch.
A city bean takes trains out to new weird.
Ease approaches difficult avenue.
Tree bookshop maps relocate mystery west.
Wolf challenges flexible cockapoo.
Hat teardrop pipes obfuscate briefings less.
Missed records spill out of the high train car.
Torn shutters stain eyes plugged to the hue bar.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014
      ( 11:39 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

Yesterday I went with my parents, sister, and sister's fiancé to the Natural History Museum. This was for my birthday (I'm 35 now). The main attraction was an exhibition of the wreckage of a pirate ship called The Whydah, originally a slave ship. The exhibition was on two floors of the museum, beginning at the second floor with a video about the pirates who crewed her and several placards about slavery and piracy along with some mannequins lit by coloured light. They had recorded dialogue and the whole thing felt like an imitation of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Which is a ride I love but my affection is more for the 1950s era fantasy and the uncanny valley eeriness of the animatronics than for anything like a faithful recreation of history.

There was more of the same on the bottom floor but with thankfully some actual artefacts including some decayed muskets and a pile of eroded coins.

No photographs were allowed in the pirate exhibit but I took plenty of pictures of the fossils and casts of fossils that reside in the museum all year with no fanfare. It made for an unexpectedly natural progression of my day from learning about euprimates and early apes in my physical anthropology class. My day evolved.


































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