Sunday, January 22, 2017
      ( 6:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Sabine's training as some kind of half-Jedi began on "Trials of the Darksaber", last night's new Star Wars Rebels written by Dave Filoni. A story that mostly worked if you don't think too hard about some of it, it introduced some nice conceptual points about Jedi and Mandalore while going some ways to finally developing Sabine as a character.

We learn her reluctance to go home is related to a backstory not dissimilar to the one between Jyn Erso and her father, though reversed. Of course, there could be another, far more interesting reason for Sabine's family rejecting her. Like, what if she's into droids? And I mean, really into droids.

Here Sabine casually caresses the Ghost's resident droid, Chopper, who shivers with apparent pleasure in response.

So . . . that was surprising. What was that? Oh, how I want Sabine and Chopper to be lovers. What a lovely can of worms that would be. Of course, I know that's not what's going on here but, egad, how happy I am to construe it that way. What's actually going on here, I'd say, is a further attempt to establish Sabine as a bona fide Disney princess.

In "Ghosts of Geonosis" she had her Tinker Bell moment, now she's having her Snow White/Cinderella/Aurora moment. The way those princesses seemed to have a perfectly innocent physical rapport with deer, mice, owls, and dwarfs, Sabine has it with Chopper. And now that we know she is a daughter in a major Mandalorian house with the potential to become leader of all Mandalorians thanks to inheritance, she's literally a princess.

The other major influence on the episode seems to've been Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. While Kanan and Ezra train her to use a lightsabre, the music turns to mostly percussion similar to the soundtrack during Crouching Tiger's fight scenes. I remember Ang Lee talking about how in Wuxia movies character emotional conflict can manifest in fight scenes and I think that was the idea behind the climax where Sabine suddenly seems to get really good with a sword as she starts to divulge her past and open up with her emotional issues. This isn't how the fight scenes manifested emotional issues in Ang Lee's film but since the animation and fight choreography, probably for budget reasons, don't seem to be more complicated on Rebels than repeated hacking gestures, maybe this was the best they could do.

Of course, lost in all this is the Jedi belief in restraining negative emotions. Back when it was Anakin and Obi-Wan bickering all the time, I used to wonder, "Is this the anger that leads to the dark side? Does it count? Why isn't anyone worried about this?" So I can't blame Rebels entirely for apparently completely neglecting this concept. Harder to take, though, was Hera encouraging Kanan to let Sabine train with the actual lightsabre before Kanan thinks it's safe to. Kanan says he's afraid she'll hurt herself, Hera says her emotional damage from not getting the chance hurts Sabine even worse. I thought, tell that to Sabine after she accidentally chops off a few of her own toes or when she fails to block Ezra when he takes a swing at her arm.

We were being told a lot that Kanan was being too impatient with Sabine rather than seeing it. Practising with wooden swords before switching to something that can burn through a metal door sounds pretty sensible to me, call me crazy. But I did like the idea about Jedi becoming spiritually connected to their sabres the more they use them. And I'd be happy with Sabine trying to fill the Ahsoka sized hole in the animated Star Wars universe, though her dull voice actress kind of sabotages this, particularly when the noise of Ezra is constantly intruding.

Twitter Sonnet #955

The ball he's on a little more than Sam.
To track a blow the nerves are tried for speed.
The simple ways and country morgues be damned.
In tested love or peace forensics heed.
There's frail invisible glass autumn leaves.
The pigment drained from ink in ancient shirts.
With rain and storm, the ground on trouble heaves.
A cracking asphalt sifts through shifting dirts.
A tipping ruddy bird adorned himself.
The finest plastic jewels were melted down.
In moulds, a sleeve of armour graced the shelf.
Throughout the glass he thought we saw a town.
A spectral orchestra outflanked the bog.
All human warmth rejects the bloodless hog.


Saturday, January 21, 2017
      ( 5:03 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Through a low brow, tacky reality show arises a malevolent force that reduces a powerful industrial civilisation to primitive clans of religious zealots. The 2010 Doctor Who audio play The Cradle of the Snake finds the Fifth Doctor and his companions encountering the Mara once again, the possessing spirit who menaced the group in the television serials Kinda and Snakedance. The Cradle of the Snake is a good story that nicely blends a more modern sensibility for this 1980s cast of characters while also credibly developing the relationships between them in a nicely natural way.

The story begins with Tegan (Janet Fielding) once again being possessed by the snake demon, considered the source of all evil on the planet Manussa. In an effort to help rid Tegan of the creature, the Doctor (Peter Davison) takes the TARDIS back to that world, but thousands of years earlier than when they were there last, apparently on accident. The ancestors of the forest tribe they'd met in the television episode live in a crowded, futuristic metropolis complete with cell phones and a reality television series starring a man who reads people's destinies via strange crystals.

Turlough (Mark Strickson), who hadn't joined the show yet for the television episodes about the Mara, has to be told what it is. The Mara tries to recruit him as a lackey but is surprised to find him more resistant than expected. It would have been nice to hear Turlough being a little more temped. He and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) meet a police officer played by American actress Madeleine Potter. Taking place in an alien civilisation, it's kind of strange hearing one person with an inexplicable American accent. Maybe it signifies that she comes from another country. It's never addressed at any rate.

A strange, effectively creepy side effect of the crystals on the reality show is that they create dreamlike animals in the real world, including snakes. Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey plays the callous reality show host who doesn't seem especially interested in the fact that he's altering the fabric of reality so long as he's getting ratings.


Friday, January 20, 2017
      ( 2:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

As war comes and goes, as houses fall and are rebuilt, a group of people throughout their lives find themselves focused on a simple hearted professor whose biggest trauma seems to be the loss of his cat. 1993's Madadayo (まあだだよ), the final film of Akira Kurosawa, is a gentle and beautiful story of death and compassion.

Based on the life of Hyakken Uchida, a professor and author, Madadayo begins with Uchida's (Tatsuo Matsumura) retirement as a professor of German. His students, who all seem to adore and idolise him, visit him every year. They have an annual party and eventually the students bring their children and grand children. On each occasion, the students together ask him if he is ready, implicitly to die, and he replies, "Madadayo!" or "Not yet!" and drinks an enormous glass of beer in one go.

Why do the students love him so much? Uchida, obviously a respected professional, is also strangely childlike. After he moves into a large new home and hears there are burglars in the neighbourhood, his students are delighted to find he's constructed a special "burglar's entrance" and has left some food out for them. When the house is destroyed by bombing during World War II, Uchida and his wife (Kyoko Kagawa) are forced to live in a tiny shack but he seems to take it all in stride.

The biggest source of tension in the film is the loss of a stray cat named Nora after Uchida and his wife have moved into a new home. The initial scene involving the cat shows that at this late date Kurosawa had lost none of his virtuosity. Like the long opening scene of High and Low, it appears to have been one long take shot with multiple cameras. The cat wanders among a group of the students as they visit Uchida in his home. During this, visitors come to the door--a group of cutthroat property developers--the sort Kurosawa made villains in The Bad Sleep Well or Ikiru--and the owner of the lot next door. This owner, despite not knowing Professor Uchida very well, suddenly finds it unthinkable to sell the property to these men who talk about constructing tall buildings that will block the view from Uchida's garden. All the while, the continuity of the cat wandering about shows clearly that Kurosawa is using a single take. And every shot has the characteristic flattened perspective quality of the telephoto lenses Kurosawa loved to use.

It's only when the cat disappears that Uchida seems to experience deep emotional pain. He does everything trying to find the cat--handing out flyers and putting notices in the newspaper and the viewer can't help being drawn in. Somehow with this story Kurosawa manages to distil the basic sense of compassion between living things to a pure level. When one thinks about a Kurosawa film about death, one is more likely to think of his great 1952 film Ikiru, which is a much more energetic film about fighting and asserting for oneself a meaningful existence in the face of impending death. It's a much younger man's film for this and it stands in contrast to Ozu's great film Tokyo Story released the following year which is an acknowledgement of the inescapably unfair nature of death and how the dead inevitably pass totally from the lives of their loved ones. In his last films, Kursawa's style became more like Ozu or Naruse but the perspective on death in Madadayo is much more hopeful than what Ozu offered.

In a story of a professor loved by his students and their descendants, one is compelled to think of Kurosawa's despair in the 70s when he attempted suicide partly because of the lack of respect and love he felt in Japan from the new generation of filmmakers. Maybe one can never have their emotional needs fully met but by the early 90s Kurosawa seems to have found some consolation in crafting a beautiful fantasy.


Thursday, January 19, 2017
      ( 8:51 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

It's been a while since I've written about any anime--I used to watch and write about anime all the time but good anime has gotten to be rare. Lately I've been enjoying Hibike! Euphonium (響け! ユーフォニアム) possibly for the wrong reasons. It's not quite a slice of life series but likely has a lot in common with slice of life band series like K-On I mostly haven't seen. Maybe it sounds pathetic, but my heart kind of soars just watching a group of people who actually seem to care about the work they're doing, passionately.

I'm only eight episodes into the first season, the second season concluded last month. So far, though really an ensemble series, it's focused on Kumiko (Tomoyo Kurosawa), a euphonium player who joins the school band of the high school she's just transferred into. She's reluctant to join at first because, as she observes, the band kind of sucks. A new music teacher, Noboru Taki (Takahiro Sakurai) joins at the same time. Despite having a gentle manner, he's quite firm in disciplining the students to practice and much of the show focuses on the children figuring out that they can actually care enough about something to go through the uncomfortable process of working hard to achieve it. This is probably really common in band anime but, egad, this focus is so rare in modern media that I've seen it's sort of beautiful.

It wasn't even until the eighth episode, which I watched this morning, that the show got around to romance, and it's put together in a refreshingly charming way. Kumiko ends up on a hike with a trumpet player named Reina (Chika Anzai) who didn't dress practically for the excursion. When Kumiko asks Reina if her heels make her feet hurt, she says, yes, but she doesn't hate the pain. The implication is that it's a sign of the effort to reach the top of the mountain they're climbing and Kumiko says this statement is kind of hot. Which it really is.

I hope I don't end up getting burned by this series like I did with Your Lie in April or Re: Zero which started off moderately interesting before turning into dull Evangelion regurgitations. I don't mind a homage, but it's nice when a series has a life of its own.

Twitter Sonnet #954

A granite face's sauced to ape an egg.
In drunken damage bills receipt the beak.
The nucleus has yet to sprout a leg.
The winding bugs will climb with arms the peak.
Draw near a fire nixed for violins.
The distant candles steal the stars from life.
Beneath the floor the sound of mandolins.
On wind 'neath ground progressed a deathless wife.
Unclaimed by sugar loops: a paper lance.
To sally forth in times of ink they write.
Between the pulp and pen began a dance.
The motes of dust arrest their turn to smite.
In islands lost to dashing dreams they wait.
A granite death deploys a stable bait.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017
      ( 6:36 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

This is a picture of Horton Plaza mall from a 2009 entry in my blog. Happier times for the mall that was originally designed partly by Ray Bradbury. I was there Monday for lunch and found the pizza place I was going to had already closed down after a few months. My sister, who works somewhere where people have to go to get liquor licenses, told me the guy had given up his petition to get a license because he was going to have to close. I wasn't surprised--eateries have been opening and closing at Horton Plaza at a rapid pace. I remember a Mexican place and another pizza place opening in the same spot and closing in the past few years. The food court at the top level is almost all empty lots now and a Taco Bell.

Not long ago, the Nordstrom closed at Horton Plaza. I'll miss it not because I shop there, I don't, but because they had a cool elevator. I like to park at the top of the parking garage then take the elevator which went all the way down to the street and opened at the sidewalk. Since parking used to be free with validation for three hours, I considered it the most sensible place to park downtown. Now parking's only free for one hour and then it's two dollars for every fifteen minutes, which is still better than most places. But why does Horton Plaza, which used to be so busy all the time, feel like it's going to get torn down in a couple months? It's true, people shop online a lot more, but Fashion Valley mall in Mission Valley is doing very well as is University Town Centre in La Jolla, which is undergoing a massive expansion. Well, the answer seems pretty clearly to be the homeless population.

According to this article published last month the homeless population downtown has nearly doubled in the past four years. The upscale malls Fashion Valley and UTC are devoid of anyone who looks homeless when I visit them, partly, I think, due to the difficulty of reaching those malls without a car despite the presence of a trolley station at Fashion Valley. I remember a sign at Fashion Valley prohibiting patrons from wearing hoodies so I suspect there's effort expended to keeping anyone homeless away. Downtown, though, I've been seeing increasing numbers of tents set up on the sidewalks. During Comic-Con, they kind of look normal since people are usually camped out with similar tents for Hall H. I suppose Comic-Con is partly responsible for the higher cost of living that is likely related to this explosion in the homeless population. I'm not even sure I'd feel upset about the Chargers leaving the city if I were a football fan. Maybe the loss of a football team will eventually make this city more reasonably priced again?


Tuesday, January 17, 2017
      ( 6:10 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

One of the problems that arise when a person puts him or herself in a place of absolute authority is that they might feel comfortable obscuring some facts while recontextualising others to make people comply when they otherwise wouldn't. This isn't necessarily done by a ruler to trick or harm a subject, more often it's because the ruler believes he or she is aware of a greater truth the subject is unable to see or appreciate. This model is carried out in small form in 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane, a very effective psychological suspense film that derails in an unsatisfying way at the end. Fortunately this doesn't diminish the quality of the rest of the film.

A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving alone one night when a sudden collision with another car knocks her unconscious. She wakes up in her underwear, chained to a wall in what looks like a basement.

The man responsible for bringing her here is Howard (John Goodman), whom she naturally assumes plans to rape and/or murder her. There's a lot of struggle before Michelle starts to believe Howard's brought her and Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) into his underground bunker for good reason--some kind of massive chemical or nuclear disaster.

Before you start thinking Michelle sounds pretty gullible, she doesn't come around until she's on the point of escaping and sees a woman outside with bad chemical burns trying to get inside. So Michelle, reluctantly at first, and then with a growing sense of comfort, becomes a part of the little three person family.

But just because Howard's right about the disaster outside, does that really mean he's a safe person to be around? Why did he think it was reasonable to chain Michelle to the wall, for one thing? Then the question becomes, is Howard a guy who means well but is uncommonly immature, perhaps with mental problems, or is he someone much more dangerous?

I won't spoil for you whether or not he turns out to be the villain because that's one of the nicely challenging things about this film. Regardless of how dangerous he might be, the film demonstrates, in no small part because of a great performance by John Goodman, the danger in having one man with a monopoly on all the information.

Howard thinks he knows better than everyone else and is completely unable or unwilling to question himself. He's actually not unlike John Goodman's character Walter from The Big Lebowski taken to a more frightening level. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is also very good as someone trying to navigate her new reality based on tiny slivers of information and faced with the responsibility of deciding whether or not to take drastic action.

The end of the film hastily introduces an entirely new plot in which one monster encounter is solved in, to put it lightly, an improbable way. I guess this was there to satisfy anyone coming to the movie looking for a sequel to Cloverfield, though considering the two films are firmly established as taking place in different universes, it winds up being unsatisfying in that regard anyway. Fortunately this is only a very small part of the film.


Monday, January 16, 2017
      ( 7:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Before last night's season finale of Sherlock, "The Final Problem", I would have never imagined the show could cross over with Mystery Science Theatre 3000. In the world of mad geniuses inflicting bizarre psychological experiments on their subjects created by last night's episode, forcing a man to watch cheesy movies in a space station would not have been out of place. To be sure, it was the least credible episode of Sherlock ever, but aspects of it worked as a sort of illustration of media analysis rather than as the sort of gritty detective series most viewers were probably looking for.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The excellent second episode of the season ended with quite the cliffhanger--John Watson (Martin Freeman), locked in a house, apparently getting shot by Sherlock's newly rediscovered sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke). How did he get out of that one? Well, that's handled in a bit off tossed of dialogue about the shot only having been a tranquilliser despite the fact that Eurus had already admitted to murdering John's therapist. "The Final Problem" begins instead with a little girl waking up on an aeroplane in flight to find the other passengers and crew unconscious and Mycroft (Mark Gatiss) watching a really unconvincingly recreated 1940s film noir.

Couldn't they have afforded a clip from Double Indemnity or something? The footage starts getting cut up with old family footage of the Holmes siblings, something that, instead of causing Mycroft alarm, charms the big sentimental schlub. Well, I guess it's not like he's some kind of cold, calculating mastermind.

The episode that unfolds feels much more like Steven Moffat's recent work on Doctor Who, particularly "Heaven Sent", where the protagonist, who's normally on top of everything because of his extraordinary genius, finds himself at the mercy of the psychological torture of a bizarre, labyrinthine prison. Moffat and fellow Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss created something similar for "The Final Problem"--though it actually also reminded me a bit of the 1968 Doctor Who serial The Mind Robber, maybe just for the minimalist, conspicuously artificial sets.

Eurus seems to be capable of hypnosis and mind control, which maybe ought to remind me more of the Third Doctor, and it's this power along with the super secret high tech island prison that help create a sense of unreality to the story. In this atmosphere, Moffat and Gatiss effect a violent feminist deconstruction of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock.

In her essay, A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf wrote about a hypothetical sister of William Shakespeare in order to illustrate the foolishness of the argument that women can't write as well as men because throughout history the overwhelming majority of celebrated writers have been men. Woolf uses Shakespeare's sister to show all of the roadblocks a woman would face throughout her life not only to publishing but also to the free time and cultural approval a writer requires to hone her skill. All of the roadblocks that a male writer wouldn't have had to face.

The Sherlock's sister created for "The Final Problem" (which bears no resemblance to the Conan Doyle story of the same name--it was adapted for "The Reichenbach Fall" in season two) is described by Mycroft as testing for genius even better than himself, which says something since Mycroft, in the original stories, anyway, is supposed to be even more of a genius than Sherlock. Not only is Eurus smarter than her brothers, she's apparently behind nearly every distinctive aspect of their characters--she taught Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) how to play violin and she's behind some of Mycroft's most extraordinary predictions. But no-one's heard of her because she never got all the same opportunities the boys got. Even Sherlock has completely forgotten her because . . . well, the explanation for that is a bit hazy, but with all the other stuff, maybe logic doesn't really matter. Of course, she's also set back by being a sociopath. But then again, so's Sherlock, albeit a "high functioning" one.

The tortures Eurus puts Sherlock, Mycroft, and John through are designed to degrade and diminish their presumptions about their own genius. She has Sherlock and Mycroft solve a murder and then she kills the innocent suspects anyway. She destroys Sherlock's belief in the virtue of his controlled emotions by showing him how painful it is to say out loud to the sadly underdeveloped Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey) that he loves her. Why does Eustus have such an axe to grind? I assumed it would, like Shakespeare's sister, have something to do with gender but we don't get there until the climax.

Eustus wasn't allowed to play pirates with Sherlock and his best friend when they were little kids. So she traps "Redbeard", the other little boy, in a well and gives Sherlock a riddle to solve so he can find his friend. The story becomes an adaptation of "The Musgrave Ritual" but instead of the crown of Charles I it's a human life. As someone who's been studying the English Civil Wars for two years, it would've been nice to have seen the story about Charles I's lost crown but I guess they can't please everyone. Well, you won't catch me sending out death threats or calling Steven Moffat a regicide.

And I bet there are those who would call Steven Moffat a sexist for making Eurus into a killer. To such people, I would say remember that Eurus is mentally like Sherlock, except even more like Sherlock than Sherlock, and predisposed, like him, to sociopathy. In the events depicted, the Sherlock siblings looked to be five or six years old--we learn Mycroft is the eldest, seven years older than Sherlock, and that Eurus is one year older than Sherlock. The fact that she gave Sherlock the riddle to solve meant she likely didn't intend to kill Redbeard (he had a name but I can't remember it). She had faith that Sherlock Holmes would solve the riddle and find the kid, the same faith that Sherlock had in himself that she viciously tears apart in adulthood. Once she was responsible for the death of one person, she discovered how little death means to her because she's a sociopath and she had no qualms about killing other people. The point isn't that she's weaker than Sherlock, it's that she is who Sherlock might have been if he hadn't been so lucky. He was lucky enough to possess the favour given to little boys, which gave him confidence in himself, which was part of the problem because Eurus bought into that confidence too.

Still, it might have been better to have more of the episode focus on this. But otherwise it was an entertaining if uncharacteristically campy episode. It was a nice episode from a completely different series. I kept expecting it to have all been a dream sequence.

Twitter Sonnet #953

In marhsmallow helmets an army melts.
The birds have pegged the polka dots aright.
Dispersed so thin to white align the belts.
A longer torso never sought the fight.
A course defined for bristling shores enlarged.
Into the fence arrays of dogs appeared.
Across all kinds of houses chairs were charged.
Above the hairless legs approached a beard.
The wooden soldiers chase a murderer.
Eternal cardboard sets become the clubs.
A dreaming glass projects a predator.
She's sending them Mifune's beard with subs.
Inside a second bag are twenty one.
Departure shows that lightning's not a sun.


Sunday, January 15, 2017
      ( 6:46 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

How nice Star Wars Rebels can be when Ezra and Kanan aren't around. Last night's new episode, "Warhead", written by Gary Whitta, who worked on the first draught of Rogue One, focuses on Zeb being left in charge of the base while the other main characters are away. It's a nice episode with some genuinely creepy moments.

The episode begins with a shot referencing the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back and several probes being launched from a couple Star Destroyers. One lands on Atollon, the planet where the protagonists' base, Chopper Base, has been located since season two. Instead of the flying black squid probe droid from Empire, out pops an early Ralph McQuarrie concept drawing of C-3PO who wanders about, looking rather vulnerable to the planet's giant indigenous spiders.

He's rescued by Zeb (Steve Blum), whose own design is based on an early concept drawing of Chewbacca, and Chopper. Working with the snobbish former Imperial protocol droid, AP-5 (Stephen Stanton), they need to figure out if they can re-purpose this wanderer. The bickering between Zeb and the two Rebel droids is genuinely funny and feels only occasionally forced. Some musical cues sounded like they came directly from Alien and worked well.

The episode features conspicuous references to Predator as well but nothing that takes the viewer out of the episode. It's one of the few episodes not to feature any kind of new special guest star, which was a nice change of pace, and I was reminded how I liked Zeb early on--his role has felt reduced this past season for some reason.

Unfortunately, Kanan and Ezra make obligatory appearances at the beginning and ending of the episode. It feels awkward in an episode that otherwise focuses entirely on Zeb and the droids. Even operating under the dubious theory that audiences want to see Ezra and Kanan, one of the nice things about Clone Wars was how free it was to range away from Obi-Wan and Anakin to show other parts of the war. This helped for giving the writers a chance to try out new characters and different kinds of stories, expanding the feeling of scope and making some characters more interesting for their absence. Since Kanan and Ezra are basically the generic brand version of Obi-Wan and Anakin, it would make sense to follow a similar pattern with them. I don't know if I'd start to miss Ezra if he went away but it certainly couldn't hurt to try.

I also really would like there to be more episodes where the Rebels lose against the Empire. As entertaining as this episode was, it contributed to the feeling that the Rebels almost always win, rather undermining the opening crawl of A New Hope, referencing the events depicted in Rogue One as the Rebels' "first victory against the evil Galactic Empire."


Saturday, January 14, 2017
      ( 4:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The Doctor Who audio adventures of the Fifth Doctor with his companions Turlough, Nyssa, and Tegan continued in 2010 with The Whispering Forest, an entertaining story and interesting for being a strange mixture of new and old Doctor Who ideas.

Following directly on from Cobwebs, the group visit a planet for Nyssa's (Sarah Sutton) mission to trace outbreaks of the disease that led to the quarantine in the previous story. What they find is a society descended from a medical ship of some kind, complete with religious ideas and practices based on imperfectly remembered history. The inhabitants refer to the teachings of a "Sir John's Manual" which the Doctor (Peter Davison) is quick to realise is derived from the "Surgeon's Manual". The concept is strongly reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor television story The Face of Evil, even moreso when we learn there are ghostly "Takers" the inhabitants, who call their town Purity, are afraid of.

Their fixation with cleanliness is funny in a way more reminiscent of the new series. The well timed sound effects of hand lotion being used during dialogue reminds me of the stretched face character in the Ninth Doctor's season who was always crying for moisturiser. I can't remember her name--it occurs to me it's been quite a while since I watched the Ninth Doctor's season. There are also several surprisingly direct references to the new series with mentions of "dead locks" and the universal symbol for medical care being a green crescent.

The parts where Nyssa and Turlough (Mark Strickson) work together are pretty entertaining. Nyssa's boundless patience only seems a little tested by Turlough's cowardice which doesn't manifest in any annoying way. Oddly I felt like the Doctor didn't do very much in this story but that might just be a side effect of having so many characters. Tegan (Janet Fielding) is funny in the story as she's continually incredulous reacting to the raw, red skin of the people of Purity who continually scrub themselves. When one tells her her skin is as fine as a baby's she's amusingly flattered.


Friday, January 13, 2017
      ( 3:14 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
Happy Friday the 13th, everyone. I thought I'd take the opportunity to-day to recommend some Hammer films starring the late, great, real Peter Cushing. You really ought to see some of these before you start praising things more machine now than man.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) (my review)

The first Hammer Frankenstein film is really good and Cushing is very good in it but Frankenstein Created Woman is my favourite of the series. Once again Cushing plays Dr. Frankenstein--the story's not based on Bride of Frankenstein (or the sections of the original novel dealing with the monster's mate) but a whole new story with surprisingly complex subtext about sexuality, riffing off Brigitte Bardot's star-making film And God Created Woman.

She (1965) (my review)

But can he dance? Sort of. She is better for being a great adventure film that allows Cushing to play a gentle, more rough and tumble fellow than he usually got to play and he does very well.

(1957) (my review)

A far subtler film than you might expect, it's an effective suspense film driven largely by Cushing's performance as the lead.

Twins of Evil (1971) (my review)

My favourite of Hammer's Karnstein trilogy is actually the first one, The Vampire Lovers, but, while Cushing is in that one too, he has a much better role in the third film, Twins of Evil. In addition to several other weird and extraordinary things, the film gives Cushing a fascinating character to play, a Protestant zealot witch hunter. It's almost like a dark parody of his famous role in Hammer's Dracula movies. Speaking of:

The Brides of Dracula (1960) (my review)

I actually don't like Hammer's first Dracula film very much but subsequent entries in the series were pretty good. The Brides of Dracula being a good example despite lacking the presence of Cushing's friend and frequent co-star Christopher Lee as Dracula. It does feature Cushing as Van Helsing, though, now up against a strange, suspenseful family drama featuring the beautiful Yvonne Monlaur very effective in the lead role.

Twitter Sonnet #952

The cheery glow from backs of cars exceed
The thrill of kings in sandwich shops with dread
Disclosing sauce of sorts they'd not concede
Or fear insurance fraud or horse's head.
On tracks contrived of snow and sugar ran
A jelly night, a drifter sheet of rain
Collapsing dark like blackened trees to fan
The thought of flames; a glass rolls in the lane.
A glassy vest began to show in dark
Contours, resolved beneath the arch inside
The lonely inn, existing near the mark
Embedded in the melted snow at tide.
In trampolines of gravity we walk
And on the door of biting space we knock.


Thursday, January 12, 2017
      ( 7:01 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

There are a few ways I could describe 2016's Toni Erdmann. If it were possible to make a satire of satire, it might be something like this film. Or maybe it's better to say it is drama's love letter to comedy. Bitterness is part of the film but there's nothing mean spirited about it, in fact it's terribly, wonderfully heart-felt and yet has such a gentle, humanist touch. It's a quietly beautiful revelation of the human mind by reflecting its creations; comedy, art, family, and business.

The concept sounds like a fairly commonplace Martin Lawrence or Robin Williams comedy from the 90s--in fact, Williams would have probably loved the role of Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), a laid back older man with a penchant for pulling pranks. His daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), is an aggressive businesswomen who, like many young, success oriented women in 90s comedies, seems to have lost a proper sense of priorities as she spends an entire family gathering focused on work, talking on the phone. So Winfried decides to visit her where she lives in the city and infiltrates her business circles disguised as the cheesy, slightly sleazy, Toni Erdmann.

But unlike Mrs. Doubtfire or another similar 90s films, Toni Erdmann applies more realistic logic to the scenario. Winfried's disguise basically consists of false teeth and a wig and his rap generally doesn't fool people--people play along like you do with a man dressed as Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, but the extraordinary context for Toni Erdmann makes him particularly amusing to Ines' business acquaintances and to Ines herself, despite her initial irritation.

The very serious business that Winfried thinks she's too caught up in is her job at a consulting firm. We learn that she's in the middle of a job for a company who's primarily hired her to be a scapegoat for an effort to outsource jobs, requiring the firing of many already impoverished workers in Romania.

On one level the film skewers the presumption of older films that the prankster character is right in thinking the "straightman" character has his or her priorities wrong just because he happens to be getting less attention. But thankfully the film isn't that broad or that simple.

The film even has the old handcuff gag where Winfried cuffs himself to his daughter and pretends to lose the key. But she simply takes him to another part of town and has the locked picked then takes him along with her for the day. She has him pose as an associate and brings him to an oil field where he comes in direct contact with some of the workers whose livelihoods depend upon how his daughter does things, and whose jobs she's inevitably going to have to take away. Along with undermining the presumption of the prankster character of the 90s comedy, Winfried is forced to realise that his belief in a more carefree lifestyle is the product of his economic privilege.

But Ines has no desire to hurt her father. In fact, the most painful thing of all may be that she desperately wants him to be right. In an already famous scene, she's inspired by his antics to throw a spontaneous nude brunch for her co-workers under the pretext of a trust exercise. The scene is intensely funny and its humour is directly related to the heart of the film.

Director Maren Ade, who with this film became the first female director to win top honours at the European film awards, has said in interviews that she did not intend to make the movie as a feminist argument, and Ines does have a funny line when she's talking to her boss where she says something like, "If I were a feminist I wouldn't be dealing with you." But Ade does describe the conflict between Ines and Winfried as being in essence "man-woman" and maybe when she refers to not being feminist she means it in a more modern sense of "anti-man." It's hard not to see a very feminist line of thought in her discussion of the nude brunch in interviews like this one.

I found it interesting that I think that her becoming naked helped her to get a higher status than before because it’s so courageous. It made her stronger in that moment and not weake. In the first moment, how it starts, maybe she’s a bit ashamed but then it’s a strong gesture to do that. So this was something that through inviting nudity on everyone who witnesses her nudity, I found interesting that she finds herself and gets more self aware again.

Many people have commented that the scene isn't sexual, but of course it is. It's more accurate to say that it reveals the truth behind certain presumptions of sexuality, as when Ines' boss is clearly discomforted by his own arousal when looking at Ines' hot young assistant he'd been lusting after earlier in the film. I won't give away the perfectly timed gag that ends the scene.

Another reason the film is so effective is for its over two and a half hour run time that is used for a lot of very quiet transition scenes. This allows the characters to breathe in each others' space in a very effective way that underlines the fundamental mono no aware of the film. It's like a Yasujiro Ozu movie with an extremely effective use of "Plainsong" by The Cure.


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