Monday, January 20, 2020

Kindergarten Tesla

Giant alien scorpions came for Nikola Tesla in last night's Doctor Who, so far the best episode of the new season but still well below average for the series as a whole. The conflict between Tesla and Edison is portrayed somewhat effectively even if the episode's attempts to simplify the drama indulge in significant mischaracterisations.

Once again, the episode's highest point is in its guest star, in this case Goran Višnjić as Nikola Telsa. He's no match for David Bowie's take on Tesla in The Prestige but he does a good job conveying the man's passion and bitterness.

Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) are especially pointless in this episode, their doofusy one-liners never passing as comedy. Yaz (Mandip Gill) is decent enough as someone for the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) to explain things to but one still misses companions with a spark of their own personality.

The episode's conclusion brings to mind "Vincent and the Doctor" as the Doctor tells Yaz about how Tesla's vision would be unappreciated in his own time but would have a profound effect on the future. Except, unlike with Van Gogh, the Doctor's reasoning is tenuous as the episode attempts to argue that Tesla invented wi-fi. I suppose this is an attempt to dumb things down for kids watching whose concept of the Internet is shaped by how they connect to it when at a coffee shop. The makers of the show apparently had no faith viewers would appreciate an inventor's theories about radio waves.

Edison (Robert Glenister) is presented as the villain in the conflict between the two, signified by the fact that Edison's the only one who thinks to use a gun against the giant scorpions, but fundamentally the episode's argument that Tesla can only have worth if one can directly point to some specific, profitable invention of his in use to-day is, essentially, the philosophy Edison espouses in the episode, delivered in petulant villain tones by Glenister. Of all the problems with the Thirteenth Doctor era, the impression that it has no idea what it's trying to say is the most pervasive. Though the wasted space companions is a close second.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Lambs, Maidens, and Doves in the Day's Shadow

In a land of rough edged shadow and violence, a conflict between a bishop and a nobleman wreaks havoc on the lives of a sheep fucking monk, a one armed man, a butcher girl, and a quiet maiden in 1967's Marketa Lazarová. A narrator at the beginning sullenly comments on the pointlessness of storytelling when everything seems so random and insignificant. But he grudgingly begins setting the scene as we're treated to the gorgeous, chaotic visuals of this brutal vision of the Middle Ages.

The black trees or grass against the pale landscape tends to look like feverishly scratched pencil or charcoal. The hordes of armoured men clambering through tangled forest is sometimes reminiscent of a Kurosawa film as is director František Vláčil's preference for using telephoto lenses for everything. But his camera is rarely as still or as steady as Kurosawa's and he's much fonder of closeups. In one fascinating shot, the nobleman, Lazar (Michal Kožuch), backs away as bandits enter his fort, the camera panning to follow him, and his daughter's face, Marketa Lazarová (Magda Vášáryová) herself, passes blurry across the extreme foreground. We already know of Lazar's concern for his enigmatic daughter, that she might be taken and raped, and this shot emphasises how she exists as a moral concept and also as a more complicated human specimen.

The film is deliberately difficult to follow at times, stimuli of strange sounds layered over the soundtrack--whispered chants and animal noises--combined with seemingly non-linear snatches of dialogue and events, give the film an hallucinatory quality. Yet part of the anxiety in the film's events is the sense of meaning, the idea that sins these people ought to have been wary of are now the reason for their gruesome punishments. The monk (Vladimír Menšík) is shown from a high angle while a voice, presumably God's, argues with him, reminding him that his sheep is not a woman and that it's sin to have sex with it. Yet, when the monk's captured by the bandits, he pleads with God, and rebukes the men for taking and killing the sheep he believes God sent to him.

As disorienting as much of the film is, there are moments of intense clarity and meaning. When Marketa is introduced at the beginning, it's after Lazar has been pleading for her life and chastity, telling his assailants that she's a perfect innocent. A cut to her, perhaps miles away, shows her walking through grass holding a dove tied to her chest. She innocently unlaces her bodice, exposing her breasts as she allows the bird to flee, seemingly a sign of her innocence, but the camera then pans up to a face that seems to suggest lust or sadism.

She almost looks like Klaus Kinski. Who is Marketa? An innocent girl? Is that enough to describe anyone? Maybe it is since her plight ends up being pretty much what Lazar feared. And yet, nothing is settled in this film and perspective quickly changes the significance of violence.

Marketa Lazarová is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1319

A tidy coat sufficed to warm the bean.
Important shifts have cleaned the ancient stair.
Above the jungle floating farmers lean.
Compared to oranges apples never pear.
Constructive beaks describe the nostril wind.
Receptive peaks allow the mountain slope.
Illusion tries between the ears to mend.
With hurried steeds the lancers briskly cope.
Unsteady climbs enforced a frigid step.
Accustomed bites combine to coded boards.
Entire teams convene to choose a rep.
Committee shields decide to order swords.
Reordered pizza comes in plastic state.
An ancient sauce was sold at bottom rate.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Escape from Arnessk

Matters at mysterious ruins come to a weird and violent pass on Farscape. Crichton wrestles with Grayza's seduction (and Grayza herself) while everyone else tries to figure out how to escape the Peacekeepers and the planet's dangerous radiation.

Season Four, Episode Three: What was Lost, Part II: Resurrection

Jool (Tammy MacIntosh) points out increased radiation could be seen by the apparent muting of all colour. To which Chiana (Gigi Edgley) retorts that she never had much colour to begin with.

What a trio. Chiana, Jool, and Sikozu (Raelee Hill). All three really shine in this episode with some funny moments and tense moments particularly a couple featuring a code word passed to Sikozu by Scorpius (Wayne Pygram). Meanwhile, I must say D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) does not come off very well.

He'd overheard Jool agreeing with her comrade that Luxans were a lesser species. As he and Jool are about to part for the last time because Jool's decided to remain on the planet, D'Argo takes a moment to brag about how the woman Jool'd been talking to was definitely dumber than him now because she'd been turned to stone. Maybe stone lady has it coming for being an unabashed racist but D'Argo still sounds like kind of an asshole, particularly in the middle of Jool trying to apologise to him--"I'm trying to apologise," she even directly tells him. The whole moment is awkward, made moreso when they kiss. Which I'd actually really like--sometimes life is awkward--though the accompanying triumphant score clashes with that tone.

Since some point in season three, there's been a change in how Anthony Simcoe played D'Argo. Maybe to differentiate him from Worf, he starts adopting a more casual, oddly human attitude reminiscent of his antics in "Won't Be Fooled Again." It never feels quite natural to me, always coming off like false notes.

Especially compared to Crichton (Ben Browder), the anachronistic unhinged human who gets better every time I watch the show. It's lovely how he's able to outsmart Grayza (Rebecca Riggs) and ties her down, backing away while she continues to exhibit a smug sense of dominance.

The finale is a nice series of suspenseful moments as Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) plummets to the ground in a dying Leviathon before Crichton, Chiana, and Jool are compelled to make an ancient artefact work on short notice. This caps a very solid two-parter.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

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

Season One:

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

Season Two:

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

Season Three:

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

Season Four

Episode 1: Crichton Kicks
Episode 2: What was Lost, Part I: Sacrifice

Friday, January 17, 2020

Cancellation Production

I intended to write a blog entry on cancel culture to-day (Cancel Culture?) but, when it comes to it, it's really hard to work up the motivation. I get a strange feeling most of my thoughts on the subject are either really obvious or really paranoid. I was startled a few weeks ago when talking to someone I realised they had no idea what "woke" meant in the modern political sense. It's one of those moments where you realise that something that seems very important and pervasive is actually confined to a small space called the Internet. Which used to be obvious. In the '90s, at least, it seemed like there was a general understanding that flamewars on message boards weren't part of the mainstream cultural arena. Is it the same self-important drama, are we still teenagers, really? It's harder to be dismissive of the phenomenon when you see consequences on people's health and finance, which is one of the good points made by ContraPoints in a recent video on being cancelled.

ContraPoints, a YouTube essayist on a variety of topics but particularly on issues of gender or politics, has been a favourite of mine since a friend recommended her about a year ago. Though that same friend doesn't seem to be speaking to me on apparently political grounds and quite possibly has also sworn off ContraPoints. It seems inevitable that ContraPoints would be cancelled since her stock and trade is engaging intellectually with people on disparate ends of the philosophical spectrum. There are times I think she indulges in intellectual shortcuts that undercut her arguments but her video on cancel culture is one of the best, most exhaustive I've seen on the topic, her own cancellation perhaps giving her the required energy so many of us lack to address the tedious topic.

Even after hearing about the suicide and people only just associated with Natalie Wynn (ContraPoints) being harassed and losing Patreon supporters, it's hard for me to firmly feel like cancelling is important. When I look at the video on YouTube, I see a series of recommended videos from fledgling YouTube essayists taking Natalie's side. The two I looked at were dominated by the sort of feeble, desperate vanity of a hopeful star that gives me the impression that many people have the impression that condemning Natalie is the "toxic" option, not the other way around. I mean, it certainly doesn't make sense to me to ostracise her for having very briefly worked with Buck Angel (mind you, based on what little I know, I wouldn't ostracise Buck Angel, either). Though I'm inclined to think this superficial motive is only to mask a more fundamental hatred for some of the less than Left friendly ideas in her videos. But I'm only inclined to think this because part of me assumes drastic actions are influenced by complex and meaningful work. Is that a bit naive of me? But which is better, the idea that people secretly organise a campaign of hate to drown out dissenting messaging, or that people who believe they're the moral authorities are willing to ruin lives over trivial issues and tenuous associations? I honestly don't know, they're both pretty depressing.

Unless this is all really meaningless. It was long believed, and by some still is believed, that the poet John Keats died due to depression inspired by negative reviews of his work, something his friend Lord Byron evidently believed, though Keats was also suffering from tuberculosis and poverty. It's hard to say how much the negative reviews contributed to his suicidal depression though maybe it was more indirectly responsible considering how much his finances were affected by publishers unwilling to touch his critically reviled output. Not unlike, I suppose, Internet figures losing Patreon supporters.

Maybe it's that the Patreon paradigm, if you will, as a means of funding artists, still feels so new. Ironically, Kickstarter feels like ancient history at this point. The term that keeps coming to mind is "a floating world", ukiyo, 浮世, the term used for the economic community and industry of various kinds of actors and prostitutes in Japan from the 17th to the 19th century. With so much about the businesses concerned--art and sex work--being difficult to quantify in monetary terms, and the influence of different philosophical and traditional ideas on the subject taking things in any number of direction, it's easy to see how any participant or onlooker must struggle with a sense of unreality while being unable to deny the very profound and practical concern these occupations were for people. The sense of great meaning and beauty comes with a simultaneous impression of commonplace and mercenary; profundity and passion almost seems to exist interchangeably with shallowness and jadedness.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Waiting on Mars

Ray Bradbury obviously found Edgar Allan Poe's forehead rather striking. In his short story "Exiles", included in The Illustrated Man, Bradbury more than once returns to the forehead as a point for vividly describing the 19th century poet.

Mr. Poe’s black eyes brooded under his round and luminant brow.

. . . They moved down the echoing throats of the castle, level after dim green level, down into mustiness and decay and spiders and dreamlike webbing. “Don’t worry,” said Poe, his brow like a huge white lamp before them, descending, sinking.

It is an impressive brow, at least in every picture I've seen, and invoking it does help create the mental image. "Exiles" is a story in which many of Earth's great writers live in some strange form on Mars alongside hordes of their creations. The story actually begins with the witches from Macbeth, just a few of the many assembled to defend the planet from an approaching human rocket. On Earth, the great works of fiction have been routinely burned, a detail foreshadowing Bradbury's own Fahrenheit 451. In "Exiles", the book burning causes the spirits of the authors and their creations to fade and finally vanish entirely. It's a more fantastic tale than Fahrenheit 451 and bittersweetly effective.

An odd man among the denizens Bradbury places on Mars is Charles Dickens, who parties at Fezziwig's and refuses to join Poe and Ambrose Bierce in defending against the Earthlings, insisting he's above the stories about ghosts and witches and their authors. He even seems to kind of like the humans who only burned his books, he feels, by mistake. I wonder if this is due to the underlying leftwing nature of Dickens' basic arguments in his work. At the time Bradbury published "Exiles" he was a Democrat but in 1952 he took out an ad in Variety in which he wrote; "Every attempt that you make to identify the Democratic Party as the party of Communism, as the ‘left-wing’ or ‘subversive’ party, I will attack with all my heart and soul." Which goes to show how differently Democrats regarded themselves at one time.

Bradbury's Poe points out to Dickens that he did indulge in writing ghost stories, with A Christmas Carol and The Christmas Goblins. Of course, Dickens' writing also has much that could appeal to conservatives--I've heard Uriah Heep, the villain of David Copperfield, referred to as a perfect parody of a leftwing ideologue. The humans of "Exiles" have also banned Halloween and Christmas which reminds me of Oliver Cromwell's England in which Christmas was also banned. And plays, for that matter. Like the humans of "Exiles", the English Puritans believed in total commitment to reason and abhorred superstition. "Superstition" is a word that Bradbury uses twice in "Exiles" by Poe but I wasn't clear on whether or not this Poe approved of superstition or deplored it.

One of the men on the rocket has nightmares. I really liked the idea that humans without fantastic horror fiction would naturally have strange nightmares as though some natural feeling is being repressed and is finding other means of expression.

Twitter Sonnet #1318

A little thing disturbs the rubber tread.
A metal river shifts the plastic boat.
A diamond bee divides the footed bed.
A lamp appeared between the sheep and goat.
Decisive shorts define Colossus legs.
A second bun creates the burger plate.
Between the flour fold the thinking eggs.
A waiting knight observed a narrow mate.
Awaited plays deliver forest dreams.
Repeated songs appease a sleepy heart.
A newer sun was born of extra beams.
The sandwich mustard makes the yellow part.
The brilliant head was camped before the sea.
The crimson pot produced a cherry tea.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Where the Star Goat was Bled

Farscape's late introduction stylistic characteristics, like overlapping dialogue and unemphasised extreme reactions, find very suitable material in an episode about hallucinations at an archaeological dig.

Season Four, Episode Two: What Was Lost, Part I: Sacrifice

Still aboard the dying Leviathan, Crichton (Ben Browder), Chiana (Gigi Edgley), Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), and Sikozu (Raelee Hill) travel to a dangerous world find Jool (Tammy MacIntosh), Noranti (Melissa Jaffer), and D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe). The shipmates reunite amid ruins on a mostly uninhabitable planet. There are lifeforms--some little one legged insects and a fellow Crichton inevitably compares to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Though this fellow, Oo-Nii (Steve Le Marquand), has much prettier colouring than the Creature.

Also on hand are two members of Jool's species which, if you'll remember from the beginning of Season Three, are remarkably close to human, genetically. These two happen to be archaeologists, and with them Jool is trying to discover how the long extinct sentient inhabitants maintained peace with the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans. But the best part of the episode is Crichton wandering around having visions after Noranti blows some kind of sand in his face. I love the brief glimpses he has of the ancient, red robed priests.

I really love that the Creature Shop designed and built this alien "goat" just for it to be sacrificed in this brief shot. The episode has a wonderfully striking colour palette.

We also see the return of Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), on his way to switching sides in the great Farscape chase as he's now placed in his own Aurora Chair by Grayza (Rebecca Riggs). She wants to find Crichton under a vague idea of befriending "the enemy of my enemy". It turns out her dramatic cleavage is more than just window dressing, too, as her favoured technique with men is to seduce them with her psychoactive sweat. I feel like nowadays we don't see enough succubi femmes fatale.

Between Grayza's sweat and Noranti's sand it's a wonder Crichton hasn't completely lost his marbles. Though he certainly has plenty of experience with maddening stimuli at this point.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

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

Season One:

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

Season Two:

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

Season Three:

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

Season Four

Episode 1: Crichton Kicks

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Unveiling the Mind

A beautiful young woman stops speaking and attempts suicide and a team of handsome men try to put her back together again in 1945's The Seventh Veil. The sexualisation of a woman's psyche isn't even really subtext--the title refers to a statement by Herbert Lom's psychiatrist character who compares his therapeutic hypnosis, stripping away a patient's layers of psychological insulation, to Salome dancing the Seven Veils. The last veil, he suggests, is the one human beings almost never, ever allow to be removed. From this prologue, the viewer is compelled to watch the film with rapt attention so the sexual discourse becomes intriguing and nuanced.

Ann Todd plays Francesca Cunningham in every scene in the film, from age 14 to to 26. She's a talented actress but, at 28, convincingly portraying 14 is a lot to ask. Still, her first meeting with her new guardian, following the death of her parents, is plenty provoking.

James Mason stars as her "uncle" Nicholas--in fact her second cousin. He has a cat in his lap when she meets him--she tells him she's afraid of cats but he invites her to "stroke it." You don't need to be Freud to read into that.

But despite the obsessively grooming relationship Nicholas develops with Francesca as he teaches discipline to go along with her natural talent at the piano, mainly things remain chaste. Her first love is another musician, the rather uninspiring American Peter (Hugh McDermott). In fact, it's conspicuous how much better looking Nicholas is than any of the other men in the film with the possible exception of Herbert Lom. Lom and Mason attempting to penetrate her veil, as it were, takes the form of finding the root of her anxiety about her hands which inhibits her ability to play piano. This puts one in mind of Marnie but The Seventh Veil was more of a piece with two great movies from the 1940s about men moulding women as musical performers, Citizen Kane and The Red Shoes. The Seventh Veil never reaches such heights and is a comparatively traditional melodrama with roots in Jane Eyre and Pamela. Still, the tension between sexual chemistry and a master/pupil relationship is exciting and it's hard to say no to James Mason with a cat.

The Seventh Veil is available on The Criterion Channel.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Fake-ation that Almost Wasn't

One of Thirteen's "hilariously" stupid companions accidentally teleported the Fam to a futuristic resort on last night's new Doctor Who. The generally useless three companions bumble along behind the Doctor as she works out the (of course) sinister truth behind this place; it's a combination of the Fourth Doctor serial The Leisure Hive and the Fallout video game franchise. Once again, the high point is the guest star, in this case Laura Fraser.

Nice to hear her using her natural accent for once. She plays the head of the "fake-ation" resort and halfway through seems a villain in an anti-colonialism plot about how terraforming the planet is bad for its few remaining indigenous inhabitants. But the premise of the episode flips kind of abruptly.

Spoilers after the screenshot

After coming across an underground tunnel with a sign in Russian, the Fam can hardly believe the ravaged wasteland above is Earth. But Earth it proves to be after the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) mind-melds with one of the particularly nasty brutes chasing after them, mutant remnants of Earth's wars. They're a bit like the Deathclaws from the Fallout games.

Ryan (Tosin Cole) has a love interest in this episode (Gia Re) though they don't get far past some awkward flirtation before a climactic kiss. Ryan's standout moment in the episode is when a vending machine gives him a virus and the Doctor instructs him to suck his thumb while jumping around to avoid illusory bats. Johnny Depp made bat hallucinations look so much more dignified.

I don't like Ryan but even I felt bad the makers of the show decided to humiliate him like that. Was that supposed to be funny? I would think, "I guess it's for the two year olds" except this episode also has an elderly man proposing to his wife before begging for assisted suicide after he's been terribly mangled at the hands of the nuclear war mutants. Doctor Who was always known as the show kids and adults can both appreciate but trying to hit that fine line must be difficult and certainly this new incarnation of the series blunders spectacularly on a regular basis.

Though I don't always blame the official writers. This episode ends with an intensely political bit tacked on at the end where the Doctor, isolated in frame, tells the Fam that this was all just an alternate timeline and that it can all be avoided if we take care of the environment and avoid war. It's difficult to believe this moment was written by anyone but someone with only an extremely superficial familiarity with Doctor Who. For one thing, it's only the future for the humans, not for the Doctor, and it's always been a big deal whenever the Doctor has crossed into an alternate timeline. There was the whole business about Rose Tyler getting trapped in one in the Tenth Doctor era. In this episode, at what point are we to believe they went into an alternate timeline? When Graham (Bradley Walsh) put that ticket together? Is the resort associated with Nostalgia Tours from Delta and the Bannermen that they can do time travel?

And what about all the other incidents of Earth destruction that's part of the show's canon? What about the planetary evacuation from Ark in Space? Do we need to be comforted with the knowledge that this is only an alternate timeline? Or isn't it enough that the show is a work of fiction?

Twitter Sonnet #1317

The extra teeth support the missing nose.
Beneath the blanket lights create a book.
A starry crown in market value grows.
A cocoanut's too big to bait a hook.
The extra boat awaits beneath the house.
The timing proved a doll below the nest.
From in the hat there watched a tiny mouse.
Deciding whether brim or crown is best.
Remembered keys assemble boards for screens.
Reluctant mice conduct the buzzing top.
Between the pods were healthy little beans.
The thing for sloppy floors is just a mop.
Syringes filled with ink complete the pants.
Vacation bees disturb the leisure ants.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Too Many People with Too Many Babies

Arguably, at the root of many of civilisation's problems is that it works too well; the growing population puts a strain on the planet's resources that manifest in pollution, war, and starvation. 1972's Z.P.G. presents the conflict between the attempt to regulate expanding human population and individual, emotional needs. The mania of the film's women played by Geraldine Chaplin and Diane Cilento in their need to bear children is a little over the top but striking in a severely Communist society. A reliably smouldering performance from Oliver Reed is always captivating though it sometimes overwhelms the material.

"Z.F.G." stands for "zero population growth" which the government attempts to effect by forbidding women from giving birth. An oppressive, omnipresent surveillance system in the library and on the streets is augmented by bounties on babies. After husband and wife Russ (Reed) and Carol (Chaplin) have sex, she goes to their bathroom where an automated home-abortion machine is installed. For all this, the obvious question would seem to be why the government doesn't simply sterilise the population or just portions of it. The film avoids addressing this.

Carol finally decides she can no longer endure life without having a child so she skips the abortion machine one evening. She and her husband are forced to pretend separation while she hides in the basement for her pregnancy. Afterwards, caring for the child proves difficult when Russ can't even access information about childcare in the library without law enforcement being alerted. But their worst trouble comes when their neighbours, George (Don Gordon) and Edna (Diane Cilento), learn their secret and want to share childcare duties and are willing to threaten Russ and Carol with exposure to get their way.

This is a nice way of showing how a police state can effect life on more than the obvious level of violence and rules. The psychological effects are complex and nasty in ways it can be hard to predict. And who wouldn't start to go crazy with the creepy animatronic substitute babies women are encouraged to care for? Diane Cilento has two and her wild eyed, furtive manner certainly gains credence in light of the situation.

There's a lot of nice, early 70s future style on display and it's always great watching Oliver Reed just being Oliver Reed. He always seems ready to boil over somehow which compels me to watch him attentively at all times. Z.P.G. is available on The Criterion Channel as part of their new '70s Sci-Fi collection.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Scapes Far and Wide

At last in 16:9, the fourth season of Farscape begins by showcasing an even greater sense of improvisation and familiarity between cast and crew, blending seamlessly with complicated effects and design.

Season Four, Episode One: Crichton Kicks

We find Crichton (Ben Browder) with his Jeremiah Crichton beard again (though this time, apparently, it was real), taking refuge on a dying Leviathan. He's adopted a DRD he's named 1812, to which he's taught to play The 1812 Overture with electronic beeps. This recalls A Clockwork Orange but the general tone of the episode is more like a Terry Gilliam movie.

Another beautiful woman crashes into Crichton's life; the redhead Sikozu (Raelee Hill), on the run from aliens whose resemblance to Klingons Crichton doesn't refrain from pointing out. This felt scripted but a lot of the things Ben Browder does and says feel more spontaneous, like his antics when trying to lure an alien hound out into space. This moment shows how perfectly the makers of the show were able to blend natural performance with carefully contrived special effects and plotting.

The first of Moya's crew to come back after the inevitable massive bounties are put on their heads are Chiana (Gigi Edgley) and Rygel (Jonathan Hardy). Chiana, in the middle of chewing Crichton out for getting them into trouble, kisses him on the lips without missing a beat, another moment that's so fast and weird that it feels improvised yet also perfectly fits their relationship. The strange Moya family has now become very familiar, at least among themselves.

Sikou seems to fit in well despite being new. I always liked her, particularly in this episode. The way she and Crichton are placed in incidental physical intimacy, as when she sits on his lap facing him when they hide in his module, recalls the many times he and Aeryn (Claudia Black) were doing that in season one. Her abilities to walk on walls and reattach severed limbs somehow emphasise her sexuality. I'm really not sure why but that's Farscape for you.

. . .

Farscape is available now on Amazon Prime.

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

Season One:

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

Season Two:

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

Season Three:

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

A Dime the Shadows Covet

There are other treasures on Disney+ besides Star Wars and Marvel. There're also Disney things. Many of my childhood favourites, like DuckTales, for example. I mean the old one, of course. I've seen the first episode of the new one and I'll probably watch it through eventually but for now I'm content to have a reliable source for the classic series. Though, like many series, Disney is for some reason streaming the episodes out of order. In this case, it's an old problem because I remember my DVD sets also did not include the first episodes on the first collected volume, I think because they were labelled as pilot instead of as the first episodes. Whoever puts these things together seems to be on autopilot. Or maybe that's just it; it's AI.

Anyway, I hopped into the middle of the first season a couple nights ago with "Magica's Shadow War", a surprisingly provoking tale of Magica De Spell (June Foray) bringing her shadow to life in order to steal Scrooge's lucky dime.

It's her usual goal, established by Carl Barks in the original Uncle Scrooge comics, but it's one that is curious in itself. The concept that this item, to which Scrooge (Alan Young) himself mostly only ascribes sentimental value, is coveted by De Spell, a witch, as something of great value. Is Scrooge really a self-made duck, or was it a matter of destiny, fate arranged by the gods via a dime? In this, one can surprisingly see a basic argument between left and right. The ambiguity is fitting, too, because usually we don't see exactly to what extent someone owes their wealth to luck or their own talents. Magica, in the villain role, seems fitting as her conception of the dime would mean the world is a place where Scrooge's own decisions and actions have little meaning.

The shadows bring this to another level. First there's just one, Magica's, then, when it rebels, it spawns others. All alike, each the same distorted copy of Magica herself. And they all want the dime, insisting that it's their right. They've fully assimilated Magica's idea that the dime is responsible for Scrooge's success and it becomes, in the minds of the shadows, a power Scrooge has stolen. It can't be that Scrooge owes his success to his own hard work and ingenuity.

Bitter minds of indistinct individuals, resenting one successful duck. It sounds like Twitter.

Twitter Sonnet #1316

A penny school removed the dollar's worth.
The flying car advanced beyond our reach.
Another Mars displaced our lonely Earth.
There's something else a plastic globe can teach.
A shadow's dime was lost in piled cash.
Exclusive banks encase the liquid gold.
The market value's printed 'long the sash.
Expenses crush the story while it's told.
A hidden cake conceals another chip.
Computer thoughts begat careers at home.
A cottage quilt portrays the vicar's lip.
The metal showed the water where to roam.
The pictured cat resolved in pixels clean.
A giant land condensed inside a bean.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Carnival of Divorce Lawyers

When two shallow, self-absorbed people decide to get divorced they find a landscape of crooked lawyers in L.A. These lawyers prove adept at driving a further wedge between them in 2019's Marriage Story. Strong performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson come with a few good laughs but with too many broad moments for the subtle issues writer/director Noel Baumbach sets out to tackle. It's like if a Woody Allen or Ingmar Bermgan movie were remade by George Costanza.

The movie begins with two montages with voiceover narratives. First with Charlie (Driver) narrating a montage about his wife, Natalie (Johansson), then with one by her about him. Both have nothing but lovely things to say about each other, each for some reason praising the other for adopting opposite gender roles or behaviour. Natalie talks about how Charlie loves caring for their son and always cries at movies and Charlie talks about how Natalie opens pickle jars for him because she's much stronger. Which is pretty hard to buy after seeing Driver shirtless in Last Jedi and even harder to buy after he punches a hole in a wall in this movie.

It turns out these are essays the two have written about each other as part of marriage counselling but they end up not sharing with each other because Natalie isn't feeling up to it. Is the gender roles thing meant to be cause for their breakup? We actually don't get much detail on what drove them apart initially but the two start to distrust each other more and more once lawyers start manipulating them.

Baumbach casts some powerhouse supporting players in the lawyer roles--Natalie gets a shark played by Laura Dern and Charlie first hires Alan Alda and then Ray Liotta. Alda's pretty good as a mild mannered old hand but Dern and Liotta are so cartoonishly aggressive it seems bizarre that Charlie or Natalie listen to them. But then, Charlie is a theatre director whose cold and hipstery production of Elektra we get a glimpse of. Maybe I can believe he's that big of a sap.

Driver and Johansson give their all in some dialogue that goes from tense to heated and the energy between the actors is captivating but I struggle to remember anything they actually said. It's telling that the climax of the film is Driver in an effective piece of slapstick, Baumbach apparently wise enough to realise the screenplay didn't provide enough satisfying material. Johansson wears a cool David Bowie Halloween costume in another scene so there are lots of nice little things but I'm not sure it makes the whole movie worth watching. Your mileage may vary.

Marriage Story is available on Netflix.