Wednesday, November 25, 2015
      ( 1:58 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

It's been nearly two months since she died but it was only to-day announced that the legendary actress, the great Setsuko Hara, has died. At the age of 95, she died of pneumonia on September fifth. A central figure in what I considered to be the greatest era in filmmaking, the first twenty years in Japan following World War II, Hara had retired in 1963 and avoided interviews and photographs ever since, even turning down a role in the late Satoshi Kon's anime film Millennium Actress, a film which was entirely a tribute to her. It is perhaps part of her reclusiveness that her death was so long kept from the news.

She's best known in the west for her roles in Yasujiro Ozu's masterpieces Tokyo Story and Late Spring and many people consider her retirement to have been related to Ozu's death that same year. Ozu never married and neither did Hara who was known as the "Eternal Virgin" and was seen by many to embody a Japanese ideal of virginal innocence and sincere affection. She played several characters that reflected this impression, most notably Noriko in 1949's Late Spring where a delicately melancholy portrayal of a girl's marriage and leaving her father to live alone subtly and beautifully offers a look at the tragic consequences of adhering to tradition. It was one of the many ways in which Japanese filmmakers were led in the post-World War II era to confront everything they'd considered to be true before the country's defeat in the war. Here's a great scene from Late Spring featuring no dialogue that showcases Hara's talent, Ozu trusting her to convey everything necessary with her facial expressions (beginning at around 4:30 in the clip):

I would describe the greatness of Hara as a performer as her ability to show sincere and intense joy or hatred or fear or sadness just barely suppressed or sometimes overflowing. Sometimes I wondered, particularly in her last few films, if this was actually a sign of how much she claimed to hate the job when she retired. She often seemed to be gritting her teeth and her smiles seemed increasingly strained, though it was always appropriate for her roles.

Even when she was younger she didn't always play roles that reflected her "Eternal Virgin" image, in fact some of her greatest roles in the films of Mikio Naruse, which aren't well known in the west, were of married women, particularly 1951's Meshi where finds herself trapped with a husband she discovers she does not love, however much she wants to love him.

With several Japanese filmmakers in the first two post war decades making films with surprisingly strong feminist themes, Hara was particularly well suited for Mikio Naruse's great films featuring female protagonists who find themselves trapped by oppressive Japanese traditions turned to desperate exploitations by men in the sometimes cynical atmosphere of the years following the country's defeat, occupation, and imposed new constitution. There were many good new values brought by the U.S. and many wonderful values of Japan's past but there were also times where the worst of both, cut-throat capitalism and feudal oppression, merged to create a perfect storm and filmmakers like Naruse found Hara to be the perfect performer to portray women caught in the middle.

She also appeared in two films by Akira Kurosawa, neither of them considered to be among his best. The first, No Regrets for Our Youth, has real charm to it but is largely a propaganda effort under the imposed U.S. administration. The second, Kurosawa's 1951 adaptation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot, is one of the great lost films. A two hour cut of the originally four hour film survives but is hopelessly muddled as one might expect from a film so trimmed, its pacing and timing completely off and is almost meaningless to anyone who has not read the book. But it is well worth watching, particularly to see Hara brilliantly playing very much against type as the worldly kept woman, essentially a prostitute, Taeko Nasu, the film's version of Dostoevsky's Nastasya Philippovna.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post featuring Setsuko Hara that was a meditation on death in which I compared Ozu's Tokyo Story with James Joyce's "The Dead":

Ostensibly Noriko in Tokyo Story has the opposite problem [of Gretta in "The Dead"]. Played by Setsuko Hara, I don't think I fully appreciated her the first time I watched the movie, I was more focused on Chishu Ryu and Chieko Higashiyama. Hara seemed to be gritting her teeth through her roles in the 1950s, and I think a lot about how she said she'd always hated acting when she retired in the early 60s. But in Tokyo Story, the slight bitterness, the odd fervour, in her pleasantness makes sense. There are no villains in the story, the natural needs of life just work out to make the elderly couple's grown children pass them from one house to another when they visit Tokyo, but Noriko seems to be their angel. Noriko, who's not even biologically their daughter but the widow of their son who died in World War II. They beg her to remarry because they're worried about her but they're quietly glad she's there. But we learn, in a really amazing scene from Hara, how much she struggles with the shame of going days without even thinking of her husband.

Setsuko Hara will be remembered and it's a tribute to her grace that she'll be remembered largely for a role in which she so effectively conveyed the horrible revelation of how distant from us and forgotten the dead become.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015
      ( 7:03 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Do you think this guy is a serial killer? If you said, "Yes," you were right, in fact he's a maniac, the title character of 1980's Maniac. Joe Spinell came up with the concept, co-wrote the screenplay, and starred in this film directed by William Lustig with a plot that's so simplistic it's almost creepy for that simplicity, mainly because Spinell as serial killer Frank Zito is so perfectly disgusting, so much the epitome of a maniac.

Here's a guy who really didn't let vanity get in the way of his work.

Frank lives in a little apartment filled with dolls and pictures of women. He also has mannequins to which he staples his victims' scalps.

The film's explanation for his mental problems is a bit cliché but scenes of him stalking women--and he only kills women--are so roughly shot and the sounds of Spinell breathing over first person footage are so perfectly gross. This movie really expertly makes you recoil from it.

How could this guy ever make a connexion with a woman? Yet in the film's most inexplicable subplot, he sees a woman take his picture at the park, rifles through her purse when she's not looking, tracks her down to her apartment and, without even asking how he found her, she says yes when he asks her out.

It's Hammer horror vet Caroline Munro who seems drawn to Frank for no apparent reason. Really, it's mystifying. When he talks about how he likes photos because they preserve women forever, she happily engages in discussion about life and art. For goodness sake, lady, look at him--he's a maniac!

But this adds in a way to a dreamlike quality in the film, along with sequences where Frank has a much too easy time tracking down and killing a victim in a subway station. This is the kind of movie that should be found on a dirty VHS tape under greasy paper plates and cockroaches in a sketchy neighbour's closet.


Monday, November 23, 2015
      ( 2:05 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
God is great, Eve is beautiful but unintelligent, Adam is a paragon of integrity, Satan is the epitome of evil. Whether or not any of these things are true in Paradise Lost, they are ideas presented by characters in the works to be taken as true or as believed by those characters. So the fundamental conflict is a conflict of perception. Eve might be vain but so is everyone else. As the quote from Ecclesiastes goes, "All is vanity." But Eve is perhaps the least vain. In fact, within Paradise Lost, she functions as a voyeur, more of a voyeur even than characters who behold her physical beauty from a position of concealment. Eve inhabits the point of view of someone who considers herself deficient in intellect or information and is therefore freer to question and explore than those who, rightly or wrongly, maintain a bias that prevents them from assimilating new and potentially contradictory information. Paradise Lost presents the points of view of several characters--Raphael when he approaches Eden, Adam when he describes witnessing God's acts, Satan when he travels from Hell to Earth. Eve more closely resembles the reader than any of those characters because she accepts as mysterious more of the things the reader holds to be mysterious than any of the other characters.

Honour is an important concept in Paradise Lost, fascinating in its presence in the former work considering how a newly created human race appears already to have a complex understanding of it. William Empson agrees with C.S. Lewis on this point; "We ought not to think of [Eve] as 'primitive' . . . but as a great lady, for example Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Queen both of England and of a French Court of Love. A puritan disapproved of these powerful females, including the Queen of Heaven; but they were still felt to be staggeringly grand, and Milton was set to turn all culture into an expression of the grandeur of the Fall" (Empson, 163). Milton's simultaneous disdain for female rulers and respect for its potential for grandeur can be observed in his other works. In his History of Britain he makes a point of continually mentioning the disastrous consequences of women being in positions of command.

In the Minority of her Son she had the rule, and then, as may be suppos'd, brought forth these Laws, not her self, for Laws are Masculin Births, but by the advice of her sagest Counselors; and therin she might do vertuously, since it befell her to supply the nonage of her Son: else nothing more awry from the Law of God and Nature, then that a Woman should give Laws to Men. (Milton)

Yet he seems to respect some of the female rulers he mentions and in terms of grandeur it's difficult not to be impressed by his reference to the Queen of Heaven in his early poem On the Morning of Christ's Nativity;

And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav'ns Queen and Mother both,
Now sits not girt with Tapers holy shine,
(On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, 200-202)

Ashtaroth appears in Paradise Lost as well, in Book I when it is mentioned that "Spirits when they please/Can either Sex assume" (PL I. 423-424). By being able to assume either sex, this presumably makes the two sexes intellectually equal among the angels. So why does Adam assume Eve is less intelligent than himself? In discussing this issue, analysts frequently quote Adam's analysis of Eve in Book VIII: "Too much of Ornament, in outward shew/Elaborate, of inward less exact" (538-539). A significant clue precedes this complaint, though, in Adam's recounting of his first encounter with Eve:

here passion first I felt,
Commotion strange, in all enjoyments else
Superiour and unmov'd, here onely weake
Against the charm of Beauties powerful glance.
Or Nature faild in mee, and left some part
Not proof enough such Object to sustain,
Or from my side subducting, took perhaps
More then enough; at least on her bestow'd

Amazingly, Adam offers evidence of his own clouded judgement to reach the conclusion that it's Eve who is intellectually deficient. She seems to have the same effect on Satan when he sees her; "That space the Evil one abstracted stood/From his own evil, and for the time remaind/Stupidly good, of enmitie disarm'd" (IX. 463-465).

The concept of blame being placed in the passive object of a viewer's perspective for the viewer's profound discontentment or discomfort is a logical fallacy often attached to misogyny. Songwriter and parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic satirises the concept in his song "You Make Me" by taking the conceit to its logical extremes, adopting the role of a potential lover who is made to do bizarre things having little or no possible relation to the person he addresses:

You make me wanna hide a weasel in my shorts
You make me wanna phone home
You make me wanna write a dozen book reports
Then pack myself in styrofoam
Sometimes you make me want to build a model of the Eiffel Tower out of Belgian waffles

This fallacy may be seen as similar to the fallacious concept of the "Male Gaze", a term employed in various forms of criticism of art, literature, and cinema. One flaw in the concept is that people who use it tend to define it differently, generally choosing between two definitions; some use the term simply to refer to art designed to be attractive to heterosexual men, others use it to refer to an ongoing partly subconscious campaign by patriarchy to suppress women. While there can be no doubt that throughout the history of art media there has more often then not been a presumed target audience of heterosexual men and that objectification of women and their bodies has frequently been an aspect of this, the term "Male Gaze" is a problematic concept for describing the issue. On occasions where the first definition is employed, it presumes the absence of women who are attracted to women, thereby reflecting a heterocentric bias, and in the case of the latter definition it assumes men are inherently oppressive which, true or not, is not conducive to a constructive conversation with men.

In examining the genesis of the term, though, we are led to an interesting insight that can be applied to Paradise Lost. The term originated in a 1975 article by Laura Mulvey called "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" where the concept is introduced as part of an examination of film. She discusses my favourite film, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo--to say it's my favourite is something of an understatement, it's been in fact an object of obsession for me so sometimes I tend to see Vertigo in everything. But I would say this description from Mulvey of the film would have a clear relevance to Paradise Lost for anyone who's read it:

. . . the hero portrays the contradictions and tensions experienced by the spectator. In Vertigo in particular . . . the look is central to the plot, oscillating between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination. As a twist, a further manipulation of the normal viewing process which in some sense reveals it, Hitchcock uses the process of identification normally associated with ideological correctness and the recognition of established morality and shows up its perverted side. (Mulvey, 7)

Aside from God, Adam is the moral authority, the "ideological correctness", in Paradise Lost--Eve is pledged to "God in him". He is the closest to a stock hero but it's not his perspective that is necessarily closest to the reader's. In her analysis of Vertigo, Mulvey misses one of the most fascinating aspects of the film, that, through a plot twist in the middle of the film, the woman is established as a voyeur. When it's revealed that Judy had been conscious at the time the male protagonist, Scottie, had "rescued" her from San Francisco Bay and therefore had consciously allowed him to remove her clothing and observed him as he did it, she in a sense sees him morally exposed. We can say the same thing about Eve's perception of Adam. This brings us back to the subject of honour and it's a crucial part of Eve's endeavour to convince Adam that the two of them should separate.

But harm precedes not sin: onely our Foe
Tempting affronts us with his foul esteem
Of our integritie: his foul esteeme
Sticks no dishonor on our Front, but turns
Foul on himself;
(IX. 327-331)

What do they know about Satan's feelings towards them at this point? That he intends to lead them astray and little else. More germane to the present conversation is Adam's impression of Eve and Eve is here indirectly suggesting that it's Adam who doubts her integrity. Eve is doing something very complex here and very far from stupid. With all the impassioned addresses he gives her, she knows he doesn't want to insult her but she knows he doesn't consider his belief that she's intellectually inferior to him to be an insult. Eve transforms Adam's concern for her safety into an insult to her honour but she pins this insult to Satan rather than directly accusing Adam of insulting her. It's passive aggressive but what this shows is that Eve knows Adam better than Adam knows Eve--he wrongly assumes she's unintelligent, she rightly perceives he does not respect her intelligence. She is able to use this knowledge to make a calculated manoeuvre but more importantly it shows that her perceptions have greater accuracy and less bias therefore aligning her more with the reader's point of view.

Twitter Sonnet #813

Condoned upon the metal shoulder now
Robust, the parrot peals triumph at dawn.
Suggestive swimsuits sort unwieldy prow
To bank across the table heaven's lawn.
A Cinnamon Toast Crunch resurrection
Empowered crackers now to matter much.
A pulse pistol was shot for inflection.
Winona judges no-one's choice of lunch.
A pilgrim gauged enraged foraging gods.
An angel's stem cells cures the common cold.
The house can offer macaroni odds.
Dry pasta twists replaced the dice of old.
Delays at Eve restart the fronds of palms.
Inroads detoured through nonsensical psalms.


Sunday, November 22, 2015
      ( 3:06 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

In case there was any doubt, Ash vs. Evil Dead we can now see is clearly shot in New Zealand. I suspect Hobbiton is just over the hill. Last night's new episode was good, not quite the heights of the first two episodes, but the chase sequence at the beginning was very effective with the Evil taking the form of a dust storm and attempting to possess Ash's car. Again, I love how loosely defined the abilities of the Evil things are.

I also liked Ash's drug trip--I think the director of this episode, David Frazee, may be a better writer than the writer of the episode, James E. Eagan, because nothing in the dialogue is as funny as Asha's muddled visions of Felix the Cat, I Dream of Genie, various Playboy covers, and his dream destination of Jacksonville, Florida.

We finally learn a bit more about Lucy Lawless' character in this episode, too. I assumed she would be boring and she kind of is, sort of a rival Ash who's less funny set up to be his potential love interest.

It's a shame how even in this otherwise good show the female characters are for the most part written as dull paragons.

On the other side of the spectrum, I also finished watching the first episode of Jessica Jones last night--I'd started it on Friday but the power went out and I ended up spending the evening reading Batman comics by candlelight.

Created by Melissa Rosenberg based on a Marvel comics series, this show, among other things, officially introduces anal sex into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And a lot of other things, like a heroine who says, "Shit!" when she realises she's out of toilet paper. This kind of thing is refreshing (truly) and it's nice knowing Rosenberg, who was a showrunner on Dexter (I won't mention her less auspicious credits), has a lot more creative freedom than one might expect.

Also crucial, of course, is the star, but I had no doubts about Krysten Ritter who first caught my eye years ago on Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls before I saw her in a much better role on Breaking Bad. Now, inevitably, she has her own series and I'm happy to say it's with a very good role, the PTSD suffering Jones is a former superhero turned jaded, world weary gumshoe.

Mostly she handles extramarital affairs like Jake Gittes in Chinatown. She's not the only interesting female character on the show, either--her cutthroat, high profile employer played by Carrie-Anne Moss is ruthless in her personal life. Most of the characters on the show are women, certainly all the characters who make meaningful decisions, except for the barely glimpsed villain played by David Tennant, a superpowered character named Kilgrave who's responsible for Jones' PTSD.

Netflix released a bundle of episodes so I guess I was supposed to binge watch them but I just can't do it. Seriously, how do people have the time? But I'm looking forward to watching the next one.


Saturday, November 21, 2015
      ( 4:08 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I want to say to-day's episode of Doctor Who was about Ashildr and Clara playing Doctor but you'll get the wrong idea. Written by newcomer Sarah Dollard and featuring a show changing event--surprisingly given that the episode isn't written by showrunner Steven Moffat--it's not bad and has a slightly Harry Potter quality.

Didn't the Harry Potter stories have a hidden Elizabethan street like this? I don't remember, I've never read the books and I haven't seen the movies in years. Anyway, there's a definite sense of magic in this episode rather than alien science, even though the latter is what it is.

Oh, that coat. This is it, this should be Twelve's costume, it took us a while to get here but now I think it's settled and we should stick with this. Okay? Okay. I guess part of me did kind of like the shark t-shirt from the beginning of the episode.

So, no, the episode isn't about Jenna Coleman and Maisie Williams exploring each other's bodies (though wouldn't be nice?) but about the two of them trying to be incredibly clever in laying plans and making one little mistake that leads to things going tragically, horribly wrong. I won't weigh in on whether I think this was the best way for this to be settled because I suspect it won't truly be settled until two weeks from now.

The episode also sees the return of Rigsy from last season's episode "Flatline". He feels like a completely different character now with a wife and newborn child, no mention is made of his graffiti art. The actor, Joivan Wade, is still pretty flat but the absolute lack of personality he has in this episode seems to indicate he probably won't become a companion. At least I hope not. I did like the dialogue between him and Clara, though, as she slowly convinces him that her extremely dangerous idea is just an every day bit of strategy. Listening to the two of them talk it's rather hard not to become very, very worried.

The climax of the episode was painful, Capaldi is great, subtle, and restrained, Coleman is good and I liked how at the end she didn't seem to become super wise, compared to the Doctor she really is a kid who's in over her head. I loved when she tells him she never asked him to protect her and he says, "You shouldn't have to ask."


Friday, November 20, 2015
      ( 6:11 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

It turns out Charles I and Oliver Cromwell would've been great friends if it weren't for the Catholic Church, at least according to 1970's Cromwell. It's hard to imagine a more softball rendering of the English Civil Wars with both Cromwell and the King portrayed only doing the most sensible things with each given time to explain with what great reluctance they initiate the more controversial actions for which they're well known. But with Richard Harris as Cromwell and Alec Guinness as the King along with a solid supporting cast there's plenty to enjoy about this film in terms of performances. The story is put together rather smoothly, too, albeit dishonestly with a rather striking anti-Catholic sentiment.

Cromwell spends some time explaining to his friends how great and right it is to obey the King when suddenly he finds some noblemen are demanding his servant's arrest for what they've decided is poaching when the man had merely been hunting on common lands. Cromwell rides up and takes responsibility and angrily derides the King who would proclaim such laws. This is rather similar to how the 1938 Robin Hood begins, actually. It's the last time you'll see Cromwell in the film being angry with the King about anything other than Catholicism.

We're introduced to Charles taking a meal with his family where he uncomfortably reminds his Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria (Dorothy Tutin), that he doesn't want their son praying with her because England is a Protestant country. Later on he angrily shows her the death warrant he's just signed for the Earl of Stafford and says, "Look what you made me do!"

Tutin as the Queen spends the film moodily strutting about with narrowed eyes while Alec Guinness conducts himself with melancholy dignity, forced by his wife to welcome a Catholic bishop into his home and by extension forced to attempt alliances with Catholic countries to enlist their armies in fighting against the good Protestant people of England.

No mention is made of Charles' taxes to fight foreign wars, his dissolving of Parliament mentioned off hand. When Cromwell dissolves it later, it's because everyone but him is clearly a villain--the film completely omits any mention of Cromwell's campaign in Ireland and a lot of other things, making it look like when Cromwell's not delivering impassioned speeches about the rights of the people or courageously leading the New Model Army (which seems to spring from nowhere) against arrogant, Papist Royalists, he's at home on the farm in peaceful study.

It seems difficult to make a film about this subject in England without ruffling feathers, this one seems to be trying desperately to avoid offending anyone (except Catholics) and in the process renders the whole conflict as tame and inexplicable. But it has nice performances and shooting locations. The Wikipedia entry has a nice list of the things the film omitted or got wrong.

Twitter Sonnet #812

A pitch cascade delivered stitch to steel.
Inside the box there were electric dogs.
Unseen the lawyer passed his suit as real.
A wardrobe cooks cravats on neck tie logs.
A Caspar costume vaulted time and place.
Respect descends upon unasked for wheat.
Interrogations dims behind the ace.
The hunted stag or doe could not be beat.
A washboard's wardrobe played like soap.
An amorous new antler entered lists.
A tangled transmission restrained our hope.
The bullet points won't yield to desp'rate fists.
Surfeit of honey came too cheap to miss.
No hummingbird has ever found his bliss.


Thursday, November 19, 2015
      ( 7:06 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Manhattan has become an enormous prison, the President of the United States gets trapped inside, only a lone criminal can save him. Nothing about that really makes sense but all together are what make John Carpenter's 1981 film Escape from New York so great. Part of the same period of cinema that produced other great dark, dystopian city films like The Warriors and Blade Runner, Escape from New York brings to the table the dynamics of a Spaghetti Western and the same leftover embitterment about that Vietnam War and Richard Nixon that inspired First Blood a year later.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken is both a homage to Clint Eastwood and an anticipation of Rambo and, of course, something quite unlike anything else. His imperturbable surliness and confidence don't crack much to allow sentimentality to seep through, here's a movie where, in spite of all that happens, the protagonist doesn't change all that much by the end.

A former soldier, now in chains, he's called in by Spaghetti Western veteran Lee Van Cleef who's in charge of the team trying to figure out how to save the president from the gang that runs the former city. Plissken is his solution to the fact that the gang holding the President says they'll kill him if they see troops.

I love how dark this movie is. As Plissken stalks down the grimy, messed up streets, you completely lose sight of him sometimes in this movie's copious shadows. There were a lot of movies like that made in the 70s where it seems like the visible portions of the image are just a handful of little cut-out patches in black. I really miss that, it's so much better than to-day's typical obsession with making sure everything's always visible. With darkness comes a real effective disorientation and helps convey a sense of constant threat.

Every character Plissken meets in the city prison is almost as larger than life as he is--There's a cab driver played by Ernest Borgnine who is the epitome of the old stereotypical New York cab driver, in no small part due to the fact that he's managed to stay in business even after the city's been turned into a prison.

There's a genius who's a legend in the city called Brain played by Harry Dean Stanton and his girlfriend, Maggie, played by Adrienne Barbeau, follows him around displaying copious, fantastic cleavage at all times.

With Isaac Hayes as the Duke, the leader of the gang holding the president, and Donald Pleasence as the president, there is not one weak note in this cast. Everyone plays it big which is just right for this story.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015
      ( 6:04 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

A life spent perpetually hunted by monsters, forced to live in a dark, subterranean place, that's the lot of two young parents and their little daughter in 2015's Hidden. This claustrophobic, post-apocalyptic film is an effectively suspenseful story of people trapped by an implacable, unrelenting, and unseen force.

Through flashbacks scattered through the film, we see a past of bright suburban homes where Ray (Alexander Skarsgard), Claire (Andrea Riseborough), and their prepubescent daughter Zoe (Emily Ayn Lind) led ideal lives. But we meet them in an underground shelter where they've lived for a year.

Flashbacks show quarantine signs and helicopters, people being evacuated from the town en masse and, in the present, Claire repeatedly has to remind Zoe not to talk about the "Breathers", the things that would hunt them and hurt them if they knew where they were hidden.

The film wisely keeps our perspective inside the shelter with the family most of the time, drawing tension from ominous contemplations of the heavy hatch leading to the outside world, reinforced by chains but which seems vulnerable to the superior strength of the beings outside. A rat somehow finds its way in and threatens their food supplies and Zoe has bad dreams.

With her sooty old doll she reminded me quite a bit of Newt from Aliens but Emily Ayn Lind gives a much better performance as the little girl in Hidden. It's truly one of the best child performances I've seen in years, her face communicating so much to the audience of tension and she manages to go places emotionally I was surprised to see in someone so young.

A lot of the dread is also established by the techniques the parents use to comfort their daughter. Her father's practice of describing places while she closes her eyes to calm her down and her mother's strict rules about what can be talked about along with her pragmatism, much colder than her husband, all give us an ambiguous but effective sense of the terrible thing that remains on their minds at all times.

There's a twist in the film's ending I was able to predict about halfway through. It's an interesting twist but it feels almost unrelated to the other 80% of the movie which is much more an exercise in well crafted suspense.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015
      ( 6:55 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Now here's a strange hybrid; a misfit youth film noir and a comedy, and one might say a precursor to the Kitchen Sink dramas of late 1950s and early 1960s British film. 1948's London Belongs to Me imports Richard Attenborough when he was known for playing teenage hoodlums into the world of a Sidney Gilliat comedy, albeit a more humanistic one than his later screwball comedies. It's a mixture that works, united by beautiful photography and an understated gallows humour the film might have done well with indulging in more.

Attenborough's not a comedy version of his typical teen crook characters like the one in Brighton Rock. He plays Percy Boon perfectly straight and his getting caught up in double crossing a car thief has complete sincerity and sense of threat. His heart is vulnerable in two ways--he loves his bedridden mother and desperately wants to woo pretty Doris (Susan Shaw) who lives downstairs with her parents.

Everyone in the building is an important character to the story which is emphasised with the film's introduction which tracks the camera over windows from the exterior to show the different lives in each flat and introduce each character. Doris' father (Wylie Watson) has just retired from a long career and is a meek and industrious man, dominated a bit by his humourless wife (Fay Compton). There's also an older woman who's always late on rent and begging people for money and a strict but somewhat naive landlady named Kitty (Joyce Carey).

Like most good films noir the film involves a murder, which we may get a hint of when Alastair Sim shows up as Mr. Squales looking like Death itself.

He's not actually death, he's a medium, or rather a conman pretending to be one, and poor Kitty falls for him hook, line, and sinker, and soon he's living there rent free. He's also there when Percy comes home late one night and is the sole witness to something dreadful.

Like Brighton Rock or They Live by Night, the film features the 1940s conception of the troubled youth, who seems to helplessly slide from one crime to another as part of a desperate scheme to find love and acceptance. This is nicely accompanied by the vibrant rendering around him of a complex and charmingly human community of people each with their own issues--it's not unlike Shadow of a Doubt, like having an antihero in a Frank Capra movie.

The end of the film is a bit muddled and disappointing though it has an interesting courtroom scene with an argument among jurors that seems to imply Britain had no concept of manslaughter in its laws at the time. It also lacked a crucial scene at the end to show a character's reaction to an outcome of the film's love triangle--Percy, Doris, and the cop who investigates Percy's crime. In attempt to wrap things up neatly, the film creates a lot of problems, but everything that precedes the end is well worth watching.

Twitter Sonnet #811

The signs of transport came with falling stones.
An empty hand withheld the trim arrest.
Opaque adhesive pinned a pebble's bones.
Distracted courts of finches flew abreast.
A blank receipt replaced the bill at cost.
The radiance diffused upon the tide.
Alone, the crimson apple's never lost.
But ripples run through seas both strange and wide.
A whitened spring through mazes black as night
Atop the bright inspectors coughed for breath.
The sand was stuck in ancient grooves of right.
A vain invasion passed the watchful death.
Tripped ankles spring compound forage.
Impositions requisition knowledge.


Monday, November 16, 2015
      ( 10:08 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

Oh, Ash, when will you learn it's never, ever a good idea to read from the Necronomicon? Though it did lead to the best thing about Saturday's episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead, this demon Ash and cohorts unwisely summon to solicit its advice:

It's like something from a Guillermo del Toro movie. Again, when was the last time we saw anything like this on a television show? Not even Game of Thrones gives us such stylish design. I liked the subtle effect of its mouth staying in place while the rest seemed to quiver, too, like a broken video image. I also loved that the only advice he had for Ash was to die quicker.

By the way, I only realised a few days ago we're five episodes into a new Monogatari series, this one called Owarimonogatari (終わり物語), literally "End Story". This one is a big step up from previous series, much of the visual design very strongly reminding me of the original Bakemonogatari series, perhaps not surprising since it appears Akiyuki Shinbo is sole director on this one.

I've only watched the first two episodes but so far I'm really digging it. Another new female character is introduced, Oikura, who's known Araragi since middle school and much of the story seems to concern her deep hatred for him, the causes of which are completely mysterious to him. She complains of "water that thinks it boiled by itself," and for explanation will only complain about how she hates people who are ungrateful and believe that it's possible to get through life without help from others.

Much of the story so far is Araragi investigating the mystery with Ogi, the possibly supernatural being who calls herself the niece of Araragi's mentor from season one, Oshino. There are so many nice stylistic flourishes in this season, I loved a quick flashback explaining how Araragi and Ogi ended up at his old middle school in their investigation that shows Araragi and Ogi in some strange storybook cat school where pairs of apples drift along the paths.

Owarimonogatari OP2 by pKjd


Sunday, November 15, 2015
      ( 7:27 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

It's hard enough being the niece of a hated and deceased nobleman but on top of that Rosalind is kicked out by the Duke or the head of the student council or whatever the fuck he was supposed to be in another production of a Shakespeare play moved to a different time and place. A production of As You Like It I saw to-day in a pretty nice venue, a really small theatre in the round with only about five rows of seats so everyone was very close to the actors. Mostly I think I enjoyed myself, the actors delivered the lines well, but I disliked or was ambivalent about every creative departure from Shakespeare's play.

The actors were all young, I felt like this may have been some kind of student production. This was a particular problem for the character of Adam who is supposed to be elderly, and most of the dialogue about him is rumination on being old. The actor wasn't given even a little ageing make-up. This may have been partly due to the fact that he played two other characters and had to change costume quickly, another problem with this production which may not have been the fault of the people making it, maybe they just didn't have enough money to pay actors. But they might have at least not had the guy who brings news of the Duke's epiphany and conversion at the end be the same guy who played the Duke. Maybe it was a statement about identity? Who knows what that statement is.

Several male characters were cast with women, including Corin the shepherd, Le Beau the courtier, and Jacques, the melancholy nobleman who has the "All the world is a stage" soliloquy. The female Jacques was played by Amy Blackman, an English actress so I wondered if she was related to Honor Blackman. She wasn't bad, playing the role as a sort of beatnik psychoanalyst but the directer decided to insert between scenes odd interludes where Jacques slowly chases a woman wearing a deer hear and white dress with an arrow in her thigh. The scenes were sort of pretty but seemed very out of place with the rest of the production, the deer apparently being the one referred to in dialogue as being watched by Jacques and then later it's implied that it's the stag that was killed.

Daniel Petzold was okay as Orlando, Ally Carey was a flat, one note as Rosalind. The 1950s setting never had the slightest resonance with the story, it didn't match up with the dialogue literally or thematically and was obviously just an indulgence, especially since the musical arrangements for the songs, which ejected most of Shakespeare's lyrics, sounded more like Adam Levine than Ricky Nelson, or any other musical style native to the 50s.

I don't mind the gender swapping (though why no female characters cast with men?), for the most part I don't think it made any difference, but, and this may have been more a problem with the creative setting, it was a little unclear exactly what Corin did. They refer to her as shepherdess but she was dressed in scarf and straw pork-pie with a little blazer like, well, a college student. Her talking to Touchstone about working with sheep was like watching Jennifer Aniston describe what it's like to plough a field.


Saturday, November 14, 2015
      ( 5:39 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I was fully expecting to-day's Mark Gatiss scripted episode of Doctor Who to be lousy. And indeed it wasn't very good though it wasn't as intensely annoying as "Robot of Sherwood", at least Gatiss didn't choose this time to write the Doctor like an angry four-year-old in the back seat during a long car trip. It was cool hearing Peter Capaldi recite from Macbeth.

I think I have about a 15% success rate at predicting how stories are going to unfold and yet I predicted just about every "twist" in this episode. I'm not in love with twists for twists' sakes but, when the episode's concepts are "monsters made out of the sand in your eyes" and a found footage style, if the episode also fails to surprise there's not much left to hang its hat on.

When the cameras are absolutely everywhere it kind of negates the point of the found footage style anyway. The limited point of view that creates the inherent sense of confinement and helplessness of the found footage style is undermined with rather typical switches to high angle shots and frequent cuts from one perspective to the next, pulling back for wide shots and coming in for close-ups. Though I suppose it probably didn't seem worth the effort of rehearsing for long takes for this script.

Really, the episode is riddled with problems--as the Doctor himself observes--and then an ending that essentially says, "I meant to do that! Wasn't that scary?" Not really, no. Can this please be the final Mark Gatiss episode?

I'm looking forward to next week and that suede burgundy coat of the Doctor's that's been teased since before this season began. That really is what Twelve needed, an outfit that really works. Not that I'm so against the Magician look, which they seem to have backed away from, but this upcoming coat is just keen.

Twitter Sonnet #810

Irrational the argument was pop.
A soda commandeered the dialogue.
The crude removed to fuel a greener stop.
A devil's mountain switched to analogue.
Ren's Kylo Xylophone had crossguard hilt.
Rewookieed carpet bundled canine souls.
Go Han Solo, to smuggle where thou wilt.
Droids mix restrain devices in the bowl.
Unheard barefooted dust returning sings.
The peace of watchers sits above the wine.
For fancy starving debtors come on wings.
Unravelled wisps of darkness stray from line.
The dust of concrete holes escape the air.
Deterred, a step has paused upon the stair.


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