Monday, February 20, 2017
( 5:21 PM ) posted by Setsuled
There were some nice moments in last night's new Walking Dead that reminded me of the show it used to be. Sadly, these moments were drowned out by one incredibly unwieldy plot point after another.
Spoilers after the screenshot
The best moment in the episode is at the very beginning, when one of the Kingdom's soldiers spots a zombie and notes her sister used to have a dress like the one the zombie is wearing. And I thought, this--this is The Walking Dead I know and love. Alas, this was interrupted by another meeting between Ezekiel and some Saviours, who once again fail to kill someone who's a clear problem.
It would have been good for the Kingdom, too, if they'd killed Richard who seems on his way to going full psycho. He briefly enlists Daryl as a co-conspirator but loses him when the one and only plan Richard can come up with is getting Carol attacked by the Saviours. He and Daryl part ways, which is wise on Daryl's part, since Richard's starting to seem like someone who'll get everyone killed who stands by him more than ten minutes.
Daryl's reunion with Carol later is pretty sweet and another reminder of the old Walking Dead. Then they ruin it with an incredibly contrived scene where basically Carol says, "By the way, if you tell me some of our friends were killed by the Saviours, I'm going to turn into Darth Carol. So how is everyone?" What can Daryl say to that? Guess this is another thing filed away for the season finale.
Meanwhile, Rick and company have wandered into a Mad Max film. They find a whole secret society of stone faced people in black clothes living in a massive scrapyard whose leader says things like, "We open cans, sometimes inside's rotten. Time's passed, things are changing, again." How much time has passed for this group to have a whole new dialect?
I do feel kind of bad for Channing Powell, who wrote this episode, because I feel like he was handed the responsibility of explaining Gabriel's actions in the previous episode--I could be wrong, maybe this piece of plot was in the comics. Either way, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense . . . Let me see if I have it straight--Gabriel looks at something in his bible while he's on watch, smiles, climbs down from the wall, is accosted by these scrapyard people who for some reason aren't shown to the viewer. They stay off camera as they take him to the pantry and say enough things for Gabriel to gather that they're here because Rick and Aaron took things from the boat Gabriel hasn't seen and they've somehow tracked Rick and Aaron to Alexandria only just now, so Gabriel figures out he needs to write "boat" in the ledger. Then he takes the stuff to the car, all while the scrapyard people are still offscreen until finally one of them pops up in the back seat as he drives away? How hard can it be to write a TV show, guys?#
Sunday, February 19, 2017
( 6:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I finally figured out the reason Sabine on Star Wars Rebels looks like she's made of yellow Play-Doh is that she's supposed to be Asian. Thanks to yesterday's entertaining new episode we've been introduced to the rest of her family who look more actually Asian than like a jaundiced mummy. Now I've realised someone who works on the show made a sad mistake with Sabine's original design.
So, yes, Rebels is finally back after being inexplicably gone for a few weeks. "Legacy of Mandalore" featured only a few interruptions from Ezra's grating fucking whiny voice and mostly focused on Sabine's family and their place in Mandalorian/Imperial politics.
Spoilers after the screenshot
It really felt like a story that should have stretched over a few episodes. It seemed like the conflict for Sabine's brother between serving the Empire and serving his family could have been drawn out more--establishing a relationship between him and Saxon (who I keep expecting to look like John Saxon) would have been nice.
The highlight of the episode was the sabre battle between Sabine and Saxon though I'm not clear on why Ezra passed her the sabre instead of fighting Saxon himself. The climax, where Sabine had both sabres on Saxon's neck, was an unexpected reference to Anakin's crucial moment with Dooku in Revenge of the Sith. It might have meant more if we had the impression Sabine had been on a similar path to Anakin--it might have meant more if it were Ezra's moment, for example--but good for her for not turning to the Dark Side, I guess. Though I don't think turning away from the Dark Side obligated her to turn her back on an opponent who said he'd rather die than yield. I can tolerate some stupid writing but that was definitely a bridge too far for me.
It was a nice looking episode, though. I like the snow and conifers. I wonder if this is really the last we've seen of Sabine. I would have hoped they'd have killed off Ezra and Kanan before taking her off the show.#
Saturday, February 18, 2017
( 6:07 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The best story in the Infernal Devices series of Doctor Who audio plays from last year turned out to be its last one, The Neverwhen, which finds the War Doctor (John Hurt) confronting another machine that jumbles up time lines.
In this case, it's on a planet where Daleks and Time Lords are locked in an endless battle that shifts them randomly throughout their histories. One moment everyone has lasers, the next they're fighting with swords, then bazookas, etcetera. At first it seemed very similar to The War Games, the Second Doctor's final television serial, and I still think the War Doctor ought to have at some point said, "This kind of reminds me of . . ." But the story goes in a different direction after this familiar set up.
One of my main complaints about the War Doctor stories is that he tends to talk about how he has to do horrible things the Doctor would never do but for the duration of each story he basically just acts like the Doctor usually does: appalled at loss of any life and always ready to lecture people about it. Maybe the writers figured having John Hurt playing the Doctor was too good an opportunity to waste having him not be the Doctor. Still, it was nice in The Neverwhen actually having him behave in a way that supports this warrior identity he's supposed to have. Though the best moment in the story comes when he does something that Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) notes is very much like the Doctor--he rewires the Neverwhen device to put the Time Lords and the Daleks at stages in their histories when they were most compatible. The result is the battlefield is replaced by a community feast between Gallifreyans and Khaleds (the pre-mutation Dalek species) that starts out funny and then gets ominous.
Twitter Sonnet #964
A cord remembers parachutes of fame.
Friday, February 17, 2017
( 6:31 PM ) posted by Setsuled
It's a windy, rainy day here in San Diego, a good day to stay in and read Frankenstein. Or even a pirate adventure, like to-day's new chapter of my infrequently updated webcomic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah. We find our heroines further on their journey to Chatham despite a thick fog. Enjoy.
Happy birthday, Lola Montez.
To behold the wand'ring moon,
-from "Il Penseroso" by John Milton#
Thursday, February 16, 2017
( 6:32 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Another good episode of The Expanse. The ending of last night's new episode, "Godspeed", was built up to with the increasingly urgent, old fashioned question, "How's he gonna get out of this one?" in the best possible way and then it was answered in a very nice way.
Spoilers after the screenshot
I'm continuing to enjoy the rapport between Miller (Thomas Jane) and the kid, Diogo (Andrew Rotilio). At first I didn't feel optimistic about the pairing, bringing in an unrelated character from season one who just happens to run into Miller, but I like the way every time Miller makes a mistake, like forgetting to put on his mask or dropping a detonator, it only serves somehow to make him seem more experienced than Diogo. It's again, largely in Thomas Jane's performance.
As what looked like Miller's doom was impending, I didn't just think, "How's he gonna get out of this one?" I also thought, "The show's not going to be half as good if they seriously mean to kill him." But I don't know, I think I'd have kept watching. The scenes of political manoeuvring between Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Mao (Francois Chau) were good. I like the story about her exchanging info with Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) while having to condemn him on television. The show is good at showing how messy things can get, the best example from last night being Holden having to shoot down that ship of good Samaritans who sound like they were pretty much like him last season.
This of course puts Holden right in the same ballpark as Miller and Amos. This is the kind of question Walking Dead used to explore a lot, how to deal with a situation that requires you to kill another human being and the constant uncertainty about whether it had to be done.
But The Expanse is definitely better at a climax than Walking Dead is now.
I kind of knew Miller wouldn't die because he's the star of he show. But unlike the completely nonsensical decision from Negan not to kill Rick, which was basically because the writers couldn't kill off the star, we could see how Miller's escape was built up to throughout this episode and the ones previous. Now I guess they have a living asteroid to deal with. I wonder if Julie Mao lives in Miller's dreams like Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur.#
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
( 5:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled
If you're looking for a movie to dispel the image of the Irish people as lovers of fist fights and Guinness, 2003's Intermission is not the movie for you. Starring an extraordinary number of recognisable Irish actors, and for some reason Scottish actresses, the movie's an entertaining fusion between a 90s street thug film and a 90s ensemble romantic comedy.
It's weird seeing Cillian Murphy in a movie that doesn't involve war or sci-fi phenomena. He plays a clerk in a grocery store who later in the film receives a round of applause for throwing a can of peas at his boss, knocking him unconscious.
From here, he moves towards bigger crimes, teaming up with Lehiff (Colin Farrell), whom we meet in the first scene of the film punching a young woman in the face after sweet talking her. To balance things out, perhaps, a later scene features a woman beat up one man as part of the act of lovemaking and then beating up another in vengeance.
But the top billed actresses, Kelly Macdonald and Shirley Henderson, two Scottish actresses playing Irishwomen, are sweet tempered and mild-mannered. Everyone has a quirk of some kind in the film except Macdonald's character Deirdre, while poor Sally, Henderson's character, has a moustache she compares in despair to Burt Reynolds'.
I mention the fact that the actresses are Scottish because care seems to have been taken otherwise to assemble an exclusively Irish cast. Colm Meaney's in the film, too, as an amusingly pathetic rendering of a loose cannon cop. Obsessed with Clannad, he offers his music taste as a test of whether someone has a "Celtic soul" and is always eager to draw suspects into fist fights.
The film is a bit too busy introducing quirks to work out a real story, there are a few too many close-ups and the hand-held camera becomes distracting, but it's an amusing enough ride.
Twitter Sonnet #963: Caffeine
Caffeine's the name I give my daughter dear.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
( 6:35 PM ) posted by Setsuled
It'd been a few years since I watched Jean Cocteau's 1946 version of Beauty and the Beast ( La Belle et la Bête) and I found myself in the mood for it a couple nights ago. Just now it occurs to me a suitable thing to write about on Valentine's Day. Such a beautiful, visually imaginative film but with such surprisingly strange depths in its perspective, it's the most adult adaptation I've ever seen. Which is to say, it's the version that most seems to digest the simple story from an adult's perspective who has come to understand the intricate, unspoken details of relationships.
There are several substantial ways in which Cocteau departs from Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's original story. There's addition of a scoundrel brother for Belle and his friend Avenant, played by Jean Marais, the same actor who plays the beast. The two men present added drama to the story in their attempt to kill the beast and Avenant presents a romantic rival. But they do much more than that.
Ludovic (Michel Auclair), Belle's brother, directly contributes to the family woes when his rash deal with a moneylender causes the family's furniture to be ceased. Despite this, he carries himself with a contented air as though all this were the ravages of fortune for which he is ultimately blameless. But he wastes no time heaping scorn on Belle's sisters and even on Avenant for courting Belle. Really, Cocteau's Belle is surrounded by assholes. As in the story, Belle doesn't want to marry because she doesn't want to leave her father (Marcel André), but in the film, when the idea of her being married is brought up, he immediately, desperately asks her if she's going to leave him. As in the story, he can't afford a room in town so he has to make his way through the dark forest at night, but in the film he pathetically whines about it first.
The original story doesn't have Magnificent, the magic horse that takes people in Cocteau's film anywhere they want to go. One of the important implications of this is that Belle is able to sneak away from her family and go to the Beast's castle before anyone can stop her. In the story, she insists on accompanying her father. In the story, he can say he comes home instead of accepting immediate execution from the Beast because the Beast gives him treasure that he can use to at least see the kids are provided for. In the film, it looks like the father is rather passive aggressive, going home just so he can tell the family that even though the Beast would accept one of his daughters in his place (hint, hint), he's willing to go back and sacrifice himself.
The most significant difference, though, is in the casting of Josette Day in the role of Belle. The impression one has of Belle from the story is that she's a pure, innocent soul unacquainted with the ways of the world. She does all the housework because she's absolutely devoted to her family and she still needs to be taught the lesson, the moral of Beaumont's tale, that a lifelong mate is a good companion, not necessarily someone with beauty or wit. Josette Day, rather than an inexperienced teenager, was 32 when she played Belle and her self-possessed air gives the impression of someone who's learned all these lessons already. She does the household chores not out of devotion but because she knows if she won't do them no-one else will. When she comes back from the castle, she immediately notices her brother and sisters have hung the laundry up wrong.
When she says she's unaccustomed to fine attire, the impression is not of a girl brought up without the worldly pleasures but of a woman who has considered and adopted an austere, pragmatic philosophy.
And yet, she has a real respect for beauty. She's not as obnoxious as her sisters but she does seem to have a kind of vanity. Or rather, she sees value in deliberately cultivating beauty. In the story, Belle asks for the rose because she doesn't want her sisters accusing her of being too full of herself. We don't get this explanation in the film, automatically giving the request the sense of coming from someone with a sensibility for aesthetics. Cocteau has Day move with stylised, ballet-like movements and, as her sisters note, she dresses in the finery the Beast gave her when she's alone in her room. This is a Belle who calculates. We learn at the end of the film that she was in love with Avenant all along, but had not gone to pieces over the fact that marriage to him wasn't practical or convenient.
Cocteau had a lot of options as to how he could interpret the Beast, and the quiet, discreet performance Marais gives could have easily been something much harsher. But the story does present him as giving Belle as much space as she desires so long as she doesn't leave the castle and in the story and film he speaks of himself in a very unfavourable way. Marais brings out something of the paradox of his position--how he seems to feel with his whole soul that he should be her servant, yet he can't give her freedom or there's no relationship at all. His giving her the key to his powers seems in this light an attempt to compensate for this one, great imposition he must make. He seems wracked with guilt and why shouldn't he be--he wants to be in a relationship, but being a beast, he can't make that happen without some amount of sin.
Day's Belle doesn't seem to have any conflict like this and so comes off as the authority figure in the film. In the end, it's not her father or the Beast who seems authorised to judge whether things have worked out for the best but her, the only one in the film who seems to have the acumen.#
Monday, February 13, 2017
( 12:54 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I had so much trouble focusing on last night's new Walking Dead. The first half was so airless, I couldn't believe I was only halfway through, it felt like I'd been force feeding it to myself all night. Things picked up a bit in the second half but the show's come to a point where Xena and Hercules need to show up so it can commit fully to the campiness it seems to have accidentally wandered into from the vaguely realist survival horror it used to be.
Spoilers after the screenshot
I'm guessing whatever Gabriel's decided to do was prompted by the bible passage we see him reading. I wonder what it was. "And the Lord sayeth to Gabriel, go ye and taketh the provisions and storeth them in the boat from last season you weren't told about." Even Rick noticed this didn't make sense in a bit of lampshading. I hope the explanation, which wasn't given in this episode, will be satisfying enough to justify the delay but I expect it won't be.
Afterwards, we get a somewhat entertaining scene with Gregory that reveals he's completely superfluous in his community. Also, I thought Tara had gained weight because of her real life pregnancy, now I wonder if I'm seeing muscle. I'm honestly not sure who'd win in an arm wrestling match between her and Daryl:
Then the man named Jesus who looks like Jesus leads Rick and his friends to the Kingdom and King Ezekiel and his somehow perfectly healthy and docile tiger, the show's effects budget allowing it to appear at the beginning and ending of one scene. Oh, the harsh, unforgiving world of the post-Apocalypse.
Afterwards, a ten headed dragon bursts out of the ground and a team of wizards flies in to form a desperate alliance with Ezekiel, finally giving Rick the Trident of Tammany, his birthright as the secret prince of Tammany Hall, to slay the beast before it summons the army of Centaurs from the Zorp dimension! Just kidding. Actually we get Rick telling Ezekiel a fairy tale to convince him to join in the fight against the Saviours, everyone tells Ezekiel to fight against the Saviours except Morgan who seems hesitantly against it, one of Ezekiel's closest men tells him the importance of being a hero when you can be, it looks like it's time for everyone to stand up for what they believe in against the tyrannical Negan so at the climax of the segment, Ezekiel . . . decides not to. Well, I guess we can't have the season finale in the middle of the season. Looks like it's all up to Daryl.
The episode finally stopped being a chore when Rick and his people had to deal with a barrier of cars, a steel cable, and dynamite rigged on the highway. It's good watching this group work together creatively to find a solution as a horde of zombies approach, though the distance they seemed to cover at such a slow pace made me think they have Lancelot physics:
Rick sure is sweaty.
It seems kind of obligatory for a close-up of someone inspecting a bomb though Christ Our Lord was of course dry and shampooed.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
( 7:11 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A secret society of mindless cannibals may exist in the London Underground at the same time as there's an endearingly eccentric but not especially effective police inspector in the city. 1972's Death Line, a.k.a. Raw Meat, establishes this, among a few other things, without any significant correlation. Despite the strangely unfocused quality to the film's plot and the substantial implausibility of its premise it's pretty entertaining and unsettling.
Donald Pleasence gives a surprising and absolutely delightful performance as Inspector Calhoun, irritably wondering why the tea at the station is steeped in bags while he seems to take in the facts of a case only out of the corner of his eye. But there's a method to his perhaps feigned distraction, evident when he interviews Alex (David Ladd), an American who spotted a Member of Parliament in a tube station, unconscious, before said MP vanished.
A scene where Calhoun is put off his lunch a bit by a description of bloody details is followed immediately by our first glimpse of the cannibal larder, somewhere in a forgotten part of the Underground. Clive Swift plays Inspector Richardson, the only one who seems to pay absolutely no mind to Calhoun's nuttiness, appearing only twice in the film to explain a Victorian railway construction accident that buried men and women alive.
Would you believe that a community of Victorian labourers, who fed off each other to survive and somehow lost the power of speech, augmenting their diets by picking off commuters from tube stations, would go unnoticed for seventy or so years? Yeah, neither would I. But Hugh Armstrong doesn't let it stop him from giving a disturbing and sad performance as the last surviving cannibal who can only mumble something that sounds like, "Mind the doors," over and over.
The first scene shows the MP (James Cossins) perusing some pornography before soliciting a prostitute and then getting attacked. There seems to be a broad statement here about the human compulsion to physically exploit other human beings but the movie never takes this any further. Sharon Gurney plays the American's girlfriend--I was hoping he would die first. She breaks up with him at one point because he was so callous about the unconscious man they'd come across but they get back together a few scenes later, leaving me to wonder what the point was of showing them break up in the first place. A similarly pointless scene has Calhoun and Detective Sergeant Rogers (Norman Rossington) getting drunk at a pub and trying to stay past closing time. But that scene was at least entertaining and that's all the point I really need.
Christopher Lee also graces the film with his presence for one scene as an MI5 agent. It was nice to see him but he was also another thing that didn't seem to have a whole lot to do with anything else.
Twitter Sonnet #962
Investments root in clanging pans and pots.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
( 1:43 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The second story in the second War Doctor audio play series, A Thing of Guile by Phil Mulryne, picks up with the War Doctor (John Hurt), now a prisoner of the Time Lady Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce), being forced into helping her on a mission to a secret Dalek base. A nice enough Dalek story, it's of the genetic experiment type of story that's been done a few times with Daleks (Genesis of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, "Evolution of the Daleks") but there are a few nice ideas put into play in A Thing of Guile.
Most of the story takes place in a series of underground tunnels and Mulryne does a nice job of establishing what's happening by having the Doctor (who's generally referred to as "the prisoner" in this one) and Ollistra describe what they're seeing without understanding what they're seeing. They're wearing goggles that allow them to see in the dark and this pays off with a creepy revelation later in the story.
Ollistra has had a relatively minor role despite appearing in every War Doctor audio play I've listened to up to this point but here she basically functions as a companion. Jacqueline Pearce and John Hurt have an amusing, tetchy rapport, something else that becomes part of the plot in an unexpected way, founded on Ollistra having the position of real authority while the Doctor is there because she can't deny he has the greater experience. One of the more effective moments in the episode, though, is one where they forget their difference for a moment to wonder what a series of ghostly objects are they see passing by overhead. It was a nicely, surprisingly eerie moment.#
Friday, February 10, 2017
( 4:47 PM ) posted by Setsuled
This week's new episode of The Expanse, "Static", was a big improvement for me from the première. I felt like characters were allowed to breathe and act more organically and even the colour palette seemed better.
I loved the scene between Miller (Thomas Jane) and Amos (Wes Chatham) at the bar, particularly because neither one directly mentions Amos shooting Miller's friend. I've been watching the first season of Daredevil lately where it seems like for every scene a producer came in and said, "The audience is too stupid to understand what they're talking about, add a bunch of third grade level explanations to our show in which people can say 'fuck'." Miller and Amos never mention Amos shooting Miller's friend but it hovers over the scene because now Miller's in hot water for making a split second decision to kill someone else.
It was a good episode for Amos who reveals he's grown wise enough to know people like Holden are probably wiser than him. He keeps thinking this even though he comes up with a better strategy of interrogating psychopath scientist. I liked his opening up the conversation with Holden by asking if he'd ever talked to a paedophile.
Thomas Jane makes Miller's reluctance to live up to his new folk hero status a lot more interesting than it otherwise might have been. Seeing him lean over the sink while the younger Belter blasts music from Eros, you can see his knowledge of how heroes aren't all they're cracked up to be weighs on him now that he's pegged as one. And of course Miller in that Mormon church was an automatically fun visual. I wish he'd get his hat back, though, or one like it.
The episode was written by Robin Veith, who wrote a few episodes in the previous season, too. I hope she writes a lot more.#
Thursday, February 09, 2017
( 7:13 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Behind things that seem very simple, like cultural beliefs, guns, and laws, are often complex and nuanced realities. 2013's In Bloom (გრძელი ნათელი დღეები) shows how recognising these may mean the difference between being controlled by these forces or avoiding them. It's a film that creates an impression of a society accustomed to violence for generations with an air of accuracy that comes through a story composed of well drawn characters.
Natia (Mariam Bokeria) and Eka (Lika Babluani) are best friends, fourteen year old students living in Tbilisi during the Georgian Civil War of the early 1990s. Natia is the more assertive and popular of the two; their classmates always laugh when Natia makes a joke. When she's kicked out of class, the teacher's stunned when every student in class goes with her.
This is a mild example of the tenuous influence institutions of authority have in the film. Focusing on marriage and killing among these very young protagonists, the actual adults seem to be disconnected from everything that's happening. When the two girls enter an apartment in the middle of an argument, one of them is finally obliged to inform the older married couple living there that their son has just killed someone, to which the father can only respond by throwing up his hands and leaving the room, saying he needs to think.
Eka is the quieter girl but over the course of the film we learn it's not out of shyness but out of a keener understanding of what's going on around her. On her way home every day, a couple boys hurl abusive language at her, one of them even threatening her with a knife. Eka refuses to respond to them. When Natia accompanies her home one day, she immediately starts trading insults with the two, prompting Eka to ask her later why Natia takes their bait. Later we see Eka actually save the boy with the knife who was being bullied by another couple of boys and we can see that Eka has a better understanding of what's going on behind the brash words of kids.
Early in the film, Natia is given a gun by a boy who's in love with her, Lado (Data Zakareishvili), and it works as a source of tension throughout the film. Alfred Hitchcock once famously explained how the soul of suspense is not the explosion but the ticking bomb under the table and the gun in In Bloom proves his point. Lado tells her to be careful with it but Natia's a kid--of course she plays with it and she and Eka pass it back and forth like a toy. The possibility of one of them shooting herself accidentally is always there but the issue is complicated by the fact that they really do live in a dangerous place where they might really need to defend themselves.
The film eventually becomes about a culturally sanctified rape and forced marriage and about how the practices of the culture can subtly and therefore thoroughly reinforce this brutal manifestation of patriarchy. The film's cinematography is a bit bland but otherwise directors Nana Ekvtimishvili (who wrote the screenplay) and Simon Groß effectively show how cultural practices designed to perpetuate family units play on pride and lust to force young people into deeply dysfunctional relationships.
Twitter Sonnet #961
Disordered suction cups caroused in peace.