Monday, January 26, 2015
      ( 2:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Just as I hoped and was pretty sure would happen, someone has cut a fan edit--calling itself the "Tolkien Edit"--of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, trimming out scenes Jackson added to his adaptation of the book in order to make a single four and a half hour film that more strictly adheres to events and characters described in Tolkien's novel. You can download the new version for yourself either directly or via torrent here. When I downloaded from the torrent last week there were already over five thousand seeds--meaning that many people had already downloaded or were in the process of downloading it and sharing the video to support a speedier download for all. Fans have chipped in on the creator of the Tolkien Edit's blog to create a DVD cover for the edit and French subtitles.

It is a remarkably smooth edit though the resolution is slightly muddy--I suspect it'll be better once the third film is released on Blu-Ray, I think this edit was made from a leaked screener of the third film. But it is indeed a superior experience and I'm saying that as someone who doesn't wholly hate Jackson's additions. To me, it's more an issue of narrative focus, particularly the dilution of Bilbo's story. The scenes with Radagast, Galadriel, Saruman, Tauriel, and Legolas might have been perfectly fine in their own film. To put it another way, I like Star Wars: Rebels but I would hate to have scenes from Star Wars: Rebels edited into the first Star Wars film. If Jackson wants to come up with his own stories for Middle Earth, I think he ought to be allowed to. Despite the stinginess of the Tolkien estate on granting rights for that sort of thing, I think it would ultimately be in keeping with what Tolkien himself intended when creating his fantasy world, to create his own mythology. I don't think anyone should have a monopoly on Middle Earth any more than anyone has a monopoly on nymphs or gorgons. But I guess that's why so many fantasy books of the 80s and 90s are thinly veiled version of Middle Earth.

I have some problems with the edit. I understand the editor's explanation for removing the confrontation with Azog at the end of the first film--that it didn't fit tonally with the scenes before and after. But cutting it meant removing some bits from the book like the burning pine cones and the introduction of the eagles. I was also sorry to note the absence of the scene where Bilbo receives his mithril coat. But I'm sure there will be further editions--as it stands, this one really is the best.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015
      ( 3:43 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Really groggy to-day after last night's hot toddy and NyQuil (not at the same time). At least I'm not sneezing anymore like I was doing constantly yesterday. I've been like this off and on since November, sometimes I think it's allergies, sometimes I think it's a cold I'm playing hide and seek with. I kind of hope it's a cold because I thought I was allergic to a really useful book at the library yesterday.

Anyway, here are a bunch of photos I've taken recently, mostly in Hillcrest and at Lake Murray. Don't put too much sugar on your bread.


Saturday, January 24, 2015
      ( 2:14 PM ) posted by Setsuled  
I listened to one of the best Doctor Who audio plays I've heard so far, the 2002 Eighth Doctor story The Chimes of Midnight, which has nothing to do with Henry IV. But it's a very cool, rather effectively creepy haunted house story. It's written by Robert Shearman who already impressed me with The Holy Terror. He's written one episode of the television series, the Ninth Doctor episode "Dalek" which is based on Shearman's Sixth Doctor audio play "Jubilee", which I haven't listened to yet.

I wonder why Shearman hasn't written more episodes of the television series. Maybe Doctor Who is too safe for him--I see in his Wikipedia entry he's written a play called "Easy Laughter" which "purports to be a Christmas domestic comedy, but eventually reveals itself to be set in a world where the season celebrates not only the birth of Jesus but the successful murder of the Jewish race." I also had the feeling that The Chimes of Midnight was subtly mocking the previous, Mark Gatiss written story so I wonder if he's not welcome in the clique.

The Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Charley (India Fisher) find themselves in what appears to be a large manor in 1906 England but anachronisms and increasingly obtrusive aberrations in the ways in which the people they encounter think begin to indicate things aren't what they seem. The story ends up being something that feels more emotionally intimate the the typical very clever time paradox story though it is that as well. Right from the beginning, there's something off about how the servants refer to themselves as "nothing and nobody" and the way they seem to assume the obvious murders that occur are suicides.

Also this week, I watched the first episode of Marvel's Agent Carter which I rather liked. It's a handsome, stylised version of the 1940s with more of a real feeling of the era than the first Captain America movie of which it is a spin-off, despite the fact that it was created by the same writers.

Hayley Atwell is good as Peggy Carter but I found myself enjoying even more James D'Arcy as Jarvis, butler for the Stark family and the inspiration for the computer programme Paul Bettany plays in the Iron Man films.

Definitely a homebody and slightly resentful at having to do with all this espionage stuff he also comes off as a solid and sensitive fellow. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this series. I keep fighting the instinct to call it Agent Carter of Mars.

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Friday, January 23, 2015
      ( 7:07 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Don't swindle a leper colony. They'll win in the end, if not now, a hundred years from now. That's the lesson I took from 1980's The Fog, an entertainingly ghoulish and fairly atmospheric horror film.

I think this is the first movie I've seen starring Tom Atkins and more than anything I was impressed by the size of his face. He has a really big face.

He plays Nick Castle, a fisherman who leads the investigation into the mysterious glowing fog rolling in off the sea in a fictional northern Californian town called Antonio. It claims the lives of three of Nick's colleagues who, getting drunk in their trawler one night, are surprised by an old clipper with ragged sails. Men shrouded by bandages come aboard to slaughter them with sabres.

I liked some of the more mysterious aspects of the story, like Adrienne Barbeau's kid finding an old gold coin on the beach that turns into a piece of driftwood with the word "Dane" written on it.

Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis get top billing so it's a little frustrating that Tom Atkins seems to be in charge of everyone. Jamie Lee Curtis seems to just be there to be held by him. Barbeau plays a DJ who works at the top of a lighthouse and she uses the airwaves to warn people of the fog.

Also in the film is Janet Leigh, organiser of an increasingly ironic centennial celebration. A film with three female stars, it would have been nice if they were calling the shots.


Thursday, January 22, 2015
      ( 1:37 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

There's a calm and a strange antimatter confidence that comes with depression, particularly in a crisis. Klaus Kinski is like a coiled spring most of the time in his last film with director Werner Herzog, 1987's Cobra Verde. It's a film of violence, action, the inhuman practice of the slave trade, and indomitable boredom. A profound boredom that comes with the loss of the capacity to love people, things, or places.

Kinski's character is very loosely based on Francisco Felix de Sousa who was the only European slave trader in West Africa towards the end of the slave trade as most countries were outlawing the practice. Negotiating alone with the dangerous kingdom of Dahomey at the time seems to reflect the kind of madness that would appeal to Herzog.

But Kinki's character is named Francisco Manoel da Silva and unlike de Sousa he's an infamous bandit named Cobra Verde in Brazil before he goes to Africa. He becomes a bandit after he loses his ranch to drought. We don't see much of the violence he perpetrates, Herzog allows Kinski's quiet intense stare communicate just what sort of man Cobra Verde is.

After he's hired to oversee slaves by a sugar baron, he sits bored on the veranda with the man's three beautiful daughters as they giggle about him behind their fans. One of them follows him as he wanders off to be alone, he suddenly violently embraces her, and a jump cut later and the sugar baron is complaining about how da Silva has impregnated all three of his daughters. So he gives the bandit the certain death assignment of reopening the slave trade in West Africa. Knowing they're sending him to his death, da Silva accepts the job anyway because he just can't seem to care. He'll do anything to relieve his boredom or die in the attempt.

He never says any of this, it's just clear from the path the character follows and Kinski's performance. When he's attacked at one point, he almost doesn't respond, then suddenly like a light switch he turns into a snarling beast, as though consciously deciding to become passionate.

Incredibly, the movie may be the only cinematic depiction of the Mino, Dahomey's all female militia that existed from the early eighteenth century until the late nineteenth. Da Silva trains them in order to assist in a coup.

One never senses da Silva has compassion for the slaves he acquires from the Dahomey, or sympathy for anyone. The movie finally depicts this as a mental illness reflected by a series of physically disabled men that show up at Elmina Castle, which da Silva takes possession of.

The movie doesn't quite come alive in the way Herzog and Kinski's earlier collaborations do but it is a beautiful and strange portrait for its simultaneous complexity, violence, and gloom.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015
      ( 5:51 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Who wants to be really stressed out in their spare time? Apparently I do because I've been playing Alien: Isolation for over a week now. It's a game that lets you run and hide from monsters you can't kill. It involves a lot of waiting in shadows behind crates in dark corridors you hope will hide you, listening for rumblings in the air ducts and now and then daring to switch on your motion tracker for a peek at a green blob representing an efficient killing machine hunting for you. And maybe you don't dare because the motion tracker makes noise and any little thing can give you away.

I haven't found this to be an addictive game so far. The adrenaline you get from just barely getting past a monster isn't quite the serial kick of killing--in the words of Han Solo, I prefer a straight fight to all this sneaking around. But Alien: Isolation is the most effectively atmospheric game I've played since the first Quake.

It in large part succeeds in capturing the feeling of Ridley Scott's film. Using Jerry Goldsmith's original score helps a lot but great attention to the set design and lighting is also wonderfully evident.

You play as Amanda Ripley--daughter of Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's character. The game is set long before Ellen Ripley's escape pod is discovered in Aliens and takes place fifteen years after Alien. Amanda goes to a space station called Sevastopol, where most of the game takes place, to retrieve the flight logs from the Nostromo. With the exception of Ian Holm and John Hurt, all of the original Alien cast returned to record logs for the game--Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kott, Tom Skerritt, and Harry Dean Stanton.

When you get to the station, you find the place in chaos and you're cut off from the ship that brought you. In addition to the alien, you also need to dodge terrified humans and the inevitable malfunctioning androids.

The game has flaws. I don't mind the absence of a jump button so much but there are too many places where it looks like I realistically ought to be able to climb over but instead am blocked. This can be a real issue when you have to make a snap decision on where to run.

For a game based on the AI of your opponents, too, the AI isn't so great. I found I was able to kill three people armed with revolvers just by hiding behind a crate and jumping out at them with a wrench. If it were a Bethesda game, after the first person was killed, one of the other two would have figured to get a clear shot at me by manoeuvring at a distance instead of walking right into my range. The game feels a lot like a Bethesda game, particularly Fallout 3, but crossed with Arkham City--moving through the vents and floorboards is exactly like the Batman Arkham games except you can't jump out and take someone down. The game even directly takes the hacking/lock picking device from the Arkham games, though I don't have a lot of experience with modern games, it's possible the Arkham games in turn got those from somewhere else.

But the atmosphere and the concept more than make up for these problems.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015
      ( 6:53 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Yet another bee on my car, this one hoppin', seemingly too tired to fly. I guess I can't blame the attraction my car holds for bees on my colourful dashboard sun shade--it wasn't up at the time. This was just outside my college where I went to-day to get my text book for the Conversational Japanese class I start next week. While I was there, I stopped in the college library to do some research for my next comic which is going to be partially set in western Africa in the seventeenth century, a subject I'm having difficulty not only finding information about but also consistent information about. I've looked at one book that tells me the monarchy centred authority of the old Benin kingdom Dahomey was rare, and then another book that tells me that every society in western Africa was always based around monarchy.

I've gone through a good pile of books now but I still haven't found a book that just tells me what day to day life was like. An irritating number of books are little more than lists of wars. But I did find a couple useful books to-day that at least told me about the caste systems of the societies I'm interested in. If anyone wants to recommend books or movies to me, particularly about the areas now contained in Nigeria, Ghana, and Benin, feel free to do so. But if you're just going to say, "Have you heard of the Ashanti?" you can assume I have the basic information. I'm looking for real in depth stuff.

So far the best book I've found is outside the area I'm looking for--a book written in the early 60s by the British anthropologist Colin Turnbull, The Forest People, which details his experiences living among the Mbuti pygmies. He paints a portrait of the people has he knew them, talks about how they interacted with each other, how they built their temporary villages, how their spiritual beliefs operated in their normal lives. If I could just find more books like this.

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Monday, January 19, 2015
      ( 5:48 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Two groups of people, one from a country of general affluence and comfort, the other from a country of pervasive poverty, would find interacting with each other, confined on a small ship, awkward at best. Imagine if the latter group are pirates and the former their captives, like in 2012's A Hijacking (Kapringen). A Danish crew of a trawler on its way to Mumbai find themselves at the mercy of Somali pirates and their CEO back in Denmark has to negotiate with the pirate leader by phone. Mostly it's a film of fascinatingly authentic characters and juxtapositions.

My least favourite part of the movie is its whiny protagonist, the ship's cook, Mikkel (Johan Philip Asbaek). The film opens with him stressing out about telling his wife over the phone that he's going to be two days later getting home than expected and her chewing him out for it. I thought, "What an annoying guy and what an annoying wife." I guess they're perfect for each other.

When the pirates take over, Mikkel spends most of the time as a quivering puddle of jelly except when he's pleading with the only English speaking pirate, Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), to let him and the crew go.

Asgar gives my favourite performance in the film. He claims to be merely a translator, as much a hostage as the rest of them, but of course, as he initially appears, he's actually in charge of the pirates. But Asgar plays it completely straight so even when the state of affairs is clear from the start he kind of makes you doubt it. The point of this is so that Omar doesn't have to represent himself as the decision maker to Peter (Soren Malling), the CEO back in Denmark--instead of saying he'll think about whatever Peter's latest ransom offer is, he can say, "I'll pass your offer on but you're crazy, I think they're going to kill us if you don't give them the 15 million they asked for."

And Peter's my second favourite part of the film, introduced calling the bluff of a group of Japanese businessmen in an unrelated trade. Considering himself a master of boardroom negotiation, he's suddenly forced to realise how petty his world his when he finds himself negotiating for human lives. We see his girlfriend visit his office twice during the film, the first time he drops everything under the playful idea that she has complete power over him. The second time she tries to play the same game and he finds himself suddenly furious, because now the thing she's interrupted is him brooding over someone maybe having died because of him.

Most of the pirates were cast in Kenya and despite many of them being first time actors all of them give very good performances.

I have to say, if the hijacking portrayed is in any way typical of Somali pirate hijackings, they're a lot nicer than seventeenth and eighteenth century pirates. None of the captives had their fingers broken, no one was put naked in a barrel filled with gunpowder while someone held a lit fuse to his face. Maybe I shouldn't give out ideas.


Sunday, January 18, 2015
      ( 2:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

If you've vowed revenge against a pirate crew for the murder of your father, some would say joining them and then single-handedly capturing a galleon for them is not the best way to go about taking that revenge. But we can be very glad this is the entertaining tactic employed by Douglas Fairbanks in 1926's The Black Pirate, a great swashbuckler shot in early, two-strip Technicolour, which means everything was a shade of red or green.

But it's enough to add an attractive lushness to the gorgeous ships and sets constructed for the film and the wonderful costumes.

Unlike later famous swashbuckler leads Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Fairbanks' talents weren't as much in swordplay as they were in acrobatics. The sequence where he takes the galleon features him quickly scaling the beautiful stern of the ship, hacking a rope to ride a sail to the top of a mast. And then he invents a trick that has been used in practically every pirate movie since, planting a dagger in the sail and holding it to ride to the bottom as it cuts.

Things get complicated when it's discovered there's a woman, Isobel (Billie Dove), aboard the ship and Fairbanks is forced to use his wits to prevent the crew from raping her. He miraculously attains an ally in this among the pirates, an elder buccaneer called MacTavish (Donald Crisp). In one amusing but tense scene, to keep himself awake while he guards the woman from a villainous "pirate lieutenant" (Sam De Grasse), he sets his swords to point at his back and chest and fixes his dirk in his belt so it points at this chin.

You can watch the entire film on YouTube:


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