Monday, December 31, 2007

A lot of learning and trial and error involved in yesterday, but by the end of it, I'd set up a server on my computer and installed my very own wiki. I've started adding articles, and already it's performing the function I mainly wanted it for--it's helping me keep things organised, and it's tipping me off as to what steps I need to take--putting in an article and making all the things links that seem like they ought to be links reminds me of what I need to write.

My web space is hosted by Yahoo and I don't know if they allow wiki software to work, but even if I never upload* this thing, it's already proving an invaluable tool.

Last night I also played some Oblivion at Tim's house and came back here to read part of the new Sirenia Digest, which started off well with a reference in the prolegomena to the Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Freedoms. Caitlin talks about looking for extravagant or challenging erotic art to examine in order to overcome her own inhibitions about writing such material. I'd say one needn't look very far, at least not very far into the history of human art, as this Wikipedia entry on satyrs illustrates.

Anyway, the vignette that follows the Digest's prolegomena is indeed a bit more than the old "in out, in out". It involves a young woman in the hands of subterranean troglodytes. It seems to be about the nature of supplication, and the fear involved when the monsters you submit to don't torture you in the way you were expecting. What one is to make of the young woman's acquiescence to the frightening unknown is an interesting question. Is the experience more fulfilling because she gave herself up to it, or is she just a sap trying to keep her worldview from cracking? It's a good story. I haven't read the second one, yet.

I'd better get to the Mount Everest of things I need to do, but first, here's my updated 2007 movie list;

Best Movies

1. INLAND EMPIRE (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
2. No Country for Old Men (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
3. Paprika (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
4. Pan's Labyrinth (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
6. Eastern Promises (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
7. Rescue Dawn (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
8. Death Proof (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
9. Once (Wikipedia entry)
10. Children of Men (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
11. Planet Terror (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
12. Across the Universe (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
13. Beowulf (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
14. The Golden Compass (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
15. Volver (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
16. Hostel: Part II (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
17. Sunshine (Wikipedia entry)
18. Enchanted (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
19. Sicko (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
20. Stardust (Wikipedia entry)
21. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Wikipedia entry)
22. Waitress (Wikipedia entry)
23. TMNT (Wikipedia entry)(my review)

Worst Movies

1. Spider-Man 3 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
2. 300 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
3. 3:10 to Yuma (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
4. 1408 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)


*Incidentally, I hate it when people say "download" when they mean "upload". I've been encountering this a lot lately, too.

Sunday, December 30, 2007


("Ah!")

My current wallpaper (shrunk). It's a modification of this one I found on Konachan.

Anyway. I think I'll get started on a lot of typing I need to do.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

And I'm back. I still have sea legs, which is an interesting feeling--there's the persistent expectation for the ground to tilt up in front of me or pull up behind me, and my legs automatically feel lighter or heavier. Then it sort of feels like my body's disappointed, and there's a subtle jarring sensation.

I didn't get off the ship--the MS Elation--once all week. I just wasn't interested in setting foot in Ensenada or Cabo San Lucas, our two stops, to see cheap tourist crap amongst conspicuously expensive homes juxtaposed with poor kids selling Chiclets. So from 1:30pm Monday to 8:30am to-day, I was on water.

First thing, when my family and I walked onto the deck on Monday, a guy handed each of us the first, and the only free of charge, drink of the voyage, a Mai Tai in a big, pink plastic goblet reminiscent of a humming bird feeder. It tasted a little like toothpaste. Meanwhile, an over-amplified reggae band was performing onstage, first, predictably enough, "Stir it Up", followed, somewhat bafflingly, by an unselfconsciously eerie, merry rendition of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". The singer, who claimed between songs to be "keeping it nice", didn't seem to find anything ironic about "That long black cloud is comin' down" when everyone within earshot was on an expensive vacation.

The faux-tropical atmosphere and the rum beverage put me in mind of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and the anachronistically grim song had me thinking of soft, naive bourgeoisie who thought they understood how cruel the world was. "But people die in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie," said one voice in my brain.

"Yes," said another. "And two of the characters get married during a swordfight. Our lazy American voyeur mistakes charming bloodlust for a confrontation with reality."

There were several shows each night onboard the Elation, and like much else about the ship, the two I saw had the feel of cheesy, old-fashioned Las Vegas. During a dancing/singing medley on Tuesday, I kept thinking of the line from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--this is what America would be doing every night if the Nazis had won the war. Though, actually, most of the people working on the ship seemed to be from eastern European countries like Romania, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, which only added to my belief that the ship was at least partially controlled by gypsies.

I think I mostly got this impression from the hypnotism show I saw on Wednesday, when I saw a remarkable demonstration of a how a room full of rubes could be schnookered by a confident carney. This guy called "Jak" (pronounced like "Jacque") called for about ten "volunteers" from the audience, many of whom instantly clambered up onstage. He went through the "you're getting sleepy" spiel while the lights did funky things and lousy light jazz played. He pulled a few of the volunteers offstage, apparently for failing to go under, then suggested to the remaining group that it was getting very hot, and that the men ought to take off their shirts. Some of the men pulled at their shirts a little, but no-one took anything off. After this, Jak pared the group down to three young, attractive, white girls and three young, attractive, white men. Then he easily had them doing things like getting orgasms when they touched their foreheads with their thumbs, getting orgasms whenever he said the word "amore", and, for the men, experiencing the sensation of their penises falling off.

I could tell this was fake. Even if it weren't for the convenient configuration of the supposedly entranced volunteers, the behaviour of these individuals was broad and obviously timed for comedic effect, as when a girl, close-dancing with Jak, waited until Jak's back was to the audience before she grabbed his ass. It's only because I knew it was fake that I wasn't thoroughly disgusted with the proceedings.

The bulk of the crowd, however, ate it up completely, laughing and cheering at what looked to me just like six young people goofing off. Once again, it seemed to me these voyeurs were both naive and brutal. I don't think I could blame Jak and his cohorts if they didn't feel the slightest twinge of guilt for fleecing these people. The world really is full of suckers. I was strongly reminded of Nightmare Alley.

Jak asked for complete silence at the beginning of his act, but he noted without the slightest hint of irony that anyone who wanted a drink could still wave to a waiter to get one. All food and beverages were free onboard except for alcohol. And I found, in fact, there wasn't a whole lot to do on the ship except drink and gamble. I ended up spending around sixty dollars just on drinks for the week, and that was with exercising a lot of restraint. I sampled all kinds of liquors and cocktails I'd never tried before. I developed a fondness for straight, Captain Morgan rum, which Trisa recommended to me two weeks ago*. I think, also, that I can now officially declare that Jameson is my favourite whiskey. It's not nearly as sweet as any of the scotches I've tried and it's incredibly smooth.

There were bars all over the ship, but I noticed that a restaurant in the forward section made, by far, the best vodka martinis, in which I requested Grey Goose vodka consistently. I also tried a gin martini for the first time, and I liked it, but was surprised to find that gin seems to go to my head much faster than any other alcohol had previously. Though this impression may be enhanced by the fact that, that night, the sea had been particularly rough, and walking around felt like being thoroughly hammered even before the alcohol.

I gambled a little, too--I stuck exclusively to Blackjack. The first night, I played with my sister; she won forty dollars and I won thirty. The next night, I went by myself and lost the thirty in the time it took to blink four times. I'd won from a warm, friendly Romanian girl in glasses, but I was taken down by a severe, dark haired dame. The next night I managed to work ten dollars of chips up to thirty--getting two Blackjacks in a row--before slowly spiralling down, loosing a total of forty dollars that night. Then I swore it off, only returning once a couple nights later to lose five dollars--the dealer let me get up to twenty dollars before bringing me back down. I noticed this was a pattern. Thank the gods I resisted the very strong temptation to return to the table. As it was, I had exactly enough money to-day to buy the two new tires I needed for my car.

I was also saved by the fact that I'd brought things with me to do. Even though I'm a slow reader, I managed to read almost all of William S. Burroughs' Exterminator!, which was an incredibly satisfying read. I'd been in the mood for some Burroughs for quite some time, too. Exterminator!'s a collection of stories, and the story "Ali's Smile", about a murderous, kris-wielding Arab kid had a strange resonance as I watched CNN's coverage of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Because CNN was one of the few decent channels available, I followed the story quite closely, when I wasn't busy feeling disgusted by the killing of a tiger. Knock this shit off, fuckers.

I drew a lot while listening to CNN, and I wrote a lot, too. Both tasks related to a really big project I'm working on that just seems to be getting bigger and bigger in scope, and, the gods know, I need it. I also had my video iPod, but I had no means of recharging it, so I had to make eight hours stretch all week. I was really tempted to watch Detour, one of the few full length movies I have on my iPod. I watched some of it to-day while my car was being worked on.

"Did you ever want to forget anything? Did you ever want to cut away a piece of your memory or blot it out? You can't, you know. No matter how hard you try. You can change the scenery. But sooner or later you'll get a whiff of perfume or somebody'll say a certain phrase or maybe somebody'll hum something. Then you're licked again!"

I love that movie. Anyway, I guess I'll leave you with a song that's been rather perfect for my mood lately;




*I neglected to mention talking to Trisa a couple weeks ago. I was really worked up on the 15th over something that'd been bothering me for months. It was a cold night, but walking in it at 11pm, I just felt hot. I paced back and forth by Gillespie Airfield venting to Trisa over the phone, and she did me the enormous kindness of not only listening but also of telling me that I had every right to be angry, that I had acted reasonably, and that I wasn't crazy. It's always nice to hear those things, particularly from a girl you used to have a thing for. I'm really thankful that she and I have managed to be friends.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Time to go. Happy Cephalopodmas folks, or what have you. Here's the song every hipster in the world's probably posting, but I still love it;

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Francis Ford Coppola pwns Martha Stewart;

Last night I watched the new Criterion edition of Akira Kurosawa's Drunken Angel, in which Takashi Shimura bore sort of an uncanny resemblance to Tom Waits;



Shimura plays a boozing doctor who tries to help a yakuza (Toshiro Mifune, in his first Kurosawa film) through a bout of tuberculosis, but the unruly gangster can't seem to lay off the booze and the women. The movie ends like a noir, which it pretty much is. It was made in 1948, and the post war devastation is everywhere. Yakuza essentially ran the cities, since everyone had to rely on the black market to survive. There are recurring images of a filthy sump in the middle of the city into which Mifune's yakuza routinely tosses a flower.



After this, I ate a burrito and watched Secretary, which never fails to lift my spirits. Well, the scotch I'd had during Drunken Angel helped, too--it seemed to do wonders for my sore throat. I actually hadn't had any alcohol in over a week, but watching Shimura mix pure medical alcohol with a little tea put me in the mood.

Anyway, as I said yesterday, I'm going on a cruise with my family to-morrow for a week. There's supposedly internet access on the ship, but if not, then that's why you won't see me . . .

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I have a bit of a sore throat to-day, though it could be worse; I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last night. What a very sweet movie. I have no exposure to the musical, but the movie was thoroughly excellent on its own merits. It's not just a tale about the folly of vengeance--it takes the time to note that vengeance can be very, very satisfying. One could argue Todd's problem was his single-mindedness. Though, of course that same single-mindedness also saved him from another bad fate.

I guess I need to update my movie rankings already. I jump the gun every damn year--I need to add Sweeney Todd and Enchanted--it was kind of strange that Timothy Spall played essentially the same character in both movies.

I did not get enough sleep--maybe it's the sore throat. Anyway, I need to start getting up earlier again because I'm leaving with my family on a cruise on Monday. South to Mexico or thereabouts.

Wake up, wake up . . .

Friday, December 21, 2007

Nice to see some Strangers with Candy clips have escaped Viacom's notice on YouTube. Now if only someone would upload the clip of Stephen Colbert reciting A Dream Deferred.

I found my horoscope on Yahoo rather hilarious to-day;

Lately, establishing communications with a certain someone has proven to be difficult -- there's nothing like a never-ending game of phone tag to rattle your nerves, is there? Today, you'll have to get more creative with your approach. If your emails go unanswered, how about sending them an online greeting card? The personalized approach is always the smarter way to go. If you can appeal to what interests them most, you're sure to connect and get them to give you some attention.

They really don't think men read these horoscopes, do they? Ladies, if a dead badger or a crude doll likeness of yourself in a coffin shows up on your doorstep, chances are your stalker gets his horoscopes from Yahoo.com.

I was Christmas shopping at Fashion Valley mall on Sunday, and for some reason decided to see Enchanted. It had gotten pretty much universally good reviews, and maybe I was in the mood for something light-hearted.

I was a little surprised by how much the animated opening sequence made me miss the heyday of animated Disney films. Those folks really need to remember how to play to their strengths. Anyway, the movie wasn't entirely tongue-in-cheek, Shrek-ish humour. It was more like the filmmakers used what has become the standard ironic mode to tell a sincere story. Which I suppose is a new reflection of this emotionally dysfunctional society.

The movie broke down pretty much as I expected; dreamy Disney princess believes in love at first sight, while Real Guy is a cynical divorce lawyer, and by the end they meet each other halfway to fall in love; Giselle (the princess) learns to get to know someone before she gets married, and Robert (the lawyer) learns to believe in love again. It's probably a lucky thing I wasn't in charge of the movie as Giselle would probably have ended up institutionalised while Robert became a dictator of a third world country or something.

But I did enjoy the movie. It was actually good, Disney fun, and Amy Adams was fantastic, in every sense of the word.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

So I've finally gotten my car back. I took it to Wal-Mart to get a much needed oil change to-day. No, I'm not much of a Wal-Mart guy, but it's the closest and most convenient place.

Wandering the store, trying to pass time, dodging the dense asteroid field of white trash . . . I usually find the best thing to do is to go to the pet section and watch the fish. To-day, I saw a dead white angelfish floating at the top of one of the tanks. Its fins had been reduced to a few bristles so, floating on its side, it was a fleshy little communion wafer.

The other fish in the tank didn't seem to notice it, but as I watched, it collided gently against the back of a plecostomus, whose sucker mouth was attached to the side of the tank. Upon being struck, the plecostomus swam aside, attached itself to another part of the glass. But after a moment, it turned its attentions to the angelfish, running its sucker mouth across it, sucking its dead, dark eye. A couple other fish promptly joined in--it was all very horrible and wonderful, and it passed the time.

I also finally finished my Christmas shopping to-day. All in all, I feel like I'm doing pretty well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I seem to be on a real Gene Tierney kick. She does a good job in Laura, but she really flexes her muscles in Leave Her to Heaven. In some ways, she takes over the Waldo Lydecker role from Laura. Although she's billed as the villain, as you'll see from the trailer, I've always seen her as the secret heroine of the film. The ostensive hero, played with noteworthy stiffness by Cornel Wilde, comes off as an insensitive sap.

I only like about half of Johnny Mercer's lyrics to this song, and I feel pretty much the same way about this vocalist. But David Raksin's melody is perfection, and I can't complain about John Williams conducting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's time for my annual ranking of the year's movies. I realise a few of these are technically 2006 movies, but I saw them all in a theatre in 2007, except INLAND EMPIRE, for which I'm making an exception because most of the few people who've seen it saw it in 2007.

I'm still furious that I missed seeing Lust, Caution. Anyway . . .

Best Movies

1. INLAND EMPIRE (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
2. No Country for Old Men (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
3. Paprika (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
4. Pan's Labyrinth (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
5. Eastern Promises (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
6. Rescue Dawn (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
7. Death Proof (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
8. Once (Wikipedia entry)
9. Children of Men (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
10. Planet Terror (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
11. Across the Universe (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
12. Beowulf (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
13. The Golden Compass (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
14. Volver (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
15. Hostel: Part II (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
16. Sunshine (Wikipedia entry)
17. Sicko (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
18. Stardust (Wikipedia entry)
19. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Wikipedia entry)
20. Waitress (Wikipedia entry)
21. TMNT (Wikipedia entry)(my review)

Worst Movies

1. Spider-Man 3 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
2. 300 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
3. 3:10 to Yuma (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
4. 1408 (Wikipedia entry)(my review)
Drinking some kona coffee right now. This stuff's not bad--I have no idea why it's so trendy right now, except that it's slightly difficult to acquire. It's a little different, but it doesn't blow me out of the water. It's not as good as David Lynch coffee, of which I just ran out of my last can. I need some more . . .

I guess I actually accomplished a lot yesterday. I went to IHOP for breakfast, where I wrote some things for my new project while waiting for the huge spinach and mushroom omelette with a side of three pancakes that was somehow all only ten dollars. What I was writing was world building stuff, stuff which may or may not end up on the website as supplementals.

I'm putting together a lot of material on this world, all with the idea of possibly including it as supplementals on the site. I've been drawing maps and writing histories. I have this crazy idea of keeping three blogs as characters, unrelated to one another and the actual comic, just to help create the sense of a big, three dimensional world. Or maybe I'll scale back a bit--this is already taking forever and I'm getting impatient, wanting to begin the story, already.

After IHOP, I went to Grossmont Centre and bought Christmas presents for three people, leaving just four left on my list. Then I walked to BevMo and, since I have some extra money right now, I bought a bottle of Kubler absinthe. Wow, that's some lovely stuff. I'm really going to have to force myself to take it slow--if I could, I'd be drinking it constantly from now on. According to this useful absinthe buyer's guide, Kubler's a better absinthe than Lucid, the only other genuine absinthe you can buy in U.S. stores.

So I had only a single glass and then thought and stewed for about two hours. You might say I was brooding, I suppose. I've been doing that a lot lately. It's weird how hours can disappear while I just think. By midnight, I was looking for ways to exercise demons. I started out watching Charlie Parker videos on YouTube--I was amazed there were even any, and that they were so good.

Bird's face while Coleman Hawkins is playing in this one is just priceless. Then Bird starts playing it's just wow;



This one with Dizzy Gillespie is great, too;



After that, I watched a bunch of Thelonious Monk before settling into some classic Nine Inch Nails. Then I discovered all the Rasputina videos available now--used to be, there weren't any. Someone called OtterFreak seems to have uploaded the best quality pieces;



Finally, I watched Miller's Crossing before going to sleep, and Tom Reagan taught me a valuable life lesson.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Since people on my friends list are talking about dreams they had last night, I've been struggling to remember mine for the past couple minutes. At first all I could remember was a massive, ancient, grey stone opera house. Then I remembered seeing a woman with a chainsaw (a part influenced by the activation of a leaf blower outside my window, I think), and earlier than that, a longer dream about exploring a wide, empty white beach. I was instructed to drive there in someone else's car (I guess my own car didn't work in my dream, either). I came across a muddy grey mound which featured a hole black for its depth, just wide enough to crawl through. I remember finding a strange object in the cave--I don't remember what it was, except that it was possibly radioactive. I returned to the beach the next day to find that the grey mound had collapsed and there was a new chain link fence surrounding what remained.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

You know whose bad side you don't want to be on? Morrissey's.

True-to-you.net has a sort of wonderful statement from Morrissey regarding New Musical Express's recent attempt to cast him as a racist. Not only does he soundly refute them, he takes the time to eviscerate them. Some of my favourite bits;

"The wit imitated by the 90s understudies of Morley and Burchill assumed nastiness to be greatness, and were thus rewarded. But nastiness isn't wit and no writers from the 90s NME survive. Even with sarcasm, irony and innuendo there is an art, of sorts. Now deep in the bosom of time, it is the greatness of the NME's history on which the 'new' NME assumes its relevance."

. . .

"I do not mean to be rude to Tim Jonze, but when I first caught sight of him I assumed that someone had brought their child along to the interview. The runny nose told the whole story. Conor had assured that Tim was their best writer. Talking behind his hands in an endless fidget, Tim accepted every answer I gave him with a schoolgirl giggle, and repeatedly asked me if I was shocked at how little he actually knew about music. I told him that, yes, I was shocked. It was difficult for me to believe that the best writer from the "new" NME had never heard of the song 'Drive-in Saturday'; I explained that it was by David Bowie, and Tim replied 'Oh, I don't know anything about David Bowie.' I wondered how it could be so - how the quality of music journalism in England could have fallen so low that the prime 'new' NME writer knew nothing of David Bowie, an artist to whom most relevant British artists are indebted, and one who single-handedly changed British culture - musically and otherwise."

. . .

Most of yesterday was spent on an aspect of the new project I'd kind of underestimated. Something I vaguely expected to take a couple hours took just about all day. Then I played three hours of Jedi Academy. I took some screenshots of a couple lovely maps by a fellow named Living Dead Jedi;



Using Darth Vader this time, to prove I have some vestiges of manliness.

Beautiful, no? This guy knows how to use lighting.

There are plenty of recognisable spots;


He's using Sith J Cull's Millennium Falcon model here with his own excellent lighting.



Ha! Captain Solo and the wookiee would be wetting themselves now!



Hmm. Calrission seems to think quite a lot of himself.


This Living Dead Jedi also made an interesting night time Tatooine--unlike the Bespin map, this one has bot support, so Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, a Gammorean, and a stormtrooper were running around with me. I was Princess Leia.

Obi-Wan seemed to keep the lead throughout the match, though I would argue it was because I wasn't trying to win. This is Sith J Cull's Falcon model again.

What a piece of junk!


Ha! The flyboy and his walking carpet would be pissing themselves right now.


Er, help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi?


Drat. Kenobi's hard. And those shameful standings . . . Well, that's what happens when you spend all your time taking pictures while everyone else is fighting.


Slave Leia, now, in the cantina. We do not serve Gammoreans.


How does one make a Bantha martini? It sure doesn't sound appetising . . .



Beware, Kenobi, you face now a more sexually liberated Leia!


More powerful than I can possibly imagine, eh? I don't know, I can imagine quite a lot . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm going to try to dedicate the bulk of the day to my current project. This thing's getting big and multi-tentacled.

I've really been enjoying The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. I was a bit surprised to find it mostly prose, generally imitations of other writers. I'm right now in the middle of a section modelled after Jack Kerouac, which is incredibly strange. But it makes sense that Dean Moriarty would be a descendant of Professor James Moriarty, and that Dr. Sax, Kerouac's creation, would be in league with beings from Yuggoth.

My favourite section so far, though, is the Jeeves and Wooster section, which featured things like, "I tossed and turned all night, wracked with a strong yet inexplicable conviction that my room's geometry was somehow faulty, even though if I'm entirely honest I'm not sure exactly which one's algebra and which one's geometry. If I'm wrong and geometry's the one with all the letters, then I mean that my room's algebra was wrong." I can't remember the last time a book's made me laugh this much. I can't imagine how great this book would be if I was familiar with all of Moore's references.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Natalie has made some Nesuko fanart and, egad, I'm lovin' it. Thanks, Natalie, nice work.

I took the trolley to Grossmont Centre last night, bought a Red Fire Bar, a copy of From Russia With Love (it was down to eight dollars), and saw The Golden Compass.

I liked The Golden Compass. I suppose it was inevitable I'd like it on at least one level because of its beautiful production design and its legion of talented actors (Ian McKellen, Sam Elliot, Derek Jacobi, Kristen Scott Thomas, Simon McBurney, Daniel Craig, Christopher Lee . . .). But I also appreciated how quiet it was for a modern fantasy epic. Director Chris Weitz reportedly lost a lot of confidence in himself while making the film, but it doesn't show in the movie's admirable preponderance of long, quiet scenes of dialogue. Perhaps Weitz's breakdown was due to a fear of being unable to deliver a constant adrenaline rush to New Line.

I will say Ian McKellen, as the armoured bear, was by far my favourite part of the film. The play of cgi with voice seamlessly makes a character, and Ian McKellen, like Alec Guiness, proves once again his ability to take great acting past merely having perceivable emotional motivations to an uncanny ability to find the right way to say everything. Though the bear was also part of one of the things I didn't like about the film--whenever someone points a gun at the bear, the someone might stand there threateningly and have every reason to fire, but won't. This becomes particularly odd in a battle sequence later in the film--I really wish the filmmakers could have contrived something for this, like making his armour generate a bullet-proof shield or something. Because I guarantee you all the tension was drained out of those scenes as everyone in the audience wondered, "Why aren't they shooting him?"

The movie could have used a lot more Christopher Lee, too. He and Derek Jacobi have little more than cameo appearances as high-ups in the movie's villainous Big Brother organisation, the Magesterium. Jacobi is sadly hampered by what must have been the same direction John Hurt received in the V for Vendetta movie, and comes off as no more than a two dimensional Snidely Whiplash. Lee, though, an old hand at this kind of role, takes on the station of his character and makes sinister without trying hardly at all, being therefore more effective. If a sequel gets made, I hope his role is greatly expanded.

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert takes the opportunity to make another passive aggressive swipe at The Lord of the Rings, saying, "'The Golden Compass' is a darker, deeper fantasy epic than the 'Rings' trilogy, 'The Chronicles of Narnia' or the 'Potter' films."* I think, aside from the obvious fact that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, Tolkien might have disliked The Golden Compass because he famously disliked allegory--it was his primary complaint in regards to the Narnia books. The Golden Compass isn't deeper than The Lord of the Rings, it's just more clearly allegorical. Where the ring could simultaneously be chemical addiction, nuclear weapons, or just the bad, compulsive darkness of the human heart, the dust versus the Magisterium in The Golden Compass is always going to be uncontrollable nature versus the Catholic Church's vain attempt to impose its will upon nature, even in a slightly watered down form. But not everyone can be J.R.R. Tolkien, and I think The Golden Compass does what it does pretty well. And after all, the fact that DNA has more control over life than the church is something a lot of people these days probably need to be reminded of.

Chirs Weitz says he was influenced by the Star Wars trilogy when making the film, and there's a moment of surprise parental revelation in the film where I could hear Darth Vader in my head saying, "Search your feelings, you know it to be true." ** It seems the prequel trilogy hasn't prevented Star Wars from becoming an essential part of the fabric of modern fantasy fiction.


*Ebert's positive reviews for The Lord of the Rings movies were always so grudging I have to wonder if he and Tolkien ran into each other at a bar one night, whereupon they got into a terrific, drunken argument and Tolkien told him he'd always be nobody compared to him. Or something like that.
**BEOWULF SPOILER; There was also a bit of Star Wars influence, apparently, on Neil Gaiman and Roger Avery when writing the Beowulf screenplay, which plays with the idea of estranged fathers and sons cutting off one anothers' arms. The interesting spin in Beowulf is that Beowulf cuts off his own arm to redeem his evil son, while Luke Skywalker cut off his father's hand in the process of redeeming him in Return of the Jedi.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Working on a new project yesterday, I listened to about half of the Francis Ford Coppola commentary for his Dracula movie. Wow. Anyone who was shocked by the idea that he might talk smack about Robert De Niro and Al Pacino obviously hasn't heard this cosily unrestrained monologue. In a tone that suggests a guy casually standing next to you in a museum he tells us about Anthony Hopkins' impatience with the project, how he feels some of the special effects don't work at all, and, most impressive of all, how he feels Winona Ryder has never tapped the depths of her talent (I'd get the exact quotes if I had time). He described trying to prep her for the scene in the cinematograph exhibition where Dracula has her pinned to the ground, and apparently Ryder said something like, "Oh, I've already done this scene. For Tim Burton." Coppola gave a rueful laugh and talked about how talented young actors tend to get cocksure, but he wouldn't be surprised if we saw a really good performance from Ryder one day. Yeouch.

I was very pleased Coppola pointed out all his blatant homages to Jean Cocteau, particularly Dracula turning the tears into diamonds, upon which Coppola commented, "Now this is right out of Beauty and the Beast." He also spent a lot of time talking about Polish composers, and how Wojciech Kilar wasn't his first choice--there was another Polish composer he wanted, who turned him down because of time restraints; this composer spent days on even tiny parts of his compositions. I've got to find out this guy's name. Coppola also mentioned Stanley Kubrick's use of Gyorgy Ligeti. Considering how much I like Kilar's work on Dracula and the Ligeti tracks on the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack, I'm thinking I really need to check out the Polish composer scene.

"The Beginning" from the Dracula OST - Wojciech Kilar

Musica Ricercada, II - Gyorgy Ligeti

Friday, December 07, 2007

Anyone looking for stories about beautiful, fully and vividly realised characters dealing with supernatural phenomena that are both viciously strange and inescapably intimate would do well to buy these CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan books;

Silk

Threshold

Low Red Moon

I've read them all and I guarantee they do things to you.
The music on the website was very serious so I can only assume this is accurate;



This movie's been getting some pretty mixed reviews so far, and I'm irritated by the watering down of anti-Catholic subtext. But it does have nice production design. I saw several of the costumes at Comic-Con and they were gorgeous.
I dreamt I woke up to find that I was Keira Knightley. Or someone who looked very similar to Knightley--my eyes were a little more widely spaced, the eyebrows a little more arched, and my hair was a pale blonde that framed my face as tightly as a leather helmet, sort of looking like Rei Ayanami from Evangelion. I made faces in the bathroom mirror, played the protruding lips, basically did everything except what a sensible person probably would have done in Keira Knightley's body.

I then became aware of a tremendous racket outside the bathroom, and opened the door to find a blue taxi doing circles in the foyer, leaving enormous black tire marks on the white carpet. The driver finally got out and asked me, "Is this the mayor's house?"

"No. No, it isn't."

"Oh," he said, sheepish in the face of the Keira Knightley-esque anger. "Oops."

"Yeah. What's your name?" I didn't know what I'd do with his name, but I had no intention of letting him get away with what he'd done.

"John David Knight."

"That's Knight with a 'K'?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Okay . . ."

Then he left and I woke up for real.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I gots the grogginess. I think I'll try doing some Christmas shopping to-day. I know exactly what I'm going to get my sister, but I'm still in blanks regarding everyone else. I will buy breakfast, for certain . . .

Monday, December 03, 2007

The cats are gone. My aunt moved out and she took her cats with her yesterday. The cats were pretty much the whole reason she moved out, too, as my grandmother's been getting increasingly paranoid about them. She hired a couple people on Saturday to super-vacuum and turn over cushions and basically eradicate the slightest possibility of cat hair anywhere. I still remember a creepy moment a couple weeks ago when she had me run a finger along a skirting board on the bathroom wall and told me to look at my finger--"See all the cat hair?!" and of course there was nothing but a bit of dust. This house is white walls and white carpets and it'll never be sterile enough for her, yet in a Travis Bickle-like contradiction, my grandmother's very sloppy, and the kitchen floor's perpetually littered with crumbs and her unfinished meals are usually scattered about the house along with tossed papers and pieces of furniture. One sensed the real problem she had with the cats was territorial--the cats learned to fear her as my grandmother would hiss whenever she saw them.

The house feels distinctly lifeless without them. I keep thinking I'll see them in their usual spots, keep thinking I'll see Lucky when I leave my room, looking up at me with his wide-eyed expectant stare. I talked to my aunt at the Barnes and Noble last night, and she told me the cats were still terrified of their new surroundings. I hope Victoria doesn't stop eating again, though I'm less worried about Lucky who likes to eat when he's nervous. My aunt says she'll pay me to drop by on weekdays to take care of them, but it won't be the same as having Lucky sit next to me while watching movies or sleeping with Victoria curled up against my stomach.

Ah, well.

I did pick up the new special edition of the Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. I hadn't even known about it before I saw it in the store yesterday. I had an unexpected geekgasm then and there; thirty minutes of deleted scenes, director's commentary, a higher definition image, improved sound . . . it's about damned time. The old disk was surprisingly decent in terms of audio and visual for such an old release, but this beautiful movie deserves the works. I would have watched it last night if I wasn't so exhausted.

I had to get up early on Saturday because the people my grandmother had hired to exercise the cat aura from the house were making a lot of noise. But on Sunday, I woke up at around 10:30 and for no apparent reason couldn't go back to sleep. There was a Harkonnen gladiatorial tournament being held in the Dune sim and I hadn't really planned on attending since it took place right in the middle of my sleeping time. But I was so restless, I automatically popped in before breakfast and coffee--I wasn't even dressed yet. I somehow made it to the finals, giving the eventual winner, Kafka Moody, a run for her money, almost defeating her despite the fact that she was wielding two katanas and ninja moves, while I had only a single generic arming sword. It was fun.

My aunt just called to say the cats had finally settled into their new surroundings. That was good to hear . . .

Saturday, December 01, 2007

I always thought I'd never watch Carson Daly if his was the last show on television. Turns out I was right.


The Shining (1980)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Communication is important. A family made up of three people who are on completely different wavelengths spend the winter alone together in an isolated, haunted hotel. Their failure to confront and address one another's most fundamental problems results in massive, internal, psychic haemorrhaging.



I don't believe the ghosts are exactly hallucinatory manifestations of the characters' emotional problems. If nothing else, Jack's appearance in the 1921 photo at the end of the movie confirms that either the events transpiring onscreen are never literal footage of the actual events, or there is something supernatural occurring. But it is significant that no two of the Torrances ever see the same ghosts.

It seems to me that the ghosts in the movie are simultaneously primal and unnatural. They're entities that exist on the very outer edges of reality, in a zone the human mind normally only traverses when it is left no other course. In the film, we see Jack Torrance driven to this place by an acceptance of the fact that he is evil, according to his own understanding of the concept. We see Wendy Torrance reach this zone when her somewhat meagre ability to understand reality and the way people around her think is completely overwhelmed.

Danny Torrance, their young son, is immediately able to access the supernatural. He possesses an ability referred to as "shining" by Dick Hallorann, the head chef at the Overlook Hotel, who also possesses this ability. It's interesting to note what else they have in common; neither one of them appears to have any psychological barriers between himself and the world. Some might wonder about the large photographs of nude women in the one brief scene we see in Hallorann's home.



The point is that Hallorann is not ashamed or secretive about any part of his personality. He's comfortable with his nature, both morally and instinctively.

A lot has been made of the fact that Kubrick's movie differs in several significant ways from the Stephen King book upon which it was based, several of these changes having met with King's displeasure, chief among them was perhaps the character of Jack Torrance. In the book, Torrance is a man who is sane and good at the beginning, later perverted by the spirits in the Overlook Hotel. In Kubrick's film, Jack Nicholson portrays Torrance as a bit off right from the start.



There's a nice tag team review of the movie on CHUD. One of the reviewers quotes King as saying, "If the guy is nuts to begin with, then the entire tragedy or his downfall is wasted. For that reason, the film has no centre and no heart." King might have done well to remember that the classical definition of tragedy is a story in which a character's downfall is caused or expedited by a flaw present in the character all along. This is why the Kubrick movie has so much more dreadful resonance; when the cause of problems is exterior, if it's a Death Star that can be blown up or an Emperor that can be chucked down a well, then life is safer. But when the fault is in ourselves, and not our stars, then it is more frightening. I haven't read the King book in a long time, but I do indeed remember finding it a much safer experience.

In the movie, we learn that Jack, in a drunken rage, had once broken Danny's arm as he was trying to pull the child out of his way. Wendy tells the story to a doctor early in the film, explaining it was "just one of those things, you know, purely an accident . . . my husband had been drinking and he came home about three hours late so he wasn't exactly in the greatest mood that night . . . and, well, Danny had scattered some of his school papers all over the room and my husband grabbed his arm, you know, to pull him away from 'em. It's just the sort of thing you do a hundred times with a child in the park or in the streets . . . But, on this particular occasion, my husband just . . . used too much strength and he injured Danny's arm. Anyway, something good did come out of it all because he said, 'Wendy, I'm never gonna touch another drop. And if I do, you can leave me.' And he didn't and he hasn't had any alcohol in five months."

This is like the Beast in La Belle et la Bete telling Belle that death is all that poor beasts can expect when all they can do to prove their love is to grovel. Jack accepts the guilt and chooses to punish himself. Wendy, very significantly, doesn't forgive him; she white washes him. She blames the alcohol, and relates to the idea of pulling a child out of the way. Jack's not as sure.




When Danny's hurt by the phantom in room 237, Wendy immediately blames Jack, even though the look on Jack's face says he has no idea how the kid got hurt. This confirms for Jack that Wendy had never forgiven him for the last time he'd injured Danny, and had never learned to trust him. What Jack may not understand is that Wendy had simply repressed her feelings about the issue because she had not known how to deal with them.

It's immediately after this that Jack first encounters a ghost--a bartender in the banquet hall, after Jack says he'd sell his soul for a drink. Jack doesn't seem surprised by the bartender, whom he refers to as "Lloyd" as though the bartender is completely imaginary. Jack never seems especially surprised by the presence of any of the ghosts, and it's this combined with the photo at the end, and the ghost of Grady, the former caretaker, telling him he's always been the caretaker there, that tells us there's something about the Overlook that is Jack.

Jack tells the bartender about the time he did hurt Danny and says, "as long as I live she'll never let me forget what happened." Yet forgetting is exactly what Wendy has been trying to do. Jack is the one who keeps gnawing at it because he never receives the whole hearted acceptance from Wendy he needs. It creates a bitterness that inflects everything he says to her and Danny throughout the movie. That's the craziness King and other critics are referring to.



Shelly Duvall plays Wendy as someone with a persistently pleasant personality but who also seems perpetually vulnerable. According to imdb, "King said that he envisioned Wendy as being a blond former cheerleader type who never had to deal with any true problems in her life making her experience in the Overlook all the more terrifying. He felt that Duvall was too emotionally vulnerable and appeared to have gone through a lot in her life, basically the exact opposite of how he pictured the character." Like Jack, the Kubrick version of Wendy is more effective because of what the character brings with her. I didn't sense that Wendy had necessarily been through a great deal in her life. She seems unimaginative, and has a great deal of difficulty comprehending reactions in others that are too different from anything she's ever experienced. Shelly Duvall is amazing in the film, and the complete breakdown she experiences is brutal and vivid when she finds that the novel Jack's been working on daily consists only of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" typed over and over. She's sobbing badly while feebly swinging a baseball bat to ward him off. When she locks him in the freezer, she's still not angry, she's just crying and saying she's "so confused."



It's obvious why Jack can't write an actual novel--he's still obsessing over his guilt about what he'd done to Danny. Since he can't channel his feelings into the novel, the exercise seems meaningless, and he might as well type the same bromide endlessly. When he approaches Wendy after she's discovered the manuscript, he starts to angrily ask her about whether she's ever considered his feelings. That's a no-go, because she thinks she has; "Yes!" she cries earnestly through her confusion. She'd considered them, but only in terms of feelings she can understand. She has no understanding of long-term guilt. When she'd found out that Jack was indeed not responsible for Danny's new injury, she didn't even think to apologise for accusing him. She doesn't begin to understand why an apology would be necessary.



But it doesn't matter as much at this point because Jack has already sold his soul. He's found a way to live with the feeling of guilt, and that's to decide that he enjoys doing bad things. It's easier, too, because he's built up so much resentment for Wendy that the idea of killing her feels liberating. His expressions of love for Danny throughout the movie have all sounded merely like arguments against the idea that he'd want to hurt him. He's never allowed himself to spend time cultivating actual loving feelings for his son, so when he accepts his nature as an evil man, it's easy to try to kill Danny to prove to Wendy that he's beyond the need for the forgiveness she can never give him. He finds more acceptance from the murderous phantoms than he ever would from her.



I said before that no two Torrances ever see the same ghost, but actually Wendy does have a vision of blood pouring out of the Overlook elevators that Danny had had earlier in the film. Wendy begins seeing ghosts after she finds that Jack had murdered Hallorann*. The realisation of what her husband had become shatters all of Wendy's devices for interpreting and interacting with reality. Her mind starts to haemorrhage, which is what the Overlook Hotel is all about. Trapped in the hotel, the Torrances are also trapped in their inability to communicate with each other.

*Perhaps Danny's "Redrum" message had been an attempt to prepare her.