Saturday, January 31, 2015

Star Who

I listened to two more 2002 Eighth Doctor Doctor Who audio plays this past week, Seasons of Fear and Embrace the Darkness, the former being better but the latter wasn't bad, particularly for one written by Nicholas Briggs, who's generally a lousy writer. In this case it featured a nicely layered story that has the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Charley (India Fisher) negotiating with a robot sent to rescue a group of scientists who had been trying to build an artificial sun before their eyes were mysteriously stolen. There's a nice blend of sinister weirdness going on there.

Seasons of Fear follows the Doctor and Charley as they try to thwart a man made immortal by an old Fourth Doctor foe, the Nimon. It's a fun chase through time story though it's marred a bit by intentional errors to make it look like the ones in the Mark Gatiss episode were on purpose--in this case both the Doctor and Charley discuss Benjamin Franklin, the former U.S. president. If you don't know about the story arc, it really just sounds like a very embarrassing mistake from the writers and production staff. Though I wonder if this sort of thing in the Eighth Doctor blocks, which seem to have been considered a continuation of the then off the air series, inspired the trend in the 2005 series to have little clues sewn throughout the seasons.

I also watched the new episode of Star Wars: Rebels which may have been the most predictable episode of any television series I've ever seen in my life. Brent Spiner--Star Trek The Next Generation's commander Data--guest stars as a senator who looks like David Niven and secretly broadcasts supportive messages for any aspiring rebels against the Empire out there. The main character, Ezra, has a Jedi vision about the senator warmly congratulating him and talking about his dead parents. Ezra's warned that his vision may be misleading, the group is supposed to meet the senator at a location and time provided in code words in a broadcast. You know what happens.

Then there's also a scene where someone suddenly reveals himself as a traitor by stealing a gun from someone who's usually pretty savvy and just as it looks like the traitor has our heroes dead to rights and pulls the trigger . . . Yes, I saw it coming, too.

I guess they figure the show's being written for children for whom all these cliches are brand new. The episode's written by the usually dependable Henry Gilroy. So this week in space operas; I liked a Nicolas Briggs Doctor Who audio and I hated a Henry Gilroy Star Wars Rebels. Maybe I'm coming down with something.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Well Made Massacre

I think most people would agree there are different kinds of bad movies. The standard breakdown might be between so-bad-its-good unintentionally funny movies, tedious egotistical movies, hollow propaganda films--there are a million colours in the shit rainbow, essentially. But I'm concerned to-day with my personal least favourite kind of bad movie, I think I might call it "bootlicker bad". Such a movie is 2009's Dead Snow. It feels like it's made by someone who has no idea what movies mean but thinks filmmakers are the important people in the crowd so tags along with them, scrupulously aping every gesture and inflection but executing each with an inevitable, grating hollowness.

Moments and characters and concepts from other modern horror films are deployed devoid of any artistic intention and become totally false. Nazi zombies like a more conservative version of Tarantino/Rodriguez neo-exploitation films. A guy who's a hardcore movie fan like in Scream or Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead to point out the tropes. Someone dramatically being killed by their friend accidentally in the heat of battle like in The Descent.

The protagonists are introduced as an obnoxious group of spoiled college kids like in Hostel but I suspect director Tommy Wirkola thought we were supposed to love those characters in Hostel because after a few homophobic jokes and shallow speculations about sex on the ride to the isolated cabin, the characters become rather indistinct. As one review points out, they're interchangeable except one of them loves movies and one of them is afraid of blood.

The zombies themselves are meaningless echoes of actual menace. Even the cheapest sudden jump out scares didn't work on me. It was obvious everything the zombies did was subject to what Wirkola thought the acceptable thing was to have them doing at any particular time during a movie. Early on, they can appear and disappear instantly so people can question whether they even saw anything, then they're a huge walking army that can be outran. Early on they had super strength to kill quickly, then they're losing in fistfights as the act where the threat is supposed to be nameless and unstoppable ends and the act where we're supposed to get off on the heroes cutting limbs with chainsaws begins. The gore effects are okay but rendered completely insubstantial by the director's inability to express feeling in the medium, even puerile feeling.

A real filmmaker could have shot something in these locations. Someone could've bought the camera who deserved it. Clothing, food, language, light, wood, and birds are all insulted for their inclusion in this film.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Revel In Blandness

It took over eighteen hours to make my dinner last night. You think making a burrito is simple? Well, yes, you just put beans and cheese and maybe rice and an assortment of other things in a tortilla. But I've always wanted to make a burrito from scratch, make my own refried beans, my own tortillas. Mainly because of salt. I hate salt. I'm just tired of it. So, beginning by soaking the beans overnight and then letting them cook in my crock pot for five and a half hours, then finally making the tortillas, I succeeded. And it was a bland meal. A wonderfully bland meal. Oh, I added chilli powder and hot sauce but it lacked that certain salty something, that something forced on you just about everywhere else.

The recipe I used for the beans called for six cloves of garlic, minced, but I used my Japanese grater instead, turning it into a paste. The result was a batch of beans that really strongly smelt of garlic. Which was fine. Though I was much happier with how the tortillas turned out, even if they were too small.

I ended up with what you might call "open faced" burritos which I folded and ate like tacos. For the tortillas all I used was organic, all purpose flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, and cooking spray for the skillet. I could have cooked my own rice but I had some microwavable brown rice in my freezer I wanted to use.

This morning I watched the first episode of Attack on Titan, a new very popular anime series from Production I.G. So far it strikes me as being Elizabethan Evangelion with an insecure young man living in a city being assaulted by mysterious, gigantic beings.

I like the dark and detailed style and the animation isn't bad. I can see myself watching at least a couple more episodes.

Twitter Sonnet #711

Stick musician insects will fit no coat.
Kind rolling rivers of trumpets play mute.
Good cheese comes from the most distinguished goat.
Poor careless Lizard became but a newt.
Yellow flamingo tongues convey syrup.
Balloon quest wrappers now await the sky.
Indicative remains cannot hiccup.
In wooden caves Samus cannot retry.
Loud alien folly artists use rice.
A false rainstorm torments the metal sheet.
Divided spoons'll scoop refried beans twice.
The slower sun at length revealed the beet.
Unmeasured gin did foresee deadened mould.
Blank curses blink nurses for the Rheingold.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Indefinite Time, Indefinite Place

If perceptions create individual realities for each person, then what would it be like to separate interpretations from all individuals? 1961's Last Year In Marienbad (L'Année dernière à Marienbad) can be interpreted in a vast number of ways and this is quite deliberate of the filmmakers. Exhibiting an ornate, cold, artificial beauty, the movie conveys something of the fundamental Hell of uncertainty and isolation that exists thanks to the human capacity for abstract thought.

From the beginning, the film seems like a hybrid of cinema and poetry as the camera tracks slowly over gorgeous baroque interiors and a man in voice-over endlessly talks about how the corridors are endless and alike, the rooms are endless and alike, and people partake in the same conversations and casual actions endlessly.

The voice is at length revealed to be coming from one of a mostly motionless pair of performers on a small stage in front of a motionless crowd. When the curtain falls for the last time--after opening again twice for applause and bows the actors refrain from taking--the audience begins to chatter. Then they abruptly stop, freezing like a crowd of mannequins, then they start again, then stop again, then start again. Someone reminiscing to his neighbour about something that happened in, he thinks, 1928 or 1929, is oddly echoed later by someone else struggling to remember which of those years he's thinking of. The seemingly deliberate attempt to shine a spotlight on the artificiality of events resembles Jean-Luc Godard's films of the period but rather than the post-modernism of the New Wave, Last Year In Marienbad is more akin to the surrealism of Bunuel or Cocteau.

The idea here is not to reflect the inherent artificiality of film but the inherent artificiality of human thought and interaction. Despite most of the film being filled with idle party goers at the manor or hotel, it's really concerned only with three characters--a man (Giorgio Albertazzi), a woman (Delphine Seyrig), and a second man (Sacha Pitoeff). The voice-over we hear almost ceaselessly throughout the film belongs to the first man (henceforth I'll refer to him as "the man") as he appears to be trying to convince the woman that they've met before, that they were lovers, that he didn't rape her. She, meanwhile, seems mostly at ease and playful and continually denies ever having met him at all.

The second man is calm, mostly quiet and seems confidently possessed of some knowledge. He may be the woman's husband, he may be the Devil, he may be God, he may just be a butler. He invites the man to play Nim, a game involving the two of them lifting tooth picks off a table in turns, the loser being the one who's forced to take the final toothpick. People at the party speculate on the mathematical formula of how to win properly--it seems to be a game with an objective strategy and yet the second man seems to be unbeatable in a way that suggests psychological dominance. The man and the woman discuss their interpretation of the motives apparent in a statue of a man and woman. Later they interpret a painting before the second man interrupts them to describe how the scene unmistakably portrays an incident in the life of Charles III. As with the game, the sinister quality of the second man seems related to his ability to break in with harsh reality while the other two are trying to create dreams to their liking. Or the second man's use of objective fact may be in the effort to create a dominant unreality.

The urgent, organ soundtrack reminiscent of a horror movie, the sort of free fall feeling of the anxious narrators without any solid point of view on events resolving itself, the nagging inability to establish guilt or innocence, love or indifference, all convey the feeling of a purgatory or a house haunted by damned souls. The movie could equally be seen as from the man's perspective--as he feverishly tries to absolve himself of a crime, to prove to himself he was loved--and it can be seen as from the woman's perspective as she feverishly tries to absolve herself of any blame in taking part in an affair.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who Can Take A Bad Dream and Slash It with a Hook?

Recognising the reality of racism and continuing conditions of inequality in the U.S. doesn't mean a white woman is exempt from the fury of a murderous ghost of a black man with a hook for a hand. 1992's Candyman is a supernatural slasher film essentially of the Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday the 13th variety but with a mind to address social issues at the same time. Ultimately, the film has nothing in particular to say on the topic and its positions are a little hazy or simplistic though not overbearing. As a horror movie, it's not bad.

Virginia Madsen plays Helen Lyle, a graduate student who, along with her friend, Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons), is putting together a thesis on urban legends. Her interest in one such legend, known as the Candyman, is piqued when two cleaning women at her school insist the Candyman haunts their housing projects.

Maybe one problematic issue is the inhabitants of the projects Helen and Bernadette interview kind of reminded me of "We people of the mountains" from Todd Browning's 1931 Dracula, the simple villagers whose deeply held faith in the existence of vampires is scoffed at by Renfield on his way to visiting the Count. It's quite possible this was a conscious influence but there's something insulting in the idea of vaguely drawn absolute credulity among a city dwelling, disenfranchised community. It's true, there really are urban legends about demons that appear if you say their names multiple times in a mirror--when I was a kid, I heard one about a "Bloody Mary" but alas my mirror won't serve alcohol. Generally these are stories believed by children and told by teenagers amongst themselves to test one another's maturity--like in Candyman's opening scene with Ted Raimi.

But Candyman portrays this has a widely held belief among the adults living in the projects as well. When Helen in the course of her investigation is assaulted by some young men who consider themselves disciples of the Candyman, she identifies the ringleader from a line up for police and the detective thanks her for finally providing the testimony to put away the perpetrator of a number of unsolved crimes. Later, Helen remarks to Bernadette how sad it was that it was only Helen's word that was finally taken after a series of ignored reports apparently because Helen is white. Then the real Candyman shows up to teach her what it's like when everyone's suspicious of you.

He's played nicely by Tony Todd, whose deep, slightly raspy voice is great for such a role. Candyman, we learn, was the son of a former slave during the Civil War. He was killed by a mob for impregnating a white woman. In death, he apparently hates everyone but thrives on being believed in, something Helen threatens by trying to convince everyone he's only a superstition. So Candyman starts framing her for murders somewhat improbably--he starts off by making it look like she hacked the head off a woman's dog and hid the same woman's baby--the woman, Anne-Marie (Vanessa Williams), finds Helen in her home and immediately calls the cops. Everyone seems to assume Helen is the culprit though it's not entirely clear why. Helen has no motive, it's inconsistent with her established character, and she's made no apparent attempt to cover the crime.

But the lack of sense also kind of contributes to the nightmare quality of the film and the weirdly intimate back and forth between Candyman and Helen is nicely sinister.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tolkien's Revenge

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.

Twitter Sonnet #710

A walking gravestone ladder spots the rot.
C notes arouse the instructor's green tie.
Silk flattened arms embraced the trouble dot.
Grey mushroom brokers advise brown to buy.
Tapioca consoles simulate slugs.
After burn paintings appear to shimmer.
Insects chafe under the mystique of bugs.
Recipe updates spring from a simmer.
Chairs cracking collaborate with the wind.
Ways avoided bring blunter tridents home.
A corduroy patch showed where the arms bend.
The apples now are bland but big in Rome.
Dolphins like planets laugh at all the moons.
Textile webs ensnared the insect looms.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I was the Sneezing One

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

Inspecting Time's Legitimacy

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.

Twitter Sonnet #709

A broken candy cane ghost is shut out.
Confetti brain cells shimmer for police.
The shaven plank shows all the walker's route.
A dinner's hat is grey like elder fleece.
The black bulletin board has Satan news.
Figure eights walk their eggs to destiny.
Connoisseurs daily chew various glues.
A hoof cannot hold to a ha'penny.
Clockwork script eyebrow pumice stones wiped face.
Unsorted detergent candy is clean.
We memorised the rock that was erased.
The continent is a faded red bean.
Green libraries begin the blank sunlight.
Freight grass always knows what the weeds just might.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Foggy Day In Antonio Town

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

Deadened Life

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.