Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fictions of Oil and Highlands

I wish I could say the Doctor's reunion with Jamie McCrimmon and Zoe Heriot made for some pretty great audio plays but the three 2010 Doctor Who audio plays, City of Spires, The Wreck of the Titan, and Legend of the Cybermen are generally disappointing, despite a few bright spots.

"The City of Spires" has the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) appearing in 18th century Scotland to find an older Jamie (Frazer Hines), now going by the name Black Donald, a Scottish appellation for the Devil, leading a fight against the English in response to the Clearances. Only in this version of reality, the English forces are intent on drilling for what appears to be oil in the highlands, something the Doctor immediately recognises as tampering with the timeline.

Due to the Time Lords wiping his memory, Jamie doesn't remember most of his adventures with the Doctor--only their initial encounter from the lost 1966/67 serial The Highlanders. And now that the Doctor looks like Colin Baker instead of Patrick Troughton, he never quite believes it's the same person--everyone figures the Doctor is a Frenchman due to his colourful outfit. It must be hard creating a convincing outdoor environment in audio format but I found this one particularly unconvincing. It never really felt like they were outdoors. The dialogue's not that great, either, and Jamie is written as more comically stupid than I remember him being on the show. The second story, "The Wreck of the Titan", which is set on a peculiar version of the Titanic, was only a little better. I liked the way the Doctor figures out there's something not quite right with this version of the Titanic. And I liked that Alexander Siddig plays Captain Nemo, which was a cool bit of casting.

Siddig also plays Nemo in the third story, Legend of the Cyberman, which also features Wendy Padbury reprising her role as Zoe Heriot, though her memories have been restored. Set in the Land of Fiction, the extra-dimensional location featured in The Mind Robber, one of the best loved Second Doctor serials, this one comes the closest to feeling like something right out of the Second Doctor era. Though my favourite part featured the Doctor meeting Dracula (played by Game of Thrones' Ian Gelder) and compulsively comparing him to the real life Vlad the Impaler whom the Fifth Doctor met in the very nice audio Son of the Dragon. Jamie accuses the Doctor of name dropping, as usual, and the Doctor says something like, "I never name drop! Saint Augustine taught me that."

The end of the serial has Jamie withdrawing from a hug with the Doctor for fear of looking "poncy" but I still firmly believe he and the Second Doctor were lovers. Just look at them clutch at each other in The Invasion.

Anyway, happy New Year, folks.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Blue Rogue

I managed to see the blue version of Rogue One yesterday. That is, the version where the projector bulb needed to be replaced but wasn't so the whole film was tinged blue. This was my third time seeing the film so I noticed the difference right away. I was with my friend, Tim, who hadn't seen the movie yet and he didn't notice the difference until I pointed it out, and apparently no-one else in the audience were bothered. People still applauded at the end of the film. Really, it's no wonder no-one noticed because slapping a blue filter on a whole movie is a pretty typical lazy substitute for cinematography nowadays. Rogue One's cinematography has been widely praised for daring to use a full colour palette, among other things, so it was particularly sad seeing it degraded so, the fact that many failed to notice making it even sadder.

I first realised it wasn't my imagination when the big grassy field where Krennic confronts Galen was pink and purple. Interior shots looked like screenshots from Quake II with overused coloured lighting. All of the careful location shooting was made to look thoroughly artificial. So I went out into the lobby and told an employee about it. He said he'd talk to the projectionist then stopped and stared at me, expecting me to walk back into the theatre, which I finally did. When the movie didn't change, I came back out and talked to a different employee; "I already complained to another guy but the movie's still blue. Is this just normal at this place?" I tried to ask as politely as possible. This employee suggested that people had been on their way to repair the projector at that very moment. So I went back inside.

Of course nothing changed and I came back out again and finally managed to see a manager, a guy in his twenties with a thin beard wearing a suit. I followed him into the theatre when he went to check it. He looked at the screen, immediately turned around, and then stopped when he saw me. He explained to me, "90% of the time when it's like this it's because of a bad bulb. Changing it means stopping the movie and maybe some people here want to keep watching it."

"Okay," I said.

There was a long pause as he tried to figure out what to say. "So we have to choose the lesser of two evils," he finally said. He offered to give free movie passes to me and my friend which Tim and I picked up after the movie. Tim pointed out to me that I'd gotten two free passes last year when I saw Force Awakens at the same theatre. That time it was because I'd had my bag confiscated because several people had reported me as a suspicious character because of my black frock coat, waistcoat, and fedora. I was dressed pretty much the same this year only with a pale pink shirt and darker pink tie instead of the white shirt and red bow tie I was wearing last year. No-one seemed bothered by the outfit. I guess a little pink goes a long way.

Speaking of blue (and pink), I read the new Sirenia Digest to-day featuring two new nicely weird and kinky stories by Caitlin R. Kiernan. The first, "Untitled Psychiatrist #1", heavily features the colour blue, particularly in reference to a blue rose which is applied to human anatomy in an intimate and creative fashion. But "Untitled Psychiatrist #1" has a far subtler weirdness to it, playing off a very naturally described scene of a woman worrying about her health insurance during her session with a psychiatrist. The second story, "The Sick Rose, Redux", is much more overt in its strange sexuality, and pretty glorious for that, with a well described, beautiful monster tormenting a young woman in what might be a textile factory.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Presence On Stage

Debbie Reynolds dying just a day after her daughter speaks volumes about what Carrie Fisher meant to her. It may also confirm an impression of her that distinguished her performances--that she was a woman of remarkably unaffected sweetness.

One of the ways watching movies is different when the movies were new before you were born is that you tend to watch them in a different order because different films have become significant. So I was surprised when Anne Rice wrote on her Facebook that Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher were such a huge part of her youth before she discovered Singin' in the Rain. For decades, many have considered Singin' in the Rain the greatest musical film of all time and Reynolds was no small part of that. Most of the singing and dancing in the film was done by co-director Gene Kelly who even tap danced for Reynolds' part when the sound was recorded. Perfectionist Gene Kelly may have been wary of a twenty year old woman who wasn't trained as a dancer but with the famous "Good Morning" sequence I think she more than proved herself.

Wikipedia has this anecdote:

Debbie Reynolds was not a dancer at the time she made Singin' in the Rain; her background was as a gymnast. Kelly apparently insulted her for her lack of dance experience, upsetting her. In a subsequent encounter when Fred Astaire was in the studio, he found Reynolds crying under a piano. Hearing what had happened, Astaire volunteered to help her with her dancing. Kelly later admitted that he had not been kind to Reynolds and was surprised that she was still willing to talk to him afterwards. After shooting the "Good Morning" routine, which had taken from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. to shoot, Reynolds' feet were bleeding. Years later, she was quoted as saying that "Singin' in the Rain and childbirth were the two hardest things I ever had to do in my life."

You certainly couldn't find many twenty year olds to-day who could do what Reynolds does in that scene. It's not just the hard work of learning the routine, the physical and mental strain involved, it's also the skill and talent to make it look effortless and then to have that impression of extraordinary, unaffected love for being alive and being with people she likes. She succeeds in creating this impossible, heightened reality.

And of course she was a great singer, very much in the style of her time but with a quality of extraordinary clarity combined with a seemingly irrepressible warmth.

Twitter Sonnet #947

The slow descent of pizza pictures shows
What waste engaged the space for Martian men
Too bold to hold a shoulder decked in bows
We tied beside the ice our skaters win.
In climbing fast upon the radio
The school released the students from the beams
Transmitted through the swarm in stereo
For nothing sponged in years the eggshell gleams.
When fortune cries in shaded paths for sun
The leaves begin to talk and pass a coin
At first like streams and then like races run
The rivers build with heavy froth to join.
Like gentle cloaks in skies on velvet track
A gallop zips through zoetropes in black.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Or Maybe Both

As the culture divides on economic lines, it seems plausible a situation could arise like the one in 2016's Hell or High Water. It has two sides who seem equally justified however inescapable their conflict is, one side fighting against a legal system designed to break them, the other fighting to protect the lives of citizens. It fits perfectly the tone of a western, especially one of the best from the late 50s and 60s, where you find yourself liking both sides. Hell or High Water makes some choices in creating supporting characters I disliked but mainly it's a good film about people trying to live in a slightly dreamlike version of Texas.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who are robbing branches of the Texas Midlands Bank--only the Texas Midlands Bank. It turns out they have good reason to want vengeance against this particular bank but even before this is revealed people instinctively sympathise with them, like a waitress who accepts a wad of bills as a tip from Pine's character. When a ranger, played by Jeff Bridges, wants to take the money as evidence, she becomes immediately angry, explaining this money can help make sure there's still a roof over her child's head.

The interaction reflects an instinctive distrust between the working class and symbols of institutional authority despite the fact that Bridges of course seems pretty down to earth. In the hands of most other actors, his character would have been one of the weakest parts of the film.

Like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, Bridges' Marcus Hamilton is one of those old white men characters who casually says racist things all the time, in this case to his Native American partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham), and it's supposed to be endearing and plausible. At least this time the target of his insults, Alberto, doesn't seem to approve of them; still, for something that seems meant to be uncompromisingly realistic, it's something I've never, ever seen in real life. And I've been to Texas and Tennessee. No matter how old a guy is, unless he has dementia, he reserves insults, racist or otherwise, for when he wants fight, not for a casual chat while on the job.

The film has the shadow of the Coen Brothers hanging over it with True Grit and No Country for Old Men apparently being influences and there's an attempt to create colourful minor characters, something the Coens excel at. Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, though, don't have the knack so we get things like an elderly waitress who goes on a rant to explain why she asks her customers what they don't want. It's like one of the episodes of Twin Peaks written and directed by people other then David Lynch--filled with conspicuous "look how odd" moments that thoroughly lack the authenticity of their inspiration.

But the film makes up for it by carefully building the relationship between Pine and Foster. The last act of the film is wonderful in its tension between two irreconcilable but sympathetic sides and the final dialogues of the film have the mythic quality of great westerns. The soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is also great. Somehow Nick Cave has become the go-to guy for scoring westerns.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Princess Leia

One of the great things about Carrie Fisher, who died to-day, was that she wasn't a perfect fit for the role of Princess Leia. It's this that makes the character so much more memorable than she otherwise might have been. It's clear that George Lucas, while he was patterning the film on old Hollywood adventure serials, still keen on shaking things up for 1970s progressive culture. While male characters still are the biggest movers in the original Star Wars trilogy, there was the kind of fire in Fisher's eyes that you didn't see in Deborah Kerr in King Solomon's Mines or the intergalactic housewives of space opera serials of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Certainly it's a fire not present in Daisy Ridley's performance in The Force Awakens--Ridley's Rey comes off as someone who's had emotional support all her life and has grown up to be confident while Leia has that edge to her that makes you think she's been fighting for an impossible cause since she was a kid. Her retorts to Vader and Tarkin are delivered with wide eyes and bared teeth and she leans forward, all aggression.

No reserved, ethereal Natalie Portman or cheerful Daisy Ridley here. Felicity Jones comes a little closer but Jones gives a good performance while one senses this was the real Carrie Fisher coming through. As a product of 1970s cinema, everything in Star Wars was touched by experimentation, including the performances and casting. There's something off-putting about all three of the leads, something rough and a bit wild that simply will never come out of a studio so well oiled as Disney. One of Lucas' chief inspirations for Star Wars was Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress and the similarly fierce, challenging performance given by Misa Uehara may have influenced Lucas in casting Fisher. Both women have this quality of desperate tenacity.

It's weird that the delightful young woman who starred in Singin' in the Rain in 1952, Debbie Reynolds, has now outlived her daughter Carrie Fisher. I'm reminded of the line from Blade Runner, which Google tells me now is actually from Tao Te Ching; "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long." Coming from Tyrell in Blade Runner, it comes off as the patronising philosophising that seeks to dim the inevitable unfairness of death and certainly there's no good reason Carrie Fisher should be dead at 60. Just coming into the spotlight again last year, many remarked on her acerbic wit. People seemed surprised but it was there all along. In her performances and interviews, the impression I always had was of someone fundamentally dissatisfied with life and who hadn't learned the trick of sedating herself out of the feeling. She was candid about her drug addiction and like many brilliant minds who use drugs the empathy we feel for them comes from the impression that their need for escape comes from a painfully accurate view of reality.

The incongruity of her being a fantasy princess strengthened the character wonderfully because instead of being merely a male ideal of feminine frailty she becomes a portrait of human frailty and defiance.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Can a Zoo Be a Utopia?

When Disney makes an animated film about how real life is messy, how messy can it be? 2016's Zootopia has unavenged violence against children, debate about biological justifications for racial stereotypes, positive portrayals of mobsters, and a song by Shakira called "Try Everything". I don't think the implications of such a song were clear to the people in charge of releasing this film but mostly Zootopia has genuine intellectual stimulation that well compliments Disney's usual knack for making talking animals charming.

The story centres on a rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) whom we meet as a child who dreams of growing up to be the first bunny cop. So the movie begins with the racial politics that make its humour work for being so surprising in a Disney film while continually forcing the audience to examine the basis for it. I'm not a fan of allegory and here's a good example as to why not reading something as an allegory improves it considerably. There are, in the film, real biological differences between the races, actually different species, that dictate behaviour so to suggest the whole thing is a coded version of human racial relations is not smart. But it works if you simply read it as a demonstration of human behaviour in a truly different context, where none of those exhibiting the behaviour are human.

I suppose this won't stop racists from tucking the story in their hats as supporting their views to some extent. But I think there was innocent provocation in the basic idea, a subtle wrongness to make jokes about how only other bunnies are allowed to call Judy cute and how Nicholas (Jason Bateman), a fox, turned out to be a con artist because that's the sort of thing foxes do. But a big part of the film is showing how people end up in roles because cultural expectations shuttle them there, not because they're biologically better disposed for it. On the one hand, it seems sensible that Judy can't be a cop when she's tiny compared to elephants and rhinos. But she proves herself better suited to catching a weasel (Alan Tudyk) who runs into a ghetto for tiny rodents because of her size. Again, an allegorical reading would take us to saying things like Asians might not be good drivers but they're great at math--it's better to focus on the good intentions of the story.

I wonder, though, at the protagonist's reliance on mob torture in the last act of the film with an Arctic shrew mafia don (Maurice LaMarche) portrayed as a friendly character whose methods aren't even questioned by the protagonist who's committed to law enforcement. It reminded me of the positive, normalised portrayal of yakuza in the conservative Japanese film The Eternal Zero from a few years ago. I seriously wonder about the influence of organised crime in media.

The rapport between Judy and Nicholas is really sweet and great, a scene where she apologises is played just right, as is the awkward press conference where she doesn't understand the racially charged things she's said that upsets him. What the movie really does well is show how thoroughly ingrained presumptions on race can be, even for people with the best of intentions.

Twitter Sonnet #946

Like chips, they peer from dough too sweet for saints.
The eyes in cycles slum in notes for phones.
In socks too red to think a foot she feints.
The glass in burgundy reflects the bones.
In acrobatic tales a pine can stick.
A deck awaits on wrapping steel for stars.
In strings the light prepares a yearly trick.
Around the dough, the ginger raises bars.
A beaten star arrives in desert sand.
Desire marks the longest feet up north.
Observers place their tents in freezing land.
Through walls of wind and ice they venture forth.
Unmentionable tinsel twines the veins.
In silver dreams a talking moon just wanes.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Masks and Brains

The trailers really hadn't whetted my appetite for the Doctor Who Christmas special this year. "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" looked to be a dopey homage to superheroes, which is what it turned out to be, but somehow it was a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be.

What I liked was that it was a homage to a kind of superhero story we don't get anymore, in fact it felt very much felt like a back door pilot to a new Lois and Clark series, something inspired by the Richard Donner Superman movies, as much about the romantic comedy as about saving the world. There's a vestigial bit of that in the first two Iron Man movies but generally the romance in Superhero films, when it's present, is more about the villain plot than about the relationship itself--the love interest is there to be imperilled and saved or to assist. "The Return of Doctor Mysterio" about a superhero called The Ghost, or Grant Gordon (Justin Chatwin) and is a fairly adorable story about a man who works as a nanny for a single mother reporter named Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield). She doesn't know he's been in love with her since grade school or that he's secretly The Ghost.

This plot and the much more Doctor Who-sh/surprisingly Lovecraftian plot about alien brains taking over world leaders barely seem to relate to each other, it almost feels like two entirely different scripts grafted together. But it works well enough, I liked subtle call backs to last year's Christmas special--you know, the previous episode of Doctor Who--and Matt Lucas is great as a temporary companion. I wonder if the genre jumping here is a sign of Steven Moffat being sick of writing Doctor Who. I really hope Peter Capaldi stays for at least the first season when Chris Chibnall takes over the show. I'm not a Moffat hater but I'd like to see what Capaldi would do with a fresh showrunner.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Cake in the Trees

I made this for dinner last night--sweet potato pancakes and a baked apple. I had a huge bowl of broccoli with lunch, okay? Well, I probably ought to've had some greens with dinner, but it seemed a Christmasy meal. I took the core out of the apple and put honey and Earth Balance fake butter in the middle, wrapped it in foil and put it in my convection oven at 400 degrees. I ended up cooking it for around fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, I peeled and chopped up a huge sweet potato, boiled it for twelve minutes, then drained the water, poured in unsweetened cashew milk until the potato was nearly completely submerged, mashed it, then added lots of cinnamon and stirred. I poured this into a mixing bowl with a cup of flour then added two eggs and watched Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on my laptop while I cooked six cakes from the batter, five minutes on each side in two pans on medium heat. I ate one pancake while waiting for the last two to finish and put the rest in the refrigerator for leftovers. I put some fake butter on the two I had for dinner and the centre of the apple was now filled with a mixture of apple juice and liquefied honey and fake butter so I drizzled this onto the pancakes. I used no sugar and no salt. It was really good.

I finally got a Christmas tree on Wednesday while I was getting an oil change, a 12 inch fake one with no lights this time, after the one I had till last year, which had lights twisted into its frame, broke so the top lights didn't light. For this tree, I bought separate lights, a string of 100, which was maybe too much as the tree looks a bit of a garnish in the centre of the light wad.

Happy Christmas Eve, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Armchair Abduction in Lights

We've all heard about the Red Scare in the 50s. What must the world dreamed up by Joseph McCarthy been like, where Communists were secretly infiltrating the country through the Hollywood studio system? 2016's Hail, Caesar! imagines this world as only the Coen Brothers can. Both a loving satire of old Hollywood and a gleeful evisceration of paranoid right wing fantasies, it shows its love and makes its argument by being the inimitable collection of odd, very human Coen brothers characters.

I haven't seen any post-1970 film that captures the people of old Hollywood films as well as Hail, Caesar! does. I'm not sure how much of this is because filmmakers lack the skill or if they feel a modern audience won't take people speaking with period accents and diction seriously. But the Coens again show their talent for finding the right actors for the right roles even when one would never have imagined any of these actors in anything like these roles. Tilda Swinton is surprisingly Joan Crawford-ish and vulnerable in two roles as Hedda Hopper type gossip columnists; Veronica Osorio is delightful as a Carmen Miranda type whose name, Carlotta Valdez, is a reference to Vertigo; Alden Ehrenreich is a perfect amalgamation of Ken Curtis, Slim Pickens, and maybe a little Montgomery Clift. My favourite, though, is Scarlett Johansson.

She plays DeeAnna Moran, seemingly modelled on Esther Williams, a beautiful swimming movie star. But off camera, talking to Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), she has the quick, earthy demeanour of Thelma Ritter. And wonderful unselfconscious crassness--I loved the way she kept referring to her mermaid tail as "my ass". I honestly wouldn't have imagined Johansson had this kind of performance in her.

The only person who really doesn't work is Channing Tatum as Burt Gurney, a movie musical star. The film invites a comparison to Gene Kelly which really doesn't do the dead eyed Tatum any favours. Serious, who the fuck is this guy? Why is he in movies? I still can't shake the feeling he was mandated by the Castigliane brothers from Mulholland Drive.

The movie centres on Eddie Mannix, based on the real life Mannix, who was a "fixer", covering up the dirt of stars' private lives. The film begins with a scene reminiscent of one from The Big Sleep--the same book The Big Lebowski is based on--with Mannix finding a starlet getting her pictures taken in a private home somewhere. So the film is sort of a detective story with Mannix's main case being the abduction of Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who's taken from the set of one of the big biblical spectacles that used to be made in the 40s and 50s.

He plays a Roman officer who gradually turns Christian, a plot sort of like Quo Vadis, The Robe, and with a bit of Ben Hur thrown in. The movie amusingly juxtaposes hatred of Communist philosophy with the very Communist sounding Christian rhetoric one hears in these kinds of movies. To reference Thelma Ritter again, I thought of her scene in Pick Up on South Street where she talks about poor, working class folks having enough to worry about keeping a roof over their heads until they die without having to worry about Communists, too. The apparent complete ignorance of what Communism actually is being played with absolute sincerity.

Baird gets along pretty well with the group of Communists who've kidnapped him, who are a bunch of middle aged academics, the very fact that they've hatched this plot illustrating the sort of precious absurdity inherent in the whole Communist plot concept.

Twitter Sonnet #945

The noses shrank inside the extra cheek.
Inflating faces found the cloud parade.
A shorter pant withheld the sherpa's peak.
The visage cut through stone in snow cascade.
In green we washed too much, the lights diffused.
For anything a boot of stone'll smash.
A bulb or cup's not safe when ghost's refused.
Electric eyes surprise in darkened dash.
The sunbeam blanched to stall a gang ashore.
A withered bowl acclaimed in forms resends.
The water caught in tangled trees restored.
Misplaced in xylophone the heart ascends.
The lasso thought ignites spaghetti bowls.
A switching planet's spokes were movie holes.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

This is Why Food Hates Us

There are three kinds of hard truths; the kind you find hard to face, the kind other people find hard to face, and the kind everyone finds hard to face. 2016's Sausage Party is mainly about the second kind but it's more sensitive than you might imagine. Particularly for a movie about talking food getting massacred and mutilated. It is very funny, particularly the first half. It's funny because it's horrible.

The main character is Frank (Seth Rogen), a hot dog, referred to as a sausage to support the title, I guess. Maybe some people do call them sausages, I don't know, I'm a vegetarian, I don't know how you meat eaters do things. Of course, this puts me in an odd position--Wikipedia quotes Seth Rogen, who co-wrote the film, saying, "'What would it be like if our food had feelings?’ We very quickly realized that it would be fucked up.'" Well, cows and chickens and pigs do have feelings. I'm not pointing this out to be a smug prick, but because this happens to be a movie at least in part about being a smug prick.

In this reality, every item sold at the supermarket is sentient and, according to an opening number with music by Alan Menken, they all believe that when they're purchased and taken from the store, they go to a paradise called the Great Beyond. Later in the film, Frank has the task of telling everyone this is a horrible lie and that they're all doomed. When people don't want to believe this despite the evidence he produces, he calls them weak. Later when he marvels that no-one listens to him, his friend, another sausage named Barry (Michael Cera), says of course they didn't believe him because he just called them "a bunch of fucking idiots." Which was something I really appreciated after years of seeing Atheists agonise about how people can be so stupid as to believe in a magical guy in the sky. I remember when Bill Maher was a guest on Stephen Colbert's show a few months ago and he casually referred to the bible as being just a bunch of silly stories. I understand that Maher isn't concerned with offending Catholics like Colbert but he reveals either ignorance or pure belligerence when he dismisses all of Christian thought in one go. It's not merely rude, it's self-defeating, pushing people away from seeing things from his point of view. Which is exactly what happens with Frank.

But the film presents belief in the Great Beyond as merely a tale to make people feel good about dying, so it's not quite a decent analogy for the poetry and wisdom that can be found in religious teaching quite apart from any beliefs in the supernatural or ugly, intolerant imperatives. But that's one of the reasons I don't like allegory. Either everything perfectly stacks up, in which case you might as well just talk about the subject directly, or the correlation is inadequate to support an argument.

Sausage Party, in any case, is a very funny film, surprisingly inventive given that I would have thought the twisted take on talking food was a concept that had run its course on Adult Swim. But Sausage Party finds plenty of new gags, like the banana whose face falls off in a horrific war zone scene, or the awful experience of corn kernels who go undigested. The timing on all the gags is perfectly brisk and natural, these are writers and actors who truly understand the comedy of the grotesque.

Frank's relationship with the hot dug bun, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), also becomes funnier the sweeter it gets. It makes you feel like a perverted fourteen year old in the best way, putting just enough genuine feeling in a scene where the pair accidentally find themselves pressed against each other so that two parts of your mind, the part that thinks it's ridiculous and the part that thinks something really sexual is about to go down, correspond with each other perfectly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Time to Get Young-ish

While Disney's been making movies with brief scenes making older stars look younger, this year a film was released where an actor was digitally made young for a starring role. 2016's Fan stars Shah Rukh Khan in two roles, as a movie star and that movie star's obsessive fan, who happens to look exactly like a younger version of that star. The movie's not one of Khan's better films, in its best moments it has a dream-like fascination, but it mainly seems to be an exercise in special effects technology and actor virtuosity. On those two counts, it succeeds.

The older Shah Rukh Khan plays Aryan Khanna, a Bollywood superstar very like Khan in real life. The first half of the film, though, is from the point of view of Gaurav Chandna, also played by Shah Rukh Khan, made to look younger with expensive digital effects. Gaurav has an elaborate one man show at a park where he performs renditions of Aryan's famous songs. Obsessed with Aryan, Gaurav begins stalking the superstar until he's caught by Aryan's security. Aryan meets with the captive Gaurav and, trying to be gentle but firm in rebuffing him, he actually humiliates the kid who vows revenge.

Gaurav's actually pretty close to the kind of role Khan rose to fame with, like 1993's Darr: A Violent Love Story where he played a dangerous young man obsessed with a woman who doesn't return his affection. And Khan does a great job in both roles, imbuing Gaurav with physical mannerisms and ticks in his speech that are credible yet very different from Aryan.

How convincing is the special effect? Well, I thought Gaurav looked like a young man who maybe had some plastic surgery, but if I didn't know going in there was cgi at work, I wouldn't have known. The weird thing is that he doesn't really look like a young Shah Rukh Khan. In a scene shot in Madame Tussauds, Gaurav, pretending to be Aryan, points out that Khan's wax replica (playing Aryan's wax replica) has a nose that's much too big. Khan's nose, like a lot of people's, has gotten bigger with age but the effects for Gaurav do more than make it smaller, they completely change the shape, as you can see comparing a screenshot from Fan with 1995's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge:

What could be the reason for this difference? I can think of three possibilities: A--the filmmakers wanted Gaurav to look a little different from Aryan since he is, after all, a different person, but that doesn't make sense given the second portion of the film is about Gaurav fooling people into thinking he's Aryan. B--Shah Rukh Khan's vanity vetoed a faithful reproduction of his young nose, or C--the effects artists failed to accurately capture the nose because their work was coloured by their personal impressions of a young Shah Rukh Khan. It's this last possibility I find the most likely and I can see it becoming a recurrent issue as actors are made younger or dead actors are brought back to life. People remember Karl Malden's big nose, would a resurrected Malden have an even bigger nose than the real one because that's how he's defined in the cgi artist's mind? Would a resurrected Peter Lorre have bigger eyes and maybe a smaller neck?

Gaurav also looks different from Shah Rukh Khan in his old films because the makeup was different in those films. Budgets were different, makeup styles were different, the makeup artists were different. I wonder if a young Shah Rukh Khan would make it to-day in this Bollywood which is increasingly starting to look and feel like Hollywood. Fan is under two and a half hours, well under the traditional Bollywood three to four hours, and has no musical numbers. Actresses are skinnier than they use to be, you don't see uni-brows like Kajol's in Dilwale Duhania Le Jayenge. Just look at Juhi Chawla in this clip from Darr, representing a style and impression of beauty wonderfully distant from films made in the west:

Fan's plot is absurd and bends over backwards to give Khan opportunities to show off his great skill, as in one scene where Aryan puts together an absurd scheme to capture Gaurav by performing in Gaurav's one man show. The film has goofy fight and chase scenes, one of them an impressive sequence across the rooftops of Dubrovnik, but they also serve to undermine the reality of the plot. The whole thing feels a bit like watching Shah Rukh Khan's acid flashback.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Quiet Calm for Strange Fate

A child who can pick up radio signals among other strange abilities is pursued by the FBI in 2016's Midnight Special. A nicely subdued piece of filmmaking that quietly portrays the reality experienced by the small family of the boy who find themselves forced to believe things the world considers crazy and the government considers dangerous.

Directed by Jeff Nichols, who made the nice, understated Take Shelter, Midnight Special follows the family as they've managed to flee in an SUV just as the FBI are descending on the cult-like compound where a religious group convenes around the boy. Michael Shannon, star of Take Shelter, plays Roy, the father of the boy, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), driving him to a prophesied time and place with a former stater trooper named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher).

The film is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T. but without Steven Spielberg's penchant for giving all the characters amusing, very human eccentricities. The population of Midnight Special is grim, silent, and desperate. Only Lucas seems relatively relaxed, having that childlike confidence that everything will just work out because his parents are in charge.

Adam Driver gives the most interesting performance in the film, almost like he's stepped out of Close Encounters, as the FBI specialist investigating the child, barely able to conceal his sense of wonder as he gradually realises he's on the tail of something legit. Kirsten Dunst is in the film, doing a good job in a supporting role. Visually, the film's okay, especially if you like yellow and blue.

Twitter Sonnet #944

A trembling table takes a jelly bean.
In sighing ceilings sanctions sort the ghost.
A gondolier engaged a clearer mien.
As storms in steady brooks align the host.
Behind the pixel pieces fit the pen.
The incomplete internal grasp returned.
A lantern failed to light the silver men.
Appliance toys've lit their eyes in turn.
The early sneeze attends what wind is heard.
Attentive portions blank on pies unserved.
A calculation cedes the sleeping word.
The broken medal's moonlike silver curved.
A webbing fishing hook's no use for crab.
A clown's idea of weight can crush a cab.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Real Birds and Ink Ones

Here's a nice big raven I saw at school to-day.

Before that, I was taking pictures of pigeons at the trolley station:

The semester's coming to an end so here are some of the doodles from my notebook for the past four months: