Friday, August 18, 2017
( 12:33 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A nice, handsome guy and a nice, beautiful woman are stuck on a deserted island together, not having sex. That's because he's a marine and she's a nun in John Huston's 1957 film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, a sweet, respectful World War II film about commitment to roles assigned by institutions. Taking place on a Pacific island but shot at Trinidad and Tobago, the film is filled with great, effective exteriors and lovely performances but the film isn't quite an effective counterpoint to the eroticism of Black Narcissus.
Why should I think of Black Narcissus? Deborah Kerr plays a nun in both films--Anglican in Black Narcissus and Catholic in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Black Narcissus was the subject of controversy when it was released in 1947, partly because it depicted nuns driven mad by bodily lusts which devotion to Christ was inadequate to overcome. Released ten years later, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison shows Kerr as an Irish nun, Sister Angela, trapped alone on an island until an American named Allison (Robert Mitchum) washes ashore in a life raft.
Huston establishes the story from Allison's point of view and I loved the eeriness as the marine cautiously ventures into the island and through an ominously abandoned village.
There's no hint of love at first sight when he finds Sister Angela alone in the church. The two strike up a very platonic friendship as they work together, making do with the limited supplies in the village and cooperating hunting for a sea turtle He always calls her "Ma'am". Allison's curious about nuns and the two swap info about their respective orders, coming to the conclusion that marines and nuns have a lot in common in terms of discipline, self-denial, and devotion. It's not until Allison gets drunk on some sake left behind by some Japanese troops who briefly occupy the island that he gets to talking about just what these physical and mental uniforms of theirs mean when there's no-one but the two of them.
By the way, even though none of the Japanese troops become characters, Huston never portrays them as inhuman caricatures. A scene where Allison hides in the rafters watching a couple Japanese men getting drunk and playing Go is oddly human and charming and in stark contrast to other World War II films where Japanese troops are portrayed as ridiculous goblins.
Anyway, Kerr's performance is really nice and I can believe someone like her really could be so steadfast in her devotion to not even for a moment be tempted by pleasures of the flesh. And I like how Allison's more aggressive mood when he's drunk is never overplayed and he feels deeply ashamed of himself afterwards. But the film's simply not as impressive as Black Narcissus with its vivid, gorgeous colours and its more complex characters. If the two movies are different sides of an argument, Black Narcissus brings a lot more evidence for its side. By contrast, the more realistically shot Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison oddly comes off as a light fantasy for those who believe in the power of chastity.#
Thursday, August 17, 2017
( 4:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled
There's a long tradition now of fiction about repressed psychological trauma manifesting in violent telekinetic powers. In 2013, Marina de Van added her own entry to the genre with the unfortunately titled Dark Touch. A pretty, austere colour palette, some good performances, and moments of delicate human feeling aren't enough to pull this film out of a downward spiral. It feels very much like, after a few early good ideas, de Van completely lost inspiration and ditched a series of half formed ideas for a clumsy, cartoonish climax.
Released a year before the far superior Babadook, Dark Touch's cinematography reminded me of the newer film's faded navy blue colour palette, also extending to an improbably coordinated wardrobe. If I see three more films like this, I'm going to call the genre film bleu. It doesn't serve Dark Touch well and seems part of a general lack of a sense that we're seeing real people in real families. The film is about children but the children depicted are all solemnly staring most of the time when they're not in some way dealing with the issue of child abuse. It's like watching something go horribly wrong in the lives of the people in stock photos.
The film centres on a good performance by Missy Keating as Niamh who miraculously survives after her parents are murdered gruesomely by the furniture. I wonder if you'd need to have seen the many other films in this genre to pick up right away that Niamh is the source of the Poltergeist. Hints of her abuse are loud and clear, too, from the peculiar way her parents snap at her and a few suggestive shots of the father's hand and a bruise her baby brother's belly. Her father tries to explain her nervousness as being due to the creaking of a country house--I don't know if it's supposed to seem absurd that we're meant to take this as a creaky old country house.
Niamh goes to live with her neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Galin, and their two children. Nat Galin (Marcella Plunkett) seems to have a connexion with Niamh that is never explained, getting psychic flashes into Niamh's mental state and hearing a high pitched sound just before incidents of Niamh's telekinesis.
Niamh doesn't trust any adults, something not helped by the fact that nearly everyone seems to hit their kids with no warning. Even at a birthday party Niamh attends, all the little girls are hitting and berating their dolls. It's hard to tell if they're deliberately trying to antagonise Niamh or if some of this behaviour is in Niamh's head or if they're all imitating their parents. Maybe this disorientation is meant to put us in Niamh's point of view where everything looks suspicious, I'm not sure.
In one very effectively tender scene, a pregnant councillor named Tanya (Charlotte Flyvholm) is the first to make Niamh feel safe enough to be held, in part because Niamh likes putting her ear to Tanya's tummy. For the most part, Niamh seems to feel an automatic, silent bond with other children, particularly abused children and a brother and sister she meets at school. Niamh very quickly goes from someone who's helpless to and horrified by her own powers to a deliberate vigilante as she organises a little army of silent kids.
This broad idea eclipses a lot of other threads the film leaves unresolved, like a subplot about the Galins' deceased little girl who was apparently a friend of Niamh's despite Niamh mysteriously lacking any memory of her. Nat Galin is framed as a point of view character and the camera evokes a lot of sympathy for her but her motives and personality are left completely ambiguous outside the actress' performance. But she still gets a lot more than many other characters do.
Twitter Sonnet #1024
The lawn mistook the stone for something felt.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
( 12:35 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Mitt Romney, many prominent Republican politicians, even both former presidents Bush (though not in as direct language), condemned Donald Trump's words and insensitivity. His failure to immediately condemn and distance himself from his white supremacist and neo-Nazi supporters seemed at best like a cynical calculation and at worst like an implicit endorsement of their views. Trump's tweets and statements were routinely laughably stupid or frightening and vulgar. All of the brightest, funniest, most intelligent, and respected voices in the media were united in condemning, ridiculing, and refuting Trump. It was September, 2016. Maybe some of you are old enough to remember.
To-day, what's different? Well, there's no looming presidential election. No chance to hit a day of revelation where we found out how impotent or possibly disingenuous those voices were.
Sites like 538.com gave the odds of Trump winning the election as slim to none. Hillary Clinton lacked charisma but she was obviously far more qualified for the job than Trump and her worst scandal, e-mails stored on a private server, paled in comparison to the mountains of scandal that had accumulated around Trump for decades, running the gamut from sexual assault to misappropriated charitable donations. Surely, anyone voting for him, even if they didn't approve of most or all of what Trump said, demonstrated they considered these things acceptable. Because Trump promised nothing that could possibly make up for that.
When you look at Breitbart.com, a leading voice of the alt-right, you don't see articles that explicitly endorse white supremacy. The general lack of articles analysing or condemning demonstrations of white supremacy ought to be a disturbing enough indicator. Instead, though, you see headlines like, "NEVER SATISFIED: PRESS DEMANDS MORE, BETTER CONDEMNATION OF CHARLOTTESVILLE". "DALLAS MAN PUSHES TO RE-BRAND FREEWAYS NAMED FOR DEMOCRAT KLANSMAN".
Who are these articles targeting? They're not stridently championing white supremacy. They don't seem to be advocating a philosophy of their own so much as punching holes in the left's rhetoric. Considering the left is busy condemning Nazis, making the left seem wrong or foolish ought to be a hard thing to do.
At the other end of the spectrum, to-day on Huffington Post there's an inconspicuous article about how Senator Al Franken is returning to appear on Bill Maher's HBO show. It was only a few months ago that social media was united in condemning Bill Maher for referring to himself as a "house nigger" in reply to a bizarre comment from a Republican politician suggesting Maher should work in the fields. I didn't think Maher ought to have used the word, but I was surprised when I saw how strident and universal the condemnation of Maher was on social media. Huffington Post ran an article called "Bill Maher is a Dangerous White Man".
Maher, who seemed starstruck when he interviewed President Obama last year--Obama claiming at the time that he watched every episode of Maher's show. Maher, who not only routinely mocks Trump but whose show, long ago, brought to public attention the political savvy of the likes of Al Franken and Arianna Huffington, who once co-hosted a regular segment on Maher's show. When we have neo-Nazis marching in the streets, is this really the time to be calling Bill Maher a "dangerous white man"?
And that's exactly the left's problem.
Maybe you're saying I'm splitting hairs. Maybe you're saying I'm a curmudgeon who's still sore because Peter Davison was branded a sexist because he thought there might be some drawbacks to a female Doctor Who even as he enthusiastically supported Jodie Whittaker. But maybe you wouldn't be saying that if we had an election yesterday.
The idea in leftwing media seems to be if people don't take seriously a small problem of rhetoric or an imperfect understanding of civil rights then a bazooka needs to be applied. And that's what makes it all the easier for Trump to say to the millions of disenfranchised, "Look, they're trying to manipulate you and they're insulting you." Trump is wrong when he says the left is just as bad as the right. Because the right's problem is institutionalised greed and bigotry while the problem with the left is that it's playing into Trump's hands.#
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
( 3:41 PM ) posted by Setsuled
And everyone continues riding a plot bullet train on the newest Game of Thrones. By the end of "Eastwatch", Sunday's new episode written by Dave Hill, almost no-one is even close to where they were at the beginning of the episode. Some people even managed to get into King's Landing and back. Filled with some nice moments and, as usual, gorgeous locations, I think my current favourite character is Davos (Liam Cunningham).
Spoilers after the screenshot
It was fun seeing him work his smuggler's magic, fast talking those couple of soldiers with some mythical viagra seafood. It's a shame Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) had to blunder out--and in a recognisable scarf, no less.
It was nice that Tyrion and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) could meet up again to discuss the events that led to Tyrion's escape from King's Landing, in particular Tyrion's killing of their father. It's hard for Jaime to take but it's clear he kind of gets where Tyrion is coming from. It's a little hint of the family drama that made Tyrion such a great character back in the show's heyday. Now I guess I'm the only one still holding a candle for a relationship between him and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). But she clearly has eyes for Jon (Kit Harington).
Who says Game of Thrones doesn't give life lessons? Here's a tip, lads--you want to please the woman of your dreams, learn to pet the raging dragon between her legs in a gentle and respectful manner. I'm not being ironic when I say I felt like there was a nice erotic undertone to that scene.
But then the old slow burning romantic flame Jorah (Iain Glen) shows up unexpectedly and he and Jon are shipped off to beyond the Wall. Wow, I'm dizzy just from how much ground was covered in that sentence. I wonder if we'll be getting some suitor rivalry between Jon and Jorah.
All these people and armies moving all over the continent, presumably a lot more time is passing than it seems, but Cersei's (Lena Headey) hair still hasn't grown.
Maybe she likes it short. I'm looking forward to seeing her meet Daenerys. Wouldn't it be great if they became friends? Oh, come on, that would be great. Wouldn't it? Well, I guess there's the matter of them both wanting the Iron Throne. Cersei believes that her choices are either losing the war and dying and surrendering and dying so it makes sense she's willing to parley especially now that she's pregnant. She doesn't know yet that Daenerys was willing to spare any of the Lannister allies who bent the knee to her--it would be interesting to find out what Cersei would do if she did know. I don't quite follow the logic that it's better to roast uncooperative families alive than imprison them, especially when Daenerys has her father's reputation to live down.
Do I need to even point out how improbable Jaime's escape was and how silly it was he and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) were cosily chatting on the riverbank? Okay, didn't think so. There's not really any point anymore pointing this stuff out.
I do really like that the show owns up to the fact that Arya (Maisie Williams) is terrible at stealth as Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) easily outmanoeuvres her. Though the fact that he didn't destroy Sansa's message kind of makes it obvious he wanted Arya to find it. I'm not sure why he wants to create a rift between the sisters other than a general desire to sow chaos. Which, as we know, is a ladder. I still find it hard to believe he really wants the Iron Throne, though. As William S. Burroughs put it:
I never wanted to be a front man like Harding or Nixon–taking the rap, shaking hands, and making speeches all day, family reunions once a year. Who in his right mind would want a job like that? As commissioner of sewers I would not be called upon to pet babies, make speeches, shake hands, have lunch with the queen; in fact, the fewer voters who knew of my existence, the better. Let kings and Presidents keep the limelight. I prefer a whiff of coal gas as the sewers rupture for miles around#
Monday, August 14, 2017
( 4:55 PM ) posted by Setsuled
A very exciting new Twin Peaks last night answered a lot of questions and made a lot of connexions in a beautiful way. Things came to fruition that felt like they were carefully set up twenty five years ago and it was a delight to get lost in those trees.
Spoilers after the screenshot
One of the main reasons the new Twin Peaks feels like such a revelation is that it feels like David Lynch shot something drawn from his own experiences while even the best television nowadays tends to be impressions and clever reworkings of other works of fiction. When Andy (Harry Goaz)--who's great in this episode--vanishes from the other plane like a flickering lamp, it feels like Lynch's idea of someone or something actually vanishing rather than effects people sitting around wondering what would be a cool new version of something that's been done a million times before.
We're certainly benefiting from the creative control Lynch has on the show. It was nice to have those atmospheric shots of the woods leading up to the discovery of the eyeless woman, Naido (Nae Yuuki), who seems to have survived getting flung into the void after her encounter with Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). One of the effective ways of making a monster scary is to give it injuries or impairments of some kind--there's something inherently frightening about vulnerability. Naido simultaneously provokes concern and fear--this episode seems to confirm that she's an agent for the forces of good, which seems to indicate she was not in on the plot to trick Cooper. Maybe she was trying to warn him with that strange, urgent, birdlike, unintelligible speech.
The unnamed drunk (Jay Aaseng), who might be the elusive Billy, also provokes alarm for the sight of his injuries. Imitating Naido in the cells, to the great irritation of the sleazy Chad (John Pirruccello), the two create a forest-like cacophony of monkeys and birds and I was reminded of Mike and Bobby (Dana Ashbrook) barking like dogs at the oddly vulnerable James (James Marshall) in those very same cells back in the pilot episode. Something about these cells turns people into animals.
And James features in the next scene where we see he's become a security guard at the Great Northern. We meet his co-worker from London, Freddie (Jake Wardle), and learn about the green glove bestowed upon him by the Fireman (Carel Struycken), who until now had been credited as simply ????????? in the new series.
The idea of him being a Fireman makes sense given the fact that he is in opposition to forces of the oft-referenced Fire. His job is to put out the fire. But as Hawk (Michael Horse) told us, Fire isn't necessarily bad. One of the fascinating things about this is that it undermines the idea that the Fireman is simply a force of good. The Arm, after all, had the "Fire Walk with Me" tattoo and seems to draw power by invoking this phrase. And we learn that the first sign of Freddie's new strength with his glove is when he accidentally hurts the "jobsworth" who resisted selling him the glove. Like the cops who don't believe the information from Dougie's fingerprints, this clerk in Freddie's story can't see beyond the common realities of his job to contemplate the possibility of the extraordinary.
Green seems to indicate power and danger. The glove is green, the ring is green, the formica table is green, Dougie wore an ugly green sport coat, and last night Diane (Laura Dern) was wearing green in a green chair.
Still a dragon, yet she seemed to be remarkably helpful. It seemed like Cooper in his life as Dougie was hopelessly cut off from all connexions to his former life and acquaintances, but now we know that Janey E is Diane's sister. The texted message to Diane about Las Vegas a few episodes back seems to indicate Diane knows all this already. Why has she held back and why doesn't she hesitate to divulge information now? A mysterious dame, this Diane.
I love the fact that Gordon (David Lynch) gets prophetic dreams from Monica Bellucci and I loved the flashback to Fire Walk with Me where David Bowie's lines make a lot more sense for the current story than they did in the context of that movie. Those who've seen the extended version of that scene in The Missing Pieces know the encounter ended with Jeffries anguished at realising he'd appeared in Gordon's office at the wrong date. It was nice Bowie ended up on this series in some capacity.
I would so love to see the TV show where David Lynch and David Bowie were FBI agents in the 70s. Though it's great just hearing Miguel Ferrer tell a story.
Finally, well, what can I say about Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie)? She does the same face trick as Laura did earlier in the season but inside is not blinding white light but rather darkness and mismatched human features. Another demon merrily disrupting nature though I doubt anyone's crying for the douchebag whose throat Sarah bit out. What happened to her? Whatever it is, I've loved the slow, sinister build to it all season with shots of her questionable television viewing preferences.
Twitter Sonnet #1023
In sums derived behind the boat we ate.
Sunday, August 13, 2017
( 2:44 PM ) posted by Setsuled
I'm often surprised by the light-hearted attitude 1940s British comedies take towards World War II. A vivid example being 1946's I See a Dark Stranger, a comedy spy thriller about a naive Irishwoman who becomes a spy for Germany during the war. The film is a finely crafted enough comedy by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder and I couldn't help feeling affection for the characters even as I felt its treatment might be a bit too breezy. On other hand, maybe something like this wasn't wholly a bad idea at a time when Britain, Ireland, and Germany were trying to find a way of being at peace with each other after bitter conflict.
The film's opening scene is really remarkable for its context. Set in a pub in an Irish village, an old man tells a story of fighting in the Irish Revolution and stirringly describes killing English soldiers. Mind you, this is a British film. If the Irish characters here seem a bit buffoonish, they're no worse than the English characters shown later on. In fact, they're a bit less buffoonish.
Deborah Kerr, whose Irish accent sounds a lot more natural than her American accent, plays Bridie Quilty who's been raised on the stories of the revolution, her father having fought in it. It being her twenty first birthday, she decides to go to Dublin and meet with her father's old comrade, Michael O'Callaghan (Brefni O'Rorke), to join the IRA. To her disappointment, O'Callaghan has come to accept peace with Britain and tries to convince her to do likewise. O'Rorke plays the character as calm and wise in contrast to Bridie's youthful rashness and I suspect part of the motive with this film was to reassure British audiences that Ireland was an ally and dissenters were sentimental old men and adorable young fools. On the one hand, it's a nice idea to put everyone at ease with each other, on the other, it's a bit patronising. Still, O'Callaghan comes across as easily the wisest character in the film.
Spotted in a bookshop buying books on learning the German language, Bridie's recruited by a German spy who goes by the name of Miller (Raymond Huntley). Of all places, he puts her on assignment in an English town with a statue of Oliver Cromwell, whom Bridie takes every opportunity throughout the film to curse.
And, wouldn't you know, Miller has her seduce a British officer named David Baynes (Trevor Howard) who says he's there because he's working on a thesis on Cromwell. As with the explicit details of World War II and the Irish Revolution, Bridie never manages to say precisely why she and everyone back home hate Cromwell so much. Discussing slaughter at the hands of Cromwell and his men at Drogheda would risk making Bridie not seem so foolish.
Because the German agent is a buffoon, his assumption that David is an intelligence officer based on the fact that David says he's not in town to fish turns out to be utterly wrong. This puts Bridie into a rage after she's wasted a whole afternoon falling in love with David. Miller's not nearly as buffoonish, though, as the leader of the German spies in England we meet later played by a portly Norman Shelley in a ridiculous check sport coat and boater hat.
Witnessing his interrogation technique of slapping someone in the face a few times can only seem insultingly trite at this point.
But meanwhile, the British COs in the Isle of Man, where Bridie and David end up, are a strange pair of philandering big men with matching moustaches and bald heads who routinely fumble in their jobs.
The film actually shows some British military police getting shot so I wonder how comfortable war veterans were laughing at this movie. But many of the gags are very good and the leads are charming.#
Saturday, August 12, 2017
( 4:03 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Politically motivated journalists, a mediaeval castle, the second World War, Margaret Thatcher's election, and a particularly nasty mythological creature are all connected in the 2011 Doctor Who audio play Rat Trap. Carried especially well by a performance from Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, this story is funny and sinister and ties its various threads together as nicely as a wad of rats' tails.
Maybe you've heard of the Rat King, the extremely rare case of a group of rats who've gotten their tails tangled up. In Rat Trap, a government scientist begins working in the aftermath of World War II to create a super-intelligent, telepathic being by experimenting with rats, connecting them in such a manner in the tunnels beneath Cadogan Castle. Intending to visit the middle ages and witness some jousting, the Doctor and his companions, Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Tegan (Janet Fielding), and Turlough (Mark Strickson), find themselves beneath the castle in 1983 where a group of journalists are trying to uncover the truth about the place before it's taken over by Heritage in the wake of Thatcher's election and any unsavoury history can be hidden away.
Just this layering of concept is fun but the characters are nicely rendered, too. The group of journalists the Doctor encounters squabble and have distinct personalities--one had brought along a dog whistle to ward off any dogs when breaking into the castle, at which the Doctor wryly asks if they realise dog whistles attract dogs, not scare them away. Davison is in top form here and I was particularly impressed by his ability to speak great lengths of dialogue in a single breath. He usually played the Doctor as seeming almost out of breath and the impression he gave was of someone who's acutely conscious of time rapidly running out but whose sense of decorum insists that he say everything that needs saying in just the proper way. We see this in Rat Trap when, in rushing from one point to another, he manages to ask very quickly but very politely that he be reminded of a stash of napalm he'd left behind and that he should dispose of it properly when time allows.
Nyssa continues the plot thread started in Cobwebs that finds her much older than she was on the television show. She's given a moment to dramatically chew on the underused point about the Master possessing her father's body. Turlough, meanwhile, has an entertaining adventure in the TARDIS with a defibrillator.#
Friday, August 11, 2017
( 5:46 PM ) posted by Setsuled
In the weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbour, handsome soldiers and beautiful women are caught in private, passionate melodramas in 1953's From Here to Eternity. The screenplay is much too broad to make most of its stabs for emotion very effective but the actors carry a lot, both for their performances and for their physical appearance.
Burt Lancaster must have the broadest shoulders I've ever seen. He easily encompasses Deborah Kerr in the famous beach love scene, the scene that's misled many people into thinking the film was going to be all about romance. Kerr, in something of a breakout role for her in the U.S., has a fairly small part in the film and a really strange American accent. I wouldn't be surprised to learn she was dubbed. There are a few scenes where the filmmakers seem to avoid giving her as much dialogue as possible--a scene where she and Lancaster are worried about being spotted at a restaurant has a long, continuous shot of her face with absolutely no dialogue. It's like watching a silent film actress--and Kerr really makes it work.
Lancaster's a sergeant named Warden and Kerr plays Karen, the wife of Warden's captain. She's known for sleeping around, something Warden tosses in her face angrily in an unintentionally funny moment just after the two have been going at it in the surf. The film is filled with over the top, hot headed guys.
But most of the film focuses on a private named Robert E. Lee Prewitt, played by Montgomery Clift in a wonderful, vulnerable, raw nerve performance. In a plot point nicked from The Quiet Man, Prewitt's a former boxer who refuses to fight now after he accidentally caused permanent harm to another boxer. But the whole reason he'd been transferred to the regiment is because the captain (Philip Ober) wants him to fight for his team. So a bunch of Prewitt's superiors commence giving him "the treatment"--kicking him during training and giving him unfair punishments. Much to their frustration, he takes it all in stride.
He's befriended by a nice, hot headed guy named Maggio (Frank Sinatra) who establishes a dangerous rivalry with the hot headed stockade sergeant, Judson (Ernest Borgnine), leading to two knife fights in the film. Maggio's a good guy whose unlikely misfortune fuels the melodramatic, noble reactions from those around him.
Donna Reed plays a gentleman's club hostess named Lorene, apparently a prostitute in the source novel, which better explains the conflicted feelings Prewitt and she have when he falls for her.
I found myself enjoying the movie most when everyone was just hanging around a bar or the club while Maggio tells drunken jokes and Prewitt plays his bugle mouthpiece, which Reed handles at one moment rather suggestively. But for some reason my favourite visual was Kerr in this dress with what looks like a bunch of wicker disks.
Twitter Sonnet #1022
The tin antennae tune from under clouds.