Monday, November 20, 2017
      ( 3:04 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The story of Kaji, the humanist caught up in the Japanese war machine during World War II, continues in the second part of Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition (人間の條件). The film critiques the nature of military structure from the point of view of one soldier. Still having a generally propagandistic feel, with Kaji himself being a relatively simplistic hero character, this second film does bring some more layers to its characters as Kobayashi strives to convey a sense of the miserable institution where one group of men try to beat another group into submission.

Like the other segments, this film is itself divided into two segments though at only three and a half hours it's the shortest. I would be very much surprised if the first half of this second film was not a big influence on Stanley Kubrick when he made Full Metal Jacket--the plot is very similar. Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai) takes on a role roughly analogous to Matthew Modine's character as he suffers through boot camp, watching as one fellow conscript, Obara (Kunie Tanaka), unable to take the basic rigours of the experience, undergoes extraordinary punishment. Though there's no chief tormentor for Obara like Full Metal Jacket's drill sergeant--his fellow conscripts as well as the officers beat, humiliate, and push Obara around in equal measure.

Kaji seems to be his only friend, even carrying Obara's pack for him on a running exercise but when even relieved of the same weight everyone else carries Obara still cries and collapses, even Kaji loses patience with him. But Kaji is otherwise much more forceful as Obara's advocate than Modine's character in Full Metal Jacket. Though as a suspected Communist Kaji faces plenty of abuse himself, something not helped by the fact that the brass allow him to spend a night with his wife, Michiko (Michiyo Aratama), in a storage shed.

The scene is very sweet and Tatsuya Nakadai and Michiyo Aratama communicate the love these two feel for each other effectively but mostly this scene feels a bit extraneous. The premise is improbable, undercutting the film's central argument about how rough things are for the conscripts. Mostly it feels like the filmmakers wanted an excuse to get Aratama back in the film so she could share screentime with Nakadai.

After getting injured in action, Kaji finds himself in the hospital where Kobayashi takes time to show how even the military hosiptal staff consists of a cruel disciplinarian head nurse and her lackeys--though one pretty nurse is improbably kind to Kaji. Again, the film doesn't have much room for middle ground characters.

In the second portion of the film, Kaji advances in the ranks to a point where he finds himself in charge of a group of conscripts himself. Once again he's an administrative role like in the first film. Now he tries to act on what he's learned, particularly from the first half of this film, and demands that the veteran soldiers and the new conscripts, particularly the older ones, be kept in separate barracks. Kaji breaks with the cold discipline of he military, acting as a friend to the new conscripts, even advising one to sew a bit of pornography into his underwear so it wouldn't be caught during inspection. The veterans, hardened into puerile assholes by the system, bully Kaji. But however much they hurt him, Kaji refrains from reacting, something I guess somehow gave him clout to run things the way he wanted, but the logic for this is kind of vague, giving the scenes sort of an unintended S&M feel.

Of course, keeping with the film's simple philosophical perspective, Kaji proves to be absolutely right when the newer conscripts remain loyal to him at the end while the veterans panic as they all face the onslaught of Russian tanks. The climax is a nice, effectively shot war scene.


Sunday, November 19, 2017
      ( 12:00 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The new Morrissey album, Low in High School, came out on Friday and I spent a good deal of time listening to it on Saturday. It's good, I think I like it more than World Peace is None of Your Business though the lyrics in that previous one were often more challenging and approached a greater diversity of subject matter. Gods know we need more art that challenges people to think.

But Low in High School might be challenging for some in that it features two unabashedly pro-Israel songs, including one called "Israel" and another very nice one called "The Girl from Tel Aviv Who Wouldn't Kneel", apparently in part a reference to Etty Hillesum, a woman who was killed in Auschwitz. I learned this from this article from which I also learned that Morrissey was presented with a key to the city of Tel Aviv.

A lot of the songs on the album have verses that end with lines leading into the next, something matched by beats that build momentum nicely.

The girl from Tel-Aviv who wouldn't kneel
The girl from Tel-Aviv who wouldn't kneel
Nor for husband, dictator, tyrant or king
Humble homes with mottoes on the walls

Symbols and signs in framed designed
Sure to keep the poor poor
In fear of a god who hadn't saved them after all

And all of my friends are in trouble
They're sorry, they're sick and they know
All of my friends are in trouble
There's no need to go into that now

Morrissey's past few albums have had a harder rock quality to them but Low in High School has a lot more melodic piano, almost resembling cabaret and the last line in the verse "There's no need to go into that now" is tossed off with a biting flippancy to highlight the position of people who live in dangerous places and situations but who are ignored or pushed aside.

The first half of the album is more focused on the personal romantic issues Morrissey's music is more famous for, the song "Home is a Question Mark" has an effective melancholy broken up with the surprisingly odd, visceral image of his imagined lover wrapping his or her legs around his face. But there's plenty of politics mixed into the first half as well--and romance in the second. He describes an opposition between those who seek love (as in "All the Young People Must Fall in Love") and those who pursue careers that make them into oppressors like the soldier in "I Bury the Living" who ends the song by pointing out that he hasn't died doing the job he loved because getting a bullet to the head "wasn't the job I loved."

Though according to an interview that's going around to-day, Morrissey describes himself as generally "apolitical, but I'm a human being that exists in the world today. Everything we do has to do with politics. But as I said, I've never voted for any party in my life." Though that's not the part of the interview--a bad translation from the German magazine Der Spiegel--that's circulating in online tabloids to-day as a fuel for outrage. He's being called stupid or insensitive for his comments on the wave of sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood despite the fact that in general I find his words the sanest said on the subject in public discourse so far:

SPIEGEL: Since we're here in Hollywood, have you followed the debates on Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and #MeToo?

Morrissey: Up to a point, yes but then it became a play. All at once all owe. Anyone who has ever said to someone else, "I like you," is suddenly being charged with sexual harassment. You have to put these things into the right relations. If I can not tell anyone that I like him, how would he ever know? Of course, there are extreme cases, rape is disgusting, any physical attack is repugnant. But we have to see it in proportion. Otherwise, every person on this planet is guilty. We can not decide permanently from above, what to do and what not. Because then we are all in the trap. Some people are already awkward when it comes to romance. They do not know what to do and then their behaviour is aggressive.

SPIEGEL: What do you think of Spacey, one of the main characters in a movie, replacing her with the launch date?

Morrissey: I think that's ridiculous. As far as I know, he was in a bedroom with a 14-year-old. Kevin Spacey was 26, boy 14. One wonders where the boy's parents were. One wonders if the boy did not know what would happen. I do not know about you but in my youth I have never been in situations like this. Never. I was always aware of what could happen. When you are in somebody's bedroom, you have to be aware of where that can lead to. That's why it does not sound very credible to me. It seems to me that Spacey has been unnecessarily attacked.

SPIEGEL: Is this also supposed to apply to the actresses who went to the hotel room with Weinstein?

Morrissey: People know exactly what's going on. And they play along. Afterwards, they feel embarrassed or disliked. And then they turn it around and say: I was attacked, I was surprised, I was shattered into the room. But if everything went well, and if it had given them a great career, they would not talk about it. I hate rape. I hate attacks. I hate sexual situations that are forced on someone. But in many cases one looks at the circumstances and thinks that the person who is considered a victim is merely disappointed. Throughout the history of music and rock 'n' roll there have been musicians who slept with their groupies. If you go through history, almost everyone is guilty of sleeping with minors. Why not throw everyone in jail at the same time?

SPIEGEL: David Bowie has deflowered a 15-year-old, according to the person concerned.

Morrissey: That was absolutely normal back then ...

SPIEGEL: Have you ever been in such a situation?

Morrissey: No.

SPIEGEL: Neither on one side or the other?

Morrissey: No. Never, never, never.

Personally, I think Weinstein probably is a scumbag, I'm less sure on Spacey, but one thing's for sure it creeps me the hell out that people's lives are being ruined without any criminal convictions. People get accused and there seems to be a general assumption that they're guilty. The most egregious cases so far, in my opinion, have been Richard Dreyfuss and George Takei. Dreyfuss, not long after expressing pride in his son for coming forward with a claim of being abused by Kevin Spacey, was hit with allegations himself by his friend and former collaborator Jessica Teich. In addition to claiming Dreyfuss showed her his penis (which Dreyfuss denies), Teich describes years of additional harassment. And yet she also adds, "Richard would be very surprised if 30-odd years later he heard that I felt completely coerced and disenfranchised. I think he’d be like, ‘Oh no, I thought you really liked me.’ I don’t think he had any idea." So basically she says that she believed he thought what was going on was reciprocal but instead of going to him directly to address the matter she went public with it. She didn't go through mutual acquaintances, nothing. Raising awareness about the proper time and place for sexual advances is good but the fact that she decided to publicly shame someone she believed was entirely ignorant of his own crime is weird to say the least.

Meanwhile, George Takei has been accused of misconduct by a man who went home with him in 1981, allegedly Takei attempted to remove his underwear when the man was asleep. Takei denies the allegation and at this point no-one has brought forth any evidence. In fact, this man has apparently been making this claim about Takei for years and has even expressed surprise himself that he's suddenly being paid attention to.

The fact that Takei's name is suddenly deemed worth dragging through the mud because of a single unsubstantiated allegation is weird enough. What's even weirder is there's suddenly outrage about quotes from The Howard Stern Show where Takei describes grabbing men's penises and he's had to explain he was joking.

He's had to explain he was joking about grabbing penises. On The Howard Stern Show.

You know, once upon a time, George Takei was known as Sulu from Star Trek. Then he found a new claim to fame when he came out of the closet and began indulging in racy banter with Stern, audible to Stern's audience of millions for almost twenty years. This led eventually to his Facebook page with over a million likes . . . and now, it's the people who follow his Facebook who are suddenly aghast at the very kind of talk, enjoyed by millions, that put Takei into his new celebrity role in the first place. Maybe these hypocrites think they don't have to feel so bad about the retconned sick humour they used to laugh at if they can find a scapegoat to take the fall.

Another thing I think people are losing sight of here, as far as Kevin Spacey and George Takei are concerned, is the fact that these are both older gay men who led much of their adult lives closeted in a world where being gay was regarded as sick by mainstream morality. Another thing you might hear if you go back and listen to Takei on The Howard Stern Show is him talking about secretive one night stands he engaged in even long after the success of Star Trek. I really hate the fact that "empathy" has become a buzzword because it's exactly what the young editors and writers who are trashing him need to exercise in order to put themselves in the shoes of someone conscious that their fundamental physical urges are seen as sick by the respectable world. Can you imagine for a moment how that might fuck up your barometer when it comes to flirting?

Mind you, I'm not saying Spacey or Takei are innocent. I'm saying we don't know if they're guilty. Our legal system is founded on the premise of presumed innocent until proven guilty for a reason. You end up with mob rule otherwise. I've always said Roman Polanski should go to jail despite the fact that I love Chinatown and Repulsion. Even if his victim has forgiven him now--giving him a pass would be a very bad precedent, it would open the door to all kinds of coercion of victims. But I believe Polanski should go to jail because there was a trial and there was evidence presented and he fled the country--not because of some tacky headline on A.V. Club.

Now we're at the point where if someone even suggests for a moment that maybe among this sudden avalanche of accusations some of them just might be opportunists he's considered completely out of line no matter how vigorously he expresses the disgust he feels for sexual assault. This is madness.


Saturday, November 18, 2017
      ( 2:27 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

The Doctor must deal with an inhabited comet turned into a weapon in the 2012 Doctor Who audio play The Jupiter Conjunction. Though it's Turlough who seems to do most of the work in much of this nicely put together Fifth Doctor story.

There's some kind of shifty political alliance between Earth military and a previously unknown vaporous sentient species from Jupiter. There's an amusing and disturbingly prescient propaganda effort by the villains--though the instruction from one character to a subordinate to "hack the Internet" seems slightly dated the premise certainly holds water. It makes one wonder if the Russian propaganda machine that helped elect Trump is going to try making an alien invading force look good one day.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) find themselves imprisoned at which point Turlough takes the lead. I liked that writer Eddie Robson wanted to capitalise on Turlough's talent for being a turn-coat, it's only a shame the Fifth Doctor has to go into the fussy older brother mode he sometimes goes into for this to happen. He's caught flat footed when Turlough offers to give evidence against the Doctor in exchange for immunity but it's still fun hearing Turlough's clever plan unfold.

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) are also in the story and though neither has nearly as much interesting material the climax gives Nyssa a nice moment.

Twitter Sonnet #1055

A letter passed from hand to hand delayed.
Electric message roused a sleeper late.
A day without a year, a bed unmade.
They crossed the darkest road but scratches wait.
A vivid lemon stage enfolds the dance.
A stair divorced of house collects the lost.
The scarlet springs behind the eye advance.
A melted ceiling's weight concealed the gloss.
Where wood and carpet stood's a dead discount.
The plastic claws of saints divert the feast.
As scissor leaves construct each new account.
Persistent lines exclude a crimson beast.
Divided words return unwritten drinks.
Beneath a mirrored moon a surface sinks.


Friday, November 17, 2017
      ( 2:17 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

Last night's new Orville, "Firestorm", seemed mainly to be another set of homages to Star Trek until the end when it took things in a surprising and satisfying direction. Directed by Brannon Braga and written by Family Guy writer Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, the episode is an entertaining and effective contemplation of an individual's ownership of her own fear.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The episode begins with a provoking dilemma for Alara (Halston Sage) when the super strong head of security fails to rescue a crewmember trapped under debris because she freezes at the sight of flames. Caught off guard by her own unexpected psychological response, she immediately wants to resign but Captain Mercer (Seth MacFarlane), like the rest of the crew, realises she's being too hard on herself. But even Mercer, in a nice scene reminiscent of Picard compassionately addressing a crewmember's issue with them in his ready room, recommends that Alara look into the evident fear she has of fire.

This leads to an amusing cameo from Robert Picardo, the first major Star Trek star to cameo on the series, and he and Molly Hagan are perfectly cast as Alara's parents. They all three have kind of the same mannerisms and vocal inflections and they kind of look alike. And, on a side note, it's nice to see Sage has ditched some of the stilted delivery from earlier in the season.

Her parents inform her that she had a traumatic experience with fire as a child and this could have led to lifelong psychological effects.

Chevapravatdumrong has a Juris Doctor degree from New York University Law School and she majored in psychology at Yale--a resume I honestly would have never expected from a Family Guy writer but makes sense for this episode of The Orville. Obviously Alara can't expect to be given a heads up every time she runs into fire so she has to deal with the problem. By combining a hallucination plot with a memory wipe plot, Chevapravatdumrong comes up with a perfect solution for Alara who basically gives herself a crash course in all possible debilitating frightening stimuli. What seems like a story about how Alara is victimised nicely turns out to be one of extraordinary empowerment.

The effects were nicely done, I liked the nods to Aliens in the score and in the shots of Alara running down corridors with a rifle and a ripped shirt. The humour didn't always work for me in this episode but I liked Ed mistakenly thinking the regulation Alara invoked was the one forbidding bare feet in engineering.


Thursday, November 16, 2017
      ( 5:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I just finished watching through the third season of Twin Peaks again. I really loved how David Lynch kept information about episodes out of the media before they aired--the experience of allowing a story on screen to unfold on its own terms is increasingly becoming too rare. I'm really disturbed by a diminished appreciation people are beginning to display for sensory experience, something Twin Peaks excels at and one of the things that makes it so distinct from other television series now. But watching it again, my appreciation for the show has deepened for watching it with foreknowledge. Without anxiously waiting to see when Dougie is going to become Cooper again or waiting to find out what Mr. C is looking for I'm able to linger in moments even more. Since it was that beautifully, hauntingly enigmatic finale I watched last night it's the episode most on my mind right now.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

Incidentally, for those wondering what my opinion is on that final scene and what I think the answer is to Cooper's question, "What year is it?", I think the answer is no year at all. I think the reason Laura/Carrie looks confused when Cooper asks the question is that she realises she doesn't know either. This realisation starts a domino effect in her mind until she hears that ghostly echo of Sarah calling her for breakfast from the pilot episode. Then the lights in the house pop out, a malfunction as the show collapses.

Looking for clues as to the year throughout the last episode, there are several cars that can be no newer than 2000. The Valero gas station they stop at confirms it can be no earlier than 1980, when the company was founded, at which point Laura would already have been living in the Palmer household. But what strikes me more about that scene is its coldness, like the rest of the segment beginning with Cooper and Diane entering the alternate world, there's something lonely about it. I realised episode 18 of the third season is the first in the series that doesn't jump around to focus on a variety of story threads. Aside from the new Dougie coming home to Janey E and Sonny Jim, the episode entirely focuses on Cooper as the protagonist.

There's something oddly frail and vulnerable about it. As he and Carrie drive through darkness like a void it's like the horror of a world shed of complexity, the depressed obsessive person's focus on a single objective. The one moment Cooper starts thinking like a detective again, pulls that thread about the year, everything falls apart.

He shows Carrie his badge to establish his authority and when he talks to Diane and the people in the diner he always commands, he never requests--"Kiss me," "Turn off the light", "Leave her alone." It's interesting that his badge didn't come with him when he came back to the real world to replace Dougie. The only thing he had at that point was the Great Northern Hotel key--he'd even lost his lapel pin. We could guess that the reason is that the key was all he thought he needed--it had obviously been treated in the Black Lodge in some way to become an activator for the door in the boiler room to turn it into a portal. The strange sound Ben and Beverly hear begins when the key comes back to the hotel.

There's never the impression Cooper would do anything without any innocent person's consent but his role as an FBI agent has become important primarily for how it establishes him as an authority. I've read theories that say that Cooper's dream world begins when he and Diane drive to the end of those 430 miles but I think it begins in the Twin Peaks sheriff station when his face becomes superimposed on the action. The first thing that happens after that is that Candie comes in and says, "It's a good thing we made so many sandwiches." I think of Candie as sort of a canary in the coal mine, she's some kind of warning system that something is off. There's a pointed urgency in her tone and her line is implicitly about a large group of people--"so many sandwiches". When did they make those sandwiches? In the back of the car? On the plane? It seems like they rushed to the sheriff's station. Added to the absurdity of the moment Candie chooses to bring in snacks I think it's a warning to Cooper that reducing the world from its natural uncontrollable complexity in order for him to carry out a single minded pursuit is dangerous.

The Final Dossier talks about Cooper's preoccupation with saving women stemming from his childhood and his doomed relationship with Caroline. Caroline changing into Annie in the Black Lodge seems to confirm the place occupied in Cooper's mind by the women he cares for, though curiously he never seems to think of Annie once in the new series. In those twenty five years in the Black Lodge, the cosmic importance of Laura as a creation of the Fireman has been impressed upon him, something that combines with his lifelong preoccupation as either a very good or very bad coincidence.

The odd thing about episode 18 is how dreamlike it doesn't feel to me. Concentrating on a single protagonist, using new, realistic locations, and the use of the real life occupant of the Palmer house make reality something that seems to be encroaching on Cooper and Laura. The world threatening Cooper's increasingly fragile dream.

Before the new series, a lot of people wondered if Judy was going to be another character played by Sheryl Lee, like Madeleine Ferguson in the original series. This made sense to me because I knew Madeleine was named after Kim Novak's character in Vertigo--a character whose real name was Judy. Now I wonder if that connexion is still so far off. What if Judy is the reality that denies the shared dream? Like Scottie can't resurrect Novak's Madeleine with Novak's Judy, Cooper can't resurrect Lee's Laura with Lee's Carrie. The scene from Fire Walk with Me used in episode 17 tellingly has Laura explaining to James, "Your Laura disappeared. It's just me now."

Jeez, I could chew on this all day. Well, maybe I'll continue this in another entry in a few days.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017
      ( 3:29 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

My favourite era in filmmaking is in the first decades after World War II in Japan. Some of the greatest filmmakers of all time approached the complex feelings and conditions in the wake of defeat in a variety of effective ways. One of the most direct would be Masaki Kobayashi's nearly ten hour film The Human Condition (人間の條件) which was released in three parts from 1959 to 1961. Kobayashi uses the Japanese military in the second World War as a theatre to explore ideological contrasts between humanism and totalitarianism, socialism and authoritarianism, left and right. The films are often too morally simplistic to effectively make their arguments, broad characters often having the quality of propaganda heroes and villains, and it's likely for this reason Kobayashi tends not to be talked about in the same breath as Kurosawa or Ozu, but the films have some effective melodrama and an admirable performance from star Tatsuya Nakadai.

The first film tackles what was a very sensitive topic in Japan in the post war years, the prison camps run by the Japanese in Manchuria. One of the reasons Japanese soldiers tended to be regarded with contempt by civilians after the war was because of news and rumours that had spread about the cruelty with which the Japanese military treated Chinese prisoners. The protagonist of the film series, Kaji (Nakadai), becomes an administrator at one of these camps during the war after receiving an exemption from the draft. A recent university graduate, Kaji comes to the camp possessed with a passionate desire to implement the humanistic ideals he gained through his education, something that puts him at odds with virtually every other Japanese soldier and administrator at the camp.

The fact that this topic was approached at all by such a prominent film says a lot about this era in Japanese filmmaking. This would be like if Hollywood had released in 1959 a blockbuster about the U.S. internment of Japanese American citizens World War II.

Kaji has two allies in the office: Okishima (So Yamamura) who disagrees with Kaji's philosophy but admires his compassion, and Chin (Akira Ishihama), a Chinese man. Otherwise, Kaji's superiors and frequently his subordinates ridicule his desire to ease conditions in the camp, painting him both as a coward and a traitor. By the end of this first film, this leads to gruesome consequences for Kaji and the prisoners, including a particularly harsh scene depicting a series of decapitations.

The Chinese prisoners, in contrast, are depicted as all basically good men. After Kaji hires the women from a brothel to visit the prisoners regularly--on the advice of Okishima--a melodramatic romance develops between the most rebellious of the prostitutes (Ineko Arima), and the most rebellious of the prisoners (Koji Nanbara). It's mainly there to drive up the emotional effect of a dastardly plot to trick the prisoners into trying to escape, cooked up by one of the officers played by the always effectively weaselly Koji Mitsui.

A subplot deals with Kaji's incredibly sweet wife, Michiko (Michiyo Aratama) who puts up with everything life with her new husband entails and she's there to amp up the emotional impact of the climax. Kaji's too simply a noble character and the forces he's up against too mindlessly evil to make the movie much more than a particularly poignant example of national self-loathing but considering the reality of the Manchurian prison camp, depicted with some really effective imagery, it does convey some of the horror of one group of people treating another as natural inferiors.

Twitter Sonnet #1054

The palms reveal a wine too green for trunks.
The buried elephant appraised bouquets.
Percussive songs emerged in second thunks.
In helmets close the warmer mind crochets.
In paper patterns cups resume a shape.
No sober man or drunk'll find the floor.
Beneath the stage an amber bottle gaped.
In angled lines the light removed the door.
A planet pink and sweet presides above.
A bowl the size of storms contained the land.
In moving stripes the horses chased the dove.
On Bergman's hill there played a stranger band.
The sculpture's brain arose to part the ice.
In number these the steps were grains of rice.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017
      ( 11:30 AM ) posted by Setsuled  

The final Amicus anthology horror film was 1974's From Beyond the Grave. Once again featuring a framing story starring Peter Cushing it has some of the best imagery of the series as well as some of the most moralistic subtext.

Cushing plays the owner of a little antique shop in which each of the protagonists of the film's four stories eventually finds himself. Each one who tricks Cushing in some way ends up meeting a horrible fate. Cushing is nice and subtle as the Proprietor, showing just a hint that he's consciously aware of the supernatural vengeance his merchandise is exacting on his behalf.

The first story stars David Warner as a yuppie who buys a mirror from Cushing. After holding a seance with a group of equally posh and shallow friends, he discovers there's a demon presence in the mirror which compels Warner to commit a series of murders. It's a pretty effectively creepy mirror effect.

Warner nicely conveys the grief and horror of his actions as bodies begin to pile up.

The second story involves a stiff necked employee named Christopher (Ian Bannen) frustrated by his marriage to a fractious Diana Dors. Which already makes me dislike him--anyone who gets to be married to Diana Dors should thank his lucky stars every damned night, I don't care how she acts.

But the story concerns Christopher's encounters with an impoverished war veteran selling matches on the streets played by Donald Pleasence. Christopher buys a medal from Cushing to trick Pleasence into thinking he's a fellow vet and soon the poor man invites Christopher home and introduces him to his daughter, played by Pleasence's real life daughter Angela Pleasence.

The family resemblance is clear and somehow makes the two of them even creepier. Why is that? Is it the reminder of the biological nature of human reproduction?

The third story is more of a comedy, starring Ian Carmichael who inadvertently brings home a demon along with a snuff box he swindles out of Cushing. He enlists the aid of a witch played by an amusingly dishevelled Margaret Leighton. The story ends up being both effectively light hearted and sinister.

The final story involves a young man in the second brown corduroy sport coat of the film (it is the 70s, after all) named William (Ian Ogilvy) who buys a whole, huge, ornately carven door from Cushing. He brings it home and attaches it to a closet, an odd place for such an ostentatious item, as his wife (Lesley-Anne Down) remarks. But she needn't have worried because very quickly William discovers that sometimes the door leads to a room from the 17th century covered with cobwebs.

In many ways, this story is similar to the one with David Warner but it is very effective. The time and place distortion is played gradually enough to build suspense and eeriness and combines well with the over the top, haunted house quality of the strange room.


Monday, November 13, 2017
      ( 3:09 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

A very nice Star Trek Discovery last night. It made absolutely no sense and yet it felt like the most coherent episode of the season. Maybe this is where Nicholas Meyer started exerting his influence after the previous episodes burned off the remains of Bryan Fuller's ideas because the excitement, action, and violation all put me in mind of Star Trek II.

Spoilers after the screenshot

So the Klingons are on their way to destroy that organic transmitter along with the whole blue will-o'-the-wisp civilisation from last week and Lorca (Jason Isaacs) does the heroic thing and disobeys Starfleet orders to stick around and save them. Lorca seems like an old fashioned Star Trek captain at this point, even Kirk seemed more Hawkish in Star Trek VI. Trillions of lives being at stake does seem like a good reason for Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to risk all those spore drive jumps, though it's weird the straw that broke the Stamets back was the one they apparently took for no reason at the end.

I saw on the io9 review that Stamets had to use the spore drive instead of just warping because there was some talk about a Klingon fleet following them back to Federation space if they just warped. But since the Federation and the Klingons are at war anyway wouldn't the Klingons be doing that regardless of whether the Discovery was around?

But I liked Lorca in this episode and I liked him before. Jason Isaacs hits it out of the park. I didn't mind the fact that Lorca had been gathering scientific data on the spore jumps and Stamets doesn't ask why it'd been a secret--not to mention it doesn't make sense that Stamets himself wouldn't be gathering the same data. But the relationship between Stamets and Culber (Wilson Cruz) is nice despite the fact that every beat of it made clear exactly what was going to happen. The actors pulled it off really well and the balancing of private life with professional life Stamets had set up in his confession to Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is a nicely handled thread on an otherwise inconsistent show. Though Tilly blurting out Stamets' secret seemed awkward and unnatural even by 80s daytime sitcom standards.

The final battle between Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was nice though woodenly choreographed to allow for Kol's cumbersome costume, the actors' evident lack of training, and the fact that tiny Burnham looks ridiculously outmatched. But that Klingon bridge set is gorgeous.

The scene allowed Kol to reiterate the perplexing motive for the Klingon's going to war, something about the Federation robbing them of their identity. Maybe the Klingons in this are meant to be an allegory for anti-immigration rednecks or Brexiters or something but the circumstances are too vastly different for that to work. But if that was the idea it would explain the incoherence of it.

Voq (Shazad Latif) is still masquerading as human Starfleet officer Ash Tyler though incredibly this episode doesn't give us the "reveal". I mean, it's so damned obvious I don't even know why people are calling it speculation or a theory anymore. One guy accuses George Takei of sexual assault and we're supposed to believe it on no evidence but somehow Voq and Ash being the same person is just speculation. Maybe the more severe the theory, the more we're supposed to take it as true?

This episode dealt with sexual assault, sort of, with Voq remembering what he seems to think was essentially non-consensual sex with L'Rell (Mary Chieffo). I think it's in this episode they decided Voq in his Ash persona has had his memory manipulated so that he really believes he's human until he's presumably "activated" at some point. He always seemed really douchy before this episode, like he was well aware of a joke he was playing on the crew of Discovery, now he seems like he means what he says. I suspect his and Burnham's relationship is going to end up being something like the 1946 movie Black Angel. Which would be cool, it'd be the closest to noir that Star Trek's ever come and with the appearance of Klingon breasts in this episode, after the use of the word "fuck" in a few episodes previous, this is clearly not designed to be a family show. Though I guess the gruesomeness of Voq's surgery flashbacks are no worse than Khan putting those mind eating worms in people's ears.

I guess they figure there's no way kids would be into Star Trek now. I wonder if that comes from cynicism? There are some examples of children's literature that are way beyond most kids to-day, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, for example. And maybe instilling optimism in kids, something Star Trek was once known for, is kind of a bad idea since we're all very likely doomed. Still, maybe if we had some kind of hope we'd be more likely to think of solutions?


Sunday, November 12, 2017
      ( 3:49 PM ) posted by Setsuled  

I'd think it difficult to be led astray by the title of 1964's Dr. Terror's House of Horrors. Though as a matter of fact we never see Dr. Terror's house--but it is a satisfyingly lurid horror anthology film, the first of a series for which British studio Amicus would become famous for in the 1960s and 1970s. Like most of those films, it features Peter Cushing, joined in this case by his friend and frequent Hammer co-star Christopher Lee. Both effectively play against type and the film's greatest flaw, its thoroughly illogical screenplay, even kind of contributes to how good it is. It's almost nightmare logic.

The framing story takes place on a train, not a house, where Dr. Schreck, played by Peter Cushing, tells the fortunes of five men in the car with him, one after another. Each story ends in doom for its subject, one of the movie's logical problems being that no-one asks if they can't avert fate now that they've been given foreknowledge. Though an unsurprising and effectively strange conclusion to the film arguably solves this problem.

Schreck's name means terror in German and Cushing plays the character with a thick accent and a lot more hair than is usual for him. A bigger departure, though, is Christopher Lee as one of the compartment occupants.

His story, the penultimate, is about revenge in the art world. "Disembodied Hand" bears a lot of resemblance to a story from the Tales from the Crypt comics, "The Maestro's Hand". Lee plays a vicious and conceited art critic named Franklyn Marsh who's embarrassed when an artist named Eric Landor (Michael Gough) tricks him into praising a painting by a chimpanzee.

It seems meant to prove a point he'd been making when Marsh had been publicly bashing an exhibition of Landor's paintings--Landor makes the argument that art is totally subjective and that its power resides in the viewer. Marsh's view of art as a measurable skill is rocked by the revelation of the chimpanzee artist so thoroughly that he goes quiet and literally runs away whenever Landor enters a room. As such, a disembodied hand that tries to strangle Marsh later in the story might be interpreted as a manifestation of repressed psychological issues.

And that's supported by Lee's nervous, fussy performance and it's really a highlight of his virtuosity to watch this alongside his natural and exuberant performance as Rasputin in Rasputin: The Mad Monk. Though I wonder if it really would've been so hard to say maybe a chimpanzee has talent. The fact that the ape's art is better than Landor's might have been a nice way to turn the insult around, Marsh really had to put his foot in it to make Landor's prank work, a slightly unlikely scenario, another thing that seems dreamlike.

Maybe the most dreamlike story in the film is the second one starring Benard Lee as a scientist trying to save a man and his family from a carnivorous vine inexplicably attacking his house.

There's no explanation for it, the plant just seems to've gone crazy one day. It's also difficult to understand why it's so hard to defeat.

The final story features Donald Sutherland as a doctor who brings his French wife (Jennifer Jayne) home to New York with him. The story is about vampirism and makes absolutely no sense, filled with motivations that turn on a dime. Sutherland is weird to watch, contemplating the murder of his wife with a wooden stake with only vague, mild distress.

There's absolutely nothing in this story to make you think it was shot anywhere near New York--apart from Sutherland, all the American accents are unconvincing and every scene was clearly shot on a sound stage.

But I like the look of it, the Technicolour in this movie is sort of gorgeously brash, particularly in the first story which is a sort of combination werewolf and haunted house story set in Scotland (again, mostly sound stages).

The film also features a story about a musician punished by supernatural forces for stealing a melody from a Haitian Voodoo ceremony, the weakest story in the film but weird enough to be enjoyable. The whole film is slightly unhinged fun.

Twitter Sonnet #1053

Two rivers make an absent third alive.
A sibling text appeared in pairs of notes.
A quiz delayed'll fade the brain's archive.
A grey and quiet crew deploy their boats.
Descending sizes stretch the cauldrons out.
In boiling clocks the hands are useless oars.
The gentlest tree contorts for leafy gout.
And ev'ry eve a cat conducts the tours.
The shadow horns replaced the scales in mind.
Ouroboros in human hearts decayed.
Expanding lungs of darkened walls rewind.
And slowly lids of metal eye cascade.
As straw inside investors try to birth.
A metal ice revisits corp'rate Earth.


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