Friday, March 31, 2017
( 6:48 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Last night I read "BALLAD OF A CATAMITE REVOLVER", the new story by Caitlin R. Kiernan in the latest Sirenia Digest. It's a very nice cyberpunk noir vignette. A first person narrative told from the point of view of some kind of gangster making a trade with a glamorous, deadly woman during a, to say the least, experimental stage version of Echo and Narcissus, the story features Caitlin's wonderfully creative futuristic thug-speak. Clearly bearing the appreciable influence of David Bowie's Outside, the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing, and likely William Gibson in a more distant way, the lingo Caitlin crafts from her influences is ultimately, inimitably her own. A very nice work.
Here are some pictures I took at the beach a few days ago. I'm coming to the end of spring break during which I'd intended every day to get up before 11am but somehow usually awake around 12:30pm. I wasn't able to get myself anywhere, including the beach, much earlier than sunset.
I am naturally nocturnal. Oh, to have a life again where I could actually have that sleeping pattern. I don't seem to have much energy or mental acuity until at least two o'clock.
Finally, since I started this entry talking about the creator of Spyder Baxter, here's a lovely spider I saw on my bathroom wall about the size of a silver dollar:
Thursday, March 30, 2017
( 3:48 PM ) posted by Setsuled
The more I think about last night's new episode of The Expanse, the more I like it. "Cascade", written by Dan Nowak, is a timely rumination on the dangers of humanity's addiction to capitalism on large and small scales.
Spoilers after the screenshot
Last week we learned, in a seemingly off-hand bit of dialogue, that most of Earth's population is unemployed. There simply aren't enough jobs for everyone, presumably because so many things are automated and the population has expanded to a number many times greater than to-day. We learned the Martians call the unemployed Earthers "Takers" but last night Bobbie (Frankie Adams) met some of these Takers as she wandered through the slums, trying to find the ocean.
For a class I'm taking on literature and technology, I recently read an essay by Aldous Huxley called "Science and Civilisation" published in 1932. Even as early as that, Huxley noted the peculiar problem of a civilisation where "Millions are hungry, but wheat has to be thrown into the sea." In the world of The Expanse, there's no reason anyone should have to go hungry except human beings lack the willpower and imagination to allow something besides the invisible hand of the market control the allocation of resources. Prax (Terry Chen) explains to Amos (Wes Chatham) how the artificial system of plants on Ganymede can only keep supporting life if they're maintained, but everyone's too busy looking out for their own bottom line to acknowledge the situation. Real nature, Prax explains, would find ways to adapt and survive but this complex human construction, when left alone, inevitably falls apart in a cascade.
This is shortly after the group confronts the profit motive in the more immediate form of a man hoarding supplies he collects in exchange for perhaps dodgy info for people on Ganymede desperately seeking their loved ones. It feels good to see Amos beat this guy up but when one steps back one can see how this might function as propaganda for a strong man. It's not too different from the Brother gangster films from Russia from a few years ago, where one pure hearted, physically powerful man took it upon himself to wage war on all street criminals. One might also think of Dirty Harry and other popular American right wing films. But The Expanse provides a moment of circumspection where Naomi (Dominique Tipper) observes how it gets easier and easier to justify behaviour like the strong arm tactic of Amos. On the larger scale, this follows nicely into Errinwright (Shawn Doyle), the UN Undersecretary, explaining to Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) how he originally worked with Mao on developing a weapon because he was interested in peace.
This is exactly the kind of thing I've wanted Game of Thrones to give a little focus to, a show where we almost never see the lower classes. This is reflective of a real life culture that is increasingly stratified into separate bubbles and what led to things like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. I haven't seen issues like this explored on television since Deep Space Nine and I'm very glad The Expanse is around.#
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
( 3:46 PM ) posted by Setsuled
In 1960, Roger Vadim released a film adaptation of of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla that downplayed or obliterated all elements of the supernatural or lesbianism. Who on Earth would want to do that? While the film, Er mourir de plaisir ("And die of pleasure", released as Blood and Roses in the U.S.), is certainly inferior to other adaptations for this reason, it does have some incredible visuals and some effective lead performances.
For the lesbianism, Et mourir de plaisir goes the same route as the 1936 adaptation of The Children's Hour, These Three, changing the suggestion of erotic love between two women into a love triangle where the forbidden urges of one woman are focused on the male fiancé of another. In this version of the story, Carmilla Karnstein (Annette Vadim) is the Austrian cousin of an Italian nobleman, Leopoldo De Karnstein (Mel Ferrer), with whom she's been infatuated since she was a little girl.
Unfortunately, Leopoldo has apparently been improbably ignorant of the girl's affections and predicts no trouble when he proposes marriage to the beautiful young Georgia Monteverdi (Elsa Martinelli). Leopoldo and Georgia fail so ludicrously to acknowledge Carmilla's feelings that they even invite her to accompany them on their honeymoon. Leopoldo because he's dopey enough not to be aware of Carmilla's feelings, Georgia because she doesn't dream Carmilla's crush can produce serious consequences.
Vampires are involved from the beginning of the film with a charming scene of two little girls pretending to be menaced by undead blood drinkers. We learn at a dinner party that there's a legend of a Karnstein vampire, not called Mircalla, as in the original story, but Millarca, which seems a bad choice to me as it sounds dangerously close to "malarkey".
Someone at the party suggests they have fireworks and they unwisely decide to set them up around the ruins of a mediaeval abbey. The story is moved up in time to be set contemporary to the film's release, so the Karnsteins discover too late there are German landmines in the abbey left over from World War II. When a hole is blasted open in the structure, the film gives some of its first great visuals as Carmilla discovers Millarca's secret tomb.
Vadim deliberately stays vague as to weather Millarca rises from the dead and replaces Carmilla or if Carmilla goes crazy and suddenly thinks she's Millarca. The director of the critically adored And God Created Woman, featuring Brigitte Bardot's breakout role, may have considered himself above fangs and shapeshifting. Carmilla does seem to scare animals now and exhibits some remarkable knowledge of the 18th century but Vadim also provides a psychologist to give us an explanation about split personalities and Carmilla's need to create an assertive alternate personality to break out of her hopeless situation.
There is a really cool dream sequence where Georgia sees one of Carmilla's victims smiling and beckoning from a pool's surface, vertical against a glass door.
Carmilla acts like she wants to make out with Georgia a bit but the film seems to justify it by implying that it is to possess the object of Leopoldo's desires. Mostly, it follows from the misogynist undertones of And God Created Woman that suggest women are inscrutable, demonic influences though to be honest I felt for this version of Carmilla a lot more than Leopoldo. She may be an accidental noir protagonist like Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven. In any case, if you want to see a really good adaptation of Carmilla, I recommend 1970's The Vampire Lovers, even if its softcore porn elements are a bit more embarrassing than enticing. Carl Dreyer's Vampyr is also great but though it's supposedly based on Carmilla it bears no resemblance to it.
I do really love Er mourir de plaisir's bleeding Technicolour cinematography by Claude Renoir.
Twitter Sonnet #977
From branches high the doe observes the spring.
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
( 6:05 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Chess has long been seen as a symbol of intelligence, long enough for the idea to be challenged more than once, as in Satyajit Ray's 1977 film Shatranj Ke Khiladi (शतरंज के खिलाड़ी) , or The Chess Players. A melancholy satire on the disconnect between the strategies of rulers and the lives of their people, the film juxtaposes broadly comic scenes in the lives of two wealthy chess players with the British annexation of Oudh just before the 1857 Indian Rebellion. The film is funny, sharp, and surprisingly tender.
The nineteenth century saw a few notable uses of chess to parody the attempt of human beings to manage civilisation with abstract strategic ideas. Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass is perhaps the most memorable illustration of the absurdity of applying the rules of chess to real people, Carroll using the joke to satirise the hubris of adults who think they can organise life by strictly logical terms. In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy used Napoleon Bonaparte's fondness for chess to illustrate how little the man's strategies were related to the experience of the common soldier or the civilians whose lives he impacted.
Shatranj Ke Khiladi begins with a brief history of British and Indian relations, featuring a sinister and amusing animation of one British Governor General of India, Dalhousie, describing Indian territories as cherries for Britain to eat. But Ray's satire is not reserved entirely for the British. While he shows the king of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan) in a sympathetic light, the man's neglect for state affairs and pursuit of sensual pleasure is shown to be partly the cause for the British takeover.
The film features a few nice musical numbers and a song apparently composed by the king himself. There's also this lovely dancing girl:
The British are represented by General James Outram (Richard Attenborough), who seems to sympathise with the king's position and seems to find the process he's in charge of to be dreadfully awkward more than anything else.
These scenes are intercut with the lives of two wealthy nobles, Mirza (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir (Saeed Jaffrey), whose obsession with playing Shatranj, the Indian version of chess that pre-dates the familiar European form, has caused them both to neglect their wives. Mirza's wife (Shabana Azmi) tries different strategies of her own to pull her husband away. When physical seduction fails, she steals the chess pieces but is thwarted again when Mirza and Mir substitute nuts, tomatoes, and peppers for the lost pieces.
Mir's wife (Farida Jalal) is dismayed when the two men take to playing at hers and Mir's home because Mir being away had made her carrying on an affair with Mir's nephew more convenient. Amusingly, Mir remains ignorant of the affair even when it's happening right under his nose, much to Mirza's amusement.
Despite the serious stakes involved in the film, the lives of the two men are played for broad comedy, even when they try to borrow chess pieces from a dying man. But this culminates in a fascinating moment when both men are forcibly made to realise how their abstract obsession has led them insensibly into dangerous physical conflict.#
Monday, March 27, 2017
( 4:59 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Another week, another Walking Dead. Meh. Here we go.
Spoilers after the screenshot
So, Sasha's not dead. Or really injured. What a surprise. She goes into the Saviour's compound on what's called a "kamikaze" mission, guns blazing, and is subdued. I took two years of Japanese, but maybe I don't know what kamikaze means. Somehow I thought Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) was aiming to kill Negan (Jeffrey Dead Morgan) or die trying. But I guess she didn't count on some guys having rope!
Rosita (Christian Serratos), who was also there on a kamikaze mission, we learn at the end of the episode went all the way back to Alexandria because Dwight (Austin Amelio) switched sides. I guess there's no reason for him to fight for Negan when his girlfriend's not in Negan's harem anymore.
As we're reminded, Negan doesn't permit rape in his society, he just coerces women to join his harem. He even stops a guy from raping Sasha in the nick of time. If there's one thing we've learned from his experience with Rosita, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), and Carl (Chandler Riggs), Negan just about never kills anyone who's actually trying to kill him. For gods' sakes, this show used to have the guts.
I'm glad Sasha didn't get raped. Once she's survived for unrealistic reasons, it would be kind of arbitrary to revert to realism for something really ugly.
Mostly the episode felt like it was shuffling chairs to get ready for next week. I liked the scene with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Gregory (Xander Berkeley). Watching Gregory try for a moment to do a decent thing and protect a pregnant lady but being forced to give in to his cowardice and incompetence was hilarious. Sounds like his wounded pride is about to make him turn in Maggie, but I still think it'll make for a more interesting story if he turns the password over to Maggie or Rick. One things for sure, Xander Berkeley is fun to watch in this role.
I also liked Tara (Alanna Masterson) trying to work with the Oceanside situation. Her giving the middle finger to that kid at the end was just right. Masterson is always a breath of fresh air when she has a lot of material to work with.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
( 4:19 PM ) posted by Setsuled
There were some really lovely visuals in last night's two part season finale of Star Wars: Rebels, "Zero Hour", and I appreciated references to The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Knight, and Lord of the Rings. Lars Mikkelsen continues to impress as Grand Admiral Thrawn, Vanessa Marshall is solid as always as Hera, and Tom Baker loomed large in a very satisfying way. It's a pity the teleplay was a complete mess though I can't entirely fault writers Steven Melching, Henry Gilroy, and Matt Michnovetz. The problems that led to "Zero Hour" being such a featherweight are part of the foundations of the series as a whole and Disney's stewardship of Star Wars in general.
Spoilers after the screenshot
The episode began with a cool reference to the Jedi Knight video games--Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) uses a mouse droid in a service duct to spy on Trawn's briefing. This comes from a level in the 2002 video game Jedi Outcast which was in turn based on a user made mod to 1997's Jedi Knight. You see, Paramount? While you're busy suing Star Trek fan films, LucasArts found a way to respond to fan creativity where everyone won and in a way that's still paying dividends to-day. I sense the hand of Gary Whitta in this.
Back at Chopper Base, Ezra (Taylor Gray) seems to've become Oliver Twist, humbly talking to Kanan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) about all the wonderful things other people do. I don't think Ezra's meant to come off like he's fishing like hell for complements, but he does, and Kanan inexplicably is happy to shower them on the kid with the whiny voice. Ezra thanks Kanan for teaching him how to be a good person, which we really haven't seen demonstrated. I get the sense there's an outline from early on that said this was supposed to be clear by this point. In reality, Ezra's been all over the place in a way that feels like a lot of conflict and indecision behind the scenes--in season 2, he became the nature child who was friend to all animals, then he lost that as he seemed to be going to the Dark Side, then he lost his flirtation with the Dark Side for no apparent reason, giving moralising lectures to Saw Gerrera, and now he seems to be in total character limbo. Considering there's a whole story group designed to keep everything in Star Wars canon consistent, the story in Rebels feels surprisingly scattershot. Or maybe that's the reason. In Star Wars parlance, the more they tighten their grip, the more plot points slip through their fingers.
The Bendu is a good example. Kanan doesn't sound too high minded when his strategy for getting the Bendu involved is to call him a coward. Is Disney's message here to say, "Bullying is wrong. Unless you need to"? It's weird that this all wise being is so easily manipulated, but then, it doesn't make much sense for Kanan to have to beg for his help when the Bendu has already gone out of his way to help Kanan and Ezra in the past.
It seems like the show was paying homage to Lord of the Rings here as it felt very much like Merry and Pippin trying to get the Ents involved in the war in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Two Towers. Of course, in the book, Merry and Pippin witness the Ents decide on their own to attack Isengard, but due to the modern mania for agency in protagonists, Jackson and crew had to make the Ents' decision something Merry and/or Pippin actually made happen in a more active way than just providing intel. Similarly, to give Kanan an active role in the story, we can't just have the Bendu decide on his own to help the Rebels, despite the fact that this would have made more sense, if for no other reason than the fact that an assault on the Rebel base is an assault on the Bendu's world. But at least Jackson and his writers found a somewhat clever way of getting Pippin to trick the Ents into beholding the destruction Saruman was causing (though they ought to've known without Pippin's help that the forests were being destroyed). Having Kanan just resort to calling the Bendu a coward undercuts the moral authority the show repeatedly fails to establish in Kanan and it undercuts the Bendu as a character.
But, okay, Bendu turning into a storm was pretty cool and Tom Baker's performance coupled with the cgi wind and lightning really was like watching a Greek god rain hellfire. That is until the Imperial forces shot him down. With lasers.
Rain, rain, go away, or I'll shoot at you.
The Bendu goes out like Ahsoka--ambiguously because the writers can't or won't make a decision. It seems silly for the Bendu to be so easily taken down by blasters. But did the Bendu vanish because he was immune all along or was this like a Jedi Force Ghost death? Who knows. I suppose it is slightly better than Ahsoka's death/not death because at least it makes sense that the Bendu doesn't meet up with the rest of the protagonists afterwards if he is alive.
I like the fact that Thrawn was only stopped because of the Bendu. Thrawn came off as pretty effective even if going for a fist fight with Kallus and leading the ground assault seems more like Vader's style. Finally the Empire gets sort of a win on Rebels. Sort of. Ships were destroyed. The Rebels lost Commander Sato (Keone Young), though he took out an Imperial ship in the process. Just wait for Mart's revenge! You remember Mart, right?
Poor doddering old General Dodonna (Michael Bell) who refers to a planned Rebel attack as their first blow against the Empire. Apparently no-one's told him the Rebels destroy a capital ship every other week. Maybe Dodonna wrote the Episode IV opening crawl.
Thrawn pin-points the location of the Rebel Base because a planet that does not appear on Imperial charts is one that shows up in art from the region. Why would the Empire not have this planet on their charts? Maybe it simply hadn't been discovered by Imperial or Republic explorers, or was this supposed to be the planet Ezra deleted from Thrawn's computer a few episodes back? Of course by now Thrawn would have seen charts on other computers and the fact that one had been deleted would be suspicious, but that would be too obvious so there needed to be another explanation, so what was the point of Ezra deleting the planet . . . Wait, if the planet weren't on Imperial charts, why would it be on Thrawn's chart to begin with?
I guess Ezra did get a useful ship back on Tatooine which may or may not have been Maul's ship--if it was, why was Maul roaming alone in the desert? If it wasn't, how did Ezra get it--well, if it was, how did Ezra find it if Maul couldn't?
Anyway, it was a lucky find as it allowed Ezra to heroically run away and ask Sabine for help and somehow bring her and ships back in time to actually be helpful because I guess the Imperial ships have to do a lot of prep work before they blow up a sitting duck. Anyway, sounds like next season they'll be on Yavin which should be fun.
Oh, I wanted to mention Hera called Kanan "Love" in the episode, hinting at the relationship that Dares Not Speak It's Name for No Apparent Reason. This is a reflection of what seems to be Disney's edict for shows and movies not to include clear romantic relationships, despite the fact that Han and Leia's relationship was one of the highlights of the original trilogy. I know Anakin and Padme were pretty infamously awkward but is that really a good reason to stay away from romance forever? On the other hand, Hera can do so much better than Kanan.
Twitter Sonnet #976
A burning ear can thwart a list'ning can.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
( 3:23 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Like nearly all Science Fiction and Fantasy franchises, Doctor Who has made its share of Lovecraft references, both directly and indirectly. The 2010 Seventh Doctor audio play, Lurkers at Sunlight's Edge, injects an extraordinary number of references (more, I suspect, than I caught) to turn into a commentary on Lovecraft himself. An entertaining story for a Lovecraft fan, I was nonetheless a little annoyed by its simplistic psychoanalysis, though I suppose it's better than plush Cthulhus. Why must people relentlessly take the fun out of Lovecraft? Well, maybe it's a sign of how effective Lovecraft is that people feel the need to make him feel safe with ironic jokes and merchandise.
The story picks up from the excellent Death in the Family with the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred), and Hex (Philip Olivier) materialising in Alaska where they encounter a sanatorium and a research team investigating alien artefacts. A professor named August Corbin (Alex Lowe), I think based on Joseph Curwen from The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward, is leading the investigation which calls to mind At the Mountains of Madness. At the sanatorium is a patient named CP Doveday, based both on Charles Dexter Ward and on Lovecraft himself, though Michael Brandon, who plays Doveday, makes the questionable choice of making Doveday sound like a stevedore.
Like many Lovecraft stories, Doveday finds he has nightmares with more reality to him than he has courage to contemplate and the ultimate horror inherent in them is the knowledge that he himself is not human. Doveday doesn't have a lot of experience with women, finding he regards them as something like an alien species. He tells this to Ace before falling for her. I guess that's a cute idea, if you really must have a cute idea in Lovecraft, though the two never have much chemistry, mostly for Brandon's wooden and oddly cheerful performance.
Meanwhile, the Doctor and one of the other professors are trying to get their hands on a Golden Key, apparently based on Lovecraft's "The Silver Key" which I happened to have been reading again recently. Pretty much any time I feel nostalgic about anything I think of "The Silver Key".#
Friday, March 24, 2017
( 4:57 PM ) posted by Setsuled
If you like men, be thankful you haven't met this one, the dangerously attractive subject of Wong Kar-wai's 1990 film noir Days of Being Wild (阿飛正傳). Maybe I should call it a film chartreuse since cinematographer Christopher Doyle seems to've put the whole thing through a green filter. But it gives the film an appropriately drowned quality. Green also being a colour typically associated with obsession, particularly via Hitchcock, the characters in this nice drama seem to be chained to the bottom of a pond choked with aphrodisiac algae.
The film stars three famous Cheungs--Leslie, Maggie, and Jacky, none of whom are related. Leslie Cheung plays the homme fatale named Yuddy who spends most of the film barely conscious, seemingly unsure reality deserves being fully awake for. For some reason, two beautiful women lose their minds over him.
The first heart he slouches his way into belongs to a clerk named Su Lizhen (Maggie Cheung). She seems annoyed by him at first but he tells her she'll dream about him. We later see her sleeping with a smile on her face and in her next encounter with Yuddy, even though she never confirms that she did in fact see him in her dream, Maggie Cheung makes it clear with her performance. Even as she tells him to leave she makes a point of finding ways to stand as near him as possible.
Their relationship doesn't last long and soon Yuddy's sleeping with a fractious showgirl named Mimi (Carina Lau). Both women sleep with Yuddy against their better judgement--Su Lizhen because she doesn't believe in casual sex and Mimi because her pride won't suffer a guy like Yuddy whose indolence requires him to be in charge of a relationship. Yuddy has a plot where he's seeking his birth parents and maybe there's some suggestion that his foster mother, a prostitute (Rebecca Pan), somehow explains his simultaneous appeal to and disconnect from women. Mostly he functions as a sort of black hole as we watch Mimi and Su Lizhen struggle with the mysterious gravitational pull of his charisma.
The film certainly lacks the psychological insight of Kar-wai's later dramas which are hinted at in a friendship between Su Lizhen and a police officer (Andy Lau). But with such beautiful actors in the smoky, lovely cinematography, some idea is conveyed of the maddening lure presented by the prospect of a physical relationship with Yuddy.#
Thursday, March 23, 2017
( 7:27 PM ) posted by Setsuled
Last night's new episode of The Expanse was called "The Weeping Somnambulist". Certainly an intriguing title, I'm not exactly sure what it means beyond referencing the ship Holden's crew hitch a ride on. It's not quite of the Eros crashing into Venus level of plain use of name or title to convey a message. I'm still not sure if I like how broad that is, at the very least a character should comment on love putting a crater in the Goddess of love. Anyway, it was a good episode.
Spoilers after the screenshot
Maybe you could say the title refers to Bobbie (Frankie Adams). She has to sell that story to Earth about one of her comrades firing at the Earth troops--even though she knows he wasn't actually a coward because the truth is she encountered an alien. One can see this waking dream, the phony story, as a sort of somnambulism and she's weeping because she has to tell it and because of the bright Earth sky's effect on Martian eyes. I love how the Martians aren't acclimated to Earth--people say it all the time about this show, but it bears repeating--it's great how The Expanse thinks about all these little things.
Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) sure is good in this episode. The fact that she sounds like she's smoked ten packs of cigarettes a day for fifty years adds real punch when she delivers the already delicious comeback to the Martian who asks where she's going with her line of questioning--"Wherever I goddamn like."
And yet another fabulous outfit. I really hope there's going to be more scenes between her and Bobbie, Avasarala seems like just the influence Bobbie needs in her life.
Meanwhile, Holden's (Steven Strait) getting another lesson in how he can't be a straight forward hero in this universe. In trying to help the crew of that Weeping Somnambulist, the ship, he ends up getting one of them killed. Though, to be fair, it sounded like both members of the crew were going to be killed if Holden and Amos hadn't stepped in, Holden sure didn't take it that way. Are we watching Holden's descent into pessimism? I don't know, and compared to Avarsarala and Bobbie, I'm not sure I care.
Twitter Sonnet #975
A braver thought sits idly in the grass.