Monday, August 10, 2020

Evangelion 食べ物、発信!

It's Evangelion the Curry! Evangelion the Ramen! Evangelion the Furikake (rice seasoning)! Gendo and Misato may have profound disagreements on secrecy and mission objectives but, when it comes to curry, they're in perfect agreement. You can see by the look on Gendo's face he takes this very seriously.

All of these Evangelion products have been showing up in the nearby grocery store lately and I bought a bunch like any sucker. I've been seeing Evangelion potato crisps everywhere but only the nearby Coop seems to have the curry, ramen, and furikake. Why all of this merchandise all of a sudden? Because of this:

That's not the expiration date but the original release date for the final Rebuild of Evangelion movie, June 27th. It was pushed back due to Coronavirus--I've just learned that back in April the first three Rebuild movies were streaming for free on YouTube as an apology to fans and a tribute to medical workers. I wish I could find them streaming somewhere now. Netflix only has the original series and movies, though those are, in my opinion, superior.

The Rebuild movies have certainly been doing good business. The first film made 2 billion yen, or around 18 million dollars, in 2009. The second made 4 billion yen, or around 37 million dollars, in 2011, and the third, in 2016, made over 5 billion yen, or 49 million dollars. No doubt anticipation as people waited extraordinary long periods between release dates helped a lot and gave younger fans time to catch up on the material. It's amazing to think 11 years have passed since this project began with a film that was essentially a cosmetic overall of the first five or six episodes of the '90s television series. That was pretty neat but subsequent films wisely have chosen not to reinvent the wheel but tell a divergent, alternate storyline. Not as strong as the original but maybe a story more palatable to mass audiences. Anyway, I'm certainly hoping the appearance of merchandise means the final film is about to be released.

While I have my camera plugged in, here are some more photos I've taken lately:

The continuing mystery of the abandoned gloves.

Lots of lovely bugs around here.

And birds.

I thought a lot of the stores in this old shopping centre were closed due to Corona but I think it's actually that they can't compete with the nearby Aeon mall.

The creation of yarn begins here.

Quick shot of the shinkansen. I see a lot of people taking photos of train stations, it seems to be a hobby for a lot of people.

The sun setting at Bojo station.

I've noticed some people have been writing wishes on CDs to hang on trees for Tanabata.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Avenging Prostitutes in Style

A beautiful woman flees from a stone faced man with reflective glasses; she stops to kiss another man, a handsome stranger, before accidentally breaking the stranger's glasses. When the man with reflective glasses murders her, the man with the broken glasses ruthlessly hunts him in the great 1975 giallo film The Suspicious Death of a Minor (Morte sospetta di una minorenne). If you're looking for a stylish action/comedy/horror/suspense film, this one performs admirably.

I encourage you not to read the plot summary on the Wikipedia entry because it tells you right away who the protagonist, Germi (Claudio Cassinelli), is. One of the pleasures of the film is that we know absolutely nothing about him for the first half. All we know is that he's a stylish dresser, an expert in hand-to-hand combat who fends off five pimps at once, and a man who doesn't scruple to interrogate suspects and witnesses at gunpoint.

This makes him a Byronic hero--a Byronic hero isn't necessarily a charismatic tortured bad boy, by the way--I learned to-day this is a false definition gaining currency. A Byronic hero is someone who pursues his or her goal by eschewing the forces of good and evil or established conventional ideas of such, like Manfred. That's what Germi does.

After the first murder, he watches two stylishly dressed cops (this is a giallo, after all) discuss how hopeless the investigation is before a boy driving by on a moped (Adolfo Caruso) steals a briefcase from one of the cops. What does Germi do? He steals a radio, plants it in a car with an open window to lure in the thief, Giannino, so he can propose a partnership.

They start by roaming the night on a moped, lifting purses from prostitutes until they meet one who can help Germi's investigation (and he'd like to sleep with), a lively young woman named Carmela (Lia Tanzi).

When she tries to get into Germi's car, she finds the door is broken so he tells her she has to climb in through the roof. She laughs and director Sergio Martino finds just the right shot for her manoeuvre.

The broken door comes in handy later in a chase scene when Giannino tosses it out at pursuing police.

The same chase scene features strategically placed acrobats who react to the disruption of the two racing cars in different ways. One man's bicycle is cut in half and he rides the rear portion like a unicycle for a moment before crashing. Another man is flung to the side and spins on his head twice.

There's one densely packed, creative action sequence after another. There's a gunfight on a roller coaster in one scene, a couple scenes set in dark subways, and one spectacular scene where the man with reflective glasses opens the roof on a cinema in the hopes of making Germi tumble to his death inside.

This film is a glorious, full course meal. The Suspicious Death of a Minor is available on Amazon Prime.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Jo Grant in Space

Twitter has earned itself a bad reputation as the home of cancel culture and Donald Trump. But it's also the place where Katy Manning endearingly expresses her enduring affection for Jon Pertwee. I have no grounds to suspect anything was going on between the two behind the scenes on Doctor Who but wouldn't it be lovely? Especially since this is her Twitter profile to-day:

To-day she's also tweeting about losing her purse so if you happen to see it, please return it to her.

Manning was in hospital recently and I was happy to see when she finally returned to Twitter after surgery on her eyes. It put me in the mood to watch one of her episodes so I watched Colony in Space, a 1971 story by Malcolm Hulke. In this serial, to bypass an invisible security beam set by the Master (Roger Delgado), the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) encourages Jo (Katy Manning) to lie flat on her back and "wiggle away!"

The effort draws some involuntary gasps and cries from Jo but they both make it safely inside the Master's TARDIS, thank heavens. Once inside, they begin poring over the Master's files.

They find a document the Master had stolen from the Time Lords about an indigenous race that produced a superweapon before devolving to "primitives". So that explains one document in these cabinets, what are all the others? I amused myself thinking about Missy spending long evenings scrupulously attending to piles of paperwork.

This is another instance where Steven Moffat retroactively improved Doctor Who with Missy. I used to think it silly that the Master doesn't kill the Doctor in Colony in Space and it seemed really strange when the Master offered to share control of the universe with the Doctor. After Missy, the inconsistent nature of the Master's fixation on the Doctor actually makes sense.

MASTER: "Look at all those planetary systems, Doctor! We could rule them all!"

DOCTOR: "What for? What is the point?"

MASTER: "The point is one must rule or serve, that's a basic law of life."

Of course the Master would see life as only being about power.

The serial's mainly about a conflict between a colony and a mining company and I like how many shades of grey there are in the conflict. The mining company is obviously the villain but they do have a point when they argue the need for the planet's mineral resources on Earth may be more important than the colonist's obstinate struggle to make plants grow on an apparently barren rock. Why the planet can't be colonised and mined isn't clear--Earth has both colonies and mines, after all. Hulke was apparently inspired by the history of the American colonies which makes it surprising it didn't occur to him that settlements and mining operations often had symbiotic relationships. Why don't the colonists open some saloons? Maybe a casino?

The mostly male cast is a bit strange, with the couple female characters both in caretaker roles among the colonists. The demarcation of gender roles is surprising after the feminism of Pertwee's first season. It turns out this was apparently due to the BBC's Head of Drama Serials, Ronnie Marsh, who objected when actress Susan Jameson was cast as one of the miners on vague grounds that it wouldn't be suitable for a family audience. So she was replaced by an actor named Tony Caunter. I wonder how many decisions like that happen to-day?

But the serial does have a good guest cast. I really like Morris Perry as the cruel and callous head of the miners, Dent, even if his hair looks like he was filming Richard III between takes.

This was also the last appearance of one of my favourite Doctor Who guest stars, Bernard Kay, who gets a complex role here as the seditious miner who helps the Doctor and the colonists.

It's not that he's not interested in the profits and he says he doesn't mind lying to the government. He just doesn't want to murder anyone. He has a lot of nice juicy scenes where he has to sort out his feelings and make up his mind.

The alien "primitives" have a cool design. I like how there are three different kinds, my favourite being the supremely wise elderly baby.

This is a six part serial but, like a lot of Pertwee's early serials, very easy to watch in one sitting.

Twitter Sonnet #1382

The quarry kicks a coin against the salt.
The kind of starch we need is under cloth.
The golden air Capone consigned to vault.
We asked a sullen, drinking, mobster moth.
A picture nears with smiling jacks awake.
Assembled pegs complete computer storms.
The salty snow prepares the ground to bake.
The hedges rise to craft a dream of forms.
Confusing plans began with rocks and food.
The big iguana's really just a dream.
Our metal arms would wreck the nature mood.
The other crew were stacked within the beam.
The power came from paper brains and pens.
The lumps of grain and stone we'd count as wins.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Life is Sweet, Until There's Murder

What can a young man do when faced with the inconvenience of an unexpectedly pregnant girlfriend? Robert Wagner opts for murder in 1956's A Kiss Before Dying, a cheesy but entertaining effort from first time director Gerd Oswald. The best part of the film is the gorgeous cinematography by Lucien Ballard.

How clean everything looked in the '50s. There's a great quantity of location shots in this movie. I really like how it doesn't seem like everything's been pissed on. The general absence of graffiti reminds me a lot of Japan. David Lynch has talked about how much he hates graffiti. I've never much thought about it but I'm starting to agree. You can say maybe it's self-expression, etc etc, except 90% it's indecipherable and even the stuff you can read tends to blur together into one uniform pattern, not doing much to make itself distinctive, doing more to make the architecture it mars indistinct.

I was also reminded of Japan because of all the check. People love to wear check in Japan. Also in this movie.

The blouse worn by Ellen (Virginia Leith) stands out from the couch by being pink check instead of beige check. Later she swaps the pink for powder blue check for a desert outing with Bud (Robert Wagner).

Ellen is the sister of Dorothy (Joanne Woodward), the girl Bud impregnates and murders. The fact that he kills her without even broaching the topic of abortion says something about '50s American taboo. That may have been part of the point, though. There's an anti-establishment subtext to the film, like many '50s youth dramas. Ellen and Dorothy's last name is "Kingship" and their wealthy father, whose disapproval for Dorothy's pregnancy Bud fears will lead to the loss of her inheritance, is played by George Macready, an actor known for playing villains.

The film loses much chance at subtlety, though, with Bud's ridiculously obvious machinations to murder Dorothy and her almost complete failure to get the hint. After he asks her to return a photo of him, after he repeatedly tells her not to tell anyone of their relationship, after he asks her to translate from Spanish, in her own handwriting, something the looks a lot like a suicide note . . .

The second half of the film features Ellen trying to discover the identity of Dorothy's killer with a little help from Jeffrey Hunter. The same year he played the kid in The Searchers he's shown here a learned upperclassman. He's always, always, holding a pipe.

Ellen proves a little smarter than her sister, thankfully, and I quite liked Leith's performance. It doesn't hurt that she's a knockout. Wagner is nice and sinister as the killer pretending to be a good boyfriend (whether his character in real life happened to inform such a performance I won't speculate). Mary Astor is interesting in a small role as Bud's mother.

A Kiss Before Dying Is available on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

A Mystery on a Time Table

One thing 1953's A Blueprint for a Murder definitely has is a good blueprint. The plot about a woman who may or may not have murdered her stepdaughter finds ample opportunities for great, provocative suspense. The cast is terrific, too, featuring Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Gary Merrill, and Catherine McLeod. It doesn't quite connect, though. There's a peculiar disconnect from the events portrayed that I would blame on director Andrew L. Stone's bad instincts and possibly on studio interference. Certainly the ending of the film, which strikes several wrong notes, feels like it was a hasty studio mandate.

Cam (Cotten) has a job that requires him to do a lot of world travel so he hasn't actually gotten to know his sister-in-law, Lynne (Peters), very well. Her husband, his brother, is now deceased and she's taking care of his two children from a previous marriage. Cam comes home when one of the kids is dying in the hospital from a mysterious ailment.

I was happy to watch Joseph Cotten and Jean Peters play off each other in good cinematography--the two also star together in Niagara, a great colour noir--but the film makes its first misstep when the little girl dies. No-one ever seems quite as devastated by it as they ought to be though Peters does a good job of never seeming too guilty or too innocent. When a kid dies, at least one person really ought to be shown crying or despondent. Something to suggest trauma.

Stone also wrote the screenplay which really is a good blueprint. He's good at arranging all the legal facts and plot points as Cotten pursues his own investigation, instigating an autopsy and questioning the nursing staff. All the actors do fine but one senses a clear lack of direction in every scene. Everyone seems to be in default line reading mode, some actors being better at it than others. Cotten is always good, I consider Peters one of the 1950s' underrated treasures, and Merrill is fine as the family lawyer helping Cotten figure things out. Catherine McLeod plays Merrill's wife and she's the first person to suspect Peters might be a killer. When Cotten mentions how the little girl complained repeatedly, "Don't touch my feet!" McCleod is reminded of a case of strychnine poisoning she investigated. The actress makes an interesting gesture with her hand on her face while she thinks.

Together with the weirdness of the line, "Don't touch my feet," the scene is memorable.

The end of the film finally reveals whether or not Lynne is indeed the killer. Set on a cruise ship, Cam has to pretend he's falling in love with Lynne so he can keep an eye on her and possibly get close enough to kill her before she kills the other child. But is he falling for her? Is she falling for him? That seems to be the implication. Because of this, the movie really needed to do some followup after the final revelation but it doesn't. It's as though Stone's interest in the film's plot wasn't matched by an interest in its heart. Maybe he should've built model trains instead. On the other hand, if another director used his screenplay, I could see this being a really good movie. Otto Preminger or John Huston maybe.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

A Brilliant Cocktail of Ice Skates, Tugboats, Apples, and a Cowgirl

Disney must have learned from their mistakes in the previous two anthology films because 1948's Melody Time is a masterpiece. A series of flawless shorts present impeccable style, seemingly effortless comedy, and some powerful drama. It's a breathtaking feat in short form storytelling; a breakthrough in Disney's late 1940s, simpler visual style; and an astonishing example of keen storytelling instincts.

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains Trigger, the Smartest Horse in the Movies.

Roy Rogers with his horse, Trigger, appears in live action to narrate the final tale to Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten. With a singing group called the Sons of the Pioneers, Rogers proves a perfect fit for the story of Pecos Bill, the "fakelore" figure created by writer Edward S. O'Reilly. With the genius for comedic timing of Disney's animators, Bill's improbable youth and tale tale feats are presented with appropriate rapidity and exaggeration, from his creation of the Rio Grande to the trademark Lone Star of Texas itself.

And I really need to commend Disney+ here. According to Wikipedia, "For the first time in 80 years, the uncut version with Pecos Bill's cigarette can now be seen on Disney+." Although it was available elsewhere in the world, for years the only available version of this short featured Bill's cigarette edited out of every shot, resulting in strange hand gestures and a drastically shortened runtime. But now it's all back, even Bill rolling a cigarette with his tongue and lighting it with a lightning bolt.

In addition to the pleasure of having these bits back in themselves, they also complete the patchwork of editing and animation, allowing the story to flow in its natural form. Bill, with his carefree embrace of solitude, danger, and unshakeable good nature, is a delightful, celebratory caricature of distinctively western American culture. The short also features one of the sexiest women of the Disney animated canon, as big in her way as all the natural phenomena Bill encountered before.

"When down the stream comes Slue Foot Sue, with all her charms revealed to view." Meaning her anachronistic panties, I suppose. Her fate is sadly determined by the bustle she decides to wear when attempting to tame Bill's horse, the second time Melody Time mines comedy gold from women's undergarments.

The first short, Once Upon a Wintertime, is a gentle romantic story with a song performed by Frances Langford.

A boy and girl ice skating are mirrored by a pair of rabbits in the same relationship. The unambiguous correlation drawn between human relationships and the natural order is very cute. The poor young woman keeps tipping over, though, due to an overabundance of petticoats, leading to a petty argument and the lass storming off unwisely to thin ice.

I love how all the backgrounds change to dark and twisted trees as she and the female rabbit find themselves in peril. Once again, the whole natural world harmonises with the drama between the boy and girl.

Two pure style animated music videos are included in the film, Bumble Boogie and Trees. Bumble Boogie, with Freddy Martin providing a jazz interpretation of Flight of the Bumblebees, is by far the stronger as we watch a poor panicked bee tumble his way through a nightmare of erratic shapes and instruments.

Trees is gorgeous but, being based on the not terribly brilliant poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer, here set to music, it doesn't quite hold up.

Little Toot, the story of an anthropomorphised tugboat, would be captivating just for the bizarre mingling of human traits with tugboats. But it's also a story with real tension and drama as the young tugboat causes a real, impressive disaster at the beginning, putting a lot of dramatic weight on his adventure to redeem himself. The Andrews Sisters provide perfect musical accompaniment.

The biggest surprise of the film may be the very simple Legend of Johnny Appleseed. Dennis Day provides narration and voices for an animated interpretation of the legend around John Chapman, the American pioneer. It's hard to explain why this short is so touching but there's something really charming about how unswerving Johnny is in his gentle affection for life and his weird enthusiasm for planting apple trees. He has the pathos of a beloved windup toy and its genuinely a bit heartbreaking when he resists death entirely so he can keep on planting trees.

There's all this and there's a callback short to Donald Duck's South American films. Blame It on the Samba finds Donald reunited with Jose Carioca and the Aracuan Bird as they dance to the music of, and vie for the affections of, organist Ethel Smith.

Any one of these shorts is a treasure. As a whole, Melody Time is a delightful way to spend an evening.

Melody Time is available on Disney+.

Twitter Sonnet 1381

The welcome spiders ran and slept at home.
Remembered hats were placed on drying skulls.
A careful felt was sculpted like the dome.
The dress's cloud was painted 'cross the bowls.
The spinning wheel would sample diff'rent mud.
The sloping hill would puzzle walking up.
The watching spirit swam through burning blood.
The tap supplied a waiting wooden cup.
Upholstered chairs convened to judge a couch.
When time decides the cake was cut in fives.
The mountains cop a big collective slouch.
With soda hands we touched across the hives.
The handle broke and rainy clouds descend.
The books of air with gusted leaves append.