Thursday, September 29, 2022

Hulk Talk

Last night's She-Hulk wasn't so bad, actually. It was written by Zeb Wells, a rare example of someone who wrote for Marvel Comics moving over to write for the MCU. And he also wrote for Robot Chicken, which explains why some of the jokes were actually funny.

I laughed when the Porcupine claimed Spanish was a language and not a nationality. It's stupid but plausibly stupid. I can imagine for a long time he'd been correcting people who said Mexicans speak Mexican and the information that they spoke Spanish misled him into thinking somehow there is no Spanish country any more than there is a Mexican language.

Tim Roth really shines in the episode. He takes some relatively mundane therapist-guru material and makes it really interesting. He and Tatiana Maslany have genuinely good comedic chemistry.

My main complaint is for the first part of the episode. I wish we'd seen her relationship with Josh more in depth. A lot of people were predicting that Josh would be one of the people trying to steal her blood so a more nuanced relationship might have made it seem less inevitable and might have made Jen seem a little smarter.

I was also still hoping to see some interesting wardrobe for her but, once again, we got navy blue with white dots. And green pants, almost the same shade as her skin. Probably not the best choice.

She-Hulk is available on Disney+.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Eyes of the Empire are Everywhere

Last night's new episode of Andor made me want to watch A New Hope afterwards. It breathed such life into the Star Wars universe, the world it depicts seemed vivid in ways it hasn't in a long time. Dan Gilroy, brother of Tony, wrote this fourth episode and I'd say he certainly proved the two are cut from the same cloth.

I love the sense of secrecy and paranoia the episode establishes in the galaxy, both among Imperials and Rebels. Rael delivers Cassian to Aldhani, a world with a tiny rebel cell. And the leader is forced to lie to her people about where Cassian came from. Cassian is forced to adopt a new name--he chooses Clem, the name of his adopted father--and is told he can't even reference the existence of Rael.

We see Rael going back to his life on Coruscant and I love the moment where Stellan Skarsgaard first puts on the clothes and wig and then puts on the smile and attitude.

And we see Coruscant! I do believe this is the first extended look at it we've had since the prequels (unless I'm forgetting something). I've dreamed of seeing Imperial Coruscant since I started reading the old Extended Universe books in the '90s. Here it is in all its cold, dangerous glory.

It seems to have become a colder place since the prequels. We catch up with Mon Mothma, at this point a senator, and we get a good sense of her position, first as someone constantly dealing with spies, then as a senator whose husband seems to be of the opposite political faction.

The scenes in the Imperial Security Bureau were captivating. Anton Lesser's Major Partagaz comes off as credibly competent and ruthless. Denise Gough as Dedra Meero is another weirdly sympathetic viper in the nest, a bit like Karn and Krennic before her. People who genuinely subscribe to the ideals of the Empire but find themselves at odds with the machine.

I want to see the next episode immediately.

Andor is available on Disney+.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Machines Take More Space

A couple days ago, there came word that James Earl Jones is officially retiring as the voice of Darth Vader, and has signed the rights to his voice over to Disney. As with Mark Hamill with the use of his younger voice on The Book of Boba Fett, it's unclear how much we actually hear the actor performing the new lines or how much is digitally created, due to various contradictory articles. One thing's for sure, the performances for both characters was notably weaker on The Book of Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi. James Earl Jones was even credited in the end credits of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is what made me hesitant to criticise it. And this was likely Disney's idea in keeping the nature of the performance obscure, just as they weren't crowing about their digital Peter Cushing before Rogue One came out--plenty of people left the theatre never realising they'd seen a digital reconstruction of a dead actor. And, people at Disney would say, that's proof that it works. But only about as well as grape jelly substitutes for caviar.

I certainly don't think they can go on simply crediting James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader when they're just using digital reconstructions. An actor makes decisions about tone, inflection, and pacing. These are creative ideas that are part of an actor's job. If that's not there, then the performance isn't really there and we need a new kind of credit. Maybe "James Earl Jones voice simulated by Respeecher."

It makes sense for Darth Vader, of course. The voice was always supposed to be a digital construction. On Obi-Wan Kenobi, I actually wondered if Hayden Christenson had recorded the lines and then they were put through a filter to sound like James Earl Jones. That would make a lot of sense and at least then it would be a real performance. But anyone who thinks it'll ever be the same as having James Earl Jones actually performing the role is kidding themselves. Unless AI gets a whole lot better.

This seems like another weird little sign of Disney presenting pro-AI and cybernetic messaging. This is one of the biggest philosophical differences between Star Wars under Lucas and Star Wars under Disney. For me, I find myself much less inclined to think we'll ever have truly sentient AI than I was back in the '90s. I suspect I'm far in the minority on that these days. But as AI becomes more and more a part of our lives, it becomes clearer to me how consistently cold and even vicious it is. More than ever, I think we need stories like the one where Luke has to turn off his targeting computer to make the shot that saves the day.

Twitter Sonnet #1626

The locomotive garden sprouted hair.
The curling hands were holding light.
Discovered kids were made to really care.
A silver can promotes a golden fight.
A precious rodent views the dancing masks.
The lizard sky was dropping late as dusk.
Remembered pumpkin found itself a task.
We wondered how the eyes attached the husk.
The ant assumes the ancient tree is dumb.
The lunch consists of ham and bigger ham.
With rapid feet the pupil brought the rum.
The final ivy charmed a little lamb.
With heavy gloves they cut the voice from God.
Without remorse machines enforced the mod.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Babies of the Dragon

There's a whole lotta labour going on in the Seven Kingdoms. Last night's House of the Dragon revolved around children and giving birth. It also featured a time jump of ten years so several performers were recast, something I wish hadn't been done. It was a good episode but not quite as strong as previous episodes, an unfortunate thing since it needed to carry new stars.

Emma D'Arcy is 30 and Milly Alcock is 22. A person's face doesn't change so much in those years. I know Alcock was supposed to be playing younger than she was but if she can play 17 at 22 I don't see why she couldn't play 27. D'Arcy has a completely different energy about her, not to mention a more aquiline nose. But, oh well. She gives a good performance.

It's weird no attempt was made to make Ser Cristen Cole look older. If they weren't going to recast him they should have at least given him a big beard or something.

I don't think I'll mind Olivia Cooke as Allicent though she and Cristen Cole weren't served well by last night's teleplay. They came across more as straight forward villains, even when Allicent is shocked at the end by the murders she'd inadvertently instigated. I'd also really like to know how and why Cole was excused for beating that guy to death last week.

Meanwhile, Daemon fortunately remains Matt Smith and is dealing with his own problems across the sea. Mostly brooding though.

This was a decent enough bridge episode.

House of the Dragon is available on HBOMax.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

From Silver to Gold

The train from LA to Chicago is the scene for murder, sex, and occasional slapstick in 1976's Silver Streak. Drawing some influence from Hitchcock, the film's an intelligently written suspense comedy and a nice showcase for Gene Wilder. Richard Pryor, as a thief, doesn't appear until late in the film but steals most of it.

Wilder plays George, a man in publishing, who explains to a blonde he picks up on the train, Hilly (Jill Clayburgh), that he's edited sex books but what he's really good at is editing gardening books. This leads to him murmuring advice on raising azaleas in their sex scene which was kind of funny and sexy but mainly made me feel like the two of them would be completely over each other in the morning.

Wilder is great, though, and nicely subtle. There's a moment I really liked when she asks him why he'd gotten a divorce. The quiet struggle you see him go through, trying to decide how to explain succinctly what must be a complicated and painful matter, that's brilliant.

Then George sees a dead man thrown off the train--but briefly and after he's had a lot drink. So Hilly can convince him it was his imagination. Of course it wasn't and there's a gang of thugs aboard which includes Ray Walston and Richard Kiel.

Kiel has metal teeth in this movie a year before he first appeared in a James Bond movie as Jaws. I wonder if he was cast in Bond because someone really thought he had metal teeth.

George gets kicked off the train a few times. He meets Pryor on one of these occasions. He's a thief named Grover who decides to help George for reasons that are never made clear in the screenplay. Fortunately, the affection Wilder and Pryor had for each other is so evident that you don't really need an explanation.

I got the feeling George and Grover will be together long after Hilly leaves the picture.

Silver Streak is available on The Criterion Channel until September 30.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Master of Deadly Wastes

A savage hatred between two brothers foments over a lifetime in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1889 novel The Master of Ballantrae. Gloomy and subtly psychological, this book's an admirable monster.

The story starts in 1745 and the two brothers are the children of a Scottish Laird of an estate called Durrisdeer. In a decision with results to rival a similar one by King Lear, the Laird decides to send one son to fight on the side of the Jacobites and have the other remain at home in support of the reigning King. A toss of a coin decides it'll be the elder son, James, the titular Master of Ballantrae, who goes off with the Jacobites and the younger, Henry, who'll remain at home.

Later, after he's become a pirate and is wandering the wilderness of New York, looking for a place to bury treasure, James will again toss a coin to make a decision, remarking on how it reflects his scorn for human reason.

Most of the story is told by a family servant called Mackellar, a man of high, rigid morals who regards the man he always refers to as "the Master" with fear and disgust. But the reader who looks beyond how Mackellar chooses to paint the picture will find the matter by no means so clear cut. The Master does abandon a mistress with an illegitimate child in Scotland and he perpetrates all manner of untold havoc as a pirate captain, a vocation he finds after various misadventures following the failure of the Jacobites. But Henry is not the paragon Mackellar makes him out to be from the start. The boys' father and the Master's former fiancee both pine for the man they presume dead while Henry conceals the Master's survival and repeated letters requesting money. Henry's bitterness at his father and the fiancee's enduring love for the elder brother manifest in Henry in negative colours. Seeing himself as a kind of martyr, he dutifully sends his brother money.

But Henry has married the fiancee, who still loved the presumed dead Master. And Henry now has everything the Master was meant to inherit. The Master may indeed be a scoundrel but he's also fully justified in feeling wronged.

It's tempting to look at the relationship between the two brothers as a metaphor for the conflict between the exiled Stuarts, responsible for the Jacobite uprising, and the Hanoverian family occupying the throne. Maybe Stevenson was inspired by his own readings from the 18th century that gave him a sense of the tides of loyalty. It doesn't quite match up, though, especially given how the Master's own loyalty to the Stuarts is hardly steadfast. The novel might bear some resemblance to Wuthering Heights, too, if the only female character were a little more fleshed out. As it is, she all but disappears from the narrative by the final act.

But what a wonderfully gloomy, catastrophic finale. By this point, even Mackellar's feelings about the brothers have become more complicated. I was enjoying the novel all along but my appreciation for it was raised considerably beginning with a section in which Mackellar accompanies the Master on a sea voyage from Scotland to New York on a rotting old ship called the Nonesuch. This paragraph alone is a masterpiece:

The wind fell, but the sea hove ever the higher. All night the Nonesuch rolled outrageously; the next day dawned, and the next, and brought no change. To cross the cabin was scarce possible; old experienced seamen were cast down upon the deck, and one cruelly mauled in the concussion; every board and block in the old ship cried out aloud; and the great bell by the anchor-bitts continually and dolefully rang. One of these days the Master and I sate alone together at the break of the poop. I should say the Nonesuch carried a high, raised poop. About the top of it ran considerable bulwarks, which made the ship unweatherly; and these, as they approached the front on each side, ran down in a fine, old-fashioned, carven scroll to join the bulwarks of the waist. From this disposition, which seems designed rather for ornament than use, it followed there was a discontinuance of protection: and that, besides, at the very margin of the elevated part where (in certain movements of the ship) it might be the most needful. It was here we were sitting: our feet hanging down, the Master betwixt me and the side, and I holding on with both hands to the grating of the cabin skylight; for it struck me it was a dangerous position, the more so as I had continually before my eyes a measure of our evolutions in the person of the Master, which stood out in the break of the bulwarks against the sun. Now his head would be in the zenith and his shadow fall quite beyond the Nonesuch on the farther side; and now he would swing down till he was underneath my feet, and the line of the sea leaped high above him like the ceiling of a room. I looked on upon this with a growing fascination, as birds are said to look on snakes. My mind, besides, was troubled with an astonishing diversity of noises; for now that we had all sails spread in the vain hope to bring her to the sea, the ship sounded like a factory with their reverberations. We spoke first of the mutiny with which we had been threatened; this led us on to the topic of assassination; and that offered a temptation to the Master more strong than he was able to resist. He must tell me a tale, and show me at the same time how clever he was and how wicked. It was a thing he did always with affectation and display; generally with a good effect. But this tale, told in a high key in the midst of so great a tumult, and by a narrator who was one moment looking down at me from the skies and the next up from under the soles of my feet—this particular tale, I say, took hold upon me in a degree quite singular.

He goes on to tell a story, supposedly a true one about a friend, but one that actually comes across as a hypothetical illustration, to challenge the hearer about the culpability of someone who psychologically manipulates someone else into a hazardous circumstance.

It's a lovely book. It's a nice appetiser for the Halloween season.

Twitter Sonnet #1625

The pair of masters met in swamp or snow.
Diminished minds digest in swollen hearts.
The distant dream was like a cherry glow.
A rigid servant plays the nicest parts.
A treasure waits forever near the grave.
A rancher knew the lovely carcass well.
Mistakes were hid to quell the tidy knave.
In godless lands the pirates dug to Hell.
The bandits ceased to climb the dusty rocks.
The booty fell below a twisted tree.
Implicit heists were held in haunted socks.
There's naught but sand as far as they can see.
A set of swords were crossed in brother brains.
Their treasure now a soulless land retains.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Restrictive Ring

Last night's Rings of Power was the second best episode so far, after the one written by Gennifer Hutchison. It was badly written and filmed, like all the episodes, but it felt sort of like it could have been a weak episode of a strong series. The writer, Justin Doble, who's written for Stranger Things, seems like maybe he's a kind of writer who specialises in padding episodes, episodes where the few important things that happen could have easily been shifted to a prior or subsequent episode but, for whatever reason, the show needs to meet a certain episode quota. So a "hack" in the original, slightly less derogatory, sense of the word.

The main reason I think this is the case is the episode's indulgence in a device I like to call "Everyone Always Finds Out Everything". This is something you see repeatedly in the later seasons of The Expanse, another Amazon Prime series. One character does something or has something they need to keep secret from one or multiple people. An episode or two later, those people find out and we have the "Can we still be friends/allies?" conversation. We find out where the two stand with each other by the end of it, which is generally right back where they started. It's stupid, especially as a device that is used repeatedly. You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to say that sometimes people in real life successfully keep secrets. It's really just a way of treading water until the show gets to a more important episode.

In this case, it's Elrond's promise to keep Durin's secret about the mithril mines. The way in which the secret is revealed involves some especially gratuitous strains of logic. The vague diminishing from The Lord of the Rings that compels the elves to go into the west has been recast as an affliction only mithril can somehow cure. The substance Durin believed the dwarves came up with a name for, and which Elrond seemingly translated properly to elvish for the first time, is now in this episode something the high ranking elves already know of by name. And then Elrond does an unintentionally hilarious job of keeping the secret. When Gil-galad basically asks him, "Do the dwarves have mithril?" Elrond basically says, "I promised I wouldn't tell." It wouldn't take a genius to interpret that as "Yes."

And then it cuts to a shot of Celebrimbor actually holding the chunk of mithril Durin gave Elrond and Elrond is wringing his hands, talking about how he has this secret and he's torn between his friendship and his loyalty to the elves. But . . . . Man, clearly you've divulged the information to Celebrimbor.

There was a moment I kind of liked in the episode where Probably Gandalf saved the Harfoots from wargs. That at least had some drama to it. As action sequences go, though, the show is still rather weak when it comes to swordplay, as can be seen in Galadriel's lumbering, heavily edited training scene.

Not for the first time, I started to wonder where the money really did go. I can believe, with the sets and costumes, and weak actors, the show cost maybe a little less than a million. But ten million? Twenty? No way. Could Rings of Power be part of a big money laundering scheme? I guess it's better than Laser Tag.

I heard a lot of people believe that Halbrand is going to turn out to be Sauron. I guess that would fit with the show's pattern of racial and gender casting in which white men are all evil or pathetic (or both). Pharazon, the Numenorean wise man with the black and white beard, was revealed in this episode to have a racial hatred of elves despite having helped Galadrel escape from prison in the previous episode.

Last night's episode also had half of the white hillbillies defect to pledge loyalty to whom they think is Sauron. If that guy doesn't turn out to be Sauron I wonder who he is meant to be.

The Rings of Power is available on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Another Week, Another She-Hulk

Last night's episode of She-Hulk, "Just Jen", does not, as of this writing, have its own Wikipedia entry yet. All the other episodes do, which I find surprising for a show with low ratings and a Rotten Tomatoes audience score that can't crack 40%. I guess the Marvel name still has a lot of cache but, by Jove, they're burning through it seemingly without restraint. "Just Jen" was just dull.

The last episode left us hanging on a tease of She-Hulk's new wardrobe and this is all we get? White polka dots on Navy blue? All right, I guess it's . . . fine. It doesn't exactly pop. I feel like white would be a good colour for her but obviously not as a wedding guest. Maybe lavender? I don't know. The lighting for special effects shots are always so flat and slightly greyed out, which doesn't help.

It would have been funny watching Jen shuffle around in her oversized clothes if the show had thought of a better reason for forcing her to. I know the joke is that people have unbearable acquaintances whose weddings they must attend, but I would have liked some explanation as to why Lulu and Jen were friends or why everyone at the party seemed to hate Jen. Are we supposed to just take it as jealousy over her being She-Hulk? It's not clear.

Was it ever mentioned why Titania has super strength? I can't remember. Has Jen ever asked? Has anyone brought it up?

The B plot, which recasts a minor Marvel hero, Mr. Immortal, as a shallow coward, didn't make sense. It's hard to see how he could be so delusional as to honestly describe what he does as killing himself. It's so disconnected from the evident reality that it fails to be funny or make any comment on the psychology of guys who are shitty in relationships. At the end of the episode, he's a jerk. So what? Why are we watching this?

I guess I am just holding on to see Daredevil at this point. That's how they get you. And Tatiana Maslany is really good in the role. I really liked the first two episodes written by Jessica Gao. So I guess I can say the show has done good enough to acceptably bring She-Hulk into the MCU. Hopefully she'll have better writers in the future. I really hope Disney learns a lesson from how much better Andor, a show with virtually no Easter eggs, is doing compared to She-Hulk.

She-Hulk is available on Disney+.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Candor of Andor

I'd just about given up on getting a Star Wars show like Andor from Disney. What a lovely surprise. The younger viewers may have been bored to tears but I was delighted by writer Tony Gilroy's thoughtful world-building and characters who weren't screaming their motives every two seconds.

Gilroy and other people working on the show have said Andor was quite intentionally political. But unlike Rings of Power and other badly written shows of recent years, Andor is not, so far, a crude ideological allegory. You could watch Andor as a liberal or conservative, as a Twitter Socialist or one of the people who stormed the White House in January. The show takes no sides with our Earthly politics. It uses the inherent advantage of Fantasy and Science Fiction by placing issues in an isolated environment where you can contemplate them directly. It's not unlike what George Lucas claimed to have done with the prequels. I remember when Revenge of the Sith came out and people said there were obvious references to the Bush administration. But while Lucas was obviously no fan of Bush and even contributed to that impression of Episode III with appearances on The Colbert Report, I think he was telling the truth that the politics of the prequels were based more generally on reading the histories of collapsing governments.

Andor is the first live action Star Wars output to really give a sense of the working class. I think Solo made some attempt at this, being set on Corellia and giving Han Solo a father who'd lost his manufacturing job. The town we're introduced to in Andor takes time mustering a group of characters whose lives are wrapped up in metalworks, whose standard of living grows narrower to make room for a pervasive, corrupt and paranoid bureaucracy.

I love how Gilroy and actor Kyle Soller managed to make Inspector Karn into someone we sympathise with while at the same time making him slightly scary and a threat to the protagonists. In doing so, this show really gives an impression of how the Empire achieved life not by Clone Troopers massacring people but by an evolving professional culture.

Meanwhile, we have Cassian's lovely relationship with his surrogate mother, played by Fiona Shaw, and maybe the sweetest, most hard luck droid we've ever seen on Star Wars.

He was giving me some Wall-E vibes.

I'm so happy this show exists. Gilroy has described the series as a novel and that's just what it feels like. In a very good way.

Andor is available on Disney+.

Twitter Sonnet #1624

Impressive skulls remind the mind to stop.
To make a point, the sharpest pen can write.
Without the bubble, naught can ever pop.
So put the cap above the child's height.
Requested ghosts were busy haunting pine.
The timing storm was set to happen late.
A zombie answer broke the living line.
With frizzy yarn we stuffed the zealot's bait.
The mirror box awaits in mining towns.
With clarity the problem split to six.
A pretty day was pushed for pocket gowns.
The metal sounds announce a gathered fix.
The gift of rust relieved the silent steel.
At least the rodent served a decent meal.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Nobody Beats Midas

Next time a guy feels like a nobody, he can take heart he's in kickass company. He can have a look at 2021's Nobody, an action movie starring Bob Odenkirk--Saul from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad--who kind of gets the chance to play Walter White here. The story is far less substantial than Breaking Bad, though, and this movie is unabashedly an indulgent men's fantasy. It has some real nice fight scenes.

Odenkirk plays Hutch, an ordinary family man whose boring routine we see demonstrated with rapidly repeated edits of him taking out the trash, getting coffee, and going to work. Then some burglars break in and, despite being able to get the drop on one, he lets them go. After this, his family, friends, and even the police make unsubtle cracks about his manhood. Oh, little do they know!

Where Breaking Bad had its protagonist solve his emasculation by turning to crime, Nobody has a protagonist who essentially has superpowers he's morally and legally permitted to exercise at any moment. In this world, power comes at no cost. It's just pure, sweet power, baby.

First he decides to take on a group of gangsters harassing a young woman on a bus, a really nicely choreographed tussle. Then he finds himself systematically taking down a Russian mob boss.

Christopher Lloyd has a small role as Hutch's father who, for some reason, seems to be equally competent with guns and fists--thanks to creative editing (Lloyd's actually looking very frail).

The movie's pure fluff but we're all in the mood for that now and then.

Nobody is available on HBOMax.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Look Who's Looking

So you think getting separated from your conjoined twin will solve all your problems. It's just the beginning for Danielle in Brian De Palma's 1972 film Sisters. As is so often the case with De Palma's early films, it's soaked with Hitchcock references. In this case, he puts Hitchcock plot points, compositions, and music into a blender and sees what sticks. Critics have then straightened it all out into a statement on voyeurism and women. But I mainly got the feeling as I was watching that De Palma was following a path dictated by whim. Which wasn't a bad idea.

My two favourite things about the movie are Margot Kidder and Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann's score is just lovely. Of course.

Kidder plays Danielle, a French Canadian model who used to be joined at the hip (literally) to her sister. She puts on the most adorable French accent. My ear can't judge its accuracy but it's so cute.

We're introduced to her as the star of a candid camera show in which she pretends to be a blind woman who starts undressing in front of Phillip (Lisle Wilson), who doesn't know he's being filmed. This short segment presents us with a hall of mirrors of voyeurism already. We don't know at first we're watching Danielle consentually undressing for an audience. We don't know that Phillip's voyeurism is exposed to an audience he hadn't yet consented to.

After the show, Phillip and Danielle go out on a date, their pretext for beginning a relationship on nice, subtly perverted ground.

The film becomes about a murder and, as in Psycho, we switch protagonists to a new character, Grace (Jennifer Salt). She's a reporter whom the cops dislike and don't believe when she says she saw a murder across the street. We have voyeurism, points of view, and the debatable validity of perspective.

The last act of the film isn't as interesting but still good. I do wish De Palma had managed to stay with Danielle more, I enjoyed observing her.

Sisters is available on The Criterion Channel.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Baking with Dragon Fire

Wow, House of the Dragon is good. I baked some fresh bread, which came out really well, and was eating it as I watched a guy's head getting bashed against the floor. And I thought, "Life just doesn't get any better than this." How sweet it is.

The episode begins and ends with murder. We finally meet Daemon's wife who, in just a few minutes, manages to come off as really cool before he first paralyses her and then murders her, all without a word.

He doesn't speak at first when he shows up to Rhaenyra's wedding feast so I thought maybe the episode was going to be an exercise in how menacing Matt Smith can be with silence. And menacing he was.

The big wrinkle in this story is Ser Criston, whose honour matters more to him than Rhaenyra counted on when she decided to make him her boytoy. He finds an unexpected, and unsought, ally in Queen Alicent.

The predicament she's in is so logically put together and so horrific. I loved the scene in the rain, at the entrance to the Red Keep, when her father laid it all out for her. Not only will Rhaenyra fight for her kid to be heir over Alicent's, Rhaenyra will have no choice in doing so.

So Alicent brings her cleavage to the party, wearing no chemise under her gown. It's her battle array, worn as she confronts Viserys and Rhaenyra for the first time since she came to believe they both betrayed her. And she has good reason to think that, from the moment Richard III let slip the skinny about Rhaenyra's tea.

I thought he was Ben Whishaw at first but it's an actor called Matthew Needham playing Larys Stong, son of the new king's hand who's replaced Alicent's father. He seems to be the arch-schemer type, a Tyrion or a Littlefinger. Ah, happy days are here again.

House of the Dragon is available on HBOMax.

Twitter Sonnet #1623

The missing egg has hid an Easter Day.
Again the saggy river clogs the freight.
A bouncing barrel yet surpassed the tay.
Expensive elves and dwarves have nothing ate.
A glassy beard allowed a view of chin.
When time's a watch, the drum's an ear of corn.
We gather lead below the metal bin.
The party pitched below the mark of scorn.
The B balloon could still traverse the C.
The tea lagoon could still revive the man.
A gentle chime confined the tuner key.
We beat the band to buy a muffin pan.
The twisting lizards lock in wedding chains.
The clumsy club has broke the bloody mains.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Meet Dahomey

Look at that, a movie about the Dahomey Amazons. I'd like to see The Woman King but it doesn't even have a release date here in Japan yet. It looks like it covers the same historical ground as Werner Herzog's Cobra Verde, the 19th century period in which King Ghezo of Dahomey was struggling with issues related to the slave trade, Dahomey's primary source of economic vitality for much of its existence. Cobra Verde is more historically accurate while The Woman King seeks to be an historically inspired fantasy epic along the lines of Gladiator or 300.

I was amused last night to see on Twitter a "#BoycottTheWomanKing" hashtag trending because people were just discovering that an African Kingdom aided and abetted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. People are apparently shocked that a movie would portray any aspect of such a kingdom in a positive light.

Since I started doing research for my web comic, Dekpa and Deborah, in 2014, I was surprised by how difficult it was to find information on West African nations. It also became clear to me that many of the people who used West Africa as a topic in their political rhetoric often knew very little, and seemingly cared very little, about its history. This was clear, too, when the Black Panther movie came out, at which time people discussing the film showed not just their ignorance of African culture and history but an unabashed disinterest in modern West Africa. It was a real eye opener for me, being able to witness so clearly how much the political story being pushed was fundamentally fantasy. Whatever else The Woman King might be, hopefully it's a step towards people holding a more honest perspective on human nature. Then maybe we'll have fewer things like Rings of Power, in which only white people are shown to be genetically capable of racism or oppression.

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Ring Goes Round and Round

I watched some paint dry last night for about an hour, but it was really expensive paint called The Rings of Power (etc, etc, etc). I can think of few such stark examples of ten cent imaginations working on a billion dollar budget.

Most people talk about how bad the writing is but the visuals deserve some mockery, too. Yeah, the sets and props clearly show the amount of detail a pile of money can buy. But there's not a single interesting composition, there's nothing interesting about the colour schemes beyond how well they imitate Pre-Raphaelite and John Howe paintings. It's like the director just shrugged and said to the production designers, "I don't know, do something expensive."

The action scenes are getting dumber, too. My favourite was Galadriel overpowering a group of armoured guards putting her in handcuffs. Okay, it's a bit silly they decided to turn Galadriel into a genius martial artist, but if you're going that route, and you have all this money, shouldn't you show us how she manages to do something like this? The best I can make out is she just kind of pushes the five guys twice her size with her little bare hands.

Is this elven magic? You want to weave some kind of story around Galadriel's prowess? No?

Again, the racial casting fits a clear pattern. A bunch of working class white guys in Numenor gather to protest elven immigrants taking their jobs. In Tolkien's lore, some Numenoreans became jealous of the immortality of elves. Tolkien, who hated allegory anyway, obviously couldn't and wouldn't have made this nonsensical caricature of Trump voters.

And, once again, no-one's East Asian except one or two background extras, which dispels the argument that the show's leaving East Asians for the Easterlings. I guess, as far as main characters went, injecting anachronistic racial diversity was important, but they thought Asians were a step too far. Or maybe they're just racists.

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: The Energy of Jewellery: The Finger Cuffs of Sauron: The Golden Cheese: The King of the Hula Hoops is available on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The She-Hulk Brand

I didn't mind last night's She-Hulk. Which may sound like damning with faint praise but after a long day at work, the fact that it didn't feel like it wasted thirty minutes of my tiny amount of free time is saying something. I even laughed at one joke.

It was written by Dana Schwartz, whose background is as an entertainment journalist. I think this helped her find the right tone for some aspects of the episode.

Especially the commercials Titania (Jameela Jamil) puts out exploiting the She-Hulk name. I appreciated the irony of rhetoric about owning who you are. Though the thing that actually made me when Titania saw She-Hulk walk into the courtroom and said, "Nice suit, Shrek."

The episode successfully built up my anticipation for her new wardrobe. I was really disappointed we couldn't see one item of it at the end.

Although I didn't actually laugh at most of the jokes, at least most of them didn't seem illogical or dumb. The only thing that bothered me was when Nikki (Ginger Gonzaga) actually wore the fake Avengers merch. That seemed out of character, though I suspect this idea didn't come from the teleplay. The Daredevil tease at the end made me cautiously hopeful.

She-Hulk is available on Disney+.

Twitter Sonnet #1622

A shaky pachyderm reloads the film.
Insistent snouts include the tender brush.
A twisted hand condemned the rotten helm.
Across the deck a sheet proclaimed a hush.
The January poet waits for fall.
The elephant from China lands in books.
A circle spell has hit a mirror wall.
It spirals back to eat its fishing hooks.
Attention paid impoverished Ike a bit.
The dancing devil claimed the desert coin.
When last alone detectives ought to sit.
Repeated shows have soaked the tender loin.
A quiet giant sleeps in fire's glow.
In orange and green the pumpkin starts to grow.