Friday, July 01, 2022

Topa Time

Five years later and the plot set up in "About a Girl", a first season episode of The Orville, finally came to fruition in last night's new episode. "A Tale of Two Topas" finds the offspring of Bortus and Klyden discovering they'd surgically altered the baby's sex. Once again written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, "A Tale of Two Topas" did an even better job of using an alien scenario to give the audience a new perspective on current issues.

Of course, the standard argument against Star Trek style aliens, and it's a pretty valid one, is that they aren't really so alien. But they're also not really human. They're us but not us, which makes them perfect for setting up hypothetical scenarios without running afoul of cultural preconceptions.

Topa is the victim of a society that pathologically hates women. The story could be read either as an argument against transphobia or an argument against children getting sexual reassignment surgery. It could be a conservative advocacy for heterosexual relationships, or a liberal declaration for everyone's right to present the sexual identity of their choice.

I even liked the subplot about the crew raiding an alien pyramid.

I would have liked a few scenes showing a bond between Topa and Klyden to demonstrate how complicated and difficult the situation is. I suppose it would help if I'd seen other episodes about the Moclan couple more recently. Taken in isolation, this episode makes Klyden merely a cartoonish villain. But I did enjoy Isaac standing up to him.

Once again, The Orville seems like it's the only one doing the things that actually made Science Fiction great.

The Orville is available on Hulu in the U.S. and on Disney+ elsewhere.

Twitter Sonnet #1596

The summer song was loud and weighed a tonne.
We chucked the hay across the horse's trough.
Our dancers sweat the vending machine gun.
The sun is burning up in yonder loft.
The wooden war was stocked with wine and boots.
The trembling man created seven shade.
Forgotten minds began the culture's roots.
With planted math the art at will pervades.
The action dipped below the road in spots.
We travelled light but ate a heavy ham.
Our field dessert was ancient Dippin' Dots.
We asked a prison guard to peel the yam.
They didn't see the lanterns making streets.
The foreign words describe the foreign treats.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Ms. Marvel Goes Casual

I wonder if the title of last night's new Ms. Marvel, "Seeing Red", was meant as a nod to all the show's similarities to Turning Red. But the episode actually had less in common with that Pixar movie than previous episodes did. At its best, "Seeing Red" is kind of cosy. At its lowest points, it was a bit muddled and inert.

And I'm really looking at you, action sequences. When the Clandestines show up during Kamala's meeting with the Red Daggers, director Shermeen Obaid-Chinoy showed no ability to keep the focus or clarity necessary to keep the audience engaged in an action sequence. Since it spilled out into the street and tried to incorporate a lot of elements, it seemed like maybe she was aiming for something like The Winter Soldier but it came off more like the infamously confusing fight scenes in Batman Begins. I guess Christopher Nolan is good company to be in.

Another problem with the episode is that the normally charming Iman Vellani seemed downright bored for most of it. She seemed about as engaged with the action as the audience. And, sure, you can blame Vellani for it. Maybe as a professional actress she should be able to use her imagination to get herself into any emotional state. But I blame the director. This was the first episode to be directed by Obaid-Chinoy whose extensive filmography is primarily composed of documentaries. Which would explain why she doesn't know how to work with actors. A young actress like Vellani might be particularly in need of guidance from a director.

At nineteen years of age, maybe Vellani's too old to be considered a child actor but I think she's young enough for some of the same issues to apply. The best child performances in films are from directors who manipulate children to get genuine reactions rather than leaving it up to their imaginations. Vellani may be something of a method performer who needs something tangible and familiar to work with and that's why she comes off as much more interesting chatting with a boy at school than running down a street in Thailand.

I mean Pakistan. But it's really Thailand because once again, despite trying to cache in on cultural identity, Disney has refused to use an actual location. It's not quite as bad as when they used Atlanta to stand in for Africa in Black Panther but it's still disappointing, particularly as part of a consistent pattern.

I did find some of the scenes with Kamala's family kind of cosy. It was nice after a busy day of work to watch a show that didn't want me to get too excited.

Ms. Marvel is available on Disney+.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

A Carl in the Dark

Recently I've been reading Carl Sagan's 1995 book The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. With this book, Sagan attempts to explain to the layperson why science gives us a method superior to religion and psuedoscience for interpreting the world. I needed a voice like that because lately I've been feeling overwhelmed by the prevalence of shoddy reasoning and blatantly biased discourse masquerading as cold truth.

Sagan's guilty of some bias himself. In talking about those scientists who fail to adhere to the pure philosophy of the scientific method, he implies they're not representative of true science, while he assumes the worst examples of religious practitioners are representative of religion. But it is a balm to hear someone extol the virtues of critical thought which I really think is scarcer now than in the mid-'90s.

Do we like being criticized? No, no scientist enjoys it. Every scientist feels a proprietary affection for his or her ideas and findings. Even so, you don't reply to critics, Wait a minute, this is a really good idea, I'm very fond of it; it's done you no harm, please leave it alone. Instead, the hard and just rule is that if the ideas don't work, you must throw them away.

The benefit to science is obvious. But I've noticed people have a harder time accepting real criticism of art now, too. Art critics have always garnered some amount of hatred, and certainly critics are often capable of bias, presuming their subjective dislikes provide evidence for objective flaws in a work of art. But so often now I see perfectly reasonable criticisms attacked with mobs of people accusing the critic of simply being hateful and mean. This has led to a widespread phenomenon now of YouTube critics prefacing their videos by saying they're not telling people they can't enjoy the work being criticised. People shouldn't have to be told, but they very clearly do need to be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Harvest the Corn or Put On a Show

Farm work is important, sometimes desperate, hard work, and so is show business, as we see in 1950's Summer Stock. Gene Kelly and Judy Garland star in this musical, not one of the greatest musicals of all time but one with some very strong components.

I'm more of a Gene Kelly fan than a Judy Garland fan but I like how this movie starts with her character's point of view. She belongs to an old family, the Falburys who can trace their lineage back to the 17th century. An old man, Roy Collins, from another old family, the Wingaits, wants her to marry his timid son, Orville (Eddie Bracken). It's partly for this reason he gives her a tractor on credit when her farm is failing. Matters are complicated when her sister comes home with a theatre troupe looking to put on a show in their barn.

Gene Kelly plays the leader of the troupe. Just like Garland's character, he's in the middle of his last ditch effort to save his dreams.

The musical numbers don't quite flow smoothly with the story but some of them are great. Kelly dancing with a newspaper is a particular highlight, as is the final big number, "Get Happy". I like Garland early in the film but it was a mistake to have her perform part of her first number naked.

She was a great actress and singer but she was never sexy. She's no Kajol. However, I can't overstate how brilliant Garland's take on "Get Happy" is at the end of the film. Her legs do look terrific.

The costumes are nice. I also like this beautiful stove that makes exactly one appearance in the film.

Summer Stock is available on The Criterion Channel.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Buffy Bucks

My respect for Jane Espenson as a writer has increased with each viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer but I still think her work on season six is a low point in the series. I watched "Flooded" last night, the fourth episode of the season, in which Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie's teleplay unwisely delves into Buffy's financial situation.

Apparently, though, all the writers were involved with this idea. This quote from Marti Noxon is from the Buffyverse wiki:

So I guess we started toying with adult responsibilities and then decided we'd have to go the way of nasty sex instead. We had been asking in script meetings, 'What are adult responsibilities?'

One is left with the peculiar feeling the writers didn't know the answer to that question, despite presumably being adults themselves. It's hard to decide where to begin criticising the web of problems underlying this aspect of Buffy's story. They're all interconnected and work together to make the whole thing insubstantial.

So Buffy's been resurrected by Willow, or Willow leading a group composed of herself, Tara, Xander, and Anya. Spike and Dawn are left out of the loop and Giles has gone off to England. While Buffy's been gone, Willow and Tara have moved into the Summers household and become surrogate guardians for Dawn. The reason Dawn doesn't go to live with her father isn't clearly explained and is hand-waved away. I don't remember if we ever actually get a scene between Dawn and her father. I assume they couldn't get the same actor from season two or three or whenever it was he appeared and they didn't consider the plot thread important enough to recast. Willow's parents haven't appeared since season three and Tara appeared to be dramatically disowned by her family.

These things become important when they're giving Buffy the hard talk about how the inheritance from Buffy and Dawn's deceased mother is running out. Willow and Tara, despite living in the house and presumably using the utilities, never mention if they've been contributing financially or how they would be able to. Buffy will eventually be forced to drop out of college so she can work to support Dawn and herself. Why wouldn't Willow and Tara do the same? Where does their money come from? Willow's parents? How do they feel about the fact that Willow has become head of a household with her girlfriend and is presumably using her parents' money to do it?

There's lots of comedy about Anya being obsessed with money but how much money can she make from that magic shop? How much does it cost for her to pay merchandise suppliers--who are those suppliers? How much money could Giles possibly have at this point? With him it becomes a particularly important question when he starts to shame Buffy for not tackling financial responsibilities herself. Even if he's not her Watcher officially anymore, he's still her friend and father figure and she's still often enough the only person standing in the way of the apocalypse, a full time, frequently overnight job with no pay. If he can help her and Dawn financially, surely he's morally obligated to. And if he can't, why is it even a discussion?

These characters and their situations have gone on too long without considering financial realities for the show to start leaning on them for dramatic purposes now. It's like putting a hippopotamus in a shopping cart. The episode ends with Buffy rushing off to a rendezvous with Angel who, of course, owns a hotel . . .

Twitter Sonnet #1595

A query drifted north to meet the snow.
For ev'ry egg we never hatched a plan.
Remembered briefings help the yoghurt grow.
The noble pudding's sweeter now than flan.
If true or false the scene was very weird.
The eye was never right when brown or blue.
A million little snakes create a beard.
A station girl could stop a murder crew.
Where singing gulls were caught to nab a crab.
The puzzle gathered strength on castle walls.
The dark's as good a place as Hell to stab.
We figured odds the Lotto's got the balls.
The broken pot was something all forgot.
We packed the mind behind the vacant lot.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Morguekeeper

Horror comes in many forms and three of them can be seen in the 1993 anthology film Body Bags. Primarily a John Carpenter production, with two stories directed by Carpenter and one by Tobe Hooper, it was originally intended to be a Showtime series designed to compete with HBO's Tales from the Crypt. I don't know how good the show might've been but as a film it's pretty good.

John Carpenter himself suffers the indignity of imitating the Cryptkeeper, appearing in host segments as a living cadaver who makes wisecracks about his fellow corpses. It's the only part of the movie that really doesn't work, though it's difficult to judge it on its own merits because most of the time I was just thinking, "You're not the Cryptkeeper, you'll never be the Cryptkeeper, and, let's face it, you don't really want to be the Cryptkeeper."

The best segment is the first story, "The Gas Station", directed by, though not written by, Carpenter himself.

Alex Datcher stars as Anne, a young woman on her first evening at work as an overnight gas station attendant. I really appreciated how Carpenter stayed with her point of view. We feel nervous for her with each new appearance by a strange customer who might be the killer. It's also one of those moments in an older film where I enjoy the novelty of a main character being genuinely working class. From the details of her desk routine and the business with the bathroom key the viewer's really left with the impression that someone who worked on this movie knew what it was like to work at a gas station.

Alex Datcher doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry but she's perfectly fine in the role. She's pretty and good at seeming genuinely scared. But the short is probably more notable for its cameos by David Naughton and Robert Carradine, not to mention two legendary horror directors, Wes Craven and Sam Raimi.

I thought the second story was nicely, perversely funny. "Hair" stars Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, and Deborah Harry. Keach plays a man obsessed with his thinning hair and David Warner is the sinister doctor who gives him more hair than he wants. And also tiny snakes.

The final story comes from Tobe Hooper and is a nice variation on the old "possessed by surgical transplant" story. In this case, Mark Hamill plays a baseball player who loses his eye. A pair of doctors played by none other than Roger Corman and John Agar replace it with a serial killer's eye. Things go as you might expect, which is to say, unhappily for Hamill's character and his wife, played by Twiggy.

I almost thought Hamill and Twiggy had unsimulated sex in this movie. In a very unsexy sex scene shot from behind the two, you can see between both their legs and it definitely looked like something was going into Twiggy. Inspecting screenshots, I saw what I think was a modesty sock on Hamill. It really looks like Twiggy was penetrated, though, so I almost think it's a strap-on. Which would raise a whole lot of questions. I'm still not sure what I was seeing.

No, I won't post the screenshots, you perverts! Watch the movie yourself. It's available on Shudder.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Old Man was a Younger Old Man Once

Patrick Stewart could have been a good action star twenty-nine years ago. There are a few moments in "Starship Mine", a 1993 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation I watched last night, where he even gets to be quietly menacing. He casually delivers a "Then give them my regards" line almost like James Bond to the group of arms dealers he's trapped on the Enterprise with. But the episode's more usually seen as "Die Hard in space." It's clearly a lot cheaper than Die Hard, though, and was likely designed so to fill out the twenty-six episode season.

It makes almost exclusive use of pre-existing sets, the only exception being a reception at the space station where the Enterprise was dry docked for the procedure that necessitated her temporary evacuation.

And sure that's a cheap set. It almost makes Darth Vader's throne room on Obi-Wan Kenobi look good. They also couldn't afford extras so this reception involves only the command crew of the Enterprise and three guest stars--Commander Hutchenson, the Starfleet commander of the station, and the two alien guys who are about to betray them. Presumably the rest of Hutchenson's staff are off-screen somewhere but they're never mentioned, even when the aliens are keeping the Enterprise crew hostage. I suspect the production just forgot that it wouldn't be logical for a Starfleet commander to be all alone on this massive station.

Meanwhile, Picard has five arms dealers to handle on the Enterprise and for some reason he never attempts to contact anyone onboard the station, despite not knowing his crew had been taken hostage.

I guess, despite a few bright spots, TNG's heyday was over by this point. Still, it's a pleasure seeing Patrick Stewart in his prime, before he started to perform every role like he was constantly on the verge of tears. He's steely and badass, running around with Worf's crossbow (according to the Memory Alpha wiki, the prop was a real crossbow rented from a shop for 125 dollars). He also wins a fistfight with a woman.

I can't help feeling we were truly more progressive in the '90s.

This fight happened despite Stewart insisting in recent years that he'd always refused to do such a thing, no matter what the script said. As Ben Whishaw's Richard II said of Stewart's character in the Shakespeare play, "So much for that."

Star Trek: The Next Generation is still available on Netflix. Is Paramount+ ever going to lock down the good Star Trek shows before Disney buys Paramount?

The Krill Upset

Last night's new Orville, written by Star Trek writers Brannon Braga and Andre Bormanis, deployed one of my least favourite Star Trek plot devices--the heavy-handed political allegory. But, again, the show's production--I won't say "quality" but maybe "attitude"--is so good that I still enjoyed it. Every episode of The Orville feels whole in some way a lot of TV shows don't anymore.

I did like how much detail went into the Krill homeworld. They were played pretty much as a joke before and they still kind of are. But at least now I started to get a feeling that they're a three dimensional people.

The political allegory is a thinly veiled retelling of the 2016 US election when Trump was elected. I realise release of The Orville Season Three was delayed a lot by Covid, but a work of fiction tackling that election once again, repeated exactly the same opinions about it as so many other works have done, really feels tired.

A populist leader preys on feelings of disenfranchisement--mostly racist in this version--and uses fake news to win a dramatic victory against the person everyone thought was going to win. As soon as you know where it's going, the feeling it gives you is, "Okay, okay, let's wrap it up already." Braga--and I'm pretty sure Braga is mainly responsible for this stuff--lumps in everything he hates about the American right and puts it onto the Krill, even when it doesn't quite make sense. We get a scene about how the Krill are devoutly against abortion, which isn't quite logical for a warrior culture. I also feel like it was too minor a part of the episode to touch on such a sensitive and complex topic.

The non-allegory aspects of the story weren't bad, though. The drama between Ed and Teleya is good and I'm glad she's not just a Trump caricature. But the best part of the episode was the stuff I suspect was written by Andre Bormanis, who was technical advisor on Star Trek scripts. In this case, I suspect he was mainly responsible for the tactical, space battle stuff.

Now that was cool, and really felt like Horatio Hornblower. If a Rogue Squadron movie ever does get off the ground, this is the kind of writing they need.

The Orville is available on Hulu or on Disney+, depending on your country.

Twitter Sonnet #1594

Aggressive sounds were bleeding out the bell.
Confusing jousts conclude with salvaged arms.
The watchful clouds have secrets left to tell.
A slimy, snakey stone discreetly warms.
Some music makes a massive change to screen.
And yet a lousy script can break a knee.
A missing chunk of tale can scratch the dream.
Yet not a dying branch could kill the tree.
A glowing world could fall behind the tube.
Exciting ships were fast beyond the plot.
The square examined turned to be a cube.
We hid the shape behind an oval pot.
The double story doubly dropped the ball.
And yet the trek was worth the zombie call.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

John Williams versus Bon Jovi

So finally, in the last episode, Obi-Wan Kenobi got on its feet. The show and the character. Credit, I think, really needs to go to John Williams, Andrew Stanton, and the actors. Prominent problems still exist in the teleplay and definitely in Deborah Chow's directing. But on the whole, it was a win. Meanwhile, like a seesaw of quality, when Obi-Wan improves, the normally delightful Ms. Marvel diminishes. I'd hardly call Ms. Marvel episode three a total disaster but it was definitely outshone by the Star Wars series this time.

We finally got a good rematch between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christenson have spoken in the past about how much work they put into their sabre duel in Revenge of the Sith and here McGregor clearly aimed to get back in that action. It was just terrific watching them go at it, and in an appropriately fantastic location this time. The dialogue helped, too, and I suspect this scene was written by Andrew Stanton. The lines about how Vader killed Anakin perfectly flow with the dialogue in the original trilogy, buttressing what some might consider slightly weak retconning Lucas did after A New Hope. The dialogue in last night's duel was clearly written by someone who'd watched those movies a million times and really thought about them. The writing for the rest of the episode, as for most of the series, felt like it was written by people who aren't particularly interested in Star Wars.

The episode opens with Vader's Star Destroyer pursuing the passenger ship with Obi-Wan and the Path refugees. The first bit of old John Williams music is introduced to give a sense of tension and hurry but then Chow cuts to the refugee ship interior and the tone goes completely wrong. Suddenly the life or death chase turns into a funeral atmosphere. Everyone's whispering and even little Leia doesn't seem unnerved by the turbolaser explosions outside the window. There should have been screaming and running and sparks and shaking.

Then, when Obi-Wan heroically takes off on his own to divert Vader's attention, everyone on board the Star Destroyer figures they can only go after one ship or the other. What the hell? Why not launch TIE Fighters? Doesn't the Grand Inquisitor have a ship in the hanger? That was some incredibly lazy writing.

The resolution of Reva's plot was even lazier. So she's been run through with a lightsabre and . . . in her last desperate gasp . . . she somehow finds a ship, pilots it to Tatooine, and tracks down Luke Skywalker based on the hologram message from Bail Organa. Why? She'd just tried to kill Vader and he'd tried to kill her. She's not doing it to please Vader. Is it to get revenge on him, by killing the child he doesn't even know he has? And when it's all said and done, Obi-Wan doesn't even offer her assistance in finding a doctor or a first aid kit. Lightsabres just aren't what they used to be, I guess.

A lot of the episode worked because they finally got some John Williams music back into it. What a difference just a little bit of the Force theme and "The Imperial March" can make. It's not just nostalgia. Williams just makes better music than Natalie Holt. Which is hardly a knock against Holt, Williams is a legend for a reason.

Although it completely runs against the canon, I kind of liked Obi-Wan kneeling down and worshiping Leia at the end. But him giving her a blaster holster was too stupid. Obviously Disney couldn't have known there'd be a particularly horrific school shooting when the show was in production (though, sadly, it wouldn't have been too hard to guess). But even aside from that, it's well established that Obi-Wan considers blasters to be "uncivilised" and "clumsy and random". I feel like he'd be more likely to give her a book or something.

Ms. Marvel is still cute, meanwhile.

I liked the use of Bon Jovi in the kitchen fight scene although the wedding dance sequences were a bit cringe. The main problem with the episode, though, is it felt like a huge chunk of story was missing from the middle. These Djinn turn up and take so much time talking to Kamala nice and quiet and friendly. Then suddenly they want to kill her because . . . She isn't getting Bruno to open up an interdimensional portal as fast as they'd like? Nothing about that made any sense. But Kamala's still cute so it wasn't all bad.

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ms. Marvel are available on Disney+.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Twenty Years

On June 21, 2002, I wrote my first blog entry. Twenty years later, here I am, still doing it, every day. What the hell's wrong with me? Who does something like this? Someone opinionated who can't stand not expressing every fucking thought, I guess. Well, I don't waste your time with everything. But it is rare to find another human being who can honestly put up with everything in your head. I suspect everyone, everywhere has had more than a few thoughts that would horrify or disgust all their loved ones.

Blogging is an especially useful tool while living in Japan, where maintaining a false front is recognised as a normal and healthy part of social interaction. Oddly, in some sense, it's freeing for being less hypocritical than western modes of operation can be. Non-Japanese people I've met and spent time with in Japan tend to be very guarded by contrast, it's much more difficult to get them to express themselves openly than the Japanese people I know and work with.

Anyway, I was talking about blogging. And my twenty years of it. Of course, I can't imagine how my life would be different if I hadn't been blogging all this time. I definitely think it's made me a better writer and a better English teacher. Possibly it helps keep me sane, or confirms me in a roughly manageable madness. Who knows? Anyway, I wanted to mark the occasion. I forgot to say anything on the ten year anniversary. So here it is. Here's to 200 more. Or so.

This year also marks twenty years since Attack of the Clones was released. That's a movie that's really grown on me, I don't care what anyone says. Those prequels are just so weird and full of life, and they seem to get weirder and weirder every year.

Monday, June 20, 2022

A Suit Personality

An investigative journalist turns into a big slobbering monster in 2018's Venom. I suppose this is the best live action incarnation of the character though, after all the hype, I was a little disappointed. I do think Tom Hardy is perfect casting but the villain played by Riz Ahmed is weak and the movie spends too much time on the perfunctory and silly romance between Eddie and his fiancee.

One of the good ideas was to move the characters from New York to San Francisco and decent use is made of the location. Eddie's now a video journalist, a much better medium for a movie character.

I don't like how Eddie and the symbiote are always two distinct personalities who can talk to each other. One of the things I liked about the character in the comics was how two personalities combined to make another.

I liked Venom when I was a kid. He was one of the characters I used to draw when I was learning how to draw comics. I think a lot of kids respond to how gleefully anarchic he looks and that imagery is carried over into the film well enough.

It was a mistake to give him an opponent that was also a human/symbiote. I also didn't like how the symbiote briefly attached itself to Michelle Williams' character. Venom needed one movie where he was the only symbiote/human hybrid around before the story started playing around with alternate variations. And I wanted a villain who really contrasted with Venom.

It also wasn't easy to sympathise with Eddie as someone down on his luck when he has a massive designer apartment in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I really think we're meant to see this as a shithole. It's hard to believe we've come so far from Peter Parker's greasy shoebox in Spider-Man 2.

Venom, along with a lot of Sony Spider-Man content, is now available on Disney+ as part of the deal struck between the two companies to keep the Tom Holland character in the MCU.

Twitter Sonnet #1593

The extra dairy blocked the tanker truck.
With heavy hose the shipment clogged the drop.
A human mind delivered bombs for luck.
And once begun, the lads can never stop.
The stronger eyes would win the looking fight.
To save the melon, cross the forest street.
Ascend the rusty stairs and kill the light.
And down Galactic Hall the two can meet.
The oil can ignites the forest feast.
The drooling mouth of fear is "Lion" hight.
A burning sack of straw was nigh the beast.
And last a gingham sheath bedecked a wight.
A spider void inhaled the spiteful lip.
Enormous legs assayed electric dip.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Her Name was a Gun

A woman who can't speak goes on a killing spree after being sexually assaulted in 1981's Ms .45. It could be described as Repulsion meets Death Wish, though it's about 85% the latter. Does it really say anything about the reality women in the city have to deal with? I don't think so. But as a nightmare, it's not bad.

For reasons not explained, a young woman named Thana (Zoƫ Tamerlis) is incapable of speech. She works as a seamstress with a few other girls her age for a small time fashion designer, Albert (Albert Sinkys).

One day on her way home from work, she's raped by a man with a weird, clownish mask. When she gets home, she interrupts a burglary. The burglar rapes her but she manages to kill him with his own .45. Shortly thereafter, she declares war on men, taking that .45 on a rampage throughout the city at night, at first targeting abusive pimps but soon settling for cat-callers or even guys who might possibly, from a distance, look like they might be giving their girlfriends a hard time.

Director Abel Ferrara, despite being clearly influenced by Repulsion, never manages to do what Roman Polanski did with that film--really put you in the head of woman with a deep, intense fear of men. The men and some of the women in Thana's life just seem oddly annoying and pushy. It also doesn't seem realistic that none of her friends or coworkers express concern for her walking alone on the streets of early 1980s New York. Her landlady is cartoonishly abrasive, which made me laugh a few times. In one scene, she's inexplicably wearing grapes on her head, like she's Dionysus.

Like Death Wish, thugs for Thana to gun down are conveniently plentiful and easy to kill, cops and bystanders don't seem to notice her gunfire, and she seems to have become an expert markswoman overnight. Not to mention the fact that she's able to fire her gun as many times as she wants without reloading.

All of these things make the movie more of a nightmare fantasy than a commentary on what women have to deal with from men or a commentary on vigilantism. Thana is less of an avatar for the audience than Charles Bronson is in Death Wish. Her inability to speak and Ferrara's filmmaking not being as empathetic as Polanski's renders her a bit inscrutable. Some of her victims are actually more fleshed out than she is. But Tamerlis is pretty captivating in the role, first as a quiet little mouse, then as the cold vamp. She gets a whole new wardrobe after she's raped and there's no explanation for that, either.

Ms .45 is available on Shudder.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Ice Cream and English

I saw this snail dangling at the end of a branch one morning. I suspect someone put him there.

The rainy season has started here in Nara, Japan. So there's lots of humidity and lots of rain. Actually, there hasn't been so much rain so far. But yesterday it started to rain a little when I was out for a very long walk. I happened to run into a lot of students yesterday. On my way to the Twin Gate mall, I ran into a former student who graduated last year. I stopped and stared at her a moment to be sure I really did recognise this girl in an unfamiliar school uniform. Finally, I said, "Jellyfish?!" And she laughed. Near the end of her last year at junior high school, the students had had an assignment to write in English about what they wanted to be in the future. She wrote that she wanted to be a jellyfish, so that's what I've called her ever since.

She was also on her way to Twin Gate. I was going to see a movie that turned out not to be playing anymore. So I settled for getting ice cream instead at a fairly famous Okinawan place called Blue Seal. I've been there a few times now, it's pretty incredible ice cream. The history of the chain, according to Wikipedia:

The United States military created the ice cream for American soldiers stationed in Okinawa after the close of World War II, to boost morale and give them a familiar taste of home. Its first factory opened in 1948 on a US base. The Blue Seal products were only offered to Americans until 1963, when the company began selling to the Okinawan public. Their flagship store in Naha also opened that year.

Later on, the company transferred to local ownership and Okinawan flavors such as beni-imo (purple sweet potato) and Goya bitter melon were introduced.

Yesterday I had two scoops, Tropical Marble and San Francisco Mint Chocolate Chip". Maybe not the best combo but I wanted to try both flavours. They were all right but so far I'd most recommend Strawberry Cheesecake or Ube.

When I got onto the train on the way home, I suddenly found myself in the midst of the school volleyball team, on their way home from a game up north. I asked them if they won and they wouldn't tell me, which probably means they lost. The compulsive face saving in Japanese culture really is pervasive, it's like pulling teeth sometimes to get someone to own up to something negative. But they seemed to be in good spirits.

They were from the school I'd been working at since mid-April. On Friday, I was moved to another, smaller school where I'll be until the first week of October. Though really my time there will amount to about two months because my summer vacation begins in mid-July and ends at the end of August. It's been quite a shift, going from a school where I'm busy from when I arrive at 7:45am to when I go home at around 6:45pm. The school I'm at now, where I worked last year in the spring, is much more laid back and not quite as enthusiastic about help from a native English speaker. But the new first year students seem enthusiastic and eager to speak English. I often get the impression first year students are better English speakers than third year students, probably because of recent changes in the elementary schools.

Japan is ranked low among Asian countries in English proficiency. This article covers some of the reasons why pretty well, I think.

“I studied English in junior high school, high school, and university, and when I graduated college I didn’t speak English at all,” said Norihiko Inoue, the regional sales and marketing director at Education First Japan.

Fundamentally, I'd say the will just isn't there, however trendy Western things may be. It's so ingrained that I think some Japanese English teachers who really believe they're teaching English in good faith are really on more of a mission to throttle English to death. I've been in plenty of English classrooms where the teacher speaks Japanese 90% of the time to laboriously go over points of English grammar in a handful of sentences. There's lip service now paid to the idea that communication is the goal, not precise grammatical proficiency, but in practice, it's still usually all about mind-numbing drills and discussions of minor details. The Japanese word for "trivia" is mamechishiki, literally "bean knowledge", and I often think of it in English class. And in spite of all this emphasis on tiny details and grammatical perfection, I frequently encounter teachers making basic grammatical mistakes. The text books, crafted by a vast committee of esteemed Japanese professors, is full of grammatical errors.

Of course, if the will to learn English were really there, I wouldn't be seeing such prominent problems as this. But no-one really feels the urgency to change a system that's been in place for so long. Many students make no attempt to conceal their complete contempt and lack of interest in English. And honestly, I kind of respect them for it. They probably won't need English, ever, in their lives. There's no reason they should be raked over the coals of relentless, mechanical pedantry. There's no reason these poor kids should have to go home in tears to parents who will come down on them like thunderstorms because they got another 30% on an English test.

I remember one day in December last year, talking to a student who stayed late at school simply because she was afraid to go home and show her parents her test score. It really breaks my heart sometimes. Lately I've been watching a lot of music videos on YouTube and I actually, honestly teared up a bit watching Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall".

Friday, June 17, 2022

No Rescue

That famous gang of rodent detectives sort of returned in 2022's Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. The nostalgia value of the old Disney afternoon series has been leveraged to lend interest to a banal, meta-humour, cgi caper.

Of the many bad creative decisions in the film, the most prominent is to make Chip and Dale sound like normal adult human men, now voiced by John Mulaney and Andy Samberg. They don't really feel at all like the same characters, especially coupled with the weak animation for Chip.

Flat colour cgi stands in for traditional hand drawn animation and doubtless there are people who worked on this movie who don't believe the two styles look significantly different. Dale, in the logic of the world the film inhabits, has had "cgi surgery" to stay up to date and looks decent enough, even if his voice is wrong.

Apparently the film is supposed to exist in the same universe as Who Framed Roger Rabbit in which Toons and humans live side by side. But the cheaper gags here are at the expense of a verisimilitude that Roger Rabbit maintained. Chip and Dale wearing rat noses to infiltrate a spa easily make it through the door because the idea that they would is funny, logic be damned. And the film does have some funny moments--I particularly liked the running gag about "ugly Sonic". But anyone looking for the sincerity of the original series will be disappointed.

Of course, the show was itself derivative of The Rescuers but it had some incredible animation and genuinely memorable characters. I still think Monterrey Jack is an ingenious name for an adventuring mouse. Monterrey Jack is voiced by Eric Bana in the film, I guess because now it's politically incorrect for an American actor to do an Australian accent? In any case, he sounds identical to Jim Cummings' original performance--and Cummings is still in the film as various other characters. So why Disney would pay for a star of Bana's stature is a little mysterious. I can't imagine there are many die hard Eric Bana fans who are checking this movie out just for him.

The film's villain is a surprisingly tasteless lampoon of Disney's Peter Pan. He's portrayed as an embittered former child star whose opportunities in Hollywood dried up as he grew older. Were the filmmakers aware of the fact that Peter Pan's original voice, Bobby Driscoll, suffered a similar career trajectory? It's a grim joke, if so, since Driscoll was found dead in 1968 after having lived homeless for some time. His body wasn't identified for a couple years and he was buried in an unmarked grave in New York's Potter's Field. So we're supposed to laugh at him now?

Anyway, for many reasons, Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers is a lousy, soulless film. It's available on Disney+.

Twitter Sonnet #1592

A glowing nose was turning red for Yule.
Another script was writ for office lunch.
Let's carry hay above the stronger mule.
The monkey punctured your banana bunch.
Lamented steaks appeared beyond the dream.
In giant creatures thoughts become a world.
A single brain became a razor team.
Prophetic fish are just the kind to curl.
The chips were flies or mice to break the car.
With flying bottle ships they stopped the beat.
Illicit wishes dropped the simple star.
A question posed to truth regarded meat.
The severed ear returned to grace the monk.
Computer storms hath many gadgets sunk.