Wednesday, January 31, 2007

This blog is not a bomb.

. . . Though some may be fooled.

Hey, Homeland Security, I got a bridge to sell ya . . .
When poets lie, Bjork turns to science;

That's wires for ya. But what of YouTube?

I guess I've been watching plenty of television. Heroes has started up again--we're two episodes into the current, er, half-season. The first episode was interesting with cringe-inducing dialogue. The second had inoffensive dialogue but with a focus on unconvincing and abrupt character development. Caitlin accurately described it as "soap-opera tedium". But at least Christopher Eccleston got to flex his acting-muscles a little.

Speaking of Caitlin, I've just finished reading the latest issue of her Sirenia Digest, which featured one story by her and one story by Sonya.

It goes without saying at this point that both authors effectively created interesting atmosphere with language. Though while the brilliance is regular, it invariably packs a fresh punch.

Sonya's "A Voice in Caves" might have as easily been called "White Narcissus", I think, which she might appreciate for her recent viewing of Black Narcissus. Her story is about a very curious, very mysterious relationship between two people that nonetheless reflects a keen understanding of, and ability to render clear semblances of, human nature. It's quite beautiful, sad, and sort of wonderfully cold.

"The Sphinx's Kiss", Caitlin's story, is an interesting play on Oscar Wilde's "Salome", set almost entirely in a scene reminiscent of the orgy sequence from Eyes Wide Shut, but with an entirely male cast, and featuring a satisfying supernatural quality that I always longed for in the Stanley Kubrick movie.

I've been reading plenty of Caitlin lately as I'm also about 1/8th through reading Daughter of Hounds, which has been very good so far. Lately, before going to sleep, I've been reading Daughter of Hounds until I hit a break, then I read one chapter of Kazuo Koike and Kazuo Kamimura's Lady Snowblood, and finish with one Anne Sexton poem.

I purchased Sexton's Complete Poems some time ago, but it'll be ages before I finish as I'm just not someone who can read and digest multiple poems very quickly. My brain works too slowly. Or I'm all about the slow and sensuous, yeah. I got your sexy tortoise right here, you naughty hare, with your fluffy tail . . .

Which reminds me, I have to sleep and be up early for a dentist's appointment to-morrow. I'll close by saying last night I read Sexton's "With Mercy for the Greedy", which contains a line Caitlin often quotes; "Need is not quite belief." I'm not sure I ever felt an active need to believe in Christ, though I can understand wanting to be conscious after death, and wanting something providing spiritual insurance for this stupid, self destructive species. But like the lady says . . .

Monday, January 29, 2007

Here's a rather impressive demonstration of Oblivion's physics engine;

Friday, January 26, 2007

I've got to get my mind off the Valerie Plame thing. I can't help it--I just love the idea that the straw to finally break the camel's back is a complicated story about a female spy. And I so can't wait to see Karl Rove and Dick Cheney squirm on the witness stand (anyone doubting Cheney's perennial dickishness need watch only this.)

But I've got to get my mind on this new project. It's not like I haven't been working on it. I just feel like I could be doing more if my mind wasn't all over the place lately. On the other hand, I think a lot of the day-dreaming I've been doing has been helpful. But there's a lot of bean-counting world building to do. Well, "bean-counting" may be overstating it. I have been compiling material since halfway through last year and I still feel I need more. At least it's starting to feel real in my brain. I think that I've drawn maps and landscapes has been very helpful in that regard.

I think I need to stop changing details about my main characters . . . Despite that, I'm getting pretty solidly behind the central dilemmas of one character. I've always intended the story to centre on two specific characters, but for a long time I thought it was going to be from the POV of one, but now I see the story's definitely from the POV of the other. Figuring that out solved a lot.

I know I'm being vague. But if I had to pitch this, I'd say it's Seven Samurai meets The Picture of Dorian Gray meets The Asphalt Jungle meets Citizen Kane meets Princess Mononoke. Which all makes sense from my POV.

I occasionally feel like I'm over-thinking the setup and have started writing three scripts, each proving to me that I've underthought the setup. But I have a good feeling about the next script.

Anyway, I've of course been watching plenty of movies lately. One I watched a couple of weeks ago, called Sex and Fury, was a fun 1970s exploitation samurai film starring Reiko Ike as a swordswoman occasionally taken to fighting in the nude. There's not very much to say about the movie, other than that it had several surprisingly beautiful visuals, nice action sequences, plenty of nice flesh, and an amazing star in Reiko Ike. No matter how absurd and obviously exploitive things got, Ike always seemed utterly committed to the performance. Closeup shots of her eyes were invariably arresting.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

She's Chlamydoselachus anguineus, seen here in much shallower waters than usual. Unfortunately, she died shortly after this video was taken.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

When I saw Pan's Labyrinth, there were two of those people in the audience that have to say "Hmm" loudly every time some crucial bit of plot is revealed. I love the Landmark in Hillcrest, but gods the clientele can be silly. Don't get me wrong, it's better than the regular theatres where hicks might chatter for the whole movie. But I marvel at the people who giggled at a casual reference to marijuana in Volver, or the guy who laughed loudly when Captain Vidal said, "Don't fuck with me." Yeah, okay, we understand you get it, you're not a rube. Well, not in the way you think.

Last night I watched A Canterbury Tale and Strangers with Candy, an odd double feature to be sure, but a good one. It was followed by two strange dreams;

In the first, I found myself accustomed to zombies wandering about town and even in my home at night. I was used to swerving to avoid them while driving, and I was used to hurrying past them to get to my room. But one night, I was disturbed to find all the zombies had disappeared. I cautiously entered this dark house, and saw no one. But when I reached for a light switch, I found a warm rotting hand instead--I woke up and was immediately frightened by the rumpled sheets next to me, which looked like a large, sobbing face.

I went back to sleep, and this time dreamt I was running around Baghdad with a large pulse rifle. Aeryn Sun was holding onto me, her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. She wouldn't let go, but she seemed to get angry whenever the alignment of genitals made mine happy. War torn Baghdad at times morphed into grocery store aisles.

I suppose now's as good a time as any for me to finally get around to discussing Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way comes. It's about two thirteen year-old boys and the father of one who encounter a sinister carnival and engage in a battle of good versus evil, innocence versus sin, nature versus perversion. There's a general innocence about the novel, as the first portion describes an idyllic 1950s town with normal and loving families for the protagonists. Some might take the narrative as ironic, but I took it as absolutely sincere--There's a genuine love for how things naturally are for families and communities which is established to reveal the evil inherent in an agency bent on making the young prematurely old and giving unnatural youth to the mothers and fathers.

The set stage made a lot more sense to me when I discovered the novel was based on a screenplay Bradbury had written for Gene Kelly. As Charles Halloway, I'd instantly accept any of the pithy speeches Gene Kelly made, and I'd wholly believe he could defeat evil with his laughter.

The novel still works as interplay of the opposing forces. Some of the atmosphere created around the carnival's Mr Dark and the Dust Witch is palpably sinister.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What's it mean when an almost universally praised, heavily advertised movie is released in only one cinema in the county during a bizarre period of extremely cold weather? It means I was unwilling to wait outside behind sixty people on Monday to catch the 9:45pm showing of Pan's Labyrinth. So I saw Volver instead, and showed up an hour early Tuesday to catch Pan's Labyrinth.

Volver was decently entertaining with a disappointing ending. It's been compared to Arsenic and Old Lace, but it's not quite that fun . . . It begins in a cemetery on a windy day where of scores of women, honouring a custom, are cleaning tombstones of relatives. There's an impressive moment where wind knocks a cup over precisely on cue and we're introduced to three of the principal characters; Sole, Raimunda, and Raimunda's daughter Paula. Raimunda and Sole's deceased mother, whose tomb they're cleaning in the opening scene, soon returns from the dead, frightening Sole as she comes down the stairs of a dead aunt's house in one of the movie's best scenes--Sole seemed so perfectly terrified at even the idea of seeing a dead person walking around that she turns and runs.

Primarily, the movie's about these four characters, and more especially about Raimunda. But the beginning of the movie seems to establish a somewhat morbidly playful element about the dead and about murder that's sadly abandoned halfway through. But even sadder is the abandonment of another element which I won't reveal, as it's the ending.

I must say I adored the movie's closing credits, though, which consisted of a series of animated patterns and flowers reminiscent of the title sequences designed by Saul Bass or Maurice Binder. Though I think it would be fair to argue that such fantastic credit designs are at some discord with a movie that turns out to be a fairly mundane domestic drama.

Anyway, Pan's Labyrinth was a more satisfying movie. This is only the second Guillermo del Toro movie I've seen, the other being Hellboy, and I was struck by how many little pieces of imagery the two films had in common. I have the extended version of Hellboy on DVD, and on the director's commentary track Guillermo talks about how much he loves a scene of Rasputin being shaved with a straight razor, and how much it pained him to cut the scene from the theatrical release. Well, he certainly makes up for it in Pan's Labyrinth, wherein scenes of Captain Vidal shaving, using camera angles and movements similar to the Rasputin shaving scene, are used several times in the film, even leading to an overt bit of visual plot.

Doug Jones, who wore the Abe Sapien suit in Hellboy, plays two strange humanoid creatures in Pan's Labyrinth; "The Faun" (or the titular Pan), and "The Pale Man", whose removable eyeballs were also reminiscent of Rasputin, though the pale man goes a step creepier by keeping his eyes in the palms of his hands. And when we first see him sitting silently and straight backed, the image is more reminiscent of Kroenen from Hellboy.

The Pale Man's discovered by Ofelia, a young girl who's the movie's main protagonist, and for whose name I think we can give Guillermo some credit for boldness. Ofelia's such a loaded name that one can't help looking for Hamlet references the whole movie. The opening shot suggests Ofelia does end up tragically dead, but in her sensibility and situation Ofelia's far more readily reminiscent of Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Maybe there's also a play on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in her initial meeting with the faun . . .

Despite what the trailers might suggest, the film seems to spend far less time in Pan's fantastic world than it does on the "real" circumstance of the Spanish Civil War's aftermath, as Ofelia's stepfather, Captain Vidal, is constantly at odds with guerrilla fighters, remnants of the losing faction. The movie doesn't seem to suggest one world is any more relevant than the other, in fact at times the suggestion seems to be that Pan truly is everything and manipulates even the good old practical "real" world.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I recently purchased a copy of Dario Argento's Suspiria, a really nice three disk set, one disk of which is the movie's original soundtrack by Goblin.

I'd seen Supiria once before when I was in high school. My friend, Marty, who was my high school film teacher, had a poster in his class room of the movie with the tagline, "The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92."

"So the end's kind of a letdown?" I said. Marty said nothing could be further from the truth and let me borrow his VHS copy, and I was duly impressed by the film. But not as impressed as I was by this DVD version, which is widescreen and a much cleaner print, preserving the crisp and strange colour palette for which the film is so well known.

Actually, more than an enjoyable experience of fear, I found the movie great more for how beautiful it is, with its art nouveau set designs and boldly strange green, red, and blue lighting effects.

I think it was in The Proposition that I first noticed Danny Huston and I thought to myself, "Another interesting and talented person named Huston? Surely not another of Walter Huston's talented descendents." And yet he is--now there's Walter, John, Angelica, and Danny.

He's good at being abrupt and sort of cerebral. Aside from The Proposition, where he played an intellectual psychopathic outlaw, he was also memorable as the Austrian emperor in Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, and as a rich art collector in Children of Men.

His scene in that last movie is one of its most striking, partly because it's quiet and sort of brobdingnagianly elegant in the midst of a movie that is otherwise an impressive, breakneck exercise of overlapping Orwellian dystopia with brilliantly humanistic action sequences.

Children of Men does a marvellous job of maintaining tension without fatiguing the viewer to the point of losing herhisits suspension of disbelief. A lot of the ads compare the movie to Blade Runner, but it's not quite that good, and indeed a different sort of movie. Blade Runner may in many ways seem to be a credible glimpse of the future, but the movie's not really about trying to predict the future. Blade Runner's about existentialism and dark fantasy, while Children of Men is solidly a tale of humans reacting to the very credible future the movie creates. It's about politics and the ways in which an insurmountable and inexplicable catastrophe can produce totalitarianism through people's willingness to be led away from grim reality. In fact, in many ways, Children of Men is the movie V for Vendetta ought to have been.

In their rush to create anti-Bush propaganda, the makers of the V for Vendetta movie missed the comic book's message about humanity's fear of deadly chaos driving it to create a firm system of Knowns. Though while the V for Vendetta comic pits the impoverished totalitarian state against an agent of anarchy, Alfonso CuarĂ³n's protagonists are more in the camp of vague hope and intrinsic optimism for human nature. Perhaps there's even a spiritual element, as the idea of a miraculous pregnancy to save humanity seems clearly allegorical.

But fortunately (for me, anyway), the movie's more about how people react under the stress of desperate adventures, which is a lot of fun. Clive Owen's great as always, and so is Claire-Hope Ashitey as the pregnant woman. Danny Huston's brief scene is interesting--as a well placed government official, he's used his wealth and resources to save works of art from ravaging mobs, so his otherwise austere white home is decorated with Michelangelo's David and Picasso's Guernica. A pair of pet oversized dogs completes the impression rather nicely of a home I bet the film's art designer would probably have designed for himself.

Friday, January 12, 2007

You're probably aware I love books by Caitlin R. Kiernan, so it's not surprising I've begun reading her new book, Daughter of Hounds, with great relish. But this book seems to be drawing even more praise than usual for the frequently acclaimed Kiernan. So I have no qualms bumping it to the top of my reading list.

This means, of course, that I finished reading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I loved, and which I dearly wish I could have seen the non-existent film version of with Gene Kelly. But my thoughts on that book shall have to wait as I'm inordinately sleepy right now . . . My thoughts on so many things have been waiting, in fact; there's quite a backlog. Did you know I saw Children of Men last week? It was great. I also wanted to talk about my recent viewings of Suspiria and Sex and Fury . . .

But, anyway, Daughter of Hounds is a go.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I made a fanfic for Sonya Taaffe's story "Moving Nameless". The fanfic is online now and can be found here.

Considering how long it took me to make, it's a very quick read . . .

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Another trip to the dentist's to-day, this time for two fillings, and there'll be two more on the eighteenth. The dentist seemed dismayed at being able to put tooth coloured filling in only one tooth, having to make do with silver on the other. I might have told him neon green filling in that rear molar wouldn't be noticed before my absent front tooth and the pervasive discolouration.

Saliva kept building in my mouth and I reflexively swallowed a few times while he was drilling away tooth decay. "Sorry," I said, "I seem to be having a problem with saliva building up."

"You're not the only one," he said. I probably oughtn't read too much into that. But whatever happened to the days of doctors being cold and impersonal? The dentist is way too friendly, in any case. He shook my hand and congratulated me on the "work" I'd done. Do I transmit the vibe that I need positive reinforcement for my performance as Guy Lying There With His Mouth Open?

Note, doctors of the world. For you I am not a human being. I am an animal.

I just had dinner at my mother's house and she posed the question, "If you were going to die to-morrow, and you could spend the day with just one person, who would it be?" I chose Scarlett Johansson because I heard she likes sex.

Note, Scarlett Johansson. For you I am not a human being. I am an animal.

I always look forward to Valentine's Day because I like the red and violet everywhere, and all the angry couples at the mall fill me with schadenfreude. Also, the Valentine's Day episodes of Futurama are for whatever reason among the best of the series. I love the episode with the killer Lucy Liu bots, and the episode where Fry gets his head attached to Amy's body is my favourite episode of the whole series. It kills me every time that he chooses that moment to break up with her, for only a list of ridiculous reasons.

But it was the episode I watched a few nights ago, where Planet Express delivered barrels of Sweethearts to Omicron Persei VIII, that gave me a weird and strong craving for those same hearts. Even after seeing them being made, in the episode, of bone meal and earwax, and thinking that made sense. So I bought a box at CVS last night. I think it creeped out the girl at the register.

I suppose it wasn't the best thing to eat the night before a trip to the dentist. Why aren't there Night Dentists? I hardly got any sleep to-day . . . But at least I'm finished with pencil and ink on Moving Innocent. Now it's all over but the colouring. Well, and the title page, for which I seem to be leaning towards a vaguely Valentine's Day theme, which wasn't exactly on purpose, but if Sonya takes it as a Valentine's Day gift, I'll call that a fringe benefit.

I'm sleepy, so I don't think I could do anything now that required a lot of concentration. But fortunately, the palette's established for much of the colouring I need to do. On the other hand, I have taken the fanfic as an opportunity to be experimental with colouring. On the proboscis, I've already mapped out the really experimental stuff with the inking. We shall see . . .

Monday, January 08, 2007

Happy Birthday, David Bowie. Here's a song Caitlin brought to mind;

Sunday, January 07, 2007

From a BBC story:

"The US Army is to apologise to the families of officers killed or wounded in action who were sent letters urging them to return to active duty."

Somewhat on that note, Keith Olbermann from last week:

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Thai coconut ginger noodles are mankind's finest achievement.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Trying a new system with the "Moving Nameless" fanfic--which I've settled on calling "Moving Innocent"--has made me feel a lot further along with it than I actually am. I decided to finish all the pencils first, then do ink and colour. So while pages one through fifteen are the only ones actually finished, I've drawn up to page twenty-two. Which means I have just one more page to draw.

I don't know if I'll use this technique in the future. It's slightly disorienting, but maybe that's just because I'm not used to it. The reason I tried it was that the pencilling takes more concentration than the latter two stages. It works like this--when I'm writing the script and doing the layouts, I can't have any music playing and I want as little extraneous noise in the area as possible. When I pencil, I can work with music but not spoken word. When I ink and colour, I can listen to the news, DVD commentary, and whatever's on Adult Swim. So I figured with pencilling out of the way, the rest would be a breeze.

Did everyone else see the Saddam Hussein execution snuff film? My sister told me about a right-wing friend of hers who was eagerly looking forward to the execution, and I've seen a number of right-wingers online salivating over the video. I think barbarism has gotten too widely to be seen as a badge of honour. It seams like there was a time when most people would be at least ashamed of their bloodlust. It's awfully telling that the same people claim they can't begin to understand how the Sunnis and the Shi'ites continue in a cycle of vicious reprisals. Even setting aside for a moment the fact that the U.S. was courting Hussein as an ally during the period in which he committed the crimes for which he was executed, we can't claim moral authority to feel righteous about killing Saddam or anyone. Not after all the casualties produced by this government. And just imagine for a moment one of these slobbering Anne Coulter-ites in Saddam's position as dictator. Guys without even political savvy to keep them in check . . .

Well, I suppose I oughta get to sleep.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Great prestige:

I am Sherlock muthafuckin' Holmes, people!

Remember how I said yesterday, talking about Hellboy: Sword of Storms; "The lighting schemes and the animation itself were also fairly lacklustre. These things tend to be outsourced, and I sort of get the feeling the people at the drawing boards were thinking mainly about paychecks. I believe that's why a regular Japanese television series like Haruhi Suzumiya looks enormously better than a top of the line, American television animated project like Hellboy: Animated--everyone cares more, down to the lowest grunt, and the people in charge are more in tune with the people working under them."

Well, to-day an anonymous person sent me a URL to the Hellboy: Animated production diary blog. Two paragraphs from this entry read;

Okay, let's talk mutation. No, the X-men are not crossing over with Hellboy but it's time to face the reality of the animation process. When I watch a show like Justice League Unlimited or Teen Titans, every episode looks great to me. The are some stories I like more than others but technically, everything looks good to my eye. Not so when you talk to the guys on the production, they definitely have their favorites and gnash their teeth at the fluctuating quality...because they know what they sent and can see the differences in what comes back.

Long ago, I resolved myself to the idea that the design style of a series or movie is not what you send overseas but what comes back. We are lucky to be working with Mad House Studios in Japan who have done great work in both in features and television. We've started talking back and forth about the mood and quality level of what we expect. Sadly, we can't just keep working until everything looks perfect; there are realities of time and money. But with constant communication we have enough of both to make these things look damn fine.

Seems I was right. And apparently there was the added problem of time constraints, and the distressing fact that this guy actually thinks Teen Titans looks good (I like Justice League Unlimited a lot--its style's not as over the top as Teen Titans, but it's still only a watered down version of the great Batman: The Animated Series' look). Sure, he talks about "constant communication", but what's that really worth when you're short on time, you don't speak the same language, and the Pacific Ocean's between you?

Looking at Mad House Studio's credits (the ones where they're most central to production--most big animation projects in Japan get help from all the big studios) isn't very illuminating, as I see many good looking projects and bad looking projects, which may be explained by staff changes and the amount of passion for different projects. Though I see that they're involved in a number of CLAMP adaptations, which might explain why the CLAMP comics are always better than their animated counterparts.

Anyway, if American animated projects are ever going to be interesting again, either more American directors are going to need to learn Japanese and really get in bed with some people over there, or America needs to cultivate some home-grown talent. Maybe I oughta write a letter to Lou Dobbs about this?
You want noodle now, yes?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year! Saddam Hussein's dead for crimes he committed when he was our ally! Bush has a trophy! The Empire's marching on America!

I have an ipod! The nicest thing about the little beauty is that it holds eighty gigabytes. I can use it as a portable hard drive--I took twenty gigabytes of anime from Tim's house just the other day. I finally got to see the rest of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which only got better as it went along. Aside from top notch design and animation, the show wasn't afflicted by broad characters and empty, irritating romance teases, as so many anime series' can be. The series is told from the point of view of Kyon, a teenage boy and confederate of Haruhi Suzumiya in her S.O.S. Brigade club. We hear his irritable but copious and interesting internal monologue. The show has far more character coloured dialogue than most anime series', in fact, and it was very refreshing.

Apparently it's going to get a U.S. release, and I dread hearing the English dub most U.S. audiences will inevitably know it by. There's simply lack of appreciation for the role a voice actor plays in animation here. I was thinking about this when I finally caught Hellboy: Sword of Storms on Cartoon Network a few nights ago. The writing was decent and some of the direction was very good, but what was truly nice about it, apart from the familiar Hellboy characters, was the quality of voice acting. Ron Perlman's great, but I'm fairly used to hearing him do voice work (as he does a lot of it), but Selma Blair was the revelation. Not only was she bringing good acting chops to the table, her voice was also wonderfully atypical, reminding me somewhat of Claire Danes in Princess Mononoke. Inflection, thickness . . . All interesting, and evocative of character. It's a shame she looked awful.

Unfortunately, Hellboy: Sword of Storms looks awfully similar to the new The Batman series and Teen Titans, featuring characters with freakish, hard edged, Easter Island statue faces. Hellboy himself comes out fairly well, as the look is somewhat similar to his comic book appearance, but Liz Sherman, Blair's character, suffers the worst, with an oddly triangular head and enormous eyes without iris or light reflection, just huge black pupils that're a lot eerier than is appropriate.

The lighting schemes and the animation itself were also fairly lacklustre. These things tend to be outsourced, and I sort of get the feeling the people at the drawing boards were thinking mainly about paychecks. I believe that's why a regular Japanese television series like Haruhi Suzumiya looks enormously better than a top of the line, American television animated project like Hellboy: Animated--everyone cares more, down to the lowest grunt, and the people in charge are more in tune with the people working under them.

Don't believe me? I invite you to compare;

From the first, which is the second, episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and the Hellboy: Sword of Storms trailer.