Sunday, May 31, 2009

Every Reason in the World to Stay in Bed

Indecision almost wrecked my evening last night. I was in the mood to watch a medieval fantasy epic with a female protagonist when I remembered there aren't any*, which is probably part of the reason I'm writing one. Instead I ended up playing a little World of Warcraft and considered watching one of the many BBC Shakespeare productions I'd downloaded recently, except they're all around three hours long and I didn't want to start something I didn't have time to finish.

So I started watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. I only got about halfway through before I shut it off due to an imposing boredom. I think this is one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies I saw as a kid, and it vaguely brought back pleasant memories of sleepovers and pizza. But it is a damned empty experience to watch alone. Even the mild buzz I still had from the sake I drank while playing World of Warcraft wasn't helping.

I will say, though, that Heather Langenkamp delivers one of the most anesthetised performances I've ever seen. She always seems like she's had a gallon of novocaine injected into her skull a few seconds earlier, and when she speaks her head subtly sways like a wind sock, her eyes seem to be aimless blue jelly beans. There's a guy in Powell and Pressburger's A Canterbury Tale who was totally blind playing someone who had sight, and watching him, I was more convinced of his ability to focus on objects than I was of Langenkamp's.

The only really appealing character in the movie is Freddy Krueger, which is kind of remarkable for the small amount of screen time he had in the amount of movie I watched.

Of course, the film also has a baby Johnny Depp. He has what looks like a perm pompadour which invited me to contemplate a vertically oriented aesthetic for his head I hadn't considered before;

I guess the only entertainment that really delivered for me last night was the new Sirenia Digest. The story, "Fish Wife" was a nice, bittersweet lovestory wrapped in the good fishy texture of a lovecraftian package. And there was a new Sonya Taaffe poem, apparently written for Caitlin's birthday, and it's a very sweet poem.

Actually, I also enjoyed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode I watched last night, "I Only Have Eyes for You", which seemed even better after the previous couple particularly bad episodes--the Valentine's Day episode about Xander was just gigantically bad, from no-one even questioning Xander after apparently the whole town remembered all the women chasing him, to Buffy patting him on the head for being honourable just because he didn't essentially date rape her. "I Only Have Eyes for You" was good because it nicely went back to the second season's ongoing theme of people imperfectly fitting into their roles as heroes or villains.

My tweets from last night;

Peace is static as a struck tuning fork.
Always humming for a sharp chance for change.
At his home King Kong knew a cartoon stork.
Who also saw Charlie Kane at short range.

I was referring the jungle footage from King Kong that was reused for a background in Citizen Kane. It feature an animated silhouette of a flying creature, possibly meant to be a pterodactyl, but it reminded me of the stork in Monty Python's Meaning of Life.

*I mean, there aren't any good ones, that I know of. Please correct me if I'm wrong. I don't count Red Sonja, since the character's not developed well enough. I'd almost qualify Xena: Warrior Princess, since, although it technically isn't, it might as well be medieval, but it's far campier than what I had in mind.

Here to Give, Not Take

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Find Yourself an Amenable Means of Conveyance

Last night's tweets, in which I attempt again to disabuse Americans of their pronunciation of "sake" as "saw key";

A tea bucket was followed by sake.
And an extra helping of wasabi.
Choked down big novelty sushi okay.
All of which helped me defeat a zombie.

I went back to the Japanese place that serves their tea in buckets before I went to Tim's house last night. I picked up for Tim a teriyaki chicken bento box that included four pieces of sushi he wouldn't eat, as well as an extra dollop of wasabi. You know life is good when there's superfluous wasabi.

I played a little Fallout 3 at Tim's last night, quickly finding the hidden location known as "Rockopolis" (Trisa, if you're reading, there's a burning trash can in front of it. I found the place rather quickly walking directly west from Smith Casey's garage at night). I'm at the point in the plot where the character Liam Neeson voices is your companion and it's almost as fun running around with him as it was running around with Sean Bean's character in Oblivion.

Then I came back here, heated some sake, and drank while dying several times attempting to finish a World of Warcraft quest slightly too hard for my level 10--who looks like this, by the way;

It is with infinite sorrow Lelia slaughters her fellow zombies one after another, and it is with equally great sorrow she finds herself slaughtered again and again. Someone tried to talk to me last night, offering to kill Maggot Eye for me. I'd already completed that quest, as I wished to tell him, but I couldn't speak because I'm not really sure how to work the chat controls yet. Instead, Lelia simply looked at him with, you guessed it, great sorrow.

Eventually, Tim showed up with one of his level 80 characters and killed the zombies who'd been killing me repeatedly, at which point I discovered I wasn't even in the right place.

Last night, Natalie questioned the feasibility of a woman riding a horse naked, re: the new Venia's Travels. So I feel compelled to post these;

Not from a porno, even, but a publicity stunt in Hyde Park a year ago for a Lady Godiva movie, apparently also tied to raising cancer awareness. One of my favourite things about this universe is that Lady Godiva's considered a feminist symbol.

Then again, there's this article regarding findings of "Subclinical Clitoral Microtraumatisms" for some women just for riding astride (as opposed to side saddle). But I imagine there are actually cases where clitorises might find themselves quite amenable to some horseback related microtraumatisms. I readily imagine it, in fact.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Demands of Hunger

Twitter Sonnet #24

Had honey on flatbread with my breakfast.
Tried to be Sabu in
Thief of Bagdad.
Whose "pancake" under free honey he passed.
Tastes like but better than doughnuts I've had.
To-day had scotch twixt two pots of coffee.
I felt like a sing-along bouncing ball.
Energy state's set now on atrophy.
Somehow green tea yet has a siren call.
Always, apples and computers conflict.
I think I've had an altoid "lost weekend".
Eating one whole tin used to make me sick.
But now in its bacta sludge I suspend.
Crackers as snacks aren't so terribly cruel.
They're now another piece of my meal pool.

I think these Kashi "Mediterranean Bruschetta" crackers I picked up last night will, as things to mindlessly munch on, leave me feeling slightly less irradiated than the altoids.

Well, it's a weekend after a Venia's Travels update, which means I've watched another Akira Kurosawa movie, this time his 1957 film The Lower Depths, an adaptation of Maxim Gorky's play of the same name. I'd never read the play, but I wasn't surprised to learn later that, aside from moving the setting to Edo period Japan, the movie's very faithful to its source. The entire movie takes place in two small locations, both of which lay at the bottom of an amazing, enormous, grimy pit. Kurosawa's simultaneous demand for historical authenticity and a reflection of characters in props and environment create a large dilapidated shack in the pit next to a smaller building for a landlord and his family.

We can perceive the division of social status immediately from an early crane shot of the two buildings that show broken and missing tiles on the shack's roof while clean and neatly placed tiles cover the other roof--but the landlord's family are still desperately poor, only marginally ahead of the tenants in the shack who pay their rent in small quantities of scrounged pennies.

Kurosawa continues the contemplation of subjective reality he explored with Scandal and Rashomon and here considers the inherent value of delusion. I kept thinking of a line from Tom Waits' "Small Change"; "The dreams ain't broken down here, they're walking with a limp." The cast of extremely well drawn characters all exhibit the signs of mental illness that either led to their poverty or were caused by it and everyone seems to nurse his or her own thin delusion about themselves and the reasons the world has left them where they are--a prostitute tells a story about a kindly patron who told her she had the soul of a virgin, an actor talks about how thoroughly he used to win over audiences, and a tinker fiercely defends his status as the only craftsman of the bunch.

Various things I've read about the movie talk about how it has no central protagonist, yet I found the old pilgrim, Kahei, played by Bokuzen Hidari, to be the point of view character for the centre third of the film. Hidari, like most of the cast, was a Kurosawa regular who usually played meek or cowardly characters--perhaps most memorably the farmer Yohei in Seven Samurai. So it was interesting to seem him so effectively play what appeared to be the most stable and self-possessed person in this film. It's suggested, though never explicitly stated, that he might in fact be a fugitive only posing as a pilgrim, thereby making him the most conscious example of the type of illusory self-perception that occupies all the characters, and also the strongest argument for the lie as a positive. Kahei, in attempting to pose as a pilgrim, makes himself what is likely his ideal of a pilgrim, someone who offers spiritual insight and support to these people who need it more than most. That we never know for sure if he is a fraud somewhat reflects the audience's own relationship with the character--of course, we know he's the actor Bokuzen Hidari, and it's implicit that by watching him pretend to be someone he's not that we seek value in artifice.

But top billing, of course, goes to Toshiro Mifune who, as the thief Sutekichi, is involved in one of the few tales of romance to appear in a Kurosawa film, and it is also a tale intimately engaged with contemplating the value of dreams. Sutekichi's desperately trying to convince Okayo, the sister of the landlord's wife, to run away with him. And here the story touches on the artificial nature of socially proscribed roles--Okayo says that she can't commit to leaving with Sutekichi because she isn't sure whether she hates him or loves him. And as the film establishes, the nature of Okayo's indecisive passion is such that her heart is ready to land in either territory, depending on which seems safer to her. Kahei's calming voice as he tells she is a strong woman who can be the support that Sutekichi, a poor young man constantly displaying the effects of a fiery internal conflict, needs. Kahei is here performing his role as a spiritual advisor, directing the hearts of confused people along the healthiest path, and Okayo's aim is shifted to loving Sutekichi by the attractive portrait Kahei has painted of her in the role.

Sutekichi, meanwhile, has a bit of Mifune's Seven Samurai character in him, trying with a great deal of fire but also uncertainty to define himself, in this case as Okayo's husband. When the landlord makes to abuse Okayo, Sutekichi awkwardly asserts that Okayo belongs to him now.

This could easily have gone in a conventional romantic direction where the lovers' shared dream saves them from the trap they live in, but instead, with the sudden departure of Kahei, Okayo's heart shifts back at only one provocation, but not without some very clear psychological torment as Okayo wails and grips the wall, under the intense pain of an indecision born of two incompatible perceptions of reality brought into direct conflict inside her.

The final portion of the film discusses the limited power dreams have in saving people and even, in some cases, the counterproductive effect they can have as one man suffers depression at having to deny the reality that his wife beats him, and two other characters become suicidal from the directions their dreams take without Kahei's guidance and support.

Incredibly, this movie has a recurring musical number, which, in an essay by Keiko McDonald and Thomas Rimer included with the Criterion DVD, is described as evidence these people "live beyond the pale of the Buddhist version of salvation." The song is "a comic chorus that was popular in the Edo period. It is a Shinto shrine festivity, bakabayashi--literally. 'fools' orchestra'."

I was reminded of the fire festival song from The Hidden Fortress, Kurosawa's next film, which darkly described the plight of the poor, though it is otherwise a far happier film. But it does make a great deal of sense that Kurosawa would follow The Lower Depths with a rousing fantasy adventure about a couple of extraordinarily fortunate peasants.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Venia and Yew

The new chapter of Venia's Travels is online. Just finished colouring it about an hour ago.

Taking Cues

My computer has started randomly shutting off lately. So far it's only happened no more than twice a week, but it's starting to worry me. Hopefully it's a software problem, but it sure seems like a hardware problem.

It's disheartening to see that the Obama administration is seeking to block the release of photos showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners to be more extensive than has yet been revealed. I do believe identities of people in the photos ought to be concealed, but I think it's important for the American people to see these. Belief in our moral superiority is one of the factors that led to this--few people are more dangerous than those who are absolutely certain of their goodness. That rape and other forms of sexual abuse were rampant doesn't surprise me in the least--it brings to mind John Huston's line in Chinatown about how most men never have to face the fact that under the right circumstances they're capable of anything. Which is another reason we need a strong leadership making it clear that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable.

Anyway, I'm short on time yet again to-day . . .

Last night's tweets;

To-day had scotch twixt two pots of coffee.
I felt like a sing-along bouncing ball.
Energy state's set now on atrophy.
Somehow green tea yet has a siren call.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bees Out of Humour

Looks like they had a Venia's Travels in the Middle Ages, too;

Actually that's from an illuminated old testament--the story of David and Bathseba. Smut for good Christians. View this carefully and disapprove. It's good to be a knight.

While inking and colouring last night, I listened to a rather amazing BBC radio production of King Lear with John Gielgud as Lear, Judi Dench as Goneril, Emma Thompson as Cordelia, Kenneth Brannagh as Edmund, Bob Hoskins as Oswald, and a sadly underused Derek Jacobi as the king of France. What little I've seen of Jacobi has made good on his reputation as an excellent actor, but for this production of Lear he has what I can only think of as an outrageous accent--John Cleese in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was only a slightly less believable Frenchman.

But it couldn't fail to be a decent production with that cast--apparently Gielgud was 90 at the time, but the age didn't seem to diminish his ability to perform.

My tweets from last night;

Had honey on flatbread with my breakfast.
Tried to be Sabu in
Thief of Bagdad.
Whose "pancake" under free honey he passed.
Tastes like but better than doughnuts I've had.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Absolut Kate

Yes, it's already time for . . .

Twitter Sonnet #23--Kate edition!

Didn't like Capshaw in Temple of Doom
But she'd be good in
Taming of the Shrew
I think Katie Holmes might live on the moon
Kate Bush, I say, could tell her what to do
Kate Mulgrew's not my least favourite captain
But Katharine Hepburn would've been better
More food to Kate Hudson please do ration
And Kate Moss could probably be fatter
I do not think that Kate Winslet is fat
Though it might well be said of Kathy Bates
I wonder where these days Cate Blanchett's at
Eto, I can't think of anymore Kates
I suppose I may be asking this late
But why's everyone talking about Kate?

"Kate" was a trending topic on Twitter. Turned out it was because of a TV show called Jon and Kate. Who knew? Sometimes, believe it or not, I can be a bit of a wiseass.

"Eto" is Japanese for "um" or "er". You can go to Japanese for a two syllable "um".

Watched "Innocence" last night, the second season Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Angel loses his soul. I think this was a bad idea--well, it could've been a good idea, and I don't really blame Whedon for not knowing it wouldn't yield much. There are too many potential implications for the centre to hold--So, Angel turns evil right after he and Buffy have sex, and a million evil deeds that Angelus would logically have committed at this point are sidestepped for an inexplicable jump cut from Buffy alone and naked in Angel's bed to her walking home the next morning. Of course, what one would have to assume Angelus would really have done is too horrible for audiences of the teen action series, so now we're going to have to face this as another allegory for real life teen drama--the boyfriend who becomes shit after a girl loses her virginity to him. I guess. Except, if we were going that route, the salient issues would be Buffy's questioning of her own judgement and Angel's ability to deceive.

So what we end up with is some cheap, emotionally wearing melodrama; Buffy's devastated and . . . Buffy cries and . . . that's it. Until the end where there's a rocket launcher. Which, true, was cool, but the episode's more of a good Mighty Morphing Power Rangers episode than anything else.

I downloaded a bunch of Revolutionary Girl Utena soundtracks yesterday. Lots of versions of "Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku" ("Absolute Destiny Apocolypse") by J.A. Seazer, a Japanese composer of rock operas since the 1960s. Fun to listen to. The instrumental stuff by Mitsume Shinkichi is a cut above most anime soundtracks, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dream Quest of the Unknown Cat

Twitter Sonnet #22

It seems sleep deprivation for me's changed.
Now I only feel like shit at evening.
Can still almost think and act at close range.
But for distance the will's still found waning.
Lights aren't real 'til they streak across the screen.
Another harvest goes to Yoghurt Mill.
No midget or dwarf is full from a bean.
I should like to talk via Lynch's Lil.
I probably ought to get the mail soon.
Assuming that there's any mail to get.
I think sometimes it goes to Brigadoon.
To sleep and to dream of Nyarlathotep.
Dreamed also of hot dames and
Gunga Din.
Both got into my dreams like Errol Flynn.

I don't have very much to say about yesterday--mostly just worked on my comic. I talked to Trisa on the phone a while as I did so, then I listened to Basil Rathbone reading Edgar Allan Poe--several poems and two stories, "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Black Cat". Like "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Black Cat" features one of my favourite aspects of Poe's genius; to believably portray characters who deliberately do things they know are unwise and subtly suggest the psychological problems these people have that lead them to do such things. The narrator of "The Black Cat" talks about how everyone has done things in their lives precisely because they know they oughtn't, but that doesn't quite explain why he begins to hate the things he loves and then proceeds to feel compelled to love things that lead to his doom and commit actions that can only bring disaster for him. There's an absurdity to it, but there's a real insight into human nature playing underneath. I was reminded of the thin line between horror and comedy--both require absurdity with a certain amount of familiar human psychology. I think sometimes the difference is only a matter of perspective.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune"

Last night I dreamt I was at a combination hotel/high school populated mostly by young gangsters. I was in gym class when I had to use the bathroom--as I was walking up to a urinal, a gangster about my age stood between me and folded his arms saying, "I'm going to use that urinal. Use another one."

For some reason, I still very much wanted to use that particular urinal, so I tried to walk around him. I knew this was kind of a challenging gesture, but I didn't like being told what to do.

As I was trying to walk around him, he brought out a steel tomahawk and threw it at me. Somehow I caught it by the handle.

"Oh, so now you have a weapon, bigshot!" he said. "You wanna fight, then?" He brought out a knife and waited just a second before he threw it at me.

I caught the knife by the handle as well.

"Well, fuck you, I don't need a weapon!" he said and rushed at me. I'm not sure what happened, but somehow I soon had a circular saw and I was slowly cutting through his neck. I thought it would be prudent to stop before I completely decapitated him, deciding blood might still possibly flow between his head and body normally, maybe after a little while. I removed the upper shoulders and head from the body to hide them until they finished healing, at which point the head turned purple, its eyes bulged, its lips peeled back from the teeth, and it grew a collar of bright green leaves.

Before I could hide it, another gangster came in and saw me. He told me I would be forgiven if I started referring to gay people as "faggots"--naturally, the school was full of homophobes. I refused, so I was imprisoned with a bunch of other people in a windowless penthouse of one of the place's hotel sections.

The walls were all bright white, like a Stanley Kubrick movie, with leafy patterned gold trim and the floor was dark burgundy carpet. I wanted to try to escape, but everyone else was afraid, except for a pale girl about my age. Together, we found our way somehow though locked red doors and white cubicle mazes until we were back at the dirt and asphalt field where the gym class I'd left was being conducted. No-one acknowledged our presence and I could tell it was because everyone was too afraid to contemplate the possibility that people might escape from the penthouse.

It was a hot, cloudless day and felt concerned the pale girl might get sunburned since she was only wearing a two piece swimsuit.

Here are my tweets from last night;

Lights aren't real 'til they streak across the screen.
Another harvest goes to Yoghurt Mill.
No midget or dwarf is full from a bean.
I should like to talk via Lynch's Lil.

I went to see Star Trek again yesterday with my sister, who hadn't seen it yet. As I was watching, I thought about this post in Jim Emerson's blog wherein Emerson gripes at length about the excessive lens flares in the movie. Last night I kept more conscious track of how constant they are, especially onboard the Enterprise--white lines constantly shoot across the screen, sometimes the image is completely overwhelmed in stray flashes.

I don't hate it as much as Emerson. I certainly don't think they do the film any service, but like the shaky exterior camera for cgi space sequences in this, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly, I feel more sadness for the calloused imagination in the audiences of to-day that requires these things. We've come a long way from the footage of a train coming at the camera causing viewers to panic--everyone's aware of the camera now and no one likes to be told the camera's not there. If shit's going down, we'd damn well better perceive some distress on the cameraman's part, and if people are having a tense discussion, you can't expect anyone to invest in it if we insist on some polite fiction about the camera not being there.

But the ironic thing is, in the cgi sequences, the camera's not there. A camera's presence has to be announced not for conscious thought, but the subliminal need of the incredulous viewer who's terrified of being caught unaware of the fact he's watching fictional occurrences.

I see this as a side effect of proliferation of reality TV and VH1 style interview shows. It's all part of the general consciousness' retreat from plain fantasy, never suspecting as it does that it's backing into another, but more stilted, stratum of fantasy.

Something else I thought about as I watched the movie is its large quantity of close-up shots. Very often, a character's chin is at the bottom of the screen while his or her forehead is at the top. I remember Ian McKellen in The Fellowship of the Ring commentary talking about how extreme close-ups on Elrond and the human warriors in the opening sequence prevented it from seeming too Monty Python--it's all part of a modern trend that combats the reflexive retreat from investment with fantasy by smashing actors' expressions right into the camera. It's almost like the parlance of modern filmmaking is trying to find the clitoris of the human soul through a flack diaper of cynicism. Audiences have lost the courage to remove their flack diapers before entering a movie theatre.

Actually, I kind of like all the close-up shots. They allow actors to use all kinds of tiny muscles on their faces to create nuances of expression. So not all the devices used to reach our psychologically repressed culture are, in my opinion, bad.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Knockin' 'Em Dead

Here's an interesting response to someone threatening to commit suicide;

BEIJING – Chen Fuchao, a man heavily in debt, had been contemplating suicide on a bridge in southern China for hours when a passer-by came up, shook his hand — and pushed him off the ledge.

Chen fell 26 feet (8 meters) onto a partially inflated emergency air cushion laid out by authorities and survived, suffering spine and elbow injuries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday.

The passer-by, 66-year-old Lai Jiansheng, had been fed up with what he called Chen's "selfish activity," Xinhua said. Traffic around the Haizhu bridge in the city of Guangzhou had been backed up for five hours and police had cordoned off the area.

"I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish. Their action violates a lot of public interest," Lai was quoted as saying by Xinhua. "They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities' attention to their appeals."

I don't think I've ever heard a story like this before. I'm not sure if this is indicative of a more callous society, or what. I sure hope someone's glad Chen survived.

I've continued watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with dinner the past several nights. I'm digging the second season's themes of imperfect heroes and the weight of past sins. Last night I watched "Ted", the episode with guest star John Ritter. It's a great episode, but mostly what I was responding to was this outfit;

Gone is the first season costume designer, Susanna Puisto, replaced by the considerably more talented Cynthia Bergstrom. Though, aside from Drusilla's darling Regency gowns, the improvement had mostly been in how Buffy was no longer wildly veering between soccer mom and Tijuana crack whore. This outfit strikes me, maybe just because I have a thing for red floral patterns (cf this blog's border).

The show still has an inordinate number of teenagers in pantsuits (I think Hillary Clinton went to school in Sunnydale), but I don't mind when it's fun. Bergstrom seems to be employing themes with the characters, too--it's the 1960s for Cordelia, which really works for her here;

Prompting a compliment from Xander, but maybe goes a bit too far here;

Hair styling is less improved in the second season, but Sarah Michelle Gellar had gotten a 1990s television actress' typical second season, dowdy short hair cut, forcing stylist Jeri Baker to put the hair up in simple styles that at least aren't obtrusive.

My tweets from last night;

It seems sleep deprivation for me's changed.
Now I only feel like shit at evening.
Can still almost think and act at close range.
But for distance the will's still found waning.

Friday, May 22, 2009

See Your Nearest Alien Immediately

I watched the new The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya with breakfast to-day, and was so happy to find it to be every bit as good as the first season.

Well, although this new episode is being called the first episode of the second season, as you can see from the episode list charts, this episode also could be considered the eighth episode of the series--I'm not sure, but I think it takes place before several of the "first season" episodes. In any case, it's the first new episode in three years and it's amazing to see things pick up right where they left off both in terms of tone and production quality.

For those who don't know, the series concerns a hyperactive misfit girl and her high school club, the "S.O.S. Brigade", the purpose of which is to investigate the possible existence of aliens, espers, and time travellers. Unbeknownst to Haruhi is that the five member club includes one alien, one esper, and one time traveller. The reason Haruhi can't be told the true identities of these beings is that Haruhi in fact controls and possibly created the universe--all existence is shaped by her whim, but she doesn't know it. This has a wonderful effect somewhat reminiscent to me of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series--when I read that series, I'd often find myself conscious of how Gaiman's anthropomorphised concept of Dream would reflect in his activities "real" dreams and stories, so one can study the world and people around Suzumiya and speculate as to what they say about her subconscious desires.

The fifth member of the group, Kyon, is the series POV, and his irascible but innocent, noir-ish internal monologue is a perfect counterbalance to the peppy anime girls. It also lends a feeling of credibility to the group's adventures--based on a young adult series of books in Japan, episodes like the new one, which is a nice time travel story, have some of the adventurous charm of The Chronicles of Narnia.

Twitter Sonnet #21

Looks like another good layer of dust.
Something else I have to find time to do.
As meals, in soup I have placed lots of trust.
You know, to-day, the fact is nothing's new.
Right now my mind is a sustained blank beep.
I vow to fall asleep in two hours.
In two hours, need to be sleeping deep.
I'll deploy all of my mental powers.
The white cat waited for me on the road.
In the middle--that mammal is fearless.
Rum's got me back into a tranquil mode.
But for defeating dust days, art's peerless.
Nobody can hear a tree fall in space.
Though space and time travel right by your face.

I'm starting to remember why I stopped buying altoids--I can't stop eating them for two minutes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

War is Good for Robots

I noticed last night the Lynchianly named Laura Cooper is also twittering in iambic pentameter. So begins my total reshaping of Twitter. She's doing pretty well so far.

My own tweets from last night;

Right now my mind is a sustained blank beep.
I vow to fall asleep in two hours.
In two hours, need to be sleeping deep.
I'll deploy all of my mental powers.

Predictably enough, I failed. It didn't even matter I didn't get a full eight hours sleep the previous day. I ended up just going back to my standard tactic of staying awake until sleep became an inevitability and read more of War and Peace. Just finished a War section and am now in a Peace section--if there's a common theme to the two, it's that young people are completely helpless, at the mercy of the seemingly random physical acts of the universe, the machinations of their elders, and, above all, their own blind passions. This is all brought home by wonderfully credible characters, essential aspects of whom are often illustrated with just a couple short, amazingly direct sentences.

From after Rostof, a hussar, has been shot, his horse has been fatally wounded, and he sees one of his comrades taken prisoner by French troops;

"Is our man really taken prisoner? Yes! And will they take me too? Who are these men?" Rostof kept asking himself, not crediting his own eyes. "Can they be the French?" He gazed at the oncoming strangers, and, in spite of the fact that only a second before he had been dashing forward solely for the purpose of overtaking and hacking down these same Frenchmen, their proximity now seemed to him so terrible that he could not trust his own eyes! "Who are they? Why are they running? Are they running at me? And why? Is it to kill me? Me, whom everyone loves?" He recollected how he was beloved by his mother, his family, his friends, and the idea that his enemies might kill him seemed incredible. "But perhaps . . . they may . . ." For more than ten seconds he stood, not moving from the spot and not realising his situation.

I think a lot of writers would feel too embarrassed to even try writing about one of their characters like this, but it works so brutally well because it's the real, stunned, almost subliminal thought laid bare. The confusion, the tendrils of human feeling bereft at having none of the familiar things to grasp onto . . . It's great.

Anyway, on the other end of the war fiction spectrum, all the reviews I've looked at for Terminator Salvation have made me very much not want to see it. The first reaction I saw was through Jhonen Vasquez's twitter; "Well...Terminator: Salvation was no Terminator: Salvation trailer," and "Just picture the camera pulling up and away from me as I raise my clenched fists in the rain, crying out 'McGeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!'"

Once again, we were schnookered by Nine Inch Nails music in the trailer, but at least people weren't as conned as they were by 300. Who'd have thought the director of Charlie's Angels wouldn't make a movie with the depth befitting Terminator 2? We should have seen this coming. I blame the DP.

Well, the fact that Christian Bale clearly had more clout than the director--I'm not just basing this on the outburst but from the fact that Bale initially refused to do the movie until McG met his demand to bring in a new screenwriter (Jonathon Nolan, who apparently can't save everything)--probably cursed this film from the beginning. A ship needs a captain. I'm glad I won't have to see it.

Happy birthday, Lori Fury.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Revised History of Gunfights

Last night's tweets;

Looks like another good layer of dust.
Something else I have to find time to do.
As meals, in soup I have placed lots of trust.
You know, to-day, the fact is nothing's new.

Yeah, I did pretty much nothing but work on my comic yesterday. I did watch a bunch of clips from Cannes of Inglourious Basterds on AICN--this one's my favourite so far, especially with Tarantino's introduction. I get a kick out of that guy's enthusiasm for his work. And, man, am I looking forward to this movie--from the impossible scar on Brad Pitt's throat to the fact that 90% of the move is dialogue and two thirds of the dialogue is apparently in French or German, everything I see and hear about this movie whets my appetite. It sounds like Inglourious Basterds is gloriously off the rails.

Anyway, on the subject of upcoming movies, I meant to talk about the new trailer for Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes pastiche the other day;

In a way, I actually kind of like that it so completely departs from the original works--I mean, anything that tried to do an honest adaptation would just make me feel depressed about the fact that Jeremy Brett is dead. Sherlock Holmes pastiches are a well worn tradition at this point, and I certainly enjoyed Young Sherlock Holmes, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, the Hammer Hound of the Baskervilles, and some of the Basil Rathbone films. I'm fully willing to entertain the idea this new movie might be fun. The only thing that really bugs me is the title--it's the same thing with the new Star Trek. It's like the studio conning people into accepting this as a replacement for everything that's come before--it's a phenomenon that seems related to short attention spans to me somehow.

It'd be nice to enjoy a Guy Ritchie film again, now that he's escaped The Island of Madonna.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Dish Ran Away from the Spoon

Twitter Sonnet #20

Best to avoid spawning where you might die.
Though just three nukes could spoil the whole world.
About survival, video games lie.
But koopa shells are lethal when they're hurled.
Can't seem to get out of the Orc city.
Warcraft beats me by my poor direction.
Of game worlds I'm Ryoga Hibiki.
Guess I'm content with quest dereliction.
I celebrate chocolate covered altoids.
Good restaurants are covered with paint and signs.
Boring haunted houses hide their androids.
With bare circuits a robot really shines.
Somewhere under my oatmeal is a bowl.
Much like the plain, healthy paste on my soul.

I went downtown for lunch yesterday. I walked six blocks from Horton Plaza mall to Pokez, the best Mexican restaurant in the county.

I can't remember ever being asked for a cigarette as many times as I was yesterday. One guy offered to trade a bag of weed for a cigarette. I guess that says something about which is the more addictive drug.

A bearded old man pushing a shopping cart and wrapped in miscellaneous dingy clothes also asked me if I had a cigarette. "Sorry," I said. "I can spare some change, though."

"Okay," he said. Then he added, as I handed him the quarters from my pocket, "I'm not a bum. I know what I look like, but I'm not a bum. I got in a car accident and broke my arm."

"Oh, okay," I said.

A few blocks later, a young man, who looked about my age, came up to me and said, "Man, I don't mean you any disrespect or anything and I'm not asking for money. I just wondered if you could buy me a sandwich."

"Sorry," I said.

"Okay," he said and I kept walking. Thinking back, though, I felt really bad--I could've bought that guy a sandwich. Why not? I think I only turned him down because I'd been approached by so many people yesterday it was getting to be a reflex. I felt like a real asshole when I got back to the mall and bought a coffee.

Anyway, I took pictures;

Some manner of totem obelisk erected at the mall.

Extremely important hotel across from the mall. I guess.

That facade is a tad undermined.

A display at the library. I couldn't hang around long--the stench of urine was overwhelming.

The best Mexican restaurant in the county. There were two "open" signs in the windows and one "closed" sign.

I saw this taped to a stop light. It really is a sad world we live in.

The Star of India, according to a brochure I picked up, was built in 1863 and "is the oldest ship in the world that still maintains a regular sailing schedule."


The Californian, docked next to Star of India, is a replica of a schooner that operated in the 1850s.

So many blurry photographs--I took a lot more that came out a lot worse. It was frustrating as I stood there fiddling with exposure and other settings a long time, taking multiple versions of every picture. It's probably because of all the bright lights everywhere.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Now Where am I?!

I really can't believe Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has been cancelled while Dollhouse is getting renewed. I guess, now that I think about it, Dollhouse was the more consistently good series, but I had the impression that Terminator was much more popular. Fuck, and season 2 ended with a big cliffhanger. I guess us fans will have to content ourselves with that one, heavily sexual amateur surgery scene on Cameron forever.

Well, maybe Summer Glau will end up on Dollhouse now. She could play a cross between River and Cameron--a doll, basically. I suppose there could be a big switcheroo and she'll play a hyper-articulate mastermind.

My tweets last night;

Can't seem to get out of the Orc city.
Warcraft beats me by my poor direction.
Of game worlds I'm Ryoga Hibiki.
Guess I'm content with quest dereliction.

Tim ran my character through an Orgrimmarr instance on Saturday with one of his many level seventy-something characters (apparently he has four level eighties on that server alone), but when I logged back on by myself, I ended up wandering around for about an hour without ever finding the Goblin Zeppelin out of town. And I'm still only level 9, but I did get a lot of good swag. I think. For some reason, all the monsters in the lava caves we were in were carrying glasses of "ice cold milk". The whole game feels like Disneyland--everything feels so safe and candy coated. Not just the look, but the gameplay that precludes the idea of any real risk or danger.

I played for about thirty minutes last night and then switched to reading War and Peace. There's an illuminating contrast for you. If, someday, someone makes a war strategy game where you have only a ground level view of things, questionable information about not only enemy movements but positions of your own troops, officers who seemed courageous to you making bizarre decisions in the heat of battle, fatally wounded soldiers begging for rides on cannons, messengers who fail to deliver orders to regiments because they lose courage . . . I'd totally play that game.

No one makes video games for me. I remember Tim looking at me like I was crazy when I installed a Morrowind mod that required your character to eat and sleep. No-one wants a simulator any more . . . People don't understand how many stories come out of people trying to cope with the basic needs of survival.

I told Tim the fire monsters were carrying milk because they were clearly a bunch of milksops.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Life Bigger than but Vulnerable to Fear

Neil Gaiman, in a blog entry to-day, talked about potential legislation to overturn Bush administration policies regarding stem cell research and he linked to this comments page, which apparently the National Institutes of Health are paying very close attention to. Gaiman suggested people spread the word in their blogs and live journals because this is apparently something where a lot of comments expressing support for or condemnation of the research will make a big difference.

I never cease to be amazed by the ability of large groups of people to cling to utterly senseless and counterproductive ideas--no human life is actually threatened by the research, the embryos in question are destined for destruction anyway, and a lot of people can be helped by the research. It's incredibly simple.

Last night I watched Akira Kurosawa's 1955 film Ikimono no kiroku, which literally translates as Record of a Living Being, though for some reason Criterion decided to package the film under the English title I Live in Fear. I greatly prefer the more literal translation--"I Live in Fear" is more plain and sensational, almost sounding like a horror movie. "Record of a Living Being" emphasises by not emphasising--what sets apart the protagonist, an elderly businessman named Kiichi Nakajima (Toshiro Mifune), is indeed the fear that drives him to move his large family, mistresses, and illegitimate children to Brazil. But characterising him simply as a "living being" resists the caricature one might perceive him has for being totally controlled by fear of nuclear bombs.

You could call this movie Before I Learned to Stop Worrying about the Bomb, made as it was nine years before Dr. Strangelove. Record of a Living Being was also originally intended to be a satire, provoked by the public panic in Japan over recent tests of atomic bombs. But as Kurosawa and his screenwriters developed the story, they found themselves completely unable to maintain the detachment necessary for a satire--less than a decade had passed since the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In his The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Donald Richie quotes Kurosawa as saying, "As we worked on the script it became less and less satire and more and more something else . . . And this would be the reason why the film might be thought incoherent--even chaotic. Still it was good we made it. Anyway, the way we felt--how could we have made a satire?"

According to Richie's book, composer Fumio Hayasaka, who'd worked on Kurosawa's films for ten years, was the impetus behind the film's production, and Richie quotes Kurosawa as saying of the composer, who would die in 1955, "When he said to me that a dying person could not work, I thought he meant himself. But he didn't, it turned out. He meant everyone. All of us. The next time I went to see him, he suggested we do a film on just this subject."

Both Fumio Hayasaka and Masaru Sato, who'd be Kurosawa's regular composer for years afterwards, are credited for Record of a Living Being's score. There's actually very little music in the movie, but I was struck by the eerie and sort of brash opening music which sounds as though it features a singing saw backed by saxophone and trumpet;

If I had to guess, I'd say the first part is Masaru Sato and the latter is Hayasaka, as brass instruments feature prominently in Sato's later work.

Mifune was cast as a man many years older than himself, a fascinating decision as the normal dichotomy of Takashi Shimura as the voice of maturity and Mifune as the conflicted youth is almost precisely reversed--Shimura in this film, often shown at home wearing pants and undershirt, looks remarkably youthful, particularly considering this is his last leading role in a Kurosawa film. He'd continue to appear in Kurosawa's films until 1980's Kagemusha, but only in drastically reduced roles, apparently due to advanced age hindering his ability to remember his lines.

The reversal here of the two actors' positions puts Mifune's violent anxiety in the position of power while Shimura's natural gentleness is in a position of uncertainty. It's quite effective, and I was surprised at how well Mifune fits into his role.

Most of the movie concerns the large family of the old man attempting through various legal means to prevent him from spending his enormous fortune in his efforts to escape nuclear bombs, and we meet a very large cast of characters, including the normally charming Minoru Chiaki as an effectively obnoxious son and the beautiful Noriko Sengoku, another Kurosawa regular, as a very quiet daughter. She only has one, very neutral line in the film, but her scarce expressions of emotion help broaden the world of people. She spends most of the movie serving tea, but a glimpse into her private dependency upon the family patriarch is visible after the destruction of Nakajima's foundry;

My favourite scene comes at the end of the movie when Shimura's character visits Mifune in an asylum, where he's been committed after destroying the foundry in the hopes of forcing his family to agree to move to Brazil.

The attending doctor at the asylum says to Shimura of Mifune's character, "Whenever I see him . . . I somehow feel . . . oddly anxious . . . even though I'm the one who's supposed to be sane . . . Is he crazy? Or are we, who can remain unperturbed in this insane world, the crazy ones?"

A couple guys in jail, where Mifune's character had first gone after his guilt in destroying the foundry was discovered, make fun of him for trying to escape nuclear war, and tell him nothing short of going to another planet would provide a reliable escape. In the asylum, Mifune's now convinced himself this is where he's ended up, as he says to Shimura;

"By the way . . . what happened to the Earth? Are many people still left behind there? Are there still many people there? That's not good. Not good at all. They'd better escape soon or they'll be sorry! Why don't they understand? They better hurry and come to this planet . . ."

Then Mifune gets up and approaches the window, for my favourite shot in the film;

"Is it burning? The Earth is burning! The Earth is burning! It's burning! The Earth has finally gone up in flames."

My tweets from last night;

Best to avoid spawning where you might die.
Though just three nukes could spoil the whole world.
About survival, video games lie.
But koopa shells are lethal when they're hurled.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dangers of the Wasteland are Dangerous

A spider (or possibly daddy longlegs) in my bathroom last night;

Twitter Sonnet #19

Manga's safe behind glass at the comic store.
Wildflower honey's almost liquid.
I have disks and two guitars on my floor.
This room is versatile and intrepid.
Thursday seems to be the new Friday here.
Saw college kids mob the liquor aisle.
To-day English music I had to hear.
Switched between The Clash and Cream a while.
The green shirts I saw are too pale for me.
Oy vey, men's clothes are so fucking boring.
But at least I still have you, sweet whiskey.
Boring clothes is why men turn to drinking.
A glowing ghoul is totally useless.
Without a mad mortician accomplice.

I started running into glowing ghouls in Fallout 3 at Tim's last night. I was hanging out in the Tennpenny Tower area and I kind of broke the quests there by doing half of a lot of them--Tennpenny Tower's a big hotel that was somehow left standing in the middle of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. There are a bunch of snooty people living there under the leadership of a guy in the penthouse who always wears a red blazer named Alistair Tennpenny. He's evil, which I discovered when I blew his head to Scanners chunks with a combat shotgun at point blank range and gained positive karma for it. There are a bunch of ghouls (people with rotting flesh) living outside who want to live in the tower, but the neighbourhood association won't let them in--your options are either to exterminate the ghouls for the people living in the tower, exterminate the people in the tower for the ghouls, or convince the people to let the ghouls live with them.

No section of the game better brought home to me the fact that Bethesda put less than a third of the love into Fallout 3 they put into Oblivion--first of all, convincing the people to let the ghouls in really only requires high speech ability for your character and highlights the lack of interesting dialogue trees that distinguished Fallout 2. But then there's a lot of poor continuity, like how practically everyone in the tower referred to my female character as a guy, how some people forgot Alistair Tennpenny was dead within the same conversation in which they acknowledged it--hell, the thing was obviously sloppily constructed from the simple fact that Tennpenny's guards didn't rush in when they heard a shotgun blast in Tennpenny's room after watching me enter carrying a combat shotgun. The guards didn't even react to me differently afterwards, not until I started executing them one by one. And even then, the civilians kept roaming around like cattle. Add to this the weak animation for the people that makes them look like they're floating when they walk and the muddy texture mapping for all the female characters, it's really hard to believe Fallout 3 came out after Oblivion and not vice versa.

I watched Blazing Saddles for the first time last night. Wonderful film--I'm glad to've watched a lot of westerns first, because the primary mission of the film seems to be taking not just western cliches, but also high points in western cinema, and exaggerating them to absurd levels. I loved Madeline Kahn's lethargic Marlene Dietrich impression, and Harvey Korman's rendition of Gabriele Ferzetti's railroad tycoon in Once Upon a Time in the West was brilliant. I loved when he started humping a statue while in the middle of soliloquising his desire for more land.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Value of Sugar, Regardless of Success

Watched a bit of Vertigo again while eating breakfast. Have I mentioned how I love that movie? I was thinking this time about how readily Judy supports Scottie's argument for not taking her home after she'd fallen into the bay--she quickly says it would've been a bad idea because, "I wouldn't have known you." Which really doesn't make any sense, but she breezes past it and it's enough to satisfy Scottie and, I guarantee you, most of the first time viewing audience, just like no-one probably thought it was strange that Elster offers to let Scottie see her while he was still trying to decide whether he'd follow her--as though seeing what she looked like were a vital factor in deciding whether she needed help. Anyone who thinks Judy's stupid or weak willed has fallen under hers and Elster's machinations as much as Hitchcock's.

My tweets of last night;

Thursday seems to be the new Friday here.
Saw college kids mob the liquor aisle.
To-day English music I had to hear.
Switched between The Clash and Cream a while.

I went to The Living Room for coffee and I stopped at Ralph's to get pasta sauce--I've never seen so many college kids out at 1am. The truth is, the bad economy isn't affecting massive portions of the San Diego population--the cost of living in San Diego is one of the highest in the county and all these kids are quite matter-of-factly treating Thursday like Friday. The whole city's a Cadbury Egg.

I kind of wanted to watch a movie last night, but I ended up at The Internet Archive downloading a bunch of public domain music from the 1920s and 1930s, mostly Josephine Baker. Then I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer with dinner, "School Hard", the first episode with Spike and Drusilla. Boy, the whole show changes right there. Spike comes on as a villain a million times more interesting than anything that came before (or after, for that matter), by simply having more going on in his life, character-wise, than being evil and wringing his hands and wanting to kill Buffy. Drusilla's neat, too. Suddenly the villains are people and you want to know more about them. I love how Spike calls Angel an "Uncle Tom".

But Spike's stunt double sure wasn't working yet. The show's fight scenes were already pretty sloppy looking when compared to Dollhouse--Buffy was noticeably feistier and broader in the upper torso when she wasn't facing the camera--but, gods, is it so hard to match a wig?

Remember, new Venia's Travels to-day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Venia and the Taste Tests

There's a new Venia's Travels online--the comic's two hundred pages long now. I'm not sure exactly, but I think I can say about one third of the complete story's online.

"I Want to Be a Sailor . . ."

Check out Roger Ebert's recent Great Movies review for the 1940 version of The Thief of Bagdad. The last line from the review; "Today, when dizzying CGI effects, the Queasy-Cam and a frantic editing pace seem to move films closer to video games, witness the beauty of "Thief of Bagdad" and mourn."

Damn straight. I remember hearing about how Sergio Leone thought movies he watched as a kid moved too quickly. To-day's movies would probably seem like white noise to him.

My tweets from last night;

Manga's safe behind glass at the comic store.
Wildflower honey's almost liquid.
I have disks and two guitars on my floor.
This room is versatile and intrepid.

Mostly I just worked on my comic yesterday, but I did stop by a comic book shop and pick up volume three of Happy Mania. It feels good to actually buy something at one of the constantly relocating Comics and Stuffs in San Diego. They just so rarely have what I want--maybe now they're a step closer to permanent locations.

I've continued watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with dinner over the past few nights. I watched the second episode of the second season last night--"Some Assembly Required", which featured Xander blowing Cordelia off when she tried to thank him for saving her life. Xander's kind of a dick for the whole episode actually, and everyone does a lot of projecting, particularly Giles in his depressing date with Ms. Calendar. Ms. Calendar, the Internet expert . . . Her introductory episode is kind of fascinating as it came from a time when writers could just make up a lot of random shit about the internet and people watching could be expected to take it as credible. This added to the fact that the actress playing Calendar is incredibly bland, though, is making me itchy for the episode that finally kills her off. She gets turned into a vampire, right? Gods, I really don't think I've seen these episodes since they were first run.

How the hell does my spell-check not have "Cordelia"? It has "Cornelia" but not "Cordelia". What the fuck?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brought to You by

Twitter Sonnet #18

The white cat followed me to the mailbox.
Never count out the Anthony Perkins.
From 1960 he still fucking rocks.
Cleans up better than a pack of napkins.
An apple followed me to a movie.
Star Trek starts out working maybe too hard.
But a green broad always makes things groovy.
I must say I still miss Captain Picard.
A barista followed me to coffee.
A duck led me home from a great Greek lunch.
Spinach, rice, vinegar cacophony.
Not sure what I ate but I ate a bunch.
Tried to sleep early and fell asleep late.
A dream alien essays to gestate.

I thought I was tired at 4am, but I was filled with energy the moment my head hit the pillow. Whatever subject came to mind, my brain wheels would spin incessantly on it. I had a bunch of ideas for my comic I won't be able to implement for five chapters, assuming I still like them when I review them on a day where I'm rested. And I thought about the other project I'm working on.

I slept in brief segments until I gave up at around 1:30pm. Normally I just keep trying to sleep until I get it right, no matter how late that means I finally sleep to, which is how I end up with my messed up sleeping schedule. But I'm making a real attempt to be up during the day right now for good reasons I can't think of right now.

I tend to remember my dreams pretty easily whenever I sleep like this, but they're all pretty short. I had one to-day wherein I dreamt my bed was on the other side of the room and I was woken by a young, pale, German man scratching on the door, opening it a crack. I remember fighting through sleep paralysis to ask, "What . . . what are you doing . . . What do you think you're doing?" repeating it and reiterating it several times because I never felt confident he could hear me. He finally glared at me and replied, "I'm just a carpenter."

I also dreamt about travelling through Etrepaen Forest (a forest in the world Venia's Travels takes place in) and finding some people were cutting down trees in order to make a freeway--they already had a city made entirely of roads which I looked at from above. It was like a big asphalt square with lines painted on its surface and a few cars were driving back and forth on it. They looked like large versions of the plastic cars that come with the Life board game.

Yesterday, I discovered my collection of mp3s and flacs were taking up fifty six gigabytes on my hard drive. There are only around five thousand songs on my playlist, which might not seem like enough to be taking up so much space, but those flac files are pretty big. I freed up nearly four gigs already by moving Der Ring des Nibelungen to disk. I still have a folder of highlights from the opera, which was the only one I included in my playlist anyway.

It's so rare to find a good anime series anymore. I watched the twelfth and final episode of Maria Holic yesterday, which wasn't hugely impressive, but wonderful to look at and nicely perverted. I watched the first episode again with breakfast to-day and enjoyed it a little more than I remembered--maybe I won't get so caught up in the visuals this time and I'll pay better attention to what's going on.

I've also been rewatching Code Geass kind of sporadically. To-day I watched the sixth episode of the first season, which, despite having a goofy bit where a cat steals Zero's helmet, is actually better than I remember. It featured one of the many adorable shots of C.C. eating Pizza Hut pizza--a rather conspicuous bit of product placement I somehow don't mind very much. But I was reminded about the Nokia phone Kirk used in the new Star Trek movie. Product placement in a Star Trek movie is somehow incredibly depressing. Nothing compromises the dream of a socialist utopia like an advertisement.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where Hordes Have Gone Before

Last night's tweets;

An apple followed me to a movie.
Star Trek starts out working maybe too hard.
But a green broad always makes things groovy.
I must say I still miss Captain Picard.

I went to see Star Trek last night, so to-day I started reading about the prevalence of high blood pressure in the U.S. and I found that, although it hasn't drastically increased since 1999, it has significantly increased since 1989 and, what's more, seems to be an increasing problem among teenagers.

This, to me, is why the audience needed an angrier Kirk, a Kirk who likes to start fights and be a prig to everyone. Don't get me wrong--I enjoyed it, and it makes sense this Kirk would be more of a misfit since he had an apparently more traumatic youth.

I'd thought Cloverfield was the only J.J. Abrams thing I'd seen (he produced it), but my sister reminded me he was the co-creator (along with Cloverfield director Matt Reeves) of Felicity, a television series starring Keri Russell which I watched with my sister for its first season before I lost interest. I remember the problem I had with it was its overuse of melodrama--the show's best moments were sweet, regular vignettes of Felicity getting by in New York City and forging relationships. But then the show started focusing on Felicity getting mugged, someone dying, someone falling prey to substance abuse, and so on. That all these things should happen on a weekly basis to one girl strained credibility, to be sure, but the problem was that character development suffered for the contortions necessary to bring the characters through these hoops and we were forced to take things less and less seriously.

Abrams' love of melodrama is still very much alive in Star Trek, but apart from the opening that featured Kirk's father, George, expressing an emotional farewell to Kirk's mother while she's in labour and while George is about to die in a collision course with a Romulan vessel, I didn't mind most of it. Mostly what I appreciated about the opening sequence were the props and set decorating--with a lot of pipes and clear plastic curtains, Starfleet structures have a very nice feeling of layers--not grimier, exactly, but definitely lived in and chaotically utilitarian. I was reminded of the sets and props from 12 Monkeys.

The new Kirk aims for a slightly Fast and the Furious vibe, most explicitly with an opening car chase, but he, Uhura, and McCoy are introduced and developed well, despite the briskness of that early portion of the film. I loved Karl Urban as McCoy and his reproduction of DeForest Kelley's Georgian accent, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura was great, particularly in close-ups, expressing a lot of depth without ever hitting anything too hard. She and Zachary Quinto kissing in the turbolift was really nice--an entire dialogue of facial expressions from her wanting to console and support this guy she'd fallen for to him deciding how much emotion he's supposed to let himself feel.

Quinto pulled off the particularly difficult task of playing Spock rather poetically. He was like an Ang Lee character--a guy whose nature and environment require him to restrain his passions forced to figure out who or what he's supposed to be when he's fundamentally different from everyone else.

I love Eric Bana, who played Bruce Banner in the Ang Lee Hulk with great depth and intensity. But just about anyone could've played the Romulan villain Nero for all the time and development he's given in Star Trek. His quest for vengeance against Spock is reminiscent, like many things in the new Star Trek, of Wrath of Khan, but Nero's not given Khan's oddly charismatic monologue sequences, which did a lot to establish the emotional credibility of Khan's grievances as well as the plausibility of a man manipulated by his own pride losing his mind in his vendetta.

Kirk's taunting of Khan into folly is sort of mirrored in the new film by one of its biggest misfires when Kirk taunts Spock into losing his cool. Considering Spock knew what Kirk was trying to do, and that he'd spent his life learning to control his emotions, it didn't seem plausible for Spock to blow his top the way he did, and it seemed even less plausible for anyone on the bridge to accept Kirk as Captain afterwards.

But the two biggest weaknesses of the film, for me, were Winona Ryder and the design of the new Enterprise. Accepting a 37 year-old actress as 31 year-old Zachary Quinto's mother is hard enough, but things were exacerbated by Ryder's complete inability to sell a character much older than herself. I was reminded of Francis Ford Coppola criticising her abilities in the commentary for Dracula and Star Trek forces us to realise how particular the environment needs to be for Ryder to be interesting. As her character unfortunately ends up being somewhat crucial a lot of weight has to be carried by the other characters and, despite Zachary Quinto's talent, this particular aspect of the plot was totally sunk for me.

One of my favourite lines of the film was Simon Pegg's Scotty wishing to work on the Enterprise in order to "handle her ample nacelles". But this is one of my least favourite designs of the Enterprise--I only hate the Enterprise-E design more. Yes, this new Enterprise has the extended length of the E's nacelles and with greater girth, sure to please any warp field. But with big, dull, turbine bussard ramscoops.

I do think this is all a matter of aesthetic taste--I can appreciate that people might like this bulbous thing.

I'd forgotten Tyler Perry was going to be in the movie. It was another case of a role just about anyone could've played, but I'm wondering if Perry was a major factor in Star Trek's unexpected success. I saw an interview somewhere of a Perry fan in the midwest talking about how no good Christian feels safe going to the movies anymore and how great Perry was for guaranteeing a wholesome, raunch-free experience. So I wonder if Star Trek drew crowds by the Tyler Perry seal of safety. I'd bet you good money those crowds didn't think anything of the sex scene with the green skinned woman or Kirk peeping on Uhura stripping down but would decry such things in another, Tyler Perry-less movie.

J.J. Abrams stopped by The Howard Stern Show a few days before the movie's premiere. Abrams had been on the show a few times before and it's clear the two like each other a lot. Abrams talked about how he hoped to be lucky enough for the movie's opening to break 30 million--Stern, who'd seen and loved the movie, correctly predicted the movie would make at least 75 million on its opening weekend. So the movie's already surpassed the 40 million Star Trek Nemesis made total.

I think it's a better movie than Nemesis--I barely remember Nemesis, which is probably a good indicator of how weak it was. I do remember being the only person in the theatre when I saw it. There were three other people in the theatre with me last night, but I was at a 10:55pm showing on a Monday night. The Next Generation movies always suffered from dumping many of the best aspects of the show--Data's whole personality, the unique and great Enterprise-D design, and, above all, the thoughtfulness. I lament never again having a long conversation over tea with Captain Picard.

There were a couple more problems I had with the new movie--space and ships seemed smaller than I remember in the 80s films, but maybe that's just because I'm older. The script wasn't great, relying too heavily on echoes from earlier films. But mostly the cast made it work and Abrams is a competent director. I'd like to see this team on another film.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Passivity of Taxidermied Birds of Prey

Last night's tweets;

The white cat followed me to the mailbox.
Never count out the Anthony Perkins.
From 1960 he still fucking rocks.
Cleans up better than a pack of napkins.

My sister's had this idea of Psycho being the perfect Mother's Day movie for a long time, and last night she, my mother, and I sat down to watch it. It'd actually been a couple years since I last saw it--and here was another example of a character who'd done something bad getting punished much worse than she deserved. It's a perfect symphony of tension--Marion's a responsible young lady doing something bad for the first time in her life, she's sloppy about it, and she knows it, and her conscience makes her paranoid the whole time. But none of her fretting could prepare her for Norman Bates. And it turns out the mentally disturbed individual is the only one who really cared about Marion's transgressions--in this way only are she and Bates united, as they connect briefly over supper about how everyone has moments of "madness". But while Marion has the wherewithal to pick up the pieces and begin crawling her way out, Norman can only respond to ugliness in himself and others by destroying and shutting down.

The movie's just a nice story about people running away from the difficult things and the kind of strange hell that can create. It's like a relay race of madness as Marion hands off to Norman halfway through the movie. Despite some motions to place Sam and Lila and Martin Balsam as protagonists in the latter portion, Norman easily remains the central character rather than a point of conflict. He just shows so many layers, like when he talks to the detective--his lies are visible, and the odd angle on his tilted head as he shows Balsam the ledger emphasises his difficult position. He's simultaneously oversensitive to danger and peculiarly cool in the face of it--the essence of psycho, man.

I'm not sure if I managed to fall asleep early last night, but I did force myself to wake up at 1pm. Hopefully this is my first step into a larger world, as Obi-Wan would say.

I'm thinking within the next couple days I might even have time to see the new Star Trek movie. By all accounts (except Roger Ebert's), it's turned out rather well and I don't guess I can go on being a self-respecting Trekkie without seeing it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sensitivity Management

Twitter Sonnet #17

Sure I should've gotten some fresh sake.
Or some kind of alcoholic beverage.
But, then, I didn't want any to-day.
My lack of booze yen seems like brain damage.
Save-on guy's afraid of 1am drunks.
CVS now--too many syllables.
Anyway, his Christ has no time for punks.
Or cussing or car speaker decibels.
Might actually get to sleep early.
Wanted whiskey but I ran out of time.
Been nursing Jameson bottle slowly.
Think I'll save the rest for crossing the Rhine.
Search continues for a proper nosebleed.
I must demand from nights more time to read.

And, of course, I didn't get to sleep early. I honestly wanted to, but at 3am I was so close to finishing a page.

Yesterday I went to Tim's again, this time just to play more Fallout 3. I visited Tenpenny Tower, a big hotel in the middle of the post-apocalyptic wasteland. One of the places that really rocks the 1950s look, but I'm thinking I might switch completely back to playing Oblivion. Putting them side by side, it's easy to see which one the games' mutual developer, Bethesda, put more love into.

Anyway, I got to get over to my parents' house for Mother's Day . . .

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Needing to be Madeleine for a While

I just finished watching last night's season finale of Dollhouse. Loved it. Alan Tudyk as a multiple personality psycho is the right mix of sad and threatening--Dollhouse is set in a world without people who are fundamentally good or evil, which you get the sense is something Whedon must have felt very constrained by in the Buffyverse--so the sympathetic scenes for the villain character in Dollhouse work better than any other of the kind in previous Whedon series. It kind of reminded me of the best moments with Sylar on Heroes, but really with a lot more going on. Alpha bringing up Nietzsche was excellent, though I'd have liked some mention of Nietzsche's "master/slave" dichotomy. Echo's dismissal of the ubermench idea is a little ironic as she saved the day by being something like an ubermench while Alpha unwittingly fell into the slave mentality--his actions were defined by what other people had done to him while Echo, as some sort of free floating collage of identities, was able to observe and evaluate the facts of the situation for their true value, whether they came from Alpha or Caroline.

The characters having conflict with their own personalities might be a red herring, but it's a delightful red herring. Whiskey asserting that she knows who she is without knowledge of her original personality is a great, subtle counterpoint to Alpha's and Echo's default personalities asserting themselves behind the imprints. Is it because the scars have defined Whiskey now? Is that inherently good or bad?

And finding out the Millie active's real name is "Madeleine Costly"--I told you this was Vertigo: The Series. "Costly" may have been overselling it a little, but maybe not.

There're still flaws--mainly in how both Ballard and Echo evidently capitulated easily in order to wrap up the episode. But, I have to say it . . . whether or not this is Whedon's best series, it's by far the series I've enjoyed the most. What seemed like a safe idea at first has worked out to be more ambitious than Firefly and more cohesive than anything Whedon's done before. With Hitchcock references.

My tweets from last night;

Save-on guy's afraid of 1am drunks.
CVS now--too many syllables.
Anyway, his Christ has no time for punks.
Or cussing or car speaker decibels.

For some reason, the clean cut blond kid behind the counter thought I looked like his comrade and kvetched to me about the drunks who were there and who were--steel yourselves--using foul language! Even the young lady with them, who didn't seem drunk, was using some bad words!

I was at the CVS after 1am buying pasta sauce--Ragu is all they had, and it turned out to be as disgusting as I thought it would be. I was reminded of Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas when he said he asked for spaghetti and marinara and got "egg noodles in ketchup". The shit poured out of the bottle like blood contaminated with spoiled fruit juice.

But it was my only choice--it was after 1am, as I said, and not as many places are open twenty four hours now with the economy as it is. And the reason I got to grocery shopping so late was that I lost track of time at Tim's taking screenshots of Oblivion;

This is my own Madeleine--I named and loosely modelled her after Kim Novak in Vertigo;

Not too bad, if I do say so myself, considering I was working from memory. Oblivion, much like Mother Nature, doesn't make eyebrows like Novak's in Vertigo.

This is Madeleine in her optimal gear, which she doesn't really need to wear anymore as I used all my experience of playing the game for three years to make her the perfect character--she's an expert in everything, which is a little trickier to do in Oblivion than it was in Morrowind. But everything she's wearing is available in the game, except for the sword which is part of a really nice weapons mod Tim and I found who knows how long ago.

Here she is in something more comfortable;

Three years after its release, I still think Oblivion's the best looking game out there. This set of shots were taken in the southern swamps of The Shivering Isles;

Archery practice--the Mongolian recurve bow is part of the same weapons mod, the arrows are regular elven arrows.

In an area called "The Fringe" now, sort of the gateway area between The Shivering Isles and Cyrodiil, where most of Oblivion is set.

Madeleine's using a khukri in a lot of these images--another part of that weapons mod.

Back in Cyrodiil now.

Someone's killed a deer.

This is another character--Henrietta. I have a bunch of different characters saved--this one was only level 12. I can't quite remember what I was doing with her--I think she was going to be a fighter.

Henrietta watching a night owl farmer.

On a ship's deck, docked at the western port town Anvil.

This is Josette, named and modelled after Josette Day. A little less successful with this one, I think.

This character's name is Laura Palmer--I don't think I made any conscious attempt to model her after Sheryl Lee. She's of a demonic species called Golden Saint, which is not a race the player's normally able to use--I unlocked the race with a simple mod I made myself.

This is a dark elf named Finch, who I seem to remember making as a mage character, though it looks like I trained her in blade at some point.

Finch again, with a candid shot of a zombie in the background.

Josephine in the besieged town of Kvatch. She's wearing the mask of the Grey Fox, which you get when you complete all of the thieves' guild quests--the head of the thieves' guild is the notorious Grey Fox who passes the mask and identity on to you a la The Dread Pirate Roberts.

Josephine in another outfit--the clothes and hair are both from mods.

This is not one of my characters--I mean, it's not a character I use, but it's a character I made as part of a mod. Basically, I'd beaten the game so many times and in so many ways, I decided to create a challenge for myself with this ultra powerful character. I placed her in a chapel in the town of Bravil, and when you enter the chapel, she starts slaughtering everyone. She'll leave the chapel, too, as you can see here, and begin terrorising all of Cyrodiil. I forgot what I named her, so let's just call her The Killer.

Here The Killer fights a khajiit and one of Bravil's town guards at the bottom of the nearby river--my own character isn't pictured because I'd untethered the camera to take screenshots. This melee just spontaneously started up while I was busy getting shots of something else--I'd forgotten releasing The Killer in this saved game. The particular guard she's fighting automatically resurrects a few minutes after being killed because he's a character important to one of the quests. So she kills him over and over again.

The Killer swimming along the bottom of the river.

Jaws cam. The guard, on the right, has just awoken. He's probably wondering where he is. The Killer approaches from the left.

The spell she's casting on him is probably a disintegrate armour or weapon spell. That's why everyone's fighting her with fists now--the reason she's using fists is probably that she's been busy for a while and has worn down her weapons, even though I'm sure I gave her very durable equipment.

The two break the surface for a moment.

The Killer has found my character, in this case a low level magic user named Ellen. She falls quickly.