Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Emperor Persecutes the Lindbergh Baby

Last night's tweets;

Rain creates new living environments.
Contented cats scheme of a restless night.
Anxious plants break radish red through cements.
The garden of pundits predict a fight.

I've been listening to so much Orson Welles that I hear his voice in my head reading everything I read. Sentences often begin with a faintly amused tone and end with a sudden loud, angry urgency.

To-day I've been listening to his around five hour production of Les Miserables, which is so far the version I've enjoyed most, the previous two having been the stage musical and the movie starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. It's an interesting story, because almost every moment of it would superficially seem to cast Valjean's plight has ludicrously melodramatic and Inspector Javert as a dull, two dimensional villain. But I find Javert oddly sympathetic somehow and Valjean's story somehow really creates an impression of a world where it is really wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family.

I still have three and a half pages to colour on the next Venia's Travels. I'm not in a huge hurry, though, as I suspect most readers have something they're doing to-night. I've never really been very excited by midnight on New Years. I remember one year Trisa and I were seeing a movie and let the minute pass unnoticed.

I'll probably still finish the chapter before I go to bed, but if anyone needs tiding over, here're some characters I designed for the new chapter who ended up only appearing in the background of a couple panels and have no lines. See if you can guess what movie stars I modelled them after;


New Year's boke!

My Zeroes

Well, here it is--all two hundred sixty eight movies I can remember seeing this decade. Looks like I liked a lot more than I hated, which is a nice thing to be able to say, I guess.

I was helped in remembering somewhat by Wikipedia's incomplete and in some places inaccurate lists of American movies per year, which of course didn't help me out with foreign films for which I pretty much had to rely on memory. I probably forgot a few. I'm also sure I wrote reviews for more films than I linked to, but Live Journal's lack of a good search feature made finding them a task too great. But I did find the urls for an awful lot of my reviews, which range from lengthy analyses to brief paragraphs. The older the review, the less well written. I also found I disagreed with myself in some of my old annual rankings, even as recently as last year's.

Ranked in descending order, for dramatic effect;


193. Scream 3 (Wikipedia entry)
192. Stardust (Wikipedia entry)
191. Scary Movie (Wikipedia entry)
190. Freddy vs. Jason (Wikipedia entry)

189. Friends with Money (Wikipedia entry, my review)
188. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Wikipedia entry, my review)
187. TMNT (Wikipedia entry, my review)
186. Spun (Wikipedia entry)
185. White Oleander (Wikipedia entry)
184. The Count of Monte Cristo (Wikipedia entry)
183. The Golden Compass (Wikipedia entry, my review)
182. Shopgirl (Wikipedia entry)
181. Sunshine (Wikipedia entry)
180. Star Trek Nemesis (Wikipedia entry)

179. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Wikipedia entry)
178. Cloverfield (Wikipedia entry, my review)
177. Waitress (Wikipedia entry)
176. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (Wikipedia entry)
175. Mission: Impossible II (Wikipedia entry)
174. Legally Blonde (Wikipedia entry)
173. The Man Who Cried (Wikipedia entry)
172. The Perfect Storm (Wikipedia entry)
171. Good Night, and Good Luck (Wikipedia entry)
170. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Wikipedia entry)

169. The Illusionist (Wikipedia entry, my review)
168. Superman Returns (Wikipedia entry)
167. The Uninvited (Wikipedia entry, my review)
166. Bad Santa (Wikipedia entry, my review)
165. Freaky Friday (Wikipedia entry)
164. Zoolander (Wikipedia entry)
163. Serendipity (Wikipedia entry)
162. Hannibal (Wikipedia entry)
161. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Wikipedia entry)
160. Where the Heart Is (Wikipedia entry)

159. Planet of the Apes (2001) (Wikipedia entry)
158. V for Vendetta (Wikipedia entry, my review)
157. Beowulf (Wikipedia entry, my review)
156. Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (my review)
155. Elf (Wikipedia entry)
154. War of the Worlds (Wikipedia entry)
153. Small Time Crooks (Wikipedia entry)
152. Up in the Air (Wikipedia entry, my review)
151. Fantasia 2000 (Wikipedia entry)
150. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (Wikipedia entry)

149. Almost Famous (Wikipedia entry)
148. Art School Confidential (Wikipedia entry)
147. Big Fish (Wikipedia entry)
146. Knowing (Wikipedia entry, my review)
145. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) (Wikipedia entry)
144. Star Trek (Wikipedia entry, my review)
143. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Wikipedia entry, my review)
142. Volver (Wikipedia entry, my review)
141. A Good Year (Wikipedia entry, my review)
140. The Tailor of Panama (Wikipedia entry)

139. Blow (Wikipedia entry)
138. Kingdom of Heaven (Wikipedia entry, my review)
137. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) (Wikipedia entry)
136. Shrek (Wikipedia entry)
135. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Wikipedia entry, my review)
134. Capitalism: A Love Story (Wikipedia entry, my review)
133. Paranormal Activity (Wikipedia entry, my review)
132. Hard Candy (Wikipedia entry, my review)
131. Little Miss Sunshine (Wikipedia entry, my review)
130. There Will Be Blood (Wikipedia entry, my review)

129. Juno (Wikipedia entry, my review)
128. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Wikipedia entry)
127. An Inconvenient Truth (Wikipedia entry)
126. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Wikipedia entry, my review)
125. Divine Intervention (Wikipedia entry)
124. Frida (Wikipedia entry)
123. 28 Days Later (Wikipedia entry)
122. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Wikipedia entry)
121. High Fidelity (Wikipedia entry)
120. Vanilla Sky (Wikipedia entry)

119. Gladiator (Wikipedia entry)
118. Notes on a Scandal (Wikipedia entry, my review)
117. Anatomy (Wikipedia entry)
116. Minority Report (Wikipedia entry, my review)
115. Sky Captain and the World of To-morrow (Wikipedia entry, my review)
114. Enchanted (Wikipedia entry)
113. Batman: Gotham Knight (Wikipedia entry, my review)
112. Whale Rider (Wikipedia entry)
111. Bowling for Columbine (Wikipedia entry)
110. Janghwa, Hongryeon (Wikipedia entry)

109. Let the Right One In (Wikipedia entry, my review)
108. Hostel: Part II (Wikipedia entry, my review)
107. Coffee and Cigarettes (Wikipedia entry)
106. Gosford Park (Wikipedia entry)
105. Solaris (Wikipedia entry)
104. The Beach (Wikipedia entry)
103. Party Monster (Wikipedia entry)
102. Finding Neverland (Wikipedia entry)
101. Corpse Bride (Wikipedia entry, my review)
100. Bruno (Wikipedia entry, my review)

99. Sherlock Holmes (Wikipedia entry, my review)
98. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Wikipedia entry)
97. Burn After Reading (Wikipedia entry)
96. Iron Man (Wikipedia entry, my review)
95. Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Wikipedia entry, my review)
94. Mean Girls (Wikipedia entry)
93. Fahrenheit 9/11 (Wikipedia entry)
92. Before Sunset (Wikipedia entry)
91. One Hour Photo (Wikipedia entry)
90. Novocaine (Wikipedia entry)

89. Donnie Darko (Wikipedia entry)
88. The Machinist (Wikipedia entry)
87. The Aviator (Wikipedia entry)
86. The Others (Wikipedia entry)
85. The Virgin Suicides (Wikipedia entry)
84. Batman Begins (Wikipedia entry, my review)
83. Across the Universe (Wikipedia entry, my review)
82. Tropic Thunder (Wikipedia entry, my review)
81. King Kong (2005) (Wikipedia entry)
80. Blood: The Last Vampire (Wikipedia entry)

79. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (Wikipedia entry, my review)
78. Spider-Man 2 (Wikipedia entry)
77. Maria Full of Grace (Wikipedia entry, my review)
76. Clerks 2 (Wikipedia entry, my review)
75. Casino Royale (Wikipedia entry)
74. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Wikipedia entry)
73. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Wikipedia entry)
72. Eastern Promises (Wikipedia entry, my review)
71. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Wikipedia entry)
70. Lust, Caution (Wikipedia entry, my review)

69. Hostel (Wikipedia entry)
68. Sicko (Wikipedia entry, my review)
67. Grizzly Man (Wikipedia entry)
66. A History of Violence (Wikipedia entry, my review)
65. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Wikipedia entry)
64. Spider-Man (Wikipedia entry)
63. Once (Wikipedia entry)
62. Serenity (Wikipedia entry, my review)
61. Hellboy (Wikipedia entry)
60. The Blind Swordsman, Zatoichi (2003) (Wikipedia entry, my review)

59. Quills (Wikipedia entry)
58. Snatch (Wikipedia entry)
57. Howl's Moving Castle (Wikipedia entry, my review)
56. Planet Terror (Wikipedia entry, my review)
55. Sin City (Wikipedia entry, my review)
54. Swimming Pool (Wikipedia entry)
53. Shiki-Jitsu (Wikipedia entry)
52. A Very Long Engagement (Wikipedia entry)
51. Children of Men (Wikipedia entry, my review)
50. The Proposition (Wikipedia entry, my review)

49. The Dark Knight (Wikipedia entry, my review)
48. Death Proof (Wikipedia entry, my review)
47. Marie Antoinette (Wikipedia entry, my review)
46. Match Point (Wikipedia entry)
45. The Departed (Wikipedia entry, my review)
44. Rescue Dawn (Wikipedia entry, my review)
43. The Prestige (Wikipedia entry, my review)
42. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Wikipedia entry, my review)
41. Sean of the Dead (Wikipedia entry)
40. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Wikipedia entry)

39. X-Men (Wikipedia entry)
38. X2: X-Men United (Wikipedia entry)
37. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (Wikipedia entry)
36. Dancer in the Dark (Wikipedia entry)
35. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wikipedia entry)
34. Wall-E (Wikipedia entry, my review)
33. Gangs of New York (Wikipedia entry)
32. Rebuild of Evangelion: You Are (Not) Alone (Wikipedia entry, my review)
31. Broken Flowers (Wikipedia entry, my review)
30. Ghost World (Wikipedia entry)

29. Memento (Wikipedia entry)
28. American Psycho (Wikipedia entry)
27. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Wikipedia entry)
26. No Country for Old Men (Wikipedia entry, my review)
25. Munich (Wikipedia entry, my review)
24. Paprika (Wikipedia entry, my review)
23. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Wikipedia entry)
22. Pan's Labyrinth (Wikipedia entry, my review)
21. Palindromes (Wikipedia entry, my review)
20. Kill Bill Volume 1 (Wikipedia entry)

19. Lost in Translation (Wikipedia entry)
18. Kill Bill vol. 2 (Wikipedia entry)
17. Inglourious Basterds (Wikipedia entry, my review)
16. Hulk (Wikipedia entry)
15. Spider (Wikipedia entry)
14. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Wikipedia entry)
13. Adaptation (Wikipedia entry)
12. The Man Who Wasn't There (Wikipedia entry)
11. Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Wikipedia entry, my review)
10. INLAND EMPIRE (Wikipedia entry, my review)

9. Storytelling (Wikipedia entry)
8. Brokeback Mountain (Wikipedia entry, my review)
7. Secretary (Wikipedia entry)
6. Amelie (Wikipedia entry)
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Wikipedia entry)
4. Tideland (Wikipedia entry, my review)
3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wikipedia entry)
2. Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Wikipedia entry)
1. Mulholland Drive (Wikipedia entry)


75. Watchmen (Wikipedia entry, my review)
74. The Jane Austen Book Club (Wikipedia entry)
73. The Devil Wears Prada (Wikipedia entry)
72. Avatar (Wikipedia entry, my review)
71. 1408 (Wikipedia entry, my review)
70. Spider-Man 3 (Wikipedia entry, my review)

69. Blind Side (Wikipedia entry, my review)
68. Bewitched (Wikipedia entry)
67. Hero (2002) (Wikipedia entry)
66. 300 (Wikipedia entry, my review)
65. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Wikipedia entry, my review)
64. Van Helsing (Wikipedia entry)
63. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Wikipedia entry, my review)
62. I Heart Huckabees (Wikipedia entry, my review)
61. 3:10 to Yuma (Wikipedia entry, my review)
60. The Passion of Christ (Wikipedia entry)

59. Secret Window (Wikipedia entry)
58. The Matrix Reloaded (Wikipedia entry)
57. The Triplets of Bellville (Wikipedia entry)
56. The Family Stone (Wikipedia entry)
55. Crash (2004) (Wikipedia entry)
54. Alien vs. Predator (Wikipedia entry, my review)
53. Cold Mountain (Wikipedia entry)
52. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Wikipedia entry, my review)
51. Alfie (Wikipedia entry)
50. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Wikipedia entry)

49. The Time Machine (Wikipedia entry)
48. Daredevil (Wikipedia entry)
47. S1m0ne (Wikipedia entry)
46. The Day After To-morrow (Wikipedia entry)
45. Two Weeks Notice (Wikipedia entry)
44. The Stepford Wives (Wikipedia entry)
43. Road to Perdition (Wikipedia entry)
42. The Terminal (Wikipedia entry, my review)
41. Panic Room (Wikipedia entry)
40. K-19: The Widowmaker (Wikipedia entry)

39. Austin Powers in Goldmember (Wikipedia entry)
38. The Majestic (Wikipedia entry)
37. A Knight's Tale (Wikipedia entry)
36. Transformers (Wikipedia entry)
35. Red Dragon (Wikipedia entry)
34. K-PAX (Wikipedia entry)
33. From Hell (Wikipedia entry)
32. Queen of the Damned (Wikipedia entry)
31. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Wikipedia entry)
30. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Wikipedia entry)

29. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Wikipedia entry)
28. Dragonlance (Wikipedia entry, my review)
27. A Beautiful Mind (Wikipedia entry)
26. Atonement (Wikipedia entry)
25. The Hours (Wikipedia entry)
24. Traffic (Wikipedia entry)
23. Red Planet (Wikipedia entry)
22. Meet the Parents (Wikipedia entry)
21. Me, Myself & Irene (Wikipedia entry)
20. The Legend of Bagger Vance (Wikipedia entry)

19. Moulin Rouge! (Wikipedia entry)
18. Requiem for a Dream (Wikipedia entry)
17. Charlie's Angels (Wikipedia entry)
16. Cast Away (Wikipedia entry)
15. Chicago (Wikipedia entry)
14. Meet the Fockers (Wikipedia entry)
13. Keeping the Faith (Wikipedia entry)
12. Autumn in New York (Wikipedia entry)
11. The Happening (Wikipedia entry)
10. The Cell (Wikipedia entry)

9. Twilight Wikipedia entry, my review)
8. What Lies Beneath (Wikipedia entry)
7. U-571 (Wikipedia entry)
6. Bobby (Wikipedia entry)
5. Kate & Leopold (Wikipedia entry)
4. The Patriot (Wikipedia entry)
3. Battlefield Earth (Wikipedia entry)
2. Frequency (Wikipedia entry)
1. Glitter (Wikipedia entry)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sorting the Decade

Twitter Sonnet #96

The man shaped dark uniforms fear flat walls.
Enough algae have formed to change a pond.
Spiders and flowers are decking the halls.
No sense waiting for someone to respond.
Blameless drains suck the bubbly bathwater.
Prince Randian's hips were washed clean of leg.
Love's yellow yolk from the alma mater.
The Star of Bethlehem was a big egg.
Wildflower honey easily spills.
Arteries to the Heart of Darkness clog.
But Kurtz can't collect his medical bills.
Ribbons of sound coil into a log.
Messages are passionately withheld.
A sweet, self-gagged ghost awaits a wergild.

I compulsively started working on my ranking of the decades films last night, and spent another four hours on it to-day. Gods, I hate reading my old journal entries. I hate how happy I seem in them. What an asshole. There're even more typos back then and just flat out bad spelling and grammar. I see I consistently mispelled "Spielberg" as "Spielburg". Did I think he was a town? I remember thinking, "I won't use spell check! It'll be Kerouacian that way somehow." I think even Kerouac would've recommended I get an editor. On the other had, I still did better than 95% of the internet.

I guess it's not strange I'd seem like a rather different person now that I'm 30 than I was when I started this journal at the age of 23. It's weird knowing all those years are more or less chronicled.

I also realised there was another movie I forgot to include in 2009's list--Knowing. If I can remember seeing one more good movie, I'll finally have a top ten list.


1. Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Wikipedia entry, my review)
2. Inglourious Basterds (Wikipedia entry, my review)
3. Sherlock Holmes (Wikipedia entry, my review)
4. Paranormal Activity (Wikipedia entry, my review)
5. Capitalism: A Love Story (Wikipedia entry, my review)
6. Star Trek (Wikipedia entry, my review)
7. Knowing (Wikipedia entry, my review)
8. Up in the Air (Wikipedia entry, my review)
9. The Uninvited (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Worst Films

1. Blind Side (Wikipedia entry, my review)
2. Avatar (Wikipedia entry, my review)
3. Watchmen (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frailty of the Great People

Forgot about having seen Paranormal Activity in 2009. I rather liked the movie, too--I added it to yesterday's rankings.

Going back over my journal to compile movies of the decade, I find I had a tendency to forget to include Harry Potter movies on my lists, even though I've seen all but the newest film in the series. Maybe it's because they tend to feel like a television series more than a movie series. Which is not to say I don't like them--I've mostly enjoyed all of them but the first two.

I listened to two great radio shows while working on my comic yesterday--The Magnificent Ambersons (found here) and The Philadelphia Story (found here). I didn't mean to have a marathon rumination on the upper class in America, but there it was.

Orson Welles produced the radio adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons years before the The Magnificent Ambersons became his second work as a filmmaker. RKO, as part of a series of reactions to the poor performance of Citizen Kane, extensively recut the film version of The Magnificent Ambersons without Welles' approval, changing the film fundamentally by removing 40 minutes of footage and reshooting the ending, creating a happier ending than the one Welles had made, and also one, apparently, closer to the 1918 book upon which the film is based.

All excised portions of Welles' original film have been lost, though there's a lot to appreciate about the version which survives. It's been a while since I've seen it, which is why it is perhaps hard to say in what ways the one hour radio production might have displayed the aspects of the film that were lost--perhaps they were all ideas Welles had after the radio production, which also features an ending similar to descriptions I've read of the book's ending. But it's a particularly good radio production in any case.

The cast was almost totally different from the movie's, most significantly in its featuring of Walter Huston as automobile entrepreneur Eugene Morgan and Orson Welles himself as the character central to the story, George Amberson Minafer. Both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons focus on an egotistical man in a powerful social position whose downfall is brought about by an inability to connect with others, fostered by a youth where empathy seemed unnecessary. Charles Foster Kane's inability to reach out to others might be attributed to the absence of a loving family as he grew up, while George Amberson Minafer would seem to have had the opposite problem--a mother who doted on him so much that he grew up to consider himself a sort of superior being. Interestingly, the radio show isn't remotely harsh with Isabel, George's mother, even going so far as to praise the extraordinary love she gives to her child.

But the most fascinating aspect of the story is its use of George's life as a reflection of the impact of vast social changes in the United States in the later portion of the nineteenth century. George finds himself terribly handicapped by his own arrogance in a world that expects prestige to be earned through hard work rather than bestowed by an inherited name. A pretty simple story, but made horrifically and tragically personal by the performances and Bernard Herrmann's music.

The production of The Philadelphia Story I listened to was produced and narrated by, of all people Cecil B. DeMille, who spoke of a former ambition to direct the film version. What would that have been like? Maybe Katharine Hepburn on a massive gold dais before thousands of prostrate worshipers proclaiming, "I am not a Goddess!"

But the radio show, made some time later, was actually quite similar to the George Cukor movie, featuring even the same cast; Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey, and it was nice hearing such a great cast deliver an alternate performance of that same great dialogue. It sounded like there was a studio audience, and James Stewart in particular seemed to like playing to them.

Last night's tweets;

Blameless drains suck the bubbly bathwater.
Prince Randian's hips were washed clean of leg.
Love's yellow yolk from the alma mater.
The Star of Bethlehem was a big egg.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Year at the Movies, Sometimes

Time for my annual ranking of new movies I saw in the year. I saw an extraordinarily small number this year, due mainly to my comic taking up an unprecedented amount of my time. I didn't even see enough to fill out a proper top ten, and there are several movies I'd really like to see, like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Fantastic Mr. Fox. But here's a ranking of what I did see;

Best Films

1. Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Wikipedia entry, my review)
2. Inglourious Basterds (Wikipedia entry, my review)
3. Sherlock Holmes (Wikipedia entry, my review)
4. Paranormal Activity (Wikipedia entry, my review)
5. Capitalism: A Love Story (Wikipedia entry, my review)
6. Star Trek (Wikipedia entry, my review)
7. Up in the Air (Wikipedia entry, my review)
8. The Uninvited (Wikipedia entry, my review.)

Worst Films

1. Blind Side (Wikipedia entry, my review)
2. Avatar (Wikipedia entry, my review)
3. Watchmen (Wikipedia entry, my review)

Gake no Ue no Ponyo and Inglourious Basterds were neck and neck there--it basically seemed to me a decent Hayao Miyazaki movie up against an especially good Quentin Tarantino movie. But then I remembered the feeling of incredible joy most of Gake no Ue no Ponyo gave me.

If you look at my reviews of worst films, you'll find in each of them I at one point speak with some disparagement against my dislike of the films. Each one of them, I can see I'm not the intended audience for the film and it seems to me there's nothing wrong with people enjoying each of them. But I've decided I probably ought to stick up for myself a little and say, yes, I think these are bad movies.

Blind Side is perfectly innocent, really. But its predictability, flat performances (most notably Tim McGraw) and its simple minded solutions for and characterisations of what in real life are far bigger problems, make it to me a genuinely bad movie.

I don't think people who like Avatar are racists any more than I think fans of 300 are necessarily racist. I don't even think James Cameron's a racist. My favourite musical film is Swing Time, a movie in which Fred Astaire appears in black face to dance a tribute to Bojangles. Astaire meant his dance as a compliment to Bill Robinson, and Cameron meant for his film to be about how he feels native peoples have more of a right to the land than industrialised white cultures. In both cases, we see big, but still innocent mistakes. You could say ignorant, but I kind of think of Cameron as a sort of child. And I do think intentions matter. I read an article once by someone who claimed that if someone says they're sorry for hurting someone's feelings without expressing regret for the actions that caused those feelings, then it's not a legitimate apology. I disagree. If you disregard the fact that someone regrets harm caused by actions they feel are justified, it's only a recipe for perpetual conflict and isolation. But the weak characterisation and moral simplicity make the film dull and depressing.

As for Watchmen, I almost put it on the top list because I still think someone who has no experience with the comic can get a valuable experience out of it. But Zack Snyder's watering down of Rorschach's story, his misogynist handling of The Comedian's story, and his artificial and light weight action sequences are crimes too big to ignore against such a great book.

I intend to come up with rankings of movies of the decade, but I'm not sure when I'm going to have time . . .

Last night's tweets;

The man shaped dark uniforms fear flat walls.
Enough algae have formed to change a pond.
Spiders and flowers are decking the halls.
No sense waiting for someone to respond.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Plots Cats Conceive with Plants

Zetsubo! Comic-Con's sold out for Saturday already! Zetsubo shita!

I bought day passes for the other three days, but holy fuck, selling out for Saturday in December? What gives? And they don't sell three day passes for some reason, so I'm going to have to stand in line every single day. I guess I'll be taking my Kindle.

Yes, I have a Kindle now. My mother gave one to me and one to my sister for Christmas. It's a fascinating object so far. The screen doesn't light up--it seems to be a cousin of the Etch a Sketch--the images on the screen are created by "ink" reconfiguring on the surface. I've already bought yet another copy of War and Peace for it. Still trying to figure out how to navigate it.

I took a lot of pictures in the back yard to-day--Snow the Cat seems to want a lot of attention. I think his humans are out of town for the holidays.

Music's Thelonious Monk performing "Nice Work If You Can Get It".

Snow and I heard a frog near an old, long dormant fountain. We searched for the frog a little bit, in the hopes of getting some footage, but it shut up when we got close. I did get some fountain pictures;

Dig that crazy algae;

Played some Oblivion at Tim's house last night. I've been importing some mp3s for it--one of the nice things about both Oblivion and Morrowind is that customising the soundtrack is as easy as copying mp3s into the music folder. I added stuff from the Willow soundtrack, The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in the West, North by Northwest, and several others. I'd quite forgotten I'd replaced the default "death" music with the famous "Murder" track from Psycho until a mountain lion pounced on me from some concealing foliage, instantly killing me, and it was like I'd never heard any of the millions of comedic uses of that violin sting. It was just the sound of my sudden terrible death. It was actually fairly traumatic.

Twitter Sonnet #95

The blue filtered clouds criticise cities.
Cats take ribbons through Transylvania.
Science is the charge of distant kitties.
Small plastic bottles hold bacteria.
You don't need as much water as you think.
Watch out for pearls in your waffle iron.
Baby Jesus bathes in the kitchen sink.
Your roof shakes with the joy of Saint Cylon.
Baby amoebas are often run over.
Lions kill Little Turquoise Riding Hoods.
A frightened beast slumbers inside Grover.
Planaria roam the darkest of woods.
There are thousands of cells who remember.
That Comic-Con's now full by December.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Chair of a Locksley

Just a couple days ago, I learned that the antique chair I usually set my coat and bag on at my parents' house was once owned by Errol Flynn;

It was given to one of my grandparents, who'd lived next door to him when she was young. My mother told me a story about my grandmother's sister who'd fallen off her tricycle in the street one day, started to cry, and found herself being picked up and comforted by Errol Flynn. This is motherfuckin Errol Flynn's chair!

Doesn't it just look like Errol Flynn?

Saffy the cat observed my picture taking from the stairs above, perhaps wondering about the sudden interest in the chair onto which, as a less coordinated kitten, she'd at one time fallen from the stairs. "Only bad memories, that chair," she said.

Having gotten so much done on Wednesday, I found myself with six extra hours last night. Part of me wanted to try getting further ahead, but a more sensible part of me said, "Fuck it, it's Christmas." Among other things, I finally played some World of Warcraft after an almost two month absence. I found a number of updates had recently made questing in the Plaguelands far easier with the introduction of a number of flight points.

To-night I'm going to watch the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In its seventh season, it's being pretty soundly outshone by Angel. I'd meant to mention how much I loved "Sacrifice", which I think is the first episode to be written by The Tick creator Ben Edlund. But just about every moment of the last few episodes of season four were good, even Connor. One of my favourite lines of the series came when Angel, defending his traitorous son, said, "Connor's just confused . . . again." But by the end of his arc, his confusion finally became less of a joke and more of a real sense of a kid who was raised in a "Hell dimension".

But Buffy, meanwhile, is still mired in the "Buffy goes to war" concept. I try to play along, I know I'm supposed to ignore things like the fact that they're only just now deciding to pick up medical supplies from the hospital, but the characters keep telling themselves and I guess the audience how deadly serious everything is now. I keep losing track of what I'm supposed to be taking seriously or not, I can only imagine how annoying it was to anyone not trying to play along as hard as I am.

Last night's tweets;

You don't need as much water as you think.
Watch out for pearls in your waffle iron.
Baby Jesus bathes in the kitchen sink.
Your roof shakes with the joy of Saint Cylon.

Friday, December 25, 2009

There is Nothing So Important as Very Large Explosions

Thanks to Twitter, I've witnessed Bill Corbett and Trace Beaulieu wish each other Merry Christmas. If there can be peace between Crows, perhaps there's hope for the rest of us.

After getting up somehow at 8:30am this morning, I went with family to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie called Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't too bad. I went in expecting light weight pastiche and mainly that's what I got. Holmes predicting peoples' movements in fight scenes was neat. The actual deduction on display, rather like the Basil Rathbone movies, tended to rely on keeping large amounts of information from the audience or acting like things that were relatively obvious weren't so. A lot of random Holmes quotes were sprinkled in the dialogue, delivered well by Robert Downey Jr., who's the best thing about the movie. His Holmes is easily the most inward I've seen, often with a far away look that managed to come off as though he's mentally ten steps ahead of everyone else in every matter or simply concerned with something else entirely. I'd rather like to see him do an actual Holmes story.

Jude Law was fine as Watson, though I'm a little depressed by the usual speculation that Holmes and Watson are closeted homosexuals. It's not so much because I suspect it comes from people being unable to believe two men can have affection for each other without it being romantic or sexual is it is that suspect most people can't buy affection between two people without it being romantic or sexual. One of the things I liked about the first few seasons of the X-Files was that Scully and Mulder weren't automatically lovers even though they had a close working relationship and had affection for each other. Of course, that couldn't last. But, oh, well. If everyone wants everyone to be having sex, I won't stand in the way. But this was all covered already in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, and the way no-one remembers that movie is probably indicative of how long this movie will stick around in the cultural consciousness.

Actually, this new Sherlock Holmes most strongly reminded me of Young Sherlock Holmes, which had a similar focus on apparently supernatural conspiracy. A significant portion of what Holmes deduced about the plot of the main villain, though, actually seemed to come from Alan Moore's From Hell.

The character most short-changed in the new film is Irene Adler. When I heard about her character being in the film, I knew she could only overshadow Holmes or he would overshadow her--neither of which would have been appropriate but, of course, it turned out to be the latter, both due to writing and Rachel McAdams' portrayal. I strongly suspect her presence was due to studio insistence--I know a hot young woman is required by law to be present in all major films, but I couldn't help finding it strange seeing someone whose doesn't seem to have much, particularly compared to Downey Jr. 's Holmes, in the way of psychological depths playing "the woman."

Again, it was a fun movie. But I'm glad for DVDs of the Jeremy Brett series.

Last night's tweets;

The blue filtered clouds criticise cities.
Cats take ribbons through Transylvania.
Science is the charge of distant kitties.
Small plastic bottles hold bacteria.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Only Angels Have Time Capsules

Twitter Sonnet #94

Plastic makes cups of water for bottles.
Lunch is a Subway sandwich with chow mein.
In the shade of Rupert Murdoch's wattles,
No robot blue bug light burns in vain.
Bright Tron bowels unwind for the holidays.
Apple juice can't digest cinnamon well.
Booze separates from the blood of Tuesdays.
Modern clay pots have no secrets to tell.
A tall, Swedish girl can have a short voice.
There are brief broadcasts from a coal meadow.
Clean soot offers an illusory choice.
Dracula will never face The Shadow.
Alien babies are born in boxty.
Happy Christmas, Prince John, from a Locksley.

The stress of having more than ten people to buy presents for would, I think, kill me. I see people with wide, crazed eyes under frazzled hair, pushing shopping carts. I don't want that, no.

I've been out all day with my family--we had lunch at a faux Irish pub called Hooley's. Not very long after I ate breakfast, I had Jameson and boxty. I'm glad the whisky made me hungry again so soon because the boxty, which I'd never had before, was wonderful. I think the "white wine butter sauce" helped a lot, even though I hate white wine.

We then saw Up in the Air, a new Jason Reitman movie starring George Clooney. It wasn't exactly bad, but not quite as good as it seemed to want to be--the end has a sort of quiet moment where I think we're meant to contemplate the sad, lonely existence its protagonist, Ryan Bingham, has created for himself by living his life travelling 350 days a year. But the charm of real, sort of dark, comedy that comes from his lifestyle in having grown accustomed to flying, as well as the somewhat fascinating scenes of Bingham doing his job--which is firing people for bosses too timid to do it themselves--both overwhelm development of Bingham's character and the relationships he has with others so that the ending doesn't feel appropriate. Particularly flawed was the story of his relationship with a woman played by Vera Farmiga, which begins as something sexy and interesting as the two fire too-witty movie dialogue at each other in a subtle pissing contest of who can be the most casual about sex. When the plot gets serious about their relationship, it doesn't quite feel earned. It reminded me a bit of Susan Sarandon's role in the new version of Alfie, where Alfie found himself hurt that the older woman, who he'd assumed would be more likely to be loyal to a single lover, turned out to be even more of a player than himself. In both cases, there was an oddly conspicuous sense of a writer deliberately switching the gender roles. In Up in the Air, it was even worse as it required characters to behave differently than they had in earlier scenes--subtly, but crucially enough to make it seem like the parts of the movie were disconnected.

A littler better are sections of the movie where Bingham takes a young colleague under his wing to show her how important it is to fire people in person. There was a sort of master/disciple aspect to this section of the film that came off rather well, sort of reminding me of some of Kurosawa's late 1940s films where Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune tended to have the same dynamic.

In one scene, Bingham's character's talking to the young woman and she brings up the idea that men are more interested in gaining a form of immortality than women are when he tells her about his goal to reach a million frequent flyer miles, something that had only been achieved by seven other people. I was reminded of a particularly phoney bit from Moonstruck where a woman looks at her husband, who appears to be expressing a mid-life crisis by cheating on her, and tells him he's going to die some day regardless and the movie seems to feel like she's saying something really insightful. I haven't seen Moonstruck in a long time, but maybe one of the reasons neither film really works on me is I don't quite see men as being somehow more afraid of death than women.

I also don't think George Clooney was well cast, or anyway his performance was totally flat, perhaps just proving once again that the Coen brothers are the only filmmakers who can do anything with him.

I have to be up even earlier to-morrow, so I think now I'll just chill out and watch Alien.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Words Travelling in Waves

This just in from Yahoo! movies; "Since it opened last week, James Cameron's much-anticipated film 'Avatar' has won praise from movie critics and been a juggernaut at the box office. But some who have seen the film say that it contains hidden messages that are anti-war, pro-environment, and perhaps even racist." Mainstream dialogue moves at the speed of pudding on a slight slope.

Looking for something to listen to while inking and colouring, since Howard Stern's off for a couple weeks, I found first that this site, which I normally rely on to find huge, high quality images of classic movie stars, has a bunch of mp3s of old radio shows to download. Among other things, I downloaded a 1948 Lux production of Jane Eyre starring Ingrid Bergman I'm really eager to listen to.

Then, looking at links on the site, I found this site for Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. There're mp3s for direct download and a torrent if you scroll to the bottom of the page--lots of things I'm excited to listen to, including The Man Who was Thursday, Dracula, and The Magnificent Ambersons. That last one is exciting for the fact that it's sure to be another piece of Orson Welles' original vision, something to give one a better view on what he had made before his movie was degraded by the studio's reworking. The conversation between Orson Welles and H.G. Wells should also be a good listen.

Really sleepy to-day. Not much sleep, but I'm trying to ease myself into being up massively early to-morrow and the next day.

Last night's tweets;

Bright Tron bowels unwind for the holidays.
Apple juice can't digest cinnamon well.
Booze separates from the blood of Tuesdays.
Modern clay pots have no secrets to tell.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Apres Guerre

Before you make any decisions about anything in life, you need to listen to this song.

Unexpectedly short on time to-day. I'd hoped to have finished all my Christmas shopping by now, but there's one more thing I need. I've already pencilled and inked a page, though, so I'm feeling good.

A couple nights ago, I watched Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog again, which was a perfect antidote for Avatar, though maybe any film noir would be. Maybe this is key to why I'm missing the point--I need heroes who are flawed, people we don't necessarily hate if they're bad. I guess Avatar is, at the end of the day, for kids, and it's not one of those shrewd kid movies with things for adults as well, but maybe the kids, and the childlike adults, deserve movies just for them now and then.

I'm still not as incensed about the racial elements as a lot of people seem to be. Yes, it's a fantasy about escaping white guilt and proving that the natives need the white man to show them what to do. But only if you watch the movie with a certain functioning knowledge base. There are other perspectives. For example, the way I read it, the Na'vi aren't as smart as the humans because they don't need to be. Think about it--as Sully learned, many of their acrobatic skills are sort of encoded in their bodies, the planet provides everything they need to survive comfortably and receive feelings of validation. In fact, this is why the movie annoyed me so much.

So they're not dumb because they're secretly black people--they're dumb because they have all the intelligence they've evolved needing. Well, then I guess we'd get into issues of eugenics since the colonial/native dichotomy still rather asks one to think of foreign powers subjugating indigenous peoples.

Okay. So what if it's a racist movie? Are we non-racists really so great? There's a racist clown on The Howard Stern Show named Yucko and, you know what? He's pretty funny. Of course, integral to his humour is pointing out the absurdity and repulsiveness of racism.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I don't want to ruin the movie for you.

Wait, why am I apologising to racists? Unless you're not racists, and I'm still just missing something. Sumimasen!

Last night's tweets;

Plastic makes cups of water for bottles.
Lunch is a Subway sandwich with chow mein.
In the shade of Rupert Murdoch's wattles,
No robot blue bug light burns in vain.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Wardrobe Might Be Far Enough

Twitter Sonnet #93

Rodents wonder what their brothers will find.
Small quick eyes peer back at the van of drunks.
Sake's better than beer and pot combined.
But the knowledge hides in the squirrels' tree trunks.
Blue people are very spiritual.
And I like shopping malls that never close.
Pink glow sticks hardwired my schedule.
It's never too late for men to wear hose.
All lizard men are immune to poison.
Other listed specimens never age.
Basil Rathbone dreams of sober treason.
Mariah Carey lives on a soundstage.
When people are sitting, they're not shopping.
The inkless pen's aroused near to popping.

If nothing else, the new, Ridley Scott directed Robin Hood looks like it'll have good costumes. I don't think there's any question it'll be better than the Kevin Costner movie.

On the bad end of the costume spectrum, I got a look at some of the especially ugly costume designs for Dragon Age: Origins at Tim's house last night;

From the left, we have the classic pink undershirt over purple blouse followed by an old woman with breast emphasising leather girdle featuring extra support from suspenders and tiny shoulder pads which also emphasise the dislocated look of the oddly attached 3PO arms. After the man back with shield, there's a young woman who I happen to remember is a lady in waiting apparently wearing a tunic she bought at a modern Native American tourist shop, complete with oddly placed beadwork and a belt that must be painted or sewn on because it creates no visible indentation in the cloth. Then we have what appears to be a Renaissance version of the original costume for Watchmen's The Comedian.

None of these people are dressed like they're from the same country, there's little or no distinction for social class in the costumes, and everyone has massive hands, though I guess that's an anatomy thing.

I watched the 10th episode of Dollhouse with breakfast to-day, which was better than the ninth episode, but not at all close to the quality of episodes earlier in the season. The show seems now hellbent on abandoning all the ambiguity about the nature of the human mind and has settled on just calling the people brainwashed with real personalities underneath. I don't think Eliza Dushku's great at playing multiple characters, but I didn't anticipate All Echo, All the Time would be this dull. But the combined dream state of The Attic in this episode was kind of interesting, and Victor and Sierra are still really cute together, even if I wish their relationship had advanced very differently. I love how he looks sort of like a classic movie star and she sort of looks like an alien.

A nice surprise in the episode was an actor named Adam Godley, who I guess I've seen on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, though I don't remember him. Here, he really impressed me with a performance that very naturally switches from pathetic to subtly threatening in an instant. If someone were casting a live action Gollum, this guy would be perfect. And he seems like a cross between Peter O'Toole and Malcolm McDowell.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blue People are the Best People in the World

One key to understanding Avatar, I think, is something James Cameron said when I saw him at Comic-Con. As I wrote in my entry reacting to that presentation, "Cameron talked about how, although the Navi, Saldana's people, were aliens, they represented the spiritually superior side of humanity, while the humans represented a corrupted side."

One of the few negative reactions I've seen to the movie, by Mike Russell at Ain't It Cool News, talks about how an earlier script for Avatar was, in his opinion, superior to the finished project for having more psychologically complex human characters as well as a portrait of Earth massively overpopulated with people desperately in need of the new resource which the marines and Giovanni Ribisi's corporation are on Pandora to obtain, called "unobtainium".

Titanic's often criticised for its weak characters, and Cameron's defence at the time was that the characters were meant to be archetypes. In Avatar, the idea is that the Na'vi and the humans represent two sides of the human soul, a story which would naturally be diluted by psychological complexity on either side. The Na'vi resemble the indigenous peoples of South America in clothing and mannerisms with the humans resembling conquering Europeans. With clear references to modern struggles between super-powers and foreign countries over natural resources, it seems Cameron's presenting an essay on a basic, perennial human struggle.

Meanwhile, it's also a pulp science fiction adventure, greatly resembling, as many reviews have pointed out, Princess of Mars--a military man, transported to an alien world eventually earns the trust of the indigenous peoples and eventually becomes their leader. Like a lot of great fantasy fiction, the story is indulgence for the male ego, featuring a guy who has an inner strength unseen by the world's oppressive hostility but that allows him to both physically and spiritually best everyone, proving to even his most potent friends and foes that his point of view is the right one. So Cameron's taking some of the very instincts that made the European conquerors do what they did and saying that they can be used for good. Yes, you may say that Sully had his opinion changed from aiding the military to aiding the Na'vi, but it is only because he realised the Na'vi better serve his true motives--finding a people and a way of life that recognise his value and in which he's able to prove himself and earn respect by his own means.

I don't like people who dismiss fantasy for being simplistic, indulgent fantasy. I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with such fantasy--in this complex world, it's good to have hypothetical situations in a vacuum that allow us to reaffirm our basic ideas of goodness.

And on a similar vein, I don't mind the use of a certain racial stereotype for characters like the Na'vi. In his review for The Princess and the Frog, Roger Ebert said, "It is notable that this is Disney's first animated feature since Song of the South (1946) to feature African-American characters, and if the studio really never is going to release that film on DVD, which seems more innocent by the day, perhaps they could have lifted 'Zip-a-dee Doo-Dah' from it and plugged that song in here." I went to YouTube and watched some clips from Song of the South and it occurred to me that although Uncle Remus is a reflection of American attitudes to categorise black people in certain personality types, most importantly as people who are happy with the status quo, he's also a likeable and evidently wise character and any child ignorant of the history behind the character type could certainly take from the film an innocent, happy experience.

Now, let me tell you why I didn't like Avatar.

The beginning of Avatar exhibits Cameron's talent for efficient narrative flow--we're given a lot of spoken exposition as well as visual data about the universe in which Sully lives very fast and with little ambiguity. You could say this is to accommodate the shorter attention spans of modern audiences, but, so what? This is the modern language, and so this is the language one uses to tell a story. When I saw the preview footage at Comic-Con, I remember thinking the military stuff is the best part. This stuff is really second nature to Cameron, and in fact the characters strongly resemble new versions of characters from Aliens--as Stephen Lang himself observed at Comic-Con, his character, Colonel Quaritch, is the character Michael Biehn would have played had he been in the film. There's also a Paul Reiser analogue in the form of Giovanni Ribisi and a Vasquez in the form of Michelle Rodriguez. The difference now is that Cameron hates his old self--this is a reversal of Aliens, with the aliens being the good characters versus the evil, invading human marines. Somewhere along the line, Cameron got a new philosophy. The old him which wanted to tell visceral stories of guns and monsters frightens the new him which feels his movies, as he put it at Comic-Con, now need a "conscience"--instincts of conquest and violence have to be tempered with sensitivity for other people. Cameron's always considered himself a feminist, putting female characters in the foreground, often proving themselves as badass as men, but he no longer trusts his ability to write female characters, which is why all the female characters in Avatar are the simplest and most purely good in the movie. Yes, as I said, complex characters would detract from his allegory, so this isn't strictly a problem for the film, though it does make the characters far less interesting, of course. But I respect that it's not meant to be that kind of movie.

The problem is that Cameron's argument comes from ignorance and naiveté. Yes, we should respect and honour nature and its folly to plunder natural resources at the cost of harmony. In fact, at the cost of paradise, for paradise is where the Na'vi live. This is the inherent problem--the Na'vi don't really have problems. They face danger, but mostly it's danger they choose, taming the dangerous beasts to establish feelings of worth for themselves and their peers. And the Na'vi are super strong and skilled, and we never see a Na'vi killed by anything but invading humans. They even have a certifiable afterlife (though I've never understood the modern idea that having memories preserved is as good as continued life in another realm). Life's good when an omnipresent God, or World Mommy, is looking out for you while allowing you to play the self-reliance game. It's a conservative perspective in liberal clothes. Or, hell, maybe both liberals and conservatives want a story that tells them everything's going to be okay at the end.

But when you realise this, you realise that the Na'vi are an extremely privileged community who are like children in the Garden of Eden. Innocents. Which, of course, is the bottom of the noble savage stereotype. The humans are sinners from a world where pillaging natural resources is often a matter of life or death. To put it simply, Avatar's fundamental philosophy is extremely childish and insulting. I like a story of good versus evil--I'll never stop enjoying Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. But that story never claimed the protagonists were pure souls, and neither, for that matter, did Princess of Mars of its characters.

This is one of the reasons why Princess Mononoke is a superior film. The moment where Ashitaka stands between Eboshi and San with the demon energy surrounding him, showing them the face of the common seed of hate in both characters, whose violent acts are also both in the interest of noble ideas of survival for their peoples, is a far more beautiful and insightful moment than the whole of Avatar. I would say Princess Mononoke's a better film in just about every way, including its visuals as I still find Avatar's palette to be dull and uninteresting, its even lighting and colourisation, its true, being necessary for 3D, the result is nonetheless a grey mess in comparison to the far cheaper animated feature. And, obviously it's just me, but I still don't find this cgi superior to traditional cell animation. But I guess that's another kettle of fish at this point.

A part of me is really sorry I can't enjoy this movie as much as other people seem to, and part of me is depressed that so many intelligent people seem to be taken in by it. There's a religious quality to the glowing and insubstantial reactions I've been seeing to the film--I've been suspecting for a while that Roger Ebert's been taking money from studios to cover medical costs, but that doesn't explain the 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Me, I'm the heretic who would love to see a movie where the aliens from Aliens infest Pandora.

Last night's tweets;

Blue people are very spiritual.
And I like shopping malls that never close.
Pink glow sticks hardwired my schedule.
It's never too late for men to wear hose.

Life's Connexions

I just got back from seeing Avatar I'll post my reaction to-morrow, but for now, here's a bit from War and Peace I read to-night that I thought was appropriate;

In the evening Andrei and Pierre got into the open carriage and drove to Bald Hills. Prince Andrei, glancing at Pierre, broke the silence now and then with remarks which showed that he was in a good temper.

Pointing to the fields, he spoke of the improvements he was making in his husbandry.

Pierre remained gloomily silent, answering in monosyllables and apparently immersed in his own thoughts.

He was thinking that Prince Andrei was unhappy, had gone astray, did not see the true light, and that he, Pierre, ought to aid, enlighten, and raise him. But as soon as he thought of what he should say, he felt that Prince Andrei with one word, one argument, would upset all his teaching, and he shrank from beginning, afraid of exposing to possible ridicule what to him was precious and sacred.

"No, but why do you think so?" Pierre suddenly began, lowering his head and looking like a bull about to charge, "why do you think so? You should not think so."

"Think? What about?" asked Prince Andrei with surprise.

"About life, about man's destiny. It can't be so. I myself thought like that, and do you know what saved me? Freemasonry! No, don't smile. Freemasonry is not a religious ceremonial sect, as I thought it was: Freemasonry is the best expression of the best, the eternal, aspects of humanity."

And he began to explain Freemasonry as he understood it to Prince Andrei. He said that Freemasonry is the teaching of Christianity freed from the bonds of State and Church, a teaching of equality, brotherhood, and love.

"Only our holy brotherhood has the real meaning of life, all the rest is a dream," said Pierre. "Understand, my dear fellow, that outside this union all is filled with deceit and falsehood and I agree with you that nothing is left for an intelligent and good man but to live out his life, like you, merely trying not to harm others. But make our fundamental convictions your own, join our brotherhood, give yourself up to us, let yourself be guided, and you will at once feel yourself, as I have felt myself, a part of that vast invisible chain the beginning of which is hidden in heaven," said Pierre.

Prince Andrei, looking straight in front of him, listened in silence to Pierre's words. More than once, when the noise of the wheels prevented his catching what Pierre said, he asked him to repeat it, and by the peculiar glow that came into Prince Andrei's eyes and by his silence, Pierre saw that his words were not in vain and that Prince Andrei would not interrupt him or laugh at what he said.

They reached a river that had overflowed its banks and which they had to cross by ferry. While the carriage and horses were being placed on it, they also stepped on the raft.

Prince Andrei, leaning his arms on the raft railing, gazed silently at the flooding waters glittering in the setting sun.

"Well, what do you think about it?" Pierre asked. "Why are you silent?"

"What do I think about it? I am listening to you. It's all very well.... You say: join our brotherhood and we will show you the aim of life, the destiny of man, and the laws which govern the world. But who are we? Men. How is it you know everything? Why do I alone not see what you see? You see a reign of goodness and truth on earth, but I don't see it."

Pierre interrupted him.

"Do you believe in a future life?" he asked.

"A future life?" Prince Andrei repeated, but Pierre, giving him no time to reply, took the repetition for a denial, the more readily as he knew Prince Andrei's former atheistic convictions.

"You say you can't see a reign of goodness and truth on earth. Nor could I, and it cannot be seen if one looks on our life here as the end of everything. On earth, here on this earth" (Pierre pointed to the fields), "there is no truth, all is false and evil; but in the universe, in the whole universe there is a kingdom of truth, and we who are now the children of earth are- eternally- children of the whole universe. Don't I feel in my soul that I am part of this vast harmonious whole? Don't I feel that I form one link, one step, between the lower and higher beings, in this vast harmonious multitude of beings in whom the Deity- the Supreme Power if you prefer the term- is manifest? If I see, clearly see, that ladder leading from plant to man, why should I suppose it breaks off at me and does not go farther and farther? I feel that I cannot vanish, since nothing vanishes in this world, but that I shall always exist and always have existed. I feel that beyond me and above me there are spirits, and that in this world there is truth."

"Yes, that is Herder's theory," said Prince Andrei, "but it is not that which can convince me, dear friend- life and death are what convince. What convinces is when one sees a being dear to one, bound up with one's own life, before whom one was to blame and had hoped to make it right" (Prince Andrei's voice trembled and he turned away), "and suddenly that being is seized with pain, suffers, and ceases to exist.... Why? It cannot be that there is no answer. And I believe there is.... That's what convinces, that is what has convinced me," said Prince Andrei.

"Yes, yes, of course," said Pierre, "isn't that what I'm saying?"

"No. All I say is that it is not argument that convinces me of the necessity of a future life, but this: when you go hand in hand with someone and all at once that person vanishes there, into nowhere, and you yourself are left facing that abyss, and look in. And I have looked in...."

"Well, that's it then! You know that there is a there and there is a Someone? There is the future life. The Someone is- God."

Prince Andrei did not reply. The carriage and horses had long since been taken off, onto the farther bank, and reharnessed. The sun had sunk half below the horizon and an evening frost was starring the puddles near the ferry, but Pierre and Andrei, to the astonishment of the footmen, coachmen, and ferrymen, still stood on the raft and talked.

"If there is a God and future life, there is truth and good, and man's highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must live, we must love, and we must believe that we live not only today on this scrap of earth, but have lived and shall live forever, there, in the Whole," said Pierre, and he pointed to the sky.

Prince Andrei stood leaning on the railing of the raft listening to Pierre, and he gazed with his eyes fixed on the red reflection of the sun gleaming on the blue waters. There was perfect stillness. Pierre became silent. The raft had long since stopped and only the waves of the current beat softly against it below. Prince Andrei felt as if the sound of the waves kept up a refrain to Pierre's words, whispering:

"It is true, believe it."

He sighed, and glanced with a radiant, childlike, tender look at Pierre's face, flushed and rapturous, but yet shy before his superior friend.

"Yes, if it only were so!" said Prince Andrei. "However, it is time to get on," he added, and, stepping off the raft, he looked up at the sky to which Pierre had pointed, and for the first time since Austerlitz saw that high, everlasting sky he had seen while lying on that battlefield; and something that had long been slumbering, something that was best within him, suddenly awoke, joyful and youthful, in his soul. It vanished as soon as he returned to the customary conditions of his life, but he knew that this feeling which he did not know how to develop existed within him. His meeting with Pierre formed an epoch in Prince Andrei's life. Though outwardly he continued to live in the same old way, inwardly he began a new life.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Controlling the Animals

The comic I did for Moira's auction is now online here. The script was written by Victoria Janssen and it's a sort of bonus item for her novel Moonlight Mistress, which is a romance novel about werewolves in World War 2, which seemed to me like a good idea.

If some of the art looks a bit washed out to you and the red wolf appears to be purple in some of the pages, it's because the versions of these pages I made were substantially darker. It appears Victoria or someone else altered the brightness to make these pages much brighter than I'd intended them to be. I suppose it's not really my place to complain--she paid money for these. But I wanted to make it clear this isn't how I intended these pages to look.

People have complained before that my night scenes are too dark, that some of the details in the images are difficult to see. I fully recognise I'm going against the grain with my philosophy but it's my opinion readers and audiences have been a bit spoiled in the last twenty years, particularly by internet media. When one watches a film or television show from the 1970s, one is often struck by extremely dark night scenes. Think of Ron Howard blundering about in American Graffiti and some of the exteriors in The Exorcist. Nowadays, massive floodlights are typically used for night scenes, night scenes in video games tend to look like blue filtered daylight. Yes, one can say the audience "gets the idea" that it's dark and with the artificial light plot information is more quickly transmitted. But consider what we're losing--the menace, the sense of not knowing what's in the darkness a few feet ahead. It is frustrating, it's supposed to be. And we used to be in a place where we had to trust the director that this was the right image, and the feelings were part of the experience of the story. Now, audience hands in the pie has inevitably diluted the flavour.

Anyway, otherwise, I enjoyed working on the project. I think I like drawing cats better than wolves, but I did like drawing them. I put my original versions of the pages online here.

Speaking of animals and erotica, the first thing I saw when I got to the zoo yesterday was this;

If you can't quite tell what's going on, I wasn't sure either. But after the middle anoa walked away, I saw his penis retracting. So I guess he provides the communal protein for this outfit.

This monkey footage contains brief, graphic masturbation;

I'm pretty sure the little ones are of the same kind Klaus Kinski's seen tossing around in Aguirre, the Wrath of God.

Watching this warthog eat was fascinating. It was like watching a dinosaur eat;

I was really close to this lounging Jaguar, whose name is Oscar, according to a woman who was standing next to me, but the cage mesh makes him a little hard to see in the picture. He was staring at us with a distinctly unimpressed expression.

I particularly wanted to see this "Elephant Odyssey" thing the zoo's been promoting all year. It turned out to not only be about elephants but also about the prehistoric relatives of elephants as well as prehistoric relatives of other animals that dwell in elephant habitats.

Those are the bones of a large, prehistoric bear and a sabretooth cat.

The lions seemed far more interested in the zoo keepers on the other side of their enclosure, but I managed to get a couple decent pictures;

This jaguar had a lot more energy than Oscar--this one clearly wanted out, though I think they all do. Music's "When I Got Troubles" by Bob Dylan.

And, of course there were elephants;

I found this life size statue of a prehistoric hawk pretty astonishing;

Dung beetles, folks!

I rather liked the layout of this condor enclosure.

Meerkats engaged in a frightening search;

Music's from the Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei soundtrack.

Last night's tweets;

Rodents wonder what their brothers will find.
Small quick eyes peer back at the van of drunks.
Sake's better than beer and pot combined.
But the knowledge hides in the squirrels' tree trunks.