Saturday, March 31, 2012

Star Skips

I'm glad Star Trek, and most dramatic TV shows, eventually outgrew the series comprised of stand-alone episodes format. I finished the first season of Star Trek a few days ago--I watched the season in production order rather than broadcast order, hoping for more of a sense of continuity but aside from apparent permanent changes in the composition of the Enterprise crew, there's little to show in each episode that the previous episode occurred. "Space Seed", the episode that introduced Khan Noonien Singh, was largely exciting just for the sense of it relating to a later story.

Of the last three episodes of the season, "City on the Edge of Forever" is easily the best, but I can see at least one of the reasons why Harlan Ellison was upset about the changes made to his original script (well, I strongly agree with him on two points, but I'll get to the second later). The staff writers at Star Trek found the script too long for an hour long episode, which, of course, is true. You need to more than an hour to establish two people meeting and falling in love if you want to bring the viewer into that. The concept is present in the episode and is interesting, but at an almost purely intellectual level. Edith Keeler comes across a bit too two dimensional, and the dialogue between Kirk and Spock about her is damaged by the inclusion of stingers for the commercial break, causing them to say absurdly broad things, like Spock saying, "Edith Keeler must die!"

A second point on which I agree with Ellison regards this issue, quoting from Wikipedia;

. . . several plot elements—such as a member of the crew dealing drugs and Kirk preparing to sacrifice his crew to be with Edith—led the producers to decide that Ellison's teleplay was simply "not Star Trek."

To me, this sounds like the producers just being too possessive. Kirk had acted like a deranged killer in just the previous episode, "Errand of Mercy", where he was prepared to go to war with the Klingon Empire apparently just to prove that war is a valid means of solving problems. That episode was written by Gene L. Coon, who for some reason tended to get carte blanche at the show, even though he was responsible for some of the worst episodes.

Even in the form that aired, one of the best things about "The City on the Edge of Forever" in contrast to other episodes was its sense of complexity, the sense that the crew wasn't confronting just one issue. We never find out what the Guardian of Forever is, how it came into being, what the motives were in making it. And the stuff with McCoy I actually found to be my favourite part of the episode. DeForest Kelley has the most interesting stuff to work with here; instead of broad romance, he gets disorientation and bewilderment. It's very easy to get a handle on McCoy's perspective--coming out of a drugged haze unexpectedly in 1930, the outrage at being stopped from saving the life of a kind woman. So often, but here especially, McCoy is the most grounded character and Kelley's naturalistic performance is a huge part of that.

Generally speaking, the strongest single quality of the series so far has been performances. Even Shatner's. And one can see how the supporting cast earned their positions--it's Kelley's performance that eventually made him the third billed--the original opening credits had only Shatner and Nimoy. The rest of the crew, too--there were other helmsmen and engineers cycled through before the show settled with the superior performances of George Takei and James Doohan. And there's a subtle moment in the season finale where Uhura has to tell an angry and impatient Kirk that she still can't get through to his brother on a colony in crisis. All she says is something like, "I still can't get through, Captain." but it has just the right level of her own anger provoked by him suppressed by her cognisance of and sympathy for his anxiety.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Black Tea over Porridge

I'll warn you now, it's important to have a great deal of alcohol or some other form of sedative if you plan on watching 2011's The Deep Blue Sea. It's only this way that you can appreciate the beautiful imagery and the terrific performances by the two leads in spite of the fact that it's a story about two annoying, insubstantial characters who have no chemistry.

When I saw Roger Ebert's review for the movie yesterday, I got excited because the movie stars Tom Hiddleston, an actor who's just coming into prominence and one I'd been wanting to see in a lead role, preferably, after seeing him in War Horse, in a movie set in England before 1960. The Deep Blue Sea is set in London, as a title tells us early on, "Around 1950", cuing us immediately into the fact that this will be more a stylistic exercise than a hardcore period film, which is fine with me.

Rachel Weisz stars opposite Hiddleston, and the story follows her POV. She leaves her wealthy, well connected husband for the younger, more passionate and exciting RAF pilot played by Hiddleston. The very first scene in the movie is her trying to kill herself because Hiddleston forgot her birthday. She turns on the gas and the soundtrack just goes and blasts violins and one either has to exert a massive effort of will to take the movie seriously or have entered the theatre having just been dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Even in the latter case I'm pretty sure the person would probably pause and ask, "Because . . . he forgot her birthday?"

Now, one would be inclined to assume that there are broader issues at work, that this was only the straw that broke the camel's back. Unfortunately, by starting with the crescendo, I felt pretty disengaged and the movie that followed didn't help humanise any character, including Hiddleston, who just comes off as a petulant jerk when he leaves Weisz after her suicide attempt.

We never really get a sense of what drove Weisz to go with Hiddleston or what drove him to go with her. Except maybe lust, as several characters remark. In which case, it might have been better if the movie had been sexier. No-one even really gets naked in it. It needed something to show us that fucking each other was the greatest thing in the world for these two people, overriding all other things. Instead we get a movie of people mostly standing around uncomfortably or yelling at each other.

Weisz talks about being addicted to passion, which is certainly a familiar sort of personality, but despite a decent performance by Weisz, she never quite seems to connect with this sort of character. Maybe if the movie had starred Bjork it would've worked.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Best Time to Find Hair in Your Custard

I kind of love how demographics work in Japanese media. Just a little exposure to examples of shonen, shojo, seinen and josei reveals the Western concept of the "male gaze" as neurotic bullshit. It's not a sinister subconscious plot to keep one sex down, it's just unabashedly catering to demographics. Of course, a movie is better when it doesn't do that, but we all like junk food now and then. I saw an example unexpectedly last night, ちょんまげぷりん (Chyonmage Purin), a 2010 film based on a josei (for women) manga. It's a sweet film, an indulgence especially for an independent female viewer.

My Japanese teacher was out sick last night and she left Chyonmage Purin with the substitute teacher to show us. I need to write a summary of the film in English for class. I think the idea was for us to watch the movie without subtitles to see if we could pick up enough of what people were saying to write the gist of what was happening, but unfortunately several of my classmates coerced the substitute into turning the subtitles on. Though I think I could have come up with an accurate enough summary if the subtitles were off and the sound was muted--it's not a terribly complicated movie. It concerns a single mother played by pop idol Rie Tomosaka who has an office job she has to juggle with caring for her young, around five year old son. One night, they come across a young samurai who has been transported in time from the Edo period by a Buddha statue.

The setup here is not unlike James Mangold's Kate & Leopold but Chyonmage Purin is less of a science fiction film, which is saying something. The samurai character is barely a character at all, lacking a fundamental personality, his behaviour is dictated almost entirely by what would be the most attractive or funny thing for him to do at any given moment. When Tomosaka's kid throws a tantrum at a fast food restaurant, the samurai yells at him and tells him of a child's duty to respect his elders. When the kid is sick later, the samurai giggles in innocent pleasure when the kid likes the custard he makes for him. When he takes over domestic duties for Tomosaka, we see him having already studied the minutia of grocery shopping, fine tuning a trip to the supermarket to a science, but a scene later he draws his sword on the phone when it rings. Those who've seen Seven Samurai know what a dramatic step it was for a samurai to cut his hair, but in Chyonmage Purin the samurai cuts his hair for a more modern look without complaint.

"Chyonmage" is the distinctive top knotted hairstyle initially worn by the samurai and "purin" is custard. It's a more appropriate title than the one western distributors gave the film, A Boy and His Samurai. This latter title would suggest the story follows the kid and the samurai but the movie's more about Tomosaka's character and how she perceives and manages the two boys. The main point of conflict comes when the samurai, having won a televised cooking contest, embarks on a career as a chef and asks Tomosaka to quit her job to take care of the household while he works. This was exactly why Tomosaka had left her husband, so she kicks out the samurai, who had initially seemed like a more sensitive and adaptable man than her ex. I'm not sure how much irony was actually intended by having a feudal warrior display more openness to progressive ideas than a modern man. The impression I had was more that the samurai in this movie was meant to be old fashioned only insofar as old fashioned behaviour suited the idealised fantasy. You can probably guess how this one point of conflict is eventually resolved.

My favourite aspect of the film was Tomosaka's performance--she gives by far the most complex performance, her range of emotions keeping us anchored to her POV while the other characters behave more broadly. Chyonmage Purin is a nice little cup of custard, and all right so long as you don't take it as a full course meal.

Twitter Sonnet #369

Helicopter salads overflowed grass.
Bladed soil's nature's sorry soldier.
Peace pickles burden the Klingon ass.
Geishas posed to Alice no real danger.
Toes owe moss a small rice field thought bubble.
Inky Motts goes to the black apple tree.
Kites shine on the office member's rubble.
You may know of "Eric the Half-a-Bee".
Custard concerns many time travellers.
Sweet snow is severed by the samurai.
Salt sinks the square cut mushroom revellers.
Siegfried woke up with Wotan's other eye.
Cylinders steal the sweetness of the dot.
Natural mugs tie a masculine knot.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who is It? Who will It Be?

It's a duck's world, we're just living in it.

I seem to have recovered a lot better from the port I had last night than I did on Sunday. Sometimes I get these oppressive, total lobotomy hangovers from red wine that I don't get from any other alcoholic beverage, maybe it shouldn't surprise me that I can get that kind of hangover twice as bad from port. But it wasn't bad enough to keep me from drinking more last night--Saturday was the first time I'd ever tried port and, wow, fantastic stuff. Like candy, and it went really well with the microwaved garlic and onion on toasted bread with melted provolone, olive oil, basil, oregano, and sliced tomato sandwich I've been having for a snack in the evening.

I've noticed garlic catches fire in the microwave around two thirds of the time. It's brief, though, they go off like little firecrackers and it doesn't seem to effect the flavour much.

A couple days ago I watched the trailer for the upcoming season of Doctor Who;

I guess they figured the scars have healed enough from The Gunfighters to risk trying to do another Western episode. Looks like they actually might have shot in the U.S. too, though I'd be perfectly satisfied if it was shot in Spain.

I'm heartened by the absence of River in the trailer. I hope the River arc has, er, run its course. I thought maybe they'd need a final episode of it until I remembered, oh, yeah, that was her first episode. It would be kind of cool if they had her encounter the seventh Doctor or something in the fiftieth anniversary special, I say that despite feeling she was always a too hastily conceived character and that her relationship with the Doctor never felt substantial. It would still be kind of fun to see evidence she's all over the Doctor's timeline.

People are already talking about the fiftieth anniversary episode which will air next year. Obviously they have to do something special. The tenth and twentieth anniversary episodes featured all the Doctors that had been established up to that point, with a different actor substituting for William Hartnell as the first Doctor in The Five Doctors since Hartnell had already died. I kind of hope they don't do anything like that for this one. I do very strongly want Tom Baker in the episode. Here's my fantasy premise;

Since this'll be the end of Matt Smith's third season and the Doctor will probably be regenerating anyway, I'd like to see something go wrong with the regeneration, like maybe the Doctor's poisoned or something. So instead of his body constructing a new form, it reverts to an old matrix, aged because of the matrix degradation or temporal displacement. So first Smith turns into the tenth Doctor and has the episode progresses, as he's looking for a cure, he continues to regenerate into older Doctors. He has to find the cure before getting to zero.

That's my fantasy. They need to do something anyway and whatever it is I hope it's not too forced and sentimental.

I was watching Siegfried again last night. That final duet between Siegfried and Brunnhilde just completely takes my breath away every time. In addition to being beautiful, I love how it continues the theme established from Sigmund and Sieglinde's duet of lovers being reflections of each other. It's not as troubled as it is Die Walkure and instead the duet in Siegfried is about the fear involved in one's own identity getting caught up in their impression of someone else. It's like Vertigo except things work out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ikea Desk of Horror Movies

Intimate dread evoked by ecological, economic, and social circumstances, an atmosphere of dread created by the anxieties that manifest when tripped by a single, overarching fear. 2011's Take Shelter is a horror film founded on the threat of imminent, dangerous climate change as well as the treachery of one's own mind. It succeeds where M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening failed spectacularly. It's not a masterpiece, in fact it's in many ways rather unimaginative. It's "well made" in the unflattering sense of the phrase, but a perfectly decent little haunted house.

Michael Shannon stars as another high strung, creepy guy, this one named Curtis. Again, he's playing a guy who seems like he might shatter his teeth for the grinding at any moment. And Shannon does excel at this. Curtis certainly has a lot to worry about--he's having dreams and hallucinations of an apocalyptic storm that rains motor oil which seems to turn people into murderous zombies. So, like a man who's received a divine vision, he starts building an expensive underground storm shelter.

Religion isn't addressed too directly, but we get the sense that Curtis and his family are at the very least deeply conservative. At the same time he takes measures in case the visions are true, he's also conscious that his mother is a paranoid schizophrenic and begins to see a counsellor at a free clinic. I feel like the movie might have been an attempt to persuade conservative audiences of the veracity of some issues considered liberal--Curtis and his young daughter's health needs are inadequately addressed by the health insurance Curtis gets through his job, his concern for his own masculinity prevents him from confiding in his wife about his dreams, and of course, the whole town growing to distrust him for his dramatic predictions of natural disaster makes him seem like the Al Gore of his microcosm.

The filmmakers use these political issues to create tension in the story, which is about 75% effective, and I suspect will seem less so in twenty five years, unless poor healthcare become romanticised like the Old West, which, who knows? Maybe it will.

Another thing that makes the creative scope of the movie feel narrow is the surprising quantity of familiar faces. Curtis' best friend is played by Shea Whigham, one of Michael Shannon's costars on Boardwalk Empire, his mother's played by Kathy Baker, his counsellor is played by Lisa Gay Hamilton from The Practice. Almost every time a character is introduced I recognised him or her from somewhere else. Which I have no objection to in itself but it contributes to the feeling that this movie came through a system. Particularly in the case of Curtis' wife, played by Jessica Chastain, who was all of a sudden in seven movies in 2011. The familiar faces somehow compliment the inert characterisations. Chastain's character doesn't seem to have any personality to speak of, she just reacts predictably mad when she finds out her husband's been keeping things from her, has a just credible mix of anxiety about and faith in her husband.

Curtis' dreams and hallucinations also feel sort of pre-packaged. The zombie people jumping out unexpectedly--one standing motionless in the road, causing him to hit a tree with his car, another staring eerily through a window at his house--they're all familiar bits from other zombie movies. There's some business with Curtis' dog that was taken from Suspiria. It deploys these bits well enough, they made me jump. But it felt like the director was chaining together movie moments that effectively made him uncomfortable rather than thinking of how to use the language of cinema to convey his own unease.

If a movie were a multiple choice test, director Jeff Nichols got every question right in Take Shelter. Which is impressive, in a way. The movie's a nice little horror review.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Time of the Baby

This is a young lizard I saw on Saturday. I sure have been seeing a lot of baby animals lately. I guess that means it's spring. It's been raining a lot lately, too, which I'm getting kind of tired of.

Poor Snow and his missing tail. Though every time I see him now a part of me thinks, "Oh, what a tiny bear." It is kind of cute when he wiggles it.

I really hope a microphone accidentally picking up Obama saying to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, "After my election I have more flexibility" doesn't endanger his chances of being re-elected. I mean, it's absurdly obvious that neither Romney nor Santorum has a chance in hell of beating him, but I can just see the American public squirming at the truth being expressed so plainly. It's certainly not a conclusion the 24 hour news networks would want anyone to reach. The last thing you want in a soap opera is a conclusion.

So now I can use for tags on this Live Journal entry "cats, baby animals" and "Medvedev". That should net me a few hundred extra page views.

Now hear this;

Twitter Sonnet #368

Glowing beakers make the tile turn blue.
Leafy hats take the itch from the great sky.
Hollowed hills hide the spoiled Mountain Dew.
The empty reindeer heads don't have to lie.
Stain glass antennae stir sticky cocktails.
Blonde brows rise when they meet a strange hairline.
Fingerprint dye thinks of saving the whales.
Gloomy Martians miss the quiet fraulein.
Computer concentration negates tea.
Orange mutant rabbit fur has unchecked growth.
Onigiri grains pack the seaweed tree.
Decay decreed by ducks takes the new loaf.
Sparkling bread squeezes out the pinched rose star.
How'd you take your bus for another's car?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scorpion People

A portrait of a world where everyone is violent, no-one can be trusted, and everyone is motivated purely by revenge. People in this world can only be satisfied and fulfilled through the abuse and killing of their objects of hatred. This is Female Convict 701: Scorpion (女囚701号/さそり), a 1972 Japanese exploitation film significantly lighter on sex and comedy than most Japanese exploitation films of the time. It's stylish, brutal, and a visceral joy.

Meiko Kaji, of the similarly bare boned revenge film Lady Snowblood, stars as Sasori/Scorpion, introduced when the film opens in solitary confinement, slowly scraping the end off a spoon to make it into a crude knife. Her face is focused and with little emotion, and we already know she's peculiarly dangerous.

Scorpion only has two lines in the movie, she seems to exist as some kind of silent, malevolent core for the group of women who escape from the prison, their days on the run forming the bulk of the film. They first take shelter in a ghost town where they witness a house blow apart to reveal a strange old woman within, reminding me strongly of the witch from Throne of Blood.

In a dream-like sequence, the old woman seems to present herself as a spiritual manifestation of all the escapees, and she tells us the nature of the crimes committed by the women, each one a murder committed for revenge or resentment, except one woman whose crime apparently was prostitution, which, the old woman tells us, caused men to become jealous, as though her crime wasn't prostitution so much as perpetuating revenge cycles.

Except the old woman omits Scorpion's crime, augmenting the impression of Scorpion as a manifestation of the women. Her silence and mystery also make her the most sympathetic character--with Meiko Kaji's considerable beauty she seems to just represent blank, pure humanity. So she works very satisfyingly as the group's agent of revenge.

The film doesn't take place in anything that could be mistaken for reality and its extreme visual style compliments this. I really liked how the prison seemed to be located near a town mysteriously abandoned and buried.

And there's a great sequence where we see the women abruptly among bright orange fall leaves which seem to devour the old woman like Robert DeNiro in Brazil, and afterwards the orange leaves are gone again.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Intergalactic Egg Ball

After two days of insufficient sleep, I'm really beginning to feel it. What did I dream about last night? Definitely something. I can't quite remember. There was a neon wire frame moth, something about a downward curving blue hallway . . . Nope, can't remember.

I'm nearly finished with the first season of Star Trek, having watched "The Devil in the Dark" last night, William Shatner's favourite episode. It's about a blob of sentient silicone who lays spherical eggs.

Spock melds with rock and they become Spock Rock. No, they don't actually call it that. But perhaps they should have. I don't know. I haven't had enough sleep to call it.

The rock was actually the only female character in the episode, which was somewhat disappointing, even if she was naked. Oof, I'm corny when I'm tired. Deal with it!

I heard somewhere that the makers of Doctor Who tend not to give much thought to canonical consistency while of course that's a hallmark of Star Trek--when something in an old episode doesn't fit with later canon, elaborate justifications are concocted to make it fit. And yet it's Star Trek, not Doctor Who, that tends to rely every episode so far on the characters doing at least one thing that doesn't make any sense. Like the miners in this episode who turn into a torch and pitchfork mob as soon as we learn the blob might not be evil. At the beginning of the episode, the blob had been impervious to phasers and would kill miners instantly. At the end, we're meant to think the blob is threatened by five miners wielding pipes and wrenches.

But I have to love the episode for doing something fundamental to Star Trek's charm--the Enterprise crew encounters alien life that seems hostile, and the story involves the value of establishing communication with it and the resolution is that peace has been attained without one side being obliterated or beaten. We could do with more stories like that nowadays, especially in Star Trek, not just for the sake of showing peace to be a good and sometimes accomplishable plan, but for variety's sake.

Bill Maher was pretty good last night;

The first part is a point about Rush Limbaugh I've been meaning to express as well. A lot of people, a few of them friends of mine, seem to be caught up in a campaign to get Limbaugh off the air. This has seemed like rather the wrong tact to me. As I said when the scandal about Limbaugh's comments regarding Fluke broke, I'd rather this turn into a dialogue about why what Limbaugh said was hypocritical and sexist than anything else. Getting him off the air might not literally be censorship, but silencing voices for being obnoxious and wrong is certainly in the spirit of censorship. And the problem with doing that is that when ideas aren't expressed in the light of day, they go underground and fester.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Old Games

I wonder why no-one complaining about how The Hunger Games ripped off Battle Royale is talking about how Battle Royale ripped off Vengeance on Varos

Or the three other Doctor Who stories with the same basic premise, one of which even preceded The Running Man (The War Games). Then there are episodes of Star Trek, gladiator movies . . . I guess Battle Royale is at just the right depth for the belligerent hipster.

But speaking of unwanted audiences for our bloody Sci-Fi/Fantasy battles, my computer abruptly shut off by itself last night at around 3am. When it came back, I found my anivirus, Avast, warning me with a big red box about an infected exe file brought to me by Steam, something Avast recommended I allow it to isolate before the computer booted up. Now I can't use Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, or Batman: Arkham Asylum because they're all wired up to Steam, which insists on trying to install its possibly infected exe file every time I try to use one of those games. Steam, glorious, Steam. Because we all just have to be connected at all times, don't we? I read aniviruses sometimes read normal Steam doings as threats, but Steam has been hacked, though not as infamously as Sony's Playstation network. But that's the price we pay for the assuredly essential inclusion of Steam community into our lives.

So I wasn't able to watch a movie on my computer last night because Avast takes around an hour or so for its pre-boot scan. I watched Excalibur on the old tube television. The old, fuzzy image actually made me feel nostalgic. I kind of get now why David Lynch likes using low quality digital cameras.

When I opened my browser a few minutes ago, my homepage set to Wikipedia's "random page" gave me this page on Nazi official Wilhelm Kube. Just this one guy's story illustrates the erroneously simplistic perspective American culture often tends to have on Nazis. This guy served at the Dachau concentration camp and ordered exterminations of Jewish populations and yet when SS slaughtered Jews without authorisation he reacted in horror, submitting a protest to Heinrich Himmler from which Wikipedia quotes;

The town was a picture of horror during the action. With indescribable brutality on the part of both the German police officers and particularly the Lithuanian partisans, the Jewish people, but also among them Belarusians, were taken out of their dwellings and herded together. Everywhere in the town shots were to be heard and in different streets the corpses of shot Jews accumulated. The Belarusians were in greatest distress to free themselves from the encirclement.

One wonders at the strange labyrinth of justifications and compartmentalisations that must have existed in this guy's head. Yet I was immediately reminded of the recent news about American army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales murdering civilians in Afghanistan. And I realised Wilhelm Kube may well have been horrified by the actions of Robert Bales. Kube, who oversaw the extermination of Jewish children, who threw candy to them as they were being buried alive.

All this, I think, mainly points to the human capacity to will simplicity into apparent existence where really only complexity exists. The story of Bales reminded me of the Mai Lai massacre, too. I would not be surprised if we heard about more atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq, committed by men who wove in their minds little Rambo tales.

Twitter Sonnet #367

Unsung sock savants sheath the harder feet.
Foreign foundries drip unending elk pee.
Drunkenness does not visit the wet beet.
An eyeball without legs can never see.
Fungal books bloom from the great central oak.
Female lists remove slices of the chart.
Toucan noses know the rectangle's broke.
And soon there will be only one K-Mart.
Lines of skywriter cocaine start the bet.
Companions canned by camera covered steel.
Bin arms retract to the terrace unmet.
Robot body paint makes a silver heel.
Brightly dyed felt absorbs at a brisk rate.
Ravenous Muppet exiles dehydrate.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An Anime or a Cuckoo?

But I did watch Nisemonogatari on Sunday, the last episode of the "Tsukihi Phoenix" story arc. And while it was better than the "Karen Bee" arc, I have to say it still wasn't nearly as good as any of the Bakemonogatari arcs. And I'm beginning to realise this has been something consistent throughout all of Akiyuki Shinbo's series--the second season of Maria Holic wasn't as good as the first, and Arakawa Under the Bridge wasn't as good as Natsu no Arashi!. I beginning to see Shinbo had kind of a golden era for a few years and now it's over, I'm not sure what happened.

The first episode of this latest Nisemonogatari arc had Araragi basically making out with his sister, so I thought this arc was maybe going to explore the nature of incest moe in anime the way Bakemonogatari used moe tropes to explore more psychologically complicated characterisations. But "Tsukihi Phoenix" winds up being something much more basic, a story about how Araragi's younger sister was a supernatural cuckoo, a tale maybe inspired by A Game of You, the Sandman arc. In any case, A Game of You is a much better story, as the resolution of "Tsukihi Phoenix" is a safer route of the character being accepted and loved even though she's not really human.

The arc had some nice images, though. I did particularly like the shot of a bird foetus inside an ancient doll;

But this story is just so banal, so mundane compared to the more complicated story about identity in the "Suruga Monkey" arc, the melancholy ghost story with its play on character perspective in "Mayoi Snail", or the manifestation of anxiety emerging in a sexually maturing girl in "Nadeko Snake". The feeling I'm getting is the same sense of diminished daring I got from the latter portion of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei's third season. Oh, well. I guess we'll always have the old episodes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New Things

The journal I had to write in Japanese yesterday does not reflect how busy I actually was, I think, though the assignment was to write about everything I did that day. Translated into English, it reads;

I ate a delicious breakfast.
I watched
I wrote a new comic script.
I walked to a busy store.
I bought a potato and a banana.
Then I went home.
I did a lot of homework.
I wrote a short poem.
I ate a normal dinner.
I drank some delicious whiskey.
I watched
Star Trek.
I watched a pink film.
I read an interesting book.
Then I went to sleep.

This gripping tale marks my latest foray into writing Japanese creative non-fiction. Well, actually, I made up a lot of that to pad the thing out. I didn't watch Nisemonogatari, Star Trek, or a pink film yesterday, and I didn't drink whiskey. I didn't know how to get the requisite number of sentences without lying. I spent a lot of time on that comic script, the third time I've rewritten the first chapter of my upcoming comic. I think I finally got a script that does what I want. Right now I'm projecting June as the month I'll have this thing online, if not sooner. It'd probably definitely be sooner if it weren't for Japanese class taking up so much of my time--I spent even more time on the homework yesterday. In addition to the journal, there were four worksheets and I still need to study for a quiz to-night. This is after we had two quizzes on Monday. I think this may be the most strenuous class I've ever taken.

One of Monday's quizzes was a kanji quiz. Among the latest batch of kanji I've learned is what I think is the most badass looking kanji character I've learned so far;

It just means "to return", though it looks to me like it could refer to the return of no less than Christ, Godzilla, or Kahless.

I see the new Doctor Who companion has been revealed;

I can't say I have any real problems with her so far, aside from the fact that she looks vaguely like Miley Cyrus. She is cute as a button, anyway. She obviously doesn't know anything about Doctor Who, picking Amy and Rory as her all time favourite companions and not seeming to have any answer for the "favourite Doctor" question. Which is slightly frustrating as it sounds like she's had plenty of time for research at this point. I guess she doesn't compare well to how immediately positive my reaction to Karen Gillan was. I feel like Gillan's potential was never fully realised, too, though I guess she does have a few episodes left. Still, I wish there'd been years of four to six episode long stories with just her and the Doctor, no Rory or River in the way. Oh, well.

Here's Snow licking his nose.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pretty Okay in Some Ways

Well, looks like I'm definitely not a paedophile. This has been reaffirmed for me after viewing 1978's Pretty Baby, the infamous debut film of twelve year old Brooke Shields. She's naked a lot in the movie, and in decidedly sexual situations, but the best part of the movie was that it ably showed exactly why I find paedophilia so baffling; kids are really fucking annoying. It's hard for me to imagine wanting to spend twenty minutes with one, let alone wanting to have sex with one. Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields give the only good performances in the film (and Barbara Steele, too, in a tiny role), which is otherwise kind of a slog through dated sentiment.

I kind of appreciated it, though. Maybe I would have appreciated it more if I was drinking. The movie takes place in early 20th century Storyville, in a brothel, and it never feels like an accurate depiction of the period. It does feel like the distinct 1970s/early 80s perspective on the first sixty years of the 20th century. That version of history where everything was peach and brown and most of the women wore poppy coloured lipstick. You see it in Chinatown, Pennies from Heaven, or Somewhere in Time. It made me kind of nostalgic not for the time it was depicting, but the version of that time that existed in the 1970s and 80s, and when moviegoers bought that the old days looked like that. But Pretty Baby involves a lot of sitting around, too, while the movie tries to make up its mind what to do next. The movie's mainly told from the POV of Shields' character, Violet, and as such a remarkably well rendered child, she brings some credibility to the environment though, again, not as an accurate depiction of the time.

The movie is partly inspired by the photographer E.J. Bellocq, who took many fascinating photographs in Storyville. A comparison between those actual photographs and the ones he's seen taking in the film illustrate the dated, stylistic mannerisms of the film that create a gulf between it and the spirit of the actual Storyville.

Bellocq himself is portrayed rather weakly by actor Keith Carradine, who falls for Violet rather unconvincingly. At times he seems like a man concerned for a child living in horrible conditions, at other times he leers ambiguously with presumably paedophiliac impulses. When he proposes marriage to her, it's exceedingly strange and a move rather unsupported by earlier events in the film when he mostly seemed pissed off at her for getting in the way of photographs or damaging negatives.

Carradine's bad performance stands beside a range of other flat and otherwise incompetent portrayals by actors. The brothel's madam, Nell, was played by an older woman with a specific kind of toneless, workhorse delivery that I figured she must have been someone whom the filmmakers considered it an honour to work with, someone who had some kind of distinguished, somewhat provocative career in her youth. I was right--turns out she was Frances Faye, a barely closeted lesbian singer and songwriter. Here she is when she was still energetic, with Bing Crosby and Martha Raye;

Twitter Sonnet #366

Thoughtless pilots bow their loops for the geese.
Physics overhauls aren't just for the breasts.
Some flesh need jiggle in the name of peace.
Dinosaur smut lines the bed of Loch Ness.
Lemon arches ignite cherry aether.
Scissors step down from the eight dollar chair.
Grey wax melts down marble into heather.
Factories collide with the smell of burnt hair.
Paper shrouds a false folding green table.
Birthdays parsed by compasses dry quickly.
Magnet noses smell the caucus label.
Shoelace octopi make muffins slickly.
Precious gauze wraps 1980's babies.
Old pianos echo inside Arby's.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Measures Taken to Avoid Immolation

I dreamt last night I went to a restaurant located at the other end of a huge bridge, like the San Francisco Bay Bridge, but the only thing at the other end of it was the restaurant. There was no parking even, so everyone left their cars on the bridge. There was no-one around yet, though it was sunset, and I decided to leave my car near the centre of the bridge and take a long walk to the restaurant. After I'd eaten, I came out to find the bridge crowded not only with other cars but with market stands. What's more, as I wandered up and down the bridge, I couldn't find my car and finally realised it was stolen. I went into the city searching for it, and somehow my search led me to a little shop that sold magical, antique novelty items--one thing I remembered seeing on a shelf was a bleeding hand. Behind the counter was Christopher Benjamin as Mister Jago, which, together with the bleeding hand, tips me off my dream was influenced by having watching the first episode of The Talons of Weng-Chiang before bed last night. I suspected that in addition to selling dangerous magical items, Jago was also running a chop shop where my car was currently being stripped for parts, but I had no way of proving it.

I also watched Star Trek last night--"A Taste of Armageddon". So what does Armageddon taste like? I like to think haggis, if only because the episode contains this immortal line;

Now that's a meal surely in jeopardy.

The episode also features satisfying instances of Spock being a stone cold badass. Twice he just walks up to guards and gives them the neck pinch. Later in the episode, he's seen strolling down a corridor flanked by disguised Enterprise security officers like Darth Vader.

The episode also features two hot dames. A blonde wearing little more than a length of cloth precariously balanced on her shoulder and Kirk's latest handmaiden yeoman, an adorable little Asian named Tamura. Though maybe she was Spock's girl. At one point the landing party takes defensive positions in a corridor and she can be seen hiding her face behind Spock.

She's like a baby reasoning that if she can't see them, they can't see her, and anyway they wouldn't get past the wall of Vulcan stud she's got there.

At one point Spock leaves Tamura to guard the blonde. He instructs her;

"You stay here and prevent this young lady from immolating herself. Knock her down and sit on her if necessary."

Oh, gods. The mind . . . just . . . reels.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Postman Always Rings

It's disorienting and usually frightening when you realise that something you feel has more or less been manufactured by your own arranging of your perceptions, when you realise you've quietly used your pragmatism in the interest of emotional or physical survival to funnel your feelings and needs in certain ways. Maybe one of the most famous stories about this sort of thing is The Postman Always Rings Twice. In his 2008 movie Jerichow, director Christian Petzold takes this story to subtler levels of psychology and changes the ending to grant another insight. My favourite adaptation of The Postman Always Rings Twice is still probably Ossessione, but I think I actually like Petzold's take better than the most famous adaptation, the one with John Garfield and Lana Turner.

Benno Furmann, in the same role as Garfield (the character's called Thomas in this case) actually kind of looks like Garfield. In this version, he's an Afghanistan war veteran struggling to get by. Nina Hoss plays the role made famous by Lana Turner (in this case called Laura), and plays it less broadly. These two characters are shown as people who find themselves forced to live a certain way because they're poor. Laura's forced to put up with a man who beats her and with whom she has no real connexion, Ali, while Thomas is forced to work for him.

Ali's character is Greek in the original novel, but he's Turkish in Petzold's movie, and it's in the portrayal of this character that Petzold's film most significantly departs from The Postman Always Rings Twice. Because Ali despises himself for having to essentially buy a woman. I don't feel too bad for him--he does beat Laura after all--but I greatly appreciate Petzold portraying this man's humanity. His realisation that his life is about to end and he's never figured out how to connect with someone else, his tendency to rely on short cuts and brutishness have helped to keep him from his own humanity.

This first part of the movie shows people trapped by their poverty, and then the latter shows a man trapped by his wealth and position. It's a story about how people compulsively construct barriers to their own their happiness and the happiness of others.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

'Tis a Fine Green Day for Golden Whiskey

Me Second Life avatar on a pile o' gold to-day. It turns out whiskey and chess go well together. Add coffee to the mix and things go very well.

I bought a monitor from Tim yesterday because my old one was starting to die. I'm really happy with this new one--it's a widescreen as tall as my old square monitor. It's actually the first widescreen monitor I've ever had. I watched a widescreen movie on it last night, Christian Petzold's Jerichow, which looked great. I'll probably write about it to-morrow. I don't know what I'll watch to-night. Preferably something Irish and widescreen, though I might just watch The Quiet Man.

I came across an Internet forum the other day where people were talking about what a crime it is that still the best DVD edition of The Quiet Man available is muddy as hell. The forum conversation began six years ago and there are posts as new as this week. Apparently the problem is that Paramount owns the original film stock while Artisan owns the DVD rights, so the DVD edition is, as it looks, transferred from VHS. And not even particularly good VHS I might add.

Anyway, to-night I drink to you, beleaguered and elusive Quiet Man restoration.

Twitter Sonnet #365

The pink bowler sits on a stern fairy.
Counterfeit clovers contaminate joy.
I think Leprechaun cooks are too hairy.
Many serpents fall for the crude club ploy.
Burning butter stands in minty contrast.
Golden liquid conquers a tiny king.
Shiny buckles contain the sole's ballast.
Little green leaves found the stems we're seeking.
Irish Spring is really a luckless soap.
You need plastique to really clean the coop.
Glowing green veins taint the stones on the slope.
Red hair's lucky in the bean sidhe's bean soup.
Barry Fitzgerald bless us from above.
Muddy shepherd skirts bleed colours of love.

The oddly appropriate for Saint Patrick's Day new, long trailer for Prometheus premiered to-day. I have to say, it's got me excited, and it's allayed some of my fear that it's going to portray the aliens as human creations.