Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Descending Arrow

Sean Connery and Nicol Williamson play two legendary English characters with inexplicable Scottish accents in 1976's Robin and Marian. Though considering English was very different in the period during which the movie takes place, the accents really aren't that big a deal. Connery plays Robin Hood and, no, Williamson does not play Marian, he plays Little John. Audrey Hepburn actually plays Marian, delivering possibly the most complex take on the character in any work of fiction. Robin and Marian also pays unique attention to the realities of the Crusades at the time and the behaviours of King John and King Richard. It's a movie about the idealism of youth giving way to the spiritual fatigue of old age, though it also honours the value of that idealism. It's a very flawed film, but it has several good points.

Connery's take on Robin Hood must be the most innocent, simple hearted character I've ever seen from him. He's an aged Robin Hood but he's still the good natured man of the wood and to some extent one can see the Errol Flynn character in him. But all in all, I actually found this Robin Hood to be weakly constructed. It's something that stems from the film's attempt to acknowledge some of the more brutal realities of the Middle Ages--when Marian asks him why he followed King Richard even after he saw Richard slaughtering women and children for no real reason, Robin explains, "Well . . . he was my king." This might be a sobering look at an average man at arms caught up in the crusades, but coming from Robin Hood it makes absolutely no sense. He won't stand up to a king who murders children yet excessive taxation is over the line?

Hepburn's take on Marian is more interesting, a mature woman who finds herself a little perplexed by the passion of her youth but finds a new, more gracious love for Robin.

Robert Shaw gives an uncomplicated but satisfactory performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham. The climactic fight between him and Robin has real tension--I definitely wanted Robin to win, though partly it was because I was hoping the movie wouldn't go for the cheaply grim spectacle of having old Robin beaten down at last.

There aren't quite enough close-ups and one feels a bit removed from the action. The two actors stumble through heavy hacking attacks which is probably close to how such a duel would have looked in the Middle Ages--this is actually a couple centuries before the refined fencing techniques one is familiar with from swashbuckler movies would begin to emerge. But it's part of the reason the more anachronistic duel between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone is so superior. Nothing in Shaw and Connery's battle equals the desperate fervour conveyed by Rathbone and Flynn.

There's a hell of a supporting cast in Robin and Marian. In addition to Williamson as Little John, there's Richard Harris as Richard the Lion Heart, Denholm Elliot as Will Scarlet, and Ian Holm has a very small role as King John. The ending of the film doesn't feel quite earned, but the combined might of acting talent, particularly the chemistry between Connery and Hepburn, make this a lovely enough, bittersweet tale.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Like a Rabbit in the Sun

Got up too early for the second day in a row. I've been trying to get back on my pre-Comic Con schedule because I'll need it for when I start school in late August--I'm going to be taking an Astronomy lab class that goes until ten at night. I need one science class with a lab for the degree I want and this was the cheapest one. One has to have passed Astronomy 110 in order to take this class, and I took Astronomy 110 in 1999 and passed it with a C. Hopefully I can muddle through. It's only one unit, maybe we just look at stars for three hours.

I probably would've gotten a better grade in Astronomy 110 if I'd shown up for the final, but I remember I got the day and/or time wrong and when I showed up for class no-one was there.

I'll also be taking an American Literature class--American Literature I. I don't know exactly what period of time it covers--I'm guessing maybe just up to Henry James. I hope we get to Edith Wharton at least.

And I'm taking Japanese III. I only just realised I got an A in Japanese II--I thought my score on the final brought me down to a B, but maybe the teacher gave me extra points for using more kanji than I needed to on the test. I do enjoy using kanji--it's daunting knowing there are so many, but it actually does often make writing easier, it's like shorthand. Why write かわ when you could write 川? Or わたし when you could write 私?

I saw to-day that people are talking about this 1979 interview with Tom Waits as Heath Ledger's possible inspiration for his take on the Joker;

The voices do sound a little similar, but I think it's more likely just coincidence. Mostly what I'm struck by in the interview is how much the interviewer and the audience seem to be against Waits. It's like a carnival sideshow. And all of the interviewer's questions are either dull or really patronising--it's like he's on the point of saying, "Does it bother you you're weird and irrelevant?" It's with some pleasure I note the video's called a "Tom Waits Interview" and nobody knows what this interviewer's name is.

I just watched a clip of Ledger in The Dark Knight and I got to thinking again how much better the music is in the second film than in the third film. All three films are scored by Hans Zimmer but the second one is Hans Zimmer with James Newton Howard. I was really into The Dark Knight's score and I remember listening to a bunch of other Zimmer soundtracks because of it and being surprised by how boring they were. He comes up with good main themes but I guess I feel he deploys them badly, you get tired of them. James Newton Howard seems to have known how to keep them vital.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Better Downfall

As a matter of fact, Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra is a lot better than 1963's Cleopatra. It's certainly easy to compare the two--the 1963 film covers a lot of the same ground in its latter half, almost point for point, except an effort was apparently made to make things less interesting or, rather, to try to keep things as simple as possible. Shakespeare, using the same plot points, tells a far more fascinating story of human pride and inevitable fallibility clashing with terrible results.

Despite being played by the ever wonderful Jean Marsh in the 1963 film, her brief appearances and dazed affection for Antony has nowhere near the impact of the scene in Shakespeare's play where she shows up to plead Antony's case to Octavian only to find out Antony is at that very moment with Cleopatra. Despite being portrayed by the wonderful Roddy McDowall in the 1963 film, Octavian as the straight forward villain, apparently already scheming about doing evil things before the death of Julius Caesar, is not as interesting as the man who initially befriends Antony, respects him, and again and again tries to give Antony a way out in Shakespeare's play before undertaking the grim task of destroying Antony completely. A scene at the end of the 1963 movie has McDowall reacting to Antony's death, demanding people take note of the man's passing with awe and solemnity, superficially similar to a scene in Shakespeare's play, but coming off in the 1963 film more like Octavian wants people to respect what he accomplished in defeating Antony while in Shakespeare's play it seems more about Octavian's grief and sort of existential horror that the great Antony should die after having been laid so low.

It's the unmanning of Antony that most drives the story, the unmanning by his own folly precipitated by his pride. His pride provokes him to fight Octavian, to be reckless in his affections, and when he indulges his instinct to flee the battlefield with Cleopatra, the image of cowardice this inevitably gives him of himself is too much to bear however much he might try and go through the motions of being the great man he always thought he was. The fractured foundation of his self image is sensed by his men and is at the core of Antony's slow demise. Not abruptly and confusedly like in the 1963 film, but with moments of hope to keep him going, to keep him putting down bets on the horse that he deep down knows has already lost the race.

I watched a 1981 BBC production last night directed by Jonathan Miller, which was a lot better than his production of King Lear. Colin Blakely played Mark Antony--I barely remembered him as the hyperactive Jack Lemmon surrogate Watson in Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. He's suitably more subdued here and very effective. Jane Lapotaire is sadly less so--her sobbing was distractingly reminiscent of Lucille Ball. When Cleopatra cries over Antony's body, "O, Antony!" one shouldn't hear, "O, Ricky, waaaaaaaah! It wasn't true what I said about being dead, I only did it because I thought you didn't like me anymore, waaaaaaah!"

Twitter Sonnet #410

Daring dollops of shamrocks ricochet.
Vanishing chimpanzees zero on RAM.
Gorgeous gangrenous nebbishes crochet.
Old Dill Pickles laminate the new dam.
Cows continue to tertiary prodless goals.
Orphan fascination cuts the long wick.
The upside down Ws birth M foals.
The world is too small for a root hammock.
Helmet hassles delay dangerous mice.
Baking soda subsumes the dark red gym.
If you arrest orang-utans think twice.
Longer arms defy the logic tree's limb.
Arson activation tweaks the flameless.
Quadrupedal potatoes are blameless.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Big Gold Elevator Music

A gargantuan, beautiful wasteland of a film, 1963's Cleopatra or Sixty Five Ways to Accentuate Elizabeth Taylor's Cleavage is insanely huge given the fact that its characters are totally flat. Which is a bit puzzling when you consider the screenplay had Ben Hecht and Joseph Mankiewicz, but makes more sense when you find out they were two of at least four screenwriters who were rotated through production at various times across the movie's three year making, which also saw multiple directors. When Joseph Mankiewicz wound up with the film at the end because he was the only one who could edit the massive amount of footage into something coherent, he gave himself second billing after Elizabeth Taylor. The opening titles, before the movie's title comes up, gives us first "Elizabeth Taylor" then "Joseph Mankiewicz" like he's in the movie. He must've thought he had something good. There are great actors in the movie giving good performances, it's beautifully shot by Leon Shamroy, the costumes are mostly amazing, and the sets and props make nearly every scene look like its using the budget of an entire film, which they were. And yet, for all this, the movie is a mysterious slog though vaguely constructed character development.

Cleopatra herself is the least interesting of the three leads. She serves as bearer of the cleavage, linking the first two hours of the movie, which is about Julius Caesar, with the second two hours, which is about Mark Antony. Mostly she spends the movie passionately trying to convince these men she wants to be by their side when they rule the world. The only time she makes a decision on her own, initiating a massive battle at sea against Octavian, it turns out to be a huge mistake.

Why use models or matte paintings when you can actually build an ancient Roman fleet and set it on fire? Cleopatra's bad idea and Mark Antony's incredibly bad tactics are a flimsy foreground, not really rising to the occasion of the massive studio expenditure.

The movie's broadly more historically accurate than Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, more likely for a desperate hold on continuity in the chaos than for any fidelity to history--the interiors of Cleopatra's palace certainly show off plenty of unabashed anachronisms.

But Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar are clearly referenced in the film, including a scene where Mark Antony, played by Richard Burton, is clearly delivering the famous eulogy for Caesar despite the fact that the sound is cut out so we can hear Cleopatra, watching, crying out, "My son!" because she realises hers and Caesar's son is now in a precarious position. Another moment for Cleopatra to demonstrate what a good, supportive wife she is.

Of the two men the movie's actually about, I found Caesar the more interesting, played with an unflappable elegance by Rex Harrison, which serves to tamp down some of the unruliness of the production whenever he's onscreen. His concern for his legacy in the face of a turbulent world and his own treacherous health is effective.

Mark Antony, played by Richard Burton, is by contrast a weak willed, puzzlingly motivated chain of actions, first appearing as Cleopatra's firm supporter, then refusing to come meet her when she should meet him, then easily giving into her when she wants to use his legions in a dubious campaign, and finally showing a peculiarly bad grasp of his men's attitude, exceeded only by Martin Landau, who, in charge of Antony's troops, conveys absolutely no foresight about their desertion despite having been established as someone whose finger is ever on the pulse of the common soldier.

Richard Burton seems to try to make up for the wobbly wheels on which is character's rolled out by acting as hard as he can.

Maybe the most impressive scene in a movie of impressive scenes is Cleopatra's prolonged, parade-like entrance to the Roman forum under a life size replica of the Arch of Constantine (centuries before it was actually built).

Guys on horseback with trumpets, rows of choreographed African dancers, women arranged with big golden bird wings, an almost naked lady, before we finally get to a sphinx bigger than a Tyrannosaur pulled by hundreds of slaves with Cleopatra sitting calmly on top. She has all this, yet for some reason she has to rely on Caesar's and Mark Antony's legions to get anything done.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Little Horror of Shopping

It may be easy to say Audrey II, in 1986's Little Shop of Horrors, represents violent lust, a reflection of the baser motives not only of the male lead, Seymour, but the supporting cast. But it's interesting to contemplate how this metaphor functions and as one does so, it's no surprise the original 1960 film was deemed fertile ground, shall we say, for reinterpretation as a Broadway musical and then as another film. This Frank Oz musical film is superficially delightful version and is a statement of satisfying depth on the nature of sexuality, competition, sadism, and the Id.

I'm reminded of Nietzsche's statement about tragedy, that the Apollonian devices are ultimately used to reaffirm a Dionysian truth for catharsis. That's why Audrey II is so likable. The idea of using a man eating plant as a metaphor for the animalistic side of humanity is the Apollonian device, and whenever it succeeds, it reaffirms the supremacy of man's animal nature, the Dionysian. And yet it's a plant. Let's not get confused. Maybe "natural" is a better word.

Of course, the triumph of the Dionysian was more complete in the film's original ending, which was removed due to consistent, strong dislike from test audiences. This original ending won't even be released in colour until October this year. Which is too bad because I suspect it'll strengthen the film a great deal--I don't have a lot of faith in test audiences, it was test audiences who were largely responsible for butchering The Magnificent Ambersons. Reading most internet forums criticising any artform demonstrates again and again people really don't know what they want, or they're afraid to admit it. And of course, the weirder it is, the harder it is to admit.

Seymour and Audrey (I) are certainly a likeable couple and not exactly representative of the normal alternative to Audrey II's dominance. Seymour's a prototypical odd little nerd who's made interesting by his peculiar relationship with the plant, and Audrey is a prototypical "easy" girl made interesting by her own odd predilections--her irrepressibly strange perspective on what she considers a normal life as demonstrated to her by Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and of course her atypical idolisation of Seymour, made stranger by the fact that she doesn't see it as strange.

The venus fly trap is a common metaphor for a vagina, yet with its mouth closed Audrey II looks phallic and of course it's more directly tied to Seymour. Yet the name "Audrey II" ties it to his perception of Audrey, as does his attempts to use it to attain her love. The fact that this involves killing a conspicuously violent rival, the sadistic dentist played by Steve Martin, again reaffirms the Dionysian reality underlying everything, as does the fact that Audrey's affections never needed any encouragement. Violence isn't reflective of any internal logic--the Apollonian arranging of reality where Seymour expects to receive certain things in response to his actions is entirely his Apollonian delusion, an organising of the universe to explain why he doesn't have what he wants or needs.

And Audrey II brings status and fortune, concerns based on cold perspectives on reality, and Audrey II's connexion to them emphasise the carnal nature of capitalism. In the beginning, Audrey and Seymour dream (Apollonian) of success and it's wonderful. Then, in the original ending anyway, the brutal reality of success is manifested by Audrey II (Dionysian).

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Mistress and the Regulatory Transitions

An understated, dark romance between Richard Conte and Susan Hayward is paired oddly with a story of banking regulations and familial loyalty in 1949's House of Strangers. There's a sense of studio or censor interference in the latter as the ending to it is an abrupt and improbable switch, but it does feature a great performance from Edward G. Robinson as Gino Monetti, the patriarch of a family run bank. If there's anything that ties the two stories together, it's the conflict between tradition and new ways of doing things. It's not a bad movie, though not quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Gino Monetti, as a young Italian immigrant, was a successful barber. As his success increased, he found himself lending money to people and gradually his barbershop became a bank. Now a bunch of new banking regulations are making trouble for Monetti's less than formal banking practices, which rely more on his memory than paperwork, and his judge of character rather than collateral or credit.

As the modern world makes trouble for him professionally, he grandly embraces it when explaining to people it's perfectly okay nowadays for his son Max (Richard Conte) to be seeing Irene (Susan Hayward) while he's engaged to a family approved nice Italian girl. He doesn't say it outright, but Gino finds it acceptable for Max to have a girl purely for his sexual needs.

Finding out Max is engaged doesn't seem to slow down Irene. We get one a Hays Code era signal of intercourse even when the two of them are about to go out and as they're getting ready to leave Irene stops, looks at Max, takes off her wrap, and we fade quickly to black. When she asks him what he makes of her, Max says, "You're lonesome . . . You like to get hurt. Always picking the wrong guy. It's a sickness with a lot of women. Always looking for a new way to get hurt by a new man. Get smart, there hasn't been a new man since Adam."

There's an attitude about women here that's never really addressed. Or maybe it just melts away, because despite a tacit agreement to use each other just for sex, it's Max who ends up falling for Irene, leading to a great, painful scene in a bar when he kisses her and she remains like, as he says, "ice."

I love Susan Hayward, and she's a nice, mysterious tsundere here. Richard Conte isn't bad, and when he says he's disgusted with himself after she fails to react to his kiss, you feel his pain.

And Edward G. Robinson gives an entertaining performance, despite being saddled with an Italian accent that sure soundsa lotta like Chico Marx.

Twitter Sonnet #409

Trees square catapult polyps to the west.
Eagles grow gratuitous grapes gladly.
O shaped oranges own fake Oktoberfest.
Stencilled lichen lozenges but badly.
Pipe cleaner lights show off the sink city.
Matchstick college jams DNA in dimes.
Galactic tallies torpedo pity.
Answering machines shriek for cheesy rhymes.
Hay coats harbour banal barn cuisine tape.
Serious prices agitate the press.
Deliberate soup stock cancels the bad grape.
Hypnosis umbrellas define success.
Pavement minds meddle in steel crockery.
Sorcerer sticks are subtle mockery.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Borders of the Game

Do you like Second Life? Do you like chess? Do you like simulated sexual foreplay? Why don't you just wear a chess set then? Now you can! I made a Strip Chess Outfit and it's available here at Second Life Marketplace.

Pictures taken at Chess Garden, which my two partners, Rose and Ada, allowed me to redecorate last Saturday. I've long itched to try something like that. I went heavy for the garden theme and got some of the best trees I could find. Feel free to drop by.

Speaking of stripping, I'm amused and slightly fascinated by Madonna's current apparent mild breakdown. Flashing her breasts at the audience, using Swastikas for stage backdrops, and brandishing pistols and assault rifles at the audience in the wake of the Colorado shooting, and I found myself thinking back to her profuse public apology for MIA flashing her middle finger at a camera during their Superbowl performance--well not just apologising but saying the move was immature and "irrelevant". I don't know the context for the things Madonna's doing on stage now, but I think one would have a hard time explaining how they're in themselves more justified than MIA's middle finger. Don't get me wrong, I'm always for more naked women (see strip chess outfit above), and I don't think it necessarily needs complicated rationale.

And I'm not against an artist using shocking imagery even in the context of recent events, though I wonder what the message of those guns onstage is that Madonna feels comfortable using them. I guess she has them out during "Human Nature", which is a song I like, and maybe it's modified to be about the human propensity for violence rather than the need for sexual fulfilment, which is what I think the album version is about. It wouldn't be a particularly profound song in either case and would probably just be awkward to watch. Maybe she's really angry with herself about her reaction to MIA. Whatever the reason, even if it doesn't quite work in this case, I think the art world needs more guts and not less.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Frontier of Revisionism

I guess it was the late 1950s when Hollywood was just starting to feel vaguely and awkwardly guilty about portrayals of Native Americans in Westerns. 1960's The Unforgiven is an example of how these feelings were manifesting in movies, in this case much too broadly and with too much of its weight rested on the unstable, unexamined political attitude. Still, it's a John Huston movie--John Huston's least favourite of the movies he made, but a John Huston movie nonetheless--and it therefore inevitably has value.

Elements of the plot bear a striking resemblance to John Ford's 1956 film The Searchers. In both movies, the characters are motivated by their reactions to an innocent girl's relationship with Native Americans. In The Searchers, a girl kidnapped and raised by Indians provides a prompt to explore racism in the lead, John Wayne, while in The Unforgiven, Audrey Hepburn plays a young woman whose possibly Indian blood incites violently racist reactions from the community.

Casting is one of the biggest problems with this movie. Audrey Hepburn certainly gives it her all--she broke her back during production, and one can see she actually does a couple dangerous horse stunts in the movie, but this can't make up for the fact that she doesn't seem remotely like an American frontier girl. The hint of a southern accent that worked well enough for a couple scenes in Breakfast at Tiffany's is simply totally unconvincing here. But even worse, for me anyway, is Burt Lancaster as her adopted brother.

Maybe it's just me but Lancaster always seems like a narcissistic douche, regardless of what character he's playing. Every performance I've seen him give has been thoroughly unconvincing and self conscious. Half the time I expect him to finish a scene by saying, "I am an actor!"

The only really good member of the cast was Lillian Gish as Hepburn's adopted mother. She ably balances an ingrained racism with a noble maternal instinct.

And there're a lot of beautiful location shots, showcasing Huston's ability to get beautiful footage.

But Lancaster's heavy handed battle against the racist population feels much too forward. He's a blank paragon and the community is composed of cardboard, snarling villains. The Searchers shines next to this film for several reasons, but mainly because Ford let his characters be characters first and foremost rather than pawns in a political message, and consequently the message comes across a lot better in The Searchers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Questionable Perspective

I dreamt last night I was parked outside my friend Tim's house near a busy freeway--not where he lives in reality--and I was playing with some Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures when I was approached by a large woman with frizzy black hair and dressed in a pink and blue leotard. I instinctively knew she was Satan and she asked for my help, grinning, as though not caring at all that it made it obvious she was lying to me. Her stoic faced friends showed up, all devils, all of them looking like people from 80s exercise videos with sweatbands and the guys with gross curly black hair peeking over the edges of their leotards. Mister Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas was with them. I was overcome with a feeling of absolute despair and then I was stunned by the sound of the TARDIS and saw it materialising in the street behind them and I woke up, realising my alarm, which chooses a random mp3 to wake me up with, had played a recording of the original Doctor Who theme I have that begins with the TARDIS materialisation sound effect.

As if my mind weren't already soaked with media references. One of the reasons I made my comics take place in another galaxy and in a fantasy world was to try and discourage myself from making references to media and the floodgates seem to be open with Echo Erosion. I wrote the chapter five script yesterday and there are three references it's very probable most of my readers won't be familiar with. Well, I guess that's why we have Google.

I finally got around to reading the new story in the latest Sirenia Digest to-day, which was in my inbox before Comic Con but I only just now got around to reading. I wish a week would come along where I had nothing scheduled. Anyway, the story, "QUIET HOUSES", is pretty good and does an interesting experiment with POV. I still remember when Caitlin detested the whole idea of using first person perspective because she needed a context for the narrator, a reason they're setting down the story. Here we have a story that acts like a third person narrative, and then halfway through shifts gears to rely on the fact that not only is the narrator a character but that the character has lied to us about one of the characters she's describing. It's an interesting idea, it provides a bit of a disorienting kick.

Twitter Sonnet #408

The bogarted old idea is needed.
Germane jigsaw soy milk hardens online.
Marks of ice go from six to a hundred.
Heartless always want to plunder the Rhein.
Lava spirals can't write letters too straight.
English contorts the milk mirror to-day.
Js and しs meet as the Pacific bait.
Gas giant ounces are too fast to weigh.
Enormous numbers of single grains swim.
Strawberry leaves vindicate the college.
Power unpaid makes the radish too dim.
Cruel cookies can be ironic roughage.
Dribbling fingers found a concrete distance.
Park petunias missed Edna Purviance.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not the Flash You were Expecting

For the most part, Flashdance isn't just a bad movie, it's patronising and naive. It does have some nice musical moments, though they're less about dancing and more about improbable staging. The musical numbers and the unintentional comedy of the plot carry the film.

Jennifer Beals plays Alex Owens, a young woman who dances at a bar that is most assuredly not a strip club. Flashdance takes place in an alternate universe where most blue collar heterosexual guys scorn strip clubs and instead like to unwind after work watching elaborately produced dance routines at a nearby bar, complete with different costumes and stage dressings for each featured dancer.

Considering the media powerhouse that is the local bar, one wonders why Alex is so intimidated by the ballet world she's trying to break into. She starts dating her boss--she's a steel worker by day. She almost loses him when he starts to leave her humble entire warehouse home because he's visibly disgusted when she talks about "seeing the music".

But guys in charge of steel mills aren't without connexions with the ballet world, I guess, because he uses his influence to get her an audition despite her lack of formal training. Although she would have had a one in a million chance of getting an audition without him, she's pissed off when she finds out how he helped her because I guess integrity means relying on pure, astronomically incredible luck.

The movie takes time out for Alex to storm into a strip club and force a friend out of the building who's started working there. The camera plays lingeringly over naked breasts to show us how absolutely horrible this is, underlining that women should never get naked for entertainment, unless it's for Flashdance.

But the musical numbers are nice and have a real engaging energy to them.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Dark Knight's Stock Market Portfolio

I hadn't really planned on seeing The Dark Knight Rises yesterday. But the more I thought about the Aurora shooting, the more I wanted to go I guess out of spite for what that asshole did. I guess it's not like this is really going to stop people going to movies, and I certainly don't think there's any credence to the inevitable dim-witted argument that the movies caused this guy to act the way he did. My impulse to go see the movie can probably best be indicated by Christopher Nolan's statement regarding the shooting; "The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me." I wanted to go to the movie yesterday as a sort of small spiritual retaliation, I guess. Nordling at Ain't It Cool News expressed a similar sentiment.

I thought The Dark Knight Rises was a really good movie, better than a lot of people are saying it is. Neil Gaiman said he liked The Dark Knight better partly because it was harder for him to predict, and I've seen several reviews that say the twists in The Dark Knight Rises are easy to spot well ahead of time. Well, either it's because I'm unfamiliar with a lot of the comic material or I'm just not as good at predicting things, but everything pretty much caught me by surprise. I certainly didn't think one big reveal, as a reviewer at CHUD said, made it seem like Batman was bad at his job.

The Dark Knight is a better film in my opinion for Ledger's Joker. It's not so much that Rises does anything wrong, it's just that Ledger's Joker was just such a perfect storm of a great actor flexing his muscles in a way he never had and a director and screenwriter ready to tackle these issues of chaos, and the basic meaning of social order. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises are more about conflicts between different kinds of social order. Devin Faraci at Bad Ass Digest, and a few other reviewers, claim the social and political messages of Rises are lazy and don't really come to fruition but I disagree. Bane's takeover of Gotham under the purported motivation to liberate the people sounded to me like a very clear reference to communist Russia. Gotham's poor going to live in Wayne Manor reminded me of the impoverished who claimed a right to reside in the protagonists' town house in Doctor Zhivago as fundamental.

Back in Octobor 2010, I wrote in my blog;

I've no particular feeling about the news that the Riddler definitely won't be in the movie--I am hoping Catwoman will, though I doubt she will be in the capacity I think she needs to be. The movie I envision, that I think thematically needs to follow The Dark Knight, would be something like The Lightening Up Knight. Really play the cat burglar aspect up, and make the movie feel a little bit like To Catch a Thief. But also, Catwoman, as both love interest and adversary, should be a teacher for Batman, should help him appreciate life's moral complexities. Almost taking the Joker's perspective, but slightly more constructively and benevolently towards Batman. If this is to be a trilogy, as Nolan has said, this being the final film, such a story would complete the Bruce Wayne character arc introduced in the first two films.

They certainly did play up the cat burglar aspect, relying on it as the only cat reference attached to the woman--Selina Kyle's never once called "Catwoman" in the movie. She's sort of a self serving Robin Hood in Rises, stealing from the rich and giving to herself, she reminds one of a particularly motivated and capable Occupy Wall Streeter. She does create something of a bridge between Bruce Wayne's hardline crime fighting and the greyer nature of reality, though sadly she's not so much a teacher as a sounding board for Wayne to show off he already knows this stuff. Anne Hathaway is so fucking hot, gods, I wish she was both in the movie more and had a greater impact on changing minds of characters in the movie. I watched Batman Returns a couple weeks ago, and though Hathaway is to me a lot better looking than Michelle Pfeiffer (Hathaway is just so luscious, Pfeiffer's a bit bony for me), Batman Returns is a far better showcase for Catwoman. When Kyle returns to her apartment, watching her as you try to figure out what getting shoved out a window twenty storeys up has done to her and seeing it's made her a badass, unlocking her internal demons, is so exciting and is easily the best part of that movie. None of Catwoman's business in Rises comes close. Still, I'd love a movie about just Hathaway's Catwoman.

A line Batman has to her about how he won't tolerate guns or killing if the two of them work together made me feel good. Hearing Batman say, "No guns," I was very glad that line was in the movie. The Joker was the best part of The Dark Knight, partly because I think modern culture doesn't quite understand the original appeal of superheroes. People are simultaneously too cynical to believe in heroes, and too innocent to think they could ever be in real danger from criminals and evil doers. The creation of Superman and Batman and characters like them comes from seeing horrible crimes like the one perpetrated in Aurora and wishing there was someone or something strong enough and powerful enough to prevent from happening what we fear cannot be prevented. A hero to drive away the things that make us feel helpless and horrified. It's because we're out of touch with this that Nolan made The Dark Knight Rises more about social models and economic systems.

In the end, Rises is an argument in favour the American way. We go back, more meaningfully this time, to Batman Begins' villains who seek to destroy Gotham because it has become a symbol of decadence. It's pointed out to Bruce Wayne that even he sees that American/Gotham culture has become obnoxious and gluttonous, reminiscent of how people now can kind of get, based on the thoughtless foreign policies and inequitable distribution of wealth, how terrorists can feel they way they do about the U.S. The Dark Knight Rises acknowledges the point like a good argumentative essay does in order to provide a legitimate counterargument. But it's a fantasy story, so the counterargument is more spiritual than literal, that the powerful people and the regular citizens are distinguished more by their compassion and sense of cooperation than by their greed and decadence. It's something one leaves the theatre rather wanting to believe in.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pigeon and Other Things

The new Echo Erosion is online. It makes robbing pawn shops look easy.

I've been reading about the shooting at a premiere screening of The Dark Knight Rises. So many people seem to be trying to digest what the juxtaposition of the movie and the crime means, if anything. There will inevitably be people who say the movie or the comics inspired the violence. Mostly for me it underlines the horror of such a crime when it's carried out in a place designed for people to appreciate art. Creativity, the best of human endeavours, contrasted with destruction. Killing isn't imagination, it's the opposite.

Twitter Sonnet #407

Vines express the scalding sofa brake pad.
Petal potato chips pinken the bed.
Fan blade lashes lick telephones like mad.
Dominos nudge when the next click is said.
Bruising brushes build portfolios slow.
Eight bit egg shaped bottles squeeze the perfume.
Unused cobwebbed Nerf bats bend with each blow.
Eyelid fires yet need nerves to consume.
Easy storms struggle across the train lip.
Marble oceans shred the fields of dark crop.
Curling pasta strains a bright sauceless tip.
The quakes of stapled hills cannot be stopped.
Boiled nebulae burnish the hot black.
Lipstick travels to a vest's violent slack.

shooting, batman, the dark knight rises, art, echo erosion

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sinister Bats and Skates

Despite its name, 1979's The Warriors seems to be about a group of guys mainly running away from stuff than standing and fighting. But I guess that's sensible when there's only nine of the gang called The Warriors up against a conglomeration of gangs numbering apparently in the thousands and the movie does a very good job of creating an impression of a night world where practically everything is controlled by gangs operating mainly on animal impulses of fight or flight and maybe a tiny sliver of control is had by the faceless, insensitive police force. The Warriors is a nice, raw, adventure suspense film.

Just as I was getting sick of seeing the Warriors running away all the time, they do turn around and fight a gang of guys wearing baseball uniforms and clown makeup, wielding baseball bats naturally enough. And the Warriors show themselves to be capable fighters, and director Walter Hill does a good job putting together fight scenes, though the climactic conflict is deflated somewhat for anyone who's seen Yojimbo--I appreciate a homage, but The Warriors leans on one small piece of Yojimbo's climax for its whole punch.

I would say David Patrick Kelly is at least as an effective psycho gunfighter as Tatsuya Nakadai in Yojimbo. Maybe moreso, as Kelly's Luther is clearly motivated by a purer thirst for blood and chaos, while Unosuke was motivated at least partially by a desire to see his gang control the town. David Patrick Kelly is one of those actors like Christopher Walken or Jeff Goldblum who seems to have developed his body language and vocal mannerisms in an alternate dimension. It works great here as he creates a villain whose actions seem dictated by an internal system of motivations, but they're so weird he's frighteningly unpredictable.

The heroes of the film are a satisfyingly gritty, jaundiced and lanky in a very 70s way bunch of guys. Looking at them I can't help thinking razor technology has improved vastly in the decades since.

There are a lot of homophobic slurs casually tossed about, which is appropriate for a group of hoodlums in the 70s--it would be bullshit if they didn't talk like that, and their attitudes towards woman also fit the characters. But there is a gay guy in the gang who saves them when a female gang tries to kill them with sex. You wonder how the hell the homophobic mugs let him into the gang, but instead of seeming inconsistent, it gives the impression of guys who've formed a bond created by circumstances of life that have overridden their posturing.

The only female gang member, who joins them in the latter portion of the film, is so small and punchy you worry for her, especially when the leader of The Warriors, Swan, rather harshly turns down her offer of casual sex, but this again rings true for the paranoid, hunted animal mentality the movie gives to the young men.

It's above all a movie of this atmosphere, this feeling of being alone in a very dangerous world. The music by Barry De Vorzon and Joe Walsh, especially if you're watching a copy with good sound as I was, rocks enough to give you an idea of what's appealing about their precarious and violent lifestyle.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comic Con Report, volume 3

These days, even Eliza Doolittle has to carry a steampunk rifle.

Well, there's not much else I can tell you about the Con. I could mention the fact that the religious press gang was particularly obnoxious this year, one guy with a loud speaker even disrupting traffic police trying to organise the heavy car and foot traffic and persisting even after a policewoman told him stop. Particularly insensitive since there was actually a fatality this year, a 58 year old woman was hit by a car while in line for Hall H for the Twilight panel. I could tell you about that, but I'd rather show you this picture of the pope;

He was waving his arms grandly to all passers-by. That's how you proselytise.

Darth Helmet could be seen in the nearby elevator;

This girl seemed very happy when I told her I thought her costume was gorgeous, which it was;

Now here's a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman;

And a man dressed as a wookiee in platforms;

I mentioned yesterday how shamelessly I love bunny girls, so I was pleased by the inexplicable profusion of bunny girls at this year's con;

And there were a lot of Batgirls this year, but this is the only one I got a picture of;

I went for the appropriate Dutch angle.

Finally, here's the last cool thing I saw as I was leaving the Con on Sunday, and I do mean "thing";