Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Point of Disconnect

The title of 1960's Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) led me to expect a film about an ultimate voyeur, someone who could see but whose identity or expression could never be known by his or her subjects of observation. The fact that it features a screenplay by Boileau-Narcejac, who wrote the books which Vertigo and Les Diaboliques were based on, led me to expect a film of psychological depth. The movie didn't quite live up to my expectations on either count, but it's a good movie, its virtues in a more superficial aesthetic poetry and an interesting reworking of Frankenstein.

Actress Edith Scob spends most of the movie wearing this mask but she nevertheless creates a character through her timid and strange movements of eerie grace and animalistic simplicity. Her relationship with her surgeon father comes off as a relationship between pet and master, added to the fact that throughout the movie he's attempting to restore her destroyed face it makes the movie an even more blatant commentary on the inequitable and disconnected relationship between men and woman also explored in Vertigo and Les Diaboliques.

He holds himself responsible for his daughter's disfigurement, as apparently he was driving the car when the accident occurred that led to her injury. I was reminded of the Strangers with Candy episode "Hit and Run" where Stephen Colbert hits Paul Dinello with a car, Dinello's injury somehow taking the form of a perfectly extracted face, a rubbery mask-like thing caught in the grill of Colbert's car. It seems to me now the episode was likely a parody of Eyes Without a Face, though I think in the movie the story was more likely that Scob's face was severely damaged and what remained of it was surgically removed by her father in his first attempt to replace it.

For some reason, Scob's body continually rejects new faces, despite the fact that her father had previously succeeded in the same surgery with the woman who now serves as his henchman, luring young women to the doctor's home and dumping their bodies after he's extracted their faces.

The similarities to Frankenstein are unmistakable and just as in Mary Shelley's novel, our sympathies are with the "monster", though the man playing God is not an entirely unsympathetic character, motivated by his own guilt and attempt to fix problems that are persistently insoluble.

Happy Halloween, folks. Once again, I have to spend it at school. I need to take a closer look at the calendar before registering for classes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Moving Things

If you live in the north eastern U.S., I hope you're safe and okay.

The other piece of news that has my eye to-day is the rather abrupt announcement of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and the attendant announcement of Star Wars: Episode VII for a 2015 release to be followed by additional Star Wars films every few years.

Mainly, I like this news. Lucas and Disney have always had a good relationship, the presence of Star Wars and Indiana Jones at Disneyland has always been great. I love the old Star Tours and I'm dying to see the new one. I'm somewhat worried about the movies being given to Gore Verbinski with a cartoon Johnny Depp jumping about, but maybe Disney would know best the lessons of Jar Jar Binks. The fact that there are plans for so many Star Wars movies is something I really like. I think being a sacred cow has harmed the franchise--I say, make lots, make mistakes, learn from them, give lots of people opportunity to be creative with the material. If you don't like one year's Star Wars film, just wait a couple years for the next one. Maybe this means the live action television series will get off the ground, too.

I don't have a lot of time to-day, I have a three page paper to write for American Literature class to-morrow, a "prospectus" for a 10 to 15 page term paper due at the end of the semester which is to analyse the nature of American literature based on two American authors. This is a great deal more than I was ever asked to do for my advanced composition class. I guess I don't mind the extra work, but it would've been nice to enjoy a nice, easy survey course. Mostly it just makes me wonder what class the teacher would like to be teaching.

Twitter Sonnet #441

Hourly leaking carotene changed brass.
Dusty throats grew until they were the hall.
Veins of dew laminated tongues of cash
All across the fragile clay shopping mall.
Satirical frontal lobes embarrass
The blushing flower material squeezed
Into the maiden skull of the practiced
Enflamed and pale giant Lego strip tease.
Frenetic scattered caresses query
Rotting diamond taffy preserved in a
Garbage gazebo balanced to marry
The spray paint pair of ghostly hyena.
Grated eyelash raindrops make a hammock
From the mists of chewy submerged stomach.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Gaze has No Sex

In the right circumstances, you can learn a lot from a psychopath. Takashi Miike's 1999 film Audition (オーディション)* is great for a lot of reasons, one of them is in how it uses a psychopathic character as an embodiment of intellectual replies and emotional reactions to aspects of culture. It's an effectively told horror movie, a commentary on gender relations, and a fascinating experiment with narrative, each of these elements functioning in service to the others.

Aoyama, a middle aged man with a teenage son from a wife who died seven years earlier, decides he wants to get married again. His friend, a film producer, comes up with the idea of setting up a false audition for a movie with the intention of giving Aoyama a forum to choose a potential wife. Here we set up the guilty protagonist aspect of the story that creates tension throughout the film as Aoyama initially resists the idea, wondering if they're doing something criminally fraudulent.

He expresses this feeling to his friend as they hurry through an office, shot from a distance emphasising the environment and people around them who might overhear the conversation, a more or less typical way of conveying a sense of a character's self-consciousness. But the POV of this movie turns out to be anything but typical. Although Aoyama is in almost every scene in the movie, the camera does things that suggest perhaps it's not his point of view from which we're seeing this story at all.

Going through résumés of actresses before the audition, Aoyama finds himself drawn to an applicant named Asami Yamazaki from a story she relates of how she trained throughout her youth to be a ballerina but had to give up this dream because of a broken hip, something she likened to death. Aoyama sympathises with this as it seems to remind him of the change his own life underwent after the death of his spouse.

So he has an earnest desire for a connexion with the woman he might meet through this phoney audition. At this point, I was beginning to wonder if I'd been misinformed and I was in fact watching a romantic comedy rather than a horror film. But I was divested of doubt when I saw how Asami's audition was shot.

The common wisdom on how this sort of scene should be shot would be to either exclusively show Asami sitting in centre frame replying to questions from off camera or to occasionally cut back to a close up of Aoyama to show his confirmed attraction to the woman he'd previously known only through her résumé. Instead, we start behind Asami and slowly the camera pulls into Aoyama and stays on him for most of the audition. The camera eventually briefly cuts to Asami a couple times, but mainly the feeling we're left with is that Aoyama's the one auditioning for her.

Aoyama's friend, the producer who'd come up with this scheme, immediately feels uncomfortable with Asami, perhaps sensing the eerie way she's turned the tables on them. We learn later that nearly all the information she's given them isn't true, all of it designed to manipulate them. In fact, Asami's entire personality is composed of how she's reflected by the reactions of men. We see her in her apartment, sitting still with her head drooping like deactivated robot in front of the telephone, as though she has no meaningful existence until Aoyama calls her.

There's discussion between Aoyama and another man early in the film of the extraordinary loneliness of Japanese men. When Asami's introduced, we see how Japanese culture attempts to alleviate this loneliness with the beautiful artifice Asami embodies.

We get a more or less typical back story for Asami of childhood sexual abuse told in a rather atypical way. We see moments of her childhood abuse suddenly in scenes where Aoyama is talking to her former ballet instructor and perpetrator of abuse--information Aoyama, our ostensive POV character, is unaware of, again subverting our presumption of the POV.

We see eventually that Asami cannot live on pleasing men alone, but she has been an object of men's sexual urges all her life and has had little opportunity to find ways to express her own desires. In addition to impairing her ability to empathise with others, it leads to her humanity expressing itself through sadistic torture, the urge to destroy being more primal than the urge to create.

The torture in this movie is wonderfully disturbing, I must say. I've seen few films that so satisfyingly go over the line as this one does.

She mentions to Aoyama how she knows that men hold auditions for young actresses and all the while their real primary motive is sex. In this case, she doesn't know how right she is. And yet, Aoyama isn't really a bad guy and he wasn't really seeking an imbalanced relationship with a woman. This movie shows how such inequitable, voyeuristic "auditions" are a bad thing for both men and women.

*Those familiar with katakana know that this is pronounced "Odishon", which is of course a rendering of the English word "Audition". Why someone at Wikipedia feels the need to phonetically write English titles expressed through Katakana is beyond me.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Kettle of Weird Flies

Joss Whedon to-day pointed out several aspects of a prospective Romney presidency I hadn't considered.

Speaking of Joss Whedon, it was based on his recommendation, quoted in this article at io9 that I watched last night's horror film, a 1985 Dario Argento movie called Phenomena. Whedon said;

That movie is so ridiculously chock-full of horror: There are terrible murders, Jennifer Connelly just happens to have control over insects, there's a crazy person living nearby. By the time you get to the monkey with a razor blade [who saves Connelly's life], you're just like, Oh my God! If you look at Cabin in the Woods, you can see the influence of "Oh, you mean we can just never stop coming up with stuff?"

It's actually a chimpanzee with a razor blade, but I'm with Whedon in admiring the awesomely off the rails quality of this movie. He didn't even mention the Bee Gees girl.

Any description of any aspect of this movie is going to feature multiple points of "what the fuck". Here goes; Jennifer Connelly plays the daughter of an Italian movie star and as the movie opens, she's arriving in Switzerland to attend a girl's boarding school named after Richard Wagner (yes, Der Ring des Nibelungen Richard Wagner). She has an instinctive sympathy for insects, as we observe early on when she befriends a bee. She later describes her connexion to insects as part of her schizophrenia, which also causes sleep walking.

"But what about the chimpanzee?!" you ask. I'm getting to that.

Connelly's sleep walking has her walking dangerously along the roof of the Richard Wagner school to an abandoned part of the campus where she witnesses a girl being murdered with a steel spear. Oh, yes, there's a serial killer on the loose unrelated to anything else.

To track the killer, for no apparent reason local detectives have called on the expertise of a world renowned entomologist played from a wheelchair by Donald Pleasence with a Scottish accent. The chimpanzee is his nurse.

So--a girl who talks to insects and an entomologist? Well, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?

The insects worship her, she doesn't just talk to them. When she's in distress, swarms of flies appear and tear apart those who threaten her.

Pleasence decides to send her alone with a Sarcophagus fly to track down the killer.

The freedom with which this movie goes from one moment to the next is sort of breathtaking. I'm just giving you the broad strokes--there are so many little moments of weird. There's the brain scan the headmistress forces Connelly to undergo after her first sleep walk, there's the score which uses metal bands like Iron Maiden and Motorhead almost at random, including during a scene where Connelly's trying to lift a telephone with a metal pole through the window at the top of a door.

There's the fact that when she shows up at the girl's school, Connelly's only option for a meal is some baby food left accidentally by her roommate's family. Does it symbolise her character's innocence? Maybe. It could be seen as a story of a misfit girl's difficulty assimilating to a hostile and unimaginative world, which is something reflected in the killer's identity. The chimpanzee, too, is a figure of innocence, as are the insects. I don't know. I only know this movie really made me smile.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rabbits and Razors

Just because your terror of the physical world leads to vivid hallucinations of vicious destruction of your home and invasion of your person doesn't mean all the men in your society don't want to rape you. One might say this is the moral of Roman Polanski's 1965 film Repulsion, an incredibly effective film about the inhospitality of sexuality from the perspective of a beautiful virgin played with fascinating subtlety and commitment by Catherine Deneuve.

She plays Carol, who lives alone in London with her older sister, Helen, a generally more mature and psychologically average individual. Carol works at a beauty salon, where her careful manicuring of customers neatly reflects her general intolerance of messy physical realities. The black and white film features high contrast with plenty of intense blooms of white light, a contrast that becomes more severe as the movie becomes more dreamlike.

It reflects the garish extremes that compose Carol's reality. The first portion of the film shows the clear influence of the French New Wave, Carol walking aimlessly on the streets with a disconnected jazz score reminiscent of Breathless or Vivre sa vie. But the stronger influence in the latter portion of the film, when Carol's left alone in the apartment for weeks while her sister is on vacation in Italy, shows more influence from Jean Cocteau, as the world around Carol attacks her with startling surreality. I won't spoil them for you, if you haven't seen the film, as shock is a big part of their effectiveness, but I will say the special effects in this movie are extraordinarily seamless and ingenious.

This is a horror movie, so does the concept of the guilty protagonist hold for it? We could say that Carol is being punished for the crime of being both beautiful and shy--not actually a crime to anyone who's not a thoughtless brute or misogynist, but this unfortunately does describe the men in Carol's life.

Colin, a handsome young man, is maybe the nicest guy she knows. He takes her on dates and seems genuinely concerned for her, if incredibly deficient in empathy for an overbearing narcissism that assumes her reluctance to reciprocate his feelings is a direct insult to him. The two aspects of his personality never really conclude their struggle, perhaps because neither one is a particularly heartfelt perspective--he neither really cares for Carol and nor does he really believe she's deliberately tormenting him. It's this bad faith which Carol's instincts detect along with his more honest carnal desires. It all becomes rather insightfully absurd when Colin breaks down her door despite her protests just because he's so darn concerned for her.

Later in the film, the landlord also breaks down Carol's door, his motives to collect rent and to rape Carol being a little less complicated. There are some people who would say that what Carol does to these men in self defence goes too far. I'm not one of those people.

Above all, this is a great film. The influences of New Wave and Cocteau are obvious but Polanski's genius is the primary creative force here. So many things in the film are inspired--the rabbit Carol leaves to rot with her sister's boyfriend's straight razor, the cracks in her walls, her co-worker's retelling of Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush that becomes eerily sinister beside Carol's frightening reality. The man who sees Chaplin as a giant walking roast turkey has too much credibility from Carol's point of view.

Twitter Sonnet #440

The feathers of hate flatter no bonnet.
Giant gas whales recede from victory.
We know there's no such thing as a sonnet.
Paper bat lamps can't light the rectory.
Longer bunnies outmatch the shorter hare.
Purple blends to black when white bowls are wet.
Troubling tangerine rickshaws stall the dare.
To-day the old gangsters will make no bet.
Double percent negates multiple sods.
Planters clenched the floral oesophagus.
Chlorophyll tongues frenched against dirty odds.
Fire frightens the Snuffleupagus.
Steel strings stagger towards the royal creep stage.
Resonance soon reverts the glossy rage.

Friday, October 26, 2012

There's a Place for Us

"Frankenstorm"? Come on, people. It should be "Frankenstein's Monstorm". You people are supposed to be journalists.

Meanwhile, here in San Diego, it's a cloudless 86° Fahrenheit. But, hey, they're saying it could be as low as 84° by Tuesday. We seem to be getting a cool day once every two weeks or so. I was even able to wear my jacket one day last week. But mostly it's this one long line of heat and thinking about the feeling it gave me, I realised it was familiar. It reminded me of something. Finally I realised . . . it was "Endless Eight".

That's only a looped 36 seconds of the first episode but those of us who lived through the original broadcast of "Endless Eight" can tell you this only scratches the surface of this grand experiment in repetition. As fans of the popular anime series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya eagerly watched each week for a new episode, and for seven weeks in a row were awarded the same episode from the previous week. Well, not exactly the same. Each episode was animated by a different animation studio, so it was an interesting demonstration of how different studios would adapt the same script. It was also admirable just for chutzpah.

If you would like to subject yourself to it, and in a weird way I'm recommending it, the original, full length "Endless Eight" starts here. There is a reason within the story the characters are repeating the same summer day over and over. The characters actually repeat it over 15,000 times.

So enjoy your life threatening hurricane, you lucky bastards.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Business of Ghosts and Devils

Now let's talk about a horror movie of the second, more interesting category I mentioned yesterday--one with a protagonist with a deep, psychological uncertainly about him or herself. This is one of the things that makes 1955's Les Diaboliques so wicked and so wonderful. With a title that means "the devils" it's aptly named, being a tale of entities or are arguably pure evil exploiting anxiety and weakness in one soul to guide her on a path to death and damnation.

Les Diaboliques was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, but it seems impossible to find a review, analysis, or description of the film that doesn't mention Alfred Hitchcock. Supposedly, Hitchcock narrowly lost a bidding war for rights to the source novel Celle qui n'était plus by Boileau-Narcejac, a pair of French mystery novelists who in the wake of Les Diaboliques would write D'entre les morts for Hitchcock to adapt into Vertigo. It's perhaps for this reason that Les Diaboliques contains a number of similarities to Hitchcock's great film. I've watched Les Diaboliques several times over the past nine years, and, as an ardent Vertigo fan, as well as a fan of Clouzot's film, I find watching it an increasingly rewarding experience.

So let's start by comparing the protagonists of the two film--of course, the most obvious difference is sex, Les Diaboliques centres on a woman, Christina, while Vertigo has James Stewart playing Scottie, but I found in both cases the rather subtly introduced backgrounds of the characters provide key insight into the psychological trouble that plagues them throughout the story. Scottie is a police detective who had previously been an attorney, while Christina is a headmistress of a school who had been a nun before deciding to marry. In both cases, we see a character who at one point in the past made a drastic career and lifestyle change, both choosing difficult, do-gooder careers. Also, for reasons unexplained, both characters are independently wealthy--or "fairly independent" as Scottie says.

Most interestingly of all, both suffer from conditions with debilitating physical effects triggered by psychological trauma. In Scottie's case, his vertigo is directly related to confronting is inability to act in a heroic manner. In Christina's case, her heart condition is more of a thematic reflection of her failure in endeavouring to lead a life of consummate caring and self-sacrifice.

Unlike Scottie, whose guilt arises from inaction, Christina is a willing, if indecisive and reluctant, participate in the crime, colluding with her husband's mistress, Nicole, in a plot to murder him. The devils, of the title, whose identities aren't revealed until a twist ending similar to the twist in the middle of Vertigo, have manipulated circumstances to where Christina has to make a crucial moral choice. Michel beats her, is cruel to the children at Christina's school, generally makes life miserable for her and refuses to grant her a divorce. Is this grounds for murder? Christina, the former nun, decides it is but the high moral standards she holds herself to contribute to building anxiety as evidence of Michel's return from death begins to crop up in small, ghostly clues, just as Scottie begins to see the deceased Madeleine everywhere he goes.

The amount of supernatural actually present in both stories is about the same and intriguingly debatable. The expressionistic photography of Christina alone in the dark school at the end in an increasingly transparent nightgown is magnificently ghostly. Plot, heart condition, anxiety, and guilt all come together in a terrific final sequence.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Great Stasis

Nicole Kidman has recently written an article discussing Stanley Kubrick and her work with him on Eyes Wide Shut I read to-day. It's not particularly illuminating, as might be indicated from this bit I found rather amusing;

[Kubrick] said: "Never put me on a pedestal. When someone's on a pedestal, there's no creativity." That's how I approach every creative person now -- it does not help to glorify them.

I see Stanley as a great philosopher of the human condition, like Socrates was in his time. That's what von Trier, Daldry, Campion and Stanley are.

I never praise anyone hugely because I was told not to by the greatest man who ever lived!

I found the preceding bit a little more interesting, though;

People have asked me if Stanley ever told us what Eyes Wide Shut was about -- and the answer is no. He didn't believe in interpretation. He always said, "Never say no to an idea -- you never know how that idea will ignite another idea."

Sounds more like Kubrick was saying he didn't believe in nailing a work down to a specific interpretation, but in any case, it reminds me of the line from Oscar Wilde; "When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself."

I thought about that line last night when I was looking at the Wikipedia entry for Hostel, the Eli Roth film, after watching it for the first time in years. I'm so used to defending the movie to people who've never seen it that I suppose it's natural I found it a little underwhelming--a lot of it feels very young, as though it was made by a director still pretty new to this filmmaking business. Mainly in the oddly robust score and the sometimes stiff, self-conscious dialogue. Yet it's also in this dialogue that we can see a filmmaker with intelligent ideas who's endeavouring to use the medium in order to explore them, rather than making the cheap horror show so many people accuse him of doing.

The movie has one of the things I think is often essential to good horror movies--guilty protagonists or protagonists with a certain amount of deep psychological uncertainty about themselves. In this case it's the former--guilty protagonists. There's not really a lot of self analysis going on, but the equation is simple enough for the audience to see--Americans going to Europe with the idea of exploiting the foreign women for cheap sex have the tables turned on them when their own flesh is bought for carnal exploitation. Good horror stories are often about the guilty being punished a bit more than they deserve--this is true in examples as diverse as Psycho and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I've decided I'm going to only watch horror movies between now and Halloween.

Twitter Sonnet #439: Vengeance Edition

Spoiled gummi bears step in the saloon.
Runny raiment flesh marked fixed flagellants.
Bourbon wood walls like a teenage balloon
Formed the tacky snow globe of vigilance.
Skinless globes work down the sink disposer.
Continents never break for the suction.
Obsession glazes the perfume poseur.
Laser men are invited to luncheon.
Low slung wigs water down the blank pistol.
Mushroom caps with faces scream every way.
Slack roots start to writhe on a deep missile.
Exploding wallpaper cons Michael Bay.
Ragtime shredded pots join the confetti.
Pepper pistols have no longevity.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Too Obvious

Am I supposed to doubt the evidence of my eyes and ears? In spite of every poll calling Obama the winner, or calling him the winner within the margin of error, a lot of sites and commentators are calling last night's debate a draw. Like they didn't see a cool and cohesive Obama thoroughly crush the pathetic wet noodle called Mitt Romney. Romney was sweating, with a whiney voice and a creepy laugh and he couldn't seem to string thoughts together, let alone present a coherent outline of his policies. I cite his weird trail of words concerning South America as a prime example, muttering something about time zones and language being used to advantage. What is he talking about? Will he move the date line around as president?

People are calling Obama snarky but he only came off that way because Romney was babbling like an idiot in his customarily half-baked, patronising manner.

I feel like a) Republicans are desperate so they have to spin this no matter how absurd and b) everyone else just can't confront the fact that Obama's opponent was so obviously inferior. It says something potentially frightening about the system if we admit that a lead contender for president of the United States, based on polls, is such a complete light weight. And, sure, Bain rooked a bunch of people, got off with a bunch of swindles, but maybe all that says is that the mechanisms in place are doing that more than the worms in the pilot seats. I think "worm" is a good word for Romney--the blind worm digesting soil, who can't see in front or behind him so perfectly fits this guy who has an air of entitlement despite blatantly failing to hold a consistent position on policy. It's a test now to see how willing the American people are to live with him in his opaque cloud of bullshit.

If Romney becomes president, I think his facileness now is a clear indicator of his performance on the job--I think the guy would be like a ghost while other worm piloted machines would collectively control the office.

Monday, October 22, 2012

No Stingers

There were three more bees, among other things, in the web to-day. I've never seen such a successful web. I may soon be seeing the fattest ever garden spider.

Feeling so spacey to-day. This morning the neighbours had some sort of machine going, I don't know what, just that it made a loud rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr beginning two hours before I meant to get up. This puts a cap on about a week of general spaciness.

If that's the word. I don't know. I go through these periods sometimes where it feels like my brain just isn't too sharp. Before making yesterday's entry I thought to myself, "Okay. This is going to be the day where I write a blog entry and catch every typo." And it wasn't until around midnight or so when I realised I'd failed for the sentence, "I suppose the big leap is in the more advanced character creation mode, which now, in addition to allowed you to change your character's clothing parts and intermix them from a broad selection and allowing you to change face, hair, and colouring . . ." My hand types words sometimes and my brain just doesn't bother noticing precisely what they are. There's been at least one of these in every entry for days and it's frustrating. My game is off in chess, too. I'm making consistent, big blunders. I finally broke a five game losing streak this morning, blearily over coffee because of the not having got enough sleep.

Anyway. I think I'll go have tea and watch the debate now. This was a short entry but I'd bet money there'll be a typo left over even after I've gone over it three times.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

No One has to Fight

I fired up the old television machine on a lark to-day during lunch and caught part of Fareed Zakaria's show on CNN. I was surprised and delighted by the fact that it didn't annoy me. The news networks tend to be filled with hosts too caught up in self esteem issues or are busy trying to figure out how they can fit a certain mould. Most of the shows feature distractingly bad editing too--this Zakaria's show quickly and unobtrusively delivered information about Germany's use of solar energy and France's use of nuclear energy without the sense that we were only getting one or two intensely polarised views about the energy alternatives. Opinion people, experts, workers directly involved with the energy production, and government officials were all cannily edited together.

Really groggy to-day, related I suspect to all the scotch and Halloween candy I had last night. I might go over to Tim's anyway to play some Soul Calibur 5. He's had the game a few weeks now and I've been going over to his house on the weekends to play--I've been playing the Soul Calibur games since Tim got the first Soul Calibur game on his Dreamcast, oh, it has to have been at least ten years ago. It's a fighter game, like Street Fighter, though I've almost never played it in two player mode.

This new one, which I'm of course playing on hard mode, seems to have gotten a big AI upgrade, as characters I was so thoroughly familiar with using, and who have gotten no real changes in how they move or are controlled, are suddenly a lot harder to use against the computer. Only some of the characters are returning, most notably absent is my favourite character, Sophitia, the ancient Greek dame. Well, she's technically in the game as sort of a boss--two of the main characters are her children, grown up, one a neurotic girl raised by an insane clown, the other being a run of the mill douchy anime guy. Both have some of Sophitia's moves, and they get some more of her moves when they upgrade, but there's no real satisfyingly 100% Sophitia style character in the game.

There are a lot fewer single player modes in the game--the previous ones experimented with survival modes and tournament modes and even a crude strategy game mode in the third game, but this one just has the standard story and arcade modes along with a "quick battle" mode that seems designed for online play but will provide AI opponents. I suppose the big leap is in the more advanced character creation mode, which now, in addition to allowed you to change your character's clothing parts and intermix them from a broad selection and allowing you to change face, hair, and colouring, now also allows you to change the body shape and type--height, the size of different body parts--not just breasts! You can even make a fat woman if you like.

Though oddly it's in this mode that it feels certain corners have been cut. The ability to change the voice tone and pitch worked so well in the previous game, but now any attempt to change this results in a very distorted voice. Several articles of clothing which worked well together now can't be worn together--you can't, for some reason that I can't understand, wear stilettos with thigh highs, for example.

In the previous game, the articles of clothing all had stats, contributing to strength, hit points, and defence differently. That's gone from this game, meaning you can put your character in whatever you want without worrying he or she will have messed up stats, which is nice in that you no longer have to look like a clown who fell into a samurai and baseball mascot factory in order to get decent stats, but it does also remove an aspect of the game that could be interesting. All in all, though, I'm enjoying it.

Twitter Sonnet #438

Hairy fields dig into the pig's Pluto.
The false purple misleads monochrome rocks.
Secrets echo with the screams of Bluto.
The pumpkin will be carved until it talks.
Fingers scrape the plastic with phantom selves.
Hoods won't replace pagodas in the spring.
Oreo landmines murder Keebler Elves.
Now there are no cookie songs left to sing.
Complicated screens conceal the dresser.
Simplicity's a sordid dalmatian.
Ghosts grunt like waffles in the compressor.
A strange black hat eclipsed the Play Station.
Yellow triangles press the green's button.
Somehow the assassin thought of mutton.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hives Serve More than Honey

One of two bees caught in the garden spider's web just outside to-day. This one was still alive and struggling. The spider was upstairs in her leaf, munching on a third bee;

So I'm glad at least one of the bees didn't go to waste. I wonder if it tasted like honey.

They must have come from the beehive I first noticed a few days ago in a bush, a few yards away, nearer the river. I checked on it on my way to the grocery store;

I've been a little worried about it--it's not on anyone's property, but it wouldn't surprise me if some jackass decided it was his right and duty to spray poison all over it.

When I got back from the grocery store, I found the struggling bee had had his abdomen relocated;

I guess the spider, being full from the first bee, decided just to make sure this future meal couldn't pull itself out of the web. Though by the time I got there, the spider was just sitting innocently, alone up in her leaf;

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Barrel of Ghosts

Having mentioned Robert Pattinson a couple days ago seems to have directly led to a big uptick in views of both this and its mirror (as well as some additional spam). I'll admit I'm not even close being a Twilight fan, but I got nothing in particular against those who are--I've seen massive clumps of you at Comic-Con and you seem like nice people. Anyway, I have my own favourite gloomy pale Brit;

I've been watching Quantum Leap lately. I'm not sure why I was in the mood, maybe I just wanted a regular dose of Dean Stockwell. Anyway, I don't think I've ever seen the show from the first episode--it was the sort of thing I used to have on television while I was making dinner or something. My parents were really into it, I remember.

I'm three episodes in--it's not too bad, the premise is of course ridiculous but the story in terms of characters holds together relatively well and Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell have great chemistry. The ridiculous premise(s), though, has so far been the most fascinating thing to me from a sort of anthropological perspective. We never get any explanation as to how and why the Quantum Leap project team assume God is behind Sam's leaping--these people are supposed to be scientists but they're very quick to resort to just saying, "God's doing it." We never find out how the computer determines it's good deeds Sam needs to accomplish in order to leap to the next life.

At the same time, in the third episode, there's a stripper character introduced, a girlfriend to Sam's latest host persona, whose stripping comes into play as a distraction during a boxing match Sam hopes to win. When she seems to feel down on herself, Sam takes her by the shoulders gently and says, "You're a stripper. That's a profession." She's essentially a stock character, and yet there's an evident basic respect on the part of the writers for stripping as an honourable profession. I don't recall seeing anything like that in modern television and movies. So Quantum Leap is a show that casually accepts both God and stripping without seeming particularly mindful of the political sensibilities surrounding either. It occurs to me media has gotten much more polarised.

In just twenty years, too, I think we've become an audience far less interested in the supernatural as anything besides haunted house scares like the Paranormal Activity movies, or "dark" fantasy like Twilight, which is about naughty role play, really, without being actually naughty. I think this is why Spielberg and Lucas decided, disastrously, to make Kingdom of the Crystal Skull about aliens instead of spirits.

Most of the students in my American literature class seem to be pretty religious and judging from poll numbers, we have a lot of religious people in this country. Somehow all their TV, music, and movies have gotten to be really shitty, though. I mean, what options do they have? Christian rock, OWN?

On Wednesday, my American literature instructor revealed to the class that he's a paranormal investigator. He scoffed at shows like Ghost Hunters, telling us the reality is very different from what is presented on TV, that 99.9% of the time he and his team find no evidence. They mostly just sit in the dark for long periods, waiting. He did describe once hearing and even conversing with the voices of recently dead children in the burnt remains of a home with his team present.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chapter: Episode

To counter the modern idea that episodic films are somehow bad, that movies need to have a constant central narrative thrust at the fore at all times, I'm compiling here a list of four great films that tell their stories in an episodic manner. This is by no means an exhaustive list--I aimed for a diverse sampling.

Taxi Driver

Serving to emphasis the dreamy, drifting nature of Travis Bickle's lonely, dark journey through life and the night time streets of New York, the movie's broken up into several disconnected episodes, tied together by nothing more than Travis Bickle himself--there's Travis' courtship of Betsy, his attempt to rescue Iris, his interactions with his fellow Taxi Drivers. A modern, mainstream film would probably insist on having the diner where the drivers meet across from Palantine campaign headquarters with Iris turning tricks on the opposite corner.

Mary Poppins

A lot of great episodic films are fantasy films. In this case, the different excursions which Mary takes the children on--the sidewalk chalk drawing, curing Uncle Albert's laughter, they're not specifically connected. Even the chalk drawing outing is divided up into miniature episodes--the penguin cafe and the business with the horses, not meaningfully connected in any way besides it being different places the same characters went. All this helps create in a film under two hours the sense of the children living with Mary Poppins for a great period of time.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The disconnected meetings Robin has with prominent Merry Men Little John and Friar Tuck, the abduction of Sir Guy and Maid Marian, the archery competition--the characters' feelings about one another change and evolve, but none of these incidents directly lead to the next. This helps to create the impression of a large and complex world in which Robin leads his faction against Prince John's.

Kill Bill

Or almost any Quentin Tarantino movie could go here--the guy goes so far as to use chapter title cards. He uses the technique to achieve both the effect of creating a world and the effect of a greater amount of time passing. This helps to give his movies the quality of a place you go to visit.

Twitter Sonnet #437

Binary whales withstand the denim storm.
Cream soda cameras meditate on ice.
Slowly sepia ground sloths take grand form.
Sometimes the cetaceans set more than twice.
Unwound willow clocks contend with tangles.
Abscessed source code condemns the judge's wig.
Footpad picks light the language he mangles.
Victory glazed the state of the youngest pig.
Naked telescopes are rows of bent glass.
Inverse visions suppress the liberal truck.
The bald distance lets many arrows pass.
Dead grass operas lift up the alto duck.
Cameron Crowe feet tread on Converse pudding.
Shoestrings strain at the cracked velcro wedding.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Accurate Spontaneity

Someone asked me early yesterday who I thought was going to win the second presidential debate. I said, "Obama will get a narrow victory." And to-day I see an article headlined, "Presidential Debate Instant Polls Show Narrow Win For Obama". What did I base my prediction on? I figured that would be the result of Obama's change in strategy calculated for the criticisms he received for his performance in the first debate. People wanted him to not only acknowledge Romney's lying but directly provide counters. That's what he did. Romney, meanwhile, isn't truly flexible--that's why he has to lie so blatantly. He's not used to an arena where people remember and take issue with what he said and did a month ago and he has no tactics for it.

There were several extraordinary moments where it seemed like the whole format was about to collapse as the two men directly confronted each other--this was something initiated by Romney, Obama seemed more inclined to stick to the You Talk Then I Talk format. But it was during one of these exchanges that I feel the tide turned for Obama--Romney kept harping on government land Obama had kicked oil companies off of. It seemed like a more or less good argument that Obama, the Big Government liberal, wasn't actually responsible for the increase in U.S. oil production he kept talking about. Romney pushed until finally Obama said yes, it was true, he kicked those companies off government land, but it was because those companies weren't actually using that land. Obama even got a good tagline in the counter, saying he told the companies to, "use it or lose it." And suddenly the very facts Romney had brought up against Obama were working in Obama's favour and all Romney could do in reply was offer a sickly smile, which looked even worse because he'd broken decorum already. What, nothing to interrupt the president with now? Aw. It made it look sort of like Obama had been pulling his punches earlier out of respect for how clearly pathetic Romney is. Like Obama was saying, "Well, I don't want to take candy from a baby, but if it keeps making him throw up like this . . ."

Of course, the whole premise of the importance of oil drilling is pretty depressing, but oh, well. It's worrying about the beard as the head's about to be cut off, as the old man in Seven Samurai said, but if decapitation is inevitable we might as well be well groomed. At least Obama rather strongly made the case that he wants to explore alternative fuels in the debate.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Whose Something is Really Nothing?

What's deadlier, faith or cynicism? This question is at the heart of David Cronenberg's 2012 film Cosmopolis, the story of a nihilistic young billionaire played by Robert Pattinson and a day he spends crossing New York to get a haircut, over the course of which he loses all his money, his wife, and perhaps his life, and none of it seems to really make an impression on him. As a sort of consummate hipster, he drifts through life in an impenetrable invisible cloud of bullshit, symbolised by the almost sound proof stretch limo wherein most of the movie takes place. The movie beautifully serves up a concrete picture of the frustration and fundamental inquiry most intelligent people have for modern culture.

The movie opens with a quote from a poem that imagines a world in which rats become the dominant world currency, an idea which amuses Eric (Pattinson) a great deal and he trades jokes with his twenty year old genius assistant about people stockpiling large quantities of dead rats causing health hazards. At one point Eric asks his assistant why airports are called airports and the assistant replies, "I know if I answer that question you'll lose all respect for me."

This movie is like A Dangerous Method, Cronenberg's previous film, in that it consists primarily of dialogue and through this copious dialogue we see how Eric and everyone else in his social and business circles keep themselves aloof from one another in stratospheres of intellectual superiority, or conceptual superiority, the idea being apparently never to let anyone pin down your patterns of thought.

Incredibly, Eric's married to a poet, an icy young woman who compliments his personality that's obsessed with numbers and logic with a similarly disconnected obsession with abstraction, constantly removing herself in their conversations to rhetorical inaccessibility, responding to his constant requests for sex with constant evasions to higher conceptual ground--one senses physical contact for her would be an unthinkable submission to the carnal reality Eric dominates.

Samantha Morton plays a strange sort of advisor to Eric and she and him coolly discuss the nature of the world and modern culture in his limo as they drive through protestors using rats and rat suits as a symbol of their rage against capitalism in an eerie reference to the poem Eric was discussing at the beginning of the movie. They watch as one protestor sets himself on fire, and Morton says, like another supreme hipster, that it's so unoriginal, and she talks about the Vietnamese monks who lit themselves on fire with apparent reverence, like a hipster talking about how great music or nightclubs in the city used to be in some scene her audience couldn't have personally witnessed.

Eric, though, remarks on what it must feel like and seems to have some detached respect for that unoriginal protestor. We sense a growing dissatisfaction with himself that finally manifests in a full blown path of self destruction in the latter portion of the film.

Robert Pattinson doesn't give a bad performance, but it's not really a great one either. In fact I wondered if Cronenberg cast him in the film with much the same intention as Stanley Kubrick had in casting Ryan O'Neal in Barry Lyndon, to get someone authentically shallow to play a shallow character. Tellingly, in the most emotional moment Eric has in the movie, when a protestor manages to smash a banana cream pie in his face, Cronenberg avoids showing Pattinson's face, shooting from behind the actor as he angrily beats the protestor. Eric, despite his detachment, has an enormous amount of pride, and indeed it's this pride that provoked his detachment to begin with. As Paul Giamatti's character remarks at the end, Eric even wants to be the best at self destruction.

Giamatti plays a man who's been trying to assassinate Eric throughout the film and the last scene of the movie is dialogue between him and Eric, each representing a side in the conflict for deadliest--faith or cynicism. He appears wearing a towel draped lightly over his head and seems like a clergyman of sorts, almost a father confessor to Eric. "I have an asymmetrical prostate," Eric tells him, something he'd discovered from an exam earlier in the film.

"So do I," says Giamatti and for a moment we wonder if there's some kind of meaning in this. When Eric asks why Giamatti wants to kill him, Giamatti says he could be trying to kill him because his toe fungus talks to him and told him to because faith is that strong. But Eric isn't really asking because he wants to know Giamatti's reason--he does it out of old habit, just as he'd asked his assistant what the word airport meant. Eric may be trying to self-destruct, but his mechanisms of self-preservation are too automatic and too good--Giamatti, the man of faith gives one reason after another, each one dispelled by Eric's cynicism--Giamatti says he wants to kill him because he hates the rich, Eric says, no, because everyone goes through life hoping they can be rich. Giamatti says its because Eric's existence erodes the quality of life for millions of poor people, Eric says, no, Giamatti's character doesn't really care about anyone else, that's not why he wants to kill him.

The question of who wins out in the end is left wisely unanswered by the film.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Making It on Your Face, on Your Feet, or on Your . . .

A great musical is usually distinguished by a lively and unpredictable relationship between the content and themes of the story with the music. This is the case with 1944's Cover Girl which, among other things, introduced audiences to the brilliant choreography of Gene Kelly. It's also a musical of uncommon complexity of character and is thoroughly delightful.

The setup doesn't sound remarkable to those familiar with the musicals of the 1930s--a guy and his girl (Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth) run a small time Brooklyn night club with musical shows, Hayworth being the feature act until she wins a contest for the cover of Vanity's 50th anniversary issue and she's forced to choose between big time success and the people she loves.

One of the nice things about this movie is that there aren't really any villains. Even some of the great musicals of the 1930s had a two dimensional villain or two. Here, the rival for Hayworth's affections, a big time Broadway producer, actually comes off as a guy with insight and sensitivity, guessing when Hayworth asks to borrow his car that she wants a last look at Brooklyn before deciding to marry him and he lets her go. The editor in chief of Vanity instigates the trouble in the story, but he's a man motivated by having lost the love of Hayworth's grandmother, also played by Hayworth in flashback, and the movie has several musical numbers with Hayworth in Edwardian attire.

The costumes in this movie are gorgeous.

The open handedness of the film's ostensive villains helps lend depth to the film's primary theme of allowing loved ones to make their own decisions, even if it means parting. Phil Silvers is in the film as a comic performer in Kelly and Hayworth's little club and with them forms a trio of old, good friends established especially well with one of Kelly's choreographed sequences, reminiscent of the scenes Kelly would share with Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor eight years later in Singin' in the Rain.

When Silvers sees Hayworth has received a telegram from Vanity, he leadingly asks her if she really wants to go that route and when she solemnly shakes her head, he tears up the telegram and throws it down the stairs. After he and Kelly are alone, though, Kelly's upset with him and asks him why he couldn't "let her tear up her own telegram."

Kelly plays a character who from the beginning is deeply convinced of allowing the woman he loves the freedom to make her own decisions. When the Broadway producer asks about buying out Hayworth's contract, Kelly says there is no contract and he wouldn't stop her from doing what she wanted, "even if she had signed a piece of paper. But you don't understand something like that, do you?" He doesn't, but again, he's not a tyrant. One gets the impression the Broadway producer is simply accustomed to a world where the necessity of paperwork goes without question.

The choreography for the dance sequences in this film is unmistakably Kelly's, despite the fact that he wasn't credited as choreographer. It has his rare aptitude for making something so carefully constructed seem like stream of consciousness, a direct view of the characters' psyche. The crowning achievement in the film's dance scenes is one Kelly has with footage of himself.

It recalls Fred Astaire dancing with his silhouettes in Swing Time but here it is more evocative of the character's struggle as it reflects Kelly's questioning whether his love for Hayworth means he should try to force her to stay with him or if he should let her go. He's in conflict with his deeply held principle.

The movie was originally conceived as a vehicle for Rita Hayworth and although she is wonderful, and an incredible dancer, she's actually the closest thing the film has to a flaw. I've yet to see her really connect with a role as well as she did in Gilda and here it's obvious her character needed to be played by someone with more warmth, like Ginger Rogers or maybe Judy Garland. There's something kind of reptilian about Hayworth--she always seems a little psychotic. This contributes to how magnificently dirty Gilda feels. Also, it would have been nice if the leading actress could have sung for herself instead of being dubbed over.

But she is beautiful and an undeniably talented dancer. The music in the movie is by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and all the songs work very well. This movie really succeeds in just about every way.

Twitter Sonnet #436

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