Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Venom in Your Neighbourhood

This spider was in my bathroom last night, one of the biggest I've seen in the house.

For scale, here he is after I caught him in an empty CD spool;

So pretty. It looks like he has little black handcuffs on his fangs, I wonder if that's normal. I'm not sure but I think he's a wolf spider. I let him go outside, of course.

Last night I finished the second season of Game of Thrones. Terrific show. I hope more shows follow this model, adapting whole novels for series. I'm amazed no-one thought of it before--what a nice way to make a whole season feel like a single, long, cohesive story. Gods, imagine if Watchmen had been adapted this way--which of course is how Terry Gilliam had wanted to do it.

On Game of Thrones, there's little of the disjointed feeling that comes with a show where a different writer's at the reigns from episode to episode, even though the teleplays aren't written by the same writer every episode. They have a better blueprint to work from than television writers usually do.

And on top of that it's medieval fantasy for grown ups. I'd given up hope we'd ever see something like that. There's some innocence about the sex--the guy who owns the brothel in the first season instructs his women to sound less like porn stars and to sound more like . . . also porn stars. The first time we see a penis it's a guy pulling away from a woman he was fucking and we see he's completely flaccid. And the show seems to think we forget about the existence of rape if the characters don't mention it in dialogue every two minutes. There are a lot of swords, too, used to kill people but no-one seems to feel the need to bring up the fact.

But how magnificent is Peter Dinklage? Watching him on Game of Thrones is watching the extremely rare instance of an actor being uniquely, perfectly suited to a role. I would bet there's no-one else in the world who could play Tyrion Lannister. The penultimate episode of the second season, where he has the thankless job of saving King's Landing from an invasion by sea, is some of the best television I've ever seen, one of the best battle sequences I've seen in modern television or film. Primarily because of what so many critics have said about it, that it focuses on individual point of view rather than bird's eye views of thousands of warriors.

And that's the really impressive thing about Game of Thrones--its focus on character. Where in a film nowadays it feels like there's pressure on every scene to move things along, to get a spectacle every three minutes, the characters in Game of Thrones have room to breathe. People are engaged in war campaigns that take months. In a medieval world, if you're away from home for a while, home becomes a whole different world as we see in Bran's isolation from the doings of the rest of his family while he's at Winterfell. People are stuck in these microcosms and they digest each other. It's great.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Bloody Sandwiches with Mayonnaise

Some movies are so bad you want the protagonist to die. 1987's Near Dark is so bad I also wanted the villains to die and all the bystanders. A big hole needed to open up and swallow everyone in this movie but most especially the mewling, tedious hero Caleb played by Adrian Pasdar.

Near Dark is the second film Kathryn Bigelow directed and perhaps her inexperience can be blamed for much of the film's problems. I actually kind of respect what she was trying to do. Wikipedia says she made this adolescent vampire movie when she couldn't get funding for the Western Near Dark was actually meant to be. And the film's Western influences are abundantly clear. It's a coming of age story about a young man who falls in with a gang of outlaws until the experience instils in him the individual moral strength to stand up to those outlaws and resist the pressure to belong to a group. It's not unlike Anthony Mann's Man of the West except the outlaws are vampires.

A big part of the problem is that we're to believe this gang which is mostly comprised of people over a century old would act like reckless, stupid teenagers. Perhaps we ought to take it as inspirational that these old timers still get a kick out of scaring the patrons of a lousy little Texas bar. But considering sunlight kills vampires in this world, one wonders how they managed to survive so long when they're comfortable checking into a motel in the same tiny town where they've just committed an extravagate mass murder. It's true they didn't expect the pathetic new fledgling Caleb to leave a witness but mass murder in a small town is the sort of thing where cops start checking up on every stranger currently in town and it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for questioning to take place during the day. Possibly a few suspicions would be raised by the dishevelled group huddling together in one room still covered with blood.

This is shit you'd buy from young Western hoodlums. One doesn't tend to believe it from Lance Henriksen's former civil war soldier.

Bigelow benefited from her relationship with James Cameron by scoring three of the best performers from Cameron's Aliens the year before--along with Henriksen the gang also includes Bill Paxton and the great chameleon actress Jenette Goldstein, the Caucasian Jewish woman everyone remembers fondly as the badass Hispanic space marine Vasquez. I guess she's retired now--according to Wikipedia, "Goldstein is now the proprietress of the store Jenette Bras, a large-size bra specialist known for its slogan 'The alphabet starts at "D".' Wikipedia cites as its source an article at the Jewish Journal. So if you were perusing a religious online publication in the hopes of finding a place to buy large bras from an actress who possibly shares your faith, jackpot.

Paxton's as annoying in this movie as he is in Aliens, though in Aliens he's supposed to be annoying. Tangerine Dream's soundtrack for Near Dark leads me with electric guitars to think I'm supposed to find Paxton and the other vampires badass. Certainly they're a lot cooler than Caleb.

I think I might forgive the logical problems with vampires who almost seem like they're begging to get discovered and fried if Pasdar in this movie had been slightly interesting. When he first starts to change into a vampire we spend what feels like an hour watching him wandering town, doubled over and drooling.

Every scene about Caleb has such a punishing plainness to it; it's like being served a loaf of white bread at a restaurant. In the middle of watching him lurch about in the night I hit a plateau of frustration as I realised I was actually spending my time with a movie that was only telling me with these scenes that "it's painful to become a vampire," over and over again and nothing else.

He's appropriately matched by Jenny Wright as his love interest who ably embodies what might be called "novocaine chic."

Her face, her voice, her manner, all of it conveys such a strong impression of numbness it's difficult to care when she's onscreen. The movie opens with cowpoke Caleb flirting with her in his pickup truck with whoops and hollers. A competition ensues between the irritation provoked by a frat boy and the disinterest inspired by a dial tone.

The idea here may have been to show the folly of an energetic young man following his lust to a beautiful woman without bothering to understand who she is. This is somewhat sabotaged when by the end of the movie we see there's very little to Wright's character Mae.

This movie reiterates in many ways what you see is what you get and what you see is some very serious pocket lint.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Gas of Our Lives

Let it not be said Yasujiro Ozu was above fart jokes. The farting competitions between a group of young boys in his 1959 film お早よう (Ohayo/literally Good Morning) are central to the story. There's a subplot about a little boy who has a problem where he shits his pants on a regular basis. Can you guess what happens when these threads meet? The movie is mainly a pleasant, sort of aimless view of the different people living in a small neighbourhood.

The father of one of the boys has told them that nibbling on their pumice stones they use as erasers is good for their health. A side effect is that whenever one of the boys is poked on the forehead he immediately farts, something the boys are delighted to put to the test over and over.

Two of the boys, a pair of brothers, have the most conventional plot of any characters in the film as they retaliate against their parents' admonitions that they're too noisy by refusing to speak for days. This leads to them missing meals as they're unable ask their parents for lunch money. So they begin to rely more and more on the pumice stones.

The other subplots feel very much like sorts of anthropological samples, they have no beginnings and really no endings. There's a plot between the women in the neighbourhood where the mother of the landlady forgets to give the rent collections to her daughter and there's some mild gossip about what may have happened to the money. There's a young man who likes a young woman in the neighbourhood but is too shy to say anything to her--and he never does.

The movie doesn't tell each vignette all at once, bits and pieces of them are spread throughout the film. I especially liked one involving a travelling salesman who subtly threatens women when showing his wares by taking out a pocket knife and sharpening one of the pencils he's selling. This ends when he comes to the landlady's mother who tells him she has her own, better knife to sharpen pencils with.

Ozu's storytelling is suited to his shooting style. Every shot is like a bento--the camera doesn't move and everything in the shot has its own little compartment.

Twitter Sonnet #532

Ceiling lamp burnt lasso magnets please us.
Cherry ice cream recurses the topping.
His wet portrait in pink confused Jesus.
Mickey's gloves grab signals while they're dropping.
This note isn't about the dalmatian.
We'll sing no song about stale butterscotch.
No bat shrieks for blind salvation.
There's no piranha we refuse to watch.
Ivory cucumber screams sober the mill.
A doomed log dumbly drifts to the buzz saw.
Alpacas convene on a hairless hill.
No-one ever eats the extra coleslaw.
Betrayal leaked through the tearless glasses.
No clump of dirt is a ball of gases.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Sonic Screwdriver Goes "Buzz Buzz"

I like David Tennant, I liked him a lot as the Tenth Doctor. I'm still trying to decide how I feel about him as Hamlet in a 2009 BBC film of a production of the play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is definitely a good production, particularly for Patrick Stewart as both Claudius and Hamlet's father. Some have questioned the decision to cast Stewart in both roles but I would take even flimsier excuses to have more Patrick Stewart on screen. The two characters are brothers, after all, why not twin brothers?

Stewart had previously been seen onscreen as Claudius in a 1980 BBC production starring Derek Jacobi as Prince Hamlet and another Doctor Who alum, Lalla Ward, in the role of Ophelia. I like Derek Jacobi, but I found him too over the top as Hamlet. I may feel the same way about Tennant, actually, though he is more restrained than Jacobi mainly because he plays Hamlet precisely as he played the Doctor. He even uses the same English accent he used for the Doctor (Tennant is Scottish). I'm not sure if it was a deliberate choice to be so like the Doctor or if Tennant simply doesn't have a lot of range as an actor.

Certainly the manic and energetic qualities with which he imbued his performance as the Doctor are fairly said to be applicable to Hamlet. Though, again, I would like to see a more restrained performance. It's been such a long time since I've seen Olivier's or Branagh's versions I can't remember how I felt about them or if my feelings then would even be the same now.

I think actually my favourite take may be Toshiro Mifune in Akira Kurosawa's loose adaptation of the play, The Bad Sleep Well. There are several deviations Kurosawa makes from the play to set it in the corrupt contemporary world of corporate Japan, one of which is to put Nishi, the Mifune's Hamlet character, in a more straight forwardly deceptive role.

I'm not opposed in principle to setting a Shakespeare play in a time or place different from those which Shakespeare intended. My only beef is that it often seems to be pointless and as someone who loves the Middle Ages and Renaissance I'm always a little disappointed when an opportunity is missed to go to those settings. The 2009 production sets Hamlet in a vaguely 1930s western European aristocratic setting.

In addition to this aesthetic, there's also hi-tech security cameras through which we sometimes see the characters performing. I think the idea is to say something about voyeurism or paranoia but, despite the key scenes of Claudius and Polonius watching Hamlet covertly, and Hamlet's violent suspicions of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I don't think the story is particularly about those concepts. Claudius and Polonius watching Hamlet is more of a plot device to convey information between characters and--crucially--they seem not the wiser for it. And Hamlet's not really paranoid--he already knows who did what.

My main problem with Tennant as Hamlet is his delivery so often precisely reflects his lines. If he says something sad, he sounds very definitely sad, if he says something happy, he sounds really happy. This leads to a slightly Mickey Mousing quality and inhibits somewhat the layering of meaning. Over the top, in short. And yet he's clearly committed to and cognisant of the meaning of the words and Tennant has a very effective natural charm.

John Woodvine also appears as the Player King and I was surprised to see he only looked slightly older than he did when he appeared in the Fourth Doctor serial The Armageddon Factor.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Comic Con Report, volume 6: FINAL

Here legendary voice actress Tara Strong cosies up to Brent Spiner. This was an autograph booth in the event hall on the side of which I later noticed there was a small sign which said, "No Photographs". At one point a women leaned towards me and said those words aloud very quietly.

"Good luck with that," I said.

If you're any kind of celebrity, and you expect to avoid getting photographed, don't plant yourself in a sea like this;

That's the event hall on Sunday of Comic Con, the quietest day of the Con.

Of course, there were thousands of people who worked hard on costumes and who were more than happy to be photographed. This was one of the most viscerally striking Wolverines I've ever seen;

I daresay he's physically closer to Wolverine than Hugh Jackman.

This year, in terms of costumes, there was the greatest presence of what I overheard an elderly woman on the trolley refer to as "steamy punk". I guess that's better than Howard Stern misidentifying steampunk as a group of people obsessed with steam trains as he did on Monday.

There were lots of beautiful steampunk costumes which were usually made by the person wearing them, as was this case with this woman;

She even made her own jewellery;

These two made their own costumes, too;

I guess these two are steam/pirate/star wars -punk.

I'm not sure who or what this lady was but she was nicely sinister;

I'm not sure if this girl was steampunk or an anime character or both;

I felt like anime costumes had a much smaller presence this year. I was pleased to see this Faye Valentine.

These two from one of the Dragon Age video games were closely guarded by their boyfriends just off camera.

I saw several Slave Leias, of course.

Perhaps this has prompted some people to find other ways of making Star Wars sexy;

As usual, there were evangelicals picketing the Con. The same guy was in charge of them as every year and he roamed along the edges of the Hall H line with a bullhorn to alternate between telling everyone how he's there to bring a message of love and telling everyone their activities at the Con are paving a path to Hell and unimaginable, unending torment. So naturally these guys, who started following the religious jerkoffs around with signs of their own, garnered some applause.

But it wasn't as cool as what I witnessed Sunday. The guy with the bullhorn started pacing along the periphery of the Hall H line while I was waiting in vain for the Doctor Who panel. It was already looking like the last hundred or so of us weren't going to get in which made the guy's proselytising seem all the more punishing. Then someone started singing "Bohemian Rhapsody". Soon everyone else in line joined in. And the guy with the bullhorn gave up and left. It was the only time I've seen that happen. I'm really glad I was there to see it.

Well, I think that's all the stories I have about this year's Con. I'll leave you with this picture of a mother I saw on Friday who neglected to buy passes for her children and so was unable to get into the Con.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Comic Con Report, volume 5

The solar system descends upon San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter on the last day of Comic-Con as a promotion for Neil deGrasse Tyson's sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

A lot of promotions for the Con leaked out into the city, from skyscraper sized advertisements to this Archer themed rickshaw;

I remember rickshaw guys years ago making fun of the people in costumes roaming the streets. Not so funny now, huh?

Of course, now what I hear when I walk past downtown San Diego locals is mostly comments about the thousands of girls in skimpy outfits. Speaking of which, I wish I hadn't lost the card I got from these ladies;

The one on the right does some kind of Sherlock Holmes burlesque show. I asked her who her favourite Holmes was and she told me Basil Rathbone. She even had copies of his films on 16mm. My respect was earned.

I suppose if I were Sherlock Holmes I could find her website somehow just from clues in the photograph.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to the great fantasy artist Gerald Brom. You've probably seen examples of his art if you have any interest in fantasy--paintings like this;

Brom paints with paint, which, he explained, is kind of falling out of vogue. He's done some work for Blizzard's Diablo series but he's had a hard time finding regular gigs because he doesn't paint digitally. Which seems rather backwards to me as digital painting generally seems like it's attempting, and failing, to capture the look of oil paintings. But I guess the deciding factor is that working with oils takes a lot longer.

I bought a copy of his book Krampus: The Yule Lord--I actually had a little money on me for once at this year's Con and, since people have been buying my comic, I figured I'd check out the works of some independent writers and artists. I bought five or six comics, the best of which turned out to be a series created by another San Diego guy named Randall Christopher. His comic is Bear and Fox which is about a bird named Bear and a snake named Fox. See, it's already funny.

I also spoke briefly with Danni Shinya Luo, who makes some of the prettiest paintings of naked women I've ever seen;

To-morrow ought to be my final Comic Con post. I'm starting to get a big backlog of other things I want to talk about.

Twitter Sonnet #351

Caramel perpendicular beams grin.
Asphalt's punished by a wooden commerce.
Duck egg skies see blanket ale backers sin.
Yellow pizza has deemed gingham perverse.
Germane gyms to Germans gestate in Prague.
Ominous meads obfuscate crackling clouds.
Hammocks harbour quill boned men for the blog.
Sixties soirees simmer in bedroom shrouds.
Twisted towel rack trials burn the washcloth.
A tall animal may maul a short weed.
Ziplocked Zero pilots were never goth.
Khan's pant crotch did carry a real space seed.
Time caught turpentine waves with an old spoon.
Seashell horn sections proclaim a strange moon.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Comic Con Report, volume 4

One of the many Deaths I saw at Comic-Con. I mean, no-one died, as far as I know, but there were a lot of women dressed as Death from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series probably because this year there was a Sandman twenty-fifth anniversary panel attended by Gaiman, cover artist Dave McKean, penciller Sam Keith, and letterer Todd Klein. I got in to see the panel but I guess the people in charge of letting people in misjudged the number of seats available because I had to stand against the back wall, from whence I took a couple of blurry photos.

A member of the staff came up to me during the panel and said in a low voice, "You're okay there for now but, just so you know, if the fire marshal comes in and says anything you're going to have to leave." Such were the fires of adversity I faced to see the Sandman panel.

Most of the panel was of course dominated by Gaiman who among other things--and not all writers have this talent--is a good talker. Really, the guy could've been in talk radio, he knows how to avoid dead air and he has a consistent instinct for relieving tension with mildly humorous statements.

Some artwork from the upcoming new Sandman prequel was shown, a series which will take place just before Morpheus is imprisoned in the first issue of Sandman. The artwork looked very impressive, particularly one of Morpheus as a plant by J.H. Williams III.

Gaiman and McKean told a story I think I've heard before about McKean seeing a woman die on an airplane and then seeing a girl in costume as Death from Sandman. Gaiman also talked about meeting Jill Thompson after he'd seen a nude drawing of Death she'd done on request. I rather wish I could find an image of that drawing online.

While I was waiting in line for the Sandman panel, I got in a long discussion with a Finnish woman next to me about the evolution of comics art. Jim Lee had had a panel preceding Gaiman's and we were waiting for his fans to exit to make room and I overheard the Finnish woman explaining to a lonely looking security guard that Lee was one of the artists primarily responsible for drastically changing the look of most comic books from the 1980s onward. When the line moved past the security guard, I picked up the discussion with her and we agreed on how prior to Lee comic art had been less static. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were more interested in conveying motion and there was more emphasis on dynamic storytelling. With Lee and after, comics mostly became essentially poster art with incidental word balloons.

I honestly think this is a big part of what killed the comics industry--at some point the priority went to putting stringy slabs of muscle and boob behind cellophane. The discussion on the Sandman panel at one point went to how excited DC/Vertigo was that, with Sandman, they had a comic people were actually reading as though that had become rare. And indeed I suspect it still is. When was the last time Marvel or DC released something, after Sandman, that stood on its own feet, that wasn't building on something someone had created at least a decade before or was being written by someone who'd made his bones at least a decade before? Marvel and DC, financially, are completely sustained by the movie industry and that's partly why their output is a reflection of suffocated corporate think. That's why I didn't stick around to hear Joe Quesada's panel after the Assassin's Creed 4 panel--I didn't want to hear again, as I had in a Quesada panel I'd heard a couple years ago, about how several of the most prominent artists for the publisher had gotten their jobs by being friends with someone in the office.

The Finnish woman and I got to talking about how women are portrayed in comics after she'd had a look at my new Boschen and Nesuko comic--she was uncomfortable with all the nudity but she did say Nesuko looked like a real woman rather than just "a face over some boobs."

We all have our standards of beauty--personally, I wanted this lady to murder me and have my babies;

She was a creation of a movie studio makeup booth--here she is getting made up;

Here's another of their creations;

And I'm out of time again. I'll leave you with these good eggs;

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Comic Con Report, volume 3

The medical staff at this year's Comic Con was ready for anything. This woman is dressed as a fourteenth century plague doctor.

As usual, the Con had a sizeable Renaissance Fair crowd in impressive costumes;

On the southern exterior mezzanine, there was as usual a mediaeval melee;

This wasn't far from where I'd stood in line for Ballroom 20 the day before from whence my view to the south was this;

One of these things is not like the other. In fact, despite the false name of "Jack Daw" pasted on the stern, the ship on the left is the Star of India, the second oldest ship in the world that still sails regularly. She's normally docked at San Diego a bit further to the west but she was brought behind the convention centre for the Con to be slightly cheapened by the Assassin's Creed logo on one of her sails.

Here's a blog entry with pictures I posted in 2010 when I went aboard the Star of India in her usual function as floating museum.

I saw the Assassin's Creed 4 panel on Friday which consisted of the game's developers, the guy who voiced the assassin character, and Todd McFarlane, who was making action figures based on the game. The game takes place in the late eighteenth century and is a pirate adventure, its lead character, despite wearing the usual white assassin hoodie, is a new character, a pirate trained as an assassin. The game's director talked about how he'd done a lot of research into the period and among other things discovered that most of the sailors manning British naval vessels did not wear uniforms, instead generally wearing something like a checked shirt and pants. He decided this would make it too difficult for a player to identify a target so he put all the enemy sailors in British officer uniforms. Because we wouldn't want the challenge of identifying a target to be part of our assassin game, would we?

From the preview footage, although the makers talked as though the game took place in a large sandbox, it looked as though the game consisted more of watching pre-scripted animations than actual contributions from the player. And the cinematic sequences might give some the impression that sailors in the late 1700s were frequently struck by a malady that deadened the muscles in their faces--the uniformly beefy, washboard abs men in the trailer rarely had facial expressions.

Perhaps then it's appropriate that this panel was preceded by a panel featuring the creators and stars of a new CW series called The 100, its cadre of homogenous pretty teenagers almost indistinguishable from the stars of the upcoming Twilight knockoff movie Divergent, the panel for which preceded the Ender's Game panel on Thursday.

By the way, I did see the panel for The Zero Theorem and I'm glad I did, despite Terry Gilliam's absence. The producers and Gilliam's daughter, Amy, were the only people on the panel and did not really represent the film well. One person from the audience asked the producer how the film would be different from Gilliam's earlier films Brazil and 12 Monkeys to which the producer could only reply, "Er, you'll just have to see the film."

Gilliam did record an entertaining video message for the crowd in which he pretended to be terrorised by the NSA. Then we got to see the first ten minutes of The Zero Theorem which really was a joy. It features Christoph Waltz as a brilliant mathematician whose hair is falling out. He lives in an absurd, aggressively corporate world very similar to the one depicted in Brazil and it's really no wonder someone would want to know what separates this film from Brazil. But, honestly, even if this film is basically Brazil 2 with Christoph Waltz in the Jonathan Pryce role, that's more than enough for me. Just the fundamental sense of mad, understated cartoonish humour pervading the ten minutes I saw tells me the movie is another exhibition of Gilliam's genius. My favourite subtle bit of humour, as Waltz walks through the city of visual and audio commercial noise, was an advertisement for The Church of Batman the Redeemer.

There was also a great, lengthy sequence of Waltz being examined by a panel of doctors played by Peter Stormare, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and Ben Whishaw. Waltz tells them his anxieties, his belief that he's dying, while the three doctors try to reassure him he's not, clearly trying to impress him with the authority of their white coats and position in the room seated side by side while Waltz is on an examination table. Whishaw has a really funny moment where he goes off on a tangent about how, after all, we're all dying.

Speaking of Batman, here's one I saw on Friday;

There were, as usual, a few hundred women dressed as Harley Quinn but I failed to get any pictures of them. But I certainly brought from the Con plenty of reminders that Batman has the best rogues' gallery.

I decided to eat lunch at Seaport Village on Friday--a little tourist area to the west. On my way back, I ran into Adam Savage leading a bunch of people in matching hats and false van dykes.

Savage has a real van dyke (despite the false one he's wearing in this picture) and normally wears a black fedora so I think the idea was to create some kind of team of Adam Savage clones. What myth this is meant to bust I have no idea.

Once again, I'm out of time to-day. I think I've still got at least three more entries worth of material. By the way, this woman made a full recovery;