Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Knowing Best is Dreaming

The cops look up idly at this strangely positioned murder victim, casually discussing how long it's been since they've dealt with a homocide in their small town. They don't seem especially sorry for the victim or concerned with solving the case beyond going through the motions they're paid to go through. Everyone in the small town depicted in 2009's Mother Ma-deo seems to be generally apathetic or uninterested in their jobs, their community, or even whether or not there's any point to existence. Everyone, that is, except Do-joon's mother, whose tenacity in defending her son against the charge of murder is inexhaustible. And as is usually the case in good films of astonishingly quixotic, focused people, particularly such films from South Korea, Mother is an exceptionally grim film. It's also endlessly inventive and insightful.

Do-joon (Wo Bin), is a young, mentally impaired man who spends his days loitering about town under the intensely watchful eye of his mother (Kim hye-ja) who see early in the film so caught up in watching him she doesn't pay close attention to the shears she's using to cut barley, inching a sheaf through the blades as she cuts and her fingers along with them.

Do-joon's best friend is the charismatic and wealthy Jin-tae (Jin Goo) who immediately chases after an expensive car that hits Do-joon in the street. The two young men track the car to a golf course and Jin-tae instigates a brawl that lands the two young men in the police station.

The lead detective tiredly smooths things over, convincing the golfers that the hit and run and the assault cancel out and that no-one ought to press charges. There's a lazy, sociable village mentality at work one senses has been handed down for generations only to become dulled by distinctly modern apathetic attitudes.

When a golf ball Do-joon had drawn on is found by the murder victim, a young, notoriously promiscuous woman, the police take him in and quickly railroad him into signing a confession.

Another thing that gives one the impression of the film taking place in a small, tight knit community is that Do-joon's mother knows the police detective liked ginseng when he was a little boy to help him remember things he'd studied for a test. Do-joon's mother, who is left unnamed by the film, seems to know all sorts of intimate details about everyone in town from their childhood; she knows the local kids and she gossips with the local women to whom she gives unlicensed acupuncture.

At one point, in a sublimely Hitchcockian/Lynchian scene, Do-joon's mother hides in Jon-tae's closet because she's found a golf club with what looks like blood on the end of it. After watching him and his girlfriend have sex, she slowly sneaks out while they're sleeping, accidentally tipping over a water bottle on the way and we hold our breaths as we watch the water slowly spread across the floor, closer to Jin-tae's finger, threatening to wake him.

Mother was directed by Bong Joon-ho who directed Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic film that is nonetheless a lot more cheerful than Mother turns out to be.

South Korea is the grim movie capital of the world. There are all sorts of movies made in South Korea, but the ones that get noticed in other countries--Snowpiercer, Oldboy, A Tale of Two Sisters--are the breathtakingly grim ones. The first South Korean movie I ever saw, 301/302, is a fascinating allegory on the relationship between North and South Korea and that involves self-flagellation and cannibalism.

Mother portrays the one committed person in a world where everyone else has been driven to near catatonia by a brutal sense of meaninglessness. The fact that she's known only as "Mother" throughout the film demonstrates that the sense of purpose in her life is even greater than her individual identity. But then that sense of a meaningless world is confirmed but, like a Werner Herzog hero, the mother's madness enables her to cling tightly to a fervent and extraordinary belief which in turn enables her to take action. The actions she takes may not comply with an external morality the viewer condones but she's motivated by the only morality that matters to anyone, the morality in her own head.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Various Human Activities and Plants, Teeth, and Metal

Well, it's been a busy day and I still have alien genitalia to draw. I have four and a half pages left to pencil, eleven to ink, and all twenty four to colour on my web comic by Saturday. How do I always get so behind? Mainly it's the inking. I hate inking so much. Maybe I would be a better inker if I didn't hate it. Well, I know plenty of very talented people who often talk about how they hate doing what they're talented at.

While eating breakfast this morning, I read "A BIRTH IN THE WOOD OF SELF MURDERERS", a truly lovely story from the new Sirenia Digest. Just about every resonance and more you could imagine being sussed out from a woman having sex with a flower is ingeniously rendered. Really sexy, wonderfully weird, and brilliantly familiar.

After this, I went to the dentist to get a gold crown for a molar and a filling for each canine. Let's hope my teeth behave themselves for a while. From there, I went to my mother's where I'd had delivered a new frock coat and waistcoat for my aunt's funeral I'm going to on Sunday--My Aunt Edie who passed away last week at whose home most of my whole large extended family used to go every Christmas. I remember going to her home for Christmases as far back as I can remember. I've always loved her furniture; lots of red on Victorian and early twentieth century couches and chairs set against while walls and carpet rather reminding me of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey or maybe Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers.

And from my mother's I went to Mitsuwa where I bought an enormous daikon and a steel bento box that I hope finally solves my problem about taking lunch to school.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Victims of Lodging

If you're staying alone in a new cottage one stormy night and a stranger shows up who says she's received threatening letters it's probably best not to take all her jewellery and her gun for safe keeping. You would think the author of a series of murder mysteries would know better but one makes just those mistakes in 1955's Miss Tulip Stays the Night. Nonetheless, this film is an amusing comedy mystery with a genuinely interesting puzzle.

Diana Dors upstages everyone as Kate, the wife of Andrew, the author played by Patrick Holt. She goes through the lines painting her as a wife who always looks to her smug, 1950s husband for answers but Dors comes off as so naturally self possessed it seems like she's just being a good sport opposite the comparatively pathetic Holt.

When they find Miss Tulip dead the next morning, the amiable Constable Feathers (Jack Hulbert) shows up before they can phone the police. The smiling constable is too caught up in discussing how an officer oughtn't accept invitations to tea when he's on duty to notice the corpse right in front of him.

But when the police do get their wits about them, they're only too happy to give Andrew a hard time and make him chief suspect. The police nurse a grudge for the series of bumbling police officers who appear in Andrew's books.

Dors doesn't have very much to do throughout the film except be the closest thing to a POV character. She comes off as a little smarter than her character's supposed to be but I didn't mind. Aside from a few broad jokes, the end of the film is actually pretty satisfying.

Twitter Sonnet #670

Medical numerology cracks knees.
Minds made up undulate for mineral.
The Zeus family webs clog the complex trees.
Lightning lighting was always minimal.
Surprising pencils pervade the weird dome.
Dry almond ice cream collapsed at dusk.
A moon spoiled by air went sadly home.
The tastiest bark was only a husk.
Instruments vanish in horizon arms.
Evergreen heat distortions stick bare feet.
A moon person truly heals more than harms.
Tiny stop buttons pepper the star seat.
Collapsed lip gloss tipis panic the smoke.
No names are prepared for the breathing joke.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Broad Fake Space Survey

I think this was the first conversation Clara and the Twelfth Doctor have had since they hugged at the end of "Deep Breath" that wasn't an argument. Well, even that hug was part of an affectionate argument. This moment, where the Doctor shows off his new gadget, was the first time I've seen Clara spontaneously smile in genuine delight because of something the Doctor did. In light of the fact that she talks about not being able to resist whenever the Doctor shows up to take her on an adventure, it makes their relationship seem like some kind of angry compulsion.

To-day's new episode, "The Caretaker", follows the Doctor's attempt to thwart an alien killer robot while posing as a caretaker at the school, Coal Hill, where Clara works as teacher, the same school where Ian and Barbara worked as teachers in the 1963 première.

The episode is also largely concerned with Clara's dull as dishwater boyfriend Danny, a soldier who's become a maths teacher, not unlike Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the Fifth Doctor story Mawdryn Undead. The fact that the Doctor and the Brigadier were great friends, something referenced not long ago in the 50th Anniversary episode, makes the Doctor's thorough hatred of Danny for being a soldier seem strange except for the fact that maybe Twelve's most distinctive feature is that he's angry a lot. There hasn't been a Doctor this irritable since Six, and before him Three and One.

Three's love/hate relationship with the Brigadier is of course one of the hallmarks of the Third's era. The Doctor has the added baggage of self-hatred now for his War Doctor self.

"The Caretaker" was written by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat--Moffat was also co-writer on last week's episode with Stephen Thompson, which is probably a good idea since Roberts and Thompson had written some of the worst episodes of the series--"Curse of the Black Spot" for Thompson and "The Lodger" for Roberts. Roberts seems to specialise in episodes that feel low stakes and geared directly for children, though not as badly as Mark Gatiss. But to-day's episode didn't feel rushed like last week and it was nice seeing the three actors playing the Doctor, Clara, and Danny having space even if it's pretty much wasted on the lobotomised Samuel Anderson who plays Danny.

There's also a new child character introduced, Courtney, who seems to be poised to become another companion of the granddaughter mould not seen since the Second Doctor. I don't like the idea of the show going that route but in contrast with the tedious relationship drama I found myself kind of digging Courtney, the misfit student, and the Doctor's irrepressible delight at showing off the TARDIS to someone new.

I did kind of like the scenes where the Doctor, Clara, and Danny confront one another, mainly for Capaldi working through the Doctor's confusion and buried anxiety over his role in Clara's life.

And yesterday we finally had the première of Star Wars: Rebels. Which is kind of momentous when you consider this is the first canon video media for Star Wars since Disney took over. So far, I like the show except for all the characters. Well, I like Zeb.

I like how he abandons Ezra to stormtroopers. He feels genuinely rough around the edges.

The centre of the show, though, seems to be another Jedi Master and apprentice relationship, perhaps so they can revamp some unused Clone Wars scripts. I can only hope Freddie Prinze, Jr's monotonously voiced character, Kanan, dies faster than Obi Wan in A New Hope. Kanan even gets Obi Wan's line about the Force binding the galaxy together, delivered to the show's resident Luke, Ezra.

I like that the show is focusing on young, awkward people though it's hard to compete with Luke, Han, and Leia when the voice actors sound so phoney. I watched A New Hope again recently and found myself marvelling at what those three actors did. Mark Hamill is infamously bad at first but with Ford and Fisher he completes a really amazing triad--I don't think it's the kind of thing Lucas or anyone could have completely planned, Hamill had just the right amount of shrill, Fisher speaks with a loudness that suggests a deep insecurity, and Ford is just so beautifully tangled, grasping for a simpler life out of a kind of need for security but stabbed in the back by his own conscience.

Everyone on Rebels is so blankly good so far. But it is nice to see TIE Fighters and people running around shooting stormtroopers. If they were going to insist on a having a Jedi on the show, they ought to have forgone the coyness and just given us Ahsoka Tano from the start. I think we all know she's going to show up eventually.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Heat is the Reason

What do you suppose would happen if the temperature outside got to be over 100º Fahrenheit (37.78º Celsius)? People would go mad, become deliriously aggressive, paralysingly sedate, or find themselves at the mercy of frightening, uncontrollable sexual urges. That's the opinion of both Dracula and Professor Van Helsing in 1967's Night of the Big Heat--or characters played by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, anyway, a scientist and country doctor here, respectively. This British horror film, which is not a Hammer film despite being directed by Terence Fisher and starring Lee and Cushing, is about an island off the coast of England where one winter it starts to get really hot and no-one knows why. It's an enjoyable film though mostly for reasons its makers did not intend.

Despite Christopher Lee getting top billing, most of the movie focuses on a writer and inn owner played by Patrick Allen and the love triangle consisting of him, his boring wife (Sarah Lawson), and his ultra sexy new secretary, Angela (Jane Merrow). Can you tell which is which?

Jeff's wife is wearing maybe the ugliest dress I've ever seen. She doesn't seem to sweat as much as Angela. Too respectable maybe.

I guess if Tennessee Williams wrote a science fiction film, this would be like the cheap knock-off that came out two years later. Allen's character, Jeff, loves his wife and knows he shouldn't make out with Angela but she's just so hot and it's just so hot--outside!

Allen and Lawson were married in real life though this didn't make any visible difference in the performances, the two don't really have many scenes together. Angela comes off like a campy villain whose goal is to ruin everything with her kisses.

Meanwhile, the quiet Dr. Hanson (Lee), who's staying at the inn, is alarmed by the unseasonable heat. Eventually he shares his worries with Jeff and Dr. Stone (Cushing). But there's already plenty cause for alarm as the heat has already almost gotten a guy run over by a car and apparently caused another guy to try assaulting Angela.

The heat gets all the way up to 108º Fahrenheit eventually, only four degrees away from what I experienced last week except without the rain. I didn't think to attribute it to an alien invasion but let's just say it's fortunate Dr. Hanson does.

Some nice menace is derived from a mostly faceless terror in this movie, Lee and Cushing of course helping a great deal with their performances. But while the love triangle made me laugh several times, it diminishes the film a bit.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Long Doctor

Back in the tech mall. Here I am with my new laptop, but the wi-fi just doesn't seem to work at school anymore. Anyway, it's air conditioned in here.

Just came from Mythology class where instead of doing group work myself and five other students talked about television. Doctor Who came up, I said I'd seen every episode in existence. I explained I didn't binge watch it, just watched one episode a night for about a year and a half. "That's commitment!" said one guy as though binge watching is much easier. Everyone in the group said they binge watch television series. I think this has become a very normal way to watch TV shows. Among other things, it suggests to me that people in the U.S. have an extraordinary amount of time on their hands. But coupled with widespread assertions--I saw Terry Gilliam say it in an interview only recently--that all the creative talent in filmmaking is going to television, I wonder if what we're seeing is the beginning of the next stage in the evolution in film, analogous to the novel. Aside from some sporadic examples, the novel is generally considered to have emerged in the nineteenth century. With film being barely over a century old, perhaps it's already time to enter into its novel phase. Novels, in fact, originally appeared in serialised format, chapters of Charles Dickens novels appeared in monthly publications. Reading the novels of the nineteenth century could be described as binge reading serialised stories.

Most of the people I talk to at school are around ten years younger than me--I've also been talking to a Doctor Who fan in my Media Communications Class. She and the one I talked to to-day both say they don't like the new Doctor. The one in Media Communications says she hated the Eleventh at first so she's waiting for this one to grow on her. The one in Mythology class says she's already given up.

I do remember how there were people who didn't like the Eleventh Doctor so maybe it's just some growing pains. I keeping thinking about what my friend Brian said about the writers attempting with this Doctor what was attempted with the Sixth, which is basically to make him unlikeable and selfish. The contrast was marked in the transition from Fifth to Sixth as the Fifth, particularly in his final season was portrayed as particularly daring and self-sacrificing. Almost immediately after regenerating, the Sixth talks about how disgusted he was by memories of the Fifth Doctor's nobility. He refers to events in what has since become widely regarded as the best episode of the show's history, The Caves of Androzani. The Sixth's first story may suffer therefore for contrast but I think even isolated it's justifiably called one of the worst stories, if not the worst story, of the series, The Twin Dilemma. The Sixth Doctor displays more definite cowardice than the Twelfth who, seemingly abandoning Clara in "Deep Breath" is soon revealed of course to have not abandoned her after all. The Sixth unequivocally abandons Peri, his companion, in the face of danger.

The idea, from what I understand, was to make the Sixth become gradually nobler over time but he proved so unpopular he and the writing staff were jettisoned after a relatively short period.

It occurs to me that twelve is twice six. More than that, I'm thinking about how the Valyard was mentioned at the end of the previous season, supposedly an incarnation of the Doctor between his Twelfth and Thirteenth selves. He's introduced in the Sixth Doctor's final season where he puts the Doctor on trial. What if the theme of the Doctor wrestling with his guilt this season ends with him abandoning morality, effectively becoming the Valyard? It would be kind of neat.

Twitter Sonnet #669

An upturned clock hand statement knows nothing.
False human hands grew from the gator's back.
No cloud could lay its hands on the halfling.
Ape feet with thumbs never gave hands the sack.
Dream hands'll grasp life from jumper cables.
Mastodons missed the hand bucket luncheon.
The wet ink hands lost answers on tables.
Whys hang on the tight hands round beat truncheon.
Mattel bank hands bolster the poker phone.
Ornate limestone trick hands switch seats quickly.
Streaming across elbow length hands is bone.
Solar flare hands light candles so wickly.
Keyboard matte hands await air condition.
Ice hands have made solid inhibition.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Two Farthings aren't Even Necessary

Who needs a unicorn capable of granting any wish? One might think things seems hopeless to the little boy in 1955's A Kid for Two Farthings, living in a ragged tailor shop with his mother and whose father seems to have permanently left the country. But little Joe seems inexhaustibly cheerful despite having kept a series of pets who've all died young. He's the kid, he buys a kid (a young goat) with one horn he thinks is a unicorn, and the movie's actually about Diana Dors and her body builder boyfriend.

I can't really blame director Carol Reed for the shift in focus--Joe (Jonathon Ashmore) is cute but a little shrill and a lot of his dialogue very clearly had to be dubbed in. Meanwhile, Diana Dors is

And her boyfriend is

Theirs is a pretty lightweight story. The body builder, Sam (Joe Robinson), works in the tailor shop but dreams of winning it big in an international body building competition so he can afford to wed Sonia (Dors) properly. But when the local wrestling champion, the Python (Primo Carnera), taunts Sam at the gym, Sam rashly goes for the steadier paycheck of a wrestling job even though he fears it'll kill his muscle definition. At first Sonia's dismayed, then she realises this brings her dream of a normal married life closer to reality.

Constantly underfoot is Joe with his 'unicorn', taking credit for most good things that happen because he wished on the goat. He was told about the power of unicorns by the tailor shop owner, Mr. Kandinsky (David Kossoff), a Jewish man with a thick accent possibly meant to be a Holocaust survivor. He's pretty charming as he weaves stories for the credulous boy about unicorns and he helps maintain a little graveyard for the various small animals Joe apparently neglects to death.

I don't think we're meant to see it that way. This seems like its meant to be a tale of the human heart maintaining a sense of wonder and a capacity for love despite terrible hardship but the amusing wrestling plot and Dors dreaming over living room sets and diamond rings feels too easy for such a heavy statement. It's attractively shot and Dors gives a performance cagier than her character--I'm really starting to like Dors and it was exciting seeing her in a colour film.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Running for America, from America

When being hunted as a spy across the U.S., one would hope to find plenty of trusting souls capable of seeing right through to one's innocence. This is fortunately what happens to Barry in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 film Saboteur, an entertaining film though far from one of Hitchcock's best, largely coming off as a less sensible version of Hitchcock's earlier film, The 39 Steps.

Instead of Robart Donat being mistaken as a spy and being chased across Scotland by police and the Enemy, Robert Cummings plays Barry, a worker at an airplane factory who is framed for arson at the factory and is chased across the U.S. by police and the Enemy. The movie was made during World War II, so perhaps the shadowy organisation undermining U.S. society are meant to be Axis spies, but it's never made clear.

Like many war time propaganda films, Saboteur spends a lot of time ruminating on the fundamental wholesomeness of the country it was made in as Barry meets a truck driver, a blind man, and a troupe of circus freaks in his travels, all of whom are able to see into Barry's heart and perceive his basic goodness. A subtle difference between this film and other country tour, war propaganda films--like Powell and Pressburger's The 49th Parallel--Hitchcock shows the people able to see Barry's innocence to be outsiders who explicitly refer to the things that distinguish them as giving them that insight. The blind man refers to his blindness as allowing him to see Barry's character more clearly, the circus freaks sympathise with the lack of help Barry gets from "normals".

Two of the leaders of the enemy faction are even presented as appearing to being epitomes of American virtue--first an amiable ranch owner who exhibits fondness for his infant granddaughter and then a wealthy woman influential in New York society, known for donations to charity. One imagines Hitchcock being quite pleased with himself in injecting a bit of paranoia into the otherwise normal sentiments of a certain kind of propaganda.

Priscilla Lane plays Pat, granddaughter of the blind man and she doesn't trust Barry like he does. But like Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps, they're stuck with each other as fugitives in the wilderness, though the reasons for Pat staying with Barry make a little less sense as she's not hand cuffed to him. This is one of a few logistical flaws that render this film inferior to the tight as a drum The 39 Steps.

But the climactic final act of Saboteur is certainly more of a spectacle with high angle shots from skyscrapers and a rather dramatic boat launching.

According to Wikipedia, Hitchcock originally wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for the leads. Certainly those two would have better served the film, particularly in regards to the rather bland and unconvincing Cummings. But Lane is pretty and charming. I liked how her character is a model who turns up on billboards with oddly pertinent messages throughout the film.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Zombie Ceiling

I've never fantasised about making love to a zombie. But some people might think it's a good idea to have a completely obedient, voiceless and mindless lover around. To these people I recommend for edification1932's White Zombie, the film from which Rob Zombie's band took its name. It's an enjoyable, atmospheric little horror film, though a lot of that atmosphere is nicked wholesale from the Universal lot, notable Dracula's castle.

Only here it's a gothic monument somehow in Haiti, perhaps built by Hospitallar knights who got really lost during the Crusades. And who should be living in Dracula's castle but Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, here actually playing a wealthy gentleman with the unassuming name of Murder Legendre.

He's a voodoo master--it wasn't until the 60s that zombies in movies took the form of mobs of brain eating, rotting corpses. In White Zombie they're basically what Haitian folklore says they are, people brought back to life as thralls of the voodoo master. Murder uses them to work his sugar mill, really cheap slave labour, basically. Satisfying, too, since a lot of his zombies are his former enemies.

When an attractive young man and woman, lovers, come to stay with Murder's neighbour Charles (Robert Frazer), Charles falls in love with the woman, Madeleine (Madge Bellamy). He enters into a scheme with Murder to kill Madeleine and make her Charles' zombie bride. Which, as paths to true love go, may be rockier than most, I don't know, I won't spoil it for you.

Madeleine's white, which is less special than the title suggests since several of Murder's zombies are also white. Since the production code expressly forbade depictions of white slavery I suppose this movie couldn't have been made after 1934.

Twitter Sonnet #668

Pickled needles dream of sour cushions.
No-more missions should build the treasured stove.
Shorter books belong to longer questions.
Empty turtle necks wander the orange grove.
Neon fingers cut through the brownstone brains.
Refraining retainers dive through the brick.
White bearded rocks turn red on hilly plains.
Only giant fleas know the laundry trick.
Oracle chemical spills paint the bird.
An eye on the tree tips the day to night.
Dental sleeves spoke a hastily crowned word.
Pythons and doors over unicorns fight.
Tea canals convinced the red duke to stay.
Short propaganda dissolved in the bay.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not In Panties, Anyway

Say what you will about Bing Crosby, not many popular singers to-day would sing an entire song while straddling a live bear. That accounts for just two of the stars of 1934's We're Not Dressing, a good ensemble comedy that also includes Carole Lombard, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Ethel Merman, and a very young Ray Milland.

As is so often the case, Lombard steals the show. No matter how dopey her lines--and everyone but Crosby has a screw loose in this screwball comedy--Lombard always comes off as the most sensible person in the movie. Something about the quickness of her eyes and gestures, everyone else seems like they're acting underwater by comparison.

Second place would go to Burns and Allen, though, who are introduced in a decidedly pre-code moment where Burns, spotting a pair of panties by Allen's ankles, says casually, "Gracie, you lost something." When she pulls up the panties to find she's already wearing a pair, she assumes it's a present from Burns. But actually they belong to Lombard who lost them to the wind which picked them up from the other side of the island where she, the passengers, and the crew of her shipwrecked yacht are stranded.

Crosby's one of the sailors. In addition to taking care of Lombard's bear, he's also a long suffering voice of the working class, making dry, fatigued observations about Lombard's flighty and ridiculous behaviour.

The other singer in the film, Ethel Merman, gets some nice musical numbers about trying to seduce Lombard's uncle played by Leon Errol.

It's the capable sailor Crosby who sees everyone through when they're shipwrecked. I wonder how much the story of the people least deserving of wealth having most of it resonated during the Great Depression. Watching it now, it's mostly Lombard one sympathises with, however silly her antics, though Crosby has a charming, melancholy laid back quality--he comes off a bit like Robert Mitchum's peppier brother.