Saturday, February 28, 2015

Cloth Covers Metal

I heard one of the best Doctor Who audio dramas I've heard yet a few days ago, Spare Parts, a 2002 Fifth Doctor story which in turn influenced a Tenth Doctor television two parter--"Rise of the Cybermen" and "The Age of Steel". And for once, the audio drama was credited and the author of the audio drama was even paid for it. The only really disappointing thing is that the television episodes removed so many of the best elements of the story.

Instead of an alternate dimension where Cybermen are shown to have an alternate origin, the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa go straight past the pointless work around and travel to witness the origins of the same Cybermen we'd seen all along on the series. Also, instead of alternate timeline versions of characters important to the main cast, we're introduced to new characters who are developed early on quite enough for it to be much more horrifying when they're "upgraded".

Writer Marc Platt, who wrote Ghost Light, one of the best Seventh Doctor television stories, appreciates that the Cyberman are much scarier with the cloth masks instead of the metal or plastic ones. That vulnerability, that sense of walking, eternal surgery patients, is so much eerier than the big toy case. It's not unlike the problem with the Green Goblin in the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie.

Spare Parts features Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) as the Doctor's companion and once again provides opportunity to explore her character far more than any of her television episodes did.

Arguments between council members and crude versions of Cybermen and a busybody official (Pamela Binns) who comes off like a Catholic school nun instructor are all wonderfully grey. Unusually for Doctor Who, no one of them feels simply evil, each one has a point of view on what's best for humanity, even the Cybermen. Really good stuff.

Twitter Sonnet #721

The pretzels of Hell reach through thick glasses.
A pale pancreas recreates the heart.
Sharpened exposition thought of asses.
Bardot's contempt traces the moonless art.
White raindrop slashes separate the ink.
Promotional moth men think of butter.
Nineteen eighties sidewalk art stains the sink.
T-shirts clog all the light in the shutter.
All crude cyborgs know that nylon beats steel.
Gold arrowheads against blue sky remain.
All plastic coils one day become real.
Sturdy pins traced a good mountain's refrain.
Permanent pachyderm decimals mate.
Extended noses need never to wait.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Vulcan for Us

So many people are posting images and quotes from Star Trek II to-day because Leonard Nimoy has died. He was best known for playing Spock and Spock's death in Star Trek II is certainly one of the most memorable deaths in cinema history and one of the most memorable funerals and eulogies because there was something profound in our love for Spock that had a lot to do with Leonard Nimoy.

Spock was cool, in the old fashioned sense of the word, implying a certain economy of movement and expression. Nimoy was an actor who knew the value of restraint and it served him well--it served all of us well. The scene in Star Trek II where Spock takes the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" to its logical conclusion is a perfect expression of what his character had been all along--a consummate scientist. The beautiful ideal of scientific discovery which puts aside the ego and psychological comfort, reflected in the Vulcan renouncement of emotion. It's true, we all need love and validation, but that makes Spock all the more admirable and Nimoy's portrayal of the character all the more beautiful. The version of Spock played by Zachary Quinto, who is much more about the modern compulsion to indulge in emotion and the need to find self-worth, is good and interesting but reminds us of what we've lost to-day with Nimoy's passing.

He was one of my favourites as a child. I really think what Nimoy accomplished with the character directly influenced one of the better parts of my nature and I think that's true for many, many people. We could say he passed his katra to humanity.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

You Didn't Think of the Children

We're just never going to be good enough for the ghosts of orphans, it's time we faced it. Horror fiction often plays on guilt, the vague feeling we deserve to be punished, and looking at the sorrowful faces of hundreds of abandoned children can fill one with even deeper feelings of falling short when those orphans died in some accident resulting from negligent adult supervision. 2007's The Orphanage (El Orfanato) is among the many films to play on this psychological dynamic. Somehow it's not very scary but it is stylish and tells a decent story.

The film is almost entirely told from the point of view of a woman named Laura played by Belen Rueda whose lined face tells you this movie wasn't made in the U.S. where female protagonists are required to look no older than thirty five. Rueda gives a good performance as she struggles with her relationship with her HIV positive adopted son while trying to turn her home, an old orphanage, into a place to care for special needs children. Her prospective partner in managing the place is her husband, a doctor (Fernando Cayo). As events unfold, he proves to be not the most sympathetic or caring husband but he's generally supportive when Simon (Roger Princep), their adopted son, disappears one day.

Laura tries to explain how she still feels the presences of the phantom children she and her husband assumed were Simon's imaginary friends but no-one believes her.

There are a lot of jump out scares in the movie that for reasons I can't quite explain never seemed to work on me. Furniture suddenly falling over, a door slamming, a window pane falling out--something about the timing was off, I don't know. I don't really care, jump out scares aren't what distinguish good horror movies. Though it does somewhat sabotage the audience's identification with Laura when we don't jump at the same things she jumps at.

The movie actually reminds me of a much more conservative version of 2004's Saint Ange which I watched a couple weeks ago. Saint Ange is a better and weirder film but The Orphanage is a nice enough way to spend a couple hours.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Virtue of Dreaming Avoided for Discussing It

What if a filmmaker really wanted to make a movie set in 1930s New York about a hot shot American reporter and an English orphan girl falling for each other but through some quirk of circumstance that filmmaker was forced to make his movie about Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell? It wouldn't surprise me if that were the story behind the making of 1985's Dreamchild, part breezy little romance, part brief vignette on the real life Alice and the author of the famous books. Featuring Ian Holm wonderful as always as Carroll and a very effective child actress, Amelia Shankley, as the young Alice Liddell, the movie also has some really amazing Jim Henson Creature Shop characters that make you wish Jim Henson had simply adapted the Alice books.

These appear in dream or hallucinatory sequences experienced by the elderly Alice (Coral Browne), now Alice Hargreaves, in the U.S. to commemorate Lewis Carroll's centennial at Columbia University. Nonetheless, she's a little put off by all these Americans insisting on calling her "Alice" instead of "Mrs. Hargreaves", a point the film reiterates far past seeming credible. Her assistant is Lucy (Nicola Cowper), a shy orphan girl, and the two of them are bewildered by a wave of reporters as they arrive in New York. One of them, Jack Dolan (Peter Gallagher), wins their confidences and essentially becomes Hargreaves' agent.

Most of the movie is about Jack's struggle with proving he's honest even as he is trying to make a buck in the middle of the Great Depression, after all, as he reminds us in dialogue though we're never shown soup lines or anything. Hargreaves can't understand why people are interested in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Jack gives her the spiel about how people need to dream.

Gradually, memories take over and we see very brief scenes of Holm as Carroll and Shankley as Liddell. They never have dialogue that establishes their connexion, the film sadly takes it for granted. Carroll has hardly any lines, hinting at one point he wouldn't want Alice to marry the first gentleman who asks her and so on. Though Holm is very good at contriving a stutter like the one Carroll reportedly had and he invests his few scenes with a real sense of the man's discomfort and anxiety with the adult world. Shankley brings out more mischievousness than is hinted at in her namesake character or in the many surviving photographs Carroll took of her. It's a bit jarring when she recites dialogue from the book next to new dialogue created for the movie.

The movie's Alice Liddell seems as though she takes giddy pleasure in the affection the Reverend Dodgson (Carroll's real name) has for her, whether or not she has any real sympathy for him being somewhat in question. This may have been the actual relationship but my impression was that Carroll was charmed more by the credulity and openness of children than he was seduced by their cunning.

The highlight of the film really is the Jim Henson Creature Shop scenes which mostly use dialogue directly from the first book--featured are scenes with the Mock Turtle and Griffon, the Mad Tea Party, and the Caterpillar. The Creature Shop takes faithful reproductions of John Tenniel's illustrations and expands them credibly with splotchy skin on the Hatter and tangled fur on everyone else.

Twitter Sonnet #720

Pastry tongues trim a real resplendent lip.
False feather helmets blind no living hill.
Hungry music savours a sobbing trip.
A lost Lego rebuilds with dreaming will.
Unbalanced laboratory orphans hide.
Sleep overtakes the boiling rain kettles.
There's no condensed can thinks the coaster lied.
Wooden tweezers parse the pickled metals.
Emerald fan microphones forgo the map.
Roughened round walkers careen through the tube.
Triumphant flies flambe the fossil sap.
Ben Franklin yet bewails the whaling rube.
Purple panic room plants devour Pez.
The oncologist orange will never rez.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Earth Planing

What is the new old fashioned way? I think that's the question the Wachowskis asked themselves when they made 2015's Jupiter Ascending, which apparently they were commissioned by Warner Brothers to make as the first film in a potential franchise. Judging from the meagre performance at the box office it's not likely to be spawning sequels any time soon. It is a fundamentally flawed film, an improvement over Cloud Atlas, the previous film of the Wachowskis', but still fails to capture the vibrant inventiveness of Bound and the first Matrix film.

I wonder if Jupiter Ascending was meant to be Warner Brothers' answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, the two films must have been made over roughly the same period of time. Both are space operas involving a fish out of water, earthling protagonist, both seem to have been heavily influenced by Farscape. Guardians is the superior film but there are actually some things I like about Jupiter Ascending better--it's not as sappy; the costumes, makeup, and set designs are far more beautiful; and it makes that earthling protagonist female, which is always a plus in my book.

However, the film indulges in a kind of story device that has been avoided by makers of fantasy films for over decade now and has been vociferously denounced by the average analytic geek even after it's been pretty much dead in Sci-Fi/Fantasy for so long: the damsel in distress. Jupiter Ascending is made up of a prelude, four acts, and one Terry Gilliam tribute interlude. In each act, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is vulnerable in a strange, bewildering, threatening situation while Caine (Channing Tatum) is desperately trying to rescue her. In a sense, he's the Aeryn Sun to her John Crichton--he was genetically engineered as a warrior and has trouble dealing with the strong emotions she makes him feel while she inserts the random, earthly wisecracks that worked so well in Guardians of the Galaxy and Farscape. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis made the mistake of thinking that what made John Crichton and Star Lord work so well is that they're normal guys in a strange situation. Actually, neither one of them is normal which, in turn, actually makes them normal--human. Star Lord in some ways is still the little kid who was abducted by aliens while Crichton is a test pilot, kind of the classic definition of someone who's not normal.

Jupiter cleans toilets for a living. It's very, very clear that the Wachowskis have never supported themselves by cleaning toilets, the generally clean homes and bathrooms shown and Kunis' invariably perfect hair, makeup, and clothes, and her enormous home her Russian emigrant family live in in New York city, sabotage any attempt to relate to her as an average working dame. Though it's not quite as disastrous as when she has the means to rescue herself and her family from cleaning toilets for a living and doesn't take the opportunity for unexplained reasons.

Also, Star Lord and Crichton have agency. Sometimes they need rescuing but they have ideas that move themselves from place to place, they contribute to plans the group is making. Jupiter is basically passed from one villain to another like a potato while Caine is struggling to catch up. I don't mind a damsel in distress story on principle, one of my favourite movies of all time is the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. But Tatum's character doesn't have the charm of Errol Flynn and the battles he engages in aren't as interesting. The movie clearly banked on Jupiter carrying the personality load and while I do think Kunis is perfect casting for that the screenplay cuts the floor out from under her by attempting to make her some theoretical idea of normal.

Maybe they were aiming for a Twilight style young adult fiction where the protagonist usually is this glossy, boring version of normal. But I think to write that kind of boring character and story properly you have to also be a boring person, much more boring than the Wachowskis.

Sean Bean is a welcome respite from Tatum in a supporting role and there's a cute scene with bees. The main Sci-Fi concept of the film, which I won't spoil for you, is interesting and somewhat reminiscent of Dune but much more vicious. As usual when critics say a movie is confusing Jupiter Ascending isn't remotely confusing. If the Wachowskis had remembered what made Bound and Matrix good was that the protagonists were a bit larger than life, Jupiter Ascending might have been a really good film.

Monday, February 23, 2015

When a Movie Flies

So I was wrong. Maybe not surprising considering I hadn't seen most of the movies but even if I had seen Birdman, which I watched after the Oscars last night, I don't know if I'd have predicted it to win. Though as Harry Knowles tweeted after the announcement of its win, it makes sense given how many actors are Academy voters. The movie is a massive, dripping, love letter to actors. In fact, acting is about the only category in which I think it deserved to win and about the only category in which it didn't. Michael Keaton not winning is truly an egregious snub, I suspect it's due to the fact that, even though it was a vulnerable and demanding role, it was far too subtle and made use of the notoriously under-appreciated talent of comedic timing. Still, wow, amazing to see Keaton back from what I had assumed was retirement. And he's good.

Also great in the film are Edward Norton and Emma Stone even though the screenplay really short changed them, particularly in Stone's case. Norton starts off as a great, slightly supernatural parody of actors like, well, himself. Norton is notorious for wanting to leverage his respected talent into taking creative control in his films--rumour has it that's why he didn't come back as the Hulk, which makes Birdman's tale of an actor known for playing a superhero all the more appropriate. Stone, meanwhile, is a lazily sketched junkie misfit daughter with whom her father, Keaton, has trouble connecting. Nevertheless, Stone knocks it out of the park and I'd love to see what she could do with a better written role of this kind. Of course, she's a superhero movie veteran herself, having appeared in the Marc Webb Spider-Man series that has just been jettisoned. I haven't seen those, in fact I think this is the first time I've seen Stone in anything but I can definitely see why so many directors want her in their films.

Birdman is about the movie industry adjusting emotionally to the rise in prominence of the superhero film and thematically it's a bit like a superhero film, kind of the opposite of the Book of Job where self validation is the goal. Keaton's character telling his ex-wife a story about imagining being in a plane crash on which George Clooney also happened to be a passenger, and then Keaton's daughter seeing the next day only Clooney mentioned in the headline, is just pathetic enough to make you want Keaton to fight for his ego's validation. An embarrassing couple of passive aggressively written scenes of confrontation between a villainous theatre critic (Lindsay Duncan) and the two male leads seal the deal on the underdog cache.

One thing I find really strange is that I don't see Wikipedia or any articles connecting Birdman with the Hanna Barbera character or mentioning Harvey Birdman, the parody series that aired on Adult Swim a few years ago. The film Birdman's mask is a little different but it clearly looks like it was meant to be the same character so I don't know what gives.

As for the Oscar ceremony itself, astonishingly badly written jokes for host Neil Patrick Harris, mostly terrible or average singing with the very notable exception of Lady Gaga who took command of a Sound of Music medley as well as really anyone could have. She hit all the notes without having that slightly melted cassette tape sound standard to Broadway-esque singers, demonstrated by Neil Patrick Harris and Anna Kendrick at the beginning of the show. Being a rock singer doesn't necessarily mean you can carry a demanding show tune but Gaga definitely has the goods.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Big, Sickly, Bloated Night

I hadn't really planned on watching the Oscars but I'm at my parents' house and my mother's throwing a little Oscar themed party. I haven't seen most of the nominees. I suppose either American Sniper or Selma will win. I haven't seen either one. I'm leaning towards American Sniper for my prediction. The ironic thing about the outcry over Selma's initial shut out is that the movie looks unmistakably like Oscar bait to me. I suspect academy voters won't like being shamed so, even though Clint Eastwood presents a generally conservative worldview in his films, sort of the anti-Argo, I think the voters will go with him because he's royalty.

I don't have any illusions about movies winning on artistic merit. I'm almost to the point where a movie winning an Oscar seems like an insult to the filmmakers to me. But if I were pulling for anyone, I guess I'd want Grand Budapest Hotel to win Best Picture, The Tale of Princess Kaguya to win Best Animated Feature, and Ida to win Best Foreign Film.

Twitter Sonnet #719

Soggy crackers collide in a cork sky.
Reflected lamentations show tear glass.
The grooves in groves of Grover flail and cry.
Detained DeLoreans lack the right pass.
Brittle silver chopsticks doodle the eights.
Sticky white gum emerges as the king.
Hairnet boots confirm the rocket probates.
A song rattled a coin filled cup to sing.
Ham enclotted eyebrows break out the meat.
Birds wearing wing-tips will not ever fly.
Passion's plastic suffocates the love seat.
Couch consecrations praise potato fries.
Duplicate eggs liquidate drop pictures.
Yellow wings weakly whisk the light fixtures.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Watchful Clouds

It's funny how infrequently my comments are approved on io9. I see the many misspellings I commented on in this transcribed Sherlock Holmes story weren't fixed, either. You know, I'd feel like a jerk pointing this stuff out except lazy spelling and grammar seem to be a real epidemic, not to mention the fact that io9 publishes articles deploring lazy writing practices. And in this case, too, I was genuinely curious if the many misspelling were part of the original copy of the recently discovered story. I see this version does not contain the typos and now, like Sherlock Holmes, I wonder if I can deduce where those misspellings came from. The only thing I can think of is that the story on io9 was manually transcribed instead of copy and pasted, for some reason. Anyway, this site makes a pretty good case for the story not having been written by Arthur Conan Doyle at all, as people are also noting in the comments to the io9 story.

Why do I hold io9 to such a high standard? I guess because I genuinely like a lot of their articles and feel the tone of their "geek" reportage is more sincere than most. Gods know I make plenty of mistakes on my blog. I may be in the minority in actually preferring people correct my mistakes in public--I've gotten a few slightly chafed private e-mail responses to public comments I've made pointing out an error. And I've gotten private e-mails informing me of an error I've made now and then. I invariably feel uncomfortable with it. I don't like creating the illusion that I saw a mistake I really didn't but artists and writers seem to feel a lot of anxiety about not looking perfect. Which I think in an odd way leads to more and more problems as people find it easier to simply block their errors out of their minds than to acknowledge someone saw them make a mistake. I feel this urge sometimes, which is a big part of why I like to be corrected in public. That's a peg I would really prefer to be knocked down from because it's the kind that inhibits intellectual growth.

The foot of pride, and all--gods, is the bible influencing me? Well, I don't advocate Jerusalem being razed for typos.

I did take some time off from the Book to listen to a Doctor Who audio play this week, a 2002 Eighth Doctor story called Neverland. As the title suggests, the story draws comparisons between the Doctor and Peter Pan which prove to be so apt I wonder they've never occurred to me before. The Doctor's companion, Charley, voices most of the observations which speaks well for her and her insight. There's also some insinuations of Charley wanting to sleep with the Doctor, which was a surprise and an interesting precursor to the 2005 television relaunch. The Doctor reacts like a kid and there's a funny moment where he introduces Romana and Charley to each other, each woman as his "best friend", and doesn't seem to notice the slightly chilly "hellos" they give each other.

Lalla Ward returns again as Romana though disappointingly in her role as president of Gallifrey, and a very good president, which is close, true, to the academic Romana is introduced as in The Ribos Operation but completely misses the fun inherent in the chemistry between her and the Doctor. The writers should note how the Doctor behaved when he was president of Gallifrey, treating it halfway between a lark and a strategic manoeuvre.

I was amused by a strident line given to Romana about how there're no such things as gods which may have been a nod to Lalla Ward's husband, Richard Dawkins.

Friday, February 20, 2015

That's Not My Shoe

This ridiculously photogenic daddy long legs was in my bathroom Wednesday morning. It always amazes me they can move those long, thin legs without being pulled by a puppeteer's strings.

Then, that evening, I noticed the same daddy long legs watching me in the shower. Pervert.

Here are some more photos I've taken lately:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pure Hell

Where do people with guilt complexes go when they die? They might go to the place depicted in 1960's Jigoku (地獄, "Hell"), a horror film about a young man who constantly finds himself in situations where people die and constantly blames himself for it. The movie is devilish, a long cruel joke that wisely never explains itself. It's effective in its sense of inescapability and as an evisceration of sentimentality.

Shirou (Shigeru Amachi) is a theology student in love with his professor's daughter, Yukiko (Utako Mitsuya).

Watching the movie, I thought his name was the "Shiro" that meant white, 白, but it's actually "Shirou" using the kanji "四郎", a fairly common name, the first kanji meaning the number four and the second referring to a young man. But I don't think the resemblance to "white" is incidental because despite the fact that the film shows him apparently on a fixed path to Hell, he never seems to have an even slightly malicious thought and is never actually responsible for any deaths around him. The first one, a drunken yakuza, is hit by Shirou's car when it's being driven by his mysterious friend, Tamura (Yoichi Numata), a young man with a cruel sense of humour who was also courting Yukiko. The professor refused to give his consent but Tamura applies pressure by demonstrating knowledge he somehow has of a murder the professor committed during the war.

One might read Tamura as being the dark half of a single person for whom Shirou is the other half or one might read Tamura as a demon. When Shirou goes to visit a nursing home where his parents live, ironically called Tenjoen, "Garden of Heaven", Tamura shows up to reveal he knows about forms of murder everyone there has committed.

Somehow in the nursing home is also a prostitute, a reporter, and an artist who's been working on a painting of Hell for a long time. The artist's daughter is Sachiko, who looks uncannily like Yukiko (and is also played by Utako Mitsuya). Also like Yukiko, Sachiko seems to be the only one who's never done anything bad. The fact that they are inexplicably identical adds an otherworldly quality to their purity as though they represent an ideal more than actual people.

As the deaths pile up they become more absurd and the imagery becomes increasingly surreal and fantastic, people are cut up alive and Shirou's unborn daughter is sent down some ghostly river on a lotus leaf. Every is in constant anxiety about the fates of their loved ones causing me to wonder, as people start coming back from the dead and the cycle of threat continues endlessly, why the characters don't grow numb to the trauma. It occurred to me it was because these were people from melodrama. Shirou's overwhelming sense of guilt and panic will never be assuaged because he was simply never meant to be more complex than that. As much as they're caught in circumstances and places of torment, the characters are also frozen within particular feelings, forever. This is the Hell of the sentimental.

Twitter Sonnet #718

Razor Slinkies massacre the stairway.
Distant nine a.m. paints the mouse yellow.
The army crushed a cracking gold Segway.
Beetles converge on the shrunken pillow.
Armour moleskin salami microphones.
Dress the divested vesture in a tank.
Bring forth the forthright coats of herringbones.
Don ye derbies of buoyant hue and rank.
Don't eat the cookie when cowries go unsought.
Rejoice in Germany's manticores now.
Revel in beige envelopes without blot.
If they ask whence Webster's arrived tell how.
Behold, the Lord hath spilt ice cream on Earth.
Mark ye to ants the sugar liquid's worth.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Compassed by Spirits

To be effective, horror films often create a feeling of inescapable doom, of retribution brought down on the protagonist based on half-hidden, inflexible rules. 1964's Kwaidan (怪談) exemplifies this aesthetically and thematically. An anthology film consisting of four stories, each based on a Japanese folk tale, it's an eloquent portrayal of the tight logic of supernatural--or human subconscious--forces.

You might recognise these Heike crabs if you've seen Carl Sagan's Cosmos. In that series, Sagan talks about how superstitions throughout history have shaped the world in ways no-one consciously intended. The Heike crabs, he explains, were believed to be possessed by the souls of samurai who perished in the Battle of Dan-no-ura but what looks like a samurai mask on the back of the Heike is in fact due to artificial selection, fishermen over the centuries tossing these crabs back in the water for fear of upsetting the spirits, thereby allowing these crabs to pass down the genetic codes that create the face and multiply. The third story in Kwaidan concerns Hoichi (Katsuo Nakamura), a blind priest at a Buddhist temple who is invited to play the biwa and sing the tale of the battle by the ghosts of one side of the ancient battle. Takashi Shimura appears in a small role as the head priest and he knows there can only be one outcome in Hoichi's interactions with the dead.

This was a decade after Shimura stepped down from taking lead roles in Kurosawa films due to diminished ability to perform brought on by illness--I think he had a stroke that interfered with his ability to memorise lines--but he seems as good as ever in Kwaidan.

It's fitting to think of Carl Sagan and his discussion of superstition in Cosmos and how often beliefs in the sovereignty of non-existent gods or spirits resulted in death and destruction. Most of Kwaidan is shot on deliberately artificial looking indoor sets, giving the film a stylised look similar to The Ballad of Narayama or Gate of Hell with similar thematic purpose--creating the impression of a beautiful but confining world of human perception.

This is from the second story which is about the Japanese mythological figure the Yuki Onna, literally "Snow Woman". We see her eye painted on the sky, watching the two peasants long before we see her manifest in the form of a woman.

Tatsuya Nakadai stars as one of the peasants and Keiko Kishi plays the Yuki Onna. He watches her kill the other peasant but she spares him because she's attracted to him. But she warns him she'll kill him if he ever speaks of what he's seen--very much in the logic of superstition, her promise even seems to outweigh her love for him.

I would say, though, the two most effectively frightening stories are the first and last. The first story, about a married couple down on their luck and the husband abandoning the wife in order to accept an auspicious marriage arrangement, may seem to have a predictable ending at first. But its manner of executing that predictable ending is strikingly bizarre and brutal.

The final story is very short, featuring cameos from Haruko Sugimura and Ganjiro Nakamura--the former demonstrating an unexpected talent for horror screams. It's presented as an unfinished tale and the fact that it's unfinished works out to be another effective layer in the prison of supernatural malice.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Labyrinths, Languages, Elders

Last night I dreamt two eight or nine year old boys, one black and one white, were exploring the outside of an abandoned house at night. They found two sheds facing each other, the black kid went in one shed and the white kid in the other. At this point the black kid became me and I watched the white kid as he looked back at me, smiled, and seemed to drop into the ground. As I approached, I saw that the floor of his shed was an elevator that had suddenly dropped him down. It came back up without him. Realising I had the only flash light and he was down there without it, I got on the elevator and went down but discovered when I did a labyrinth of shining metal air ducts and flashing blue-green light everywhere that seemed to come from no source. And it turned out we were stuck down there, the elevator wouldn't come back down for us, so we crawled through the ducts on our hands and knees until we heard a man's voice saying something we couldn't make out. I said, "What?" aloud--in waking life and I woke myself up by saying it.

I had to be up early to-day, 7am, when I've been used to getting up at 11am lately. I'm a teaching assistant now for a Japanese class in the afternoon twice a week and I prefer to have lunch and afternoon caffeine after class. But to-day and to-morrow there were scheduled three different study sessions I had to attend, two to-day, one at 10am and one at 2pm. The teacher said she'd received e-mails from several students planning to attend but only two showed up, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Both were young women for whom English was a second language--in other words, they were learning Japanese as a third language. The first woman grew up speaking Spanish in Tijuana and is learning Japanese in the hopes of pursuing a career in the FBI. The other one spoke only Tagalog until she picked up English in third grade somehow just from being in regular American classes. I really envy the ability some people have to absorb language.

I don't have to be up quite as early for to-morrow's session. I wonder if anyone will show up. I've hardly had any time to read the bible to-day. I'm in Psalms, there sure are a lot of them. I've gotten the King James Bible on audio, too, so part of the time I've been listening to it while playing Skyrim which is certainly an interesting juxtaposition. I can't really listen to it while playing Alien: Isolation since your life depends on listening for a pin drop or making absolutely sure you don't make any noise. Which is cool, in its way, but I have to admit I ache for action, which is another reason why I'm playing Skyrim again. I noticed the official Elder Scrolls Twitter feed still talks about Skyrim mods and news and doesn't seem to mention Elder Scrolls Online, perhaps related to the fact that Bethesda, I've learned, had nothing to do with creating Elder Scrolls Online. Now I feel slightly less weird about not wanting to play it. Which I guess means I'm an Elder Scrolls completist. Though I still haven't played Arena . . . I'm rambling . . . did I mention I didn't get a lot of sleep last night?

Monday, February 16, 2015

"'Keep Your Temper,' Said the Caterpillar"

Now just past halfway through the bible, I'm tempted to say the message of the book is "There is no god." Except for explicitly supernatural things like parting the Red Sea, one could as well substitute luck for God. God says he'll reward the righteous and those who follow him, but then King Saul's punished for not fulfilling a genocide and sacrificing animals in an improper fashion, even though he intended those sacrifices to honour God. And there are several instances where God empowered the enemies of Israel to teach a lesson to a king or citizen who did something wrong. So no matter what happens, you can take it as evidence of God's will. If a heathen is doing well, it's because God's empowered him to teach his disobedient flock a lesson. If the follower of God is doing poorly, it's because God was testing him. Even the deaths of Job's children were just a test and at the end of the Book of Job he gets the exact same number of sons and daughters as those that Satan killed. And we're clearly meant to take those kids to be fit recompense which leads me to another observation about the bible in general--individual identity is meaningless. Everyone is judged only by whether they follow the Lord or not. And who can really say who's doing that?

I think back to the eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards and his impressively grim and obsessive sermons make a lot of sense. But there's plenty of impressive grim in the bible itself--the Book of Job is definitely my favourite so far. It would be just for the description of Leviathan alone, the influence of which is clear on Lovecraft, Tolkien, and Melville.

Job 40

. . .

[God speaking to Job]8 Lay thine hand upon him, remember the battle, do no more.

9 Behold, the hope of him is in vain: shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him?

10 None is so fierce that dare stir him up: who then is able to stand before me?

11 Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.

12 I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion.

13 Who can discover the face of his garment? or who can come to him with his double bridle?

14 Who can open the doors of his face? his teeth are terrible round about.

15 His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a close seal.

16 One is so near to another, that no air can come between them.

17 They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.

18 By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.

19 Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out.

20 Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron.

21 His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.

22 In his neck remaineth strength, and sorrow is turned into joy before him.

23 The flakes of his flesh are joined together: they are firm in themselves; they cannot be moved.

24 His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone.

25 When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid: by reason of breakings they purify themselves.

26 The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold: the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon.

27 He esteemeth iron as straw, and brass as rotten wood.

28 The arrow cannot make him flee: slingstones are turned with him into stubble.

29 Darts are counted as stubble: he laugheth at the shaking of a spear.

30 Sharp stones are under him: he spreadeth sharp pointed things upon the mire.

31 He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: he maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.

32 He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.

33 Upon earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.

34 He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride.

But the bulk of the Book of Job is a real meditation in the kind of psychology implied by all the preceding books, even though I've read that Job is thought to be older than most of the books that precede it. God promises reward to those who follow him and yet demands worship regardless. Job struggles with the fact that he's being punished even though he hasn't done anything wrong, but the very fact that he's complaining is wrong. As God makes abundantly clear at the end, one should follow God not because God promises reward but because God said so. If God rewards you, follow God; if God injures you, follow God and say thanks. This actually reminded me of Buddhism. The Buddhist statement that "life is suffering" agrees with the Book of Job if one takes God and Satan to be metaphors for life itself. Which, again, sort of makes the existence of God irrelevant. Unless it's not! There's that neurosis again.

I was reminded, too, of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Dancy character and her following missions given by an angel. One could take the angel as Dancy's hallucination or as an actual angel and just like the bible it almost doesn't matter. So Caitlin taps into a very fundamental human compulsion, at least in humans influenced by the Hebrew Bible. And so does the Book of Job--it considers the possible existence of altruism and the intrinsic value of suffering. Also like Buddhism, it encourages the dissolution of identity--Job asks his would be advisers if his life means anything. If his good works and piety aren't met with acknowledgement by God, then:

Job 10:18 Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!

Job's folly is that he presumes value in individual human lives, he misses the point completely until the end when he gets his replacement kids.

Twitter Sonnet #717

Times captioned by places trade pink skate boards.
Upside down beans reveal the fourth question.
Tree toned television shorts spit frost hordes.
Gelatin wasn't the last clear bastion.
Retained magicians find new capes to wear.
Standing furniture claims the slip covers.
Heaven's feathers smother the gummy bear.
Improved eyelid veins move zip-line lovers.
Tropical calliper palanquins crash.
Forceps accept subjects of lifted stuff.
Camouflage ordains the hidden hip sash.
Rulers will always call the squiggly bluff.
Toothbrush crowbar balance beams betray us.
The dancers damaged nothing on the bus.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

High Crabs and Low Clouds

I got a good deal on a camera a few days ago because my friend's store, called Radio Shack, is being liquidated, apparently related to a bankruptcy. I got a hundred dollars off on a Canon SX600 HS, I bought it hoping it would have manual exposure settings, like my first camera, but it looks like that's a feature Canon is no longer suffering the plebeians to have. But this new camera is much more intelligent about its automatic exposure than my previous one, I have a much easier time tricking it into giving me the exposure I want.

I went to the Bird Rock tide pools to-day to test it out. It was a cloudless sunny day but as I was leaving a fog abruptly rolled in. I drove north along the coast and it rolled in in splotches along the way.