Saturday, October 31, 2015

Once There were Infinite Doctors

We've seen two episodes of Doctor Who by Peter Harness--"Kill the Moon" and now "The Zygon Invasion"--and I think it's safe to say this guy likes moral dilemmas. Theme seems more important to him than whether the plot makes sense, too, which is okay with me. I really liked this episode--sci-fi problems and another classic cliffhanger ending, what's not to like?

It really feels old fashioned, actually, as it seems the Doctor is constantly a step behind in this episode right up until it seems everything's going to Hell . . . and then next week we find out how's he gonna get outta this one.

I think it was my friend Brian who speculated the Doctor still wears the question marks under his clothes and now we have confirmation--Twelve claims to wear question mark underpants. I love Osgood's reply, "Makes one wonder what the question is." Again, the Doctor mentions a hybrid, this seems to be this season's "Bad Wolf". I don't think we've had that season-spanning clue-word since the Russell T. Davies era.

I also like the idea of the two Osgoods not revealing whether they're human or Zygon, it reminds me of Charlie Chaplin refusing to answer if he was Jewish when he was in Germany in the 1930s even though he could have easily claimed to have not been Jewish. The flipside is that this episode has the Zygons complaining about not being able to live openly which makes it seem like a metaphor for closeted homosexuality. The fact that they're immigrants--the American cop complaining about how they came and stole jobs--makes it seem like the story's a metaphor for refugee controversies in Europe and Mexican immigrants in the US. The Zygons having training camps in Turmezistan--a place created for the story--and military paranoia about them ties them to terrorism.

Why does Harness bring in all these issues? Presumably to look at them from new angles and to see how basic human reactions recur for different issues. I'm not sure actually if I like it for itself or if I'm liking it for nostalgia reasons--this is the kind of story sci-fi series and movies used to have and, for good or bad, they don't tend to anymore. I liked how the "Truth or Consequences" clue played out. I feel like I've heard some show use the town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, before, though. I see it was referenced on Heroes, maybe that's where I remember it from.

And it was a good Halloween episode, too, not just for aliens masquerading as humans but for Osgood's many Doctor costumes. I loved the Seventh Doctor costume though it took me a moment to recognise this:

Then I realised--it's the old UNIT top. She's dressed as a combination of the Brigadier and the Fifth Doctor. But the best Doctor costume was on Clara who now is visually taking after the Doctor, too.

The only complaint I really had about the episode was the music, especially the slightly dopey scene where the soldier was tricked by the image of his mother. The weepy music was Mickey Moused to hell. Oh, I also didn't like when Clara was hiding behind a crate and pointing a flashlight/torch at the people she was supposedly hiding from.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Yellow Paint Fell on Asphalt

Put your abdomen in the air like you just don't care. I almost stepped on this guy when I was walking back from the trolley to my car yesterday.

There's so much interesting wildlife at that trolley station. Mostly squirrels.

I didn't think there were any squirrels about that day until I suddenly noticed this one coolly observing me from just a few feet away.

Time to eat leaves.

I failed to do my usual month of horror movies this year for Halloween. But I've watched so many horror films this year, especially Hammer films, I'm a little burnt out. Or maybe not, since I decided to watch Lost Highway again last night for the first time in years. I think. I don't remember the last time I watched it, I'll just create a reality in my head where I haven't watched it in five or so years, taking Fred Madison's advice. His lines, when he explains why he doesn't like cameras, "I like to remember things my own way . . . How I remember, not necessarily how they happened." I couldn't help thinking again of Paradise Lost.

Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n

This idea is brought back in Book VI of Paradise Lost and the angel Abdiel uses it to rebuke Satan's followers;

To serve th' unwise, or him who hath rebelld
Against his worthier, as thine now serve thee,
Thy self not free, but to thy self enthrall'd;
Yet leudly dar'st our ministring upbraid.
Reign thou in Hell thy Kingdom, let mee serve
In Heav'n God ever blessed, and his Divine

One could say God is the personification of reality in which case reality becomes another perspective. The seeming cruelty of Satan's and Fred Madison's circumstances takes on life and motive, then.

Then when Abdiel leaves, we get this:

So spake the Seraph ABDIEL faithful found,
Among the faithless, faithful only hee;
Among innumerable false, unmov'd,
Unshak'n, unseduc'd, unterrifi'd
His Loyaltie he kept, his Love, his Zeale;
Nor number, nor example with him wrought
To swerve from truth, or change his constant mind
Though single. From amidst them forth he passd,

Now it's Abdiel's mind that can't be changed by circumstance. Did Milton intend this parallel? His "constant mind" is a nicer way of saying a "mind not to be changed by time or place."

It's no surprise David Lynch has gone into making music, I found myself thinking that watching Lost Highway again felt a lot like hearing a familiar song due to Lynch's attention to sound design, the way effects and music overlap and flow into new shots and new scenes. I remember that first exhale as Patricia Arquette talks to police on the phone, her voice close and loud suddenly in the first act of the film which deploys silence so wonderfully. Fred's sax solo that sounds like something thrashing as it drowns that fades over the crunchy sounds of him smoking by the pay phone. It's no wonder someone decided to turn this movie into an opera in 2003 though it almost seems redundant to do so. I wonder if that opera's any good.

Twitter Sonnet #805

Wren elevator gravity resists.
Embargoed grass pastiches pull the green.
The vein of Coke like Pepsi drugs assists.
A kola messenger goes by unseen.
Plaid dockets cross record all colour tubes.
Rewound video stores have tape for eyes.
A carny's song at last romanced the rubes.
Blue iridescent peacocks pinned bowties.
Awakened drops of nobler syrup choked.
An ostrich dream was sped along the star.
Abating rakes relinquished leaves provoked.
A strobe of knees cascades across the bar.
Real pumpkin eyes begin to sprout at night.
Through darkened doors there watched a waiting wight.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Adolescence is the Bricks

It's a rotten place, high school, but maybe not this rotten. Murder, drug rackets, and a femme fatale--well, maybe actual high school has two out of three represented in the stylish 2005 noir pastiche Brick. A mostly successful homage to classic films noir and the works of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, it doesn't quite reach the heights of the works it imitates but it is very entertaining. It's certainly better than Bugsy Malone.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is for once appropriately cast as a tough as nails high school student and amateur detective Brendan Frye. With the help of his knowledgeable assistant The Brain (Matt O'Leary), Brendan has a history of exposing drug dealers by occasionally playing a little dirty. Now, he's trying to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Emily (Emilie de Ravin).

The trail leads him to a crew of useless potheads, a Tolkien obsessed drug lord, and a clear femme fatale from the moment we set eyes on her slightly crooning an anachronistic jazz tune at a party. Naturally, her name is Laura.

She's played by actress Nora Zehetner, one of the film's weak points as she plays her role so faintly, perhaps because we're supposed to keep guessing about how trustworthy she is, but it deprives her of the vivaciousness of Jane Greer or Barbara Stanwyck in similar duplicitous roles. Brendan wants to trust her but is too smart to--it never becomes clear why it's hard for him to make that choice.

Gordon-Levitt is quite good, though, and it was so nice to have a hero who's actually allowed to be cool instead of coming off as jubilant or traumatised after every fight scene. Rather like Philip Marlowe, he seems to intentionally or by instinct put himself in hot water just to get closer to a clue. I love the way he casually takes off his glasses and puts them in a case just before he knows he's getting a beat down.

A second later, a punch lands on his face and at the same time the camera does a lighting quick Vertigo shot, nicely emphasising the sudden strange and discomfiting physical closeness.

There are a lot of strange but mostly effective trick shots in the film, my favourite being a rather Lynchian shot of the Tolkien drug lord (Lukas Haas) disappearing down a dark hall and Laura stepping out of the darkness far too quickly for it to be physically possible. I also really like the music which was reminiscent of Angelo Badalementi's Fire Walk With Me score and Jerry Goldsmith's score to Chinatown.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Always Running

"Is it safe?" That's the famous line from 1976's Marathon Man, asked by a character for a specific reason but the line's repetition and threatening ambiguity of motive reflect the brilliantly suspenseful film as a whole. In ways big and small, the story seeks to undermine assumptions of safety.

Babe (Dustin Hoffman) is an insecure but bright university student with an axe to grind against tyranny, the subject of a research paper he's working on. Drawing particular aim in his work is Joseph McCarthy, the infamous hunter of Communists in the 1950s. One of his victims was Babe's father who committed suicide after his reputation was ruined.

While we're being introduced to Babe, the film cuts between him practising running for a marathon and a seemingly unrelated scene of two old men in separate cars. They're having an argument that begins as road rage but takes on larger dimensions as one, a Holocaust survivor, recognises that the other is a former Nazi officer.

The scene simultaneously introduces the horror of the holocaust, where innocent people had their personal lives violently intruded upon and arrested by an organisation with no respect for human dignity, while also framing the scene with the Nazi being relentlessly pursued by the Holocaust survivor. It's shot partly from his point of view so we see a scene that focuses on the vulnerability of both parties, the Nazi now under graver threat not just because of the man chasing him but because we know he's guilty and if the film has any moral mechanisms in play there's nothing to protect him.

Babe's running regimen works as a visual metaphor for someone running away. The idea of running for no external, immediately present physical reason is a reflection of the threats which are all the more frightening for being undefinable and ubiquitous.

So Babe's brother, Henry (Roy Scheider), seems a bit out of place in the film at first, a James Bond-ish, super competent American spy, but his character ends up underlining the general treachery of existence.

It's Laurence Olivier who speaks the famous line. He plays a fugitive Nazi, too, and expands on the theme of the road rage scene. When an American agent observes how doing his job requires him to do nasty things and adds, "I believe in my country," Olivier replies, "So did we all." Taking the patriotism as, by extension, a sense of self-preservation via herd mentality, we can see how the two men share a cynicism that has led them to commit horrific crimes.

Babe is the centre of the film for a lot of reasons but mainly because, as an educated, nervous young man who keeps a gun in his apartment, the tension lies in where he decides the limits are of the violence he's willing to commit to protect himself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Neatly Wrapped Punk Package

It's an old story--to-day's rebellion is to-morrow's establishment. Sometimes, though, the rebellion is simultaneously establishment, which can chafe a bit when you're the kid trying to rebel and your dad (establishment) is always four steps ahead of you on the rebellion scale, as in 2011's Sons of Norway. The film itself is simultaneously rebellion and establishment as, for a film in part about the birth of punk, it is an incredibly un-punk film, presenting a carefully constructed, pleasing tale about a father and son.

The father, Magnus (Sven Nordin), is an intellectual radical, an atheist Communist whom we meet at the beginning of the film gleefully choosing to decorate with bananas for Christmas in order to affirm that humans are apes.

Possibly because of this, Magnus is lit or dressed in yellow or brown for the rest of the film. The whole film has a very controlled aesthetic, which is ironic in a scene where Magnus' son, Nikolaj (Asmund Hoeg) joins a punk band and the lead singer explains punk means not knowing how to play your instruments but playing hard anyway. Meanwhile, the scene is carefully colour corrected to appear greyer and more washed out than scenes with Magnus.

Does a movie need to be punk to be about punk? No, perhaps not. One doesn't get the sense of Nikolaj connecting with the basic philosophy of punk, he just wants a way to shake his dad, who unsettles Nikolaj by his unrestrained grief over the death of his wife, Nikolaj's mother. But one suspects a lot of kids Nikolaj's age got into punk without really understanding the monarchy or complacent consumerism. Magnus does andnaturally he's on-board even more than Nikolaj, which of course frustrates the kid.

Look, another brown corduroy sport coat. I'm really starting to feel good about having one.

The film fixates exclusively on The Sex Pistols--Johnny Rotten even makes a cameo. I'd say at least a third of the Pistols' short catalogue of songs is used on the film's soundtrack. The absence of any other punk band in Nikolaj's heart feels a bit odd, it would have been nice if the film had thrown in some Stranglers, The Clash, maybe The Slits.

Twitter Sonnet #804

Encrusted green mushrooms fell down on dough.
A wave of reddened sauce bespoke the base.
In bread the mozzarella farmer sowed.
Tomato robbed of solid form has grace.
To ovens go the sourdough technique.
The nesting noodles dream of parmesan.
Behold, a grilled repast, c'est magnifique.
A proper pizza's never partisan.
Inhuman garlic deprivation scored.
The traitor heads of bread sticks hang above.
Oregano fed oni sneeze their hoard.
The manicotti rain has calmed the dove.
Inside a pasta shell ricotta lurks.
Surprise lasagne flash rebaked the works.

Monday, October 26, 2015

So Sweet, So Bad, So Tuber

Before you say anything, I only had this sweet potato for a week and a half before it started doing this without soil, water, or sunlight.

Is this a reflection of how hot it is in my apartment? Well, my curiosity was piqued in any case so I put it back in the cupboard. A couple days later it looked liked this:

Finally, to-day, it looked like this:

Finally one of its branches is blackened like it's exhausting its water supply.

Still rather pretty, isn't it? I was thinking of getting a pot with soil for it. For now I've put it in a mason jar with water.

Let's see if I have anything else interesting on my camera. Ah, I'll leave you with this crow taking the stairs:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Devil's Body Pool

Sometimes Satan requires assembly. A farmer digs up some bones and a strange skull in his field and before long young people in the village start going mad and growing Satan's body parts in 1970's The Blood on Satan's Claw. A surprisingly pretty, well researched film, its accurate representation of rural, early 18th century England a bit more impressive than its plot about a Satanic cult--which is still fun. You will see no tricorn hats in this movie.

The skull has an eyeball in it still but the pragmatic judge the farmer shows it to still isn't convinced anything supernatural is going on. Patrick Wymark plays the judge--he gets top billing and this was his last film--he died later that year. Perhaps it's ill health that explains his absence for much of the film.

Despite rejecting superstition the judge foretells his return as he leaves for unclear reasons about a third of the way through the film. When he does come back, he decides to track down the cultists and kill Satan, if he's among them. Good plan.

His son (Simon Williams) comes home early on with a fiance (Tamara Ustinov, daughter of Peter) the judge and his wife don't approve of. They let her sleep in the attack where she becomes one of the first people to start sprouting Satan parts. Her being an unapproved bride sets up a seeming link between the Satanic manifestations and sinful behaviour but then a few totally innocent people start getting patches of fur as well, like poor little Wendy Padbury.

This was a year after she'd last appeared on Doctor Who as the Second Doctor's companion, Zoe. The film also features a future Doctor Who star, Anthony Ainley, who would play the third incarnation of the Master, the one who appeared on the show throughout the 1980s. He plays a reverend in The Blood On Satan's Claw and we meet him catching snakes in the farmer's field.

He also has a pet rabbit at home, his character given a peculiar amount of attention. Later, Angel Blake (Linda Hayden), the ironically named leader of the Satanic cult, tries to seduce him.

I guess it might be a reference to William Blake and Blake's thoughts on John Milton's Satan but maybe I just have Milton too much on the mind lately. In any case, she's quite good, very pretty, coming off like a mischievous child playing with bigger stakes.

The concept of the Satan body parts growing on people like an infection is nice and eerie. It has the feeling of a seventeenth or eighteenth century supernatural explanation of a real disease which gives it an effective psychological resonance.

Shots focusing on the beautiful locations also help emphasise the film's rural spirit. The climax is slightly ineffective but sort of intriguing in its awkwardness.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Women Who Lived

Maureen O'Hara, who has died to-day at the age of 95, could've been a great action star. Watching her trading blows with John Wayne in The Quiet Man you kind of get the feeling a serious fight between the two wouldn't be one sided. She certainly had the tenacity. I wrote about two of her movies this year, both pirate movies, one, The Spanish Main, in which she was somewhat awkwardly put in the damsel in distress role, and another, Against All Flags (pictured above) in which we got a glimpse of O'Hara's rightful place on a pirate ship, on deck in command rather than tied up below. She seemed to maintain a lot of that trademark fire into her old age and if you come across one of the old DVD releases of The Quiet Man it's well worth buying for her wonderfully relaxed, conversational audio commentary.

It's Saturday, Doctor Who Day, and I will write about the new episode. Ironically, to-day's episode is called "The Woman Who Lived" and we catch up with Ashildr, the Viking girl played by Maisie Williams the Doctor turned immortal in the previous episode. Now she's a robber in 1651 England. I was overjoyed to see the seventeenth century--it's rare enough for the Doctor to go into the past nowadays, it's great seeing him visit what's become my favourite period lately. He references one of his previous visits, too, the Fifth Doctor story The Visitation and reminds us the Great Fire of London was caused by an alien menace.

But where did Ashildr get a tricorn hat? No-one wore a tricorn hat in The Visitation, set in 1666, which makes sense because it would still be at least a decade before England had tricorn hats. It's particularly a shame because Englishmen generally wore much better hats than tricorns in 1651.

The plot of "The Woman Who Lived" is the usual pain of eternal life story but the burglary stuff is fun. Clara is absent for most of the episode and it's interesting how much more grave Capaldi's Doctor seems without her. He very much gives the impression of being thousands of years old which really helps the episode's concept of immortals struggling to engage with the lives of mortals.

Twitter Sonnet #803

Redressed the cardboard tube became a hole.
A hand beside the eye revealed a route.
The ground unsown has yet produced a mole.
The graceful heart burrower's sure and stout.
Red questions dot the blue warm pullover.
A trav'ler marks Bohemia across the bay.
A storm of black silk sheets relieves Grover.
Restrained a monster now recalls the day.
Pin striped inhalers crowd the steamer trunk.
Without formaldehyde the sample shrank.
A duckling ghost invites the infant funk.
Whoever calls the coin is not a tank.
While mad the red has never lied to us.
A pirate queen in green has earned our trust.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lovecraftian Spurs

There's not much sex in H.P. Lovecraft's body of work--conscious sex, anyway. Caitlin R. Kiernan has demonstrated time and again how naturally sexuality can be expressed in Lovecraft's mythos. There is a wrong way to go about it, though, as demonstrated in the 1970 adaptation of The Dunwich Horror. A not an altogether bad film featuring a pretty decent cast it was directed by Daniel Haller who does to "The Dunwich Horror" almost exactly what he did to "The Colour Out of Space" with Die, Monster, Die--he made a more human-like villain, he added women for eye candy dead weight, and, of course, he turned the farmhouse into a mansion.

This is also like Roger Corman's adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and it's not surprising to see that Corman produced this Dunwich Horror. One possible reason it now occurs to me this kept happening was budgetary--it's easier to recreate the interior of a mansion on a sound stage than the interior of something much smaller which would require more naturalistic lighting while providing less scenery to chew.

In the role of Wilbur Whateley, an infant who grows to adulthood in just a few years in the original story, is Dean Stockwell, wearing a brown corduroy sport coat very similar to one I own, as it happens.

Lovecraft described Wilbur as, "exceedingly ugly despite his appearance of brilliancy; there being something almost goatish or animalistic about his thick lips, large-pored, yellowish skin, coarse crinkly hair, and oddly elongated ears." An effect difficult for a makeup artist to produce though avoiding it was probably more to make him a love interest for the woman who has top billing in the film, Sandra Dee, who plays Nancy, a student of Dr. Armitage (Ed Begley).

Armitage does most of the protagonist stuff he does in the story, Nancy is impressively superfluous for being centre stage most of the time. She drives Wilbur home after he attempts to obtain the Necronomicon, he talks her into staying over when he sabotages her car, he drugs her, and from then on not only does she not make a decision for the rest of the film it's difficult to discern what any of her thoughts or feelings might be, mutely following Wilbur around as his casual conversation starts to turn into discussing sacrificing women to Yog-Sothoth. Here's some dialogue that most assuredly did not come from H.P. Lovecraft:

"And they placed the girl's virginal body upon the altar, naked to the elements, and their black robes blending into the night they lighted candles. They gathered round, to observe and to relish her nakedness. And then they waited." One wonders if Yog-Sothoth cultists would have gotten anything done if they'd had Internet porn.

Stockwell plays Wilbur in an eerie, soft-spoken manner that inevitably reminded me of his character from Blue Velvet. Whatever he said in the movie on some level I could always hear, "Here's to your fuck, Frank." But it wasn't exactly bad. Maybe the coolest bit of casting is Sam Jaffe as Old Whateley who has just the right energy for a panicked old man fearing the impending arrival of the Old Ones.

The film has an animated opening sequence reminiscent of Saul Bass that kind of works. Certainly it works better than the score which consists of soft, romantic brass counterpointed by football rattles. It's a score that might have been appropriate for a Western starring Cybill Shepherd.