Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Company Rebels

Well, that was a deeply unsatisfying season finale for Star Wars: Rebels. I'll lay the blame squarely on Simon Kinberg, who I thought had left the series but in the finale made a dramatic comeback to write the kind of dreck studios give him big money for. He brought the magic of X-Men: Last Stand and the latest Fantastic Four reboot fully to bear in an episode of Rebels filled with characters appearing to die and obviously not dying, bait and switch character non-development, non-entity female characters, and, of course, stunt casting.

Hey there, Maul, whose appearance in the finale was spoiled by the trailer at the beginning of the season. Maul was there to go through the motions of turning Ezra to the Dark Side but he was no match for the reset button the episode ended with. Oh, yeah, there'll be spoilers ahead, if there can be spoilers on a show of such sound and fury signifying nothing.

So wasn't it great they brought Ahsoka back, even if she did look like a completely different person? I mean, wow, all the cool and interesting things she did this season. Like . . . remember that time she . . . well, she hit something with her lightsabre. And she said she's not a Jedi. And she said Kanan was doing a good job training Ezra . . . Well, I'm sure she was doing all kinds of cool things just off screen!

For a whole season of Ahsoka being a fifth wheel, this really was a fitting finale in which she appeared in at least half the episode doing practically nothing. It was the culmination of superfluity. Like the scene where Ezra's about to fall of the cliff, threatened by the Inquisitor. Kanan's been knocked out but surely Kanan will save Ezra in the nick of time--but no, Maul saves Ezra, undermining the Master and Apprentice relationship between the Bible Brothers. And oh, yeah, Ahsoka was also there but I think it all happened so fast she couldn't do anything.

Or the scene where Maul and Ezra are trying to convince Kanan to stay and investigate the temple they came to the planet for and he finally relents. Ahsoka nodded in that scene, very possibly affecting Kanan's decision! Just imagine how different it would've been without her! Kanan might have given up the whole mission for no apparent reason.

Never did I more strongly feel like Ahsoka was crammed onto the show after all the scripts had been written. The fans wanted her so bad they weren't paying attention to Ezra. So Disney said, "Here, here's your damned Ahsoka. Look at her or whatever it is you do with her. Now pay attention to Ezra!"

There really wasn't much else to do but look at her in a series that has been generally hands off when developing female characters, a few nice spots with Hera being exceptions. I think men are capable of writing good female characters but I can't help thinking the complete lack of female writers is in some way related to the lack of developed female characters. Clone Wars, by contrast, had already had four female writers, two of them writing multiple episodes, by the end of its second season. Admittedly, one of those writers was Katie Lucas, George's daughter, but she actually did a decent job.

Now, you might be saying, how can I say Ahsoka didn't do anything when she finally had her showdown with Vader? Well, what exactly happened in that fight? Ahsoka confirmed Vader used to be Anakin. James Earl Jones delivering the line about how he destroyed Anakin was pretty cool. But no-one's opinion was really changed. And, more crucially, no-one died. And, yes, I am happy Ahsoka isn't dead and there's opportunity for someone to do something interesting with her. But when you have two characters fighting to the death and then show the two characters walking away from each other, alive, it naturally prompts some questions. Like, why would you skip over the part where people made decisions and things changed? The answer is, of course, they wanted Ahsoka out of the way without committing to killing her. Because they didn't want Ahsoka there at all in the first place.

I'm amazed at the number of people wondering if Ahsoka is dead or not. How did you not see the shot of her walking away? She wasn't even concealed by mist or anything. Look, here's the shot:

Ahsoka. After the fight with Vader. Walking. Maybe she's a zombie. Probably not.

Oh, okay, a couple things changed. The Inquisitors no-one cared about died. Maybe you're not allowed to kill characters on a Disney show unless they've had absolutely no character development. Maybe that's why they're able to kill stormtroopers.

And Kanan was blinded. I guess that's something. Something superficial. In terms of relationships, everyone's right where they were at the end of season one.

Twitter Sonnet #856

Unbidden icons crouch in bananas.
A spoiled parasol succeeds the sun.
A golden bully drifts though cabanas.
Embarrassed blank cannons concede the gun.
Too rare, the wine cellar remains above.
Inverted architecture traps the mite.
For all the edifices point to love
Or something like an edifying light.
The wooden car refutes the use of air.
In spiralled blobs, the gas revokes the foot.
Iridescent and black, it takes the stair.
The ghost will not remain where it was put.
Unnoticed noses seed congested brains.
A million dollars see the song now wanes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Fork in the Expectations

A good ending for me isn't necessarily a happy ending. I found myself thinking about this when trying to decide which of the two alternate endings of Great Expectations I preferred. I finished reading it yesterday--or rather, listening to it. I ordered the audio book version read by someone named Peter Batchelor who mostly does a good job, certainly better than the guy at Librivox, but he has an annoying tendency to give Ms. Havisham a screechy, vaudevillian old lady voice.

I listened while drawing--I'd originally gotten the audiobook through Amazon's service called Audible since it came free with a trial of Audible. I recommend not trying Audible unless you want a green, bloated imitation of iTunes on your hard drive that won't let you easily navigate a book. So I ordered exactly the same audiobook for six dollars or so from iTunes.

Okay, that's enough buffer. As I'm talking about the end of Great Expectations in this post, be warned, there be

Spoilers ahead.

I don't know how many of you know it, but Charles Dickens' original ending for Great Expectations did not have Pip and Estella ending up together.

I was in England again—in London, and walking along Piccadilly with little Pip—when a servant came running after me to ask would I step back to a lady in a carriage who wished to speak to me. It was a little pony carriage, which the lady was driving; and the lady and I looked sadly enough on one another.

“I am greatly changed, I know; but I thought you would like to shake hands with Estella, too, Pip. Lift up that pretty child and let me kiss it!” (She supposed the child, I think, to be my child.) I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.

The ending you're most likely acquainted with is the revised ending which has Pip running into Estella at Satis house, Drummle's widow and she's not remarried:

"But you said to me," returned Estella, very earnestly, "'God bless you, God forgive you!' And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now,—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."

"We are friends," said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

"And will continue friends apart," said Estella.

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

So, we have a choice between an ending where Estella has remarried an apparently nice man after her horrible marriage to Drummle and an ending where she seems to have been broken by her experience with Drummle and seems to be at the beginning of a relationship with Pip, a man she knows she can depend on. There's something a bit sinister about it, the idea that Estella needs to be beaten into submission for Pip. That Pip doesn't seem conscious of this also indicates he hasn't taken to heart the lessons the rest of the novel imparted to him. He still has the arrogance Trabb's Boy taunted him for--the idea of getting Estella as a reward overwhelms any consciousness as to her psychological state.

The original ending reminds me of one character at the end of Bleak House. It's very subtly bittersweet. Like Pip (in the original ending), the Bleak House character ends the story alone but no mention is made as to whether or not the character is happy. It's a part of the character's nobility of nature that he doesn't give any indication of unhappiness to trouble his friends and family. Pip says he's glad he didn't mention wanting to marry Biddy when he comes upon her and Joe having just been wed. But he doesn't say whether he's sorry to have missed his chance with Biddy. Biddy having been presented as the healthy alternative to Estella--Estella who made Pip miserable and seemed tied up with all his foolish ambitions and Biddy who was his childhood companion and someone he was always happy around, who was wise and gracious. Having missed his chance with Biddy tells us that there were very real consequences to Pip's misspent young adulthood.

Now, in the second ending, do we know Pip will be happy? Maybe marrying Estella isn't so much a reward but, in the long run, part of his comeuppance. That doesn't seem to be in Dickens' tone, though, with Estella being so contrite and bowed. But considering masochism seemed to be so much a part of Pip's attraction to Estella, could he really still be that into her? Maybe, in the end, the change in ending is completely meaningless as they've both now essentially become different, less ambitious, less passionate people. So it's not so much the satisfaction of needs as making do with leftovers.

Well, as an ending I prefer the original. The second presents too many questions and I don't think Dickens is going to write a sequel any time soon.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Cornerstone Pocket Square

Ah, the Saul suits. He may still be going by Jimmy on Better Call Saul but at least now he has those wonderful suits. It's funny he originally bought them to get himself fired and it makes sense that after losing that big job he had to keep wearing them because he couldn't afford to buy different ones. Well, he probably could've returned them but they're obviously a reflection of his personality and part of him would not be able to bear parting with them.

It's a good retroactive explanation for them. In Breaking Bad, the character's introduced as an over the top, sleazy lawyer for crooks and while such a lawyer might want to dress like this, few could afford it and fewer still would know so much about colour coordination.

I found myself wanting to check back with Saul in Breaking Bad last night so I watched a scene from the fourth season episode called "Bullet Points" where Saul first tells Walter about the "disappearer", the sort of criminal operated witness protection programme.

The difference in the way Bob Odenkirk plays the character has now become retroactively very interesting. Compared to Jimmy on Better Call Saul, this Saul has done all the self-affirmation that Jimmy is just starting to get the itch for. But Saul on Breaking Bad doesn't have the spark in his eye, he always seems slightly inebriated. Getting the freedom he needed has paradoxically made him kind of dead. And of course, Kim isn't in Breaking Bad.

It makes it kind of ominous when she assures Jimmy, "You have me," but just not as a law partner. Both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad have been about the tension between the need to live for oneself and the need to connect with others. It really makes Better Call Saul a natural sequel as much as a prequel to Breaking Bad in that Breaking Bad ended with Walter having the epiphany that everything he'd been doing had been for himself. The final episode of Breaking Bad presents this as complete liberation, Better Call Saul casts a shadow over it more effective than showing a character going out in a blaze of glory. Saul goes out in a blaze of cinnabons. That being said, I hope the show eventually switches to following Saul in present day.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Apple of Narcissus

Perhaps the most dangerous thing is one's own reflection. 2011's Another Earth magnifies that danger to a planetary scale when an exact copy of the Earth suddenly appears in the sky one night. The story focuses on the chaos it instigates in two lives; the film is a nice tale with layers of intriguing metaphor.

Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film, plays Rhoda, a passionate astronomy student who as the film begins has just been accepted to MIT. Driving home drunk after a party to celebrate, she hears about the second Earth on the radio and compulsively stares up into the sky while she drives. She collides head-on into a stopped car, killing a little boy and pregnant woman and putting the woman's husband, John (William Mapother), into a coma.

Four years later, she's released from juvenile prison (she was only seventeen at the time of her crime) but is still dominated by her guilt and desires work that isolates her and removes the necessity of interacting with people often. So she takes a job as a janitor at a high school. Eventually, she learns John has awoken from his coma when she sees him laying a toy at the accident site. She goes to his home and spies on him a bit, seeing he's let his life fall apart, neglecting his job as a professor of music. His home is now littered with books, mail, and empty bottles.

She finally musters the courage to knock on his door but finds she can't speak when she tries to apologise to him. Finally she pretends to be with a cleaning service, there to offer a free trial. He takes her up on the offer and eventually employs her though he doesn't know she tears up all the checks she gives him.

I couldn't help thinking of Echo and Narcissus. Rhoda's inability to confess her true reasons for being there reminded me of Echo's inability to say anything but what the person she's speaking with has just said. Rhoda's self-hatred has robbed her of any ability to assert herself and she can only exist as part of John's reflection. John's inability to think of anything but his own miserable luck is like an obsession with a reflection. There's even a version of Tiresias in a blind Indian co-worker of Rhoda's at the high school who cautions her against the dangers of getting caught up in obsession over one's own identity.

I also thought of Adam and Eve. The woman in Another Earth is shown to bear the first sin and her taking the fruit, if one can see the other planet as a big apple, maybe, leads to John's troubles.

All the while, the second Earth grows larger in the sky. A scientist on television makes radio contact with her duplicate, confirming the other world is peopled by copies of everyone. Rhoda enters an essay contest for a chance to join a manned mission to the other planet. The filmmakers deliberately avoided realism here--with satellites, communication between the two worlds ought to've been easier than a few fitful radio contacts and the proximity of the planets ought to've caused havoc with tides, among other things.

No-one mentions the possibility of the planets colliding even though they appear to be getting closer to each other. This is especially conspicuous given the remarkable fact that the same year Another Earth was released also saw the release of Lars von Trier's Melancholia, another film that used an approaching planet as a psychological metaphor. The low budget Another Earth is dwarfed in terms of visuals by the splendour of Melancholia and, of course, Lars von Trier is a better director than Mike Cahill, director of Another Earth. Cahill uses hand held cameras and odd zooms in techniques that Lars von Trier was largely responsible for bringing to prominence but Cahill's use of the techniques is as cheap and distracting as it usually is when other directors do it.

A scene where Marling strips naked in the middle of a snowy field conspicuously shoots around her body to preserve the modesty of the actress, contrasting unfavourably with the nude scenes that Kirsten Dunst did for von Trier's film. The two films side by side allow one to contemplate the difference between smart amateurs and passionately committed artists. It's unfortunate for Another Earth, perhaps, because there is plenty of value in the Mike Cahill film. Though the ending of the film, while sort of fun, is a bit trite and reflects the inability of Cahill and Marling to commit to exploring issues that von Trier is known for never averting his eyes from.

Twitter Sonnet #855

Debris converged onscreen to much applause.
Awaiting new Gadots are knots and bats.
Hawk breaks cigarettes of the robot cause.
On Good Friday heroes are cods and rats.
When ten o'clock brought telephones to Earth
The moon wore two o'clock eyeshadow late.
She finds the glove sold for half its worth.
A busy Jupiter brought her the mate.
The drawer withheld the dried calla petals.
A stone became the cliff to bar the dawn.
Misshapen feet yet work the loom's pedals.
All kings unite to strip the ghostly pawn.
Unremarkable skeletons reside
In shades of sales available inside.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lemon, Bee Butt, and Ant Scream

To-day I've cleverly subverted Easter traditions by sleeping in 'til noon. Well, I was up much later than I ought to've been watching a movie, playing chess, and drinking a hot toddy with a generous helping of scotch. And lots of lemon juice--here are some pictures I took of my parents' lemon tree yesterday when I was there for Easter dinner along with my sister and brother-in-law:

I've just finished eating lunch which I think was a pretty solid hangover meal--a grilled cheese sandwich to which I added a fried egg, tobasco, pepper, and onion I grilled on the pan next to the sandwich. I've now given my body way more material than I intend to use on this very lazy day. Surprisingly I've been playing chess pretty well to-day, beating some tough players I normally lose against. Who knows, maybe I'll do something productive yet. It is only 5:30.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bunny Week of the Doctor

I'm fighting the urge to just sit and stare into space for hours. Woo hoo, Spring Break! Yes, it more or less starts for me to-day, technically Monday because we're pretending it's not religious. So finally I'll have time to work on my comic. And finish unpacking. And look for a room mate. And the hundred or so other things that've piled up on my to-do list. I sure wish I had a TARDIS. And someone to dust it for me. Does the Doctor dust and vacuum? I guess there's probably nanites for that or something.

This past week I listened to No Man's Land, a Doctor Who audio play from 2006. The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier) find themselves in France in World War I and surprisingly expected. There's letter awaiting them from the top brass telling the officers to expect a "Doctor" and companions to visit and investigate a murder that hasn't happened yet. Investigating a murder within spitting distance of the trenches is a bit like observing a drop of water at the beach. The dialogue is a little lame in this one--Ace has a line about Hex's "perfectly formed posterior" I guess is meant to establish a possible romance between them but good grief is that clunky, the subject matter making it embarrassingly so.

It ends up being a story about the amoral conditioning of soldiers into killers, something Doctor Who has covered many times in better ways. Ultimately, No Man's Land made me just want to watch The War Games from the Second Doctor era again. I'm continually disappointed my favourite 80s Doctor, Seven, seems to get the worst audio play scripts. Well, he has had a few good ones so far. And I've plenty to listen to yet--I'm only in 2006 and they're still making these things to-day.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Only Woman for All of Them

A jail window breaks and God releases Pandora onto the world. One needs to bear in mind the beginning of Luis Bunuel's 1951 film Susana as one sees a family slowly going violently mad after a beautiful young woman is introduced to their hacienda. A deadpan lampoon of hallowed misogyny, the movie is a nice little glimpse of Hell.

The film begins on a stormy night in a women's reformatory where a screaming and kicking Susana (Rosita Quintana) is being thrown into solitary confinement. In her miserable solitude, she makes a plead to God; describing herself as wretched as the spiders and the bats, she asks God to do something since he made her the way she is. Miraculously, the barred window pops open.

Before long, she's taken in by a wealthy, pious family. Dona Carmen (Matilde Palou) is impressed by what a hard worker Susana is and convinces the patriarch, Don Guadalupe (Fernando Solar), to keep her on despite his misgivings.

Very quickly, their opinions reverse as every woman on the hacienda wants Susana gone and every man wants her for himself. On one level, the audience could, and many probably did, take the movie as an indictment of young women who like sex. Susana always makes sure her blouse is pulled a bit down her shoulders, she flirts with all the men. There is the impression that the common sense justice of the community would hold Susana responsible when Jesus (Victor Manuel Mendoza) rapes her despite the fact that she screams and hits him, trying to push him off. Dona Carmen still considers this a trivial reason for Don Guadalupe to fire Jesus.

When Guadalupe is out shooting one day, Susana pretends to sustain an injury. When he follows the sound of her screams, he finds her on the ground, claiming to have a hurt leg. When he feels for her wound, she tells him it's higher up.

Having Guadalupe in her pocket means she can get lighter chores and better quarters in the household. But she tries to seduce his son, Alberto (Luis Lopez Somoza), just because she feels like it.

Conflict erupts between father and son, man and wife, master and servant. Dona Carmen and a loyal housemaid pray to God to be rid of Susana before, in their anger, they eventually resort to the whip. The final act of the film is pretty broad and blame for all the discord seems to land square on Susana's head. As though it's her fault all these people started acting like children when she appeared. For all their pleas to God, we know who let Susana out of jail--the same being they'd attribute her creation to.

Twitter Sonnet #854

A seven layer cake with wheels took tracks.
Annulled, the board reviewed their knots and rings.
The eldest two by four came by in slacks.
Galactic Skirt resumes the waltz and sings.
Misspent banana spoons were used to scry.
Unused, the pool reflects the star of dough.
A batter void of milk came out too dry.
The stove between the suns began to glow.
Encouraging, the eyes outsourced the flame.
All sparks of metal fruit rebounded east.
There's no remaining copper tree to tame.
A tinsel fog descends to spike the feast.
AWOL uniforms move through air at speed.
Cocaine daydreams can't learn to write or read.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Give in to the Spiders

Well, hints that Ezra is going to turn to the Dark Side on Star Wars: Rebels are getting heavier and more frequent. I sure hope it's not misdirection. I've said it before but I'll say it a third time: IT HAD SURE BETTER NOT BE MISDIRECTION. Imagine you've never seen Clone Wars, as well you may not have. What do you know of Ahsoka Tano from Rebels? She's a nice lady who turns up once or twice and doesn't seem to have a lot to say. Damn it, that's just not good enough. Please, don't kill her now. But what can I say? They wouldn't listen to me or anyone like me even if next week's episode weren't in the can.

Last night's episode was a decent Aliens homage--not unlike a first season Clone Wars episode I can think of. Which I guess makes this a homage of a homage. But why not? I loved the design of the giant spiders with their screaming faces.

Ezra can't commune with them for some reason presumably having to do with the creatures themselves but I suspect the revelation next week will be that he's just not so pure hearted anymore, not enough to command woodland creatures, anyway. He's lost the Snow White perk.

A trailer's been released for next week showing Ezra getting seduced by none other than Darth Maul;

Always nice to see Maul, maybe now they'll film the story arc he had coming from the aborted sixth season of Clone Wars. But of course, this also bears the stink of misdirection. I'm almost willing to forgive that for the hinted Darth Vader versus Darth Maul showdown. But not really.

With all these Clone Wars characters coming in, I wonder if Dave Filoni is trying simply to turn Rebels into Clone Wars gradually.

Oh, by the way, don't think I didn't notice Hera straining ever so hard to get the spider's legs open while there was a flash light in her mouth. Now I know it's Disney.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This Can is 95% Celebrity

With no rooms left for Hercule Poirot to lodge alone, a train is filled with movie stars; Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Sean Connery, Jacqueline Bisset, Martin Balsam, Richard Widmark, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Rachel Roberts, and Jean-Pierre Cassel. You're probably wondering why director Sidney Lumet gathered all these together; it was for the 1974 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, an entertaining film whose heart is buried under its ultra-luminous star power.

And there's another star, English actor Albert Finney was cast as Agatha Christie's peculiar Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Finney gives the man a pretty broad accent, making him difficult to understand at times, but Finney fills it with enough ingenuity to be interesting. As he interviews one train passenger after another, though, it becomes a grand competition of actor mannerisms without restraint, the story about a murder and a Lindberg baby-ish kidnapping being comparatively limp and vaguely sketched. One gets the sense that what Lumet was really up to was an ode to old Hollywood. I've said it before, there are few things I find more adorable than 1970s nostalgia for the early and mid-20th century. We still have that nostalgia now but there was a kind of breathless passion about the transitioning from sepia stills to full colour under the swells of an overwrought score in movies like The Night They Raided Minsky's or Pretty Baby. The late 60s sounded the starting pistol for going full bore sentimental on this stuff; suddenly women in great fur coats and cloche hats, men in fedoras and ties, and cranked cars were terribly precious things to be summoned back to life with the magic of cinema.

I'm being a little ironic but I do love this particular brand of 70s nostalgia that itself seems as much of a time as the periods it's nostalgic for. There are several good movies that exhibit it--The Godfather and Chinatown come to mind. But in other cases, it becomes a sentiment that quite overwhelms the characters and the story. The score with strings and harps that accompanies shots of the train incongruously make it seem like we're heading off to wonder and enchantment, not a parlour room murder mystery.

Anthony Perkins plays Widmark's secretary pretty much exactly like Norman Bates--Poirot even analyses his peculiar attachment to his mother and watching Perkins twitching in his seat has the feeling of watching a rock star playing his only hit on a Las Vegas stage for the ten thousandth time. He's not bad, if chewing the scenery a little hard, he's just so much The Anthony Perkins Moment instead of contributing to the film. Gielgud, a versatile actor before and after this, plays a butler in a similarly predictable way.

Ingrid Bergman won an Oscar for this movie and it was most certainly a characteristically "due" award, really in recognition of other movies where she did a lot more than the couple of brief scenes with dialogue she has here. But she is very good and it's exciting seeing her being captivating still by the mid 70s.

I'd never read the book. I found the solution to the mystery pretty unsatisfying but maybe it comes off better without all the competition.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Tough

I can understand why people want to vote for Donald Trump. When he says the response to the attack in Brussels is to "get tough" he sounds like he believes there's some manner of toughness to effect that would fix things. All of the other politicians don't have the hope that comes with ignorance and a life of decadent leisure. Trump can say Santa's going to come and conquer the Martians and he can really sound like he believes it.

My heart goes out to the people in Brussels, to my friends in Belgium and my readers there. The belief that things can be fixed at the end of the day is to some extent necessary to proceed with anything. It's hard not to think about the refugees and the terrorist attacks as a cause and effect scenario. Would these attacks have occurred if refugees had never been let into Europe? I don't think they would have. Maybe as a gangster himself, Donald Trump understands that these attacks are Isis "getting tough" with the people who would harbour the people Isis has pledged themselves to eradicate. Like all terrorist groups, Isis can only see in the short term but they're fortunate enough to have a lot more money than the average terrorist group.

Helping the refugees is a brave and humane thing to do. It's what people do when they have the strong ethics, intelligence, philosophy, and compassion that Europe has come to represent over the past fifty years in contrast to the blundering United States. But I won't be the one to say Europe is weak for faltering in its resolve. It's easy to say that one should not give in to terror. Few of the people who say it are really thinking about how horrible it is to live in terror, to be terrified.

Twitter Sonnet #853

An eye inside the stormless sky retracts.
Concave, the vision trims the putty arm.
Remembered lemmings writhe in fell contracts.
In hyperspace, the plants will come to harm.
In thin attic the brain begins to run.
Wallpaper knees were bruised as plums at home.
Around the light the blades were slowly spun.
A tight'ning filigree draws blood from chrome.
Recalled the wrenches change to iron crows.
A noisy sink invades the drummer's song.
An ogre sun sets in ribbons and bows.
A drifting stripe aloft grew dark and long.
In Google maps a shadow cut the light.
A brittle grassland chattered in the night.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Expect the Great at Your Peril

One day I'll get to bed precisely when I mean to and I'll get up when I mean to, too. It's a long term goal. Getting up earlier than I intended did mean I could get oatmeal in the rice cooker nice and early, though, which I've been using since I no longer have a microwave. I did manage to pencil two pages of my comic yesterday, making four I managed over the weekend, six drawn total and so only three left. Yes, three--look forward to a special nine page chapter instead of my usual eight. Whenever I do manage to get the thing finished. To-day I'm in the school library waiting to tutor students, most of whom probably won't show up. I wish I'd gotten some inking done so I could colour on my laptap. But, then again, I have plenty of reading to do. I need to read a few chapters in Great Expectations for a class.

I'm not exactly sure but I think Great Expectations was the first Charles Dickens book I read and the first time was at least twelve or thirteen years ago. I'd forgotten most of it; I actually don't remember how it ends, whether or not Pip ends up with Estella. I bet if I really thought about it I could remember but I've decided to try and keep that bit of my brain foggy.

It occurs to me that many of Dickens' works might have been called Great Expectations. Bleak House is largely about characters who are expecting an inheritance and are gambling their lives away in that expectation. In both books, the desire for a higher, comfortable station is portrayed as hazardous and childish. I like that Pip is unhappy with his own desire.

I began to consider whether I was not more naturally and wholesomely situated, after all, in these circumstances, than playing beggar my neighbour by candle-light in the room with the stopped clocks, and being despised by Estella. I thought it would be very good for me if I could get her out of my head, with all the rest of those remembrances and fancies, and could go to work determined to relish what I had to do, and stick to it, and make the best of it. I asked myself the question whether I did not surely know that if Estella were beside me at that moment instead of Biddy, she would make me miserable? I was obliged to admit that I did know it for a certainty, and I said to myself, "Pip, what a fool you are!"

He wants to be a gentleman because a girl he's attracted to despises him. Well, on the surface she does. She does ask him to kiss her at one point after she's forced him and another boy to brawl. I guess that makes her a tsundere. There's an S&M quality to it, and generally avarice seems to have a masochistic quality in Dickens, with characters like Mr. Pocket having a kind of serenity in their meaningless toil and discomfort knowing the riches that capitalism as promised them, not unlike a religious zealot enduring pain in the hopes of reaching heaven. Which for Pip would be Estella except, as noted above, he has no reason to expect happiness in the unlikely event he wins Estella's heart or even just unabashed respect.

Guess what I was reminded of? Yep, Vertigo, as usual. It's not hard to see Estella as Madeleine/Judy and Biddy as Midge. Midge is certainly a bit weirder than Biddy who is little more than a leftist Victorian ideal of the humble working class woman. But both are mother figures, Biddy being Pip's tutor before the possible object of his affections and Midge self-consciously putting herself into the motherly role for Scottie. One could say Hitchcock's film is superior for supposing this needing to identify as a mother for her peers is not necessarily healthy, at least not for a relationship.

I also found myself thinking of Robinson Crusoe, an audiobook of which I listened to half of yesterday while drawing. My professor for the Literary Criticism class I'm taking mentioned she was reading Daniel Dafoe lately and I remembered I hadn't read Robinson Crusoe since I was in third or fourth grade. One of the many things I don't remember noticing the first time is the Protestant work ethic. Robinson has great expectations, too, which his good parents don't approve of, wanting to go to sea and seek his fortune rather than being content with the middle sort of life his father praises, being neither too rich or too poor. It's not until he finds himself on a deserted island and has to work for all his basic necessities that he finds religion and gets his head right. You could almost say his is an Anabaptist paradise.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Carefully Shaped Reality of Politics

This is one of the most gruesome pictures ever painted largely because it's not the product of twentieth century Expressionism or an illustration out of Greek mythology. It's a product of the Dutch Golden Age, a period primarily concerned with portraiture, biblical scenes, and still lives. And it is a portrait, painted from life by Jan de Baen. The two men depicted are Dutch Prime Minister Johan De Witt and his brother, Cornelis, after they'd been murdered, mutilated, and partly eaten by a mob of Royalists. The event was depicted in 2015's Michiel de Ruyter, a film of impressive budget. It's entertaining enough but so light weight and partisan that it makes its inclusion of the murders seem bizarrely and strikingly incongruous.

Michiel de Ruyter (Frank Lammers) was a friend of Johan de Witt (Barry Atsma) and admiral of the Dutch navy during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. De Ruyter was responsible for many brilliant tactical victories against the English and the French and oversaw the covert Medway mission where Dutch ships deployed saboteurs to torch much of the English fleet while in harbour, taking the flagship Royal Charles in the process.

The film has an undeniably conservative partisan tone with William of Orange, De Witt, and De Ruyter portrayed as uncomplicated paragons of honour. It requires the filmmakers to make William of Orange (Egbert-Jan Weber) improbably ignorant of the conspiracy to leave the De Witts vulnerable to the mob, focusing instead on his decision to leave the Republican hero De Ruyter in charge of the navy.

For all the grandstanding the characters do about working for the good of the Dutch people, often pretending to argue while shouting the substantially same argument at each other, this is another of those modern films that doesn't actually seem to know or want to know very much about the common people. Every character in this movie is wealthy; either nobility, royalty, statesman, or high ranking military. Which makes a scene where a mob tears apart and cannibalises two men seem all the more unreal. What drives a people to something like that? The clearest the movie can get on the grievences is either mere team loyalty--one scene has De Ruyter's wife absurdly talking down another mob who think there's a secret plot to murder the prince--or the threat of invasion from France and England. Which were certainly real threats though not in quite the way the film portrays. De Witt absurdly blames the English aggression on a hatred for their republic at the end of the first Anglo-Dutch War, the film conveniently failing to mention that England was a republic at the time, it being the middle of the 1650s.

The lack of attention to the lower classes reminds me of Game of Thrones which makes it appropriate that Charles Dance appears in the film as Charles II, who the film makes it seem as though he was already on the throne in 1654.

In one of the more impressively ill-considered lines in the screenplay he tells William with clear disgust that the only reason England was Protestant was because Henry VIII couldn't keep his prick in his pants. Putting aside the vast oversimplification of the history of Anglicanism, Charles II taking a jab at a king for sleeping around is ridiculous even in the context of the scene where he says it as a few minutes later a woman sits on his lap with her breasts hanging out.

And no, she's not his wife.

You'll notice he's not wearing a wig. He and William cannot stop tearing off their wigs in this movie, clearly because the filmmakers didn't like the wigs in vogue at the time. But since the clothes are all balanced for the big hair pieces, Charles and William end up looking like they have tiny heads without them.

The movie does have some nice visuals, though. I liked the naval battles. They were mostly cgi but I like the broad colour palette instead of the usual dull colour filters. They look a little like van de Velde paintings.