Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Dusty Morals in the Drawer

Sometimes a pregnancy just crops up unexpectedly in the course of things. 1993's The Snapper charmingly tells the story of a twenty year old pregnant woman who lives with her parents and younger siblings in Dublin. The anger, confusion, and drama that would normally be played as deadly serious in most films is here wonderfully given out as just normal, ridiculous human existence.

Sharon Curley (Tina Kellegher) comes home one day to tell her family she's pregnant and reactions are surprisingly muted. Her father, Des (Colm Meaney), is bewildered, a bit stunned, goes through the motions of being angry, but in the end he and as wife find themselves awkwardly wondering if they should say what Sharon had done was bad just to send the right message to the other children.

Things seem to carry on as normal at first and Sharon goes right back to getting soused every night the pub with her three friends, the three of them loudly and raucously hitting on the waiter or making crude comments in a way traditionally associated with men. The film does not make any explicit statement about sexually liberated women but the reality it presents is unmistakably a reflection of instilled respect for female sexual autonomy contrasted with Des' half-hearted attempts to summon up the expected feelings of outrage and scorn. That is until the rumour starts going around that it was a man Des' age who got Sharon pregnant.

Several strong performances in the film are headed by Tina Kellegher and Colm Meaney. Both play the characters with just the right notes of working their way through the demands of instinct, family love, and ambiguous, hovering tradition. As vicious rumours gain speed, the film very nicely shows the difference between something that can become important in a community imagination that's passed or ignored relatively easy in more intimate circumstances. The people come across with a beautiful credibility and the relationships between the friends and family, particularly Des and Sharon, is wonderful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Dumbest Hero in Space

Saturday's new Star Wars: Rebels began with this appropriate group wince. Though it wasn't a bad episode. The second to be written by Gary Whitta, it's not as good as his TIE Fighter homage, "The Antilles Extraction", but it's a nice heist story, particularly since it takes multiple opportunities to show how stupid Ezra is.

It's time to check in with another Clone Wars character in an effort to keep fans watching so last week saw the return of Hondo, the pirate who occasionally worked with Anakin and Obi-wan and is now an occasional ally of the Ghost crew in this tiny, tiny galaxy. This time he brought along Azmorigan, an egg shaped former crime lord from season one of Rebels. The show is finally able to cannibalise itself.

Ezra convinces the group to cooperate with the two criminals on a dangerous salvage operation of an Imperial cargo ship. Because he's a complete moron, Ezra trusts Hondo--because Hera's not a complete moron, she puts Zeb in charge of the mission. Though her experience has given her insight--when Ezra tells her to take it easy, she replies, "Easy? This sack of bantha fodder tried to buy me from that slimo Calrissian and make me his servant." I don't think "servant" is the word you're looking for, Hera. Are they not allowed to say "slave" on Rebels? In any case, not only does this make Ezra seem stupid, it makes me think he's edging back toward the Dark Side.

But mainly the takeaway from the episode is that Ezra is stupid. Like when he chose to burn open a door on the cargo ship with his lightsabre an instant before Chopper restored power and opened the door. I certainly sympathised with Zeb's frustration. Oh, if he could just clock that kid on the head and be done with it.

Hondo and Azmorigan squabbling was fun and there was a slight Treasure of Sierra Madre vibe to the episode.

Twitter Sonnet #937

Red ribbons held a giving world between.
The vaunted tables newly hacked're flat.
Tremendous douses killed the dullest sheen.
With questions eyes will seek the maddened cat.
Tobacco leads'll sort the painless farm.
In pipes protruding cross the fallow field.
No leaf or paper roll will come to harm.
The way the dust in piles thick was tilled.
The ransom fell to numbers in the night.
The independent burns of stars resume.
Some blinders robbed the pinning tail of sight.
The only worm in town'd sing "consume".
Obeying by-law rail brigs, ankles clonk.
A tonne reclaims torpedo drills for wonk.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tara's Terror Terra

What I like about Tara on The Walking Dead is that she doesn't quite seem to be on the same show as everyone else. There's a Jeff Goldblum-ish quality to Alanna Masterson's performance that makes her reactions seem natural in ways subtly different from everyone else. Last night's new episode, focusing on her adventures in a settlement of Amazons by the sea, was fun and a nice way of shifting perspective on the show's usual moral questions.

Spoilers after the screenshot

We join Tara and Heath (Corey Hawkins) on their scavenging run they left for way back in the middle of Season 6. All of these sprawling, disconnected storylines really give the show a Game of Thrones vibe, though it's not the first season The Walking Dead's done this--season four was pretty similar. I like how it gives the story more time to focus on individual characters in such a massive cast.

Tara and Heath's discussion about whether they were justified in slaughtering the Saviours at the satellite station has an interesting resonance when we know all the horrible shit they're ignorant of. In spite of that, somehow Heath still seems like a prig.

Near the end of the episode, one of the women from the Amazon village, Cyndie (Sydney Park), makes an argument that no-one is really evil, that everyone's in it for themselves and it's only perspective that determines whether someone is an enemy or a friend. Tara remains the true believer and her answer to Cyndie that some people really are evil is essentially the same argument she makes to Heath; not everyone just looks out for themselves. Of course, Tara having been introduced in the arc that very nicely demonstrated there was more to the Governor than a cheesy b-movie villain undercuts her argument a little. Only a Sith speaks in absolutes!

With no other character could the conversation about the fishing boats ended with the question over whether or not there wasn't a sort of fishing boat called a larder. Somehow through it all, Tara maintains a conversational warmth like she just can't help it. She may be the closest thing to getting my wish for Ash from Evil Dead to appear on the show.

In contrast to Game of Thrones, the show has had a mostly reluctant attitude towards depictions of sex. Aside from the Governor forcing Maggie to strip, there seems to be a lot less sexual assault than you'd expect from a world controlled by gangs of angry, ruthless young men. A few episodes back, Negan even implied that Dwight had to have a woman's consent before he had sex with her. The fact that Negan chose to wipe out only the men in the community Tara visits, and Beatrice hinting that the Saviours always taking what they want, suggests that the Saviours are capable of this kind of assault in even a very organised fashion. So why does Negan bother with this pretence of consent? It's all very unrealistic, of course, and adds to increasingly campy vibe but all the same it'll be satisfying if we have the Amazons team up with the Knights from the Kingdom with their cgi tiger to take down Negan's roided-out fifties biker gang. I want Tara at the vanguard riding a panther with battle armour.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Baubles and Dreams

Shadows aren't tangible and neither is time and yet both have been a subject of preoccupation for humanity. In Shirley Jackson's 1958 novel The Sundial, members of a wealthy family and their close associates find themselves obsessed with validation through the intangible and the abstract even as these things give the characters warning of a very concrete apocalypse. It's a terrifically funny novel and I mean that literally--there's brilliant terror in how funny it is.

This cover's blurb makes it sound like every minute spent reading the novel is a minute spent in an endlessly traumatic nightmare. But for the most part, the book is a charming depiction of some very credibly loopy people. The novel begins after the funeral of Lionel Halloran, the last competant male heir to the great Halloran estate, a big house on an enormous property surrounded by a wall. The property goes to Mrs. Orianna Halloran, Lionel's mother, who married into the family via Richard Halloran who has extreme dementia and is confined to a wheelchair. He and his sister, referred to as Aunt Fanny for most of the book, are the children of the original patriarch, Mr. Halloran, who ordered the building of the large house and wall. There's a nearby village whose inhabitants were forbidden from visiting the house even as the Halloran children were brought up to have a symbiotic, if emotionally distant, relationship with them. The original Mr. Halloran's idea seems to have been to create something like a mediaeval village overseen by a manor house and its resident bailiff or baron.

The novel features several characters confined together for most of the book but if there's a central conflict in the novel it might be between Orianna and Aunt Fanny. Through thinly veiled dialogue, the two older ladies (Aunt Fanny insists she's only 48) sling barbs at each other from the beginning. Orianna becomes increasingly obsessed with her importance as the legal owner of the estate while Aunt Fanny resents the empowerment of someone she still regards as an outsider. Orianna makes some condescending arrangements for the family and servants and Aunt Fanny doesn't seem to have a leg to stand on until she has a vision of her father, warning her of the end of the world but promising that all who remain in the house will be spared to become the population of a new world.

From this point forward, Aunt Fanny becomes custodian and authority of the spiritual ancestry and essence of the house while Orianna adopts the role of legal ruler.

The Wikipedia entry says there's ambiguity about whether or not the world's really ending in the book, that people have long considered it to be ambiguous, but it's really not. Aunt Fanny's predictions, and those of Gloria, a teenage family member who sees the future in a mirror, are confirmed again and again throughout the book. Readers may consider the reality ambiguous because the original vision seems so conveniently timed to boost Aunt Fanny's importance in the family just as Orianna is poised to completely take over. But this is what's funny and terrifying; nearly everyone in the novel, including Aunt Fanny, is completely obsessed with herself and slightly delusional, and yet the vision is quite true all at the same time. Intangible yet real and important, like shadows on a sundial.

The news reports of catastrophic weather referred to or the floods and breaking statues could be put down to an unreliable narrator, the kind that makes Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle so wonderful. But The Sundial is third person, shifting from the points of view of different characters all the time.

Among the references to other works of fiction, the two most striking that repeat throughout the book are to Robinson Crusoe and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The protagonist of Robinson Crusoe going subtly mad alone on his island has obvious relevance as the strange family make preparations for an apocalypse only they believe in. The fantastic proportions of the property juxtaposed with the mental instability of its inhabitants suggests one was a great influence on the other. As the novel progresses, even as the reality of the apocalypse becomes clearer, the introverted madness of the characters seems to become more overt, until Orianna herself compares herself to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. But Orianna's gown and crown are gold. She makes rules for everyone to strictly adhere to in the dawning of the new world, including the importance of ignoring the old calendar and starting from the beginning with the First Day. It's easy to laugh at Orianna's crown or Gloria's assertion that she should force her way into the house even if she wasn't expected but the book doesn't allow the reader perfect distance from them--with the world actually ending, we're inside their reality even as the very bedrock of that reality is in question in the conflict between the two women for the Queenship. Confrontations between the characters are tremendously important even as they're undermined by little reminders of the faultiness of the participates. One of the climactic conversations ends abruptly with one character telling the other that there's not room for her to get by in the doorway to do what the other instructed, something of which the other had seemingly been absent-mindedly unaware.

The novel does have some genuinely effective thriller scenes, one of my favourites being the circumstances of Aunt Fanny's first vision where the older lady is walking the grounds with the ten year old Fancy, the youngest inhabitant of the Halloran house. The vision seems immediately like a hallucination suffered by Fanny when Fancy won't corroborate parts of this story but in a small paragraph between breaks Jackson immediately informs us that Fancy is a liar. Even the youngest is attempting to assert her own version of reality.

The Wikipedia mentions how Jackson was surprised when some interpreted the novel as being about a conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism. A nice aspect of the book is how readily its conflicts can be applied to different interpretations. It certainly seems to relate to how people may want to be ruled, how people may need to rule to have self worth, and the dubious reality in any sense of attaining either of these needs.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Doctor or the Monster

Continuing to listen through all the monthly releases of Big Finish's Doctor Who audio plays, I yesterday got to 2009's The Company of Friends, a four part anthology story, the first Eighth Doctor audio I've heard in a while, the first monthly one without Charley. Each written by a different writer, there's nothing terribly great or very bad in this collection, the most interesting story being the last one, where the Doctor meets Mary Shelley.

Played by Julie Cox, Mary Shelley encounters Eight (Paul McGann) during the famous vacation the real life Mary Shelley spent with her husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron near Lake Geneva in 1816, the "year without a summer" as Mary puts it in the opening narration of the Doctor Who story. The uncommonly cold summer was due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora as the Doctor ramblingly informs Mary. He turns up, seemingly mad and dying, before he turns up again in perfect health. So there's a timeloop involved, the injured Doctor having the memories of travelling with Mary for some time--and she becomes a companion of the younger Eight for audio plays set after this.

I feel like the audio plays had an increase in famous historical figures showing up corresponding with more showing up on the television show. It's something I wish the writers would avoid--any depiction is bound to be an interpretation of that person which makes the world of Doctor Who shrink a bit. Now the show is to some extent married to the embarrassing and already dated depiction of Shakespeare in "The Shakespeare Code", for instance.

This Mary Shelley feels slightly modern in ways that her mother being the great feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft doesn't quite account for. She's surprisingly antipathetic to Percy Shelley who's played as kind of a bitter coward by Anthony Glennon. She complains that he doesn't take her on the adventures he promised, which gives her a motivation to travel with the Doctor, but one wonders what she expected from Percy if travelling to Switzerland or through war torn France wasn't good enough.

I look forward to hearing how different writers handle the character though I doubt she'll ever replace Elsa Lanchester in the role from the prologue to the 1935 Bride of Frankenstein. There wasn't much opportunity in this short audio story to get an impression of her chemistry with McGann's Doctor.

Twitter Sonnet #936

Divested fast of useless chrome, we stopped.
Amorphous salve assuaged the garish corps.
Elusive artwork clamoured in the mop.
Abasement mentored tallies to the pore.
In water dried respecting shells alone
Ostensive thoughts emerge as dreams and drops.
Confounding rain upsets the purest tone.
The band departs expecting clouds for crops.
Amazed the statue changed its keys for fall.
Accords acclaimed accrued a courtier's clique.
Habitual Sampo pangs oblige the shawl.
Afforded shocks ascribed to castles kick.
Acrylic callipers clamp on the brain.
A fight drizzles the paste like rain.

Friday, November 25, 2016

This Beardly Treasure

Sometimes a movie is a great deal less than the some of its parts. One of the most infamous examples being 1983's Yellowbeard, a film that's been good-naturedly derided by its own writers and stars ever since its release. Yet this peculiar combination of British and American comedic talent couldn't fail to have some virtues, among them a keen awareness of historical detail and, yes, even one or two moments that are genuinely very funny.

To start with something not funny, the film has an extraordinary number of brilliant dead people--Graham Chapman wrote the film and also stars as Yellowbeard the pirate; Peter Boyle plays Moon, his duplicitous compatriot; Peter Cook stars as Lord Lambourn and co-wrote the film; Marty Feldman plays another confederate of Yellowbeard's and actually died during the film's production; Madeline Khan plays Betty, Yellowbeard's lover; James Mason plays it beautifully straight as a captain in the Royal Navy named Hughes; and David Bowie has a cameo as The Shark.

This is one of the funny moments, a throwaway absurdity that teeters dangerously close to making sense--Betty having just been dunked in the water in the effort to make her reveal the location of the treasure is brought in to the captain's cabin by the shark. It's a very Monty Python-ish joke and in addition to Chapman the film features two other Pythons, Eric Idle and John Cleese.

Cleese looks improbably badass in his black hat and glasses as a blind informer whose sense of smell and hearing allows him to identify Yellowbeard the moment he steps into the room.

Yellowbeard, played with unabashed, growling ferocity by Chapman, is a parody of Blackbeard; not Blackbeard as portrayed in film so much as Blackbeard as he exists in historical accounts of him. Like the first two Monty Python films, there's a lot of humour here that presumes education in its audience is it directly makes fun of history.

My favourite line in the film is spoken by James Mason who detains three of the main characters on deck and announces to the crew, "These three people posing as pressees are in fact foul stowaways!" The idea that pressed men--men randomly taken off the streets by force to serve on ship--are stowaways is a subtly hilarious paradox and a nice manifestation of comfortable hypocrisy always at ready in aristocratic rhetoric.

And the movie has Cheech and Chong as a pair of pirates who find themselves suddenly worshipped on an island where the treasure is located. I liked the doorway that was modified for Tommy Chong's hat:

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanking and Thinking

In his Thanksgiving message to-day, Donald Trump concluded by saying, "Let us boldly face the exciting new frontiers that lie ahead." It seems like it's an allusion to the opening of Star Trek, perhaps unintentional, perhaps as a nod to his redirecting NASA funding away from climate change research and into space exploration. Republican presidents generally do seem to put more emphasis on funding space exploration, at his point I figure it's due at least in part to the fact they've given up on Earth. They're getting ready to exhaust the resources and destroy the ecosystems of other worlds.

As it happens, I was watching Star Trek last night, a timely episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called "The Drumhead".

I was looking forward to watching it because of Jean Simmons who guest stars as Admiral Satie. I hadn't seen the episode since I was kid, when I wouldn't have appreciated Simmons, but now I've seen her in innumerable 50s sand and sandal films as well as the great film noir Angel Face and Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. It turns out she's an integral part of what makes the episode work so well. Satie is sent to the Enterprise to conduct an investigation and interrogations related to a Klingon who confesses to being a spy for the Romulans.

After his guilt is established, the investigation starts looking for accomplices as they figure there must be since, in addition to the information the spy was caught with, there was also an explosion in engineering that damaged the warp core. Satie, Picard, and her advisers interrogate one officer who at first claims his grandfather was Vulcan before admitting under emotional strain that his grandfather was actually Romulan.

Satie's Betazoid assistant detects that the young officer is lying though it's not clear what about. They assume it has to do with the explosion in engineering but instead he was lying about his heritage. The young officer is ashamed of having hid it but it seems he had good reason to do so when this becomes a clear motivating factor in Satie's focus on him. Not unlike a presidential candidate who recently claimed a judge's Mexican heritage disqualified him presiding over a case.

Simmons portrays Satie not as a two dimensional villain but invests in her a sense of genuinely believing what she's doing is right. The episode nicely puts events from past episodes into a context where you can see how important it is to avoid drawing conclusions based on emotion and circumstantial evidence, as when Satie brings up the Romulan spy the Enterprise unknowingly aided in the episode "Data's Day". We know Picard and the crew were perfectly innocent in the matter, but it's easy to see how someone looking from the outside might not see it that way. The episode ends with a timely observation by Picard:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Gran Gringo

I'm used to finding films directed by Clint Eastwood to be overrated but this didn't prepare me for how intensely bad his 2008 film Gran Torino is. It goes to show how much tenure buys you in Hollywood--I try to imagine pitching to a studio a movie where I play a war veteran white guy in a neighbourhood of Hmong refugees, where I constantly insult everyone and then I'm hailed as a hero by the legion of two dimensional characters who heap tributes on my doorstep and I also teach one of the Hmong how to be a man and the movie ends with my Christ-like sacrifice and a song sung by myself even though I can't sing. I think, if the studio rep was kind, he or she would tell me I was in the wrong place and point me to where I might find someone who'd jerk me off for money.

The film begins promisingly enough; Walt (Eastwood) is at his wife's funeral and growls at his granddaughter (Dreama Walker) wearing a crop top and a flashy belly button ring. I've seen this kind of thing--people seem to've forgotten how to dress and act respectfully at funerals. Her brother and Walt's son are also disrespectful but the focus remains on the young woman who ends up poking around Walt's garage where he, a tall dark figure, corners her while she crassly asks him to leave her his car, his Gran Torino, when he dies.

The predatory misogynist undertones to the scene are hard to miss. She throws down her cigarette and he steps angrily into her personal space to stamp it out. She maintains complete, improbable, comfortable insensitivity, which makes her behaviour at the end of the film, the next time we see her, bizarre except in consideration of the fact that the purpose of the film is to exalt Eastwood's character.

Walt's a veteran of the Korean War and considers hurling constant racial slurs at everyone just a normal way of talking. I have no doubt there are older folks who don't see anything wrong with constantly calling Asians "zipperheads" and their Italian barber a "Dago-wop" but even Jerri Blank had more discretion than Walt.

Well, maybe not. Still, despite Strangers with Candy being an absurdist comedy, the world it portrays is still more realistic than the one in Gran Torino where Walt pulling a shotgun on some Hmong gangsters who'd stepped on his lawn gets him rewarded by the entire neighbourhood just because he managed to save Thao (Bee Vang), the teenage neighbour boy, in the process. So the next day, everyone in the impoverished neighbourhood starts loading flowers and food on his porch.

In case you're wondering whether or not this is really Hmong custom, the answer, according to several pages that came up when I googled--articles and forums--is no. No, the Hmong don't start piling tributes on the doorway of a neighbour who did a nice thing. This is just one of many inaccuracies in the film, though, things I kind of sensed were inaccurate even though I know little about the Hmong, mostly because they resembled the behaviours of "Native" cultures in old films. They adore Walt now despite his constant verbal abuse because he's the White Saviour.

And he does plenty of saving, especially for a movie directed by a guy who's said in interviews how much he hates superhero films. Thao's sister, Sue (Abney Her), is wandering around the neighbourhood with her ridiculous white gangster poseur date (Scott Eastwood) when they walk stiffly and awkwardly into a frame where three black gang bangers are standing. They humiliate Sue's date then start pushing her around before Walt shows up in his white pick-up truck and threatens them all with a gun.

The firepower in the hands of anyone at any time always miraculously favours Walt's goals. Later in the film, he kicks the shit out of one of the Hmong gangsters and the Hmong gang retaliate with a drive by shooting of . . . Walt's neighbour's house.

After he saves Sue from assault, she gives him a brief book report on Hmong culture. Good on Eastwood for actually casting Hmong actors, I guess, but maybe he'd have been better off just going with any Asian actors who didn't talk like Siri. I hear Eastwood chose not to give direction to his actors and, wow, it sure shows. Sue likes to stick with Walt after this and in her flat, mashed together line deliveries she becomes his friendly robotic tour guide of the film's version of Hmong culture. Naturally, she never once suggests he avoid flinging the verbal abuse at herself or her family.

His attention moves from Sue to Thao as he teaches the kid to be a real man. By the end, everyone is in awe of the wisdom inherent in Walt's crustiness. The movie is so transparent it is actually pretty hilarious.

Twitter Sonnet #935

The washing troop announced by tapping twice.
In slush the frozen eyeless men reside.
A note of sorts was writ upon the ice.
The hair betrays a shifting form outside.
Through narrow pipes of bark the trees exhaust.
A wheeling wing explodes in shadows quick.
In weathered veins the words the nail embossed.
The thinning mist reveals the river thick.
Tornadoes drawn in sapphire ink appear.
Along the wall, the veins resemble light.
A marble storm o'er took the withered pier.
Corroding salt asserts a dusty blight.
A violet curtain came to be the wall.
The violent stasis stops a silver fall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Pin Pricks and Dangerous Weather

There's a dialogue between two women, one perhaps a predator, the other a victim, and some of the dialogue takes the form of vivid, frightening dreams. It's a good new Caitlin R. Kiernan story in the new Sirenia Digest that came out a few days ago called "The Line Between the Devil's Teeth".

Caitlin's stories in her Digest often take the form of dialogues between characters and they often involve the supernatural and strange sex but within these parameters there's great and surprising variety, even as she seems to continually seek new routes to explore compulsive guilt and attraction. This particular story takes a very familiar supernatural creature and recontextualises it quite beautifully, creating an atmosphere around this character that's focused and at the same time pointedly ranges to different stories within the story, one of the women conjuring for the other an effectively described sailing vessel in a stormy sea. In the end, it has the effect of an eerie lullaby, like a Brian Eno song in prose.

The new Digest also includes a story by a writer named Madeira Darling called "The Ugly Place". It's a nice S&M fantasy that plays with concepts of gender transition and transgression in nicely simple ways. It's about a man called Mother who seems to be performing some kind of painful ritual or surgery on a woman. It put me in mind of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Walking with His Face

For me, the highlight of last night's new episode of The Walking Dead was Xander Berkeley as Gregory, the leader of Hilltop. But overall, it was a relatively decent episode and puts some more irons in the fire of people who really, really want to kill Negan.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Maggie is more or less at the centre of the episode and it was nice to see what looked like actress Lauren Cohan's actual hair after the bad wig she'd been wearing in her previous couple of appearances. Though, honestly, I think she looks better with long hair. But she certainly looks leaner and meaner now.

Once again, she jumps into the fray despite having been told to take it easy for her baby's sake. It's getting kind of weird at this point, you'd think her and Glenn's baby would be even more important to her now. But being pregnant certainly hasn't slowed her down; she get that tractor up and running before anyone knows what she's doing.

I like the exchanges between her, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Jesus (Tom Payne). The really obvious hinting at Maggie becoming leader of Hilltop makes me look forward to that happening. Less enjoyable was the Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Enid (Katelyn Nacon) subplot.

Just a couple of kids having a good time. What a wasted opportunity to show them roller skating away from zombies. Well, maybe that's yet to come. I suppose Carl's probably not going to get killed on his assassination mission though he sure seems stupid for trying it alone.

This is definitely not a show you can just start watching in the middle of a season, having never seen it before. I have seen all the previous episodes but it still took me a long time to figure out what Carl and Enid were talking about where she finds out he thought he saved her. That's even with the "Previously on The Walking Dead" clips showing him locking her in that room. We are in the age of television designed for binge watching.

But as I said, Xander Berkeley was my favourite part. I love how straight he plays Gregory--when he's pretending not to know people's names, he doesn't put any hint in his performance, no wink, that Gregory is bullshitting, relying on the absurdity of the idea to say it for him, that he can never remember anyone's names. In his scenes with Simon (Steven Ogg) he strikes a perfect balance between wanting to keep his habitual air of authority, wanting to seem completely subservient to the Saviours, and being intensely uncomfortable. The discomfort in his body language is so credible even at the same time you can see he's an expert at controlling his body language.

My favourite bit was when Simon asks him if there's anything else he has to tell him and you can see Gregory deciding whether or not to give up Maggie and Sashia while being conscious that he shouldn't look like he's deciding anything. He's clearly aware of the hints of guilt and fear that show up on his face and you can see it forces him to realise Simon can see it. Really well done.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Dawn of the Mart

Here's a face I bet you didn't expect to see on the new Star Wars: Rebels! That dashing young rogue in his trademark vest, piloting his lopsided freighter directly at overwhelming Imperial forces--never tell him the odds! Yes, that's right, it's . . . Mart! Mart Sato, whose carefully rendered wavy black hair in no way indicates this was a model the production team spent a lot of time on before being told by the higher ups at Disney that they could not make use of a certain character from the movies. No, clearly the producers were just excited about introducing us to . . . Mart!

Well, it's been pointed out that Mart's ship is a dead ringer for the Outrider, the ship belonging to Dash Rendar, the roguish smuggler who filled in for Han Solo in the Expanded Universe novel Shadows of the Empire, set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. If Mart is Dash, either they've recast him as Asian or this Asian kid is going to dye his hair blonde at some point and maybe get plastic surgery. Or is Dash a ginger? I don't quite remember. Anyway, those of us who might've thought Mart was a Han Solo clone might now take solace in the possibility that he's a Dash Rendar clone . . . who was himself a Han Solo surrogate, so a copy of a copy. Unless it is Dash Rendar in which case it's the genuine reproduction.

It was hard to focus on much else as I puzzled over what they're trying to do with Mart. Egad, I really won't blame him if he plans on changing his name.

He's head of the "Iron Squadron", a group of kids who, aside from Mart, oddly resemble members of the Ghost crew; a wilder version of Sabine and a human version of Zeb and a version of Chopper with a pointy head. The Iron Squadron is single handedly fighting against the Empire to frustrate their attempts to dominate their green and pretty world.

This was a pretty nice looking episode, and I like the lighting in the new shuttle the Ghost crew has:

Another old Expanded Universe character is in the episode, Grand Admiral Thrawn, who craftily sends his admiral with only one light cruiser to deal with the Iron Squadron and the Rebels despite the admiral's request for twelve ships. Clearly, Thrawn has something up his sleeve. I have no idea what since the episode ends with Commander Sato, Mart's uncle, coming in with a Corellian Corvette. The theory I had was that Thrawn was sending in a light enough force to draw the Rebels into attacking when they might have simply ran from twelve Star Destroyers. The only satisfaction Thrawn seems to end up getting is getting the answer to his question as to what would make Commander Sato come back to this system. Well, maybe Thrawn's strategy would become clearer later.

Twitter Sonnet #934

A golden needle changed to feathered pain.
In symbols wrought of moons and vines they speak.
Through windows old and sharp the point remained.
Among the cases sold the dagger's weak.
A myst'ry turns the starry wheel to drive.
The shifting shapes collect behind the trees.
On dishes, stumps, and bogs, they'll always thrive.
A march of halberd guards recursed to keys.
Atop the pudding cake, there's mistletoe.
Misplaced vacation plans adrift indulge.
From in volcanic crashes greet the foe.
From out the whale the ashes us divulge.
Upturned the coffee cup exposed a sludge.
In rocky matters blocks'll never budge.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Celebrity Nursing

It's a proper adventure when both Florence Nightingale and Leo Tolstoy are involved. And it's the 2009 Doctor Who audio play The Angel of Scutari in which the Seventh Doctor and his companions are mistaken for spies. A complicated spy story of mistaken identity is amusingly layered over a complicated time loop story, the performances of the leads helping greatly to give some heart to the shuffling sea shells of plot.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier) find themselves in the Crimea in 1854, the time and place where Hex's idol, Florence Nightingale (Jeany Spark), achieved immortal fame. Hex is a nurse from, if I remember correctly, slightly in our future. Florence Nightingale may have revolutionised nursing but it's not every nurse, or even many nurses, who'd fall to pieces over the idea of meeting her. It's a nicely subtle weirdness to Hex's character. But while he's busy tending the wounded on the British side, Ace ends up among the Russians in custody of a young soldier who is none other than Leo Tolstoy (John Albasiny). Which is fun, and becomes even more fun as he starts to fall for Ace, though the story never quite makes it clear why this character needed to be Tolstoy and not some other soldier. But maybe that might have made it too much like Ace flirting with the Soviet officer in Curse of Fenric.

And if the show hasn't dropped enough names, the Doctor ends up meeting Tzar Nicholas I (Hugh Bonneville). Something about the Doctor demands the Tzar's personal attention.

The Doctor is startled to find people on the British side recognise him from earlier events he hasn't experienced yet--and because of them he's taken to be a spy--so he's obliged to go back in time to make sure everyone's stories are straight so as not to disrupt the timeline. It's an effective story but for my money the best of this kind is still the Seventh Doctor audio play Flip-Flop which is actually two stories that can be listened to in any order because of the complexity of its time loop plot.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Picking Up the Ruler's Toys

How often did conquest involved the gentle, paternal instruction from one side to the petulant and mischievous little girl on the other? My guess would be just about never except in the world of George Bernard Shaw's play brought to screens in 1945 called Caesar and Cleopatra. This impossibly gentle and almost domestic patriarchal tale is at turns sweet and too ridiculous to be insulting, even if it was meant in earnest which I doubt. The gender politics may be a little murkier than at first glance due to some fascinating characterisation of Caesar and it's beautifully shot, featuring good performances from Claude Rains and Vivian Leigh in the title roles.

Strolling about the desert as his army marches through Egypt, Caesar sees a Sphinx and starts talking to it, comparing himself to it in several ways including, surprisingly, womanhood: "I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, and part god."

Before he can elaborate on this, a voice speaks from the Sphinx who turns out to be little Cleopatra, hidden among some poppies. Caesar is able to simply wander with her to her throne room and he begins instructing this child who's charmed him in how to act like a queen.

The movie, the screenplay to which was adapted by Bernard Shaw himself, suggests there was never a sexual relationship between the two with Caesar acting as an impossibly benevolent and indulgent father figure. He takes over Egypt with a kind smile, ending up in a temple defended by fifty men against thousands. He has a reputation for not killing anyone, for letting all prisoners go. At one point when it looks like he and his officers are about to be overwhelmed, he's tickled by the need to jump into the sea and swim away.

He gets the idea from an artist and merchant named Apollodorus (Stewart Granger) who brought Cleopatra to him rolled up in a rug. This famous episode in Cleopatra's life is here put down to childish playfulness with papa Caesar. Anyone looking for the strong, politically savvy Cleopatra won't find her in this film. Leigh is here more petulant and kittenish than her character in Gone with the Wind.

But her and Caesar's relationship is so extreme, is such the fever dream of a zealously Victorian mind, it's very hard not to take as satire, whether it was intended as such or not.

The costumes in this movie are pretty amazing, particularly Cleopatra's.