Tuesday, February 28, 2017

For Murky Soup

I saw 1985's The Black Cauldron when I was a kid and I remember at the time finding it to be a surprisingly disturbing film. Watching it as an adult a few nights ago, I can say it's still disturbing, for the same reasons, but now I don't think they were quite intentional. It's a film in which visual beauty coexists with uninspired animation and resonant menace functions alongside sloppy or lazy writing.

Like the first years of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays, when the television show wasn't on the air and the franchise was in a slump, one of the virtues of Disney's slump in the 70s and 80s was that they allowed themselves to experiment with darker material. I only wish Paramount would learn the same thing with Star Trek but they'd rather sue the only creative sparks happening for that franchise. I digress.

The biggest success for Disney from this period, which according to Robert Zemeckis they aren't currently happy about, is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but in the same atmosphere, over a very long period, The Black Cauldron was percolating. I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry for a glimpse at some of the drama happening behind the scenes that led to the film's long gestation and the problems remaining in the final cut released to audiences. Somehow, during all the protracted process of making the film, no-one thought to make the characters into characters.

The movie is based on a series of novels based on a Welsh folk tale so maybe it's a matter of character removed rather than a failure to write characters to begin with. The best example is Gurgi (voiced by John Byner) who's sort of like Gollum minus every interesting character trait. We don't know where Gurgi came from, we don't know why he decided to devote himself to Taran (Grant Bardsley), the primary protagonist, we don't even find out what Gurgi is. He looks sort of like one of those videos of a schnauzer wearing a teddy bear body around its neck.

More importantly, none of the other characters ask these questions. The main characters form into a sort of standard Dungeons and Dragons party of adventurers without any apparent motivation other than that they're all aware of being the good guys in a movie. The animation, while fluid, is fittingly insensible for this and much of the dialogue that comes out of the human characters' mouths match unnaturally with arbitrary body gestures and facial expressions.

The effect of this, and the real reason the movie comes off as disturbing, is that the villain is by far the most interesting character in the film. Voiced with a bitter, ruminating menace by John Hurt, the Horned King has a visual design light years beyond the default mediaeval peasant look of the protagonists.

I love this first shot of the Horned King as we watch the back of his head slowly turn left and right against that scorched backdrop. We never learn his motives for wanting to rule the world, of course, but in this case the sloppiness in the writing augments the horror in the finale when his body is torn apart as it's sucked into the cauldron. I remember as a kid thinking it especially horrible that his clothes are torn apart first, so he's humiliated before he's killed. The impression is that he's facing an eternal damnation, a horror that somehow comes off as far better defined than his personality.

It somehow adds further insult that the demands of this being a Disney film mean that, unlike Gollum, the sacrifice of Gurgi's life can't stand and he's resurrected somewhat abruptly at the end.

For all it's problems, the background art is extraordinarily beautiful.

The influence of Lord of the Rings seems like it extended to the casting--John Hurt had played Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings and the opening narration of The Black Cauldron is given by none other than the great American director John Huston whose presence can only be explained by the fact that he played Gandolf in the Rankin Bass version of The Hobbit.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Eugene Sucks and It's Great

I actually really liked last night's new Walking Dead, "Hostiles and Calamities". Considering I liked Saturday's new Star Wars Rebels as well I'm starting to wonder if I have a chemical imbalance or something. Though both episodes benefited for contrast with particularly stupid episodes from the week before, the contrast was much sharper for Walking Dead. I liked "Hostiles and Calamities" even though it was a Negan episode and I still think Negan's a stupid character. There were aspects I didn't like but mostly I really liked what this episode did with Eugene. Now I see that Eugene is the kind of guy who would have said Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equally bad or that Clinton is the lesser of two evils.

Spoilers after the screenshot.

The old advice for writers to "write what you know" is kind of lame, I've always thought. Can you imagine how boring fiction would be if people only stuck to what they know? But Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has the kind of credibility about him that I suspect at least one of the writers has actually known a guy like him while probably no-one's ever met a Rick or a Carl or a Negan. Eugene, a guy absolutely confident in his intellectual superiority and ability to grasp moral truth, somehow feeling this excuses his honest assessment of himself as a coward, happily selling himself to Negan because doing so gives him a life he can fritter away with video games and pickles.

One minute he doesn't want to take advantage of the wives because they're there against their will, the next he doesn't want to help them kill their rapist because, fair's fair, Negan killed ten of Eugene's friends for the thirty Rick killed. I completely believe in Eugene's character in ways most of the other characters now seem like hapless marionettes jerked around by an illogical plot. The references to some of those plot points in the episode, like Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) magically deducing everything about the custom made bullet or Eugene somehow biting Dwight's genitals through his jeans, I was even happy to overlook that stuff for moments like Eugene thinking he was being magnanimous by letting Negan's sex slaves watch him play video games.

I could've taken or left the Dwight (Austin Amelio) subplot though it was kind of weird seeing him and Eugene talk for the first time since the show had given Dwight an entirely different personality.

Twitter Sonnet #967

A sky between the white and yolk embossed
Around the summer thirsty fence in March.
A breaking clock beheld the driver tossed
Along a road, or shadow of a larch.
No blue in shade but dusty mauve o'erheats
The stranded hands and eyes 'neath brittle maps.
To nowhere stops from nowhere winds on seats
A gentle sweat unfit for boiling naps.
A sudden candy takes patrols for broad
Detours through Technicolour songs of lint.
The lands, once dry, now soaking wet, the sod
Absorbs a syrup blood for heaven sent.
And then a silent insulation fell
As buildings cast away the walls that tell.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This Chiss is No Chump

"Through Imperial Eyes", last night's new episode of Star Wars Rebels, was a massive improvement over the previous week's episode and one of the best written episodes of the series. Although I was able to predict some of the things that happened in the episode, writers Nicole Duboc and Henry Gilroy have put together a story of intrigue and espionage full of suspense and characters who don't seem unreasonably stupid.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I was worried the whole episode would be through first person perspective after the opening scene with Agent Kallus (David Oyelowo) answering the door and looking into a mirror. Although it's an interesting moment, I'm glad the story moves quickly away from this into more standard story telling techniques to the point of view with Kallus for most of the episode. Those who've seen Lady in the Lake and Doom know how quickly first person in cinema can wear out its welcome, Russian Ark notwithstanding.

I loved Kallus using Lyste (Liam O'Brien) to misdirect suspicions, especially because I was anticipating the whole time that Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen) was going to see through it. I knew it was going to help establish Thrawn as especially perceptive and intelligent. Too often I've seen stories, in this show and others, where characters are to be taken as formidable just because we're told they are. Actually showing Thrawn being effective diminishes the problem with the too frequent Rebel victories seen on the show.

I'm also hoping that it turns out Ezra (Taylor Gray) erasing the Rebel Base from the list of potential locations on Thrawn's chart ends up being the thing that leads Thrawn to the Rebel Base when the map doesn't match up with Thrawn's precise memory. Oh, that would be wonderful. If some Rebels producer or writer is reading this and thinking, "Oh, we can't do that now because someone predicted it," please, please do it anyway. I don't care if I see it coming, it's going to be fantastic. My schadenfreude is perfectly attuned to Ezra's pain, I hate him so much.

It was also cool to see the return of Yularen, voiced as he was on Clone Wars by Tom Kane. I didn't even realise the character is based on someone in the background in Episode IV until I googled it just now. But in any case his presence provides a nice continuity between the Republic and Imperial navies.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Where are the Robots of Life?

This past week I've been re-watching the 1977 Fourth Doctor Doctor Who serial Robots of Death, widely considered one of the best Fourth Doctor serials with good reason. I love how quickly and naturally it accomplishes its world building while the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion Leela (Louise Jameson) are trapped in some kind of ore refinery.

The petty arguments in the lounge while everyone is quite at ease establishes the sense of an idle, wealthy class, oddly in command of an enormous mining vehicle. When one thinks of miners, one doesn't think of a posh aristocracy quarrelling about games and manners. Their existence is explained by their robot servants.

Obviously paying homage to Isaac Azimov, Robots of Death is halfway between a story about slavery and a story about technology. There are pitfalls in treating another form of life as an allegory for human race relations, which the writer, Chris Boucher, seems conscious of in creating the villain of the episode as a human deluded into thinking he's leading a race of people into rightful rule over the galaxy for their physical and mental purity. But these aren't Daleks.

As automated workers are having a greater impact on the human work force to-day, it seems like stories like Robots of Death were well ahead of their time, and you have to love science fiction writers who bothered thinking about these things long before most people thought they were pertinent issues, or thought they ever would be.

The problem to-day isn't so much the danger of robots becoming murderers but as the cause of human unemployment. I suppose the upper class human crew of the mining vehicle would be descendent of the tycoons profiting to-day from being able to avoid paying a human workforce.

The episode does all this while also being a lovely development in the chemistry between Leela, for whom this is only her second story, and the Doctor. His explaining to her robots and body language is a nice way of establishing the concept of the uncanny valley in the story. I particularly liked the comparison of the robots to walking corpses.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Drifting Out Through Impossible Colours

Somehow it's only to-day I heard about the death of Seijun Suzuki last week, on February 13. By coincidence, I had watched Suzuki's 1966 film Tokyo Drifter again over the preceding weekend. Tokyo Drifter is a film that compels me to compulsively rewatch it, largely because of its theme song, which I can almost hear coming out of the blu-ray sitting on my shelf. The song is repeated so many times in the film you get a little tired of it and yet it also draws you back in. The third or fourth time you watch the movie, you can't get enough of it.

It was almost three years ago I first wrote about the film, and my review begins with the sentence, "Does a man choose his song or does the song choose him?" Which gets to the existential question the film poses with this song, about a man who constantly sings it long before he has any desire for it to become a reflection of his identity. The protagonist is fiercely loyal to his yakuza boss and the last thing he thinks he wants is to be a lonely drifter. It's only the presence of the song that makes us question how much of it was his decision, maybe his unconscious decision.

This isn't an unusual question for a Suzuki film from the 1960s. Often about yakuza, the films pose questions of choice and identity within the story and stylistically, deliberately undermining realism in order to turn the genre film itself into a subject that strains against the confines of its definition. In one of Suzuki's most famous films, Branded to Kill, he seems to leave any sense of coherent plot as its hitman protagonist obsesses with rice cookers and falls in with a mysterious butterfly femme fatale.

But Suzuki didn't always make movies about yakuza. In one of his best, 1964's Gate of Flesh, he follows a group of prostitutes in the aftermath of World War II, dealing directly with issues relating to the U.S. occupation and the persistence of Japanese national pride after defeat that could for years only be obliquely alluded to. The themes of disillusioned self image and humiliation, though, can be found throughout Suzuki's work in the 60s as well is in most of the great Japanese films of the post World War II era.

I'm still relatively new to Suzuki's films and I count myself lucky I still have so many of them to see. Here you can find the reviews I've written of his films.

Twitter Sonnet #966

A scope of curls accords its prey a hair.
The forest changed to paper while she watched.
Upon the absent doe she fixed a stare.
Along her helm a storied tally notched.
There's blue inside the speeding, heated rock.
The pins that sink across the chart'll melt.
There's nothing left inside the sacred sock.
Perspective taught no braces with a belt.
In sandwich forests time was marked in salt.
Banal arrangements solved the growing road.
The strain will break a theatre with malt.
An ancient sugar keeps a seat in mode.
A saturated flower fades for steel.
A looping, spinning song becomes what's real.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How can You Meet Anyone?

Wow. What an amazing, lovely new episode of The Expanse last night. I know there was a lot leading up to it but that single episode in terms of tone, plot, subtext, and insight, had more of the weight of a feature film than most feature films nowadays.

Spoilers after the screenshot

It's always an awkward experience dragging your live nuclear bomb to a first date, isn't it? Especially to a date with the girl you've been pining for forever despite never having met her. On an asteroid called Eros you're going to reroute to Venus when the two of you physically combine. So . . . maybe that's not exactly subtle. But it works and I'm going to once again give a lot of credit to Thomas Jane's world weary, earthy performance for Miller. The special effects design and makeup, too, helps prevent this from being dopey.

The show's called The Expanse, which refers to space but also the distances between people who are nonetheless intensely interested in one another. The Earthers, the Belters, the Martians are all trying to figure one another out but very rarely come into direct contact. This is emphasised in last night's episode by all the communications delays. Transmissions between Fred Johnson and Earth, the Rocinante and Earth, always have to be prerecorded rather than a live back and forth. Chrisjen's last conversation with her husband before they think Eros is going to collide with Earth is also a delayed transmission where the two continually talk over each other.

The biggest delay of all, of course, is between Miller and Julie Mao. "Hey, we've never really, officially met," he says to her in something of an understatement. I'm surprised people didn't give Miller more shit for falling in love with a girl he'd never met--in one sense he's like a lovestruck fan. But that's not the idea here. The writers are going for something more like Laura, the 1944 film noir partly about a detective who falls in love with the girl whose murder he's investigating.

This was part of the inspiration for Twin Peaks and its own Laura, Laura Palmer. In The Expanse, pains are taken to show that Miller isn't some kid whose hormones run away with him, that's the point of his relationship with the Diogo, the young male Belter who starts to idolise Miller. Miller likes him for some of the same reasons he likes Julie--they have the youthful passion, the feeling they can do good in the universe that Miller's weariness now allows him only to connect with on an intellectual level. Still, it's hard to imagine Miller and Julie having a relationship if they met in a normal way. He'd seem too much like her dad, like he seems like Diogo's dad. Miller's interest in Julie is partly intensified by the puzzle she represents and how he gains information and insight about her. The process of investigating her has, at times reluctantly, drawn him into the man he used to be.

Last night's episode, "Home", is full of not atypical metaphors for sexual anxieties normal in cyberpunk, from Ghost in the Shell to Neuromancer. Miller's emotional response is difficult to manage partly because of his self-image as a killer and from the fact that loving a woman he's never met is weird, so it manifests as a nuclear bomb he has to drag around. There's no reason, knowing Julie's past, she should be thought of as new to sexuality, but the physical transformation she goes through, and her anxiety about it, has the resonance of a sexual awakening. It may be more meaningful as it relates to Miller's character than to Julie's, as a reflection of his anxiety about her anxiety. Aside from Avasarala, the show is definitely more about the perspective of male characters. Aside from Holden and Naomi, we don't tend to see relationships where both parties are fully developed, helping to convey the impression of distance, and expanse. Of course, the series began with Holden being separated permanently from the woman he was involved with.

Despite the colour palette again being stripped down mostly to shades of blue, "Home" told this story wonderfully, visually and through performances. I do hope Miller isn't permanently gone, the show'll be a lot less interesting without Thomas Jane.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Laughter is Not Truth

Hey, want to see an asshole hoisted by his own petard? Well, dig this--

Milo Yiannopoulos: "The reason they want to police humour is because they can't control it. Because the one thing authoritarians hate is the sound of laughter. Because they can't control people--"

Bill Maher: "And also because when people laugh, they know it's true."

Yiannopoulos: "Yeah, of course. Nothing annoys people or amuses people like the truth."

Maher: "Laughter is involuntary."

Yiannopoulos: "Exactly."

And then, the following week, in response to a video that's been released showing Yiannopoulos joking about priests molesting children:

My experiences as a victim led me to believe I could say anything I wanted to on this subject, no matter how outrageous. But I understand that my usual blend of British sarcasm, provocation and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy, a lack of care for other victims or, worse, "advocacy."

So which is it, Yiannopoulos? Is laughter truth or were your comments about learning to be a good lover from sexual abuse just a joke?

The sentiment Maher and Yiannopoulos shared about the power of humour to shine a light on authoritarians isn't unlike a quote from John Lennon that's been going around:

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humour.

To disagree with Maher and Yiannopoulos, I would say people don't laugh because they know something is true but because they truly believe something was true. To quote Oscar Wilde: "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." That's why racists laugh at black face performers, because they think what they are seeing truly reflects the nature of black people. Authoritarians don't hate humour, they just like it to reflect the party line.*

To-day, Bill Maher is taking some credit for the downfall of Yiannopoulis. As well he should. Anyone who watched Real Time saw truth indeed--the truth that outside the locker room of Breitbart and his own funk, the organism of Yiannopoulis' supposed wit can't breathe. Which is what anyone who's read his blog with open eyes would know, the kid can't talk about anything but himself and so was totally unprepared to discuss any issues substantively and was forced to resort to calling people idiots and illiterates. It's in this case the tact taken by Larry Wilmore, a panellist on the episode, to tell Yiannopoulos to "fuck off", was quite appropriate. Because, on a show about a discourse of ideas, even one as entertainment oriented as Maher's, the appropriate response to someone like Yiannopoulis, someone who refuses to engage meaningfully, is "fuck off."

It's been said that Maher treated Yiannopoulos too gently, despite the fact that on the show he repeatedly told the kid to "Shut the fuck up," and took Yiannoupolos to task for pointlessly attacking people with his humour rather than using it to expose a truth. He seemed to agree with Yiannopoulos' transphobic opinions, though in the interview to-day Maher claimed to disagree with Yiannopoulos:

When he said that transgender people have a “psychiatric disorder,” do you just move on from that?

Move on? It dominated the entire [online] segment. The other guests attacked him. When I say, “That’s not unreasonable” [to not want to share a bathroom with a transgender person] it’s because women have said that to me: “I want to know,” or “I’m not comfortable with someone in the bathroom, even if they, in their minds, have decided they are a woman.” Doesn’t that opinion count at all?

But you don’t agree that transgender people have a psychiatric disorder.

No, I don’t agree with that. But I don’t know that much about the situation. If somebody feels like they’re a woman, fine, then you’re a woman. I’m O.K. with that. If they’ve studied that, and they say it’s not a psychiatric disorder, I’m O.K. with that too. If that’s what scientists decided, that it’s not any psychological disorder, it’s fine with me. I agree.

Apparently Maher hasn't considered the issue as deeply as he should--he hasn't considered it because he doesn't have to, he hasn't lived it, he hasn't had to put with the shit transgender people have had to go through all their lives. That's his privilege. I also tend to disagree with Maher's position on religion though I agree religion can be toxic. But I don't agree that religions are completely ridiculous and ugly as Maher seems to feel they are. I've said this before, remarking on his interview with Stephen Colbert, how Maher didn't even seem to be aware that he was being obnoxious when he dismissed Colbert's Catholics beliefs as a bunch of "silly stories." Colbert is hardly a bloodthirsty mediaeval crusader.

All that being said, I first took an interest in politics as a teenager from watching Bill Maher's show. At a time when the only politics I was interested in would have had to do with the Romulan Neutral Zone or the defence of Osgiliath, I found Maher's Politically Incorrect a fascinating forum where people of different political stripes genuinely seemed to listen to each other, moreso than on the news network programmes like Crossfire where human beings just spouted prepared statements at each other. I think there is something potent in the mixture of comedians and politicians on Maher's shows. And it's a kind of discourse Yiannoupolos pushes against. To go back to the subject of humour, this was another illuminating exchange between him and Maher:

Yiannopoulos: "The Democrats are the part of Lena Dunham. These people are mental. Hideous people. The more America sees of Lena Dunham the fewer the votes the Democrat party is ever going--"

Maher: "Let's not pick on fellow HBO stars."

Yiannopoulos: "Was I not supposed to do that? They didn't brief me--"

Maher: "No of course not--"

Yiannopoulos: "Well, she is awful--"

Maher: "Because we don't brief here, because it is free speech."

Obviously Maher was joking when he implied Yiannopoulos shouldn't joke about Dunham because she was a fellow HBO star, and Yiannopoulos seems to understand at first before acting like he really believes Maher's show must conform to certain studio edicts about targets for its humour. This is classic troll behaviour, to deliberately misinterpret a joke from someone else. As Yiannopoulos himself says earlier in the interview, laughter brings people together, so deliberately misinterpreting a joke to insult the teller is a fundamentally divisive act.

Donald Trump is also an internet troll which is why it's important not to ignore troll culture in the U.S. Trolls are his constituents and ignoring them, not seeing their bullshit for what it is, is to give them breathing room. Troll humour is the opposite of punk humour--while punk humour is abrasive irony from the perspective of the disenfranchised, troll humour is abrasive irony from the perspective of the privileged, it is the humour of "let them eat cake." Punk takes guts because it's directed at people more powerful than you; trolling is commonplace cowardice. You don't deliberately misinterpret a border patrol agent when you're crossing from Mexico into the U.S. You can't afford to. A troll knows he can troll because he has that privilege. Troll humour is the authoritarian revelling in his victory. Don't give it to him.

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister'd vertue, unexercis'd & unbreath'd, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary. -John Milton, from Areopagitica

*That's why Putin endorsed the farce Burnt by the Sun 2 turned into--incidentally, those mocking Trump using Soviet imagery should be told that Putin hates Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ella Muggins versus the Axis

Sometimes you just have to roll up your sleeves, grab your bucket, and go assassinate Hitler yourself. That's what cleaning woman Ella Muggins decides to do in 1944's Passport to Destiny when she finds her dead husband's magic amulet in the attic. The only lead role for Elsa Lanchester in her entire career, I've been wanting to see this movie for years and I discovered a few days ago someone had uploaded it to YouTube in 2014. It did not disappoint. You may want to watch it before YouTube's recent wave of cracking down on even the flimsiest copyright claims gets around to this propaganda film from the 1940s that's just over an hour long:

Ella (Lanchester) has just finished telling her friends about her husband's wild story about a magic amulet he acquired in India, that protects the bearer from harm, when she finds this "magic eye" herself in the attic. It's not long before she miraculously survives an air raid and she's convinced the thing really works. After that, the logical thing to her mind is to head straight for Berlin, give Adolf a piece of her mind, and then blow his brains out.

And it sure does seem like something supernatural is pulling the strings when she's able to walk right on board a British navy vessel without anyone noticing. After that, she makes her way to Berlin working as a cleaning woman since of course she thought to bring along her trusty bucket and brush. Getting a job at Nazi headquarters, passing herself off as deaf, she's ready to "give that bloomin' Mr. Hitler what for."

Elsa Lanchester exhibits intensely charming guile as an utterly guileless cockney widow. Lanchester's real life husband has a role of sorts, appearing in the form of a single photograph of Ella's deceased husband, a "bloomin', blinking liar!"

The movie and Ella get a little sidetracked when she helps a member of a German underground resistance rescue his wife from a concentration camp. The pair are pretty dull, B-movie pair of lovers but the introduction of these serious concepts helps underline the understated, giddy absurdity of the whole film.

Twitter Sonnet #965

The shape of something like a hare emerged.
A city stuck in globes repeated often.
Contrary frosting spills on cakes unpurged.
The ice'll tip before it can soften.
A sorry shadow play presents nightmares.
The tightened wire scrapes the bastard eyes.
Stiletto thoughts appear like thin sun flares.
A million ghosts accrue a million tries.
A walking feather duster turns to stone.
A marble presence wakes the painted souls.
Beneath a copper slab they crushed its home.
But still its azure eye ignites the coals.
The cold and sweaty wax lips held the gut.
A spoiled syrup smears red glass doors shut.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Walking Dead is a Zombie

There were some nice moments in last night's new Walking Dead that reminded me of the show it used to be. Sadly, these moments were drowned out by one incredibly unwieldy plot point after another.

Spoilers after the screenshot

The best moment in the episode is at the very beginning, when one of the Kingdom's soldiers spots a zombie and notes her sister used to have a dress like the one the zombie is wearing. And I thought, this--this is The Walking Dead I know and love. Alas, this was interrupted by another meeting between Ezekiel and some Saviours, who once again fail to kill someone who's a clear problem.

It would have been good for the Kingdom, too, if they'd killed Richard who seems on his way to going full psycho. He briefly enlists Daryl as a co-conspirator but loses him when the one and only plan Richard can come up with is getting Carol attacked by the Saviours. He and Daryl part ways, which is wise on Daryl's part, since Richard's starting to seem like someone who'll get everyone killed who stands by him more than ten minutes.

Daryl's reunion with Carol later is pretty sweet and another reminder of the old Walking Dead. Then they ruin it with an incredibly contrived scene where basically Carol says, "By the way, if you tell me some of our friends were killed by the Saviours, I'm going to turn into Darth Carol. So how is everyone?" What can Daryl say to that? Guess this is another thing filed away for the season finale.

Meanwhile, Rick and company have wandered into a Mad Max film. They find a whole secret society of stone faced people in black clothes living in a massive scrapyard whose leader says things like, "We open cans, sometimes inside's rotten. Time's passed, things are changing, again." How much time has passed for this group to have a whole new dialect?

I do feel kind of bad for Channing Powell, who wrote this episode, because I feel like he was handed the responsibility of explaining Gabriel's actions in the previous episode--I could be wrong, maybe this piece of plot was in the comics. Either way, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense . . . Let me see if I have it straight--Gabriel looks at something in his bible while he's on watch, smiles, climbs down from the wall, is accosted by these scrapyard people who for some reason aren't shown to the viewer. They stay off camera as they take him to the pantry and say enough things for Gabriel to gather that they're here because Rick and Aaron took things from the boat Gabriel hasn't seen and they've somehow tracked Rick and Aaron to Alexandria only just now, so Gabriel figures out he needs to write "boat" in the ledger. Then he takes the stuff to the car, all while the scrapyard people are still offscreen until finally one of them pops up in the back seat as he drives away? How hard can it be to write a TV show, guys?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Mandalorians Play in the Snow

I finally figured out the reason Sabine on Star Wars Rebels looks like she's made of yellow Play-Doh is that she's supposed to be Asian. Thanks to yesterday's entertaining new episode we've been introduced to the rest of her family who look more actually Asian than like a jaundiced mummy. Now I've realised someone who works on the show made a sad mistake with Sabine's original design.

So, yes, Rebels is finally back after being inexplicably gone for a few weeks. "Legacy of Mandalore" featured only a few interruptions from Ezra's grating fucking whiny voice and mostly focused on Sabine's family and their place in Mandalorian/Imperial politics.

Spoilers after the screenshot

It really felt like a story that should have stretched over a few episodes. It seemed like the conflict for Sabine's brother between serving the Empire and serving his family could have been drawn out more--establishing a relationship between him and Saxon (who I keep expecting to look like John Saxon) would have been nice.

The highlight of the episode was the sabre battle between Sabine and Saxon though I'm not clear on why Ezra passed her the sabre instead of fighting Saxon himself. The climax, where Sabine had both sabres on Saxon's neck, was an unexpected reference to Anakin's crucial moment with Dooku in Revenge of the Sith. It might have meant more if we had the impression Sabine had been on a similar path to Anakin--it might have meant more if it were Ezra's moment, for example--but good for her for not turning to the Dark Side, I guess. Though I don't think turning away from the Dark Side obligated her to turn her back on an opponent who said he'd rather die than yield. I can tolerate some stupid writing but that was definitely a bridge too far for me.

It was a nice looking episode, though. I like the snow and conifers. I wonder if this is really the last we've seen of Sabine. I would have hoped they'd have killed off Ezra and Kanan before taking her off the show.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Time Lords and Daleks will Never Get Along

The best story in the Infernal Devices series of Doctor Who audio plays from last year turned out to be its last one, The Neverwhen, which finds the War Doctor (John Hurt) confronting another machine that jumbles up time lines.

In this case, it's on a planet where Daleks and Time Lords are locked in an endless battle that shifts them randomly throughout their histories. One moment everyone has lasers, the next they're fighting with swords, then bazookas, etcetera. At first it seemed very similar to The War Games, the Second Doctor's final television serial, and I still think the War Doctor ought to have at some point said, "This kind of reminds me of . . ." But the story goes in a different direction after this familiar set up.

One of my main complaints about the War Doctor stories is that he tends to talk about how he has to do horrible things the Doctor would never do but for the duration of each story he basically just acts like the Doctor usually does: appalled at loss of any life and always ready to lecture people about it. Maybe the writers figured having John Hurt playing the Doctor was too good an opportunity to waste having him not be the Doctor. Still, it was nice in The Neverwhen actually having him behave in a way that supports this warrior identity he's supposed to have. Though the best moment in the story comes when he does something that Ollistra (Jacqueline Pearce) notes is very much like the Doctor--he rewires the Neverwhen device to put the Time Lords and the Daleks at stages in their histories when they were most compatible. The result is the battlefield is replaced by a community feast between Gallifreyans and Khaleds (the pre-mutation Dalek species) that starts out funny and then gets ominous.

Twitter Sonnet #964

A cord remembers parachutes of fame.
Well falling trees assigned the whale to woods.
A walking die conceals the palace game.
In Thursday hulks were stashed the iron goods.
A ribbon wraps around a language thought.
A ripple keys to pools and stops for ice.
Transmissions fell for what cannot be bought.
The splintered podium was sold for rice.
An echoed whistle shaped a forest tree.
The bounds inverted lungs to make a breath.
Withdrawn through doors, the air becomes a key.
A turn of phrase divides a life from death.
Inside a plastic ball a bean rebounds.
Throughout the shell the yellow yolk resounds.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Through Fog and River

It's a windy, rainy day here in San Diego, a good day to stay in and read Frankenstein. Or even a pirate adventure, like to-day's new chapter of my infrequently updated webcomic, The Devils Dekpa and Deborah. We find our heroines further on their journey to Chatham despite a thick fog. Enjoy.

Happy birthday, Lola Montez.

To behold the wand'ring moon,
Riding near her highest noon,
Like one that had been led astray
Through the Heav'n's wide pathless way;
And oft, as if her head she bowed,
Stooping through a fleecy cloud.
Oft on a plat of rising ground,
I hear the far-off curfew sound,
Over some wide-watered shore,
Swinging slow with sullen roar;
Or if the air will not permit,
Some still removed place will fit,
Where glowing embers through the room
Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,
Far from all resort of mirth,
Save the cricket on the hearth,
Or the bellman's drowsy charm,
To bless the doors from nightly harm

-from "Il Penseroso" by John Milton

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Death by Flying Church

Another good episode of The Expanse. The ending of last night's new episode, "Godspeed", was built up to with the increasingly urgent, old fashioned question, "How's he gonna get out of this one?" in the best possible way and then it was answered in a very nice way.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I'm continuing to enjoy the rapport between Miller (Thomas Jane) and the kid, Diogo (Andrew Rotilio). At first I didn't feel optimistic about the pairing, bringing in an unrelated character from season one who just happens to run into Miller, but I like the way every time Miller makes a mistake, like forgetting to put on his mask or dropping a detonator, it only serves somehow to make him seem more experienced than Diogo. It's again, largely in Thomas Jane's performance.

As what looked like Miller's doom was impending, I didn't just think, "How's he gonna get out of this one?" I also thought, "The show's not going to be half as good if they seriously mean to kill him." But I don't know, I think I'd have kept watching. The scenes of political manoeuvring between Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and Mao (Francois Chau) were good. I like the story about her exchanging info with Fred Johnson (Chad L. Coleman) while having to condemn him on television. The show is good at showing how messy things can get, the best example from last night being Holden having to shoot down that ship of good Samaritans who sound like they were pretty much like him last season.

This of course puts Holden right in the same ballpark as Miller and Amos. This is the kind of question Walking Dead used to explore a lot, how to deal with a situation that requires you to kill another human being and the constant uncertainty about whether it had to be done.

But The Expanse is definitely better at a climax than Walking Dead is now.

I kind of knew Miller wouldn't die because he's the star of he show. But unlike the completely nonsensical decision from Negan not to kill Rick, which was basically because the writers couldn't kill off the star, we could see how Miller's escape was built up to throughout this episode and the ones previous. Now I guess they have a living asteroid to deal with. I wonder if Julie Mao lives in Miller's dreams like Merlin in John Boorman's Excalibur.