Tuesday, April 30, 2019

For Trees are Not Dead Things

I read the new Sirenia Digest this morning which contains an excellent new story from Caitlin R. Kiernan, "Metamorphosis C". In her prolegomenon, she discusses how it's a follow-up to "A" and "B" from 2006 but I found myself thinking of it as a followup to last month's exceptional story in the Digest, "Which Describes a Looking-Glass and the Broken Fragments". Both beautifully construct a fantasy world to make some very sharp points--in this case, "Metamorphosis" makes a point of showing how effective art can be in terms of its influence.

"For books are not absolutely dead things," as John Milton famously wrote in Areopagitica, "but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them." Certainly that must be true of an author like Kiernan who has talked many times about how she labours carefully over the construction of every sentence before continuing to the next, so it could very likely be said that her fiction writing is the most purely preserved extraction of her intellect. "Metamorphosis C" is a stylistic delight as well as an intellectual, though, being an example of a kind of Lovecraftian noir Caitlin excels at, the colloquial, conversational voice rattling about bizarre and degenerate threats serves as a nice palate sullier for the rest.

There's a switch in narrator from the guide in the first part, leading a second person to a mysterious oracle or seer of some kind, to that second person. From there the narrative takes on another layer as we find the sought after merchandise is a story, the implicit idea being that the perspective inherent in the story has made it seem worthy of suppression. And then the story itself is about perception, a perception of nature that allows the destruction of nature to seem more worthwhile than its preservation. The fascinating thing about this is that it doesn't merely condemn the destruction of nature but the path of misconception, based on paranoia, that brings someone to destructive acts. There's also a potent reference to Ovid's Metamorphoses and his story of Apollo and Daphne, a version that's a lovely mixture of the horrific and beautiful. A very nice new Digest.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Winter Came, Winter Saw, and Winter Fell

And so the much anticipated Battle of Winterfell has concluded and, along with it, many storylines on Game of Thrones. Filled with a lot of impressive visuals, it was much more of a fantasy battle than "Battle of the Bastards", much more of a thematic clash than a realistic portrayal of mediaeval battle. I feel a little frustrated that it fell short of some of the series' previous battles, particularly since it marks the permanent end to some plotlines, but maybe nothing could've made good on all of that build-up.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I really loved the visuals. I'm most definitely in favour of one of the more divisive elements: the lighting. For years I've complained about how night scenes in fantasy movies tend to be lit with massive floodlights. Darkness is a potent source of drama, provided your audience has the impression they're getting the character's perspective and not that there's something wrong with the footage, the latter apparently being the gist of the complaints, as though no-one who worked on the show knew how to adjust exposure on a camera. The fact that the zombies are concealed by ice and darkness is a big part of what makes them so unnerving.

I saw on Twitter a thread of someone who works in web series production talking about how you can tell the audience it's dark without preventing them from seeing what's going, apparently arguing that it couldn't possibly be an artistic choice for people to find the action difficult to see. I frankly expect no less from a Twitter critic with a job in the industry. It reminded me of a review that called David Lynch's work on the new Twin Peaks "amateurish". There are lot of people now who haven't been brought up to appreciate art as a sensory experience, people who don't understand that you shouldn't be able to appreciate a cinematic experience while also texting. Such people see little difference between watching a film and reading the synopsis.

The shots of dragons fighting in the stormclouds were terrific. They looked like oil paintings, like art from Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings, particularly Dragonlance. It's a shame Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is down to one dragon now.

There were a few character deaths, probably the most prominent one being Jorah (Iain Glen), though you wouldn't know it from Twitter, where his name wasn't trending at all. People seemed more interested in the younger Mormont, Lyanna (Bella Ramsay). One of the really pleasing moments in the episode for me was when she was killed. I hated her so much. She was like the cartoon tiger on Walking Dead or the sharks that Fonzi jumped over on Happy Days, a cheap, silly element that undermined the emotional reality of the whole series. Seeing her get killed was like seeing a little piece of the show Game of Thrones used to be getting its revenge. It was only slightly spoiled when the girl got a chance to stab the giant's eye, White Walker giants apparently suffering from more self-destructive curiosity than the little ones.

But the real walking dead on the show was Jorah, who's basically been neutered of all his underlying motivation since he got his skin fixed. His literal death was almost redundant, though the old storyline felt like it was poignantly present in the moment where Daenerys was crying over his body. The actors surely remember they spent six years building a relationship with chemistry.

There was a nice, unexpected tender moment between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), though I always saw him as more of a father figure for her than a potential love interest. I know we're supposed to regard her as matured now, maybe I'll eventually adjust.

I was disappointed Cersei's army didn't show up as I expected it to. I figured it would because everyone last week was so certain it wouldn't based only on basically no evidence except Jaime's (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) word. Personally, I think that would've been a more satisfying ending than Arya (Maisie Williams) stabbing the Night King (Vladimir Furdik). Like I said, I know this wasn't supposed to be a realistic portrayal of the experience of battle, but someone just hitting a button and all the enemy vanishing felt kind of cheap. I guess you could say it's like the end of the first Star Wars movie or Lord of the Rings but in both those cases there was more built up around the action, it was more of a meaningful development for the characters involved instead of someone suddenly jumping out of the shadows to spoil a meeting between two expressionless guys. It seemed odd, too, that Arya was able to sneak by after she was having so much trouble avoiding White Walkers in the Winterfell library, a tonally ill-fitting scene I felt the episode would've benefited from cutting.

Mostly I had the feeling that Benioff and Weiss just wanted to get past the White Walkers to concentrate on the conflict with Cersei. Which certainly has a lot more classic dramatic potential. The White Walkers were set up as a more Lovecraftian menace of weirdness and atmosphere that I don't think Benioff and Weiss knew what to do with. All in all, though, the episode was a really nice sequence of hacking and slashing and giant fighting reptiles. It was a good way to spend the evening.

Twitter Sonnet #1230

The painted wrapper stuck to plastic bowl.
The space between was thin as grains of sand.
A sound of clubs rebounds from off the hole.
A tangled halyard caught the spider band.
A field of lanterns parts to carry nights.
In dusty rooms the weeds begin to grow.
On ev'ry leaf a watcher takes the sights.
An afternoon is drifting very slow.
A silence came and made the fighter wait.
A tangled mass beneath the timbre sunk.
A fire's red will light the blizzard late.
A button pressed will launch the kid to dunk.
Beneath the deathless leaves the game's a court.
More branches grew than eye or flame could sort.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Young and Old and Ageing Voices Resurgent

Yesterday was both Jenna Coleman's birthday and Russell T. Davies' birthday. I felt like I'd been watching a lot of Davies' episodes of Doctor Who lately so I decided to watch one featuring Coleman. For some reason I chose the two parter premiere of Twelve's second season, "The Magician's Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar", which doesn't showcase Coleman a whole lot. Watching it I was more reminded of how much I miss Peter Capaldi as the Doctor and Michelle Gomez as Missy.

I do love the look on Clara's (Coleman) face when she reacts to the Doctor starting to play "Pretty Woman" on his guitar as an indication that he knows she and Missy are present. Of course, we and they may wonder, which one is he playing it for? And suddenly it seems like they both should be wondering if they should be wondering and in that moment they become his groupies a little bit. Then the ladies descend to meet him and it seems clear he was playing for Clara--she asks how he picked her out of a crowd and he says, "There was a crowd, too?"

But the pair dynamic in this two parter is mostly between Missy and Clara and Missy is definitely the star. Gomez is just so damned good--she takes good lines and makes them twenty times better with her delicious scenery chewing. It seems like in most serialised genre fiction, the arch-villain always eventually teams up with the heroes but I like how Steven Moffat makes it perfectly clear Missy hasn't turned "good"--both by having her literally saying she hasn't turned good and then randomly picking off some soldiers. When Clara, bewildered, asked how she survived, Gomez adopts the careless tone of an aristocrat to say, "Death is for other people." So, so good.

I sure hope she'll be back at some point though I hear Gomez has a role on the new Sabrina series for NetFlix. That alone makes me want to check it out.

The other dialogue that dominates the two parter is between the Doctor and Davros (Julian Bleach), and it's another instance of a hero and villain possibly working together. The whole sequence plays off the famous scene in Genesis of the Daleks, a clip from which is actually featured in the episode, Tom Baker agonising over whether he has the right to kill a child he knows is going to be a mass murderer. I found myself thinking of Herbert Lom in Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, which I watched again recently, playing a Holocaust survivor. When asked if he had had the foresight and opportunity, would he have murdered Hitler? Most viewers would feel no compunction about agreeing with him when he says yes, of course he would. The counterargument in science fiction would generally point to the unforeseeable consequences to the timeline, and that's touched on in "The Magicians Apprentice"/"The Witch's Familiar". But a more effective demonstration of the unintended consequences of seemingly straightforward actions is when Davros' own idea backfires, his scheme to use the Doctor to inject new life into himself and the Daleks, which ends up including the elderly, forgotten Daleks carrying on a wretched existence in the sewer. Leading to a lovely pun from the Doctor; "Your sewers are revolting."

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Doll Back at the Starting Point

If you have to live the same point in time over and over, it's nice to have good company. Natasha Lyonne, star of the 2019 NetFlix series Russian Doll, fits the bill admirably. She is the chain smoking heart of a series that effectively combines observational humour, slapstick comedy, fantasy, horror, and psychological drama.

Lyonne, who co-created and co-wrote the series, stars as Nadia, a young woman who finds herself frequently meeting her demise only to magically reappear in her friends' bathroom during her birthday party while Harry Nilsson's "Gotta Get Up" plays.

Apparently a substantial portion of the show's budget went to paying for the right to use this song. It's nice to see a production that knows you need to spend money on things besides special effects and high profile stars sometimes, it's a perfectly chosen song--a better song than "I Got You Babe" but it works in the same way that track does in Groundhog Day. It's sort of wryly chipper, seeming to tease the protagonist by both sympathising with and failing to reflect her predicament at the same time.

It's not exactly like the Groundhog Day time loop--she's not repeating the same day over and over, she's constantly dying, more like in Edge of To-morrow. That film seemed like it was based on the experience of playing a video game and video games are part of the story in Russian Doll--Nadia writes code for games, including one impossibly difficult game that factors in later in the series. But this time loop feels much closer in tone to Groundhog Day--I would be very surprised to learn any of the writers are actually gamers. More than any other time loop story I've read or seen, Russian Doll feels like a sequel to Groundhog Day, a worthy sequel, to be sure.

It really feels like the writers watched Groundhog Day and said, "Okay, how can we develop these themes further?" Art criticism factors into the show a lot and at one point Nadia has a discussion about the potentially moral component of the time loop--Time, like morality, is subjective, as she points out in one clever line. And it's true, why should the universe align with her morality or anyone else's? In the end, maybe it's morality, or it could be interpreted as reality reflecting the protagonist's own repressed needs.

Natasha Lyonne, like Bill Murray, is a perfect comic foil for the circumstance. The time loop plot creates endless opportunities for her to do or say things we know any reasonable person would find crazy but we know are perfectly legitimate, so we can laugh along with her exasperation and well chosen witticisms. And then there's the slapstick; one episode sees her repeatedly falling down the same stairs and dying. The problem of it being unrealistic for a person to sustain so many injuries and still get up to crack wise is removed by the time loop plot device; the more realistic the calamity, the funnier it is.

The first four episodes of the eight hour series are 90% comedy while the second four are more horror and psychological drama, exploring Nadia's repressed issues with her mother (Chloe Sevigny) in ways that make the show feel like a live action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion, complete with an eerie, randomly manifesting child version of Nadia.

A second protagonist is introduced in the fourth episode, Alan (Charlie Barnett), who is also experiencing the same period over and over. This is a fun idea and it works well for both comedy and drama, factoring into the end of the series with a sequence that feels like it may have been inspired by The Merry Wives of Windsor--a homeless man Nadia befriends named Horse (Brendon Sexton III), whose life she tries to save like Bill Murray does with a homeless man in Groundhog Day, inexplicably wears a deer head near the end. The only sense I could make of it was that he was supposed to be Herne the Hunter, the mythological figure Falstaff dresses as at the end of Shakespeare's play. But Nadia is much more of a Falstaff character than anyone else on the show. I was thinking Lyonne seemed like a female Sam Kinison but Nadia compared herself in dialogue (written by Lyonne) to Kinison's arch enemy, Andrew Dice Clay. Either way, she's a breath of fresh air.

I think I might have preferred a lighter touch as far as the fantasy elements go in the last episodes but they are filled with good moments and intriguing ideas. The whole series is good.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The New Old Orville

"The Road Not Taken", last night's season finale for The Orville written by David A. Goodman, followed up on the previous episode to explore an alternate timeline. It has some particularly nice chase sequences and a really credible premise, but conceptually it was a bit redundant and a let down compared to how good last week's episode was. Still, it wasn't bad.

Spoilers after the screenshot

We join an alternate Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Gordon (Scott Grimes), scavenging and barely staying one step ahead of the Kaylons, who rule the universe because Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) wouldn't go on a second date with Ed. Lucky for them, the Kaylons seem to be worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers--even worse than Imperial Stormtroopers on Rebels, and that's saying something.

I was surprised to see a few Star Wars references last night, including a door that looked quite a bit like the one belonging to a certain shield generator on the Endor Moon. And then Yaphit's (Norm McDonald) head popped out like the eye droid at Jabba's palace. That was maybe the funniest moment in the episode which was low on laughs.

Kelly chooses a sexy top to meet up with Ed. Coincidence? Maybe not, though obviously it's too late to fix things. Goodman comes up with a plausible explanation for why the Kaylons took over just because Kelly wouldn't go out with Ed--they didn't get married so they didn't get divorced so Kelly didn't get Ed a command so Claire (Penny Johnson Jerald) didn't feel compelled to join the Orville crew (Ed being captain apparently being what made her feel she was "needed"). So Claire and her kids didn't establish the relationship with Isaac (Mark Jackson) that made Isaac betray the Kaylons. Which is the closest we've finally gotten to addressing Isaac's motive for that crucial action. He's always so certain about everything, I seriously want to know how he squares that with himself.

As plausible as it is, I thought it was a bit unfair of Ed to guilt trip Kelly over her decision to change the timeline. So she didn't want to pursue a relationship that was doomed to failure. Is that really so unreasonable? Though, then again, "failure" might not be the best way to describe their relationship.

Alternate timeline Alara (Halston Sage) makes a surprise appearance but doesn't stick around long enough to make an impression. I suspect the scene was shot much earlier in the season, probably before Jessica Szohr was cast as Talla, which would explain why she's not with the away team at that point. A confrontation between the two would've seemed like an obvious thing to have. But since, later, Ed uses the "jar of pickles" line with Talla, I wonder if it was the production crew's way of underlining Alara's been replaced.

The score was pretty good and I loved the shot of the Orville at the bottom of the ocean. But it proved once again the pattern of the season--really good episodes about relationships interspersed with poor to decent action/adventure episodes. Hopefully, if their new Disney masters permit them to return, the Orville will strike a better balance next season.

Twitter Sonnet #1229

With linking arms the people took themselves.
Beneath a cloak of coats the shoulder's bare.
In ancient limbs a tree supports the elves.
A loop of cookies circles round the stair.
A group of clues determined tact for now.
Above the sheets a message caught the wind.
Persistent spray engulfed the rocking bow.
And swinging lanterns canvas lit to mend.
A winding clock was silent near the cash.
A boat of wine conducts a standing cat.
Suggested breeze was spoken round the sash.
A gentle word was whispered 'neath a hat.
Beneath the garden ancient pools would flow.
At night a pair of waiting eyes would glow.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Inexorable Vengeance

A marauding band of scalp hunters are pursued by a lone, vengeful Native American man called Navajo Joe in a 1966 Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Western. Not a fondly remembered film--even its star, Burt Reynolds, didn't seem to like it--it's still a taut story with good performances, terrific action, and a wonderful score.

As Joe, the title character, Reynolds is almost unrecognisable. If you're looking for the mischievous moustached man, he's not here--Reynolds certainly looks odd without a moustache, his heavy brow making his face look unbalanced. With the bad makeup and really bad wig, he looks more Romulan than Navajo. But an interesting thing happens when you have a charismatic actor play a quiet, relentless man of action. Reynolds is so full of personality that some of it inevitably comes through and you get a sense of the man Joe used to be despite the film's minimal dialogue and lack of elaborate backstory.

Ennio Morricone's score is a showcase of what he did best; electric guitar and weird vocalisations along with grim, isolated piano. The vocals have a much angrier, horrific, scream-like quality than in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, though. It's another thing that fills the void left by the minimal story. We know Joe's wife was killed by the leader of the marauders, Duncan (Aldo Sambrell), and that's all we need to know.

The marauders are a product of a town's bounty on Indian scalps. Even the townspeople no longer recognise the need for this bounty as the gang have now taken to scalping women and children and expecting to be paid for it. When Joe comes to town with the train load of money the town thought the marauders stole, he casually demands the sheriff's badge at the point of a gun. He's got too much on his mind for their bullshit. Navajo Joe is available on Amazon Prime.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

My Biomechanoid Ship's Got a Secret

D'Argo and Moya are both compelled to divulge secrets in an episode of Farscape in which the crew scramble to figure out why the ship has suddenly turned against them. And, alas, Crichton is once again propelled by circumstance into physical intimacy with Aeryn.

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Looking for hidden pieces of Peacekeeper technology aboard the ship that might one day be used against them, D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) accidentally sets off an explosion, sending him tumbling out into space. So we learn a few things that will be important later in the series; Luxans can survive a while without protection in space, and D'Argo's got a son named Jothi.

In fact, we learn, as was hinted at earlier, that his crime goes further than what he divulged in the pilot episode. As we know from the fact that Aeryn (Claudia Black) was expelled from the Peacekeepers on the grounds of being "contaminated" by prolonged exposure to alien cultures, the Peacekeepers aren't the most inclusive bunch, so D'Argo's wife being a Sebacean would have itself been counted as crime. This casts a new light on D'Argo's recurrent insistence on his identity as a Luxan.

We learn all this because the accident somehow causes D'Argo to mistake his shipmates for people from his past--he somehow thinks Zhaan (Virginia Hey) is his wife and Rygel (Jonathan Hardy), hilariously, looks like his little son. We never learn what caused D'Argo's madness but it doesn't seem to be related to the main problem the crew tackles; Moya's sudden treachery.

Crichton (Ben Browder) delicately attends to Aeryn's hand after it'd been glued to the floor by a DRD, one of the robotic helpers that roam the ship (he helps her wash the hand afterwards, naturally). The same problem also knocks out Pilot (Lani Tupu) and Aeryn is forced to fill in, suggesting she retains some abilities from when her DNA was spliced with Pilot's in "DNA Mad Scientist". Somehow it's always fun seeing Aeryn put upon but she seems to make do, slapping down the huge buttons on Pilot's control panel.

All in all, not one of the most exciting episodes of the series but it serves as a vital link. Director Ian Watson comes up with some nice compositions, though.

. . .

This entry is part of a series I'm writing on Farscape for the show's 20th anniversary. My previous reviews can be found here (episodes are in the order intended by the show's creators rather than the broadcast order):

Episode 1: Pilot
Episode 2: I, E.T.
Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis
Episode 4: Throne for a Loss
Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future
Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again
Episode 7: PK Tech Girl
Episode 8: That Old Black Magic
Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

In Old Rooms and Dirty Streets

A street singer, a gangster, and a beautiful young Romanian woman are mixed up in a drama of love and theft in 1930's Under the Roofs of Paris (Sous les toits de Paris), one of France's first sound films. An engaging little melodrama, it makes good on the sense of scope implied by the title but has a very simple tale at its centre.

The first shot of our characters is amazing. Starting from those titular rooftops; grimy, smoky, and writhing with character, the camera slowly descends into a narrow, disjointed lane where a crowd has gathered around Albert (Albert Prejean), a street singer selling music sheets so people can sing along with him.

The camera first pauses next a to a beautiful girl in a cloche hat, standing in a doorway, watching the man dreamily. Little does she know that she'll be spending the night with him. After the gangster, Fred (Gaston Modot), steals her key, Pola (Pola Illery) reluctantly accepts Albert's offer to stay at his place.

He tries to kiss, he tries to cuddle, but she'll have none of it. Knowing she has nowhere else to go, Albert plays the gentleman. They're simple, adorable characters, both of them. Although this is a sound film, a lot of it is filmed like a silent film with scenes of broad, wordless physical storytelling, as when Albert cautiously looks out a window to watch Fred beat up a guy while he searches for Pola.

The sets are wonderfully decorated and the camera drifts away from the main characters at times to discover a man soaking his feet in an upstairs room or a large woman singing into her mirror the song Albert had taught to everyone. Eventually, the drama turns to a conflict between Albert and his friend, Louis (Edmond T. Greville), and Pola finding she must choose between two men she loves. Under the Roofs of Paris is a delightful film and it's available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1228

The words were painted cross the canyon walls.
In tiny homes a team of curlers hug.
In arid lands a certain sport was balls.
Ideas were writ beneath a rubber rug.
A bitter mint removed the pillow treat.
No sharper sheet could cut the bed as hot.
But blunt are woven shrouds to sleepy heat.
In space it's ev'ry door that's what it's not.
Repeated eyes were linked to faces right.
And not a noseless lump but blooming snouts.
No feature caves without a touchy fight.
Or rings the ears of visage final bouts.
Endorsements inked in flattened shapes were souls.
The better beds for yams were water bowls.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Too Many Kings

In "A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms", last night's new Game of Thrones, it seemed like knights and kings were all over the place. Just one place--the whole episode took place in Winterfell as characters from most of the series' disparate subplots reconnected and addressed issues before the final showdown next week. It was a nice episode and any judgement of it must be tempered by a realisation of just how much material Bryan Cogman had to untangle and put into a coherent whole.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Jorah (Iain Glen) finally has a moment with that annoying little Lyanna (Bella Ramsey) that supports the fact that they're both from family Mormont. It feels more like a bit of trivia than an emotionally meaningful moment but I don't exactly expect anything emotionally meaningful from a silly character like Lyanna. Poor Jorah still feels short changed, though. Despite having a scene where he consults with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and mentioning that he was heartbroken about being passed over for the Hand of the Queen role, it still feels like the romantic tension that had been built up between the two in the first four seasons has just been jettisoned. It's a shame, I think Daenerys and Jorah would have much better chemistry than Daenerys and Jon (Kit Harrington).

It was kind of funny last week seeing people criticise Jon and Dany's chemistry. I kept thinking, "People are just now noticing?" Judging from the conversation between Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Daenerys, the Khaleesi still misses the man she was forced to marry who raped her on their wedding day. It's weird how no-one remembers Drogo that way, especially in this age of outrage. It goes to show how subjective all this really is.

I couldn't help thinking how nearly everything Sansa and Daenerys said to each other was, at best, not strictly accurate, particularly the part where Daenerys observed that the two of them have both done really good jobs as rulers so far. If you can call running to Littlefinger for help before betraying him and the chaotic mess that is Meereen examples of good rulership, okay. But I guess they are two politicians now.

Jon's revelation of his heritage didn't seem to sit well with Daenerys, how inconvenient he delivered it just as the Night King was spotted approaching. That's two inconvenient kings. Meanwhile, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) got a much better reaction from Arya (Maisie Williams) when he revealed he was also a secret heir to the throne. It was nice seeing those two get together.

But the most emotionally satisfying scene was probably the one that gave the episode its title; the informal fireside meeting where Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) confers a knighthood on Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). That was sweet and the same scene also had Tormund's (Kristofer Hivju) tall tale about how he got the name "Giantsbane" and ended with Podrick's (Daniel Portman) debut of a new Florence and the Machine song. Kind of an odd song for a kid like him to be singing and not one to exactly raise anyone's spirits but still a very nice moment reminiscent of Pippin singing to King Denethor in Return of the King. Which reminded me of reading an interview with Benioff and Weiss where one or the other said that the upcoming Battle of Winterfell was meant to outdo the Battle of Helm's Deep from The Two Towers. I guess we'll see next week.

This seems like a good time for me to make predictions. Just don't blame me if you lose money. Next week I think Cersei's army will show up and save everyone. I think Brienne might get killed. I suspect the climax of the season will have it looking like Cersei's definitely going to be sitting on the Iron Throne until Jon sacrifices his life which somehow will lead to Daenerys taking the throne. And Daenerys will then either end up with Jorah or Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Probably Tyrion. I'd like either one, though I sure feel bad for Jorah. I bet Iain Glen's happy he negotiated for the "With Iain Glen" in the opening credits way back when this looked like just another HBO series.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Easter Bus Goes to the Desert

Ten years ago this month, Doctor Who aired its one and only Easter special, the Tenth Doctor story Planet of the Dead. Generally, and rightly, considered the weakest of the series of specials that concluded Ten's run, it still has plenty of good qualities.

A wormhole transports a London bus unexpectedly to another planet. The group of passengers, which includes the Doctor (David Tennant), a noblewoman thief called Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan), and an assortment of ordinary people must pull together and figure out how to get back home.

The shooting location in Dubai offers some impressive visuals, particularly since the production crew opted to transport an actual London bus to the location. The vehicle was severely damaged in transport but the crew decided to work the damage into the story, an idea that pays off really well.

Generally what hampers the episode is its weak supporting cast. Daniel Kaluuya as one of the bus passengers already exhibits the blandness he would later bring to bear in Get Out but, more importantly, there's almost no chemistry between the Doctor and Christina. Michelle Ryan seems to be forcing a smile on her face for the whole episode, as though being on Doctor Who is something she must grin and bear and get over with.

The exception is Lee Evans as UNIT scientific advisor Malcolm Taylor. He effectively conveys his giddy adoration for the Doctor and it's fun seeing him get to speak to his idol. He seems to have a lot in common with his successor, Osgood. I can't remember if that's ever mentioned. "Planet of the Dead" introduces yet another UNIT staff we never see again before Kate Stewart and Osgood finally return the military organisation to some kind of consistent recognisability. But no-one's ever come close to replacing the Brigadier.

Aside from a couple lines from the Doctor at the beginning, the episode has nothing especially to do with Easter--arguably it's more of a Good Friday special. It's good seeing Tennant again, though. I love how good he is at creating the sense of having two simultaneous thought processes--there's the blustering and joking fellow, setting everyone at ease with genuine enthusiasm, but there's also always the quiet, deeply worried genius. He's always captivating.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Her Hidden Mucus

A neurotic fashion blogger has an embarrassing problem in Snotgirl, a comic series written by Bryan Lee O'Malley and pencilled by Leslie Hung. I finished reading the first two volumes yesterday, altogether collecting issues one to ten, and found the series enjoyable though not quite as good as I hoped.

The concept has an almost Hitchcockian sexuality to it. This beautiful, carefully maintained woman who is ashamed of her secret bodily secretions--and it's all packaged in something the average, morally upright reader would be comfortable talking about; allergies. Quite appropriately, no sexual comparisons are drawn in the surface text of the comic, though the series has plenty of sex.

Focusing on fashion blogger Lottie Person, the series includes a small cast of self-obsessed, shallow Internet personalities. The second volume details their misadventures at a fan convention with broad comedy following a psychological murder mystery in the first volume. There's a deliberate ambiguity about how much is occurring only in Lottie's head in the first volume; she meets a beautiful fellow blogger named Caroline whom she nicknames "Cool Girl"--but when Cool Girl discovers Lottie's secret allergy problems, there's a strange sequence involving a murder that may or may not have occurred. Meanwhile, Lottie discovers her former intern, Charlene, has been stalking her.

I was expecting a revelation that Lottie is short for Charlotte and that the three similarly named women--Charlotte, Charlene, and Caroline--were all aspects of a single personality or something but the revelation never came. Maybe it will yet in a future volume. The comedy feels a bit like a josei manga with its jokes revolving around a ditzy, shallow protagonist--I was strongly reminded of Moyoco Anno's Happy Mania. The art also imitates a manga style but while Hung makes decently attractive cover art she lacks skill for communicative facial expressions and either the time or patience to draw proper backgrounds. But she does come up with some fun outfits for Lottie that support the concept of her as a fashion blogger with her own line of apparel.

The series is ongoing, I'm not sure if I'll pick up volume three when I see it, but I might.

Twitter Sonnet #1227

Assorted arms dispersed among the hands.
Elab'rate grids support the window panes.
An army's stitched with darkest velvet bands.
A body's strength is propped on bony canes.
Distinctions mount between unseen and gone.
Familiar time includes the mass's walk.
Committees joined to push the crucial pawn.
But movement mostly lapsed to looping talk.
A flash of blue and engines now depart.
A twilight tunnel takes the rider's face.
A careful tale the paper walls impart.
Discarded books regroup at glasses base.
Some visage peers beyond the swinging door.
A waiting patient sits within the core.