Monday, June 14, 2021

Thanksgiving in June

"Pangs" is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that has either aged very well or terribly depending on your politics. The drama in this Thanksgiving episode from 1999 hinges on a spirit of California's native Chumash people rising from the grave to murder various people of European descent. Writer Jane Espenson constructs the story as a vehicle for philosophical argument in a way that feels very natural for the characters and organic overall.

Willow (Alyson Hannigan) has started to inherent some of her mother's ideological attitudes which Espenson had mocked in the episode "Gingerbread" from the previous season. Now Willow, in college, condemns the idea of even celebrating Thanksgiving as reinforcing the values of European settlers who violently appropriated territory. Once a Native American spirit (Tod Thawley) starts committing race based assassinations, Willow and Giles (Anthony Head) take up opposite positions. Willow thinks maybe they should help the spirit while Giles feels its madness to help the spirit murder innocent people. At the time the episode aired, Espenson's own position would hardly have been subtle, but to-day, when people commonly argue for the idea of racially inherited malevolence (now often called "whiteness"), Willow's position is entirely plausible.

I really like how Espenson uses the supporting characters of Spike (James Marsters) and Anya (Emma Caufield) to bring complexity to the argument in ways that are both funny and meaningful. Xander (Nicholas Brendon), who's been infected with syphilis and various other diseases by the ghost, doesn't hesitate to side with Giles and makes a sweeping statement about the irredeemably of "vengence demons", forgetting that the woman tenderly wiping his brow, Anya, is herself a former vengeance demon.

It's been very amusing that the former mass murderer has been accepted into the Scooby Gang but in this moment we're compelled to question our own sympathies. We can apply that to the argument at hand in two ways--either to realise that a person (or a group occupying the conceptual space more suited for an individual person) can be redeemed of even the most horrific of past sins or that its habit for the person/group mind to selectively forgive past transgressions based on the convenience of circumstance. Looking at it either way compels us to probe the validity of either position.

It takes a villain, Spike, to finally clear things up and point out the spirit is trying to kill them so that, whatever the history, now it's a matter of kill or be killed. Spike now takes up an interesting position on the series as a neutered villain who essentially becomes an amoral chorus. It's not unlike the idea behind Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, a story in which ideas normally impermissible in public discourse can be engaged in because the people expressing them are all understood to be villains.

It's episodes like this that make it seem little wonder the modern Left wants to disassociate itself from this former cornerstone of Internet liberal culture.

Fortunately for humanity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is available on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Stone Tomb

Yesterday my friend Shuichi and I visited Ishibutai Kofun, a nearly 1400 year old tomb.

It was the tomb of Soga no Umako who was his period's rough equivalent of Prime Minister. He died in 626.

The stones forming the ceiling weigh around 77 tonnes.

The sarcophagus was destroyed and looted long ago.

Outside the tomb is a reproduction of the sarcophagus.

Twitter Sonnet #1452

The long and turgid tuna dipped to depth.
The tips of waves were painted white and grey.
To speak of whitings nicks the plate to death.
Incautious cuts could carve the brittle clay.
A duck of ham is pink but beaked and squat.
A porpoise posed would ink a squeaky bomb.
And that's the rap that sussed the sprinkler bot.
A billion boots of juice'd stomp the calm.
To splashing heaven noodles dived with cakes.
The dish of fish put crinkled eyes aflame.
On painted hugging apes the goblet bakes.
Your toe reboots a crack'ling tricky game.
Balance pits a peach beside its gut.
Sleepy gods attain the plushy rut.

Disney Blog Entry

Sometimes, Disney gives us breathtaking, groundbreaking cinema. Sometimes Disney gives us mediocre cinema. And sometimes Disney gives us something totally forgettable. I had absolutely no memory of 2000's Dinosaur. I didn't remember seeing it, I don't even remember seeing promotional material, commercials, or trailers. It seems impossible that I completely missed a film in the Disney animated canon, the first to follow the Renaissance, so I wracked my brain. And then a name floated to the surface: D.B. Sweeney. "Is D.B. Sweeney in this movie?" I checked. Yes. With this recollection I expected other memories to come flooding in but none did. It may be Disney's most forgotten film except if there's another one I totally don't remember even now it would obviously have rights to the title. I think the first half of Fun and Fancy Free, with Bongo the Bear, has a solid claim, too. Dinosaur, though, is remarkable in the number of qualities that have rendered it irrelevant--the chief points being its plot similarities to Land Before Time, its unimaginative title, and its extraordinarily bad cgi.

At best it looks like a Syfy channel original movie, at worst it looks like Tim and Eric's Awesome Show. And it came out six years after Jurassic Park after eleven years in development. Incredibly, Wikipedia quotes several glowing reviews of the film's computer imagery. I guess it's sort of like cellophane. When cellophane first came out in the mid 20th century, it was so new and strange that people marvelled at it, as evidenced in the lyrics to Cole Porter's "You're the Top":

You're the top
You're Mahatma Gandhi
You're the top
You're Napoleon Brandy
You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary
You're cellophane

Overconfidence in cgi is a problem that continues to plague studios. Contemporaneous reviews were less impressed by the film's story about dinosaurs travelling to a valley that has remained miraculously green after the devastating meteors fell to earth. The similarity to Don Bluth's Land Before Time is unmistakable. Bluth was a former Disney animator who left the studio acrimoniously in the '80s to start his own animation studio. Bluth's American Tail outgrossed the Disney film released the same year though subsequent Bluth films were consistently outgrossed by his Disney competitors. There's no reason for Disney to want revenge in 2000 but they got it anyway--the forgettable, cheap looking Dinosaur brought in more than triple the box office of Land Before Time, a solid victory even adjusting for inflation. On the other hand, everyone remembers Land Before Time.

Dinosaur is also kind of reminiscent of Disney's Tarzan--it starts with a foundling, an Iguanodon in this case (D.B. Sweeney), being raised by primates, lemurs in his case. I suspect Disney was trying to make up for the questionable choice to exclude black actors from Tarzan because both of the Iguanodon's surrogate parents are African American (Ossie Davis and Alfre Woodard) and Della Reese plays a Styracosaurus. Her performance and Joan Plowright as her Brachiosaurus friend are two of the most effective in the film. Their characters are older, slower dinosaurs who are always in danger of getting left behind due to the herd's leader, Kron (Samuel E. Wright), insisting that the weak shouldn't dictate the pace of the whole group.

Kron is an annoying, superfluous villain. The struggle against hunger and fatigue and the gloom inherent in the devastated landscape provide enough dramatic conflict. Kron set up as a maniac who despises the weak who comes in conflict with D.B. Sweeney--who insists that any less than everyone reaching the nesting grounds is unacceptable--seems like the writers trying to use the principle of survival of the fittest to argue against the idea of a social class system. It's a fundamentally stupid idea that misunderstands the nature of both concepts and the stupidity plays out when events improbably arrange themselves to make D.B. Sweeney's arguments right and make Kron look like a bloodthirsty monster.

By coincidence, last night I'd been watching King Dinosaur on Mystery Science Theatre 3000, a movie set on an alien planet of dinosaurs that also features a lemur. I wondered if at some point in development Dinosaur was going to be a remake of King Dinosaur.

Dinosaur is available on Disney+.

...

This is part of a series of posts I'm writing on the Disney animated canon.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio
Fantasia
Dumbo
Bambi
Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Cinderella
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
Sleeping Beauty
101 Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Aristocats
Robin Hood
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Oliver & Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
Beauty and the Beast
Aladdin
The Lion King
Pocahontas
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hercules
Mulan
Tarzan
Fantasia 2000

Friday, June 11, 2021

Fixing Wrecker

A lukewarm new episode of The Bad Batch aired last night written by series co-developer Jennifer Corbett. There were some nice underlying ideas that didn't quite produce exciting television for reasons I'm not entirely clear on.

Order 66 is finally starting to show itself in Wrecker (Dee Bradley Baker), mostly taking the form of bad headaches, but thankfully at this point the other members of the team have figured out what's happening. Luckily for them, Guest Star of the Week, Rex (Dee Bradley Baker), shows up, having been tipped off by the Martez sisters. Much as the previous episode ended with the Batch refraining from teaming permanently with the Martezes for no apparent reason, this episode ends with the Batch not teaming up permanently with Rex for no apparent reason. And once again the guest star feels gimmicky and empty, even more so considering there's not a whole lot to distinguish Rex from Hunter, who have the same face and are voiced by the same actor.

It is pretty impressive Dee Bradley Baker can perform capably enough to differentiate Wrecker and Tech though maybe that's why both of their performances come off kind of flat and one-note. Especially Wrecker whose relationship with Omega (Michelle Ang) should be at the core of this episode. Part of the problem is that Wrecker is essentially just Drax and Dee Bradley Baker's one-note imitation lacks the big-heartedness of Dave Bautista. Michelle Ang is much better but I wish she'd been directed to play this episode with a greater sense of urgency and panic as she waits to see the results of Wrecker's surgery. I like the idea of a bond between the two characters and I like their tradition of eating snacks together after a mission but something about the idea isn't catching hold on a visceral level.

Partly I think it's because Star Wars writers have been bullied so much by fans that they're afraid to write emotionally vulnerable characters.

The episode has nice light rendering and the action scene with the squid monster is kind of effective even if it is just basically the squid monster from Fellowship of the Ring.

The Bad Batch is available on Disney+.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Cruelty in the Circus and on the Stage

Awareness of one's own inadequacy is not sufficient to transcend it. Ingmar Bergman's 1953 film Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton "Evening of the Jesters") is about Hell on earth but not really a strange Hell. This accentuates its cruelty but also elevates it above exploitation. Still, its argument about the dissolute lives of circus performers omits the value their work has for the people they entertain and in this way The Magician, a later Bergman film ruminating on some of the same ideas, is superior. But Sawdust and Tinsel is memorable in its own right for the piece of life's cruel puzzle it so successfully portrays.

The premise kind of reminded me of Ozu's Floating Weeds, enough to make me wonder if Bergman had seen the silent version of that film. Ozu's story about a kabuki performer who has a wife in his troupe and another one in a small town with his child leaves its characters much more dignity and solace. Bergman's film about a travelling circus gives us a ringmaster, Albert (Åke Grönberg), and his girlfriend, Anne (Harriet Anderson), who both want to escape the crushing spiritual void of their livelihood but tragically lack the personal qualities necessary to do so.

To show this, Bergman takes the story to the point of grotesque, beginning with a sort of prologue, a vignette about a clown (Anders Ek) who finds his wife (Gudrun Brost) swimming naked with a regiment of soldiers. Described by a heartless narrator--the story is told by a bored low level performer at the circus to a dozing Albert--as beautiful but a little past her prime, the clown's wife had been delighted enough by the soldier's attentions to strip for them only to find their appreciation was less lustful and more sadistic once her husband's shown up. Then follows the sad spectacle of the clown ineffectually trying to carry his naked wife back to the circus.

This provides a sort of thumbnail for the main drama. The circus loses a lot of costumes in a storm and Albert decides to ask a local theatre troupe to lend them some wardrobe. The theatre director (Gunnar Björnstrand) undisguisedly mocks the circus performers, fully aware that his is the higher artform despite the fact that both groups are more or less equally derided by the authorities and general populace. Anne finds herself attracted to the effeminate star of the theatre troupe, Frans (Hasse Ekman), and goes to visit him when she figures out Albert has a wife in town (Annika Tretow). Each one comes face to face with the fact that their preferred lovers see in them only brief, disposable value.

The fantasy ending would be to show Albert and Anne having some kind of quiet moral or professional victory over Frans or Albert's wife but Bergman never gives us that respite, instead piling humiliation on humiliation while Albert and Anne are shown as intelligent enough to have real awareness of their nightmare but lacking the capacity to reason past their wounded pride. The only consolation they have is each other but considering part of their problem is the desire to escape each other it's a somewhat sickly solace. Personally, I'd be happy to be saddled with Harriet Andersson any day.

Sawdust and Tinsel is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1451

The ancient tomb is waiting past the trees.
With time, we walked again among the bugs.
The heat precedes a fleet of drowsy bees.
The grass would braid itself to make the rugs.
The varied tea awaits in gauzy bags.
The faces crack on dusty clocks at home.
The rusty iron hand of ev'ning sags.
Between the seconds hours slowly roam.
The sand was soft beneath the fire blue.
A weapon's glow was dimmed beside the cuff.
To amber light the crimson paint was due.
The scales of screens display its visions rough.
Invested grain produced a crop of sand.
The ear of corn resembled Vader's hand.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Another Layer of All Powerful

Last night brought the best premiere of an MCU series on Disney+ and the lion's share of the credit goes to Tom Hiddleston. The writing and direction on Loki aren't really bad but far from perfect. Michael Waldron is head writer on a series for the first time in a career in which his biggest previous credit was one episode of Rick and Morty. Now not only is he in charge of this show he's written the screenplay for the upcoming Doctor Strange movie and he's working on Kevin Feige's Star Wars movie. The people at Disney, for whatever mysterious reasons, really seem to like this guy.

I loved last night's premiere of Loki but the writing was decidedly uneven. Loki (Hiddlestone) is apprehended by the Time Variance Authority, which seems to be a sort of all powerful DMV presiding over the multiverse. Loki has gone from a frustrated attempt at becoming supreme god of the Earth and Asgard to being a regular schlub in a jumpsuit under the thumb of bored, slightly braindead office workers. Somehow, the God of Mischief has never heard of the TVA. It would have been nice if Waldron had given him some knowledge of it, especially since we see the TVA agents are pretty fallible. Considering they preside over all space and time, it seems like they should have left some evidence of their presence here and there in some way or another.

Loki is stripped of his clothes and forced along his path by cattle prods but it's only when he's finally before the judge (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) does it occur to him to try to use his powers. All of this does feel like it comes from someone more accustomed to writing cartoons than something that's supposed to be at least halfway dramatic--the focus is more on getting gags than on making sense.

Things improve considerably, though, when Loki sits down with Mobius, a TVA agent played by Owen Wilson. The two have enough acting chops between them to make the show captivating but Waldron's writing starts to get more interesting as he sets up the show's themes of free will and predestination. Loki himself had already been talking about his "glorious purpose", which sounds nice and all, until you consider it might mean he's stuck in the role of villain. Will the TVA be his chance to break out of this path the universe has written for him?

This is a very old story, one that goes at least as far back as 1667 and Milton's Paradise Lost in which Satan said of God's plan for him:

If then his providence
Out of our evil seek to bring forth good,
Our labour must be to pervert that end,
And out of good still to find means of evil

This gave rise to the whole archetype of the Satanic Hero which saw a new manifestation in the late '60s and '70s with stories about traditionally villainous characters from a new, more complicated perspective. There's always going to be plenty to mine from this premise because any of us who've contemplated ourselves and the universe have always had some anxiety about our own worth and ability to do anything meaningful with our lives.

Hiddleston draws us in with a performance filled with bitterness yet still with a kind of vulnerable agony. One is reminded that his character in Kenneth Branagh's Thor was originally meant to be a version of Edmund from King Lear. There's a lot of potential here and I'm looking forward to next week.

Loki is available on Disney+.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Sensitive Demons

For being created by a man famous for his liberalism, the stories on Angel and Buffy could have some episodes with pretty conservative ideas at their core. A pair of season one Angel episodes show this well--"Sense & Sensitivity" and "The Bachelor Party". The former is an episode that amusingly pokes fun at workplace sensitivity training (an idea that's certainly become more conservative) and the latter questions the idea of blindly accepting the cultural traditions of a foreign community. They're both good episodes but "The Bachelor Party", written by Tracey Stern, is an exceptionally well structured piece of television.

I always liked Doyle (Glenn Quinn) and was disappointed he only lasted nine episodes before being killed off. Joss Whedon took a lot of the blame for that but now we know it was due to Quinn's personal issues. In any case, he's intensely charming in this episode intended to explore his character.

If the idea going in was to have the drama centre around the possibility of Doyle finally getting with his crush, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), the mission was thoroughly accomplished, believingly and entertainingly bringing the characters within a hairs breadth of a date only to have it snatched way just as believably and even more entertainingly.

Doyle barely survives protecting Cordelia from a vampire attack after she's had a disappointing date with a stock broker. After Doyle's heroics, Cordelia seriously starts to contemplate Doyle's potential as a boyfriend and is on the point of asking him out . . . when in walks Doyle's wife (Kristin Dattilo).

She wants Doyle to sign divorce papers so she can marry Richard, played by Carlos Jacott, one of the few actors to appear on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly ("Anne", "The Bachelor Party", and "Serenity"), always playing different characters but always playing a guy who starts out seeming friendly and then turns out to be a villain. In this case it turns out his family are demons whose culture demands Richard devour the brains of his fiancee's previous husband.

The humour is so wonderfully deadpan at the bachelor party itself. When Angel (David Boreanaz) directly condemns the practice, one of the demons calls him racist without a trace of irony in his line delivery. All of the actors play it absolutely straight which of course makes it so much funnier.

Doyle thought that his wife had left him because he was a demon until he finds out she was getting ready to marry another demon. This also works as a nice bit of introspection for his character.

Angel is available on Amazon Prime and on Disney+ in many countries.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Seeking Someone Who's Not Himself

A young woman travels across Japan searching for her missing husband in 1961's Zero Focus (ゼロの焦点). An eerie procedural, it becomes a cool nightmare about fractured lives.

Teiko (Yoshiko Kuga) is entering her late 20s and facing increasing pressure from her mother to get married. Finally she meets a successful ad agency employee named Kenichi (Koji Nambara) who proposes to her. Only one week after their marriage, though, he gets on a train and no-one hears from him again.

A lot of the movie deals with trains as Teiko explains on voiceover the specific train lines she needs to take from Tokyo to Kenichi's hometown of Kanazawa as she investigates his disappearance. She's genuinely concerned about him but there's something dispassionate in her narrative and about her almost expressionless face. Maybe that's not surprising given the circumstances of the marriage.

It turns out Kenichi might not have been intensely interested in Teiko, either, because one thing Teiko finds out is that he'd been living a double life and already had another wife. This fits with Teiko's story and that of a villain introduced late in the film to create a film about people forced by circumstances and societal pressures into leading fraudulent lives. The coolness of the filming and the procedural narrative emphasise the painful, emotional detachment of this kind of hell.

Zero Focus is available on The Criterion Channel.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Songs in English

And I watch music videos on YouTube. Last week I saw the new Billie Eilish video, which is a lot different from the last Billie Eilish video I wrote about:

I've been informed by various headlines that people are upset Eilish wants to show off her body and look glamorous after being known for looking rebelliously frumpy. Enough headlines have informed me of people's complaints to make me wonder if anyone's actually complaining at all. I'm certainly not. She seems to be channelling Jessica Rabbit with this video and song which basically seems to be a modern "Why Don't You Do Right?" The message conveyed is, "Look at these marvellous breasts you can't touch because you're a loser." And she has a team of girls with her seemingly cast for bust size to back her up. This video pleases me. I am pleased.

I've also been watching videos recommended to me by students, including the new video from BTS:

That video already has over 314 million views for something that's essentially New Kids on the Block all over again. It's not my cup of tea but I'm happy the students are pleased. What interests me is that the song is entirely English, possibly a reflection of the band's runaway success in the U.S. How often do American bands write songs in foreign languages when they become popular in other countries? I can't imagine Billie Eilish writing a song in Mandarin (though I have no idea if she's popular in China). The U.S. has been massively in debt to Japan and China for years but still, as I can obviously attest to, everyone's trying to speak English. I find myself wondering if the language has an intrinsic value. I'm aware of how differently thoughts are organised in Asian languages. Many assume that the continued proliferation of English is only a legacy of British and American tyranny but I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm biased because I love English so much.

Twitter Sonnet #1450

The cable nose retrieved the deepest sand.
And now the learning starts with noodle guns.
We built the arm to rightly end the hand.
Our masters baked the butter deep in buns.
The bottle saved a letter pack with sauce.
Remembered thoughts were wet with inky rain.
He changed a word when years promote a boss.
The restless crew was pink from daily strain.
Divided months became important seeds.
Referring noodle cups we ate the phone.
Behind the ducks we watched the gentle reeds.
Beneath the bark and leaves we find a bone.
The painted rope has slipped from colour space.
Behind the door there waits a stranger's face.

Meeting the Minimum Qualifications for Fantastic

The combination of imaginative visuals and ingenious melodies can produce something wonderful. Disney's 1999 film Fantasia 2000 follows the format of its 1940 predecessor, combining classic musical compositions with sophisticated animation. 2000 isn't half as good as the original but it's still worth watching.

The original Fantasia was a bold experiment in the early days of feature film animation. It was a showcase for the medium that showed it could sit among the most highly regarded of artforms. So Walt Disney and his team created an unparalleled work of majesty and beauty, filled with marvellously executed ideas, both strange and awesome. 2000 feels more like an academic exercise with some truly interesting talent on display but leaning much more on a catalogue of influences. In addition, the kinds of storytelling on display fall much more under the harness of tradition and corporate policy, much moreso that the preceding decade's Renaissance.

The third segment exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of the film as a whole. Using Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro, Opus 102, it presents Hans Christian Anderson's "Steadfast Tin Soldier" just about completely drained of the original story's power. Disney's adaptation of The Little Mermaid had strengths of its own to somewhat compensate for what it lost from the Anderson original but it's unclear what Disney's take on "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" brings to the table to replace the delicate heartbreak of the original's simple construction--the sorrowful beauty created with the lightest touch as Anderson describes an unmoving, one legged tin soldier who sees a paper doll who also never moves.

Disney's version of the two has them both dancing around and playing little games and a fight between the good soldier and the dastardly jack-in-the-box. The segment uses cgi with an interesting pastel palette but nonetheless one wonders why one should watch this disposable, insipid thing instead of Toy Story which came out four years earlier.

George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is paired with animation designed to resemble the work of cartoonist Al Hirschfeld. The familiar song with the Hirschfeld style, eternally connected to New York, produces a too obvious portrait of various New Yorkers. Amusing vignettes of physical comedy are presented of ice skating and high altitude construction antics but the story again falls into insipidity when a down-on-his-luck, unemployed man is given the job of the construction worker who runs off to pursue his dream of becoming a drummer.

The strongest segment is probably the final one, the combination of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite with an allegory of spring as a flying woman awoken by a sombre elk. Visual and thematic influence were clearly drawn from Princess Mononoke but it is a lovely piece of animation in itself.

The most obvious call back to the original Fantasia is a segment featuring Donald Duck, a version of the story of Noah's Ark from the Book of Genesis paired with Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance. Donald is Noah's assistant and the main drama revolves around Donald and Daisy, after the usual improbable slapstick, both believing the other didn't make it onto the Ark in time. It has some genuinely funny moments, rare for any Donald Duck cartoon since the '50s. The first gag is a little odd, though, featuring Noah finding Donald sleeping naked in a hammock. Maybe this was a reference to Genesis 9:20-27 and the episode where Noah's youngest son found him sleeping naked.

The Donald/Noah cartoon is preceded by "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", the segment from the original film. The nightmare scenario of Mickey's arrogance leading him to bizarre disaster is one of the weaker segments from the original Fantasia but still a thousand times stronger than anything in 2000. The visuals are also an interesting contrast, the effect of real paint somehow coming off richer in its gradations than the bright colours of the Donald Duck segment.

As the Mickey segment was originally followed by Mickey speaking with a live action Leopold Stokowski, the conductor for the film's score, so Fantasia 2000 has Mickey running over from speaking to Stokowski to speak with 2000's conductor, James Levine.

A renowned conductor associated for decades with the Metropolitan Opera, Levine passed away just three months ago on March 9, 2021. The two decades between his appearance in Fantasia 2000 and his death were filled with extraordinary misfortune. His career was interrupted several times due to health problems including sciatica and tremors as well as injury--he injured his shoulder after falling on stage. He had surgery to remove a kidney with a malignant cyst 2008 and then surgery for a herniated disk the following year. Then, in 2017, during the first wave of the MeToo movement, he lost his position and various honours when allegations of sexual molestation were brought against him. Considering criminal charges were never brought against him, and that one of the incidents involved a relationship between 25 year old Levine with a 20 year old man, I'm inclined to view the case with some skepticism, as I am inclined to do with many that came about in the first years of the MeToo movement. But I make no claim to certainty. Maybe he really did molest the 15 year old in the 80s. That would be horrible, though it would be also horrible to think the man who'd already endured so much physical agony might also have been subjected to a malicious demolition of his reputation. It's certainly no happy ending in any case. As far as I could tell, he was a good conductor.

Fantasia 2000 is available on Disney+.

...

This is part of a series of posts I'm writing on the Disney animated canon.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio
Fantasia
Dumbo
Bambi
Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Cinderella
Alice in Wonderland
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp
Sleeping Beauty
101 Dalmatians
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Aristocats
Robin Hood
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers
The Fox and the Hound
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Oliver & Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under
Beauty and the Beast
Aladdin
The Lion King
Pocahontas
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hercules
Mulan
Tarzan

Friday, June 04, 2021

Some are Born Clones, Some Become Clones Due to Bad Scripts

A not completely horrible new episode of The Bad Batch last night, though it wasn't very well written. I guess that's no surprise since it comes from first time writer Amanda Rose Muñoz. Muñoz had previously worked as a variety of different kinds of assistants on Rebels, Resistance, and the last season of Clone Wars--imdb lists her as changing roles from writing to animation assistant so it seems like she was trying to learn all aspects of production, or maybe someone was trying really hard to find a good fit for her. I suppose I should applaud Disney for promoting employees from within their ranks, though I think it would make more sense if they recruited writers for their prestigious productions from among people who'd made their bones by writing--people who'd published successful short stories or maybe even fan fiction writers whose works had enjoyed a lot of circulation. But I'm not sure they care a lot about the quality of writing on a middle episode of a series so long as a few good episodes have already brought in the audience. Or maybe that's too cynical of me.

It was frustrating for me because I really like the Martez sisters, Trace (Brigitte Kali Canales) and Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez), they were one of the few aspects of the final season of Clone Wars I really liked. Their appearance in this episode felt very much like the "stunt casting of the week" episodes of Rebels--a flashy but ultimately meaningless appearance.

Most of the episode is an action sequence set in a factory where battle droids are being smelted down. The Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) and the Martez sisters meet as both groups are trying to nab a tactical droid for a bounty. They end up working together to fight off security droids. It works out to be a thoroughly disappointing scenario for the Martezes. Both are disguised as factory workers--they wear identical outfits and with their hoods on they're almost impossible to tell apart. This doesn't help the fact that the entire running-and-gunning sequence has absolutely no dialogue to distinguish the personality of one sister from the other. They might as well have been clones.

And now they seem to be proto-Rebels, working for someone whose identity the episode keeps hidden. Ahsoka Tano is the only probable candidate, the only person who'd make sense, but I wouldn't put it past the writers to be enraged by accurate fan predictions again and make it into a guy named Boner. I guess since it's the Star Wars universe it would be something like "Zoop Boonir".

But like I said, the episode wasn't completely horrible. It seems like the writers are mindful of complaints about Rey being too powerful right away and they're showing Omega (Michelle Ang) having to slowly learn how to use her signature weapon, a cute little bow with energy arrows. And it was nice that Wrecker's headaches do apparently mean the Order 66 chip is starting to work on him, that the writers didn't change course just because many fans predicted it.

The Bad Batch is available on Disney+.