Unseasonable Dissolution

Sep. 26th, 2017 12:20 pm
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
[personal profile] setsuled


Children are naturally attached to their parents, requiring them as guides in a world they don't yet have the capacity to navigate alone. Mikio Naruse's 1960 film Autumn Has Already Started (秋立ちぬ) shows a relatively normal little boy dealing first with the death of his father and then abandonment by his mother after moving to Tokyo from the country. Without indulging in sentimentality or melodrama, Naruse depicts the natural process of growing up being sabotaged by fairly common catastrophes. It's a beautiful and sad film.

Hideo (Kenzaburo Osawa), a prepubescent boy, travels with his mother, Shigeko (Nobuko Otowa) to Tokyo where they've come to live with some relatives. It's a few years after prostitution was made illegal in Japan and Shigeko finds work in one of the hotels that filled the new vacuum--as one of the hostesses, it's Shigeko's job to act as a surrogate wife for a client; feeding him, dealing with his laundry, sleeping with him, and going out with him. A businessman played by Daisuke Kato takes a liking to her and soon wants to marry her.



Meanwhile, Hideo strikes up a friendship with a little girl named Junko (Futaba Ichiki), the daughter of the hotel's madam. Junko believes her father has two wives--her mother and another woman whom he spends more time with. Later in the film Junko meets her two spoiled half-siblings who are very rude to her.



Hideo says she's lucky to have a father at all, though he denies having cried at the death of his own father when Junko repeatedly asks him. The film is good at showing how children are bad at picking up on each other's emotional cues as Junko takes everything Hideo says at face value, not guessing his pride won't let him admit he cried. The two children are obviously forming something like a romantic bond, though Junko asks her mother to let Hideo be her brother. But, while a teenage Hideo might blow off a meeting his mother to hang out with his girlfriend, we see Hideo in the film unselfconsciously bidding Junko good day at a mall when he hears that his mother is also there.



Which is a subtle way of showing how hard it is on him when his mother disappears without warning--we learn later that she's gone to live with the businessman in another city. Hideo starts spending more time with Junko and the two seem to flirt with the idea of running away, having her mother's driver take them to the bay where we see the two meandering and playing. But soon Junko wants to go home, an option that Hideo really doesn't have.



There's a subtle theme of the city being inherently disruptive of family compared to the country. In one memorable scene, Hideo looks over some rooftops with his last companion from home, a big helmet beetle looking very much out of place.

Live Long and Strike Pre-emptively

Sep. 25th, 2017 02:12 pm
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
[personal profile] setsuled


A visually stunning new Star Trek timeline was introduced last night with the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. Wonderful performances, especially from Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh, in addition to the visuals mostly make up for deeply flawed scripts. The unselfconscious contradictions and nonsensical character development have all the earmarks of stories processed by committees yet Martin-Green and Yeoh show how capable performers can still create characters in such a vacuum and the production design and action sequences are gorgeous.

Spoilers after the screenshot



Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), along with Laura Moon on the American Gods TV series, is giving me an idea of a kind of protagonist Bryan Fuller likes to write--young women, guilty of past, character defining sins, nonetheless asserting themselves. And we do root for them, though in Michael's case it's a little tough because her story doesn't make a lot of sense. I suspect before Fuller left Discovery the teleplays and outlines on Michael were much clearer about who her character was meant to be and how she was formed. As it is, we're left with a young human woman who was raised on Vulcan--with one training scene strikingly similar to one of Spock's scenes in the first J.J. Abrams movie.



Unlike Spock, who's compelled to hide his humanity to fit in, Michael shows, when she first meets Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) in a flashback, that she's perfectly comfortable to show emotions, her time on Vulcan mainly seeming to give her some arrogance that apparently burns off by the time we meet her at the beginning of the first episode. Characters still accuse her of being too much like a Vulcan in heated moments but without any apparent reason. But the Vulcans don't act much like Vulcans on Discovery.



Unsure how to deal with the supposed first contact between humans and Klingons in a hundred years (it's been pointed out that Michael's parents having been killed by Klingons contradicts this), Michael contacts her adoptive father, Sarek (James Frain), who informs her the Vulcans have secretly adopted a strategy of firing first every time they run into a Klingon ship. Why is this a secret? How is this a secret? How does Michael, an expert on Klingons who was raised on Vulcan, not know about it? At the very least she must have tried researching every contact made between Vulcans and Klingons and wondered how each incident ended.



Why would such a strategy not lead to all out war between Klingons and Vulcans? Can we really call it peace when they fire on each other every time they meet? I'm assuming the Klingons don't always run away, if ever. Seemingly the whole premise of T'Kuvma's (Chris Obi) argument for uniting the Klingon houses against the Federation is that their message, "We come in peace", is a lie, presumably meaning if they believed it they wouldn't go to war with them.



The producers of the series have said Discovery belongs in the original timeline, but I'm afraid I simply can't accept that. I don't mind another timeline, mostly I just want a good show, but it's silly to pretend this fits in with previous continuity somehow. Obviously the Klingons are wildly different but there's also the fact that all of Starfleet is already using the Enterprise delta symbol, something that didn't happen until after Kirk and his crew made the Enterprise a shining example. The technology is wildly different despite being set only ten years before the original series and everyone communicates using Star Wars style holograms.



And let's talk about the Klingons. The redesign does look pretty fearsome--the makeup's somewhere between Joseph Merrick and Nosferatu and the costumes somewhere between Vlad the Impaler's armour in the prologue to Coppola's Dracula and early 17th century jerkin and ruff. I like the set design even more with its intricate filigrees. But I don't recognise these people as Klingons. It's not just the lack of hair--it's the lack of this:



These new Klingons never smile, never seem excited by the idea of spilled blood and glorious battle. What happened to the merry space Vikings we all love? The Discovery timeline Klingons are perpetually funereal.



I did like the chemistry between Michael and Philippa once we got past the peculiarly stilted and catty dialogue at the beginning. The rapport between Michael and Saru is less satisfying. What a waste of Doug Jones--a race of cowards? That's a bad idea that's just going to get worse. It was interesting seeing Michael get offended when the admiral takes culture traits as racial traits though she didn't bat an eye when Philippa attributed Saru's fretfulness to him being a Kelpien. But it might be nice if the show confronts the kind of casual racism we used to see in Starfleet dealings with species like Ferengi. I wonder why Saru joined Starfleet if he's afraid of everything. Maybe that'll have an interesting explanation instead of just being a glaring inconsistency.



The action sequences were all lovely. It would've been nice if there'd been some explanation as to why Philippa and Michael were able to take on armoured Klingons three times their size in hand to hand combat but I loved the cloaked ship ramming the admiral's vessel and the new birds of prey or warbirds or whatever are pretty groovy.



Twitter Sonnet #1037

In saintly hooks, the pasta priest's reprieved.
The fair and noble glen accords the carbs.
And here was she of stone and grain conceived.
About the den the brambles whet their barbs.
A simple crown delivered clouds to gold.
In paisley stacks the scarves connect the god.
In candy dots the paper tale is told.
And eaten cool, devolved to itchy sod.
The blonding grass is growing pumpkinly.
Eloping legs alight on Terran gates.
The mess is dribbling close to napkinly.
A journey's pointy plane of pizza waits.
The delta served the data tables quick.
A double sun destroys the candle wick.

Crossing Rice Fields

Sep. 24th, 2017 06:33 pm
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
[personal profile] setsuled


"Your family is complicated," says a journalist named Okawa to a young woman named Yae. It's an understatement in 1958's Sardine Clouds (鰯雲). Her family is complicated because of a series of remarriages and for the increased pressure it puts on rural farmers whose children are attracted by city universities and city jobs. One of Mikio Naruse's few colour films, it uses a beautiful, subdued, and simple palette. It tells a story, as usual for Naruse, fraught with anxieties about money and uses Tae's complicated family as an eloquent case study of a people shifting from the ancient customs of an agricultural society to the seductive, uncertain future of city employment.



Yae (Chikage Awashima) lives with her young son and her mother-in-law on a farm. She's forced to do most of the work but finds time to write a newspaper serial about the changing dynamics of rural family life. As she explains to Okawa (Isao Kimura), although her mother-in-law receives money from a daughter who lives away from home, she refuses to spend any of this money, treating Yae as a workhorse. Before Yae had a child, it seemed as though she wouldn't be accepted by the family at all.



Meanwhile, Yae's brother, Wasuke (Ganjiro Nakamura), lives with his third wife, three sons, and several daughters. Wasuke has several fields, one of which is used by his second wife and her husband. They have a rebellious young daughter, Hamako (Kumi Mizuno), who wishes to go study at the university, like Wasuke's second son, Shinji (Hiroshi Tachikawa). We meet Shinji begging his father for money to go study at the university--later, after he's gotten a job, it's Wasuke who asks him for money to pay for the marriage festivities of his eldest son, Hatsuji (Keiju Kobayashi) to a young woman found by Okawa. Shinji, seemingly seeing himself as a patriarch already, coolly refuses to indulge in his father's old fashioned idea of putting on a grand ceremony. As Yae explains later, the tradition with such ceremonies was based on the idea that the wife was coming to the new family as a new daughter, now marriage was a custom between just two people.



The film is an ensemble piece but unlike most of Naruse's films, which centre on a female protagonist, Wasuke takes centre stage. We see his frustration and despair as everything he believes, and every measure of his self-respect, is gradually eroded by his children. And it's all done without malice as each child is simply trying to assert his or her independence with what seems clearly to be the best means of survival.



The last portion of the film does go back to Yae a lot more as she's forced to deal with her affair with Okawa. Both Awashima and Nakamura give very good performances.

The Evergreen 17th

Sep. 23rd, 2017 03:21 pm
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
[personal profile] setsuled


I wish the Doctor would visit the 17th century more often so I was happy to hear the Eighth Doctor in 1650s England in the 2011 audio play The Witch from the Well. Accompanied once again by Mary Shelley, I was pleased to hear writer Rick Briggs evidently knew his subjects well enough to make an interesting 19th century perspective in the 17th. It's a nice story with lots of enjoyable turns.

The Doctor (Paul McGann) and Mary (Julie Cox) are visiting the present day when they rescue a pair of twins from some kind of witch monster. The Doctor determines that they must visit the same area in the 17th century to find out the genesis of the monster--when they arrive in the past, they find "Witch-Prickers" headed by a John Kincaid (Simon Rouse) tasked with finding and punishing witches in the area. John Kincaid seems a lot like Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, which makes me wonder why he's not Matthew Hopkins since the writers seem fine with using Mary Shelley. Maybe Hopkins turns up in some Doctor Who novel or comic the audio play producers didn't want to risk contradicting.

Among the people Mary mentions when talking about how excited she is to be in the 17th century is John Milton, which should be no surprise to anyone who's read Frankenstein. It might have been really cool if the Doctor took her to meet Milton but I can imagine that being a lot of pressure for a writer. But it was fun hearing Mary discovering and being shocked by some things about Lord Byron when she travels to the present in this story. The Doctor is stranded in the 17th century while Mary spends time with the modern day descendant of a 17th century squire, both played by Andrew Havill, who does kind of a Terry-Thomas impression for the modern version. It makes it all the funnier when he's trying to impress Mary with his knowledge and love for Byron. Mary is decidedly unimpressed.

The witch plot back in the 17th century has the usual balancing act between wanting to show witch persecutors as crazy while also showing that witches actually exist. In this case, of course, they're aliens, which adds another layer of destabilisation. The world may be as dangerous as Kincaid believes but it's much weirder than he can imagine.

The Good Sex Egg

Sep. 22nd, 2017 04:24 pm
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
[personal profile] setsuled


There shouldn't be any mistaking The Orville for a parody now, though I'm sure people still will. Last night's new episode, "About a Girl", is the third written by Seth MacFarlane, making that three more episodes written for The Orville than MacFarlane's written for Family Guy in the past ten years. It presents the kind of issue episode that has been absent from television since Star Trek and while I have one or two quibbles about it I'm mainly excited to see it. The Orville even goes some places Star Trek never dared to go.

The modern trend in television to present season long arcs has led to some wonderful story telling but it makes it difficult to tell the kind of story seen in "About a Girl". Bortus (Peter Macon) and Klyden (Chad Coleman), a couple who belong to an all male species called the Moclan, give birth to an incredibly rare female infant. The mostly human crew of the Orville are shocked when they learn the two wish for the child to undergo a sex change operation.



I was expecting the episode to get more flack for using "gender" and "sex" as synonyms though I haven't seen it yet in nitpicky reviews of the episode. I have seen some anger that these people in the future apparently aren't up on the same sociological literature as some viewers. One could argue that the crew of the Orville ought to be using state of the art terminology but maybe this is an area where a comparison to Star Trek isn't appropriate. The Orville isn't the flagship and it's crewed by at least two people we know to have had troubled careers. So instead of the best minds of the Federation tackling these issues, we have some mostly adequate minds of the Union muddling through.



In this way, the show actually turns some familiar, illogical plot devices of Star Trek into somet more feasible and even thought provoking prompts. It didn't really make a lot of sense that the Enterprise bridge crew were constantly being drafted as lawyers in courtroom episodes, for example. Here, I can believe that Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), with only one year of law training, is the most qualified person available to defend Bortus when he decides he doesn't want to allow his baby to receive a sex change. And we also get some instructive demonstrations of why certain arguments about sexual equality, while satisfying, might not be very effective in getting the point across.



It's satisfying watching Alara (Halston Sage) beat Bortus in a boxing ring and it's funny hearing Gordon (Scott Grimes) on the stand demonstrating that men can be intellectually inferior to women. But virtually all of Kelly and Ed's (Seth MacFarlane) evidence is anecdotal and nearly all of it relies on aliens. No-one who pays attention to this episode will come away thinking men are superior to women, the flaws in Ed and Kelly's arguments are useful to get people to think about what doesn't work when you're engaging with people of an opposite opinion. I really like the fact that what brings Bortus around is watching Rankin/Bass' Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, which demonstrates the unexpected power art can have.



The episode is somewhat similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Outcast" about a member of a sexless species, the J'naii, who becomes female. The Moclan differ from the J'naii in that everyone is male rather than neither male or female, which should raise a question. How does one define sex or gender in the absence of any other? And of course we find out that the Moclan aren't single sex at all, that the prevalence of male Moclan is at least partially the product of misogyny endemic to the culture. Biological females have been effectively bred out of the populace, something that doesn't seem far-fetched for a technologically advanced misogynist people.

Like "The Outcast", one of the nice things about "About a Girl" is that by recontextualising so much it introduces new ways of thinking about issues and highlighting abstract connexions that might not have even been consciously considered by the writer. It introduces the concept of a basically liberal people allied with a culture that fundamentally rejects more socially liberal values, though at the same time, Bortus and Klyden are a same sex couple in the main cast, something Star Trek hasn't managed to do on television yet, though a same sex couple is apparently forthcoming on Discovery.*



In fact, my only real complaint about the episode is that I wished more time had been spent developing Bortus and Klyden's relationship before getting to this story. The conflicts here would probably have been a lot more interesting portrayed late in a second season. But that's a minor quibble compared to my delight that there's a thought provoking show, willing to engage with issues, that has an enormous number of viewers.

*The relationship between Dax and a former lover's symbiote in a new female body on Deep Space Nine was close but not really the same thing.

Twitter Sonnet #1036

The curling shoe was like a thunder clap.
As winds are bending trees to castle ears.
In just a moment dripped from wooden tap.
The final court arranged a time for beers.
Uncopied eyes arrange around the monk.
A dragging stone arrives atop the game.
The worth of weight was not in how it sunk.
The waiting paint absorbs a shrinking frame.
As sparking space enclosed the ship they watched.
Although the canvas blinked it caught the sight.
Beneath the dime in time to wrench the botched.
In ordered stakes the bet amends the light.
A sign regressed to shell amid the head.
Ideas append the tort remained unsaid.

The Vessel with the Layered Brew

Sep. 21st, 2017 06:21 pm
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)
[personal profile] setsuled


Your average fantasy story relies on some, at the least, improbable things being allowed to occur unimpeded, like the impetuous attractive protagonist and the virtuous attractive love interest having their relationship coincide with the precarious affairs of the state. So effective parodies often make hay by making things more complicated, which is the case with 1956's The Court Jester. Many unforeseen complications take this would-be Robin Hood tale right off the rails despite the best and worst intentions of its characters and the result is one of the greatest comedies of all time.



Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, not a court jester but a former carnival performer who's joined up with the merry men of the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). The Fox is basically Robin Hood, robbing the rich and giving to the poor in defiance of a tyrant, Roderick (Cecil Parker), who's seized the throne. The rightful heir is an infant and in the care of the Fox. Part of Hubert's duty is to flash the purple pimpernel on the baby's butt to confirm the lad's royal status to the crew.



Hubert and Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's captains, are charged with taking the baby, hidden in a wine cask, to an abbey where it'll be safe. But on the way, Hubert and Jean fall in love and run into the jester Giacomo (John Carradine in a cameo) who's on his way to the castle. Jean immediately realises it's an opportunity to smuggle Hubert into the castled in the guise of Giacomo where he can steal a key from the king's quarters, enabling the Fox and his men to sneak in and take the castle through a secret passage.



It all seems simple enough, though audiences might have already been disconcerted by the fact that the Black Fox isn't the main character. But now the plates really start spinning because at the castle there are two plots already cooking against the king--one from his daughter, Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) and her witch servant, and another from the king's advisor, Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone), who's plotting to kill some new rivals for the king's patronage. The comedy comes from how these plots unpredictably intersect due to each player's imperfect understanding of the situation.



Kaye is quite good, not just at the funny stuff but his sword fight at the end with Rathbone has some of the energy and skill seen in the duel between Rathbone and Errol Flynn in Robin Hood. Lansbury is very good but even more crucial is Glynis Johns in a role many directors might have been content to cast with a lightweight. But playing the straight requires a special skill--a big part of how well the famous "vessel with the pestle" bit works is Johns' ability to say the tongue twister like it's so easy she truly can't understand why Hubert can't get it. She also has a pretty funny scene where she convinces the king she has a terrible contagious disease in order to ward off his advances.

The Unprotected Dream-Lands

Sep. 20th, 2017 04:31 pm
setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)
[personal profile] setsuled


Wikipedia quotes H.P. Lovecraft, about his Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, as worrying that "Randolph Carter's adventures may have reached the point of palling on the reader; or that the very plethora of weird imagery may have destroyed the power of any one image to produce the desired impression of strangeness." Though virtually all of Lovecraft's fiction implies a strange, hostile universe of his conception, usually they feature something roughly resembling familiar, contemporary reality into which the introduction of the strange and horrifying is the more striking. Short tales set in places alien to our world can still maintain that power of strangeness by virtue of being short but The Dream-Quest is novella length. It is a wonderful piece of fiction but for these reasons its strengths are distinct from the rest of Lovecraft's works.

Following the journeys of Randalph Carter through the Dream Lands, the novella is set in fantasy locations peopled with fantasy beings like the small, forest dwelling zoogs, the vicious gugs, and Carter's allies, the ghouls. The story, particularly in its second half, reminds me strongly of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Princess of Mars in its focus on strange armies coordinated by the human protagonist on missions of assault, rescue, or reconnaissance. One of the most significant ways Dream-Quest differs from Princess of Mars is in its constant reminders of how the appearance or odour of the strange beings frighten or disgust the protagonist. We're even reminded of this in the case of some of Carter's allies, like the ghouls:

And Carter shook the paws of those repulsive beasts, thanking them for their help and sending his gratitude to the beast which once was Pickman; but could not help sighing with pleasure when they left. For a ghoul is a ghoul, and at best an unpleasant companion for man.

It might have been difficult for Lovecraft to imagine modern horror and fantasy fans who have often seen what was obviously repulsive before as something that's now attractive and could even be applied to heroes. Yet the strangeness in Dream-Quest functions in this way, whether Lovecraft meant it to or not--the Dream Lands are beautiful and its denizens are fascinating. It's not easy to understand why the former human, Pickman, had chosen to become a ghoul but the fact that he did in itself makes the beings more intriguing. Making the weird regular does not, as Lovecraft feared, dilute the "desired impression of strangeness" but transforms it into something different. It becomes less of a shock and something like a remapping of basic reality where all the landmarks take on a lustre for their inherent unpredictability and danger. The difference from Burroughs' Mars or Tolkien's Middle Earth is that nothing ever truly feels safe even if it feels familiar and friendly. Even the cats, the animals Lovecraft displays a lovely affection for in this story, have something sinister and secret about them, especially after their treatment of the zoogs early on.

So when the protagonists face extraordinary danger, as in the story's climax which takes Lovecraft's skill at conveying a fundamental wrongness in physics and geometry to new heights, the stakes feel higher. The normal human means of negotiating the world through forging friendships and building a reputation seem inevitably fractured and uncertain. Everything is compelled to hide--the zoogs hide in the forest, the ghouls hide underground, the cats are always sneaking. Everyone and everything's existence is not built on strength but in evasion which makes the potency of the final threat all the more effective because it's a revelation of just how meaningless the apparent rules of reality always were, it's the ultimate rug pulled out from under the reader.

But the ending is a consummation of the feelings that had been built up all along by forcing the reader to identify with protagonists described as repulsive. One becomes more afraid for the ghouls when they're captured because they've been described as repulsive. I even felt bad for what happens to the zoogs despite knowing what they planned for the cats. So the cosmology invoked in the end, of gods who are selfish or indifferent, isn't an abstract concept but something concretely felt. You don't have to ask why the gods aren't in love with these people.

So hug your nearest ghoul or nightgaunt. If for some reason they don't tear your face off or disembowel you.

The Former Worst Ghostbusters Movie

Sep. 19th, 2017 07:37 pm
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
[personal profile] setsuled


Is Ghostbusters 2 really so bad? Well, yes, it has some big, crucial flaws which a few virtues can't make up for. But there are a few virtues. I've certainly seen worse. Like, the 2016 reboot, for example.

Like the Star Wars prequels, Ghostbusters 2 has become a byword for bad followups for popular franchises. The Star Wars prequels, in my opinion, don't quite warrant the casual rancour they get but in any case they're certainly more complex than people give them credit for. Ghostbusters 2, as many, notably Roger Ebert, complained at the time was like a rough draft of the first film, a far less satisfyingly complex version, in other words. The broad outline is there--Dana (Signourney Weaver) is a normal woman whose encounter with the supernatural forces her to bring the vexing and eccentric Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) into her life. The Ghostbusters struggle at first to be seen as legitimate, they're threatened by a vindictive government functionary before the mayor (David Margulies) grudgingly admits these clowns are the only ones who can save the city and they become improbable, everyman heroes right in front of a massive, cheering crowd.



The necessity of rebooting the relationship between Peter and Dana creates a lot of problems directly tied in to one of the biggest flaws in the film, Bill Murray's performance. In the first film, he has his cheap little tricks and jokes, but you could also see why Dana was eventually charmed by him. In Ghostbusters 2, he just comes off as a pushy creep. His saying to her baby that he might have been his father ought to be sort of sweet and sad but it just seems presumptuous and obnoxious. He's filled with nervous energy throughout the sequel whereas in the original his charm was his ability to remain calm with maybe a simmering anger. But what's worse is that his anxiety in Ghostbusters 2 seems to have nothing to do with ghosts or Dana but seems oddly hostile to everything. Like he didn't want to be in the movie.



Egon (Harold Ramis) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), though, actually come off generally well. The film lacks the sense of real guys struggling that the first part of the original film benefited from but I love the idea of Ray having an occult bookshop. And Egon's experiment with the couple in marriage counselling is genuinely funny.



I was a big Ghostbusters fan as a kid--I was ten when Ghostbusters 2 came out and by then I was already close to having worn out a VHS copy of the first film and avidly watched the cartoon series. I don't know if it's like this for all kids, but oddly I didn't think about whether one film was better than the other, I was just happy that there was more. In a sense, kids are easy to please, but despite the fact that the second film is more kid friendly than the first, no VHS copy of it was ever in danger of getting worn out. Why is it, when I had no idea what they were talking about when Ray took out a second mortgage on his childhood home or even really understood what was happening when they were getting kicked out of college I still enjoyed the first film more? Maybe it's because when you're a kid you're used to not understanding the things adults do but still sense an underlying logic so the sense of authenticity was more satisfying even then.



Certainly watching the second film as an adult has provided me with insights I never had as a child, like the mood slime that unfortunately takes up so much of the plot. I can't be the only one who raised eyebrows when, shortly after Venkman speculates on whether the Statue of Liberty is naked under the robe, the guys get inside her and immediately begin spraying love goo from some very phallic guns. Some might be tempted to see this as a metaphorical rape but I see no reason not to see it as consensual--I mean, there's no reason that would make less sense. I don't know if Ramis and Aykroyd were thinking of symbolism when they wrote the screenplay but I actually found the concept peculiarly resonant--because of the thoughtless every day behaviour of American citizens, a destructive natural force has gradually gained power and now threatens their destruction. The Ghostbusters wondering if the city can actually consciously reverse course on environmentally harmful, habitual behaviour surprisingly had me thinking of the reaction to climate change. Suddenly the mood slime didn't seem so silly. How symbolic sex with the Statue of Liberty fits into it I couldn't exactly say . . . and yet I think one could tease out a meaning. Like human behaviour in positive harmony with nature (consensual sex as a representation for a love of liberty) versus human behaviour as a selfish, destructive influence (climate change).



I remember really finding Vigo fearsome as a kid. Now I still think Max von Sydow as his voice is pretty impressive. Peter MacNicol as a foreign man from no distinguishable country is funny as a sort of harbinger of Tommy Wiseau.



I really like the scene on the abandoned subway tracks, Winston's (Ernie Hudson) only real moment to shine, first when a demonic voice speaks his name in the darkness, then when he's struck by a ghost train. The severed heads that appear briefly around the group feels more Evil Dead than Ghostbusters but it works, especially in contrast to the softball subway scenes in the new film. I liked the weirdness of the Titanic coming to dock and Janosz flying in as a demon nursemaid seemed like kind of a nice homage to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.



Aside from Bill Murray and the less adult storytelling, I'd say the biggest flaw is the score. Elmer Bernstein's score for the first film is something I associate even more with it than Ray Parker's familiar theme. The Randy Edelman score from the second film just feels like a cheap imitation and it's distracting.

Twitter Sonnet #1035

A night in steady pulses waits again.
In bronze balloons were cast to dream of work.
A shifting eye's behind the system's spin.
And yet the green and drifting spirits lurk.
In to the seat descends a walking lamp.
Beneath the cushions coins're coarse to take.
Above the bait the fish have built a ramp.
But fins refuse to step or scales to bake.
On tongues and tips, retried the trees demurred.
And soft, the step of glancing wisp to pass.
In brighter lights the aether last inured.
As armless birches sway in candid grass.
Misplaced the squash's found asleep inside.
In catered stories roles and hills reside.

The Continuing Flight of the Orville

Sep. 18th, 2017 04:12 pm
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
[personal profile] setsuled


Many people seem to feel that the second episode of The Orville, "Command Performance", which aired last night, is an improvement over the first episode and in some ways I agree. It had the first moment that really made me laugh thanks to a cameo by Jeffrey Tambor and Holland Taylor as Ed's parents. The scene takes the fractious relationship between Deanna Troi and her mother and pushes it to the higher comedic pitch Orville allows by having them discuss Ed's colon over the main viewer. Yet even this scene doesn't sabotage the reality of the story as a similar moment in a parody might--I believe Ed might have parents who embarrass him this much. And this represents what might be really interesting about the show if it can get through some growing pains, though I might settle for it becoming more of a straight forward space opera--that stuff tends to land more on the show than the comedy stuff does.

I think one of the reasons this episode represents an improvement is actually the directing--surprising given the first episode was directed by Jon Favreau. Robert Duncan McNeill, who played Tom Paris on Star Trek Voyager and who directed several episodes of that series, brings even more of a Star Trek feel to The Orville. The beats at the beginning especially, with an establishing shot of the ship followed by a low momentum scene in Ed's office felt exactly like the beginning of so many Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Next Generation episodes. This episode was again written by Seth MacFarlane and it made me even more eager to see how the show might be with a teleplay by a Star Trek writer.



"Command Performance" combines two relatively familiar plots--humans getting caught in an alien zoo and someone taking command for the first time--you could cite TOS's "The Menagerie" and Data's subplot in TNG's "Redemption" along with many other examples. In this case, the human zoo plot is used to put Ed (Seth MacFarlane) and Kelly (Adrianne Palicki) in a locked room together to hash out some of their relationship issues. It was a nice scene, it helped Kelly feel like more of a character, especially thanks to a nice, open, conversational performance from Palicki, and it really gave a sense of the two of them having had a relationship. The story about the opera and Ed being so high he believed he would be paralysed if he sat still too long was funny in a fairly authentic way.



The other plot centres on the ship's security chief, Alara (Halston Sage), who has to take command in the absence of Ed and Kelly because the normal third in line, Bortus (Peter Macon), has laid an egg and must sit on it for twenty one days, an idea which sounds like it'll be explored more in the third episode. I liked Alara's plot, especially the scene where she rushes down to the shuttle bay after an accident that's ripped an impressive hole in the deck. I found myself really caught up in her anxiety about responsibility and there's also a nice conversation between her and Dr. Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) about the burden of command.

Maybe this means I'm getting old but I wish Alara was played by an older actress. I think in the first episode it's established that Alara's species matures faster but I would have liked to have seen some evidence of this in the episode. Her taking the tequila shots from the replicators was a nice bit of humanising but it would have been nice if she'd had a moment where she really showed there was an older mind inside that body. I think there've been some complaints about a young actress being in this role purely for sex appeal. I don't have anything against sex appeal myself, even if it stretches credibility--it is fantasy, after all. But it would have been nice if I could buy into her character a little more. On the other hand, maybe I'm thinking of this as too much like Star Trek--this isn't the flagship so maybe a really young security officer isn't far fetched at all. Halston Sage does a decent job in the role--I found her halting delivery a little distracting but I think she's doing it to sound alien.



Less impressive is Penny Johnson Jerald as Dr. Finn. Jerald is actually a Star Trek veteran--she played Cassidy Yates on Deep Space Nine, but unfortunately I'm only reminded of how boring I thought that character was, largely because of Jerald's lacklustre performance. But I don't know, maybe she'll grow on me. I liked her reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi, I only wish the name had slid off her tongue a little more naturally. I'm still looking forward to the next episode.

The Man in American Space

Sep. 17th, 2017 04:03 pm
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
[personal profile] setsuled


Vast American spaces and Harry Dean Stanton star in Wim Wenders' 1984 film Paris, Texas, a lovely, easy-going, melancholy film about dislocated family. Wenders' beautiful compositions benefit from a brilliant performance from Stanton.



He walks out of the desert at the beginning of the film in a dusty suit and an incongruous red baseball cap. He seems incapable of speech and can't give a name to the man who finds him--it's as though he somehow materialised out in the wilderness. Stanton's ability as a performer is crucial as he manages to convey so much silently with his extraordinarily expressive face.



Eventually his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), finds him and we learn his name is Travis. They travel back to Los Angeles where Walt lives with his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), and Travis' seven year old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Walt and Anne have an impossibly nice home on a hill overlooking the city so Wenders can continue his beautiful compositions of vast American spaces.



Hunter considers Walt and Anne his parents now--Travis has been missing for four years--but it doesn't take him long to adjust to the idea that he has two dads and eventually he wants to run off with Travis to seek out the also vanished Jane (Nastassja Kinski), Travis' wife and Hunter's mother.



Hunter must be one of the most amiable kids I've ever seen in a movie. He doesn't seem very anxious and never wants to argue. In one sense this is a much more down to Earth (literally and figuratively) story than Wings of Desire and at the same time there's also something abstract about it. Travis, Hunter, and Jane feel like lost archetypes; the independent American man, his hot young wife, and their obedient kid, but the two adults have found themselves all too human and messy to force that dream on the big American landscape. Stanton and Kinski both imbue their characters with much more raw human frailty than the characters' conceptions can take. This is developed when we finally learn about the circumstances under which they parted and we hear it told like spoken prose. Travis tells the tale like it's about some other, hypothetical couple, turning their failed attempt to live out a story back into a story. But it's to show how broken a thing it is.



And Jane has gotten a job where she appears in little erotic tableaus, performing fantasies of cafes and clinics for customers who watch unseen behind a mirror. It's hard not to think of Harry Dean Stanton's everyman looks and Kinski's glamorous beauty as representing the relationship between the average American and the dreams represented in film and television, so one is compelled to read the dysfunction between the two as a commentary on a larger disconnect between fantasy and reality. But the film doesn't reduce Jane to a puppet--Kinski's performance is amazing as she delivers a dialogue about her point of view and her own troubled relationship with the dream.



But it's Stanton's performance that anchors the film. He appears in almost every scene and he creates that magical intersection between the otherworldly and the absolutely grounded.

Metal Monsters Play More than Chess

Sep. 16th, 2017 05:23 pm
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)
[personal profile] setsuled


The Eighth Doctor finally returned to the monthly Big Finish audio play range in late 2011 and he brought Mary Shelley with him. The Silver Turk picks up after The Company of Friends, a 2009 audio play which ended with the Doctor (Paul McGann) dashing off to adventure with the famous author of Frankenstein as his latest companion. The Silver Turk is filled with basic problems about setting and character but writer Marc Platt comes up with some interesting ways of having Mary Shelley (Julie Cox) react to the Cybermen, who are, after all, descendants of her creation.

Intending only to travel through space and not time the first trip, the Doctor accidentally takes Mary more than half a century into the future to 1873 Vienna, something neither of them somehow realise until Mary reads a newspaper at a cafe, despite the fact that fashions changed pretty drastically, as one might expect, in those years. There's a series of mysterious murders where people have their eyes gauged out and meanwhile a miraculous "Silver Turk" is being presented, apparently similar to the famous Turk from the eighteenth century but able to play piano and various games in addition to chess.

It's fun hearing Mary arguing with the Doctor about the motives of the Cybermen--she's much more willing to see their point of view than he is though I'm not convinced the real Mary Shelley would have been. The Doctor only late in the story realises that if Mary Shelley dies then Frankenstein not being published might cause a significant disruption in the timeline, something I suppose we should really blame the previous writer for, not Marc Platt, but it's an awkward moment. I would have preferred an explanation for why the Doctor might not be worried at all. The two have a nice chemistry and it could develop into something better but it so far can't hold a candle to Eight and Charley.

The story introduces a new theme for the Eighth Doctor. It rocks. The television theme would do well to emulate it.



Twitter Sonnet #1034

A boxing glove dissolved in shadow leaves.
The scattered light disrupts the polka dots.
Attacking orange contrasts with crimson sleeves.
Arriving late detectives ink for blots.
The frozen fish moved yet too quick at sea.
A weightless glam to fry in silver sun.
The verdant, shim'ring scales are chilled to lee.
And yet too hot the skin reflected none.
The prison rogues and bandits weighed the cost.
The hanger drew a cat to distant stars.
Across a state a mem'ry wanders lost.
The trout provides a home for desp'rate cars.
The drifting atoms dry and gather to a band.
A long and sinking sun has warmed the land.

With Such Mermaids in It

Sep. 15th, 2017 02:17 pm
setsuled: (Louise Smirk)
[personal profile] setsuled


It's a cool woman indeed who keeps her poise when her husband brings a mermaid home. Googie Withers manages to carry it off when her husband carries home the beautiful Glynis Johns in 1948's Miranda, a charming comedy that uses a mermaid as a metaphor for the foolish roving eyes of new and soon to be husbands.

A doctor named Paul (Griffith Jones) goes to Cornwall on vacation without his wife, Clare (Withers), and is promptly captured by a mermaid named Miranda (Johns).



She plans on holding him captive in her underwater cave forever until she's taken by the idea of spending some time among humans disguised as a woman paralysed below the waist, one of Paul's patients. She's worried she'll suffer the same fate as her aunt Augusta, who was pickled and exhibited in a sideshow, so she compels Paul to keep her identity a secret from everyone, including his wife.



But when Paul brings a beautiful young woman into the home, who seems delighted to be carried around by men whom she doesn't hesitate to call "beautiful" and shower with other compliments, Clare seems more bemused than angry and she chats knowingly with her best friend, Isobel (Sonia Holm), about Paul's likely ulterior motives.



But Isobel and the servant, Betty (Yvonne Owen), are less amused when both their fiancés--an artist named Nigel (John McCallum) and a butler named Charles (David Tomlinson)--become infatuated with her.



Tomlinson's character might have been comforted to know he and Johns would play husband and wife sixteen years later in Mary Poppins.

The only woman who really likes Miranda is the only woman who knows she's a mermaid--the nurse Paul brings in to care for her played by Margaret Rutherford.



Paul had described Nurse Carey as an eccentric and had apparently decided not to employ her anymore but somehow thinks she's perfect for this job--explained when, upon seeing Miranda naked in the bath, Carey exclaims happily that she's always believed in mermaids.



1948 was a good year for mermaid movies--Miranda was released in Britain the same year Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid was released in the U.S. While Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid is a gentle forerunner of Lolita, lampooning how ridiculous the reality can be when a much older man tries to live out his fantasies with a real young woman, Miranda is more about anthropomorphising those fantasies. Miranda is truly not human, her selfless ease with being a companion to all men, her constant even temper, and her complete inability to fulfil anyone's sexual needs make her very much like a breathing pin-up poster or, to put it in grander terms, like a muse. Indeed, given how much delight Nurse Carey takes in her the latter term might be more appropriate. But just like a pin-up, as much as she freely gives to men she's not troubled at all by her inability to fulfil their ultimate desires. And just like a pin-up, the men look extremely foolish when they want to leave their girlfriends and wives for her.

Carried Along the Gutter

Sep. 14th, 2017 06:03 pm
setsuled: (Skull Tree)
[personal profile] setsuled


In spite of everything, life carries on, a fact that's both wonderful and horrible in 1937's Humanity and Paper Balloons (人情紙風船), the final film of Sadao Yamanaka--Yamanaka died of dysentery at the age of 28 the following year while serving in World War II. Set in 18th century Japan, it's an ensemble film depicting the lives of various people in a slum community, effectively using comedy and naturalistic character development to show how these people have been conditioned to see one another as disposable.



The film opens on a morning when the community are slowly discovering that an impoverished samurai who lived among them has committed suicide the night before. We overhear some of the gossip that starts to go around about it, and we gather that the samurai was forced to hang himself rather than commit hara-kiri because he'd long ago sold all his blades. Led by a barber named Shinza (Kanemon Nakamura) people in the neighbourhood take the samurai's death as an excuse to throw a party.



The landlord reacts in shock to the atmosphere that's more like celebration than a wake though one suspects he's more worried about property damage.

The film introduces and develops several characters, including an amusing blind man who knows exactly who stole his silver pipe at the party and is just waiting to take it back until after the thief gets the flue fixed.



But mainly the film focuses on Shinza and another down on his luck ronin samurai in the community, Unno (Chojuro Kawarazaki). Unlike his neighbours, Unno and his wife clearly feel the disgrace of their living situation and every day Unno tries to speak to the local lord, Mouri, whose position, Unno believes, was achieved only by the aid of Unno's father. So Unno constantly tries to present a letter from his father to Mouri, hoping to be taken into Mouri's service, but guards at the gate of Mouri's manor invariably turn Unno away and Mouri constantly puts Unno off whenever they meet in the street.



Through all this, Unno acts as though propriety demands he never directly acknowledge that Mouri clearly has no intention of ever employing him. Despite always being turned away at the manor gate, Unno always humbly submits when Mouri tells him he can't talk now when they meet in the street and that Unno should come to the manor the next day. But Unno's despair gradually starts to show through his facade, and he starts to drink more, despite promising his wife he wouldn't.



Mouri is trying to arrange a marriage for a wealthy pawnbroker's petulant, sheltered daughter. Shinza, who's being bullied by the local gangsters allied with the pawnbroker, comes across the daughter alone taking shelter under a temple arch one rainy day.



The movie doesn't take any of the typical routes for a melodrama you might expect from here and we see Shinza and Unno have motives that the language of those melodramas couldn't understand. When Shinza kidnaps the girl, enlisting Unno's aid, it doesn't even seem like he wants money. He certainly has no interest in assaulting her. His and Unno's demands seem entirely based on humiliating the more privileged class, and after this neither of them seems especially concerned about dying. It's an eloquent final statement on the lives they've been forced to lead up to that point.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)
[personal profile] setsuled


I've been kind of fascinated by the extreme gulf between critical and audience reaction to The Orville, the new Sci-Fi adventure comedy that premièred on Sunday. Rotten Tomatoes currently says the show's scored 22% positive in critical reviews but the audience score is 90%. It's not just on Rotten Tomatoes I see this divide--nearly every online review I've read is negative, some downright vitriolic, while in the comments section I see mostly people puzzled and somewhat taken aback by all the negative reviews. The general consensus among the comments I've looked at seems to be that while the pilot episode is flawed the show's not bad at all and has a lot of potential. This is basically my feeling after having watched it.

At Comic Con this year, I was already hearing a lot of jabs at Orville on panels, more than one person calling it a rip-off of Galaxy Quest, which it certainly isn't. The film Galaxy Quest is a spoof centred on the actors on a Star Trek style show while Orville is clearly not a parody at all but an earnest attempt to create a space opera with heavy homages to Star Trek but with a more comedic tone. This might have been close to the Galaxy Quest series that has been in development for a long time but at best I'd say it's two shows in the same genre. If you're angry at Orville for being too much like Galaxy Quest you might as well swear off Deep Space Nine for being too much like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica for being too much like Space Battleship Yamato.



The pilot of the Orville is directed by Jon Favreau and shots of the ship in dock and leaving it are nicely done, clearly loving homages to shots of the Enterprise leaving dock in the first two Star Trek films and I really, really love the idea of wanting to create that sense of awe at the sight of a starship again. Seth MacFarlane in the lead role as Captain Mercer and Scott Grimes as helmsman Gordon Malloy in the approaching shuttle craft have comedic dialogue about drinking too much the night before; it's silly but it functions within the reality of the show. I found this moment, like many others in the episode, not laugh out loud funny but amusing and in its way it enhances the coolness of the space stuff by the contrast.



One of the things that makes the show different from Star Trek and many other space operas is that the Orville and its crew are by no means top of the line. It's not the flagship, it's not an awesome prototype, it's just a nice ship. The helmsman and the navigator, John LaMarr (J. Lee), take the usual buddy dynamic seen between LeForge and Data or O'Brian and Bashir and dial it to something more low brow, though Malloy is supposed to be a great pilot and one of the surprisingly effective parts of the climax is that his "Hugging the Donkey" manoeuvre is actually pretty cool and you can see how it might be genuinely effective and difficult to pull off. These two guys might just be exceptionally regular but I also like the idea of there being some real assholes among the crew--which was sort of Alexander Siddig's initial idea for playing Bashir; you can see he's intentionally playing unlikeable in the DS9 pilot. Even Jayne on Firefly ended up having a heart, though. It would be nice to see one of these shows sustain a real jerk but I don't think MacFarlane intends to go that route.



I think one of the reasons critics hate him so much is the ironic humour on Family Guy has gone so stale. I kind of suspect MacFarlane's sick of it too. What I took away from watching Ted is similar to what I picked up on from Orville--MacFarlane, at heart, has a real, sincere love for the old formulas in sitcoms and dramas. So there's nothing really ironic about him throwing Ed and his ex-wife, Kelly (Adrianne Palicki), together as captain and first officer. He wants a chemistry like the leads on Cheers or Who's the Boss much as he wants to invoke the milieu of Star Trek--not to roast it but to truly keep this kind of storytelling alive. I'm never been a fan of sitcoms like that but I find something endearing about MacFarlane's sincerity, especially since he gets so much shit for it.



That said, I would like Kelly to be developed more. Her motivations in the pilot are entirely based on Ed and I would like to hear more about her motivations that have nothing to do with him. Why did she join the fleet? Did she also dream about being an officer on a ship since she was a kid? The show has several Star Trek directors slated to direct episodes, including Jonathan Frakes, I hope it brings in some Star Trek writers, too.



I do like MacFarlane in the lead. There is something Shatnerian in his unabashed hamminess though he doesn't project authority as much as Shatner does. But I can see as much potential in that being a distinction for the show as a drawback. Time will tell.

Twitter Sonnet #1033

A cup emerged between the lily pads.
A draught impressed in steaming rooms at night.
The other side survived on higher rads.
The blue of sea contained the vessel tight.
Too many veg'tables are on the moon.
A secret book confirmed a fever dream.
In smi'ling Play-Doh men you'll find the boon.
The fitting shapes of blocks aren't all they seem.
In transit apes are caught inside the wall.
Prepared in sight the pudding fell to plague.
The walking voice proceeded down the hall.
The agent's shining limbs are somewhat vague.
The dice replaced a drink within the cup.
The birds of fortune turning home to sup.
Page generated Sep. 26th, 2017 07:46 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios