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All Time at Once Dec. 10th, 2016 @ 07:06 pm

In the last three months of 2009, Big Finish released a series of three Doctor Who audios featuring the Fifth Doctor and his companion Nyssa trapped in the village of Stockbridge. I'm not sure if it's meant to be any of the real Stockbridges but all three stories are pretty good, particularly the middle story, The Eternal Summer. Though the first story, Castle of Fear, wins points for having the Doctor mentioning he'd like to meet Percy Shelley, perhaps to make up for the unflattering portrayal of him in The Company of Friends.

The three Stockbridge stories correspond with the past, present, and future of the village. Castle of Fear has the Doctor (Peter Davison) and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) witnessing a mummers' play in 19th century Stockbridge and noticing that, alongside St. George and the Dragon, there's also a character called the Doctor who travels in a blue box. So the Doctor and Nyssa must travel to the twelfth century to inspire the events in the play. There's a definite attempt to capture some of the atmosphere of Monty Python and even an oblique nod to Monty Python and the Holy Grail when one character is reminded of her mother when she smells elderberries. The story features the Rutans, the species introduced in the Fourth Doctor television story The Horror of Fang Rock. Voiced by Nicholas Briggs, though, they sound a bit too much like Daleks.

The Eternal Summer is more focused on the logic of time travel though it's also very funny. Written by Jonathan Morris, who seems to excel at cleverly constructed time travel plots--the best example of which is Flip-Flop--The Eternal Summer takes the Groundhog Day premise (and specifically mentions the film) and puts it on steroids. The Doctor and Nyssa find themselves in a Stockbridge that repeats the same day over and over, all the residents remember the repetitions but still react emotionally to events in the day as if they're new, and anachronistic objects turn up all over town making it difficult for the Doctor to determine the actual date. Events layer over each other and other events happen in impossible sequence, like a man who dies grieving for her his dead wife who tells the Doctor about going to his funeral, or another man asking the Doctor if he's planning on going to the wedding/May Day/Christmas celebrations, the audio layering all these events over each other. The story also features an entertaining UFO nut played by Mark Williams (who would go on to play Rory Williams' father on the television series) who's the only one in town immune to the mental conditioning of the other residents.

The final story of the series, the "future" story, is Plague of the Daleks which mixes Daleks with zombies in a Stockbridge that's been turned into a sort of museum. Not as good as the first two, it's still pretty entertaining though zombies don't work very well in an audio format. Their groans paint a pretty limited picture.
Current Location: Stockbridge
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "The Station" North by Northwest OST - Bernard Herrmann

Nature's Threshing Dec. 9th, 2016 @ 07:49 pm

It's remarkable how subtle a point of disagreement can be but yet it'll still escalate to a passion that pits brother against brother. 2006's The Wind that Shakes the Barley shows how a community of friends and family who fought alongside each other in the Irish War of Independence could turn against each other in the subsequent civil war. The film is attractively shot with very good performances. A little too cleanly shot for my taste--surprising given its director, Ken Loach, made the remarkably raw Kes--and possessed of definite bias, it nonetheless evokes a real sense of ideological conflict taken to the point of killing.

Cillian Murphy stars as Damien O'Donovan, a young man who doesn't want to participate in the war, even after British soldiers humiliate and bully he and his friends, killing one, for playing hurley. But he has a change of heart after seeing British soldiers hit a train conductor, Dan, played by Liam Cunningham.

Murphy is very good but Cunningham is the real star of the film for my money, even though he gives a less complex performance than Murphy. The film has a lot of scenes where men sneak around before opening fire on each other as well as dramatic execution scenes but the best scenes are set in a little office where people talk politics. The first of these scenes, set during the War of Independence, finds Dan suddenly in an argument with Teddy O'Donovan (Padraic Delaney), Damien's brother and leader of the Republican forces.

Teddy wants to protect a rich landlord from a fine levied on him by judgement of the Republican court because this landlord is supplying the IRA with weapons. Dan makes the good point that the Republic will never be legitimate if the decisions of its court aren't respected by its military. Teddy makes a fair point that there'll be no republic without arms to protect it but he's no match for Cunningham's sharp glower.

Dan effectively points out to the poorer soldiers on Teddy's side how they're being manipulated by wealthy capitalists.

It's an early fissure, indicative of what'll divide the group after the treaty is signed with Britain that gives Ireland control of its economic affairs but still leaves it under the control of the British Empire. Teddy's of the side that sees this as a step forward in a very long fight, Damien sees it as a defeat for the whole cause.

The film is very much on Damien's side, putting all the more charismatic actors on it and making Teddy look foolish and ungrateful. Still, it does show how remarkably intimate the conflict was. It's not cold but it depicts how easily ideas can make neighbours formally declare war on each other.
Current Location: Cork
Current Mood: drunkdrunk
Current Music: "Wave a White Flag" - Elvis Costello

Semi-Annual Calico Recursion Dec. 8th, 2016 @ 06:35 pm

This calico cat ran right up to me again like she did the last time I saw her, several months ago. And before that it'd been several months. She has a good memory because I've seen her run right past other people to get to me. To-day she let me pet her a few times then set herself up in a guard post, staring across the street with her back to me.

Here's another cute animal I saw to-day at university, in the Professional Studies & Fine Arts building, or PSFA, but I always think of it as the PTSD building:

I heard one of my professors there to-day talking about Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory that Democrats use pizzerias for a child sex slavery ring. This led, a few days ago, to a man in North Carolina entering a pizzeria with an assault rifle to "self-investigate". Fortunately no-one was hurt.

It's horrible and sad for many reasons that ought to be obvious. I get stuck on the term "self-investigate". I would say to him, "You mean investigate?" Certainly I think some self investigating would be healthy for him. It's probably not something anyone who believes in Pizzagate is used to doing.

Like the election of Trump itself, learning that so many people believe in such obvious hogwash comes as something of a shock. See, it's not simply that it's repugnant or hateful. Like Trump, it seems like even disgusting people should be smart enough to know better. I'm beginning to realise I take my intellect for granted. Many people apparently have not cultivated the instincts I have that allow me to pass my eyes over a spam e-mail from a Nigerian prince without even having to ponder whether or not it's legitimate. As internet troll culture becomes increasingly smug, naturally it sees no reason to cultivate its critical skills further, and many young and old internet neophytes are handed their smug cards on the ground floor. Hazy ideology floods into the gaps left by critical thinking, just like those memes about Hillary Clinton not getting pop culture references--it seems like it ought to be true, so that's more than half the battle for some.

But still I'm lacking the perspective, I'm not constantly barraged with the fake news that helps build up these conspiracy theories. On a school computer to-day, where I was not signed into any of my accounts and didn't have the little gadgets informing the browser of all my preferences based on frequently viewed sites and videos, I saw on YouTube next to a video I was watching from a 1987 production of Miss Julie a video about Hillary Clinton worshipping Satan to control Bill Clinton. I realised as much as I'm isolated from videos like these because of my preferences, other people are inundated with them the more of them they view.

I don't use a smart phone, my main PC is still using Windows 7. Who knows what the media landscape looks like to someone who's locked into a wider array of software eager to reflect back the user's preferences. Maybe the danger isn't so much computers thinking for people but from stopping thought just as it's starting.

Twitter Sonnet #940

A dust surrounds a rumbling line of knees.
Somewhere in fogs the legs propel the dumb.
In zoetrope speed air swallowed the trees.
A flick'ring shape eclipsed the army's sum.
In coats too shy to raise an arm to strop.
Reflections dulled in summer glinting steel.
A snapping sound from sand presaged the stop.
In tiny wings a chorus chose the real.
A hairless kid caught sight of cars in grass.
Across the hills the convoy took the grain.
In blackened fish the egg presents a mass.
By matins trout accrue for scales a vein.
A hamster wheel enclosed a wolf to run.
A curving grid became the egg and sun.
Current Location: The shell
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "Maloney Wants a Drink" - The Dubliners

Boots to Clean and Boots to Kiss Dec. 7th, 2016 @ 07:02 pm

When discussing class mobility, issues of gender and psychological reprogramming are not often prioritised. But they're integral to 1951's Miss Julie and the 1888 August Stringberg play on which it is based. The film liberally adds scenes and characters but presents most of the dialogue and events of the play intact. There's a misogyny in the story which the film plays up and yet there's undeniable insight in its portrayal of human beings desperately struggling with the identities they've constructed for themselves since childhood. And the film is gorgeously shot.

The play is set entirely in the kitchen of a wealthy count's estate but the movie ranges all over the property during the midsummer festivities in which the servants abandon restraint in wild, drunken celebrations. In this context, Miss Julie (Anita Bjork), a beautiful young woman and daughter of the Count, flirts with the valet, Jean (Ulf Palme).

In a wonderfully shot sequence, the two describe their dreams to each other. Julie describes being somewhere high not knowing how to get down and Jean describes desperately trying to climb a tree to reach the highest branch. It's not hard to relate these dreams to their waking life. In both the play and the movie, Jean tells Julie about his crush on her when they were children and the film actually shows the scene he describes of going to church just to gaze on her.

The film creates a scene where Jean, as a child, is running from a governess and hides in a beautiful latrine. When she approaches the latrine, he tells Julie there was only one way out for him--crawling out through the human waste. That's a scene that certainly couldn't have been shot in 1951 Hollywood. It pretty garishly emphasises the position Jean's born into. I almost think it's over the top.

As in the play, the midsummer revellers barge into the kitchen, forcing Jean and Julie to hide in his room where they have sex. Their discussions for the rest of the play involve their competing attempts to convert their idle dreams into a workable plan for their future and requires both to talk at length about experiences that formed their personae.

Julie describes a truly strange childhood environment. Her mother (Lissi Alandh) is a sexual revolutionary depicted as maniacally malevolent in contrast to a gentle, long suffering Count (Anders Henrikson). Julie's mother initiates gender swap experiments in the film in which all the male servants are forced to do jobs normally reserved for women, like spinning thread, and the women are given the men's jobs, like moving a cart of hay out of a ditch. The movie shows the servants being awkward and failing at their swapped jobs while Julie is forced to dress as a boy and is punished for trying to play with her doll.

The play isn't this broad but there is definitely a sense that Julie is psychologically damaged by being "half-male". On the one hand, this seems to suggest there's something inherently wrong with Julie or her mother coveting control over their lives, on the other it's natural for the experience of atypical gender behaviour to be traumatic and awkward in such a solidly patriarchal institution of the 19th century aristocratic home.

My favourite scene in the play and the film involves Julie's bird which she wants to take with them when she and Jean flee for their pipe dream of running a hotel in Switzerland. Jean's response is a brutal attempt at showing Julie the reality of life and yet it's needlessly cruel, a reflection of Jean's own delusions.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the play and film is that the Count is never physically present in the play. He only appears in flashbacks and in locations apart from the principle characters in the film version but, particularly since director and screenwriter Alf Sjoberg deliberately makes him seem so gentle and kind, he loses the status of living social construct which he presents in the play. Even in his absence, his presence haunts the play in the form of his boots and the servant's bell, always there like Pavlov's to awaken deeply ingrained responses from personae more durable than people.
Current Location: The kitchen
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "The World is Not Enough" - Garbage

Dice and Guns Dec. 6th, 2016 @ 08:31 pm

Dominating the city through violence is the dream of nearly every young boy in 2002's City of God. The first half of the film is breezy, casual, and kinetic, very likely influenced by Goodfellas. The last portion of the film is a slightly less effective melodrama. Very loosely based on true events and actually shot in the slums of Rio the film provides an entertaining and disturbing glimpse into the culture of the poor in Brazil.

Most of the actors in the film were non-professionals, cast from the actual slum communities. The film is told from the perspective of Rocket, played by Luis Otavio as a child and Alexandre Rodrigues as an adult, who we learn eventually becomes a professional photographer. We see him flirting with his first crush, dreaming about getting a proper camera, and landing his first big scoop, but his story is an underwhelming detour from the more effective parts of the film focusing on the city's gangster culture.

I like the way the first part of the film weaves in the lives of different people from the city, giving brief back stories about an apartment where a woman used to sell pot that gradually evolved to become gang controlled or the story of a proprietor of a small restaurant or a hoodlum named Shaggy (Jonathan Haagensen). In one of the more effective scenes early in the film, he attempts to escape police with his lover, Bernice (Roberta Rodrigues). The scene has an effectively painful tension and disaster.

But most of the first part of the film maintains a casually splashy tone. Even the assault on a brothel by three young hoods has more a tone of mischief than massacre. Which is appropriate given how normalised extreme violence is in the community depicted. The film's most interesting character, Li'l Dice (Douglas Silva and Leandro Firmino da Hora), feels nothing but glee when executing people he robs even as a small child.

Li'l Dice, Li'l Ze when he's older, is at the centre of the film. With his partner, Benny (Michel de Souza and Phellipe Haagensen), he takes over the town and controls the drug trade. From an early age, Li'l Ze's learned no pleasure but in killing and dominating while Benny is more of a people person. Well liked by the community, he steals the beautiful Angelica (Alice Braga) from Rocket and tells Li'l Ze, who's obsessed with who among their drug connexions might be betraying them, that he needs a girlfriend. But Li'l Ze is incapable of connecting with other human beings and too prideful to learn.

The film has a somewhat annoying colour palette--almost the entire film seems to be shades of blue and orange--and the ending's a bit melodramatic. There's also a hint of mystical morality as every act of violence has a karmic restitution later in the film, sabotaging the sense of realism. But the film has an attractive energy to it and does a great job of creating the impression of a world.
Current Location: A favela
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "It was You" - James Brown
Other entries
» Cursed by the Plot Gods to Eternal Life

It must be so lonely being Negan on The Walking Dead. No-one's even good at pretending to like him and no matter what happens he can't die. Maybe that's why he always has that increasingly strained, phoney enthusiasm. He's like a vampire whose supernatural power is the invisible plot shield. Once again, The Walking Dead took us in all sincerity to where only parodies have dared to go in terms of flamboyant, inexplicably resilient villains.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Carl risks everything to go on an assassination mission. Carl has the target of his mission in his sights. Carl doesn't shoot. He kills a bunch of other guys but not Negan. I want to shake this kid.

So, maybe because of the loneliness, Negan treats Carl like a kid brother and shows him around. He even shows him his harem of women who all seem to burn with undisguised resentment towards him.

The weird, implausible philosophy of sexual abuse continues. All of these women are supposedly with him voluntarily. But this seems to be an openly acknowledged lie. Dwight seems to like him less and less, the women don't like him, his lackeys seem afraid of him at best, and he walks around armed with only a baseball bat. Well, how many ways can I say this is silly? Jeffrey Dean Morgan's gone from playing the Comedian to Cesar Romero's Joker.

I can dig the camp stuff when it's a tiger or some Amazons. I guess the baseball bat is kind of appropriately Big. Maybe if Negan wore a baseball uniform and a mask and started calling himself the Slugger.

Did Judith have a growth spurt? I'm so lost on the time scale.

I will say Negan had a point with Olivia. I'd disapprove of his intimidating her if the scenes were played with any sense of reality but as rude as it is to point out that the fat woman is complaining about starving, this is the same point I made about Samwell on Game of Thrones. Unlike Negan, I fully support people accepting their bodies and I don't want everyone to have washboard abs, gods know I certainly don't. But nothing comes from nothing, that fat had to come from somewhere. Yet somehow I doubt there'll be a subplot about Olivia stealing rations.

I like that Gabriel seems to have grown a spine. I liked him putting Spencer in his place. The cowardly, petty priest character is too much of a cliche at this point.

When Negan asked Carl to sing I was bitterly disappointed he didn't sing this;

Twitter Sonnet #939

Encumbrance tops the listing cam'ra centre.
Returns allied in lucid banks connect.
Plastique increases savoured vault's winter.
Illicit tombs entreat no mere insect.
Guitars concede apportioned legs to height.
If strings are steel they'll stretch electric clouds.
Affronts to starless gripes descend at night.
Redress postponed engaged in bridal shrouds.
A gas combines in salads stuck to rule.
Cacophony infirm effaces saints.
As peat is plucked upon the rock by tool.
A curling shade an evening picture paints.
Transmitted ribbons stop in air for cats.
In numbers known to storks the monk combats.

» The Best Form of Defence

Well, there's no mistaking this homage to TIE Fighter on last night's new Star Wars Rebels--that's a TIE Defender, the highest class of TIE you can get in that great flight simulator from the 90s. I saw a list on some site recently of "good riddance" items from the old Expanded Universe and it included the TIE Defender but, fuck that, the TIE Defender is great. It's got four lasers and two ion cannons and can carry missiles or torpedoes. Plus it has shields. I suppose that means less when we can't actually fly them but I wonder if this stuff on Rebels is hinting at an eventual remastered version of TIE Fighter being released? Well, that's probably too much to hope for. Last night's episode wasn't bad despite featuring a return to Lothal.

Not written by Gary Whitta, surprisingly, the writer for "The Antilles Extraction", the first heavily TIE Fighter influenced episode, "An Inside Man" is the second episode written by the only female writer on the series, Nicole Duboc, the first being "Hera's Heroes". Despite the fact that her background is mainly children's shows, she does an impressive job of making the Empire, and Thrawn in particular, seem more dangerous and cunning than they have in previous episodes.

Thrawn forcing workers to kill themselves on faulty machinery is much darker than I thought Disney would let the show go but I'm glad it did. Now if only they'd kill Ezra or turn him to the Dark Side. The introduction of the Imperial defector, whose identity was pretty much given away in "The Antilles Extraction", adds another nice bit of moral complication.

This is not a time for Star Wars to default to an airless battle of good versus evil. It's useful, when people ask why would anyone vote for Trump, to be able point to the people who voted for Palpatine. Steve Bannon has even compared himself to a Sith lord in an interview.

"Darkness is good," says Bannon, who amid the suits surrounding him at Trump Tower, looks like a graduate student in his T-shirt, open button-down and tatty blue blazer — albeit a 62-year-old graduate student. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they" — I believe by "they" he means liberals and the media, already promoting calls for his ouster — "get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing."

What is he saying people get wrong? That people say he's a villain and he's really not? Is he saying if people were on his side they'd get in his way? Does this knucklehead even know what he's saying?

His analogy does make sense in terms of the Sith being interested in created order in the galaxy by enforcing absolute control. That was Anakin's argument in Episode II and similar to the argument in Empire Strikes Back he gives to Luke. That is the kind of governance that Trump and his people have continually hinted at.

The received opinion on the prequels is still that they're worthless but I can't help thinking of Padme's line, "This is how liberty dies . . . with thunderous applause." Based on the comments on this YouTube clip, I see I'm not the only one to make that connexion.

"An Inside Man" also ended with a decent action sequence involving Imperial walkers though it relied on an inexplicable design flaw. Why don't these big things have lasers mounted on their sides or maybe even underbelly, like the turrets on the Millennium Falcon?
» If a Six Turned Out to be Eight

The entire population of Earth driven mad, a saviour of another world blamed for its downfall, and a space station containing superviruses form the storylines of the final three Doctor Who audio plays featuring India Fisher as companion Charley Pollard. Well, in the middle one it's actually only sort of Charley. These three stories, featuring the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), are a decent send-off for certainly one of the best companions in the audios and television series combined.

Her final episodes with the Eighth Doctor were a bit more emotionally effective but the cleverness of this complicated story is pretty entertaining. The first one, Patient Zero, introduces Mila (Jess Robinson) who has apparently been a stowaway on the TARDIS since the First Doctor. Only Charley can see and interact with her because Charley has contracted some virus the TARDIS didn't protect her from due to her not belonging--because she'd travelled with Eight before Six. The story also features the Daleks trying to take over the station of viruses and they're opposed by the Viyrans, a sort of cyborg alien species whose business is to protect the universe from viruses. The story is entertaining, the best part being a scene where the Doctor tries once again to reason with the Daleks, however hopeless that always is, but inadvertently teaches them something.

The second story, Paper Cuts, features the return of the Draconians, a space fairing reptilian race introduced in the Third Doctor television serial Frontier in Space. I'm surprised it took so long for them to come back. The interstellar political intrigue of Frontier in Space seemed like it had potential for a lot more stories but maybe they felt a bit too much like Klingons. This story features a Draconian version of chess and there's a concept for entombment I'm pretty sure I've heard in a few other science fiction and fantasy stories but is used here in a creative way.

Charley's final story, Blue Forgotten Planet, features a human race that has inexplicably lost by degrees the mental capacity for civilisation and are being led by a man who thinks he's shooting a reality show for aliens called Blue Forgotten Planet. How's that for prognostication.

Charley and Six never had the chemistry of Charley and Eight and Charley about admits as much here when she talks about how she loved the other Doctor. The character Mila has basically become a complete clone of Charley at this point and India Fisher has a pretty impressive dialogue with herself, playing both characters, in the climax. It must have been particularly difficult since neither copy is really the "evil" twin but for the most part I found myself able to tell which was which from something subtle in her performance. The explanation for why the Doctor doesn't remember her when she first meets him as Eight is satisfying enough and actually was in some ways similar to the last episodes of the television series' latest season.
» As the Purpose of the Land is Forgot

An old man secure in the traditions that bind him to land and community finds his position slowly and cruelly eroded in 1990's The Field. Set in rural Ireland in the early twentieth century, a plot that might seem over the top takes on greater proportions largely due to a magnetic and forceful performance by Richard Harris.

Harris has the central role as Bull McCabe who's rented a field for his livestock. He and his father, we learn, had painstakingly cultivated the field from inhospitably rocky soil. But it's owned by a widow who has decided to sell it at auction and has arranged things so an American (Tom Berenger) with Irish ancestry can buy it to turn it into a factory of some kind.

The film seems like a dark parody of The Quiet Man, which is also about an American with Irish forebears moving back to Ireland and competing with a local in the purchase of a property owned by a widow. The Field reverses the roles of protagonist and antagonist, in the process turning the story from comedy to dramatic commentary on Ireland's relationship with immigration.

As in The Quiet Man, the local priest is in league with the American. Once Bull figures out what's happening behind the scenes, he confronts the priest (Sean McGinley) and makes his case with soliloquy that's both vulnerable and threatening, discussing his personal history of the land and then condemning all those, like the American's ancestors, who left Ireland in famine and would now come back.

It's a strangely broad perspective for one man to take but it puts all of his personal woes into a wider significance. The film also has impressive performances from John Hurt and Sean Bean--Bean plays Bull's son, Tadgh. He doesn't talk much, making me wonder if Bean had trouble with his Irish accent. He and Bird, Hurt's character, have been secretly pulling pranks on the widow which is apparently why she doesn't want to sell the land to Bull. Tadgh seems devoted to his father out of an insecure guilt but his heart never seems to be in the same place.

Hurt is delightful and provides some comic relief even as the actions of his character have deadly serious consequences. He's a bit like Jack MacGowran's character in The Quiet Man, a sort of dim-witted lackey for Bull. He provides a few of the components that, without intention, sway the tide away from Bull and his bewilderment and anger throughout the film is really sad and horrible and very effective.

Twitter Sonnet #938

The screw turned up at moon days in the cup.
Aghast, alarm, alack--a bird in blame.
Upturned, out oranges, grapes, and roots from sup.
Apace, in peace, deceased--the world and shame.
A dower filched offends a cakey court.
In arquebus a gutted flame attends.
A sordid dalliance silenced all for sport.
Regrowth of graves purposed for height ascends.
In coral caught in washed colourless lies;
A murder inked the unseen stone at dawn.
No golden cloud the sleepless money buys.
No charcoal storm can rest when grace is gone.
Wet rattling chalk emerged like cork from deep.
Away from shore the stones get small and steep.

» Bird and Mollusc Overseers
I woke up and jumped out of bed two hours before my alarm this morning. I never have nightmares but early this morning I had such a strong impression of three octopuses or squids floating above my head I felt I had to get up and out of the way. They were neither octopus or squid, really, but some animal with tentacles, each about the size of a hat. One was blue, one was red, and one was a greyish yellow.

I had lunch at Fashion Valley Mall again to-day where I continue to be impressed by the boldness and variety of birds.

All the Christmas decorations have been up at the malls for quite some time, of course. Here's an old police car that was somehow included at a mall I went to a few weeks ago:

Finally, here's a pretty regal raven I saw at a power station by the trolley station a few weeks ago;

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