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There are Places I Remember Inaccurately May. 19th, 2019 @ 04:47 am

It's one of those days when all kinds of different historical periods are jumbled together in the 2008 Doctor Who audio play "Dead London". The first episode in the Eighth Doctor's second stand alone series, he returns with the nice enough companion Lucie Miller for a story that, at under fifty minutes, feels too short, as most of the stories in this particular series of audios do.

The first scene drops us into the Old Bailey where the Doctor (Paul McGann) is on the dock, answering for the crime of leaving the TARDIS in the middle of traffic while Lucie (Sheridan Smith) was away shopping. What started as a modern day preceding unexpectedly becomes a 17th century one and the Doctor is sentenced to death. Meanwhile, Lucie encounters similar problems on the streets of London, one of which, Fleet, unexpectedly transforms into its river namesake.

There's an amusing supporting character played by Clare Buckwald called Spring Heeled Sophie, presumably a reference to Spring Heeled Jack. Though I'd have enjoyed her character more if her voice were more distinguishable from Sheridan Smith's. I also enjoyed a reference to The Wicker Man when the Doctor and his companions find themselves suddenly in a Wicker Man about to be torched in pagan Britain.


On another subject, to-night is the final episode of Game of Thrones so I figure this is my last chance to make predictions. All my predictions so far this season have been wrong but I figure that's no reason to stop now (spoilers for past episodes ahead).

I think the reason we never saw Danaerys' face during her rampage last week will be explained by the fact that she'd lost telepathic control of the dragon--she told it to go for the Red Keep but all he heard was "Urg, rage, kill, kill!" and decided to burn civilians instead. I predict there'll be a shot of Drogon pulling the Iron Throne from the rubble. And I suspect that Bran might do something with time travel and alternate time lines since that kind of thing seems to be popular right now.

What do I hope will happen? That Cersei ends up being alive and rules long and benevolently on the Iron Throne. I wonder how many people would sign an angry petition about that.
Current Location: Londons
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "Cold Water" - Tom Waits

Kicked Out to Paradise May. 18th, 2019 @ 08:16 am

Crichton storms off of Moya in an extraordinarily infantile mood on Farscape only to witness the big ship take off without him. But that's just the beginning of his troubles.

Season 1, Episode 14: Jeremiah Crichton

Natalie Mendoza, future star of Neil Marshall's excellent The Descent, guest stars as a potential love interest for Crichton (Ben Browder). Crichton is beefy and handsome and he's inflamed the jealousy of another beautiful man with sculpted muscles, Rokan (Kevin Copeland), who belongs to the same tribe as Mendoza's character.

We find months have passed after the cold open and during the show's theme song and Crichton seems to have been living in paradise. He has beachfront property in a beautiful wilderness and his few neighbours are attractive and friendly. You can almost understand when he's kind of rude to D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) when the Luxan and Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) finally show up to rescue him. Still, I think Crichton's pretty childish. We see that, surprisingly, it's D'Argo who'd been Crichton's advocate back on Moya and had insisted they continue searching for him.

Zhaan (Virginia Hey) is for abandoning the search and there's discussion about her abandoning the practices and codes of behaviour of a priest. Now freed from what she, at this point, apparently regards as phoney benevolence, she seems to be testing the waters of unabashed selfishness. Even Aeryn (Claudia Black) is more outwardly interested in seeking Crichton.

A lot of synopses spoil the surprise ending of this episode so I may as well talk about it--though, if you haven't watched this one yet, consider yourself warned now.

I guess if you live long enough in a Sci-Fi/Fantasy universe you're going to inspire an entire religion, which is what it turns out Rygel has done for the people of Crichton's paradise planet. Though it was actually Rygel X--our Rygel apparently being the sixteenth of that name--who sent out colonies with hidden devices that disabled their technology to keep them on their designated worlds--the same device which is now preventing Crichton's escape. This concept of a protagonist accidentally inspiring a belief system for generations does turn up in Science Fiction now and then, my favourite example being the Doctor Who serial called The Face of Evil. Mainly what I appreciated in "Jeremiah Crichton" was seeing actual evidence of Rygel's empire, something you'd think we'd see more of, though with the show's thematic focus on people forced to contend with life away from any cultural support for their self-perceptions, it makes sense that we wouldn't see any Hynerians or Hynerian subjects.

. . .

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

Episode 1: Pilot

Episode 2: I, E.T.

Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis

Episode 4: Throne for a Loss

Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future

Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again

Episode 7: PK Tech Girl

Episode 8: That Old Black Magic

Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear

Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue

Episode 13: The Flax

Current Location: A beach
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "Alice" - Tom Waits

Machiko Kyo May. 17th, 2019 @ 09:58 am

Machiko Kyo, the great actress who passed away a few days ago at the ago of 95, was markedly unlike her contemporaries. Where Setsuko Hara or Hideko Takamine were celebrated for their ability to convey warmth and innocence, Kyo seemed to have an irrepressible fire. This made her equally effective as the ghost in Ugetsu Monogatari, one of her best known roles, or as the most callous of the prostitutes in the influential Street of Shame. Both of those movies were directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, one of the great four filmmakers of Japanese cinema, and Kyo has the rare distinction of having worked with all four--Mizoguchi, Ozu, Naruse, and Kurosawa.

Rashomon, her film with Kurosawa and, along with Ugetsu, widely considered her best, is also the film that impressed the world with the power of Japanese cinema, making Kyo the best known Japanese actress in the world. The character she presented in Rashomon is as complex as the other characters of the film and she transmits to the audience a sense of calculated spitefulness when she tries to take control of the narrative. This is seen both in her own narrative and in the narratives of the other two witnesses of the crime in the movie famous for its discussion of alternative perspectives. In films like this or Ani Imouto Kyo often played women who were forced to manage their intelligence and anger in company with people who did not value these qualities in women.

In Floating Weeds, the Yasujiro Ozu movie I love more every time I watch it, she is in the unenviable role of being the ageing road woman in contrast to her lover's stable mistress who embodies the housewife ideal. The impression of a boiling temper contributes to the sense of Kyo's vulnerability as she realises her hold on the man she loves is as tenuous as their career and lifestyle as travelling kabuki performers.

Machiko Kyo leaves behind a remarkable filmmography that also includes classics like Gate of Hell and the New Wave sci-fi drama The Face of Another. Each movie's impact is at least partly defined by her irreplaceable, inimitable presence.

Twitter Sonnet #1236

Wists of panicked tolls remit the dime.
Acoustic storms submit the paper rain.
Repeated pens could write in double time.
Distilled in spokes the wheels would surely gain.
In tandem, tubers sprout a sort of song.
In mason jars a sea appears to flow.
The shortest plant was still disputed long.
Along the bank a gang the tankers tow.
A noise of shapes became a human sky.
In many parts assembled desks arrive.
To make a space for pencils papers try.
What ink and lead can write and will contrive.
At night the sound of rubber bands is faint.
A linen heaven found a silken saint.
Current Location:
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "Waiting" - Chris Isaak

Invisible Flight Barriers May. 16th, 2019 @ 05:33 am

Aeryn's attempt to give Crichton flying lessons is interrupted by an invisible net and the usual unexpected physical intimacy in the first Farscape episode written by the prolific series writer Justin Monjo.

Season 1, Episode 13: The Flax

In an effort to make himself more useful, Crichton (Ben Browder) has been instructing himself on the biomechanical technology of Moya. Aeryn (Claudia Black) is giving him pointers on piloting a shuttle when the two run afoul of a big invisible sheet in space, stopping their craft cold. This is the "Flax" as the rest of the crew learns back on Moya when a mysterious visitor is brought aboard.

Staanz (Rhys Muldoon) is a shifty character who seems to have some kind of ulterior motive for telling the crew of Moya about the Flax, which his former cohorts, a group of pirates, use to capture their prey. At first, though, Rygel (Jonathan Hardy) is just happy to have someone to play some kind of crystalline board game with. I love Rygel's facial expressions in this episode.

One thing leads to another and Staanz drops his pants to reveal an apparent lack of genitalia. There's some sexual humour in this episode that doesn't really come off. It turns out the female of Staanz's species happens to look like the males of most other humanoid species which leads to a misunderstanding between D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe) and Staanz that isn't quite the effective punchline it's meant to be. But I did kind of enjoy the build up to it, featuring D'Argo and Staanz on Staanz's craft, trying to track down the wreckage of a Luxan ship. The two characters actually do have pretty good chemistry.

Beyond the sexual element, though, there's an interesting aspect to the presence of Staanz and the other pirates in that a contrast is presented between the criminal misfits aboard Moya and the more genuine, dedicated variety of thieves. When they discover Staanz is wanted by the Peacekeepers, Zhaan (Virginia Hey) points out to D'Argo that they're obviously in a position to know the Peacekeepers are given to hunting people who don't really deserve it. But D'Argo remarks that some people really do. Which of course contributes to the sense of urgency in the need for the former prisoners aboard Moya to establish their identities and their worth; there's no reliable external social authority to establish it for them.

Meanwhile, Crichton is compelled to teach Aeryn CPR when it becomes clear he's going to be unconscious for a while when repairs require the shuttle cabin to be depressurised. The part where he teaches Aeryn to lock lips with him is oddly skipped over--it feels like a scene was cut. We do inevitably get the scene where Aeryn is obliged to give Crichton mouth to mouth but no comment is made about the resemblance this bears to kissing. I wonder if there was a conversation about this cultural practice being another odd similarity between humans and Sebaceans. As we learn in the episode's climax, Sebaceans certainly do have this cultural practice in common with humans when Aeryn and Crichton give in to the heat of a moment of apparent imminent death. Those two are so cute.

. . .

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

Episode 1: Pilot

Episode 2: I, E.T.

Episode 3: Exodus from Genesis

Episode 4: Throne for a Loss

Episode 5: Back and Back and Back to the Future

Episode 6: Thank God It's Friday Again

Episode 7: PK Tech Girl

Episode 8: That Old Black Magic

Episode 9: DNA Mad Scientist

Episode 10: They've Got a Secret

Episode 11: Till the Blood Runs Clear
Episode 12: Rhapsody in Blue

Current Location: A net
Current Mood: rushedrushed
Current Music: "Jashn E Bahaara" Jodhaa Akbar OST - A.R. Rahman

Different Parts of the Same Road May. 15th, 2019 @ 12:01 pm

Young people often have faith in their own heartlessness. What enables a person to "ghost" a lover or abruptly abandon friends and family without explanation is the confidence that the emotional repercussions, if there are any, will be bearable. Jean-Pierre Melville's 1963 film L'Aîné des Ferchaux (released in English speaking countries as Magnet of Doom) presents such a young man, a former paratrooper and former boxer, named Michel played by Jean-Paul Belmondo. He finds a fitting father figure in a disgraced businessman named Ferchaux, played by Charles Vanel, and we watch them embark on a bittersweet adventure as the old man gradually loses everything but his new, capricious young friend. Melville's first colour film, it becomes a wonderful road movie featuring a lot of great footage of the eastern United States.

The story begins in Paris, though, with Michel losing a boxing match without a knockout or anyone getting particularly worn out--the physically formidable Michel is defeated by the points system and, like that, his career is over. He goes back to his apartment where he explains to his girlfriend, Lina (Malvina Silberberg), that now he has to look at this loser in the mirror for the rest of his life. She doesn't get it.

She maintains a simple-hearted faith in him even when he rips her dead mother's necklace off of her to pawn it. She has faith in him right up until he abandons her, penniless, at a cafe while he takes a job as a secretary for Ferchaux.

From boxer to secretary--of course Michel bluffs his way through the interview but he doesn't have to try very hard because Ferchaux hires him on the grounds that he likes his face. Ferchaux is used to being rich and respected enough that he can indulge in his instincts. Now following a scandal in which he beat up three men, he's forced to flee for New York, in the hopes of eventually reaching Venezuela. Authorities prevent him from accessing his bank account so he settles for a few million he can get out of a safe before he and Michel go on the road.

It becomes clear that Ferchaux has run out of friends. Despite his age, he has accrued no lasting love or friendship with anyone, everything having been based on opportunism and transaction. It's easy to see how Ferchaux may have once been much like Michel when he was younger and this, along with his own needs, explains why he looks on Michel with so much affection even when Michel's loyalties clearly grow increasingly tenuous. Any time a girl comes along, for one thing, Michel is ready to split on the old man--first with an American hitchhiker named Angie (Stefania Sandrelli) and then with a gorgeous French dancer working in New Orleans named Lou (Michele Mercier).

The two leads could not have been more perfectly cast, both Belmondo and Vanel bringing their own rough, ragged charms with Belmondo easily conveying the vulnerability of a confident young person who doesn't know himself very well. Vanel is lovely as someone who's old enough to know people all too well but is desperately hoping to be surprised. L'Aîné des Ferchaux or Magnet of Doom is available on The Criterion Channel.
Current Location: The road
Current Mood: hungryhungry
Current Music: "It's Hard to be a Saint in the City" - Bruce Springsteen
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» Our Devils and Dragons

Still thinking about Game of Thrones, this morning I read the new, very good Sirenia Digest, which includes Caitlin R. Kiernan's new story "The Last Thing You Should Do". The title reminds me of the David Bowie song from his 1997 album Earthling. Like the song, Caitlin's story seems to be about an anxiety revolving around a compulsive self destruction. It consists of a dialogue between two people who might be one person as they discuss the dream one has had and the action of crushing the sun with one's fingers, or appearing to, due to forced perspective, is described. There's discussion of fairy tales involving bears and dragons eating the sun which of course also put me in mind of Sunday's Game of Thrones.

Spoilers for Sunday's Game of Thrones ahead

Like a lot of people, I suspect Daenerys going mad is probably close to the ending George R.R. Martin had planned because there's plenty of evidence for it in the books and can be seen in episodes that were still following the books. Going back through my own old reviews, there were two things that I often thought were mistakes in the writing that I now suspect were calculated--Daenerys making obviously despotic decisions and the near total avoidance of any depiction of commoners in King's Landing. We don't actually know what the people thought of Cersei, other than the fact that they liked Margaery better, for reasons that were clearly established as superficial. Like any political faction, Cersei's camp must have had supporters but we never heard from them. Even if there were only a few, they must have existed and the fact that their voices were omitted is telling.

Here are a few quotes from myself that seem pertinent now. From my review for the episode "Eastwatch" from 2017:

Cersei believes that her choices are either losing the war and dying and surrendering and dying so it makes sense she's willing to parley especially now that she's pregnant. She doesn't know yet that Daenerys was willing to spare any of the Lannister allies who bent the knee to her--it would be interesting to find out what Cersei would do if she did know. I don't quite follow the logic that it's better to roast uncooperative families alive than imprison them, especially when Daenerys has her father's reputation to live down.

From my review of "The Winds of Winter" in 2016:

Daario who? I'm only half joking--I kind of have to struggle to remember how Daenerys met him and why he's important. I think we're meant to consider how heartless Daenerys is becoming from the fact that she doesn't care about cutting him loose but could it simply be he's very dull?

From my review for "Home" in 2016:

We actually have one moment among the lower classes in last night's episode where a man in a tavern in King's Landing makes drunken boasts regarding Cersei's "Walk of Shame" last season. This is a reminder of the distinctly unrealistic and unexplored reactions from the crowd last season. The point of the scene now is not to explore the thoughts and feelings of the common people but rather to show Cersei is taking vengeance on each and every heckler with her cool new zombie Mountain.

From my review for "Mother's Mercy" from 2015:

I felt a little bad for Cersei but it's really hard to connect with the reality of the scene when none of the people around her feel authentic. Who are the citizens of King's Landing? Cersei's unpopular but why, exactly? When Charles I was beheaded, it turned popular opinion against the regicides partly because the execution of a ruling king by his own subjects was unprecedented, rulers were seen almost as divinity. So one being forced to walk naked through the streets might excite the derision you see if she's unpopular but it also would have provoked some awe just for the significance of such a person being so humbled. People throwing food at her ought to have also exhibited quite a bit of nervous energy. Not only because you're basically looking at a rather potent symbol of your whole universe not functioning properly but also throwing crap at your sovereign when she's two feet away from you and can see and possibly remember your face doesn't seem like it's in the interest of living a long life. Has anyone heard of "The Emperor's New Clothes"? The people jeering at Cersei seem less like actual citizens and more like manifestations of Cersei's nightmares, or tools to punish her for her pride which is tied to sexuality by the focus of the High Sparrow's questions in her confession

From my review for "The Dance of Dragons" in 2015:

And, finally, the moment I think we all knew was coming but were really pleased to see it anyway, Drogon Dragon shows up and starts roasting the fuckers. I kind of liked that it still wasn't completely one sided, that the dragon seemed to be sustaining real injury from the Sons. Though, again; who are these guys? Maybe we'll learn they're a sect of elite martial artists who live in the mountains only to be called down when the slave masters are in direst need. Or something like that. It could work.

From my review for "Hardhome" in 2015:

"A ruler who kills those who are devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion." It's funny because it's obvious. Too bad Tyrion wasn't around when Daenerys publicly executed that one devoted fellow popular with the "common people". When Tyrion asks her what it was like when she only had the support of the common people and not the rich I noticed she wasn't quite able to divulge she hadn't exactly allowed that scenario to play out organically.

But Tyrion and Daenerys sitting down together over wine came out so much better than I'd dared hope. The actors have chemistry--Emilia Clarke seems to up her game quite a bit acting opposite Peter Dinklage, she has layers, visibly suppressing strong emotions provoked by Jorah and by Tyrion's criticism, consequently making her sexier than she's been in quite a while. And, yes, I'm a little ashamed of myself for saying it but, gosh, when she said she was going to "break the wheel" it was just so adorable. The music swelled so Tyrion didn't get a chance to say, "How? And to what end?"


Poor Cersei. I feel like I'm the only one who likes her. Think about how much harder it is to endure solitary confinement when you have no faith in a greater good. Of all the characters on the show, Cersei has always seemed the most alone to me, and that's saying something. The only thing she has faith in is fundamental human corruption and I rather think her current circumstances only confirm her belief, only they make her realise she wasn't broad minded enough. She thought life was cruel but it's even crueller than she thought. Reviews I read consistently try to read other things into her--people talk about how, for once, her name can't protect her. She hasn't had faith in her name since she was a kid, we saw that in the first episode's flashback. She always regarded it as a tool she would use for all it's worth because nothing else was going to save her, either.

From my review for "Kill the Boy" in 2015:

First [Danaerys] arbitrarily imprisons all the heads of great families in Meereen after the gold mask Klansmen killed Ser Barristan, then she randomly executes one of them whose name and personality we never hear anything about, then she decides to propose marriage to Hizadr, one of the family heads, in the hopes of making an alliance that makes her part of the society. That should sit really well the former slaves who were pissed off when she summarily executed a former slave.

From my review for "The House of Black and White" in 2015:

Do you execute someone without trial for executing someone without trial? No, that would be too self-evidently stupid, no-one could possibly carry out that action without being overburdened by the massive weight of obvious irony. Oh, but that's exactly what happened last night. Or was Daenerys questioning the guy in the throne room supposed to be his trial? If that's the case, why all the hand wringing about having a trial for the first guy? Now everyone in the city hates her which she and all of her advisers should have seen as inevitable as noon but none of them do.

From my review for "The Breaker of Chains" in 2014:

More and more, I think about how Revenge of the Sith was really the Star Wars appropriate for this generation. Whatever flaws that movie has, I think George Lucas is due some credit for the courage to show his anti-hero walking into a school and slaughtering children in a time when school shootings seem to have become an epidemic. Those who cry for the cool power of going against the social codes ought to be reminded now and then how very, very ugly it can be.

You could say what happened in "The Bells" was basically Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. In both cases, there was a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of times where we saw that our good hero has a very simple morality that's based on the idea of the unquestionably good side, his side, having the right to use destructive force to stop his enemies. Anakin killing the younglings in Revenge of the Sith is a little more plausible, though, than Danaerys going after the civilians in King's Landing because Anakin was specifically targeting a culture and an institution. There was a religious element to it.

Lately I've also been re-reading The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1880 novel, and its debates on morality and the inherent capacity for cruelty in human nature have loomed over everything I've watched and thought about the past few days. I've just finished the section featuring Father Zosima's biographical narratives, Zosima being a religious leader, a kind hearted Elder in the Eastern Orthodox Church. His section follows a long conversation between two of the brothers Karamazov, Alyosha and Ivan, mostly consisting of Ivan, an intellectual and atheist, outlining his beliefs and his reasoning for them. Ivan's words and Zosima's are clearly paired for a purpose. Wikipedia says "Zosima provides a refutation to Ivan's atheistic arguments" but it's not actually so simple as that. Zosima provides an alternative perspective to Ivan's but he never categorically refutes Ivan. Ivan presents questions about existence and human nature that still haunt us.

“By the way, a Bulgarian I met lately in Moscow,” Ivan went on, seeming not to hear his brother's words, “told me about the crimes committed by Turks and Circassians in all parts of Bulgaria through fear of a general rising of the Slavs. They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them—all sorts of things you can't imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mother's womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers' eyes. Doing it before the mothers' eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. Here is another scene that I thought very interesting. Imagine a trembling mother with her baby in her arms, a circle of invading Turks around her. They've planned a diversion: they pet the baby, laugh to make it laugh. They succeed, the baby laughs. At that moment a Turk points a pistol four inches from the baby's face. The baby laughs with glee, holds out its little hands to the pistol, and he pulls the trigger in the baby's face and blows out its brains. Artistic, wasn't it? By the way, Turks are particularly fond of sweet things, they say.”

“Brother, what are you driving at?” asked Alyosha.

“I think if the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.”

The alternate perspective comes much later on from Zosima who talks about his own experience having nearly murdered a man in a duel and then having a colleague confess to him that he has committed murder.

Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of any one. For no one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime. When he understands that, he will be able to be a judge. Though that sounds absurd, it is true. If I had been righteous myself, perhaps there would have been no criminal standing before me. If you can take upon yourself the crime of the criminal your heart is judging, take it at once, suffer for him yourself, and let him go without reproach. And even if the law itself makes you his judge, act in the same spirit so far as possible, for he will go away and condemn himself more bitterly than you have done.

There's nothing in what Zosima says that absolutely settles Ivan's questions about human nature. Fundamentally the question over whether having free will makes up for the suffering which innocent people, particularly children, experience is not satisfied. But if Danaerys had learned the lesson Zosima articulated then the people of King's Landing may have had much longer lives. We loved Danaerys, we loved the punishment she inflicted on her enemies because we are like her.

Twitter Sonnet #1235

To those for coffee find the greatest thirst.
The diner's grace derives from Greater Went.
Her steady eyes in dreams'll see us first.
Where cherry pies'll go hereafter sent.
We watched precisely things we always saw.
Competing flames it seems were ever one.
Effects were slowly pitched upon the draw.
The dust of crumbled walls obscured the sun.
The glow of sabres lit the story's shapes.
Again the flashing steps alert the mind.
An errant mass disturbs the sway of drapes.
Our metal hands and hands we hope to find.
A set of dreams recall the branching choice.
From stone and cloud there came the strangest voice.

» The Old Fashioned Dragon

Well, I hope we all learned a valuable lesson from last night's Game of Thrones, the penultimate episode of the series. I do appreciate audacity though it's nice when it makes sense. But there were some really impressive visuals that came along with the show finally putting some focus on the common people of King's Landing.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Last night was so close to brilliant. If it were just a little different, I'd have been willing to take back every bad thing I said about Benioff and Weiss. If you look back over the series, the signs that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) might not be the most stable leader are plentiful. Her crucifying all the people in Meereen, her preference for letting her dragons roam around poaching livestock until they inevitably killed some people. And then there's the fact that, despite all Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) says about how Cersei (Lena Headey) having public policies that abuse the people, we never actually see any of it.

The worst thing we actually saw Cersei do was blow up the temple that was full of her enemies, the people who forced her to march naked through the streets while people threw garbage at her. Cersei, who's also been forced to watch all her children die. And yet, after last night's episode, one of the main complaints I saw on Twitter was that Cersei didn't suffer enough. Why did people root for Daenerys and hate Cersei? This is why last night's episode was almost brilliant, because it was the culmination of a hypothetical exercise in propaganda, on just how easily people are convinced to place their loyalty in one faction over an other. Daenerys was younger, prettier, and the point of view was with her in her sufferings.

But it doesn't really make sense that she'd rampage throughout King's Landing after everyone had surrendered. Even if she snapped and let her rage take over, it seems obvious the first thing she'd do was fly straight for the Red Keep and go for Cersei. Just like last week's episode, part of the explanation would seem to be that Benioff and Weiss just don't know how to write dragons. Now Daenerys flies over and above the ballistae, easily burning all the weapons that suddenly weren't as capable of as rapid a fire rate. Why didn't she do that last week?

And this is why internal logic is so important to the story. Ideally, to-day people should be having conversations about how populations can be misled and manipulated, but you can't make a point about how human nature works by just randomly making things up.

Anyway, it was nice seeing all the ground level stuff, Arya (Maisie Williams) running around, suddenly not seeming as godlike. The relentlessly desperate situation was well conveyed by director Miguel Sapochnik; it was like a cross between Skyrim and Children of Men.

I didn't quite buy that Arya would give up her quest for vengeance so easily but it was still a sweet moment between her and the Hound (Rory McCann).

And I was really sad to see Cersei die, but there was a powerful bittersweetness in her final embrace with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). I suppose it was the best ending for her I could've expected. And she certainly won the moral victory, if nothing else.
» Finding Mothers

To-day's Mother's Day in the U.S. so for my Saturday night Doctor Who fix I ended up watching "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe", the 2011 Christmas special. I wish I hadn't. It was my least favourite of the Christmas specials the first time I watched it. I thought maybe it'd be better upon revisiting and while I think it hit some of my more sentimental receptors of my eight years older self, I still hated all the fisheyed closeups of the little boy and the unexplained plot conveniences, like Claire Skinner's character hearing a transmission of her kids and the Doctor talking or her suddenly knowing how to pilot a huge, futuristic machine.

I remembered her character being the best part. I do kind of like the part where the Doctor (Matt Smith) observes that she's being irritable with the children because she's chosen to keep their father's death secret from them, but the Doctor playing zany tour guide of the kid's dream house still seems an example of Eleven's worst qualities. I started thinking of all the episodes I should've watched instead, maybe something featuring Jackie Tyler, maybe Echo and the Bannermen (though I wrote about it pretty recently) or even Curse of Fenric. Jean Marsh plays a pretty memorable mother in Battlefield. Funny how I keep thinking of Seventh Doctor serials.

Anyway, I also wanted to talk about Peggy Lipton, who passed away yesterday, as she was a big part of one of the other shows I'm fixated on, Twin Peaks.

On the original run of Twin Peaks, she was beautiful and subtle. She was also great in the 2017 revival where David Lynch made really effective use of her face which had become much more expressive. He would cut to brief reaction shots of her to easily convey or underline the emotions in a scene, like in episode 11 when she's watching the Briggs family conference at the RR.

But she was always great. Her character's, Norma's, storyline over the course of the series since 1990 had a lot to do with carrying on while repressing her own needs--her love for Ed, which she couldn't openly express, and her uncertain feelings for Hank, her criminal husband. Lipton's slow burn performance conveyed a peculiar combination of fragility and strength. Twin Peaks' recurrent theme of characters with double lives manifested in Norma in several ways, and Lipton made it intriguing and plausible that her complicated personal life informed the grace of Norma in her role as the proprietor of the RR diner. I'm sorry to see her go.

» The Boxes of Our Lives and Deaths

Anyone who's read Robert Lewis Stevenson's best known novels, Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, would have nothing to prepare them for The Wrong Box. Co-written by his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, and published in 1889, The Wrong Box is as different from Stevenson's best known two works as those two works are from each other, eschewing scientific horror and pirate adventure for a comedy of misunderstandings involving a now obscure legal scheme known as a tontine. It's a really funny, slightly confusing book.

A tontine must have already been somewhat rarely heard of the time of the book's development because the first chapter includes a definition:

A number of sprightly youths (the more the merrier) put up a certain sum of money, which is then funded in a pool under trustees; coming on for a century later, the proceeds are fluttered for a moment in the face of the last survivor, who is probably deaf, so that he cannot even hear of his success—and who is certainly dying, so that he might just as well have lost. The peculiar poetry and even humour of the scheme is now apparent, since it is one by which nobody concerned can possibly profit; but its fine, sportsmanlike character endeared it to our grandparents.

The more I read this description, the funnier it gets and the novel is filled with this same kind of arch, indirect humour that gently plants an absurd image in the mind that seems to blossom into a fine shrub of ludicrousness feeding on the fertile soil of the reader's imagination. As a book about misunderstandings, it's a story very much about the involuntary workings of imagination, too. The temporary figure of a baffled old man having a fortune waved in front of him he can't understand conjures the cloud of foolishness under which the book's characters operate. An old man named Joseph Finsbury is part of a tonine and his affairs are looked after by his adopted son, Morris, who's described as a sensible fellow meekly trying to crawl out from under a variety of absurdities that attend Joseph's existence. Eventually, there's a train accident, a corpse, a box for it, and another box containing a marble statue. Someone receives The Wrong Box. It becomes more and more wrong as the plot develops.

I was already enjoying the book but it really took off for me when the boxes reached their recipients, each an amusing double act. The statue goes to a young woman named Julia, who's assisted by Gideon, who's in love with her, while the corpse winds up at the rooms of an artist named Pitman (whose name reminded me of Lovecraft's Pickman), who was expecting the statue. Pitman turns out to be friends with Michael Finsbury, Joseph's nephew, and a lawyer. I loved the dynamic between the guilelessly panicked Pitman and the arrogant, carefree Michael.

‘Since, in short,’ continued the lawyer, ‘you had no possible interest in the crime, we have a perfectly free field before us and a safe game to play. Indeed, the problem is really entertaining; it is one I have long contemplated in the light of an A. B. case; here it is at last under my hand in specie; and I mean to pull you through. Do you hear that?—I mean to pull you through. Let me see: it’s a long time since I have had what I call a genuine holiday; I’ll send an excuse tomorrow to the office. We had best be lively,’ he added significantly; ‘for we must not spoil the market for the other man.’

‘What do you mean?’ enquired Pitman. ‘What other man? The inspector of police?’

‘Damn the inspector of police!’ remarked his companion. ‘If you won’t take the short cut and bury this in your back garden, we must find some one who will bury it in his. We must place the affair, in short, in the hands of some one with fewer scruples and more resources.’

‘A private detective, perhaps?’ suggested Pitman.

‘There are times when you fill me with pity,’ observed the lawyer. ‘By the way, Pitman,’ he added in another key, ‘I have always regretted that you have no piano in this den of yours. Even if you don’t play yourself, your friends might like to entertain themselves with a little music while you were mudding.’

‘I shall get one at once if you like,’ said Pitman nervously, anxious to please. ‘I play the fiddle a little as it is.’

‘I know you do,’ said Michael; ‘but what’s the fiddle—above all as you play it? What you want is polyphonic music. And I’ll tell you what it is—since it’s too late for you to buy a piano I’ll give you mine.’

‘Thank you,’ said the artist blankly. ‘You will give me yours? I am sure it’s very good in you.’

‘Yes, I’ll give you mine,’ continued Michael, ‘for the inspector of police to play on while his men are digging up your back garden.’ Pitman stared at him in pained amazement.

It's a book about schemes in which no-one seems to have any actual control over anything, it's a book about terrible events that only under a certain light actually occur. It's really good. I got a really nice 1909 edition off Amazon for a low price due to the continued purging of libraries of decent literary content throughout the U.S., a volume that also contains Stevenson and Osbourne's The Ebb Tide.

Twitter Sonnet #1234

Caffeine remembered fondly conjures might.
Tobacco signs inform the passing crowd.
A stack of boxes wait to hold the light.
A slowly gathered flock impressed a cloud.
Suspended flour bakes the oven back.
A washer full of watches tells no time.
The stringless shoes would take no straightened track.
A train began a slowly curving climb.
A hundred words expressed a hundred things.
Explaining hands resort to thumbless nails.
With lightning paint the rusted buggy hangs.
A storm condensed between the metal pails.
Assumptions sharpen sticks and candy teeth.
Corrected boxes fix a vague bequeath.

» Something Like a Deadly Brawl

A diverse group of beautiful women are forced to fight to the death in 1974's Arena. They fight with swords, chains, and even lettuce in this clearly low budget exploitation film. The screenplay is silly and the editing by a young Joe Dante is laughable but there are points in the film's favour including some surprisingly decent cinematography by Joe D'Amato and terrific performances from Pam Grier and Margaret Markov.

Look at this pretty shot of Markov. This is how we first meet her character, a pagan priestess of some kind in Roman Britain. Her name is Bodicia, a name possibly inspired by Boudicca. Roman slavers round up her and some of her followers and then there's a cut to what is presumably Africa but looks like a few yards away, at most, and we see Grier being similarly captured.

They quickly become the clear leaders of the group of women brought as slaves to the arena. Also prominent is a ditzy alcoholic girl named Deirdre who is really funny sometimes. A rivalry emerges between Mamawi, Grier's character, and a Roman slave named Livia (Marie Louise). This leads to an incredibly silly food fight in the kitchen. My favourite thing about it is all the lettuce that's thrown in from offscreen. And of course everyone gets her faced shoved into pie or tomato sauce at some point. Did you know they didn't have tomatoes in Ancient Rome? It's just possible there are one or two other anachronisms in this film.

You can tell there was an attempt to cut before this woman's modern panties became visible but the editor just wasn't up to the task.

Some real tension builds as it seems like the women, who've become friends through their shared misery, will have to kill each other. This ends up getting deflated in an absolutely absurd climax, though. The movie's essentially softcore porn and most of the cast looks great naked. Grier's final gladiator costume is fabulously absurd and emphasises her large breasts appreciably but her performance is so good, especially in the tense moments where it seems like she might have to kill someone, she wouldn't have seemed out of place in a more sincere film on the topic. Arena is available on Amazon Prime.
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