Oh Christ

Faith in Four and One



Season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was juggling quite a few ongoing plots yet still had room for great standalone episodes like "Hush" and "Superstar". Season four had Buffy's new boyfriend, Riley, the U.S. military demon hunting unit called The Initiative, former demon Anya's development as a human and Xander's love interest, a neutered Spike's evolving position among the Scooby Gang, the end of Willow's relationship with Oz and the beginning of her relationship with Tara, and the return of Faith. Plus a few bits about Giles' midlife crisis. It all flows together remarkably well, everything feels organic. And the first season of Angel was running at the same time and the plots of both shows were seamlessly interwoven, particularly when it comes to Faith.

Actually, I felt the conclusion of Faith's story, which season four Buffy and season one Angel essentially present, would have been better dragged out a bit longer. Her character was by far the most interesting thing about season three but when she wakes up from her coma more than halfway through season four there are a lot more irons in the fire. But "Who Are You?", written and directed by Joss Whedon, turns out to be one of the all time great body-swapping episodes for how perfectly it advanced Faith's story. It forces Faith to realise that if she could hit the reset button on all her bad deeds, and be seen as a good Slayer again, she'd actually like her life a whole lot better. Eliza Dushku shows she's better at playing Buffy than Sarah Michelle Gellar is at playing Faith but Gellar still manages to show some subtlety as she digests the fact that someone like Riley (Marc Blucas) is capable of having true affection for someone else, something Faith had lost, well, faith in.



Except she'd seemed to have a genuine, mutually affectionate relationship with the deceased mayor. That's a story that could have been fleshed out further, and maybe it was in the comics. It would be interesting to see her, after her reformation, face the one loving relationship she had during the period when she felt the mission of the Scooby Gang was a lie predicated on what she considered to be the false idea that the lives of strangers were worth saving. Her point of view on this isn't reversed until she goes to rescue the hostages in "What Are You?" It's so credible. I've known people who compulsively purge things and people out of their lives and I wonder sometimes if something could make them see that they tend to throw a few babies out with the bathwater. It might also be a good story for people to-day who are routinely taught by an electronic world that they don't need a long attention span. So often people don't understand their own hearts.



Faith's story really ends in the season one episode of Angel called "Sanctuary" when Angel (David Boreanaz) decides to take her in to rehabilitate her. But the episode becomes much more about the relationship between Angel and Buffy as they pull different aspects of their own experience to argue about why Faith is or isn't worth saving. We get some good stuff about Faith struggling with the weight of her crimes, the seeming impossibility of atoning for what she's done. It's a story that could have been drawn out much longer.



In the middle of all the Faith drama, Buffy also gives us "New Moon Rising", a tour de force episode written by Marti Noxon. Oz (Seth Green) returns to town, apparently having cured his lycanthropy, and his arrival simultaneously makes Riley confront his and the Initiative's bigotry regarding demons and also makes Willow (Alyson Hannigan) realise the nature of her affection for Tara (Amber Benson).



My friend Brian thinks Willow was in fact bisexual and this episode works much better if you assume she is. We as an audience at this point genuinely like both Oz and Tara and Willow in a relationship with either one is an appealing prospect. Sometimes I find Willow/Tara a little too gooey, there's something a little too sweet about all their stuttering and chagrin. I really don't like how the recaps constantly repeat Tara's "I am, you know--yours" line. But Amber Benson's vulnerability in this episode is great as she politely extricates herself from the Scooby meeting when Oz shows up. You can see she clearly thinks she's succeeded in being discreet when in reality it's practically like she's told everyone, "I can't be here if Willow is into someone else."

It kind of makes most of the other characters' slowness to perceive the Willow/Tara relationship a bit implausible, particularly Buffy's. But on the whole, I find the plotline more interesting than I did the last time I watched through the show.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are available on Amazon Prime.
Kyoami Looks Up

As Walls Crumble by the Jungle



At the beginning of the 20th century in Bengal, a family struggles for survival in 1955's Pather Panchali. A great acheivement in cinematography, it's a poignant slice of life, showing daily struggles to illustrate how poverty breeds cruelty.

This is the first film in director Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy and it begins with the birth of young Apu on a simple, mostly roofless, homestead. The family consists of the patriarch, Harihar (Kanu Banerjee); his wife, Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee); their daughter, Durga (Runki Banerjee and Uma Dasgupta); an elderly aunt, Indir Thakrun (Chunibala Devi); and Apu (Subir Banerjee).



Harihar is usually not around, spending most of his time trying to find new ways of making money in the city. Sarbajaya is harsh with her daughter and aunt, both of whom have a tendency to steal from the kitchen or fruit from neighbouring properties. She has to be mindful of every little expense but the movie makes a point of how ephemeral existence is. Particularly in the case of the old aunt, who seems likely to die any day. Is the odd piece of friut here and there really reason enough to throw the old lady out?



But anxiety about money likely leads Sarbajaya to harder decisions than she otherwise would have made.

Young Apu is devoted to his sister and the two roam about the jungle and the fields together, leading to some of the film's most famous imagery.



The music by Ravi Shankar is good, too, and evidently a big influence on The Beatles.

Pather Panchali is available on The Criterion Channel.

Kid

The Negative Space of Paradise



Walking in Imai-cho yesterday afternoon, I ran into two of my favourite students from the nearby school. One of them had a little bag marked "chocolat" but when I asked her what kind of chocolates she had she opened the bag to reveal only four volumes of manga. She was reading 約束のネバーランド, known in English as The Promised Neverland. Later that night, I met some elementary school students at a curry shop who also love the series. Yesterday wasn't the first time I'd heard about it, either. Last year, some students in the art club asked me to draw one of the main characters for them. I ended up watching a few episodes of the anime adaptation on Netflix. It's not bad, and pleasingly twisted.

It's about a group of kids who live in what appears to be a very tidy orphanage, only two of them soon discover that kids who get adopted are actually killed and packaged to be devoured by monsters who dwell in the outside world. I really like the second episode where one of the kids points out how little they know based on the limited information they have. They saw one of their friends, who was supposedly adopted, murdered and her body packed into a car operated by monsters with the assistance of an employee at the orphanage. Is this normal or is it just something that happens at this particular orphanage? Are the kids and adults in this orphanage the only humans in a world full of monsters? Is there any point in trying to escape?



It's nice and sinister and I like how it mirrors the anxieties of the kids watching it. Kids who are used to the very monitored and controlled environment of the elementary schools and junior high schools may feel anxieties about the true nature of the outside world their schoolwork barely leaves them time even to think about. What kind of monsters really wait for them and how normal are they?

There's also a live action movie adaptation I'd like to see. But for now I'm watching the anime on Netflix.

Twitter Sonnet #1458

The silver house was really made of tin.
We voyaged up the wooden hill to work.
Adventures wrote themselves to pay the inn.
The knight remains at home and writes his perk.
In growing plants the walls were triple size.
Along the pier the birds could sell a fish.
Giraffes are havens built for extra ties.
Buffets can bury even Banner's dish.
Ceramic foxes bend around the cake.
The lemon frosting crushed the fire weight.
We swam the seas for sickly pilot's sake.
We know a list of what the orca ate.
The bank of motion pictures broke in beams.
A snowy state was kept in movie dreams.
Dalek Doll

That Old Imperial Magic



A pretty good new Bad Batch last night, "War Mantle", from writer Damani Johnson. Johnson's previous credits mostly include scripts for Major Crimes and Necessary Roughness. The mere fact that he has experience sets him above many other writers for the show, though.



The Batch (Dee Bradley Baker) receive a message from Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) asking them to rescue one of the regular clone soldiers (Dee Bradley Baker). After a nice, credible argument, Hunter decides to deviate from their latest job for Cid and do as Rex requests.



Omega (Michelle Ang) is told to wait on the ship and, thank goodness, she actually listens this time though I found her annoying and extraordinarily whiny in this episode. Which is kind of realistic for a little kid so I'm not sure that's a complaint. Her anxiety when she and Wrecker go to rescue them felt a lot more authentic than when she and Hera commandeered the ship in "Rescue on Ryloth".



The running and gunning through the Imperial base had a real good Star Wars feel to it and the suspense was well earned. That pickup at the end, where the ship had to keep coming back, was terrific. I also liked Hunter using his tracking skills in the forest setting at the beginning of the episode and kind of wished he hadn't been captured at the end, just so we could have a real Rambo homage, with Hunter using guerrilla tactics to take out the proto-stormtroopers one by one.



Another notable aspect of the episode is that it features John Williams music, for the first time in what feels like quite a while. I don't understand why more people haven't commented on the near complete lack of the familiar John Williams themes from The Mandalorian, even in cases where it seems like Williams' music obviously should have been used, like the second season finale. It feels more like a pay dispute than a creative choice.

Incidentally, on that topic, I've been thinking about Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit regarding Disney+ and Black Widow. It looks like more actors and actresses might be following suit, including Emma Stone with Cruella. I think Johansson is going to lose this case. She's fighting a tide too strong, the industry is permanently changing. If she does win, I think Disney will simply spell things out more clearly in contracts going forward and only employ actors willing to sign them, even if that means employing fewer big stars. There's too much profit at stake. Slowly, the new pantheon of movie stars will become those who were willing to go along with it. We'll have a new reality where stars make only 20 million dollars instead of 40 or 50 million. Terrifying, I know.

The Bad Batch is available on Disney+.
Groucho

Like Rats to a Mall



Since Kevin Smith has unexpectedly become a hot topic lately, I decided to go back and watch one of his classics. 1995's Mallrats was usually considered the weakest of Smith's first four films, and I recognise it's not his best, but it's the one I tended to watch most often. I guess because it's his most amoral film without being quite as cartoonish as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Mallrats still had some of the gritty, '90s independent film vibe from Clerks, but there's less of the young man's urgency to Say Something. Clerks may be the better film, but Mallrats is more companionable. And, of course, now, just about any film from a '90s auteur is a breath of fresh air, coming from what turned out to be a limited period when it wasn't hip to be square.

I remember from listening to the commentary track years ago that part of the original pitch for the movie was something like "Porky's in a mall". To that end, there was some effort to have gratuitous nudity, but in the end all we have is a very brief shot of Joey Lauren Adams' breasts and Priscilla Barnes as the topless fortune teller.



Which certainly is a memorable scene. My favourite line from the scene is when Jeremy London tries to politely pretend that he can't see her third nipple. I like it despite the fact that London, ostensibly the lead character, gives by far the weakest performance in the film, a shrill, one note performance worthy of a SyFy original movie. The star is really Jason Lee as Brodie.



It's no wonder Smith can take it in stride now that half of YouTube is ranting about how he ruined He-Man. Characters like Brodie or Randal from Clerks are basically loving tributes to that kind of grand-standing nerd, who may have seemed more innocuous in the days before the internet, or maybe just the days before everything had to have dire political connotations. Brodie ranting about kids getting stuck in escalators has about the same tone as Clownfish TV. Smith, in his many speaking gigs, has never come off that way himself, and I wonder if it's his Catholic upbringing that makes him love the sinner so much but not the sin.



Brodie is much more charismatic than Randal. Jason Lee is nerdy but also chiselled, barely hiding a lean body gained from a professional skateboarding career. His line delivery takes a variety of tones and shades while also establishing Brodie as a character who will argue to his dying day that Superman would blow a load through Lois like a shotgun. In my turn, I would argue to my dying day that Ryan Reynolds completely ripped off Jason Lee's shtick.



I love Joey Lauren Adams trying on thongs right by the rack and Renee Humphrey's promiscuous-for-science 15 year-old is delightfully wrong but Smith was never good at writing female characters. The girlfriends of the leads are usually saintly--the plot typically involves the guy figuring out he's a dope for not agreeing with everything she says. Even when Smith tried to centre a movie on a female character in Dogma, she just fades into the background behind a mob of more interesting supporting characters. So it's really no surprise Teela didn't turn out so great in his Masters of the Universe.

You know, it sure feels weird talking about the relative virtues of Mallrats and Masters of the Universe.



I did think it was kind of genius having Jason Mewes play Stinkor in Masters of the Universe. But, of course, he will always be Jay.

This was a point where Mallrats benefited from only having Clerks before it. Jay and Silent Bob weren't quite as goofy as they are to-day. They were always dopes but they worked better when Jay was just slightly scary, too. In Clerks, there's always a slight hint that Jay could fly off the handle and do some real damage. There's a little bit of that leftover in Mallrats.



And I haven't even mentioned Michael Rooker, Ben Affleck, Shannon Doherty, Claire Forlani, or Ethan Suplee. Or Stan Lee. There sure is a lot going on in this movie. All under one roof, too. That's another reason it's a favourite for me. I love malls.



The film takes place in New Jersey but the interiors were shot in Eden Prairie Center in Minnesota. It's one of those malls where you can actually roam around inside using Google Maps streetview. It looks like it's undergone some substantial remodels but the Sbarro is still there, 26 years later.



Mallrats is available on Amazon Prime.
Duck Row

Time of the Goonies



I didn't choose to watch 1985's The Goonies to honour the recently deceased Richard Donner. Like many Steven Spielberg produced movies of the '80s, it was really co-directed by Spielberg (Sean Astin apparently confirms this as regards The Goonies in his autobiography). It's hard to believe Mr. Schmaltzy, Squeaky Clean Spielberg of to-day ever made anything this raunchy. But it was the '80s, when filmmakers were interested in depicting kids the way kids actually are, crude sex jokes and all. It's a fun adventure film but among the weakest of Spielberg's '80s output. Then again, being among the weakest of Spielberg's '80s films is kind of like being one of the smallest titans.

I really don't think I'd seen the movie since the '80s. When I saw the first season of Stranger Things a few years ago, I made a mental note to go back and watch Goonies, but I didn't find that mental note until last night while perusing Netflix. I was recommending movies to be shown in class at the junior high school where I work in Nara Prefecture, Japan, and I was coming up with a list last night. I was going to include Goonies but now I realise I can't. The jokes about suicide and drugs would disqualify it. I'm astonished to find the film is still rated G on Netflix.



All the fat jokes about Chunk (Jeff Cohen) would seem like they'd make the movie deeply problematic in to-day's political climate in the West. It's some of the best stuff in the movie, though, and Jeff Cohen's comedic timing is razor sharp. I feel like Spielberg or Donner had him watch a bunch of Abbott and Costello.



Sean Astin is pretty good, too. That inhaler of his works like Sherlock Holmes' pipe or Columbo's cigar. It adds some kind of mystery to his sincere, straight-forward delivery. The movie has a real heartbeat in his conceptualisation of the group as "Goonies" and his building reverence for One-Eyed Willy. The climax has a pretty amazing, albeit historically inaccurate, pirate ship but it's Sean Astin that really sells it.



A wheel on a ship from 1635?

I love the gang of hoodlums chasing the kids, too, they have a real comic book vibe to them. I like Andy (Kerri Green) and her short tennis skirt she wears for the whole movie but they ought to have gone all the way making her Sean Astin's love interest instead of defaulting her with Josh Brolin.

The Goonies is available on Netflix.

I think I only saw it once or twice when I was a kid. I have stronger memories of playing the second Nintendo game over and over, though it bore pretty much no resemblance to the film.

One Side

Stress and the Dam



Growing crops in a desert is hard enough before some bastard cuts off the water supply. This is the situation in 1964's Dry Summer(Susuz Yaz). When a cartoonishly selfish man decides all the water belongs to him because the well's on his property no-one else can irrigate their fields without his permission in this fascinating melodrama.

Osman (Erol Taş) builds a dam to stop the water flowing off his property. His younger brother, Hasan (Ulvi Dogan), objects but can't overrule his elder.



Meanwhile, Hasan routinely steals away to make time with the lovely Bahar (Hülya Koçyiğit), a 19 year old daughter of a nearby widow. Osman pushes Hasan into marrying Bahar sooner than either really feels comfortable with and it becomes clear Osman has his own reasons for wanting Bahar around the house, cooking and doing other chores.



When Hasan goes to prison for a crime Osman committed, you start to wonder how long everyone is going to let Osman keep getting away with this shit. But legal and cultural obstacles present themselves. Once Bahar finds herself living alone with the disgusting tyrant, it seems like it's only a matter of time before he forces himself on her. But she proves to have plenty of fight in her. Still, the conflict mostly stays under the surface as both sides get in their underhanded blows--one day Bahar destroys the dam, one day Osman forces her to climb a ladder so he can look up her skirt.



The suspense builds nicely and director Metin Erksan does a good job coming up with shots that convey the emotional states of the characters, from sweaty closeups to dizzy angles.

Dry Summer is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1457

With candid lines we drew misfortune's face.
The speaking crowd adopts a lingual dog.
As fighter jets, the pigeons knew a grace.
The bigger birds could swallow heaps of fog.
A drop of rain replaced a cloud at night.
With lousy aim, cicadas scream and sleep.
The bottled coffee waits beside the light.
The swimmers couldn't swim the java deep.
The dusty river carries dogs and chicks.
The table's set with heated steel and rust.
Mistaken streets would foster strings and bricks.
With stacks of books the doctor garners trust.
The fisher flexed her wings to cool the air.
The leaves were flying up the granite stair.
Grave Robber Pipboy

Tread Lightly in Potters Bluff



It has reanimated corpses, it has a small New England town with residents of suspicious biology, but 1981's Dead & Buried isn't based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, though that venerable author's influence is certainly present. It's not a landmark of horror or anything but the film has some decent qualities, not the least of which is effects work by Stan Winston.



Winston really shines in a scene where an intriguing, eccentric mortician named Dobbs (Jack Albertson) reconstructs a beautiful hitchhiker called Chance (Lisa Marie). He removes the mutilated flesh from her face and starts almost from scratch.

She's only the latest in a string of murders being investigated by the local sheriff (James Farentino) who wonders with exasperation how this could be happening in a town the size of "a postage stamp".



We know right from the first scene that it's a big group of various townspeople committing the crime. The first scene sets up the story as though it's going to be about the Gaze--a professional photographer (Christopher Allport) is getting photos on the beach when suddenly he finds his camera trained on a pretty woman's feet.



She (Lisa Blount) coyly asks if she could be a model and he starts taking glamour shots of her. She takes off her top and invites him to have sex with her when suddenly she takes his camera and starts photographing him while a mob of townsfolk start beating him to a pulp before setting him on fire.



The dead come back but the motives for killing them in the first place are never made entirely clear, leaving us to extrapolate from the subtext that it's about asserting absolute control over human life. It seems dead people are much easier to control and, once they're fixed up, maintain their looks longer. There's a moment in the climax that kind of reminded me of Vertigo, where a man finds the woman he loves was essentially created by another man.

It's not a bad movie. Slightly messy. I also love the grimy, greenish hospital interiors.



And the little hole in the wall cafe where the undead mob cool their heels.



Dead & Buried is available on Amazon Prime.
Death Chess

The Place of Gold



Death is pure, it removes the complexities and ambiguities of life like nothing else can, and so perhaps any pursuit of purity is like a pursuit of death or destruction. It was certainly the case for the young man depicted in Enjo (炎上, "Conflagration"), a 1958 film by Kon Ichikawa based on a book by Yukio Mishima. That book, in turn, was based on a real life event, the 1950 burning of Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, the "Golden Pavilion", so named for the gold leaf that covers its exterior. The temple that had stood for centuries undisturbed had survived World War II only to be destroyed by arson. The arsonist was a 22 year old novice monk who attempted suicide after the burning. He survived and went to prison--he was released due to his mental illnesses, persecution complex and schizophrenia. To his story, Mishima added his own aesthetic philosophy about sex and beauty. Ichikawa made a film lighter on sex but with a very simple narrative and a clear psychological framework.

Mishima changed the novice monk's name to Goichi (Raizo Ichikawa VIII) and we meet him in Ichikawa's film just as he's arriving at the temple. The abbot, played by Ganjiro Nakamura II, hastily applies makeup he keeps hidden in a drawer before Goichi arrives. Later we learn the abbot regularly goes into town to visit a favourite geisha.



Again and again, we're shown the pieces of impurity and hypocrisy that Goichi can't deal with. He obsesses over a memory of catching his mother having sex with someone who's not his father--and his father calmly leading the boy away from the scene. When a woman pregnant with an American soldier's child tries to enter Kinkaku-ji, Goichi violently prevents her from violating the place with her presence.



He befriends a crippled man played by Tatsuya Nakadai and, despite his scruples, watches as Nakadai uses his injury to manipulate women into sleeping with him.

The cause and effect between Goichi and his actions are crystal clear, clear enough that Ichikawa avoids any explanations at the end and simply lets events unfold.



It's not so much a black and white movie as it is a black and murky green movie. This seems to be normal for Ichikawa's films before he switched to colour. In this case, it helps convey the narrow psychological space of Goichi's mind.

Enjo is available on The Criterion Channel under the title of Conflagration. Also available on The Criterion Channel is Mishima, a movie directed by Paul Schrader about the author's life--I reviewed that movie back in 2013 and was very impressed.

So, on Friday last week, I was pleased to have the opportunity to visit Kinkaku-ji with my friend and her boss.



Reconstruction was finished in 1955 and the gold leaf covering it, I hear, is much denser than the original. It's beautiful in any case, and just as beautiful are the surrounding gardens, carefully maintained to aesthetically complement the structure.



The trees look like clouds, giving the impression of being in the sky.



Fittingly, a golden phoenix sits atop the building.

Good Knight

Mistresses of the Universe



Who'd have guessed a new He-Man series would be the most controversial show of the summer? If you google it, you see new articles in Forbes and Variety. YouTube is filled with reaction videos--mostly angry reaction videos. Why? Why does anyone care? This isn't the first time we've had a reboot of the 1983 series. There was one in 2002, it lasted for two seasons. No-one was particularly interested. You certainly didn't hear about it in Variety. The new series, which debuted on Netflix on Friday, is created and produced by Kevin Smith. That's something. But how many people saw or even talked about Kevin Smith's latest movie, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot?

Interest for the series really began with a trailer:



That's a dynamite trailer. It's the earnest kitsch of it, it's the attitude, it's, above all, the editing. A lot of people saw something else in it, too. An antidote to the endless string of subverted expectations of gender norms that have become, ironically, all too expected. It hasn't been long since Netflix was finally forced to end their series about a new, broad-shouldered She-Ra. Now here was Masters of the Universe: Revelation, a new series that said it was okay to indulge in a fantasy about powerful, muscular men saving the day with sexy, beautiful women. It promised to be a breath of fresh air after we've gotten used to entertainment media's unsubtle attempt at social engineering over the past five years. That's what it seemed like.



Then rumours started swirling that this was all a "bait and switch", that the show was actually going to be centred on Teela, a female supporting character from the original series, and that He-Man would be somehow sidelined. Smith specifically denied this was the case. He lied. And then he lied about lying. Which, of course, added fuel to the fire.

I'm actually not angry about Smith lying. He was in a tough spot. He had a big twist at the end of his first episode and suddenly everyone already knew about it weeks in advance. What could he do? He has a reputation for being accessible to fans. Suddenly ignoring everyone would be suspicious. I would have advised him to choose his words more carefully--don't acknowledge that people have accurately predicted the thing but don't deny it either. You don't want to spoil it for people who genuinely want to be surprised, but you don't want to antagonise people who like to try to predict these things, either. Put your ego aside and admit they figured something out. Don't insult a bunch of strangers on the internet. Because now the show has a 26% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.



Sure, it could be worse. It could be series 12 of Doctor Who (now at 16%). And maybe the negative reactions are actually driving more people to check the show out.

I felt like I had two horses in the race. I watched He-Man when I was little and I'm a fan of Kevin Smith, particularly his early movies from the '90s. So I had to see the thing for myself.



In some ways, I was very pleasantly surprised, particularly by the first episode, the only one solely written by Smith. It shows a strength for crafting suspense I wouldn't have counted among Smith's talents. Most of the episode switches back and forth between two developing scenes--Castle Grayskull under attack by Skeletor's forces and a party at the palace where all the heroes are blissfully unaware of what's occurring. Every cut back and forth changes our understanding of what's happening in each place and the sense of threat is built incrementally. It's really well done.



There are fireworks at the party and one of the corny jokes in the opening involves Cringer cowering under the table at the sound of the fireworks. It occurred to me the phenomenon of pets being terrified of fireworks has been a meme lately on Facebook and elsewhere which made me wonder if the marketing team for a show like this deliberately seeds memes out to the internet to help a show look relevant.

Many of the jokes in the first episode are playful in the manner of jokes of someone who fancies himself a wordsmith--when Orko traps Cringer in a bubble, he desperately asks if anyone has the power to save him. Prince Adam makes a dramatic appearance, popping the bubble with a pin, and holding it aloft he coyly says, "I have the power!"



YouTuber Grace Randalph feels Prince Adam might be somehow LGBTQ. It's possible--He-Man's alter-ego is now conspicuously the smallest man on the show--even smaller than Teela, who shows she can easily overpower him. Adam is much smaller and He-Man is much bulkier so the contrast lends some credence to the effectiveness of his secret identity.

I went back and watched some episodes of the original series (they're all available for free on YouTube through the official Masters of the Universe channel) and Teela does get on Adam's case for being lazy and unfit for battle. But this clearly seems to be part of Adam's act in the old show. In the new show, he clearly could never hold his own against Teela.



The first episode ends with Skeletor and Adam apparently dying and, just as Smith said it wouldn't be, the show thereafter becomes about Teela and He-Man only appears in a few flashbacks. Smith's bad PR instincts and woke influences aside, I actually really like the idea of apparently killing off He-Man in the first episode. I'd even be up for having Teela as the main character if it were done a little differently.



In the Variety interview, Smith says he kind of "hate-watched" He-Man as a teenager, that he considered it a show for "babies" because it was about people with swords who never stabbed each other and just did somersaults. And he's right. I'm younger than Smith so I was a baby when I watched He-Man--well, I watched until I was six or seven years old, then I distinctly remember feeling like I was too old for it. My friends and I had the same complaints Smith had--all these people with swords and they never used them, and it was silly that no-one ever died. Of course, the makers of He-Man had their hands tied by studio and network mandates about the amount and kinds of violence you could have in a kids show in the '70s and '80s, much as shows to-day are forced to adhere to diversity quotas and gender deconstruction. It's always something. By the late 1980s, I was focused more on Ghostbusters, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Splash, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I don't think I'd watched the show at all since 1985 until this past week. I couldn't remember a single plotline.



It's much better written than I was expecting, and no surprise, I guess--J. Michael Straczynski and Paul Dini both worked on the show. I watched a couple Paul Dini episodes, "The Shaping Staff" and "Teela's Quest". A show for little kids, yes, but decent pulp plots. And Teela did have a big role in the old show, as Smith claims, though it's really dishonest of him to claim that the sidelining of He-Man was ever on the level he has it.

I distinctly remember Teela and Sorceress being my favourite characters. I had all the action figures and Sorceress in particular always had a prominent role in my playtime. I liked beautiful women long before hit puberty--I also liked The Last Unicorn and Splash. I watched She-Ra, too, but I don't remember it as well and I think it didn't have two seasons out by the time I'd lost interest in that universe. Even after I lost interest in He-Man, I'd still include Sorceress in the adventures I'd come up with for my toys. I had whole plots involving the Ghostbusters and the Ninja Turtles. I had the Ghostbusters' firehouse playset and Castle Grayskull and I remember both of them factoring into stories, mostly starring the Ninja Turtles.



Sorceress really gets a bad deal on Kevin Smith's new series. There's a time jump after He-Man "dies" and Sorceress is the only character who shows any significant signs of aging. Then she loses her powers and costume and she's sidelined for most of the series. After she'd looked so cool in the trailer.

In the first episode, Teela is promoted to being Man at Arms and I thought it strange no-one even asked, "Why not Woman at Arms?" In addition to making women look more masculine, there also seems to be a push to remove gendered titles or give male gendered titles to women. I thought it was strange, too, on The Magicians when Margot constantly proclaimed herself King and no-one said, "Why not Queen?" It seems like the powers-that-be decided all traditional markers of femininity are in some way weak. Which is a pity for people like me who feel they help conjure a sense of the unique beauty and grace possessed by women.



The first episode on Smith's series ends with Teela, enraged at learning He-Man's secret identity, renouncing her family and allegiance to the kingdom in one of the most criticised scenes of the new series. Her reaction does seem extreme and without adequate motivation, there primarily for the plot to happen. And in the next episode, she has short hair, broader shoulders, pants, and a breastplate that hides her breasts.



This is definitely working against the grain of the original series, which was, after all, a Frank Frazetta knock-off, coming out the same year as Fire and Ice and a year after Conan the Barbarian. Her relationship with a black female sidekick called Andra has been called "queer-baiting" because they seem like they're probably a couple but it's never directly acknowledged or explored. In fact, Andra works out to be a pretty cliche, wise-cracking, token black sidekick. Though it occurs to me Teela's butch makeover and her irrational self-exile in the first episode can be rationalised. He-Man and Teela in the old series would be taken as future lovers by most viewers--especially when one considers the fact of them even walking around together is a big step for the show's prepubescent target audience. If you read Teela as having feelings she never acknowledged for Adam and/or He-Man, then the fact that she acts in an extravagantly irrational manner makes sense, as does her apparent identity crisis related to her gender. This may not be what Smith intended--and it's probably politically incorrect--but it's more psychologically satisfying than any of the show's attempts at deconstructionist character development. Except I liked the scene where Cringer tells Teela he understands her fear because he's known for being a coward.

Teela's fear comes up again in an episode where she has to fight a demoniac version of He-Man. She claims that the fear is related to her own inner power she's afraid of acknowledging, which I think is setting up her becoming the new Sorceress. As I was reminded of by the "Teela's Quest" episode, Sorceress is Teela's mother and Teela is heir (dare I say heiress?) to Sorceress' power.

The fifth of the five episodes that have been released so far do give me the impression that Kevin Smith hates He-Man. He really kicks the fans in the groin in that episode.

Character motivations on the show are sometimes weird and without any substantial logic throughout the series. But there's enough food for thought on and about the show I'll probably check out part two when it comes out.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation is available on Netflix.

Twitter Sonnet #1456

The blistered foot could carry talks for days.
We wonder well if weather gear was free.
The horses waited, black. two mares and grey.
We settled 'cross an oil drum of tea.
They bought a donkey cheap and kept a pig.
Between the dusty mountains dinner fell.
The seconds dripped and sealed the sunken brig.
The morning school arose at crack of bell.
The extra flavour chipped the temple tooth.
The music matched the ice to make the cream.
A hundred yen could purchase tea of truth.
We added scores to show the strongest team.
The man was never heaped with heavy swords.
Computers never sucked the life from cords.