Strange Shame

Owboy Nobop

I finally finished watching the live action Cowboy Bebop last night. I guess you don't need to me to tell you it's not very good. Everyone's saying it now, in a heart-warming union of normally polarised political camps. The consensus seems even greater than the one for the nigh-universally disliked Thirteenth Doctor era of Doctor Who. Even Screen Rant is talking shit about it, which means they think it's very safe to do so. We can all come together in our disappointment.

A lot of people start by talking about how "cringey" Ed is, though Ed doesn't appear until the last scene of the last episode. Played by non-binary actor Eden Perkins, who, surprisingly, still doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, they come off sort of like a zany '90s Jim Carrey knock-off. Maybe Yahoo Serious. Yeah, they're pretty annoying but it's hard to imagine how else a faithful, live action version of Ed could behave.

A lot of the problems with the show stem from an attempt to apply cartoon logic to live action. The final episode recreates the cathedral action sequence from the anime where Spike falls through the stained glass window, about three storeys up. The anime cuts to him recovering in very cartoonish, full body bandages, with Faye sitting nearby, a shot that plays with Faye's association with bondage as well as the show's cartoon nature. In the live action version, Spike is simply walking normally along the wharf with a barely perceptible limp. It was kind of acceptable in the anime because the cartoon logic is acknowledged and played with--in the live action version, it just seems dumb.

The show goes out of the way to insist it's not kink-shaming, featuring a few scenes of characters literally engaged in bondage. But I guess the writers feel you have to make a very clear distinction between bondage implemented for sexual pleasure and bondage the occurs as part of a fantasy series' plot. This is what happens when you have writers who categorically don't understand fantasy.

Another recurrent problem is the show's diminishing of heterosexual male characters, particularly Spike (John Cho). His skill as a martial artist was a defining part of his character in the anime--in the live action version, he seems to be just average, except in one scene in the penultimate episode where he takes out a whole building of gangsters. Clearly meant to be as impressive as the hallway scene in Oldboy or the one on Daredevil, it suffers again from slowly executed choreography. Spike's face is kept in shadow for much of it so it seems even John Cho's stunt double is a slow-poke. It was particularly evident after watching Shang-Chi.

The sexual chemistry between Spike and Faye (Daniella Pineda) is nervously avoided by making the two of them pals who gab about loofahs. Faye has a one night stand with a woman, a sexy mechanic with pretty much no personality otherwise, who gives Faye her first orgasm. It's all done purely for titillation, which I'd normally be all in favour of except, again, it makes Spike look like chopped liver. Spike can't seem to fight any of his own battles, either, and fights he won on the anime are almost invariably now fights where he's saved by someone, usually Faye or Jet. This leads up to an intensely stupid climax in which the final nail is put in the coffin of Julia's character, or any chance that she'll be as intriguing as her anime counterpart.

For some reason, several stories have been repurposed to be about young women breaking free of their domineering or manipulative mothers. The eco-terrorist episode about the Ma Barker type with three sons is now about a Ma Barker type with two sons and a daughter who finally musters her courage and stands up to the old woman. Faye's con-man love interest, Whitney Haggis Matsumoto, from the anime becomes an older woman in live action who had posed as Faye's mother. They must put aside their differences and work together for one episode in which, at least in spirit, Faye finds she's an apple that hasn't fallen too far from the old con woman tree. It's mildly nice but tonally way out of place.

Well, the turnaround on reboots these days is like two or three years. Maybe next time the property will be exploited by people with talent.

Twitter Sonnet #1496

A challenge tilts the wind beyond the mill.
And here a stalwart crow engaged to stand.
The armour rusts despite an iron will.
He cocked his hat to stir the heartless band.
The scattered snow was like an army lost.
The snakes of smoke adorned the frosty ridge.
Behind the fighter's back he weighed the cost.
A gleaming knight defends a fateful bridge.
The steps were shifting fast beneath her feet.
The reeds were singing songs of names and heads.
Another figure took the vaunted seat.
So feeble dreams defend a score of beds.
We read of ancient fish on glowing books.
And slowly put our mouths to wire hooks.
So Small a Thing

Put Ten Rings On It

2021's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is easily the best MCU movie since Thor: Ragnarok and it's entirely because of the action sequences. Everything else about the film is pretty run of the mill but the fight choreography is like a real wuxia film.

The performances aren't bad. As usual, there are a few big names in supporting roles, in this case the standout is Tony Leung as Shang-Chi's father. He's genuinely cool and charismatic, making up for the fact that his motives are often muddled in the screenplay. One minute he's trying to protect his family, the next moment he's willing to sacrifice them all. He believes in harsh discipline for his kids, something that obviously benefited Shang-Chi.

Simu Liu as Shang-Chi gives a decent enough performance, though the screenplay doesn't give him much personality. He's a good guy trying to figure out what's happening and that's about it. But Liu is obviously a truly skilled martial artist, which is easily apparent in the first great action sequence, a fight on a bus in San Francisco.

San Francisco remains the best city in the U.S. for car chases. Shang-Chi follows in the footsteps of Bullitt--those crazy downhill streets still add instant magic. Ang Lee knew that when he made Hulk.

Michelle Yeoh is kind of wasted later in the film as a leader of some villagers in a secret magical land. But that secret magical land is is really pretty, featuring stylised lions and dragons that look like they jumped out of an ancient Chinese tapestry.

As usual, the cgi has a cheap, sweat shop quality, but the designs are almost good enough to overcome it.

Awkwafina is mostly pretty annoying as Shang-Chi's sidekick, Katy. In a few moments, her husky voice reminded me of Margot Kidder, especially in a scene where Shang-Chi is trying to rescue her during a fight on some construction scaffolding. But once again, an MCU screenplay blushes and refrains from exploring romantic chemistry between its leads. Instead, she gets a lot of the increasingly monotonous "normal folk" gags that generally encumber MCU movies, visually reflected by her ugly pants and fanny pack.

It would've helped a lot if she'd been gorgeous, I have to say. If you're not going to put any effort into the dialogue, you can make some amends by giving us a pretty face to look at.

Ben Kingsley makes a mildly amusing appearance, reprising his role as the false Mandarin from Iron Man 3. It would've been nice if they'd found more for him to do but by the climax he's just another bystander.

So, yeah, a mostly standard Marvel package except unexpectedly kick ass ass kicking. Shang-Chi is available on Disney+.
Dim Setsuled

Thank Birds

I hope everyone back in the U.S. had a good Thanksgiving. Here in Japan, there's Labour Thanksgiving Day, which was created after World War II to replace the old harvest festival of Niiname-sai. It's on November 23 so it was on Tuesday this year. That doesn't stop the shops around here from having Black Friday.

I came up with a little power point to tell classes of second year junior high school students about Thanksgiving. I also made some illustrations for it. See if you can answer this question:

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    "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" - Bob Dylan
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Bad Luck Bosch

The Reeve can Play at That Game

"The Reeve's Tale" isn't as original as "The Miller's Tale" and arguably not as raunchy. The Reeve, who happens to also be a carpenter, gets revenge on the Miller for his tale about a cuckolded carpenter by telling one about a miller cuckolded even worse. It's not clear whether he interprets the Miller's Tale as a deliberate insult but his own tale is so full of gratuitous spite it's funny. The Miller's carpenter is a jealous idiot, the Reeve's miller is a jealous idiot and a malicious thief. When he skims grain off a couple young scholars, their revenge is to ravage both his wife and his virgin daughter.

The miller's wife goes to the wrong bed because one of the scholars, John, moves the cradle from the foot of her bed to the foot of his. According to Wikipedia, there's some debate about whether the other scholar, Aleyn, rapes the daughter or if they have consensual sex. Considering he jumps her before she knows what's happening, I'd call it rape, albeit a rape she ends up enjoying. Which is the sort of thing that only happens in porn usually. In this case, it fits perfectly with the Reeve's thoroughly malicious narrative take-down.

"The Miller's Tale" was intended to "quite" the Knight's, you could look at it as a kind of revenge. The revenge of the average, uneducated man against the refinement of a higher class. The Reeve may have had the same thought and gives this little monologue to his miller when he plots to steal grain from the scholars:

This miller smyled of hir nycetee,
And thoghte, ‘al this nis doon but for a wyle;
They wene that no man may hem bigyle;
But, by my thrift, yet shal I blere hir yë
For al the sleighte in hir philosophye.
The more queynte crekes that they make,
The more wol I stele whan I take.
In stede of flour, yet wol I yeve hem bren.
“The gretteste clerkes been noght the wysest men,”
As whylom to the wolf thus spak the mare;
Of al hir art I counte noght a tare.’

The Reeve, as a serf but also an official who serves to administrate a lord's lands, is both lower class enough to join the fray and upper class enough to do it not quite so deftly, or with as much good humour.
The Singing Kerouac

After the World and the War

A good bunch of guys come back from World War II and have trouble adjusting to civilian life in 1946's Till the End of Time. This drama from Edward Dmytryk is pretty straight forward, seeking to address common psychological and social issues faced by veterans. It succeeds decently enough at that but there's also an intriguing, understated spookiness about the relationship between leads Dorothy McGuire and Guy Madison.

The film starts with a lot of veterans disembarking at San Diego, getting health checks before having interviews about insurance and pension and whatnot. The film cuts to different soldiers as they discuss future plans, most of them tellingly not having any clear idea of what they'll be doing now. Most have vague ideas of taking good positions in high paying jobs.

The standout is Robert Mitchum as a vet with a silver plate in his head which, he jokes, he figures he could pawn for an easy dime one day. But the movie doesn't follow him, instead choosing the handsome but blander Guy Madison.

Before the war, he evidently had the nicest, most normal life a 1940s American guy could have. Loving parents, a good high school experience behind him, and a load of friends. When he gets home the house is surprisingly empty, presenting an intriguing little puzzle as he wanders about. It's a little way Dmytryk establishes the feeling of being slightly out of step--the parents simply happen to be out. So Cliff (Madison) heads off to the local jukebox joint to catch up with the old gang. There he finds the sweet and brooding Dorothy McGuire as Pat.

As their relationship progresses over the film, Pat's sorrow over the death of her husband, who was a fighter pilot, dovetails with Cliff's post-war inertia.

The movie follows a pretty predictable pattern as Cliff and Pat yell at each other now and then and then apologise a scene or two later. McGuire's a lot better than Madison but Madison's simplicity comes across as an honest lack of smarts. It seems unfair for him to have to rethink his whole life.

Robert Mitchum does come back, first having stricken it rich, then having lost everything, of course. There's an amusing scene where he shocks Cliff's mother with some light banter about gambling and girls. There's also a nice brawl at the end.

Till the End of the World is available on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1495

The where the running script reverts we ran.
To save a tree, we made another plant.
Entire beans could fill a single can.
A team of bees could cheer a single ant.
The copied picture cut the centre point.
To pivot off the person, paint was scraped.
The working gel relaxed the lousy join.
It's good to know the better show was taped.
The greener grass was grey in olden times.
Atop the horse we plant a hollow man.
We grow a crop of taters, oats, and lime.
And all you need's some corn to grease the pan.
The steady chance was but a leaky drain.
The talking dog was but a heavy rain.
Dalek Doll

No Cause for Weeping

Wow, hey, the new Doctor Who episode wasn't bad. I know I kind of predicted it last week when I noted Chris Chibnall had a co-writer for it but it's still pretty surprising.

The co-writer is Maxine Alderton who also wrote "The Haunting of Villa Diodati", another one of the better episodes of the Thirteenth Doctor run. I'd say "Village of the Angels" is stronger, especially if you ignore the Bel and Vinder scenes, which I suspect were the bulk of Chibnall's contribution. I suspect this script was originally written as a standalone story before it was decided to make the whole season a connected narrative.

There were so many refreshing things about the episode. A character, Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally), is introduced who's actually kind of interesting and is allowed to develop gradually over the episode. Yaz (Mandip Gill) and Dan (John Bishop) actually spend more than two seconds together, making it believable that they're comrades. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) gets a few funny things to say and she's shown coming up with decent strategy.

It's not perfect. The rapid cutting on the moving angel just makes it seem kind of pointless that we don't see them in real motion. Director Jamie Magnus Stone still does too many closeups. The child actor playing Peggy seems completely disengaged. When she's not sad that her grandparents died, it feels more cheap than creepy or a sobering comment on how bad the grandparents were. I noticed Mandip Gill was tearing up and I wondered if that wasn't in the script, like maybe Gill also felt the moment was inappropriately psychopathic.

All in all, this episode was definitely the high point of the season. I even like the brief little foray into Weeping Angel politics. Seeing this decent episode made the deficiencies of the other episodes this season even clearer. I really don't think Chibnall's trying anymore.

Doctor Who is available on the BBC's iPlayer.
Space Smoke

Keepin' On Bebopin'

I'm four episodes in now on the live action Cowboy Bebop and I've just started to realise how much I wanted it to be a good show. I still want it to be good, I fully intend to finish it. I keep focusing on the things that work--the sets, the ships, most of the costumes. Daniella Pineda is actually really good despite her ill-advised video mocking the fans. She has excellent comedic timing. And, you know what, she does show a lot of skin.

I think the awkward truth that no-one can say out loud is that she can't wear Faye's original costume because she's an endomorph. Faye's original costume would simply look really bad on her. If she were Uma Thurman or Bai Ling, it would've looked great. If I were casting the show, I would've looked for an ectomorphic comedienne from Singapore, then it would also match the anime Faye's ethnicity. But, on the other hand, Pineda's sense of timing is great so maybe it's worth changing the costume and her character.

Adrienne Barbeau as the eco-terrorist leader Maria Murdock was perfect casting. And I applaud her for taking such an unflattering role. I didn't like how the poison gas turns people into trees instead of monkeys, though. The monkey thing wasn't just hazardous for your health, it was embarrassing. I suspect that the idea of any physical attribute being embarrassing is too politically incorrect now, though.

This show is definitely diminished by some ideological leanings. The cops, the ISSP, who were corrupt in the original anime, are now ridiculous caricatures, right out of a "defund the police" wet dream. But the worst flaws in the show's writing aren't necessarily political.

The writers don't understand cool. Or they suspect cool is fascist. Spike in the anime was cool. Like Steve McQueen or Kowalski in Vanishing Point or Cary Grant in Notorious. A man of few words, seemingly relaxed, often when things around him are in turmoil. Live action Spike cracks stupid Revenge of the Nerds jokes, cackling with Jet about some Cosmonaut that Faye reminds them of. He makes you want to beat him up and take his lunch money.

My suspicion that they've simply removed his expertise in martial arts seems to have been accurate so far. It's kind of sad. It's like, the writers couldn't bring themselves to include it because they just couldn't muster that much faith in their own fantasy. Vicious (Alex Hassell) suffers from a similar problem. The cold badass from the anime is now a man who pathetically whines to Julia about how he is a real man. And Julia (Elena Satine) is petty and manipulative. Which is especially disappointing because Elena Satine is really beautiful in the role.

Spike has a scene with Ana--who's so different from the anime she's basically a whole new character--where he explains to her he can't tell Jet about his syndicate past because he's afraid Jet won't understand. And, he tells Ana, that would break the both of them. Ugh. This is like Chris Chibnall territory--a character actually explaining his motivation. It's also a shit motivation--and definitely not cool. Spike didn't tell Jet about it in the anime because he didn't need to and dredging up the past was a painful prospect in itself. That was clear without Spike ever once having to say it.

The head writer on this live action Cowboy Bebop is Christopher Yost. The good press for Yost touts him as the writer of Thor: Ragnarok and The Mandalorian. He was a writer, of three writers, on Thor: Ragnarok, and he also worked on the infamous Thor: Dark World with two other writers. He co-wrote one episode of The Mandalorian, a teleplay I hated, for an episode I only liked because of the presence of Bill Burr. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised his Cowboy Bebop would turn out this way.

Even so, like a sucker, I'm going to keep watching. The idea that Cowboy Bebop could ever be resurrected has always seemed impossible but that very impossibility has always made it the more tantalising.

This live action version is available on Netflix.
Dalek Doll

Fall Into Her Deadly Web of Hugs and Caring

Okay, okay, so I really watched 2021's Black Widow this time. Mostly it stacks up with everything I'd heard--it has good performances and some sweet moments but lacks a real sense of suspense and the action sequences are weak, both in terms of special effects and composition. The choreography isn't bad, though.

I can imagine a conundrum at Disney. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a character defined by her lack of family who gradually gains one in the Avengers. A standalone movie for Black Widow can't have the other Avengers but Disney, for whatever arcane pact with the corpse of Walt, must always make their movies about family. So what do you do? Give Black Widow another family.

She jokes at one point in the film that she's the girl with no family who now has two. Which is a bit of lampshading, if you ask me, so Disney can have their cake and eat it, too. You know, in this era of "representation", I wonder how anyone who grew up without a family feels about this decision to hook Natasha up with a couple of them.

One of the more charming moments shows her watching Moonraker and speaking along with all the dialogue. One remembers how Winter Soldier was filled with sexually playful dialogue between her and Captain America and rather misses that tone here. Watching her sit down to dinner with an admirable cast is kind of sweet but seems like it should belong in another movie. It certainly does nothing for this film's lagging momentum.

Florence Pugh is really cute as Black Widow's adopted sister though I don't know why Disney is so committed to these "pass the torch" characters. Why not just concentrate on introducing other Marvel characters?

David Harbour is great Russian stereotype as big gentle dad. Rachel Weisz as the mother figure doesn't get much personality. Ray Winstone as the villain is wonderfully effective, a real conceited asshole, and I wish he'd had more screentime.

I suppose after the years of build-up it would be inevitable for the first, and only, solo Black Widow movie to disappoint. Even so, I can't help feeling, "Is that really all?"

Black Widow is available on Disney+.

Twitter Sonnet #1494

A metal pipe could stifle pencil lead.
A running bike awaits the clever three.
To choose a jacket, crouch behind the bed.
Collect a hive to buy a single bee.
A curse prevents a fabric lion fight.
The drifting pair could sing when far apart.
Along the river, flags prohibit sight.
We loaded cubic bags in box's cart.
A blinking dot's a world if dots are great.
We sat again against the bluer grass.
A shadow sought a starless cloud to mate.
The dream's dismissed as something cute but base.
Another orange collapsed the cherry cask.
Enormous roots support the shadow task.
Space Smoke

Cowboy Rebop

The already infamous live action adaptation of Cowboy Bebop premiered last night on Netflix. The whole season was dropped but I've only watched one episode because I have a life. But actually I didn't hate it. It has a lot of flaws but I wouldn't call it a shit show.

Almost everything brought over from the anime works. The plot about the Red Eye fugitives, the design of the ships, the world building, and Yoko Kanno's music all work. The new material Kanno's recorded blends smoothly with the old stuff and it's really cool seeing the old ships in live action simulating cgi.

The action sequences so far don't work at all. As I expected, John Cho moves too slow (we could call him "John Slow"). As an actor he's decent, though, and I'm warming up to the idea of an older Spike. It makes the fact he's already built a new life subsequent to a tragic past make a lot more sense.

Mustafa Shakir will take some more getting used to. He gives a good performance and his eyes are really striking but he has a vulnerability about him that jives oddly with the tough guy dialogue. He always seems on the edge of cracking. It's awkward with the dialogue, especially some of the oddly sadistic stuff he and Spike say now. That's a big difference from the anime--Spike and Jet never gloated and laughed about putting a bullet into some small time thug before. It's particularly odd with Jet who's supposed to be more mature but it also robs Spike of a lot of his cool.

It seems like they might have made Spike less skilled at martial arts to compensate for Cho's lack of ability. He actually has a fight with Faye at one point and it actually seems almost even. We also don't get the cool moment where Spike is the only one who's able to fight Asimov under the influence of Red Eye.

The show does a lot of Sin City-ish emulation of animation that mainly just undercuts the sense of reality. Daniella Pineda's not bad though I still don't like her costume, especially her generic leather jacket. I'll keep watching.
Salt Precaution

Flood Avoided

I guess "The Miller's Tale" is the best known of The Canterbury Tales. It's the one literature professors hope will draw some interest from a sleepy classroom, boasting, as it does, a fart joke. The tale is sometimes invoked as a defence of scatological or lowbrow humour. It does show how futile it is to get on your high horse about this stuff--people will laugh at what they laugh at, sometimes against their own moral preference.

Just how often students laugh when Nicholas lets one rip in Absolom's face is another matter. The comedy is robbed of its timing by an audience whose grasp of even their contemporary English grows weaker every year. The same obtuseness makes the setup difficult to grasp. Part of the comedy is in how smooth Nicholas usually is and how fussy Absolom is. Yet, there is a timelessness about these gags.

"The Miller's Tale" is a rebuff to "The Knight's Tale", not only of its arguments, but its very premise. It rejects the notion that human nature resembles what the Knight depicts in his tale. The Knight spoke of two men vowing undying love for a woman at a distance. The Miller speaks of two men immediately seeking to fulfill physical urges and nothing more. Nicholas and Absolom don't even care that Alisoun is married, implying they don't really care about marriage or vows.

Knocking the legs of moral presumption out from under the Knight inevitably pokes holes in his tale's ultimate statement about fate. Gods and dukes may control the fates of the two rivals and the woman but that's only because they choose to place themselves above the moral chaos of "The Miller's Tale".

But is chaos all it's cracked up to be? You might call me a snob that I don't tend to laugh at lowbrow humour. I do appreciate it, as I do "The Miller's Tale", as part of a portrait of humanity. God knows people could benefit from taking themselves less seriously nowadays.

Twitter Sonnet #1493

A glowing paper passed the shady pen.
Where nothing drinks the food was ever dry.
For pleasing signs we rent a printed hen.
Upon the egg we swore to never die.
The myst'ry book was waiting near the beer.
The optic glass beheld the cooler stoop.
For nature's truth the plastics clearly fear.
We gather fruits to sell the rusty coop.
The pretty coat was crazy like a cape.
The second drink was juice or soda salt.
The city's small beside the giant ape.
The pointy building housed a golden vault.
The southern town was taped to western shows.
The gaudy head was thick with glowing bows.