Looking Glass Clock

The Supernatural Power of Regret

The beautiful Joan Leslie regrets killing her husband but then has the good fortune to travel back in time in 1947's noir fantasy Repeat Performance. This one is really charming.

After pulling the trigger, Sheila (Leslie) rushes off to a New Year's Eve party where she finds her droll but affectionate friend William Williams (Richard Baseheart) recently escaped from a mental institution.

She asks him if she should go to the police to which he replies, "They'd only arrest you for murder. They've got such one track minds." There are lots of cute lines like that in the film.

Sheila puts the blame for everything that went wrong on a trip to London she and her husband, Barney (Louis Hayward), made the previous January. If only she could travel one year back in time! And then, inexplicably, she does.

Someone at Wikipedia categorised this as a time loop movie like Groundhog Day but it's really not, it only features the single trip back in time. But like Groundhog Day, it's left unexplained. Sheila is walking up to her producer's apartment (she's a famous actress) with William when William disappears and her outfit under her fur coat changes. She doesn't realise what's happened until she's talking to her producer, John (Tom Conway).

She sets out trying to make the year different from the first time she lived it but finds destiny to be a stubborn thing--or, as this is a noir, let's say fate. Joan Leslie is gorgeous in this and a great pleasure for a point of view character.

Repeat Performance is available on The Criterion Channel as part of their Holiday Noir collection.
Grocery Shopping

They Don't Dance On Death Row

A down on his luck tap dancer finds himself even further down on his luck when he's framed for murder in 1948's I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes. This surprisingly well written b-movie noir is a tidy little nightmare.

Husband and wife dancing team Tom (Don Castle) and Ann (Elyse Knox) are reduced to living in a miserable little New York apartment while she supports the both of them working a dance hall. This is an old job that seems to factor in a lot of films noir (Susan Hayward had the same gig in 1946's Deadline at Dawn). Apparently you used to be able to go to dance halls and pay girls to dance with you. Girls in films noir who take these jobs are implied to be just a few steps away from prostitution, something which eventually comes into play in I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes.

Tom's so fed up one night he throws his only pair of shoes at some noisy cats outside their window. He goes out to fetch them but they're nowhere to be found until someone deposits them on their doorstep the next morning. They don't know who it was but whoever it was, it turns out, wore the shoes when murdering a nearby miser (a radio announcer in the movie actually calls the murder victim a miser). Of course, the cops hang their whole case on the footprints at the crime scene. Meanwhile, Tom's also found a wallet stuffed with distinctive old fashioned bills like the miser was noted to carry. Not knowing about the murder, Ann begs Tom to spend the money instead of turning it over to the police, it being Christmas and all.

So quick as a wink, Tom winds up on Death Row and it's only Ann left to prove his innocence with the help of one detective (Regis Toomey) who happens to be one of Ann's dance hall regulars. And he needs coaxing, which Ann does with a kiss and an implicit promise of more later. Ann really is the centre of the film; she has all the moral quandaries. Her convincing Tom to spend the money is like Eve getting Adam to eat the apple and it hangs over her endeavours to get him back like original sin.

I Wouldn't Be in Your Shoes is available on The Criterion Channel as part of a Holiday Noir collection.

Ella Fitzgerald also sang about the dance hall:


The New Familiar Face

Last night I watched "Power Hungry", the fifth episode of Fringe which guest starred Ebon Moss-Bachrach as a man who unintentionally causes machines around him to become deadly. I know Moss-Bachrach from the first season of The Punisher, in which he was really good. So it was nice seeing him. The episode itself wasn't bad except it falls prey to the "everyone finds out everything" plot contrivance I dislike so much. Moss-Bachrach has pictures of a girl he likes on his phone and twice an unlikely bit of clumsiness leads to people seeing the pictures, first his boss, then the woman herself.

Otherwise, the episode was good. Walter has a funny bit where he demonstrates static electricity by shuffling around very solemnly in wool socks.

It's starting to get properly cold around here. I was lucky it didn't rain yesterday because I didn't bring an umbrella to school. When I saw about half the students had brought umbrellas I was filled with dread at the prospect of walking home in a freezing downpour. AccuWeather has let me down too many times. Though I guess it didn't yesterday since it didn't actually rain. I sure hope it snows.

X Sonnet #1796

The length of arms bespoke a vicious void.
Reflections change the sound of ancient words.
Salvation burned the cords of ev'ry droid.
Return to air that harbours breathing birds.
The heater teams rebuild the rink for games.
Amassing questions froze beyond the board.
Allowing lets the action rock the dames.
Computers gather more than rubber cord.
Improving trees involves some added light.
We picked the shiny orbs to thwart the mice.
Remember stone when changing suns of height.
To burn them once is not to burn them twice.
The sum of whales could crack the glacial core.
MacGowan's Christmas came the future's score.

Post-Thanksgiving Entanglements

Hope Davis wants to go on a simple quest to find out whether husband has been cheating on her but finds the matter complicated when her parents, sister, and sister's boyfriend all decide to tag along in 1996's The Daytrippers. The ensuing story is a pleasant, mild, holiday diversion.

After Thanksgiving, Eliza (Davis) goes home with her husband Louis (Stanley Tucci) and the two make love.

And I thought, wow, ain't Stanley Tucci a lucky son of a gun. The balding man with average looks somehow got this knockout. But, of course, this was the era when the cheating fictional husband typically wore his inner corruption on the outside.

Meanwhile, Eliza's little sister, Jo (Parker Posey), is with her boyfriend, Carl (Liev Schreiber), staying at their parents' house. When Eliza brings them the clue she found, a love letter quoting Andrew Marvell, Rita (Anne Meara), Eliza and Jo's mother, decides they should all pile into the car and head into the city and find out just what Louis is up to.

Rita is a spectator who is unconcerned with her lack of more than superficial understanding of any of the various people and situations they encounter in the city. Carl, who's in the process of finishing his first novel, frequently pontificates with shallow opinions, at one point mentioning how the middle class is anaesthetised by tabloid media. Oh, for the days when America had a sizable middle class. You don't know how good you have it, Carl. Anyway, the shoe seems to fit Rita in this case.

But although she leads the charge, she's not the focus of the film which persistently maintains a light touch, never allowing any of the little plot threads to get a firm grip, quite intentionally. Life is too messy for any drama to take up the space it might want to. Rita faints in the street and Carl prevails upon a young man to let them into his apartment so she can rest. They discover a little drama involving the man's father who's kind of a prick, but then also kind of a nice guy, at first demanding to know why strangers are in his home and then offering them all lunch and wine. This little episode is followed by a party where Jo finds herself tempted to cheat with a less obnoxious author.

Carl keeps talking about Andrew Marvell as an "Elizabethan poet" and "predecessor of Shakespeare" though Marvell was in fact born years after Shakespeare and Elizabeth I were already dead. I'm not sure if this was Carl's mistake or the filmmakers'. I'm tempted to think it's the latter since what would be the point of introducing a mistake that only the random 17th literary nerd like me would catch? My point is, she should be dating me.

The writing is mainly strong, though, with its deliberately light but canny touch and its credible characters in mildly incredible situations. Hope Davis and Parker Posey are both gorgeous and captivating.

The Daytrippers is available on The Criterion Channel this month as part of a Parker Posey collection.
Death Chess

The Dangerous Nothing

Now that's what I call a Doctor Who special. Yesterday's "Wild Blue Yonder" was well above average, a wonderfully creepy puzzle reminiscent of The Mind Robber or "Chimes at Midnight".

It didn't start auspiciously. The cold open, with a tone similar to the Children in Need sketch, showed the TARDIS crashing into the tree that dropped an apple on an inexplicably brown skinned Isaac Newton. It led to a recurring gag about how the word for gravity had changed to "mavity" (are they going to remember that forever going forward?). But it was clearly Russell T Davies thumbing his nose at a segment of the fanbase. It was pointlessly flippant, as was the Doctor's disregard for implications to the timeline for disrupting a major historical event. Of course, as Mr. Data told us, Newton actually getting hit in the head by an apple is apocryphal. So I think Davies was making a broader statement about how nothing in art has to be true so long as it's good art. With which I would agree. But this gag wasn't good art, which is a shame because the other 95% of the episode is absolutely amazing.

Just one episode after Davies established a whole new set of powers for the sonic screwdriver, he deprives the Doctor of it, the TARDIS, and even his overcoat from which he might produce any manner of other gadgets. We go from flippancy and no stakes to a palpably grave situation (or mave situation?) as the Doctor and Donna find themselves stranded on a spacecraft adrift in the darkness beyond the edge of the universe.

Ultimately they encounter a species so fundamentally alien, they seem to be manifestations of nothing. Their attempts to copy the Doctor and Donna are incredibly, effectively creepy. One moment they seem to know everything, the next they reveal that their seemingly intimate knowledge is no more than a tactfully deployed echo that seems to be motivated by an extreme, enigmatic malice.

There's a moment I loved where one of the aliens won the Doctor's trust. And as a viewer, I was right there with him, scrutinising the evidence, and I was fooled too. So a little later, when he's kicking the bulkhead in rage at the betrayal, at his own weakness, you feel it. Oh, it was so very good.

The Doctor's methods for thwarting the aliens were even more satisfying for it, but they're quite good in themselves. I loved how he used the salt barrier and his final logical test about the contradictory nature of the human mind was good. That scene was like the next step in an evolution of a particular kind of repeated sci-fi scene, on Star Trek and Doctor Who, of the alien or machine who's finally beaten by the hero's logic puzzle, like the "One person always lies and the other always tells the truth" puzzle. That's not going to work on these things, which makes them all the scarier. And more of an affront. They want to take the place of humanity and they have absolutely no concern for what matters to humanity. The perfection of their mimicry is a really chilling insult. I suppose Davies could be talking about AI but not making it explicitly about AI, as he certainly could have on Doctor Who, makes it all the better.

Wow. What a magnificent early Christmas present is "Wild Blue Yonder".

The new Doctor Who specials are available on Disney+ in most of the world and on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.
Strange Shame

Conquest in the Clouds

In a France beset by violent social and political turmoil, one man took control, eventually became emperor, and attempted to take over the world. But who was Napoleon really and how did he do all this? Don't expect answers or much perspective from Ridley Scott's 2023 film of Napoleon.

I knew going in the film had been criticised for historical inaccuracies but that doesn't bother me per se. If artistic liberties are taken in the interest of making good art, I say that's all right and good. But Scott ultimately doesn't seem to have a cogent thought behind this big thing.

The first twenty minutes or so are pretty good. Scott ably shows the final days of the Revolution. I particularly liked the scene in which France's governing committee turns on Robespierre (Sam Troughton). He impotently but accurately denounces their hypocrisy as they rush to murder him. I kept thinking of Werewolf of Paris and of how that novel described the people as a populace of werewolves and it was certainly easy to see that point of view here.

Early on, Scott depicts Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) as a man above this. When an officer tells him he won't let Toulon fall to Royalists or the English, Napoleon laughs at the man's ardent partisanship. Similarly, Josephine (Vanessa Kirby) is at her best in early scenes when she cannily manipulates her way into Napoleon's life by playing on his ego. But both characters and their motivations, as well as the motivations of the people around them, become increasingly nebulous as the movie progresses.

Vanessa Kirby gives a forceful performance but it's never clear why Napoleon is so obsessed with her. I'd have liked a scene that showed the two had some mutual insight or understanding but there's nothing like that, just a lot of oddly inexplicit sex scenes.

Scott seemingly shares Leo Tolstoy's perspective in War and Peace that Napoleon's intellect has been vastly overrated and that it was the force of his popularity that won him his victories. But unlike Tolstoy, Scott never credibly establishes why Napoleon was so popular (or why Josephine loved him as more than just a means of survival). A big part of the problem is Joaquin Phoenix's performance. Phoenix is a fine actor who can play many kinds of characters but as Scott was particularly interested in his performance as the Joker, Phoenix reprises something of that character here. It's a poor fit as Phoenix's take on the Joker, while brilliant, was deliberately off-putting rather than charismatic. When people instinctively don't like him, you get it.

At the same time, I think Scott probably came away with the wrong reaction to Joker's climactic scene. As Quentin Tarantino observed:

The subversion on a massive level, the thing that’s profound is this: It’s not just suspenseful, it’s not just riveting and exciting, the director subverts the audience because the Joker is a fucking nut. Robert De Niro’s talk show character is not a movie villain. He seems like an asshole, but he’s not more of an asshole than David Letterman. He’s just an asshole comedian, talk show guy. He’s not a movie villain. He doesn’t deserve to die. Yet, while the audience is watching the Joker, they want him to kill Robert De Niro; they want him to take that gun, and stick it in his eye and blow his fucking head off. And if the Joker didn’t kill him? You would be pissed off. That is subversion on a massive level! They got the audience to think like a fucking lunatic and to want . . . And they will lie about it! They will say, ‘No, I didn’t,’ and they are fucking liars. They did.

Frankly, I think when Ridley Scott watched Joker, he was one of the people who lied to themselves. His presentation of Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon is never a guy you root for. In fact, one of the best, most charismatic characters in the film is Wellington, played by an almost unrecognisable Rupert Everett. His point of view is clear and, from the moment he starts talking, the film's sympathy is entirely with him. After Waterloo, Napoleon is shown breakfasting on Wellington's ship, regaling a group of boys in uniform with his opinion on cannon placement. And I thought, how sad, he's reduced to forcing kids to listen to him ramble. But then the scene cuts to an officer explaining to Wellington that "the midshipmen", those boys, "love him." Really? Maybe a different actor than Phoenix or Phoenix giving a different performance could've sold that. But this movie never does. And I think it's fundamentally because Scott never allowed himself to love Napoleon.

Maybe it's just because he doesn't like the French, which seems almost amusingly clear at this point. The movie was shot almost entirely in England standing in for French locations and, responding to criticisms of his portrayal of France and Napoleon, Scott said, "The French don't even like themselves." I'm reminded of my 2010 review of Robin Hood, another bad Ridley Scott movie, in which I wrote:

I didn't have a problem with the historical inaccuracies, really--particularly not Marion's costumes, one of which featured a skirt split up the centre for riding. And it was nice seeing her hair uncovered most of the time, instead of always covered in public as per the requirements of modesty at the time. But other deviations from history might have led me to believe that Ridley Scott has a vicious hatred for the French if it weren't for the fact that The Good Year, an earlier film of his, hadn't been such a mud bath in idyllic French countryside.

But if you're going to make a movie like Napoleon, you have to have some honest connexion to the main character. Citizen Kane works because it's not just Orson Welles skewering William Randolph Hearst. Welles put himself in the character, too. When Stanley Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange, he made the atrocious Alex DeLarge one of the most charismatic characters in the history of cinema. Notably, Welles and Kubrick both tried and failed to make movies about Napoleon. Alas for what might have been.

X Sonnet #1795

In aging glands the life was shortly stopped.
A message soap was cancelled after six.
In twenty years, the square is ever cropped.
Computer scans complete the achy tricks.
A broken hobby horse would bandy dreams.
A shiny bottle cheered the gloomy pool.
As ragged yarns would stitch a drunkard's seams.
A frozen bucket night would kill a fool.
Before the break of ice, a cauldron cracked.
Between the stacks of corpses, horses rode.
But 'long the reel, the vision sadly slacked.
Unless the dreamer wrought a subtle code.
Exhausting fights occur as phantom days.
In ev'ry flake the snow reveals its ways.
The Bus

Shane MacGowan

Shane MacGowan died on Thursday. I'd been feeling grim for several days and it kind of seemed like everyone was. MacGowan's death sort of blends in with it, which yet makes it stand out more. Everyone has kind of expected MacGowan to die any day for the past forty years. The hard drinking singer who never seemed to care much whether he lived or died had all the marks of it in his manner and infamously bad teeth.

Just last year, an interview at The Guardian with MacGowan began, "MacGowan has not talked to a British newspaper for 10 years and there is so much to ask him, not least how he is still alive." And now he's not and it's not such a mystery. Why does that make it hurt more? When he lived, it was an interesting rebuke to all apparent evidence. Now he's dead, it's just ugly grey, dull normalcy. It's the inexorably fulfilled prophecy in his lyrics about being beaten, starved, and abused.

I often find myself whistling "Dirty Old Town" in recent years, a song I first heard in a rendition by The Pogues, MacGowan's band. The town I live in, Kashihara, seems to suit the song with its factories, canals, battered old buildings, and, despite the famous Japanese obsession with cleanliness, plenty of dirt, with many buildings bearing streaks of black mould and rust.

I suppose it's fitting that MacGowan died at the start of a Christmas season since his most famous song, ironically, is a Christmas song. Just last year the song, "Fairytale of New York", was featured on no less mainstream a platform as The Guardians of the Galaxy Christmas Special.

It's kind of fucked up there's a Michael Buble ad at the end of that video right now, especially since it's the uncensored version of the song.

Shane MacGowan was 65 when he died. He collaborated with many other great musicians in his time. He performed as part of Nick Cave's ensemble arrangement of Bob Dylan's "Death is Not the End", which seems as appropriate a note to end on as any:


On the Edge of Winter

Last night I watched the second episode of Fringe, "The Same Old Story", which aired September 16, 2008. I got some strong X Files vibes off this one, though not at all in a bad way. It was fun watching the trio investigate a serial killer who impregnates prostitutes with rapidly aging foetuses.

Anna Torv and Joshua Jackson give TV sizes performances while John Noble is definitely cinema as Walter Bishop. He's entertainingly brusque and the gags about his faulty memory are cheap but still funny. Anna Torv's Olivia is a little bland but I like how they gave her some impressive Sherlock Holmes moments.

I'm watching Fringe on Max (formerly HBOMax) which I realised I could get a 2.99 a month subscription to if I get the one with ads. They actually placed the commercials in the commercial break moments on the show which is kind of a nice thing for the pacing. It's been years since I've seen new commercials and I feel like it's a particular psychic link to pop culture I've been lacking. I've been having "broadcast editions" of MST3k playing while I cook dinner, episodes transferred from people's VHS collections including commercials from the early '90s. All those Mentos commercials and Big Red commercials and--damn--Sears commercials. I still have some shirts from Sears. I got to be careful with this nostalgia.

I heard Mystery Science Theatre 3000 didn't make its minimum donation goal during its Turkey Day marathon this year. I can't say I'm surprised. The new episodes are only streaming on the show's own dedicated streaming service, the Gizmoplex, which is slow and expensive, so I haven't been able to watch it and I imagine a lot of other fans can't. What I have seen from episodes shown on YouTube is a generally inferior product to all the episodes readily available on YouTube or Shout Factory on Amazon Prime. And, of course, RiffTrax. Joel Hodgeson, series creator and original star, may have a great creative mind but it seems clear now that Mike Nelson was really who held the show together. He was head writer from the second season, when the show first premiered on Comedy Central, and now apparently he's the only one with the business sense to make the format financially sustainable. It's always been a cheap looking show with a small fanbase but increasingly large budgets due to the need to pay for the rights to the movies being riffed--the minimum donation goal for the new season was over four million dollars. Oh, well. We'll always have the memories.

Confusing Device

Dreams After Bikes

Last night brought another strange dream. This time, I was in a neighbourhood near my old neighbourhood from when I was in elementary and junior high school. It was night and pitch black. Above, I could dimly see orange enemy zeppelins slowly patrolling. I knew they were occasionally dropping demons totally concealed in black clothing. Their mission was to savagely murder everyone they met so I built a lookout platform on top of one house. I sat in there with some people and we got to talking about how phony the Oscars are and we all took turns mocking acceptance speeches.

I also watched Pee-Wee's Big Adventure last night. That's one of those movies I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. So much so that, even though I don't think I'd watched it in thirty years, it felt overly familiar. Maybe my last impression of it was that I needed to give it a rest, I don't know. It's still a remarkable film. Roger Ebert put it very well when he said the film created a complete fantasy world "like Alice in Wonderland or Lord of the Rings." There's a fundamental logic in the film that doesn't exist in reality or in any other film and the character of Pee-Wee is at the center of this strange universe. When he tells Dottie he's a "loner, a rebel", in any realistic context you'd say, yeah, that's true. He's a complete eccentric and his home, with his complicated decorations and gadgets, only leaves room for one. But then he giggles to himself after he leaves Dottie. It was all a joke, he had no insight into his own character. Or maybe he just doesn't think it's true. He is remarkably good at making friends, after all.

Twitter Sonnet #1794

Corrective pads can square a shoulder shot.
Beyond the frame, an actor tries to cut.
A million mice can take a single cot.
The hare was trim from ankle down to butt.
Along the road to loafers, wheels were shod.
Returning palettes crack beneath a load.
No items now can sell before the pod.
The moisture glutton soon became a toad.
A mountain den provides the shelter place.
With good in cans, the goods were waiting late.
A finished deck expelled the wasted ace.
In secret fish the praise was saved for bait.
As ev'ry pretty thing'll start as sad.
The planet's noisy moon'll start as bad.
Dalek Doll

Tactical Bikinis

Those who worry we'll have to do without gratuitous cheesecake after the apocalypse will be relieved to see 1988's She-Wolves of the Wasteleand, aka Phoenix the Warrior. What might have been a mildly amusing, fifteen minute softcore porn was unwisely stretched to feature length. Beautiful women and cheesy effects at some point stop making up for the blandness of the performances. Still, there's some charm in this turkey.

In this post-apocalypse, all the men are dead after they started a war, of course. Now it's the presumably more peaceful minded better half of the species who battle it out with machine guns and spears. However, one withered, evil geneticist is trying to remake men and impregnates future Playboy Playmate Peggy McIntaggart with a boy child.

She's on the run for her life, dodging vicious ladies in skimpy, ill-fitting costumes and heading out to the budget-friendly desert. What can she do?

Enter Phoenix (Kathleen Kinmont), the fearsome sand trapper. What is a sand trapper? Who knows. It's something that requires Phoenix to tote an m16 and train herself to peak fighting prowess. She demonstrates her skill again and again in ponderously choreographed fight scenes.

Halfway through the movie, they run into Guy (James H. Emery), another escapee, who happens to have the reflexes to take point in the action scenes. So much for that all-girl premise.

The movie also features Persis Khambatta from Star Trek: The Motion Picture as the villain. This was not her best film but she tackles the role with gusto.

She-Wolves of the Wasteland is available on Amazon Prime under the title Phoenix the Warrior.