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More Paper than Man Feb. 23rd, 2018 @ 04:07 pm

When I first saw this I thought it was photoshopped. But it's real. High def cameras and his own surprisingly good handwriting are Trump's enemies. One of the sickening things about him is just what a cheap imitation he seems to be, just how thin and obvious his facade is. Look at the 45 on his shirt cuff. Because he's the 45th president. It's like the "M" on Mario's hat. It goes with the power ties that are taped instead of clipped. He's like a parody, like a personification of cheap "how to succeed in business" tips from a self help book from the 80s. And here he is holding a listening session with children, parents, and administrators whose lives were impacted by gun violence at schools. Everything about him, from his apparent lack of interest in the meeting to his vague ideas about opening more mental institutions to put potential killers in seems to herald the complete lack of change that will result in policy from this shooting.

In a way, Trump is a more fitting president than Obama. It was hard to rail against Obama for the lack of change on gun laws, he always gave the impression he really understood and deeply cared about the issue. Trump is a perfect figurehead for all of the greed and apathy that has stymied any productive change since Columbine. It's easier to focus one's anger now that the person in office reflects what the institution accomplishes.

The full listening session can be seen here. A lot of sites and articles edit out the students and parents that agree with Trump's ideas. One parent in particular speaks passionately for the idea of arming teachers while one of the students speaks passionately against it. One parent of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting points out that guns in the hands of teachers aren't much of a deterrent for shooters who figure they're on a suicide mission anyway. I haven't heard of any school shooters escaping harm or capture.

Another parent of a Sandy Hook victim points out how solutions involving putting more guns in schools are focused on dealing with the problem after it's manifested instead of preventing it. Even Trump's vague idea of creating more mental institutions seems like it's suggested in the spirit of putting dangerous people away and forgetting about them like garbage in a landfill. He doesn't just seem like he doesn't understand the issue, he seems angry at the idea that he should understand it.

He does seem more fired up to-day as he responded to the revived crowd chant of "Lock her up!", referring to Hillary Clinton, with "Everything that's turning out — now, it's amazing. It's come full circle. Wow, have they committed a lot of atrocities?" There is not one part of that statement where I can see any connexion with reality. Who are "they"? How has it come "full circle"? And "atrocities"? Is he using that word, a week after a massacre, to refer to a political party now in the minority? Maybe he got his notes mixed up.
Current Location: A symbol
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: "The Desert" The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly OST - Ennio Morricone

Ordinary Trouble Feb. 22nd, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

There's something audacious about how unremarkable the story is in 1939's The Whole Family Works (はたらく一家). Directed by Mikio Naruse, who by this time had only a few sound films under his belt, it shows his improved proficiency with the medium while still not being like the nuanced, dark melodramas he directed in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, in focusing on the unremarkable events in the lives of a ordinary family in financial trouble, it subtly highlights problems in the Japanese economy at a time when most filmmakers in Japan were making propaganda films for the war effort.

As the title suggests, the whole family works. Well, really just the father, Ishimura (Musei Tokugawa), and the four eldest sons, the other kids are still too young and Mrs. Ishimura (Noriko Honma) works hard at the domestic duties of a housewife who doesn't have a lot of cash to work with. Ishimura and four of his sons all work in dead end, menial jobs.

The eldest son, though, Kiichi (Akira Ubukata), has a little ambition and this serves as the point of tension for the whole film--he wants to take off five years to go to school in the hopes of getting a better job so he can provide for the family. This may seem a trivial problem for a movie but Naruse makes it clear how delicate the situation really is for the people involved, spending a lot of time focusing on Ishimura mulling over the issue. Even with five people in the family working, they're already barely getting by and the loss of just one source of income for five years could be devastating.

One might expect a scene where Kiichi does something drastic or embarrassing but in the climax of the film he just gets drunk, something his father doesn't even mind. In conversation with another man, Ishimura says he's much more worried about Kiichi getting a girlfriend so the young woman who tends the local bar, Mitsuko (Sumie Tsubaki), seems to him a much bigger danger than the alcohol she serves. The last thing he needs is an addition to the family, a source of stress that adds some subtly melancholy tension to seemingly innocent and friendly conversations between Mitsuko and the sons.

Only just over an hour long, nothing terribly dramatic happens in the film but with Naruse's storytelling instincts its a nice little snapshot of the tensions experienced by a family in a precarious situation.
Current Location: 普通の所
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Sweet Thing" - David Bowie

The Continuing Story of Hazardous Heights Feb. 21st, 2018 @ 02:57 pm

Do the eyes of love see accurately? Should they? When Julie confesses to lying to Mahe at the beginning of Francois Truffaut's 1969 film Mississippi Mermaid (La sirène du Mississipi) he says he doesn't mind, in fact he finds it charming. But this is only the tip of an iceberg of lies in this fascinating film and also only the first hint of the love Mahe feels for deceptions. Beginning with a dedication to B movies and Jean Renoir, Truffaut's film arguably justifies both of those dedications but more than anything Mississippi Mermaid seems to me a commentary on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

In the film's central scene, Catherine Deneuve's character, Julie/Marion, wears the signature hairstyle of Judy/Madeleine, Kim Novak's character from Vertigo. Set in a hotel room like the central, revelatory scenes of Vertigo, Truffaut doesn't bath the walls in green light the way Hitchcock does but the gorgeous Impressionist painting wallpaper, counterfeiting nature through an artist's perspective, reflects the role of fantasy, or delusion, in romance.

But the film could also be seen as a thematic sequel to Vertigo for how it follows up on some potential threads Vertigo left unexamined. It's after this central scene that Mississippi Mermaid enters new territory as Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) becomes a willing accomplice and the two have an unstable relationship on the lam in France. Sometimes Mahe's sense of righteousness asserts itself in passive aggressive jabs at her, his anger not unreasonable considering, like Judy, she played a role in a murder, in this case the murder of a woman he knew and believed he loved. But what's love?

The real Julie, whom we never see, died before the events of the movie began, on a steamer called the Mississipi, on her way to Reunion, a small island east of Madagascar. Occupied by the French since the mid-17th century, Mahe shares a name with Mahe de La Bouronnais, an 18th century governor of the island. Since the movie was made during the middle of the Vietnam War, the clear allusions to French colonialism have a significant impact, particularly in how out of touch the colonialist dream turned out to be with reality. Or in how that dream was a destructive influence. Belmondo's Mahe fell in love with Julie through correspondence in which he told her he was a worker at a cigarette factory. In reality, he's the wealthy owner of a tobacco plantation--ironically, his attempt at deception was meant to prove his potential bride's honesty, but it's a deception Deneuve's character later gleefully tells him the real Julie saw through.

The fact that Deneuve's character turns out to be more beautiful than the picture Mahe has of Julie is more important to him than the suspicious fact that she looks like a completely different person, much as Scottie in Vertigo fails to identify the flaw in his own logic when he decides to accept the job of following Madaleine after he's seen how beautiful she is. Presumably there was real affection, though, between Mahe and the woman he exchanged letters with but since she knew more about him than he thought she did it's possible she was only manipulating him as Deneuve's character was. This is what Deneuve claims Julie was doing in that central hotel room scene.

She claims to have been honest about one thing, she was raised in an orphanage, and its from here she launches into a self-analysis and account that Judy never had a chance to give Scottie but which one might deduce from careful viewing of Vertigo. Marion (Deneuve) says, "When you get out of orphanage you're either brainwashed or rebellious. I threw myself into life. At fourteen I got my first high heels. A man bought them for me." Here the movie's dedication to B movies makes sense as she tells Mahe the pulp novels she read, and he scoffed at, were books she treasured because of how they reflected her life in ways other books didn't. Already from an early age, she's learning what men want from her and she's learning how to use it against them to get what she wants. You notice she doesn't say whether she was brainwashed or rebellious and it's a matter of opinion which she was by the time she and an unseen accomplice and mastermind named Richard orchestrated the job they pulled on Mahe.

The tragic note on which Vertigo ends is Judy arguing that she truly loved Scottie and him having the internal conflict over whether or not he loved her or only the dream of Madeleine. Mississippi Mermaid gives us the follow up relationship that might have been. Unlike Scottie trying to recreate Madeleine by controlling Judy's clothes and hair, Marion takes control in the latter half of Mississippi Mermaid, choosing a red sports car for the two of them despite Mahe's concern that it's too flashy, and in a reversal of the scene where Scottie carefully picks out Judy's clothes, Marion picks out a coat from a store window and wears it despite Mahe's concerns that it'll make her look suspicious. The relationship isn't smooth and there are moments where each, in turn, seems inclined to betray the other, each time leading to poignant reconciliations that seem tragic for the characters' awareness of how destructive they are to each other.

Both Deneuve and Belmondo are fantastic in the movie. Belmondo is quite a daredevil in it, too, as in one scene he quickly climbs up the side of a building and through the open window of that hotel room. I guess he certainly doesn't get vertigo.

Shot all on location in Reunion and France, and with impeccable costumes (I want every outfit Belmondo wears in this movie), Truffaut makes this intriguing story about love and artifice truly beautiful.

Twitter Sonnet #1086

We came by climbs distorted for the lake.
The grinding bean reports caffeine to cops.
About cigars we dialled smoke to take.
The biggest egg regrets the frequent stops.
The fingerprints were green in case of time.
In counting threads the scarf was mostly red.
On books suspended high above we climb.
The pages blur for raining words unsaid.
The pamphlets unexpected found were bliss.
In keeping poison up the apple taught.
From cheddar grounds we punctured jack for swiss.
In coats a turtle's neck was warmly bought.
The music of the screws fell in the pail.
A crumpled map revealed the paper tale.
Current Location: Reunion
Current Mood: busybusy
Current Music: "Memories Can't Wait" - Talking Heads

A One Sided Space Affair Feb. 20th, 2018 @ 12:38 pm

Star Wars: Rebels finally returned last night with two new episodes. Excited? Well, although the writing quality hasn't much improved, even surprisingly indulging in several unpopular gender related plot devices, it did at least deliver one plot point I'd been fervently hoping for since the series began.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Kanan (Freddie Prinze with a Z Jr.) is finally dead. I was hoping for something more humiliating, like falling face first into lava while making a bad joke, but the important thing is he's gone. Unless the show again pulls its punch like it did with Sabine's (Tiya Sircar) mother at the beginning of the season.

But obviously Kanan and probably Ezra (Taylor Gray) need to be dead for the premise of Rogue One and A New Hope of a galaxy without Jedi. Then again, I would've thought it would be important for the Rebels not to be destroying a Star Destroyer every five minutes the way they do on Rebels, so who knows. The first of last night's two new episodes, "Jedi Night", did seem to be making an attempt to make things look a little more desperate, though, and the destruction of the fuel for the TIE Defender factory seemed like it was being treated as a miraculous victory. It almost made the show seem like it belonged in the galaxy dominated by a seemingly unstoppable Empire we see in the films.

Of course, it's part of Kanan's whole flattering death package. His martyrdom comes after saving a drugged and physically tortured Hera (Vanessa Marshall) whose humiliating state allows the writers to side step any real development of their relationship until she confesses her love to him. Then Kanan has the awkward line about how it's "the Truth Serum talking"--wouldn't that mean it's true, then? Hera confesses her love and Kanan, as a stoic figure of weirdly retrograde masculinity, doesn't say he loves her back.

Isn't that like Han and Leia in the climax of Empire Strikes Back? Not really. One of the reasons Harrison Ford's performance in both the original Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones films is such a revelation is the vulnerability with which he imbued his otherwise old fashioned heroic characters. In Empire Strikes Back it's in the writing, too--as much as he seems to have Leia pegged when he alludes to her true feelings for him on Hoth, its his preoccupation with her feelings that reveals his. Leia picks up on this and that's why he looks hurt when she kisses Luke. When he's put in carbonite on Bespin, she shows herself to have more strength by being honest with her feelings while Han hides behind his cockiness--"I know"--which has the gutpunch effect of making his fate seem all the more horrible. He's not ready to die, he's at least as much of a kid as he's accused her of being.

The relationship between Hera and Kanan depicted in "Jedi Night" is downright creepy by comparison. He almost takes paternal custody of her while she's loopy from the drugs, something that becomes even more uncomfortable with suggestive shots like this one:

It's less about a relationship than it is about Kanan winning her with his chivalry.

The second of last night's two new episodes, "Dume", features the return of the wolves from Princess Mononoke, called "Loth Wolves" on Rebels because they're native to Lothal, much like Loth Cats and presumably Loth Blue Whales and Loth Praying Mantises. One of them seems to be a reincarnation of Kanan. The sequence, with all the trappings of spiritual revelation, turns out to be all about giving Ezra a new quest.

Meanwhile, Sabine and Zeb (Steven Blum) have a fight with Rukh (Warwick Davis). They first spot him from a distance and have some strange dialogue where they refer to him as an "it" and a "thing", which is odd considering Zeb looks way more alien than he does and regular encounters with much stranger looking people seem to be fairly normal in the Star Wars universe. It takes on disturbing connotations when one considers the Noghri, Rukh's species, have a history as an enslaved people in the old Expanded Universe. The fight itself is okay except Sabine can't seem to hit him when he's standing still in front of her and she's using two guns. And for some reason both her and Zeb think it's a good idea to send him back to the Imperial base unharmed but covered with paint. Obviously we're dealing with a very different wing of the Rebellion than the one Cassian Andor belongs to.

The lighting was pretty nice in these two episodes and as usual Vanessa Marshall gives a standout performance as Hera. Hopefully she has a much better role on the show going forward. I'll keep watching hoping for that and I'm looking forward to hearing Ian McDiarmid back as Palpatine. But I really hope the multiple Star Wars series Disney reportedly has in development will have better writers.
Current Location: Lothal
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "Fade to Black" Spider OST - Howard Shore and the Kronos Quartet

There Must be Flowers Here Feb. 19th, 2018 @ 04:46 pm

The film industry can be so good at making things seem really important that the consequences for an inevitable disappointment can be catastrophic. A young woman's extraordinary beauty suddenly moves her from a sales career to a movie career in 1953's The Lady Without Camelias (La signora senza camelie), an event that leads to a gradual downfall as she and people around her misinterpret the significance of her beauty in a variety of ways. A Neorealist film about an unrealistic industry, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, it displays keen insight into human nature with a wonderful performance by Lucia Bose as an actress incapable of wonderful performances.

Clara (Lucia Bose) has been plucked from a retail career to star in a film about an elicit romance, a romance that becomes even more elicit as the filmmakers realise just what an attractive star they have and the producer, Ercole (Gino Cervi), decides to see how far he can push the censors. Meanwhile, the film's screenwriter, Gianni (Andrea Checchi), is falling head over heels for Clara. She doesn't seem very enthusiastic about his advances, but she doesn't seem to mind them, either, and finally she agrees to marry him with all the passion of someone doing a minor favour for a friend.

This spells immediate trouble for the film, though, as Gianni becomes so possessive he doesn't want Clara in any halfway sexual scene. Soon the whole production is scrapped and replaced by a new, very chaste project in which Clara will play Joan of Arc. As with everything, Clara shrugs and goes along with it.

Clara seems happily passive with everything until somewhere along the line we see her getting this vague, growing feeling that something really important should be happening. Maybe it's all the glamour surrounding the film openings, all of the endless fawning and flattery from filmmakers and press, all precipitating a debut in the Joan of Arc film that falls short of expectations. She impulsively decides to run away with Nardo (Ivan Desny), the man she's been having an affair with, but he seems shocked and confused she ever considered their relationship to be that serious. She has a serious talk with a famous actor, Lodi (Alain Cuny), the only one who really seems to have an idea what her problem is, and decides she only wants to take serious, meaty roles, but doesn't have the patience to complete an acting class.

If she was happy as a sales girl, why is she so bitterly discontent with a sand and sandal film a director offers to her later in the film? The film subtly shows how a community of delusions fosters the destructive delusions of an individual. Gianni falls in love with this actress on display daily but his love for her physical beauty manifests as a possessiveness because there was never really any substance to it. Like Clara about her own career later on, there's no real understanding of why all this is so important, only the sense that it definitely is. Gianni doesn't know how to protect his relationship with her because he doesn't understand the nature of the relationship itself.

Using a lot of real locations and, aside from Bose and Cuny, unglamorous performers whose lines blend over each other in the fervent, manic world of filmmaking, The Lady Without Camelias provides a very credible glimpse into this vast ego-making machine and how it drives people to despair.
Current Location: On set
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: "Nighthawks Postcards" - Tom Waits
Other entries
» To Wakanda, a Dream Country

I didn't honestly think I was going to like 2018's Black Panther. The trailers didn't look good, filled with lousy cgi, and I thought Chadwick Boseman's portrayal of Black Panther was the dullest part of Captain America: Civil War. But the film I saw on Friday was pretty enjoyable, largely due to an excellent supporting cast, particularly Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. The story's central political conflict, though it owes a lot to the first Thor movie, was also engaging and provided an interesting commentary on contemporary American politics.

This is the shot I especially hated in the trailer. It's so clear every grouping of people on all the little outcrops aren't really there. The movie's shots of Wakanda, the fabulous secret high tech city, generally made me long for the gritty realism of Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. The film would've benefited a lot from some actual African shooting locations.

I really don't understand why this film was shot entirely in Atlanta and South Korea. It wasn't long ago that Mad Max: Fury Road, a film shot largely in Namibia, was a smash success. My guess is Disney's insurance wouldn't cover African locations. The 1950s and 60s were filled with Hollywood films with real African locations, from 1950's amazing King Solomon's Mines to John Huston's classic The African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Ironically, the period so associated with soundstage exteriors has a more authentic location feel than this 2018 film.

But Black Panther is really a fantasy about the United States. Michael B. Jordan is another excellent member of the supporting cast, playing the villain Killmonger. His rise in the Wakandan government, overthrowing the anointed ruler T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), will remind more than a few people of Donald Trump for Killmonger's ruthlessness and for the way the mechanisms of government and tradition compels people to automatically follow him. In fact, Boseman himself has pointed out similarities to Trump's election. To be fair, though, Killmonger seems like he's more capable of empathy than Trump. I suppose it's a bad sign when a guy named "Killmonger" comes off as more sensitive and altruistic than the U.S. president.

But the resemblance adds an interesting dimension to a plot otherwise strongly reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh's Thor. Arguably, both films are drawing on the Edgar/Edmund subplot from King Lear. One could very naturally give Edmund's "Why bastard?" speech to Killmonger, who is made T'Challa's illegitimate brother for the film:

Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me?
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? Wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true
As honest madam’s issue? Why brand they us
With base? With baseness? bastardy? Base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth within a dull stale tired bed
Go to the creating a whole tribe of fops
Got ’tween asleep and wake?

Oddly, Boseman's uninteresting performance actually makes him seem a bit more like royalty. Listening to his flat line deliveries reminded me of listening to Prince Harry and thinking, "This guy's supposed to be important?" It's also not unlike how Thor was meant to be sort of a good natured but simple minded fellow in the first movie before filmmakers decided to emphasise Chris Hemsworth's comedic talents. When the much better trained and charismatic Killmonger challenges T'Challa, a lot of the tension comes from how difficult it is to see why T'Challa deserves to be king instead of Killmonger. I would have really liked if the film included montages contrasting the upbringing of Killmonger and T'Challa, showing how Jordan struggled on the streets of Oakland before beginning the hard military training that led to him becoming a Navy Seal while T'Challa was doing . . . whatever a Wakandan prince is brought up doing. One suspects it's nowhere near as rough.

Since Wakanda doesn't exist, its isolationism and hoarding of its superior technology and resources as a country that was never colonised makes it more reminiscent of the United States than any African country and Killmonger's plight, coming from an impoverished lower class, gives his conflict with the Wakandan elite a resonance more like the poor working class who voted for Trump as, Michael Moore observed, a "fuck you" gesture to the paralysed Washington political machine.

The first part of Black Panther is a bit tedious, though, concentrating on ceremony and airless banter, like that moment in the trailer where T'Challa insists he doesn't "freeze". This stuff is finally replaced by a fun film when Letitia Wright is introduced as Shuri, T'Challa's sister, a tech genius who provides her brother with gadgets in a role very much like Q in the James Bond films.

Her teasing him drew the first genuine laughter from me. This is followed by the other highlight when Okoye (Danai Gurira), head of Wakanda's female militia, and Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), a spy for Wakanda and T'Challa's love interest, join the Black Panther for his mission to South Korea, their personalities easily eclipsing his. I would so love to see a buddy cop movie starring Gurira and Nyong'o. Throughout the rest of the film, any time none of these three women are onscreen, I found myself impatiently waiting for their return. More than anything else, they're the ones that truly make this movie work.

Twitter Sonnet #1085

A line in straw presents the only shield.
The sensors broke upon beholding stars.
The rabbits green dispersed in barley field.
The wind contorts the wheat to drying cars.
A waiting ghost returns the mind to dawn.
A sprinkling starred the darkened forest edge.
Collected hues combine chromatic brawn.
The boulder 'neath the house is called a ledge.
A massive cursor moves the mouse anew.
In shapely time the pear's too like a watch.
Ordained for fast repast the snows accrue.
A dip between the wire hills was notched.
A paper rights itself on inky tracks.
The shelling front prepares for turtle backs.

» The Real Brigadiers

This past week I watched again two stories featuring UNIT on Doctor Who, the fictional military task force introduced to the series in 1968. I watched the 1989 story Battlefield and the 2008 two parter "The Sontaran Stratagem"/"The Poison Sky". It sure was nice when multiple episodes were unified under one title. Anyway, while I think the 2008 story is better than Battlefield, I found myself wishing the new series had continued with some of the changes to UNIT introduced in Battlefield, which was designed as sort of a reboot to the organisation.

I talked a couple weeks ago about the philosophical conflict that defined much of the Third Doctor era in the early 70s--the Doctor, a character whose preference not to carry or use guns often manifesting in disgust for them, working as a science advisor for a military organisation headed by his friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The most frequently recurring character from throughout the show's long history, the Brigadier was always played by Nicholas Courtney. Introduced in the Second Doctor era, he featured in the majority of the Third Doctor's serials and appeared in a few Fourth and Fifth Doctor serials before making his final appearance in Battlefield.

Battlefield reintroduces that philosophical conflict, centring on legends of King Arthur, established in the serial as having been the result of alien influence. I think. It's a little hard to follow and a lot of the faux archaic dialogue is incredibly stilted. When the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) asks if one young knight (Marcus Gilbert) recognises him he receives the reply, "No, not your aspect, but your manner that betrays you. Do you not ride the ship of time? Does it not deceive the senses being larger within than without?"

The story notably features Jean Marsh as Morgaine, an actress whose history with the show goes all the way back to the First Doctor era but who, in Battlefield, was for all intents and purposes reprising her role as the villain Bavmorda from Ron Howard's film Willow. She recognises and honours the Brigadier as a warrior.

After the Doctor's bluff is called when he threatens to kill Morgaine's son, Mordred (Christopher Bowen), it's up to the Brigadier to use firearms to get things done. This is a story where the argument for the use of weapons wins against the Doctor's preference for avoiding them. By the time of "The Sontaran Strategem", though, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), had become even readier to express his disgust for solutions involving military might, perhaps a reference to his recent experiences in the Time War. Guns end up coming in handy in that story but it remains a comfort to watch a series where the central protagonist has such an aversion to something that creates so much pain and sorrow in reality.

The 2008 episode shows a UNIT headed by a kind of wishy washy fellow named Colonel Mace (Rupert Holliday-Evans), who's slightly better than the dull Kate Stewart who has headed the organisation in episodes over the past few seasons. But personally I don't understand why the new Brigadier introduced in Battlefield, Bambera (Angela Bruce), wasn't brought back for the new series.

Don't get me wrong, she's nowhere near as cool as Lethbridge-Stewart. She's kind of over the top with her invariably ornery response to the Doctor trying to help, to people asking for basic information, to the crisis in Battlefield involving a nuclear missile. But the Brigadier should be a bit over the top. Nicholas Courtney is essentially playing a sincere version of Graham Chapman's military characters from Monty Python. That's part of the fun, he's a type but he's not a satire. He's like Roger Livesey in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the caricatured old fashioned British military man brought back to reality with affection. It's like sincerity's revenge against irony.

Kate Stewart was introduced in a direct to video, unofficial tie-in movie starring Courtney as the Brigadier, so there is a sort of continuity reason for her to be there. Nonetheless, I hope one of the things incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall does in the upcoming new series is to put someone else in charge of UNIT. Osgood might not be a bad choice, the UNIT scientist introduced in 2013's "The Day of the Doctor". Ingrid Oliver, who plays her, seems to understand that right balance between cartoonish and absolutely on the level.
» The Coveted, Sterile Territory

Maybe one day you'll look around at some of your friends, family, and colleagues and find their eyes have become alien, in some imperceptible way they've become strangers inside. It would be even worse if it happened when you were stranded on an alien planet as in Mario Bava's 1965 film Planet of the Vampires. There are fascinating implications to the transfer of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers concept to an alien world where humanity has, if unintentionally, become the invaders who are overcome by the brain washing aliens. The film is chilling and it's also cool, particularly since the restored print is so pristine, and the dated nature of Bava's style has become captivating.

A clear influence on Ridley Scott's Alien films, the atmosphere evoked by the fog and bizarre rock formations on the world on which two ships are forced to land should be familiar to anyone who's seen 1979's Alien. So, too, would be the great skeletons found on an ancient crashed vessel discovered by the human crew and the unanswered mystery surrounding the skeletons.

In place of the messy, realist feel of the Nostromo crew and ship design, though, Bava gives us a style for the humans somewhere between the eerily clean and sterile ships of 50s American Science Fiction films and the Italian high fashion strongly in evidence in Bava's Danger: Diabolik or Blood and Black Lace. We also learn very little about the crews of the two human ships, the effect of which is to give the film a more stripped down, hypothetical quality, like Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Since the aliens are completely invisible before possessing the bodies of the dead they work even more vividly as a metaphor for ideology than the pod people in Body Snatchers.

Where Body Snatchers worked so well as a nightmare about McCarthyism or the spread of Communism (depending on your point of view), Planet of the Vampires operates as a horror about colonialism. When one of the aliens speaks through a possessed dead man, he doesn't come off as overtly sinister, in fact he seems like he sincerely wants Captain Markary (Barry Sullivan) to understand that what he and his fellow aliens are doing is necessary for their survival. There's a nice ambiguity, though, about who would be the colonists in this reading--you could look at it as humans "going native" in an extreme way, or you could look at it as the aliens colonising the humans, a reading that's facilitated further by the fact that the world isn't the homeworld of the aliens, merely one of a series of worlds to which they've spread and conquered.

The horror is effective in that it plays on guilt for crimes that are seen as necessary for survival, but seen as such for abstract rationalisation than for completely clear reasons. An ideology spreads, insisting that the destruction of its enemies is ultimately necessary for survival, but because this can't be known for sure there's always an underlying anxiety. Planet of the Vampires denies easy answers as much as it denies visuals of comfort on the ships or the inhospitable world.
» Another Aftermath

I usually have Mystery Science Theatre 3000 on while I make dinner. It was good last night to lighten the mood after reading articles and reports about yesterday's school shooting that left 17 dead. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a series in which three comedians provide mocking commentary for bad movies, the episode I had on last night, from 1994, featured a 1956 exploitation film called The Violent Years with a screenplay by Ed Wood. Listening to cops and reporters in the movie discuss increasing violent delinquency in youths of the 1950s was odd after the day's news. The film turns into Wood's cheesy sexual fantasy about beautiful girls kidnapping a young man and turning him into their plaything but the concept of teens gone bad was a real anxiety in the 50s as evidenced by the number of such films covered by Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Films such as Teen-Age Crime Wave, Girls Town, and High School Big Shot. I was reminded how claims that one generation is worse than the last are put down to paranoid imagination and sentimentality. However, the escalating numbers in school shootings in the U.S. seem to indicate things really have gotten worse--Wikipedia has a very useful breakdown by decades. There were 15 school shootings in the first decade of the 20th century, 19 in the second, 10 in the 20s, 9 in the 30s, 8 in the 40s, 17 in the 50s, 18 in the 60s, 30 in the 70s, 39 in the 80s, and 62 in the 90s for a total of 226 in the 20th century. In the 21st century there have already been 212, 143 of which have occurred since 2010.

I saw someone on Twitter last night point out the assault rifle, like the one used in yesterday's shooting, was introduced into U.S. military service in 1964. I do think this is a clear indication the rifle needs to be made illegal for civilian purchase. In addition to the damage it can inflict at a rapid pace, I suspect its availability is in itself a psychological motivator. A potential shooter who might think twice about trying to carry out a rampage with a handgun might see his chances of successfully committing his crimes as far better when he knows he can get his hands on an assault rifle.

But I think the statistics also make it clear the rifle is not alone responsible for the increase in these killings. I'd rather not venture any opinion on the psychological changes that may be responsible except to say that it seems to me there must more kids now who lack the imagination to see humanity in their fellow students. Looking at pictures of the victims to-day and reading a little about them it's hard to conceive of anyone wanting to cause their deaths.

Once again, like most people, I feel sure no policy changes will be implemented in response to this latest shooting. When Barack Obama spoke in the aftermath of a shooting you sensed his desperation and grief at Washington's inertia on the issue. When Trump addressed the nation on this shooting his speech sounded perfunctory and dim, as though he were thinking about something else. If a president who seemed to care couldn't do anything, I certainly don't expect much from a president who doesn't seem to care.

I was already thinking yesterday about David Bowie's 2013 song "Valentine's Day" which was written in response to school shootings. I wonder why Bowie chose to allude to Valentine's Day in the song. It does make a kind of horrible sense, aside from the connexion to the infamous Saint Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. There's something about the concept of a day intended to be about love for others being twisted into a day in which someone commits an ultimate act of selfishness.

Twitter Sonnet #1084

A box of wrenches waits where cans are set.
A timely row resolves the stack for pans.
The dice emerged of soot to burn the bet.
In neatly ranged assorted cakes were lands.
The noted pipes permitted smoke to go.
A stack of fragile barks consumed the creek.
A plastic fish obliged the fleet to tow.
A rudder pats a salmon on the cheek.
The music slide would feed pianos first.
Again for shorter time a train arrives.
As shadows grew we slowly gained a thirst.
Again the gravel air in dust revives.
As measures dreamt recede beneath the pall.
As shades in progress mute eclipse the wall.

» Optimism is Despair

I realised recently the sensei America needs right now is Zetsubou Sensei (Zetsubou meaning "despair"). Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (さよなら絶望先生) was a manga that ran from 2005 to 2012 which was turned into an anime series with three seasons, airing from 2007 to 2010. The anime never saw an official release in the U.S. possibly because it was never a very mainstream success in Japan and its humour may have been deemed too reliant on Japanese politics and media. But watching the first episode again to-day, with its focus on the madness inherent in aggressively imposed interpretation, I can't think of anything that more accurately reflects the American psyche.

I always thought the fundamental conflict between the series' two central protagonists was genius. There are two principle layers to it--on the most superficial layer, Itoshiki-Sensei (Hiroshi Kamiya) is a high school teacher who interprets everything in the most negative way possible and his student, Kafuka (Ai Nonaka), named after Franz Kafka, interprets everything in the most positive way possible. Itoshiki is always trying to commit suicide and Kafuka is always coming up with reasons why there's still hope and life is worth living. But the first scene of the first episode quickly establishes the sinister second layer--Kafuka's rationalisations are so paper thin that they only serve to underline the negative reality. Her choosing to interpret her parents' attempts to hang themselves as attempts to make themselves grow taller only serves to compel the mind to contemplate suicide as the end point of the puzzle Kafuka's madness presents. Kafuka's positive interpretations act as a sort of funnel drawing the mind to a deeper despair.

Itoshiki's negative interpretations are often similarly ridiculous. He talks to the school councillor about his belief that his credit card info is being stolen every time he swipes his subway card, he talks about how the symbol on a baseball cap resembles the kanji for "hair" making it sad that the man wearing the hat is bald. He tells the councillor he feels better after talking about these things. Whenever Kafuka's attempts to save his life inevitably threaten his life worse than his actual suicide attempt, he always says, "What if I had died?" His compulsions to view things negatively are so patently irrational there's no rational solution to them on their own terms--the reality is that they're a form of catharsis for him. He subverts a typical assignment where a teacher asks the students to list a series of hopes for the future by asking them to list only goals they despair of accomplishing. By hitting the negative potential pre-emptively, he can mitigate some of the pain. But the flaw in this technique is highlighted by how Kafuka serves as his foil.

As fiction in the U.S. becomes increasingly focused on alternate interpretations and what these interpretations suggest about the interpretor, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is well ahead of us. Now that the U.S. has a cruel, post-modernist joke occupying the office of president, madness has become the reality so it's become mad to adhere to prior forms of realism. We can try to find solutions by setting up large, negative interpretations, conduct witch hunts with no foreseeable rational solutions under the delusion that by keeping busy we're making a form of progress. Or we can subscribe to superstitions, like Kafuka interprets a hikikomori (shut-in) student as being a Zashiki Warashi, a household spirit, because a psychological condition like that of the hikikomori couldn't possibly exist within Kafuka's social circle.

Just as Trump can deny global warming by talking about extremely cold temperatures despite scientists having said that climate change could result in colder winters. It's not that people don't have the capacity to understand the more complicated reality behind the name "global warming", it's that Trump and others rely on the superficiality of words themselves to create the perceived reality. A version of reality so paper thin it only highlights how bad things really are.

There are many flavours of madness and so Itoshiki sensei has an entire classroom of students, each with his or her own method of altering reality. Chiri (Marina Inoue) demands strict, measurable reality so when she's decided to slice a cake to evenly divide it among classmates she loses herself in increasingly complex computations as more students enter the room. Meru (various voice actresses) is typically too shy to speak but frequently spreads abusive e-mails and online comments. Each student in his or her way tries the limits of Itoshiki's negative outlook. Sometimes the humour on the show falls flat but for the most part it's become more and more insightful as time has gone by.

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