selenak: (Hyperion by son_of)
I think [personal profile] trobadora put her fingers on why I enjoyed the new Captain Marvel movie without loving it in her review here. It got me thinking about another example where a set up that was, in theory, ideal to explore torn loyalties, inner character conflict, identity issues, fleshing out the antagonists (without excusing their deeds) was simply ignored because that wasn't what the movie wanted to be about, to wit: Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Finn.

It bears repeating: making one of the main characters a deserting storm trooper was, by itself, a brilliant idea. But then the movie went out of its way not to do anything with it. It gave us a throway line of dialogue to make it clear that despite having been raised a storm trooper, Finn never before the opening assault of the movie took part in any battle but worked in waste extraction. (So there's no blood on his hands.) The only other storm trooper we see him interact with in two movies so far is Phasma, and there's nothing but mutual loathing between them. He doesn't appear to have made a single friend throughout his life pre movie, and yet the way he interacts with Poe and Rey isn't that different as if he'd had Luke's backstory of growing up a farmboy on a backwater planet instead.

Now, I don't think I'm being unfair if I speculate that the reason for this is that the sequel producers and writers wanted to keep the storm troopers as easily killable canon fodder. (For similar reasons, I bet that whatever this new Amazon series set in the Lord of the Rings universe will include, it won't be a single orc deciding to go vegetarian and/or to hell with fighting.) If they'd shown Finn conflicted about going up against his former comrades, despite having come to regard their cause as utterly wrong, if they'd shown some of his former comrades hesitating before shooting, then you get Kevin Smith's famous "how many workers on the Death Star when Luke blew it up?", but in earnest. They wanted a feel good action movie without any divided feelings about the heroes' victory at the end, not something that goes "good that the day and the innocents were saved, but how sad that these characters who maybe could have changed sides just as Finn did in other circumstances are dead, too". (And they definitely did not want Finn pondering his personal responsibility for having served a fascist regime in the past, complete with flashbacks to him as part of a unit bullying and shooting people.)

Spoilers about Captain Marvel to follow )
selenak: (Illyria by Kathyh)
In which it's flashback time, and also the show's gods seem to operate on the same principle as the Endless in Sandman, which is news to me, but okay.

Read more... )
selenak: (Charlotte Ritter)
Last night I went to a reading of love letters through history. One of those was by Erich Maria Remarque and adressed to Marlene Dietrich, with whom he had a three years long love affair.. They'd very briefly met in 1930, which was an annus mirabilis for both of them (Remarque published a world wide bestseller, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Marlene achieved first German and then international fame via The Blue Angel and departed to Hollywood), but that had been a meeting without consequences. Seven years later, in 1937, they met again, both anti-Nazi expatriates at that point and a bit beyond the apogee of their success, and this time, there were sparks.

The story of that second encounter, which I only learned last night, is so charming that I felt I had to share it after verifying it this morning. She'd just ended things (for now) with Douglas Fairbanks (Jr), Hedy Lamarr had just ended things with him. They met at the Lido in Venice. He (re-) introduced himself, they hit it off, and en route to her hotel room we get the following line from the writer, according to Marlene herself:

Remarque: "I must tell you I am currently impotent. If it is so desired, I can of course be a totally enchanting little lesbienne." ("Ich bin total impotent . . . aber wenn es gewünscht wird, kann ich natürlich eine ganz bezaubernde kleine lesbienne sein.")

Reader, this is how you make a successful pass at Marlene Dietrich. "Oh, how wonderful", quoth she, and when narrating this tale to Johannes Mario Simmel, author of my favourite spy novel, added: "How I adored that man."


Simmel is one of the sources for this story; the other is Maria Riva, Marlene's daughter, who said about Remarque: "What moved me most about the complex personality of the Erich Maria Remarque that I knew, was his astounding vulnerability. One doesn't expect the man who (arguably) wrote the definitive book about the personal experience of war to possess such childish innocence - when you initially met him, he came across as a world famous author who carried this glory and fate with a confident acceptance. In reality, this was Remarque's protective shield."

(Another Riva story: when she told Remarque she couldn't love her mother, he replied: "But you must. She loves you the way she understands love. It's just that her rotation speed is at a thousand revolutions per minute, while the rest of us are satisfied with a hundred. We need an hour to love her, but she loves us just as much in six minutes.")

In the end, they drifted apart because of his jealousy of her other affairs and her finding him too intense, but they remained in loose contact until he died. Whereupon his wife, Paulette Goddard, destroyed most of Marlene's letters, but all of Remarque's still exist, and were published nearly twenty years ago, hence one of them being used at last night's reading.


https://www.ndr.de/kultur/buch/remarquedietrich100_v-contentgross.jpg
selenak: (Volcano by Kathyh)
[profile] lilacsigel provides links so you can help victims and their families here.

I had originally planned to rant about the way the very people whose hateful rethoric shapes such terrorism even now just blithely continue (between one or two crocodile tears at best), but you know what, [personal profile] sovay has the right idea. No naming them. No speaking them. The victims count.
selenak: (KircheAuvers - Lefaym)
Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Würzburg, one of the last German cities to be firebombed in WWII before the surrender. The assumption on the German side had been it wouldn't be, since it didn't have any big industries and a lot of hospitals, but a) by March 1945, there were hardly any German cities left to bomb, and bombing was still deemed essential for demoralizing the population, b) Würzburg had an almost intact medieval city center full of timber buildings, which meant it would be ideal for a firestorm (and in fact 90% of it was burned) and c) it still was a transport hub for trains (such as were still going in March 45). (BTW, this is still true - Würzburg is a central junction for switching trains even today.)

Now, most of the citizens of Würzburg were not by any definition of the word resistance fighters, or even neutral. In 1930, three years before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, a Jewish-Russian theatre troup was supposed to perform the play The Dybbuk in the local theatre, and the local Nazis were so successful in organizing riots against the performance that anyone visiting the theatre anyway that evening had to be escorted by the police. The Nazis came to power in January 1933; by March 1933, the Mayor was forced to leave office and make way for an NSDAP member, leaving an undisputedly Nazi-led city behind. Everything that happened in the rest of Germany - book burnings, boycotts, progroms, and then, starting in 1941, deportations of the remaining Jewish citizens - happened in Würzburg, too.

But here's the thing. Today, Würzburg, like Dresden, is part of the Community of the Cross of Nails, started in and by Coventry, where after the 1940 bombardment three large nails were found in the destroyed Cathedral. In today's anniversary concert in Würzburg, they will sing Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and they will recite the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation at the Marienkapelle. And every time I think about how absolutely toxic the endless WWII cult in Britain has become, how much it has contributed to the currrently unfolding disaster, I also remind myself that in Britain, you had parliamentary debates the justification of "area bombing" and "morale bombing" throughout the war. You had people saying that no, the dead of Dresden and Würzburg were not justifed by the dead of Coventry and London. Okay,so it was just Bishop George Bell in the House of Lords and two Labour MPs in the House of Commons, but still. In Britain, during a war against an undisputably evil foe who had demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt what his aims were, you had voices saying that no, even fighting Nazis, the end does not justify all means, and you had them in one of the branches of government.

See, to me, this strikes me as something far more impressive than the endlessly hailed "Blitz spirit". Because, as, among other things, the complete lack of intended effect of "morale bombing" in Germany proved, any nation bombed, no matter what its leadership is like, is prone to respond with rallying together. But it's a rare human being who will say "no, the end does NOT justify the means, even against Hitler", and it takes an admirable sense of democracy to have these voices heard instead of forbidding them during a crisis and/or a time of war. In any nation, helping each other's neighbours when they lose their home is thankfully something more prevelant than the opposite. But to reach out to a suffering enemy after one's own suffering, to offer to become twin cities as Coventry did to Dresden in the mid-1950s (when in addition to everything else, Dresden was behind the Iron Curtain and thus part of the Eastern bloc) - that takes a generosity of spirit and a human decency which we should all strive to.

I watch the Brexiteers with their ridiculously inappropriate WWII comparisons, see the millionth WWII era tale (featuring Plucky Hero(ine) Fighting Evil Nazis) announced, and wonder: if pop culture had adopted this other heritage from WWII to even a third of the degree, might that have made a difference?
selenak: Siblings (Michael and Spock)
In which we return to an s1 habit I did not miss. Otoh, Kat Cornwell is also back, much more satisfyingly than in her first s2 appearance, and Michael and Spock continue to do their best to push my dysfunctional siblings button.

Read more... )
selenak: (KircheAuvers - Lefaym)
Amazon Prime put this up, and it's as gorgeous as advertised, so now I really regret not having caught it in the cinema, because it must have been even more glorious to watch on the big screen, with (nearly) every frame a Van Gogh canvas, handpainted, not computer made. "Nearly", because there are black and white flashbacks interrupting the handpainted story now and then. At one point in Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo, Theo van Gogh says as a child he dreamt of stepping inside a painting and living there. Well, Loving Vincent is as close as you can get to fulfilling that dream.

Its narrative structure is that of a detective story involving exclusively fictionalized versions of people Van Gogh painted. A year after his death, the pov character, restless and moody Armand Roulin from Arles his charged by his father, the local postmaster, to deliver a leftover letter from Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo. (Roulin Père was friends with Vincent; Armand, not so much, and feeling slightly guilty about it feeds into his motivation through the film.) Finding out in Paris that Theo, too, has died, Armand ends up in Auvers where Vincent died, talking to various people about his last weeks, and essentially figuring out the theory first voiced in Steven Naifeh and Gregory White's 2011 Van Gogh biography. (That Vincent didn't kill himself, who actually did, and why Vincent would cover up for that person, since he did state to several people he tried to commit suicide in the almost two days between the shooting and his death.) As is proper for a detective tale, there are red herrings before the guilty party is identified, though then comes a last touch of ambiguity when the last person Armand talks to in the course of his investigation provides a pretty good motive why Vincent could have committed suicide after all.

But really, this is a film which lives by its art, in every sense of the word. It was in fact filmed using actors (who voice the characters in the final product), with the painted versions then using this as motion references. If simply the version of the actors had been onscreen, it would never have risen above being a tv bio special sort of thing, and I don't mean that as a put down, because the visuals are, to point out the glaringly obvious, the key part of what makes and unmakes a movie. Loving Vincent is an incredible achievement on that front, and that the emotion that comes with watching those Van Gogh paintings come to life and interact with each other would not be there in a conventionally filmed version isn't a criticism but an applause in my book. It also makes for a wonderful tribute to Van Gogh and manages to free his art from the post card feeling which inevitably arises now and then due to a million reproductions, bringing home its vibrancy.

(Mind you: his art from this later years. The earliest paintings referenced are the ones made in Paris when Armand is there; no Potato Eaters or other early attempts and drawings from Vincent's Dutch life.)

As to the characterisation of the central dead subject: the movie hammers home that a nervous breakdown does not a crazy man make, but otherwise is is pretty much standard Vincent van Gogh, gentle soul, martyr for his art, too good for this world. The black and white sequence of his backstory pre Paris as told by Pere Tanguy to Armand lays it on a bit thick on how he failed at everything before becoming a painter in order to enhance his woobieness even further. In fact, he started out pretty successful as an art dealer at Goupil's (where his uncle Cent worked and where later Theo would work as well), earning more with 20 than his father the pastor did at the same time. That he then came to fail at the art business and drop out of it came to be via a variety of circumstances - unrequited love, increasing religious fervour and increasing distaste for the way the firm commodified art while having increasingly strong art opinions himself.

Van Gogh having a temper of his own, though (and not just when having a breakdown in Arles), and actual flaws (his idea of making his cousin Kee change her mind after she'd turned him down repeatedly involved holding his hand into fire until she talked to him, and when he came to live with Theo in Paris for two years pre-Arles and post-Netherlands, Theo, inarguably the person who loved Vincent best and basically gave his life for him, found him impossible to live with at close quarters) is not something you'll find here, or in most Van Gogh biopics. (Vincent and Theo being the rare exception.) And it's easy to see why - the tragedy of his early death, that he only sold one of those amazing paintings during his life time, and his many virtues - he really was a social idealist in addition to being an artistic one, and very kind to a great many (usually poor) people, and he had the courage to utterly change his life not once but twice (from art dealer to missionary, and then from missionary to painter) in defiance of what (almost) everyone else thought. But given Loving Vincent chose as its pov a character who starts out with reservations about Vincent, I was wondering whether or not it would join this very rare number of fictional Van Gogh presentations allowing him some less than admirable traits as well. Which wasn't the case.

In conclusion: a feast for the eyes, a love declaration to Vincent van Gogh, and a work of art. If you're in a region where it's up on Amazon Prime as well, go watch!
selenak: (Illyria by Kathyh)
The second season starts at a point of the book where I thought the first season would be by episode 3. There's again a mixture of great, nope and hm, don't know yet going on in me re: the tv version. In other words, American Gods, the tv series, is back.

With the best use of Johnny Cash since the Sarah Connor Chronicles )
selenak: (Resistance by Aweeghost)
More reviews unposted from recent weeks: Vice turned out to be a scathing satire which keeps the comedy painted on its barely contained volcanic rage. It's also preaching to the choir, of course, as I very much doubt conservatives are going to watch it. (I'm using "conservatives" in the traditional sense, i.e. I don't mean just Trumpists but also what remains of the Republican party that does admit to having problems with the current occupant of the White House.) It's even more preaching to the choir when you watch it in Germany, because seriously, back then there was cross-party consensus over here that the "weapons of mass destruction" charge was, to quote our then secretary of state, Joschka Fischer, talking to Rumsfeld during the G9 in Munich, "not convincing". To put it mildly. Bush II. was loathed, while I don't think many people were aware of who Dick Cheney was.

However, while the movie was at no point boring, did a pretty good job at tracing the various threads leading not just to Cheney's position in the Dubya years but to the current situation - the rise of Fox News and the decades of brainwashing that went with it, the destruction of anything progressive (Carter's environment-friendly solar cells on the White House being but one visual case in point), the accummulation of presidential powers, the Supreme Court as a partisan instrument (Florida!), the abandonment of even the pretense of following internationally agreed on ethical rules (yay torture! yay prisoners who are neither criminals nor prisoners of war and thus aren't given the rights of either!), and contains a lot of good performances, I find it ultimately lacking as a character drama, or dramedy, or however you want to put it.

Not because Christian Bale isn't his reliably good self. He delivers on every version of Cheney we see, from drunk frat boy to loving husband and father, from cog in the machine to super Machiavellian power player. But it feels more like a series of vignettes not connecting to a whole. By which I mean: early on, you see Lynne (Amy Adams is also very good) give Drunk Fratboy Cheney the "come to Jesus" speech, or rather, the "if you don't change yourself and become someone worth my time RIGHT NOW, you'll never see me again" speech, which galvanizes him to stop being a useless frat boy and start being a hard working future overlord in training. But it doesn't feel like there's an emotional connection between the young guy standing there getting metaphorically slapped into the face by his girlfriend and the clever manipulator later. They are both very well played by Christian Bale, but they don't feel like the same person. Even when there's the textual call back of Cheney observing drunk frat boy George W. during the Reagan years and then years later having his first serious conversation with Reformed Dubya about the later's candidacy, when the character brings up his own "wild" years as one of the ways to establish a rapport, there is an emotional disconnect.

It's similar with the scene where Cheney for once in his life chooses love over power - when he decides not to run for President himself so his lesbian daughter Mary won't get put through hell - vs the various other scenes when he does something ruthless. You don't get the impression of a multi-facetted man but several different men. To make a comparison to fictional guys: take my all time favourite Londo Mollari from Babylon 5. Who in the course of the show does a great many horrendous things. (Including starting a war under false pretenses.) But there is a connection between Londo's appealing characteristics and his dark side; the Londo who is enough of a romantic beneath the cynical aphorisms veneer to fall in love with a dancing girl is the same Londo nostalgic his home world's imperial past; that, too, is romanticism, and it bears toxic fruits. (And in yet another turn, this also makes him capable of sacrificing himself for his people.) There is no question of the Londo throwing exubarant parties in season 1 and the Londo watching the planet Narn bombed into the stone age in s2 is the same person. And that's what I'm missing in Vice.

Now you could say this is because JMS had several seasons of tv to tell Londo's story, while Vice is a two hour movie. But I think it comes down to something else, which perhaps is crystallized in a scene between Cheney and Rumsfeld when they're both working in the Ford White House; Cheney asks "Rummy", who at that point has the superior position and experience, "what do we believe in?", and Rumsfeld just laughs. That immediately felt fake to me, even for a satire. And also like a Doylist confession that our scriptwriting team and director didn't really have an explanation; to me, however, it seems that if you want to write a character like Cheney, you need to know what your version of this man believes in in order to create a whole person rather than a series of (witty, enraging) vignettes. Mind you, one reply to this could be: the point of the movie isn't to understand Dick Cheney, not even a fictional version of him. It's to expose what he (and others like him) did.

Of course, in many ways if you're a moderate or left-leaning, Cheney as a villain, and his rise to power, is easier to make sense of on your own than the Orange Menace's success and the way the various secret services and the military are suddenly hopes for damage control. Between Halliburton and all the government jobs in various Republican administrations he held, Cheney works as a a perfect embodiment of the military-industrial complex. The idea of him as the string puller and Bush the Younger as his stooge fits with narratives as old as Evil Viziers and Weak Monarchs. Basically: he fulfilles all the tropes, almost too easily. Now that kind of story offers hope of a happy ending (one day, the vizier is overthrown/there's a new government), which this film decidedly does not. It's positioned to arrive in a context where the rot accummulating in conservative America through the decades of Cheney's life has become all consuming. The film's narrator's identity is build on the not so hidden metaphor of the old consuming the future to keep their power, quite literally. But: the audience likely to watch this movie already believes that. So again I'm left with wondering why it was created.

In conclusion: an entertaining, frustrating work; overall, I'd classify it as an interesting failure.
selenak: (Abigail Brand by Handyhunter)
How you know you're getting old, part the XXXIV - it's now the 90s turn for nostalgia. I mean, the 90s! When we were thrilled as anything to have those slow loading computers. (And where Carol would not have gotten through this movie without at least one scene in her underwear.)

A tale of sound and Fury and cats )
selenak: (Vulcan)
In which it's reunion time all around.

Spoilers are into telepathy )
selenak: (Call the Midwife by Meganbmoore)
The power of the provider of my internet is with me once more, thus:

How can this be the season finale? )
selenak: (Vulcan)
Am currently having trouble with my internet and phone provider and thus reduced to public hotspots, thus, in brevity:


Read more... )
selenak: (James Boswell)
When I first started to hear about this film, I thought the story sounded very vaguely familiar, but it took months before I realised it's based on the same era, and partly on the same personel, as Eugene Scribe's play A Glass of Water, which I had seen in a 1960 filmed version, starring Liselotte Pulver as Queen Anne (decades younger and without 17 dead children), Sabine Sinjen as Abigail, Hilde Krahl as Sarah Churchill and Gustaf Gründgens as Henry St. John, who is based on a different Tory politician but roughly has a similar role to Harley in The Favourite. The reason why it took me months to realise the connection was that Scribe's play (which was first staged in 1842) is utterly without same sex relationships - Anne, Sarah and Abigail are after the same guy, Masham -, then there's Anne as a young ingenue queen, and lastly, the dominating figure and hero of the play is the worldly, aphorism-dropping Henry St. John, who champions peace with France, while Sarah (and her off stage husband, the Duke of Marlborough) are the definite villains, characterized as a couple of greedy war mongers prolonging the war with France for their own financial benefit. (BTW, this in a French play filmed in Germany in 1960 is not surprising.) Abigail, Queen Anne and Masham the universally desired boy toy are all young, naive and none too bright.

The Favourite, almost needless to say, tells a very different story.

Spoilers play a very different kind of game )

In conclusion, it's a vicious, highly entertaining comedy of manners with three great leading ladies, and does live up to the hype. And given the Black Sails backstory with the Hamiltons starts during Anne's rule, I definitely want crossovers.
selenak: (Call the Midwife by Meganbmoore)
In which I doff my hat to the show for the way it planted varilous elements for the storyline which in this episode gets its first big pay off, and for the pay off itself. That was one great episode!

Read more... )
selenak: (Discovery)
In which the most insane plan since Archer thought evolution was destiny is executed on a Star Trek show.

Read more... )
selenak: (Call the Midwife by Meganbmoore)
In which we had multiple subplots, and I am suddenly very worried for one of the midwives in particular.

Read more... )
selenak: (Peggy Carter by Misbegotten)
Various neat (and often short) stories in various fandoms from the recent Chocolatebox ficathon.


Agent Carter: After the Storm: The last time Peggy sees Dottie, it’s in 1991, at Howard Stark’s funeral. I have a soft spot for stories tackling older Peggy, and this is a very plausible version of her and Dottie, decades later. Love it both for the Peggy/Dottie and for Peggy's reflections on Howard in the background.

The Defenders: both stories are great slices of life, Jessica pov, for these four post- their respective canons.

Three Times Lucky

Sweetest Thing

Doctor Who:

Save Thyself: Concerning Missy's fate at the end of The Doctor Falls.

Friends make Friends Pancakes: lovely slice of life for Bill and the Doctor

Mongolian History:

Taking Inventory: how Fatima came to be Töregene Khatun's favourite. (Töregene was one of Genghis Khan's daughters-in-law, but you can read the story without previous Knowledge.)
selenak: (Discovery)
I’m frightfully busy these weeks and could watch this episode only ten minutes or so at a time because of this, not due to its content. Not the ideal way to enjoy a Star Trek ep!

Read more... )

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