selenak: (BC & DT by Kathyh)
( Jul. 24th, 2014 02:25 pm)
Alexander Siddig, aka Siddig el Fadil, is one of those enviable people - like Timothy Dalton - who look better and more impressive as they age. I found him good looking as a young man, but not exactly charismatic. (Though I liked Julian Bashir; but it was the kind of sympathy that wants to feed soup and cookies, not ask for an imaginary date.) Flashforward twenty years later, as could be seen in Cairo Times (for example), and: wow. Currently he's playing Saladin in a new play at the Globe, and check him out now!. I rest my case.


Good meta on fannish reactions to female characters falling in love. To quote the writer: It can be refreshing to see a woman character who doesn’t have romance subplot, because so many women characters are seen as as extensions of the male hero. But people can fall into a trap of judging women characters as automatically less if they do fall in love.

Too true. I mean, yes, there have been sad cases of female characters losing their non-romantic agenda and -relationships once they fall in love. (Insert grumblings including the name Laura Roslin here.) But that's no longer the rule. (Take Once Upon A Time, which has been called a fantasy soap often, and I can see why; there are definitely romantic storylines happening all over the place, and it's not the reinvention-of-tv-type of show. But the non-romantic relationships of the leading ladies are even more key to what drives the stories - Regina and Snow, Regina and Emma, Emma and Henry, Regina and Henry, Regina and Emma and Henry, Emma and Snow, Regina and Cora, etc. Or Orphan Black, where the relationships between the clones are the heart of the story, rivalled only by Sarah's relationships with Kira, Felix and Mrs. S..) So to automatically assume a female character will no longer get written/acted in an interesting way once they hook up strikes me as patronizing. (Also possibly "concern-trolling", which is a fascinating term I learned via reading this post, meaning, if I interpret it correctly, to disguise a negative reaction to a female character by dragging up social justice reasons as opposed to "she's in the way of my ship!" or "I just don't like her".)

Going off on a tangent: mind you, there are a few examples of male characters benefitting from no longer being the love interest (for example, Angel is a far more interesting character on his own show than on BTVS where he was strictly Buffy's love interest, and in one season also opponent, and one of reasons is the way AtS gives him a lot of other relationships), but generally I don't think - if the internet is anything to go by, which could be misleading - people mind male characters being mainly defined through their relationship to the heroine, possibly because there are still on avarage many more male-centric stories than female-centric stories, and they see it as some sort of karmic payback/refreshing twist.

One more utterly unrelated link: An interview with the delightful Bernard Cribbins, living British entertainment legend and familiar to Whovians as Wilfred Mott, Donna's grandfather.
Casting news (in one case older news for most people, I'm sure) that made me realise my priorities and double standards:

a) Bradley James is in the fourth season of Homeland. Sorry, Bradley James, I loved your Arthur Pendragon in Merlin, but there were a lot of reasons why I quit watching Homeland in early s3, among them loss of quality and questionable ideology, and I'm not going back.

b) Lucy Lawless is the the second season of Agents of SHIELD. Now this is a show I haven't watched so far; my flist/circle had about two third naysays, one third (all the more enthusiastic) yaysayers about it, there were so many other interesting shows to watch, and also I'm so fond of the MCU I didn't want to risk dampening the emotion by disgruntlement should I dislike AoS. However, Lucy Lawless in the Marvelverse? Must have! (Unless she's only in one episode, I should acertain that first.) (If you recognize where the quote titling this post comes from, you might feel similarly.)

Meanwhile, further news both on the Lewis & Tolkien and the solo Tolkien biopics in planning demonstrate someone's (be the publicity people, the reporters, or, heaven forfend, the scriptwriters) lack of actual knowledge re: Tolkien and Lewis, as is entertainingly pointed out here.

Penny Dreadful:

We have a Penny Dreadful vid! And a good one, covering the ensemble and the relationships between same - with one unfortunate exception. Which, sadly for me though not for the vidder and the vid, happens to be the relationship I'm most interested in. There is a complete lack of Malcolm in the vid (and hence also no Vanessa and Malcolm). Which reminds me that last week when someone at last posted Penny Dreadful icons, I was delighted...until I saw there were no Malcolm and no Vanessa and Malcolm icons. Alas. Anyway, back to the original point, which was: a shiny vid about a lovely twisted Victorian Gothic show:

A Shot for the Pain (11 words) by Franzeska
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Penny Dreadful (TV)
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Additional Tags: Fanvids, ConStrict 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past:

Missing scene type of fanfic covering how old Erik and old Charles reunited, which is just what I need when the angst elsewhere gets too much:

Rescue Me (2492 words) by Unforgotten
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Erik Lehnsherr/Charles Xavier
Characters: Erik Lehnsherr, Charles Xavier
Additional Tags: Pre-Movie(s), jailbreak, Reunions

Against all hope, Charles and Erik reunite at the beginning of the Sentinel War.

And lastly, not completely unrelated to the beginning of this post, something only funny if a) you know German, b) have a vague idea about what the Bavarian dialect sounds like, and c) are familiar with a certain 1990s fantasy show made in New Zealand: Xena auf Bayrisch.
This show being what it is, I had to wait till I felt up to the inevitable darkness I was sure this last season of the Danish mystery series would contain. But now I marathoned it.

Watching Sarah Lund, her jumpers and her thousand-miles-star for the last time )
selenak: (Black Widow by Endlessdeep)
( Jul. 21st, 2014 04:11 pm)
I strongly suspect one of the reasons why, by and large, I like the cinematic Marvelverse better than the DC-based movies, is that while DC ever since Nolan made his first Batman movie puts all their money on grimdark (both in themes and look) and shies away from anything looking remotely like it could be perceived as camp, the Marval guys embrace their comicbook origins and looks with gusto. (See also: Loki in full reindeer Asgard regalia in The Avengers.) This vid celebrates the comicness of the MCU (and the eyecandy) with equal gusto.

More on the thematic exploration side, but still MCU based, to be specific, about how Phase 2 of the MCU movies (Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Cap 2) had our heroes questioning the identiies they've built themselves without losing the drive to make a difference: Counting Stars .

Which was made by [personal profile] such_heights, who also made a great vid celebrating Buffy the Vampire Slayer (both show and girl): Level Up.

And lastly, I got 12 out of 13 questions right in this Beatles quiz, which is good or pathetic, depending on your pov. (I appreciated the questions weren't of the dumb "what were their last names" type you often find with quizzes.)
Yesterday, when I had occasion to hunt for quotes, I was reminded of this bit in Lewis' early day memoirs, Surprised by Joy, about his teenage self - already a big fan of Norse mythology - distracting himself of the horror that was English Public School by writing. As one does. (The easiest modern day equivalent for the "Bloods" referred to in the quotes are high school jocks.) Quoth Lewis:

But the Northerness still came first and the only work I completed at this time was a tragedy, Norse in Subject and Greek in form. It was called Loki Bound (...) My Loki was not merely mallicious. He was against Odiin because Odin had created a world though Loki had clearly warned him that this was a wanton cruelty. Why should creatures have the burden of existence forced on them without their consent? The main contrast in my play was between the sad wisdom of Loki and the brutal orthodoxy of Thor. Odin was partly sympathetic; he could at least see what Loki meant and there had been old friendship between those two two before cosmic politics forced them apart. Thor was the real villain, Thor with his hammer and his threats, who was always egging Odin on against Loki an dalways complaining that Loki did not sufficiently respect the major gods, to which Loki replied

I pay respect to wisdom not to strength.

Thor was, in fact, the symbol of the Bloods; though I see that more clearly now than I did at the time. Loki was a projection of myself; he voiced that sense of priggish superiority whereby I was, unfortunately, beginning to compensate myself for my unhappiness.

While Lewis would probably be appalled by Marvel breaking up the Odin/Loki OTP by making them father and son instead of blood brothers and giving the fraternal relationship to Loki and Thor instead, methinks he would recognize the mechanism of (a lot of) current day fanfiction easily enough and be amused.

Incidentally, speaking of brothers forced apart by cosmic politics, the trailer for Ridley Scott's Exodus is out and it looks like this version of the Moses tale will go more into the Prince of Egypt direction than the Ten Commandments one in how Moses and Ramses start not as rivals but as friends. In fact, this looks more like a live action version of Prince of Egypt than anything else. (Incidentally, who first identified the Pharao of the Exodus with Ramses II. and why? Because Ramses II. is actually one of the Pharaos who got to live into a ripe old age and ruled for decades, which you'd think makes him an unsuitable candidate to have perished in the Red Sea. Considering Cecil B. De Mille did a silent movie version of The Ten Commandments first, it might have been his scriptwriters' fault, but maybe they got their ideas somewhere else?) The trailer also makes it look as if the current day moral trickiness of the Plagues, especially the last one where God kills all the first born of Egypt, will be addressed. Then again, Ridley Scott has an uneven record and could produce anything between a dud or something amazing. The visuals are bound to be great, though. Mind you, given that Noah flopped - obvious pun of "sunk" is too obvious -, I'm not sure about the success chance for biblical epics these days. Precisely because the idea of divine punishment sits so uneasily on our shoulders. Now, some of the core elements of the Exodus tale - an enslaved people breaking free, their oppressor vanquished - have guaranteed its adaptability and potential for identification through the ages (there's a reason why so many gospels use it, for example), but I think both presenting Moses as somewhat conflicted between his Egyptian and his Hebrew identity and writing Pharao as someone other than Evil McEvil tyrant and the Egyptians as someone other than Evil McEvil oppressors is a relatively recent (i.e. later part of 20th century and following) development. (One of the most original twists' I've read was Judith Tarr's novel Pillar of Fire in which Moses was in fact Akhenaten who had faked his death and became reborn in the desert, so to speak. I'm not sure she pulled it off successfully, but interesting it was.) Otoh, of course if the enslavement in Egypt isn't truly presented as horrifying, the narrative loses some of its power, and bearing Gladiator in mind, I'm pretty sure Scott will go for brutal oppression in Egypt. Otoh, "character who belongs to the ruling elite discovers he was, in fact, born among the oppressed powerless" is just his type of identity crisis. I didn't watch Noah, but I think I'll watch this one on the big screen.

...and in completely unrelated news: according to his interview with The Guardian, one of the things Edward Snowden currently does is marathoning The Wire. Somehow, this strikes me as very fitting.
The announcement of a movie about the friendship between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis reminded me again how inconvenient real life often operates when it comes to dramatizing, especially regarding giving a story climax and resolution. The last time C.S. Lewis was the subject of a biographical movie, Shadowlands, it was focused on a relationship of his as well, true, but the death of the other main character, his wife Joy, and Lewis struggling through the immediate aftermath provided a natural third act and resolution, so to speak. Even so, the script simplified and exised people a great deal (Joy went from having two sons from her first marriage to having only one, Lewis' friends - Tolkien, Williams et al. - were all represented, sort of, as one fictional character named Christopher, and absolutely no mention was made of Lewis' pre-Joy decades long relationship with a woman, "Mintho" Moore. (As I understand it the nature of the relationship - filial, romantic or a mixture of the two - is still under debate, but what's not under debate is that he lived with her for decades and she hadn't been dead that long when he met Joy.) Mentioning this isn't meant as a put-down on my part, by the way. All this exising of characters allows for a tighter focus, I found the film very moving and superbly acted by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger (one reason why I was so dissappointed when the film's scriptwriter recently was such an ass about his Mandela biopic flopping), and at any rate, Shadowlands isn't supposed to be about Lewis' entire life and never claimed to cover all the aspects.

Now, with Tolkien and Lewis, I wonder what kind of structure they'll go for. Act I: Our Heroes meet and hit it off between love for all things Norse and Tolkien converting Lewis to Christianity, leading to Inklings, Hobbit, Screwtape, Tolkien starting LotR, Lewis starting Narnia. Act II: Lewis dashes off Narnia books at top speed, happily mixing fauns and Father Christmas, and becomes a Christian Explainer To The Masses, both of which irritates Tolkien a lot for various reasons. However, "Fellowship" getting published and Lewis writing glowing reviews while suggesting Tolkien for the Nobel Prize papers over the cracks for a while, until the arrival of either Charles Williams or Joy Gresham or both (depending on whether the script wants to use both) in Lewis' life and Lewis insisting on Tolkien befriending them when he, Lewis, had previously refused to have anything to do with Edith Tolkien leads to serious enstrangement. Act II climaxes with a big argument. Act III: well, there's the problem. As far as I know, and I could be misremembering or not knowing in the first place, Tolkien and Lewis drifting apart wasn't, in fact, a dramatic series of arguments but more a slow and entirely undramatic series of contact lessening and terse remarks in letters to other people. It's not like either of them ever wrote a How Do You Sleep? about each other or attacked each other via the press. Why so restrained and dignified, English professors? I bet the script will go entirely fictional at that point, inventing both a dramatic face to face argument and (after some scenes of pining) an equally dramatic reconciliation (maybe after Joy's death), and it fades out with them sitting on a bench a la Bilbo and Gandalf early in the film version of Fellowship, two battered old friends together.

So far, so semi-serious speculation on my part. Now for some completely irreverent flippancy: fandom being what it is, if this movie will cast actors as Tolkien and Lewis who are in any way regarded as hot, there will be slash. Depending on how successful the movie is, it could be solely a tiny corner at Yuletide or the next Big Thing. If the later, I predict Joy and/or Edith bashing of the She Comes Between Them type as well. If Charles Williams exists in the movie, He Comes Between Them As Well, but that traditionally doesn't lead to bashing in a male character, it leads to rival ships. Williams could have a postmortem career as the next Castiel there, with Lewis/Williams the alternative to the big Lewis/Tolkien juggernaut, and a small but vocal minority writing Tolkien/Williams hate sex. Poor Mrs. Moore probably won't exist in this one at all, either, and definitely won't get played by Helen Mirren which as I seem to recall was A. N. Wilson's suggestion, but if I'm wrong and Mintho Moore makes it into the Tolkien/Lewis saga, and if there is even the smallest hint she's something other than a mother figure to Lewis, then she'll probably join Edith and Joy in the ranks of bashed female characters, and stories set in the early stages of the Tolkien and Lewis relationship will cast her as the villain trying to prevent it. Oh, if someone unearths Lewis' "Four Loves", to be specific, the essay praising (male) friendship and comparising favourably with male/female romance, then tumblr will go wild using photos from the movie with quotes.

...or the movie could sink without a trace in either fandom or critical attention. Or never get made. But where'd be the fun in that?
Because sometimes life loves serendipity, yesterday I came across this article about Hedy Lamarr. Someone really needs to write that Yuletide story where she and a few other unlikely Hollywood suspects fight crime in the 40s and 50s, with Hedy as the inventor of amazing gadgets.

Meanwhile, I've read Anya Seton's novel 'Katherine', which various kind people in my virtual social circle reccommended as the definite historical novel about Katherine Swynford. It's from the 1950s - which one notices, and I don't mean that in a snide way - there's just a part of its style that makes you notice -, and compellingly written, though not surprisingly I have a few nitpicks. Most of all, though, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned that I was wrong about something right at the start, when I thought Anya Seton's Katherine would be a standard historical novel heroine who does not want to get married except for love (never mind how standard this was for the day) and would hold only "modern" views. Which turned out not to be the case. True, Katherine does have the standard "do not want!" reaction to her husband, but her personality gets fleshed out after the marriage, and she tries her best to make it work (without falling miraculously in love). She's not automatically adored by all the servants or villagers (and certainly not the serfs); on the contrary, they and she remain on hostile terms for years for reasons understandable from both sides. She doesn't magically know that serfdom is wrong and has the very privileged (and realistic for a lady in her position) "but what are they upset about, they should just be faithful good servants, and then all is fine" reaction to the building up of the peasant's uprising, and it isn't until she actually experiences the uprising itself (which includes John of Gaunt's London residence getting burned to the ground) and by accident and various plot devices ends up among the peasants that she clues in to just how badly their situation is.

The novel also does a great job showing how important and ever present religion was for people on every level of society in the middle ages, and not in a cliché "evil fanatical preacher shouts 'Witch!' at heroine" way. Given that Katherine's brother-in-law is Geoffrey Chaucer, I'm not surprised the author couldn't resist featuring pilgrimages (and not just to Canterbury), but Julian of Norwich showing up was unexpected and nicely done. It's also part of an ingenious way of the author giving Katherine something to do during those years before Constance of Aragon's death when John of Gaunt had returned to his wife, and making that something an important part of Katherine's character development.

However, and this leads me to a nitpick, Anya Seton invented an alternate reason for Hugh Swynford's death that is an indispensable part of what happenes later and the decision Katherine makes. Fair enough; it's a novel, not a biography. And the passages where Katherine deals with what happens are truly powerful. However, what's not fair is that the author pulls this off via a plot device character who only exists to perform a certain action and then is unceremoniously dispensed with. This made the narrative uneven for me, which it wouldn't have been had this character been allowed to develop and breathe, and exist once he's fulfilled that particular purpose. In fact, it would have been tremendously interesting to see both Katherine and John interact with him post facto and knowing the truth.

My other nitpick isn't really one in that I'm fairly certain this is my fault and not the author's, but I'm not sure her John of Gaunt works for me. She goes out of her way to not idealize him, that's not the problem, or rather: I believe the flaws, but I don't really believe the virtues, and that in turn makes selling me on the central relationship between him and Katherine tricky.

(Or maybe Susan Howatch's version in Wheel of Fortune as the ultimate flawed-yet-sympathetic John has spoiled me for all other versions.)

Memorable other characters include Katherine's first husband Hugh, her immensely practical sister Philippa (the one who's married to Chaucer), Joan of Kent and Chaucer himself. Something that's striking if you've come, as I do, from rather recent Richard II viewings and delvings into Shakespearean fanfiction is that John's oldest son, the future Henry IV., hardly shows up at all (Katherine has more interaction with his sister Elizabeth, and of course with her own children both by Hugh and by John). Richard does show up now and then, as a mercurial spoiled brat who can be nice when the mood suits him but has zilch empathy for his people. Anya Seton says in the afterword that supposedly Tom Swynford (Katherine's son from her first marriage) was in charge of the castle where Richard very likely was starved to death, which was news to me. (But explains why Susan Howatch had his modern day equivalent be ultra loyal to Harry Godwin, aka her Henry IV., and provide him with an alibi for the night in which her version of Richard dies.)

Outstanding sequences: definitely the entire peasant's uprising, which Seton caps with the "serfs you are and serfs you will remain" quote; also the death of Blanche, John's first wife, which in her version is by plague; and Katherine becoming a pilgrim.

All in all: I'm not sure about the "definite" part, but this was certainly a very readable and interesting novel about Katherine Swynford.
Much to do in the last few days, and despite not being a football (soccer for you Americans) fan per se, I wasn't immune to all the excitement, and yes, did watch us getting the World Cup. (You couldn't sleep that night anyway, being in Munich. The celebratory noise level was incredible.) However, I also went on a Seventh Doctor audio binge, which means some thoughts accumulated. Before I get to those, a completely unrelated link: Can we say Vergil wrote fanfiction?, smart meta involving fanfiction as a genre, Vergil and the Brothers Grimm.

Now, on to Doctor Who, audio department thoughts. Big Finish does both standalone adventures and story arcs, and I listened into two of the later plus a standalone for the Seventh Doctor. Now, for some years you had the tv team of the Doctor and Ace with the audio additon of Hex, aka Thomas Hector Schofield, nurse from Liverpool, as a Team TARDIS with a dynamic in their own right; then, at the climax of the audio Gods and Monsters, something shattering happened.

Which is spoilery, and thus behind a cut. )

One of the very early Big Finish adventures, Coldlitz, had the Doctor and Ace ending up in guess where; I still haven't listened to it because I tend to shy away from the idea of Doctor Who actually tackling the Third Reich in an unmetaphorical way (there are plenty of Space Nazis in the long history of the show, just like in most fantasy and sci fi shows). The dangers of tackiness, caricature or softening a real life horror just seemed to great. However, fannish osmosis told me that one of the villains in Coldlitz, Dr. Elizabeth Klein, who hails from a timeline where the Nazis did win WW II, ended up stranded in the "real" timeline at the end of the audio and was brought back more recently, years later, to serve as the least likely Companion ever. (Unless you count Shalka!Master, I suppose.) This made me curious enough to handwave another of my aversions, to wit: my problem with "Germany wins WWII and the Third Reich continues to rule the world" - just can't see it happen, not with Hitler on top - one reason why Stalin died in bed after decades of tyranny, undefeated, was that he knew to keep the killing within his own sphere of influence and didn't want to be seen as a world conqueror, but Hitler? never would have been satisfied with that even if you suppose technological MacGuffin X forces the Allies to go for a truce - , and not with all the infighting between his upper level paladins if you remove him from the equation. And the corruption within the party. And - anyway. Can't see it happening.

This handwaved, I was curious about Dr. Klein, how Big Finish would develop her, and what type of dynamic she would have with the Seventh Doctor. So off I went and acquired the Klein trilogy - "A Beating of Tiny Wings", "Survival of the Fittest" and "The Architects of History. This turned out to be a great decision. Nitpicks first, so I can get to why and how and praise: perfect, these stories aren't. Beating of Tiny Wings takes place during the Mau Mau Rising in Kenya, but is essentially a version of The Thing (of horror movie fame) put in its opposite surrounding, climate wise, and the Mau Mau Rising context is mostly there so there's a reason why various (white) women are trapped on a farm and can't know whether any new arrival is there to help them or kill them. At some point, it must have occured to someone in the storyediting department that if you set a story in Africa, there should maybe also be a black character. So there is one, but a) he's mostly there to make the point the British ladies (and British society in the 1950s) are racist, he gets no characterisation beyond that, minimal text and an unceremonious death. My other nitpick concerns The Architects of History: I just don't get why German characters other then Klein speak in one of those typical fake German accents when they're supposed to speak German (we're just hearing it as English because this is an English audio.) In fact, it was a HUUUUGE plot point in Survival of the Fittest that the TARDIS telepathic circuits translate whatever everyone speaks into whatever everyone else speaks for everyone. (Which is why at one point Klein mentions to the Doctor he has a stuffy Prussian accent; it cracks me up to no end that this is what the TARDIS found to equal the Scottish accent, let me tell you.) I mean, Doctor Who is just following the custom of the majority of film and tv there, and I wrote an entire entry years ago why I think fake accents (be they French, German, Spanish or whatever) when we're assuming the characters are in fact using their own language are ridiculous. I still think so, let's leave it at that.

Those were the nitpicks. Now for the good stuff. Elizabeth Klein turns out to be a great character. One of the things I was most curious about was whether or not the audios would go for a redemption story, especially since she wasn't a member of a fictional fascist organization with fictional victims, like, say, Aeryn Sun on Farscape; having real life victims still among us makes for a different emotional resonance. Speaking of real life, what happened in Germany post WWII was often referred to as "re-education", was aided by the Marshall Plan, and it wasn't until the 1960s - when the children of the WWII generation had grown up - that actual confrontation with the past happened not from outside but from inside on a massive scale. This, clearly, isn't something you can carry out in a series of audio adventures with one character.

Elizabeth Klein as the Doctor runs into her again in Kenya isn't repentant or in any way convinced she (and the ideology she was raised in) was wrong; moreover, as far she's concerned, her timeline was the right one, the current one is a travesty, and it's the Doctor's fault that she lost everyone who ever meant anything to her when her timeline blinked out of existence. However, she's also smart and wants to survive, so teaming up with the Doctor in the Thing-like situation in Kenya makes sense. That she's also a scientist who can talk to the Doctor on that level made me wonder whether the idea for Klein wasn't inspired by the Third Doctor tv story Inferno, where the Doctor temporarily experiences an alternate universe where Britain is fascist, his then companion Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is Section Leader Shaw, and the Brig is equally fascist. The start of the next audio, when we get Elizabeth Klein's backstory wherein she got recruited by the guy heading an alien artificats investigating organzation in a victorious Germany also argues for that. Anyway, one key difference to Inferno is that Three has no backstory with Section Leader Shaw and tries to win her over because he knows her alter ego. Whereas Seven and Klein have, in both senses of the word, history, which makes for mutual (deserved) distrust. This makes for great dialogue because Klein is far from stupid and thus not a ranting cliché, which means she and the Doctor keep their verbal digs at each other while working together on an equally successful rate instead of him effortlessly beating her in the verbal sparring. Also, Tracey Childs is fantastic in the role. (And thankfully not forced to fake a German accent.) When the Doctor at the end offers her a lift, it's an incredible gamble (because she still wants her original timeline back), but you can see the variety of motives on why he does it: not least continuing distrust and control issues (she's a lose element with a destructive ideology and superior technological knowledge in the 1950s), but also being intrigued by the challenge of her (she's clever and ruthless; what could she be if she does change?). And, as it turns out, a sense of responsibility, because it's due to him she's stranded in this timeline in more ways than one. He didn't just restore the original timeline in Coldlitz, no, as turns out at the start of Survival of the Fittest, where we get her backstory, he manipulated her into coming to Coldlitz to begin with, setting her up to give him the means to wipe out "her" universe.

This he did due to the series of events which created the victorious!Germany timeline to begin with; among other things, the Seventh Doctor regenerated into the Eighth not in San Francisco in a bad American movie but in Alt!Germany, though still after getting shot. Poor Eight. Or not so poor Eight, because as Johann Schmidt (hooray for a Paul McGann cameo), he then cons Elizabeth Klein who is trying to figure out how to operate the TARDIS into bringing it to 1944 to his previous self. One reason why the Doctor and Klein combination works is that this way, the dynamic isn't just "the hero and the Nazi". She does have a genuine non-petty reason to hate him because he used her to basically uncreate her entire world; at the same time, her timeline is bad news for so many people that of course one can't wish it restored. Survival of the Fittest sees the Doctor and Klein on a planet where the native population are basically intelligent giant bees called Vriil, who are in danger of getting wiped out by some greedy humans. I thought I knew where this was going: Klein would learn empathy by sympathizing with the endangered Vriil and see the error of her fascist ways. Perhaps this is what in story the Doctor expects to happen, too. But the writers go for something more complicated - and realistic - because while Klein does sympathize with the Vriil and shows compassion for them (aided by her disgust for the sloppy and creating-even-more-damage-than-intended-by-bumbling humans), this does not change her basic goals, chief among them the need to restore the to her real timeline, or her resentment of the Doctor. Which is why Survival of the Fittest ends with a breathtaking cliffhanger, and why Elizabeth Klein fulfills both the Companion and the Main Antagonist role in this trilogy, which I don't think is a dynamic we've ever seen before.

The Architects of History, in which basically every character doublecrosses everyone else at least once, sets itself the additional challenge to make the audience care about yet another alt!world and -characters in addition to the Klein-and-the-Doctor double act, and succeeds. It has Leonora Crichlow (Annie in Being Human; she also guest starred on New Who in Gridlock) as a Companion-who-never-was, and what happens with her in the course of the narrative contributes to the emotional punch. It's both a siege story and a "be careful what you wish for" story, and at no point does the narrative either excuse Klein or make her into a one dimensional villain whom the Doctor can easily (for both himself and the audience) dispose of; to avoid both extremes is truly an art, and this trilogy, including its climactic finale, pulls it off. And speaking of avoidance: Klein falling in love with the Doctor, let alone he with her, is also one easy way out that I don't think the current tv show could have resisted, and it never happens here. Go, Big Finish!

In conclusion: yes, I saw the latest trailer, and I'm looking forward to the show, but to be honest, the audios right now are what I'm truly fannish about as far as Doctor Who is concerned. They have my heart and mind.
selenak: (Breaking Bad by Wicked Signs)
( Jul. 11th, 2014 06:30 pm)
Emmys: count me in among "Tatiana Maslany was robbed" and "why does Downton Abbey still get nominated?" But other than Breaking Bad people, I have no favourites. I'd love it if Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Anna Gunn would win one last time (for this show), but I suppose more recent performances will be on everyone's minds. As for "best episode": here both Felina (written by Vince Gilligan) and Ozymandias (written by Moira Walley-Becket) were nominated, and while I approve of the finale, Ozymandias was clearly THE standout episode in the final run - and one of the best episodes not just of Breaking Bad but on tv ever. (Vince Gilligan thinks so, too, as I recall; he called Ozymandias "the best episode we ever had or will ever have" here.) If Moira W-B doesn't win for Ozymandias, there is no tv justice in this world!

(Especially if she's beaten by one of this year's Game of Thrones episodes. Seriously, just - no.)

Belatedly, it occurs to me I can also root for The Good Wife's actors who are nominated, but while I adore Diane (and Christine Baranski), there's no way I'm not rooting for Skyler and Anna Gunn in the best supporting female actress category. For reasons why, see again: Ozymandias. (Also the last Walt and Skyler conversation ever in Felina.) Still, if Anna Gunn doesn't win, Christine Baranski be better the victor. But most of all, and again: Ozymandias for best episode. And in conclusion: Ozymandias. Anything else about this year's Emmys is immaterial.

The Guardian lists memorable awful dinner parties in fiction and somehow misses out The Charioteer's example. Now as opposed to several friends of mine, I'm not that enamored with The Charioteer, but the party at Alec's and Sandy's is hands down one of Mary Renault's most memorable, best written set pieces and any such list that leaves it out is just not complete.

(BTW, switching mediums, Alias the tv show has not one but two great examples of dinner parties with lots of of squirming which are awful to attend but ever so entertaining to watch, and Arvin Sloane is the host in both cases, once in s1 and once in s4. The s4 party wins for me by a small margin because Emily in s1 has no idea what everyone else is up to but Nadia in s4 catches Sydney in the act and thus her final toast is designed to be extra-squirmy.)

(Of course, while we're talking tv, practically any family dinner among the Julian-Claudians in I, Claudius is both awful to attend to for the guests and entertaining to watch/read about, with Caligula's parties winning in sheer ghastliness and host sadism because Caligula.)

Meanwhile, I've finished Donna Tartt's The Gold Finch. Now I actually didn't like The Secret History and never even started The Little Friend, but novel No.3 managed to capture me. I've seen critics call it "Dickensian" and it's easy to see why, very self consciously so on the part of the author - at one point, a character even gets compared to the Artful Dodger in dialogue -, but actually the author it brought to mind to me, especially in the later sections, was Graham Greene even more than The Inimitable. Or maybe "Dickens meets Greene" puts it best. The novel's narrator (who might as well say, like David Copperfield, that whether he's also the hero of his life or whether another gets that title is up to the reader), Theo, loses his mother at age 13 in a ghastly bomb attack on a museum; Tartt captures the numbness, disorientation and depression of grief - which never does go away for Theo - perfectly and still manages to make the tale lively by semi-orphan Theo ending up with a series of caretakers (or not so care-takers) who are each entertaining set pieces: the rich and distant Barbours (who come complete with medication and overeager psychiatrists), Theo's no-good, bad tempered and eternally in debt father Larry and Larry's coke-dealing Las Vegas girl Xandra, nice and kind antique dealer Hobie (other than Theo's dead mother the only parent figure in this novel who does a good job of the parenting).

When whisked from New York to Las Vegas by his father, Theo also meets the character who struck me as a Graham G. import in this modern day Dickensian world, despite the fact he's the one who later gets compared to The Artful Dodger: Boris ("why is it always Boris with you people?", I can hear a certain character in The Wire ask), a mixture of Ukrainian, Polish and Russian boy whose father is in theory a mining expert (in practice something gangsterish, and Boris' professional future is decidedly of the illegal type as well). Boris is the type of charismatic, fast talking, moodswinging operator involved in myriads of shady dealings, whom several narrating Greene characters tend to get swept away with despite being aware they really shouldn't; the friendship between Theo and Boris, starting out as two intelligent, dysfunctional and neglected boys bonding, is arguably after the loss of his mother the most intense relationship of the book. Donna Tartt doesn't shy away from the homoerotic dimension, either; there is some adolescent fumbling, also some panic because of that on Theo's part who thinks he should maybe make it clear to Boris that that he's not interested THAT way, which he never gets around to because Boris aquires a girl friend and Theo is wildly, incredibly jealous (and aware of the irony). There's also a kiss which makes it clear to Theo he loves Boris, but it doesn't get further than that in terms of physical contact. Incidentally, Boris nicknames Theo "Potter" because of Theo's glasses and general resemblance to Harry P., which he keeps up throughout the novel, which caused the irreverent thought in me that if this novel hadn't been written by Critically Acclaimed (tm) Donna Tartt, surely someone would already have voiced the suspicion it started life as a No Magic AU piece of slash fiction. Larry and Xandra aren't Vernon and Petunia Dursley exactly, but the roles they play are similar, and Theo certainly with all his tragic losses has Harry's luck of getting out of dire situations alive despite the odds. At any rate, Tartt has read the Harry Potter novels, not just seen the movies or absorbed something via general pop culture osmosis; at one point Theo compares the sound of what he hears to Parseltongue.

Theo's also fixated on Pippa, a red-haired girl he spotted in the museum shortly before his mother died and who rarely shows up in person in the novel; she's a symbol more than anything, and for a while I was uncertain whether or not Donna Tartt wanted me to see a relationship there instead of Theo having an obsesssion with someone he hardly knows, but as it turns out, no. Mind you, grown-up Theo's other attempted relationships with women aren't coming across as romantic, either, but again, they're not supposed to. I'm not sure what they contribute to the narrative, though, other than Theo trying to be normal on a Watsonian level and the author telling the reader he sees himself as straight on a Doylist one. It's noticable that the three female characters who come across as memorable are the ones Theo isn't involved with romantically but who are in a maternal position to him (or refusing to be) - his mother, Xandra, and Mrs. Barbour. Whereas the girls lack the vividness with which Tartt writes her male characters (of any age).

The Gold Finch of the title is a Dutch painting by a student of Rembrandts - a painting which does exist, btw, -, and which Theo ends up with in the confusion of the museum bombing, after which it becomes both a symbol of beauty and guilt in his life (the more time passes and the older he gets, the less likely it is he can pass taking it off as anything but theft). It's a red thread throughout the novel, and another Greene type of plot device, especially in the way it ends up being used. Though Donna Tartt, as it turns out, is more of an optimist than Greene (and doesn't, as Orwell memorably quipped of Graham Greene, think of hell as a Catholics Only night club). I ended the novel satisfied with everyone's fates. It's not the type of book that calls to me for an immediate rereading, or that I would call a "must", but it certainly held my attention through more than a thousand pages, and never let it flagg.
It is weird not to have a current show on the air during the entire week. Penny Dreadful, I miss you already. When does Doctor Who start again, August? I've heard there were leaked scripts, and can only hope everyone who does like to get spoiled will discuss them below a cut, because I really don't want to know anything.

Meanwhile, there's always that farcical soap, reality. Seems we've arrested our second American spy today. This one wasn't working for the BND but he did work for the German defense ministry. Meanwhile, the US press has started to notice there might be a problem but assures us Obama didn't know a thing about the first spy. (Presumably even less about the second.) This, strangely enough, is not reassuring. Spare some pity for Hillary Clinton who is currently in Europe promoting her book and had all her interviews both on tv and with the papers circling not said book but about the US spying on minions allies instead. (At least she didn't use the same lame Casablanca quote which everyone, from Obama downwards, used when discussing the previous American-German disaster.)

Deliberately amusing instead of farcical: JKR wrote a Rita Skeeter gossip columm on Harry Potter and friends showing up at the World Quidditch Cup, and it's a hoot. I've always suspect she had great fun spoofing the tabloid style for the Rita articles quoted in the later Potter novels (and of course for the excerpts of Rita's scandalous tell-all Dumbledore biography), and here she's doing it again ("Does Hermione Granger prove that a witch really can have it all? (No – look at her hair.)"), complete with Rita insinuating Harry's forbidden love, not Draco: As their devoted fans and followers will remember, Potter and Krum competed against each other in the controversial Triwizard Tournament, but apparently there are no hard feelings, as they embraced upon meeting (what really happened in that maze? Speculation is unlikely to be quelled by the warmth of their greeting).

Harry/Victor: surely someone has written that already?
selenak: (Raven and Charles by Scribble My Name)
( Jul. 7th, 2014 03:12 pm)
Doing some research for a Charles & Raven sibling story I'm writing for [profile] yetanothermask, I came across something that impressed and amused me in its attention to detail and implications, which I hadn't known before. If you've watched X-Men: First Class, you may or may not recall that right at the start of the sequence where child!Charles meets child!Raven, we see three photos next to young Charles Xavier's bedside. ( In X-Men: Days of Future Past these three photos are replaced by a single one, showing Raven herself.) Whom do these three pictures show? Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Hedy Lamarr.

Now the reasons why young Charles would hero worship Einstein and Darwin are obvious, and I had assumed Lamarr was there to indicate Charles' fondness for the pretty, since she was an actress famed for erotic glamour. (I associated her mainly with Delilah in Samson and Delilah by Cecil B. De Mille. Oh, and I also knew when she was still in Austria - she was Austrian-Jewish and left at the obvious time; her ashes were brought to the Wienerwald by her daughter, though - she became famous simulating an orgasm on screen.) Now, being thorough and not knowing much else about Hedy Lamarr, I googled her, and it turns out she was also an inventor. (Check out her wikipedia entry for starters.) Since I suppose I'm not the only person who didn't know Hedy Lamarr pioneered techniques that would eventually lead to wi fi, here's the section dealing with her contribution to science:

Avant garde composer George Antheil (died 1959), a son of German immigrants and a neighbor of Lamarr in California, had experimented with automated control of musical instruments, including his music for Ballet Mécanique, originally written for Fernand Léger's 1924 abstract film. This score involved multiple player pianos playing simultaneously.

During World War II, Antheil and Lamarr discussed the fact that radio-controlled torpedoes, while important in the naval war, could easily be jammed by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control signal, causing the torpedo to go off course. Lamarr had learned something about torpedoes from Mandl. Antheil and Lamarr developed the idea of using frequency hopping to avoid jamming: using a piano roll to unpredictably change the signal sent between a control center and the torpedo at short bursts within a range of 88 frequencies in the radio-frequency spectrum (there are 88 black and white keys on a piano keyboard). The specific code for the sequence of frequencies would be held identically by the controlling ship and in the torpedo. It would be practically impossible for the enemy to scan and jam all 88 frequencies, as this would require too much power or complexity. The frequency-hopping sequence was controlled by a player-piano mechanism, which Antheill had earlier used to score his Ballet Mecanique.

On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey, Lamarr's married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping, although novel, soon met with opposition from the U.S. Navy and was not adopted. The idea was not implemented in the US until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired. Her work was honored in 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr a belated award for her contributions. In 1998, an Ottawa wireless technology developer, Wi-LAN Inc., acquired a 49% claim to the patent from Lamarr for an undisclosed amount of stock.

Lamarr's and Antheil's frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as Bluetooth, COFDM (used in Wi-Fi network connections), and CDMA (used in some cordless and wireless telephones). Blackwell, Martin, and Vernam's 1920 patent seems to lay the communications groundwork for Kiesler and Antheil's patent, which employed the techniques in the autonomous control of torpedoes.

Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell War Bonds.

Lamarr and Antheil were inducted into the Inventor's Hall of Fame in 2014.

That Hedy Lamarr's idea was used during the blockade in Cuba - without her getting the credit at the time - makes of course a great connection to what adult Charles & friends are doing in First Class. But even without that serendipity: doesn't she sound fascinating? No wonder young Charles crushed on her. Retrospectively now, so do I.
selenak: (Cosima by Karlsefni)
( Jul. 6th, 2014 10:18 pm)

Damned if she do: splendid tribute to the one and only Birgitte Nyborg, best fictional prime minister ever. (Of Denmark, if you haven't watched her show.)

Orphan Black:

Any other world: Poetic and sensitive portrait of the clone club.
So, yesterday, because you can't beat real life for coincidence, Germany celebrated the U.S. Day of Independence by arresting an American spy whose day job was being a German spy. That's right, one of our secret service made some extra money by handing over intelligence to the US - on the current NSA investigations (that would be the NSA being investigated rather than the reverse), it appears.

This evokes a couple of reactions.

1.) Given that the BND (= German secret service) is handing over all the intel the Americans want anyway (according to a former NSA employee currently testifying at said investigation), why would the US pay the extra money? I thought finances are tight?

2.) The BND is famously rubbish at spying. Therefore, anyone recruited by it should come with a question mark, not doubly employed. Then again, the US secret services were convinced Chalabi and his tales of Saddam's weapons of mass destructions were pure gold, so...

3.) Seriously, guys: is the masterplan here "how many ways can we find to alienate the Germans?". Yes, nobody believed Obama anyway when he said he'd stop listening in to Merkel's cell phone now (though not on any other German cell phones), but you'd think some tactical restraint would have been ordered, not stepping up the spying. Yes, yes, we know we're vasalls and minions, not partners, you don't have to rub it in at every opportunity, US government.

4.) Also, Errol Morris' documentary about Rumsfeld was released two days ago in Germany. Thereby reminding everyone that the previous US government was worse (which doesn't make the current one look better), and that Rumsfeld and Cheney are still around to pontificate instead of facing justice at a the International Criminal Court, which they never will. And Dubya exhibits paintings.

5.) I've got nothing. At least this has some useful absurd comedy aspects which the latest Supreme Court decision has not.

In more cheerful news, after the HBO tv series based on American Gods didn't work out, Bryan Fuller will do one for Starz. This very likely will give me a Bryan Fuller show I want to watch again (sorry, Hannibal wasn't for me; I marathoned the first eight episodes last year and with every single one realised more I didn't want to watch it, so I stopped), and he strikes me as eminently suited to deal with Neil Gaiman's novel.
Zorba the Greek is of course a decades old classic, but the former Lord Mayor of Munich, Christian Ude, who is extremely popular in Munich, finished his last term and the Munich Film Festival whose patron he always was (not just because it was his job as the Mayor; the current festival runner owes him her job, and he got the budget for the festival more than doubled) decided to throw in a special event for him, which was to show his favourite movie which he got to introduce. Since Zorba the Greek was a film classic I'd never managed to watch, I thought I might as well, especially since chances are I wouldn't have the chance to see it on the big screen again. What I knew, via pop cultural osmosis, going in: based on a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the film makers invented Sirtaki for it which subsequently became everyone's favourite Greek dance (in an example of movie inventing reality which then does become reality), and Anthony Quinn's star making title role supposedly embodies Greek joie de vivre. That was it.

The first surprise was that it was in black-and-white; somehow I had assumed it was in colour. Mind you, stylistcally, I think black and white was a good choice (if it was a choice and not simply a question of money), because that way the beauty of the Greek landscape doesn't come across as postcard-idyllic, but as something that has harsh and unforgiving elements in it as well. While Anthony Quinn's role is indeed a thirst-for-life/larger-than-life type of character ("ein Urviech", said Christian Ude in his introduction, which is a German-Bavarian expression you can't translate), there is some incredibly dark stuff in this movie as well which given the other Kazantzakis novel I've seen brought to the screen was The Last Temptation of Christ isn't, in retrospect, surprising. A type of "feelgood" tourist advertisment about Greece the way, say, Mamma Mia is, this certainly is not: the two female characters in it suffer horrible fates. One, played by Irene Papas, gets slut-shamed, hounded, stoned - I mean literally, the old testament way - by the entire village and then gets her throat cut for good measure, and the other, a French woman, while dying of old age, basically, has her dying hours mixed with the (desperately poor) villagers starting to get into her house to rob it, two women even making it into her bedroom staring at her and wanting her to die already though Zorba manages to keep the rest out until she's drawn her dying breath, and then the house gets picked clean in no times flat (but otoh, Hortense not having been Greek Orthodox, the priest won't bury her). Pop cultural osmosis certainly didn't tell me about this! And they're among the most memorable sequences of the movie, too. Mind you: I think they keep the story from sentimentalizing poverty or rural "simplicity", and the archaic mercilessness with which Irene Papas' character (who is solely referred to as "the Widow" by dialogue, though Wiki tells me she has a name in the novel) is destroyed by everyone, with the movie's pov character, the writer Basil, being too cowardly to intervene (which comes with the uncomfortable awareness on the part of the audience that most of us probably would be, faced with a mob, but it doesn't make one like the guy more) has something of Euripides.

Speaking of the writer, in the movie he's half-English, half-Greek, raised in Britain, but I bet that's solely so they could cast Alan Barnes in the role and blame his repression on being English and that in the novel he's all Greek. The odd couple pairing of him and Zorba - shy restrained intellectual meets hedonist party animal - thus also gets to be an entry in the movies wherein repressed Brits need the encounter with Southern Europe to be liberated. Though I have to say that for a current day audience, it looks far more likely that Basil is a gay man in the closet with a crush on Zorba who tries a fling with the Widow as a desperate last attempt at heterosexuality (and one she pays for with her life) than that he's too shy to hit on women. The way Basil falls for Zorba upon first encounter and keeps indulging him financially and forgiving him things like a professed shopping trip for supplies turning into Zorba partying with prostitutes certainly makes more sense that way. Though Anthony Quinn certainly is extremely charming in the role. Also: when Basil tries to make the Widow's death about his manpain, Zorba (who as opposed to Basil fought to save her and would have succeeded if not for the throat cutting) cuts that short with a pithy single sentence. In conclusion: I can totally see where this movie got his reputation.

On to new movies.

Quissa: directed by Anup Singh, an Indian-German-French co production starring Irrfan Khan and Tillotoma Shoma which is two thirds great and then, for me, has a last ten minutes I utterly disagree with even though they have been prepared by the beginning and I can see what they're trying to say. The movie starts with the India/Pakistan partition of 1947 when Umber Singh, a Sikh (played by Irrfan Khan) has to flee with his family. His third daughter has just been born, and the way he greets this news immediately establishes how desperate he's for a son. But the key event happens a few years later, when his wife Mehar is pregnant for the fourth time. Umber Singh insists it will be a boy now. The child is born, and as Mehar expected, it is a girl. But Umber Singh says it's a boy and calls "him" Kanwar.

Extremely spoilery discussion from this point on )

In conclusion: two thirds of a movie I loved, beautifully filmed and acted, and ten minutes of DO NOT WANT at the end, alas.

Die Auserwählten: directed by Christoph Röhl (son of historian John Röhl and raised bilingually between Britain and Germany), this is a made for tv movie which had its premiere last night and will be broadcast on tv in a few months. It deals with one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals come to light in recent German history, at the Odenwaldschule - German's most famous socially progressive, anti-authoritarian boarding school until the public at large found out systematic sexual abuse had been going on for decades, with the former headmaster (to give you an idea of his level of reputation and public image: when Astrid Lindgren got the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, he was the one holding the laudatory speech) as the chief but by no means only perpetrator. Christoph Röhl already made a documentary film about the Odenwaldschule, but this movie is a fictionalized version, featuring two of our most famous current actors, Ulrich Tukur (as the headmaster) and Julia Jentsch (as the sole teacher trying to protest; you may remember her as Sophie Scholl, and btw, another former Sophie Scholl, Lena Stolze, is also one of the adult actors). It's not without flaws - the opening sequence, where at the school's hundreth anniversary celebration some of the abused former students as adults interrupt and demand to be heard, feels staged (it may have happened, but it still feels artificial), for example -, but as soon as we flash back to the 1970s, the staginess disappears and the story is told in an affecting and powerful way. Julia Jentsch's character comes to the school as a new teacher and at first is thrilled by the seeming openess and encouragement of the children, and then starts to realize more and more something is incredibly wrong. Hers is only one of the two povs in the film, though; the other is that of Frank Hoffmann, one of the boys abused. (The school was and is coeducational, and the movie also includes one of the teachers having an affair with one of the older - but still teenage - girls, but the headmaster and the music teacher who were the main abusers were both solely interested in boys - of every age - so the victims were mainly male.) Röhl as a director doesn't put his young actors through sex scenes, thankfully, he makes clear what's going on via hands on shoulders, shoes of a man and a boy in front of the shower, in a particularly shudder worthy instance a finger on a leg, nothing more explicit than that. The horror is mainly achieved through showing the children and teenagers before and after, the wilful ignorance of the parents and the in various degrees sycophancy to complicity to active participation by the other teachers. Casting Tukur - whom international audiences may remember as Ulrich Mühe's boss in The Lives of Others - was also important, because he sells the aura of jovial bonhommie, charming people instead of twirling his metaphorical moustache for all to see, which makes the creepiness behind the facade all the more revolting. The various methods in which he maintains his power are all too familiar: there's the tried and true "distressed children are liars" and "do you really believe something like this about me?", but also the very 1970s "children have a right to explore their sexuality, do you want us to fall back into sexual repression?" and "you're blaming me because you're too afraid to face your own desires". With the adults, that is. With the children, the tactics go from "I'm your friend and know best, this is only natural" to "no one will believe you anyway".

The end of the film brings us back into present day and the public hearing where more and more former students speak out, and this time I didn't feel it staged anymore, maybe because I don't think a scroll text alone about how the abuse came to light etc. would have done it; at this point at the audience you want at least some justice, want at least the victims to be believed and listened to instead of continuing to be dismissed and silenced, and you want to see it.

Because this was the premiere, the director, producer, scriptwriters, camera people, casting people and some of the actors were all there, so instead of a Q& A we got them making their bows, which was a good thing, too, because I don't think the audience, emotionally wrung as it was, would have been ready for a traditional Q & A. Also present: several of the now adult abuse victims, one of whom came in front of the screen to say that it was difficult to watch - the film was made on location, so the memories triggered were immediate -, but that he's really glad it got made and thinks it represents what they went through in a way that does them justice.
Actually, I watched Andrzej Wajda's Walesa: Man of Hope in between these two, which was a good thing, because while it's not a must but an entertaining biopic, it provided a breath of air between emotional pummelling by more original films for me. If you want a review, basically: what he said .

On to more directing debuts which are currently going through the film festival circuits, only one of which has already a release date and a distributor but both deserve to be watched by many people of many nations:

L'Chaim!: The title is a pun between the Jewish toast "To Life!" and the name of the subject of this captivating documentary, Chaim Lubelwski, shot by his cousin, first time director Elkan Spiller, over a period of about seven years, according to the Q & A afterwards. At its heart is the relationship between Chaim and his mother (Ne)Chuma, who was a concentration camp survivor (as was his father; their parents and a good deal of the rest of the family perished), whom he took devoted care of until she died at age 97. The movie follows Chaim between Antwerp - where he lived with his mother, because the climate in Israel was too hot for her -, and Israel, where he also spent and spends part of the time. He used to travel the world as a young man, seeing no point in regular life and employment, and still manages to be both a hippie and religious, passionate about chess, dope (Antwerp in Belgium also had the advantage of being close to Holland, where you can get it legit) and above all his parents. At the start of the film, his sister Lotti had died of an overdose which the mother never found out because he pretended to her Lotti was in a rehab clinic in Israel; the truth, says Chaim, would have been unbearable to Chuma, who at night when insomniac talked to her parents all the time. Chuma in the first half of the film is coherent and alert, and she and Chaim make each other laugh repeatedly, but the sense of what was done to her and her family is there all the time, too. Late in the film, there is a point where she sings the first few lines of our former national anthem (explanatory note for non-Germans about the national anthem: post World War II, the national anthem as sung by Germans starts with the third verse - "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" etc. -; the first verse, "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" etc. having been irrevocably tainted by the Nazis, it goesn't get sung by anyone but Neonazis, or American and British tourists on occasion who make one cringe that way; but of course the original form was used pre-Nazis already by both the second Empire and the Weimar Republic), and adds "we believed that; we were doing good, weren't we? But they beat us, they beat us and killed and why...". And the entire horror of the Holocaust and its legacy hit me all over again. The film is very much about what it means to be the child (the by now senior-citizen-aged child) of a Holocaust survivor. Chuma was born in Poland, but she and Chaim - as well as Chaim and his cousin Elkan, the director, who lives in Cologne - talk German to each other -; there's the occasonal Hebrew and Jiddish in Israel and New York, and some English and French later when Chaim visits friends in France, but mostly the film is in German, and it made the emotional rawness of such scenes as Chuma's memories or later, after her death, Chaim's loss hit me double and triple. Also, in a different way, the humor with Chaim's chatty interactions with everyone, and that sense of warmth in the voice. For the Q & A after the film, we got both the director, Elkan Spiller, and Chaim Lubelswiski himself, and it was there as well. (He also got to comment on the film, which he'd seen for the first time during this festival; he said the only thing he wished his cousin hadn't filmed were the scenes from his mother's funeral; at the time, he was too out of it to notice but now they feel too intimate to have on film. The rest was okay for him since having a relation around with a camera wasn't that unusual; it happens, in families.) The film strikes a delicate balance: there is no pat assurance of an happily ever after because Chaim's central focus in life was his mother, and with 70 something there won't be a new one, and he says he's "vegitating", but when in the final scenes you watch him playing chess, meeting friends and contemplating nature, you're glad this remarkable person is still around. Since this is the film without a general release date (yet), I hope the festival will get it the necessary attention from the companies because it's certainly so very much worth watching.

White Shadow: shot in Tanzania, starring exclusively Tanzanian actors (professionals and lay people), with an Israeli Berlin based director, Noaz Deshe, and both Italian and German money involved in the production, so it's tricky to name a country of origin, but: it's disturbing and gruelling and captivating. Sometimes hard to watch, both because of the content and the style - it's not linear in the middle section, and frequently makes you feel trapped in a hallucination -, which, however, matches the point of view, that of teenage boy Alias who is one of the ca. 150 000 albinos in Tanzania and who has to watch his father, also an albino, getting slaughtered in the opening minutes. The lucrative trade with albino body parts is a real problem, to use a awfully euphemistic term, not just in Tanzania but all over East Africa. Post-flm, the director, present for a Q & A, said the most recent known (and there are far more unknown than known) case in Tanzania happened only two weeks ago, and one of the people in the film's production was approached with a "can you get me one of the albinos?" question. The young actor playing the main character, Hamasi Bazili, was 15 at the time of shooting, and had a backstory not dissimilar from his character in that he, too, had to flee his village and go to the city. He also was abandoned by his father, while in the movie Alias' mother, fearing for his safety, sends him with her brother in the big city (not named, but presumably Daar-as-Salaam). Alias' uncle has debts which gave me a bad feeling from the start, and while Alias temporarily ends up in a community with some other albino children and also has a tentative romance with his cousin Antoinette - their reconciliation scene in the middle of the big city garbage heaps which are scavanged for useful computer parts by traders, and Alias' playing with his friend, the Albino child Salum, are among the film's brief joyful interludes where Alias has the chance to be just a kid - , but the sense of menace waiting never really leaves. And sure enough, the hunters are there.... While this movie has some terrible things to say, it is, amazingly enough, anything but cynical. It's one of the very few stories I can think of where the big catharsis, in as much as there is one, is for the main character to not do what's been done to him. It is, like I said, not an easy to watch, and definitely not one where you can go on to have pizza afterwards. But it's definitely one watching nonetheless.

Sidenote: I couldn't help but wonder about the main actor and what future he'll have because I thought: he's so good in this, but how many roles are there for an adolescent albino Tanzanian actor? Then again, the director during the Q & A mentioned that the adult actor who plays his father at the start of the movie, Tito D. Ntanga, leads an acting/dancing/storytelling company for albinos in Tanzania. So there is a possible professional future, and that's good to know - if he won't become one of the victims of the body parts trade.
Like every summer, it's time for the Munich Film Festival again. Last year I was in Mongolia and missed it, but this year I can attend, and have already seen several movies worth watching. My two favourites so far have in common that they: a) include a child as one of the main characters, hence icon, b) are a first outing of their respective directors (who were present for a Q & A afterwards, another great thing about the Munich Film Festival), c) are currently shown in festivals and one or two countries but haven't already started the road to world wide distrubution, so here's hoping the festival will get them the necessary attention, because they're both deeply moving and fabulous. Mind you, while both are present day stories, they might as well be set in different worlds, due to their locations.

Everything We Loved: directed by Michael Currie, who also wrote the script, shot and set in New Zealand. This one is hard to talk about without getting spoilery about the central premise, and the film is very clever in luring you in during the opening sequence before gradually making it clear what is actually happening, so I'd like to at least try. It's a story with three main characters, all three sympathetic and easy to empathize with, a family - and yet not because there is a terrible lie and crime at work. (Disclaimer sadly necessary in this day and age: the story has absolutely nothing to do with pedophilia. Child abuse is so not what it's about.) It's a story about loss and grief and the actions it can cause, about illusion and reality, both in a metaphorical and literal sense, because Charlie, whose initial deed drives the plot, is a stage magician and his wife Angela is sharing the act with him (also in more than one sense.) The actors who play them, Brett Stewart and Sia Trokenheim, are amazing, but the movie wouldn't work if Tommy, the five years old played by a real life five years old, Ben Clarkson, wouldn't be a natural whose reactions to the two adults feel entirely real. In the Q & A afterwards, director Michael Currie mentioned that his sponsors were very nervous because of the central role of a child that young (and with a first time director, too), and at first wanted him to make the child older, but then the story wouldn't have worked. Having watched the movie, I agree. It wouldn't have been believable with, say, a nine years old.

What's also fantastic is that the film - despite having these serious themes - never feels anvil dropping or heavy handed, but has all those moments of joy and light together with the underlying thread of what's actually happening and how it must end. Very very captivating to watch, and I'm really glad I picked it as one of the movies to see. Here's the movie's website, so you can check out whether it's already shown in your part of the world.

Giraffada: directed by Rani Massalha, script by Xavier Nemo: this year's sole Palestinian contribution, co-produced with German, Italian and French studios. This story is centred around an older child than the last one, Ziad (played by Ahmed Bayatra, who is another amazingly gifted child actor), who is the son of the vetinarian working in the sole zoo inside of the Palestinian Territories (Saleh Bakri, quite dashing). At its heart, this is a very tender father-son story, with the relationship between Acinede the doctor and his son Ziad reminding me very much of the Siskos from Deep Space Nine, Ben and Jake - the open affection between them, Ziad's father being a widower who raises him alone and tries to give him some normality and stability in a very instable and war-torn world, for the movie is set at the shortly before and during the early stages of the second Intifada. (Btw, while it took five years to produce it was shot only recently, and that means there is a slight anachronism there, because at several points you can see "Pope, Welcome To Palestine" graffitti on the walls and the papal visit of course happened this year, not during the second Intifada.) You have the world of the zoo where Ziad helps his father caring for the animals - his favourites are the two giraffes, and he gets mercilessly teased by the boys at school for loving giraffes instead of lions -, and you have the every day world of children throwing stones, Israeli soldiers, checkpoints and their humiliations, nightly gunfire and bombings (which is when one of the giraffe dies because it panicks and hits its head fatally). But of course they can't be kept separate, they're inextrabibly intermingled. When the surviving female giraffe refuses to eat, and all attempts to heal it fail, the only remedy is to organize another male giraffe. And the only one available lives in the Ramat Gan Safari Park in Israel (where the vet is a pal of Ziad's dad, and also the movie's good guy Israeli character). At which point the movie becomes a caper/heist story, and it's a sign of quite how effient it is that you absolutely believe in the insane quest of kidnapping a giraffe and bringing it across this war torn country, because Ziad wants it to so much and it's such a symbol of hope in a hopeless world for him.

The movie was shot on location in Israel and the Palestinian territories, except for the giraffe for the last third which was shot in Germany using green screen for obvious plot reasons. According to the Q & A, all the earlier sequences with Ziad feeding and petting the giraffes in the zoo really had the boy actor interacting with animals; he cared for them for about a month before shooting started so they'd get used to him and it shows, because both boy and animals are absolutely fearless with each other. Getting the footage of the checkpoints was done via pretending to shoot a documentary (Rani Massalha said they were allowed to film for about two hours before being sent away, which was enough to get the shots he wanted, because he didn't feel rebuilding a checkpoint in a studio would convey what it's like in the same way). Ziad and his father are fictional characters, though there really was a Palestinian zoo at the beginning of the second Intifada with two giraffes, one of which died in the same way as it does in the film. (The other, as opposed to the film because there was no real life giraffe-napping, pined away and died afterwards.) The movie's sole non-Palestinian, non-Israeli character is a French reporter played by Laure de Clermont, who becomes involved with father and son and ends up helping them with the caper; there is some attraction between her and the doctor but it's played very delicately (they don't as much as hold hands, but there are some very telling looks), which you rarely see in the movies these days. All in all: both a fairy tale and a real life tale, with the fairy tale winning at the critical moment but at a powerful cost. Another very moving film, and one I hope will make it into international distrubtion. A trailer is here.
selenak: (Eva Green)
( Jun. 30th, 2014 10:31 am)
In which the first season ends, and I'm so glad there is a second one, for this is the Victorian melodrama horror of my heart.

Also I finally have an Eva Green icon )
No new Clone adventure to contemplate today, so a few thoughts on why season 2 as a whole - while offering many good things - didn't work as well as s1 for me.

it's all about the focus or lack of same )

Other fandoms:

Penny Dreadful:

Short but very interesting interview with Timothy Dalton about a certain scene in 1.05 and the Vanessa-Malcolm relationship in general.

Star Trek:

We learned the sea : beautiful love declaration to the various shows (TOS, TNG, DS9, Voy), their captains, and their relationships.


selenak: (Default)


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