The Court Jester

[Screenshot]My only experience with this film up to now was knowing that it was the source for the famous “pellet with the poison” patter, and that it was Danny Kaye’s magnum opus. And that it’s one of the Big Films in Traumfabrik. I didn’t know exactly what to expect except a comedy of some sort, and was kind of surprised by what seemed to me an almost pre-war style. I’m not sure what about it struck me as pre-war: maybe just its role as a comic period piece, and the fact that it didn’t take itself seirously. Anyways, not much deep to be said about this film, but it never claimed to lend itself to deep thought. The technicolor is lovely, and Danny Kaye clowns about brilliantly. The patter is delivered well and pretty damn good. The one scene with complicated choreography is actually executed flawlessly, so on technical details, this one’s good. It’s a funny film, but I guess I was in a kind of lackluster mood to appreciate it, or something.

Oh, and Angela Lansbury is in a bit role, which kind of bewildered me since Angela Lansbury is perpetually Mrs. Iselin in my mind. Her role in The Court Jester is plenty vicious but not nearly as competent as Raymond Shaw’s mother.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Lost, episodes 17–20

[Screenshot]This is the point in most shows where my logs usually devolve into “stuff happens, not unlike the stuff that happened in the previous epsiodes”. But it looks like that’ll have to be put off for a while. Stuff happens! Unlike in the previous episodes! We get hit with the flashback stick a lot less in this disc, and it is good. Claire finally delivers her baby, dispelling my fears that I’d have to sit through nine months of her being in perpetual nine-month pregnancy. Sun’s deep dark secret is revealed, which means maybe we’ll be treated to fewer scenes of people failing to communicate with the Koreans (it’s been hinted Jin knows English too. Eventually we’ll get that out into the open and everybody will be able to communicate without recourse to the traditional American practice of speaking loud and slow). Also, first death! (no, the sky marshal didn’t count. Boone may have been a poorly-drawn character, but he was in more than one episode.) I’m afraid the position of resident Locke-cultist won’t stay long empty, which means some other member of the main cast is going to start making me uneasy, but hopefully Boone’s deathbed confession might make the platitude-spouting fucker have other things on his mind than rustling up a new disciple.

In conclusion: I am emotionally invested. Things are finally actually happening to justify my investment. This is good.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Gloomy Sunday: Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod

[Screenshot]Gloomy Sunday is apparently one of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’s favorite films, and set in Hungary. So I was sold, and how glad I was to be. It’s a sentimental, historical early-twentieth century piece, and one of the few such Hungarian-German productions not featuring István Szabó. It’s also based very loosely on a real story, inasmuch as Gloomy Sunday is a real song and even an urban legend. It’s surprisingly good: there’s a lot of chemistry in the characterization. The female lead is as bewitching as the narrative requires her to be and strong enough that her resistance of all the males’ efforts to objectify her come through strong, and her two paramours do an excellent job in presenting their own awkward, strained symbiosis. Even Hans is strongly presented, both in his facade of moderation and the pure monstrosity behind the mask. The cinematography is competent, and the music is excellent (as it should be, inasmuch as they use the real song “Gloomy Sunday” and variations thereon for most of the score). There’s just a lot of really excellent acting on display, and in service of a plot that’s sweet, comic, tragic, and cruel in turns. Yeah, it’s good — probably one of the most outright emotive films I’ve seen lately.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Joe Schmo Show, episodes 1–3

[Screenshot]The premise of The Joe Schmo Show is one of those brilliant things from a media-theory point of view, which is in fact how I first heard about it. It’s essentially the closest real-life equivalent to The Truman Show we’re going to get without a massive human-rights violation.

On the other hand, one could argue there’s less to this than there appears to be. See, the premise of the show is that the eponymous character (actually named Matthew Kennedy Gould) is operating under the delusion that he’s a contestant on a reality show, when in fact the entire reality show, from the results of every contest to the personalities of his competitors, is staged, and as far as possible, scripted. But in honesty, this isn’t that far from the way an ordinary reality show is designed: they’re already pretty contrived and heavily scripted affairs, and the competitors are chosen to match an expected range of “types” anyways. So one could argue that the only ones for whom this differed materially from a “real” reality show were the producers and actors who got to pull his strings. The highest level of artifice: the fact that Matt was in a TV show, was actually a quite obvious one, which no effort was made to conceal.

But perhaps I’m unfair. I found the artifice entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking, but since I don’t watch reality TV, I kind of missed the significance of some of the archetypes they were sending up with their characters. The whole thing could’ve been a success or a failure based on the characters’ performances (and Matt’s, of course). The fake contestants did their job well, despite almost constant slips in character or script, which Matt was oblivious to (again, turning this around: reality show contestants are weird and oddly motivated. Anything completely incomprehensible one does, I’d sooner ascribe to some individual malicious motive than a grand conspiracy).

But where the show really shines is with Matt himself. They had to get a good character, and it seems like they succeeded: Matt is friendly and open without being a complete tool, and Takes most everything in good humor. All of that could lead to a really boring show, but his go-with-the-flow and eager-to-please nature is occasionally punctuated with sudden, unexpected perversity sending the producers into a frothing panic when he deliberately lost at a game, or short-circuited a narrative arc, or (in the cliffhanger end of the disc), broke down emotionally. These moments invert the overall relationship: the production crew drags Matt around like a puppet by his strings, but when he pulls in another direction, they end up being pulled along and having to remake their world as they go. It’s such a fascinating thing to see that I wondered, more than once, if “Matt” wasn’t also in on the story from the beginning, pulling against the production crew consciously and for the sake of drama, and that the real Schmos — the ones unaware of the level of artifice to which they’ve been subject — are the audience.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

さくらん/Sakuran

[Screenshot]An interesting contrast here to Sachiko Hanai: this too is a film deeply immersed in sex, and Japanese, but it manages to fall on the respectable side of the art/porn divide. It’s a period piece set in the Edo period, which I don’t know much about except that it was something of a renaissance of arts and scientific development. The attractive side of the resulting sybaritic luxury was the advent of kabuki and the geisha arts; the sordid side was the oiran brothel system, where this film is set.

I have to take the description of the culture as given at face value; I’m not familiar enough with Edo culture to judge the depiction. It’s believably multi-layered though, and more ambiguously presented than prostitution fequently is. Some of it’s whitewash: venereal disease and pregnancy seem to be unknown in the world of Sakuran, but other aspects are presented faithfully, such as the ornate styles of fashion, the intricate code of respect, and undercutting all of that, the fact that all except the highest-level prostitutes were in fact chattel of the brothel.

The film has consciously modern sensibilities: the characters, while working within the rigid framework of the oiran ritual, reflect modern types to a large extent, and outside of the confines of client interaction, the characters are essentially not rooted in the Edo period. This is reflected in the consciously non-Edo background music, which is what actually got me interested in this film in the first place; see, the music director is the talented J-Rock star Ringo Shiina, and most of the music for the film is drawn from her oddly loungey album 平成風俗 (Japanese Manners), which I’ve already heard. So I was curious as to how they were used here: tastefully, for the most part. Since it’s a mellower sound than her prior albums, it’s not as grating or as ostentatious as an actual rock soundtrack would be, and it’s mostly well-used, with low-key accompanyment in most places, and just the particularly brash “Papaya Mango” acocmpanying a scene which calls for ostentation. The aspects of the story which are rooted in Edo are in a popularized version of the same, with the focus on ultra-stereotypical fashions, hairstyles, and behaviors. It’s actually got a bit of a personality clash between aggressively perido presentation and the occasional modern pretensions.

One of my few complaints about this film is its overly obvious foreshadowing. Seiji promises young Kiyoha in the first ten minutes that he’ll take her out of the brothel when a withered cherry tree in the yard blossoms: I knew at that moment that, some time in the last ten minutes of the film, the cherry tree will blossom and Kiyoha will leave (probably to the tune of “The Limits of this World”). Likewise, Kiyoha’s horrified realization that the beginning that “I’ll become a horrid oiran!” was a pretty obvious foreshadowing that she would take on the exact attributes of her predecessors. I was right about all these premonitions except the music (the background music for Kiyoha’s flight is “Scar of Dreams”).

It’s not a film I would have watched but for the Shiina Ringo connection, but for all that it wasn’t bad, and I enjoyed the period aspects even if I’m not about to take them at face value.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Lost, episodes 9–16

[Screenshot]Production values remain high, but I’m kind of ready for the story to actually go somewhere. 16 episodes in, I should maybe know what’s going on. The unseen enemy finally engages the castaways, and then we sit on our hands for a while and meander into soap-operatic territory as a couple of relationships blossom. The Sayid-Shannon connection is refreshingly unexpected, but Kate and Sawyer have been bickering like a married couple for about 10 episodes now. Splitting the difference, there’s Boone’s somewhat inexplicable conversion to Locke-cultism, which is both unexpected and makes ihm a less interesting character. Otherwise, we get backstory backstory backstory. I am totally ready for a plotline in which we actually learn anything at all about the nature of the present predicament. I’d be down for learning more about the characters’ backgrounds in a gradual fashion, but it’s badly derailing the suspenseful main plot, which has a lot of loose ends.

Parting shot: Claire was very pregnant when they arrived, and they’ve been there a month. She’s undergone two major traumas in that time. Shouldn’t something have happened by now?

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

ヘルシング OAV/Hellsing Ultimate, episode 1

[Screenshot]This is a remake of the same manga as the original Hellsing, so some comparison is inevitable. In this, the first episode, the OAV actually comes up a bit short of the TV series: the TV series only really started to decline in the later episodes. So, plotwise this one’s virtually identical to the first few episodes of the TV series (Seras’s conversion and the first meeting with Anderson). The voice actors are, wisely, almost identical for this production as the original, in both Japanese and English, and do a creditable job in both (although Anderson’s English-language actor effects a much more pronounced Scots accent in the OAV). So the big differences are mostly production issues: graphics and music.

One of these we can dispense with easily. The music on this OAV is serviceable and solemn, but it’s got nothing on Yasushi Ishii’s thrashy but dramatic quasipunk stylings as featured in the original seires. As for animation, I must confess to being conflicted. When it’s good, it’s very good if a bit too fond of arterial spray. When it’s bad, it’s actually pretty lazy, and stylized in a way somewhat tonally inconsistent with the darkness otherwise well-established in the story (then again, super-deformed worked for Fullmetal Alchemist, and that’s plenty dark, so I dunno. It doesn’t work here, at least for me).

I’ll want to stick with this one, despite its stylistic weaknesses, because I’m guessing it’ll have a better plot once it gets rolling than the TV series did. Already there’s one point that’s impressed me: it’s explicitly laid out the Iscariot-Hellsing frictions as a Catholic/Protestant schism, which, first of all, seemed a blind point in the original anime, and second, promises a greater exploration of this schism. I was disappointed at how quickly the original series devolved into Hellsing vs. the freaks, instead of focusing more on the far more interesting conflict between Hellsing and other vampire-hunter organizations with different ideologies, and have great hope that this series will better explore this virgin territory.

Speaking of virgins (sorry, rough segue there), the term “Draculina” (in the original Japanese, so it’s not the translator’s fault, except inasmuch as it would have been wise for the translator to excise it), I find irrationally annoying.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.