Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Watch Films: The Nun

The Nun

I’ve now watched two and a half films in the Conjuring series (“Conjureverse”) and the two complete were both prequels. This is set the earliest; in 1952 a nun is found hanged from the main entrance to an abbey in Romania by the delivery man, Frenchie (he’s French Canadian). The Vatican send a priest with some experience in weird goings on and, as the nuns are cloistered, a postulant nun who has previously had visions.

The abbey was built on a site of great evil and so the nuns engaged in perpetual adoration; unending prayer (in shifts) to keep it at bay. Unfortunately bombing in the war may have released it.

I say may, obviously it has, and nothing that occurs in the convent can be trusted. There’s some cool stuff, some weird stuff, slightly too many spooky nuns appearing in the background as the camera moves, a fairly cool revelation and the Blood of Jesus Christ.

Finally there’s a coda, where the Conjure-couple give a lecture in the 70s that ties it into the greater series. I’m not up to speed on that.

Watch This: For a fairly scary horror film with an actually new (to me) use of the cross.
Don’t Watch This: If Nuns really really scare you

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

I Read Books: Traitor's Moon

Traitor's Moon

Having created some cool characters, put them in a city full of intrigue and a land at war with high stakes, Flewelling takes us away from that and goes on a journey to the land of the Elves.

But I’m carping unnecessarily. We’ve got the survivors of Stalking Darkness back, Alec and Seregil, and also the wizard Thero and Beka, now commanding a troop of soldiers. The war isn’t going well, the Queen has been injured so she sends her daughter to Aurenfaie to ask for help, or at least for an open port that doesn’t require sailing past the enemy.

Seregil has been exiled. Alec is half-Faie, but from a group that left centuries ago. There are reasons why they closed the borders between Aurenfaie and the outside world. Some of them profited from it.

Also there are oracles and prophecies going on, the whole thing rapidly spins out of control in a complex manner.

Read This: Some fantasy plotting, mostly in the style of the two books that went on before
Don’t Read This: If you don’t care about high stakes negotiating with dark skulduggery

Monday, October 14, 2019

I Watch TV: What We Do In The Shadows

What We Do In The Shadows
This is a sitcom about vampires. It’s sexually explicit, in that they frankly discuss their sexual histories (of several hundred years), and there are also faux-historical woodcuts and paintings. Also a couple of times people have sex on screen. It’s also violent, though only occasionally, it’s rare enough to actually be quite surprising and shocking. And there’s blood.

Anyway, three regular vampires and an energy vampire live in a house in Staten Island with their familiars, though only one familiar is in most episodes. They are visited by the Baron who wants to know how they have got on with conquering the new world. This drives the plot of several episodes in classic sitcom style; the boss wants the subordinates to do something unfeasible and they have to figure out how not to be fired (or torture-murdered by an immortal monster in this case). Other episodes examine different ideas with a vampire spin.

One thing that I noticed was that they have plenty of money for the show. Shot in a faux-documentary style the occasional transformation into a bat, flying, wall-crawling and invisibility effects look very convincing. And they have a whole bunch of famous guest stars in one episode when they’re being tried by the vampire council.

Plotwise it is incoherent, in that they are found guilty by the vampire council and sentenced to death in one episode, only to be hosts of the biannual vampire orgy two episodes later. This is fine, I don’t expect vampires living outside of all rational bounds, society and natural law to be consistent in this. We sentenced someone to death, they turn out not to be dead, I guess it’s their turn to host the orgy. Another day in vampire land.

Also it’s pretty funny.

Watch This: For raucous vampire fun
Don’t Watch This: if blood and sex aren’t funny

Thursday, October 10, 2019

I Watch Films: The Glass Mountain

The Glass Mountain

Richard Wilder, a composer, teams up with an eccentric Scottish poet* Bruce Mcleod and they have a smash hit record, allowing him to buy his wife, Anne’s, dream house. Unfortunately it’s 1938 and their perfect life is interrupted by the war**.

Richard is shot down in the Dolomites and is rescued by a group of partisans. Amongst them are an opera singer (played by opera singer Tito Gobi) and, inevitably, a beautiful woman Alida, who is the daughter of the doctor and who nurses him back to health.

Struck by a local landmark, the titular glass mountain, Alida tells him the legend of the glass mountain.

The Legend of the Glass Mountain

Antonio is the best climber in the village. He courts Maria, and promises that one day he will take her to the top of the Glass Mountain. However before that he goes down to the plains. There he meets the beautiful daughter of a wealthy man and promises to marry her.

Maria, knowing that Antonio has broken the actual promise to her (the climb) and his implied one (that he loves her) goes up the mountain herself. She never comes down.

At Antonio’s wedding he hears Maria’s voice, leaves his bride and climbs the mountain in the fog. He keeps climbing until there is nothing beneath his feet.

The legend concludes that if you go up to the glacier (which gives the mountain it’s name, and may hold the bodies of Antonio and Maria) and call out the name of the person you love, then it will echo it back. If you don’t love them it won’t.

Back in the Film The Glass Mountain

The war is over, Gino, who everyone knows Alida will marry, returns and Richard goes home after a heartfelt farewell to Alida. Unable to put it out of his mind he obsessively writes an opera about the Glass Mountain. Alida appears on the cover of a magazine when she is honoured for her time as a partisan, and Anne Wilder figures out something is wrong. They have a very understated conversation and Wilder leaves for the Dolomites.

Richard gets in a fight with Gino which resolves nothing, then is interrupted in his awkward and slightly stilted 1940s courtship of Alida by Tito the opera singer who has convinced the Fenice opera house in Venice to take a chance on his opera. Richard heads to Venice to finish the opera and put it on, and asks Alida to come with him. She does.

In Venice he gets Bruce to join him, though as the lyrics are being translated this is a bit odd. Never mind; he has deep and meaningful conversations with Richard and Alida. Bruce points out that Richard is busy with the opera and still concerned about his wife; between those two loves what does he have left for Alida?

Meanwhile Richard has sent first night tickets to Anne, after all it’s only polite. She gets an old friend (from her time in the WAAFs?) to fly her to Venice; on the way they divert to take a look at the Glass Mountain. Unfortunately they crash; the scenes on the mountain, echoing Richard’s earlier rescue, are intercut with the music and scenes of La Montagna di Cristallo (The Glass Mountain)***.

A message comes during the performance. Richard comes off stage to rapturous applause. Alida gives him the message and they break up, tears streaming down her face as there are cheers and clapping.

Richard returns to the village where Gino takes him up the mountain. He calls to where the rescuers are towing Anne across the glacier on a sled, and there are echoes. The doctor assures him she will recover. THE END with the theme from the opera coming back.

I Have Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a great film. So why have I already trebled my usual length of film review and am still going? Well, what it is, is a good example of a late 40s drama. There’s exoticism (lots of scenes in Italy, skiing, opera), muted drama (between Richard and Anne) much less muted drama (Richard and Alida), an eccentric friend with wisdom (Bruce), foreigners being weird (everyone involved with the opera) and a slightly muddled moral about loving too many people and/or things.

The music is good, I believe in the people giving the opera a standing ovation.

I tracked it down because I had been reading folk and fairy tales about Glass Mountains and wanted to see what they had; the legend in this was not like any I’d read elsewhere. So that worked out pretty well.

Anyway, it was a huge success back in 1949, and was rereleased in 1950 and 1953. This is what people were watching 70 years ago, and loving it, and now it’s almost forgotten. And despite it’s slow pace, and quiet scenes of damped emotion, and that nice shots of mountains and skiing are not really a selling point in films anymore, it’s still got something.

Watch This: For a 40s drama with some good ideas and scenes and better music.
Don’t Watch This: If a slow old film in black and white sounds boring

* Played by Sebastian Shaw, who played the unmasked Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi

** There’s a very good line in which the two of them in uniform are saying goodbye in their usual light-hearted fashion until Anne says “Please leave quickly, I can’t think of any more jokes,” an extremely British stiff-upper lip way of getting across the emotion of the moment.

*** The Glass Mountain, the film, contains the actual Glass Mountain (I don’t know what mountain played the mountain in the film), the Legend of the Glass Mountain, the opera The Glass Mountain, which has, on stage, a set that is The Glass Mountain. Can’t complain that the title isn’t linked to the events of the film.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

I Read Books: Children of Dune

Children of Dune
At the end of Dune Messiah, Paul walked into the desert [SPOILERS] blind to die. Now his sister Alia is regent for his son Leto and his daughter Ghanima. All three of them were brought to consciousness in the womb, and are haunted by ancestral memories.

Abomination is the word used when someone is possessed by an ancestor (or their memory) and all three are under suspicion. Slightly less esoteric plots are also in play; there are plots to place Farad’n, grandson of the previous emperor on the throne (of which he is only partially aware), there is a blind preacher come out the desert, proclaiming the religion that has grown up around Paul is corrupt, and Jessica, Paul’s mother, returns to Dune to find out what’s up with her daughter, her grandkids and the empire.

Dune Messiah unsatisfyingly tackles the theme of prescience, Paul’s ability to see the future, its limitations and dangers. This book is more interested in the ancestral memories and their dangers. Herbert engages with the idea of being host to a horde of ancestors in a way that clarifies the situation (and occasionally terrifies – after all many of their ancestors were villains).

Towards the end Leto is forced into taking spice essence and unveiling his powers, seeing the Golden Path of the future, the one in which humanity survives, and takes the choice that Paul could not – did not.

More successful than Dune Messiah*, it also expands on the body control powers given by Bene Gesserit training, and the sandworm biology, and [SPOILERS] links between the two. And when I say more successful I mean as a book, though as it was the first SF novel to be a hardback bestseller in the US, I guess that was pretty successful too.

Read This: For a novel that picks up some of the ideas of Dune and runs with them
Don’t Read This: If a slow start full of plotting and people worrying about being driven mad because they are haunted by their ancestors will put you off

* Less so than Dune, but that is the nature of the Dune sequels. None of them are as good as Dune.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

I Read Stories: In Italy I’m a Lover, a Sinner and a Time Traveler by Ana Prundaru

In Italy I’m a Lover, a Sinner and a Time Traveler by Ana Prundaru

Once upon a time I went to a wedding in Italy, where I was the designated Italian speaker for our villa; I had at most 200 words of the language. This story has some of the strangeness yet half-familiar experience that I found while staying there.

On top of that though is the narrator’s failed (perhaps?) relationship with a man who is obsessed with a historical figure and how her afternoon in the Italian countryside, which has nothing to do with him, nevertheless cannot disentangle itself from whatever happened.

Also she weirdly finds an artefact that really shouldn’t be there, hence the time travel of the title.

Read This: For a moment of time in Italy and the reminiscence of time’s past
Don’t Read This: If you want what actually happened explained to you

Monday, October 07, 2019

I Read Books: The Curse Of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion
There’s a curse and a kingdom filled with intrigue and our hero Cazaril, newly returned from captivity after the wars finds himself charged with teaching (and guarding) a princess. So far, so epic fantasy. But Bujold’s way of wrapping the theology into the conspiracies and those into the personal lives of the characters is absolutely unimpeachable. Cazaril, a reasonable man, tries to find reasonable solutions to the problems, but is constantly having to instead act on faith and believe in miracles and magic.

It’s loosely based on Isabella of Castile, though very loosely so even if you’re big on the formation of Spain you’ll not be too spoiled.

Anyway Bujold is good, this book is good, you should read it.

Read This: For a smart fantasy novel in which everything is just a touch better than usual, and the characters much better
Don’t Read This: If fantasy medieval Spain sounds ugh