It's been dark in the morning when I woke up the past two days. Admittedly both times, I was awake a little earlier that usual for some reason, but still, the season is changing, some days are actually cooler, and leaves are starting to cover the ground.
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Journalling really fell to the wayside this week. Too much working and working stress alongside obsessive video game playing to relax from working and then not a lot of reading or watching to write about. Books show up, movies are added to my watch list, but mostly I've just worked, played video games, cooked dinner, maybe watched some tv with Lianne, and then more video games and reading the Bordwell book. I've also been waking up extra early almost everyday this week. This morning I was awake at 4 and eventually just got up before 6.
Hopefully, after next week's code release, if it isn't a complete disaster, things will get better.
It's "Octoberfest" in town so we took a walk around. My primary interest is hoping the food truck that sells falafel is there. It was, and I had one, but then I always remember it's just not that good falafel. It's not bad, but a disappointment compared to many I've had in the past. Unfortunately a regular falafel source is just not something we seem to have in the nearby vicinity.
I used to get falafel a lot in West Philly when we went to punk shows at Stalag 13. There was a place a few blocks away, nothing fancy, but you could get a big, cheap falafel wrap that was worth the trip. Fill up on that before heading into the cramped garage like atmosphere of the show. There was also a place in nearby Doylestown I used to go to all the time with an old friend. They sold this delicious mushroom barley soup and then you could get great falafel hummus wraps. For awhile we'd meet up almost every weekend to go there and then browse Siren Records, back when I still bought music in physical form.
I never got around to writing about the last comic I read, Are You Listening?, Tillie Walden's latest. I quite enjoyed her webcomic turned book On a Sunbeam. That was a science fiction romance that didn't do a lot to explain it's world. Every character seemed to be a woman, but unlike say James Tiptree Jr.'s "Houston Houston, Where are You?", that situation was not explained or used as a thematic point. It just was the world the story existed in. A lot of the science fictional elements in that book were probably underexplained, but it didn't really matter because it was a narrative in space about two young women in love and the events that divided them and brought them back together. The spaceships and other worlds served as a backdrop for the interpersonal narrative.
Are You Listening? veers into the fantastical at a certain point, but for some reason feels much less successful in that respect. The story starts out in the "real world" by all appearances and then after awhile we get some weird events and creepy guys and... almost psychadelic landscape and some talk about changing reality, but all of it feels really tacked on, underexplained, underutilitized, and undermotivated in respect to the narrative previous to it's introduction.
Unfortunately that narrative itself also felt clichéd and underdeveloped. Two young woman end up together on a road trip, running away from aspects of their life and developing a relationship. But the setup starts with all the clichés of a slightly older (but cool) adult picking up a younger adult who has left home. The younger one acts angry, lies, withholds information. The older one is kind or exasperated and then turns out to have her own issues to show she too is running away. Both of the characters personal issues felt sketched in too lightly, too far into the book, and then the fantastical elements appear and the narrative never really revisits the other content. This felt like a book that really needed stronger editorial guidance.
On the other hand, the drawing itself is lively and fluid, and the colors are really beautiful and moody. The color palette varies greatly based on the scene, the time of day, and the landscapes are quite attractive. You can just look at this book and really enjoy it on a basic visual level. The biggest issue visually is that the two protagonists look too similar. The one has glasses but as soon as those are removed, differentiating the two becomes difficult. While it is possible (and likely) to attribute this to a thematic connection about their similarities, it also feels like a failure of the drawing. You can make characters looks similar without drawing them in a way to makes it difficult to differentiate them.
Later yesterday afternoon, browsing the overwhelming amount of things I want to watch on the Criterion Channel, I ended up choosing Hong Sang-Soo's On the Beach at Night Alone. I watched his Claire's Camera back in August. This movie, though older, has a certain similarity. Again there is a young woman (an actress this time, played by the same actress Min-Hee Kim), who has recently broken up with an older movie director. In this case, he was married (I forget if that was the case in Claire's Camera). The movie starts with the actress in Germany, apparently having left Korea in the face of the rumours and scandal. The narrative style is low information, so all we know we mostly have to gleen from conversations. A second part of the film (clearly preceded by a "2" and a new set of actor credits) takes places back in Korea, when the actress returns to somewhere she used to live and meets up with old friends.
There's not a lot that goes on in the movie, some walking, mostly conversation. The actress expresses her feelings in ways that generalize them to everyone else, like she can't accept her feelings as applicable to her, but must project them onto everyone.
There are two elements that make this film more interesting than the Rohmer-esque situation and plotting. In the first section, this man comes up to the actress and her friend in the park and asks them the time. Later they see him again and walk away to avoid him. At the end of the first section, the actress, her friend, and another couple are on the beach. The actress is standing looking out at the water. Her and her friend talk, then the friend walks off to the other couple down the beach. The actress walks towards the water, almost like she is going to swim (though she is fully dressed). The camera pans away from the actress/water view to see the friend walking away. The camera pans back and we see the actress's footsteps and the water, but she is gone. It holds long enough that I looked into the water searching for some indication she was in the water, perhaps an impetuous swim or some kind of suicide attempt. Then the camera pans the other direction and we see a man walking away, carrying a person over his shoulder, clearly (based on the clothes at least) the actress. He walks a bit. The screen goes black. Part two starts with the actress watching the end of a movie in a theater.
The... kidnapping? attack? is never mentioned or even alluded too. The actress is back in Korea. A little while later the actress is with friends going into a hotel room she has just rented. There is a man on the deck fiercely scrubbing at the sliding doors in to the room. No one mentions him or even seems to look at him. When the actress opens the sliding doors to get some fresh air and look at the sea, the man adjust his position slightly and keeps scrubbing at the windows. I'd have to go back to see if the two men are the same, though in neither case do you get a good look at them, but I suspect they are, and they are clearly not a part of the... reality of the film. It's this strikingly strange invasion of the narrative, that I am at a loss to understand. (I looked a few reviews and most of them seem to completely ignore this part of the movie.)
The movies also, late in the plot, has a long sequence that seems to offer a coincidental meeting of the actress and the director as well as a long dinner conversation where they uncomfortably (both for the viewer and because they are at a table with a bunch of other people) discuss their relationship and feelings. It seems like the movie is offering up this resolution to the actresses's situation. She talks about doing another movie. The director is working on a new film, though earlier some of the actress's friends indicated he was not working anymore and was a bit of a mess. But then, when you think you've gotten too pat a resolution, the films exposes the whole sequence as a dream, a dream that offered no visual or otherwise cues that it was not reality. The actress wakes up on the beach. Rather, she is woken up, by an unseen man (is it that same man from before? I am lead to think so). The movie ends.
In the end, I'm not sure the interesting oddities of the narrative saved it from the rest. The movie is too much of the actress pontificating (sometimes while drunk) and also people who keep telling her she is pretty or charming. No one else really comes forward much to play against her, and I never felt like there was any sort of forward movement. It's like a Rohmer film without the moment of... decision... movement... that his movies tend to have.
Up early again, though thankfully not as early as last week. Yesterday, after getting to a boss (well two bosses at once) in Code Vein that I didn't easily beat, I decided to watch a movie, and, as it was still early in the afternoon, picked Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Been wanting to watch it for awhile, but it's over 2.5 hours long, so I needed a good long block of time where I wasn't going to be distracted (cause I knew it was going to be slow).
At the start the movie's filmed in black and white toned in a sepia color, it's like the whole world is trapped is amber. Whatever method Tarkovsky used to film, it really brings out all the textures of everything. The walls in the protagonist's home are rough and dirty and probably plaster and you can see all of that in the film. The french doors to his bedroom look like they are hundreds of years old encrusted with time. The floor in the bar he goes to is stained and you can see all the lines of the wood. It's really amazing and looks really different to me than almost anything else I've watched.
The movie is slow: lots of long takes, few cuts, slow camera movement (a number of very slow forward tracking shots), dead time before and after characters enter/leave a shot. That slowness is aided a lot by the beauty of the compositions. You can look at the frame for awhile even if nothing is moving in it. Almost everything in the setting is old or decayed or rundown. It's almost post-apocalyptic in the human elements, but on the other hand there is a lot of lush greenery in different scenes.
Based on a science fiction novel, one of the Criterion extras taught me that in the process of adapting and making the movie, Tarkovsky moved away from the book in many ways. This is one of those quiet science fiction movies that doesn't have spaceships or aliens or time travel, but it does have... something. The three protagonists go into this place called "The Zone" where something happened and all the people left and the government walled it off. Inside The Zone is "The Room" which supposedly will give you whatever is your deepest desire.
There is no explanation for these elements, and one can almost watch the movie and believe that it is all a story made-up by the protagonist "Stalker". It's that kind of narrative. But the way it's filmed and the way the actors/characters react to everything, even though for almost all the film you see no indication of anything weird or unusual, somehow you believe that "The Zone" is weird and dangerous. I was almost expecting some kind of 2001 psychadelic thing at the end, but Tarkovsky is a lot more restrained than that and nothing really weird happens at all. The protagonists don't enter The Room. They return home.
And then right at the very end, there is this scene of Stalker's daughter sitting at a table silently. After a while you looks at a glass on the table and... the glass shudders a bit then slowly slides across the table. Then she looks at another glass and slowly it slides across the table and falls off it. End of movie. I'm not totally sure what to make of that ending, other than as a way to refute the idea that all the weirdness was just in the three protagonists heads as they were in The Zone. You can't read the daughter's telekinetic skills as the result of anyone else's imagination or fear. It just happens.
At times I did start getting a little tired of the movie, mostly in some of the scenes with the characters talking. Though on a second viewing I might better be able to relate their conversations to the rest of the filmic content. But something would always happen to draw me back in.
One really stunning (and I'm sure famous) scene, happens early on. There is a really long tracking shot in the sepia tone as the characters ride a rail car into The Zone. The foreground movies between their three faces in closeup with out of focus background moving by in the background. It lasts a long time and then there is a cut and the film is in color, a green landscape of trees and sky. It's a shocking change (up to that point I just assumed the whole film would be sepia), and also creates this wonderful sense of The Zone as other, as more vibrant and special then the rest of the world.
Geoff Dyer wrote a whole book about Stalker which I am now very tempted to read.
It's Lianne's birthday today, so I took the day off, but thanks to the magic of release week at work, I'll be doing some work today to prep myself. I've been extremely nervous about this week's release, as we/I made some serious changes to the both codebase and how part of the infrastructure will work which always means there can be unexpected issue transitioning from our staging environment to our various production regions. The rest of the week may be hectic and crazy or maybe it will be perfectly calm and fine. I have no way to know at this point.
We've been watching Fleabag on Amazon recently. Awhile back I had tried the first episode and was not that interested in it. It seemed too... harsh? But after hearing a lot of buzz about it, we revisited, and we both thought it got a lot better as it went on. We're into season 2 now, and it's taking an unusual turn. Throughout the series (right from the beginning) the protagonist will look at the camera and talk, breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience. Little asides, or just glances and facial expressions. You get used to it and it can be amusing and it just feels like a metafictional quirk of the show. But in the second season, she meets this Catholic priest and at one point she's talking to him and turns to say something to the camera and he's like, "What was that? Where did you go just now?" It's a striking alteration to the reality of the show. He's starts noticing it more and more and once even seems to hear what she said.
This alteration to the reality got me spinning new ideas about how I've been reading these asides. I have no idea if they are true, but I've created hypotheses as I view (which is something Bordwell talks about in Narration in the Fiction Film which I am almost finished reading). Before the scene with the priest occurs, she's talking to an analyst and when asked if you has any friends, she seems to refer to the audience (i.e. the people she's talking to when she looks at the camera) as her friends. And sometimes when she does the talking, they cut to her dead friend making gestures or expressions as if in response to what she said. So now I'm thinking that she's NOT talking to the camera/audience/fourth wall, she's actually talking to her people in her head... her dead friend... maybe others. The metafictional element shifts to become a... fictional element.
I have no idea if this is what is going on, but now it's something I'm watching for. Besides all that it is a funny show, I laugh out loud a lot at it.
That's two days without writing. We were releasing code for work this week, and it was some major changes so it ended up using up a lot of my energy and brainpower. It was not as catastrophic as I feared, but there have been some tricky little issues. Once again I'm trying to figure out solutions for problems I don't totally understand. It is often extremely frustrating, and I also know that I probably care a little too much about everything working right so we don't have angry customers.
In other news, I don't remember much else that I have been doing. I tried watching a few movies for the second half of my Tuesday off and the first few just didn't hold my attention: Bresson's Pickpocket (which had a whole analysis on the Bordwell book I just finished), Mizoguchi's Street of Shame, and and Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur The Leopard Man (which came up recently in something I read on the many adaptations of Cornell Woolrich's work). I ended up watching the Taviani brothers' Night of the Shooting Stars, which I had already seen long ago in an Italian Neorealist Cinema course I took in college (the only film class I've ever taken, I think). I guess that was the part of syllabus on post-neorealism because this film is quite different than stuff like De Sica or Rosselini. The whole thing had a staged feel to it with elements of fantastic imaginings and an oddly lighthearted feel for a movie that takes place during the final days before the Allied forces fought back fascists in Italy.
In one scene we see cathedral in the town square. There is the sound of an explosion and screaming, then the door opens and smoke plumes out. People then exit the build, stumbling wildly... some of them run around like they are children pretending to die in a game of make believe. I can't quite find the word I want to use to describe it... not melodramatic... staged... playful... no... The filming and narrative style of the movie seemed to frequently undercut the dramatic plot points. It's quite odd.
The movies use of characters was also... confusing. There were a lot of characters, and at any one point it was hard to say who was actually important to the plot, or who the protagonists were. Some of the characters at first seem important, but then they disappear, or quietly get killed off. One young woman seems important. We see her pretty early on, there are various scenes with her, even a series of flashbacks to her childhood, yet, at one point late in the movie during a firefight between fascists and resistance, she is seemingly thrown into a truck by the fascists and driven off. We never see her again and no one else seems to notice or care that she is gone.
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Ended up watching Hiroshi Shimizu's The Masseurs and a Woman from 1938. I've had the Criterion Eclipse set Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu yet never got around to watching all the movies in it. This is a rather short (66 minutes) film that takes place at a mountain resort. Two blind masseurs show up for the season and one of them falls in a love with a woman from Tokyo. Lots of tracking shots, which apparently was a Shimizu tradmark. The film starts with a series of long tracking shots in front of the two masseurs as they walk along the road. Shimizu also uses a lot of long take long shots, where you watch people walking or moving about from a distance, like a long scene where the masseur and the woman are standing on a small bridge over some water. They are both in the background, and then, the woman gets up and walks along the bridge. The bridge turns towards the camera at the right of frame, and thus the woman walks into the foreground of the frame.
An enjoyable simple film. It dangled a number of plotlines, and then left most of them unresolved as the characters leaved the resort, but it didn't feel incomplete, as it fit the setting of a place people travel to away from home for short periods. They have some brief moments with new acquaintances, but then their real lives reassert themselves.
Yesterday I also started the "Discovery Tour" mode of Assassin's Creed Odysssey. Basically, it removes all the enemies and quests from the game and you run around taking tours and learning about locations and Ancient Greek history and myth. The various tours take you through guided paths to different monuments/locations and then at each one you get a little cut scene with narration about the location and then some text you can read for more information. It's a pretty cool idea. The developers did it for the previous game in the series, but I never got around to trying it.
That also reminds me I never finished writing about Code Vein. I finished the game last week at some point. Based on what I'm seeing online I got the "medium" ending, mostly because early on there was an aspect I didn't totally understand and thus didn't do 1 thing I was supposed to to get the "good" ending. The ending was actually rather underwhelming, and after all the build-up of NPC stories via interactive memoirs, it feels like I never got any story for my actual character. Maybe I missed something, but I don't think I ever discovered what made my character have these special abilities.
Overall, I enjoyed the game. It was a really successful variation on the Dark Souls style in a way that was tons more enjoyable for the simple fact that I did not struggle with every single boss, and actually did get to the end without just wanting to quit (I never did finish Dark Souls 3).
Another busy post-release workday as I try to get some issues resolved with load balancing our chat servers and fix some small bugs that popped up. And now it's after 6, and I never got around to writing.
Following up from yesterday, I ended up watching the Code Vein "good" ending on YouTube. It seemed like a set-up for a sequel, which is kind of odd to do in only one of the endings of a game. It didn't so much answer any questions or provide any closure as just set-up a sequel. But still, I'd play a sequel if they made one.
Criterion was having a sale today... 50% off... and I failed to resist it. Bought a few more Ozu dvds (including the small boxed set of silent crime dramas from the 30s), and a couple film noir ones, like Ride the Pink Horse which I read about long long ago and then found a ripped download of it because at the time there was no way/place to even see the movie. I feel like I should buy that since I've watched it at least twice via my probably illegal download.
Our next gaming session is coming up in two Saturdays. As it will be almost Halloween then, and I'm still feeling lackluster about my Stars Without Number campaign, I was thinking I'd run some kind of haunted house module. I know I have a few of them around, and there's gotta be one that I can run in a session or two. I was thinking we could just skip character creation and make decisions about the PCs as we go, when we need to know something about them. If they need to get past a locked door and one of them wants to pick the lock, well then they are a thief and have lockpicks. If someone wants to bust it open then we'll roll their Strength and see what chance they have. That way we can jump into the adventure without spending forever on character creation or me creating pre-gens and then the players not getting a chance to make any decisions about their own characters. If I can just find an adventure that seems appropriate and not too long.
I was in our ground floor powder room this morning, and I'm pretty sure I heard an animal above me. There's an area above the back of the house where the porch roof goes over the first floor to the slight recessed second floor, leaving this odd area between the porch roof and the top of the first floor for a few feet. I've always been a little concerned about animals getting up there, and maybe that has now happened. I guess I'll need to get the ladder out this weekend and see if I can get a look. Probably should have boarded that space up long ago.
It's a cool, rainy day today. When I woke up it was probably the coldest it's been yet this season, almost time to get the heater running. I do like the briskness of my morning walk, wrapped up in my sweatshirt but still sans winter hat.
My current reading is primarily been focused on David Bordwell's Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. I decided I wanted to get a copy recently after rewatching some Ozu movies. When I went to Amazon to look it up, the page claimed I had ordered the book back in like 2010. I searched all around the house and could not find a copy, nor could I remember actually ever reading the book. It's been out of print for a long time, so even back then I had ordered it from a third party seller. I still don't know for sure, but I have this vague memory of the one time a book just never showed up and I have to think it was that one. So I reordered it this summer and thankfully it did show up.
It's an excellent read so far, starting with context about the film industry in Japan, Ozu's life, and different general analyses of his films. The latter part is then a sequential film-by-film discussion of all his work. Like good criticism/theory, Bordwell's writing makes me want to return to the object of his writing so I can get even more enjoyment from it via his insights and analyses. It helps a lot in this context that I've scene a lot of Ozu's movies, so I'm not coming to the text without knowledge of the films (and having read a few other books on Ozu too). Bordwell's focus on narration and structure really appeals to me. He doesn't avoid biography or history or theme or process, but he always comes back to how the films are put together narratively and visually.
Lianne took me to an art opening at the college yesterday, a variety of prints from a collection. It was a lot of ho-hum etchings and lithos of landscapes and buildings and such, but there were a bunch of really striking pieces. A large beautiful Rembrandt etching was moody and expressive with large swaths of fine lines. A Kathe Kollwitz print from her series about a weavers strike had luscious blacks of dense hatching that still managed to be differentiated from each other. I quite enjoyed a Piranesi etching of a "Capriccio", an imaginary ruined landscape, that was paired with a similarly themed Turner print. The Hokusai on view was sadly not every interesting.
There were a couple new discoveries that I snapped some photos of.
The first by Felix Buhot is most interesting because of the way there is a main rectangular image on the etching plate, but then there are also smaller vignettes around it, including those pale legs and feet at the bottom margin. It has a wonderful multi-panel aspect that, of course, appealed to me right away.
The second is a woodcut by Rudolph Ruzicka. I just really like the way the colors are used in this one to help create depth, especially the blue and orange.
I also ended up watching What Did the Lady Forget? an Ozu film from 1937 that was paired with The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (see my entry from 2019-09-22) dvd. It might be the earlist of his films I've watched. I can't say it was one of my favorites, and plot-wise felt like a less developed version of the latter. Though one notable difference here is how the niece of the primary couple in this one is a bit more wild. She dresses modern with a jaunty hat tilted at an angle that looks like something out of a film noir, and she pressures her uncle in taking her to a geisha house where she drinks too much and has a hangover the next day. She is not the more subdued young woman of the later film(s).
On some kind of roll, I watched Ozu's Early Summer (1951) last night. This one is much more in the mold of the later family dramas than the others I've watched recently. Much like in the slightly earlier Late Spring Setsuko Hara stars as an unmarried young woman named Noriko. Her marriage (or at least the selecting of a husband) becomes the primary plot thread. A young Chishu Ryu also stars as her older brother who often acts as the antagonist in this one. This has a lot of the elements of the later family dramas, though unlike many features young children as part of the family, comedic relief, and an even playing a part in the marriage plot. It also features the various lacunae in the plot that is characteristic of Ozu.
Once Noriko impulsively picks her suitor, we actually never see him reacting to the idea of the marriage. He sees her before he knows about her decision, and then after he finds out we never see him in the film again. The husbands-to-be in these films are almost never important, especially once they become the husband-to-be. Even the other suitor in this film never actually appears in person.
One strange scene that jumped out at me in this one, was an odd camera movement. I forget the specifics of the scene, I think it's at the doctor's office where the brother works. A woman has come to see him for a check-up (she gets sick when she drinks a few cups of sake!). They are in the background, sitting, then get up to go into, one assumes, an examination room. They exit through a door at the back of the shot. The camera lingers for a moment and then tracks... to the right across some shelves of books in the foreground. It moves a few feet and then... cut to the next scene. I may have some of the specifics of that wrong, but the odd tracking at the end of the scene stood out to me as unusual. I should watch it again to remember what the next scene is and whether it has any connection.
Nothing too much to say about yesterday. Breakfast at
███ ███ ███████, time at home cleaning up my computer Downloads folder, reading, and looking for an adventure to run next week, shopping for some cold weather clothes (uggh, at the mall), dinner at Ian and Kathy's. We did have pre-dinner beers at the new Ambler Beer place not too far north of town (walkable, though we didn't yesterday). They have some nice dark brews, and we hung out and played a game.
Ended up doing more shopping today, at the other mall, to get shoes. I sometimes think I'd like the idea of shopping for clothes if I didn't just hate most of the clothes I see in stores. Maybe I am just going to the completely wrong places, but so much of what I see if awful and ugly. There were a lot of things in Macy's that looked like 80s throwbacks (not in a good way) and a preponderance of camouflage prints. At least I found some shirts, sweaters, and shoes between the two days.
It's a dreary rainy day now, and I think I'll do a little work on the adventure for next week. I'm going to try generating a haunted house with Zzarchov Kowalksi's The Price of Evil. It's a generator using playing card draws to create a haunted house. The PCs are hired as a kind of cleanup crew so that it can be resold at a higher price (which motivates them to not just burn the whole thing down). It's like HGTV's Haunted House Flippers or something. I think that will appeal to everyone if I can generate something that seems fun and playable.
Another Monday looms its head as the sun filters into my office through vaguely frosted up windows. This week, looking forward, offers very little of note until Saturday's game, which I am of course not ready for.
I used The Price of Evil and a deck of cards to start working up a haunted house. It seems ok, though I am concerned that there isn't much to do in the haunted house. A lot of it seems very reliant on my being creative about using the creature that haunts the house, and there's not a ton of guidance on that. There are also aspects of the house generation system that are underexplained or just plain missing. The schematic of the house you fill in with card flips has rooms of various colors, but I can't seem to find anything explaining what those colors mean. Also the way the rooms connect to each other is really abstract and not exactly clear. There are some horizontal (always horizontal) lines between some rooms and some rooms have a "D" in them that seems to indicate a door. But the "D" is always just at the bottom of the room's square. Looking at it now I guess the doors are always used to move vertically on the map and the lines to move horizontally. Maybe the lines are hallways? But that wouldn't negate the use of doors. Maybe they are all just "connections" and it's a limitation of the whatever very simple way the maps were drawn. I'll keep working at it and hope I come up with something that at least turns out to be fun.
I downloaded this DM's Guide Masque of the Worms one-shot that is Edgar Allan Poe themed, but it seemed far too simple, and without much to do other than a few fights and a couple social encounters. Maybe (as usual) my conception of how far we can get in one session is ridiculous, but it seemed like not enough content.
Watched Ride the Pink Horse yesterday, a noir from 1947. I've seen it before but didn't remember it so well. It had an oddly upbeat ending for a noir, in that the protagonist not only survives, but does the right thing too. He is oddly hapless throughout. He mostly gets himself into trouble, gets almost killed, and just relies on other people to rescue him: ex-vet rescued by naive country girl, poor carousel owner, and FBI agent. I had a better impression of it in my vague memory from previous watchings, than I got from actual watching it yesterday.
It does have an interesting set-up at a fiesta season in some town in the southwest, filled with locals and visiting tourists. And there are some good scenes with the carousel and crowds of people. But in general, it felt like it was pulling its punches. Robert Montgomery directed it (and starred in it), similar to his The Lady in the Lake which is also not one of the most successful of noir Chandler adaptions.
Once again trying to load balance our chat app is not working totally right. Some people just can't connect when the load balancer is in effect. We've tried two types of AWS load balancers and neither resolved that. I'm convinced it is some kind of network or firewall issue at the customers' local institutions, but how can I prove that or debug it? IT needs to get involved, and they tend to just blame us and then move on. I'm out of ideas, I'm pissed off, and I'm sick of dealing with it. I got stuck dealing with this live chat stuff and it's been an ongoing headache ever since. So of course I'm stressed again, especially last night, cause it was our Australian region that was first reporting issues, so I was in bed reading when I got messages about it.
I finished the first half (the overview portion) of Bordwell's Ozu book. The rest is movie-by-movie commentary and analysis, which I think I will leave for another time. I dip into it when I watch specific ones, but I'm not sure I want to read it all in a row.
I'm also reading this book How to Take Smart Notes by Sonke Ahrens, which was recommended in one of Kevin Huizenga's zines. Since I was thinking about how bad I am at taking notes, it seemed like a relevant recommendation. The book is purportedly about using this note taking method used by this guy Niklas Luhmann, but also spends a lot of time arguing against the way writing academic papers is taught. In many ways it almost glosses over the actual notetaking process in favor of academic arguments about learning and writing in way that is... well academic. A lot of the ideas seem useful, but one doesn't get a really clear sense of the process as it would actually work.
The primary concept is the "slip box" where one files notes. The notes are written out as actual sentences and thoughts, rather than the kind of shorthand abbreviated jottings one tends to think of as "notes". They are then connected to each other via numbering and... somehow built upon later. In the context of actual physical notes, it's never totally clear how one actually finds any of the notes to connect new one to. In a digital environment that becomes easier with searching. There is an app someone made to use this method, but it's a few years out of date at this point, and is one of those apps created by someone who didn't find it necessary to get any designers to help with the UI. It uses a lot of icons that are very abstract and it's not at all intuitive how to use it (also it's desktop online, no sync, which is a dealbreaker for me (and probably a lot of other people)).
We started watching the HBO miniseries Years and Years last night, which is by Russel T. Davies who did the Doctor Who reboot. The show is a near future family drama, that feels very... of the moment. There are refugees/asylum seekers in camps and firey right wing politicians and tech that is just the other side of contemporary. Like the novel I read last month Infinite Detail it's at times a little too realistic feeling. In it, Trump, in his last days of office (later followed by Pence as President) drops a nuclear missile on a contested man-made Chinese island. The one we just watched had a bank collapsing with people losing their savings and desperately mobbed around banks trying to do something about it. It's enjoyable to watch but also, so far, rather a downbeat type of enjoyment.
An early start on the day. As I walked to the bakery, a mostly fenced in yard I pass was covered by a thin layer of fog (Mist? Is there a difference?) and sitting up in the middle was a rabbit, alert for any fast movements (by me, I guess). We are in those days where it's dark when I get up and almost dark by the time I stop working.
Had my new favorite dish at Deterra last night. It's fresh spaghetti with this amazing simple, fresh tomato sauce on it with some al dente broccoli rabe on top. The pasta is delicious and always cooked just right, and the sauce has just a hint on spiciness. It's such a simple seeming dish, but when it's all done just right that's really all you need.
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Totally forgot to write yesterday, started working early and then never got around to it. Was over at
███ ███ ███████ last night for dinner, since Lianne had a work event to go to. Tried this recipe she and I saw on the Milk Street show on PBS: pasta with arugula, chevre, and walnuts. The idea was sound, but I think the ratios were off. Maybe we made too much pasta, but it definitely needed more cheese. Might try it again and see if I can get it a little creamier, as otherwise the mix of flavors was nice.
I reread the first volume of Akira over the past week or so. For some reason it got stuck in my head to read it again, so I picked up a copy of the first volume. Long ago I had all the old Epic color issues. I discovered that series when it was still coming out regularly, but only shortly before it started appearing increasingly less frequent. I'm not sure what was going on behind the scenes, but sometimes it was like half a year before the next issue would appear. At some point a number of years back I sold the whole set on ebay for a chunk of money.
There is a certain allure to these sci-fi action manga, and I'm sure some of it is an element of nostalgia for me. At the time it felt so different than everything else (back then, manga was still pretty new to the American comics scene), but now it feels a little empty. Otomo's (and his assistants one assumes) art is dynamic and detailed but the story is primarily (in the first volume at least) a bunch of extended action scenes. Almost all the characters are rather one dimensional and there is a total of one female character who appears in more than one scene (and she mostly remains opaque as far as who she is or what she is up to). I can't help but compare it to Shirow's Appleseed another sci-fi manga I first read about the same time and find it lacking in comparison. The latter is a very similar genre (near future sci-fi action), but is a lot more character driven, though, again, I only read the first volume of Akira so maybe it changes as it goes on, I only remember the broader outlines of the story. But I'm not convinced I'll keep rereading. If I want to reread manga I've certainly got a number of other options laying around already (like Lone Wolf & Cub).
I also reread Frank Santoro's Pittsburgh over the past 2 nights. Well, it was my first read of the new English edition, but I previously read the French edition was it came out. It's a beautiful book primarily about his parents. Franke eschews all the slick refinements of mainstream comics and alt comics that want to look mainstream, but working in direct color (a lot of markers I think) and leaving in mistakes and sketchy lines. He sometimes tapes corrections or additions onto the drawing and leaves the insertions (and the tape) visible. Sometimes in this book you can see how the thin paper rippled, probably from moisture. While some much less detailed or refined than so much comic art, it feels more realistic. The drawing is loose and gestural but also so specific. You can tell, even in its sketchiness, that the houses and streets are not some generic place, but are that specific place (Pittsburgh in this case).
His use of colors is non-representational and covers a wide range of tones, especially in blues and pinks. Sometimes a pale colored image has one element sketched in in black lines and it creates a striking juxtaposition. I will be rereading it (again) soon, as it's a book worth revisiting to linger over the imagery.
We had our sort of monthly game yesterday, and I started running The Cursed Chateau. We tried no character generation ahead of time (though some people did have non-rule-based concepts for their characters). The book offers no clues onto what level characters should be, but I found an indication online for the previous edition, so I decided everyone could be 4th to 6th level. As sometimes (especially lately) happens, we ended up getting very off track having other discussions about our lives. The adventure itself only got through the opening hedge maze and then into the first room of the chateau, at which point they still had met none of the house's inhabitants. The random events table in the book, so far provided little of interest, especially since much of it is irrelevant in the hedge maze. We'll try continuing next session and hope things get a little more interesting in the adventure. Sometimes I think we'd be better off just playing board games, as then we could probably both play and talk without the talk becoming a distraction to the play. The important part for us is the social aspect, so maybe that'd be a better way to go. Though that would cut off our 1 virtual player (who did not make it yesterday), as they would not be able to play a board game with us virtually. I guess I've just learned to go with the flow of getting distracted and talking about other things. It's not like I was prepping all month making maps and creating NPCs and such. I basically just reread the adventure and printed out a couple reference sheets.
Somehow hit a lull in what I'm reading right now. I paused on Gene Wolfe's The Book of the Short Sun and haven't gotten back to it. Maybe I was reading it too close the Long Sun or maybe this one just isn't grabbing me as much. I think it's partially that I don't care for the narrator/protagonist as much as the other series. Browsed a few samples I had in my Kindle (I tend to accumulate too many samples) and ended up ordering a few things from the library to try out. We'll see if they are worth talking about.
Ended up doing a little work yesterday and today. Friday afternoon our development database was down, so I ended up pretty much finished with my work for the week since I couldn't test my last changes. I started refactoring some code (there is always more refactoring to do), but didn't get it done before happy hour started. As it wasn't really part of my work for next week, I didn't want to end up starting the week even more behind (since I still have to test my final code from last week), I hacked away at it a bit yesterday and this morning. Oddly I find the refactoring work relaxing. It's cleaning up and straightening the code, and making it look nicer and etc etc which is all aspects I like.
Walking home from the co-op yesterday, the sun was out after a morning of heavy clouds and rain. I had worn my sweatshirt out of the door, but by the time I was on my way home I had stowed it in my bag with the groceries. The wind picked up and leaves rained down on me, green, orange, and red against the blue sky.
I had taken the walk to the store as a break from watching Wim Wenders' Tokyo-Ga, which comes as a second disc on the Criterion edition of Ozu's Late Spring. It's a personal essay film he made in the 80s. Wenders travels to Tokyo ostensible related to Ozu and his films. It's a lot of long takes of Tokyo or scenes of people in stations, parks, and cemetaries. Some of it feels like an homage to Ozu (scenes of a golf range, scenes of children playing baseball, shots of bar signs in Shinjuku), some of it less so (rockabilly/greaser cosplayers dancing in a park, a long and interesting scene in a place that makes wax food replicas for display in restaurant windows). The highlights are definitely the two conversations he has: one with Chishu Ryu, who starred in a large number of Ozu films, and one with Yuharu Atsuta who was Ozu's assistant and then camerman for decades (looks like his first film with Ozu as cameraman was What did the Lady Forget? that I watched recently).
Both men not only offer insight into how Ozu worked but also talk about how much he changed their lives. It was really moving to watch both of them talk about their working relationship with this man who was basically their boss (Atsuta at one point refers to him as "a king"). Ryu talks a little bit about practicing scenes and takes, and Atsuta shows off the camera they used and the tripods they shot with to get Ozu's characteristic low camera angle.
The more I read and watch about Ozu, the more I see the generalities that get used about his work and the way the same truisms gets repeated over and over, despite evidence to the contrary. Wenders' narration repeats the truism about the camera being at the eye level of a person seated on the floor (though many often add the Japanes touch of "on a tatami mat"), while we are seeing Atsuna at the camera on its tripod, and... he's pratically lying on the ground. When showing off the tripod they used for exterior/location shots he is literally lying on the ground. Not seated. Bordwell talks about some of those truism a bit in his book, as does Adam Mars-Jones in his Noriko Smiling.
Also watched the first episode of the new Watchmen show on HBO. I was actually going to skip it, but Sean Collins' review of the first episode got me interested. Sean is probably the only tv critic I regularly read, and I generally trust his opinion (he got me interested in both The Leftovers and Halt and Catch Fire which are both excellent shows). The show, like the comic it is sort of a follow-up to, is an alternate history present. And so far the least believable aspect of it is not that the reality includes a blue superbeing who lives on Mars, but that the police force of Tulsa, Oklahoma are all anti-racists. Though, followed from there, their actions are otherwise not really un-police-like. The first episode interested me enough to start the second ep this morning (probably finish it over lunch later).
I'm... conflicted about the show as a concept, since I am a fan of Alan Moore, and it does feel like his work keeps getting exploited by DC. But on the other hand, all his original characters from Watchmen were based on superheroes from Charlton comics, so this tv show doesn't feel totally different than that (at least so far we have not really seen the characters from the original, more that the show just exists in their world). So far, at least, it's not a direct adaption or sequel to what Moore wrote.
Walking to the library yesterday, I heard the bird that says my name. Since I was a little kid I've heard that bird. I don't think I've ever indentified it (or if I have I have forgotten), but the call it makes sounds (to me at least) like "Der-rik". I've always been bad at bird songs and onomatopoeia, though more recently I at least have a few I can identify. Maybe someday I'll figure out which bird it is that calls my name.
Picked up two books at the library and ended up reading one of them through last night. Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan is a sci-fi novella (~100 pages) that I read about somewhere. The sample on Amazon seemed interesting, and our local library had a copy. It was enjoyable enough, a story of a telepath that works with the idea of a prison of the mind. The writing was often too long, such that I think it could have worked just fine as a short story. The beginning was interesting, then the not-so shocking reveal, then a middle section that sketched in a larger world and situation, and then the ending kind of abandoned that situation for another not-so shocking reveal. In the end, the story was more of a romance than the political/adventure story it is wrapped in.
I did finished watching the second episode of Watchmen which did start drawing on some of the comic's characters more, though it places them in the interesting context of stories within the story. We see the beginning of a tv show about the origins of the one superhero group, and we see a play about the origins of one of the characters. So, oddly Lindelof, is metafictionally proliferating the number of authors using the characters. Though the story that exists in the story is also a callback to the comic, where we have the ongoing comic-within-the-comic about pirates, this show has the tv-show-within-the-tv-show (unclear if it will be ongoing throughout the series though).