Sunday, May 31, 2015

Zorro 1.17 - Sweet Face of Danger

Plot: Yet another carriage rides hell for leather into the square, as the Magistrado investigates an eagle feather in his office. A man with a scar enters to tell him that there is a messenger on the carriage but also a spy of the viceroy. The Magistrado clips a large section of the feather out, then hands it to his lackey. Outside, Garcia and Diego discuss methods of weight loss (the Sergeant is trying to eat smaller breakfasts), when the spy is struck down by an arrow in the back. Garcia fears Indian attack, and begins to call out the lancers, only to be overruled by the Magistrado. Diego is left wondering why the dead man has an eagle feather on it, but has deciphered at least part of the code, that pertaining to death orders. Further investigation will have to wait, because an old friend of Alejandro’s has come to visit, and brought his marriageable daughter, Magdalena, with him, as she has just returned from Mexico City. Diego tries to beg off, and gets berated to at least try to behave like a gentleman, if he can’t be one. Ouch. As it turns out, Magdalena is quite lovely, and Diego doesn’t object to their father’s sending them out on a carriage ride together, with Magda’s aunt Inez along for the ride.

They reach town, where Diego tries to learn what happened to the dead man (he’s already buried), and to foist Inez off on the sergeant, by telling him it would improve his chances of promotion to permanent Comandante if he married a wealthy widow of high social standing. So the Sergeant hoists himself into the carriage, and Inez is quite taken with him, to the extent of asking him to escort her to the party Alejandro will have tomorrow night. Diego and Magdalena are getting along quite well, until the sergeant asks if they ought to be getting back. It’s at this point Magdalena mentions being on the carriage, and Diego mentions that a man riding on it was killed this morning, which shakes her a bit.

The story jumps to the party, where everyone is having a good time. Garcia even seems to be enjoying Inez’ attentions. The Magistrado arrives, fashionably late, and pulls Magda aside for a conversation. Diego observes her passing him an eagle feather, bumps into the Magistrado so he can steal it, then uses Garcia as a distraction so he can clip a large section of it before slipping it back into the pocket he got it from, thinking this will seal the Magistrado’s fate. Wrong, he’s made it an execution order for Magda, and he and Bernardo can only watch helplessly as the scar-faced man rides off in pursuit of Magda and her father’s coach. Diego is ready to pursue, but has to figure out how to slip away from the wine-tasting his father drags him into. That accomplished, Zorro rides off, stops the assassin (who winds up stuck with his own knife), and keeps the coach from going over a cliff. Afterward, Zorro explains he knows she’s a spy working with someone willing to kill the innocent right in front of her dad, then rides off. Diego narrowly makes it back before his absence (covered as best as possible by Bernardo) is noticed.

Quote of the Episode: Alejandro – ‘About a beautiful woman and wealth, people make scandals, my son. A gentleman does not listen.’

Times Zorro marks a “Z”: 0 (9 overall).

Other: Magda had been back in town for one day, and Alejandro already wanted to announce she and Diego were getting engaged. Slow down a little, man. I do wonder how Don Francisco will explain things to Alejandro. Zorro told her to leave and go back to Mexico City, and I’m guessing that’s what she’ll do. That’s going to be interesting to explain delicately, since I doubt Francisco will want to talk about the murders she’s connected to. Assuming he believes Zorro, but Magda didn’t try to deny it, and Zorro did save them, so I imagine he will. It’s funny, Zorro told Magda he couldn’t say why he bothered to save her, when it seems obvious he could just say he saw no reason for her father to die for her sins, or for the old man to have to suffer the loss of his daughter. He was in a hurry, though.

Garcia isn’t too bad with the ladies. He doesn’t mind dancing, he will perform the customary acts – kissing the hand, doffing the hat, fanning the lady – even if it takes him a moment to start. He was at least a little modest about his career as a soldier, if not about his appetite for food and wine. Actually, the Magistrado tried to get a burn in on him during the wine sampling by suggesting Garcia try a funnel. Except the sergeant, ever the practical sort, stopped to actually consider the possibility. Don’t worry, though, the Magistrado insulted him prior to that by responding to Garcia saying ‘I thought. . .’ with, ‘When did you start?’

In some ways, the Magistrado is worse for Garcia than Monastario. The Capitan was full of overblown anger and outsized, childish insults. Baboso, stupid idiot. Some of it was Monastario was an ass, but a lot of times, I think he was just blowing off steam. The Magistrado is occasionally frustrated, but mostly, I think he just enjoys making cutting remarks about the sergeant. Especially if he can do it in front of other people, to make Garcia look bad. I know, big surprise, bad guy is also a bad human being.

Maybe it’s because they’ve been playing up Garcia’s desire to improve his social status more. He keeps hoping he will get to remain as Comandante, with an accompanying promotion, which would presumably mean more pay, and more respect. And here’s the Magistrado, a man who already has the wealth, status, and respect Garcia craves, constantly belittling him. Monastario, whatever pretensions he had, was still just a soldier. An officer, but a soldier, like Garcia. He was hoping to make his fortune in California by using his position, but not through legal means, because a soldier couldn’t get far enough that way. You could tell Alejandro and the other dons look at him askance at least as much because they think they’re hot shit as because Monastario was a criminal scumbag. The Viceroy and his daughter were much the same, barely concealing their contempt for this Captain trying to be smooth and refined. But we don’t mind then, because Monastario’s a bad guy, whereas Garcia is sort of a gentle clod, and the Magistrado is a murdering crook.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rack 'Em Up, Or Get Racked Up, I Guess

I’d never heard of Poolhall Junkies, which at least meant I’d never heard anything bad about it. And I do like pool, even if I have no particular skill at it. All the best shots I’ve ever hit have been luck, or me just hitting the cue ball really hard.

You’ve got this kid Johnny (Mars Callahan, who also directs) who had a chance to join a professional circuit at 15, but a hustler, Joe (Chazz Palmiteri) had his hooks in him, and 15 years later, he’s just a hustler too, hating himself for it. He makes a break with Joe, but then he’s left wondering what to do now. He’s tries construction, and that doesn’t work. His girlfriend, Tara (Alison Eastwood) is trying to become a lawyer, and strongly disapproves of him playing pool. It raises the question of why she started dating him in the first place, considering he’s been a hustler for considerably longer than she’s known him, but the movie never really answers that. Maybe it was one of those “date the bad boy, and then fix him” things.

Whatever John’s opinion of himself, he’s looked up to by his younger brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his three friends. They’re all preparing to follow their dreams out into the world, whatever those might be, and then in steps John’s old handler, and he brought a pro (played by Rick Shroeder) with him to hustle the boys. Which leads to John’s brother making some rash, stupid decisions to try and fix things, and then John has to face the pro to try and win the money, and his self-respect.

Christopher Walken’s in there, kind of randomly, as Tara’s wealthy retired uncle who loves pool. He’s more of a plot device. When the story needs a cause for tension between Johnny and Tara, there's Uncle Mike. When Johnny needs someone with money to help him, there's Uncle Mike. I did like the one speech he made, during the big showdown, about how 80 grand might be big money to Joe, but he’s a millionaire. He loses 80 grand, he just pulls out another 80 grand. It was funny, because it was a perfectly true response to Joe and his “you never been in a place like this” bullcrap.

Also, Rod Steiger is in there, as the guy who runs the poolhall, and tries to keep Johnny from believing all the defeatist stuff Joe told him over the years. I didn't even realize that was Steiger until I looked the movie up on IMDB. Then again, the only image I really have of him is from Duck, You Sucker, and he doesn't look like that here.

There are a couple of weird subplots that crop up now and then. One about whether this waitress at a diner Danny and the boys go to a lot had a boob job. It comes up once I the film, as a point of debate between them, then it’s settled in a sequence that runs during the credits. I thought the answer was fairly self-evident, because I doubted a waitress at a crappy little diner in the South Side (of New York, I’m guessing) could afford cosmetic surgery. Perhaps I overestimate the cost. There’s also one about Chris, one of the friends, and his issues with women. As in, he’s extremely uncomfortable around them, leading to much speculation among the other three he’s gay. He talks about being with one girl, but getting spooked by all the stuffed animals on her bed. Then he starts making out with another girl, and she asks him to choke her, which to be fair, would spook me, too. You just met, that's a little much, I think. I just wasn’t quite sure what the film was driving at with that whole subplot. That Chris hasn’t figured out who he is yet, or none of these guys are comfortable with real intimacy because they have these stupid hang-ups? Or it was just supposed to be funny, full stop.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Postmortal - Drew Magary

I’m familiar with Magary’s writing from his online work for Deadspin and the Kissing Suzy Kolber football blog. I knew he’d written this book a few years ago, but hadn’t gone out of my way to seek it out. But I noticed it on the shelf in the same bookstore as The Norby Chronicles, so why not?

The idea behind the book is a scientist developed a cure for aging. You take it, you sort of freeze at the age and appearance you are at that moment. You could still die from being hit by a truck, or if your liver fails because you decide to just drink all the time, but you won’t die of old age. The book is compiled from a series of online journal entries composed by John Farrell, who took “the cure” when it still wasn’t FDA-approved, and doctors were performing it in their kitchens (and other people were trying to blow up those doctors in their kitchens). Soon enough, public outcry leads to it being approved, and the story moves from there, as the world population swells, resources are consumed, and society begins to shift.

Through all that moves Farrell, who struggles to figure out what he really wants. He took the cure because he feared death and aging, but it seems like, without that clock ticking in the background, he can’t commit to a path. He drifts, seizing upon whatever catches his interest in the moment. A girl he had a crush on in junior high reenters his life, he takes the opportunity to reconnect. He meets a guy who wants to spend a year living in each country, he goes with him for awhile.  He seizes upon certain ideas, certain desires for a brief time, and then sticks with it long after out inertia, a lack of any better options that he can discern. I don’t know it it’s a perpetual adolescence – he was 29 when he took the cure – but his maturity certainly seems stunted. Whatever problems he has, he sees no need to resolve them, and as time goes on, the number of people who care whether he does or not shrinks steadily.

Which is my biggest issue with the book, I’m interested in the world it suggests, but I’m not interested in the character we spend the majority of the book following around. We get glimpses of the wider world, in things Farrell observes, or messages he gets he shares with us (the bit where a senior partner at his law firm tells him to get out of estate law, because it’ll become obsolete was an interesting one, or the idea that you’d never be rid of your asshole boss, and he likely would never change because he figures he can just go on forever), but they’re just glimpses. And the book jumps forward in time periodically, to examine different periods after the cure is introduced, but this means that when we reach a new era, the things that are new to the reader, were old hat to Farrell, and so they largely go uncommented on, or unexplored.

Having thought about it over the last few days, I think I’d decline the cure as it’s presented here. If it’s available to everyone, it’s just ecologically sensible to say no. Removing death by old age on a planet that is probably already overpopulated is not the best idea. If it were an option just for me, then I’d still have to say no, because I’m not clever enough to do all the stuff Christopher Lambert did in Highlander. Fake my death and leave all my money to some other person, who turns out to be me using a name I stole from some dead infant. I’d never pull that off.

‘I sat behind the curtain and held Sonia’s hand; Nate sat opposite me and grabbed her other one. I thought this would be strange. In fact, it was quite the opposite. We made a good team, Nate and I. Whenever I started to wear down, he’d pick up the slack, and vice versa. I highly recommend that any woman giving birth pack two men for the trip.’

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Who Else Hit The Inhuman Jackpot?

So Lineage said Kamala wasn't the only member of her family with powers. Which means someone related to her is going to pop up with super-powers sooner or later.

It could be someone we haven't seen yet, but her parents and brother are right there in the same town as her, so they could have been exposed to the Terrigen Mists just as easily. So which one is it? I could see it being her brother, if Wilson wanted him to get powers that were challenge his beliefs in some way, or just interfere with the life he wants to lead, but my hunch is one of her parents.

Not sure which, though. It could have happened pretty easily, if Kamala wasn't nearly as sneaky getting out of the house to that party as she thought she was, and one or both of her Abu and Ammi were out looking for her. Trying to decide which is hard for me. Her mother strikes me as the one who would want to go out and find Kamala, right now, the second she learned she was missing, whereas her dad seems like the type to trust Kamala's judgment until she gets home, at which point he talks things out with her. On the other hand, if he saw his wife was determined to go look for her, I think he'd do it himself because he might want things to go more smoothly. I'm pretty sure if Kamala's mom had caught her at that part, where there was liquor and boys, people could have heard the histrionics in Pennslyvania (and how the hell does this thing recognize "histrionics", but not "unfulfilling"? That makes no sense whatsoever.)

So I'm leaning towards her dad, then I consider the possibility it's from her mother's line, and her mom had seen it manifest in the past, and it didn't go well (maybe it was a volatile power, maybe whoever had it ran into the usual bad reactions Marvel citizens have to people different from them), and that's one of the reasons she worries about Kamala. As opposed to all the other reasons a mother would worry about her teenage kid, I know. I think I'll still lean toward the Dad.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

31 Days of Scans - Day 12

This took a while to decide on. If a location is going to be worth visiting, it probably has super-heroes and villains around which makes it exceedingly dangerous. Who in their right mind wants to go to Gotham City, or Marvel’s New York? You’d be dead in minutes, if you’re lucky. I considered Cynosure, but I go around the wrong corner and I’m in a dimension actively hostile to me. Then I thought of it. A most perfect, wonderful place. Give me the choice of where to go, I’m going nowhere.

Sorry, I mistyped that. I meant Knowhere.

Knowhere! A mecca set at the edge of the universe, floating within the head of a decapitated space god. A place where beings from all across time and space come to contemplate, to study, to buy and sell anything and everything. You can get it there, no matter what “it” is, or how distant the backwater world it hails from.

You can get anywhere, thanks to the teleport capabilities of the Continuum Cortex.

If there are any problems, it has the number one top dog in all the universe running security. What more could I ask for?

Drax learns the extent of wares available in Guardians of the Galaxy #2, by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (writers), Paul Pelletier (penciler), Rick Magyar (inker), Nathan Fairbairn (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer). We get our first true look at Knowhere in Nova #8, and Cosmo explains their transport system to Rich in Nova #9, both written by Abnett and Lanning, penciled by Wellinton Alves, colored by Guru eFX, and lettered by Cory Petit. Scott Hanna inked issue 8, and Wellington Dian and Nelson Pererra inked issue 9.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In The Trenches, It Takes More Than Heart

Valiant Hearts is a flight combat game set in World War – wait, I’m joking, don’t leave! It’s actually a puzzle game of sorts, set in World War I

Emile (that's him in the tank top up above) is a French farmer whose daughter Marie is married to a young man named Karl, who is, as you might guess, German. On the eve of the war, the French boot all Germans out of their country, including Karl, who is then promptly conscripted into Germany’s army, and sent to fight the French. Brilliant thinking there, France. At least you didn’t throw him in an internment camp. To make matters worse, Emile is then drafted by the French Army, where he quickly meets the rest of our cast of characters. Freddy is an African-American fellow who had found love in Paris, only to lose it to a bombing raid led by Baron von Dorf. He’s out for blood (and also worried his little brother may journey across the ocean to join him), but he and Emile become friends after Emile comes to his aid against some French soldiers who were hassling him. Anna is a young Belgian doctor living in France, who rushed back to her home too late to save her father, a brilliant scientist, from being captured by von Dorf. And there’s Walt, who looks like a bull terrier, and was part of the German medic corps, but winds up alongside the others soon enough.

There’s not much fighting, not by those characters. Occasionally you sneak up behind someone and hit them on the head, and there are a couple of sequences where Freddy drives an early tank and shoots enemy biplanes and pillboxes. Anna has a couple of sequences where she’s driving a car and you have to avoid barricades and fire from enemy vehicles, set nicely to classical music pieces (when she’s not saving a soldier’s life through first aid that you perform by pressing the proper button in rhythm with the cardiograph along the top of the screen). Most of the game is timing-based challenges about dodging enemy machine gun fire or artillery, or puzzles of the “go find Tab A to insert into Slot B, and pull lever to get Widget X” If Walter is there, he’ll likely be sent to retrieve something in an area you can’t reach, or have him distract someone.

Occasionally the puzzles can reach a stupid number of steps. Karl gets captured by the French at one point, but resolves to escape the prisoner of war camp and return to Marie. Another prisoner will help, but he needs the wire cutters that are in the medic’s office (?), guarded by a soldier and his large dog. So Karl has to venture to the showers and fix the pipes so a soldier will disrobe and take his shower. Having stolen the man’s suspenders, Karl travels to the kitchen, climbs to the roof, and sends them across to a guy on the roof of the medic office. Does the guy bring back the cutters? Of course not! He gives you a bottle of medicine you take to the laundry and send up to the guy working there. In return he’ll send down the finished laundry, including a red neckerchief, which is necessary for Karl to get past some jerks in the barracks, to acquire a pipe, which he takes to the cook. The cook runs outside to try killing himself with lung cancer before dysentery or cholera can get him, giving Karl the chance to steal a piece of meat, so he can lure the dog and soldier away from the door and steal the cutters.

That’s a particularly extreme example, but jeez, that’s gaming filtered through a visit to any central bureaucracy you’d care to name. The story being sad isn’t enough. Giving you a cute, helpful dog which will venture into areas with poison gas for you (so I fear for its safety constantly) isn’t enough. No, the game has decreed we must suffer more. The point being, I assume for the player to see the life in a prisoner of war camp. A lot of the puzzles are like that, forcing you to move back and forth across the screens that comprise that segment of the game, so you can see the bombed out remains of homes, or the wounded soldiers huddled around fires. Or, when you pause to wait for machine gunners to reload, you see other soldiers dashing ahead and being cut down or blown up. There’s even a part where Anna needs the shovel a soldier has, but he hasn’t finished digging a grave yet. To facilitate the process, you have to slowly drag a big wooden cross over to him to place as a marker.

I’m not sure how well it worked on me, because most of what I’m describing only occurred to me in hindsight, as I’m typing this. In the moment, I was most concerned with the characters I was playing as, and whatever task they were trying to complete. In that cross-dragging example, I needed the shovel because Anna was going to use it as a crutch for a wounded soldier, and I wanted to help her make that happen. I spent a lot of the game fearing the characters would be killed in cut scenes, where I couldn’t do anything. They did die some during gameplay, because of my poor reflexes, but in those cases I’m able to start at the last checkpoint, and I can erase the mistake. There were more than a couple of cut scenes which made it seem someone had been either gunned down, blown up, or fallen deeply sick, and I couldn’t do anything about those. So I fretted.

I don’t know if it didn’t work because I already knew about all that from books I’ve read, because of the slightly bloodless, simplified art style, or if it’s just easier for me to connect with worrying about a few, distinct people, as opposed to huge masses of soldiers who are presented largely as blank slates. Which is probably the point, that I got to know and care about a few of them, but there are millions of others who got cut down, often for no good reason, before the player has a chance to know them. The game seems to argue most of the rank and file soldiers are just trying to follow orders and survive, and there’s no personal animosity. Emile and Walt pull a German soldier out of a collapsed tunnel, and together they find a way out, and then the German helps Emile escape when they encounter a patrol. And then the German gets blown up by somebody’s attack. A few times I wondered if I was being blasted by my own artillery, which seemed possible considering how much trouble I had the few times I had to man an artillery piece and follow the game’s vague instructions on what to shoot. There’s no telling what damage I did with all those errant shells, and I’m a little surprised the game wouldn’t show that, if there was anything. Maybe I was just hitting empty stretches of mud and craters.

The biggest issue with Valiant Hearts as a game is that it doesn't seem like much fun to play. The story is engaging, if sad, I did care about the main characters, they use music effectively, but the actual gameplay is not entertaining. I think the gameplay was set up in service of the story and the larger points they were trying to make. I don't know how I feel about that. Games are supposed to be fun, so I want to keep playing them, but I do appreciate the effort made to build a story I care about. I don't think it's a bad game, not in terms of the overall package, but it feels like the sort of game where you might be better off watching a video of someone else playing it, so you get the story without sitting through the more tedious aspects.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Live By The Gun, Get Shot Repeatedly In The Legs By The Gun

'To tell the truth, I don't think this is a brains sort of operation.'

A coworker loaned The Way of the Gun to me, since there aren’t many diversions where I’m living right now. Longbaugh (Benicio del Toro) and Parker (Ryan Philippe) are a couple of drifters, looking for that shot at a big score. By chance, while waiting to donate at sperm bank for the cash, they overhear about young woman (Robin, played by Juliette Lewis) being paid 1 million dollars to be a surrogate mother for this couple, Hale and Francesca Chidduck. The couple are apparently not only rich enough to afford that, they can also afford a team of bodyguards to accompany her everywhere, and crazy enough to essentially keep the girl in their house, like a prisoner they hear, for the duration of the pregnancy, which is almost over. These two take it in their heads two kidnap her, and they’re aided by two factors: One, Robin’s grown attached to the child, and ignores one of the bodyguard’s (played by Taye Diggs) orders in favor of trying to escape, which only serves to get her immediately captured. Two, the bodyguards are even bigger incompetent dolts than our kidnappers.

Of course, it rapidly becomes apparent that anyone with the resources to spend this kind of money on a surrogate pregnancy is also the sort of person with the resources to ensure people who mess with them regret it. James Caan shows up, talking a lot of stuff about being a survivor, and an adjudicator, and so on, and he starts bringing his guys in to resolve things. Meanwhile, the expectant birth mother is trying to work on Parker to get him to release her, to Longbaugh’s consternation.

It took me awhile to get into the movie, because del Toro and Philippe are such unlikeable guys. They get their asses kicked by an entire mob full of people outside a nightclub at the start, and I was completely OK with it. But it’s one of those films were everyone is scheming, everyone is working behind everyone else’s backs, everyone has secrets, and everyone has a backstory, usually just hinted at. What it does well is it just gives those hints, but the actors are very good at filling the role. They don’t feel like they’re playing someone who just came into being at the moment the film starts, they actually feel like a person who is the way they are in the movie because of a lifetime of experiences and choices prior to that, if that makes sense, and the hints help explain their choices in a way. We see and hear just enough, that I’m intrigued. I want to know more about all of them. What they did, where they went. Caan’s character has a scar on his neck, probably a near miss from a bullet, but maybe not.

I especially like how Francesca, is so often shown in the background of shots, or watching, unseen, from above. So much of this has been put in motion by her, her desire to be a mom, but not carry the child herself, her indifference to most anyone or anything but her desires, and the fact almost no one seems aware of how much she’s pulling strings. All these other people are plotting, scheming, threatening, thinking they’ve got things in hand, and she’s just drifting around the periphery, observing it all, stepping in a couple of times to nudge things. Robin’s placed a lot more centrally in most shots, since she – or the thing in her belly - is what this is all about, but she has a similar mettle to her. There are quite a few shots where she’s sitting, and it could look like she’s just focusing on blocking out the pain (all this stress so close to delivery is not good), but she’s thinking, focusing on something we can’t see yet. A plan, an opportunity, she’s trying to make happen or get ready to seize. It’s a good performance. 

I did laugh when Parker dove for cover in a dry fountain and wound up with a bunch of broken glass in his arm. I don't think it was even a trap, I think the bar customers had just been throwing their bottles in there for a long time. Which makes it one of those funny happenstances you see in movie battles sometimes.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Zorro 1.16 - Slaves of the Eagle

Plot: The tax collector and his nephew are on their way to Los Angeles, when they are waylaid by Jack Elam and a friend. They try to flee unsuccessfully, and the taxman is divested of his official papers, and his nephew, then sent to wait for them to contact him at the mission, but to tell no one what has happened. As he limps away, it turns out his nephew is part of the scheme. The next day, Elam’s pal has set up in the town square, levying new, extremely harsh taxes against the peasants. While all this is going on, Diego is busy teaching Bernardo how to fence and ride horses, so that he can pose as Zorro if need be. After much practice trying to get on a horse in unusual ways, they take a break by visiting the inn, just as Maria’s brother, Eusebio, is arrested because he can’t pay his tax. Diego keeps Maria from assaulting Sergeant Garcia by promising to do something. Over at the cuartel, he sees Eusebio is hardly the only one who couldn’t pay. The jail is full to the point Garcia actually tries standing up to an official of the King, stating he won’t jail anyone else (though “stating” may be too strong a word). Diego attempts to pay the tax for all the prisoners, only to be rejected, as the collector insists these people need to learn a lesson.

As it turns out, this order was given by the Magistrado, who is setting up an arrangement with one Senor Vazquez, a “labor contractor” who runs mines in Sonora. He is planning to buy all the prisoners to use them as slave labor in his mines. Unaware of this, the prisoners sing songs of Zorro, to Garcia’s barely concealed delight. Unfortunately for them, Zorro fights only against unjust acts, not legal ones of his government, and this is apparently legal. That argument doesn’t hold much water with Bernardo, and this seems to prompt Diego to consider whether the taxman is who he claims to be. So he follows him to the inn, to protest the taxes his family is paying. During the course of this conversation, he brandishes one of the eagle feathers he’s collected, and sure enough, the man waives the de la Vega taxes for this term. Which cinches it, and so it is Zorro time. Problem being, Diego isn’t the only one with that idea. Garcia has sent all his soldiers to bed save Corporal Reyes, who has pretty much agreed he will not shoot at any movement he sees in the shadows. Zorro observes Garcia (dressed as Zorro) climbing over the wall of the cuartel, and decides to leave him to it. Unfortunately, the Magistrado spots Garcia and calls out the soldiers. Garcia is able to fast talk his way out of any trouble, but the entire garrison is put on alert, so no rescue tonight.

Back in his lair, Diego is extremely frustrated, but resolves to try again, somehow, tomorrow. By then, the prisoners are being marched over the hills to the mines, but Zorro is able to draw some of the guards into pursuing him, only to leave them chasing Bernardo. Then Zorro doubles back, and, with some aid from the prisoners, defeats the fake taxman, the nephew, and Jack Elam, who are left in the prisoners chains. So Senor Vazquez takes them instead, so he doesn’t go home empty handed. But it isn’t all smiles and sunshine, because now Zorro knows whoever is behind these acts is out to strike at the people of California, not just the military. And they still have no idea who that is.

Quote of the Episode: Diego – ‘Still, money is money, and I have yet to see the tax collector who can refuse it.’

Times Zorro marks a “Z”: 0 (9 overall)

Other: It’s curious to me that Zorro would fight so hard against Monastario, who was probably only slightly stretching his authority, but he just shrugs his shoulders when someone levies an unjust tax and starts throwing the peasants in jail. He specifically tells Bernardo that he fights against evil and tyranny, and I would say that qualified whether the taxman was legit or not. Enforcing a tax you know a great majority of the population can’t pay so you can sell them into slavery? How is that not tyrannical? But it wasn’t until he learns it’s really the work of the mysterious eagle feather aficionado he gets involved. Boy, will his face be red if this all turns out to be some plot by the King. Let’s face it, kings have a long history of behaving like total assholes towards their people, so this would hardly be the first time.

And then he gets angry at Garcia for screwing up on the rescue attempt, thus preventing Zorro from making his own try. Well Zorro, you were the one who decided it was worth a chuckle to let Garcia try. You could have dashed up while he was climbing the ladder and let him know that wasn’t necessary. He only went for it because he didn’t think Zorro was going to show. Next time, maybe you’ll remember to focus on the task at hand before you decide to start screwing around. All in all, not one of Zorro’s better nights.

Though, how the hell did the Magistrado spot Garcia? He was in a carriage, so he must have been out in the town square. Surely the cuartel gates would be closed at night. He couldn’t have seen over them and the walls to the roof of the stable, where Garcia was attempting entry.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Possibly The Most Successful Grail Quest In Film History

I’m not sure what I was expecting going into The Fisher King. I’d been wanting to watch it since reading at least a couple of career retrospectives on Robin Williams after his suicide last August. They’d mentioned it as an impressive performance, but I’m not sure I’d even heard of it before. I found it in a store the same weekend I found Mother Aegypt, so I grabbed it. Like I said, being in a house with 15 other people was taking a psychic toll, I needed some small success.
I wasn’t expecting Jeff Bridges to look so much like Val Kilmer, that’s for sure. It’s probably that he’s mostly clean-shaven, and a bit thinner in the face.  Also, he had long hair almost entirely slicked back, except for one long strand hanging down in his face, which reminded me of Kilmer in, I don’t know, probably Heat or something. Anyway, Bridges plays Jack, a loudmouth radio personality who falls apart after one of his regular callers takes him too seriously and goes on a shooting spree. Three years on, he’s working in a video store, and is in a relationship with Anne (Mercedes Ruehl), the owner, but mostly he’s in a relationship with booze and self-pity. He opts to end it all by jumping in the river with cinder blocks around his feet, only to be interrupted by a couple of yuppie punks who don’t like homeless bums cluttering up their fine neighborhoods. Even though he’s standing among refuse under a bridge at the time. So they’re going to douse him in gasoline and immolate him. Because burning corpses are so pleasant. I didn’t say they were smart yuppies.

It’s at this point Williams enters, behaving like a knight, who is also homeless. He says his name is Parry, and Jack was sent to help him on his quest, which is to recover the Holy Grail from some wealthy guy’s library. The little cherubs told him so. Jack wants nothing to do with it, until he learns he is somewhat responsible for Parry’s fate, at which point he struggles between genuine compassion for the guy, and a desire to find the quickest, easiest route to assuage his guilt, and move on with life. When offering him money fails to solve the moral crisis, and Jack balks at robbery, he instead turns to helping Parry with matters of the heart. I wasn’t sure what to feel there. It’s a little creepy, Parry following Lydia (Amanda Plummer) around and knowing so much about her, and Jack and Anne helping maneuver the two together. But once they are together, they hit it off so well. They both seem to enjoy each other’s company, and Parry doesn’t really try to hide his personality, so I don’t know. I’m going to lean toward sweet.

So it is an interesting performance for Williams. The manic humor and strange tangents are there, and they are a defense mechanism, but it’s not one he’s in control of. His brain made a choice to forget, to go this route instead, but it’s not one he entirely accepts. So it’s mostly sad, because I can’t decide whether he’s better off remembering and trying to deal with the trauma, or if he shouldn’t just do the best he can to forge a happy life as he is now. The presence of the Red Knight argues in favor of the former, I think, because he has to deal with it before he could even try for the latter.

I did like that Jack doesn’t seem to experience any huge personality shift for most of the movie. He’s an egotistical ass at the start of the film, always looking to have more, to date someone he thinks is befitting his stature. And as soon as he feels ready to return to radio, he goes right back to being that guy. It doesn’t fit as well, because he is changed – his radio personality seems less incendiary – but he’s still looking for the quickest, easiest way to discharge any obligations he has. If the easiest solution is to ignore the problem, he’ll jump at it. If he can drag his feet enough the other person gets fed up and leaves, that works, too. Anything so he can have a clear conscience by telling himself he didn’t do anything wrong. They ended things, not him. A lot of his actions are motivated by the fact this increasingly stops working, and he still feels guilty, and takes action out of frustration, and impatience. Why must people make connections with him, so that he feels obligated to help them, or at least not cause them pain, he wails? Maybe that hits a little too close to home.

I also got the feeling Terry Gilliam had a few problems with the social safety net for the mentally ill. It’s not exactly an encouraging picture, the staff being vastly outnumbered, and often indifferent. There was this one shot, when Jack is screaming at an unconscious Parry, and all the other patients are just looking on. There was one with his hand pressed to the side of his head, and he was bleeding. I think he did it to himself, out of a compulsion, maybe, but there was no orderly or nurse, no one treating it or trying to see what was wrong, which seems kind of frightening. I’m already spooked of the idea of ending up in a mental institution just by other people deciding I ought to be there, whether I should be or not. This film did not ease my concerns about what that would be like.