Saturday, 3 December 2016

Film: 'Paper Planes' (2015)

This was a quietly awesome little movie, a gem in the rough. It falls into the category of 'things I cry to' pretty easily, but also into that of 'movies that don't quite do what you expect'. As soon as you see that the main character's father is grieving, you get a set idea of how it's all going to work out in your head, but in reality it runs just a little differently. After all, this is a film about paper planes...

Who would have known that there was a World Junior Paper Plane Championship? Who would ever have thought that happened? Apparently, it does, and in the movie the finals were in the most obvious country of Japan, home of papercraft. There's even a little sequence where the contestants, including our main character Dylan, twelve year old plane prodigy from a little dustbowl town in Australia, get the traditional process shown to them in a Japanese garden.

This post is definitely rolling out in a non-linear fashion, isn't it? 'Paper Planes' is about Dylan, who is recovering from his mother's death and simultaneously worrying about his father's extended grieving. A chance encounter with a student teacher leads him into completing in a regional paper plane championship, which then cascades finally into the World Championship in Tokyo. Yes, there's a bad boy competitor, and the dad does finally begin to emerge from his cocoon, but there's also a crazy grandpa who breaks all kinds of rules, his oddball school friend, and the girl Japanese national champion who becomes Dylan's friend through it all. None of it quite goes as expected, and when it does it does so efficiently and simply.

The child acting is decent, and improves over the course of the movie, but the real strength is in the simplicity and composition of the two layers of narrative. Why do some films work, and others don't? It's hard to say. Is this success related to the elegantly simple Australian style at work? Maybe. Ultimately, for me, it's more to do with telling a story uncynically and viewing the world in an honestly charming way. No-one flies over the top, not even the roguish war veteran grandfather. Well, maybe he does fly out into ham land a little, but it fits. His most telling interlude is handled very nicely indeed.

This could have been a gooey and sentimental mess, but it works well. It could have taken the grieving storyline and made us squirm awkwardly at times, but it doesn't. The paper plane aspects lifts the movie into being something slightly new, and that's always welcome. It's a good film, and an instant DVD purchase. It's also at times rather funny, and has some pretty good music.

Paper planes? Who would have thought it?

O.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Brainstorming 'The Ninja Of Health'

Okay, let's brainstorm a little. There are a couple of stealth medics in the town of Toddlingham, operating out of a little disused (deconsecrated?) chapel. They were trained by a bloke called Ken (origins unknown but he has visited Scandinavia at the very least), and are in tune with some kind of underlying Pattern (capital P intentional) of the Universe. The two health ninjas are in all likelihood a couple, breaking several narrative rules or tropes in the process. An invisible force has landed, emerging from an egg Mork-style, and is spreading illness injury around while carrying out its unknown plans. It even knocked out the local Oracle of the health ninjas, who had warped a tablecloth into a helpful vision!

What next? What could be next? What act of blue sky thinking could save this bizarre cavalcade of events? What will happen when the two ninjas wake from their imposed hibernation? Was it even a good idea to put them to sleep? When will the Oracle ever wake up? What's it all about, darn it?! Is the warped prophetic tablecloth, which idea seems better every time I write it, the clue to some treasure hunt that will save the day? Is the Entity being bad just for the sake of being bad or is it out there with ulterior motives? If the latter, then what might they be? World domination? Is it looking for the secret of French doilies? Could it be stranded, or an infant, a la Trelane from'The Squire Of Gothos'? Is a benign assessment taking place, or a semi-benign one, given that nothing lethal or even very serious has happened yet, apart from the crash into the allotment. Hmm, there's a dangling threat, the allotment. It had flown clear out of mind. Yes, there could be repercussions at the allotments... And witnesses...

It feels like there's something there, and it's something good. No, it's probably not related to macaroni, but very few things are. Logically, since our protagonists are largely reactive instead of proactive due to a lack of information, that status quo must be resolved one way or another in order to progress the story. There must another inciting incident, a further twang to the string, for something to happen. The problem is in making it happen without invoking 'deus ex machina' in a most blatant way. Maybe the newly arrived Ken is the key to it all.

On the other hand, there is still that tablecloth to consider. What of the cloth? A map? A recipe? A photo? A psychological visualisation? It is true that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as Freud might have said, so maybe it's just a screwy tablecloth? Maybe it's a promo for an interplanetary charitable foundation seeking funds? Aha! Perhaps that alien is a fundraiser run amok? How's that for lateral (or an absence of) thinking? Interplanetary fundraisers running amuck! You know, that's not too bad, but maybe it's an entirely different story.

A lot hinges on the motivation of the antagonist, that mysterious thing from Out There. Is it like the Tweedy Lady from 'Oneiromancy'? Was it in exile in that space egg, in retreat, or journeying to the Earth on purpose? Is the tablecloth linked directly to it's nature, or just to something in its future? What on Earth can our health ninjas do without developing a supernatural ability? Oh, Ken, you had better have some new information in that backpack or yours, as you enter the grand scheme of things!

We will have to resume with Ken, but to what end? When next we rejoin 'The Ninja of Health', someone will have to wake up... Will it be one or both of our heroes, or will it be the Creature? Maybe it's asleep and having a nightmare?

Once again, more questions than answers.

O.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Story: The Ninja of Health, XIX

( Part XVIII , XX )

The Man and the Woman looked down at their friend, the Oracle, and took his vital signs. He remained, as ever, stable. The power remained loose in the world, and the two Ninjas of Health were too busy to do anything about it. At that thought, the Woman stopped and considered.

"Do you think we're being kept busy for a reason?" She wondered out loud.

"Who? Us?" Her weary companion replied from their bunk. "I could sleep for a week."

"This begins to look like an endless odyssey of procrastination on that thing's part, if it's not doing something else somewhere. What is this? A giant stalling exercise?"

"It may well be, or it's just as confused as we are."

"I am not confused," commented the Voice of the Entity.

The Health Ninjas became very still, and edged toward the door. Where was It?

"Oh pish-tosh. You won't get out unless I let you," the voice continued, "and that won't happen for a long time. Go to sleep for now."

The two agents of health slept, again, for quite a long time. Longer than they had ever slept before, in fact.

*    *    *

The little chapel stood untouched for exactly two days, until a strange little man approached it, carrying a backpack and an umbrella. He went up to the door and knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked a second time, and seemed to become very still for a few seconds, in a little world of his own. Then, he went around to the back and reached into a small recess in a hidden part of the wall. Fearlessly, he took the recovered key and entered the chapel by the side door.

To be continued? Where will the great idea come from?

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Groucho Season?

The last week was eventful: a dark night-time walk between villages, upgrading of the computers up to Fedora 25, an online dating scam, the car hiding away at the garage, the first successful breading of something (chicken and mushrooms), a new undergraduate student, and of course the obligatory cancellations that come with the season. That night time walk stands out, though, as previously noted a few days ago, in 'Scary And Beautiful'. The low water mark was installing Fedora 25, which is shipping with a really rotten version of VLC and some shocking sluggishness. It seems 23 may be the last great version for a while... Compiling a decent version of VLC from scratch seems to bring so much dependency baggage that it's almost not worth it. However, let us not dwell on these petty things, gentle readers.

To bread something, for those not initiated into the mystery, you need some crumbs, some beaten egg, and some flour. You then dip the item to be breaded into the bowls in this order: flour, egg, crumb. Then, having prepared a tray, with the breaded items placed upon it, you stick it in the oven and hope for the best. For best results, you add seasoning and herbs to the flour, or is it to the crumb? I'm not sure at this point, it having been an excessively long weekend of tedium. Installing computers can be tiresome work indeed.

In other activities, 'The Music Man' retained its reputation as one of the great screen musicals on its latest showing here, 'Groucho Marx, Private Eye' is living up to the standard of the first book in the series. They probably deserve their own posts here at the Quirky Muffin, actually, being just different enough to be interesting in comparison to more conventional mysteries. Ron Goulart certainly seems to have caught the knack of writing Groucho for most of the time. Speaking of Groucho Marx, his 1972 revival performance is available at www.archive.org, and is pretty good. It's called 'An Evening With Groucho'. Any excuse to hear him sing 'Lydia, The Tattooed Lady' again is enough.

Perhaps Christmas 2016 will be Groucho season here on the blog, if I really know enough about the man. However, there are those four classic Paramount movies to write about, the Goulart detective novels, 'An Evening With Groucho' and the accumulated other content, already touched on with 'Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel'. Maybe that's not such a bad idea?

O.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Television: 'Press Gang' (1989-1993) (Revisited)

On my first post about 'Press Gang', I wrote extensively about the first two seasons, and then dismissed the following three as non-canonical and best ignored. Looking back, having now rewatched the whole series, that sentiment could be walked back a little but is still fundamentally true. The first two seasons make a degree of sense, but the following are built on the fundamental silliness that the gang would be allowed to keep their paper instead of responsibly handing it on to the next bunch of kids. Of course they would have to hand it on! That's the whole point! Hence, to get through the non-canonical seasons, you have to get through the daftness of them making the Junior Gazette a going concern, and also characterization that goes up, down and everywhere.

Having said all that, there are good about things the series as a whole. The first two seasons are amazing, and work very well after a settling down period, with a dynamite cast for a children's television production. They touch on interesting and provoking topics, and don't flinch, and build a meaningful relationship between the nominal lead characters of Lynda and Spike, the star-crossed lovers of the series, and everyone else. Even the weirdest character, the mercenary Colin, gets his moments to shine and prove his own humanity. A lot of this carries over into the following seasons too, but it becomes massively inconsistent in characterization. The Grand High Moffat evidently lost the plot and caricatures took over for a while, especially in the characters of Lynda and Colin, who both became utter monsters! Lynda eventually recovered, perhaps she was merely bitterly heartbroken instead of simply monstrous, but Colin reverted to being a creep permanently. Despite it all, it maintained a decent quality, and some good laughs. There just weren't so many standout episodes...

So, in retrospect, we have a good series that goes a little haywire after a couple of years. The cast chemistry lives on, even as it dwindles in size, but something goes awry. Much like in 'Doctor Who', the series tries to grow but finds in the unenviable position of not knowing where it is. 'Press Gang' became something too sophisticated for a kids' show, but not developed enough for prime time. It falls somewhere in the middle, awkwardly. It must have been very confusing for any new audience outside the one that grew up with it! The core romance goes up and down and develops, and adult gags get through the gaps. Where should the final verdict end up? Ultimately, it's the same as before: Watch the first two seasons and enjoy it, and then sample the rest with care. At least Lynda finally recovers, and the core relationship is patched together again. Maybe Spike and Lynda ended up happy after all?

O.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Scary And Beautiful

Walking along a darkened road long after sunset, and between villages, it can get scary. It's a spooky situation, with cars occasionally zooming by, warned off by the handheld bike lights in each hand, red facing backward. Away from the things of man, at the mercy of any passing lunatic or hedgebound madman, you can get paranoid and nervous. One thing to do is to start singing songs to ward off your nerves, and another is to start talking to yourself at random. Can you tell that someone is scared of the dark?

Another thing to do while striding along with your red and white lamps, is to become entranced. You see, there's one amazing thing about being out in the dark, and that is that there are no streetlamps, and no houses. On a clear night, while trying to remember the words to 'Three Steps To Heaven', and forgetting about how vulnerable you are to crazed night-time drivers, you are suddenly presented with the universe.

Above you, on a clear night, you see the stars. The stars you can not normally see for all the light pollution around in populated places. It might not be perfect, if it's not too long after full sunset, and there is still light fuzz in the distance, but you get the real night sky anyway. A magnificent starscape opens above you. For a few moments, between cars, you are connected to everything there is and was and every other person who ever looked up and wondered. Orion is right up there, clearly in view, and you can imagine navigating by the stars, or sailing across a still and darkened ocean. What stories are those pictures telling, and to whom?

Yes, it can be fun to walk home in the dark, if you can look at the stars and sing, and forget to be scared. In fact, that's probably the best way to make those lonely minutes go a little quicker. Beautiful and scary fun, indeed.

O.

Note: 'Under The Moon Of Love' also works pretty well!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Book: 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins (1868)

It's certainly the best of the Big Four of Wilkie Collins, but it's also the least striking or controversial. 'The Moonstone' is a rollicking yarn from start to finish, with the one exception of the forced secret that keeps the story going, and the whole positively reeks of style. It also contains the fewest narrative cheats of the Four, and the most lovable of narrators in the opening section, the charming butler Betteredge, devotee of 'Robinson Crusoe' and stubborn defender of common sense throughout.

Is it important that it's not as controversial or sensational as the other three: 'Armadale', 'The Woman In White' and 'No Name'? Is that perception even correct? As it stands, the only vaguely controversial aspect of this story is the drug aspect, and drugs weren't as controversional in the nineteenth century as they are now. For example, in the 1890s, people could buy now-criminal drugs over the counter in pharmacies! In the end, it's probably important that 'The Moonstone' isn't scandalous, but for the opposite reason to what we might expect. It's important because it's the least susceptible to changes in societal norms! 'The Moonstone' always remains a caper instead of a social commentary or sensationalist endeavour.

The story revolves around a supposedly cursed Indian diamond, passed on by a villainous ancestor to Rachel Verinder, a young heiress. The stone, which has been pursed by Brahmin priests for fifty years, disappears mysteriously from Rachel's rooms, ruining the relationship between her and beloved fiance, and causing massive confusion on all sides. What did happen to the diamond? Why does Rachel turn on her confused man? How did the stone end up with a prominent fence, and will famed detective Sergeant Cuff be the mind to penetrate the mystery? The story then passes through several first hand narratives, over the course of almost two years, before the true story is revealed.

What is the revelation? Depending on your point of view, it's either a masterpiece of innovative storytelling or the worst piece of hokum to ever grace the pages of a classic novel. Only you can make the decision. It's important to remember that, despite my hyperbole, 'The Moonstone' is still a Wilkie Collins novel and therefore has the obligatory middle stretch where you can feel the book stalling for time before it begins to wind up again, which is a symptom of its origins in seralisation, perhaps? It makes up for this with one of the very first detective characters in fiction, and gains a place in history as a result.

Yes, it's pretty good. Thank you, Wilkie Collins, for this and the others, 'No Name' being the pick of the rest.

O.