Sunday, 24 September 2017

When Conscience Slept: An Analysis of 'Purple Noon/Plein Soleil' (1960 Film)

Spoiler Warning: This will reveal the entire plot of the film, and by extension the plot of the source material, The Talented Mr Ripley

Purple Noon is a work of amoral art. A rare film that playfully imposes judgement on its characters and events, not even on its central murderer and identity thief, Tom Ripley. Any praise or blame you may direct at Tom is very much your own morality, your own judgement, cast like a pebble to skim on an uncaring sea.

Tom Ripley wants what Phillipe Greenleaf’s got: money, luck, a life of leisure in Italy, and a beautiful, if too forgiving, fiancé, Marge. Of all the men in the world to be so blessed, why did it have to be the self-centered, cruel Phillipe. Tom seems fine, basking in the spillover of Phillipe’s decadence. But then, on a boat trip with Phillipe and Marge, things take a turn. After Phillipe and Marge get into a fight, she disembarks at the docks. Tom and Phillipe sail off alone. Phillipe’s luck runs out. Tom doesn’t just want Phillipe’s money, he wants it all. Tom stabs him in the chest, and throws him to the sea. Tom steps into Phillipe’s emptied life. He forges signatures, passports, and romances Marge. Living with Phillipe’s name and money, Tom gets by swimmingly, until one of Phillipe’s friends, Freddie Miles, realizes the man living at ‘Phillipe’s’ apartment is not Phillipe. Tom bludgeons Freddie with a stone buddha. Even this second murder doesn’t sink Tom. To ensure his good life, Tom steps back into his old identity, but not before sending Phillipe’s ‘suicide note’ and all of Phillipe’s money to Marge, and trying to marry Marge. Tom lays in a deck chair, safe in the knowledge the law has no lead on him. And Tom would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for Phillipe’s corpse getting stuck to the hull of the boat Tom was trying to sell.   

Rather than immoral, Tom’s murder of Phillipe feels amoral. By making Phillipe so unpleasant, Tom’s crime ascends from ‘sin’ to ‘public service’. Unlike in Patricia Highsmith’s novel, where we meet Tom impersonating an IRS inspector to swindle people, the film’s first immoral act is by Phillipe. After refusing to pay 800 lira for a meal, Phillipe offers a blind man 20,000 lira for his cane. Phillipe offers so much, not because he wants the tacky cane, but for the satisfaction of forcing someone to make a sadistic choice: forego 20,000 lira, or stumble home without a cane. In either case, Phillipe has abused a disabled man. Throughout this event, Tom’s only evil is that he permits and aids Phillipe’s cruelty. On meeting such a person as Phillipe in real life, you might not think, ‘This man should be killed,’ but you would think, ‘It’d be no shame if he died.’

Within the broader plot, of Tom stealing Phillipe’s identity, it seems Tom started emulating Phillipe before killing him. Tom plays along with Phillipe’s hedonistic amorality, and then goes further than Phillipe. While ‘monkey see, monkey do’ does not defend murder, you wonder if events would have turned out cleaner had Tom met a philanthropist, rather than a rake. By being such an arsehole, Phillipe not only makes his murder more forgivable, but also goes some way to making his own murderer.

The film exploits our schadenfreude for life’s winners. On top of being an arsehole, Phillipe’s a lucky bastard, someone you want to see tumble off his yacht. In the scene with the blind man, successive acts of Phillipe’s self-serving dickery domino in Phillipe’s favour. Phillipe takes a blind man’s cane, so the blind man must take a cab, so that said cab cannot be taken by a young lady, so that the young lady will run into Phillipe, who, with his cane, pretends to be blind, so that he can win the young lady’s sympathy and companionship, so that he can flirt with her throughout the evening, so that she does not even care when she realizes he’s not blind. And, keep in mind, Phillipe has a fiancé, who, even after she reasonably suspects he cheated on her, wants to stay with Phillipe. And he’s rich. You want the cosmos to balance the scales, and kick Phillipe once for every boon it’s given him. Maybe you don’t think he should be stabbed, but, deep down, you really want him to be.

While the film makes the murder seem forgivable, the events after the murder show a world where forgiveness is superfluous, for forgiveness implies morality. Conscience has no grip on Tom, and morality no grip on the world. After both the murder of Phillipe and of Freddie, two separate pairs of priests walk past Tom. Symbols of omniscient morality stroll right past a murderer, twice, as though the avenging angel took a vacation.

More powerful than symbols of an amoral universe, is an amoral point of view. Tom doesn’t care that he’s killed a man. In other stories with a murderer protagonist, you expect, at some point, a flash of guilt or panic or a post-traumatic memory. After Tom’s second murder, he calmly looks over Freddie’s body in the morgue, along with acquaintances and police officers, all of whom he’s trying to fool. Tom is so unaffected by the sight that he can straight afterwards eat a big lunch with his acquaintances, even knowing a police woman is spying on their conversation.

Food becomes a leitmotif of Tom’s amorality. When a normal person does something wrong, they lose their appetite, they may even vomit. After killing Phillipe, Tom devours a peach. When he kills Freddie, Tom roasts a chicken and eats it, all while the corpse lays nearby. In one of the film’s most memorable sequences, Tom browses a fish market. The scene is notable for what doesn’t happen. Up until now, Tom has been occupied with the various tasks necessary for impersonating Phillipe. Now, he’s ambling, with no project to blinker his mind from remembering his crime. Had Tom a glimmer of conscience, he would see flashes of the victim he threw into the sea in these dead fish. But he does not. He eats free samples, and curiously eyes Italian sea life. The camera close-ups on the fish’s faces, but instead of evoking humanity, instead of evoking Phillipe’s face, the audience only feels how inhuman these faces are, how unworthy they are of pity.

The world and protagonist of the film don’t care about the murder, and neither does the narrative structure. Up until the last few minutes, none of the obstacles facing Tom have to do with the murder of Phillipe. Tom faces obstacles, but they concern his stealing Phillipe’s identity, and later his killing Freddie. The film’s second act would remain the same even if, instead of murder, what preceded Tom’s identity theft was Phillipe having a fatal accident, or even Phillipe choosing to flee to a life of anonymity, leaving his identity for Tom to step into. The murder itself has no narrative fallout, as though this most immoral of actions were of no note. Within the last minutes, when Tom’s victory seems assured, the murder does return to smite Tom. It turns out Phillipe’s corpse, rather than falling to the ocean floor, got caught on the boat Tom’s been trying to sell, making Tom’s crime known when the boat gets hoisted out of the sea. This moral comeuppance, however, seems so accidental, so out of Tom’s control, that it feels disingenuous. It feels like an American Hays Code film, where regulation demanded that law and morality reassert themselves by the end, no matter how discordant such an ending would be with the rest of the film.       


In making a murderer amoral rather than merely immoral, the film starts with the easier of two tricks: making the murder victim killable. The audience wants Phillipe to die, and Tom obliges. The harder trick is avoiding the murder’s morality from then after. The film must divest Tom of all flashes of conscience, and the narrative of all moral sentimentality, of all censures and excuses. Until the last few minutes, Purple Noon succeeds. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

‘I’m Sure You Don’t Like Hurting All These Nice People’: An Analysis of Katie Skelly’s 'My Pretty Vampire' (2017 Comic)

[CW: References to sexual assault, murder, abusive relationships.]
Spoilers: The entire plot will be revealed.

‘Coming-of-age’ doesn’t generally mean killing spree. But adolescence means breaking free, expressing who your truest self is, and Clover is a vampire. In the process of finding herself and overcoming trauma a lot of people will die.

Clover wants to leave home, live her own life. Unfortunately for her, her brother Marcel is an incestuous bastard who keeps her locked in their castle. Unfortunately for the world, she’s a vampire hungry for human blood. She escapes her brother’s clutches, and hightails it to the city, killing this person and that, stopping only for sunrise. But there are people following her, a P.I. Marcel hired, and an Order of animal-headed figures. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Nature, Lacking Tooth and Claw: A Review of Algernon Blackwood's "The Dance of Death" (1928 Short-Story)

In The Dance of Death, Algernon Blackwood uses the supernatural to express platitudes. A modern man, a modern-deskbound-man, yearns for rugged nature. Mr Browne’s nine-to-five deadens him, you see. Blackwood does not redeem this trite setup with nuance, character depth, and/or Weirdness. From respect to Blackwood, an acknowledged master storyteller, I was tempted to uncover layers of irony, to find, beneath the naïve protagonist’s thoughts, a subtext criticising the protagonist’s naiveté. But no, The Dance of Death depicts a love of nature held only by those who have never met nature.

Mr Browne loves nature. He saves up, from his stultifying desk-job, so he may retire to a life among nature. His doctor’s diagnosis, then, comes as quite a shock; and a shock is the last thing he needs, what with his weak heart. Living among nature would be far too strenuous for him. Even dancing must be undertaken with care. He attends that night’s dance hesitantly and sadly. Then he sees a woman, Miss Issidy, a woman none else seem to see, a woman more like a forest sprite than an urban dancer. He dances with her, and she reveals she knows him, and was waiting for him. We zoom out: Browne died on the dancefloor from overexertion. His boss is glad to be rid of him. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

An Ape is an Ape is an Ape: An Analysis of Kafka's 'A Report to an Academy' (1917)

Trying to adopt another culture is difficult. Trying to adopt a different species is damn-near impossible. Kafka talks about the former through a fable about the latter. An ape assimilating into humanity allegorises a person of one ethnic background assimilating into a different culture. This person may mimic every behaviour and internalise every value, but at some level his audience will only see this person’s origin.

Red Peter – Peter to those who respect him – is an ape. An academy has invited him to talk about life as an ape. As Peter’s has no memory of his ape-like days, he hijacks the engagement to talk about how he became human. Captured in the Gold Coast by a hunting party, and imprisoned in a cage on a boat, Peter needed an escape. Ape-strength could not break his cage, and even if it could, a bullet would be his reward. The only way out, he realised, was to become human. Through a vigorous apprenticeship under his shipmates he learnt how to smoke, spit, and drink. He continued his education on dry land, employing five teachers at the same time to help him reach the level of the ‘average European’. With humanity under his belt, he took a job as a variety performer, the only job available to him outside the zoo. But as he says to the academy, he does not seek their approval. Through his narrative, he only hopes they understand him.  

Sunday, 4 June 2017

You Will Never Be One of Us: An Analysis of 'The New Advocate' by Franz Kafka

A new advocate has come to the bar, Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse. The narrator acknowledges that, as a horse, Bucephalus will have an awkward time. No sooner does the narrator introduce Bucephalus than his mind drifts towards the horse’s past, to Alexander the Great. Where have the great men gone. But, being gone, perhaps it is better to be like Bucephalus. Abandon the battlefield, and devote oneself to quiet study.

That is the plot, but this story is not a plot. Progressive sentences do not unfold events, but unpeel the narrator’s mind, his prejudice, nostalgia, tone-deafness. The narrator, by telling us about Bucephalus, shows himself. Bucephalus is an Othered individual – it doesn’t matter exactly what marginalised group he stands for. What matters is how the narrator, a member of the dominant class, views this Other. 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Comedy in Horror: A Review of 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (1935 film)

Camp ages better than seriousness. Subjected to the ironising current of time, straight-faced gothic horror becomes ridiculous. James Whale prevented The Bride of Frankenstein suffering this fate. He makes his film ridiculous to begin with.

One night, Mary Shelley reveals to Lord Byron and Percy Shelley that her tale, Frankenstein, had a second part, that of the bride of Frankenstein’s monster. Henry Frankenstein has put mad science behind him. He’s settled down in his massive castle, and all’s right with the world. That is, until an even madder scientist, Dr Pretorius, drags him back into the game. They will make a female monster. And it turns out the original monster is alive and well. 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The White Powder's Not That Either: Review and Analysis of Arthur Machen's 'The Novel of the White Powder' (1895)

This review will spoil the plot in full

Machen could only have disappointed. Praised by Lovecraft and Stephen King, Arthur Machen’s story will be known by horror fans, though rarely read. And if read, better left unread, if The Novel of the White Powder indicates his oeuvre. Machen writes competently, but he cannot justify the label ‘horror’.

Helen Leicester’s brother does nothing but study law. His idea of recreation involves sitting idly in a chair between case law binges. But even lawyers grow sick, and he requires a special medicine. Too special it turns out. The prescription he gets from Dr Haberden changes him – Francis wants a holiday! More than that he wants to give up the law altogether. He starts slumming around London. Helen doesn’t know what’s happened, or what she can do. Her brother rots in front of her, and the very weather seems to degenerate alongside him. Eventually, he shuts himself in his room, saying he’s studying law again. When Helen and Haberden knock down the door, they find a oozing mass. Haberden leaves England, never to return, but sends Helen his colleague’s analysis of the medicine. This white powder, left on the shelf so long, with the temperature rising and lowering, had become something… other. And it has something to do with medieval pagan devil-worshiping cults.   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Dark Before Dawn: An Analysis of Oscar Wilde's 'Salomé' (1891)

Without knowing its disease, the body still succumbs to disease. A civilisation’s flame dwindles to flicker, before snuffing. In The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot wrote the world ends ‘not with a bang but a whimper’. Eliot wrote of a tired death, a whimper at the end of weariness. Wilde culls a world with decadence. Only when the rotting flesh of Herod, Herodias, Salomé ferments do they whimper.

Reading Salomé, another of Eliot’s poems echoed: Journey of the Magi. One of the three wise men recounts meeting the baby Jesus. But through his opaque narration, we learn he witnessed not just Christ, but his world’s death. With Christianity came a revolution in values, a revolution in culture, a revolution in the world, but the old world, culture, values must die. The magi cannot become a Christian. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Style Substitutes Substance: A Review of Waid and Samnee's 'Black Widow' (2016-7 comic)

I don’t mean style over substance as an insult. In Waid and Samnee’s twelve-issue, single-arc run on Black Widow, plot threads only just hold together, characters have rote motivations, and the themes extend to characters saying ‘secret’ a lot. On their own, these elements are merely competent. Here, they are redeemed, because they fuel the book’s style.

Black Widow runs from SHIELD. A masked terrorist named Weeping Lion blackmails her into digging up her own past. He wants information on the Red Room, a school for child assassins. The Red Room has resurrected, ready to educate a new generation of assassins.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

A Gay Old Time: A Review of 'Moll Cutpurse: Her True History' by Ellen Galford (1985)

It’s amazing what you can find, trawling through second-hand bookstores. I found a swashbuckling, historical yarn, starring a tomboyish lesbian, in a loving relationship, written in the 1980s – which doesn’t end in misery.

During the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, when women weren’t at their most emancipated, a dashing thief-tress stole her way through England: Moll Cutpurse. We follow her from her start as her parent’s problem child, to her managing a pick-pocket academy, to her bambooziling a shanghai-ing ship captain, and beyond. Throughout her life, Moll has one constant, her apothecary girlfriend Bridget. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Approaching Mediocrity: A Review of 'Kindred Spirits on the Roof' (2015 manga)

Perhaps this collection appeals to fans of the original game, but Kindred Spirits on the Roof underwhelms as a standalone manga. Cameos pop up, as though we should care about them, and maybe players of the game do. But none of the characters in this work are compelling or distinct. What we have here are graphic novellas that feel slight and unsatisfying.

Both stories share Shirojo high-school as a setting, but otherwise do not overlap. The first story focuses on Shiori. She still pangs with guilt over fleeing her best friend, Mako, when Mako confessed her love for Shiori. With the help of her new friends, Hina and Seina, Shiori must learn to stop running from her problems, and her feelings.

The second story concerns a girl, Hase, who adores seeing female friendships. She loves her voyeurism so much, she joins the quiz club just to pour over the friendship of the club’s two leaders, Tomoe and Sasaki. Together they aim to win the national quiz tournament. And will Tomoe and Sasaki’s friendship become something more? (Not even a spoiler: it will.) 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

All Sweetness and Light: A Review of 'Hana and Hina After School' Vol. 1 (2015 manga)

Calling Hana and Hina After School ‘sweet’ seems like damning with faint praise. It’s like I’m saying, ‘This piece of fluff has nothing to say.’ And indeed, this series does have little to say (at least in this volume). But while this series has no grand moral messages, nor very deep characters, nor even grand conflict, the series is a sweet story of budding love.  

Quite against school rules, Hana has a part-time job. She works in a toy store, but she keeps a low profile. If her school finds out, they’ll expel her. One day, one of her regular customers, the dashing Hina, asks if the store still has a vacancy open. It turns out, despite her cool demeanour, Hina goes gaga over everything cute: plush-toys, dolls, Hana – Not that she’d ever reveal that last one. But until both Hana and Hina figure out their feelings, their biggest worry is that their school will discover their jobs, and expel them. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Break Your Shell: A Review of Princess Jellyfish Omnibus One (2009 manga)

Princess Jellyfish has a passive protagonist shocked into life by a manic pixie dream girl – and yet it’s not a bad book. Going on omnibus one, this seems to be a belated-coming-of-age story. Our heroine’s must learn to overcome her passivity. And the manic pixie dream girl is not the male wish fulfilment it so often is, because 1) this book is about a woman’s coming-of-age, and 2) our dream girl is a male transvestite.  

Tsukimi is a fujoshi, who shares an apartment building with other fujoshi, self-proclaimed ‘rotten women’. They have no time for social lives, or, really, lives at all, outside their obsessions. Tsukimi seems resigned to a life of social stagnation. Until, she runs into Koibuchi, a girl with all the style and affability Tsukimi lacks. But it turns out Koibuchi is a cross-dressing guy. And though Tsukimi gave up on her social life, Koibuchi has far more ambition for her.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Isn't This All Just a Bit Ridiculous: A Review of Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds' (1952 short-story)

When applied to modern fiction, the word ‘fable’ sounds like an excuse. The word suggests the work harkens back to a simpler, more primal style – and thus the lack complex characters and plot is entirely justified. At times, the word ‘fable’ is justified (see Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery). Some have called Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds fable-like, though I am not so sure. The story’s simplicity is not a feature, but a fault. The story’s self-seriousness, and lack of compelling characters, undermines its genuinely terrifying aspects.

In an isolated English village, birds attack Nat Hocken’s family. These little birds break through his windows to peck out his eyes. By the next day, he has fifty avian carcases to clean up, and no villager will believe him. People soon have no choice but to believe, as the birds blacken the sky in London. A state of emergency is declared. The BBC warns the populace to stay indoors. Against nature so unnatural, can Nat Hocken and his family survive? 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Good is Enough: A Review of 'Secret of the Princess' (2012-5 manga)

Sometimes, a well-done love story is enough. In Milk Morinaga yuri oeuvre, there’s manga with more depth and scope. While such qualities can elevate a work to greatness, a merely decent story is nothing to scoff at. Secret of the Princess somewhat explores the shackles of heteronormativity, but this seems thematic gravy to what is a well-done yuri love story.

Miu’s mother raised her to snag a prince. Miu lives by her mother’s advice, making herself cute and girly so she can marry a handsome guy. Trouble is, she goes to an all-girls’ school. For all her girliness, Miu’s had no practise dating. What if she finds the one only to mess up their first date? When Fujiwara, Miu’s tomboyish upperclassman, smashes a vase, she begs Miu to keep quiet. She’ll do anything in return. Anything. Miu demands she and Fujiwara start dating – just so Miu can practise for her future prince, of course. But is Miu’s prince closer than she thinks.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Someone Else's Nostalgia: A Review of 'Mai Mai Miracle' (2009 anime film)

Full Disclosure: I backed this film’s Kickstarter. I have buyer’s remorse. Also, spoilers.

Mai Mai Miracle wants you to feel things, other than boredom. Great animation veils undercooked characters and an unfocussed plot. Unfortunately, the film is otherwise so competent, that no dunderheaded artistic choice will distract you from how much of a slog the film is.

In 1950s Japan, there forms an unlikely friendship between an outgoing, rural tomboy and a shy, city girl. Our tomboy, Shinko, has a vivid imagination. She transforms the countryside into the ancient Land of Suo’s capital. She dreams of a lonely princess, who wants only to meet a girl her age. Our shy girl, Kiiko, can’t quite grasp Shinko’s fantasies, but reaches out to them regardless. Our heroines, alongside four boys, adventure through the countryside, until one of the boys has his life changed forever. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: An Analysis of Jason's 'Lost Cat' (2013 comic)

Contains Spoilers for the Entirety of Jason’s Lost Cat

You wouldn’t think a detective tale of a dead-eyed, anthropomorphised dog suffering mid-life crisis could be a tender examination of resignation. Jason tells a Chandler-esque crime story, which isn’t really a crime story. He tells a love story which isn’t really a love story. He tells an alien invasion story, that only becomes so by the end. Jason tells the story of Dan Dellon, a man who can’t change, but almost knows he should.

PI Dan Dellon finds a lost cat on leaving his office. When he returns it, he strikes up a conversation with its owner, Charlotte. He asks her on a date, which she accepts. Charlotte doesn’t show. Two men claiming to be Charlotte’s brothers come snooping. Dan smells a fish. But that’s a red herring. An old man, Dumont, hires Dan to find a nude painting of his former sweetheart. But that’s a red herring. When Dan closes Dumont’s case, and surrenders to the dead ends of Charlotte’s case, Dan lets years pass. He lives alone, accompanied only by a fantasy of him and Charlotte growing old together. During an alien invasion, Charlotte returns to Dan. She was a scout, and is just now coming to say goodbye. After Dan waves a gun at her, calling her a liar, Dan embraces his fantasy of Charlotte, the real Charlotte having left him.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

'Stars have Fallen in a Stagnant Pool': A Review of Akira Kurosawa's 'Scandal' (1950 film)

[Warning: Spoilers for the entirety of Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal]

Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal is a masterfully directed first draft. It is a potentially great film where one can see every mistake dragging it down. When writing, Kurosawa and Kikushima seemingly started with, ‘What if two innocent people got libelled in a sex scandal?’ As they continued, however, their interest shifted from the libel victims to their lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura), and his redemption story. In early drafts, such shifts of focus are fine, but the writers neglected to make the whole script fit this new focus.

The painter Ichirou Aoye (Toshiro Mifune) and the singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) vacation in the mountains, separately. A chance encounter leads Ichiro to chauffeur Miyako to their inn, where they have a platonic conversation in her room. Two tabloid photographers trailed them. They take a photo of this famous singer and her ‘paramour’. The tabloid has plastered their libel all over Tokyo’s streets when our heroes return. Help arrives in the attorney Hiruta, a poor, weasly-looking man, with a consumptive daughter. Can Hiruta save them? 

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Anime Recommendation: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Sorry, something came up, so I can’t post a full-length review this week. Instead, I’ll just recommend one of my favourite anime: Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Utena is a parody, a tragedy, a bildungsroman, a queer love story, a feminist text, a magical realist tale, a critique of ideals and seeming perfection, a fairy-tale that has outgrown fairy-tales, and most of all a thoroughly entertaining anime. Utena is a coming-of age-story, but not sentimental. It does not see the death of childhood as a sad, if necessary, fact of life.

To Utena, childhood means ignorance, self-righteousness, and received ideas. A true adult abandons false ideals, and cultivates their truest self. The show first presents our hero, Utena, as a ‘gender rebel’, a girl who dresses as a boy and aspires to be a prince. But her rebellion is not revolution, as she still operates under false ideals. As a girl, she refuses to play the role she was cast, the princess – yet she still plays a role, the prince. Even ‘rebelling’ against the gender binary, she plays into it. Her journey through the series requires her to move beyond ‘prince’ and ‘princess’, to fight not for these ideals, but for tangible things.

Here, I have shallowly dug into a single theme in this sprawling series. I could go on about the show’s exploration of self-pity, incest, the Problem of Evil, patriarchy, teenage pretension, self-delusion, etc.,etc.


When the Blu-Ray set of Utena comes out, I plan to do an analysis of it.    

Sunday, 22 January 2017

To Cairo with Laughs: A Review of 'OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies' (2006 Film)

You hear ‘parody of 60s spy films’, you think ‘Austin Powers’. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies proves the French do it better. While still camp and parodic, OSS 117 has more restraint the Anglophone alternative. As fits a parody based on a genuine exemplar of the spygenre, it feels like 21st-century comedians uncovered a mid-20th-century non-comedic script treatment. They mock the clichés and prejudices of an old form, but still weave a decent narrative around the old form  

French spy Jack Jefferson is KIA in 1950s Cairo. What does this have to do with a Soviet arms shipment? And how are the Eagle of Koep, an Islamic extremist group, involved. The French secret service sends OSS 117 to investigate, their Middle-East specialist. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘fear’. Or any words of Arabic. Or even the word ‘Arabic’ – But has cultural ignorance ever stopped the West? With Jefferson’s former assistant, the beautiful Larmina El Akmar Betouche, and a warehouse of chickens, OSS 117 must get the truth.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

All in the Execution: A Review of 'Emma: A Victorian Romance, Omnibus 1' by Kaoru Mori (2002 Manga)

Emma: A Victorian Romance shows it’s all in the execution. Open a compendium of stock-plots to ‘forbidden love, interclass’, and you’ll find Emma’s outline. Yet Kaoru Mori avoids going through the motions, imbuing an old story with calm life.    

When William, a member of the landed gentry, visits his former governess in London, he grows infatuated with her maid, Emma. Although Emma catches all the young men’s eyes, William may have caught her eye, too. But, as they say, in Victorian England there are two nations, the Upper-classes and the Lower, and never shall the two cross. Can William and Emma’s sapling love survive the boot of propriety and practicality?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

A Teen Witch Fights a Tank: A Review of 'Izetta: The Last Witch' (2016 Anime)

I doubt any of the staff of Izetta: The Last Witch’s thought they were making art. They aimed as high as the best of trash, and got damn close. Expect no deeply explored themes, expect no round characters, but do expect a teenage witch riding a rifle as a broom. Expect camp, WW2, action trash, with little on its mind.

In an ersatz-WW2, the Germanian Empire fights for world dominion. Hope falls to Archduchess Ortfiné, ruler of the miniscule nation of Elystadt. While fleeing Germanian agents, she finds a young witch. With the help of Izetta the last witch, Ortfiné escapes her pursuers, before taking on the Germanian Empire.