Poetry Corner – My Last Duchess

THAT'S my last Duchess painted on the wall, 
Looking as if she were alive. I call 
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands 
Worked busily a day, and there she stands. 
Will 't please you to sit and look at her? I said 
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read 
Strangers like you that pictured countenance, 
The depth and passion of its earnest glance, 
But to my self they turned (since none puts by 
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) 
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, 
How such a glance came there; so, not the first 
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not 
Her husband's presence only, called that spot 
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps 
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, ``Her mantle laps 
Over my lady's wrist too much,'' or ``Paint 
Must never hope to reproduce the faint 
Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff 
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough 
For calling up that spot of joy. She had 
A heart--how shall I say?--too soon made glad, 
Too easily impressed: she liked whate'er 
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. 
Sir, 't was all one! My favor at her breast, 
The bough of cherries some officious fool 
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule 
She rode with round the terrace--all and each 
Would draw from her alike the approving speech, 
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good! but thanked 
Somehow,--I know not how--as if she ranked 
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name 
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame 
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill 
In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will 
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ``Just this 
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, 
Or there exceed the mark''--and if she let 
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set 
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, 
--E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose 
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, 
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without 
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; 
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands 
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet 
The company below, then. I repeat, 
The Count your master's known munificence 
Is ample warrant that no just pretence 
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; 
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed 
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go 
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, 
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, 
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


- Robert Browning

Movies with My Mother and Aunt and Uncles) – Maverick (1994)

poster-780REPOST REVIEW

“You’re taking notes? On what?”

“Something’s gonna crawl out of that bag…I guess.”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Awww, lookit the li’l snake.”

“OK, I’m liking the scenery.”

“Mel Gibson? Thirty years ago? Ten years ago?”
“Thirty.”
“The man is old now!”
“He is not old…”

“Teehee, he’s on the donkey?”
“I’m surprised it’s going where he wants it to go.”
“Oh, it went.”

“He gave THEM the dollar?”
“And the mule.”

“Jody?”
“Yep.”

“They’re watching all the money he’s bringing.”
“A whole bunch of crooks.”
“I wonder when the hour is up, what then?…Ooo, she’s giving signs. Look, she’s giving signs.”

“Uh oh…uh oh….UH OH!” (my aunt).

“Is that the guy?”
“John Wesley Hardin?”
“What did he say his name was/”
“Maverick.”
“No, the gun guy.’
“Johnny.”
“Oh, it was him.”

“Uh oh!” (my mother)

“Should we–you should tell them what happens!”
“No.”
“No.”
“No!”

“Why did he tell the boys they could shoot him?”
“Cause he didn’t like getting beat up.”
“But the whole thing was staged!”
“NNnnghph!”
“SORRY. Was that part of it?”
“…Yes.”

“Jody’s in love!”
“….but…”
“I thought she was married?”

“Ok, that was something. She got him already?”
” ‘May I’…what?”

“She’s so good.”
“Jody Foster is so good!”

“She took his wallet again!”

“Uh oh!”
“A real bank robbery! Heh!”

“He had a thousand!”

“He took the dollar!”

“Crook!”
“They gave him more?”
“Probably. Here’s your 17, 30, 8…”
“He ripped them off!”

“Uh oh!” (my uncle).

“The thief and the old guy! Did you hear that? This is funny!”

“Oh boy.” (my mother).

“Uh oh.” (my aunt.)
“He’s dead!”

“For real-for real?”

“She in his wallet again!”

“…that saved a wretch like me?”
“Are you singing?”
“No.”
“No.”

“Rrr! Heheheh.”

“Bet you a dollar she’s stealing.”

“That is SO DUMB.”

“She took it? She stole the money?!”

“Did he call the horse Ollie?”

“Is that the same guy?”

“James Coburn! That’s James Coburn!”
“Oh! That’s him, I couldn’t remember his name!”

“That’s Denver Pyle.”
“Whoever that is.”
“…he was Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazzard?”
“He’s gonna jump!”

“He’s all outa money.”
” ‘But I was so close!’ ”

“This thing is a setup.”
“Which thing?”
“What?”
“Which thing?”
“This thing. This whole thing.”
“….why would you say that.”
“It’s a setup.”

“What’s she want from him now?…oh.”
….
“He’s as bad as she is, he’s hiding his stuff.”
“She’s just gonna reach over and take it. With her skinny hands.”

“Uh oh.”

“That was Waylon Jennings!”
“Who?”
“The singer!”
“But who?”
“The guy they just threw overboard, who is a singer who was just singing the song just now!”

“Who did that?”
“Either her or James Coburn. James Coburn looks like a crook.”

“Four more bongs…one…”

“Uh oh!”
“HEY!”
“Is that the dealer cheating?”
“The dealer is dealing for the Indian-looking guy.”
“He’s dealing off the bottom.”

“A full house?”
“Looks like.”

“UH OH!”
“CHEATER!”

“With your Pappy nonsense again? Pappy says it’s an ace!”

“Look at those big blues…”

“He tricked him!”

“All these people supposed to have no guns, where’d that gun come from? Everybody’s got guns!”

“Uh oh!” (my aunt.)
“Uh oh!” (my mother.)

“It’s a little put-put boat!”

“Uh oh!”

“Something’s behind all this, I know it.”
“It’s her and James Coburn!”

“It’s a shame those dresses don’t come back in our time period.”
“They too much.”
“They’re beautiful!”

“He’s counting the money?”

“TOLD YOU!”

“OH. MY. GOSH.”

“The man won the money fair and square! Why you gonna take it from him?”

“Uh oh.”
“Gonna drown him?”

“What! What! Oh my gosh!”
“That’s his FATHER?”
“Did you see that?”

“Uh oh!”

“OH MY GOSH IT”S THE GIRL!”

Readlist – The Durdane Duology and more

– The Durdane Trilogy (The Faceless Man, The Brave Free Men, The Asutra) – Jack Vance. This is a trilogy that really, really should have ended with the second book. Or at least, had a hard-handed editor crack down on Vance, who allowed his cynicism and (apparent) dislike of the main character invalidate that hero’s entire arc, work, and struggles.

Books 1 and 2 set up a subtle parallel between the main hero, Gastel Etzwane, and the two most prominent supporting leads: the mysterious and neutral Ifness, and the fraught Jerd Finnerack. When Etzwane is a young boy, fleeing from mortal danger, he encounters Ifness–who (bound by a strict policy of neutrality!) refuses to help. Later, when Etzwane encounters Ifness again as an adult, Ifness–ostensibly for reasons of sheer pragmatism but, potentially, also as a subconscious or semi-conscious atonement–makes Etzwane his accomplice and sets the reins of power in his hands, before exiting stage left in the fashion of mysterious mentors.

Meanwhile, when Etzwane was also a boy, he did a great harm to Jerd Finnerack, who was attempting to help him; and when he is able to, recruits Finnerack as his assistant…and sets the reins of power in his hands.

Etzwane is not particularly bitter against the man who harmed him, or at least can control the desire to act on his dislike; Finnerack is, and might–or might not. The conflict between the two grows throughout book 2 as they both increase their abilities–Finnerack more so than Etzwane, and Finnerack with decreasing stability. It is one of the driving sources of tension in Book 2, as our heroes  clash even while they are attempting to unify the planet and destroy the barbarian hordes of invaders. –with heroic, protagonistic success, but not without incident–

And then, Ifness comes back and takes over (the neutrality policy has changed! Now his actions are, it is revealed, motivated by a desire to embarass and displace his superiors), and Gastel Etzwane’s time, efforts, sacrifice, struggles, worries, plans, and battles are completely forgotten or negated; Jerd Finnerack is destroyed as a character with an almost cruel abruptness. Several fairly important plot threads are completely abandoned in order to make this work. Worse still, this is all done together with a bait-and-switch moment that was aggravating just on the surface of it.

Still, Book 2 provides an overall satisfactory conclusion to the problems of the world Durdane and its leadership, and the journey of the boy Mur, aka Gastel Etzwane, the musician who became its leader.

The way Book 3 ends makes me assume Vance was forced to write another chapter just for the sake of it, disliked the obligation, and decided to deliberately make the readers suffer. Here’s how: he takes a bunch of standard SF tropes and our hero…and then (with malicious intent!) applies “Except Now Reality Happens” to what should be very simple tropes. Planetary barbarians capture spaceship to rescue their womenfolk!….ship is recaptured after a brief siege because the barbarians can’t make it go anywhere, up down or around, and all survivors (did we mention they started killing each other after a week or so, including the named characters that were specifically pointed out as knowing the odds and the risks of a rescue mission and went for it anyway because they loved their daughters) are enslaved along with the girls. Again, it’s not in the content–it’s in the execution; and it’s in the denouement, which is infuriating all on its own without adding the additional insult that it does have.

Will you look at that, turns out I did have something to say about this book. I think it sucked.

As far as the good stuff goes: Books 1 and 2 for the most part are standard and I did like them: they have characters, character arcs, development, motives, and a plot that allows the characters to be proactive and effective. Book 1 Etzwane is largely motivated by trying to redeem his mother’s slave-indenture, making his mother one of the more prominent female characters in the pulp scifi galaxy. And she’s a rather good character as well. Might have to make a “mothers in SF” post one of these days. And I will say that that’s an OK cover to book 3. If only it had a good book to cover. Damnit.

– The Blue World – Jack Vance – See, Vance did know how to write pulp-action scifi. He just had to layer it in elaborate worldbuilding and add sly layers of humorous backstory. I read this one as a palate cleanser. (Literally: I stayed awake another two hours to read it, just to get The Asutra out of my head.)

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik – This one has definitely entered the rotation as one of my go-to relax reads, and I’m glad to say it’s held up on each repeat.

– The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett – “Vimes in Uberwald will be more amusing than an amorous armadillo in a bowling alley.”

Readlist

the-tale-of-genji-4– The Tale of Genji (the public domain translation via Project Gutenberg) is unexpectedly engrossing and readable. 

– Alternating between Judith Herrin’s Byzantium and (sigh) Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass

– Watching: the 1957 Noir-Western Man in the Shadow with Orson Welles and Jeff Chandler. (Also starring Leo Gordon as, what else, burly bad guy who beats people up.)

The Tattered Dress (1957) ((repost review))

film-poster-the-tattered-dress-1957-bpabrgThe Tattered Dress is a 1957 noir-slash-courtroom drama. And it’s an excellent little movie.

The opening scenes show a smiling woman in a torn-up dress waltzing home, not particularly concerned about this, but, in a nicely framed sequence (the camera remains outside the house, looking in through the opulent glass doors, without sound), the wind gets taken abruptly out of her sails when her husband grabs a gun. They ride back into town, and her husband coldly shoots down the man who ripped her dress.

Enter Jim Blane, a hotshot trial lawyer from New York (the setting is small-town Nevada). He’s damn good and he knows it. When the Restons (the couple from the opening scenes) wanted the best damn sleazeball criminal lawyer they could get, they went out and got him. But Jim, for better or worse, is isn’t merely a total heel, only mostly one. The next twenty-odd minutes are Blane setting up for the trial, making the acquaintance of the avuncular-but-way-smarter-than-he-looks Sheriff, Nick Hoak, making the much closer acquaintance of Mrs. Reston, and dodging the verbal jabs of his old friend/nemesis, a reporter who Has A Conscience and doesn’t mind tweaking Jim’s a little. (pwahaha, sometimes these old movies are adorable.)

Jim, an attack dog on the stand, interrogates Sheriff Hoak mercilessly, and manages to create enough of a doubt about Hoak’s credibility and the deceased’s character.  He gets the Restons off, and wow, he’s worth every penny they paid him, because that was textbook first degree murder.

Nevertheless, this is when the trouble really starts. See, Nick Hoak wasn’t pleased to be made a fool of on the witness stand. He’s especially not happy to have it done by an out-of-towner whom he made friendly overtures to earlier in the picture. He’s probably also not happy that the murderer of his friend got off scot-free, but mostly, it’s just the dent to his own prestige and power that smarts. A grand jury has subpoenaed Jim for bribing a juror–and with Hoak on the team doing the investigating, it seems incredibly unlikely to turn up any exculpatory evidence. Jim, to put it bluntly, is screwed unless he can (spot the irony) find a really good lawyer to defend him.

Spoiler: You know that old saying about a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client?  Yep. Jim’s closing statement (after his aggressive tactics blow up in his face…twice) boils down to a naked plea to the jury: “Yes, I am a slimy criminal defense lawyer. I know it. I’m not proud of it. (Anymore). Also, I’m not guilty of the crime I am accused of, and you guys know it; please don’t put me in jail just because I deserve it on account of my other actions.” Another reviewer pointed out that he probably got off only because everyone in town knew how crooked the Sheriff was already. Nevertheless.

This is a movie driven by its performances: Jim, a mostly-heel who gets the wind knocked out of him and is forced to confront who and what he is, is well-portrayed by the chiseled Jeff Chandler (also see: Sign of the Pagan, Flame of Araby, Female on the Beach, although come to think of it, he’s a heel in all of those. I believe Chandler was somewhat more heroic in his Westerner roles). He’s someone who has enormous gifts, who has worked for them, and takes their rewards for granted–until they get him into trouble and there is no sign of them getting him out.

jeanne-crain-george-tobias-jeff-chandler-the-tattered-dress-1957-bp9pyc

Nick Hoak (Jack Carson), the genial and corrupt ex-football player Sheriff is really good.–he’s exactly the mix of good-ol’-boy playing dumb, geniality, and concealed nastiness to make it clear from the outset that he’s way smarter, way tougher, and way more dangerous than he seems.

The third outstanding performance in this movie is by Jeanne Crain, as Diane Blane, Jim’s estranged, long-suffering wife. She won’t stand for her husband sleeping around on her, but she will stand with him to protect his future and their children’s. She’s really an excellent example of what Caroline Furlong designated a Type 3 heroine (click through for discussion on types 1-2 also): one whose power is in her emotional strength, and whose influence on the plot comes indirectly through her influence, rather than directly, through her actions (or action scenes.) Diane keeps Jim’s ego in check, encourages him, and gives him hope and strength when he needs it.–and does it all without sacrificing a shred of her self-respect, or once raising her voice or her hand. (At one point, Jim, hoping he’s going to get lucky, reminds her that they are still legally married. Diane matches his bedroom eyes and murmurs calmly back: “Did that stop you with Charleen Reston?” Burn unit, stat.) And, if that still sounds like faint praise, let me add that the proof might be in the viewing. I ended the movie with a resounding admiration for Diane Blane, because she is one strong, classy lady in a way you don’t often see.

Also playing her part quite well (but with only a few scenes to do it in) is Gail Russell (also see: Wake of the Red Witch), who mostly has to look frightened, and then also to look (spoiler!) murderous. Also of interest: the trampy Mrs. Reston was played by Elaine Stewart, who played Audie Murphy’s good-girl love interest in Night Passage. Okay, maybe not that interesting, but interesting that’s a good little movie, too. It also has Dan Duryea and Jimmy Stewart. Man, we used to have actors, didn’t we…

Rated: Five rigged poker games out of five.

Movies with my Mother – Hail Caesar (2016)

hail-caesar-mondo-poster[A/n: This is a repost from 2017 session. As of this week in 2021, we got half-way through Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela and both tapped out.]

“He’s a bounty hunter?”
“Nnnno.”

“Ok, ok, who is he?”
“He’s the fixer guy. So, his job is to go run down the stars when they go on a bender, or get married in Mexico, or get into an illicit postcard situation or something.”

“Who is she?”

“What’s going on here?”

“Why are they hitting them? They’re moving, aren’t they?”
“It’s what you do to slaves.”
“And where did Eddie come into this?”

“Why would he stand up….this is the promising guy?….OH PLEASE…he’s being shot at? Oh no!”

“Apparently that guy is going to be playing Harrison Ford in the young Han Solo movie.”
“Is he? Han Solo….Han Solo…Han Solo….who is he?”

“What?…oh, he’s Jewish.”

“Is this a modern thing? When was it made?”
“Last year.”
“Huh.”

“Why did they kidnap him? Tell me the reason.”
“They’re secretly marxists and they want to indoctrinate him in marxist doctrine.”
“How?”
“Because he’s dumb as a plank.”
“Why?”
“So he can spread marxist propaganda like they used to accuse people of doing.”

“What is this in aid of?'”
“They used to have musical numbers, remember?”
“Yes, I remember Esther Williams–this is like her.”
“This is like a parody of her.”
“Why are they making it a parody?”
“Well, it’s more like a homage.”

“Is that Joanna Scarlett?”

“What’s this?”
“They’re trying to switch him over from being a cowboy actor to being a serious drama actor.”
“I see that.”

“If this is modern, what’s the deal with the hair?”
“What’s the deal with the hair?”

“….Huh. What….why are they wanting him when he can’t do it?”

“He’s not giving good directions, what is this! Foolishness!…do I have to look at this?”

“Why is he talking like that?”
“Because he’s Texan. Also because he has dentures.”

“It’s a stupid line, anyway.”
“He is a stupid man!”

“Who are they all?”
“They’re a secret cabal of communist writers.”
“Oh, they put the little propaganda in their scripts?”
“Yes.”
“Oh. Just like liberals today.”
“Yeah.”
“Do not write that down! Your audience will be mad at you!”

“Why do they want money?”
“Because…I dunno. Dirty communists…”

“No what?”
“No gams.”

“I know his face.”
“He doesn’t have a face, he’s just a slab of meat.”
“Him!”
“Channing Tatum.”

“Oh, that’s cute.”

“What was that?”
“The pregnant Esther Williams girl, he’s the father, but he’s already married.”

“Oh, so they just want some money? Some profit?”

“No faces?”
“This is just the opening credits.”

“Oh my what happened to her!?”

“Oh that’s good! The fools should have changed it from the beginning! What a line….This is boring!”
“You just said you liked it!”
“It’s boring….who is Caesar?”

“Lips and the hips and the what?”

“Why haven’t they released that man?”
“Because they still haven’t got the money. It’s still on its way to them!”

“The two columnists are like the two sisters who–what! Is he one of them!?”

“Well, it shows all actors to be kinda stupid.”
“Well, it’s ’cause they are.”
“Argh.”

“What movie is this?”
“Huh….Well, I guess he’s Washington crossing the Delaware.”

“What is this now?”
“The submarine’s going to pick him up.”
“The what….that’s good. That’s nice. Submarine, yeah.”

“Oh no!”

“Who does he represent? I mean, who is he, who went to the others?”

“Who was her source?”
“Him who went on the submarine.”

“Twenty-seven hours?”

“See, that was a good movie!”
“No, it wasn’t.”

[also: MwmM for Maverick 1994? She refused to watch it until I put the notebook away.]

Mentally Tired Read/Watchlist

Readlist: 
– Eight Days of Luke – Diana Wynne Jones – a nice, relaxing old stand-by. I really like this book.
– Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik – also a relaxing, low-stakes fantasy novel that’s joining the I’m-tired-and-need-to-relax rotation.
– You’re Stepping On My Cloak and Dagger – Roger Hall –  This guy joined the OSS during WW2 and, unwillingly, ended up flying a desk for most of it. Highlight: He gets the assignment to be dropped behind enemy lines and take over leadership of a guerilla group…except by the time he got there the lines had moved and he was back in American territory again. Heh. Also, he ends up accepting German surrenders in Hell. 
– Byzantium – Judith Herrin – is one of the things I lack the fortitude to actually power through right now.

Watchlist:

– Taking Lives – an early-2000s movie starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke. It’s mostly interesting because Ethan Hawke is very handsome and Angelina Jolie is…Angelina. Other than that the plot falls apart when you think about it for more than ten seconds and the characters are more a collection of quirks, twitches, and mannerisms than actual characterization.

– Want to watch: The Wolf of Snow Hollow appears to be available…

12 Rules for Life: Science-Fiction Solutions to Chaos (repost)

So inspired by (a 12 Rules list which was made by someone who hadn’t very read much science fiction) and the fact that I occasionally remember this is supposed to be an SF book blog, here’s my brilliant, science-fiction infused Antidote To Chaos.

Rule One: Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!
b88b64994c83bc8f1b9ea3a8fd4d6952-memes

Hokey religions and ancient prophecies are no match for a good blaster at your side. 

When in doubt, take off and nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. 

– Learn the attitude of the knife–of chopping off what’s incomplete and saying ‘Now it’s complete, because it’s ended here.’ 

Good engineers build triple redundancy. 

Do not call up that which you cannot put down. 

Beware of spaceships bearing gifts. 

When you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” Also alternatively stated: Make ye no truce with Adam-zad! 

If someone asks you for a cracker for their oontatherium…give it to them. 

Evil is treating people like things–including yourself. 

Fuck subtle. 

All things strive. 

Runners up:
“You can’t trust anybody any further than you can throw them and there’s nothing you can do about it, so let’s have a drink.”

– Make ye no truce with Kings!