Friday Flotsam: In the News, Invisible Man, and Folk Song

1. I have barely looked at the news in weeks and have frankly been much happier for it. After all, I have no power to affect anything that is in the news, and it’s going to affect me I’ll find out about it sooner or later. Not to mention that most of it is either outright lies or distortions of one sort of another. So, really, I don’t see much point in keeping up with it.

2. That said, I’ve heard that there was an election in Old Virginia, and that the (comparative) good guys seem to have won big. Good news of any kind is welcome, so hooray for that.

3. Being a Monarchist in a liberal republic is like:

4. You know, I like to call myself a Monarchist, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification. I’m not against Republics, provided they’re set up with some degree of sense (e.g. non-democratic. Actually, the original design for the US was, unsurprisingly, considerably better considered than the current system, but that’s another story). I think ‘Integralist’ is probably the closest active term I’ve found: the idea that, since you have to structure society around some philosophy or another, it may as well be a true one.

Thing is that the quality of a given system of government is largely a question of the quality of the people who operate it. A Monarchy operated by liberals is no better than a republic, and worse than a republic run by Christians (as the Vatican offers daily proof). The problem, as always, is one of conversion.

5. I’d forgotten how good a movie the original Invisible Man with Claude Rains and directed by James “Frankenstein” Whale really is. I got to see it on the big screen in a double-feature with The Wolf-Man (also features Claude Rains, though in a very different role) and I was continually impressed by the writing: how logically everything progresses and how reasonably everyone reacts, except for the people who are supposed to be acting irrationally. The only major gaps I noticed were an unconvincing hand-wave of why they can’t use dogs to catch him (“they’ve lost the scent”) and the fact that no one seems willing to take advantage of the times when he’s actually grabbing someone to catch him by touch, which was a continual problem for the character in the book and even led to his final defeat. But the whole sequence of the story, the reactions of the police and the populace, and the progression of the Invisible Man himself follow a clear and well-considered progression all the way to the conclusion.

There’s also the still-impressive special effects, which are deployed with a surprising prodigality. For instance, there’s a bit where the Invisible Man goes skipping down the road in a pair of stolen trousers singing ‘Nuts in May’. It adds nothing to the plot, it’s just a joke (and a sign of his continually-deteriorating sanity), but they took the time and money to make it happen in 1932. And whether through lighting or effects, they even took care that Rains’s eyes aren’t visible even on careful examination during close-ups of him in his bandaged-up disguise.

6. By the way, this is a surprisingly brutal film: the Invisible Man has easily the highest on-screen body count of any of the classic Universal Monsters, coming in at over a hundred confirmed kills (he wrecks a train at one point just because he can). Yet even so, and despite only killing one or two people, the character in the book is far more vile than his film counterpart.

7. And let’s end with a Cossack folk song (think I might have posted this video before, but it’s worth revisiting):

Flotsam: Self-Examination, Plot Holes, Halloween-ness, and a Joke

1. I notice that I have a bad habit (and perhaps you do as well) that when I start to pray and try to meditate upon God that I tend to fall into criticism of modernity: thinking of how far the contemporary world is from the majesty of the Divine plan and how many ways we depart from this holy road.

Of course, what I should be thinking about is how far I am from all that. If we’re to do comparisons under such a circumstance, it ought to be regarding the one thing we can actually control and bring a little close to the standard in question. Endlessly thinking about how horrible other people are – however true that may be – is spiritual junk food; it’s momentarily satisfying, but empty at best, harmful at worst. At the end of the day, it’s only ourselves and our own that we’ll be held finally responsible for.

2. Re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Something that occurred to me this go-round is that Peter Jackson introduced a significant plot hole in Fellowship. Namely, that there’s now no reason for Gandalf not to accompany Frodo from the Shire to Rivendell.

In the book, the plan is for Frodo to slip quietly out of the Shire after settling his affairs so as not to attract notice, and Gandalf fully means to accompany him for safety. About midsummer, though, Gandalf is away in Bree when he meets Radagast, who warns him that the Nine are abroad and that Saruman has something he urgently needs to speak to him about. Since he knows it will take the Nazgul many weeks to reach the Shire, Gandalf considers running back to the Shire to warn Frodo to change his plans and leave sooner, but decides he doesn’t have the time since Radagast was already late in finding him, so he tries to send a letter instead. Saruman reveals his true colors (so to speak) and imprisons Gandalf, ad the innkeeper forgets the letter, and the result is that Frodo leaves the Shire much too late, with no help from Gandalf, and with the Nazgul are almost literally at his doorstep.

In the film, Gandalf has Frodo leave almost the moment he confirms what the Ring is, saying that he’ll run off to Isengard to consult with Saruman and then meet him at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Now, first off this is an example of Jackson’s rather absurd telescoping of Middle Earth, which is severely shrunken from its book form (if you look at a map, Isengard is several hundred miles from the Shire, away at the bottom of the Misty Mountains: that would be like telling someone in Ann Arbor to make for Detroit and that you’ll be waiting for them there after you run to Nashville and back).

Not to mention that Rivendell, obviously the safest place for many miles, is on the way to Isengard. Given how important the matter is, and how much he cares about Frodo, there’s no adequate reason for Gandalf not to first accompany him to safety and then go see Saruman.

3. None of this is to say that the film is bad, of course (though honestly the compression of Middle Earth – and consequently of the timeline – is one of my biggest criticisms, even though I understand why they did it). Just something I thought was interesting to note.

4. Alas, it is again Halloween and I’ve not had the time or attention to sample any good horror films or get into the spirit of the season. I do like Halloween, but it’s a holiday that really takes time and attention to properly soak in: the atmosphere of autumn leaves rustling in a chill wind, cloud-wrapped moons, graveyards, and creaky old houses where, if anything walks there, it walks alone. It’s hard to really feel ‘Halloweeny’ in a populated suburb. You need a small, semi-rural town with woods about it and at least a few hundred years of history to do it properly. Or at least be somewhere you can forget about modern cars and strip malls and the like.

5. Though you could conceivably make a good strip-mall-based horror film out of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’, assuming you find a way to correct the plot hole of “why would anyone go back for another shift once they realize what the score is?” I don’t think they will, but it could be done (me, I would have it be that the guard realizes something bad happened / is going to happen and is trying to solve the mystery before he gets his head bitten off by the jump-scares. Simple and obvious, so they probably won’t do it).

6. And to finish off, I heard a version of this story many, many years ago and it stuck in my mind, though most of the details are long lost so I had to fill them in myself.

There was a married couple who planned to vacation in Florida one summer. Then, at the last minute, the husband found he had some work to take care of and had to miss the trip. But he insisted that she should go on anyway, since they’d already bought the tickets and she’d been really looking forward to it.

So, she went on the trip. But her flight had hardly left when the husband learned that the work wasn’t going to be nearly as bad as he thought and he decided to text her that he’d be able to follow her almost immediately. Only, he then remember that she’d just gotten a new phone and he couldn’t remember the number. But they had some friends living down there, who were to meet his wife and take her to the hotel, so he called them and asked them to let her know that he’d be coming soon.

The woman landed and was met by the friends, who told her the good news. She was, of course, delighted and as soon as she got to the hotel she went and texted her husband on her new phone.

Trouble was, she couldn’t quite remember his number either, since she’d just been using the stored contact all this time. But she was a hopeful kind of woman and, after thinking about it a bit decided she could remember it after all and confidently sent her text.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong number. Even more unfortunately, it was actually the number of a preacher whose wife had just passed away. They were holding the wake at his house, and everyone was being very decorous and sad, when suddenly he looked at his phone and screamed.

This is what he read:

“Beloved,

Just arrived. Delighted to hear you’ll be joining me soon.”

Then, just as the assembled guests were wondering what to make of this message from the other world and whether they dared respond, her next text came in.

“It sure is hot down here.”

Flotsam: Various and Sundry Life Things and the Mario Movie

1. I’m beginning to settle in at last as the final few necessary tasks and purchases are being wrapped up. Having a new apartment is like having a giant toy; there are all sorts of things you can do with it and you can’t wait to get the chance to play with it.

2. Internet is up at last, though I have it on a kill switch (via the simple expedient of plugging the router into a power strip) so I can turn it off it becomes too much of a distraction.

On that note, I’m working out a schedule for myself to hopefully improve my (frankly appallingly slow) output. So far setting up has kept on interrupting, but even so I’ve found an uptick in production. Amazing what sitting down and just doing the damn work can accomplish.

3. Part of my schedule is anticipated to include Saturday movie nights (don’t like watching movies during the week, since they eat up so much time), and last night it was Megamind. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but that’s another film I’ve been meaning to do an essay on, since it ranks high on my list of underappreciated gems. It’s an example of the best kind of satire: the kind that provides the genuine thrills and particular joys of the genre it’s spoofing, even as it uses the material for comedy (The Princess Bride and Galaxy Quest are other examples of this sort of thing). In this case it pokes fun at comic book superhero tropes while also providing some excellent comic-book-style action / adventure heroics.

It’s also almost infinitely quotable: “Warming up? The Sun is ‘warming up‘?!”

4. The voice cast was announced for the upcoming ‘Super Mario Brothers’ animated movie (entrusted to Blue Sky of all people), and no one seems particularly happy about it. I like Chris Pratt, but him as Mario? I don’t know about that. And last time I checked, Charles Martinet was alive and well. Granted you might not want the high-pitched Mario voice for a whole film, but I happen to know that Mr. Martinet can do many voices (e.g. he was one of the dragons in Skyrim): all he has to do is tone it down a bit.

I really don’t understand why studios do this (it also bugged me when Roger Craig Smith was replaced by Ben Schwartz for Sonic. Schwartz was fine in the role, but it’s annoying nonetheless). Or rather, I understand, but it makes no sense from a fans’ perspective. Studios figure that mainstream audiences will want to see familiar names in the credits, not the relatively obscure voice actors of the games. Filmmakers, and especially studio people, are notoriously out of touch and so don’t realize that the days of star-driven films are largely in the past. No one is going to go see Super Mario Brothers to hear Chris Pratt and Jack Black: they’re going to go see it to see the Mario Brothers (assuming it looks tolerable from the trailers). Keeping Charles Martinet in the title roles would have been a surefire way to garner immediate fan support, which I think is frankly a lot more valuable these days than star power, especially for an animated film.

I still hope the film is good, and I’m not judging it yet, but this isn’t a good sign. Please, please at least be better than the live action film. That should not be a challenge.

(Though for my part, all will be forgiven if they give John Leguizamo and Samantha Mathis cameos. Or if they bring Lance Hendrikson back as the king / chancellor of the Mushroom Kingdom. Come on, people: he never turns down a paycheck!).

5. By the way, I suspect the above is the reason why My Little Pony: The Movie jettisoned most of that show’s fantastic supporting cast in favor of a bunch of new characters with celebrity voice actors. They probably would have re-cast the Mane Six if they thought they could get away with it (“Starring Scarlett Johanson as Twilight Sparkle”).

6. Also, regarding the Mario movie: Dwayne Johnson should have been Donkey Kong. How does one fail to see that?

Alice at the Everyman

Finally got my internet back today, and just in time to find that one of my essays has gone up at The Everyman! It’s one where I get to talk about classic Disney and apply it to the decline of civilization, so…pretty much pure me. Enjoy!

In short, the book presents Alice’s dreams as places of fun and nonsense; the pure, innocent enjoyment of a carefree childhood. The film presents her adventures more as a cautionary tale, wherein Alice wishes for a world of nonsense and gets it, only to realize how uncomfortable and frightening it really is and long to return home. Delightful as the film is to watch, the central theme is that Wonderland is not a nice place to be in. It’s fun to imagine: not fun to experience.

The shift in tone and theme between the two versions is very interesting given the very different state of the real world at the time of each – that is, the world outside the scope of book, film, and dream.

Lewis Carroll wrote his book from the heart of the Victorian age, a time where, despite the rapid changes taking place, the old-world order was still standing strong and British culture and society seemed as solid and secure as Gibraltar itself. It was a time where a girl like Alice from a respectable, well-off family could count on the familiar trappings of home, of sisters and cats, of lazy summer afternoons and quiet winter days to remain always safely as they were. And where Carroll, AKA Charles Dodgson, mathematician, deacon, and schoolteacher, could know exactly what ‘normal’ was when he wished to satirize it.

On the other hand, Walt Disney made his film in a world scarred by two global conflagrations that had largely laid waste to the orderly world that Carroll knew. Disney worked under the shadow of Communism and the atomic bomb, of the questioning, doubting, and deconstruction of everything that had once been valued and assumed in Carroll’s world, and amidst the early rumblings of still more such disruptions to come. That is to say, Lewis Carroll lived in a world where order and stability were the norms. Walt Disney lived in a world where that same order was rapidly disappearing and chaos and nonsense were being seriously advocated to take their place. Small wonder that, consciously or unconsciously, he took a more jaundiced view of Wonderland.

Read the rest here

Just Because It’s Cool: Donnie Yen vs. Mike Tyson

I found this clip of a fight scene in Yip Man 3 pitting Donnie Yen as the titular (historical) Wing Chun grandmaster Yip Man against Mike Tyson as…well, basically just Mike Tyson. There’s some kind of plot going on (I haven’t seen the film), but the important thing is that we get to see two legit martial artists going at it.

It’s a little cartoony, of course. In my experience, huge megaton punches like that don’t send you flying around the room, they just sort of make you die. But it’s cool and a relatively rare instance of pitting eastern martial arts against western boxing in a way that gives the latter its due as legitimate fighting style.

Bruce Lee, if I’m not mistaken, said that one year of boxing left one about equivalent to someone with ten years of kung fu, or something of the kind. This actually seems to be a bit of a pattern: western martial arts tend to be a lot simpler and more straightforward and thus easier to learn, though no less effective, than their eastern counterparts (personally, I’m a black belt but I tend to resort to more or less boxing most of the time in sparring just because it’s simpler and easier to use in the heat of the moment). Which is why eastern martial arts tend to get played up so much in media: they look cooler, or at least can be more easily made to look cooler. But again, both are as effective as the practitioner makes them, and anything that lets you walk away after a fight as opposed to being carried is a good system.

Though this fight also illustrates one of the key weaknesses of boxing: it has little in the way of defense or offense regarding the lower body.

Anyway, enjoy.

Update: Note the bit where Yen uses his elbows to damage Tyson’s fists. That’s one of the key ways to deal with a bigger, stronger opponent: attacking his weapons.

Flotsam

1. I’m currently in the process of preparing to move, something I’ve been looking forward to and trying to achieve for several years now. I’ve been rather surprised at how disruptive the process really is, not just in terms of consuming time and energy, but in the way it creates the sense of ‘no point in starting anything right now; can’t settle to anything at the moment because there’s a huge disruption coming’. Yeah, probably just an excuse there; another one of the ‘infinity of excuses for non-action’, as Theodore Roosevelt put it.

These underlying mental impressions that don’t really follow logically, but are an aggregation of the whole tenor of a time period are probably a lot more responsible for human actions – and thus history – than we usually give them credit for.

2. Do you notice how most non or formerly Christian Americans (and even some continuing to claim the title) seem to still have the idea that going to church is a way to demonstrate virtue rather than to acquire it? That someone praying and fasting and attending Mass is presenting himself as a very good, righteous person, rather than trying to become one?

This seems to me to be a consequence of the fact that we were born a semi-Puritan, or formerly-Puritan nation: since, as I understand it, in the Calvinist tradition good deeds and worship and such are seen as signs that one is saved, not means of seeking and preserving salvation.

This is a big topic, of course: once you start to notice the Puritan thread in the American mind, it pops up everywhere.

3. I’ve heard – can’t remember where at the moment – that in the Middle Ages there really were Thieves’ Guilds and Prostitutes’ Guilds, and their members would attend Mass every week. They wouldn’t receive, of course, being unable or unwilling to give up their sinful professions, but they would pray fervently to be preserved until, say, they could make a big score or find some way out of their lives, or at the very least be granted the chance to confess and repent before death. Everyone knew who they were, of course, and everyone expected them to be there.

That’s the sort of thing that comes from a Catholic understanding of salvation and which the Puritan tradition would look upon with shocked disapproval.

4. I went to an 80th anniversary screening of Citizen Kane tonight. My hot take is that it’s a pretty decent little movie, all things considered. Actually for most of the run time I was grinning uncontrollably at the shear quality of filmmaking, acting, and writing on display. There’s a reason this is often called the best film of all time, and though I personally wouldn’t give it the top spot, it’s certainly a respectable choice.

5. Perhaps it’s just the way my mind is going these days, but I think Orson Welles hit on a key weakness of the Capitalist / Classical Liberal system. See, when Leftists go after capitalism or the United States, they tend to point at poverty, or the striated class system. This is actually it’s greatest strength: nothing alleviates poverty or creates more social mobility than capitalism. But the great weakness is that it tends to starve its adherents of the deeper human needs: of family, community, love, spiritual elevation, and so on, commoditizing and stifling these things so that men are left without roots, culture, or identity, knowing “the price of everything and the value of nothing.” (Of course, Leftist variations of liberalism tend to be even worse in this regard, though that doesn’t stop them from sometimes appealing to it, just as their rotten track record on social mobility doesn’t stop them from appealing to that either. I really have to wonder why anyone takes Marxist doctrines seriously anymore, but I digress).

In the movie, Charles Foster Kane has everything: inexhaustible wealth, social prestige, the power to move governments, but he’s a profoundly lonely man, starved of love, but incapable of giving it himself. All he can do is throw spectacular gifts and extravagant gestures at people, but his fundamental selfishness makes it impossible for him to really love or to accept love in return. He has a massive art collection, but he never looks at it or appreciates it. He has a set of principles that supposedly govern his newspaper, but he abandons them whenever it suits him. He’s a very intelligent, commanding, powerful man, a man who has everything the world can give…but he lacks the ‘spiritual’ dimension entirely and thus remains a hollow, frustrated, pitiable figure.

All the prosperity and material advancement of the liberal west, whatever else may be said of it, cannot replace the spiritual needs of man. “Man does not live on bread alone.”

6. David Stewart touches on some of these same ideas here with regards to the ‘Woke’ religion:

Flotsam: ‘Coco’ and Such

1. I missed seeing Coco when it came out in theaters, since I was by the disillusioned by Pixar’s deteriorating quality. Last week, upon seeing it recommended, I pulled it up and gave it a watch.

My goodness, that is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly one of the best recent films. Not to mention one of the most Traditionalist / Reactionary films of recent years, being all about family tradition, family piety, recovering lost heritage, subordinating personal desires to obligations, and so on.

It’s also the first movie in a long time to legitimately make me cry. Not just tear up, but full on weeping.

I’m going to hold off on doing a full essay for the time being, because I want to see it again first, but I heartily recommend it.

2. Most of the related thoughts springing from the film and other things that have been on my mind lately are frankly too big to get into in a Flotsam. I want to organize them better and work them out first.

3. One thing that occurred to me while watching, however, was this. Everyone seems to love the Day of the Dead: it’s become the Mardi Gras of Mexico (e.g. the event that people think of when they think of the place and that always seems to brought up). Nothing wrong with this, except that I notice there’s always a particular emphasis on the pagan elements of the holiday, to the exclusion of the Christian ones.

This is what I call the ‘isn’t it interesting?’ approach: “Oh, the Mexicans have a tradition of such and such, and the Japanese say this, and the Irish have a story that yada yada, and isn’t that interesting?”

But there is one culture and one tradition that is never given this treatment, that always, without fail, is regarded as illegitimate, imposed, and generally not worth bothering about (even when it’s an integral part of a culture, it tends to be ignored in favor of folklore and pagan stories). Of course, it’s Christianity and the Church. Funny that, isn’t it?

4. This isn’t a criticism of Coco itself, or of Grim Fandango or any of the other works that have used the folklore around the Day of the Dead to good effect (Fandango, I would argue, is probably the closest to a Christian view of things of the one’s I’ve seen, since there the world of the dead is explicitly a transitory state that the good get to cross through almost instantly and the bad have to work and earn their way across, thus being more explicitly akin to Purgatory). It’s a criticism of the cultural attitudes that relegate the Faith to the sidelines and gleefully tries to sever us from our heritage, then regards us as defective when we try to preserve it.

5. One thing I am trying to develop (it’ll help when I get my own place, I’m hoping) is what I call the ‘shopkeeper mentality’. Again, Coco reminded me of this and helped it click in my mind: the mentality of “we have a family enterprise that is keeping us fed and gives us a place in the community. You’re part of this family, so you are going to help in it. Get up, do your chores, say your prayers, help in the shop, don’t complain if you don’t want the slipper.”

Thomas Sowell touched on this as well, describing how successful ethnic groups – e.g. Jews, East Asians, etc. – would practice this sort of behavior: start a commercial enterprise that the family would run, everyone pitch in and work their fingers to the bone to make it a success. Kids do their chores in the morning, then go to school (and they’d better get good grades), then come home and help with the shop.

That’s the kind of attitude I want to have: that this is a trade that gives me and my family a place in the community and supports us, and so it’s expected that we work at it like our lives depend upon it, because they do.

Basically, I don’t want to be a starving artist sacrificing all to his muse, I want to be a shoe shop that happens to make books.

Mauler vs. Black Widow

A melancholy step: I was really hoping this movie wouldn’t be horrible. And I would say that it was still possible Mauler’s being too harsh on it, except…the prison break scene. How the heck did that make it through production without anyone saying “wait, our heroine just condemned hundreds of people to horrible deaths…”? And what does that say about the writers, director, etc. of this movie?

(Also Taskmaster being a girl is stupid, and him being the willowy Olga Kurylenko is stupider: like having Jason Voorhees take off his mask to reveal *gasp* it was Amy Steel the whole time!).

But for a comparative rush job, Mauler’s in good form, emphasizing just how badly the film assassinates and undermines its protagonist (and it takes four hours to dissect this one: twice as long as Captain Marvel. Yikes).

Money line: “Why the **** does Daffy Duck have a better grasp on espionage than Black ****ing Widow?”

No Aspirational Heroes, Huh?

Apparently, the star of the latest Marvel film – Shang Chi and the Ten Rings (yeah, I forgot about that movie too) – claimed that this is something he “didn’t have growing up,” namely an aspirational Asian or Asian American hero.

Ahem:

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https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=http%3A%2F%2Fhypebeast.com%2Fimage%2F2015%2F12%2Fcrouching-tiger-hidden-dragon-2-trailer-0.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
Cineplex.com | Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Mulan 1998 Film Characters - Disney S Live Action Mulan ...
Ken Watanabe in The Last Samurai (2003)
Toshirô Mifune in Shichinin no samurai (1954)
“Three weeks top of the US Box Office. I doubt you will be so fortunate.”

Hell, not even going that far:

American Dragon: Jake Long (2005)

And all that isn’t even touching on Anime, video games, most of the Japanese film industry, or the innumerable superhero and fantasy film’s / franchises. Like you may have heard of this obscure little franchise:

Ultraman: Monster Movie Feature (1967) - Posters — The ...

That’s really one of the more obnoxious things about these ‘representational’ films and such: the fact that they’re always trying to ignore or hide the people who have come before. Because everyone today is trying to be Sydney Poitier slapping the racist rich jerk in In the Heat of the Night, because that’s all they know how to value in a film: being ‘socially important’ (neglecting the fact that it was also, you know, a good movie). So they have to keep trying to reset the clock and hide the work of those who came before to give themselves the chance to pretend to be pioneers.

Flotsam: Various Writing Observations

1. A few observations on different works:

2. When Uncle Walt adapted Alice in Wonderland, he and his writers ended up giving it a bit more of a plot than the book had. Not much, but a little. And if you notice, the plot they gave it was pretty much lifted directly from The Wizard of Oz: an imaginative girl living what seems to be a dull life wishes for something different and is whisked away to a world of magic and strangeness where she incurs the enmity of an authoritative female antagonist and soon comes to wish for nothing more than to return home. In the end she wakes up to find it was all a dream, leaving her with new appreciation for the mundane world she wanted to leave.

But the interesting point is the one big difference between the two: Dorothy doesn’t only have to deal with the Wicked Witch of the West and the general strangeness of Oz. She also gets to enjoy the friendship and help of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, as well as the protection and guidance of Glinda, and even the avuncular kindness of the wizard.

In contrast, Alice doesn’t get anything of the kind. No one in Wonderland is Alice’s friend. There is precisely one character in the film who is consistently helpful to her, and that’s the doorknob. And all he can do is give her some information. Everyone else is, at best, barely aware of her presence and at worst actively malicious toward her (interestingly enough, the doorknob is the only character in the film that wasn’t in the books).

(Meanwhile in the books, the only character who might count is the White Knight from the second book, who is at least consistently kind and helpful to her, even though he’s pretty hapless himself and she spends most of their time together trying to help him stay on his horse).

For me, this is one of the things that makes the story unique and compelling: that it doesn’t sentimentalize or cheat with Alice’s dreams. They’re weird, chaotic, and ephemeral full of mad people, with all that implies.

3. Again, I haven’t seen the film, but from what I can tell this is one of the things that really bugs me about the Tim Burton version: the Mad Hatter is not Alice’s best friend. The inhabitants of Wonderland are not her childhood playmates happy to have her back. They don’t care about her. This isn’t Narnia or even Oz: this is a world of madness and nonsense.

4. To switch gears (so to speak), I’ve also found myself revisiting Transformers: Beast Wars, at least as far as reading about it and re-watching some clips. Really, as I recall, that was a surprisingly well-written show, where the writers actually thought through the implications and consequences of the events of the story.

For instance, in that incarnation Megatron is played as being a dangerous radical / terrorist with no official standing in the Predicon hierarchy. He had a grand scheme that he’s trying to put into action, but one that is both an extremely long shot and spectacularly dangerous and potentially destructive (to the point where he himself holds off on carrying it through until he gets backed into a corner because it’s that risky).

Now, no one in his right mind would follow someone like that, right? Right. And almost no one in his right mind does. Megatron’s troops are, to a man, either a). intensely stupid, b). looking to betray him for their own ends, c). completely insane, or d). some combination of the above.

He has precisely one competent, rational, and reliable lieutenant – Dinobot – who is later revealed to have joined him for personal reasons…and who almost immediately defects once it seems those reasons no longer apply.

5. This actually achieves a number of things. In the first place, it helps to establish Megatron’s position in this world: for all his arrogance, he isn’t important or high-ranking, he’s a loose cannon following his own agenda. In the second, it allows him to consistently lose his engagements without undermining him as a villain, since however clever and dangerous he is, he has to entrust the execution of his plans to either the idiot, the lunatic, the traitor, or the lunatic-traitor. Finally, it actually makes him a much more imposing villain, since it gives him scope to demonstrate his cunning without pitting him directly against the heroes. So he’ll do things like work the fact that his minions are plotting against him into his own plans, allowing him to turn their treason to his own benefit. Or another episode has Terrorsaur successfully usurp Megatron’s place and throw him in the brig…whereupon Megatron reveals he programmed an override into the cells to let him escape whenever he wants and proceeds to let Terrorsaur lead the Predacons in battle to let them see how incompetent he really is.

The structure of the show also answers the question “why does he keep people around the he knows would betray him the first chance they get?” Because he only has four or five minions and simply can’t afford to lose any of them unless it’s absolutely necessary.

6. Something else I noticed this week: I really like Princess Peach as a character. I mean, she’s just such a delightfully nice character, so pleasant to be around, but also with a bit of an undefinable edge to her (and this isn’t a new thing, either: she was adventuring all the way back in Super Mario Bros. 2 and then again in Super Mario RPG). She’s a perfectly sweet, wonderfully feminine character, but all the while she’s got an underlying pluck and courage that comes out every now and then, all the more amusing for its rareness.

I especially like in the first Paper Mario game where she’ll periodically sneak around Bowser’s castle to try to spy out information that’ll be useful to Mario. That, it seems to me, is exactly what a character like her would do in that situation and gets her involved in a more elegant way than just have her trying to take on Bowser herself (though that can be fun too). I also love how she insists that her closet full of identical pink dresses are ‘all unique and all very fashionable.’

This is something we almost never get these days: a thoroughly and emphatically feminine character who is positively portrayed and allowed to remain so throughout.