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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Monday, August 17th, 2015
8:04 pm
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Sunday evening, our power went out, due to a tree limb down the block falling on the wires. (Probably broken in Friday’s wind, and wilted in Sunday’s heat--). So, instead of sitting home and sweltering in the dark, we moved up our intention to see the new “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie and went out to our nearby cinema.

We both enjoyed the movie a lot. The plot is an origin story, something I don’t believe was ever done in the TV show, and shows how CIA operative Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) meet, first as opponents, then as reluctant allies, and finally become (less reluctant) partners. Some of the reviewers have criticized the film as more style than substance, but, in the 1960’s style was what it was all about. (After all, in 1960’s television, you couldn’t have the overt sex and ultraviolence that passes for substance in cinema these days, so you had to have something to attract viewers.) Director Guy Ritchie and his coterie of co-writers did a nice job of capturing the “U.N.C.L.E.” feel, with location establishing shots, and multiple split-screen montages. True to the TV series, although there was considerable violence, notably in the climactic assault on the villains’ lair, it was handled with a light touch and no gore. Also, the bad guys were ultimately defeated by an exercise of wits, and not merely by measuring who has the greatest endurance in a bare-knuckle slugfest—astonishing. This was the thing we appreciated most about the film. Most updates/reboots take the basic premise and then impose modern standards of speed, brutality, and amorality. “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” most avoided these clichés.

Cavill and Hammer do nice jobs with their re-imagined characters. Solo is both a decorated soldier and a notorious art thief, dragooned into the CIA’s service as an alternative to prison. Kuryakin is a veteran of the Soviet Special Forces who volunteered for the KGB, but has unresolved anger issues relative to his father--. Unlike the TV show, where Illya tended to do most of the breaking-and-entering type work, both men share the heavy lifting, although Solo’s path-of-least-resistance style contrasts nicely with Kuryakin’s (often equally effective) bull ahead tactics. The rivalry between the two is fought out in every field from spy gear to fashion and is fun to watch.

The men are well matched by the ladies, Alicia Vikander as an equally reluctant member of the spy team, and Elizabeth Debicki as the exotic and deadly master villain, “Victoria”. Victoria is a great character with wonderful fashion sense, and who, if she were in a James Bond movie, would, in my opinion, go down as one of the great opponents, along with Goldfinger and Scaramanga.

The plot is a 60’s classic nuclear paranoia idea, which plays out well enough, although it must be noted that a good part of the fun comes from noting the 60’s and spy references. (Hearing part of the TV U.N.C.L.E. theme on the radio; characters named for SPECTRE agents; ect.)
The movie ends with U.N.C.L.E. going from an ad-hoc to a formal team, which makes one hope there might be sequels.

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8:03 pm
Irish Fest 2015
On Saturday, the 15th, we made our annual trip to Irish Fest, and, again, had a splendid day. There was a lake breeze, which kept the temperatures on the festival grounds quite pleasant, and there was no rain. (Friday evening had been interrupted by a short but violent storm passing through--.)

This was the 35th Irish Fest, and the organizers had decided to recognize it as a significant anniversary, with the year’s theme being “Living Tradition.” This suited us just fine, as we tend to prefer the more traditional styles of music.

The first group we went to see was Myserk, which draws inspiration from Brittany as well as Ireland. With the somewhat unusual instrumentation of two wooden flutes and guitar, they played a very mellow set with interesting music, which we found very enjoyable. Like a lot of the groups, they had dancers join for some numbers, in this case from a school in St. Paul. I particularly appreciated the dancer’s traditional steps, relatively simple but becoming costumes, and natural hair, which was a nice reversion from the typical overdone dresses and “Irish Dance Hair” many schools use.

Next, we chose Athas, at the relocated Celtic Roots stage. Athas gave us a very nice program of old and new pieces. We picked up some snacks from “The Gaelic Baker,” which were excellent.
At 2:30, we went to take in Blackthorn Folly at the Milwaukee Pub Garden. Appropriately enough, they are a “pub band,” and played a set full of boisterous and amusing pieces, such as “Johnny Jump Up,” which Georgie hadn’t heard before and found particularly fun.

Next, we went to the Tipperary stage to hear Full Set, a band from Ireland making their first appearance at Irish Fest, and I’m sure I am not alone in hoping it will not be their last. With six players (bohdran, fiddle, uleiann pipes, concertina, flute, and guitar), their arrangements have the depth and intricacy that I associate with the great Chieftains, and which I particularly enjoy. We bought one of their CDs.

Lunasa at the Miller Lite Stage was next, and very popular. This is one of the largest performance areas, and we found all the regular seats filled buy the time we got there. Fortunately, there was plenty of seating at the adjacent picnic tables, and we could hear the performance perfectly well, although not see much--.

Shopping was good—there was lots to look at, and Georgie found a nice skirt. We took a break from our usual bridie and sausage roll dinner upon observing (and smelling) that American European Foods had real spit-roasted spanferkel, which we hadn’t had in years. I got a dinner, and Georgie ordered the roasted lamb sandwich. Both were delicious and really hit the spot.
Our last major set of the day was Cherish the Ladies at the Aer Lingus stage. Cherish the Ladies always puts on a splendid show, and this was no exception. It was unfortunate that there was a bit of fuzz in the sound system for this set, but that didn’t keep us from enjoying it, although the experience could have been better.

After that, we wended our way out, sampling enough of the Billy Mitchell Pipes and Drums to be satisfied, and picking up an obligatory box of “Mother Machree’s Irish Strudel” to take home.
This was one of the best Irish Fests musically that we can recall.

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7:55 pm
Fairs and Festivals
On Saturday, August 8th, we went to the Bristol Renaissance Faire. This was an unusual outing for us, since it was Time Traveler’s/Steampunk Invasion weekend, and we decided to go in summer Steampunk attire, rather than the Ren Faire garb we usually wear when attending. There were quite a few other people in Steampunk outfits, including several other members of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society, but we were still in a minority compared to the hordes of attendees in mundane clothes.

The cloudy, relatively cool day made it an ideal day to be at the Faire, and rain the night before had quelled the dust. Turnout was very heavy: when we left about three PM, all nearby parking was full, and there was an unbroken stream of cars still heading into the outer parking areas.

We had a very good time, consisting mostly of a leisurely stroll around the grounds, chatting with acquaintances, shopping, and snacking. Oh, and having our pictures taken. I can’t recall any occasion at which we had so many strangers ask us for pictures. Partly, this may have been due to the understatedness of our outfits, which some of the people said were “elegant”.

Between events like this and Lytheria Halloween, I can’t count the number of perfect strangers that have pictures of us in their collections. I sometimes picture future generations looking at the family photo album—“Who’s that, Grandpa?” “Oh, just some people we met. Great outfits, though!”

On Sunday the 9th, we doubled down, and went to the Wisconsin State Fair. We tended to follow our usual routine there as well, although we did see some things we had never seen before, notably the pig judging. We happened through the pig barn as a couple of classes of spotted sows were being judged, which we were surprised to discover does not just consist of weighing and conformation. The pigs must also be shown, which means walked around the exhibition space. This is done by guiding the animal with a “show stick,” a light rod about three feet long. One guides the pig by tapping the side of its face on the side you want it to turn away from. It’s quite interesting to see a sow being driven in this manner by a boy or girl obviously less massive than the pig, especially when it gets off course.

In the horse barn, we encountered miniature donkeys (about the size of a large dog), something we hadn't known existed, although evidently, unlike miniature horses, the small donkeys are part of the natural size range of the animal, and are still used as beasts of burden in some places.

We got our usual lunch at the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s stand, which I think has some of the best hamburgers on earth. I’m sure they use prime beef, but there’s just something about them other than that.

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Monday, August 3rd, 2015
8:47 pm
American Players Theatre, “Merry Wives of Windsor”
Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of my favorite plays, and this year’s production took full advantage of the many opportunities for over-the-top foolery.

The production was updated to Edwardian times, which worked well, and gave the designers some interesting options with costume and set, although I do not think the inhabitants of Windsor (then or now) would be flattered at being compared to American television’s “Mayberry”, as in the director’s notes. An interesting dimension was added by musical numbers which sounded like period music-hall songs.

Brian Mani plays Sir John Falstaff as a decorated veteran of colonial campaigns, wearing a Boer-War era khaki uniform, and accompanied by his raggle-taggle bad men Bardolph (Wigasi Brant), Nym (Chike Johnson), and Pistol (Jeb Burris). (The men’s broad-brimmed hats, Colt pistols, and Bowie knives give kind of an American West vibe, like Rough Riders gone to the bad--.) Mani’s beard and makeup resemble the late Orson Welles in his age, had he played Falstaff as an old man, and Mani’s characterization, sometimes pompous, sometimes threatening, and sometimes pathetic, was always spot on.

Falstaff, ever self-deluding about his charms, casts eyes both lecherous and covetous on two wives of wealthy commoners, Alice Ford (Deborah Staples) and Margaret Page (Colleen Madden) whose wiles are more than up to the task of making a fool of Falstaff, while initially hiding the goings-on from their respective husbands.

James Ridge, as the easy-going Page, has little to do but be amiable, except when plotting against his wife to marry their daughter to the man of his choice (Robert R. Doyle, the diffident Slender). On the other hand, David Daniel, as Ford, has a major bit of scene-chewing to do as the husband “possessed of a fine devil of jealously,” and takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Although Falstaff is the star, Daniel’s Ford dominates the scenes he is in, whether laughing, crying, and grimacing in his solo rants as “Master Brook,” or in destroying his own house hunting for Falstaff. I have often heard the somewhat vulgar phrase “going apeshit,” but never seen it done on stage until now. When Ford, having emptied the buck-basket fruitlessly searching for Falstaff, sits in it, rocks, and literally screams with rage and frustration, it was truly primal. The audience roared its appreciation.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I give full marks to Tim Gittings for his Welsh accent and delivery as Sir Hugh, the parson, even though American audiences don’t find Welshmen as easily funny as comic Frenchmen like Dr. Caius (Jonathan Smoots). Sarah Day was a lively and youthful Mistress Quickly, and gave a very good rendition of a song as well. Eric Parks, playing the aptly named Peter Simple, gave a charming dimension to the character by hugging everyone he meets, no matter whom. I was so very glad that the Theatre took a stab at actually presenting Hugh and Caius’ revenge prank on the Host of the Garter (Chris Klopatek), which is often cut, although the duel scene that sets it up is always left in--.

The climax in Windsor Forest was very nicely done, with period-appropriate disguises, effective lights, and a major musical number when the ‘fairies’ discover Falstaff.

This was a thoroughly delightful evening at the theatre, and has our highest recommendation.

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8:45 pm
American Players Theatre, “Pride and Prejudice”
Saturday, August 1st, we went to American Players Theatre for a “double-header.”
We were very interested to see American Players take on the Joseph Hanreddy-J.R. Sullivan adaptation of the Jane Austen novel, which we had also seen done by the Milwaukee Rep. APT made the play their own, and did a marvelous job with it.

The set was very spare, with only some chairs and one desk/piano serving to delineate all the locations, with some of the action spreading off into the gardens at the sides of the stage. Costuming was referential rather than strictly accurate, but generally attractive and supported the story more than detracting. (I do, however, seriously envy Darcy’s long blue riding coat--.)

Kelsey Brennan, as Elizabeth Bennet, alternatively crashed against and withdrew from Mr. Darcy (Marcus Truschinski) like the surf battering a promontory. Tall, handsome, and as rigid in his carriage as in his principles, Truschinski was the perfect Darcy, his face a frowning cliff that was a marvelous setting against which Elizabeth’s emotional rises and falls play out. (I had to wonder if Mr. Truschinski needs to have his face massaged after the play, since he has to frown through two hours and fifty-nine minutes of a three-hour show--.)

Of course, Sarah Day was the only choice for Mrs. Bennett, and played the shallow and foolish matron with such unaffected energy that she remains loveable, and it is understood why her daughters and husband stick by her. James Ridge as the long-suffering Mr. Bennett showed us his sardonic humor with more of an edge than some we have seen, which contrasts nicely with Day’s Mrs.

Standout performances among the supporting cast included Chris Klopatek (reviewed herein as Bertie Wooster at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre) as unctuous Mr. Collins, Melisia Pereya as a wonderfully bratty Lydia Bennett, and Tracy Michelle Arnold, who gave her Lady Catherine de Bourgh a nice physical edginess. The other Bennett girls were well represented, with Laura Rook quite fine as the saintly Jane, Aidaa Peerzada pouting well as Kitty, and Elyse Edelman getting off a number of good humorous interjections as the bookish Mary.
It really was a delightful show, and made even the fact that we ended up in the one section that had full sun all afternoon bearable.

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8:39 pm
Mad Max: Fury Road
Having missed it in first run, we caught up with “Mad Max: Fury Road” at the budget cinemas on Friday evening, July 24th. I hadn’t been particularly interested by it initially, but the reviews captured even the interest of Georgie (who is not a fan of violence for violence’s sake), so we went, and were glad we had.

The film is set in a post-nuclear wasteland (not as obviously Australia as in the prior “Mad Max” films). Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a small “hydraulic empire” (water monopoly) enforced by his testosterone-sodden cult of “War Boys” , who believe that Joe will open the gates of Valhalla to them when their “half-life” ends (preferably in a splash of ultra-violence).

Max (Tom Hardy), who is the protagonist only in the classical sense of being the first character on stage, is captured by the War Boys, and both his car and his blood co-opted for the Citadel, Joe’s stronghold.

By chance, Max gets dragged along as part of the escort for Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron) mission to fetch fuel from Gas Town. (Evidently, “Imperator” is a rank title, which seems odd for a subordinate, until you consider that Imortan Joe is a “god”, more or less. It’s also unusual that Furiosa is one of Joe’s chief henchbeings, since no other women that we see are anything but property in the Citadel, but apparently she’s that tough--.) When it appears that Furiosa has her own agenda, events allow Max to get free and start taking a hand, although he still ends up going along with Furiosa’s plan.

Since I expect that, by this time, anyone who cares has probably seen the movie, I won’t go deeper into plot details.

Considered on its artistic merits, the film is grotesquely beautiful. It is a long symphony of motorized conflict, with every move carefully choreographed. The fact that the War Rigs are all real, and the battles done mostly without CGI really does somehow add something—an extra bit of realism to the surreal. And each move and tactic seems to have meaning in the conflict, without being just gratuitous. The kludged-together designs of the scavenged vehicles are crazily marvelous. The varieties of barren landscape have austere beauty, also.

The action is largely non-stop: the first half of the film has little more intelligible dialog than the “Minions” movie--; but there are breaks to let off pressure, which makes the movie easier to endure.

I appreciated hark-backs to the earlier series, mainly found in the credits, where the character names (“Rictus Erectus”, “Toast the Knowing,” “The Doof Warrior”) sound like members of the back-up band for GWAR or the cast of a Moebius comic. However, the thing I missed was the eccentric characters such as “The Gyro Captain” from Mad Max: The Road Warrior, or the nigh-unstoppable “Ironbar” from Beyond Thunderdome. Characters such as these must have been important to writer/director George Miller at some time, but now all humor, all whimsy has been ground under the hungry wheels of action, action, action.

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Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
8:51 pm
"Minions"
On Friday evening, July 10th, we went to see “Minions,”the new animated movie by Universal Pictures, which gives a featured place to the small yellow beings that work for Gru in the “Despicable Me” movies.

I had always assumed that the Minions were creations of Doctor Nefario, Gru’s staff mad scientist, but the Minions movie tells us that they evolved from a primitive life form that hit on a form of symbiosis no unlike that practiced by pilot fish or “crocodile birds”: that of following, and attempting to assist an apex predator. This developed, evidently, into a deep psychological need, so that, by Jurassic times, the Minions were attempting to follow and worship tyrannosaurs,despite themselves having developed human-ish levels of intelligence. (This evolutionary history begs the question as to whether or not Minions are mammalian. Some of the scenes in the movie make it questionable if they are even vertebrates--.) It’s also questionable whether or not “symbiosis” is the proper word for a relationship that so often destroys the organism they are attached to, although it’s also a novel form of parasitism--. By the time humans have taken over the world, the Minions tropism for the most predatory behavior draws them to the most villainous, or "evil" humans.

Having ticked off Napoleon, the Minion tribe is chased into the polar wastes and languishes in exile until the 1960’s, when the visionary Kevin, accompanied by Stuart and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), sets out on a quest for a new life. After a sequence of adventures, they arrive in Orlando,Florida, for “Villain-Con,” and succeed in obtaining the coveted post of hench-beings to the super-villain “Scarlet Overkill” (Sandra Bullock), who covets the crown and throne of Great Britain.
“Mrs. Overkill” as the British refer to her, is a great creation, a James Bond villain that never was. (Her appearance is heralded with Bond-like trumpet riffs--.) She’s gloriously vain, amazingly flamboyant, and highly deadly.  Her loving husband(really!) is mod mad scientist Herb (Jon Hamm), who resembles a caricature of Noel Harrison from “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.”. When she sends the Minions out to fetch her Queen Elizabeth’s crown, the caper goes amazingly off the rails in ways disconcerting to both the villains and the British Empire.
Since the Minions speak chiefly gibberish with a few recognizable words for comic effect, both the makers and reviewers of the movie have tended to compare it with silent film comedy, which isn’t quite the case.

Instead,the movie is a lot more like one of the Three Stooges more elaborate plots:everyone assumes the minions/stooges are idiots; they both succeed and screw up beyond all expectations; and havoc ensues.

The movie is purely silly, which is fine if you go expecting that. Although quite kid-friendly, there’s lots in it for older folks as well,not least the 60’s rock soundtrack, but a lot of in-jokes as well. (When the Minions, fleeing through the sewers, surface at an exit labeled “Abbey Road” we know whom they are going to encounter when they surface--.)

Animation and character design are consistent with the “Despicable Me” films, with settings and backgrounds more elaborate since the plot takes place in real world locations (New York, London) as distinct from the more purely cartoon world of the earlier movies. There are also some very nice cameos by Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as leaders of an American “crime family,” and Jennifer Saunders as a feisty Queen of England.

Recommended if you can enjoy a bout of over the top slapstick with some charming characters.

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7:49 pm
Milwaukee Art Museum, “Modern Rebels”
On Friday, June 3rd, we went to the Milwaukee ArtMuseum to see the exhibit “Van Gogh to Pollock: Modern Rebels” on loan from theAlbright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. This was a real trip downmemory lane for Georgie, since the Albright-Knox was her home-town art museum,and she had seen most of these pieces many times over thirty years ago, so shewas very interested in how she would experience them now. The Albright-Knox isvery well known for its extensive collection of modern pieces, which has been acentral part of its mission since its founding.
The exhibition began with some works from the cusp of theTwentieth Century: Van Gogh’s “The Old Mill,” a favorite of Georgie’s; aToulouse-Lautrec, and “Spirit of the Dead Watching,” by Paul Gauguin. This lastdepicts a Tahitian girl lying on a couch, her eyes open. Behind her is a hoodedfigure, apparently the spirit, watching over her, but for what purpose? Georgiefound, and continues to find this painting quite eerie, not so much for thespirit itself, but for the half suggested animalistic shapes lurking in thedark background.The early moderns are represented by a pre-Cubist Picasso,“Le Toilette,” and others such as “Le Musique,” by Henri Matisse. Viewing thispainting, I could understand the harsh criticism the moderns received—to myeye, “Le Musique” just appears childishly crude: not so much as to be stylized,and not nearly polished.
Among the next up were some that Georgie remembered well:“Carnival of a Harlequin,” by Joan Miro, “Self Portrait with Monkey,” by FridaKahlo, and “The Anguish of Departure,” by Giorgio de Chirico. “Carnival of aHarlequin” is one of Miro’s antic pieces, depicting a room full of queerdecorative objects and furnishings, animated by imps or beings that are much ofa piece with the decoration of the objects.“Self Portrait with Monkey” is middling on the scale ofKahlo’s self-portraits, somewhat distorted as to proportion, but not grotesque.Georgie was fascinated by a green highlight on one strand of Kahlo’s braidsthat she had never noticed before, and could not tell if this was because thegreen had become more prominent as the portrait aged, or just that the lightingwas different at Milwaukee that made it more noticeable.“The Anguish of Departure” is one of de Chirico’s trademarkbleak architectural paintings, which tend toward depiction of brutalistbuildings with no people present. In “The Anguish of Departure,” the foregroundof a barren landscape is occupied by a single boxcar and the corner of a largebuilding. In the center background, an enormous smokestack towers overeverything. Two small black figures might be people. To Georgie, this paintingrepresented utter loneliness, and I could certainly agree with that.
In the same section was the only Georgia O’Keefe painting Ihave ever seen that does not feature either a skull or a flower. “Green PatioDoor” is merely three rectangular blocks of color, showing an early influenceby the Color Field painters.One thing that annoys me about some modern artists is thetendency to call works “Untitled #1” or some such. My feeling is, if it doesn’tsuggest something to the artist, why should it have any meaning to me? Theanswer, of course, is that the artwork is what it is, and doesn’t have to haveany greater meaning.

Still, I like a painting with a good title, and SalvadorDali is the master of titling. His “The Transparent Simulacrum of the FeignedImage,” is far and away the best title in the show, followed by ArshileGorky’s “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb.” A good title can be a great help. The1955 painting by Willem de Kooning in the exhibit is just a collection ofwhite, gray, red and yellow daubs, until you see the title is “Gotham News.”Then, it becomes evocative of the chaos and violence of urban life.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is “Convergence, 1952,” by JacksonPollack. The more I contemplated this huge painting, the more I appreciatedit.  It seems to me that a great deal ofthe artistry here is in the layering of the paints, in which goes over which,and the occasional blendings that occur. The background is the raw canvas,overlain with an intricate latticework of black, with yellow over that, nextred, and finally jagged bolts of white. The overall effect is surprisinglypleasing.
I can’t say as much about some of the Color Field painters (MarkRothko, among others), whose works, although showing great, and sometimesobsessive, amounts of work, might as well be wallpaper, and, if used as such,would hardly be remarked on. Some, however do grow on you. Georgie found thatshe appreciated Clyfford Still’s “1954” (which more than anything resemblesblack wallpaper partially peeled off a plaster wall) now than she had yearsago, finding suggestions of stalactites and stalagmites in the jagged pattern.
It was interesting to take a close up view of “Head—Red andYellow,” by Roy Lichtenstein, he of the blown-up comic strip panels. I hadalways assumed that the artist used some kind of screen to create the patternof fine dots that simulate the four-color press process, but a close view showsthat the dots are not all alike, indicating that, although they were almostcertainly laid out using a grid of some kind, the actual dots were individuallypainted.

The most modern works in the exhibition used non-traditionalmediums, such as neon lighting, and blurred the lines between sculpture andpainting, such as the three dimensional welded steel construction by LeeBontecou that hangs in a picture frame on the wall. This piece seemed almostscience-fictional, evocative of rocket nozzles from a Gothic spaceship.
This was a very interesting exhibit, and includes many fascinating and thought-provoking works of modern art. It is well worth seeing. It continues through September 20th.  For those who can’t visit, many of thementioned works and others can be seen on the Albright-Knox gallery’s website: http://www.albrightknox.org/  

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Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
6:45 pm
Inside Out
On Wednesday evening, July 1, we went to our local Marcus Cinema to see the new Pixar/Disney movie, “Inside Out,” which personifies a young girl’s major emotions, chosen as Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust (Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling, respectively). The story deals with the emotional upheavals attendant upon the sudden transplantation of a young girl, Riley (Catlin Dias) from Minnesota to San Francisco, and the conflicts in her mind/brain complex that result. The film ends up being a sweet, slightly sad story (though with a happy ending) that has some moments of real tension.

Joy is a charming sprite who is the most intelligent and flexible of the emotions, and the de facto leader. Her mission is to ensure that Riley leads a happy life and to keep her existing mental structure (visualized literally as an internal landscape) functioning smoothly. That all of Riley’s “personality islands”, Family, Friends, Honesty, Hockey (her sport), and “Goofball” (her sense of fun), are positive, shows that Joy has been relatively successful so far, or anyway that Riley has had a very good life.

The unanticipated participation of Sadness into Riley’s new situation throws Joy for a loop, and a substantial monkey wrench into the functioning of Riley’s mind. This tends to be taken rather more seriously than intended by adult critics, who see memory loss, personality disintegration, and emotional flatness as indicative of serious mental illness, rather than the transitory loss of balance the movie shows us. However, the metabrain we see in the film is a virtual mindscape optimized for storytelling, and not intended to represent reality.

Pixar continues to delight and amaze with its animations. The visualization of “Inside” is quite creative and interesting, but the most fascinating constructs are the emotions themselves, which get more detailed the more closely you see them. It takes a good close up to see that Joy and the others don’t have smooth “skin” or even a textured integument, but that their borders are a zone of fine pixelations, almost as though suggesting the emotions were fractal in nature—as, indeed perhaps they are.

It also took me a while, and some of the darker scenes, to realize that Joy, is—well—radiant. The subtlety of this effect, and the modelling of her light on the environment around her is a triumph of the new art of animation, and one of the few things I think I have seen that absolutely could not have been done by more conventional means.

“Outside,” the Pixar artists have done an excellent job of balancing cartoonishness and the “uncanny valley,” so that it’s easy to emphasize with and accept the human characters. Ms. Dias as Riley does a good job characterizing a troubled pre-teen, and Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan do good jobs as Riley’s loving parents who are also distracted by the big move.

The film is not without its flaws, but they are minor. At points we see inside other people’s heads, where all five emotions are represented as the same sex as the outward person, as opposed to Riley, where Fear and Anger present as male. Perhaps this is something that changes during “Puberty”—which has had a big red alarm signal installed during the latest upgrade?

Highly recommended for fans of animation mature enough to understand the somewhat complex and esoteric storyline.

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6:38 pm
“Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” Paine Art Museum, Oshkosh
On Sunday, June 28th, we drove to the Paine Art Museum in Oshkosh, to see the travelling exhibit, “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times.” (We weren’t able to join the Milwaukee Steampunk Society for the outing on Saturday, so went on our own--.)

This is the exhibit’s second stop in America, having just come from its opening at Biltmore, the palatial home of the famous Commodore Vanderbilt. Curated in conjunction with the show’s production company, it is apparently being shown only in museums such as Biltmore and the Paine, which once were fine homes and provide appropriate settings for the costumes.

In this regard, the Paine Museum is a spectacular success. Construction of the house began in 1925, but it was deliberately designed by the architect to appear to have been constructed and (tastefully) added on to over three centuries of English building styles. As such, the home suits the costumes marvelously, and many are shown in the correct setting: dinner dress in the dining room, travelling clothes in the foyer, formal gowns in the ballroom, and outdoor clothing, such as Lady Mary’s riding habit, Matthew Crawley’s military uniform, and Lady Edith’s bicycling outfit (complete with bicycle) are shown in the specious purpose-built gallery.

The house and its permanent collection of artworks are worth the trip alone, but it was hard to pull ourselves away from the costumes. They are all shown in the open. Most you can get very close to, and many of those that you can’t see the back of have strategically placed mirrors allowing you to see back details. The exhibition includes large color photographs of the costumes as worn, and text identifying the episodes in which they appeared.

The museum gift shop has been totally given over to “Downton Abbey” related merchandise, from tea and wine to jewelry and teddy bears. (There’s no “Carson” bear—yet!) We resisted most of the temptations, but did buy an exhibit catalog, which is very nice.

Of course we dressed Neo-Edwardian, which got us a number of approving comments from visitors and staff. The staff mentioned also that they had very much appreciated the Milwaukee Steampunk Society visit the previous day.

The exhibition remains in Oshkosh through September 20th. The exhibition will be returning to the Midwest later: The Richard H. Dreihaus Museum, Chicago, February-May 2016; The Taft Museum of Art, Cleveland, July-September 2016; and The History Museum, South Bend, Indiana, October 2016-January 2017.

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6:36 pm
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.
On Saturday evening, June 27th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see the Swedish film, entitled “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.”

The long title is not the only quirky thing about this entertaining movie. It could be considered a combination of “Forrest Gump,” “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” and “Uncommon Valor” (the movie where I first encountered variations on ”There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved through a suitable application of high explosives.”).

The “Forrest Gump” part of the plot is shown as flashbacks, memories sparked by Allan Karlsson’s (Robert Gustafsson) hundredth birthday. He has lead an adventurous, and sometimes dangerous life, having met Francisco Franco, Robert Oppenheimer, Joseph Stalin, and Ronald Reagan.

Escaping from the dull nursing home he has been placed in, Allan ends up in possession of a suitcase stuffed with money, the property of a crime lord (Alan Ford), which starts the present-day plot, a comedy of errors as the criminals attempt to find and reclaim the loot.

And, as for “Uncommon Valor,” well, it seems that Allan has a particular fetish for blowing things up, which landed him in a mental hospital as a child, made him a valuable member of the Spanish Communist armed forces, and results in his being put in the nursing home in his old age.

That the plot, quite plausibly, eventually includes a stolen circus elephant, just adds to the fun.

Highly recommended for fans of foreign cinema, independent cinema, and the just plain odd.

English voiceover, Swedish dialog, subtitles.

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Thursday, June 18th, 2015
1:34 pm
WisCon 2015
Friday morning, May 22nd, we drove over to Madison for the 39th WisCon. It was a good drive over and we got checked in to the hotel and the Con with no difficulties. Since I had a panel at 2:30PM, we went out a bit before noon and got lunch at Mediterranean Café, which left us time for a check through The Gathering before my panel.

The first panel was "The Purpose of Human Beings in an Extensively Automated World," which asked the question, what do people do when cars take over the driving, etc.? Alex Gurevich did a good job moderating the panel, which included Amelia Dudley, Daniel Grotta, and Elijah Itah, in addition to myself. After discussion of the potentials of automation and the possibility of actual machine intelligence evolving, we tended to agree that machine intelligence could not totally replace human intelligence in areas of subjective judgement, and so there would continue to be a function for us as guides and mentors for our machine descendants. I took the position that we probably could not go to the stars, but our machines might, and they could carry the great works of our culture along with them, if we taught them that they were important.

Afterward, we went to the "Men's Issues (Really)" panel, which didn't get to most of the questions posed in the program description, such as "What issues can intersectional feminists find solidarity in with cis het white men?" Nevertheless it was an entertaining panel, lead by Benjamin Rosenbaum, with Jim Lutz, Jack Ralls, and Ian K. Hagemann, exploring questions of what it means to be a man these days, and how one can be an "ally" without necessarily being a complete lackey.

We killed time over the dinner break chatting with friends and acquaintances. Since we had had a substantial lunch, we really didn't need a formal dinner. I had seen the Con Suite "menu" and knew that the featured item that evening was to be "Ian's Pizza," which I had never had and was curious about, so we went upstairs and got in line for the suite to open. Once the first shipment of pizzas was actually delivered, we were allowed in. I selected a piece of the cheese pizza, which I deem most likely to give a fair reading on the basics-cheese, crust, and sauce. I'm sorry to say I found Ian's Pizza disappointing, and not nearly up to the "hype." In particular, the sauce was sweet, bland, and stingily applied, a vice unfortunately common among commercial pizzas. Cheese and crust were good enough, but nothing special, and no better than any of a dozen other pizza makers I could name.

We went to the Opening Ceremonies, which included a game-show style "trivia contest" that was quite entertaining.

After that, we went to the panel "Overlapping Magisteria." I found this panel interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. The discussion involved the issue of whether or not science and religion can be reconciled. All the panelists variously took positions that they could, requiring varying degrees of intellectual elasticity. I was disappointed that there happened to be no contrarian voice on the panel, but I expect it happened that no one of that temper volunteered. Unfortunately, we didn't get to the Saturday evening panel "Science-Compatible Religions in Fiction: A Exploration of Spiritual Traditions Supportive of Intellectual Growth" which might have hit some similar territory from a different angle.

Parties that evening were the Helsinki WorldCon bid party, Sisters of the Revolution book launch, Archivist Wasp book launch, and the Carl Brandon Society party. We visited each one, and bought a copy of Archivist Wasp, but didn't end up staying long at any party and turned in fairly early.

Saturday started early, with Georgie having a panel "Old Heroes-Are They Really Possible," moderated by Kenzie Woodbridge, and Sigrid Ellis and Nonie Rider joining as panelists. Works discussed included Remnant Population, the "Witches" novels by Terry Pratchett, and others. It was a lively discussion and well received by the audience.

I was very interested in the panel "Fixing Policing," due to my past experience, so we went to that one next. Some interesting ideas were proposed, but very little that seemed practical or likely to be greeted with enthusiasm by the law enforcement community.

Saturday lunch break we spent as usual at the Tiptree Bake Sale, and had some particularly good treats this year. The Bake Sale is always a good spot to meet and greet people and we had some very interesting conversations while we were there.

After lunch, Georgie had the panel on "Little Known Goddesses," which had a very good, multicultural set of panelists. Nisi Shawl spoke about the Ifa faith, also known as Orisha, mentioning goddesses such as Oya, goddess of the whirlwind; Yemaya, mother of fishes; and Oshun, who "owns" erotic love, money, culture, and "the finer things in life." @SoosheBot, talked about South Asian goddesses, and Lauren Jankowski and Na'amen Gobert Tilahun contributed favorites. Georgie, as moderator, chimed in with brief tidbits about Cardea, the goddess of the door hinge; Chao San Niang, the goddess of wig salesmen; and, handy to know even if he is a god, Arazu the Babylonian god of construction that was completed! This was a very enjoyable panel and the audience seemed to have fun with it.

In the 2:30 time slot, we went to "Literacy or Appropriation?" which struck a pretty good balance on the central issue, how can writers of one culture fairly write inclusively, without being accused of tokenism on the one hand, or "cultural appropriation" on the other? K. Tempest Bradford moderated, and @SoosheBot, Sally Weiner Grotta, Andrea Hairston, and Mikki Kendall contributed. I was a bit concerned by the announcement that questions or comments from the audience would only be taken via Twitter! The reason given was that these discussions can get rather "fraught" (which is certainly true, but didn't actually happen in this case--), but doesn't take into account a) not everyone present may have a mobile device; b) those that do may not have a Twitter account; or, as happened, c) connectivity in the ballroom may not be very good. In the end, questions were taken live with perfect decorum. I comment on this because there appears to be a growing trend at WisCon to treat panelists as "presenters" and the audience members as passive receivers, which I consider a grave mistake. (WisCon being WisCon, there's usually at least one person in the audience who knows as much if not more about the subject under discussion than the panelists do--.)

We took the next segment to visit the Dealer's Room and the Art Show, which were both well worth visiting. For dinner, we went out to the renascent Kabul Restaurant, now relocated across the street and upstairs from its old location. They were busy, and there seemed to be a long wait between ordering our entrees and having them come, but when they did, everything was very good, and dishes that had been brought along from the old menu, such as khofta chalow, were as good as ever.

Back at the hotel, we checked out the parties, viewing the DC WorldCon bid materials with some interest, but still calling it a fairly early night.

Sunday morning started off with Georgie on the "Silenced Women Characters" panel, which went well. The reference to the missing Entwives in "The Lord of the Rings" sparked some humorous and creative speculation. Georgie spoke up for the mothers in Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," making a good case that in no way could they have been as clueless as the boys were allowed to think.

At 1:00PM, we went to Kim Stanley Robinson's Guest of Honor reading, which was quite unusual and fascinating. Robinson read a script dramatizing a portion of his forthcoming novel, Aurora, accompanied by an intricate soundscape created as part of an abortive collaboration between Robinson and performance artist Marina Abramovic. The project eventually foundered on the rock of "creative differences" between the two (Robinson insisted upon a certain amount of narrative, whereas Ms. Abramovic's works, such as the recent 512 Hours, have tended towards lack of structure), however, we are fortunate to have this artifact of the collaboration remaining.

The next panel we went to was "My Favorite Book When I Was Twelve," which was good because the panel members were a variety of ages, and therefore mentioned a broad spectrum of books and authors, some of which were "down memory lane" for us, and some new and still worth looking up.

At 4:00PM, the panel "WisCon Last Summer" went on in Capitol A, and played to a packed house. Former concom members Jeanne Gomoll and Debbie Notkin, and current members Mikki Kendall and Jackie Mierzwa, moderated by "neutral party" Chesya Burke, gave a very frank and honest history of the concom difficulties and divisions of the past year. Panelists also responded very openly and reasonably to audience concerns, including mine regarding the unceremonious dismissal of Richard Russell. The session ran long, and I had to duck out to meet Georgie before it was quite over, but it seemed a lot of air was cleared.

For dinner, we braved the drizzle for burgers at Five Guys, which were very good as usual. Perhaps it was the combination of Sunday night and the persistent rain, but we were the only people in there for most of our meal, which was unusual.

We attended the Guest of Honor speeches, which included a short and charming thank-you from Tiptree Award winner Monica Byrne, a song and strong speech against sexism and racism by Alya Dawn Johnson, and a fascinatingly political talk by Kim Stanley Robinson ("Deoligarchization" was the word of the evening--.)

After the speeches, we again cruised the parties, us among others being surprised that the Con Suite stayed dark and closed after the speeches. However, we ended up at a reprise of the "Tales of the Unanticipated" party, which was an old-style sit on the beds and SMOF party, which we enjoyed a lot.

The one big event we took part in Monday was the panel, "Mars," at 10AM, which I was moderating. Due probably to the presence of Kim Stanley Robinson, the panel played to a packed house, with lots of good input from panel members Emma Humphries, Jackie Mierzwa, and Ian Hagemann as well. We discussed the "romantic Mars" of the literary past, and the "scientific Mars" of the current times. Robinson, (or "Stan" as he prefers to be addressed), ruefully admitted that, like many other works of science fiction, his "Mars" trilogy had been overtaken by science: the apparent pervasive presence of perchlorates in the Martian soil as reported by the Mars rovers means that the environment is toxic and the terraforming plan projected in the trilogy could not have worked. He counseled setting aside the dream of Mars as a new frontier and concentrating on working where we could, instead. The panel was very well received by an attentive audience, and Mr. Robinson complimented me on the running of it after it was over.

Then, we headed home. Overall, it was a very good con, though a bit lower-keyed than some.

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Monday, June 15th, 2015
7:23 pm
Racine Art Museum, “A Whole Other World”
On Sunday, June 14th, we drove to Racine to visit the Racine Art Museum. The drive itself was not without its adventuresome aspects, as not only is the main freeway exit to downtown Racine, Highway 20, closed, the rain in the area wasn’t as gone as we had hoped, and there was some rather tense driving between Franksville and Racine on the detour route as there was a fortunately fairly brief downpour.

We managed to find the Museum without difficulty, and also found free parking (on Sunday) in a ramp one block east. I don’t know if it was the daunting rain, or if it was Sunday, or both, but downtown Racine was very quiet, and we were two of a dozen or so people that visited the Museum while we were there. Admission was a very reasonable three dollars each, and the lady at the counter was very helpful and friendly, stashing our dripping umbrellas out of the way for us.

The Museum currently has two major exhibits. On the first floor is “Contemporary Art Jewelry at RAM,” which was fascinating and worth the price of admission itself. The exhibit was made up of recent additions to the Museum’s permanent Jewelry collection, and included some really unusual and interesting items. Also part of that exhibit (although stretching the definition of jewelry) was a piece entitled “Byobu,” by Mariko Kusimoto, which was a toy theatre made out of metal, decals, and magnets, which allowed one to assemble scenes and characters paper-doll fashion.

The second floor hosts “A Whole Other World: Sub-Culture Craft: Artists Inspired by Doctor Who, Star Wars, Steampunk, and Superheroes,” which we had specifically come to see. This was, as one might expect, a very eclectic exhibit. We were met by three fantasy dresses by Timothy Westbrook, which were also featured in oil paintings by Gary Leonard, an unusual juxtaposition. Other fashion items included dresses by Silversark, and clockwork jewelry by Creek Van Houten (Compass Rose Jewelry). There was a display of “jetpacks” by Magnus Effing, Charles Tritt, and others of the “Airship Fortuna” crew. Centerpiece of the Doctor Who portion of the exhibit was an enormous quilt, depicting the The Tenth Doctor, 96 by 68 inches (eight feet by five feet eight inches) done in white and sepia tone squares each roughly the size of a large stamp. Star Wars was represented by a thirty-foot long “Coruscant Tapestry” (by Aled Lewis) and a croggling four-foot long “Millennium Falcon” (by Thomas E. Richner) composed mostly of cardboard. Cheong-Ah Hwang provided intricate cut-paper bas-reliefs of superheroes which were an elegant contrast to humorous hand-knitted “supersuits” by Mark Newport. (I thought the familiar red and blue “Sweaterman” cleverest.)

This exhibition continues through September 6th. Reviewing the Museum’s website, I’m annoyed to discover that there is the additional exhibit, “Sci-Fi, Superheroes, and Steampunk: RAM Community Art Exhibition”, which is at an entirely separate location, the Wustum Museum. Particularly annoying since the route we took in and out of town drove us right past the Wustum, on Northwestern Avenue. Foo! I must read websites more closely in future. However, the Wustum is closed Sundays, so we couldn’t have seen it anyway--. Which is annoying in a different fashion--. The main exhibits are worth going to just for themselves, but I would plan to go on a day when I could see both museums.

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7:20 pm
Milwaukee Public Museum, Sy Montgomery, “The Soul of an Octopus”
On Friday evening, June 12th, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum for the first of a new series of lectures, to be called “Science on Tap.” This inaugural program featured author Sy Mongomery, who would be speaking about her experiences working with Giant Pacific Octopuses that formed the basis of her new book, The Soul of an Octopus.

Given her lengthy career and past books such as Spell of the Tiger, about the tigers of Chunderbund, Bangladesh, and Journey of the Pink Dolphins, about the dolphins of the Amazon, I was expecting a rather more weather-beaten figure, someone like Jane Goodall, perhaps, but was surprised by her slim and elegant figure. She also doesn’t “lecture” in the conventional sense. Her style is very intimate and confiding, as though we were all gathered in someone’s living room, rather than a lecture hall with huge close-ups of octopuses projected on screen. This manner very well suits her fascinating and very personal narrative of interacting with the octopuses she has met, giving us no room to doubt that they were each individuals, and very intelligent, though wonderfully alien ones at that.

The octopus is stranger than I had imagined. A fifty-pound octopus can squeeze through a hole the diameter of an orange, if not smaller. Each of its hundreds of suckers can lift thirty pounds. The octopus brain can have seventy lobes, and some of its tentacles may be capable of not only independent action, but of having independent “personality” (as though your left hand were shy, but your right hand was outgoing--). The octopus tastes with all of its skin, but apparently does not hear. The eye of the octopus does not see color, but the octopus not only changes color depending on its emotions, it can change color and pattern to camouflage itself, matching its backgrounds. It is hard to imagine a creature more totally unhuman, yet octopuses are capable of recognizing and bonding with individual human beings.

Ms. Montgomery gave a very entertaining and informative talk, and I will definitely be reading her book (as soon as Georgie is done with it--). This was an excellent kickoff to the “Science on Tap” series, which is to include four programs a year, with the next one, on plate tectonics, to be in October.
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7:17 pm
The Skylight Ring
On Sunday afternoon, June 7th, we went to see “The Skylight Ring,” billed as “Wagner’s Ring cycle in two hours.

While it’s possible to condense the story of “The Ring of the Nibelung” into as little as forty-five minutes, as done by the late Anna Russell, it’s essentially impossible to do it without humorous effect, and “The Skylight Ring” does definitely go for the laughs.

Wagner’s Ring over all takes up eighteen hours, is most often performed over the course of four separate evenings, and has a cast of thirty characters plus chorus, and a large orchestra. The Skylight Ring was performed by a cast of four playing two dozen characters, with one of the performers, Robert Frankenberry, also providing accompaniment on the piano. A great deal of the condensed action is delivered either as narration, also by Frankenberry, or by modernized dialog. Actually, this was our largest complaint with the performance: too much talking and not enough singing. Even if you accept the old saw that “Wagner has wonderful moments—and bad half hours—“ there’s more than enough great music in the Ring to fill a two hour “greatest hits” session. Excerpting may be a problem, as Wagner doesn’t often break his later operas down into arias, but it can be done.

Anyway, what we did get was entertaining, if pretty far from Wagner in a lot of ways—notably the ways in which The Lord of the Rings influenced this production—a “ring” of influence, if you will, since Tolkien borrowed the idea of the cursed ring that is desired by all who behold it from the Volsungasaga, the literary source of Wagner’s adaptation of the Nibelungenleid. In particular, the ring is referred to several times as having world-shattering power, an idea that comes from Tolkien, not the Icelandic poets. In addition, Alberich (Mr. Frankenberry), the dwarf who forswears love in order to seize the Rhine treasure, becomes a sort of “Gollum” figure, stalking the Ring through the generations of the Volsungs, disguised (in this version) as the villains Hunding, Mime, and Hagen. (Rather like those productions of “Tales of Hoffman” where the same bass-baritone sings all four villain roles--.)

The other singers each also took on a number of roles, with Tim Rebers pivotal part being Wotan, but covering everything from the Rhinemaiden Flosshilde to the raven Memory (Munin). Erin Sura had some of the longest singing bits as Brunnhilda, but also played Freia, Loge, The Norn, The Forest Bird, and Gutrune. Colleen Brooks, recently seen as Dora Marx in “The Snow Dragon,” played among others Fricka, Fasolt, and Erda, but had her largest role (and the most fun) playing the swaggering and shallow Siegfreid.

The simple set consisted of the stage floor done as the section of an enormous tree, referring to Yggdrasil, the world-tree, which was also represented as a kind of cartoon signpost pointing in all directions at one side of the stage. A large chest up center held props. Costumes were partial and representative (crowns, cloaks, eyepatch--), which resulted in some amusing and sometimes clever effects, as when, for Seigfried to disguise himself as Gunther, Ms. Brooks appropriates and dons the “nose glasses” Mr. Rebers had been wearing as the Gibichung.

The performance was not without musical high spots, notably Ms. Sura’s songs as Brunnhilde, and Mr. Rebers’ evocation of the ring of fire as Wotan. The piano score was well played by Mr. Frankenberry, but just does not succeed in doing justice to Wagner’s music. Wagner, of all opera composers, was perhaps the greatest master of the horns, and “The Ride of the Valkuries/Brunnhilda’s Battle Cry” without brass is, frankly, an egg without salt.

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Friday, May 29th, 2015
4:59 pm
Far From the Madding Crowd
Tuesday, May 19th, we went to see the new film “Far From the Madding Crowd,” adapted from the novel by Thomas Hardy. Georgie was interested because she had read Hardy’s novels, I because I had not. We were both pleased.

Unlike the seeming majority of Victorian-era novels, cities, like London or Bath, do not signify. All of the action of the movie takes place in rural Dorset, mostly around the village of “Weatherbury” (based on real-life Puddletown), with the nearest town being Hardy’s “Casterbridge” (Dorchester).

The protagonist of the movie is Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), an independently minded orphan who has been raised on farms and has a good knowledge of them. Early on, she inherits a large farm/estate from her uncle, and takes over managing it and its staff with a will.

There’s evidently something about that in farming country, since every man she meets, from stalwart shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenarts), to neurotic gentleman farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), to caddish Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) essentially proposes marriage to her in the first conversation they have that is more than a casual greeting. Although it’s obvious from the first reel, when measuring gazes are exchanged between Bathsheba and Gabriel, who she’s going to end up with, unfortunately it’s Troy who first leads her to the altar, with some un-looked-for results.

Despite the foreshadowings, the movie maintains a continual and suspenseful level of emotional tension as the story works out that keeps one interested. Very handsomely photographed, staged, and costumed, the films portrays a very real feeling rural England. The men are mainly one-note characters for Bathsheba to play off of, but all the actors did their assigned roles very well, and with some nice nuances.

We both enjoyed the movie very much. Highly recommended for fellow fans of “Downton Abbey” and similar stories.

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4:58 pm
Spaces and Traces
On Saturday morning, May 16th, we went on the annual “Spaces and Traces” tour organized by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. This year’s tour focused on the Layton Boulevard (South 27th St) neighborhood north and south of Greenfield Avenue, extending north and west to S. 33rd and West National Avenue.

We made a particular effort to get out early, and succeeded in being in the first group to tour one of the Frank Lloyd Wright “American System Homes” on Burnham Street. Wright is best known for his public and commercial buildings, churches, and spectacular private homes, but he made some interesting forays into housing for the common people, also. The American System homes were designed to be small (two bedrooms), make economical use of space, and be buildable using early forms of pre-fabrication. 2714 W Burnham, is an example of a single-family dwelling, which is surprisingly spacious and well laid out, but does include some of the typical Wright impracticalities. The central hallway is a story and a half high, with clerestory windows admitting light, but which are also obviously intended to be opened for ventilation purposes. However, there’s no easy way to open them, given their height and how they are hinged. The house really needs to have come with a rolling ladder as is seen in some libraries to make the windows fully functional. Other than that, it’s a nice layout, and could well be studied by people interested in the “small house” movement.

We then went to Fire Station Number 26, a working firehouse and one of a number in the city originally built in pre-telephone days. That date is why these buildings sport towers intended to be used for fire lookout, but now relegated to hose drying. The Fire Station is an interesting combination of utilitarian function combined with period touches such as the handsome wood staircase that leads from the garage area up to the living quarters.

North of the firehouse, we visited two interesting Queen Anne houses, one a more modest home, and one quite splendid once owned by former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, which had a lovely yard, and an impressive carriage house now used as an art studio by the present owner.
The Votteler Manegold house at 1201 S. Layton is an impressive example of a restored house, reclaimed by descendants of a prior owner after a fire that gutted large parts of the house. Burn marks can still be seen in some of the woodwork, but one could hardly tell if not aware of the house’s history.

Another building we were intrigued by was the School Sisters of St. Francis complex. This was open for tours of their St. Joseph chapel, which is truly a hidden jewel. The beautiful chapel (the size of a good sized church) is embedded in the School Sisters’ main building, which gives no hint of its presence from outside. The white marble space is richly decorated with mosaics, stained glass and gilding that made it the equal of many of the fabulous churches of Europe.
We finished the tour by visiting another restored Queen Anne on 33rd Street, which had been reclaimed from years of neglect and careless uglification. There were a number of other buildings on this tour, some exterior only, but we felt we’d had enough by this time and called it a day.

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Wednesday, May 13th, 2015
7:55 pm
Florentine Opera, “The Elixir of Love”
On Sunday, May 10th, we enjoyed a charming and beautifully sung production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” (L’elisir d’amore).

The libretto, by Felice Romani, is sweet, funny, and foolish. Poor, honest, and unsophisticated farm boy Nemorino (Rolando Sanz) loves Adina (Diana McVey), who, besides being beautiful, owns her own vineyard, reads a lot of books, and, at the beginning of the opera, is committed to her own freedom and intent on not marrying. Things don’t look good for Nemorino’s suit, so, when patent-medicine dealer Doctor Dulcamera (Musa Ngqungwana) comes to town, Nemorino asks him if he can provide a love potion like the one he has overheard Adina speak of, in the story of Tristan and Isolde.

Dulcamera, following the tried and true rule of never giving sucker an even break, sells Nemorino an unaltered bottle of wine for the lordly sum of one dollar, but cautions it will take overnight to work (by which time Dulcamera figures he will be gone--).

Meanwhile, Adina, having reconsidered her priorities, agrees to marry the hunky Sergeant Belcore (Corey McKern). Initially, Nemorino is not dismayed thinking the potion will change her mind before the wedding, but complications ensue when the date is moved up due to Belcore getting new orders. Nemorino attempts to delay the wedding, as does Adina, who is havingthird thoughts.

Desperate, Nemorino enlists in the army with Belcore in order to get money for a second bottle of “potion” in an attempt to speed results. Dulcamera happily sells him another bottle, and then is astonished to see him swarmed by the local unattached women, who, unbeknownst to the men, have heard a rumor that Nemorino has inherited a fortune.

Witnessing this from a distance, jealousy flares up in Adina, causing her to admit that she loves Nemorino. She buys out Nemorino’s enlistment, and confesses her love to him. Belcore shrugs off being jilted, saying there are thousands of other women he can get. Amid general happiness, Dulcamera takes the opportunity to tout the efficacy of his potions.

The Florentine’s new production was updated to the 1930’sand transplanted to California’s Napa Valley, which is quite believable. The simple setting was done in bright watercolor shades. Costumes were pretty and period-appropriate, including Adina’s fashionable pantsuits. All of the performers sang and acted masterfully, including the members of the Florentine Opera Chorus, who were in excellent voice. We were especially pleased with the handing of the opera’s trademark “A Furtive Tear” aria, (“Una furtiva lagrima”),which Mr. Sanz presented simply, sweetly, and in a contemplative fashion appropriate to the story, instead of making it a tenor showoff piece, which is commonly done.

Maestro Joseph Resigno was at the podium, and evoked Donizetti’s music from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra flawlessly to our ears. This was a thoroughly lovely afternoon at the opera.

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5:36 pm
Avengers: Age of Ultron
On Saturday, May 9th, we went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. We enjoyed this next installment of the ongoing Marvel Movieverse saga, but not quite as much as the initial Avengers film.

Part of this may have been due to the character interaction, which, while actually realistic, isn’t quite as much fun. In the time since the end of the last film, the Avengers have shaken down into more or less of a team, with Captain America (Chris Evans) as defacto team leader. Things are on more of a businesslike footing, with both less banter and less arguing between the team members. What character interaction we do get is good, with a poignant relationship developing between Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsen) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and our view into the abnormally (for superheroes) normal home life of Hawkeye/Clint Barton(Jeremy Renner).

The plot picks up shortly after the end of the last film. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) intends to take the “Scepter of Loki” back to Asgard, but yields to Tony Stark’s desire to examine it before it leaves Earth. Stark discovers that the device harbors an intricate matrix capable of supporting an artificial intelligence more complex than his “Jarvis” program, and decides to investigate its usefulness for his “Ultron” program—a projected automated defense network capable of defending the Earth from alien invasions.

Of course, things go wrong. In classic “Frankenstein” fashion, “Ultron” (voice of James Spader) achieves consciousness while Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is away, and freely interprets its mission as being to defend the planet Earth against all dangers—including humans, and especially the particularly dangerous Avengers. Ultron, as interpreted in this script, is a fascinating creation, partaking not only of Frankenstein’s creature, but also other classics of science-fiction, such as the destructively over-protective robots of Jack Williamson’s “With Folded Hands,” and the Terminator movies’ “Skynet.”(Evidently, the Terminator films didn’t exist in the Marvel Universe--.) Ultron’s sometimes existential musings also reminded me of Heath Ledger’s “Joker”—thus proving that Stark has created perhaps the worst monster ever—a nigh-indestructible killer robot with Tony Stark’s sense of humor.
Quickly making himself multi-bodied, Ultron multi-tasks—trying to access nuclear launch codes, destroying the Avengers, building himself an upgraded “synthezoid” body, and coming up with a grandiose plan to render humanity extinct when he’s denied access to the nukes. Ultron recruits Hydra’s modified humans, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen), who have good reason to hate Tony Stark and want revenge on him and his.

While it’s a generally entertaining plot, there are some pointless diversions. The long battle between Hulk and the optimistically named “Hulk-Buster” Iron Man is needless, except insofar as it allows the script to hint that Stark’s judgment is bad and perhaps getting worse, and allowed the special-effects crew an extended exercise. When Hulk goes on a rampage due to Scarlet Witch’s mind-control, instead of leading him out of town, which could have been easily done at the expense of a few tossed cars, Stark activates “Veronica,” his Hulk-emergency system, and proceeds to engage in a battle that destroys approximately half of downtown Cape Town (or whatever African city that was supposed to have been). This misjudgment is scarcely commented upon, and I sorely missed having Rodgers give Stark a little after-action review.

The overarching plot will continue, with Thor having tumbled that something is going on with the Infinity Gems (as we loyal viewers have known),and Thanos (Josh Brolin) making another cameo appearance at the end.

Among other positive points, I really liked the characterizations and visualizations of new characters Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Vision (Paul Bettany, heretofore the voice of “Jarvis”, in the synthetic flesh). We both particularly liked the Witch’s new costume, briefly glimpsed at the end, which is much better looking than any of her comic-book versions.
I guess the best way to take this series is as we took the comic books it is born from—they can’t all be great, but each one builds upon the next with good writers. In a lot of ways, this installment of Avengers is a “middle book” of trilogy, one in which complications are added, but few things ultimately resolved. I do look forward to further installments.

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Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
7:59 pm
Renaissance Theatreworks, “Lettice and Lovage”
Saturday, May 2nd, we went to the Studio Theater at the Broadway Theatre Center to see “Lettice and Lovage,” by Peter Shaffer.

In this comedy, the protagonist, “Lettice” (pronounced“lettuce”), played by Laura Gordon, is a woman of a certain age beginning second career as a docent/tour guide, after having managed her mother’s Shakespearian theatre troupe for many years. Working for Britain’s National Trust, she is assigned to “Fustian Hall,” the country’s dullest stately home. In reaction to audience boredom, she begins to embroider the house’s bald narrative, until it becomes a veritable tapestry of historical improbability.

A surprise inspection by her supervisor, Lotte Schoen (Carrie Hitchcock) results in Lettice being given the sack, but not before she makes her impassioned case for injecting a bit of theatre into the dullness of life. This eventually leads to an unlikely friendship striking up between the flamboyant Lettice and strait-laced Lotte, which leads both to some harrowing adventures in home theatricals, and the sharing of deeply hidden secrets.

How it all works out is quite hilarious, and we found it tube a charming little play. The story belongs to the two ladies, and both Gordon, the current grande dame of the Milwaukee theatre scene, and Hitchcock are wonderfully good. They are ably supported by Bryce Lord as Lettice’s baffled solicitor, and a supporting cast of minor bureaucrats and house tourists.

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