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|Thursday, October 16th, 2014|
|West Allis Players, “The Cupcake Killer”
October 10th, we went to see “The Cupcake Killer,” West Allis Players’ fall production and a world premiere of a new play. This is the third play by Katherine Beeson, who also directed the play for the group, and was very good. (Ms. Beeson also took the role of the murder victim--.)
Set in the ‘fictional Louisiana town of Salisbury,’ the plot deals with the mystery surrounding the death of Betsy Ross-Garrett, the domineering secretary of the local Baptist church, who has put more than a few noses out of joint. She also, it appears, has an estranged husband who has recently won a million dollar lottery prize.
So, who slipped Betsy a poisoned cupcake at the church social? That’s the problem that confronts the sheriff (Bill Kaiser) and his deputy (Scott Fudali). In a nice change from the conventional plot, the officers frankly admit that they lack experience in major crime, and perhaps the visiting detective novel writer, Zoe Shepherd (Sara Pforr), might actually be able to help them out. That is, until it appears she might know a bit TOO much--.
Very nice performances by the Players’ troupe, including Corey Klein as the troubled preacher, and Marilyn Daleiden as “Miss Ruby,” who stole scenes as the town’s diner proprietor. We found the characters to be quite true to life, including the coterie of church ladies, and the sheriff’s secretary with a big ear for gossip. When the murderer was finally revealed, I found the criminal’s motives quite believable.
The play’s one flaw is that it is a very talky script and a bit overlong. I gather that Ms. Beeson acknowledges this, and future editions will undergo some editing. Nevertheless, it was a very enjoyable play and a good evening at the theatre.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/263238.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Milwaukee Film Festival: “Advanced Style”
“Advanced Style” was our last movie of the Milwaukee Film Festival, which we saw Tuesday evening, October 7th, at the Fox Bay Cinema.
“Advance Style” began as a photo-heavy blog of the same name, compiled by New Yorker Ari Cohen, who is fascinated by the panache and flamboyance of women who are both “advanced” in years, and “advanced” in stylistic sensibility. This project has become a book, and now a movie, which celebrates these women and their approach to life.
The ladies presented run a gamut of style choices: retired editor and singer Joyce Carpati favors a style that is very much grande dame; style maven Zelda Kaplan had clothes custom-made out of her collection of fabric art; artist Ilona Smithkin creates many of her own pieces, including inch-long eyelashes to match her neon hair. Of course, there’s a lot of fabulous vintage wear on display—whole shops full of it, in the case of store owner Lynn Dell, but none of the ladies affect any strict period; they all mix and match as they choose to assemble a look that is unique to each.
Ranging in age from 62 to 95, the thing they all seem to have in common is great attitude: seize the day, before it gets away. You can’t say whether having a great sense of style keeps one young, or having youthful energy inspires style, although I think it’s some of both. The ladies (mostly) stand straight, are (mostly) bright of eye, sharp of mind, and, being New Yorkers, stride confidently around the city on their own, stalking the elusive just-right accessory.
In the movie, besides showing off their collections, the women talk about their lives, their pasts, and their choices, with candor and humor. This movie was inspiring, uplifting, frequently very funny, and sometimes sad. Above all, you are left with the impression that these are all great ladies you would like to know.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/263061.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, October 10th, 2014|
|Dinner at Sanford
For our 30th Anniversary, we went out to dinner at Sanford Restaurant. This may seem a modest celebration for a thirtieth wedding anniversary, but the trip to Europe we took earlier this year was our present to each other--.
Since it opened twenty-five years ago, we've gone to Sanford for many anniversaries and birthdays and always had a lovely meal. This time was no exception.
Each dinner at Sanford begins with an amuse-bouche, a small pre-appetizer morsel intended to wake up the taste buds. This time it was pickled tuna with 'crispy capers.' This was a revelation. The vinegary pickled tuna was wonderfully fresh-tasting and good. Why has no one done this before? Milwaukee is the home of pickled fish, in the form of pickled herring, but it is a good question why no one seems to have tried other fish.
For first course, we had Molasses Glazed Quail and Seared Foie Gras with Grilled Belgian Endive and Black Currant Elderflower Preserve. Both the quail and the foie gras were delicious and set off nicely by the endive and the preserve.
For entrée, Georgie had "Citrus Seared Alaskan Halibut on Corn Risotto Cake, Pickled Purslane and Toasted Almonds, Purslane Nage". Halibut is a favorite of hers, and this was excellent. The corn risotto was very good also, and the purslane fascinating. Georgie compared the purslane to a more strongly flavored watercress.
It had been a long time since I had swordfish, so I ordered the "Grilled Swordfish with Miso Noodles and Summer Vegetables, Toasted Sesame Dressing." I was amused that, while Georgie got a fish knife with her entrée, I got a steak knife, but then I knew that swordfish is a very "meaty" fish. The generous cut of fish was perfectly done, and the mellow miso and sesame were perfect complements. We accompanied the main course with a glass each of Riesling, which went down very well.
For dessert, we had the Blueberry Black Currant Clafoutis with Lemon Ice Cream. A clafoutis is a baked dessert of fruit covered in a thick-flan like batter, dusted with powdered sugar, and served warm. The blueberry black currant clafoutis was a variation on one of Sanford's classics, tart cherry, and worked deliciously well. The cool tart lemon ice cream was a nice contrast with the warm flavors of the clafoutis.
As ever, the service at Sanford was prompt, attentive, and friendly. Dinner at Sanford is always an event, and, especially considering prices at first-class restaurants in other large cities, excellent value as well.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/262784.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Thirty years ago October 6th, Georgie and I exchanged these vows.
I, Gregory, promise to you, Georgie,
--that I will love you always,
--that I will honor and respect you,
--that I will keep faith unto you,
--that I will hold your needs as important as my own, and above all others,
--that I will protect and cherish you,
--that I will never knowingly betray your trust,
--that I will not keep from you the true voice of my heart, and I will always take seriously that which your heart speaks unto me,
--that I will never forsake you, as long as life endures.
Will you, then, accept me as husband?
(the other) I will.
(change parts and repeat)
(both in unison)
Be thou married unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving-kindness, in compassion and in faithfulness.
We will be true unto each other.
We will protect and support and will provide all that is necessary for our sustenance, even as it becomes all human beings to do.
(October 6th, 1984, at Lake Delton, Wisconsin)
Definitely the best thing I have ever done!This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/262489.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Thursday, October 9th, 2014|
|Skylight Music Theater, “Cinderella,”
On Sunday afternoon, October 6th, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center to see the Skylight’s production of “Cinderella,” (“La Cenerentola”), by Gioachino Rossini, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
We’re often leery of “updated” productions, but the Skylight had good success with their “Mad Men” inspired version of “Cosi Fan Tutti,” so we were optimistic about this show, and not disappointed.
During the overture, we see the stepsisters, Clorinda (Erin Sura) and Tisbe (Kristen DiNonno), stepping out for a night on the town. Then, “selfies” from their night out show them getting progressively drunker and more disheveled. When the curtain comes up, they are sprawled unconscious in their boudoir, which looks like the aftermath of a neon-colored closet explosion. (Clothing designer Cesar Gallindo created the costumes for the performance, which were very effective and beautiful, although the stepsisters, in particular, have awful taste--.)
Cinderella (Sishel Claverie) enters to tidy up, which includes emptying the sisters’ noisome ashtrays. (We thought this was a clever way to preserve the “ash girl” motif.) Constant smoking is just one of Clorinda and Tisbe’s bad habits, which include foolishness, vanity, and selfishness. The English libretto by Amand Holden does a good job of showing that the sisters, who are quite attractive women, have their ugliness on the inside.
When we meet their father, “Don Magnifico,” (Andy Papas), it’s apparent that the apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Papas is very funny portraying the paterfamilias as gross, lazy, and greedy.
When Rossini agreed to adapt the story of Cinderella for the opera, he did so on the condition that there would be no supernatural elements, so there are no fairy godmothers, pumpkin coaches (or singing mice--). Instead, Cinderella’s benefactor is Prince Ramiro’s tutor, Alidoro (LaMarcus Miller).
Alidoro acts as advance scout for the Prince’s wife-hunting expedition. Disguised as a beggar, he goes house to house, looking for young women who are good and kind as well as beautiful. He finds one in Cinderella, who gives him bread and coffee in spite of the sister’s orders. When Ramiro (Luke Grooms) arrives, also disguised, this time as his valet, Dandini (Dimitrie Lazich), the supposed real advance man for the Prince, he is irresistibly attracted by Cinderella’s eyes.
Alidoro provides Cinderella a gown and gets her to the ball, where the Prince falls in love with her. Instead of the glass slipper, she gives him one of a pair of bracelets, which he can use as a clue to find her. The remainder of the story plays out in the familiar fashion, with much comic outrage on the part of Don Magnifico and his daughters when the Prince declares his intention to marry the girl they disown and claim is only a servant. Cinderella demonstrates her goodness for all by forbidding the Prince to punish them, and expressing her forgiveness.
All the singers were in good voice, and both sang and acted well, and they and the chorus adeptly executed the often wonderfully funny stage directions by Jill Anna Ponasik. The “red carpet” scene arriving at the Prince’s palace was a tour de force for stage direction, costume design, and quick-changing chorus members. The orchestra, under the direction of Viswa Subbaraman rendered Rossini’s score faultlessly and in excellent support of the singers.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/262200.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Milwaukee Scottish Pipe Band, Fall Highland Gathering
Saturday evening, October 4th, we went to Klemmer's Banquet Center on Oklahoma Avenue in West Allis, for the Ceilidh portion of the day's program, hosted by the Milwaukee Scottish Pipe Band, which also included Scottish solo piping and drumming competitions, and a haggis dinner.
We got to the hall about 6:30PM, with the Ceildh in progress. Two pipers were playing a duet that was quite beautiful and intricate. They were followed by Ceol Cairde, a local Celtic band. The evening alternated short sets by Ceol Cairde with pieces by various pipe groups, including the Milwaukee Scottish Pipe Band, Billy Mitchell Scottish Pipe Band, Chicago Celtic Pipe Band, and the Greater Midwest Pipe Band, with dances by the Caledonian Scottish Dancers. We found this was a very nice event, since it gave us a chance to hear the bands play music other than the usual marching pieces you hear at parades or festivals.
The event was rather lightly attended, which is rather a pity. We must watch to see if it reoccurs next year and drum up (so to speak) some more friends to go.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/262028.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Wauwatosa Historical Society 2014 Tour of Homes
On Saturday morning, October 4th, we went to the Washington Highlands neighborhood of Wauwatosa for the Historical Society's annual Tour of Homes. This year's theme was "The Tudors of Washington Highlands," and six homes were open to be visited.
Washington Highlands is a classy neighborhood, with many large and handsome houses, and we were very interested in this tour. The homes that we could visit were all very elegant and well maintained, and fascinating to see. The most splendid home on the tour was the one at 1651 Alta Vista Avenue, a six-bedroom house with many elegant details, and a lovely view from the Heights overlooking West Washington Boulevard.
The organizers and docents did a good job managing the many attendees through the homes. Thanks to the people who shared their homes for this interesting tour!This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/261825.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Wednesday, October 1st, 2014|
|Milwaukee Film Festival, Man With a Movie Camera
Tuesday night, September 30th, we went to the Oriental Theatre for the Milwaukee Film Festival's showing of the 1929 Russian "documentary" Man With a Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) (Chelovek s kinoapparatom). In the a 2012 poll conducted by the British Film Institute magazine Sight and Sound, film critics voted Man with a Movie Camera the 8th best film ever made. In 2014 Sight and Sound also named the film the best documentary film of all time. Having now seen the movie, I can see why film professionals like it. However, (depending upon the competition) I would not have voted for it.
I use quotations around "documentary" since the movie is really an art film using documentary footage-i.e., (mostly) unscripted photography of real life. However, the film's auteur, Dziga Vertof, had a distinct agenda to reshape film. The movie is innovative and thought-provoking in many ways. For example, I had never really given any thought to how a shot of an onrushing train that passes over the camera would have been shot in days when the only film cameras were hand-cranked and not operable remotely. Per Wikipedia "This film is famous for the range of cinematic techniques Vertov invents, deploys or develops, such as double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations and a self-reflexive style."
In my opinion, that's actually one of the film's weak spots: the self-indulgent farrago of tricks becomes its own raison d'etre, and the images on the screen lose meaning independent of the manipulations.
The movie's plan is to show twenty-four hours in the life of a Soviet city (a synthesis of Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, and Kharkov). It begins with a self-referential frame: a movie theatre, in which we see film being prepared for showing, the audience filing in, the carbon arc being struck in the projector, and the show starting.
The show proper begins with what is almost a sequence of still pictures: quiet buildings, nearly empty streets, homeless people sleeping on benches. Then, the city comes to life, first, mechanical. Airplanes, trolleys, motor busses roll out of hangars and garages. A steam train rushes onscreen. Then, the life becomes industrial, as the people start work, showing us every task from barbering to coal mining.
Through it all, we see the Man With A Movie Camera, most often a tall lean man in a cap, tripod carried over his shoulder, picking his way down the mine, standing between lanes of traffic, climbing a factory chimney, getting too close for comfort to a lava-like foundry pour. A first it is subtle, but gradually you realize that part of the film is documenting the man doing the documenting. In one of the longer sequences, we see a cameraman filming some ladies in a moving, horse drawn cart, while standing on the doorsills of a moving open auto paralleling them. There is nothing keeping him from falling to likely death in the street except his sense of balance and perhaps the hands of the other people in the car. Then, you realize, that there has to be another car accompanying, filming him filming them, with the second cameraman probably doing the same stunt.
The film has a definite Industrial rhythm, the pace of which picks up relentlessly as the work day goes on. Then, there is a respite as work ends, and people go out for the afternoon. We see sports and games, but even here the pace again accelerates, to running, leaping, and racing.
After dark, the view goes to taverns and dance halls. Here, the pace is frenetic almost immediately. At last, it is time for cinema, and the viewpoint goes back to the movie house where the film started, with the viewers watching sequences of the film we have just seen, but overlaid with more double exposures and special effects, and, of course, even greater speed. The film ends with a shot that has recurred through the film, the cameraman's eye seen though his lens.
The film was a massive work, taking four years to shoot, and thousands of shots. Some of the nice bits that are both the "workaday world" and self-referential were the sequences of Elizaveta Svilova, Vertof's wife and film editor, reviewing and cataloging the thousands of clips used in making the film.
So, my verdict is, "too cute by half." I certainly understand the impulse to experiment, to show off all your tricks, and to put in all the "cool stuff" you have, but some modicum of restraint is almost always called for.
My enjoyment of the movie was also affected by the live music provided by Alloy Orchestra, a three-person ensemble that is well known for performing with silent films. Alloy Orchestra created a score for "Man With a Movie Camera" in 1995, which they performed on Tuesday night. The default setting for the score is percussive, loud, and fast. The music follows and overtakes the movie's persistent accelerando with excessive zeal, to the point that it is tiring to be exposed to. Even scenes that don't need a frantic underscore, such as men drinking beer around a table, have such a soundtrack. One could postulate a hot jazz band off camera, but the relaxed poses and casual chat we see the men engaged in belies that. (Other than opening credits and "End" at the end, the film has no title cards of any kind, so any speech we see has to be assumed from context--).
So, an interesting film, that, in my opinion, was overdone. Mine is not the common view, and much contrary writing can be found on the Internet. The full movie (without soundtrack) is in public domain, can be viewed or downloaded at: https://archive.org/details/ChelovekskinoapparatomManWithAMovieCamera
if you want to make up your own mind.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/261626.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, September 30th, 2014|
|Milwaukee Film Festival, “The Vanquishing of the Witch
Sunday evening, the 28th, we went to the Downer Theater to see “The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga,” which is billed as “Part ethereal travelogue, part animated folktale, all mesmerizing ethnography, 'The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga' is a dream-like journey through Russian landscapes and Slavic folklore that explores the region’s collective memory and man’s tenuous relationship with the nature that surrounds him.”
That may have been the intention of writer/producer/director/editor Jessica Oreck, but, in my view, it didn’t work. The documentary portions of the film are underlain with a portentous narration, which both begins and ends with “Culture imagines a superiority over the wild, and builds high walls to keep it out. But, in the end, there is a wildness within us, . . . all the more savage for being caged.” We are shown scenes of rural Russia (“Eastern Europe in the 21st century.) wherein lumbermen cut trees with a chainsaw, but drag the logs out of the woods with horses, men mow with scythes, people pile hay into stacks by hand, and gather firewood from the seemingly endless forests. Through most of the film it’s unclear whether it is supposed to be good that the people are living close to the land, or bad that, in the 21st century, people are living as they did in Czarist times.
This becomes a little bit more clear when observing that any depictions of urban life or structure are tawdry, shabby, abandoned, or outright ruined, but one is still left grasping for the significance of the images. Some, like those of Chernobyl near the end, I recognized, but it wasn’t clear where others were or what their partial destruction meant.
Threaded through the collection of images is the tale of Ivan and Ayoshka and their encounter with Baba Yaga, a simplified version of a typical Baba Yaga story. The two children flee into the forest from Revolutionary-era soldiers attacking their village, and seek shelter in the witch’s hut. Baba Yaga sets the children three challenges, the penalty for failure is to be eaten. The children, with the help of friendly animals, manage to succeed at each test. Baba Yaga gives the children a magical comb and lets them go. When they are again fleeing from hostile soldiers, the magic comb becomes a new forest that overwhelms the soldiers, and in which the children are reunited with their mother and live happily ever after.
The connection between the Baba Yaga story and the documentary portion is tenuous at best. The children gather wood to heat Baba Yaga’s bath house, followed by a sequence that begins with a man gathering firewood. The children gather mushrooms to make Baba Yaga’s dinner, followed by a sequence about gathering mushrooms. The children lay the ghost that has been stealing from Baba Yaga, followed by a sequence that begins in an overgrown graveyard, shows us a burial, and then an Orthodox church service, followed by a secular wedding dance.
Ms. Oreck was present and made herself available for a question-and-answer session after the showing, which we did not stay for. I considered asking her what it was all about, but decided to go home and meditate on what I had seen, with this result. I guess I feel that if I have to ask the author what it means, one of us has missed the mark.
In Polish and Russian, with English subtitles.
(Also, as a quibble, Baba Yaga is hardly “Vanquished”: the children win at her game, and she gives them the means to survive afterwards--.)This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/261237.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Milwaukee Film Festival, “AninA.”
On Sunday morning, September 28th, we went to the Oriental Theater to see the Milwaukee Film Festival’s showing of “AninA,” a charming animated film from Uruguay. Although the animation is rudimentary by today’s standards, the design and artistry of the film makes up for it. The water-colory backgrounds of the town in a rainy winter are beautiful and effective.
The protagonist of the story is Anina Yatay Salas, a grade-school aged girl who finds her palindromic name a burden. It’s an element of a schoolyard spat that escalates into a fight, which leaves Anina waiting to find out what punishment will be handed down by the her school’s formidable headmistress.
The story hinges on a child’s anxieties and schoolyard dramas, which, while amusing to us, are of course of great moment to Anina and her peers. The sequences in which Anina dreams the baroque horrors that might befall her—products of a vivid imagination—are some of the best, and very creatively rendered.
The voice casting was very good and got the emotional tenor just right. (The dialog is in Spanish, with English subtitles.) The film also has a beautiful soundtrack.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/261075.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014|
|“The Last Unicorn” tour; Peter S. Beagle
On Saturday, September 20th, we went to the Times Cinema for a special showing of “The Last Unicorn”. Author Peter S. Beagle, who also wrote the screenplay for the film, acquired the rights to the movie after years of neglect by its producers, and has been touring the US and Canada with a restored print, giving talks and doing signings at the showings.
We came for the later show, and arrived at the theater about 2:30pm. The first show was in progress, and we found Mr. Beagle and his support team in the lobby. With the author pretty much all to ourselves, we had a half-hour’s pleasant chat before many other people arrived. We reminisced about the 1987 MythCon in Milwaukee, to which Beagle had come in order to meet John Bellairs, about Bellairs, books, films, and the interesting influences that Irish writers, such as James Stevens, had had on his work. (In the question and answer session that followed, Beagle also named Lord Dunsany, T.H. White, and James Thurber’s “The White Deer” as influences.)
There was a nice array of Beagle’s books and related items available for sale and signing. Unfortunately, the text version of “The Last Unicorn” was not among them, it being the process of being reprinted. The DVD of the movie was present, as were a couple of editions of a good-looking graphic novel version. I bought one of the latter. (I was pleased to see that sales seemed to do well.)
I was interested to see the movie, since I hadn’t seen it since its original theatrical release, in 1982. I think I liked it better this time. I recall being quite disparaging of the Unicorn’s design, referring to it as “a pretty horsie with a horn.” I still think the Unicorn is too cute, but it didn’t bug me as much. Perhaps my standards have broadened--.
I was impressed by the effort that the much despised Rankin-Bass had put into the film (and that it was a Lord Lew Grade production). Rankin and Bass in this movie pioneered the practice of hiring known (if not, at that time, hugely famous) actors to do the voice acting: Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Tammy Grimes, Robert Klein, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Keenan Wynn, and Rene Auberjonois all had parts in the piece, as well as “Brother Theodore”, the voice of Gollum in the Rankin-Bass “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” adaptations. As for the acting, there are reasons why Farrow, Arkin, and Bridges didn’t go on to great careers in animation voice acting: they were all pretty colorless compared with veterans like Lee, Lansbury, Wynn and Auberjonois. That said, they gave it their best and none are offensive, they just aren’t exciting.
R&B also hired the (then) well-known pop group “America” to perform the songs written by Jimmy Webb, which was an unusual step in those days as well. The music supports the plot fairly well, with the first major song being actually pretty good.
A few seconds of the first reel are a little rough looking, but, in the main, the animation and artwork looks very good, especially for the time. During the Q&A we learned that the Japanese animation group, Topcraft, that worked on the film and other projects for Rankin-Bass, was ultimately acquired by Hayao Miyazaki<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/hayao_miyazaki>, Toshio Suzuki<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/toshio_suzuki_%28producer%29> and Isao Takahata<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/isao_takahata>, who changed its name to Studio Ghibli<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/studio_ghibli>. Knowing this, one can easily see a continuity from the flowers, forests, and changing landscapes of “The Last Unicorn,” to Studio Ghibli works that followed.
We also met fannish friends Sari Stiles, Leah Zeldes Smith, and Dick Smith at the showing, and had a good chat with them while waiting for the film to start. All in all, it was an enjoyable afternoon, and a treasured chance to renew an old acquaintance.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/260774.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Doors Open Milwaukee, 2014.
We got out for the 2014 "Doors Open Milwaukee" on Sunday the 21st. Our first target was the frank Lloyd Wright designed house off South 27th Street. Although we got there shortly after opening time, there was already a lengthy line and it was lightly raining, so we decided to give it a pass, and went on to Pevnick Design on North 27th.
Pevnick had a demonstration unit of the "Waterfall Machine" set up, this year with colored lights, which added quite a bit. They were running a portion of the program designed for this year's Toyota Dealer's Meeting, which is quite spectacular.
The great find of this year's tour for us was the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear, located at 839 North 11th Street, north of the Marquette University campus. This charming little museum occupies a house once owned by the late Avram Chudnow, and houses his "extensive and eclectic collection of early 20th Century Americana," much of which was acquired from family members and their various business interests. The collection is particularly rich in ephemera such as candy boxes, food containers and cans, and advertising materials. There are rooms set up as a grocery store, druggist's, barbershop, speakeasy, and doctor's office. Other rooms are dedicated to political history and advertising, and to the activities of the beer industry during prohibition.
From there, we walked over to the Wisconsin Club to view the Belvedere. This garden structure, built by Milwaukee magnate Alexander Mitchell to complement the mansion that became the Club, is a little jewel and well worth seeing. We also got to use it for the pre-banquet reception at our MythCon back in 1987, so there are good memories associated with it for us, as well.
Next, we went to the headquarters of the Milwaukee Ballet, at 5th and National. We got to see the rehearsal spaces, a peek into the Costume Shop, and a close up look at some of the costumes to be used in the upcoming production of "Don Quixote," as well as an informative talk on the Ballet's rehersal, training, and teaching programs.
Finally, we went to South Lenox Avenue to see Milwaukee Makerspace. The commercial building it occupies is nestled into this residential Bayview neighborhood, and is filled with material and equipment for every kind of project, from a hand-made wooden boat to a "molecular still." The idea of having all sorts of equipment from hammers and handsaws up to numerical control machines and 3-D printers fascinates me, but I don't really have projects in mind at present that would require it--. Still, fascinating, and we found in chatting to one of the members that we had a friend in common, engineer Tom Klein.
Doors Open Milwaukee is a fine event, and we hope it will continue in the future.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/260416.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Thursday, September 18th, 2014|
|Off the Wall Theatre, “Cabaret”
Wednesday night, September 17th, we went to the opening performance of Off The Wall Theatre’s production of “Cabaret.”
As we expected, this was a significantly darker interpretation than others we have seen, and there was very much good and original in it. Unfortunately, the idea to push the show as far into the darkness as possible resulted in a weak and unsatisfying ending.
The Off the Wall’s small storefront space is an ideal venue for this show, as it is nothing if not intimate, and can easily resemble a run-down nightclub. One of the first innovations was the Master of Ceremonies, or “Emcee” as listed in the program (Jeremy C. Welter). Frequently, the Emcee is an almost demonic figure, gleefully presiding over the downward slide of society no matter what depravity it is currently manifesting. In this production, the Emcee is more realistic, a smarmy person who’s the front man for a sleazy concern, and is as much acted upon as acting.
Laura Monagle as Sally Bowles was fine in the main, giving us a character that was about equal parts tawdry glamor and vulnerability, until the production degenerated in the second act.
Claudio Parrone Jr. was good in the role of Clifford Bradshaw, the callow American, and brought some very good power and sensibility to the role, although his incomprehensible hairstyle and non-period facial hair were distracting.
Marilyn White and Lawrence Lukasavage played Fraulein Schneider, Cliff’s landlady, and Herr Schultz, her tenant who has tender feelings toward her. Portraying the characters as aging, yet not yet entirely old, gave an added poignancy to their part of the story, which is frequently done as a December-December romance. White’s performance of “So What?” was particularly good, expressing defiance instead of resignation, which makes her eventual surrender in “What Would You Do?” much more effective.
The performance followed the familiar arc through the first act, with enthusiastic and well-performed numbers by the Kit-Kat “Girls,” “Boys” and the band. (The participation of band member Glen Quarrie in “Two Ladies” was one of the show’s comic highlights.) There was a suitable, but not excessive, amount of “kink”: male nudity in “Don’t Tell Mama” is the most shocking bit of that type. There is some added edge as well. Somewhat daringly, the ensemble does “Money” wearing Hassidic hats with attached earlocks.
Changes come in at the start of the second act. In the first number, the one in which the Emcee cross-dresses as one of the Girls, he mocks Hitler. Nazi thugs break up the dance, the club, and rough up the Emcee. That, plus a nod from club owner Max (Paul Pfannensteil), causes the Emcee’s political shift in the next number, “If You Could See Her.” Instead of the usual monkey-mask gag, the Emcee uses the number to abuse and degrade the modest waitress, Gretel (Sandy Lewis). This was the most emotionally brutal scene of the show, and kudos to Ms. Lewis for a heart-wrenching portrayal of the waitress’ confusion when she’s entrapped on stage, her gamely trying to play along, and her fear and eventual total humiliation as the Emcee strips her clothes off. This was utterly real and believable. This was one of a number of pieces in the second act where the audience did not applaud at the end, not because it wasn’t well done, but just because it didn’t seem right.
The Emcee’s downward spiral continues as he becomes a witness to Cliff’s brutal beating at the club by Max, Ernst Ludwig (Robb Preston), and other Nazis. The following song, “I Don’t Care Much,” was delivered in the wheedling fragmented tones of a broken man.
One bit of irony that was present but underplayed was Cliff’s dictatorial position in the climactic argument with Sally. He’s made his decision as to what is best and attempts to order Sally to follow him whether she wants to or not, ignoring the fact that he is doing exactly what the Nazis are trying to do to Germany.
I wish I could say that Ms. Monagle’s portrayal of anguish after the breakup with Cliff was as effective as that of Ms. Lewis. In the first place, her otherwise decent acting chops deserted her, and she spent much of the last portion of the act crouched in a single catatonic posture. Her singing voice became the same halting whine that we heard from the Emcee. This made her big number, “Cabaret” hard to listen to in more ways than one. It was also emotionally hard. I kept waiting for her to pull herself together, for the semblance of the old Sally Bowles to make an appearance. It never happened. This, and the next point, I blame on director Dale Gutzman.
In the second place, it’s just wrong. Admittedly, in the real world, a woman who had had a traumatic rupture with her lover on top of an abortion would probably collapse. However, Sally Bowles is a character to whom the epithet “irrepressible” is frequently attached, and she wouldn’t show it if she were dying. The show must go on. Having both Sally and the Emcee break down robs the show of its ultimate irony, which is, although, as Cliff says, the party in Berlin is over, there are many who refuse to admit it.
The show essentially petered out, with the Emcee/train conductor delivering a broken version of “Wilkommen,” barely above a whisper. The rest of the cast, now garbed as prisoners on the way to the camps, filed out. The lights went down. There was no curtain call.
It is this, in chief, that I object to. The show ends with a whimper, but no bang. The Weimar ‘bang’ may have been over, but the echoes lingered on. Clubs and cabarets continued in Berlin as long as the war permitted, although toned down to Nazi tastes, and one expects that Sally Bowles, corklike, would have eventually floated safely away. To suggest, as this production does, that everyone in Germany was miserable by play’s end, although it may prefigure what was to come, makes it a historical lie; whereas the more conventional interpretation, theatrical as it may be, is closer to the spiritual truth.
Ironically, the program contains this notation: “The action of the play takes place in the memory of Clifford Bradshaw while he was dancing with Sally Bowles at the end of the world.” However bitter Cliff’s memories of Sally might have been, after he leaves the ball, she should still be dancing. In this show, she wasn’t.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/260299.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, September 16th, 2014|
|Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, “Don Giovanni”
On Sunday, September 14th, we went to hear the Milwaukee Symphony’s performance of Mozart’s opera, “Don Giovanni”. This was a ‘semi-staged’ production, meaning that there was movement and acting on stage as opposed to just standing and singing, and there was a minimal set for the singers to play off of.
Music director Edo de Waart has serious opera conducting credentials, having been called in by the Metropolitan Opera to substitute for James Levine, and he demonstrated his ability with the orchestra in no uncertain terms. The orchestra handled Mozart’s score beautifully, and with perfect dynamic support for the singers.
The opera was as well sung as any “Don Giovanni” we had heard, and well-acted in addition. Daniel Okulitch, as Giovanni, and Matthew Rose, as Leporello, were the tallest men in the cast, and reminded me of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry as “Jeeves and Wooster,” but gone horribly to the bad. Both men sang with power and precision, and acted their parts with great physical expression. In particular, Okulich’s portrayal of reckless insouciance despite the vengeance pursuing him, made it clear that Don Giovanni is, in fact, a madman, continuing his obsessive behavior to the point of his own destruction.
Tamara Wilson, as Donna Anna, had the most powerful voice in the cast, and put it to good use, singing out her outrage and grief at her near-rape by Don Giovanni, and the killing of her father.
Nicole Cabell, as Donna Elvira, sang beautifully, and also had the greatest range of acting, fiery in pursuit of vengeance when we first encounter her, but then yielding to her own obsession with Giovanni, pathetically begging him to take her back.
Paul Appleby was one of the best Don Ottavios we have heard. He sang with excellent power and decisiveness in both arias "Il mio tesoro", and "Dalla sua pace", which allowed him to avoid the stereotype of the “wimpy” Don Ottavio.
Andre Courville, as Mazetto, and Grazia Doronzio as Zerlina, were both very fine singers and acted well. The coincidence that they are both shorter than the other singers and could be “loomed over” by them, worked well in the performance—they were two “little people” who could be pushed around by the grandees even on their wedding day.
Veteran singer James Morris was a very solid and satisfying Commendatore. I always hope to have my scalp prickle at the statue’s entrance on "Don Giovanni! A cenar teco m'invitasti" and was not disappointed this time.
The minimal set by James Darrah worked well, and could adequately suggest street scenes or Don Giovanni’s house without being distracting or annoying. Darrah’s stage directing was excellent and gave the production good life and expression.
We were pleased with this production overall, and enjoyed it very much.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/259971.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Thursday, September 11th, 2014|
American Players Theatre, "Romeo and Juliet"
August 30th, we went to American Player's Theater for Romeo and Juliet. The threatening rain cleared up before showtime, and we had a lovely afternoon.
The production was up to APT's excellent standards, and thoroughly enjoyable. If the show could be said to belong to any one player, it would be Melisa Pereyra<http://americanplayers.org/about/people/melisa-pereyra> as Juliet. She played the Capulet daughter as fiery and willful, which worked very well. Christopher Sheard's Romeo was a good foil for her, but consequently lacked some of the drive that makes Romeo a successful lover.
Of course, having been in my own production recently, I was interested in the differences and how they worked. Notable was the Tybalt-Mercutio confrontation. Eric Parks' Tybalt is prickly, but not as bloodthirsty as he is usually played. In the fatal duel with Mercutio, it is clear that Mercutio is the aggressor. The interpretation of Mercutio given to Nate Burger to play (and which must have had directorial approval) isn't-well, mercurial enough. In the "Queen Mab" speech I always envisage Mercutio bouncing off the walls and chewing the scenery. Imagine the late Robin Williams in the role and you'd have my idea Mercutio--. Burger delivers the great monologue in an almost contemplative manner, which was the one aspect of the production I did not think worked.
I was pleased to see the always fine James Ridge as Capulet. His Capulet emphasized the doting father over the head of family, which moderated his confrontation with Juliet a bit. This was the opposite of the choice I had made, but was definitely valid and worked well, particularly given the very spirited Juliet to play off.
Wisconsin Highland Games
August 31st, we went to the Waukesha County Fairgrounds for the annual "Wisconsin Highland Games." We spent a very enjoyable two to three hours walking around the grounds, chatting with people in the clan booths, watching a bit of the "heavy sports", herding demonstration, and a few other things. We checked in on the archery competition in time to watch the long-distance event, in which all the archers simultaneously fired at a mark on the ground one hundred yards away, something you can only do with a large outdoor venue. Conclusion: a lone man standing on the mark would have been unscathed: on the other hand, a block of troops centered on the spot would have been hurting--.
Dealers were interesting, and we were glad to find the products of "The (In)Famous Welsh Cookie Company" on hand. These tasty snacks are unlike anything else, and we gleefully bought a couple of packages.
Milwaukee Steampunk Society
On September 10th, we went to the monthly Salon of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. We had a very pleasant time renewing acquaintances. The program for the evening was on hats, and Chicago-area Steampunk Greg Jensen gave a nice, informal talk on the various types of men's hats that would have been current in late Victorian times and which are frequently worn in the Steampunk milieu, illustrated with examples from his own extensive collection. Fortuitously, I had decided to celebrate the end of Summer (very much ended, it seemed, that evening) by wearing my Italian straw boater, which was one type of hat Mr. Jensen doesn't own, and so came in handy for the talk.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/259803.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, August 29th, 2014|
|“Kiss me Kate”, Wisconsin Union Theater
On Sunday afternoon, August 24th, we drove over to Madison to see Four Seasons Theatre’s production of Kiss Me Kate. This show re-opened the venerable Wisconsin Union Theater, which makes up the west end of the Wisconsin Memorial Union complex on the UW campus.
The Theater, now having its 75th season, has been under re-construction for the last two years, and I was interested to see what changes had been made. However, a lot of what was done wasn’t visible—new roofing, upgrades to spaces usually out of the public eye—although the Theater itself did seem to have been freshened up.
Four Seasons Theatre is a group local to Madison that’s been around for ten years, but this was my first experience with them. I would say they did a very fine job with Cole Porter’s classic adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, and we were very pleased to have seen it.
For those not familiar with the show, instead of merely making a musical version of Shakespeare, Porter made it a musical within a musical, set in the matrix of the fractious cast’s misadventures, conflicts, and love affairs. It is one of the classic “backstage” stories of the American theater.
Four Seasons did an excellent job with the show. Steven Koehler was very good as “Fred Graham,” the veteran actor who’s staking everything on the show as a comeback attempt. He’s matched by Wendy Jones Hill as “Lilli Vanessi,” Fred’s ex-wife who’s on the verge of giving up the stage. They were well supported by a high-quality cast, notably Sarah Streich as “Lois Lane,” and Tom Hensen and John Jajewski as the two thugs who intrude on the show in order to collect a gambling debt.
I don’t recall any particularly wonderful singing voices, but everyone was up to the challenges of the respective roles, and the orchestra generally supported them well.
Both stage business and dance choreography were cleverly planned and skillfully executed. A high-point was the Fosse-inspired dance for “Too Darn Hot” that opens the second act. Andy White as “Paul” lead the company in a sizzling production number that Georgie said was worth the price of admission alone.
The sets were very nicely done and allowed speedy and artistic scene changes. I generally liked the costumes. The late-40’s-era “backstage” costumes looked good and authentic, and most of the Shakespearean costumes fit well into my image of what a touring company of that time would look like—parti-colored tights and doublets for the men, and shepherdess dresses for the women. However, the costumes for “Kate” and “Petruchio” (several costume changes each) looked as though designed for a completely different production. They did make the “stars” stand out, but damaged the harmony of the production design.
All in all, this was a fine performance that we were glad to have seen. We will be keeping an eye on Four Seasons’ future presentations.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/259341.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Thursday, August 28th, 2014|
|Irish Fest 2014
We went to Irish Fest on Saturday the 16th of August, and had a particularly good time this year. The day was fine, food first-rate, and the musical line-up excellent.
We were there when the gates opened, and went first to the Theatre Pavilion to see the Armagh Rhymers. The Rhymers are one of the most unusual groups we have seen at Irish Fest. The troupe of five men and women performed a ceremony/celebration/ritual that involved song, music, movement, poetry, and declamation, much of it while wearing wicker animal heads. The performance comes from an ancient "mummers" tradition, which includes that the performers' costumes should in part be of sackcloth, indicative of poverty and humility. We speculated that in times past, these were the things that would be done at festival times, either by travelling troupes or local players. (Indeed, I proposed that storytelling with gestures probably goes back to "caveman" times--.) It was all very interesting and different, and we were glad to have seen it.
After the Armagh Rhymers, we caught a bit of the set by Tallymoore, before going over and getting seats at The Snug for Frogwater. Frogwater are sentimental favorites of ours, and they played a very nice set. We will be watching for their new CD coming out this fall.
After Frogwater, we went and got our main meal of the day, a bridie, sausage roll, and fries from Winston's. These were some of the best we've had in a number of years, fresh, hot, and not overcooked. We decided that getting them earlier in the day was probably a good plan and we need to remember that for the future.
The next major performance we went to was that of Alasdair Fraser, the famous Scots fiddler. Fraser has the most beautiful, mellow fiddle sound I have ever experienced. He is a true master, but puts on a very down to earth and unaffected show.
We caught part of the Kincora Traditional Music Group set. They, like a number of other groups, were part of the tribute to Irish King Brian Boru that was a special program this year, and performed "Brian Boru's March," and other pieces related to the famous leader.
Next, we went to the Harp Tent, for Kim Robertson's set. Robertson is another perennial favorite of ours, and as usual, had some things that were new and interesting to share.
After 5:00PM, we stopped back to the Theater Pavilion, where In Tandem Theater was performing "A Tribute to Seamus Heaney", and listened as they read from Sweeney Astray, Heaney's first published translation (Buile Shuibhne<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/buile_shuibhne>).
We finished our day by attending Carlos Nunez' set, which was, as last year, exhilarating and a lot of fun, but much like last year's performance. Nunez has his mission of establishing the world-wide influence of Celtic music, well and good, but I would have preferred that he spend more time on Galician music, which we don't hear much of. Also, it's nice that he includes members of other groups, as well as the audience, in his performance, but these "crowd scenes" go on way longer than a normal number, so it seems that half his set is taken up with two songs, which is a bit disappointing.
As is our wont, we bailed out before things got too late (or too loud), taking with us a box of "Mother Machree's Irish Strudel."
All in all, this was one of the best Irish Fests we've had in recent memory, and kudos to the organizers, talent bookers, and the performers, all of whom seem to be having a wonderful time and wanting you to share it.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/259081.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, August 18th, 2014|
|Guardians of the Galaxy
On Tuesday the 12th, we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest Marvel movie, loosely based on the 2008 version of the comic of that name (which explains why the group has no resemblance to the earlier version I had recalled--).
The movie was very enjoyable and we definitely liked it, but I didn't find it quite as wonderful as some reviewers lead me to hope, for some reason. I found myself comparing it with Star Wars: A New Hope (or The Original Movie, as I tend to think of it), with which it has a great deal in common. You've got an ad-hoc band of mismatched adventurers, drawn into a battle against a galactic villain (in this case, Ronan the Accuser in a "Darth Vader/Moff Tarkin" role) featuring a climactic battle in which his enormous starship is destroyed, and so on. Even one of the villains (Nebula) gets away to fight another day. The good guys have to break out of prison--. And there are other parallels.
Major plot differences include the McGuffin that is an "Infinity Gem," one of the most potent artifacts in the Marvel Universe, and closely connected with the mad Titan, Thanos (appearing here in the "Emperor Palpatine" slot). However, I think most of the difference was in tone: although there's quite a bit of humorous dialog, and some incident, in Guardians, in the main the movie takes itself seriously, and the climactic battle is just as grimly fought and drawn out as is the ending of the other recent Marvel films, whereas Star Wars (TOM) had a lighter touch throughout, a quicker, cleaner climax, and a sense that, in general, everyone was just having fun with it all. By the time you get through forty-five minutes of serious combat, the lightness is pretty well gone.
That said, it's a marvelous looking movie, definitely the last word in CGI and special effects. Rocket, the "uplifted" raccoon is perfect, with the best animation of features, fur, ears, etc. of any CGI animal I have seen.
All in all, an enjoyable space opera, which I'm sure will link into future Marvel films in a potentially interesting fashion. One note: we always stay for the end of the credits. This time, we hope the "Easter Egg" was a gag--.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/258876.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Monday, August 11th, 2014|
|The Hundred-Foot Journey
Sunday the 10th, we went to see "The Hundred-Foot Journey," and found it a thoroughly charming movie.
Set mostly in rural France, the movie deals with the conflict between the Kadam family, refugees from political conflict in India, and Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), when the Kadams open an exuberantly Indian bistro across the road from Mallory's elegant haute cuisine establishment. It's not so much that they are competition, but that she perceives that they lower the tone for her place, which already has one coveted star in the famous Michelin Guide, and Madame Mallory is striking for two, a rarified category where ambiance definitely matters.
Initially Madame Mallory stoops only to tricks and legal harassments that are overcome by Papa Kadam (Om Puri) and his family, but when some of her workers take things too far, guilt cracks her façade, and leads to a truce, eventual reconciliation, and ultimately far more than that.
Although Helen Mirren is the above-the-title star (at least for Western audiences) her role is actually the "heavy" and much of the film actually belongs to the indomitable Papa Kadam (Puri), his talented chef son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), and Mallory's sous-chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), all of whom are excellent. The main characters all take part in working out a complex emotional web dealing with relationships between Mallory and Papa, Mallory and Hassan, Hassan and Papa, and Hassan and Marguerite, with some surprising twists and turns.
We think Mirren is a wonderful actress, and have pretty much put her on the 'will see anything she does list," but one does have to wonder why she was cast instead of real-life French women such as Juliette Binoche or Marion Cotillard. Indeed, Ms. Mirren herself, in interviews, admits that her French accent is 'dodgy', but that she always wanted to be a "French actress" and so was glad of the role. One expects that, as an American production, it was felt that someone was needed who had both the acting 'chops' to balance the formidable Mr. Puri, and name recognition/'bankability' for the American audiences. In any case, Mirren is great in the role and perhaps the fact that she's not totally glamorous adds to her vulnerability.
Om Puri is a veteran actor with a long resume of both Indian and Western film roles, and is totally believable as the sometimes visionary, sometimes bullheaded, patriarch. Manish Dayal does a fine job as the young man who has inherited passion and talent for food from his martyred mother, and Charlotte Le Bon gives a solid nuanced performance as the open-minded yet ambitious chef he is attracted to.
The movie is very good looking, both scenically, and in the food preparation scenes (we came away hungry for both Indian and French food--). Kudos to the script writers for establishing that English is the common language between the French and the Hindi-speaking Kadams, which explains why much of the film is in that language, with occasional non-subtitled asides. (Not so easy to understand why English is spoken by the Kadams at home, or in the kitchen at "Le Saule Pleureur", but it's easy to accept in context.)
Interestingly, Le Saule Pleureur ("The Weeping Willow") is a genuine Michelin-starred restaurant located outside the village of Monteaux, near Avignon. One wonders what effect this film will have on their business. One hopes it will be positive.
All in all, an excellent, feel-good movie, and mostly family-friendly, for those younger people who have patience and understanding to follow the plot. No sex, no bad language (at least, not in English or the French I caught--), and minimal violence, although the scenes of rioting in India and the attack on "Maison Mumbai" in France are intense.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/258603.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, August 8th, 2014|
We went to see "Lucy," Scarlett Johansson's one-shot super-being film, and enjoyed it, with the exception of the gratuitous and over-long car-crash sequence. (One could think the by-then super-intelligent heroine could have plotted a less destructive course--.)
One thing that frustrates me is the "10%" thing, which falls into the category of scripts that could have been fixed by putting in (or taking out) about one line of dialog. Of course, we all know that the "we only use about 10% of our brain" idea has been long discredited. To be fair, that isn't exactly what Morgan Freeman's character, Professor Norman, says. He actually talks about "ten percent of cerebral capacity," which puts it into the handwaving category, since I don't think anyone has measured or understands what "cerebral capacity" is or could be.
The old SF and metaphysical trope is that if a human could have conscious control of all that the brain could do, they would be a superbeing, or at least, a supermind. This is assumed to be a sort of an operating system upgrade, allowing us to make better use of the existing hardware.
However, even that is not what's happening to Lucy, the overseas student/slacker whose sleazy boyfriend gets her entangled with a drug gang. After exposure to massive amounts of an artificial growth hormone, she tells Norman that her brain is "adding millions of neurons per second." Neurons are cells that process and transmit information, so what's really happening to her is a huge hardware upgrade. So, what she's really ending up with is not a normal brain made ten times more efficient, she has an enhanced brain that is ten times more capable than a normal brain, which is a significant distinction. In an interview on 08/03/2014 (evening news on France 2), Luc Besson<http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000108/> admitted that he knew that some scientific assumptions were erroneous, e.g. that humans use only 10% of their brain. Nonetheless, he said that "[such assumption] would be a great start for a sci-fi movie".
If you take the premise as being that enhancing the human brain may result in reality-altering powers, yes, I admit that is a great start, but it could have been couched more artfully.
That said, one you suspend disbelief about the nature of the brain alterations, it's a very good movie. Ms. Johansson, who's been spending a lot of time lately playing tough, confident women, does a very effective job playing the early-film Lucy as the clueless and terrified woman caught up in a horrific situation, which makes her transition into a near-emotionless thinking machine all the more effective. I do think the character reached that point a bit earlier than she needed to, but that is the fault of writer/director Mr. Besson, and not Ms. Johansson.
She was well supported by Freeman, Amr Waked as the French policeman Del Rio, and Min-sik Choi as the criminal Mr. Jang.
Mentioning Mr. Jang brings up the other really tired plot convention: the crooks who don't know when to cut their losses. Jang and his gang see their shipments of the new drugs confiscated by police due to Lucy's intervention, but, instead of going back to the lab and cooking up a new batch, decide to stage an all-out gun battle versus the French police, including a platoon-level assault on a university laboratory building. Frankly, this makes no sense; no matter how many hundreds of thousands the dope might have been worth on the street, the production cost must necessarily be much lower, and, to an ongoing criminal enterprise, nothing would be worth incurring that kind of governmental wrath. Oh, well-the bad guys exist to drive the plot.
That said, it was still an enjoyable film. The representations of Lucy's evolving powers and perceptions are neatly done and very cool. Her ultimate apotheosis shares elements with other similar sequences, but also builds in some homages, notably to 2001:A Space Odyssey, which we appreciated.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/258439.html. Please comment there using OpenID.