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|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.
|Sunday, August 3rd, 2014|
|European Trip Report
I'm sorry that it has taken so long to post anything on our Viking River Cruise. I've wanted to make it the best possible report I could, so I've taken considerable time with it. After some thought, I decided to make it a Tumblr, since the journal is picture-heavy, and it's a lot easier to add photosets to Tumblr than to this journal. Also, it's long: there are 65 separate entries and I didn't want to necessarily fill up people's reading pages, especially if they don't happen to be interested.
So: Here it is: http://georgieandgreg.tumblr.com/
For those who might only want to look at pictures, ALL the photos I took (but without commentary) are collected at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/61681349@N00/sets/
Comments or questions are welcome. Enjoy!This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/258213.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, June 6th, 2014|
Wednesday night, May 28th, I and a friend went to see the new "Godzilla". It was pretty good.
This re-imagining of the classic "giant monster" (kaiju) film begins in 1999, with the ominous discover of giant remains at a Philippine mine, the disturbance of which appears to have released something huge. Sometime later, at a nuclear power plant along Japan's south coast, a strange seismic vibration grows in intensity causing the American chief engineer, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) to order a shutdown, but too late. The plant is destroyed by a strange localized earthquake, killing the engineer's wife (Elizabeth Olsen).
Flash forward to 2014: Brody's son, Ford (Arron Taylor-Johnson), a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy home on leave, gets called to Japan to bail out his father, who, obsessed with the events resulting in his wife's death, has been trespassing in the "quarantine zone" around the ruined reactors. Ford is dragged into his father's quest, and they discover much more than they had bargained on, and at a critical time.
Among other things, they discover that an international organization, "Monarch" (no indication if this is an acronym for anything--) has been aware of the existence of Godzilla since 1954, and they are monitoring a giant chrysalis beneath the power plant. When the pupating creature emerges as a rampantly destructive M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), the race is on as to whether humanity will destroy the M.U.T.O. first, or a hunting Godzilla will catch it, possibly resulting in even more destruction.
The movie has some distinct plot holes, but, once you accept the existence of 350 foot tall monsters from the dawn of time, the rest is shruggable. The majority of the plot actually deals with the efforts of the humans to stop the monsters, and the climactic giant monster fight isn't tiring to sit through.
I was glad to see that the writers preserved some of the classic Godzilla tropes-such as that a child is often the first one to see Godzilla-and avoided some Western clichés.
The new Godzilla is clearly in the line of the classic Toho rubber-suit monster, but more massively built, resembling a cross between a stegosaur and a bear. According to some publicity material, bears were used as part of the model for Godzilla's fighting style.
Giant monsters wreck parts of Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, with the CGI destruction being vastly advanced over the old days of balsa-wood Tokyo being smashed.
Taylor-Johnson, as the man who can't seem to keep out of the monsters' ways, is a stalwart hero, and decent to watch. Ken Watanabe is pretty much wasted as the Monarch chief scientist-it seems that, as a Japanese, he's chiefly there to make the token protest against the military's proposed use of atomic weapons against the monsters.
That said, it's an enjoyable film of its type, and I did not find the pacing too slow, unlike some critics. There is already talk of a sequel. Recommended for fans of the genre.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/257848.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Wiscon 38 2014
As usual for us, we had a very good time at this year's WisCon. We had a trouble-free drive over to Madison, and got to the hotel and checked in in time to check out The Gathering and touch base with people we needed to contact.
This year, WisCon and the annual Science Fiction Research Association Conference (headquartered at the Inn on the Park) were held together, which added even more program to WisCon's already heavy schedule. The first "regular" program item we went to was the 4:00PM "SFRA Tiptree Event," which was a retrospective on the award and how it came to be, that we found very interesting. "Founding Mothers" Karen Joy Fowler and Pat Murphy were joined by Tiptree winners Eleanor Arnason and Nisi Shawl, long-time "Motherboard" member Jeanne Gomoll, former Tiptree juror Michael Marc McBride, and moderator Margaret McBride. A reception followed, but we felt the need of more substantial food, and went down State Street to Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which was just as tasty and actually somewhat less loud than last time we were there.
At 7:00PM, we went back to the Inn on the Park for Eleanor Arnason's SFRA reading, in which she read us two stories, one from her Icelandic series, "The Puffin Hunter," in which a man is haunted by the ghost of a fairy, and another, the title of which I did not catch, wherein a woman becomes story-teller to the Court of the North Wind. Both were excellent.
After that, Georgie had her first panel, "Style is Being Yourself on Purpose," which was a very lively and fun panel to listen to. Panelists Julia Dvorin, Allison Morris, "The Rotund", and "Anonymous" discussed the issues of creating your own style when the 'fashion industry' doesn't support your color, your size, your age, or your aesthetic. There was definitely material enough for a sequel panel.
Saturday morning, we made our usual pilgrimage to get croissants from L'Etoile and a quick glance at the Farmers' Market.
We then went to the paper presentation, "Apes in the Uncanny Valley," by Joan Gordon, which dealt with genre studies, primate studies, and the post-human in fiction about apes. I thought it was a very interesting survey, although I did not think that the "uncanny valley" was the best frame for the discussion: most of the characters mentioned were either clearly non-human, or able to pass for human, which is not the "uncanny valley" phenomenon.
At the lunch break, we went down State Street to the Chazen Museum on the University campus, on the recommendation of friends to see some works in the new addition, which we found fascinating. Then, we went over to the Memorial Union for a helping of the famous Babcock Hall ice cream.
Back at the hotel, we attended the "Medieval People of Color" program, which challenges the common conception that there were no non-whites in pre-Renaissance Europe, or at least so few that portraying them need not be a consideration when designing games, films, or books set in the period. Specifically, the "Medieval People of Color" Tumblr exists to refute the idea by collecting contemporary art from the era-very useful!
Later in the afternoon, we stopped by the Tiptree Bake Sale, which still had plenty of yummy plates to sell. We checked out the art show, and made another pass at the dealer's room (bought more books this year than some years), and eventually met up with Darlene Coltrain, Steven Vincent Johnson, Leah Fisher, and Mary Prince to go out to dinner at Takara Japanese restaurant on State Street, which was very good. I had the Sushi and Sashimi plate, which was all good and not all just the common items.
I had two panels after dinner. The first one, "Geena Davis' Two Easy Steps to Make Hollywood Less Sexist" dealt with the proposal in the actress' article of the same title, reflecting the shocking statistic that crowd and group scenes in film consistently contain only 17% women; that three years of G-rated movies contained no female characters in law, medicine, or executive positions; and that other gender imbalance were equally pervasive but taken for granted. There was a good debate on what effects changing film casting decisions might have on society as a whole.
The second panel was "Dual Identities: Fan vs. 'Real Life'". The panelists related experiences involving fannish vs. work life. Most of the panel had had different experiences than mine since their on-line presence is different and tended to overlap more with their work, but some principles apply across the board: that certain fannish activities make you "unreliable" in certain businesses, even ones where you would think it wouldn't be an issue, and keeping fan life separate from mundane life can still be a good-and even necessary-idea.
Sunday morning started off with Georgie's panel, "Outrageous Women of the 19th Century." Cynthia Gonsalves moderated this year, while Georgie talked about adventuress Jane Digby and presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull. Bev Friend told the story of "pirate queen" Ching Shih, and James Roberts shared capsule biographies of notable Irish women of the 19th century. As usual with this series, the panel was well attended with vigorous audience participation.
Next, we went to the panel "The Problem of Susan," which dealt with the question, unresolved in C. S. Lewis' "Narnia" books, of what ultimately became of Susan Pevensie, who is not present at the time of the "Last Battle", the winding up of Narnia, and, apparently, does not enter into Aslan's father's kingdom along with her siblings. There were some very thoughtful expositions on this topic in particular, and Narnia and Lewis' writing in general. From the audience, I got to give my own theory, that, because Aslan had said, "Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia," this could not be untrue, and that therefore Susan, whose time had not yet come, might still get to Aslan's county in her own way, as Lewis later wrote. This conjecture was well received, although all agreed that of course it could not be definitive.
We got a light dinner a Potbelly Deli, a reliable fallback, and came back to change for the evening. Sunday is still the 'dress up' night, and Georgie had a very elegant outfit of a black double-breasted jacket over a silk printed skirt. Since Sunday was also "Genderfloomp" night, and I was feeling a bit mischievous, I wore a white shirt, black tie, and white dinner jacket. However, instead of cummerbund, I wore a black satin corset, and a black velvet long skirt instead of trousers, accented with fishnet tights and black pumps. Beyond amusement, I actually got a good number of compliments on how elegant the ensemble looked. (It was also interesting that quite a few friends seemed not to notice, but, in a crowded party, it's sometimes hard to get a full length view of someone else--.)
We attended the Guest of Honor speeches, which were both quite inspiring. Hiromi Goto's speech was both autobiographical and a strong statement of aesthetic principles that was both powerful and interesting. (http://www.hiromigoto.com/wiscon38-guest-of-honour-speech/
As often happens at WisCon, the speech by N.K. Jemisn took quite a different tack. Discussing the hateful reactions to her prior guest of Honor speech at the Continuum 9 convention in Australia, which called for racial reconciliation, and compared the current state of racial relations in the United States unfavorably (but correctly) with the recent moves toward reconciliation with indigenous peoples in Australia. As a result, her conclusion was that her call for reconciliation was premature: "Reconciliation is a part of the healing process, but how can there be healing when the wounds are still being inflicted?" and, essentially threw down the gauntlet to the bigots and their equivocators: "Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don't be "fair and balanced." Tell them they're unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight." ( http://nkjemisin.com/2014/05/wiscon-38-guest-of-honor-speech/
) Her speech was received with great enthusiasm, as was Goto's, and I was very proud that she listed WisCon as a place one could arm themselves with knowledge.
We ducked out at the end of Nike Sulway's Tiptree Award acceptance speech in order to get the "Rupetta" inspired cake that Georgie had made up to the Aqueduct Press party. I stood guard on the cake box until the author arrived for the unveiling. The cake was universally admired for its beauty (and for its flavor, once eaten), and helped cut and serve it. (Picture to follow--).
Monday morning, it was my turn to have the 8:30AM panel, "Gods as Characters," and I got to take part in a good discussion concerning the gods of Jemesin's "Inheritance Trilogy," Eleanor Arnason's hwarhath Goddess, the gods in Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion and its sequels, and others. There was a good turnout, particularly considering the hour, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.
After that, we took some time to take a last look around the convention before heading off, after having made sure we had memberships and hotel reservations for next year.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/257637.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, May 20th, 2014|
|Milwaukee Ballet, “Mirror Mirror”
On Sunday, May 18th, we saw the Milwaukee Ballet’s performance of “Mirror Mirror,” a new story ballet by Michael Pink, based upon the story of “Snow White.” This is quite a fresh and original adaptation, with a dramatic and emotional score by Philip Feeney.
In the ballet, Snow White’s father is not a king, but rather a farmer who owns an apple orchard (Erik Johnson). A star falls into the lap of his wife, Beatrice, and becomes a fragment of mirror. Beatrice (Courtney Kramer) sees in it that she will bear a child by Josef and realizes that it is a magic mirror, and treasures it. Years later, when the child Snow White has grown into a young girl (Georgia Pink), Beatrice is set upon by the faceless Demons of the Mirror and killed.
The demons are the heralds and scouts for the witch Claudia (Susan Gartell), who entrances Josef and marries him to become Snow White’s stepmother. Even at the artistically Gothic wedding scene, we see that Claudia is not only jealous of the attentions of every other man present, she is also jealous of Josef’s attention to his now-grown daughter (Luz San Miguel).
Snow White is upset when Josef gifts her mother’s mirror to Claudia. In her chambers, Claudia inserts the mirror piece into the magic mirror she already possesses, and we see that the Demons of the Mirror answer to her.
Claudia attempts to befriend Snow White, but is rebuffed. Josef arrives in time to see Snow White lash out at Claudia. In revenge, Claudia “vamps”—there is no other suitable word for it—Snow White’s chief suitor, Gustav (David Hovhannisyan). At the party celebrating Snow White’s birthday, it is apparent that something is wrong due to the possessive touches Claudia puts on Gustav, and the way he freezes like a rabbit before a serpent, when she is near. When Claudia demands of the mirror who is fairest, the image of Snow White appears.
Enraged, Claudia also seduces Gustav’s father, Wilhelm (Ryan Martin) and demands that he kill Snow White. Wilhelm takes Snow White into the forest, but, instead of killing her, takes the locket she had from Beatrice as proof of her death, stains his hunting knife with his own blood, and urges Snow White to escape.
He returns to Claudia with the “proof.” Claudia tastes the blood with ghoulish glee, but, when the mirror shows Snow White still alive, she hurls Wilhelm against the mirror, which drags him into itself to presumable doom.
At the beginning of the second act, Snow White runs through the forest, haunted by the Demons and pursued by three young men of the village that she believes are out to kill her. Gustav intervenes, and she is made to understand that the villagers are seeking her because they are worried for her safety. There is a celebration when Snow White is found alive. Unwilling to return home, she settles down to rest accompanied by one of the village girls.
Guided by the mirror, Claudia finds Snow White and, disguised by her glamour, presents Snow White with a beautiful coat. When Snow White puts it on, the coat crushes the life out of her. (This is a variation on one of the classical ways the wicked stepmother tries to kill Snow White, a bodice tighten so that she cannot breathe.) The girl runs for help. Gustav and the villagers arrive, apparently too late, but Snow White is revived when the innocent child’s tears fall on her face. Claudia, watching in her raven form, suffers what should be a warning backlash when the spell is broken.
Undeterred, she calls on the Demons (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharatt, Jose Soares) to conjure the evilly gleaming Poison Apple, and, again disguised, delivers it to Snow White along with other apples she hands out to the village girls. The girls again go for help when the poison takes effect, but this time to no avail. Snow White’s body is laid on a bier hung among the branches of the apple trees.
Gustav rushes to confront Claudia, who is preening before the mirror. They fight, but, even with the Demons assisting her, Gustave manages to fling Claudia into the mirror, which devours her as it had the hapless Wilhelm.
Claudia’s power now broken, Gustav returns to Snow White, and his kiss restores her to life. A romantic pas de deux, general celebration, and a shameless happy ending ensue.
Although Snow White gets the heroine’s last bow, the story really belongs to Claudia, and Susan Gartell was masterful in the role of the evil witch: vain, cruel, lustful and murderous, she acted and danced the role with great power, violent rage, and evil glee where appropriate. She was well supported by Luz San Miguel in the role of Snow White, who is a spunky girl but, ultimately just a girl and no match on her own for the wicked sorceress. David Hovhannisyan was also excellent as the young man who is essentially raped and humiliated by the older woman but finds his spine to go fight her when he knows that she’s also a murderous witch. The Demons of the Mirror are appropriately creepy in their faceless masks and inhuman poses.
The production was wonderfully designed and many effects very cleverly though simply done through staging and movement. The score by Philip Feeney was dramatic, powerful, listenable, and supported the emotion of the story and the dance. The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Andrews Sill delivered the goods.
Michael Pink’s choreography is what makes the ballet, of course, and we continue to be impressed with his prowess as a creator of story ballets. His party and group dance scenes are always interesting, and he has great success in scenes of drama and suspense, such as Josef and Claudia’s wedding, the argument between Claudia and Snow White, and Claudia’s seductions of Gustav and Wilhelm.
We were very pleased with “Mirror Mirror,” and found it beautiful, exciting and thrilling.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/257364.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|“Spaces and Traces” 2014
On May 17th, we took the Historic Milwaukee annual “Spaces and Traces” house tour, which this year covered the Washington Heights neighborhood of the City of Milwaukee. Most of the houses in this area were built in the 1920’s, and ranged from a classic “Milwaukee bungalow” to a rather fantastic “story book style” house to some pretty grand homes. Unlike some tours there was only one house we would have gladly moved right into, but it was striking how many of the houses, despite being 90+ years old were still largely original in layout, and still very livable.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/257079.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Ensemble Musical Offering: C.P.E. Bach 300th Anniversary Celebration
On May 10th, we heard a really wonderful Baroque music concert by Ensemble Musical Offering. The C.P.E Bach program consisted of the Concerto in G Major, Wq. 169, for Flute, Stings, and Basso Continuo; Sonata in G Major, Wq. 144, for Flute, Violin, and Basso Continuo; and Concerto in D Minor, Wq. 23 for Harpsichord and Strings. All of these pieces were extremely well done, with Professor Linda Perekstra, a highly regarded performer on baroque flute doing the soloist duties on two very demanding pieces. I found the Bach pieces fascinating, and observed that C.P.E. Bach frequently had a very modern sound, with motifs that he in fact established.
Besides playing the Basso Continuo for the two flute pieces, Jory Vinokur, prize-winning harpsichordist, played in the Concerto in D Minor, and also gave us a selection of pieces de clavecin, by Rameau, which included "Le Rappel des Oiseaux," "L'Entretien Les Muses," "Les Tourbillions," and "Les Cyclopes," among others. Georgie, who is an aficionado of Rameau declared that she knows these pieces by heart, has never heard them better done, and heard ornamentations she has never heard before.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/256798.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Tuesday, May 13th, 2014|
|Still More on “Net Neutrality”: The Misunderstanding
I looked up the posts by Michael Mooney “Chicken” | A Game Played as a Child and by some ISPs with the Internet | Beyond Bandwidth<http://blog.level3.com/global-connectivity/chicken-game-played-child-isps-internet/> and Mark Taylor Observations of an Internet Middleman<http://blog.level3.com/global-connectivity/observations-internet-middleman/> on the Level 3 Communications blog “Beyond Bandwidth” that were the basis of the Fierce Telecom article I discussed in my previous post.
These are both very interesting and well written articles that cogently support their issues with the ISPs. HOWEVER, they do not, in any way support the conclusion that ISPs are either “turning down” internet connections or discriminating against any customers. The facts, as documented by Level 3, are very different.
Basically, Level 3’s issue with ISPs is that they have not leaped to double or triple network gateway capacity in order to keep up with increased demand for bandwidth while absorbing all the cost for such upgrading themselves. So, yes, there’s congestion, and yes, the ISPs haven’t agreed to fix it for free. But that’s a far cry from saying that the ISPs are intentionally slowing anything down, and Level 3 doesn’t actually say that in its posts, but rather alleges that ISPs are intentionally foot-dragging with intent to extort revised peering agreements that provide for some payment for service upgrades. (Apparently, most existing peering agreements provide for free mutual interconnection between carriers, and make no provision for sharing costs of adding bandwidth.) Well down in the comments it is admitted that the ISPs adding bandwidth would require more than merely adding an additional Ethernet card or router at these gateway points--.
And, at no point does either writer allege that any ISP is discriminating or has discriminated against any particular customer.
So, the common allegation that the ISPs can, have, or will take affirmative steps to “slow down” the Internet for anyone is not supported, even by these serious critics. Instead, there is a genuine, serious debate in progress as to who should be adding capacity to meet unanticipated demand, how it should be done, and how costs should be distributed. This is how the public discussion should be framed, instead of being obscured by the b.s. arguments, which are, I am afraid, like most politics today, designed to distort issues to suit the speakers’ agendas and to stampede the uniformed.
Cases in point: in the absolutely most childish “protest” I have seen in a long time, the operator of the NeoCities ISP “found the FCC's internal IP address range and throttled all connections to 28.8Kbps speeds” (as reported in Daily Kos). Kyle Drake wrote "Since the FCC seems to have no problem with this idea, I've (through correspondence) gotten access to the FCC's internal IP block, and throttled all connections from the FCC to 28.8kbps modem speeds on the Neocities.org front site, and I'm not removing it until the FCC pays us for the bandwidth they've been wasting instead of doing their jobs protecting us from the 'keep America's internet slow and expensive forever' lobby." Exactly whom does this inconvenience? No one except Mr. Drake’s own customers, who might legitimately want to contact the FCC and weigh in on the issue--.
And, Professor Tim Wu, in his New Yorker Magazine blog, continues his disinformation campaign. On May 9th, he wrote “The problem is that the words “commercially reasonable,” on their face, imply slow-lane and fast-lane deals, whereby carriers like AT&T and Comcast would favor the strong and hurt the weak, while enriching themselves in the process. They could charge some companies extra for their content to reach you; everyone else’s content would then slow down.”
People, IT’S NOT A ZERO-SUM GAME! This is something that, in my opinion, Professor Wu should well understand. See the blog posts by Level 3, above, re adding capacity. The fact is that, given fiber-optic cabling, the upper limit on potential bandwidth for Internet infrastructure is incalculable, assuming there’s will and wealth to install it. In the recent past, FCC telephone service rules regarding “dark fiber” and “excess capacity” actively discouraged building out more fiber than was actually needed, so there is some catching up to do, but it is to be hoped that those days are coming to an end.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/256632.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, May 9th, 2014|
|Only Lovers Left Alive
After seeing it on Monday the 5th, Georgie declared "Only Lovers Left Alive" to be "an elegant, eerie, melancholy movie," and it's hard to better that assessment.
Although all the main characters, Eve (Tilda Swinton), Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Kit (John Hurt), and Ava (Mia Wasikowska), are vampires, it is not a typical vampire movie. It is really about immortality and the ennui that endless life can bring.
Although Eve and Adam are married (and evidently have been for several centuries), they live apart. She has golden home in Tangiers, full of books. He haunts a ruinous house in Detroit, as desolate as any Carpathian Castle, and makes mopey music on his collection of vintage guitars. Eve embraces technology, calling Adam on her iPhone and travelling on a dozen credit cards. Adam takes her calls on a 70's vintage cordless phone, hot-wired to an old TV set for video calls, and pays for everything with wads of cash. Eve still finds joy in existence, "embracing nature." Adam is depressed and discouraged by the short-sighted stupidity of the "zombies", as they call normal humans, and making plans to end it all.
Kit and Ava are other facets of the vampire existence. Kit is actually Christopher Marlowe, the poet and playwright, whose conversion to vampirism late in life (and nominal "death") forced him to use the no-talent William Shakespeare as a front man in order to continue writing. Ava is the opposite of Ann Rice's "Claudia" who was made a vampire while still a little girl. Ava is a willful child in the body of an immortal vampire (the horror!).
The characters have adapted to existence in interesting ways. Eve loves literature and reads at least a dozen languages. Adam is a technical genius who learned secrets from Tesla (as well as having hung out with Byron and Shelley, whom Eve accuses of "ruining" him--). Marlowe still writes, filling notebooks (no hint as to whether he's published anything since Shakespeare's day), whereas Ava is doing the Lost Boys "Sleep all day, party all night" thing.
While vampirism is chiefly the mechanism for immortality, it is made clear that the vampires are "junkies" for blood. The blissed-out expressions we see after they have taken a drink of blood are those of someone who has taken a hit of really good dope. And, it is the difficulty of making a "connection" that brings on the crisis of decision between existence and termination.
Director and writer Jim Jarmusch has made perhaps the most thoughtful vampire film ever, and certainly the most stylish since 1983's "The Hunger," with which "Only Lovers" is being frequently compared, although they are very different stories.
Beautifully shot, feelingly acted, "Only Lovers Left Alive" is indeed an eerie, elegant, melancholy work of art. Highly recommended.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/256319.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Wednesday, May 7th, 2014|
|A Bit More on “Net Neutrality”
Relevant to the current discussion, the following item showed up in one of the e-mail feeds I get, from Fierce Telecom:
Level 3 charges 6 unnamed ISPs of not adhering to their peering arrangements
By Sean Buckley
Level 3 Communications, a major wholesale provider to content companies like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), has accused five unnamed U.S. ISPs and one European ISP of abusing their market power to effectively put a limit on the amount of traffic the transit provider can route over these ISPs' last mile networks.
"Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe," wrote Mark Taylor, vice president of Content and Media for Level 3, in a blog post. "There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers."
The service provider said that by not adhering to the established peering agreements, they are degrading the customer experience for content and services that run over Level 3's network.
One issue that causes service degradation is a lack of capacity at the interconnection points where Netflix and others try to carry their traffic through the last mile provider's network. When that issue occurs, the transit provider like Level 3 will work with the last mile provider to get additional capacity by opening more ports.
Peering fights are nothing new for Level 3, which has long battled the likes of both Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) over this issue. A number of reports have emerged in recent months where Comcast, AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon and Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) customers have complained they were seeing quality issues whenever they streamed video services from Netflix and Amazon on their broadband connections.
Although Level 3 does not identify the ISPs, recent moves by Netflix to garner agreements with both Comcast and Verizon illustrate that these two service providers are likely part of this group. During a recent Brookings Institution panel discussion, AT&T's Chief Technology Officer John Donovan said the carrier is "in discussions with Netflix" regarding a peering arrangement.
Peering disputes aren't relegated just to Level 3. Fellow transit provider Cogent Communications told broadband service providers like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Verizon in March that it would help them pay to upgrade their broadband connections, for example.
(end of item)
Now, I don’t know anything about the details of any of these “peering arrangements,” but two things occur to me on reading this. Number one, it is one thing to say that there may be service degradation due to lack of capacity, which may well be the case, particularly when dealing with traffic from Netflix and Amazon. The relatively new phenomenon of “binge viewing” coupled with the practice of releasing an entire new video series at once, will perforce have given rise to a phenomenon of “binge downloading.” When perhaps many thousands of customers are trying to download 10+ hours of video each in the hours after release, it’s only to be expected that any network is going to be congested. This is a new practice that existing networks weren’t designed for and probably hadn’t contemplated. It’s quite another thing, however, to allege that the unnamed carriers are “abusing their market power to effectively put a limit on the amount of traffic the transit provider can route over these ISPs' last mile networks.” This is a good sounding phrase perhaps, but what does it mean exactly? That the ISP’s aren’t giving HIS traffic priority? That the ISPs should be degrading other customer’s service while their neighbors suck up the available bandwidth downloading the new season of “House of Cards”? This, I submit, is a case of Level 3 trying to make themselves out a victim, when, in fact, they are part of the problem.
Second, it’s disingenuous to say "There are none in any other part of the world.” Exactly how many customers do Netflix and Amazon have for streaming video IN any other part of the world, especially given that most if not all of their new content is English-language? This is another apple-oranges comparison, unfairly comparing the US situation to non-analogous foreign milieus.
Again, I state that the opinions (and any errors) in this piece are purely my own and do not represent those of any other party.This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/256052.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
|Friday, April 25th, 2014|
|Why “Net Neutrality” is Bullsh*t
Disclosure: I work for a major communications company. The opinions and arguments expressed herein are strictly my own, do not necessarily reflect those of my employer, and are DEFINITELY NOT “official” or based on any internal documentation in any way.
I am pleased to see that the FCC has finally seen sense on the “net neutrality” issue, defined as whether or not internet service providers can offer—and charge for—a “fast lane” for those that want it, usually assumed to be high-volume, high-bandwidth users. To me, this has always seemed a sensible idea. There’s a demand for higher bandwidth speeds, but not everyone will need it. Upgrading internet backbone will require significant investment, and it’s appropriate that the companies that lay out for those upgrades should be able to recoup those investments from user fees. On the other hand, there’s no reason to pass on those costs to those who won’t use it—unless forced to.
The arguments against this have always struck me as hogwash, in particular, the one that maintains that internet providers would slow down or bottleneck traffic for non-fast lane users, presumably in order to coerce them into paying for faster service.
Seriously, that’s just stupid. Why would anyone do that? If you are in a business where the competitive edge depends on delivering content more rapidly—streaming video, etc.—you are going to be looking at fast lane regardless. If you’ve got a little arts and crafts web store, there’s probably no benefit in going that way. Consumers and small users are a valuable part of the market. Why would carriers intentionally want to piss them off? (Note: I’m very aware of the hoo-haa between Comcast and Netflix: all I care to say on that one is that nothing has been proven either way.)
Look at how things work right now. Communications companies certainly want to up-sell services, but they don’t engage in coercive practices to make it happen. Small-business land-line users aren’t having their service degraded in order to push them into ordering large-business services. T-1 type services aren’t being slowed down in an effort to push users into getting Ethernet service. Of course, technological migrations happen, the shift from analog to digital broadcast television being a case in point. But, while that was in progress, no one was intentionally degrading analog signals in order to push people to switch to digital more rapidly.
Right now, every aspect of the internet experience is customizable, depending on your needs and your pocketbook, except long distance transport. As a content consumer, you can have as fast a computer as you can afford, and usually a number of speed/bandwidth options from your internet provider. As a content provider, you can connect to the backbone over anything from a DSL line, to a 1.5 megabyte T-1, to a 10 Gigabyte Ethernet connection (depending on where you are), and can hook up as big and fast servers as your needs justify. So, why shouldn’t you have the option to purchase a higher transport speed also, if it is worth it to you?
My rather jaundiced belief is that a lot of the “net neutrality” proponents are essentially hoping that demand will force a general upgrade to internet backbone, and that they’ll then be able to reap the benefits of higher transport speed without having to invest in it. This is both unfair and foolish. A general infrastructure upgrade would require even more investment than the “fast lane,” and those costs have got to be recouped somehow, which, under the “net neutrality” protocol, would probably mean price increases for ALL internet users. Doesn’t it makes sense to assign the costs only to those who want the extra speed and are willing to pay for it, instead of passing it along to those who don’t directly benefit?This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/255821.html. Please comment there using OpenID.