July 21st, 2003

Fireworks, 07-18-03

If you like fireworks, Milwaukee is a great town to be in in the summer. Not only are there at least two and sometimes three days of fireworks for the Fourth of July, there is a major fireworks display for the start of Summerfest, fireworks every night of the State Fair, and many of the ethnic festivals have them as well. The best of these is Festa Italiana, which goes on the third weekend of July. The first couple of years of the Festa, they imported fireworks from Venice, some of which were so concussively loud they blew windows out of the nearby office buildings. In latter years, they have stuck with Bartolotta, our local (but still Italian) fireworks maker. Bartolotta makes a special effort to provide its most beautiful and intricate effects for this show, and this year's effort was easily the most beautiful fireworks display we have ever seen. The fifteen minute show expended shells at a constant rate more usually seen in lesser shows finales, with a minimum of two effects aloft at any given time for the majority of the display, and frequently more. This show had the greatest variety and subtlety of color, and intricacy of shapes and effects we've ever seen. It was truly beautiful. The actual finale was a spectacular excess. Not only did it include the usual "rolling thunder" barrage of salutes, but the overlapping air bursts of color were so intense as to be near blinding. Magnificent! This continues to be the only show we actually go all the way down to the lakefront to see, and continues to be well worth it.

Milwaukee Art Museum, Brooks Stevens, "Industrial Strength Design,"

On Sunday morning the 20th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum to see the actual show on Brooks Stevens, Milwaukee's famous industrial designer. We had already taken in the related advertising show at Insitute of Art and Design, but this was the main event. Stevens' work encompassed everything from railroad cars and buildings to toasters and desk sets, and from the practical to the wildly impractical. Examples were on display. Outside the museum itself, a section of temporary railroad track held a Skyview lounge car, which once had been the tail-end car of the famous Hiawatha passenger trains on the Milwaukee Road. There was also an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, which Stevens modernized, and an Excalibur touring car, Stevens' retro design based on the Mercedes SSK.

Inside, we again had emphasised the extent to which Stevens had shaped the world we grew up in: steam irons, dryers, vacuum cleaners all assumed iconic shapes under his direction. If you imagine a classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a John Deere tractor, or an outboard boat motor, or a mahogany speedboat, you are probably visualizing a Stevens design. Of course, I was attracted to his automobile designs, which included a customized 1938 Cord roadster (drool!), a limited-edition Cadillac-based car called "Die Valkurie," (also beautiful in a 50's way), various Jeep and Studebaker projects, and six-wheeled electric car for Johnson Controls. Ironically, Stevens is quoted at the end of the show as having said that he did not design things to be in art museums! it just goes to show that good design can be timeless, despite even the maker's intentions.

St. Rita's "chickenfest"

Besides the ethnic music festivals that fill Milwaukee's lakefront in the summer, summer is also the season of the Church festivals. Every weekend some, or even several churches, are having parish fairs with the obligatory bingo, beer, polka music, carnivals, and church suppers. St. Rita's is the Catholic church nearest us, and the third weekend of July is always their festival weekend. They have a fish fry on Friday, a spaghetti supper on Saturday, and a chicken dinner Sunday afternoon. We always go for chicken simply because it is so delicious! It is spit-roasted over charcoal until falling-off-the-bone tender, and very nicely spiced. There are a number of caterers in Milwaukee who specialize in such things, and Croatian-American foods, who does the cooking, does a lovely job. The church ladies do the serving, and have come to recognize us even though this is the only event we show up for. Seven-dollars fifty cents gets you a savory half-chicken, German potato salad, coleslaw, roll, butter, and a wedge of watermelon. You can't beat it for good eating!

Mystery Men Finale, 07-19-03

Saturday afternoon the 19th was the ultimate meeting of the "Mystery Men" game sequence. When last we left out party, they were preparing to foil Dr. Nova's sinsiter plot to discredit all the local superheroes and replace them with his own "Nova Men." The party had discovered that Bodybuilder, the local hero sponsored by Silver's Gym, was scheduled for disgrace that evening at the St. Aloyisus street fair, whare he would be making a personal appearance. Style queen Makeover had planted herself with Bodybuilder to watch his back, and the others were dispersed throughout the grounds to look for trouble. Trouble found them as, in rapid sucession, villains UFFO shorted out the power to the carnival, stranding the Plumber on top of the Ferris wheel, Mr. Natural and Drummer Boy challenged Bodybuilder, and the gigantic mutant BGH broke out of his camouflage and began terrorizing the populace. The Plumber (literally) swung into action from the top of the wheel into a desperate combat with UFFO and his deadly electrical claw. Bodybuilder, Makeover, and The Spider Man closed in on Mr. Natural, and Militiaman engaged BGH, while Winter attempted to locate the Nova Institiute black van. A general melee ensued, complicated by the appearance of villainess Krystallnacht on the church hall roof, where she proceed to support BHG with her lasers and sonics. Our heroes were suceeding in overcoming the villains when the Nova Men interfered. The crew succeeded in disabling EnergyMan, Herb, and Chi Man, while Yoga Woman tugged Krystallnacht (who had been dazzled by Militiaman's pyrotechnics) to momentary safety.

Meanwhile, Winter had gotten to the black van, and discovered Dr. Nova inside operating the mind-control machine. She was interrupted by Nova's henchman, the Subliminal Man, who of course sneaked up on her. A fight followed, with MilitiaMan coming to Winter's aid, Yoga Woman and Krystallnacht, attacking him, and the rest of the party converging on the scene. Winter managed to reverse the mind-control effect of Nova's machine, and takeover HIS mind. At her direction, he shut down the remaining villains (with a momentary glitch as Krystallnacht went wild under the influence of an LSD spider) and then spilled his entire plan to the amazed police.

All characters got a nice PR boost, as well as a decent monetary reward from companies that had been the targets of the Wild Bunch's eco-terrorism. Makeover got the spokesmodel gig for Silver's gym, The Spider Man a local TV show ("Arachnid Hunter"), and MilitiaMan's custom guns and ammo business took off. Winter was able to invest in starting her own computer security firm. Plumber refurbished his truck with new customizations, and could afford new TV ads.

Pirates of the Carribean

On Sunday afternoon the 20th, we went to see "Pirates of the Carribean," which was great fun! We had already decided that we wanted to see it just for the cast--Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Orlando Bloom, but the good reviews and word of mouth from friends made it a must. These three join up-and coming actress Keira Knightly (last seen as tomboy Jules in "Bend It Like Beckham,) and a very able supporting cast, including Johnathan Pryce as Governor Swann, Jack Davenport as Commodore Norrington, and a lot of suitably scurvy pirates. Johnny Depp steals every scene he is in as "Captain" Jack Sparrow, either the worst or the best pirate on the Spanish Main depending on circumstances. He is facinating, since his pirate captain seems to have discovered both ganja and "camp" two hundred years in advance of the rest of western civilzation. he doesn't actually smoke dope, but seems to be in a permanently semi-stoned and semi-swishy state (it isn't just the permanent kohl around the eyes or the beads in the hair that on one else wears--). Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Swann, the Governor's daughter, has a GREAT female hero role. She is smart, tough, determined, and capable, rescues the heroes as much as they do her, and only succumbs to a screaming fit once--understandable, since that is when she discovers the grisly effects of the curse on Barbosa (Rush) and his crew. Given the fantasy elements, the plot holes are surprisingly few, although one does wonder why none of the experienced sailors question how the Black Pearl can be the fastest sailer in the Carribean with her sails in tatters, or speculate about the "Flying Dutchman"-like fog bank that seems to trail her where ever she goes. Orlando Bloom is stalwart and swashbuckling as Will Turner, the clean-cut hero (and makes a good foil to Depp's likeable rogue) and Geoffrey Rush is both growlingly treacherous in the best Long-John-Silver fashion, and tragic as the man under a curse who is willing to kill in order to be able to taste an apple again. The "ghost pirates" effects are truly nice, especially when they are going in and out of the moonlight--. Truly a good movie! For those with young fans, there is no nudity, foul language, or much blood--on the other hand, the haunted pirates are pretty scary. We will definitely see it again.