September 22nd, 2008

"The Secret Agent"

Thanks to Henry Osier, we were introduced to this 1996 production based upon Joseph Conrad’s 1907 novel. It has a remarkable cast, featuring Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette, Gerard Depardieu, Jim Broadbent, Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard, and a very young Christian Bale.


“The Secret Agent” is one of the earlier novels of intrigue, and set a thematic path that would later be followed by such authors as Grahame Greene, Somerset Maugham, and John LeCarre. Conrad is one of the first writers to depict the grim realities of espionage, and how those who work in it can be forced into a vice between the conflicting demands of their paymasters, their families, and the society they move in.


Hoskins (who also produced) plays Verloc, an immigrant to England who supplements his shop in Soho and his life with his young wife (Arquette) by informing on the activities of expatriate Socialists and Anarchists to the Russian embassy, and also to the Chief Inspector of the Scotland Yard Special Branch (Broadbent).  Things start to go badly wrong for him when the new Russian Ambassador (Izzard) demands that he go further and provoke incidents so that the members of the revolutionary community can be deported back to their home countries, where they will be “safely” killed or executed.


Hoskins plays the amoral and cowardly Verloc with the skill we’ve come to expect from him, and is ably supported by the other players, including Williams in an unusual role for him, the monstrous Professor, whose only principle in life is Death, and who’s goal is the creation of “the perfect detonator” for the infernal machines he provides to all comers.


A fascinating and very riveting production. Only suitable for adults due to the subtlety of the story, and a few grisly images.

Discovery World

On Sunday afternoon, Georgie and I made our first trip to Pier Wisconsin on the lakefront to see the Discovery World Museum, and especially the Reiman Aquariums. 


The Aquariums are part of the “Aquatarium” portion of the complex, which, besides the fish tanks, includes a number of other exhibits. The wave-motion machine at the entrance was quite fun to play with, and the first exhibit on the ground floor is a fascinating scale terrain map of the Great Lakes basin, complete with water and fish. 


Upstairs are exhibits relating to the age of sail on the Great Lakes, including a full-scale replica of a small schooner, the Challenger. There are also some enjoyable interactive exhibits demonstrating the actions of simple machines as they relate to shipping.


The lower portion of the exhibit hall is taken up with the aquarium, which is very nice and, in my opinion, somewhat superior to the aquarium facilities at the Milwaukee County Zoo, if not as varied. The viewing areas are larger and brighter, and altogether easier to see into.  They are also daringly arranged, with tanks that you can walk over, under, and through, some of which give the starling visual effect that you could reach out and touch fish swimming just above your head. The exhibits include a “touch tank”, a smaller version of the one recently in use at the Zoo, which allows visitors to actually touch rays, small sharks, horseshoe crabs, and, in a separate tank, sturgeons. (While it’s interesting to be able to see these creatures so closely, I have to confess I am ambivalent about it, since they are almost continually getting annoyed by the people, at least on busy days.)


We toured through the rest of Discovery World, which is rather a work in progress. One fascinating exhibit showed various types of gear trains, escapements, and mechanical movements, interspersed with mechanical toys making use of the principles. There were a number of other interesting exhibits, such as one incorporating an infra-red camera that let us see our heat image on a screen, but we found a number of things were not labeled, or had insufficient instructions for their use. And, as always with anything incorporating interactive exhibits, some were out of order, and some under construction.


While Discovery World is rather cool, I have to say it’s just a bit pricey for what you get: general admission for adults is $16.95 each, plus parking for two or so hours at $7.00 brings the expedition cost to $40.90. This compares with $11.25 adult admission for the County Zoo in peak season ($9.75 in winter), and $11.00 adult admission for the Milwaukee Public Museum, both of which are larger and more extensive facilities. Parking at the Zoo is $10.00 per car all day, and it is possible to park free on nearby streets if you are canny. There’s also cheaper parking near the Public Museum, but Discovery World doesn’t have any free parking nearby at all, although the O’Donnell park garage is a short walk away and may be cheaper for future visits.