August 19th, 2013


This is a very enjoyable sequel to RED (“Retired, Extremely Dangerous), and perforce can’t quite match the original’s shocking level of transgressiveness, but does a good job of continuing in the same vein (so to speak) managing to be laugh-out-loud funny between the scenes of over the top violence.

As the film opens, we see that Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) and Frank (Bruce Willis) are not exactly settling into a life of domestic bliss. She wand more of the adventure, danger, and romance she got when meeting retired spy Frank, while Frank is hoping to go back to the quiet life he had before. Sarah gets her wish when Frank and Marvin are “outed” by Wikileaks has having taken part in an ultra-secret Cold War-era operation that neither of them recalls having been involved with. However, that doesn’t mean that major US, British, and Russian spy agencies don’t want to know whatever it is Frank might know, and are willing to go to any lengths to find it out.

They face a formidable array of opponents: Jack Horton (Neal McDonough) represents the USA, an agent who claims to admire Frank, but makes up for his lack of finesse by sheer brutality; Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a former sparring-(and perhaps bed-) partner of Frank’s, now a General in the Russian FSB; and Han (Byung-Hun Lee) a former Korean agent turned assassin who has a strong incentive to terminate Frank with extreme prejudice. Initially, even English assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) is tasked by British Intelligence to “get” Frank and Marvin.

John Malkovich’s Marvin has mellowed out from the last movie’s twitchy paranoid to a more grounded Zen Master of Covert Operations, and part of the humor is how his often whacked-out actions keep the group surviving to the points where Frank’s expertise at sheer low-down dirty work has to kick in. A case in point: Marvin and Sarah join a Parisian car-chase driving a Deux Chevaux, a famously tiny, tinny, and underpowered compact car, and manage to outmaneuver the high-tech super Porsche driven by Han.

When we get right down to the MacGuffin, things get pretty improbable, but by that time the ride’s been enough fun that you don’t care.

Although not quite the tender love story the first RED was, we do get to see more character development in this movie, with one of the best running gags being the relationship advice Frank keeps being given by everyone, including his opponents. Sarah’s jealousy of Katya is another, and it was nice to see a continuation of the Morticia/Gomez romance between Victoria and Ivan (Brian Cox). Ivan (reclining under a tree as Victoria takes aim at a target with her sniper rifle): “I love the way your toes curl, just before you fire.” –expressing the opposite-of-people esthetic of the spies—to love murder and deception, which “normal people” should abhor.

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Musical Monday at Lake Park: Midwest Vocal Express

Midwest Vocal Express is a Milwaukee-area (based in Glendale) man’s choir that specializes in “Barbershop, show tunes, and spirituals.” Our friend and co-Burrahobbit Richard Marcus is a member of the group, so when he let us know they would be performing a free show at Lake Park on Monday evening the 12th, we decided to go.

Beautiful Lake Park sprawls along the top of bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, but we found Picnic Area 3 and its stage quite easily. We set up our lawn chairs at the edge of a large and enthusiastic audience, and the show began very shortly.
The full choir started off with a very nice rendition of “The Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” and followed with a very energetic medley of “doo-wop” tunes, followed by “Mary, Did You Know,” from the spiritual side.

Then, they turned the stage over to a succession of Barbershop quartets who showed off a variety of styles. “Nostra Vita” had a very polished style and did very nice renditions of “Mambo Italiano,” “You Belong to Me,” (“See the Pyramids across the Nile . . .”), and particularly “Always.”

“High Point” was a more classically folksy Barbershop group (I had forgotten that part of the typical Barbershop is the corn-ball jokes told between numbers--.), but showed off why they are champions with their very tight and blended harmonies. They gave us lovely performances of “Basin Street Blues,” “Sleepy Time Gal,” and “Lucky Day,” among others.

The third quartet, the “Epics,” was a female group, and also had a really fine sound and style. Their repertoire wasn’t as familiar to me (“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was one title I knew) but they were excellent and very entertaining performers.

Then the full chorus came back with a lively version of “Oh Bla Di, Oh Bla Dah,” and ended the show with a patriotic medley of the Armed Services’ songs (first time I’d actually heard “Semper Paratus”) and “This is My Country.”

All in all, this was a very enjoyable, upbeat, and uplifting performance that redeemed what had otherwise been a rather “blah” day for both of us. Thanks to the Midwest Vocal Express for all their hard work putting the show on, and to the Lake Park Friends for making the arrangements.

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Oshkosh Public Museum: “Steam Dreams”

On Friday, August 16th, we drove up to Oshkosh to see the Public Museum’s unique Steampunk exhibit. The weather was good and we had a pleasant drive.

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a general-interest historical and natural history museum that occupies the former Edward P. Sawyer mansion. This beautiful and historic home has had a modern wing added on that houses about half of the exhibits. The house, built in the early 1900’s, is worth seeing just for itself, and provides a perfect setting for the neo-Victorian Steampunk exhibit.

The exhibit itself occupies several adjoining rooms on the second floor, and is very well laid out. One of the best things about the exhibit overall is the comparison between Steampunk fashion and tech and the actual period styles and devices. For example, the clothing portion started at one end with genuine period outfits drawn from the museum’s collection, and phased over to the more outré Steampunk styles. A display case holding elaborate Steampunk helmets and hats faced one containing late 19th century military helmets. An exhibit of “ray guns” sits next to one of authentic weaponry of the era.

The curators drew pieces from all over the country, including the South and Southwest, and from professional artists as well as hobbyists, the latter including a collection of rocket packs on loan from the “crew” of Southeast Wisconsin’s “Airship Fortuna.”

Other notable items on display included a Steampunk dollhouse, and a Steampunk conception of a “Mars Rover” robot. Also on hand were some artifacts from TV and motion pictures: “Uncle Irwin” an elaborate brain-in-a-jar prop from “The City of Lost Children,” and a set of prop and setting diagrams from “The Further Adventures of Jules Verne.”

The Steampunk exhibits are immediately adjacent to exhibits on the American Civil War, frontier life in Wisconsin, and the lives of immigrants in the 19th Century, so lots of other things of interest as well although not part of the featured exhibit. The exhibition continues through September 8th.

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Irish Fest 2013

Sunday, August 18th, Georgie and I went down to the “Summerfest Grounds” (not even the on-site signage refers to it as the “Henry W. Maier Festival Park—“) for this year’s Irish Fest, still the world’s largest Celtic music festival. The weather was perfect, and we had one of the better Irish Fest experiences we had had for several years.

We arrived shortly after the grounds opened at 11:00AM, and followed the plan Georgie had laid out as to where to go when, which gave us a nice assortment of samplings and full sets.
For samples, we dropped by Leahy’s Luck (didn’t stay long, their music has become too Country-Western), Athas, Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac (part of the featured Nova Scotia contingent), and the Barra MacNeils. We sat down for full sets with Frogwater, Kim Robertson, and Carlos Núñez.

“Núñez” may seem like a peculiar name to find on the Irish Fest roster, but it fits in because Sr. Núñez hails from Galicia, the Celtic region of northern Spain, and is a virtuoso on the Gallician bagpipe, which resembles a Highland pipe but with only one drone, the Celtic straight flute, and the whistle.

His group’s set was one of the highlights of the festival. Not only was it fascinating as they performed examples of Celtic music fusions occurring in Africa and South America, but also magical. Núñez arranged collaborations with other Milwaukee groups, such that the Trinity Irish Dancers, the Caledonian Highland Dancers, and the Billy Mitchell Pipes and Drums (yes, the whole pipe band) were on stage with them. In fact, for one dance piece from Brittany, not only were all the dancers and pipe band on stage, gates to the stage were opened and dozens of audience members responded to Núñez’s invitation to join in. It subsequently appeared that members of Celtic rock powerhouse “Gaelic Storm” were among the audience members who went on stage.

Between sets, we shopped: the dealer’s tent layout at the north end was somewhat improved and less crowded, but we didn’t see anything we needed this year. We also got our traditional meals, a potato with stew from The Irish Baker for lunch, and bridey and sausage roll from Winston’s for supper, all of which seemed particularly good this year.

Perhaps due to the exceptionally good weather, the turnout seemed high, and the grounds crowded, although never unmanageably so. Venues were sometimes standing room only: one could wish that the organizers would take most of the unused and space wasting tables out of “The Pub” and put in more chairs. (While they’re at it, it would be nice if a quieter spot could be found for the Harp Tent as well. Kim Robertson’s performance had some noisy competition, and not just from The Pub up the hill--.)

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