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Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Time Event
3:44p
Donald Trump vs. the Wrath of Khan
Donald Trump's performance sticking his foot in his mouth over the last week or so further demonstrates why he is unfit to be president of the United States. He has shown himself to be both thoughtless and petty.

Thoughtless, because his decades of being an untouchably rich absolute despot in business, and his years on "reality TV," where being outrageous is a good thing, have corroded his filters to the point that he blurts out any half-formed thought that impinges on his speech centers. His supposedly "sarcastic" remark inviting Russia to attempt to hack his opponent's e-mails is a case in point. He never stopped to consider the implications of inviting a foreign power to meddle with our elections. And, as for being sarcastic, who could tell? It all sounds the same coming from him.

Petty, because he cannot overlook any slight, no matter how small. A wise candidate would have let Mr. Khan's remarks go with minimal response, perhaps a brief expression of sympathy and redirecting the question back to terrorism as he has since tried to do. Instead, everything with Trump is personal, and he responded to what he alone chose to characterize as a "vicious attack," not only with slurs against the Khans' religion, but more recently with the likely libelous claim that Mr. Khan is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Like a schoolyard bully trying to rally his gang, Trump tried to get members of Congress to take his side. None have.

Now, he declares that he is "afraid the elections may be rigged," showing again that he is better suited to be a candidate for a third-world dictatorship than president. Afraid now that he will lose, is he already trying to rally his supporters to threaten violence, as he did with the party nomination?

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/299483.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
6:59p
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
On Sunday, July 23, we went to the Downer Theatre to see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a film from New Zealand made by the same director as What We Do In the Shadows, the quirky vampire movie I previously reviewed, Taika Watiti.

The Wilderpeople is almost entirely different from that earlier outing. Although also very funny, it is a sweet, sincere movie that we found charming. It also doesn’t hurt that much of the film is shot in New Zealand’s gorgeous wilderness, which makes it a visual feast for the eyes.

The plot centers on Ricky (Julian Dennison), a very urban juvenile delinquent whose on his last attempt at being foster-placed before being sent to juvenile prison. We see him being taken far out in the country to the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hec (Sam Neill), on the not-all-that-bad theory that taking him out of his urban environment may bring about positive change.

Bella is a woman of native ancestry, who hopes one day to make a better connection with her roots. She gains great “cred” with Ricky when he sees her single-handedly kill a feral pig with her knife, whooping with excitement as she does. However, she’s also very tender-hearted, and wants Ricky as a child she hasn’t had, a warmth that Ricky responds to. (American viewers may not fully appreciate how caring a gesture a filled hot water bottle in bed is, in a house with no central heating--.)

Hec, on the other hand, is a dour man who doesn’t want Ricky, and barely tolerates his presence for Bella’s sake.

When Bella dies suddenly, both Hec and Ricky are devastated. When it looks like it will be juvenile prison for Ricky since no one else wants him, and he can’t stay with Hec alone, he lights out for the hills, relying on the woodcraft he’s learned from Hec and Bella.

He’s soon overtaken by Hec, a far superior woodsman, but Hec takes a fall that injures his ankle, forcing them to camp in the woods for weeks until he’s able to walk home. When they encounter a group of jerky hunters (hunters that are jerks, not hunting jerky--), they find out that they are “wanted” and that Hec is suspected of kidnapping and sexually abusing Ricky.

He, it turns out, has been in prison years ago, can’t face the possibility of going back, and won’t abandon Ricky to the juvenile version, so the two head back to the wilderness. However, the report that they have been encountered and escaped, sets off a serious manhunt fanatically lead by social worker Paula (Rachel House), who is about equal parts Miss Hannigan from “Annie,” and Inspector Javert from “Les Miserables,” with a dash of Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” thrown in.

The pair manage to elude capture for months, becoming famous and romantic outlaws in the process. They have numerous adventures and hairbreadth escapes before being finally brought to bay.

The ultimate conclusion is both surprising and pleasing. While the plot might not be entirely new (I seem to recall other films with a similar premise, although I can’t think of a title now--), the handling is fresh and delightful. Highly recommended.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/299762.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
7:01p
Star Trek Beyond
Wednesday night, July 27th, we went to the Avalon Theatre to see the latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. I was interested because this was a new story, having skipped Into Darkness, the Wrath of Khan remake.

Star Trek Beyond is big, flashy, and loud. After starting off with a bit of humor and some contemplation, Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise are detailed for a rescue mission: an alien (non-Federation) survey ship has been lost in one of the universe’s many uncharted nebulas.
When the Enterprise succeeds in reaching the mysterious planet at the heart of the nebula, the ship is almost instantly attacked by a swarming horde of drone craft, which chew the ship to bits, and provide cover for pirate boarding craft. After a lengthy sequence of combat and disaster in space, the largest relatively intact part, the saucer, crash-lands.

Most of the surviving crew, having taken to the escape pods, find themselves captured by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien who somewhat resembles both a “Reman” from the Next Gen movie Star Trek: Nemesis, or the alien talking head from the Original Series episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Krall seems to have both a particular, though unaccountable, grudge against the Federation and a pipeline into Federation data resources.
Of course, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, and Chekov (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin) evade capture by various means, but not without mishaps. Scott encounters warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who provides them a great deal of aid in rescuing the crew from Krall, and hindering Krall’s mad plan to bring war to the Federation.

I won’t go into further detail of the plot here: suffice to say that’s it’s pretty improbable, but not necessarily so much as to be jeering-at-the-screen stupid. Once the aliens attack the Enterprise, it’s pretty much non-stop action, to the extent that all the smashing, bashing, crashing, and flashing gets wearing. (Director Justin Lin was previously known for three episodes of the Fast & Furious auto race/chase/wreck movies--).
The particular good parts include the developing relationship between Spock and McCoy, and between Spock and Uhura, and the lines that Simon Pegg (one of the film’s writers) evidently wrote for himself as Scott. (I find it interesting that Kirk doesn’t seem to have any romantic impulses toward any characters. Even Yeoman Janet Rand, who used to cast longing looks at the Captain, didn’t make the cut into the new timeline. If this would have been a TOS episode, there would have been sparks of lust between Kirk and Jaylah. Instead, there’s a faint possibility of “geek love” between her and Scott--).

And of course, the movie looks fantastic. Special effects are up to par, with the destruction of the Enterprise being harrowing and effective. Best of all is Starbase Yorktown, an amazing concept of an artificial planet, which McCoy derides as looking like a “snow globe,” but which more resembles one of those Perplexus puzzle spheres, with interior buildings growing every which way, possible due to artificial gravity (an effect rather like the dream-sequences in Inception--). The design is “illogical,” but it sure is cool. Some things are a bit overdone, like the hostile planetary surface, a hell of jagged rock that makes the approaches to Peter Jackson’s Mordor look like parkland. The CGI designers must have been frustrated that so much of the action takes place on the planet or the starbase, because the end-title sequence includes some of the most beautiful renderings of nebulae and spatial phenomena I have seen, and is well worth sitting through.

Recommended for series fans with stamina.

Arriving at the Avalon Theater early, we were intrigued to find that, instead of the endless run of ads and promotional materials other theatres run between shows, they ran a couple of short subjects, which in this case, were both science-fictional. Rise, a highly produced short dealing with a developing war between humans and robots, starred well-known actor Rufus Sewell, and the late Anton (Chekov) Yelchin. It looked interesting, but we came in in the middle. Another was an extended music video titled “Holding on to Life”, by a group called Broken Bells, which appeared to be set in a version of the world of Logan’s Run. Neither the music nor the visuals were very compelling, I watched mainly to see if it would jell into something intelligible. It didn’t, but if it’s an extended trailer for some project, it wouldn’t have to.

And, speaking of trailers, we saw ones for a WWII movie, Anthropoid (it’s a code name--), Suicide Squad, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; and Star Wars: Rogue One, all of which seem to be full of the old ultra-violence. Anthropoid looked well-made and interesting; I might see Suicide Squad on my own for the hell of it; Rogue One of course—ironically, it’s the least violent appearing; and give Xander and Jack passes. (Vin Diesel is getting a bit pudgy to be the action hero. On the other hand, I wager there is a seedy-looking portrait in Tom Cruise’s attic--).
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/299917.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
7:06p
Spoileriffic Nitpicks for Star Trek Beyond
Continuing my recent tradition of dissecting SF and fantasy films deviations from logic and common sense, I see no reason to spare Star Trek Beyond, although it’s less bad than some. Accepting that the Star Trek Universe is a science-fantasy one, though a step removed from outright pulp like Star Wars, I gloss over questions like how does it happen that Krall’s swarming drones happen to be warp-capable, and just what powers them? And, OK, Krall’s mad, so that excuses why he didn’t use the alien tech to escape the planet years ago, or use the fabbing equipment to build a regular starship instead of a swarm of drones that vastly outmasses the Enterprise. The alien bio-weapon doesn’t seem to work in any sensible fashion, but then, the aliens attempted to get rid of it because it was too dangerous--.

On the logic front, there is the question of why didn’t Kirk have the shields up approaching the unknown planet? They had to have been up getting through the rock-crushing debris fields of the nebula, so why turn them off?

On the tech front, the first appearance of Jaylah’s hologram technology is confusing. She uses a portable device to create hologrammatic, independently acting duplicates of herself, which, it seemed actually hit some of the bad guys. This presumably alien tech is superior to the Next Gen holodeck technology since it is portable and programmable on the fly. (Projection: Jaylah, who’s been accepted for Star Fleet Academy, finds that Federation sim tech is less sophisticated than hers, goes into business supplying what becomes Holodeck/emergency medical hologram equipment, and retires very rich--).

The design of Starbase Yorktown is wondrous, but nonsensical in a number of ways. Why should a starship be able to “drive” all the way to the center of the base when there’s no reason for it to, and many why it shouldn’t? The master ventilator node is located at the physical center of the spherical construct, but only accessible by a series of perilous ladders. The answer to that one, is so that there can be an exciting fight scene, but that’s pretty much the rationale for the whole film.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/300243.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
7:23p
Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, 2016
On Saturday, July 30th, we attended the Milwaukee Dragon Boat Festival, held at the Veteran’s Park Lagoon on the lakefront. This annual event is organized by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center. When we got there, we were immediately impressed by how many people had turned out. We found that there were more than forty teams taking part. Since a standard Dragon Boat requires a crew of twenty rowers, plus coxswain and drummer, that meant that there were more than 800 racers, plus supporters and festival volunteers taking part, not to mention unaffiliated spectators like ourselves.

I was rather surprised to see that there IS such a thing as a standard Dragon Boat, but there is. They resemble modern canoes in construction, wide enough to seat two paddlers abreast. The paddlers use a specialized paddle, similar to a canoe paddle, which evokes the boat’s probable ancestry as something like the Polynesian “war canoe,” but without outriggers. The boat comes to a point at either end. The steersman stands at the stern, steering with an oar, and the drummer perches on an elevated stool in the bow facing the paddlers. The boats come with small detachable decorative dragon heads and tails that are attached for racing.

The festivities officially began with Opening Ceremonies at 10:30AM, with introductions of dignitaries, including the Chinese Consul up from Chicago. There was a traditional Dragon Dance, preceded by the ritual “Wakening of the Dragon,” in which case the pupils of the eyes of the dragon puppet were drawn in. For this dragon dance, the performers held the puppet aloft on poles, and wove it intricately around and about with motions that reminded me of a drill team.

This was followed by music and dance performances of a number of different traditions and styles, martial arts demonstrations, and a fashion show of the famous Chinese dress style, the qipao (also known as cheongsam, or sometimes “Mandarin dress.”)

Many of Milwaukee’s large companies have gone all in sponsoring boats. Harley-Davidsan had four boats, Miller Coors two, Northwestern Mutual three, and Rockwell Automation a croggling eleven boats!

Heats had been going on since 8:00 that morning, since Dragon Boat racing is a bit like horse racing, in that an individual race doesn’t last long, and there’s a bit of reshuffling time between heats. In the interims, there was a small number of vendors to browse, and a number of alternative food sellers. We got teriyaki chicken on skewers for lunch, which Georgie found too salty, but I thought was OK.

We didn’t stay until the championship races, which happened at 4:00PM—a long day of racing for some participants! It’s hard to tell from the web site if there was an overall winner, but the fastest time of the day was one minute, 19.78 seconds, by Arashi-Pilot Freight Services, in the Diamond Championship Final Race.
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