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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Wednesday, November 28th, 2018
3:22 pm
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

Sunday, November 10th, we went to see the new Disney live-action film, The Nutcracker and  the Four Realms. We enjoyed it.

The story is “suggested” by the E.T.A. Hoffman story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” and by the ballet The Nutcracker, by choreographer Marius Petipa. I was pleased that Petipa was credited, since it is his “book” for the ballet that is probably known by far more people than Hoffman’s story.

The story is “suggested”, since, other than characters and setting, it is a new story, a kind of quasi-sequel, since we find that Clara’s mother, Marie (Anna Madeley), has been to the Four Realms before her, and was responsible for much that has happened there. (But, what happened before is also quite different from the ballet story, although one could see that the ballet might have been a prettified version of what supposedly actually happened--.)

In this story, Marie has recently died, leaving her family in various stages of grief. Clara (Mackenzie Foy, apparently no relation to the very busy Claire Foy--), the second daughter, is taking the loss hard, and not meshing with her equally grief-stricken father’s stiff-upper-lip soldier-on coping mechanism. At Christmas, her mother has left gifts for her children, and Clara’s is a mysterious box shaped like an egg, but lacking a key.

It appears that the key will be delivered to her by the marvelous Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), but complications ensue when it is stolen by a mouse. Clara’s quest for the key leads her to the Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and the Four Realms (Flowers, Snow, Sweets, and “Amusements”), where she finds that events put in motion by her mother have run off the rails and the Realm of Amusements, led by “Mother Ginger” (Helen Mirren) is essentially at war with the other three. Clara, of course, is the “key” to sorting things out.

I was a bit disappointed that Disney’s writer Ashleigh Powell could think of nothing better to do than to fall back on the “dead mother” trope that we find in so many other fairy tales, although it does give Clara a solid link to other Disney princesses such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Belle.

Very decent acting by Ms. Foy, and she’s well supported by Matthew Macfadyen as her father, and the other actors in principal roles, especially Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum. We got a chuckle out of some allusive bits, such as when, at the Four Realms gala welcoming Clara, orchestra conductor Gustavo Dudamel mounts the podium in silhouette, a nod to Leopold Stokowski doing the same thing in Fantasia, which of course includes a suite of Tschaikowski’s Nutcracker ballet music. We were pleased to see the exquisite ballerina Misty Copeland dancing in the film’s ballet sequence.

The real star of the film is the CGI world of the Four Realms, with its fantastic Steampunk castle at its heart.  The ruinous Realm of Amusements is wonderfully scary, to the extent that the movie might not be suitable for younger children, particularly if they are prone to be afraid of mice, or of creepy clowns.

The plot is a fun action-adventure, with a surprising twist. All in all, we enjoyed this quite a bit. I don’t think it will ever be one of the major Disney films, but it is a very good fantasy film.

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3:20 pm
The Happy Prince

Monday evening, November 5th, we went to see the movie The Happy Prince, which tells the sad story of Oscar Wilde’s exile, decline and death following his release from prison.

(For those who might not be familiar with the author’s story, he unwisely sued the brutish and vengeful Marquis of Queensberry (he of the boxing rules), for libel, for having left an open card addressed to Wilde as a “posing sodomite” (i.e., a poseur and a homosexual). Not only did Wilde lose the libel suit, he was thereafter prosecuted for and convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years in prison. This is addressed in brief flashbacks in the film.)

Essentially, Wilde had gone from being arguably Britain’s most celebrated man of letters to its most notorious pervert and sex criminal overnight. That did much to break his spirit. The deliberately harsh and degrading prison regimen (such was the state of penology at the time) did the rest, as well as break his health.

The film starts by showing us Wilde (played by Rupert Everett) in his last days, essentially reduced to a state of beggary between scanty royalty payments, his only source of income. Then we go back to see him arriving in France after having left prison, and starting a new life as “Sebastian Melmoth.” (The pseudonym is a literary joke, as Melmoth the Wanderer was an 1820 Gothic novel by Irish playwright, novelist and clergyman Charles Maturin, Wilde’s great-uncle.) However, trouble arises when his disguise is penetrated. He garners further trouble for himself when he takes up again with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Colin Morgan), the Marquis of Queensberry’s errant son. It had been Wilde’s relationship with Bosie that touched off the ruinous libel suit, and it was a condition of the separation settlement with Wilde’s wife, Constance (Emily Watson) that they not see one another. Constance cut off Wilde’s allowance as a result, leaving him without funds except for royalties, a dire situation since he could no longer write. Under family pressure, the two parted, and Wilde took up his final residence in Paris, where he lived until his death in 1900, of meningitis.

The movie is quite sympathetic, showing the extent to which Wilde was loved by his friends, including Reggie Turner (Colin Firth) and Robbie Ross (Edwin Thomas), and even Bosie in his selfish and stupid way, but they could do little for him. Constance is shown as being grieved by his situation, but her own ill health and care for the moral upbringing of their two sons kept her from offering Wilde any aid, either.

The movie’s title is taken from one of Wilde’s bittersweet fantasy stories, about a gold and jewel bedecked statue that contrives to give away its valuable coatings to the poor: whereupon, the statue is dismounted and melted down because “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,”—which might have been said of Wilde himself, at least in his own opinion.

The movie was very well done, in our opinion. Everett made a very good Wilde, and the acting in general was sensitive and nuanced, with the script being unsparing of the characters’ flaws, although understanding of them. I particularly liked that Bosie (Wilde’s bad boy lover) and Robbie Ross (his considerate, sensible lover) each at different times rage “He (the other) cannot understand the way in which he (Wilde) loves me!"—which, given the story as presented was probably true for each of them.

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Monday, November 26th, 2018
11:09 am
The Met in HD: La Fanciulla del West

On the evening of October 31, we went to see the re-broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Fanciulla del West, by Giacomo Puccini.

This was the same production (costumes, sets) we had seen before, but with a new cast and conductor.

Based upon a play, The Girl of the Golden West, by David Belasco, who, in the early 1900’s, was the master of Broadway, the story deals with love and desire in a California gold-rush town.

Eva-Maria Westbrook plays Minnie, saloon owner and the only white woman in the mining camp. Pretty much every male in the town professes to be in love with her, ranging from the avuncular guardianship of her business partner, Nick (Carlo Bosi), to the martial ambitions of Sonora (Michael Todd Simpson), to the physical desire of gambler-turned-sheriff Jack Rance (Željko Lučić). Minnie staunchly defends her independence, never even having kissed a man.

This changes when she meets the handsome and dashing “Dick Johnson” (Jonas Kaufman), who is secretly the wanted bandit Ramirez. The tension between Minnie, Jack, and Dick drives the plot, fired by the ongoing manhunt for Ramirez.

We had seen this same production a few years ago, but thought this cast was better, seeing to bring more fire and life to the melodramatic story. All the principals sang beautifully, as did the supporting singers and the chorus. Maestro Marco Armilato led the orchestra flawlessly through what is one of Puccini’s most modernistic and difficult scores.

This was a very nice evening at the opera, and we enjoyed it very much.

This entry was originally posted at https://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/331986.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
11:07 am
Lytheria Halloween: King Arthur’s Court
On Sunday afternoon, October 28th, we assembled at Lytheria, our friend Lee Schneider’s east-side house, for the annual trick-or-treat “production.” The theme this year was “King Arthur’s Court.” Lee had asked me to play Arthur, and Georgie chose to be the Lady of the Lake. The shtick was that this was a feast day, and Arthur, as he frequently did in the Arthurian Canon, would not go to dinner until he had seen some wonder. Sir Tristan, acting as doorkeeper, ushered groups of trick-or-treaters before the King and Queen, who would query them as to what sort of wonders they represented. If we were satisfied they were adequately wondrous, we passed them on to the Treasurer and the Soothsayer, who gave them a candy bar and a more-or-less dire prophecy. Going out the back way, they got to meet the Pict and his pet dragon.

Of course, we found everyone wondrous, although we made the no-costume kids work for it a bit more. This actually got us some charming answers: “What’s marvelous about you?” “I’m a marvelous dancer.” “I’ve got a wonderful personality.”

Although it wasn’t actually raining during the afternoon, the generally dank and chilly day reduced turnout to a mere six hundred and thirty (some). “Black Panther” was the most popular costume, being the favorite choice of black boys. We also had a couple of Killmongers, and one Shuri from that movie. Hogwarts students (all Gryffindor) were also very popular. Batman, various ninjas, and other superheroes showed up among the younger kids, while older ones tended to be more quirky, with several banana costumes, and a couple of tacos.


Haloween 2018 (41)

King Arthur’s Court: First row: Guenevere, Arthur, Court Lady. Second row: Lady of the Lake, Damosel 1, Treasurer, Court Gentleman. Third row: Court Lady 2, Court Scholar. Fourth row: Damosel 2, Sir Tristan, Soothsayer. Back: Merlin, Pictish Dragon Keeper.

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Saturday, November 24th, 2018
11:28 am
National Theater Live: Frankenstein

Monday evening, October 22nd, we finally got to see a replay of the National Theater Live production of “Frankenstein,” starring Benedict Cumberbach as “The Creature,” and Jonny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein. (Cumberbach and Miller alternated roles in this production.)

The adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, by Nick Dear, puts The Creature as protagonist. As the show opens, we see him escaping from an artificial womb-like structure. No one else is on stage as he twitches, flops, and writhes, gradually gaining control of his limbs. Frankenstein enters, is appalled, and flees. The creature attempts to follow him, but finds himself in a Steampunk hell. He is dazzled by the stars, delighted by the sun’s warmth—abused and beaten by the people he encounters.

The plot follows the classic arc of the novel, with some surprising additions that do a lot for the story: we found it all very powerful.

In a pre-show feature, Cumberbach related that he had studied people who had suffered brain trauma and other profound injuries and how they had come back from them. The creature as portrayed strikes a balance between the mute monster of the movies and the more erudite being of Shelley’s novel. He is intelligent and self-taught, but still suffers neurological deficits that affect his speech, and an unsocialized, often child-like affect.

The script makes Victor Frankenstein at some times more monstrous than his creation. He has the arrogance and self-justification of the true mad scientist, and is capable of acts of terrible cruelty.

Victor’s cousin and fiancé, Elizabeth (Naomie Harris), has a larger and more affecting part than usual, which we found very effective.

All in all, this was an extremely powerful and well-done performance. The production, mounted at the Barbican Theater complex, made excellent use of the main stage’s impressive facilities, and had very innovative and clever set effects.

I appreciated Cumberbach’s extensive, most-of-body makeup, which resembled an accident victim, post-autopsy.  

(Quibble: why would Frankenstein, who’s supposed to be capable of doing implant and transplant surgery barely possible today, finish off with crude stitches that look like they were done by the coroner’s assistant? This, of course is the horror movie convention: in Shelley’s novel she does not go into detail about the creation process, but the creature is not horrible because it looks like a patchwork of corpse parts:

“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.”  Those who have seen the TV show Penny Dreadful may recognize the description of “John Clare,” one of the most Shelley-like versions of the creature.)

Very highly recommended.

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11:27 am
National Theater Live: King Lear

We had to go and see Ian McKellen do King Lear, so caught the video replay of it at the Downer Theater on Sunday the 21st. Although the presentation runs four hours with a 20 minute interval, the time seemed to go quickly, and maintained our attention throughout.

Although excellent, I have to say I did not find it the most moving Lear I have seen. Partly, I think it may have been the modern dress, which, as I have mentioned regarding the recent APT production, does not, in my opinion work well for this show. In part, I think that it may have been a slightly lower-key production. McKellen is a marvelous actor, capable of great subtlety of expression, and the movie format with its close-ups worked well to emphasize that. It seemed that in order to play up that strength, the Lear portrayed was an angry, demented, old man who also got tired quickly--. (Actually, considering the length of the show and the fact that McKellen gets 2000 liters of water rained on him in the storm scene, he has amazing strength and stamina for his age, still being able to carry the ‘dead’ Cordelia on stage in the last scene.) Playing up fine detail seemed to result in less energy overall, although there was much in this play (possibly in part because of its uncut length) that we had not seen before.

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Wednesday, November 21st, 2018
3:59 pm
Heinavanker

Saturday afternoon the 20th, we went to St. Joseph’s Chapel to hear Early Music Now’s program featuring the Estonian vocal group, Heinavanker. They presented a concert of liturgical chant, Renaissance polyphony, early Estonian folk hymns and runic songs, which was very beautiful to listen to. The group has exceptionally beautiful voices and ensemble, which were well served by the Chapel’s acoustics.

Most of the liturgical pieces were in Latin, with several by Johannes Ockeghem, an influential composer of the Franco-Flemish School in the last half of the 15th century. It was interesting to compare the various pieces and get a feeling for his style. I was more interested by the pieces that were either in Estonian, or had Estonian content, such as “Imeline koda” (Wondrous House), a song that honors the Virgin Mary in a setting containing a lot of pre-Christian elements. I also particularly liked “Nuud Kristus surmast tosnud on,” (Jesus Christ is Risen Today), which was a very lively and pleasant celebratory piece.

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3:58 pm
Something Rotten!

This musical comedy is set in more-or-less Shakespearian England, and considers the question: what if musical theater as we know it had been invented in the 1600’s?

After the upbeat opening number, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” we meet brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom (Matthew Michael Janisse and Richard Spitaletta), who run a theatre troupe, struggling in part due to the predominance of Shakespeare (“God, I Hate Shakespeare”). Nick is a competent actor and director, and Nigel a very good poet, but neither one is good at coming up with new play plots.

In desperation, Nick consults the soothsayer, Nostradamus (“Thomas” Nostradamus, nephew of the famous Nostradamus) who tells him that the next big thing in theatre will be “musicals”, an idea Nick has a hard time grasping. (Nick: “That sounds miserable.” Nostradamus: “I think that’s ‘Miser-AH-ble,”—which tells you what a lot of the humor in the show is like.)

After a disastrous attempt to create a historical musical show about the Black Death, and Shakespeare’s attempt to steal Nigel’s work, Nick goes back to Nostradamus to try to divine what Shakespeare’s greatest play will be. The seer inherits his uncle’s inexactitude and comes up with the title “Omelet,” which has something to do with “Danish” and “Ham”—which sends Nick on a wild goose chase to outdo Shakespeare by creating a musical play about breakfast.

I have to agree with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reviewer that the show is a mess, but a funny mess, and that the more you know about musical theater, the funnier it is. We caught verbal or physical references to Les Mis, Annie, The Lion King, Fiddler on the Roof, Cats, The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, On the Town, A Chorus Line, and others we probably missed or I can’t remember. Plus, numerous Shakespearian in-jokes: besides Bottom, for example, characters are named Francis Flute, Peter Quince, Tom Snout, Yorick, Robin, Snug, Falstaff, Shylock, and Portia.

Singing and acting were all quite competent, but not outstanding. It is a good dance show, with a really over the top production number “A Musical” lead by the scene-stealing Nostradamus (Greg Kalafatas).

Something Rotten! is a fun and enjoyable love note to Broadway shows. Although far from deathless, we had a good time.

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Thursday, September 21st, 2017
7:03 pm
Some Short Subjects
Steampunk Stuff

On Friday, August 25th, we went to “An Evening of Steampunk” at the Underground Collaborative, put on by A Company of Strangers theatre group. Although “an evening” might have been a generous description for an event lasting an hour and a half, this was a pleasant time. The occasion was to promote the group’s upcoming production of Oscar Wilde’s play, “An Ideal Husband,” which will evidently be done with a Steampunk aesthetic. The group provided free snacks and soft drinks, music, door prizes, a costume contest, and performed excerpts from the play. We met local Steampunk stalwarts Julie Ann Hunter, Charles Tritt, and Mary Prince there, and chatted with a number of other interested people.

“Steampunk Junque”, ArtBar

The following Friday, September 1, we went to an art exhibition at ArtBar, a tavern and exhibition space in Milwaukee’s upper east side neighborhood. Organized by “The Martini Girls,” an artists’ group, the theme was “Steampunk Junque,” and featured paintings, constructions, and mixed media works on a generally Steampunk theme. There was a very interesting selection of works, with some creative approaches to the theme. Level of polish varied, with some very nicely wrapped up, and some, perhaps intentionally, less so. Again we met Mary Prince, Julie Ann Hunter (both of whom had pieces in the exhibit), and Charles Tritt. Patrons at ArtBar, including some of the other artists, were very enthusiastic about our Steampunk outfits, and one artist asked us to pose for a picture with his work.

American Players Theatre, “Cyrano De Bergerac”

On Saturday, September 9th, we drove over to American Players Theater for this season’s production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which starred James Ridge as Cyrano, Laura Rook as Roxane, and Danny Martinez as Christian. James De Vita directed the production as a rather spare and fast-paced (although handsomely costumed) performance. Ridge’s Cyrano was very fine, and perhaps the most realistic and believable portrayal I have seen. Perversely, this works partly against the unabashed sentimentality of the play. Cyrano’s final rant is less effective than others I have seen, because Ridge is more like a real man at death’s door, and less like a firework burning out in a blaze of glory. Although not my favorite translation (I think the one I like best is the Anthony Burgess one--), at least it preserved some poetry and rhyme. However, by not making prior reference to Cyrano’s “white plume” (which he didn’t have in this version) or his “panache”, Cyrano’s final words, “My panache,” drew a laugh for the first time I have ever heard. Admittedly, Rostand’s play is considered a comedy, but I don’t think it is supposed to end with a punch line.

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.

We’d never been up to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center before, so took advantage of the good day on the 16th to drive up to the northeastern corner of the county to see it. The area is mostly wooded, with oaks, maples and some beeches, and occasional stands of conifers. There is a sizable remnant prairie, some ponds and associated wetlands, and the bluffs and ravines leading down to the Lake Michigan shoreline, thus including most of the main ecologies of southern Wisconsin. The main structures on the plot are the visitor center, which is a large and handsome building containing classrooms and meeting rooms, and a lookout tower. We climbed the tower, which looks out over mostly treetops and the lake to the east; walked down to Lake Michigan, and back up around “Mystery Pond” which was a very nice walk, with the landscape beautiful at the cusp of autumn.

Leap!

On Sunday, September 17th, we went to see this new animated movie, about a young orphan girl who wants to become a ballet dancer, and her friend who wants to be an inventor. It is set in France, approximately 1887, judging by the state of construction of the Eiffel Tower, where some of the action takes place. (However, time is rather fluid, as we also see the Statue of Liberty under construction, which was dedicated in New York in 1886.)
The film was created by an international consortium, and shares some elements, such as similarities of character design, with other animations handled by the Weinstein Group, such as How To Train Your Dragon. However, a strong French element is present as shown by the loving depictions of Paris, and particularly, the very accurate renderings of the Opera House, where much of the action takes place.
The story does start with a lot of clichés: the girl with native talent and heart but no training; the former dancer, career ended by an injury, who becomes her teacher; the martinet ballet master, but uses them with reasonable freshness. The orphanage masters are harsh, but not heartless. Character animations and voice characterizations are OK, but not really special. (We were, however, astonished to see that the supporting role of Luteau was voiced by Mel Brooks, aged 91!) It was a cute, diverting story with a few surprises, good entertainment for a matinee.

Dining at Screaming Tuna.

I had been having a craving for sushi lately, so we decided to get dinner on Saturday the 16th at Screaming Tuna in the 3rd Ward, which came highly rated. I think the rating largely comes from its extensive and creative menu of maki (rolls), which I don’t really care about. I prefer the classic nigiri sushi, or sashimi. I ordered the Omakase platter, which came with nigiri sushi representing seared salmon, tuna, flounder, lightly seared squid, and shrimp. There was also salmon, albacore, and seared albacore sashimi. The light searing for sushi was new to me. The salmon and albacore could be seen to have a cooked layer about one-eighth-inch deep, which did somewhat change the flavor and texture of the fish. The squid was solid white rather than translucent all the way through, indicating a bit deeper cooking. This I considered an improvement over raw squid. I suppose there really isn’t all that much that can be done with raw fish—that being somewhat the point—but I have had better sushi I liked more. For main dish, Georgie had the salmon salad. The soy-glazed salmon was very nice on a bed of fresh greens.
For appetizers, we had tempura and gyoza. Both of those were good. The vegetables in the tempura included a piece of red bell pepper, which was unusual. For dessert, we had Purple Door Ginger ice cream, which was good, very gingery, and has lots of potential for experimentation. The Tempura Banana with whipped cream and caramel sauce was nicely excessive.
Service was good, and we had a table at the window wall which gave us a good view of the Milwaukee River traffic without having to be outdoors.
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Wednesday, August 16th, 2017
3:14 pm
Dunkirk
Sunday, August 12, we went to see Dunkirk, the World War II film by director Christopher Nolan. We thought it generally well done and interesting and very well worth seeing, although perhaps too dire at times to be entirely enjoyable. Yes, it’s a war movie, and there’s a lot of dying in it. However, a lot of the death, by drowning or burning, is too present.

The movie has an interesting structure, with three braided narratives that eventually meet. The first is titled “The Mole: One Week.” This follows the events on the Dunkirk beaches and nearby, focusing on a British soldier who isn’t necessarily an example of stoic discipline while trying to get off the beach and back to England. “The Sea: One Day” follows one of the British “small ships” answering the call to aid the evacuation, and its voyage to and from the zone of danger. “The Air: One Hour” deals with a sortie of three British Spitfire fighters whose mission is to protect the beaches and sea lanes, and drive away the Luftwaffe bombers. The film shift from narrative to narrative was of necessity not in overall chronological order, so it took me a bit to put things together, but, once I did, I was struck by admiration for the skill of the story telling. As the film nears its climax, the three stories come together in increasing tempo, and you see the same events from as many as three different viewpoints.

While the presence of masterful actors such as Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance enhance the picture, the compelling story is the main event, and the actions of the desperate soldier, the intrepid pilots, and the boys who go along to Dunkirk to “do something” predominate.

Military history buff that I am, of course there are a few quibbles. The beaches are attacked several times by Stuka (Junkers Ju. 87) dive-bombers. The Stuka, a pre-war design, at that time typically carried a single large bomb slung under the fuselage, and in a couple of scenes you can see one bomb separate from the attacking plane. However, on the ground, this results in a “stick” of eight explosions, as though the site was bombed by one of the larger multi-engine bomber types.

British shipping is also awfully fragile, at least for dramatic purposes. We see three British ships get sunk, one by a submarine, and two by bombing. All three capsized to the starboard side before sinking, which seems unlikely.

We always stay through the credits, and I got a substantial thrill seeing that twelve of the “small ships” that took part in the Dunkirk evacuation were used in the making of the movie.

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3:13 pm
Milwaukee Masterpiece 2017

The “Milwaukee Masterpiece” car show moved to a different weekend this year, but at the same location in Veteran’s Park. We went to the Sunday Concours d’Elegance, and thought it a particularly good show.

This year’s theme was “Style and Speed,” and featured a particularly nice collection of classic Jaguars, a marque I am particularly fond of. There was also an “alternative” category, which had a good number of makes and models of steam and electric cars. There were some very handsome pre-war Packards (Georgie’s favorite), including a beautiful convertible Touring Car. There were also interesting examples of classic Rolls-Royce autos, one of which had a rarely seen Town Car body (the classic old-style “limousine” with the open driver’s compartment).

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3:08 pm
Dining at Maison

On Saturday, August 5th, we went to dinner at the new French restaurant, Maison, on Vliet Street in Wauwatosa.

The building has been extensively remodeled since we were last in it, as a prior business, and the new look gives the feel of a French bistro as closely as any currently available restaurant in Milwaukee.

As usual for us, we dined early, so service was immediately available. We started, as we have made a practice of, with a plate of the house charcuterie. We found the selection du jour to be very good. We got good sized servings of pork pate maison, chicken liver pate, and duck prosciutto, garnished with cornichons, a couple of spears of pickled asparagus, and a beet-picked egg, accompanied by Dijon mustard and toasted bread. All of these were very good. The pate maison was had a mild but complex flavor, the chicken very smooth and surprisingly light, especially given that it was sealed with chicken fat. The duck prosciutto had nice flavor, but the meat had more the texture of “duck jerky”, and was the least successful of the meats.

For plats principeux, we chose a couple of bistro classics, coq au vin for Georgie, and I had the entrecote de boeuf (ribeye steak), or “steak frites”.  I ordered the steak medium rare, and chose red wine sauce with it. (Other choices were wild mushroom reduction, or “hotel butter”.) I also had the choice of having the meat grilled or pan-seared, and chose grilled. The steak was perfectly done, and the sauce gave it a delicious flavor. I was a bit surprised that the ‘frites’ were what I would call ‘matchstick fries’ rather than the common French fries or wedges. I was also surprised that they weren’t overdone, but had excellent texture and flavor. The downcheck on this style of fries is that dipping them in the mild aioli is a bit of a job. On the other hand, they soaked up the wine sauce nicely and a forkful was very tasty.

The coq au vin came as two large pieces of chicken (essentially a half chicken), accompanied by roasted fingerling potatoes, all in the red wine sauce with black trumpet mushrooms and shallots. The chicken was tender and delicious and the potatoes excellent as well. The sauce was very flavorful, a bit onionier tasting than some, perhaps due to the presence of the shallots instead of the pearl onions we often see.

Maison has an all-French wine list, with some very good vintages available by the glass. I had Maison Roche de Bellene “Cuvee Terroir” Coteaux du Bourguignons, and Georgie a Gerard Bertrand Gris Blanc Pays D’OC Rosé, and we were very pleased with both of them.

For desserts, we ordered the Orange Blossom Sabayon, a very soft custardy dish, and the “Homage to Meritage” chocolate ganache cake (the name is a nod to the Meritage restaurant that formerly occupied the space).  Both were excellent and not too heavy.

Service by Colin was quick, informative, and friendly. We will go back.

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Tuesday, August 8th, 2017
10:32 am
The Ancient Magus’ Bride

On Wednesday, July 26, we went to the South Shore Cinema for “Anime Movie Night,” which is apparently a monthly event put on by anime channel Crunchyroll (Which I keep thinking of as Crunchy Frog--).  We had seen the very brief teaser for The Ancient Magus’ Bride, which looked interesting.

The presentation was not actually a feature film: instead, we saw three episodes of what is going to be a new series on Crunchyroll, beginning in October. It is based on an existing manga of the same name, written and illustrated by Kore Yamazaki.

The protagonist is fifteen year old Chise Hatori (voice by Atsumi Tanezaki); abandoned by her family and homeless, she contemplates suicide, when approached by a man who says, “If you don’t care if you live or die, why not give yourself to someone that wants you?” Chise (who would be of legal age in Japan), signs what is essentially a “slave contract” and is put on auction. She is purchased by Elias Ainsworth (Ryota Takeuchi), an inhuman appearing Mage, who tells her she will be his apprentice, and eventually his bride. This is a bit unsettling, since his head appears to be the skull of a wolf or something similar, with demonic red eyes, and surmounted with antelope horns.

Ainsworth takes her to his home outside London, where he has a picturesque cottage, a fairy housekeeper, and an uneasy relationship with the local Vicar. He explains to Chise that he is a Mage, who uses the power of fairies and other spirits to do magic, unlike Sorcerors, who do magic as a kind of science. He wants her because she is a “sleigh beggy” (sic), who is a kind of “queen bee” for fairies and elementals. She is particularly special because she can see and hear them—the “curse” that has ruined her life so far. (“Sleigh beggy”  or “slay vega” comes from the Manx sleih beggey, which means one of the fairy folk. Her title in Japanese 夜の愛し仔(スレイベガ, “Beloved Child of the Night,” is a bit more evocative--.) The spirits are attracted to her and want to do things for her, but lack human judgement, which can cause disaster if they are not controlled.

In typical fantasy magician fashion, Elias is very stingy with information, which of course means there will be adventures ahead.

In the first three episodes, Chise almost gets kidnapped by the fairies, visits a Crafter of magician’s tools, and visits a dragon preserve.

The story was interesting as far as it went, and was good to look at, with decent animation, and backgrounds that rival those of Studio Ghibli (although Georgie and I both find some of the anime/manga conventions a bit peculiar--).

We also got a half-hour segment of another new production. “Children of Ether,” unusual since it written by an American black man, LeSean Thomas, and features a woman of color as the main character. It is set in  post-Apocalyptic world, where ominous forces are pursuing Rhonda, the protagonist, because of the mysterious power she possesses—which accidentally killed her beloved father. Rhonda is trying to find “The Goat”, a sage woman, to help her find some answers, while evading pursuit and the other hostile denizens typical to post-Apocalyptic scenarios. Character designs and backgrounds were very well done, but animation was spotty, with concentration on the fight scenes, but very clunky rendition of some basic things, like walking.

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Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
1:52 pm
“Lost in Paris”
On Saturday, July 22nd, we went to the Downer Theater to see the new French comic film, “Lost in Paris.”

The film was directed by, and starred in by, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, and largely written by Abel, which may be an indication of why it sometimes (though seldom) seems a bit self-indulgent. Abel and Gordon are both skillful physical comedians, and if the plot plays to their strengths, it’s hard to argue with that.

Fiona (Ms. Gordon) plays a Canadian woman from a remote (and apparently, Arctic) village who is summoned to Paris by her aged aunt Marthe (Emanuelle Riva), who’s in danger of getting put into a nursing home against her will. By the time Fiona arrives, however, Marthe has disappeared. The mishap-prone Fiona manages to fall into the Seine while having her picture taken, and loses her backpack containing her ID, money and clothing. Dom (Mr. Abel), a homeless man, finds the pack and enjoys his good fortune until he and Fiona cross paths. Their fates then become entangled as Dom, in a bumbling but frequently effectively direct fashion, tries to assist the socially awkward Fiona as she alternately tries to disengage from him and to accept his help in finding her aunt in the strange city.

The result is a sweet, gently funny film that plays as though a low-keyed Carol Burnett were matched with a French-speaking Charlie Chaplin. It’s not outrageously funny, but it is charming and constantly interesting. We liked it a lot.

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1:50 pm
Voices Found Repertory, “King John”
When we saw an item in the Shepherd Express that a new theatre group was performing Shakespeare’s “King John,” a history play few people have heard of, let alone actually seen, we had to go. (One of the items on my “bucket list” is to see every Shakespeare play performed at least once. This was one to check off.)

Voices Found Repertory performs at The Underground Collective, a surprisingly nice space in the basement of the Grand Avenue Plankinton Building, that includes a theater, recording studio, and other art spaces.

As the play opens, John (Brandon Judah) is King of England following the death of his brother Richard I (the Lionheart). His position is contested by Constance (Brittany Ann Meister), widow of John’s other elder brother, Geoffrey, who predeceased Richard but left a legitimate son, young Arthur (Graham Billings). Constance has leagued with King Phillip of France (Kira Renkas), promising him English-held lands in France if he helps win the English throne for Arthur.

Aided by his mother, the still-formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine (Claire Tidwell), John steals a march on the French, and meets them in arms at Angiers, a fortified town that is reluctant to let either force within its walls. (It’s interesting that Eleanor would seem to be so supportive of John, but this performance makes it clear that there is no love between Constance and Eleanor--. Eleanor shows more favor to a presumed bastard son of her beloved Richard, “Philip Faulconbridge” (Jeremy Labelle), whom she takes as a protégé, than for her grandson Arthur).
John and Eleanor broker a masterful deal, offering the Dauphin, Louis, (Brandon Haut), the hand of Blanche of Castile (Rachel Zembrowski) in marriage. (Historically, Blanche was the daughter of John’s sister, Eleanor of England, and Alfonso VIII, King of Castile). The marriage ceded some fiefdoms to Louis, and gave him a claim on the English throne after John. Arthur is thrown a bone in the form of being confirmed Duke of Brittany, his father’s title. Although Constance rages, she is stymied.

In the play (Shakespeare compresses considerable time), things fall apart upon the arrival of Cardinal Pandulph (Sarah Zapian), emissary of Pope Innocent III, who excommunicates John for having refused to recognize the Pope’s appointee to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, and requires the French to make war on him. Phillip is angered, but has to comply. (Historically, Phillip had felt the pain of being under Pope Innocent’s interdict over his attempt to set aside his marriage to Isambour of Denmark--.) The situation degenerates into a general battle, in which Arthur is captured by John’s forces.

John finds himself under pressure from both within and without, by the French and by English partisans of young Arthur. John gives orders to Hubert, Earl of Kent (Nick Hurtgen) to put Arthur to a particularly cruel death, which orders Hubert cannot bring himself to carry out. Nevertheless, rumors fly that John has killed Arthur, inspiring rebellion. Hubert returns to Rouen to produce Arthur, only to find that he has killed himself by leaping from the castle battlements. (Historically, no one knows what really became of Arthur after his incarceration at Rouen, and it is assumed John did away with him--.)

With Arthur’s death blamed on John, rebellious English join the Dauphin in an attempt to unseat John. John having perforce made his peace with the Pope, Pandulph attempts to decree peace, only to face the Dauphin’s vehement refusal.

In the battles that follow, John is demoralized by the death of his mother, and is roughly handled by the French and allies. In the heat of battle, he accepts a drink from a mysterious “monk”, which proves to have been poisoned. (John is actually thought to have died of dysentery contracted while on campaign, so a ‘poisoned drink’ may be not far from the truth—more so than the famous “surfeit of lampreys” story--.) John has a slow and agonizing death. Supporters of John’s son, Henry III, personified by Blanche, arrange for his succession.

This was a very enjoyable play. Done in modern dress, with little in the way of makeup or props, it relied on the considerable skill and energy of the cast to put the play across, which succeeded admirably. We particularly liked the convention of portraying the battle scenes as general brawls in which everyone, even Eleanor and Constance, took part. Although the production notes make explicit comparisons between the petty, spiteful, and cruel John and a certain American President, there’s little attempt to portray that in the performance (John doesn’t even wear a red tie--.). The director and cast wisely let us draw parallels where we may.

The major cast members have significant resumes in Shakespeare and other drama, and it shows. Brandon Judah had a fine range of expression as the sometimes charming, sometimes craven, and usually scheming King. Kira Renkas as King Philip effectively goes from smiling good humor when the wind is in France’s favor, to frustrated rage when the Church upsets plans. Actually, the play is full of good rants: John, Philip, Constance, Faulconbridge, and the Dauphin all have their unbridled scenes. In particular, Jeremy Labelle as Faulconbridge, a.k.a. Richard Plantagenet, a.k.a. “The Bastard” made the welkins ring, sometimes a bit too loudly, while taking pleasure in stirring up trouble.

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1:49 pm
Royal Shakespeare Company: “Anthony and Cleopatra”

On Tuesday evening, July 18th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the hi-def broadcast of Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra,” as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Actually, we saw half the presentation, since it was a work night for me and we both got tired, and bailed out at the intermission. (The first act plus “prologue” is two hours by itself--).  What we did see was very good and worthy of comment, though.

The title roles were played by Josette Simon as Cleopatra, and Antony Byrne as Marc Antony, both of whom were excellent. The RSC tends to cast this show with actors a bit more mature than usually pictured for the roles, which works well. Ms. Simon, like the historical Cleopatra, is striking rather than beautiful, and can be both commanding and beguiling. Her Cleopatra is mercurial both by nature and by design.  Byrne’s Antony is a bluff soldier, weary of the years of warfare since the death of his mentor, Julius Caesar.

The play makes it clear why Antony finds Egypt so seductive. Cleopatra’s court is beautiful, sensual, playful: everything Rome is not. Rome represents duty and politics. The one celebration there we see, for the temporary treaty with Pompey the Younger, turns into a crude all-male drinking bout.  

Very fine performances also by Ben Allen as the triumvir Octavius Caesar, who is more of a rival to Anthony than a villain, and by Lucy Phelps as his sister, Octavia, whom Octavian marries to Antony in an effort to cement an alliance.  Octavia is loyal to Anthony, until Octavius reveals his double-dealing with enemies of Rome, Cleopatra’s allies.

It was a really fine production as far as we saw and I’d be glad to see the whole thing if it were reshown at a more convenient time, or on DVD.

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Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
1:31 pm
Sculpture Milwaukee
Tuesday afternoon, we went downtown to look at the collection of outdoor sculptures arranged along Wisconsin Avenue as part of the new Scupture Milwaukee event. Planned to be an annual thing, the exhibit has 22 sculptures from around the world installed along the city’s main street, from its east end (near the De Suvero “Sunrise” installation) west to N. 6th St.

We were fortunate to encounter some of the Downtown Guides who had just taken part in a kickoff event for the exhibition, who were able to give us a map and guide, as some of the pieces are set back from the street, and it’s possible to miss some of the smaller ones.
The pieces represent a wide variety of styles. Most are quite large, appropriate for outdoor settings.

Perhaps our favorite was one of the most spectacular pieces, “S2” by Santiago Calatrava, architect of the famous Milwaukee Art Museum wing. This dynamic piece is made up of interlocking metal sections, held together with tensioned cables. It reminds one of both a buzz-saw and a hurricane map, and looks striking and dangerous.

There’s also “Vortex” by Saint Clare Cemin, an inverted stainless steel tornado reaching for the sky; “Rose #2 (Icon Red)” by Will Ryman; “Immigrant Family,” by Tom Otterness, a charmingly cartoony grouping although ten feet tall in bronze; “Reina Mariana” by Manolo Valdes; and “Big Piney” by Deborah Butterfield, a very effective depiction of a horse as done in found branches (then also cast in bronze).

This was a very interesting exhibit, and gave us a good walk through our city on a lovely day. We hope this proves successful and indeed annual.

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1:30 pm
Museum of Wisconsin Art
On Tuesday, July 11th, we drove to West Bend to see the Museum of Wisconsin Art. The Museum itself is a striking new wedge-shaped building near downtown, which incorporates studio and meeting spaces, as well as a modestly –sized gallery area.

We were drawn particularly by The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit. This exhibit consists of women’s clothing dating from the Civil war to the late 20th century, all of which belonged to one family and was preserved in the attic in a home in Marshfield, Wisconsin, in 1972. The garments include both Paris designer-bespoke fashions, and home-sewn designs, as well as items from exclusive American stores. The preservation, particularly of the oldest clothes, is amazing, and makes them truly museum-quality pieces.

Along with this, there is a display of contemporary clothing by Wisconsin designers, some of whom are “Project Runway” veterans. As might be expected, most of these are more art pieces than clothes (such as the bristly coat made out of zip ties, (“Breed Coat” by Alex Ulichny), but some of them Georgie would cheerfully worn to appropriate occasions, such as the elegant “Cotton Candy in the Rain,” by Peach Carr, and the “Kaleidoscope” dress by Lynne Dixon-Speller.

Continuing the clothing theme, there was also a room displaying vintage children’s clothes by Wisconsin based designer Florence Eiseman, which we found very interesting and showing a very handsome but practical aesthetic.

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1:28 pm
Despicable Me 3
Early Sunday, we enjoyably killed some time by going to see Despicable Me 3.

In this outing, Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are both working for the Anti-Villain League, trying to take down ‘80’s themed supervillain Balthasar Bratt (Trey Parker). Bratt had a TV show in which he played “Evill Bratt” (yes, spelled that way) in the 1980’s which was canceled when he hit puberty and wasn’t cute any longer. Now he’s taking it out on society and general and Hollywood in particular by committing crimes base on his old show. Bratt continues to evade capture, although Gru has foiled his theft attempts. This isn’t good enough for the new AVL director Valerie da Vinci, who gives Gru and Lucy the sack.

Things are rather dark for Gru: with no job, he’s resisting the call of villainy, which causes the Minions to abandon him. Then, he finds that he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell).

Dru is well-off, having inherited a pig-farming business from the father Gru had thought dead. Dear Old Dad, it turns out, was also a villain, and Dru wants Gru to teach him the ropes so he can carry on the family tradition.

This is of course a troubling prospect for Gru, although it does give him a chance to strike back at Bratt. Meanwhile, Lucy is working on being a Mom to the girls, with mixed results. How all this works out is of course very funny, and a visual delight with all the over-the-top gadgets. The 80’s references are fun to catch.

A must-see if you have been following the series.

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1:26 pm
Madison Early Music Festival, Days One and Two
We drove over to Madison on Saturday, July 8th, for the beginning of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival. This year’s theme is “Quixotic Musical Treasures from the Golden Age of Spain” which in particular celebrates Miguel de Cervantes, and his novel Don Quixote, but also the other authors, poets, and musicians of that productive era.

The opening night concert was titled “The Musical World of Don Quixote.” Numerous pieces and types of music were referred to by Cervantes in his story, and the concert took us through events of the novel with examples of the types of music that might have been played, and that were thematically appropriate to the story.

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, lead the concert, joined by members of the Rose Ensemble, Andrew Rader, Bradley King, Jordan Sramek, and Jake Endres; as well as soprano Nell Snaidas, and additional instrumentalists Erick Schmalz, Glen Velez, and Charles Weaver on sackbut, percussion, and vihuela and guitar, respectively. The Piffaro contingent consisted of Grant Herreid, Priscilla Herreid, Greg Ingles, Joan Kimball, Christa Patton, and Bob Weimken.

Various members of the Rose Ensemble embodied Don Quixote on vocals, depending upon the voice the piece was written for; Ms. Snaidas sang all the female parts, and put her operatic background to good use in expression and gesture.

This was a really fascinating concert, extremely well performed and very well put together. Mr. Herreid, who “conceived and curated” the program gave an interesting pre-concert lecture on how the various works performed were found and decided on.

The pre-concert lecture on Sunday night, by Peggy Murray, on historical reproduction of dance, was unfortunately cut short by technical difficulties. However, the concert, a solo performance by Xavier Diaz-Latorre, was mostly flawless. The stage lighting was on the dim side, and Mr. Diaz-Latorre’s voice did not carry well to the upper seats where we were. Nevertheless, the music was amazing. The vihuela is an instrument shaped like a small guitar, but strung and tuned like a lute. The first half of the program, played on the five-course vihuela, was mostly soft, sweet, and introspective, although the pieces played had an intricacy that called for and received intense focus.

The six-course vihuela, used in the second half, is a transitional instrument, which can be strummed as well as plucked—sometimes at the same time, as happened in the first piece, “Poema harmonico,” by Francisco Guerau. This set was faster and more fiery, which built to a conclusion lauded by a universal standing ovation, and two encores.

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