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Gregory G. H. Rihn's Journal
 
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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 40 most recent ones recorded in Gregory G. H. Rihn's LiveJournal:

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Monday, June 12th, 2017
2:11 pm
Downtown Dining Week, 2017

Every year, in the first week of June, numerous restaurants in downtown Milwaukee participate in “Downtown Dining Week,” in which they put on special priced menus in order to attract business downtown at the start of the summer season.  This is an opportunity for us to visit new places, or revisit favorites at a break on price.

This year, we hit two. We went to Ward’s House of Prime for a lunch, which was very good.  I had the house salad, which was nice, with good fresh greens, the prime rib French dip, also very good with lovely meat and nice French fries, and the apple tart with caramel drizzle for dessert. The tart had an unusual rather thick crust, but was tasty and had evidently been made with fresh apples. Georgie had the tenderloin tips with mushroom sherry sauce over egg noodles for main dish, and found that very good as well. At $12.50 per person, this was definitely a real deal. At noon on Friday, Ward’s was busy and loud, but service was fast and friendly.

For a dinner, we went to Pastiche at the Metro Hotel, our first time visiting this restaurant at the new location.  For starters, I tried the country style pate, which I thought was very good and compared favorably with the house terrine we had had in France at places like Les Bacchantes. Georgie had the tomato bisque, which she pronounced delicious. (I am not a fan of tomato soup, but sampled it and had to agree it was the best I had had--.) For “plat” I had the “Steak Frites,” which in this case was a grilled New York Strip, accompanied by French Fries and garlic aioli. The steak had had a very effective flavor enhancing rub, was grilled to perfection, and topped with a blob of herbed butter. It was decadent and delicious. The “frites” were nicely spiced, and went down very well with the aioli. Georgie had the pan roasted chicken breast with lemon herb sauce, which was quite delicious, accompanied by some roasted fingerling potatoes, and very fresh and tender asparagus. (Georgie tried dipping the asparagus spears in my aioli, and pronounced it “the” way to eat asparagus.)

For dessert, Georgie sampled the chocolate mousse, which was a dollop of very dark, almost bitter, chocolate confection of a puddingy consistency, garnished with some fresh berries and whipped cream. I tried the strawberry shortcake, which was a square of rather coarse, yellow cake (the better to soak up juice and not turn to pulp--), set on a coating of strawberry coulis, drizzled with juice, and topped with vivid-tasting “marinated” strawberries and also whipped cream.  I could have used a few more strawberries, but I have to say that, although on first glance, the dessert portion sizes appeared small, after the rest of the meal, they were quite adequate. We went away feeling very well fed.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/308872.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2:10 pm
National Theatre Live: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

On Tuesday evening, June 6th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see a really fine production of Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which shows us the existential dilemma of two minor characters in a great play, and what they do, and do not do, between scenes. The play has a lot in common with Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot, but we like it better since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern engage in debate about the meaning of it all, whereas Vladimir and Estragon in Godot are just overwhelmed by the meaninglessness.

The play had an excellent cast, lead by Joshua McGuire (mainly known for British TV) as Guildenstern, Daniel Radcliffe as Rosencrantz, and David Haig as The Player. The little pre-show film mentioned that Stoppard himself had been involved in this production, and I do believe the script had been tweaked in comparison with earlier versions I had seen. It seemed to me that scenes with Hamlet, Polonious, Claudius, and Gertrude were cut or shortened, and The Player, who is Stoppard’s voice on stage, had a good bit more to say.

The play was set in a mostly timeless time, and a largely undefined space, which underscored the characters’ being adrift from reality. This didn’t really affect the performance much, but at least did not distract.

McGuire and Radcliffe in particular were very good, and handled Stoppard’s lightning-speed dialogs with alacrity. I was a bit surprised at first that the bigger name Radcliffe did not have the more intellectual role of Guildenstern, but found that he was wonderfully good as the frequently clueless Rosencrantz, being able to do an effective variety of blank, baffled, or just plain stupid expressions.

I’m not sure I would say that this was a definitive performance, but it was very, very good, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in this play. (The 1990 film with Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, and Richard Dreyfuss is also very good, in my opinion.)

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/308664.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2:09 pm
Wonder Woman

On June 4th, we went to see Wonder Woman, the latest film in what is now being called the “DC Cinematic Universe,” and the first one we have seen since I declined to see Man of Steel. We were glad to see this one, and enjoyed it quite a bit.

I’m a bit bemused by the decision to set the story of Wonder Woman’s entry into the outside world in the final days of World War I. I liked it, and I can understand why WWI was chosen for purposes of plot, but I wonder if anyone has considered the profound changes this would make in the DC universe timeline. In the “standard model” Superman was the first superhero to come to public notice, either in the 1930’s (per the original comic books) or the 2010’s per the newest movies. However, now, Wonder Woman is first on the scene, by almost a hundred years? I expect that this will be glossed over for the future, but there would have probably been a very different approach to Superman’s advent, had Wonder Woman been around for a long time before that.

The opening sequences of the movie, portraying Diana’s youth and training on the island of Themiscyra are beautiful and wonderful. The island is fantastic, of course, but watching the Amazons train is fascinating, and in particular it’s great to see that not every Amazon has to be young and dewy-looking. Robin Wright as lead warrior Antiope, and Connie Nielsen as Hippolyta, show us that a woman can have some lines in her face, or edgy collarbones, and still be fabulous and powerful.

Gal Gadot, as Diana, is just great.  She looks wonderful in the role, and her background in the military and martial arts give her the bearing she needs to truly be a warrior princess. She’s well matched by Chris Pine, who is a smarter and edgier Steve Trevor than ever was in the comics or TV. The other “good guys” include Lucy Davis as Etta Candy. The character was originally part of Wonder Woman’s “comic relief” squad, the “Holiday Girls” in the 40’s comics. Here, she’s become a Brit, doing a WWI version of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” thing as a sort of Miss Moneypenny to Trevor’s Americanized James Bond. It’s a pity that we aren’t likely to see more of her. In order to foil the villains’ plot, Trevor puts together a particularly unlikely version of the classic “rag-bag team,” made up of Said Tagamouhi as a Moroccan actor turned con man, Ewan Bremner as a Scottish sniper with PTSD, and Eugene Brave Rock as a Native American smuggler, all of whom are interesting characters and have things to say about the world of 1918.

The chief villains are Dany Huston as General Erich Ludendorff, and Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru. Ludendorff, who really existed, is an interesting choice. The historical Ludendorff was Quartermaster General of the German Army until October 1918 (and so in position to make decisions about new weapons), when he resigned, a requirement of armistice negotiations. He went on to become a nationalist politician who promoted the theory that Germany was “stabbed in the back by Marxists and Jews,” took part in Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, and wrote a book called The Total War in 1935, arguing that peace was only an interval between wars.  Although he did break with Hitler by 1933, I think we can fairly say that his portrayal in the film does not malign him too much, and Huston’s portrayal makes him believably megalomaniacal and dangerous.

Dr. Maru, alias “Dr. Poison”, played by Spanish actress Elena Anaya, is a recycling of a WW2 Wonder Woman villain, who was a Japanese chemist specializing in sabotage.  The doctor as portrayed is rather generically European, unsettling with the creepy prosthetic covering her scarred face, and not so much a “mad” scientist as an obsessive one. Her new weapon, the so-called “hydrogen mustard” gas is truly horrific, though not much more so than weapons actually developed. (The arsenic compound Lewisite, not used in WW1, could penetrate clothing and thin rubber--.)

I wasn’t put off by Wonder Woman’s stated goal to destroy the war god Ares as I was by (spoiler in case you haven’t seen it) Superman’s killing of General Zod in Man of Steel. In the movie, Diana considers destroying Ares to be her major mission in life, so its rather a given, and it was established in the comic books years ago that Wonder Woman would in fact kill in defense of life if the need were great enough. (And I’d be pretty sure that not all the German soldiers she clobbered liberating a Belgian village probably survived, either, although, as in many of the comic-book movies, there’s little blood, and most death is off camera--.)

We liked the movie’s approach to combat. Wonder Woman fights with focus and with purpose, but never with malice, and revenge, a frequent “hero” motivation, plays little part.

Of course, I have some technical quibbles: The Fokker Eindekker Trevor steals is way obsolete by 1918 (although that could be the reason it was in Turkey, far from the active front--), whereas the giant bomber in the final sequence, which vaguely resembles one of the late-war Zeppelin-Staaken bombers, is somewhat futuristic. We can tell that Themiscyra must be within a relatively short air flight from the Turkish coast: so far, so good, it makes much more sense for it to be among the Greek islands than off the coast of North America, as in the early Wonder Woman comics. However, in our 1918, there were no Central Powers warships, let alone German, operating in the Mediterranean, to have pursued him there--. Oh, well, it’s not actually our world, after all. However, getting from the Eastern Med to London in the course of a sleep by sail, even with the aid of a tugboat, just isn’t possible--.

Seeing this film makes me much more optimistic about the forthcoming Justice League feature.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/308441.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
2:08 pm
A Quiet Passion

We went to the Downer Theater to see A Quiet Passion, the film about American poet Emily Dickinson. Although now regarded as one of the most important poets of the 19th Century, her work was largely ignored during her lifetime, with only a dozen or so of more than 1800 poems written published during her lifetime, and those were usually significantly “edited” by the publishers.

Most of Dickinson’s correspondence was burned at her death by her wish, so I expect that director and screenwriter Terence Davies had to invent most of the dialog, if not incidents, but if, so, he does a very good job of evoking a very particular time and place. The Amherst we see is genteel, puritanical, and self-critical. Manners are everything. Emily’s father reproaches her, and she sincerely apologizes, for having spoken brusquely to the servants while suffering a kidney-stone attack (or something similar).

Things start off well enough. Emily has the support of her revered father, who uses influence with his friend, Samuel Bowles, to get her poems published in his newspaper. She has the friendship of her attractive sister, Lavinia (Vinnie), her adored brother Austin, and her vivacious friend, Susan Gilbert, with whom she can exchange “wicked” ideas. Her mother, whom she regarded as distant, nevertheless gently tolerated Emily’s growing eccentricities.

Frustration begins to build up as she sees even her publisher, Bowles, repeat the idea that only men have the spirit to be poets in an article in his paper. (Noted poets of the time all had names like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Cullen Bryant--.) Her comfortable life slowly unravels as her father dies suddenly. Her mother is incapacitated by a stroke and eventually also dies. Susan Gilbert marries and moves away. Austin Dickinson falls off his pedestal by becoming estranged from his wife and engaging in an affair with a married woman, Mabel Loomis Todd. There was tension between Emily, who was shocked and horrified, and Vinnie, who was more forgiving. (Ironically, Mrs. Todd was one of the people who helped get Dickinson’s poems into publication after her death.)

She gradually became more reclusive, declining invitations to visit elsewhere, and only speaking to visitors who came to the house from the other side of a door, but all the while continuing to write poems and letters. She died in 1885, at the age of 55, of what was diagnosed as kidney disease.

Cynthia Nixon plays the adult Emily, and does a very fine job of what of necessity must be an understated role. She’s supported by a cast of very skillful and subtle actors, including Jennifer Ehle as Vinnie, Duncan Duff as Austin, Keith Carradine as her father, and Joanna Bacon as her mother.

The film looks beautiful, capturing the period well, as the people act out their austere and reserved lives against a background of Victorian elegance in homes and lush beauty in gardens.

We were very glad to have seen this interesting movie about this very interesting person. (Georgie’s one criticism was “too much hard dying, too long,” referring to both Emily’s and her mother’s death scenes--.)

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/308023.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Thursday, May 25th, 2017
12:50 pm
Why It’s All Right to Grind the Poor
Why is it so easy for people, many of whom profess to be Christians, to espouse policies that harm the poor, despite being adjured by the Bible to do just the opposite?

Jesus said: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:  43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Gospel according to Mark, Ch. 25: 31-46 (King James Version).

That seems pretty unambiguous, doesn’t it? So, why are President Trump and his followers preparing to take food out of the mouths of children, to take away health care from those that need it, to refuse shelter to the strangers, to increase the population of the prisons? Not to mention a hundred other activities that expose particularly the poor to higher costs and greater income insecurity, for no corresponding benefits?

Of course, the “pious” answer is that government shouldn’t be in the business of providing medical care, food, or shelter for those that can’t afford it, and those duties should be taken up by charities relying on free-will donations.

Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, charity has never, ever, been sufficient to cover unmet needs.

However, government can do so, and there are many good reasons why it should. Taking just public health as an example, making sure the population as a whole has access to vaccinations and early diagnosis makes disease outbreaks less likely and more controllable, to everyone’s benefit. Want to reduce health care costs? Health maintenance and preventive care reduces catastrophic care costs down the road, costs that we are already paying, since they are being factored into the health insurance premiums and medical bills we get.

Instead, it’s alright to let the poor be sick, and let the poor die, because being poor is evidence of moral failing. That’s right, being poor is proof positive that you are a bad person and don’t deserve any better.

This goes back to the Old Testament. If you were right with the Lord, your children flourished, your flocks multiplied, your harvests were abundant. If the Lord hated you, it was Book of Job time for you, with no guarantee of a happy ending.

Despite Jesus saying that “sooner shall a camel pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter into Heaven,” there are Christian churches that have adopted so-called “prosperity theology” which holds that wealth and physical well-being are the will of God, and poverty and sickness are curses.

Alabama’s Representative Mo Brooks said of the proposed “American Health Care Act” that, “[The plan] will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

And, the not-so-subtext here is that “people who lead good lives” doesn’t just refer to those of us who exercise and eat right: it means you have to live a good life—i.e., a virtuous one. This is because, as we all know, people who exercise and eat right still get sick. Long distance runners still have heart attacks, and even ministers can get caught in a car accident, or trip and fall downstairs.

And that’s where it gets really insidious. We’ve all known people who were never sick a day, but get diagnosed with cancer one day. Well, that’s God’s will, they deserve it. If you can’t work because some fleeing carjacker hit your car, or you slipped on the ice and broke a hip, you had it coming, you must have done something wrong. Is your loved one like to die, and you have no health insurance coverage because you were laid off? That’s because you are a sinner and God hates you! No matter how far back you need to go in the chain of causation, everything bad that happens to you is ultimately your fault, because YOU don’t love God enough: which is obvious, because if God loved you, these things wouldn’t happen.

So, here’s the goats’ answer to Jesus, as it is practiced: “Starve, Jesus; freeze, Jesus; we don’t care about you. Die, Jesus, healing you costs too much. Rot in prison, Jesus, we’re afraid of you, and we hate you.”

Whether Jesus’ answer to the “goats” works out as promised above, remains to be seen.
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017
9:20 pm
Odyssey Con 2017 Report
We got to the Madison Radisson about noon, Friday, and made a quick check around to be sure everything was getting in gear. With no problems found, we had a light lunch and greeted people as they arrived. Early arrivals tended to be past members, so there were many faces we were glad to see again.

Panels started at 2:30, with “Held Hostage by the Internet of Things.” With the three members of the panel being professionals in software, hardware, and systems administration, the presentation was very informative, and proposed both dire and humorous scenarios. (“For only $39.95, you, too, can spy on your neighbors!”)

At 4PM, we had “Not Your Saturday Morning Cartoons,” “World Building 101: Milieu,” and “Making Movies with No Budget—And Other Horror Stories.” The World Building panel was the first of three aimed at creating a collaborative story world, and arrived at post-environmental apocalypse setting that had plenty of potential “plot hooks.”

Media Guest Michael Butt proved to be an entertaining raconteur with adventures of making horror movies in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin, including the shooting day for his feature, YETIS!, when the temperature hit 37 degrees below zero. The frigidity gave the acting great verisimilitude, but the camera nearly froze up--.

Georgie and I took Michael to dinner at Tandoori House, along with our friend Todd Voros. Food was good, but the service was a little on the ramshackle side. Dinner conversation was entertaining.
“Opening Ceremonies” went smoothly with the usual announcements and introductions. For the first time, there was not a humorous skit as part of the program, a pity too, since Janet Lewis had had an idea for a pun-laden “Forbidden Planet” parody, but other pressures took precedence. The announcements were followed by the Speculative Poetry Slam and Open Mike, which had some very good entries.

Evening programming started with “Odysseus and the First Odyssey,” and “Can We Make Democracy Work?” “Odysseus” looked back at Homer’s great saga and the character of Odysseus, as portrayed in the Iliad, the Odyssey, follow-on works such as the Theogony, and literature through history since, wherein Odysseus is perhaps the single most often portrayed character. The traditional OddCon Karaoke also broke out in room Oakbrook 3.

Formal programming ended the day with Richard Russell’s “SF Movies of 2017”, his usual encyclopediactic review of SF in media, and the beginning of the “Filksing Intime” at Mooshenko’s, hosted by Milwaukee filkers Art and Cynthia Warneke.

Saturday morning started off with bang and four very interesting panels: “Forbidden Planet,” “20 Years of Harry Potter,” Ray Bradbury’s Work in Comics,” and “Chinese SF, an Update.”

“Forbidden Planet” discussed the classic science fiction film, and its lasting impact on the film genre and SF in general. This panel was particularly well attended. “20 Years of Harry Potter” drew an enthusiastic audience reflecting on the remarkable persistence of the “Harry Potter” phenomenon, which continues to attract new readers. “Ray Bradbury’s Work in Comics” was a presentation by the nascent Ray Bradbury museum, and highlighted the author’s works as (sometimes unauthorisedly) adapted into the comic book form. In “Chinese SF, an Update,” Dr. Janice Bogstad gave an introduction to science fiction currently being produced in China, which has been garnering interest since Liu Cixin won the Hugo award for his novel (as translated) The Three-Body Problem.

At 11:30AM, we had “Being a Grownup, the Female Experience,” “World Building 201: Plots,” “Cosplay on a Budget,” and “Lounge L33ts Presents: MMO Worlds.”

This year’s “Being a Grownup” was a follow on to last year’s panel, which was very good but by coincidence ended up being all men. We thought it was worth pursuing the female viewpoint, and had a very interesting and far-ranging discussion of the changing expectations for and of “grown-up” females, and women’s issues generally. “World Building 201: Plots” took off where “World Building 101” left off, “Cosplay on a Budget” gave tips on how to create a good looking costume without breaking the bank, and “Lounge L33ts” was game writer Erin Burke’s annual roundup of new developments in online gaming.

At 1:00PM, we had “Fantasy Movies of 2017,” “Future Habitats,” “What Makes Overwatch So Appealing?” and “Should Governments Be Run Like a Business?” This last panel resulted in a very lively discussion, commencing with the clarifying question, “Which parts of government, and which types of business?” Which lead on to provocative proposals, such as, “If the government’s going to be run like a business, why don’t they monetize the military?” and “There’s no demand for critical thinkers, so schools should discontinue that product.”

The 2:30 session featured the Guest of Honor Interview with Artist Brent Chumley, whose artwork can be seen in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, the Legend of the Five Rings card game, Shadowrun, and the forthcoming Dragonfire deck building game from Wizards of the Coast, among others. Brent’s interview covered his formative years, schooling (running up against the “fine artists’” disdain for “illustration”), his breaking into professional game art work, and how he manages a full-time art career while living in a small Illinois town. Brent had a great deal to say, and all of it was both entertaining and informative.

Other events at that time included “Hybrid Publishing,” “Is Seeing Still Believing?” “Running A Successful Kickstarter,” and “Why We Love B-Movies.” Lead by hybrid publisher Brea Behn, “Hybrid Publishing” talked about the ins and outs of the expanding middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. “Is Seeing Still Believing?” considered the expanding ability to create alternative realities using visual editing and CGI software.

At 4PM, Media Guest Michael Butt was the interviewee, and spoke about how he decided he wanted to make movies rather than just act, his choice to work in the horror genre and his goals, and the unique challenges of making scary movies in a small Wisconsin town, such as: “It’s really hard to get a woman to go out in the woods with you and get covered in fake blood.” We also had “Storytelling Builds Our World,” wherein authors talk about the impact storytelling has had, and may have, on their own and others’ worlds; “SF in Translation”; and “Return of Tokoatsu,” the review of animation and special effects from Japan.

After the dinner break, we had Guest of Honor Speeches, the Costume Contest, and the Flash Fiction Contest winners. Brent Chumley and Michael Butt gave interesting and entertaining speeches. Brent had a PowerPoint show of his works, and the movie room showed Michael’s recent feature This Woods is Cursed immediately after the speeches ended. The Costume Contest had half a dozen entries, all of which were very good.

This year, we were fortunate to have the winners of both the Adult and Youth Divisions of the Flash Fiction contest in attendance to read their winning works. David Talon read his story, “The Sea Breathes Salty,” in which a man is haunted by the embodiment of his past regrets, and Zoe Leonard read “A Farmer’s Guide to Growing Faceroot,” a zany and wonderful article about how to cultivate a mandrake-like vegetable. These, and the second and third place winning stories can be read at http://www.odysseycon.org/contest/contest.html

Evening programming started off with “What Makes Science Fiction an Exciting and Inspiring Genre?” “The Workings of the Crypto-Plutocracy (How the US Govt. Functions in Practice)” and the Big Damn Filksing in Oakbrook 3, which went on until 2AM.

Late night programs in the 11:00PM slot were “Sleep is Weird,” looking at what is still an unexplained phenomenon, and “It Came from the Internet,” a review of the new truly weird and wonderful content on the Web.

Checking out function spaces on the way to bed, we noted that table-top gaming was still going strong, people were enjoying programming in the movie and Amalor Anime rooms, and that the Mad Scientist’s Party was well attended.

Sunday morning started off with another strong selection of panels. “The Animals Talk, Why?” considered the continuing popularity of talking animal stories, ranging from the “beast fables” of antiquity, through Beatrix Potter and The Wind in the Willows, through My Little Pony, and Richard Chwedyk’s “Saur” stories. “20 Years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” celebrated the long-running TV show. “Promotional Ideas for Books” gave tips for marketing your book, and “Portraying Accurate Military Units and People in Games and Fiction” took on some common myths about the military.

The 11:30 panel on “Heaven and Hell” was short a panelist due to sudden illness, but the survivors managed to entertain the audience by expounding on portrayals of the Underworld and the Heavens by Dante, Mark Twain, James Joyce, and others. “Get Lost” dealt with getting and being lost, in fiction and real life, and how to deal with it. “World Building 202: Characters” wrapped up the series.

At 1:00PM, “Wicked and Worse,” considered what makes a good villain, and what makes a believable villain, and why the two aren’t necessarily the same. In “Pets in Spaaace!” panel and audience speculated on the probability (or not) of your cat, dog, or other animal companion coming to the stars with you. “Movie Charades” was this year’s installment of the popular game.

Programming officially ended at 2:30PM with “Kill the Cow!”, which is the attendees’ chance to give direct feedback to the concom. After a slow start, a lot of good and useful suggestions were contributed and recorded for future planning.

Attendance was 180+, which was within range of some other recent OddCons, although down from last year. Events at-con went off with no significant hitches. There were some particularly good panel discussions, and Brent Chumley and Michael Butt were great guests. We ended the con on an optimistic note, and with several good ideas for the future.
This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/307919.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
9:19 pm
Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble
On Friday evening, April 21st, we went to the Charles Allis Museum to hear a concert by the Madison-based Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble. The group this evening consisted of soprano Mimmi Fulmer; Brett Lipshutz, taverso (transverse flute); Nathan Giglierano, baroque violin; Eric Miller, viola da gamba and treble viol; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

The first part of the program consisted of the Quartet for two traversi, recorder, and basso continuo, TWV43:d1, by Georg Philipp Telemann; Pieces de violle, suite #3, by “M. de Machy”; “Lasciatemi qui solo,” by Francesca Caccini; and Sonate en trio for two traversi and basso continuo, opus 13, #3, by Jean-Baptist-Quentin. All these pieces were played and sung beautifully. All except the Telemann were new to us, and we were particularly interested by the solo suite for viol da gamba by de Machy, and the song by Francesa Caccini.

The second half included “Interrote Speranze,” by Johannes Hieronymous Kapsberger; Sonata a trio for recorder, violin, and basso continuo, by Johann Cristoph Pepusch; Telemann’s Nouveaux Quators, #6 in E-Minor; and “Odi, Euterpe,” by Giulio Romola Caccini. In this set, again, the pieces featuring the viol da gamba were particularly interesting, since the viol parts could almost be described as “sprightly,” which is unusual for this instrument. The final piece, which featured Ms. Fulmer accompanied by the complete ensemble, was quite beautiful.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable concert. We look forward to the company’s November concert.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/307540.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Thursday, March 30th, 2017
3:27 pm
Dining at the Mason Street Grill
We noticed in the newspaper that Mason Street Grill was having a monthly special series based on movies, with the first one being “Julie and Julia,” the movie about the young woman who cooked her way through Julia Child’s “The Art of French Cooking.” We loved that movie, love the cookbook, and the special dishes looked really yummy, so we thought we’d give it a try.

The Mason Street Grill is a very nice place. If you are an old Milwaukeean, you might remember the space they are in as having been Grenadiers’ years ago. It has been entirely redecorated since then, of course, with a lot of dark wood and tasteful accents.

If you want the “movie menu”, you have to sit at “The Chef’s Corner,” which is a less-formal seating location at a marble-topped counter, with a good view of the open kitchen. Our server, Ryan, was very friendly and informative.

We ordered a starter of the charcuterie, which was good, but not special. The only home-made part was the chopped liver on toast. The sausage and ham were good, but probably not anything you couldn’t have gotten elsewhere (or at the grocery store). An amuse-bouche of a crostini with grilled tomatoes and cheese also comes with the movie menu (Georgie was able to brush the cheese off this--). That was tasty also. The breadbasket came with cottage cheese bread and a parmesan flatbread. I tasted both, but of course Georgie couldn’t eat either and it would have been nice to have had a non-cheese offering.

For main course, I ordered the Lobster Thermidor. This is bits of lobster, sautéed in cognac, in sauce, topped with bread crumbs, and broiled in half a lobster shell. I found it very tasty and good, and was glad to have had the opportunity to try this preparation.

Georgie ordered the Poulet au Porto, which was a lovely portion of roasted chicken, sauced with a port wine, cognac, cream and mushroom reduction, and accompanied by tiny fingerling potatoes. The Amish chicken was some of the best we had had, and the sauce was delicious.

For dessert, we had the Mouselline au Chocolate, which was a chocolate tart with whipped cream on top. The chocolate filling had a lovely texture, very rich and smooth. It was also flavored with espresso, which was a bit stronger than I liked, and pretty well overpowered the Grand Marnier element. The tart crust for some reason was unusually hard, (made from crushed ladyfingers) but was quite delicious in flavor. If you could manage a bite with crust, filling and whipped cream, it was a very mellow and luscious dessert.

All in all, a very pleasant and delicious dining experience. We would definitely eat there again. (But maybe not for the April movie theme, which is "The Big Night." Georgie has trouble finding any Italian dish that doesn't have cheese in it--.)

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3:09 pm
Ghost in the Shell, 2017
Just a quick note. We went to a preview of the new "Ghost in the Shell" film on Wednesday night. It was really good and fantastic to look at. The cityscape is, as Georgie put it, "Blade Runner all grown up!" Long review to follow--.

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3:07 pm
Beauty and the Beast (the movie, 2017)
On Sunday, March 26, we went to see the new movie of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney (mostly) live action adaptation of their 1991 all-animated feature. I say “mostly” live action: Belle, her father Maurice, villain Gaston, Le Fou, and the other villagers are live-action. Dan Steven’s Beast form and all of the enchanted servants, Lumiere, Cogsworth, et al, are CGI until the curse is lifted from them.

The movie looks great. The village is beautiful, the Beast’s castle fantastic, costumes excellent and casting all very good.

There are significant changes from the original other than the medium. There are some “new” songs, brought in from the musical play version, and some minutes of new music specifically for the film, none of which are very consequential or memorable. Some, such as “Evermore,” a song for the Beast mourning Belle’s departure to rescue Maurice, seem strongly influenced by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

My major disappointment with the 1991 movie was that Belle had no “big song.” It was a letdown when the orchestral musical buildup following “Belle” (“Isn’t she a funny girl—“) peaking in her sung line “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!” just stops. Brave, bookish Belle is my favorite Disney/fairy tale heroine, and I’ve always wanted her to have her own anthem, her own equivalent of “Let it Go,” but we still don’t have it. To be fair, the Beast doesn’t get a “big” song either: all the really memorable songs are for the ensemble or the servants: “Belle,” “Gaston”, “Be Our Guest,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and that hasn’t changed.

The singing is very good, and on the film, you will hear the actual actors doing the songs, which shows that Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Ewan McGregor (Lumiere), and Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) all have very creditable singing voices. Frankly, I think they are preferable to some of the more professional singers that are featured on the soundtrack album.

There are some significant changes to the characters, which are mostly to the good. Maurice is played with more dignity and as less of a screwball, which makes him a more sympathetic character, but makes Gaston’s railroading him into the madhouse less credible.

Gaston, as played by Mr. Evans, initially comes over a bit more likeable. He seems humanly smitten/obsessed with Belle, and less just convinced of his entitlement to her. Ultimately though, he’s even more rotten than his cartoon counterpart, as his murderous streak comes out earlier in the film. He’s also a bit psychotic: LeFou (Josh Gad) heads off a berserk episode by saying, “Go to your happy place, Gaston! The war! All those widows!” “Widows!” murmurs Gaston in reply, with a glassy grin. Whether he’s remembering exploiting them or creating them is left unsaid--.

While I kind of miss the evil Monsieur D’Arque and the “Maison de Lune” song, it’s apparent they don’t fit in with the style of the new production. Instead, we have more dialog, particularly between Belle and the Beast which helps develop the growth of their relationship.

There were some bits that were overdone: “Be Our Guest” is always an over-the-top production number, but this version went ridiculously far. It’s a bit much even for magically animated crockery and flatware to improvise indoor fireworks and disco lighting effects on short notice.

So, it’s a really good film, and we liked it a lot. I still think I like the cartoon one better, though.

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3:06 pm
Great Lakes Baroque
On Friday evening, March 24th, we went to hear Great Lakes Baroque’s first concert of the year, featuring mezzo soprano Suzanne Lommler, cellist Paul Dwyer, and founder and harpsichordist Jory Vinokur.

Besides being a wonderful singer and operatic performer, Ms. Lommler also demonstrated that she is a real trouper, showing up despite having one foot in a cast, and standing up to sing all her pieces

In the first half, she gave us lovely renditions of “Amanti, io vi so dire,” by Benedetto Ferrari, and “L’Eraclito amoroso,” by Barbara Strozzi, whose proto-fado, proto-blues music we particularly enjoy. Then, Mr. Vinokur soloed on the Handel Suite in E Major, HWV 430 (“The Harmonious Blacksmith”) which displayed his virtuosic level of skill on the harpsichord.
Then, Ms. Lommler gave us a very passionate rendition of Handel’s La Lucrezia, wherein we got a good sample of her operatic skills in song, expression, and gesture. The cantata adopts the same classical story as Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece,” and the portion in which Lucrezia curses her attacker, Tarquin, is truly fiery.

Mr. Dwyer accompanied La Lucrezia also, and did a beautiful job of it. The singing tone of the cello was truly a duet with the human voice.

In the second half, Mr. Vinokur moved to a fortepiano, to accompany Ms. Lommler on first, a set of songs by Franz Joseph Haydn, which set to music “She Never Told Her Love” (Shakespeare), “The Mermaid’s Song”(Anne Hunter), “O Tuneful Voice” (Anne Hunter), and “Cupido” (G. Leon).
This was followed by a second set of songs set to music by Mozart: “As Luise Burned the Letters of her Unfaithful Lover” (Gabriele von Baumberg); “In A Dark and Secluded Wood” (Antoine Houdart de la Motte); “Contentment” (Christian Felix Weisse); “Evening Thoughts” (Joachim Heinrich Campe); and “To Chloe” by Johann Georg Jacobi.

After a rapturous ovation, all three performers joined in an encore, also a Mozart piece that I did not catch the name of.

Pretty much all this music was new to me, and I very much enjoyed it all.

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3:04 pm
Florentine Opera, “Don Giovanni,”
On Sunday afternoon, March 19th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Florentine Opera’s production of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

This was a revival of a 2006 production (reviewed back then in this journal) played mostly on a bare stage set with a few necessary pieces and with light. There seemed to be some tweaks to the new appearance: we believed the lighting was brighter and more colorful than in the past.

This was perhaps musically one of the best casts we have heard in a long time. Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Emily Birsan (Donna Anna), Emily Fons (Donna Elvira), Musa Ngqungwana (Leporello), Brian Stuckey (Don Ottavio), Ariana Douglas (Zerlina), and Leroy V. Davis (Masetto) all sang beautifully and acted very well into the bargain. The brightest jewel of the collection was Ms. Fons, who sang the role of the obsessive Donna Elvira with power and tragic beauty while still managing some genuinely funny interactions with the other characters. David Leigh as the Commendatore gave good support (and got to come down front in the final scene, an improvement in staging from 2006), and shows promise for the future.

We still didn’t care for the purposeless hooded figures stalking across the stage, or the “escape from Hell” joke at the end, but the singing made it not matter.

Maestro Joseph Resigno once again conducted, leading the orchestra flawlessly.

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2:59 pm
Skylight Music Theatre, Beauty and the Beast (“Zemire et Azor”)
On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.

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Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017
7:09 pm
Florentine Opera, “Don Giovanni,”
On Sunday afternoon, March 19th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Florentine Opera’s production of Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.”

This was a revival of a 2006 production (reviewed back then in this journal) played mostly on a bare stage set with a few necessary pieces and with light. There seemed to be some tweaks to the new appearance: we believed the lighting was brighter and more colorful than in the past.

This was perhaps musically one of the best casts we have heard in a long time. Alexander Dobson (Don Giovanni), Emily Birsan (Donna Anna), Emily Fons (Donna Elvira), Musa Ngqungwana (Leporello), Brian Stuckey (Don Ottavio), Ariana Douglas (Zerlina), and Leroy V. Davis (Masetto) all sang beautifully and acted very well into the bargain. The brightest jewel of the collection was Ms. Fons, who sang the role of the obsessive Donna Elvira with power and tragic beauty while still managing some genuinely funny interactions with the other characters. David Leigh as the Commendatore gave good support (and got to come down front in the final scene, an improvement in staging from 2006), and shows promise for the future.

We still didn’t care for the purposeless hooded figures stalking across the stage, or the “escape from Hell” joke at the end, but the singing made it not matter.

Maestro Joseph Resigno once again conducted, leading the orchestra flawlessly.

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7:08 pm
Skylight Music Theatre, Beauty and the Beast (“Zemire et Azor”)
On Saturday evening, March 18th, we went to the Skylight to see their new production of Beauty and the Beast, based upon Zemire et Azor, a 1771 opera by André Ernest Modeste Grétry, with libretto by
Jean François Marmontel, after the story La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont and the play Amour pour amour by P.C. Nivelle de La Chaussée.

Largely forgotten nowadays, Grétry was popular in his time, composed more than fifty operas, and was hired by Queen Marie Antoinette as her court music director. The opera was a favorite of Mozart’s, and the music stands the test of time very well.

The story follows the classic version of the tale of Beauty and the Beast, with a few tweaks. The merchant Sander (Eric McKeever) is shipwrecked, along with his servant, Ali (Nicholas Nestorak). They seek shelter in what appears at first to be an abandoned palace, Ali with great reluctance as he fears the place is haunted. The palace’s invisible servants (Alex Campea, Bria Cloyd, Sean Anthony Jackson, and Alex Mace) lay out a feast for them. Ali’s fears are dispelled by the excellent wine, but Sander becomes the fearful one when the playful spirits start levitating the drunken Ali around the room.

Comes the dawn, Sander literally drags the hung-over Ali out the door, but stops to pluck a rose for his daughter, Zemire. which prompts the appearance of the outraged Beast, Azor. In this production, the Beast is represented by an eight-foot tall and equally broad puppet figure manipulated by the spirits, and given voice by tenor Chaz’men Williams Ali. The fearsome Beast walks like a gorilla, has a spiky carapace like a crab, the horns and ears of a water buffalo, fangs, and tusks. Accusing Sander of theft and ingratitude, the Beast eventually agrees to give Sander his life, his freedom, and wealth, if he will send Azor his daughter, Zemire. Azor swears that she will come to no harm, but Sander and Ali aren’t sure when Azor summons up a wind spirit (another puppet, reminiscent of a small version of the “Snow Dragon” seen at the Skylight in 2015) that bears them home.

At home, they are greeted by Sander’s daughters, spoiled materialists Fatme and Lisbe (Erin Sura and Sarah Thompson Johansen), and the good and virtuous Zemire (Gillian Hollis). Fatme and Lisbe are dismayed that their father has lost everything, but Zemire is just glad to have him back. Then, he produces the rose, and tells them of the dreadful bargain he has made. While the others all think about ways to get out of it, Zemire compels Ali to take her to the Beast’s palace, so that the Beast will keep his promise and her family be provided for. She bravely enters the palace, but, on seeing the Beast for the first time, faints dead away.

When she revives, Azor is kind to her, and tells her that she may command him and the spirits for any thing she wishes. She replies that she is not made happy by things. Instead, she sings a song for him, and dances with the spirits.

After a time, she wishes to know how her family is faring. Despite misgivings, Azor brings out a magic mirror, which will not only show her whom she wishes to see, but allow her to hear their thoughts as well. Her now richly adorned sisters are more spoiled than ever, but her father, aged by his ordeal, is deeply sunk in grief over the loss of Zemire. Zemire declares that she must go to him. Azor protests that this is an excuse to leave him. Giving her a magic ring that will allow her instant travel, Azor gets her to promise to return by sunset, because he has realized that he loves her, and it was foretold him by the spirit that enchanted him, that on the day he was able to love, his “cursed life would end.”

Zemire transports herself to the family home, to her father’s joy, but he and her sisters attempt to keep her there. With Ali’s help she escapes back to the Beast’s palace, arriving just as night has fallen. She calls out to Azor, and he is able to answer, because his “cursed life” has ended by his being transformed back into his normal, kingly, form. Sander, Ali, Fatme and Lisbe arrive, intent on rescuing Zemire once and for all, in time to take part in the happy ending.

This production was just charming all the way through: the story, the setting, the costumes, the music, the singing, the dancing were all lovely. The English translation of the libretto, by Colin Graham, further adapted by Director James Ortiz and Shari Rhoads, was witty and enjoyable. Of course, the monster in the room is the huge Azor puppet, which was very effective. The “spirits” manipulating it did a wonderful and graceful job of bringing it to life, and most of the time the “ventriloquism” effect worked well, making it easy to accept that the puppet was singing. It didn’t work when Mr. Williams Ali, who sings the Beast’s role as a hooded figure on stage, gets too far down front and in the action, but this only happened a couple of times. One episode in which the puppet manipulation was distracting came in the first scene, during Sander’s song lamenting his dilemma, during which the Beast kept nervously moving its head, which distracted from Sander’s singing. Even puppets should obey the basic rule of stagecraft to not pull eyes away from the focus of the scene.

This was a really excellent, creative, and entertaining production, and we were very glad to have seen it.

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Thursday, February 16th, 2017
3:30 pm
The Illusionists
On Tuesday, February 14th, we went to see “The Illusionists” at the Marcus Center, which performance was part of the “Associated Bank Broadway at the Marcus Center” series.

The show features seven performers who exemplify various aspects of stage magic as it is currently practiced.

The performance is hosted by Jeff Hobson, a.k.a. “The Trickster” (each performer has a moniker that makes them sound rather like a super-villain team--). Hobson specializes in close-up magic and what used to be called “snappy patter,” a running stream of humorous commentary that was slightly risqué and seasoned by his characterization as an out gay man. (His wardrobe would have been called “flamboyant” anywhere but in the home of Liberace--.) Like most of the performers, he put a new twist on classic tricks, such as the basic “pick a card and don’t show me what it is” trick.

The stylistic contrast between Hobson and Dan Sperry, “The Anti-Conjuror” could hardly be greater. Sperry appears looking like a Goth zombie, in ragged clothing, tattoos, and ghoulish makeup. His “shock illusion” tricks included making a coin vanish by apparently pushing it into his right eye socket, and then producing the marked coin from a cut in the skin on his left forearm. His gleefully creepy manner and patter was quite entertaining, and, in the second act, he performed a lengthy sequence of rapid-fire productions, substitutions, and vanishes that showcased extraordinary skill at sleight of hand.

Kevin James, “The Inventor”, was one of the most classically styled performers, doing the large, prop-centered illusions found in big magic shows of old. In one trick, he assembled a dummy in view of the audience, which then “came to life” as a dwarf. In another, he “accidentally” cut one of his assistants in two with a chain saw, and then restored him. Although neither trick was that hard to suss out as to how it was done, they were innovatively presented with style and humor. James also did a charming bit with a child from the audience, animating a piece of tissue paper, which he them made into a paper rose and levitated, and then transformed into a genuine rose.

“The Daredevil,” Jonathan Goodwin, is a bit different. Billed as “an accomplished knife thrower, archer, escape artist, fakir, martial artist, free diver, aerialist, and rock climber,” the program also notes that there are no illusions involved in his performance, “everything you see him do is very, very real.” In this show, Mr. Goodwin performed an archery act, showing his exceptional skill with the crossbow, being able to hit and split a sheet of newsprint edge on. That it took him two tries underscored the reality of the performance. The act culminated with bursting a balloon held on the head of his assistant while he was blindfolded. While real, I am pretty sure there is an inobvious but clever trick to the performance, which however, takes nothing away from the skill and nerve of Mr. Goodwin and his assistants.

Colin Cloud, “The Deductionist” does what used to be called a “mentalist” act, of the sort performed by Dunninger or Kreskin, but updated. Drawing on the popularity of the “Sherlock” TV series, he purports that at least some of his effects are obtained purely by observation and deduction. Although he shows an excellent grasp of how to manipulate audience members, and skill at some other tricks that Houdini and Scarne would have recognized, some of the others could not possibly have been accomplished by any deductive means—such as taking the product of three supposedly randomly selected three-digit numbers and coming up with 1875021417920, which broke down to the (alleged) number of people in the audience, the day’s date, and the hour and minute (9:20PM) of the pronouncement.

“The Manipulator,” An Ha Lim, has won numerous international prizes for his skills, and put on a beautiful performance in the first act, producing hundreds of cards seemingly out of thin air. (In magic parlance, “manipulations” refer to such things as single-handed card fans, “waterfalls,” palming, and substitution, which require great skill, dexterity, and strength.) He also ended the show with a very clever and amusing sequence of tabletop manipulations and substitutions, which we could easily see due to a hand-held camera and on-stage video screen.

One of the headlining acts of the show was “The Escapologist,” Andrew Basso, who performed the notorious “Water Torture Cell” escape, made famous by Houdini. While I have great respect for Mr. Basso’s nerve, skill, and endurance, I found the act somewhat disappointing, because it totally de-mystifies the famous trick. It is still very impressive—the “official” time for his escape was two minutes, thirty seconds, but in fact Basso was submerged longer than that, as the count didn’t start until the top of the cage was locked down, which meant he had to go more like three minutes and a half without breathing. Unfortunately, showing us how it is done downgrades the effect from an “illusion” to a stunt. Not that Houdini didn’t do stunts—escaping from a straitjacket while hanging upside down from a crane in full view has little mystery about it other than that it can be done at all—but I’m sorry to see one of the most famous effects in history lose its glamour.

All in all, we were very happy to have seen this show. The performances by James, Sperry, and Lim were worth the price of admission alone, and the others all showed great style, skill, nerve and cleverness worthy of admiration.

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2017
7:34 pm
Dining at Café Grace
On Saturday, February 4th, we went to Café Grace, the new bistro-style French restaurant opened by the Bartolotta Group at the “Mayfair Collection” shopping center. We were quite pleased with the experience.

The restaurant is bright and spacious, with décor touches, such as the globular lamps, referring to the Belle Époque. We joked that the restaurant is bigger and roomier than any actual French restaurants we ate in in France.

I had decided to attempt to re-create our experiences in France as best I could, and began by ordering an aperitif, which I usually don’t do. I asked the waiter if the restaurant had Ricard, an anise flavored liquor that I had enjoyed. The waiter replied that they had both Ricard and Pernod. I was favorably impressed that he knew what both were, and ordered the Ricard. However, he then had to come back and report that they were out of Ricard, so I went with Pernod instead. I was a bit concerned when he asked how I wanted it, with ice or without, but told him water only. I was a bit surprised when the drink came back in a snifter glass like brandy, with the water already mixed in. Since Ricard is similar to absinthe, but without the “wormwood,” the proper way to serve it with the water on the side so you can mix it yourself. As it was, there wasn’t enough water in it, so I resorted to adding some from my water glass.

Things turned up from there. As starter, we had the Pate de Campagne, a slightly coarsely ground pate of pork, which we found very tasty and compared favorably with the similar house pate that we had had at Les Bacchantes in Paris.

For main course, Georgie had the Gigot d’Agneau, or leg of lamb, served with braised flageolet beans (I hadn’t know you could braise beans?) and roasted cauliflower. Georgie asked for it to be a bit more medium than the recommended medium rare, which was good, since she would not have wanted it more rare than it came. The slices of lamb were edged with traditional rosemary, something you seldom see these days, almost, but not quite, too much of it in this case. Georgie pronounced everything very good, but opined that the lamb, by Strauss, was not as flavorful as the lamb she had had in Rouen (which was probably a matter of terroir, or the feeding of it).

For my main dish, I ordered the Coquilles St. Jacques, (scallops) served with a chickpea cake (something that seems to be a signature item, as it is also on the starter menu), Swiss chard, golden raisins, and beef jus. The dish I had also had some root vegetable in it also, perhaps parsnips (?). The beef jus gave the vegetables a very nice flavor which made them the best part of the dish. The scallops were fine, typical sea scallops, but very fresh and perfectly pan-seared. Other than that, they were very plainly prepared. The chickpea cake is nothing to write home about. A rectangular hunk of fine textured white starch, a bit lighter than an equivalent quantity of potato, the only flavor it had of its own was along the browned exterior, although it was good when dredged in the jus, something the scallops also benefited from.

The wines were nice. Georgie had a French rosé, which had a bit more authority than the domestic rosés we drink more often. I had a very good French white, which went nicely with the scallops.
For dessert, we decided to sample the mousse au chocolat. My eyebrows raised a bit when the waiter brought us forks instead of the expected spoons. What then appeared was a rectangular piece of dark chocolaty material, generously garnished with crème fraiche and raspberries. It looked a lot more like flourless chocolate cake than conventional chocolate mousse, but had a lighter texture than the cake would have had. The flavor was quite rich and very good.

Despite the eccentricities, we had a very good and enjoyable meal. There are other items on the menu that interest us, so we will definitely eat there again.

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7:33 pm
Hidden Figures
On Sunday, January 22nd, we went to see Hidden Figures, the movie that tells the story of three black women who, each in their own way, contributed to the success of, first NASA’s Mercury program, and then later projects up to and including the Apollo moon landings. We found it to be very well done, and truly inspiring.

In those days, much of NASA’s engineering and support operations were based in Virginia, which, pre-Civil Rights acts, was unrepentantly segregated. (Not that Florida or Texas would necessarily have been any better--.) I found it really painful to see segregated drinking fountains, segregated bathrooms, segregated bus seats, and to see that all those things existed at NASA, which should have been one of the most forward-thinking workplaces in the world. Instead, NASA employs a group of black women as their own “computing” unit, set off in a separate building except for when on particular individual assignments.

Gradually, the wall begins to break down, as Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) gets assigned to the unit engaged in orbital calculations. Johnson was a mathematical prodigy as a child, and as an adult can perform calculations in her head that make the male engineers’ eyes bug out. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) becomes NASA’s first black female engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) stakes a claim on the future by teaching herself Fortran and becoming an integral part of NASA’s new electronic computing division.

These events don’t necessarily happen smoothly, and a good part of the story deals with overcoming—or undermining, or working around—casual, institutional racism and sexism. Although racism is there—in one scene, someone anonymously brings in a separate coffee pot, labeled “colored” to the otherwise white office she is working in—I don’t believe I heard anyone at NASA say words to the effect of “black people can’t do that,” although, “women don’t do that” is a common theme.

The plot is interesting and engaging, especially to those of us for whom that history is also memory. I remember staying home from school to watch Mercury launches, and knew that it was a dangerous and daring thing at the time, but of course had no idea of how many people were required in how many ways to make it happen. The plot had drama, but wasn’t “juiced up”—I kept expecting one of the women to be menaced or roughed up, but that didn’t happen, although tension is there.
The Golden Globe award for best ensemble cast was well deserved. The three principal ladies were excellent, and very well supported by the rest of the cast.

I’m pleased and proud to report that my company, AT&T, along with other “tech” companies, is paying for school groups to see this inspirational and uplifting movie. Highly recommended.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/303609.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
Monday, January 23rd, 2017
6:30 pm
An Ugly Nation Day, January 20, 2017
As a nominal member of the old, white, male, ruling class, I hereby express my commiserations to my loved ones and friends who are female, gay or trans, people of color, non-Christian, poor, or immigrant, on your official demotion to second-class (or lower) citizens, if citizens at all. We are all the worse for it.

The United States has as always had a resilient, bitter core of anger, resentment, and fear which has now come to the surface.

In a nation made up of the children of immigrants, so many of us hate the outsider, while continuing to oppress and despise the true original inhabitants.
In a nation more than half women, so many of us assert that women aren’t fit to govern, and some, that they shouldn’t even vote.

In a nation where European-descended whites are a minority, we hang on to power with a death grip.
In the world’s most scientifically advanced nation, we assert that religion trumps science and is a legitimate basis to discriminate among people.

In the world’s richest nation, the number of poor grows daily, as does the wealth of the richest.
In the nation with the world’s most advanced medicine, people die daily for want of it.
In the world’s most agriculturally rich nation, children daily go hungry.

In a nation where, in 2008, the greed of bankers wiped out half the wealth on Earth, none of these bankers went to jail. They are richer than ever, and fighting to keep deregulated so they can continue as they are.

In a nation once supposedly dedicated to justice for all, we have elected a President and Congress who believe that all of the above are good things, and have the power to make them law.

Jesus said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Abraham Lincoln famously quoted him in 1858:which goes to show that what calls itself the Republican party these days, and claims to stand for the values of Jesus and Lincoln, does neither.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/303221.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
6:13 pm
Some thoughts
Trigger warning: Contains politics.

1.) So, Trump blatantly lied about the size of the inauguration crowd, and to CIA personnel to their faces about not having feuded with them. Not big deals in the scheme of things, perhaps, but what's going to happen when something really important comes up? "Alternative facts" really?

2.)First acts in office: "Trump also suspended a reduction in the premium rate offered by the Federal Housing Administration to home buyers. The reduction, relatively small, would have saved home buyers about $500 a year. In effect, this is a tax increase on the middle class." This was in with his first batch of executive orders, among trying clumsily to nobble ACA, and freezing regulatory activity. Who knew that raising insurance rates for middle-class home buyers was such a priority? Whose "goodie list" was this on? This is how it will be done. Big flashy things will distract the people, and in four years they will be wondering what happened to the money and the rights they used to have.

3.) Just listened to the President's Inaugural speech. Not as bad as I feared, but largely vague empty bombast. Full of expansive and impossible promises, with zero substance. One bright spot: we don't have to worry about the Apocalypse, according to Trump it's already happened--.

4.) Vladimir Putin may have managed the most Machiavellian manipulation in modern history. By stealing and leaking e-mails, he may have affected the outcome of the American election. By letting it be known he has done so, he has delegitimized and weakened the eventual winner he will be dealing with.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/302876.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
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