• Independence Day: The Weekend

    I survived the holiday weekend. Usually that’s not much of an accomplishment, but this year it took some doing.

    Kiri came to visit, arriving Friday and leaving this morning. While she was here we attended two picnics, a party, two fireworks shows, a movie…

    Busy.

    Friday we didn’t really do anything special beyond hanging out with Kiri. Julie did some food prep for the holiday. Kiri and I watched “Battlebots” off the DVR while I did my nightly workout on the elliptical. (I’d saved “Battlebots” for several days because I thought she’d be interested.)

    Saturday we all slept late and decided to skip the Takoma Park Independence Day parade — the route ends three blocks from our house, so usually Julie and I walk over to watch it, but this year the weather was damp and ugly and we weren’t feeling energetic, so we didn’t.

    But we did all pile in the car and drive to Arlington VA for a friend’s annual holiday bash. Grilled burgers and hot dogs and BBQ, liquid-nitrogen ice cream, many friends.

    After that, we drove back for a party up the street, where a family recently built a house that’s… architecturally distinctive, shall we say? We got the full tour. We’d been inside when it wasn’t finished yet, or even closed in (which is how we got in), and the floor plan turns out to be different from what I’d expected. The playroom is where I thought the kitchen would go, and the kitchen is where I thought the dining room would be, and the floor plan is more open than I expected.

    Our hosts are nice people, but we already knew that, having met them at other neighborhood events.

    After that — Julie works at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing in downtown DC, a couple of blocks from where the big annual fireworks show (the one that’s shown on TV as the end of “A Capital Fourth”) launches. (“A Capital Fourth” is mostly the concert on the Capitol lawn; we’ve been to that in the past, didn’t go this year.) The Bureau decided that this year they would allow a limited number of employees and their families to watch the fireworks from the Bureau’s roof. (There’s a rooftop cafe.) Who got to go was decided by lottery. Julie entered the lottery and didn’t win — but it turned out she was the first name on the waiting list, so when someone else cancelled a few days ago, she got a last-minute notice that she and up to three guests were in. So Julie, Kiri, Julie’s sister Eileen, and I packed a picnic dinner and took the Metro downtown. Finding the entrance they were using took a few minutes, but well before the show we were on the Bureau roof, eating roast chicken we’d brought with us.

    For the actual fireworks they recommended moving to another part of the roof, one that’s not normally open to anyone, so we did. Lots of people stayed in the cafe, which turned out to be a minor mistake — we all thought the fireworks were launching from over by the Washington Monument, but they actually launch from the Tidal Basin, and the cafe’s view in that direction is partially blocked.

    But we were on the good roof, and even climbed up on the brick wall around the edge for a better view. (There’s an iron railing on top of the wall as well, so there was no danger of falling off the roof.)

    It was quite a show, though not all that long. There were low-hanging clouds, so low that a few of the highest bursts were partially inside the clouds, which looked neat and is something I’d never seen before.

    There was one series of fireworks that were supposed to spell out “USA,” in red, white, and blue, but the U was sideways and so distorted it looked more like a question mark — it wasn’t until it was followed by the S and A that we realized what it was supposed to be.

    After the show it was back to the Metro, and we were astonishingly lucky — we were using the L’Enfant Plaza station, where most of the crowds were jamming into Smithsonian, and we got to the platform before hardly ANY crowd arrived, and just as Metro rolled out a special post-fireworks train. We got seats easily, and the car never got as crowded as a typical rush hour.

    We’d expected to get back to our car at Fort Totten around 11:00; instead it was only about 10:15. Amazing.

    We drove home and crashed.

    Then Sunday we discovered that Takoma Park had postponed their show because of the damp weather. An opportunity!

    Around mid-afternoon, on a whim, we went to see “Inside Out.” Came home, ate dinner, watched the U.S. win the World Cup, then walked over to Takoma Park Middle School, where the city holds its show, and saw another round of fireworks. TP goes for low-altitude stuff with a very different style from the big traditional show DC does, so it wasn’t just a replay.

    Came home, watched the end of the Giants/Nationals game; the Nats won. Watched another round of “Battlebots,” then called it a night.

    A good full weekend.

  • Trailer Park

    Seven trailers with “Age of Ultron”; apparently the last couple of movies we saw were flukes in having fewer.

    “Ant Man” looks like a lot of fun. I’d seen much of what’s in the trailer somewhere before, probably an ad or “sneak peek” on TV, but there was some new-to-me material, and it all looked pretty good. I’m pretty amazed at Marvel’s track record this century.

    “Tomorrowland” — this was a new trailer, not the one I saw in January and March. That earlier one I think was what they call a “teaser trailer” on DVDs, while this was a full trailer, and it took a very different slant. George Clooney wasn’t even in the other trailer, but he’s the focus of this one. This one is also much more action-oriented, which is probably going to draw a larger audience, but honestly, I liked the mystery & wonder feel of the first one better. Where my reaction to the first was, “I think I want to see this,” the new one elicits, “Let’s see what people I trust think of it.”

    “Fantastic Four” — another relaunch. One thing I like about the mainline/Avengers cinematic Marvel universe is that so far it’s all of a piece, no reboots or major retcons, while the folks with the rights to Spider-Man and the FF keep starting over. Going by this trailer they’ve got a few things right — changing the origin trip to an interdimensional one instead of a space shot makes sense, and the way the four powers are shown looks great (especially the Thing), but I have serious reservations about Sue and Johnny not being blood siblings, and Sue’s father still being alive*. Where previous versions looked a bit cheap, this one doesn’t, but… I dunno. I’m wary.

    “San Andreas” — why was this made? Is there any reason we need another earthquake disaster movie? The footage of collapsing cities was all stuff we saw in Emmerich’s “2012.” And one line in the trailer pissed me off, where someone says that this quake is a “global” disaster. No, it isn’t. The San Andreas Fault isn’t going to do any damage beyond the Pacific Rim no matter how completely it goes. I’d rather watch “Sharknado 3” than this.

    “Jurassic World” — is this a sequel to the previous three Jurassic Park movies, or a reboot? Because if it’s a sequel, do these people never learn from their mistakes? If it’s a reboot — why bother? It does look better than “San Andreas,” and I’d probably pick it over “Sharknado 3,” but that’s a pretty low bar. I mean, I bought the Jurassic Park trilogy on Blu-Ray months ago, and still haven’t bothered to watch 2 or 3, so I’m not about to pay to see this new one. The first one covered all the ground I cared about.

    “Pixels” — I’d seen this somewhere before, but maybe it was just an ad on TV. Or maybe I forgot it in a previous post here, and it accompanied another movie. It has a ridiculous premise — alien beings who resemble old video game creatures have come to Earth seeking revenge for all their kin we’ve slaughtered in arcades and on consoles — that could be lots of fun. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’ve managed to bring out that fun. It mostly looks dumb. The bits in the trailer that are clearly intended to be comic highlights did not elicit laughter, but only a wry smile. Not promising.

    “Self/Less” appears to be playing on SF themes that have been kicking around for decades — as in, Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil, or horror treatments in EC comics or before. I’m not particularly interested in seeing a feature film about it.

    To sum up: I think I want to see “Ant Man” and “Tomorrowland,” while the other five evoke varying levels of disinterest.

    * I was informed after posting this elsewhere that Franklin Storm showed up alive in FF #31 (and then died in #32). I had completely misremembered that, but it does render my objection to his presence in the trailer inappropriate.

  • Movies That Don’t Suck: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

    We went to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

    I have some issues with it — the color palette tends toward grays, the fight scenes are sometimes hard to follow, some of it feels a bit rushed, and I really wanted at least a glimpse of Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts — but all in all, it was a good movie and lots of fun.

    I liked this version of the Maximoff twins; Pietro came across as more likeable than his comic book incarnation while still being a bit of a jerk, and Wanda had a great mix of vulnerability and self-confidence.

    And the Vision was excellent, if somewhat ill-defined (see above, re: rushed).

    This Ultron was as psychotic as the comic book version, but in a different way. I liked that.

    I’d like to see the rumored 3.5-hour director’s cut; I hope they do a Blu-Ray release of it.

  • Dancing with Ideas

    Back in 2007 I came up with an idea for a fantasy story called “The Dance Lesson,” involving a wizard and a royal court’s dancing teacher — probably a short story, but it might reach novelet length. It could, I thought, be set in the world of the Walasian Empire, as seen in A Young Man Without Magic and Above His Proper Station, which had not yet seen print when I came up with it.

    But then I put it aside and didn’t worry about it. I never actually forgot it, but I didn’t do anything with it, either. I knew the central characters and their situation and the ending, but I hadn’t worked out the details and didn’t think it was worth the effort.

    And then on Monday, April 6, 2015, almost eight years later, while sprawled on the couch watching TV, I suddenly knew the rest of the plot. It popped into my head without warning, completely unbidden. I could write the whole story any time, possibly in a single sitting.

    But I need to figure out where to set it. It could be in the world of the Walasian Empire, but not in Walasia itself; the political set-up is all wrong. It would have to be in either Ermetia or the Cousins, probably the latter.

    I could probably jam it into the Small Kingdoms of Ethshar, but it would be a bad fit.

    The world where my short story “Keeping Up Appearances,” in one of Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthologies, would work. Or I could create a new setting; a pretty generic medieval fantasy setting would work fine.

    Maybe I’ll just start writing and see whether it decides where it wants itself to go.

  • Trailer Park

    There were five trailers with “Cinderella,” starting with “Tomorrowland.” It’s a pretty good trailer for a film that looks moderately intriguing — which I hope is the movie they actually made. Sometimes the trailer is utterly misleading. Anyway, I may want to see this one.

    It appears, by the way, to have much less to do with the Tomorrowland area at Disneyland than “Pirates of the Caribbean” had to do with the ride.

    Next was “Inside Out,” the new Pixar feature. I’ve seen stuff about this film before, and thought it might be Pixar’s first outright flop, because the premise is pretty outre, and the central characters are by definition. The trailer, though, has me reconsidering — it looks interesting, and they’re clever with those one-dimensional characters. Still not sure it’ll work, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Pixar.

    “Pan,” on the other hand, is a prequel to “Peter Pan,” and it did not look like a good idea to me. Unless it gets amazing buzz, I’ll pass. (I recently re-watched Disney’s 1952 “Peter Pan,” by the way, and would be willing to comment on it if anyone’s interested.)

    “Hotel Transylvania 2” — okay, I didn’t see the first one. Ads and trailers, yes, but not the actual movie. This probably means I’m not the target audience. Besides, I’ve never really liked the notion that all the classic movie monsters are pals, and in general I prefer my traditional monsters to be monsters, not just weird-looking nice guys.

    That said, the trailer is a single complete episode — don’t know whether it’s even in the actual movie, or it’s like the trailers for “The Incredibles” that were new footage that conveyed the mood and concept without using real scenes from the movie. Either way, the trailer does manage to be fairly clever and moderately funny; some of the comic timing is just perfect. But I still don’t plan to see the movie.

    And finally, “Minions” — jeez, where do I even start? Gru’s entire world in the “Despicable Me” movies is just so utterly bizarre, and here we have Gru’s minions looking for a master before Gru is even born — i.e., 1968 — and winding up at a villains convention in Florida…

    And at least in the trailer, they use music that’s actually from 1968, by the Doors and Jimi Hendrix.

    If you loved Gru’s minions, here’s an entire movie about them. What more could you want? I suspect they work better as supporting characters, but who knows? I will say they got a lot of stuff right. Since Julie didn’t like “Despicable Me” anywhere near as much as I did we never saw the second one, and probably won’t see this, but I admit a sneaking wistfulness about that.

    We’ve been to two movies so far this year; one had four trailers and the other five, where for the past several years six or even seven was the norm. Are the theaters cutting back?

  • Movies That Don’t Suck: Cinderella

    Julie decided we should go see Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” — apparently it was getting good buzz at her office.

    So we went and we saw it, and it was pleasant — a good movie, but not a great one. Very well cast, and the production design was good, but don’t try to pin down the historical setting, as it’s simply seething with anachronisms. Clothing and architecture ranges from (I am not exaggerating) the 15th century to the late 1920s. I’d say the preponderance of the evidence puts it late in the first half of the 19th century.

    I’ve seen several versions of the Cinderella story recently, for one reason or another, and I’d have to say this was one of the better ones, but it never really surprised me. There were several good bits, but no “wow” moments, though the Fairy Godmother’s magic was some impressive CGI.

    There are several nods to the animated version, but this really is not the same. Nor is it exactly Perrault’s version, though the credits list both his story and the earlier Disney as sources.

    There are CGI mice with the same names as the mice in the animated film, and when they first appeared I thought, “Oh, dear — it’s a straight remake with CGI instead of ink and paint.” But it’s not. The mice and Lucifer, the stepmother’s cat, are there, but they aren’t involved in anything like the same ways. The stepmother and stepsisters are not the same characters — similar, of course, but not the same. Helena Bonham Carter is a very different fairy godmother.

    Most of the human characters are given significantly more depth than in the animated film. I suppose that’s easier to do with real actors.

    Anyway, it’s a successful adaptation, but not the sort of masterpiece that would make future versions pointless.

    On the other hand, it came with a cartoon before the feature, and I loved the cartoon. “Frozen Fever” is a sequel to “Frozen,” apparently set not more than a couple of months after the end of the film, and I thought it was lots of fun. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and grinned pretty much all through it.

  • DC: Deteriorating Continuity

    So today I read a piece about DC Comics revamping their line.

    It’s a mixed bag, but over all I don’t think it looks good. Prez, fergodssake! And it’s pretty much all rehashes and revivals of old superhero stuff; why is there nothing new, nothing where I say, “Hey, that sounds cool!” or “That looks like fun!”?

    (Okay, I don’t know what Dark Universe or Mystic U or Doomed is, but I’ll bet they’re derived from some existing properties, and they all sound pretty grim.)

    Wait, I looked it up — Dark Universe is just a revamp of Justice League Dark. Bleah.

    Is there anything here that will draw in new readers? Anything that will appeal to kids? Not that I see.

    At least there’s some humor, in Section Eight — at least, I hope that’s intended to be funny, since the characters originally appeared as comic relief in Hitman many years ago, a series that, despite the title, had many funny moments and was generally enjoyable. I confess I’m looking forward to seeing Dogwelder again. (And yes, his name is an accurate description.)

    But mostly it’s spin-offs, yet more riffs on characters and concepts originating with Batman and Justice League, more grimdark. Why do they think we need more of that stuff?

    I dunno, maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m missing something, but this all just looks like More of the Same. Pfui.

    P.S. I see DC’s announcement says Bizarro, Bat-Mite, and Prez are intended to be humorous. They don’t mention Section Eight on that list. This does not encourage me.

  • The Music Will Never Stop 87

    Right, so, next tape in the stack is labeled “Dean Groves Music.” Dean Groves was a guy I knew back in high school, a couple of years older than me; his sister Buffie, a year younger than me, was a friend I knew from several places, and I knew Dean through Buffie.

    I don’t know where this tape came from, but it’s about an hour and a half of Dean and his guitar. I think the songs are all his own compositions. There are thirty-one of them. I know the actual title of precisely one, though there’s another I can make a good guess at.

    The quality here — well, it’s all a bit muddy, though how bad varies. On the other hand, it’s all definitely music — you can hear the melodies and everything. Lyrics take some effort, which is why I haven’t suited titles to anything yet. I won’t be deleting anything. I might try another pass, see if I can get cleaner sound.

    Dean, it turns out, has a Facebook account — I know it’s the right Dean Groves from his friends list, which is mostly people I knew, or knew of, in high school. I’ve left him a message about the tape. We’ll see what (if anything) he says.

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