Monday, July 30, 2018

Dispatches from Warwickshire

It was Faire Time this weekend! Specifically, our more-annual-than-not trip to the Sterling Renaissance Festival. A good time was had by all, but for the "Pics or it didn't happen" lot, here are pics.

It starts with turkey legs.

We stood in line for half an hour to get a turkey leg. #yum #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

There's always a parade, featuring Her Majesty the Queen.

God save the Queen! #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

Strike up, pipers! #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

Piper and fiddler #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

People-watching is always a prime pleasure:



faire 2

faire 3

faire 4

faire 5

I bought a couple new mugs (no idea where to put them in our kitchen, but that's a problem for another time), an oil lamp (for use in my library), a hand-carved jewelry box for The Wife, an ocarina for The Daughter, and another knick-knack or two. I managed to not buy a quill pen with inkwell, but I don't think I'll dodge that bullet next year. And I passed up this amazing lamp-post with dragon:


This is a vendor whose wares are sadly still well beyond my price range, but...someday. Oh yes.

Special mention should be made of this fine vendor, who went to special efforts to get a signal on his wireless doodad of mercantile magic.

This vendor's efforts to get a signal to complete the sale did not go unnoticed. #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

And then there's the jousting!

On the field of Tourney #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

Knights await melee, fisticuffs, tomfoolery, and roughhousing. #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

To battle! #jousting #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

Order is maintained during the Tourney by the Impressive Scotsman...

The Impressive Scotsman takes the field. #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire


...who must sometimes resort to forceful measures to maintain honor and peace on the Tourney Field.

Vexeth not the Impressive Scotsman! #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

But lurking behind it all is the watchful eye of Milady In Blue, whom I have decided is secretly scheming to revolt against Her Majesty the Queen and take the throne for herself. Maybe she has one of the knights bent to her will? Who knows!

The Queen crosses the Tourney field. What treachery doth Milady In Blue have in mind? #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire



Milady In Blue. #sterlingrenaissancefestival #renfest #renfaire

What schemes might lie within Milady's heart? Who knows! But I can tell you this: as fun as the Faire is, it's even moreso when you're a writer and you can fill a bit of downtime in the day's activities by making stories about those around you...such as this fellow, who dared utter the most bitter calumny against the great Bard himself, Mr. Shakespeare.

The brigand who dared insult Shakespeare!

But maybe I'll form more of a tale about him next year.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Something for Thursday

Sometimes you just want to hear something that's full of infectious optimism and elegant energy. Such is the case with the overture to the operetta Die Fledermaus, by Johann Strauss. I heard it on the radio yesterday and it reinforced a pre-existing good mood.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"Happy beeps, buddy. Happy beeps." (Thoughts on THE LAST JEDI, conclusion)

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9

So here we are, at long last: the last installment of my longform review of The Last Jedi! Huzzah!! We have now reached the "Random Observations and Thoughts" part of the review, so here's a bunch of stuff in no particular order or with any particular logical through-line. Here we go:

::  The Last Jedi may well be the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made. This is a series that has always amazed on the visual level, but this movie goes above and beyond. It is full of astonishing visuals that make it amazing to look at, shots that are wonderfully composed. Look at some of these compostions:

Even more than that, though, is the way a lot of the film reflects George Lucas's own visual style, particularly as was established in the Prequel Trilogy. Throughout the Prequels, Lucas rarely let the camera come to a stop. He was always moving, either panning or zooming in or zooming out. Even during scenes of quiet conversation he would alternate cuts between speakers and the camera would be zooming, creating a kinetic quality even to conversations that should have been static. Rian Johnson does much the same in TLJ, more often than not having the camera moving even during shots that don't seem to call for it.

Johnson engages other visual call-backs, too. When Kylo Ren is flying his fighter and lining up for the shot to kill Leia, there are quick cuts from him to Leia and back again, reminiscent of the similar cuts between Luke and Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, as the Falcon is fleeing. With some of the most striking visuals in any Star Wars movie, TLJ nevertheless makes it clear that we always are looking at a Star Wars movie.

::  Random quibble: Doesn't it seem like the First Order always seems to have a Big Gun that blows up whatever they need to blow up at any one time? We had Starkiller Base in the last movie, which could blow up every planet in a star system from quite a long ways away. Then we have the dreadnought at the beginning of this movie, which can obliterate capital ships with a single shot (I assume, anyway--we never get to see it fire). Then, when faced with a nearly impregnable steel door sealing off the Resistance base, out they roll with a "Battering Ram cannon"! All this hyper-specificity of their Big Guns is getting a little odd.

::  Random observation: The humanoid dude on Canto Bight, who reports Finn and Rose to the police for having parked their shuttle on the beach? I love that he had a southern accent. I thought that was cool. "Yup, there's those shuttle-parkers!" We've now heard "Yup" in a Star Wars movie.

::  I really really really love this movie's opening battle sequence. The whole thing is just really well done, from Poe Dameron's taunting of Hux all the way to Leia's slumping in her chair when she sees the price they've paid to destroy one Imperial ship. This sets the tone: one moment of triumph and victory, but it means nothing at all. There are a lot of great moments in that battle. I especially like Paige Tico's desperate attempts to get the bomb launch control, and the close-up on half her face as the explosions that will kill her mount below, and the look on Captain Canady's face as he realizes he is screwed.

::  Speaking of Captain Canady, I like how this movie depicts the second-tier First Order officers as being experienced and even somewhat competent. Canady's growl of "Of course they are" when he's told that the Resistance is attacking with bombers is great, as is that other officer's when Poe Dameron is verbally poking General Hux: "I think he's tooling with you, sir."

::  Of all the characters in this new Disneyfied Star Wars, BB8 is the clear champion at picking up the mantle of his obvious precursor, R2-D2.

::  Speaking of R2, if you didn't tear up when he played Leia's original "Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi" speech to Luke, I don't want to know you.

::  In all the commentary I've seen about Luke's lifestyle on Ahch-To, everybody focuses on the sea-cow things that give blue milk. Fair enough, but nobody mentions that utter bad-assery of his spear-fishing technique.

::  As is often the case with Star Wars movies, storylines that have different characters going to different planets seem to occupy different timeframes. It's hard for me to square the time that Rey spends with Luke with the short timeframe that the rest of the movie occupies. This same thing happened in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke's training on Dagobah seems like it should take a lot longer than Han and Leia's adventures on the Falcon. A single line from Luke could have fixed this:

LUKE: There are certain planets in the galaxy...planets that are strong with the Force...where time itself seems to slow down. So maybe if I stay here long enough, nine hundred years I will reach, too.

Just a thought.

::  You know what's never mentioned much at all in Star Wars until this movie?


I'm trying to think of an instance where books are mentioned at all in Star Wars, and this is the first time that I can recall. And even here, the idea of reading is paid short shrift, when Yoda gets Luke to admit that he hasn't actually read the "sacred Jedi texts" with the pithy observation that "Page turners, they are not."

And yet Rey swipes the books, so when the tree is burned, nothing is destroyed. This is interesting to me. Clearly Rey will need to become a self-taught Jedi, which is interesting in itself. I wonder how that will go.

:: I wish I could credit this correctly, but I saw it online someplace a couple weeks ago and I have no idea where. But the idea is this: Luke's actions at the end of TLJ constitute the single most Jedi moment in Star Wars history, in terms of what we know of actual Jedi teaching. He takes an utterly pacifist approach and, for a moment, brings the Galaxy's strongest military to a complete stop. He uses the Force for "knowledge and defense only, never for attack" (Yoda's onetime words). It's really something.

::  Plot hole: according to the movie, tracking ships through hyperspace has been "impossible". And yet...the Empire tracked the Millennium Falcon through hyperspace (via a homing beacon) way back in A New Hope! Oops.

::  Admiral Holdo's piloting of the frigate at light speed into Snoke's ship is one of the movie's more impressive moments (especially with the way the soundtrack drops to pure silence for several seconds). One wonders, though, why at various points in the previous movies nobody solved big problems by doing the same thing. Couldn't the Rebel Fleet arrive at Endor and, as soon as the shield is down, put one of their big ships on auto-pilot and hyper-crash the Death Star II? Or is it a desperation move on Holdo's part, a "Well, nobody's ever tried this before" kind of thing?

::  Speaking of Admiral Holdo, I loved her character and I wish she hadn't had to die. Alas!

::  I prefer the crystal fox things over the Porgs.

::  So Yoda can do Force stuff in the "physical" world even though he's part of the Force now? Kinda makes me wonder if he could have been a bit more helpful to Luke in the second duel against Vader. Hmmmm.

::  I continue to be impressed with John Williams's work on these movies! This score is rather different. There are really only two new themes in evidence, a hopeful and optimistic theme for Rose Tico, and a theme for Luke's exile. The rest of the score is a revisitation of existing themes, but everything melds together wonderfully. I notice in this trilogy that the old "Rebel Spaceship Fanfare" has become a theme for the Millennium Falcon. Also some re-use of earlier material might seem lazy, but it works. The quote of the "TIE Fighter Attack" music from A New Hope when the Falcon blazes into the crystal cave is utterly thrilling, and I loved hearing Yoda's theme and the piano version of Leia's theme. John Williams never fails to deliver with these movies, and as he's already indicated that Episode IX will be his last, I hope he can go out on an equally high note.

::  Speaking of Episode IX, what to expect? Well...I'm not super optimistic, because JJ Abrams is writing and directing. Sorry, Geek Lords, but while I'm fine with his directing, I remain on the "Unimpressed" side when it comes to his writing. Rian Johnson took the pieces left by Abrams and Kasdan in The Force Awakens and did what I consider to be a pretty damned good job, telling a story that I actually love despite the fact that I dislike a lot of its starting points and premises. What will Abrams do? Who knows. Johnson took some creative risks, but Abrams seems to often play it fairly safe in these sorts of things, so I wouldn't be surprised if what we end up getting mirrors Return of the Jedi more than The Last Jedi mirrored The Empire Strikes Back.

Further, I do rather expect some disjointed storytelling. This entire trilogy does not convey to me a sense of being any one person's story; it feels like storytelling-by-committee, and I suspect that will continue. The story of the Skywalkers will likely feel like it is limping to its conclusion while the movie keeps doing the job of setting up the new trilogies and teevee shows to come. Whatever their flaws, George Lucas's first two trilogies were always focused on the story; sadly, the story now feels like it's a secondary thing, even as good as TLJ is. And that's sad.

But what might Abrams actually do? Well, I dunno. He's got to rebuild the Rebellion from the handful of people on the Falcon. He's got to deal with the fact that Princess Leia must die between films (I consider recasting a non-starter). He's got to deal with Rey's blossoming with the Force. And a lot more. I doubt that anything will happen in Episode IX that will alleviate the awful worldbuilding of the first two movies in this trilogy, so that's a flaw that ain't going anywhere.

Will Rey's parentage turn out to be what Kylo Ren said it was? Maybe.

Will Snoke stay dead? Maybe...but maybe not. If Luke Skywalker could project a physical copy of himself across the galaxy, why couldn't Snoke?

I hope that however things wind up, in the end we see Rey, Finn, and Chewie (and probably a few of those damned porgs) flying off in the Falcon to have adventures together.

And there had better not be any kind of redemption arc for Kylo Ren. Screw that guy.

And...well, that is finally about it. That wraps up my long-arsed review of The Last Jedi. See you in December of 2019, folks!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


So for the last while I've been wondering why nobody comments on anything here anymore...and then Roger emails me to say, "Hey, I'm leaving comments and they never clear moderation, so are you getting the notifications emailed to you?"

Guess what! I have NOT been receiving notifications of comments, so I had a pile in my "Awaiting Moderation" queue. I've just released them all (save one that was spam), and I'll try to remember to check that on a regular basis now. For anyone who was seeking to engage conversation, my apologies!

Tone Poem Tuesday

I discovered this work the other night purely by chance, thanks to YouTube's "suggested video" algorithm thing. I gave it a try...and then I listened to it three times in succession. What a wonderful, magical, lyrical work! It's full of exuberance and good cheer. I haven't been able to find out a whole lot of information about the work in question, and I had never even heard of Sergei Lyapunov before seeing this work suggested. Lyapunov was a Russian Romantic who fled Russia after the Revolution, settling in Paris and eventually dying of a heart attack in 1924. He appears to have been fairly prolific, and he falls into the category of those composers whose work was not original or unique enough to warrant a lasting place in the standard repertoire, but who was also too good to languish in unfortunate obscurity.

Here is Sergei Lyapunov's Rhapsody on Ukrainian Themes, for orchestra and piano. There is some scintillating stuff here--take the sixteen minutes and listen to it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tone Poem Tuesday

I've been slowly developing a greater appreciation for the music of Jean Sibelius over the last few years. He always left me cold in my younger years (Finlandia excepted), but I'm understanding him more and more of late. This work, the Karelia Suite, is one of his youthful works, reflective of his early expressive and outgoing Romanticism. Sibelius is a fascinating figure, a man whose artistic visions eventually failed to maintain pace with the world, resulting in an inward turn that itself led to a nearly permanent stilling of his pen. This work, though, is warm and genial and exciting.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Bad Joke Friday

Hey! Sorry for being MIA the entire week, but it's been busy on the day job front and when I've come home my focus has been on writing.

But a bad joke you deserve, and a bad joke you shall have:

Monday, July 09, 2018

And now, a tree.

Single tree. Sometimes in WNY I feel like I'm someplace in the Midwest. #KnoxFarm #eastaurora #wny #summer #trees #nature

Taken at Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, NY. One of my favorite locations. This lonely tree in the middle of a hayfield struck me as a Little House kind of visual.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Something for Thursday

I heard part of this on the radio yesterday, in honor of all the fireworks going on for the 4th of July, and it's a work I don't hear often enough, so here it is! I'm developing a better appreciation of the Baroque Era over the last few years, but I've always enjoyed the music of George Fredric Handel, particularly this piece. Here is the "Music for the Royal Fireworks," written for wind instruments to accompany fireworks for King George II on...some occasion or another. (Look it up yourselves, folks!)

This particular ensemble plays on period instruments (note the valveless trumpets in particular), and take note of the colorful and charismatic conductor.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Two hundred forty two

It's the Fourth of July.

I knew that it would be this way, but damn, America is really making me work for it right now. I keep thinking, not of American things, but of this moment in a movie made by New Zealanders adapting a nearly 80-year-old fantasy novel written by an Englishman:

Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here, but we are.

It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?

But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

I'm not done with America. I'm not giving up.

Another movie moment I keep thinking about: