Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review of Anonymous

Who really wrote the plays, sonnets, and poems attributed to William Shakespeare?  That question takes us on a romp through the lush world of Elizabethan intrigue, with machinations for the throne, murder and fire and riots, and lots of illegitimate sons.  In a time when it was unseemly for a member of the royal court to write something as vulgar as plays, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford arranges for his plays to be performed without his name appearing anywhere near them.  The semi-literate actor William Shakespeare brashly takes credit for them, earning him false acclaim while de Vere delights in seeing how the crowds adore his words. 

But the plays contain more than merriment.  Between the lines one can see bold criticism of the Cecils, that family which holds undue influence on Queen Elizabeth.  Are the plays the thing to stop their scheming, even on the matter of who will reign as king when Elizabeth passes? 


This is a masterful roller-coaster ride that fans of the Elizabethan period will have to view more than once to tease out all the conspiracies and complex relationships.  The period detail is impressive:  The muddy streets of London, the elaborate frocks worn by both men and women, the in-your-face ways actors interacted with audiences who stood at the very edge of the stage.  A disadvantage is a love scene involving the young Elizabeth that many will find offensive.  But Anonymous features outstanding performances, my favorite being Sebastian Armesto as Ben Johnson.  And de Vere has that noteworthy line, "All authors have something to say, otherwise they'd make shoes."

If you want to follow the Oxfordian theory of Shakespearean authorship, listen carefully to what Derek Jacobi says at the beginning and end of the movie, and realize that is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rat City Rollergirls on the Viaduct

A local roller derby team, the Rat City Rollergirls, won a contest to skate on part of a major raised Seattle roadway, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, before it was torn down. 


Of course, I’m going to use this entry for a little self-promotion.  The following is a quote from my vampire satire: 

“The vampires back then were organized around their queen.  When the queen was stabbed to death, her followers were so disheartened, they were slaughtered on the old Alaskan Way Viaduct and thrown down onto the streets of Seattle.”  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review of The Thing

An american scientist named  Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins a Norwegian team in Antarctica who have discovered some Thing, frozen in ice.  To their astonishment, this creature evidently crawled out of an alien spacecraft that was downed and equally frozen ages ago.  After excavating the Thing intact in a block of ice they haul it inside their station, then get drunk while celebrating down the hall.

When the creature gets out, it starts hunting down the Antarctic team, one by one.  But Kate realizes the Thing can take them over from the inside, so any one of them might be this alien creature, waiting for an opportunity to ambush them or even reach the rest of the Earth's population, causing millions of deaths.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Let me reassure purists:  This movie  does not monkey around with your beloved John Carpenter's The Thing (1982).  It's a prequel, setting up the conditions for the John Carpenter movie (and the fact that Kate joins a team of Norwegians should tip you off to this, if you're really boned up on the subject.)  As for entertainment value, the superior special effects of this prequel make the gore and grotesquerie more explosive, if that’s what you’re looking for in a movie.  And if you’ve ever been in a bar with drunk Norwegians, you won’t shed a tear for this group of Thing fodder. 

The Thing 1982

I mainly saw The Thing because of  Mary Elizabeth Winstead,  since I was impressed with her roles as a mean girl in the Disney superhero movie Sky High and as the star of Final Destination 3.   However, she wasn’t provided with much in the way of good dialogue.  That’s why I missed the original 1951 version, The Thing from Another World

The Thing 1951

In glorious black and white, they obviously didn’t have much of a budget for special effects.  And they left out the part about the Thing taking over people’s bodies.  But this version had masterfully creepy scenes with real tension.  Also, I enjoyed the snappy dialogue, which might seem a little dated nowadays, but was vastly more entertaining than people just screaming as the Thing reveals itself. 

And what is it with Antarctica?  My last blog entry detailed the death of my dream of going there, now I end up seeing another movie about it.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Antarctica - The Dream Dies

I’ve had this secret dream of traveling to Antarctica someday. 


At a Worldcon, I heard a famous writer give a presentation on how he traveled to Antarctica as part of a writers program sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  Believe it or not, the NSF actually gave grants for fiction and non-fiction writers to travel to the southern continent for research, with the understanding that they would write about Antarctica.  The idea was to give publicity to that continent.  (I don’t know if the program still exists.) 

Some slots were kept open for relatively new writers, and so, this established writer said, it would make sense for some of us who were just starting out to apply. 

How many adventure stories start this way?  A rather ordinary person hears a tale of a faraway land, and it stirs his heart with dreams of exotic travel.  That’s what happened to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.  I didn’t put any hard research into it; I recorded bits from science shows on TV about the frozen continent, and I watched Whiteout with Kate Beckinsale more than once.  I would finally start to use Twitter, and I would tweat things like “Past the point of no return” from the plane that would fly me from South America down to McMurdo Base. 

It was kind of like a western, but colder

But no more.  A woman down at the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole recently had a stroke.  That base has no MRI or CT scanners.  The company that manages the station through a contract with the NSF does not consider her condition to be life-threatening, so it will not send a rescue plane.  Huh? 

She had a STROKE.  Read about it here.  She has partial vision loss and spends part of her day with an oxygen device.  You can only decide if the stroke is life-threatening by getting her scanned, so this is a catch-22 situation. 

I’m relatively healthy.  But I can just imagine something similar happening to me.  Or perhaps I would get a compound fracture if I slip while looking for fossils (yes, dinosaur bones have been found down there).  Of if you watch Whiteout, it’s no picnic if someone stabs you with an ice axe.  (Come on, that wasn’t a spoiler.  Kate Beckinsale is not going to go down there just to frolic.) 

Going to Antarctica was a neat, if improbable, dream.  Now the dream is gone.  I won’t go there if that’s how they treat people.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Kevin Sorbo had Strokes?

Did you know that Kevin Sorbo had three strokes while filming the series Hercules?  It happened in 1997—blurry vision, dizziness, buzzing sensation.  The series had to cover for him by bringing in guest stars.  Read about it here


I don’t remember if I watched any of the Hercules episodes.  I mainly remember him as Captain Dylan Hunt of the Andromeda Ascendant. 

His character of Dylan Hunt was fascinating.  He leaves his Commonwealth when it’s a vibrant civilization, then returns in a future age after its collapse and sees chaos in the formerly united star systems.  With a massively powerful spaceship, haphazard diplomatic skills, and the will to succeed, he slowly pieces together a civilization from the often hostile and provincial worlds he visits. 

They had a good interplay of characters.  Dylan Hunt’s burden makes him unique.  Yes, he can use his ship to obliterate anyone who stands in his way, but he has to act diplomatically or it’s all for nothing.  The humorous engineer Seamus Harper has no such burden, so he often says the equivalent of “blow them up” or “let’s get out of here.”  (By the way, some animated Disney flicks let the humorous sidekick have too much fun, which skews the movie away from its main tension, since the sidekick does not have the same burden as the main character.)  Tyr Anasazi essentially fills the Klingon slot.  And of course there’s Andromeda herself, who fills the role of the loyal aide who is always there for him.  (More on her in a future post.) 

 And it doesn’t hurt that Andromeda
was designed to look like this 

But I’m very impressed with Kevin Sorbo’s perseverance.  For a review of one his quieter movies on my old website, you can see it here


Monday, October 3, 2011

Richelle Mead and Rachel Vincent

(My encounter with professional writers,
in the form of story archetypes.) 
  
Call to action:  A herald in the form of a newspaper article stuns me by announcing Richelle Mead, an author who has attained the grail of the New York Times bestselling list (and someone who’s been very helpful to me over the years) will be speaking in a workshop as part of the Smart Chicks Kick It Tour

Acceptance of call:  I scout out the public park building where the meetings will take place.  Woefully inadequate.  An Inmost Chamber.  I will gather my courage and attend. 

Threshold puzzle:  I arrive early.  Seating for only forty in the audience.  Not good.  And ominous signs on either side of the stage hold this cryptic message: 


Initial attempt:  Over one hundred people crowd into the building.  Through stealth and patience, I attain a seat with a good view of Richelle—kind of: 


The Dreaded Corridor of Teenage Female Hair 

Failure/renewed attempt:  The guardian of the speakers (known as Moderator) announces we must not try to talk to the speakers at the end of the workshop, since they need to eat and attend to other mortal needs.  Foiled. 

But later on, the Melée known as Autograph Session will be held in the same Inmost Chamber.  Only those who bear an offering known as a Book which Must be Signed can enter.  Only those. 

 
I buy one at a Fred Meyer.  Seriously, some of those girls in line
had over a dozen books to get signed.  

Ordeal:  Many of us bearing our offerings gather at the end of the last workshop featuring other speakers.  We await Autograph Session.  The workshop ends.  Moderator Guardian announces the line will form on the Ramp which is commonly adorned with this symbol: 


The Melée begins.  Many on the ramp want to leave, the rest of us want on.  To ascend from the Inmost Chamber, I go up some cement steps while flanked by teenage girls.  This is the scary time.  (Seriously.)  The Melée sorts itself out into a long line, with me and other pilgrims in the part that snakes outside the building. 

Long ordeal, plus unexpected reward:  Many pilgrims bear multiple Books which Must be Signed.  (And can you make this one out to my friend Tiffany?)  We shuffle with our offerings past the many authors.  Richelle Mead is at the end.  I accept bookmarks and other totems from the authors along the way.  More shuffling.  Live music from a hurdy-gurdy wafts over the scene. 

Unexpectedly, I recognize one of the authors.  Rachel Vincent, fairest of the fair among urban fantasy authors.  She agrees to have a pic: 


Climax:  I finally reach Richelle Mead.  I used to ask her questions at the local science fiction convention Norwescon, and she gave me helpful advice at the Surrey Writers’ Conference.  All along the way as she’s ascended like a comet, she would recognize me when she sees me.  She asks me how my writing is going, and I ask her some things about accountants and publishing.  Richelle signs my book (which I will give to a co-worker’s daughter) and agrees to a pic: 


Resolution:  Seriously, I don’t mind buying a book  in order to get some conversation (I know that my co-worker’s daughter will enjoy it), and it’s a good experience to go out and meet some people who are professionals in the business.  It was a fun afternoon.  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Issaquah Salmon Days 2011

I went to the Issaquah Salmon Days today.  The city of Issaquah has a fine salmon hatchery, and though people can gather around this time of year in general and watch the salmon returning from the Pacific, they tend to pick the first weekend of October for a street festival.  You can shop at the crafts booths, eat incredibly calorie-rich treats at the food booths, watch obnoxious balloons with salmon motifs, or actually watch the salmon swimming up Issaquah Creek. 

  This crowded bridge offers the best view 

The dark shapes are salmon fighting their way upstream
Mostly chinook this time of year, the coho come later 

The salmon have a ladder they can use to gradually make their way to the hatchery, or they can try doing it the hard way. 

I’m the fittest! 

The fish ladder has large windows along the way, like an aquarium.  This is an ideal way to show children what fish are really like, as opposed to their thinking of them as fish sticks on a tray. 


Glass windows in the concrete


Beyond the boundary of the festival was the big salmon BBQ, which could easily be spotted by the cloud of smoke it was raising.  The line looked so long, I had some beef on a stick from an uncrowded street booth instead.  Then I went to the main food area and had a pork skewer with some fried rice and chow mein, then a gigantic strawberry crepe.  Excessive?  Naw. 

My mileage there counts as research, since my vampire satire features a couple scenes at the festival.  Look at the image below.  Then, if my novel ever gets published, when you come across a certain scene it’ll seem familiar to you, and you won’t even know why. 

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