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Busy weekend
Bar Harbor
Friday night I went out with some folks to see "Stardust". I quite liked it. It was only medium-faithful to the book, but had many fine qualities of its own. And really, most stories are improved by the addition of pirates :-) (At the party next day, juldea would often "Arrrr!" at each other at appropriate moments, in tribute to the Stardust pirates.) It was in many senses much more of a "Hollywood" story than the book was, most especially around the ending, but there are upsides to that as well as downsides. Oh! And I forgot to mention to Juldea, but there was one sequence added for the film which reminded me uncannily of an Order of the Stick strip from a few months back.

My only real problems with the movie were technical ones. The director must have fast-adapting eyes, as he seems fond of scene transitions that go from very dark to blinding-white, which I find mildly painful and distracting. There were only a few of these, however. And, for opening night, the print was in remarkably beat-up condition. I suspect that it had traveled a good deal as a preview print before ending up in Boston Common.

Before the movie, they showed a preview for the upcoming Beowulf movie that Neil Gaiman cowrote with Roger Avery. I had avoided plot spoilers up until then, so was rather surprised at their take on the story. It seems that Grendel's Mother is some sort of temptress figure, and wants to seduce Beowulf in order to replace her son. Played by Angelina Jolie, no less. This is very odd, though I suppose it could turn out to be good. Certainly not at all what I was expecting.

After the film, we went out for ice cream. Minor logistical problem being that there don't seem to be any ice cream places enear the Loews on the Common. But all of us were willing to walk, so we started heading for Faneuil Hall on the theory that there must be ice cream there. As we approached, however, siderea suggested that it was just a few more blocks to get to the North End, and much higher quality gelaterias. So we followed her through many a twisty passage and abandoned market stall. Given what we had just watched, I and the others more than half expected to turn a corner into Faerie at any moment :-) We stayed On The Path and followed our Guide, however, and eventually reached our goal without significant adventure.

In addition to the ice cream, I also took the opportunity to bring home some cannoli as tribute for my lady kestrell's birthday :-) She had it for breakfast, before setting up for her birthday party.

redknight sent Kes a birthday card with a nifty sound chip in it. When you open it, it plays the famous Blues Brothers quote that ends "Hit it!"

As is typical, no one showed up until an hour or so after the 'start' of the party. Kes and I hung out in the living room and channel-surfed. We caught the last half hour or so of Pirates of the Carribean 2, which was fun. Then we came across an interesting series on BBC America called "Jeckyl", which appears to be a modern take on the classic J&H trope. Their 'Hyde' didn't seem to be using much in the way of different makeup (aside from contacts which changed his eye color), just clearly distinct acting style. Plus of course, Hyde gets all the best lines :) What we saw of it looked good; will have to investigate further.

juldea and londo were the first guests to show up, followed closely by ricevermicelli, danceboy, and their bunny. Their was a fair amount of book exchanging in various directions, which is always fun. I got to admire Juldea's nifty D20 earrings (opals!), and give Lond some sage advice(tm) on what options a DM should consider when a player character needs to leave the campaign.

Lots of other people showed up in good time after that. Ellen brought her son Patrick, and I helped amuse him with videogame geekery and Dr. Who discussion. At some point in the evening, someone mentioned shopping for a "Dalek bath set", and we all marveled at the cognitive dissonance of such a thing. "Ex-fo-li-ate!" russkay made a surprise appearance, and at his request, I demonstrated the basic idea of Guitar Hero.

The most surprising guest was probably the strangely pushy Russian woman (Marlena?) who had only previously met Kes over email. Or perhaps not so strangely. For all that America is considered a bastion of feminism, all the pushiest, most assertive women I have ever met have been Russian. And come to think of it, my mom exhibited the same characteristics, only slightly diluted from a few generations of American life. I suppose it might be more of an immigrant thing than a Russian thing, or even specifically a combination of the two...

Kes always thinks she's going to watch lots of movies at her parties, but this rarely actually happens. And even when movies do get shown, she invariably gets dragged off into conversations halfway through and doesn't see the end. That said, some of us got to watch a couple of fun pirate-y movies, though neither of them was what you'd call a core element of the pirate canon (or should that be 'cannon'?).

Kes had acquired a DVD box set of "classic" (actually 'obscure') pirate movies, and we decided to watch "Double Crossbones", on the strength of it starring Donald O'Connor, he of rubber face and agile limbs. It was a fun bit of fluff, with O'Connor playing Davey, a humble shopboy ("I'm not really a shopboy -- I just happen to be working in a shop"), who through a series of ludicrous accidents ends up pretending to be the fearsome pirate "Bloodthirsty Dave". The pretense becomes more-or-less true, and he ends up joining the Brethren of the Coast (If this was a Gilbert&Sullivan, Anne Bonney would have been the "contralto with a voice like a fog horn"). By the finale, he ends up thwarting the evil governor, getting the girl, and giving up piracy. Some decent swordwork, some good dancing, *lots* of perfectly executed pratfalls. Not an enduring classic, but an enjoyable way to pass some time.

We also watched "Castle in the Sky" (aka "Laputa"), a relatively early movie by Hayao Miyazaki. It's a typical Miyazaki film - child protagonists, odd steampunk setting, ancient robots and other tech from a lost precursor civilization, strong pro-environment and anti-war themes. Oh, and let us not forget, lots of airships. Including (and this is why Kes wanted to show the movie) an intrepid band of sky pirates. The sky pirates are the highlight of the film. They're a family operation, led by a matriarch who looks a lot like the Denslow illustrations of the Wicked Witch of the West. They are mostly good-hearted idiots. A typical exchange: "I told you to call me 'captain'!" "Yes Mom!" (in chorus). The voice dubbing was high quality, with Mark Hamill playing the villain, Cloris Leachman as the pirate queen, and Mandy Patinkin and Andy Dick as two of her sons.

issendai showed up near the middle of Laputa, and catalyzed much giving and receiving of backrubs :)

On Sunday, Kes and I went out to Worcester to see a production of Richard III. We stopped at a restaurant called Peppercorns for dinner. It turned out to be rather pricy, but the food and the service were both most excellent. I had a fairly schizophrenic sensory experience: my taste buds were blissing out, while my teeth were frequently sending heavy pain signals.

Driving around Worcester was also a weird mental experience. I went through a bunch of neighborhoods that I haven't seen in decades. Or to be more accurate, places that I haven't seen *awake* in decades. My subconscious mind is still more-or-less in the 80s, and in my dreams I still live on Tupelo Road. So where things look different, I'm never quite sure if they are different from actual memories, or from distorted dream-memories.

The play was awesome, as I've already mentioned briefly. As we came up the path to the park's ampitheater, I could see glimpses of a clearing behind some trees which was clearly the 'backstage', with costume racks hanging from trees, and actors milling about. I tried to get some pictures of it with Kes' camera, but I don't know if they came out at all well.

Many of the minor actors were clearly at a community theater level, but both Richard and the director were at the top of their game. Lots of interesting directorial choices in the editing, staging, and costuming, most of them at least partially in service of making the story clear. Which is desperately needed for this play, with its complex political intrigues and its large cast of characters, most of whom have multiple names, and are related to each other by bloodline, blood *letting*, or both. He succeeds admirably; I was never confused as to what was going on, and Kes (lacking the visual cues) only rarely was.

One particularly interesting choice was to cast the Duke of Buckingham as a woman. Not only did this help with clarity, in making Richard's chief co-conspirator the only woman in a suit, but it also allowed them to add tons of sexual subtext to their scenes together. They are not just partners in crime, but also lovers. This, in turn, adds some texture to Richard's treatment of his wives as disposable political tools.

The set design was elegant, if abstract. One large central platform, with a number of smaller units that could be arranged as ramps or tables as needed. I very much appreciated that they avoided having any 'dead time'; even when they had a brief pause between scenes to rearrange set pieces, the arrangement was done by actors in costumes appropriate to the coming location, helping to 'set the scene' in more than one sense.

It occurred to me, while watching, that there are some interesting similarities between Richard III and the Roman Emperor Claudius. Both were younger sons with multiple disabilities, whom no one seriously thought of as a contender for the throne for most of their lives. I wonder if there's some interesting way to cross-pollinate their stories. Or for that matter, if there are more examples that fit this model.

Heading back home, we discussed the show. Kes has recently come up with a neologism that is useful for discussing some types literature: "Birnamwood - that element of a prophecy which turns out not to mean what you thought it did, thus confounding your efforts to avoid fate."

There certainly is a lot of Prophecy and Fate in R3. Almost every death is heavily foreshadowed. Many characters effectively pronounce their own death curses, by swearing things to the effect of "May God strike me down if I lie" while lying through their teeth. Richard himself plays at being a prophet by faking the prophecy which sends his brother Clarence to the Tower. Though of course, it is a true prophecy, just misunderstood (the birnamwood here being that G doesn't stand for George, but Gloucester). (A corrolary to the basic principle "You can't beat Fate": if you prophesy, it *will* come true, even if you were just making it up.)

Another common literary trope about Fate is that, though you can't beat Fate, you *can* delay it -- not that it's at all a good idea to do so, as the interest payments on that sort of thing are brutal. In the larger sense, Richard III, by destroying his whole family and making England bleed, is just finally paying off the karmic debt incurred by the murder of the previous King Richard. Seen in this light, the relative happiness of the reigns of Henries IV and V was a transient illusion, not worth the price that was eventually extracted for them.

Home at last. A litle domestic scene of reading next to each other in bed, and then blessed sleep.

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I'm glad to hear the birthday card arrived intact and functional!

On the one hand, cool! On the other hand, too bad that it's a screw-top; I much preferred the notion bandied about the party that you could push down on the top, and the soap would come out one of the arms :-)

I liked Stardust a lot - a bit better than the book, I think. The transitions you mentioned didn't bother me at all (different optics, I suspect!), and most of the changes from the book were for the good (I love the ghosts, who had a much bigger part in the movie).

Beowulf looks at least a little promising - something that could not really be said for a faithful adaptation of the poem: Beowulf kills monster. Beowulf kills bigger monster (who happens to be related to the first monster). Roll credits. The plot is certainly not what is appealing about the poem. The action is okay, but it really is about the poetry. And, of course, poetry doesn't really translate to film, er, at all. (though, you know, if you had a movie of Wallace Shawn sitting spellbound listening to Anne of Framlingham recite it...)

The ghosts definitely rocked.

You forgot: "Beowulf gets to be king for decades, then kills a big frickin' dragon, though he gets mortally wounded in the process." Which I gather is included in this version, in some form or another.

if you had a movie of Wallace Shawn sitting spellbound listening to Anne of Framlingham recite it...

I'd buy that DVD :-)

It could be set at Pennsic, during a rainstorm, where the two of them have found some food and a tiny empty pavilion, so as to be titled, "My feast with Anne, Dry."

"One particularly interesting choice was to cast the Duke of Buckingham as a woman."

Actors Shakespeare Project did the same thing in their debut production, but sadly they missed using it for sexual tension.

What I want to know about that Beowulf movie is, who thought it was a good idea to go for realistic CG? Don't they know that doesn't work? I mean, you're already paying Angelina Jolie and Anthony Hopkins, why not shoot them with an actual camera and just CG the background? Hmf. I'm probably just biased.

I am looking forward to hearing your take on the finished film :-)

who thought it was a good idea to go for realistic CG?

As I understand it, Robert Zemeckis. Gaiman and Avery were apparently a bit dubious as well, but RZ had enough good arguments (and wheelbarrows full of cash) to convince them to let him do it.

Neil discusses it some here.

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