Friday, May 17, 2024

Movie Review: Desperado (1995)

Desperado (1995) produced, written, and directed by Robert Rodriguez

In pursuit of Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida), the man responsible for his wife's murder, El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) travels to a Mexican border town. He has his one friend (Steve Buscemi) go ahead and scout out the situation. When the friend mentions Bucho's name at a seedy bar, the situation gets very tense. This is the town where revenge will go down.

The movie has a very basic premise that moves the plot along. The joy is in the style and the over-the-top reality Rodgriguez creates. El Mariachi used to be a guitar player but now his case is full of weapons. When he comes to town, all hell breaks loose. The fight scenes are epically scored and choreographed. It's visually delightful for an action fan. The body count is very high and the villain, a local drug lord, is appropriately vicious and cunning. El Mariachi falls in with local bookstore owner Carolina (Selma Hayek) who is also in the drug lord's pocket. In order to get out, she teams up with him. They work their way through the henchmen until they get to the drug lord's compound for the final battle.

Banderas makes a good lead. He can carry the heaviness of his character while still being charming and having compassion for others. A small boy in town has a guitar. El Mariachi gives him a quick lesson and some advice. This act makes him different from the other killers in the movie, something needed to give him more sympathy. A lot of famous actors (Buscemi, Cheech Marin, Quentin Tarantino, Danny Trejo) show up briefly as allies or nemeses. They do good in their small roles without any time to become the larger-than-life character that Banderas is. Hayek is good though she is a bit hampered by being the love interest.

Rodriguez has a keen eye for interesting visual shots and is able to bring in a lot of ridiculous elements that fit in because the overall story is so over the top. I enjoy this type of film, though I felt like the love scene between Banderas and Hayek was too long and not necessary. Such scenes seem to be a staple of action films and stories (I'm looking at you, Jack Reacher), though I would like it better without.

Mildly recommended--it's a stylish action film that is fun to watch without too much thinking.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Saint Mary Mother of God Church, Washington, DC

Saint Mary Mother of God Church in Washington, District of Columbia, was originally founded in 1845 by German immigrants but not dedicated as a parish until 1890. The current building was constructed in the 1890s though many renovations have happened over the years. The church originally served the local German community. The neighborhood has changed over time as German descendants moved to more prosperous suburbs (and there was some discomfort with a German parish during and after World War I). Now, DC's Chinatown in nearby and the church has a Sunday Mass in Chinese in addition to a couple of Masses in English.

The nave has an impressive Gothic ceiling.

Nave

The pre-Vatican II altar is just behind the main altar. 

Main Altar

Since the church is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, the windows and paintings above the main altar have Marian themes, following the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary.

Presentation and Finding of Jesus in the Temple

Pulpit and Pastor (maybe a good name for an English pub?)

The Stations of the Cross are simple and nice. 

Stations 5 and 6, with Saint Anthony peeking in

Sample of the stained glass

A side altar is dedicated to Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus.

Joseph

In the 1920s, the church wanted to move away from its German association and tried on various Marian themes. One option was dedication to the Miraculous Medal. The pastor started a perpetual novena in the 1930s, which is why a side altar has a huge medallion above it. The altar also has a reliquary with relics from over a dozen saints!

Miraculous Medal altar

The church has many nice pieces of sacred art following the Marian and maternal themes.

Pieta

Infant of Prague altar with baptismal font

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, another contender for patron of the parish

I did not get any exterior photos since my visit was quick and the street in front of the church is close.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Book Review: The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson

The Frugal Wizard's Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson

A man wakes up in a field surrounded by scorch marks wondering where he is. More distressing, he wonders who he is. He quickly discovers he's in Medieval England though a bunch of details are off. Days of the week have different names, writing is forbidden, and magic is real. He finds a lot of loose papers around him. The titular handbook is something he brought to help him but it exploded when he arrived. He's cobbled together a bunch of pages but key texts are missing, like the page where he wrote down his name and purpose for being there. The book is additionally unhelpful in that it's mostly advertising, though it does explain that he is in an alternate dimension that is very similar to his home dimension. He quickly discovers there are other people from (probably) his dimension that are looking for him and making trouble for the locals. He imagines himself a hero, so he sets off on a hero's quest. As his memories come back, he starts to doubt himself and what's going on.

Sanderson wrote this as one of his lockdown projects. He'd had the idea for the title and also the idea to write a "guy wakes up in an unfamiliar environment with amnesia" stories. Once the two ideas met, this novel was born. The book has the light-hearted whimsy Sanderson is so good at in the Alcatraz stories. I found the amnesia element a bit underwhelming. He always got key memories back just when it helped the plot along, which to me reads as forced rather than natural development. The illustrations are fun and the excerpts from the Handbook are entertaining. I enjoyed reading this once but probably won't re-read it.

Mildly recommended.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Geocaching April 2024

This month started with a rainy early morning coffee club meeting. The rain didn't let up on that April Fools' Day, so I didn't find any regular caches until a break in the rain the next day. I avenged a DNF (Did Not Find) at Look, hun, I'm tellin' ya, it's right dair!, a Letterbox Hybrid cache that has instructions that were converted into "Baltimorese" by ChatGPT. I looked a few months ago and the container was missing; the cacher replaced it back at Christmastime and I've only gotten around to finding it again in April. After that, I found HC Soccer Series - Covenant Park and The Key to Soccer Success, both in Covenant Park (no surprise) that has a bunch of soccer fields (also no surprise). 

Not the most exciting picture, sorry! Not even the soccer field...

I finally took credit for OCCT #22: Ghostly Days Challenge, where a cacher qualifies by finding a virtual cache (whose icon is a ghost) on every numerical calendar day, not necessarily in the same month or year. The next day I found Random Wiki Puzzle Rose Gold (album) and Benfield Crossing. The Puzzle was easier to find; the Crossing hide is more challenging as it has natural camouflage.

Somewhere in there

Then, I found Out to Lunch, an easy traditional, and Maryland's Granite - Guilford Quartz Monzonite, a new earthcache in my area. The earthcache leads to the remains of a quarry whose stone was used for building roads, monuments, and even Saint Mary of the Mills Church!

Obligatory photo of me and the quarry

While my family went bike riding and I was mildly sick, I dropped them off at one point and drove to their endpoint by Lake Kittamaqundi. By the lake is a Wherigo cache called XOXO, Community. The final cache location did look like hugs and kisses would be going on--a wedding photo shoot was happening with the entire wedding party. I took a surreptitious snap.

The bride's maids

The Murder of Geo Cacher is a mystery cache that was fun to solve and find out in the woods. Seabiscuit - No More Whoa is part of a series in Wheaton Regional Park and filled in a traditional slot that was empty on my calendar. Since I was in the area, I also found the multi-cache Kemp Mill.

Murder site?

Mill site?

I filled another calendar with the puzzle cache Concert Conundrum which I had solved a while ago. The next day we went for a bike ride and I found two caches on the South Shore Trail in Anne Arundel County: Trail Head #2 and Who was the host of Jeopardy?, a cache giving tribute to Alex Trebek. The first cache was the best smelling cache ever, with a certain item inside of it!

"But the geocache is just over there..."

Vanilla is awesome!

Really long driveway

Speed limit sign (sorry it's blurry)

Flag Trivia is a puzzle cache that led to woods with a lot of critters.

Deer and fox

More deer

Two deer in the woods is better than one in the headlights

Choose the Harder Right is a jigsaw puzzle cache that solved quickly. Not as Convenient as the Store was a bit of a reach but not too challenging. Nearby, across a scary bridge, is RWP 1995 The Bud at The Glen, another easy puzzle to solve.

Bridge that will trouble your waters!

I made a trip to our local scout shop and found some geocaches nearby before the rain started in earnest. "Where's your other hand?" and RF1 were in the same parking lot, so easy to find both. Just down the street I found Cache with a heart, were I dropped off the Octopus travel coin that I picked up earlier in the month. 

Not very coin-shaped

Then I found my 1200th cache, a mystery cache called To Grandmother's House. The puzzle is based on equipment found in a park. Since the cache is from 2005, the playground has been rebuilt so the answers are not the same. Luckily, other cachers came up with workarounds in their posts so I could calculate the coordinates and make the find.

Starting point for my 1200th cache

Also in the area are The Blacks on Stamps...Resting in Peace..., Community Heritage-Abraham Hall, and When the Iron Was Hot.... These made a nice beginning into the 1200s.

Abraham Hall

While on a trip to the National Gallery of Art, I snuck out and found Elm Tree #1, an amazing traditional cache in an area densely populated with tourists. I sailed over to the Navy Memorial to get the answer needed for The Lone Sailor, a virtual cache.

#1 elm in DC!

Navy Memorial and me

In Laurel, I followed the Wherigo cache Laurel - 150 Years! to its final near a very decorated (but not very comfortable-looking) bench.

Needs a cushion, if you ask me

This outdoor pool doesn't look to inviting either!

Demineur is a minesweeper-inspired mystery cache that took a bit of work for me to solve. Less difficult was Ghosts Walking which was along a sidewalk inbetween a graveyard and a library! No spooky pictures, sorry!

On a trip to Greenbelt, I found the virtual cache Mother and Child (with a statue-photo requirement), Greenbelt's War Memorial and Generous Joe (a mystery requiring info from the memorial to make the final find), and Double Take (a traditional cache with a 3D-printed maze container that was very difficult to open).

Greenbelt War Memorial

Greenbelt statue

On another trip, I found Inexplicable Guardrails of Central Maryland #4, but almost didn't make the find. One end of the rail is bent in leaving the usual hiding spot inaccessible. Luckily, the cache was in the other end of the rail. Also, I discovered two mile marker caches: Old Montgomery Road - Mile Marker 6 was a nano hidden in plain sight. Old Montgomery Road - Mile Marker 9 - Lazarus is in the Clarksville Commons area where the marker has been restored after all the construction around it.

Smashed-up guard rail

We went out to lunch in Silver Spring, Maryland, and I found At the Wall of a Giant. The town is right on the border with the District of Columbia, so we took a picture by the sign.

Ready for fun!

On the last day I had a last blitz with the mystery cache Way Off Base... (involving numbers using a different base), and the nearby traditionals Beat Indy, Thorn Guard, and Fassst Cache

It was a great month with 51 finds and a grand total of 1227.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Book Review: Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Vol. 1 by Haro Aso

Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead Volume 1 by Haro Aso

Akira Tendo is a twenty-something Tokyo resident who has spent several years in a dream job that turned out to be a nightmare--the hours were very long, the one cute girl in the office is not interested in him and has a thing going with the boss, and he's lost touch with all his friends. Getting out of bed in the morning is the first of many daily trials. Then, one day a zombie apocalypse happens and he does not have to go into work. He is overjoyed with his new freedom, probably the only happy person in Tokyo given the circumstances. He decides to make a bucket list of 100 things to do before he turns into a zombie. He sneaks out of his apartment, climbing down the outside wall and offering to get groceries for the downstairs couple, even though he's just going on a beer run so he can get wasted and watch TV all day. He meets another young, attractive woman at the supermarket who has no interest in him because he's collecting every type of beer while she is getting necessary supplies to survive. He does not have proper risk analysis or priorities. They part ways but by the end of this volume, she realizes he has something that no one else has...a happy attitude. Maybe she should team up with him?

The story has an interesting premise but it leans heavily into one of my pet peeves about manga. Women are almost entirely depicted as large-breasted sex objects with little other worth to any of the male characters. Even the sensible woman at the supermarket is in a non-sensically skimpy outfit and is somehow ultimately swayed by his shallow demeanor. The attitude is so persistent, it drags the rest of the story down. Also, the guy is not that compelling a protagonist. I am not interesting in reading any more.

Not recommended.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Movie Review: Alice In Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland (2010) directed by Tim Burton based on Lewis Carroll's novels

Lewis Carroll's novels Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass get the lavish, Tim Burton treatment. The movie starts with Alice as a nineteen-year old (Mia Wasikowska). Her imaginative father is long dead and her mother wants to marry her off to a nice, boring lord. They go to a country estate for a party where he will officially propose. Alice is not at all sure it is the right thing to do. At the party, she spots a white rabbit in a waistcoat with a pocketwatch. She chases after him, eventually going down a hole to Underland. It is populated by all the characters from the novels, the stories her dad told her or maybe she actually did visit as a child. At first she thinks that she is dreaming and doesn't recognize the world or the people ("people" including talking animals). She discovers that the world is under the oppression of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) who wants control of the world and to conquer her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Alice is fated to kill the Red Queen's champion, the Jabberwocky...a fate Alice vehemently denies. She wouldn't hurt anyone. As the story progresses, she finds her inner strength and a newfound belief in the world she has discovered.

The movie is a visual extravaganza typical of Tim Burton. It's also much darker than the typical Alice in Wonderland adaptation. The lands have been ravaged by the Red Queen's troops and she still delights in tormenting others and having heads chopped off. Johnny Depp shows up as the Mad Hatter. He gives a good performance, with his usual flamboyance that matches Burton's style so well. The special effects are hit and miss. The White Rabbit looks great; other CGI character are less lovingly rendered and don't look so well over a decade later. Also, many scenes were clearly designed to be seen in 3D which is a bit of a pet peeve for me. The ending battle between the champions and armies of the Red and White Queens is a little too reminiscent of Lord of the Ring and Narnia, especially since the stakes are less epic here. Wasikowska is just okay as Alice which is a problem since she is in practically every scene. She was not bad but there was no real sparkle or wonder or transformation with her. Her character's growth is justified but not inspiring.

Recommended only if you are a Burton or Depp fan, though both have much more satisfying work elsewhere.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Savannah, Georgia 2024

We made a quick day trip from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Savannah, Georgia. We parked in a lot and walked around to see a bunch of places in the middle of the city. Our first stop was Pulaski Square, named after General Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born hero from the American Revolution who died in a battle in Savannah. The square is just a lawn with many trees, surrounded by some impressive houses. 

Pulaski Square

Homes on the square

Maybe an apartment building? Love the porches!

Nearby is Madison Square, named after the fourth president of the United States. The monument in this square is of Sergeant William Jasper (a lot of the squares have memorials or statues that don't match the name of the square), who heroically recovered his regiment's colors during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. 

Madison Square

Jasper Monument

The following house is at Taylor Square, though I am not sure why I took the picture.

Too many trees? Lovely multi-level porches?

Nearby is a house related to the haunted history of Savannah. At least, that's what an Adventure Lab told us. We did some of the haunted Savannah Lab and the movie location Lab, so I will be talking about some of those sites.

Abercorn house

Lafayette Square is named after the Marquis de Lafayette who fought in the American Revolution and visited Savannah in 1825. The park has a nice fountain.

Lafayette Square

One of the nearby houses had an old guy lounging outside. We decided to get some pictures with him since he seemed like he wouldn't object, even though he was a bit intimidating-looking.

Hanging with a local whose been around for a while

My brave child

Monterey Square is named after the Battle of Monterrey in 1849 won by General Zachary Taylor. The memorial in the square is to Pulaski who was mentioned as having a square named after him up above. The top of the monument is a statue of Liberty (made in 1855, so not like the more famous Statue of Liberty). 

Pulaski monument

The base of the monument

Just before we got to Forsyth Park, we saw The Armstrong Kessler Mansion. It has Il Porcellino, a boar-shaped fountain from Florence, Italy. It is based on a commission by Cosimo de'Medici in the 1600s. Now it is a wedding venue.

The Armstrong Kessler Mansion

Wild Boar statue

Another view of the mansion

Forsyth Park is a large park in the middle of the city. The fountain is a popular photography spot for wedding shoots.

Entering Forsyth Park

Beautiful fountain

The park has a playground. The rain kept our kids from playing there.

Playground

Next to the playground is Collins Quarter at Forsyth, a restaurant that seems casual but is very popular. I had a chai to drink and chicken and waffles for lunch. They serve a variety of brunch items. My kids had french toast and shrimp and grits.

Collins Quarter at Forsyth

Inside

My chai

French toast and shrimp and grits bowl

Chicken and waffles

After lunch, we walked over to Mercer-Williams House. The house qualifies as a haunted location and a film location. Jim Williams killed his assistant there, which became the subject of the novel and the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Mercer-Williams House

The Andrew Low House is famous as the birthplace of the Girl Scouts. It also has a ghostly butler named Tom that has been sighted in the house. Items in the house seem to have moved around as if the butler was putting things back where he thought they should be. 

Andrew Low House

We walked down toward the river and I saw a fun restaurant sign.

Good pun!

Down by the river is the Marshall House which has the local, old time look. The faded bricks and the wrought-iron second-level walkway give it a classic feel.

Marshall House

We had been mocking the artsy look of a lot of the Savannah College of Art and Design (called "SCAD" in the area). This building must have been taken over from previous use because it is far too classical compared to the more modern buildings which were not interesting enough to be photographed.

SCAD building

This fun fountain is just above the river. 

Red lion fountain

We walked downstairs to get to the riverfront, which included some historic steps that were very steep.

The stairs are like a foot or more for each step

Cobblestone street

Down on the water, we saw a riverboat that was neat.

Georgia Queen

The view across the river was not very impressive. There's the convention center and a Westin hotel.

They have a better view

The riverfront has a lot of candy shops and food joints. There's a fountain with an anchor, though the water barely dribbles out.

Anchor fountain

Also nearby is Rousakis Plaza Echo Square, a spot where if you stand in the middle, you get a nice echo when you shout or make a loud noise. I tried clapping.

X marks the spot

One last view of the riverfront

We headed back up the cobblestones to meet with Mom, who had gone to get the car with our oldest son. He's been driving this vacation, which has been thrilling and satisfying.

Luckily, he didn't have to drive on this

Another interesting house

View of the river from the bridge as we headed out of town