Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Review: Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. 1954 by M. Mignola et al.

Hellboy and The B.P.R.D. 1954 written by Mike Mignola and Chris Roberson, art by Stephen Green, Patric Reynolds, Brian Churilla, and Richard Corbin, colors by Dave Stewart

Four stories from Hellboy's early career at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense!

1. Black Sun--Hellboy and a team go to the Arctic to investigate a possible yeti sighting, though the scientific team there is divided over whether it was just a polar bear. The menace turns out to be neither after the team discovers a downed saucer (as in flying saucer). Hellboy gets inside and it sinks, leading to an even weirder adventure. I liked how the story kept shifting ground with each twist.

2. The Unreasoning Beast--A man's brother died in a fire and the brother's pet monkey (who also died) is haunting him. The story goes by quickly and is not nearly as weird as a typical Hellboy tale. It does deliver the melancholy, though.

3. Ghost Moon--Hellboy is sent to China as a favor to Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones, head of the British equivalent of the B.P.R.D. In Hong Kong, it's the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, the titular Ghost Moon. The locals celebrate a "Hungry Ghost Festival" where spirits come back from the afterlife in search of food and entertainment. A local British import/export business had been looking for a Hunping, a funerary urn or spirit jar, and they have run into trouble. Usually, there's one jar per spirit, but this particular jar is collecting lots of spirits, especially in this month. The story has a lot of fun mythology and a typical Hellboy ending.

4. The Mirror--Hellboy goes in search of the Mirror of Saint-Bouget. Saint-Bouget is a lost French town where a rich man's daughter became a witch who consorted with demons. When the dad came with the local priest to confront her, the demons fled with the girl into a mirror. The priest blessed the mirror and trapped them inside. The story isn't much more than that--just a showcase for Richard Corbin's moody and evocative art.

I liked Ghost Moon the best. All the stories are fun and spooky--typical Hellboy storytelling.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: Agatha Christie's Crooked House (2017)

Agatha Christie's Crooked House (2017) directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner

Agatha Christie's novel, Crooked House, is given a lavish treatment. Private investigator Charles Hayward (Max Irons) is approached by former lover Sophia Leonides (Stephanie Martini) to investigate her grandfather's death, which she believes was murder. Aristide Leonides was a Greek immigrant to England who became quite wealthy by developing a restaurant and catering business. He had two sons, Philip and Roger, and three grandchildren. They all live at Three Gables (the titular crooked house), under the grandfather's rather oppressive thumb. His first wife died and he met his second, much younger wife in Las Vegas where she was a dancer. The death looks like poisoning and suspicion naturally falls on the seeming gold digger of a wife. The rest of the family has plenty of acrimony toward the old man and each other. Hayward has no shortage of suspects and only a few days before Scotland Yard will sweep in and expose family secrets along with the murder.

The plot is fairly intricate, which is only natural for a Christie story, and provides a lot of classic twists and shifts in suspicion. The cast gives fine performances and the estate looks beautiful. The time is mid-1950s, so the film has a bit of the clash of youth culture (popular music and dancing) with the estate life of England's upper class. The ending is shockingly bleak (and true to the novel if Wikipedia is to be believed) which may be why the movie didn't get much of a theatrical release. I hadn't heard of it when it came up on the local library's list of new DVD releases. I enjoyed watching it once but probably won't watch it again unless socially.

Recommended as a rental.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Book Review: Saint Joseph Shadow of the Father by Andrew Doze

Saint Joseph Shadow of the Father by Andrew Doze

Andrew Doze looks at both the history and the theology of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ. The book is both fascinating and frustrating.

The historical account is eye-opening. The Church, in its earliest years, was focused on Jesus as true God and true man, so reflections on Joseph's fatherhood are scant if not completely non-existent. How Jesus has God as His Father was much more important to work out at the time. Pious imagining saw Joseph as an old widower with children from a previous marriage. Little progress was made through the Middle Ages. Joseph's first big break came with Teresa of Avila, who adopted him as a spiritual father and had a devotion to him. Saint Francis de Sales and Monsieur Olier became champions of Joseph in the 1600s. Pope Pius IX declared Joseph patron of the universal church in 1870 (during the First Vatican Council). The Lourdes visionary, St. Bernadette Soubirous, also had a deep connection to the Holy Family and thus to Saint Joseph. Knowledge, interest, and devotion to Saint Joseph developed through the centuries and is on going.

After his historical survey, Doze presents a more theological understanding. He structures his work around the seven levels in Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. I found this part of the book hard to follow since I haven't read or studied Teresa of Avila and Doze seems to assume a deep understanding of that work as a mirror to his own presentation. He discusses Joseph's trust in the angelic messages he receives and his guidance of Jesus through the hidden years of His life. He writes quite beautifully of the reunion of the Holy Family in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve and was found in the temple discussing theology with the rabbis and scholars. Jesus humbly went down afterwards to Nazareth to grow in "wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man." [Luke 2:52] Doze's book didn't leave me with a full or coherent bigger picture, only lots of little insights.

He did leave me with a desire to learn more about Sts. Bernadette and Teresa of Avila. Perhaps I will revisit this book after more time and more reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wizards vs. Pacers 2018

My son's school had tickets for the family night at the Washington Wizards basketball game on March 17, 2018. The Wizards were playing the Indiana Pacers, a close rival. It was an exciting game.

Like last year, we had the inexpensive, high up seats in the stadium. Unlike last year, no good samaritan gave us better tickets, so we staying in the nose-bleed seats.

View from our seats

My son chilling before the game

The stadium had the typical pre-game activity going on--players warming up and a little indoor blimp flying around.

Testing the camera's zoom feature

Blimp or car--you make the call!

One of the challenges with high up seats is deciding weather to watch the jumbotron or the actual action on the court. Before the game, they had one of many ceremonies honoring people at the game, including two children named honorary co-captains of the Wizards for the night.

Captains easier to see on the big screen than on the court

With preliminaries done, they were ready to start the game. That included introducing each of the starting players with their own bursts of flame!

Lights swirling around the stadium

These players are on fire!

The mascot was not introduced but he kept wandering in and out of our attention span. So did the cheerleaders.

Mascot cracking someone up

Actual view of the mascot from our seats--choose the jumbotron

Cheerleaders warming up the crowd

The game started with a slow build in the action. The teams were fairly even during the first half.

View is about the same on the jumbotron and in real life

During one of the commerical breaks, they presented a Dunkin' Donuts race on the jumbotron, which was the same race we had seen before at Camden Yards during a Baltimore Orioles game. Not very exciting.

Donut run without a delivery=no fun

Another commercial found the Wizards and Geico honoring a woman from Boys and Girls Club, which was nice.

Surrounded by mascots

Jumbotron view

They also played a game called Hot or Cold, where a lucky audience member would be blindfolded and the crowd had to guide her to the mascot at the center of the court. Well, they secretly replaced the mascot with the girl's uncle who just got back from deployment. It was a touching surprise.

Hot or Cold contest kickoff


During another commercial break, they had another challenge, this time for the players and in honor of Saint Patrick's Day. The jumbotron displayed an "Irish or Not?" slide and then showed the players trying to guess if certain items were Irish or not.

You ready for this?

Wrong guess, Kelly!

Tomas didn't even know who Ed Sheeran was (neither did I, so I don't blame him)

Bradley rightly identifies curling as not Irish

The Irish may not forgive him for this mistake

Something is out of sync here

During half time, we went in search of snacks. The pretzels weren't hot yet so we bought some chicken tenders and fries. Since the stadium is sponsored by Capital One, the concession stand gave us a ten percent discount on the food for using our Capital One credit card.

During the final half, the game became more exciting as the Wizards developed a slim lead. At another commercial break, they had the weirdest contest I ever saw--the human bobble head contest. Guys had pedometers strapped to their heads and they had to nod up and down as fast as they could for thirty seconds. Thirty seconds doesn't sound like a long time, but let me assure it was.

Advantage jumbotron

Later, some restaurant got in on the action. Chick-fil-A had parachuting snacks. Being in the nose-bleed seats, we looked down on the people getting the prizes.

Parachuting chickens!

Local bar and restaurant chain The Green Turtle had a shell game that one fan got to play. She won thanks to the crowd helping her out.

Shell game with virtual turtle shells!

Cheerleaders in their second half outfits

The Pacers had a bit of a comeback late in the game but then the Wizards opened up a wide lead, leaving them triumphant with a score of 109 to the Pacers' 102.

More game action

The big finale

We had a fun time and got new t-shirts. Unlike last year, I was smart enough not to ask what size they recommended. Last year they gave me a medium which was too small for me (though it was the tallest stack of t-shirts by far). I asked for a large and got one that I can wear without it being too tight.

T-shirt giveaway

We had a great time and will probably go back again next year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

TV Review: The Man in the High Castle Season 1 (2015)

The Man in the High Castle Season 1 (2015) developed by Frank Spotnitz from the novel by Philip K. Dick

The year is 1962. The place is America. The history is all wrong. The Axis Powers won World War II and have divided the defeated United States between them. Japan governs the country west of the Rocky Mountains. German governs the country east of the Rockies. A Neutral Zone lies between. All hope is not lost. Resistance movements exist in the Japanese Pacific States and the Greater Nazi Reich. Both sides have been sending contraband films into the Neutral Zone, delivering them to the enigmatic Man in the High Castle through a series of contacts. One such film comes from New York City just as the Nazis are busting in on a resistance cell. Joe Blake drives a truck out of the city with a film hidden underneath. Meanwhile, Trudy Crain in the west coast resistance plans to take a copy of the same film from San Francisco to Canon City in the Neutral Zone. She is caught and shot but not before she can pass the film to her sister, Juliana, who takes up her sister's mission through some unfortunate consequences. More unfortunate consequences follow for her family and her boyfriend and his family. All the while, the Nazis and the Kempeitai (the Japanese version of the Gestapo) plot to retrieve the films. They also plot against each other since both the Japanese emperor and Adolf Hitler are aging and seemingly on their way out. The power vacuum could spark a much larger conflict.

If all this isn't complicated enough, what the films depict is more strange--an alternate reality where the Allies have won the war. A strange, almost impossible hope is hinted at. Naturally the Nazis and the Japanese want to suppress that. But not all the Nazis and Japanese are on board with their oppressive regimes. Plenty of conflicts arise.

The story is very fascinating and well-realized in this TV series. Fallen America has a sheen of German and Japanese culture. Navigating this multicultural minefield is tricky for Juliana and Joe. They have very different motivations and struggle with how far they will go to achieve their ends. The writing is very good and the production values are stellar. The actors are very believable and the characters, even the evil ones, have plenty of nuance and three-dimensionality.

Highly recommended.

Parental warning: The show contains occasional graphic violence as well as depictions and discussions of Nazi eugenics and other atrocities. The nudity is very minimal with hardly any sex. The language is mildly R-rated--there's at least one f-bomb per episode, but not many overall.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Book Review: Black Panther The Complete Collection Vol. 1 by C. Priest et al.

Black Panther: The Complete Collection Volume 1 written by Christopher Priest and art by Joe Quesada, Mark Texeira, Vince Evans, Joe Jusko, Mike Manley, and others

Wakanda is an African kingdom about the size of New Jersey and is also the home of the only known deposit of vibranium, the metal from which Captain America's shield is made. The country is a mix of extreme wealth and technology along with tribal customs and social structures. The king, T'Challa, is head of the Panther Clan and thereby the Black Panther. His leadership abilities are enhanced by an herbal concoction that increases his strength and his senses. His outfit uses vibranium to make him more invulnerable and he has some high tech gadgets (like the Kimoyo Card that lets him access other technologies) too. His body guard, the Dora Milaje, are two young women taken from Wakandan tribes and are being groomed as potential spouses as well as providing sidekick action support.

Set in the 1990s, this new series (at least it was new in 1998) features Black Panther in some challenging adventures. He's come back to New York from Wakanda to fix a bad situation--the poster child of a charity he supports has been killed. His absence from Wakanda was orchestrated by forces determined to take his throne. The situation is further complicated by his U.S. handler, Everett K. Ross, a young white guy who narrates most of the story to his American boss. Ross is full of pop culture references and tells the most exciting parts of the story first, frustrating his boss, who is secretly in love with the Black Panther ever since their college days. Ross gets tangled up in the story and has adventures of his own while he supports his client, Black Panther, to get America's interests advanced.

The story itself is interesting and has plenty of action. The deliberately choppy narrative I found annoying even as I saw its purpose in an issue-by-issue story arc (this book contains 17 comic-books' worth of issues, so almost a year and half in publishing time). The pop culture references are twenty years old and they have not aged well. Most of the comic relief is based on those references, so the book is not as fun as it once was. The political situation is interesting. T'Challa plenty to do resolving conflicts with the United States and with factions at home. Other superheroes make appearances that fit naturally into the story (except for the two issues with the Hulk) and give a sense of the bigger picture within which Black Panther is operating.

Black Panther is an interesting character. He's no-nonsense and direct in his actions. His honesty is refreshing, even when it doesn't necessarily help him. I also like that he's just as likely to outthink or outscheme an opponent as he his to outfight one. He makes a fine hero.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Movie Review: The Quiet Man (1952)

The Quiet Man (1952) directed by John Ford

Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns from America to his birthplace, a small town called Innisfree in Ireland. He goes to buy the old homestead (his grandfather had been sent to Australia; his father went to America when he was a wee lad). The land and cottage are owned by the Widow Tillane. She is reluctant to sell until town bully Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) shows up and tries to outbid the American. Slightly annoyed, she agrees to sell to Sean. Meanwhile, Sean has fallen for a beautiful redhead (Maureen O'Hara) who turns out to be Mary Kate Danaher, the sister of Will. She is excited by the prospect of marrying Sean but wants to follow the Irish proprieties--having a matchmaker start the arrangements, getting permission from the family, etc. Will is not at all enthusiastic about the match so plenty of conflict ensues. The local parish priest, the Protestant minister and his wife, and matchmaker Michaleen Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald in a great performance) rally to Sean's cause, especially when he seems less than willing to fight for the love of Mary Kate. Sean suffers from a bit of culture clash and from his own personal demons.

The movie is an amazing love story, steeped in Irish culture and actually filmed in Ireland (a novelty for Hollywood in 1952).  Sean and Mary Kate are very layered characters who have a lot of chemistry. Wayne and O'Hara are great together. The movie well balances the serious and the silly elements of the story. Dramatic moments are tempered with a quintessentially Irish sense of whimsy. The movie is utterly delightful.

Highly recommended.

Also, this movie was the subject of A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast #39.