Monday, October 31, 2016

TV Review: Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 1 (2015)

Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 1 (2015) produced by Craig DiGregorio

Ashley Williams (Bruce Campbell) is still living the same life. He works at a local department store barely getting by. He lives in a trailer where he keeps the Necronomicon locked up...most of the time. Unfortunately one night he's smoking weed with a cute blonde who is into poetry. He decides to read some Kandarian poetry from the Necronomicon, which releases evil on earth yet again. This time, Ash is helped by Pablo, a fellow store employee, and Kelly, Pablo's upstairs neighbor whom he helped get a job at the store. They have an encounter with evil in the store which sets them off on the mission to destroy the Necronomicon. Meanwhile, a cop has a run in with the unnatural evil summoned by the book, which puts her on a collision course with Ash and the gang. The cop is joined by Ruby (Lucy Lawless), a woman also in pursuit of Ash though her motivations are suspect.

The set up seems a little complicated but the pilot episode was directed by the director of the first three Evil Dead movies, Sam Raimi. He has a good grasp on the material and knows the style backward and forward, so he does a fine job both establishing new characters and showing what level Ash has sunk to. His treatment of women is at an all-time low, using his missing hand as an excuse to get some pity-sex from a woman at a bar. That particular scene made Ash a little too unlikeable in my book, especially as it is played for comedy.

The rest of the series is a slow journey through various set-pieces to get Ash and company back to the original cabin where they can get rid of the book. Unfortunately, many episodes were too similar--a little story advancement, a big battle with some Deadite demons, lots of blood and guts all around. The comedy appeal of getting soaked in blood (which admittedly is a staple of the Evil Dead movies) gets very thin after a couple of episodes. Having a larger variety of kills is also less appealing and interesting as the series goes on.

The last three episodes get better as they return to the cabin where everything started. The blend of familiar elements with new twists works better there. The sort of demon fighting they do is more plausible in a remote forest rather than in "modern day" locations where much of the story takes place. The story doesn't really end which is a bit frustrating. They were clearly hoping for a second season, which is broadcasting right now. I'm not impressed enough to seek it out...maybe when it comes out next year on DVD I'll have forgotten my disappointment with this series and rent the next set of discs from the library.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Movie Review: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) directed by Zack Snyder

In light of the destruction caused by Zod and Superman's battle at the end of Man of Steel, humanity is divided on Superman's role. He's acting as a one-man savior for which many people are grateful and treat him almost like God. Other people think he's crossed the line into enforcing whatever sort of justice he likes. That makes Superman a vigilante. Those people include a powerful senator (Holly Hunter), Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), and Bruce Wayne (Batman, er...Ben Affleck).

Batman has had his own history of vigilante justice and now after twenty years, he's a bit grumpy and sadistic. He brands criminals with a bat symbol. He uses guns quite liberally (this is a pet peeve of mine--classically he doesn't use guns because his parents were killed by a gun and the limitation makes him a more interesting character). Wayne Financial lost a building and many people in the Superman/Zod battle. Batman blames Superman and is now working to take care of the problem, i.e. develop something to contain or kill Superman.

Lex Luthor has his own mistrust of Superman and is more interested in discrediting him than in killing him (though that would be okay too). He has various schemes, some more plausible than others. Lex is fairly young and inexperienced, making his character more awkward and bratty than clever and menacing. The portrayal is interesting but not satisfying. Maybe he'll grow into a proper villain in future films.

Superman himself is trying to sort out his role in the world. His number one concern is Lois Lane, of that he is certain. He strives to save people when he can but he recognizes his limits. Even Superman can pay attention to only a few things at a time. He wants to stop the vigilante Batman. Which is a little weird, given Batman has been around for twenty years and Gotham is just across the bay from Metropolis (Lex can see the Bat-signal from the roof of his building!).

The movie has a lot of ideas floating around which shows potential. But none of them are developed in any depth or interesting ways, like viewers are at a fantastic buffet but aren't allowed to sample any items. After a while, I just accepted that any big ideas wouldn't get anywhere.

The other big problem was the movie taking itself far too seriously. The score has some painful moments of melodramatic corniness that made me laugh out loud when I should have been nodding my head and stroking my beard. Some minor plots made very little sense. The big moment of reconciliation between Batman and Superman was awkward and unconvincing. A little more levity would go a long way for the film.

On the other hand, the fight scenes were pretty good. The big battle at the end when Wonder Woman finally shows up was exciting and fun, even if Batman's main fighting tactic was strategically running away. He used his brains as much as his brawns. Ben Affleck was good as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, at least the equal of Christian Bale's performance. This movie isn't as good as the Nolan films but Affleck has a good future in front of him with the role.

At the end of the movie, Bruce Wayne says, "We can do better. We will. We have to." Bruce was talking about humanity in general and the meta-humans in particular (the movie has little teasers of Aquaman, The Flash, and Cyborg shoehorned in), but I hope Ben was making a promise to the audience. They definitely do need to do better.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

War of Oktoberfest Beers 2016

I decided this year to find the best Oktoberfest beer available in my area. Here's what I found after searching through various fine stores!

Festbier by Weihenstephaner Brewing (5.8% Alc./Vol.)--coming from the oldest brewery in the world (established in AD 1040), this German fest beer is light-weight, light-color lager with just enough tartness to make it better than a usual lager. But not a great fest beer.

Marzen-Style Oktoberfest by Shiner--from the label: "Here in Shiner, TX, (pop. 2,070), we're suckers for tradition. Which is why this classic Oktoberfest brew is made with the highest quality two-row barley, Munich and caramel malts, along with German-grown Hallertau Tradition and Hersbrucker hops. It's our way of honoring our ancestors and the beer they loved to celebrate with. So raise your stein to tradition and enjoy this utterly classic brew. PROSIT!" The coppery color of this brew is indicative of the caramely flavor that's hinted at as one drinks. It is both refreshing and hefty enough to feel celebratory. Another work of fine craftsmanship from Texas!

Oktoberfest Marzen Lager by Left Hand Brewing Company (6.6% Alc./Vol.)--from the label: "Toasty malt flavors dominate up front and noble hops lead to a spicy and superbly clean lager finish." A red lager with plenty of flavor, this tastes nice at the beginning but is a little bitter in the finish. I'm not big on bitter, so this is not my favorite.

Oktoberfest Marzen by Paulaner (5.8% Alc./Vol.)--Actually made in Munich at a brewery dating back to 1634! It's a copper-colored marzen with a smooth and satisfying taste. No bitterness to drag things down and no aftertaste. It's made for drinking more than one at a time, just right for an Oktoberfest. Too bad I only bought one.

Oktoberfest Seasonal Beer by Yuengling--Made by America's Oldest Brewery®, dating back to 1829 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, this Oktoberfest calls itself a beer but is definitely in the coppery, creamy style of a marzen. It's a fine, standard Oktoberfest beer with nothing special about it but nothing against it either.

Original Oktoberfest Amber Marzen by Hacker-Pschorr (5.8% Alc./Vol.)--Another Munich-brewed beer, this one is from a brewery dating back to 1417 and their label proudly proclaims that they follow the "German Law of Purity of 1516," at least after their hundredth birthday. Today, they make a fine Oktoberfest marzen, with a fine amber color and a smooth, textured flavor. It has a nice complexity on the tongue but no aftertaste. A delightful brew!

Oktoberfest Beer by Blue Point Brewing Company--A brewery that claims to be "Long Island's Brewery since 1998" has produced a fairly standard marzen-style beer. The color is more yellow than copper. The flavor is a bit standard. Nothing outstanding, nothing bad about this one. Just your everyday Oktoberfest beer.

The top three are the Hacker-Pschorr, the Paulaner, and the Shiner. I'll be buying some extras of those.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Larriland Farm 2016

We went with our friends to Larriland Farm for some Fall festivities. We've been to the farm several times over the years (here, here, and here), so here's some highlights of new stuff we did and saw.

At the entrance is a big red barn where fresh fruits, vegetables, and other farm produce and products are sold. We enjoyed the bins of various pumpkins and squash. My daughter took a fancy to the apple squash and the goose gourds. We didn't buy any, though.

Apple squash

Goose gourds

We arrived early so we decided to wait for our friends by the entrance. Some of the pumpkins were so big that they made good seats. Unfortunately, the sun was so big that it made the day much warmer than the mid-60s temperature.

Trouble seeing; enjoying a honey stick

The grounds of the farm have all sorts of cutouts that make fun photo ops for the kids, as long as they are tall enough. My son is finally big enough to be a farmer with out a stool!

Fun with cutouts

The farm features a boo barn (a kid-friendly haunted house) and a hay bale maze, both of which were fun but not photographable. We also went on the hayride through the farm, which was fun for all.

Hayriding the day away

Farm fields

One happy rider

Showing off a stamp

View of the lake from the hay cart

We also ate apple fritters and kettle korn (which is disturbing to my son, he always asks why they misspell "korn"!). We went apple picking but the orchards were already thoroughly picked over (we were there on a Sunday afternoon), so we didn't find much. We did buy a carving pumpkin and a toddler pumpkin for the toddler who was napping at home.

Regular and toddler pumpkins

Small apple harvest

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

TV Review: Marvel's Luke Cage (2016)

Marvel's Luke Cage (2016) created by Cheo Hodari Coker based on characters by Archie Goodwin, John Romita Sr., and George Tuska

Luke Cage tries to lay low in Harlem. By day, he works at a local barbershop run by Henry "Pop" Hunter. Pop knows about Luke's powers (super-strength and bulletproof skin) and encourages him to use them for good. "Always forward, never backward" is Pop's mantra. By night, Luke works as a dishwasher at Harlem's Paradise, a club run by shady character Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes. Stokes supports the business with some organized crime on the side, which he also uses to support his cousin Mariah Dillard, the local councilwoman who is trying to revitalize Harlem. Stokes doesn't know about Luke's powers which is best for everybody. The police are interested in taking down Stokes, especially when an illegal gun deal ends badly. Luke can't help but get mixed up in things, even though he constantly claims he doesn't want to be a hero.

Though set in the modern day, the show borrows heavily from the blacksploitation genre. The music and the score are reminiscent of 1970s funk and soul jazz. The story involves political corruption including corruption in the police department. It also centers on Harlem's identity and legacy for the African-American community. The hero is a young black man who's been wrongly convicted of a crime and has, at best, a complicated relationship with the police. Cage has a flashback to the prison days where he got his powers, so there's the prison drama and prison escape genres thrown in too. Marvel has done an amazing job of taking genre conventions and adding superheroes to great effect. With the genre tropes, the story has more grounding and familiarity, making the superhero antics more believable and fun.

The set-up is a little slow. The first two episodes have a lot of character introductions and situation establishment and not much action. The excitement picks up and the details are paid off in a complicated plot throughout the series. I found the show becoming more and more enjoyable. It's not as good as the first series of Daredevil, but it is up there.

Marvel's Luke Cage is only available streaming through Netflix.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Review: Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2 by A. Moore et al.

The Saga of Swamp Thing Book Two written by Alan Moore and Len Wein with art by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Shawn McManus, Rick Veitch, et al.

After Swamp Thing finally lays to rest his relationship with Alec Holland (quite literally, in fact), problems keep cropping up. His best friend Abigail is married and her husband has been in a horrible car accident. More horrible still is the effect the accident has had on him. He's like a different person. And he's attracting all sorts of evil people to himself. The effect is so profound even the Justice League notices from their satellite overlooking the United States, though they do nothing about it (echos of Moore's Watchmen which comes later in his career). Again, it's up to Swamp Thing to save the day from bizarre and unnatural horrors.

After a strong start in the last book, Moore has another great story for the first half of this book. He falters a bit with a cutesy environmental message story. The story is thankfully only one issue long (about 30 pages). The end of the book, promising a new threat in an odd way, is intriguing, as is the deepening of Abigail and Swamp Thing's relationship.

More to follow in book three, I am sure!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Movie Review: The Witch (2015)

The Witch (2015) written and directed by Robert Eggers

William and his family (wife Katherine, teenage daughter Thomasin, a few years younger son Caleb, six-year old twins Mercy and Jonas, and a new-born baby) are kicked out of their 17th century New England Puritan village. The mayor implies that they have gone against the local civic and church laws; William protests that he has only preached the true faith of the gospels. The village has none of it, accusing him of prideful conceit. William is glad to leave. Everyone else in the family seems a bit reluctant.

The family makes a new farm near a sinister woodland. Thomasin takes the baby out near the woods and plays a game of peek-a-boo with him. She opens her eyes one time and the baby is gone! A quick search of the area reveals nothing, though viewers see a woman with the baby who takes the child to her hovel and does unspeakable things.

Meanwhile, the family has settled on the idea that a wolf took the baby. The mother is very distressed. She constantly prays. She also lashes out at Thomasin. While Thomasin is washing clothes at the brook, the twins come and accuse her of being a witch. She plays along in a nasty way, mostly to frighten the twins. Caleb is there and doesn't understand why she says those horrible things. Thomasin has had a hard time adjusting to life in isolation. The situation spirals further out of control from there as lies, misunderstandings, and deceptions wreck havoc with the family.

The movie is tonally very much like The Wicker Man (the one from the 1970s, I mean). It takes paganism very seriously and doesn't soften up anything. William's family goes through a psychological collapse that is made all the more harrowing because of the supernatural forces at work against them. The family's faith is little to no help for them--no divine intervention comes to save them and their focus on their own sinfulness brings about mistrust and violence, not reconciliation and redemption. Maybe the mayor was right after all?

The depiction of 17th century New England is meticulous. The sets and costumes look authentic. The dialogue sounds like the times--lots of archaic words and sentence structure. The speech is still easy to understand since the actors deliver it in a natural way. The performances are uniformly great. The movie is very convincing.

It is also very brutal. The movie is subtitled "A New-England Folktale," not in a Disneyfied sense but like the Grimms Fairy Tales that are a lot bleaker and more violent. This particular tale has a very unhappy ending, making it a tough watch all around. I found the very ending a bit disappointing but I understand what the filmmakers were going for. While I see fine qualities in the film and find it very engaging, I am not sure who I would recommend it to. If you are a fan of the original Wicker Man, this movie will be right for you.

Naturally, the good folks at A Good Story is Hard to Find have the courage to watch this movie and have given their comments here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

21st Annual Farm Heritage Days, Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum Part Two

Continuing our tour of the 21st Annual Farm Heritage Days at the Howard county Living Farm Heritage museum. See yesterpost here.

Next door to the construction site was the milking barn.

Fake cow

Where the people worked milking cows

More of the barn

Milk delivery

My favorite dairy delivery devices

Another shed had a pair of blacksmiths making products and showing off skills.

The Blacksmiths

Hard at work

Heating up the iron

Talking with the blacksmith was enlightening. I noticed that the anvils were chained down to their posts. The smith explained the chains serve two purposes. First, they keep the anvil from shifting around. When struck with a hammer they have a tendency to move, so the anvils need to be stabilized to make work easier. Second, the anvils are noisy when they are struck and the chains absorb some of the vibrations, making it quieter (but not actually quiet). They fashioned a variety of objects for sale and for fun.

Hooks and things for sale

Various tools

They even had a small anvil with lumps of putty and a rubber mallet for kids to practice their smithy skills. My daughter loved working on it (which is why I had a chance to talk to the blacksmith).

Getting a piece to work with

Hammer time!

Another shed hosted an auction but we were not in the market for anything but lunch.


We took the tractor back to the farm museum entrance where we saw a hay baling set up that was going to be used later in the day.

Silly face on the ride

Even sillier

Hay baling equipment

Checking out the hay

Another machine made logs into shingles. That also wasn't used till later, which probably saved us from buying any shingles.

Shingle shaver

In a nearby field, the Maryland High School Rodeo Association had demonstrations. We missed the horse-riding performances but did see some fancy lasso work.

 Rodeo sign!

Roping a practice bull

More roping action

We bought another snack and heard a bit of the Southwest Bluegrass Band playing at an outdoor stage.

Southwest Bluegrass

The visit to the museum was informative and fun. We'll drag the rest of the family out next year!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

21st Annual Farm Heritage Days, Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum Part One

The Howard County Living Farm Heritage Museum had a heritage days festival in September. My daughter and I went and saw a lot of cool stuff. The museum has a lot of old farm equipment on display, though more than usual was out for the festival.

Hasn't moved in a while

An older tractor

A thresher

Blue and red waggon

Farmall tractor

Allis Chalmers tractor

A buggy

Classic cars were also on display. My daughter wasn't very interested, so we didn't get very close or see much detail.

Classic car show

Old Ford?

By the main building, model railroaders displayed their trains. We looked more closely at these and had some very interesting conversations. Their engines are steam powered, using tiny pieces of coal or kerosene for heat. The engines are built just like their full-size counterparts, even being inspected by real inspectors. The track was one big oval. They had a hard time setting up the track so that it was flat all the way around on the grass.

Authentic steam from the engines

Passenger car

A tractor took us further back into the museum where we saw the one room school and no electricity house, which have appeared on the blog before.

Hay ride with potato chips

A barn had a bunch of farm equipment on display. My daughter loved the doll house!

Variety of farm equipment


Old time equipment




Mail truck!

A great big doll house

Open in the back

Details of the staircase

Full-sized construction equipment showed off their ability to lift, move, and otherwise deal with dirt.

Construction equipment not actually constructing anything

More in the next post!