Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017) directed by Patty Jenkins

A young girl named Diana grows up on the island of Themyscira inhabited only by women. But not any ordinary women, they are the Amazons of Greek legend. They've been granted a sanctuary by Zeus and a solemn mission to prevent Ares, the god of war, from corrupting and slaughtering mankind. The island is protected from the outside world by a mystical barrier that keeps it hidden from the sight of men.

Diana is the only child on the whole island and is beloved by all. Diana wants to learn to fight but her mother, the queen, is reluctant. Even so, all Diana sees is women training for battle with spears and swords and arrows and shields. She trains in secret, which becomes quite helpful when a World War I pilot crash lands just off the island. The pilot is Steve Trevor, an American spy who had infiltrated a German base where they were crafting a new nerve gas weapon. His escape from the base was not subtle and a horde of German boats come to the island right behind him. The Germans sail through the mystical barrier and a big battle ensues.

Once the Germans are dispatched, the Amazons find out about the war from Steve, who is definitely a fish out of water in their society. Diana wants to escort Steve back so she can help fight what is clearly Ares's work. Her mother is again reluctant but Diana goes. The world of men is a very different place from the paradise of the Amazons.

The movie then shifts gears as Diana becomes the fish out of water in Steve's world. She doesn't quite fit in to a world where women are secondary, but Diana stands up for herself and her beliefs. She and Steve work together to plan an attack on a German munitions base where the gas is being manufactured. Steve wants to stop the gas; Diana wants to stop Ares.

The movie works well as a popcorn action film with plenty of comedy relief to keep it popcorny rather than pretentious. It does flirt with pretentiousness. Weirdly, it both promotes and undercuts Wonder Woman's mythological origins. She's told the story about how she was formed of clay by her mom then Zeus gave the clay doll life. Her mother eventually undercuts that story. There's no film sequence showing Diana's creation, so it's left ambiguous. Given that other mythological elements turn out to be false, there's little reason to accept the story of her birth. Diana is shown to be naive in her understanding of the world, an idealism that she grows out of by the end of the story. I found that part disappointing.

On the other hand, the action is exciting and fun if a bit over the top at times (the final battle, as in most modern superhero movies, is a bit nonsensical and mostly a CGI light show). The tension between Diana's Themysciran sensibility and the "modern" 1917 sensibility adds some comedy, something sorely lacking in recent DC comic book movies, and inoffensive social commentary. Having the movie set in 1917 also gives it a nice "period drama" feel. Diana is her own woman and her ideals of love and compassion are inspiring even more than her fisticuffs and sword play.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Riverside Press Park Playground, Cambridge, Massachuesetts

Since it is near our Boston hotel, we visited the Riverside Press Park in Cambridge (which is just across the Charles River) which features a fun playground and a mysterious sculpture.

Our kids adored the playground, which had a little something for everyone.

Riverside Press Park Playground

My toddler enjoyed racing back and forth across a wobbly bridge. He demanded a parental audience, even when mom and dad were trying to make sure the other kids were okay and getting enough attention.

Ready to run

Crossing quickly

Kid Flash audition!

My older son and daughter delighted in having challenging courses laid out for them to follow. The playground has plenty of slides and climbers to make a spontaneous course interesting and varied.

The daughter climbs up only to slide down

Slide with a fun panel to make shapes and art

Our toddler has never experienced Q*bert until this playground. He didn't get the jumping but he also didn't have to face a bouncing snake either.

Toddler takes the Q*bert challenge

The older kids enjoyed the zip line which was popular with other children as well.

My daughter swings to glory

In the background of the above and below pictures is another fun feature of the park--a water sprayer. We visited after dinner on a semi-cool evening, so the water wasn't as refreshing as it would be at an earlier time or on a hotter day.

The toddler loves me swinging him on a toddler swing, probably because I swing him much higher than mommy does. 

On the swing

Not quite maximum height

Just outside the playground is a statue, or maybe it's a sculpture, that was intriguing and inscrutable to our kids (and, honestly, to us parents too). We looked at it from many angles and couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation of what it represents. The light-colored objects are stone or granite; the dark-colored objects are metal. We eventually found a dedication sign that shed no light on the work.

Investigating art

Checking a different angle

The stress caused by the inexplicable

Is this the way to honor his memory?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

One of the best experiences we had while in Boston was visiting the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. Naturally, the museum is at the water though the original location has subsequently been filled in. We were maybe two blocks away from the actual historical site of the Tea Party.

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

One of the ships

Out front is the statue of one of the organizers of the Tea Party, Samuel Adams. Adams belonged to the group who called themselves The Sons of Liberty and were advocating for colonial rights and against British taxes. My children loved posing with his statue.

Another Son of Liberty

They had daughters of liberty too, didn't they?

We arrived a little early and so walked through the gift shop to Abigail's Tea Shop, where they serve a variety of refreshments.

Paul Revere in the gift shop

Abigail's Tea Room

Toddler by tea samples (after eating a snack)

Since it was 9:30 a.m., we decided to have a little snack before our 10 a.m. experience started. In addition to cookies, I ordered the "bottomless" tea cup that let customers sample the different types of tea that were thrown overboard back in 1773.

A tea dispenser

Samples of Singlo and Hyfon

Bohea tea

Congou and Souchong

I had only tried Souchong tea before, a smoky black tea that I really like. The others were okay, though the Congou caught my tongue with its flavor and my imagination with one of its alternate spellings--Kung Fu tea!

Cuppa and cookie

The shop also has vintage board games on the tables to entertain guests.

Shut the Box and Draughts

Time came for us to start our experience. Our first stop was a facsimile of the Old South Meeting House, where, on December 16, 1773, Samuel Adams held a meeting with the people of Boston to discuss the situation. Three ships (the Dartmouth, the Eleanor, and the Beaver) had arrived with tea that would be taxed by the British government as soon as it had been offloaded. And the cargo needed to be offloaded in twenty days. The deadline for the first ship was December 17. The Sons of Liberty had arranged a guard to keep the tea on the ship and so far were successful. One last appeal was made to the British governor to allow the ships to return to England with the tea still on board. Governor Hutchinson refused. The meeting continued into the evening but several men left, put on very basic disguises, and headed to the wharf. Interestingly, Adams along with other leaders in the Sons of Liberty stayed behind in the meeting house with the crowd so they would have an air-tight alibi for what would happen next.

We were given roles and feathers. The feathers were not for writing but to be used as a disguise--as if Native Americans were dumping the tea. Historically, the disguises were meant to protect peoples identities, not to put the blame on the natives.

My son with an invisible black feather

My daughter's stylish white feather

My feather--pointing out the speaker in the ceiling?

My role in the event

After a thorough explanation and a rousing speech from Sam Adams (or an actor portraying him, I should say), we headed out to the ships to commit either an act of treason or of patriotism. On board the ship, another fellow told us about what happened that night.

On board a recreation of one of the ships

After a brief discussion of the plan and a quick oath not to reveal what we did, we had the chance to throw some tea crates overboard.

My daughter pushes one off

My son throws one

We did a quick tour of the ship's interior, seeing where the cargo was stored. The tea was in large boxes of varying sizes. The cargo also had other items.

A patriot ready to take out the tea

Barrels of goods

The front of the ship has the captain's desk. The captain was sympathetic to the colonists' cause and agreed to let the men throw the tea overboard as long as no one was injured and no other cargo was harmed. Some of the sailors even helped out, though they may have been keeping the colonists from getting to excited just as much as they were participating in the act.

Captain's desk

Ship's galley

Back on deck, we had a chance to explore a bit before moving on. Our guide, a lady who had a brother among the tea raiders, gave us some pointers.

On deck with our guide

Trying to steer

The call to leave the ship

The actual event took about three hours. The tea had to be pulled up from the hold before it could be tossed over. As a demonstration, our guide showed the benefits of having multiple pulleys for raising the crates out of the hold (the old block-and-tackle routine). My son was picked out of the crowd to demonstrate the ease of using an extra pulley.

Two set-ups

Trying the first (more difficult) crate

She's impressed with his second effort

She also gave us a description of other item on board, including lemons, china from which to serve the tea (stored in those barrels), and coal.

Display of goods

Our tour then went indoors and we saw some impressive displays (including talking paintings) about the aftermath of the Tea Party and the Battle of Concord and Lexington. They also have on display a surviving tea chest that a boy found washed up on the shore. Pictures weren't allowed in the museum, so you'll have to go see for yourself.

The experience was about an hour and a half long, so we decided to have lunch at Abigail's Tea Room. I had the New England Clam Chowder and a half sandwich, which was yummy.


The whole thing was very impressive and well executed. Even though the cost is a bit pricey, it was well worth it.

The other identities

Our feathers, which are marked for the occasion

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Book Review: Irredeemable Premier Ed. Vol. 3 by M. Waid et al.

Irredeemable Premier Edition Volume 3 written by Mark Waid, illustrated by Peter Krause and Diego Barreto, colors by Andrew Dalhouse and Nolan Woodard, and letters by Ed Dukeshire

The Plutonian's mad rampage of destruction has stopped now that his old partner, Samsara, is back from the dead. He doesn't realize that Modeus, his greatest foe, has secretly had himself transferred into Samsara's corpse as a way to protect himself from Plutonian's wrath. What better hiding spot than in the faithful sidekick? Unfortunately, Modeus can't maintain the facade forever.

Meanwhile, Plutonian's ex-teammates are still looking for a way to take him down. One member, Cary, has combined his powers with those of his dead twin-brother and now is as powerful as the Plutonian. He's reimagined himself as Survivor. When the team discovers a plan to remove the Plutonian that actually works, Survivor takes on the role of world restorer. In his monomania to be the new greatest hero, he makes an awful lot of promises, like allowing super-powered criminals to help out in fixing the Earth, thus gaining a pardon for previous crimes. The planet may have traded one crazy ex-superhero for another.

The story takes many wild turns and twists, some enjoyable, some smart, some disturbing, some disappointing. I still appreciate it enough to finish the story with volume 4 but I find it less and less recommendable.