Friday, August 31, 2018

Movie Review: The Seventh Victim (1943)

The Seventh Victim (1943) directed by Mark Robson

Boarding school student Mary (Kim Hunter) is called into the office for trouble. Her tuition hasn't been paid in six months. Her sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) lives in New York City and owns a cosmetics company. But she hasn't paid the tuition or been in contact for the six months. Mary decides to go to New York to look for her sister. She makes a lot of surprising discoveries--her sister sold the company, got married, and was involved in a Greenwich Village cult! The cult turns out to be Satan worshippers, though they are hardly costumed, chanting, raving lunatics. They look very mundane but they are after Jacqueline, the titular seventh victim of their cult.

The story moves in fits and starts with lots of strange events. The terror slowly builds as more information comes in and the awfulness of the situation grows worse and worse. Weirdly, Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) from Cat People is in the movie, so this must be set earlier, though it is hardly a prequel. Conway gives a good performance and his character is smarmy as ever. Brooks also gives a great performance as a world-weary and frightened woman. The movie looks great, with lots of stylish direction and fascinating locations--film noir galore. The understated performances give realism to the story. The theme is rather bleak and pessimistic, all the way to the end. I don't agree with the world view presented here but I appreciate the well-crafted work.


Thursday, August 30, 2018

TV Review: Doctor Who: Dragonfire (1987)

Doctor Who: Dragonfire (1987) written by Ian Briggs and directed by Chris Clough

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) goes to the Iceworld Trading Colony on Svartos for an adventure. He and companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) run into an old acquaintance, Glitz, who is in debt to the base commander Kane (Edward Peel). Glitz has an old map that leads to a fabulous treasure guarded by a dragon in the depths of Svartos. If they can find the treasure, Glitz can repay his debt and leave on his ship. The three enlisted the aid of Ace (Sophie Aldred), a teenage waitress on the colony who is an explosives expert from twentieth century England. Base commander Kane has ulterior motives, though, and is manipulating the situation for nefarious reasons that come clear by the end of the show.

McCoy is fabulous as the Doctor, following the Patrick Troughton model of comic bungling and quirkiness. McCoy delivers for the dramatic moments as well. As the villain, Peel manages to be both low key and highly menacing without going over the top like the typical Doctor Who baddies. Aldred shines as Ace (and becomes the Doctor's companion through the rest of McCoy's run). She's spunky and self-assertive--not at all the shrieking damsel in distress. The "dragon" looks pretty good for a Doctor Who monster from the 1980s.

The sets are a bit cheap looking, especially by today's standards. The visual effects are minimal which works in favor of the show. Occasional bits of the story don't make much sense and create peril for peril's sake rather than for the story's sake. Not cheap-looking is one surprisingly gruesome death, so the show isn't for the under-ten crowd, even if that was the show's primary audience in 1980s Britain.

Overall, this episode is a fun outing for the Doctor--recommended.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Book Review: After the King ed. by Martin H. Greenberg

After the King: Stories in Honor of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Martin H. Greenberg

This anthology is a tribute to J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, books which had a substantial impact on the fantasy genre. Thirty or so authors have contributed stories inspired by Tolkien. As with many such works, the quality of the writing here varies from story to story. Most are good to excellent, making it an enjoyable read.

But let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. A few stories seem out of place in the volume. Gregory Benford's "Down the River Road," is similar to Tolkien only in world-building, otherwise it is a very different sort of fantasy--a boy travels down a river that is literally a time stream, with "timequakes" and storms that alter the speed of time. It's an interesting story but hardly Tolkienesque. "Revolt of the Sugar Plum Fairies" by Mike Resnick desperately and unsuccessfully tries to be comic. But the lesser stories are few in this volume.

My favorite stories were the fantasy horror "Faith" by Poul and Karen Anderson, where a goblin fortress appears near a human village and the human children start disappearing, and "The Fellowship of the Dragon" by Patricia A. McKillip, where a band of female warriors headed into the wilderness to save a bard from the clutches of a dragon. The most Tolkienesque story was "Nine Threads of Gold" by Andre Norton--nine children gather at a Hold where a sorceress binds them together to fight the evil that has overwhelmed the land. The narrative and the writing style mimic well the tone of old epics, the like of which Tolkien translated. The book has a lot of other entertaining stories.

Overall, I recommend this for Tolkien fans.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Visiting Old Town Bowie, Maryland

As a quick summer outing, we went to the old town area of Bowie which features a visitor's center and the Bowie Railroad Museum. Since we had an early start (i.e. before the museum opened at 10) we found a geocache near Ascension Church, which we also visited.

The geocache, Centennial 12, is part of a series of caches in Bowie to celebrate its centennial (2016 was the hundred-year anniversary of the city charter). This cache was our first find in the series. We may go back for more. This particular park is dedicated to veterans and features an artillery piece.

Veterans Memorial Park

Posing by the gun

To the memory of those defending America

Across the street is Ascension Catholic Church. The church is in the typical cruciform style with a spire in the front. We tried to go in the front doors (which were obviously replaced recently).

Ascension Church

The church doors were locked

We saw a priest on the porch of the rectory next to the church and asked if we could make a visit. He came and unlocked a side door (the 9 a.m. daily Mass had just ended). People were still inside straightening up. We had a brief tour and were impressed with the interior.


We lit a candle for a recently deceased relative and then headed off to the railroad museum. We arrived just after ten and discovered the museum was still locked. We went next door to the welcome center which was open. The lady there had a key and she unlocked the railroad museum after we enjoyed the exhibits at the visitor center.

Bowie Welcome Center

A play market at the center

Train stuff on display

A cool stained-glass window

My youngest enjoyed the old-time communication devices on display. I don't know if the corded phone with a dial was more interesting or the even older wall phone with a headset and mouthpiece.

Trying out an old phone

An even older phone

The railroad museum includes a station and tower. After the American Civil War, plans went forward to build a rail line into southern Maryland with a stop here. A town with shops and Victorian homes called Huntington City sprang up in 1872 thanks to developer Ben Plumb. The town was renamed "Bowie" in 1880 to honor Governor Oden Bowie who helped develop the railroad. The station was in service till 1989 when a new stop was opened nearby at Bowie State University.

Train station and tower

Luggage cart outside the station

The kids enjoyed some more old-time technology, including a typewriter, another old phone, and a telegraph device.

Cranking the phone and typing a message

Morse code, anyone?

The museum has a train set and many displays on the history of the railway in Bowie.

Checking out the trains

The railroad used a level system to ensure train traffic would run smoothly, switching trains to different tracks to avoid collisions. One of the level systems is on display.

Levers to maintain traffic flow

Out back of the station is an old caboose, where the train's engineer and staff lived during the rail trips. We had fun exploring it.

A caboose

Living quarters inside

Enjoying the bed

The kitchen

The rails still run right by the museum and we did see several trains go by on their regular schedule. The camera wasn't fast enough to catch any.

Tracks and a bridge

They also preserved the waiting area from the train station though it now faces away from the tracks. It does provide nice shade on a hot day or cover from a downpour.

Waiting area

The tower is now home to the National Railroad Historical Society’s Martin O’Rourke Railroad Research Library. We did not ask to go in there. As much as we love libraries, this one would probably not be interesting to the kids.

Bowie tower

We found another geocache, Huntington Depot, that was located in between the railroad museum and the visitors' center, which isn't a lot of space so it was easy to find.

After all that adventure, we headed home for lunch. It was a fun day out.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Book Review: Spill Zone Vol. 2 by S. Westerfield et al.

Spill Zone Volume 2: The Broken Vow written by Scott Westerfield and illustrated by Alex Puvilland

See my review of Volume 1 here...

After the surprise revelation of another Spill Zone in North Korea, we find out a lone survivor, Jae, has come to the New York Spill Zone to find out more information. Also, the North Korean government has sent a delegation to acquire something from the restricted area so that the "Brilliant Comrade" can use the strange powers that Jae has (flying around is one among many). Our heroine Addison develops powers too when she is exposed to the "something" that she's been paid a million dollars to sneak out of the Zone. She gets her powers just in time, because something has come from the other side of the Spill for its bride--an entity that's pals with Addison's kid sister (the entity inhabits one of her dolls). The entity doesn't want to go back to the other side, so there's bound to be trouble.

The story is weird and interesting, as is the art. The politics are low-key--the North Korean leader never shows up and is more of a MacGuffin than an actual character. I enjoyed the book a lot and was happy to see the story actually come to an end (though they left room for a sequel).


Friday, August 24, 2018

Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) written and directed by Burr Steers based on the novel by Jane Austin adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith

The hit re-write of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice was adapted for the silver screen in 2016. The addition of zombies added a lot of comedy and a different sort of entertainment to the classic novel. How well has the re-write come over to the film?

The base story is still here. The Bennet sisters are looking for marriage in late 1700s England. The family is under the threat of their home going to the nearest male heir, their cousin Collins (Matt Smith), who ineptly tries to woo at least one daughter to keep things in the family. More suitable suitors are found in Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), though they are harder to catch for Jane (Bella Heathcote) and Elizabeth (Lily James) Bennet. Many of the book's details are lost by adapting the story to fit a two-hour movie. The big loss for this movie is the interactions of the Bennet parents, who are a very interesting and comical in the original book.

The film's story adds some new elements amongst the zombie mayhem of the re-write. Wickham is trying to create peace between the zombies and the normal humans using a group of zombies that haven't fully turned and are appeased by pig's brains (much as many vampires have gotten by on pig's blood in other fiction). The new subplot provides extra action if not convincing drama. Wickham's plan seems ridiculous even by zombie movie standards.

The comedy is unfocused. The movie starts with a gross-out joke, suggesting the tone for the rest of the movie. But then there are hardly any more gross-out jokes, which was a relief. The Jane Austin verbal sparring happens with actual sparring, an interesting twist but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. The juxtaposition of the ball-room etiquette with martial arts combat is another mostly missed opportunity for comedy. So the movie is unsatisfying as a comedy.

The drama is good for the Jane Austin parts but the new material is not convincing. The "not fully converted into mindlessness" zombies do not come off well. They eat the pig brains as part of a church service where the brains replace the Eucharist. As a Catholic, I found that in exceptionally bad taste. The acting is okay but never has great moments. Riley as Darcy is particularly flat--he seems more like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights or Rochester from Jane Eyre. He's broody but not at all superior or prideful.

Not recommended, even if you are a fan of either book.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Professional Ball Games August 2018

August has been a busy time for us--we've gone to see a lot of professional sports.

The Washington Post offered ten dollar tickets to a Nationals game. The seats were in the outfield but close to the field, near the visitor's bullpen (they were playing the Cincinnati Reds that day).

View from the discounted seats

We arrived early and saw the field crew watering down the diamond. It was a hot day (mid-90s Fahrenheit) so we went for some snacks in the shade. After wandering around among various concession options, we discovered a popcorn stand selling seven dollar bags of popcorn and ten dollar "bottomless" buckets of popcorn. That's right--free refills! The popcorn was dry and salty, probably a tactic to produce more drink sales. We packed bottles of water for each of us, so we wound up refilling them several times, thanks to the dry (but tasty) popcorn and the previously mentioned 90 degree heat.

Bottomless popcorn and my other drink

I did get a beer, but only one because of the extra-exorbitant DC stadium pricing (sixteen dollars for a draft import!!). We refilled the bucket three times, which meant we ate the equivalent of one bucket each.

The game was enjoyable. The Nationals got an early lead and held on to it. Inbetween one set of innings, the presidential mascots (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt) raced inside the park. The finish line was far from us, so we had to zoom the camera lens to see the final result.

A close presidential race

The Nats won the game which made us happy.

The final inning

Our church's youth group started up their annual fundraising activity--volunteering to hand out programs at Baltimore Ravens' games. We were assigned the first pre-season game, a Thursday night confrontation with the Los Angeles Rams. As usual, I came early because out group checks in two and a half hours before the game starts. The gates open two hours before the game, giving us a half hour for the orientation and getting to our gates. Since I was ten minutes early for the two-and-a-half-hours-early reporting time, I checked out Ravens Walk, a wide sidewalk that runs between The Ravens' stadium and Camden Yards (where the Orioles play). Vendors line the sidewalk giving away freebies and/or selling stuff. Since it was so early, hardly anyone was there and some vendors were still setting up.

Ravens Walk

The Smoking Swine!

Spooky photo op?

I was assigned tp the group at Gate D, right near one of the beer gardens outside the stadium. Happily, none of the customers were trouble when the came in.

Gate D getting ready

After the shift was done (they close the entrance gates at the end of the first quarter), we returned our IDs and got free tickets for the rest of the game. I thought I'd watch to half time. Walking to my seat, I looked for a snack along the way. Plenty of vendors have stations inside the stadium. I have been curious to try Shake Shack ever since I found out Jim Gaffigan didn't make it up on his TV show. The line was way too long, especially after I had been standing to give out programs for the past couple of hours.

Too long a line

I wound up getting a Guinness from a bar that claimed to have Bavarian pretzels. Sadly, the pretzels were sold out. They pointed across the way to a generic snack bar that still had pretzels in stock, along with hot dogs, pop corn, burgers, chicken nuggets, onion rings, etc. The pretzel was more beautiful than tasty.

Beer, program, and free (sort of) ticket


When I got to my seat, I was surprised to see that Row 4 actually meant four rows from the end zone! The view was amazing.

Unzoomed picture from my seat

At half time, a bunch of youth football teams took to the field and had some scrimmages. They were more entertaining than I thought they would be.

Local teams at half time

The seats were so good I decided to stay longer. The game was okay. The Ravens were up by twenty points, so it wasn't too dramatic. I was surprised to see someone bring out an actual raven in the third quarter.

A Raven on the field!

I left halfway through the fourth quarter. As I was walking to the shuttle for employee/volunteer parking, the fireworks went off again, signaling another score by the home team. The game ended in a Ravens victory, 33-7.

Another item I received for volunteering was a Ravens hat. I have one from a previous year, along with a winter knit cap. I plan to volunteer at more games this year, so hopefully I will have hats for everyone in the immediate family!

2018 Ravens cap

I took my son to another Nats game using the tickets I received when I donated blood. By dumb luck or Divine Providence, that night was Hawaiian shirt night, where they were giving out shirts to the first 25,000 attendees. Sadly, we didn't arrive in time to get a shirt but we saw plenty of people wearing theirs.

Hawaiian shirt day at Nats Park

 Our seats were very high up, as in one row from the very top. Even so, our view of the field was good.

View from our seats, unzoomed

View from our seats, the other direction

More view from the back of our seats

Seeing the National Cathedral and the Postal Pavillion in the distance

The game was fun. The Nationals were victorious against the Miami Marlins, 8 to 2. 

Game in progress

I'm giving blood again in September. The website says they are giving away tickets again, but they must be for games next season. I'll find out on the Fifteenth!