Friday, July 10, 2020

Movie Review: Deep Blue Sea (1999)

DEEP BLUE SEA 502304 ORIGINAL VIDEO POSTER - The Movie StoreDeep Blue Sea (1999) directed by Renny Harlin

Doctor Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) runs a research project searching for a cure for Alzheimer's Disease. Her dad spent years suffering from it so she is highly motivated to find a cure. Her work indicates that a protein in shark's brains may reverse the brain damage caused by Alzheimer's. She runs an off-shore research laboratory sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. One of the sharks escapes and attacks a pleasure boat. The lab's shark wrangler (Thomas Jane) manages to save the tourists but the news hits the papers, threatening to tank the value of the company. McAlester makes a desperate appeal to the company head (Samuel Jackson) who agrees to give them 48 hours to get results. They fly to the facility as most of the workers leave for the weekend. A skeleton crew remains behind as a tropical storm threatens.

In order to harvest more protein, the scientists have enlarged the brains of three of the sharks. The people manage to get one shark into the facility and take a sample. The sample works. The sedated shark suddenly bites the arm off one of the characters. The humans dump the shark back into the outdoor tanks and rush the victim to the top of the facility. They call in a medical evacuation. Unfortunately the storm is already hitting the station and the helicopter has trouble, eventually crashing into the facility. The remaining five or six people have to fight off the sharks and try to get out of the lab before it sinks or they get eaten. Just when the sharks start showing unusually intelligent behavior.

This film has a b-movie premise but makes the most out of it. It acknowledges its debt to Jaws--there's even a shark with a Louisiana license plate like in the 1975 classic. The movie both recognizes and plays with standard monster movie tropes. The black cook (LL Cool J) starts off as comic relief, at one point even admitting to himself, "Brothers never make it out of situations like this." He lasts much longer than viewers might expect. The misguided scientist McAlester used some unethical means to make the sharks' brains larger and she claims, "as a side effect, the sharks got smarter." That's not really a side effect which the other characters immediately acknowledge. McAlester is somewhat unlikeable--her big speech about her dad is at the beginning though in most films that would be used to make her sympathetic toward the end, an unexpected twist. She and the shark wrangler seem like their supposed to have some romantic tension but the actors don't have any chemistry together and the script is more interested in exciting shark action. Samuel Jackson's character gives a great speech about how they need to stick together and not turn on each other, which has a breathtaking finish, again playing with the b-movie expectations. The movie has enough familiarity and enough twists to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Highly recommended--this may be the greatest b-movie ever made.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Book Review: Thus Sayeth the Lord by Julie Davis

Thus Sayeth the Lord: A Fresh Take on the Prophets by Julie Davis

Biblical prophets are often thought of as a bunch of shabbily dressed grumpy guys giving bad news to the people of God. "You've been disobedient and God is going to smite you good!" is the expected message. While that is often the case, many times prophets look to a brighter Messianic future, set people back on the path of righteousness, or call down smiting on Israel's enemies. The devil, as they say, is in the details. Unfortunately, just jumping into the prophets is a daunting task, with source material amounting to hundreds of pages in any bible.

In this delightfully accessible book, Julie Davis reviews almost two dozen prophets in easily consumed doses. She gives brief biographies, what the individual prophets are famous for, and how they are applicable to contemporary life. She starts each chapter with passages to read from the Bible, kind of a "highlights reel," which is especially handy for those prophets who don't get their own named books (like Samuel or Miriam). Davis also points out that the best place to hear the messages of the prophets is the Catholic liturgy, where the readings are often paired up with their fulfillment in the Gospels. Best of all, she connects the prophets' messages and life examples to contemporary problems. Everyone has dealt with issues like when to speak up or how to be patient in adverse circumstances. She's honest and heartfelt, even using examples from her own life.

The book reads quickly and makes a handy reference to delve deeper into any particular prophet. Davis recommends other other scriptural overviews and commentaries for further reading.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Book Review: B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know Vol. 3 by M. Mignola et al.

B.P.R.D. The Devil You Know Volume 3: Ragna Rok story by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie, art by Christopher Mitten, Laurence Campbell, and Mike Mignola, and colors by Dave Stewart

The big finale is here as Rasputin returns to bring about the destruction of mankind's Earth. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman stay behind in what's left of New York City to fight him while the remnants of humanity flee to caves. The hope is to preserve humanity in some way. That all depends on Hellboy--will he fulfill his destiny as the world ender or will he fight against Rasputin? The answer is pretty obvious given the long history of Hellboy (and the even longer history of hero stories). Even so, the story leads to a satisfying conclusion for the characters. I was worried with the last issue that the creators had run out of ideas. What they really have done is run to the end.

Highly recommended for Hellboy fans. It won't be nearly as satisfying for casual readers.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Maryland/Delware Atlantic Beaches 2020

Our quick end-of-school vacation took us to the Atlantic beaches of Maryland and Delaware. We rented a condo right on the border, which meant we had easy access to either side of the line.

Our first beach visit was just down the street from where we were staying. We walked over after dinner and enjoyed sticking our feet in the ocean.

The usual barrier to entry

First look at the beach

Getting close to the water

The beaches are on the east coast, so the sun was setting behind us.

Explaining how much more impressive it will look in the morning

The kids naturally wanted to go out in the water as far as they could. That meant that sooner or later pants would get wet.

Testing their limits

My son tried casting without a fishing pole, which doesn't work so well. The flying sand made a brief constellation.

He wanted me to take this picture

The waves weren't too rough but were tricky, hence the wet pants and t-shirt above.

Trying to figure out the wave pattern

The birds on the beach were smart enough to stay up in the dry sand.

Hanging out

We went to Ocean City's boardwalk to enjoy the beach. We went in the morning so as to avoid most of the shops and the crowds.

Walking on the boardwalk

Early morning view of the ocean

Going on the beach

We went in the water and enjoyed a lot of splashing around and some fun surf. Occasional waves were large than our youngest child. He was bowled over a couple of times...and loved it!

Need to dry off? No way!

After lunch we walked from our rental to Delaware (about three blocks) and tried out a Delaware beach.

Spacious path to the beach

More crowded because of the afternoon

The sand was a lot hotter in the afternoon, so we went to the water quickly.

Wave comes crashing in

My daughter wanted to concentrate on making sand castles, so she didn't wear a swimsuit. She did want to get some water to wet down the sand and make a more stable sand castle.

Grabbing some water before another wave

The siren-song of the sea was strong, so she asked if she could go in with her clothes. Since we walked from the rental, I figured she would dry out on the way back, so I said yes.

More rough surf

My youngest helped out with sandcastling, using the bucket and shovel that his teacher gave him as an end-of-school present.

Scooping sand

We tried another classic beach activity--getting buried. My daughter went first.

Legless lady

Getting stepped on?

My eldest went almost whole-hog, leaving just his face visible.

Give that boy some sunglasses

Two stuck kids

Monday, July 6, 2020

Cute Kid Pix June 2020

More pictures and videos that didn't make their own posts...

The elementary school was on distance learning through the end of the academic year. One of the fun events in the last month is Field Day. The students get to do all sorts of outdoor activities like relay races and physical challenges. Here's a bit from our at home field day!

In more school news, my youngest's teacher had a birthday at the end of the year so they had a virtual celebration because of the distance learning protocol.

Wishing her the very best!

Art projects continued unabated, with this home-made hat.

Working on a final project for the year

The Anne Arundel library system was the first of our three local libraries to start curbside pickup of books. We requested a bunch of new stuff and went to the nearby branch to get them. Like other businesses, we had to call or text when we arrived with our card number (library card, not credit card) to have the books delivered. The staff did not put our items in our trunk--they placed them on an outside table. We had to wait till the staff member was six feet away before leaving our car to get our goodies.

The pickup point

Our haul

We had nothing to return on this trip but will soon be swapping out what we picked up for even more new, fresh material. Three months has been a long wait to get new physical library materials.

Digging out old toys led us to playing with our Lincoln Logs!

Happy builders

We joined a CSA again, which means we will be getting weekly fresh vegetable in big quantities. We may have to do a lot of stir-frying over the summer!

Our first CSA delivery

Mass has started again at our church with reduced capacity. Father announced that they had bags, one for each family. The white lunch bags came with some useful items for home devotions.

Best sort of goodies

My youngest has finished his first year of scouting. Usually the bridging ceremony is held indoors with ice cream sundaes for dessert. Our county is still in early phases of getting back to normal after the pandemic shutdown. The pack held an outdoor bridging ceremony that was very nice.

Bridging ceremony

My boy on the bridge

The pack also gave us a sign for the yard which we are proud to display.

Posing with his Lion t-shirt and Tiger neckerchief 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Movie Review: Jaws (1975) Trends International Jaws - One Sheet Wall Poster ...Jaws (1975) directed by Steven Spielberg

In the early summer, some college kids are having a bonfire on the beach of the island town Amity. One girl sneaks of with a boy to go skinny dipping. He's too drunk to make it out into the water, which is lucky for him because she is killed by an unseen nemesis from underwater. The boy reports the incident to local police chief Brody (Roy Scheider). The police find what's left of her body on the shore. The medical examiner declares the cause of death as shark attack, but soon backpedals once the town council gets ahold of the news that Brody plans to close the beaches. The island depends on summer tourism. Brody reluctantly agrees to leave the beaches open, leading to another shark attack. Pandemonium breaks out on Amity Island as shark hunters and ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) come to help out with the problem. Brody eventually hires Quint (Robert Shaw), a local salty old fisherman who promises to bring in the shark. Brody bring Hooper along for the hunt. The three of them have a rough time getting along as they try to get the shark.

This movie is a classic, scaring people away from beaches since its release in 1975. The movie effectively uses the "less is more" strategy, not showing the shark till late in the movie. He's just a menacing presence with an iconic menacing theme from John Williams (who seems to be inspired by Bernard Herrman's Psycho score). The performances are all solid, with Shaw standing out as crusty Quint. He's got the gravelly demeanor and a fantastic speech that ends the "comparing of scars" scene. The movie is tightly crafted and highly enjoyable, still looking good even now, 45 years later.

Highly recommended, though definitely a strong PG rating for language, menace, and gore.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Book Review: Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers by R. Hudlin

Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers written by Reginald Hudlin and illustrated by Denys Cowan

It's World War II and the Nazis need vibranium to make a missile that will land on FDR's lap in Washington, D.C. The first squad sent to Wakanda has not reported back, so Hitler sends an elite squad headed by the Red Skull to get the metal they need. The Allies have some vague intel about the mission but they, like the Nazis, think its a primitive backwater African nation. They send Captain America and the Howling Commandos (headed by Nick Fury) to foil the Nazi plot. Both the Americans and the Germans discover the heads of the first squad impaled on sticks at the Wakandan border. Perhaps a more potent force is inside?

This book does a great job of capturing the World War II era. The art is reminiscent of the times and the dialog is nicely reminiscent of World War II action films. A main character is an African-American soldier who was hand-picked by Nick Fury. The story nods its head to racial issues without becoming about them. It's a fun action yarn with a little extra thrown in. The relationship between Cap and Black Panther grows naturally. By the end, the Wakandas still aren't ready to enter the world stage but the seed has been sown.

Recommended for some fun WWII superhero action.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Book Review: Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

The epic tale of a Scandinavian hero is given new vividness in this verse translation of Beowulf. The outline of the story is familiar. Beowulf travels to relieve the persecuted Danes. Their great hall is attacked every night by Grendel, an abominous monster who kills at will. No Danish hero can vanquish Grendel--Beowulf beats him barehanded! After the defeat,  peace is restored until the night that Grendel's mother comes for vengeance and to take up where her offspring left off. Beowulf does not defeat her in the hall. He pursues her to an underwater lair and has another spectacular victory. Beowulf returns home to become king. He is a great and powerful lord. In his old age, he is called on once again to defeat a monster harrowing the innocent. This time a dragon has attacked his country's coast after someone stole a cup from the dragon's horde. This epic battle proves to be Beowulf's last, dying gloriously in vastly uneven combat.

I happened to read two other translations of Beowulf last year as part of anthologies of medieval texts (see here and here). This translation is by far the easiest to read and the most delightful. Heaney gives the text a very poetic flow. There's enough archaic words and sentence structure to make the verse feel classic, but not so much as to make it choppy or hard to follow. This translation has the Old English text on facing pages if readers want to try it. I occasionally looked over to see how names or epithets looked originally.

The introduction (which I read after reading the text) has the author explaining what inspired him to write it. He was originally commissioned for the work in the 1990s and did some preliminary work. The project waited a long time, which was for the best as Heaney's skill and understanding of the text, both in itself and as it related to his own experience of life and language, grew. The introduction is well worth reading, though I recommended reading the text first.

Scott and Julie at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast discuss this translation in episode 235.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

TV Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Special EditionThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) produced by Alan J. W. Bell

At first, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a radio program broadcast on the BBC in 1978. It became wildly popular, becoming a six-part television program in 1981. Most of the radio cast is back. The story is largely unchanged, starting with the destruction of Arthur Dent's home to make way for a suburban highway bypass. That event is overshadowed by the destruction of the Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Luckily, Arthur's friend Ford Prefect is really an alien and found out about the demolition project. They manage to escape by hitching a ride on the Vogon constructor fleet that destroys Arthur's home world. Thus begins a comic adventure that stretches across space, time, and credulity. The story is episodic and immensely enjoyable. If you have never listened to it, read it (the novels are perhaps the most accessible format), or seen it, you owe it to yourself to have a very enjoyable time.

The TV series makes for an interesting adaptation. The voice actors from the radio do a good job as television actors. Arthur is played by Simon Jones as the quintessential British everyman. In addition to figuring out what's going on, he's looking for a good cup of tea. Different actors were used for Ford Prefect and for Trillian (the other surviving Earthling), whom they meet when they are picked up by Galactic President/Conman Zaphod Beeblebrox. In the radio program, Zaphod is describes as having two heads and three arms. The TV show does its best to recreate that but the special effects are really not up to snuff. The other head looks fake and lolls around a lot. Occasionally they have it talk, though it looks more like a cheap animatronic than an actual head. The third arm is usually tucked in Napoleon-style except for a few scenes where it looks like someone is standing behind the actor and sticking their hand out. Most of the effects are reminiscent of the old Doctor Who visual effects from the 1980s.

On the other hand, the computer graphics (which are actually hand-drawn animations) are fun. The various entries from the Guide are animated in an enjoyable, faux-informational way. They add an element that the radio obviously could not provide. The physical prop Guide looks like a bulky cell phone and the lettering is hardly as big and friendly as one imagines from the radio description. The music and sound effects stand the test of time, though they are basically the same as the radio show.

The show is more for Hitchhiker's completists. I wouldn't recommend starting here. The radio programs or the novels are the best way to get the story.

Recommended for fans of the story.

I watched it on Hoopla, a streaming service my local library has access to. I guess (from the ads tacked on the end of episodes) that it is available on streaming through Britbox. It's also available on Amazon Prime.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Movie Review: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Last Man On Earth

The Last Man on Earth (1964) directed by Sidney Salkow

Doctor Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the titular last man on Earth. A highly contagious airborne plague has wiped out most of humanity all over the globe. Morgan lives alone. He follows a monotonous routine of eating, gathering resources, and killing those who continue living after falling to the plague. When the plague started, rumors also started of the dead coming back to life. Is that the reason the government burned the infected dead rather than bury them? Morgan, as a man of science, scoffed at the idea and thought the burning was the best way to stop spreading the disease. Now that he is alone, he carves wooden stakes and hangs crosses and garlic on his doors. The undead know where he lives and come each night to get him and can't get past the defenses. They are too unintelligent to do more than throw sticks and stones at the house. By day, Morgan roams the city, killing the vampiric people as they rest and hide from the sun.

The story is based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (which was also remade as Omega Man with Charlton Heston and I Am Legend with Will Smith). The story is a classic with a long, slow burn for Morgan and an interesting twist at the end. This telling is fairly faithful to the text. Unfortunately, the version I watched is a very low quality transfer to streaming on Hoopla. The grainy footage and occasional mismatches between the video and the audio are quite distracting. The production didn't look like it had a big budget, either. Even so, a few moments of genuine shock happen. Price is good as always and carries most of the film. He has a voice-over that isn't entirely necessary, though the opening is slow enough that it does need something to help it along.

Slightly recommended--for fans of Vincent Price or the story who can handle a grainy old black and white film. I checked quickly on the Amazon Prime streaming version, which is much better quality for the first five minutes that I skimmed through. Watch there if you can (though probably avoid the colorized version)!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Book Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 22 by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 22 by Hiromu Arakawa

A desperate plan hatched by Alphonse captures Selim Bradley, aka the homunculus Pride. The rest of the heroes are converging on Central City, fighting the conspirators' forces along the way. In the city, they use a disguised ice cream truck to move about. Major General Armstrong reveals her intention to fight the President's men and escapes from inside the president's headquarters. Hopefully she can unite with the others to evade the "Day of Reckoning" that is threatening the whole country. Ed's reunion with his dad isn't so emotional since there's still so much to get done to foil the bad guys.

The story is exciting as ever with fun and intelligent action.


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

More Random Bits of Baltimore

We've been visiting Baltimore a lot since it is so close to home. These pictures include both pre- and post-pandemic times.

First is a picture of the ferry that crosses the Inner Harbor, making commuting more pleasant for people working both sides of the Inner Harbor.

Ferry and tugboat

Walking around the Fells Point neighborhood, we were impressed by a sign that was taken down but still visible!

An old sign

Maybe they can fix it up for the 100th anniversary?

A locally famous sign advertises the chance to eat Bertha's mussels, which is funnier if someone else reads it to you.

Just how hungry are you?

Fells Point is named after the Fells family. Some of the family is still there!

The Fells sold some land!

The family plot

The Fell's grave

The street where the grave is located

We went for a bike ride around the Inner Harbor, which meant we had plenty of good views of the harbor and some famous buildings.

Locally famous sugar plant

Some of the newer waterfront homes had fancy fountains.

Bird fountain

By the downtown is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel. The mechanism is designed to gather floating trash coming into the harbor from the Jones Falls Watershed. Jones Falls is a river that starts just north of the city. The water flows through town before hitting the harbor.

Inner Harbor Water Wheel

Looking upstream from the Water Wheel

The day was lovely and we had some nice views. We only stopped a few times, so I only took a few pictures. Maybe I should get out the old GoPro for our biking adventures.

No boats!

Inner Harbor