Friday, January 21, 2022

Movie Review: Old (2021)

Old (2021) written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Several small families visit a tropical island resort where the staff cater to their every need. Select visitors are invited to a secluded beach on "the other side of the nature preserve" where they can spend a magical day of surf, sun, and happy memories that will last their lifetime. A bickering couple on the verge of separation takes their son and daughter. Another couple brings his mom and their daughter. The third couple don't have children, probably because the wife has seizures. They all look forward to a relaxing day at the resort's exclusive little treasure.

A fourth couple had an early ride to the beach and the guy has been sitting in the shade, waiting for his woman to come back from a swim out into the ocean. Her body drifts back to an inlet where the kids are playing. The kids freak out and the adults have a hard time dealing with the dead body. The beach has no cell coverage and anyone who walks back to the road through the slot canyon path quickly blacks out and is back on the beach. There seems to be no escape. And the three kids are rapidly growing older. One of the kids sees some lights on a faraway ridge but they can't tell if the flashes are just reflections or people watching them. Things get tough from there.

The movie does a good job establishing the characters as people with real-world problem. They've come to the resort to get a break but the stress of the beach forces several of them to the breaking point. They have to deal with the mystery of what's going on as well as their own insecurities and conflicts. Viewers have a hard time figuring out what's going on until the end. The explanation of what is happening and why is less satisfying in this film than in other Shyamalan movies. The purpose is morally dubious (which the film acknowledges) and not entirely credible. Even so, I found the movie diverting. I've watched it once, enjoyed it, and probably won't watch it again.

Mildly recommended.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: Mary: The Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman

Mary: The Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman edited with an introduction and notes by Philip Boyce

John Henry Newman was an Anglican priest who was part of the Oxford Movement, a group of High Church ministers who wanted to reinstate more ancient Christian traditions within the Church of England. Newman studied the Church Fathers (theological writers from the first five centuries A.D.), which was a factor in his conversion to Catholicism in 1845. He had a devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, even before his conversion. The mid-1800s saw the declaration of the Immaculate Conception as dogma of the Catholic Church, so there was plenty of debate inside and outside of the Roman Catholic Church about whether Mary was born without sin, among other issues around Mary. Protestants thought Catholics give too much credit and honor to Mary. Newman entered into such debates in his writings.

This book has two parts. The first part is an extended introduction where Philip Boyce gives a brief biography of Newman and a more in-depth survey of Newman's thoughts on the Blessed Virgin Mary. Boyce discusses the growth from Newman's Anglican period through his Catholic times. Newman does not change his mind or repudiate what he said earlier. He develops deeper devotion to God and thereby to Mary as the Mother of God. He discusses her as the New Eve (a topic popular with the Church Fathers), her motherhood to Jesus, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, and her role interceding with Jesus on our behalf.

The second part of the book contains various excerpts from Newman's writings organized according to categories. First are formal sermons Newman gave throughout his life, many from Marian feasts like the Annunciation on March 25. The second category is theological reflections, taken from sermons, books, and letters. The final category is poems and meditations. The final bit is a set of thirty-one reflections for the month of May. 

Newman is a fine author. His texts are very clear and very literary. He persuades with an ease and certainty born of his scholarship and his spiritual life. The book works both as an introduction to Newman and a collection of spiritual insights on the Blessed Virgin Mary. I found a lot to treasure here.

Highly recommended.

Sample text, on the relationship of the Assumption to the Immaculate Conception:
All the works of God are in beautiful harmony; they are carried on to the end as they begin. Tis the the difficulty which men of the world find in believing miracles at all; they think these break the order and consistency of God's visible word, not knowing that they do but subserve a higher order of things, and introduce a supernatural perfection. But at least, my brethren, when one miracle is wrought, it may be expected to draw others after it for the completion of what is begun. [pp. 160-161]

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Book Review: Shang-Chi Vol. 1 by G. L. Yang et al.

Shang-Chi Volume 1: Brothers & Sisters written by Gene Luen Yang and art by Dike Ruan, Philip Tan, and Sebastian Cheng

Hero Shang-Chi is laying low in New York City, working a job at a Chinese bakery during the Lunar New Year rush. Since he's a Marvel superhero, trouble finds him pretty quickly. His dad (in this version of the story) established a secret group of warriors called the Five Weapons Society. The dad set up five different houses across the world, each with a champion. The House of the Deadly Staff (outside of London) is attacked by Sister Hammer (from the House of the Deadly Hammer, naturally). Sister Hammer kills the Staff Champion who is leader of the Five Weapons Society. She assumes she will now be in charge, but the mystical wheel of the Five Weapons Society indicates the next leader is from the House of the Deadly Hand. The Hand champion is Shang-Chi, who has disavowed the whole Society as his dad's psychotic cult (which it kinda is). Sister Hammer comes to New York to challenge him for rulership, which he is reluctant to get involved in. Even so, he's pulled in to a huge, globe-travelling adventure. He teams up with Brother Sabre and Sister Dagger to put things right.

The story is exciting and moves along at a good pace. Yang skillfully blends the ancient, semi-mythic quality of the houses with very modern sensibilities (Sister Dagger is the quintessential wisecracking, no nonsense teenager). The family issues suggested by the title are also dealt with, giving a little more substance to what could have been a run-of-the-mill comic book story.

Recommended, though don't get hung up about continuity with the recent movie, because there basically is none.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Geocaching December 2021

Another round of geocaching successes and failures!

My son and I tried to find Eagle's Nest in High Ridge Park near our home. The hike down to the Little Patuxent River was fun and challenging. 

Off the paved trail fairly quickly

Climbing down the ridge

A holy tree!

Close to the river

By the time we made it down to the river, the GPS was pointing back uphill, which was up a lot of rocks. We tried a couple of different ways to climb, eventually getting to an area that seemed like a spot for eagles to nest. We looked all over but did not make the find. It was fun to hike there anyway.

On the wrong side of the boulder

On another day, after delivering some Christmas packages, I found a couple of caches in the Clemens Crossing neighborhood of Columbia, Maryland. The first was Clemens Crossing Navidad #2-Oblong Cul-de-sacs. The cache owner has made a series of caches themed on the neighborhood and the fact that they are hosting Christmas for their out-of-country family. The other half of the name refers to the Clemens Crossing cul-de-sacs that have little islands in the middle. This cache is hidden on one such island!

Talk about an exposed hiding spot!

The next cache was Walk to Clemens #1. Unfortunately, #2 had a ton of "did not find" logs, so I did not even try. This one was easy to find once I looked at the logs and discovered others had been misdirected by the coordinates. One of the other cachers left a photo which was a dead giveaway for the location. 

Somewhere in there

Another Navidad cache was nearby, Clemens Crossing Navidad #5-Bridges. Unfortunately, the parks service was washing the bridges right where the cache is! I planned to come back to the neighborhood to find some more of the Navidad caches.

I hope the cache isn't power-washed away!

A couple of trees were recently cut down, the stumps were interesting.

A hollow trunk?

My last cache for this excursion was YES Outlet #3 (Bradley Lane). I parked near some fake dear that fooled me at first glance.

So still!

This cache is part of a series about "No Outlet" signs that are misinformation. Presumably the roads changed since the sign was put up. The cacher suspects an overly-agressive (or maybe overly-shy) home owners association trying to keep traffic out of their neighborhood. It seems like a fun series, I will have to research where #1 and #2 are.

Take the top sign off!

While shopping one day, I finally found Bread Basket 2 which is in the middle of a small, busy parking lot. The cache is named after the restaurant in the picture below.

The hiding spot is in here some where, but not inside the store

I went back to the Clemons Crossing neighborhood with my son and my father-in-law to find more of the Navidad caches. The first one was Clemons Crossing Navidad #1 - Tot Lots. The cache commemorates all the playground in the area. The cache was a little challenging to find. I used the hint since regular searching was not working.

One of many local public playgrounds

The next cache, Clemons Crossing Navidad #7 - Recreation, was another tricky find. The coordinates pointed us toward to a small hole in the wall that looked like it had a plastic container. The hint for the cache mentioned magnetics, which did not fit with our find. With a little more looking, we found the cache in an entirely other location!

A recreation park!

The next navidad, Clemons Crossing Navidad #6 - Schools, is near the Atholton High School. The cache is located in the woods just behind the baseball field. Grandpa found a bunch of foul balls while my son and I found the cache.

Neighborhood trails behind the school

Our next stop was my nemesis from the week before, Clemons Crossing Navidad #5 - Bridges, which is by a patch of bridges along the trail. The bridge was easy to find, the cache not so much. We wound up talking to a couple of muggles about what we were doing. This cache also required checking the hint. We had to get closer to the water to make the find.

One of the many bridges in Clemons Crossing

I ended the year with a total find count of 526 finds. It was a good year of geocaching and maybe I'll make it to 600 in the next year. My ambition is to find five caches a month, which is not enough to make it to 600. Maybe I will be an overachiever? 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Visit to the National Arboretum 2021

We went to the National Arboretum over the Christmas holiday, mistaking it for the Botanical Gardens where they set up an outdoor train display. That's what we really intended to see. Since we were already at the Arboretum, we decided to stay.

Our first stop was the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, a display of plants from China and Japan.

A nice sign

Bonsai trees are typically highly sculpted and some live for hundreds of years. The first one we saw was a Japanese White Pine (pinus parviflora 'Miyajima').

A good size tree

Other plants in the garden are more modest, like this Himalayan Mayapple (podophyllum hexandrum).

Has some cover

A nearby plaque shows various ways to cut a bonsai tree.

Styles, like at the barber shop!

A lot of the trees were much larger than I anticipated based on my pop-culture understanding of bonsai.

Very tall tree

Bigger than bushes

Not pine trees

The most interesting tree was one that dates back to 1625. It was handed down in the family for generations. A disaster almost befell it--the family lived in Hiroshima when the Americans bombed the city during World War II. The garden was protected by a concrete wall, so the plants (and family) survived. The tree is styled as a mushroom cloud in commemoration of the event. The family donated the tree in 1976 as part of the American bicentennial celebration.

Looking good at almost 400 years old

One striking display in the Arboretum is not a plant. Twenty-two columns are set up in the middle of a field. They are from the U. S. Capitol. The columns were installed in 1826 on the building's east central portico. Many presidents were inaugurated in front of them. A 1958 extension of the east wing caused the columns to be removed and replaced. The columns were eventually set up in the Arboretum, in 1990! The location even has a little reflecting pool, which was not full since it could freeze over in the winter months.

Capitol columns

The dry pool

Dedication of the pool

The column tops

Across the field is a base and a capital from one of the columns.

Easier to see close up

Across the driveway is a hill full of azalea bushes. It's amazing to find such a quiet and peaceful spot in the chaos of Washington, D. C.

Azalea bush

Holly with berries!

We should probably come back in nicer weather when the plants are in bloom. The location is not hard to get to and parking is plentiful.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Movie Review: Horse Feathers (1932)

Horse Feathers (1932) directed by Norman McLeod

Groucho Marx stars as Quincy Adams Wagstaff, a man just hired by Huxley College as their president. He has a son (Zeppo Marx) who has been at the college for twelve years and has been dating the "college widow," which seems like an excuse to squeeze in a female character. The college's big problem is their football team, the real source of revenue and prestige (yes, even in the 1930s, it was that bad). Rival Darwin College has beaten them every year for far too long. Wagstaff hires some ringers at a local speakeasy but naturally hires the wrong guys--Chico and Harpo Marx. Chico is a speakeasy employee and Harpo is the local dog catcher. Darwin has hired the real ringers so things don't look so good for Huxley.

The plot is little more than an excuse to string along a bunch of comedy routines, songs, and musical performances. The comedy is more hit than miss. The songs are unremarkable. Chico's piano playing and Harpo's harp performance are impressive and enjoyable. Overall, it's a good time though there's nothing particularly memorable in this film, other than the password is "swordfish."

Mildly recommended.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Book Review: Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery by Alice Milani

Marie Curie: A Life of Discovery by Alice Milani

This graphic novel tells the story of Marie Curie, a Polish scientist who discovered radiation with her French husband Pierre. After a brief look at her life as a housekeeper in Poland the story moves to Paris where she studied physics and mathematics. She also met her husband Pierre. Her "life of discovery" is both personal (she had a tendency to be reclusive, so being married and having children was a discovery for her) and scientific (she discovered radium and polonium). She was the only person to win Nobel Prizes in different sciences and the first woman to win any Nobel Prize. She ran into controversy after the death of her husband when she had an affair with a married man. The book bends over backwards to paint that incident in a positive light.

The art is fantastic. The entire book is in watercolor style that brings out the Frenchness of her life. The look is very distinctive and good at communicating a variety of emotions without having to verbalize them. The book reads very quickly and recommends other books at the end for more detail. The book puts far too much emphasis on the affair, as if getting past that was as big an accomplishment as her scientific discoveries. 

Mildly recommended.