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!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

St. Matthews Multicultural Festival 2016

We made it to the very end of the St. Matthews Multi-Cultural Festival in October, 2016. St. Matthews is an Orthodox Christian church in Columbia, Maryland. We had meant to go to the Octberfest night on Friday, which featured German beer and dancing. A conflict came up so we couldn't go. We finally went on Sunday afternoon for an early dinner.

Various vendors had tents up outside, selling items like religious icons, crafts, and food.

Festival tents

The food tents

The food tents were especially nice since they had food from many regions in the Orthodox church. They served Greek, Lebanese, Romanian, Slavic, and Ethiopian foods. We had pierogis (Slavic), lamb kabob (Lebanese), tiropita (Greek), and a hot dog (American) for my daughter.

Kabob with pita and tiropita

I also visited the beer tent for my beverage. Unfortunately by Sunday afternoon all that was left was Leinenkugel's. They had taped over the premium German beers, so I don't know what Oktoberfest goodness I missed.

Beer Garden

We ate in the main tent which had a stage for performances. Throughout the weekend talents of all sorts were on display: Flamenco dancing, Irish dancing, martial arts, ballet, Mexican music, and more. While we were there they had belly dancing, which included audience participation. We were too shy to try it out, but others in the audience were braver.

Dance lesson

The kids were ready to go home, so we did not get the chance to tour the church. Maybe next year! On the way out, we stopped at the dessert booth and bought a multi-dessert pack. Our favorite was the baklava.

Dessert sampler at home

Dessert close up