Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: Lion (2016)

Lion (2016) directed by Garth Davis

Five year old Saroo lives in a small Indian village with his mom, big brother, and sister. He wants to go with his big brother on a job in a neighboring town. The older brother at first resists but gives in. They arrive late at night and the older brother tells the sleepy Saroo to wait on a bench while he checks on the job. Saroo didn't pay enough attention. When he finally wakes up in the middle of the night, he gets on a nearby train to look for his brother. The train (a decommissioned passenger train) departs for a multi-day trip to Calcutta. Saroo is trapped until the end of the line. In Calcutta, he lives as a street child for a while then is sent to an orphanage. He's adopted by parents in Tasmania, who give him love and a good life. As an adult, Saroo eventually realizes he wants to find his lost family and begins a desperate attempt using Google Earth, made more difficult by not telling his adoptive parents (who he assumes will be hurt by his quest) and refusing help from his girlfriend.

The movie is heart-rending and difficult to watch in several parts, especially the treatment of street children in Calcutta. But it is also uplifting in many ways. The cast does a great job communicating so much emotion and so many ideas without a lot of melodramatic speeches or pandering to the audience. It's just an honest and powerful story.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: Rise of the Dungeon Master by D. Kushner et al.

Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D written by David Kushner and illustrated by Koren Shadmi

Dungeons and Dragons is, alongside with The Lord of the Rings, one of the seminal works in the fantasy genre, giving the genre both popularity and eventually respectability in the later half of the twentieth century. The game system's story is told along with the life of Gary Gygax, one of the creators of D&D. He had his gaming start playing war games. He played various games and even started a convention in his home town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He had the idea for a medieval-era game where some of the miniatures represented an individual hero who would take multiple hits to be eliminated. The game slowly morphed as he collaborated with Dave Arneson into a role playing adventure game. Getting the game published was so challenging that they formed their own company, TSR, to release the game. Dungeons and Dragons became an underground hit, eventually hitting the mainstream, though not always for the best reasons. James Egbert's disappearance and eventual suicide was blamed on the game even though Egbert had plenty of emotional issues that were more significant contributors to his choice. The book continues through to the deaths of Arneson (who had become estranged from Gygax and D&D) and Gygax.

The book is told as if the reader is playing a role playing game. Various chapters are seen from the perspectives of Gygax, Arneson, William Dear (the private investigator in the Egbert case), and others. The style is fun and engaging. The art is fairly standard comic book art and works well to tell the story.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Boston Common and Public Garden Part II

A continuation of yesterpost...

We admired more of the garden before discovering the statue of Edward Everett Hale, another Unitarian minister and the grand-nephew of Nathan Hale, colonial spy executed during the American Revolution.

More gardens

Edward Everett Hale

We then crossed Charles Street and headed into Boston Common, which has a lot more open green space. One big event held here was the first Mass offered by Pope Saint John Paul II in America on October 1, 1979.

Entering the Common

Memorial to Papal Mass

We saw a statue in the distance that interested me, but something much closer caught the attention of the children.

Statue on a hill

Carousel nearby!

We took a ride on the carousel which provided a fun break from the sunshine.

My daughter on a zebra

My son looks back

The field is also famous (or at least it has a memorial) for the Oneida Football Club of Boston, the first such club in the United States that went undefeated from 1862 to 1865.

Oneida Football Club memorial

Nearby a relief commemorates the founding of Boston in 1630.

Boston founding!

We finally made it up the hill to discover the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, erected in 1877 featuring prominent Bostonian military men from the American Civil War era.

The base of the statue

The memorial from the back

The memorial from the front

Front base

By the memorial is a sea mine like the ones used in World War I to blockade the North Sea. Such a memorial struck us as odd--it commemorates the mine layers and sweepers from World War I.

Mine Memorial

We stopped for a quick snack at one of the many carts in the park and then discovered Brewer Fountain, a piece from the 1876 Paris Expo.

Brewers Fountain

Sculpture detail

The north end of the Common has the best feature, at least according to my children--the Tadpole Playground!

Entrance to Tadpole Playground

As the name implies, there is plenty of water available for splashing and getting wet. If we had known, we might have dressed more appropriately. The kids had fun anyway.

Inside the playground

Climbing up

Sliding down

Not so far down

Tough rings

Froggy waters!

We had lunch and then headed back to the hotel for a fine siesta.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Boston Common and Public Garden Part I

A very popular spot in Boston is the Boston Common and Public Garden, seventy-two acres of open space in the middle of the city. Boston Common was established in 1634 and served as a pasture, military encampment, and execution site. The British Army camped on the Common while they occupied Boston from 1775-1776. In the 1800s, the area was used for open-air civic gatherings and is still used that way today. The Public Garden is more of a formal garden for strolling and appreciating nature.

We started our visit in the southwest corner, entering the Public Garden near the statue of Reverend William Ellery Channing, an early Unitarian preacher and theologian. A random stranger was kind enough to take a picture of us with our camera (it would be awkward if she used hers!).

Rev. Channing and us

A close up of us

The garden was delightfully shady on a warm summer's day. We took many opportunities to rest and enjoy nature around us.

Brothers relaxing together

A "lagoon" was added in 1861 and provides a fun spot to watch water fowl.

Lagoon with buildings in the distance

A shady duck

View of the lagoon bridge

Further north in the garden is a statue of George Washington. The bronze statue was cast by Thomas Ball and dedicated in 1869.

Only the sun outshines George Washington

More visible back view

The sun now doing its proper job

Exotic plants and flowers abound around Washington.

Purple balls?

A nice hedge of flowers

We crossed the lagoon bridge and went for a ride on the famous Swan Boats. They were inspired by Wagner's opera Lohengrin and have a long history in the garden.

Looking at the Swan Boats

Three levels of enjoyment on the Swan Boat

The boats are powered by young people who have the sort of leg energy and stamina to get the boat around its ten to fifteen minute tour of the lagoon.

Another boat!

The bridge from the water

Under the bridge

Our swan and paddler

An odd lamp on the shore

The lagoon also has a small island where the water fowl like to hide. It's the subject of the children's classic Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, about a family of ducks who live in Boston.

Lagoon island

Ducks and swans mixing?!?

Closer to the island

I liked the way the red and white building is nestled in among the trees in the next photo!

More from the water

Back under the bridge

We continued to explore, discovering an odd-looking fountain of children playing together. The kids thought it was funny. I moved us along as quickly as I could.

Uhm, yeah...not sure who thought this was a good idea

Further up we found the sculptures the memorialize Make Way for Ducklings.

Patting the ducklings

Mama duck in the lead

Ganging up on a little guy

Too cute

Ganging up on the big duck

More of our visit in the next post!