Things I've seen, read, and eaten
So here's what I've been up to:
Seen: Went to see The World's End a couple weeks ago. This is the third of the unconnected trilogy of movies by Edgar Wright starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So this comes after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. It's a pretty sharp British comedy and like it's predecessors is informed by American tastes but doesn't adhere to them. So it's a nice change of pace from what you normally get.
In a nutshell, Gary King (Pegg) was the King of the Roost in high school and on their final night, he and his 4 buddies went out on the town to try the golden mile -- a one-mile pub crawl through 12 different establishments ending at the titular "The World's End". But being teenagers with more bark than bite, they peter out about halfway through.
Now in his 40's Gary decides to get the band back together again for another run at the mile. He manages to dragoon all of his old cronies back to their small hometown and they set off for adventure. But a lot has changed and their hometown has a decidedly sinister new feel to it.
I was surprised at how very, very good the fight scenes in this movie were. The action was exciting but coherent, you could follow what was happening and who was doing what to whom and where people were in relation to one another in any given shot. Although everyone fought with more skill than you would expect, it still felt "real". If you imagine an axis between "bar fight" and "wuxia martial arts films", the movie sits in between leaning towards the former. They were just nice fight scenes.
The rest of the movie was good too. Humor operating on several different levels, most of the characters got some real development time and a few moments of real emotional connection. The film barely passes the Bechdel test, but there's only one major female character and she wisely flees as soon as she can. I can't remember a single POC in the film.
If you are in or near your forties, the movie will sing to your soul. Or at least it did mine.
Also, this weekend I watched Her Master's Voice, a short film available over Netflix streaming. Nina Conti is a British ventriloquist and comedian. Her act is pretty killer. She got into ventriloquism while working with Ken Campbell who she was dating for a time. Nina is thinking of giving up on ventriloquism and then Ken dies. In his will, he gives her all his puppets and asks that she take one of them to Kentucky to be placed in Venthaven, a sort of museum/memorial for ventriloquist dolls and their owners. She's also encouraged to attend the annual Ventriloquism convention taking place in the same area.
Up-front the main problem is that Conti is self-documenting her trip and so she gets to control what you see and hear about. There are a lot of questions about her relationship to Campbell that never get asked or answered and you don't get a full sense of why she's struggling now. Still, it's a very moving and interesting slice-of-life piece made all the more fascinating by the fact that Conti carries on long dialogues with Monkey (the puppet she uses on stage) and the various puppets left to her by Campbell.
One of the issues Conti struggles with is the relevance or meaning of ventriloquism. She was encouraged by Campbell to rescue this art form, but she wonders how to move forward with it. In this film there's a lot of ventriloquism and none of it is Charlie McCarthy in nature.
Anyway, I rather liked it and it's a diverting little film.
Eaten: The other exotic fruit I've been meaning to try is the dragon fruit and I had it twice this past weekend. The dragon fruit is way easier to prepare than the mangosteen was. The edible part of the fruit is white, shot through with tiny, black, edible seeds.
It tasted like....well...nothing really. Kind of a very, very mild kiwi flavor. Supposedly, they're wildly nutritious but given the bold exterior, it's sad how unimpressive the actual fruit is. If you're thinking about serving them, I'd toss them into a fruit salad where their spotted appearance adds contrast, but let other fruit do the flavor work.
Reading: Last week I finished up Helliconia Spring by Brian W. Aldiss. This is the first book in the classic Helliconia series (Sping, Summer, Winter). Aldriss postulates a binary star system where the smaller star and it's solar system orbit the larger one in an orbit that takes some 2500 years to complete. This long orbit results in blistering hot summers and ice-age winters and as a result two groups of sentient beings have evolved to flourish in one season or the other. For the winte, the minotaur-like Phagor rule the glacial planet, but in the summer, humans (or rather, very human-like beings) take their place. This book covers the rise of humans and the initial change of seasons.
The book was a fun read, but I'm not sure I'm in a rush to pick up the following volumes. There are detailed notes at the back where Aldriss explains cosmology and biology and how it all interacts. It makes for fascinating reading and the grand sweep of the book is bracing. I'm not sure why I'm not rushing out to pick up the next volume, but I think I like the ideas it generates in me rather than reading out what Aldiss has in mind.
Still, worth a look if you like your fairly hard sci-fi world-building.