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I’ve started a blog over at BoardGameGeek: Changing Geek. The first post is about my gaming on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (USA).

In other news, I’m coming out of a reading slump with the help of James Islington‘s The Will of the Many. That link is to There are enough links to Amazon and its empire.

Black Mirror Season 6

Season 6 included only one good Black Mirror episode. It included another good episode, but that wasn’t really Black Mirror (BM). There were only five episodes, but 2/5 is still not an impressive success rate.

The episode that checked both boxes for me was “Beyond the Sea”, the third episode. It’s the one in which Aaron Paul plays an astronaut, and a robotic replica of that astronaut made so that he can inhabit it while off-duty in space. Then he agrees that the astronaut in space with him can take a turn using the replica… It was BM: clever new tech allowed people to mess people up.

The other good (for me) episode was “Loch Henry”, the second episode. It was notBM because it didn’t include new and clever tech, although there were messed up people.

The first episode, “Joan is Awful”, was certainly BM. Joan’s life is used as the basis for a TV drama. There are some promising signs: Joan is played by Salma Hayek; the show is on Streamberry, the Netflix of the BMverse. But this is one of three season 6 episodes for which the script was, if not awful, then certainly not good either.

The fourth and fifth episodes, “Mazey Day” and “Demon 79”, were neither good nor BM. Each featured the supernatural rather than technology. They may be a sign of a pivot to a supernatural focus and a show called Red Mirror.

I am not among those who think that BM lost it when it moved to Netflix. But I hope that this is the last season.

What about you?

The Banshees of Inisherin

Before identifying what this film is, it helps to identify what it isn’t. The Banshees of Inisherin is not a lecture on male friendship. Neither is it an allegory of the Irish Civil War. Many accounts of the film treat it as one or the other.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a story of friendship and community, with each of those words taking one of the darker of its meanings. The friendship is between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), and its explicit termination by Colm. The community is the (fictional) island of Inisherin, off the west coast of Ireland, during the Irish Civil War.

The trailer doesn’t do the film justice, but here it is:

Banshees is a play turned into a movie. Martin McDonagh made his name as a playwright, wrote the first two plays in a trilogy, and had a title for the third: The Banshees of Inisherin. He then worked in film, writing and directing the wonderful In Bruges, in which Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are perfect together. They are just as good together in Banshees, but Banshees is not a sequel: it’s a reunion of McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson to tell a different story.

So why make Banshees for the screen rather than for the stage? I can think of three reasons. First, the film shows us the island, with its harsh natural beauty divided by stone walls. Second, it allows animals to be part of the ensemble cast. Banshees is an ensemble piece (whatever Oscar categories might say), with captivating performances from Farrell, Gleeson, several other humans, and several animals, including a donkey and a dog. Third, there’s more money to be made from screen than from stage; this is less convincing to me than either of the first two.

If I watch Banshees as a play, with an interval, I go into the break convinced that it is the best thing I’ve ever seen. In particular, the dialogue is great, and unbelievably well acted. The first half ends with Pádraic and his sister leaving the pub after a dramatic confrontation with Colm.

The second half didn’t work as well for me. Many movies (I don’t see as many plays as I used to) have second-half action because the movie (or play) is meant to get more exciting., rather than because the action grows naturally out of the early scenes. Banshees falls into this trap: I can’t explain without spoilers.

That said, Banshees is a very good movie, and play for the big screen. I recommend it highly. My preference for the first half shouldn’t overshadow my admiration for the film: the dialogue, the acting, the setting,…

If you allow yourself to watch it as a story, rather than as a lesson on masculinity or on Irishness, I think you’ll enjoy it too. But over to you, if you’ve seen it: what did you think?

Oscar Nominations 2023

I love movies, but rarely go to the movies these days. I detest much about the Oscars: “I used to be disgusted. And now I try to be amused”, to quote Elvis Costello writing about something else. So why post in reaction to the nominations for the 2023 Oscars?

It’s late January 2023, a good time to reflect on the films of 2022. Many other people, be they critics or civilians, are already in the conversation: here’s an example from my favorite newspaper.

Everything Everywhere All At Once leads nominations. It is also my favorite among the 2022 films I’ve seen, so perhaps I should be less dismissive of the awards. I loved “Michelle Yeoh as an unsuspecting launderette owner who battles evil by connecting with different versions of herself in parallel universes”. I’ve yet to see her main rival for the award: Cate Blanchett in Tar.

The Banshees of Inisherin was also much-nominated and deserving. Martin McDonagh wrote a play, then turned it into a film. The first half would send a theatre audience in to the interval stunned by its greatness: dialogue, acting by humans and other animals,… It ends with a particularly intense scene in a crowded pub.

The second half of Banshees is clumsy, mostly in a “we need to up the stakes as the movie goes on” way. I strongly recommend the film, and enjoyed the second half even as I felt let down after the first. As for Oscars, it made me feel the lack of an ensemble award.

I enjoyed several animated movies in 2022, especially Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which was nominated and may well win, and Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10½, which was not nominated.

Looking forward to the awards and beyond: I should see more movies; I should be less grumpy about awards. How about you?

Camera: Why?

Why buy a camera when smartphone cameras are so good?

The strongest answer is that many cameras are much better than any current or future phone. If you’ve got, say, $1,000 to spend on camera, lenses, and accessories, then you should probably buy a camera.

What if your budget is $300, with a preference for spending less? The answer might be to put that money towards a new cellphone. That wasn’t my answer.

Continue reading “Camera: Why?”

The Coolest, the Most Rock and Roll

Some of us might aspire to be cool, but none of us will ever approach this: Booker T & the MGs playing live, with Creedence Clearwater Revival watching with delight and adoration.

That’s the coolest, or at least my nomination. Please add yours in the comments. But now…

The most rock and roll? Many years ago, I went to a Yo La Tengo show in a small room at a local college. The opening band (TOB) told us about a pre-show conversation that went something like this.

YLT, noticing that TOB did not have the best of microphones: You should use our mikes.

TOB: Thanks, but we’re sick.

YLT: You should use our mikes.

TOB: But we’ll get snot all over your mikes.

YLT: You should use our mikes.

TOB: You’ll probably get whatever horrible thing we have.

YLT: You should use our mikes.

Yes, that is my favorite rock and roll anecdote. It involves snot rather than spit. It involves kindness and consent. Yes, I have led a sheltered life.

Can you do better, or appropriately worse?

Photogenic Home Town

I have the good fortune to live in a lovely and photogenic town: Barrington, Rhode Island. The most photogenic part of town? It may be around where the lovely East Bay Bike Path crosses Washington Road.

A few yards away from the intersection itself is this lovely arrangement of snow plough in front of boat in front of brick wall.

I’ll continue to explore and photograph Barrington, and Rhode Island, and elsewhere. In the meantime, here is an album of photos I took in Barrington and in neighboring Riverside a couple of days ago.

Baguette Recipe

I love fresh baguette. This recipe works well for me. It takes about three hours start to finish. For most of that time the dough is doing its own thing while I do mine.

Anyway, here are the ingredients.

  • 500g white bread flour: I recommend King Arthur flour.
  • 10g salt.
  • 10g instant yeast. I recommend buying it in packs of 500g or so. It keeps well in the fridge in an airtight container. You can buy yeast in little packets, but it’s a lot more expensive that way.
  • 370ml cool water. You may need slightly more or slightly less.
  • Olive oil.

And the steps:

  1. Lightly oil: a 2-3 liter container, square or rectangular; and your kneading surface.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, yeast, and most of the water. Keep adding water until you have a dough that you can knead. Err on the side of wetness.
  3. Knead the dough on the oiled surface.
  4. Tip the dough into the oiled container. Cover with a damp tea towel.
  5. Leave for about an hour.
  6. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  7. Tip the dough onto the (re-)oiled surface. Divide it into four oblong pieces. Gently roll each piece into a bauguette-ish shape with your hands.
  8. Place two baguettes on each lined tray. Put the trays on top of the oven and cover with the tea towel.
  9. Leave for about an hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 F and heat a roasting tray in the bottom.
  10. Lightly dust the baguettes with flour. Using a sharp knife, make three slashes in the top of each baguette.
  11. Fill the roasting tray with hot water to create steam in the oven. Put the baking trays in the oven.
  12. Bake for 25 minutes. I’d actually check them a little earlier. When ready, they should be golden brown on top and sides; on the bottom, they will be darker, and should make a sound when knocked. I take them out at slightly different times, due to unevenness in my dough-dividing and oven.
  13. Cool the baguettes on a wire rack. If anyone tries to steal them, use one of the baguettes to beat them off.

The above is my version of the recipe from Paul Hollywood’s book How to Bake. I intend to donate the book the The Book Nerd, Barrington’s excellent used bookstore. I probably will use this recipe for the rest of my life, but haven’t made much use of the rest of the book, and find Paul Hollywood immensely annoying. For example, his recipe specifies the use of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Unless severe medical problems prevent you, you should knead by hand; people have been doing it for centuries, and it’s very therapeutic.

Enjoy the baking, the aroma, and the bread! Feel free to comment on how it goes for you, on any other aspect of breadmaking, or…

Dog Trainer is Busted

“She’s training you,” said the vet. Imagine that in a speech bubble. Now add a thought bubble above a dog’s head: “Busted!”.

That happened twice during a recent visit I paid with Mochi to Dr. Craig Hopkins at Ferguson Animal Hospital in Providence. Once was when I told Craig that Mochi often insisted on going out in the middle of the night, and usually did some business while we were out. “She’s training you,” he said, adding that a healthy four-year old dog could hold it until morning.

I raised the question of her weight. She’s 57 pounds, up from her previous visit, and up from the 49-50 pounds she stayed at for a while. We agreed that this may be related to her habit of banging her food bowl on the floor when it’s empty, and our habit of putting food in it when she does so. So yes, she’s trained us to do that. On a related note, she would not get on the vet’s scale until bribed with a treat.

So Mochi is a dog trainer: a dog who trains. She’s also a service dog: a dog who likes to be served food. She’s a Portuguese Water Dog, curly rather than flat of hair.

We discussed this at the following day at the family breakfast table, as Mochi was hand-fed pieces of waffle with whipped cream.

Mochi was, as usual, very good at the vet’s. She is used to Ferguson, having been a patient there since before she was born. They were running a little late, but she was well-behaved, helped by three visits from staff: one to tell me that the wait was for a free treatment room, and the other two to tell her how good and cute she was.

We’ll try to make her more good. We don’t think she could be more cute. What do you think?

Cabinet of Curiosities, Second Half

So I found the first four episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s horror anthology uneven, but interesting enough to finish the series. So here we go on to episodes five to eight.

Episodes five and six have much in common: each is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and features paintings. I had trouble with episode five, “Pickman’s Model”. It might as well have been made for laughs: a parody of Lovecraft; and Pickman’s strange accent. I did appreciate Pickman’s art, and its effect on a fellow artist.

Episode six, “Dreams in the Witch House”, worked a little better, but was still one of the weaker episodes in the anthology. The witch house itself was the strongest aspect, and one of the best settings in an anthology full of creepy settings. Perhaps Lovecraft doesn’t work for me (even though I live near Providence, his home) or perhaps he wasn’t well served by the teleplays.

In episode seven, “The Viewing”, a wealthy recluse summons four famous people to view… something; I won’t spoil what it is. Again, the setting is impressive, although even I began to weary of (my favorite color) orange. So far, the second half of the anthology wasn’t as much to my taste as the first.

The eighth and last episode, “The Murmuring”, is about married ornithologists who have lost their daughter. They go to study dunlins on a remote island, where a house is prepared for them to stay in. Yes, the house turns out to be haunted.

This episode differs from the other episodes of the anthology in several ways. It has fewer horror tropes than most. It was, for me, better than most, perhaps the best since the first. It was one of two for which the Guillermo wrote the story (but not the teleplay); the other was the first.

As for the anthology as a whole, the direction, acting, and cinematography were excellent, and consistently so, despite the cast and crew varying between episodes. The writing was, for the most part, not as good. If there is a second season, I’d like more input from Guillermo.

What did you think of Cabinet of Curiosities? Would you watch a second season?