Five Cool Things and Earth from Saturn

If I spent most of last week preparing for my daughter’s birthday and the visitation of her grandparents, then this week was filled with the actual party and the actual grandparents. It was several parties, actually. Her birthday fell on Monday so we’d planned to do the partying on Saturday. Sunday was Easter so there was a lot of time spent negotiating with various parental units of her friends finding a time to party between egg-hunts, religious ceremonies, and other various goings-on.

Eventually we settled on a time, a party was had, the friends who could make it came, and the girl had a good time. We did not open any of the family presents at this party because that becomes rather obnoxious to everyone except the family and the birthday girl. Those were opened on Sunday when we had our Easter dinner at my folks’ house. Call that Party #2. Then on Monday, of course, we had to have a small celebration with just us because you can’t not celebrate a girl’s birthday on her actual birthday. Technically, that’s Party #4 as my wife brought cupcakes for my daughter’s entire school class.

In between parties, visiting with my in-laws, working on various house projects (because when the father-in-law comes, there has to be projects) and my regular work hours, I did manage to catch quite a few cool things. And here they are:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Teaser Trailer

I’m so excited to be excited about Star Wars again. The Prequels left such a bad taste in my mouth for so long I never thought I’d enjoy the series again. The Force Awakens reawakened my love for it and now I’m just giddy with every new bit of news. No doubt everyone who cares has seen the teaser as it’s been out a few days, but if you are like me, you don’t mind watching it again, and again (and again). I do have to admit that I’m a little worried it’s going to be a bit of a retread of The Empire Strikes Back. The Force Awakens in many ways was a beat for beat reboot of A New Hope and watching Rey train under Luke Skywalker’s watch feels like Luke’s own training with Yoda back in Empire.

I accepted Force Awakens’ familiar beats as we needed a bit of that to wash out the prequels from our taste buds but if they keep just remaking the old films, it will get old rather quickly. But for now I’m incredibly excited.

Doctor Thorne

What’s Julian Fellowes, the creator and writer of the wildly successful Downton Abbey, to do now that Downton has run its course? Why develop a 19th century novel by Anthony Trollope about the comings and goings of British aristocracy and their sumptuous estates. I think it’s safe to say that Fellowes has found his niche.

Doctor Thorne will feel very familiar to fans of Downton. There are a lot of familiar themes about class and honor, but at only four episodes in total it feels refreshingly short after the overlong Downton with its recycled plot lines. It is lushly shot, marvelously acted, and is filled with the sort of heartwarming humor and heart tugging drama fans of Downton will love.

Robert Hunter on the Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is one of the greatest sites on the entirety of the Internet. It’s is a massive archive of texts, films, shows, software, and audio. One of the more exciting things for me is that it has an enormous collection of unofficially released concert recordings. For an old bootlegger like me, it’s a treasure trove. Wandering around in it the other day, I rediscovered a bunch of shows from Robert Hunter.

Hunter was the main lyricist for the Grateful Dead, which makes him one of the greatest songwriters of all time. He’s good enough that Bob Dylan asked him to write the lyrics to a couple of his songs. That’s as big a compliment as a man can get, I’d say.

Truth be told, Hunter is not a great performer. His voice is scraggly, his guitar picking about average, but hearing him sing those words I’ve heard sung a million times in the voice of their writer is a thing of wonder. His phrasing is often very different than that of Jerry Garcia and it lets you hear the songs fresh and new. He also often tells the most wonderful stories about the songs which is really cool.

Blue Ruin

A revenge flick with a lot more depth than that genre usual manages. Director Jeremy Saulnier has created a thriller that feels like it exists in the real world, with real people. When Dwight (Macon Blair) learns the man convicted of killing his parents is getting out of prison, he sets on a course to enact his revenge. Yet Dwight is not some Liam Neeson killing machine, he is an average man with average skills who has spent the last decade living on the streets overcome with grief.

The fight scenes are clumsy; the violence has very real impact and consequences. It perpetuates more violence. Saulnier proves himself a director with great economy of style filling his film with really interesting images and allows them to tell his story without needing his character to launch into long expositions. His next film was Green Room, which deals with some of the same themes and is also great. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Film Noir Light and Shadow

I am a great fan of film noir but I’ve just scraped the surface of all there is to see in the genre. I’ve tackled most of the classics but am just now making my way through some of the lesser-knowns. This book of essays about noir has given me a long list of other films to see. It’s a bit of an academic read, but it really digs deep into the genre and tries to understand what exactly makes a noir a noir. I wrote a full review.

Guest contributor Gordon S. Miller offers Roger Waters – “Smell the Roses”

With a mix of sounds that bring to mind his past work in Pink Floyd, Waters has released this single from his new album Is This the Life We Really Want? available June 2nd.

Earth from Saturn

Taken from the NASA website:

A new image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows planet Earth as a point of light between the icy rings of Saturn. The spacecraft captured the view on April 12, 2017, at 10:41 p.m. PDT (1:41 a.m. EDT on April 13). Cassini was 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from Earth when the image was taken. Although far too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Mat Brewster

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