Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Okay, I just had a MAJOR "geek moment"...

Five minutes ago, I watched the newest trailer for the "Avengers" movie.

Then I watched it three more times.

I've been looking forward to this movie ever since it was rumored to be in the works, and have been devouring the little bits of foreshadowing of it in movies like "Iron Man", "Thor", and "Captain America", as well as the initial trailer, which was pretty exciting.

But this one…

Holy moley!

There are so many cool moments in this new trailer, but there is one which almost made me cheer out loud. It comes near the end of the trailer, and it shows Iron Man plummeting from the sky after engaging in savage aerial combat with the forces of the evil Loki. He looks seriously damaged, possibly doomed… but suddenly, out of nowhere, the Incredible Hulk leaps up, catches him and brings him safely back to Earth, using a convenient building facade to slow their descent, the Hulk's mighty emerald fingers tearing a huge rent in the concrete and steel as they fall.


It truly is a great time to be a comic book fan. I can scarcely believe a movie like this is actually being made… that -- barring some unexpected disaster -- I will be sitting in a theater in May of this year watching the whole thing, not just a tantalizing two minute and twenty-one second-long trailer.

It's not quite the same thing, but watching this new "Avengers" trailer evokes the sense of "Geez -- I guess almost anything IS possible! " feeling I had many years ago when the two biggest comic book companies in the US put aside their usual fierce competition and collaborated -- the result being the ground-breaking team-up of DC's Superman and Marvel's Spider-Man.

Hmm… that just made me think… could something THAT crazy ever happen at the movies? You never know… -- PL

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kadir Nelson "We Are the Ship" exhibit and talk at the Eric Carle Museum

I recently attended the opening of the new exhibit "We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball" ,featuring some of the paintings by Kadir Nelson from his children's book of that title, at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. It's an impressive collection of large oil painting illustrations of various baseball players, and a few managers, from the old days. 

Kadir Nelson paints well, and I admire his technique. There is something of the Brothers Hildebrandt in his technique and approach to light and color. And I am always impressed by anyone who is willing to "go bold" in their approach to stylizing certain things which might otherwise seem to require a very painstaking, detailed approach. In Nelson's case, I am thinking specifically of how he renders crowds sitting in bleachers in the distance -- he uses a variety of abstract shapes to suggest, rather than delineate, the way light falls on the brims of hats and curves of shoulders.

I should point our here that i have close to zero interest in baseball, historically significant or not. It simply bores me to tears. So keep that in mind when I say that you can probably get as much out of seeing one wall -- maybe two -- of these very similar paintings as you could seeing the entire gallery full of them. Most are variations on a basic theme -- a Negro League baseball player, usually just standing stiffly somewhere (typically at some position on the field of play, or on the sidelines of same), in bright sunlight, and in a vintage baseball uniform, stares out at the viewer. Nothing wrong with that -- it's just that it quickly becomes somewhat tedious. Maybe a baseball fan would get more out of it, but for me, I'd rather see some more variety in the types of scenes -- maybe more like the illustration Nelson created of the players singing and goofing around on the team bus. I did like the attention to detail Nelson demonstrates in his renderings of the vintage advertisements in the various ballparks.

I will say that seeing the exhibition -- and afterwards listening to the short talk Nelson gave -- has made me interested in learning more about the history of baseball as it relates to the Negro Leagues. It may even have inspired me to actually read one or more books about baseball -- and that is quite a feat.

Not that I have any more interest in baseball per se than when I walked into the gallery of his paintings, but one thing Nelson mentioned -- unfortunately in a slightly muddled way -- during his talk piqued my interest, and that was his statement that before the Negro League was formed, black athletes played baseball alongside white players for major league teams. I'd never known that, and I wish Nelson has been clearer about WHY that changed.

The exhibit will be up until June 10, 2012, and even though I am not a fan of baseball and the paintings -- as technically excellent as they were -- didn't blow me away, I would recommend the show. Maybe, like me, you'll learn something new about something old… and want to learn some more. -- PL

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I try to get in a walk every day, especially during this cold season when bicycling seems but a dream of the warm times. A few days ago, I decided to walk one of my favorite bicycle routes -- or at least most of it -- which took about an hour or so. It was a cold day, but walking that distance definitely got me warmed up.
Of course, the bright sunshine helped, too. And even though we're in that time of the year when most things seem brown or grey and a little grubby, there is still beauty to be found. Maybe not the lush green beauty of the spring and summer, but perhaps the dry golds and browns and pale yellows of old grass.
I spotted these specimens as I was crossing a field which I usually walk around. I was hoping to find something interesting to photograph, and these well-preserved stalks of tall grass which had either been mowed down or flattened by snow months ago satisfied that desire.

I like the brushy look of the heads of these grasses. They might make good material for a wreath. -- PL

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greens among browns and greys

It wasn't quite as balmy today as it was yesterday, so I didn't get out on my bicycle, but I did go for a walk on the bike path at the far eastern end of Amherst. There is a lovely swamp along the path there, and I was hoping that I might see some interesting birds and capture them with the big zoom on my new Leica camera.
However, it seemed that while I was there it was a bird-free zone, so I ended up looking down more than up. And I'm glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed these things -- I think Jeannine calls them "princess pines". They are so darned cute in their tiny selves (about four or five inches high)…

… and not too far away, I noticed a log covered with what I thought was moss, and took a couple of close-up shots.

It wasn't until later, when I was looking at the images on my computer, that I realized this "moss" was not really like other mosses I have seen -- it looks to my eye like some sort of miniature creeping evergreen (if such a thing is possible).
Whatever it is, I like it. It adds a touch of welcome color to the drear hues of this winter. -- PL

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Moon view

While driving home just before sunset a few days ago, I happened to glance over to the east and saw the moon rising, set against some beautiful sky colors. I parked near the local library and got out my new camera, hoping to capture some of the colors in the sky, but not really having a lot of hope -- it's difficult, if not impossible, to really get the same impact in a photo that you get from standing and looking at the sky.

I took several photos, but realized fairly quickly that none of them were going to be what I was hoping for. So I decided to try out my new Leica V-Lux 3's zoom lens, a 24x element, by photographing the moon on the highest zoom setting. I wasn't expecting much from this experiment, either -- most of the time, those come out blurry or washed out by the moons brightness.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised when I looked at the images later, on my computer, and saw that I had gotten one shot with some fascinating details of the moon's landscape. The craters on the lower left-hand side stood out in stark relief, giving me a sense of the moon's physical nature that I don't think I'd ever really felt before.

Here's the image taken with the full 24x zoom, unaltered.

I cropped it, to better see the details…

… and then applied Photoshop's "Auto-Levels" command to give it a bit more "punch". 

I like the more dramatic contrast in values, but I have to say that I think I like the previous, un-Photoshopped version a little bit more. -- PL

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review of "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (the movie)

After seeing this movie with my wife and several friends a few days ago, the temptation to come up with a snarky take on the title for this review -- like maybe "Extremely Shallow and Incredibly Tedious" -- is nearly overwhelming. Unlike my wife and two of the three friends who went with us, I have not read the book from which the movie is adapted, so they may have a much more profound sense of what meaning was supposed to be in this story. I have to say that watching the movie does not inspire me to read the book, outside of a small part of me which wonders if the book would leave me as cold as the movie did.

There was one moment in the entire movie -- one! -- when I felt real emotion coming through the acting and writing, and that happened near the end when the lead character, a kid named Oskar, tells his mother something that his father said about her during his last phone call before he perished in the fall of one of the two World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. The rest of the time, I was bored… and completely unmoved.

Which I did not expect to be, given what I had heard about the film's alleged high-powered emotional content. But I found the whole thing weirdly clinical and with a sort of fantastical edge which worked against the attempt to wring emotion from the story.

Basically, it's a tale told shortly after 9/11, about a boy who finds, in some of his late father's stuff,  a mysterious key in a small envelope with the word "Black" written on it. The boy goes off to try to find the lock it fits into, hoping it will… bring him closure? Help him learn something about his father? Understand loss? It's never really clear… and as we watch the boy go from one person to the next (he's going to every person with the surname "Black" in the five boroughs of New York… because, of course, it could only be someone living in NYC who held the answer to the mystery of the key -- like many stories set in NYC, the rest of the world doesn't really exist), the tedium grows. Eventually he does find out where the key belongs, and the reveal is just as pointless as the rest of the movie. 

The movie is not completely without merit. Tom Hanks does what he can with his relatively meager role as the boy's doomed father, Sandra Bullock emotes pretty well as the boys mother, and Max Von Sydow does a great job in a pivotal role as the boy's mute grandfather.


Sorry… I just gave away one of the movies most painfully obvious "mysteries". But he really is wonderful in this role.

The tragedy of 9/11 is fertile ground for stories, and i am sure as the years go by it will feature in more and more of them, some of them undoubtedly gut-wrenchingly emotional. This is not one of them, in my opinion. Maybe the book packs a bigger punch, I don't know.

But I found myself curiously resentful of this movie's use of 9/11 as a handy emotional button it could press, and it's glaringly obvious assumption that people watching the movie would respond like Pavlov's dogs whenever that button was pressed. 

It got to the point of ludicrousness, this shoving of 9/11 in the viewers' faces, when, late in the movie, there is a scene where the boy confesses his biggest secret-- 


-- that his father called from one of the towers before it collapsed, and the boy  -- out of fear and denial -- didn't pick up the phone. All of this is shown in a flashback, wherein you see the kid, the phone, the answering machine… and as the father's call comes in, the answering machine announces the time and date (or maybe it's the date and then the time, I don't remember). Now… have YOU ever encountered an answering machine which announces the date and time, or time and date, when the call first comes in? I surely haven't. In my experience with a bunch of different answering machines, the time and date (or date and time) is only announced when you play the messages back.

But here, once again, the moviemakers can't resist the urge to bludgeon the viewer over the head with the fact that this happened on 9/11. -- PL