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21 October 2018 @ 02:18 pm
I'm not sure that I've ever actually done that before, unless some crackfic in days of yore (i.e. Usenet). It was inspired by turning to check a couple of things in the novels having watched Fellowship and TTT* (RotK to follow shortly). I am definitely re-reading the books this winter.

The Air of Númenor by [personal profile] nineveh_uk
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R.Tolkien
Rating: G, CNTW
Chapters: 1
Summary: A missing scene in Minas Tirith. After Faramir tells Gandalf and Denethor of Frodo's path, Gandalf and Faramir discuss Boromir's fall and Faramir's choice.

That summary is dreadful, I admit.

*You know what? I don't like the choice that was made for Faramir. But within the decisions that were made overall for the films I'd argue that it works on those narrative terms. And anyway I don't care because I love The Two Towers for what it got right**, the Rohirrim at Helm's Deep, and above all for including Where is the horse and the rider? because I am a sucker for a doomed last stand, and for ubi sunt poetry.

**Even despite the random warg attack.

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Found while googling for random Good Omens-related things: Crowley Young Chartered Accountants. Address, 10 Berkeley Street.

As a general comment from one who has been whiling away some of her sick leave this week having a look at GO fanfic for the first time in ages, I have to admit that I am not entirely looking forward to the increase in fandom activity that next year's TV series will doubtless bring... On the one hand, increased volume and discussion is great. On the other, people might be Wrong on the Internet! Though I had to admit that as someone who enjoys a bit of good old-fashioned smarm for this one, Sheen and Tennant's recent Comic Con interview is very encouraging: It makes it so much easier as an actor to go ‘my objective in this scene is to not show you how much I love you,' and just gaze longingly at you all the time'. (3 mins in)

TL:DR I like the trailer. For me, the biggest problems hitherto with Pratchett adaptations has been that they've tended to be stodgy, and this looks like they might have avoided that.

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17 October 2018 @ 09:28 pm
Freshers' Flu arrived on schedule, having the consideration to first manifest as a little tiredness on my journey home from a family weekend in North Berwick (pouring rain on Saturday meant the Museum of Flight rather than the beach, but it was fun and we got to go on a Concorde*), and then full blast at bedtime on Sunday. I have spent the past three days off work. Today I discovered sufficient concentration to rewatch The Fellowship of the Ring** for the first time in years.***

It really is very good indeed.

I was massively disappointed with The Hobbit, a bloated theme park ride rather than a film, even though I enjoyed the additional material from Unfinished Tales, the Hunt for the Ring always being a favourite of mine. But part of that disappointment stems from how well Jackson had started off. Fellowship is tremendous. The landscape of Middle Earth is utterly convincing, the acting good, the pace strong, it works to bring to the screen a book that might have seemed to defy filming. I found myself thinking over and again that I wanted to see it on a big screen again, to marvel at the mines of Moria towering above me. I love the sense of scale it brings to Middle Earth as a place vast in both space and time. It is also a long since I heard the radio play (which must also be remedied), allowing me to hear the film dialogue without it constantly running over it in my head****. Quibbles I have (let's not 'hunt some orc') but I can live with them.

I was struck on this viewing how much Ian McKellen brings weight to it in the first third, when it is otherwise Hobbits and backstory. It's a really terrific performance of Gandalf as character(person) as well as wizard and noble mentor. We take him seriously, and thus we take the rest of it seriously. And on reflection, Viggo Mortensen is fine, but I wish that Sean Bean had been Aragorn! Mostly for Sean Bean, though I can't deny the memes would have been good, too.

I see the pervy Hobbit fancier Very Secret Diaries are still on LJ. I may need to re-read.

*There is something sad about the demise of Concorde. They're the ultimate symbol of excess, and I felt that the exhibition missed a trick when talking about their end by not mentioning the rise of the internet and increased options for not-in-person meetings if you were both rich and lacking time.

**Extended edition. That's quite a lot of concentration even when you know the plot backwards in high heels.

*** Gosh, VHS is really terrible, isn't it? Possibly the resolution of the video was designed for a smaller TV screen, but mine isn't huge. I'm going to have to watch something else to see if it is as bad.

****An annoying side-effect of a good memory, really quite distracting in my recent Pride and Prejudice re-read.

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11 October 2018 @ 08:16 am
The annual Welsh National Opera sojourn in Oxford moves about a bit. From last year's end of November, which I didn't make it to due to the Joy of Labyrinthitis, it moved forward to this week. To which I can't make it to Saturday's War and Peace due to being in Scotland, but did get myself a ticket last night to La Traviata, which I haven't seen in years.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening - I was going to say 'enjoyable rather than exhillerating', which sounds like I'm damning with faint praise, which wouldn't be fair. It's just that the last thing I was Siegfried and I think that Wagner might have spoiled me. It was a good production (David McVicar) of a classic piece, which I had never actually seen done lavishly before. Well-sung, well-acted*, and a fab matador dance, I would have liked a little more sharpness of dramatic tone at times, whereas it went for the more purely romantic drama. Also, I like my Germonts terribly anguished from Act 2, not just the end. What made the evening for me was Act 3, which really concentrated the emotional and dramatic weight to portray a character in the process of dying, not just waiting to sing her last line.

Though to be honest one of the best moments was my realisation towards the end of Act 2 that I was at the theatre and still fully awake despite having come straight to the theatre from work. I had deliberately held off buying my ticket until the preceding day in order to only go if I didn't have freshers' flu, and the no-congestion evening was great. It is so much easier to appreciate the performance when you're not rubbing your eyes every five minutes.

Have Angela Gheorghiu and Leo Nucci as broadcast on TV in my formative years.

*The internet tells me that tenor Kang Wang is about 30 and he looked significantly younger, which is a great help to characterization by having Alfredo be a callow youth overwhelmed by emotion and not dealing with it well, rather than suddenly being unpleasant in the second half of act 2.

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I am rubbish at writing reviews.

The answer to the poll was (4) Svetlana is also a KGB agent. Svetlana was not a KGB agent, though I'd like to see a production of the London version in which she is, because I think it could work in interesting ways, and at the end we would see her and Molokov shake hands before going off-stage.

As for the other options:

(1) One Night in Bangkok is not sung in Bangkok, but is a karaoke number. Sung by Freddie in a Merano bar. This was the moment when I knew that this was definitely not the Chess I was expecting, and it turned out that the whole action was set over four days in Merano. Apparently one Australian production set the entire thing in Bangkok

(2) Molokov has a solo about his manpain. Replacing, due to the significantly changed plot, The Soviet Machine. The title means Forget me if you can even though quite how much is true is also a question, and if it is he actually singing a song about how sad he is for having his wife sent to Siberia?

(3) Anatoly/the Russian deliberately throws the final chess match. Though the internet tells me this also happened in the Broadway version (one of the ones with Walter. Why is Walter necessary in any version, I ask myself. As far as I can see he only adds even more, and unhelpful, complexity to the plot). From the position of having seen them, I think I like the London and Swedish versions as the two extremes - in London, in which he will give in on everything else, but not on that, and in the Swedish one, when it symbolises how completely he is defeated by Soviet Oppression(TM) that despite his agony he has no choice. Doing it for a bargain for Florence's maybe-alive-Dad just feels sentimental.

(5) There is a comic play-within-a-play version of Romeo and Juliet, during which a swozzle can be heard. This opened the second act, as a "touristy thing happening in Merano, with irony". The swozzle wielder was a minstrel/fool of some sort. This does not appear to be in the original Swedish production, so might be an invention. It was bizarre (understatement), but entertaining, and served to set up a public embarrassing confrontation with Freddie.

I have sort of written a review, or at least I will have when I add that it was excellently staged, well acted, and had terrific singers. The women were much better than in London, where Florence was too much of a belter and not always quite on pitch, and Alexandra Burke had a good voice that was not well-matched with the rest of the production. They also made the Arbiter female, which worked well. The singer playing the Russian undoubtedly had the most difficult job of needing to be not Tommy Körberg*, which he achieved by being a very difficult physical type as well as direction choices. TL:DR should you be in Helsinki, I recommend it; if you don't know the musical at all, have a listen. As ever, much of it is on YouTube.

*Whereas Michael Ball was free to channel Tommy Körberg, and did.

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23 September 2018 @ 04:17 pm
[personal profile] antisoppist and I spent Friday evening watching* Chess på svenska - the Swedish version of Chess first performed in 2002 and which we knew to make some alterations to the songs and running order. I knew it was going to be different to the ENO production I saw in May. I didn't know that it was going to be THAT different... It was great, and there will be a proper review in due course, but in the meantime, a poll:

*In my case almost entirely through opera glasses, which I had remembered to take while leaving my actual glasses on the hotel table. Actually, my eyes are not so bad that I can't see what's happening on the stage without them, as you'd expect given that I got to the theatre without them, but I always wear them for cinema and theatre to enjoy the detail fully and I want to be able to see people's facial expressions properly!

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16 September 2018 @ 08:41 am
I finally got round to watching Star Trek: Beyond on Friday evening, having sufficiently unimpressed with its astronomically boring predecessor that I felt no interest in watching any new Star Trek ever again. Say what you like about the original series, but it generally didn't present Spock's personal growth in terms of enthusiastic punching people to ridiculous "Pow!" sounds. Having heard that Beyond was actually a bit more like normal Star Trek than this, I decided I would give it a go, and indeed found it an enjoyable space romp that had finally grasped the concept of a bit of character development, i.e. not making that heroes actively unpleasant.

Nonetheless, some idiocy remains, and I'm not just talking about miniskirts without flame-retardant leggings. I'm not sure whether the decision to name a starship USS Franklin reflected the rather tedious inability to remember that the Federation is not actually meant to be the United States Empire in space, or someone's idea of dramatic irony. However I feel that if personally were in charge of naming a new starship destined to voyage into the unknown to seek out new worlds and new civilizations I would prefer to name it after a successful explorer: the USS Amundsen.

On the other hand, it might have been worse...


- Commander, the result of the public vote to name the new Starfleet vessel is about to be announced!

- USS Shippy McShipface.

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To be fair, this study was on rhinovirus and respiratory viruses rather than intestinal bugs, and people don't generally blow their nose on a toilet lid. But I am a bit suspicious that if the study had been of intestinal bugs the toilets might still have won, because if there is one overarching message it is that stuff that gets regularly cleaned because people worry it is dirty, is cleaner than stuff no-one thinks to clean.

The University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare (available on open access here) have done a study on "Deposition of respiratory virus pathogens on frequently touched surfaces at airport". I.e. they swabbed a load of surfaces at airports and looked at which ones had cold and flu germs on them. Toilet lids, flushes, and interior door locks scored zero. So did lift buttons, check-in screens, and escalator buttons.

The winners? The plastic dog in the children's playground, and luggage trays at the security area, of which rhinovirus, adenovirus, influenza A, and human corona OC43 were each found on 50% of trays sampled.*

The reason for the investigation related to the possibility of airports spreading pandemic flu. Personally, I'm going to be using a LOT of handgel at security from now on. Just to make this study extra special, the samples were taken at Helsinki airport, where [personal profile] antisoppist and I will be next week. I'd better make sure I have plans not to come back to work afterwards - I suspected that being ill immediately after 5 out of my last 5 years September holidays was not sheer coincidence!

In other fun flying news, British pilot licenses will become invalid and have to be reissued after a no-deal Brexit.

Former head of flight operations Captain Mike Vivian [at the CAA] believes a deal will be ultimately reached but says the skills shortage at the CAA is concerning.

He told Sky News: "The CAA has to ramp up the staff that it previously had to discharge these tasks before they were given over to EASA - and that might take some time.

"As of 29 March next year the European Aviation rules and certification and all the rest that go with it cease overnight.

"I don't believe that any responsible body, least of all our government or the CAA, would let it run until that point. We should have clarity I would have thought by the end of this year."

Responsible body??? That just guarantees that if the current government is in charge of it, we're grounded.

*Don't pay by card in the airport pharmacy, either. But that was a smaller sample.

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08 September 2018 @ 08:43 am
Things I learned from YouTube over breakfast: the first Swedish performance of ABBA's Dancing Queen was at a gala at the Swedish Royal Opera, the night before the King's wedding. It is magnificently bizarre, a bewigged and stockinged choir and audience behind them, Anni-Frid and Agnetha in giant costume dresses, Benny and Björn in tights, and everyone is clearly having an amazing time during it.

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07 September 2018 @ 07:57 am
Having not felt up to much earlier in the week, I took myself to the pictures yesterday evening, as BlacKkKlansman was on at 5:30pm, the cinema is about 5 minutes away from my office, and it would give me a feeling of having achieved something with the evening without actually needing to put any effort in. Plus I had been interested in seeing it since reading a Guardian (or Observer) article on it earlier in the summer, and I've been rubbish at getting to the cinema this year.

Short version of the plot: a US police force's first black policeman, Ron Stallworth, (John David Washington*) goes undercover to investigate the local Ku Klux Klan, soon having regular phonecalls with David Duke. Since he obviously can't attend the meetings himself, his 'character' is played by a fellow cop, the white, Jewish Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Meanwhile Ron's budding romance with local black student union president, Patrice (Laura Harrier) is made somewhat awkward by her disdain for the pigs and devotion to more radical politics.

I thought it was a very good film, thoroughly deserving of its strong reviews**. The pace is a bit stately to begin with, but it gets into its stride soon enough. The script is good, the acting very good, and its very engaging, though perhaps more rewarding as an audience experience if you're watching it in (parts of) the US rather than 20 or so people in north Oxford who are worried about laughing too much. In some ways we know very little about the characters' individual rather than political motivations - we get almost no indication as to why Ron originally wanted to take the difficult action of joining the police - while at the same time the film is very good at exploring the different ways that their actions intersect with their identity, from deeply conscious political activist Patrice, via Ron's mix of the personal and professional, through to Zimmerman, "I never thought of myself as Jewish, now I'm denying it." The KKK characters are also well-depicted - often stupid, consistently vile, and sometimes comic, yes, but entirely plausible.

Have the trailer.

*Yes, Denzel Washington's son. I was going to say that I feel old now, but I've looked up his age and feel better. Apparently his father was older than I realised in Much Ado About Nothing.

**Though not the one in Al Jazeera, which considers it "reactionary" and "myopic provincialism" to make a film about racist terrorism and police violence against African-Americans and Jews in a culture that has an ongoing terrible record with police violence against African Americans and a resurgent neo-Nazi/far right terrorist movement.

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