Hercules, Venus And The Polar Bear

“Let’s go to the Art Museum picnic,” she says. “It’ll be fun,” she says. “Free ice cream,” she says.

“It’ll be crowded,” I says.

“Not if we go late in the afternoon,” she says.

Like a fool, I believed her.

I have a dream. A dream that some day I will go to Forest Park and no one will be there. And I will drive around and around for the fun of it, not because I’m forced to by pylons that keep me from going where I want to go. And I will drive at my own chosen speed, not at a crawl. And I won’t cringe every time I meet a car because there isn’t room for two cars on the road because of all the idiots parked on the street. And I will park wherever I want to park, not miles from my destination. And I will wander the zoo and the basin without having to put up with people, people, people.

Yes. I have a dream. I have another dream, that I will win the lottery and become independently wealthy. This dream has a better chance of coming true, even though I don’t play the lottery.

And so it was that last Saturday we drove down to Forest Park for the Saint Louis Art Museum’s annual picnic. We were willing to pay the $5 member fee for parking in the museum lot, but first we had to get to it. The easiest and most direct route had been blocked off. Why? Who knows? Because it would’ve been too convenient, I guess.

We eventually made it to the museum, but I pulled into the free lot across the street just in case. Much to my surprise, there was a young couple leaving who left us with a primo space. Five dollars saved!

bearWe were early for the picnic so we walked down to the zoo. The line to the polar bear enclosure was insane and ran through the penguin house so we walked around it and straight to the back on the polar bear condo. One of the staff was setting out melons and ice and lettuce for him to eat. A few minutes later he came out and we got to watch him eat and wander around for a bit. And we didn’t have to smell any penguins to do so. More success!

The Wife then took the five dollars I’d saved on parking and bought a bag of kettle corn and we checked out the seals and walked through the River’s Edge and it seemed like all the animals were more alive than usual. Nice.

venusBack at the art museum they were offering tours of the new sculpture garden so we signed up and got our free ice cream while waiting. The serving was like a spoonful of ice cream in the world’s smallest cone. I wondered if this was a promotion for “Ant-Man” but it wasn’t. At least we didn’t wait in line.

The sculpture garden is very nice. Lots of trees and pathways and about a dozen statues. Three decent human-looking ones and several abstract, modern-art things. There was a nice Venus with a water element that I liked and another female nude called “The Mountain” that was neat.

hercThe most impressive piece though was “Hercules and the Hydra.” The Hydra shoulda been bigger and more imposing but it was a cool piece anyway.

After that we went back to the front entrance where the line for a free spoonful of ice cream was now a mile long. I would not have been happy to wait through that line for that small a sample. But free is free.

Went back to the car and got the picnic basket and regretted I didn’t bring the one with wheels. Parked it in the grass and enjoyed a nice picnic dinner. Afterwards The Wife and Son decided to go down and walk around the basin. I decided to stay behind and guard the lawn chairs. After making the big circle, Andrew ran up Art Hill back to our spot. I can barely walk up Art Hill. The main reason I didn’t go with them was because I knew I would have to walk back up that hill.

Laura joined us 10 minutes later.

At The Movies: Terminator Genisys

No doubt the folks at Paramount Pictures are hoping that “Terminator Genisys” does for the near-dead “Terminator” franchise what “Jurassic World” did for the also-moribund “Jurassic Park” series.

Good luck with that.

For while Chris Pratt may have brought freshness and new life to the dinosaur movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger just reminds us that we’re all getting old.

But not necessarily obsolete.

“Genisys” takes us back to the beginning — or rather the future — where John Connor has led the human rebellion to victory over the evil computer Skynet that has enslaved and murdered most of the population.
Now those of you who were alive in 1984 and going to the movies will remember that right before Skynet’s defeat, it sent a cyborg killing machine, aka a Terminator, back in time to kill Sarah Connor before she could give birth to John. John sends his right-hand man, Kyle Reese, back in time to stop the robot. Kyle and Sarah have sex, the T-man is defeated, Kyle dies, Sarah has Kyle’s son and names him John. Pretty clever and simple to follow as time travel stories go.

(My apologies to anyone who’s upset that I just spoiled a 30-year-old film. But then, if you haven’t seen “The Terminator” by now, well, I have no pity for you.)

poster terminator genesisIn the new film, something goes horribly wrong. As Kyle (Jai Courtney) is making the time jump, John (Jason Clarke) is attacked by something. Kyle arrives in the past only to find that a different, older T-1000 has shown up and done his job for him. It turns out someone (probably to be revealed in a later installment) sent a Terminator to take care of Sarah (Emilia Clarke) when she was a child because Skynet sent a Terminator to kill little Sarah and..aarghhh…fractured time lines…everything you thought you knew may be true, maybe not…getting headache…WHY MUST TIME TRAVEL GET SO CONFUSING?

Yep. Turns out director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier took a clever yet easy to follow time travel story and made it all complicated and messy the way all sequels do.

Still, it’s not all bad. There are plenty of “Terminator” standards still in play: Exciting action scenes, things blowing up, things getting shot up, explosive car chases, Teminators beating each other to death and not dying, and Arnold’s creepy smile and occasionally amusing one-liners.

Arnold still has that same old robotic charisma. The same can’t be said for the new Kyle and Sarah. Clarke showed some spark but Courtney comes off as a total stiff. J.K. Simmons is brought in as some kind of comic relief but his talents are pretty much wasted here.

On the Terminator scale, this fifth installment comes up far short of the first two but maybe a little better than the previous two. As confusing as it was, it still made more sense than “Terminator: Salvation.”

 

Pa

When I was a boy my dad bought a white plastic rectangular sign with magnets on the back so you could slap it on the side of your pickup truck. It read:

James L. Roy & Sons
Cane Hill, Mo
GW 6000

I didn’t know what GW 6000 meant — still don’t — but I got the rest. Pa was making a declaration. He wasn’t just James Lee Roy, farmer; he was James L. Roy & Sons, businessman. The family farm was the family business — he was the CEO, but he had a couple of vice presidents sharing the bedroom, I mean office, next to his.

Oh sure, he had a couple of daughters, too, but they didn’t count. They were temporary Roys. They would grow up and get married and become Perreys or Busbys or somesuch. Their kids would be Perreys or Busbys or somesuch. No, it was up to the sons to carry on the family business.

I’m pretty sure that the reason my parents had four children is because Pa wasn’t going to stop until he had a backup in case anything happened to Randy.

002 (3)

I’m pretty sure it didn’t take Pa long to realize that I wouldn’t be taking over the family operation. He didn’t let me drive the tractor or the combine or the brush-hog (and I didn’t ask to). Still, he found meaningful ways to keep me in the business — picking up rocks, picking up walnuts, stacking hay in the barn loft where there was no oxygen, shoveling corn in a silo where there was no oxygen. 

Pa was a hard-working man who did not tolerate laziness. I left Cane Hill at the first available moment.

Pa wasn’t crazy about my love of dinosaurs but he didn’t see the harm. He even went out of his way on our one family vacation to drive to a dive that had a giant sloth skeleton and a Protoceratops skull. And he stood in line for a long time one Saturday morning with me and Cindy to see a matinée of “Journey to the Beginning of Time.”

Pa hated — hated — my love of comic books. “You could buy a car with the money you’ve spent on those things” he would say. Again and again. Whenever I needed change for a comic book, I always knew to go to mom.

10494834_1096089980404416_2336450963713632203_nDad was a hunter, a fisherman, a builder, a mechanic, an athlete, a veteran and a good-looking guy. So was his son. His son Randy. Whom he named after himself. How could he have known what was to come?

If Pa was disappointed in me he never said. But then, he was a quiet man.

Dad’s hands were huge. I figured that’s cause he was an adult. But now I’m an adult and my hands aren’t nearly as huge.

When I was a freshman we had more drummers than drums and since Robin Stanton could beat me up, I had to play the bells. This required me to learn how to read notes, so I had to take the bells home and practice. I put them out on the porch on top of the freezer and slowly began pecking out the notes so that I could memorize what bell to hit when.

Pa comes in, looks over at me, doesn’t say a word, walks into the kitchen. “What’s that boy doing?” he says to ma. “Playing the bells,” she says. “Isn’t that a girl’s instrument?” Yes, Pa! Yes, it is! Once again I have been emasculated in your eyes — but this time it wasn’t my fault!

The next year I gave the bells to Cheryl and never looked back.

My senior year Mike Crutcher and I took a day off from school for a “college day” in which we drove to Columbia to visit the campus. Mike drove. Just as I thought it was time to head for home, Mike wanted to go visit an old classmate. They talked and talked and it got darker and darker. As we were driving home Mike thought we were about to run out of gas so he drove out of our way to Bolivar to get gas. The gas station was closed. We somehow made it to my house after midnight.

I go to the door. The door is locked. Now in the country we don’t lock our doors with keys, we use latches. The only way I’m getting in is if someone gets up out of bed. I’m getting ready to go sleep in the barn when a light comes on and Pa slowly comes out and opens the door. Pa wasn’t big on listening to excuses. 

A few years later the boys decide to camp overnight at Buzzard’s Bluff. Mike, John and I take Pa’s pickup out early to set up camp. Night falls and someone has to go back to town to pick up Jay and Aaron and probably Rod. I have no idea where we are so I let Mike take the truck. On the way back a tree jumps out and sideswipes the pickup, denting it along the side.

Mike is being all apologetic. All I can think of to say is, “You know Mike, my dad never really liked you.”

When I went off to college, every Sunday night around 6 p.m. I would call home. This became a burden once mom died because she always carried the conversation. The one trait I did inherit from my father was an inability to engage in small talk. So every weekend ended like this:

“Howdy.”

“How’s it goin’?

“Pretty good. You have a good week.”

“Yep. How’s the weather?”

“Little hot. Had some rain earlier in the week. How about you?”

“Yeah, we got about an inch of rain Tuesday.”

“How’s the cattle?”

“Cattle are good. How’s Laura and Andrew?”

“Good. How’s everybody in Cane Hill?”

“Good.”

“You watching the Rams?”

“No, I’m watching the Chiefs.”

“You’re not missing anything.”

“Well, I don’t know anything else.”

“Well, I don’t either. Thanks for calling.”

“Talk to you later. ‘Bye.”

When mom died it just about killed Pa. He was inconsolable for a long time. Every weekend Cindy would go home to make sure he didn’t kill himself.

One of dad’s best friends was his cousin Robert. Robert and his wife Norma were always hanging out with mom and dad. They played cards, they traveled (but never too far). Robert died some time after mom did. Dad and Norma married some time after that.

If that seems strange to you, keep in mind that the dating pool has always been pretty shallow in Cane Hill, regardless of your age.

For Father’s Day this year Andrew was going to get me a 48-inch Sony LED widescreen television with two HDML outlets. BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE HAS ONE. Why am I the only person I know who’s still watching television on a square, 600-lb TV? It’s going to be great. I’m gonna get it on Saturday and have it wired up and spend all day Sunday watching Marvel movies.

Instead, I spent Father’s Day with my family, burying my dad.

In the end it wasn’t Pa’s sons that became the most important of his children to him. It was his third child, Cindy, who earned that honor. She worked for it, too, although she wouldn’t call it work. Nearly every weekend from the moment he went into the nursing home she was there — holding his hand, talking, feeding him, watching TV with him. And the rare weekends she wasn’t there she would pull sister Teresa from Oklahoma to serve in her stead, complete with instruction manual.

Parents are supposed to outlive their children. That’s the way of things.

Still, sucks for the kids.

On Stage: Richard The Lionheart

So I’m sitting on the couch watching — waitaminnit…let’s just skip the intro this week and go straight to the “and so it was…”

And so it was that we made our way once again to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of George Frideric Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart.” It would be our last show of the season, as we unfortunately had to miss “Emmeline.” Ask Christine if it was any good.

Based on my many years of forced viewings of Shakespeare plays, I had a pretty good idea of what “Richard the Lionheart” would be like: cast of dozens I can’t keep straight, lots of palace intrigue that I can’t keep straight, a love story, brief bits of action, lots of talking I can’t understand, people die.

I already knew it would be long. The program informed me it would run 3 hours, 10 minutes with two intermissions. Sigh. If only I could’ve taken that afternoon nap.

Turns out I was wrong. The opera version of British history winds up being a lot like, well, most opera. It’s all centered around a big love story in which people are madly in love with people they haven’t met. There’s a lot of people pretending to be people they are not. A lot of scheming. A little bit of action. A lot of singing.

richardmain-imageCostanza (Susannah Biller), is betrothed to King Richard (Tim Mead). They are madly in love though they’ve never met. She winds up shipwrecked on the island of Isacio (Brandon Cedel). Richard shows up and wants Costanza. Isacio figures, since the lovers have never met, to palm off his own daughter Pulcheria (Devon Guthrie) on to the king so he can have an in with the royal family. Pulcheria’s betrothed Oronte (Tai Oney) blows up the plan, Richard and Costanza are united, they sing a lovely duet. The end.

Or, that’s how my version ended. One intermission, two-hour run time, everybody in bed at a decent hour. Handel, however, had other plans. The third act begins with Isacio kidnapping Costanza (even though he earlier agreed to let her go with Richard) and Richard declaring war and a lot more singing and a little fighting.

This was an impressive production. The music was lovely, the cast was small and the story easy to follow, everyone sang very well. Special kudos to the set designer, Jean-Marc Puissant, who did a really impressive job creating a variety of large set pieces using flags and what seemed to be drift wood.

Which brings us to our final point of some contention (at least for me): Tim Mead. This man looks like you would think King Richard would look. His voice is incredible. He gave his all in several difficult arias. He can sustain a note like nobody’s business. His singing with Susannah Biller at the end of Act 2 was so beautiful The Wife was teary-eyed when the lights came up.

In short: He’s very good.

But… he’s a countertenor (defined: a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of the female contralto or mezzo-soprano voice types). In other words, he sounds like a girl.

Which is fine, except when I think Richard The Lionheart, King of England, I don’t think falsetto. I think low, manly, bass. It’s hard to take a man seriously who’s singing about vengeance and war and battle when he’s doing so in a high register.

But he is very, very good.

At The Movies: Inside Out

Sadness here. Ronnie’s really not in the mood right now to write a movie review so he asked me to step in.

“Inside Out” is the latest animated feature by Pixar, the studio that gave us “Up.” Remember “Up,” remember the montage at the beginning with the old man and his wife. That was sad. Pixar also gave us “Wall-E.” Remember at the end when everyone thought “Wall-E” was dead..That was sad.

Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! Ronnie put you in charge of our movie review? Why would he do that! Listen, Sadness, thanks for your help but I’d better take over.

MV5BOTgxMDQwMDk0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU5OTg2NDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Joy here! “Inside Out” is a wonderful movie! One of Pixar’s best! It’s clever and inventive and has gorgeous animation and a wonderful voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling! It tells the lovely story of a young girl and all the craziness that goes on inside her brain! It’s the can’t-miss hit of the summer!

Kinda overselling it a little there, aren’t we Joy?

Not at all, Disgust. I can’t get over how much fun this movie is! It’s like the most fun movie ever!

I dunno. I thought it was pretty scary at times. Like when you and Sadness got lost in Riley’s memories and went through all those scary moments trying to get back. And the clown scene! And then Riley thinks about running away from home and…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! What are you trying to do, Fear? Ruin the movie for everybody? Now wrap it up, Joy! We’ve got better things to do.

Thanks, Anger. As I was saying, “Inside Out” is a charming film that’s fun for all ages. Take the family! Go see it with a friend!

I was going to say all that.

I’m sure you were, Sadness. I’m sure you were.

Jurassic World And Why Dinosaurs Should Rule The Earth

Note: Yes, this review is late. But you know why. If you don’t know why, scroll down two posts to ‘Susan Vs. The Velociraptor.’ Since this is running late, and since apparently everyone has already seen it, this review will be more spoiler-filled than usual. You have been warned.

When I was a lad we were told that dinosaurs weren’t very smart. They had brains the size of peas, you see, and the big ones were so dumb they had an extra brain in their rear to control their back legs and tail.

At least, that was the thinking in the ’60s. Paleontologists change their minds frequently, so that may have changed.

Personally, I think we should get up every day and thank that meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs. Because if we had to coexist with them, we would not be long for this world.

I mean, it’s hard to believe that dinosaurs could ever be as stupid as the humans who inhabit “Jurassic World.” But we’ll get to that in a minute.

On the “Jurassic Movies” scale, the current installment is much, much better than the 3rd, much better than the 2nd, and on par with the first. The dinosaurs are spectacular, the humans less so, the story is, well, another variation on the same story Michael Crichton dreamed up and published in 1990.

There’s a formula to this franchise that director Colin Trevorrow follows pretty closely. “Jurassic Park” movies have:

1. A lead male who knows better than everyone else and has the wits to survive and defeat the dinos.

2. The female lead (in 1 and 2) is a fellow scientist and equal to the male. In the current version the female is the career-obsessed park administrator who learns a lesson. The third one had Tia Leoni as a shrill, desperate mother.

3. A kid or kids. Because kids love dinosaurs and the leads always need kids to worry about.

4. Some evil or misguided stooge who wants to exploit the dinosaurs.

5.  About 10 minutes of screen time for the herbivores, who wander in open fields and don’t get to do anything.

6. Raptors, raptors, raptors.

7. A T-Rex who gets to play both hero and villain.

By the third movie, they realized they were in a rut and added:

8. Dinosaur that is bigger and badder than T-Rex to be the main antagonist.

Jurassic_World_posterWhere “Jurassic World” comes out ahead is in the casting of Chris Pratt as the heroic guy who understands dinosaurs. Pratt is considerably more charismatic than Sam Neill. (Jeff Goldblum is just as interesting as Pratt, but “The Lost World” had issues that even Goldblum couldn’t overcome.) Pratt brings a much needed sense of fun to the proceedings.

Bryce Dallas Howard is always entertaining even when given such a tired, cliché role as she is here. The rest of the cast fill their roles adequately.

As to the story, well, it seems that despite the disaster that was Jurassic Park, InGen somehow got the go-ahead to make a dinosaur amusement park. It’s been quite successful, as you’d expect, but people are fickle and want newer, more dangerous dinos. So InGen mixes up some dino genes and creates the  Indominus Rex! I-Rex escapes and wrecks havoc on the island.

“Jurassic World” is a fun, popcorn adventure filled with exciting action scenes that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if the people involved weren’t so stupid. Which brings us to our summary:

Top 6 Reasons Why Humans Are Dumber Than Dinosaurs

6. You can’t ride a motorcycle in thick jungle terrain

5. You can’t run from dinosaurs, run in thick jungle terrain, or run on pavement from Pteranodons while wearing high heels

4. You can’t turn raptors into soldiers. Sure, it would probably be fun and effective to drop a pack of raptors into a terrorist training camp and sit back and watch what happens, but evil military guy in the movie actually thinks you can train wild animals to fight combat style.

3.  Don’t go off the park-approved trail. Especially in a park filled with dinosaurs.

2. If your sister leaves you in charge of her sons, and they’ve just barely escaped being eaten by dinosaurs, take them to a secure  place like the control room. Do not take them out to the thick of the I-Rex hunt and think they’ll be safe in a truck.

1. If you’re standing outdoors in a pedestrian mall and pterodactyls come swooping down from the hills — GET INSIDE. Why are you running down the middle of the street? Do you want to be snatched and eaten by flying dinosaurs? There are open buildings on both sides of you!

The only smart guy is the one in the Dairy Queen commercial, and he’s not in the movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Stage: La Rondine

So I’m sitting on the couch watching Dating Naked (that’s the name of the show – “Dating Naked”- I was not watching a show called “Dating” while naked) when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight?”

“Going to see ‘Jurassic World’?”

“No. You had your chance to see that. We’re going to the opera.”

“But you said I could go this weekend.”

“You can. Tomorrow. Or Sunday. But tonight you have a date with Puccini.”

“You know who’d love to go to the opera with you? Susan.”

“Susan is busy being a published author while you’re sitting on the couch watching — WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU WATCHING???!!!”

And so it was that we made our way once again to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Rondine” a.k.a. “The Swallow.”

It’s a romance in three acts, which means two intermissions. You can imagine how I felt about that. It’s not a long show but imagine how much shorter it would’ve been without two intermissions. Is it a crime to want to get home at a decent hour? Adult-sitters ain’t cheap.

rondinemain-imageCorinne Winters stars a Magda, a young woman who gave up a life with love for a life with money thanks to stuffy old Rambaldo (Matthew Burns). One night after a dinner party (Act 1)  she decides to sneak out and enjoy the Parisian nightlife (Act 2). She hooks  up with Ruggero (Anthony Kalil), the son of one of Rambaldo’s old friends. When Magda is confronted by Rambaldo, she decides to run off with her new love.

Now the first two acts are pretty much the stuff of standard love stories. With the third act things turn more tragic and bittersweet. Magda and Ruggero are still in love but things are getting in the way — like lack of money. Ruggero wants to marry but to do so Magda must come clean about her past.

“La Rondine”  isn’t one of your big, bombastic operas but its decent enough. The music is lovely and Winters has an amazing voice. Kalil complements her nicely. Sydney Mancasola and John McVeigh also entertain as Magda’s maid and the poet Prunier.

La Rodine continues June 18, 20, 24 and 28 at Opera Theatre St. Louis. http://www.opera-stl.org/