Archive for November 2011

Tiger Mountain   8 comments

For the last nine months I have been studying Tai Chi with David Block at Phoenix College.  I am not a good student.  I have neither grace nor balance nor dedication, but I do what I can.  The things I know with my head don’t translate that well into the things I know with my body, but I try, and I am learning some things little by little.  I still can’t flow all the way through the first set without making mistakes or putting my foot down in the wrong place, or lifting my shoulders when I should be lowering them or falling over backwards when I should be rising and kicking forward, but I have moments when I almost feel I understand parts of what I am doing.  The teacher is very patient, and he has to be with a student as poor at this as I am.  I think I will always be a better writer than a martial artist, but I do what I can.  Lately I have been inspired by my exercises to reconstruct this poem–I do not know if some Tai Chi master has already written the Tiger Mountain poem or not.  Perhaps for them it is simply a series of phrases used for teaching their disciples.  For me, it is more of a poem, and it has to have a story.  Story is very important in my life.  I cannot just Be.  I must Do.  I must Create–even if what I make is only a sequence of words in my mind.  Still that is who I am and what I do.  Out of Tai Chi, this poem has arisen.  I put it out there in the world because it needs to get out of my mind and into reality.

Ceifu talks about old friends and new friends and how we students are all babies in Tai Chi, taking baby steps. Thus my image of myself as a baby tiger. Strange for an old man like myself to be a baby, but then, I want to be young, so I can dream myself as a tiger cub.

 

Tiger Mountain

          Reconstructed by Ken St. Andre

The sun rose over the mountain.

The moon sank into the sea.

Clouds sailed through the sky.

(The Goddess was there.)

From clouds She wove

Heaven and Earth.

Then the Tiger (attacked)

(and) Brought the Horse

To its knees.

He saw the Twin Peaks

And Crossed the stream

Where herons lifted their wings and Pushed

Until peace came at last.

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 (Meditate, Relax, Do it again until it flows.)

 

So many forms to learn, and when we do, still we know almost nothing.

 
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If you do Tai Chi, or have met a tiger on a mountain, feel free to leave a comment here.

 

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Posted November 16, 2011 by atroll in Tai Chi, Tiger Mountain, Uncategorized

Steampunk Musketeers   Leave a comment

The key to the whole movie is the suspension of disbelief.  Let’s not let mere facts get in the way of a good story.  Leonardo Da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519.  We know he was trying to design flying machines in 1485 at the age of 33.  His designs were actually more like helicopters or ornithopters than giant blimps carrying the body of a galleon that could be used as an aerial warcraft.  Leonardo’s design looked something like this:

It doesn't look much like anything that could actually fly.

 
By the time our highly imaginative movie writers got done with the idea, Da Vinci’s flyer looked more like this: 
 
 
The 3 Musketeeers was a romantic novel written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844.  He set his tale of derring-do during the reign of Louis XIII when Cardinal Armand de Richelieu was his chief minister.  Internal evidence would have D’Artagnan joining the Musketeers in about 1636 or 1637–the heyday of Richelieu’s power.  By 1642 Richelieu was dead–probably from complications caused by gonorrhea which he contracted when he was a teenager.  Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are portrayed in the movie as the King’s primary secret agents, sent off to  do Mission Impossible things in places like Venice where Da Vinci had enjoyed prestige and power unlike anything he really had a century and a half earlier.  There is no mention in the movie that the King’s Musketeers was a large military force maintained as a unit by the King himself, although the Cardinal’s Guard was certainly extensive.  There were just the three of them.  Let’s also ignore the fact that the first hot air balloon took a man into the sky on November 21, 1783, about 150 years after the actual Musketeers lived and fought, and it was only a small thing scarcely able to lift a single man a couple hundred feet into the air–hardly a Barsoomian flyer, or a flying war galleon. 
 
Our first glimpse of Athos shows him emerging from the canals of Venice like a modern day scuba diver–his outfit being half a cross between a suited diver with air pumped into hs armored form, and a scuba-diver who carries his own supply of air.  Pretty cool technology for 1635 when Cousteau wouldn’t get around to inventing real scuba gear until 1942.  Clearly, this movie is set in an alternate time-line where technology has run wild.  I don’t have any trouble with that.  Do you?
 
But what really counts is STORY.  And the story is still basically Dumas’ tale of a young man, D’Artagnan, who becomes the protege of three middle-aged but still extremely competent soldiers named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.  (Those are the short forms of their names–the French of the time period had extremely long and complicated names.  For example, Richelieu, his Scarlet Eminence, was really named  Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duc de Richelieu.  D’Artagnan was really Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan.  By all means, let us stick to the short forms of their names.)  Young Charles and his friends become involved in a plot to go to England and return with some of Queen Anne’s jewels.  This they accomplish against great odds, thus foiling the Cardinal’s plot to expose Anne as an adultress and get her executed.  The details may have changed a bit from Dumas’ novel in 1844 to Anderson’s movie in 2011, but the essentials are the same.  Richelieu, Rochefort, and Milady de Winter are still the villains.  Aramis, Athos, Porthos, D’Artagnan, Planchet and Constance are still the heroes.  What could be more edifying than a story about friends–all for one and one for all–triumphing over great odds and saving the life and honor of a beautiful woman?
 
 

While Richelieu is the mastermind behind the plots, the one person who makes the movie work, is superspy Countess de Winter.  She is by far the best looking, most athletic, and all around smartest person in the film.  An adventuress, you get the feeling that she does the (evil) things she does simply for the thrill and challenge of doing them.  She is magnificent, and not the heartless witch you would expect.  She saves D’Artagnan from death at Rochefort’s hands early in the film.  She gives them the safe passage note that she got from the Cardinal knowing full well that they would need it in order to survive.  She is really everyone’s agent, and thoroughly unbelievable–a super heroine, or perhaps a super villainess in a class with Wonder Woman.

But what brings the movie-goers in are the flying ships.  There have been at least 30 different versions of the Three Musketeers made as films since 1905.  And the charm of them all has been headlong action and the tale of friendship triumphant.  These two aspects of the story came through in this modern special-effects extravaganza.  I hear it was even better in 3D.  I saw the 2D version–really can’t afford 3D.  Sure wish I was rich enough to see all these movies in all their modern technological glory.  oh well . . .

The battle of the two airships is almost the climax of the film.  It is certainly the piece-de-resistance of the epic.  The movie is worth its admission price for that magnificently plotted sky duel alone.

However, I went to the movie because I wanted to see the sword fighting.  I have always loved sword fighting, and I did some fencing when I was young.  I was never any good, but I do know what it feels like to thrust with epee or saber, to swing a claymore, to guard oneself with a broadsword.  If a movie features swordplay, I will happily go see it.  I don’t care if the plot is ridiculous, or the acting corny.  Give me two or more people hacking and slashing at each other with bladed weapons and I’m happy.  D’Artagnan’s final duel on the rooftops of Paris with Rochefort was magnificent–perhaps the best piece of sword choreography I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen all the best of them, from Robin Hood vs. the Sherrif of Nottingham to Wesley fighting Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride to the light-saber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.  (The fight with the Cardinal’s Guards when D met A, A, and P wasn’t too shoddy either.)  I’d happily pay $7 just for the sword fights.

In my humble opinion, this was the best sword fight ever. I'd like to see it again, perhaps in slow motion.

 
I have read that general audiences rated the Three Musketeers a B.  They weren’t bothered by the steampunk aspects–those of us who recognized what was going on, and watched it as a retro-alternate history sci-fi romance loved that part–and they totally grooved on the action sequences.  The costumes were great.  The special effects were spectacular.  The sword fights were amazing.  Planchet was funny.  The actors were beautiful–all in that glittery clean-cut way that actors are beautiful these days.  Movie critics on the whole were not very kind to the Three Musketeers.  Maybe they weren’t paid off, or told to write good reviews of it.  Maybe they have too much trouble suspending their disbelief.  In my book the Three Musketeers was one of the two best action sci-fi-fantasy movies of the summer–the other was Conan the Barbarian. 
 
Fooey on you snooty critics!  How can you not appreciate beautiful women, undying friendship, clever plotting, fantastic special effects, derring-do, and incredible swordplay?  It’s not realism.  It’s not history!  It’s the 3 Musketeers done as a science-fiction steampunk romance, and as such, it was a blast.  Like riding a roller coaster, you check your brain at the door and just enjoy the ride.  I’m giving the Three Musketeers 4 stars and telling the movie critics that they missed the point.
 
What was your reaction to the Three Musketeers?  Go ahead, leave a comment.  My second will get to you in due time.
 
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Trollhalla–the Board Game   2 comments

About 9 or 10 years ago–it’s hard to remember that far back–I decided to scrap my old Tunnels and Trolls web page and start something new–an online club for all T & T fans.  It didn’t take much thinking to come up with the name TROLLHALLA–a combination of the word Troll with the word Valhalla.  And that is what the place would be–a sort of Valhalla for T & T players–a place to get together with friends, both for fun, and also to promote T & T.

An internet search showed that the name Trollhalla had been used once before at least–for a guest cottage in a tourist resort in Norway.  Not much conflict of interest there.  So, I used the name and for roughly 9 years Trollhalla was mine.

Then Alf Seegert, who had done a  Bridge Troll board game earlier, decided to send his trolls plundering on northern seas, and came up with the name Trollhalla for his new board game. I have Google search words like Trollhalla for me every day, and when I heard about it, I wrote him a pained letter complaining.  He and Z-Man were doing a game that swiped the name of my gaming club.  It’s not a direct conflict, but it’s certainly a lot closer than the guest house connection. Too late!  The game and the boxes for it were already in production.  He couldn’t change the name.

Alf and I made a deal.  He gave me a copy of the game, and he joined Trollhalla as a member (haven’t seen much of him in 2011 though), and he explained the confusion between the names very nicely in a few places around the web.  Ugh!  I’m not real happy with the way that worked out–I kinda feel that Trollhalla is my name, but I didn’t trademark it or anything, and ideas should be free, and he certainly uses the word in a different sense than I do.

Anyway, it’s an amusing board game, complicated enough that it takes some real study, or two or more playings to fully understand it–simple enough that you can stagger through a game and have fun even if you do get a few rules mechanics wrong on the first try.  The trolls in the game are indistinguishable from 10th century vikings–yo ho, yo ho, a viking’s life for me!  Sail from island to island, grab as much loot as you can, try to frustrate the efforts of other players.  An hour later you’re done. Somebody won.  It was probably close.  You had a few laughs along the way.

Trollhalla the board game is fun and funny–at least I enjoyed it when I played it.  Seegert is an accomplished game designer, and board gamers should look for his work for some lighthearted entertainment.

Ironically enough, for a game about ocean-going trolls, it doesn’t stand up to water very well.  The first time I tried to play it, I accidentally knocked over a glass of water, and pretty much ruined half the paper components of my game.  Arrrrgh!  I can still play Trollhalla, but it is certainly the worse for wear.

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If  you have played Trollhalla the board game, or are a member of Trollhalla the gaming society, go ahead an leave some comments here.

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Avengers Prime   2 comments

Thor, Iron Man, Steve Rogers--no longer the best of friends

I read a lot of comics.  Because of the availability of graphic novels at the public library, I read far more than I could ever afford to buy.  Let me tell you, comics fans, the public library is your friend when it comes to comics.  Whether you like American superheroes, Japanese manga, European sophistry, or the Independents, the Library is your best friend when it comes to getting an entertainment fix without breaking the bank.  Of course, you could always just stand around the comics shop and browse through stuff on the rack, but really, who has time for that?  And, it is hardly fair to your friendly local comics dealer.

I hardly ever buy Marvel, not because I don’t like Marvel comics–for the most part Marvel publishes high quality good stuff.  It’s just that my finances are strained to the breaking point already in keeping up with the books inspired by Robert E . Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, and a few other notable purveyors of swords and sorcery, sword-and-planet, or jungle/lost worlds adventures.  Conan, Kull, Tarzan, John Carter, Elric–these are the titles I must buy as they appear.  Throw in the occasional Justice League or Green Lantern or Ka-Zar, and my finances are overstretched.

But, just as I love the Justice League, so do I also love the Avengers.  And, last week I read the best Avengers tale ever.  Here is a brief teaser for it:

They were friends, brothers and teammates through all of Marvel’s greatest adventures, but recent events turned them into the bitterest of enemies. In the wake of the siege of Asgard, Thor, Iron Man and Steve Rogers are brought together on the same side once more – but these great heroes can’t truly trust each other yet. They better start soon, because something only the Big Three can handle is tearing their world apart. This all-new, grand and dangerous adventure – uniting comics legend Alan Davis with Avengers scribe Brian Bendis for the first time – will catapult our heroes into the explosive Heroic Age! Collecting AVENGERS PRIME #1-5.

I’m going to sum up the story very quickly.  The old Asgard is gone–I don’t know why–I’d better go catch up on Thor’s adventures at wikipedia.org.  Thor has been rebuilding the Realm Not-So-Eternal in the boondocks of Oklahoma.  Norman Osborn goes nuts and attacks it with his coalition of supervillains disguised as superheroes and government goons.  The Avengers and other heroic types gather to defend it.  That all takes place in other comics.  Somehow, Thor, Iron Man, and Steve Rogers (not Captain America at the moment because Bucky Barnes–whose survival story is at least as strange as Cap’s–is wearing the wings and toting the shield) get transported to one of the other nine worlds–the world of elves, giants, trolls, and dragons.  And none of them like Thor, or his friends–a fact that both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are a little slow to appreciate.  Thus they meet with hostility wherever they go.  Throw the ever-beguiling Enchantress and the Death Goddess incarnate, Hela, Queen of Hell, into the mix and our boys have women trouble.  Big trouble!

Green seems to be the color of evil in the Marvel universe.

I’m not going to go into the plot, the struggles, the heroics of the big three.  They are heroes.  You know they will prevail and make things right by the end of the book.  Apparently, it was a 5 issue mini-series, but I like it better all collected into one graphic novel.  How they do it makes for one of Bendis’s best stories ever.

Because, while most comics make me smile, sometimes even laugh, this one made me cry–or almost.   I was so choked up at the end of it that it took me 10 minutes of walking to get my emotions back under control.  You see, Bendis wrote a story of triumph, but it was shot through with sadness.  A giant helps Tony Stark in his moment of need, and for that good deed, the giant is immolated by the dragon Fafnir.  I identify with that giant who personifies the saying, “No good deed goes unpunished.”  A beautiful Elf healer girl falls in love with Captain America.  Without her help they would not have made it to the endgame.  She is abandoned–her love was hopeless.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Thor has to shoulder the burden for every inequity ever commited by Odin and the gods of Asgard, and also take a sword thrust through the gut.  He’s a god.  He survives it.  But it had to hurt a lot.  No good deed goes unpunished!

Bendis might not have been trying to say “No good deed goes unpunished.”  He was telling a story of the triumph of heroes over incredibly hellish difficulties and tremendous odds.  He was talking about the renewal of friendship and the failure of evil to triumph.  Those are noble themes, but my heart went out to the secondary characters who suffered in order to achieve the final triumph.  Gods and heroes walked away happy.  Lesser characters, mortals like you and me, suffered and died that the gods and heroes might triumph.  I was left feeling incredibly sad, because I am not a god or a hero.  It wasn’t my triumph.  I know I would have been one of the dead ones in that story.

No good deed goes unpunished!  Great story, Mr. Bendis.  Terrific art, Mr. Davis.

If you have read The Avengers Prime, I’d love to see your comments on the story.

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