First Black Widow Trailer

We’ve had to wait for a movie starring Black Widow for so long, a part of me won’t believe it’s going to happen. But! There’s a trailer now!

Marvel Studios’ Black Widow – Official Teaser Trailer by Marvel Entertainment on YouTube

I have a hard time figuring out what the story will be from this clip, but sources talk about a character called Taskmaster. Otherwise, looks like we’ll see more European and Russian locations; I do enjoy both. Apparently the story is set between Civil War and Infinity War.

Filming apparently largely takes place in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary, and Norway seems to stand in for Russia (I assume Siberia and/or other northern locations), which is nice—I’ve never been to Hungary nor the far Norwegian north, so it’ll be nice to gawk and keep my old-cat creature comforts at the same time.

I didn’t use to like Black Widow, but that may have more to do with how little Johansson was given to work with in the first phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, Nat’s road-trip-buddy mini movie with Captain America stuffed in the middle of Winter Soldier is one of my favorite MCU excerpts.

Black Widow is written by Ned Benson and directed by Cate Shortland, both of which are unknown to me. The new cast (i.e., outside the familiar MCU characters) is mostly unknown to me, too, so it will be a big—dare I say it the third time—unknown overall. I’m looking forward to it, though, and fervently hoping it’ll be as awesome as other MCU favourites of mine!

The movie opens May 01, 2020.

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Rating: Elementary, Season 5

Season 5 marks a return to form for the excellent mystery series Elementary. Here’s what we thought of this season’s episodes:

  1. “Folie a deux” – 5
  2. “Worth Several Cities” – 6
  3. “Render, and then Seize Her” – 6.5
  4. “Henny Penny the Sky is Falling” – 7
  5. “To Catch a Predator Predator” – 6.5
  6. “Ill Tidings” – 6.5
  7. “Bang Bang Shoot Chute” – 5
  8. “How the Sausage Is Made” – 6
  9. “It Serves You Right to Suffer” – 3
  10. “Pick Your Poison” – 6
  11. “Be My Guest” – 8
  12. “Crowned Clown, Downtown Brown” – 6
  13. “Over a Barrel” – 7.5
  14. “Rekt in Real Life” – 8
  15. “Wrong Side of the Road” – 6
  16. “Fidelity” – 9.5
  17. “The Ballad of Lady Frances” – 5.5
  18. “Dead Man’s Tale” – 7.5
  19. “High Heat” – 6
  20. “The Art of Sleights and Deception” – 5.5
  21. “Fly into a Rage, Make a Bad Landing” – 6
  22. “Moving Targets” – 6
  23. “Scrambled” – 4.5
  24. “Hurt Me, Hurt You” – 4.5

Season 5 builds on the series’ strengths: the unraveling of complicated mysteries and the growth of the friendship between Sherlock and Joan as complicated people. The average rating for this season is 6.2, the best since season 1, and the continuing overall quality of the series shows in our individual ratings. Only one episode falls below 4, our unofficial cutoff point for being worth rewatching, and a lot are in the 6-8 range of not extraordinary but well done.

The only real drag on this season is the arc story about Shinwell, an ex-gang member former patient of Joan’s who may or may not be trying to go straight. This arc never lives up to its potential and ends up being an unsatisfying shaggy dog story.

The one real disappointment of an episode this season is “It Serves You Right to Suffer,” at 3, mostly because it is primarily concerned with Shinwell’s story. The episode revolves around a shady FBI agent and it never grows into anything interesting.

By contrast, our favorite episode of the season, “Fidelity,” coming in at 9.5, does a much better job of playing into the series’ longer story arcs. “Fidelity” is the second half of a two-part episode, after “Wrong Side of the Road,” in which Sherlock and Joan, along with Sherlock’s former protege Kitty, investigate a series of deaths that seem to be linked to a traffic accident in Britain years earlier.

Another touch we appreciate this season is that a number of episodes end with living victims being rescued, which is a nice change in a series mostly focused on solving murders. Episodes like “Be My Guest” and “Rekt in Real Life” have happy endings in which people in danger are found safe. Marcus’ girlfriend Chantal, after being assaulted at the end of “The Art of Sleights and Deception,” makes a full recovery, which is a better fate than often happens to detectives’ loved ones and people of color on television.

All around, it’s another satisfying outing with Holmes and Watson.

Image: Sherlock and Joan at work on a case, from “Folie a Deux” via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

WoW BfA: Flying Again!

My human mistweaver monk and Erik’s paladin were able to open flying for us early last month, and it’s glorious!

To celebrate, I got myself a Stormsong Coastwatcher mount.

WoW BfA Flying Stormsong Coastwatcher

Now we’re slooowwly working on the Honeyback Harvester mount. There aren’t enough fuzzy bee butts in my life yet!

Speaking of flying: I understand most of the arguments on both sides of the flying vs. no flying discussion. Personally, though, even if I strongly prefer to have flying, I think the current solution (introducing the Flight Master’s Whistle with a short cooldown once you hit level cap) works fine. I’m glad they added and kept it.

Image: World of Warcraft screencap

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.

Star Trek: Picard Series Trailer from NYCC

Oooo—I can’t believe I didn’t yet blog about the second Star Trek: Picard series trailer that came our way. This was released at New York Comic Con.

Star Trek: Picard | NYCC Trailer | CBS All Access by CBS All Access on YouTube

Like the San Diego one, this trailer looks so awesome! The Borg presence doesn’t seem quite as heavy as the SDCC trailer gave reason to believe (but then again, you never know). It’s lovely to see glimpses of the old TNG cast, however, and the spiffy new tech and props look absolutely amazing. Mostly I’m thankful to see Sir Patrick Stewart in another genre production, for he is getting old and who knows how much longer he’ll have with us.

Picard is set to premier on January 23, 2020. Soon!

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Green and Orange Iridescent Turkeys

A lot of us in the U.S. and with U.S. connections are going to sitting down to a turkey dinner this week. A lot of us who live in the woodsier parts of North America also know that the farm-raised domesticated turkeys we put on the table are not the only kind of turkey out there. We have local flocks of wild turkeys around us who periodically come through our yard and entertain us with their antics. (We’re less entertained by the, shall we say, “fertilizer” they leave behind, but that has its uses, too.)

But did you know that there is a variety of wild turkeys found in the Yucatan Peninsula that has blue heads and irididescent turquoise-green and bronze-orange plumage? I didn’t until I stumbled across a reference to them this week. Look at these beauties!

Ocellated turkey, photograph by George Harrison via Wikimedia
Ocellated turkey, photograph by TonyCastro via Wikimedia

Ocellated turkeys, as they are called, are an important part of the local cuisine in addition to being extraordinary to look at.

The next time you’re writing a fantasy world and looking to spice up the local fauna, why not add some big shimmery-winged birds–that could end up roasted or stewed on the dinner table, too?

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Frozen II Is at the Theaters, and Soon Dubbed in Sámi

Today is the premier for the animated sequel Frozen II here in the U.S. Unlike most Di$ney princess movies*, I will be seeing this one during its theatrical release for a particular reason.

In the story, Anna and Elsa et al. travel to the north and meet a people resembling the Sámi. For their research and inspiration, the Walt Disney Animation Studios not only talked with Sámi people but actually signed an agreement with the Sámi to do it in a respectful, collaborative way.

The Sámi are the only indigenous people within the European Union area. They currently live in the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia.

Disney even invited some members of the Sámi Parliaments to U.S. to see the movie at the world premier, meet some of the makers, and tour the animation studio.

Yle Siv Eli Vuolab Samediggi Frozen II World Premiere

The most exciting part for my linguist brain is that the studio will record and release a version dubbed in Northern Sámi, the largest of the Sámi languages. The voice actors are drawn mainly from Sweden and Norway, among them the acclaimed Sámi musician Mari Boine, but also one Finn. (Yay!)

Yle Frozen II Screencap Northern Herders

While it’s true they aren’t very numerous these days (partly thanks to racial, linguistic, and cultural discrimination), the Sámi do exist and do have a living culture. (Just check out the music scene for one incredibly vibrant aspect—yoik comes almost in all styles now!) I grew up two hours south of the Arctic Circle, and the Sámi were my classmates, neighbors, and teachers. For me it’s delightful that Disney took the time to research, listen, and respectfully pay homage to people I grew up with.

Undoubtedly I will also enjoy scenery that reminds me of trips to Lapland even if the first reports say the northern mountains look too young and rugged to be based on the fells on the Finnish side of the border. 🙂

Yle Frozen II Screencap Valley View

*) The only other exception is Moana, which was also produced in cooperation with indigenous peoples.

Images: Per-Olof Nutti, Aili Keskitalo, Åsa Larsson Blind, and Tiina Sanila-Aikio with their daughters at the world premier of Frozen II by Siv Eli Vuolab / Sámediggi via Yle. Three members of the northern herder tribe from Frozen II via Yle. View overlooking a northern valley from Frozen II via Yle.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

A Gift of Water

Sometimes the smallest gestures can mean the most, even to people who already have a lot. Here’s a story told about the Persian King Artaxerxes II and how he graciously received a humble gift.

Once when people were presenting him with various gifts along the road, a poor farmer who could come up with nothing else at the moment ran to the river, scooped up water in his hands, and offered it to the king. Artaxerxes was so delighted that he sent the man a golden cup and a thousand darics.

– Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes 5.1

(My own translation.)

A daric was a golden coin worth about a month’s pay for a soldier or skilled artisan. A thousand darics was an unimaginable fortune to a poor farmer.

Like most such anecdotes, this story may or may not be true. Plutrach tells it as an illustration of Artaxerxes’ good-natured personality. Still, it makes a good illustration of the point that what matters isn’t always how much you can do for other people but your willingness to do what you can.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Second Trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is now a month away. Here’s the second (and apparently final) trailer:

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Final Trailer by Star Wars on YouTube

My my, it looks more epic than before, and you really cannot fault episodes VII and VIII for being bland. Furthermore, the movie seems epic in all senses, with beautiful work in both the visuals (environments, propping, fights—did you notice the outstanding cutting of the trailer?) and the story (resistance, courage, friendships, sacrifices).

Now I have one wish: that J.J. Abrams won’t ruin it. (His work has been a hit or miss for me in the past.)

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The Sanity of Crowds

The Roman satirist Juvenal complained that all the common people of Rome cared about was “bread and circuses,” and as long as they were fed and entertained they didn’t care about politics. Some modern scholars have taken Juvenal at his word (always a risky thing to do with a satirist) and seen the people of Rome as an easily placated rabble. There is another way of thinking about bread and circuses (which, in Rome, meant chariot races), though: they were not a sop to keep the people complacent but rather what the people expected and demanded of their government.

The Roman emperors originally rose to power by presenting themselves as champions of the poor and downtrodden of the city of Rome. In time, as imperial rule became institutionalized, emperors tended to focus more of their energy on the army, which became a vital political constituency, but ignoring the needs of the ordinary people of Rome was a risky move for any emperor. Ensuring that the Roman poor didn’t go hungry, whether by distributing free grain or guaranteeing a low price, was a priority for most emperors. Providing public entertainments, such as chariot races, gladiatorial shows, or theatrical performances, was also generally expected.

These entertainments were not just for the amusement of the people. They also furnished one of the rare opportunities for the people to interact with the emperor, who was generally expected not just to finance the shows but to attend them if he was in the city. Far from keeping the people of Rome quiet and happy, these spectacles could give the poor a chance to voice grievances and make demands of the emperor.

Aristocratic Roman authors tended to describe the people in the stands at such events as unruly, even unthinking. Bouts of heckling or booing could arise seemingly spontaneously. A shouted request could start in one part of the audience and quickly become a chant echoing through the whole stadium. The Roman elite saw these outbursts as a sign that the common people were fickle and emotional, easily swayed by simple chants and slogans. Some modern historians have taken on these same attitudes and described the crowds in the arena or racetrack as irrational dupes caught up in the frenzy of the moment.

The aristocratic view does not tell the whole story, though. However much the emperors portrayed themselves as champions of the ordinary people, poor Romans had very little opportunity to voice their feelings, wishes, or concerns. In the days of the republic, the annual election of magistrates had forced the political elite to go out, interact with the citizen body, and listen to voters’ concerns. The structure of the Roman political system was skewed heavily in favor of the rich, but the opinions of the poor could not be ignored. One anecdote says that a Roman candidate was once making the rounds shaking hands with potential supporters. When he met a poor laborer whose hands were rough from work, he quipped: “You’re not in the habit of walking on your hands, are you?” This joke smacked of elite condescension and played badly among the working folk of Rome. That candidate lost his race.

Unelected emperors had no such encounters with the people. They also had the military might to arbitrarily punish or abuse anyone they saw as causing trouble. The emperors did not go out on the street shaking hands with ordinary citizens, and even if they had, few among the poor and powerless would have been brave enough to make complaints or demands in person. In the arena, racetrack or theatre, though, the balance of power was changed. When a whole crowd booed an emperor or chanted out some grievance, it was hard for an emperor to ignore or for his guards to single out someone to punish. It is likely that the mass chanting of demands and slogans, which seemed spontaneous and irrational to the Roman elite, was actually to some extent planned and coordinated.

Given the risk of hostile crowds, why would an emperor continue to show up at such public events? Because the consequences of not showing up could be worse. The people of Rome were no strangers to mass mobilization, even violence. Once again, the fact that our written sources come almost exclusively from an elite point of view clouds the picture. Aristocratic authors describe the people of the city as prone to rioting and street violence; we are left to wonder how many of those “riots” were actually organized protests (or began as such before taking a turn for the worse). Wise emperors knew that it was better to listen to the people booing or chanting in the stands than to face them in the streets.

Thoughts for writers

When writing about the behavior of people in large groups, it can be hard to remember that they are still people. The notion of the “madness of crowds,” that people in large groups can lose their sense of reason and behave as one irrational mob, has often been used by the powerful few to dismiss and ignore the will of the powerless many. It’s as important to be careful with this idea in our imagined worlds as in the real one. Crowds may sometimes create a peer pressure effect and lead individuals to say or do thing they wouldn’t have otherwise, but the anonymity and mass of a crowd can also make it safe for individuals to say and do what they really mean. On staged occasions like sporting events, people can even use the crowd to their advantage to amplify the message they want to get across. The feelings expressed by crowds are not to be taken lightly or written as if they represent irrational whims of the moment.

Image: “Geta and Caracalla” via Wikimedia (1907; oil on canvas; by Lawrence Alma-Tadema)

History for Writers looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Delightful Music: Fringe Theme

One of the most enjoyable things about Fringe is the theme song. Here is a full, 6-minute version:

Fringe Theme [FULL] via mrbrzoskwinka on YouTube

It’s composed by Michael Giacchino, who has an extensive music department background in genre tv, movies, and games (Jurassic franchise video games and movies, Alias, Zootopia, some rebooted Mission Impossible and Star Trek movies, Rogue One and both of the new Spider-Man MCU movies, for instance).

It’s rare to come across a speculative show theme that uses the piano so unapologetically, let alone a story of an FBI agent investigating weird crimes. I’m in no way an expert, but I seem to have noticed that piano has fallen out of fashion these days, so for me the Fringe theme is valuable on those grounds as well.

An occasional feature on music and sound-related notions.