Monday, March 30, 2020

Fun Stuff to Do While Sheltering in Place

So... life just got pretty weird this month, huh?  Here in the US, anyway -- I know it's been weird for a while in other parts of the world.

My family has been "sheltering in place" for two weeks now, in that Cowboy is now working from home, our church services are now held online, the kids' swimming lessons have been cancelled, and so on.  I do still go out to get groceries, but only once a week, not two or three times, and I don't take the kids with me.

I feel so blessed right now.  Cowboy can work from home.  We already homeschool, so my kids haven't had to transition to a new way of schooling.  We can video chat with family and friends with ease.  My hubby and I are both introverts, so we haven't been chafing under the need to stay home.  My house is crammed with books and movies and games and puzzles and toys, so there's no need to run out of fun things to keep us all occupied.  We own our own home and have a backyard, so the kids can still play outside without having to worry about coming into contact with others, plus we're not sharing walls or ventilation systems with other people.

The thing is, I know there are people who are not this blessed.  Who live in tiny apartments or crowded places, who are having to learn how to teach their children, who are extroverts and need social interaction for their emotional well-being.  Who don't own oodles of books and movies, or aren't entertained by them.  And people who have lost their jobs, whether temporarily or permanently.

For me, this has been a cozy couple of weeks.  For others, this has been a nightmare.  I understand that.  I don't want to give the impression that just because my family is doing okay, I assume everyone else is too.  If you're struggling at this time, please reach out.  To family, to friends, to strangers on the internet.  It's okay to say, "This is hard."  "I hate this."  "I'm having trouble."  "I need help.  Please help me."  If you need help, let people know.  Let me know, if you need to.  You can message me on Instagram or leave a comment here, especially if you have a prayer request or just need someone to talk to.

Okay.  So.  The title of this post is "Fun Stuff to Do While Sheltering in Place," and that's what the rest of it will be devoted to!  I've found a whole slew of things online that are either free or cheap and that I think other people might find fun or helpful.  Here they are:

+ Amazing children's book author and illustrator Mo Willems is doing free lunchtime drawing lessons for kids here on YouTube.

+ Colonial Williamsburg is closed for now, but their website is adding all kinds of wonderful interactive content.  I think their interactive timeline for the Stamp Act is really cool.  And they have all kinds of cool videos done by their historical interpreters (scroll down to find them).  PLUS, they have downloadable activity and coloring sheets.  AND they have some recipes here for 18th-century dishes.  If you're a teacher (public, private, or homeschool), you can create a free teacher account (or use a temporary one) to access videos, lesson plans, and interactive online activities.

+ Homeschool blog Blest the House has some great ideas for educational, fun ways to occupy your kids.  It's aimed at those who are suddenly having to teach their kids at home for the first time, but seasoned homeschoolers can find great ideas there too.  You might find that their Curriculum Potluck series of posts has ideas of resources you might find useful too.

+ The website Learning Through Literature has a lot of helpful articles and links to resources right now too.  I recommend their articles on book-based indoor activities, five tips for home learning, and how to create a rhythm for your day while sheltering at home.

+ ALL kids audiobook titles are free to kids on Amazon's Audible service for as long as schools are closed.

Scribd is offering a 30-day free trial of their ebooks and audiobooks.

+ You can listen to full-cast audio recordings of seven of Shakespeare's plays (including Hamlet!) for free on the Folger Shakespeare Center's website now through June 30.

+ You can watch a video of the Folger Shakespeare Center's 2008 production of Macbeth for free now through June 30.  (WARNING: Looks too scary for kids.)

+ The American Shakespeare Center has had to close their Blackfriars Playhouse for the spring season, but they're offering streamed versions of many of their plays, with "tickets" starting at $10.  (Might not always be child-friendly.)

+ The Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI, is offering their museum coloring book for free download so you can print it off and color it at home.

+ Etsy artist Bookmarks by Faye is offering four dragon coloring sheets for free download.

+ Etsy artist Mandie Manzano has lowered the price on each of her three download-and-print coloring book collections to $5 each.  I love her artwork so much!

+ Several artists, including Mandie Manzano, have created Collective Coloring, a place to find free downloadable coloring sheets.

That's all I have for today, but if I find more cool stuff to share, I'll do another post like this in the future!  If you have resources you'd like to share, post them in the comments so others can learn about them too!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

"The Mandalorian" (The Mandalorian, Season 1, Ep 1)(2019)

I have decided to review all eight episodes of the first season of The Mandalorian (2019).  Because they're magnificent.  And I love them.  And I'm besotted with the Mandalorian himself.  And I'm watching this season for the third time, so I feel like I've got a pretty good grasp of what's going on in it by now.

I am NOT going to mark any spoilers!  These reviews will be a celebration of each episode, a delving into what makes them work, what makes me love them.  You have been warned.  I have spoken.

Our first sight of Mando (Pedro Pascal) is from the back, looming high above us.  I think they're emphasizing his mythical qualities here, that he's larger-than-life, someone powerful and intimidating.

He's also emphatically alone.  I love all the landscape shots we get in this series.  I know most of them are digital, but they're still lovely.

I have such a thing for silhouettes.  And that our first sight of this guy from the front would be basically a silhouette just really hits me hard.

I feel like it's deliberately referencing some iconic shots in John Ford's The Searchers (1956) too -- there are a lot of places in that film where someone is just a dark silhouette framed by a doorway, especially the most emotional parts of the film.  I'm thinking specifically of this, this, this, and this very famous shot.

I like the fight in the cantina here.  It's short and punchy, very brisk.  You can see right away that Mando doesn't waste anything.  Not movements, time, words... not a thing.

Pausing to discuss his nickname a minute.  I noticed the second time through this series that although we fans call him Mando in a sort of endearing and familiar way, it's often used very differently in the series.  The first time anyone calls him that, when he enters this cantina, it's kind of a slur.  "Hey, Mando," the big, ugly, dumb brute sneers.  As if he was saying, "Hey, moron," or "Hey, dimwit."  I find that fascinating, that this nickname can get used in so many ways within the series.  I love that it goes to show that someone else's label for you doesn't have to mean what they think it does.

Anyway, more pretty scenery.  So many wonderful wide shots.  Yum.  Wide-open, lonely vistas are a huge part of cowboy movies, and I adore them.

Man, his armor is so non-spiffy in this first episode.  It's all banged up and scruffy.  It's not dirty -- we can see already how meticulous and neat Mando is.  Like I said, he's never wasteful, and he cares for his armor and his ship so that they won't be wasted by falling into disrepair, or fail him when he needs them.

Speaking of his ship, here she is.  I can't find it anymore, but I read somewhere (if I find it again, I promise I'll link to it here) that the showrunners deliberately gave the Razor Crest twin glowing engines as a nod to the ship Serenity on that other wonderful space western, Firefly (2002-03).  Whether or not that's true, it's still a neat similarity.

Anyway.  Love that they used a landspeeder in this.  One of my favorite things about this show is how much it feels like just a little side story from the original Star Wars trilogy.  Nothing new, nothing big and fancy, just here's some other people going about their business in that galaxy far, far away.

Okay, let's talk about Carl Weathers as Greef Karga a minute.  I like Greef, he's got some interesting layers for a side character.  But the fact that Carl Weathers plays him makes me just... want to hug him.  You see, I grew up watching the first four Rocky movies, and Carl Weathers plays Apollo Creed in those, initially Rocky's opponent, then later his friend and mentor.  He still has that amazing voice I love, equal parts smooth and tough, and it's so cool seeing him in this!  (There's a little bit in this show's theme song that always makes me think of the Rocky theme song, and I don't know if that's deliberate, but it always makes me grin.)

Greef Karga also calls our hero "Mando," but he makes the word into a title, not a sneer.

Anyway, Mando gets intel on a job, and this little walking-to-meet-the-prospective-employer montage is so good.  He starts out in a crowded space.

Turn down a sidestreet, and we leave the crowds behind.

By the time he gets to his destination, the place is deserted.  Eerie, almost.  We can all sense this is not a good place.

I love the little robotic scanner thing at the door cuz it's exactly like the one at Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi (1983).  Makes me grin.

I have been fascinated since my first viewing of this first episode at how MUCH Pedro Pascal can communicate not merely without words, but without us ever even seeing his face.  Mando has very little dialog, and this show is not afraid of quiet, wordless scenes.  Not afraid because Pascal (and his stunt doubles, Brendan Wayne and Lateef Crowder) can tell us so much with a simple head tilt.  This one here says he's annoyed.  I've got a later one from this episode that says something else.  Wonderful acting!

And here we meet The Client (Werner Herzog) and his scuzzy minions in their grody Storm Trooper armor.

Ugh, they're so beat-up and nasty.  Compare them to Mando's well-kept, if battered armor!  These guys are like rusty and stained and just... wow, it's such a yucky vibe, it's soooooo evocative.  Well done, costume department.

I'm fascinated that Werner Herzog decided to be in this little show.  If you don't know who he is, he's a highly respected German filmmaker who directs lots of movies, documentaries, and even operas.  And occasionally takes small roles in front of the camera.  He's so good here as the pragmatic, conniving Client.

Time to toss in another cowboy movie trope: the Mexican Standoff.  Mando gets to deliver one of my favorite lines here, when one of the guards scoffs at him, saying he needs to give up because it's four to one.  He shoots back, "I like those odds."  We just saw him take on multiple assailants at the beginning of the episode and know he's capable of backing up his brave words.

But he doesn't have to.  The Client wants to hire him, not dispose of him.  He offers Mando real Beskar steel -- something stolen from the planet Mandalore and its inhabitants by the empire.  It's what Mando's helmet is made of.  It's precious, rare, and useful -- think Wolverine's adamantium, basically.

So he agrees to do this job, find the being the Client wants.  This is what he does -- he's a bounty hunter, and a really good one, like Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) on Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958-61).

He takes that Beskar to a place filled with Mandalorians.  I didn't notice this the first time, because I hadn't seen later eps yet, but when he walks in, he passes three little kids.  All wearing helmets like his.  About the age where he first donned his, in fact.  Such good storytelling, giving us stuff to find when we rewatch it like this.

Here we meet The Armorer (Emily Swallow).  I love her.  First of all, blacksmiths often play an important part in westerns, so it's cool we have a nod to them here.  Second of all, she's a female blacksmith, so she's setting all kinds of expectations on their head, and I love it.  Third, she's just plain awesome.  Wise, skilled, patient -- and her helmet is nifty too.

While she turns that Beskar into a new shoulder pauldron for him, Mando has some flashbacks to his childhood.

His parents carry him through what appears to be a war zone, dodging explosions and blasts.  They hide him quickly, and it's implied they are then killed by an explosion.  Mando tells the Armorer to donate some of the extra Beskar to supporting foundlings, for he was once a foundling himself, and this flashback helps us to start understanding what happened to his family.

Then, off we go to Arvala-7 on the mission he accepted from The Client.  This shot is so American Southwest and delicious, isn't it?

And Mando standing here with all that open country behind him -- I love it.

I also love it when he uses his Amban sniper rifle like binoculars to scan the terrain far away.  I love it when people with scopes on their rifles do that.  It's a thing.

Then, we get attacked by a wild beast, because cowboys out on their own in the wilderness do have this happen now and then.  I mean, usually in westerns it's a mountain lion or a buffalo stampede, but a raging blurrg works too.

Mando doesn't do too well against one blurrg, much less too, but happily, someone shoots those blurrgs with tranquilizers.  I love these shots of Mando, all his body acting to show he's scared and really struggling with these beasts.

Uh, this shot's just here so you can see his costume from the side really well.

And this one's here cuz um, I like it.  And how it shows off his shiny new pauldron.

So, the tranqs were shot by an Ugnaught named Kuill (Nick Nolte) mounted on yet another blurrg.

I can't say the word "blurrg" without grinning.  I even grin when I think it while typing it here.  It's such a fun word. Blurrg blurrg blurrg.

So, now it's time to pull in some more traditional cowboy movie sequences.  First making friend with a hermit-like wise man, and then, bronco-busting!

Well, blurrg-busting.  Or, getting busted by blurrgs, more like.

Yeah, this is going super well.

Mando sprawling in the dirt like this cracks me up because he looks like a little kid who just fell off their bike.  Awwwwwww.

Showdown time.  I love Mando's cape.  I love that it's got holes in the bottom.  All his costume is just so terrifically lived-in.

Time to walk slowly and confidently toward the blurrg and show it who's boss.

And off we go, galloping along on our blurrgs.  (Blurrg, blurrg, blurrg.  Still not tired of that word.)  Again with the sweeping wide shots that I adore!

Tiny little Mando and Kuill almot lost in the vast expanse of this funky alien desert.  Wow.

So now we're here.  Mando's gotten all cool and calm about blurrg-riding, I see.  Just casually putting one hand on top the other on his saddle's pommel like an old-school '50s cowboy movie star.

This tiny encampment makes me think of the town in A Fistful of Dollars.  All sandstone and lonely and surrounded by hills.  But, like, only half the town from that movie.

Mando has a spyglass.  Why is that so cute?  It's so cute.  Also, um, I'd like to reference this very valid observation that was shared with me by Olivia a couple months ago.  I mean, I'm neither repressed nor Victorian (nor a maiden, come to think of it), but yeah.  I noticed.

Ahhhhh, time to talk about IG-11!  The fact that he is voiced/played by Taika Waititi is just sooooo deliciously fun, for me.  Cuz I loved Taika's performance and directing in Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and it's so cool to have him pop up here.

Also, the idea of a gunslinger droid?  It's all kinds of shiny awesome.

I love how cowboy-movie-esque these shots are, the lone gunman standing at the edge of a town, all that lawless wilderness behind him.  Specifically made me think of this shot from the ending of Silverado (1985).

And those bandoleers!  Love it.

Except, you know, he shoots my Mando.  Not okay.  Mando's okay, but I'm not okay with people shooting him.  Thank goodness for all that armor, though.  Mando seems to end up sprawled on his back a lot in this ep, have you noticed?

So, the reason I haven't showed this show to my kids yet is that they do tend to litter the place up with dead bodies a lot.  In a very casual way.  Haven't decided yet if that's going to be scary for my 8-yr-old.

Anyway, I adore the two of them working together.  Even though Mando hates droids for all his personal-history reasons, he's willing to team up with IG-11 to get the job done.

Gunfight!  Very nice gunfight.  Blaster fight, I mean.

And then their opponents bring out what is basically a Gatling gun, and I freak out a little bit because Gatling guns get used to such devastating effect in two movies I saw as a kid, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964).  Bad guys with a Gatling gun are to be feared.

I need to pause here a minute to talk about the guy who starred in both those movies, Clint Eastwood.  They're very obviously referencing a lot of Spaghetti westerns with this show, especially the Man with No Name trilogy that Eastwood starred in.  Pedro Pascal and the show's writer/director/producer Jon Favreau have both said that they're deliberately drawing from those, and Pascal patterned a lot of his behavior after Eastwood.  I also think that his voice inside Mando's mask sounds a TON like a young Eastwood, and my brother said the exact same thing, though my bff says she can only hear Pedro Pascal.  Anyway.  This is something I'll talk about more in upcoming ep reviews too, I'm sure.

So, Mando commandeers that Gatling gun-style blaster.

And that's the moment in the show where I went, "Okay, I could probably fall in love with this guy."  Took me a couple more eps to actually admit I'd gone ahead and fallen, but that right there is where it started.

Um, like I said, littering the place with dead bodies, y'all.

MORE silhouettes in a doorway!

So beautiful.  I love the cinematography on this show.

And here we have him at last, The Child (aka Baby Not Yoda), the prize Mando and IG-11 are both here to get.  Mando is supposed to capture him, IG-11 is supposed to kill him, and for a minute, you worry.

I mean, IG-11 does have fierce blaster skills.

But Mando's the master here.  And here's that other shot I mentioned, with one of his head-tilts.  The one where he was facing down the robot scanner said he was annoyed, but this one says he's all kinds of curious.  So nifty.  You can tell Pascal is a stage actor and used to communicating with body language and gestures both big and small.

And this show that has referenced so many iconic film moments ends with one of its own that has now become iconic in its own right.  Who doesn't know this image of the bounty hunter reaching out to the child?  It's so evocative and promising.  And look at all that amazing lighting.  Wow.  Beautiful.

Okay, that's all I've got for this first episode.  Stay tuned for another one soon.  But don't hold your breath cuz I have to rewatch it first, then screencap it, then write up all my thoughts.  Took me a week to do this one.  But I WILL do the rest!