Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Check your records again."

I bet you thought I'd forgotten all about the end of Season 5 of Doctor Who, didn't you?

HaHA! I had not! And now that we have a double-DVD player lash-up that allows me to actually watch my damned Season 5 DVDs, I have rewatched the season ender and now have comments. HaHA!


So, anyway, yes, spoilers ahead. Don't read if you haven't seen the end of Season 5, yaddayaddayadda.

On with the show.

I'm not even going to try to give any kind of story re-cap with this two-parter because, well, I can't. It's a little confusing and rather roundabout in parts and, really, I'd just be guaranteeing that I would miss out on some super-important detail and look like a fan failure, and nobody wants that.

So here are some unordered thoughts on The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.

1) It was so nice to have a season ender where I didn't use up every tissue in the house and have to go sniffling for a wad of toilet paper or some paper towels. I know a lot of fans have complained about the emotional intensity of the series under Moffat's direction as opposed to good ol' "Reach In and Rip Your Heart Out" Davies, but I'm enjoying -- have enjoyed? am planning to continue enjoying? -- this slightly lighter approach. Not that I think the base-level intensity of the stories that need to be intense or the intensity of the character relationship has changed; I have seen people argue that they think they have -- that they think the quality of the show has gone all to hell and this is just fiddly-diddly "kids' stuff" now and to them I say: Fooie. Or, more accurately: "I'm the Doctor."

Because if you seriously think the Doctor has gone fuzzy-wuzzy in his old(-er) age or that Matt Smith is playing the Doctor-lite, I invite you to rethink The Beast Below, Vincent and the Doctor, Amy's Choice, and/or The Big Bang and then reconsider your opinions. This isn't a gutless wonder version of the show; this is just less of a "heart on my sleeve" version of the show. If you want confirmation of that, watch the Doctor's face when Patient Zero, as Amy-and-the-Doctor, accuses him of being a disappointment. Being slapped with a fish just isn't in it.

All that said -- and probably to be said again and elaborated upon at some point in the near future 'cause, gosh, am I tired of people hatin' on 11 -- this was a slightly underwhelming season ender -- and that was kind of pleasant. The end of Season 4 and the Tennant specials were just so much dramatic tension and everything was being ratcheted up and up and up for the giant pain-fest that was The End of Time that it was nice, in comparison, to have a relatively quiet finale. Yeah, there was a serious problem; yeah, it had serious consequences; yeah, some shit had to go down in order to get things resolved (and are they really resolved? of course not!) but no-one got eaten like a hamburger; there was no brain-burning; and the Doctor didn't have to crash through a roof or absorb any unhealthy amounts of radiation. Admittedly, he did have to explode and then deal with the consequences -- in one of the best scenes in the entire two-parter, if not the entire season -- but it seemed easier to watch somehow.

2) Amy and Rory make my heart happy. Rory, in particular, makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and I hope someone hugs Arthur Darvill on a regular basis just to thank him for showing up on a daily basis and being made of awesome. His re-meet-up with the Doctor is one of my favorite moments in the ender: I love his final dry rejoinder to the Doctor's babbling on about how there's something important he's missed that's right in front of him: "Yeah. I think you have." Rory has learned just a massive amount over the course of this season and his ability to be stand-up -- and to stand up to the Doctor which is not easy -- is just fantastic. The whole "Mr. Pond" dialogue between him and the Doctor is wonderful and I love that he steps up to the challenge without a moment of hesitation at the end. And, no, I don't feel it's just because he wants to follow Amy.

3) Amy is...the center of all things. I have a feeling that Amy will continue to be the center of all things. The Doctor likes her; River likes her; the TARDIS likes her. This is like the trifecta of "Things Which Are Dangerous But Want To Be Your Friend."

4) River. I may be the only person out here not panting to know what super-secret-uber-chocolatey something River is going to turn out to be. Despite this stance, I would like to point out two things: A) the Dalek. Has anyone ever seen a Dalek beg for mercy from anything? *listens* Yeah, that's what I thought. B) River comes back on her own. I've watched The Big Bang a number of times now and I'm convinced that she comes back into the rebuilt universe on her own steam and, unlike Amy and Rory, remembers what's going on. Why else would she send in her (blank) diary to Amy? She knows what has to happen and, as River always does, is doing her best to jog it along.

5) Does anyone else think that a tiny -- just a teeny tiny -- portion of The Pandorica Opens depends on the Doctor not listening closely to anything he is saying?

6) But forget that: lets talk about the fabulous -- but fabulous -- monologue at the end of The Big Bang. It's wonderful. The Doctor moving backwards through Amy's time-stream and trying to plant enough cues that she will be able to save him and up? A little bet, yes, I think so. He has to give up because she has to make the final steps on her own, without him, and the Doctor always hates doing that. I would like to point out once again the difference between 10 desperately trying to keep Donna from remembering and 11 practically rearranging galaxies to keep Amy remembering -- both Rory and himself. But -- on the other hand, is he the dark shadow moving through Amy's house at the beginning of Eleventh Hour or...not? Personally, I'm leaning towards not.

So the end call? Fantastic stuff. The more I watch it, the more I like it. I've gone from "eh -- it was good" to "wow, that was great" in about 3 watchings. Every time I watch either or both episodes, I see more things, notice more details.

Plus, what is not to like about an episode in which you get this:

I mean...yes, right? Yes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Short Thoughts: Also, Magical Cats

I've been doing something that I should have done a long time ago: watch through Hiyao Miyazaki's/Studio Ghibli's back catalog.

Believe it or not, until recently, I had only ever seen two of these films: Mononoke Hime and Nausicaa. I love them both and I own Nausicaa -- a fancy collector's edition, actually, that was a birthday gift -- but I hadn't seen anything else.

Now I've got two more under my belt -- Castle in the Sky and Howl's Moving Castle, which I know isn't technically a Miyazaki story since he adapted it from the late Diana Wynne Jones' novel which I have never read.

And I always have the same reaction and now I've come to expect it as I start to watch: "Oh, this again. I know how this goes. Yes, yes, I know what all this looks like. Yup, there's little furry things. Oh, well, I guess this is the one where..." And then the dots lead into the bit where my brain simply goes wstfgl because something so lovely and unexpected has happened that I can't think what to think about it for a minute.

I don't know how else to explain it, really, other than by saying that every time I think, "Oh, this is just another Miyazaki movie; fine," there is always something surprising and something that transcends the film. Maybe it isn't a grand philosophical statement -- although sometimes it is -- but most often it's something that's simply beautiful.

Or weird.

Or both.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Photo Monday: Chihuly at the MFA

Guest post by Anna. Cross-posted at the feminist librarian.

Now that I'm finished with graduate school, I have my weekends back (hooray!) and Hanna and I have been trying to re-learn what it means to spend leisure time together ... time not compressed by the anxieties and demands of trying to complete academic work on top of a 35-hour work week and, you know, the daily tasks of living.

Walking home through Fenway Victory Gardens
Photograph by Hanna
I seriously don't understand how couples who have full-time jobs manage to care for children. Is there time travel involved? Because caring for our family as just two adults is difficult enough.

Anyway. Back to basics. How do you enjoy a weekend that's truly a weekend ... as in: time off from one's regular mode of employment?

I thought it might be fun to spend a few months playing quasi-tourist in our own city. Particularly since, as an employee of the Massachusetts Historical Society, I have free admission to lots of cultural sites in the region. (Free entertainment always being preferable when you've got student loans to pay off!) Over the past four years, I haven't found a lot of time to make use of this benefit, but I've decided that this should change. Therefore: watch for more "from the neighborhood" posts in the coming months, as Hanna and I explore new parts of our own backyard.

Our first stop, this weekend, was the Museum of Fine Arts, just up the road from the MHS. The MFA is currently hosting an ehibit of work by glass artist Dale Chihuly. I'f you've never seen Chihuly's work, I highly recommend checking out the photos and video clips on his website -- the installations are breathtaking. I first saw his work at the Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan about a decade ago and can't think of anything that's more soul-enriching than sitting in one of his galleries and soaking in the color. Here are some photographs we took at the exhibition here in Boston.

So much of his work looks like ocean life of some kind
The camera washed out the color on this one, but I love the reflection.
See a better image at Chihuly's homepage.
See what I mean about the tide pool effect?

Hanna and I agree he should design
sets for Tim Burton...
Chandelier detail
Shadow pictures especially for my mother, who is
currently working on a photography series like this.
Chandelier (by Hanna)
Hard to tell here, but these are massive.
I love seeing his work in organic settings;
sadly, the MFA space had few outdoor installations.
Purple reeds (by Hanna)
All in all, it was an amazing way to spend our Saturday morning. Not sure what we have planned for our next outing, but rest assured I'll take the camera and report back!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday Fun Times

The video is nothing special -- although there are some lovely B&W photos of kd in there -- so just sit back and close your eyes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just Sayin'

As we bask in the mid-season glory of Doctor Who season 6 and I madly dodge spoilers on all my blogs and Tumblr feeds, a blog post came to me.

And the essence of the blog post is this: River Song? Already a badass.

Seriously, folks.

Daleks are scared of this woman, okay? Daleks. The big bad. The original big bad since 1964. Are scared of this chick. As in begging for mercy scared.

She doesn't need to be "revealed" as anyone awesome and I am saying this as someone who would have happily kicked her out of an airlock about halfway through Silence in the Library. River Song? Is made of awesome.

I'm sure Moffat has something in mind. I'm sure it will be interesting. I'm equally sure it won't be as cool as River already is. I don't care if she's the Doctor, the Master, the Meddling Monk, Susan, Jenny, Captain Jack, Rassilon, the TARDIS, or the living personification of the time-space continuum itself.

River? Already badass.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Photo Monday

Because I feel just totally inspired with text this week ---

-- here are some photos.
Me, trying to be arty with a glass of beer, a camera,
and not moving off the couch to take a photo.
Geraldine, asleep in a totally dignified fashion.
Baby ducks, posing helpfully in the Public Gardens.
Ditto, but made of cute!
The Muddy River, not being muddy.
Roses in the allotment gardens.
Can you guess? Hey, there were a ton of roses, they were
all gorgeous, it had just been raining...
Lily. Of some kind. Um. Yeah.
No points for guessing this time!
You see my point about how many there were, right?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Movies In Which Meeting the Family (Or Going on Long Trips) Is Not Good

So this post is really in response to a conversation a few days ago between myself, Anna, Lola, and Minerva.

If you're reading through and thinking, "There must be an in-joke here," you're absolutely right -- there is! But feel free to make up your own.

And these movies aren't in order -- unless you count "what I thought of as I was walking home" as order.

Dog Soldiers. "Why, yes, please come take shelter in my way-the-hell-back-in-the-woods family home. Which is deserted, now you come to mention it. And also smack in the middle of Scottish werewolf country. the way...did I mention....I have really big teeth?"

Carriers. "Road trip! Wait -- what does that little symbol mean?" I've written a whole post about how much I hate this movie, but in terms of demonstrating why road trips will always end in bloody, bloody death, Carriers is a pretty solid example: four charming young things decide to go on an alcohol-soaked road trip -- to...Vegas? Reno? I can't even remember -- and end up as one of the lone surviving groups in an infected and deadly world. You know who ends up living? The whiny younger brother and the truly bitchy self-serving girl. Thanks, movie, for destroying those stereotypes for us. Well done. *headdesk*

The classic, of course, Psycho. "Gee, I guess I haven't checked in on Mom lately..."

In the Mouth of Madness. Weekend road trip to quiet New England town? Sounds fantastic! In search of reclusive famous author? Great! Beautiful scenery? Check! Cosy B 'n B? Absolutely. Demons from beyond the brink of comprehension coming to twist your soul and devour your every thought? Of cou--wait a minute, what?

The Lost Tribe. A gorgeous long vacation in a pleasure cruise -- oops! The boat sank. But look! There's a deserted island just perfect for being a rescue site. What's this weird deserted work-camp in the middle of the island? Why are there bones everywhere? What's that growling noise? Who happened to Ted?! (Plus, this happens to be a truly sucktastic movie. Really just -- really dreadful. If you want to watch this film, do yourself a favor and watch Predator instead.)

It Waits. Awful thing happens. You retreat with your pain to a distant fire-station in the beautiful remote wilderness. And what happens? A huge flesh-eating revenge demon bursts out of its long-buried cave to come play with you. Will you and your helpful pet parrot survive? Well...

Curse of the Komodo. (Yes, I watched it. No, I'm not proud of it -- I was severely depressed, okay?!) Relaxing weekend on spa island? Nope, giant genetically mutated komodo dragons with -- and get this -- infectious disease spit. *sigh* Plus, lets discuss the quality of the computer animation -- if the dragons don't scare you (which they shouldn't) you may very well laugh yourself into a conniption at the "My teenage brother did it last night" quality of the effects.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Where do you go to take sanctuary during the zombie apocalypse (Stage 2)? Well, a nice big church would be a good idea, yes? Solid doors, high-up windows, potential for raiding the vicar's cookie store in the pulpit...sound logic all 'round! Until you realise the vicar's living in the church -- with his infected sister -- who he has wired to a chair -- oh, and he's been feeding her. Just don't ask about the wedding catering.

And last but not least (in this version of the list, anyway):

28 Weeks Later. Here's a note for all the rest of you who plan to survive the apocalypse: if you abandon your wife to a horde of flesh-eating disease victims, don't look back. Just don't. Don't go pick up your kids at the train station; don't try to make nicey-nice like this is all fine; and above all, if you do feel the need to try and rebuild the shattered remnants of your family, don't, for the love of God and everyone else in your tiny, disease-free citadel, lie about what happened to your wife. Because, if you do, it will not end well. She will come back; and you will try to kiss her hello; and -- well, to put it simply, have you ever heard of Typhoid Mary?

And to the kids: when you return from abroad to your disease-ravaged and strangely deserted home city, don't go home. Just...don't. Ever.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Fun Times

The video quality on this isn't great, but you don't need to see it -- just hear it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Post-Vacation Reading Round-up

Okay, so I was going to write something about the Key to Time arc episode The Androids of Tara for today but, honestly, I find that episode pretty unspectacular and I was stuck fast on even coming up with a title for this blog post. So, I decided to do something else.

My last little round of reading looked like this (in no particular order)....

The Social Life of Coffee, Brian Cowan.

I thought this book was going to be different than it turned out to be. While I cannot confirm this -- without additional research I am unwilling to undertake! -- I suspect that this is Mr. Cowan's doctoral dissertation turned into a book. Lots of historians -- and other scientists and social scientists -- do this and it's just fine. I mean, you've done all that freakin' work -- what are you going to do? abandon it? shove all your notes into a box and pretend it didn't happen? Yeah, right. You're going to milk it for all it's worth and, in the case of Cowan's book, it's worth quite a lot. I was anticipating something more like a literally social history of coffee; Cowan spends a lot more time on the economic and trade aspects of simply getting coffee from the Eastern growing fields to the West -- specifically, to Britain; more specifically, to England; even more specifically than that, to London. His discussion of the trade and sales aspects of the cycle of coffee growing, buying, and selling was interesting but, since economic tables tend to make me glaze and I have a hell of a time following arguments based around percentages, it didn't grab me.

Cowan's work on the social aspects of coffee in terms of drinking, use, coffeehouse culture, etc. was fascinating and I fully intend to mine his bibliography for additional reading. What I wanted -- I found after reading his first two chapters about the selling and buying of coffee in the middle and far east -- was a history of coffeehouse culture and the adoption of coffee into everyday life. While Cowan covers a little bit of that, I wanted more.

Swallowdale, Arthur Ransome.

I read Swallows and Amazons years ago as a child and, while I enjoyed it, I didn't have anywhere near the knock-on relationship with the books that Anna and her siblings seem to have had. I vaguely remember trying to read Swallowdale -- or perhaps it was Peter Duck? -- when I finished the first book and finding it just too boring to go on with. Nothing happened; the kids just wandered around, found a nice place, made a camp in it, found a better place, made a camp in that, and the book was done.


While this is still essentially what happens -- it isn't like the ghost of Arthur Ransome has been sneaking around adding in Daleks or anything -- I must have been in the right mood this time, because it struck me as being kind of sweet and rather restful. Nothing bad ever happens. Even when one of the children is injured, it's okay because all adults are helpful and kind and want nothing more than to drop whatever they're doing and be of assistance. The descriptions of the lake the kids camp around and the surrounding countryside are beautiful; probably the book is worth reading for those alone.

Winter Holiday, Arthur Ransome. (This isn't the edition I read, but I couldn't find that one and I love the "With Many Illustrations" caption on this one.)

Yeah, okay, I got on a roll. (But I bogged with the next one -- Pigeon Post was just too damned hot.) Holiday, though, was nice and cold -- all about Arctic exploration. Two new children are added to the original Swallows and Amazons group -- I'm not quite sure why he bothered with two since the sister of the brother-and-sister pair gets little to do and almost nothing to say. I don't think it's that Ransome didn't know how to write authoritative female characters -- check out Nancy of the Amazons and the mothers of both sets of children -- but Dora just seems...kind of pale. Perhaps it's the name? Is there ever a good, muscular character named Dora?

Body, Mind, and Spirit, Elwood Worcester.

I don't have a cover image for this one -- just you try searching Google Images for 'body, mind, and spirit' -- even adding an author name doesn't help! In any case, the book is quite elderly since it was originally published in the early '30s and I can't imagine it had a huge readership then.

Worcester was one of two leaders of something called the "Emmanuel movement," based out of the Emmanuel Church here in Boston and as far as I can tell, it was the one you walk past the Fenway going between the Simmons College residence campus and academic campus. (I'm not 100% on that one, so don't quote me.) In any case, I'm researching this movement for a blog post I want to write for work because we have 5 gigantic -- at least 4 inches thick -- scrapbooks of newspaper clippings all about Worcester, his helpers, and the movement. Worcester himself was a clergyman and the movement combined elements of faith healing, spiritualism, and all sorts of odds and ends to make up a kind of "self healing through willpower" idea.

It was wildly popular in the very early years of the 20th century -- between about 1905 and 1912 or so -- and then had a brief resurgence in the World War I era. Worcester himself put a lot of time and work into the movement since it was all based on his concept of how the world could be made a better place. Body is one of at least two books that he authored about the principles of the movement and, brother, it's a hoot. It's a little painful to read at times because it seems pretty clear, to me at least, that Worcester wanted to help people and thought he was. From our 2011 point of view, though, he must have done incalculable damage to quite a few people -- but probably helped some others. He wasn't a trained physician or psychologist but clearly thought that his lay experience as a preacher and parish leader made up for the difference. Not so much, really, but a fascinating read.

And last but not least...

Livia, Empress of Rome, Matthew Dennison.

This is an attempt at a biography of Livia, wife of Caesar Augustus, first (technical) empress of Rome. Dennison's aim here is to debunk the mythbuilding that surrounds Livia since the history-writing of the late Roman period (which villified her) and the exceptionally popular television series I, Claudius of the late 1970s which made her into a complete wicked witch figure.

Livia is a totally enjoyable read and I commend Dennison 100% for making early Roman history -- which can be awkward and unreadable and loaded with so many classical allusions and tags that it's just impossible to get through for the modern reader -- a pleasure to get through.

As to his aim of debunking the myth of Livia as villain -- eh. The problem with doing that is that there is so little evidence one way or the other. In case you never watched I, Claudius: for one thing, shame on you! Why would you deny yourself this fantastic pleasure? Go rent it immediately. For a second thing, Livia is the arch-villainess of the entire piece. And in a 13-some-odd hour series which also features Patrick Stewart as Sejanus and John Hurt as Caligula, that is no mean achievement.

Sian Phillips as Livia (with Brian Blessed as
Augustus in background.)
Livia is Augustus' third wife (he is her second marriage) and, as Robert Graves writes her, she kills her way to the top. Not through Augustus' other wives, by any means, but she poisons pretty much anyone who stands in the way of her eminence gris control of the Roman throne. If you don't want to eat any figs after you watch the show, don't blame me.

Dennison takes issue with this portrayal of Livia -- while giving Sian Phillips a grudging amount of credit for her eyewateringly good performance -- as based on partial and biased Roman historical sources, some of which were written years after Livia's death and, potentially, for political reasons that required her to be toppled from a prime position in the early history of Rome. Unfortunately for Dennison, it isn't like he has access to some great hitherto undiscovered trove of Roman primary sources either. He's stuck with even less material -- potentially -- than the Roman authors he says smeared Livia's reputation. And in his eagerness to clear Livia of charges of poisoning -- which I would imagine would be the cold case of the millennium anyway; unlikely even to be taken on by the Waking the Dead crew -- he does occasionally swing a little too far in the other direction.

Yes, okay, she probably didn't poison every single person Graves thought she did in order to put together a compelling and dramatic story but she also survived for a record long time in a society that was pretty much made up of backstabbing and treacherous political maneuvering. And she died of old age.That's a hell of a tight-rope to walk and keep your hands snowy white at the same time.

So, yes, read Dennison's book -- it's enjoyable and you'll learn things. But then watch I, Claudius. It is also enjoyable and you will learn different things.