Monday, February 28, 2011

Short Thought: "Resident Evil: Afterlife"

"Spoilers." Just imagine Alex Kingston's smile here, okay? Thanks.

I rather feel that this thumbnail review is a bit pointless. I mean, it's a Resident Evil movie, right? What do you think you're going to get? You're gonna get zombies, more zombies, something weird and genetically mutated, more zombies, guns, bombs, knives, grenades, and, if you're really lucky, a nuclear explosion. Oh, who am I kidding: you just have to be patient for the nuclear explosion. You'll pretty much always get one!

In other words, this is pretty much what you get.
There isn't a lot of point in rehashing the story for this one 'cause -- there isn't one. There's an attempt at creating some kind of suspense with Alice attacking an Umbrella base in Japan in the opening moments of the film -- one of the best action sequences in the film; it's a bad sign that it comes so early. The actual opening of the film with a long overhead shot down into a busy pedestrian crossing in Shibuya is really lovely. It's a rip-off of so many other films it makes me kind of tired to think about it, but that doesn't stop it being very beautiful. The Resident Evil films have always had a nice feel for shots involving water -- rain, pools, flooded places, whatever -- and this one is no exception. Not quite sure why that is, but there you have it.

See? Water.
So Alice attacks the base; meets the next-gen T-cell infected superhuman; supposedly gets shot up with an antivirus that should make her "human" -- hands up if you believe that one -- and then, yeah, wave goodbye to that storyline because you're not seeing it again any time soon. Don't get worried about Alice being less then superhuman 'cause she's never going to be human again. The rest of the movie goes back to the "safe place with no infection" storyline that the third movie introduced: now it's a town called Arcadia. Alice goes looking for it, hoping to find the rest of the group that she shipped up there almost two years before. No town, but she does find Claire -- except Claire's been shot full of Umbrella tech and remembers nothing.

Once Alice has knocked some sense back into Claire's head, the two of them head off down the West coast, aiming to look for survivors, and end up finding a small enclave holed in a max security jail in LA. They think our two heroines are a rescue team sent from the Arcadia, a massive cargo ship docked in the harbor that they think has been sending out radio signals for almost a week. The next step seems simple enough: go to ship. The complication in this nice, simple plan is that the jail is surrounded by pretty much every undead in LA: they may be dead, but they're not stupid and they know where the nearest food is.

The sunglasses are not his.
So there, I did do a story rehash despite my determination not to. Look, if you've enjoyed the other Resident Evil movies, then you'll enjoy this. There's nothing here you haven't seen before except for the creeping sensation that the whole thing is getting very tired. There are some great action sequences: notably the first Alice incursion into the Umbrella base and the fight as the jail goes down. Wentworth Miller does a reasonably good job as the new character for this film and manages not to die which was considerate of him; if the series is going to consider, we need some new blood.

Called "Flower Mouth" apparently.
The new creature for the film (those little charmers over there on the left) are cool lookin', but not explained or  described at all beyond being self-evidently "zombies whose mouths open in four directions." Well, yes, but it would be nice if you told me why. I mean, the rest of the zombie population is just drying out and getting increasingly cranky, not turning octopoidal.

There's an attempt at the end of the movie to broaden this idea and apply it to our old friends, the zombified Dobermans. (You remember these little fuzzies from the first movie, right? They were fun back then.) It doesn't work well. It just looks top-heavy and fake.

But, really, there's no fun to be had by pulling this movie apart. You can do it so easily it's barely fun at all: the story is non-existent; character development just...well, it never showed up and someone else ate its doughnut at the catering table; and the fight choreographer just gave up at some point and phoned in a description of Neo's fight with Agent Smith from the first Matrix movie.

Afterlife is shiny, high-speed, and, like the rest of the R:E franchise, addictive like cheap, sweet coffee. You think you can give it up -- but you find yourself sneaking back for more. So just give in,  kick back and enjoy.

Because you're watching it for her and you know it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cop Out

Big work project this week, folks. Have a video instead of a post with, y'know, real content.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Pleasures of Sitting Down

This month has been rough for me and my meditation practice. Things haven't been going well between us: I got a new job which always kicks my over-achiever self into over-drive (see what I did there? Clever, no? No, you're right, not really) and I got sick. It's very hard to be disciplined enough to do any amount of sitting on a daily basis when the simple act of inhaling turns your sinuses into...well, not to put you off your dinner or anything so we'll just say into a very painful place. Not to mention the fact that, I don't know about you, but when I'm sick, if I can drag myself to work and back when I get home, the last thing on Earth I want to do is anything that isn't sleeping. Or dozing. Or napping. Or just lying down in general, really. Lying down = good.

The downside of all this, of course, is that I lose 5-20 minutes a day which help to focus and clear me after the day or, if I'm very lucky and got up early, for the rest of the day. That's not a good thing. When I was sitting regularly, I was having better days. It was easier to take criticism; easier to keep my temper; just generally...easier.

So my goal for next month is to get back into my regular practice and one of the ways I aim to do this is to start visiting one of these two sites regularly again.

The Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, is kind enough to tape the dharma talks given by visiting teachers and the resident monks and make them available online. I've listened to most of the teachers listed on here, but my two favorites are Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Sucitto. Ajahn Amaro is one of my meditation teacher/acupuncturist's teachers and he's told me some great stories about listening to talks in person. On a less spiritual level, I have to say that I love the Ajahn's voice and his sense of humor. He's English; it's dry; it's all good. Buddhist philosophy is extra-wonderful when it comes with jokes about Marmite and Monty Python. Ajahn Sucitto, equally, has a wonderful speaking voice and a great sense of how to bring daily examples into his talks.

The other site I visit regularly is They also archive talks by a variety of teachers and I have spent less time exploring here, but I have had a great time listening to Rodney Smith and Bhante Gunaratana. Smith is another teacher I found through my teacher who has worked with him in the past and I think his sense of humor and passion really come through in his talks. He claims to be a "one note dharma teacher," but I don't think that's true: or if it is only "one note," it's a very...flexible note. Bhante Gunaratana I originally found through his books -- a post for another time -- but his talks are also excellent. I would caution you, though: when I downloaded a couple of his talks I found they were incomplete and there was a "Part 2" or "Part 3" on the website that wasn't clearly redirected from the original part. So check the titles carefully!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Fun Times

I assure you, new series fans on Tumblr who seemed seriously worried that the Daleks are gone for good post-crack, they are not gone. :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"Is there no-one you can trust these days!"

All right, ladies and gentlemen. Here's the deal: see, at the minute I have two full sets of Doctor Who, season 5 sitting on my bookshelf. Both of them work -- sort of and sometimes.

See, the first disc of one set works only in my laptop until about halfway through The Eleventh Hour, when it freezes; the first disc of the other set works only in my DVD player unless I start it running in the DVD player and then switch it to the laptop. The second disc, reverse it. It's very frustrating and none of the discs seem to work quite right in either player. It's as though someone decided to encode the main menu on each disc as an easter egg: you have to play around in each and every case with which combination of buttons you need to press in order to get there. Then, you may have to press additional buttons in order to make the damned thing work. I tell you, it's worse than getting K-9 to run over uneven ground.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I have yet to figure out which disc will let me rewatch The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang satisfactorily in order to write a post about them. It's as though the BBC is personally trying to thwart my blogging! Damn you, BBC executives -- I will not be stopped!

But, unfortunately, I will be delayed.

I had a couple of plans for post-season 5 -- one of them was a post about Torchwood: Children of Earth which I am...really, well, I'm putting it the hell off. The other -- more ongoing vision -- was to talk about some original series episodes because, well, I don't think enough folks who got into the show with the new series have investigated the old series very thoroughly. And they're some of my favorite episodes.

So I've been thinking about where to start this very sketchy and uneven sort of "rewatch" non-liveblog kind of thing. And I figured I might as well start with the Key to Time series: six episodes that made up the 16th season and a whole year's worth of Tom Baker episodes. With all that in mind -- not that it matters a whole hell of a lot -- lets start at the beginning with The Ribos Operation. (If you remember a couple of posts I did last year about "good place to start" episodes, this series of episodes was briefly mentioned.)

Here's the set-up:

As one of the comments on the video at said, "...[he] makes the Doctor an offer he can't refuse." Basically: find the parts to this semi-mythical Key, put them back together so I can save the universe -- or else. The 'else' doesn't even have to be spelled out; Valentine Dyall as the White Guardian does such a fantastic job of making it a threat by tone, look, and mint-julep-swirl.

The Ribos Operation comes just after a lot of very hectic action at the end of season 15 which started with the nice, relaxing jaunt through the closed-room murder mystery of The Horror of Fang Rock (oh, juicy goodness, my friends!) and ended with the departure of the Doctor's companion, Leela, accompanied by a version of K9 to live with her new lover on Gallifrey. (Lame ending to Leela's story arc? Why, yes, yes, it is. We don't talk about The Invasion of Time here.)

So the Doctor is (temporarily) companion-less except for the new version of K9 but now has a new companion thrust upon him by the Guardian to help with the search for the Key. We re-enter the TARDIS to find...
If you're thinking "impractical," you're right.

Yes, well, the Doctor blinks a bit, too. Actress Mary Tamm had been a model "in a previous life," and the costume department clearly had fun with that. Romanadvoratnalundar's ("It's either Romana -- or Fred!" "All right, call me Fred!" "All right. Come on, Romana.") costumes range from the truly bizarre to the merely 'huh'-inducing but Tamm carries them all off with great style and a certain amount of grace -- even the really stupid ones: wait for it, we'll get there in Androids of Tara.

Steven Moffatt clearly had Romana in mind when he created River Song: Romana is a Time Lord; she attended the University; she is smarter and more successful (academically speaking) than the Doctor ("A triple first? are we meant to be impressed?" "Well, it's better than scraping by with 51 percent at the second attempt." "That information is confidential!"); and she knows how to fly the TARDIS -- possibly better than the Doctor. She is intelligent, self-confident, and not willing to take guff from anyone, let alone him. She even begins to diagnose his psychological problems and give him advice within the first ten minutes of residence in the TARDIS.

What makes Romana a great companion is that, much like River, her expectations begin to change. She shifts from viewing the Doctor as someone she might be expected to respect if she were a more revolutionary character herself or someone who might have done better had he done different things with his lives and, instead, begins to see what his skills really are and how important they might be. She has no idea how to talk to people, for example, and if the Doctor has a core set of skills then, by golly, schmoozing is right at the top of the list. By the end of the season, Romana is still very much her own character -- but she and the Doctor have learned to appreciate each other: technically, Romana is streets ahead of the Doctor and he knows that. Interpersonally, the Doctor can outrun Romana any day and she knows that.

They track the first segment of the Key to a planet called Ribos and the fun really begins. The heart of this story is a three-card trick being played by two conmen, Garron and his assistant, Unstoffe, on a deposed ruler, the Graff Vynda-K, and what remains of his army, primarily represented by his aide-de-camp, Sholakh.  Garron and Unstoffe are trying to sell the Graff a non-existent mine and salting the ground by using a piece of jethryk -- an element which would power a space fleet for an entire campaign. Obviously, the jethryk is the first segment of the Key and there's a whole bunch of sleight-of-hand involving this rather attractive blue bit of rock. There are also dragons -- of a sort -- called shrivenzales; a magician called the Seeker with a fantastic hat; and Binro the Heretic.

The actor who played Binro, Timothy Bateson, died not long ago and, in memory thereof, I think we should all take a minute and watch what I think may be one of the best scenes from Operation:

I should also point out that Iain Cuthbertson (Garron, not in this scene) is fantastic in this. Cuthbertson is pretty much always fantastic (check out his work in Inspector Morse, for a case in point -- right up until the point where, as I recall, Ian McDiarmid kills him. Sad, but a great moment for genre fans!)

The Ribos Operation is a nice, solid introduction to the new season; it makes sense, doesn't offer any ghastly un-wrapped-up loose ends (other than the Key itself); and has some great characters to offer, along with an absolutely dribbling villain in the Graff. (Really. The man goes out while shrieking encouragement to an entirely imaginary army under his equally imaginary command. Complete loon.)

Trivia for the day: If you happen to notice that Tom Baker looks injured, you're right. He was in a pub, so goes the story, and was bitten by another pubgoer's dog which damaged his upper lip. You'll notice he seems to be nursing it in the first episode -- in the American version, for about the first 20 minutes of the show -- and then forgets about it.

Next time: The Pirate Planet, written by everyone's favorite hitch-hiker.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Photo Monday

Do you wonder what archivists do on Valentine's Day?

Well, it starts with this box -- which is
from University Products, you
dirty-minded thing you!

And contains these. They'll look
more exciting momentarily.

What are they meant to do?
Glad you asked!
They are going to take this pile of crap...

...and this shelf of crap and turn it
into something that doesn't
hurt the heart of a librarian.

Gerry quality-checks them for us.

Several times.

Thoroughly QC'd, we can put
them together. Well, Anna can.
I totally failed.

And it took Anna awhile to get
the hang of it, too.

Gerry observes closely.

Then there has to be sorting.

And more sorting.

And then we need kitty assistance
with the sorting.

Helpful assistance.

And something to watch, of

Also, beverages.

And then the project starts to work.


And final success. (Not for Father Octavian, though.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Fun Times

Lets say I'm feeling a little mild 10 nostalgia these days; urged on by gorgeous tribute videos like this one:

10 may not have been "my" Doctor -- peace out, 4 -- but Tennant deserves endless, endless props for making the Doctor face mortality in a way he had never done before.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Universe of Possibilities for the Microsoft Office Paperclip

Well, something like the paperclip --  it's a stapler. A red stapler, to be precise.

Ah, the joy of geekery injokes!

A thousand thanks to my buddy Minerva for picking this up for me when I totally dropped the ball and missed the release date! (Now, of course, I have a standing order at the Million Year Picnic and will not have that issue again.)

I feel I should say right off the top that I am not a huge comic book/graphic novel/term of the month fan. I feel like I kind of missed the bus with them. The stories are often fantastic -- I love Joe Hill's Locke and Key, for example, but that takes very little effort! -- but I often find the art itself somewhat distracting and in larger works like Neil Gaiman's Sandman the changes in artist from story to story induce a kind of narrative motion sickness. I'm trying to get better about this because I realise I'm missing some fantastic genre writing by some authors I really love -- as well as the stories by the authors I haven't met yet.

Anyway, the new IDW Doctor Who series might be about as easy an introduction as you could wish to see. It's a lousy introduction to Doctor Who -- you better have seen all of Season 5 and paid attention while you were at it! -- but the story is a light, fluffy piece of foolishness without even a dim corner: did you ever wonder what spam and the TARDIS would do to each other? Well, here's your answer!

There are nods to Office Space and the later seasons of Red Dwarf among others and the whole thing ends on a nice, happy, slightly snarky note. Very light fun for a cold, grey Boston day.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"...just one fucking thing after another."

And, y'know, I have yet to come up with a handier, one-phrase description of history than Rudge's from the last act of The History Boys. I'm sure there are professional historians out there for whom it sounds like anathema but, well, I only have my master's degree in history, so I barely count as professional!

Anyway, I thought for this Monday since my photos have been so boring lately -- it's difficult taking good wintertime photos when you A) have no tripod and B) can't really take off your gloves to take a picture because it's so damn cold. Possibly this is how I know I'm not a National Geographic-style photographer? If it's a choice between a photo and my fingers, I choose my fingers. Anyway, the point of this post is I thought I might comment on the highlights of my recent history reading since I've been on a serious non-fiction kick.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M. Barry. It's all in the title, to be quite honest with you: the post-World War I influenza pandemic. Although Barry uses the word 'pandemic,' which to me has global or "broader than one country" connotations, the book focusses quite tightly on the US. In fact, if you read this and come away with the idea that the US suffered more than almost anywhere else not only in the influenza pandemic but also World War I, that would be understandable. Widening the focus might have been a good idea from a historical point of view, but might have ruined the point from a medical point of view -- indeed, even from a history of medicine point of view --, since what Barry is interested in is the origin of the disease (somewhere in the midwest, apparently) and the scientific "struggle against the virus." It practically comes with its own soundtrack. Scientists are noble, disinterested, honest beings struggling valiantly to save a doomed humanity. Ok, I'm oversimplifying a little and I'm not doing Barry any favors but my suggestion would either be to go through with a highlighter and pencil and deconstruct his narrative or read it so quickly you don't have to think too much.

I wouldn't recommend it as serious academic reading, but it's on the same level as, say, a Simon Schama talking-head documentary about the history of Britain. You will almost undoubtedly learn something, but it may not be quite the thing the author intended that you learn. One thing I will say -- Barry's explanations of the medicine and science accompanying the 1918 influenza pandemic are fantastic. He has a solid knack for making what are, for me anyway, nearly incomprehensibly complex scientific concepts seem, well, quite simple or at least visualizable.

The Perfect Summer, Juliet Nicolson. Nicolson is Vita Sackville-West's granddaughter, so when she writes this kind of history, it can sometimes be less a history, and more a recounting of family gossip. This doesn't make her light, fluffy history of the summer of 1911 in Britain any less readable. The word that comes immediately to mind is "charming." If you read this and E.F. Benson's Dodo novels back to back, you'd have an...interesting, if totally one-sided, vision of Britain before the war. Nicolson makes a laudable attempt to have her story cross class lines, talking about working-class protests, the rise of the labor movement, and activist women in factories.

Nicolson is very good at pulling out personal narratives and details to give her story dimension and life and she claims several personalities as central to her story, including socialite Lady Diana Manners and poet Rupert Brooke. Also tangential to the narrative she constructs are figures including Siegfried Sassoon, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Stephen, and Queen Mary. The anecdotes she chooses are always amusing and the whole book is a light, enjoyable read.

Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century, Ruth Harris. Less fluffy; not even remotely charming; very, very interesting. So the Dreyfus Affair, yes? 1890s France; there's a spy in the French army; a Jewish officer is accused and sentenced: is he innocent or not? Well, the verdict is in, folks, and the dude was about as innocent as you can reasonably get. In fact, even after the French government made him spend lots and lots and lots of time on Devil's Island -- not a nice place -- he wanted to be reinstated in the army after his innocence was proved. One of the heartbreaks of his post-Affair life, according to Harris, was that he wasn't allowed the retroactive promotions he would have received had he remained in the service normally.

Harris takes this fairly basic story -- often reported in terms not much more complex than I have used -- and breaks it down. And then breaks that down. And then breaks that down again. The Affair divided its partisans into two fairly basic groups: Dreyfusards (innocent) and anti-Dreyfusards (guilty). Given that the Affair itself was highly charged with anti-Semitic feeling and that anti-Dreyfusard propaganda often took on a tinge that Nazi propagandists might have envied, these two "sides" often look like White Hats and Black Hats in historical hindsight. Harris' aim here is to show where that isn't quite true; a more honest retrospective might show a whole bunch of Grey Hats, with a lot of shades of grey. Leading Dreyfusards might have hated Jews personally, but thought the damage to France's reputation as the leading light of fraternal democracy being done by Dreyfus' imprisonment was too much to take. Anti-Dreyfusards, on the other hand, might have had no particularly strong anti-Jewish feeling, but have wanted desperately to support the army once the verdict against Dreyfus was given.

Harris' analysis can get weighty at times and I'm not saying this isn't a dry read. You might want a pen and paper handy to keep note of names and dates because, brother, does she go through it by the detail. You will know more than you ever wanted to know about who forged what and when. But she also makes a fascinating argument about the emergence of French nationalism, nationalism in general, and the creation of an ideology and how that may, or may not, play into state- and/or nation-building. She also picks at the perception of the Affair as an anti-Semitic precursor to Nazi Germany and at the reputation of the anti-Dreyfusards as proto-Nazis or National Front members.

So there you have it -- a few additions for your next library list.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


No, I'm not suggesting you should be anxious right now.

It's Saturday -- you should kick back with your favorite beverage at hand (personally, I favor coffee), some nice music playing -- or perhaps Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! is on? -- and scroll lazily through your RSS feeds, pausing to close your eyes and doze at key moments -- like when you get to something boring. If you have a pet, perhaps you could stroke it at random intervals...unless it's a turtle or an iguana or something. In which case, it's probably not quite such a stroke'y situation. Maybe a grape would be welcome, though.

No, today, I've got a brief book review for you of Yoga for Anxiety, by a husband-and-wife team, Mary and Rick NurrieStearns. As you can see from the author line above, Mary, at least, is a certified counsellor and many of the personal narratives in the book come either from her patients or from personal experience, both hers and Rick's.

This is a pretty helpful little volume. For, me I found the last few chapters -- the yoga poses and everything else to the end -- to be the most interesting and useful. The yoga poses are beautifully illustrated with black and white photographs although the instructions for getting in and out of poses might be a bit sketchy; I have bad luck following flow instructions in books anyway! The meditation instructions are really good -- clear, unpretentious, very straightforward.

Will the book confirm your suspicion that yoga and meditative practice will help anxiety (diagnosed or otherwise)? Yes. Will it give you horror stories about people whose anxiety is 1000x worse than yours? Oh, yes. Does it sometimes have weird evangelical Christian overtones? Yes; those are kind of awkward moments.

I think the authors are, laudably, trying to broaden their potential audience as much as possible; perhaps they are evangelical Christians themselves, I have no idea. I've rather specifically avoided finding out, to be honest. And I know yoga can have a kind of rocky road for Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical/conservative persuasion, because of the perceived "religiosity" of the practice. I think this is a fascinating question and, were I better informed, I'm sure I could go on at length about it, but I'm not, so I won't. I prefer to think that the NurrieStearns's aim is to try and reach the widest possible audience of people for whom these techniques could be helpful and that's pretty much everyone because I know very few people who don't at least get a little anxious before making a speech. They draw examples and inspiration from anywhere they can: if it calms your nerves to repeat that God loves you, they're happy with that; if you'd rather chant om, they're happy with that, too.

My real quibble with the book is how much time is spent right up front -- the first third or so of the book -- i an outline of types of anxiety and what feels to me like a kind of self-diagnosis guide for anxiety disorders. I get fidgety around that sort of thing because I think it can play into a variety of personal issues and when it comes to something that's as potentially serious as a mental health issue like anxiety, it's important to get an outside view, preferably a professional outside view. It's like going to a doctor to get a sprained wrist taken care of; yeah, you probably know what you did; yeah, you probably know what to do for it; but in order to get it taken care of in a way that will let it heal well, it might be a good idea to ask someone whose job it is to make it better.

There are a lot of journal prompts and "reflect on your answers to these questions" and "return to the entry you wrote for the prompt XXX and consider YYY." I didn't find those prompts that useful and it would have been nice to have a few more "and if you find yourself freaking out before you have a chance to write this journal entry, try this" ideas. I'm also not a huge journalizing-type person; I used to be, but I'm not now for a whole variety of reasons none of which are pertinent here. If you are a regular journaler (journalist? journaler...? I don't know. If you write a freakin' journal!), then these prompts might be absolutely fantastic for you and I'd urge you to check the book out and have a go.

Once they do get down to brass tacks, so to speak, the tacks are really useful: actual everyday techniques for use on the spot, so to speak. And constant reassurance that this is a process: some things will be useful; some won't. Some days you will love your practice; some days you will want to throw it out the window. Keep at it; keep trying; keep coming back.

 *Disclaimer: I am not a yoga teacher. I hold no certifications. All opinions here are only my own and only opinions and should be taken as such.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When Is It Important?

Explanation for lack of Wednesday post: I'm learning a new job; my Internet connection at home has been kind of hit-and-miss; and, most importantly, I'm waiting for delivery of my very own copy of the Season 5 DVDs.

I want to wait and rewatch the season enders before blogging about them; I remember mostly what I wanted to say but there are some details I want to check before just plunging ahead and making myself look foolish.

So, in the nature of a consolation prize, have some old series bloopers (probably NSFW):