Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 4: Hide (Spoilers)

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The Caliburn Mansion...

The Caliburn Mansion…

...is actually the interior of the Diogenes club!

…is actually the interior of the Diogenes club!

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The Doctor has turned into a teenager. Aliens, beware…

The folks at the BBC have done it again, airing yet another episode of Doctor Who on April 20th. Titled “Hide,” this week’s romp through the Doctor’s world centers around supernatural events occurring in and around the mysterious Caliburn mansion, where Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) are investigating the “Witch of the Well” who is rumored to be haunting the place. Emma uses her empathic abilities to reach out to the specter, while the Professor snaps photographs and takes readings on a wide range of odd devices.

The news that Neil Cross would be writing this episode made me rather nervous. After the rather ham-handed grandiosity of “The Rings of Akhaten,” I suspected that he would try to transfer the same techniques to “Hide.” Which rarely, if ever, make a successful ghost story. Episodes are made thrilling and truly frightening notGhostbusters through gigantic plasma spheres with jack-o’lantern faces, but with a creak in the dark room, a shadow passing across a window, a camera angle that gives you the feeling that there’s something right behind you, a brief returns to normality before being assaulted yet again by tense forays into the dark unknown. And, thankfully, “Hide” included all this and more.

Sexual tension you could cut with a butter knife.

Sexual tension you could cut with a butter knife.

The characters were the central focus of the episode, which was a welcome relief from the giant scale of the episodes that have characterized Series 7. The tension between Emma and Alec as they fumble their way through a budding romance is lovely, though Raine’s acting falls somewhat flat at times. However, their relationship offers a mirror to the Doctor-Clara dynamic, as love story signals conflict with Emma’s warning to Clara about the Doctor: “There’s a sliver of ice in his heart.” Which one?

The Doctor does his classic about-face as he has a “Eureka!” moment and runs into the TARDIS with Clara. We see a brief montage of that exact spot on Earth throughout the millennia as the Doctor snaps photographs of the place where the Caliburn mansion was/is/will be. Continue reading

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Trailer (Recap)

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Slated for release on November 22nd, we are finally awarded several tidbits from the movie Catching Fire in this trailer (which was released on the 14th). Doubtless there will be many more like it in the coming months.

Overview

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This trailer focuses on the preamble to the Quarter Quell as opposed to the Quell itself, which I think was an interesting choice. We are shown a heck of a lot of courtyard scenes, which look like they were all shot in the same place. We also see President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee (I am refraining from making snarky jokes about the pretentiousness of this name, I really am) discussing the fate of Katniss Everdeen. I liked that the trailer wasn’t all action and explosions and running (though done well, those kinds of trailers can still be great). The destruction of the symbol that is Katniss is a sophisticated subject to use for the first trailer. However, I do wish there’d been some other shots spliced in with all the courtyards and Peacekeepers.

How could this trailer be more awesome?Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 11.32.32 PM

I would have liked to see more news coverage of the story, similar to that one shot where we see Caesar Flickerman exclaim “Katniss EverDEEN, the Girl on Fire!” in front of a huge screen as she walks through a party sporting yet another ridiculous hairstyle. Also, although I understand that refraining from displaying footage of the Games both heightens the hype for the movie and retains dramatic tension for people who’ve read the books, some action shots interspersed between courtyard scenes could have been cool. For example: Peeta and Katniss walk out onto a stage in some District‘s courtyard. Brief cut to a chase sequence within the Quarter Quell. Cut back to the courtyard, where we see a clapping crowd. Snow is talking to Plutarch about Katniss. He continues, voicing over a quick shot from the Quell. Cut back to the courtyard. Etc. Also, I wish there had been more levity. Yes, there are some Serious Topics being covered here. Yes, there wasn’t much humor in the book. Yes, this is just a two-minute trailer that in no way represents the entire movie. Still, as any fan of Joss Whedon will tell you, humor breaks tense moments and does not have to detract from the overall seriousness of a film. Showing these moments in the trailer gives people incentive to see the film. We go to the movies to be entertained, and humor is definitely entertaining.

So, all in all: this was an enticing first trailer that leaves a little to be desired in terms of shot variety but still gets us excited for the sequel to Hunger Games.

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Happy Birthday, Leonard Euler!

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Leonhard Euler Google DoodleToday is Leonhard Euler‘s 306th birthday! As Pierre-Simon Laplace said, “Read Euler, read Euler, he is the master of us all.” A true polymath, he pioneered in mechanics, fluid dynamics, optics, and astronomy. We have him to thank for much of our modern mathematical notational conventions, as well as infinitesimal calculus and graph theory. Euler’s Identity is considered by manyf897005615c391e14cd50112cda44665 to be the most beautiful equation in all of mathematics. So join me in wishing a happy birthday to one of the most influential dead mathematicians of all time.

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 3: Cold War (Spoilers)

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On Saturday, April 13th,  the newest episode of Series 7.5 of Doctor Who was aired (Sunday the 14th, for those hailing from the United States). The story takes place on a sinking Soviet submarine (alliteration FTW) during the Cold War. The quarters are cramped and tensions are running high as the vessel slowly fills with water and an Ice Warrior named Skaldak – who believes himself to be the last of his kind – runs rampant. Or perhaps slithers, as he does in fact vacate his armor and travels through tSkaldakhe sub making very Basilisk-y rasping sounds. This is the first time we have seen an Ice Warrior without a helmet, and the face is quite cool (though depressingly humanoid, as most TV aliens are). The clawed hands reaching down from the rafters (do submarines have rafters?) were exceedingly cheeseball and would have been right at home in an early episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Series 1 of Doctor Who.

MUSINGS

I enjoyed the comparison of (and contrast between) the “real” Cold War – the period of political and military tension between the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc taking place in the outside world of this episode – and the “cold war” occurring within the sub, which was in essence a game of chicken between several trigger-happy (cattle prod-happy?) naval officers, a really cranky Martian, an ages-old Gallifreyan and his 21st-century companion who were both anticipating Vegas and were instead confronted with a wet, cramped submarine and a lily-livered TARDIS…and twelve nuclear missiles.

ice-spaceship-1-1The ending was a charming example of deus ex machina – an Ice Warrior spaceship appears, looking very much like the classic interpretation of a flying saucer (except with some bitchin’ purple lights lining the edges). It then draws the submarine up to the surface of the ocean with a tractor beam and Skaldak beams out, refraining from remotely blowing up the submarine and showing everyone that yes, friendship is magic.

The Doctor-Clara dynamic is fantastic – Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman play off each other extraordinarily well. Most characters have a chance to throw out several grintacular one-liners, and the script is intelligent and smooth. (Thank you, Mark Gatiss.) The professor, played by David Warner, is an endearing refresher as a kid stuck in an adult’s body. (His one question to Clara upon discovering that she is a time traveler is “Ultravox – do they spilt up?” Love that guy.) Also, was it an accident that Clara hums “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran when she gets nervous? Bad Wolf allusions, anyone? There are rumors flying everywhere about the 50th AnniversarDoctorLaughFunnyy special/series finale, so this could be relevant or just a red herring. Also, the Doctor seems to be carrying around a doll that looks very much like Rose Tyler. In the final scene, the Doctor finally explains why the TARDIS mysteriously disappeared – he implemented a protocol called HADS, or Hostile Action Displacement System, which teleports the TARDIS out of danger – and it was brilliant. Plus the Doctor gets to do annoyed-little-kid facial expressions. Smith’s acting is fantastic as always, and he and Clara defeat an enemy without violence, which was nice. (This was also the case with “Rings of Akhaten,” and I appreciated it.) However, the fact that Clara let the Doctor tell her to stay put was just infuriating. No self-respecting companion ever heeds the Doctor’s words. Ever.

So, all in all, a very well-scripted episode that could have had more dramatic tension, but in the end was satisfying and gave us several red herrings.

Read my dissection of two trailers for “Cold Warhere, my review of Episode 2 “The Rings of Akhatenhere, and my review of Episode 1 “The Bells of Saint John” here.

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Two Trailers for Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 3: The Cold War

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A classic villain is brought back in the upcoming episode of Doctor Who: the Ice Warriors! (Hence the title “Cold War.”) More specifically, Grand Marshall Skaldak. (This particular Warrior is not from Classic Who, but the concept of “Grand Marshall” is.) Anyway, let’s jump right into the trailers!

This first one is the “next time” trailer shown after “The Rings of Akhaten.”

There’s a great deal of information encapsulated in these 36 seconds:
the Doctor and Clara are aboard a sinking submarine armed with no less than 12 nuclear warheads and an angry Ice Warrior who evidently is intent on detonating them all. The last cut is of a scaly hand reaching towards a very smug-looking red button, whose purpose is presumably to trigger the missiles. We also see a rather bleak shot of Clara’s head lolling, eyes closed, looking very cold and wet and not very alive. Random aside: the premise reminds me very much of the Angel episode “Why We Fight.”

The next trailer on the list is the TV spot.

New information in this one: the Doctor was aiming for Las Vegas when he lands in the sinking submarine. Also, he seems to know who Skaldak is, proclaiming “this one is [dangerous]. He’s got nothing left to lose.” This could reflect a level of personal involvement with Skaldak’s plight. Or maybe Skaldak has just gone insane, and thus has no qualms with nuking Earth.

The description of this video reads: “On a Russian submarine in 1983, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS materialises.” So, Skaldak was dormant for who-knows-how-long before waking up, possibly as a result of the TARDIS’ rather hasty landing.

All in all, this episode looks like it has the potential to be pretty great. Neither of the trailers include much dialogue, but hopefully the writers have bounced back from the unimaginative script of “The Rings of Akhaten.” If you’re interested in more Doctor Who-related posts, check out my review of Series 7.5 Episode 1 (“The Bells of Saint John”) here, my review of Episode 2 (“The Rings of Akhaten”) here, and an early dissection of the trailers for Series 7.5 here.

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 2: The Rings of Akhaten (Spoilers)

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First of all, I’d just like to make the point that this episode has been getting way more negative reviews than it deserves. “The Rings of Akhaten” is a rollicking space-y adventure complete with Star Wars-ian alien fauna and some seriously awesome visual effects from the masters fromp017c9sc The Mill. The story structure is not revolutionary, but neither is it absurdly nonsensical like several of its predecessors. (“Fear Her,” anyone?) I believe the word here is ‘dependable’ – Moffat took a framework that has succeeded in the past and re-worked it. That said, there are several plot holes and gaps of logic – flying a space motorcycle through the void without a space suit, for one. Not to mention several occurrences of underwhelming dialogue. Before we get there, however, let’s backtrack a bit…

SUMMARY

The episode begins with the Doctor observing the meeting of Clara’s parents – a clichéd but ultimately sweet rendition of the “dramatic rescue of the damsel in distress” trope…except in this situation, Clara’s father is the damsel. Smacked in the face with a maple leaf, he decides it’s a great idea to meander into oncoming traffic flailing his arms about. His future wife pushes him out of the way in the nick of time…and true love ensues.

rings-akhaten-dave-ellie-4Cue montage of Clara growing up (come on, we haven’t had one of those in ages). We see her mother giving her the “101 Places” book we saw in “The Bells of Saint John” (and now we know the origin of the leaf that constitutes the first page). Her mother then inexplicably dies (hopefully we’ll learn more about that later, as it is a major character shaper).

Cut to present-day TARDIS, and the Doctor is asking Clara what she would like to see. There is ssssssssssaaaaaaaaaaaa_zpsc13a1018some fierce buildup as she ponders this question, and though her answer – “something awesome” – seems somewhat anticlimactic, the Doctor responds with his usual enthusiasm and begins dancing around the TARDIS console while pressing buttons and pulling levers in the standard takeoff sequence. (Interestingly enough, the order in which he does it all is actually the same episode to episode. And yes, I’ve double-checked this.)

doctor-who-rings-of-akhaten-overnights-mainThe Doctor takes Clara to the Rings of Akhaten – seven planetoids orbiting a gas giant. Their visit coincides with the Festival of Offerings, which the Doctor passes off as the alien version of Pancake Tuesday. In reality, the Festival “celebrates” the aligning of the planetoids with a live performance by the Queen of Years, the young Merry GejelhMeet_the_brand_new_Doctor_Who_aliens_from_The_Rings_of_Akhaten (played wonderfully by Emilia Jones). The Old God – christened “Grandfather” – resides in a golden pyramid on an asteroid, and the song is meant to placate him, acting as a lullaby. We see Clara in her “governess” role again as she comforts Merry and assures her that, despite her fears, she will not fail her song.

Merry is stolen away by Grandfather via tractor beam while she is singing and is taken to the pyramid. The Doctor and Clara arrive just in time (riding 0aforementioned nifty space motorcycle, paid for with Clara’s mother’s ring because of its sentimental value) to convince her not toThe Rings of Akhaten sacrifice her soul. Then, just as Grandfather is about to

escape his glass cage… Continue reading

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Music for a Sunny, Neekly Day

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Today is the first cloudless day I’ve seen for far too long, and in a vitamin D-induced fit of euphoria have decided to give you a list of music I’ve been playing throughout the day that reflects my mood. Ready?

517ftTJumaL._SL500_AA300_Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra (lyrics)

There is no better song to describe my current situation.

Sun is shinin’ in the sky / There ain’t a cloud in sight / It’s stopped rainin’ / Ev’rybody’s in a play / And don’t you know / It’s a beautiful new day (hey, hey)

 

A Beatlesque rock anthem with excessively upbeat backing and chordal structure. Plus, it was featured in Doctor Who Series 2 Episode 10, “Love and Monsters” as main character (and avid ELO fan) Elton Pope’s favorite song. There’s a scene at the beginning of the episode in which he is vlogging and starts to dance to it in his bedroom, which was quite funny. And stop hating on Love and Monsters! Yes, the Abzorbaloff was atrocious. But that’s not what the story was about. Plus, Moaning Myrtle!

cd-coverI’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers (lyrics)

Listening to this song, I feel…enlivened. It’s got a simple chord pattern and repetitive lyrics, a bouncy tempo and Scottish accents. All in all, it’s a cheery song that adds a smile to the day.

Plus, it was featured in this awesome Doctor Who Cast and Crew video, which was part of the David Tennant and Russell T. Davies wrap party.

tumblr_mgxqdoS7Gh1r2st53o1_coverGood Morning Sunshine by Alex Day (lyrics)

My favorite part of this song has to be the backing chorus. There’s a touch of sadness in it, but that only amplifies the overall warmth of the song.

     http://youtu.be/W7q1bHK8te0

Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles (lyrics)

All right, while not technically a neeky band or song, the Fab Four still deserve a spot on this playlist with “Good Day Sunshine,” a poppy tribute to love in the sunlight.

  

This Isn’t Hogwarts! by Hank Green (lyrics)

Though the first words of the song are “I hate this place,” the song is quite fun and it’s just awesome to see Hank rocking out about Hogwarts. A bit less playful and somewhat more angsty than the previous four songs I mentioned, “This Isn’t Hogwarts” really represents America’s public school system very well. It’s also just a great song for neeks, Nerdfighters, Harry Potter fans, and people who enjoy an amusing, well-written song.

Primeday by Teddiefilms

This parody of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” has got to be the best remake I have ever seen of an absolutely terrible song. Take “Friday;” remove all tween romance, high school, and drama; add Star Wars and small chubby dude playing Leia, and what do you get? The masterpiece of modern YouTube that is “Primeday.”

That’s all! I hope you enjoyed my list of several songs that embodied today in all its sunshine-filled glory.

 

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Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Spoilers)

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Before I begin, I would like to make several comments regarding the nature of this novel. First of all, The Fault in Our Stars, despite the fact that the narrator disdains upon such titles, is in truth a ‘cancer book.’ To be fair, it’s not an up-ending, inspiring tale of dreams achieved and goals met, wishes come true and everlasting exuberance found – but nonetheless it is a standard-bearer for the fast-emerging genre of teen fiction the Daily Mail has dubbed “sick lit.” The title character, Hazel Grace Lancaster, is introduced as a suffering victim yet pities herself not; she endures the trials that define her existence as a cancer patient – namely the deaths and sacrifices of her friends, as well as her own unstable condition – and emerges from the ordeal sadder but wiser, and potentially more hopeful about her wretched existence. Thus some reviewers might afford it more praise than it is due purely because it details the suffering of the terminally ill and does not attempt to gloss over the gory details for the sake of a glittering, felicitous end. I shall attempt not to allow such precepts to cloud my objectivity, though neither shall I endeavor to present this book in an unduly negative light.

I would also like to point out that The Fault in Our Stars is a deeply moving, poignant novel. So much so, in fact, that immediately after reading it I was compelled to flip the TV on to watch dazedly as the heroes of Torchwood shot at some aliens for forty-five senseless minutes. It’s that kind of book – one that presents ideas in such a way that we readers must take cover in mindlessness to shield ourselves.

The Fault in Our Stars fills me with a sense of uncertainty. Upon finishing it, I wondered if I should try to capture my thoughts about it right away, or wait and let them percolate. Would it be less meaningful on a re-read? Is it a book to re-read? Or one to preserve forevermore as a series of first impressions?

The last letter from Augustus Waters to Van Houten, though intended to place a small glow of optimism where the eloquent young man once lived within the heart, only amplified the hopelessness of the entire situation. ‘You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.’ To which the femme mourant, as it were, responds with a resounding and overtly wedding-referential ‘I do, Augustus. I do.’ I leave wondering how long it will be till Hazel kicks the bucket. Will she go out with dignity?

I’d rather not end this review on a negative, snarky note, because it is possible that I have been stubbornly cynical to deflect the wave of insight that this book has set upon me. Let me say this: The Fault in Our Stars is a well-written, earnest novel that never felt slow. Even the lengthier scenes had energy, and that is a difficult endeavor to skillfully accomplish as a writer. Upon completion, I felt honestly moved. That is not a statement I make often with regards to teen fiction. So, all in all, I applaud John Green for writing an accessible novel not only concerning cancer, but people. Thank you.

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Top Neekly April Fool’s Day Pranks of 2013

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April Fool’s Day is an age-old tradition. Pranks are, at this point, a given for April 1st. If you’re interested in a little background (courtesy of Wikipedia)…

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The Internet has been buzzing for the past few days over some of the most well-executed pranks – and none are more so than those of the tech community. So, without further ado, here are my top several neekly April Fool’s Day Pranks of 2013! In no particular order…

April1frmryrsTwttr

Twitter announced that it will henceforth be a two-teired service. Anyone can use “Twttr,” but you only get consonants and the letter “y.” Upgrade to the premium service, “Twitter” for $5/month, and get unlimited consonant and vowel usage. Twitter also linked to this tool, which turns regular speech into an incomprehensible, vowel-less mess. Enjoy.


Eco Trees

Samsung announces its newest product. “SMARTSamsung-Electronics-announces-availability-of-Eco-Trees-a-smart-companion-for-a-richer-sustainable-healthier Eco Trees intake CO2 and release oxygen to support a healthier environment. In the process it also uses a natural filtering system to eliminate pollutants. Eco Trees also help keep the humidity at a pleasant level. These features are fully automatic and require only the addition of water and S (Solar) Beams.” I see what you did there, Samsung.
original-1

 

Virgin Atlantic Glass-Bottomed Plane

British Virgin Atlantic customers flying in their newest plane model, Little Red, will be afforded an unparalleled view of the British countryside through the floor of the glass-bottomed plane.

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Review: Doctor Who Series 7.5 Episode 1: The Bells of Saint John (Spoilers)

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SPOILERS AHEAD. SPOILERS, I SAY! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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Clara and the Doctor in “The Snowmen.”

Doctor Who Series 7 returned to televisions worldwide on March 30th with the invigoratingly flashy midseries premiere “The Bells of Saint John.” With all the hype leading up to it, however, some disappointment was inevitable. This episode was tasked with introducing Clara Oswald yet again, this time as the Doctor’s 21st century to-be companion. (For those who are unfamiliar with the mythos surrounding Clara, the Doctor has met different versions of her across different times.) “The Bells of Saint John” also promised a riveting adventure and strong story to boot.

spoon1The central plot itself foundered somewhat when it was asked to support the forgettable monsters known as the “Spoonheads” as well as fail to explain why “The Great Intelligence” (played by Richard E. Grant)photo wanted people’s souls all of a sudden when snowmen seemed to entertain it just fine only a few hundred years prior. Viewers never learn how the soul-snatching actually works – there isn’t even a pseudo-science explanation delivered hastily by the Doctor. Plus, the plot and story structure both seem like reiterations of “The Idiot’s Lantern,” and why on earth did Miss Kizlet want Clara to have computer skills if her sudden awesome hacking prowess ended up being the mysterious corporation’s downfall? (By the way, Celia Imrie was wonderful as Miss Kizlet. When UNIT is cleaning up the scene after all of the Spoonhead controllers have been wiped, and she looks up and asks for her parents…I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.) Continue reading

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