Top twelve things to expect from Avengers: Infinity War

12. A hotel proprietor named Hilbert has trouble finding rooms enough for all the characters . . . and then the villains show up with reservations
11. A hero punches a villain and it’s awesome
10. A hero punches a hero on a different team and it’s awesome
9. The Hulk punches pretty much anything and it’s awesome
8. Thor’s lightning CGI: $32,674 per second of screentime. Doctor Strange’s magic energy CGI: $21,332 per second. Scarlet Witch’s psychic energy CGI: $27,901 per second. Watching a titanic purple alien lord of death poke himself in the eyeball as he tries to dislodge an ant-sized human from his face: priceless
7. Thanos completes the Infinity Gauntlet and, as his first order of business, alters the timeline so none of the Fantastic Four movies ever happened
6. Then the Avengers get the Gauntlet and agree that it is far too powerful to allow anyone to wield . . . except to change The Last Jedi so Admiral Ackbar survives
5. Then Groot gets the Gauntlet and awakens trees throughout the galaxy to rise up against their animal overlords, setting the stage for Infinity War II. He also awards The Good Dinosaur all the Oscars
4. But even he won’t try to salvage Cars 2‘s reputation
3. The writers start inventing random superheroes to stick in the final all-in battle just to see if anyone can keep track anymore
2. Fifty million web articles trying to cash in on the movie’s popularity, all of which are eager to keep track. All together, they tell you about eight things worth knowing
1. Captain America’s epic last-stand, one-on-one slugfest against Thanos is set to “Manic Monday” courtesy of Starlord’s Zune

0. Some dork uses it as the basis of the fiftieth post on his dorky blog


Easter 2018

Well, that was quite a year for me, with a move north, a baby growing into toddlerhood, and of course all the upheaval going on in the greater world. But I survived and thrived, and here we are. With a nicer look to the blog, even.

Last year, this blog covered the new season (with more to come) of MST3K. Woooo! Rewatching the season, I find I didn’t see the cast chemistry (in particular, the Mads’) until late in the season, but it was pretty much there all along. I also appreciate Wizards II more, but I still think it’s a letdown from I, and the Hercules episode is still the low point of the season for me. And the submarine episode is still the dark horse.

I also got through the first season of the Doctor Who relaunch, and (toddler willing) will try to keep a slightly faster pace this year. There are a few episodes and seasons in the future I’m just so pumped to talk about, and it’d be nice to get there before the self-driving car apocalypse kills us all.

As for the more serious and more personal posts I mentioned in 2017’s Easter installment . . . I posted one of them. Arguably a second, but that was just a warmup to get started talking about computer games, before I delve into ones more dear to my heart. I’m very much an introvert, with strong privacy instincts, so it’s hard to expose the rawer parts of my thinking for all to see. I get started writing in the clarity and heat of the moment, and then just don’t finish. But it’s part of my duty to try to contribute, however minute the effect may turn out to be, to the betterment of the world, and talking about things productively is one of my talents. So that’s going to happen every once in a while. Jesus died to make us better people, the least I can do is give a pep talk every now and then. So, a blessed retroactive Easter to everyone, and happy spring to those who don’t still have several inches of white winter on the ground. To the rest of us . . . patience.

(Oh, and, hey, my next post will be the fiftieth on this blog. Yay me.)

nuWho 2×02: Tooth and Claw

A small band of monks arrives at an isolated estate. The head monk tells a servant there that they want his house. When the man refuses, the monks whip off their cloaks to reveal they’re airbenders who traded their blue tattoos for Matrix-fu. The servants are quickly subdued and locked in the cellar, along with the lady of the house, then presented with a cage. On being asked about the cage’s contents, the head monk says “May God forgive me” and shows them what’s inside. End-of-teaser screaming commences.

The Doctor meanwhile is aiming the TARDIS for a 1979 concert. He and Rose are partying, enjoying some of the era’s noise music to get into the mood. He puts down Rose’s denim suspenders. It’s not so much the suspenders as their combination with the dark hose, Rose. Rose accuses him of being punk with a little rockabilly, which sounds amusing, but I was never very good at musical genres. They step outside, the Doctor chattering about how he almost lost his thumb getting Skylab down, straight into a pack of 1879 mounted soldiers escorting a carriage.

The Doctor dons the local Scottish accent and says he’s a distinguished doctor who had been chasing the “naked child” around the countryside. (Rose tries her own Scottish accent, but the Doctor shoots it down.) The occupant of the carriage is none other than Queen Victoria, who ignores Rose’s exposed limbs in favor of the Doctor’s psychic paper, which appoints him as her protector. She could use a little protection, as the train track has evidently been cut to force her to travel by carriage through this empty country, with only a TV budget’s worth of soldiers for escort. Also, wolves are said to live in the area. This might be just for color, but then Victoria dismisses them as old wives’ tales, so you know we’re gonna get a faceful of undomesticated canine before the story is over.

The Doctor and Rose join the procession, both excited over meeting the Queen Victoria. Rose decides her new goal in life is to get a “We are not amused” out of Vicky.

Upon their arrival, Sir Robert tries to urge Victoria to ride on, but Victoria has had enough of her carriage for the day (and who can blame her). She’d rather stay the night here, at the monk-infested . . . Torchwood estate. With her mysterious sparkly-music box.

We see the servants (and Lady Isobel) are still alive, but are currently being terrorized by a robed man in a cage who, uh, shushes them. Victorians: scared of wolves, ghosts, and librarians.

Queen Victoria is taken to a planetarium room, with an orrery and a telescope. Did they CGI the sky? Something about this scene looks off and I think the sky is part of it. No, maybe just sketchy compositing. The Doctor approves of Sir Robert’s father, who poured money into a telescope rather than spend it on creature comforts. The Doctor inspects it and begins to complain about the functional design, but catches himself and admires its aesthetics. Victoria helps to cover up his gaffe.

There’s a nice detail here, as Sir Robert himself knows nothing about the telescope, but adds that he wishes he’d spent more time listening to his father about whatever his father wanted to talk about. I feel like often, when the descendant is “sorry, can’t help you”, it’s written off as either “he was an obsessed old eccentric, spent his time locked away doing heaven knows what” or “if only I’d listened when he was talking about that plot point!” Sir Robert’s desire is a simpler, more generic thought, but is not tied to the specifics of the plot, and so feels more relatable.

Early telescopes used a series of prisms to refract incoming light towards the eyepiece. Modern telescopes use mirrors, which are lighter and distort the image less.

Queen Victoria leads away from the stars and into our plot by mentioning her late husband’s fascination with folklore. Against the wishes of his current handlers, Sir Robert is almost prevailed upon to speak of the local “wolf”. Notice there’s been no talk of werewolves. Evidently that part of culture isn’t that codified yet.

While Rose gets acquainted with Lady Isobel’s wardrobe (and with the random maid hiding therein), the monks drug the soldiers with a friendly round of drinks. The perils of being redshirts. Rose and the maid are quickly captured.

Dinner conversation takes a serious turn as the Queen admits she misses her husband terribly. Her desire for “ghost stories” has increased, because they hold the promise of contact with the dead, and she feels the loss of contact with her husband painfully. She perhaps even struggles to understand how Providence could allow this state of affairs.

This is not the sunshiny-est episode Doctor Who has ever produced.

Sir Robert tells the centuries-old tale of the local wolf: each full moon is greeted by howling and fields of annihilated livestock. And once a generation, a boy disappears. The officer sitting to Victoria’s right establishes himself as the boor of the episode. Vicky’s note to self: if the wolves don’t get him, never invite him to dinner again.

In the cellar, Rose decides to play Doctor and poke the sleeping bear. This is a very dark set, just blacks and blues and a few small whites besides Rose. Even the servants all have dark hair (or are balding). Despite being a fairly large room, it feels enclosed and prisonlike. The chains probably help there. Full points for set design. Anyway, the person in the cage tells Rose that it’s possessed the kidnapped boys each in turn: “I carved out his soul and sat in his heart.” Spooky! It says it’s being “cultivated” by the monks.

Since joining the Queen’s retinue, the Doctor has critiqued a telescope and otherwise watched the plot progress without him. Now he spurs Sir Robert on to tell that the wolf is actually a “man who changes into an animal”. It’s left to the Doctor to finally drop the big “W” word, more than eighteen minutes into the episode.

Except, thanks to Rose, we already know it’s not an actual, traditional-style werewolf. Again, this show is not interested in telling ghost stories for very long. In this case, that’s okay with me, because the fear and unknown factors are still very much present. The alien still has room to behave like a werewolf, and the sense of being ensnared in some fiendish plot continues. What terrible thing(s) are the monks up to? What do they want with the Queen? What exactly is in the “werewolf”, how does it change shape, what does it want or need, how violent is it, how does it feel about the monks, what abilities does it have? Whereas, when the ghosts became not-ghosts in “The Unquiet Dead”, my reaction was a sigh and:

That’s the ghosts over and done with, then. It’s aliens now.

Rose endeavours to shed light on these questions. In so doing, instead of releasing tension, the stakes are upped. The werewolf says that it will possess the Queen with a bite, and then rule the British Empire, which it finds much to its liking. Then it gets annoyed at all the questions and snarls at Rose. She’s further scared when it says it sees wolflike qualities in her.

Sir Arthur, increasingly distressed, stakes all his hopes on this pinstriped doctor. Under the eye of the head monk, he tips the Doctor off that the wolf is real, and the house is full of monks that have turned to its worship. The monk quietly chants Latin in response. Big Dumb Soldier holds a pistol on him, while Sir Robert apologizes to the Queen and chases after the Doctor. In the cellar, the full moon’s light falls upon the werewolf, and it sheds its cloak and gets down to business with pretty good special effects. And claws long enough for human shish kebab. Rose gets the servants to pull their chain out of the wall, just in time for the Doctor to rush in. He looks amazed at the wolf and, lost in the moment, exclaims to himself how “beautiful” it is. Eccleston would have announced it to the room or, more likely, to the wolf itself. Everyone scrams, leaving the wolf to pose against the moon. The men take up guns, and Lady Isobel kisses her husband and leads the women to safety.

The Doctor, visibly unsure of the next step, heads back to face the wolf down a long hallway . . . and runs. The guns seem to inflict no serious injury, but do drive the wolf back. One of the elderly servants puts away his gun and heads after it, convinced that it’s as good as dead, and gets hauled up to the ceiling to meet his fate. On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, twenty years before, so take note: this guy’s a strong candidate for 1879’s Darwin Award champion. This time bullets don’t stop it, and the wolf has free run of the house, squeezing into the room where the women are hiding to check if they have any Holy Monarchs it could borrow.

The Holy Monarch, after shooting the head monk with her secret purse-gun (he slapped the Big Dumb Soldier down for being irksome), has retrieved her shiny-music box. She tells Sir Robert and Rose (the only apparent survivors of the second assault) that Big Dumb Soldier shot the man, because the best weapons are the ones that the enemy doesn’t know about. The Doctor arrives and suggests they defenestrate themselves, but the monks have surrounded the house. Running up a big spiral staircase it is, then. Big Dumb Soldier shoots the wolf in the chest as it’s about to leap upon the rearguard, then slows it down so the others can regroup in a library behind a barricaded door. (The Doctor actually says “Bullets can’t stop it!”) The Doctor leans his head against the door from one side and the wolf leans against the other, and the wolf retreats. Then there’s a frenzied rush to barricade the room’s other door, and after that silence, listening to the wolf growl and prowl around outside. The wolf leaves, and Rose and the Doctor take a moment to break the tension and celebrate meeting a werewolf.

Sir Robert apologizes for the whole mess, but also wonders why nobody noticed anything wrong with his household. The Doctor implies he figured Sir Robert had taken advantage of his wife’s absence to surround himself with hawt dudes, and follows it up with that full-eyed Tennant gaze (subtype: social awkwardness). Queen Victoria declares she’s had enough of werewolves and mysterious gentlemen who lose their accents and chase impertinent, naked girls around the countryside: “This is not my world.” Dramatic irony!

Lady Isobel notices mistletoe on the monks outside and collects it for defense from the wolf. Simultaneously, the Doctor notices mistletoe carved onto the library doors. Licking the doors reveals that they’ve been varnished with mistletoe oil. He puts on his Serious Glasses and everyone starts to investigate the books. They turn up evidence of the werealien falling to Earth near the monastery. The Doctor tries to imagine what an alien could do with Victorian England: basically, steampunk straight into space.

I wrote “steampunk” as a noun, but I think it works better as a verb there. The insane flexibility of English.

The Queen calls Sir Robert over to transfer the shiny-music box’s contents to his safekeeping. It’s the Koh-i-Noor diamond! She explains that she was taking it to a jeweller for another re-cutting (sacrilege!), because her husband never thought it looked quite right. While the Doctor and Rose admire it, Sir Robert wanders off to listen for the wolf. But the Doctor is inspired by Victoria’s musings. He goes into a classic brainstorm frenzy now, putting all the pieces together: the house would be an obvious place to trap the Queen when she goes to the jewellers, therefore Sir Robert’s father might have worked with Prince Albert (who took an interest, remember) to leave a counter-trap for the wolf.

At which point the wolf crashes through the skylight (he’s Wolfman now, nananana nananana Wolfman, get it) and it’s time to evacuate. Rose apparently tires of life and gives herself up, but Lady Isobel splashes mistletoe water in the wolf’s face and it runs off. Her contribution to the plot over, she takes the women back to the kitchen, and everyone else piles into the observatory. Except Sir Robert, who gets himself killed to redeem his honour. (He confirms the Doctor’s estimate of his brains by slashing at the wolf with a thin, stabby-looking sword. Bullets didn’t even draw blood, dude, so put some muscle into it.) Predictably, the trap involves using the telescope to focus the moonlight on the wolf (PSA: don’t look at the moon through a regular telescope without a filter, any more than you’d look at a solar eclipse), but it does involve using the diamond as a focus. The wolf is unnecessarily levitated into the air, and after some ethereal CGI, is burnt away to nothing.

But then Victoria is examining a cut on her wrist. The Doctor is concerned that she might have been bitten by the wolf (who got nowhere near her), but she dismisses it as the result of a flying splinter.

The Doctor is knighted as Sir Pinstripes, and Rose becomes Dame Will You Please Get Dressed Already. The Doctor consoles Victoria that her husband has continued to protect her from beyond the grave, through the Koh-i-Noor. Then Victoria declares that she is, in fact, not amused, and as Rose celebrates, she banishes them both from the British Empire for being steeped in terror and blasphemy and general I-can’t-even-ness. “You will leave these shores, and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good,” she scolds them. Historical figure layin’ down the law on the time travellers!

Afterwards, Queen Victoria assures Lady Isobel that, in honor of her husband, she will form a group to defend Britain against freaky enemies like werewolves and Doctors. And it shall be called . . . Torchwood.

This episode is much more in the mold of the old series’s “historical” episodes than “The Unquiet Dead” was. Little facts and cultural impressions are dropped here and there. Saxe-Coburg had me fooled — I always assumed it was part of England, not Bavaria. One last tidbit is dropped as the Doctor and Rose return to the TARDIS, with the Doctor telling Rose that Queen Victoria was a hemophiliac, like so much of recent British royalty, but nobody knows where it came from. Perhaps “hemophiliac” was genteel speak for . . . WEREWOLF? And perhaps that werewolfishness will mature in her descendants . . . right after this episode airs? Rose thinks this is a riot, and they share a howl as the TARDIS dematerializes.

I prefer ghosts to werewolves, and Dickens to Victoria, but this is quite an improvement upon “The Unquiet Dead”. The tension is maintained much more effectively and the plot is more thorough.

I do see circular logic here. Queen Victoria would not have been in the wolf’s way if not for those trips to the jewellers. But the trips to the jewellers were presumably to make sure the diamond was cut properly to serve as part of the trap. The trap that Prince Albert was using to protect his wife from the wolf she would never have encountered if not for the trips to the jewellers to perfect the diamond for use in the trap. Is your dead husband protecting or using you, Victoria?

The wolf CGI is up to series standards. Which is to say, it’s not flawless but it looks good enough. The TARDIS Wikia says that a specialist was brought in to help get the wolf’s hair right. And thus the disbelief is suspended.

The Doctor doesn’t really contribute much for the first half-ish of the episode, not until the mistletoe thing. He has a few moments in the spotlight, but mostly the focus is on the scenario and guest characters. Not ideal when audiences are trying to get familiar with a new face. I like to think that scheduling this as the second episode shows how much faith they had in the episode’s quality, but maybe they were just following last season’s pattern of “introduce Doctor/present-day — far future — historical/supernatural”.

Rating: 3 big mistletoe wreaths

Favorite dialogue: Rose: I want her to say “We are not amused.” I bet you five quid I can make her say it.
The Doctor: Well, if I gambled on that, it would be an abuse of my privilege as a traveler in time.
Rose: Ten quid?
The Doctor: Done.

We are not not amused: 4 times over
If you liked that, you might also like: “The Stalker of Norfolk”.
I spelled werewolf correctly every time, and my reward is: bringing in Mike and the Bots for the outro

Adventures in Food: Vol. 1

A collection of all the fancy world foods I have given a try, back when we lived in St. Louis and went to the world food store every once in a while. Yes, Mexico counts as part of “the world”.

There may be more to come in the future.

Food: Croley Foods Butter Cream Crackers
My reaction: Quite edible
KJ’s rating: “It’s okay!”
Would I get it again?: Probably not. It’s nothing exciting.

Food: Horalky wafers
From the website: “Going for a hike, biking or a snowboarding championship, the snack of choice in the heart of Europe is the Horalky wafer.” Hyperbolic advertising exists the world over. This isn’t an energy bar or granola bar, it’s like a Mrs. Voortman wafer but larger, layered, and less sugary.
My reaction: Mild, light, and yummy. No debatable aftertaste here. The chocolate is present, as is the peanut, and they’re balanced nicely.
KJ’s rating: “Very tasty! On a scale of disgusting to really really good.”
Would I get it again?: Sure. Nothing exciting, but it is quite pleasant and it’s large enough to get about four servings out of, or two if you’re treating it as a proper dessert, or one if you regularly eat king-size chocolate bars.

Food: Kras Dorina milk chocolate with biscuit (original website has been replaced with something boring, sorry, but here’s a hazelnut variation)
My reaction: Quite delicious. The chocolate predominates, but the biscuit also has a strong, yummy presence, and the two combine to be, well, quite delicious. It’s not really crunchy.
KJ’s rating: “Yummy!”
Would I get it again?: Yes. It’s larger than a standard Hershey’s bar and cost, IIRC, $1.29 at the time I bought it. So, delicious and affordable.

Food: Jarritos Mandarin soda
My reaction: Pretty good! It’s got more of a lemon-lime taste than I’m used to in an orange soda (which is to say, any at all), but only a little.
Would I get it again?: Yes (and I have done so). It’s inexpensive where I live — cheaper than the equivalent bottle of Fanta — and I like it as much as I do any other orange soda. The lemon-lime background makes it stand out.

Food: Jarritos Lime soda
My reaction: Never had lime pop before, but this is pretty good. Very pleasant. I’ve had lime Jell-O and this brought back memories of “yeah, this is about how it tasted.”
Would I get it again?: Yes (and I have done so).

Food: Jarritos Fruit Punch soda
My reaction: Wow. This is bubbly. It’s like 95% bubbles. I am not kidding. Am I supposed to sit here for, like, five minutes for each sip and let the bubbles fizz into nothingness so I can taste the actual liquid?
Would I get it again?: No. The taste isn’t worth the wait.

Food: Mochi, more specifically daifuku
My reaction: It’s Japanese and it’s kind of odd. It’s got a breaded-looking outside, so one does expect it to be soft, but the inside is gel or paste, such that when you hold it it’s not only especially soft but squeezy-wiggly. If you can get past that mouthfeel, it comes in quite the variety of flavors. I was given a sampler of several flavors. I liked the peanut butter and the green tea flavors, although lately I’ve tried the green tea again and there was just something unpleasant about it. Taro and red bean are definitely acquired tastes, and not the kind I would want to spend time acquiring. I forget what the fifth flavor was, but it was just okay.
Would I get it again?: I’d be willing to try other flavors that I thought I might like, or buy the peanut butter if I saw it, but it’s not really on my list of things to eat again.

Pictures from the National Czech and Slovak Museum

We recently stopped overnight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I happen to be part Czech, and there was a Czech and Slovak museum in the town, so we headed over and spent a few hours there. All three of us, baby included, enjoyed it. There was a sign encouraging visitors to take pictures and share them, so I did and have. The full album is here, and I encourage you to look through it, but here are a few images if you’re on a slower connection right now. There were two exhibits: Czech and Slovak art and products . . .

. . . and a larger exhibit about immigration and the Czech and Slovak struggles for freedom in the 20th century, as well as about freedom itself:

Vaclav Havel became the first president of the Czech Republic, after he helped overthrow the Communists and Czechoslovakia split up. Madeleine Albright is, well, Madeleine Albright.

Anyway, please click over. My commentaries on each photo can be found in the album itself.