Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie Review: The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) directed by Colm McCarthy


A bunch of children are held in a subterranean facility where they are taught by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). She treats them as children and has a certain affection for them. But they are strapped into wheelchairs that include head restraints while they are not in their cells. Military personnel move the kids back and forth from the cells and the classroom. And another adult, Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), is constantly quizzing them to test their intelligence. The most intelligent is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who is certainly a prodigy. But she, like her fellow students, is also a zombie. They only show the desire to eat others when they can smell them. The adults have developed a gel to mask their scent, so the facility is seemingly secure.

There's been an infectious outbreak that has killed or zombiefied most adults. These adults are fast moving and completely sub-rational--if they are not attacking living things, they stand around almost like statues. The small group of zombie children is both rational and hungry for flesh, an odd circumstance that leads Caldwell to think there's a cure locked away inside of them. She's the classic scientist who wants to solve the problem regardless of the cost. She doesn't think there's a human cost to dissecting the children to harvest their brains and spinal cords, something Justineau completely disagrees with. The base is overrun. The two women, Melanie, and a few soldiers escape into the countryside. As they go, more is revealed about Melanie and about the horror they are going through.

The movie isn't just an apocalyptic survival story, it's more a meditation on human nature and how we treat others. In addition to the tension between the two women, the soldiers are very wary of Melanie even though she is always helpful and calm. She even warns them when she needs to eat so she won't go feral on them. The plot starts rather conventionally but the ending is not at all conventional. Parts of it are hard to watch (like a proper horror film) but the ideas are fascinating and well worth thinking about (also like a proper horror film).

Recommended.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Minute Man National Historic Park

We did a quick a visit to the Minute Man National Historic Park in Massachusetts (on our way to Boston, so get ready for a bunch of Boston posts, dear reader). We parked at the Minute Man Visitor Center on the eastern end of the park. The park extends from Lexington in the east to Concord in the west, a four mile stretch along Route 2A.

Minute Man Visitor Center

The center has the usual interpretive exhibits about the battle. On April 18, 1775, the British forces in Boston decided to raid Concord, Massachusetts, where the colonials were stockpiling munitions.

Recreation of various munitions

A spy found out about the plan and warned some of the patriots. They sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn the colonials in the countryside. Dawes and Revere took separate routes out of Boston--Dawes to the south through Cambridge and Revere to the north through Charlestown. They met up near Lexington around midnight and met Samuel Prescott, who joined them in raising the alarm. On the west side of Lexington, the trio encountered some British officers who attempted to capture them. Prescott jumped his horse over a wall and he got away. Dawes also dodged capture. Revere was held for a while and then released.

Paul Revere

Dr. Samuel Prescott

By 5 a.m. the British Regulars arrived in Lexington where seventy-seven militiamen were assembled on the town green. The colonial officer told his men not to fire. The British seemed like they would pass but then they advanced on the green. A shot was fired though no one knows which side fired. The British killed eight colonials; the colonials dispersed and the British continued on to Concord.

In Concord, several hundred militia had gathered outside of town. They saw the British enter town and began to see smoke rising. They thought the town was being burned so they assembled by the North Bridge. The British opened fire and the battle was begun.

The British began a long retreat back to Boston, fighting a running battle with an ever-increasing colonial militia. At Lexington the British had some reinforcements as they continued on to Boston. By the end of the day, the British had 73 dead and 174 wounded; the colonials had 49 dead and 41 wounded.

The visitor center has a very informative and detailed video presentation of the battle. The portion of the trail from the parking lot to the center had some signs describing the battle and route. We didn't make it to any of the extant houses and bridges because we were on our way to Boston and time was running short. We hope to come back and see more on another trip.

Outdoor sign

Map of the British retreat

Rest of the map

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Hostage by Guy Delisle

Hostage written and illustrated by Guy Delisle, translated by Helge Dascher


In early July, 1997, Christophe Andre was kidnapped from his Doctors without Borders office in Nazran, a town in the former Soviet Republic of Ingushetia. His kidnappers took him to Chechnya where they tried to get a million dollar ransom for Andre. This book is the story of his captivity from his own perspective. As such, there's a lot of waiting around with almost no information or changes in the situation. Christophe is handcuffed to a radiator or a bed or the floor for a great deal of the 400+ pages of this graphic novel. The monotony and the desperate speculations about what is going on outside of his prison are easily communicated in the graphic novel format. The same routine is repeated over and over, but readers don't get bored because the visual format moves faster than real time and lets the reader experience months of captivity without becoming bored. Even the smallest changes in routine or noises outside the room (Christophe is typically held in spare rooms of apartments or houses, with the occasional move between locations) become fodder for speculation or even hope that the situation will finally resolve.

Despite the grim topic, I found this a fascinating tale told in a way that acknowledges the boredom but is very compelling and is not boring. Readers identify with Christophe's mood swings and his speculations about what is going on and his feelings about his captors. Christophe manages to keep his sanity in an extremely trying experience. The grey-scale art fits perfectly with the darkened rooms and hard mood of the true story.

Recommended.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review: Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor


Hazel Motes has just left the army and is wandering, looking for his place. He takes a train ride south, near to his home town but not quite there. He decides to become a preacher in Taulkingham, the small town he winds up in. But he doesn't preach Jesus, rather he proclaims the "Church without Christ," and looks for a new jesus that isn't all wrapped up in sin and redemption and forgiveness. Haze wants the freedom to behave the way he wants. He runs into a blind preacher, Asa Hawks, who has a young daughter. Asa is much more successful as a preacher and Haze follows him around. Haze is also befriended/stalked by Enoch Emery, a slightly younger man who also wants to live his own way but thinks he has a greater destiny. His destiny is written in his blood (the "Wise Blood" of the title) and his blood often leads Enoch along without letting him in on what the plan is. This story is Haze's, though, so it all comes down to him and his spiritual crisis in the end.

The tale spirals around, coming from different character's perspectives as the chapters change and the story progresses. The book reads quickly and is fascinating but also opaque. Few obvious explanations or interpretations are handed to the reader. The ending is fairly clear and perhaps sheds light on the preceding events. This book would definitely reward re-reading, which I will have to do after some time to mull it over.

Recommended (maybe highly recommended after I re-read it?).


Monday, June 19, 2017

Enchanted Garden, Miller Branch of HCLS

Howard County's library system has been enhancing many of their branches in the past years. At the Miller Branch (in Ellicott City, Maryland) they have built an Enchanted Garden out front. It's a mixture of formal garden and practical garden.

Entrance to the Enchanted Garden

Inside the garden

The branch offers a backpack for kids full of activities to explore different aspects of the garden.

The backpack!

Measuring plants

The garden has some decorations, including a fun statue of blue herons that's really a fountain.

Great Blue Heron fountain

The garden has a small conifer section. The trees are all on the small side, presumably because the garden is recent and they don't have the space for large trees.

Conifer area

One of the conifers

A trellised tunnel leads to a small pond that our toddler enjoyed visiting.

A formal section of the garden

Going thru the trellis

The frog pond

The toddler was sorely tempted to throw stones in the pond but signs clearly forbid it. He still had fun just hanging out with the resident frog.

Posing with a too-tall person

Posing with the frog

This post is about a garden, I suppose I should show some flowers

Some more flowers to meet the quota

Nearby is a fun little gingerbread man.

He's easy to capture but hard to take

The garden also has plenty of seating for people to enjoy the quiet, refreshing atmosphere. Some of the trees and other items have knit coverings for which I couldn't find an explanation.

A warm bench for relaxing

One sitting area had a basket full of decorated stones. My toddler loved to move them from stump to stump.

Fancy rocks

Returning them to the basket

A school bus rock
The garden also has some practical aspects to it, including an area for growing herbs and other edible plants.

Some practical plants

Herbs in spring--too early to harvest

The gardeners compost here and occasionally there are classes about composting. We may attend in the future.

Compost bins

A fun practical garden is this pizza garden, featuring tomatoes and toppings for our favorite type of pie!

Pizza garden

Tomatoes!

The garden does feature some gardeners but we were too shy to talk to them. I guess when we attend a class we will have to talk to them!

Gardeners watering the conifers

The garden is well worth visiting an we are sure to come again.

A little quote to end the post

Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review: Jack Reacher Never Go Back (2016)

Jack Reacher Never Go Back (2016) co-written and directed by Edward Zwick


Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) heads to Washington, D.C., to meet up with Army Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). By the time he gets there, she's been arrested for espionage. Reacher doesn't believe she is a traitor so he starts investigating in his no-nonsense style. People start dying and a big conspiracy is revealed. If that wasn't enough trouble, the bad guys found out that Reacher has a daughter (or at least the girl's mom tried to sue for paternity). So she gets mixed up in the action too, which ranges from D.C. to New Orleans.

The story is smart but predictable. Only one of the surprises actually caught me by surprise, the others seemed fairly obvious but at least they made sense. Little plot holes are sprinkled throughout but don't ruin the film. The actors all give solid performances and their characters are well written but not too deep. The action scenes are tense and tough, with Turner holding her own alongside Reacher. There are hints at romantic potential but nothing ever happens. They are more committed to clearing their names and finding out what the bad guys are up to. The movie is a well told and well photographed action film.

Recommended.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: Smash! by S. Latta et al.

Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider written by Sara Latta and illustrated by Jeff Weigel


Two teen-aged cousins visit the Large Hadron Collider (or LHR as it is often referred to) in Cern, Switzerland. Nick likes to draw comics, Sophie knows a lot of physics. They team up to find out more about the science of subatomic particles and the four fundamental forces. She explains a bunch of things to him; they also find out some history of the LHR and some of the work and discoveries accomplished there.

The book is a thinly-veiled overview of basic concepts of the Standard Model of particle physics. The story of the kids is not at all interesting. Nick has an idea to make a comic about their adventure--maybe the creators thought that was clever? Sophie is little more than a conduit for explanations. The jokes are infrequent and not particularly funny.

This is great as a high-level overview of physics but not particularly engaging as a story. I did learn things but I was not very entertained.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ellicott City Farmers' Market

We visited the Farmers' Market in Ellicott City, Maryland, partly because we love farmers' markets, partly because a craft activity was supposed to happen next door, and partly because we'd get an activity credit on the Howard County Public Library System's Summer Reading Program. The market is located on the high end of Main Street so we didn't see any flood damage from last year's disaster. The market wasn't very big but we found it quite respectable.

Walking in to the Ellicott City Farmers' Market

One of the first booths was serving fresh squeezed lemonade. My two older children were fascinated and wanted their own. We compromised and bought two that they had to share with mommy, daddy, and little brother. My daughter wore a fine bonnet with matching shades and looked very much like a celebrity visitor.

A glamorous lemonade drinker

At the back of the market was a band covering various popular tunes. They were quite friendly and gave my daughter a kazoo so she could play along. They had a whole bucketful of kazoos so we assumed it was ours to keep.

Band

We bought some cookies from one of the stands and enjoyed a snack while we listened. Once we were ready to move on, the toddler put a tip in the band's box and we headed off to the craft.

Tipping

Another view on the market

Next door to the market is the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, which was supposed to have a "Crafts with a Past" event starting as we walked over.

Thomas Isaac Log Cabin

The cabin was reconstructed in the late 1900s from the 1780 structure named after one of the owners (who apparently doesn't have any other historical significance).

View from the other side (sort of)

The door was locked and no one was inside and the lights were not on. We thought we'd explore some more then come back to see if anything had changed. Behind the cabin is a stone building that looked good for investigating.

Behind the log cabin

The building turned out to be the original courthouse for Howard County. The county rented it in 1840 and used it for two years while the regular courthouse was under construction. Originally it was on a road but the urban renewal in the 1960s resulted in an isolated structure.

An other side of the courthouse

The courthouse does have some displays, including a cornerstone from another building.

You don't think they'd display their own cornerstone, do you?

Info about the first courthouse

Info about the underground railroad

A pre-1960 map

By this time, the lemonade had worked its way through my daughter's system and she needed the toilet. After a quick check on the log cabin (still no one there) we went down the street to public bathrooms. We saw plenty of cool, old-time buildings which we took pictures of on the way back.

The current courthouse

A residence on the same hill as the courthouse

That's some extension on the brick building

I love an upstairs porch

The local brewery

The cabin still didn't have a craft going on, so we headed off on other adventures.