Friday, February 28, 2014

favorite song friday: this year's oscar-nomnated songs

The obvious frontrunner is "Let It Go," from Frozen, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and recorded by both Idina Menzel and Demi Lovato. Menzel will perform the song at the Oscars.

"The Moon Song," from Her, by Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O.

"Ordinary Love," from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, by U2 (already won a Golden Globe).

And the song I'll be rooting for, and which I can never get enough of, "Happy," from the Despicable Me 2, by Pharrell Williams.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

throw-back thursday: the empath

I have been feeling that I feel things too greatly lately, and it reminded me of a post I wrote back in 2011, "The Empath." A lot has changed around here and in the world since then, but a lot is also very much the same. That's life. My mom was still living at home then, but many of the issues that we were dealing with, of loss and communication, are still very much in my mind, even with her now full-time in a nursing home. I miss her now, as I was missing her then. I am still trying to find the bright side, always.

the empath

I'm not the least bit sorry to see the back end of 2010. It has to be one of the most stressful years in recent memory, and that's saying a lot. It certainly didn't have the fun feel I was looking for this time last year.

Watching my cousin Ann slip away from ovarian cancer, week by week, sometimes day by day, last year wasn't easy. But I wouldn't trade a second of it. Not even my knowing the outcome the moment her lips said back in July as she stroked a lump on her neck, "I think it's back." But having to spend half the year watching her die and the other half without her sucks beyond all measure.

Hanging out with Ann
Cousins, identical cousins—the Kid and Cousin Ann out on the town
Empaths are highly sensitive. This is the term commonly used in describing one's abilities (sensitivity) to another's emotions and feelings. Empaths have a deep sense of knowing that accompanies empathy and are often compassionate, considerate, and understanding of others.
Experiencing the incremental mental slippage of my mom hasn't been a picnic, either. 2010 was the year when we finally said dementia out loud, when I knew it was time to step in and take charge, and ensure we have good times together while we can. It's hard to feel the frustration emanate from my mom as she struggles to find a word or a name. I suffer along with her if I can't find the context, the little series of cues and clues that will help me decipher something she is trying to tell me. Sometimes it seems we work so hard to interpret something that turns out to be the height of mundanity—"We need to buy artichokes" is the result of her prodding me with "That thing that I told you, the little ones, that we had, you know, we talked about earlier." Life is a puzzle that I am always trying to solve. Taking the car keys and other symbols of independence away from a parent is not exactly a recipe for congenial living, but somehow we are, at least for the moment, navigating this thorny path as gracefully as possible.
Empathy is genetic, inherent in our DNA, and passed from generation to generation. ... Empaths often possess the ability to sense others on many different levels. From their position in observing what another is saying, feeling and thinking, they come to understand another. They can become very proficient at reading another personís body language ...
Ironic that I may have inherited traits from my mom that might help me better understand her.

I can't help but draw parallels between what happened and is happening to two very important women in my life. Is that all we can do, watch people we love disappear? Am I someone who sees these signs of slippage happening before others do? I'll never forget watching the classic Star Trek episode The Empath as a kid and really connecting with the girl who took on everybody else's pain. I can't compare what my cousin went through or what my mom goes through daily to my own level of pain, but I do feel that I have suffered, in my own way, alongside them.

I feel shaken and shaky about the world we live in, too. 2010 was a year with plenty of things to worry about outside of my immediate family. No one needs me to recap the horrible disasters of earthquakes, cholera, and oil spills to feel some of the pain that the most directly involved have experienced. As wonderful as it is for me now to take walk on the beach, when a dead fish washes up at my feet I am immediately pulled across the state to the Gulf and wonder how people are coping, and if this sea creature is an inheritance of that catastrophe.
One will often find empaths enjoying the outdoors, beaches, walking, etc. Empaths may find themselves continually drawn to nature as a form of release. It is the opportune place to recapture their senses and gain a sense of peace in the hectic lives they may live.
I'm so very discouraged by the erosion of goodwill towards our president and how harmful that can be to this country. I was on the National Mall for the inauguration and it was such a wonderful hopeful day ... I don't care what party you belong to, the petty back-biting and political angling is disgusting. One of the major upsides to our leaving the Capital Beltway this year is not having to hear the partisan bickering as loud and as often—being on the spot just made me feel that much more powerless, with all of the bad behavior happening just a few blocks away.

I have so much on my plate these days it is hard to get worked up over any major political issues. I am just trying to keep all our heads above water and give my daughter and mother the best life that I can. If I ruled the world I would decree that 2011 should be the year of political television silence. No talking-heads shows, nasty-ass ads or stupid campaign commercials posing as reality shows. I know it could never happen, but it's my dream.

So, that was the half-empty glass, now for the half-full. With all the pain and loss the past year, I have to say I have also gained so much. Watching my daughter confidently navigate first grade, a brand-new school, town and friends, and read independently in just the past six months is amazing to me. And thankfully, I feel the excitement that she feels, the newness, and even a little bit of the fear as she experiences it. I am catching glimpses of the woman she is going to be. It's incredible.

At Crazy Buffet
The girl loves a buffet

Working part-time and from home has also helped open up a whole new vista for me. At first I felt trapped and isolated. I actually felt like I was out in the internets, adrift, needing to find some way to navigate. I am used to working with a large group of people, with lots of social interaction. Maybe facebook and twitter entering my life in the past few years helped pave the way—after a few weeks I got comfortable and found that I still felt connected to most of my co-workers, even working from quite a distance. Yes, there was no longer so much face-to-face—the office isn't skype-comfortable—but I no longer felt disconnected. Phones and emails kept us in each other's loop. On the home front, if my mom felt that we had invaded her life and her space when we first arrived, we quickly established a routine and rhythm that allowed me to work during the day and her to read or pursue her own interests while the kid was at school.
Empaths are often poets in motion. They are the born writers, singers, and artists with a high degree of creativity and imagination. They are known for many talents as their interests are varied ... They often have interests in many cultures and view them with a broad-minded perspective. They are mother, father, child, friend, nurse, caregiver, teacher, doctor, sales people ... to psychic, clairvoyant, healer, etc.
Feeling connected to my art, my creative side, is very important to my health and sanity. Having just a tiny bit more time to myself (2011 be warned—I'm working on increasing that, too) allowed me to spend more time on my blog and writing.  I've been able to focus more on the pop culture topics that interest me (books, film and television), while giving them my own particular feminist/feminine spin. I'm branching out a bit into more venues and can now call myself a professional blogger—and I'm proud of that.

Cary Grant in the trailer for North by Northwest, by Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, Wikipedia.

I know that 2011 will have its ups and downs, particularly focused on my mom's decline and our efforts to slow it down as much as possible. My goal is to give her the best life that I can—and for all of us to share as much of what's joyful as possible. There's tons of things that we can enjoy together, from a meal out to watching my daughter dance around and be silly, to watching a movie together. I feel the lack deeply that she and I can no longer share my ideas—the things that I write about and what they mean to me—to converse, share simple observations about the world.

I may not be able to discuss with her my interpretation of a film and my new spin on what I think it might mean. But instead of feeling bad and focusing on the fact that we are no longer what we once were, I can work with what we are. She may not remember the movie North By Northwest—either the title of the film or the fact that it's by Hitchcock. This is more than a little hard for me to take when she is half of the reason I'm such a film buff. She may no longer be able to come up with the names of the stars—Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau—but she does remember them and that she once knew their names. She knows that she likes Cary Grant and that she's always thought (and still thinks) he was very attactive. She enjoys "rediscovering" the movie and sharing it with her daughter and granddaughter. It's a life of things without labels for her. We're experiencing the thingness of things.

My hope for 2011? That we will continue to experience new and old things together. That I will continue to feel what's going on with folks in the way that I do, but maybe not take it too much to heart, or like that Star Trek maiden, lose myself in others' issues. Feeling deeply is a good thing. There's actually a definition for feeling deeply:
Main Entry: feel in one's bones
Part of Speech: verb
Definition: have a gut feeling
Synonyms: expect, feel deeply, have a feeling, have a funny feeling, have a hunch, have a sensation, just know, perceive, predict, sense
Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition, Copyright © 2010 by the Philip Lief Group.
Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one—if only for peace of mind.
Yep, that's me. And I can already see the telltale signs that my daughter is an empath too. We are set up to connect, to feel others, to suss them out. These skills will be invaluable in my future attempts at interpreting my mom's wishes and conversations. As hard as it can be to feel what others are going through sometimes, imagine how differently we might all behave if we really thought about the other guy, even felt what they felt, once in a while. I'm happy that I'm an empath.

Quotes from About Empathy and Empaths, by Christel Broederlow Copyright (c) 2002,

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

palm shadows

Backlit palm trees on the beach, with the moon peeking out from the clouds.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

r.i.p. harold ramis

The first time I remember seeing Harold Ramis was on SCTV (Second City Television), a late-night comedy show from Canada that we could only get from the Philadelphia station in our South Jersey home when the weather was good and the aerial could pick it up. Ramis, who was also the head writer, appeared with now-household-name comedians John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, and Dave Thomas.

Ramis quickly moved on to movies, writing National Lampoon's Animal House, and most of Bill Murray's early starring vehicles — Stripes, Meatballs, and Caddyshack (which was also his directorial debut). He is probably best known for his role as Dr. Egon Spengler, in Ghostbusters, which he co-wrote with Dan Aykroyd. I have to admit, that like the character of Janine, played by Annie Potts in that film, I always had a bit of a crush on Dr. Spengler.

Dr. Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), "You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't had a successful test of this equipment."
Dr. Egon Spengler (Ramis), "I blame myself."
Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray), "So do I." 

Dr. Egon Spengler, "This is big, Peter, this is very big. There is definitely something here."
Dr. Peter Venkman, "Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head. Remember that?"
Dr. Egon Spengler, "That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me."

The dreamy Dr. Spengler

Ramis continued to act in movies, mainly comedies, including Baby Boom, Airheads, As Good as It Gets, and Knocked Up. But he spent the majority of his time behind the camera, directing many popular comedies, including National Lampoon's Vacation, Club Paradise, Multiplicity, and Analyze This.

My favorite of the films he directed is the brilliant Groundhog Day, which he co-wrote, and which may also be Murray's best work. Unfortunately, Groundhog Day ended the two talented men's collaboration.

Ned (Stephen Tobolowsky), "Phil? Hey, Phil? Phil! Phil Connors? Phil Connors, I thought that was you!"
Phil (Murray), "Hi, how you doing? Thanks for watching," [starts to walk away].
Ned, "Hey, hey! Now, don't you tell me you don't remember me because I sure as heckfire remember you."
Phil, "Not a chance."
Ned, "Ned ... Ryerson. 'Needlenose Ned?' 'Ned the Head?' C'mon, buddy. Case Western High. Ned Ryerson: I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson: got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn't graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson: I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple times until you told me not to anymore? Well?"
Phil, "Ned Ryerson?"
Ned, "Bing!"
Phil, "Bing. Ned, I would love to stay here and talk with you ... but I'm not going to."

In the immortal words of his SCTV character Moe Green, "So you're dead, now what?"

R.I.P. Harold Ramis. Thanks for the laughs.

Monday, February 24, 2014

murdoch mysteries: season six

Murdoch Mysteries: Season Six, which was recently released on Blu-ray, may well be its most entertaining season yet. The Canadian mystery series, which mixes forensic drama with a Victorian-era Toronto setting, is a fun and quirky steampunk CSI. Based on the Detective Murdoch novels written by Maureen JenningsMurdoch Mysteries stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch, a man with an eye on the future. Using "modern" methods of detection including blood type analysis, finger printing, and even sonar,  Murdoch is always open to new techniques and scientific ideas. In Season Six the strict Roman-Catholic must expand his mind and his morals even further, as his investigations take him to a nudist colony. He faces his ultimate challenge on a more personal front — to reconcile his faith with his desire to marry his soon-to-be divorced lady love, Dr. Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy).

Detective Murdoch (Yannock Bisson) and Constable Crabtree (Jonny Harrs) stroll through downtown Toronto

The three-disc set is formatted for widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 1.77:1. The images are sharp, with details like the web and weave of fabric in the cast's period costumes in glorious detail. The sound quality (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo) on the discs is good, and the musical score by Robert Carli is as atmospheric as always. The set has an approximate running time of 572 minutes.

Murdoch Mysteries has always delighted in mixing real-life personages with its fictional crime stories, and Season Six is no exception. Both helping and hindering Murdoch in his investigations — and in one instance, becoming the prime suspect — are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Geraint Wyn Davies, in a return appearance as the author), and a young Winston Churchill. Always on hand to help the brilliant detective are his right-hand man, Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Toronto coroner Dr. Emily Grace (Georgina Reilly), and Murdoch's (sometime) supportive boss, Inspector Thomas Charles Brackenreid (Thomas Craig). Dr. Ogden's interest in women's rights plays a large part in the series and the story lines, especially in the episode "Lovers in a Murderous Time." Murdoch's and Ogden's love is put to the test when Julia becomes the prime suspect in a brutal murder in the last two episodes of the season, "Crime & Punishment" and "The Murdoch Trap."

As much as the cases in Murdoch Mysteries flirt with history and science, there is abundant humor as well — especially on display (if you'll pardon the pun) during the episode "Murdoch Au Naturel," where the detective must solve a murder at a local nudist colony. Also amusing is "A Study in Sherlock," where a man claiming to be Sherlock Holmes confounds Murdoch and Co., so much that they must call in the fictional character's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to help sort out the mystery.

The episodes included in the three-disc collection are:

"Murdoch Air"

"Winston’s Lost Night"

"Murdoch on the Corner"

"A Study in Sherlock"

"Murdoch Au Naturel"

Crabtree goes "under cover" in the episode "Murdoch Au Naturel"
"Murdoch and the Cloud of Doom" (Yannick Bisson directs this episode, which centers on a terrorist threat — toxic gas — to Toronto.)

"The Ghost of Queen's Park"

"Murdoch in Ladies Wear"

"Victoria Cross"

"Twisted Sisters"

"Lovers in a Murderous Time"

"Crime & Punishment"

"The Murdoch Trap"

I am happy to report that Murdoch Mysteries is currently in production on its seventh season in Canada, with 18 episodes on order. More and more American audiences should continue to discover this clever and entertaining period procedural.

Originally published on Blogcritics: Blu-ray Review: ‘Murdoch Mysteries – Season Six’

Sunday, February 23, 2014

gorgeous skies

Saturday, February 22, 2014

fun at the movies and the arcade

The kid's birthday festivities continued this afternoon with a (re) viewing of The Lego Movie and lots of fun at the arcade.

Friday, February 21, 2014

favorite song friday: is it wrong that I like this song?

The song, "Talk Dirty," by Jason Derulo, is wrong on so many levels. But I can't help it. I like it. The lyrics are sexist and even nasty, especially when 2 Chainz steps in (totally unnecessarily) for a creepy rap outlining his sexual demands. I mean seriously, have we really come to the point where we have to rhyme "genius" with "penis" in a song? I know braggadocio and sex go hand-in-hand with most radio fare these days, but 2 Chainz makes "Talk Dirty" really not suitable for radio airplay. So why is it that every time he damn song comes on the air while I'm driving I want to turn it up? It's the silly horns. I love them.

2 Chainz and Jason Derulo
Derulo and friend in the song's video

As much as might I enjoy "Talk Dirty" I can't help but rip it apart a little, too. It was written by Jason Derulo, 2 Chainz, Eric Frederic, Jason Evigan, Sean Douglas, Ori Kaplan, Tamir Muskat, and Tomer Yosef. Did it really take eight guys to put together inane lyrics like these:

"You know the words to my songs
No habla inglés
Our conversations ain't long
But you know what is
I know what the girl them want, London to Taiwan
I got lipstick stamps on my passport
I think I need a new one"

Doing a little further research, what I really like about the song turns out to be a sample of the song "Hermetico" by the Israeli-American pop group Balkan Beat Box. The sample on the track was provided by Wallpaper's Ricky Reed.

Balkan Beat Box

Looks like I need to check out this band now. And to answer my previous question about songwriting, to be fair, the last three names listed on "Talk Dirty" I now know are all members of Balkan Beat Box, so credit was given where credit was due. I guess I've got Jason Derulo to thank for not just entertaining me as I drive around, but pointing me towards some new music. 2 Chainz, not so much.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

'70s and '80s disco is alive and well at the roller rink

The kid was invited to a friend's birthday party last weekend at a local roller rink. As soon as we pushed past the double doors I was taken back. Flashbacks to my one-time roller disco outing at the Roxy in New York.

I had never been roller skating (I had a deprived youth), but loved to go out dancing and my friends at work convinced me that go to a roller disco would be the perfect combination. I'll try anything once, so I agreed and went with my co-worker Duane from Canal Jeans. The interior of the Roxy was pretty incredible, and I was overwhelmed by the booming music and flashing lights. Duane and I got our skates and headed for the floor. And then reality set in.

Hell, even Andy could skate (from Dylan vs. Warhol)

Everyone was very nice (and very gay) but after a while I just felt that I was becoming an impediment — literally and figuratively — my prone body constantly and consistently spread across the floor, or next to the railing. I quickly had to accept that although the gods had given me many great features — a ready wit and love of animals, just to name a few, when the ability to stay balanced on skates was being assigned I must have been distracted or standing in another line. C'est la vie.

My misadventure with roller skates is not actually a bad memory. It's even a fond one. At least I had the guts to try, right? That whole evening flooded back, aided by the pulsing sound system, as I watched my almost 10 year-old daughter inching her way around the edges of the rink, holding onto the railing for dear life. She made it around once, and finally exited, tears of frustration in her eyes. I thought she did really well, as she only fell three times on this, her very first time on skates. Maybe the next generation would get to redeem the previous one. But that's not how she was seeing it at the moment.

After she got the skates off she began to feel more and more deflated and asked if we could leave. Although there's nothing I'd like better than to check out early from a kiddie party, I thought she should stick it out at least until they cut the cake. Plus they were playing KC and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way (I Like It)". Uh huh, uh huh.

The birthday girl at that moment decided to get off her skates and open her presents and the party got a little more earth-bound. The kid was still over there as I'm writing this. I'm still sitting by the rink, watching the skaters, some of them looking as if they stepped out of my past, with mullets and tight tee shirts and fancy skating moves. So I guess we're here for a while more. They're playing the Village People's "Macho Man."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

double digits

It's hard to believe, but the kid turns ten today. Double digits from now on, until she hits 100. I love you, kid.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

my beautiful beach girl

Monday, February 17, 2014

lost and found

eOne Films released a magical animated short, Lost & Found, on October 15 in the U.S. for the first time. Based on the best-selling book by Oliver Jeffers, and narrated by Jim Broadbent (Little Voice, Topsy Turvy, Moulin Rouge).

Lost and Found follows the story of a young boy who one morning finds a penguin at his front door. After researching penguins he decides that he will help his new friend get back home — except penguins live at the South Pole ... What to do? Row across the ocean in a small rowboat, of course. The two have adventures on the way, including a narrow escape from a gigantic octopus. But what the boy soon learns is that maybe the penguin wasn't ever lost, maybe he was just lonely. And maybe he wasn't the only lonely one.

The CGI animation by Studio AKA is colorful and charming, and stays close the original style of author Oliver Jeffers's illustrations. Directed by Philip Hunt, the BAFTA award-winning Lost and Found is available in widescreen format and looks great on a large-scale high definition television screen. The original score, in Dolby, composed by Max Richter, is a lovely accompaniment to the sweet story. The DVD has a total running time of 54 minutes, which includes the animated short as well as a "making of" featurette that includes interviews with Jeffers and the production team, as well as images from Jeffers' original book.

Jeffers, the recipient of many awards, including The New York Times Best Illustrated Book and The Roald Dahl Prize, is originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, but now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.  He is the author of many children's books, including another that features the little boy and his penguin, Up and DownLost and Found, the first of his books to be turned into an animated film, is also set to air on Nickelodeon as a holiday special this December. Kids and adults alike will be enchanted by Lost and Found.


Millennium Entertainment is releasing Khumba, a South African animated film that has a little something for everyone. Kids will love the title character of Khumba (Jake T. Austin, (Wizards of Waverly Place), a young zebra who has been wrongfully alienated from his herd because he is different — he lacks stripes on his back half. Khumba is blamed for the drought that is plaguing the Great Karoo, where he and his herd reside. After his mother dies, the sad little zebra goes on a quest to find a mystical waterhole, and he hopes, earn his stripes. Along the way he meets a series of colorful characters, some friendly, some dangerous, and even finds himself before the credits roll.

Khumba and Skalk

Directed by Anthony Silverston, the animation is sharp and gorgeous and looks great on a large-scale high-definition television screen. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack also includes behind-the-scenes features and interviews. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.

While the story arc may be stereotypical, adults will love the look of the film, as well as enjoy recognizing some of their favorite actors in the supporting cast. Laurence Fishburne plays Khumba's father Seko, Liam Neeson the hungry and menacing leopard Phango, Steve Buscemi (Monsters University, Hotel Transylvania) as the wild dog Skalk, and Khumba's new-found friends, wildebeest Mama V (Loretta Devine) and ostrich Bradley (Richard E. Grant). Khumba's journeys take him through beautifully animated South African landscapes where he meets a migrating herd of Springbok and other colorful animal characters.

Back at home, Khumba's friend Tombi (AnnaSophia Robb, The Carrie Diaries) tries to convince Seko and the rest of the herd that the drought is not Khumba's fault, and that they need to find a new waterhole as well as their young friend. The film, apart from its skillful animation, also has an important message about diversity and accepting yourself for who you are. While Khumba may at first seem eerily reminiscent of other animated films like Madagascar, it does have its own quirky style and message, and its visual portrayal of the African landscape and many of its inhabitants is top-notch.

Originally published on Blogcritics: Blu-ray Review: ‘Khumba’

Sunday, February 16, 2014

excuse me ...

I was here first ...

Sigh ...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

more proof that gary oldman makes everything better

The actor recites the lyrics to "Timber," taking Pitbull's part:

Friday, February 14, 2014

favorite song friday: stevie wonder

The website Dangerous Minds pointed me towards this wonderful almost hour-long special from 1972 starring Stevie Wonder. Love, love, love.

Here are all the wonderful songs included in the special:

"For Once in My Life"
"If You Really Love Me"
"Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)"
"You and I (We Can Conquer the World)"
"What’s Going On"/"My Cherie Amour"
"Blowin’ in the Wind"
"With a Child’s Heart"
"Love Having You Around"
"Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours"/"Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone"
"Maybe Your Baby"/"Superstition"
"Uptight (Everything’s Alright)"

It's hard for me to even pick a favorite Stevie Wonder song, but I am especially fond of "Superstition." Happy Valentines Day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

the bletchley circle

Thanks to a recommendation by my friend Chris, I decided to check out The Bletchley Circle, a British murder mystery series on Netflix. I was not disappointed. Series 1 had three episodes and centered on four friends, Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin, Death Comes to Pemberley, Philomena), Millie (Rachael Stirling, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Young Victoria), Lucy (Sophie Rundle, Great Expectations), and Jean (Julie Graham, Doc Martin) who worked together as codebreakers at Bletchley Park in WW2.

As the series begins, it is now 1952, and Susan is certain that a recent series of brutal murders of young women are linked — and that she and her friends, if they can uncover the pattern — can help solve the crimes and find the killer.

L-R: Lucy (Sophie Rundle), Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), Jean (Julie Graham), and Millie (Rachael Stirling)

The series has a dark, creepy undertone that is so common to British crime shows — and that they do so well. The killer in these murders is super-creepy, but his modus operandi also has ties to the hardships and the toll that the war took on everyone — a shadow that never quite fades. The Bletchley Circle highlights the frustrations of the four women, who now have had to resume more domestic or expected female roles after feeling more useful and being placed in more dangerous, and even exciting circumstances during wartime. Like Prime Suspect, which starred the amazing Helen Mirren, The Bletchley Circle gives viewers a unique view of women in a dark and violent crime drama.

The men are almost uniformly portrayed as dolts in the first series, but it is easy for us to forget how "sheltered" women were. Susan can only go the police with her theories and suspicions under the aegis of her reluctant-to-believe-her husband. Even with his begrudging entree she is pretty much dismissed out of hand. The portrayal of all the women's minds, working together to puzzle things out,  is a refreshing change from most dramas where such activities are portrayed as more masculine.

The pro-woman, anti-man stance may be a bit heavy-handed at times, but the episodes had real thrills and real dangers, and brought a little-known (to me) period, of 1950s post-war London, to life. A second series, which will consist of two two-part episodes, has been filmed and will return to PBS on March 27. Can't wait.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

the great cathedral mystery

Public Television's NOVA debuts the "Great Cathedral Mystery" this Wednesday, February 12, at 9:00 p.m., ET. The hour-long documentary speculates how Il Duomo di Firenze, Florence’s great cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, was constructed. One of Italy's greatest churches, the Duomo houses the largest brick dome ever constructed. But how did the architect Filippo Brunelleschi mastermind such an immense project during the Renaissance?

Exterior view of The Duomo, Florence, Italy, courtesy of National Geographic Television.

The recently discovered cuppolina, courtesy of National Geographic Television.

Located in the heart of one of the world's most beloved cities, the Duomo still mystifies modern historians, engineers, and architects. Ultimately constructed of more than four million bricks, Brunelleschi had to come up with a method that didn't use scaffolding, as there wasn't enough timber in Florence for a dome of the size. The "Great Cathedral Mystery" asks a team of bricklayers from the United States to try to construct a “mini-Duomo” to test recent theories of construction. Using period tools and techniques, the group from the International Masonry Institute uncovers the intricacies involved in Brunelleschi's spiraling herringbone pattern of bricks in his "spin pesce" [fish spine] pattern.

Brunelleschi may have lost the competition to design the cathedral doors to fellow goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti, but he wasn't going to risk losing his shot to his design nemesis once again when in 1418 the competition to design the dome for the cathedral was announced. To preserve his chance at building the dome he was extra careful to keep his design ideas secret, ideas like the first reverse gear pulley, an ingenious innovation.

The "Great Cathedral Mystery" includes fascinating modern-day experiments as well as providing in-depth history, all set against the gorgeous backdrop of Italy's jewel of a city, the beautiful Florence. Anyone who has studied Renaissance art, visited the Duomo, or who dreams of visiting the city and its cathedral in future will enjoy this informative look into the construction of its enormous basilica.

Originally published on Blogcritics: TV Review: ‘NOVA’ – ‘Great Cathedral Mystery’

a lego master builder

The Danish company Lego, born from the mind of Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen, began marketing its signature bricks on a massive scale in the late 1950s. Since that time Lego has become a household world and building toy enjoyed by millions of boys and girls (and their parents). The basic building set has expanded over the years to include character pieces, bigger blocks aimed at tinier hands and players, and even computer games and movies. Any parent who has struggled to help their child build some of the more elaborate brick systems (Harry Potter Lego Hogwarts Castle I'm looking at you) will be happy to check out Sean Kenney's new book, Cool Creations in 35 Pieces, a Lego modeling guide.

Sean Kenney

Some cool robots for kids to create

Kenney is a Lego master builder. A quick look at his website reveals original sculptures which include everything from home decor to custom portraits. Cool Creations in 35 Pieces is his sixth building guide for kids. It takes builders back to the basics, featuring just 35 Lego bricks which, with Kenney's guidance, can be made into a wide range of objects, including animals, vehicles, and robots.

Kids will love the not only the creative inspiration, but the easy to follow directions, illustrated in large-scale photos. The cool creations are presented in primary colors, but intrepid builders can probably piece together their own basic 35 piece set from their old Lego sets, like that Hogwarts Castle that mom or dad never got around to finishing. If any pieces are missing, they can also order them from Kenney's site. Kenney also encourages kids to come up with their own creatures and objects using the 35 pieces and share them online. Who knows, maybe after having fun building all of these cool creations and more, that Lego castle won't seem so daunting in future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

the lego movie — everything is really awesome

I was so pleasantly surprised by The Lego Movie that I actually am excited about the prospect of seeing it again. Whether that will be another trip to the theater or when it comes out on disk I can't say. But I haven't felt that way about an animated movie, or really any movie, for quite some time.

The movie's plot concerns Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt), an extremely ordinary guy (and minifigure), who finds the "piece of resistance," and is thrown headfirst into an adventure where he finds he may be "The Special," the one who can save the world(s) from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his mysterious super-weapon the "Kragle." Along the way he meets many interesting characters, including the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a good cop/bad cop (Liam Neeson) who works for Lord Business, Batman (Will Arnett), and an intriguing Lara Croft-like girl called Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks).

Emmett, Batman, Vitruvius, Wildstyle

Filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) not only have a lot of affection for Lego building sets, but movies and pop culture, and they manage to interweave all of these elements into their fast-moving, great-to-look-at film. One doesn't need an intimate knowledge of the Lego themed sets of recent years to enjoy all of the mini figure-spotting opportunities, which include superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, historical figures like Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, as well as fictional characters like Gandalf and Dumbledore and plenty of other fun figures, and even some surprise appearances. Visual jokes are abundant as well, as Emmett and his friends race through Legoland cities and environments, from Lord Business's totalitarian (and funny) posters displayed on huge skyscrapers, to floating clouds and clever characters in a quaint Western town.

The Lego Movie is so much fun I don't really want to write any more about it for fear of spoiling any surprises. Suffice it to say that its ear worm of a theme song, "Everything Is Awesome!!!" by Tegan and Sara, featuring The Lonely Island, pretty much sums it up. And viewing the film has also inspired me to pull out that Harry Potter Lego Hogwarts Castle that I got for the kid a few years back (and the cats demolished) and give it another go. "Everything is awesome ..." [humming]

Monday, February 10, 2014

cameron diaz — the body book

"Oh great," you might think, "Another celebrity diet book." But Cameron Diaz has taken a different spin with The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body. Yes, it will most likely garner interest because of its celebrity association. But Diaz is not interested in anyone who might pick up this book to not eat or eat less or grab it as a quick guide to losing weight. She wants to celebrate bodies — hers, yours, everyone's.

That sounds a little goofy, and, as Diaz is the first to admit, she is, a little. But there is also a lot of common sense in The Body Book. It can even be viewed as a tour of the human body (primarily geared towards women's bodies), with Diaz sharing anecdotes on how she got herself strong and healthy over the years. Things seemed to come together for her while she was making Charlie's Angels back in 2000. The role required a lot of training, and she had to change the way she ate and the way she worked out to get strong enough for the physically demanding role. She admits that she has always been physically active, which is half the battle to staying healthy, but at the same time her diet was in a shambles — fast food and cheeseburgers seem to have been her go-to cuisine, which resulted in skin and stomach problems.
"If you are what you eat, I was a bean burrito with extra cheese and extra sauce, no onions."
The Body Book, which Diaz has written with the help of Sandra Bark, is divided into three sections, Nutrition, Fitness, and Mind. With the help of many credited experts, Diaz covers all of the body's amazing abilities, from digestion to exercise to sex. She also points out that discipline is at the core of her health regime. One has to be pretty consistent about eating right, moving their body, and getting enough sleep if they want to live long and prosper. Yes, a lot of this is what your mom or grandma has been telling you forever, but it is presented in a witty and enthusiastic manner. It's a modern day self-help textbook, reminding us how the body works — you know, all the stuff you might have dozed through in high school biology class but now might find pretty interesting.  And Diaz wants to get you interested. She is so jazzed about amino acids and the true nature of calories (energy, people!)  and what our bodies have been designed to do that it is hard not to get excited along with her. Plus, she's funny.
"Just because you can put something in your mouth, chew it, swallow it, and then poop it out does not mean it is food. It just means you can chew it, swallow it, and poop it out!"
She has some good tips for folks who need a little push to get started to clean up their diets. She recommends drinking a big bottle of water every morning, first thing — and continuing to drink water throughout the day. She relates why sugary mochaccinos and sodas and the like are just not good enough. She has some simple, practical advice for getting a good night's sleep — create a routine and stick to it, including keeping things quiet and dark and gadget-free. One chapter that really resonated with me was towards the ending of the book, "Unpacking Your Habits," which points out how much more control we have over our choices, our habits, than we think. That afternoon run to Starbucks — do we really need it, or have we convinced ourselves we do because we have chosen to do it so often that it has become a habit? On the plus side, we can take a walk, do some exercise, skip the sugary snack too, make those a habit, if we start do them on a regular basis.

I really liked The Body Book. I have already instilled a new habit inspired by Diaz — drinking a big glass of water first thing when I rise. A lot of the other information shared by Cameron Diaz and her advisers I am taking as a nudge to keep on the healthy path, or to amp things up a little, especially in the realm of getting moving, as a lot of the things I like to do — write, read, watch movies — are sedentary activities. Diaz has obviously had fun putting this book together and I had fun reading what she had to say.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

more scenes from a stroll

Our evening walk eventually took us to the beach.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

evening walk

The kid and I have been trying to take an evening walk around the neighborhood, both for our health and to spend some quality time together. Bonus — you never know what you might see on a stroll.

Looking for a four-leaf clover

A beautiful fading hibiscus flower

I love his shoes

Friday, February 07, 2014

favorite song friday: love me again

This song, "Love Me Again," by John Newman, is already pretty big in England, but has been slowly and surely climbing the U.S. charts. I like its vibe, which brings to mind some of the soulful pop of the 1960s. British music has always been enamored of horns and soul, but in recent years has really been leaning in that direction, from artists like Amy Winehouse to Duffy to Adele.

Newman, who has been playing guitar and writing songs since he was in his teens (he's now 23), wrote the song with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder.

He has some other good songs available on YouTube: "Losing Sleep," "Out Of My Head," and "Try," all from his debut album Tribute. I especially like "Cheating."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

pirate radio

In yesterday's post I paid tribute to the career of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who tragically died last Sunday. He made so many great movies, playing heartbreaking and intriguing characters. Today I'd like to highlight one of his more comic turns, in a movie that many may have missed, Pirate Radio, a British film from 2009, also known as The Boat That Rocked.

The Count broadcasts

The crew rocks out on Radio Rock

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (The Vicar of Dibley, Mr. Bean, Love Actually) the film, set in the 1960s, chronicles a British pirate radio station that dares to play (gasp!) rock and roll. The radio station, dubbed Radio Rock's creative solution to broadcast restrictions is that it is a ship at sea, with a constantly changing location. The British government can't impose its rule of classical music only on the radio or shut it down, if they can't even find it. Hoffman plays an American DJ known as The Count, who bristles when another radio god, the popular British DJ Gavin (Rhys Ifans), joins the crew to boost ratings and challenge The Count's supremacy.
The Count, "You know, a few months ago, I made a terrible mistake. I realized something, and instead of crushing the thought the moment it came I ... I let it hang on, and now I know it to be true. And I'm afraid it's stuck in my head forever. These are the best days of our lives. It's a terrible thing to know, but I know it."
A virtual who's who of British comedians and actors make up the rest of the eclectic crew. Bill Nighy plays Quentin, who runs Radio Rock; DJs "Doctor" Dave (Nick Frost), "Simple" Simon Swafford (Chris O'Dowd); young Carl (Tom Sturridge), who's mother (Emma Thompson) has sent to spend time on the seas with his godfather Quentin. The only bum note in the film is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Alistair Dormandy, an unpleasant and uptight government minister who is bound and determined to shut down the rock and roll station. There isn't an ounce of humor in his performance, which is a shame, for both the audience and Jack Davenport who plays his assistant, Twatt. If only Curtis had called on Rowan Atkinson to play the role ...

Branagh aside, Pirate Radio is laid back and amusing, and also manages to capture the excitement and even dangerous quality of early rock and roll, and a time when it really seemed like music could and would change the world. Hoffman's character embodies that spirit of freedom completely and he emerges as the heart and soul of the film. It's really worth a look. And it has a great soundtrack, too of over 50 songs, including artists like The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Supremes, and The Hollies.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

the amazing career of philip seymour hoffman

I have been trying to avoid the endless reporting on the recent tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was an immense talent, and I think it would be best for folks who have no real connection to the family or the case to focus on his legacy, his acting. He left this world far too soon, but at least the prolific performer has left us an amazing catalogue of roles. Whether he was the lead actor, supporting or even a cameo performance, whether a sympathetic or loathsome character (or possibly both at once) he was always fascinating to watch. The first movie I remember seeing him in was Boogie Nights, and he was unforgettable as Scotty J., a gay man who had a crush on Mark Wahlberg's Dirk Diggler.

With Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly in Boogie Nights

I was going to just pick a few films to focus on, but I think the breadth and scope of his talent can be seen by just reading the list of his many wonderful roles and films. So many I have seen, but there are still so many to catch up with. RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman. You will be missed.

Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole

My New Gun
Leap of Faith
Scent of a Woman

Joey Breaker
My Boyfriend's Back
Money for Nothing

The Getaway
The Yearling
When a Man Loves a Woman
Nobody's Fool

In Pirate Radio

1996 Hard Eight

Boogie Nights
Liberty! The American Revolution

Next Stop Wonderland
The Big Lebowski
Patch Adams

The Talented Mr. Ripley

With Meryl Streep in Doubt

Titanic 2000
State and Main
Almost Famous

The Party's Over

Love Liza
Punch-Drunk Love
Red Dragon
25th Hour

Owning Mahowny
Cold Mountain

Along Came Polly

Strangers with Candy
Capote Truman Capote

Mission: Impossible III

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The Savages
Charlie Wilson's War

Synecdoche, New York

Mary and Max
Pirate Radio
The Invention of Lying

Jack Goes Boating (also directed)

With George Clooney in The Ides of March

The Ides of March

The Master
A Late Quartet

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

A Most Wanted Man
God's Pocket
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Parts 1 & 2

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

making some changes with feng shui

I am definitely on a quest this year, to improve my health, my life, my surroundings. I have been making some changes around the house, trying to eliminate clutter and make our environment more eco-friendly as well as aesthetically pleasing. Our home life is still in a bit of disarray — this is a months-long project — but I am hopeful that by mid-Spring I will finally get my home as I want it, which will have all sorts of great effects on our lives. In the meantime, small changes can still make a difference.

I have always been interested in feng shui (pronounced fung shway), and have been doing a lot of research, taking out just about every book on the topic from our local library as well as making charts of our home — how it is and how I want it to be.

Feng shui, which in Chinese means "wind water," is a system of orienting your home in the most beneficial manner, to best utilize qi, or vital energy. There are various schools (form and compass) and types of feng shui which can be used to best utilize the flow of energy inside and outside of your home or office or wherever you would like to apply these principles. Whether you believe that feng shui can improve your luck or not, it is undeniable that streamlining one's life and trying to eliminate clutter cannot help but benefit how you interact and experience your home environment.

All the systems, whether one uses a compass or not, place a grid overlay, or a bagua map, over one's home. The grid is divided into sections which represent the eight aspirations: fame, relationships/marriage, children/creativity, helpful people/travel, career, inner knowledge, family/ancestors/health, and wealth/blessings.

The bagua compass layout

The first book I checked out, 101 Feng Shui Tips for Your Home (Feng Shui Series), by Richard Webster, was a good place to start. Webster introduces the basic concepts of feng shui, as well as offering tips for "cures" — fixing areas of your home that may not be optimally positioned, such as a bathroom in your wealth area, which in feng shui theory might result in all of your money going down the drain. Webster goes through an example house, room by room, pointing out potential problems and solutions for achieving the best flow of qi. The author also applies feng shui concepts to not just the layout of the whole house, but individual rooms as well. One of his quotes about that never-ending challenge, clutter, really resonated with me:
"... If you were one of those people who cannot let anything go because 'it might be useful one day', you're sending out a message that you do not trust the world to supply everything you need. Instead of becoming more secure, the opposite starts to happen and you become more insecure."
I made a map based on his suggestions, utilizing compass directions, which I found easy to use, as living near the coast of Florida makes finding N-S-E-W directions pretty easy to do.

A bagua compass overlay on a sample home layout

Another book, Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect, and Happiness by Karen Rauch Carter, is definitely designed to make feng shui fun. Carter has a lively, entertaining style and good tips, but she organizes the bagua by the position of the front door of the house, never taking compass directions into account, so it wasn't a book that I could really use as a guide in my home, since I have already decided to go by the compass method. Carter doesn't even acknowledge that there is another way to orient the bagua, and there is not much of a historical discussion of feng shui, in case one might be interested in the practice's 4000 year-old origins. There was an interesting quote right at the beginning of the book, where she asked a physicist named Barry Gordon to explain feng shui from a scientific perspective:
"... Everything is contained in consciousness, which has no boundaries. So the placement of your bed has meaning in relation to the rest of your experience. ... When your bed is moved with intention, the belief and emotion dimensions also move. ... Every thing, even the sticky front door that doesn't open all the way, has meaning. Every thing, every action, is intentional, sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious. Feng Shui brings the unconscious in our environment back into consciousness."
I like that.

I did pay attention to the chapter she included with her ideas for improving the center of the home, as the center is always the center, no matter how you spin the grid.

The bagua as a grid, with Knowledge/Wisdom, Career, and Travel/Helpful People always aligned with the wall that has the home's front door

The third book I checked out was Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary by Jane Alexander. This was not solely a feng shui book, but one about honoring exactly what the title says — house spirits. Alexander uses a variety of techniques and belief systems to talk about getting to the heart of one's home:
Carl Jung's four personality types - sensation, intuition, thinking, feeling - as ways to decide how to design your home spaces 
Exercises to work on your "soul home" - imagining your childhood home - something I have done before as a memory exercise
Like most books on feng shui, Alexander considers clutter the enemy, and includes plenty of tips for unloading unwanted or no longer used books, clothing, gadgets, etc. She also talks about space clearing rituals, using Native American smudging techniques. About midway through the book she finally gets to feng shui concepts, and also incorporates color and aroma therapies.

I still have a pile of other books on this topic to get through. I'm not really looking for the definitive feng shui bible, but rather trying to gather as many tips and approaches as I can on the topic to incorporate in my own home, my own way. It's an interesting path to be on.