JUST FOR FUN

February 19, 2015 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences), Reflections on Pop Culture

Spring is just around the corner, but if you are still surrounded by winter in the Northeast or hiding away from the drizzle falling from the sky in the Northwest, it can seem like spring is never going to arrive. In the event that you need a little pick-me-up to help you ride out the days until sunshine and tulips spring forth, here are some ideas!

Jimmy Fallon

I love Jimmy Fallon, but can never stay awake long enough to catch his show when it airs. Instead, I watch the Youtube videos of his most popular spots. They’re short, so you can squeeze in a viewing even when your time is limited. Some of my favorites are the Ragtime Gals (a barbershop quartet that turns into a quintet when special guests join in), the Saved by the Bell skit, the Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum Off, and any one of his Lip Sync Battles. You can’t go wrong, but to start you off, try this little gem of actual phone texts from moms that had me laughing so hard I wound up in tears: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpS4rOwr02s

 

Brussels Sprouts

I hated Brussels sprouts growing up. I thought they tasted like bitter dirt, and so I have avoided them all my life. Recently they worked their way onto my plate at a restaurant and because I had recently been on a chocolate binge, I opted to try the noxious green vegetable for health reasons. The Brussels sprouts were chopped in half, seasoned, and cooked in a skillet, so they were crunchy instead of the steamed, mushy mess I remember from my childhood, and they tasted nothing like bitter dirt. Dare I say it: I like Brussels sprouts! Even better, my local Safeway has pre-packaged, pre-seasoned Brussels sprouts ready to toss in a skillet and serve.

Candy Bar Maker

My son got this as a Christmas present, and it has become one of our family’s favorite things to do in the kitchen. The kit comes with everything you need (except chocolate) to make decorative chocolate candy bars. You may use white, milk, or dark chocolate, or a combination if you like, and any topping you can think of. We are partial to pretzels and caramel bits or crushed candy canes. My kids are fairly generous with the sprinkles and marshmallows too. But here’s the best part: the sizes of the candy bars you can make are small, so there is a built in portion control. These candy bars are half the size of a regular candy bar or less if you use the minis. It is a really fun way to make a dessert that fits your taste buds, and while the clean up is a bit involved, at least you have something to do while you’re waiting the 20 minutes for the candy bar to harden enough to eat. (Available on Amazon)

 

Annie Lennox’s I Put a Spell on You at the Grammys

I did not watch the Grammys this year, but I have watched Annie Lennox’s spectacular performance of I Put a Spell on You with Hozier several times. Oh my goodness, her voice! It’s smooth like wine and perfectly controlled until she unleashes its full power and knocks you onto your feet. If you love music and great performances, this one will definitely brighten up your day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZEChv1AaOk

 

The Killing, Season 3

This isn’t fun viewing and it won’t brighten up anything, ever. More likely it will bring you down into a state of darkness and depression that requires a hot shower to rinse off the images of atrocities human beings inflict on each other, and themselves. However, this season is good. Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman are terrific as flawed characters who are also excellent detectives, and Season 3 ratchets up their personal stakes until they are both walking a tightrope. The suspense lies not so much in whodunit, although there is plenty of that, but in whether or not these two characters will spiral out of control or triumph over their own poor choices. These ramifications spill over into Season 4, which I have just started watching. I am not allowed to watch this series too late at night because it is so creepy and disturbing that I don’t sleep well. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this series if you are into flawed characters, detective stories, or excellent storytelling (minus the one important plot twist that was so out of character I couldn’t buy it. Come find me when you’ve finished watching and we’ll talk.). (Streaming on Netflix)

Happy Almost Spring!

FALL ROUND UP

October 3, 2014 in Random Thoughts, Reflections on Pop Culture

 

After summer, fall is my favorite season. Crisp apples and sweet apple pie, pumpkin with cinnamon and nutmeg, warm, cheesy casseroles to offset the chill in the air, leaves on the turn from green to brilliant reds and yellows, Halloween, entire Sundays on the couch under a cozy blanket watching football, and the promise of new TV shows premiering…what’s not to love?

Here are several fun fall things to help get you in the spirit!

Fall TV: How To Get Away With Murder

The newest offering from Shonda Rhimes is set in a law school with the incomparable Viola Davis holding court in the classroom. The premiere introduces us to several promising students interspersed with scenes of them trying to get away with an actual murder. The students all have their secrets, but I’m guessing Viola Davis’ character Annalise Keating has even more hidden behind her piercing stare that can pin you to a wall. There were plenty of twists and turns in the premiere to keep me hooked, plus a doozy of a twist at the end that made sure I’d tune in for the next episode. If this keeps up, How To Get Away With Murder could become my new must-watch of the season.

Airs on ABC Thursdays at 10:00pm PST

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Streusel Cake from Two Peas and Their Pod

Pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and chocolate chips all folded into a cake and sprinkled with a streusel topping…yum! This will be the next pumpkin dessert I make.

Cinna-Mini Cookie Bites from Bakerella

What could be cuter, or more delicious, than these little cinnamon rolls in a cookie form?

Candy Corn Smoothies from Pillsbury.com

These delicious ice cream smoothies are perfect for the season!

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

The Dread Pirate Roberts himself wrote this book about his experience making the iconic film The Princess Bride. It includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and interviews with his co-stars Robin Wright (Princess Buttercup), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Inconceivable), Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), Christopher Guest (the six-fingered man), and the magnificent Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya). If you are a fan of The Princess Bride, the release date for this perfect fall treat is October 14, 2014. If you have never seen The Princess Bride, stop whatever you are doing and go watch it. It is a delight from start to finish!

 

Photo from Timholtz.com

Tim Holtz’s September Tag 2014

Tim Holtz is a creative genius. He uses simple tags to demonstrate his signature products and techniques, like this ultra cool sepia and white tag with a pop of color and dimension with the butterflies. The best part is all the other creative geniuses in the world that riff on his techniques and create their own inspirational art, like this adorable skeleton that is perfect for the season.

Photo from Yaya Scrap & More

 

Happy Fall!

THE ART OF PARIS

August 26, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Reflections on Pop Culture

Disclaimer: As this is a blog about art, nudity will be discussed. (Not my own, of course.)

As an art lover and a volunteer art teacher at my son’s elementary school, I was thrilled to visit the most famous art museum in the world: the Musée du Louvre in Paris. I wanted to be inspired and to bring back new art to my students to inspire them too.

Visiting the Louvre requires stamina, perseverance, and the ability to (gently) push your way through the masses of people gathered around some of the more famous pieces of artwork.

Behold! Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece is way, way, way over there!

The Mona Lisa is small considering the magnitude of it’s influence.

I apologize to everyone I stepped on, pushed, elbowed, or glared at on my way to the front of the line to see the Mona Lisa up close and personal.

The Louvre is huge: roughly 650,000 square feet, three wings, and three stories housing almost 35,000 pieces of art. If you think you can see everything in one day, think again. If you think you won’t get lost at least five times even with a map and an audio guide directing you, think again. Every room has two or three different exits leading into more rooms with more choices of which direction to take. It’s like a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book, and just like those adventures, I frequently found myself back in a room I had already been in several times.

There was some beautiful artwork on display. The marbled sculptures, like Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s Slaves were stunning depictions of the beauty of the (naked) human body that I wouldn’t be able to share with my students. There were entire wings of religious paintings with some of the boldest use of color I have ever seen, and because we are a public school, I can’t show those either. Then there were the precious cherubs, some with wings flitting about in the sky and some taking a sip of milk from their mothers’ casually exposed breast, none of which I can share with my students. And then there was this painting, which had me at a loss: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/gabrielle-destrees-and-one-her-sisters (Warning: nude bodies ahead.)

If you want examples of a healthy body image for women, look no further than the Louvre and  Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe at the Musée d’Orsay. These women are gorgeous and feminine and strong and confidant and naked. In Manet’s painting, the woman is having lunch with two (clothed) gentlemen, while she is completely naked. Not only that, but she’s sitting with her knee pulled up to her chest, making her stomach fold over onto itself, which, by the way, is what the abdomen is designed to do. She’s not worried about the rolls on her stomach brought on by her sitting position. She’s naked and she’s eating because she is comfortable with herself and her body. That is my take home lesson from the art at the Louvre.

For my artistic sensibilities, the Musée d’Orsay was perfect. The works of Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Seurat, and my new favorite pointillism artist Paul Signac were not only breathtaking, but they were accessible to elementary school students.

Paul Signac, Woman at the Well. Opus 238.

Pointillism, especially, is a must see in any museum. To step close enough to the painting to see the individual dots or swatches of color, and then to step back and watch them coalesce into a cohesive painting is magical. I sense a pointillism art project in my future.

I would like to go back to these museums in Paris. I didn’t see nearly enough, and what I did see, I wish I could see again. Perhaps someday…

 

 

 

 

LONDON THEATER

August 18, 2014 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Reflections on Pop Culture

Honestly, I don’t know why I don’t go to the theater more often. I love everything about it: the spectacle, the drama, the humor, the music, the amazing effects that can be achieved through sliding doors in the floor and secret panels in the walls, and the majesty of a show being so well done that the audience members leap to their feet in a standing ovation at the end.

Except for my high tea and the large bag of M&Ms from London’s M&M World, I only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in my hotel room, so I was able to splurge on three shows: all dramatic plays based on books or plays.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Gielgud Theater, West End

Based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name (which I had read previously)

If you haven’t read this novel about a 15-year-old named Christopher with symptoms placing him on the autism spectrum, you should. It is an amazing experience getting inside the head of a person with autism. Not only is Christopher a mathematical genius, but the way he looks at the world, as if the rest of us are the ones with the problem, makes a lot of sense. We speak in riddles, saying things that mask what we are thinking and using confusing metaphors that literal-thinking Christopher cannot understand.

There was a lot to like in the stage production, but the real star was the set. Simple, muted squares and cubes, probably much like Christopher sees the world, dominated the set, but the way they were used to create a street lined with houses, a school, a home, a subway, and his room were so creative. Every time Christopher found himself speaking with his teacher Siobhan, he’d build a train set, complete with train tracks and accessories like trees and buildings for the tracks to pass by. Just before intermission, the lights dimmed and the buildings glowed as the lighted train finally began its journey. It was stunning, especially when we realized he wasn’t just laying down train tracks on the floor: he was building a functioning railroad.

At the end of the play, we were treated to a Q&A with the actors. I moved out of my nosebleed seat and into one of the front rows to listen as the actors discussed their roles, their performance choices, and how Graham Butler, who played Christopher, prepared to portray a person with autism so authentically. It was a great way to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes.

The Crucible

The Old Vic Theater

Based on Arthur Miller’s play of the same name (which I read immediately afterwards) 

The Old Vic is Kevin Spacey’s theater, and this production of The Crucible’s theater-in-the-round stars the brilliant Richard Armitage, who you may know better as Thorin Oakenshield from The Hobbit.

This play was long—3 ½ hours—and it was intense. The tone was set instantly with a smoky, incense-smelling mist taking over the stage and Tituba, one of the characters, creating percussion with the rhythm of her bare feet on the wooden floor. It was eerie and mystical and compelling, just like the rest of the play.

The Crucible is based on the Salem witch trials, where young girls in the village, perhaps out of revenge, perhaps out of frustration at the stifling restraints their religion placed on them, convinced the leaders that certain members of their community were in contact with the devil. Unfortunately, there is no way to prove or disprove this claim, and somehow the girls’ accusations were believed over those of the adult innocent, probably because the girls seemed to go into cold trances, have fits, or occasionally fly through the air. One of the most affecting scenes in the play, and there were many, was the one where the group of girls displayed a sort of mass hysteria supposedly puppeted by the devil.

The punishment for being a witch was hanging, unless the witch confessed to being with the devil, in which case he or she was allowed to live. This all leads to a dilemma for Armitage’s John Proctor. He has lied before and betrayed his wife, but he would like to be an honest man, a good man. So when he is accused of witchcraft, should he lie to save his life, or go to his grave telling the truth?

This was a fantastic production with strong acting all around, particularly Armitage and Samantha Colley’s Abigail. It also left an impression. I read the play before I left London, and I’m not going to lie: this kept me up at night. It was disturbing in all the right ways.

Let the Right One In

Apollo Theater, West End

Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name (which I will read soon)

Ultimately a tale about bullying, this Swedish novel is put on by a troupe of Scottish actors. Young Oskar, played by Martin Quinn, who nailed this role, is essentially friendless. His father has left, his mother has trouble with boundaries and alcohol, and at school he has captured the attention of a group of bullies because of his lack of skill in the athletic arena. In addition, there is a killer on the loose in the woods. Naturally, as a young boy, Oskar heads directly out into the woods and there he meets a friend.

But this friend is strange. Eli smells like his dead dog, for one thing. She talks oddly, with “old people” phrases and a grating timber that took awhile for me to get used to. She lives next door and is frequently overheard arguing with her father. But when it comes to dealing with bullies, there is no one better equipped than Eli. As we discover is a rather graphic way, Eli is a vampire. She never ages, and her “father” is actually her husband from years past. Eli develops feelings for Oskar, and vice versa, and Hakan is not pleased.

There is a lot of humor, which is good because there is also a lot of gore; vampires do like their blood. I loved every second of this play, even the ones that had me leaping out of my seat in shock. Scary? Yes. Bloody? Yes. Endearing? Surprisingly yes!

You don’t need to fly all the way to London to see this one: it’s also a movie. I recommend watching it in the bright light of day, though. Between The Crucible and this, I had several sleepless nights in London.

 

 

TOP OF THE LAKE: A TV MINISERIES

June 3, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I recently watched Top of the Lake, a seven-episode TV miniseries out of New Zealand, in about two days. It’s a moody piece beautifully filmed against a backdrop of misty forests and an icy, eerie lake in a small town that holds a lot of secrets. Detective Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) returns home to Laketop when a 12-year-old girl Tui, who might have tried to drown herself in the lake, is found to be five months pregnant. But who is the father? “No one,” she insists.

Tui’s father Matt Mitcham is a beast of a man encased in a thin, wiry build with a craggy face and straggly hair. He is menacing and indifferent to human—and dog—life. His home, Tui’s home, is one with no limits: drugs, alcohol, threats, and physical violence run rampant. And yet, every once in awhile, Matt Mitcham will show a softer side—right before he beats himself for his failures.

Detective Robin Griffin is the master of the silent stare, a combination of raw honesty and strength: she has survived much in her lifetime. The lake took her father, her mother is dying of cancer, and there is something in her past that occurred in Laketop that is bubbling just below the surface. Here, too, is her high school sweetheart Johnno, fresh out of prison for drug possession. It’s not a big surprise: his father is Matt Mitcham.

There is also a bizarre subplot: a group of women have purchased a piece of land and are living on it in giant metal containers, the kind that semis use to pull their cargo. It’s a commune of sorts, where women in pain have come to heal under the guidance of their leader GJ (played by Holly Hunter), an odd woman with long hair turned gray by a lightning strike.

When Tui winds up missing, Robin goes into action, investigating Tui’s past, interrogating Tui’s friends, and getting reacquainted with Johnno. But the real mystery of this miniseries is who can be trusted. Everyone has a secret, and most of them are slowly unraveled as the miniseries progresses. There are some intriguing ambiguities in the end, and perhaps that is part of the reason why I can’t let this haunting miniseries go. (That, and the scene that made me gasp in horror. If you’ve already watched this, then you know exactly which scene I’m talking about.) Yes, it was creepy at times, and there were some baffling forays into subplots that had little to do with the mystery of Tui’s disappearance. But the heart of Top of the Lake is in Robin’s performance of a woman who does everything she can to protect Tui, perhaps partly to make up for the fact that Robin herself was not protected when she needed it the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GODZILLA!

May 27, 2014 in Adventures in Parenting, Reflections on Pop Culture

On Friday night my boys and I went to see Godzilla in 3D. With a six-year gap between my oldest and youngest sons, it’s never easy for us to agree on what movie to see. My soon-to-be 14-year-old wants to see movies like Neighbors and A Million Ways to Die in the West, which are hardly appropriate for him, let alone my eight-year-old. My middle son wants to see whatever movie is either a) wildly inappropriate for his 11-year-old age or b) that is different from the one everyone else wants to see. Then there is my eight-year-old, who would rather watch movies at home on TV, no matter how many times I explain to him that you can’t see new releases on TV. So for us, the fact that Godzilla exists is a minor miracle.

However, our movie viewing did not get off to a great start. The trailers, usually my favorite part of seeing a movie in the theater, were atrocious. Honestly, this was Godzilla! Who did they think would be coming to see this movie? It’s geared toward adolescent boys and men who used to be adolescent boys. Didn’t they realize there would be a ton of kids flocking to see it? So why include a trailer for a movie like Deliver Us From Evil? It is the story of a New York police officer investigating something creepy and disturbing in the zoo at night. The scene is dark and eerie, the faces of the actors are perplexed and nervous, and the score ratchets up to a screeching crescendo when a flashlight falls on an old woman with long, straggly gray hair digging feverishly in the dirt for—well, I don’t know what she was digging for because that’s the moment I grabbed my youngest boy, pushed his head into my sweatshirt, and covered his eyes and ears. This was a horror film in the vein of The Exorcism, and there was no way an eight-year-old should see even a trailer for that kind of movie. (My middle son, however, turned to me and said he wanted to see it when it came out. Not in a million years, small child.)

Next up was the trailer for Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who gradually gains the ability to utilize more of her brain’s capacity. It’s an interesting concept, but unfortunately the trailer began with some very disturbing images of poor Scarlett clutching a large bandage covering her stomach while curled up on a concrete floor, chained to a wall, and whimpering as her captor came closer. In other words, super scary. Once again, my youngest son was forced to inhale the air next to my sweatshirt as I covered his ears and he closed his eyes tight. Again, why were they showing a trailer for a movie like that at Godzilla?

I don’t think I have ever been so grateful for the actual movie to start in my life. Once Godzilla began, we could all relax…sort of. I did a lot of whispering:

“I don’t want to go to Hawaii again,” my youngest said when Godzilla caused a tsunami that wiped out Waikiki.

“It’s all pretend. There is no Godzilla.”

 

“Is he really a dinosaur?”

“Umm…I’m not sure.”

“Is he extinct?”

“Well, the dinosaurs are.”

 

“I don’t like all those eggs with the moving bits inside. It’s too creepy,” I said to myself.

“Calm down,” I reassured myself. “And stop jumping and inhaling sharply. Your son is watching you to see if he should be scared.”

 

“What’s he doing?” my oldest son asked when he saw my youngest lying in my lap.

“He fell asleep.”

 

That’s right: my youngest son fell asleep during one of the loudest movies I have ever seen.

Godzilla is fun if you like giant, fictitious Alien-like creatures bent on mass destruction and a scientist who prefers to gaze thoughtfully in the distance and make pronouncements about the ferocity of nature, which as it so happens, I do. I know some criticisms have been made that there isn’t enough of Godzilla in the movie, but I rather liked the slow build and the twist in the perspective of who Godzilla is.

I’m looking forward to the next movie we can all see together. I have no idea what it will be, but I have a long list of what it won’t be, beginning with Deliver Us From Evil.

 

 

 

 

BROADCHURCH: ANOTHER GREAT TV OFFERING FROM THE BBC

May 5, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

In the small, English seaside town of Broadchurch, where everybody knows everybody, an unimaginable tragedy has occurred: the body of eleven-year-old Danny Latimer is found on the beach at the base of the steep cliffs. It doesn’t take long for the forensic evidence to show that he did not jump, nor was this an accident. He was murdered and the inhabitants of the town begin to look at each other as possible suspects.

Broadchurch is more than a crime show, where evidence is discovered and suspects are interrogated. It is the story of a family and a community torn apart by loss, suspicion, and fear. Watching the community unravel when neighbor turns on neighbor and long-held secrets are revealed is mesmerizing.

The Detective Sergeant involved in the case is warm-hearted native Ellie Miller (love her!), herself the mother of an eleven-year-old boy named Tommy, Danny’s best friend. Tommy says he knows nothing, so why does he go to such great lengths to delete messages from Danny off of his phone and emails off of his computer?

Ellie was not pleased when she was passed over for the promotion to Detective Inspector. Her new boss Alec Hardy (with his fantastic Scottish accent) comes with his own baggage, trailing behind a failed investigation where a murderer still walks unidentified and an illness he is trying to keep hidden. Failure is not an option—not again—and his health will just have to take a back seat. Unfortunately, his body doesn’t always play by the rules.

The interplay between Ellie and Hardy is a perfect blend of acute differences converging into a sort of grudging respect. She’s warm and caring; she knows these people, and wants to treat them with respect during this difficult time. Hardy only wants the truth and will stop at nothing to get at it, even if it ruffles people’s feathers, including Ellie’s. As he is fond of saying, anyone is capable of killing someone in the right circumstances.

Danny’s father Mark does not have an alibi for the night Danny was murdered. His refusal to say where he was puts yet another strain on his marriage, which is already creaking apart in the wake of their son’s death. Jodie Whitaker, who plays Danny’s mother, is amazing in her portrayal of a mother lost in grief.

The media is unintentionally tipped off (Ellie’s nephew is a reporter: everything in this community is intertwined), creating a media circus that gathers enough strength to become a witch hunt, as facts are misunderstood and the innocent are found guilty in the minds of the frightened townspeople.

Through it all, the fact remains that a boy’s life was taken much too soon, and if the police don’t do something about it, the murderer is going to get away with it. The threads of grief, loss, suspicion, following the trail left by the killer, and the interminable waiting for an answer that may never come are woven together with a cast of characters who all have something to hide and a plot that releases mini bombshells so often that I couldn’t stop watching, even when it was way past my bedtime.

The acting is terrific and so are the accents, although I will confess that at times I had trouble understanding what they were saying. If that’s the price I must pay for being able to watch such a compelling show from the BBC, so be it. Season 1 is only 8 episodes long and I binge-watched it last week, forsaking sleep and the ability to focus on anything other than how soon I would be able to press “Play” again on my DVD player. The mystery wraps up with a heart-wrenching vengeance at the end of Season 1, but Broadchurch has been renewed for a second season so it will be interesting to see what they do next. Another murder investigation or something different? I just hope the detectives are still around, because they are fantastic.

 

 

 

 

GUILTY PLEASURES, PART 2: INTELLIGENCE

April 3, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

Read Part 1 here.

Ok, I am just going to come out and say it: I have a crush on Josh Holloway.

If you know me, this is not news. I’ve raved about Lost’s Sawyer for years. The bad boy with a heart of gold buried somewhere deep inside, a pair of irresistible dimples, and a penchant for coming up with clever nicknames for his cohorts, like “Doc” and “Freckles”: what’s not to love?

So when I heard he was headlining a new TV show called Intelligence, I raced right over to CBS and prepared to be enthralled.

Gabriel Vaughn, played by Josh Holloway, is an ex-Delta Force operative who volunteered to have a super-computer microchip implanted in his brain, allowing him access to the global information grid. (As a non-tech-savvy layperson, I have no idea what that means, but it plays out in scenarios like Gabriel unlocking hotel doors with his mind.) He currently works for U.S. Cyber Command in an effort to stop bad guys while being protected 24/7 by his own Secret Service agent Riley Neal.

This show has its share of flaws. Some of the things Gabriel can do stretch the limits of plausibility (although as a non-tech-savvy layperson, I readily admit this flaw could be mine). The dialogue is often clunky. Marg Helgenberger, terrific in CSI, looks like she’s trying to play the director of U.S. Cyber Command Lillian Strand as an ice-cold, strong as steel, ballsy woman, but instead it comes across as stiff and distant. Meghan Ory, playing Gabriel’s protector, looks to be eighteen years old and has perfected the arched-eyebrow facial expression to convey any number of her inner feelings, such as “Ok, bad guy, you are annoying me now. Don’t you know I have cheerleading practice in an hour? Quit stalling and answer my question.”

But I love this show anyway! Here’s why:

Josh Holloway

His hair is shorter, but the dimples are still out in force and there’s enough of the “Sawyer” swagger left that I can almost convince myself I’m watching Lost again. As a main character, he has a lot of screen time, and an hour spent watching Holloway is a pretty damn good hour. Looks aside, I do see a lot of potential with this character. Right now, he’s basically a walking computer, but I think Gabriel is smarter than the writers are giving him credit for. I would love to see him using his own mind instead of relying so heavily on the chip. Perhaps he gets a virus that shuts down the computer in his brain and he has to solve a complicated crime on his own without (gasp) internet access?

John Billingsley and P.J. Byrne

The creators of the show hit the jackpot with these two characters: a father-son team of uber-smart scientists that work in U.S. Cyber Command. John Billingsley is Dr. Cassidy, the neuroscientist responsible for the computer chip that now resides in Gabriel’s brain. In many ways, he regards Gabriel as his own son, setting up a realistic jealousy issue with his biological son Nelson, played by P.J. Byrne. Dr. Cassidy and Nelson bicker, they get the best lines, and no matter what, they have each other’s backs.

Of all the actors, these two are the ones that actually get to show their emotions, resulting in moments of poignancy and humor.  That may be the biggest problem with the show: except for these two, everyone is in an emotional lockdown. There has been a lot said during the show about the fact that Gabriel is a human being, not just a computer. If that’s true, then let him be human. Show his flaws and insecurities. Show him making a mistake and dealing with the consequences. Mess him up a little and let him show that he is, indeed, human.

That goes for Riley too. She’s a Secret Service agent, so we know she’s tough. But where is she vulnerable?

The season finale just aired, and I hope it gets picked up for a second season. There is a lot of potential here for a great show. I hope they take advantage of it if given the chance.

GUILTY PLEASURES, PART 1: KIM OF QUEENS

March 31, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

Photo from Lifetime’s Kim of Queens

I am not a TV snob. For every True Detective, Homeland, and Downton Abbey episode I watch, there are a number of sitcoms (Mindy!), reality TV shows (Project Runway!), and cooking shows (anything on Food Network!) that I watch as well.

If it’s a great show that I am passionate about, I will tell everyone about it, and I don’t care where it falls on the critically lauded list or in the ratings. But sometimes I watch shows that I know aren’t very good and I love them anyway. I quietly record them on my DVR, watch them in the privacy of my own home, and don’t say a word about them to anyone. They are my guilty pleasures, just like a box of Pop Tarts or an US Weekly magazine.

Today, that is going to change. I am going to let you in on my secret little world of  bad TV and share two shows that deserve to see the light of day. Yes, they have their flaws, but so do I, and I am still worthy of a little love. These shows are too.

Lifetime’s Kim of Queens is an hour-long reality show about (gasp!) beauty pageants. As a college educated woman, I am at complete odds with the world of beauty pageants. I have made fun of some of the Miss USA’s contestants’ inability to properly frame a coherent response to an interview question. I have been aghast at what some of the mothers do and say to get their six-year-olds pageant-ready. And what good could possibly come from parading around a stage in a swimsuit? So why am I watching a reality show about beauty pageants?

I’ll tell you why: Kim Gravel.

 

Photo from Lifetime’s Kim of Queens

Kim Gravel is a pageant coach. She’s well qualified: she was one of the youngest contestants ever to win Miss Georgia. But she gives much more to these young pageant hopefuls than big hair and a lot of makeup; she is teaching these girls to be themselves.

How is she teaching young girls to be themselves when she’s making them use tan-in-a-can, false eyelashes, and packaging tape as a push-up device? As Kim says herself, her job is not only to make the girls beautiful on the outside, but to make them beautiful on the inside, although her version is more colloquial: “You can wear a burlap sack, girl; but if you got it on the inside, it shines on the outside.”

Kim has a southern accent to die for, striking blue eyes, a beautiful singing voice, a heart the size of Texas, and she knows exactly who she is. She does more than coach these girls; she folds them under her wing and inspires self-confidence, self-esteem, and a drive to improve. Kim tells it like it is, and sometimes that honesty can be tough to hear, but it always comes from a place of love and a desire for the best for these young ladies.

Kim is larger than life, funny, real, and confidant, and she commands every second of screen time she is in. She is flanked by her younger sister, Allisyn (comic relief), and her mother Jo, who is the very definition of a southern lady. Some of the pageant “moms” are over-the-top to the point where I wonder if some of their antics have been staged, which is too bad because there is plenty of depth to be mined there already. But the heart of the show is the interactions between Kim and her girls. She is a mentor, a friend, an advocate, a counselor, and a believer in her pageant contestants and their potential. “I see things in young girls they don’t see in themselves,” she says, and she is committed to helping her girls discover and believe in their own strengths.

Every hour I spend watching Kim of Queens is an hour filled with laughter, tears, sweet “aaahhhh” moments, and a fervent wish that I had had a Kim Gravel in my life when I was going through those awkward teen years. Honestly, I could use a Kim Gravel in my life right now (she is a life coach), but I’ll settle for the next best thing: watching Kim of Queens on Tuesdays at 10:00pm on Lifetime.

Stay tuned for my other Guilty Pleasure!

THE OSCARS ARE COMING!

February 28, 2014 in Reflections on Pop Culture

There are a lot of things to love about the Oscars—great movies, beautiful performances, humorous witticisms from the host, presenters, and winners, the fashion, the spectacle of it all—but my favorite part is participating in my sister’s annual Oscar poll.

Every year, she invites her fellow movie aficionados (of which she is the queen) to predict the Oscar winners in 11 select categories. Not only do you get to share your Oscar predictions with the other participants, you get to explain why. If you are not passionate about movies, then you may not appreciate the beauty of this, but if you are, then you know exactly how great a feature this is. Movies are polarizing, and so are actors and actresses. I might be enamored with a performance by an actor someone else can’t stand. I might despise a movie someone else thinks is brilliant. But we all get our moment to defend our picks, and if the situation warrants it, to talk smack about someone else’s picks. (cough **Frankie** cough)

I do my best to see all the Best Picture nominees, but have never done it. My sister does, though, which means she is the one to beat. (See her reviews of all nine Best Picture nominees here.) I have a lot of different strategies for making my picks (sometimes it even includes seeing the movies), but I get hung up every time because of my own personal belief system: the Oscar should go to the BEST performance.

In 1992 (and yes, I am still stewing about this), I saw Denzel Washington in Malcolm X and he was mesmerizing. He simply was Malcolm X on the big screen. It was a stellar performance deserving of much more than just his Best Actor nomination, but he lost  to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Pacino’s performance in that movie was—well, I don’t want to say because I don’t want to get on his bad side. Let’s just say he is unquestionably a good actor, just not in that movie.

Pacino had never won an Oscar, despite being nominated seven previous times for wonderful performances in both Godfather movies and in Dog Day Afternoon. He was getting on in years and Denzel Washington had already won an Oscar for his supporting role in Glory. I have no proof, but I am willing to bet that the Academy members checked the box next to Al Pacino’s name for reasons other than the quality of his performance.

It’s like watching a race where the first place winner crosses the finish line, but the trophy is given to someone else further back in the pack because…well who knows why anyone would do that, but it happens all the time. Read the February 28, 2014 issue of Entertainment Weekly where anonymous Hollywood bigwigs explain who they voted for and why. One actress said:

“I’ve always adored Sally Hawkins…And she had to work with Mr. Woody Allen—that’s another reason I’m going to check the box for Sally.” Seriously? She gets your vote because of who she had to work with?

Or this from an anonymous screenwriter who is voting for 12 Years a Slave:

“It was by far not my favorite picture, but choosing 12 Years validates the idea that the film should exist.” High praise indeed.

Movies are many things beyond entertainment. There are political, social, and cultural messages strewn about, reflections on the human condition, and advances in technology to kick movie viewing into another dimension. Ultimately, though, the Oscars should celebrate the moments where all of the above, plus great acting and a great story swirl together to create something that is so magical it takes your breath away.

Here is to the BEST on Oscar night, regardless of who ultimately takes home the Oscar!