Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Trip to Italy

There’s a word in the English language that I relish. Often, when my husband and I are away somewhere hot, sitting at an upscale restaurant, one of these beauties will appear on the side of my plate as a garnish, and I never fail to pick it up, look at him and say, “kumquat” in as clipped a fashion as I possibly can.

So imagine my delight when, in their latest film, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon turn that word into the funniest back and forth gag since the “Gentlemen, to bed!” fake dialogue they improvised in their first film, The Trip.

Now, in The Trip to Italy, they’re back, riffing on everything from Alanis Morrisette to who was more unintelligible in the Batman films: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne (not Batman, but Wayne) or Tom Hardy as Bane?

As one account has pointed out, if these guys were sitting beside you at a table in a restaurant, you’d first poke their eyes out with a fork before doing yourself in. But onscreen (and edited) they are wildly funny, if still occasionally annoying. I know Rob Brydon is very popular in the UK, and the people I went to see it with are big Brydon fans, but I’m still a Coogan gal myself, and think his comedy is very understated and hilarious. Brydon is known for his impressions, and he so rarely uses his own voice that you wonder if he ever forgets who he actually is. And, oddly, whenever Coogan corrects him and does the impression himself, he almost always does it better. There were times when Brydon was doing either Sean Connery or Hugh Grant for the billionth time that the woman behind me in the theatre would groan, “Oh no...” and I couldn’t blame her. But then he would say something so off-the-wall hilarious that all is forgiven. And he does pull off an extended riff on his “man in a box” routine that is so funny I was doubled over throughout the scene.

As in The Trip, the two men are sent on a foodie holiday by a newspaper — in the first film it was to northern England, and in this one it’s Italy — and the images of the countryside are so gorgeous it’ll take your breath away, and the food will just make you hungry for the entire film. But the real meat of the movie is in the conversation between the two men. I can’t imagine how many hundreds of hours of improv director Michael Winterbottom had to edit to winnow it down to the 90 minutes of the film, but he must have had a hilariously fun time doing so.

Yes, they do try to shoehorn in a plot. In the first film, it was about Steve Coogan having a midlife crisis, trying to figure out where he is in the world, why he’s not more popular as an actor than he is, why no one recognizes him on the street, why women no longer look at him the way they once did, what happened to his marriage, and why his son won’t speak to him. Brydon, on the other hand, was happily married and had a newborn baby, and was recognized everywhere they went. In this outing it’s Brydon who’s unhappy: his wife is so caught up in their three-year-old daughter that she doesn’t have time for his phone calls, and his mind and eyes begin to stray to other women. The problem is, if you’ve ever been left at home alone caring for young children while your spouse travels, you know how exhausting and time-consuming it is, and that he’s living his life’s dream while his wife toils away at home with the youngster. So, unfortunately, he was utterly unsympathetic to me as he worked through his issues, and I thought the subplot was handled better in The Trip.

That said, I would recommend this to anyone who loved The Trip (and if you haven’t seen that movie, do), if for no other reason than to hear them riff on the word kumquat.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thoughts on The Leftovers

For the first three weeks of HBO’s The Leftovers, I blogged on it immediately following the episode. But after the third week, the summer turned into craziness, my husband (who is a golf writer) was away for most of it, I was at home alone with the kids, and I ended up falling behind on watching the show. By the time five episodes had piled up I knew I’d missed the boat on keeping up with the blogging. So I decided I’d sit down and watch the rest of the season in one fell swoop and blog about it at the end.

And what a season it was.

I adored it.

What started off a little slow, not really focusing on one character over another and showing a world that was intolerable in its gloominess turned into a deep, philosophical look at how we handle grief and the unknown. How we turn against each other in the very moment we should be coming closer together. How we try to move past things but they always follow us wherever we go.

The first truly spectacular episode was the third one, in which Christopher Eccleston’s reverend moved to the foreground and we focused on one particular character and what happened to his life on that fateful day. His episode culminated in the Guilty Remnants taking over his church, painting it all white, and continuing their crusade to ensure no one would forget what had happened. The rest of the season fanned out to include the other characters, and by the end of the final episode, there were enough archetypes that you could identify with at least one of them.

For me, it was Nora Durst, for no other reason than she’s married with two children. I didn’t identify with her much at all in the beginning; I didn’t like her character, I thought she was cold and strange, and didn’t quite get where she was coming from. I admired her for trying to move past the tragedy and smile in the direction of people who meant her harm (like the stupid teenagers who rob her car early on), but even when the focus moved to her trying to go to the convention as a legacy, and being upset that they’d given her the wrong badge, only to overhear how tired other people were of the legacies throwing around their tragedies instead of moving on... I still wasn’t quite sure what I thought of her.

And then the finale happened.

The season has been building to an all-out war between the Guilty Remnants cult and the rest of the citizens of the town. Officer Garvey has been warning the mayor that the GR is trouble, and that they do mean harm to the people who are there. However, Garvey is clearly suffering from a mental breakdown and people are starting to recognize that. He closes his eyes and loses long periods of time, as if he’s flitting between two universes — one in which he’s got everything under control and he sees a light at the end of this dark tunnel, and another in which he’s lost all control, the world is against him, and he’s only going to sink deeper into his own grief and heartbreak. And since the world is a dark and horrible place, we the viewers have no idea sometimes which world he’s in.

I loved the structure of the episodes. The flashback happens exactly where it needed to: in the penultimate episode, to remind us who these people once were before all hell breaks loose. Or the Christmas episode, which opens with the factory making hundreds of little rubber baby dolls, which not only becomes Kevin’s obsession in the episode, but foreshadows what happens in the finale and how the Guilty Remnants do what they do with factory-like precision.

Patti is the ringleader of the GR. I swung back and forth on my sympathy for her, but landed hard in the “NOPE” category by the end of it. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why the Guilty Remnants think what they do is OK, but Patti’s even worse than they are, because, like the best cult leaders, she’s tricking them into believing that their way is the only way. She arranges for one of their own to be killed in a brutal attack (that Patti herself led while hooded) and then tricks Garvey into capturing her while he’s in a fugue state, and goads him into killing her. He comes to his senses and won’t do it, knowing that to martyr her would make everything so much worse. He knows the truth about what she did, and she knows the truth about what he did. She could tell everyone about him tying her up and beating her up, even though he has no memory of doing so (just the mysterious dog killer knows about it aside from her). He, on the other hand, could tell everyone about what she did to one of her followers. The only way his argument loses ground is if she’s not around to answer for it. And so she does the only thing that will leave him entirely screwed: she cuts her own throat open and leaves the mess for him to clean up.

Garvey manages to get the reverend back on his side, but at what cost? In one of Garvey’s fugue states he imagines the reverend locking him away in a mental institution, which he could very well have done (was that real? Is what happens next real? There are moments where it’s not clear, but it does seem for the purpose of the other characters’ stories that it was his imagination).

Garvey’s father had a mental breakdown shortly after The Disappearance, and he’s in a mental institution, save for one episode where he tried to convince Garvey that the voices in his head are insisting that Garvey read a May 1972 issue of National Geographic.

Why this particular issue? Does it have something to do with the cover story of Yellowstone visitors being mauled by bears? Archaeological digs on the island of Thera solving the mystery of the Minoans? In any case, Garvey will have none of it, and keeps trashing each copy he gets.

Garvey’s son has been on a mission to keep safe The One, the pregnant woman carrying Holy Wayne’s child, until he discovers that she is One of Many, and there are several other poor saps trying to keep safe pregnant Asian women. And so he decides to break away and keep her safe on his own, but she escapes and leaves the baby behind. So he returns home, the only place where he thinks he might actually find help.

The prodigal son returns, but the angry teen daughter has defected over to the Guilty Remnants, putting mother Laurie in a quandary; with Patti gone, she’s now the de facto leader, and needs to be behind the GR cause, but is this a life she wants for her daughter? And if she doesn’t want to see her daughter chain-smoking and bringing pain to others, and wearing white and refusing to speak, then how can she convince the other followers that this is the correct path to follow?

What sets up the show for the beautiful and horrifying finale is the episode that comes before it, which, like the best Lost episodes, provides us with a flashback to what the lives of everyone looked like before. And what was so glorious about this episode was the acting: If you thought that Laurie was just an unsmiling, quiet, chain-smoking weirdo in the Guilty Remnant, think again. She was a vibrant mother with a wicked sense of humour who loved her family dearly, even though she knew that things between her and Kevin were in trouble. The daughter was sweet and funny, the son came and went but he was a loving member of the family. Patti was sad and confused, and believed something terrible was going to happen to everyone. The reverend and his wife were engaged members of society, part of the local parties and social scene. Kevin’s dad was a respected member of the police force. Nora Durst was a mother of two sweetly annoying children and a happy wife who was testing the waters of moving back into the workforce. And when everyone Disappeared, Kevin later says his children were so happy to see him alive, and he was grateful he didn’t lose anyone in his family. But he did... for in that moment of disappearance, Laurie was having an ultrasound, looking at the very healthy baby on the screen. The one who was there one second, and gone the next. Only she knows that she and Kevin lost a baby that day.

And that brings us to the final horrible act the GR commits. For a couple of episodes we see Patti and the GR stealing family photos out of people’s homes; Patti uses the church to arrange clothes on the floor, and I suspected they were somehow connected (especially when she kept consulting a book of photographs to make sure the outfits were correct). And then what appeared to be bodies in white sheets were carried into the church. Do they know what happened to the Disappeared? Is it possible they’ve found the bodies? What the hell are they doing?

Nope. Somehow they seem to have stashed thousands and thousands of dollars away to have meticulous wax figures made of the Disappeared, made to look exactly like the photographs, and they break into people’s homes in the dead of night and set them up as a horrifying tableau, ready to shock the Left Behinds when they wake up in the morning.

Because we saw what Nora and her family were like in the moment of the Disappearance, that the last thing she did was yell at her daughter before she was gone (every mother’s nightmare), that she read to them every night and kissed their foreheads and was an involved and engaged mother, the scene awaiting her in the kitchen — the last place she saw them all alive — is the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve seen on TV this year. It’s not exact — the GR has the boy sitting in the girl’s spot, as if to say something is slightly wrong here — but the look on Nora’s face, and the keening howl of despair that escapes her mouth she sees them, was enough to send my heart into my mouth. For the first time, she’s trying to move on with Kevin and rely on the sweet and happy memories of her family, but seeing them all sitting there looking so much like they did in life, and yet waxy and all wrong, her entire world falls out from under her.

Most of the episode happens between here and the end, and when we come back to her, she hasn’t fallen onto the floor or raced out of the house. We can only imagine how long the wailing went on, or what went through her mind when she realized what was going on or who had left these grotesque statues in her kitchen. But when we come back to her, she’s sitting at her spot at the table, stroking the hands of her fake children. To me, that was even more devastating, and I finally identified with her 100%. I imagine wanting to fold those phony statues into my chest, and hugging them so hard they would begin to disintegrate. Not wanting to let them go, not wanting to head back into the world, and just hoping I could disappear along with them. And perhaps all these thoughts race through her head, but instead she sits there for hours and hours, stroking their hands, not talking or moving, and realizing just like these statues, the memories of her children will be staring her in the face whenever she thinks she’s moved on. And she can’t move on.

The episode ends with Nora’s voiceover dictating the letter she leaves for Kevin, that she’s realized she’s stuck and can’t move on, and she will carry these children with her forever. As it’s read over an image of her carrying the wax statues upstairs and putting the children to bed one last time, the tears were streaming down my face. The heavy anvil that was sitting on my heart got heavier, and I couldn’t imagine going through anything like this. What sounds like a suicide note isn’t; she’s simply leaving, and moving far away from the house, from the wax statues, and from the horrible GR cult that has done this to her and the other townspeople.

Kevin returns to town in the midst of an all-out riot, with people setting the GR homes on fire and starting a bonfire in front of it as they toss their waxy family members into it. “How could you DO this?” asks the aging parents of the man with Down’s Syndrome as they throw his likeness into the fire. The mayor stands in the middle of the street, shocked and horrified, and looks at Kevin and blankly says, “you were right.” He’s the one who told everyone the GR were trouble, and no one listened to him. Now look what’s happened.

Kevin helps Laurie out of the burning house, but a look of terror crosses on his face as she says her first word in two years — “JILL!!” — and he races back into the house to save his daughter. The two of them walk back home together in time to find Nora standing on the porch, holding the Chosen Baby that Kevin’s son has clearly put there because he doesn’t know what else to do. A smile crosses her face as she realizes the world is full of so much death, but maybe new life can begin to change that.

If The Leftovers hadn’t gotten renewed (and it was as of last week), this actually would have been a fitting ending. Open-ended, yes, but one where we would have felt like we’d had a snapshot into their lives, and there’s hope for everyone.

But as we move into S2, things are looking up, except for the fact that the town looks like they will kill any GR member they see, and Kevin’s mental state is so precarious he’s now imagining Patti straddling him and whispering evil thoughts into his head.

The show is dark, yes, and I’m sure that has put some viewers off. But for me it does best what so many shows of its ilk do: it shows us the darkest moments one can imagine and asks what we would do in that situation.

And then, at least for me, it makes me appreciate the people I have around me all the more, because I can’t imagine suddenly losing any of them in this way.

I'm running through the entire season by memory, because I decided to just sit down and watch it with no notes. Yes, I'm sure I've missed some items, but I'm focusing on the things that affected me the most. What did you think about the first season? Will you be tuning in to the second? 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

U2 HIJACKED MY iCLOUD!! And other petty complaints...

In 1987, I fell deeply in love with U2. And, well, Bono. I saw Rattle and Hum five times in the theatre, and the day it came out on video (yes, video) I bought it and watched it 15 times in the first week. I finally saw them live in 1992 for the first time, and it was life-changing. I saw them three of the four nights of the Vertigo tour. I was standing on Soldier's Field in Chicago in 2009 for the first show of the 360 tour, right against the stage, and blogged about the experience here. A few weeks later, I was up against the stage once again in Toronto, and got a killer photo of Bono reaching his arm right down to me:

So yeah. I'm a fan. That said, I don't think they've done much in the way of interesting music in the last decade. I barely even noticed their last tour, much less went to see them on it. I think they've moved so far away from the political beliefs and so far into the pocket of whatever large corporation can afford them that they've lost some of their shine.

But I still love Bono. I think he's one of the most charismatic people in the world, and he's also humble, despite what people think. You see him in interviews and he often turns them around, seemingly more fascinated with the interviewer. He never talks over the interviewer, and looks like he's just as interested in what that person has to say as the interviewer is in him. I watched Charlie Rose interview him last  year and Bono seemed nervous in Charlie's presence.

Last week, the U2 album popped into my husband's iTunes. I don't connect to the Cloud (not out of some personal privacy thing, I just don't have any need to usually) so he just transferred it over to me so I'd have a copy. I haven't gotten around to listening to it, and frankly, I don't know what anyone thinks of it.

All I know is, the world is totally pissed off that U2 would go and do this horrible, terrible, no-good thing and GIVE THEM THEIR ALBUM FOR FREE.

How dare they?

How dare they just go into my iTunes library — which Apple provided to me for free — and just pop that sucker in there so I don't have to pay for it? So I don't have to go to the store and buy the CD, or go into iTunes myself, hand over my credit card number and purchase it into my dock. It's just... THERE.

But hey, HEY, I didn't ask for it. It's like someone stuck a Michael Bolton album through my mail slot, invading the privacy of my home and offending my entire record collection. I could just throw it in the garbage or give it to my mother-in-law, but instead I WILL TWEET ANGRILY ABOUT IT.

Twenty years ago, before we were so easily offended on Twitter and complaining about everything on Facebook and up in arms about things via email, if someone were standing on every street corner of the world handing out the latest U2 CD, we would have been in shock. I just got handed the latest album by the world's biggest band... for FREE. Seriously? Is this a trick? Am I supposed to do something for this? It's FREE?! Wow, I don't even like U2 but I'll take it.

But people are screaming their privacy has been breached. Someone got onto their computer and sneaked an album onto it. One they didn't even want.

So... don't listen to it.

Shrug, go about your day, and don't listen to it. Or maybe flip it on and see if it's the sort of thing you'd like. Apple owns iTunes. They let you have that service for free. You pay to load Photoshop onto your computer; you pay for a license for Microsoft Word on your computer. But iTunes? It's just there. And why wouldn't it be; it's access to Apple's online store for music and games and TV, so of course they want you to have it on there because it means more money for them.

And they stuck that album in your iCloud so it would drop onto your phone or computer the next time you connected to it, because they're just one of those bands that everyone has liked at one time or another. Maybe not anymore, but they figured it would be the least offensive thing to give you.

For free.

Let's just keep remembering that: people are complaining that they were given something FOR FREE.

Yes, I understand privacy concerns and that the very Cloud that just got breached is the same one that caused intimate photos of Jennifer Lawrence to suddenly appear online, which was a horrifying abuse of what should have been her private space.

But your phone didn't get hacked. Nothing was stolen from your computer. Something was given to it. And you can delete it, as many websites have popped up to show you.

Anger and empty vitriol is contagious. Witness how many people freaked out over Facebook Messenger and began sending around articles to all their FB friends about the privacy hack that Messenger causes. One could have actually gone looking for a real article where the headline wasn't in the vicinity of "Facebook wants you to use Messenger: and you won't believe what happens next" click bait variety, and instead told you the truth — that there are no privacy issues, and that people need to calm the frick down and actually stop spreading fear mongering and perhaps just take a look at their own privacy settings — but it was too late. One friend posted the articles, the others read it with horror and posted it to their own pages, and other people deleted it from their phones and then said they were no longer using FB (I can't tell you how many people in the past few weeks on my FB feed have posted announcements that they are deleting it from their phone) and the truth no longer mattered. What mattered was that the mob mentality said it was bad, and therefore it was bad.

I just wish I could go a week without watching people complain about problems that don't matter. Every day our parents are dying, mothers are losing their children to one disease or another, people are starving, people are stuck in abusive and unhappy relationships. And we're complaining that Apple just gave us a free CD, goddammit, and it's from a band I don't even frickin' like.

And UGH I hate Steven Moffat and everything he's done to Doctor Who. I wish he would just leave the show and they would return to high quality television like "Blink" or "The Empty Child" or "Silence in the Library." o_O

And honestly, the Starbucks barista spelled my name wrong AGAIN on my cup. It's Jack. How do you get that wrong?!

And I can't believe that iTunes is going to charge me 99 cents for this app when it was free last week, this is the WORST!! (How much was that Starbucks coffee you just got again?)

And if my neighbour parks her car in front of my house again, I'm going to smash in her windshield.

Of course, I just spend several hundred words complaining about people complaining in my feed, so I'm no better at this point. ;) I think I'm going to try to return to my weekly habit of posting about things I loved this week. It made me feel good, and it also helped me to focus on those little happy things, and not the aggravating things.

Look, I complain about things as much as the next guy; any one of my friends will tell you that. Griping sessions are fun. And bitching about everything that annoyed you that week is a pastime we've all taken part in. But it can also be harmful to you; being so easily offended has become who we are as human beings. Let's try to be offended less, and take joy in the happy things.

I mean, Apple did NOT put Michael Bolton's Greatest Hits in my iTunes without asking me. That has GOT to make people happy, right?!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Kids Review TV: Doctor Who 8.1 — Deep Breath

This past Saturday was the much-anticipated return of Doctor Who, which, if you watch the show, you know it comes with much more than "what will the new season be like?" This premiere brought with it a new Doctor, new relationships, new personalities, and even a new TARDIS. As the fifth Doctor would have said, "You've changed the desktop theme again!"

That's not the only theme that changed.

Right from the beginning of the episode, we get a new song, and new opening credits. I actually quite liked them, even though if I had to choose my absolute favourite DW opening theme song it would be the 10th Doctor's one, midway through his run, all violins and heavy guitar. It was manic and pulsating and determined. This new opening is more retro, harkening back to earlier Doctors and earlier opening themes from the Classic Series, with more synth (I half-expected the episode to open with Ace) and clocks flying by. But I liked it, and I think it'll grow on me even more with time. It was such a shift, rather than the slight change they usually make. And, best of all, it was created by a fan, and the producers liked it so much they took it, tweaked it slightly, and made it the opening. How amazing is that?

And just as that fan's dream came true, so did Peter Capaldi's. A Doctor Who megafan since he was a kid, now he IS the Doctor, and gets to come in when the show is finally hot in the U.S. in a way it's never been before, and has a renewed and reinvigorated audience. Personally, I thought Capaldi was fantastic, and I know we're heading in a darker direction, but this first episode was hilarious on so many levels, not least of all in the acknowledgement that Capaldi is best known as the always-enraged Malcolm Tucker on In the Thick of It (that show my kids always want me to show them, to which I answer unequivocally: NO). Much was made of Capaldi being an older Doctor, and that is brought up again and again in this premiere episode, more as if the writers are answering the fans than anything else. The companions have always stood in for the fans and our responses, and this episode made Clara one of us in abundance.

The 9th Doctor emerged from a place of war, having just destroyed his home planet and everyone on it. He's broken and sad, but young and smiling and there to have adventures with Rose. The 10th Doctor was also a young man, going through a particularly difficult regeneration, but one where Rose stuck by him, knowing this might not look like her Doctor, but he's in there somewhere. The 11th Doctor regenerated and then crashed his ship, and awoke to a new face and a little girl standing by his side, someone who'd never seen him before but would pledge the rest of her life to him. Of the three, only one of them carried the companion from one body to the next, and that companion accepted him pretty quickly. And none of those men looked like they were older than 35.

But everything is different now. This companion, Clara, is the Impossible Girl, the one who isn't just a companion, but has actively saved the Doctor in every body he's ever been in. If there's one companion who should be OK with seeing a new face on the Doctor, it should be this one, since she's encountered every single one of them firsthand.

Only... she hasn't. It's rather confusing, but she split herself into many selves, each one of them assigned to a different spot on the Doctor's timeline, and the Clara that we see in this season 8 premiere has only ever been with the 11th Doctor.

And here is where we step outside of the show for a second, and look around at all the young faces now watching the show. Many of them began with the 11th Doctor. This is THEIR Doctor, the one they first encountered when their parents said, "Hey, wanna watch Doctor Who with me?" In the case of my then-5-year-old son (now almost 7), it was love at first sight. He carries the 11th Doctor's sonic screwdriver around with him everywhere. He thinks bow ties are cool. And he cried for 45 minutes straight when his Doctor regenerated late last year.

But he's had eight months to get used to Capaldi's face, seeing it everywhere, knowing his Doctor is gone but a new one is on the horizon. He knows it's still Doctor Who, but he still misses his Doctor.

My 10-year-old daughter first joined us when I was going back to the beginning of the New Series with my son during the hiatus, and so her first Doctor is the 9th. She adored him, and loved the 10th, and thinks the 11th is wonderful. She seems pretty amenable to the regenerations and the new faces, so I was interested in what she would think.

So last Saturday, we all gathered in front of our televisions to watch the premiere of season 8 live. It was me, my daughter Sydney, son Liam, and Liam's friend Christian. Christian is 7 and has never seen Doctor Who before, so I was interested to see what he would think of this. Liam tried his best to prep him, with his beloved and tattered copy of the 50th Anniversary book, pointing out each villain and each Doctor and explaining what all of this meant.

I worried that the 10pm end time would mean my kids wouldn't last, but they were on the edges of their seats, wide-eyed and mired in the suspense, right until the end. (Except for Christian; we lost him shortly after 9pm when he just leaned against the arm of the couch and went right to sleep.)

The next day at lunch, I asked each of them for their thoughts:

What did you think of the new theme song? 
Liam: I liked it.
Sydney: I LOVED it.
Liam: And all those clocks swirling around were cool.

What did you think of the new Doctor? 
Liam: I liked him, but I still miss my Doctor.
Sydney: Loved him. But I like darker Doctors.
Liam: But I didn't like when he just left Clara alone in the basement with the robots.
Sydney: Yeah, that wasn't very nice at ALL.
Me: But he had a reason for doing that, right?
Sydney: I still like him.

Did you find the episode easy to understand? 
Liam: Um... yeah. But I never like the clockwork guys, they're creepy.
Sydney: I didn't get the ending, where he said he was in Heaven. What was that about, were we supposed to understand that?
Liam: Yeah, I didn't like the Heaven part.
Me: I think they're setting that up as something we're going to come back to.
Sydney: Why did that woman refer to the Doctor as her boyfriend?
Me: That's a very good question, and one I wondered about, too.
Liam: I thought it was the woman from Time of the Doctor at first, the woman in the church.
Me: Me too!
Sydney: You know what, I think we're going to find out that the woman is actually River Song! That she regenerated, and that's why she's in that place now, and looks different.
Me: Ooh, that's an interesting theory.
Sydney: And THAT is why she called him her boyfriend!
Liam: No, didn't she use up all her regenerations?
Sydney: When?
Liam: In that one episode when she was with the Doctor, the Hitler one? She says she used up all her regenerations!
Sydney: Yeah, well the Doctor said HE used up all of his, too, and then it turns out he has a whole bunch more. So... bam. It's River.
Me: Heeeheeeeee!!!!

Christian, did you like the episode? 
Christian: Yes!
Me: Would you watch it again?
Christian: Yes, I thought it was very funny.

What was your favourite part of the episode? 
Christian: I liked the dinosaur at the beginning a lot.
Liam: Yeah, I liked that, too, but I think they made it too big.
Me: I thought so, too! That was the biggest T-rex ever.
Liam: A T-rex would be a little taller than our house.
Sydney: Haha! Yeah, and this one was as tall as Big Ben!
Me: I think they need some 6-year-old boys on staff as dinosaur consultants.
Liam: My favourite part was when Madame Vastra and Jenny dropped to the floor and then suddenly Strax came flying down behind them!
Sydney: Yeah, that was my favourite part, too. I also like the Strax kept calling Clara a boy.
Christian: Who's Strax?
Liam: The one that looks like a potato!
Christian: Oh, haha! He's funny. I liked when he threw the newspaper at the woman and hit her in the face.
Liam: HAHA! Oh yeah!!

What do you think of Madame Vastra and Jenny? 
Sydney: I like them a lot, but she was mean to Clara.
Me: Yes, I agree; that was a little over-the-top. But Clara got to stick up for herself in a big way and I loved that scene.
Liam: Madame Vastra and Jenny are cool, but how can a lizard and a person be married?
Me: Well, she's like a human, right? And she's still quite beautiful even as a lizard.
Liam: True. I like Strax when he's with them.
Sydney: I liked when they kissed, that was sweet.

Did you find it scary at all? 
Christian: [nods furiously, wide-eyed]
Liam: I thought the part in the basement with the robots was scary.
Sydney: Ooh, when they made Clara hold her breath! Yeah, I didn't like that. But you know what, you haven't asked us if anything made us sad.
Me: I haven't gotten there yet.
Sydney: Can you ask that now?

Did anything make you sad in the episode? 
Sydney: Yes, when the dinosaur died. That was so sad, Mommy, why did they do that?
Me: The Doctor could understand what the dinosaur was thinking and feeling, so he was translating. The dinosaur doesn't know what these things are surrounding her, she's a stranger in a strange land, and she's scared and frightened. She just wants her world to come back and be the way it used to be. They were trying to draw a parallel between the dinosaur and the Doctor, who doesn't know who he is anymore, but also Clara, suddenly surrounded by a new and frightening world. Everything she knew seems to be gone.
Christian: I didn't like when the dinosaur died, either. I didn't like him on fire.
Liam: No, I didn't like that at all.

Did you guys like Clara in this episode? 
Sydney: I LOVE Clara.
Liam: Yeah, I thought she was awesome. But I miss Amy.
Sydney: I miss Rose.

And... what did you think when the 11th Doctor suddenly appeared at the end of the episode? Did you think that was going to happen? I had a feeling we'd have a cameo by him at some point, and so I half-expected that to happen, but it still made me so happy when it did. 
Liam: I did a gasp.
Me: [laughing and laughing]
Syd: [laughing and laughing]
Liam: But it made me miss him more again.
Me: But did you think that we needed him to be there?
Sydney: Clara needed to know that the older man was still her Doctor. And that phone call reminded her of that.
Liam: I do like the new Doctor, but I want mine to come back more. Will we see him again?
Me: Probably not; I think that was him officially passing the torch. Now we're on to the new Doctor.
Sydney: And I think Clara likes him now.
Liam: And next week there are DALEKS!! Christian, you HAVE to watch the Daleks!!
Christian: Are they scary?
Liam: A little, but they're awesome.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams: So much pain brought so much joy

Sometimes, when celebrities die, we mourn them as if we actually knew them. But we didn't. When someone tells me that their grandfather just died, I'm sad for the person dealing with the loss, but I won't be in tears over the actual death because I didn't know him. (If the person I love is in tears, then I might end up crying, but it won't be for the loss of the grandfather as much as the pain his loss has left my friend in.)

Why do we react differently for celebrity deaths, then, when we didn't know that person at all? Because the way they made us feel through their art made us believe that we knew them in some way. That line from a song they wrote spoke directly to me. That character they played was someone I identified with. They make us feel deeply, whether it be through their music or acting or writing or art, and their death means we won't experience that again.

I cried when Kurt Cobain died. Not devastating sobs like I did when I lost my uncle, but I still cried and was deeply affected by it. The morning I grabbed the Globe and Mail newspaper and opened it to the giant headline that Timothy Findley (a Canadian writer whose work I adored) had died, I threw the paper like it was on fire, and I cried. Elliott Smith's death was a complete shock, as was Philip Seymour Hoffmann's, and both of them affected me deeply.

But Robin Williams is different.

Unlike all of those people I just mentioned, he made me laugh. And cry. And laugh again. And then laugh until my sides hurt so much I needed him to stop, but he was relentless. He had those warm eyes that would nearly close when he smiled a big smile, that lipless smile that always turned into a smirk, that nose that made me think he looked a lot like Bono, and I'm not sure I've ever heard him complete a sentence without switching to another accent.

And then that clown who was so manic and beloved on Mork and Mindy suddenly showed that clowns are the ones who can also reach the deepest levels of pathos. It's why the image of the sad clown has become iconic in our society. In Good Morning Vietnam we laughed and laughed at the antics of the DJ, and then cried when we saw the war through his eyes.

Good Will Hunting. 
Good Morning, Vietnam. 
Mrs. Doubtfire. 
Night at the Museum.
The Birdcage. 
Dead Poets Society. 
The Fisher King.
Jakob the Liar. 
One Hour Photo.
Happy Feet. 

These are the movies I can think of off the top of my head. And what a cv that is (it's probably a quarter of his output, but even the first four would have been a stellar career). Most people will probably forget Jakob the Liar, and it's certainly not among his best, but I saw it at a gala at the Toronto Film Festival and he was there, manic and crazy and hilarious on stage. We all went away thinking the movie was better than it was, simply because we were In His Presence.

But in almost every one of these films (One Hour Photo and The Birdcage possibly being the only exceptions), he played a similar character: someone in deep pain bringing so much joy to others. The trapped genie of Aladdin sees no end to his imprisonment, but it doesn't stop him from being the most joyful and exuberant genie you could imagine. In Mrs Doubtfire, a father who would do anything for his kids dons a ridiculous get-up and makes all of us (including his kids) laugh, simply because he can't imagine his life without them. In Night at the Museum, he plays the Teddy Roosevelt statue, who's the only one in the museum who actually knows he's made of wax and isn't the real man, but it doesn't stop him from teaching Larry his way around the museum and how to find love; he'll simply love the Sacajawea statue from afar, because he knows he's not really Roosevelt.

The list goes on and on. I don't think a celebrity death has upset me more than this one, because I grew up with Robin Williams. He was Mork. I loved Mork as a kid. As a teenager and into my 20s I discovered a new side of him in the movies listed above. And in the next decade, when I had children, I rediscovered him through my kids' love of Happy Feet and Night at the Museum and Aladdin. When I saw the news last night on my computer and gasped loudly, my daughter looked at the screen and said, "That's Teddy Roosevelt! Has something happened to him?!"

I once saw him live, and my sides hurt from laughter for days afterwards. I couldn't breathe during several points of the show.

But anyone who was a fan of Williams knew about the mania. That he couldn't be contained, and when he at the height of his drug use, his shows are barely watchable. I heard with some trepidation that he was coming to television and thought, "Oh god, this will be out of control." And then I watched the premiere of The Crazy Ones, and thought it was great. I continued watching that show all season long and he never failed to make me laugh right out loud at least once in every episode. Even Modern Family, a show I love, simply makes me chuckle throughout. But Williams was different. And what was so great is that his mania wasn't out of control; they really seemed to have figured out the perfect balance for him.

But behind the scenes, clearly it was a different story. I'm already seeing outpourings of people on social media talking about their own battles with depression, seeing as Williams' death appears to have been a suicide brought on by severe depression. Depression is everywhere in my family — in the direct family blood line, and also in the family that married in. I've lost two uncles to suicide, and my own grandfather. There is no death that isn't painful and horrible for the people left behind, but a death by suicide leaves different scars. How do you escape the "couldn't you have done something?!" thoughts from the people who simply don't understand how complicated a disease this is?

It's everywhere around me, and I even have stretches where I feel like I can't deal with things. But  the biggest problem with mental illness is, we don't understand it. I can feel like I'm sinking in black tar and it's closing above my head, and the people around me tell me to pull myself up for god's sakes and stop being so dramatic. I've watched family members battle their way through manic depression and bipolar disorder, and others around them who've known them for years think they're being ridiculous and need to stop "acting" like there's something wrong with them.

I don't talk about this on here because I think it's her thing to deal with, not mine, but my own daughter was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when she was 7. In the past three years I've read everything I can get my hands on (because I've battled it myself my entire life, without any treatment because it was just a phase I was going through as a kid, it was thought). I've taken her to therapy, I've held her during the worst attacks... and I've watched people around her who should be protecting her make her worse by either rolling their eyes at her issues or yelling at her to grow up and stop being so silly. Everyone understands that it's not her fault, but it's hard not to get frustrated when she accidentally spills some milk and leaps up from the table and runs as fast as her legs can take her to hide somewhere. She's been bullied at school for the past three years because she's an easy and vulnerable target for the kids who don't understand or care what she's going through, and no amount of discussions with teachers or principals seems to change that.

I can't be there to protect her every moment of the day, so instead I'm teaching her how to understand her own brain, how to know when it's tricking her, and how to work her way out of these moments. We have lapses, but then we make major headway when she's clear again, and the next episode isn't so bad. I think she can learn to live with this and control it, but that's only because she was lucky enough to have parents willing to understand, diagnose, and treat it. Most other kids are labelled as sucks or troublemakers or going through a phase and never get the treatment they deserve. And perhaps some of those kids end up being bullied so badly that they find their way out of that terrible situation by making others laugh, and becoming the class clown. And then they grow up to be comedians, hiding their true darkness underneath a plastic exterior. They will be our clowns and make us laugh, but until we can understand the sadness that's happening underneath, this problem won't go away.

If you are suffering from depression, you can't do it alone. Talk to someone, find some help, and know that it's a very, very long road to recovery, but mental illness doesn't just affect you, it affects everyone around you and their lives. Not everyone understands my daughter, but everyone who loves her wants to help her. We might not always do it in the right way, but we try our best, and she knows that.

People loved Robin Williams; he was surrounded by love, endless amounts of money that he could have used for treatment, but he just couldn't find his way there. He no doubt tried to seek help, or thought things would get better, and figured if he could just make someone laugh one more time the pain would go away. But the demons are just that: demons. And they're not going to let up.

What makes me so sad about the death of this great man is that everyone knew he suffered from depression, and he was open about it, and he couldn't find help. What makes me sad is that he made us laugh, but couldn't bring joy to himself. I hate that feeling, that I benefitted somehow from his deep depression. I loved his work so much. I feel like I loved him, too. But I only loved the image that he wanted me to see; he didn't let us in to that other world, the one that eventually killed him.

When someone dies of a suicide, it's all we can think of. For the moment, we forget about the life he lived before, and only focus on the way he died. How could he do that to his family and friends? How could he leave that legacy? But he didn't do that; the dark side of him did. He probably wasn't himself in those final moments. Over time you begin to celebrate the life that came before that death, and I hope Robin Williams and everyone else who dies by their own hand is remembered for the beautiful people they were before such a dreadful and ugly disease took them away from us.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I truly mean that.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Dark Side of Medicine: The Knick

After the success of a period piece like Mad Men, TV shows are turning more and more to the earlier twentieth century in which to set their series. Downton Abbey began in 1912 and is now in 1930 or something (and everyone has aged exactly three years). The Goldbergs and Halt and Catch Fire are both set in the ’80s. Boardwalk Empire plants us in the midst of Prohibition and the criminal element that arose as a result of it. Masters of Sex is set in the 1950s, at a time when the subtleties of sexual activity were still largely a mystery.

In each case, returning to a time that is in the past — but, importantly, the recent past — asks the viewer to not only marvel at all of the advancements we’ve made since the setting of the series, but to consider what hasn’t actually changed. In the case of Mad Men, which arguably does it the best, we are agog at the treatment of the women on the show, even as we watch them make leaps and bounds throughout the 1960s. And yet, we can’t help but admit that until women are paid equal to men, or offered the same opportunities everywhere, we can’t really cast any judgement.

In addition to the period pieces, we've seen a huge increase in recent years of movie stars moving to television, as if acknowledging that TV is where it's at. 

Welcome to this landscape a new series by Cinemax, The Knick (premiering tonight on HBO Canada at 11pm). Set in New York City in 1900, it looks at the lives of the doctors, nurses, administrators, and patrons of the Knickerbocker Hospital at the turn of the century. Along with making you eternally grateful that you were born more recently, and not having to endure surgery in a hospital that is still trying to figure out how to use electricity properly (and not being flummoxed by what we would consider rather routine procedures), Steven Soderbergh’s foray into television also offers a fascinating glimpse at what it was like running a hospital in those days. At its best, the world of medicine in 1900 was gruesome; at its worst, it was downright criminal. 

Has it really changed? 

On Nurse Jackie we watch Akalitus constantly juggling funds from one section of the ER to another as she tries to keep the hospital afloat; meanwhile the doctors are vying for PR positions as they promote the hospital, trying to lure patients over to All-Saints Hospital from the others. Similarly, administrators on The Knick are competing for dollars from local rich patrons who donate money and services to the hospital in exchange for favours from the place itself. And if you’ve ever thought a trip to the hospital in an ambulance is highway robbery when you receive the bill afterwards, just imagine ambulance drivers beating each other up with billy clubs to fight for the kickbacks they’ll get from the hospital if they’re the one making the delivery.

Clive Owen stars as Doctor Thackery, a man who, for reasons that will be apparent in the first 15 minutes of the premiere, finds himself Chief Surgeon of the hospital. Thackery is portrayed as a headstrong cocaine addict who wiles away his nights in opium dens, who is harsh with the nurses and a racist, intolerant ass — but he is also a brilliant surgeon who is willing to take the very risks that save lives. Yes, he’ll lose people along the way, as did his mentor, played by Matt Frewer (most recently of Orphan Black fame) but it’s these risks that created what we now know as modern medicine. Without these people, we wouldn’t have the medical breakthroughs we have today. He’s asked to choose his deputy, and he chooses the man he believes is obvious: the guy who’s been working alongside him for years. However, the philanthropic patrons who have just contributed electricity to the hospital (which is being installed throughout the first episode) have another idea. They want him to consider Doctor Algernon Edwards, a man who comes with remarkable credentials: a graduate of Harvard, working in the top hospitals in London and Paris. Thackery agrees to the meeting, but tells them up front he’s choosing the other guy. After all, if his CV is that impressive, why does he want a position as a Deputy Surgeon and not head?

It’s when Edwards shows up that we immediately see why. He is handsome, distinguished looking... and black. And the look on Thackery’s face when he first sees him immediately betrays his disgust and overt racism.

The Knick is a fascinating show, but I must warn you: it is NOT for the faint of heart. From the graphic stomach-turning surgery that opens the episode to the horrific abject racism, viewers will be as disgusted by this show as they are enthralled. I watched the premiere with two other people, and one of them left the room within the first 20 minutes.

I will assure you, however, that if you stick with it, you will be rewarded. Clive Owen is wonderful as Thackery, as is AndrĂ© Holland, who plays Edwards, and the aspect of the series I’m looking forward to the most will be the development of the relationship between these two. HBO sent out seven episodes as screeners, which is virtually unheard of, but they must have known that this is a show that, like Boardwalk Empire, has a slow build that rewards the viewers for making it all the way through. Every character seems to be harbouring a secret, from the squirrelly superintendent (played by Wolf of Wall Street's Jeremy Bobb) to the meek and quiet nurse from West Virginia (played with dark mystery by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter).

And, as with the best of the period TV shows, it forces us to look at ourselves and, amidst our horror at the words being flung at Edwards, admit that it’s not just on television where we’ve heard racial epithets being thrown around. Until we live in a society that treats everyone as an equal, here’s hoping that television series like these will continue to cast a spotlight on our present, by showing us the terrible injustices and mistakes of the past.