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A “Trip” for Two

If you ever find yourself with a free evening, where you are looking for a low-key at-home entertainment option along with a glass of red wine (naturally), then look no further to a personal screening of The Trip – brought to you by Netflix. In this adult tale of a bromance of sorts, you’ll find the quasi-alter egos of actors/comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they bumble along the winding, country roads of northern England visiting charming old inns while wining and dining. At times melancholy, hysterical, and poignant, the two grow and retract and grow again as adult friends. It’s the simplicity of the situation that makes the film and characters feel so familiar. Plus, both Steve and Rob’s Michael Caine impressions, among many others, are ace. Watch this British gem in preparation of the new sequel, The Trip to Italy, which is playing in select cities right now. I hope for everyone’s sake that it comes to Netflix real soon, so we once again can ogle at the laissez-faire vacations and satisfactory philosophical conversations that these two seem to keep finding themselves in. With European vacation times clocking in at a healthy six weeks a year, I’m sure the next trip is not too far off.

Here’s to a Legend…

Robin Williams. His name alone evokes so many emotions, feelings, and memories. For those of us who only knew him through the frame of entertainment, and not personally, we knew him as an icon. An icon who felt strangely familiar – as if he was a friend. Depending on your age, you may identify with Williams at different points in your life. Whether you grew up watching “Mork & Mindy” or spent your youth replaying “Friend Like Me” over and over again in the wake of your obsession with Aladdin, he left an impact on you. Being born in the late 80s and raised as a true ‘child of the 90s,’ I fall in the second camp, although I do remember catching bits of “Mork & Mindy” on Nick at Nite and having my mom yell from the kitchen that she loved that show when she was young, encouraging me to watch his zany antics and contagious energy.

Williams’ streak of comedy hits in the 90s made him a household legend for us young ones at the time. By the time high school came around it was finally appropriate to watch Good Will Hunting and go back to Good Morning Vietnam and of course, Dead Poets Society – one of the best films to don the ‘mandatory-viewing’ label in English class.

Having watched clips of Williams during the many tributes this past week, and re-watching such films as The Birdcage and Jumanji, I realize now, in the wake of his passing, what it is that has made him such a riveting human being to watch throughout the years. It’s simple really. It’s in his eyes. Williams’ eyes can transport you to a place of complete joy and utter heartbreak, often in the same moment. But his eyes do something more – they reflect a humanity that is so relatable. You can see the melancholy, the yearning, the happiness. Everything. There’s something truly beautiful about his ability to emit such emotion in each and every performance. It’s cheesy to say, but there’s a true twinkle in his eyes. That twinkle brings poignancy to the human condition. And yes, the human condition comes with its struggles and hardships, but it also comes with its highs. And luckily, by simply watching him, he brought highs to so many of us. To that, we are grateful.

Home Sweet Home

 

If you like espionage thrillers as much as I do (and are missing the days of Alias), then I think Homeland will be the perfect remedy to fill any void in your life that yearns for a well-acted, character-driven mystery with a lot at stake (actually, now I’m pretty sure I’m wanting to fill the void that Lost created when it ended two years ago). Unless, of course, you’ve already seen the entire series last fall in the US. But alas, Homeland just premiered in the UK on Sunday night and I made sure not to miss it, as I’ve been itching to watch since it seemed to win pretty much everything at this year’s Golden Globes. And lucky for me, I don’t have to pay for Showtime to watch it – just a steep UK TV license fee instead! Needless to say, I am absolutely hooked from what is one of the best pilots I have seen in recent times. It’s riveting without being showy, and there are already so many layers to the characters, with everyone seeming to be hiding something. You can watch a three minute clip from the first episode here, and if you live in the UK you can watch the pilot on Channel 4’s website.

London in the Time of Cholera

To complement the dense theoretical readings on time-space compression, global civil society, and complexity theory required for my current masters program, I have been trying to balance those headache-inducing concepts with something a bit, I don’t know, lighter. Yet somehow the most recent book I’ve managed to read for leisure is all about death and bad luck. I picked up The Ghost Map back home before leaving for London simply because it’s a story about London in the midst of the city’s Victorian heyday…and a story in the midst of the city’s sorely lacking sewage system. The book is a non-fictional account of one of the worst cholera outbreaks the city had ever seen, in the year 1854. Looking at a time that has been widely portrayed by Charles Dickens, The Ghost Map unfolds as a scientific mystery about the origins of cholera and author Steven Johnson manages to infuse suspense from page to page as a doctor, John Snow, and a reverend, Henry Whitehead, try to make sense of the situation and upend the miasma theory (a belief that the virus spread due to polluted air) notorious of Victorian rhetoric. Having walked the streets of Soho, where this particular outbreak originated, it was definitely an intriguing story to follow, particularly the struggles of Snow, who faced so much adversity in trying to persuade people, especially government and health officials, who were too closed-minded to believe that this virus could be spread by the consumption of contaminated water. Yet Snow’s developments in gaining more understanding of cholera helped future generations of scientists to eventually influence changes in the planning of city infrastructures, therefore leading to more efficient and safer urban conditions that we are familiar with today. Of course, Johnson’s epilogue does not forget that there are many cities in the developing world today who are still at the point where London was over 150 years ago, still dealing with cholera outbreaks, and also repeatedly warns readers that biological warfare or another pandemic in the likes of the cataclysmic 1918 “Spanish Flu” are still looming threats. Although he tries to reassure readers that the advances in science and medicine should hopefully help abate or prevent such events, I think I’d rather try not to think too hard about such possibilities with a pint or two…a pint I could get at The John Snow pub, at the very location of the outbreak that made him (posthumously) famous.

The Muppets Continued: Fair & Balanced?

I don’t want to be too political on this blog, but this clip of Fox News attacking The Muppets’ “liberal agenda” infuriated me. I’m pretty sure this is old news for Americans, but I’ve been out of the loop…and since it has resurfaced due to Miss Piggy’s recent comments calling Fox News “laughable,” I will just put forth a few words. The fact that I am even writing about this is a bit silly, but watching anchor (I can’t even write that with a straight face) Eric Bolling make huge accusations that this family film is liberal extremism, and then has the audacity to call it brainwashing, is beyond me. And then to watch him and his conservative correspondent literally yell at and cut off the more liberal pundit, Caroline Heldman is a joke. Fair and balanced? I don’t think so. (That sort of behaviour reminds me of this great clip from The Daily Show) If they had even seen The Muppets, they would have realized that the villain Tex Richman is villainized by his character, not simply to the fact that he was rich. Yes, you can read into whatever you like from the text (yay subjectivity!), but it isn’t brainwashing.  Don’t even get me started on their comments about the brainwashing done by liberals and the environment. How being sustainable and wanting to be “green” has become a divisive and politic issue is sad and frustrating, but that is a separate issue. Anyway, I like Miss Piggy’s comeback, especially since she pointed out the main issue here, that if Fox took her seriously, then they have bigger problems at hand. It’s this type of journalism that has made most, if not all, of the 24 hour cable news channels to lose their credibility – at least in my book. And might I just add that these news channels are probably the ones more guilty of influencing people (brainwashing is too loaded of a term – which is perhaps why Fox decided to use it), as they push their own agendas (whether consciously or not) every moment of those 24 hours in how they select, frame, and index their stories. News broadcasting holds a lot of power, and they are not unbiased, as much as some might try. Maybe my studies have made me much more cynical, but I’m glad I’m being educated about it. And like Heldman said, perhaps the only real message the Muppets and Sesame Street are pushing is for children to learn the benefits of education – after all, knowledge is (em)power(ing) – and also learn how to laugh and have a sense of humor. Eric Bolling lacks both of those qualities – clearly somebody didn’t grow up with Jim Henson’s creatures and imagination. And for that, I feel sorry for him.

“Is America at a digital turning point?”

USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future released a study which “creates a portrait of the American user of the Internet reaping the benefits of online activity, while at the same time paying a tremendous price in the form of time, privacy, and well-being.” Honestly, I’m not very surprised by these findings, but still find it interesting to look at this dialectical relationship of love/hate towards the Internet and new digital media. I’m sure guilty of continually being fascinated and frustrated by the nature of online media. But as a fan of most things media, sometimes it is so refreshing to “log out” and enjoy the non-virtual reality around me. Although, as my course, and life, continues to remind me – everything is mediated! So, maybe we just have to embrace and evolve within the digital present and future? We shall see…

Read a summary of the report here (link to full report included)