Christmas visit is almost over…

It has been a very hectic last few weeks with almost all members of the family visited (California niece and nephew hopefully before we go) and reconnecting with lots of Toronto and Thornbury friends. Today we are off to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more, and then dinner with longtime friends. Between feasts we have managed to squeeze in a few trips to the actual movie theatre and I have caught up with a few Netflix and streaming shows as follows:

 

On the Big Screen

Rogue One, the latest instalment of the Star Wars franchise. A stand alone film with none of the characters from any of the other films, this one is quite unique.  No spoilers from me, but for a great analysis of why this film is strangely relevant and resonates with our current times, I recommend the Salon article below:

http://www.salon.com/2016/12/24/rogue-one-exactly-the-star-wars-movie-we-need-as-the-age-of-trump-dawns/?source=newsletter

Manchester By the Sea is worth seeing for the performances of its two main stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.  Affleck’s performance is very internalized as he suppresses the guilt and shame his character feels following a tragedy that uproots his life.  Williams gives a searing performance as a mother who experiences the worst kind of tragedy.  The young actor Lucas Hedges who plays the nephew who loses his father is also very effective in his role of a resilient soul who weathers his loss with incredible buoyancy.  For a great article on the best performances of the year by male actors, the following article is terrific:

http://www.salon.com/2016/12/24/best-men-12-best-male-film-performances-in-2016/?source=newsletter

La La Land is an incredibly romantic loveletter to LA, movie musicals, jazz, the life of an artist, etc.  The sheer musicality of this film may be a surprise to some, but you have to suspend your disbelief at characters breaking into spontaneous (yet somehow perfectly choreographed and scored) song and dance numbers, since this happens from the first moment of this breathtaking film.  Just relax and enjoy.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are perfect in their roles as a jazz pianist and struggling actress.

For a summary of 2016’s best movies, here’s an article from Esquire that should help you make your viewing choices:

http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/a47757/best-movies-to-watch-2016/?src=nl&mag=esq&list=nl_enl_news&date=122616

Streaming

I struggled to watch American Honey (a sad road film about millennials). Riley Keogh is incredibly watchable (granddaughter of Elvis Presley and star of The Girlfriend Experience), but I found the rest of this film gruellingly difficult to watch.

The Accountant starring Ben Affleck as an autistic mob accountant was incredibly fast paced and a great antidote to American Honey.

 

Netflix

Lovesick and Offspring are two delightful comedic offerings (one British and one Australian) that are newish on Netflix.

Nobel is a great Norwegian Noir series that follows a Norwegian Army platoon from duty in Afghanistan back to Norway and intrigue involving charities, oil deals, and government corruption at the highest levels.

 

Everything else on TV

It’s been sparse choices, but I did manage to watch two very entertaining Christmas specials, both on NBC:

Michael Buble and Tony Bennett’s 90th Birthday Celebration (hosted by Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett).

For a great article about some of the TV shows you could watch or catch up with, I direct you to John Doyle’s excellent article in the Globe:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-12-television-series-that-mattered-in2016/article33424147/

 

Closing Words

Enjoy the last days of this closing week of 2016.  Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we must step on the scales!!  Give lots of hugs, drive very carefully, and remember to give thanks for all the precious people and memories in our lives.  A very peaceful and healthy New Year’s wish to all our family and friends.  Hugs always, L.

 

Christmas Part One is here…

Tonight we celebrate Christmas with the Hungarian side of the family in Uxbridge, soon to be followed by parts 2, 3, and 4 with the other side of the family culminating in a dinner in Milton at the home of my daughter-in-law’s parents.  I have been furtively watching Netflix and streaming shows that my son has found for me on the internet in between rounds of entertaining friends (especially my beloved high school girlfriends) and family (beloved nephew and family) this week.  I squeezed in a Trivial Pursuit night with my Fitness Friends and totally enjoyed the latest version of the game (Hasbro Trivial Pursuit 2000S) which has superb Arts and Entertainment questions totally updated for today’s generation. I also took in a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the Chihuly Glass exhibition as well as a breathtaking Wildlife Photography Show.  In the meantime, here are some suggestions for your viewing pleasure over the holidays:

Netflix

If you have already enjoyed The Crown (about Elizabeth II), Fauda (Israeli series featuring undercover agents in Gaza), Paranoid (British crime series) then I suggest a change of pace with The OA. This mesmerizing series is quite unique in its blend of suspense, surrealism and science fiction elements and I cannot stop watching it.  Here’s what John Doyle had to say about it in the Globe:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/doyle-netflixs-mysterious-the-oa-is-mind-bending-astounding-drama/article33344922/

Doyle also recommended Nobel, a new Norwegian Noir series:

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-if-you-like-nordic-noir-watch-nobel-peace-at-any-price/article33322344/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

After finishing Fauda, I was hungering for more Mossad/Middle East intrigue, so I have started reading the suspense novels of Daniel Silva, beginning with his two most recent The English Spy and The Black Widow.  I am longing for a new James Bond film and in the meantime, spy novels are going to have to suffice.  Silva has written 19 thriller and espionage novels since 1997, many of which share the leading character Gabriel Allon, art restorer and sometime Israeli Mossad agent. Silva is a former journalist with UPI, who worked in San Francisco, Washington and as the Middle East correspondent in Cairo and the Persian Gulf.  I am devouring his novels this week.

Streaming

Sully stars Tom Hanks as Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who glided his disabled plane onto the frigid waters of the Hudson river, saving the lives of all 155 aboard.  However, even as Sully was being heralded by the public and the media for his unprecedented (unpresidented?) feat of aviation skill, an investigation was unfolding that threatened to destroy his reputation and his career.  A great example of a story well told, where even though we know the ending, we are still on the edge of our seats because of the very convincing way the story is conveyed to us.  Hanks is wonderful in the role and Clint Eastwood does a very understated job of depicting an American hero.

New Blood is a very entertaining British crime series about two Londoners who end up partners in their professional lives as their crime investigations keep intersecting.

I also caught up with the most recent episodes of Chance, Younger and Berlin Station. All worth a look.

Broadcast TV

Designated Survivor (ABC Wednesdays) aired it’s midseason finale this week.  This show really does channel The Manchurian Candidate film in its depiction of a Vice President who may have been put in power by a cabal seeking to take over the USA.  For more on the enduring legacy of this film and the resonance of Trump’s assistance from Russia, please read John Doyle’s column:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/why-the-manchurian-candidate-feels-eerily-prescient-in-the-era-of-trump/article33350871/?reqid=082628c8-a3de-44f9-9ecd-cfc2071d48fe

Nashville (returning in January CMT/W) had a sneak preview of its upcoming season opening episode on W channel this past week.  Somehow, they’ve taken a show that had a real edge (and great music) and they’ve made it into a soft focus soap opera with gushy good feelings and lots of hugs.  Very strange.

The Walking Dead (Sundays on AMC) has become a little stale for me. Although new villains emerge, the whole show is now so sad.  Just when the survivors think they have found a safe place of refuge, it turns out to be more harrowing than their previous place.  The mid-season finale show ended with a bloodcurdling scene of wanton disembowelling in one of the most shocking scenes ever. And it takes a lot for TWD to top itself.

Still watching my comedy faves like Colbert, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, all of whom will likely be on hiatus over the holidays.  CBS Sunday Morning (9 am every Sunday on CBS) is still my Zen moment where I can tune out the Trumpocalypse and concentrate on feel-good human interest stories and celebrity profiles.

End of Year Lists

Saturday’s Globe had a record number of Best of 2016 lists.  As people are often asking me to put lists together of my favourite movies, tv shows, etc. and I am way too lazy to try and sum up my picks, I’m going to publish the Globe lists (as they have writers who actually get paid to recap their thoughts):

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/the-globes-arts-team-picks-their-favourite-creative-works-of2016/article33347258/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/holiday-guide/holiday-survival-guide/the-10-most-overlooked-underrated-and-unfairly-dismissed-movies-of-2016/article33336959/

Closing Words

As I have wrapping, cooking and myriad chores to complete today, I am signing off with a very fond Seasons Greeting to all of my friends and family  that you have a wonderful week of feasting, relaxing, and peace.  Stay safe on those treacherous roads and remember to take some time to appreciate the many gifts that we have.  I know this can also be a sad time of year when we reflect on past holidays with family and friends that are no longer with us, so savour those precious memories and raise a glass to our departed.  L’chaim – to life!

 

Twas 10 days before Christmas…

We’ve had a lovely time seeing lots of family and friends over the last week.  Thornbury celebrated its Old Fashioned Christmas yesterday and we walked into town twice to experience the joys of a small town Christmas.  What started out as a cold, crisp blue sky winter day morphed into a full-scale blizzard by the afternoon and the whole town was blanketed by a fresh layer of snow by evening. Picture perfect for enjoying hot cider as the tree was lit at City Hall accompanied by a pipe and drum band. As for my viewing recommendations, here goes:

Live Theatre

Our family enjoyed seeing the Broadway-bound musical Come From Away. Set in Gander, Nfld on 9/11 and the five days following, the musical tells the story of the 7000 stranded air passengers who were grounded by the closing of US airspace.  They were looked after by the 9000 people of Gander who fed and housed them.  The show is heartwarming and conveys the generous and joyous spirit of the Newfoundlanders who showed such kindness and compassion for their guests.  Great Nfld humour and song.  We had spent 2 weeks touring Nfld last summer, so the show was a great reminder of what a wonderful people the Newfoundlanders are.  The show heads to Broadway in January (I fear for it given how little Americans know and care about Canada), so fingers crossed that it’s a great success.

On the Big Screen

Moana is a very sweet Disney musical with songs penned by Lin Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s Hamilton. In ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right. The music is very pleasant and the singing is terrific.  On the whole, I found the film a little slow.  The theme is really one of female empowerment and I don’t know how much little boys will identify with the film’s heroine, but they will love the Maui character who is voiced by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock of Fast and Furious fame).  Auli’l Cravalhoa is spectacular in the lead role of Moana, but Dwayne Johnson holds his own as Maui.

Netflix

Given the blizzardy nature of our weather in Thornbury yesterday, it was the perfect excuse to binge on Fauda (Arabic for chaos).   The Israeli series is told in 12 episodes of about 40 minutes each. It depicts the two-sided story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Doron, a commander of an undercover Israeli unit operating inside Palestinian territories, and his team, are hunting down Hamas activist Abu-Ahmed.  On the other side of the fence, it depicts the tragic life of Abu-Ahmed and his family , and the reasons for their escalating hatred towards Israel.  Great suspense series, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea.  It’s told with subtitles for Arabic and is dubbed into English for the Hebrew scenes.  The dubbing is rather flat and takes a little getting used to.

Streaming

I watched the remake of The Magnificent Seven which recently opened the Toronto International Film Festival. It retells the story of seven gun men in the old west who gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.  With an all-star cast that features Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, etc., the film is a very strange remake of the 1960 film with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, full of stereotypes and seeming very stale despite the endless barrage of violence.  It was very odd to watch this having just watched the last episode of Westworld on Netflix.  Westworld takes all the Western tropes and plays them out to an extreme degree.  That is equally true of this film.  I was curious to see the film for the performance of Haley Bennett in the lead role of Emma Cullen who is motivated by the senseless killing of her husband in the opening scene to organize the rebellion of the town to overthrow the ruthless despot who is intent on driving the villagers away.  I first heard about Bennett from her mother who was my drapery designer in Naples, Florida.  When we  chatted about our children, Lani Bennett mentioned that her daughter was a movie star who would be coming out in several movies this year.  I had caught up with her in The Equalizer (20l4 also with Denzel Washington), but her more recent releases include Hardcore Henry, A Kind of Murder, The Girl on the Train, Rules Don’t Apply, Weightless, and Thank You for Your Service.  I have to say that Bennett’s performance in this film is a little lacklustre.  One wonders how much ended up being edited out in favour of the endless violence that makes up most of the plot.  She resembles Jennifer Lawrence very strongly and it will be interesting to see how similar their career trajectories are.

New Blood is a British  BBC TV series starring Mark Addy and Anna Chancellor.  It follows junior investigators Stefan and Rash,who are brought together by a link between two seemingly unrelated cases.  A buddy series in the Odd Couple vein.  Very cute and fast moving, Season 1 has 7 episodes and involves 3 cases.  Worth a look for crime series fans.

Younger (TVLand), Berlin Station (Epix) and Chance (Hulu) all continue to keep me entertained.

As for my Network picks, things are dying down as Christmas programming takes over.  I managed to catch Designated Survivor (ABC) where intrigue abounds around Kiefer Sutherland who has managed to hang on to his Presidency despite many hazards coming his way.  Chicago Fire (NBC) had a happy cliff-hanger ending for its last pre-Christmas episode show.  I haven’t managed to catch up with many other shows that I recorded but haven’t watched yet including Arrow, Shooter, etc.

Audible.com

We are currently listening to Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Noah tells the story of his childhood, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.  I am loving his story, narrated in his own voice.  I think Noah is a great host for The Daily Show (which he took over after Jon Stewart’s departure).  It’s inspiring to hear him recount the many obstacles that faced him growing up in a country where miscegenation was a very serious crime. His love and admiration for his mother is incredibly touching.

Comedy Therapy

I continue to seek out Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show (as described above), and Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, as they all manage to find humour in the looming Trumpocalypse .  This week’s SNL had a great cold opener which starred Bryan Cranston (aka Walter White on Breaking Bad) as the newly nominated head of the DEA because of his background as a high school chemistry teacher. I was looking forward to seeing Alec Baldwin as Trump, the newly named Time Person of the Year, President Elect of the Divided States of America.  However, Bryan Cranston did a great job as the meth dealing Walter White.  Sadly, this is not far from the possible, as Trump seems to be nominating people who are distinguished by their antipathy towards the federal departments they are supposed to be leading.  Very scary.  Truth is stranger than fiction?

Closing Words

My usual Christmas funk is descending upon me.  I haven’t done a thing regarding Christmas preparations and I’m starting to get a little worried.  The thought of entering a mall at this time of year fills me with great trepidation.  Thank goodness for gift cards!!!  Lots of get-togethers with friends and family this week and our big Hungarian celebration is happening next Sunday with the Uxbridge relatives.  In the meantime, stay warm wherever you may be, and be careful on the roads.  Remember, this season is all about family and friends, so enjoy the season and be thankful for the joys that you have.

Back in the North…

We left Naples on Wednesday and as soon as the car hit I-75, a very light rain started to fall.  Our first drops of rain after nearly 6 weeks of perfect Florida sunshine.  Happily, we returned to Toronto in the midst of surprisingly mild yet dismally gray weather.  To our great delight our living room furniture for our new condo, which had been ordered some 12 weeks ago, was finally delivered the day after our arrival.  I now have an actual sofa to stretch out on as I watch my many shows and movies. Our first drive up to Thornbury did involve driving through scattered flurries, but on otherwise dry roads.  We’ve been reconnecting with our Thornbury friends this weekend with a couple of great dinners and a lovely Christmas party at the local community centre. It’s been a bit of a crazy week, but here are a few recommendations for you:

On the Big Screen

As the Oscar recommendations begin to emerge, some articles have begun to list the must-see films of the year:

From Esquire:

http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/a51197/december-movies-oscar-bait/?src=nl&mag=esq&list=nl_enl_news&date=120316

From the Globe:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/the-saviours-of-2016cinema/article33124184/

Netflix

Many people ask me what I like on Netflix so here is a list of the best British shows currently on Netflix:

The 15 Best British Shows On Netflix Right Now

John Doyle has a great column explaining why Paranoid is a great British crime show:

https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-looking-for-escapism-paranoid-is-an-ideal-brit-cop-binge-watch/article33051575/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

Streaming

A friend recommended The Kettering Incident to me. Set in Tasmania and starring Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager, The Man from UNCLE), this 8-part series follows Anna from London to Tasmania as she tries to solve the mystery of a friend who disappeared 15 years earlier in the Tasmanian forest.  The show is mysterious and puzzling as the plot unveils many other mysteries including police corruption, alien abductions, toxic waste dumping, etc.  The scenery is breathtaking and Debicki is spell binding in a kind of Tilda Swinton way.  Watch for her as she seems to be having an Alicia Vikander career moment and is poised on the verge of major stardom. I finished watching this series and did binge on the last several episodes of Season 1 as I got caught up in the mystery.

I have also been able to keep up with Chance (from Hulu with Hugh Laurie) and Berlin Station (from Epix with Richard Ermitage) by streaming them.

Audible.com

OK, so this isn’t exactly “watching” but George and I have decided that we are going to use our travel time more productively and are listening to podcasts and recorded books as often as we can.  Our first Audible.com book is Erik Larson’s Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.  Poignant and suspenseful, Larson tells the story with great detail, painting a portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. This luxury liner is caught in WWI as a determined U-boat captain, whose movements are being tracked by British intelligence, pursues his quarry relentlessly, while the hapless passengers face imminent disaster. I didn’t enjoy this Larson book as much as I did several of his others including:  Isaac’s Storm, The Devil in the White City, In the Garden of Beasts, etc.

HBO

I’m a bit embarrassed (after prematurely announcing that last week’s episode was the last) to admit that there is still the final episode to be aired of Westworld tonight on HBO. Apparently all the mysteries are solved.

Shameless, The Affair, and Divorce all continue on HBO Sunday nights.

CBC

After 6 weeks of no CBC, I was delighted to catch up with This Life on demand.  This very touching series follows the story of a single mother who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.  I was able to binge watch episodes 4 through 8 and so am totally caught up!  Tori Higginson is very appealing as Natalie Lawson, the lead character who is on a quest to prepare her teenage children for life without her.  Her tight-knit family – sister, two brothers and parents – do the best they can…  Episode 9 airs tonight on CBC.  An unexpected crisis leaves the Lawsons shaken, and the family rallies when a second situation arises, complicating things for Natalie.

ABC

Designated Survivor (Wednesdays) continues with Kiefer Sutherland as the man who would be President. Too many nefarious plot twists to list them.  Still entertained by this show.

The CW

OK, here’s where this blog gets a bit embarrassing as I confess my addiction to shows that are intended for a much younger demographic.  Still watching Arrow (Wednesday) and occasionally Supergirl (Monday) which had crossover episodes as they fought an invasion of aliens this week.

Fox

Another guilty pleasure show, Gotham (Mondays) continues to delight as Inspector Jim Gordon mentors the young Batman.

AMC

The Walking Dead (Sundays) continues its harrowing depiction of life in a world gone mad with zombies.  Our survivors keep finding themselves in peril as they encounter other survivors whose humanity has been destroyed by the new morality of survival at any cost.

NBC

Chicago Fire (Tuesdays) continues to show men of valour fighting the good fight in a simpler world where saving peoples’ lives is really the only thing that matters.  SNL continues to try and amuse re the incoming regime and Alec Baldwin does his very best to impersonate The Donald.

CBS

I think even Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show is having trouble finding amusement in today’s political scene.

Comedy Network

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs nightly Mon- Thurs at 11 and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal returns Monday at 10:30 this week.  The Beaverton , a new Canadian comedy series that parodies the news, also airs regularly on Comedy.  I’m looking to see what channel People of Earth (on TBS in the US) airs on in Toronto, but haven’t found it yet.  Help someone, if you find this show, let me know.

Final Thoughts

It’s now a countdown to Christmas as we reconnect with family and friends.  We are headed to our annual family Broadway style musical as we are seeing Come From  Away this week before it heads to Broadway.  The Globe gives it a great review:

http://www.theglobeandmail. com/arts/theatre-and- performance/theatre-reviews/ come-from-away-heart-warming- musical-lives-up-to-the-hype/ article33012704/

I’m looking forward to seeing all my exercise gals for coffee at my place and then at our annual Christmas lunch.  Dinners with friends are a big feature this week so George and I are going to have to be very careful to avoid packing on the pounds as we reintroduce carbs into our diet.  Six weeks of regular exercise and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables made it easy to stay away from all the white things like sugar, pasta, rice, bread, cookies, etc.  Now that we are confronting Christmas baking and other delights on a daily basis, we are in a constant fight with temptation.  We must all stay strong as we try to resist these devilish urges.  Courage my friends!!  Enjoy the season.