Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday and Sundry Things That Made Me Go "Hmmm..." This Week





Things that made me go "hmmm ..." in a good way:






Frequencies, a movie seen on Netflix. It's a very unusual type of sci-fi film. No CGI, just lots of ideas which benefit from mulling over afterwards. As well as an unusual kind of love story examined, Frequencies debates free will versus determinism, as well as investigating the science that might lie behind old superstitions and mysteries. A rather deadpan tone with acting to match has to be accepted - the film was made on a tiny budget, no big names, no special effects. The film's novelty, intelligence and interesting ideas make it easy to overlook any shortcomings.
See HERE and HERE.

The film received a 100% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes!

I had more than a sneaking suspicion that what we call astrology could well have something to do with "frequencies".



This week I received E-mails from two different cousins on my Dad's side of the family. I last met both long ago and far away, when they were still children. They had both, separately, read and appreciated my family history posts regarding our common Scott background. One of the cousins emigrated to the US as long ago as 1989, lives in NJ now. Both had been alerted to my family history material by yet another cousin who had sent me her own e-mail address at Christmas, which I used to send her links to my genealogy posts - and word spread! Ain't the internet grand!





Lovely instrumental rendition of A Change is Gonna Come by saxophonist
Anat Cohen - hadn't heard this version, or this musician, before. Good stuff!












Things that made me go "hmmm..." in a bad way:






Articles about the film American Sniper currently doing the rounds. It was directed by Clint Eastwood. Much as I've enjoyed several Eastwood-directed movies, I will not ever watch this one, reading about it was more than enough to make me cringe.
The Rude Pundit's review of the film is well worth a read.
SNIP
"Through it all, all the people he shoots (and, truly, Bradley Cooper seems like he's acting in a different, much deeper film), all the scenes of him watching fellows soldiers get killed and wounded, all the psychological damage he does to his poor wife when he calls her during firefights, Kyle maintains a pathetic belief in the good of his mission and in the protection of his "brothers." It has an effect on him - he suffers from PTSD - but the film wants us to believe that it was necessary. So, in the end, American Sniper is the story of a dumb man who wrecked himself for a worthless cause and about all the young men (and it is all, mostly white, men in it) who were sacrificed for nothing.

It's not the film that tells us it's nothing. We know it was for nothing. We know that one of the great crimes of the new century is the invasion of Iraq for absolutely no rational, demonstrable reason. We know that all those "savages," as Kyle calls the Iraqis, that we killed were for nothing. We know that all those Americans who died lost their lives for nothing. Our military was protecting us from nothing. Our freedoms weren't at risk from Iraq.

And the lie many soldiers from Iraq cling to and the lie we tell ourselves, and the lie that so many have worked so hard to maintain, is that as long as we don't discuss that it was for nothing, as long as we pretend that the fact that soldiers fought when they were told to fight and, mostly, did so nobly, we don't have to face the truly gut-wrenching reality of our national complicity in the crime.

Another relevant piece is at Common Dreams



English actor Benedict Cumberbatch was hauled over the coals and made to feel it necessary to apologise profusely for using the term "coloured" in a US TV interview. This guy is English, remember. He doesn't have the background experience and in-depth knowledge Americans have of the horrendous segregation practices in the USA, carried on as recently as during the lifetimes of many who are still around. He's likely not aware of those disgusting signs which used to be displayed over drinking fountains or in cafés and entrance-ways: "No Coloreds". A little quiet thought and understanding by those who allegedly took offence at his use of the term would have been as good a thing as Cumberbatch doing a little preparation for an interview, when in the ultra-sensitive (when it suits 'em) USA. I was pleased to see he has gained support from a fellow actor. HERE.




We watched 3 episodes of Terra Nova the TV series via Netflix. Enough was enough of this terrible comic bookish version of sci-fi. No wonder it wasn't renewed after its first season! It's the direct opposite of Frequencies (mentioned at the top of this post), in terms of quality ideas and writing.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Bill Peet & Patrick Caulfield, born 29 January

Two artists with very different styles were born on 29 January: In 1915, American Bill Peet, famous for his work and tempestuous times with Walt Disney, also for his many illustrated children's story books. Born some 21 years later, in the UK, Patrick Caulfield, whose rather different version of 1960s pop-art won him fame.

Briefly:

Bill Peet (January 29, 1915, Grandview Indiana – May 11, 2002), children's book illustrator, and story writer for Disney Studios, 1937-1964. His artistic talent showed up early; he filled the margins of his school books with sketches, later shone as an art student on scholarship at the Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis. Studies completed, he left the midwest for Hollywood, to seek better job opportunities. He was hired as an “in-betweener” to fill in the interstitial cells between the main scenes, for Walt Disney studio’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, later, with his talent recognised, he climbed the Disney hierachy and worked on films such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo , Song of the South, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, and others. He eventually left the Disney Studios after 27 years, following a particularly bitter argument with Walt Disney (one of many throughout his time there) over the story production of The Jungle Book (See this at Blabbing on Arts and Culture blog). He then focused on writing and illustrating books for children, and now has a long list of much-loved children's books to his credit.

An imaginative and stylish storyteller, he would frequently embed messages within his tales. There's an especially good story which I suspect we might all benefit from reading: The Wump World.

Bill Peet married his schooldays sweetheart, Margaret. There's a sweet website created by the Peets' son HERE.


If a passing reader has around 12 minutes to spare, there's a YouTube reading of The Wump World with all his illustrations.



 From his Dumbo story board

More of Bill Peet's Dumbo sketches at Deja View blog HERE.


 From the 1001 Dalmations story board


 From his book The Whingdingdilly








Over the Atlantic and on a different wavelength altogether was Patrick Caulfied, born in Acton, London on 29 January 1936. He died in 2005. A student at the Royal College of Art, 1960-63 along with David Hockney, he developed a unique style characterised by the use of line and depiction of banal, everyday objects saturated in colour and made strangely important. Few human or animal figures grace his artwork, its focus is interiors: office, restaurant, city, decor - all stylised with clean, simple, minimalist flavour. Reviewers of his artwork have pointed out that, though his paintings appeared simple, this was deceptive and rarely the desired effect. By his own admission there were periods when he sought simplicity and others when he sought complexity. The paintings' unity lay in the power of Caulfield's imagination and wry detachment. Resistance to classification meant that Caulfield's work was not as widely known as that of some of his contemporaries.

He is said to have been
"a keen drinker, arriving at his "morning pub" at opening time for Old Speckled Hen, before moving on to double Irish whiskeys. After lunch and work, he went to the evening pub, before returning home to watch television. Glasses of red wine were a frequent motif in his paintings."

"Caulfield was apt to grin sheepishly when making wolfish remarks, especially when declaring his dislike of facile or excessively worthy sorts of painting. He had no time for raw green countryside. Plein air as an excuse for landscape genres enraged him. Interiors for him: places with light switches and engaging artificiality and plentiful refreshments."

Patrick Caulfield married Pauline Jacobs, they had met at Chelsea Art School in 1968; they had three sons. After the marriage was dissolved, in 1999 he married artist Janet Nathan.
(See obituaries at The Telegraph and The Guardian).

After Lunch (1975)
From Tate website HERE
Caulfield's paintings explore alternative ways of picturing the world. After Lunch was one of his earliest works to combine different styles of representation. In this case, what appears to be a photomural of the Château de Chillon hanging in a restaurant is depicted with high-focus realism, contrasting with the cartoon-like black-outlined imagery and fields of saturated colour of its surroundings. Caulfield deliberately makes the relationship between these varying representational methods uneasy and ambiguous, so that the picture appears more real than the everyday world around it.




 Lamp and Pines (1975)



 Tandoori Restaurant



 Second Glass of Whisky (1992)



Entrance (1975)
See Platform 505 HERE
Pictures such as “Entrance” employ a rigorous use of black, with complex arrangements of grids, outlines and trellises. The atmosphere is playful and upbeat yet equivocal. These strange gardens and interiors are recognisable but unfamiliar, a parody of the real thing.
BBC website has a slideshow of some of Caulfield's paintings, HERE.




ASTROLOGY

Bill Peet, born January 29, 1915, Grandview, Indiana. Chart set for 12 noon as no time of birth available.


Patrick Caulfield, born January 29 1936, Acton, London, UK. Chart set for 12 noon as no time of birth available.


The artwork of Bill Peet and Patrick Caultfield was so different in "feel"; will their natal charts reflect this?

I see Peet as being a warmer, softer, more engaged in humanity kind of guy - from his choice of art style and genre. He had the heavier Aquarius input: Sun conjunct modern ruler Uranus, and Mercury conjunct Jupiter all in sign of the Water Bearer. Without a time of birth we can't know where Aquarius was placed house-wise though.

I suspect the warmer, softer feel of Peet's artwork comes via Venus (planet of the arts) in philosophical Sagittarius and a likely Cancer Moon, which could well have been conjunct Neptune(creativity and imagination). Mr Peet's talent for writing stories (for children) to match his artwork is reflected by Mercury (the writer's planet) in helpful sextile to artistic Venus; also significant: Saturn in Mercury-ruled Gemini in harmonious trine to Mercury in Aquarius.


Patrick Caulfield's paintings, though attractive and colourful, have a distinctly distant "feel" to them - detached from the human world, they concentrate on line, precision, design and colour rather than on flesh and blood. Whimsicality is absent, its place taken by what art reviewers see as wry detachment and some embedded humour.

Mr Caulfield was of a different generation from Mr Peet's, born a world away too. He was strongly influenced by art trends of the 1960s. His natal chart spreads rather thinner than Peet's, bringing in, Aquarius Sun and Mercury, with personal planets lying between Aries Moon (whatever his time of birth) to Jupiter in Sagittarius.

Arts planet Venus, in his case, was in Capricorn; this reflects the structural feel, reliant on line, of much of his artwork. Very significantly, too, a close trine between Venus (art) and Uranus (the avant garde) in Venus-ruled Taurus links to his pull towards modernity and an avant garde art style.

Hard-edged Saturn and Mars in Pisces possibly overwhelmed the usual gentle softness of Pisces - as far as his art style was concerned anyway. Jupiter in Sagittarius could be seen as source of the wry humour said to be involved in some of his paintings.

It's a pity no times of birth are known for the two artists - I'd be very surprised if their rising signs didn't contrast quite starkly.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Getting the hang of Thursdays


“This must be Thursday," said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. "I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
Thursday was the day that Earth was destroyed for the first time, by the Vogons. It is also the day that Arthur Dent began the most interesting journey of his life. Fenchurch, "a girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth", discovered secrets of the Universe.
― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.




"We'll go because it's Thursday, Pooh said, "and we'll go to wish everybody a Very Happy Thursday. Come on Piglet."
- A.A. Milne,The House at Pooh Corner.







Middle English thur(e)sday
Old English thursdæg
Old Norse thorsdagr "Thor's day"
Old English thunresdæg "thunder's day"
Latin dies Jovis "day of Jupiter"
Ancient Greek hemera Dios "day of Zeus".
(HERE)
Thor is the Norse god of thunder. Jupiter (Jove) is the supreme Roman god and patron of the Roman state, and noted for creating thunder and lightning. Zeus is Greek god of the heavens and the supreme Greek god.

Other tid-bits about Thursday can be found at Wikipedia. .




According to Nostradamus' prediction (Century 1, Quatrain 50), a powerful (but otherwise unidentified) leader who will threaten "the East" will be born of three water signs and takes Thursday as his feast day:

From the three water signs will be born a man
who will celebrate Thursday as his holiday.
His renown, praise, rule and power will grow
on land and sea, bringing trouble to the East.


Has this person appeared yet or has he been and gone? 3 Water signs = Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces - so a man with those signs prominent in his nativity? Some ideas on this have been discussed at an astrology message board HERE.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Aquarius Uncluttered

 David Palladini's depiction of Aquarius
I'm as guilty as anyone else of being drawn into astrological cook-book expectations in relation to people with Sun in Aquarius. I've called Aquarius quirky, avant garde, rebellious, unpredictable, cold and aloof....y'all know the rest.

Humanitarian, another commonly stated characteristic of Aquarius can be apt, but fits more nearly with Pisces in reality. People with Sun in Aquarius often have a planet in neighbouring Pisces.

Intelligent? I'll go along with that one, it's the only description common to all Sun Aquarians I've ever met. Intelligent, mind you, not genius or even highly intelligent. They simply possess an innate cleverness irrespective of schooling or higher education, which, in some instances when applied can bring out inventive talent. Aquarius is Fixed Air. Air relates to mental processes, so it's reasonable to expect that all Air signs (Aquarius, Gemini and Libra) will share natural intelligence, honed to sophistication by education, or not, as the case may be.

"Love of groups"? Where did that oft recited keyword for Aquarius come from? It contradicts another Aquarius motif: "aloof, detached and cold". I haven't yet met a Sun Aquarian who loves to join groups. I run from them, as did my Dad, and other Sun Aquarians I've known. We can, arguably, appear a tad aloof and detached/reserved. I prefer to think of that as independence or an intense need for freedom - and those are certainly keywords for Airy Aquarius.

I think many commonly used Aquarius keywords (quirky, avant garde, eccentric, radical, rebel etc) belong more properly with planet Uranus, delegated to replace Saturn as ruler of Aquarius in modern astrology. I continue to suspect that Saturn was more appropriate as ruler of Aquarius; a Saturn in Airy mode, lighter and less tied down; Capricorn hosts a heavier, Earthy Saturn.

Where does Uranus truly belong among the signs? Its accepted characteristics can invade and infect any sign with its presence. The rush to provide outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)with a zodiac signs to "rule" seems strange to me. Why was it so necessary? Weren't things working satisfactorily in personal astrology beforehand? The outer planets do seem to relate more to mundane and generational issues.

My old and fragile copy of Llewellyn George's Student Chart Reader (1934), has this to say about Sun in Aquarius:

"In Aquarius the Sun gives a quiet, patient, determined, unobtrisive and faithful nature, as a rule. The Aquarian is refined, pleasant, friendly, generous, charitable, dignified and humanitarian; fond of art, music, scenery and literature; cautious, steady, intelligent, intuitive, discriminative, concentrative, studious, thoughtful and philosophical. Good reasoner, practical as well as theoretical; strong likes and dislikes and often with very radical and advanced ideas; is cheerful, sincere and honest, easily influenced by kindness, slow to anger, but will not be driven; loves liberty and is fond of occult research."

I like that description, even though parts of it are too general to be identifiable as pure Aquarius - eg. pleasant, fond of art, music, scenery. I especially like the the last few phrases (easily influenced by kindness, slow to anger, will not be driven; loves liberty). Interest in the occult applies to this particular inmate of the Sun in Aquarius camp, but I haven't personally met any others with the same leaning. Perhaps this is another facet belonging more properly to Pisces, although there are two Fixed Stars in Aquarius with traditional connection to astrology.

So my own, stripped down, bunch of keywords for Aquarius:
freedom lover, independent, naturally intelligent, quietly determined, loyal, faithful, studious, practical but also theoretical, stubborn, slow to anger, will not be driven.

Radicalism, avant garde, rebellion and quirkiness will, in my view, be a part of the Sun Aquarius-type, or any other sign's makeup only if Uranus is in close aspect, or on a sensitive point in the natal chart. That's my story and I'm sticking to it -'cos I definitely will not be driven!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Day Off

I've said it before, I'll say it again: considered logically, there's really no good reason to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, anymore than we should celebrate every sunrise and sunset. It's custom and practice, an excuse to give and receive, just a personal benchmark on the waves of time. Birthdays give us an excuse to eat cake, have a celebratory drink, or do something completely different.....so no blogging for me on my birthday today. I'll be a day older when I return, not a year older - that's my story.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Netflixing ~ Pitfalls for Actors and Viewers. Top of the Lake; The Fall.

There's a newish pitfall for actors, and for audiences, in these days of unlimited viewing, easy access to just about everything ever created for the TV or silver screen, binge-watching over a short period, series which had taken years to unfold when served in weekly helpings and yearly seasons. The pitfall: an updated version of typecasting. I'll try to outline these tangled thoughts, which apply mainly to actors and audiences of long-running weekly TV drama series, rather than "one-off" movies.

Typecasting, of course, isn't new, actors male and female have been prey to it since early days of the entertainment industry. Back then, though, consumption of entertainment and drama was limited. Access has increased step by step: from theatre to cinema, to TV, to computers with YouTube and various streaming possibilities, and on to Netflix and all similar outlets, extending our easy reach much further and faster. We have opportunity, now, to see some of our favourite actors in a much wider variety of parts, and in quicker succession, than was possible in the past via cable TV packages, DVDs, and occasional trips to the cinema. A side effect of all this will be the occasional accidental "bleed-over" between very different characters portrayed by the same actor.

Two series we've been watching recently have underlined the above ponderings for me. Top of the Lake and The Fall. Both series feature one or more actors better-known for their roles in long-running weekly TV series. Top of the Lake has Elizabeth Moss in the leading part, she also plays "Peggy" an audience favourite in Mad Men. The Fall stars Gillian Anderson, who, as "Dana Scully", shared the lead in The X-Files with David Duchovny for several years.
The Fall also has has Archie Panjabi, well known to us from The Good Wife, where she plays "Kalinda" (see left), in-house investigator assisting a firm of lawyers. In The Fall she plays Dr Reed Smith, pathologist. I read, just the other day, that Archie has resigned from her role in The Good Wife for the very reason I'm mentioning here: characterisitics of "Kalinda" were bleeding through into her acting in the new role, where they were out of place - she realised this herself.

Had we never seen these three actors (all female as it happens) in any other roles, we'd have accepted them in these parts with no qualms whatsoever. As it is, we found it tricky not to continue attributing to them some characteristics well-remembered from their famous, long-running TV roles. I don't see this as a consequence of poor acting on their part - not at all - but it's the kind of hiccup we'll likely to come across more and more.

I had intended simply to write brief reviews of the two series Top of the Lake and The Fall, before wading into that little lot, I'll do that now:



Top of the Lake
Cross Twin Peaks and Justified, set it in the wilds of New Zealand with a female lead, and you'd get a near-relative of Top of the Lake. We watched the mini-series via Netflix, two or three episodes at a sitting. I didn't not like it, but wasn't over-enthusiastic either, husband felt much the same.

The scenery and photography were super, no argument on that. Acting was good to average. Elizabeth Moss, of Mad Men fame in the leading part was good in many ways, though I never quite believed her; the main "baddie" played by Scottish actor Peter Mullan (new to me) stood out as the better characterisation.

 Elizabeth Moss as Detective  Robin Griffin  & Peter Mullan as Matt Mitcham

The drama's theme revolves around a small community living in New Zealand's middle-of-nowhere, with a mini-drug lord and lazy, lackadaisical police department running things. The mini-drug lord has a family of ne'er do well sons. A 12-year old girl in the opening shot appears to be about to commit suicide by drowning in a freezing cold lake. Thereby hang several tales, which meander around various dark alleys for several episodes. The 12-year old, who we discover is pregnant, eventually disappears into the wilderness. A visiting police detective, once a local gal, becomes involved in helping to locate the pregnant child, Tui.

There's a trailer campsite in the area, occupied by a group of abused or mentally damaged females, presided over by a rather odd character known as "GJ" (left, played by Holly Hunter). GJ irritated me no end! Characterisation of the women, though well acted, was overdone almost to the point of comedy - which in these circumstances, ought not to have been the case. I'd blame the writing rather than the acting.

The mini-series was co-written by Jane Campion and Gerald Lee for the BBC and Sundance channel. I found it all a wee bit...I dunno....affected, unnatural...too much trying to be something it wasn't.

We were interested to discover the answers to many questions thrown up in the plotlines, yet disappointed that these answers came, eventually, in rapid succession in a series of almost throw-away lines during the last few minutes of the finale. Some questions remain unanswered or murky - possibly a deliberate ploy by the writers, again, to my mind an affectation.

I'm in the minority in my opinion, most reviews I've seen praise the series highly, and those reviewers might be correct, I simply report it as I found it.



The Fall
This is one of those "cop" stories about efforts to catch a serial killer - we've all seen 'em before. This one was written by Allan Cubitt for the BBC. The Fall attempts to look at its storyline from a quirkily dark and oblique angle (this has also been done before), and uses a fairly unfamiliar setting for its story: Belfast, Northern Ireland. Gillian Anderson of The X-Files fame is cast as leading character: Detective Superintendent (DSI) Stella Gibson, seconded from London's Metropolitan Police Service to head a task force to investigate a series of "set piece" murders of young professional women in the city.

For viewers there's no who-done-it game to play, the answer arrives very early on. The game for viewers is to discover and wonder at the two-sided personalities of the two leading characters: DSI Gibson and Paul Spector the murderer (played by Jamie Dornan), and to perhaps ponder upon that old saying : "it takes one to know one."

 Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), family man,  grief counsellor & serial killer

DSI Gibson's personality did keep mixing itself with Dana Scully's for us, not a comfortable mix! Gibson should have more in common with Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) than Dana Scully.

 DSI Stella Gibson & Dr Reed Smith (Gillian Anderson & Archie Panjabi)

I worried, initially, about the Belfast setting. Were we were going to be regaled with yet another Catholic versus Protestant theme with sad echoes of 1970s' Troubles? If this had been the case I'd have switched off at once. Those old wounds were well hidden for the most part, other than a distinct air of menace pervading the Shankill district, and a few clunky hints that thugs, presumably of both stripes, do still exist in that once-benighted city.

As with Top of the Lake we were not over-enthusiastic about The Fall, but remained interested enough to keep watching. During the 5 episodes of the first season husband tended to fall asleep after around 20 minutes of each episode. There were truly some turgid stretches and plenty of padding, likely to tax even the keenest viewer's eyelids. Season 2 picked up pace but became more predictable, even more formulaic and clichéd with its introduction of a pedophile priest; a left-over from the Troubles loyalist thug wife-beater; psychology-for-dummies type mumbo-jumbo; a troubled and unbelievably twisted teenager...and so on... throw 'em all in, mix well, then spread to the limits of the mix.

The series ending was, in similar vein to the ending of Top of the Lake, rushed, sudden, not at all satisfactorily tied up. This must be the fashionable thing for writers to do these days - leave things hanging, in the hope that viewers will mentally write their own endings.

The Fall simply wasn't different enough. Our problem could be that we've seen too many episodes of Law and Order SVU, too many cop movies and series during our long lives to be excited by something like this series. We've grown used to seeing women in charge now, once that was a novelty in itself. Such characterisations don't get much better than Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson in "SVU". Gillian Anderson's expressionless face and monotone voice, while a tad quirky and stylish at first, soon became boringly phoney. Other members of the cast turned in good enough performances, from material available.

For something police based and different from the usual formula, we both found True Detective, in its 8-part first season, far superior in every way to The Fall. But that's just us.