Friday, May 6, 2016

TV Review: The Returned Season Two (2015)

The Returned Season Two (2015) created by Fabrice Gobert

See my review of part of season one here. I guess I never reviewed the second half! It's worth watching if you have the stomach for it (there's a lot of sex/nudity and some violence).

After a three-year hiatus, the second season of the French zombie series The Returned has finally come. The intriguing ending of the last season, where some of the unnamed French mountain town is flooded again, is the starting point for this series. The military has moved in to help evacuees and to figure out where the dam is leaking. Thirty-five years earlier, a previous dam burst and flooded the same part of town quite quickly, killing many people. Unfortunately for the local residents, those people have returned from the dead and are in a more zombie-like state than the zombies from last season (who were all pretty normal except for not remembering their deaths and not aging since their deaths). The new zombies don't speak--they just stand around and menace people who are trapped in a mysterious part of the town. They seem to be waiting for something.

Meanwhile, some survivors have been staying at The Helping Hand, a charitable organization run by Pierre, who is desperate enough to find out about the undead people that he is willing to do very questionable things. He's turning the charity into a cult with himself as leader. Other survivors have been staying in a higher part of town, trying to help and/or hide the undead people from the military, the police, and The Helping Hand. One woman, Adele, is pregnant and having nightmares about her unborn child. The dad is Simon, her ex-fiance from ten years ago. He's also one of the dead returned to life, making her a bit crazy about the child. Simon wants the baby; Pierre wants the baby; those dam undead also want to do something with the baby.

The show is intriguing and follows the Lost pattern of having episodes focus on one person in particular while both answering some questions and generating new questions. Happily, toward the end new questions stop coming, though enough was unanswered by the start of the final episode that I thought they would not be able to wrap up everything with this season. They did tie off most of the loose ends and provide an ending (which is good, because some of the child actors would be way too old in another three years!). I wasn't as satisfied as I'd like to be with the ending. The actors are all good and the show keeps a good, creepy atmosphere. The music works well to enhance the mood.

Parental warning: The first series was surprising to me in the amount of sexual content and nudity, of which there is almost none in this series. The show still has some violence and gore, though not the usual stuff in zombie shows (only once do viewers see one person eating another; there are some human and animal corpses that have been eaten but the depictions aren't too graphic). I'd recommend this for teens and up (though it would be tough to watch without seeing the first series, which I would recommend for adults only).

The series is currently (May 2016) available for streaming on Netflix. I'm sure it will come out on DVD sooner or later. I plan to watch the American version of the show, so maybe there will be a dual/duel review in the future.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book Review: Chocolate: The Consuming Passion by Sandra Boyton

Chocolate: The Consuming Passion written, illustrated, and overresearched* by Sandra Boynton

In this cute, quick book Sandra Boyton covers a bit of history, a bit of amateur psychology, a bit of culinary styles, and a couple of recipes all about chocolate. The book is very light hearted and has plenty of illustrations that are classic Boynton (like her classics Moo, Baa, La La La and The Going to Bed Book). The book debunks myths about chocolate and provides both shopping advice (grocery stores are not as fun or satisfying as a gourmet shop) and cooking tips (including advice on repurposing failed desserts). She also provides handy translations of the phrase "Excuse me, where is the nearest chocolate?" into eleven different languages, including Klingon and Pig Latin.

Highly recommended for a fun time!

Sample quote: from the author's note at the back of the book...
So why did I decide to take on this difficult project [i.e. writing the book]? It was probably for a lot of noble and idealistic reasons. It certainly wasn't that I was somehow luted by the giddy prospect of being able to cliam all of my chocolate-related expenditures as actual business expenses. Oh, wait. Yes it was. [inside back cover]

*That is a direct quote from the cover of the book--check out the jpeg!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Releasing Butterflies

My daughter received a "grow your own butterflies at home" kits for Christmas. Since Spring is finally springing, we sent off for the starter jar of caterpillars. I forgot to take early pictures, but the growth phase was fascinating. A tiny jar with five little critters came in the mail a few weeks ago. We followed instructions carefully. We watched as the critters turned into normal-looking caterpillars. About a week later, they formed their chrysalises. A week after, some beautiful painted lady butterflies poked their way out.

The instructions said to let them out after a week on a day of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The day came and my daughter took the butterfly cage outside to release them.

A cage fit for a butterfly

 Outside, a quick unzipping meant freedom for the butterflies.

Opening the cage

The expected burst of butterflies flying off to freedom did not happen. The butterflies were a bit reluctant to leave such a nice home, so my daughter had to reach in to try and help them out.

The orange slice was a happy home. Eventually the creature got himself off the orange.

First free 'fly

The butterfly walked across the front porch to the wood chips nearby!

Crossing the barren desert

Butterfly close up

The other butterflies were fairly patient waiting to come out. Next came a butterfly sitting on the tinfoil where the orange had been.

Who's next?

Laying him outside

The next two actually walked onto my daughter's hand a flew off on a fresh breeze. The last fellow made another ground exit.

Putting the tinfoil back in to get another butterfly

Last release

The experience was a lot of fun and we will probably order another cuppa caterpillars, with the plan to document things from the beginning!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Book Review: The Flight From Woman by Karl Stern

The Flight From Woman by Karl Stern

Two forms of knowing are commonly contrasted. On one hand is scientific, rational, discursive knowledge, the sort represented by the classical syllogism "All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal." On the other hand is intuitive or poetic knowledge, the sort represented by the "lightbulb" moment when an idea becomes crystal clear instantly. Scientific knowledge breaks down a thing into its parts and sees how it is put together from an objective viewpoint. Intuition takes in the thing as it is and immediately grasps one or more characteristics of the thing. The first knowing is typically considered masculine and the second feminine. Which is not to say that discursive reasoning is only done by men and intuition is only done by women. But that is how they are stereotypically identified. In the modern era, credit for "real" knowledge is given almost exclusively to discursive reasoning (especially for its basis in mathematics, a field with unquestioned objectivity). Intuition is considered unreliable and suspect.

Karl Stern argues in this book that the divide between the two is a fairly recent development in human history, starting from Descartes's distinction between the material (res extensa or extended things) and the spiritual (res cogitans or thinking things). Cartesians see the divide as unbridgeable and that the res extensa is the mathematically verifiable, sure knowledge. Stern gives a thorough examination of Descartes' writings and his life to show both that Descartes would probably disagree with his followers and that he gives poetic knowledge the same certainty even if it is subject to different criteria of estimation. Stern gives an extensive psychological analysis of Descartes that is informative and persuasive.

Stern examines the lives and the writings of many other famous figures after Descartes (Goethe, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, Ibsen, and Sartre) to develop his theme further, namely that the divide between the two forms of knowing leads to problems. Those figures all have challenging interactions with women in their lives (sometimes mothers, sometimes wives and lovers, sometimes others) that have an impact on their work. By the time of Sartre, intuitive knowledge of things is a thing that leaves him with nausea.

Stern ultimately concludes that the conflict and the evaluation is false. Rather than being opposite or irreconcilable ways of knowing, Stern sees reason and intuition as complementary. They can come to the same truth in different ways and can fill in the weaknesses of each other. Intuition can grasp things that are beyond the scope of scientific reason, beyond the merely quantifiable. And they have equal validity (even if they do not share the same process of validation). Stern agrees that the rational/mathematical inclination is stronger in men and the intuitive inclination is stronger in women. But both sexes are capable of both ways of knowing and merely focusing on one way of knowing is limiting, if not harmful to the knower. Integrating the two is a way to greater personal harmony and happiness.

Stern writes from a psychoanalytical and phenomenological perspective. Thus his writing is sometimes technical. Keep a dictionary nearby. Also, he is well read in western literature and thought which also required occasional research on my part (I know about Faust and Don Juan but Ahasver and Hedda Gabler are new to me). The effort is well worth the rewarding insights found in this book.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Movie Review: Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn (2015) directed by John Crowley

Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman working part time at a grocer's store in a small Irish town. She doesn't have many prospects so her sister has arranged with an Irish priest in America for passage  to the New World. Eilis is excited but worried. It's 1951, so she still has to take an ocean voyage. The trip is rough because of the weather and the inconsiderate people who share her cabin's bathroom. Her roommate helps with the situation and gives Eilis a lot of good advice to get through customs and immigration. Eilis is soon settled in a boarding house with four other young Irish women and a job at a local department store. She is very homesick and shy, so the priest, Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), gives her some more help--he has her signed up for night classes in accounting. She goes to the church's weekly dance where she meets a nice young man, Tony, who is Italian. Her homesickness melts away as she becomes more comfortable with her new home. She faces more problems when a tragedy happens back in Ireland.

The movie is very sweet and charming. While the romance is the central element of the story, the movie also gives an interesting look at the immigrant experience. Saoirse Ronan gives a great performance as Eilis, a very likable if not perfect character. Her challenges are interesting and compelling. The story is very satisfying dramatically as well as romantically.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review: Avatar The Last Airbender Smoke and Shadow Part Three by Gene Luen Yang et al.

Avatar The Last Airbender Smoke and Shadow Part Three written by Gene Luen Yang, lettering by Michael Heisler, art and cover by Gurihiru

Reviews of Part One here and Part Two here!

Fire Lord Zuko and Avatar Aang have chased down the Kemurikage and discovered Azula, Zuko's disenfranchised sister, is their leader. She escapes during the fight and kidnaps Zuko's baby sister. Zuko uses his authority as Fire Lord to shut down the capital city and round up all of the people involved with the New Ozai Society, which turns out to be an arm of the Kemurikage. Riots erupt. Can Zuko rescue the kidnapped children and keep the peace with his people? What is Azula's plan?

This volume finishes the story well. It focuses on the characters' motivations and has a nice awareness of the larger political situation. The book doesn't skimp on the action, either, though the humor is less than usual. The last page of the book promises the return of Sokka in October 2016 so you can be sure the humor will be back in full force then. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 28, 2016


After attending a birthday party at a local roller rink, my daughter loves rollerskating. With soccer done, we decided the kids should try skating lessons. The rink has very reasonable lessons each month. The kids have been going twice a week (Tuesday evening and Saturday afternoon) for lessons.

The local roller rink (unchanged since the 1970s)

The first lessons were pretty tough. Lots of kids and adults started on the first day of class. Many were gone by week three. Our children showed rapid improvement in both skill and enthusiasm for roller skating.

The daughter

Our son, the man in black

By week three, they were so enthusiastic that we stayed for the post-lesson skating session. As a break between lessons, we had a snack from the snack bar and my daughter checked out one of the video games.

The next lessons--learning to drive?!?

They loved skating around the rink and were eager to get back to the action.

Put me in, coach!