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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

— 1 —

….a few days after.

The older brother was on an overnight school trip earlier in the week, so the ten-year old and I took the opportunity to go up to the 4th largest city in Tennesse to revisit the Aquarium (he’d been 2 or 3 years ago, but was ready for a return and his brother wouldn’t mind being excluded) and see the zoo, the children’s museum and whatever else we could fit into about 24 hours. (We couldn’t leave until after his piano lesson on Monday)

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— 2 —

Having lived in Knoville during my teen and college years, I have random associations with Chattanooga:

  • One of my best friends from college was from Chattanooga and taught me all about the prep/boarding school/High Episcopal culture of the city.
  • When I was in high school in Knoxville, our newspaper staff attended a high school journalism convention in Knoxville.  Something I wrote won me an autographed paperback copy of a book by Barbara Walters.  No, I don’t still have it.
  • On that same trip,  some of the senior girls went out after curfew to some bar. (They may have even been 18, so it might have even been okay…remember that was the drinking age then. Wiser times.) One of the girls met a guy there – a guy in his twenties – and Chemistry Happened. She was giddy about it when she got back to the hotel room. We lowly, gawky sophomores and juniors were in awe.   They made plans.  He’d come up to Knoxville in a few weeks and they would go to the Dan Fogleburg concert together.

(And of course)

She waited and waited at the Civic Center…

He didn’t show up.

Longer than….

— 3 —

No such drama or awards this time.  Just animal-crazy kid-centered fun.

First thing about Chattanooga:  the city is a model of tourism development and marketing.  It’s the smallest of the Big Four cities in Tennessee, and probably has the least attention-grabbing cachet.  No blues/Elvis/Mississippi River, no country music capitol, no Smokey Mountains gateway. But it’s taken what it has – the natural attraction and history of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, as well as its location as the city through which a good chunk of the Florida-bound traffic must pass  – and built on it.

There’s a degree of artificiality about it, but at the same time, this downtown area of Chattanooga, on both sides of the river, is clearly also for residents, and it shows.

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— 4 —

We couldn’t leave until after the Monday piano lesson, but even so, since the Aquarium doesn’t close until 7:30, we had plenty of time to explore.

There are two wings, one devoted to oceans and one to rivers.  The latter is the original, appropriately themed, since it sits right on the lovely Tennessee River.   There is not a whole lot in the ocean wing, but there were penguins and some great rays.

The river wing is well designed:  you ride the escalator up to the top, then wind your way down on mezzanine ramps that branch out into exhibit halls on the sides.  My son’s favorite is the paddle fish – he says it looks prehistoric to him and it does.

I like the Tennessee Aquarium more than I do the Atlanta aquarium, which always seems like such a mob scene to me.  It’s expensive, but then all aquariums are – they are expensive to operate – but it’s worth it.

Then some walking:

The Bluff View area directly east of downtown is lovely, and here’s another great feature of Chattanooga planning:  public art.  It’s a priority for the city, and the placement of all of this statuary adds ongoing interest to an already eye-catching walk up and down hills and over a pedestrian bridge.

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The Walnut Street Bridge – threatened with demolition until a little over twenty years ago, the community joined together to restore and revive it as a pedestrian bridge.

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— 5 —

Tuesday morning, we took a ten-minute drive to the zoo.  It’s small, and half-priced with our Birmingham Zoo membership, I paid a little over seven bucks for us to get in.  It was us with scores of school groups, but most of the time we managed to stay ahead of them and enjoy the animals without too much ecstatic squealing in the background.

My ten-year old is a zoo afficianado, with one of the great regrets of his life being that he was only four when he went to the San Diego Zoo, and he doesn’t remember it.  His favorite so far is the New Orleans Zoo, but he approved of this one, too, comparing it in size and scope to the Montgomery Zoo and he’s right.

So, no big animals here, which is fine – the biggest cats were jaguars, and supposedly there were chimps but we never saw them.  The highlights for us were the Fennec foxes, which are new and very cute, and the sloth

I’ve seen sloths in zoos before (Birmingham has one), but I’ve never seen one do anything but sleep.  We had been through this exhibit once earlier, had some extra time, so we decided to go back to it once more before we left, and it was great that we did: the sloth, previously curled up and asleep was seriously on the move:

Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.

It was a good couple of hours and walking around, looking at animals, and listening to my ten-year old tell me all about them.

Then back to town, where we spent some time at the Children’s Discovery Museum.  I was unsure if it might be a little young for Michael, and he was right on the edge, and we wouldn’t return, but the music and art rooms were particularly good and provided him some interesting ways to spend his time.

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Then, this happened:

High Point Climbing

— 6 —

You can’t miss the High Point Climbing and Fitness.  The outdoor climbing walls loom high over the riverside area. We took a brief walk around Monday night, and I told Michael that yes, he could do it on Tuesday…and so he did.  For two hours. Indoors and out.  Arms sore at the end, heels blistered from the shoes, but very, very happy.

High Point Climbing and Fitness

High Point Climbing Gym

And he was pretty excited to learn that they are opening their second facility in 2016….in Birmingham.

And then back home to pick up brother at 11:30 pm at school from his trip.

We’ll go back to Chattanooga for a couple of days sometime this summer to do Lookout Mountain/Ruby Falls/Rock City (which my older son said was really kitschy and actually kind of weird) and Chickamagua.  My big goal of this summer, locally, is to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is just a little south of Chattanooga – it looks amazing.

— 7 —

Had a nice chat with Matt Swain on Thursday morning about the two B16 picture books, available here, of course:

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And for Mother’s Day:

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Tomorrow (April 16)  is her memorial.  Loyola has the entry I wrote on St. Bernadette for The Loyola Kids Book of Saints up on their website – you can read the whole thing here. 

Bernadette’s life wasn’t easy to begin with. She and her family lived in terrible poverty in a village in France called Lourdes. By the time she was 14, Bernadette had been sick so often that she hadn’t grown properly. She was the size of a much younger girl. She, her parents, and her younger brothers and sisters all lived in a tiny room at the back of someone else’s house, a building that had actually been a prison many years before.

They slept on three beds: one for the parents, one for the boys, and one for the girls. Every night they battled mice and rats. Every morning, they woke up, put their feet on cold stone floors, and dressed in clothes that had been mended more times than anyone could count. Each day they hoped the work they could find would bring them enough bread to live on that day.

Bernadette’s life was terribly difficult, but she wasn’t a miserable girl. She had a deep, simple faith in God. She didn’t mind any of the work she had to do, whether it was helping her mother cook or taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. There was, though, one thing that bothered her. She hadn’t been able to attend school very often, and she didn’t know how to read. Because of that, she had never learned enough about her faith to be able to receive her first Communion. Bernadette wanted to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, but her days, which were full of hard work, left little time for learning

Like other girls, Bernadette had many friends. She spent time with them in the countryside, playing and gathering wood for their families’ fireplaces and stoves. One cold February day, Bernadette was out with her sister and a friend, doing just that. They wandered along the river until they came to a spot where a large, shallow cave called a grotto had formed in the hilly bank. Bernadette’s sister and friend decided to take off their shoes and cross the stream.

Because she was so sickly, Bernadette knew her mother would be angry if she plunged her thin legs into the icy water, so she stayed behind. But after a few minutes, she grew tired of waiting for her companions to return. She took off her stockings and crossed the stream herself.

What happened then was very strange. The bushes that grew out of the grotto walls started blowing around as if they were being blown by a strong wind. Bernadette looked up. High above her in the grotto stood a girl.

Some photos from our 2012 trip to Lourdes:

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The family home

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I was poking around my archives looking for an account of some previous travel (which I will get to in a moment), when the timing of that trip struck me for a couple of reasons…

Gosh, it was ten years ago. Just about this time of year. 

And while we were on the trip, John Paul II was dying…and then he died.

That was ten years ago tomorrow (April 2)…is anyone remembering this? 

(I see that Pope Francis referred to the anniversary today.)

So weird, considering the impact of that moment and the subsequent consistory electing Cardinal Ratzinger.  Those weeks were quite memorable, for they were weeks in which the Catholic understanding of life and death, embodied in the lives of human beings and the ritual of the Church, was there for everyone to see, and it was all rather stirring, beautiful and hopeful.

So.

What I was looking for was anything I’d written about our visit, on that Arizona trip, to something called the Gallery of the Sun – the studio of late artist Ted De Grazia.  You probably don’t know his name, but if you have memories of popular art of the 1960’s, this might strike a chord:

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No, not as well-known as the Keane’s Big Eyes, but still, part of the fabric of the era.

We didn’t have it as a destination – I think it was on the way to somewhere else. But we stopped in, and I was surprised by the heavy religious content of the art.  De Grazia claimed he was not a traditionally religious man, but the Gallery is dedicated to the great missionary of the Southwest, Fr. Kino,

DeGrazia was inspired by the memorable events in the life and times of Padre Kino, the heroic, historic and immortal priest-colonizer of the Southwestern desert. Since childhood, DeGrazia admired Padre Kino for his education, life of adventure and his respect for Native Americans. DeGrazia traveled to every Kino mission as he lovingly studied the life of his favorite Jesuit priest. The Mission in the Sun is dedicated to his memory.

What struck me with the most force during the visit was De Grazia’s Stations of the Cross.  They were painted, according to this article, for the Catholic Student Center at the University of Arizona in Tuscon (my mother’s alma mater…but painted several years after her attendance). I  purchased a little bound set of postcards at the time, and still use it.

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Yes, it’s pop art of a sort, but some of the stations are, I think, rather powerful. This image is from the Gallery’s Pinterest board, which has representations of all the images, some notes on the inspiration and preliminary sketches:

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I think this is my favorite:

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Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us'; and to the hills, ‘Cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

That said…ten years?

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A little over a week ago in Madrid, we happened upon an exhibit in honor of the 500th birthday of St. Teresa of Jesus.

It was at the Biblioteca Nacional – the national library of Spain.  The excellent National Archaeological Museum is located on the other side of the building.

Here’s a nice, short video on the exhibitions’ set-up:

It was absolutely lovely.  All the placards were in Spanish, but as far as I could tell, the presentation was straightforward, without revisionary or contemporary diversions. It features lovely statuary and paintings, and lots and lots of editions of her work, including manuscripts written in her own hand.  I was overwhelmed.

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A manuscript of “The Way of Perfection” in Teresa’s own hand. Gulp.

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Featuring real Carmelites checking out the exhibit.

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Read St. Teresa herself…not necessarily what others say about her…but more on that later.

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— 1 —

Traveling is so odd.  You go, you see places that you will probably never see again, and you walk in strange places.   A completely different experience of the world becomes a part of your experience, your worldview, your frame of mind.

And then you come back, and it’s as if you never left, and what happened a week ago floats somewhere between the distant past and a dream.

But it’s all still there, in your head, in your life.

Bigger now.

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— 2 —

We’re back, but we don’t stay still.  We returned Monday night, the 13-year old went back to school on Tuesday, the 10-year old did a bit of school, had his homeschool boxing session, then they both had server practice for the Triduum in the afternoon. Wednesday, the 10-year old and I took a walk on a trail that’s not too far from my house but, I’m ashamed to say, I’d never even heard of before this week: The Irondale Furnace trail.

There’s a bit of a ruin along the trail, the ruin of an iron..processing? furnace, which was a part of a 2,000 acre mining and processing property that was burned up by the Yankees in 1863, rebuilt after the Civil War and used for about 15 years.  And now it’s a wall, a trail along a creek surrounded by a lot of high-end homes.

Talk about the distant past and dreams….

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— 3 —

Today, we went up 59 towards Gadsden to Tigers for Tomorrow. It’s a refuge for rescued animals, mostly cats, but also a few bears, wolves, and even some cavy.  I’d heard about it, and had been meaning to go for ages, but they are generally only open to the general public on weekends. But when Michael, still on Europe time, popped up awake super early, I decided we needed to go somewhere.  I looked this up and saw that they were doing some special Spring Break tours during weekdays, and for a reduced price, so we jumped in the car and drove up.

It was quite educational for both of us, and offered food for thought on issues related not only to endangered animals, but also animals in captivity and the relationship between animals and human beings.

(The animals come mostly from zoos, other refuges that close, and from people who had attempted to keep wild animals as pets. Always a grand idea.)

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— 4 —

We went to Mass on two Sundays in Spain.  Both had congregations of about thirty in attendance, minimal music,  fairly perfunctory ritual and (I just happened to notice) in both the Apostles’ Creed, not the Nicene was prayed.

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We just peaked into this church on the way to the museum on Sunday…don’t remember what it was.

— 5 —

Speaking of churches and such….check out this post from the New Liturgical Movement on veiling statues during Passiontide…two Birmingham churches are in the mix.

— 6 —

I did something new on this trip: I rented our apartment through AirBNB, and I was very pleased with the experience.

In previous trips both to Europe and in the US, I’ve rented via VRBO and just independently through owners and managers. I’ve never had a bad experience with any stay  – except that one time in Sicily, but that wasn’t an apartment, it was a B & B, sort of, and I violated by policy of not renting when there were no reviews, so it was pretty much my own fault, and in retrospect…the whole thing was pretty wacky.

With the apartments, everything has been fine, but I’ll say that the Airbnb process strikes me as a level above what I’ve previously experienced.  The owner/ manager has a full profile and reviews – and the profile is more substantive than the minimal VRBO profile.  If he or she has used Airbnb as a traveler, the reviews of those places are posted as well. You, as a renter have to provide enough information to prove that you do, indeed, exist as well, and the owner is given an opportunity to review you as well, sort of like Uber.

I understand there are issues with the growing business of vacation rentals. I’ve read of people essentially buying out entire apartment buildings and transforming them into Airbnb properties, which isn’t right, because you’re then running a hotel without having to abide by appropriate regulations and taxation requirements.  If I lived somewhere and my neighborhood was slowly but surely turning into party central because of vacation rentals, I’d be upset.

But. All I’m saying is that the process of renting through Airbnb gave me an added sense of security above what I’d experienced with VRBO or independently, and I will definitely use them again!

(One of my older sons had used Airbnb the week before our trip, and had similar observations about the process. He was pleased.)

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Some teachers give homework over spring break….

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…but the nice ones don’t.

— 7 —

Do you want books for Easter gifts? For First Communion? For a new Catholic?

Got it!

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"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Our last full day in Madrid….having said goodbye to our daughter/sister the day before (crazy girl got back to her abode Saturday night, worked on Sunday, then jumped back on the train to Munich Sunday night to catch Birmingham-rooted band St. Paul and the Broken Bones in a concert there….)

I had hoped to get up early and perhaps hit an 8:30 Mass, purportedly being celebrated at San Francisco el Grande…

(The earliest Mass I could find even sort of close in Madrid….it seemed to me that in most churches, the earliest Sunday morning Mass was 11.)

But you know what happened, right?

Madrilenos streaming in waves under my window until 3AM…all about that bass from that club down the block…so I didn’t awake until 9 or so.  Oh, well…what happens, happens, and there’s always a reason. I don’t get stressed (much) about scheduling and plans during travel anymore. There’s so much to see, and if you miss what you planned to see…there’s always something else to see, isn’t there? And it’s not as if there’s only one interesting church in Madrid, Spain.

So, once I roused everyone, we headed to ……another church on my list. San Antonio de los Alemanes.  Every wall and the ceiling was extravagantly painted, which was a bit of a change from the usual Spanish baroque pattern of carved, decorated main and side altars.  We arrived about ten minutes after the schedule Mass time, at which point, the priest was well into his homily, which he continued for quite a while.  There were, as was the case the previous Sunday at another church, about thirty in attendance.

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They must be restoring the sanctuary.

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We made a brief stop back at the apartment, then continued on (walking) to the National Archaeological Museum (in the same building as the Biblioteca Nacional). It was a free admission day, so the line to get in was quite long – about halfway down the block – but moved quickly, so in about twenty minutes, we were in. (Which was good, because it was after noon, and the museum was to close at 3).

It was an excellent museum.  One of the best of its type I’ve ever visited.  I’m not kidding – it’s a model for others, I’d say.

You begin (if you like) by gathering in front a large relief map of Spain.  Above the map, a series of slides is shown, slides that move through all the eras covered in the museum.  As an era and its characteristics are flashed on the screen, the relevant sites light up on the map.  From prehistory through the Bronze Age through Roman Hispania through the modern era, it was an engaging overview.

From there, you tour the quite extensive collection which is curated and displayed with an eye to historical progression and clarity.  All placards are offered in both Spanish and English.  The video offerings which introduce each era are quite sophisticated and not at all lame, as you might sometimes find in a museum.  Honestly, if you’re going to Madrid, I’d make this museum your #2 stop after the Prado, even before the other art museums. It’s that well done, and it gives you such a valuable understanding of Spanish history and the Spanish self-understanding.

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These were bronze tablets erected in towns by Romans displaying various laws and statues.

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We could have stayed longer, but of course the place closed at 3. I wish we’d gone earlier in the week and had given it more time – we saw probably 3/4 of the place.  So we ate lunch, then headed back to the Prado.  I had purchased a “visit twice in one year” ticket the first time, and children are free, so why not?

We caught some pieces we’d missed, primarily the wing dedicated to Venetians, revisited Ribera, Velasquez and Bosch, and found the back hallway dedicated to an exhibit called, “Hoy Toca el Prado,” in which a few paintings from the collection are reproduced in a sort of relief, for the benefit of the blind. It’s received some international press, but was actually quite small, and, as I said, off in a side hallway, so…good work, Prado marketing!

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Appropriately, a painting about Vulcan. (there’s a Birmingham connection…look it up.)

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Then…..back to the Puerto del Sol, Plaza Mayor and parts around and in between to pick up some more souvenirs and just soak it all in….

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The big stuff is great, but it’s the smaller corners that say “Europe” to me, and that I remember most.

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Taking a travelogue break to offer quick reviews of the movies I watched on the plane:

  • I didn’t watch any movies on the way over, only the two episodes of Mad Men they offered.  I didn’t want to get too committed to full-length films because I was all MUST SLEEP. GO TO SLEEP. NOW.
  • Of course, I didn’t sleep at all. I never do.  Even the time I flew to Europe by myself, with empty seats on either side of me….I didn’t sleep. I’m too anxious about sleeping to sleep, that’s all.
  • On the way back, I watched three movies, though, and part of two others.
  • I’d been looking forward to Foxcatcher since reading about it, probably a year ago.  It sounded complicated and layered and had Steve Carrell.  But I’m sorry to say…no.  About 45 minutes into it, I couldn’t believe it was only 45 minutes into it and there were 90 minutes left to go.  Carrell was fine, if a little mannered and caricatured (but perhaps that’s the way DuPont actually presented), and I thought Channing Tatum was just fine, but the whole thing was just a little too…careful. Money Quote: “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist…”
  • I’d also been wanting to see Whiplash.  It was certainly more entertaining that Foxcatcher, albeit fairly crazy and over the top. J.K. Simmons, as an uber-intense, authoritarian, sadistic instructor of jazz band was fun to watch, but it was, as I said, just too much to take at times.  What interested me was to see what the film would do with the standard tough master v. student trope and to follow the various mind games being played. It certainly wasn’t predictable, that’s for sure, but there were points at which the unpredictability morphed into unbelievability – as in, a perfectionist musician would take an opportunity given to him to shine and use that moment to humiliate one guy? Nope.
  • But. The last fifteen minutes are, well…great. They are earned. It’s exhilarating to see the put-upon, even abused student "amy welborn"take charge and to observe the dynamic of master-student: taking what’s been learned and shooting it right back – played out in the context of Caravan. 
  • Fr. Robert Barron wrote about this film today in the context of spiritual mentoring.  It’s a reasonable jumping-off point, but I had a hard time connecting to the movie on that subject because the Simmons character was so ridiculous, really. Rather, what I was thinking about, especially during those last few minutes of the film, was art – and perhaps more so because I’d spent a week contemplating the likes of Bosch, El Greco, Velasquez, Picasso, Ribera, and Goya. My final takeaway of those final seconds, in particular, was that in order to make truly great art you probably have to be a little bit crazy, and you might just have to sell your soul.  Money Quote: “Mmmm….not my tempo.”
  • Enough Said was one of James Gandolfini’s last films, and he stars in this tale of love and courtship in middle age with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.  Loved it. I have to say that my 32-year old son had seen it some months ago and recommended it, so it’s not just a middle-aged thing.  It’s very real, funny and the acting is terrific. People have doubts about each other, get angry, and connect in unexpected ways with unexpected people and talk about the issues they have in ways pretty close that we do in real life, with enough of the elevated focus and wit of theater to make you both nod in recognition and laugh because they’re funnier than you are.  It’s also striking because one character really does mistreat another, and handle a situation very badly…and is called on it, and must bear the consequences..and eventually finds forgiveness, but it’s not easy.
  • I also watched part of The Skeleton Twins, mostly because I like Bill Hader – what I watched struck me as pretty formulaic, but I couldn’t finish it because the sound putzed out.
  • So I tried to give St Vincent  – the film about the irascible Bill Murray being impacted (I assume) by the Kid Next Doorbut we landed about 30 minutes in, and I wasn’t interested enough to pick it up later…should I?  It struck me as situational – as in, let’s create a Wacky Situation which leads characters to confront a Quirky Situation which leads to Understanding Despite the Odds.
  • And didn’t we see this in Kolya, and wasn’t it much better then?

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