Tuesday, August 27, 2019

TV Tuesday: In the Dark

Sorry for the lack of posts this past week. I have been battling a nasty case of bronchitis that hit me like a freight train. I caught it from my 94-year old father-in-law, and as always with ME/CFS, it has hit me hard, though I got on antibiotics right away, knowing my history! I am feeling just a little bit better today - able to sit up at least - so I thought I would attempt a quick TV review.

Serendipity worked in our favor recently. We've had a dearth of summer TV this year, and we finished several shows we were enjoying on streaming services. A show we'd never heard of popped up on Netflix right when we were in the mood to try something new - In the Dark - and it turned out to be a real winner! This mystery/thriller about a blind woman with a serious attitude problem is suspenseful and compelling but also funny - a perfect combination for us!

Murphy, played by Perry Mattfeld, is a blind woman with a serious chip on her shoulder. She was an unwanted foster child for many years, finally adopted by loving parents, Joy, played by Kathleen York, and Hank, played by Derek Webster. They love her dearly, in spite of her prickliness, though they are over-protective even now, when she is a grown woman. They opened up a business training service dogs, where Murphy is employed, though she doesn't do much there or take the job seriously. She is, though, beginning to bond with her own service dog, Pretzel, even if she doesn't like to show that affection openly. Murphy has only opened up to two people and allowed them to get close. One is her roommate, Jess, played by Brooke Markham, who works as the veterinarian at the dog training school. The other is an unlikely friend, Tyson, played by Thamela Mpumlwana, a teenaged black boy who works in the alley near her apartment building selling drugs for his older cousin, Darnell, played by Keston John. Murphy has a habit of smoking cigarettes in that alley and, against all odds, she and Tyson starting talking one day and became good friends. She also has a habit of getting drunk in a local bar, and one night, heading home from the bar, she stops for a cigarette in the alley and stumbles over Tyson's prone body. She kneels down and feels his face and is certain he is dead. By the time the police are called to the scene, though, Tyson's body is no longer in the alley, and all they have is the word of a drunk, blind woman. Despite their insistence that there is no evidence of a crime and Tyson probably just ran away, Murphy begins hounding the lead detective, Dean (or That Cop as he is labelled in Murphy's phone), played by Rich Sommer, one of our favorite supporting actors from Mad Men and GLOW. Murphy continues to do her own investigating of the crime, as the police mostly ignore it and the tension and danger grow.

There is so much depth to this show that it's difficult to write a brief synopsis. Yes, it's a mystery/thriller about what happened to Tyson, but the show is also very much about Murphy's unique character and her relationships. During the course of the first season, she develops her first-ever dating relationship (she's generally more into angry, anonymous sex with strangers) and shows a softer, kinder side when she meets Detective Dean's teen daughter who is newly deaf. Viewers also learn more about her friendship with Tyson and what else was going on in his life before this incident. Add to that, drug dealers, criminals, real danger, and a complex mystery, and you have a first-rate show. The acting is excellent all-around, though Mattfeld as Murphy is outstanding, playing her complex character perfectly. Finally, despite the serious subject matter and depth of emotion, this show is also really funny at times! Several shows we have watched this summer were just unrelentingly dark, but we love when a show can combine humor (perhaps dark humor!) with the suspense and action - it just makes it so much more entertaining.

So far, we have watched seven episodes of the thirteen episodes in season one, and I was excited to see that a season two is planned as well! A CW show, episodes 9 through 13 are currently available at the CW website. The entire first season is available on Netflix, and it is also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or $14.99 for the first season. Season 2 is planned to run on the CW sometime in 2020 - no release date has been announced yet. We are really enjoying season 1 and can't wait for more.

In this brief trailer, you get a good idea of Murphy's prickly personality (to put it mildly!), her special friendship with Tyson, and both the suspense and the humor of the show.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

TV Tuesday: The Widow

Adrift without any of our favorite On Demand shows on network or cable this summer, my husband and I have been trying out some new shows on streaming (we have Netflix and Amazon Prime). I recently wrote here about Hanna, which we both loved, so we decided to try another new show on Amazon, The Widow, a fast-paced thriller that we both enjoyed.

Kate Beckinsale plays Georgia, a widow living a solitary life in a remote corner of Wales and still clearly grieving over her husband's presumed death three years earlier in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), when a plane crashed and everyone on board was killed. She sees a news story about a riot from DRC on television, and becomes certain she spotted Will, her husband, on the streets. She flies to DRC herself and connects with one of Will's old colleagues, Judith (played by Alex Kingston, one of our old favorites from the days of ER), in the aid organization where he used to work. She also contacts Emmanuel, played by Jacky Ido, whose wife was also killed on that same flight; the two got to know each other in the days after the crash, while waiting for news of its victims. No one else believes that Will is still alive, but Georgia's friends offer to help her, as she follows leads through DRC and Rwanda. She quickly zeroes in on Pieter Bello, played by Bart Fouche, another person she met in the days after the crash, who seems to be somehow involved. Meanwhile, the audience sees flashbacks and present-day scenes of exactly how the plane crashed (hint: not the way it was reported) and that there was one survivor, Ariel, a man from Iceland, who kept his survival a secret because he knew too much about the crash. Georgia follows clues across central Africa, while one dangerous secret after another is revealed.

We both enjoyed this action-packed international mystery-thriller that is something of a mini-series, telling a complete story in just eight episodes. It's one of those stories that is built on a house of cards of lies, secrets, and illegal activities, so there is plenty of suspense that kept us coming back every night to find out what was going on and what really happened to Will. The acting is good, we liked the characters (except the ones we were meant to hate), and we enjoyed the unusual setting, in places we personally know little about. Some of the motivations and explanations for characters' actions seemed a little far-fetched to us, but we went with the flow. On the other hand, there is a very moving plotline about child soldiers, with an outstanding performance by a young girl, Shalom Nyandiko, that we both found very powerful and well-done. There are lots of surprises in this twisty and entertaining thriller, and we enjoyed this short series filled with adventure and suspense.

The Widow is an Amazon Prime original, so it is available only on Amazon, free with a Prime membership.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Movie Monday: Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood

My birthday gift from my son was lunch and a movie, just the two of us, so we planned a day off last week, before he starts his senior year of college and things get hectic. Since I need to nap in the afternoon, we went to a 10 am showing at a local recliner theater. It was decadent seeing a movie right after breakfast (and having popcorn in the morning)! We saw Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood, and we both loved it, in spite of our different ages and experiences. It has been called Quentin Tarantino's love letter to old Hollywood, and it is that - and a whole lot more.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Rick Dalton, an actor who has made his career mostly in westerns and other action thrillers, including as the star of a TV western called Bounty Law. Now, he is worried that the best years of his career are over and is upset when director Marvin Schwarz, played by Al Pacino, suggests he move to Italy to star in a "spaghetti western." Rick's best friend and stunt double is Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Their careers rise and fall together, though Rick is a well-known star, and no one knows who Cliff is, but that doesn't seem to bother the easy-going, always-grinning friend. The two hang out at Rick's house, which is next door to the home of director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. For now, Cliff is driving Rick around town, and Rick is trying to get Cliff hired as his stunt double, though Cliff's reputation gets in the way. One day while Rick is working, Cliff picks up a pretty hitchhiker named Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, and drives her to where she lives, at the Spahn Ranch, which had been rented out for many western movie and TV sets in the past, including Rick's Bounty Law. Since Cliff knows the place, he wants to look around and say hello to the owner, George Spahn, but the ranch is now the home of Charles Manson's "family," and they are not happy about this stranger poking around. As Rick and Cliff continue with their lives, tension builds with Manson and his family in the background.

We both loved this movie, though as my son whispered to me during the first half of it, "this isn't like the usual Tarantino movie!" He was referring to the graphic violence that Tarantino is known for in films like Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, and Django Unchained. And he's right...until the last scene in the movie, and then we said, "oh, yeah, this IS a Tarantino movie!" But for much of the film, the renowned director has recreated the Golden Age of Hollywood in a way that completely immerses you in the darkened theater (this is a great movie to see on the big screen) with the sights and sounds of 1969. Sure, he's got the cars and fashions, but he goes way beyond that, with classic Hollywood places, billboards, and neon, plus the sound background of 1969, not just in the music in the soundtrack, but in ads heard and the patter of the radio DJ playing songs barely remembered while Cliff drives around town in his car. It's all just so much fun. Of course, most of us remember what happened on August 9, 1969, and the presence of Charles Manson and his crew provide an ominous threat behind the scenes, but Tarantino has some unexpected and clever surprises in store for the audience.  And, of course, the all-star cast is just outstanding, especially DiCaprio and Pitt. Besides the actors I mentioned above in major roles, there are plenty of other big-time stars in minor roles, including Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, and Luke Perry in his last role. In addition, many Hollywood stars of the time are depicted, like Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen. The historical aspect was lost on my son (though I filled him in a bit), but we both still thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this engrossing, funny, gripping two-and-a-half hour immersive experience that left us with smiles on our face and still talking about the movie days later. Highly recommended. Oh, and be sure to hang around for the credits for a bonus scene.

Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood is currently showing in theaters. You can check for local showtimes and locations and buy tickets (go for those recliner seats!) through Fandango:

You can also pre-order Once Upon a Time in...Hollywood on streaming and DVD (both due out sometime in mid-fall) through Amazon.And don't forget that fabulous movie soundtrack, which includes both music and classic ads and is available now (you can listen to a sample of the album at that link).

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: From Other Chronic Illness Bloggers

I've been seeing so many inspirational posts from other chronic illness bloggers this week that I wanted to share them. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge and understanding here for all of us...and maybe you'll discover a new blog that you like!

True Friends in Unexpected Places
If you have lost old friends due to your chronic illness (as most of us do, sadly) or feel a lack of meaningful connections in your life, check out the excellent post at My Medical Musings about friendship and creating new connections in your life. Like the author, I, too, have started discussion forums and support groups in order to help others but have also gained new friendships and support myself. It's an inspiring post.

And if you need help in exactly HOW to find others in similar situations that you can connect with, both locally and online, check out my own article on ProHealth: Birds of a Feather: The Joys of Community, with the story of how I started a local support group and how you can find others to connect with, online and in real life.

The Five Stages of Grieving Your Diagnosis
For those still in the early days of chronic illness or who have maybe just recently received a diagnosis, Teena over at Whoa Mumma has a great post on the stages of grief, as they apply to chronic illness. Take a look at her wonderful explanation of the natural process of grief in those with chronic illness. One thing I would like to add to her beautifully written post is that these stages don't always happen in this order, and they can recur at unexpected times, even years after you are well into the Acceptance stage. As an example, I wrote this post on Mourning Losses a full 10 years after I first became ill and many years into my settling into a "new normal" and fully accepting my new life of restrictions. That's just the way grief works, and chronic illness is no exception: everyone's path is different, and a stage you finished with long ago - like anger or depression - can still take you by surprise years later. It's OK, it's normal, and you will return to your usual place of acceptance when you are ready.

Chronic Illness and Grief
A Journey Through the Fog, an ME/CFS blogger, has also written about grief this week, in her post on Chronic Illness and Grief. She writes of her own personal journey toward acceptance, including how memories and photos of "the old days" can sometimes be depressing, the emotions she's experienced as part of the grieving process, and the particular grief in losing control over your life and losing income when you can no longer work. A few years ago, I also wrote a Weekly Inspiration post about Acceptance, with some quotes that I found inspiring.

Asking for Help (and Why Everyone Needs to Learn This Important Life Skill)
Finally, A Chronic Voice (one of my favorite chronic illness blogs) has written a very important post about Asking for Help, and I agree with her that we all need to learn this skill...and get over our hang-ups about it. This was SO hard for me at the beginning - and still is to some degree - because I was used to being independent and hated the loss of control and needing help. Luckily, I had some amazing friends who didn't wait for me to ask but just helped me. I have learned over the years that most friends and family DO want to help you, but they don't know what to do and feel uncomfortable asking. That's why this life skill - asking for help - is so important. Check out A Chronic Voice's blog post on this topic, with plenty of inspiration and practical tips, too.

I hope you enjoyed this journey around the Blogosphere today! There are so many wonderful chronic illness bloggers out there, sharing their insights and experience. It is truly inspiring. For more links to chronic illness blog posts, check out the Chronic Illness Bloggers page on Facebook.

And please share your own favorite inspirational links in the comments section!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

TV Tuesday: Hanna

Earlier this summer, without much of interest on cable, my husband and I turned to streaming and finally watched Hanna, an Amazon Prime show he'd been bugging me to try. He was right - it was amazing! This unique and suspenseful show was engrossing, and now we can't wait for season two.

In the opening scenes of Hanna, Eric, played by Joel Kinnaman, rescues a baby from some sort of isolated institutional facility in Romania. He tries to escape with a woman (clearly, the baby's mother), but the car is blown up. We next see Eric living in a cave in the woods with a teenage girl named Hanna, played by Esme Creed-Miles. He has brought her up there, in the middle of a deep forest in Romania, and is training her intensely: for strength, agility, self-defense, and even in multiple languages. The two have formed a father-daughter bond. One day, Hanna ignores his frequent warnings and goes further than she's ever been allowed to go before. She meets another person (she's never seen anyone but Eric before), a teen boy working in the lumber industry, helping with his dad's business. Hanna begins to experience normal life for the first time, including her first taste of Snickers(!), but her journey outside their boundaries attracts some unwanted attention. Soon, there are military-types after both she and Eric, and they are each forced to go on the run separately. Eric has drilled her as to what to do in this sort of situation, so Hanna is curiously adept at fleeing through various countries and evading capture, though sweetly naive in just about everything else. A woman named Marissa, played by Mireille Enos, is an ex-CIA agent heading up the forces looking for the two runaways, as she tries to cover up something from her past.

Hanna oddly combines a sci fi-type thriller with a funny coming-of-age story, but it works beautifully. The stories of Hanna's beginnings, why she is unique, and who is after her are revealed gradually throughout the first season. She and Eric, both separately and together, are chased all over Europe (and a bit of Africa, too) by Marissa and her team, as Eric scrambles to make contact with old friends and get some help. Many of the episodes are action-packed and suspenseful (and sometimes quite violent), but there are also sweet and often hilarious scenes of Hanna experiencing the outside world for the first time, making her first friend, and testing out what it feels like to be a normal teen-ager. All of the acting is excellent, and it's wonderful to see Enos and Kinnaman back together on screen (though on opposite sides now) - we loved the duo in The Killing (another great show). But Creed-Miles steals the show as Hanna, giving an intense performance where she is alternatively scary strong and sweetly innocent. In all, it is highly entertaining and wholly addictive. We were hooked after the first episode and can't wait for a second season.

Hanna is an Amazon Prime original, so it is only available on Amazon (note that there was also a movie based on the same basic framework called Hanna from 2011, but the link will take you directly to the new TV show).

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Grateful People Are Joyful People

I have often written here on my blog about gratitude; it's not a new concept to me but something I have embraced as an integral part of my life. I have written blog posts about Finding Joy in Every Day and my Joy Journal. I shared with you my daily #GratefulToday practice, posting almost every day on Twitter and on my blog's Facebook page what I am grateful for and encouraging others to join in (and I have learned that the more difficult it is to come up with something, the more necessary and helpful the practice is!). So, I consider myself well-educated in the importance of gratitude in my life...but yesterday, I was reminded there is always more to learn!

I was visiting and reading other chronic illness blogs (this Facebook page lists loads of great chronic illness blog posts) when I came across My List of Little Joys by Cassie Creley - go check out her post! Cassie writes about how it's been a rough summer for her, with respect to her chronic illness, but then she looks back on the past few months and lists some of the small joys she has experienced. Even though I often write about gratitude and write my daily #GratefulToday post, I realized there is value to a larger look back like Cassie did. This really hit me because I, too, have considered this a rough (perhaps miserable?) summer, with excessive heat I can't tolerate, a lack of outdoor time or travel, and several serious family crises. Despite my generally good outlook, I have been thinking how awful this summer has been and how I can't wait for it to be over. Cassie's post made me realize I am drifting into negative thinking and forgetting to be grateful in a larger sense, even if I take a few moments each day to think about it.

So, inspired by Cassie's post, here are some of my own Small Joys from this summer so far:
  • We cleaned out our screened porch Memorial Day weekend, I bought some inexpensive pillows and plants to spruce it up, and we have been enjoying it all summer.

  • We bought a new-to-us truck to replace our rapidly failing one. Our old truck was much loved and gave us 217,000 miles and lots of memories, but it's nice to have one for trips where everything works!
  • I have been working on two books about chronic illness and have made some important steps this summer - I hired a cover designer and love the final cover, and I found an editor I worked with years ago who is the perfect fit. I finished my part of the editing process and turned the book over to her, which was a huge step forward.
  • We have enjoyed an evening out with friends most weekends.
  • I saw two great movies: Rocketman and Yesterday - I am VERY grateful for movie theaters with full recliner seats!
  • Although our son's decline this spring has been the source of much stress and worry these past few months, we are starting to see signs of improvement from all the new treatments, slowly but surely. Every time we see him smile, hear him laugh, enjoy a meal with him where he's able to enjoy his food, or see him go out with friends, my heart soars, and I feel hugely grateful.
  • We enjoyed a nice trip to my hometown of Rochester, NY, to visit with family and attend a family reunion - the whole weekend was relaxed and enjoyable.

  • My Big Book Summer Challenge! Every summer on my book blog, I host a reading challenge for reading books with 400 or more pages, and I SO enjoy it. I love finally tackling some of the bigger books on my shelves I don't usually have time for, and I love talking to others about the Big Books they're reading, too (there's still time to join and fit in a Big Book or two before September!).

Huh, so maybe it hasn't been such a bad summer after all! Seeing all of these joys listed together like this reminds me that it hasn't been all doom and gloom (and heat).

For one more take on gratitude, check out this TED Talk from David Steindl-Rast, Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful:

His soothing and inspiring talk explains that grateful people are joyful people. He says that often we think that gratitude follows happiness - you get everything you want and then you are grateful - but in reality, it's the other way around: happiness follows gratitude. And he gives some concrete advice on how to be more grateful with his Stop, Look, Go reminder.

So, how about you? What small joys have you experienced this summer? Share your joys and gratitudes in the comments below - as David explains in his talk above, the more we share our gratitude and network, the better the world becomes!