Three Gripping Foreign Films to Watch this Weekend

After a lovely eighty plus degree weekend, the weather has changed dramatically here in Minnesota. The air is crisp and damp from all the rain and the forty degree morning temps have made me pull sweaters and scarves out from storage. I love this chilly, cosy weather, but it also seems to zap my energy.  B has apparently felt the same because three nights this week we’ve simply curled up on the couch and watched movies. In the process, we stumbled upon three incredible foreign films.

I’m very picky when it comes to movies, probably even snobbish. For me, watching a movie is a luxury, so I always try to search out the ones genuinely worthwhile, which often leads me to seek out historical films, like the three included below. These films are so captivating you forget you’re reading subtitles and are fascinating in the way you’ll say “I can’t believe that happened.” The best part? They can all be found on Netflix.

So, whether you’re looking for a good film to watch tonight or over the weekend, I promise you these three hit the mark:

Two Lives (2012) PosterTwo Lives: Inspired by true events, this German thriller will leave you shocked and overwhelmed by the myriad secrets of the Cold War. The story of Katrine is at first confusing, then engrossing, and by the film’s end, deeply satisfying as every question has been answered.  This is a movie that makes you think about the endlessly intriguing world of international espionage as you wonder if certain secrets are best kept hidden.

Barbara: This German drama, though not a true story, offers an absorbing and intimate look into 1980s East Germany through the experience of Barbara, a doctor banished to a small country hospital. Tense, beautiful and unexpected, this film lingers long. I don’t want to say anymore to avoid spoiling it! Barbara (2012) Poster

Flame and Citron: I’m shocked that I hadn’t heard of this film before based on the true story of two Danish resistance movement fighters in WWII, code-named “Flame” and “Citron.” History-buffs or anyone fascinated by gripping true stories will be thrilled by this suspenseful account of these brave and ballsy men. The leads, played by Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen, are brilliant and achingly believable.

Flame and Citron (2008) Poster

Have you watched any good movies lately? I’d love to get your recommendations.


Happy Friday

colorWe made it through the week, everyone. It was a good one, but who isn’t always ready for Friday? Do you have many plans? B’s brother from California is flying in tonight and his parents are driving up tomorrow. We’ll all be attending the Bash4Guild event to support a great nonprofit committed to those struggling with mental illness. Those of you in the Twin Cities area, do come! It’s co-hosted by a friend of ours and is sure to be lots of fun.

Other than that, I’m starting to plan my sister’s bachelorette party! She’s been so stressed with planning her August wedding and I want to make sure she has one weekend where she can simply kick-back.

I hope you all have a great one and here’s some clever links from across the web…
Cute, easy and attractive kitchen art.

70 (!) cheap or free date ideas.

Yes, please!

You’re going to love this home tour (just wait for the shoe closest!)

The story behind this intriguing new movie.

A thoughtful essay on deep, consuming love.

I wish I could get to this exhibit at the V&A.

Until Monday!

xo, Em

Picture courtesy of bien.tumblr

On the Shelf: William Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits

ws With the exception of acting the part of Mustard Seed in my junior high’s production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream and reading Romeo and Juliet in high school, my Shakespeare education has, at best, been minimal. Even in light of graduating from an English university with a masters in English (and visiting Stratford-on-Avon), my knowledge  of Shakespeare has remained embarrassingly slight.

So, in a valiant effort to correct this glaring literary gap, I picked up a copy of Peter Ackroyd’s William Shakespare Without the Boring Bits. Let me start off by saying the volume of books on Shakespeare is overwhelming. Amazon him and no fewer than thousands of guides appear. Look him up in a bookstore and you’ll still find a dizzying array of nonfiction all promising to easily reveal his genius.

I picked up Ackroyd’s book because, after reading a few paragraphs, it seemed approachable and relevant. And, as I can now say, wholly worthwhile.

After a helpful introduction, Ackroyd organizes his book according to the Plays (History, Greek and Roman, Comedies, Tragedies and Romances) along with a section devoted to the poems and sonnets. I particularly enjoyed the last section-titled the Wit and Wisdom of Shakespeare-for explaining just why famous passages have remained popular.

The sections about the plays are thorough, yet not overbearing, and provide the context along with their possible  inspiration and plot and character synopsis. While I definitely didn’t retain every details, these sections were enlightening and will be even more helpful when I see a Shakespeare play in the future and need a quick update.

How well do you know Shakespeare? Do you have a favorite play? Quote? Ashleigh read sonnet 116 at our wedding and it has remained hopeful and special to me.


Mojo, Review. By Sam Howard.


Mojo was a play that I wasn’t expecting. As I walked into the Harold Pinter Theatre, tickets in hand, I could feel the usual buzz of pre-theatre emotion coursing through my body – the kind of knee-jerk emotions that have been reinforced by such genres like Shakespeare or family friendly Musical Theatre. I was also excited for a gin and tonic in the interval, excited to partake of the glitz and the glamour of the west end. I was so blown away by the star power who I knew were professionally applying make-up back stage in anticipation of a “this is your five minute curtain call” announcement by a frantic stage manager, that it seemed I had done absolutely no research into anything about the play at all. I wasn’t even remotely troubled by this: the names were satisfaction enough. And for us – the audience sat with abandoned excitement at the prospect of the star reveal – the atmosphere peaked as the tannoy announced that “this afternoon’s production will start in five minutes, please take your seats,” I’m not sure that anybody else in the theatre had either.

And boy, what a cast! Brendon Coyle (for those of you who have been entombed, lost in the wilderness or in a coma, he also stars in Downton Abbey as the “my life has been hard, and my general response is to simmer with silent anger and mystery which consistently threaten to boil over into outbursts of passionate violence” Mr. Bates, Valet to his Lordship); Rupert Grint (dare I use the phrase “Global superstar?” – Ron Weasley of Harry Potter film franchise fame doing what so many other transitioning child stars are doing and ploughing the depths of legitimate theatre); Ben Whishaw (I am a complete fan boy. It was his appearance on the bill which sold me this ticket. Even to the passing and uninterested observer it is clear that Whishaw is etching out a distinguished career for himself: he is something of a golden boy in the world of acting, definitely in vogue, certainly a spectacle (a very attractive spectacle) not to be missed, even with the other high profile names on the bill it felt very much like his show); there was also the guy from BBC’s Merlin, Colin Morgan (in a completely unrecognisable role); Daniel Mays (who I’ve never come across before) and finally Tom Rhys Harris – who is a complete newcomer (lucky him to be in such company). What the play was actually about bore little consequence to me until those final few minutes before the light were dimmed to black. I don’t think it helped really that all of the promotional material for this play features the actors together in their own clothes – like they had been shepherded out of rehearsals by the producer one day for the token advertisement photographs, everyone fully knowing that the household status of many of the actors in this play meant that interesting and flamboyant marketing wasn’t needed in any way shape or form (although it does amuse me to squint at the promotional pic and imagine what kind of boy band the cast would make). Anyway, to the matter at hand.

Ben Whishaw, Brendan Cole, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Mays in Mojo

Ben Whishaw, Brendan Cole, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Mays in Mojo

Mojo begins before the house lights are dimmed, it sneaks up on you with the quiet but noticeable hum of a distorted base line. “Boom boom”: it made the auditorium quiet down, the lights fade to black and the sound grows, “boom boom” – louder and louder – for me channelling the thrill you feel when you are waiting outside a club to go in; the conversations in the queue; the thrill of knowing you are going to have an amazing night, then you walk into the club and the music swells and grows until you feel it coursing and charging through your body – Mojo walks us through the club straight upstairs to the part we clubbers never see, the manager’s office. In it we see Silver Johnny (Rhys Harris) in his trademark silver suit gearing up for a career making performance in the club downstairs. The first scene of this play – this scene where there is no dialogue, just the “boom boom” of club music and the edgy energy of an artist pre-show engaging in mimic gestures of nerves – it sets up an atmosphere charged with adrenaline and performance that diffuses throughout the rest of the play.

My overwhelming general reaction to this play is that it is gloriously schizophrenic: the characters are all low level menial gangsters – “the boys” – whose job it is revealed is to do things like drive the van, serve the tea at the off stage meeting of mafia leaders, enjoy the drugs and be part a part of the action. Rising above these are Brendon Coyle as Mickey, the club manager clutching at mid-level gangster status and Ben Whishaw as Baby, the party loving son of the boss. They all have an element of the clown about them, a manic energy fuelled by pill after pill after unknown pill – a running gag throughout the play is “that pill made my piss black!” as each character nervously and ubiquitously shares their post-high symptoms. Characters mirror each other; characters mimic each other to the point of hair splitting energy as simple observations escalate into jittery drug addled altercations. The walls are closing in on all of these characters, in many ways they are all victims of their unwholesome and farcical circumstances. The music is too loud, the lights too dizzying, the violence of their profession is too immediate and everyone is shouting to be heard – it is breath taking and exhausting to watch.

The plot has the usual gangster commodities, and I feel the play is exploring through excellently executed, but ever-so-slightly clichéd plot the nature of power and its transition. Jez Butterworth pulls out a lot of stops to show us the extremes of human behaviour, and the delicacy of it with grit, language fit for a sailor and protracted displays of violence – verbal and physical. It is engaging and blackly comedic, more than once I felt that if the audience mentally stepped back from the immediacy of the experience they might not find the action on stage so funny. The play succeeds so well because Director Ian Rickson doesn’t let the comedy overshadow the other emotional themes present in the play. I guess that is what this play is wanting to explore: the fine line between comedy and violence; sobriety and drunkenness; power and powerlessness; performance and reality? The fragments are sharp and many.

Director Ian Rickson

Director Ian Rickson

The acting is first rate from everyone. The sets are just the right balance of claustrophobic and seedy, the play is an out and out assault on the brain, I remarked to Ash after it had finished, “I could watch it again, but I don’t think I could sit through it”. I think ultimately this is one that you have to make your own mind up with, all I can say is that it delivers in terms of acting, production, dialogue, but this production is not the sum of its celebrity studded parts. It refuses to be placed neatly into a box, and I think that is part of what is intended. Despite (or because of) this it is always compelling.

It runs through into the New Year and an two extra weeks run has just been added. Go, but maybe don’t take your mum, or your grandma, or any sensitive member of your family. Or do!? Who knows!

Mojo runs until 8Th February 2013, extra dates have been added.

Words: Sam Howard.

Erika’s Album Launch, Review: Delving into ‘Epic Pop’


The weather outside London’s Waterloo station may have been bitingly cold, but Erika Footman cast a warming glow of the Vaults of Waterloo Station as she introduced her new album Onna-Bugeisha, on Thursday evening.  Press and pledgers alike were kept in excited anticipation while the venue was prepared.  Told as we went inside that we were to be ‘taken on a journey for the ears and eyes’, the mesmerised crowd were lead down dark passages and dimly-lit corridors,  from the ceilings of from which hung Japanese lanterns and origami birds, which as you brushed past and touched them chimed with a variety of notes.

Having flirted in the past with the pop-rock genre and toured with both Mika and Skunk-Anansie, it is Erika’s self-proclaimed sound of ‘epic pop’ that makes up her first full EP worthy of the truly spectacular ‘interactive launch.’  Technical art and visuals play a big part in her repertoire, and her Japanese roots play a huge role in the themes of the music and interior decoration of the gig.

As we walked from room to room the attention to detail and way in which the music was presented and performed was noticeable.  The experience of hearing sweet, uber-pop under the deserted arches and rumblings of the trains at Waterloo was a once in a lifetime experience.

The show started with a melodic performance of Maybe, which saw a favorable reaction from the crowd, mainly down to Erika’s sunny disposition and genuine humility at having a large crowd of excited guests.  An impressive shamisen solo lead the crowd into another ‘vault’ and the interactive theme continued.  The next vault, a blue lit, high ceilinged room created the perfect backdrop for the soulful choir-like rendition of Wonderful which awaited us.  Asking the crowd to sing along, *hats off to most of them who could actually carry a tune* I would defy anyone not to be drawn in the by the vibrations of the trains above and the music below, the sight was something quite spectacular.

The second act of the night was a public gig, allowing for a larger, more powerful band and for everyone to fully appreciate the intensity and ferocity of Erika’s voice.  The intimate setting allowed for plenty of audience interaction, and Erika’s joyful, exuberant nature was in full force by the middle of her second song.  At time it’s surprising that someone with such a smooth, calm manner could be so different to her onstage persona.   Her voice at its peak is reminiscent of a poppy Avril Lavigne and the energy she displays clearly comes from her more pop-rock roots.

Erika proved to be unlike any other artist by using a perfect mix of artsy theatrically and musicality to create a euphoric, hedonistic atmosphere everyone in the venue felt a part of. Dancers, sparklers, paper birds and Erika in beaded skirt attached to the audience (yes really) provided the climax of the encore.  Erika has the ability to both absorb and adore her audience.  It is difficult to find fault with her unique, creative outlook on her music.  With her knack of quirky pop, it’s difficult to see her star doing anything but rise in the future.

Ash x