Movie Review: The Fifth Estate

The Fifth Estate” has done poorly in movie theaters, but it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, so I indulged our 14 year old daughter in her obsession of all things Benedict and took her to see it last night.  (Jim and our 12 year old went to see “”Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2”.)  I was pleasantly surprised by “The Fifth Estate.”

In all fairness, I completely understand why the movie has done poorly in the movie theaters (to the point where its worldwide revenue and DVD, pay-per-view, cable, etc. sales will not even recoup the marketing costs for this movie.  Ouch.)  But, to be honest, nothing very interesting or action-packed really happens in this movie.  I mean, we are talking about classified documents being leaked, but the movie is mostly about Julian Assange and his one-man revolution to transform the world by taking advantage of 21st century communications.  In order to start the revolution, you have to do a lot of typing on a keyboard.  And that’s simply not that interesting to watch on a movie screen.  I mean, really, do I want to spend $15 to see someone typing on a laptop?  (And not even a Mac, at that.)  Heck, I could use my laptop’s webcam and watch myself doing it.  And while I’m certainly no Benedict Cumberbatch, neither is he with that weird bleached blond hair thing.

Which is the second major problem with the movie.  If you’re going to make Benedict Cumberbatch the star of the movie, he’s got to look like Benedict Cumberbatch.  And that bleached blond hair look is seriously icky.  Especially when it’s hanging in greasy strands across his face.  More importantly, Julian Assange is not a particularly sympathetic character as depicted in the movie.  Mind you, I doubt that he is a sympathetic character in real life.  (Visionaries who want to transform the world seldom are.)  And in the movie, he is portrayed as a man who can be immensely charming and charismatic when he chooses to be, but is, more often, manipulative, arrogant, sanctimonious, and highly self-centered.  (Fans of the BBC “Sherlock” series might note the resemblance between the highly functioning sociopath that is Sherlock Holmes and the self-absorbed and self-righteous Julian Assange.)

All that being said, I really enjoyed the movie.  The acting by all the major characters is impeccable.  And the movie deals with the issue of how to maintain security in a world that is heavily reliant on the Internet and its lack of national borders.  It deals with moral issues relating to national security, friendship, and greed.  The movie gives you a lot to think about and doesn’t leave you with any easy answers.  It’s well worth watching and pondering.

Best Buddies Challenge 2013

October 19 was the date of the Best Buddies Challenge in Washington, DC.  (It was also the date of Homecoming for our high schooler, and Jim was in Japan for the weekend, but I digress.)

Best Buddies is a charity that helps folks with intellectual disabilities with friendship and job prospects.  The organization was founded by Anthony Shriver and is dedicated to improving the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.  Each year, a fundraiser is held in DC that consists of a 100 mile bike ride, a 62 mile bike ride, a 20 mile bike ride, and a 5K run/walk.

This year’s DC event was made especially challenging due to the government shutdown.  As a result of the shutdown, the 100 mile bike ride was canceled and the 5K run/walk, which is usually held on the Mall, was moved to Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia instead.

The challenge was a tremendous success this year.  The weather was perfect—low 60s with a little bit of sun.  Turnout was amazing.  Kevin Spacey, the Wolff Brothers, and Capital Cities were all there (as well as the Red Rocket cheerleaders).  And, most importantly of all, Best Buddies raised $2.5 million at the event.

Full disclosure:  we’ve been supporters of Best Buddies for 20 years, and Jim is on the board.

You can find out more about Best Buddies at

Dinner with Friends, Take 2

We hosted another dinner party as part of our donation to our school’s auction to raise money for financial aid.  During the time between our first school auction dinner party and this one, we bought a new dining room table and chairs, so this is what the new setup looks like (we’re quite pleased with it):

new dining room table & chairs

new dining room table & chairs

We started off dinner with an amuse-bouche, consisting of “breakfast”–a miniature Spanish omelet, lobster over miniature pancakes served with vanilla-infused maple syrup, and a gougere with country ham and quail egg served with a miniature mimosa.  (The photo is from back to front.)

"breakfast" amuse-bouche

“breakfast” amuse-bouche

Next up was Thai pumpkin soup served in an acorn squash bowl served with the 1998 Pol Roger Winston Churchill champagne.

Thai pumpkin soup

Thai pumpkin soup

After that was crab served on top of an un-crab cake, which was made with hearts of palm to resemble the consistency of crabcakes.  It was served with miniature spicy peppers and a 2009 Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne (a white burgundy).

crab on top of an un-crab cake

crab on top of an un-crab cake

Then came the obligatory (for us) foie gras dish served with pomegranate seeds, black cherry compote, and Parmesan tulles.  The accompanying wine was a 2006 Edge Hill Mixed Blacks.

foie gras with parmesan tulles

foie gras with parmesan tulles

The main course was an Asian duck cassoulet (with edamame instead of beans).  This was served along with a citrus cardamom salad, sautéed mushrooms with sesame seeds, and Japanese pickles.  The wine was a 2007 Rudd Oakville Estate Proprietary Red.

Asian duck cassoulet

Asian duck cassoulet

Then came the palate cleansing course, the trio of sorbets (pomegranate, blood orange, and tangerine).

trio of sorbets

trio of sorbets

Dessert was chocolate pot de crème served with Dean & Deluca chocolates.  Served with it was a 1990 Rayne Vigneau.

chocolate pot de creme

chocolate pot de creme

It was a lovely evening, and I think great fun was had by all!

Book Review: A Time for the Death of a King by Ann Dukthas

A Time For The Death Of A King (Nicholas Segalla, #1)A Time For The Death Of A King by Ann Dukthas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is in the first in a series featuring a mysterious stranger who never dies. Nicholas Segalla is suspiciously long-lived, and he plays a critical role in solving the mystery behind several historical events. In this debut novel, Segalla solves the mystery of who murdered Henry Darnley, the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The premise of the series is imaginative and an excellent way to set the stage for the various books. However, the answer arrived at in the actual mystery in this first novel is unconvincing.
For those interested in this period of history, there are two types of people. You are either on Team Elizabeth Tudor or Team Mary Stuart. I’m on Team Elizabeth, and I find the characterization of Mary unconvincing. The author tries to convince the reader that Mary is a shrewd judge of character and on the cusp of uniting Scotland under her rule, so her enemies set up an elaborate plot to murder Darnley and discredit Mary. It’s difficult to believe in this perceptive and politically astute Mary when she chose to marry Darnley in the first place and then compounded her mistake by marrying Bothwell after Darnley’s death, convincing everyone of her guilt and consequently committing political suicide.
That being said, reasonable minds do disagree on this issue. I really do like the book, as I very much enjoy the premise. The author’s writing style is informative without being lecturing, and the subplots in this book keep it well-paced and suspenseful. I look forward to reading the others in this series!

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Obsession, Part 2

To be fair, this is not my obsession.  This is the obsession of our teenage daughter (whose two favorite phrases are “to be fair” and “awkward”).  I introduced her to the BBC show “Sherlock” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson.  The show is excellently written and acted and a clever take on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories.  The characters have been updated, and the stories all take place in modern London.  In the first two seasons, the episodes all have their origin in the original stories.  (We are also talking a grand total of 6 episodes, 3 per season.)

Because I like the show so much, I thought our daughter would as well.  Unfortunately, I underestimated her capacity for obsession.  Not only did she love the series, she is also obsessed with all things Benedict Cumberbatch.  As a result of her obsession, I have learned the following things:

1.    With only 6 (!) episodes to obsess over, there’s a lot of in-depth obsessing by the Sherlock/Benedict crowd.  More episodes would give them more to obsess over, but, failing that, the obsessed ones watch each frame of each episode carefully, looking for any clue as to subsequent plot developments.

2.    If the obsessed ones cannot find any clue to plot developments in the existing episodes, they will spend a colossal amount of time constructing an elaborate and complicated theory to explain a plot development that they desire to occur.

3.    The vast majority of those obsessed with Benedict are girls/women.

4.    There are a surprising number of fan pages on Facebook devoted to Sherlock and Benedict.

5.    Copious amounts of fan fiction have been written about Sherlock and John and further developments.  (Have I already mentioned that 6 episodes are insufficient to hold the obsession?)

6.    Memes about Sherlock and John and the other characters on the show have sprung up like mushrooms during the rainy season.

7.    Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as John Harrison in the latest Star Trek movie is somewhat outside the obsession.  However, his role as the voice of Smaug and the Necromancer in the Hobbit movies is fully embraced by the obsessed ones.  Go figure.

I am reminded of the William Shatner skit on “Saturday Night Live” when he is speaking at a Star Trek convention and, at one point, is so fed up that he snaps and tells them, “Get a life!”

Despite saying all of this, “Sherlock” really is an excellent show, and I highly recommend it.  And I am very much looking forward to Season 3 (and the 3 additional episodes) airing, whenever that may be.  (I have no doubt that someone in our household knows, but there is no point in encouraging the obsession!)

My Latest Obsession (Perfume!)

So, the disadvantage of being just a teeny-tiny bit OCD is that you easily fall into random obsessions for some theoretically finite period of time.  In my case, the latest obsession is perfume.

I can easily place the blame of this obsession on Rania Melhem—a Facebook friend whom I met on the Sharon Kay Penman fan page.  Rania loves (and I mean LOVES) perfume.  I go in phases with perfume, and she caught me at a time when I was looking for a new obsession.

For those who do not possess this particular obsession, there is an entire world of niche perfumes as well as mainstream perfumes to discover.  (And this is not even delving into the world of vintage perfume, which I refuse to do.  I am far enough down the rabbit hole as it is.)  The price range runs from modest to exploitative.  Department stores such as Nordstrom and Saks carry many high-end niche perfumes, but there are several perfume specialty stores in major cities that also have websites so that you can order them to be shipped.

In addition, and the part I find most fascinating (outside of the perfumes themselves), is that many people are wiling to host splits, where the original person solicits people who don’t want to pay for a full bottle (either because they can’t afford it or because they just want to try it out).  Once enough people have signed up for a split (generally, you can buy from 5 ml on up) to fill the entire bottle, people pay the host, and the host then buys the bottle and decants it into various smaller bottles and then ships them to the buyers.  This requires reputable hosts and buyers, of course.  But it’s an extraordinary sub-culture where people from around the world buy and sell and swap and host splits of various fragrances.  Everyone I’ve “met” in this world has been extraordinarily generous with their knowledge and time and have been honest and aboveboard and, indeed, generous, in their dealings.

There are also a plethora of websites with descriptions of the perfumes and notes (my favorite is and many blogs and YouTube reviews of perfume.

I’ve discovered that I like fragrances that are on the minimalist side and tend towards citrus and white floral and delicate scents.  There are occasional lush and opulent scents that I also like, especially for a fancy black-tie event or a nice evening out.  I definitely do not like fruity or overly sweet scents nor do I like scents that smell like food.  And I most definitely prefer not to announce my presence with an advance guard of perfume fumes wafting before me.

Some of my favorite perfume houses include Amouage (Reflection and Ubar are my favorites so far), By Kilian (Bamboo Harmony and Water Calligraphy), Hermes (Jour d’Hermes and Eau de Merveilles), Frederic Malle (L’Eau d’Hiver), and Tom Ford (especially the Neroli Portofino and Shanghai Lily).  There are many, many others that I have not tried yet, so the perfume journey is only beginning!

Book Review: They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer

They Found Him Dead (Inspector Hannasyde, #3)They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a quintessential Georgette Heyer mystery. It’s light and fluffy (or as light and fluffy as a book can be with dead bodies in it). The mystery itself is reasonably straightforward, but the strengths of Heyer mysteries are her characterizations and dialogue. The characters are well drawn, and the dialogue is witty and amusing. The book is a fun and light read, perfect for when you want to give your mind a break. Fans familiar with her mysteries will welcome back Inspector Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway as old and dear friends.

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