Friday, September 20, 2019

Movie Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2011)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2011) written and directed by Lorene Scafaria

A 70-mile-wide asteroid is headed for Earth in three weeks. The last attempt to destroy it has failed so everyone has to accept the fact that they are doomed. Dodge (Steve Carrell) watches as his wife runs away from him. He still goes to his insurance salesman job even though most of the other employees Don't show up. He really has nothing to do. He goes to a dinner hosted by friends who want to set him up with someone before the world ends, just so he has some company for the end. The party is full of alcohol, drugs, and sex. Dodge has no interest in any of it. He is empty and detached. He just goes home.

At his apartment building, he runs into Penny (Keira Knightley) who is breaking up with her live-in boyfriend. She has a rough time of it and, since he has nothing else to do, he comforts her. She's from England and wants to go back to see her family one last time. Also, she has a pile of his mail that accidentally got put in her box for the past couple of months (or maybe years, it's not really clear). In the pile is a letter from Dodge's first sweetheart, who is now divorced and writes that she still has affection for him. So now he has something to do. He knows someone with a plane and promises to help Penny get to her family if she will help him get back to his lost love. They start a journey together.

The movie has a great theme about getting past superficial desires and friendships. A lot of the secondary characters only want pleasure from others and are certainly happy enough to trade their own dignity or self-respect to get it. Taking care of someone else is a very different thing, as is being honest and committed to someone else. Carrell and Knightley give very good performances. Their characters both start out as cliches (Dodge is a disinterested and uninteresting guy; Penny is a manic pixie dream girl) but the actors manage to get more out of the roles.

And yet the film is unsatisfying. The actors are good but they aren't quite believable together, i.e. they lack chemistry. As friends and traveling companions they are okay; I never bought into them having a deeper relationship.

The story meanders through random scenes of how people handle the situation (the cop who still arrests people because he has a quota; the restaurant with overly friendly staff; the military bunker guys who ready to take over the world after its destroyed; the Hispanic cleaning lady who just wants to keep her schedule, seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the world ending). At one point Dodge and Penny run into a line of people who are walking to the beach single-file. At the beach, it looks like someone is baptizing people in the ocean, or maybe couples are getting married. Dodge and Penny smile winsomely and hold hands. The scene jumps to a beach picnic where everyone is having fun--even Dodge manages to smile for the first time. The whole scene leaves a lot of holes for the viewer to fill in. Did Dodge and Penny get baptized or did they just watch from the sidelines because they don't need it? Viewers are left to decide what happened. I wish the filmmakers had more courage in their own convictions than in the viewers' convictions.

The movie is sweet and has funny moments but for me it was ultimately unsatisfying. I wanted to like it and it does have good themes but it just doesn't deliver the romance or the depth I wanted. I can see it as a jumping off point for good discussions but it does not say enough on its own.

The movie is discussed on A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast #215, where they do have a good discussion about it and they liked it much more than I did.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fort Hunter Mansion and Park

Fort Hunter Mansion and Park is located north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The site overlooks a lovely bend in the Susquehanna River, making it a desirable location to everyone who came to the area.

The mansion at Fort Hunt Mansion and Park

View of the river

 The site was settled by Native Americans as discovered by the multitude of arrowheads discovered by archeologists. German and British immigrants came to the area when Pennsylvania was still a colony of the British Empire. During the French and Indian War a fort was built at this location to protect the local colonists from the Indians and the French. A man named Hunt owned the land so the fort was named after him. The fort vanished fairly quickly and a mansion was built on the farm.

Archibald McAllister owned the property and built the original 1786 house. The home was fairly basic and is now the middle section of the building. The ground floor is one large room and the sleeping quarters for the whole family was upstairs, also one large room.

The middle section of the house, the original house

The farm was prosperous enough by 1814 to enable McAllister to build a show house on the front, which is the current front facade of the building.

Front of the house

A wooden kitchen and servants' quarters was built on the back of the house in 1870 by Daniel Dick Boas, a subsequent owner of the house.

Kitchen area

We took a tour of the house which started with the impressive 1814 section.

The tour starts in the shop, naturally

The first stop was the downstairs sitting rooms. The items in the house are mostly original to one of the families.

Fireplace in the front room

Desk in the parlor with fancy door knobs

The parlor fireplace

The staircase was definitely made to impress visitors with its grandeur and openness. It's still impressive today.

Stairs to the second floor

View from the stairs

The second floor is mostly bedrooms, including the master bedroom, children's room, and guest room.

Master bed with medicine kit and gentleman's travel kit (pay no attention to the hand)

Children's bedroom

Guest bedroom

 The guest bed has small wheels on the corners and a headboard that folds down. They could move the bed closer to the window on hot summer days or nights to take advantage of the cool river breezes.

Back downstairs, we saw some of the china that the family used to entertain guests.

China cabinet

They also had two tables with leaves that attach to each other. These made a fine dining table that takes up much of the room. With the leaves folded down, the tables can be put up against the wall, allowing a large space in the middle of the room for socializing.

Transforming table

The last stop on the tour was the 1870 kitchen added to the back of the house. The kitchen contains a number of gadgets from the late 1800s for cooking. The fireplace can almost be walked into, allowing the family to cook a lot of different things at the same time. 

Table and gadgets


 Outside, we saw the 1810 ice house. During the winter, they would collect ice off the river and pack it into the ice house with sawdust to keep it from melting too quickly. The ice typically lasted into late June! Later, the house was converted into a kennel for dogs.

Ice house

By the front of the house is a memorial to Margaret Wister Meigs, a descendant of the Boas family. She had the vision to turn the home into a museum and the gumption to make it happen.

Meigs Memorial

We walked down to the river to throw some stones it, since that's fun for the kids. Along the way, we saw a tree with mushrooms in its roots.

Can we eat them?

Train bridge over the Susquehanna River

Looking for stones to throw

The area has a lot of other buildings like a tavern, a smokehouse, a stable, a covered bridge, and a small church. The kids were out of energy, so we left all that for another visit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Watkins Regional Park, Maryland

We visited the Watkins Regional Park for two reasons. First, we wanted to get a second badge in the Agents of Discovery app. Second, we wanted to check out the fabulous Wizard of Oz playground.

Visiting the park

We started working on the Agents of Discovery app at the park's Nature Center. We answered one or two questions, then talked to the ranger inside to get more info. As I chatted with the ranger, the kids wandered off and looked at the exhibits.

Inside the nature center

A screech owl


We went out back of the nature center and discovered a few more parts of the app challenge. The app had some Augmented Reality games that were easier for my children than for me. The app pointed us down a trail that led to the Wizard of Oz playground. As we approached, we saw the Gale's barn.

Barn playground

Other side of the barn

Toto's doghouse

We played on all sorts of equipment, including a Kansas State Fair balloon, a City of Oz playground, and some musical instruments. Since they were outside, the instruments were mostly bells or chimes.

One way to Oz

In the Oz playground

Climbing out of the city of Oz

Playing music

Playing bells

A small sign explained that in the book, Dorothy's magic shoes were silver. I guess ruby looks better in a film, so the ruby slippers are what everyone remembers. Slides were made of the shoes and of course they were red.

Slipper and slide

Going down the slide

Two wood sculptures represent the witch and the scarecrow.

Wicked Witch of the Watkins

Did the scarecrow lose his head?

We followed the Yellow Brick Road out of the playground and it led us to a carousel. The kids couldn't resist going for a ride.

Riding a pony

Riding on the inside track

My other kids on the carousel

The park's train was out of order, so we didn't get to ride around the park. They do have a mini-golf course but it was too hot for us to commit to eighteen holes.

Railroad crossing

We continued on to the Old Maryland Farm. On the way was a tree that was so easy to climb, I didn't want to stop the kids when they asked to try it out.

Climbing the tree

The farm had a bunch of locations for the app, so we got a few more questions answered.

We saw the sign

The farm was mostly livestock. Displays showed chickens, hogs, goats, horses, and many other animals. We saw one chicken walking around outside the coop, which was surprising. The chicken came toward us, I assume because she thought we had food. My youngest child was super-nervous about a free-range chicken. I kept between him and the bird.

Chickens in their yard

A shy hog


Goats relaxing in the heat

Horses having lunch

Even with all the sites we found, the app still only had 15 of 29 challenges completed. By that point, the heat was too hot and everyone was ready to go home. We did not get a badge for finishing the Agents of Discovery app in the park, but maybe we'll take mommy back to the park to show it off to her and get the other half of the locations completed.