giving thanks

We have started a bit of a bedtime tradition in our house.  After stories and before prayers, I ask Wee Man what he is thankful for today. It is always either his toy garage or his train signal box. I was looking for something a little deeper, but no matter.

Thanksgiving is my favourite ‘American-only’ holiday. I’m going to adopt it wherever we end up living. Maybe it’s because I feel no pressure to cook anything, or that my mum doesn’t expect us to travel somewhere for the day, or just the brilliant food. But I also love it because the idea of giving thanks is such a good one to celebrate. I don’t have much of a stake in 4th July. Halloween – don’t get me started. The walking dead? It is taken too far here and it is not little people friendly.Valentines day? Commercialised saccharine. But thankfulness? That’s a holiday I can get behind.

So our apartment complex ran a competition to write a 100 things that we’re grateful for, in the following categories. So here’s mine. Give it a go, it’s a great exercise for today. And mind, these  are things that I am personally grateful for, so they aren’t necessarily the best!

10 physical things (I didn’t know what this meant, but hey hum)

gravity – photosynthesis – colour – dancing – kisses – listening to the rain when you’re snuggled in bed – babies falling over comically – the Force (pre-prequels, pre Disney) – swirls/round things – laughing

1o material things (I took this literally)

velvet – cotton – silk – mashed potato – smooth wood – pretty shoes – cashmere – warm blankets – wellington boots – jelly (jello)

10 living people (I found it really hard to find famous people today that I respected, so most of these are personal and included groups…)

My husband – my children – my family – my friends – Aung San Suu Kyi – Ruth Ghent (a missionary in Japan) – Michelle Obama – Bono (I know, but I like his music and his work on poverty – Jamie Oliver (UK chef and healthy school dinner advocate) – Jessica Ennis (UK Olympian)

10 deceased people

Queen Elizabeth I – Albert Einstein – Rosa Parks – Florence Nightingale (nice name) – Queen Victoria – Virginia Wolf – Eleanor Roosevelt – King David – John Lennon (we share the same name!) – Robert the Bruce (the good one)

10 things about today

Being able to travel quickly -women’s votes – contraception – the middle class – free healthcare and education (Scotland) – films – moisturiser – contact lenses – disposable nappies/diapers – availability of many types of food

10 things about nature

the sea – trees – mountains – autumn leaves – lavender – monkeys – giraffes – hot springs – fresh snow – sunshine

10 places

Scotland (all of it) – Lake Como, Italy – Kobe, Japan – Scarborough, UK – Low Fell, UK – White Rock Lake, Dallas – Colorado Rockies – Seville, Spain –     Northern Ireland – the moon (gotta love those tides)

10 modern inventions (it doesn’t say how modern)

the internet (skype) – washing machines – flushing toilets – the car – music on the go – planes – electric kettle (for tea) – TV – wind turbines – air conditioning (for Texas summers)

10 foods (this was by far the easiest for me)

sushi/sashimi – chips (fries) any potato, but this is the best – real bacon (sorry America  – you just don’t’ have it) – anything made by my mum – poached egg on toast with a cuppa tea – sausage, beans and mash – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – medium rare sirloin steak – chocolate mousse with cream – salt and vinegar crisps. My mouth is watering.

10 spiritual things

grace – forgiveness – salvation – heaven – mercy – sanctification – compassion – blessing – understanding – hope

Killing Them Softly – with bullets, though, not songs

It’s the perfect crime, isn’t it? Knock off the game run by the guy who everyone knows already knocked off his own game once before. Any dumb monkey could do it.

That is the basic premise of this post-millennium gangster flick. With an all-star cast headed up by Brad Pitt, along with James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Richard Jenkins (Burn After ReadingThe Visitor) and Ray Liotta. But Goodfellas this is not. Gone are the ‘Families’ and ‘Made Men’ of the Mob epics of yesteryear and so is the epic running time, Killing is a mere 97 minutes, but it is time well used and well spent, and who wants to sit through 2 and a half hours anyway.

The game in question, is a mob-protected poker game run by Markie Trattman (Liotta) and the ‘monkeys’ are recent parolee Frankie (Scoot McNairy, MonstersArgo) and permanently wasted puppy pincher, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, AustraliaThe Dark Knight Rises). The mob, understandably pissed at having their game ripped off, again, needs the mess cleaned up so they can reopen the games. Enter Jackie Cogan (Pitt), the mob enforcer entrusted with the delicate job of finding and removing those responsible.

This hour and a half or so is spent in the company of some varied, well constructed and well portrayed characters set against a backdrop of a rain soaked post-Katrina New Orleans, the growing economic crisis and the final days of the Bush administration. From Pitt’s jaded, cynical but well understated Jackie, to Gandolfini’s over-the-hill, washed-up hit-man, Mickey to McNairy’s in-over-his-head Frankie, Killing Them Softly is as much a study of this diverse collection of characters as it is about the unfolding of Pitt’s cleaning job, which punctuates the film with moments of violence as varied in their cinematic execution as the characters involved.

A bare-knuckle beating which forces the viewer into the position of the victim. A slow motion CGI ‘dance’ of bullets through brains. A there-one-instant-gone-the-next execution. While these moments are well executed (sorry for the pun), I’m not sure that this variety of visual style is particularly necessary given the substance of the interpersonal stories being played out around them and some even feel a little like gratuitous showing off. Cinematically, outside of these performance pieces, the rest of the movie is fairly standard fare, but it doesn’t need to be anything else.

And then, flowing just below the surface is the not so subtle allegory suggesting the mob is no different to Corporate America and even the government. The regular snippets from both Presidents Bush and Obama (then still a Senator) on the state of the nation and the economic climate, heard on radios and TVs throughout the film. These start as seemingly incidental background noise, gradually increasing in prominence until becoming virtually the centerpiece of the final scene between Jackie and Jenkins’s mob liaison  Driver, punctuated with Pitt’s closing line, “America isn’t a country, it’s a business. Now pay me my money!”. Liberal Hollywood ‘having a go’ at the Rupublican right-wingers? Maybe, the original book, George V. Higgins’s Cogan’s Trade, was written in 1974, so I’m not sure if this particular subtext has come from there. At least not in the same specifics.

In summary; Killing Them Softly is an enjoyable, albeit violent, watch with solid performances from a great cast. It’s not your average mob flick but I think it will still appeal to fans of such. Hardcore Republicans may find some cause for offence, though.

Killing Them Softly will be in (US) theaters, November 30th. Sorry, UK readers, I think it has already been and gone.

Please vote America!

I don’t believe that someone else should tell you how to vote, but I do believe that even though our modern democracies can often be corrupt, with power-hungry people who probably shouldn’t be there, we should never stop trying to make it better. It’s also the best we can come up with and many people have died to get it to us.

So please vote America! As someone who can’t, I would hate to see a vote wasted when I could have it!

(clue: go for the one that isn’t an item of clothing ;-))