Friday, July 30, 2010

Museum für Naturkunde - In A Berlin Minute (Week 13)

Museum für Naturkunde - In A Berlin Minute (Week 13) 

Das Museum für Naturkunde Berlin... how is your German coming along? That's right, it's the natural history museum of Berlin.

On Sunday, Scott, Judith and I decided to do something different for a change - something that doesn't involve sitting in front of our computers or hanging around a bunch of friends consuming food and drinks. 

Talking of food, Scott and I did kick off the afternoon with lunch at a near-by Subway - our little cure for the homesick blues. Yup, it's exactly the same, except that the soda fountain has no ice so your soda stays super sweet and sticky and warms up throughout your meal. I learned my lesson and got sparkling mineral water this time.

The first hall of the museum impresses with real dinosaur skeletons and very cool 3D animation that brings them to life - a project our new Berlin friend and animator Andreas Rohde was involved in.

After that it just gets creepier and creepier - as you'd expect from the type of place that might have inspired films like Jumanji and Night at the Museum. Granted, it's not as big as the Smithsonian or the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which by the way just unveiled an amazing-sounding iPhone app to be used in the museum.

But the Berlin museum had a parasite section that added an extra special touch. They even had live bed bugs! Eeek!

Stuffed Animal

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New trailers for great TV shows

Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer from "True Blood" at Comic Con

During Comic Con this past weekend, several new trailers were released promoting those wonderful fresh and daring, big budgeted, high production value American cable TV shows that I love so much. You know, those Showtime, HBO and AMC series; the ones that have such outstanding scripts, actors, directing, cinematography and art direction that they seem more like a great 12-hour movie split into 12 episodes than a prime-time TV show; the ones that dare to introduce multi-layered characters, provocative storylines and a fresh perspective.

I probably first got hooked on those kinds of shows by Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under" (family runs funeral home). David Simon's "The Wire" (life and crime in Baltimore) I must have discovered around the same time. I still consider that one to be the best American TV show. My favorite non-American show, btw is BBC's "The Office" (office life in Slough) - created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. 

David Chase's "The Sopranos" (New Jersey mob) had me at times hooked and then bored. Although I'll never forget the intensity of the episode where Adriana (Drea DeMatteo) gets driven to the woods begging not to be shot... and then her scream... And who could forget the episode of "Six Feet Under" when David (Michael C. Hall) gets kidnapped and we are right there with him and never get to escape through a cut to another scene? By the way, I wasn't a fan of "Sex In The City" at all when it came out around the same time that I moved to NYC myself. Those "uptown" ladies (since I was in Brooklyn all of Manhattan felt a little uptown) were way too materialistic and square for my taste. Also I never understood the attraction of Mr. Big.

Then there was "Weeds", "Californication", "Entourage" and of course "Breaking Bad". I have yet to catch up on "Rome", "Deadwood" and "Carnivale". And somewhat in the same vein was "Battlestar Galactica"(even though they did have more episodes per season, some of which were clearly filler episodes). Too bad "Caprica" didn't quite live up to it.

Right now I'm hooked on Alan Ball's "True Blood" (vampires), which is already half-way through the season - so that new trailer is all about the second half of the season.

Matthew Weiner's AMC show "Mad Men" (1960s ad agency) just started again a few days ago and is off to a solid start. The commercial for it is a little lame, but it gets you an idea if you haven't watched the show.

Last but not least, I'm thrilled to know that "Dexter" (serial killer) will continue with a new twist in fall. The last season was full of surprises and didn't feel as formulaic as some shows tend to get after so many season. Although I'm a bit concerned that if the show ends up following one of its usual patterns, officer Quinn might have to die by the end of the season.

And then in less than a year I hope we'll see the return of what turned out to be another outstanding show by David Simon and Eric Overmyer: "Treme" (post-Katrina New Orleans). Below the trailer for the first season.

Monday, July 26, 2010

MusicMonday: Arcade Fire - "Ready To Start"

Another Arcade Fire song? I know. Seems boring, since I already picked them in June. But I didn't get to hear the US single "Ready To Start" until recently. And now I can't stop listening to it.

By the way, the UK single "We Used To Wait" (wonder why/how they chose two different singles for the two markets) is beautiful as well. So I simply cannot wait for the album The Suburbs to come out next week.

This post is my first attempt to embed something from Soundcloud - an online audio distribution platform aimed at musicians being able to share their music, like what Flickr is for photos and Vimeo/YouTube are for video. 

Seems amazing that you can so easily share music that other people have posted. But then I'm suspicious that this embed is not an authorized one and might get pulled by the powers that be. We'll see.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series - Book 3: "Bangkok Haunts" by John Burdett

Bangkok Haunts (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #3) Bangkok Haunts (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #3) by John Burdett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The third book in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series about the non-corrupt Bangkok cop is another fast and enjoyable read. This time the detective, who likes to explain to the presumably Western reader the culture, behavior, philosophy, and spirituality of the Thai people (and some Khmer and Americans while he's at it), is on another personal mission when an ex-girlfriend dies in a snuff film and he gets haunted by her spirit. While the previous books had slight elements of the supernatural (Sonchai can tell who people were in a former life), this book seems to finally cross that line of realism.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"True Blood" Ritual - In A Berlin Minute (Week 12)

Weekly "True Blood" Viewing Ritual. And no, don't worry, there's no actual blood shedding involved.

True Blood Viewing Ritual - In A Berlin Minute (Week 12) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

Even though I don't live in America anymore, of course I still need to watch my shows. On the top of the list right now is HBO's "True Blood" - created by the brilliant Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under").

To be able to watch a show that doesn't air on German television, I had to be a little creative, which in some ways makes the watching experience even more special (although I'd prefer, and recommend for all who can, to tune in to HBO Sunday nights at 9pm and watch it on a big HD TV set).

Elke is here!
Every week, my friend Elke comes over to Kreuzberg and we have salad and pizza at Gorgonzola Club and Vodka Collins delivered from the outstanding Cocktail Bar Würgeengel next door. *

Then we hear the steamy opening credits song "Bad Things" by Jace Everett... and then it's Bill, Sam, Alcide, Jason and, of course: Eric! (And yes, yes, Sookie and all the other kick-ass women, too.)

Purchase the song "Bad Thing" by Jace Everett (briefly featured in this video) on iTunes

Download the "True Blood" font from Windows Tip Club

* Since Scott and I will be moving to Berlin Mitte next week, we'll have to find a new place there. Looking forward to any recommendations.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"every little bit" - Building a Clinic in Belize

In spring 2010, gifted photographer, filmmaker, film school alum and friend Pat McDonnell travelled to Belize to help rebuild a small rural clinic together with a team from MedicForce - a non-profit independent organization that utilizes first aid and medical professionals to provide free first aid training and care to remote communities throughout the world.

Pat created an inspiring and moving short documentary, entitled every little bit, about the rebuilding of the clinic and the dedicated local health care worker, Andreas Che.

The video was part of an effort to bring more attention to the clinic and the work of MedicForce. It's exciting to know that since the release of every little bit, they were able to reach their initial goal of raising $7,000. But I'm sure there is still more work to do, so please donate if you can.

This month Pat returned with MedicForce to Southern Belize, where they added a new roof with solar panels and trained more health care workers! Can't wait to see the new video. In the meantime, here are a few photos he took in Belize.

I'm so proud of Pat and very inspired by his work - both as a humanitarian worker and as a filmmaker who promotes such important causes through his creative abilities. You can check out more of his work on the website for his company Medicinebleu

Monday, July 19, 2010

MusicMonday: The Divine Comedy - "Indie Disco" (+ LCD Soundsystem)

Ah sweet sentimental sounds... wasn't it just like that?

With their song "Indie Disco" the Irish band The Divine Comedy evoke wonderful memories for me of "our regular nights" at Kaiserkeller and Kir in Hamburg and at Visage in Orlando (and never finding anything like that again in Gainesville, Tallahassee, New York or Berlin - probably an age thing more than anything).

I think it's a fitting video as well, with all the right elements (simple, whimsical, geometric, black+white faces, color overlay, lettering, etc.) - except maybe for the dancing girl's outfit (wrong era, but matching the look of some album cover art of the Indie Disco days).

For some reason this song makes me think of a fantastic song from a few years ago: "I'm Losing My Edge" by LCD Soundsystem. Different sentiment - but maybe a progression of sorts.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series - Book 2: "Bangkok Tattoo" by John Burdett

Bangkok Tattoo (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #2) Bangkok Tattoo (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series #2) by John Burdett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book in John Burdett's Bangkok / Sonchai Jitpleecheep series is another page turner. I had enjoyed the first book so much that I dragged myself through whatever was on my reading list next and finally begged my friend to ship me book 2, just so I could drop whatever I was reading at the time and dive back into Sonchai's Bangkok and follow his path as he solves another murder mystery and shares his insights into culture, politics and spirituality in South East Asia. Again I enjoyed the mystery plot, the tone and direct dialogue with the reader, the familiar and the new characters, the world of Thailand's red light district and the other worlds introduced (like the border town to Malaysia and the culture of Japanese tattoos). There is always something to be learned and contemplated, which makes these books feel more like novels with a mystery element than the other way around. A new twist in this book is that a good part of it is about a different character and location (even though it's still recounted by Sonchai): the story of the prostitute Chanya's experience living in the US.

But what really bothered me about this book is that not only everything seems to suddenly fall conveniently into place in the end - but that even though it turns out that Chanya knew all along who the murderer was, Sonchai doesn't seem to mind that fact at all (even though more murders occur and she remains silent). Is that just because he's madly in love with her? And what about the fact that in the first book murder was forgiven because a man was more or less pressured to become a katoey, while in this book Sonchai is all supportive of his partner having a sex change? Maybe all that is part of Thai people not putting much emphasis on Western logic as Sonchai puts it in the first book? In any case, I'm already on to reading book #3: Bangkok Haunted.

One thing that I'm very curious about is who has acquired the rights to the books and when the first movie will come out... Apparently for a while there was the rumor that James McTeigue (who directed the awesome V for Vendetta and was the 1st AD on the Matrix films) was slated to direct the first one. But that was three years ago...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Spree River Boat Tour - In A Berlin Minute (Week 11)

Spree River Boat Tour - In A Berlin Minute (Week 11) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

Boat tour on the Spree river - the fastest, most relaxed and coolest (during this heatwave especially) way to see the historic downtown buildings and the ultra modern government district.

It took me years to see most of the major New York City attractions - admittedly I still haven't made it to the Tenement or the Transportation Museums. But taking the Staten Island Ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island past the Statue of Liberty was one of the first attractions I experienced - and one that I must have done about as often as walking or biking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Just in case I won't spend the next 11 years in Berlin, I'm going to try to see more of this city faster. With my love for the water, it seemed natural that a boat tour on the Spree or Landwehrkanal would be on the top of the Berlin list as well. Now that Scott has finally arrived and my childhood friend Melanie was visiting, we took the opportunity and played tourists for a quick tour on the Spree through Berlin Mitte, the downtown district of former East Berlin. The result of being a full-on tourist standing at the front of the boat watching the majority of the ride through my camera, you can now watch in time lapse: the Berliner Dom, the Fernsehturm, the Museum Insel, the parliament buildings and the Hauptbahnhof.

Berliner Dom

Monday, July 12, 2010

MusicMonday: "Too Darn Hot" Ella Fitzgerald and Erasure

There really is no other musical way to put what is going on here in Germany right now but sharing this Cole Porter song with you: the classic version by the Lady Ella Fitzgerald and the semi-classic and by now also seriously-retro version by Erasure from the first Red, Hot and Blue album.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dutch news report based on "All God's Children" now online

Earlier this week the prime-time news show Netwerk on Dutch TV channel Nederland 2 ran a two-part report based entirely on our documentary All God's Children. Essentially they shortened our documentary by 2/3 and added Dutch subtitles and short voice overs where we had English titles.

Now the two episodes are online giving you the opportunity to watch (and share) a third of our film for free. Of course, we encourage anyone who would like to see the entire film to either download it or order the DVD through Film Baby.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

4th of July - In A Berlin Minute (Week 10)

4th of July in Berlin.

We managed to find all the necessary ingredients that traditionally make up this American National Holiday (alternatively known as Independence Day, America Day and "Annual BBQ at Scott & Luci's in Baltic Park", which unfortunately we couldn't host this year).

Okay, it may have looked a little different in Germany than it does state-side, but it totally worked for me: 4th of July = outdoor fun + heat + family + Americans + food + fireworks

The fabulous band playing at the official International Fifa Fan Fest (during an incredible heat wave) is the Berlin band Von Luft und Liebe. I'm glad to call these fine people my friends and urge you to check out more of their music at

Von Luft und Liebe

The featured song "Pinguin in der Wüste" is available for purchase through iTunes and amazon.

Extra special thanks go to my brother Asterix and his family for taking Scott and me out for ice cream and to Kevin Brown for hosting a wonderful ex-pat 4th of July party, with delicious food and drinks, interesting people and the requisite decorations (which apparently had to be hand-made!).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"All God's Children" on Dutch Television

The prime-time news show Netwerk on the Dutch channel Nederland 2 is airing a two-part report based entirely on our documentary All God's Children. They basically cut our 76-minute documentary down to two short episodes and added a Dutch voice over. After having lived with the material for so long, we consider it quite a challenge to decide what to cut and still make it work. We're very excited to see the shorter version. 

Also we think that this is probably one of the best ways to get the story of the children of Mamou and our documentary out to people. We would love to see other news shows pick up our material in the same fashion and create their own shorter reports out of it. If people want to know more, they can always watch the full film

The Netwerk episodes will air today July 6th and July 8th at 8:25pm (20:25). Unfortunately tonight the first part is up against the Netherlands playing in the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup. But fortunately, on July 8th there is no soccer and after the air-date both parts will be available online in the Netwerk archives.


Added 7/7/10 - The first part can now be watched online HERE. It actually is subtitled, not dubbed and they changed the aspect ratio - so sometimes the image of a head is cropped off. But it's totally amazing to see a Dutch TV host talk about the events of Mamou and see our footage play on a screen behind her. Wow.

Monday, July 5, 2010

MusicMonday: Favorite Songs of 2nd 1/4 of 2010

Time to slim down my list of favorite songs of the last three months so I can make a new mix CD. As usual I had way too many choices. At least a few songs (like "Retrograde" by Jemina Pearl, "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" by Nouvelle Vague and "Hellhole Race" by Girls) could easily be cut from the list because they're from 2009. But then with some bands I just couldn't decide and included several songs.

Let me know...

(The links below are for a video clip or a legal free download when offered.)

I learned the hard way - Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Do-Wah-Doo - Kate Nash

Born Free - M.I.A. 

Over Here - Get 'Em Mamis
(free legal download)

Girls - Marina & The Diamonds
(only streaming song)

Odessa - Caribou 

Soft Skin Remix (feat. Katy Perry) - Get 'Em Mamis
(free legal download)

Dance Floor - The Apples In Stereo
(free legal download)

One Life Stand - Hot Chip 

Crash Years - The New Pornographers 

The Suburbs - Arcade Fire 

Whiskey And Water - Voxtrot
(download - please donate to PEACE)

Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National 

I Feel Bonnie (House Mix) - Hot Chip (Feat. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy)
(only streaming song)
There Is Xxxx (Within My Heart) - You Say Party! We Say Die!
Afraid Of Everyone - The National
(live on WNYC)

let go - jj

Runaway - The National
(Live on Q TV)

Riverside - Agnes Obel
(only streaming song)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World Cup 2010 / Germany vs. England 4:1 - In A Berlin Minute (Week 9)

Watching the FIFA Soccer/Football/Fussball/Fútbol/etc. World Cup in Germany is best done outside. It seems that every bar, cafe, restaurant and public place has a TV or projection screen outside. This means you don't have to miss a match while enjoying the gorgeous European summer. It also means you can't really escape it. Best to embrace it.

This past Saturday, Jessica (visiting from Thailand) and I watched, worried, hollered and jumped around with the masses at the Schulterblatt in Hamburg's Schanzenviertel neighborhood as Germany beat England 4:1 - allowing Germany to move up to the next round where they will now meet Argentina this Saturday.

World Cup 2010 - Germany vs England 4:1 - In A Berlin Minute (Week 09) from Luci Westphal on Vimeo.

It is still strange for me to see a bunch of German flags and other decorations and outfits in the nation's colors. This is not because I've been living in the US for so long, but because up until the 2002 World Cup in Germany, Germans didn't really do that. The shame we carry from the events of the Third Reich still weigh so heavily on most of us that signs of national pride have mostly been considered to be offensive or embarrassing. I'm not sure if the ability to begin embracing the national identity is something that has to do with a generation walking around that has no personal connection anymore with anyone who was alive during the 30s and 40s or if just enough time has passed since the horrors of the WWII.

But I still have mixed feelings about excessive displays of national pride. It's nice to think we don't have to be ashamed of our own country for something that happened several generations ago. Don't all other nations wear their colors with pride? And in Germany it still only seems to happen during the two big soccer tournaments. On the other hand, something about people yelling "Deutschland!" and waving flags makes me feel quite uneasy. Of course, I feel slightly similar when people of other countries show excessive national pride. I prefer to think we're all equal and no country or people are better than any other. Unless we're talking Fussball... because that's where Germany obviously rules!!!