October 22, 2020

“The Social Dilemma” – A Must-See Doc on Netflix

Two different people urged me to catch “The Social Dilemma,” an informative and frightening documentary on Netflix. Following their advice, I spent around 90 minutes watching social media insiders warn about the pernicious effects of our electronic devices.

High-level executives from Instagram, Google, Pinterest and other tech companies seemed almost apologetic that they have helped unleash this beast that consumes our time and our brains.

Dramatic scenes are interspersed with talking head confessions. We are told that Silicon Valley moguls discourage their own children from using the apps and hardware from which they derive profit. FaceBook and ilk are highly addictive and encourage people to become myopic in their view of the world. You are only shown material which coincides with what you have already viewed. This selective sharing of information partially explains why we are so divided in our view of truth and governmental policy.

I can’t say this film will be a fun ride, but you will certainly be better informed after catching “The Social Dilemma.” If you feel similarly enlightened after viewing the doc, please spread the word. This might be essential to watch before the election.

“My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix

Who would have thought a documentary about a man who befriends an octopus could be riveting and emotionally engaging? Certainly not me, until viewing “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix.

While the doc stars Craig Foster who produced the film, the project was directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed with underwater cinematography by Roger Horrocks. The footage was filmed for almost a year, but it actually took ten years for the project to come to fruition.

The result is an amazing look at a kelp forest off the shore of South Africa. Craig Foster dives daily for 300 days without a wetsuit or oxygen tank in this beautiful underwater enclave, observing co-operative and predatory behavior in nature. We see gorgeous-colored plants and creatures as they go about their daily life.

A female octopus Foster encounters literally reaches out to him in heartwarming scenes of human-animal contact. There are scenes of chase, danger and drama, plus a little octopus romance resulting in procreation.

While the spine of the film is the friendship between man and octopus, we watch as Foster becomes a happier human. He improves his relationship with his son who also becomes enamored with this underwater world. The son actually discovers a little octopus which may be the offspring of our female star, bringing the story full circle.

The octopus has indeed been the teacher of this filmmaker needing a reboot. Have a Kleenex box handy.

Newman’s Own Cauliflower Gluten-Free Pizza

I have tried to walk the gluten-free path for a while now so I was thrilled to see that Newman’s Own (started by actor/philanthropist/car-racer Paul Newman) has come up with a Thin & Crispy Cheese pizza featuring a cauliflower crust that tastes delicious. Wheat and gluten have been supplanted with white rice, brown rice flour, tapioca and corn starches, plus cauliflower and cheese.

The crust hits a good balance of crispiness around the edges and gooey goodness in the center.

I bought the Margherita version with tomatoes, herbs and cheese and then added more vegetables. Whole Foods and Mariano’s are listed as Chicago purveyors of this specialty product. For now, one can buy the cauliflower crust pizza with either plain cheese or a Margherita version.

At the Newman’s Own web site, the company proudly notes they have donated over $550 million since 1982. What a wonderful legacy for a man who was not only a superlative actor, but a humanitarian as well.

Please note that milk, egg and parmesan cheese are ingredients in Newman’s Own Thin & Crispy Cheese Pizza, so this is not a product for vegans. Well, ya’ just can’t please everybody, can ya’?


Riverview Bridge on the Chicago River

I just explored another chunk of the North Branch of the Chicago River from Belmont to Montrose, on Riverview Bridge which is the city’s longest bike/pedestrian span at 1,000 feet long. Debuting in November 2019, the Riverview Bridge is named after the storied amusement park that used to be at Belmont and Western avenues.

The curving modern bridge is 16-feet wide and 18-feet above the river affording great vistas of water and foliage. In temperate weather, canoes, speed boats, pontoons and kayaks can be intermittently seen from the bridge. Serendipity put me there while two female rowing crews were gliding upriver. (A very brief video clip is included.)

You can access the bridge from Clark Park or California Park on either end, but I recently found it easy to park at the McFetridge Sports Center lot and enter the span from California Park.

Clark Park, 3400 N. Rockwell St.

California Park (McFetridge Sports Center),
3843 N. California Ave.

“Unorthodox” on Netflix

One of the most remarkable shows I have seen on Netflix is “Unorthodox,” a four-episode dramatic series about a young Orthodox Jewish woman’s journey from her strict Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Berlin.

The show, based on a memoir by Deborah Feldman, is Netflix’s first show shot primarily in Yiddish and faithfully depicts the customs and rituals of conservative Jews living in a borough of NYC.

Actress Shira Haas soulfully plays Esty, the young woman searching for her place in the world. Moving from the U.S. to Berlin, she examines her traditional upbringing as she transitions to different hair styles and Western clothing, along with making multi-cultural friendships and pursuing her dream of making music in public.

The German director of “Unorthodox,” Maria Shrader, won an Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, and rightfully so.

I highly recommend watching the 21-minute film, “Making Unorthodox,” after you finish all four series episodes. Insight into the costumes, actor and advisor comments, plus interviews with author Feldman, director Shrader and creator Anna Winger is most enlightening. Hob anoe! (For us non-Yiddish speakers, that’s “Enjoy!”)

“The American Barbecue Showdown” on Netflix

I thought it might be sacrilege to write about a Netflix barbecue show and “Unorthodox” in the same post. Pork is definitely grilled and eaten on “The American Barbecue Showdown;” meat and dairy are mixed without compunction.

In a format similar to “Top Chef” or many of the other cooking competition shows, “The American Barbecue Showdown” pits contestants against one another in cooking meat, fish and vegetables. They are also tasked with cooking complementary side dishes and designing menus that highlight specific ingredients.

The competitors are sometimes endearing men and woman of different cultural backgrounds and ages who speak with colorful accents and vocabulary. (I myself was rooting for the grandmotherly African-American woman to win the competition.)

If I wanted to torture my vegan brother-in-law, I would tie him down and make him watch this show. For the rest of us, “The American Barbecue Showdown” is a fun casual viewing experience after a day of wrestling with electronica. Let’s get back to pre-historic basics: fire, meat and gathering together for a meal.

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” – Julia Child