Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Los Angeles Kids Off The Couch: Happy Holidays to All!

Fill your Days from Now until 2012
Ticket Giveaway: Family 4-Pack for OVO on February 15

We've got plenty of "have-fun-with-your-family, counter-program the mall" ideas to get you through to New Year's. And just remember, if the gifting is making you crazy, there is always this time-tested solution to all gifting problems -- at least for the youngest on your list.

Ticket Giveaway: OVO from Cirque du Soleil opens under the big top at the Santa Monica Pier on January 20, 2012. This family show is set in the teeming, buzzing world of insects. We have one Family 4-Pack to OVO for Wednesday, February 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM. If you are able to attend that show you can enter to win by writing to us Can't go that day? Click here to purchase your own Family 4-pack.

Chilly Fun: Take a break from shopping to strap on some ice skates and twirl the year away. Outdoor rinks in Santa Monica and Pershing Square are open through mid-January. The 4th Annual Snow Days will be celebrated at Pasadena's Kidspace Children's Museum during the week after Christmas. Teach your kids how to make a snowman!

What to do with Out-of-Towners? Besides catching up on your Pacific Standard Time options, here are a few shows that are worth catching: Digital Darkroom, just opened at The Annenberg Space for Photography, and if you are any type of shutterbug, you'll be inspired to take your casual snapping to a new level. Sponsored by Adobe Photoshop, Digital Darkroom showcases the finest artists working in this "new medium", displayed in the most advanced digital facility in the world. The whole family will enjoy seeing the variety of the manipulated images - from dogs dressed as people, to incredible athletic portraits, to dream-like flights of the imagination by new artists, young and old. Best of all, it's pretty easy to dash over from the Century City Mall and take a gander. Click here for our detailed review of the show. If it turns out you love Jerry Uelsmann (whose work is featured at Digital Darkroom), you're in luck because he has a show up at Peter Fetterman Gallery in Bergamont Station. We also really enjoyed Modern Antiquity at the Getty Villa (it's free, but call for a parking reservation), that juxtaposes classical busts and sculptural remnants with spectacular modern paintings by Picasso, Leger and others. Open only through January 16, 2012 - so drop by on your way to or from Malibu, where browsing and people-watching at the Lumber Yardwill make anyone from out-of-state green with CA envy.

New Year's Plans: Still looking for a cool way to ring in the New Year? You can help build the Natural History Museum's first-ever Rose Bowl float (some shifts still open!). There's New Year's Eve with Pink Martini at Disney Hall, or The Golden Stag New Year's Eve Party at LACMA, with big band swing and Roaring 20s style. Or, for the kids - celebrate at noon at Kidspace in Pasadena, or at 6:00 PM and 9:30 PM try theSanta Monica Playhouse's Musical Review.

Year-End Giving: A few years ago we decided to start a family tradition of setting aside some money that everyone in the family gives away together to those who most need our help. Here are links to some of our favorite charities, as well as some first-hand knowledge of a program we participated in for the first time. Our son's soccer team adopted a family through the Children's Hospital Holidays from the Heart program, and our teens were touched to meet the patients and their siblings and hand deliver the gifts on their wish lists. If you like to get involved locally, consider helping a soup kitchen (they're all particularly needy this year), picking up a few extra gift cards at Target and sending them to foster kids through a charity we work with(United Friends of the Children), or sending money to support writing and tutoring in under-served neighborhoods through 826LA. If your family decides they want to donate to an environmental cause, look into building wells in Africa withCharity:Water. We are big fans of Heifer International (help a family sustain itself by giving animals - an idea that's easy for kids to grasp) and Operation Gratitude (care-packages for US soldiers overseas, started by our a mom in Encino).

Looking ahead to 2012: For all you super-duper advance planners -- you know who you are -- think about a family show from They Might Be Giants at UCLA Live on January 28, 2012 at 2:00 PM or one of two free World City concerts on January 14, 2012.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Scorsese's First Family Film

Hugo - A Holiday Gift for All!
Our favorite in this season's varied crop of family films is Hugo, director Martin Scorsese's sumptuous 3D adaptation of Brian Selznick's award-winning, best-selling novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret". At first glance, Hugo would seem to hail from Spielberg territory, so it takes until the final reel to understand why Scorsese chose to helm this captivating PG film. The film opens with an extended tracking shot that flies over the roofs of Paris and swoops down through a busy train station, signaling the technical proficiency of the celebrated director, and drawing the audience dramatically into the life of an intrepid child living between the walls of the Gare Montmartre. Hugo, orphaned after the death of his clockmaker father, has taken over for a drunken uncle, whose job it was to maintain all the clocks in the busy station; not even the nosy Station Master (a curious turn by Sasha Baron Cohen) knows a child is the one keeping the trains running on time.

Hugo spends his extra time repairing an automaton figure that his father was working on at the time of his death, but one day, while swiping the workings of a toy mouse from a toy shop, he is caught red-handed by the shop keeper, a brilliant and enigmatic Ben Kingsley. Kingsley finds the tattered notebook that Hugo's father used to fathom the mystery of the automaton and a flash of recognition is borne. Hugo's quest to unlock the mystery of his automaton leads him to unravel the mystery of the shopkeeper's true identity.

Hugo is a loner, watching the world go by from the safety of his Hunchback-like perch above the train station. Much has been made of Scorsese working through his childhood demons in this story (as an asthmatic, he spent time isolated from other children) and in the end this is a very personal story that is pitched at the broadest possible audience. Everyone over seven will be caught up in it's elegant storytelling. Visually, the film is stunning - from the incredible sets which are augmented by 3D technology, lending a story book moodiness that lets us know we are in the netherworld of make-believe and magic. Scorsese turns the station into a rollicking maze of wheels, slides and hidden compartments. While full of kinetic energy, the story unravels at an unhurried pace true to Selnick's inspired book - a must-read for anyone who wants to pore over the simplicity of the original narrative - a novel told for the most part in line drawings.

Hugo's companion in the tale is Isabelle, a plucky girl whose advanced vocabulary and sense of adventure spur Hugo on in his journey. Hugo sneaks her into a movie theater where they watch Harold Lloyd dangling on the clock in Safety Last and Charlie Chaplin riding a train gear in The General -- Scorsese's nod to two lions in the panoply of silent film greats. Grounded by the silent stars, Scorsese reveals Kingsley's character to be a real figure from cinema history, and the loving attention focused on a recreation of the creative genius of George Méliès explains why Scorsese (whose passion is film preservation) chose to bring this story to life. In flashback, Kingsley plays the spirited writer-director-producer-actor at the height of his renown. It's hard not to be struck by Méliès' creative genius, and heart-breaking to see how desperate he has become by the time Hugo meets him.

And this is where Hugo's ability to put things back together comes into play. The boy's simple insight is that when people lose their purpose, they become broken. In putting the automaton back together, he fixes his friend Méliès, and he fixes himself. We promise you'll leave the theater a bit more in touch with your dreams -- for that is what cinema represents in this parable.

Click here to read our Popcorn Adventure about "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and Méliès' A Trip to the Moon. We also love Brian Selznick's latest book, "Wonderstruck".
Next week, we'll take a look at Spielberg's holiday gifts -- The Adventures of TinTinand War Horse.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Los Angeles Kids Off The Couch: What's On Our December Radar!

'Tis the season to lift our voices in song... or at least to hum along as professional singers ring out the music of the season. We love that in our diverse city we can enjoy the holiday classics in multiple ways - we can sing along with the Messiah, or listen to the LA Master Chorale do it perfectly. We can watch the Joffrey Ballet dance the Nutcracker, and can also see local kids offer up their rendition at theWestside Ballet Company. We never miss the chance to revisit classics like A Christmas Carol but also like to learn seasonal traditions from other cultures.

Ticket Giveaway: Kids Off the Couch subscribers may enter to win one pair of tickets to the LA Phil's 11:30 AM Holiday Sing-A-Long event on Saturday, December 17th. Tickets are still available for both shows on Saturday, December 17 (11:30 AM & 2:30 PM at Walt Disney Concert Hall), so bring the whole family to celebrate a cherished holiday tradition. Lyric sheets provided to all. Enter to win by writing to us Tickets are available to all the 2011 Deck the Hall concerts so check out the many ways you can get your fill of music this month.

Movie Update: Apparently families spent more of their Thanksgiving together time shopping than film-going -- a trend which could explain why two of our local theaters are shutting down this month (the Crest and the Avco, both in Westwood). The truth is that there is a surfeit of entertaining family movies in the theaters between now and the end of the year. The Muppets are thriving, Puss in Boots 3D is still lapping up box office receipts, and Hugowhich arrived with critical acclaim, gets our Must-See award for the holiday season... at least until Spielberg's two holiday gifts arrive in late December: The Adventures of TinTin andWar Horse. (Hugo, based on the wonderful book, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" is directed by Martin Scorsese and we thought it was truly magical).

Elementary: Another wonderful World City event takes place on December 3 at the Music Center. Kitka & Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre features an all-female singing group accompanying a marionette show performing stories and skits handed down from the puppeteer's Czech grandfather. Performances take place on Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 11:00 AM and 12:30 PM. FREE tickets are distributed on Grand Avenue at 2nd Street. Tickets for the 11:00 AM performance are distributed beginning at 10:00 AM. Tickets for the 12:30 PM show are distributed beginning at 11:00 AM. FREE Art Workshops are available during each World City engagement.

Middle School: A nice thing to do while in-laws are in town is to head on up the coast to the Getty Villa and take in Modern Antiquity: Picasso, de Chirico, Leger and Picabia in the Presence of the Antique - which examines how the artists looked to ancient sculpture to inspire their work. The show will be in town only until mid-January when it travels to the Picasso museum in Antibes, France. And, while you're at the Villa, grandma will adore Tea by the Sea. Get ready for the holidays by purchasing a boxed set of Harry Potter DVDs -- the studio is pulling all of the movies off the shelf at the end of 2011 and will then plan limited releases of the titles (as Disney does with its classic titles).

Teen: Reading a little Shakespeare at school? Let actors help with your homework by heading out to A Noise Within's Twelfth Night, or What You Will from now until mid-December at the company's exciting new stage in Pasadena. And find some cool gifts for your teens by shopping (RED), Bono's line of products that helps fight the spread of AIDS (today is World AIDS Day).

Adults: Possibly the coolest film title sequences of all time were created by Saul Bass -- you know him from the opening credits of countless Hitchcock movies. Come learn more at a lecture titled Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design at the Hammer on Tuesday, December 13, and meet the author of a beautiful new book about his life's work (this book is at the top of our holiday gift list!). Annette Bening and friends will do two readings of It's A Wonderful Life! at the Geffen Theater on December 10.

Ready-Set-Shop: Unique LA will be held December 3-4 downtown at the California Market Center, where you can get hand-made, original gifts for everyone on your list. Kids under 12 get in FREE. The Craft and Folk Art Museum holds a boutique this Saturday, as well, from 10-4. If you haven't gotten your holiday card yet, check out our new fave design shop, Pinhole Press. Also, the gals at Cool Mom Picks put out their 2011 Holiday Gift Guide today and it rocks. Did you know Lego had an Architectural series??

Looking Ahead: Pick up tickets to a family show by They Might Be Giants at UCLA Live on January 28 at Royce Hall. Teens might be into a traveling show from the Discovery series, Mythbusters, coming to town on January 15.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Los Angeles Teenagers OFF the Couch: Women Hold Up Half the Sky Open Now at the Skirball Cultural Center

It's not easy to explain, or even understand, why bad things happen in the world, but a new show at the Skirball Cultural Center goes a long way towards helping families turn their outrage into action. Women Hold Up Half the Sky, in town through March 2012, was inspired by a book that proclaims the worldwide oppression of women and girls as the central moral issue of our time. Pulitzer Prize winning authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn also believe that "the best way to fight poverty and extremism is to educate and empower women and girls." Kristof and WuDunn, the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize together, worked with the Skirball's curators on this landmark exhibit not only to heighten awareness of these issues, but also to spur visitors to action. 

Inside Women Hold Up Half the Sky, we wove around sail-like walled spaces, and learned about inspiring women who are fighting for the rights of abused women around the world. Then we spent a few moments inscribing wishes on blue wing-shaped paper. The wishes, addressed to a woman facing a difficult situation, will be tucked inside a plastic sleeve in an elegant Wish Canopy that hangs over the exhibit space. Our wishes, along with those of countless other visitors that will flock to see Women Hold Up Half the Sky,will turn the Wish Canopy "sky" from white to blue!

The metaphor, of course, is that a simple act can help a woman change her circumstances. We learned how CARE put locked boxes in an African village, allowing a woman to save a few dimes and start a thriving potato farming business. We learned how a Pakistani woman received a micro loan and began an embroidery business that freed her from an abusive relationship and now employs thirty other families. We were inspired to take simple actions for change, from sending postcards to our Senators, to picking up a bookmark with instructions on how to interact with specific charities, to shopping at a wonderful pop-up shop with handicrafts from women's cooperatives around the globe. We particularly loved an iPad station where we could make a micro loan with a dollar that comes with our exhibition ticket -- a direct way to prove the point that what might be pocket change to one family could change the lives of another. When we got home, we received an email that the dollar had been sent to a 36-year old woman from Kenya who runs a clothing shop to support her family.

Who Should Go: We think the show is an important one for young adults who are ready to tackle injustice, but we know it will be tricky to convince kids who aren't naturally inclined towards tough subject matter to come to the gallery. (The subject matter of abuse is not appropriate for elementary or middle-school aged children -- human trafficking and genital mutilation are just some of the horrors faced by women around the globe). You can tell the kids that Angelina Jolie and George Clooney use the power of their celebrity to support causes such as these, or suggest the show as a field trip for a school community service group; in fact, just watching The Girl Effectvideo (listed below) may be inspiration enough to get your kids through the door. Once on site, parents will appreciate that their kids will feel empowered to take action, whether by assembling a care package or gardening kit, sponsoring a woman in a war torn nation, donating food at a local women's center, or learning more about sexual slavery here in LA. One tidbit we gleaned from Kristof is his excitement for how college grads leap into action on issues such as the ones raised in the exhibit - they are notably more sanguine about the ability to address global issues than older generations, so bring your college kids over their holiday break.

Read and Discuss: Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who wrote Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Knopf, 2009) with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn. The book is a great choice for an adult book group. To learn more, click here to visit the Half the Sky Movement webpage.

Don't Miss: A fabulous pop-up store features items produced by female artisans and women's cooperatives from around the world. Each is tagged with a story, and we particularly loved the beaded animals and a spectacular necklace made from bullet casings. Shop for the holidays with a clear conscience! The shop can also be found online next week on the Skirball website.

Doing: During the holiday season, we make donations to charitable organizations. Why not help your kids get in this habit by giving them a small amount of money (as little as $25) to make a micro-loan to someone in another country? Check out and let your children choose a project they'd like to fund. Once the loan is paid back, your family can choose another project to fund. We've found that a one-on-one approach makes giving tangible to kids. Other interesting approaches include Women for Women International, whose founder Zainab Salbi is featured in Women Hold Up Half the Sky, and whose model is for donors to become pen-pals with a woman in a war torn country.

One More Thing: Check out this clever campaign from The Girl Effect, a charitable wing of Nike, about how changing one girl's life can change the world.
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Monday, October 24, 2011

Los Angeles Halloween Radar Screen - Part 2!

A Few More Scares!
Endangered Animals, Ed Keinholz Tableau and Teen Drivers
We're back with a few more seasonal tidbits, and an update on our latest ticket offer (see below). In thinking ahead to our trick-or-treat plans, we were wondering when Daylight Savings Time kicks in; turns out it's not until Sunday, November 6. If you're nervous about having the kids roam around on their own in the dark, check out an article in today's Los Angeles Times about tracking your kids on Halloween. Yes, there's an app for that! Though we're not sure how we feel about it...

Tots and Elementary: There's absolutely nothing frightening about the new carousel that opens at the LA Zoo on October 27, except for the fact that instead of horses, children will ride around on animals that are endangered. The carousel, which includes a komodo dragon, a poison dart frog, a Sumatran tiger and a dung beetle chariot, and includes beautiful murals of endangered California flora and fauna, is created by exceptional craftspeople and your $3 fee goes toward Zoo programming to protect many of these endangered species. Parents will enjoy that the carousel spins to music from recording artists from the A&M label (such as the Police, Go-Go's, Cat Stevens, Amy Grant, Janet Jackson, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass) which was co-founded by Jerry Moss with Alpert. Moss and his wife Ann have given generously to bring theTom Mankiewicz Conservation Carousel to life.

Middle School: Take a tram ride up to the Getty Center this Saturday, October 22 for a day-long Pacific Standard Time Family Festival. Enjoy musical performances, workshops with local artists in the traditions of the celebrated PST artists (like poster-making, mail art, guerrilla clothing), and take in the new PST show, Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture: 1950-1970, with monumental sculpture by De Wain Valentine and a room of large-scale paintings by Ed Ruscha, Richard Deibenkorn and David Hockney. We thought this show was satisfying in a big way.

 Our son turns 16 on Halloween, and the scariest thing we're doing this fall is anticipating the moment when he will drive off alone. It's National Teen Driver Safety Week, and here is a powerful article about the odds your kids will have an accident in the first month or two of driving. New technical developments to keep them from texting behind the wheel are encouraging, like the new iPhone's SIRI virtual assistant and Ford putting a device in cars that can read text messages. But to stave off trouble, we enrolled both our kids in Jim Snelling's driving course at the Toyota Speedway. Although it's not cheap, Snelling gives a crash course is safety (the kids get to spin out in soapy water and learn to control the skid). It's exciting stuff, but Snelling tempers the action with sobering messages about safety. Click here for more information about Advanced Driving Dynamics.

 You'll have to have a strong stomach to visit Five Car Stud 1969-1972, Revisited, an arresting diorama that has been hidden from the public for 40 years, and is on display in the US for the first time at LACMA. Edward Keinholz's graphic and violently upsetting tableau takes up an entire gallery and makes a powerful statement about civil rights in this country.

Ticket Giveaway: In Tuesday's ticket offer for Bring It On: The Musical, we were mistaken about the dates - the new musical is going to be in town for SIX weeks not TWO, giving families a larger window to catch the show that explores the competitive, high-stakes world of high-school cheer squads. At the Ahmanson Theater from October 30-December 10. Tickets are still available online and by calling 213/972-4400. For special ticket pricing to shows in the first two weeks call the box office and mention code GAME or click here. Exclusions apply. We're giving away one Family 4-pack to Kids off the Couch readers (and will choose a winner next week, so there's still time to enter by writing 

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Los Angeles Kids Off the Couch: Halloween Delights and Frights!

From Old-Fashioned Fun to Techno Frights
Ticket Giveaway for Bring It On: The Musical
Our message for Halloween is that less is more. It's our nod to a simpler time, before the holiday got so ramped up by retailers (just when did those Halloween stores start popping up around town, August!?). We like to stretch out the homier, harvest-oriented traditions of the holiday: roasting pumpkin seeds, decorating cookies, bobbing for apples... you get the idea. It's not that we don't love candy and trick-or-treating, but the lead up to the big night (which this year falls on a Monday) can be just as delicious. 

Ticket Giveaway:
 If your teens were glued to the screen for the high stakes world of competitive cheer-leading in the film Bring It On, you'll want to book tickets for the brief run of Bring It On: The Musical, lifting off from the Ahmanson Theater stage from October 30-November 10.Tickets are still available online and by calling 213/972-4400. Kids Off the Couch subscribers are eligible for a Family 4-Pack ticket giveaway to the 8:30 PM show on Friday, November 4. Write to us at and please include your cell number. 

Elegant Creepiness!
 The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles is the place to be this month for cool, spidery programming: flashlight tours of the Spider Pavilion (October 22 and 28 from 5:00 - 8:30 PM), a Halloween Festival (trick-or-treat in the museum on October 30), and a Haunted Museum costume ball for the whole family on October 23. LACMA celebrates the final days of the Tim Burton Show by staying open all night on Sunday, October 30 and until midnight on Halloween, and hosting all manner of family-friendly activities throughout the blockbuster's closing weekend. Tickets are required for entry to the exhibit.

 Even if they're not quite ready for Edward Scissorhands, younger kids can participate in LACMA's Andell Family Sundays "Tim Burton: What a Character!" on Saturday, October 23 from 12:30 - 3:30 PM. Fall is the ideal time of year to visit Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena - both for its wonderful Pumpkin Festival over the weekend of October 23-24 and for the Halloween Pumpkin Hunt on Sunday, October 30. Magic lovers should drop by and meet some roving magicians at theSkirball Cultural Center for Spellbinding Sundays, between 12:00 - 2:00 PM. If your youngest are itching for more than just a trip to the pumpkin patch, check out Santa Monica Playhouse's A Halloween Hullabaloo between October 22-30.

 Forneris Farms Harvest Fest is perfect for an old-fashioned outing, offering pumpkin hunting, train and pony rides, and a friendly (as in not haunted) corn maze. Click here for our Popcorn Adventure about visiting Forneris Farms, which we paired with the Halloween classic, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Celebrate the Day of the Dead at a FREE Kids in the Courtyard event at the Fowler on Sunday, October 23 from 1:00 - 4:00 PM.

Middle School: We love the Halloween Harvest Festival at Pierce College (Winetka and Victory in the Valley), which this year added a corn maze and sells produce grown by students. World City at the Music Center has three FREE concerts on the roof of the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday, October 22. Click here for information about show times and ticketing, and for more details on the performances, which tie in neatly with the Day of the Dead celebrations this month. For an unusual art tour atThe Getty, check out Demons, Angels, and Monsters: The Supernatural in Art.Created by kids for kids, the audio tour features imaginative children sharing their impressions of fantastical art that reveals how past cultures have viewed the supernatural, and how belief in such creatures influenced everyday life. All audio tours are FREE at The Getty until February, and are available at the main audio-tour kiosk in the lobby.

 The Los Angeles Haunted Hayride is underway on the grounds of the Zoo, but don't confuse it with a bucolic ride in the country - it's definitely not for kids under ten! The theme parks also produce rabid shock-fests for kids over 13 -- Knotts' Scary Farm and Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. With loads of add-ons available, the price tag for these adventures climbs steeply, so be sure your teens know the ticket price is as scary as the ghouls and zombies. For a milder price and scare-level, take inThe Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D at the El Capitan with special effects (fog, wind and snow).

Adults: For an elegant date, try the fabulous Walking Tours of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, hosted by Karie Bible. And, set your DVRs for a new series on PBS calledWomen, War and Peace with stories of bravery and barbarism that will stop your heart from beating. Tune in for tonight's (Oct 18) segment Pray the Devil Back to Hell, featuring one of this year's three Nobel Prize for Peace winners Leymah Gbowee, in the story of how the women of Liberia bound together to fight for peace in a country divided between warlords and the despot Charles Taylor. 

About Scary Movies:
 It's tempting to show kids really scary movies at this time of year, but keep in mind that frightening images can sear into their minds at an early age. KOTC has covered many fun Halloween flicks - from Kiki's Delivery Service toGhostbusters. To help gauge the right level of fright for your kids, check out theseScary Movie Tips from our friends at Common Sense Media.

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