Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Music Love: "The Night We Met" by Lord Huron



I'm not going to post much about this song. I love the vocals. I love the lyrics:

I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I've been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met

And then I can tell myself
What the hell I'm supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met

When the night was full of terrors
And your eyes were filled with tears
When you had not touched me yet
Oh, take me back to the night we met

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you
Take me back to the night we met

But most of all, I love how sad and beautiful it is.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #50 - Julia Roberts: "Erin Brockovich" (2000)

Movie Stats:
Released 2000 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Steven Soderbergh
Stars - Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story. When low income single mother Erin Brockovich (Roberts) muscles her way into a job at a law firm, she uncovers serious wrongdoing by an energy company. Finney co-stars as Brockovich’s boss, Ed Masry, and Eckhart as George, Brockovich’s love interest.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s a little boring. There aren’t any big thrills in it.

Brockovich isn’t exactly likable as a character. She can be very defensive and aggressive. While I appreciated that she’s complex, it’s still off-putting.

Good Stuff:
[SPOILER-y]
I like a good little-guy-takes-on-big-guy-and-wins story, especially one based in reality.
[SPOILER]

I really appreciated how it tackled class issues. It’s not just about how the billion dollar energy conglomerate treats, and tries to treat, the people of a poor community. It’s also about how middle class people view and treat Erin, who is lower class.

It does a good job of portraying a story that is both infuriating and depressing without trying to tug at your heart strings.

About the Performance:
Julia Roberts is one of those actors that I can only ever see as herself. While, by the end of the film, I came to admire Erin Brockovich as a person, it didn’t change how I feel about Julia Roberts as an actress. I didn’t see Erin Brockovich in her performance. It was like, “Oh, there’s Julia Roberts dressed trashy. There she is acting angry.” I’m not saying she’s bad, but I don’t consider her an all-time great. Did she deserve a Best Actress award for this? I’m not sure. I’ve only seen one of the other performances nominated that year (Juliette Binoche in Chocolat). I don’t think Binoche deserved it, but maybe one of the others did.

Other performances of Roberts’s that I’ve reviewed: none.

The Verdict:
There’s a lot to like about this film. It’s a great story. It has complex characters. It doesn’t try to manipulate your emotions. While I may not be sold on Roberts’s performance, I like that she won for a role in a film that’s about a woman as a person, not about a woman in relation to a man. The relationship in the film definitely isn’t the main focus. It’s about Brockovich’s dedication and determination, and about how her work affects the rest of her life. It’s not the most thrilling movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s really solid.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Top 50 Actresses Project: Overview

By the end of my last project (Sci Fi Top 100), I found myself extremely annoyed by the genre’s lack of important female characters. I thought to myself, “For my next project, it sure would be nice to watch a bunch of movies with strong female leads.” So I started hunting for a list of such movies. Unfortunately, I found that, on most of these lists, the main female character was either the romantic interest or the villain, which isn't exactly what I have in mind when I think "strong female lead." Super frustrating.

Still, I persisted, and in the end, I decided to go with a Top 50 Actresses list. I culled this list from AMC. They provided the list of actresses, but I’m the one who chose the movie to watch for each actress. Therefore, while I still ran up against the “most female lead characters are romantic interests” problem, I was able to include quite a few movies where this was not the case. Since this list is voted on by the public, it appears that it can change over time. To avoid confusion, below I’m posting the list as it stood when I copied it down, along with the movies I chose.

A few notes about this project:

My main concern was that I wanted to make sure none of these films were movies that I previously reviewed, an issue I ran up against during both the AFI Top 100 and the Sci Fi Top 100.

So my general rule was that, if the actress won a Best Actress (not Best Supporting) Academy Award for a role, that is the movie I chose to review unless I previously reviewed it. If she won more than one, I chose which of those movies to review based on personal preference.

If I already reviewed one or all of her Award-winning performances OR if she hasn’t won a Best Actress Academy Award, then I looked at her acting credits and chose one of her movies to review. My choices were largely based on IMDB ratings (typically I chose something in the 7s or higher), coupled with my interest in the film based on its description. I avoided movies from the 1970s as much as possible. I've discovered that I'm not a big fan of 1970s film making.

Very occasionally, I have vetoed an Award-winning film simply because I don’t want to watch it. After watching lots of films I had little to no interest in, I wanted to give myself a little leeway. Also, the list is subject to change. Some of these films are surprisingly difficult to get one’s hands on, despite the fact that I have access to an astounding number of ways to see films.

Since the focus of this project is more on performances rather than the films themselves, I’ll include a section about that with each review. Additionally, where applicable, I will provide links to other movies of that performer's that I’ve reviewed.

As usual, I will watch the list from the bottom up, beginning with #50 and making my way to #1. At the end of the project, I will provide a master list of reviews & some final thoughts. Here is the list of Top 50 Actresses:

  1. Bette Davis - Jezebel
  2. Barbra Streisand - Funny Girl
  3. Ingrid Bergman - Gaslight
  4. Olivia de Havilland - The Heiress
  5. Audrey Hepburn - Roman Holiday
  6. Jane Fonda - Klute
  7. Barbara Stanwyck - Ball of Fire
  8. Deborah Kerr - The King and I
  9. Vivien Leigh - Waterloo Bridge
  10. Claudette Colbert - Since You Went Away
  11. Greta Garbo - Ninotchka
  12. Jean Arthur - The Devil and Miss Jones
  13. Katharine Hepburn - The Lion in Winter
  14. Kate Winslet - The Reader
  15. Susan Hayward - I Want to Live!
  16. Elizabeth Taylor - Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  17. Judi Dench - Philomena
  18. Marlene Dietrich - Witness for the Prosecution
  19. Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
  20. Shirley MacLaine - Being There
  21. Julie Andrews - Mary Poppins
  22. Lauren Bacall - To Have and Have Not
  23. Sophia Loren - Two Women
  24. Judy Garland - A Star Is Born
  25. Carole Lombard - To Be or Not to Be
  26. Joan Fontaine - Suspicion
  27. Joan Crawford - Mildred Pierce
  28. Meryl Streep - Sophie’s Choice
  29. Myrna Loy - The Thin Man
  30. Rita Hayworth - Gilda
  31. Maureen O’Hara - The Quiet Man
  32. Mary Pickford - Coquette
  33. Nicole Kidman - The Hours
  34. Jean Harlow - The Public Enemy
  35. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
  36. Natalie Wood - Splendor in the Grass
  37. Mae West - I’m No Angel
  38. Diane Keaton - Reds
  39. Doris Day - Pillow Talk
  40. Jodie Foster - Inside Man
  41. Ginger Rogers - Kitty Foyle
  42. Ava Gardner - The Killers
  43. Grace Kelly - The Country Girl
  44. Marilyn Monroe - The Misfits
  45. Sally Field - Norma Rae
  46. Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line
  47. Halle Berry - Monster’s Ball
  48. Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  49. Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
  50. Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Up with Geography: Dominica

Country Name:
Dominica

Capital:
Roseau

Continent:
None; it's an island

Map:


Neighbors:
The closest neighbors are the islands of Guadeloupe to the north & Martinique to the south, which are territories of France. The closest independent nations are Antigua & Barbuda (north of Guadeloupe) and St. Lucia (south of Martinique).

Water Borders:
Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
290 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Roseau, Portsmouth, Marigot, Berekua, Mahaut

Famous Geographical Point:
Boiling Lake

Famous Person:
Kellyn George, biologist & sickle cell anemia activist

Book Set In/About:
The Dominica Story by Lennox Honeychurch

A comprehensive (non-fiction) history of Dominica, up through 1994.

Movie Set In/About:
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), directed by Gore Verbinski

In the first sequel of the Pirates franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow battles with the fabled Davy Jones. This was only partially filmed in Dominica. Unfortunately, there were slim pickings for Dominica movies. One that looked interesting was the following documentary short, but I didn't want to choose both a history book & a history movie: "Dominica: Charting a Future for Paradise" (2011), directed by Wyatt Bardouille.

Headline of the Day:
"Dominica Cruise Ship Sector Benefitting from Irma" in the Jamaica Observer.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Best Picture: "Moonlight," 2016

Movie Stats:
Released 2016 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Barry Jenkins
Stars - Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali

Plot Summary:
This movie showcases the life of Chiron, a gay black boy with a crack-addicted mother (played by Naomie Harris) growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. Hibbert plays Chiron as a child; Sanders plays him as a teenager; and Rhodes as an adult. Ali co-stars as Juan, a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language (including gay & racial slurs); sexy times; violence; minor gore; drug use (marijuana, crack).

Bad Stuff:
The pace could easily be described as ponderous.

I didn’t care for the experimental camera work. Also, I’ve seen people complain about “lens flare” in other movies (most notably 2009’s “Star Trek”) but it’s not something I ever noticed before this film, where it is both obvious & very distracting.

The ending is rather abrupt/unsatisfactory.

Good Stuff:
The performances from both Ali and Harris are phenomenal. I completely understand why both of them were nominated for Best Supporting awards (and why Ali won).

It’s a very understated, nuanced portrayal of the cycle of poverty, all the pitfalls & how difficult it can be to escape.

It does an excellent job of setting the tone. You can really feel Chiron’s isolation and loneliness.

The Verdict:
I liked it well enough. I don’t think I liked it as much as I expected to, mostly because of how slow it is. I must have checked the time on my phone at least ten times. Also, I found it difficult to connect with Chiron because his character rarely speaks, especially in his younger years. Finally, I was disappointed that Ali’s part is relatively small. I would have liked to see way more of him. Still, I appreciated how understated it is. It's fine piece of storytelling that doesn’t tell you what to think or feel. It gets its point across without beating you over the head with it. In the end, despite the bleak circumstances of most of the characters, I felt a sense of hope, like maybe things could turn it okay, even if I know that they probably won’t, because that’s what the cycle of poverty does to people. It’s a beautiful film, just not one of my favorites.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Note: The Best Picture Master List has been updated to include this movie. It comes in at #39.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100: Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this project, my friend/regular commenter Patricia suggested that I guess what rating I would give each movie, and then, at the end, see how close I came to getting it all right. I thought that sounded like a cool idea, so I did it. However, I think throwing a lot of numbers at you would be kind of boring, so here’s a short analysis of how it all played out.

Out of the 100 movies reviewed for this project:

8 were movies I previously reviewed, and so I couldn’t guess a rating

17 movies, I guessed my rating accurately

23 movies, I was within a quarter star (plus or minus)

12 movies, I was within half a star (plus or minus)

11 movies, I was within three-quarters of a star (plus or minus)

12 movies, I was within 1 star (plus or minus)

17 movies, I was within 1+ stars (plus or minus)

Biggest difference in the positive: The Damned, which I guessed I would give 2 stars. I gave it 4.25.

Biggest difference in the negative: The Man Who Fell to Earth, which I guessed I would give 3.25 stars. I gave it .25 star.

I was more likely to guess low than high. Of the movies in which my guesses were inaccurate, I gave 41 a higher rating than I guessed. That means I gave only 34 a lower rating than I guessed.

I feel that I was more accurate than not. I think guessing within half a star is pretty good. 52 of my guesses were either spot on, or within a half star. Only 40 were wrong by more than half a star.

I really enjoyed this movie project. It was fun to see some of the famous sci fi movies that I’d never seen before. It was even more fun to delve into the world of more obscure sci fi films. However, I was ultimately disappointed by the lack of strong female characters (lots of love interests and/or assistants among the female roles) and near-absence of people of color in these movies. Once I noticed it, I realized that this was true of all of my lists (although the Academy Awards seem to be a little better at it).

Also, I felt that there were several films that didn't belong here because they barely count as sci fi. Two of those that immediately leap to mind are The Truman Show & Three Colours: Red. If it were up to me, I would remove those, perhaps one or two others, and replace them with movies that I like better & that I consider more sci fi-y. Two I would add to the list are: "Equilibrium" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Overall, however, I was pleased. I thought it was a very solid list. While I’m happy that I did it, I’m looking forward to moving on to the next. More on the new project next week!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Maine

State Name:
Maine

Capital:
Augusta

Date of Entry:
March 15, 1820

Maps:
Map of USA. Maine outlined in dark ink & with
name written on it.

Close-up of Maine & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Canada, New Hampshire

Water Borders:
St. John River, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Maine, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
35,385 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn

Famous Geographical Point:
Mount Katahdin

State Nickname:
The Pine Tree State. The white pine is the state tree, and a pine tree features on the state's flag, seal, and quarter. They're big on pine trees there.

Famous Person:
Kevin Eastman, writer & artist, co-creater of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I seriously considered instead listing William Coperthwaite, who, according to Wikipedia, was an educator & "yurt advocate," simply for the novelty of anyone being known as a "yurt advocate."

Book Set In/About:
It by Stephen King

Set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, this horror novel showcases the travails of the same seven people during two different time periods - first as children, then as adults - as they battle an alien creature that exploits their fears.

Of course I chose a Stephen King novel! Not only is he quite possibly the most famous person to have ever come out of Maine, nearly all of his books are set there.

Movie Set In/About:
"The Cider House Rules" (1999), directed by Lasse Hallstrom

A young man, raised in an orphanage & trained as an unlicensed doctor, spreads his wings by going to work at an apple farm.

Headline of the Day:
"Maine Archaeologists Find Evidence of Historic English Fort" in U.S. News & World Report.