Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Up with U.S. Geography: Wisconsin

State Name:
Wisconsin

Capital:
Madison

Date of Entry:
May 29, 1848

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

A close-up of Wisconsin & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota

Water Borders:
Lake Superior, Green Bay, Lake Michigan, Mississippi River, St. Croix River

Total Area:
65,498 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, Racine

Famous Geographical Point:
Lake Winnebago

State Nickname:
The Badger State. According to this website, the nickname came about due to the miners who dug in the hills for lead ore, but it's also the official state animal.

Famous Person:
Les Paul, musician, inventor, electric guitar pioneer

Book Set In/About:
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Five men who group up in the (fictional) small town of Little Wing, WI come back together as adults to share their lives.

Movie Set In/About:
"Lars and the Real Girl" (2007), directed by Craig Gillespie

A socially awkward young man in a small Wisconsin town purchases a realistic sex doll that he presents as his girlfriend, much to the consternation of his brother.

Headline of the Day:
"Dairy Feedlot Appeal Will Proceed in Waukesha, Not Madison" in U.S. News & World Report

Monday, April 2, 2018

Top 50 Actresses, #2 - Barbra Streisand: "Funny Girl" (1968)

Movie Stats:
Released 1968 (USA)
American, in English (very minor, non-translated French)
Director - William Wyler
Stars - Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif

Plot Summary:
A biopic, of sorts, of famed Ziegfeld Follies comedienne Fanny Brice (Streisand), specifically focusing on her relationship with Nick Arnstein (Sharif).

Warnings:
Implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
I’m sure I’ve complained about this before, but there’s something about the way many 1960s movies were filmed or produced or whatever that they always feel like 1960s films, no matter the time period they’re portraying. I find it super distracting.

I was really disappointed that the film focused so heavily on Fanny’s relationship with Nick. I was more interested in her career. I particularly disliked how it romanticized that relationship (in real life, he was a con artist & a crook). Also, he was her second husband. The film not only fails to mention that, it implies that Nick took her virginity.

I watch a lot of old films, so it’s not as though I’m unused to seeing misogyny, but it seemed particularly rampant in this.

Good Stuff:
It has some genuinely funny moments.

Streisand is a delight.

I loved the big musical numbers set in the Ziegfeld Follies.

About the Performance:
As I said above, Streisand is so much fun to watch in this. She truly commands the screen. However, at no point does she actually “feel” like a woman from the early 20th century, especially not when she wisecracks. I never forgot that I was watching Barbra Streisand playing a character. I’ve only seen a few of her films, but I don’t recall getting that impression of her from the others I’ve seen, so I’m not maligning her as an actress in general. However, I’m not convinced this was her strongest performance, and I certainly don’t consider it worth the Oscar she won for it. (IMDB tells me she tied with K. Hepburn for her performance in The Lion in Winter. K. Hepburn was robbed.)

Other performances of Streisand’s I’ve reviewed: none.

The Verdict:
I had a lot of problems with it. Most of them are listed above. I’ll add another: it’s way too long (nearly 3 hours). Look, I like Streisand. She’s funny, she has a commanding presence, she lights up the screen, and her singing voice is phenomenal. But I didn’t find her believable as Fanny Brice, and I didn’t find the film believable as a portrayal of early 20th century America. I’m glad I saw this in a “got that famous film checked off the list” sort of way, but I doubt I’ll ever feel compelled to watch it again.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Top 50 Actresses, #3 - Ingrid Bergman: "Gaslight" (1944)

Movie Stats:
Released 1944 (USA)
American, in English
Director - George Cukor
Stars - Ingrid Bergman, Charales Boyer, Joseph Cotten

Plot Summary:
Ten years after the unsolved murder of her aunt, Paula Alquist (Bergman) returns to the woman’s home with her new husband, Gregory Anton (Boyer), a man with a secret. Cotten co-stars as Brian Cameron, a police employee who’s suspicious of Gregory. If you’ve ever heard the term “gaslighting,” it comes from this story.

Warnings:
Very minor violence.

Bad Stuff:
[SPOILER]
Gregory’s plot seems overly complicated. Once it was clear that Paula didn’t have the rubies, why all the mind games? Her house was vacant, why did he have to marry her to sneak into it? Who waits around 10 years to get his hands on some jewels? He must be the most patient criminal ever.
[SPOILER]

I didn’t find Brian’s motivation for getting so involved in the situation particularly believable.

Good Stuff:
The acting is excellent. I particularly enjoyed Boyer, Angela Lansbury (as the Antons’ impertinent maid, Nancy), and May Whitty (as the Antons’ nosy neighbor, Miss Thwaites).

I like how intense it is without the use of jump scares or physical violence.

Really enjoyed the costuming, set design & score.

About the Performance:
Bergman’s isn’t my favorite performance of the film, but she’s still very good. It’s rather heartbreaking to see her go from a deliriously happy young woman in love to a person questioning her own sanity, all in the space of a few months. Her confusion and emotional pain are palpable through the screen. I thought she chewed some scenery during the final confrontation scene, but apart from that, it was a fine piece of acting.

Other performances of Bergman’s I’ve reviewed: Notorious; Casablanca.

The Verdict:
This section will contain SPOILERS. I liked this film a lot. It’s not an easy watch. Gregory’s psychological and emotional torture of Paula is as difficult for the viewer to endure as it is for her. I really hated him, which is exactly what I was supposed to feel. I rooted hard for Brian to help Paula, for Paula to realize that Gregory was the problem, and for Gregory to get his comeuppance. I was engrossed. My husband came in partway through the film and, much to my surprise, became engrossed as well. Apart from my issues with the plot, my only problem with the film is I wondered if it was more thrilling before the term “gaslighting” became widespread. For me, it was never a question whether Paula was crazy. I knew that Gregory was the bad guy. Was that obvious back in the 40s? It’s difficult to say. Still, it’s a well-acted, tense movie.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Out and About: Bernardo Bay Trail (Lake Hodges)

A couple of weekends ago, my husband & I were thinking about taking a day trip but instead ended up choosing to do this hike in Escondido. The route we took was very easy (no elevation) and relatively short (perhaps 1 hour). It was a chilly morning, absolutely perfect for a hike. We enjoyed it immensely.

Beginning of the trail.

Hills in the distance.

Cactus "garden."

Lake Hodges perhaps doesn't look impressive to those of you who live in non-desert climates, but a friend told me recently that every time he's done this hike, there wasn't any water at all:


I loved how green the hills were. Come Fall, nothing will be green anymore. We've probably had just about as much rain as we're going to get this year:


Final shots:

Rocky hill.

A greener view of the lake.

Pretty trail shot.

Afterward, we drove over to Encinitas to ruin all the karma we built up during the hike with a visit to Betty's Pie Whole. If you're ever in SD county, I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top 50 Actresses, #4 - Olivia de Havilland: "The Heiress" (1949)

Movie Stats:
Released 1949 (USA)
American, in English (minor, non-translated French)
Director - William Wyler
Stars - Olivia de Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson

Plot Summary:
In 19th century America, socially awkward heiress Catherine Sloper (de Havilland) seems destined for spinsterhood until she’s swept off her feet by the handsome, suave Morris Townsend (Clift). However, Catherine’s father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Richardson), believes that Morris is a fortune hunter.

Warnings:
None.

Bad Stuff:
The ending is rather abrupt & Clift's acting in that scene leaves much to be desired.

Good Stuff:
I liked that it didn’t try to present Catherine as undesirable because of her looks. I was worried it was going to try to force me to believe that Olivia de Havilland was an ugly woman. While they do make her look plain (quite well IMO), it’s more about how Catherine is shy & “unaccomplished,” one of the greatest sins for a lady back in the day.

It’s a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. It’s not just about whether or not Morris’s feelings for Catherine are genuine. There’s Austin’s contempt for his daughter, the emotional abuse Catherine endures, and her journey to becoming a strong, confident woman.

Everyone is really good, but I thought Richardson was particularly impressive as an outwardly loving father who truthfully loathes his daughter so much that he makes her into the very thing he loathes.

About the Performance:
The story calls for three distinct aspects of Catherine’s personality to be depicted: first, the shy, socially awkward girl who doesn’t know how to relate to her peers; second, the young woman in love; and lastly, the wounded adult, steely with resolve and strength. De Havilland is very believable in each of the film’s acts. I thought she was fantastic & felt a newfound sense of admiration for her.

Other performances of de Havilland’s I’ve reviewed: Gone with the Wind.

The Verdict:
I expected to like it, and it was even better than anticipated because it was far more complex. I thought it would be a simple story of “Is Morris a fortune hunter or isn’t he?” While that is part of the story, and a part that it does well, I think the more interesting stuff is Catherine’s relationship with her father, how she comes to understand that it’s toxic, and how she learns to stand up for herself. The costuming is eye-catching (Edith Head, of course. She won an Oscar for this film). All of the performances are excellent. (I read on IMDB that Clift hated himself so much in the film that he walked out of the premiere. Sometimes I wish I could go back in time & give that man a hug. He was such a tortured soul.) It’s by no means a happy film, or even particularly fun to watch—except for the part where Catherine & Morris are falling in love, which made me smile—but it’s fascinating. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Top 50 Actresses, #5 - Audrey Hepburn: "Wait Until Dark" (1967)

Movie Stats:
Released 1967 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Terence Young
Stars - Audrey Hepburn, Richard Crenna, Alan Arkin

Plot Summary:
Newly blind Susy Hendrix (Hepburn) is terrorized by a group of criminals—including Mike Talman (Crenna) & Roat (Arkin)—who are searching for a doll that is stuffed with heroin.

Warnings:
Violence.

Bad Stuff:
I thought the criminals’ plan was overly complicated. It was difficult to buy into the idea that they would bother with the theatrics when they were already [SPOILER] involved in one murder. Why wouldn’t they just kill Susy once it was clear she didn’t know where the doll was? Or take her hostage and force her husband to look for it? [SPOILER]

I felt that Talman and Carlino (Jack Weston) fell too easily under Roat’s control. [SPOILER] Once they helped him move the body, they could’ve gone back to the apartment and spent a few hours wiping everything down. They knew no one was there. With no body in the apartment, there was no reason for the police to be in there looking for fingerprints anyway. [SPOILER]

It’s not great at explaining things. For example, why does Roat call Carlino “sergeant” and why does he hate it? (I believe the movie implies here & in other places that he used to be a cop.) There were lots of little unanswered questions like this that annoyed me.

Good Stuff:
While I thought the plot was implausible, I enjoyed the cat & mouse quality of the film.

Really loved the costuming & set design, especially the costuming.

Arkin was absolutely chilling.

About the Performance:
I was skeptical of Hepburn playing a blind character, but I thought she did a good job. (It’s perhaps convenient that Susy is recently blind, so anything Hepburn did that seemed like something a sighted person might do could be hand-waved away.) The underlying message of the film is about Susy needing to learn how to take care of herself, rather than relying on others, and I thought she played it right. Susy is sometimes strong, shrewd, creative, and intelligent, and sometimes helplessly terrified, weak, and too trusting. It felt realistic to me, because in real life everyone is a mix of contradictions.

Other performances of Hepburn’s I’ve reviewed: My Fair Lady.

The Verdict:
For the most part, I liked it. Clearly, I feel that it has plot/story issues. It asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief, and I’m not sure that I’m willing to do that. However, I liked the tension that it created. It’s definitely a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The performances are very good. Plus, it’s a feast for the eyes. I’m not going to put it on a favorites list, but I’m glad that I saw this classic once.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Music Love: "Finish Line" by Daye Jack

*Explicit lyrics warning*


I heard this song in the first episode of the Netflix show "On My Block" and pretty much immediately went to iTunes & downloaded it. I absolutely love the funky beat, the cheeky sense of cockiness, and the funny lyrics. Also, Jack has a pretty smooth voice. It reminds me of the hip hop music I liked best from the 90s. He's so incredibly talented. I hope he blows up big, as he so rightly deserves.