Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hiatus

Just a quick update to let everyone know that my blog will be on hiatus for the next couple of weeks.

As most of you know, because you're my friends in real life, my husband recently landed a job in California. We'll be moving next week. During this time of moving & getting settled in our new home, I'll be putting my creative side on hold.

You can expect me back in mid- to late January, when you'll get an end-of-the-year review for 2013. I'll also be resuming my current projects: Best Picture reviews, antique postcards, world geography, and essays on loneliness. I'll also be starting some new projects in 2014, although you'll have to wait to see what those are.

Happy New Year, everyone! Best of luck in 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Best Picture: "Driving Miss Daisy," 1989

Movie Stats:
Released 1989 (USA)
American, in English (very minimal Hebrew, both translated and not)
Director – Bruce Beresford
Stars – Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd

Plot Summary:
Set in Georgia circa 1950s-1960s. After elderly Daisy Werthan (Tandy) has an accident in her car, her son Boolie (Aykroyd) hires her a chauffeur, Hoke Colburn (Freeman), much to her consternation.

Warnings:
None

Bad Stuff:
A lot of the music is super 1980s-cheesy.

It lacked the emotional punch I expected it to have.

Good Stuff:
Solid acting from all the main players. I especially enjoyed Aykroyd’s performance as the good-natured, put-upon Boolie.

It’s very sweet and amusing.

The Verdict:
There’s nothing wrong with this movie. As I said, it’s very sweet, if not especially exciting. Like a lot of the 80s winners, it’s a movie about life – about the passage of time, and about how we and our relationships change as we grow and age. It’s not earth-shattering or titillating, but it’s the kind of movie that practically anyone will find relatable.

I actually like this film. It’s charming. In comparison to the “greats,” however, it falls far short. I don’t understand why it won Best Picture. It’s simply not good enough for that kind of award. Because of that, I don’t feel comfortable giving it a rating in the 4s, even though it’s very enjoyable. While I would recommend that you watch it if you’re in the mood for something endearing and heart-warming, I would tell you not to anticipate being wowed.

I give the movie 3.75 stars.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Picture: "Rain Man," 1988

Movie Stats:
Released 1988 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Barry Levinson
Stars – Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman

Plot Summary
After his estranged father dies, young, self-absorbed Charlie Babbitt (Cruise) discovers the brother he never knew he had, Raymond (Hoffman), a high-functioning autistic man who lives in a group home.

Warnings:
A copious amount of blue language; extremely brief nudity (female breasts – blink and you’ll miss it).

Bad Stuff:
The music is so incredibly terrible.

It annoyed me that some of the central questions of the story were never answered. Why, after Charlie’s mother died and his brother was placed in the home, was his father so cold to him? Why did no one ever tell him he had a brother? Why did they continue to try to keep it from him after his father died? It’s not as though Charlie doesn’t ask these questions; they’re just kind of shrugged off. It felt like lazy/unimaginative writing.

It was a little boring. Not “this feels like death by a thousand cuts” boring. More like “I’ve checked the clock more than once in the past ten minutes” boring.

Good Stuff:
Watching Charlie’s character grow was extremely satisfying. It was very difficult to watch him in the beginning, especially whenever he yelled at Raymond. Honestly, it was a bit distressing. By the end of the film, however, I was kind of rooting for him. Perhaps the writer expended all his creative energy on this part of the tale and that’s why some of the other stuff was left out.

Phenomenal job by Hoffman. I guess Cruise was good as well, but whenever he’s playing an asshole, I always feel like he’s just being himself.

It felt nice to laugh occasionally. I think this is the first 80s winner that had any genuinely funny moments.

The Verdict:
If you’re a friend of mine, then you’ll know that I’ve been staunchly anti-Cruise for a very long time. For as long as I can remember, in fact. I avoid his movies as much as possible and have never seen some of his most famous ones, including this one. I never would have watched it if not for this project.

I didn’t think it was bad, and I didn’t think Cruise was bad in it. However, I wasn’t especially wowed either. When it came down to it, I didn’t feel the emotional connection to this story that I have to some of the other really great 80s winners (Platoon, Terms of Endearment, Ordinary People). A story like this should forge that kind of connection. I’m not sure how, exactly, this movie could fall short of that, but it did for me.

Therefore, while I didn’t hate it, I’m not inclined to heap it with praise either. I think you’d probably like it. You’d probably enjoy both the story and the performances. But I don’t think you’ll be missing out if you never see it.

I give the movie 3.5 stars.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Best Picture: "The Last Emperor," 1987

Movie Stats:
Released 1987 (Japan)
Chinese, Italian, British & French (according to IMDB), in English with some Mandarin (both translated and not), some Japanese (both translated and not), and very minimal non-translated Russian
Director – Bernardo Bertolucci
Stars – John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O’Toole, plus many other actors you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
It’s the story of Puyi (Lone as the adult version), the last emperor of China. Chen co-stars as his wife, the empress Wan Jung, and O’Toole as Reginald Johnston, adolescent Puyi’s Scottish tutor.

Warnings:
Very brief nudity (female breasts, all of a young male child). A scene that bordered way too close to pedophilia for my comfort (oddly enough, not related to the scene of a naked child). There was little violence, but when there was it was pretty graphic. One random f-bomb toward the end of the movie.

Bad Stuff:
Boy, where to start?

First off, it was confusing. I don’t have a strong grasp of Chinese history and this movie didn’t really improve it. In particular, the stuff during WWII, when Puyi collaborated with the Japanese, was baffling. In one scene, after a Japanese official’s suicide, my husband asked, “Who was that?” I replied, “One of the Japanese guys.” He said, “You don’t know which one?” I said, “I’m not sure they ever said?” There were just too many people whose names/titles were never really explained, or at least weren't explained well.

Secondly, the movie never got me to care enough about the characters to be concerned about their fates. Perhaps that’s related to problem #1.

Thirdly, I hated that it was in English. It felt wrong, almost borderline offensive. I would’ve preferred it be in Mandarin with subtitles.

Lastly, I didn’t like O’Toole’s character. He sort of came in with this smug, “white guy knows best” attitude. It was a real turn off, and also kind of offensive. Besides, if the movie is to be believed, most of what he encouraged his charge to think and do is what got Puyi in trouble later in life.

Good Stuff:
The costumes and make-up were beautiful.

The cinematography was great.

I guess the acting was good, especially from the children, but all the bad stuff detracted from it.

The Verdict:
I say don’t bother watching it. I was so bored and confused partway through that I looked up Puyi online and started reading about his life. That was far more interesting than this movie.

I give it 2 stars.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Postcard Project: Odds & Ends, Part 1

All of these cards are undated and/or are without sent-to addresses. I've placed them in a semblance of chronological order based almost entirely upon guessing. As always, spelling and grammatical mistakes are copied verbatim from the cards.

No date or address. I don't recognize the children pictured.

". . . tired when we got . . . the train ride. Be sure . . . of May then Harry will . . . He is going to be confirmed . . . with . . . and I am . . . I hope . . . me along. I am there already when you get this picture and so is Louie."

Doesn't make much sense when you can't read the whole thing, does it?

Card addressed but not stamped.
Name of addressee too faint to read.

"From [town name redacted] Wis to [town name redacted] Mich. I am sending you only a half a dozen of Postcard, for some one took them while I was out working & so now I am sending you all I have left. Am sorry But I couldn't find out who took the rest. Will write more with time. From your Dad."

My best guess is that this is from my great-grandfather (who I never met because he died in the 1930s) to one of his children. I'm thinking that, after the family moved to Michigan, he might have stayed behind in Wisconsin for a while to work.

I do find it curious that the card is written in English. Great-Grandpa emigrated from Germany to America as an adult, so English definitely wasn't his first language. I know that my mom always said that my grandma (who I also never met because she died a few months before I was born) was embarrassed by her German heritage. I wonder if my great-grandparents just tried really hard to put Germany behind them. If my guess about the timing of this card is correct, it would have been sent after the Great War, but before WWII.


The following three cards are all from the same person, one of Grandma's older brothers, to different people. None of them are addressed or stamped, so they were probably sent as part of a letter or a package. My guess is that all of them were sent somewhere between the mid-1920s and the early 1930s.

Not addressed to a particular person, probably meant for
the family in general.

"Wishing you a merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. From [redacted]."

Addressed to his parents.

"Easter Wishes To Mother & Dad. From [redacted]."

Addressed to his brother.

"Easter Joy to [redacted]. From [redacted]."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Up with Geography: Afghanistan

I forgot to mention in my maintenance post that I'll be going through the countries alphabetically. Want to know what this project is all about? You can read an explanation of it HERE.

Country Name:
Afghanistan

Capital:
Kabul

Continent:
Asia

Maps:

This is my terrible drawing of the Asian Continent. Get used to
seeing it. Afghanistan is outlined in dark ink & shaded.

A closer look at Afghanistan & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Pakistan

Water Borders:
None

Total Area(added March 2015)
251,827 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kanduz

Famous Geographical Point:
Hindu Kush Mountains

It occurred to me after the fact that I should probably include this category on the map. I will from here on out, but for Afghanistan imagine them stretching northeast of Kabul and into Pakistan underneath that little arm on the right.

Famous Person:
Abdul Hai Habibi, historian

Book Set In/About:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Movie Set In/About:
"Jung (War) in the Land of Mujaheddin," directed by Fabrizio Lazzaretti & Alberto Vendemmiati

Headline of the Day:
"In Afghanistan, Hagel Presses for Pact on Security, but Is Not Meeting Karzai" in The New York Times.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Best Picture: "Platoon," 1986

Movie Stats:
Released 1986 (USA)
American & British, in English (some Vietnamese, both translated and not)
Director – Oliver Stone
Stars – Charlie Sheen, Willem Defoe, Tom Berenger, and lots of other men you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
Na├»ve Chris Taylor (Sheen) volunteers for the infantry during the Vietnam War in an attempt to exert independence from his parents. He soon learns how misguided he was. Defoe and Berenger co-star respectively as Sgts. Elias and Barnes, the two men fighting for Chris’s “soul.”

Warnings:
Blue language, racist language, and violence (including toward women, children, and animals) in copious amounts. One non-graphic rape scene.

Bad Stuff:
As much as I love John C. McGinley, his performance as Sgt. O’Neill was so over-the-top that it was distracting.

I wasn’t keen on the voiceover. I was glad that it was fairly limited.

[SPOILER] I found it a tad convenient/heavy-handed that nearly all the men on the “bad” Barnes side ended up dead while most of the men on the “good” Elias side made it out.

Good Stuff:
Other than McGinley, pretty much everyone else turned in a great performance. Defoe is understated (surprisingly) as the kindly and competent Elias. Berenger is absolutely terrifying as the simmering, off-his-rocker Barnes. I also really enjoyed the performance of Keith David as King, the good-natured man who takes Chris under his wing. But by far the break-out star is Sheen. I’d forgotten that he used to be a good actor. His transformation from wide-eyed greenie to battle-hardened beserker, in less than a year, is amazing.

The cinematography is gorgeous.

I’ve never been in a war, but there’s something about this film that has always felt very real to me. I believe it’s because of the atmosphere Stone set. There’s an underlying tension all the time, even when the men are relaxing. As a viewer, I had this constant sense that disaster was right around the corner. It’s intense. If someone asked me, I’d describe this film as “dark and gritty.”

I also enjoy that the film is morally gray. It’s definitely not one of those “rah rah rah, Americans are great” war films. The insanity of war makes people do insane things, and this movie doesn’t pull any punches in addressing that.

The Verdict:
I’d seen this a few times before, but it had been quite a while. From the opening score (oh yeah, the music is great too), I felt this heavy sadness come over me. It was very Pavlovian; since I’d seen it before, and knew what was to come, the music triggered the grief of previous viewings.

This isn’t a happy movie. However, it’s a good one. It’s long been one of my favorites of the Vietnam War genre. I’m glad that, upon this subsequent viewing, it held up. It still felt fresh and real, gripping and moving. It’s a movie I’ll probably watch again a few years from now and get something totally different out of it than what I got before. If you haven’t seen it, you definitely should.

I give the movie 4.5 stars.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Up with Geography: Maintenance Post

About a year ago, my husband and I started participating in a weekly pub quiz competition. The experience has largely been both fun and satisfying, but it can also occasionally be frustrating and it’s almost always humbling. In a way, it’s nice to get a weekly reminder of much I don’t know.

In particular, I’ve discovered a huge lack of knowledge in three areas: 1. While I may know the lyrics to practically every famous classic rock song, I rarely know the titles of those songs or who sang them; 2. Baseball; and 3. World Geography.

A few weeks ago, something on a friend’s blog (I can no longer recall what) sparked an idea about my lack of geography knowledge and here we are. I have a new project, a world geography project. It’s mostly for myself and I don’t really expect anyone else to be interested in it, but I figure that while I’m going through the effort of doing the research, I may as well blog about it.

The purpose of this post is to spell out how my geography posts will be formatted and what each of the categories mean. You can expect my first country post – Afghanistan – to appear within the next few days. 

So without further ado, here is the proposed layout of these future posts:

Country Name:
This is the name of the country, in English.

Capital:
This is the name of the country’s capital city, in English.

Continent:
This is the continent on which the country is located. If the country is an island, the continent will be “none” and it will be noted that it is an island or an island chain.

Maps:
There will be two for each country. One will depict the region where the country is located. The other will depict the country more close up, including the names of the surrounding countries and/or water. These maps will be hand-drawn by me.

Neighbors:
This will denote all of the countries that share a border with the country in question.

Water Borders:
This will denote any large bodies of water that make up an entire border or a significant partial border of the country in question. Included are: oceans, seas, and occasionally gulfs, bays and lakes. Not included are rivers or internal bodies of water.

Total Area: (added March 2015)
The total area of the country, in square miles.

Five Largest Cities:
The five largest cities in the country in descending order. Population numbers will not be given because such stats are very changeable.

Famous Geographical Point:
An interesting and/or well-known geographical point of the country. Where possible, I’ve picked things that should be known worldwide, i.e. the Grand Canyon or the Sahara Desert. They will all be naturally occurring, i.e. nothing manmade.

Note that some countries have several famous geographical points. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the one you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

After getting to know a little bit about the geography of each country, I thought it would be fun to know some of the culture/pop culture. Therefore, I’m including the following categories:

Famous Person:
A famous person who was born in that country. The person has to have been born in that country; I am not including people of that descent who were born in other countries. Where possible, I’ve picked a name that I recognize. Barring that, I’ve picked someone who sounded interesting to me upon further research. I’m trying to keep this fun, so I’ve picked people who have had a positive influence on the world. Therefore, don’t expect to find despots or criminals in here (i.e. no Hitler, Stalin, etc.).

Note that pretty much every country has produced multiple famous people. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the one you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Book Set In/About:
A book set in and/or about the country, either fiction or non-fiction. I took suggestions from Goodreads and tried to pick books with ratings of 4 stars or higher. I also tried to pick books that sounded interesting, in case you or I might want to read them someday.

Note that pretty much every country has produced lots of literature. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the book you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Movie Set In/About:
A movie set in and/or about the country, either fiction or non-fiction. In some cases, I had to settle for a movie made by a director from that country. I took suggestions from several sources online and checked them against IMDB. I tried to pick movies with a rating of 7.0 or higher, in case you or I might want to watch them someday.

Note that pretty much every country has produced lots of movies. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the film you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Headline of the Day:
Right as I am about to post the country, I will google the country’s name. The first news headline that pops up will be what I post here.


There you have it - my grand geography project. So far, it's been very engrossing and also very interesting, and I haven't even made it to the "C"s yet! I hope you'll find it as fun as I do.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Final Reflections on November 2013

I know that I say this every month, but I really can’t believe how quickly this year has gone by. When you’re younger, they tell you that the older you get, the faster time goes. Well, it’s totally true. I shudder to think how quickly my final years are going to pass.

Okay, so that’s a little morbid. While I am a fairly morbid person, I’m not actively trying to be morbid right now. But it’s a gray winter’s morning and I’m still feeling sleepy after a night filled with weird dreams. You’ll have to forgive me if my Poe side peeks through a bit.

November was nice enough, I suppose. Uneventful. I did have a very good visit from my brother. I showed him some of the city and he got to meet some of my friends and see some of what I do with my time. We visited the Sixth Floor Museum and also the Dallas Museum of Art, which is absolutely fantastic. Admission is free there (there are some paid-for exhibits but there is no pressure to partake of them). Although we saw quite a bit of beautiful art, there was still at least one floor we never got to, so I’ll have to go back.

It was nice to see my brother and I’m glad that he visited. The rest of November was largely unremarkable. My brother’s visit threw off my exercise plan, which is no one’s fault but my own. I know myself well enough to know that I’m unlikely to get back on track in December.

So too is my writing still off-kilter. I started yet another new romance novel. I KNOW. I’m thoroughly convinced now that I’m self-sabotaging. I think I don’t want to finish the fourth novel (I currently have FIVE partial fourth novels) because I’m afraid to move on to the publishing stage.

It seems clear that it’s time to push myself out of the nest. The current plan is to start working on publishing in January, whether the fourth novel is finished or not. I know that it probably seems like I’m still stalling. The truth is that I work extra hours in December and, if it’s anything like last year, I’ll be too tired to focus on anything other than entertaining myself at the end of my workdays. So January it is.

Also, I'd like to point out that soccer season is over (except for the final next weekend, which I will watch even though my team's not in it). It's left me feeling at loose ends. It's a bit pathetic really. Although hope is on the horizon. The Winter Olympics - superior to the Summer Olympics, imho - are less than two months away and of course 2014 includes World Cup. World Cup! It's like a soccer all-you-can-eat buffet!

Anyway, that's November 2013, plus my expectations for the coming months, in a nutshell. That's my life. If you're stopping by to read, why don't you tell me what's been happening in yours?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Best Picture: "Out of Africa," 1985

Movie Stats:
Released 1985 (USA)
American, in English (small amounts of Swahili, both translated and not)
Director – Sydney Pollack
Stars – Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer

Plot Summary:
After marrying Swedish baron Bror Blixen (Brandauer) for convenience, Danish woman Karen (Streep) and her new husband settle in Kenya, where they start a coffee plantation while Karen slowly falls in love with an American, Denys (Redford). Set during the early 20th century & based on a true story.

Warnings:
Very brief female nudity (breasts) – blink and you’ll miss it; violence toward animals.

Bad Stuff:
It’s too long (2 hours, 40 minutes). I started getting bored around hour two. I swear, it’s like the Academy thinks that only ridiculously long movies are good, but all of my favorites have been amongst the shorter ones.

It annoyed me that Denys was always conveniently there whenever Karen needed him. About to get eaten by a lady lion? Fortunately, Denys will appear out of nowhere to save you. Lost in the desert? Good thing Denys just happens by to give you a compass. It increased my awareness that I was watching a movie, which made it more difficult to get lost in it.

I guess that, in the 80s, they were pretty fond of movies about life in general, movies where nothing terribly exciting happens. For me, it’s growing a little old. I’m sort of looking forward to the explosions that I know will occur in my next movie.

Good Stuff:
The cinematography is gorgeous.

It’s nice to not only see a strong female character, but to actually have her as the lead. That has been very rare.

Once again, we have a movie where characters behave like adults in difficult situations. I really liked that.

The Verdict:
It’s okay. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I wouldn’t put it on my favorites list either. It wasn’t as boring as some of the other winners. I think the beautiful scenery, and the fact that the story had exotic elements because of its setting, offset some of the tedium. However, I won’t be recommending it to anyone, unless they tell me that they just love movies about Africa.

I give the movie 3.25 stars.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Postcard Project: 1950s & 1960s

Since there's only one from the 1950s, I decided to lump it in with the 1960s. We're nearing the end of the project. After these, the only cards I have left are undated and/or unfinished (you'll see what I mean in the next post). As always, grammatical/spelling errors are copied verbatim from the cards.

June 20, 1951
Addressed to Great Aunt Vi & Great Uncle Bill.

"HERE WE ARE. [last name redacted]"

This is from my grandparents to Grandma's sister & brother-in-law. I wonder if my mom & uncle went along on this trip to Wisconsin? My mom would've been pretty young.

July 12, 1963
Addressed to Great Aunt Vi & Great Uncle Bill.

At top of card: "(Sunday evening)".

Body of card: "Dear Mom & Dad & Family: We had a real nice time at your cousin's house (farm). We stayed there a couple of days. We got here at the Wis. Dells today and just got back from going on the last trip through the Dells. It was just Beautiful. It looked just like this picture on the card. We took some pictures which were hoping some will turn out. Were leaving tomorrow morning for Maulwakee to see my [illegible]. We will probably be home in the Middle of this week sometime. The weather has been awfully warm. It was 93 degrees this noon. See you soon. Roger & Jean."

Roger is Vi & Bill's oldest (I believe) son. We never spent much time around him growing up. I'm not sure why, because he seemed to be my mom's favorite cousin. Maybe he didn't live especially close by? Oddly enough, after a childhood friend of mine's father was killed in a car accident, her mother later married Roger (I don't recall what happened to Jean by that point, if they had been divorced or if she had died as well).

It beats me why Roger randomly capitalized words.

July 26, 1965
Addressed to Great Aunt Vi & Great Uncle Bill.

"Hi, made it here Sun. at 1:00 PM & came to the fair today (MON.). Pretty big town. Hope to see a T.V. show tonite and the Yankees tomorrow. We got a room on 42nd street a few blocks from 'Time Square.' Bill."

Bill is Vi & Bill's other son. Mom was good friends with Bill's wife Marlys, so we spent quite a bit of time with them & their sons when we were kids until Bill & Marlys got divorced. I'm amused that Bill refers to NYC as a "pretty big town." Seems a bit of an understatement. The fair he refers to is the 1964/65 World's Fair.

July 27, 1965
Addressed to Great Aunt Vi & Great Uncle Bill.

"Hi, It's Tuesday Morning and we saw "To Tell the Truth" today & we're gonna see the Yankees this afternoon. Been bying souvenirs? & the money is going fast. Bye now, Bill."

That question mark is Bill's, not mine. I'm not sure if he's questioning whether he actually bought souvenirs or if he's questioning that they could be considered souvenirs, haha.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Best Picture: "Amadeus," 1984

Movie Stats:
Released 1984 (USA)
American, in English (some non-translated Italian & German, although it’s in the form of opera, which I personally can never understand no matter what language it’s in)
Director – Milos Forman (who last brought us One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Stars – F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

Plot Summary:
In the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Jones), royal composer Antonio Salieri (Abraham) is driven to the point of madness by envy of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Hulce). Berridge co-stars as Mozart’s wife, Constanze. (I also feel compelled to note the appearance of baby Cynthia Nixon as Mozart’s maid.)

Warnings:
Mild blue language; brief male nudity (including a glimpse of peen).

Bad Stuff:
It’s boring.

It’s not nearly as clever/funny as it seems to think it is.

Personal pet peeve: I hate it when a movie is set in a time when interpersonal language (especially amongst the higher classes) was extremely formal and yet the dialogue in the film is very informal. It makes it difficult for me to get swept up in the make believe.

Hulce’s crazy-ass laugh.

Good Stuff:
The music. The best part about this film is that it’s a celebration of Mozart’s work.

The costumes.

I really loved Jones’s performance. I found him consistently amusing.

I have no idea what the nature of Salieri and Mozart’s relationship was in real life. Within the context of the film, however, I was struck by the scene toward the end where Salieri was helping Mozart transcribe his Requiem. I thought it was a perfect encapsulation of the whole film. Here were these two men who could have had a tremendous friendship that might have resulted in some amazing work and yet none of that ever came to pass because of Salieri’s all-consuming jealousy. It was tragically, awfully beautiful.

The Verdict:
There were moments of brilliance, but mostly I was just bored. I have nothing more to say than that.

I give the movie 2.75 stars.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Sixth Floor Museum

Located at 411 Elm Street in downtown Dallas, in the old Texas School Book Depository building, the Sixth Floor Museum is dedicated to the assassination of the U.S.’s 35th President, John F. Kennedy. It only makes sense; the location is the site of the drama that unfolded nearly 50 years ago.

Honestly, I probably never would have visited the museum if not for my visiting brother’s request to do so. My regards to him; it turned out to be an excellent experience.

Texas School Book Depository.
The window on the far right on the sixth floor
is the window from which Oswald took his shots.

I’ve never been much of a JFK buff. All I’ve ever really known about the assassination is the little bits I could recall from my high school history class. Because of this, I went in to the museum with a pretty open mind, ready to learn.

The museum set-up is not one of my favorites. It’s mostly wall displays with pictures and text. There are a few other displays as well, such as a large-scale model of the area on the day of the assassination, and a recreation of the sniper’s nest. The cost of admission ($16 for adults; less for children, students, and seniors) gets you a free audio set that you carry with you. The audio, narrated by a reporter who was on-scene the day of the assassination, provides you with extra information.

Part of Dealey Plaza, across the street from the museum.
Many of the assassination witnesses stood in Dealey Plaza.

Although I was initially put-off by the set-up (I find self-guided museum tours to be isolating), I thought the museum was great. It provided a lot of information that I hadn’t previously known. It also made the assassination make more sense in terms of the details. Seeing it all in person – the window Oswald took his shots from, how close it was to the President’s vehicle, where the witnesses were standing, etc. – simply brought it all together for me. Once faced with the evidence, the conspiracy theories began to sound silly to me.

The "grassy knoll."

However, the museum doesn’t shy away from exploring the conspiracy theories, and I admired that as well. It helped to put everything in perspective.

I don’t think I’d ever go again. A second run would probably prove boring. But I do think it’s good for at least one visit and I would recommend it to anyone. It was thoughtful, informative, and surprisingly moving. Faced with the grief of a nation that had lost a popular leader, I found myself teary-eyed more than once.

If you're planning a trip to Dallas, you might want to add this stop to your list.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Best Picture: "Terms of Endearment," 1983

Movie Stats:
Released 1983 (USA)
American, in English
Director – James L. Brooks
Stars – Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, plus many more actors that you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
It’s a movie about the relationship between a mother and daughter, Aurora Greenway (MacLaine) and Emma Horton (Winger). It’s also about all the ways that life can go both right and wrong. Nicholson co-stars as Aurora’s love interest, Garrett Breedlove, and Daniels as Emma’s husband, Flap.

Warnings:
A minimal amount of blue language; strong sexual innuendo (no nudity).

Bad Stuff:
I feel that this movie lacks broad appeal. To be honest, it’s a chick flick. Maybe I’m being sexist, but I can’t imagine a lot of men saying, “Oh yeah, that’s a really great movie. One of my all-time favorites.” While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that in general, I expect my Oscar winners to have that broader appeal. It seems like that’s the point of even crowning a winner each year.

Good Stuff:
The best part about this movie is the relationships. They all felt very natural and realistic. No relationship was perfect. There was tension and fighting and yet, underneath that, a tremendous amount of love. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Aurora and Garrett. It reminded me of me and my husband.

I expected a lot of extreme melodrama, a lot of screaming, for example, but even through terrible decisions, everyone acted like an adult. It was refreshing. I liked that it wasn’t judge-y. Most of the characters were morally gray and that was all right. It’s true to life. The screenplay was clearly written by a mature person for mature individuals.

I loved the progression, the growth, of MacLaine’s character.

The Verdict:
That grotesque sobbing you hear is me barely making it through the last 30 minutes of this movie. Don’t get me wrong; while it may lack the extreme melodrama of modern-day reality television, there is some really difficult stuff in this film. It doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. In spite of that, I really liked it. It’s a good film. Even if you’re a guy (or lady) who normally doesn’t go for “chick flicks,” you should give it a shot. You might be surprised.

I give the movie 4.25 stars.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Best Picture: "Gandhi," 1982

Movie Stats:
Released 1982 (India)
British & Indian, in English
Director – Richard Attenborough
Stars – Ben Kingsley, Rohini Hattangadi, Ian Charleson, Roshan Seth, Martin Sheen, and many, many more actors you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
A biopic of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Kingsley). If you somehow don’t know who Gandhi was, Google is your friend. Hattangadi co-stars as his wife, Kasturba; Charleson as his English clergy compatriot, Charlie Andrews; Seth as Jawaharlal Nehru; and Sheen as the American reporter Walker.

Warnings:
Violence; racist language.

Bad Stuff:
It’s over 3 hours long, although it didn’t start to drag for me until nearly the 3-hour mark.

I’m not saying the acting was bad, because it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination. However, in a movie like this, where everything else was great, I expect to be wowed and I wasn’t.

Good Stuff:
Gorgeous cinematography; great soundtrack; fantastic costumes. I even found myself admiring the make-up, something I rarely notice in movies (unless it’s bad). I thought they did a wonderful job of aging the actors throughout the movie, which takes place over a 50-year timespan.

It’s very well written. I was never confused about what was happening or why, and I definitely don’t have an especially firm grasp of Indian history.

Movies like this have to tread a fine line between being ineffectual in showing the plight of an oppressed people – in this case, Indian nationals – and overstating the case to the point that one begins to feel preached at. In my opinion, a lot of movies fall on the side of turning preachy. This was not one of them. In fact, I thought it did a masterful job of treading that line without stumbling to either side of it.

The Verdict:
I really liked it. I expected to be bored and I was not. It covers an amazing moment in human history: hundreds of thousands of people earning their independence through non-violence & non-compliance. It’s truly fascinating, and I found myself marveling over the bravery of these people who faced injury, jail time, and death for what they believed in. I even thought the villains – mostly the British – were interesting, when I thought considered their motivations, prejudices, and the fact that they were facing the death of their empire. This is really heady stuff.

Don’t let my minor quibble about the acting dissuade you. There are a lot of good performances here. There is no reason not to see this film.

I give the movie 4.25 stars.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Postcard Project: 1940s

As always, all grammatical/spelling errors copied verbatim from the cards.

September 6, 1940
Addressed to Grandpa.

"Hello [redacted]: Watt do you no. Volta."

It would perhaps help you to know that the "know" in "what do you know" rhymes with Grandpa's nickname, so his friend was being a little funny. Family lore has it that Grandpa was a very friendly, well-liked guy, but it's still a little weird to me to see evidence of all these friends he had that I never got to know. Of course, I never got to know my grandpa either.

March 4, 1941
Addressed to Grandpa.

"[Illegible] Friend, When I get there I shell talk  frekly[?] to you. Your Friend W.S.H., Hot Springs, S.D."

I don't know who W.S.H. was. I'm guessing that "frekly" is "frankly" either misspelled or the handwriting is so poor that I didn't read it right. Or maybe it's "friendly"? "Frankly" seems more likely which, if that's what it is, it seems pretty serious to me.

June 9, 1942
Addressed to Grandpa.

"Hi [redacted]: Having a grand time. Frank thanks you for the candy & sends his best regards. Pretty country down here but plenty hot. Everybody really friendly here make you feel right at home. Regards, Jeanne & Frank."

Inspired by my friend P, I looked up this building online. While the hospital system appears to exist, this building itself no longer does (unless my googling skills failed me).

All three of these postcards were sent to my grandpa at his job, which I think is a little weird.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Best Picture: "Chariots of Fire," 1981

Movie Stats:
Released 1981 (UK)
British, in English (minimal non-translated French)
Director – Hugh Hudson
Stars – Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Alice Krige

Plot Summary:
Based on actual events, it’s the story of two runners – Harold Abrahams (Cross) and Eric Liddell (Charleson) – seeking to compete for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics. Holm co-stars as Abrahams’s coach, Sam Mussabini, and Krige as his love interest, Sybil Gordon.

Warnings:
None.

Bad Stuff:
I was digging the music at the beginning of the film, but partway through the soundtrack switched over to 1980s synthesizer tunes and never went back. I was literally groaning in agony at one point. It was excruciating.

Nicholas Farrell, who plays Abrahams’s friend Aubrey Montague, has the same dumb look on his face the whole entire film, and I’m not sure what the look was supposed to mean. “What emotion is he trying to convey?” I kept wondering. “Why does he look like he’s lovesick for everyone?” Obviously, it was very distracting.

It’s rather dull.

Good Stuff:
The costumes were superb. I wanted practically every dress I saw.

Alice Krige makes everything better. She and Holm turned in the best performances. I guess Cross was pretty good too, but as soon as my husband pointed out that he's Spock's dad in 2009 Star Trek movie, that was all I could see.

The Verdict:
I had seen this before, about ten years ago, and I recall liking it then. This time around, I thought it was boring. I really couldn’t have cared less about any of the characters. I didn’t think anyone turned in a particularly fine performance. It didn’t grab me. Even so, it’s not a bad movie. I hate to rate it too harshly because it is an interesting topic and it was done pretty well. I’m sure that many people love it. It just wasn’t really my cup of tea.

I give the movie 3 stars.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Final Reflections on October 2013

Final reflections are coming to you a little late this month because I was out of town this weekend. It’s kind of funny - whenever I go out of town, I’m always excited by the prospect of it. “Yay! It’s a trip! I’m going to have a great time!” However, it usually only takes a day before I’m thinking, “You know, I kind of miss home.” My introverted and extroverted sides just never seem to agree with one another.

I don’t have much to say about our recently departed October. There have been no major life changes, nor anything especially exciting going on. Lately, I’d been feeling kind of sloth-like. Not fat or anything; just unhealthy, inactive, too stationery, etc. So I finally put my foot down in October and forced myself to start an exercise-and-writing regime. And it was working. I was finally writing again, and the exercise was helping me feel a lot better both physically and emotionally.

Unfortunately, about two weeks in, I was struck down by my Annual Autumn Cold. I’m one of those people who believe in actually resting while they’re sick. For four days, I primarily sat on the couch, neither going to work nor socializing, watched a lot of Netflix & soccer, and drank a lot of fluids. Unfortunately, it did little to alleviate my symptoms. I remained sick right up until this weekend, well over a week.

I’m finally beginning to feel better now. I’m looking forward to getting back to exercising and writing this week. I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, however. My brother is coming to visit in a week. Since I’ll be entertaining him, I won’t have as much time for writing. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I may make up for it by participating in the next Camp NaNoWriMo. We'll see.

And that’s it – everything I have to say about the month of October (and most of what I said is actually about November, lol). I guess life is just like that sometimes. I suppose if life were exciting all the time, I'd just feel exhausted.

That was October 2013 and there wasn't much of anything on my mind. If you're stopping by to read, why don't you tell me if anything has been on yours?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Best Picture: "Ordinary People," 1980

Movie Stats:
Released 1980 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Robert Redford
Stars – Mary Tyler Moore, Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Timothy Hutton

Plot Summary:
The story of a family learning to cope after the accidental death of the older son. Moore plays mother Beth Jarrett; Sutherland, the father, Calvin Jarrett; and Hutton the younger son, Conrad Jarrett. Hirsch co-stars as Conrad’s psychologist, Dr. Tyrone Berger.

Warnings:
A surprising amount of blue language.

Bad Stuff:
While I didn’t feel this way, I could see where some people would find this slow & pointless. There’s not really anything exciting about it. It’s a character study, which isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea.

Good Stuff:
The acting is absolutely phenomenal. They were all great; I can’t even say that one actor was better than another (although Hutton, wow, I didn’t know he had it in him). I really expected to hate Beth, who, incapable of expressing love or of forgiving Conrad for being alive while her other son is not, isn’t a particularly sympathetic character. But Moore somehow manages to play her in a way that I just felt pity for her, because her shortcomings hurt her more than anyone else. Sutherland and Hutton have great chemistry together; I could actually believe that they were a loving father and son. Their final scene together broke my heart in a good way. Hirsch too was fantastic; I thought this was one of the better portrayals of a psychologist I’ve ever seen on film.

I liked that it asked a lot of hard questions that didn’t have easy answers, and that it didn’t go for the quick, happy ending.

The Verdict:
First, a story about Timothy Hutton. About a year ago or so, I was flipping through the channels on TV when I stumbled across an episode of The Twilight Zone called “And When the Sky Was Opened.” One of the actors looked really familiar to me. It bothered me so much that I finally looked it up. It turns out that the actor was Jim Hutton, Timothy Hutton’s father. I’ve never seen him in anything else; I recognized him because his son looks so much like him (at the time, my husband and I were going through all the seasons of the show “Leverage,” which Timothy starred in). Jim Hutton died young, in 1979, of cancer. When Timothy won the Best Actor Oscar (deservedly) for “Ordinary People,” he dedicated it to his father.

Now, the verdict. I really liked this film. I was dreading it going in because I figured it was going to be a sob fest. It was. I’m a huge sap. I hate to see people in emotional pain. I’m a sympathetic crier. If someone on-screen is crying, I’m likely to start crying as well. You better believe I was crying my eyes out during this film, and I’m glad no one was around to witness it. While I don’t have children, I imagine that losing a child has got to be just about the most painful thing a person can experience. I can understand why it tears families apart. Watching this film was like sitting through two hours of getting punched right in the emotions.

But I’m not saying that like it’s a bad thing. This is a great film. If you’re not adverse to sad stories and ambiguously happy endings, then don’t shy away from this one. There aren’t a lot of movies out there that are capable of being this poignant without straying too far into the category of melodrama. This is one of them.

I give the movie 4.25 stars.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Loneliness: Friendships, Part 1

The more I thought about the topic of friendship, the more I realized that I have a lot to say about it. Therefore, I’ve decided to break this section of the series into three parts. This first part will deal with my childhood & junior high friendships; the second with my high school & college friendships; and the third part will cover adult friendships & conclusions.

I’m one of those people who, on the surface, appears to be really good at friendships. At least, I’m friendly with a lot of people. I have been since college. How can you be lonely? I feel like people are thinking. You know so many people. While that’s true, my friendships have rarely been as close as I would like. Because my family has never been particularly tight, friendships have always been very important to me. However, I’ve always secretly felt that I’m not as important to my friends as they are to me.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure the problem is me. I’m shy about friendships. I like to play my hand pretty close to my chest, not letting people know how much I like them. I’m afraid of appearing overly eager or desperate or, god forbid, needy. I fear rejection.

I’m positive that the seeds of this fear were sown in my childhood, where I faced rejection early and often.

My childhood best friend was the girl who lived across the street. We’ll call her K. We were the same age, but went to different elementary schools. Our friendship mostly stayed in the neighborhood. As I recall it, we were pretty tight.

Things changed the summer before we started junior high together. A girl who lived down the street from us, who was a couple of years younger, broke us up. It was something I didn’t understand then. I still don’t really understand it today, nearly 30 years later. I’m not sure what her end game was. Maybe she was just being evil in the way that girls that age can be evil. The details are fuzzy for me now, but I clearly remember her telling us lies about things each of us supposedly said about the other.

I’m not sure why it worked. As I remember it, I didn’t believe her lies, but K did (granted, my memory could be faulty, allowing me to remember things the way I want rather than how they were). It was very bewildering and painful. In the end, I went into junior high without a best friend. K and I never really made up. Years later, when we were in high school, we discussed the break up briefly and had a laugh about it. But we were never friends again.

In junior high, I had two close girlfriends, N and C. If my memory serves correct, N and I were closer in sixth grade, and I became close to C later, after she moved from another state into my neighborhood. C and I were close enough that we chose to be locker partners in eighth grade, a huge deal because we were required to carry our eighth grade locker partners over into ninth grade, which was at the high school.

Junior high was a tough time for me. I’d been teased to some extent in elementary school, but it was really bad in junior high. Kids were mean. I was easy pickings. N was the first in my long string of friendships with girls that I would now call “troubled.” She came from an even rougher background than me. She lived in a trailer park – a huge social stigma where I grew up. She was even more awkward looks-wise than me. The kids were even meaner to her than they were to me. That’s probably what brought us together. We were united in misery.

C, on the other hand, was pretty normal. I think I started out as a friend of convenience for her. Since she was new to the area, and we lived only a few doors down from one another, I was one of the first people she met. Even so, we quickly became close. I liked her a lot.

I don’t know for sure what happened between me and C. I don’t remember if we had an actual falling out over something. I don’t think so, because as I recall it, partway through eighth grade, C just started to be mean to me out of nowhere. It actually got pretty bad. When I fell in gym one day and sprained my arm and had to go to the hospital, I came back to school the next day to find that C had torn down all of my pictures in our shared locker. This was nothing like it had been with K, where we broke up and then essentially ignored one another. C had a lot of vitriol toward me. Once again, I was thoroughly bewildered.

In hindsight, I believe that C had finally figured out that being friends with me was social suicide, so she dumped me. In high school, she moved on to a more popular clique (not that it was hard to find a group more popular than me). After muddling through ninth grade as uneasy locker partners, we never spoke again.

At the same time, my friendship with N cooled. I don’t remember why. We were never not friends; we just weren’t as close anymore. I know my mother didn’t approve of her, but that probably had little to do with it. Now, I wonder if I did to her what C had done to me, dumping her because she was even lower on the social totem pole than me. I hope this is not the case, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Most preteens are assholes, even me. Whatever the problem, she didn’t deserve my ingratitude. She was really nice. A good friend. 

N got pregnant in high school and dropped out. I’ve never spoken to her again, although she kindly left condolences on my mother’s online obituary (actually, so did K).

It’s probably important here to reiterate that all of this was happening amidst a home environment where I was rarely encouraged to pursue friendships. In fact, my mom often made it difficult to have friends, not allowing parties or sleepovers, complaining if I was on the phone too long, refusing to drive me places, etc. I don’t know if this was a concerted effort on her part to deny me friends or just a lot of different quirks of her personality coming together in a very negative way.

The upshot is, I had a lot of odds stacked against me, and although I struggled hard against them, by time I was fourteen, I’d already been rejected by two of my closest friends. It hurt and it affected the way that I saw friendship from there on out.

Join me next time to discover if I fared any better at friendships in high school.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Postcard Project: 1930s, Part 7

As always, all grammatical/spelling mistakes copied verbatim.

June 24, 1938
Addressed to Grandma & Grandpa

"Dear [redacted], Taking a trip with five other girls & it certainly has been wonderful so far. Visited 'Will Rogers Ranch' while driving thru Okla. also saw plenty of cowboys, one of them took us to one of the ranches here in Texas this morning. The weather plenty warm 104 but at nite it gets so cool you have to have [?] cover. Saw acres of wheat, corn which [illegible] is 5 ft high and fields of cotton wish I could tell you more. Tomorrow we are going to visit Mexico. Love Mary."

While I think a trip with one's girlfriends sounds fun, six women crammed into a car (or hopefully two?) during a Texas summer in the 1930s - with no AC & presumably terrible roads - sounds absolutely horrific. Glad Mary had a good time anyway.

July 7, 1938
Addressed to Grandma

"Hello [redacted] - Having a swell time here - I'm going down the cave now. Peg."

The back of the card indicates that this is the Rainbow Room of Wonderland Cave, three miles west of Cave City, Kentucky. I can't find Wonderland Cave on the map, but Mammoth Cave appears to be just west of Cave City, Kentucky. I'm thinking maybe Wonderland Cave had a name change some time after 1938. My mom took us to Mammoth Cave when we were kids. It was pretty cool.

July 23, 1938
Addressed to Grandma & Grandpa.

"Hello Folks. Enjoying the country up here very much. This is the last Post Office in Michigan. Love, Mary & Don."

Copper Harbor appears to be at the very tippy tip of the "finger" of the Upper Peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior, so I don't think Mary was exaggerating when she calls it the last post office in Michigan. This is the last card in the collection from Mary.

August 8, 1938
Addressed to Grandma.

"Hi [redacted]: Here I am in Detroit doing as the Detroiters do. Hope your not melting away at the office. Marie."

I was honestly unaware that Grandma continued to work after she married Grandpa. When I thought about it, though, it kind of made sense. My uncle wouldn't be born for another couple of years, so why not work? I wonder what she did though, if she continued to be a telephone operator, as she was when she lived in Virginia.

November 8, 1938
Addressed to Grandma & Grandpa

"HELLO PEOPLE - AT LEAST WE DO NOT FEEL LIKE THE ROCK. JUST LOOK AT US. [names redacted]."

This is another card they sent to themselves. It made me laugh. Obviously, they weren't "starving" while they were on vacation. I always heard that my grandpa had a good sense of humor, and I can see it shining through in his writings (it's his handwriting on this card).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Best Picture Interlude: Three More Decades' Worth of Ratings


Look at that, I’ve finished another three decades of Best Picture winners! That means it’s time for another “round-up.” Just like last time, I’ve grouped them by decade, from least favorite to favorite.

1950s
10. The Greatest Show on Earth – 1 star
9. An American in Paris – 2 stars
8. Gigi – 2.5 stars
7. From Here to Eternity – 3 stars
6. Around the World in Eighty Days – 3.5 stars
5. Ben-Hur – 3.5 stars
4. All About Eve – 3.75 stars
3. The Bridge on the River Kwai – 4 stars
2. Marty – 4.5 stars
1. On the Waterfront – 4.75 stars

1960s
10. Tom Jones - .25 star
9. A Man for All Seasons – 2.5 stars
8. Midnight Cowboy – 2.75 stars
7. My Fair Lady – 3 stars
6. The Apartment – 3.5 stars
5. West Side Story – 4 stars
4. Oliver! – 4.25 stars
3. Lawrence of Arabia – 4.25 stars
2. The Sound of Music – 4.25 stars
1. In the Heat of the Night – 4.75 stars

1970s
10. The Deer Hunter – 2 stars
9. The French Connection – 2.75 stars
8. Annie Hall – 3 stars
7. Rocky – 3.25 stars
6. The Sting – 3.5 stars
5. The Godfather Part II – 3.75 stars
4. Kramer vs. Kramer – 4 stars
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 4 stars
2. Patton – 4 stars
1. The Godfather – 4.5 stars

Last time, as I was set to head into the 1950s, I expressed excitement, because I hadn’t seen many of them before. As you can see, however, much of the 1950s were a bitter disappointment. On the other hand, both the 1960s & the 1970s were better than I’d anticipated. I have to admit that I’m looking ahead to the 1980s & 1990s with no small amount of trepidation. I have a feeling that a lot of excessive melodrama is headed my way. I guess I better grab my box of Kleenex!