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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.


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?