Thursday, May 29, 2014

Best Picture: "The King's Speech," 2010

Movie Stats:
Released 2010 (USA)
American, British & Australian, in English (some brief non-translated German)
Director - Tom Hooper
Stars - Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter

Plot Summary:
Based on true events, when British Prince Albert, aka “Bertie” (Firth), later to become King George VI, is pressured to perform as a public speaker, he turns to  diction coach Lionel Logue (Rush) to help him overcome his prominent stutter. Carter co-stars as Bertie’s devoted wife, Elizabeth.

A significant amount of blue language.

Bad Stuff:
I don’t have any serious complaints about this film. At the beginning, Firth and Carter are both obviously older than the people they’re playing, which is something that my brain has a hard time letting go of. However, I understand that it would be more distracting if they used different actors for younger Bertie & Elizabeth.

Good Stuff:
The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. There were several scenes that took my breath away.

Fantastic acting. The first time I saw this, I was most impressed by Rush. This time around, it struck me how amazing Firth is. Every scene that he’s in, you can sense what Bertie is feeling, even when he doesn’t speak: his frustration and shame and rage in regards to his stutter, his reluctance to become king, and his love for his wife and children. Carter is great too. I love her in understated roles.

Great soundtrack & the costumes are wonderful.

The Verdict:
I could see why this film wouldn’t be appealing to everyone, especially people who have no interest in the British monarchy, or in history in general (because it has just as much to do with WWII as it does the British monarchy). However, it’s so much more than it appears to be on the surface. This is a film about love and friendship, perseverance and courage, and about doing what we must, even when it’s not what we wish to do. I find it incredibly moving. When I saw it in the theater, I loved it, but I was half-convinced it would be boring a second time around. It wasn’t. It’s sweet and it’s touching. I could see myself watching it at least once a year, and I’d probably get verklempt each time.

I give the film 4.25 stars.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Toys My Dog Destroys: Monkey

I actually purchased Monkey at the same time as Lamb Chop. He made the trip across country with us, packed away, waiting for his moment to come out & play. That chance came after Major destroyed Green Bunny-Octopus. Here are a couple of pictures of Monkey before I gave him to Major on March 11:

The destruction of Monkey began almost immediately. I found him the very next day, March 12, with one of his yarn eyes mostly pulled out and the other one partially pulled out:

I expected things to descend rapidly from there. Happily, I was wrong. At some point, Monkey lost the loop on the top of his head. I neglected to document when. However, his eye was never completely pulled out and the other eye, somehow, went back in. Beats me how that happened. In fact, Monkey didn’t really face any further destruction until nearly two months after I gave him to Major. On May 10, I found him eviscerated:

Notice Major's snout on the left. He's going
in for the kill.

The very next day, on May 11, I found Monkey’s squeaker pulled out and on top of our bed. Since I feel weird about posting a picture of my bed online, here’s a picture of the squeaker on top of my dresser:

Truthfully, Major lost interest in Monkey after pulling out his squeaker. He hardly played with him anymore. I was lazy, though, and didn’t throw Monkey away until today, May 27. Here’s a picture of him before he went in the trash. As you can see, Major never managed to crack open his head to get out that stuffing:

Major was fond of Monkey. He likes the smaller toys, and they seem to last longer, but I prefer the bigger ones because they’re easier to play tug-of-war and fetch with. I bought Monkey at a major pet store chain for $3.00. He lasted approximately two months.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Huntington

A couple of weeks ago, my husband came home from work gushing about some place that a co-worker had told him about, a place that he proactively deemed my "Mecca." He was giddy. He couldn't wait to take me there. "There," however, was a top secret location that he refused to divulge.

We went last weekend.

"There" turned out to be The Huntington, a "private nonprofit collections-based research and educational institution founded in 1919 by Henry E. Huntington" (quote taken from The Huntington's official brochure). In case you're wondering, Huntington made all his money as a railroad baron. His legacy is located at 1151 Oxford Road in San Marino. For adults, the cost to get in is $20 during the week and $23 on weekends. It's open every day of the week besides Tuesday (and major holidays, of course). You'll be spending a lot of time outside, so go prepared.

My hubby was right. I loved this place. It's a library, art collections, and botanical gardens all rolled up into one totally awesome place. The only problem? It's huge. We were there for three hours (it was hot and I'd been on a hike earlier in the day so I was beat) and saw a lot but there was so much more to see. We'll have to go back, but I don't consider that a hardship.

One of the nice things about The Huntington is all the beautiful statues. They're located in several places throughout the grounds. The two below can be found on the North Vista Lawn:

Don't know if this is supposed to be anyone
in particular.

I assume this is Poseidon/Neptune.

The only art collection we saw was in the Huntington Art Gallery, which also featured this lovely library:

The bookcases were all locked. I suspect the books are original
to Mr. Huntington's collection.

It also had a small chapel in a tucked away corner of the building, which featured this stunning stained glass window:

I'm particularly fond of stained glass art.

This gallery features the Huntington's European art. A lot of it was Rococo, with a smattering of Baroque, both styles that I'm not big on. Below are a couple of paintings that I did really like. I was stupid and didn't write down the names of either of these paintings but Google is semi-awesome and helped me find the name of this one:

"Vesuvius from Portici" by Joseph Wright.

However, my Google-fu was too weak to find this one:

Love, love, love the colors in this.

There are a lot of gardens to see at the Huntington. We saw the sweet little Shakespeare Garden and part of the Subtropical Garden. I didn't take pictures in either of those. I did take a couple of pictures in the Rose Garden. The roses were on the way out but it was still very pretty:

Wish I could remember the name of this.
Strawberry cheesecake, I think.

This was called Lemons and Oranges.

My favorite garden was the Desert Garden, and we only saw part of it. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of cacti in the world.

I see at least four different kinds in this pic.

Love the orange flowers on this one.

Funny shape. Check out the furry palm
in the background.

We rounded out our visit at the Library Exhibition Hall, which has the largest collection of old books I've ever seen in my life. It was so cool! They had originals from many famous authors, including a copy of "Hamlet" from Shakespeare's time, and two rooms full of science books from throughout the ages. I didn't take any pictures because 1. I wasn't sure it was okay to do so and 2. I don't think the awesomeness of it can be conveyed in a picture. You really have to see it for yourself.

We missed out on: the Japanese Garden; the Chinese Garden; the Australian Garden (An Australian Garden! I wonder what's in it?); the Jungle Garden; the Herb Garden; the Lily Ponds; the Scott & Erburu Galleries, where they house the American art; and the Boone Gallery.

Honestly, I didn't realize that we had missed so much. Now I'm really looking forward to going back. This place is great! It's a definite must-see if you're in the LA area.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Best Picture Interlude: Another Three Decades' Worth of Ratings

I've finally finished another three decades, so here's your latest "round-up." As always, they're grouped by decade, from least favorite to favorite. To see the 1920s-1940s click HERE. To see the 1950s-1970s click HERE.

10. The Last Emperor - 2 stars
9. Amadeus - 2.75 stars
8. Chariots of Fire - 3 stars
7. Out of Africa - 3.25 stars
6. Rain Man - 3.5 stars
5. Driving Miss Daisy - 3.75 stars
4. Terms of Endearment - 4.25 stars
3. Gandhi - 4.25 stars
2. Ordinary People - 4.25 stars
1. Platoon - 4.5 stars

10. Shakespeare in Love - 2.5 stars
9. Titanic - 2.75 stars
8. The English Patient - 2.75 stars
7. Forest Gump - 3 stars
6. Braveheart - 3 stars
5. Unforgiven - 3.25 stars
4. The Silence of the Lambs - 4 stars
3. Dances with Wolves - 4 stars
2. Schindler's List - 4.5 stars
1. American Beauty - 4.75 stars

10. Crash - 1 star
9. Gladiator - 2.5 stars
8. A Beautiful Mind - 2.75 stars
7. No Country for Old Men - 3.5 stars
6. The Hurt Locker - 4 stars
5. Slumdog Millionaire - 4 stars
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - 4 stars
3. Million Dollar Baby - 4.25 stars
2. Chicago - 4.25 stars
1. The Departed - 4.5 stars

The 1980s and 90s fared better than I'd expected. While the 2000s has the lowest-rated movie since the 1960s, it wins so far with the highest number of movies that I've given 4 or more stars to (6). (The lowest number, 2, belongs to the 1930s. The 1920s had none but it also only had 2 movies so I don't think it's fair to count it.)

I'm looking forward to wrapping up this project - at least until this year's winner - and coming up with some conclusions. Look for that to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Best Picture: "The Hurt Locker," 2009

Movie Stats:
Released 2008 (Italy at the Venice Film Festival; released U.S. 2009)
American, in English (some mostly non-translated Arabic)
Director – Kathryn Bigelow
Stars – Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

Plot Summary:
When an American bomb unit only 40 days out from completing their rotation in Iraq loses their team leader (Staff Sgt. Matt Thompson, played by Guy Pearce) in an explosion, they quickly find that their new leader, Sgt. 1st Class William James (Renner), is an unstable adrenaline junkie. Mackie and Geraghty co-star as the other team members, Sgt. J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge, respectively.

Loads of blue language; lots of war-related violence.

Bad Stuff:
It’s kind of slow.

Some of the camera work is too shaky. I realize that it’s a stylistic choice. It happens to be a stylistic choice that doesn’t normally bother me, but it did here.

Good Stuff:
I’ve never served in the military or been in a war, so I’ll say that this movie feels like what I imagine being in a war would feel like – tedium interspersed with high intensity, chaos, anger, and fear. I like that it doesn’t glorify war, even as some of the characters within it glorify it.

It can be intense in the good way. Not easy to watch but still tremendously satisfying.

I feel like there’s a character in this that everyone could relate to. Some of us would be the na├»ve Colonel John Cambridge (Christian Camago). Some of us would lack self-confidence and bravado, like Eldridge. Some of us would be a little bit crazy like James. Personally, I related most strongly to Sanborn, who, while scared out of his mind and desperate to stay alive, still strove to do his duty and protect his teammates to the very end.

The Verdict:
When I saw this in the theater, I loved it. I felt like that was just yesterday, so it’s shocking to realize that it was some 5 years ago. This time around, I was a little bit bored. I don’t think the movie truly hits its stride – or perhaps makes it point – until the very end. I love the brief scenes of James trying and failing to re-acclimate to civilian life, especially the scene in the cereal aisle. Nearly twenty years ago, I lived in Germany for a year, where there were only two choices for cereal – cornflakes and Mueslix. When I got home to the U.S., I remember how overwhelming, and ridiculous, American grocery stores felt to me for a while. Therefore, that scene resonated very strongly with me. By the end of the film, I could understand why civilian life wasn’t enough for James any longer, why he was willing to risk death for a little excitement.

Anyway, while I wasn’t quite as enthralled this time around, I still enjoyed it. It’s a good film. And it’s really awesome to finally see a film directed by a woman win Best Picture. She’s also the first woman to win Best Director (while Loveleen Tandan shared a directing credit with Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire – she directed the scenes shot in India – she did not share the Best Director award with him).

I give the film 4 stars.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Getty Villa and The Getty Center

This week I visited The Getty Villa and The Getty Center. The Getty Villa is a museum built by multi-millionaire Jean Paul Getty on his ranch property. A nearly exact replica of the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy, which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the Villa houses the art of ancient antiquity (Greece, Rome, Egypt). It opened in 1974. When Getty died in 1976, he left nearly all of his vast fortune to his museum trust. After several years of discussion and planning, the people in charge of the trust built The Getty Center, which opened to the public in 1997. The Center houses more contemporary art, from the 1500s to modern times. It also includes a research center. Both museums also have extensive grounds with beautiful gardens.

Admission is free at both the Villa and the Center, but parking at each cost $15. (I saw a sign at the Center parking garage that said the first hour is free but unless you're there to run an errand, you need to spend more than an hour there.) However, if you visit both in one day, you can pay $15 at the first one & ask their helpful staff for a voucher that will let you park at the other one for free. This is what I did.

I started at the Villa, located at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. To visit the Villa, you must get your free ticket online. You can't just drive up expecting to get in. Their online system allows you your choice of day and time. Print out your ticket at home & bring it with you. You pay for parking when you get there. I paid cash. I'm not sure if you can pay by card but their check-in system was pretty low-tech so I don't think so.

The signage was great and the staff was really helpful. It was easy to park, get into the museum, and find my way around. I recommend wearing sunscreen and a hat and/or sunglasses, although the museum offers sun umbrellas free of charge. There's a lot to see outside.

View of the main garden at The Getty Villa.

A sign told me that these intricate outdoor
hallways were built for shady strolling in the garden.

The main pool at The Getty Villa.

I think my favorite thing on the property was all of the amazing tile work, including all of the mosaics:

Detail of the mosaic work in the outdoor hallway.

Beautiful mosaic fountain in a side garden.

Inside, there are two floors full of the artwork of antiquity. Most antiquity collections are pretty standard: Grecian urns, marble statues, gold coins, etc. While the Villa had all of that, it also had so much more. One of my favorite exhibits was the ancient glasswork:

Mind blown that this stuff has survived for
thousands of years.

This lovely blue bowl was my favorite.

Unfortunately, most of my other favorite things were part of the special collection (now through August 25 of this year, the art of Byzantium) so pictures weren't allowed. I was wowed by: tiny gold scrolls inscribed with prayers; tiny jewel amulets inscribed with magic spells; the complete mummy of a young man named Herakleides; and an illustrated book that was over 1,000 years old.

I spent about an hour and a half at the Villa. I could have spent a lot more time there, but I wanted to get to the Center. There were a variety of free tours and movies that I didn't utilize. Also, there were a lot of rooms I breezed through a bit quickly because I didn't want to waste time.

The official address for The Getty Center is 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. It's about a half hour drive from the Villa. If you're coming from the Villa, your GPS will send you up I-405 north. I recommend getting off at the Moraga exit and following the signs to the Center. Otherwise, your GPS may send you off in the opposite direction, like mine did.

There is no need to get a ticket for the Center beforehand. Once there, you park in the garage and take a tram up to the museum. The tram is free. Like the Villa, the Center offers free sun umbrellas and I recommend you use one or wear sunscreen because you will spend a significant amount of time outside.

View of one of The Getty Center's buildings.

View of two of the The Getty Center's buildings.

The Center was more confusing to navigate than the Villa, mostly because it's much bigger. A free map was provided, but I personally didn't find it very useful. However, the staff there are very friendly & I'm sure would have been helpful if I'd stopped to ask. Instead, I sort of wandered. I figured I'd find something awesome no matter where I went. I was right.

First, I came across the European art. I love the Impressionists and the Romantics, so here are a couple of my favorite paintings from those eras:

The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in the Morning Light
Claude Monet

Modern Rome-Campo Vaccino
Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Center also houses one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings, "Irises." I didn't take a picture of it because I figured practically everyone has seen it.

My other favorite collection of the afternoon was the special collection, photography of the Victorian era. Specifically, the collection includes many of Queen Victoria's personal photographs (apparently she was a buff), on loan from Queen Elizabeth II (it was so weird to see the words "on loan from Queen Elizabeth II"). Since it was the special collection, I wasn't allowed to take pictures.

By now, it was early afternoon and I was hot and tired (temps were well into the 90s) so I stopped by the on-site cafe for some food and a cold drink. The prices were reasonable by LA standards and the food was pretty good. There was a variety of options. After lunch, I stepped outside to visit the gardens:

View of the garden from above.

Flowers in the garden.

Flowers and trees in the garden.

By time I was finished in the garden, it was getting late enough that I was growing concerned about hitting traffic. I wanted to avoid rush hour. Even so, leaving around 3 p.m., I noticed that northbound 405 was already jam packed. Luckily, I was going south. If you've got a special voucher for the parking, you need to stop by the parking office (at the bottom end of the tram line) to have your ticket scanned. Otherwise you'll get stuck paying another $15.

I spent probably about two and a half hours at the Center and could have spent much longer. As with the Villa, I didn't utilize any of the free tours or movies. I also probably saw about a third of what was on offer.

In the future, I would not do both of these in one day again. That's my advice to you. Unless you're on a tight budget or are feeling particularly ambitious, go to these museums separately and really take the time to enjoy them because there is a lot to enjoy. Also, be prepared for crowds. There were tons of people there, including vast groups of school children.

All in all, however, this was an immensely pleasurable experience. I will definitely be visiting both again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Best Picture: "Slumdog Millionaire," 2008

Movie Stats:
Released 2008 (USA)
British, in English (lots of mostly translated Hindi)
Directors – Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan
Stars – Dev Patel, Freida Pinto

Plot Summary:
When Jamal Malik (Patel), a boy born in the slums of Mumbai, makes it to the final round of the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” questions arise as to whether he’s been cheating. His life story is told through the lens of a police interrogation. Pinto co-stars as Jamal’s love interest Latika.

A surprising amount of violence, including torture (even of children); some really minor blue language; and brief child nudity (male butt only).

Bad Stuff:
I knew nothing about the film and somehow I’d gotten the impression that it was a happy fun-time musical. Luckily, a friend had recently let me know that my perception was faulty. So, I felt prepared going in. I wasn’t prepared. There are a lot of very disturbing things that happen in this film, especially the torture scenes (even though they aren’t especially graphic). Also, it isn’t a musical at all.

In the beginning, the jumps between Jamal’s distant past, his recent past, and the present were very jarring. It took me a while to get into the flow of it.

I feel like they gave the audience the ending they thought they wanted but I’m not convinced that it felt very true.

Good Stuff:
I liked the story and characters a lot. I particularly enjoyed the way it showed how Jamal knew each of the answers. I liked that each of the characters was very believable, as were their actions. I enjoyed the complex interplay between Jamal and his brother Salim (adult Salim played by Madhur Mittal), love combined with competition and a hint of hate. It felt like a true sibling relationship.

Fantastic soundtrack.

I wouldn’t say that anyone’s acting blew me away (although all the child actors were pretty great) but as an ensemble cast, I thought they played really well off one another.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed it. The story is both interesting and engrossing. It does a good job of making you care about the characters. I never felt bored. In fact, the time flew by, which is rare amongst Oscar winners, let me tell you (although it’s only 2 hours long, on the short side for one of these). While I don’t consider this movie to be the final authority on Indian economic and caste issues, I still felt like I learned a bit more about a culture I know little about. If you don’t want to see guys get beat up and shot or little kids get tortured, perhaps you should skip this one. Otherwise, you might want to give it a shot. I know I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t anything like I thought it was going to be, and ultimately that was a good thing. 

I give the movie 4 stars.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Best Picture: "No Country for Old Men," 2007

Movie Stats:
Released 2007 (France)
American, in English (some mostly non-translated Spanish)
Directors – Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars – Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones

Plot Summary:
When Llewelyn Moss (Brolin) stumbles across the aftermath of a major drug deal gone wrong and walks away with the $2 million he finds there, he sets in motion a violent chain of events. Bardem co-stars as Anton Chigurh, the psychopath hired to track Moss down, and Jones as Ed Tom Bell, the sheriff trying to figure out the whole situation.

Extremely graphic violence. If there was any blue language, it was so mild that I didn’t notice it.

Bad Stuff:
The ending is terrible. It didn’t fit with the rest of the film at all. The turn of phrase that comes to mind is “total weaksauce.”

It felt pointless. As you know, I don’t necessarily mind it if films don’t have a grand, important message. The last winner was that way & I loved it. However, the last winner felt like an intense, thrilling ride that kept me on the edge of my seat for nearly three hours. This movie ended and I thought to myself, “Why did I just spend two hours watching that?” It was intense but I wouldn't say that it was entertaining.

Good Stuff:
Where the Coen brothers have always excelled, in my opinion, is in bringing characters to life. Their characters are often interesting, multi-layered, and quirky in fun ways. This movie is no exception to that. Even the most minor of characters was fascinating. Also, I loved all the heavy Texan accents.

Fine performances from everyone, especially Bardem and Brolin. Sometimes, it’s difficult to believe that adult Josh Brolin is the same guy who was a heartthrob that starred in crappy TV shows back in the 1980s and early 90s.

The Verdict:
The Coens are a bit hit and miss for me. I absolutely love some of their movies (“Raising Arizona,” “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) while feeling “meh” about many of their others (“Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski”). I’d say that this one falls more on the “meh” end of the spectrum. I loved the characters. I loved the actors who played them. However, I felt that the story was lacking. It was great for about the first hour and twenty minutes or so, but then it fell apart, like all the threads didn’t quite weave together right. In the end, I was dissatisfied. 

I give the film 3.5 stars.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Best Picture: "The Departed," 2006

Movie Stats:
Released 2006 (USA)
American & Hong Kongian (?), in English (some non-translated Cantonese)
Director – Martin Scorsese
Stars – Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, and many others

Plot Summary:
While undercover cop Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) tries to get close enough to big-time crime boss Frank Costello (Nicholson) to make a bust, Frank’s man Colin Sullivan (Damon) infiltrates the police department. It’s a race to see who discovers who first. Wahlberg co-stars as Dignam, one of the heads of the undercover department.

Lots of graphic violence; copious blue language, including racial epithets; and heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Madolyn Madden (Vera Farmiga) is the worst psychotherapist ever. Plus, her character is pretty useless. Not even sure why she’s there.

All the rat imagery is a bit heavy-handed for me, especially the scene at the very end. When I saw it in the theater, I actually groaned in embarrassment at that scene.

It’s a little bit too long.

Good Stuff:
The performances are phenomenal. They’re what make this film. Everyone is so good that it’s a little difficult to single out the best, but I think my favorites are DiCaprio and Wahlberg. I’ve always thought that DiCaprio is a great actor, but he’s magnificent here, so expressive and wounded. Watching his character fall apart is as fascinating as it is sad. As for Wahlberg, his character cracks me up. He’s such an abrasive jerk and yet he’s still likable because he’s trying to do the right thing.

It’s intense in the best kind of way. Who’s going to get caught? Who’s going to get away with it? Is anyone going to get killed? You just know something bad is going to happen but you don’t know when and that leaves you squirming. Even though I’d seen it before, I was still on the edge of my seat the second time around.

Great soundtrack.

The Verdict:
I really like this movie. It’s not trying to teach you any lessons (except maybe that snitches get stitches). It doesn’t have anything momentous to say. It’s simply a very well done thriller, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Not all Oscar winners have to be cerebral. If you don’t like blood or physical violence or the death of a major character (or swearing), then this movie probably isn’t for you. I don’t typically mind that kind of stuff, but there’s one death in particular that was a bit gruesome even for me.

The reason to see this movie is the quality acting. Even Nicholson, who I generally find to be somewhat one-note, is great here (he doesn’t go all crazy-eyed wise-guy until the end). On a shallow note, this film reminded me of why I had such a huge crush on Leonardo DiCaprio for years. He’s insanely hot here, even as he scowls his way (understandably) through the whole thing. 

I give the film 4.5 stars.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Santa Monica Walking Tour

The latest edition of the Santa Monica Seascape, a quarterly newspaper produced by the City of Santa Monica, came with a short walking tour of some of the city's historical downtown buildings. I usually go downtown about once a week, so I thought to myself, why not give the tour a try?

I wasn't disappointed. See below for some of the pictures I took. Note: All historical facts presented in this blog post are taken from the Seascape article. I did none of the research myself.

The tour began at 1440 2nd Street. The Rapp Saloon/Old Town Hall was built in 1875, the year Santa Monica was founded. It's been many things since then.

I love this beautiful little building.

The article states that the building is the city's first designated historical landmark. The youth hostel next door owns the property but this particular building itself appeared empty when I walked past it.

Next up on the tour was 1451 2nd Street, almost across the street from the Rapp Saloon. It's the Hotel Carmel, built in 1928:

Couldn't get the whole building in the shot, especially since a man in
a giant SUV kept driving back and forth in my way.

As you can see, it's still the Hotel Carmel. Apparently it used to be a retreat for Hollywood movie stars. I'd imagine they have swankier places to visit these days, but what do I know?

My next stop was around the corner at 1460 3rd Street. This is the Keller Block, built in 1893. The picture below is just the front of the address side. The building actually takes up the whole corner of 3rd & Broadway, to about halfway down the block between 2nd & 3rd.

This picture does not do the beautiful brickwork justice.

The architecture style is called Romanesque Revival and it's gorgeous. Currently, the building is mixed-use, with restaurants and shops on the bottom & offices on the top. 

I went up the block and around the corner for the next stop, 1433-37 4th Street. It was built in 1927. I was unable to get a decent wide shot of the building due to both traffic & the beautiful tree out in front, but I did get some close up shots of the sculptural designs & wrought iron work:

View 1 of 1433-37 4th Street.

View 2 of 1433-37 4th Street.

The building is currently home to a couple of retail shops.

Across the street, at 1424 4th Street, is the Central Tower Building, built in 1929. It used to house the city's first general store. Now it's home to shops and, I believe, some offices in the tower.

Wow, the sky looks pretty awesome here.

I love Art Deco architecture!

Around the corner and back down the street a couple of blocks was my next stop: The Bay Cities Guaranty Building, 225 Santa Monica Blvd. It's another lovely Art Deco building built in 1929.

They really knew how to make cool looking
buildings back in the 1920s.

After suffering extensive damage in the Northridge earthquake, the building underwent a $1.6 million seismic retrofit. I neglected to get close enough to see what's in the building now, although I believe that it's office space.

The final stop on my tour was 212-216 Santa Monica Blvd, the Majestic/Mayfair Theater. It was originally built in 1911 and it too suffered extensive damage in the Northridge earthquake.


I happen to know that this building recently underwent renovation because I saw it with my own eyes. It's right next to the public parking structure I like to park in. It no longer appears to be a working theater. 

That concludes my walking tour of downtown Santa Monica. I really enjoyed it. I'm grateful to the Santa Monica Seascape for providing both the impetus & the information. It served as a great reminder to spend more time looking up whenever I'm out and about.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Postcrossing: Skull Drawing

Postcrossing is a project that allows you to exchange postcards with people all over the world. I joined last year after a friend joined and I saw all the cool stuff she was getting. It's both easy & free to join.

I've been doing it for about a year now and it's been pretty fun. I've heard from a lot of cool people & I've received a lot of really great cards. My favorite cards, however, are the ones that are hand made and/or hand drawn. I love the creativity.

Last week, I received a card from Ksusha in Russia. The card itself was great: a black-and-white portrait of Kurt Cobain with a kitty. I'm particularly fond of black-and-white photographs:

Aww, Kurt actually looks happy
for once.

Then I flipped it over to the back and found this drawing:

Man, I wish I had this kind of talent.

How amazing is that? Skull pictures are on the list of things I like to receive. As you might imagine, I don't receive skull cards very often though. I seem to be the only person who buys them, haha.

So I really appreciate that Ksusha took the time to both pick out a card that I'd like and also to draw me an amazing skull picture. It's really above and beyond the call of duty. I'm happy to learn, over and over again, that there are so many lovely people in the world.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Best Picture: "Crash," 2005

Movie Stats:
Released 2004 (Canada; 2005 in the USA)
American, in English (some Persian, both translated and not; minimal non-translated other languages)
Director – Paul Haggis
Stars – Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton, Sandra Bullock, and many others

Plot Summary:
It’s a bunch of intertwined stories about race relations in Los Angeles. Cheadle stars as Det. Graham Waters; Dillon as Officer John Ryan; Newton as Christine Thayer; and Bullock as Jean Cabot.

Tons of blue language (including practically every racial slur imaginable); violence; heavily implied sexy times; non-consensual sexual touch; and brief female nudity (breasts only).

Bad Stuff:
Watching this movie is like being bludgeoned for two hours. That is to say, it overstates its case. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I dislike movies that lack subtlety. This movie has no subtlety whatsoever. Literally none. Zero. To me, racism is a very serious topic. It requires a serious discussion. I don’t believe that this movie is a part of that discussion. It’s like an afterschool special, trying to show you the evils of racism in the most overblown way possible. It’s ridiculous.

It thinks very highly of itself, like it’s so clever and edgy. “Oh, look at us, nice girl Sandy Bullock plays a mean racist! We say the n-word a lot! We totally deserve an Oscar!” Apparently the Academy agreed.

I don’t like movies that rely too heavily on coincidences. For example, [SPOILER] I simply don’t believe that the cop who molested a lady at a traffic stop would happen to be at the right place at the right time the following day to save her life. I also don’t believe that his partner would happen to be at the right place at the right time in a different situation to save her husband [SPOILER]. I’m not capable of suspending my disbelief that far.

Good Stuff:
I enjoyed the performances of Cheadle, Dillon and Michael Pena (as Daniel Ruiz).

The Verdict:
As most of you know, I loathe this movie. I saw it when it came out in the theater and thought it was dreadful. I was open to changing my mind. Perhaps, I thought, I was in a bad mood the day I saw it.

Nope. This movie is dreadful. It’s two hours of people hurling racial epithets at each other. Nearly everyone in the film is a raging a-hole. (The only likable character is Daniel Ruiz and the movie tries to tug at your heartstrings even more by giving him an adorable daughter, which was unnecessary because the character was plenty likable without her). It’s unpleasant. To me, it feels like a bunch of actors play-acting at being racist in a very obvious bid for an Oscar. Also, the dialogue is terrible (and not just because of all the racial slurs).

The whole thing is a hot mess. I don’t know why you would watch it. I don’t think that you should. Want to see a great Best Picture winner about racism? Try In the Heat of the Night.

I give the movie 1 star.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Final Reflections on April 2014

April flew by so fast that it’s hard to believe it’s already over. I spent most of the month writing for the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge. Camp is the same as the regular NaNo challenge (which happens in November): you write a 50,000-word novel in one month. There are just less support and hoopla for Camp than there are for regular NaNo, which doesn’t really matter to me because I don’t need the support or hoopla anyway.

At any rate, my idea was that, rather than starting anything new, I’d use the challenge to finish up a couple of the novels I’ve been working on for a while. Technically, that’s outside the spirit of the challenge. *Shrug* I’ve already completed several novels and have way too many partials. I certainly didn’t need to start another one.

So guess what happened?

I just couldn’t help myself. Sometimes a story is itching to get out and you can’t do much to stop it. Of the 50K I wrote, more than half of it was on my new story. Needless to say, I didn’t finish anything and now I have a new partial. That makes seven partials now. *Wince* Obviously, I have a problem. I spent so many years not writing that, now that I finally started, I can’t seem to stop.

I wouldn’t consider that a problem if it weren’t distracting me from other things, namely focusing on publishing. At the beginning of the month, I was also working on revising one of my finished novels but I soon got too involved in Camp to continue. I think that was the big lesson of April. I’ve already proved to myself that I can write when I put my mind to it. I’ve proved that I can finish novels. What I haven’t proved is that I can do something about it once I’ve finished.

As I go into May, I will be re-focusing on the revision work, hoping to finish quickly (by the end of next week at the latest). I think this is achievable because I only have another 10-12 chapters to go, plus a new chapter that I need to write and insert. Yesterday, I worked through five chapters in one afternoon. I’m feeling pretty confident.

The other thing I’d like to do in May is explore more of the city. In particular, there are several museums, the La Brea Tar Pits, and Griffith Observatory that I’d like to check out. As much as I’ve been enjoying taking things easy, I’m starting to feel the need to get out a bit more. The pressure of the writing challenge left me without much time to do anything fun. 

The short version of this post is this: I spent April writing. If you're stopping by to read, why don't you tell me what's been taking up your time?