Saturday, June 28, 2014

Up with Geography: Argentina

Country Name:

Buenos Aires

South America


South American continent. Argentina outlined
in dark ink and shaded.

A closer view of Argentina & its neighbors.

Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay

Water Borders:
Atlantic Ocean (South)

Total Area(added March 2015)
1,073,518 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Rosario, Mendoza, La Plata

Famous Geographical Point:
Tierra del Fuego (archipelago)

Famous Person:
Eva Peron, former First Lady

Book Set In/About:
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara

Che Guevara's travel diary of his motorcycle trip across South America. While not about Argentina specifically, I felt that this was a good choice for this category because it's an iconic book written by one of the most famous Argentines who's ever lived.

Movie Set In/About:
"The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)" (2009), directed by Juan Jose Campanella

When a retired court employee sits down to write a novel, he decides to draw on a case from his past that has long haunted him, the brutal murder of a beautiful woman.

Headline of the Day:
"World Cup 2014: How Argentina Learned to Stop Doubting and Fall in Love with the Genius That Is Lionel Messi" in The Telegraph.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Toys My Dog Destroys: Armadillo

Unfortunately, there's not much to the tale of armadillo. I bought him in a fit of nostalgia. "Major is a Texas dog," I said to myself. "A Texas dog deserves an armadillo." Besides, the armadillo was cute, and, as I've said before, I like the larger toys because they're easier to throw.

Here's armadillo right before I gave him to Major on the afternoon of 5/27/14:

The following morning, on 5/28/14, as we were playing tug-of-war, Major ripped a hole in armadillo:

It was all over in a matter of minutes after that:

Note: the white thing by the table leg is the squeaker.

Total destruction

Major usually continues to play with his toys even after he's torn them apart, so I didn't throw armadillo away until 6/12/14. However, in truth, he stopped playing with him as soon as he'd desiccated him. Here's armadillo before I threw him away:

When I lived in Texas, I saw a few armadillos
on the side of the road that looked like this.

I bought armadillo for $8.00 at a major pet store retailer. He lasted less than a day. I think I've learned my lesson now. No more purchasing larger toys, no matter how easy they are to throw.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Best Picture: Master List of Reviews and Scores

Here it is, my full list of scores and reviews. The list goes from my favorite winner to my least favorite winner. In cases where films share the same score, I’ve listed them based on personal preference. For example, the first 4 star review you see listed will be my favorite of all the films I’ve given 4 stars to.* Or, to put it another way, they’re listed in order of “most likely to ever watch again” to “least likely to ever watch again.”

Future winners will be reviewed as I see them, and will be added to this master list, with a link to this list at the bottom of the review.

  1. Casablanca - 5.0
  2. On the Waterfront - 4.75
  3. American Beauty - 4.75
  4. In the Heat of the Night - 4.75
  5. The Departed - 4.5
  6. The Godfather - 4.5
  7. Platoon - 4.5
  8. Schindler’s List - 4.5
  9. Spotlight - 4.5
  10. Marty - 4.5
  11. Ordinary People - 4.25
  12. All the King’s Men - 4.25
  13. Gone with the Wind - 4.25
  14. Chicago - 4.25
  15. Million Dollar Baby - 4.25
  16. Lawrence of Arabia - 4.25
  17. The Artist - 4.25
  18. The Sound of Music - 4.25
  19. The King’s Speech - 4.25
  20. Gandhi - 4.25
  21. Oliver! - 4.25
  22. Terms of Endearment - 4.25
  23. Dances with Wolves - 4.0
  24. The Lost Weekend - 4.0
  25. All About Eve - 4.0
  26. The Best Years of Our Lives - 4.0
  27. 12 Years a Slave - 4.0
  28. Slumdog Millionaire - 4.0
  29. Patton - 4.0
  30. The Bridge on the River Kwai - 4.0
  31. It Happened One Night - 4.0
  32. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - 4.0
  33. The Silence of the Lambs - 4.0
  34. The Hurt Locker - 4.0
  35. West Side Story - 4.0
  36. Going My Way - 4.0
  37. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest - 4.0
  38. Kramer vs. Kramer - 4.0
  39. Driving Miss Daisy - 3.75
  40. The Godfather Part II - 3.75
  41. Gentleman’s Agreement - 3.75
  42. Ben-Hur - 3.5
  43. The Sting - 3.5
  44. Rain Man - 3.5
  45. The Life of Emile Zola - 3.5
  46. No Country for Old Men - 3.5
  47. The Apartment - 3.5
  48. Grand Hotel - 3.5
  49. Rocky - 3.25
  50. Out of Africa - 3.25
  51. The English Patient - 3.25
  52. Rebecca - 3.25
  53. Unforgiven - 3.25
  54. Wings - 3.0
  55. All Quiet on the Western Front - 3.0
  56. Birdman - 3.0
  57. Forrest Gump - 3.0
  58. From Here to Eternity - 3.0
  59. Braveheart - 3.0
  60. Hamlet - 3.0
  61. My Fair Lady - 3.0
  62. Annie Hall - 3.0
  63. Chariots of Fire - 3.0
  64. You Can’t Take It with You - 3.0
  65. Mrs. Miniver - 3.0
  66. Titanic - 2.75
  67. The French Connection - 2.75
  68. Argo - 2.75
  69. How Green Was My Valley - 2.75
  70. A Beautiful Mind - 2.75
  71. Midnight Cowboy - 2.75
  72. Amadeus - 2.75
  73. A Man for All Seasons - 2.5
  74. The Broadway Melody - 2.5
  75. Cavalcade - 2.5
  76. Gladiator - 2.5
  77. Around the World in Eighty Days - 2.5
  78. Shakespeare in Love - 2.5
  79. Gigi - 2.5
  80. Cimarron - 2.5
  81. An American in Paris - 2.0
  82. The Deer Hunter - 2.0
  83. Mutiny on the Bounty - 2.0
  84. The Last Emperor - 2.0
  85. The Great Ziegfeld - 1.5
  86. Crash - 1.0
  87. The Greatest Show on Earth - 1.0
  88. Tom Jones - .25

*By far the hardest decisions were which “4.75” to list first and which “1” to list first

Best Picture: Rating Adjustments

Before I post my master list of reviews/scores, there are a few scores that I want to adjust.  I try to write each of my reviews immediately after seeing the movie, when my feelings/opinions are fresh on my mind. However, occasionally, a movie sticks with me. I’ll ruminate about it for days. In rare instances, I’ll decide that the score I originally gave didn’t, in the end, accurately reflect my feelings.

The first score I’m adjusting belongs to 1940’s All About Eve. In my original review, I talked about how annoyed I was at the self-congratulatory smugness of it. That annoyance strongly colored my feelings. As I thought more about it later, I realized that I had been too harsh. There are a lot of great things about this film, including the dialogue, the acting, and the character development. I’ve decided to bump its grade up a quarter of a star to 4 stars.

The second score I’m adjusting belongs to 1956’s Around the World in Eighty Days. I think that I was so surprised that this film didn’t suck more than it did that I was far too generous the first time around. When I think about which of these winners I’d watch again, my visceral reaction to this one is “yuck.” Therefore, I’m thinking it definitely didn’t deserve the original score I gave it. I’m downgrading it a full star to 2.5 stars.

The last score I’m adjusting belongs to 1996’s The English Patient. I still hate that this film expects me to see an adulterous affair as an epic, grand love story. However, after slogging through a couple of films afterward that completely lacked character development, I realized that that’s one thing that this film had going for it. I’m bumping it up half a star to 3.25 stars. 

I’ve added a footnote to each film’s review reflecting the score change. Each film will appear on my master list with the updated score.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Best Picture: "12 Years a Slave," 2013

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (USA)
American & British, in English
Director - Steve McQueen
Stars - Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, and many others you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story. In 1840s America, when freedman Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold into slavery, it takes him twelve years to find a way home. Nyong’o co-stars as Patsey, a fellow slave, and Fassbender as Edwin Epps, Solomon’s second slave owner.

Blue language, including liberal use of the n-word; both female and male nudity (full frontal for one female); non-graphic sexy times; rape; and extreme violence.

Bad Stuff:
With a few notable exceptions (Solomon; Patsey; Master Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch), I felt that many of the characters were a bit one-dimensional.

I thought the beginning was a little confusing (although I was perhaps not paying close attention at first).

Good Stuff:
Some really great performances. Both Ejiofor and Nyong’o were amazing. I was also really impressed with Fassbender, who played someone really different than other roles I’ve seen him in. He was thoroughly chilling as the unstable Epps.

It covers a topic that I think is really important for Americans to learn more about. Slavery may have been abolished some 150 years ago, but it’s still an integral, and dark, part of our history. It’s still relevant. Even I, someone who is very interested in history, don’t think I knew that they used to kidnap northern freedmen and drag them to the south to be slaves. Movies that show me something I didn’t already know are among my favorite.

The Verdict:
First, a hopefully amusing anecdote. A few weeks ago, I thought to myself, “I better put ‘12 Years a Slave’ on hold at the library because it’s probably popular and it’ll take me a while to get it.” So I went online to the library’s website, only to discover that there were already 108 holds on 26 copies of the movie. Therefore, in order to finish this project before next year, I rented it from iTunes. That’s a singular distinction. I saw the vast majority of these movies by borrowing them from the public library, a handful via Netflix, and a few from my personal collection.

This is one of those movies that you watch not because you particularly want to but because it’s important to. It’s not an easy watch. That’s not just because I don’t enjoy watching people being tortured. It’s because it’s very difficult to accept that people can be this awful to one another. It’s also very difficult to accept that our country was built on the kinds of things that happen in this film. It’s heartbreaking.

The movie was exactly as sickening as I expected it to be. I spent a lot time crying because of it. However, that doesn’t mean I think it was bad. Quite the opposite. The fact that it could make me feel so strongly means that it's a good film. I empathized with, and agonized for, the people who were mistreated here.

You should watch this film. Don’t expect to have a good time while doing so, but you should still do it. 

I give it 4 stars.

Monday, June 9, 2014

LA County Museum of Art (LACMA)

I'd been planning on visiting LACMA pretty much from the moment we stepped foot in California, especially after I found out that, in honor of World Cup, they have a temporary soccer-themed exhibit (still there through July 20). I finally got around to it this past Thursday, exactly one week from the opening game of World Cup.

LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles. It's open every day of the week except Wednesdays (and major holidays). Adult general admission tickets are $15.00; there are a couple of special exhibitions that cost extra. I decided on a general admission ticket. There is parking on-site. It's $10.00 and you can pay by card. If you hunt around, you can probably find cheaper parking nearby but it wasn't worth the trouble to me. The museum is also accessible via public transit.

Here is the "Urban Light" installation (by artist
Chris Burden) at the entrance to the museum.

The museum is made up of several different buildings. I first went into the Broad Contemporary Art Museum. This building houses the soccer exhibit on the top floor. Here's the view from the top of the outdoor escalator:

You can also see the Hollywood sign from up there, but I was unable to take a decent picture of it with my camera phone.

I really enjoyed the soccer exhibit, which included a wide range of mediums. I especially liked the various video compilations, including one that used visuals and audio to make you feel like you were in the stands of a crowded soccer game, and another one that showed soccer players and coaches celebrating with one another after amazing plays (both of these were quite joyful). Here are a couple of my favorite pieces (you can see my reflection in the first one, haha):

"Post Match, 06:02:2013 Grouping" by Leo Fitzmaurice
These mini soccer jerseys are made out of cigarette cartons.

"Samuel Eto'o" by Kehinde Wiley

I visited another exhibit on the same floor that I neglected to catch the name of. I think it was "Californialand" and it was also temporary.

There were two more floors in this building that I passed up, as I'm not terribly keen on contemporary art. I moved on to the Ahmanson Building. On the first floor, I toured Art of the Pacific. This stuff was really cool. It was mostly woodwork and it was amazing. I only took one picture because I'm of the opinion that woodwork doesn't look nearly as cool in pictures as it does in person:

Flute ornament, Biwat People, Papua New Guinea,
c. 1925

On the second floor, I found both modern art and German Expressionism. I like German Expressionism but most modern art isn't my cup of tea, so I didn't linger here. However, here are some of my favorite paintings:

"Apocalyptic Landscape" by Ludwig Meidner
Amazingly, this piece predates WWI. Strangely prophetic.

"The Orator" by Magnus Zeller
I find the facial expressions here moving in a vaguely unpleasant way.

"The Jewel" by Jay DeFeo
No picture could convey how thick the paint on this was.

There were two more levels of the Ahmanson Building that I neglected. One level houses ancient & European art. I didn't mind missing those because I saw a lot of that recently at The Getty. However, the other level has Islamic art and south Asian art. I'm sorry to have missed those.

I next went to the Art of the Americas Building. On level 2, I saw a special exhibit that I neglected to write down the name of but it was really cool. It was basically tall, white lamps in a very dark room. When you first walk in, you can hardly see where you're going. It was very disconcerting. I liked it because it was art that created a strong feeling, the best kind of art.

Up on level three is the American art. I liked the way it was set up because, if you start on the far end and work your way around, you go from art in the 1700s to contemporary art. I walked it backwards but that's okay. I didn't mind. I really enjoy a lot of American art because it includes things like beautiful furniture, tile work, and glass work, all things that I love. Here are a few of my favorite pieces:

"California Poppy Field" by Granville Redmond

Fireplace surround from Patrick J. King house, Chicago, designed
by George Washington Maher, made by the company of
Louis J. Millet

How amazing is that fireplace above?

There was a whole room of vases and every single one of them was amazing. Like woodwork, I think vases don't look as awesome in pictures as they do in person. The one below was my favorite. The edge was designed to look like a cityscape:

Cityscape, from the Urban Bowl Series by Jay Musler

On the fourth floor is the Latin American art. It was set up the same way as the third floor, with ancient art on one end, leading to contemporary art as you walk through. I did this one backwards as well. I loved the interior design of the rooms that held the ancient art:

And if you know me at all, you probably won't be surprised to learn that this was my favorite piece:

Skull with Mosaic Inlay, Mexico, Oaxaca, or Puebla,
Mixtec or Zapotec, 1400-1521

I tried to go in the Hammer Building, which houses the Korean Art, but it was temporarily closed. I see on the LACMA website that it will be through June 29. Since it was closed, I went to the Pavilion for Japanese Art, which I had been planning on skipping.

The pavilion was a very pleasant surprise. I liked the way it was set up: a gently sloping, circular walkway that takes you past several beautifully painted Japanese screens. Here is one of them:

"Birds and Flowers" by Imanaka Soyu

Once you reach the top, you find yourself at the entrance of the gallery where the rest of the art is. The front of the gallery is the more contemporary Japanese art. As you walk toward the back, you find the older art. Here is some samurai armor:

Gosuku Type, 18th century

I was at LACMA for about three hours. At the time, I didn't feel like I had missed much, but I can see now that there is still a lot to explore. I definitely plan on going back. I could see myself visiting there at least once or twice a year. 

If you're planning a trip to LA and are fond of art, I think a visit to LACMA is a safe bet. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Best Picture: "Argo," 2012

Movie Stats:
Released 2012 (USA)
American, in English (some Farsi, both translated and not)
Director - Ben Affleck
Stars - Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and many others you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
Based on true events. During the Iran Hostage Crisis, CIA officer Tony Mendez (Affleck) comes up with a plot to rescue the six Americans who’ve been hiding out at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran by posing them as a Canadian film crew. Cranston co-stars as Mendez’s boss, Jack O’Donnell; Goodman as legendary Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers, who helps Mendez create the fake movie; and Arkin as Lester Siegel, the producer who also assists in creating the fake movie.

Lots of blue language; violence; brief, drawn female nudity (not full frontal).

Bad Stuff:
It’s so dull that it didn’t hold my attention at all.

On a related note, it’s poorly directed. This whole movie should have been an intense thrill-ride. It’s about a CIA agent using the flimsiest of pretexts to help people escape almost-certain death. I should have been on the edge of my seat, heart pounding. I wasn’t. Not a single second of it felt intense to me. No matter what happened, I never felt that their lives were in danger. If they had been, I wouldn’t have cared because I never got to know any of the characters well enough to care about them.

Sometimes I like Ben Affleck as an actor. This is not one of those times. He came across very flat and emotion-less. I felt no connection to his character.

Good Stuff:
As always, Goodman and Arkin were a delight (on a side note, Goodman was also in our last winner, The Artist).

I loved the costumes & styling.

I liked that it was about a historical event about which most Americans know very little.

The Verdict:
Let me take a moment to plug a fantastic book about the Iran Hostage Crisis, Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (who is perhaps best known for Black Hawk Down). It’s long but it’s well worth the read. Since it focuses on the hostages that were held in the American Embassy, I don’t think it covers the events portrayed in this movie, or if it does, it does so only briefly (it’s been a few years since I read it). However, it’s still very high on my list of recommendations.

As for this film, I really wanted to like it. Unfortunately, I didn’t. It’s one of those films that the longer it went on, the less I enjoyed it. About an hour in, I found myself thinking, “There’s still another hour of this left? Am I supposed to be feeling as bored as those people who were stuck in the same house for over 2 months straight?” Watching my cat chase her own tail is more entertaining. 

I give the film 2.75 stars.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Best Picture: "The Artist," 2011

Movie Stats:
Released 2011 (France)
French, Belgian & American, in English (the film is actually almost completely silent but all of the scene cards are in English & if you feel like lip reading, it's pretty obvious that they're speaking in English)
Director - Michel Hazanavicius
Stars - Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, Uggie

Plot Summary:
When silent movie star George Valentin (Dujardin) meets young ingenue Peppy Miller (Bejo), sparks fly. However, the arrival of talkies sends their careers, and lives, in opposite directions. Uggie co-stars as The Dog, George’s faithful companion.

One obscene gesture; if you’re especially good at lip reading, you might catch a few naughty words, as I did; some really minor, unrealistic violence.

Bad Stuff:
My only quibble is that this is one of those “light bit of confection” movies. While typically enjoyable to watch, I expect my Oscar winners to be at least a smidgeon deeper.

Good Stuff:
I really liked that the woman got to be the hero for once.

Pretty much everything is awesome: the costumes, the soundtrack, the sets, the dancing, and the sound editing. This is literally the first time in my life that I’ve ever said the words “the sound editing was awesome.”

The leads had great chemistry with each other. I also loved the relationship between George and his loyal butler Clifton (James Cromwell).

The Verdict:
First, I have to say that I had a good laugh toward the beginning of the film when George tried to get back in the good graces of his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) by being cute with The Dog (who is a Jack Russell terrier). My husband does the same thing when I get annoyed with him, and our dog happens to be part Jack Russell. Unfortunately, they don’t do cute tricks together. My husband just holds up the dog in front of his face and says “Please don’t be mad!”

As to the film, it’s a lovely little homage to the early Golden Age of Hollywood. The only word that seems applicable to this kind of movie is “delightful.” There is some amount of deeper meaning here, allusions to the idea that time marches on, and that we must march along with it by learning how to accept what’s new and different. (However, I wouldn’t take the story too much to heart; probably best to accept the passage of time more gracefully than George does.) Mostly, though, it stays on the surface. That’s not a bad thing. I simply felt the film could have packed a stronger punch. 

That having been said, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t like it. It’s adorable and sweet and fun. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend most of it smiling and laughing. I give it 4.25 stars.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Final Reflections on May 2014

May was a surprisingly difficult month, as I dealt with a significant amount of depression. The depression struck out of the blue, in the lead-up to Mother’s Day. As I’ve said before, grief is unpredictable, more like slow waves crashing on the shore than anything else. One year, Mother’s Day is no big deal. The next, I really miss my mom. It’s difficult, but I suppose that’s just how it goes.

I tried my best to power through, to not get sucked in too deep. It was a relief once the day had finally passed, and I didn’t have to see stuff about it constantly on the Internet and TV anymore, a reprieve for another year. Most of the depression lifted once it was over, although I’m still having bad days here and there.

Toward the end of the month, I finally completed the novel revisions that I’d been working on. I still have an extra chapter to write, with a firm deadline of June 12 (the start of World Cup). I also started kicking around an idea for a new story, a young adult novel this time. It’s an idea that literally came to me in a dream. I haven’t done much work on it yet but I’m really excited about it. I feel like it’s a story that could go somewhere.

Other than that, I succeeded in becoming less of a hermit. I visited several local attractions, some of which you can read about by searching the “out and about” tag on this blog. I did a little bit of hiking. I found some volunteer work that I enjoy, cleaning up local beaches. I’ve been meeting more people. And I got to see my soccer team play when they rolled through town.

All in all, it was a decent month, one that I’d probably feel better about if I’d done more writing and editing. I don’t anticipate getting much of that done now that World Cup is only a week and a half away, but who knows, perhaps I’ll get inspired. 

So that’s May 2014 in a nutshell. If you’re stopping by to read, why don’t you tell me how the month went for you?