Saturday, August 30, 2014

AIIW: The History of Future Folk

Note: It’s been a long time since I’ve done a review for this project so in case you’ve forgotten what it’s about, here’s the original post.

Movie Stats:
Released 2012 (USA)
American, in English (minor non-translated Spanish)
Directors - John Mitchell & Jeremy Kipp Walker
Stars - Nils d’Aulaire, Jay Klaitz

Plot Summary:
When his home planet, Hondo, is threatened with total destruction by a comet, General Trius (d’Aulaire) sets out across the galaxy to find a suitable new planet to colonize. He’s been given a deadly virus to release on the unsuspecting current inhabitants of the planet, but when he reaches Earth and discovers music for the first time in his life, Trius finds himself unable to go through with the plan. Klaitz co-stars as Kevin, a fellow Hondonian sent to investigate when no one has heard from Trius for several years.

Extremely minor blue language (I think I heard one or two “bad” words); minor, non-graphic violence (fisticuffs mostly).

Bad Stuff:
This is sci fi lite and therefore requires a significant amount of suspension of disbelief, which I don’t necessarily mind. However, there were some real-world scenarios that played out in a way that had me saying, “Life doesn’t work like that!” and therefore took me out of the scene in question. For example, [SPOILER] I’m incapable of believing that, after breaking into an aerospace museum and setting off a nuclear missile, Trius and Kevin would just be allowed to go back to their regular lives, although it made for a likable ending. [SPOILER]

Some of the acting was a little iffy.

Good Stuff:
As a lover of music myself, I absolutely adore the idea that a person’s mind could be swayed by the power of music. Or, if you want to get more esoteric about it, I like the idea that the art we create is the best reflection of who we are, and that people will respond positively to that reflection. The best scenes in the movie were the ones where Trius and Kevin each discovered music.

I’m sure that this film is low budget but it rarely felt like it was. It looked good, the soundtrack was great, and the writing was pretty tight.

It has Dee Snider (as bar owner Larry)! He seemed like he had a blast filming this.

The Verdict:
I brought my “Adventures in Instant Watch” series out of unintentional retirement (I just didn’t have the mental energy to do it while I was also doing the Best Picture project) in order to showcase this film because it’s so delightful. It’s sweet and charming and light-hearted and fun. I’d kind of been having a bad day when I sat down to watch it and it honestly turned my day around. I grinned the whole way through it. Don’t be turned off by the sci fi aspect of it. It’s not “hard” sci fi at all, so it’s not difficult to follow, and it’s set on Earth, so there’s nothing weird about it. It’s also short (slightly less than 1.5 hours), so it’s not much of a time commitment. If you like to watch movies that make you smile, you should give this one a chance.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Neighborhood Walks: To the Coffee Shop and Library

At least once a week, I like to walk to my favorite coffee shop to write. This time, on my way back, I swung by my local library to pick up a few items that I had on hold.

My walk starts with this, which I see across the street every time I walk out my front door. It's a Spanish-language immersion school:

A funny story: when were moving to Santa Monica, our time and resources were limited, so we were forced to rent an apartment while we were still in Texas, based only on the pictures we could see online. After sending in the deposit on our current place, we looked up the neighborhood on google maps. However, the picture was old, so instead of the lovely new blue and yellow building you see above, there was an older, smaller, more traditional-looking school building surrounded by a field and a boarded up house so decrepit that I wouldn't have been surprised to find a few dead bodies inside. After seeing this, I have to admit that I was extremely nervous about the apartment we'd just rented. Imagine my relief when we arrived to discover the above building there instead.

And it's growing! It's been under construction the whole time we've lived here. Also under construction a little farther down the street was some low-income housing, which was completed a couple of months ago. I'm always amused to walk by and see this bike rack being well used:

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one of the prettier walks I take, but across a major street and down a few blocks, I did admire this old window frame:

I hope they find this cute little doggie:

Turning north, I see the Santa Monica mountains ahead of me:

It's very difficult to see, and I probably shouldn't be taking pictures through peoples' windows, but I loved that this apartment (condo?) had swordfish on the wall that were visible from the street:

Really cool old iron work:

Crossing over the 10:

The very, very bright pink Lorna Jane building. They sell women's active wear:

I've always felt that the steeple on this church is a little on the small side, relative to the size of the rest of the building. When I think about it, though, I can't recall seeing very many grand steeples here. I wonder if there's some kind of city code about it:

I think it would be impossible for this street to look any more quintessentially Californian:

The Sha'arei Am synagogue assures me that real men cook, or at least they did last Sunday. I wonder if real men cook well though:

And I've arrived at my destination, the 18th Street Coffee House. I love their saloon doors. I will spend a couple of hours here writing:

My tabletop in the coffee shop:

I apologize for the bathroom shot, but it amuses me that, after the note on the very bottom of the sign that says "No Tampons Either," some joker penned in, "Or Armadillos":

On my way back, I passed by this cool topiary:

Then I fell in love with this building. Not only is it a beautiful example of art deco architecture (love), the address is made with amazing tile work (love), AND look at that door (love)! What an awesome building:

They're working on a train that will go from downtown LA to downtown Santa Monica. I believe it's due to be finished next year. Here is one of the stops, currently under construction:

One of LA's idiosyncrasies is that it sort of insists upon itself. I've never lived anywhere else where I've seen so many billboards about movies and TV shows. This one in particular always catches my eye because, if not for my Best Picture project, which forced me to watch "Around the World in Eighty Days," I would have absolutely no idea who Cantinflas was and would therefore be scratching my head over it:

Nice detail on a fence outside a schoolyard:

I'm pretty sure that this surfboard hasn't moved for the last seven months, haha:

I'm very fond of Spanish style homes. I think this one in particular is very cute. I wish I saw more of them than I do in SM because I think they fit really well with the climate here:

I like how daringly green this house is, especially when juxtaposed with the bright red brick fence:

I sort of get what this person was going for, and it even made me chuckle, but I don't think that implying that one is anti-tolerance is really the best way to win an argument:

To the right is another sign that says "Park," which means, as a whole, they say "Virginia Avenue Park," which is my neighborhood park. I couldn't get the other sign in the picture without including random people who I thought would rather not be included in a stranger's picture. My neighborhood library is in this park:

Love it:

This is the area in front of the library, which is sadly sort of ugly, but that's because it's set up to house a fantastic farmer's market every Saturday:

And finally, nearly back home again, I pass by my favorite bougainvillea. Unfortunately, it's not in full bloom right now but it's still looking pretty good:

Round trip, this is an approximately 2.6 mile walk. It's not the prettiest trip, but it allows me to get a little exercise while getting me out of the house & into an environment where I can write without distractions (namely, my cat and dog and the internet and the television).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A-Z Movies, E: "Enter the Dragon"

Recommended by:
Dan (husband)

Movie Stats:
Released 1973 (Hong Kong)
Hong Kongian & American, in English
Director - Robert Clouse
Stars - Bruce Lee, Kien Shih, John Saxon, Jim Kelly

Plot Summary:
Supreme fighter and Shaolin monk Lee (Lee) enters a fight tournament on a remote island in order to infiltrate the operation of Han (Shih), a former Shaolin monk who has gone rogue. Saxon and Kelly co-star respectively as Roper and Williams, two other fighters in the tournament who befriend Lee.

Violence; minor blue language, although there’s at least one racial epithet; implied sexy times; drug use; and brief female nudity (breast and butt only).

Bad Stuff:
The sound effects are terrible. For example, every single punch sounds the same. The very 70s soundtrack is pretty terrible too.

My husband tells me that it was Bruce Lee’s “schtick,” but I’m just not down with the weird facial expressions he makes when he’s fighting. I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing through half the movie and yet I was. There’s one scene where he basically stomps a guy to death but his facial expression reads more along the lines of “I’m trying really hard to drop a deuce.” How am I not supposed to laugh at that?

There are a few too many things that happen not because they make any real-world sense but because they look cool. Like, who has a hall of mirrors in their house? No one, that’s who, but a fight in a hall of mirrors looks cool, so we have a scene like that in the movie.

Good Stuff:
The above having been said, the fight scene in the hall of mirrors was really cool. So were many of the other fight scenes. Bruce Lee had impressively fast reflexes. He’s one of the few fighters I’ve watched take on multiple people at once and found it believable. I’m absolutely sold on the idea that he could kick ten asses at once and hardly break a sweat while doing it.

I like that the movie included non-traditional fighters. For example, I look at John Saxon and to me he doesn’t look like a guy who could karate kick somebody. This is the only Bruce Lee movie I’ve seen, but from what I gather (my husband is a big Lee fan & so has told me about him at length) Lee felt that martial arts were for everybody. He would teach anybody, regardless of race or color. So I like that this is reflected in the films that he made.

This movie is pretty no-frills. There is no extra, drawn-out drama to make it more “interesting.” For example, [SPOILER] Lee finds out that a particular one of Han’s henchmen, Oharra (Robert Wall), caused his sister’s death so the first opportunity he has to kill him, he does so without dramatics or monologuing. [SPOILER] It was refreshing. I felt like the characters were mature and focused in a way that a lot of movie characters aren’t.

The Verdict:
It was fairly entertaining. I appreciate that this isn’t a “wire-fu” film (wire-fu is one of the reasons I hate “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” so much). It’s straight-up martial arts, and that’s something I enjoy. However, it suffers from a severe case of 70s cheez-whiz, and that’s incredibly difficult for me to ignore. I’m going to have to go with a middle ground rating on this one.

I give it 3.5 stars.

Bonus Story: Many years ago, I went through a Jackie Chan film phase. Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out the name of one of these movies, which included a scene in an old timey roller skating rink. I now believe that it must be “The Big Brawl,” which was directed by “Enter The Dragon”’s very own Robert Clouse. I may have to see if I can find a copy, although the internet reliably informs me that it’s a crappy film. Bonus Fact: Jackie Chan has a brief scene in "Enter the Dragon" as one of the henchmen getting an ass kicking from Lee.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Toys My Dog Destroys: Happy Lion

I tried something a little different this time. Way back on June 16, I gave a toy to Major that I’m calling Little Piggy. Here’s a pic of her:

Major busted out her squeaker and most of her stuffing within about three weeks. Despite the fact that she still had quite a bit of stuffing, Major lost interest in her. That’s when I decided to give him Happy Lion, on July 17, without throwing away Little Piggy:

I thought I’d see if he’d play with both toys or if he would prefer one over the other. He definitely preferred the new toy, even after he tore a hole in him on July 26:

The next day, July 27, Major got out most of the stuffing and the squeaker:

Surrounded by Happy Lion's innards. I didn't want
him in the picture but he wouldn't move.

I kept him around regardless. Although Happy Lion now had less stuffing than Little Piggy, Major still preferred him. He played with Little Piggy only infrequently. I kept both toys around until August 20, when I threw Happy Lion away and gave Major a new toy. Here’s Happy Lion before he went in the trash:


Sort of looks like road kill.

I purchased Happy Lion at a major pet store retailer for $3.00. He lasted approximately one month.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A-Z Movies, D: "District 9"

Recommended by:
Helen (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 2009 (7 different countries simultaneously)
American, New Zealander, Canadian & South African, in English (translated alien language; several different African languages, mostly translated)
Director - Neill Blomkamp
Stars - Sharlto Copley, David James

Plot Summary:
Twenty-eight years after an alien race has landed on earth  in Johannesburg, South Africa, a munitions corporation by the name of Multi-National United (MNU) has been tasked with forcibly moving the alien refugees to a camp farther outside of town. MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe (Copley) has been tapped to lead the operation, but disaster unexpectedly befalls him. James co-stars as the MNU’s lead thug, Koobus Venter.

A truly impressive amount of violence & gore; lots of blue language.

Bad Stuff:
[SPOILER] I still don’t understand how, if one of the aliens could fly the damn thing all along, the mother ship ever got stranded on Earth. I also don’t understand how, if the alien weapons were so massively powerful, and they could seemingly build them out of junk quite easily, the humans ever overpowered the aliens and kept them interned in a refugee camp. The movie sort of glossed over it, and my husband tried to fanwank it for me, but I still thought that these were huge plot holes. [SPOILER]

I also didn’t understand why the human thugs in the refugee camp were Nigerian. The movie made a point of being very clear that they were Nigerian, not South African as one might assume since this is set in South Africa, but never explained what the Nigerians were doing there. Am I to assume they were refugees as well? Nigeria and South Africa aren’t even all that close to each other geographically. Perhaps this is simply my ignorance of world politics talking here, but I’m going to guess most people are just as ignorant as me, so an explanation would have been nice.

Good Stuff:
It’s a pretty good metaphor for the hopelessness of the refugee experience. The aliens were trapped and homeless, unwanted, forced to live in terrible conditions, and treated horribly. I felt awful for them. In light of recent events regarding refugee children seeking a place in the United States - and the horrific things some people have said about them, like we should shoot them on sight - it felt extremely timely.

All of the human reactions were very real and believable to me. There was the heartlessness of the corporation, and of its best lackey, Koobus Venter. There was the scorn and fear of the average Joes on the street. There was the greedy entrepreneurship of the thugs. And then there was Wikus, who was completely callous to the aliens until the situation began to affect him personally. There wasn’t a single scene when I thought to myself, “No one would react that way.”

Speaking of Wikus, I thought Sharlto Copley was amazing. He’s largely unlikable for 90% of the film (Especially in the beginning. [SPOILER] The way he gleefully destroyed the alien eggs he found honestly made me sick to my stomach. [SPOILER]). And yet, Copley plays the character just likable enough that by time he has his epiphany and does what’s right, you end up feeling sorry for him. I consider that a fine piece of acting.

The Verdict:
I thought it was pretty decent. The movie itself didn’t feel long but some scenes did, especially toward the end. This is a problem I have with action movies in general, the old “you have one minute to disarm this bomb but it’s going to take twenty minutes of the film for you to do it.” There wasn’t an actual countdown this time, but it had the same feeling for me, where I start to wonder, “Are they done shooting at each other yet?” I also had a hard time letting go of the plot holes/Nigerian thing. 

Overall, though, I thought it was entertaining. It was also a lot deeper than I was expecting. I finished the movie about 45 minutes ago and I still find myself mulling it over, thinking about the implications of it. It’s more of a thinking person’s action flick, and that’s not a bad thing.

I give the movie 3.75 stars.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Up with Geography: Australia

Country Name:


It's its own continent!


Map of Australia. Ignore the squiggly line on the eastern
edge. That was a mistake. I still haven't purchased white-out.

The closest neighbors are Indonesia & Papua New Guinea, to the north, and New Zealand, to the southeast

Water Borders:
Indian Ocean, Timor Sea, Coral Sea, Tasman Sea, Southern Ocean

Total Area(added March 2015)
2,969,907 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide

Famous Geographical Point:
Uluru (Ayers Rock)

Famous Person:
Hugh Jackman, actor

Book Set In/About:
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

A sweeping epic of love and family, set in Australia during the first half of the 20th century.

Movie Set In/About:
"Mary and Max" (2009), directed by Adam Elliot

The story of two unlikely pen pals, one from Australia and one from America.

Headline of the Day:
"New Zealand 51 Australia 20: Ritchie McCaw scores two tries as All Blacks beat Wallabies in Rugby Championship" in The Telegraph.