Sunday, November 30, 2014

A-Z Movies, M: "The Motorcycle Diaries"

Recommended by:
Katherine (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 2004 (USA)
Eight different countries, in Spanish with subtitles (some native languages, both translated and not)
Director - Walter Salles
Stars - Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo De la Serna

Plot Summary:
An adaptation of the book of the same name, it tells the true story of two friends, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Bernal) and Alberto Granado (De la Serna), who took a motorcycle trip across South America together.

Lots of blue language; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s pretty boring and slow. I spent the whole movie thinking to myself, “I bet the book is way better.”

I was congratulating the movie for subtly showing how transformative the trip was for Guevara and then it had to go and ruin it at the end by having him make a big speech about how transformative it was.

Good Stuff:
The cinematography is amazing.

I liked watching both young men grow up during the course of the trip. In the beginning, they’re boys, immature and naive. By the end, they’re men with a new sense of purpose and gravitas. It was sweet.

Bernal turned in a particularly fine performance. Watching his face as he cared for people who were sick (Guevara was a medical student one month shy of graduating when he went on the trip), I got pulled into the moment. I truly believed that he cared for those people. You can see the whole weight of everything Guevara has discovered come crashing down on him just by watching Bernal’s facial expressions.

The Verdict:
I would really like to say that I loved this movie but it wouldn’t be the truth. I didn’t hate it either, not by any stretch of the imagination, but something about it just didn’t speak to me. It didn’t quite connect. I enjoyed learning more about Che Guevara. To me, he’s one of those radicals that college kids latch onto because he espoused ideals that seem really romantic and righteous when you’re 18-22. I never knew much about him. I had no idea that he’d ever been a doctor, or that he became radicalized when his eyes were opened to the plight of the native peoples of South America. So the history was good, as was the acting and the scenery. And yet, I can’t imagine ever watching it again. I think it falls in the category of “watch (or read the book) once just so you understand that piece of human history a little better." 

I give it 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Up with Geography: Bahrain

Country Name:


None; it's an island chain. It's very close to the continent of Asia.


Continent of Asia. You can see how close Bahrain
is to it.

A close-up of Bahrain.

The closest neighbors are Saudi Arabia, to the west, and Qatar, to the southeast.

Water Borders:
Gulf of Bahrain, Persian Gulf

Total Area(added March 2015)
295 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Manama, Riffa, Muharraq, Hamad Town, A'ali

Famous Geographical Point:
Jabal ad Dukhan (Mountain of Smoke)

Famous Person:
Mahmood Al-Yousif, aka "The Blogfather," writer

Book Set In/About:
Looking for Dilmun by Geoffrey Bibby

One man's archeological quest to find the lost kingdom of Dilmun, which once covered much of the Arabian gulf.

Movie Set In/About:
"Absence (Ghyab)" (2008), directed by Mohammed BuAli

This short explores the topic of loneliness in modern society. Note: it was very difficult to find a movie either set in or about Bahrain, so I chose a movie made by a Bahraini director.

Headline of the Day:
"Bahrain Police 'Raid Home of Top Shia Cleric'" in Aljazeera

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A-Z Movies, L: "Lost in Yonkers"

Recommended by:
Ken (brother)

Movie Stats:
Released 1993 (USA)
American, in English (some very minor non-translated German)
Director - Martha Coolidge
Stars - Richard Dreyfuss, Mercedes Ruehl, Irene Worth

Plot Summary:
Set in 1942. When their father needs to travel in order to make money, brothers Jay (Brad Stoll) and Arty (Mike Damus) are left in the care of their mean tyrant of a grandmother (Worth) in Yonkers. Ruehl co-stars as the boys’ childlike Aunt Bella and Dreyfuss as their thieving mobster of an uncle, Louie.

Minor blue language and very minor violence.

Bad Stuff:
The beginning of the movie was difficult to get through. I didn’t understand what was happening and Bella was acting like a nut job for no reason and it was very frustrating. Until the situation was clarified, it truly tested my patience.

I didn’t really like the ending either. It felt abrupt.

The whole thing was a bit of a hot mess. In the beginning, it seemed to be about Jay and Arty. In the middle, Louie seemed to be the star of the show. By the end, it seemed that Bella’s story was the point. So what was the point? I think the honest answer is “shrug.”

Good Stuff:
Dreyfuss was a hoot. The movie shone whenever he was onscreen.

I sort of loved the evil German grandmother. She was a bit stereotypical but sometimes you just have to enjoy a character that’s an unrepentant jerk. I liked that she was never truly redeemed. It felt honest.

It was pretty funny in parts.

The Verdict:
It took a while, but this movie really grew on me. If I’d given up on it in the first half hour, I would be writing a very different review. But I stuck it out because I had to and I ended up enjoying it for the most part. It has a certain charm. The characters are all very likable (yes, even the mean grandma). I found myself rooting for everyone, wanting them to work out their problems, although I wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t because that’s life. Not everyone gets their act together. I don’t think this is a movie for everyone, but I do recommend giving it a shot. 

I give the movie 3.75 stars.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

AIIW: Goon

Movie Stats:
Released 2011 (Canada)
Canadian & American, in English
Director - Michael Dowse
Stars - Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber

Plot Summary:
A not-so-bright bouncer, Doug (Scott), finds his calling as a hockey enforcer, aka “goon.” Baruchel co-stars as Doug’s BFF Pat and Schreiber as Ross Rhea, an elder statesman “goon” on the verge of retirement.

Lots of blue language, including what felt like a billion f-bombs (IMDB lists the actual number as 263 lol); extreme violence; sexy times; brief female nudity (breasts only); and IMDB tells me some drug use but I don’t really remember it.

Bad Stuff:
I gather that it’s supposed to be funny but I didn’t find it funny at all.

Anyone who knows me in real life can tell you that I’m certainly no prude when it comes to blue language but it really felt over the top here. It actually got kind of annoying.

I really hated the way that every time they mentioned Doug’s brother Ira (David Paetkau), they had to say that he was gay. Every. Single. Time. It was so weird, like they wanted to make up for all the homophobic “jokes” by having a gay character but since you only see him kiss a man once (chastely, I might add), they had to keep talking about how gay he was. It made the movie feel like one of those bigots who insists they can’t be a bigot because they have a “black friend.”

Good Stuff:
I liked the central message that once you find something you’re good at, and which you also enjoy, you should pursue it in spite of objections you might receive from the people you love and/or society.

I really enjoyed the character of Doug. It was refreshing to have a lead who was dumb but likable, and not in the goofy “Dumb and Dumber” way but in a genuinely “not bright” way. I loved that Doug was unfailingly kind, loyal, and genuine.

I liked Scott in this role. I know he often plays dumb, but he also usually plays wild/crazy/wacky on top of dumb and I felt that his performance here was really understated.

The Verdict:
Side note: Do you know how difficult it is to convince your computer that you really are trying to say, “Liev” not “Live”?

This movie has been in my queue for a long time. My husband watched it once while I was away and liked it enough that when my visiting brother chose it to watch on the final night of his stay, hubby sat down and watched it again with us. I have to admit that I don’t really see the appeal. I like “gross out” comedies, toilet humor, and “boy” movies as much as the next person, but this one just didn’t do it for me. The strange thing is that it has this heart-warming quality at its core. I ended up liking Doug, and rooting for him to succeed, which prevented the movie from being completely awful. However, it simply wasn’t funny, and that sunk it. 

I give the movie 2.5 stars.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Toys My Dog Destroys: Little Piggy & Colorful Dragon

A two-for-one post. As you may recall, I kept Little Piggy around long after Major had mostly destroyed her, curious to see if he would go back to playing with her after destroying new toys. I discovered that, like most everyone, my dog pretty much always prefers new toys. It's best that he has only one at a time.

Here is Little Piggy on the day I gave her to Major, June 16:

He tore a hole in her on July 4 & pulled out her squeaker and most of her stuffing:

He managed to finagle some more stuffing out of her on July 12:

Here she is on the day I threw her away, November 9. Like most of his toys, he never managed to get the stuffing out of her head. She cost me $3.00 at a major pet store chain and lasted nearly 5 months, although he really didn't play with her much after July.

Here is Colorful Dragon on the day I gave him to Major, August 20:

He got the squeaker and nearly all the stuffing out on September 5:

Sometime in early November, Major pulled more stuffing out of Colorful Dragon, although I'm not sure where he found it because it wasn't from his head. My husband cleaned up this stuffing before I could take a picture of it.

I threw Colorful Dragon away the same day as Little Piggy, November 9, in order to make way for a new toy.

Major liked Colorful Dragon a lot. He continued to play with him long after the squeaker and stuffing were gone. This toy cost me $2.50 at a major pet store chain and lasted approximately 2.5 months.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Malibu Creek State Park: M*A*S*H Hike

A few months after moving here, I went on a hike in Topanga Canyon. Afterward, I posted some of my pictures on social media. "That looks like where they filmed M*A*S*H!" a friend commented. This piqued my curiosity. So I looked into it and discovered that he was sort of right. It wasn't where M*A*S*H was filmed, but that site is just up the Pacific Coast Highway, at Malibu Creek State Park. I've been wanting to do this hike ever since, and got to do so this week while my brother was visiting.

The park is very easy to find, just off Malibu Canyon Road (accessible via both PCH and the 101). Parking is $12.00 per car for day use, and I was delighted to discover that they have a couple of electric vehicle chargers. (Note: There is somewhere to park for free outside of the park, although it makes for a longer hike. You can find the info online.) The M*A*S*H hike, without taking any of the numerous side trails, is approximately 5 miles round trip.

The only difficulty I found was that there are several parking lots there, which I was previously unaware of. I parked in the first one I found and therefore had difficulty finding the trailhead, which was near the (I believe) fourth parking lot. Once we figured this out, we were on our way.

I was surprised to discover that Malibu Creek actually had some running water:

The views on this trail are absolutely stunning. We had perfect weather. 

Much of the trail is shaded:

More stunning views. The trail does have some elevation, but only in one part (about midway, I'd guess) and it was a pretty gradual slope.

There are numerous side trails. Some have elevation/views. Some don't. We took only one of them, to the dam-created Century Lake:

We also got some Fall color, a rarity in SoCal:

The trail gets continually narrower until you suddenly find yourself at the site. While much of the show was filmed at the studio, some of it was filmed here:

On our way back, we stopped on a small bridge to enjoy the beauty and the quiet:

This was a truly fantastic hike. I enjoyed it thoroughly and have every intention of returning more than once. I recommend it both to people who live in the LA area and those who are visiting. You shouldn't miss it!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Los Angeles Police Museum

A couple of months ago, while channel flipping, I stumbled across a show called Mysteries at the Museum. It's actually a really interesting show; I highly recommend it if you enjoy learning odd tidbits about history. It was on this show that I learned about the Los Angeles Police Museum.

Located at 6045 York Blvd. in Los Angeles, the LA Police Museum is housed in the Highland Park station, the oldest operating police station in LA. For the reasonable price of $9.00 for adults (parking is free), you can explore three floors worth of LAPD history. The tour is self-guided, complete with portable audio.

The first floor houses a lot of the older pieces of LAPD history, in addition to jail cells that you can enter and, outside, a selection of historical police vehicles.

LA's first-ever paid police officers, 1869.

LA's first four police matrons, 1913.

An old call box.

The Dawson Pantasonic Bullet Camera.

A note about the above: the audio explained that this was the precursor to modern ballistics testing. They would take pictures of bullets they were trying to identify, blow them up large, and visually compare them.

I was amused by this manual. It explains in great detail the
specifications of what batons police were allowed to use.

Felony jail cell. It was dirty and gross inside.

On the wall in the misdemeanor jail.

Misdemeanor jail cells. The audio said the bunks were
stacked three high at one point.

To me, these restraints seemed a little excessive for
misdemeanor prisoners.

On the wall in the misdemeanor jail.

Part of the handcuffs display in the misdemeanor jail.

Kawasaki Police KZ-100.

Old timey police car.

Police helicopter.

Inside the police helicopter. It was
disconcertingly unstable.

I was impressed by the length of the blades.

The bullet-ridden vehicle that belonged to the perpetrators
of the North Hollywood Shootout.

In the stairwell leading up to the second floor is an extensive picture display of female police officers. I liked the below picture because I was impressed with her strength. Afterward I realized that it looks like the gentleman in the picture is staring at her behind:

Sergeant Mary Galton, 1950.

For a long time, female police officers were required to carry a purse
as part of their uniform.

The second floor houses large displays on the evolution of police uniforms/badges; the police reserves; the Symbionese Liberation Army; the Onion Field killing; and the North Hollywood Shootout. Note: in the main room of this floor, there is an autoplay video about the North Hollywood Shootout that includes footage from the incident. Some of it is graphic.

Original male police uniform from the
late 1800s.

Note about the above: in the original uniform, police officers were required to wear their gun and handcuffs under their coat. This led to understandable problems (i.e. police officer deaths) and so the regulation was later changed.

Replica of the early female police
officer uniform.

Note about the above: when Alice Stebbins Wells, the first-ever American female police officer, was hired in 1910, she had to make her own uniform, i.e. what is pictured above.

The evolution of the police badge.

A display of firearms used by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Replica of what the North Hollywood shooters
were wearing.

The third floor houses displays on the LA Police Commission, which is in charge of the police department, and the Medal of Honor, amongst other information. I didn't take any relevant photos on that floor, which is smaller than the other two.

I felt that the audio was really helpful on the first floor. It provided a lot of extra information that couldn't be found in the displays. On the second and third floors, however, it only seemed to rehash what was on display so I stopped listening to it. Also, the layout of the whole museum was a little confusing. It didn't flow well. I criss-crossed the first floor, in particular, multiple times.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed it. It was interesting and informative and kept me entertained for two hours. If you want something a little different to do while you're in LA, you should check this out.