Thursday, December 31, 2015

Music Love: "Polaroid" by Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons is one of those bands that the teenager inside of me feels like I shouldn’t like. “They’re popular, so they can’t be good!” 15-year-old me insists. Well, it turns out that 15-year-old me was wrong about a lot of things (40-year-old me probably is too), and one of the things that she was particularly wrong about was that it’s bad to like popular music. As I’m fond of saying now, “It’s popular for a reason,” i.e. it has mass appeal, and that’s not a bad thing.

So I like Imagine Dragons, and I like them without reservation. I was skeptical that their sophomore effort would be as good as their debut, but it may actually be better. The jury’s still out on that. I like both albums a lot. I would say that Night Visions has more songs that resonate with me, but it also has more songs that I don’t really like, whereas Smoke+Mirrors is basically flawless to me; I don’t think it has a single song I don’t like.

By far, however, my favorite song on Smoke+Mirrors is “Polaroid.” I’m not particularly inclined to playing songs on repeat, but if I were, this would be one of them. It has all the standard elements I love in a song: great vocals (by lead singer Dan Reynolds) and a catchy beat. That it happens to be an uptempo song with not-so-happy lyrics is a bonus. And of course, the best part: the lyrics themselves, which basically give voice to every doubt in my head.

The first thing that really drew me into it was the line, “I am the color of boom.” On the surface, it’s nonsensical, and yet, in a strange way it makes perfect sense. What is the color of boom? It’s the color of failure, and while I couldn’t tell you what that color is, I can see it in my head. A few months ago, my husband, who is not an Imagine Dragons fan, heard me listening to this song and asked, “Why is love a polaroid?” So I looked up the lyrics to make sure I explained it right and when I read them aloud, “Better in picture, but never can fill the void,” it was such an “OMG, yes!” moment for me.

As I read all of the lyrics to him (“I’m a reckless mistake, I’m a cold night’s intake. I’m a one night too long, I’m a come on too strong.”), I related to them so strongly. Who hasn’t, at least once, felt like this much of a colossal screw up? Why, my husband, of course. He’s a man who has seemingly never had a moment’s self-doubt in his life. When I finished reading the lyrics aloud, he opined, “He sounds like a whiner.”


So here’s to us, my fellow whiners, those who often feel socially awkward, who are never sure if we’ve said or done the right thing, who secretly worry that everyone else sees us as we see ourselves. This song is our anthem. Let’s all thank Imagine Dragons for showing us that we’re not alone.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

AFI Top 100, #44: "The Birth of a Nation" (1915)

Movie Stats:
Released 1915 (USA)
American, in English (the film is silent but the scene cards are in English)
Director - D.W. Griffith
Stars - Lillian Gish, Henry B. Walthall, George Siegmann, Mae Marsh

Plot Summary:
A rather slanted look at the Civil War and Reconstruction. Gish co-stars as Elsie Stoneman, a U.S. senator’s daughter; Walthall as Ben Cameron, a Stoneman family friend, Southern colonel, and Elsie’s one-time paramour; Marsh as Ben’s sister, Flora; and Siegmann as Silas Lynch, a biracial Reconstruction politician.

Violence; use of a racial slur.

Bad Stuff:
This is the most ridiculously racist pile of poop I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching in my life. All of the biracial and black characters are either dumb, lazy, evil, or a combination of all three. The KKK members are the good guys in this. Let that sink in for a moment. The KKK is the hero of this movie.

The acting is terrible. I’ve seen silent films that have good acting, so I know it’s not the medium.

At 190 minutes, it’s way, way too long. Many scenes are interminable.

Good Stuff:
I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to see a movie that’s 100 years old. It’s difficult to believe that full length feature films have been around for that long.

A lot of the practical effects were well done. I frequently found myself wondering how many of those poor stuntmen got hurt, since this was made before the days of labor standards.

The Verdict:
This movie offends me on every level imaginable, to the point where I’m seething with so much rage that I can hardly type. It showcases every terrible (and inaccurate) stereotype about blacks imaginable. It’s white supremacist propaganda.

This movie has no business on a modern-day (compiled in 1998 if you’ll recall) list of “best movies ever made.” Even if you ignore all the racism (BTW, any black or biracial character that has a “foreground” role is played by a white person in black face), it’s objectively not a very good film. While the practical effects are impressive, the acting is bad, the editing is lacking (it meanders endlessly), and I have grave doubts as to its historical accuracy, particularly in regards to Reconstruction. Just because it’s one of the first feature length films ever made doesn’t mean it deserves a place in the top 100.

I give it .25 star, but only because I don’t believe in giving no stars. Honestly, it deserves about -1,000,000,000 stars.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

AFI Top 100, #45: "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951)

Movie Stats:
Released 1951 (Italy)
American, in English (a tiny bit of non-translated Spanish)
Director - Elia Kazan
Stars - Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden

Plot Summary:
Down on her luck and mentally unbalanced, Blanche Dubois (Leigh) goes to live with her sister Stella Kowalski (Hunter) and her brother-in-law Stanley (Brando). Fireworks of the very bad kind ensue. Malden co-stars as Blanche’s love interest, Mitch.

Minor use of some ethnic slurs; violence; heavily implied rape (actual act not shown on-screen).

Bad Stuff:
I’m not in love with Leigh’s acting. Much scenery was chewed.

It’s a bit boring.

Good Stuff:
Brando is SO amazing. When you see him in his heyday, you completely get why directors were willing to put up with his BS. He had a rare talent, and he’s absolutely chilling in this.

I love how claustrophobic it is. Set almost entirely in the Kowalski apartment, you can feel those walls closing in on Blanche, the trap slowly settling into place. It’s done quite masterfully.

I really like the dialogue. The juxtaposition of Blanche’s long-winded, flowery prose with the casual, colloquial-filled speech of nearly everyone else involved is interesting.

The Verdict:
This is yet another movie on this list that’s not a comfortable watch. I don’t particularly care to see abuse, whether it’s in real life or on film. Just because it made me uneasy, however, doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. It’s fascinating in that can’t-look-away-from-the-slow-motion-wreck sense. It was both difficult and infuriating to watch Blanche’s mental state deteriorate. The whole time, I kept thinking, “Can’t these people around her see that she’s not well? Why don’t they help her?” It’s anguishing. This isn’t a movie that’s going to make you laugh or smile, but it will move you.

I give it 4 stars.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Up with Geography: Bulgaria




Man, my map of Europe is terrible. I'm either going to have to redo it at some point, or finally invest in some whiteout. I made Kosovo twice as big as it is in reality, which makes it look like it shares a border with Bulgaria. It does not. That's part of Serbia, hence the squiggly line to the left of Bulgaria, partway through Serbia.

European continent. Bulgaria outlined in dark
ink and shaded.

A close-up of Bulgaria & its neighbors.

Romania, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia

Water Borders:
Danube River, Black Sea

Total Area:
42,823 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, Ruse

Famous Geographical Point:
Danube River

Famous Person:
Vasil Zlatarski, historian

Book Set In/About:
Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria by Kapka Kassabova

This memoir is by a woman who was born and raised in Bulgaria when it was part of the Soviet Union. After the fall of Communism, she left to live in other countries, but returned when Bulgaria became a part of the European Union. These are her experiences.

Movie Set In/About:
"Yesterday (Vchera)" (1988), directed by Ivan Andonov

A coming of age tell set in the 1960s, where Bulgarian students in an English-language school struggle to express themselves under an oppressive Communist regime. Somehow it involves Beatles music, but I'm not totally sure how.

Headline of the Day:
"Over 60,000 Greek Firms Have Relocated to Bulgaria Since Summer" in the Sofia News Agency.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

AFI Top 100, #46: "A Clockwork Orange" (1971)

Movie Stats:
Released 1971 (Canada & USA on the same day)
American & British, in English
Director - Stanley Kubrick
Stars - Malcolm McDowell (plenty of other people are in it but I can’t really say that any of them “starred”)

Plot Summary:
In a dystopian future Britain, follow the life and times of dangerous hoodlum Alex (McDowell).

Extreme violence; gore; some blue language; rape (of women); consensual sexy times; full, extensive female nudity, plus numerous pieces of art that showcase the female form; brief full male nudity, plus a lot of penis artwork.

Bad Stuff:
It’s really weird, like everything about it from start to finish.

It feels pretty pointless. I’m not sure what I was supposed to get out of it. It’s one of those movies that make you think the seventies were a very strange time.

Good Stuff:
McDowell is fantastic. Everyone else is just background noise.

It explored some interesting questions about the nature of criminality, how far the government should be allowed to go to curb it, and the way we treat criminals once they’ve done their time.

The Verdict:
This film is very weird, and it’s an extremely uncomfortable watch, but it’s supposed to be. My main issue with it is that, with so much shock value to distract you, it’s hard to get anything out of it other than a sense of unease. I don’t think it’s a bad film in any traditional sense. The acting is well done, the pacing is good, and, once you get used to the weird terminology the characters use, you realize that the dialogue is also quite good. At the end, however, all I could think to myself was, “Why is this considered one of the top 100 films ever? If I were to recommend it to anyone, what would I say to them about why it’s important to see?” The answer to that second question is, I don’t think I would ever recommend it to anyone but neither would I dissuade anyone from seeing it, and I would be interested to see what they thought of it once they were done. So, make of that what you will.

I give the film 3.5 stars.

Bonus Fun Fact: Late-in-the-film character Julian is played by David Prowse, aka Darth Vader in the original Star Wars films (James Earl Jones only provided the voice of the character). I had no idea that he was once a well-known bodybuilder.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

AFI Top 100, #47: "Taxi Driver" (1976)

Movie Stats:
Released 1976 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Martin Scorsese
Stars - Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster

Plot Summary:
Mentally unstable Vietnam Vet, and cab driver, Travis Bickle (De Niro), slowly gives in to his urge to commit violence. Shepherd co-stars as Betsy, the object of Bickle’s affection, and Foster as Iris, the preteen prostitute that Bickle is convinced he must save.

Graphic violence; gore; lots of blue language; heavily implied sexy times; brief nudity (when Bickle views a porno in a theater, you see some of what he sees, but it’s a quick flash and it’s an orgy scene so it’s a little difficult for me to say exactly how much you see, only butt I think).

Bad Stuff:
The saxophone song that’s used repetitively throughout is both terrible and annoying. I didn’t like most of the soundtrack in general.

The ending is so unbelievable as to nearly ruin the film for me. I’m just going to pretend that it ends with the shootout.*

Good Stuff:
All of the performances are great. De Niro does most of the heavy lifting, and he does an excellent job of it. Bickle is clearly dangerous, there’s an anger simmering under his surface that’s impossible to ignore, but he’s also compelling. De Niro does such a magnificent job of conveying that.

It’s surprisingly funny. I particularly enjoyed the banter between Betsy and her friend-zoned co-worker, Tom (Albert Brooks).

It’s the kind of movie that just grabs you. It’s relatively spare. There’s not much action, and most of it comes at the end, and yet you can’t look away. It grabbed me from the start. I was never bored.

The Verdict:
I really liked it a lot. It’s a fascinating look at one man’s descent into darkness. I felt so much compassion for Bickle. It’s clear that he doesn’t know how to behave like a normal human, but he tries so hard. When he actually manages to charm Betsy into a date and then [SPOILER] takes her to a porno [SPOILER], I was like, “Oh god, why Travis? Why?” He genuinely doesn’t understand what he did wrong, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? Because he doesn’t understand how to interact with other people normally, he’ll always be frustrated, and that frustration will build until it explodes. While you may pick up this movie to see the eventual explosion, it’s the journey to get there that’s the truly interesting part. This film is very well done, and it came before Scorsese got longwinded, so it’s fairly concise. "The Departed" may still be my favorite Scorsese, but I think "Taxi Driver" is his masterpiece.

I give it 4.75 stars.

*Upon further reflection later, I began to suspect that those final scenes are all a delusion of Bickle's. If so, then they make perfect sense and are in fact rather brilliant.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Up with U.S. Geography: Pennsylvania

State Name:


Date of Entry:
December 12, 1787


Map of the USA. Pennsylvania shaded dark & tagged.

A close-up of Pennsylvania & its neighbors.

Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia

Water Borders:
Lake Erie

Total Area:
46,055 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading

Famous Geographical Point:
Appalachian Mountains

State Nickname:
The Keystone State, because it was the middle state of the original 13 colonies & because it was a major "key" to the development of the USA.

Famous Person:
David McCullough, author & historian (The Johnstown Flood, which I've read, it's excellent, John Adams, 1776, etc.)

Book Set In/About:
Rabbit, Run by John Updike

A man, missing his high school heyday and bored with life, has a quarter-life crisis. I know it's famous. I've never read it. Based on its Wikipedia synopsis, it sounds pretty brutal and bleak.

Movie Set In/About:
"Silver Linings Playbook" (2012), directed by David O. Russell

A man with bipolar disorder, recently released from a psychiatric hospital, slowly begins to stabilize with the help of a young widow, who has mental health issues of her own. I considered choosing the more famous "Rocky" or even a perennial Christmas favorite of mine, "Trading Places," but I went with this lovely, touching film & its great performances instead.

Headline of the Day:
"Budget Battle: Pennsylvania School Districts May Lose Ability to Borrow" by Pittsburgh's Action News 4 (

It's depressing how many of Pennsylvania's recent headlines were about gun violence.

Monday, December 14, 2015

AFI Top 100, #48: "Jaws" (1975)

Movie Stats:
Released 1975 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Plot Summary:
When an enormous, seemingly intelligent, great white shark terrorizes a small island community, police chief Martin Brody (Scheider), hunts it down with the help of marine biologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) and professional shark hunter Quint (Shaw).

Extreme violence; lots of gore; minor blue language; brief female nudity (side boob only).

Bad Stuff:
It’s a little too long. Could have done with one less someone-gets-eaten-while-people-on-the-beach-panic scene. By the third or fourth, I certainly got the point.

I’m giving the “science” of this film a very hard side-eye.

It has a few of that type of scene that tends to plague horror movies, where people do dumb things in order to further the plot, such as when they send the guy who already dropped something once when startled underwater back underwater with the very important poison stick.

Good Stuff:
Really excellent acting from everyone, although Shaw was probably my favorite - Quint is such an interesting, complex character. Even a lot of the secondary characters are great, especially the mayor of poor decisions, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), and Brody’s wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary).

The special effects are SO good! I’ve heard that the shark isn’t actually shown much because they were having trouble with the prop, but what you do see of it, it looks great. There’s a lot of CGI these days that looks far, far worse. It’s not all about the shark, though. There were several scenes that impressed me by how realistic they looked. A particular favorite was the scene where Brody and Hooper go out on a boat together and are socked in by fog. It was very creepy.

It’s a lot funnier than I remembered it being. A lot of the dialogue had me chuckling, “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women,” “string them up by their Buster Browns,” “What are you, some kind of half-assed astronaut?” Etc.

The Verdict:
This is one of those movies that I always expect to not like. I’ll think to myself, “It can’t possibly be as good as I recall.” Then I watch it again and I’m like, “Nope, it really is that good.” On top of the excellent acting (god, that look on Scheider’s face as he utters the iconic words, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” just magnificent), the great dialogue, and the impressive practical effects, it’s genuinely frightening. To me, it’s not scary so much as horrifying. It does a great job at ramping up the horror, leaving the viewer like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. The music goes a long way toward helping build that tension. If all horror movies were like this, I’d watch more of them.

I give it 4.5 stars.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

AFI Top 100, #49: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937)

Movie Stats:
Released 1937 (USA)
American, in English
Directors - William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
Stars - Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne

Plot Summary:
Snow White (Caselotti), a beautiful young princess relentlessly pursued by her jealous, evil stepmother, the Queen (La Verne), who wants to kill her, finds refuge with a group of dwarves.


Bad Stuff:
I hated Caselotti’s voice, especially her singing voice. Have you ever seen the Lemmiwinks episode of South Park? Her singing voice sounded like a song from it. If you’re familiar with that episode, you’ll know why singing like that has been ruined for me forever.

It’s so ridiculously over-the-top saccharine sweet. Seriously gag-inducing.

I’m really annoyed that these grown-ass men (the dwarves) couldn’t take care of themselves - wouldn’t even wash their own freaking hands - without a woman to watch over them. Like they needed a mommy. I can’t decide if that’s more offensive to women (Women must be nurturers! It’s their role in life!), men (Men are helpless babies without a mommy figure around!), or little people (Little people aren’t grown adults, they’re basically children!). Maybe it’s just offensive in general.

Good Stuff:
By today’s standards, the animation isn’t particularly sophisticated, but some effects were incredibly well done. Some standouts: the water in the wishing well, the scene where innocuous things turned into frightening things in the forest, and the jewels at the mine.

I liked the soundtrack.

I enjoyed how deliciously, unrepentantly evil the queen was.

The Verdict:
Okay, so here’s the thing. While I’m familiar with the story, I never saw this movie when I was a kid. In fact, this was my first viewing. And I have to say, I pretty much hated it. It was boring and sickeningly sweet and stupid. (I have so many questions. Where was Snow White’s dad in all of this? I don’t remember it saying he was dead. Who do the dwarves work for? If themselves, why don’t they have a bigger/better house, seeing as how they have millions of jewels at their disposal? Where did the prince go? If he was so in love with Snow White - after seeing her once without having a conversation with her - why didn’t he go looking for her after she disappeared? WHY ARE THEY GETTING MARRIED WHEN THEY'VE ONLY MET TWICE?) I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

However, I realize that I’m seeing it through modern, adult eyes. Most people watch this as children. They don’t see its flaws, and I can say with honesty that I understand why young children would find it funny. This is a kids’ movie through and through. I’ve hardly seen any of the early Disney films, but it seems to me like they were definitely more kid-oriented, whereas the modern ones have stuff in there for adults to enjoy as well.

Part of me says, “Write a scathing review and give it a bad rating.” The other part says, “Lighten up, it’s a kids’ movie, and a very old one at that, their social mores were different back then.” It’s been difficult for me to decide which part to listen to. So I think I’m going to split the difference: negative review with a decent rating, because I think that most people have warm, fuzzy feelings for it because it’s a piece of their childhood.

I give it 3 stars.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Out and About: The Integratron

I don’t consider myself the least bit “woo woo” (read: New Age-y), and I don’t tend to like “woo woo” things, but when my friend contacted me and said, “Hey, do you want to go get a sound bath at this place out in the middle of desert?”, I thought to myself, “This is SO California, I totally have to do it.”

And that’s how I ended up having one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Located at 2477 Belfield Blvd in Landers, The Integratron “is a resonant tabernacle and energy machine sited on a powerful geomagnetic vortex in the magical Mojave Desert.” Which I guess is a fancy way of saying that it’s a building with absolutely amazing acoustics. It’s sort of out in the middle of nowhere, about 16 miles outside the town of Yucca Valley (and 42 miles from the nearest “big” town, Palm Springs). I loved the scenery, but then I’m a sucker for stark desert landscapes. We had no trouble finding our way there. Once we arrived, we found a lovely little oasis, complete with a gift shop, cafe, hammocks, and lots of cool artwork.

Me, chilling in a hammock.

Cool topiary.

Cute artwork.

The appointment ahead of ours started late, which made ours start late, but none of us seemed to mind because there was so much to do and see (plus those hammocks were pretty darn relaxing). You share your “bath” with a bunch of strangers (I’d say there were perhaps 30 of us max), but the site provides you with a mat and blanket. You just lay down and let the experience wash over you. The woman who did our bath said that it’s supposed to align the two halves of your brain. I can’t say that I felt aligned afterward, but I still loved every second of it.

My friends in front of the Integratron. Candid shot.

We’ve been raving about it ever since. All of us want to go back. I could see myself doing it at least once a year.

After the bath, we decided to head out for some lunch. One of my friends had a place in mind. On our way there, we stumbled across the Desert Christ Park. It was too unexpected for us to pass it up.

It’s a statue garden full of not only various Jesuses, but also several other characters from the Bible, some of which I recognized (Mary Magdalene, the disciples) and some of which I didn’t. (There is a map that identifies the statues. I didn't really look at it.) We took a turn around the park, took some pictures, and perhaps, in the process, solidified our respective places in Hell. In all honesty, despite the bad state of some of the statues, this place was really neat, and it had some amazing views.

Me, having a think with Jesus (?).

Arty shot of sunlight through tree.

Last supper.

View from behind Jesus's head.

View overall.

Then it was off to Pappy and Harriet’s, where the food was excellent, and the photos I got in the waning light were pretty cool too:

Arty sunset shot.

Desert view.

On our way home, we got stuck in terrible traffic, but it was well worth it. It was a fantastic day trip, one of the best times I’ve had since moving to California, and I can’t wait to head back out there some time next year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

AFI Top 100, #50: "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969)

Movie Stats:
Released 1969 (USA)
American, in English (some Spanish, both translated and not)
Director - George Roy Hill
Stars - Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross

Plot Summary:
When the law gets too close, Wild West outlaws Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) flee to Bolivia. Ross co-stars as Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place.

Violence; minor blue language; heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
I find the pace a tad slow.

The soundtrack doesn’t fit the film.

It seems to me that the 1960s were a very experimental time in general, and that flair for experimenting extended to filmmaking. Often when I’m watching a film from the ‘60s, I find myself perplexed, thinking, “What the heck is going on here?” There were a few of those moments in this movie. Some of them, ultimately, worked for me (the picture montage to signify the trio’s trip to Bolivia, although it went on too long) and some of them didn’t (the clown music/bicycle scene). Stylistically, I simply find 1960s - particularly the latter half of the decade - films to be exhausting. (I’m pretty sure I’ve complained about this before.)

Good Stuff:
The relationships are the best part. I love the friendship between Butch and Sundance. Even more, I love the friendship between Butch and Etta. And while I didn’t exactly appreciate the way that Sundance often treated Etta, I really liked that their relationship wasn’t overly romanticized.

Great dialogue, some of it quite funny.

There are some excellent, exquisitely understated scenes. One of my favorites was the moment when Etta realized that it was time for her to leave, that her journey with Butch and Sundance was over. It was all on her face, heartbreak followed by acceptance, and spoken in simple words, “I think I’ll go on home ahead of you.” It was beautiful and touching, more so because it wasn’t overwrought.

The Verdict:
I liked it. It has a great cast, all of whom are easy on the eyes, that does an excellent job. The story is simple but interesting. It has a good amount of action. I enjoy that Butch and Sundance are “gray” in terms of characterization. In many ways, they are good guys. In many other ways, they aren’t, and they continue to do things that will hurt both themselves and others. Like Etta, you care for them and yet, at the same time, you want to smack them upside the head and tell them to stop being idiots. I enjoy complex characters like that.

I give the film 3.75 stars.

Friday, December 4, 2015

AFI Top 100, #51: "The Philadelphia Story" (1940)

Movie Stats:
Released 1940 (Brazil)
American, in English (minor non-translated French)
Director - George Cukor
Stars - Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart

Plot Summary:
Headstrong young socialite Tracy Lord (Hepburn), on the eve of her second wedding, finds her life thrown into turmoil by the arrival of her former husband, C.K. “Dexter” Haven (Grant), who brings along cynical journalist Macaulay “Mike” Connor (Stewart).

Very minor blue language; very minor, non-graphic violence.

Bad Stuff:
Skip to the verdict below. There’s so much wrong with it that I can’t list all of it out for you in easy, digestible points.

Good Stuff:
I absolutely adored Virginia Weidler (as Tracy’s younger sister, Dinah). She lit up every scene she was in.

I always enjoy seeing Stewart play out of type.

Loved the scene where, when asked if he’d slept with Tracy while she was highly intoxicated, Mike replied that there were certain rules in society and that one of them is that you don’t sleep with people who can’t give consent. Heck, a lot of people nowadays don’t get that, let alone back in the 1940s.

The Verdict:

This movie is vile. Nearly all of the men are terrible, awful people (Mike isn’t that bad but he’s the best of the lot, and he still comes dangerously close to sleeping with a woman the night before her wedding). Dexter turns up with the express purpose of ruining Tracy’s wedding. Her fiancĂ© George (John Howard) assumes the worst of her without even bothering to get her side of the story. Her father Seth (John Halliday) is cheating on his wife with a young dancer. Her uncle Willie (Roland Young) gropes women without their consent (and of course is treated with an “Oh you!” attitude by everyone, women included). And yet all of these ridiculously terrible people spend the whole movie telling Tracy how terrible SHE is and talking about how she needs to be taken down a peg or two.

Why? She is, perhaps, a bit spoiled, but many wealthy women in fiction are. Other than that, the only “bad” things I see about her is that she’s strong-willed and opinionated. The horror, right? In the most vomit-inducing scene I’ve seen in the history of ever, Seth actually tells Tracy that if she had been a better daughter, he wouldn’t have cheated on her mother. That’s right, his cheating is his daughter’s fault because older men “need” a young woman to adore them so they don’t feel old. Therefore, if their daughters don’t adore them, they’re forced to chase after other young women. I wish I was making this up. I’ve never wanted so badly to punch a hole through my TV screen before.

The best part is that, after she nearly cheats on George with Mike (actually, in my mind, she does cheat emotionally and she kisses him but everyone acts like it’s all okay because they didn’t have sex), this somehow redeems her. Because now she’s as bad as all the men in the film, I guess? I give up. Seriously, I surrender to your stupidity, film.

Amusingly enough, my husband, who was around while I was watching it but not paying attention, happened to tune in at the end, after Tracy has already dumped George at the altar, right when Mike asks her to marry him instead (keep in mind that he’s known her for all of two days) and she turns him down, only to end up re-marrying Dexter. “Wait,” my husband said, “why is she getting married to Cary Grant? Didn’t Jimmy Stewart just ask her to marry him?” And as I struggled to explain to him why all of that had just occurred, I realized that this movie makes no sense and, quite simply, sucks in every way imaginable.

I give it 1 star.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Music Love: "Mother" by Pink Floyd

I’ve never really considered myself a Pink Floyd fan per se. At the risk of setting myself up to get flamed, I’ll admit that I tend to think of Pink Floyd as a “druggie band.” Since I’m not exactly into drugs myself, I’ve always felt a bit dismissive of them. I don’t own any of their albums. In fact, I own just one of their songs (the beautiful and haunting “Wish You Were Here”). On the other hand, if I come across them on the radio, I’m unlikely to change the channel.

They seem to get played on the radio a lot here. And since I’ve been hearing them on the radio, I started looking them up on YouTube and, consequently, listening to them at home. This reminded me how much I love the song “Mother.”

Two things really make this song for me: Roger Waters’s vocals (god, I love his voice) and the lyrics. On the surface, it seems like a sweet song: a man turns to his mother, seeking comfort in the face of his fears. His mother’s responses, however, push the song into a creepy place. When he asks her,

“Mother, do you think she’s good enough for me?

Mother, do you think she’s dangerous to me?
Mother, will she tear your little boy apart?
Ooo ah, Mother will she break my heart?”

she replies,

“Hush now baby, baby, don’t you cry.
Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you.
Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through.
Mama’s gonna wait up until you get in.
Mama will always find out where you’ve been.
Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean.”

Um, ick.

Now, I know that this song doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a concept album, one that I maybe listened to in its entirety once 25 years ago. So perhaps there’s a context to it, a nuance, that I don’t get, hearing it independently from the rest of the album, but I don’t know that any context would make it less creepy.

This song makes me uncomfortable, and the fact that I like that it makes me uncomfortable makes me even more uncomfortable. A song that makes me feel something? Yes, please.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "The Night Before" at ArcLight Santa Monica

Theater Info:
ArcLight Santa Monica
395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 330, Santa Monica
Cost: $15.75 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (USA & Canada on the same day)
American, in English
Director - Jonathan Levine
Stars - Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie

Plot Summary:
One year, in an effort to cheer up Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), orphaned by the sudden death of his parents, his friends Isaac (Rogen) and Chris (Mackie), spend Christmas Eve with him. Now, fourteen years later, the three men decide to finally end the tradition with one big last night out.

Blue language; drug use; mild violence; sexy times; brief female nudity (I think; honestly I can’t quite remember and the movie is too new for all of the warnings to be up on IMDB but I know it’s not full frontal).

Bad Stuff:
It’s not as funny as I’d hoped it would be. That’s not to say it wasn’t funny at all. There were some moments when I laughed a lot. However, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as I expected to.

There are some really weird moments. In a way, I’ve come to expect that from this type of movie but I’m not convinced that it’s necessary. I felt like the screenwriters took as many drugs as Isaac did (one of the plot lines in the film).

Good Stuff:
The underlying message - about friendship, love, change, and growing up - is very sweet.

I loved Michael Shannon as Mr. Green. Is there anything that man can’t do? He’s excellent.

It was nice to see female characters portrayed fairly well for once. The women were, by and large, strong, funny, intelligent, understanding, and supportive. I especially liked Isaac’s wife, Betsy (Jillian Bell).

The Verdict:
It was okay. When I first saw a trailer for it, I was interested because, hey, JGL, I love him. But it didn’t look very funny to me. Then the reviews started coming in and they were actually pretty good, so I thought I would give it a chance. I guess I should’ve listened to my gut. I didn’t hate it, but I wanted something more. I wanted to really laugh, the kind of laughing where your face hurts by the time you leave the theater. This didn’t do that for me, so I was disappointed. Maybe on a different day, in a different mood, it might have struck me funnier. I’m not trying to warn you away from it. I’m saying go into it with low expectations.

I give it 3.25 stars.

About ArcLight Santa Monica:
This theater is brand spanking new, opening up less than a week before my visit. It’s the first ArcLight I’ve ever been too, so I didn't know much about it. Given the cost of the ticket, I have to say that I expected more. The seats were nice enough, but they didn’t even recline. Everything was nice and new. Concessions were about the same as any other theater, but the portions were smaller. On the one hand, I think this is a good thing because standard movie theater portions are too large. However, if I’m getting a portion that’s a sane size, then I don’t think I should be paying the same price as the insane size. At the end of the day, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Why pay nearly $16 for a ticket to a theater that wasn’t any nicer than some of the others I’ve been to recently? I’ll probably go back, however, since it’s the hot new theater in town and my friends will want to go.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AFI Top 100, #s 55, 54, 53, 52

I previously reviewed these four movies, each one for my Best Picture Project. Below is the pertinent information about each: the movie stats, plot summary, and the rating I gave it.

Movie Stats:
Released 1965 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Robert Wise
Stars – Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker, Richard Haydn

Plot Summary:
Set in Austria in the months just before the German takeover of the country. Maria (Andrews), a novitiate at a convent in Salzburg, doesn’t quite seem to have what it takes to become a nun. Uncertain what to do with her, Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) sends her to work as a governess to the seven children of Captain Georg von Trapp (Plummer). There, Maria and Georg slowly begin to fall in love. Parker co-stars as Georg’s other love interest, The Baroness, and Haydn as her brother (?), Max Detweiler.

4.25 stars

Full review HERE.

This review was written before I standardized my review process. I gave the movie 3 stars. You can read the full text of the review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1984 (USA)
American, in English (some non-translated Italian & German, although it’s in the form of opera, which I personally can never understand no matter what language it’s in)
Director – Milos Forman
Stars – F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones

Plot Summary:
In the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II (Jones), royal composer Antonio Salieri (Abraham) is driven to the point of madness by envy of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Hulce). Berridge co-stars as Mozart’s wife, Constanze. (I also feel compelled to note the appearance of baby Cynthia Nixon as Mozart’s maid.)

2.75 stars

Full review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released USA (1953)
American, in English
Director – Fred Zinnemann
Stars – Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed

Plot Summary:
Set in Pearl Harbor during 1941, Private Robert E. Lee “Prew” Prewitt (Clift) has recently been transferred to a new unit, where his new captain (Philip Ober), aware of his talent, wants him to fight on the boxing team. When Prew refuses for personal reasons, he’s subjected to cruel treatment. In the meantime, Prew’s sergeant, Milton Warden (Lancaster), is falling in love with the captain’s wife, Karen Holmes (Kerr). Sinatra costars as Prew’s buddy Private Angelo Maggio & Reed as Prew’s love interest, Alma “Lorene” Burke.

3 stars

Full review HERE.

Up with Geography: Brunei


Bandar Seri Begawan

None. It shares the island of Borneo with Malaysia & Indonesia, although it doesn't share a border with Indonesia. Borneo is surrounded by many seas and is located off the continent of Asia.

I'm still experiencing technical difficulties with my scanner. Below are pictures of my drawings. I apologize for the poor quality.

The island of Borneo. Brunei outlined in dark ink & shaded.
Indonesia occupies the south half of the island.

A close up of Brunei & its neighbor.


Water Borders:
South China Sea

Total Area:
2,226 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Technically, Brunei doesn't have cities. Here is an explanation. The four official towns of Brunei, in descending order, are: Bandar Seri Begawan, Kuala Belait, Tutong, and Seria.

Famous Geographical Point:
Ulu Temburong National Park

Famous Person:
Wu Chun, singer, actor, and model

Book Set In/About:
Brunei: From the Age of Commerce to the 21st Century by Marie-Sebille de Vienne

An in-depth look at the politics, geography, and history of Brunei.

Movie Set In/About:
"Yasmine" (2014), directed by Siti Kamaluddin & Man-Ching Chan

The story of a young woman who strives to become a master of of the Brunei martial art called Silat.

Headline of the Day:
"Paulo Sergio Inspires Brunei DPMM to First-Ever S.League Title" on ESPN FC.

I swear that, despite my love for soccer, I didn't seek out a soccer-related headline. Lol.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

AFI Top 100, #56: MASH (1970)

Consider this your general (mild) SPOILER ALERT for this review.

Movie Stats:
Released 1970 (USA)
American, in English (some Korean & Japanese, mostly non-translated)
Director - Robert Altman
Stars - Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt

Plot Summary:
It follows the zany antics of three American surgeons - Hawkeye Pierce (Sutherland), Trapper John McIntyre (Gould), and Duke Forrest (Skerritt) - on the front of the Korean War.

Blue language (including a racial slur); heavily implied sexy times; non-consensual drug use; violence; gore; brief female nudity (breasts & butt only).

Bad Stuff:
In numerous scenes, people talk over one another. Even with the subtitles on, it was hard to follow. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Most of this movie just sounded like random noise.

It meanders aimlessly without ever really getting anywhere.

It felt more like a National Lampoon’s movie set during the Korean War than it did an honest exploration of the horrors of war and how people cope with them. The war took such a back seat to the hijinks that it might as well have not been set during that time at all.

Good Stuff:
I liked how compassionate Hawkeye and Trapper John occasionally were. They prevent a man from committing suicide, try to keep their Korean servant (Ho Jon, played by Kim Atwood) from being conscripted into the Korean army, and save the life of a half-American, half-Japanese baby when other American doctors refused to do so. It was sweet.

The Verdict:
I saw this once before and didn’t recall not liking it. In fact, I was looking forward to seeing it again. Unfortunately, this time around I thought it was terrible. Really terrible. I pretty much hated it. Hawkeye, Trapper John, and Duke are basically these incredibly arrogant doctors who want everything done their way and whenever someone tries to say no, they ruin their lives. They have one man dragged away in a straight jacket, expose a woman to the whole camp while she’s showering (not to mention the time they broadcast her sexual liaison over the camp radio), and drug & blackmail another man. Granted, all of those people were jerks, but I’m not convinced that frontier justice was the answer. The movie wanted me to believe that it was all in good fun, but I felt appalled the whole way through.

It’s horrifically sexist. And just when I thought it was pretty good on the racism front, a black character named “Spearchucker” Jones (played by Fred Williamson), who was also a doctor by the way, appeared. I mean, really. Maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age but by the end I felt rather stumped as to how this was so beloved that it got turned into a TV series (which is far superior in every regard). If you love the show, I’d give this one a definite pass to preserve your warm and fuzzy memories.

I give it 2 stars.

Random Fun Fact: I used to work with the niece of Sally Kellerman (“Hot Lips” Houlihan). She looked just like her.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

AFI Top 100, #57: "The Third Man" (1949)

Movie Stats:
Released 1949 (UK)
British, in English (lots of German, much of it non-translated, and a little Russian, non-translated)
Director - Carol Reed
Stars - Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard

Plot Summary:
When down-on-his-luck pulp writer Holly Martins (Cotten) is offered a job in post-WWII Vienna by his long-time friend Harry Lime (Welles), he arrives to find Lime dead and himself embroiled in a mystery. Valli co-stars as Lime’s lover, Anna Schmidt, and Howard as Major Calloway, a police commander in the British sector of Vienna (Austria was occupied by Allied forces for 10 years after the war).

Non-graphic violence (very minor).

Bad Stuff:
In the beginning, I thought Martins was a lot to take. He spent a lot of time running around, acting like a loud, blustery American. It was annoying. (Luckily he got better.)

While I enjoyed the zither music that made up the majority of the soundtrack, it didn’t match the tenor of the film. The music is upbeat, chipper, and playful. The movie is not.

The action sequences are laughably terrible, but that’s rather typical for the time period.

Good Stuff:
I loved Major Calloway. He was so very, very British. His dry sense of humor, and witty put-downs, made me laugh every single time.

I thought it made some fairly profound observations on human relationships, in particular: just because someone you love has done something terrible, that doesn’t mean that you stop loving them. I enjoyed watching Martins struggle with his feelings.

Some scenes are incredibly well done, almost perfect. In particular, whenever [SPOILER] Martins and Lime [SPOILER] were on-screen together, it was electric.

The Verdict:
I figured out the mystery pretty early, but I’m not sure if that’s because it was obvious, because I was astute, or because I may have, at some point, heard someone blab the truth. It’s probably #3. Honestly, it’s hard to stay spoiler-free about a movie when it’s 66 years old. Anyway, because I figured it out early, it was difficult for me to really get into the mystery aspect, but there was still a lot that I enjoyed about it. The performances were all-around pretty good. The story was fairly solid (although, given the resolution of the mystery, I’m not sure why Lime invited Martins to Vienna to begin with). I liked the exploration of relationships, and I especially liked that it didn’t “go there” when it came to an obvious chance for romance.

I give it 4 stars.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Up with U.S. Geography: Delaware

State Name:


Date of Entry:
December 7, 1787


Map of the USA. Delaware shaded dark & tagged.

A close-up of Delaware & its neighbors.

Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey

Water Borders:
Delaware Bay, North Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
1,982 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Wilmington, Dover, Newark, Middletown, Smyrna

Famous Geographical Point:
Delaware Bay

State Nickname:
The First State, because it was the first state.

Famous Person:
George Thorogood, musician (“Bad to the Bone”)

Book Set In/About:
And Never Let Her Go by Ann Rule

The true story of a well-to-do lawyer who murdered his former lover. Normally, I wouldn’t include a true crime book here, but I actually read this one a number of years ago. It’s very good and there’s a lot of information about Delaware in it.

Movie Set In/About:
“Fight Club” (1999), directed by David Fincher

A man, suffering from insomnia and in search of relief, makes a new friend who introduces him to an underground fighting ring. I had no idea that this book/movie was set in Delaware but the internet insists that it is, and it’s a great movie, so here we are.

Headline of the Day:
“Layoffs Could Spur Delaware’s Bioscience Industry” in The News Journal (delawareonline)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Up with U.S. Geography: Maintenance Post

It occurred to me recently that I don’t know much more about U.S. geography than I do about world geography, so I decided to expand my Geography Project. From now on, I’ll be doing once-monthly posts about U.S. states. These posts will be very similar to my world geography posts, except that I’ve taken out the Continent category (since they’re all part of the same continent). Instead, I’ll give you two new categories: Date of Entry and State Nickname. I’ll be doing them in order of entry to the union. Therefore, the first one will be Delaware, a post that will be up within the next few days.

Here’s a refresher course on what information these posts will contain:

State Name:
This is the name of the state, in English.

This is the name of the state’s capital city, in English.

Date of Entry:
The date that the territory became a U.S. state.

There will be two for each state. One will depict where in the U.S. the state is located. The other will be a close up of the state, including the names of the surrounding states, countries and/or water. These maps will be hand-drawn by me.

This will denote all of the states/countries that share a border with the state in question.

Water Borders:
This will denote any large bodies of water that make up an entire border or a significant partial border of the state in question. Included are: oceans, seas, gulfs, and occasionally bays, rivers, and lakes.

Five Largest Cities:
The five largest cities in the state in descending order. Population numbers will not be given because such stats are very changeable.

Famous Geographical Point:
An interesting and/or well-known geographical point of the state. Where possible, I’ve picked things that should be known across the country, i.e. the Grand Canyon or Death Valley. They will all be naturally occurring, i.e. nothing manmade.

Note that some states have several famous geographical points. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the one you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

After getting to know a little bit about the geography of each state, I thought it would be fun to know some of the culture/pop culture. Therefore, I’m including the following categories:

State Nickname:
The state’s nickname, in English.

Famous Person:
A famous person who was born in that state. I am not including people who were born elsewhere but moved to that state, even if they did so as babies. Where possible, I’ve picked a name that I recognize. Barring that, I’ve picked someone who sounded interesting to me upon further research. I’m trying to keep this fun, so I’ve picked people who have had a positive influence on the world, so don’t expect to find despots or criminals in here (i.e. no Ted Bundy, etc.). Presidents are too easy so I’m unlikely to pick them.

Note that pretty much every state has produced multiple famous people. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the one you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Book Set In/About:
A book either set in and/or about the state, either fiction or non-fiction. I took suggestions from Goodreads and tried to pick books with ratings of 4 stars or higher. I also tried to pick books that sounded interesting, in case you or I might want to read them someday.

Note that pretty much every state has produced lots of literature. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the book you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Movie Set In/About:
A movie either set in and/or about the state, either fiction or non-fiction. In some cases, I had to settle for a movie made by a director from that state. I took suggestions from several sources online and checked them against IMDB. I tried to pick movies with a rating of 7.0 or higher, in case you or I might want to watch them someday.

Note that pretty much every state has produced lots of movies. Please don’t be offended if I didn’t pick the film you think I should have, but feel free to add your suggestions in the comments.

Headline of the Day:
Right as I am about to post the state, I will google the state’s name. The first news headline that pops up will be what I post here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "Crimson Peak" at Cinemark 18 & XD

While I was deep in the trenches doing editing work on my latest book last month, I missed doing this series. I’ll try to catch up with two movies this month.

I’m issuing a general SPOILER ALERT for this review.

Theater Info:
Cinemark 18 & XD
6081 Center Drive, Los Angeles
Cost: $7.50 for an “early bird” showing (first show of the day, I guess)

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (USA)
American & Canadian, in English
Director - Guillermo del Toro
Stars - Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam

Plot Summary:
When young, would-be author Edith Cushing (Wasikowska) meets the handsome, charming English baronet Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston), she’s swept into a world of mystery and danger. Chastain co-stars as Thomas’s sister, Lucille, and Hunnam as Edith’s childhood friend, Dr. Alan McMichael.

Minor blue language; sexy times; brief male nudity (butt only); graphic violence & gore.

Bad Stuff:
My main problem with horror/scary movies is that the characters are often forced to behave in incredibly stupid ways in order to further the plot. While this movie is refreshingly mostly-free of that, I had to wonder why the ghost of Edith’s mother, instead of issuing the vague warning “beware of Crimson Peak,” a name that Edith would never hear from Thomas’s mouth until it was far too late, she couldn’t have said, “hey, marry the hunky doctor who’s clearly in love with you instead of that handsome British guy you’ve known for a hot minute.” I suppose we wouldn’t have had a movie in that case though.

Honestly, the ghosts, as much as I enjoyed them, seemed rather superfluous to the rest of the story. I feel that the character of Edith was smart enough to figure out what was going on without the ghosts’ help.

Hunnam’s accent was so distracting. In his first scene, I was like, “Ah, they’re letting him use his natural accent,” but no, he ended up sounding sort-of-American, sort-of-something else the whole film. I’ve heard him do a passable American accent, so I’m not sure what was up with that.

Good Stuff:
Okay, so they may have been superfluous, but holy crap, those ghosts looked very cool and they were SO creepy. I liked them a lot.

This cast was rock solid. Everyone was extremely good (even Hunnam, if you ignore the accent problem). I was very pleasantly surprised to see Jim Beaver (as Edith’s dad, Carter), who I’ve loved since his days as Bobby on Supernatural, and Burn Gorman (as private investigator Mr. Holly), who cemented his place in my heart when he was Owen on Torchwood. I think the acting gold star probably goes to Chastain, though. She was terrifying.

Visually, it’s stunning.

I loved that the men were so bad at saving Edith that she had to save herself (and Alan). It was quite gratifying.

The Verdict:
As I said, I typically don’t go for scary movies because they tend to be dumb. I was drawn to this one because of Hiddleston, and because it looked pretty (both the cast and the cinematography). Some friends who’d seen it mentioned online that they didn’t find it satisfactory. Perhaps this is why I wasn’t expecting much going in, and why I ended up liking it a lot more than I anticipated. To be sure, it’s not groundbreaking, and it’s fairly cliche. I knew what every plot twist was going to be before it happened. Regardless, it kept me entertained for two hours. I think the cast, and the visuals, really carry it. If it had been done less impeccably, it probably would’ve fallen flat. But it was impeccably done - I expect nothing less from del Toro - and so I rather enjoyed it.

I give it 4 stars.

About Cinemark 18 & XD:
Just off the 405, it’s easy to get to, the parking was easy to find, and that parking wasn’t as expensive as I was expecting, although I was annoyed that I saw no signs anywhere that listed the price (with partial validation, my slightly over 4 hours there cost me $5.00). The theater is quite large, with numerous screens, and for the most part it was clean and nice. However, the employees were rather surly. Also, my particular screening room wasn’t very nice. In fact, there was broken caution tape that had apparently cordoned off one row at one point in time (if the row is now usable, why not remove the tape?) and the seat directly in front of mine (not the same row as the one with the caution tape) was clearly broken, listing to one side. Overall, it was a mostly pleasant experience, but with plenty of nicer theaters closer to me, I doubt I’ll be going back.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Family Keepsakes Fun, Part 2

For the first post in this series, click here.

I've been meaning to do another post in this series for a while, so today I cracked open the second box of keepsakes. This box is much larger than the first. It was difficult to limit myself in terms of things to share. I'll have to revisit the box later and post more. For now, here are the items that caught my attention, posted in no particular order.

First, let's start with some postcards. Below is my favorite, a colorful view of Sparks Fountain in Jackson, Michigan. Growing up, Jackson was only known to me as the place with the state prison. Needless to say, we never visited, but those fountains sure look pretty. I'm tempted now. They're still there, called Cascades Falls. They charge for admission.

The below is one of the worst postcards I've ever seen. I completely forgot to write down the information on the back of the card before I put it back in the box. Since it's all taped up and put away now, I'm not going back in. Just know that it's a motel and the back didn't explain what the white thing in the grass is. I think it may be a bird fountain?

I'll never understand why people used to buy postcards of motels. Maybe they didn't - it's entirely possible that motels used to give these away for free as a form of advertising.

Here are a couple of postcards that I sent to my mom. I'm too shy to tell you what I wrote on the back (although it's pretty mundane). The first was sent in 1995. I lived in Hamburg, Germany at the time, but this is from my trip to Berlin. It's the Berliner Dom (capital building). The second was sent in 2008, when my now-husband and I were on vacation on Maui. It's a picture of the Lahaina harbor.

I could resist including a scan of this brochure of Luray Caverns outside of Luray, Virginia. I wanted you to see the stylish couple in the picture. This tourist attraction still exists. It actually sounds pretty cool, with a hedge maze and a historical museum. Also, I was amused to discover that someone coopted the name for the game Diablo.

Below is a picture from my uncle's (mother's brother) wedding. I don't know who any of these ladies are. In fact, I labelled this picture "church ladies." However, I greatly admire that epic cake, so I had to include it.

And this is a picture of my maternal grandfather when he was a police officer. He's the one standing behind the seated guy in the middle. He has such a baby face! Also, it's rather uncanny how much my brothers look like him.

I've talked a little bit before about my maternal grandmother's scrapbooks. They're such a treasure trove of information for me. Since I never got to meet her, they help me get to know her a little bit. It's fascinating, seeing what was important to her, trying to figure out why it was and what all of it says about her. She liked to clip poetry and inspirational articles from the paper. There are also a lot of notices such as deaths, accidents, and illnesses. I presume they're about people she knew, although it's possible that, like me, she was simply interested in death and destruction. She was fascinated with telephone operators long before she became one - I can tell that it was a dream job of hers. Also, from the poetry and articles, I got the sense that she was somewhat ambivalent about love and marriage, a narrative consistent with some of the things my mom told me about her.

She had a lot of articles by this woman, Dorothy Dix (her real name, I wonder, or a pen name intended to invoke Dorothea Dix?). This one (in two parts below) left me equal parts depressed and enraged. The sad thing is, the sentiment is still alive and well today, especially given the backlash toward feminism in the last few years. It's funny/disheartening to think that people still say, "Yes, women are oppressed, but they're not as oppressed as they used to be, so chill!" I bet this author never dreamed that people would look back at the time in which she lived and shake their heads about how bad women used to have it.

I was so shocked when I discovered these articles! My grandma was the young woman in this accident, which I never heard anything about before. I wonder if my mom even knew about it. I don't know who her male companion was - presumably her beau at the time. When I first went through her scrapbooks, I found his wedding announcement (I couldn't find it this time; must be in another box). I sort of wondered if she still carried a flame for him at the time he got married.

And this is my grandma's notary certificate (name redacted for privacy). I think it's so funny that she had this elaborate certificate. I was a notary for a while when I lived in Texas, and believe me, it involved no fancy certificates. Note that it was signed by George Romney, father of former governor and sometime presidential candidate Mitt Romney. I don't actually know why my grandma became a notary. As far as I know, after she married my grandpa, she was a stay-at-home mom for the rest of her life. I wish my mom was around to ask.

That's it for now! I hope you enjoyed this trip through my family's memorabilia. More to come in the future!