Thursday, March 26, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "Cinderella" at AMC 7

Theater Info:
AMC Santa Monica 7
1310 3rd St, Santa Monica
Cost: $7.29 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (Germany)
American, in English
Director - Kenneth Branagh
Stars - Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter

Plot Summary:
It’s the fairytale story “Cinderella.” Surely you’re already familiar with it. James stars as Cinderella, Blanchett as her evil stepmother, Madden as the prince, and Carter as the fairy godmother.


Bad Stuff:
It’s as saccharine sweet of a movie as you’ll ever see. It’s a bit much.

In the concluding scene of the “hunt for the wearer of the glass slipper,” there was a twist that was so convenient that I actually rolled my eyes.

[SPOILER sort of]
There really aren’t any consequences for the bad guys.

Good Stuff:
The costumes were fantastic. In fact, it was seeing the costumes in the trailer that made me want to see this film.

As overly sweet as it was, it was still cute, light-hearted, and fun. It was immensely entertaining.

I don’t think there was a weak performance in the lot. Kudos to the make-up department for making Madden (who most folks know as Rob Stark on “Game of Thrones”) completely unrecognizable. And kudos to the casting people for including Hayley Atwell (of “Agent Carter” fame) as Cinderella’s mother.

The Verdict:
Honestly, there’s not a lot to say about it. This movie doesn’t add anything new to the tale, although I don’t think that was its intent. It’s a simple retelling, and in that, it does a very good job. It’s PG enough for kids while at the same time it’s entertaining enough for adults. It’s cute and touching, it’s visually stunning,  all the actors are very likable, and, as fairytales often do, it has an appropriately happy ending. I really enjoyed it.

I give it 4 stars.

About AMC Santa Monica 7:
To be honest, I’d been to this theater a couple of times before and wasn’t impressed. Located in the heart of downtown Santa Monica (right on the Promenade), it was old and rundown and you have to pay for parking, there’s no way around it unless you take a cab or public transit. However, it’s currently under renovation. They’re turning it into a dine-in theater, which pleases me since it’s much closer to where I live than the one in Marina. Only two of the screens are currently open, but they’ve already been renovated, so I got the cushy seats at the cheap price, which was nice. I’m looking forward to more shows at this place in the future!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Neighborhood Walks: Triplets and Beach

Yesterday I made my way down to the neighborhood around Main Street. It's not especially close to where I live, about 3 miles, so I drove over, parked, and then proceeded to take my walk. I'm fond of this neighborhood for a lot of reasons. The shops/bars/restaurants along Main St. are great. The architecture is varied and interesting. And it's close to the beach. However, I had a particular reason for stopping by on this day: I wanted to re-discover the "triplet" houses I stumbled across a few weeks ago, so I could take a picture for my friend Patricia, the only regular commentor on this blog. Without further ado, here is my Main Street neighborhood walk.

Great mural on the side of an apt. building
near where I parked.

I feel like the picture below doesn't really capture what I was trying to show, but I'm including it anyway. This little bungalow is so cute, with its white picket fence and its lush, green yard.

The two palm trees below are in neighboring yards. I think its funny how completely different they are from one another.

I meandered up and down multiple streets on this walk, looking for the "triplets," so there's no real rhyme or reason to it.

The bottlebrush bushes are plentiful and
in full bloom.

I didn't take a selfie with the scarecrow.

The scarecrow owner's very interestingly-decorated garage.

And then I re-found them, the "triplets"! Unfortunately, it's impossible to take a decent picture of them. From across the street, they're surrounded by cars. On the same side of the street, the angle is too sharp. But here they are. Aren't they adorable? I would love to see the inside of them.

By the way, I've intentionally blurred out any license plates I captured in my photos. I don't want a random weirdo to get a hold of the photos and do something with the information (I don't know what they'd do; I'm just being cautious).

After finding the triplets, I went back to wandering.

Not sure what kind of tree this is. Very pretty.

Love the bright, bright blue house next to the
bright, bright red bush.

Huge leaf.

After a while, I realized that part of the reason I like this neighborhood so much is that many of the houses remind me of Portland, like these:

I mostly took this one for the gargoyle on the
porch railing, left side.

I initially took this picture for the Spanish style apartment building, but was pleased to see that the little house next door is under renovation. Looks like it's getting yellow siding?

Tile address plate on the above apartment building. A lot of homes in the neighborhood have them.

These two glorious Victorians are next door to one another. I especially love their stained glass windows, which are unfortunately difficult to see in these photos.

Below, I'm amused by the juxtaposition of the bike lane next to the bike racks. I don't understand why those benches are there though. It's not a bus stop (bus stops in SM have blue benches). Maybe you can sit here for a breather if you get tired while you're out biking around. It is sort of kitty-corner across the street from a library, so perhaps that's why this is there.

The architecture in this neighborhood is very diverse. Seems like there's something from practically every decade there. Sadly, I find it too difficult to capture in pictures. I snapped a picture of this very 1970s home, which is just down the street from the Victorians, to give you an idea of what it's like. The Spanish-style house next door to it is absolutely gorgeous, but the family was out in front when I walked past, so I didn't take a picture.

Wandering with a purpose now, headed to the coffee shop.

How cute are these reflector ornaments?

I couldn't tell if the church below is derelict or not. Some of the windows are boarded up, but the signs on it seemed recent. The stained glass windows are fantastic though.

On the wall of the church, a pay phone. When was the last time you saw one of these bad boys?

A beautiful brick building across the street and down a block from the church.

 This boot was randomly abandoned on the sidewalk. I didn't see its partner (or its owner) anywhere.

I think this fence is really cool because it looks like it's made out of sticks. They're actually metal.

 Another beautiful address plate.

Finally, I reached the coffee shop. I know what you're thinking. There doesn't appear to be a coffee shop in this picture. However, it is there, to the right of the bike shop. It's completely unadorned, although there is a fluorescent sign in the window that says "Coffee." It's nearly impossible to see in the picture. They call this shop 212 Pier. My friend Aarika turned me on to it. I'm unsure if that's actually the name, but it is the address of this funky, cool place, where both the coffee and the food are excellent. I got an iced latte and a macaroon. I didn't take a picture of them.

Kitty corner across the street from the coffee shop is this wonderful building that makes my heart go pitter pat.

Here I'm standing on Main St. On the side of the street I'm on, I'm in Santa Monica. If I were to cross over to the other side of Marine, I would be in Venice.

Ah, the beach is ahead.

The combined walk/bike path at the beach. I'm looking toward the famed Venice Beach.

And then reached my final destination! I sat here for about an hour, reading, watching the surfers, and soaking up the sun.

Here are my stubby little toes in the sand. You can see the tan line from my flip flops, and the tracks from the lifeguards' truck. At least I got a pedicure last weekend.

This was a really lovely walk. It wasn't long. Including the walk back to the car, I'd be surprised if I even walked 1.5 miles. But the day was beautiful, the scenery fantastic, and my spirits high. I'll definitely have to head back to this neighborhood to take more pictures another day.

Friday, March 20, 2015

AFI Top 100, #98: "Unforgiven" (1992)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my Best Picture project. Below is the pertinent information about it: the movie stats, plot summary, and the rating I gave it. You can read the full text of my review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1992 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Clint Eastwood
Stars – Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Jaimz Woolvett

Plot Summary:
Set in 1880s Wild West. The promise of a big payday lures retired gunslinger William Munny (Eastwood) away from his pig farm to make one last kill. Freeman co-stars as Munny’s best friend, and former partner, Ned Logan; Hackman as the vicious sheriff they run afoul of, Little Bill Daggett; and Woolvett as the young greenhorn who brings Munny out of retirement, “The Schofield Kid.”

3.25 stars

Thursday, March 19, 2015

AFI Top 100, #99: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967)

Movie Stats:
Released 1967 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Stanley Kramer (who made appearances in my A-Z Project with On the Beach and Judgment at Nuremberg)
Stars - Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton

Plot Summary:
When white Joanna Drayton (Houghton) brings home her newly-minted black fiancĂ© John Prentice (Poitier), who she’s only known for ten days, it comes as a huge shock to her parents Matt (Tracy) and Christina (Hepburn), who are forced to confront whether or not they actually believe their own liberal principles.

Mild blue language (including one racial slur that I heard).

Bad Stuff:
In the scene where Matt asks John if he understands how difficult things will be for his future biracial children, John says (I’m paraphrasing), “Well, of course we’re having kids. If we didn’t, it wouldn’t really be a marriage.” I was like, “Um, screw you, film.” I guess they were only capable of tackling one progressive issue at a time.

Normally I’m a fan of Poitier but I thought he was terrible in this. I felt like he was chewing the scenery any time he was required to show a big emotion.

It was super repetitive. The whole film is basically the same conversation re-hashed in about 15 different ways. While that’s true to real life, it’s pretty boring on-film.

Good Stuff:
Pretty much everyone else but Poitier was great. I particularly enjoyed the performances from Tracy, Hepburn, and Isabel Sanford (as the Draytons’ maid, Tillie).

Loved the scene where Christina tells off her employee Hilary (Virginia Christine). It was one of those fantastic insult-you-without-insulting-you monologues that I wish I knew how to come up with in those rare times when someone is being bitchy to me.

I admire the film for tackling an issue that was very controversial at the time, especially since it did so in such a straight-forward manner.

The Verdict:
It was okay. This is one of those films that I feel like I should have liked more than I did. It wasn’t that I couldn’t relate, or that I found it irrelevant to modern times. I think stories about prejudice will always be relevant (unfortunately). I was just bored, I guess. I hear a lot of repeated conversations in my day-to-day life, so when I read a book, or see a show or movie, where characters keep telling other characters stuff that the reader/viewer already knows, I start to tune out. Show, don’t tell, movie. I also really hated Matt’s patronizing, paternal attitude toward his wife. Like I said, I guess this film was only capable of tackling one issue at a time. 

On the other hand, there were some great performances, I loved the costuming, and occasionally there was some fantastic dialogue. I also enjoyed the brief flirtation the movie had with discussing issues like generational differences, how men change as they age, and the relationship between fathers and sons. 

Like I said, it was okay. I give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Toys My Dog Destroys: Funny Dinosaur

I loved this adorable, dorky little dinosaur. Here he is before I gave him to Major on February 11:

Unfortunately, the dorky little dinosaur lasted all of maybe ten minutes. Here is the destruction:

I was a bad dog mom this time around and didn't have a back-up in the house. Then I was struck by a fit of extreme laziness, preventing me from going out to get more toys. So poor Major was toy-less for over a month. He occasionally ran around with "the rag," as I came to call Funny Dinosaur, when he was really excited, but toward the end he even got tired of that.

Here's the toy before I threw it away on March 18. Note that he's turned inside out. I didn't do that:

I bought Funny Dinosaur at a major pet store retailer for $2.50. He literally lasted maybe 10 minutes. Hopefully the next toy has better endurance!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Up with Geography: Belgium




Map of Europe. Belgium outlined in dark ink
and shaded.

A close-up of Belgium & its neighbors.

Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France

Water Borders:
North Sea

Total Area:
11, 787 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi, Liege, Brussels

Famous Geographical Point:
Signal de Botrange (at 2,277 feet, the highest point in Belgium)

Famous Person:
Claude Levi-Strauss, anthropologist

Book Set In/About:
The Adventures of Tintin, vol. 1 by Herge

You must know about Tintin. He's got to be the most famous fictional character to come out of Belgium. In case you spent your life living under a rock, click HERE.

Movie Set In/About:
"Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" (1975), directed by Chantal Akerman

A day in the life of a widowed housewife. Something unexpected happens.

Headline of the Day:
"GPS Fail on Bus Sends Belgian Tourists on 1,200 km Detour" in BBC News Europe.

The lack of interesting news stories about Belgium was truly stunning. At least this one brought the lolz.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

AFI Top 100, #100: "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (1942)

Movie Stats:
Released 1942 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Michael Curtiz (of Casablanca fame)
Stars - James Cagney, Jean Leslie

Plot Summary:
It’s a biopic of Broadway great George M. Cohan (Cagney), best known for hits such as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Over There.” Leslie co-stars as Mary, George’s wife.


Bad Stuff:
The blackface scene is wildly inappropriate. Thank goodness it was brief or I might have died from secondhand embarrassment.

I didn’t find it especially interesting. Cohan’s life was presented as fairly boring, so the movie relies heavily on the spectacle that was his Broadway shows to add some excitement to it. In that way, it reminded me of The Great Ziegfeld.

There’s this feel to it, a sense of “George M. Cohan is the most awesome man who ever awesomed” that’s kind of hard to swallow. I suspect it’s due to the facts that it came out only about 5 months after the U.S. entered WWII and 7 months before Cohan died (he was likely already terminally ill when they were filming it) and Cohan had a lot of patriotic appeal. However, you don’t really get to know him through this film, so I was a little befuddled as to why I was supposed to revere him.

Good Stuff:
The make-up work to make people look old was really fantastic.

I haven’t seen much of Cagney’s work, but most of what I’ve seen is from his early days, when he did the whole wise-cracking, tough guy schtick. It was nice to see him show some range. I thought he was great. I especially loved his tap dance down the stairs at the end.

Despite my complaint above, I did enjoy all the singing, dancing, costumes and sets.

The Verdict:
I think what’s bothering me about it is that there’s no depth. You know me, I don’t need my movies to be meaningful to enjoy them. However, when it comes to a biopic, I expect to get to know the person. At the end of this one, I still had a lot of questions about George M. Cohan. Who was he, really, other than a guy who really liked to write patriotic songs? They don’t even mention his children once (he had four and was purportedly very close to them). I did read that Cohan was very private about his personal life, but even so I felt like the filmmakers could have tried harder to do more than scratch the surface.

That having been said, there was a lot I liked about it. The performances, costumes, make-up, singing, and dancing were all great. It also has a decent amount of humor. It will make you feel good. This isn’t a film intended to provoke thought. The intent is to delight the senses and stir your deepest passions for song and country. It does that quite well. 

I give it 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On Loneliness: Conclusion

To read the rest of this series, please click on the loneliness tag at the bottom of the post.

I originally intended to finish this series in January, but I’ve had the hardest time writing the final chapter. Until recently, I wasn’t sure why. I’ve ruminated on a lot of different topics within this series, from my upbringing to American society to social media. Some of them have been very personal. It hasn’t always been easy for me to open up about myself, to admit how I feel. However, I think it’s been worth it. I think it’s helped me. Sometimes I need to see things in print for them to actually sink in.

The reason I’ve had such a difficult time writing this last piece is that I don’t particularly like the conclusion I’ve come to: when it comes to loneliness, the problem is me.

What I’m saying is, my loneliness seems to stem from my own insecurities and self-doubt, not from any outside source. Like most people, I want to be liked. Unlike most people (maybe), I have a hard time putting myself out there. I don’t like opening up to people, letting them see what’s actually going on inside my head. I fear rejection. Even worse, I have this secret fear that no one actually likes me. Believe me, I understand how crazy that is. It makes no logical sense. But it’s there, in the back of my mind, always ready to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times.

It seems like a pretty safe bet to pinpoint my childhood as the starting point for this particular issue. I was a really lonely kid. I was also really shy. I don’t think I could even order food in a restaurant for myself until I was in college, when I was forced to. If I couldn’t talk to a stranger to order a meal, you can probably imagine how difficult it was for me to try to make friends. I was teased a lot when I was younger. Other kids didn’t like me. Now I can see that they didn’t actually know me. Because I couldn’t open up to them, they saw only the surface: reserved, bookish, tomboyish, nerdy, serious.

As an adult, I understand why kids didn’t like me. I didn’t get it when I was younger. It was hurtful. I felt weird, different. It always seemed like things came way easier for other people than they did for me. I was well into adulthood before I recognized that most of us struggle, that most of us stumble through life just trying to do the best that we can. Fortunately, I learned to accept myself long before that. My high school BFF, Julie, helped a lot with that. I still have so much admiration for her. She really let her freak flag fly and didn’t care what other people thought of her. She was happy. She inspired me to accept myself, but also to see that I was more than what you could see on the surface, that I’m funny, witty, kind, smart, and compassionate.

The problem is that those childhood insecurities never really go away, not unless you work at it. I thought I’d beaten this particular one. Now I can see that I was wrong. I didn’t so much beat it as attempt to drown out that voice. I filled my life with people and activities. In fact, there was a time when I was so busy that I had to schedule alone time. Rarely did a day pass when I didn’t have something social to do. It was fun as all get out, one of the happiest times of my life. But it wasn’t a solution. As soon as I moved away from Portland, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. Suddenly, I was that insecure kid again.

All the moving around certainly hasn’t helped. As soon as I start to feel settled, it seems, we’re packing up and moving off to somewhere new, where I have to start building a life all over again. It’s difficult to nurture meaningful relationships when you never live anywhere longer than a couple of years. And I recently realized that I’ve been so busy with all these fresh starts that I haven’t had any time to work on myself. The last time I did was when we lived on Maui. That’s when, suffering from severe depression, I finally read Feeling Good all the way through, which I know I’ve mentioned before. That book was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I did that work six years ago! 

It’s probably well past time for a mental health refresher. As I recently told a friend, no one ever works out for six months and then expects that to fix their physical health for the rest of their life. It seems silly now to think that one book had fixed all of my insecurities for good.

So there it is, the end of the journey, this conclusion that has been so difficult for me to write down: my loneliness is my own fault. If I don’t want to be lonely anymore, I have work to do. I need to: 1. Fix my insecurities, 2. Change how I interact with people, i.e. try to be less reserved, and 3. Accept that not everyone will want to be my BFF and that’s okay because it’s not a reflection on my worth as a person. A tall order, perhaps, but doable. Not that I expect my loneliness to be cured completely, just like I don’t expect my depression to ever go away completely. Occasionally having bad feelings is all right. It’s part of life. I just don’t want to feel this way all the time. 

This is my final post about loneliness, and I hope that the series has been helpful to those of you who’ve been along for the ride. Maybe you can relate, and it’s helped you to think about the root of your own loneliness. Maybe you can’t relate, but it’s helped you to understand what it’s like for other people. At any rate, I thank you for reading. I plan to continue writing essays, and I hope that you continue to read them. If you have any topic recommendations, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

AFI Top 100: Maintenance Post

While in the throes of my A-Z Movie Project, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my next movie project would be once it was over. I briefly considered doing all the best foreign picture winners. While I still think that would be a really cool project, it’s simply too difficult to get my hands on most of those winners, so I had to shelve that idea.

I also considered an “also ran” watching project, viewing all of the other nominees for best picture, the ones that didn’t win. That project is still in the running. I think it would be really fun. However, I also think it would be a huge time commitment - multiple years at the very least. I’m not ready to make that commitment yet.

Another possible project - one still in the running - is about remakes. In that project, I would watch both the original and the remake of various movies, compare them, and decide which one I liked best. I’ll most likely do this one eventually, but at this point I feel too lazy to come up with a decent list of movie remakes.

And so, I ended up deciding to go with the American Film Institute’s Top 100. I thought this would be a nice project due to its length. A lot of them are best picture winners, so I’ve already seen them, which cuts the list nearly in half for me. I also like that there are a lot of classic films on this list that I haven’t seen (including #1). I feel like I’m finally catching up on all the “trivia question” movies!

AFI released their first Top 100 list in 1998. That’s the list I’m working off of. I’m ignoring the later, updated list they released, and also the “themed” lists they’ve subsequently released. As with my Best Picture project, if it’s a movie I’ve seen before, but haven’t seen in a while, I will re-watch so that I can review it fairly. Since I’ve seen all of the Best Pictures so recently, and reviewed them all on this blog, I won’t be watching them again. For continuity’s sake, each of those movies will receive a post in this project. That post will include “The Verdict,” the score, and a link to the previous review. I will be watching this list from the bottom up, or if you rather, from 100 to 1. As with my other movie projects, I will post a master list of scores and review links when the project is finished. 

I already checked my first AFI movie out of the library, so look for the review here soon!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Best Picture: "Birdman," 2014

Movie Stats:
Released 2014 (Italy)
American, in English
Director - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Stars - Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone

Plot Summary:
Has-been actor Riggan (Keaton), famous for playing a superhero, tries to resurrect his failing career by directing and starring in an edgy Broadway play. Norton co-stars as Mike, Riggan’s, um, co-star, and Stone as Riggan’s daughter, Sam.

Lots of blue language, violence, drug use (marijuana only), heavily implied sexy times, and brief partial male nudity (butt only).

Bad Stuff:
That persistent drumbeat made me want to blow my brains out, so I guess that means I kind of [SPOILER] got where Riggan was coming from. [SPOILER]

There’s a certain type of open ending that I like (“Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” the original “The Italian Job”). This isn’t one of them. In fact, it really disappointed me.

The stuff between Mike and Sam was SO predictable. For a hot minute, I thought the movie wasn’t going to go there. And then it did.

Good Stuff:
Edward Norton was amazing.

It took me days to decide how I felt about it. While that might not seem like a good thing on the surface, I can certainly appreciate a movie that sticks with me and makes me think. To me, that’s a fine piece of film making, no matter how I ultimately feel about the film.

I wasn’t as blown away by the fake one-shot thing as everyone else seems to be, but once again, I can appreciate how special it was.

The Verdict:
I really did think about this movie a lot. It took me weeks to decide whether or not I liked it, so I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know it was the winner until recently. It gave me time to gather my thoughts. Ultimately, I decided that this movie didn’t really do it for me. I recognize and applaud what’s clever about it. All of the acting was really good. I also give a lot of credit to the make up artists and costume designers, because they managed to take a woman I normally find very beautiful (Emma Stone) and make her look so depressed/strung out/dirty that I found her repulsive. However, the story didn’t really hold together for me, especially not in the end. I wish that they would have done something different with Riggan’s character. I can think of several other ways it could have gone that would have been more compelling (to me anyway). Also, I thought the character of Sam was almost painfully cliche.

I give it 3 stars.

Note: The Best Picture Master list has been updated to include this movie. It comes in at #55.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A-Z Movies: Master List of Reviews & Scores

Below is my full list of scores and reviews for the A-Z Movie Project

The list goes from my favorite movie of the project to my least favorite. In cases where films share the same score, I’ve listed them based on personal preference. For example, the first 4.5 star review you see listed will be my favorite of all the films I’ve given 4.5 stars to. Or, to put it another way, they’re listed in order of “most likely to ever watch again” to “least likely to ever watch again.”

This project is now completely done, and I’ll be moving on to the next one! Check back later this week for a maintenance post about that project.
  1. Pan’s Labyrinth - 4.75
  2. The Kings of Summer - 4.5
  3. The Station Agent - 4.5
  4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 4.5
  5. Veronica Mars - 4.25
  6. On the Beach - 4.25
  7. Unfinished Song - 4.25
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale - 4
  9. District 9 - 3.75
  10. Judgment at Nuremberg - 3.75
  11. Lost in Yonkers - 3.75
  12. You Again - 3.5
  13. Enter the Dragon - 3.5
  14. Barry Lyndon - 3.5
  15. The Motorcycle Diaries - 3.5
  16. Raging Bull - 3.5
  17. Forbidden Planet - 3.25
  18. Zero Charisma - 3.25
  19. Indian Summer - 3.25
  20. Aah! Zombies!! - 3
  21. Quiz Show - 2.75
  22. The Tourist - 2.75
  23. Casino - 2.75
  24. Notorious - 2.5
  25. Xanadu - 2
  26. Withnail and I - 1