Thursday, April 30, 2015

AFI Top 100, #93: "The Apartment" (1960)

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 1960 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Billy Wilder
Stars – Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray

Plot Summary:
Lowly insurance agent C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) has been working his way up the corporate ladder by letting several executives in his office use his apartment as a place to bring their sidepieces. When Personnel Manager Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray) approaches him about using the apartment, C.C. finally gets what he wants: an executive position with his own office. However, there’s an unintended consequence he hadn’t considered, and C.C. has to decide whether the trouble is worth it after all. MacLaine co-stars as C.C.’s love interest, Fran Kubelik.

3.5 stars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

California Science Center

I feel like this review requires a couple of caveats.

First of all, I was having a bad day before we went to the California Science Center (CSC). Prior to going, I had to go to urgent care (for a non-life-threatening issue) and since I don’t have health insurance, that means we had to pay out-of-pocket. Then, while we were crossing a parking lot to the pharmacy, I dropped my phone, breaking it beyond repair (had to get a new one). So I was already feeling pretty crummy, both health wise and pocket book wise, which means I may have approached the science center in a bad mood.

Second, I’m not big on science museums in general. I feel like they tend to be geared toward children and/or adults who don’t know a lot about science, and I do know quite a bit about science, so I find them a little boring.* However, my husband loves science, so I thought this would be a good activity for us to do together. Also, I was really looking forward to the special exhibits on the space shuttle Endeavour and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Note: I discovered later that my science-loving husband doesn’t like science museums either, for the same reason as me.

The nice thing about CSC, located at 700 Exposition Park Drive in LA, is that general admission is free (we paid $10 for parking, which I thought was reasonable). I genuinely appreciate that so many of the exhibits are open to the public. The museum has found a creative way to monetize, offering special attractions (a wind machine, a high rise bike ride, etc.) for a few dollars each. We joked with each other that it was like one of those cell phone games you download for free, but have to pay to get more levels.

The special exhibits cost money. With the purchase of combined ticket to an IMAX show and the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, we got in to see the Endeavour for free. I would tell you how much that cost but my husband bought the tickets, so I didn’t pay attention. I’m sure you can find that info on their website.

I don’t know if it was my mood in general, or my dislike of science museums, but I was underwhelmed. The museum is large and has a lot of exhibits on offer. I just didn’t find most of them all that interesting. I did like the IMAX theater. Housed in its own building, it’s quite nice. I was a little disappointed in the film we saw though. We chose the Hubble film because my husband loves space stuff, but I was expecting Hubble images and while there were some, most of the film was about the last repair that was done to it. It was kind of boring. I found myself wishing we’d chosen the Galapagos film.

As for the Endeavour, I thought we would get to go inside. Perhaps I was a bit naive about that? Anyway, you can’t go inside. All you can do is stand there and gawp at it. There’s also stuff you can read, but I feel like if I want to read about it and look at it, I can get a book. I wanted to see inside!

The museum was insanely packed. I know that’s to be expected on a weekend. I try to go to museums during the week, but if I want to go with my other half, we have to go on the weekend. The most packed thing was the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, even though they limit the tickets. There were so many people in there that it was difficult to move, and trying to get close enough to actually look at any of the artifacts was nearly impossible. There are only fragments of the scrolls. They’re difficult to see once you finally get to them (on dark parchment under dim lighting, for understandable reasons). We also both felt that the tone of the exhibit, put on by a Jewish federation, was too religious for a science center. I expected to see more about the excavation and translation of the scrolls, not endless paragraphs about how some scrap of paper “confirms” something that happened in the Bible. (But I'm a godless heathen, so what do I know.)

It’s safe to say that I was generally disappointed. The one exhibit I really enjoyed was their “kelp” zone, which was like an aquarium. I also loved the rose garden out back. Since I broke my phone on the way there, I don’t have any pictures to share. I’m self-aware enough to say that I could see how someone who loves science museums would like this one. It has a lot to offer. It just wasn’t for me. I could only see myself going back to enjoy another IMAX film. 

*The only science museum I ever liked was the one in Chicago, which I went to as a kid. I have this vague recollection of going back as a young adult and not enjoying it so much, which only reinforces my belief that they’re for children. I was never fond of OMSI in Portland, nor did I like the Perot Museum in Dallas, although their current exhibit on Sherlock Holmes looks freaking awesome.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

AFI Top 100, #94: "Goodfellas" (1990)

Movie Stats:
Released 1990 (Italy)
American, in English
Director - Martin Scorsese
Stars - Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco

Plot Summary:
It’s the true story of small-time gangster Henry Hill (Liotta). De Niro co-stars as Henry’s partner in crime, Jimmy Conway; Pesci as Henry’s other partner, Tommy DeVito; and Bracco as Henry’s wife, Karen.

Extreme violence; gore; lots of blue language (including racial epithets); drug use; heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s TOO LONG. Seriously, Scorsese, dial it down a notch.

Joe Pesci is Joe Pesci is Joe Pesci.

I realize that this story is based on real people, but there’s nothing to those people. They’re completely two-dimensional.

Good Stuff:
The story was pretty engaging. I really liked the voiceover. It worked with this film (unlike Casino).

I quite enjoyed Ray Liotta’s performance (Except for his over-the-top laugh. So weird.).

Great soundtrack.

The Verdict:
I'm actually a fan of this one. Liotta really makes the movie. His voiceover has a lot of personality. That and his performance breathe life into a story that I think would otherwise fall a bit flat. All the other performers seem to play the same characters they always play, and the story is the same one that Scorsese keeps telling over and over. It’s basically mafia porn. But there’s a charisma to it that drew me in, and until the last half hour or so, I found myself thoroughly entertained. 

I give it 4 stars.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

AFI Top 100, #95: "Pulp Fiction" (1994)

Movie Stats:
Released 1994 (France)
American, in English (some Spanish & French, mostly translated)
Director - Quentin Tarantino
Stars - John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, Uma Thurman, and many more

Plot Summary:
The lives of several people of questionable morals intersect and intertwine into one cohesive tale. Travolta stars as Vincent Vega, a crime lord’s errand man; Jackson as Jules Winnfield, Vincent’s partner; Willis as Butch Coolidge, a boxer on the take; and Thurman as Mia Wallace, the crime lord’s wife.

Extreme, graphic violence; gore; endless blue language (including racial epithets); drug use; heavily implied sexy times; very brief male nudity (peen, blink and you’ll miss it); rape.

Bad Stuff:
I’ve always thought the whole deal with the briefcase was super cheesy.

It has a definite “young filmmaker trying out everything he thinks is cool” feel to it. I occasionally felt the urge to roll my eyes.

Good Stuff:
It has one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time.

It’s got great dialogue. Seriously, this film is ridiculously quotable. I’ve been quoting it for twenty years and I’ll probably continue to quote it for another twenty at least.

One of the things I really appreciated this go around is how people interact with each other. It feels so real. For example, I love the way that Vincent and Jules chit chat and joke around with each other before putting on their game faces and getting to work, just as any friendly co-workers would. And I completely cracked up at the way Butch teased his girlfriend Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros) with the “mongoloid” voice and she got so mad about it. My husband has a “teenager with braces” voice he does that irritates me like that. It seemed like the screenwriters really understand people.

It’s very funny, especially if you have a dark sense of humor.

The Verdict:
I’ve seen a lot of people talking trash about this movie in recent years. It seems to have become cool to hate on. I’ve seen a lot of “it’s overrated” and “I never liked it anyway.” I don’t agree with the backlash. I liked it when it came out, I’ve liked it every time I’ve watched it over the years since then, and I liked it when I watched it this time too. At the time it was released, it was very hip and cool and different. I don’t know that it would be considered hip now, and it probably doesn’t seem different anymore because a lot of filmmakers in the ensuing years have tried to copy it. But it’s definitely still cool, in my opinion. It’s also clever and funny.

I really admire how smart Tarantino was with this film. It’s not just a great script and a great cast (practically everyone is in it). The fact that he got Travolta to sign on - at a time when his career was basically dead - AND got him to do a dance scene is brilliant. It completely revitalized Travolta’s career. It also made Jackson a legend. This time around, I definitely recognized the slight missteps of a young filmmaker. I also saw a couple of editing errors (bullet holes already in the wall & the shadow of a boom mike) during the famous near-death shooting scene. However, those things didn’t detract from my general enjoyment of it.

This is not a movie for the faint of heart. If you don’t like violence or swearing or drugs, you probably shouldn’t be watching it. But if you don’t mind those things, and you want to watch something slick, funny, and sly, you should give this one a chance. 

I give it 4.5 stars.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Family Keepsakes Fun, Part 1

It's been a while since I posted any of my old family photos, so recently I cracked open one of the boxes where I keep them and went through it, picking out whatever caught my fancy. There's no real rhyme or reason to any of it. I simply found a few things that I thought would be fun to share.

First, let's start with this lovely 1920s bride. I don't know who she is. Either a relative or family friend; there's nothing on the picture that says. I think her 1920s wedding wear is completely fab:

I found a series of souvenir postcards in a small box on which some jokester (probably my maternal grandfather) had written: LANA TURNER'S PICTURES OF HER FRIENDS AND RELATIVES. This one, I really liked the colors. I think my grandpa went to some kind of revival or some such at this place:

This one cracked me up. I mean, honestly, why would anyone think to make a postcard of the celery bleaching process, let alone buy one? I had to look up what it even meant.

I thought this was a real nice view of Columbus, OH. I highly doubt it looks like this anymore.

These steps look killer, but also very cool:

I enjoyed this juxtaposition. Here is a postcard (I'm guessing circa 1930s) view of the mouth of the St. Joseph River, opening out into Lake Michigan:

And here's Grandpa's picture of the same thing. The picture was taken in 1940:

I was thoroughly intrigued by this photo so I had to do a little research. Apparently the Bonus Army was a group of WWI vets and their families who marched to Washington, D.C. in 1932 to demand that their bonuses be paid immediately, rather than in 1945, as was initially promised. It's a rather interesting and sad story. You can read the Wiki about it HERE.

I don't know why this photo was in my family's possession. The note on the front says "We are there B.E.F. 6-24-32." My maternal grandfather's last name began with "F," so it's possible that this came from one of his relatives, an uncle would be my best guess.

My maternal grandmother liked to clip poems out of the newspaper. I have several scrapbooks of hers that are full of them. So I believe that she kept the loose clipping below for the two poems on it. I, however, am including it for the TOTALLY AWESOME ad for Honeymoon Love Drops.

"Secret Aroma Helps You Win the One You Love," it says. "Unforgettable as a lover's first kiss! Bewitch, allure and captivate with this rare, stimulating fragrance. Just ONE DROP of this secret aroma will endure for hours . . . enchantingly encircle lovers like a binding knot . . . and will add a more thrilling, irresistible charm to you!"

Enchantingly encircle lovers like a binding knot? Okay, maybe it's slightly more creepy than funny.

Speaking of Grandma, I'm pretty sure this is her. The picture frame matches the one below of Grandpa, as though at some point they hung side by side in the home they shared. It's not always easy for me to identify Grandma in photos because, if you'll recall, I never met her. (I apologize for the poor quality of the scan. The back of the frame is nailed shut and I didn't want to mess with it/potentially break it, so I just scanned the whole thing. It looks blurry due to the glass front.)

I love this picture because out of all the pictures I have of her, this is the ONLY one where she's smiling like this. She looks so happy!

And here is the matching picture of Grandpa. It has the same quality issues for the same reason. I love this picture because you get a real sense of why he had so many lady friends when he was younger. So dapper!

That's it for now. I hope you enjoyed this trip through my family keepsakes. I only went through the small box this time. Next time, I'll have to crack open one of the bigger boxes, and see what goodies I can find!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Solo at the Movies: "Kill Me Three Times" at Landmark's Nuart Theater

Theater Info:
Landmark’s Nuart Theater
11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles
Cost: $9.00 for a matinee showing

Movie Stats:
Released 2014 (Canada)
Australian & American, in English
Director - Kriv Stenders
Stars - Simon Pegg, Alice Braga, Luke Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer and others

Plot Summary:
When professional hit-man Charlie Wolfe (Pegg) is hired to follow Alice (Braga), whose husband suspects her of cheating, he unwittingly becomes embroiled in a complicated and murderous insurance plot. Hemsworth co-stars as Dylan, the local gas station owner, and Palmer as Lucy, Alice’s sister-in-law.

Graphic violence; lots of blue language (the first word of the movie is an f-bomb); brief female nudity (breasts and butt only); relatively graphic sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
For the type of movie it is, I thought it was a little boring. I expected it to be faster paced.

I didn’t think that it did the “out of order timeline” thing especially well.

The happy tone of the ending didn’t feel right to me.

Good Stuff:
I love watching Simon Pegg play badass characters. I’m not sure why; maybe because he often plays goofballs and/or hapless, lovable schlubs. That makes it more entertaining when he plays out-of-type.

It had some very funny moments, especially if you have a dark sense of humor.

The cinematography was surprisingly great.

The Verdict:
I went to see this because Simon Pegg is in it. I’m a big fan, so I make an effort to see his films (looking at his IMDB, I see that I’ve missed quite a few). While this is not one of my favorites of his, I thought it was okay. You won’t hear me wax poetic about it (like "Shaun of the Dead") but you won’t hear me say that I wish I could forget I ever saw it (like "Mission Impossible III," which I only watched for him and then he was barely in it). It kept me fairly entertained for an hour and a half. I wouldn’t say there are any bad performances, and I thought the story was fairly tight. The insurance scam was a bit complex, but it made sense. I just wish the film had a bit more oomph.

I give it 3.5 stars.

About Landmark’s Nuart Theater:
This place isn’t much to look at from the outside. Frankly, it looks old and rundown, and I was “looking forward” to finding old seats and sticky floors when I got inside. What a pleasant relief it was to be wrong! It’s completely renovated on the inside. It’s actually really quite nice, one of the nicest theaters I’ve been in in a long time. There’s only one screen. The room is large, the seats are cushy, and the rows are surprisingly wide. I think that was my favorite part. Even though I’m short, I often leave movie theaters with aching knees because the seats are just too close together. That wasn’t a problem here. The biggest downside to this theater is parking. It doesn’t have its own lot, and the street meters are hour only, so you have to find neighborhood parking if you’re going before 6 p.m. Luckily for me, I’m familiar with the neighborhood and knew where to easily find a spot. I had to walk a few blocks, which isn’t a problem for me, but a lot of LA people seem to hate that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

AFI Top 100, #96: "The Searchers" (1956)

Movie Stats:
Released 1956 (USA)
American, in English (some semi-translated Navajo & Spanish)
Director - John Ford
Stars - John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter

Plot Summary:
After most of his extended family is killed by a Comanche war party, Ethan Edwards (Wayne) sets off with his brother’s adopted son Martin Pawley (Hunter) to retrieve his two nieces, who were kidnapped in the raid.

Violence; references to rape.

Bad Stuff:
Well, it’s not going to win any awards for its sensitive and inoffensive portrayal of Native Americans any time soon (and let’s not forget that most of the “Native Americans” were played by white people).

Was I supposed to like Ethan? He’s not even remotely likable. Pardon my language, but he’s a total asshole. Why is he so mean to everyone? It’s never explained. I really wanted Martin to smother him with a pillow one night at the campfire.

I don’t know where this was filmed, but it definitely wasn’t Texas.

Good Stuff:
I liked how determined, loyal, and sweet the character of Martin was. He was sort of a lovable goof. Kind of a crybaby though.

It had some funny moments, although a lot of them weren’t necessarily intentional.

I was moved by the idea that these men would spend years looking for their lost loved ones.

The Verdict:
I just don’t get it. People seem to love John Wayne movies, but I don’t find them especially compelling, and I usually can’t stand the characters he plays. This film has a fantastic rating on IMDB. One reviewer says that anyone who doesn’t like it is a “meat head” who can only understand mindless action sequences. He/she claims that the movie is about race. Well, I’m not super big on action movies, I don’t think anyone who knows me would classify me as a “meat head,” and I’ve seen FAR better movies about race (I think the idea that Ford intended this film to be a serious discussion about race is thoroughly laughable). The story is all right, the action is okay, and the acting is completely overblown. To me it’s both mediocre and forgettable. 

I give it 2.75 stars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Up with Geography: Belize



North America

Map of North America. Belize outlined in
dark and shaded.

A close-up of Belize & its neighbors.

Guatemala, Mexico

Water Borders:
Caribbean Sea

Total Area:
8,867 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Belize City, San Ignacio, Belmopan, San Pedro Town, Orange Walk Town

Famous Geographical Point:
Ambergris Caye

Famous Person:
Dame Elmira Minita Gordon, independent Belize's first governor-general

Book Set In/About:
On Heroes, Lizards, and Passion by Zoila Ellis

A series of short stories that highlights different facets of life in Belize.

Movie Set In/About:
"Three Kings of Belize" (2007), directed by Katia Paradis

A documentary about three Belizean musicians.

Headline of the Day:
"Leonardo DiCaprio Is Opening a Resort on His Private Island in Belize" in Huffington Post.

I wish you could have seen the look on my face when this was the first headline that popped up. Let's just say my internal reaction wasn't especially favorable. At least it's an eco resort, I guess.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

AFI Top 100, #97: "Bringing Up Baby" (1938)

Movie Stats:
Released 1938 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Howard Hawks
Stars - Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn

Plot Summary:
When paleontologist David (Grant) has a chance encounter with heiress Susan (Hepburn), zany hijinks and romance ensue. There’s a leopard involved (the titular Baby).

Very mild violence.

Bad Stuff:
The character of Susan is absolutely insufferable. I don’t believe for a second that any man would fall in love with her.

As annoying as she is, it’s not okay for David to commit violence against her, no matter how minor (he stomps on her foot).

Why on earth is there a leopard in this? Honestly! Why would Susan’s brother send a living leopard to her when she lives in the middle of NYC? It doesn’t make any sense. What a ridiculous plot device!

Good Stuff:
Cary Grant is funny at least. He was such a good comedic actor. He had all the best lines.

The Verdict:
I saw this once years and years ago and knew I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t recall why. How unfortunate to be reminded! At one point, Susan was arguing with her aunt (Elizabeth, played by May Robson), all while a dog was barking loudly, and David looked like he’d rather be dead. I shared the sentiment.

Susan is such a terrible character. She essentially kidnaps David and holds him hostage until Stockholm Syndrome settles in, all while thoroughly ruining his life (and this after deciding she’s in love with him after less than a day). I get that I was supposed to find it cute and wacky but I didn’t. It was awful. I also hated the way everyone kept talking over each other, and how no one was capable of just saying what they meant. The only redeeming quality is that it has a few funny lines. 

I give it 1.5 stars.