Thursday, June 25, 2015

Toys My Dog Destroys: One-Armed Frog

Poor little frog came with a defect: he was one-armed from the start, something I didn't notice until after I brought him home. A cursory examination indicated that this came about due to a manufacturer error. I don't think he ever had a second arm:


Nonetheless, he was apparently happy enough to go to his doom on May 3. Being one of those stretchy toys that are slightly more durable, he had a pretty good run. Major didn't bust into his head until May 19, more than 2 weeks later. As I was trying to snap a picture of the destruction, I couldn't get Major to stay out of the picture. In the first, you can see his snout at the far left of the frame:


Then he planted himself in the way until I gave up and just intentionally took a picture with him in it:


One-Armed Frog hung around for about three weeks after that, mostly due to my laziness. Major didn't play with him much once he was empty. Here he is on June 12 before I threw him away. You can see the hole in the back of his head where Major busted in to get the squeaker and stuffing:



I bought One-Armed Frog at a major pet store retailer for $2.50. He lasted slightly more than a month, not nearly as long as his brother, Red Fox.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Good Buys: Stone Candle Bar

Almost as soon as we moved to Santa Monica, I noticed Stone Candle Bar. I'm one of those women who loves candles beyond all reason, so I found my way there pretty quickly. I wasn't disappointed. Not only is it independent and locally-owned, they actually make the candles right there on-site. When I visited last year, I bought three 3" x 3" pillars, plus a drip catcher. Those candles lasted me a year. I used up the last one about a month ago and finally got around to visiting the store again last week.

I happened to stumble upon their red tag sale. Anything with a red tag was 50-70% off. While I didn't find much in the red tag section that I wanted, the pillars that I typically buy were also on sale, $4 off each. Here are the candles I got:


Their scents are (l-r, back row): Kieffer Lime & Lychee; Green Tea & Fig; and Honeysuckle. The honeysuckle one in particular smells divine. The small one in the front is a coconut wax candle. Unsurprisingly, it smells like coconut. Its wick is made of wood, and I've found that it doesn't easily stay lit. However, since that candle was my one red tag purchase, I got it for only $2.50, so I'm not too upset if it doesn't work out.

Although I didn't need another one, I bought myself a new drip catcher. It too was $4 off:



For comparison, here's the one I bought last year:


My one quibble about this place is that I'm not clear on the parking situation. A sign out front says "parking in rear," but I don't get where it is behind the building (not that I've really tried all that hard to explore it).  There's a huge parking lot next to it that apparently belongs to the dental office next door, although it's pretty much empty every time I go past. When I went to Stone Candle Bar last year, I walked there and back. This time, I had my husband drop me off at the post office around the corner on his way to work, walked to the candle store from there, and then walked home. It's approximately 2 miles one way.

I made this purchase of 4 candles and one drip catcher for around $37, which I felt was entirely reasonable. Needless to say, I'll be going back again!

Monday, June 15, 2015

AFI Top 100, #83: "Platoon" (1986)

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 1986 (USA)
American & British, in English (some Vietnamese, both translated and not)
Director – Oliver Stone
Stars – Charlie Sheen, Willem Defoe, Tom Berenger, and lots of other men you’ll recognize

Plot Summary:
Na├»ve Chris Taylor (Sheen) volunteers for the infantry during the Vietnam War in an attempt to exert independence from his parents. He soon learns how misguided he was. Defoe and Berenger co-star respectively as Sgts. Elias and Barnes, the two men fighting for Chris’s “soul.”

Rating:
4.5 stars

Thursday, June 11, 2015

AFI Top 100, #84: "Fargo" (1996)

Movie Stats:
Released 1996 (USA)
American & British, in English
Directors - Joel & Ethan Coen
Stars - William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare

Plot Summary:
When hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (Macy) hires thugs Carl & Gaear (Buscemi & Stormare) to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrued) in order to swindle money out of his father-in-law Wade (Harve Presnell), he unwittingly sets in motion a chain of violence. McDormand co-stars as county sheriff Marge Gunderson, who gets pulled into the investigation.

Warnings:
Extreme violence; gore; lots of blue language; sexy times; very brief nudity (both male and female butt).

Bad Stuff:
[SPOILER]
My enjoyment of this film has always been tempered by the sadness I feel for Scotty (Tony Denman), the young teenaged Gunderson boy, who lost his mother, father, and grandfather all in one fell swoop. It’s difficult to find any humor in that.
[SPOILER]

The whole Mike Yanagita (Steve Park) - Marge Gunderson scene is so weird and felt completely out of place within the context of the rest of the movie.

Good Stuff:
I saw this twice before, once before I lived in rural Minnesota and once after. I found it much funnier the second time, after discovering that people really are that nice there and some of them really do talk like that. I enjoyed it even more this time around. There’s a lot of subtle humor that I just didn’t get before. For example, the opening scene, with the epic music playing over a guy driving a car down a snowy road, had me in stitches.

Loved the stark cinematography.

There are a lot of good performances in this. I know Macy and McDormand received a lot of kudos at the time this came out, and I don’t disagree with that, but I also really enjoyed Presnell and Stormare, whose understated portrayals leant a lot of low-key humor to the film.

I like that it features a lot of good, old-fashioned police work.

The Verdict:
I’m a big fan. I was always on the fence about it before. “It’s funny,” I would say, “but not THAT funny.” I was wrong. It is THAT funny, but not in the laugh-out-loud kind of way. It’s also an interesting exploration of human greed, the crux of which is summed up nicely by Marge’s monologue to Gaear at the end of the film. While it’s a black comedy, I find that those typically have a sense of the morbid at its core, whereas this one is actually sad when you pull back all the layers. It’s definitely not a movie you want to watch if you’re at all bothered by violence, but if you can look beyond that, I think you’ll find something interesting here. 

I give it 4.25 stars.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Neighborhood Walks: Across Town to the Bluffs

I hate driving. I've hated driving from the very first moment I got behind the wheel of a car. Conversely, I love to walk. Living in car-oriented places over the last several years has been hard on me, and LA is no different. There's a lot of driving to be done here. Fortunately, there's also a lot of walking to be had. Sometimes, when the spirit moves me, I take a long walk across town.

We begin this walk at the apartment complex across the street, which just xeriscaped last week. I think they did a wonderful job. It's vastly improved from before:


I'm seeing a lot more xeriscaping in SM these days, especially since the new water restrictions were announced (they're not in effect for another month or so). The state offers rebates for putting in drought-resistent landscaping, a move that I wholeheartedly approve.

The low-income housing that was built just down the street from us last year put in artificial grass from the start. I think it looks great. I didn't even realize it wasn't real at first:


I think this is some type of Iris? I liked the colors:


Across the highway is a business area. There's a branch of Universal. I believe it's their music division. Here's their iconic logo:


A story. I don't normally like to cross the highway on this street because there's an on-ramp there. As a pedestrian, crossing can be dangerous. Many drivers are too desperate to get onto the highway to pay much attention to anyone's safety. Also, this intersection is ugly. However, there's some amazing wall art that went up a few months ago and I thought it would be cool to take pictures.

As I was waiting for the crosswalk light to change, I heard a rustle behind me. A man emerged from the bushes. He began to tell me that I couldn't put my hand on his thigh, nor could I "have" him. Then he stood too close to me and loudly sang a Beatles song. I never turned around, and never engaged, but the whole thing was rather unsettling. Let's just say I plan to follow my gut about that intersection in the future.

Anyway, here's one of my favorite parts of the mural:


I have no idea what's in this building, or why, a few months ago, they suddenly covered the whole entire length of it with awesome art. My other favorite part (an angel reminiscent of the "weeping angels" from Doctor Who) was too large for me to photograph, so I took this photo instead:


I thought my friend P would like this neon sign. I can't tell if it's actually old timey, or if it was made to look that way:


I liked the mix of brick and ivy on the exterior of this building:


More great xeriscaping:


I have no idea what's going on here, but I kind of like it:


I think The Little Chapel of the Dawn is cute as a button. However, since it's attached to a funeral home, I assume that its sole purpose is to host funerals:


This is the front porch of a modern-style house that sort of stuck out like a sore thumb in the neighborhood, although, as modern houses go, I thought it was kind of nice. I liked the look of the tree on the porch. I couldn't tell if it was real or not, but I enjoyed that it had wind chimes hanging from one branch, and a bird feeder from another:


Nice stained glass work at a Lutheran church:


Although I much prefer their excellent bell tower:


This is the front of the Mercedes-Benz dealership. In my opinion, it's one of the prettiest buildings in Santa Monica:


I appreciated the lone rebel orange flower in amongst the purple ones here:


I wandered over through a neighbored I don't visit often, and was surprised to discover a lot of mid-century modern details. I took this picture for the interesting, school bell-like detail next to the address, and ended up liking how monochromatic the photo turned out:


I was amused to find a car that fit the theme:


This was my favorite of the buildings with mid-century modern details. I like the pop of color:



Loved the enormity of this outdoor light fixture, which only had two bulbs that I could see:


Always a sucker for decorative tilework, I had to take a picture of these balconies. I can only imagine how much time/effort this took:


Through the open front doors of an apartment building, I caught sight of a rather contemplative-looking statue in the atrium:


There was something about the sight of this picnic table that made me think, "If I saw a picture of that without any context whatsoever - let's say it didn't have the American flag - I would still be able to recognize that as an American picnic table."


The front stoops of this building were all this small, but everyone managed to fit regular sized furniture on theirs, except for these people. I had a bit of a chuckle over these miniature chairs, although I do wonder if they were set up for children:


I don't know what these plants that look like cabbages are called, but I think they're lovely:


Finally, I arrived at the bluffs overlooking the ocean, where I was able to read for about half an hour before heading to an appointment nearby:


This was a walk of about 3.5 miles that I took at a leisurely pace on a rather gloomy day. I took the bus home. By the time I did, the sun was finally out.

Monday, June 8, 2015

AFI Top 100, #85: "Duck Soup" (1933)

Movie Stats:
Released 1933 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Leo McCarey
Stars - The Marx Brothers, Louis Calhern

Plot Summary:
When Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is appointed the new ruler of Freedonia, he must battle the machinations of the Sylvanian ambassador, Trentino (Calhern). Zeppo co-stars as Firefly’s secretary, Bob Roland; and Chico and Harpo as a pair of spies hired by Trentino, Chicolini and Pinky.

Warnings:
Minor, non-graphic violence; one use of a word that’s considered a racial slur today, although, to be honest, I didn’t get that particular joke & wasn’t sure if he was referencing the race in question or not.

Bad Stuff:
A lot of Groucho’s humor is very mean-spirited, which I don’t like.

I also didn’t like Harpo’s style of humor, which, in addition to often being mean-spirited, is completely over-the-top goofy (very clown-like). Whenever I see a character behave like him, I always think to myself, “In real life, that guy would get punched in the nose.”

The film felt really disjointed to me. There was the barest hint of a plot, and it felt like Groucho kind of wandered into the middle of it and started spouting off pithy one-liners. Then cut to Chico and Harpo, doing goofy things. Then singing! I found the whole thing fairly baffling.

Good Stuff:
Despite all of the above, there were quite a few times that I laughed.

I loved the women’s costuming.

The Verdict:
This is my first Marx Brothers film. I think I’ve discovered that I’m not a Marx Brothers fan. It’s only 68 minutes long, but it seemed like an eternity to me. This just isn’t my kind of humor. I absolutely loathe mean-spirited jokes, i.e. when people say really awful things to each other and I’m supposed to find it funny. I don’t think it’s funny at all. However, I recognize that this is a personal preference. As the popularity of shows/movies such as “Seinfeld,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “Meet the Parents” can attest, lots of people love this style of humor. I’m reluctant to give this film as low of a rating as I’d like, because I know my own tastes run counter to the majority of people. Therefore, I’m going to cut it some slack. 

I give the movie 3 stars.

Friday, June 5, 2015

AFI Top 100, #86: "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935)

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. (Please note that I watched this movie before I formalized my reviewing process, so if you click on that link, the review will look noticeably different from my other reviews.)

Movie Stats:
Released 1935 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Frank Lloyd
Stars - Charles Laughton, Clark Gable

Plot Summary:
A fictionalized account of the true story of the HMS Bounty, whose captain, Bligh (Laughton), was overthrown by a group of mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian (Gable).

Rating:
2 stars

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Up with Geography: Bhutan

Name:
Bhutan

Capital:
Thimphu

Continent:
Asia

Maps*:
Asian continent. Bhutan shaded dark. Please ignore that the map
makes it look like there's a tiny country between Nepal & Bhutan.
That is actually part of India. The map was poorly drawn (by me).

A close up of Bhutan and its neighbors.

Neighbors:
China, India

Water Borders:
None

Total Area:
14,824 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Thimphu, Phuntsholing, Punakha, Samdrup Jongkhar, Geylegphug

Famous Geographical Point:
Gangkhar Puensum (at 24,840 feet, the highest mountain in the country)

Famous Person:
Daw Penjo, ambassador

Book Set In/About:
Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa

A travel memoir written by a Canadian woman who, at 24, signed a contract to teach in Bhutan for two years.

Movie Set In/About:
"Travelers and Magicians" (2003), directed by Khyentse Norbu

A "road tale" that draws parallels between a young man eager to find a better life and the young man in a story told to him by a Buddhist monk. This is the first movie to be filmed in Bhutan!

Headline of the Day:
"Bhutan Breaks Guinness Record for Tree Planting" in BBC News.

*Note: Neither this post, nor the images it contains, are intended to be a political statement on the existence or nonexistence of Tibet. I'm simply presenting the maps as they currently, officially, stand.