Tuesday, January 26, 2016

AFI Top 100, #40: "North by Northwest" (1959)

Consider this your GENERAL SPOILER ALERT for this review.

Movie Stats:
Released 1959 (USA)
American, in English (one line of non-translated French that I noticed)
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Stars - Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason

Plot Summary:
After a case of mistaken identity, advertising exec Roger Thornhill (Grant) finds himself thrust into a world of danger and intrigue. Saint co-stars as Roger’s love interest, Eve Kendall, and Mason as the man out to kill him, Phillip Vandamm.

Violence; heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s so convoluted that I spent most of it rolling my eyes. Could these hardened criminals have come up with any more convoluted ways to kill a guy? Pour bourbon down his throat, put him in a stolen car, and watch him nearly drive off a cliff? Send him to the middle of nowhere in Indiana and try to run him down with a plane/crop dust him to death? Give me a break. It’s too ridiculous.

Roger is so smarmy and gross to me. When he sat down across from Eve (the second time he’s ever seen her) and said something along the lines of, “I have a difficult time not making love to every beautiful woman I see,” I wanted to vomit. The fact that she didn’t immediately knee him in the balls clued me in to the fact that she wasn’t all that she seemed.

Speaking of Eve, I thought Eva Marie Saint was terrible. So wooden.

Good Stuff:
Lots of great dialogue.

It’s occasionally funny.

Loved Mason, such an excellent bad guy, and so suave with his silky, smooth accent.

The Verdict:
Not the biggest fan of this one. I just can’t suspend my disbelief long enough to get into the story and enjoy it. Each scene seems more implausible than the last. The next thing you know, you’ve got two people hanging by their fingertips from Mt. Rushmore, joking around like falling to their deaths isn’t a real possibility. I thought it was infinitely more tiresome than it was entertaining. I mean, I’ve seen worse films in my life, but if I was in the mood for a good flick, this isn’t one that I would choose.

I give it 2.75 stars.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Out and About: Hiking

It's been a while since I've been anywhere new, or gone on a neighborhood walk, but lately I've been feeling that my blog is sorely lacking in picture posts. Therefore, I decided to go through my California album and pick out some photos from the various hikes I've done over the last two years. Note that some (but not all) of these hikes could be more accurately described as nature walks.

Don't remember the trail name but this is in
Topanga Canyon in Topanga.

Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes.

View from Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge.

Lake Shrine Temple in Pacific Palisades.

The Japanese Garden in LA.

Lake Balboa in LA.

View from Trump National Golf Course in Palos Verdes.

Ballona Wetlands in Playa del Rey.

Remains of an abandoned building at
Corral Canyon in Malibu.

View from Corral Canyon.

View from Will Rogers State Park in Pacific Palisades.

M*A*S*H hike at Malibu Creek State Park, Malibu.

Trickle of water, Escondido Falls in Malibu.

View of downtown LA from Kenneth Hahn State Park in LA.

Malibu Creek State Park.

Malibu Creek State Park.

Scenery on the hike to Santa Ynez Falls
in Pacific Palisades.

Griffith Observatory & downtown LA, as viewed from the Mt.
Hollywood Trail in Griffith Park, LA.

Hollywood sign, as viewed from the Canyon Blvd. Trail in
Griffith Park, LA.

Hiking in Indian Canyons, Palm Springs

Doing this post has reminded me how of much fun I've had while hiking in LA! I think it's past time for me to get out there and explore some more. I'm looking forward to more adventures in 2016!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Last Text of the Day: Month One

Day 1
To Red: Awesome! Thanks. That’s very reasonable. I’ll check it out.
She gave me the information to a reasonably-priced naturopath.

Day 2
To Orange: Yay! Thanks for being flexible. What time would you guys like to come over? 6:30 maybe?
We were arranging a couple's "date."

Day 3
To Blue: There’s a blue hair staining one of the shelves in the refrigerator. How does that even happen?
Lol! My husband regularly dyes his hair blue and that stuff gets everywhere. Everywhere! The shower, the sinks, the toilet, the counters, the walls, his pillowcases, his towels, and yes, even the refrigerator, all get blue stains!

Day 4
To Yellow: We watched a Next Gen episode with Q. Now we’re about to watch The Hangover because [redacted]’s never seen it. *yellow smiley emoticon* That event sounds awesome! Hope you’re having fun.
Yellow and her husband were supposed to join us for that couple's "date" but her husband double booked them without her knowledge, so she asked me what she was missing out on.

Day 5
To Green: Feel better?
Discussing the outcome of a game the soccer team we both follow had just played.

Day 6
To Yellow & Orange: Hi ladies! My editing work is going much better than expected. I’m up for meeting for donut day this week if you are. Could do Thurs or Fri morning.
This one seems self-explanatory.

Day 7
To Blue: Ok.
Not sure about this one. Probably a response to him asking me to pick him up from work.

Day 8
To Red: Of course! I'll bring them with tomorrow night.
I lent her some items for a Halloween costume.

Day 9
To Purple: I need to sleep for approximately 10 hours now. I'm beat. Haha.
The soccer team I follow had just played the most epic playoff game ever. It was genuinely emotionally exhausting.

Day 10
To Yellow & Orange: Haha, adorable!
A response to the picture Yellow sent of her Halloween costume.

Day 11
To Yellow & Orange: You look so cute as a banana!
Yes, still talking about the costume. Yellow went as a banana, her husband as a gorilla.

Day 12
To Indigo: Yay! Let me know if you want to ride with us. :)
Discussing a bonfire we were both going to the following weekend.

Day 13
To Yellow & Orange: Ladies, are we still on for dinner and a movie tomorrow night?
We were.

Day 14
To Black: It's just off Sunset near the PCH. It's on the shorter side but it's a good hike.
Discussing a hike we were going on.

Day 15
To Blue: No thanks.
He asked me if I wanted him to bring me something home for dinner.

Day 16
To Indigo: Just trying to help you out! Haha.
I believe we were discussing deploying a decoy for her in her seat at work so she could nap under the desk. I had suggested that we give it a recorded tape that was motion sensitive and would say things like, "You look great in that shirt today, Suzy!" whenever someone walked past.

Day 17
To White: Okay, I'm heading out! My phone says 25 minutes but it's frequently a lying liar who lies.
I was heading over to her house. The map app on my phone doesn't know how to deal with LA traffic.

Day 18
To Indigo & Brown: You guys are cracking me up!
Talking about something very weird we saw at the bonfire. Lots of alien jokes were involved.

Day 19
To Indigo & Brown: Well, yeah, he doesn't want to have another one at 60.
I don't recall what prompted this conversation, but I'm pretty sure we were talking about a guy having a kid at 60.

Day 20
To Blue: I'm sorry baby.
I think he was upset about being stuck at work super late for like the millionth time in a row.

Day 21
To Blue: He could have given you a piggy back ride to the garage. *yellow wink emoticon*
Joking about one of his co-workers carrying him to his car, although I'm not sure why.

Day 22
To Yellow & Orange: Either happy hour, beach clean up or coffee would work for me. *yellow smiley emoticon*
In the end we decided on happy hour.

Day 23
To Indigo: That's the plan eventually!
I don't remember. I think we were talking about marketing my next book.

Day 24
To Blue: Our sound bath thing is at 12. I think it lasts an hour. We'll probably at least grab a coffee or some food or a drink or something before we drive back. So I'm thinking maybe 5-6 p.m. but I don't know for sure.
He asked me about my plans with some friends that weekend.

Day 25
To Red: Lol. I got that.
She made a joke (which I got) and then explained it to me. Probably much funnier to us than it is to you, dear reader.

Day 26
To Pink: Thanks!
She wished me a good time with my brother, who was soon to visit.

Day 27
To Gray: Oh cool, it's finally opening! We should def plan a trip there.
Discussing a new movie theater that just opened in town.

Day 28
To Green: Boring, uninspired, and lackluster? Sounds like a Klinsmann-coached game.
Me complaining about the coach of the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team. I'm not a fan.

Day 29
To Blue: *purple demon emoticon* Speed demon.
He told me to drive safely. I pretended that I wouldn't.

Day 30
To Blue: Yeah. It's intense.
Pretty sure I'm talking about soccer again.

Last Text of the Day: Maintenance Post

The idea for this series came about when I was texting with my husband a few months ago. I believe that either the first or a new trailer had just come out for “The Force Awakens” and we were talking about that. After sending him a rather long text about Adam Driver’s role in the film, I thought to myself, “Oh my God, I’m such a nerd. What if that’s the last text I ever send?”

Amused, I decided to keep track of the last text I send every day and to review them after a month or two, to see if I could even remember what I was talking about.

As the months passed, however, I grew ambivalent about the project. I now worry that there’s too much navel-gazing involved here. Therefore, I’ve put off posting the project for a while. While I’m still ambivalent, I decided to proceed. If my readers don’t find it interesting, or if I continue to feel uncomfortable with it, I will discontinue it.

Firstly, here were the rules I set for myself about the project:

1. No sending any end-of-day “funny/good” texts in order to make my texting seem more interesting.
2. No NOT sending a text just because I think the one I sent before it is funny/better.
3. No posting any texts that are about someone else’s personal issues. Fortunately, this hasn’t come up.
4. No posting sexts. This also hasn’t come up because my husband and I don’t sext, but just in case.
5. All names used in-text will be redacted.

Secondly, I’m feeling very concerned about privacy. Originally, I was going to refer to my textees by their initials but eventually decided that an enterprising snoop could still figure out who they were. Instead, I decided to assign each person a color (i.e. red, orange, etc.) name. This will be entirely random. That is to say, the color will not be indicative of anything about the person, such as hair color or favorite color or whatever. Exception: my husband, to whom I’m giving the designation Blue, because he loves blue.

When I started this project, I expected it to prove to me that my life is as boring/mundane as I think it is. I honestly thought nearly all of the texts would be to my husband, and that most of those would be thinks like “okay” and “here” (i.e., me coordinating picking him up from work). I also thought there would be a lot more days where I didn’t send any texts at all. What I discovered is that I text a lot, with a wide variety of people, and that our conversations cover a range of topics (although I do talk about soccer a lot).

It’s been an interesting experiment for me. I hope that you find it interesting as well!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Up with Geography: Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso




African continent. Burkina Faso outlined in
dark ink & shaded.

A close up of Burkina Faso & its neighbors.

Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Water Borders:

Total Area:
105,869 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Ouagadougou, Bobo Dioulasso, Banfora, Koudougou, Ouahigouya

Famous Geographical Point:
Arli National Park

Famous Person:
Fanta Regina Nacro, filmmaker

Book Set In/About:
Thomas Sankara Speaks: The Burkina Faso Revolution, 1983-87 by Thomas Sankara

In 1983, Sankara led a popular coup and became leader of Burkina Faso. He did lots of good things for the country, including changing its colonial name of Upper Volta to its current name. This is his book on the revolution. He was assassinated in a coup in 1987. The man who had him killed ended up ruling as a dictator for 27 years.

Movie Set In/About:
"Yaaba (Grandmother)" (1989), directed by Idrissa Ouedraogo

A young boy befriends the village outcast, who has been accused of witchcraft.

Headline of the Day:
"Burkina Faso President Takes Defence Portfolio in New Cabinet" on Yahoo News.

In a country that's already had multiple military coups, the current president, who's a civilian, wants (perhaps unsurprisingly) to keep tight control of the military.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

AFI Top 100, #41: "West Side Story" (1961)

This movie was previously reviewed for 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 the review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1961 (USA)
American, in English (very minimal non-translated Spanish)
Directors – Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
Stars – Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn

Plot Summary:
Basically, it’s Romeo & Juliet, set circa 1950s NYC, with singing & dancing. Wood and Beymer play star-crossed lovers Maria & Tony. Chakiris plays Bernardo, Maria’s brother & leader of the Sharks (the Puerto Rican gang). Tamblyn plays Riff, Tony’s best friend & leader of the Jets (the Irish/Italian [?] gang).

4 stars

Monday, January 11, 2016

AFI Top 100, #42: "Rear Window" (1954)

Movie Stats:
Released 1954 (UK)
American, in English
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Stars - James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter

Plot Summary:
Photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (Stewart), laid up for 7 weeks with a broken leg after an on-the-job accident, entertains himself by watching his neighbors & becomes convinced that one of them, Lars Thorwald (Burr), killed his own wife. Kelly co-stars as Jeff’s love interest, Lisa, and Ritter as Jeff’s nurse, Stella.

Mild violence; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Did no one close their blinds in the 1950s? I know the explanation is that it’s too hot, but as someone who’s pretty much the opposite of an exhibitionist, I can’t fathom living nearly my entire life with the curtains open, where anyone can see in. It wasn’t very realistic to me.

I could have done without all the “she must have been murdered because women never do x” conversations. That’s not evidence. That’s stereotyping.

I thought it was weird how it occasionally worked really hard to make Lisa seem dumb. [SPOILER] “Why would he kill the dog?” she asked. “Did it know too much?” [SPOILER] Come on, really?

Good Stuff:
Loved the dialogue, especially practically everything Stella said. Very funny.

The costuming for Grace Kelly was amazing. I want to own it all, although most of it would probably look like poop on me.

The camera work is extremely clever. If you ignore the set-like feel, it’s pretty cool how every scene is shot from the vantage point of Jeff’s apartment, like you’re seeing it the way he sees it.

The plot was excellent, intricate and layered.

The Verdict:
Much to my surprise, I liked it a lot. You may recall that I’ve been feeling pretty down on Hitchcock these days, but I thought this was really well done. It’s very subtle. Right up until the very end, I had no idea if Jeff was being paranoid or if he was on to something. He quite literally has no evidence, just a gut feeling; it’s quite easy to dismiss him. I enjoyed that. It’s a rare mystery/thriller that actually surprised me. The acting is solid, the dialogue is great, and it’s an all-around good story.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: New Jersey

State Name:
New Jersey


Date of Entry:
December 18, 1787


Map of USA. New Jersey outlined in dark ink, shaded,
and with a line pointing to it.

A close-up of New Jersey & its neighbors.

New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania

Water Borders:
Atlantic Ocean, Delaware Bay, Delaware River

Total Area:
8,723 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison

Famous Geographical Point:
Delaware River

State Nickname:
The Garden State. Supposedly the nickname was coined by a guy named Abraham Browning in 1876 (something about farmland and a barrel, didn't make much sense to me, HERE is a link), although pretty much everyone agrees that the moniker isn't especially apt.

Famous Person:
Buzz Aldrin, astronaut & second man to walk on the moon*

Book Set In/About:
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

A young teenager grapples with moving from the city to the suburbs, with her mixed religious heritage, and with puberty. It's a classic coming-of-age tale for girls.

Movie Set In/About:
"Garden State" (2004), directed by Zach Braff

A young man struggling with depression returns home after his mother's death.

Headline of the Day:
"Troopers Alex Muro and Arnaldo Mateo Deliver Baby Roadside" in People Magazine.

*Too cute not to share: Aldrin's birth name was Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr., but when one of his sisters mispronounced "brother" as "buzzer," he earned his nickname. He made it his legal name in 1988.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Top Books of the Year 2015

Click on the Top Books tag at the bottom to view all the posts on this topic.

Here are my favorite books of 2015. I had a very difficult time ordering these. You can basically consider them equal, except for #1, which slightly edges out the others. I actually read a lot of good books this year. It wasn’t easy to narrow this list down to five.

5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Young Adult Fiction
This novel revolves around the lives of four boys, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah, all students at the fictional Aglionby Academy in Virginia, and their local-girl friend, Blue. It’s essentially fantasy, involving psychics, magic, and the quest to find a long-dead (But is he really?) Welsh king. At the same time, it explores some very sensitive topics, such as child abuse and economic gaps between friends, with an impressive amount of understanding. It’s the first book in a series of four. I finished it right at the close of the year, immediately put the second on hold at the library, and have been unable to read anything else while I wait for it to come in, because I’m too distracted by this beautiful, intricate tale.

4. A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
In 1978, over 900 members of an American cult called Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana. This book explores the history of the cult, including the background of its charismatic leader, Jim Jones, taking you on a journey through its hopeful, well-meaning beginning to the depressing, heartbreaking end. It’s not the first book I’ve read about this cult but I would say it’s the best. Scheeres used the files that the FBI collected on Peoples Temple, which include journals of those involved, and interviewed survivors, so you feel like you really get to know these misguided people. A truly gripping read.

3. The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner
In the tumultuous America of the 1960s and 1970s, skyjacking was used as a form of mostly non-violent protest. In fact, it was so common that travelers could buy insurance for it. Pressured by the powerful airline lobby, the American government was slow to react, although the issue ultimately led to the security measures that stayed in place from the mid 1970s to 2001 (when they were tightened). This book covers a particular skyjacking case, interweaving its tale with a history of skyjacking in general. It’s a piece of American history that I previously knew nothing about (I was familiar with maybe a handful of these cases; I had no idea that there used to be dozens per year). I could hardly put it down.

2. The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz
The January 2010 earthquake that struck Haiti was bad enough, killing over 100,000 people and leaving many more homeless and jobless, an unimaginable disaster in a country where daily life was already a struggle for survival. Unfortunately, the international response to the disaster only made things worse. This book is an incredibly frustrating read in that you want to bang your head against a wall every time the international community patronized the Haitian people and shut them out of the recovery process . . . so, basically, the whole book. It’s infuriating. It’s also an important read. Written by the only full-time American reporter in Haiti at the time, it restored some of my faith in modern-day journalism. It was going to be my top book of the year until I remembered that I read the below in 2015.

1. The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
A book about James Garfield, the second U.S. President to be assassinated (after only six months in office), is probably a tough sell. What would motivate you to read this? Perhaps the fact that he was a really amazing human being. Completely self-made, intelligent, well-read, little-known for his Civil War heroism, humble, and thoroughly uninterested in being President. He was nominated as a compromise, at a time when his party was rife with corruption. Although he didn’t want the role, he embraced both it and reform, immediately angering everyone who expected him to continue the corruption game. By the end of the book, I was truly mourning the loss of a man who would’ve likely made a great president (a loss that could’ve been prevented on so many levels). I credit Millard’s excellent writing for bringing this forgotten President to life. After finishing it, I realized that I already had another of her books on my reading list. I can’t wait to get to it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

AFI Top 100, #43: "King Kong" (1933)

Movie Stats:
Released 1933 (USA)
American, in English (a small amount of a made-up “native” language, occasionally translated)
Directors - Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Shoedsack
Stars - Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

Plot Summary:
When a film crew arrives at a remote, tropical island, they discover a terrifying world of primordial beasts. Armstrong stars as the film’s director, Carl Denham; Wray as his beautiful young ingenue, Ann Darrow; and Cabot as the ship’s first mate, Jack Driscoll.

Extreme violence.

Bad Stuff:
It relies too much on coincidence for my taste. [Mild Spoilers] For example, if this island is so remote that it still has dinosaurs on it, how on earth would the boat captain (Englehorn, played by Frank Reicher) know the natives’ language? Or how about when the natives paddle out to the ship to kidnap Ann and just happen to find her standing right there, all alone on the deck with no one else around? [End mild spoilers] It’s all awfully convenient in a way that screams “lazy writing” to me.

The foreshadowing early on is very heavy-handed. I suppose maybe if I didn’t know the story before watching the movie (nearly impossible, I think, in this day and age), it might not seem so obvious.

After a while, it just felt like a lot of screaming and poor decision making to me. That’s how I feel about most horror movies.

Good Stuff:
I enjoyed a lot of the dialogue. It felt really natural, like the way that people actually talk to each other.

Endless screaming aside, I thought the acting was pretty good.

I liked the special effects that didn’t involve clay. While I wouldn’t say that much of it looked “realistic,” it was impressive for the time period. I understand why contemporary moviegoers found it thrilling.

The Verdict:
I feel rather neutral about this movie. I don’t think it’s terrible, but I don’t think it’s amazing either. It has a decent plot, good acting, impressive special effects for the time (apart from the claymation, which is terrible TBH), and fun dialogue. I think part of my apathy toward it is that the King Kong story has never appealed to me. Also, I feel that the movie lingered in the “primordial” section for too long (Do we really need to see Kong defeat THREE different dinosaurs on separate occasions?), only to rush the end. So perhaps I have an editing problem with it as well. Overall, I think it’s reasonably entertaining.

I give it 3.25 stars.