Monday, February 29, 2016

Music Love: "Up!" by The Black and White Years

I haven’t fallen in love with any new music lately, so, in order to continue this series, I decided to pull some past loves out of my archive.

A few years ago, when I lived in Austin, I belonged to an excellent writing group (Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write, if you’re curious) that met regularly in a couple of different coffeeshops around town. Since I participated in this group 2-3 times per week, I came to know many of the baristas at said coffeeshops. One of those baristas was (at the time) dating the drummer of The Black and White Years. It was she who gave me two of their albums, Nursery Myths and Patterns.

For at least a year, I listened to these albums almost non-stop. In fact, they often played in the background while I wrote. Later, I would come to also greatly enjoy their most recent album, Strange Figurines. When I was considering which song to post on my blog, it was a toss up between “Up!” (from Patterns) and “Embraces” (from Strange Figurines). Ultimately, I decided on “Up!” because I prefer its lyrics, which are like poetry. (“Embraces” is a song to enjoy more for the amusement factor; it’s quite funny if you have a dark sense of humor.)

The Black and White Years are a touch more quirky (and a lot more electronic) than I normally go for. Also, I can’t say that lead singer Scott Butler has my favorite voice ever. However, their music is fun and different. Typically, their songs have a good beat. They cover a range of topics. Honestly, when was the last time a band you listened to had a song dedicated to modern science? By far, however, the strength of this band is in the lyrics.

“Up!” sucks you in with that gut-punch opening line, “Wake up, it’s morning, as pretty and pitiless as it ever was.” I was sold the second I heard those words. Later in the song, when he says, “I do this on my own. I cannot continue to be your flesh yo-yo. I must face it alone, like the men in my family have done,” that really resonated with me. It’s such a simple yet effective commentary on the state of manhood in American culture. But my favorite part, what I love to sing along to, comes at the end, “What we don’t know wont’s hurt us. What we don’t know won’t keep us up at night . . . What you don’t know won’t hurt you. What you don’t know won’t have you terrified.” So untrue, and yet a desperate hope that I think we all share.

There is no official video for this song. I’ve linked the track, but I recommend checking out the live video on YouTube. The performance is meh but it’s amusing to discover that the band members look pretty much like you’d expect them to.

While you’re at it, give The Black and White Years a chance. It’s a great band that hasn’t gotten nearly the kind of recognition it deserves.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

AFI Top 100, #s 32 & 31

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

Movie Stats:
Released 1974 (USA)
American, in English (Italian, Sicilian, and Spanish, most translated, some not)
Director – Francis Ford Coppola
Stars – Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert DeNiro

Plot Summary:
The continuing saga of the Corleone family, as told through two alternating storylines: one set in the early 1900s, showcasing the rise of Vito (DeNiro) as a mafia don; the other set in the late 1950s, showing Michael’s (Pacino’s) struggles to take up his father Vito’s mantle. Duvall and Keaton reprise their roles as Tom Hagan and Kay Corleone respectively.

3.75 stars

Full review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1977 (USA)
American, in English
Director – Woody Allen
Stars – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Plot Summary:
Follows the love story of comic Alvy Singer (Allen) and actress/singer Annie Hall (Keaton) from beginning to conclusion. Surprise (to me) appearances by Christopher Walken as Annie’s brother Duane & Jeff Goldblum – very briefly – as a party guest.

3 stars

Full review HERE.

Friday, February 26, 2016

AFI Top 100, #33: "High Noon" (1952)

Movie Stats:
Released 1952 (Sweden)
American, in English (a small amount of non-translated Spanish)
Director - Fred Zinnemann
Stars - Gary Cooper, Katy Jurado, Lloyd Bridges, Grace Kelly

Plot Summary:
Set in the Old West, when convicted felon Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) returns unexpectedly to the town that sent him up the river five years ago, outgoing marshal Will Kane (Cooper) prepares for a showdown. Jurado co-stars as the local prostitute (I think), Helen Ramirez; Bridges as the supremely annoying deputy marshal, Harvey Pell; and Kelly as Will’s very new bride, Amy.


Bad Stuff:
It’s a lot of talking/repeated conversations and very little action. During the church scene, where the good Christians of the town are discussing whether or not to help the marshal, one lady said (paraphrased), “I can’t believe we’re doing all this talking and no doing” and I thought to myself, “Amen, sister.”

For all the hinting about how evil Frank was, like he was Ivan the Terrible or something, he seemed rather incompetent and easily beat in the end. I’m not sure why Will spent all that time looking for extra deputies. He didn’t seem to need them.

The never-ending use of that awful “High Noon” song. Stop it, movie. Stop it!

Good Stuff:
As a character study, it was interesting. I enjoyed seeing how the different townspeople reacted to stress and fear. As annoying as Harvey was, for example, I found his emotions believable: resentment that he didn’t get the marshal gig; jealousy of Will's prior relationship with Helen; disgust with himself for his cowardice, etc. This character, and several others, had a lot of layers.

I loved Helen Ramirez. What a pleasure it was to stumble across a strong female character in a movie like this! And she was strong without being a total bitch! When she told a man that no one was allowed to touch her without her say-so, I just about fell over. How oddly progressive of you, 1952.

It rather capably raised the question of whether Will should stand and fight. Most action movies, there’s very little wondering about whether the good guys should fight the bad guys. It’s a given. But nearly everyone who wanted Will to leave rather than fight had a decent argument as to why he should. Did he do the right thing? The movie seems to think so, but I feel it’s open to interpretation.

The Verdict:
Side note: I spent the first ten minutes expecting Clark Gable to turn up until I finally realized that, yet again, I confused Clark Gable with Gary Cooper. Haha.

As far as westerns go, this one is rather cerebral. I get that all the talking, and the constant watching of the clock, was intended to build suspension. However, I didn’t find it particularly suspenseful. I was certain that it would end as it “should.” I wasn’t even spoiled. I didn’t know anything about it going in, and I could still tell early on that it wasn’t going to be edgy or anything. Therefore, as the talking went on and on, I just felt more and more impatient. It was disappointing that the resulting confrontation, when it finally came, was about five minutes long. Also, in all that talking, could they maybe have explained more of who Frank was and why he was so bad? I literally felt nothing one way or the other about him. As good as the movie was at building the characters of the “good” guys, it was terrible at it for the “bad” guys. In spite of my problems with it, however, I did like its layers and nuance. It’s not a bad movie. It simply has flaws.

I give it 3.5 stars.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Up with Geography: Burundi





African continent. Burundi outlined
in dark ink & shaded.

A close-up of Burundi & its neighbors.

Rwanda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Water Borders:
Lake Tanganyika

Total Area:
10,745 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Bujumbura, Gitega, Muyinga, Ngozi, Ruyigi

Famous Geographical Point:
Lake Tanganyika (normally I wouldn't do a repeat but the lake makes up such a large portion of the country's western border that it seems like a very important geographical feature to me)

Famous Person:
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, journalist & dissident

Book Set In/About:
Life after Violence: A People's Story of Burundi by Peter Uvin

A summary of interviews conducted with ordinary Burundians, who struggle to overcome their country's war-torn past while trying to build a future.

Movie Set In/About:
"Journal d'un cooperant" (2010), directed by Robert Morin

A fictional look at the situation in Burundi through the eyes of a French-Canadian man who has gone there in order to volunteer for an NGO. This film sounds depressing as all get out.

Headline of the Day:
"UN Chief Arrives in Burundi for Crisis Talks" in Voice of America.

Note: An image search for Burundi produces lots of results that are pretty much NSFL (not safe for life). Consider yourself warned.

Friday, February 19, 2016

AFI Top 100, #34: "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1962)

Movie Stats:
Released 1962 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Robert Mulligan
Stars - Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford

Plot Summary:
In 1930s Alabama, white lawyer Atticus Finch (Peck) defends black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who has been accused of raping and beating a white woman. All of this is seen through the eyes of Atticus’s young children, Scout (Badham) and Jem (Alford).

Repeated use of a racial epithet; violence; mentions of rape (no rape shown).

Bad Stuff:
It has an episodic feel that messes with the flow of things.

It’s pretty slow.

I’m not in love with the soundtrack.

Good Stuff:
Well, I can’t recall the last time I praised an adaption, but here you go. The greatest strength of this film is the writing. In particular, I’m impressed that the children act and speak like children, which seems so rare in fiction. This is all due to Harper Lee’s excellent writing, but someone (specifically the wonderfully named Horton Foote) had to adapt that writing into a screenplay, and he did a good job of it.

There are a couple of scenes that moved me on a very deep level. [SPOILER] 1. Where a group of men are shamed out of a lynching by the innocence of a little girl. [SPOILER] and 2. The moment when Jem realizes what an incredible man his father is (phenomenal acting by Alford, to convey that without words).

All of the acting was good, but I thought that Peters’ performance in the courtroom scene was particularly powerful.

The Verdict:
Honestly, it was a lot slower than I remembered, and I thought the editing was kind of disjointed. It’s also a difficult movie to watch, due to what happens with the Tom Robinson storyline. Not that it’s unrealistic. On the contrary, it’s far too realistic, and that’s what hurts. On the other hand, there are a lot of fine performances, and I think it’s rather fascinating to see these events through the children’s eyes, to watch them slowly come to understand the world. Plus, I’ve always loved Atticus. Who doesn’t love Atticus? He’s practically the perfect father figure. A bit too permissive, perhaps, but kind and patient and just and righteous. I wish I’d grown up with a father like him. Peck’s lush, deep voice certainly didn’t hurt the character any. I digress. A good, solid film. If you’ve never seen it, there’s no time like the present.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

AFI Top 100, #s 37, 36, 35

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

Movie Stats:
Released 1946 (USA)
American, in English
Director – William Wyler
Stars – Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, and Theresa Wright

Plot Summary:
Follows 3 WWII vets – Army sergeant Al Stephenson (March), Air Force captain Fred Derry (Andrews), and sailor Homer Parrish (Russell) – as they attempt to adjust to life after the war. Loy stars Al’s wife Milly & Wright stars as his daughter Peggy.

4 stars

Full review HERE.

Movie Stats:
Released 1969 (USA)
American, in English
Director – John Schlesinger
Stars – Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Plot Summary:
When Texas hayseed Joe Buck (Voight) makes his way to New York City, intent on getting by as a gigolo, he ends up falling in with sickly petty crook Ratso (Hoffman).

2.75 stars

Full review HERE.

I reviewed this movie before I standardized my reviewing process. You can read the full text of the (brief) review HERE. I gave it 4 stars.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Out and About: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

At the end of January, LA had a free museum day, in which many of the city's museums participated. Since we'd never been, and it was high on my personal list, my husband and I decided to take advantage of the free day to visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Some friends went with us.

Located at 900 Exposition Boulevard in Los Angeles, NHM typically costs $12 per adult. There is parking on-site for $10-$12, depending on which lot you use. However, we (along with one of our friends) drove to the nearest train stop in Culver City (the train line is being extended to Santa Monica and should be finished in a few months), where there is free parking, and took the train straight there for only a few dollars & approximately zero stress.

We arrived about fifteen minutes before the museum opened, so I took some time to explore the grounds outside the back entrance.

There are further, more extensive grounds, that I didn't end up exploring. I also neglected to take a picture of the front of the building, which is unfortunate, because it's quite lovely. In fact, it's one of my favorite buildings in LA. I intend to go back and take a picture some day.

Once we got inside, we made a trip to the NHM Grill for some food and coffee (prices were reasonable) and then visited the Nature Lab (I took no pics there). Afterward, we made our way to the Dinosaur Hall, where I took some pictures of some bones.

Out in the Rotunda, I snapped a pic of this beautiful statue and the ceiling:

Then we moved on to the Age of Mammals, where there were more bones:

These are bear skulls.

On our way to the African Mammal Hall, we had to walk through a section called Becoming Los Angeles. Initially, I had no interest in this section, and yet it quickly turned into one of my favorites. Funny how things work out like that sometimes, isn't it? Becoming Los Angeles is, essentially, about how the city went from just a few thousand people in the late 1800s to a booming metropolis by the 1940s. It was so cool! Everyone else wanted to move on, though, so I didn't get to spend much time in there.

A model of old LA.

Scarlett O'Hara's dress from "Gone with
the Wind."

We visited the African Mammal Hall, where I took no pics because it was very crowded, before heading into the Gem and Mineral Hall. I've always loved gem rooms, but the one at NHM left me in awe. It's enormous! There was so much to see. I didn't even make it all the way through. Here are a few of my favorite shots:

All total, we spent about 4 hours there. There was still much we didn't get to see, but it was time for us to go. We had an excellent time, though, so much so that we've been considering a membership. On your next trip to LA, I highly recommend that you visit!

Monday, February 15, 2016

AFI Top 100, #38: "Double Indemnity" (1944)

Movie Stats:
Released 1944 (UK)
American, in English
Director - Billy Wilder
Stars - Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Plot Summary:
When insurance salesman Walter Neff (MacMurray) meets unhappy housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Stanwyck), he quickly becomes embroiled in a murder plot. Robinson co-stars as Walter’s boss, Barton Keyes.


Bad Stuff:
I found MacMurray’s acting to be a bit stiff.

Once it got to the inevitable “everything falls apart” portion, it went on too long. I got a little bored.

Good Stuff:
Loved Robinson’s performance. I thought he was incredibly dynamic. He really brought Barton Keyes to life.

I enjoyed the story. Even though I had a pretty good idea where it was going (in particular, what the twist was), watching it get there was interesting. The murder plot was clever. I liked how Walter was so desperately lonely (without realizing it) that he let himself get drawn into something he really shouldn’t have gotten into.

My favorite thing about film noir is how dark and moody it is. This one does such a great job of setting the tone from start to finish.

The Verdict:
I thought it was pretty good. I didn’t know anything about it going in. I’d heard of it before, but until I picked it up from the library, I didn’t know who starred in it, and I didn’t know the story until I started watching it. Once I realized it was about insurance, I have to admit I was skeptical. Fortunately, my skepticism was unwarranted. Other than the wooden MacMurray, the performances were really good, and the story was interesting. It’s the kind of film you should watch at least once, because everyone should have some film noir under their belt.

I give it 4 stars.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

AFI Top 100, #39: "Doctor Zhivago" (1965)

Movie Stats:
Released 1965 (USA)
American, Italian & British, in English (some non-translated Russian and French)
Director - David Lean
Stars - Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness, Rod Steiger

Plot Summary:
Set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, Dr. Yuri Zhivago (Sharif) lives and loves two women: his wife, Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), and his mistress, Lara (Christie). Guinness co-stars as Yuri’s little-known half-brother, Yevgraf, and Steiger as the arrogant, vile Victor Komarovsky.

Very minor blue language; violence; heavily implied sexy times; rape (beginning of it shown, rest is off-screen).

Bad Stuff:
It’s very long and very slow.

There’s something about the dialogue that didn’t feel Russian to me. I don’t think it’s because most everyone spoke with a British accent (although that was annoying). The sentence structures, the cadence, simply didn’t come across as Russian, and I found it very distracting.

As usual, infidelity is neither romantic nor compelling to me. I pretty much lost interest in Yuri once he crossed that line.

Good Stuff:
I haven’t seen a lot of movies that cover this time period, so that was fairly interesting.

Great performance from Sharif, and Alec Guinness makes everything better.

Much of the cinematography was gorgeous, especially the snowy scenes.

The Verdict:
This movie sidelined my blog for two weeks. My first post of February was supposed to be this review, but I kept putting off watching the movie because I knew it was so long. Do you know how hard it is to commit to watching 197 minutes of a film you never wanted to see to begin with? In the end, I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t wowed by it either. I’d put it in the “lukewarm like” category. That is to say, if someone asked me, “Have you seen Doctor Zhivago?” my reaction wouldn’t be one of disgust but rather something more like, “Yes, I’ve seen it. I don’t feel the need to see it again.” Solid performances all around and excellent cinematography are the highlights, but the length and the slow pace definitely hamper it.

I give it 3 stars.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: Georgia

State Name:


Date of Entry:
January 2, 1788


Map of USA. Georgia outlined in dark ink, shaded, & with
its name written on it.

A close-up of Georgia & its neighbors.

Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama

Water Borders:
Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
59,425 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah*

Famous Geographical Point:
Stone Mountain (1,683 feet in elevation), which has the largest bas-relief in the world (it depicts Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and "Stonewall" Jackson).

State Nickname:
The Peach State. The state's peaches are considered among the best in the world.

Famous Person:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist

Book Set In/About:
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The lives of women of color in 1930s Georgia.

Movie Set In/About:
"Gone with the Wind" (1939), directed by Victor Fleming

Follows a plantation owning family through the tribulations of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Headline of the Day:
"'Staggering Corruption': 46 Correctional Officers Charged in Years-Long Drug Trafficking Sting" in CNN Politics.

Ouch, Georgia.

*Augusta and Columbus are very close in population; some lists have Columbus above Augusta.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Last Text of the Day: Month Two

Day 1
To Orange: Hopefully you found it early! And yes, I'm glad you live on the second floor. You'd probably lay awake like this if you weren't [sic]: O.O.
Discussing a newly discovered pest problem where she lives.

Day 2
To Indigo: They never are as tall as they seem on TV! Haha.
Actors. They pretty much never are as tall as they seem on screen. Although I recently saw Mark Sheppard and he was actually taller than I expected, probably because his co-stars are quite tall themselves.

Day 3
To Red: *smiley emoticon* That game was nerve wracking. It's a little bad for us that they got a goal but as long as we hold it together next game we should be fine.
Yes, soccer again. During these first two months of texts, my team was in the playoffs. They made it all the way to the final (which they won). At any rate, my kind-hearted friend, who cares nothing for soccer, texted me because she knew my team had just won an important game.

Day 4
To Blue: Ok. I'm en route.
Picking him up from work.

Day 5
To Red: Haha, I doubt that!
I had apologized for my road rage while driving earlier. She said that her road rage is worse than mine, which I sincerely doubt.

Day 6
No texts sent.

Day 7
To Red & Brown: We should plan some girl time for next week!

Day 8
To Gold: Cool. Thanks for thinking of me! I'm getting excited for my speed walk. :P
She and a mutual friend were doing a 10K, and she invited me to join them by doing the 5K portion. I accepted with the intention to walk the 5K while they ran the 10K, since I had no training. She sent me a promo code for a few dollars off the registration fee.

Day 9
To Red & Gray: Why don't you ladies go without me? I hope you have a good time & that the movie is great! BTW, I think [redacted] really wanted to see that movie if you'd like to see if she wants to go.
The three of us had been talking about seeing a movie together, but the time that worked best for them didn't work well for me. Plus, they wanted to see a movie I didn't ("Secret in Their Eyes"), so I bowed out. Turns out it was for the best (see below).

Day 10
To Red & Gray: Yeah, I wasn't impressed with the ArcLight either. Sorry the movie was poo.
So they went and they hated both the theater and the movie. I didn't like the theater either (it's where I saw "The Night Before").

Day 11
To Red: And I just got ours. :)
Tickets to an event.

Day 12
To Red: Lol. The bus is super easy. I think you'll find you won't mind it for short trips! But I won't tell [redacted] that. ;) Thanks for the offer of a ride home. I'll prob take you up on that.
Remember that girls night we talked about back on Day 7? That would take place on Day 14, and we were discussing how we were each getting to it. My friend doesn't want her husband to know how easy taking the bus is so he'll keep chauffeuring her, haha.

Day 13
To Blue: *three different colored heart emoticons* One from each of us.
Oh man, busted being a total sap to my husband. I was sending him one heart each from me, our cat, and our dog. I'll go die of embarrassment now.

Day 14
To Blue: Yep.
Answering some question; I have no idea what it was.

Day 15
To Red & Indigo: I hope so! We missed you at HH last night.
Expressing that I'd like to see Indigo soon, because it had been a while. HH = happy hour.

Day 16
To Green: I hope so! Or he can surprise us and get 3.
Discussing the upcoming soccer final. One of our forwards is known for always scoring a "brace" (two goals). I was being optimistic. In the end, he scored no goals, but two of our other players had a goal each.

Day 17
To Green: Ahh, a slow, calculated revenge.
His brother-in-law was able to go to the soccer final in Columbus, and both of us were jealous. We were (jokingly) discussing Green's plans for revenge on said brother-in-law.

Day 18
To Indigo: I'll never turn down a free drink! :D
At least, I'd never turn down a free drink from a friend.

Day 19
To Blue: Lol, nice save.
He said something borderline "bad" to me but managed to turn it into a compliment. It was all in good fun.

Day 20
To Blue: Yes.
It's so hard to remember what I'm responding to with these one-word answers.

Day 21
To Gray: That book I was talking about is Double Cross by Ben Macintyre. :)
Self-explanatory. Good book, by the way. I recommend it!

Day 22
To Blue: Yes. I'm out with the girls.
He asked me if I'd eaten dinner, forgetting that I was out for the evening. He was just getting off of work.

Day 23
To Red: That happens!
I'm no longer sure what happens.

Day 24
To Indigo, Brown & Red: I was thinking of making it a husband-free event (for me, not opposed to other husbands going). So I could take your other ticket if you don't mind. And pay you for it of course!
Making arrangements to buy a Groupon for a comedy show.

Day 25
To Gray: Lol. #1 (because we're the best obvs).
I can't explain this one without giving away some personal information, so I won't. Just know that I was joking around.

Day 26
To Gray: Sounds good!
I believe this was in response to arrangements for an event we were going to.

Day 27
To Black: Haha! Well, I wouldn't agree to hikes inside me. ;)
Making a joke out of a typo of hers.

Day 28
To Silver: Oh, now he's offering to watch a Jane Austen film with me because he knows the conversation has annoyed me. Lol.
Discussing an upcoming Christmas party. I wasn't sure if significant others were invited (many of the women are single), and so I asked my friend if they were, but then my husband was being wishy washy about whether he wanted to go, which annoyed me.

Day 29
To Yellow: Hey, I'm not going to bring my phone so here's [redacted]'s number in case you need to get a hold of us: [redacted number].
On our way to see "The Force Awakens." Most of us were carpooling together, but Yellow and her husband were meeting us at the restaurant before the movie. My Jedi costume didn't have pockets.

Day 30
To Silver: He didn't really seem like he wanted to too [sic] so he's been relieved of that duty. :)
My husband didn't go to the Christmas party mentioned on Day 28.