Monday, May 30, 2016

Music Love: "Angela" by The Lumineers

I first discovered The Lumineers when I lived in Austin. I believe I heard them on Pandora. At the time, they only had an EP out, one that included “Flowers in Your Hair” and “Classy Girls.” Oddly enough, I was just looking at their albums on iTunes and no longer see this EP, although I purchased it and it’s in my library. /shrug

At any rate, when they released their self-titled debut album, I bought it. It’s a great album. I really like how quiet and simple their songs are. There’s nothing flashy about them. The music itself, while I enjoy it, tends to take a back seat to Wesley Schultz’s fine voice as he croons out beautiful lyrics. I find a lot of their songs incredibly moving. I usually keep music on in the background while I do whatever - writing, surfing the internet, walking, cross stitching - but with The Lumineers I often find myself pausing to listen to the song, even if I’ve heard it a hundred times before.

I admit to skepticism when they released their second album, Cleopatra, especially since I’m not fond of the first release off that album, “Ophelia.” I still haven’t bought the album, or even listened to the whole thing, but I fell in love with “Angela.”

It’s possible that “Angela” is one of those songs that pretty much everyone sees as relatable. For me, it so reminds me of my younger self. “When you left this town, with your windows down, and the wilderness inside,” is 18-year-old me, fleeing the town I grew up in to go to college out-of-state, because “the strangers in this town, they raise you up just to cut you down.” Except it wasn’t strangers who cut me down, it was people I knew, within my family and outside of it, making fun of me my whole life. The freedom I felt, finally getting out of there! And I never looked back. Sometimes, I miss those days when everything seemed possible.

I’m not sure yet if I’m “home at last.” There have been several times since then where I felt at home, but circumstances changed, and I had to leave that home. The older I get, the more I recognize that home is what you decide it is, but still this song resonates with something very deep inside of me. I'm grateful to The Lumineers for giving voice to my feelings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

AFI Top 100, #16: "All About Eve" (1950)

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 1950 (France & USA on the same day)
American, in English
Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars – Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm

Plot Summary:
Margo Channing (Davis) is the queen bee of the Broadway stage. One night, her best friend Karen (Holm) – wife of the playwright, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), who continues to cast Margo in his plays – invites a young woman named Eve Harrington (Baxter) backstage to meet Margo. At first, Eve seems fresh-faced, sweet, and na├»ve, but Margo soon begins to discover that there is something more sinister about the young woman and her motives. Merrill co-stars as Margo’s boyfriend, Bill Simpson.

4 stars

Monday, May 23, 2016

AFI Top 100, #17: "The African Queen" (1951)

Movie Stats:
Released 1951 (USA)
American & British, in English (some German & Swahili, mostly non-translated)
Director - John Huston
Stars - Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn

Plot Summary:
When English missionary Rose Sayer (Hepburn) is trapped in German-controlled eastern Africa at the outset of WWI, she talks Canadian mine worker Charlie Allnut (Bogart) into using his boat in an act of sabotage.


Bad Stuff:
It tried a little too hard in the beginning to depict the native Africans as inept (inability to sing) and savage (fighting over a discarded cigar butt), especially given that they were essentially non-existent for the rest of the film, so it wasn’t a plot point. Seemed spiteful to me, and made me uncomfortable.

There’s a strong element of the unbelievable throughout the whole film. It asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief. I was willing to do so until the final scene, when it relied too heavily on coincidence to allow our heroes to achieve their goal - just in time too! Cue eye rolling.

Good Stuff:
Bogart was amazing, so different from most of his roles. I thought he did an excellent job of imbuing his slightly dodgy character with enough good humor to make him sympathetic until he improved in general.

I enjoyed Rose’s pluckiness. “Oh, I’m trapped behind enemy lines, you say? And I can either hide and hopefully wait out the war or try to slip past the Germans and likely die in the process? I’ve come up with a third option. Let’s help out the war effort by sabotaging the enemy!” More guts than I would ever have, and while I know she’s fictional, I also know enough of history to know that people like her did exist.

It’s fun.

The Verdict:
I enjoyed it. It was nice to watch something fun for once. I saw it once when I was a kid, I don’t remember how old but younger than teens, and thought it was boring as all get out. That doesn’t surprise me, since it largely features the two same people in one mostly-static setting (a boat), people who seemed “old” to me at the time. I’ve always figured that I would like it better as an adult, and I did. There’s not a lot to it. It’s not deep or meaningful. It’s not groundbreaking (although perhaps some of the special effects were considered so in its time). It’s simply an enjoyable action flick featuring an interesting story and good acting, a nice palette cleanser after my recent movie outings, which included child molesters, psychopaths, and murder. This is a good one for you to put on during a lazy, rainy day.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Up with Geography: Canada



North America

North American continent. Canada outlined in
dark ink & shaded.

A close-up of Canada & its neighbor.

United States of America

Water Borders:
Pacific Ocean, Beaufort Sea, Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay, Labrador Sea, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
3,854,085 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton

Famous Geographical Point:
Great Bear Lake

Famous Person:
Doug Henning, magician

This was truly an embarrassment of riches - so many people to choose from - but I went with Doug Henning because I loved him when I was a kid (he had a guest spot on The Muppet Show). He's one of the few celebrity deaths to truly sadden me.

Book Set In/About:
White Fang by Jack London

It's a classic tale of one dog's (or, more accurately, one dog/wolf hybrid's) quest for survival in the harsh, unforgiving landscape of northwest Canada.

Movie Set In/About:
"One Week" (2008), directed by Michael McGowan

After being diagnosed with late-stage, low-survivability cancer, a young man gets on a motorcycle and sets out across Canada, from Toronto to British Columbia, to search for answers to life's questions.

Headline of the Day:
"Canada's Marijuana Legalization Plan Flouts 3 UN Drug Conventions" on CBC News.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

AFI Top 100, #18: "Psycho" (1960)

Movie Stats:
Released 1960 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Stars - Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins

Plot Summary:
After a series of bad decisions, Phoenix secretary Marion Crane (Leigh) finds herself at a remote hotel, whose owner, Norman Bates (Perkins), has a very dark secret.

Violence; gore; heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
There’s an undercurrent of “bad women need to be punished” that makes me give it a bit of a side eye.

Psychologist Dr. Fred Richman (Simon Oakland) has only one scene, at the very end of the film, but man does he stink it up. I hated pretty much everything he said, and the way it was delivered. In particular, [SPOILER] when Marion’s sister Lila (Vera Miles) asked him if Norman killed Marion and Dr. Richman dramatically answered, “Yes … and no,” I was like, “Oh, STFU you insufferable prick.” [SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
A++ acting from Anthony Perkins.

Hitchcock did an excellent job of ramping up the tension slowly. This isn’t a “cheap scares” frightening movie (there are a few, but that’s not the main thrust of the film), which is my preference. I can imagine that when this movie came out, Marion’s fate must have been so shocking, because until that scene in the study with the stuffed birds, it seemed like the story was going in a much different direction.

Great soundtrack.

The Verdict:
I think this movie suffers greatly from having come out 56 years ago. I can’t imagine that nowadays, most people reach adulthood without knowing what the twists are, even if they haven’t seen the movie. I know that I knew the twists before I ever saw it, and I saw it for the first time 20 years ago. It’s definitely an instance where spoilers actually spoil it. So I try to think about how different and titillating it must have been back in 1960. I think it’s a great film, regardless of spoilers. It’s just difficult to get that full impact of it. Anyway, I think the story was innovative and original, the soundtrack was excellent, and performances were great. It definitely earned all the praise it’s been given over the years.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Monday, May 16, 2016

AFI Top 100, #19: "Chinatown" (1974)

Movie stats:
Released 1974 (USA)
American, in English (tiny amounts of non-translated Spanish & Cantonese)
Director - Roman Polanski
Stars - Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway

Plot Summary:
When a woman hires private investigator J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) to tail her husband, who she suspects is cheating, he finds himself pulled into a much deeper, and more dangerous, mystery. Dunaway co-stars as Evelyn Mulwray.

Minor blue language; violence; gore; heavily implied sexy times; very brief male nudity (penis, blink and you’ll hopefully miss it); brief female nudity (breasts).

Bad Stuff:
Well, now that I’ve seen her in three of these AFI movies, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not a fan of Faye Dunaway. I find her flat and wooden.

Thumbs down on the horn-laden soundtrack.

The ending was a hot mess. After the laying all the groundwork for a fine mystery, the resolution seemed both rushed and unfinished.

Good Stuff:
The mystery was good. It kept me guessing the whole film. It seemed like a thinking person’s mystery, involving land and water rights. It wasn’t simple.

While this AFI project has convinced me that I don’t like Dunaway, it’s also convinced me that I do like Nicholson. I spent most of my life without having seen his earlier work, so I’ve always thought he was one-note. I’ve really enjoyed this exploration of some of his earlier roles. It’s nice to see that he used to have range. I liked him in this.

The dialogue had a realistic feel - stumbling over words, mis-speaking, etc. - that I liked.

The Verdict:
This had all the hallmarks of a movie I wasn’t going to like: film noir (the only film noir I truly love is “LA Confidential”), 70s film, Nicholson, Dunaway, Polanski. I popped it in thinking to myself, “Well, let’s get this over with.” It was a pleasant surprise to discover that it’s actually good. Unlike a lot of film noir, the mystery was solid, the plot twists are believable and easy to follow, and it didn’t induce any reflexive eye rolling in me. Also, apart from Dunaway (and Belinda Palmer as Katherine, who thankfully isn’t in it very much), the acting was really good. I doubt I’ll ever watch it again, since I think it’ll lose something with the mystery all out in the open, but for a one-time watch, it was solid.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Out and About: The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch

I first saw The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch a couple of years ago, when we visited my brother-in-law, who lived in Carlsbad at the time. As much as I wanted to go, we sadly weren't able to, but when we ended up moving to the area, I knew that going there was a high priority on my list. Lucky I got on it right away, as it's only open two months out of the year (March-May)!

The Flower Fields boast "nearly fifty acres of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers." In addition to the fields themselves, there are several greenhouses, a rose garden, a California garden, lots of fun activities for kids, and more. Cost is $14 for adults, $7 for kids.

Here are some pics from my visit. Warning: lots and lots of flowers ahead.

Orchid greenhouse.

Sweet pea maze.

I liked this sentiment.

California garden.

Rose garden.


There's a gardening store, Armstrong Garden Centers, attached to the Fields, where I bought the cactus I've been longing for, pictured below (I already owned the skull): 

I really enjoyed my visit. It's a lovely place, with lots to do, and everyone there was so incredibly friendly. I will return, but next year I'd like to go earlier in the season, when more flowers will be alive, as things were looking a bit peaked this late in the season.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: Maryland

State Name:


Date of Entry:
April 28, 1788


Map of USA. Maryland outlined in dark ink & shaded.

A close-up of Maryland & its neighbors. My placement of
Silver Spring may be faulty.

Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, Washington, D.C., West Virginia

Water Borders:
Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River

Total Area:
12,407 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Baltimore, Columbia, Germantown, Silver Spring, Waldorf

Famous Geographical Point:
Chesapeake Bay

State Nickname:
The Old Line State. Short version why: it was coined during the Revolutionary War, in reference to a particular regiment of soldiers, the "Maryland Line." Long version why.

Famous Person:
Francis Scott Key, composer of the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Book Set In/About:
Chesapeake by James A. Michener

A 1,000 page behemoth chronicling 400 years of the Chesapeake area, through the lens of Edmund Steed and his descendants.

Movie Set In/About:
"Step Up" (2006), directed by Anne Fletcher

A boy from the wrong side of the tracks dances his way into a brighter future. There are surprisingly few films set in Maryland (this one's in Baltimore). I picked it for regular commenter Patricia.

Headline of the Day:
"Md. Motor Vehicle Administration Unveils New Driver's Licenses and IDs" on CBS Baltimore.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Best Picture: "Spotlight," 2015

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (Italy)
American & Canadian, in English
Director - Tom McCarthy
Stars - Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

Plot Summary:
A dramatized look at the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal. Keaton stars as Walter “Robby” Robinson; Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes; and McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, all members of the “Spotlight” team, which broke the story, and Schreiber co-stars as Marty Baron, the Globe’s editor.

Lots of blue language; frank discussions of child molestation.

Bad Stuff:
Minor quibble: length (slightly too long).

Serious complaint: I didn’t like how it tried to drum up intrigue by playing the “which person ignored this story years ago” game & casting shade on one character in particular. It was unnecessary & felt cheap.

Good Stuff:
Man, every single actor, from the most minor to the top billed, knocked this right out of the park. Really phenomenal. My favorites were Keaton, Ruffalo, and Stanley Tucci (as Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer to several of the victims).

I liked how it explored the varying ways in which a scandal like this affects a community. While it's about how it affected the victims psychologically, emotionally, and physically, it’s also about how it affected their faith, and the faith of others connected to the scandal (such as the reporters). I’m not religious myself, but I understand how important faith is to many people. The scenes of people struggling with this issue touched me on a deep emotional level.

I’m clinging to the hope that it’s accurate about the reporters, because it’s restored some of my faith in investigative journalism.

The Verdict:
Wow, this was an excellent year for Best Picture nominees. I’ve seen 6 of the 8 and thought 5 of those were great (was not a big fan of “The Revenant”). I particularly would’ve been happy if “Brooklyn” or “The Big Short” had won, but I see why “Spotlight” did. It was really well done. It’s not an easy topic. I have to admit that I was dreading this viewing. If it hadn’t won Best Picture, I probably never would have seen it. But I’m glad that it did, because I would have missed out on an incredibly important story and a lot of really fine acting. If you’re hesitant, know that you should watch this film. In the end, I think the only thing you’ll be disappointed in is the Catholic Church.

I give it 4.5 stars.

Note: The Best Picture Master List has been updated to include this movie. It comes in at #9.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Out and About: Lake Guajome Regional Park

New area, new places to explore. Even though it’s only a few miles down the road from us, I found out about Guajome Lake Regional Park via my city’s sub-Reddit. I don’t have a Reddit account, but there are several sub-Reddits that I read regularly. It was one of these subs that gave me the idea to visit my city’s sub, which gave me a few good ideas about places to visit.

Anyway, after reading about the park, my husband and I decided hike there this past weekend. The park is easy to get to, only costs $3 for parking (I did see a little bit of on-street parking if you don’t want to pay the fee), and is absolutely gorgeous. I’d read online that a hike there is like going through several different climate zones. They weren’t wrong. We spent about two hours there and we saw a lot of cool stuff along the way.

These geese look like they were just chilling but they
were pretty noisy.

Lake Guajome

A big, beautiful tree.

There was a lot of signage, but I never saw one
for this plant, which is abundant. Never
figured out what it is.

So many fuzzies that it almost looked
like snow.

An old fire hydrant (?), nearly camouflaged by
dead palm fronds.

Neat vista.

After so many years living in desert climates,
I've come to greatly enjoy cacti in its many varieties.

Lovely little cactus flowers.

My favorite photo of the day.

Pretty purple.

Amongst all the beauty, an ugly little bog.

A smokestack (?) attached to nothing.

I was very impressed by the park. I had a delightful time & I'm looking forward to frequent visits.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Last Text of the Day: Month Five

Day 1
To Orange: Here’s “I’m a stupid cat!” [video link]
A video I’d told her about that I thought was hilarious. HERE is the link if you'd like to watch it; very NSFW language.

Day 2
To Azure: Anytime! Miss you too. If you do get a chance to make it down here we’ll soak up the sun and do a bunch of girl stuff.
She was supposed to come to town for a conference but had to cancel. We talked about her hopefully visiting at some other point in the future.

Day 3
To Indigo: Phew! I’ll leave the Spanx at home. That way I can fit in more munchkins. *yellow wink emoji*
She joked around that the Oscars party she was hosting was formal dress. Munchkins = those donut holes they sell at Dunkin’ Donuts. They were indeed served at the party.

Day 4
To Red: Okie dokie!
I believe this is a response to her saying she was on the way to pick us up.

Day 5
To Blue: Ok. Am I picking you up?
I think he got a ride that night.

Day 6
To Blue: Love you too.

Day 7
To Orange: Never too full for you!
I’m talking about my schedule.

Day 8
To Lavender: Exactly! Haha. Hope you have fun in [redacted city name] this weekend!
We were discussing the soccer team her boyfriend follows. The full explanation is too long for something you probably don’t care about.

Day 9
To Maroon: Ok, let’s do [redacted business name]. It’s at [redacted address]. That’s where I saw [redacted famous person]. ;)
Making plans to meet up for coffee while he was in town.

Day 10
To Orange: [Redacted]’s watching it. I’m only half paying attention. The buzz I heard this week was that it was terrible.
The X-Files mini-series finale. It was terrible.

Day 11
To Brown, Teal, Red, Indigo, & Gray: Ok, no problem!
That’s a lot of people for a text chain I remember nothing about.

Day 12
To Teal: Yeah, I think we’re going to try it this year. Our taxes were really complex for a couple of years but they got simpler again.
Turbo Tax. Truly a fascinating conversation, lol. Side Note: We did indeed use Turbo Tax.

Day 13
To Beige: Despite a slight mishap (blender doesn’t work), we *red heart emoji* the soup. Thanks for the recipe!
I’m talking about this soup recipe. After Beige talked it up, it made the rounds of our friend circle. Everyone loves it.

Day 14
To Azure: Thought you might appreciate this. [Captain Jack Sparrow pic]
This was a “stages of writing” pic that used the different facial expressions of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Day 15
To Pink: I’m sure it’s because he receives excellent care at home. :)
Her dog, who had to have oral surgery but it wasn’t as bad as expected.

Day 16
To Blue: In that neighborhood I usually part up on [redacted] and walk down.
He was meeting me for an event & I wanted to help him out so he didn’t get frustrated with parking in this busy neighborhood.

Day 17
To Teal: I’m here! Found street parking.
Meeting her for a movie.

Day 18
To Green: Have you seen Deuce’s face? Will give you an even bigger laugh.
Oh boy. This was a mean-spirited text. The star player of my team’s arch-rival, Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders, turned up at their season opener looking like someone had punched him in the face. I, and many others, don’t like this player because of the way he behaves (for example, he once got a 3-game suspension for slapping an opposing player in the no-no zone). I researched but never found out why his face was so messed up. Side Note: Deuce is his widely used nickname.

Day 19
To Orange & Yellow: Aww. Reading the book that movie is based on took my interest in mountain climbing from zero to negative.
After seeing “Everest,” Yellow said she no longer wanted to mountain climb. This was my response. The book I’m referring to is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer.

Day 20
To Blue: I got in the car and that Phil Collins song you guilted me into turning off the other day was on. I listened to the whole thing. *purple demon emoji*
The song in question was “In the Air Tonight.” My husband hates Phil Collins, like a deep loathing that knows no bounds. My victory was short lived, as I heard this song repeatedly over the next several weeks and got sick of it.

Day 21
To White: Is Cowspiracy an anti meat eating film?
She said she was going to see this film. She’s vegetarian, so this was my educated guess. She never answered me and I forgot to look it up so I still don’t know what it’s about.

Day 22
To Orange & Yellow: Boooooo. I’m sorry you’re sick. :(

Day 23
To Blue: Here.
Obligatory picking husband up from work text.

Day 24
To Red: Maybe next time we have a hankering we’ll go there instead of Scoops.
She asked me about an ice cream shop I visited with some of our mutual friends. She’s never been there. Side Note: “Scoops” is our jokey name for a yogurt shop we frequented. In a text chain last year, Red accidentally called it Scoops instead of its real name and none of us noticed for DAYS.

Day 25
To Sienna, Brown, Indigo, Teal & Red: Are there bad ones of him? ;)
Pictures of a particular tennis player, but now I can’t remember which one.

Day 26
To Orange: Those times would work for me as well!
Planning a friend date.

Day 27
To Red & Indigo: No, we’re nearly there now!
We went to our friends’ band’s gig in downtown LA. Indigo was supposed to go with us, but couldn’t get out of work on time. We chatted with her via text on the way (someone else was driving).

Day 28
To Beige: [Redacted] needs to learn the guitar solo first. *yellow wink emoji*
At our friends’ gig, I jokingly told them that next time I was going to request “Free Bird.” The following day, I got in the car and it was on the radio. It was such a weird coincidence, I had to text her about it. She said it was a sign they needed to add it to their repertoire.

Day 29
To White: Very true! He’s way sicker than me and he had to go into work today & he’s still there. Poor guy.
Talking about my husband. Given what was to come in 2 weeks (the company going bust out of the blue), I’m even more annoyed that he worked so hard when he was sick as a dog.

Day 30
To Blue: I’m here.
Picking him up from work.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

AIIW: That's Not Us

Movie Stats:
Released 2015 (USA)
American, in English
Director - William Sullivan
Stars - Mark Berger, Elizabeth Gray, Tommy Nelms, Nicole Pursell, David Rysdahl, Sarah Wharton

Plot Summary:
When three couples - lesbians Jackie (Pursell) and Alex (Wharton); gays James (Berger) and Spencer (Rysdahl); and straights Liz (Gray) and Dougie (Nelms) - spend a weekend together at a beach house, all of their problems are magnified.

Lots and lots of blue language; lots and lots of sexy times; female nudity (breasts and butt) and brief male nudity (butt only); a drug reference.

Bad Stuff:

I’m admittedly high on the prude scale when it comes to the sex lives of people I know. That is to say, I don’t want to know anything about what my friends do in the bedroom. I certainly don’t want to see it or hear it. So I was completely turned off by these people doing it like bunnies, in common areas and in rooms where their friends could hear, and talking about it openly. It took me out of the movie as I kept wondering, “Do people really do it this much on vacation? With their friends in the next room? Aren’t their parts starting to hurt?”

I saw the plot twist (it was a small, inconsequential one) coming a mile away. It was so obvious that I kept wondering if the characters were really stupid, since they couldn’t figure it out.

It feels a bit like a student film.

Good Stuff:
I liked the central message about communication. All of these people had problems in their relationships, and all of them had a difficult time expressing that to their respective partners. I thought it was interesting that most of them could easily articulate to their friends, but not their partners, what was wrong. It was insightful and it resonated with me.

The arguments felt realistic - difficult and full of frustration, but not crazed screaming matches, like you see in a lot of films.

The Verdict:
I must have started and stopped at least three films before landing on this one. It wasn’t that any of those films seemed bad from the five minutes I watched of each of them. It was more that I wasn’t in the mood for that type of film at that time. “British heist movie a la Lock Stock? Nah. Intellectual indie sci fi? Definitely not right now.” I’m not sure why “talkie relationship drama” felt like it fit the bill, but at least I learned something about myself. I don’t like talkie relationship dramas. Apart from the central message, there wasn’t much that was good about this film. For the most part, it was slow and utterly, painfully boring. All the sex scenes in the world couldn’t jazz it up.

I give it 2 stars.