Friday, September 30, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #81: "The Iron Giant" (1999)

Movie Stats:
Released 1999 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Brad Bird
Stars - Vin Diesel, Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick, Jr., Christopher McDonald

Plot Summary:
When a giant robot falls to Earth from outer space, he’s befriended by a young boy named Hogarth. Diesel provides the voice of the robot; Marienthal the voice of Hogarth; Connick, Jr., the voice of Dean McCoppin, Hogarth’s adult friend; and McDonald the voice of Kent Mansley, a government man on the robot’s trail.

Violence; non-consensual drug use (chloroform).

Bad Stuff:
It’s very much a kid’s movie in that it’s rather simplistic in terms of story line and message. For example, I’m fairly certain that major electrical transformers don’t have an on/off switch (marked “on/off” of course) that just anyone can access but it’s a nice, simple solution for the film.

It doesn’t explain anything at all, like where the robot came from or why he has such a highly developed self-defense system, etc.

Good Stuff:
It’s got a good sense of humor. In particular, keep your eye on the newspaper headlines.

Just because I thought the message was simple doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. “You can be who you choose to be.” I think that’s a nice thing for kids to hear. Adults too, come to think of it.

Christopher McDonald is so good at playing a perfectly annoying weasel.

The Verdict:
I like this film. It’s immensely enjoyable. It’s got humor and heart and it’s sweet. I like the story. The actors are all good. I enjoy the animation style. You don’t see it often anymore. This is definitely a cute kid’s movie. Everyone seems to love it. When I think of sci fi movies, however, I can’t say that it’s the first or even the twentieth film that comes to mind. Apart from the giant robot from outer space, it’s a bit light on the sci fi front. I’m not convinced that it belongs here, but I can live with it.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Music Love: "Saturday Night" by Kaiser Chiefs

I spent a ridiculous amount of time this morning trying to figure out how the Kaiser Chiefs ended up on my radar screen. I thought for sure they were featured in a video game I used to play, but I think I was confusing them with The Streets, whose “Fit But You Know It” was on FIFA 2005.* In the end, I couldn’t recall. I assume the first song I heard was “I Predict a Riot,” which only hit #34 on the U.S. alternative chart, but probably got heavy rotation on Portland’s alternative radio station in 2005.

What I do know is that I bought their first album, Employment, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Kaiser Chiefs hail from Leeds in the UK. Their name is a play on a South African soccer team, Kaizer Chiefs, where, Wikipedia tells me, a famous ex Leeds United (soccer) captain used to play. I’m sure it made sense to a bunch of 20-something guys 12+ years ago.

What I’ve always loved about Kaiser Chiefs is that their music is fun. It has great energy. When I listen to their earlier albums, they’re simply enjoyable from start to finish. In addition to being fun, they've got great lyrics. Their songs tell a story. They frequently use words and phrases you’ll never hear in other people’s music, and they’re irreverent. (A personal favorite from “Oh My God,” also on Employment, “Knock me down, I get right back up again. I come back stronger than a powered-up Pac-Man.”)

My two favorite KC albums are Employment (2005) and Off with Their Heads (2008). It was hard to choose just one song from one of these to feature here. I eventually went with “Saturday Night” for two reasons: the joyful music, which captures perfectly the feeling of what it’s like to be young and heading out for a night with your friends, and the lyrics, which include another of my all-time favorite utterances in song: “P-p-p-pneumothorax is a word that is long. They’re just trying to put some ‘punk’ back into punctured lung” (note: pneumothorax is a collapsed lung), followed by, “P-p-p-panic over, party off, party on. ‘Cause we are birds of a feather and you can be the fat one.”

Both of these lines crack me up because, first of all, who the hell uses “pneumothorax” in song? Kaiser Chiefs, apparently. Second of all, “we’re birds of a feather and you can be the fat one”? Gee, thanks a lot, pal. It’s silly but it’s also clever. I love a song that can make me laugh.

The next time you’re getting ready to go out for the night, crank this up. It will definitely get you in the mood to party.

*”Saturday Night” was on NHL 2006 but I never played that game.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #82: "Pacific Rim" (2013)

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (Mexico)
American, in English (translated Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese & Russian)
Director - Guillermo del Toro
Stars - Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba

Plot Summary:
In the not-so-distant future, giant monsters (given the name kaiju, the Japanese word for monster) begin to appear from an undersea trans-dimensional rift and lay waste to coastal cities. In response, humans build giant robots (given the name Jaeger, the German word for hunter) to combat them. Hunnam stars as Raleigh Becket, a Jaeger pilot with a tragic past; Kikuchi as Mako Mori, a wannabe Jaeger pilot with a different, equally tragic past; and Elba as Stacker Pentecost, who runs the Jaeger program.

Major violence; gore; minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
The dialogue is terrible. I rolled my eyes more than once.

It asks its viewers to suspend a lot of disbelief but did not, in my opinion, give enough reasons to do so. Movie: “We built large robots to combat the monsters.” Me: “Who decided that was the best response?” Movie: “The pilots need to neural link with each other to drive the robots.” Me: “What? Why? How?” And so on. Also: [SPOILER] If the bad guys have levels 1-5 monsters, why, after seeing how comparatively wimpy the humans are, don’t they just send all the 5s and get things done? Why the arbitrary, years-long escalation? And why would they send a pregnant one into combat? [SPOILER]

It has all the tropes.

Pentecost is the worst leader ever. Literally everyone ignores his orders and does whatever they want and he’s like, “I’m really mad,” but doesn’t do anything about it.

Good Stuff:
The special effects are super cool. Three years on, it still looks really good.

It’s got two of my favorite character actors: Clifton Collins, Jr. (as Ops Tech Tendo Choi) and Burn Gorman (as Dr. Hermann Gottlieb).

Good cinematography.

The Verdict:
The first time I saw a trailer for this movie, I thought it looked ridiculous. Then everyone I know went and saw it and thought it was the best movie ever. So, a couple of years after it came out, I finally watched it. And while I didn’t think it was ridiculous, I did think it was completely overrated. A second viewing didn’t change my mind about that. The characters are one-dimensional and poorly developed. The dialogue is bad. It’s all one big cliche, and it’s mindless on top of that. I think the reason people like it so much is because of the giant robots and the special effects. But I remain unimpressed.

I give it 2 stars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #83: "Things to Come" (1936)

Movie Stats:
Released 1936 (UK)
British, in English
Director - William Cameron Menzies
Stars - Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson

Plot Summary:
After a decades-long worldwide war, followed by a disease that kills half the remaining population, a group of scientists/engineers/rational thinkers arise to unite the planet. Massey stars as both John Cabal & his descendant Oswald Cabal and Richardson co-stars as The Chief, the dictator of a post-war community.

Violence, minor gore.

Bad Stuff:
It’s very dull. I know I’ve been complaining about this a lot lately, but I appear to have hit a boring patch.

It’s so preachy. I felt like, “I get it already, war is bad, human nature is awful, scientists/engineers are the smartest people on the planet, blah, blah, blah.”

So much overacting! Oh the drama! Much scenery chewed!

Good Stuff:
It may have been preachy, but it wasn’t exactly wrong. War is bad, human nature is awful, and scientists/engineers are pretty dang smart. I liked that its view of the future wasn’t utopian. No matter how advanced humans get, they’re still only human, with the accompanying human frailties.

Again, it’s something I’ve mentioned a lot lately, but I’m fascinated by how “of its time” this movie is. The pessimism, the fear mongering about war, the focus on the dark side of human nature, the fatalism - even if you didn’t know this film came out of Europe during the Great Depression, you’d know.

I love Raymond Massey’s voice. Is that shallow? Oh well.

The Verdict:
I didn’t care for this one. It takes way too long to get to the point, which it then bludgeons you with. It has absolutely no subtlety. The acting is subpar - a frequent problem, in my opinion, for films from the 1930s, when they were still figuring out how to transition to “talkies.” There’s little about it that I would consider sci fi. It’s also fairly depressing. I was impressed, however, with how creepily accurate it was about The Blitz. At the time this film came out, WWII hadn’t even started yet (official start is considered 1939, when Germany invaded Poland), so I’m not sure how H.G. Wells, author of the adapted screenplay (which was based on his book), correctly anticipated the air bombing of London in 1940. Anyway, that’s still not enough to make me recommend this film to you.

I give it 2 stars.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Out and About: Maui

I haven't been on any adventures lately, but I like to give my readers a picture post at least once per month. So I spent some time thinking about how I could deliver a picture post without having taken any recent photos & eventually came up with this idea.

I first started this blog when I lived on Maui. However, I didn't post a lot back then, and when I did, I rarely used any pictures. It seems like a good time to rectify that. All of these pictures are from the 2.5 years we lived on Maui. I didn't include any from our trips to Big Island or Honolulu (Oahu). I believe that I will do a separate post at some point from our road trips to Hana (also on Maui) because there are so many pictures.

I tried to include a little bit of everything that makes Maui such a special place!

The view from Kanaha Beach Park in Kahului:

Detailing on a covered seating area at Iao Valley State Park (near Wailuku):

Banyan tree at Iao Valley State Park. Sadly, I just read that massive rains this week caused enough damage to close the park indefinitely:

All of these flower pictures were taken in Ulupalakua. The hibiscus was at Maui Winery. The other two photos were taken while I was out and about:




Pictures from atop Maui's tallest mountain, Haleakala. The people in the second photo our strangers. I just thought it was a cool shot:

My husband walking down a trail out past Ulupalakua on the southeast side of the island. There are no settlements or services in this area, so very few people live out there. It's fairly isolated. While wandering around, we found spent shotgun shell casings and decided to leave:

A friend of ours was briefly employed as caretaker for a wealthy person's home deep in the jungle near Haiku. It was stunningly beautiful there. This is the waterfall near the home:

Nakelele Blowhole. Great hike, beautiful views. It's in a remote area on the northwest side of the island:

Snorkelers and sailboats in one of the bays between Kapalua and the blowhole. Not completely sure which bay; there are several and I can't remember exactly where we stopped to snap the pic:

A glorious double rainbow over the townhouse we rented in Makawao:

Sunset, as viewed from that same location:

I think this is Ho'okipa Beach in Haiku, on the north side of the island. If you look closely, you can see the fisherman in the center of the picture:

One of my absolute favorite places on Maui, the lavender farm in Kula. You can see the fields of lavender in the background:

A view from Kula of Kahoolawe, Hawaii's little-known eighth island, which is uninhabited.

Heavy clouds, sun, and if you squint, a view of Kahoolawe. I took this picture in Ulupalakua, shortly before we moved away:

My blogger profile pic! I'm the one closest to the camera. This picture was taken on Thanksgiving 2010 in Kihei. The people ahead of me are friends of ours. This was our last holiday on Maui. In fact, we moved only a week later:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #84: "Frankenstein" (1931)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my AFI Top 100 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 1931 (USA)
American, in English
Director - James Whale
Stars - Colin Clive, Boris Karloff, Mae Clarke

Plot Summary:
It’s the classic tale of Frankenstein (Clive), a doctor who builds a man (Karloff) out of spare body parts and animates him. Clarke co-stars as Frankenstein’s fiancee, Elizabeth.

3.75 stars

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #85: "The Andromeda Strain" (1971)

Movie Stats:
Released 1971 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Robert Wise
Stars - Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid

Plot Summary:
When an alien disease threatens humanity, four scientists race against time to uncover its secrets. Hill co-stars as Dr. Jeremy Stone; Wayne as Dr. Charles Dutton; Olson as Dr. Mark Hall; and Reid as Dr. Ruth Leavitt.

Very minor violence; minor gore; minor blue language; brief nudity (male butt, female breasts).

Bad Stuff:
It’s about as exciting as watching paint dry. In the plot summary I say they “race” against time. It’s more like they “saunter casually” against time.

As usual, I wasn’t particularly keen on the fanciful camera work, although, thankfully, it was mostly confined to the beginning of the film.

Most of the soundtrack and sound effects were quite displeasing to my ears.

Good Stuff:
I really liked snarky Dr. Ruth Leavitt.

While watching a group of scientists do their thing wasn’t particularly enthralling, the conclusions they came to were interesting. That is to say, what the disease is, how it survives, and how it evolves, is pretty cool.

The details were quite thorough. I felt like the author (Michael Crichton) really thought things through, so it was a more complete film than most (no plot holes).

The Verdict:
I wanted to like this but I just thought it was boring. For me, it’s yet another sci fi that’s interesting in concept but not so interesting in execution. I wouldn’t change the plot if I were to remake it. Like, it’s not a film that needs explosions or sexual tension to improve it. But I do think about half an hour could be shaved off - fewer decontamination steps, for example - without losing anything in the narrative. If it was shorter, it would definitely feel like less of a chore. Okay, maybe I would also add in more Dr. Ruth Leavitt snark.

I give the film 2.75 stars.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Up with Geography: Chile

Country Name:


South America

South American continent. Chile outlined
in dark ink & shaded.

 A close-up of Chile & its neighbors.

Peru, Bolivia, Argentina

Water Borders:
Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean (barely)

Total Area:
291,930 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Santiago, Valparaiso, Concepcion, La Serena, Antofagasta

Famous Geographical Point:
Atacama Desert

Famous Person:
Carlos Sotomayor, painter

Book Set In/About:
Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

The story of a poor, young orphan girl who trades in the only currency she owns: stories. From the description, it sounds rich in details about South American culture.

Movie Set In/About:
"El Club (The Club)" (2015), directed by Pablo Larrain

At a secluded house near the Chilean seaside where disgraced Catholic priests are sent to sort themselves out, a special counselor arrives after an incident. I think this film sounds fascinating!

Headline of the Day:
"Chile Honors Allende on 43rd Anniversary of Coup That Toppled Him" on Fox News Latino.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #86: "Barbarella" (1968)

Movie Stats:
Released 1968 (USA)
French & Italian, in English (a minuscule amount of non-translated French; non-translated, made-up alien languages)
Director - Roger Vadim
Stars - Jane Fonda, Milo O’Shea, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg

Plot Summary:
In the distant future, Barbarella (Fonda) is sent by her government to find missing scientist Durand Durand (O’Shea). Law co-stars as Barbarella’s new angel acquaintance, Pygar, and Pallenberg as the evil tyrant of an alien planet.

Extensive female nudity (mostly breasts, minor butt), violence, minor gore, heavily referenced sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Oh look, another 1960s movie that requires drug use to enjoy.

Barbarella is a sexually naive character that is basically taught during the course of the film to use sex as a commodity, as in “I saved your life, therefore you should have sex with me.” That made me very uncomfortable.

Once the novelty wears off, it’s a little boring.

The soundtrack is terrible.

Good Stuff:
It’s kind of funny.

On the flip side of the sex stuff, I liked that Barbarella is a shamelessly sexual woman (one character does slut shame her but he’s the bad guy so fie on him).

Loved the costuming.

It had a lot of interesting ideas about the future.

The Verdict:
I actually saw this once before. I recalled it as silly and harmless, and was frankly surprised to find it on a list of top 100 films. I figured that, with multiple added years to my age since the last time I saw it, I would probably hate it this time around. I didn’t hate it. I don’t think it’s a great film, but there’s a lot of fun in it. I enjoyed the sexual freedom of it, and the ideas about love and peace. It was very 1960s. Also, there were quite a few sayings/scenes that I recognized, in that they’ve been used/referenced in popular culture these last 50ish years. I didn’t know that they came from this film. Clearly, it’s iconic, and that’s why it ended up on this list.

I give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #87: "The Damned" (1962)

Note: This movie was released in the U.S. under the name “These Are the Damned.”

Movie Stats:
Released 1962 (Australia)
British, in English
Director - Joseph Losey
Stars - Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed

Plot Summary:
When Joan (Field), member of a beatnik motorcycle gang led by her brother King (Reed), takes up with American tourist Simon (Carey), the three of them stumble upon a government facility that houses a group of unusual children.

Violence; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It takes a while to find its feet/get to the point.

For most of the film, the character of Freya (Viveca Lindfors) seemed superfluous. Although I liked the actress and the character, I kept wondering what her storyline was doing there. It didn’t make much sense until the very end. I didn’t like that puzzling over it kept drawing me out of the film.

Good Stuff:
I know you probably read the plot summary and either thought, “Huh?” or “That sounds ridiculous” but it’s really not. It’s actually really interesting, and apart from the slow start, it’s paced well, with the layers and secrets peeling back slowly.

[Vaguely SPOILERish]
I loved how it was such a movie of its time, with the beatniks, the soundtrack, the anxiety about “youth gone wild,” and the Atomic fear mongering.

The acting is great. I liked everyone in it, but found myself particularly drawn to Reed. He had that charisma that all great actors have. He commands attention every time he’s on-screen.

The Verdict:
I seriously thought I was going to hate it. From the description, it sounded stupid and cheesy. I expected B-movie quality. What I got was a serious, well-crafted film with a surprisingly dark ending, a film that asks a lot of tough questions. At the time it was released, it must have felt incredibly relevant. Is it sci fi? I don’t think it really qualifies, but I also don’t much care. Without this project, I never would have seen it, and that would've been a shame. A hidden gem.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: New York

State Name:
New York


Date of Entry:
July 26, 1788


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

A close up of New York & its neighbors.

Canada, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

Water Borders:
Lake Ontario, Saint Lawrence River, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Atlantic Ocean, Lake Erie

Total Area:
54,555 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers, Syracuse

Famous Geographical Point:
Niagra Falls

State Nickname:
The Empire State. Legend says that the nickname dates all the way back to George Washington, who referred to the state as being "at present the seat of the Empire."

Famous Person:
Jay Z, rap artist, music mogul & entrepreneur

Book Set In/About:
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

Two mythical creatures meet, and become unlikely companions, in turn-of-the-century NYC. It's the standard immigrant tale with a twist. I absolutely loved this book.

Movie Set In/About:
"Taxi Driver" (1976), directed by Martin Scorsese

An unstable Vietnam Vet, who works as a taxi driver, descends into madness. There were about a billion movies to choose from, many of them set in NYC. I chose this one because it's a very good film, and because it's a great time capsule of the 1970s. If I hadn't chosen The Golem and the Jinni for my book, I likely would've put "Brooklyn" here, another great film (it's an NYC immigrant tale, but without the twist).

Headline of the Day:
"NYS Fair Attendance 26,151 Ahead of Last Year's Attendance" on

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #88: "Minority Report" (2002)

Movie Stats:
Released 2002 (USA)
American, in English (IMDB says there’s some Swedish. My subtitles said it was Russian. Sounded Russian to me as well. Whatever it was, it’s non-translated but unimportant to the plot.)
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton

Plot Summary:
In the not-so-distant future, D.C. police are using people with psychic powers to stop crimes before they happen. When John Anderton (Cruise), chief of the pre-crime unit, is accused of a future murder, he goes on the run to prove his innocence. Farrell co-stars as federal agent Danny Witwer; von Sydow as Lamar Burgess, director of the pre-crime unit; and Morton as Agatha, one of the psychics.

Violence; gore; blue language; sexy times; drug use.

Bad Stuff:
It’s got a pretty slow start.

I wasn’t wowed by most of the acting. It wasn’t bad, but I came away feeling like any of those actors could’ve been replaced by anyone else and it would’ve been just as good. [SPOILER-y side note] And if you put Max von Sydow in the cast, I immediately know he’s the bad guy. That reveal was the furthest thing from a surprise. [SPOILER]

The soundtrack doesn’t fit AT ALL. It belongs in, say, an Indiana Jones movie, something with some amount of lightheartedness and fun. This film has neither of those things. I found the chase scene music especially puzzling. It took me completely out of the film.

Good Stuff:
I really liked the concept. I specifically liked the question it raised about the morality of arresting people for crimes they haven’t yet committed. Also, that it addressed that age-old dilemma of whether our fates are predetermined or if we have free will.

Most of the special effects have held up really well. I was quite surprised, given the age of the film.

It’s a pretty masterful blend of sci fi, action/adventure, and drama. I feel like it’s difficult for sci fi to hit the right note. Either it’s weird, or it’s wacky, or it’s boring, or it’s more horror than sci fi. This film avoided all of that. It was futuristic with a minimum of weirdness, it had plenty of action, no wackiness, and nothing lurking around any corners to jump out for a cheap scare. It was quite satisfying.

The Verdict:
Amongst my friends, it’s well known that I don’t like Tom Cruise. I’ve spent practically my whole life avoiding his movies, to the point where I haven’t seen most of his famous ones (including “Top Gun”). So I hadn’t seen this before, and I was frankly dreading it, although I figured I would probably like it in the end. I don’t think Cruise was terrible; I’d say he was serviceable. Actually, the only actor who stood out to me was Tim Blake Nelson, in a bit part as Gideon, the prison warden. But I liked almost everything else about it. It’s really a pretty good film.

I give it 3.75 stars.