Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Out and About: Seattle and Other Miscellany

Just a few pictures from recent travels and a hike.

Pico House in downtown LA, outside of Union Station. It's formerly a luxury hotel built by Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, after his tenure. I was in LA the weekend of Halloween & discovered this building, plus a Day of the Dead celebration in a nearby plaza, on my way home.

In mid-November, I went to Seattle for a wedding. Below are some pictures from that trip.

Fall colors.

A philosophical street sign.

My friends live in an awesome houseboat
under this bridge.

Something about the composition of this
shot really appealed to me.

Sunset over the Lake Washington Boat Canal.

My friends got married on a boat docked in Lake Union. Here are some shots from the venue.

View of downtown Seattle.

Boat details.

Boat details.

Arty shot through a porthole.

On my last day, I visited the Seattle Art Museum. It was a thoroughly pleasant way to spend a few hours. I particularly enjoyed the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit. Below are pictures of two of my favorite dresses. If you are anywhere near this museum before January 8 of next year, I highly recommend you check out this temporary exhibit. It was an all-time favorite of mine.

Last but not least, a hike at Torrey Pines the weekend before Thanksgiving. The clouds were amazing that day.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #66: "The Abyss" (1989)

Movie Stats:
Released 1989 (USA)
American, in English
Director - James Cameron
Stars - Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, Leo Burmester

Plot Summary:
When a nuclear sub crashes, the Navy hires a civilian deep sea diving crew to look for survivors. Along the way, they face serious dangers and alien creatures. Harris co-stars as Virgil “Bud” Brigman, leader of the diving team; Mastrantonio as Lindsey Brigman, designer of the civilian rig & Bud’s soon-to-be-ex-wife; Graff and Burmester as, respectively, Alan “Hippy” Carnes and Catfish DeVries, members of the diving crew; and Biehn as Lt. Hiram Coffey, leader of the Navy team.

Violence; gore; blue language; brief female nudity (breasts only).

Bad Stuff:
No one seems all that bothered by the fact that they’re trapped deep undersea with very little chance of surviving. They don’t even really talk about it. It annoyed me to no end, like can you have one conversation about how you’re all going to die?

The romance … just, why? So cliche and unnecessary.

It’s at least an hour longer than it needs to be.

Nothing was explained. Not just the stuff with the aliens; even the underwater stuff went largely unexplained. I had to keep asking my husband (who was in the Navy and served on a submarine) to explain stuff because I didn’t understand what was happening half the time.

Good Stuff:
Acting was good.

It’s sort of fun.

Despite the fact that it’s too long, the pacing is pretty good. It moves along at a nice clip. Perhaps that’s due to all the action.

The Verdict:
I just don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense in terms of human behavior. Here these people are, trapped so far down that even if they could get out themselves, they’d die of the bends, and they know that a) rescue will be delayed because of a hurricane and b) their air is running out, and all they seem to care about is the aliens. Which, for the most part, they’re not afraid of, but giggle and smile over repeatedly. As for the aliens, you never learn who they are or where they came from or why they’re there. I guess if I don’t think about it too much, it’s a reasonably entertaining, somewhat goofy, good-natured, harmless sci fi/action flick. In the future, I’d rather watch it again than some of the other duds I’ve seen on this list.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #67: "The Thing from Another World" (1951)

Movie Stats:
Released 1951 (USA)
American, in English
Directors - Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks
Stars - Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness

Plot Summary:
When scientists at a remote arctic research center report an unexplained aircraft crash, an American Air Force crew is sent to investigate. They soon find themselves up against a hostile alien. Tobey stars as the leader of the Air Force crew, Captain Patrick Hendry; Cornthwaite as the leader of the scientists, Dr. Arthur Carrington; Sheridan as Carrington’s secretary, Nikki Nicholson; and Arness as The Thing.

Violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
It’s not exactly a thrill a minute. A bit boring.

I’m side eyeing a lot of the smaller details. I’m no scientist, but I’m not so sure a greenhouse would actually work in a place that doesn't get sun for large portions of the year. And geography isn’t my strong suit, but I don’t think you can just jaunt over to the North Pole from Anchorage like it’s no big deal. These are the things that distract me during films.

Ned “Scotty” Scott (Douglas Spencer), the persistent news reporter, was super annoying.

Good Stuff:
I liked what The Thing turned out to be. I thought that was pretty clever and unexpected.

I enjoyed the battle for control between the scientists and the military men. That felt like something that would happen in real life.

I have such a soft spot for characters that face adversity with bravery and wisecracks.

The special effects are surprisingly good. Clearly lacking a budget, they wisely chose to show The Thing as little as possible, and usually in dim lighting. Even so, they managed to do some really cool stunts. That fire scene was insane. I doubt modern-day moviemakers would get away with endangering their employees like that.

The Verdict:
Based solely on the cover, I thought this was going to be extremely cheesy, which is weird, because it isn’t at all. The cover doesn’t remotely represent the content. For example, it shows Nikki screaming in terror, something she never actually does in the film (in fact, at one point, she casually jokes about having been on fire). I figured it would just be okay. But I actually really liked it. I wish it had a little more action, but in general I found it entertaining. The acting is decent, the premise is interesting, and the soundtrack is fun. I also enjoyed the questions it raised mankind’s place and purpose in the universe.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Music Love: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals

I grew up listening to a lot of classic rock. I think this is in part because it’s what my older brothers listened to (along with punk rock and heavy metal). Whatever they listened to, I listened to. I think it’s also due in part to the fact that radio choices were limited in my small town. Since I was one of those kids who thought disliking popular music made me cool, the only other options were easy listening or classic rock. It may come as no surprise to you that I chose classic rock.

My absolute favorite classic rock band is Jethro Tull. Someday, when I can finally commit to just one song of theirs to showcase, I’ll do a post about them. Until that time, I’ll just keep talking about other music.

I wouldn’t call myself a “fan” of The Animals. Until recently, I didn’t even own any of their music. But they’re one of those bands that I always enjoy. I never turn the channel when they come on. Whenever I hear them, I think to myself, “that band never got the love they deserved.” Lately, I’d been hearing their version of “The House of the Rising Sun” on the radio a lot. “I always liked that song,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I should buy it.” However, I’m a cautious buyer, so I decided to listen to it a few times on YouTube before committing. And that’s when, through the magic of the internet, I was reminded of my love for “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

This song almost perfectly captures how I felt about my hometown. My mother, working and slaving her life away, in bed, gray and tired (dead before her time was due for sure), and me, saying to myself,

We gotta get out of this place
If it’s the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
Girl, there’s a better life for me and you

The lyrics aren’t amazing, and they’re repetitive, but they’re almost painfully true. That bass line thumps hard in your chest. And when Eric Burdon, one of the best voices of the 1960s IMO, belts it out, especially when he does that primal scream, a chill runs down my spine. Now that I’ve been listening to them more, I’m thinking that maybe I never gave them the love they deserved either. It's time to rectify that.

Note: I normally prefer to post videos with the studio version of the song, because I feel studio quality is far superior to live quality, but how could I pass up showing this stage set to you?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #68: "Westworld" (1973)

Movie Stats:
Released 1973 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Michael Crichton
Stars - Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner

Plot Summary:
At the amusement park Delos, vacationers can spend $1,000 per day for one of three authentic experiences: Roman World, Medieval World, or West World. However, when the robots that populate these worlds begin to malfunction, terror ensues. Benjamin and Brolin co-star respectively as Peter Martin and John Blane, two friends on an adventure together in West World, and Brynner as the malfunctioning gunslinger that hunts them down.

Violence; gore; sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It doesn’t seem to have much of a point. Or, if it does (humans trying to play god is bad, perhaps), it doesn’t try to showcase it at all.

I would say it falls a little more on the horror/thriller end of the scale than it does on the sci fi end.

Good Stuff:
The pacing is very good. Peter and John are just two friends having a good time playing cowboys while the noose slowly settles around their necks without them even realizing it. It’s actually quite chilling. (The scene where Peter and John finally realize that something has gone terribly wrong is excellent.)

Acting was great. Benjamin and Brynner were my favorites. I also enjoyed the cameos from Dick Van Patten (as another West World vacationer) and Majel Barrett (as brothel owner Miss Carrie).

I thought it was realistic. The explanation for what went wrong with the robots was plausible. The reaction of the company - the inclination to keep running so as not to lose out on money - seemed true to business form. I also liked how the humans didn’t magically become bad asses once the robots turned on them; they didn’t suddenly know how to fight or use weaponry, they just did the best that they could with whatever they could find.

The Verdict:
I enjoyed it. It’s not deep or meaningful. It’s not going to make you think. This is one of those pure entertainment films. You watch it for the thrill, not for mental stimulation. It’s a little cheesy, but it’s good in pretty much every way imaginable. And at barely an hour and a half long, it’s an excellent choice for one of those nights when you want to sit down with some popcorn and an action flick.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Found Item: Skeleton Mermaid Postcard

I was in Seattle last weekend for a wedding. One evening, I went to a pub to watch a soccer game, and found the above postcard sitting abandoned on a table. If you know me at all, you know that this artwork is so me. Therefore, I thought it an amusing coincidence that it ended up in my hands.

I intended to transcribe what's written on the back, but the more I read it, the more it feels too intimate to share, even though I would never post the names of who wrote it or who it was sent to. It's a Billie Holiday quote, coupled with a longing sentiment. It's both lovely and sad.

I feel so lucky to have stumbled across this find.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #69: "Logan's Run" (1976)

Movie Stats:
Released 1976 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Michael Anderson
Stars - Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan

Plot Summary:
In a post-apocalyptic future, people live in absolute comfort in an idyllic city with one big flaw: no one is allowed to live past the age of 30. York stars as Logan, a cop (basically) whose belief system is shaken by a task he’s given; Agutter as Jessica, a woman who yearns for something more out of life; and Jordan as Francis, Logan’s BFF.

Violence; minor gore; female nudity (breasts and butt).

Bad Stuff:
Nothing is explained. Who built the city? Why? Why does everyone have to die at 30? Where did Box (Roscoe Lee Browne) come from? And why does he do what he does? Where did the Old Man’s (Peter Ustinov) parents come from? Etc. I guess there were some hints about the answers to these questions, some inferences that could be made, but nothing concrete. The movie ends without any true resolution.

The vast majority of the soundtrack is horrendous.

The special effects are laughable.

Good Stuff:
Most of the acting was pretty good, especially from the top billed people.

Costuming. I particularly liked the police uniform.

I have to admit that, although I hated the ending, the Old Man’s face when he was suddenly surrounded by people, after having been alone for most of his life, warmed my heart. That was a stellar moment from Ustinov.

The Verdict:
It’s a bit of a hot mess. I think the concept is interesting. I wouldn’t mind reading the book it’s based on and/or seeing a modern remake (something lacking the 1970s weirdness, with better special effects). This version, however, I wasn’t a fan of. The ending was the absolute worst. [SPOILER] Who are Logan and Jessica to decide how everyone else lives their lives? If given the choice, I’m sure some would have preferred a life of luxury and death at 30 to a life of toil and death at an indeterminate age. I thought it was pretty terrible of Logan to destroy the computer, and thus the city. I mean, wasn’t that what the whole movie was about, that people should have the right to choose? It wasn't sophisticated enough to be making a statement about hypocrisy; it's clear the ending was intended to be joyful. It doesn't make sense. [SPOILER] While it had a few good moments, and solid acting, in the end, I felt like, “[I]t is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I give it 2.5 stars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Up with Geography: Colombia

Country Name:


South America


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

A close-up of Colombia & its neighbors.

Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador

Water Borders:
Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea

Total Area:
440,831 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena

Famous Geographical Point:
Andes Mountains

Famous Person:
Sofia Vergara, actress

Book Set In/About:
Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw by Mark Bowden

A non-fiction book about Colombia's most infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, by one of my favorite authors. It's a great snapshot of both Escobar and that time period of Colombian history.

Movie Set In/About:
"Los viajes del viento (The Wind Journeys)" (2009), directed by Ciro Guerra

A man makes a journey across Colombia to return a musical instrument to his elderly instructor. This movie sounds like a lovely showcase of Colombian terrain and music.

Headline of the Day:
“Passengers Evacuated from SMOKING Plane on Emergency Slides in Colombia” on

All caps theirs, not mine.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #70: "Iron Man" (2008)

Movie Stats:
Released 2008 (Australia)
American, in English (multiple foreign languages, sometimes translated, sometimes not)
Director - Jon Favreau
Stars - Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard

Plot Summary:
After being wounded and captured by a group of terrorists, billionaire ne’er-do-well Tony Stark (Downey) decides to do more with his life by becoming a superhero. Paltrow co-stars as Pepper Potts, Tony’s personal assistant; Bridges as Obadiah Stane, Tony’s business partner; and Howard as James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony’s BFF.

Violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
It suffers a bit from “action movie physics” syndrome. I’m willing to suspend a lot of disbelief in action movies simply to enjoy myself, but it only goes so far. For example, I highly doubt that a suit made in a cave out of metal scraps is going to protect the person inside of it from injuries due to fire or falling from great heights.

The villain goes from 0 innocuous to 1,000 crazily evil rather quickly, and without much explanation. That character needed some better development/more screen time.

Good Stuff:
I really enjoy Tony’s story arc. I like that the trauma he experiences makes him become a better person without changing the essence of who he is. It brings out the better parts of him that were hidden under the surface, but it doesn’t smooth all of his edges. That feels much more realistic than characters who go from sort-of-bad to all-good.

I like that Pepper isn’t a damsel in distress.

Great pacing. Starts with a bang, and rarely takes its foot off the gas the whole way. This is not a film that’s likely to bore you.

Most of the special effects have held up really well.

The Verdict:
I like this film. I saw it in the theater when it came out. I enjoyed it then and I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve seen it since. I wouldn’t call it fun because, honestly, it’s kind of heavy. But it’s certainly entertaining, and they throw in a good measure of Tony’s snark to lighten the mood (the banter between Tony and Pepper is also quite amusing). The villain definitely needs a little more fleshing out (I assume that this character is better developed in the comic book). Other than that, I think it’s a pretty solid story with believable characters and a satisfactory climax. Is it ground breaking? Earth shattering? No, but this is one superhero movie that was done right.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #71: "The Prestige" (2006)

Movie Stats:
Released 2006 (USA)
American & British, in English
Director - Christopher Nolan
Stars - Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine

Plot Summary:
When magician Alfred Borden (Bale) is accused of the murder of his bitter rival Robert Angier (Jackman), their story is told through a series of flashbacks. Caine co-stars as Cutter, mentor to both men.

Violence; gore; very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
Bale’s accent is questionable.

Good Stuff:
I need to gush. See below.

The Verdict:
I love this movie so much that I’m having a hard time figuring out how to express to you how good it is. I saw it in the theater when it came out & my mind was blown. I’m not a particularly big Nolan fan. I think his stuff is hit or miss. This one is very much a hit, quite possibly the best film he ever made. There’s so much about it that’s excellent. The story is interesting & engaging. I didn’t see any of the numerous twists coming. The acting is out of this world. For example, I feel relatively neutral about Hugh Jackman. I neither love nor hate him; when I see he’s in a film, I don’t think, “gotta see that,” but he is phenomenal in this. The cinematography is stunning and the costuming, oh my god, so good. If I have any criticism other than Bale’s iffy accent, it’s that I’m not sure this film is ever as good as the first time you see it. The twists are that amazing; they completely blindsided me the first time I saw it. So, while I greatly enjoyed it this time around, I wasn’t as blown away as I was before (although it’s fun to watch it with an eye toward catching the clues that tip off the twists, once you know what they are).

If you’ve never seen it, why on earth not? Go rectify that right now. I’m not even kidding. You should not miss out on this gem.

I give it 4.75 stars.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: Rhode Island

State Name:
Rhode Island


Date of Entry:
May 29, 1790

Map of USA. Rhode Island shaded & with arrow pointing
to it.

A close-up of Rhode Island & its neighbors.

Massachusetts, Connecticut

Water Borders:
Pawcatuck River, Narragansett Bay, Block Island Sound, Rhode Island Sound, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
1,214 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Providence, Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket, East Providence

Famous Geographical Point:
Block Island

State Nickname:
The Ocean State. Presumably due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

Famous Person:
H.P. Lovecraft, horror author

Book Set In/About:
The Prince of Providence by Mike Stanton

This is a non-fiction book about Buddy Cianci, the controversial long-term mayor of Providence.

Movie Set In/About:
"Evening" (2007), directed by Lajos Koltai

A dying woman tells her daughters about her young adulthood, including her romances.

Headline of the Day:
"Rhode Island Sues HP Enterprise Over DMV Computer System" on ABC News.