Friday, December 23, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #59: "Gravity" (2013)

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (Italy)
American & British, in English (several instances of non-translated foreign languages)
Director - Alfonso Cuaron
Stars - Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Plot Summary:
After an accident leaves newbie astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) stranded in space, and cut off from contact with her superiors, she must find a way to return to Earth. Clooney co-stars as fellow astronaut Matt Kowalski.

Violence; minor gore; blue language.

Bad Stuff:
I think I’m in the extreme minority with this opinion, but I find this movie pretty dull. I feel like it’s mostly just an hour and a half of listening to Sandra Bullock breathe frantically, scream, and groan.

Some of the imagery is really overbearing/pretentious. My particular beef is with the “womb scene,” which made me roll my eyes SO HARD the first time I saw it. The frog in the water is pretty silly too.

It rides the thin edge of “I believe that character would actually be able to do that.” A few times, it crosses that line. If it wasn’t well established that Dr. Stone is very inexperienced, I would find it more believable.

Good Stuff:
Finally, a sci fi movie with a female lead! I have to admit I’ve been getting pretty sick of typing up my summaries and having to list the only females in the film as either the male lead’s love interest or the male lead’s assistant.

It does a great job of creating atmosphere. For example, the panic that Dr. Stone feels throughout much of the film is palpable. You feel it along with her. [SPOILER-ish] I was also moved by the scene where she gives up and accepts that she’s going to die. I’ve never come that close to death, but I’ve read a lot of stories from people who have and this scene rang very true. [SPOILER]

I really liked the soundtrack.

The Verdict:
Everyone but me seems to love this film. I certainly don’t think it’s bad. I’m just not enamored by it the way a lot of people seem to be. To me, it’s a fairly standard sci fi thriller. Low on character development, low on plot, high on the “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong” scale. I think where it excels is in the creation of atmosphere. You feel like you’re there right along with Dr. Stone.

I’ve heard people say that you can’t get the full impact of “Gravity” without seeing it on the big screen (I never did). To me, a great film should be able to transcend the method of delivery. I shouldn’t have to go to a theater to connect with a movie. So I don’t really like that argument, and it certainly doesn’t sway me to the “this is great” side. For me, it’s on the lower end of the “good” side.

I give it 3.25 stars.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Good Buys: Stitch Fix

Last year, a friend turned me on to Stitch Fix. As someone who hates shopping of any form - from clothing to gifts to household necessities to food - this sounded like a god send to me. I can pay a stylist to pick out trendy clothes and send them to me and all I have to do is try them on and decide whether or not to keep them? Sign me up! Unfortunately, I had to wait until it was financially feasible for us, but once it was, I was on their website in a hot minute.

I know people who love Stitch Fix and I know people who tried it with poor results. I fall in the former category. I think two things are key to having a good experience: 1. Being very clear on your profile, and in the feedback that you give the stylist after you get your boxes, what you do/don't like and why and 2. Being open to trying new things. Also, I never expect to like/keep everything I get in each box.

One negative thing I will say is that I think it's a little expensive. But I recognize that I've never been the type to spend a lot on clothes. I get the majority of my clothing at places like Target, from their clearance rack. Part of doing Stitch Fix, for me, was learning to spend more money on clothing that's a little better quality. However, since I don't want to spend a lot, I opted to get a box every other month, rather than every month.

My first box came in October. I chose to keep a shirt (which I get compliments on all the time) and a dress (which I haven't worn yet due to the weather):

My second box came this week. I'm keeping the shirt below, which looks much cuter on that it does in the picture. I took a back view of it as well so you can get the full effect:

And I'm probably keeping this shirt, which my husband loved the second I put it on:

If you've got the disposable income, I definitely recommend you try Stitch Fix out at least once. I'm enjoying it immensely!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #60: "Quatermass and the Pit" (1967)

Note: This movie can also be found under the title “Five Million Years to Earth.”

Movie Stats:
Released 1967 (UK)
British, in English
Director - Roy Ward Baker
Stars - Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover, James Donald

Plot Summary:
When a crew working to expand an Underground station uncovers an ancient artifact, strange things begin to happen. Keir stars as Professor Bernard Quatermass; Donald as research scientist Dr. Mathew Roney; Shelley as Roney’s assistant, Barbara Judd; and Glover as Colonel Breen, the military man assigned to oversee the excavation of the artifact.

Violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
It’s a bit dull. I had a hard time staying focused on it.

I wasn't wowed by the acting. In fact, some of it (mostly by minor actors) was cringe inducing.

Good Stuff:
I really enjoyed the ideas in it. [MAJOR SPOILERS] Specifically, the idea that, millions of years ago, aliens helped proto-humans to evolve in order to, in some small way, keep their own dying race alive. I wouldn’t call it innovative by today’s standards - I’ve heard the suggestion that an alien species helped out the early human race before - but 1. I don’t know how old that idea is, so it may have been new for the time and 2. Even though I’ve heard it before, I don’t see it explored often in film. Also, I liked the idea that this “help” came with consequences, i.e. that we got some of the bad characteristics along with the good. [SPOILERS] It felt creative and different. Also, with a few movies in my recent viewing history that were thin on plot, it was nice to see something with a lot of it.

The Verdict:
After seeing “The Damned,” I was so looking forward to this because it’s from the same production company (Hammer Films). I thought it was going to be another pleasant surprise. In some respects, it was. As I said, I greatly enjoyed the plot. However, it was just a bit too slow and boring. Also, I was surprised by the cheeseball acting, given that "The Damned" had some top quality acting. Different directors, though, so I suppose I shouldn’t have expected them to be so similar. Ultimately, I was simply disappointed. For me, it didn’t hit the right note.

Also, I have to say that this film was hard to get my hands on. Apart from “Cavalcade,” which is only available on VHS and was thus a huge headache to view, this one was probably the hardest. I nearly had to purchase a DVD of it! So glad that I didn’t, since I don’t think I want this in my collection.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #61: "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1981)

Movie Stats:
Released 1981 (Australia)
Australian, in English
Director - George Miller
Stars - Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells

Plot Summary:
In the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia, drifter Max (Gibson) runs afoul of a nasty gang and discovers a group of people refining oil. Spence co-stars as Max’s sort-of-sidekick The Gyro Captain and Wells as a member of the gang, Wez.

Violence; gore; female nudity (breasts only); rape (mostly offscreen/non-graphic); very minor blue language. (IMDB claims there’s a scene where a woman’s crotch is shown but I don’t recall that.)

Bad Stuff:
It’s a little thin on plot, although it frankly has more than Fury Road does.

Hated the soundtrack.

Although it’s not a long movie, I got bored. Maybe I didn’t see the crotch scene because I started playing a game on my phone. It’s a lot of “drive around a kill people/destroy things.”

Good Stuff:
The action sequences are pretty bad ass.

It’s actually a little bit funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but amusing in parts, especially when The Gyro Captain is onscreen.

I really enjoyed the cinematography. It's stark but beautiful.

The Verdict:
I never saw this before, so it was interesting to see it after Fury Road and recognize that Fury Road paid homage to it. The plot lines are relatively similar without being exactly the same, unlike another recent sequel I could name (*cough* The Force Awakens *cough*). That being said, I thought it was just okay. It’s a solid action movie, full of a lot less of the ridiculousness that plagues modern-day action movies, and the practical effects are really cool. Other than that, though, there’s not much to it. There’s no message. Nor is there much character or world building. It’s not a thoughtful film. Not that it was intended to be, but, I don’t know, it simply didn’t grab me. Perhaps too many action movies in the 35 years hence have copied it, which made it feel rote to me.

I give it 3.25 stars.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Up with Geography: Comoros

Country Name:


None; it's an island chain off the east coast of Africa

Note: There is a fourth island that is claimed by Comoros but
officially belongs to France. I chose not to include it.

None; the closest are Mozambique to the west & Madagascar to the southeast

Water Borders:
Mozambique Channel; Indian Ocean

Total Area:
863 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Moroni, Moutsamoudou, Fomboni, Domoni, Sima

Famous Geographical Point:
Mount Karthala

Famous Person:
Nawal, singer/songwriter & musician

Book Set In/About:
Last of the Pirates: The Search for Bob Denard by Samantha Weinberg

A non-fiction book about a French mercenary who took refuge in the Comoros, where he helped to overthrow two presidents before being overthrown himself and then disappearing.

Movie Set In/About:
"L'Ivresse d'une Oasis (Ashes of Dreams)" (2011), directed by Hachimiya Alameda

I'm not completely sure what this is about, as the description doesn't seem to be written by a native English speaker, but it's a documentary and it involves a road trip across the Comoros so that sounds interesting.

Headline of the Day:
"Tanzania: Dar Strengthens Trade Ties with the Comoros" on

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #62: "Dark City" (1998)

Movie Stats:
Released 1998 (USA)
Australian & American, in English
Director - Alex Proyas
Stars - Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly

Plot Summary:
When John Murdoch (Sewell) wakes up in a hotel room with no memories, he soon discovers that he’s part of a vast conspiracy perpetrated by an alien species. Sutherland co-stars as Daniel P. Schreber, a doctor with a murky agenda; Hurt as Frank Bumstead, the police inspector trying to track down Murdoch; and Connelly as Murdoch’s wife, Emma.

Nudity (male buttocks, female breasts); violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
I didn’t like the big fight scene. Compared to the rest of the film, it seemed both goofy and cliche.

I didn’t care for most of the soundtrack.

I’m not entirely sold on the aliens’ agenda or its execution. Like, if I don’t think about it too hard, it holds up, but if I start to examine it, there are a lot of holes I can poke.

Good Stuff:
Absolutely gorgeous cinematography. There were several scenes that made me gasp in surprise because they were so stunning.

The acting is phenomenal. Everyone’s really good, but Sutherland was my favorite. Really different from a lot of other roles I’ve seen him play.

Great pacing. It never felt like it dragged.

The Verdict:
I saw this once before after reading repeatedly online that it was a must-see. I remember not liking it much, or at least thinking to myself, “That’s it?” So I wasn’t feeling especially keen to watch it again, although I couldn’t remember a thing about it, apart from Kiefer Sutherland.

In the end, I liked it much better this time around. I don’t think it’s revolutionary, but it felt really different from the other films I’ve seen so far on this list. Somehow, the mash-up of film noir and sci fi works. The great pace of it kept me from getting impatient as the mystery unfolded. And I liked the resolution of that mystery. The concept was intriguing, even if it had a few problems. I really think, though, that it’s the cinematography and acting that make this film. If I were compiling a list of “must-see” sci fi films, I would indeed include this one.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #63: "Je t'aime, Je t'aime" (1968)

Movie Stats:
Released 1968 (France)
French, in French (There was also a small amount of what sounded like German or Dutch to me. I watched with English subtitles.)
Director - Alain Resnais
Stars - Claude Rich, Olga Georges-Picot

Plot Summary:
A suicidal man, Claude Ridder (Rich), is tapped by a research institute to be the first human participant of a time travel experiment. Georges-Picot co-stars as Catrine, Ridder’s girlfriend (Maybe wife? The movie never makes that point clear).

Very minor gore; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
While it’s more sci fi-related than some of the other movies on this list, it’s still a bit light in that regard.

It’s sort of pointless.

Good Stuff:
I was transfixed. It was so hard to look away because I perpetually wanted to see what would happen next. When it ended, I wanted more.

I thought it was an accurate, sensitive portrayal of how emotionally taxing it is to be a caregiver for someone who’s mentally ill. It was also a pretty accurate portrayal of depression. My favorite exchange of the film was when, after picking Ridder up from the hospital post-suicide attempt, one of the researchers asked him (paraphrased), “How does it feel to be alive?” and he responded, “It doesn’t.” Too real, movie. Too real.

This is one of the few movies I’ve seen that does time travel in a way that feels right.

The Verdict:
Much to my surprise, I really liked this. It had all the hallmarks of a film that I would hate: 1960s, French surrealism, a time travel theme. All things that typically frustrate me and make me roll my eyes. But it was really well done. I liked both the concept and the execution. For example, it jumps around a lot in terms of time line, but it does a good job of easing you into that slowly. I never wondered what was going on. It was a fine bit of filmmaking. I also liked how the movie basically got right to the point, rather than dithering around for half an hour before telling you what it’s all about. That was refreshing. I would definitely watch this again. I feel like I could watch it repeatedly and get something different out of it each time.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Up with U.S. Geography: Vermont

State Name:


Date of Entry:
March 4, 1791

Map of USA. Vermont outlined in dark ink, shaded &
with arrow pointing to it.

A close-up of Vermont & its neighbors.

Canada, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York

Water Borders:
Lake Champlain, Connecticut River

Total Area:
9,616 square miles

*Five Largest Cities:
Burlington, South Burlington, Colchester, Rutland, Essex

Famous Geographical Point:
Green Mountains

State Nickname:
The Green Mountain State. A truly fun fact: The word "Vermont" comes from "vert mont," which is French for "green mount." Nearly the whole state is covered by the Green Mountain range.

Famous Person:
Lindsey Jacobellis, snowboarder (silver medalist in the 2006 Olympics)

It was shockingly difficult to find someone famous from Vermont who met all my criteria: not a politician, someone who had a positive impact, born & raised there, and a name I recognized. Lots of famous people move there in adulthood, though.

Book Set In/About:
Northern Borders by Howard Frank Mosher

A coming-of-age tale set in rural northern Vermont during the 1940s/50s. It sounds enchanting.

Movie Set In/About:
"Dead Poets Society" (1989), directed by Peter Weir

Set in a fictional private school in Vermont, a dynamic English teacher inspires his students.

Headline of the Day:
"Vermont's $200 Million Mountain of Trouble" in the Boston Globe.

*Literally every list I looked at was different, which is highly unusual. I went with one dated 2015 because I figured I'd stick with the most current.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #64: "Sleeper" (1973)

Movie Stats:
Released 1973 (USA)
American, in English (IMDB says there’s some Yiddish but I don’t recall it; probably just a commonly known word here and there)
Director - Woody Allen
Stars - Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Plot Summary:
After a minor surgery goes wrong, Miles Monroe (Allen) is cryogenically frozen without his knowledge and reawakened two hundred years later. Keaton plays Luna Schlosser, a woman whose life becomes intwined with Miles’s.

Very minor violence; drug use.

Bad Stuff:
It’s not even remotely as funny or as clever as it thinks it is. I think I laughed twice.

Woody Allen.

People constantly talking over one another/not listening to each other. See: Woody Allen.

Good Stuff:
While I found the character of Luna rather annoying, I thought Keaton did a great job and it was fun to see her playing out of type.

The stuff about the government/dictator was interesting.

The Verdict:
I’d seen this once before, couldn’t recall much of it besides the beginning (maybe I fell asleep) but was pretty sure I didn’t like it. I was right. There was a time, when I was in my late teens/early 20s, that I found Woody Allen movies relatively amusing. I’m not sure when, exactly, that time passed, but it’s long gone now. Even movies of his that I previously liked, when I watch them again, I’m not sure why I liked them before. His humor just doesn’t tickle my funny bone. I felt annoyed far more frequently than I felt either entertained or amused.

I think, if you enjoy Woody Allen’s schtick, you would probably like this film. I know a lot of people who do. If, however, you’re like me and you’re not into him, I would advise that you skip it. There are plenty of other movies out there with similar themes that are more enjoyable.

I give it 2 stars.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sci Fi Top 100, #65: "The War of the Worlds" (1953)

Movie Stats:
Released 1953 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Byron Haskin
Stars - Gene Barry, Anne Robinson, Les Tremayne

Plot Summary:
An invasion force from Mars lands on Earth. Barry stars as scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester; Robinson as his gal pal, Sylvia Van Buren; and Tremayne as Major General Mann.


Bad Stuff:
I really could have done without the overt religiosity.

It’s pretty cheesy, especially a lot of the special effects.

If the Martians planned this invasion as meticulously as the movie would have me believe, I think they might have accounted for the alien diseases they would encounter.

Good Stuff:
One thing I really appreciate about 1950s sci fi is that it’s big on problem solving. It actually shows scientists working on and testing theories, whereas more modern movies seem to gloss over scientific work (I’m guessing because modern moviemakers think the audience will find that boring).

I’m pretty impressed that it featured Sylvia, a woman with a Master’s degree (although she was sort of a damsel in distress) AND a female scientist, Dr. Duprey (Ann Codee).

It’s genuinely horrifying in parts; quite a bit darker than I was expecting.

The Verdict:
The religiosity was a huge turnoff to me. I didn’t think it was overbearing so much as it felt out of place. The whole movie was about the human struggle to figure things out and survive and then, bam, “tra-la-la, God saved us.” Um, okay? Other than that and the questionable special effects - they probably would have looked better in black and white - I thought it was decent. The story was interesting. I liked the main characters. It’s short and moves along at a quick pace. And it’s way better than that abomination Tom Cruise starred in back in 2005 (Seriously? That was in 2005? Wow.)

I give it 3.25 stars.