Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Music Love: "The Night We Met" by Lord Huron



I'm not going to post much about this song. I love the vocals. I love the lyrics:

I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I've been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met

And then I can tell myself
What the hell I'm supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met

When the night was full of terrors
And your eyes were filled with tears
When you had not touched me yet
Oh, take me back to the night we met

I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don't know what I'm supposed to do, haunted by the ghost of you
Take me back to the night we met

But most of all, I love how sad and beautiful it is.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top 50 Actresses, #50 - Julia Roberts: "Erin Brockovich" (2000)

Movie Stats:
Released 2000 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Steven Soderbergh
Stars - Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart

Plot Summary:
Based on a true story. When low income single mother Erin Brockovich (Roberts) muscles her way into a job at a law firm, she uncovers serious wrongdoing by an energy company. Finney co-stars as Brockovich’s boss, Ed Masry, and Eckhart as George, Brockovich’s love interest.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s a little boring. There aren’t any big thrills in it.

Brockovich isn’t exactly likable as a character. She can be very defensive and aggressive. While I appreciated that she’s complex, it’s still off-putting.

Good Stuff:
[SPOILER-y]
I like a good little-guy-takes-on-big-guy-and-wins story, especially one based in reality.
[SPOILER]

I really appreciated how it tackled class issues. It’s not just about how the billion dollar energy conglomerate treats, and tries to treat, the people of a poor community. It’s also about how middle class people view and treat Erin, who is lower class.

It does a good job of portraying a story that is both infuriating and depressing without trying to tug at your heart strings.

About the Performance:
Julia Roberts is one of those actors that I can only ever see as herself. While, by the end of the film, I came to admire Erin Brockovich as a person, it didn’t change how I feel about Julia Roberts as an actress. I didn’t see Erin Brockovich in her performance. It was like, “Oh, there’s Julia Roberts dressed trashy. There she is acting angry.” I’m not saying she’s bad, but I don’t consider her an all-time great. Did she deserve a Best Actress award for this? I’m not sure. I’ve only seen one of the other performances nominated that year (Juliette Binoche in Chocolat). I don’t think Binoche deserved it, but maybe one of the others did.

Other performances of Roberts’s that I’ve reviewed: none.

The Verdict:
There’s a lot to like about this film. It’s a great story. It has complex characters. It doesn’t try to manipulate your emotions. While I may not be sold on Roberts’s performance, I like that she won for a role in a film that’s about a woman as a person, not about a woman in relation to a man. The relationship in the film definitely isn’t the main focus. It’s about Brockovich’s dedication and determination, and about how her work affects the rest of her life. It’s not the most thrilling movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s really solid.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Top 50 Actresses Project: Overview

By the end of my last project (Sci Fi Top 100), I found myself extremely annoyed by the genre’s lack of important female characters. I thought to myself, “For my next project, it sure would be nice to watch a bunch of movies with strong female leads.” So I started hunting for a list of such movies. Unfortunately, I found that, on most of these lists, the main female character was either the romantic interest or the villain, which isn't exactly what I have in mind when I think "strong female lead." Super frustrating.

Still, I persisted, and in the end, I decided to go with a Top 50 Actresses list. I culled this list from AMC. They provided the list of actresses, but I’m the one who chose the movie to watch for each actress. Therefore, while I still ran up against the “most female lead characters are romantic interests” problem, I was able to include quite a few movies where this was not the case. Since this list is voted on by the public, it appears that it can change over time. To avoid confusion, below I’m posting the list as it stood when I copied it down, along with the movies I chose.

A few notes about this project:

My main concern was that I wanted to make sure none of these films were movies that I previously reviewed, an issue I ran up against during both the AFI Top 100 and the Sci Fi Top 100.

So my general rule was that, if the actress won a Best Actress (not Best Supporting) Academy Award for a role, that is the movie I chose to review unless I previously reviewed it. If she won more than one, I chose which of those movies to review based on personal preference.

If I already reviewed one or all of her Award-winning performances OR if she hasn’t won a Best Actress Academy Award, then I looked at her acting credits and chose one of her movies to review. My choices were largely based on IMDB ratings (typically I chose something in the 7s or higher), coupled with my interest in the film based on its description. I avoided movies from the 1970s as much as possible. I've discovered that I'm not a big fan of 1970s film making.

Very occasionally, I have vetoed an Award-winning film simply because I don’t want to watch it. After watching lots of films I had little to no interest in, I wanted to give myself a little leeway. Also, the list is subject to change. Some of these films are surprisingly difficult to get one’s hands on, despite the fact that I have access to an astounding number of ways to see films.

Since the focus of this project is more on performances rather than the films themselves, I’ll include a section about that with each review. Additionally, where applicable, I will provide links to other movies of that performer's that I’ve reviewed.

As usual, I will watch the list from the bottom up, beginning with #50 and making my way to #1. At the end of the project, I will provide a master list of reviews & some final thoughts. Here is the list of Top 50 Actresses:

  1. Bette Davis - Jezebel
  2. Barbra Streisand - Funny Girl
  3. Ingrid Bergman - Gaslight
  4. Olivia de Havilland - The Heiress
  5. Audrey Hepburn - Roman Holiday
  6. Jane Fonda - Klute
  7. Barbara Stanwyck - Ball of Fire
  8. Deborah Kerr - The King and I
  9. Vivien Leigh - Waterloo Bridge
  10. Claudette Colbert - Since You Went Away
  11. Greta Garbo - Ninotchka
  12. Jean Arthur - The Devil and Miss Jones
  13. Katharine Hepburn - The Lion in Winter
  14. Kate Winslet - The Reader
  15. Susan Hayward - I Want to Live!
  16. Elizabeth Taylor - Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  17. Judi Dench - Philomena
  18. Marlene Dietrich - Witness for the Prosecution
  19. Cate Blanchett - Blue Jasmine
  20. Shirley MacLaine - Being There
  21. Julie Andrews - Mary Poppins
  22. Lauren Bacall - To Have and Have Not
  23. Sophia Loren - Two Women
  24. Judy Garland - A Star Is Born
  25. Carole Lombard - To Be or Not to Be
  26. Joan Fontaine - Suspicion
  27. Joan Crawford - Mildred Pierce
  28. Meryl Streep - Sophie’s Choice
  29. Myrna Loy - The Thin Man
  30. Rita Hayworth - Gilda
  31. Maureen O’Hara - The Quiet Man
  32. Mary Pickford - Coquette
  33. Nicole Kidman - The Hours
  34. Jean Harlow - The Public Enemy
  35. Natalie Portman - Black Swan
  36. Natalie Wood - Splendor in the Grass
  37. Mae West - I’m No Angel
  38. Diane Keaton - Reds
  39. Doris Day - Pillow Talk
  40. Jodie Foster - Inside Man
  41. Ginger Rogers - Kitty Foyle
  42. Ava Gardner - The Killers
  43. Grace Kelly - The Country Girl
  44. Marilyn Monroe - The Misfits
  45. Sally Field - Norma Rae
  46. Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line
  47. Halle Berry - Monster’s Ball
  48. Angelina Jolie - Changeling
  49. Sandra Bullock - The Blind Side
  50. Julia Roberts - Erin Brockovich

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Up with Geography: Dominica

Country Name:
Dominica

Capital:
Roseau

Continent:
None; it's an island

Map:


Neighbors:
The closest neighbors are the islands of Guadeloupe to the north & Martinique to the south, which are territories of France. The closest independent nations are Antigua & Barbuda (north of Guadeloupe) and St. Lucia (south of Martinique).

Water Borders:
Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
290 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Roseau, Portsmouth, Marigot, Berekua, Mahaut

Famous Geographical Point:
Boiling Lake

Famous Person:
Kellyn George, biologist & sickle cell anemia activist

Book Set In/About:
The Dominica Story by Lennox Honeychurch

A comprehensive (non-fiction) history of Dominica, up through 1994.

Movie Set In/About:
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), directed by Gore Verbinski

In the first sequel of the Pirates franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow battles with the fabled Davy Jones. This was only partially filmed in Dominica. Unfortunately, there were slim pickings for Dominica movies. One that looked interesting was the following documentary short, but I didn't want to choose both a history book & a history movie: "Dominica: Charting a Future for Paradise" (2011), directed by Wyatt Bardouille.

Headline of the Day:
"Dominica Cruise Ship Sector Benefitting from Irma" in the Jamaica Observer.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Best Picture: "Moonlight," 2016

Movie Stats:
Released 2016 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Barry Jenkins
Stars - Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali

Plot Summary:
This movie showcases the life of Chiron, a gay black boy with a crack-addicted mother (played by Naomie Harris) growing up in a rough neighborhood in Miami. Hibbert plays Chiron as a child; Sanders plays him as a teenager; and Rhodes as an adult. Ali co-stars as Juan, a drug dealer who takes Chiron under his wing.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language (including gay & racial slurs); sexy times; violence; minor gore; drug use (marijuana, crack).

Bad Stuff:
The pace could easily be described as ponderous.

I didn’t care for the experimental camera work. Also, I’ve seen people complain about “lens flare” in other movies (most notably 2009’s “Star Trek”) but it’s not something I ever noticed before this film, where it is both obvious & very distracting.

The ending is rather abrupt/unsatisfactory.

Good Stuff:
The performances from both Ali and Harris are phenomenal. I completely understand why both of them were nominated for Best Supporting awards (and why Ali won).

It’s a very understated, nuanced portrayal of the cycle of poverty, all the pitfalls & how difficult it can be to escape.

It does an excellent job of setting the tone. You can really feel Chiron’s isolation and loneliness.

The Verdict:
I liked it well enough. I don’t think I liked it as much as I expected to, mostly because of how slow it is. I must have checked the time on my phone at least ten times. Also, I found it difficult to connect with Chiron because his character rarely speaks, especially in his younger years. Finally, I was disappointed that Ali’s part is relatively small. I would have liked to see way more of him. Still, I appreciated how understated it is. It's fine piece of storytelling that doesn’t tell you what to think or feel. It gets its point across without beating you over the head with it. In the end, despite the bleak circumstances of most of the characters, I felt a sense of hope, like maybe things could turn it okay, even if I know that they probably won’t, because that’s what the cycle of poverty does to people. It’s a beautiful film, just not one of my favorites.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Note: The Best Picture Master List has been updated to include this movie. It comes in at #39.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100: Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this project, my friend/regular commenter Patricia suggested that I guess what rating I would give each movie, and then, at the end, see how close I came to getting it all right. I thought that sounded like a cool idea, so I did it. However, I think throwing a lot of numbers at you would be kind of boring, so here’s a short analysis of how it all played out.

Out of the 100 movies reviewed for this project:

8 were movies I previously reviewed, and so I couldn’t guess a rating

17 movies, I guessed my rating accurately

23 movies, I was within a quarter star (plus or minus)

12 movies, I was within half a star (plus or minus)

11 movies, I was within three-quarters of a star (plus or minus)

12 movies, I was within 1 star (plus or minus)

17 movies, I was within 1+ stars (plus or minus)

Biggest difference in the positive: The Damned, which I guessed I would give 2 stars. I gave it 4.25.

Biggest difference in the negative: The Man Who Fell to Earth, which I guessed I would give 3.25 stars. I gave it .25 star.

I was more likely to guess low than high. Of the movies in which my guesses were inaccurate, I gave 41 a higher rating than I guessed. That means I gave only 34 a lower rating than I guessed.

I feel that I was more accurate than not. I think guessing within half a star is pretty good. 52 of my guesses were either spot on, or within a half star. Only 40 were wrong by more than half a star.

I really enjoyed this movie project. It was fun to see some of the famous sci fi movies that I’d never seen before. It was even more fun to delve into the world of more obscure sci fi films. However, I was ultimately disappointed by the lack of strong female characters (lots of love interests and/or assistants among the female roles) and near-absence of people of color in these movies. Once I noticed it, I realized that this was true of all of my lists (although the Academy Awards seem to be a little better at it).

Also, I felt that there were several films that didn't belong here because they barely count as sci fi. Two of those that immediately leap to mind are The Truman Show & Three Colours: Red. If it were up to me, I would remove those, perhaps one or two others, and replace them with movies that I like better & that I consider more sci fi-y. Two I would add to the list are: "Equilibrium" and "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure."

Overall, however, I was pleased. I thought it was a very solid list. While I’m happy that I did it, I’m looking forward to moving on to the next. More on the new project next week!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Maine

State Name:
Maine

Capital:
Augusta

Date of Entry:
March 15, 1820

Maps:
Map of USA. Maine outlined in dark ink & with
name written on it.

Close-up of Maine & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Canada, New Hampshire

Water Borders:
St. John River, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Maine, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
35,385 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Portland, Lewiston, Bangor, South Portland, Auburn

Famous Geographical Point:
Mount Katahdin

State Nickname:
The Pine Tree State. The white pine is the state tree, and a pine tree features on the state's flag, seal, and quarter. They're big on pine trees there.

Famous Person:
Kevin Eastman, writer & artist, co-creater of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I seriously considered instead listing William Coperthwaite, who, according to Wikipedia, was an educator & "yurt advocate," simply for the novelty of anyone being known as a "yurt advocate."

Book Set In/About:
It by Stephen King

Set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, this horror novel showcases the travails of the same seven people during two different time periods - first as children, then as adults - as they battle an alien creature that exploits their fears.

Of course I chose a Stephen King novel! Not only is he quite possibly the most famous person to have ever come out of Maine, nearly all of his books are set there.

Movie Set In/About:
"The Cider House Rules" (1999), directed by Lasse Hallstrom

A young man, raised in an orphanage & trained as an unlicensed doctor, spreads his wings by going to work at an apple farm.

Headline of the Day:
"Maine Archaeologists Find Evidence of Historic English Fort" in U.S. News & World Report.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100: Master List of Reviews and Scores

Here it is, my full list of scores and reviews. The list goes from my favorite to my least favorite. In cases where films share the same score, I’ve listed them based on personal preference. For example, the first 4 star review you see listed will be my favorite of all the films I’ve given 4 stars to.

Note: For every movie that was originally reviewed for another project, I have linked that original review, rather than the abbreviated Sci Fi Project review. "2001: A Space Odyssey," for example, is linked to its AFI Top 100 review.

  1. The Prestige (2006), 4.75
  2. Gattaca (1997), 4.75
  3. Galaxy Quest (1999), 4.75
  4. Children of Men (2006), 4.5
  5. Metropolis (1927), 4.5
  6. Donnie Darko (2001), 4.5
  7. Serenity (2005), 4.5
  8. The American Astronaut (2001), 4.25
  9. The Damned (1963), 4.25
  10. WALL-E (2008), 4.25
  11. Back to the Future (1985), 4.25
  12. Pitch Black (2000), 4.25
  13. Iron Man (2008), 4.25
  14. The Truman Show (1998), 4.25
  15. Her (2013), 4.25
  16. Seconds (1966), 4
  17. Je t’aime, Je t’aime (1968), 4
  18. Soylent Green (1973), 4
  19. The Thing from Another World (1951), 4
  20. The Empire Strikes Back (1980), 4
  21. Jurassic Park (1993), 4
  22. The Terminator (1984), 4
  23. Blade Runner (1982), 4
  24. Star Trek (2009), 4
  25. Moon (2009), 4
  26. Contact (1997), 4
  27. Westworld (1973), 4
  28. Planet of the Apes (1968), 4
  29. Ghostbusters (1984), 4
  30. The Matrix (1999), 4
  31. Independence Day (1996), 4
  32. Twelve Monkeys (1995), 4
  33. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), 4
  34. Avatar (2009), 4
  35. The Iron Giant (1999), 4
  36. Akira (1988), 4
  37. They Live (1988), 3.75
  38. Attack the Block (2011), 3.75
  39. Minority Report (2002), 3.75
  40. Star Wars (1977), 3.75
  41. District 9 (2009), 3.75
  42. Predator (1987), 3.75
  43. Total Recall (1990), 3.75
  44. Alien (1979), 3.75
  45. Return of the Jedi (1983), 3.75
  46. Dark City (1998), 3.75
  47. The Thing (1982), 3.75
  48. The Fly (1986), 3.75
  49. RoboCop (1987), 3.75
  50. Frankenstein (1931), 3.75
  51. Ghost in the Shell (1995), 3.75
  52. Inception (2010), 3.5
  53. The Fifth Element (1997), 3.5
  54. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), 3.5
  55. La Jetee (1962), 3.5
  56. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), 3.5
  57. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), 3.5
  58. A Clockwork Orange (1971), 3.5
  59. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 3.5
  60. Starship Troopers (1997), 3.5
  61. Superman (1978), 3.5
  62. Three Colours: Red (1994), 3.5
  63. The War of the Worlds (1953), 3.25
  64. Aliens (1986), 3.25
  65. Solaris (2002), 3.25 stars
  66. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), 3.25
  67. Forbidden Planet (1956), 3.25
  68. Gravity (2013), 3.25
  69. Primer (2004), 3
  70. The Abyss (1989), 3
  71. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), 3
  72. Under the Skin (2013), 3
  73. Barbarella (1968), 3
  74. Flash Gordon (1980), 3
  75. Quatermass and the Pit (1967), 3
  76. Silent Running (1972), 3
  77. E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), 3
  78. AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001), 3
  79. Brazil (1985), 3
  80. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), 2.75
  81. Dune (1984), 2.75
  82. Fantastic Voyage (1966), 2.75
  83. The Andromeda Strain (1971), 2.75
  84. Repo Man (1984), 2.75
  85. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), 2.75
  86. 2010 (1984), 2.5
  87. World on a Wire (1973), 2.5
  88. Logan’s Run (1976), 2.5
  89. THX 1138 (1971), 2.5
  90. Solaris (1972), 2.5
  91. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), 2.5
  92. Alphaville (1965), 2.5
  93. Pacific Rim (2013), 2
  94. Things to Come (1936), 2
  95. Stalker (1979), 2
  96. The Time Machine (1960), 2
  97. Fantastic Planet (1973), 2
  98. Sleeper (1973), 2
  99. Dark Star (1974), .5
  100. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), .25

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #1: "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my AFI Top 100 Movie 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 1968 (USA)
American & British, in English (very minor non-translated Russian)
Director - Stanley Kubrick
Stars - Keir Dullea, Douglas Rain (voice)

Plot Summary:
On a mission to Jupiter, things go awry. Oh, and there’s a bunch of stuff about evolution. Dullea co-stars as Dr. Dave Bowman, one of the scientists on the mission, and Rain provides the voice of his on-board computer, HAL 9000.

Rating:
3.5 stars

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sleepy Cat Pics

Last week, I posted a handful of the approximately one million pictures I have of my dog while he's sleeping. I thought, fair is fair, so this week I'm posting some pictures of my sleeping cat. I just can't seem to stop myself from taking these pictures! My animals are so darn cute when they're sleeping.

Snoozing in a sun spot on top of my pajamas:


Sprawled out on one of my husband's pillows:


She has one particular couch cushion she likes to sleep on, and she doesn't seem to mind if she slips down between it and the back of the couch:


Crossed paws, one of her favorite sleeping positions:


Holding up a stack of books:


Chilling with me while I read a book in my husband's man cave:


Laptop in your lap? No matter, she'll just slide that out of the way and climb on in:


Enjoying a sun spot with my husband:


A rare moment of co-sleep:


Wrapped around my hand:


Well, I think that's enough cute animal pics! We'll be back to our regularly scheduled posts after this.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #2: "Blade Runner" (1982)

Note: We own the special edition Blu Ray of this, which includes multiple versions of the film. I chose to watch the original U.S. theatrical release.

Movie Stats:
Released 1982 (USA)
American, British & Hong Kongian, in English (multiple foreign languages, mostly translated)
Director - Ridley Scott
Stars - Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young

Plot Summary:
In a dystopian near future, the Tyrell corporation has created very human-like robots called replicants, but after the replicants revolt, they’re outlawed. When a group of renegade replicants return to Earth, ex-blade runner (a police officer specifically tasked with killing replicants) Rick Deckard (Ford) is brought in to hunt them down. Hauer co-stars as Roy Batty, the leader of the renegade replicants, and Young as Rachael, Rick’s love interest.

Warnings:
Minor blue language (including a racial slur); violence; gore; female nudity (breasts only).

Bad Stuff:
The pace is quite slow.

Um, that kissing scene is kind of rapey. I’m still not completely sure that Rachael wanted it. It made both me and my husband uncomfortable.

It’s got some weird stuff in it, the kind of weird stuff I don’t really like.

Good Stuff:
It’s visually stunning. They digitally remastered it for the Blu Ray & it looks fantastic.

I absolutely love Rutger Hauer in this. Perfect casting.

I like the story. As with all great sci fi, it asks important questions about morality and the meaning of life.

The Verdict:
I find it a bit dull and weird, but otherwise I like this film. It looks great, the acting is good, and the storytelling is sparse. It does more showing than telling, even with a voiceover, which is good. I think it’s very successful at humanizing the replicants. [SPOILER-y] Rachael is the one whose story is supposed to tug at your heart strings [SPOILER] but I really felt for Roy as well. He’s a villain with blood on his hands & he’s remorseless about it, and yet I couldn't help but feel sad for his fate. We’re all just living creatures, struggling to survive as long as we can. It moved me.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #3: "Alien" (1979)

Note: The disc I received gave me the option of watching either the 1979 theatrical release or the 2003 director’s cut. I chose the theatrical release.

Movie Stats:
Released 1979 (USA)
American & British, in English
Director - Ridley Scott
Stars - Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, and many others

Plot Summary:
When the crew of a commercial space vessel, on its way back to Earth with a load, is diverted by a distress signal, they encounter a hostile alien. Weaver stars as crew member Ripley & Skerritt as crew captain Dallas.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language; violence; extreme gore; brief female nudity (breasts only) via nudie pics on a wall.

Bad Stuff:
I think this movie is incredibly slow, especially in the beginning.

On the one hand, I can’t blame her because I’d be freaking out too, but on the other hand, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) is supremely irritating. Why couldn’t she [SPOILER] die first [SPOILER]?

[SPOILER]
I can’t decide if the film was trying to imply that the company put Ash (Ian Holm) on the team specifically to bring back the alien or not. It’s stated that he was added last-minute. The rest of the crew didn’t know he was an android. So was he placed there in case the company needed to make sure it had someone on the team who would do whatever it said? Or was the alien the prime directive all along? [SPOILER] This plot point raised a lot of questions without answering them, and that bothers me.

Good Stuff:
As I mentioned in my review of the sequel, I love that Ripley isn’t a natural bad ass. She’s just a person who finds it in herself to do what has to be done in order to survive.

The practical effects are phenomenal. This movie is nearly 40 years old and it still looks great.

I like the soundtrack.

The Verdict:
I’ve never been a huge fan of this film. I don’t hate it, but it’ll never make any of my personal top 10 lists. Mostly, I think the pace is too slow. It bores me. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel that way if I’d been old enough to see it when it first came out. This is one of those movies where it’s difficult not to know practically everything about it. I saw spoofs of the famous scene long before I saw the actual scene itself. If I hadn’t, perhaps this movie would’ve held a lot more tension and scares for me. I think it’s a good story, and I appreciate that it doesn’t suffer from an overabundance of the “horror movie stupids,” wherein people in horror movies do stupid things simply to move the story along. I also think the acting is pretty good. Lastly, I like the way the crew interacts with each other. It feels like natural co-worker relationships. Overall, I think it's a solid film, even if I’m not its biggest fan.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sleepy Dog Pics

I haven't been getting out and about lately, so I thought I'd take a brief interlude to show you some pictures of my sleeping dog. I have approximately one million of them. My dog is either absolutely hilarious or ridiculously cute when he's sleeping. At least, that's what I think. You be the judge!

He opened his eyes & ruined this one, but here he is, snoozing in his Seattle Seahawks jersey (he has a Portland Timbers one as well).


He loves to "burrow." A lot of times, he won't settle until you put "his" blanket on top of him, even though he gets overheated very quickly.


Sometimes he sleeps with his mouth open. He snores a lot.


Sleeping with his butt sticking out after burrowing.


A friend got him this toy (it's Lamb Chop). He loves it! Likes to sleep on top of it.


Soaking up the sun.


All tucked in.


You give him the whole bed to sleep on & he wants to be right up in your business. That's my leg he's snuggled up against.


Contortions.



Hope you enjoyed! Maybe next week I'll post a few of the million pictures I have of my sleeping cat.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #4: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my AFI Top 100 Movie 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 1977 (USA)
American, in English (lots of French, mostly translated; some Spanish & Hindi, mostly not translated)
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Francois Truffaut

Plot Summary:
The appearance of visitors from outer space affects the lives of energy worker Roy Neary (Dreyfuss), mother Jillian Guiler (Dillon), and scientist Claude Lacombe (Truffaut), amongst others.

Rating:
2.5 stars

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #5: "Aliens" (1986)

Note: If you’ve never seen “Alien,” then you should probably skip the plot summary below, unless you don’t mind spoilers. It’s sort of impossible to summarize this film without referring to the film that came before it.

Movie Stats:
Released 1986 (USA)
American & British, in English
Director - James Cameron
Stars - Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, and many others

Plot Summary:
In the sequel to “Alien,” survivor Ripley (Weaver) is found & awakened from stasis after 57 years, where she discovers, to her horror, that a corporation has colonized the planet where her ship & crew were destroyed by an alien. Henn co-stars as young Newt, one of the planet’s colonials; Biehn as Corporal Hicks; and Reiser as corporate shill Burke.

Warnings:
Extreme violence; extreme gore; heavy blue language.

Bad Stuff:
One of my least favorite sounds in the world is children’s screams. There’s A LOT of that in this film. Soooooo annoying.

This is one of those sequels that’s basically a replica of the original. Similar plot line, and almost the exact same events, such as [SPOILERS] Ripley going back after she gets out to save something (cat in the first movie, girl in the sequel) & Ripley ejecting the alien into space, etc. [SPOILERS] It’s the original “turned up to 11,” so to speak.

The set-up takes way too long, which makes the film drag. All I could think was, “We all watched the first film, which means we’re all here for the same thing. Let’s get to the aliens & horrific death already.”

Good Stuff:
Excellent practical effects! It still looks very, very good.

I really appreciate Ripley as a character. She’s not a bad ass “just because.” She’s the type of person who’s able to rise to the occasion. I like that she starts this movie meek and frightened, traumatized by what she endured. There’s a moment where you actually see the flip switch, when she “turns on” her bad assery. That was nicely done.

I’m not normally a fan of Paul Reiser, but I thought he was excellent in this. [SPOILER] Even though I kept expecting him to turn out to be a stealth asshole, he did such a great job at playing sensitive and caring for long enough that I began to doubt myself. Just as I did, it turns out I was right. [SPOILER]

The Verdict:
This is one of those sequels that’s beloved & I don’t quite understand why because it’s essentially a carbon copy of the first film, minus the suspense & tension that makes the first film great, but with the questionable addition of an annoying child character. I don’t think it’s terrible. In fact, there’s a lot about it that’s very cool. But I wouldn’t say that I was overly impressed.

I give it 3.25 stars.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Up with Geography: Djibouti

Country Name:
Djibouti

Capital:
Djibouti

Continent:
Africa

Maps:

African continent. Djibouti marked with a
black box because it was too small to outline.

A close-up of Djibouti & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia

Water Borders:
Bay of Ghoubbet, Gulf of Tadjoura, Gulf of Aden

Total Area:
8,958 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Djibouti, Ali Sabieh, Tadjoura, Obock, Dikhil

Famous Geographical Point:
Lake Assal

Famous Person:
Hussein Ahmed Salah, Olympic bronze medalist in the 1988 marathon

Book Set In/About:
The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper by Abdourahman A. Waberi

A collection of poetry about the landscape of Djibouti.

Movie Set In/About:
"Laan" (2011), directed by Lula Ali Ismaïl

This short follows the lives of three young girls, friends, as they navigate a society highly dependent on an addictive plant called khat (apparently this is a serious problem in Djibouti). The internet tells me that Ismaïl is the first Djiboutian director ever. I could find only 3 other films set in Djibouti, all of them by non-Djiboutians, and none of them really about Djibouti. Ismaïl was filming Djibouti's first feature-length film in 2014 but I can find no evidence that she finished it.

Headline of the Day:
"China Opens First Overseas Base in Djibouti" on aljazeera.com

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #6: "Star Wars" (1977)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my AFI Top 100 Movie 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 1977 (USA)
American, in English (made-up alien languages, some translated, some not)
Director - George Lucas
Stars - Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness

Plot Summary:
It’s the classic hero’s tale. When young, restless farmer Luke Skywalker (Hamill) intercepts a message from imperiled Princess Leia (Fisher), he sets off on a rescue mission with the help of handsome rogue Han Solo (Ford) and the aged knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Guinness). Along the way, they find themselves caught up in a rebellion.

Rating:
3.75 stars

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #7: "Brazil" (1985)

Movie Stats:
Released 1985 (France)
British, in English
Director - Terry Gilliam
Stars - Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro

Plot Summary:
In a dystopian future where bureaucracy is king, Sam Lowry (Pryce), a man with low ambition but romantic dreams, falls in love with a stranger (Jill Layton, played by Kim Greist) and becomes embroiled with potential terrorist Harry Tuttle (De Niro).

Warnings:
Violence; gore; blue language; brief, partial female nudity (breasts seen through a sheer shirt).

Bad Stuff:
This is one of those movies that I know is supposed to be funny but which I don’t find particularly amusing. I think I smiled maybe once or twice.

It’s just too much for me. Too many moving parts, too much ridiculousness, too loud, too many story lines that seem superfluous.

Good Stuff:
I enjoy it as a social commentary on the tyranny of bureaucracy and complacency.

The cameo from Bob Hoskins (as HVAC repairman Spoor) was probably my favorite part of the whole film.

I like its dark edge.

The Verdict:
This film definitely isn’t my cup of tea. While I feel that it had some interesting things to say, it was too over-the-top for me. My predominant feelings while watching it were boredom and annoyance. I kept thinking to myself, “Just get to it already!” So much of it seemed pointless. I feel so “meh” about it that I’ve had a hard time getting around to writing this review. I just kept putting it off and putting it off. Anyway, I do recognize that most of my problems with it are more of a personal taste issue. I can see why other people like it. Do you typically enjoy Terry Gilliam comedies? If so, then you’ll probably like this film.

I give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Alabama

State Name:
Alabama

Capital:
Montgomery

Date of Entry:
December 14, 1819

Maps:
Map of USA. Alabama outlined (poorly) in dark ink.

A close-up of Alabama & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi

Water Borders:
Chattahoochee River, Gulf of Mexico

Total Area:
52,419 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile, Tuscaloosa

Famous Geographical Point:
Dauphin Island

State Nickname:
The Yellowhammer State. Alabama doesn't have an official nickname. Many people, like me, are more familiar with the nickname "The Heart of Dixie," but according to my research, "The Yellowhammer State" has been the unofficial nickname since the Civil War. During that war, soldiers from Alabama wore uniforms trimmed with yellow, which earned them the nickname "yellowhammer," after a type of woodpecker with bright yellow feathers.

Famous Person:
Hank Aaron, Hall of Fame-inducted baseball player

Book Set In/About:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Told through the perspective of his young daughter, a white lawyer in Depression-era small-town Alabama defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.

Movie Set In/About:
"Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991), directed by Jon Avnet

When a middle-aged woman befriends an elderly woman she meets in a nursing home, she begins to find herself & blossom. Her story is intertwined with that of a story told by the elderly woman, about two friends & a murder in 1930sish Alabama.

Headline of the Day:
"Alabama Authorities Hunt Prisoner Still at Large After Peanut Butter Jailbreak" in The Guardian.

Curious but don't have the time/inclination to look up this article? Sadly, it says: "prisoners used peanut butter to change the numbers above a door and trick a new employee into opening another door that led outside." Which I don't think really clarifies anything. An article on boingboing.net sort of helps: "A dozen prisoners at Jasper, Alabama's Walker County Jail escaped on Sunday and one is still at large. One of them used peanut butter to change the number above his cell door and then called for the guard, a new employee, to open it. The number the prisoner changed it to was actually the door to the outside." Bet that guard, if he/she keeps his/her job, will never live that down.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #8: "Metropolis" (1927)

Note: As the film itself states at the beginning, this movie is unavailable in its original format as the original was lost. What's available to modern audiences is the closest approximation to the original they can get, based on reconstruction from negatives.

Movie Stats:
Released 1927 (Germany)
German, in German (this film is silent; my version had English scene cards)
Director - Fritz Lang
Stars - Gustav Froehlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Theodor Loos

Plot Summary:
In a dystopian future where rich and poor live in vastly different circumstances, wealthy young man Freder (Froehlich) falls in love with the young, poor prophetess Maria (Helm) and begins to understand the evils of the system into which he was born. Abel co-stars as Freder’s father, Joh, an unrepentant capitalist; Klein-Rogge as Rotwang, mad scientist & Joh’s frenemy; and Loos as Josaphat, Joh’s employee & Freder’s friend.

Warnings:
Violence; brief female nudity (breasts only).

Bad Stuff:
Like most films of this era, I hate the way they do the men’s make-up. With their overly white faces, black-rimmed eyes, and dark lips, they look ghoulish. I find it very distracting.

Another problem with movies of this era: the exaggerated acting. It makes scenes funny when they shouldn’t be.

Good Stuff:
I love art deco, so I thought this film was visually stunning. Loved the set design, the cinematography, and the clothing. It’s truly a treat for the eyes.

I was extremely impressed by Helm. She actually plays two parts in this and she’s really good at both. Her make-up is different for each part, but it’s more than that. It’s also in the way she carries herself & her facial expressions.

I really liked the score.

The Verdict:
This movie was way better than I was expecting! I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a tale as old as time (class struggle), which means that it’s still relevant ninety years after it was released. Even though it’s relatable now, it’s also a fascinating time capsule of the 1920s: from the art deco sets/costuming, to the aforementioned focus on class struggle (huge in the early 20th century throughout the Western world), to the socialist overtones: you’ll never have to guess this film’s time period. Of course, that means there are those pesky time period issues that I mentioned above, but you kind of have to expect those things when you’re watching a movie this old. Now that I’ve finally seen it, I understand why this film is considered a classic. I was overall seriously impressed.

I give it 4.5 stars.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #9: "The Terminator" (1984)

Movie Stats:
Released 1984 (USA)
British & American, in English (minor, mostly translated Spanish)
Director - James Cameron
Stars - Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Plot Summary:
In the 21st century, the human race has nearly been wiped out by intelligent machines. Those machines send a Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Hamilton), the woman destined to give birth to the leader of the future human resistance. Biehn co-stars as Kyle Reese, the man sent back in time to protect Sarah. This is the first installment of the Terminator franchise.

Warnings:
Heavy blue language; extreme violence; extreme gore; brief male nudity (butt & peen); brief female nudity (breasts only); sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
Most of the special effects haven’t held up well. The portions where Arnie’s head is clearly a robotic model are particularly egregious.

I didn’t care for the 80s-rific soundtrack.

[SPOILER]
I think it’s a little creepy that Kyle was “in love” with Sarah his whole life just because he saw her picture. He didn’t actually know her. He only knew of her. That it turns out that she was thinking of him when the photo was taken doesn’t make it okay by me.
[SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
In this series, #2 seems to get the most love, but I thought this one had the better storyline of the two. It didn’t fall into the time travel trap & it didn’t leave any loose ends.

Despite his slight creep factor, I found Kyle incredibly relatable. I enjoyed his flashbacks. I liked that the film addressed the fact that he had PTSD without getting preachy about it. And I did understand why a man with such a background would latch on to the first beautiful thing that he saw.

The action sequences are pretty cool.

The Verdict:
Believe it or not, I never saw this before. My husband has always claimed that #2 is the only good Terminator movie, so I went into this with low expectations (even though my film taste and his usually aren’t well aligned). I was pleasantly surprised. I actually liked this film a lot. I thought it was better than #2, largely because it’s a better story with fewer plot holes, but also because I think Kyle is a better/more relatable character than young John Connor (I also liked Sarah a lot better in this than in #2). The special effects and soundtrack leave a lot to be desired, but I’m sure they were cutting edge at the time this film came out. Also, I sort of wish I’d seen this years ago because I had no idea how much #2 “repurposed” from it (one liners, or the fact that young Sarah drives a scooter & young John drives something similar, etc.). In the end I felt a little disappointed that #2 wasn’t as original as I thought. If I were to recommend a Terminator movie, I’d go with this one.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Woodland Enchantress Cross Stitch, Project Report 5

Time for the quarterly update on my cross stitch project!

Here's a reminder of what it will look like when I'm done:


Here's what it looked like during my last update in April 2017:


And here's what it looks like now:


This represents 14.5 hours of work spread over just 7 days, a significant drop from previous quarters. I became a bit demoralized when I discovered that I miscounted on one of the dark blue sections (second from the right). Unfortunately, I discovered it too late to tear it out & do it over. Therefore, to make up for it, I had to be creative with adding and/or dropping stitches in the various shades of gold that surround that section. There are seriously 4 or 5 shades of gold to use there and it all got a bit confusing.

But I persevered and I think it’s been fixed now. I’m excited to get more work done on it this upcoming quarter!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #10: "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)

Movie Stats:
Released 1980 (USA)
American, in English (non-translated made-up alien & droid languages)
Director - Irvin Kershner
Stars - Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and many others

Plot Summary:
In the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker (Hamill) continues his training as a Jedi knight while his friends, including Princess Leia (Fisher) & Han Solo (Ford), flee from both bounty hunters & the evil Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones).

Warnings:
Violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
I continue to feel that the Star Wars films are bad at showing the passage of time. Han & Leia’s story line, for example, seems to happen over the course of one or two days. Luke’s concurrent storyline with Yoda (Frank Oz) seems to happen over the course of weeks or perhaps even months. Which is it? We’ll never know for sure.

As usual, I wish that C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) would shut the hell up already. I find his character so annoying.

I don’t condone non-consensual kissing, even if the kiss-ee appears to be pleased after the fact. [SPOILER] Also, it really sticks in my craw that writer/executive producer George Lucas claims that he intended Luke & Leia to be siblings all along. Either that’s a lie or he wanted his characters to unknowingly flirt with incest, which is eww. [SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
The cinematography and set design are amazing. This is a very pretty film.

Of the original series, this one does the best job of showcasing the characters’ relationships & establishing that they deeply care for one another. My favorite instances of this are when Han risks his life for Luke & the famous “I love you/I know” scene.

I love the score.

The Verdict:
This film is my favorite of the original series. I guess that makes it my overall favorite thus far, as I didn’t like any of the prequels & I’m lukewarm on the more recent movies. It has the best story, the best character development & the best cinematography. It also has the best reveals & practically all the best quotes. I don’t typically care for the portion of stories where the bad guys seem like they’re going to win. It makes me uncomfortable. But there’s something about “Empire” that’s incredibly compelling (I feel the same way about “The Two Towers,” the second of the LOTR trilogy, my favorite of that series). Here, I don’t feel the same tension. Instead, I find it exciting. I do think the portion of the film with Luke & Yoda is boring. However, I would still recommend the original series to anyone & suggest they watch them in order.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #11: E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my AFI Top 100 Movie 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 1982 (France)
American, in English
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Henry Thomas, Robert MacNaughton, Drew Barrymore

Plot Summary:
When a space alien accidentally gets left behind by his compatriots, he finds refuge in the home of a young boy, Elliott (Thomas). MacNaughton co-stars as Elliott’s older brother, Michael, and Barrymore as his younger sister, Gertie.

Rating:
3 stars

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Music Love: "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day" by Jethro Tull


I’ve loved Jethro Tull since I was a teenager. I think when I first got into them, it was somewhat fueled by my adolescent need to exert myself as an individual. Not only did I listen to classic rock, which most of my peers weren’t listening to at the time, my favorite classic rock band wasn’t one of those super mainstream ones like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. No, I was different. My favorite band featured a guy playing a flute.

Still, in spite of my potentially juvenile motives, I feel that I chose wisely. Jethro Tull is a great band. The music is good, I happen to love Ian Anderson’s voice, and they give a phenomenal concert (I’ve seen them twice). But for me, where they’ve always excelled is in the lyrics. Even now, in my 40s, I can so relate to nearly everything they say. (Plus, along the way, I’ve learned a lot of great Britishisms, such as “dog end” for “cigarette butt.”)

This song has always been one of my favorites. I love the sense of hope and promise that the music brings, while the lyrics belie how uneasy and anxious the singer feels. It’s exactly how I’ve felt for most of my life. Each day has so much potential, but on the inside I’m worrying about pretty much everything and feeling like I don’t connect to the world the way I’m supposed to.

“Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense?” The song asks. Why yes, yes, I do.

“Or that everybody’s and the stage and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?” Oh my god, YES. I feel that way all the time!

So maybe, even after all these years, there’s still a little teenaged angst inside of me, and that’s okay. It doesn’t change the fact that, at the end of my life, Jethro Tull will still be one of my top 10 favorite bands.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #12: "The Thing" (1982)

Movie Stats:
Released 1982 (USA)
American, in English (some non-translated Norwegian)
Director - John Carpenter
Stars - Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and many others

Plot Summary:
When a U.S. research team at a remote Antarctic outpost has a close encounter with an alien creature, they’re no longer able to tell who’s human and who isn’t. Russell co-stars as helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady; Brimley as Dr. Blair; and David as Childs.

Warnings:
Lots of blue language; extreme violence; extreme gore; drug use (marijuana); non-consensual drug use (morphine).

Bad Stuff:
The special effects for the alien look terrible and cheesy.

I’ve always considered it more horror than sci-fi. It goes the extra mile to be gross & gory in a way that, for me, cheapens whatever else is interesting and effective about the story.

To that end, I don’t agree with the many people who seem to find it scary. I don’t think it’s scary at all.

Good Stuff:
While I don’t find it scary, I do think it’s intense. It makes me uncomfortable in the best kind of way.

I like that the more sensible characters use their problem solving skills. Instead of running around and killing everything that moves, they try to use their logic to save themselves.

It’s got one of the best open endings in cinema.

The Verdict:
I’m not the biggest fan of this film. I don’t care for all the gore and jump scares. However, this go around, I got a better feel for what is actually excellent about it: how suspenseful it is. As a viewer, you spend much of it on-edge, unsure of which characters you can trust. It's fun if you like to feel that way. I’m not convinced that it belongs on this list. While it’s certainly more deserving of a spot than some of the more perplexing entries (“Three Colors: Red,” for example), I can’t say I’ve ever really thought of it as a great sci-fi film. Rather, I consider it one of the more palatable horror films. Still, I’m giving it a lot of credit for being a horror film with some intelligence.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #13: "The Matrix" (1999)

Movie Stats:
Released 1999 (USA)
American, in English
Directors - The Wachowskis
Stars - Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving

Plot Summary:
Computer hacker Thomas “Neo” Anderson (Reeves) discovers the devastating truth about the nature of reality. Fishburne co-stars as Morpheus, Neo’s mentor; Moss as Trinity, Morpheus’s second-in-command/Neo’s love interest; and Weaving as Agent Smith, the bad guy.

Warnings:
Blue language (including a rude gesture); lots of violence; gore.

Bad Stuff:
Some of the dialogue is super cheesy.

I don’t believe the love story between Neo and Trinity. They barely talk to each other the whole film & suddenly they’re in love and kissing.

There’s quite a bit of action movie magic going on, i.e. the approximately 1 billion bullets the good guys fire only ever hit their intended targets, and that happens well before [SPOILER] Neo gains his super ultra special immortality matrix-manipulating skills. [SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
Agent Smith is one of my all-time favorite bad guys.

It still looks really cool, and I don’t just mean the special effects. I also love the costuming, the styling, and the set design.

It’s one of the most creative ideas to ever grace the genre of sci fi.

The Verdict:
I remember seeing this in the theater when it came out and thinking it was so freaking cool. One of the reasons for its wild popularity is that it was very different to anything else that was out at the time. I’m still impressed with its creativity. However, it’s been a while since the last time I watched it and I have to admit, it was a lot cheesier than I remembered. Not only is some of the dialogue terrible, there’s a gravitas to it that kind of feels goofy now. It takes itself way too seriously. Also, the character development isn’t great. I fully expected to enjoy the heck out of it again and give it a glowing review with high marks, but I simply don’t feel that way. Still, it’s an entertaining film that was absolutely groundbreaking in its day. I’m giving it a high mark, just not as high as I anticipated.

I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Up with Geography: Denmark

Country Name:
Denmark

Capital:
Copenhagen

Continent:
Europe

Maps:
European continent. Denmark outlined poorly
in dark ink.

A close-up of Denmark.

Neighbors:
Germany

Water Borders:
North Sea, Skagerrak (strait), Kattegat (sea), Bay of Mecklenburg, Baltic Sea

Total Area:
16,562 square miles; Denmark has two overseas territories (Greenland & Faroe Islands) that I'm not including in its total area

Five Largest Cities:
Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, Aalborg, Frederiksberg

Famous Geographical Point:
Limfjord

Famous Person:
Niels Bohr, physicist (recipient of the 1922 Nobel Prize for Physics)

Book Set In/About:
Hygge: The Danish Art of Happiness by Marie Tourell Søderberg

I'm having a hard time putting into words what hygge is, so here is the Wiki page about it. I find it both fascinating & awesome and I totally want to read this book

Movie Set In/About:
"Jagten (The Hunt)" (2012), directed by Thomas Vinterberg

A young child's lie threatens to ruin the life of a dedicated teacher.

Headline of the Day:
"Apple Will Build a Second Data Center in Denmark" on BetaNews.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #14: "Moon" (2009)

Movie Stats:
Released 2009 (USA)
British, in English
Director - Duncan Jones
Stars - Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Plot Summary:
The lone human employee of a mining company on the moon, Sam Bell (Rockwell), begins to experience strange goings-on at the tail end of his three-year contract. Spacey co-stars as the voice of the base’s computer, GERTY.

Warnings:
Lots of blue language; violence; lots of gore; sexy times; brief male nudity (butt only).

Bad Stuff:
The pacing is quite slow. Not exactly a thrill-a-minute.

There are some definite plot holes. [HUGE SPOILERS]
For example, if they’ve got the technology for a relatively intelligent computer like GERTY, why does there need to be a human employee on base at all? Or, why implant Sam Bell’s memories into the clones’ brains? Why not implant the memories of someone who likes to be alone and isolated? Most perplexing of all, if for whatever arbitrary reason you only want the clones to live for three years, so you code them to die, why not just code them to drop dead of an aneurysm or something? Coding them so that they get horrendously sick before dying seems unnecessarily cruel, not to mention inefficient. Maybe it wasn't coding. Maybe that's just the shelf life of clones, but then they should explain that.
[SPOILERS]

Good Stuff:
If you’re going to pick just one person to carry a whole film, Sam Rockwell is an excellent choice.

I like the twist. It’s one of those films that definitely isn’t what you think it is, based on the beginning. I really thought one thing was happening and then, bang, it went in a completely different direction.

It’s great at showing rather than telling. To me, it was a welcome contrast to the two Tarkovsky films I just watched. In the Tarkovsky films, the characters do a lot of expounding, spelling out for the audience what issues they should be thinking about. This film shows you the situation and lets you draw your own conclusions about what’s right or wrong in it.

The Verdict:
This movie is unexpectedly deep. At only 97 minutes long, and largely starring just one person, you think to yourself, “What could it really have to say?” The answer is, a lot, but it shows it to you rather than saying it. While it covers a lot of the same themes that are so common in sci fi, such as the nature of humanity, it approaches them in a way that feels fresh and different. Some know-it-alls will tell you they saw the twist coming, but I didn’t the first time I watched it. It’s a good reveal. I do think the plot could be a little tighter, but other than that it’s pretty solid. Definitely one of the better sci fi films to grace the early 21st century.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #15: "Stalker" (1979)

Movie Stats:
Released 1979 (Soviet Union)
Soviet, in Russian (watched with English subtitles)
Director - Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars - Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko

Plot Summary:
Writer (Solonitsyn) and Professor (Grinko) hire a guide called a stalker (Kaydanovskiy) to take them into a mysterious, forbidden area called the Zone, which holds a room that purportedly grants a person’s deepest desire.

Warnings:
Very minor blue language; very minor violence & gore.

Bad Stuff:
I have no idea WTH I even just watched.

It takes too long to explain itself. You’re practically an hour in before you understand what the three main characters are doing. It’s another hour at least before you get to know any of them. I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why should I care about this when I don’t know who any of these people are?”

There’s a lot more telling than showing. Ex: “Oooo, it’s so dangerous here!” And then nothing remotely scary or dangerous happens.

Good Stuff:
The cinematography is amazing.

I enjoyed Kaydanovskiy’s performance.

[SPOILER-y]
I really like the idea that, when faced with the prospect of getting exactly what they want, most people can’t accept it and be happy. That says something pretty interesting about human nature.
[SPOILER]

The Verdict:
This felt like a cross between “Lord of the Rings” & “The Happening”: three men walking around in nature for nearly three hours, talking & arguing, and saying that it was super scary when it never seems scary at all. Sure, it had some interesting points about human nature, but by the time it was finally over, I was so bored and annoyed that it hardly seemed to matter. This was another experiment in psychological torture by Tarkovsky, as far as I’m concerned. I liked it even less than “Solaris.”

I give it 2 stars.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Illinois

State Name:
Illinois

Capital:
Springfield

Date of Entry:
December 3, 1818

Maps:
Map of USA. Illinois outlined in dark ink & with
its name written on it.

A close-up of Illinois & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa

Water Borders:
Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, Wabash River, Ohio River

Total Area:
57,914 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Joliet, Naperville

Famous Geographical Point:
Shawnee National Forest

State Nickname:
The Prairie State. At one point in time, Illinois had one of the most abundant prairie lands in the U.S. No longer, due to humans, although restoration work is underway in many areas. I learned all about this at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Famous Person:
Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., early pioneer of Broadway (creator of the wildly popular Ziegfeld Follies)

Book Set In/About:
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

This non-fiction book knits together the story of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with that of H.H. Holmes, the serial killer who used the fair to lure unsuspecting victims into his house of horrors. Despite my interest in world's fairs & serial killers, and my love for Larson as a writer, this isn't my favorite book of his, but everyone else I know thinks it's great.

Movie Set In/About:
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), directed by John Hughes

In this comedy, a teenager goes to great lengths to skip school with his friends & have fun without getting caught. Really, though, it's a loving ode to the city of Chicago.

Headline of the Day:
"Illinois House Set to Vote on Governor's Budget Vetoes" in U.S. News & World Report.