Monday, March 20, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #40: "WALL-E" (2008)

Movie Stats:
Released 2008 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Andrew Stanton
Stars - Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight

Plot Summary:
In the distant future, after Earth has been overrun by garbage and abandoned, WALL-E (Burtt), a trash compacting robot with a personality, finds a plant and, with it, hope. Knight provides the voice of EVE, WALL-E’s love interest.

Minor violence.

Bad Stuff:
I don’t believe that a group of humans who’ve spent their whole lives in space being pampered, who’ve never exercised, and who lack both critical thinking skills and knowledge, would be enthusiastic about building a society on a planet that is barely habitable. Even if they were enthusiastic, I don’t believe they could do it.

Anachronisms. For example, 900 hundred years from now, are they really going to still have fire extinguishers exactly like the ones we have now?

Good Stuff:
It’s sweet and adorable and fun.

I love the soundtrack.

It’s clever, imaginative, and funny. There are many scenes that make me chuckle.

Stunning visuals.

The Verdict:
I like this movie. I’m having a difficult time imagining why anyone wouldn’t. WALL-E is an extremely likable protagonist. The story is simple and, for the most part, makes sense. It’s pretty to look at, it’ll make you laugh, and you’ll have the catchy songs stuck in your head for days. Do I have some quibbles? Sure, but this is a kids’ movie, and I tend to give those a little more leeway. This is the kind of film that’s so enjoyable that you’re likely to watch it more than once. I know I have. Side note: Going to see this movie with a friend is one of the last things I did before I left Portland for good. It’s still a little bittersweet for me.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #41: "They Live" (1988)

Movie Stats:
Released 1988 (USA)
American, in English
Director - John Carpenter
Stars - Roddy Piper, Keith David

Plot Summary:
Homeless, unemployed drifter Nada (Piper; the character is actually never named in the film but is in the credits) uncovers a vast alien conspiracy and decides it’s time to kick some ass. David co-stars as Nada’s new pal, Frank.

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

Bad Stuff:
The pacing is a little slow.

Character building isn’t very good. I realized this as I considered Nada’s reaction when he discovered the aliens. “That seems inconsistent,” I thought. But as I pondered it deeper, I decided that his reaction made sense. I feel like I shouldn’t have to work that hard to understand my movie characters. By the end of the film, we still know virtually nothing about either Nada or Frank.

The sex scene/nudity was extremely gratuitous. Not necessary for the plot at all. It’s like Carpenter suddenly remembered it was an 80s film and decided to toss in some naked boobies.

Good Stuff:
For a movie that’s nearly 30 years old, it sure feels uncomfortably relevant, especially all the “rich people band together to screw over poor people” stuff.

It’s quite funny/entertaining.

I really enjoyed David’s performance. I’m just now realizing that he’s in everything (he has 260 acting credits on IMDB and he’s only 60).

The Verdict:
First, a story. I regularly attend a trivia night. Each week, there’s a themed visual round. One week, I don’t remember the theme, this movie was one of the answers. At that point, I hadn’t seen it in 20 years, so I didn’t immediately recognize it. “I think that’s ‘They Live,’” one of my male teammates said. “I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen the fight scene.” Later, when one of our other male teammates arrived, we asked if he recognized the picture. When we told him that we thought it was this movie, he said, “Oh yeah! I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen the fight scene.” LOL.

To be fair, now that I’ve seen it again, I have to agree that it’s a very memorable fight scene.

I do like this film. I think it’s a different, refreshing take on the old “alien invasion” trope. I like the open ending. It’s got some great pithy one-liners. There’s a good mix of action and intrigue. It’s not nearly as cheesy as one might expect. Plus, how can you go wrong with a glorious mane like Roddy Piper’s?

I give it 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Music Love: Five Songs

Lately, I've had an embarrassment of riches with new songs that I love. So I figured, instead of writing a long post about one song, I'd write a sentence or two each about five different songs. Here's some of what I've been digging lately.

"24K Magic" by Bruno Mars
I suppose there's someone out there who hates the music of Bruno Mars, but that person isn't me. I absolutely adore the groove of this song, how fun it is, and the flippant line, "spend your money like money ain't sh*t."

"Fill in the Blank" by Car Seat Headrest
I like the punk rock vibe of this song & love the lyrics. Example: "You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it. Haven’t seen enough of this world yet, but it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts."

"Atomic Number" by case/lang/veirs
What a phenomenal collaboration! I love their voices together. They had me at the line, "I'm not a pan of milk for you to spoil."

"California" by Robert Ellis
This is what made me fall in love with this song: "And she says maybe I'll move to California with the unbroken part of my heart I still have left. Maybe I'll fall in love again someday. I'm not gonna hold my breath." Gut punch.

"My Type" by Saint Motel
I think this song is irreverent & hilarious. I love the serious "I'm a man with very specific taste" juxtaposed with "You-you-you're just my type. Oh, you got a pulse and you are breathing." Cracked me up the first time I caught what he was saying. Also, this video is awesome.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #42: "The Fifth Element" (1997)

Movie Stats:
Released 1997 (France)
French, in English (IMDB says there’s Swedish & German but I don’t remember hearing it)
Director - Luc Besson
Stars - Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker

Plot Summary:
In the 2200s, taxi driver Korben Dallas (Willis) becomes embroiled in a quest to save the universe. Jovovich co-stars as Leeloo, a woman who’s the key to the universe’s survival; Holm as Vito Cornelius, the priest who’s trying to help her; Oldman as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, the bad guy; and Tucker as Ruby Rhod, a radio celebrity.

Violence; gore; mild blue language; brief female nudity (breasts only); heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It starts slow.

It’s too much. I find it a little hard to follow, i.e. keep track of what’s going on and why, who’s involved in what, etc. It's not great at explaining things.

I don’t think the love story is particularly believable.

Good Stuff:
It’s got a lot of humor. Tucker especially is pretty amusing.

Once you get past the slow beginning, it zips along at an enjoyable pace.

I like the denouement.

The special effects have held up surprisingly well for a 20(!)-year-old movie.

The Verdict:
I’ve seen this numerous times. It’s not a favorite, but I’ve always liked it. It’s funny. It’s got a lot of action. There’s some good world-building, and it has lots of clever ideas. Also, I love Oldman as Zorg. He’s so ridiculous. Sometimes when I watch it, I find Ruby Rhod incredibly annoying (he screams A LOT) and sometimes I think he’s really funny. He struck my funny bone this time. On the other hand, I’m disappointed that, in the future, there appear to be no women in any positions of power, and everyone seems to fetishize Leeloo, the “perfect being.” Plus, I don’t buy the idea that two people who’ve known each other for two days during which they’ve hardly communicated can fall in (genuine) love. I’ll never buy that. In the end, I’d put this film on the slightly higher end of the good spectrum.

I give it 3.5 stars.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #43: "Total Recall" (1990)

Movie Stats:

Released 1990 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Paul Verhoeven
Stars - Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and many others

Plot Summary:
A futuristic tale about average joe Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger), whose longing for something more out of life drives him to utilize a service that implants false memories. He quickly finds himself embroiled in a complicated plot involving Mars. Ticotin stars as Melina, the literal woman of Quaid’s dreams, and Ironside as Richter, the man hunting Quaid down.

Extreme violence; extreme gore; lots of blue language; brief female nudity (breasts only); heavily implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
It’s pretty cheesy, with lots of typical Schwarzenegger one-liners and some very hammy acting.

I don’t think they consulted any scientists before filming this. Most of it seems like BS.

Good Stuff:
The pacing is nice, fast enough to keep you interested but not so fast that you can’t make sense of what’s happening, and with plenty of action.

I like that it doesn’t play games with the audience. There’s not a lot of, “He’s totally dreaming. OR IS HE?”, like in “Inception.”  (Am I the only one who hated the ending of that movie?) This film is presented in a very straightforward fashion. It’s up to the audience to decide whether or not to take it at face value.

It’s fun.

The Verdict:
I’ve always enjoyed this film. Just a couple of weeks ago, I watched the remake and thought it was significantly inferior. The original has a better plot. Not hard when the remake’s plot is a hot mess, but regardless of that I think this plot is good. It makes sense. This film is a wild romp with plenty of sex, action, and humor. Yes, the science is questionable and the cheese factor is high, but, personally, I think that half the fun of Schwarzenegger movies are his punny one-liners (There’s actually a couple of great compilations of his one-liners on YouTube. Check them out if you need a good chuckle.) I don’t watch his films expecting them to be serious or deep.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Up with Geography: Cuba

Country Name:


None - it's an island; closest continent is North America.

Map of Cuba.

The nearest neighbors are The Bahamas & the U.S. to the North, Haiti to the Southeast, Jamaica to the South, and Mexico to the West.

Water Borders:
Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea

Total Area:
42,426 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holguin, Guantanamo

Famous Geographical Point:
Isla de la Juventud

Famous Person:
Víctor Manuel García Valdés, painter (part of the "Vanguardia" movement)

Book Set In/About:
Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

Arenas's memoir about growing up in Cuba, fighting for Castro until he became disillusioned, and finding himself persecuted for being gay and for criticizing the government. He would later flee to the USA, where he eventually committed suicide (after contracting HIV). Geez...

Movie Set In/About:
"Buena Vista Social Club" (1999), directed by Wim Wenders

A documentary about the music of Cuba.

Headline of the Day:
"Australia Embrace ‘Underdog’ Tag Against Pool Rivals Japan and Cuba at World Baseball Classic" on

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #44: "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982)

Movie Stats:
Released 1982 (USA)
American, in English (minimal translated alien language)
Director - Nicholas Meyer
Stars - William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Ricardo Montalban, and many others

Plot Summary:
The familiar crew from the original Star Trek series face an old foe in a battle over a project that could either save or destroy the universe. Shatner stars as Admiral James T. Kirk, Nimoy as Captain Spock, and Montalban as Khan, Kirk’s nemesis who’s bent on revenge.

Violence; extremely minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
It’s really cheesy. The dialogue, in particular, is frequently bad. Example: “Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? [pause] It is very cold in space!” I mean, really.

Anachronisms, a big sci fi pet peeve of mine. For example, Kirk uses reading glasses. I’m pretty sure that, by the 2300s, we’ll have eradicated sight problems, at least for someone as high-ranking as Kirk. We kind of already have (LASIK) in the late 20th/early 21st centuries.

For a guy considered one of the biggest villains in Trek-verse, Khan is kind of a weak character. Supposedly a super genius and yet [SPOILER-y] quite easily tricked by genetically inferior people. There was never a moment when I felt like he might win [SPOILER]. He’s also such a ridiculous ham that it’s difficult to take him seriously.

Good Stuff:
One of the joys of original Trek is seeing how the cast interacts with each other. They had a really good vibe that’s fun to watch.

I liked that it explored the idea that our decisions can come back to haunt us later in life. It was a surprisingly poignant message for what is essentially an action film.

It contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in cinema (“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”).  Gets me misty-eyed every single time.

It’s got a great soundtrack.

The Verdict:
If you can believe it, I’d never seen this in its entirety before, even though I love Star Trek. Partway through, my husband came in and asked, “So how much do you hate it?” I replied, “I don’t hate it at all.” Yes, it’s ridiculously cheesy and I think Khan is a poorly characterized villain, but it’s also fun and I feel that both the overarching story (the crew needs to stop the bad guy) and the underlying story (the aging crew must face the consequences of decisions they made when they were younger) are well-written. IMO, the movie could’ve done with a little fine tuning. I would say it deserves a less cheesy remake, but they already did that (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and the result was by far my least favorite of the new film series. Perhaps it’s best to leave Khan where he is.

I give it 3.5 stars.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #45: "District 9" (2009)

This movie was previously reviewed as part of my A-Z 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 2009 (7 different countries simultaneously)
American, New Zealander, Canadian & South African, in English (translated alien language; several different African languages, mostly translated)
Director - Neill Blomkamp
Stars - Sharlto Copley, David James

Plot Summary:
Twenty-eight years after an alien race has landed on earth in Johannesburg, South Africa, a munitions corporation by the name of Multi-National United (MNU) has been tasked with forcibly moving the alien refugees to a camp farther outside of town. MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe (Copley) has been tapped to lead the operation, but disaster unexpectedly befalls him. James co-stars as the MNU’s lead thug, Koobus Venter.

3.75 stars

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Ohio

State Name:


Date of Entry:
March 1, 1803


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

A close-up of Ohio & its neighbors.

Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana

Water Borders:
Lake Erie, Ohio River

Total Area:
44,825 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron

Famous Geographical Point:
Great Miami River

State Nickname:
The Buckeye State. Named for the abundance of buckeye trees in the state.

Famous Person:
George Bellows, realist painter (I recently saw an exhibition of his work & was blown away)

Book Set In/About:
Indignation by Philip Roth

Set at a fictional college in Ohio during the Korean War, a young man struggles to find his own voice and fights for his right to his own religious beliefs. I've actually read this and seem to recall that I didn't like it, but I'm pretty picky about my fiction.

Movie Set In/About:
"Heathers" (1988), directed by Michael Lehmann

Popular girl Veronica (Winona Ryder) grows tired of her clique, the Heathers. When she meets bad boy J.D. (Christian Slater), things become explosive. This dark comedy is a great look at the pressures of both high school and small town life.

Headline of the Day:
"Tim Ryan Won't Run for Ohio Governor" on