Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Music Love: "In the Long Run" by The Staves


The Staves is comprised of a trio of sisters that hail from the UK. What I enjoy most about them is their voices & the way that they harmonize. I also like that their songs tend to be sweet and sorrowful. I don’t own a ton of their music because, after a while, they start to sound a little same-y same-y to me. What I do own, however, I find incredibly soothing.

I like this song in particular for a reason that might seem odd on the surface: it reminds me of my early relationship with my husband. We were together for only a year when we got engaged. Two months later, he got a job in another state. At that point, I’d lived in the Pacific Northwest for ten years and I thought I was never leaving. To me, it was my home. I felt closer to my friends there than I’d felt to practically any other friends in my life. I had a decision to make.

So when The Staves sing these lines:

“But I can't be married, you'll take me away from everything that I love dearly
And we can't be lovers, you'll take me away from my home”

That hits me right in the feels.

I made the opposite decision of the woman in the song. I don’t think I would have seen my husband again, in the long run, if I’d decided to stay. I was married, and left my home. While I don’t regret the decision - it’s been a very grand adventure ever since - this song reminds me of that bittersweet time, in a good way. Every time I hear it, it brings a nostalgic smile to my face.

P.S. I chose this video because the live version, while quite nice, has some camerawork (EXTREME CLOSE UP!) that I don't care for.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #33: "Silent Running" (1972)

Movie Stats:
Released 1972 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Douglas Trumbull
Stars - Bruce Dern

Plot Summary:
In a distant future where the few remaining Earth flora are kept alive in space greenhouses run by a corporation, Freeman Lowell (Dern), the gardener who tends the last greenhouses, is given the order to destroy them. He goes rogue.

Warnings:
Violence; minor gore; very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
I can’t stress hard enough how ridiculously terrible the soundtrack is.

The product placement is out of control.

It’s very preachy. I don’t exactly disagree with the message, but I also don’t care to feel like I’m being scolded while watching a film for entertainment purposes.

Good Stuff:
I really liked the opening sequence.

Dern is quite good. I was worried about one actor having to carry the vast majority of a movie, but he was the right choice for it.

I enjoyed some of the concepts. I particularly liked how it played with the idea that, if plants are no longer necessary for survival, humans could lose sight of their value.

The Verdict:
Mostly, I found it dull. It’s a lot of Bruce Dern taking care of plants and fixing things and stuff. There’s not much excitement. And for as much as it points fingers at corporations for only caring about the bottom line, it certainly had a lot of corporate sponsors. On the other hand, I liked the concept. Dern was really good. Also, a lot of the visuals were pretty cool, even though a lot of it was fake-y looking. In the end, I think it’s a bit of a wash. I neither loved nor hated it. It was simply okay.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #34: "Galaxy Quest" (1999)

Movie Stats:
Released 1999 (Canada)
American, in English (some translated made-up alien languages)
Director - Dean Parisot
Stars - Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell, and many others

Plot Summary:
The washed-up actors of a Star Trek-like TV show are unwittingly pulled into an adventure by real-life aliens who believe that their show was a documentary. Allen stars as Jason Nesmith; Weaver as Gwen Demarco; Rickman as Alexander Dane; Shalhoub as Fred Kwan; and Rockwell as Guy Fleegman.

Warnings:
Violence; gore; very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
There are some logical inconsistencies. [SPOILER-y] For example, the Thermians based all of their tech on a fictional TV show, so how is it that beryllium spheres actually exist? I looked it up, thinking that beryllium is fictional. Turns out it’s real but it’s rare and doesn’t seem to exist in easily mine-able spheres. [SPOILER]

I could see how this wouldn't be nearly as amusing if one isn’t familiar with Star Trek.

Good Stuff:
It’s hilarious. The scenario itself is funny. The characters’ reactions are also amusing. The best part by far, however, is the dialogue. I quote this movie all the time. It has so many great one-liners.

The acting is top-notch. It’s so top-notch that it’s difficult to single anyone out. Every time I think I have my favorites narrowed down, I remember someone else who shines. But here goes: Rockwell, who cracks me up in pretty much every scene; Shalhoub, whose laid-back reactions kill me; and Enrico Colantoni, as Thermian leader Mathesar, whose awkward laugh alone brightens the movie. Shoutout to Alan Rickman for being Alan Rickman. Also, it’s fun to see Weaver, who usually plays a bad-ass bitch in sci fi, playing a blonde bombshell who seems to lack a purpose outside of looking pretty.

It just makes you feel good.

The Verdict:
Years ago, on an unexpectedly beautiful late winter/early spring day, I played hooky from work with my then-new boyfriend (we would go on to be together for five years and remain good friends even now). One of the things we did was go to see this film. It had been out for a few months at that point, and I don’t think we were expecting much. Both of us were very pleasantly surprised. In fact, to this day, this remains one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen it dozens of times and I still laugh every single time I do. Everyone is so good in it and the dialogue is so funny. I feel like it exists to make your day better. Its message certainly isn’t deep: be nice to your friends, don’t lie, don’t be cynical, and believe in yourself. Maybe it’s the inspirational poster of movies, but I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying a nice, fluffy film every now and then.

I give it 4.75 stars.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Woodland Enchantress Cross Stitch, Project Report 4

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 January 2017:


And here's what it looks like now:


This represents just 17.25 hours spread out over 10 days. That's the least amount of time I've spent on the project since I began, largely due, I think, to the move. Also, I'm sort of in the doldrums. Last night, I worked on it for two hours while watching a movie and all I did during that time was line after line of the navy blue you see on the right-hand side. And that part isn't even done!

Interesting side note: while looking this over to do my post, I realized that I've done 10 days worth of work every single quarter. The only difference is the amount of hours I spent on those days. Unintentional and a little weird.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #35: "The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976)

Movie Stats:
Released 1976 (UK)
British, in English
Director - Nicolas Roeg
Stars - David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark

Plot Summary:
A space alien who goes by the name of Thomas Jerome Newton (Bowie), seeking water for his drought-plagued planet, goes to Earth and builds a successful company. Torn co-stars as Nathan Bryce, one of Newton’s employees, and Clark as Mary-Lou, Newton’s love interest.

Warnings:
Full male and female nudity; sexy times; blue language; violence; minor gore.

Bad Stuff:
It’s SO BORING.

The soundtrack is overall quite terrible.

Sex scenes are gratuitous and just plain bizarre.

Bad, bad acting.

Good Stuff:
Um, I guess I like the idea of an alien coming to our planet with a mission and being corrupted by very human influences.

The Verdict:
It’s awful. Barely coherent. I literally can’t believe the glowing reviews it has on IMDB. Just because a movie is weird doesn’t mean it’s good. I consider this movie to be nearly two hours of torture. I hated it.

I give it .25 star.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #36: "Inception" (2010)

Movie Stats:
Released 2010 (UK)
American & British, in English (minimal, translated Japanese; minimal, non-translated French)
Director - Christopher Nolan
Stars - Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, and many others

Plot Summary:
A group of people who engage in corporate espionage by extracting secrets from people in their dreams is hired to do the opposite: implant an idea in a dreamer’s mind. DiCpario stars as team leader Cobb; Gordon-Levitt as point-man Arthur; Page as dream architect Ariadne; Hardy as “forger” Eames; and Watanabe as Saito, the man who hires them.

Warnings:
Violence; minor gore; very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
I’m not a big on mind game story lines. I find them tiresome. This particular one is definitely over complicated for my taste.

It’s a slow starter. Takes a long time to set the stage and get to the point.

I hate the ending. Typically, I enjoy an open ending, but this one feels both cheap and predictable.

Good Stuff:
It’s extremely creative.

Visually, it’s quite stunning. The special effects have aged well, so it’s still nice to look at.

DiCaprio is amazing, as always. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film of his that I thought he was bad in. Films of his that I haven’t liked? Sure. But not ones where I thought he was bad.

The Verdict:
I saw this in the theater when it first came out. I will always be grateful to it for three things (two of which are shallow, one possibly shallow): 1. JGL in formal wear. 2. It introduced me to Tom Hardy. 3. The JGL spinning hotel room fight sequence, one of my all-time favorite fight scenes. That being said, I’m not the biggest fan of this film. I think that’s largely due to #1 under bad stuff: I just don’t find “mind game” stories particularly engaging. Every TV show I’ve ever watched has to have a “mind game” episode and I always hate them. Just tell a straightforward story, please. A dream within a dream within a dream… and now you’ve lost my interest. It's not that I don’t like “Inception.” I love the visuals, the special effects, and most of the actors. I’m just not enamored with it the way many people seem to be.

I give it 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Up with Geography: Cyprus

Country Name:
Cyprus

Capital:
Nicosia

Continent:
None, it's an island in the Mediterranean Sea

Map:
A close-up of Cyprus. I chose not to include the UN Buffer
Zone that divides Turkish Cyprus in the north from Greek
Cyprus in the south.

Neighbors:
The nearest neighbors are Turkey to the north, Syria to the east, and Lebanon to the southeast.

Water Border:
Mediterranean Sea

Total Area:
3,572 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Limassol, Strovolos, Nicosia, Larnaca, Lakatamia

Famous Geographical Point:
Troodos Mountains

Famous Person:
İsmet Vehit Güney, artist, teacher, & creator of the Cypriot flag

Book Set In/About:
The People in Between: A Cyprus Odyssey by Gregory S. Lamb

To connect with the heritage she barely knows, a woman travels to Cyprus, where she learns about her family's history & the conflicts that have plagued the country for decades.

Movie Set In/About:
"Akamas" (2006), directed by Panikos Chrissanthou

Spanning two decades of Cypriot history (1950s-1970s), it's the tale of a Greek (Christian) Cypriot and a Turkish (Muslim) Cypriot who fall in love and get married, facing opposition at every turn. The Cypriot government banned this film from being shown in Cyprus.

Headline of the Day:
"Cyprus Reunification Talks Restart, Tough Challenges Ahead" in The Seattle Times.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #37: "Primer" (2004)

Movie Stats:
Released 2004 (USA)
American, in English (minimal, mostly non-translated, French)
Director - Shane Carruth
Stars - Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

Plot Summary:
Friends Aaron (Carruth) and Abe (Sullivan) accidentally create a time machine and eventually clash over its best application.

Warnings:
Very minor violence; even more minor gore; very minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
It’s difficult to follow.

The production values are quite obviously very low.

It’s mostly just a lot of (often quite technical) talking.

Good Stuff:
Despite the low production value, I thought the acting was good.

It’s nice to see a cerebral entry on the list.

I liked the concept (I think). This is not your standard time travel story. I appreciate that the characters were aware of, and tried to compensate for, the time travel paradox.

The Verdict:
I’m not entirely sure that I know WTH just happened. Two guys make a machine and they talk a lot and then they have a falling out over the machine. The end. I did enjoy how the tale grew more and more sinister as it went along. I liked that it was short (nothing worse than a story with too much filler). Overall, the film had a realistic feel. I think that I liked it, although it’s hard to say, given that I still don’t quite understand it. In the end, it felt like a film my husband (who prefers more cerebral stories) would have liked more than I did.

I give it 3 stars.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #38: "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978)

Movie Stats:
Released 1978 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Philip Kaufman
Stars - Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy

Plot Summary:
After landing on Earth, aliens quickly begin to take over by cloning the human race. Sutherland stars as health inspector Matthew Bonnell; Adams as his co-worker, Elizabeth Driscoll; Goldblum as Bonnell’s friend, Jack Bellicec; Cartwright as Bellicec’s wife, Nancy; and Nimoy as Bonnell’s other friend, Dr. David Kibner.

Warnings:
Violence; gore; drug use, both consensual and non; brief male nudity (butt only, and it’s covered in mud, so it’s more of a sort of); female nudity (breasts only).

Bad Stuff:
The main characters suffer from a serious case of what I call "the horror movie stupids.” [SPOILER-y] For example, if you send someone into a room to look at a dead body and that person comes back and is like, “Nope, no body there” and sure enough, you check and the body’s gone, maybe that person is a bad guy who did something with the body? Or, if pretty much the whole city has been cloned, including the government, then I think it’s safe to assume the taxi drivers have been turned and maybe you shouldn’t get into that cab. [SPOILER]

The soundtrack is overbearing.

The plot is a bit weak, lots of "people running around without a game plan."

Good Stuff:
It has some genuinely creepy moments, especially in the beginning.

The special effects have held up well.

I like the idea of it. At one point, when Matthew and co. are trying to figure out what’s going on, Jack openly scoffs at Nancy’s (correct) assessment and she says, “What did you expect, metal space ships?” (Side note: I liked Jack’s response, “I didn’t expect anything!” I don’t either, friend.) So many alien invasion movies are all violence, war, and explosions. I enjoyed the insidiousness of the takeover. These aliens a less-violent, less technological Borg.

The Verdict:
In the beginning, I liked it. The pacing is good. It got right to the point. I enjoyed the tension of the characters slowly beginning to figure out what was happening as the noose tightened around them. I also enjoyed how creepy the aliens were until they learned how to fake human behavior. However, once things finally came to a head, I felt like the movie flailed around quite a bit, like it couldn’t figure out how to end. The characters never seemed to make sensible decisions. It was frustrating. While I did like how things eventually wrapped up in that rather famous way (I think most of us have seen the clip), I have a hard time getting over the tiresome portion of the film that felt like filler.

I give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Louisiana

State Name:
Louisiana

Capital:
Baton Rouge

Date of Entry:
April 30, 1812

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

A close-up of Louisiana & its neighbors.

Neighbors:
Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas

Water Borders:
Sabine River/Lake, Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico

Total Area:
50,000 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Metairie, Lafayette

Famous Geographical Point:
Lake Pontchartrain

State Nickname:
The Pelican State. The brown pelican is the state bird. Presumably they have a lot of them.

Famous Person:
Louis Armstrong, influential jazz musician, composer & singer

Book Set In/About:
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

During the late 19th century, a young woman with increasingly feminist views struggles against the constraints of her time/place.

Movie Set In/About:
"A Streetcar Named Desire" (1951), directed by Elia Kazan

Down on her luck and mentally unbalanced, Blanche Dubois (Vivien Leigh) goes to live with her sister Stella Kowalski (Kim Hunter) and her brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando). Tension ensues and Brando lights up the screen.

Headline of the Day:
"Poll: Louisiana Residents Largely Support Criminal Justice Reform Proposals" in The Advocate.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #39: "Dark Star" (1974)

Movie Stats:
Released 1974 (USA)
American, in English
Director - John Carpenter
Stars - Brian Narelle, Dan O’Bannon, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm

Plot Summary:
Four men on a deep space mission experience a series of setbacks. It’s intended to be a spoof of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Narelle stars as Lt. Doolittle; O’Bannon as Pinback; Pahich as Talby; and Kuniholm as Boiler.

Warnings:
Violence.

Bad Stuff:
Nearly everything: acting, writing, special effects, cinematography, plot, score, sound effects, etc. I saw the director’s cut, which opens with a Star Wars-like scrolling intro that explains extensively that the movie is a comedy but that no one seems to “get it.” Sorry, Mr. Carpenter (director) and Mr. O’Bannon (writer), it’s not that I don’t “get it,” it’s that I found most of it painfully unfunny.

Good Stuff:
It’s only an hour and ten minutes long (felt longer).

[SPOILER-y]
I liked the idea of a man trying to talk an intelligent bomb out of blowing itself up. That was interesting and mildly funny.
[SPOILER]

The Verdict:
Several years ago, a friend was leaving the country for a long stretch of time & had a going away party. At it, he showed the movie “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.” Ever since then, it’s been my go-to anecdote for “worst movie I’ve ever seen.” I think “Dark Star” might replace it. At the very least, there was more that I found entertaining in “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.”

I really hated this film. Even if the intro hadn’t told me that it began as a student movie, I would’ve been able to tell. It’s very bad. Most of the time, I didn’t even understand what was happening. I didn’t chuckle or crack a smile once. In fact, by the end, I just felt angry that I watched it at all. I’m appalled that it’s on this list, let alone at #39.

I give it .5 (half a) star.