Friday, June 30, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #17: "Solaris" (1972)

Movie Stats:
Released 1972 (France)
Soviet, in Russian (some non-translated German; I watched with English subtitles)
Director - Andrei Tarkovsky
Stars - Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Juri Jarvet

Plot Summary:
When the crew of a space station orbiting the planet Solaris begin to experience strange phenomena, psychologist Kris Kelvin (Banionis) is sent there to determine if the project should continue. Bondarchuk co-stars as Kris’s wife, Hari (it was spelled this way in the subtitles; IMDB posts her name as Khari), and Jarvet as Dr. Snaut, a space station crew member.

Minor gore; implied sexy times; female semi-nudity (breasts seen through a see-through shirt that might as well have not been there at all).

Bad Stuff:
It’s very long and very slow. At one point, I said to my husband, “I feel like I’ve been watching this film for 30 years.”

There are a lot of scenes and shots that feel like they’re in there because the director was desperate to show how artistic he was. For example, the five-minute-long, silent, car ride of a secondary character with no apparent destination. We never see that character again. Or, the extreme close-up of Banionis’s ear hair while he monologued.

I don’t find characters’ reactions particularly believable. [SPOILER] If a loved one of mine came back from the dead, my reaction would include a great deal more freaking out. [SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
I enjoyed its more science-y aspects and liked that they attempted an actual explanation for the phenomena. While some characters’ reactions weren’t relatable, I appreciated that there was one person (Dr. Sartorius, played by Anatoliy Solonitsyn) who approached it as a scientist.

Quite a bit of the cinematography is really beautiful.

I appreciate the exploration of humanity, reality, and morality.

The Verdict:
To give you an idea of how long this film is, I completed 3 loads of laundry while watching it. I see that it’s received a lot of accolades over on IMDB. I confess I don’t get it. When I was younger, I loved a good art house film. Now I find even the shorter ones tedious and labored. One that’s nearly 3 hours long? Practically torture. There were so many scenes where I found myself thinking, “What is even the point of this?” It feels both self-indulgent & self-important, like if I were able to say any of this to the director, he would respond snootily, “Well, obviously you just don’t get it.” The longer I watched, the more I began to appreciate the more recent version. The original may be deeper and more philosophical, but at least it didn’t have this much filler.

I give it 2.5 stars.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Music Love: "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" by Talking Heads

Note: Video is a little NSFW due to pictures flashing on the screen behind the band.

I completely, utterly, love this song, and I’d somehow forgotten how much I love it until I saw it mentioned in a Reddit thread a couple of weeks ago & listened to it again. (That thread, appropriately, was an Ask Reddit about people’s favorite songs of all time.)

There’s just something so charmingly sweet about it, music and lyrics. It makes me happy every single time I hear it. My favorite lines:

“And you're standing here beside me; I love the passing of time. Never for money, always for love. Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight.”


“I come home, she lifted up her wings. I guess that this must be the place.”


“I'm just an animal looking for a home; share the same space for a minute or two. And you love me 'til my heart stops. Love me 'til I'm dead.”

In addition to how charming the song is by itself, I was equally disarmed by the video. Everyone seems to be having so much fun. I love all the knowing looks they give each other. Even more, I love how hilariously awkward David Byrne is. Moving his head like a chicken, dancing around with a standing lamp while looking like Mr. Rogers. Adorable.

By the time I finished this video, I was grinning like a fool. I immediately wanted to watch it again. There was something so incredibly special about the Talking Heads. Sometimes I feel a little sad that they’ll never perform together again.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #18: "Children of Men" (2006)

Movie Stats:
Released 2006 (Italy)
American, British & Japanese, in English (lots of non-translated foreign languages)
Director - Alfonso Cuaron
Stars - Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, and many others

Plot Summary:
In a near future where all women in the world have been infertile for nearly 20 years, young Kee (Ashitey) finds herself pregnant. Cynical former activist Theo Faron (Owen) is tapped to bring her to safety.

Strong blue language; violence; gore; brief female nudity (breasts & labia); drug use (marijuana).

Bad Stuff:
The pace is quite slow.

The birth scene is rather unbelievable.

Good Stuff:
I like that Theo is just a guy. He doesn’t have special skills or superhuman powers. His initial flight with Kee is almost comical, shoeless, with a car that barely starts. He spends half the film running for his life in flip flops. He simply cares, first for the ex-wife who asks for his help (Julian, played by Julianne Moore) and then for the Kee & the baby.

The acting is phenomenal. I love that you can see Theo transform from a man who’s been completely beaten down by life into a person with hope. There are some great secondary characters as well. My favorites are Theo’s friend Jasper (Michael Caine) & police officer Syd (Peter Mullan).

It has the kind of open ending I enjoy.

It’s got a great soundtrack.

The Verdict:
I saw this when it first came out. Whenever someone mentions it, I always say, “I love that film!” But I only saw it that once until now. While I don’t particularly care for the slow pace, I still think it’s a very good film. I find it incredibly moving. In fact, during one particular scene toward the end, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks. The hope & redemption in a world gone mad just really hit me right in the feels. The acting, particularly from Owen, was what stood out to me then, and it’s still what most stands out to me now, but there’s also much more to recommend, including what I mentioned above plus the stark cinematography.

I give it 4.5 stars.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #19: "The Fly" (1986)

Movie Stats:
Released 1986 (USA)
American, British & Canadian, in English
Director - David Cronenberg
Stars - Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz

Plot Summary:
When scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) sends himself through the teleportation device he’s invented, a mishap leads to his DNA merging with that of a fly. Davis co-stars as journalist-turned-Seth’s-lover Veronica Quaife & Getz as Veronica’s editor/former lover, Stathis Borans.

Blue language; violence; extreme gore; sexy times; brief male nudity (butt only).

Bad Stuff:
It’s way, way more gory than I care for in my movies.

I don’t like that it goes from a fairly interesting, scientifically-themed flick to horror schlock. That was disappointing.

There’s no reason that they had to tack “jealous creep ex” onto the Stathis character. He would have been perfectly acceptable (even better) as merely Veronica’s editor & friend. It was an unnecessary storyline. [SPOILER-y] There are a million other triggers that could have sent Seth on an ill-advised trip through the teleportation device beyond his jealousy of Stathis. [SPOILER]

Good Stuff:
I really enjoyed the first half of the film, which had a lot of scientific theory. I have no idea if any of it was correct, but it sounded plausible & was interesting.

Jeff Goldblum gives an excellent performance. I thought he was particularly good during the part of the film where he’s in the early stages of his transformation. Truly chilling.

A lot of the special effects are great.

I loved the soundtrack.

The Verdict:
This is a tale of two movies for me. The first half is interesting and intense as we follow an enthusiastic-and-perhaps-naive Seth while he perfects his machine, falls in love with Veronica, makes some poor life choices, and begins his transformation into a fly. The second half is typical, boring 1980s horror crap. I really liked that first half. If the whole film had been that way, I would’ve given it more than 4 stars. But it didn’t stay that way. Therefore, it’s not getting that 4+ rating. I still think there’s a lot to recommend in this film, particularly Goldblum’s performance, but it’s definitely not going to be my favorite of the Top 20.

I give it 3.75 stars.

Side note: Is it me, or does Stathis Barons sound strikingly similar to Stannis Baratheon? Maybe George R.R. Martin is a fan of this film, lol.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Out and About: Hellhole Canyon

Last month, my husband and I decided to head out to east San Diego County to visit the Bates Nut Farm. However, since there weren't any special events going on at the farm that day, I figured we wouldn't be spending a whole lot of time there & decided to hunt for other things to do in the area. That's how I discovered Hellhole Canyon.

I didn't take any pictures at the nut farm, but in addition to some tasty jams & other goodies, we picked up this cute piece of art for our house:

After finishing at the farm, we headed over to hike the canyon, which is nearby. I really enjoyed this hike, even though we didn't get to stay for very long. The views are absolutely gorgeous! Unfortunately, I didn't take into account the fact that the trail allows for horseback riding, which means there was a lot of horse dung and consequently a lot of flies. If we'd brought hats, it wouldn't have been a problem, but we forgot hats, so the flies were quite annoying, especially for my short-haired husband.

Here are a few shots from the hike:

Many trees like this bore evidence of a
somewhat recent fire.

Arty shot.

As I said, I really enjoyed the hike & was disappointed that we had to cut it short. I would definitely like to go back, but it will have to wait until the Fall. Due to its location deeper in the desert, it gets quite a bit hotter than where I live. In fact, the park is closed to hiking in August.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #20: "Forbidden Planet" (1956)

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 1956 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Fred M. Wilcox
Stars - Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Warren Stevens

Plot Summary:
Twenty years after a group of scientists landed on a far-flung planet for research, Commander Adams (Nielsen) and his crew are sent to discover why no one has heard from them again. On the planet, they find only two survivors, Dr. Morbius (Pidgeon) and his beautiful, naive daughter, Altaira (Francis). Soon, all are embroiled in a deadly mystery. Stevens co-stars as Lt. “Doc” Ostrow.

3.25 stars

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #21: "Back to the Future" (1985)

Movie Stats:
Released 1985 (USA)
American, in English (small amount of non-translated probable Arabic)
Director - Robert Zemeckis
Stars - Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover

Plot Summary:
Teenager Marty McFly (Fox) finds himself trapped in the past after using a time machine invented by his friend Dr. Emmett Brown (Lloyd). Thompson co-stars as Marty’s mother, Lorraine, and Glover as his father, George.

Blue language; violence; attempted rape; drug use (marijuana).

Bad Stuff:
I’ve always been squicked out by Lorraine lusting (unwittingly) after her own son. While it’s played for laughs, it just makes me uncomfortable.

The casualness with which sexual assault is dealt is exactly what people mean when they say, “rape culture.” Marty discovers that his father used to be a peeping tom and shrugs it off. In the altered timeline, Biff attempts to rape Lorraine and is shown to be friendly with her 30 years later. In fact, Lorraine and George laugh about how the attempted rape brought them together. Gross.

I wish Marty and Doc had one conversation where Marty said, “So you befriended me with full knowledge that all of this was going to happen? Would we have ever been friends otherwise?”

Good Stuff:
It’s got a great sense of humor. Lots of funny one-liners, dialogue, and sight gags. Also, pay attention to things in the background. So many amusing business names, etc.

I like how very much Marty acts like a teenaged boy. I feel like that’s a rare note to hit in a way that’s endearing/amusing rather than annoying. My favorite example of this is in the opening scene, where, when left to his own devices, Marty utilizes Doc’s giant amp to play the loudest guitar riff known to man.

The plot is well thought out. It lays its groundwork at the beginning, so you never feel like the writers made up stuff as they went along. For example, how Marty ends up back in 1955 is clever & makes sense.

The pacing is excellent.

The Verdict:
My whole life, everyone I know has liked this film way more than me. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s that most people love this film a lot. So I’ve always kind of felt like I don’t like it, or at least that I don’t get the rampant love. I tried to put those feelings aside and watch it this time with the mindset of a critic. And it actually worked! It led me to recognize that this is a really well made film. While it’s theatrical fluff, it’s fun and funny and paced in such a way that it never drags. It feels realistic, like something that could occur if you just so happen to have a mad scientist for a friend. I don’t really care for the icky sexual stuff (although I will admit that it was certainly in line with 1980s sensibilities) and I’m annoyed by the ending, which shamelessly sets up a sequel, but overall I think it’s a fantastic film.

I give it 4.25 stars.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Up with Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Country Name:
Democratic Republic of the Congo



African continent. Democratic Republic of
the Congo outlined in dark ink.

A close-up of the Democratic Republic of the Congo &
its neighbors.

Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Republic of the Congo

Water Borders:
Lake Albert, Lake Edward, Lake Kivu, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Mweru, Congo River, Atlantic Ocean

Total Area:
905,355 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma, Mbuji-Mayi, Kisangani

Famous Geographical Point:
Congo River

Famous Person:
Dikembe Mutombo, basketball player (famous for blocking shots, you may recognize him from a recent series of commercials where he does that with objects other than basketballs)

Book Set In/About:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This novel follows the fate of an American missionary family in the Congo during the middle of the 20th century. I've read it a few times & loved it each time, but it's been so long I don't recall much of what happens.

Movie Set In/About:
"Kinshasa Symphony" (2010), directed by Claus Wischmann & Martin Baer

A documentary about Kinshasa's symphony orchestra.

Headline of the Day:
"Democratic Republic of Congo Jail Break Frees Nearly 1000, Leaves Guards Dead" in The Sydney Morning Herald

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #22: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004)

Movie Stats:
Released 2004 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Michel Gondry
Stars - Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson

Plot Summary:
When Joel (Carrey) discovers that his recent ex-girlfriend Clementine (Winslet) has used a service to erase him from her memory, he decides to do the same thing with his memories of her. Wilkinson co-stars as Dr. Howard Mierzwiak, the man who provides the memory erasing service; and Ruffalo & Dunst as, respectively, Stan & Mary, two of Mierzwiak’s employees.

Lots of blue language; minor violence; heavily implied sexy times; brief male nudity (mostly upper butt cheek/butt crack); brief female nudity (a little bit more than side boob); drug use (marijuana).

Bad Stuff:
Clementine is a little bit too “manic pixie dream girl” for me.

It has too many story lines, which makes it somewhat fussy. For example, I think the movie could lose Patrick (Elijah Wood) and still be a great film. In fact, I think it would be better.

Soundtrack is a little meh.

Good Stuff:
I really enjoy the story itself. It’s a great concept that’s well executed. For a movie that’s thirteen years old, it still feels fresh and different.

There are a lot of fine performances. Carrey is the definite standout.

I like the themes it explores. [SPOILER] For example, the idea that someone who has meant a lot to you can never truly be erased from your life. [SPOILER] The film has a sweet sadness to it that’s tinged with beauty.

The Verdict:
This is a solid film. I saw it in the theater when it first came out & hadn’t seen it since until now. I remember really loving it the first time. I wouldn’t say I loved it this time ("manic pixie dream girl" wasn’t a known “thing” back then but she’s been quite popular in recent years & I’ve gotten sick of her so I found Clementine pretty annoying) but I still like & enjoy it. It’s a great idea that’s done well, and the concept is so novel that I don’t think there’s been any movie quite like it, either before or since. I would never put this movie on a favorites list, but I could see myself watching it once a decade and finding it refreshing and entertaining each time.

I give it 4 stars.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #23: "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (2001)

Movie Stats:
Released 2001 (USA)
American, in English
Director - Steven Spielberg
Stars - Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor, William Hurt

Plot Summary:
In the future, realistic robot boy David (Osment) goes on a quest to become real in order to win the love of the woman he considers his mother. O’Connor co-stars as Monica, David’s “mother”; Law as robot prostitute Gigolo Joe; and Hurt as Professor Hobby, the man whose idea gave birth to David.

Violence; minor gore; implied sexy times.

Bad Stuff:
As with most Spielberg stuff, I feel that the intent is to tug at my heartstrings. Like he’s angling for an Oscar by seeing how many tears he can make you shed.

The turn the film takes in the last 45 minutes is pretty strange. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie at all.

The murder side story, so little explored, is completely unnecessary and frankly a bit confusing. What is the point of it? Surely there was another way to make Joe and David’s paths cross.

Good Stuff:
Jude Law is, as always, amazing.

The visuals are stunning. Plus, a lot of the special effects have held up really well.

I enjoyed the soundtrack.

The Verdict:
Man, this movie is depressing. I wasn’t expecting that. I’m trying to imagine how Spielberg’s internal monologue went on this one. “How can we make this story about a little boy robot who’s been rejected by his mother sadder?” Mission accomplished, although I don’t think I much cared for the result. It’s just relentlessly maudlin. On the other hand, it has a lot of interesting ideas, at least one stellar performance (although the other actors apart from Law aren’t exactly slouches), and it looks good. Plus, it was nice to see something different, a story about love. Not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but not something I plan on ever watching again.

I give it 3 stars.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Up with U.S. Geography: Mississippi

State Name:


Date of Entry:
December 10, 1817

Map of USA. Mississippi outlined in dark ink & with
name written on it.

A close-up of Mississippi & its neighbors.

Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas

Water Borders:
Mississippi River, Gulf of Mexico

Total Area:
48,430 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Jackson, Gulfport, Southaven, Hattiesburg, Biloxi

Famous Geographical Point:
Mississippi River

State Nickname:
The Magnolia State. So named for the abundance of magnolia trees, which are also their state tree. The magnolia flower is their state flower. They are apparently very proud of their magnolias.

Famous Person:
Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights & voting rights activist

Book Set In/About:
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

This novel covers the course of 30 years and focuses on the fate of the Compsons, who are disgraced Southern aristocrats.

Movie Set In/About:
"In the Heat of the Night" (1967), directed by Norman Jewison

Set in a fictional Mississippi town, when a Northern black police detective becomes embroiled in a murder investigation, racial tensions flair.

Headline of the Day:
“Final Parts of Mississippi Budget Set During Special Session” in U.S. News & World Report.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Sci Fi Top 100, #24: "Twelve Monkeys" (1995)

Movie Stats:
Released 1995 (USA)
American, in English (a small amount of translated French)
Director - Terry Gilliam
Stars - Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt

Plot Summary:
Some thirty years after a virus wipes out most of the Earth’s population, forcing the survivors to live underground, convicted criminal James Cole (Willis) is sent back in time to discover the source of the infection. Stowe co-stars as psychiatrist Kathryn Railly & Pitt as psych patient Jeffrey Goines.

Violence; gore; lots of blue language; male nudity (butt only); attempted rape; forced drug use (psychiatric meds).

Bad Stuff:
Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for watching it, but I found myself a bit bored.

It’s weird in a way that makes me uncomfortable. For example, the way that county lock-ups & mental institutions are portrayed as dystopian hellholes. Like, I know such places aren’t exactly fun, but the way they are characterized here is really off-putting.

Good Stuff:
The performances from Willis and Pitt are phenomenal.

It’s refreshing to see a time travel movie that doesn’t hinge on someone going back in time to stop something. That’s a good way to avoid the problem of a time paradox.

This is the type of “mind game” story line that I like. The audience already knows the truth: that Cole is from the future. We don’t have to discover it along with the main characters. That means we can sit back, relax, and be entertained by the characters’ journey.

The Verdict:
This movie totally borrowed the beginning and end from La Jetée! So that explains how an obscure French short film found its way onto the list (by being influential). It seems more of a loving homage than outright theft. I thought it was kind of cool. As I said above, I found myself a trifle bored here, but I also wasn’t much in the mood for it, so I’m going to cut it some slack in my rating. It’s well crafted, a rare time travel film that avoids the pitfalls such movies typically face. I also really love Brad Pitt in it. Its one of his performances that remind you that he became popular for things other than having a pretty face. This is a flick that deserves all the accolades it has long received.

I give it 4 stars.