Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movies I Saw In 2014

Movies I Saw In 2014

* * * * *
The Adventures Of Tin Tin (2011)

Halfway through this film -- somewhere in the midst of the wild action, goofy mystery, and John Williams score -- a thought struck me: This kind of reminds me of an Indiana Jones movie. And then another thought came: Yeah... but so did Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls. Then I realized... why, maybe Tin Tin is the movie Spielberg wanted to make all along! Like, he was dying to make an action/adventure/mystery where the characters could move through the world like cartoons, where pesky things like physics and logic didn't always apply. Problem is, he did that with Crystal Skulls. Bad move. Bad movie. Here, because Tin Tin is all motion-capture animationy, it's acceptable. It's kind of fun. And also kind of odd.

* * * * *
Hugo (2011)

Visually, Steampunk Mordred Hugo was very pleasing. Plot-ually, I'm undecided. There are a lot of really cool, fun moments, but as a whole I was left feeling kind of disturbed and dissatisfied. Maybe that'll change upon a second viewing of the film? +Points for Ben Kingsley, -Points for Borat.

* * * * *
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Having been a big fan of Mary Poppins and all things vintage Disney, you'd think I would be all over this film -- and yet, because of my love for both things, I was actually not eager to see this. I had already heard/read/seen lots of information about the Disney-Travers acquisition. But it turns out the movie isn't just about that -- it's got this whole time-shifting parallel storyline o'fun about PL Travers as a little girl and her relationship with her father. Which I might have been more keen on, had the father not been played by one of my actor nemeses (Colin Farrell, why?). That said, the Farrelldom is canceled out by the inclusion of one Mr. Paul Giamatti, who plays a driver to Mrs. Travers. In the end, the Disney parts were watchable, and the Mary Poppins-references were fun, but this isn't one I'd watch again.

* * * * *
Frozen (2013)

I wanted to like Frozen. I wanted that very much. And I didn't hate the movie or anything. I actually loved the animation and all the icy effects. Olaf was great. But I sometimes wonder if I'll ever love another animated Disney movie the way I love(d) Beauty and the Beast. The silly thing is, many of the problems I had with Frozen (such as characters using modern catchprases rather than acting all old-timey as they friggin ought) are things that also happen in BATB. Then there are the plotholes. One viewing of Frozen, and I found the plotholes terribly obvious. BATB has those, too, but I didn't notice them till my 40th viewing. So that's the difference, I guess. Also there's nostalgia, too, of course. Or maybe I'm just too dang old & jaded.

* * * * *
The Lego Movie (2014)

The only non-Rifftrax movie I saw in a theater this year was The Lego Movie. I knew nothing about the film going in (well, except, you know... Lego.) I went with my four little cousins and we laughed throughout the film. It was very funny and clever. I've tried to rewatch it since, though, and it doesn't have quite the same effect.

* * * * *
Dirty Dancing (1987)

I may be the one child of the 80's who had never ever seen this movie until this year. I didn't even know what it was about, save for the fact that it had Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze and they danced, supposedly dirtily, and maybe fell in love or something. So I finally rented it. I thought the first half of the film dragged. When the two leads started dancing together, things got a bit more interesting. I can definitely see the appeal when it comes to Patrick Swayze being all hot and yummy. But as a film, I dunno. Not overly impressed.

* * * * *
The Giver (2014)

I first read the novel about a decade ago, then again last year -- along with the three other books in the series. I was excited to see the film, even though I knew they'd cast two entertainers/actors I really don't care for (in minor roles, but still.) I was a little nervous to see what changes they would make in the film. That said, I thought it was a good adaptation, although... well... seeing certain things as opposed to reading them can be a bit overwhelming... and certain portions of the movie, though they mirror events in the book, are disturbing. I ended up watching it twice and found myself enjoying it more the second time.

* * * * *
Amelie (2001)

I avoided this film for ages because I'd heard how quirky it was, and generally I try to avoid excessive amounts of quirky. But I'm glad I finally watched it because, while it does have quirkiness, it's also kind of dark, and it's also really fun to watch. The character of Amelie is a lot more likable than I was expecting her to be. She's no saint, but she's no demon either. The whole movie is in French, which somehow I didn't know. And would you know that's not the first time I've inadvertently rented a movie in French? Roll on, subtitles, roll on.

* * * * *
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

I never would've watched this, except my mother insisted I rent it for her. Attack of the British Honored Citizens: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and then some! It was a moderately enjoyable film with multiple storylines that seemed a bit confusing at times. I'm sure a second viewing would clear most of that up.

* * * * *
Flipped (2010)

This is a cute film directed by Rob Reiner that's kind of Stand By Me meets The Wonder Years. 1950s & 60s period pieces about kids aren't my favorite thing to watch... I'm trying to put my finger on why. I've seen a bunch of them. Maybe it's because I feel like I'm watching a movie about my parents or something. Well, whatever. This is the story about a boy named Bryce who is arguably more stupid than Kevin Arnold; Juli, who is a bit smarter than Winnie Cooper; and their bumpy, silly, teenage relationship. If you're into nostalgic, awkward coming-of-age movies, you'll probably enjoy it.

* * * * *
Pride & Prejudice (1980)

My unofficial quest to watch every Jane Austen-related movie ever made continues. As far as P&Ps go, while this is nowhere near as good as the Colin Firth version (nothing will ever compare, mind you), it's at least more faithful to the book than the Keira Knightley or the Laurence Olivier versions. However, it also seems low-budget... not surprising as it was a TV movie made in the 70s.  Still, it was fun to see a different adaptation, and I especially enjoyed seeing Judy Parfitt in her portrayal of Lady Catherine.

* * * * *
Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995)

This was another one I'd heard about for years, and kind of avoided for whatever reason. I really don't know what to think of it, now. It was a good film, and Heather Matarazzo was great. But maybe because of the time period it was set in (early-to-mid 90's) and the behavior of her classmates, it struck a nerve... it felt disturbingly familiar. At the same time, I was shocked by the way the main character acted sometimes. Like, one minute I'd feel sorry for her because her family was terrible and she was bullied by pretty much everyone. And other times, I was like... girl, you're horrible, no wonder no one likes you. Then I felt bad for thinking that.

* * * * *
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

I'd been wanting to re-watch this for a while, since I follow Lisa Jakub (Lydia Hillard) on Twitter and she is super cool. (And, you know, Robin Williams, R.I.P.) When I finally sat down to watch it, though, it occurred to me that I don't think I'd actually ever seen the whole movie. Maybe I'd just caught parts of it on TV over the years. Anyway, I finally watched the entire thing, and I found it kind of hard to watch. Daniel Hillard's character tries to be funny, but he is just so unlikable. If I were Sally Field, I'd dump him, too! And the things he does in the film are really weird. Dressing as an old woman would be one thing. But lying, manipulating, having woman-to-woman talks with his ex-wife about really intimate things... and trash talking the Pierce Brosnan character constantly. I can understand why he does it, but it's pretty awful. And it's supposedly funny to throw fruit at his head or put pepper (which he's allergic to) on Pierce's food? Daniel is really sadistic. But he loves his kids sooo much, so it's okay? Hmm. I won't be in a hurry to watch it again.

* * * * *
Life Of Pi (2012)

I had a hard time with this film, because I love animals, and Life Of Pi isn't always very nice to them. It respects them, sure, okay, but it also shows several of them dying (and implies the deaths of many others.) Animal tragedies, nooo! But IF you can get past the first, oh, thirty minutes of the film without having a massive panic attack due to animal perishment, you can settle in, relax, and rest assured that things will just be less dreary from there on out. Pi is a survival/adventure story with some spirituality stuff overarching. And there's a tiger. And while he never (spoiler alert!) actually eats Pi, you're always kind of wondering if he might. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Just Your Average Teenage Musical Awakening

When I was 15 years old, I discovered pop music...

...and it was glorious.

As a wee lass, I lived in a world mostly devoid of pop. My parents didn't listen to it. If the radio was ever on, it was usually tuned to an oldies station... and not even the kind of oldies station that played The Beatles and stuff like that... no, the kind that played dentist office music, as I called it.

We owned a record player and a tape deck, but aside from a few "Wee Sing" tapes, none of the music was really mine. I grew up listening to my parents' music -- the folk, the gospel, the Streisand. I knew the words to a dozen show tunes. And if ever there was a song that was sung way back when on the prairie, I probably knew it... and all its verses.

Sure, I was aware of pop music. Sometimes I'd hear it at friends' house, or when we went to the skate rink. If a song was really popular among the other kids, I usually knew about it. In fourth grade, I could name all the members of New Kids On The Block, not because I listened to their music... because my cousin loved them and taught me all she could. I knew about Counting Crows thanks to Full House. I was cognizant of Nirvana and Pearl Jam because kids at school talked about them. 

But when I was fifteen, something snapped. 

My sophomore year of high school, I was at home sans parents more often than ever before, and I began listening to the radio on my own. I started with the semi-cool oldies station, because many of the songs were at least mildly familiar to me, having heard them in movies and commercials. After a few months of listening to oldies, I began tuning to Z100, our go-to station for all the hit pop songs of the day. When Z100 went to commercials, I'd switch to 106.7 for soft rock. And when I became friends with a girl who loved country music, I started listening to country, too.

My mix tapes from 1996 would give you a good sampling of the kind of things that I enjoyed listening to back then.  I was so proud of my ability to make mix tapes. I didn't even know they were a thing that other people did... I just knew that if I hit "record" on the tape player while a song was playing on the radio, the music went onto the tape forever. If I liked a song very much, I'd let it find its way onto multiple tapes. Then I could take those tapes anywhere I wanted and listen to them with my Walkman.

And so, within months, I went from not caring much about popular music to wanting to listen to it whenever and wherever and however I could. 

When I think back on those days, it occurs to me that my sudden, intense love for pop music (and to some extent, my love for country and soft rock) wasn't just about the music. There was something else. Something that only radio (and maybe MTV, which we didn't have anyway) could give me at that time....

*If I knew the popular songs, I'd have something to talk about with other kids at school (and/or not sound like an idiot.)

*If I listened to the DJs talk, I could find out what things were currently happening in the world of entertainment, and learn which artists were cool.

*If I paid attention to the lyrics of the songs, I might just stumble upon some hidden gem of knowledge that my parents were keeping from me. (A nice thought, but it turns out I didn't understand what 1/4 of the lyrics really meant anyway, and wouldn't figure out most them until my 20's; thank you, Internet!)

Besides those things, pop music was something that the other members of my family weren't familiar with... this was something all my own. My parents were stuck in the 70s, music-wise. My younger brother eventually became a fan of heavy metal and alt rock, but circa 1996, he didn't appear too interested in the music I loved. So this was something that was mine. As a teenager struggling to find my place in my family, school, and world, I needed things of my own, or at least things that felt like they were my own.

Nowadays, I hardly ever listen to pop music, I dislike modern country music, and my favorite genres are actually Classical and 80's Rock. Funny how things can change. But just because my tastes run a little different, now, doesn't mean I don't like to occasionally listen to music from "the good old days."

Today I happen to be poring over the Top 100 Billboard Songs From 1996. Join me as I reminisce!

#1 On The Charts That Year: Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) - Los Del Rio
Friggin Macarena. Okay, so I knew the dance, but only because if you didn't know the Macarena, you were nothing.

#3: Because You Loved Me - Celine Dion
Celion Dion, then known to me merely as The Other Lady Who Sang "Beauty & The Beast," was a Z100 staple that spring. The movie Up Close & Personal came out in March, and that song was its anthem. Two years later, we would be inundated with My Heart Will Go On.

#4: Nobody Knows - The Tony Rich Project
This was one of the first songs I ever put onto a mix tape, so I listened to it many times that year.

#5: Always Be My Baby - Mariah Carey
I loved Mariah Carey's voice and her music back then. But it occurs to me now that a lot of her songs have really great intros/beginnings... and then sort of go south. Oh well... the lady can sing!

#8: I Love You Always Forever - Donna Lewis
Notable because I could not get enough of this song in the summer of 1996.

#12: Missing - Everything But The Girl
Because when you miss something like the deserts miss the rain, you aren't kidding around.

#13: Ironic - Alanis Morisette 
Alanis was huge that year. "Ironic" wasn't my favorite of her songs, but it got so much playtime that I can't help but feel nostalgic when I hear it. Annnd sing along.

#15: Follow You Down - Gin Blossoms
Yet another one that just screams "1996" to me. 

#18: It's All Coming Back To Me Now - Celine Dion
If "Because You Loved Me" was the anthem of early spring, IACBTMN was that of mid-to-late summer. With two great songs to her credit, I decided I needed to buy a Celion Dion cassette tape to own. And so I did. Yes, I still have it.

#19: Change The World - Eric Clapton
I actually didn't care for this song, and still don't, but hearing it definitely takes me back to warm summer days.

#22: Insensitive - Jann Arden
Another song that takes me back to summer '96. 

#24: Name - Goo Goo Dolls
This is one song (the others being #39 and #41) that I still really enjoy listening to today.

#25: Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel
I liked this song because I could make my voice sound like Jewel's, all raspy. I thought I was so cool. Jewel would probably disagree.

#26: Where Do You Go - No Mercy
This song was used in a special promo for my favorite show of that time, Lois & Clark. Legend has it that this particular promo only ever aired twice. It didn't save the poor show from being canceled a year later, but dangit if I didn't fall immediately in love with this song because of of that silly (awesome) promo.

#39: Breakfast At Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something
I still love this song!

#41: The World I Know - Collective Soul
And this one!

#53: Mouth - Merril Bainbridge 
We all liked this song... and I don't know why. I think it felt kind of edgy? I don't know. Now I think it's kind of ick.

#54: The Earth, The Sun, and the Rain - Color Me Badd
A minute ago, I was like, What was this song? Do I remember this? So I found it on youtube and within thirty seconds I was singing along. SINGING ALONG. Hahaha oh wow. My crazy brain.

#55: Hook - Blues Traveler
I loved Blues Traveler. And this song was so fun, with its super-fast part with the words we all pretended to know. (Apparently the lyrics are "Anne Boleyn," not "in Berlin." How do you like that?)

#76: As I Lay Me Down - Sophie B. Hawkins
I will not attempt to try to explain to you how much I loved this song. 

#81: Unbreak My Heart - Toni Braxton
One example of a song that played too often that year and that I got totally sick of.

#82: This Is Your Night - Amber
One of the songs I used to dance/work out to. Dabah dabah dah dip-doppa-thay! Also, the video for it is officially crazy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lego Projects: "Gingerbread House 2.0" (2013)

A year after I built the first version of the Gingerbread House, I was given the chance to share it in a display window at the Washington Square (Oregon) Lego Store. This happened in December, 2013; a good time for Gingerbread Houses. Unfortunately, the house was too small to really fill the display case, so I had to widen the landscape. Then I made a few alterations. 

For comparison, here is the original GB House....

And here is the expanded version, most affectionately known as Gingerbread House 2.0...

The snowy hedge border is new, as is the dog house, the arched gateway, and a lot of the candy. And Mr. Gingerbread Man is new, too... that minifig didn't even exist in 2012.

For more photos, visit my flickr album.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oregon Zoo: Another Amazing Autumn

Another year at the Oregon Zoo....
 This autumn has been beautiful, wild, windy & colorful!

We said goodbye to the Lorikeets... :(

...and we welcomed back the Zoo Train...

We were there when the flamingos flipped out...

...and we even caught a glimpse of the oft-elusive porcupines.

We were carefully watched...

...and did plenty of watching ourselves.

We marveled at the fact that the construction area now has its own exhibit signs.

We admired the glorious fall colors...


...and we regularly stalked the lion exhibit, hoping to spot the newborn cubs on one of their rare outings...

we are not the cubs you seek...
but come closer...
yes, closer...
The weather's pretty wintry, now...

....but we'll be bundling up and going back again soon!

Perhaps we'll see you there?