Wednesday, June 17, 2015

tiny beautiful shells ...

... keep washing up on the beach. Happily my eyesight is still sharp enough to find them.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

jurassic world's not-so-hidden messages

There is no denying what a huge hit Jurassic World is — certainly the blockbuster of the summer, possibly of the decade. It delivers on all counts. It's thrilling, terrifying, fun, funny, and even a tad romantic. It's also a movie buff's dream, with nods to King Kong, Romancing the Stone, and even its progenitor Steven Spielberg's Jaws and Jurassic films.

Everyone in the audience and long lines waiting to get in to see it knows exactly what they're in for. There will be dinosaurs and there will be blood. The dinosaurs will look very cool. Kids will be threatened. There will even be a few "ooh" and "ahh" moments between scenes of carnage. There will be good guys — Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. There will be cartoonish bad guy(s) — Vincent D'Onofrio and BD Wong. There will be a plot thread left dangling to make way for another sequel. In other words, pure summer popcorn entertainment.

Whose idea was it to use real dinosaurs again?

Safari fun - until somebody dies

Yeah, he's a movie star

While Jurassic World delivers on all these counts and then some, I couldn't help noticing that there were a few other messages floating through the mayhem.

Why are we so bored and spoiled? Jurassic World is presented as the ultimate theme park, but we are told that attendance is down because people just want bigger and better thrills. There is no actual evidence of this from the people who are visiting the park. They all seem to be having a grand old time, kids and adults alike. But the corporate sponsors want more danger, more excitement, and the park feels pressured to provide that, in the form of a deadly, new dinosaur.

Theme parks are dangerous and expensive. How much exactly would it cost to visit Jurassic World? You have to fly to a remote island and stay on-site at a costly hotel. Park admission would not be cheap, certainly with hidden costs for special animal encounters. And all of the food, souvenirs, and shopping would be bound to be ridiculously expensive. Sort of like going to Disney, but with longer, sharper teeth.

Technology is killing us. No matter how thrilling the park might be, the majority of its attendees spent a lot of time experiencing it through their smart phones, either taking photos, or ignoring what's around them altogether. This point is made most strongly through the brutal demise of Claire's (Howard) assistant (Katie McGrath), who is attacked by no less than three dinosaurs, all while never dropping her damn product placement phone. The two main kids' (Claire's nephews) phone is crushed and discarded by the big bad dinosaur, rendering Claire's own phone useless as a way to contact them. And does our hero Owen (Pratt) even have one? Claire doesn't or can't call him, but has to drive out to his Luddite's dream of a shack to find him, far away from the high-tech lab, offices, and park where she resides. No wonder he is the only one to trust when the going gets deadly.

And about that product placement. No one in movies has embraced product placement perhaps more than Steven Spielberg. But here that impulse is turned on its head, with all the Starbucks cups and boutique stores lining the shopping area of Jurassic World seeming crass and over-the-top. A little too reflective of our consumerist present, perhaps. How did we get here and why do we need all of this stupid stuff?

Whether you are looking for the subtle critiques of our modern lives, or just in the mood for some slam-bang action, Jurassic World definitely delivers. And Chris Pratt proves that Guardians of the Galaxy was not a fluke. He's this generation's Harrison Ford and then some.

Monday, June 15, 2015

game of thrones ... well, we all saw that one coming, didn't we?

Lots o' spoilers ...

Whether you are a reader of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books or not, you probably could have predicted the closing shot of "Mother's Mercy," the final episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones. Jon Snow, lying on the ground, stabbed by his own Night's Watch men, bleeding out on the ground in the snow, left for dead. Or is he? It is the same quandary that Martin left his readers in, at the end of the super-long A Dance With Dragons. Almost everyone believes that Jon is not truly gone, but how he might come back is what is entertaining the fans until we find out for sure — and there are a number of possibilities. We have seen the dead rise on Game of Thrones — as White Walkers, wights, sightly altered versions of themselves (Beric Dondarrion and the Knights without banners), a certain stone-hearted lady in the books, and even as hideous science experiments (hello, Franken-Mountain). And the Red Woman did just conveniently make her way back to Castle Black ...

You've got friend in me - Jon and Sam

But before Jon got what has been foreshadowed all season — particularly by the outrageous amount of close-ups young Olly kept getting — there were a few other interesting things happening in Westeros:

Arya — In Braavos we found ourselves back with the beyond-loathsome Meryn Trant, who likes to hit little girls. C'mon Arya, finish him off. She did so, in a most brutal way. But everything one does in her world has consequences. And a girl who is still Arya Stark is not no one, as Jaqen was quick to remind her.

Jaime — Myrcella may be as clever as her uncle Tyrion, but unfortunately for her, Allaria's goodbye kiss for the girl was a poisoned one. A bit obvious, like everything connected to Dorne this season. Sorry Sand Snakes et al, but you just can't measure up to Oberyn, who is still truly missed.

Cersei finally confesses (sorta)

Tyrion — Dany and Drogon left the boys behind in Meereen to lick their wounds and scheme how to get her back. And then all my prayers were answered. Varys showed up (!) to help Tyrion rule Meereen while Dany is ... somewhere in the wilderness with a cranky and wounded dragon, and surrounded by hordes of Dothraki. But will they like her as much as Khal Drogo did?

Meereen: where the boys are
Cersei — She finally broke down and confessed (some of) her sins to the High Sparrow. He told her that she could see her son and return to the Red Keep — but of course there's a catch. Her atonement must consist of the ultimate walk of shame. Her long blond hair cut off, she marched, naked, through the city. I was impressed by how upright and dignified she held herself throughout the ordeal (character and actress), with filth and curses hurled at her with every step. She didn't break down until she reached the city walls, where Franken-Mountain, her new champion, was there to greet her.

Stannis — Already there were effects from last week's horrific burning of sweet and innocent Shireen. The snow had started to melt, but also ... Queen Selyse hanged herself, and half of Stannis's men had deserted, with the horses. Oh, and his #1 cheerleader, the Red Woman, had taken off, too. I guess not everyone was supportive of the whole God of Light burning little girls gambit. Stannis, being the hard-ass that he is, decided to proceed as planned. He took the rest of his army on the march to Winterfell. It was a slaughter, with Ramsay running rampant over Stannis's men. Before the twisted Ramsay could finish him off, however, Brienne was finally able to exact her revenge for Renly's murder. So long Baratheons. Except for Gendry (remember him?), who may still be rowing somewhere to safety. Back at Winterfell, Reek finally stepped up to protect Sansa. See ya, Myranda. Your weaselly little face will not be missed, except, maybe, by Ramsay. And we have a new Game of Thrones dream team, Sansa and Reek, on the run.

At The Wall, Sam asked Jon to let him go to Old Town to train to become a Maester, and to take Gilly and the baby with him. Jon didn't want to lose his only friend (and Sam is truly his only friend), but, being the inherently good guy that he is, he let him go. As Sam left the Red Woman came back, to Castle Black, alone. So much for Stannis. So who will Jon and the Night's Watch look to for assistance or support now? All a moot point, as Olly came to tell Jon there was news of his long-missing Uncle Benjen. And then the "Et tu, Caesar" scene happened. As each man stabbed him they all said, "For the Watch." I expected Olly to be the first strike, not the last. Not a shocking development for book readers, or, as I said before, anyone paying attention this season, but still ... hard to watch.

It's an ominous ending for the season, as our handsome hero — and Jon Snow is truly the closest character Game of Thrones has ever presented as a potential hero, apart from perhaps Daenerys — is left to die, at the hands of his own men, alone. And where was Ghost? But with all the shock of the new that has happened for loyal readers this season, this episode was also the closest to the books, showcasing some of the biggest scenes from A Dance of Dragons. And now ... we wait a year. But will the next season of Game of Thrones start before Martin finally finishes The Winds of Winter? That's anyone's guess.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

throwback summer vacation thursday

We are now in our first full week of summer vacation, which has me thinking about summers of the past ...

Lucy on the beach
No castle this, the kid helps make a sand fortress
By the sea, Spring Lake
Three generations on the beach

Ann & John and sand sculpture
Loving cousins

Elizabeth & John at the pool at the Avon Inn
At the Avon Inn

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

baby's first disaster movie

The kid and I checked out San Andreas over the weekend. We are both big fans of the ever-charming Dwayne Johnson. There really was not much of a plot to speak of, but that's not what put most of us in the theater seats. It was the premise of pitting The Rock's impressive biceps vs. natural disaster. While Johnson may not have come out completely on top, as most of the California coast looked to be sinking into the sea, it could safely be said that the outcome was at least a draw.

Along with Johnson for the ride were Carla Gugino as his soon-to-be-ex wife, also soon to be ripping up those divorce papers; Paul Giamatti, as an adorable scientist who is trying to save his state while impressing a cute female reporter, and Alexandra Daddario as Johnson's and Gugino's gorgeous and MacGyver-like resourceful college-bound daughter. Oh, and and Ioan Gruffud in the thankless role of Gugino's impossibly rich, smooth, and slimy boyfriend who never really stood a real chance at stealing her away from Johnson, anyway.

Johnson and Gugino race to save their daughter
You've got to be kidding me — now what? Alexandra Daddario, with Hugo Johnstone-Burt (R) and Art Parkinson, watching the latest disaster of the hour

The real star of the movie, of course, are the special effects. For once, CGI of buildings and landmarks crumbling and collapsing make sense and have an impact. Much more than the ridiculous crashing into skyscrapers that weigh down all the comic superhero movies. While the superhuman strength of Johnson and some of the effects may have been on the highly unbelievable side, they were also quite entertaining. The whole experience reminded me of going to the drive-in, many years ago, and watching The Poseidon Adventure with my family. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that my daughter was as frightened and thrilled at the destruction on screen (sorry San Francisco!) as I had been during that film, and as invested in the characters. And isn't that what we go to movies in the first place?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015


I don't know what it is, lately, but I have been drawn to watching zombie movies. That may not seem such a big deal, with today's post-apocalyptic zombie-heavy film offerings, but it is a real departure for me. I really don't like zombies. I have watched and loved horror movies from an early age. I've loved Dracula and all of his minions and incarnations. Frankenstein, aliens, creatures from black lagoons and other environs. Ghosts, devils, werewolves, you name it. But I have always drawn the line at zombies. Those brain-craving ghouls have always freaked me out, without any of the thrills that accompany other classic horror monsters.

Night of the Living Dead: "They're coming to get you, Barbra ..."
I think I can trace my fear of zombies to George Romero's classic low-budget black and white horror film, Night of The Living Dead. I saw it at a tender age, on television, like most other horror movies I was introduced to, with my dad and the rest of our family nearby. But it was so creepy, so scary, so ... possible. Yes. It still gives me shivers just thinking about it. It also was one of those movies that pissed me off, as it, like so many others that seem to always kill the back guy.

What I didn't realize at the time, was that Romero actually intended the film to be his own interpretation of author Richard Matheson's horror novel, I Am Legend. I had already seen two other film versions of that classic story with dear old dad — The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price, and The Omega Man, with Charlton Heston. I loved both versions. The Heston one was flashier and less serious and somber than the Price version, so was probably my favorite of the two.

The other night I finally saw the most recently filmed version of the story, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith as the last man on earth. I liked it, although it was most interesting as a study in loneliness. It was truly heartbreaking when Smith found himself truly alone around the middle of the film. The vampire/zombies were more typical movie bad guys than truly frightening.

I Am Legend: Just a story about a man and his dog ... and hordes of the undead
World War Z: Brad Pitt, trying to remain calm in many, many storms
I saw I Am Legend just a few days after finally getting up the courage to watch World War Z, which had been gathering dust in my Netflix queue for ages. I have always been a big Brad Pitt fan, so it was definitely the zombies which kept me from checking it out any sooner. I have to admit that I loved this movie. I'm still thinking about it. It was tense. And intense. I literally sat on the edge of my seat through some of the sequences. I never read the original novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), so the variations from its oral history style didn't bug me.

I really liked World War Z's globe-trekking nature, which reminded me a bit of Bram Stoker's Dracula, where the action goes from England to Transylvania and back again. Pitt plays Gerry, a former UN investigator, who is coerced into tracking down the origins of a zombie plague which is sweeping the world. His love for his family and his fears for their safety are strong motivators. His questioning mind is also a big factor. He can't help but be fascinated by this terrible situation. There are some thrilling sequences: the family's initial witnessing of the zombies attacking in Philadelphia, Gerry's travels to South Korea,and Jerusalem, and an amazing zombie attack mid-flight. The show-stopes may well be Gerry's attempts to elude sound-sensitive zombies in the silent corridors of a World Health Organization labyrinthian lab in Wales.

I saw the unedited cut of World War Z, because that's what's on offer from Netflix. I'm not a big fan of gore, but the story and acting was compelling enough to keep me watching, even when blood may have been spurting. There is already a sequel in the works, set to be released in 2017. For once, thanks to Brad Pitt and Game of Thrones' recently thrilling depictions of wights and White Walkers, I have to say, I am going to be looking forward to seeing a zombie movie. Who knows, maybe I'll even get up the courage to see this one in the movie theater.

Monday, June 08, 2015

game of thrones — this week, we had fire

Spoilers for the first four seasons abound ...

Still reeling from last week's icy White Walkers and their zombie minion attack on Jon Snow and the Wildlings, viewers must have settled in to watching this week's episode, "The Dance of Dragons," braced for anything to happen — and it did not disappoint. Game of Thrones has made a habit of serving up some of its most shocking and exciting developments in the penultimate episodes of its first four seasons: the beheading of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater, The Red Wedding, the Battle at Castle Black, and now ... well, there were two major things that happened in this episode, both to two young women.

Let's start with the most difficult first. Stannis Baratheon has been a difficult character from the start. His self-righteousness has made him at times seem stiff and boring. His religious fanaticism, although extremely dangerous, has never felt completely genuine. He believes in the Red Woman and her fiery god, but, it has aways seemed, when it suits his ends. Stannis, perhaps more than anyone else playing the game, really wants to sit on that Iron Throne. Even if it means sacrificing everything dear to him. Even the only living creature this hard man has ever loved.

A lovely gift for a lovely girl

Poor, sweet, Shireen. We could tell ourselves that the show runners were only toying with us, as Stannis declared a few episodes back his deep love for his daughter, and how the Red Woman could never have her. Or how Ser Davos, about to be sent conveniently out of the way on a fruitless mission to The Wall, might be able to come back in time to save her. That the lovely carved stag toy that he gave her before he left was not a harbinger of doom.

I was hoping that her grayscale might somehow save her from the funeral pyre, that the stony disease might protect her from the flames. But her screams, thankfully offscreen, told another story. Stannis didn't only lose his daughter (and any slim fan support he may have gained this season), but he may have lost the war. The comparisons to Agamemnon and Iphigenia are surely no coincidence. The Red Woman may think the fires are on their side, but Stannis is pure ice. He could be well on his way to becoming a White Walker.

I don't think anyone would be too terribly upset if the loathsome Ramsay Bolton decided to flay Stannis and his followers. But I don't think that's how things will play out next week at Winterfell. Another nod to fire this week: Ramsay's clever assault on Stannis's camp of freezing and starving soldiers, burning what little supplies they had left; even the horses.

Drogon and Dany: reunited and it feels so good

The other big moment took place in Meereen, at the fighting pits, which were set up quite similarly to Roman gladiatorial combat. To distract the tense queen and amuse himself, Daario tried to needle Hizdahr, Daenerys's intended. The newly installed advisor, Tyrion, looked bored at his boasting and flirting. He wasn't too fond of the pompous Hizdahr, either, paying him the ultimate anti-compliment, "My father would have liked you." And then Jorah showed up. Dany and Tyrion looked scared, while the rich and poor in the audience seemed equally bloodthirsty watching Jorah battle for his life.

He came out on top, and it was clear that Dany still wasn't sure how she felt about that, until Jorah sent a spear hurtling over her head ... to kill an assassin. The Sons of the Harpy poured into the arena and stands and started massacring everyone in sight. Dany, how can you doubt him anymore? All hell broke loose and Jorah extended his hand to his queen. She took it, and like that, he was back in her good graces. Now he can die a happy man — if he can get her out of this. She didn't touch him anywhere near the grayscale patch on his arm, but the internet is already buzzing about that potential infection.

Meanwhile, Hizdhar was stabbed by one of the assassins, but is he killed? It has seemed, all along, that Hizdahr may be one of the Sons of the Harpy himself. But we can't worry about Meereen politics right now, as Dany, Tyrion, Missandei, Jorah, and Daario were completely outnumbered. Tyrion proved he wasn't just boasting about his fighting skills when he heroically dispatched an assassin about to kill Missandei. Our favorite folks in Meereen made their way down to the arena, looking for some way to escape, but they were soon surrounded and outnumbered by the masked killers. It looked like this might be the end. Dany took Missandei's hand and closed her eyes and ... Drogon showed up, breathing fire. He knew just who to eat and kill, taking out her enemies right and left. But the Mother of Dragons could see that he had also sustained some injuries — there is a tear in his wing and a spear in his side. She then did what viewers had been waiting and hoping for since the dragons were just little critters — she climbed on his back and they flew away, rescuing each other, with Tyrion and Co. and the rest of us looking on in awe.

Those two sequences would have been more than enough to make great episode, but there were a few other things that happened which will undoubtedly play into next week's finale. In Dorne, Jaime was told that he could bring Mrycella back to King's Landing — as long as he brings along her boyfriend, Prince Trystane and puts him on the King's Council. Prince Doran is playing the long game, and Myrcella better pack some warmer clothing, winter coming and all.

Arya was still in super-spy mode, selling oysters ... and death. But she got distracted from her main objective when she saw a face from the past — Ser Meryn Trant, the man who killed her friend and "dancing" instructor Sirio. And one of the names still on her death list. And if we didn't want her to kill him enough, we get to see that the creep is also a pedophile. But what will Jaqen say when she kills someone from her own list instead of the many-faced god's? A man will not be pleased. And a girl is likely to get into a lot of trouble.

Jon is back at the wall, Wildlings, giant Wun Wun, and all. And his men are not happy to see him. Especially Olly, who is getting a lot of pinch-faced close-ups this season. Can no one see what's coming? We're going from Greek tragedy to Roman here, people. Next week's episode is titled "Mother's Mercy." Cersei and Jon are due for some big scenes. Will Brienne finally see a light from Sansa or Reek in Winterfell's tower, or be able to make good on her vow to kill the man who killed her beloved Renly? Be careful what you wish for Stannis ...

Thursday, June 04, 2015

throwback happy birthday bro thursday

Happy birthday, bro!


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

sounds like ...

David Guetta's new song, "Hey Mama," featuring Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack sounds a bit reminiscent of Rihanna. But whatever they're doing, it's working. It's great, and fun to listen to.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

short take on ... how i live now

Every once in a while I see a movie that really captures my complete attention. That's saying a lot in the crazy frenetic, distracted world we live in. How I Live Now is a British film based on the 2004 YA novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff. The heroine, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), is sent by her father to live with her cousins in the country. She is resentful and haughty, but it is slowly revealed that the country is in turmoil and her exile is actually an attempt to protect her from an impending war.

The sullen Daisy has no idea hoe good her life is at the moment

What looks like snow is actually something more sinister

Daisy falls for her cousin Eddie, and the movie works as a teen wartime romance while also delving into the deeper themes of loss, trust, and survival. All of the actors are excellent. The film is quiet and beautiful, which makes some of its depictions of wartime violence even more jarring than if it had been done in a standard action-adventure mode. How I Live Now is set in the British near-future, but its story has echoes of the WW2 and other past conflicts. Its the sort of film that will grow more meaningful on subsequent viewings.

Monday, June 01, 2015

game of thrones: don't it make my brown eyes blue

Game of Thrones has outdone itself with the attack on "Hardhome," the third to last episode of the fifth season. It was edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath action as a full-scale White Walker and wight attack hit the last stand of the Wildlings. A hard home, indeed. Adding to the excitement was the way the attack was filmed — the wights fighting was full of jerky motion and sped up, escalated the horror. Things only slowed down when some creepy wight children made an appearance ... truly eerie.

For a moment Game of Thrones teased us with a potential cool Wildling gal/new love interest (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson) for Jon Snow. I should have known when she put her two daughters in the boat and stayed behind ... Don't it make my brown eyes blue ...

The Army of the Dead is on the rise

Jon (Kit Harington) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) — Seeing is believing

The last few moments, with Jon just looking at the devastation, watching the army of the dead's numbers increasing before his eyes, was amazing. So much said with no dialogue. The young commander of the Night's Watch may have come north and talked well, and convincingly, of why the Wildlings needed to get out, and fast, but saying "Winter is Coming" and seeing it happen are two very different things.

There were other great moments, earlier in the episode. Cersei in jail, visited by Qyburn (but not Tommen!) and tormented by Septas. Arya continuing her magical assassin training. Sansa getting some important intel from Theon ("Not Theon, Reek!) Sam and Gilly and young Ollie, who no one is taking seriously enough. And of course, the new dream team, Tyrion and Daenerys. Dany, for the first time, in conversation with Tyrion, sounded like a real queen. Tyrion is magic. He also managed to save Jorah, but at what price?

As completely wonderful as it was to see Tyrion and Dany size each other up and both like what they see (and discussing Varys — please bring back our favorite eunuch!), the heart of the episode took place north of The Wall. Which may be a clue as to who is really equipped to be left standing when the battle of ice and fire is done. Plus, Giants! Start gathering up your dragon glass and Valyrian steel, kids, it's going to be a bumpy night.

One more note to consider for the future. About that Valyrian steel, or dragon steel. Like dragon glass (obsidian), it has the ability to kill White Walkers. Jon has Longclaw, a Valyrian steel sword given to him by former head of the Night's Watch, Jeor Mormont. Ned Stark had Ice, which was melted down and turned into two swords by Tywin Lannister — one, Oathkeeper, was given to his son Jaime, who then regifted it to Brienne, and the other, Widow's Wail, was given to his grandson Joffrey. Now that Joffrey is dead, does Tommen have it? There was also Littlefinger's Valyrian steel dagger, which was used in an assassination attempt on Bran Stark. Is there any other Valyrian steel floating around the Seven Kingdoms? Now would be a good time to find out ...