Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas 2016

I left for SLC on an evening flight from Love Field on December 21. Three of my nieces and nephew (the ones that live in Seattle but were in SLC for Christmas) came with my mom to pick me up at the airport. My five days in Salt Lake was spent with family and friends. We celebrated Athena's fifth birthday. We went on a light tour on the Provo River. We went bowling. We even had a white Christmas.

Ivy, Elliett and Koko at Grandma's

We made snowflakes

Jorge works at Rumbi. Proud of him. 

I traveled downtown (by bus!) to hit up Toasters...

...and "La La Land" at The Broadway

Public art in downtown SLC

Ivy, Jorge and I went to a Christmas Eve showing of "It's A Wonderful Life" at The Broadway

Christmas morning

My presents to the family

This year's Christmas Day movie was "Rogue One". The boys all loved it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Manchester By the Sea

Besides seeing the poster and a few views of the trailer, I didn't know much about "Manchester By the Sea." It has been getting a lot of buzz since it premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, so I knew I would need to see it.

I'm glad I didn't know much about it before seeing it, because it made it that much more powerful. Based on the poster, I was sure it involved a love story of some sort (Michelle Williams is the only other actor on it besides Casey Affleck). I watched the various trailers after seeing it, and they would make one think they are going to see a somewhat-comedy: slacker uncle must take care of his teenaged nephew after his brother dies, causing him to return to the home town he left, with a possible rekindling of a left-behind love.

While those things do happen, they don't happen in a funny way. At least not "ha-ha" funny. The movie is emotional, with the weight of sadness felt throughout.

Casey Affleck plays the "slacker" uncle, Lee, forced to return to Manchester by the Sea due to the abrupt death of his brother from a congenital heart defect. Lee is a handyman in Quincy, and in the first scenes we see that he is not good with people. Flashbacks slowly reveal his story. And it is heartbreaking. There is a lovely scene where Lee is at the police station, the grief and sadness palatable, and it is set to classical music. It's stunning.

Another powerful scene is between Lee and his former love, Randi, played by Michelle Williams. From the flashbacks we see them in love and we see what tore them apart. They have an awkward and sad phone call. Then they see each other at the funeral, and it is heartbreaking to watch. But then they run into each other, randomly, in town and Randi wants to talk. It is heart wrenching and electric and truly brilliant. So much hurt and love and sadness and regret infused in one scene.

Lee is trying to overcome his grief from a terribly tragic event. In most movies, the situation of coming home and caring for a family member would be just what was needed to pull a person out of their grief. But that's not really how life works, and that's not how this movie works. This movie will stay with you. I highly recommend it.

Kyle Chandler is one of those actors that is in everything and is always great. He's never been a "flashy" actor in that he never appears in magazines or gossip columns; he just quietly acts and lives his life. He won a much-deserved Emmy for playing Coach Taylor in 2011. He has been in "Carol", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Zero Dark Thirty", and "Argo" (all of those were contenders of some sort in the Oscars". I just think he's fantastic.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I don't think it's any secret that I really like Star Wars. I have journal entries of the re-releases and prequels that I posted about last year. I was full of excitement when a new trilogy was announced. I was not, however, excited about the other trilogy - a trio of standalone Star Wars stories to be released between each of the new Episodes. Was anyone really clamoring for an origin story of Han Solo? Or, even worse, Boba Fett? I know he gained cult status over the years but I never understood it, and the inclusion of him and his dad in the prequels was ridiculous.

Which brings us to Rogue One, the story of the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star. This enabled Luke to fire his proton torpedoes into the exhaust port that started a chain reaction that blew up the Death Star. Based on reviews I've read from critics and from friends on Facebook, and the general reaction of the crowd I saw the film with, everyone loves it.

I am not everyone.

I wanted to like it. I really did. I even went into it with fairly low expectations so I wouldn't be disappointed. And it still didn't rise to the occasion.

There's nothing bad about the movie. It's competently filmed with some good movement and decent acting. I just didn't care about any of the characters though. I was bored fifteen minutes into the film. The never-ending parade of new planets, each with their own title card so the audience knows the name - I'm sorry, but is this a Star Trek film?!

I was bothered by how cliche the whole thing seemed. I know that the original trilogy wasn't exactly a new concept - good vs. evil, etc, and George got inspiration from many sources. But what he created felt original. Now everything is just connecting pieces of a larger universe and it bores me. The most cliche moment was when a character falls down a shaft and the audience is to believe he is dead, if not severely incapacitated. However, he returns at the very moment the protagonist needs assistance or else she'll be killed. I literally said, "Oh come one!" out loud, while the people behind me were cheering.

Vader makes an appearance, but he was a weird fit. Grand Moff Tarkin is there with a digitally-added Peter Cushing (who passed away several years ago) and it was distracting. The droid, K-2SO, was meant to be comic relief but I found him annoying and far too human-like for a droid. The filmmakers could never decide if they wanted a love story between Cassian and Jyn or not, and they end up playing it both ways throughout the film. Jyn never gets fully developed into a character we care about, and her rousing speech isn't entirely inspiring. I think the reshoots did not serve her character well.

I liked the final sequence of air and ground battle (which we've seen before in Jedi), which brings us right to the beginning of A New Hope. Even though most of the ground forces are characters we do not know, their battle is nicely done. Chirrut and Baze were interesting characters with good chemistry that I actually did feel sort of fond of.

At this point, I'm tired of all the films that exist just to make Disney money. I can accept George wanting to make the prequels, as he claims that story existed in his head all along. But it's now just getting to be too much. I just want to enjoy my original trilogy and occasionally watch the prequels. I have turned into the old person yelling at kids to get off their lawn.

The Trailers Before Rogue One

I ended up seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on pre-opening day (that's what I'm calling the trend of non-midnight showings). I'll have much to say about that, but for now I'm going to focus on the trailers seen before the movie.

I love trailers. It's movie window shopping. A really good trailer can make one want to see a really terrible thing. Becuase all the trailer needs to do is sell a person on seeing a film; once the ticket is bought and your butt is in that theater seat it doesn't really matter if the film is "good" or not. (Sidebar: movies these days seem to be about having the biggest opening weekend and care little about massive drop-offs in attendance after that. In the end, movies are made to make money.)

Logan - I thought it was ballsy (and really smart) to set the trailer for this latest Wolverine film to Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." It's a great song and Cash conveys all the right emotions that are just right for a story about Logan, the guy who is Wolverine. I admit that my interest in Wolverine (and comic book movies in general) have waned greatly. I might give this one a shot....

Dunkirk - Christopher Nolan has made a WWII film. As expected, he has cast many of his favorite actors (Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy). I am not terribly interested in this, but the prescence of Mark Rylance might get me to see it.

I don't remember the name of this one, but it was about babies competing to be cute again. The main baby is voiced by Alec Baldwin. It looks awful, but the crowd seemed to think it was funny. Pass.

Power Rangers - I may be the target demographic (mid-30s reliving a popular tv show from my growing up years) but I have zero interest in seeing this.

Kong - when good actors are in a movie based on a video game.

Cars 3 - Even though Cars 2 is widely considered the worst Pixar movie, another sequel was greenlit. Why?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol: 2 - I really enjoyed the first one. However, it's awfully hard to tap into the same thing twice and get the same results. I'm cautiously optimistic about this sequel, but I am still superhero'd out.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

From Here to Eternity

I have been slacking on my 35 by 35 goal to watch all the Best Picture winners. Luckily I'm getting helped out by Fathom Events, which today showed the 1953 Best Picture Winner From Here to Eternity. Most remember this film for the iconic kissing on the beach scene. And the scene did not disappoint, even if Ben Mankiewicz joked after the film that it was film on a studio back lot with stand-ins (all untrue!)

From Here to Eternity is the story of two men, both in the Army in Hawaii just before Pearl Harbor is attacked, and the women in their lives. Sgt. Warden, played by the handsome Burt Lancaster, is an enlisted man who runs Company G for the never-present General Holmes. The General decides promotions based on which soldier fights in the yearly boxing matches. Just-transferred Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (the dreamy Montgomery Clift) used to be a middleweight fighter but doesn't want to fight anymore. This causes a lot of trouble for him, as the General needs to win the boxing matches for a promotion for himself.

I found the backbone of this story - the men treating Prewitt bad because he won't box - to be rather thin. With all the things a soldier in the Army needs to do, these guys are really concerned because one of them isn't going to box?

Sgt. Warden's story - he's having a love affair with General Holmes' wife. It seems the General and his wife have come to an agreement about the state of their marriage - due to a death of a child, multiple indiscretions, and a lack of love, they are really only married in name. She herself has had affairs, too. But this one with Sgt. Warden is real love.

I find their love story not entirely compelling. They have a few scenes together and they fail to generate any sort of connection. Even after their lovely and sexy kiss in the waves, they get into an argument. He chooses that moment to ask about her other men, and has the audacity to get angry about it. She tells him her sob story of the pregnancy and such, and then they are clutching each other tightly.

It is interesting to view the story with my modern eyes. The men are all prone to take out their emotions with violence. Even for the smallest infraction (Prewitt refuses to box because he once made a man blind, but has no qualms getting into a knife fight in an alley because his friend is being treated poorly in the stockades - really?). The women are there to support and be literal arm-candy for the soldiers.

The film went up against Roman Holiday and the western classic, Shane.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I (Finally) Saw Elf

Elf came out in 2003. I didn't see it when it was originally released. And in thirteen years, when the film became a quotable classic, I never got around to seeing it. Until last night. It was playing in the metroplex, and what better way to see a film for the first time than on the big screen with friends.

It's really hard to go into a movie with no expectations when everyone has already told you how unbelievably funny it is. I mean for real, many people really love this film. I didn't want to let them down.

The movie starts out really funny. I love the whole set design with the forced perspective and callback to clay-mation. Will Ferrell commits completely to the role of Buddy the Elf, a human raised by elves in the North Pole. He knows Santa. He loves sugar. He is sweet and innocent. He wants to meet his real dad.

That real dad lives in NYC, and the sequence of Buddy arriving in NYC is pretty funny. However, the film can't ride on that for as long as it does. The second half of the film is bad - bad effects, bad Christmas message, bad character changes.

David S. Pumpkins is funny in a five-minute skit, but a feature-length film of him would be overkill. Buddy the Elf would have been a great five-minute sketch.

(This line about asparagus and pee made me literally laugh out loud at the theater.)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Arrival of Fall (finally)

While friends and family were getting snow in Idaho and Utah the past couple weeks, I was relishing the fall that had finally arrived in Denton. It's true that we had a cold front a couple weeks ago that made me turn my heater on finally (only to have to then switch between turning it off, turning the overhead fan on, and once turning the AC back on; not to mention the days of using the heater and AC in my car), but it has been the changing of the leaves that really made it feel like fall.

And that started a couple weeks ago. I had been a bit sad that the trees here don't really turn; I even had a conversation about that with some friends. But then they did start changing! I wish I had even one photo to share, but I don't. You all know what changing leaves look like, so just close your eyes (or look out your window) and imagine the lovely oranges and reds and yellows that paint the landscape.

A cold front has moved in and it's going to rain all weekend. At least it's not snow.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Droppin' Like Ladybugs

My home has been a magnet for ladybugs. Three in one night one time. Frequent and consistent visitors they are. It hasn't really bothered me, because, let's be real, ladybugs are cute. Unlike evil, vicious, scary spiders. If my home was a magnet for spiders, I would have called an exterminator or moved out a long time ago.

So I have gotten used to seeing the random ladybug crawling on my ceiling or curtain or door.

However, now I have to get used to seeing them lying there dead. Four yesterday. It makes me sad. What are they dying?!?! Is it the change in weather (fall/winter has finally hit Denton)? Is it just their time? Are they infected?

I don't know.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Adventures in Bicycling

I ride my bike. Sometimes cool/interesting things happen when I do that. Here's what happened today.

     I was riding down Welch on my way to Eagle to film a spot for DTV. A large white truck started passing me and I could hear the driver say something to me. I couldn't make it out though, so I don't know if it was something nice or something mean. When he passed and his bumper was in view, there was a sticker: Hillary for Prison. I'm guessing he wasn't yelling pleasantries at me.

     As I turned onto Hickory, making my way back to City Hall, there was a person on a bike in front of me. I like when people in their cars can see multiple people at once using a bike lane (or even just riding). We got to the intersection with Carroll Blvd and there was a car in our (green and obviously a) bike lane.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


Friday evening I headed out to Johnson Branch of Lake Ray Roberts to meet up with friends. They had reserved (the best) spot, right on the lake, and had been camping since Thursday. Those of us not wanting to camp showed up on Friday to relax, eat baked potatoes and turkey legs, roast s'mores, and enjoy each other's company while enjoying nature.

It was lovely.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

I don't generally travel for Thanksgiving since I fly home for Christmas (last year's trip to Kansas was an exception, and also an easy drive). Two years ago, while in Topeka, I decided to volunteer at the local community Thanksgiving. I loved it and have wanted to make it a tradition.

So a couple weeks ago I started looking around for volunteer opportunities in Denton. I found the Village Church of Denton's annual Community Thanksgiving Banquet. I signed up, and when I showed up on Thanksgiving (after participating in the second annual Downtown Denton Turkey Trot!), and offered to deliver meals to those who signed up for home delivery.

I did three deliveries total, with each taking about thirty minutes. It was extremely humbling to deliver these meals to people. They were all so kind and thankful and truly appreciative of the meal. The first lady I delivered to said she was so hungry she had been eating mayo and mustard. My heart nearly broke.

When all the dishes were done and the floors cleaned for the Community Banquet, I headed out to a friends' home in McKinney. It was filled with lovely friends (and food) who made me happy.

I truly have much to be thankful for - my home, my family, my friends; Biscuit; I also have food in my fridge and in my belly; I have a job and supportive co-workers; I am healthy; I want for nothing.

Monday, November 21, 2016


One of the best things about being a homeowner is being able to have friends over for get togethers. My loft in Topeka was pretty spacious, so entertaining there wasn't really an issue. My place in Denton, though, was quite small, meaning get-togethers would have to be limited to one or two people.

Yesterday I invited friends over for Piesgiving. Everyone had to bring a pie to the event, then we'd all just eat pie together. It was fantastic! Everyone brought a pie! Most were the traditional dessert pies, but there was also a chicken pot pie as well as two pizza pies.

My living room isn't terribly large. I didn't quite have enough seats for everyone, so some were standing. But everyone was talking and laughing and having a good time. It made me so happy to have my home full of so many fantastic people. They help make Denton home.

Also, Biscuit was quite the hit. It's no an exaggeration when I say everyone loved her.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


The previews for Arrival didn't immediately catch my attention as a movie I had to see. I actually thought I wouldn't see it. But today came and I was feeling like going to a movie, and when I checked Fandango it was playing at my theater in thirty minutes.

It was pretty slow moving for the first three-fourths of the film, and I was unsure if it was going to go anywhere. However, it then picked up some steam and I was decently enthralled. I enjoyed the importance language played in the film. That there is distinction in language about the meaning of words. Louise (Amy Adams) gets that and takes her time creating a base of understanding with the aliens to avoid war. Words, and their meanings and intent, matter.

The movie is not the normal sci-fi/alien movie. Independence Day it is not. As I was watching, I kept thinking of the Jodie Foster film Contact. In that, Foster plays a scientist who discovers that aliens are communicating with Earth. There's some controversy if she should be the one to meet them with the contraption they build - she's an atheist and the "people in charge" believe a person "of faith" should be the one to meet the aliens. It made for a cerebral rather than action-packed sci-fi film, and Arrival is like that, too.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Denton Stream Clean

Denton is serious about cleaning trash. Every March the City participates in the Great American Cleanup, an event where volunteers cleanup the roadways all across the city. In November, there is Stream Clean, where volunteers go out to the city's creeks and stream beds and clean up all the trash (and other items) that accumulate there.

My friend Suzi put together a group of friends to participate in Stream Clean this year (as a City employee, I was also wrangled into being a Site Captain). Along with a group of middle schoolers and UNT students, we cleaned up the stream bed of Pecan Creek. It had rained earlier in the week, so there was a lot of trash for us to pick up. We found multiple traffic cones, several sleeping bags/blankets, lots of plastic bottles and aluminum cans, tires, a bike, and even part of a shopping cart. 

It felt quite rewarding to see the area at the end of the cleanup, with all the trash and crap that was once in the stream now piled up into a truck. 

Pants with a escaped convict now living it up in Mexico with Andy and Red?

All the volunteers!

Some kid lost their bike. 

Half a shopping cart...

Carrying the trash back to the truck. 

The cleanup group at Pecan Creek and Woodrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Missing Out on the Crown

I was in Kansas a few weeks ago and made time to go to a Royals game. In my desire to beat traffic, I got there super early. It was a nice day so I didn't mind. I was feeling rather emotional as I went down by the field to check out the players. I had attended my friend's funeral earlier in the day and was still emotional. On top of that, everyone at the K was so nice to me. It touched me so much, with thoughts of my lovely friend Susan never far away, that I had to fight back tears a couple times.

So I spent my hour before the game really just being sad.

My friend Jess was on her way. Before she arrived I was sitting by a woman there with her young son and mom. We bonded immediately and had a fun time. She made me laugh and I felt less sad.

It wasn't until the end of the game, when we were leaving, that I thought about the World Series trophy. I wanted to see it. I needed to see it. We made our way over to it, only to discover that viewing it ends in the 8th inning.

I was randomly in Kansas, and had been at the stadium for a whole hour before the game started, and didn't think until the game was over to see the trophy. And by that time it was too late. It made me sad. So I took a photo of me with the photo of the trophy.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Shining

I've sort of seen The Shining before. I watched it with a then-boyfriend eleven years ago the night before Halloween. I sorta dozed between the beginning the end, and really only remember the opening scene of the car winding up the mountainside, and the final chase through a snow-covered maze.

I missed a lot. As I found out today when I checked out the TCM Big Screen Classic's screening of it. It's a Stanley Kubrick film based off a Stephen King novel, so clearly it's a bit weird. The film's initial story is innocent enough - wannabe-writer Jack Torrance takes a job as the winter caretaker of a hotel in the Rockies. The hotel closes down in the winter because it would be much too costly to keep the road to the hotel plowed during the winter months, hence the need for a caretaker. A caretaker who will be there all by themselves for five months. Jack, though, will have his wife, Wendy, and young son, Danny.

A month in, things get strange. Really strange.

What Kubrick excels at is creating an atmosphere of creepiness. And he does it with all the tools at his disposal - music, mise en scene, set design, cinematography.

Let's start with music. The music makes the film. With out it, nothing would feel as creepy as it is supposed to. And it's not just regular-scary-movie music; it's distinct and deeply jarring. Musical cues can sometimes be annoying (see my take on music in Terms of Endearment), but they work well in The Shining because that atmosphere of creepiness is integral to the film.

The staging of the scenes, mise en scene, is crucial. I love all the tracking shots, especially as the camera follows Danny on his big wheel. It's a disorienting view point.

The set design adds a lot to the film. Think about the red bathroom. Or the carpet. Or the green bathroom. The hotel design has a lot of inconsistencies, which Kubrick did intentionally to disorient viewers. Hallways come out of nowhere. Windows are placed where they wouldn't exist in a real building. The large ballrooms would not fit in that size of hotel.

Apparently Stephen King wasn't happy with the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. According to him, audiences see Nicholson and expect him to be a bit creepy/off balance. So the decent of Torrance into crazytown isn't as unexpected as it should be. And I kind of agree with him; Jack Nicholson comes with actor-baggage. The kid who plays Danny, though, is amazing. For being just five, he successfully mesmerizes as the kid who "shines". The look of terror on his face when he's at the bottom of the window that his mom has gotten him out of is just so real.

This movie is cuh-reepy. Classicly so.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Small Changes

Today I made small change to my living room and it immediately felt more homey and comfy.

First I added curtains. The previous owners left the curtain rods, and they have been sitting empty since I moved on. I bought white ones with a simple pattern at Ikea.

Second, I moved my couch from the wall at the front of the home, to the wall on the north side of the home. This makes the living room flow so much better. It feels connected, especially with the chair and ottoman my mom and sister bought me as a housewarming gift when they were here. (The bike and couch have been swapped.)

Don't mind the measuring tapes on the floor. I'm measuring what size of rug I need, which will be my next purchase. Something that will tie the room together.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Texas State Fair

On Wednesday my friend Stephanie and took a half day and headed to the State Fair. It was Stephanie's first time, and my second. We just so happened to choose the hottest day of the week to attend. That was unfortunate.

While at the Texas State Fair, it is expected to eat a lot of foods that are fried, some expected and some not expected. Expected: a corndog, which was probably one of the best corndogs I've ever had; unexpected: a fried s'more and fried mac cheese, both of which were fantastic.

I insisted we made time to see the pig racing, which is probably the best thing about the Fair. We then checked out the rest of the animals. That's by far my favorite part of the Fair, especially since I don't ride the rides anymore.

We did ride the Ferris Wheel, which was kinda fun. Since it was five o'clock in the middle of the week, the line wasn't long. We had to ride with a group of three, since the carriages can't carry less than 4 people (I guess for efficiency). It offers some great views of the fairgrounds and downtown Dallas.

I'm glad I did the Fair better this year - not waiting until the last Saturday at 5 p.m. I had a lot more time and it was nice. I think I'll keep getting better at Fairing each year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Goonies On the Square

Denton is quite possibly perfect. And Tuesday was one of those perfect days. I went from my early kickball game (we lost) straight to the Square, where my friend Suzi was saving a place for me for that night's movie presentation - The Goonies. The weather was perfect. The movie was perfect. The people were perfect.
 I love outside movies. 

Since moving from downtown, I haven't spent much time there. I used to go for random walks around the Square (generally with an ice cream in my hand from Beth Marie's). It was my neighborhood and I always felt comfortable in the shadow of the Courthouse. As I walked up to it from Oak Street, I was in awe of the lights on the trees and the towering Courthouse. I have missed it.

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