Friday, August 29, 2014

Caricature Bridal Shower Gifts

Today, as we go into the holiday weekend here in the States, I'm sitting in my parents' new home in San Jose for a short, but necessary, vacation. Tomorrow, I get to visit my newly married sister and her husband in their new home in Livermore, CA (wine country!)  

This got me thinking about how just a few short months ago, we gathered for her incredible bridal shower, and our friend and the Matron of Honor, Cassie, had the best idea for parting shower gifts!

Caricatures. Gorgeous and silly and fun, they were such a huge hit at the party, and everyone got to walk away with something unique and personal. A great idea, huh? Our artist was Edgar Ochoa, who could not have been more patient with 18 women bandying for a place in the chair.

Check out these pictures I posted back in May on Instagram -- they just bring me a lot of smiles. Have a wonderful Friday, all -- and if you're in the US, extended Labor Day weekend!


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Baby's Badass Burgers

Something Los Angeles does so right is food trucks. Don't believe me? Just check out any number of Best of the Best lists, and you'll usually see LA trucks represented in spades. (This doesn't discount the amazing fare in Brooklyn or Austin or Chicago! I'm just biased, you see).

And at my day job in West Hollywood, we're lucky enough to get different food trucks in our parking lot, serving up a variety of fresh and delicious options, every Wednesday. This week? It was Baby's Badass Burgers. And this pink babe had a plethora of juicy burgers to choose from.

I even took a break from my self-imposed "trying to eat better/not as much" approach to mid-day meals. Because, you guys.... Just look at these? My left-overs in the fridge just could not a hold a candle - to the sight OR the smell!

Since John and I work together, we made sure to get different ones (and he begrudgingly let me photograph his before I let him start chowing down) -- hardly different from most of our meals together.  He got The Good Wife (bacon & a fried egg w/ special spicy sauce, below-top), and I got the Original Beauty (below-bottom) -- their classic burger with Swiss, grilled onions, mushrooms, and of course, their special sauce.

These babies are juicy! And they don't skimp on the size of the patty - they were thick, and unlike many trucks I've tried, weren't overcooked.  Just the perfect Medium Rare/Medium (for me). With a side of their crispy curly fries, I was one happy eater.

I also may have gone back to work in a slight food coma, but I think it was mighty worth it. Have any of you Angelenos tried Baby's Badass Burgers? Which burger is your favorite?

Follow them on Twitter to find out where they'll be next (apparently they have trucks all over SoCal, and even one in Florida!), so be sure to check out their menu here.

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Also, be sure to follow my blog with Bloglovin! A great way to keep up with all those updates on your favorite daily reads. : )

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

AFI Top 100: #94 "Pulp Fiction"

Samuel L. Jackson & John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994)

I gotta be honest. Posting a review online for this movie is a bit frightening for me. The popularity and love for #94 on the AFI Top 100 list, Pulp Fiction, by the public at large can't be underestimated. And I'd be lying if I didn't consider the possibility of being descended upon by Tarantino fans with .357 Magnums.

Thankfully, my opinion of this movie has really evolved over the past 12 years -- in that, with age and time, I've grown to appreciate exactly the kind of movie Tarantino aimed to make. I won't go into my previous thoughts as a self-righteous teen; that would be pointless. I just didn't get it. I didn't understand the humor, and I couldn't look past the violence. References went over my head, because Tarantino doesn't take the time to talk down to you. I didn't appreciate that then. But I certainly do now.

Pulp Fiction is a purposefully fragmented merging of four different stories: (1) Two hitmen, Vincent (Travolta) and Jules (Jackson) work a job re-obtaining a briefcase for their gangster boss; (2) An aging boxer (Bruce Willis) struggles with his pride; (3) Vincent takes out his boss' wife, Mia (Uma Thurman), for a night out on the town; and (4) a couple of robbery love-birds discuss the merits of ripping off a diner.

As you can tell just by the description, the film has some pretty random - and maybe even arbitrary - story elements. But Tarantino doesn't handle anything in an arbitrary way.

Something that Quentin Tarantino does is, he takes his time. This has been the one autueristic approach that has propelled him from his early movie-geek, film-making days to his now fully developed directorial style. Tarantino writes looooong scenes. And he makes you sit and watch them. Well, maybe not "makes" you -- but you'll watch, because you'll be completely engrossed.

The movie contains the most effective MacGuffins from the '90s ("What's in the briefcase?" & "Why is he wearing that Band-Aid?"), which are debated so fervently by fans, they eventually become moot points. Does any of it really matter? The beauty is that whatever the reason [you feel] these people all crossed paths during this sequence of days only contributes to your interpretation of the movie -- and hopefully not your enjoyment of it. That should be affected only by the writing. The absolute slam-dunk brilliant writing.

Many movie-goers get very stuck on the violence and cursing in this movie; as if that's the most important thing. And don't get me wrong! There is a delightful amount of both. But what there is more of by ten-fold? Talking. Just talking. The characters sit across the table from each other, like every one of us does every day of our simple lives, and they talk. About nothing. Or rather, it seems like nothing to us, but it's certainly something to them.

The majority of the film is spent with Vincent and Jules, to some degree, and they navigate a conversation like they're Nick and Nora Charles. Rapid-fire, argumentative, but with familiar affection. Travolta is at his best here -- he swaggers awkwardly, like a man who kills people easily but still struggles to chat up a beautiful woman. His character is the only one that arcs through every story-line, and Tarantino subtly links most of the "bad" occurrences to Vincent's quick jaunts to the bathroom (of which there are many).

Another frequent topic of discussion is the movie's approach to continuity. The editing doesn't obviously chunk the film up or cause our heads to spin due to the sequencing. For most of the movie, you wouldn't even notice it. Only the final two scenes cue up from the end of previous scenes -- and this might simply be to save the moral impact until the finale.  

Stylistically, it also gives the movie a lot of energy and traction. It fills in the purposeful blanks. There's so much we don't know, as viewers. This is a slice of life, and we're not offered up any more information than is necessary. And it just works. And don't even get me started on the music!

Finally, on a personal note, there's a beauty to watching Pulp Fiction while living in Los Angeles. I hadn't seen it since long before I moved to LA - specifically the Valley - 6 years ago. And there is plenty to truly appreciate about the way the characters talk about and navigate this expansive city. When Vincent and Jules are bantering about disposing of a body in North Hollywood and you're sitting in your living room watching the movie on the corner of Magnolia and Vineland... It makes the unfamiliar seem familiar. There's a connection.

This is surprisingly Tarantino's only movie on the AFI Top 100 list. Not only do I anticipate this staying on the list and even rising, I foresee some other QT inclusions down the line.  Inglourious Basterds, perhaps?

Oh, and what do you think we served for this movie night? It seemed only appropriate.

Rating:  ★★★★ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews]

Check back next week for #93 on the list, The French Connection!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wares & Things: Coriumi Handmade

handbags, pouches & coin purses | Coriumi Handmade

My twin sister, Stacy, recently got married, and I was lucky enough to be the Maid of Honor. It was by far the most breathtaking wedding I've ever attended, and I was honored to stand up alongside she and her fiancee [now husband].

The morning of the wedding, prior to the ceremony, Stacy gave myself and her other bridesmaids (my dear friends Cassie and Jessie) a handbag, full of "must have" essentials for the evening. Lipstick, lipbalm, mints, kleenex, etc. But what caught my eye was not the contents of the bag, but the bag itself.

Ever the brilliant shopper, Stacy had discovered an incredible shop online that specialized in handmade, screenprinted bags. So I felt compelled to feature them on my blog today. Coriumi Handmade is based in Lithuania, of all places, and the bag I received was a waxed linen, with leather base. They all have amazing geometric prints or metal detailing, and the colors are so vibrant, it makes it nearly impossible to decide on a style.

There are certainly some leather screenprinted bags available in her shop now that I am just drooling over. Who couldn't use a unique and gorgeous handbag for a day out and about? Perfect gift for a girlfriend - or yourself!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Music Mondays: HAIM "If I Could Change Your Mind"

I'm a huge fan of Kitten (the band). And every time I see "like" recommendations, I can't avoid the suggestion that I would love the band HAIM, as well. Without fail, they seem to link together, stylistically.

I didn't fully agree. And I couldn't say I was a big fan of Haim's music, after just a couple of listens. This group, consisting of three sisters (Este, Danielle, & Alana), took some time for me to get used to -- maybe I wasn't really listening to what they were all about?

After seeing this video, I've developed a deep love for the simple, throwback video approach to their song "If I Could Change Your Mind." And that choreography is just dynamite. Every song on their debut album, I'm realizing, offers the same delight.

It's like Wilson Phillips and early Madonna had babies and they grew up to be the Haim sisters. With a combination of singable vocals, catching hooks, and 80s beats, I have to say that now, I'm a convert.

Artist: HAIM
Song:  "If I Could Change Your Mind" | download | stream
Record:  Days Are Gone
Directed By:  Warren Fu

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Project Cross Stitch: The Rose

I've had the most fun this week getting started on the cross stitch that I got last Friday. It's really starting to... look like something, right? There is the merest hint of a rose in there.

Since I'm trying to focus on the blue-black outlining/highlighting first (it is by far the most used color), it's not too colorful right now -- but once this is done, there are 35 other colored threads to use. I... I can't even begin to think about that now. A bit overwhelming!

But it's been amazing working with my hands to make something again. And we just completed marathoning the TV show "Veronica Mars" + Veronica Mars the Movie this week -- it was John's first time watching the series in its entirety, and my third.

I look forward to posting the progress for this over the coming weeks. It'll also hold me accountable and keep me from putting it in a drawer and not picking it up for 10 months! I know we have all experienced that, right?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bartleby the Cat

I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, and my Russian Blue kitty, Bartleby, was lounging in his favorite spot: the wide window sill of our 6th floor bedroom. I just had to interrupt his sunbathing for a quick picture.

Such a beautiful brute.

This weekend, my dad came to visit our new apartment for the first time, coming all the way down from the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a short visit, but so wonderful to have him here. Only wish he could stay for tomorrow's AFI screening -- this time, we'll be watching Pulp Fiction.

Have a wonderful weekend - go and enjoy some delicious eats or satisfying drinks. And get out of the house; it's beautiful out there. xx

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Food & Lib: Bow & Truss

Bow & Truss on Magnolia Blvd, NoHo Arts District

Just around the corner from our new apartment in the NoHo Arts District, there is a long string of old and new restaurants and bars -- with more opening every week, it seems. After several months of passing what looked like an idyllic courtyard and patio bar, I finally decided it was time to check out Bow & Truss when my sister was in town last weekend.

The patio I speak of sits just inside a large iron gate. A sand pit and granite table surrounded by outdoor loungers, tall bar tables with generous space, and even a fully stocked bar. Market lights glitter at night, and more than once, we've seen film crews parked in front, taking advantage of the unique looking space.

And that's before even going inside. Frankly, it didn't even occur to me that there was an indoor restaurant, since the patio was where most people gathered. But just inside the ornate doors, another massive rectangular bar greets you. Inside is just as spacious as out, and given how hot its been, we opted for cooler, less scorching booth seats.

Our late Saturday lunch may be the very best time to come to Bow & Truss. It is a popular brunch location -- with a full selection of mimosa, sangria, and Bloody Mary day-drinking options, it's not hard to see why. In passing, I usually see the largest crowds congregating in the courtyard well after dinner, so I fully plan on visiting during those times.

But for lunch (around 2 PM), the restaurant was calm and quiet. Just how I like it at that time of day.  The servers were attentive and our waitress could not have been sweeter. Described as "a Spanish Taverna," Bow & Truss has a small but tasty Signature Cocktail menu, that features a slew of spicy and sweet libations.

I opted for the Burnt Pepino (pictured below-left; $12), because, well... jalapeños. I'm kind of obsessed. And it was spicy. Just the right amount (and I appreciated the warning from the waitress, which indicates that some people may have been surprised, and therefore upset, by the heat.) Though I don't pity those people much. Since, you know... it says it's hot on the menu. Base liquor was vodka, my preference, and with the added hint of cucumber, it was perfect for a summer afternoon.

John ordered another spice-fueled drink, named Signal Fire (pictured below-right; $12). This one was gin-based, and the gin was infused with jalapeño rather than muddled (like mine). As a result, it didn't have the same fire, which John preferred. Some sweetness accompanied the peach/cilantro syrup, and it made for quite the satisfying drink. John was happy, so as I result, so was I.

I would recommend either highly for anyone who likes a spicy kick in their cocktails. And those who don't? I dare you to give them a try!

We opted for a lighter lunch, but their lunch/brunch menu wasn't short on options. Everything had the perfect amount of Spanish flare, and I look forward to trying their actual breakfast items. But since I'm a lunch-over-breakfast kind of girl, I opted for their [gluten-free] Chipotle Chicken Salad (not pictured, $12).

think there was some lettuce in there with my chicken! I can hardly complain though, because the chicken was BBQ-charred perfectly, and the dressing was full of flavor. I mean, it was huge. I was sure I wouldn't be able to finish it, but as I scooped the last bite from my bowl, I realized that it was just too good to save for later. Wow, I'm hungry again just thinking about it.

This may be one of the trendiest new spots in North Hollywood, adding a bit of variety to current dining options in the area. And with a more relaxed and California-weather appropriate atmosphere, Bow & Truss might be the go-to place for these warm summer days - and nights. 

Place:  Bow & Truss
Neighborhood:  NoHo Arts District (North Hollywood)
Food:  Yes
Full Bar:  Yes

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wares & Things: Suite One Studio

serving platters & cheese boards | Suite One Studio

My new obsession is serving platters. When John and I threw our first AFI movie night, I was in a scramble day-of when I realized I didn't have anything to put anything on! In my previous studio/does-this-really-constitute-a-kitchen? kitchen, I never had room for any items larger than my 12" skillet. ONE skillet.

Thus began my scavenger hunt. I dropped a handful of dollars for some Target ones, in a pinch. [They actually have an amazing Nate Berkus designed tray that I bought a friend for her birthday]. But I really wanted to see what else was out there; something a bit more unique.

That's when I stumbled upon Suite One Studio. Owner Lindsay Emery makes all kinds of ceramics for dining, entertaining, and decorating -- she even has a sweet and delicate blog that I'm just loving right now.

Check out just a few of the amazing, handmade platters she has for sale in her shop. Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

AFI Top 100: #95 "The Last Picture Show"

Cybill Shepherd & Timothy Bottoms in The Last Picture Show (1971)

You can't judge a book by its cover. Or a movie by its poster. Or... well, you get what I'm saying. At first glance, the #95 movie on the AFI Top 100 list, The Last Picture Show, appears to be a quiet, character drama, set in the rural west. And it is. Sort of. At its heart, it is an exploration of a ramshackle West Texas town and those inhabitants who still remain, some reluctantly and some for lack of anything better. These are the people who stayed during the Dust Bowl rather than finding greener pastures.  They're lifers.

The Peter Bogdanovich-directed film (based on Larry McMurtry's novel of the same name) tells the coming of age story of a group of teens navigating their last year of high school -- and the circumstances that drive each and every one into sexual awakening.  

Quietly simple Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), pretty-boy Duane (Jeff Bridges), and too-gorgeous-to-be-stuck-in-this-town Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) are at the film's center, and it's not just the teens who are figuring out the 'sex as a tool' philosophy. Every adult unfortunate enough to be still living in Anarene (the film's locale) makes most of their decisions based on sexual desires, as well - or lack thereof.

The plot feels a little like a deathly-serious American Pie. In this world, losing your virginity is THE most important thing that can happen to you - more important than ever finding your way out of this dying town. 

That's probably the subject that surprised me most about this movie: how it handles sex and overt nudity. The stereotypical presentation we're used to for this era tends to focus on sex as a taboo, something everyone is thinking about but no one ever talks about. That doesn't happen here.

Instead, sex is shown and talked about openly. In fact, so much so that it seems nonchalant and, well... kinda gross.Perhaps it's a 'rural' vs. 'suburban' approach. There is so little to do, of course everyone is going to be sleeping with everyone else - even if it's just out of sheer boredom.

Stylistically, it reminds me of one of my favorite movies, A Face in the Crowd (click to read my review). Even though they were made 15 years apart, and under completely different censorship laws, The Last Picture Show aims to capture 1950s rural America (as a "period piece") the same way Crowd did during its present day. A compelling comparison, and one that might be evidence of how successful Picture Show really is.

The primary difference between the two films is the presence of optimism. Crowd explores the uplifting hope that we all cling to, despite our trying circumstances.  

But Picture Show is devoid of hope. At its core, it is about unremarkable people doing unremarkable things in an unremarkable place. And their character arcs never change that fact, at any point during the film - a very un-Hollywood approach to storytelling. Rather, they move forward on their paths, and never manage to shake their pre-destined fates.

Bleakness is ever-present, only sparsely broken up by that last glimmer of youthful vigor, or by sex. Teen optimism is fleeting, if it existed at all. Escaping this ghost town should be the end-all, be-all of accomplishments -- one rarely seen. So it's surprising that when one of our teens manages to [reluctantly] find their way to Dallas for college, it's only revealed to us as an afterthought. Getting out means you might as well be dead. Because you'll never be seen around these parts again. 

That may be my one qualm about the movie. It ignores just how influential optimism can be. How it's what keeps people alive, and how it kept entire towns and populations from disappearing into nothingness. Watching Last Picture Show, you can't help but think that their hopelessness is a valid state of being.

But I also have to admit that a hopeful outcome just might not be in the cards for this town. It may not survive, as many rural towns didn't. And doesn't that contribute to the film's tragic poetry?

I enjoyed this movie very much, despite how much of a "bummer" it is, for lack of a better term. It's worth viewing for the star-studded cast alone. Every face prompted a "Hey that guy!" from our group; an impressive feat. The film was the debut or launching off point for many of Hollywood's most recognizable stars, and there aren't many movies that stand the test of time and can say the same thing.

Rating:  ★★★ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews]

Check back next week for #94 on the list, Pulp Fiction!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Music Mondays: Two Door Cinema Club "Changing of the Seasons"

A few months ago, I discovered Two Door Cinema Club's vinyl LP Tourist History, and I've been really into this band ever since. They hail from Northern Ireland, and their sound is bouncy, energetic, and fun. What's not to love? They make me think back to my [early '00s] high school days, driving around town in my first car (a shiny red Saturn) and blasting music at top volume in that perfect California weather.

Their new album is set to be released early next year, but since their last record Beacon in 2012, they've put together an EP for a new single, "Changing of the Seasons". Check it out above -- it's just so darn catchy! Let it add some pep to your Monday morning.

Artist:  Two Door Cinema Club
Song:  "Changing of the Seasons" | download | stream
Record:  Changing of the Seasons EP 
Directed By:  unknown

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Project Cross Stitch

I have a secret. I love to cross stitch. My mother taught me when I was a kid, and we would make ornaments and traditional patterned pieces; pretty basic stuff.

Now, it's been years since I've put my hands on a needle and thread. But I was overcome the other day, while the boyfriend was gaming (card, board, video... he does them all): I really wanted something to do with my hands. Something I could do while marathoning whatever TV show we were watching this week; something that could pull me away from the computer.

So I did my research and found some incredible designs. Specifically from Gecko Rouge, with creations by Illustrated Ink. This UK-based shop offers the most overwhelmingly intricate cross-stitch designs, from traditional to tattoo-like (check out their Dia de los Muertos selection! I'm in love with the skeleton Dachshund.)

Last week, I pulled the trigger and bought one. And I may have bitten off more than I could chew - it's HUGE.  I couldn't be more excited! It arrived on Friday, and I'm already hard at work. But with 15 pages of pattern to follow, this could take awhile!

I'll be sure to update on my progress. Right now, it doesn't look like much, huh? Well, you'll have to check back later to get a sense of what it'll be. ;) This is a long time coming -- and my love of cross stitch has been re-invigorated!  Such an antiquated - but very rewarding - hobby.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"Now I walk under a pink sky"

via Bahar Özdemir

What are you all up to this weekend? Anything fun?

Me, I've got tickets to the MONUMENTOUR featuring Paramore & Fall Out Boy. My sister, Stacy, is coming down for a quick weekend visit, and she, John, and myself are gonna make a day of it in Orange County. I've seen Paramore live twice before, and I've never seen Fall Out Boy. I'm very excited.

Our weekly AFI Night will continue Sunday with The Last Picture Show, of course -- and I may try to drag John on a hike with me somewhere. Some outdoor exercise is long overdue, so here's hoping it doesn't get too hot! Just need to decide on the hiking location... Any LA-area recommendations?

Have a great weekend, all!  xx

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Food & Lib: The Hudson

On the corner of Crescent Heights & Santa Monica Blvd sits one of my favorite places for after-work drinks and appetizers. The Hudson, open beginning at 4 PM every weekday (10 AM on Sat/Sun for brunch), has a small but perfectly satisfying menu that certainly has something for everyone.

The building is beautiful, with large windows that open up to let in the setting sun. Diners are bathed in light, and the trolley car-style eatery was built around two massive trees -- which just happen to be coming right in through the floor of the dining room!

I haven't ever been here after 8 PM -- though it's in a great location with plenty of "free after 6 PM" parking, so late night drinks and snacks should certainly be just as stellar as Happy Hour. Even strolling over after drinks at Laurel Hardware would make for a fun evening.

The first time I came to The Hudson, I ordered the Mussel Frites (pictured below; $13) off of their Shared appetizer menu, and have made it a point to order it each visit ever since. I had never had mussels before! Can you believe it? Something about them scared me, but maybe it was the pile of garlic fry deliciousness on top that made them a bit less frightening. 

Can I just tell you, go and order this dish. This is the perfect size app for two people, and the mussels are always plump and tender -- with plenty of flavor. The broth is light and salty, and oh so scrumptious. We even bought an extra order of fries to dip in the sauce just so we wouldn't waste any of it!

Whenever we come with friends, there is only one thing that everyone orders:  the mac & cheese.  More specifically, the Jalapeño Mac & Cheese (pictured below; $9). More often than not, fancy gourmet mac & cheese always ends up making me feel 'blah'. While yummy, the cheese is normally SO HEAVY and thick that it doesn't make it worth eating.

Not at The Hudson. The cheese is light and creamy, the bread crumbs are flaky (Parmesan!) and crunchy, and the jalapeño? ... just, forget about it. Perfect amount of kick, not over-powering. A great dish for someone "afraid of spicy" to take that first step into all that peppers have to offer.

The crock dish of macaroni isn't huge -- a significant appetizer (or small meal) for one person. But between two people, it goes pretty fast. For John and myself, getting both the mussels and the mac & cheese is a perfect pre-dinner combination.

Sometimes, we cave and decide to grab a full dinner. This time, we split a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (pictured above, $13), which was essentially a Caprese chicken sandwich. It was delicious, and my first time ordering it. The entire thing is more than enough for two people to split it, though without the appetizers, it might be just the right amount of food for one.

I love coming here. At the 6 o'clock hour, it's rarely crowded, and John and I are often joined by other co-workers for drinks or apps -- which are some of my favorites in the area. It's wonderful for groups, and someplace I would recommend highly. Go check it out!

Place:  The Hudson
Neighborhood:  West Hollywood
Food:  Yes
Full Bar:  Yes

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wares & Things: Cotton & Flax

trivet, coasters, tea towel, pillows from Cotton & Flax

My sister has told me repeatedly that I need to get a good set of felt or fabric coasters.  My current ones, while beautiful, are glass and do nothing to keep pooling water from spilling onto our wood coffee table.
When did I become someone who cared about water rings?  Is that just a sign of adulthood?

In an effort to find something fun and unique, I scoured the net and came upon Cotton & Flax, an independent textile shop.   Not only did I find gorgeous geometric-patterned felt coasters, but a handful of other housewares that would be perfect for my living area and kitchen!  Considering these are all handmade items, they are pretty affordable!

And, much to my surprise and delight, it turns out that "owner, maker & designer" Erin Dollar runs her home studio right here in Los Angeles!  It's always an added bonus when you come across artists and creators that also happen to be local.

Her coasters are also available at Mignon Kitchen (along with a discounted price tag), which features a fun collection of goods for your kitchen & pantry from a variety of independent makers.

Aren't they just perfect?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

my first love, Lauren Bacall

Lauren "Betty" Bacall, 1924 - 2014

This has truly been a week of tragedies.  Today, my first love, Lauren Bacall, has died.

She was a figure of inspiration and admiration for as long as I can remember.  Since the age of 10, when I carried a large, hardbound copy of Humphrey Bogart's biography around my 5th grade class for 2 weeks straight... she has been a part of my life.
I'm sort of at a loss for words.  She wasn't young.  At 89, she (along with Mickey Rooney, who passed earlier this year) was one of last remaining icons of the Classic Hollywood era.  Her passing marks the end of that chapter in our film history, and something about that truly brings me to tears. 

When I was a child, and my father showed my sister and I a series of Bogart movies, I was immediately taken with To Have and Have Not.  The reason had everything to do with Bacall's presence.  Her first movie.  She was 19 - he was 44;  and they fell in love.  I fell in love with both of them.  It took me a long time to understand the crush I had on her.  But not long at all to truly embrace it.

Her beauty was like nothing I'd ever seen before.  For my young mind, it was like seeing a real life Sleeping Beauty, because no living person had ever been so beautiful.  She was captivating, and to read about her life is to see evidence of just that;  just how enamored everyone was with her. 

I could talk about her movies.  About how my essay on To Have and Have Not changing my life is what [probably] got me into college.   About how I would watch this scene from The Big Sleep every day before walking to school in the 5th grade.  Or about how this scene was my study on how to really kiss.

But no, it wasn't her movies.  It was her.  It was her husky voice; as a husky-voiced girl, myself, I learned early on that having a deep voice could be sexy.  Her presence, the way she walked into a room and commanded all the eyes to turn.  Throughout her entire life, she was magnetic.

The world lost a true legend today.  My heart goes out to her children, family, and friends. Bogart and Bacall are once again together.

Goodbye Betty.  I can only lament that I never met you to thank you for all that you've done for me; more than anyone will ever know.  

I will never forget you for all the rest of my days.  xx

AFI Top 100: #96 "Do the Right Thing"

Spike Lee in Do the Right Thing (1989)

Slowly but surely, we're counting down the AFI Top 100 movies of all time... This week we've come to #96, the 1989 classic Do the Right Thing. Written, directed, acted—probably even gaffed—by Spike Lee, this controversial and racially charged film tells the story of an eccentric cast of characters living (or working) on a single day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

There are many layers to this film that I, personally, can't relate to—I'll say that first thing. The majority of characters are racial minorities—or minorities to some extent. And while tensions are high, they certainly don't completely segregate themselves based on their race. New York is a melting pot, and so is this community. As the film begins, we meet Mookie (Spike Lee), as he wakes up to sweltering heat on the hottest day of the year.  

Oh yeah.  It's important for you to know just how hot it is the entire movie. It's a component of the story that Lee carefully cultivates, not just in the dialogue, but even in the way the film is shot. The colors are saturated to an extreme, everyone is glistening, and you can't watch this movie without feeling a prickling of sweat break out on your own forehead. What better way to set the stage for tensions to boil over?

Back to the plot. Mookie spends his days working just down the street at a popular pizza joint, Sal's Pizzeria. Sal is an honest, hard-working guy, who also employs his two sons. Youngest son, Pino, and Mookie get along great, but both are easily pushed around by Pino's older brother, Vito.

Vito is a racist, and he doesn't really care who knows it. Yet it's the kind of racism where the person knows their hatred is stupid. Racism acts as a weapon used to "one-up" other people; to try to stop them dead in their tracks. To say, "Hey! You can't get the best of me! I'll just have to knock you down first!"  It's a defense-mechanism. 

Most of the people Vito admires are black—Mookie even makes one of my favorite observations in the film. When trying to level with Vito, Mookie states, "You know deep down inside, I think you wish you were black."

Self-hatred and insecurity are cross-cultural and not race-specific, and they play a big part in Do the Right Thing.  Every character carries with them feelings of inadequacy: Mookie and his inability to provide for his girlfriend and son;  local drunk, Da Mayor, battling to find respect and acceptance;  even Buggin' Out, the instigator of a protest against Sal's Pizzeria for only hanging up pictures of famous white people—even he struggles to find a cause that would give him a sense of importance.

The world these people live in is very small—a narrow, unimportant block in Bed-Stuy. Their lives aren't flashy, even if they do try to prove otherwise by rocking pricey Air Jordan's or carrying around the latest and greatest boombox. Most of the characters just sit on their stoops and spend their days trying to matter to even one person.

And regardless of their efforts, big things are happening in the outside world—fights for racial equality, political struggles—and they can only stand on the periphery with an opinion and plenty to say.

Spike Lee composes a film that gives us the same voyeuristic view of peoples' lives that Hitchcock's Rear Window did. But instead of peering through apartment windows in secret, everyone's lives have just flowed out onto the street. They're out in the open, and just as vulnerable. 

The climax of the film is greatly debated. I won't spoil it for people who haven't seen it, but the boiling point is reached and everything comes to a head around Sal's Pizzeria. Mookie, normally calm, collected, and reasonable, allows his own anger and resentment to influence his decisions. Did Mookie 'do the right thing'? I can't answer this question. But it's undeniable that Lee's film starts this conversation—and no matter how uncomfortable the audience might be with the racial tone of the subject matter, there's no turning away from it.

Something unique that Lee does here (and something he's done frequently in his career since), is using racist language and mentalities to incite a laugh. This movie is really funny. And sometimes you laugh when you feel you shouldn't. By approaching racism in this way, he's not giving it the heavy-handed treatment (*cough*Crash*cough*)—instead, he's showing simultaneously just how ridiculous, and at the same time, deep-seeded, it can be.  

There's so much more I could speak to, but this isn't an essay on the film's perspective on race relations—or its influence (though it's hard not to see continued parallels, considering the tragic events in Ferguson, MO that occurred the same day we watched this film).

Solely as a motion picture, I absolutely believe Do the Right Thing has earned a spot on this AFI Top 100 list. Lee has been notoriously snubbed by film honoring committees—and while it can be argued that filling a cast with characters that can go from 0 to 60 and never land in the middle is only going to alienate viewers, I don't believe that should matter.  

As a director, Lee is a visionary and a true auteur. His style is unique and rarely duplicated—at least successfully. And Do the Right Thing was the start of it all. 

Rating:  ★★★★ / 5 stars

If you want to participate in this weekly movie countdown, feel free to follow along with me! Next Sunday's movie: #95, The Last Picture Show!

Monday, August 11, 2014

"O me! O life!"

1951 - 2014

O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

- Walt Whitman, from "Leaves of Grass"

Today, the world lost a comedy legend..  Goodbye Robin. xx

Music Mondays: Foxes "Youth"

For today's Music Monday, I vacillated between something like four songs from this artist. In heavy rotation in my summer playlist is Foxes, a British pop singer-songwriter best known for being the featured vocalist on last year's non-stop-can't-escape-this-song-no-matter-what-station-I-turn-to song "Clarity" by Zedd.

But this year, she's releasing a collection of her own thumping pop-dance numbers on her debut album Glroious, and I'm really digging every single one of them.  However, I found that one has been hitting the spot pretty consistently for me over the past few weeks:  "Youth", which is like a less processed or forced "Firework."  So enjoy!  And check out all of her other songs, many of which have videos already released.  It also doesn't hurt that she's quite the stunner.

Artist:  Foxes
Song:  "Youth" | download | stream
Record:  Glorious
Directed By:  James Copeland

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In)

"Viva Hate" by Jeffrey Everett | finally gracing my wall

Herb & veggie plants aren't the only thing we got this weekend.  Gallery 1988 West finally called to inform me that my long-awaited purchase of Jeffrey Everett's "Viva Hate" print was ready for pick up!  This piece, which I talked at length about before, is an 18x24 black & white screenprint, #31 of 100 limited prints. Inspired by the novel, Let the Right One In.

And now, it hangs above our entertainment area (you can see the reflection of my gallery wall on the opposite side of the room).  More specifically, above the record player & collection, which - considering the image - couldn't be more perfect.  This collection just keeps growing and growing.

The Garden of Earthly Delights

my new herb garden (l-r: jalapeno, mint, basil, rosemary)

While I still have yet to receive the beautiful pots I've been coveting, John and I decided it was time to add some life to our balcony.  Neither of us are very experienced with plants, but it was important that we start with something that would be used -- in our kitchen, that is.

So we started slow, planting a few of the necessary herbs and vegetables that we love so much:  rosemary, basil (my favorite), mint, and finally, jalapeño.  I've only ever grown basil and rosemary before, so I'm really excited to see a pepper growing in our modest little pot eventually.  We even have room to add another plant!  What would you recommend we add as a 'must-grow'?

Next up, I hope to find the right succulents to put in the right ceramic pots.  While the large home improvement + garden center stores might be suitable for picking up starter herbs and ferns (and the reed mat that helped us enclose our 6th floor balcony), I found that the succulent selection is always greatly lacking.  Even the pre-made succulent displays are cheap, with packing stones glued into place!  Definitely not what I'm looking for. 

Anyone know of a good independent succulent nursery in the Los Angeles area?  That may just be my next challenge, and I'll report back on what my investigation finds.  :)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Universal City Overlook

northeast towards Universal City / Burbank
northwest towards Sherman Oaks / Van Nuys

As I drive to and from work every morning -- North Hollywood to West Hollywood -- I have the option of bypassing the cluttered 101 freeway route for a considerably more scenic one.  It's a no brainer.  Because east of Laurel Canyon, down a stretch of winding Mulholland Drive, there is an overlook that can't be surpassed.

About halfway between Laurel and the much less congested Nichols Canyon (above the majestic hillside homes of Studio City), sits the Universal City Overlook.  To say you can't miss it on your drive is an under-statement. While the outlook itself isn't marked with explicit signage, you'll know you've reached it when you begin to veer into the other lane, because... well, you just can't not stare at the view.

Likely the best vantage point of the eastern San Fernando Valley (best of the west might be at the peak of Topanga Canyon), the overlook is nestled up against Mulholland and is surprisingly quiet.  With just enough space for four or five cars, it's rarely crowded.  The Valley is an under-rated part of the Los Angeles cityscape, and the Universal City Overlook is the strongest argument that the Valley is quite the beauty.  It's also significantly cheaper than the other side of the hills. 

On my way home last night, I just had to stop and snap a few pictures for you all.  Quite beautiful indeed, bathed in the setting summer sun.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wares & Things: Unurth Ceramics

Stoneware pots from Unurth Ceramics

My next project is to incorporate some living plant life into our space -- herbs & succulents, to be specific. And I just came upon these gorgeous stoneware pots by Unurth Ceramics.

Run by Jenn Romero and based a hop, skip, & a jump outside of Los Angeles in Thousand Oaks, these might be exactly what I need to add handmade beauty to my kitchen and balcony.  I love how perfectly imperfect each of her pieces are.

They can be purchased from her shop, or from my new favorite destination for handmade, independent wares & things, Shoppe.  I know I have my eye on at least two of these.

Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

AFI Top 100: #97 "Blade Runner"

Harrison Ford & Sean Young in Blade Runner (1982)

Four weeks down, and we're still going strong! Not bad, if I do say so myself (just don't remind me that we have 96 more weeks to go)... Sunday, we came upon the first "cult" favorite on the AFI Top 100 list:  #97 Blade Runner. Specifically, the Theatrical Version. I had a long chat with my Masters-in-Film-Studies holding, brother-in-law, Jonathan, about which version to screen: US Theatrical, Director's Cut, or The Final Cut - and that's just 3 of the 7 cuts that are out there!

Because this is the Top 100 list, I felt that historical consistency was important. This list was released the same year as the Final Cut, which automatically disqualified it from contention. For that reason, we viewed the US Theatrical - and arguably, "less good" - version of the film. 

I will be reviewing it as a standalone, not in comparison to the other cuts (because, frankly, the other cuts make it an entirely different movie). So please keep that in mind, and try not to yell at me about how the others are better -- because, as you'll see... that's not a hard accomplishment.

Blade Runner is a neo-noir based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Set in 2019 Los Angeles, the world is an over-populated, dystopian haze. A new life on one of the off-world colonies is but a dream for all who remain on Earth. Human-like androids, called "replicants", are used as slave and military labor off-world, and are forbidden from returning to Earth, due to the danger they could pose to humans.

That's where our protagonist comes in. After four Nexus-6 generation (the most advanced) replicants escape the colonies and find their way back to Earth's surface, the police call on Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter cop known as a "Blade Runner," to track them down for one last job.

Harrison Ford plays Deckard with all the subtly of a punch to the throat. He's a man struggling with the emotional strain years of "retiring" humanoid replicants has put on him. He doesn't want to do this job. But not badly enough to fight very hard to turn it down. As his search begins, he starts - where else? - at the beginning: the place the replicants were "born." In Los Angeles, that means the Tyrell Corporation. Tyrell is a brilliant business man and visionary; a man who has learned to play God with his creations.

At the Tyrell Corp, Deckard meets the person who will change everything for him. Rachel (Sean Young), Tyrell's assistant, is offered up to Deckard as a subject for the replicant detection test - you know, "to see how a human would grade." A hundred questions later, it is clear to Deckard that Rachel is (spoiler! but not really) a replicant -- she just doesn't know it. Replicants, with their four-year life spans, are emotionally immature and easily spotted through their emotional response to normal human experiences. Basically, they're baby sociopaths.

Given their short life spans (which essentially means they "power down"), the motivation for the replicants becomes clear: extend their lives, by any means necessary.

This is where I begin to have issues with this film. Motivation is a driving force behind every character's actions... except everything just feels... off. Like every second. Deckard's motivation is never very clear, even with his languid narration interspersed throughout. He wants to catch the replicants, that part is clear. Because he was told to? I guess. Pretty flimsy, if you ask me.

And his resolve for that outcome is only weakened by the introduction of Rachel, whose only purpose is to instill additional uncertainty in Deckard's already emotional mentality (she also made me want to scream "Laces out!" every time she came on screen - but I digress). So what's the motivation now?  "I have to stop them... I guess?"

Now, to the replicants, and the B Story - unarguably the more dynamic and interesting aspect of the film. I'm going to refrain from recounting each detail of the story -- after all, my point isn't to give a full summary. Yet it's important to say that a lot of time is spent showing two of the four replicants (Roy & Pris) as they struggle to hide from the blade runners, while still seeking answers to their plight.

And that plight is hugely motivational. They want to survive! Sure, they're violent and homicidal, but considering what's at stake, that's pretty darn justified! Again, this just poses more problems for the movie. Sympathetic antagonists are nothing new (Ian McKellan's Magneto comes to mind); they often make the protagonist more interesting, by default. Yet Blade Runner does a HUGE disservice to these characters by making them weirdo, crazy, mindless killers in one scene -- and then flipping the switch and giving them all of our sympathy in the next, leaving none left over for Deckard.

Deckard's scenes with Rachel are forced and awkward. They have absolutely no chemistry, and Ford effortlessly gives off a "rape-y" vibe, which is apparently supposed to be sexy. He also struggles to even function when coming face-to-face with the replicants.  Isn't this guy supposed to be the best? Why is he so inept at hand-to-hand combat? And why does he come off as a powerless coward in his face-off with replicant leader, Roy? This is never explained (other than to say, "Oh but he just feels so much more now." Wait, what? No.)

Too much time is spent merely suggesting that Deckard is a replicant, yet... not really? Other versions (I promised to avoid this topic!) broach this subject in more effective ways. Unfortunately, this isn't that version. I can't commend a movie for what it could have been. Instead, we have to look at what it is. And what it is is a beautiful looking, artistically ground-breaking mess. What's worse is... it's really, really boring.

the art direction of Blade Runner

There are themes galore (What is humanity?), but the movie doesn't do them justice. The pacing makes it nearly impossible to fully realize any subtle suggestions or implications. Anything deeper can only be shoehorned in by the viewer. In the end, it focuses so much on its own style and completely disregards anything that could really give the plot and characters the dimension they deserve. If the B plot were the A plot, and our protagonists were the replicants fighting the good fight... I can't help but think that would be a much more compelling story.

Director Ridley Scott may have lost control of the film due to studio interference. Which is unfortunate. But does what he tried to do warrant putting this under-whelming film on the AFI Top 100? Not in the slightest. Hollywood has gotten dystopian sci-fi films down pretty pat over the last 30+ years (12 Monkeys, The Matrix, City of Lost Children, the list goes on). Let's give them a shot in the ranking, and let Blade Runner fall off the list for good.

Rating:  ★½ / 5 stars

[Watch the Trailer] | [Read More AFI Top 100 Reviews]

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Or strongly disagree (as I'm sure many of you Blade Runner fans do!) Let me know in the comments!

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

Check out #96 on the AFI Top 100 list, Do the Right Thing!

And please, if you feel so inclined, share this blog and these posts with others who may enjoy them -- or "Follow Me" to receive updates about new posts right in your Blogger feed! Thanks for your support, everyone! xx
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