Saturday, February 26, 2011

Academy Awards

Sunday night is the big awards show -- the Academy Awards or the Oscars.

Of course I'll be watching. I couldn't pass up an opportunity to see all those celebs in their fashion do's and don'ts. Okay, mostly I like the don'ts, so horribly fascinating.

But I do love movies, though these days I watch almost exclusively at home on DVD. I used to try and watch all the films nominated for Best Picture. However, since I've become a DVD watcher rather than a movie goer, I usually don't see everything. Plus, the academy went and doubled the number of films nominated so I've definitely faced an uphill battle the past couple of years.

This year, I've actually managed to see five of the ten nominated pictures:
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
Winter's Bone

From what I've heard and read, none of these are front runners to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. In fact, everyone I know who has seen The King's Speech has LURVED it. If it wins (as is predicted), I guess I won't be disappointed.

Of the five I've seen, Inception is the most likely winner, in my opinion, but I honestly don't think it is "Best Picture" worthy. Winter's Bone might be, but such small budget movies almost never take home the Oscar. Ditto on animated features, even though of the five contenders I've seen, I have to admit Toy Story 3 is my favorite of the bunch!

TS3 has wonderfully likable characters and a charming story line that teaches some powerful and important lessons without being preachy. Now honestly, what more can you ask of a film?

I'm sure I'd have enjoyed Inception more if I'd seen it on a big screen. All those mind-blowing special effects lost some of their oomph on my TV. On the other hand, I doubt I could have followed the extremely complicated and convoluted plot in the theater. As it was, I found myself hitting "rewind" several times because there was so much going on that I knew I'd missed some key ingredients. Also, by the last third of the movie, I found myself tracking what was going on out loud so that I could keep up with all the various layers and simultaneous happenings. I doubt anyone sitting near me in a theater would have appreciated my mutterings.

I did not share the critics' LURVE of The Social Network. Like Inception, it went on way too long, I could have easily edited 30 minutes out without losing a bit of story. And speaking of the story line, this one suffered from non-linear telling. The device of revealing the main story through flashbacks from two different legal proceedings felt way too cumbersome to me. Not that I would have enjoyed a straight forward telling much better because I simply did not like any of the characters. Worse, I had a hard time distinguishing who was who most of the time, and so did the DH who fell asleep halfway through and when I woke him up said, "Don't bother, it's just not holding my interest."

We both had a similar reaction to The Kids Are All Right. The title pretty much covered it -- all right. Basically, this was a cozy and well-done story of a family and how each member deals with the almost-grown children finding their birth father. The fact that the main couple at the nucleus of the story are homosexual women might have been new and different, or even controversial twenty years ago. But today? Not really, at least not for me or anyone else I know who saw the film. It was an enjoyable, if predictable, movie. But Oscar worthy? I didn't think so.

Finally, what can I say about Winter's Bone besides OMGosh?!?! I won't be forgetting this gripping and intense film for quite awhile. I happen to think it takes a lot to shock me and make me uncomfortable, but this movie did it. However, the gritty and graphic realism of this film will probably be too much for a lot of audience members, and I must admit, I thought it crossed the line into unnecessarily gross in more than one scene. Winter's Bone was one of those films that part of me hoped like heck wasn't totally realistic, while another part of me knew it was.

So there are my subjective opinions of some of the Best Picture nominees. What about you? Which movies have you seen lately and which do you think deserve the Best Picture award?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Elephant Seals

About a month ago the DH and I drove to the central California coast. At the time, it was cold, wet and miserable here at home and we knew the coast would be sunny.

While there, we stopped off at a beach near Piedras Blancas lighthouse to see the elephant seals. Every year the seals start arriving around the end of November and stay through most of March. December and January are when most of the calves are born and the beach is so crowded with seals that you can hardly see the sand.

You can see in this shot that there's still a bit of room left on the beach. However, by now (mid-Feb.) there probably isn't! The seals tend to stay in groups. One male will have all the females in his harem close to him.

Here are a couple of female elephant seals and the smaller, darker one is a baby. This baby is probably a couple of weeks old. To give you a bit of perspective, the female elephant seals weigh around 1500 pounds or three-quarters of a ton. The males are about three times larger than the females -- yes around 5,000 pounds or roughly the size as an SUV! They are named elephant seals for a reason!

The babies weigh about 70 pounds at birth and quadruple their weight in a month. One of the park rangers told me that for every pound the baby gains, the mother loses two. YIKES! That is one diet I'll gladly skip.

Here's one more photo of that crowded beach. These are the first photos with my new camera so I'm trying them out here on the blog.

Notice the lovely blue sky and the relatively calm ocean. Both were a welcome reprieve from our dreary January.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Where In The World Is Tokelau?

I have a data collection program attached to my website (, and one of the things it collects is the country where visitors to my site are located. I have to admit to being such a big geek that I check the thing several times a week because I get a real thrill when I see hits from places I've never been, like Bulgaria and Malaysia (those were both listed this week)!

Well this week, a first happened for me. I got a website 'hit' from a place I'd never heard of!

If you've spent more than five minutes on this blog, then I don't have to tell you what a travel fanatic yer olde Aunty truly is. Plus, I've been to places that many of my friends and relatives scratch their heads over, not to mention my plans to visit at least a score more that almost nobody puts on their destination list. So for me NOT to have heard of someplace it must be pretty darn remote!

So WHERE in the world IS Tokelau?!?!

Turns out it is three tiny coral atolls located about 300 miles north of Samoa in the South Pacific. (Yes, I looked it up!) The three little islands have a combined population of about 1500 people.

Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand and receives support from there. That also means that some English is spoken in Tokelau because it is taught as a second language in the schools. Plus, a large number of Tokelauans live in New Zealand -- more than actually live on the islands!

Maybe that is where someone on Tokelau heard of me? They visited New Zealand and saw or heard about one of my books? Or someone went to visit their relatives on Tokelau and just happened to be surfing the net and wound up on my website?

However it happened, I am astounded at the very idea that someone on a tiny island in the South Pacific might have heard of me! Okay, I'm resisting the urge to start humming "It's a Small World!"

Have you ever heard of Tokelau? Any other unusual place you know about that might be new to yer olde Aunty?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy Chinese New Year!

I've been to Chinatown in San Francisco (the largest in the US) many times around Chinese New Year and I always thought the signs in the windows that said Gung Hay Fat Choy meant Happy New Year. Um... not really.

About twenty years ago (gosh, can't believe it's been that long), I had a Chinese exchange student live with me for a year. "Ray" (the Americanized name he used) was from Shanghai, and when I said Gung Hay Fat Choy to him he gave me a funny look (actually he gave me a lot of funny looks in the time he lived with me, but that's another story).

I said, "Doesn't that mean Happy New Year?"

He said, "No, it means 'I hope you will be rich.'"

To which I replied, "That would make my year very happy!"

He laughed and agreed.

Anyway, this is the Year of the Rabbit (or hare). One of the twelve animal signs of the Chinese zodiac. I was born in the Year of the Rabbit so I feel like this is "my year!" In case you aren't familiar with the twelve animals (most Chinese restaurants here in California have them somewhere -- placemats, menus, posters on the wall) they are:

According to one Chinese zodiac site I visited, those born in the year of the Rabbit are popular, compassionate, sincere, and they avoid conflict. They also like to be surrounded by friends and family. Now honestly, who doesn't? And who would argue with that description?

This same site says Rabbits are good communicators and good careers for them include actor, teacher, fashion designer, or writer! Okay, looks like they got that one right.

Interestingly enough, my DH was also born in the year of the Rabbit... or maybe not. His birthday always falls very close and sometimes ON Chinese New Year. So it's possible he's actually a Tiger, which would explain a lot... Oh, and careers for Tigers include artist.

What is your Chinese zodiac sign? Ever been to a Chinese New Year celebration? Please share the details. Oh, and gung hay fat choy -- I really do hope you'll be rich!