25 October 2009

Frankly Frank

I just love Frank Rich. Don't You?

You can read a neat interview with him here.

23 October 2009

Will the Real First Bird Please Fly Up?

Pity the poor archaeopteryx (pictured, left) which, for nearly 150 years has been presumed to be the earliest known example of a flying bird-like creature. Now, however, recent studies have shown that, while it exhibits bird-like traits, its bones are more dinosaur like -- meaning it is probably more a dinosaur with feathers than a true bird-like creature.

Science is now pinning its hopes on Confuciusornis (pictured, right) which existed about 20 million years after archaeopteryx and exhibits more bird-like traits -- making it a closer relative to modern birds.

So, did dinosaurs evolve into birds? Yes, but about 20 million years later.

You can read the original article here.

22 October 2009

If Only Charlie Was Right

I stumbled onto an article written by Charlie Wachtel over at "The Film Crusade" about the sorry state of Hollywood films today. He talks about how most Hollywood product is predictable and safe -- which is totally true; he then adds "This 'anti-risk Hollywood' is not only dangerous to the industry itself, but it will most certainly fail."

If only Charlie was right.

H. L. Mencken -- one of my personal heroes -- sagely advised that a person would never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. He was right and Hollywood has embraced that sentiment for decades upon decades -- and made bazillion dollars in the process.

I see around 150 movies a year and I cannot tell you the last time I saw what I consider a great main-stream American film -- aside from classics like "Chinatown" or "Double Indemnity" which are decades old.

Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- comes to mind for an American film in the past few years -- except "Wall-E" and "Grey Gardens" (but that was made-for-cable). Foreign films, yes; independent films, yes. American films? No.

Charlie would be better off if he did (and I suspect he already does) as we do: spend his time and money on independent American films, or films made overseas.

Here are just a few newer films I have recently seen that I highly recommend:

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (foreign)
"The Aura" (foreign)
"District 9" (foreign)
"Grey Gardens" (American)
"In the Mood for Love" (foreign)
"The Lives of Others" (foreign)
"The Lookout" (independent)
"Nine Queens" (foreign)
"Persepolis" (foreign)
"Sleep Dealer" (foreign / independent)
"The Visitor" (independent)
"Wall-E" (American)

You can read his entry here.

17 October 2009

Perino's: New is Better

Because it is always better to tear down a historic location (top) and replace it with crappy apartments (bottom).

Top: Perino's restaurant's
second location at 4101 Wilshire, opened in 1950. The original Perino's, which opened in 1932 just up the street at 3927 Wilshire, closed when the second location opened. The second location closed in 1986 and the building was torn down in 2005.

Matt and I were fortunate enough to be able to visit the historic building on our second trip to Los Angeles together on 13 October 1996.

15 October 2009

Left Hand: Let Me Introduce Right Hand

In another case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, I present this:

On the same day that Politico runs an article about a white political candidate not being embarrassed to let people know his wife is black and their children biracial, we get an article by the Associated Press about a white woman who is denied a marriage license because her male partner is black. WTF?

I love how the clerk who denied the license tries to make it better by basically saying: "I'm not just an asshole to this couple. I'm an asshole to everyone who I do not think should be married." Oh, and don't miss the great comment from an ACLU spokesperson: "The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry." Yeh, as long as you are not gay or lesbian, right?

Man, talk about one screwed up society!

14 October 2009

Be Still My Heart

We watch a lot of vintage and foreign films. We even watch a lot of vintage foreign films. One thing that always grabs my attention is a well-done set of opening titles. It doesn't have to be fancy animation, or glaring colors; rather, something oddly evocative, providing a clue of the film to come -- so of its time but apart from it. In many cases, a film's only redeeming quality is its opening titles.

You will find
here a personal collection of movie opening titles put together by some guy who watches a lot of movies. Included are lots of movies I have seen -- including the best movie of all time (pictured).

A single image does not capture the true style of the opening credits -- which are names washed away by waves lapping against the shore. Pretty cool. You can see all the opening title sequence below:

11 October 2009

Did You CARE?

If you are of at least a certain age you will remember hearing commercials for CARE packages.

I heard these when I was a child, but I never understood their significance until I began indulging my interest for American history.

CARE packages (like the one pictured in this advertisement from 1948) were sent to cities in Europe starting right after the end of World War Two. It helped people whose countries were ravaged by the war. Not only did these packages bring food to hungry people, they also brought goodwill to people who remembered America's kindness throughout their lives.

Now, of course, the phrase "care package" has become generic and refers to any package sent from one person to another with helpful contents. Back then, it meant the difference between life and death for many people.

You can read more about the CARE organization

10 October 2009

A City Hall Story

There are some things one just cannot explain. For me, I have never been able to understand or explain my constant fascination with the city of Los Angeles in general and Hollywood specifically. If I believed in reincarnation, I could easily write it off as a place where I lived and worked in a previous life; but, seeing how I don't believe in reincarnation, that won't work.

Whatever the reason, I am totally engrossed by all things historic Los Angeles. So much so, that my spouse and I spent the better part of this past week there. I have visited LA dozens of times, but never stopped to visit downtown LA, so this vacation, that was our destination.

We spent two days in downtown LA walking and seeing and photographing all the cool old buildings (e.g. the Eastern Columbia building), staying in a cool old-ish hotel (The Bonaventure) and marveling at how neat a city is LA.

One specific part of my fascination with LA is the iconic city hall. You don't have to have ever been in California to recognize this structure because it has appeared in probably thousands of movies and television episodes. It is the epitome of historic LA.

As part of our marathon downtown tour, on Monday we walked up to this gorgeous building and took some photographs. A very nice man came up and told us we could actually go inside the building and go right to the top to take photographs. What? The thought never occurred to us that we might actually be able to go inside -- let alone to the top -- what with all the security restrictions in place around famous buildings. So, we did just what this man suggested -- right to the top of the coolest building in LA. It was a highlight in a trip filled with highlights.

One thing that strikes me about downtown LA is how much it has changed in less than 100 years. Much of the area that is now tall buildings was once called Bunker Hill -- home to mansions and more humble residences that were cleared away starting in the mid 1950s.

For nearly 40 years, the Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest structure in downtown. Now, it is dwarfed by the massive skyscrapers nearby.

I thought you would find it as interesting as I did to see how downtown has changed through the years, so I assembled some photographs (click to enlarge):

The top photo, looking roughly north, is the city hall in 1930 (it was built in 1928).

The next photo shows roughly the same view and is probably from the 1970s. (I have placed the letter "A" on both photos to help you orient.)

The third photo, looking roughly south, shows the city hall and the downtown area probably in the 1980s. (The open space just right and up from center is now the site of the Disney Symphony Hall. To the right of that is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

The last photo is one we took on Monday of this week from atop the city hall. It shows just how much downtown has changed in about 30 years. (The Bonaventure is just behind and left of the building marked "B.")

You can learn more about the cool city hall building here.

06 October 2009

Animals: 2

Can it (gasp!) be? Two good animal stories in two days? Can it be that other people are starting to realize the importance of animals in the lives of humans? I mean, really? STOP THE PRESSES! (I love saying that.) You can read the story in today's New York Times here.

05 October 2009

Score One for the Animals

Like gems in a coal bin, there are good animal stories to be found -- including (I am trying not to show surprise here) one in the Phoenix metro area.

Years ago, the city of Tempe decided to dam off part of the now-almost-always-dry Salt River to create a town lake. Lots of people laughed. But now, it seems the lake is becoming a haven to wildlife which is -- how do I say this? -- great.

You can read more about this unexpected development

04 October 2009

Greetings From Los Angeles

Welcome, from the home of earthquakes and movies! Yes, that's right: Hollywood and all points north, south, east and west. Here is a view of our hotel: the gorgeous Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. Isn't it great? We have already visited friends in Long Beach and Los Angeles, spent a day in Hollywood being all touristy and visiting the really interesting Hollywood Heritage Museum inside the barn where the first feature film was made (in Hollywood). More to come!

01 October 2009

The Winding Trail

You know, I wish I could be alive in 1,000 years for lots of reasons -- not the least because, by then, anthropologists will have unraveled the story of hominid evolution. Until then, we will have to be happy with the scattered discoveries that add mere pieces to a giant puzzle -- like the recent discovery of a new human ancestor called Ardipithecus ramidus.

This find dates back 4.4 million years -- much farther than Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), which dates back only about 3.2 million years, discovered in 1974 in roughly the same area in Ethiopia. It offers amazing new clues into how and when humans learned to walk upright and form relationships. It also takes science much closer to the time (thought to be about 6 million years ago) when the evolutionary branch leading to humans diverged from the branch with other primates.

You can read more about this startling discovery here.