Monday, November 30, 2009

Discovering the delights of Laguna Beach...

Our travels these past twenty months or so have mainly taken us north up California's West Coast, so it was great at the weekend to start exploring what delights taking a southerly direction offered.
Laguna Beach shoreline
We've enjoyed exploring the likes of Santa Barbara, Cambria, Carmel-by-the-Sea (even managing a bit of wine tasting in Carmel Valley) and returned to visit San Francisco as in years past.
Laguna Beach shore
After our morning with Cooper at Huntington Dog Beach in Orange County, on a whim we decided to carry on further down the coast through Newport Beach, past all the marinas with their yachts, to Laguna Beach.
Laguna Beach bird sanctuary sign
What we discovered is Laguna Beach is very picturesque with lovely beaches and a fantastically scenic coastline.
Pacific Ocean Laguna Beach
It also seems like quite a dog-friendly place, with dogs being allowed on-leash on the beaches in the off season.
Laguna Beach view
We enjoyed a stroll along the seaside resort's streets past the abundance of eateries, shops and art galleries.
Coastal view Laguna Beach
Many of the retail outlets even had dog bowls filled with water outside to quench the thirst of our tired pup, which was a friendly gesture I thought.
Laguna Beach poem sculpture
We meandered into Brown's Park a lovely 'secret garden' type winding alley with spectacular views of Main Beach at the end of the pathway. The secluded park also sported a variety of public art, including these stained-glass wrought-iron balcony fencing adorned with verse.
Cooper in Laguna Beach
In this fleeting moment
What extravagant respite
As Promethean sunsets
Blossom, blaze and secede
From splendor to mystery.

In this fleeting moment
What extravagant respite
As booming surf speaks its
Mystical passage across
The undreamed depths.
Laguna Beach park poem
I'm not sure what the origins of this poem are, maybe it's by a local poet or famous literary figure. Does anyone know?
Chairs and table park sculpture Laguna Beach
Also on display in the small park is this charming table and chairs sculpture near the entrance.
Stars and stripes in Laguna Beach
It it was a lovely place to be under the blue November skies and busy on the streets and beaches, so I'd imagine in the height of summer the resort is teeming with visitors.
Laguna Beach art gallery sculpture
The place seems like quite an arty community with all its galleries and art shops and even the local signs and seating has a more designed and manicured feel to it than in your ordinary town.
Hanging Gate Laguna Beach
The views of the coast from the landscaped parks are amazing and I'm sure we'll be returning to Laguna Beach in the future to explore some more, especially as it seems Cooper will be more than welcome there too.
Laguna Beach coastal view
One thing we'll not do again soon is try to drive back up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) rather than taking the freeway home.
Laguna Beach flora
Hoping to see a bit more of scenic Southern California, instead we ended up driving through lots of industrial areas, like Long Beach seaport and experiencing countless traffic lights. Sadly, the Santa Monica to Malibu coastal drive it's not!
Live the good life garland
Anyway, I'll leave you now with a festive garland to get you in the Christmas spirit considering tomorrow is December (how exactly did that happen?).

Let the Happy Holiday season begin...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cooper finally makes it to Huntington Dog Beach (and loves it)...

Having a friend in town from the U.K. gave us the perfect excuse to explore more of Southern California and finally take Cooper to Huntington Dog Beach in Orange County.
Happy Cooper at Huntington Dog Beach
We already have a great repertoire of dog beaches for our yellow Labrador, Cooper, but we've been meaning to take him to the one-mile stretch of golden sand for ages, where dogs can frolic off-leash in the surf and along the shoreline.
Huntington Dog Beach sign
He regularly enjoys visiting Sycamore Cove in Ventura County, not strictly an off-leash beach, but dogs are allowed and off season in the early mornings we've never had a problem playing along the quiet sandy bay.
Huntington Beach Pier
Further up the coast in Santa Barbara, there's the wonderful Hendry's Beach, which has both an on and off-leash section of beach (plus fabulous dog showers to wash the sand and salt out of your pup's fur) at the end of the day.
Labrador splashing around at Huntington Dog Beach
Finally there's the Long Beach Dog Zone, which is disappointing by comparison in its size (not that Cooper minds whilst he's dashing around like a mad thing), but at least it's the only official off-leash section of dog beach in L.A. County.
Tennis Ball Labrador Huntington Beach
Anyway, back to our weekend adventures. We headed off early from West Hollywood to beat the freeway traffic and about an hour later arrived at Huntington Beach.
Huntington Dog Beach pup fun
We parked at the meters along the PCH by 21st Street where the dog section of the beach starts.
Pup splashing though the waves at Huntington Beach
Cooper could taste the salty air and couldn't wait to race down the sandy shores to the Pacific Ocean, then realising he'd left us behind so he looked around as if to say "well what are you waiting for?"
Dogs playing at Huntington Beach
Weather reports had warned of thunder storms along the coast, so we'd nearly called our trip off.
Pup play at Huntington Dog Beach
We were glad we didn't and like typical Brits we spent most of the day marveling at the heat, sunshine and blue skies, especially considering it is the end of November, when typically back home all there is is cold and rain.
Huntington Dog Beach
Cooper was in his element and didn't really care whether the sun was shining or if there was driving rain, all that mattered to him was there were dogs to play with and balls to endlessly chase.
Huntington Dog Beach surf pup
Huntington Beach is a lovely stretch of sandy shore and even more importantly it's clean.
Huntington Dog Beach fun
You can tell that dog walkers don't take this brilliant beach for granted.
Cooper at Huntington Dog Beach
It was lovely to relax walking along the sandy shore, with a refreshing wind to blow away the cobwebs and surprisingly it didn't feel that crowded, either with dogs or people.
Grinning Labrador at Huntington Dog Beach
Cooper didn't really swim that much in the ocean this time. He did follow a few dogs into the water after their toys, but the waves were crashing in and the current looked strong, so you could see why it was a favourite with local surfers.
Huntington Dog Beach visit
We tested out his new tennis ball launcher (to save our shoulder joints) and he didn't really stop running up and down the beach after them.
Huntington Dog Beach shoreline
Off in the distance we could see the seaport of Long Beach and there's a picturesque pier at Huntington Beach, so it's a nice place to spend an hour or so, especially when pup is having so much fun.
Ball chasing at Huntington Dog Beach
Cooper refused to give up playing with his tennis ball, but towards the end you could tell he was exhausted.
Tired pup at Huntington Dog Beach
He was so tired he almost didn't have the energy to move out the way when the waves came rushing in.
Huntington Dog Beach shore pup
As we were in the neighbourhood, after our playtime at Huntington Beach we decided to head down the coast to Laguna Beach to explore some more.

More on our adventures there tomorrow...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Blind Side is the perfect feel-good movie to make you feel thankful...

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

If you're wondering what to watch at the cinema today after your dinner I'd recommend Sandra Bullock's new heart-warming movie The Blind Side.

It's nice sometimes to go see an uncomplicated, feel-good movie that isn't traumatic viewing and makes you thankful that good does exist in the world.
The Blind Side movie poster
Initially slow to start, the movie soon picks up speed and tells the true story of Michael Oher, an African-American boy from a broken home who is taken in by the generosity of a rich white family, the Tuohy's, who with their support goes on the become an American Football superstar.

This certainly could have been different, more traumatic viewing, maybe along the lines of Precious if they'd played up Michael's old life of hardship and not the new one of opportunity he finds himself in.
The Blind Side film
But luckily they don't dwell on the negative aspects of his life too much and we're allowed to see how someone can grow and succeed when they are given the right support, education and love.

Sure they gloss over things like how the other children really feel about this new addition to the family, I'm sure it wasn't as simple and easy as depicted in the film, but then this is a movie where you can just sit back and watch without worrying too much about the finer details.

I love Sandra Bullock, as whether it's Speed, The Net or films like The Proposal, she always brings a likability and humour to her character.
The Blind Side movie
There's a lot of easy humor in The Blind Side and most of it is provided by her ballsy character Leigh Anne Touhy, but also from her younger son in the movie, S.J., whose relationship with 'Big Mike' is sweet, touching and funny.

At times it would have helped if I understood the rules or principles of American Football, but it's not really necessary to enjoy the movie.
The Blind Side movie
It's not a total tear-jerker, but there are certainly some real tender, emotional moments in the film (there were a few sniffs and a bit of blubbering in the audience around me towards the end).

I give The Blind Side three *** stars for being good family-friendly viewing and even sweeter to be based on a true events, especially poignant when you see the real-life footage and photos in the credits at the end of the movie.

Enjoy your day and whatever movie you choose to see, I'm off to cook our turkey...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twilight fever strikes, or is that Taylor fever...

Which of these statements is true? I watched The Twilight Saga - Mew Moon because:
  1. I love anything with vampires
  2. Kristen Stewart is an amazing actress
  3. To see Taylor Lautner's super-buff body
Twilight New Moon Jacob
I think we all know the answer is 3 and I think the majority of the cinema audience agreed with me by the number of gasps and whoops when he unveiled his muscular new body. Granted the audience was predominantly made up of teenage girls and their mothers (and probably a few gay men too).
Taylor Lautner as Jacob in Twilight New Moon
For some reason this movie sequel has become all about him and his bare chested 'wolf pack' mates (not that I'm complaining), possibly because any celebrity magazine I read at the moment is telling me that he added 30lbs of pure muscle to reprise his role as Bella's childhood friend, Jacob Black, in The Twilight Saga.
The Wolf Pack from Twilight New Moon
I actually thought that this movie was an improvement over the first film, which at times felt like big budget pilot for a new TV series. New Moon feels richer, more confident and even has some location shooting in Italy to make the most of its better budget.
Twilight New Moon Bella
I also agree with my second point above I that Kristen Stewart is a great actress and she does make her character believable, even though she does seem to mope around like a lovesick teenager for most of the movie. I've also never understood the fascination some girls have with vampires? What is it they like about the pasty skin and pointy fangs?

Original Twilight New Moon movie costumes
Even though Robert Pattinson as Edward is suitably charming, he's totally shown up by Taylor Lautner's buff physique when he disrobes at the climax of the film. He's also not in the movie all that much this time around, but his presence is certainly felt.

I've not read the Stephanie Meyer Twilight Saga books, so it's nice to go and see a movie that I can be surprised by and I did like the scenes shot in the Italian town at the end as it reminded me of my own Tuscan travels.
Twilight New Moon Edward
I'm not a huge vampire fan, but I do like supernatural genre movies, so I'm interested to see where the story goes next now that the warring clan of werewolves has been introduced.

It's been interesting to experience the Twilight phenomenon this time around, especially as I saw the original movie on DVD. So when I came out after seeing Precious at 11.30pm on Thursday evening and saw the ArcLight Hollywood busier than I'd ever seen it with hordes of teenage girls in Twilight T-shirts waiting for the midnight screenings, I realised I had to go see New Moon at the cinema this time around to see what all the fuss was about.

Kristen Stewart's Bella Italy outfit from Twilight New Moon
I enjoyed the movie and give it three *** stars. I'm still slightly disturbed at how good Taylor Lautner looks at seventeen, maybe I'm just envious that I never did at that age (or now for that matter), but good on him for beefing up to keep his part (I always hate it when they change actors for the same characters between movies).

If you're a Twilight fan be sure to check out these costumes worn by Kristen Stewart and other main characters in the movie.

So many movies to see, so little time...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Precious didn't really make my spirit soar...

I think there's this common trend these days among movie marketeers to promote certain films as having a 'feel-good factor' or being 'uplifting', even when the subject matter is a bit harrowing or challenging.
Precious butterfly movie poster
The other night I watched Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire (to give it its full name) and although I thought it was a well made, extremely well acted, thought-provoking movie, I can't say I left the cinema feeling particularly joyful.

Set in late-80's Harlem it's a sad tale of abuse, neglect and misery, which the titular character, Precious, has to endure during her childhood. She's a massively overweight, illiterate African-American teenager pregnant with her second child.

The glimmer of hope comes when people, like her school teachers, show some interest in her and help educate her, so that she can gain the necessary tools to survive and break free of her thankless existence.
Precious movie poster
Luckily there are also some humourous dream sequences to lighten the tone of the film throughout and excellently played classmate characters in the form of 'Joann' (Xosha Roquemore) and Chyna Layne's 'Rhonda', otherwise I think everyone in the audience would have been throughly depressed.

But aside from this humour, mostly the audience was gasping at the raw and terrible situations Precious lives through.

By the end of the movie you feel Precious is heading in the right direction, and that she's achieved this through her own efforts against insurmountable adversity, but it's still not the happily-ever-after that you'd really want for her.

It's an emotional film with great performances by the lead actress Gabourey Sidibe as 'Precious', Paula Patton as her caring teacher 'Ms. Rain', a surprisingly affecting turn by Mariah Carey 'sans makeup' as her social worker and of course Mo'Nique as Precious' abusive mother.
Precious film poster
Her mother, 'Mary', is such an unsympathetic character that it's hard to feel anything for her but distaste, but in the dream sequences you can see the versatile actress that she is and she plays the bullying mother so convincingly you forget that's not what she's like that in real life.

Getting back to my earlier point, there was another film I watched over the summer which was billed as a lighthearted drama, Amreeka. The movie was about an immigrant Palestinian mother and son who moved from the West Bank to Illinois in the U.S.A. during the invasion of Iraq. She went from being a professional, well-educated woman with two degrees in her home country to flipping burgers at a fast-food chain, whilst her son suffers racial prejudice from their new community. Again it was a good film, but it was marketed as something slightly different to what it actually was.

I know that Hollywood spews out so much sugar-coated nonsense, that you do need these kinds of films to balance out the scales, but I have to say they are not always so enjoyable to watch and frankly can be a little traumatic at times.
Precious poster
But, maybe that's the point. We should just be thankful that this has happened to someone else and we can feel safe in our nice comfortable lives in our cosy homes.

I can't say that Precious is a movie I'd watch over and over again at home, but I'm glad I saw it at the cinema and I give it three *** stars and wouldn't be surprised if it nabs some Oscars for the outstanding acting next year.

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, so let me know what you thought of the movie...