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Turkey, The Birds and Wine Country

Linda and I took a quick trip to The Russian River Valley and coastal regions of California to see family (brother Roger and sister in-law Lynette liver in Sonoma County) for Thanksgiving.  My brother Dave and sister in-law Brenda flew in from Kansas City to join the festivities.  The 776 mile trip each way from Sun Valley ID to Cloverdale CA included crossing over the Donner Summit (elevation 7,240) on I-80.  The weather on the summit can be brutal – on average 400+ inches of annual snow fall.  A major snow storm (12″+) was hitting the summit during each of our crossings.

Bodega Head on the California Coast (Bodega Bay).

Vines on Dry Creek in the Russian River Valley (CA).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodega Head, California Coast

Bodega Head on the California Coast (Bodega Bay).

The Potter Schoolhouse Bodega CA. Used in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

The Bodega CA Church. Used in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

 

 

 

Bloodlands: Between a Rock & A Hard Place Would Be Considered A Luxury

What if you lived between two neighbors that hated each other to the greatest degree possible? And the only thing they hated more than each other was – you, your family members, friends, and relatives.

The Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder covers the topic (in excruciating and exacting detail) by discussing the Borderlands (otherwise known the lands and people between Germany and Western Russia) during the Stalin and Hitler Regimes.

Snyder the Dayton Ohio born, Oxford educated, Yale Professor of History takes great care and time (i.e., number pages) to dispel common misconceptions, clarify and elaborate on these Regimes, their efforts, and implications thereof.

With great effect Snyder dispels the belief that the crimes of Hitler and Stalin can (or should) be viewed separately, and these crimes really only occurred in large numbers to the combatants of WWII and Jews in concentration camps.

Let’s be clear, Snyder does not attempt to belittle the horror that was WWII or what we know of the Holocaust.  However what Snyder does point out is the fact that a far, far, greater number of people died [14.5+ Million inhabitants of the Bloodlands to be exact] through treatment as bad or worse, and over a significantly longer period of time (1920s, 1930s, 1940s).  This included, Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Germans and Russians.  In short, the list of victims is long and varied.

The Bloodlands and its peoples were over-taken by Russia or Germany one, two, three, and even four times during this period. The vast majority of the people living in the Bloodlands fell into two-categories 1.) Need to Be Exterminated A.S.A.P or 2.) Need to be Slave Labor to grow food or make goods for the conquerors until no longer useful and re-classified to Category #1.

Why?  A.) Because of who you were, not what you had done and/or B.) You and your kind were on a Defined List that established you as not meeting the prescribed Nationalist ideal and/or C.) plans such as the Final Solution (w/options 1,2&3), Great Terror of 1937 (1938,1939), or GeneralPlan Oust called for your demise.

Snyder takes advantage of the fact the these two Regimes were terrific at documentation and record keeping. The Bloodlands shows that Russia and Germany, Stalin and Hitler operated with cold efficiency and used this buffer zone and its peoples in an attempt to destroy each other and clear it for themselves.  Each calculated the other would ultimately fail and would do anything to accomplish their goal – even if it seemed counter intuitive.  For example while your enemy just invaded your country and is starving 3.1 million of your own citizens – pretend to do much, but actually do little because in the long run – you wanted these citizens dead anyways and as a bonus – your enemy can be blamed at the same time – with little to no monetary output on your part.  Or as another example, sign a non-agression pact with your enemy, give 1/2 of the country you just conquered (i.e., Poland) to them on the premise that your enemy will efficiently eliminate the Poles and after the work is completed you will subsequently break the pact, invade and conquer your enemy.

The Bloodlands is sobering.  The Bloodlands is tough to stomach.  It is important to read and understand the Bloodlands – as history has a tendency of repeating itself.  All it takes to start is creating a National Registration List of people for who they are, not what they have done.

Underground Railroad: Novel, Fantasy, Historical Fiction – A Read on Subjects of Continuing Relevance

The publishing of the novel Underground Railroad (2016) comes at an interesting time in America. Although a novel, author Colson Whitehead’s fiction touches on our history as a country and society – forcing the reader to confront foundational aspects that are highly admirable and utterly disturbing.

Could so many Americans be that magnanimous while others are treacherous?  The answer in Underground Railroad is yes – both in relative and absolute terms. Unfortunately in non fiction history – the answer is yes as well.  Underground Railroad has highly imaginative fantasy aspects that are presented so successfully they border on feeling real (e.g., the physical railroad).  It also presents characters in settings that are beyond imagination. Unfortunately real history confirms what Whitehead presents in many storylines did actually occur (e.g., rape, torture, mob mentality).

Underground Railroad is a quick and great read (306 pages).

Fall is Going Fast: Get Your Color Fix Before It Is Gone!

Okay, okay… I understand that you are very busy, very important, and buried in the details of one of the most important issues known to human-kind.  However, have you taken a moment to pull your head out from [fill in the blank] and soaked in the colors of fall-time?

In spite of being exceptionally self-important and consumed by a Presidential Election that is certain to send me to Canada on November 9th (no matter the winner).  I have done so. and so should you!

Click on the images below for an expanded presentation,

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The first morning of fall in the Sawtooths. I walked out from the cabin (in the trees straight ahead) to capture this shot.

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The Arctic Willows at their prime fall color in early morning on Lewis & Clark’s River of No Return (Salmon River) above Fisher Creek.

If your cross the Wood River at the base of the Boulder Mountains (at your own risk) you can enjoy sunset on some hidden Beaver Ponds.

Aspens bursting with color at the base of the Galena Pass at the source of the Lewis & Clark’s River of No Return (Salmon River).

Thought Provoking & Somber With Grace – Literally: The Light Between Oceans

light-between-oceans

The film The Light Between Oceans could quickly and easily be classified as a tear-jerker Chick Flick sponsored by Kleenex brand tissues.  This characterization would be selling the film, its source novel, and its potential audience short, very short.  This is a story about making very… no.., extremely tough choices so as to benefit one that you love with a material risk to your own well being.

Yes, The Light Between Oceans could have been a costume-drama Hollywood executives chose to turn into a courtroom procedural or a thriller with car chases.  Car chases in the 1920’s in Australia are not as dramatic as in the 1960’s – 1980’s in San Francisco.

None-the-less The light Between Oceans is meant specifically for the brain and the heart to embrace and consume.

Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Bastards, Shame, 12 Years a Slave), Alicia Viklander (ex-Machina, AA The Swedish Girl, Jason Bourne) and Rachel Weisz (AA The Constant Gardener, About A Boy, Enemy At The Gates) are superb in the lead roles.

Ironically Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown two males leads of the 1980’s in Australian film (AAN Breaker Morant) are the key supporting characters in the film.  This is one of my favorite films.

Oh… then there is the music score by Andre Desplat (AA Grand Budapest Hotel, AAN The Imitation Game, AAN Argo), Cinema-photography by Adam Arkapaw (McFarland USA, Animal Kingdom) and costumes by Erin Benach (Drive, Lincoln Lawyer, Blue Valentine) These three aspects are worth seeing the film on their own.

Adding Up on Almost Every Count: The Accountant

theaccountant

Similar to General Accounting Principles (GAP), if filmmakers follow General Filmmaking Principles (GFP) a movie can operate by the books and in most cases be successful both financially and as entertainment for its audience.

The Accountant is an exciting genre film that while not overtly appearing to do so – follows virtually all of the GFP. The Accountant is a Super-hero film for Adults that is not dragged down by all the branding, licensing, and cross-promotional baggage brought on by an association with D.C. or Marvel Comics.  Although it should be noted that I would like to receive an Official The Accountant Pocket Protector ™ and a Official The Accountant Anti-Tank Rifle ™ from Santa for Christmas.

From a checklist perspective, The Accountant has an intriguing base storyline and sub-plots that are added and well extended. The Accountant has primary and secondary characters who’s roles are well developed.  The Accountant has music and sound properly blended into the film.  The Accountant has excellent acting and direction.

Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Argo, The Town) is outstanding as the lead character – Christian Wolff. Wolff has an affliction that our society has a hard-time diagnosing and understanding – let alone treating correctly.  Affleck exhibits the traits of this affliction with superb effect.  The filmmakers seize this affliction, embrace it, and weave it and its implications into The Accountant with the precision a bespoken suit-maker.

As with any good Super-Hero feature there are supporting roles – almost all well played in this film. There is the good-guy, good-guy-bad-guy, bad-guy-good-guy, conflicted-guy, observer-chaser-guy, at-risk-needs-protection-guy, and of course the role-becomes-obviously-clear-at-the-end-and-you-should-have-seen-it-coming-guy.  Guy in this definition is both male and female.

As with any Super-Hero film the story and characters should not be scrutinized too deeply or for very long – as it will lead to the uncovering of holes, gaps and worst off  – your loss of suspended disbelief.  So yes, the bad-guy is going to do something at the end that makes absolutely no sense and leads to their demise. However, the film The Accountant is bad-ass good entertainment and I would see it a 2nd time in theaters.

 

No Ride is Too Long if it Involves Jackson Browne

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Jackson Browne and Greg Leisz (right) at the Morrison Center in Boise.

Linda and I took in the Jackson Browne Acoustic Solo Performance in Boise on Thursday night October 13, 2016 at the Morrison Center in Boise, Idaho.  Both of us love his music and the acoustic format enhances the listening experience (at least for me) exponentially. Thursday’s concert was our 2nd of his current tour – as we attended a performance in Reno, Nevada in June as well.  Instead of playing solo, Browne is joined by long-time associate Greg Leisz – a wonderful and pleasant development.

It should be noted that with the exception of a run to the store (10 miles out and back), a trip to and or from our home in Idaho is by definition Destination Travel.  As most of you know first-hand our regular 154 mile (one way) commute to Boise includes traversing the 100 mile Camas Prairie section of the actual Oregon Trail (US 20).  After 30+ years, I remain enamored with this drive for which I never tire.  Historians tell me the current driving conditions and modes of transportation are materially safer and improved upon from the Oregon Trail’s hey-dey of 1873.

Linda and I have attended Browne concerts since the 1970’s and together since the 1980’s. Truth be revealed we have used Jackson Browne and his music as a means to travel for over three decades.  Need to see the family in Kansas City?  Plan it around a Browne concert! Want to take in a professional ball-game?  Is Jackson touring?  Yes, well let’s take in both.  Want to go to Winery?  Oh… Browne will be performing there was well!  Want to visit a city or region?  What a coincidence… Jackson will be performing their in a few months.  Music in a interesting setting? – Mississippi River Gambling, a former prison, music venues that are national historic sites, effectively a private party – hey why not with Jackson Browne!

One thing I am finding of interest is that the age of Browne’s audience at these concerts ranges from the 20’s to the 80’s – with Linda and I approaching the end of our 50’s.  That is a big spread.

Browne is the consummate first-person performer.  He connects to his audience with small reflective insights that feel personal and directed to you specifically.  Sure it is showmanship, but effective no less.  So when Browne makes fun of himself about the closeted nature life on the tour and how it was obliterated by the natural beauty of Idaho – to his absolute surprise – you take him at his word.

Browne is also a master of modifying the music to be performed based on the taste, inclination and request of the audience.  To use a sports metaphor, Browne almost always seems to be in the zone – even when he is tour weary – as he was in Boise.  So when Linda yells Fountain of Sorrow,  Browne actually turns his head, tilts it sideways in acknowledgement, smiles, changes instruments, and plays the requested song.  The beauty of this approach is that the concert goer gets the standard classics but also the album oriented songs of their choice.  On this night that includes Browne playing – at the request of someone in the crowd – The Naked Ride Home.  And therefore with Jackson Browne – for us at-least – no ride is too long.

A Thriller which Just Happens to be About a Disaster Film

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The film Deepwater Horizon is best categorized as a Thriller that coincidentally is about a disaster – not a Disaster Film.

The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, Airport – these films are the standard bearers of Hollywood Disaster Films.  Thank goodness Deepwater Horizon is not a Disaster Film or we would be forced to see Helen Hayes sweetly encourage people to jump into the firery water.

Deepwater Horizon is a Thriller and a highly watchable one at-that. Directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor) and based on the New York Times reporting of the worst ecological event in our history, Deepwater Horizon stars Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Pain & Gain, Lone Survivor), Kurt Russell (Bone Tomahawk, Silkwood, Escape From New York), John Malkovich (Of Mice and Men, In The Line of Fire, Rounders), Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) and Gina Rodriquez in her first principle role in a film.

Deepwater Horizon can be broken down into two acts. The first act sets up the situation and the second deals with the immediate implication of the disaster itself. The initial scenes of the main characters getting ready for their tour of duty are the weakest point in the film.  The dialog and settings are monochromatic and perfunctory.  One in particular, I found – quite frankly – to be gratuitous and not worthy of the rest of the film.

The best parts of the film are presented in detail and with relative accuracy during the build up to the disaster event.  The film does a superb job of taking the time to show in understandable terms, the huge and multi-varied challenges and pressure associated with a major exploration project.  These projects are big money and big risk. It could be argued that Deepwater Horizon is a bit long with the background and technical details of the project. However, this technical background and the revealing of humans operating under monetary, political, and the contractual pressure makes the actual disaster and its causes better understood.

The disaster on the Oil Rig is pretty devastating.  The challenges presented to the staff on the Oil Rig are formidable and presented with a manner that feels fairly believability.  The film closes rather quickly and does not fall victim to forcing too much preachiness down the viewers throat.  The real life heroes and villains and their updated story are presented in the credits.

Father Knows Best

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The film Blood Father is an interesting take on a dad protecting his daughter in her time of need. Blood Father is a taught, well acted, funny, ironic, somewhat bloody, and nicely paced thriller that takes 88 minutes start to finish.

Blood Father does not feel particularly original, but it also does not feel lamely derivative.  Why?  Blood Father is straight-shooter (literally) created by professionals who chose to make an independent feature.  Blood Father is written by Peter Craig (The Hunger Games Mockingjay 1&2, The Town) and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton) and directed by Jean-Fancois Richet (Assault on Precinct 13, Mesrine).  They know how to make films of this genre and send you home feeling you easily got your money’s worth.

Blood Father stars Mel Gibson (Mad Max, The Bounty, Forever Young, Lethal Weapon), Erin Moriarty (The Kings of Summer, True Detective, Captain Fantastic) and William H. Macy (The Cooler, Shameless).

Given Gibson’s off screen issues (the list is long and offends many) and his relationship with the Hollywood establishment (the list is equally as long and offends as many) Gibson could be characterized as persona non grata when it comes to major production releases.  So Blood Father is not a major Hollywood film.  However, this does not mean Gibson is no longer a capable actor (or Producer for that matter).  Quite to the contrary, Gibson is superb in Blood Father.  Link is an ex-convict, recovering alcoholic, living on the very edge of the grid of society who is estranged from his daughter and is simply trying to lay low and get to the next day on earth without incident.  This role is square in Gibson’s wheel-house.  Gibson as Link is clearly a character, but does not play the role as a chariacture.  Moriarty as Link’s daughter Lydia is highly convincing.  The script and Moriarty’s performance afford you the opportunity to completely dislike, give a second chance and then cheer for Lydia – all with good reason.  Gibson is often even better (in his role) when he has a partner as a sometime foil.  Blood Father and Moriarty fit the bill.

Jeff’s Worthless Trivia

Because Blood Father is not a Major Hollywood release the Producers also made a deal with DirectTV/OnDemand to be purchased during its theatrical release.

Gibson narrates Blood Father in similar style as Payback (1999).

The Gibson produced Get The Gringo (2012) was one of my favorites of the year.

Forever Young is the highly watchable film co-starring Jamie – Lee Curtis, directed by Steve Miner, and written by JJ Abrams that showcases the other type of character Gibson plays to perfection – happy-go-lucky.

Steady at the Helm – Sully and the Number 35

sully

As a film Director Clint Eastwood chooses to be steady and follow conventional paths.  This approach has served him (as a Director) and us (as viewers) well. As an Actor Tom Hanks knows how to play the common-man under duress who ultimately possesses uncommon stamina, staying power and heroic traits.  Combine these two with the story of Chesley Sullenberger and you end up with a film almost all movie goers would say is engaging.

Sully includes a forced water-landing – not a crash according to Sullenberger – in its storyline, but the focus of the film lies elsewhere.  Screenwriter Tom Kormanicki (Prefect Stranger, Resistance) using the book Highest Duty by Sullenberger and the late Jeffrey Zazlow (60 Minutes), centers on the people and events associated with Sully before and after the crash. Kormanicki’s script creates a narrative and voice that is as steady as Eastwood’s directing and Hanks acting.  Sully presents second guessing and challenges to overcome – prior to and after the crash – both internal and external.  These aspects make for the creative drama in Sully.  Some you will expect to see revealed, others you might find surprising.  The result is a film that feels human.

Eastwood’s Directorial treatments as it relates to the female character have never been his strength.  Historically women are either weak and needy or wicked and conniving in almost all Eastwood directed films and it shows again in Sully. The terrific actress Laura Linney is portrayed as a monochromatic needy plot device.  This role and performance feel perfunctory in nature and almost plug and play in execution.

The record books show the air-event took 202 seconds from lift-off to forced landing and the rescue took 24 minutes.  There are 35 seconds of which will prove crucial on a number of fronts.  These 35 seconds are played to perfection in terms of movie timing and if you pay close attention depicted correctly to the second.

Jeff’s Worthless Trivia

Traditionally if Eastwood skimps or lacks focus to detail on anything in a film – it is location and production values. This is not to say, Eastwood is Ed Wood Plan Nine from Outer-Space bad – but he aint’ the industry’s visionary and leader on this front. However, Sully is a pleasant surprise in this respect.  The aircraft, crash and rescue scenes in Sully are pretty compelling.

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The Cockpit scene in Plane Nine from Outer-Space uses the exact same shower-curtain my brother Roger had in his apartment while in college.

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My brother Dave says turn over the salad plate and coffee cup of 1950’s everyday china and you have the invasion scene in Plan Nine from Outer-Space.

I tip my hat to Clint on the 35 second thing.  Yet, I love films that have timed detonations or time/space sequences where in supposedly real-time film action the event takes longer (or shorter) than the countdown period or logical distance.  In other words the 10 minute countdown takes 45 minutes in supposedly real-time action on film or the one-mile run takes 11 seconds.  The record setter for creative license on this front?  The Fast & Furious 6.

I believe, the otherwise fabulous and over-the-top 13 minute and four second Russian Transport Airplane takeoff on the runway scene sets the industry standard.  The longest paved runway in the world is in China (3.4 miles in length) and the takeoff scene is not set at the runway in China.  However if you do the math, the runway in the film is almost 29 miles in length.  Talk about government project overruns?

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