Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

September 17, 2018

Quick Review: "Alpha," Where Boy Meets Wolf (Dog).

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Keda with a Czechoslovakian wolfdog that plays Alpha
(who has a surprise for the humans)
Just to save you the trouble, I will list some things that anyone familiar with hunting large animals will object to in the movie Alpha.

And then I will tell you that this story of a boy and his wolf is worthwhile anyway.

First of all, if the village hunters were going after Pleistocene bison, they would not walk miles and miles, leaving their families behind. Everyone would go. Non-hunters could still help drive the buffalo over the cliff by flapping skins and making a commotion. Throwing spears to create a "fence" is not going to stop charging bison.

When it is time to process the meat, you need everyone. And a lot will still be wasted, as archaeologists can tell you. Or visit the most famous and weirdly named such site in North America! (The movie too was filmed in Alberta, except for the CGI parts.)

Second, according to my archaeologist friend, 20,000 years BP is too early for bows and arrows, according to current information. I would give the movie-makers a pass on that one.

Third, when winter comes, why do people keep living in a windswept snowfield in what looks like northern Labrador instead of moving to a more sheltered place that might offer some fuel?

Fourth — and this is more of a continuity lapse — during his time along, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) starts to grow some teenage whiskers, yet in the final scene, they are gone. But going by his father's beard,  this is not a culture where men shave.

And a goof, which someone at Internet Movie Database also noted, "In the first cave scene, Kedi [sic] is kneeling to approach the wolf, and the bottom of his boot clearly shows a rubber lugged sole." Yeah, it did.


Now for the positives

First,  Alpha is a beautiful movie to watch. Some of that is Alberta and a lot of it is CGI, I will grant. But wow, Shining Times. If you were an old man by forty, you still would have lived a life filled with wonder.

Second, it's a "dog story" with a happy ending, a bit like the lines from Kipling's Jungle Book:

When the Man waked up he said,
'What is Wild Dog doing here?'
And the Woman said,
'His name is not Wild Dog any more,
but the First Friend,
because he will be our friend
for always and always and always.'


Its images and story will stay with you.

October 17, 2016

Moviemakers Come to Florence and Make an Odd Decision

A Florence school band marches past the real Rialto theatre in a parade scene from "Our Souls at Night."
Evidently the fictional Holt school district cannot afford uniforms.
The movie trailers, lights and reflectors, and the crew members with handheld radios have now left little Florence, Colorado, which for a couple of weeks became the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, the setting of Kent Haruf's novel Our Souls at Night, soon to be a Netflix movie starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. (Some scenes were filmed in Cañon City and the West Side of Colorado Springs.)

For that time, it was big news.  A local blogger wrote about a resident meeting Redford in the alley behind her home and how Florence's business district full of antiques-and-collectibles shops made life easier for set dressers.
Florence, being the antiques capital of Colorado, has dozens of stores full of things at good prices for the movie sets and props. Some of the crew members, most of them from other states, were also doing browsing and shopping for their own homes.

Until I witnessed it up close, I never realized how Florence is the perfect town for a crew to come in and purchase so many things for the movie, all on foot and within a few block radius. And since Florence is a small town, most shop workers know what is in their own stores as well as neighboring stores and can help crew members find the item that will set the mood for a scene.

The day I saw Mr. Redford from afar many times, working hard, I texted a friend and said,"Another boring day at work, watching Robert Redford so many times that I've lost count."
Businesses around town sported fake signage: an insurance agency became the Holt National Bank — fitting, since its building started life as a bank a century or more ago — while a Main Street pizza restaurant became the Holt Drug Store. The empty lobby of a historic hotel was reconfigured into a cafe.

The "Rialto" move theatre created for the movie.
One movie-set decision did seem odd to me. Florence's Main Street includes the Rialto Theatre, built in 1923, which has been undergoing a slow, painstaking restoration, paid for mostly by community members. The original marquee and entry are in place. A perfect set, right?

Instead, they turned a former bar (now a gallery) into a smaller, bleaker, fake Rialto. Maybe someone just fell in love with those moderne glass bricks.

September 29, 2016

"On the Wild Edge," Nature Writer David Petersen's New Film

An article from the Durango Herald on a film about bowhunter and nature writer David Petersen, On the Wild Edge: Hunting for a Natural Life.
The film leaves out Petersen’s work as editor for Mother Earth News and his many books including Ghost Grizzlies, The Nearby Faraway: A Personal Journey Through the Heart of the West, and A Man Made of Elk. His advocacy for Trout Unlimited and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is also omitted. Instead, Christopher Daley, the film’s cinematographer, sound recorder and editor, focuses on Petersen’s version of ethical hunting during archery season in early fall.
But then they published another article about him that covered some of those things!  

You can order the DVD here.

September 11, 2015

A Fistful of Euros


Blogging will be light, erratic, or off-topic for the next couple of weeks. M. and I are going on a trip. Maybe we need a theme song:

It was the movie that made Clint Eastwood famous, incidentally.

November 30, 2013

On Not Paying Attention to Cranes

Don't use a 200mm lens to take photos of birds in the sky. But it was what I had when these sandhill cranes were overhead. As always, click to embiggen.
Thanksgiving Day, in the dining car of the Southwest Chief, somewhere near Lamar, Colorado. Off in the distance, hundreds of white birds settle into a field. A larger flock is a smear against the northern sky.

"Snow geese," I say to my dining companion (Amtrak uses "community seating). But at the table across the aisle, someone is saying that they are sandhill cranes. I don't think so — they don't fly like cranes, and I have never seen a flock of cranes that big, not even during the evening flight at Bosque del Apache. And the crane migration is pretty much done by now.

I have been writing this blog long enough that I have a bunch of "cranes" entries. In October 2005, standing on a wide, busy sidewalk at Colorado State University-Pueblo and watching a flock overhead, I felt my heart lift, yet I was saddened that no one else looked up. Should I have adopted a prophetic voice? "Behold the cranes, O people, and learn from them!"

A few years later, I was at our little fire station on a warm October day — some of us were working on an engine outdoors — when a migrating flock came over and everyone stopped to watch. I felt better about some of my fellow firefighters that day.

But then I recently heard some long-time locals speak of geese flying over on the same afternoon that I took the picture of cranes chasing a thermal. Just not paying attention? (Shades of the Dances with Wolves soundtrack error.)
Cranes are cumbersome flyers. They prefer to migrate during daylight hours, when the thermals created by the midday sun provide rising air currents which the cranes ride to gain elevation before gliding down to the next thermal. It is this thermal riding which many observers mistake for being lost of confused.
Dale Stahlercker and Martin Frentzel, Seasons of the Crane.

August 19, 2013

The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds


Go ahead, make a move. It's your move . . . you talkin' to me?
Mid-afternoon and there is a ruckus from the dogs, who are penned on the veranda. The gray fox is not too impressed by the dogs' threats.
Yeah, I eat them. You got a problem with that?
Aesop, La Fontaine, and others made a story of "The Fox and the Grapes." So what is the moral lesson of "The Fox and the Sunflower Seeds"? (The seeds fall from a bird feeder.)

Here is your cinematic reference for the first caption, in case you forgot.

And don't forget the movie, which is excellent. But you will need a VHS player.

February 10, 2013

Up the Line to Death

Years ago, I read Norman Maclean'sYoung Men and Fire (1992), which is an old man's book. He was in his eighties when he wrote it, and it is full of observations of how, for instance, some days the universe is just against you, no matter how strong and determined you may be. I copied out a few passages. (Where is that notebook?)

I remember Dad, the district ranger, indoctrinating some seasonal firefighters (no S190 class then—much more informal), telling them never to run uphill from a fire, that men died doing that. He must have been talking about Mann Gulch, still relatively fresh in the Forest Service's institutional memory, but it never came together in my mind until I read Young Men and Fire.

(I did not know until today that Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan had composed a song about it, "Cold Missouri Waters.")

More recently, having heard so much about them, I started on some of the books by John Maclean, Norman's son, beginning with the Colorado one, Fire on the Mountain (1999), since I had at least seen the location.

It's about the 1994 South Canyon (a/k/a Storm King) Fire near Glenwood Springs, where 14 firefighters died for a patch of scrub oak and PJ, thanks to various sorts of miscommunications, bad judgment, and hubris. A true tragedy as my eighth-grade English teacher defined it—when people do what they think is the right thing and bad stuff happens anyway.

John Maclean himself writes elsewhere of drama where "the sense of inevitable disaster builds until it overpowers the participants, who are swept along on a pathway to destruction. The audience watches with compassion and horror, aware of what's coming and as powerless as the actors to stop it."

The book audience is also muttering, "Get in your truck and go look at it, you idiot," and so on, but the end point is still the same.

I let a little time go by, went back to the library, and checked out The Thirtymile Fire (2007). I read a few pages and sat it down — I just was not ready to deal with another hand crew, full of confidence, setting off to fight a "minor fire" that would finish some of them.

But now I have started it, watching with compassion and horror.

Lines like this in The Thirtymile File remind me of Maclean senior: "For the Hagemeyers, the day would bring one missed portent after another, which added up to one huge miscalculation: that the natural world they counted on for spiritual solace cared in turn for them."

Eventually, I will get to the new one, The Esperanza Fire : Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57. In due time. Meanwhile (because it is set in southern California?), a movie version is in the works.

Wildfire Today

Yes, there is a literary allusion in my title. I wonder if Norman Maclean owned that book; he might well have.

October 14, 2012

On The Road: Flashback

No octopi today.

Still in the afterglow of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula, M. and I re-watched the movie last night.

One of these days I really need to read both books. I enjoy Steinbeck's work, but I just have not paid him a visit in a long time.

August 16, 2011

Re-creating 1924 on Mount Everest


A year ago I blogged about re-creations of 1920s mountaineering clothing, typical of the type worn by George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in their doomed attempt to climb Mt. Everest.

Last year's documentary The Wildest Dream, which M. and I only got around to watching this year, offers a few sequences (filmed in 2007) in which climbers Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding test the old-style silk and woolen garb.

Their verdict: comfortable and all right while moving, but not so much insulation when one is standing still on the mountain. And the boots . . . Anker and Houlding are seen stripping off the leather hobnailed boots and frantically rubbing and blowing on their frigid feet. (Nails conduct heat out, for one thing.) When it comes time to free-climb the infamous Second Step, they opt for modern gear.

The Wildest Dream begins with Anker's discovery of Mallory's body on Everest in 1999. The rest is a two-track sequence in which the 1924 expedition is re-created through still photos, old movie footage, and voice-overs of Mallory, his wife, Ruth, and other participants.
[Conrad Anker writes:] On May 1, 1999, my life as a climber intersected with that of George Mallory. At an elevation of 27,000 feet, I came across his dessicated and frozen body. It was a humbling moment – for it was on his shoulders that future generations of climbers built their ability. As I gazed out across the Tibetan plateau I thought of the incredible journey these men had undertaken – stepping into terra incognita of the physical and emotional boundaries of human endurance. No one had been as high as Mallory and Irvine.

My life changed. Mallory was no longer a figure out of the history books. He was, although dead 75 years, a real person to me. I honored who he was and what he stood for. The maelstrom of press that followed the discovery was intense and heated.

With each passing year the mystery of Mallory and Irvine grew within me. The story of their challenge and disappearance haunted me. I decided that I would delve into their story, to seek out the minutaie of their expedition and find a thread of parallel events between 1924 and our current time frame of climbing. Addressing the challenges they sought, aspired to and eventually gave their lives for will allow us to appreciate who they were.
Interwoven with this historical chronology, Anker and Houlding set out to climb the mountain by the same North Col route. Obviously, the mid-forties Anker is analogous to Mallory (who was 37 when he died), while Houlding, in his late twenties, stands in for Sandy Irvine, 22 at his death—the difference being that Houlding brings more climbing experience to the mountain than did Irvine, although Irvine was strong, athletic, and presumably learned fast.

As an attempt to explore Mallory's psyche, the movie succeeds well enough. Anker clearly clings to the hope that Mallory and Irvine might well have made the summit before they died. Lacking the camera they are believed to have carried, which might possibly be with Irvine's as-yet-undiscovered corpse, this hope stands on three pieces of circumstantial evidence:

  • The photo of Ruth that Mallory said he would leave on the summit was not in his pockets.
  • His tinted sun goggles were, however, in his pocket, suggesting that the two were coming down at dusk, meaning that they might have summitted.
  • His oygen cylinders were missing, discarded somewhere when empty, again suggesting that they had not turned back early. (Various calculations of oxygen use versus climbing speed can be used to argue for or against this possibility.) Mallory's partisans argue that if he got close enough, he would have gone for the summit, alone or with Irvine.
A lot brainpower continues to go into the search for Irvine.


April 12, 2011

A Movie about Aldo Leopold and the 'Land Ethic'



The Green Fire is a new documentary about the conservationist Aldo Leopold.

The web site lists locations where it is being premiered. For some silly reason, Magdalena, New Mexico, is not on the list. Have they no sense of history?

But one could be arranged.

January 07, 2010

Dirty Farmer John

Tuesday night at the public library down in Florence some of the local organic farming and CSA folks showed The Real Dirt on Farmer John as part of the library's film series.

It is available on Netflix and here is their catalog description:

Filmmaker Taggart Siegel paints a fascinating portrait of a man who refused to yield. By transforming his farm into an experimental haven in the late 1960s, John Peterson attracted hundreds of artists, hippies and other political radicals. But when the agriculture crisis of the late 1980s led to the farm's eventual collapse -- and his neighbors publicly branded him a devil worshipper -- most locals thought he'd call it quits. They were wrong.
I liked it better than I thought I would at first.

December 13, 2009

Mongols in the San Luis Valley: Not the Movie

A delegation of Mongolian natural-resource managers recently visited Colorado's San Luis Valley to compare notes with the parkies at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Mongolia, which is roughly six times the size of Colorado with half the population, has embarked on an ambitious conservation program that would bring up to one-third of the arid country into a system of preserves and parks.

Synchronicity: Last night M. and I watched Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan(dir. Sergei Bodrov, 2007) .

It ranks highly among "barbarian movies," all of which follow the same gender code:

Men...
  1. Fight
  2. Become blood brothers and thereafter greet one another with an inarticulate "Yaaah!"
  3. Suffer pain
  4. Seek visions
  5. Have sex

Women...
  1. Have sex
  2. Bear sons
  3. Flee from enemies provoked by the men or ...
  4. Are captured by said enemies
  5. Shout curses at numbers 3 and 4.
There is also epic cinematography from Inner Mongolia (China) and Kazakhstan.

Any Westerner who upon seeing the movie thinks something like, "That reminds me of the Wind River Range" —or the Great Sand Dunes—might contemplate how, for instance, the Blackfeet, Sioux, or Plains Cree might have turned out if they had not just horses but also steel weapons, sheep, and wheeled carts—plus a few centuries to refine a lifestyle of nomadism, fearless independence, and blood feuds.

The Merkit people—simultaneously neighbors, enemies, and relatives of Genghis Khan—are even shown as living in tipis.

January 02, 2009

Suicide in Beautiful Settings

Suicides in national parks are increasing, says the Association Press, although the National Park Service only recently started tracking the numbers.

"It's some place where, toward the end of someone's life, when they're feeling a total sense of despondency, they want to return to a place of natural beauty ... for their final moments," [Glacier NP chief ranger Patrick] Suddath said.

That comment immediately make me think of the death of Edward G. Robinson's character, Sol Roth, in the dystopian SF movie Soylent Green. Ready to die, Sol goes to some kind of official euthanasia parlor where his last views will be panoramic movies of animals and scenery that has disappeared from this overcrowded future Earth.

No one collects these numbers, but I recall a Colorado newspaper story from the 1990s about people coming to the mountains to end it all. My little county sees one or two of these (at a minimum) every year.

May 08, 2008

19th-Century Climbing, Disney-Style


Climb until you hear the angelic chorus, then bear left and look for the secret route up the chimney.

Many years ago, probably at a drive-in theatre in Rapid City, S.D., my cinematic introduction to mountaineering came in the form of a Disney movie, Third Man on the Mountain.

It starred James MacArthur, who was Disney's go-to actor for juvenile leads for a few years circa 1960. Here he is Rudi, an 18-year-old dishwasher, son of a famous (but dead) Swiss guide. Does he have the right stuff to be a famous guide like Papa (cue angelic chorus)?

But Captain Winter, the English adventurer (perhaps based on Edward Whymper) believes in him and wants him along on the Englishman's attempt to climb "The Citadel" (i.e., the Matterhorn).

Peculiar recently linked to a video of old-school mountaineering. Hah! If we assume that Third Man is set in the 1860s (Disney?? accurate???), then these guys would give a Patagonia marketing manager heart failure.

Aside from their hobnailed boots, they have no equipment to speak of, not so much as a piton. Just hemp rope (which is always getting dragged over sharp rock edges) and big ol' ice axes that look like pulaskis.

They climb in street clothes--tweed jackets--and Capt. Winter always wears his necktie because he is (a) the client and (b) an English gentleman.

Yet because it's a movie, the whole way up the Citadel/Matterhorn consists of maximum-exposure ledges, cracks, chimneys, and overhangs with a merciful arête at the end. All hail the stunt men in their hobnailed boots.

But as a 9-year-old I was mightily impressed. Of course, I didn't know the movie was based on a novel by James Ramsey Ullman, Banner in the Sky. Later, as a college student in the 1970s, I read another of Ullman's mountaineering novels, probably The White Tower. I was so impressed that I wanted to write to him in care of his publisher -- only to learn before I sent the letter that he had died in 1971.

December 23, 2007

Two Flawed 'Nature' Films

M. and I recently watched This is Nowhere, a film with no particular narrative or point to make.

I suspect that the filmmakers went down to the Wal-Mart in Missoula, Montana, looking for the awful sickening rot at the heart of AmeriKKKa and found -- fairly ordinary, pleasant, middle-class people?

For instance, the widower who tired of rattling around in his big house, sold it, bought a motorhome and who now travels with his cat around the US and Mexico. (He was talking of driving to Costa Rica next.)

(Sickening! Wasteful!)

Yes, they know that Wal-Mart permits them to camp for free, knowing that they will stroll across the parking lot and spend money. And they don't care.

Unfortunately for the filmmaker Doug Hawes-Davis, his subjects just seem ordinary. Or maybe that fact is supposed to scare you.

One academic reviewer called it "a theater of the absurd acted out in surreal Wal-Mart-scapes and highway strip developments, vehicles and people jiggling in fast motion staccato, going nowhere"? Yeah, whatever.

Another nature-and-culture film that could have been good but took itself too seriously was Darwin's Nightmare.

What does it say when the real ecological issue at the documentary's heart is only shown for a moment in a video that is being watched by some of the people being filmed?

That is taking the idea of a "movie within the movie" too far and too literally. Instead, sensation overcomes information in Darwin's Nightmare

It is still worth seeing, but you will only understand if if you do your research first. That conclusion is no praise for the filmmakers.

Too bad. Both could have been better.

Meanwhile, here is a blog for full-time RV-ers.

Or you can live in a van and be an "independent contractor," like the Hobo Stripper. I wonder how long that lifestyle choice will last. At least she is doing better than Chris McCandless.

September 28, 2007

Blog Stew with Dharma

¶ Saturday, Sept. 29, is National Public Lands Day. Take a walk on the national forest and pick up a discarded "energy-drink" can.

Coming down into Florence today, I passed what looked like every government wildlands fire truck in Frémont County headed up Colorado 96 toward the Wet Mountains. They did not seem to be in a big rush. Prescribed burn somewhere? Training exercise?

¶ Are we turning into Crestone East? Someone wants to build a Buddhist retreat center.

If the county bosses grant the [special use permit], the retreat off CR 358 will be the first Buddhist retreat center in North America.

Say what? How about Shambhala Mountain Center, for one? Maybe the reporter misunderstood. Or the applicants meant our kind of retreat center.

¶ Anthony Lioi solicits comments about the new Into the Wild movie. He says his students are interested in it: a "teachable moment."

Pluvialis recommends Tom McKinney's irreverent birding blog.

I got quite angry about not seeing this Buff-bellied Pipit and wrote a diary entry titled Fields of Shit, which I thought summed up the day quite nicely.

September 19, 2007

Blog Stew with Hedysarum mackenzii

Men's Journal called it "The Cult of Chris McCandless", the 24-year-old who sought wilderness solitude in Alaska and died there. Jon Krakauer's book, Into the Wild, captured the mythic dimension of McCandless' last months.

And now . . . the Hollywood treatment, directed by Sean Penn.

Krakauer's first article for Outside magazine is here. Chip Brown wrote about McCandless for The New Yorker (abstract online).

Some environmental lit. professors want to screen the new movie in class alongside the TV show Northern Exposure.

¶ Charlie Russell, who hangs out with grizzly bears in Siberia, is cast by some writers as what Tim Treadwell should have been.

His new film Edge of Eden has been praised a lot. Russell and his wife, as I understand, rescued orphaned cubs from so-called zoos and raised them.

¶ Blogger Mary Scriver opined on an environmental email list, in regard to all this stuff about seeking a wilderness rite of passage:

You know, it's not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest for the highway workers who occasionally clean out the vigorous jungly blackberry tangles along the way to find the bodies and even skeletons of adventurous young men who were on the road. Sometimes their bikes are with them.

February 12, 2007

A grim movie of high-altitude wildlife protection


KeKexili: Mountain Patrol is simply stark.

Stark plot, stark scenery, stark cinematography. As stark as one of John Ford's classic Monument Valley Westerns.

Its plot is based on recent history on the Tibetan Plateau, where a rag-tag group of volunteer game wardens attempted to stop poachers killing Tibetan antelope for their fur, which is woven into soft, luxurious cloth: shahtoosh.

It was made in 2004 by National Geographic Films, who have been criticized for soft-pedaling the Chinese takeover of Tibet. On the other hand, without Chinese government cooperation, Mountain Patrol could never have been filmed on location.

Watch the trailer.

A warning: The film's first five minutes are pretty brutal. M. walked out. But after that the story takes over.

February 28, 2006

Western movies, western lives

I've been thinking about movies set in the West that somehow defy the "Western movie" stereotype. The American film industry has a hard time doing that; foreign directors have been, if anything, worse. (See "spaghetti Western.")

Scrapple came out in 1998 but is set in the mid-1970s in a fictional Colorado town that seems based on Telluride as Telluride was back then--just before it was "discovered." The good guys smoke cannabis and the bad guys snort coke between real-estate deals. (It's the cocaine scene that Colorado journalists Ed Quillen and B.J. Plasket described in their 1985 book The White Stuff.)

Most of the actors have no other film credits listed in the Internet Movie Database, and as M. noted, there may be a reason for that. Still, it's a comic slice of ski-bum life as it was then lived (they're even reading The Mountain Gazette), and the clothes are right: I know I've seen that patchworth denim skirt on someone.

And those shots of the Dolores River country around the little town of Gateway...

Meanwhile, director Christopher Cain is finishing a film on something that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints wishes that everyone would just forget: the 1957 Mountain Meadows Massacre. Coincidentally, the date was Sept. 11, 1857; hence the title, September Dawn (New York Times--registration required).

Much of the dialog comes from court depositions given by Mormon leader Brigham Young and his chief enforcer, John Lee.

As the story unfolds, a company of pioneers arrives from Arkansas. A couple of young lovers-to-be - one a Mormon, the other part of the ill-fated wagon train - meet amid a toxic atmosphere of suspicion and rancor. A Mormon raid ends with a castration, an enemy's testicles neatly nailed to a door. All the while, the territorial governor and president of the church, Brigham Young, played by Mr. Stamp, is heard in voice-over, encouraging vengeance, violence, "blood atonement" and divine justice.

"And by the way," Mr. Cain said, "I didn't write any of his dialogue," explaining that it was all in the depositions that Young gave after the massacre. "I sat here watching this a couple of weeks ago and I was thinking: 'Maybe I made that up. I don't think he would have said that.' And I went back and pulled it up and, man, he did."


It's "Sweet Betsy from Pike" meets "blood atonement."