Midnight Movie Madness

Rogue” – (99 minutes, Australia 2007)

Somewhere deep in Australia’s Northern Territory, a group of tourists embarks on a tour boat piloted by guide Kate Ryan (Rhada Mitchell). As they prepare to turn back in the late afternoon, the group notices flares going up somewhere deep in sacred aboriginal land.
Reluctantly, they push on in search of the distressed party.
As they consider returning to town, in a wider part of the river forming a lake with a tiny mud island at the center, they come upon a small boat partly submerged and nothing else. Before they have a chance to discuss their next move, their boat is almost lifted out of the water by a huge crocodile hitting them from below.
With the hull breached and rapidly taking water, Ryan steers towards the island and beaches the craft.
With the tide rising and ill-equipped tourists far away from civilization, the group’s survival comes in serious doubt, especially as the huge crocodile begins to pick them off in an inexplicable display of aggression.

Watch the trailer:

Director Greg McLean describes “Rogue” as an old style horror film and I suspect he refers to his suggestion of violence rather than graphic displays. In fact “Rogue” uses both and it’s a good blend. Some reviewers took issue with the pacing, others with a perceived lack of gore. There are several things which set “Rogue” apart from other entries in the so-called killer-croc sub-genre.
One of these are the locations. The setting of the film, the Northern Territory, is one of the main characters, absolutely stunning from the features of the landscape, waters, sky and shifting colors beautifully captured by Will Gibson, the director of photography. Sadly, he passed away in March 2007, and from what I’ve seen in the extras and the way he shot the film, I’m sure he must be dearly missed.
Anyone who loves the outdoors owes it to themselves to check out “Rogue”: footage of this quality and of this part of the world is all too rare.

The music score, written by Frank Tetaz, is excellent: while I was always aware of it, I never felt it intruded, as others have.
The extras have him describe how he integrated certain tonalities to not only ‘support’ the action and mood but define characters: tapping strings on violins and violas, using wooden and metal containers immersed in water as percussion instruments and a simple piece he composed as a foundation for improvised Aboriginal vocalizations.
Very well thought out, and best: it works great, not unlike the soundtrack designed for “winged migration”.
As mentioned above, McLean effectively ‘suggested’ some of the kills, using clever editing and scene set-up rather than showing people getting chomped. This gave those kills he did show more impact. And those were complex scenes to design, between stunt work, CGI, mechanical crocs and editing. What gore there is has more of an impact, not just because it looked very real, but because there wasn’t that much of it throughout the movie. He had a fairly solid group of actors as well, with some unspoken characterization notes, glances, looks and smiles which actually worked better than much of the dialogue, which was on the weak side.
Where McLean avoided gratuitous gore, he gave in to gratuitous cussing, which was unnecessary and ‘jarred’ a little.
Given the shooting conditions, heat, humidity, flies, having real crocs and snakes around, not to mention spending a fair amount of time in murky waters, the actors pushed themselves. As Michael Vartan, who plays American travel writer Pete McKell, says in the extras, he did not have to act afraid, he was terrified. There is a real element of danger shooting a movie in an uncontrolled environment, especially doing take after take in the water as Sam Worthington had to do, knowing a three meter crocodile had been seen in the area. Sure, there are security guys with rifles around, but as they told the actors: “if we have to use the rifle it’s too late.”
And the mechanical croc head with chomping jaws? You can hear them clamp shut hard in the final confrontation in the crocodile’s lair, as Vartan humorously put it, he ‘peed a little’, you’ll know why once you hear that sound: special effects or not, that mechanical croc head could take a limb off.

This was a work intensive production for sure. The island on which the tour party seeks refuge was man made for the movie, in an artificial (and large) lake. The croc’s lair was a set on a sound stage, and the CGI and animatronics were complex blends of real and digital.
I don’t know how much of a return was made on this movie but it deserves to have done well: it is superior in most respects to others in the genre and I would rank it up there with “jaws”.

Rogue” gets 5 jellybeans.

5 beans


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The feline Paraclete

Paráklētos, “one who consoles, one who intercedes on our behalf, a comforter or an advocate”

Tito was born in the SPCA shelter, and somehow I think this really increased his survival chances. Big as he is now, he was a watchful little runt at 8 weeks old.
Normally, a cat turns his head to look at something and track it, but Tito’s eyes would look you up and down, as though he felt it wasn’t safe to move much and draw attention to himself.

They called him the Goober

On his early photos, he seems to “cower” a little, as he did when he was brought in for us to meet, a tiny ball of gray fur at the bottom of a big box.
He had a paranoid look in those kitten eyes losing the last of their cloudiness they have for the first weeks of their life.
Tito just turned 2 last month, and how did he change…

The eyes have it

We adopted him as a “transition” cat, once Soza had been diagnosed with Lymphoma. The last two years of Soza’s life were skirmishes with the disease, leaving him at times too exhausted to even eat. We became somewhat proficient at administering fluids subcutaneously between his shoulder blades. My wife would keep me posted on his status while I was at work, and even 150cc marked the difference between another day or the final trip to the vet clinic.
I didn’t want us coming home to empty rooms. That’s what brought us home from the shelter that day.
As much as we learned about the economy of a true fighter like this cat, these months took their toll. This month will be the first year anniversary of Soza’s passing.
Once we got he and Tito introduced, they became fast buddies and spent much time grooming each other, which usually deteriorated in wrestling matches.

Best friends

They even had the occasional high speed chase, making Soza as happy as we all could be. But his stamina was diminishing.
Tito didn’t have the chance to be the rambunctious young cat he should have been, especially as he soon outgrew Soza. His routine became regular checks on the older cat, maybe batting a toy around and always, always looking at us inquisitively with his green eyes. He began putting on weight, even though he never over ate, he simply wasn’t getting the exercise he needed.

After the day came, he would roam the apartment, sniffing at Soza’s preferred spots, and when he gave me that questioning look, it twisted something inside.

While Tito never was a lap kitty, Soza used to entice him to curl up on our bed and sleep there. But then that stopped, too. I never fully understood his thing about shoes: he will drop his toys inside our shoes, bat at the laces and generally play with them. But when we put said shoes on, his pupils dilate and he runs away, low to the ground, hiding until they come off.
A couple months passed before we felt it was time for another cat.

Brothers

We looked for a cat who was social, playful and highly interactive to hopefully make up part of Tito’s lost year. Even writing this, it feels to me as though this column’s again about another cat when it should be Tito’s time to shine. And maybe that’s his lot in life, he doesn’t like the spotlight.
Still, the complete abandon with which he plays with Mazuzu is a joy to behold, as was his expression of disbelief the first few times they chased each other around the house: Tito only wants to run and run forever.


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Tito’s Guide to Cats

MeeMee! Communicating with your cat

House cats are almost never vocal with each other. They do talk to their humans though as humans aren’t as good at reading body language and scents. We talk to our people when we want something. We have lots of different sounds we can make.

We can purr, meow, or chirrup. I say MEE! and chirrup and purr. My brother says a lot more. He also makes a clacking sound when he sees birds outside. He says Hmrao a lot. He also yells and says mazuzu whang? I think that is his new name.

There are some forms of body language that are important to know. If we are walking with our tail held high, we are happy. If our pupils are dilated, it means we’re angry or want to play. If you are petting us and our pupils dilate, it’s time to stop.

Our body language says a lot. You can tell if we’re happy or if we’re not happy. Since humans aren’t good at body language, we’ve learned to make the sounds necessary to get what we want. Even the doggies are better at reading our body language than most humans.

Yawning cat

Did you know that if I look at you, close my eyes, and yawn, that I’m NOT bored? It’s a sign of contentment. If you look at me, close your eyes and yawn, I’ll probably come to you right away. Also, I’m sure you noticed that we always run to the one human in the room that doesn’t like cats. That’s because they don’t stare at us. Staring is considered rude in cat society and is frowned upon. For us, staring is a sign of aggression.

Our body and voice language vary from human to human. One meow may sound totally different to another. We vary our language because we have to learn what each human reacts to. Our way of saying “I’m hungry” may sound one way for you and totally different for someone else. You have to pay attention and watch us in order to learn. 

We’re not as indifferent as some people think we are. People think that we ignore and disdain them. It’s not true. Sure, we don’t always get lovey on command, but when we love our humans, we love them.

I’m not a lap kitty. I love my humans, but I’m too nervous to stay on a lap for more than a few seconds. It’s ok. My humans know that for me, sitting on the floor works best. When they do that, I get very lovey.

My last comment is that I’m terrified of shoes. I don’t know why. My humans brought me home from the shelter when I was a kitten and they have NEVER treated me badly or kicked me. When they come home from shopping, I hide under the futon until they change and take their shoes off. Only then do I come out of hiding. My humans understand and take their shoes off right away. They have figured out a lot of my body language. They had to. I don’t say much other than MEE!


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Nerves of Steel

El Caminito Del Rey in Spain is certainly for the stout hearted.

From Wikipedia

El Caminito del Rey (English: The King’s little pathway) is a walkway or via ferrata, now fallen into disrepair, pinned along the steep walls of a narrow gorge in El Chorro, near Alora in the district of Malaga, Spain. The name is often shortened to Camino del Rey.

In 1901 it became obvious that workers at the hydroelectric power plants at Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls needed a walkway to cross between the falls, to provide for transport of materials, and for the inspection and maintenance of the channel. Construction of the walkway took four years and it was finished in 1905.

In 1921 King Alfonso XIII crossed the walkway for the inauguration of the dam Conde del Guadalhorce  and it became known by its present name.

The walkway is one meter (3 feet and 3 inches) in width, and rises over 100 meters (350 feet) above the river below. It is currently in a highly deteriorated state and there are numerous sections where part of or the entire concrete top has collapsed away. The result is large open air gaps that are bridged only by narrow steel beams or other support fixtures. Very few of the original handrails exist but a Via ferrata safety-wire runs the length of the path. Several people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent years and after two fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed both entrances.

Even though the government has closed the trail, climbers still walk the path.
This video is NOT for anyone with acrophobia. I do ok with heights, but this vid makes me a bit queasy.


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“Spaced”, or how to share a home with a Sphynx

Tito’s made a few posts about cat adoption and other necessary considerations, but I still hear you ask: what’s a Sphynx like..?
Well first off, stock up on Q-tips, cotton pads, baby wipes and a good, chemical free shampoo. Because that sexy body isn’t gonna lick itself to purrfect cleanliness.
Nope, once a week, it’s going to be bath-time and detailing. Oh yes.

Sorry, I had to get that out of the way. These beasties are a commitment and not one you can neglect. But what a return….
I used to think Sphynxes were somewhat fragile, mainly because of how they look. I know: books and their cover. Well, though they kind of have a similar build to Greyhound dogs, built for speed, the buggers are actually pretty sturdy and very strong. They are very good jumpers and fast runners.
Bear that in mind, because you don’t want them to escape out the door when you get home. I’ve read them described as alpha cats who find humans to be the most interesting thing in the house, and in our admittedly limited experience with Mazuzu Whang, I find this to be pretty accurate.

His Majesty on the Imperial couch

He will rub against our hands and legs, but he ignores the furniture or wall corners. These cats do need company. It’s good if there is another cat or animal for them to play and snuggle with, provided they get along, but they really need human companionship. I don’t mean 24/7, but most of the day, every day, yes.
They would not be good with a single professional, unfortunately. Remember what I said about escaping out the door? A frustrated Sphynx could well try that. And these cats are too social to survive long outside. For that matter, they could be stolen as well. Much like children, you need to know who you let into your home.

Now, I don’t know that it’s a Sphynx trait, but Mazuzu is very vocal: we get a running commentary about how he feels, what he is doing or thinking about doing. I think most of that is directed at Tito because Tito is emulating Mazuzu’s vocalizations. This runs the whole gamut of purring (loudly), chirping, cooing, meowing and clacking his jaws at birds on occasion. A lot of fun actually, because it is so interactive: we have conversations where neither one knows what the hell the other is saying. Still, that seems to satisfy him.

Most pets require patience, and the Sphynx is certainly no exception. It took Mazuzu a while to stop walking all over us with regularity at 4:30 every morning. It is now occasional, but it still can be painful. If a Burmese could be described as a brick wrapped in velvet, a Sphynx is like a mace thinly wrapped in leather. Mazuzu does not tread lightly. Sphynx cats are very physical: when they rub against you, you will definitely feel it. When they nudge you to be petted, likewise you will have no doubt.
But when they play, as Mazuzu and Tito chase each other, Mazuzu often comes in at full speed and jumps on one or both of us, and I’ll say this: it’s kind of close to being hit with a bat! So yeah. Patience. Patience and stamina: you’ll need them.

The rewards of sharing space with a Sphynx are simple. They are one of the smartest, most intelligent and human centric breeds I know about. When we went to introduce ourselves to him last December, about three other Sphynxes were present, along with their human family. It’s a bit difficult to describe the experience, but the closest I can come to is to say it felt like we were in Jurassic Park.
There was animal intelligence all around us, gauging these unknown humans.
These cats just moved nimbly and very gracefully around us, the queen mother planting herself on the table, sitting in front of us, and every one of them making full eye contact. And those eyes were inquisitive and playful.
They came and went, close enough to get a caress and moving on… Mazuzu, brat that he is, at one point came in at a run from the hallway and deftly climbed up the drapes. He now does the same thing on the cat tower we have at home, and still leaps like a flying monkey. There’s a piece of me that’s still back there in that living room: the buggers stole it.

Leonardo da Vinci was quoted as saying “the smallest feline is perfection”. As we watch Mazuzu, whether at rest or in motion I really wonder what he would have thought about Sphynx cats. They are simply fascinating. Just be prepared to make room for them in bed: they won’t be denied…
And watch your dinner: they eat easily twice as much as other (furred) breeds to maintain their body temperature. Plus they burn a lot of energy playing. They’re not above sampling your food, whether or not you’re looking, or whether it’s even good for them, so be careful and grow eyes in the back of your head..!


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Hiking Cataract Trail in the Marin Municipal Water District

Cataract Falls are located in the Marin Municipal Water District on the North side of Mt. Tamalpais and not far from the town of Fairfax. It is a seasonal waterfall that flows during the rainy season (Dec. through May). The best time to see the falls are right after a good rain. At other times, it’s just a trickle.

It’s ranked by many as a moderate hike, but as most of it involves stairs, one should be in decent shape. It’s a trail that is well worth the effort. It’s only a 2.7 mile round trip, but has a fair altitude change. The starting elevation is approximately 650 ft. It climbs to about 1100 feet in a half mile and on to about 1400 ft in the next .8 mile.

The trail and stairs can be slippery when wet, so use caution. The only way to remove the injured from the trail is by helicopter. A good trekking pole can help.

To get there:

Take Hwy #101 to San Rafael, and take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd. exit. Drive 6 miles to Fairfax, and turn left on Pacheco Rd. (may be unsigned, there is a sign saying “Fairfax” at intersection). Take an immediate right on Broadway, then first left on Bolinas Rd. Drive 7.8 miles to Alpine Lake, and park at the hairpin turn just after crossing the dam. Parking is limited, find a parking spot somewhere off the narrow road. The trail head is on the left at the hairpin turn.

You can also park at the other end of the trail, on West Ridgecrest Blvd. at the Laurel Dell picnic area. From the Mill Valley / Stinson Beach / Hwy #1 exit on Hwy #101 north of San Francisco, drive 1 mile to Shoreline Hwy. Turn left and drive 2.5 miles to Panoramic Hwy. Turn right and drive 5.2 miles to Pantoll Rd. Turn right and drive 1.4 miles to Ridgecrest Rd. Turn left and drive 1.6 miles to a small parking area on right. The trail is marked “Laurel Dell”.

The road is narrow and the day we went, we had to move tree branches out of the road. Also, be sure not to park facing oncoming traffic as tickets may be handed out.

Alpine Lake and the dam are beautiful when the water is flowing.

Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake
Alpine dam at full flow
Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake looking toward the Cataract trail

Once parked the trail follows the West side of the lake heading South.

Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake from the trail
Alpine Lake
Cataract trail

This part of the trail is fairly easy. Don’t be fooled. It doesn’t last long.

Cataract trail
The easy part of the trail

Soon, the stairs begin and you start to climb.

Cataract trail
Stairs

The amount of greenery is incredible and worth the hike.

Cataract trail
Ferns along the trail

Soon, you begin to see the beginning of the falls. Some are small, others quite tall.

Cataract trail
Small cataract
Cataract trail
Bigger cataract


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Friday Night Cat Blogging

It’s time for the boys to shine. They are our inspiration after all.

Tito being lazy and sticking his tongue out at me.

Tito

Thursday was bath day for Kitsune. As you can see, he has bath toys to play with.

Kitsy's bath

He also gets a good snuggle in a warm towel.

Kitsy getting a snuggle in his warm towel


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Nein, nein, nein… Oh well…

Inglorious basterds” – (153 minutes, USA 2009)

By now, most everyone reading this is likely to know what this movie’s storyline(s) is (are): a group of Jewish American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) operating in occupied France during WWII, spreading terror amongst Germans, by using unconventional methods. Scalping, beating with baseball bats, etc.

There is another arc involving Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), sole survivor of a Jewish family hiding at a neighbor’s farm in France, massacred by colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) and his men.
Both arcs converge towards a final conflagration at the cinema run by Dreyfus under a different name toward the end of the war.

Watch the trailer:

There have been times, in other films, when Quentin Tarantino had me laughing out loud, or really involved in the action. He reportedly said he would be interested in directing a James Bond film, and I would look forward to that. But there are enough issues with “inglorious basterds” that I wish I could have the 2 ½ hours from my life back.
It’s actually closer to 3 hours, seeing that I had to replay certain scenes as it stopped making any kind of sense to me.

I read in some critical reviews that the violence and brutality was such that the reviewer(s) felt sorry for the German soldiers. The scalping of dead soldiers? The beating to death of another with a baseball bat? Really? This points to a failure on both parts, to me: let’s remember German troops decimated entire villages in countries they occupied in retaliation for attacks by resistance movements. “Inglorious basterds” shows precious little of that, however.
Tarantino’s depiction of what the basterds did does not begin to equal what the Gestapo and SS did by a long shot. But then, perhaps some people draw a distinction he does not between the Wermarcht and the SS and Gestapo. No matter.

Eli Roth I felt was miscast as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, “the Jewish Bear”. The actor playing Hugo Stiglitz would have been better. But then Brad Pitt and his inconsistent accent (his character is supposed to come from Tennessee) wasn’t all that inspired either, actually looking… Constipated throughout. There is a saying about grabbing the viewer/reader’s attention right off the bat (no pun intended), with the first scene or lines of a film or book.
The first chapter of “inglorious basterds”, since Tarantino decided to use the chapter format again, introduces Hans Landa, during his “visit” of a French farm, looking for a Jewish family in hiding. The dialogue is well written, Christopher Waltz delivers the lines well, but it’s clearly not the best scene Tarantino’s ever written, and it probably would have benefited from more close up shots.
As it is, I feel that what Tarantino was going for was for the audience to see Landa as a boa constrictor, slowly coiling around the farmer he questions, until he squeezed truth and tears out of him.
As a display of psychological violence, I found it lacking in that the scene did go on too long, and that Waltz as Landa lacked any form of “glee” that I could recognize. Hannibal Lecter, he’s not. Far from it. It felt to me as though Tarantino was actually holding his punches, perhaps because the material was rooted in history, and I suspect, Tarantino actually may be burnt out on violence not just in its physical forms but also in its psychological aspects. Some of you I hear go: “What-the-f***?!?”
Here I suspect there may have been more conflict off screen than on.

Inglorious basterds” opening scene also features music by Ennio Morricone, and as the movie is intended as an homage to Spaghetti Western, that would seem to make sense. Except I began to disconnect right then and there instead of being pulled in. It didn’t belong there. I didn’t time how long it took Landa and his men to reach the farm, but I had to get up and start a pot of coffee.
And so it went on and on and on.
Tarantino I think gets blamed and praised for the same reasons: his reverence and references to the movies. And many of the reviews I’ve read of “inglorious basterds” tend to swing between extremes. I do wonder whether this film is a turning point for him, seeing how he wrote the two female characters (Shoshanna Dreyfus and Bridget Von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger) and what happens to them…
As it is, I hope his next choice of material will suit him better. If you’re even on the fence about Tarantino, skip this one, and watch, say “army of shadows” by Melville instead. But if you’re a fan… Well you’ve already seen and loved “inglorious basterds” by now, haven’t you?

I’m giving “inglorious basterds” one jellybean for ambition.

1 bean


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Happy Birthday Yosemite

Today, Yosemite National Park is 120 years old.  Thanks in large part to that wonderful explorer and naturalist, John Muir.  According to the John Muir National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) :

The “Father of the National Park Service”
John Muir was many things, inventor, immigrant, botanist, glaciologist, writer, co-founder of the Sierra Club, fruit rancher. But it was John Muir’s love of nature, and the preservation of it, that we can thank him for today. Muir convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to protect Yosemite (including Yosemite Valley), Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as National Parks.

That said, here are a few pictures in honor of that wonderful place called Yosemite.

Merced River in Yosemite Valley
El Capitan
Half Dome

Countdown to Halloween

We have a busy month ahead, with the usual features plus additional reviews of books (“the worst hard time” and “the worst journey in the world” for instance).
We’ll also revisit the old(ish) TV series “Friday the 13th”, which ran from 1987 to 1990, as well as “the human centipede”, “rogue”, “the horseman” and more…

A good way to celebrate the fall.