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.

Midnight Movie Madness

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” – Reflections before the lights (98 minutes, France 2001)

“One man struck by lightning is an accident. Two men struck by lightning is a conspiracy.”

Word of advice: the dubbing is pretty bad on this one, so you may well want to listen to the French soundtrack with English subtitles… And dark as the movie is visually, you’ll want to wait after Midnight.
Paris in 1830, capital of a country in turmoil, with a regime installed by the Prussians.  Francois Vidocq (Gerard Depardieu), former creator and head of Napoleon’s secret police, sacked under the current government, is now France’s most famous detective.
Someone has been killing French notables with no discernible link between them, stumping the chief of Parisian police. Worse yet, the assassin used lightning to set them ablaze!
Hot on the mysterious killer’s trail, Vidocq chases him into a glass factory. Deep into the bowels of this place, Vidocq fights this “Alchemist”, as he is known, who seems possessed of super-human abilities, with stamina and acrobatics which Vidocq cannot match. And indeed, the detective falls into a furnace pit, seemingly to his death.
As the paper men all over Paris shout that Vidocq is dead, his former partner Nimier (Moussa Maaskri) receives an unwelcome visit from young journalist Etienne Boisset (actor-film maker Guillaume Canet), who claims to have worked with Vidocq on his biography. Boisset now is intent on discovering everything about Vidocq’s last case, the pursuit of the Alchemist.
In flashbacks, we retrace the steps which led Vidocq to the glass factory, through the darkest chambers at the heart of the City of Light, and the hellish plot the “victims” were involved in.
This is an interesting story with layers. Vidocq is part of French history, a former convict, whom Napoleon did in fact utilize to great effect in reforming French police. That in itself is worth researching. This film has an interesting look and atmosphere as well, part video game, part graphic novel, dark with vivid colors, shot entirely in digital with Sony’s 1080 p, 24 fps camera before even Star Wars episode II.
Written and directed by Pitof, “Chronicles of Vidocq” also profits from Marc Caro’s character design. Caro used to collaborate with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on comic strips and “City of lost children”. Bruno Coulais’ music suits the mood perfectly as well.
This is a dark tale, which will put viewers in mind of “from hell”, though very distinct. A lovely trip to take past midnight.

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” gets 4  jellybeans.

4 beans


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Thrice upon a time, far from the West…

The Weather Underground thingamajig in the top right corner reads 88 degrees Farenheit as I’m about to post this. How appropriate.
Please be sure to comment below, and let us know what you think..!

This past week, I decided to check out three foreign Westerns, the third of which I’d already seen a while ago, to add some balance perhaps: “the good, the bad, the weird” from South Korea (2008), “Renegade” from France (2004) and “800 bullets” from Spain (2002). All three are over two hours long.

There was one revelation: “the good, the bad, the weird”… It’s especially rare to laugh out loud as I did watching this, and to hit the back button on the DVD player to replay a scene.
I enjoy bathroom humor. I do. It was funny when I was a kid, it’s still funny now. One example is when the weird, Tae Goo, kills two men in the same way, by use of a rod kicked up their nether region with farting sounds and a weird expression of… Delight on one baddy’s face.
Yeah, I cringed too, but seeing as this was in a fight, not some torture scene, fair is fair.
But it’s not all off color jokes. Matter of fact it’s not all jokes, there’s quite a lot of bloodshed, shootings, stabbings et al. There is some excellent stunt work as well, horsemanship and gorgeous scenery which they shot mostly in Manchuria, in the desert.

There are three main characters, a bounty hunter named Do-Wan (the good), a ruthless psychopathic gun for hire going into business for himself named Chang-Yi (the bad), a train-robber with more lives than a cat named Tae-Goo (yes, the weird), and some strong supporting turns throughout.

During a train robbery, Tae-Goo (the weird), “acquires” what appears to be an invaluable treasure map, and from then on, he has both Do-Wan (the bounty hunter) and Chang-Yi (the killer) on his heels, as well as the Ghost Market Gang, Manchurian bandits, the Japanese and Manchurian armies, plus a few spies.
I’m hoping for a sequel because this Tae-Goo has mucho comedic potential. The bounty hunter’s more two dimensional (he’s supposed to be a good guy, and as we’ll see with Renegade, that can be a problemo).
As to Chang-Yi the bad guy, interesting look, with a dark pinstripe suit and hair covering half his face, Manga-style.
And yet, it all works. Maybe because director Kim Ji Yoo keeps the action moving fast, maybe because the score, evocating Ennio Morricone and the Gypsy Kings at times, is rousing, especially when the story veers into Road Runner and Coyote territory on an epic scale, and it works very well indeed.

This movie gets 5 beans

5 beans

Renegade”, the French Western, also uses an ancient map/manuscript as a ploy to bring villains in search of gold to the Sacred Mountains of the Chiracahua. Beyond that, “Renegade” becomes a convoluted mess.

The basis for this movie is a Belgian-French comic book which ran from the sixties to about the mid seventies, following the adventures of Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, a Southerner who joined the U.S. cavalry after the Civil War, and has a much more interesting character arc. In this adaptation, Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) has been transformed into a kid from a relatively well-to-do Cajun family, sent West to an uncle’s ranch to “straighten” out some. This was meant to “explain” Cassel’s French accent, but is a pretty big deviation from the original, and a questionable one.

Young Blueberry is involved in a fight at a whorehouse with Wallace Blount (Michael Madsen). Blueberry and Blount survive, but the girl Blueberry spent the evening with gets a bullet in the head and burns in a fire. Wandering outside the town, a wounded Blueberry is rescued and nursed back to health by Chiracahua Indians. He remains with them for a few years until we flash forward to the present, which finds Blueberry as town marshal, still haunted by that fateful night years ago.
No. He hasn’t gotten over it.

Meanwhile, the local big rancher (Jeffrey Lewis) sends two “adventurers” into the mountains to find gold: Woodhead (an underutilized Djimon Hounsou) and “Prosit” Luckner (Eddie Izzard with a dodgy German accent). Prosit Luckner’s made deals of his own, with Wallace Blount, who is after something more than just Indian gold.

Now, a few reviewers have been turned off by a couple of scenes using special effects, first to depict Blueberry’s vision quest with the Chiracahua, and secondly to show Blueberry’s surreal spiritual fight against Blount after they both drink some potion in the Sacred Mountains’ treasure cave.

Renegade” has a number of problems, not the least of which being that the good guy is just about as vapid as the bounty hunter of “the good, the bad, the weird”, only more so. That is really a waste of Cassel’s talent. This makes the villain, Wallace Blount, the real center of gravity of the story, even though Michael Madsen is doing the same schtick he’s been doing since “reservoir dogs”.

Juliette Lewis (Jeffrey Lewis’ daughter in real life) is miscast as the rancher’s daughter, saloon manager and Blueberry’s love interest.
Lewis’ persona is too modern, but then…
Then the film makers sinned.
They sinned by having her belt out “Danny Boy” in her saloon, very badly slaughtering the song. And “Danny Boy” is really not something you caricature if you don’t want your audience to groan in pain.
It gets worse. She sings a few bars of it again later on, trying to bring Blueberry back to the living. That-actually-hurt.
There is beautiful scenery. There are some very good actors. But in this “baguetti Western” as Izzard called it, their talents are mostly wasted and the better scenes are actually the special effects sequences, which drag on a tad too long, especially the second one. Pass.
If you are interested in surrealism in a Western, check out “dead man” with Johnny Depp or “El Topo” with Alejandro Jodorovsky instead.

This movie gets no beans

totally redone beans red 0

A movie about movies is how director Alex de la Iglesia described “800 bullets”. The story takes place in modern day Spain, where we have a family torn by tragedy, as well as the land-grabbing scheme familiar to Westerns. Julian Torralba (Sancho Gracia) is a movie stuntman decades past his best days working on American Westerns shot in Almeria. Some years ago, his son died performing a stunt on a Russian backed Western. Julian now spends his days performing with his troupe for the occasional car load of German tourists, eking out a living, getting drunk and reminding everyone of his glory days doing stunts for Clint Eastwood or George S. Scott (sic).
His daughter in law Laura (Carmen Maura) is an executive at a real estate development firm in Madrid, living with her 10 year old son Carlos (Luis Castro) and her mother in law Rocio (Terele Pavez).

During a family move, Carlos discovers photos of his late father and of his grandfather, Julian. Laura refuses to answer his questions, but Rocio tells him about Julian before swearing him to secrecy. She and Laura get along icily. It’s summer recess and Laura puts Carlos on the school bus taking him to a ski trip. Carlos instead hops in a cab and ends up in the desert of Almeria wearing mountain clothing, looking for Julian.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the above, but “800 bullets” is a clever and fun comedy. It is mostly the lively dialogue and interaction between the very flawed (read ‘human’) characters which make this highly enjoyable. This is one to watch in Spanish with subtitles.

Julian is not a nice man, either. When Laura decides to buy the Western village where he and his troupe live and perform to build an amusement park, he visits her in Madrid to change her mind, promising he’ll never see Carlos again, and that he would put his grandson on the bus back to Madrid himself if Carlos tried to visit him in the future.
Laura’s not having any of this and the firm’s plans go ahead, prompting Julian to lead an armed resistance with his troupe of misfits.

800 bullets” reminds me of “I sell the dead” in that you sense the enthusiasm and love of movies throughout the entire film. It’s also typical of Alex de la Iglesia’s movies in the rich tapestry of characters: it’s not just leads and supporting actors, virtually all of them have good lines and are funny and  a unique depiction of who they are.
Take the cab driver who takes Carlos to Almeria (he also played the perv neighbor dressed as Darth Vader in de la Iglesia’s “la comunidad”). Or the undertaker, who years ago was hired on a Spaghetti Western which folded because of rain: throughout the movie, he cusses in Italian. The only thing he ever got out of that deal…

This movie gets 4 beans

4 beans

It’s good to sample foreign made Westerns, “the proposition” being a prime example. France has a couple more which are also derived from a comic books series: “Lucky Luke”. They are not yet available in region 1 (unless in Canada but probably without subtitles), but hey, let’s hope for the best.


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Tito’s Guide to Cats

MeeMee! Introducing your new cat to your home

We kitties don’t like change. Change is very scary to us.

When you bring home your new cat, put them in a quiet room with food, water, litterbox, toys and scratching post. This room should have a door that closes. The safe room gives your cat time to adjust to the change of location and makes them feel much more safe. Make sure to spend a lot of time with them. It may take a couple of days before they come out of hiding.

This is especially important if you have another cat in the house. If you already have a cat, this change is as scary for them as for the new kitty. With the new cat in the safe room, the original kitty can sniff at the door. You may see and hear a lot of hissing and whatnot. It’s normal. Follow the guidelines I discuss below and it should be ok. If it doesn’t work the first time, just start over again.

The Boober and Tito

When mom and dad brought me home, they put me in a safe room. It’s a good thing as I’m a very nervous kitty. I have a few phobias as a result. Anyhow, The Boober, who already lived there wasn’t happy and he hissed at me at lot. It was good to have a door in between us. It took about 3 days before he quit hissing and I wasn’t as scared. After that, mom took me out to the other room in the carrier to spend a bit more time with everyone. The Boober hissed a bit more. After two days of that, he quit hissing and was friendly. Mom and dad turned me loose in the apartment after that and The Boober and I became the bestest friends. I miss him.
After The Boober passed away, my folks brought Kitsy home. They knew I was lonesome without a brother. Like me, he had a safe room. He only spent one night there. I wasn’t upset to have a new cat in the apartment and Kitsy wasn’t scared. I was a bit wary, but I wasn’t scared or angry. Within a day, we were good friends.

Tito and Kitsune

In conclusion, my biggest advice is to have patience. Patience will mean having a much better adjusted cat (or cats). Otherwise, sudden changes can lead to behavior problems and that’s no fun at all.


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Woof! Baa! Wow!

A friend of the blog (aoeu) posted this elsewhere. I’m grateful. I saw this and was amazed. Yes, it’s a bit funny, but when you think about the sheer talent that went into making this video, it’s more than funny. It’s amazing. The coordination between the dogs and their handlers is incredible.


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Hiking up Sweeney Ridge

In 1769, Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola was looking for Monterey Bay. Having missed it, he anchored off of what is now Pacifica. Short on food and water, Portola and a group climbed to the top of what is now known as Sweeney Ridge. It is where the first documented sighting of San Francisco Bay occurred. Previously, everyone had missed the bay due the the fog.

Sweeny Ridge is located in Northern San Mateo county and is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area or GGNRA. You can find out how to get there by going here. Do be sure to dress warmly. The wind is always blowing at the top and it can be quite chilly.

This is the start of the trail at the end of Sneath Lane.  The climb is gentle at the start, but the trail does get steep later on.

Sweeney Ridge

This is the road that leads to the San Andreas Lake. It is off limits to everyone.

Sweeney Ridge

This is the beginning of the fog line. That’s the line down the center of road. The road is only one lane wide, and it was almost impossible to navigate without the fog line. I neglected to mention that the road leads to an old military installation. The trail gets pretty steep after this point.

Sweeney Ridge

This is about halfway up and looking back at San Andreas lake.

Sweeney Ridge

At the top, the views are stunning. The East Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains, Pacific Ocean, and North Bay are all visible from the top. This is looking to the West at the Pacific.

Sweeney Ridge

The trail will lead you to the monument that commemorates the Portola Expedition and their sighting of the bay.

Sweeney Ridge

This is a nice view of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the South.

Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a great place to hike. There are two other trails to the top. One starts in Pacifica and the other starts at Skyline College. Whichever trail you choose, it’s worth it. The views are stunning.


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Friday Night Cat Blogging

Friday evening is the time for the boys to shine. They inspire us, after all.

Tito is showing off his white gut. That gut is MUCH smaller now that Kitsy is giving him a run for his money every morning and evening.

Next, we have Kitsy looking like the shameless, nekkid golem that he is. He was daintily dancing pirouettes while escorting me to the kitchen earlier. They weren’t the trip-you-up kind either.

And last, but never least, we have the kitty who gave us the inspiration we needed to adopt the other two and start blogging. He inspired us and made us better people.  We lost him last year to lymphoma.  I suspect that he is watching over another kitty named Lil Goober.  I’m sure they’ll be waiting at the rainbow bridge for us.


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Trailblazers: Stories of the Explorers

When I was a very young girl, I read a biography of John Muir. I developed a tremendous respect for him and his accomplishments.   John Muir was an extraordinary explorer and naturalist.  Later, I read his writings.   Thanks to him, I have always loved reading about the explorers or their journals and books.

Excerpt from My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir

After[Pg 118] withdrawing from such places, excited with the view I had got, I would say to myself, “Now don’t go out on the verge again.” But in the face of Yosemite scenery cautious remonstrance is vain; under its spell one’s body seems to go where it likes with a will over which we seem to have scarce any control.
After a mile or so of this memorable cliff work I approached Yosemite Creek, admiring its easy, graceful, confident gestures as it comes bravely forward in its narrow channel, singing the last of its mountain songs on its way to its fate—a few rods more over the shining granite, then down half a mile in showy foam to another world, to be lost in the Merced, where climate, vegetation, inhabitants, all are different. Emerging from its last gorge, it glides in wide lace-like rapids down a smooth incline into a pool where it seems to rest and compose its gray, agitated waters before taking the grand plunge, then slowly slipping over the lip of the pool basin, it descends another glossy slope with rapidly accelerated speed to the brink of the tremendous cliff, and with sublime, fateful confidence springs out free in the air.
I took off my shoes and stockings and worked my way cautiously down alongside the rushing flood, keeping my feet and hands pressed firmly on the polished rock. The booming, roaring[Pg 119] water, rushing past close to my head, was very exciting. I had expected that the sloping apron would terminate with the perpendicular wall of the valley, and that from the foot of it, where it is less steeply inclined, I should be able to lean far enough out to see the forms and behavior of the fall all the way down to the bottom. But I found that there was yet another small brow over which I could not see, and which appeared to be too steep for mortal feet. Scanning it keenly, I discovered a narrow shelf about three inches wide on the very brink, just wide enough for a rest for one’s heels. But there seemed to be no way of reaching it over so steep a brow. At length, after careful scrutiny of the surface, I found an irregular edge of a flake of the rock some distance back from the margin of the torrent. If I was to get down to the brink at all that rough edge, which might offer slight finger-holds, was the only way. But the slope beside it looked dangerously smooth and steep, and the swift roaring flood beneath, overhead, and beside me was very nerve-trying. I therefore concluded not to venture farther, but did nevertheless. Tufts of artemisia were growing in clefts of the rock near by, and I filled my mouth with the bitter leaves, hoping they might help to prevent giddiness. Then, with a caution not known in ordinary cir[Pg 120]cumstances, I crept down safely to the little ledge, got my heels well planted on it, then shuffled in a horizontal direction twenty or thirty feet until close to the outplunging current, which, by the time it had descended thus far, was already white. Here I obtained a perfectly free view down into the heart of the snowy, chanting throng of comet-like streamers, into which the body of the fall soon separates.
While perched on that narrow niche I was not distinctly conscious of danger. The tremendous grandeur of the fall in form and sound and motion, acting at close range, smothered the sense of fear, and in such places one’s body takes keen care for safety on its own account. How long I remained down there, or how I returned, I can hardly tell. Anyhow I had a glorious time, and got back to camp about dark, enjoying triumphant exhilaration soon followed by dull weariness. Hereafter I’ll try to keep from such extravagant, nerve-straining places. Yet such a day is well worth venturing for. My first view of the High Sierra, first view looking down into Yosemite, the death song of Yosemite Creek, and its flight over the vast cliff, each one of these is of itself enough for a great life-long landscape fortune—a most memorable day of days—enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible.

The rest of this book can be found at Gutenberg Press

This work is copyright free. I have obeyed the rules of Gutenberg by NOT changing anything about the posted segment, with the exception of the font, which is permitted. This is the reason you may find inconsistent spellings and page numbers listed.

You can read the entire license agreement here.


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