Monday, July 16, 2018

"LEBOWSKI" ABIDES

                     
          Twenty years of the cult favorite. And it really is a cult. There's actually a Dudist religion.
          Written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges as Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken by hired goons for a millionaire also named Lebowski. On the surface, the story concerns the Dude's attempt to receive restitution for his living room rug which one of the goons soiled when they roughed him up.
          The rich old guy with the same name, wheelchair-bound, takes the Dude to task for his slacker ways, but does offer the Dude gainful employ as a bagman to pay kidnappers for the return of his wife.
          Incongruous combinations (a mysterious cowboy narrator waxin' rhapsodic about a hippie) and wildly eccentric characters leap out of a complex plot which is ultimately unimportant. John Goodman plays the Dude's Vietnam vet bowling partner, Walter. Steve Buscemi is Donny, another bowling partner, forever told by Walter to shut up. Julianne Moore is Maude, an avant-garde feminist artist. Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Peter Stormare, Tara Reid, Sam Elliott and more also all contribute something unforgettable.
          "The Making of The Big Lebowski" and "How The Big Lebowski Became a Lifestyle," short documentaries free on YouTube, offer interesting insight. The Coen Brothers reveal the Dude is based on a hippie friend of theirs living in L.A. Though the filmmakers reference Raymond Chandler specifically, they never mention The Big Sleep by name.
          In that film can be seen many elements appearing in The Big Lebowski, including a rich old man in a wheelchair with a job for the protagonist, a stained rug, and pornography.
          Loaded with great lines--"Smokey, this is not 'Nam, this is bowling, there are rules"--and packed with fantastic music, the film seems effortlessly creative, yet ties aspects together brilliantly. The opening image of the tumbleweed, for example, which rolls like a bowling ball, or the Dude himself as he goes with the flow.
          Goon to Dude with Dude's head in toilet: "Where's the money, Lebowski?"
          Dude, dripping: "It's down there somewhere. Let me take another look."
          According the Coen Brothers, they wrote some of the parts with the actors who played them in mind. Jeff Bridges embodies the role so perfectly, "takin' 'er easy for all us sinners," it's impossible to imagine anyone else. When the Dude has a special lady at his pad, no one can sniff the armpit of a t-shirt off the floor checked for freshness before putting it on and inquiring, "Cocktail?" like Jeff Bridges.
          The Brothers excel re-imagining an existing work in an incongruous context. Lebowski does that, as does O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), which loosely sets Homer's Odyssey in the Great Depression with hilarious results. Take Miller's Crossing (1990), their hard-edged ode to Dashiell Hammett, add in the quirky, wry deadpan of Raising Arizona (1987), and you get their stoner noir masterpiece.


THE BIG LEBOWSKI
Starring Jeff Bridges,
John Goodman,
Julianne Moore,
Steve Buscemi,
David Huddleston,
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Tara Reid,
John Turturro,
Peter Stormare
Directed by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Runtime 117 minutes
Rated R















Stewart Kirby writes for
THE INDEPENDENT






and





TWO RIVERS TRIBUNE


Monday, July 9, 2018

"ANT-MAN" SEQUEL MEASURES UP


          Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up where Ant-Man left off. This entertaining sequel does not surpass the first, but it's up there. And the lower the expectations, the taller it stands.
          This time, the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas), his daughter Hope (Lilly), who fills her mother's shoes as the Wasp, and Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Rudd), fight bad guys trying to take Pym's nanotechnology secrets. (His nanotech HQ is a building he can shrink down to luggage-size with a remote control.) Plus they battle a mysterious masked figure called Ghost also trying to possess the technology. Tech such as a suit which allows, among other things, shrinking in size while increasing in strength.
          Ant-Man again plays up the humor, working with star and co-writer Rudd's low-key demeanor as an anti-hero. The filmmakers do wander into cutesy waters with Scott Lang's daughter, portraying the scenes where he's a good dad to the kid with cloying sweetness. In spite of missteps, overall it's an enjoyable Marvel sequel.
          The film boasts loads of inventive action. The Wasp's suit has wings and the ability to shrink or enlarge other objects. Interestingly, though we see her shrink she never gets huge. Similarly, we see lots of enlarged ants, but nary a gigantic wasp.
          Amusing complications include Scott Lang being under house arrest, yet needing to go be Ant-Man without getting caught for violating conditions. And an experimental suit Pym loans Scott doesn't always work quite right.
          One innovation this sequel presents: Pym and Hope seek his wife/her mother (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), who may still be alive in a super-tiny place. Few films feature the search for the mother. It's almost always the father.
          Michelle, as we see in the flashback, sports a Farrah Fawcett haircut, putting the event of her heroism at 40-plus years ago, thereby putting Hope at about age fifty, which emphatically she ain't. So we have that to overlook.
          Featuring Laurence Fishburne as a guy who used to work with Pym, and Michael Pena as Lang's funny helper.
          Much more could be done with the writing. A story involving deep secrets penetrating the tunnels of the highest levels, where hidden colonizing forces use drones on humanity viewed as insect-like. We know Ant-Man can get down and we see he can get high, but with this amiable episode, gravitas gets missed big-time.


ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
Starring Paul Rudd,
Evangeline Lilly,
Michael Douglas,
Laurence Fishburne,
Michael Pena,
Hannah John-Kamen,
Randall Park,
Michelle Pfeiffer
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Chris McKanna, Erik Sommers,
Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Runtime 118 minutes
Rated PG-13


Monday, July 2, 2018

"UP IN SMOKE" DOWN IN HISTORY

          The granddaddy of all stoner movies turns 40.
          To this day, the opening notes of War's "Low Rider" call to mind images of a guy with a Groucho Marx-like mustache, red knit cap, yellow tank top, red suspenders, and half-lidded eyes dusting off his lowrider. The one that says Love Machine and MUF DVR.
          Similarly, when one feels the burning need to advertise rock-ribbed counterculture affiliation, one obtains the curly brown hair and beard, red bandana, Hawaiian print shirt, and round John Lennon glasses available in one's Tommy Chong kit.
           For forty years now, film fans and stoners alike have paid homage to Cheech Marin by waking up on a couch assaulted by dirty diaper scent and placing a foot in a bowl of soggy Cheerios.
          Up in Smoke (1978) is the heroic story of Pedro (Marin) who picks up Anthony (Chong) while hitchhiking, and together they smoke pot and score with ladies on their way to a rock n' roll competition. Meanwhile, spectacularly inept cops led by Stacey Keach are on the lookout for a big dope shipment coming in from Mexico, unaware that the van being driven by the equally oblivious Pedro and Anthony is the shipment itself made entirely of pot.
          Featuring memorable cameos by Strother Martin as Chong's angry dad and Tom Skerrit as a crazy Viet Nam vet pot dealer, the film focuses on the hypocrisy of the older generation and roasts authority in general as often as possible. (A judge, for example, gets caught drinking vodka in court.) But Cheech and Chong, who wrote the movie, also skewer themselves and the Hippie drug culture. 
          Cheech asks Chong what they're smoking. 
          "It's mostly Maui-Wowie, man, but it's got some Labrador." 
          Cheech doesn't understand. Chong explains his dog got into his stash, so he had to follow it around for a couple days to get it back.
          Nine years earlier, the '60s ended with Easy Rider, with which Up in Smoke compares, except it's a comedy.
          Being counterculture is what drove the movie. Made in the days when pot was really illegal, the sight of a motorcycle cop too stoned to remember what he was doing by the time he reaches the driver's side window because he just passed through the fumes resonated.
          Years later, Cheech changed his ways and became Don Johnson's sidekick on a TV show. Chong, who remained true, did prison time ostensibly for selling bongs during the Bush-Cheney years because of his name being synonymous with pot. And then years after all that, they got back together and started touring again as Cheech and Chong.
          Followed up by a couple sequels--Next Movie and Nice Dreams--Up in Smoke retains its status as the original pot comedy.


UP IN SMOKE
Starring Cheech Marin,
Tommy Chong,
Stacey Keach,
Strother Martin,
Tom Skerrit,
June Fairchild
Directed by Lou Adler
Written by Thomas Chong and Cheech Marin
Runtime 86 minutes
Rated R



Monday, June 25, 2018

"FALLEN KINGDOM" PERPETUATES FRANCHISE

                 Better than you might expect--exceeding its predecessor--Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom provides serviceable summer fare.
          Formulaic guilty pleasure though it be, lacking the story power of Michael Crichton's novel adapted by Steven Spielberg into his 1993 hit film, Fallen Kingdom features tons of dinosaur action and lots of good lines from Chris Pratt in the lead.
          The filmmakers link this movie with the source material whenever possible, but never in a meaningful way. Jeff Goldblum's inclusion, brief and separate from all the action, is there purely to get his name and face in the marketing.
          Whatever was memorable about the first one, the filmmakers try to re-do or out-do it here.
          Jurassic World 2 plays to an audience receptive to episodic film. Episode-ism and franchise-dom happen because they seem a safe bank bet. The newness of vision that makes movies interesting is replaced with having to fit the mold of a pre-existing construct.
          Making franchise films for global audiences and younger viewers takes broad strokes and blunt tools, precluding those subtleties that might have made the movie more interesting.
          Fallen Kingdom keeps it simple and skews young. Too young to remember the actor who plays Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs, but Ted Levine's in it with a performance that puts the proverbial lotion in the cinematic basket.
          (The old lady who plays the nanny is Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin, by the way.)
         The problem this time, basically a rehash of the first movie, is inside-job treachery selling dinosaurs to the highest bidder--the spin here being dinos used as high-grade military tech.
          We see more bonding with the dinos now, characters having a reciprocated emotional connection with the big toothy lugs apparently because market research indicated this would play well.
          We also see yet another new genetic blend of super-dino, and then we get to watch the different kinds of dinos fighting while running with lava and people running and rolling inside machines.
          It's as good an imitation of Jurassic Park as we've seen. Maybe the best. But at the end of the cinematic day, it's not the real thing.


JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM
Starring Chris Pratt,
Bryce Dallas Howard,
Rafe Spall,
Justice Smith,
Ted Levine,
B.D. Wong,
Jeff Goldblum
Directed by J.A. Bayona
Written by Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Based on characters created by Michael Crichton
Runtime 128 minutes
Rated PG-13


Monday, June 18, 2018

"BIG SLEEP" EYE-OPENER


          Every aspect over-rated.
          Is The Big Sleep classic influential film noir? Absolutely. But vastly more than it deserves because it's an inferior Maltese Falcon polluted by a campaign intended to normalize the affair of a married actor in his mid-forties with a girl just out of her teens.
          Raymond Chandler's novel The Big Sleep, published in 1939, elevates pulp detective fiction into a classic of American lit--ten years after Dashiell Hammett did it first with The Maltese Falcon. But the movie isn't Chandler's book.
          John Huston's 1941 Falcon is visually and thematically darker--more noir--with striking use of shadows, better use of music, and unforgettable dysfunctional characters--notably Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
          If Humphrey Bogart as detective Philip Marlowe seems slightly similar to Humphrey Bogart as detective Sam Spade it's because he plays them just the same. And whereas The Maltese Falcon concerns the obsessive quest for a fabulous prize, a dark object which can be held, The Big Sleep has a guy being blackmailed. Right there, comparison-wise there is none. First one interesting, second one not so interesting.
          Makes better parody material.
          Yes, the Coen Brothers saw The Big Sleep. One can even hear their brotherly quips and comments while watching it together. Let's listen:
          "Say mac, what if it wasn't Bogie in the story, but instead our L.A. hippie buddy? Might that not amuse?"
          "Plus there's a rug in that one scene. That's what our L.A. hippie buddy would have to deal with. He'd be bummed that it got stained."
          "But we couldn't call it The Big Sleep."
          "You're right. We'd have to call it The Big Lebowski."
          Two years prior to Sleep, Humphrey Bogart met Lauren Bacall. He was 44, she was 19. This was on the set of Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not. For that one, the studio paid William Faulkner to adapt Ernest Hemingway's novel. So they repeated that formula as best they could a few years later by having Faulkner adapt Chandler.
          (In the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink, John Mahoney plays Faulkner around this time, very much depressed at having sort of sold out.)
          The private lives of the stars off-screen need not have been dragged into the film, but protecting the commodity was how the studio system worked at the time. The filmmakers conducted a four-pronged attack in defense of established moneymaker Bogie:
          1. They effectively reduce his age by eight years when Marlowe says he's 38.
          2. They effectively raise Bacall's age by giving her a much less mature younger sister.
          3. They make all young women in the film instantly sexually aggressive toward Bogie, thereby normalizing his being paired with someone less than half his age.
          4. They sanction the pairing, advertising it as "incendiary chemistry."
          None of which would impair the film, except it's done in lieu of action. And that's the eye-opener. The willingness to put public perception toward a relationship the bare facts of which most people would find immediately distasteful ahead of the action in a story.



Saturday, June 2, 2018

US FOREST SERVICE


1

A departure.

I dreamed last night I traveled down a long and winding river . Though in my dream the night was dark still I could see it was not too deep for me to splash through pools and ponds and shallows, all the while vaguely aware of being pursued, sometimes it seemed by an alien called Venom.

First I wound down a mountain stream which took me to all sorts of places, always following the water's flow, always moving, coming at one point to a muddy place where I crawled and hid among the muddy boulders. Sometimes there were others with me, and sometimes I saw that I was being chased.

When I awoke I remembered. The day before I had spoken of the Happiest Place On Earth in the course of recounting my life, and I also recalled that the movie Venom is soon to be released and that I had eaten soup spiced with serrano peppers.

On one level I think the mountain I traveled down was influenced by The Matterhorn, and that Venom appeared in my dream because I write about movies for multiple paying newspapers. Undoubtedly my journey reflected having thought so thoroughly and recently about the course of my life, but I also think that on another level perhaps more significant my consciousness was aware of the processes of my digestive system pushing along the spicy food.

On my first day working in the Forest Service--talk about living the dream--I got holiday pay, time-and-a-half day one on the job.

Went to Oregon Trail Interpretive Center this morning. Poured bleach in the cistern, filled the water tank, turned on the generator, then turned on and off the water to let the bleach sit in the lines to clean. Met the older couple who work out there. Helped cook burgers and hot dogs at a retirement barbecue.

I met a hydrology specialist today. I meet a lot of people here. Sometimes they specialize in silt, sometimes they specialize in weeds. Some of the people I meet spend most of their time in the field, and some of them work the frontline.

I took the west side run all the way out to Umapine Park wearing my uniform and badge and driving the official United States Forest Service truck with my supervisor providing orientation, occasionally engaging with happy campers. All of the developed recreational sites I've seen are green and clean. Umapine, the park furthest west on my route, is about an hour from La Grande. I saw kids on dirt bikes have a blast on the laps and I helped respond to questions about OHV conditions from a camper who had recently been to Montana.

Birdtrack Springs, the largest campground I maintain on the west side of La Grande has lots of camping lots under lots of trees. Located on Highway 244, which runs along Grande Ronde River, Birdtrack Springs is one of five campgrounds on my route, Umapine, Spring Creek, Spool Cart, and Oregon Trail Interpretive Park being the others.

In all of the dozen-plus developed recreational sites I maintain my office is in fact a great vacation destination, a verdant tranquil world redolent with gentle winds and the soft trills of perched birds.
Over the lush expanse of emerald landscape, high sweeps of forests rolling, a predominance of bluest sky marbled with ever-mercurial clouds.

On the Interpretive Center loop there stands an old coach left from the days of the Oregon Trail with all real trunks and tools and barrels and things inside. And that marks the very spot where the people in the coach back in 1848 stopped it and ate each other.

2

Buck Creek needs a fee box. I remind myself of this because I have to install a wooden box with payment envelopes inside for the five dollar day fee.

I hit West Eagle, Two Color, Boulder Park and Main Eagle today, seeing to various maintenance needs not least of which being to swab out the fridge at the Two Color Guard Station. I don't know why it's called Two Color, and neither does my supervisor, but I like the sound of it. I swabbed out the site's fridge because it stopped working right for awhile. Yesterday I flagged dead trees with orange plastic ribbon and picked up payment envelopes locked in fee tubes. I work four ten-hour days a week, driving generally a couple hundred miles a day.

This morning I passed a place rife with startlingly red rock. Iron-rich, I suppose. Rock so perfect it looks too good to be real, like imitation rock at Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain ride. Beyond that stretch, purple and yellow lupine fields over the green predominance of grass. Shining majestic in the distance, immense vertical fingers of snow stretch down the mountainsides. Rushing creeks white with turbulence roar in pockets of the vast forest, magnificent glimpses clear down to the valley afforded along the wildly winding old dirt road.

I woke up this morning before my alarm went off, which is just the way I like it. I performed my ablutions. To the tinny strains of a Gramophone. I prepared a delicious meal consisting of raw kippers. Then I put on my clothes.

Bicycling to work takes me about ten minutes. Usually I'm at the office twenty minutes early. I know the things that need to be done. I know the spots to hit, how and why and when and where. Indeed. I find my supervisor's professional and relaxed demeanor genuinely refreshing. Improves my performance anyway, a respectful atmosphere. I recommend it. What an improvement not to have to waste energy on bad feeling.

North Fork Catherine Creek needs a fee box, too. Ditto Moss Springs Trailhead.

3

Rambles down trails.

What is a book but a mental space wherein one strolls? What is a park if not grounds to relax and reflect? Just consider that.

Third-best thing about nature: when then aren't any ticks. Second-best thing about nature: when there aren't any mosquitoes. And the number one best thing about nature is when I'm paid to be out in it all day.

My duties on the westernmost route afforded me the opportunity of returning on the ol' back road where a turkey vulture mama with a half a dozen chicks took her sweet time getting out of the way and a boatload of horseshoe hares gave me sidelong looks mid-nibble before tearing off.

Down train tracks in the mountains comes the long eerie grind of steel. No passengers, only freight.

Wildflower meadows roll mottled in the shadows of the passing clouds.

My supervisor asked me to give a presentation on the topic of Bigfoot...




MORE
US FOREST SERVICE
SOON














Moss Spring is the one campground in the dozen I maintain with the distinction of being both the closest to habitation (town of Cove) and the fastest access to wilderness--Eagle Cap, by name. On top of that, Moss Springs also holds snow the longest. Here's a little spot behind me this morning.


There's a dam above Cove and a hydroelectric facility




Black cottonwood can look healthy when it's rotten. This one was hollow.


Lunch-time view up Catherine Creek

You can spot hemlock by the sharp bend on the last couple feet at the top






















Monday, May 21, 2018

"DEADPOOL 2" TO DIE FOR



          The hilarious saga continues.
          Packed with action--and a whole lot more, wink wink--Deadpool 2 is the The Godfather: Part II of Deadpools.
          Little known fact: This film combines not only the best parts of Citizen Kane but also The Magnificent Ambersons into one masterful masterpiece referred to by insiders as Citizen Magnificent Deadpool. True story.
          Remaining painstakingly vague to preserve the experience, suffice to say, 1.) Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's dad (oops!) and, 2.) it's not all that different from the first one.
          Which is exactly what we want. All your old Deadpool friends are back, plus loads more, here all but two to remain nameless. (See paragraph above.)
          It's a family film, like The Godfather, except with a Terminator-y time traveling guy called Cable (Brolin), plus a plus-size mutant teen named Firefist (Dennison).
          Indelicate though it may seem, as soon as Cable meets Deadpool, right away he tries to rub him out. That came out wrong. Or...did it?
          It's a story about revenge. And family. And trying to make more money than the last time. So yeah, this time, it's personal.
          And who exactly is the wise-cracking, self-regenerating R-rated admixture of Spider-Man and Wolverine known only to the world variously as either Wade Wilson, Deadpool, or any combination of sulphurous epithets? Too hard to pin down, really. Sort of an anti-hero. Carries swords, shoots guns. Wears a mask because he looks like a pineapple. Good with Crayons.
          From the James Bond-esque opening credits eschewing lots of scantily-clad babes in favor of lots of Deadpools assuming compromising positions, to everything else that happens, Deadpool 2 is a great big fat juicy slice of Post Modern pie. This means he looks directly into the camera a lot and refers to the fact he's in the movie. A hard thing to pull off? Yes, but it comes in handy.
          Not since Betty Hutton sang while jumping on a trampoline for Cecil B. DeMille has the silver screen exploded with such sheer joy and body parts.
          Like a katana-wielding undying human Cuisinart, Ryan Reynolds has singlehandedly carved for himself with a sword in either hand a nice soft spot in the collective filmgoing heart. And this time, he co-wrote it.
          Not to compare apples and oranges, which is a fruitless task because they're both so yummy, but this movie beats the crap out of Avengers: Infinity War.
          If all this sounds like a long way to go to give a sense of the movie by flawlessly imitating its voice and style without ruining its many surprises, so be it. A quick Google search of Betty Hutton and The Magnificent Ambersons will also give away nothing. (Cue any song from The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo's Fire.) Like this review itself--impetuous, yes, yet aglow with a sense of childlike wonder big as the great outdoors--Deadpool 2 breaks all the rules, plus every bone in the human body.


Stewart Kirby writes for
THE INDEPENDENT
and
TWO RIVERS TRIBUNE