Monday, November 20, 2017

Film Review: Wind River

Wind River ends up being the weakest of Taylor Sheridan's recent trilogy of films the was preceded by Sicario and Hell or High Water.  This is the only one of the three that he both wrote and directed while the prior two he only wrote.

Its not the that Wind River is bad...its not.  Its actually darn good compared to most films, its just weak in comparison.

Jeremy Renner does a solid job as the US Fish and Wildlife officer with a backstory that gives him just the right motivation to be connected to the rest of the unfolding plot and is just damaged enough (divorced but loving husband and father who feels guilt over the death of his teen daughter) to have him brooding all film long.  Elizabeth Olsen is adequate as the fish out of water, urban FBI agent now investigating a crime in very rural Wyoming but doesn't carry enough weight to think that she would ever make it through the necessary training.

Overall the story can be seen as an allegory to the overall white man's raping of Indian culture, lands and people with here it being the oil company taking their resources and women.  The connection between the two though isn't heavy handed and the film is far more of a criminal procedural than it is a lecturing session.

My problems with it?  Just some odd items that get brought up and dropped or just plain don't make sense.  Olson's character, Jane, walks in on the mother of the murdered daughter cutting up her arms in grief and just closes the door and walks away--the poor woman is on the verge of bleeding to death and continuing to add to the score of cuts to her arms and you just quietly exit stage left without a comment?  Then there are some of the snowmobile scenes...Renner's character parks the snowmobile and says "we have to walk from here as the trees are too tight"....yet what are they following?  The tracks of another snowmobile the that somehow didn't have any issue with the trees...

So its just little things here.  Is it enjoyable?  Sure.  Is it great?  No.  Does it continue Sheridan's string of quality work?  Sure...just keep him at the pen and away from the camera.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review: The 39 Steps by John Buchan

In reading order, this was the latest of the classic "man on the run" or "thriller" series of novels from the early 1900's that I've consumed.  Alongside this one has been Rogue Male, Dance of the Dwarfs and Watcher in the Shadows by Geoffrey Household and The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers.

All have a great English sensibility about them that I keenly identify with due to my WASPish upbringing which ads to my enjoyment.  Its easy to slip into the role of the protagonist when they are so similar to yourself or those you know.

That said, The 39 Steps, in my mind was the weakest of the group with the exception of Dance of the Dwarfs.  Not that it wasn't enjoyable, it was.  Buchan asks too much suspension of disbelief however for the story to have a great effect on the reader.

Richard Hannay, the protagonist is ID'd incorrectly as the murderer of a man holding critical information as to an impending German invasion of England.  His response to this is to go on the run across Scotland.  Bouncing from cottage to cottage, hotel to house, forest to river, Hannay is always one half step quicker than his pursuers.  Unfortunately it comes off more that his trackers are stupid and bumbling than Hannay is skilled and capable.  Again and again it is by the merest stroke of luck that Hannay isn't killed or captured while one should never fear as always at the most opportune moment shall a key item or piece of information fall into his hands.

Yes, I know this is a piece of fiction and that you have to have some "coincidences" to push the action along at times but you cannot fill a novel with deus ex machinas or else your reader will lose their sense of impending danger and wonder, knowing that no matter what happens, the author will always provide a convenient way out for the protagonist--and that's what happens here.

The novel has been heavily modified into both plays and films multiple times over the past 100 years, beefing up the storyline with love interests and female characters and a complete redo of the key plot elements so that the novel does not resemble the film or plays in much beyond some of the character names.  Given that 39 Steps is one of Hitchcock's early films, I will need to go back and watch it as it is claimed to be the start of all action, chase and thriller films to come.

Overall the novel is worth reading for its content and thematic core that falls into place with the other books mentioned above to form a common thread of works defining the British pre-war and interwar periods as well as portraying a very English version of what a heroic male is to be in this period--smart, self sufficient, honorable, loyal to country, able to withstand harsh conditions...almost a cross between a Boy Scout and a member of MI6...Not such a bad thing to aspire to...

Monday, November 6, 2017

Mall Kiosk Workers From Israel

I first encountered these years ago and always wondered why those working at the kiosks seemed to be foreign.

Then in my day job I got to see the companies behind the kiosks and the shady dealings behind them. Turns out I wasn't the only one to have questions and it turns out that beyond the makeup, skin and hair products being a sham (gold doesn't really help your skin), the whole series of companies behind them was set up to defraud its own employees as well.

I can only speak to what I saw with the "companies" involved and their "owners".  Truth is, most of these kiosks are "owned" by individuals who are cajoled into coming over to the US on tourist visas with the idea that they can earn enough money selling makeup and skincare to establish their life outside of Israel and also to get to of their compulsory military service.  If they don't sell enough product?  Well the real owners of these companies threaten to pull their Visa, send them back to Israel and into the Army.

The real owners are protected largely by the fact that these companies end up being set up as sole-props and if they get in trouble or become financially insolvent (which they do with alarming frequency) they just fold and restart under a slightly different name and tax ID.  They go through this cycle over and over again.  And don't think they live a life of glamour here either...typically they are herded into common apartments to save on costs and move from one kiosk to another.

Oh and did i mention the products suck?  Unsurprisingly massive amounts of the products purchased by consumers under the duress of these high pressure (understandably) sales people end up being returned--or at least are attempted to be returned, because not only are they super expensive but they are all cheap, useless crap...worse than dollar store trash...seriously.  These kiosks and stores have a no return policy however and instead the transactions result in high chargeback rates and then loss of the ability to accept credit cards--a death knell for retail, thus the folding of the business and restart under a different name but same business model...over and over, recycling young Israeli after young Israeli.

So the new time you're in a mall and groups of these individuals try and get your wife to buy some stupid skin cream and curse you out when you ignore their pleas to stop for a second...try not to be mad or take offense...These are early 20 somethings being preyed upon by their elders who have convinced them that the way to a better life and to avoid Israel's military and the Middle East in general is to sell cosmetics under a falsified travel Visa for marginally above minimum wage while living in communal apartments, hoping to save up enough to travel the world or establish a life somewhere else and under constant threat of their real string holders...

Just one example of one of these rings being busted and the Principal going away to prison for 6+ years is found here...but there are rings and rings of these across the US...Just as an FYI...

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Stranger Things Season 2 Episode 7 -- A Giant Dumpster Fire

So its been a LOOOONG time since I've written anything here...and I guess its kind of sad that this drove me to did.

I like the Netflix series Stranger Things a lot.  I was an early watcher of Season 1 and just finished watching season two.  It has enough cultural references that are relevant to me that it feels like a part of my youth.  Its also smart enough to make it interesting without being pretentious, keeping its humor and awareness that it is an entertainment product.

Up until episode 7 of Season 2 the show had also kept away from making the mistakes that shows like Lost and The Walking Dead fell quickly into which is the wasting of time and action in plot elements that don't advance the overall story or that don't specifically speak to the development of its characters.

That ended here.

This should go down as THE textbook definition of a "throwaway episode".  The primary character of the entire series completes a full circle--leaving her "home" town of Hawkins, visiting the big city, meeting her lost sister (who we were only previously introduced to in a 2 minute sequence at the very beginning of Season 2), committing a few crimes, realizing she isn't as morally bankrupt as this sister, and then returning to Hawkins.

Not only does the entire episode feel out of place--sorry but the city, punks, petty crime, and even colors, tones, clothing, hair styles, etc. all are antithetical to the Stranger Things story.  Stranger Things is at its core, a return to a simpler which we look back on fondly and with rose colored glasses with the "Upside Down" and evil government providing the dark side balance to the story...Here in this episode?  Its all on the dark side with Eleven even sporting black eyeliner, dyed hair and clothes and the story feels out of whack and completely out of sorts.  She doesn't belong here and neither does the story or the viewer.  You can almost hear the writers and creators saying to themselves " know what would be cool?  If we could pull Eleven out of her small town environment and place her in an urban area and create that sort of juxtaposition with city dwelling cliches of that time period vs. the rural ones we seen her with to date!  How can we do that?!?!"

Its the old "You spent so much time thinking about if you COULD that you didn't bother to consider if you SHOULD..."

How do you really know that the episode is a throwaway?  Because if you just happened to skip over it from 6 to 8 you wouldn't blink an eye or think that you've missed a thing...and the characters have not learned, developed, changed in any way.  The plot and its development is completely independent of this episode.  I just wish I could forget it and its events as much as the characters seem to have...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Film Review: Hell or High Water

Crafted by the same writer as the movie Sicario this film has a similar location in the American Southwest though involves a different set of troubles.

Instead of the grey areas created by the drug trade washing over the Mexican/American boarder, here we have the grey areas created by the banking industry and those white Americans who have been left behind by the progress of time and innovation.

These are Trump's voters as the main characters on both sides of your traditional good guy/bad guy divide don't care for authority or they way they've been told things should be.  Both the police and the Texas men trying to steal their way to the saving of their mother's home from foreclosure are relics of a bygone era and overlooked by their government and society--but not their families, friends and communities whose bonds remain those that bind.

The film itself ends up feeling like one of those cowboy films where the first cars show up and appear so jarring compared to the more manual world they invade.  You can just sense things are going to end badly for the cowboy as his time has come and gone.  Its the same way here.  The protagonists are doomed from the start as leftovers from another time.

Jeff Bridges is great as a crass, vulgar and extremely un-politically correct police officer chasing down the bank robbing brothers portrayed by Chris Pine and Ben Foster.  Foster is again brilliant.  I don't know if I've seen him in a role yet that I haven't loved.  Chris Pine of course plays the handsome, "better" of the two brothers and puts in a fine performance, with his best work present when he doesn't have to share the screen with Foster who seems to suck the air out of every scene for his own.

I don't know if it "revitalizes" the Western as much of the story could be considered familiar but its the dialogue, performances and attacks on modern rural America that make it worth seeing.  It won't win much if anything at the upcoming Oscars, but that doesn't matter, you will remember it long after the glitzier, shallower works that will win the awards.

Scale of 1-10?  A solid 8

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hardbody's Are Tough...But Not That Tough....

My goodness...this driver is lucky to be alive.

The Hardbody involved has a small lift but the pilot must be brainless.  Heading out on a small jetty into what looks like 15-20 foot waves is moronic.  The waves, broken by the rocks jetty are still plenty strong enough to toss the truck around like a toy.  The Coast Guard comes in at the end to rescue the driver and the world appears to be less one more Hardbody...RIP...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

CRG-I Do Borrow Nissan Altima and Sarah Cattaneo Finish 5th in Season Debut

A real solid result against some top competition at the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at Daytona yesterday.  The car itself has a long history in sportscar racing and is originally the Skullcandy Altima that raced all over the country for the past few years.

The CRG-I Do Borrow effort switched from a Honda Civic last year to this Altima and have been doing quite well.  Ahead of Cattaneo's 5th place finish were three Porsche Caymans and the winning JCW Mini.  In fact, the Altima turned the fastest lap of the race at 103.6 mph but didn't have the consistency to put it on the podium this time.  Looking forward to more solid finishes out of this effort in '17 at the rest of the IMSA schedule.

If anyone can provide a link to this team's webpage or even Facebook page it would be appreciated as I can't find anything but the individual driver's personal pages...

BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona '17 results...