Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Truly one of the most difficult novels I've ever read...

It has has been said that Shakespeare could never be just a single person as the sheer number of different words used in his works so vastly surpasses the vocabulary of even the most intelligent and verbose in society, it is just not possible to have that breadth of language housed in one brain.

Now I'm not always the sharpest tack in the room but I would say that I have an above average vocabulary and yet during numerous sections of this work I was sent scrambling for a dictionary half a dozen times or more PER PAGE.  Eventually it became such a task to review the language therein that I gave up and merely used the general context of the sentences to discern what was actually being said.  While frustrating, particularly for a novel written in the past thirty years (I would give some leeway to novels a century or greater ago as then we're talking about a vastly different lexicon from which the writers were pulling) it does not detract from the overall weight of the novel.  I wish McCarthy used more plain and direct language and didn't try to string a dozen or more metaphors together in an attempt to create a mood or describe a scene--it could have been a better and even more striking work for it (don't let anyone tell you this is a "perfect" work...its not.  But it is nearly as good a piece of fiction from the past 50 years that I've read).

The novel itself is based on some historical figures and events in the American Southwest during the late 1840s.  There are two primary characters here represented first by "the kid" whose violent upbringing eventually leads him to join up with the Glanton Gang.  The Glanton Gang itself was a real group of scalphunters lead by John Joel Glanton who was hired initially to exterminate a band of Apaches (bringing back their scalps as evidence) but turned rapidly to killing and scalping virtually everyone in their path in order to drive their income.  The second primary character is "the Judge" who is a character without much of a background but still fully formed.

Judge Holden becomes the driving force and most interesting part of the novel--is he the devil?  is he "the kid"'s alternate personality? what is he after?  why is he hairless?  is it he who keeps abducting and killing the children the group encounters?  McCarthy never gives the reader the answer but certainly provides enough detail for you to make your own conclusions.  The Judge has been rated by some as one of the most memorable characters in literature and I would agree.  While I may forget some of the details of the plot of this book moving forward or how the kid got involved in the first place, once you read Blood Meridian you will never, ever forget the Judge and will constantly circle back to him when you encounter antagonists in other works.

Blood Meridian is certainly not going to be for everyone.  Beyond the difficult language and complete lack of punctuation outside of sentence ending periods, McCarthy infuses the book with more violence than any novel I have ever read.  If you've seen No Country for Old Men or The Road then you may have a sense of McCarthy's violence as these are both based upon his prior works.  Even still, both of these films pale in comparison to the violence contained here.  Ridley Scott (who directed the recent film, The Counselor which was a McCarthy screenplay) has said that if he directed a film version of Blood Meridian that it would be rated NC-17 at the least and may not be filmable at all.  I tend to agree with him as the amount of blood and gore present is beyond what I have ever read before.  Not that it is unrealistic...on the contrary, it is probably VERY realistic given what we are dealing with.  The crushing of a baby's skull, the sodomizing of a injured opponent, the mutilation of a dead body, the scalping of a live body, and on and on and on...its not fun stuff...but if you turn to ask yourself "Is this real?" and you find yourself answering that yes, things likely were (and even more frighteningly, still are) this way.  It is stomach churningly brutal in its depictions.  And no one gets off looking good here.  The Americans, the Mexicans, the Indians, everyone here is capable of such levels of depravity and violence you "think" you are reading of a different world.  An example of such a depiction is here:

When Glanton and his chiefs swung back through the village people were running out under the horses' hooves and the horses were plunging and some of the men were moving on foot among the huts with torches and dragging the victims out, slathered and dripping with blood, hacking at the dying and decapitating those who knelt for mercy.  There were in camp a number of Mexican slaves and these ran forth calling out in spanish and were brained or shot and one of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a bloody spew and humans on fire came shrieking forth like berserkers and the riders hacked them down with their enormous knives and a young woman ran up and embraced the bloodied forefeet of Glanton's warhorse.

Yup, that's what you're in for on a consistent basis.  That and more, over and over.  But that's partly what McCarthy and the Judge are getting at...that humanity has been, is and always will be a violent, ugly, brutal species and those who pretend otherwise are not "true dancers".  Whether that is true or not isn't the point, instead McCarthy is showing us what is often at the human core--what is at your and my core if we're honest and what we'll pass on to the next generation.  In fact McCarthy, in perhaps his most direct message to the reader begins the work with three epigraphs one of which is the following:
Clark, who led last year’s expedition to the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, and UC Berkeley colleague Tim D. White, also said that a re-examination of a 300,000-year-old fossil skull found in the same region earlier shows evidence of having been scalped 

This quotation taken from the Yuma Daily Sun in the early 1900s regarding the discovery of an early hominid skull in Africa that displayed signs of having been scalped itself.  Violence and war of the most horrific sorts has been with us, literally, since the beginning of time.  If you can take it, read this book, it will stay with you till the Judge comes to take you as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Film Review: Babel

Third in Alejandro González Iñárritu's films that I've watched after Amores Perros and 21 Grams his films are always contain a wide mix of characters as well as a number of intersecting storylines.

Babel is his most high profile effort with not only his frequent collaborator Gael Garcia Bernal but Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as well.  The film would ultimately win Best Picture at the Golden Globes and be nominated for the same award and many others at the Oscars for 2006 films.

File:Babel poster32.jpgThe film weaves four storylines in three locations that are interconnected for various reasons.  Iñárritu touches on so many themes in modern society its hard to keep track.  Illegal immigration, terrorism, undocumented workers, treatment of the disabled, guns, 3rd world tourism by first world travelers, marriage, etc. are all covered here.  While they are all covered here, none are covered as well as they have in his prior films.

Pitt and Blanchett are a married American couple in Morocco on vacation attempting to reconcile their differences after the death of their third child.  Blanchett's character is shot by a pair of young Moroccan boys who are fighting for the favor of their father and use the rifle given to their father by the rich Japanese businessman who has a deaf mute daughter.  Meanwhile the American couple's two children are looked after by their Mexican housemaid who has to take them into Mexico to attend her son's wedding when Blanchett and Pitt are delayed in returning home after her shooting.

The film is shot beautifully with each location taking on its own personality and color--tan for Morocco, orange for Mexico and grey for Japan and as you bounce between the storylines this helps maintain a sense of consistency despite the frequent transfers.  Each location and storyline carries a separate language as well with much of the film spoken in languages other than English.  Outside of the obvious issues being targeted within each storyline, the language and communication issues are an overarching theme.  Even within our most intimate relationships we struggle to convey our true needs and feelings and the fact that we may share our primary language does little help us down that path.

The film succeeds on most levels but not all.  Its a long film at about 2 and 1/2 hours and could have used a bit of trimming and perhaps an elimination of the Japanese storyline which ends up seeming like a separate film due to its first world placement.  Which gets at the heart of what Iñárritu is good at--digging deeper into America and societies interaction with the issues coming out developing countries and societies is where he thrives and where is best work is done.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Trinidad and Tobago Rally...

Just off the coast of Venezuela lies the islands of Trinidad and Tobago and cover some 2,000 sq. miles of tropical wonderland.  The deep sand makes for some great looking stage rally roads with a mix between dirt/ravel and beachlike sand.  Yes, stage rally roads.  Even on the smallish islands of the Caribbean there lies the desire for this sport.

Some great photos and video (shown below) of a two wheel save which shows the "steer into the roll" method working perfectly.  Unfortunately the one Nissan in the event raced by Shelford Robinson evidently DNF'd as it does not show up in the final rankings.  That said, there are some GREAT rally vehicles here including some open wheel rally racecars.

Trinidad and Tobago Rally website...


Thursday, March 13, 2014

2014 WRC Rally Mexico--Don't Cut!!

Perhaps his codriver should have warned him of this corner which looks probly like any other--oh, except that nice dip on the inside of the corner...This is Andreas Mikkelsen and his codriver Mikko Markkula in the 2014 WRC Rally Mexico. They finished 19th in the event but evidently did finish in their VW Polo R.


2016 Nissan GT-R Rendering Leaked...

Looks like a Japanese magazine has leaked an early rendering of the 2016 Nissan GT-R which is reportedly to be the first major reworking of the supercar since its introduction a few years back.  Receiving a hybrid powerplant though still containing a twin turbo V6 the new GT-R will retain its sub 3 second 0-60 time and its off the line torque should be incredible given the now part time electric powertrain.

That said, if this a true depiction of the next GT-R, it has gotten REALLY ugly in my mind...looking a bit like an elongated Mitsubishi Eclipse, all its little wiggles and bumps are not appealing.  Here's hoping they flatten some of this out...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Datsun 260Z Crash From 2013 East African Classic Safari Rally

This was the crash of Geoff Bell and Tim Challen.  Their day was over but were just fine physically.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: Tales From The Bivouac

This review is bound to be biased given my intense interest in the subject but I'll try to be balanced.

Tales From the Bivouac is a collection of personal tales from individual racers participating in various rally-raid events around the world.  Though nothing in the book or on the associated website states that the work limits itself the tales of motorcyclists, it ends up that way in the second edition of this series (which is the one reviewed here--I haven't read the first edition).

This is a wise course of action for the work.  While the stories of "car" drivers could be valuable as well, no participants have to be so self sufficient and involved in every detail of their racing as a biker.  This gives them a more comprehensive view of the race and what it entails and, as a benefit to the reader, first hand experience with every little breakdown and misadventure.

Covering the Australian Rally (Jason Adams on an Airhead BMW), Mexican 1000 (Doug Chapman in his first Rally Raid), Dakar (Kevin Muggleton in an event that ended far to early for his liking) and the Baja Rally (Jeremy Brown), TFTB Vol. II isn't focused on the pointy end of the competitive entries but instead on the sportsman efforts that are closer to the efforts that I or most "regular" folks would put together.  Stories of rushed preparation efforts, limited budgets, redneck vehicle fixes, all night drives, and overwhelming elation at having just finishing one of these events are familiar to many.

Apart from the great stories of personal drive in the face of enormous obstacles are the wonderful photos throughout the work.  Taking some of the best images from these events and printing them in full or nearly so page sized versions turns this into something worthy of being on a coffeetable.  Printed in heavy stock, brilliant white paper, the work is not a hardcover but far from a cheap magazine.  The love and care that the editors put into their own racing efforts as well as of being true fans of the sport is clearly shown.  It could use a bit more proofing as spelling and grammar errors are more evident than they should be but that does not take away from what is at the core of Tales From the Bivouac.  It is the love of rally that shines through both in the stories and in the quality of the work.  TFTB brings that love front and center in beautiful images and words worthy of any Rally fan.

If you want your own copy--which I highly suggest--go here for more info and ordering instructions:

Monday, March 3, 2014

Classics and Ari Vatanen and More...

The 2014 Australian Rally Championship is now underway down under with Brendan Reeves taking the National Capital Rally win this past weekend in his Mazda 2.  In a case of "this sounds like a bigger accomplishment than it is" there were only 17 national class entries in the event and 10 of them DNF'd.  Not that Reeves isn't a fantastic driver, he is, its just that national class entries seem to be as limited there as they are here in the States.

More interesting to me at least, is the always quality "classic" stage rally vehicles that come out to these ARC events.  For the Nat. Cap. Rally we have an old Mini, your typical gathering of Datsuns and Fords and, for one stage at least, Ari Vatanen behind the wheel of an epic looking Audi.  The classic class win was taken by the Toyota Celica #70 of Neal Bates.  Enjoy.

National Capital Rally...

Nissan Shows Improvement In V8 Supercars

 2013 ended up being a lost year in terms of ROI for Nissan Motorsports in Australia and their V8 Supercars effort.  The four cars they fielded in '13 were viewed as underpowered and not possessing a proper aero package.

The offseason saw a retooling of the engine as well as an entirely new aero design in hopes of getting the Nissan Altimas to the front of the V8 Supercars field.

The first event of the V8 Supercars season was this past weekend at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, Australia.  The V8 Supercars racing weekend is quite a bit different that say NASCAR here in the States.  There are actually three races on the weekend.  Two shorter races on Saturday and one long race on Sunday.

The changes Nissan made in the offseason seem to have paid off.  While not yet in the winners circle, Nissan certainly saw an improvement in their performance and produced some solid, consistent finishes.  Split between the Jack Daniels and Norton teams, Rick Kelly seems to be the #1 driver of the bunch finishing 6th, 11th and 5th in the three races and sits in 4th for the overall standings after the weekend.  Additional encouragement comes from the fact that the four cars saw only a single DNF on the weekend with that coming in the last race while Rick's Nissan teammates put together a number of other top 10 finishes as well.

Its not perfect, but its a lot better so far than 2013.