I’m Returning From The Hills, Part II

Park hopping is what I called it. I wasn’t visiting parks that you could hike in yet, but I was visiting any place that my GPS classified as a park. The places I visited varied greatly.

Brookwood Park — A small neighborhood park

Paso Nogal Park -- A good size dog park for both large and small dogs

Paso Nogal Park — A good size dog park for both large and small dogs

Heather Farms -- A big park/community center/dog park/etc. It actually dates back to when there was a track here that was used in the Clark Gable film Sporting Blood.

Heather Farms — A big park/community center/dog park/etc. It actually dates back to when there was a track here that was used in the Clark Gable film Sporting Blood.

El Divisadero Park -- The park with an identity crisis. The sign does say it's a neighborhood park, but it's also a field attached to a school.

El Divisadero Park — The park with an identity crisis. The sign does say it’s a neighborhood park, but it’s also a field attached to a school.

It was a blast, and I enjoyed exploring my area in ways I had never done before. While I was going to your normal types of parks, I would occasionally come across places that hinted at something more.

Where the Lafayette-Moraga Trail meets the Moraga Commons (Park)

Where the Lafayette-Moraga Trail meets the Moraga Commons (Park)

Walnut Creek Open Space? I thought I was at Howe Homestead Park.

Walnut Creek Open Space? I thought I was at Howe Homestead Park.

After hitting a lot of parks, I decided to make a run at the state park in my backyard. That evil mountain that looks down on me everyday. I went to Mt. Diablo State Park…on wheels.

One view from the observation deck at Mt. Diablo State Park.

One view from the observation deck at Mt. Diablo State Park.

But that same day, I also saw this.

Protected Watershed? EBMUD, my water company? I thought this was just Rancho Laguna Park.

Protected Watershed? EBMUD, my water company? I thought this was just Rancho Laguna Park.

10 days later my GPS said Briones Regional Park, but not the Lafayette Ridge Staging Area. I was going to the Bear Creek Staging Area. I was totally prepared with my regular shoes, no sunblock, no extra water, and no food. It was just me, my water bottle I always brought with me, and a cellphone. Before I knew it, I was going on my first real hike.

I’m Returning From The Hills, Part I

It’s been nine months since my last blog post, and where have I been? Mostly, I have been in the beautiful hills and the Netflix sewers. Let’s start with the attractive one first. Last June I desperately needed to get out of the house for the day and decided on a whim to go to a place called Dinosaur Hill.

The View From Dinosaur Hill

The view of Mt. Diablo from Dinosaur Hill

It’s a scenic viewpoint in Pleasant Hill, CA from which you can look across the Diablo Valley and see Mt. Diablo. Still not wanting to go home, I decided to go back to the Lafayette Reservoir in Lafayette, CA. I hadn’t been there since I was a child.

The Dam Tower at the Lafayette Reservoir

The Dam Tower at the Lafayette Reservoir

I walked the paved trail that keeps close to the water. There are two trails around the reservoir. One takes you up to an upper rim and one takes you around the shore. I wouldn’t be up to the upper rim for months to come, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was pretty proud of myself for finishing that trail, but still wasn’t up to going home. It was still so early! I thought of one more place I could go. Next to the elementary school I attended is a staging area for Briones Regional Park. Briones is one of many parks in the East Bay Regional Parks district that covers both Contra Costa and Alameda counties in California. But there is something special about this staging area. It takes you onto a portion of Briones that is almost a park unto itself. It’s called the Lafayette Ridge. I remember being taken up part of it when I attended elementary school, and I remember running up a portion of it when I did cross country at the nearby high school.

Entrance to Lafayette Ridge

Entrance to Lafayette Ridge

It’s a steep climb up to the ridge, and once you’re there, it’s up and down, up and down, till you reach a big up at the end that kicks your butt. It’s arduous, but it’s in my backyard. So it’s mine.

You can see the entire ridge in a video I shot, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I walked a small portion of the initial ascent and went home. I went out soon after and started what I call “park hopping”.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), TSPDT #941, Not Recommended

Best scene in the movie

I have to be honest. I tried to write a regular review for this film, but I disliked the movie so much that I don’t care. On some level, I felt personally offended. Rather than try to write some long justification, I am just going to say I don’t recommend it and move on. I recommend PinocchioStar Trek: The Next Generation, and Battlestar Galactica. They explore the themes in this film far better, with a greater maturity and depth that won’t leave you feeling like you have been lectured to like a child.

Audition (1999), TSPDT #940, Approach With Caution

Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina)

I knew going into this film that it was not my kind of movie. I am not a fan of horror films. They are rarely done right, and often degenerate into torture porn or a gore fest. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to find that director Takashi Miike made the film from the book of Hitchcock. It’s about a man whose wife has died. He is lonely and his son is bugging him to get remarried. A friend suggests that a good way to quickly sift through a large number of women is to do it the way the pros do. That is, an audition. They set up a semi-fake audition for a movie and whittle down the possibilities to 30 women. Of course, the man picks the creepy girl in white. Once this man touches her life outside of the audition; the film begins to break further and further from reality. We descend into her warped world of ballet, a creature in a bag, and torture.

Behind The Tree

Takashi Miike definitely has talent. It’s just not my kind of movie. I think he attempts to class up the film by feeding us BS to try and connect us emotionally with the characters. What was impressive was his command of suspenseful filmmaking techniques. It meant that when it was gruesome, it was a drink of water to someone in a desert rather than being drowned in a pool. An atmosphere had been built and went unbroken as a head was severed or a pin was pushed into an eye. Miike does not just using a series of cheap tricks. Those who enjoy horror will probably appreciate it more than I did. I say, approach with caution.

Forty Guns (1957), TSPDT #939, Worth A Look

Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) and Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan)

If I didn’t know this was a Samuel Fuller film going into it, I don’t believe I would have recognized his hand at work. The film is about two people who live their lives on the frontier. Each has a position of power and holds it through force. Jessica Drummond (Barbara Stanwyck) has her kingdom that she controls with her small army of armed men and her influence deeply entrenched throughout the region. Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) is a Marshall. Along with his brothers, he tracks down criminals. Both sound cool on the surface, but in fact they are miserable. What’s worse is that their lifestyle is poisoning a younger generation. It’s the struggle over the younger generation that is the source of conflict. When Bonnell arrives in her town to make an arrest, the two are pulled to each other as the worlds they hold in their hands crumble with collateral damage.

Love In The Younger Generation

Poison In The Younger Generation

Everyone does a good job. It’s shot in beautiful black and white with stylish cinematography. On a repeat viewing, I probably would recommend this film. For now, I say it’s worth a look.

The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), TSPDT #938, Worth A Look

Zbigniew Cybulski and His Women

I have been sitting on this film since February. I finally watched it this week. I am fooling myself in thinking I will rewatch it and write a long post. It is stories within stories and flashbacks within flashbacks. Busty, randy women abound. It stars Zbigniew Cybulski in comical mode. Enjoyable, but confusing. My verdict stands and I am moving on!

A Few Thoughts On Letterboxd

A Letterboxd Error Message

I haven’t been on here in awhile, but I have been around. I have been on the networks. I have been using Get Glue and Letterboxd. Get Glue can be useful for getting your comments on something targeted to an audience that will appreciate them. Letterboxd is impressive. It basically takes the features that IMDb and icheckmovies were offering and ties them all together in a social network. It’s obviously having an effect on those two services since icheckmovies is fleshing out it’s social features and IMDb is improving list making and adding a check-in service. Both sites are trying to change what people use them for. In the case of icheckmovies, they want people to do more than keep a big list of everything they watch. IMDb wants to be more than the Wikipedia of film. I personally think both are too late to change their spots. However, both still serve those purposes and do it better than Letterboxd. At least that is for now.

The biggest stumbling block is that while IMDb has their database to do with as they please and icheckmovies scrapes it for their needs; Letterboxd is using TMDb. Never heard of it? Neither had I, till I found I needed to add films to it before I could use them on Letterboxd. TMDb is basically trying to reinvent the wheel. A few months back I found a movie IMDb didn’t have in their database. And they have been around for how long now? My point is that Letterboxd’s reliance on TMDb is a huge stumbling block. Right now Letterboxd is in beta and it has drawn the attention of many cinephiles like yours truly. This means that movies are being added like crazy prior to a wide release.

If you are on Letterboxd and need to add a film: Don’t be afraid of TMDb. There are three fields that must be filled: Title, Overview, and IMDb ID. The overview can be “No Overview” and the other two you grab from IMDb. Then you have a new movie entered. If you are adding a release date. Please do everyone a favor and only add the earliest one. Also make use of the “primary” check box. The issue is that Letterboxd will grab one date from that database and suddenly Letterboxd features that make use of dates become spotty. There is nothing you can do to enter a Soviet or Czechoslovakian film. TMDb only has a list of current countries and a policy of using the modern equivalent for a defunct country. The problem arises with films like Ecstasy (1933), which is a Czechoslovakian-Austrian co-production in German with an Austrian star and a Czech director. So which country of release do you use to make up for not having Czechoslovakia? The point is that not only is TMDb re-inventing the wheel, they are making obvious mistakes along the way.

I am sure that the people at TMDb will find and fix their mistakes eventually. IMDb went through this and apparently so must TMDb. The issue is that Letterboxd is dependent and limited by TMDb. I make it sound bad. It’s only annoying. If you are willing to deal with a few database additions from time to time then I highly recommend Letterboxd.

On a separate note:

Why Is Bruno Waving Sideways?

Need Help Identifying A Film

My city has a now defunct movie theater that first opened in 1941. I have been going through the back issues of the city’s old newspaper and compiling a list of the films shown using the theater listings. I have come across a film I can’t identify. It calls itself Royal Wedding and apparently stars Dorothy Lamour. The listing is from 1948. I have included the listing below.

Park Theater Listing from 1948

Thanks in advance for your help. Here is a little bonus. A big ad for the sex ed feature film Mom and Dad (1945) that was shown at the theater in 1947.

Mom and Dad (1945)

Six Degrees Has Returned!

In honor of the recent dogathon and because I have been rewatching all the official Bond films (Never Say Never Again (1983) included). I am asking you to connect Asta of Thin Man fame to Desmond Llewelyn, better known as ‘Q‘ from the Bond series.

Asta in After The Thin Man (1936)

Desmond Llewelyn in A View To A Kill (1985)

I am handing the challenge to Page over at My Love Of Old Hollywood.

Withnail & I (1987), TSPDT #937, Recommended

Danny (Ralph Brown)

When I was a kid, I received my first exposure to this film. I didn’t realize it at the time, but while I was watching Wayne’s World 2 (1993) I was being introduced to the character of Danny (Ralph Brown) who is a drug dealer in Withnail & I. I remember him distinctly because of his great stoner voice. The Wayne’s World movies were never that great, but are childhood cult favorites. That’s a decent way to describe this film as well, except that it’s reach and staying power are greater.

Withnail (Richard E. Grant) & I (Paul McGann)

Withnail & I follows Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his friend Marwood (Paul McGann), or simply the I in the title as he is the one narrating the story. They are both out of work, alcohol drinking, drug taking actors who accidentally go on holiday in 1969 Britain. By that I mean, they go to visit Withnail’s gay uncle Monty who they presume will put them up and does, but not exactly as they planned. They end up in a little cottage with no heating and nothing to eat. They spend most of their time trying to keep warm and find food. I make it sound like a tale of survival with that plot summary and it is, but not a stranded in the jungle survival. Their friendship is what is going to survive or perish. It’s also not a film that is plot driven. The focus is on the two leads and the series of comedic incidents they go through. Those incidents reveal where they stand together now and point towards where each must go after their accidental holiday.

Withnail

Withnail is beyond the point of no return. He looks like a punk rocker, but is that likable, funny, friend that can act pushy and tough around you, but will turn on you when the slightest amount of pressure is applied to them by others.

Marwood

Marwood, is a pretty boy with promise in life, but is in love, romantically or otherwise, with someone who is dragging him down. In this case, that person is Withnail. Without knowing it, this is going to be their last hoorah together.

The best scenes in the film come in three flavors: 1. When Withnail or Marwood has one of their brilliant one-liners such as, “Who fucks arses?” and “I want something’s flesh!”, 2. When Withnail sells out his friend, 3. When Marwood grows more backbone. There are many more one-liners then the one’s I listed. Some are yelled at people on the street, others are advice on killing chickens, and one other is a explanation for why the cow about to mow down Marwood is so randy. They are hilarious and people often quote them at the mention of this film or when anybody involved in the production is spotted in real life.

Withnail on "randy" cows

The most honest moments in the film are numbers 2 and 3, where Withnail turns on Marwood and when Marwood stands up for himself. Early in the film the two go to a bar. Marwood uses perfume to try and hide the stench from his shoes. This gets him called a homosexual by a nut job in the bar who proceeds to confront the two. He goes for Withnail and in no time at all, Withnail is explaining that what ever is going on between the man and Marwood has nothing to do with him and why don’t they settle it in the street. Marwood is clearly hurt but he bolts from the bar with Withnail and continues to follow him to their accidental holiday.

From The Beginning Of Defense...

...To Being Hung Out To Dry

The best of number 3 comes late in the film after Marwood has nearly been raped by Monty. Marwood found out that Withnail spewed nasty lies about him in order to get the cabin they have been living in. Lies that all but made explicit that Marwood was fair game for Monty. After telling Monty off from an attempted rape, Marwood confronts Withnail. He makes it clear to Withnail that no justification explains away that he is standing naked in front of him and hurt beyond repair.

Marwood Confrontation, Part I

Marwood Confrontation, Part II

It’s these moments that take this film from a childhood favorite to a moving and funny story of two people at a crossroads. That’s what makes this film have the staying power that it does. It’s the reason that what starts as bathroom humor becomes something I am proud to recommend. In the future, I will probably even highly recommend it. This is one that can be re-watched to point of memorization and still feel it is speaking to the child with an important look at adulthood. Rather than the film losing meaning by rote. I knew Grant was good from L.A. Story (1991), but I wouldn’t have expected this kind of performance from him. I’ll probably never watch one of the Wayne’s World films again, but I will watch this one many more times.