WHAT I WOULD HAVE GIVEN FOR a flashlight; it was dumb of me not to think of one. I was visiting a friend out of state, who thought it would be a cool idea to climb a mountain. It was nothing like the Rockies, but it was high enough. We were able to drive up part of it, park, then follow on foot a trail to get to higher ground. Up until that point everything was going fine. The vegetation was thick all around us which made our surroundings cooler in temperature and darker. I was okay since the day had been hot and sunny. Because we were making our way in subdued light, we kept assuming it was still bright outside, and this was our first mistake. As we were ducking under branches and constantly checking the ground for solid footing, we did not realize our ascent was going slower than anticipated. Neither of us thought about the challenges we would face by trying to crawl down in the darkness of night. I THINK IT WAS ME WHO was getting cold first and hungry. We had reached a substantial height where we could see the city glowing in the distance. All we had with us was water; I had wished I had brought a piece of fruit or a granola bar. We decided to turn back by retracing our steps to get back to a trail and then to our car. It did not take long for me to realize we were in trouble. It was nighttime and neither of us could see the ground clearly enough. There were multiple times where one of us thought we had solid footing but then the ground/rock gave away and we would stumble or fall. I fell and scraped the palms of my hands. With no sense of direction, only knowing we had to go down, we were lost. The area was not known for wildlife; however, that did not stop my brain from imagining a multitude of scary creature encounters. The longer we remained stuck on the mountain, the more we were freaking out. After multiple tries and retreats, we finally found a trail. By the time we returned to the car, we had logged nearly 10 hours in total crawling on the mountain. Ever since then, I have always felt an uneasiness whenever I find myself in a remote area. Whether it is in rugged terrain or wide-open spaces, my imagination kicks into high gear on what things could happen to me. This will explain my anxiousness as I watched this dramatic, crime thriller. WITH YOUNG WOMEN GOING MISSING in an area of Alaska, the only lead Jack Holcombe, played by Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off), had was a junkie named Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Dog Days) and she did not want to be involved with any part of his investigation. With John Cusack (High Fidelity, Love & Mercy) as Robert Hansen, Dean Norris (Total Recall, The Book of Henry) as Sgt. Lyle Haugsven and Gia Mantegna (The Prince, Criminal Minds-TV) as Debbie Peters; this film festival nominee’s story was based on actual events. For that reason, I found this movie creepier than usual. The main leads were quite convincing in the story; in fact, I was impressed with Vanessa’s work in particular. The filming of this picture made the feelings of isolation and despair more prominent throughout the scenes. It almost felt like it was hanging in the air. The story basically was a good guy vs bad guy set-up; I only wished the writers had delved deeper into the characters. It would have made for a more intense viewing, in my opinion. I was already uneasy about remote areas and this movie has now solidified my feelings about them.
2 ¼ stars
ALL I NEED IS A GOOD pair of walking shoes, a map, a water bottle and I am ready to explore new territory. During my quest to see all 50 states, my usual routine was to fly into a city then either rent a car or take public transportation to my hotel. After checking in I would then set off on my journey to cover as much ground as humanly possible. I preferred walking, so my list of sightseeing destinations was grouped by foot, bus, train, cab or car. One city I visited, on my first day there I wound up walking eight miles in total, going from one place to another. It turned out to be one of my favorite cities to visit because so many things I wanted to see were accessible by foot. When I take trips like this, I spend little time on meals; usually I will pick up something on the run or stop at a fast food chain for a quick bite. My mission has always been to fill in as much things to do as possible. To some this may sound too frenetic and unrelaxing; however, I found it utterly peaceful. To be silent, standing in front of something that I had never seen before brought me a sense of blissful accomplishment. WHEN MY TRIPS HAVE TAKEN me to places of natural beauty, I find myself pretending I am the first person to encounter such a sight. There was a park I visited where I felt I was on an alien planet. The landscape was filled with shades of red and beige, pockmarked and smoothed from the wind, and there were places that had ancient symbols and script etched into its stone face. I imagined what it must have been like for the first explorer to encounter such a breathtaking sight. What did they do when they first saw it; did they try to climb or go around it? What did they think when they came upon rough water rapids blocking their path? These are things I think about on what I call my “fact finding” trips. Granted I have the luxury of knowing if I get hungry or need to use a bathroom, I can find one easily. And, if I should by chance get lost or injured, I have a phone with me (as long as I can get service) to call for help. I know me well enough to realize there is no way I could have been an authentic explorer or even a party to the group of men who ventured north in this action, western romance film. SEEING AN OPPORTUNITY TO STRIKE it rich all cowboy Jeff Webster, played by Jimmy Stewart (Vertigo, The Philadelphia Story), had to do was get a herd of cattle from Wyoming to Alaska during the Alaskan gold rush. With Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train, Beyond the Forest) as Ronda Castle, Corrine Calvet (What Price Glory, Flight to Tangier) as Renee Vallon, Walter Brennan (The Westerner, The Real McCoys-TV) as Ben Tatum and John McIntire (Psycho, Turner & Hooch) as Gannon; this cinematic spectacle was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. The drama in this movie was accentuated with the over the top musical score; yet, I found it only added more charm to this blast from the past, so to speak. I do not know how to describe it, but the acting had a different style to it compared to our current actors. Not that this was a negative, it just was apparent to me. The story essentially was a good vs evil playbook and the actors were well suited to the task of bringing the script to life. Also, though there were some backdrops that did not look real; I still enjoyed seeing the outdoor scenes and imagining what it must have been like for people back in the late 1800s who ventured up to Alaska. A breathtaking place by the way.
THERE WAS ONE FAMILY THAT LIVED on the block who had a Dad that was of great interest to the kids in the neighborhood. On the outside he looked like the other dads; he drove to work everyday at the same time most of the other adults were leaving their homes for work. He told corny jokes to his children’s friends and he barbequed in the backyard. But what was of most interest to us kids was this man’s profession. Rumor had it he worked for the government, some type of secret agency. I cannot recall when the rumors started but I was extremely curious about him, hoping he was some kind of spy. Now there were other parents in the neighborhood who had jobs that sounded interesting to us kids. There was a parent who owned a restaurant somewhere down in the heart of the city; another parent was an artist who would use photographs as a base to create small and large oil paintings for customers. But there was something about this one Dad that kept most of us kids engaged in trying to figure out what he really did for a living. We would get together at times to try and piece together any clues one of us might have seen or heard throughout our day. At one point we decided he must be a double agent because someone heard him speak in a different language. After several years that father and his family sold their house and moved away; none of us ever found out if he was a spy? HAVING A PARENT WHO HAD A COOL or interesting job was a big plus when growing up. There was one kid whose father was a city bus driver. Any time he was the driver of the bus I was taking, I felt special; as if I had something no one else on the bus could claim. I know one of the reasons I felt this way was because I did not have to worry about someone picking on me; I knew I had a protector during my trip. Out of the parents’ jobs I knew, this one meant the most to me because it was something I could see and feel he was doing something for me, namely protecting me from bullies. There were other parents who had interesting jobs and maybe their occupations meant something special to other kids, but outside of the one dad we all thought was a spy, the bus driver was my favorite. I am sure if the parents in this documentary lived in my neighborhood, all the kids would want to know what they did for a living. WHENEVER THE CHILDREN OF KAREN AND BARRY Mason accompanied them to work, they never understood why they were told to never look up, to look straight down at the floor. Written by Kathryn Robson (Parrots Heads, Rip Rip Hooray!) and written and directed by Rachel Mason (The Lives of Hamilton Fish, Singularity Song), this film festival winner provided me with a fascinating movie watching experience. This was due to the different elements that made up the script. There were several different aspects to the story such as historical, generational and family. I immediately found Karen and Barry likeable as they talked about how they got into their line of work by happenstance. With interviews coming from a variety of sources such as Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine and former employee Alaska from RuPaul’s Drag Race, seeing the family dynamics in the mix of this was wild. I also appreciated the message about acceptance, love and providing for one’s family. All that was missing from this biographical movie was getting interviews from some of the neighbors and kids’ friends. After finishing this picture I did wonder how this family would have fared living on my block.
3 ¼ stars
It happened during my first school field trip where we traveled to our city’s zoo. We were in the lion house and I remembered how the pungent smell hung in the still air. I felt I was inhaling musky cotton balls. The big cats were one of my favorite animals so it was worth the odor to be up close to them. While standing in front of one cage with a pacing male lion, a park attendant who was stationed by one of the main entrances announced to all the visitors they would have to remain in the lion house. The reason was one of the animals had escaped from their enclosure outside. It turned out it was one of the zoo’s star attractions, a large silverback gorilla. My classmates and I were nervously excited with all the commotion this caused throughout the crowd around us. Until the gorilla was captured we spent enough time in the lion house to see the animals being fed by park assistants. I recall how frightening it looked to me to see how the lions would attack their fleshy meal. Back then it made sense to me that the animals were in cages for our protection. Little did I know that the time would come where they were there for their protection. From directors Alastair Fothergill (Chimpanzee, Earth) and Keith Scholey (African Cats) this documentary followed one family of bears in Alaska for one year, from coming out of hibernation to preparing for its return. If for nothing else I have to tip my hat to the movie studio for providing exquisite footage of the bears’ habitat. I have visited Alaska and it was breathtaking to see. The camera work not only provided a true sense of the state, but the close-up work in filming the animals was wonderful. Personally I would have liked more facts about the life of the bears but that was just my own tastes. The studio wanted to make a film that was entertaining so I understood why they had John C. Reilly (We Need to Talk to Kevin, Carnage) as the narrator. Children will probably enjoy the humorous spin he put on the animals’ actions; I just happened to find it odd attaching human emotions to animals. Either way this film was an enjoyable experience. I will say my opinion about zoos has changed as an adult now; there are still ones out there that are simply prisons. Once you view this film you just might agree with me.
2 3/4 stars
Perched at the edge of the railing all we could see was the ocean’s slow rolling exhale along its surface. Walls of cold white ice surrounded us as they tried catching our eyes with a spark of reflective bright sunshine. In the still quiet I heard the sound of something cracking. It grew louder into an echoing rumble. Before me I saw a huge slab of white wall snap apart and slide into the ocean below, leaving a trail of icy crumbs. This was the experience I had in Glacier Bay, Alaska; witnessing the calving of a glacier. The idea that I may never see this part of nature again saddens me. Watching this documentary was breathtaking. I am a product of the creative left side of my brain working in tandem with the scientific right side; as I result, I had a deeper appreciation for the way this film handled the subject matter. National Geographic photographer James Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey in 2007. Its mission has been to record the shrinkage of glaciers. There are 34 cameras stationed at 16 glaciers, taking photographs every hour year round. In this movie there was amazing, exquisite footage of James’ hiking along several glaciers, looking for the perfect setting for a photo shoot. As a visual experience I was enthralled seeing places I would never have the opportunity to visit on my own. Helping James in his endeavors were Svavar Jonatansson and Adan LeWinter. Director Jeff Orlowski did an admirable job just based on the working conditions alone. Once the photographs were compiled into a time-lapsed video it was startling to see the change in the glaciers’ sizes. There was no political agenda being fostered on the viewer; in fact, James used to be a skeptic of global warming. This film festival winner left me and the other viewers in the theater stunned. Something so simple as taking a picture made a profound impact on all of us.
3 1/2 stars
Ultimately one must lead the life they choose for themselves, not the one someone has chosen for them. I remember years ago when I was between jobs, I received a great piece of advice: Do what you love and the money will follow. My mother always wanted me to be an accountant; yet, I knew I could never be one. The creative side of my mind would have shriveled up. Even when it comes to one’s personal tastes; do not let people impose their tastes on you. It is funny, no matter what length my hair was, my dad would always tell me to wear it differently. If it was long, he would tell me to cut it and if it was short, he would tell me to grow it out. It was maddening at times. Based on a true story; Chris McCandles, played by Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe, Speed Racer), had to live life the way he felt it was meant to be lived. Seeing the life his parents Billie and Walt McCandles, played by Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River, The Mist) and William Hurt (The Incredible Hulk, Vantage Point), were living; Chris did not want any part of it. After graduating from Emory University, Chris decided to get rid of his material possessions and hitchhike to Alaska, to live with nature. His journey would lead him to unexpected adventures. Written and directed by Sean Penn (Milk, 21 Grams), this was a stunning movie. Sean slowly brought out an amazing performance from Emile; both in acting and with the incredible physical transformation that took place. The supporting cast never felt out of place; they added shading to the adventures. Some viewers may think Chris McCandles was crazy to do what he did. I felt it was better to try something, even if it were to fail; than go through life wondering what would have happened, if I had only tried.
3 1/3 stars — DVD