Saturday, December 24, 2016

A walk to the Mitchell Canyon Park Visitor Center

I was walking to the Mitchell Canyon Park Visitor Center in Clayton, California, when I thought of doing a a photo-document of this journey. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, so I used my camera phone, which could barely handle the task. But one thing I learned this year after drawing a lot is: work with what you got. Because it's better than fretting over what you haven't got. And sometimes mistakes and bad lighting can be evocative.

So take a walk with me as 2016 comes to a close. And what a year it's been. I was walking just before dusk and these photos imply that and also my mood. I'm working with what I got—low light with a bad lens. It is what it is and you are with me on this journey.

This ranch-style house near my parents' street has kindly supplied the public-at-large with a drinking fountain and pet water station. I was thirsty and so I drank. Thank you, handy household.

This house features miniature ponies in their front yard but unfortunately they weren't out this day, probably because the gardeners were blowing leaves around. I liked their decor. There's a lovely garden at street level in front of the gates and in the spring it bursts into hundreds of flowers.

This is the last undeveloped lot on Mitchell Canyon Road. There used to be an orchard here and we climbed the trees when we were kids. And found someone's abandoned Playboy Magazine in the dirt. Memories.

I always hope the goats will be out and about when I pass by this property, and they were. This little goat was perched on a log. Goats are so charming when they perch on things. He or she bleated at me in a friendly manner.

The view of Mt. Diablo from the road. I saw plenty of horses on this walk but sorry, no photos. I didn't want my flash to frighten them. And one handsome beast had his back to me, so I avoided the dreaded "horse's ass" shot.

Getting closer to the park and the mountain.

I was trying to be mindful during my stroll, but passing by this quarry my thoughts turned to the concept of, "What fucking shit are they doing to the land now?" The sign assures us: "Slide Stabilization Complete - Historical Slope Contouring and Revegetation in progress." Which only made me more suspicious of their 50-year-plus mining operations that have carved away half of Mt. Zion, making it resemble tremendous tooth decay on a massive scale. The ranger filled me in on my way home, telling me that half this slope slid toward the road this year and the quarry is shoring it back up while revegetating it as the sign politely informs us. As always, GREAT JOB, CEMEX QUARRY.

Back to mindfulness. The creek, she is running!

Another day, when there's time and I'm feeling action-oriented, I'll do the hike to Eagle Peak. It starts like this and gets very steep very early in the walk. There's also a walk straight up the mountain alongside the creek and when it's running, which is only for part of the year, that is a worthy hike.

What will 2017 bring? I'm not sure I want to know. I like nature. Nature has its own time-table and it has nothing to do with our concerns. Nature is its own presence and we should honor that, always.

Wishing you joy and peace for the coming new year.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Get it together, U.S.

Obviously slightly less than half the voting public here did not read their Harry Potter because they just elected he who will not be named as our 45th president. As we all know, Potter and his friends are staunch democrats with humanitarian values who value intelligence, bravery, respect and loyalty. So keep an eye out for those kids because I think they might be on to something. Get with the times, Death Eaters. The world is bigger than your rigid little minds. And hands.


Monday, November 07, 2016

Movies You May Have Missed - "Boy" directed by Taika Waititi (2010)

Set in 1984 on the coast of New Zealand, Taika Waititi's Boy is a semi-autobiographical story of childhood that touches on the emotional aches, miseries, confusion, awkwardness and best of all, humor, that children depend on to survive while under duress. How Waititi managed to keep an absurd light touch throughout what could have been a dark tale of loss and neglect is just one of his special talents.

You might have seen Waititi as the foppish vampire Viago in his satire What We Do in the Shadows (co-directed with Jermaine Clement and released in 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign). If so, you know he's a proponent of character-driven storytelling. Here, his remarkable cast of mostly children are all distinct people with their own life philosophies, needs and desires. They live in poverty, surrounded by natural beauty, and rely on each other. Yet they let each other down in so many ways, because they're children and children make many mistakes as they grow, as do their guardians and would-be guardians.

Children suffer and endure and children are hilarious. At least these children are. If you have exquisitely torturous but beautiful memories of Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Lasse Hallström's My Life as a Dog, you're going to be in a good place watching Boy.

Welcome to Waihau Bay, New Zealand, where 11-year-old Alamein (a remarkably expressive James Rolleston, cast from a pool of extras a couple days before production) is known as "Boy" by his Maori family and friends. He lives with his grandmother Nan (Mavis Paenga), little brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) and multiple tiny cousins, headed up by his age-equivalent cousin Kelly (an eye-rolling observer of male behavior and my personal style icon, Cherilee Martin).

"Welcome to my interesting world!" announces Boy during a school report—indeed

Boy has a small group of friends but he's a fantasist in a population of realists, and he's not going to win any popularity contests, even at his tiny country school. Mostly he dreams about Michael Jackson and his killer dance moves, the pretty girl in his class, Chardonnay (RickyLee Waipuka-Russel), who barely acknowledges him, and his namesake and father (Waititi), who's serving jail time but in Boy's mind, is an incredible dancer, combat veteran and all-around action hero. Rolleston has that remarkable star quality of behaving as if the camera isn't there, yet he innately and honestly knows how to play to the camera.

Boy's incomparable cousin Kelly makes the most of domestic goddess role-playing while barely uttering a word.

It's beautiful in New Zealand and if the kids are having a tough time, no one's complaining. There's a social network in place and no one has money to lord over anyone else—just various Michael Jackson accoutrements and maybe some height to lord over the smaller kids. Maybe some underhanded drug dealing. Boy's rich fantasies of a hero father help make up for the loss of his mother, whose demise is deftly and tragically shown through slivers of flashbacks, much like dimly remembered childhood memories.

Boy's brother Rocky is even more socially isolated, spending his time drawing, honing his super powers, which spill out of his mind and onto his crayon-colored notebook pages (the use of animation for Rocky's imaginings is in keeping with a visually attuned child), and talking to his mother's grave. 

When Grandma Nan travels for a couple of weeks to a far-away funeral service, leaving Boy in charge of the household, trouble arrives in the form of his father and two dimwitted jail cohorts—a would-be biker gang without any bikes. Or sense. Or morals.

His father's multiple failed money-making schemes and slim grasp on reality does nothing to damper Boy's rapturous worship of this dunderheaded anti-parent. Even as his father continuously disappoints everyone around him, Boy simply forms new fantasies to top the old.

Waititi's foolish Alemein rarely if ever admits to his mistakes and therefore learns little or nothing. This is actually refreshing in a movie about growing up. And how realistic in scope. Those of us disappointed by failed authority figures were bright enough to know that some adults were messed up, unable to change, and were just not going to be there for you in any capacity. The kids in this film know that too. These kids are hyper-bright but Boy's intelligence is trumped by his need for a parent. That's real too.

Alamein Sr. is not completely devoid of charm. Some mostly inappropriate gifts are passed out from the trunk of his car, including sparklers, roller skates and some fine lady's garments. The kids grasp these new items like magical totems, as kids will do. Pop culture of the 1980s inspires some memorable names among Boy's friends, including brother and sister Dallas and Dynasty, who have their own struggles as they watch Boy struggle, shaking their heads at his cluelessness.

Boy plans to join his dad's gang and only after multiple and escalating disappointments is he able to see his dad as the flawed person he is. This is a sad trajectory which leaves reverberations throughout the household and small community. Reality is a slap in the face, a reckoning, a conversation at a grave-site.

How do kids survive this harsh world?—with help from reliable people. They don't even have to be all that outwardly loving either—just there for you when you need them. Also, Michael Jackson dance moves help. Boy learns to face his reality with openness and honesty. That can hurt. Thank God cousin Kelly is walking around the homestead in that fur jacket and cocktail dress, because that helps too. At least, it helps me.

Be sure to stay for the closing credits. This film is a joy from start to finish. I love the kids so much. Their lilting speech patterns delivered in perfectly flat deadpan is my favorite music at the moment. Hail!


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hang in there, Hillary

Meryl Streep (seen here in Postcards from the Edge) will be voting for Clinton

Election Day's coming!

Whether you're nasty or a bad hombre (I'm both), every vote counts! So ¡VOTO, HOMBRES, VOTO!

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Movies You May Have Missed - "What We Do in the Shadows" (2014)

What We Do in the Shadows arrived from Netflix, causing me some puzzlement—a vampire film I had put in my queue, but why? There are so many vampire films. At this point, without making a grand announcement, I had quietly retired from watching any more. Upon reading the Netflix envelope summary, I realized that Jermaine Clement from the charmingly deadpan HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" was a co-writer/director/star in the ensemble cast of New Zealanders—therefore, this was comic in nature. But who I wondered is co-writer/director/star Taika Waititi?

After finally watching this pseudo-documentary of New Zealand's underground world of irritable vampire housemates, I'm pleased to report that Taika Waititi is my new favorite actor/director. He's known in New Zealand and on the festival circuit for writing, directing and starring in a truly wonderful semi-biographical film called Boy, which I'll write about in another post. But since my introduction to him was this accidental DVD rental and it's almost All Hollows Eve, here's a brief review of this clever, dark and mirthful character study. If the characters happened to be creatures of the night.

This genius, Taika Waititi
And now:

An anonymous documentary crew is given safeguarded permission by a Wellington household of vampire roommates to film their undead lives, the highlights and petty squabbles. I know what you're thinking: oh, another one of these mockumentary things. But this is a clever film, so go with it—it works.

Waititi is Viago, a fussy but good-natured dandy in a ruffled blouse who would like his vampire friends to honor the household chore wheel at least once every five years. Which is imperative as he has the unfortunate habit of hitting messy arteries when he brings his dates home. He leads us through his shadowy abode, introducing us to his roommates.

There's Deacon (Jonny Brugh), the "bad boy" of the house, who refuses to wash dishes or pay rent.

Deacon performing his "sexy dance"

And Vladislav (Clement), a "bit of a pervert" with a torture dungeon who's lost some of his vampire mojo since battling with his nemesis, known as "The Beast."

Among purposefully bad Eastern-European accents, Vladislav's is perhaps the baddest
 And the basement-dweller, Petyr (Ben Fransham), who, despite his bucktoothed fangs, is scary as shit. "There's a lot of stuff down here," coos Viago, delicately stepping around the bloody debris strewn about Petyr's horrific lair, "Oh, a spinal column!"

Also of note, Jackie (Jackie van Beek), Deacon's aging human servant, urgently vying for immortality because she argues,"At this point, I'm the best I'll ever be." Deacon makes vague assurances before sending her out to get his dry cleaning.

Dumb bloke Nick (played with deadpan genius by Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) shows up for a dinner party of would-be virgin victims. The blend of horror-comedy becomes much more acute from that point on.

Stuart Rutherford, a non-actor (on the left), plays Nick's ubiquitous friend Stu

Nick and his ever-present and even more deadpan friend Stu, a systems analyst, change the centuries-old household dynamic, bringing it into the modern age. Suddenly local nightclubs full of drunken dancing youth are available due to Nick's doorman connections (doormen who wouldn't invite the vampires into their clubs had previously stymied former attempts at wild night-life in the worst way). Stu brings technology into the house, introducing the New World to the Old. And a host of quick gags involving our stupid online obsessions.

But Nick's thoughtless man-about-town presence is disruptive, as anyone who's ever shared living quarters with insecure misfits will recognize. The unity of these dopey blood-thirsty sociopaths is threatened.

An astonishingly intelligent display of comic stupidity from Gonzalez-Macuer

The offhand tone of this supernatural world is a fresh look at our collective vampire-film consciousness. Scenes of Old World demons struggling through social mishaps in modern-day Wellington were improvised from a script by Clement and Waititi, and edited down to its comic essence to create an absurd but believable world unto itself.

I'm enamored with the visual effects that never call attention to themselves other than to enhance this comic world. Vampire arguments devolve into brutal battles splaying over all surface-areas of the house, even involving aerial maneuvers in the silliest possible configurations. And yet the darkness, the blood, the shrugged-off homicidal tendencies, the macabre montages of historic monster illustrations set to a musically knowledgeable soundtrack, make for some genuinely scary moments before another well-timed gag kicks in. 

If you're a Shaun of the Dead / American Werewolf in London kind of horror-comedy appreciator, then you absolutely must see this film. I insist. 

A gem of a vampire comedy.


Monday, October 03, 2016

MASS MoCA - Museum For The Ages

MASS MoCA, a museum for the ages — as in all ages, all backgrounds, all art, all the time. I cannot do justice to the archaic splendor, the immensity, the strange and wonderful humor and imaginative bizarro nature of this former 19th-century mill and factory complex, now a brick fortress full of sounds and sights that are too big and too playful to happen anywhere else. And where is this place? In North Adams, Massachusetts, I'm glad you asked.

Keith grew up in a little house up the street from North Adams, in the tiny town of Clarksburg, population 1,500 at the time. Meanwhile, throughout the 1970s, North Adams' diminutive but historic downtown disintegrated as factories closed and jobs disappeared. Half a block of older buildings were razed for "urban renewal" and the remaining dirt lot was used for the annual carnival for a number of years before finally becoming a Kmart, which has since gone under. This lack of long-term city planning sucker-punched the remaining smaller retailers. It was bleak.

As usual art saved the day. Well, in my dreams it does. I'm leaving out the 13 years it took from conception to completion of the museum to finally open in the former Sprague Electric Company quarters (half-a-million square feet in use at the moment and still expanding), and then to save the day. Which it's doing, slowly, but it's a struggle with our non-manufacturing economy to contend with, outside of art.

Anyway, MASS MoCA opened in 1999 and because we usually traveled twice a year to Western Massachusetts to visit family, we got to see a lot of it. This area is located in the northern region of The Berkshires and if you're looking for a beautiful cultural hot-spot, The Berkshires is where you should direct your attention—also, I hope you like foliage, because there's that in abundance. After Keith's mom moved to the coast several years ago, we weren't able to visit MASS MoCA much until this summer and it's just as enjoyable and mind-boggling as ever.

The buildings are still crumbly, layered with historical textures. More dark corridors are in use, full of curated sounds as you walk through. And there's some lovely settings to eat and drink, with a brewery (which includes home-brewed root beer and that is a treat), cafe, and restaurant on site. The gift store sits in the lobby and doesn't whack you over the head with consumerism, selling useful art supplies and imaginative book selections. It's tops, I tell you, tops!


I'm a total art weirdo, but you don't have to be to enjoy this place. MASS MoCA hosts outdoor concerts of the underground-radio of the 80s and 90s variety every year. Wilco, Magnetic Fields and Dinosaur Jr. are just a few of many bands who have played here. We once saw Fritz Lang's Metropolis on the big screen while the Alloy Orchestra banged and dinged and screeched away in fine form. There's educational programs for kids, modern dance, video installations and memorably peculiar films throughout the gallery. And massive head-tripping weirdness, but no pretentiousness. If anything, it's a surreal alternative universe within a factory complex that's retained its original form.

Some photos and thoughts in no special order from our visit in August this year.

Some video and images from "Explode Every Day: An Inquiry Into the Phenomena of Wonder," This exhibit was curated by Denise Markonish and features 23 artists who brought their "A" game.

Charles Lindsay's "Field Station" installation confounds and amuses with its joined-together space junk, lab equipment, natural sounds, shiny gold sculpture thingies, glowing light and humor.

Tom Friedman - The Wall. It's a big wall, full of embedded-looking stuff.

To the left (not pictured) is a tiny mounted lint-ball, for contrast I suppose

Chris Taylor's basketball, cups, pencils and elastic bands are all made of glass.

No one wants a flat basketball, except maybe if it's made of glass

Yes, this is made of glass

They're glass, I tell you!

Alex Da Corte's mind-expanding "Free Roses" is a labyrinth of mesmerizing neon wonderment and perplexing camp moments with so many daily artifacts of modern life, especially if you're a child of the 70s or 80s. It's a freaky-deaky world we live in, Da Corte's just constructing a dark personal parallel universe with it.

This is a submarine sandwich (or "grinder") made of vinyl materials, or some-such

Elements of Wizard of Oz, artificial flowers, toaster waffles and so much more

Many objects in this room were based on remembered objects from the house Da Corte grew up in

Why so ominous, huge box of tissues?

This group of visitors showed up with their dog, which immediately wanted to check out the mechanical Akita haunting its endless perimeter, like Nicole Simpson's poor beast. This (live) dog is an art observer of the first order.
Intense dog-to-"dog" scrutiny

The massive three-floor Sol Lewitt retrospective is a playhouse of his long career as conceptual artist with a populist approach. These walls, divided from early, mid- and late-periods of Lewitt's obsessive quest for big walls of line, color and form, were carried out by a team of some 60 artists and interns, following his instructions. As a composer to an orchestra, Lewitt drew up the plans, and a team of artisans carried it out. If you miss it this year, don't worry, it's up for the next 24 years, so you can put it in your calendar.

Federico Uribe's "Here Comes The Sun" is the natural world recreated with our cast-off materials.

Suitcase donkey with bullet-casing bunny passenger

Leather horsey (my title)

Bullet casings lion's head

Richard Nonas' "The Man in the Empty Space" is a minimalist work featuring railroad ties and hulking metal sculptures within the museum's largest gallery. We usually run around in there no matter what the exhibit (it's basically a football-field of art), but during a record-breaking heat wave, this was the most painfully sweltering gallery space, so we just took it in from a mezzanine viewpoint.

Note: the incredible artist Nick Cave will have a no doubt astounding beaded/object-oriented installation in this massive space, starting NEXT WEEK. Somehow, I have to get back to see that.

This is a hallway with a two-story model of the Empire State Building to show some scale of the next potential phase of North Adams awesomeness: Extreme Model Railroad (and Contemporary Architecture Museum). This is a proposal to bring one of those phenomenal model railroads that take up vast amounts of space and contain worlds within worlds of railroad diorama wonder. There's a fantastic model of the railroad museum (still in fundraising and planning modes) at the foot of this large-scale building model. If art alone can't save a town, then it's up to model railroads to finish what art started.

There's so much more. Just go.

Man, that's a lot of art

Note: I did not resize or alter these images in Photoshop (except for that close-up of the doggie). What you see is what my camera saw.

Shh! We're listening to art (Julianne Swartz' "Bone Scores") which has a buzzy humming quality