I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Movie Review

I tend not to write movie reviews.  There are very few movies that I feel I can contribute any meaningful opinion to, and I don't watch very many movies in any case.

However, I'm short on blogfodder at the moment, and The Grey brought up enough stuff to think about that I think I can talk about it.

Note. Here be spoilers.

As movie premises go, it's one of the basic setups, albeit the one probably least done in hollywood. Man (well, men) vs. Nature, with an undercurrent of Man vs. Self.  A plane carrying a bunch of petroleum company employees, including a wolf killer played by Liam Neeson, goes down in the middle of nowhere, cold edition. They must fight to survive against the elements, and the wolves.

I don't mind saying this. Folks, wolves scare me. A lot. They are highly intelligent, better suited by far to their environment than we are, and there are usually a bunch of them. Add in territorial behavior, hunger, and a set of powerful natural weapons, they are the sort of creature that really should scare people.  Many of the oldest nightmares I can remember focus around wolves and their supernatural counterpart, werewolves, and I'm wary even of their domesticated brethren in dogs.

That being said, I had a problem with the wolves being the Big Bad Problem in this movie. Yes, wolves are dangerous, but the assorted other things throughout, like exposure, hunger, and exhaustion would probably have been more dangerous than a single wolf pack. I felt both like too much emphasis was placed on the wolves as problems, and that they became more horror-movie monster than realistic wolves.

I don't claim to be a wildlife expert, and if I am wrong, someone please correct me, but it seems to me that a wild wolf with little to no experience with humans will be wary, especially with fire involved. Having them turn up the first night and immediately start hunting the humans (at one point pouncing directly onto a large fire) seems to be stretching things. The cinematics also treated them more as monsters, making heavy use of the jump scare and the extreme close up of bared teeth and matted fur.

For all that the wolves didn't act quite like wolves, the people at times were just criminally stupid. Neeson put in a very good performance as John Ottway, but the character just doesn't act in an intelligent manner at times. Despite improving weapons at various points in the movie, those weapons are notably absent in the subsequent scenes. He also discards his rifle, despite it's only visible fault being a broken stock. At one point he, supposedly something of a wolf-expert by experience, simply tries to run. First off, he should know he can't outrun a wolf. Second, he should know that wolves instinctively chase fleeing prey. Third, the best success they had at avoiding the wolves was by standing their ground, making noise, and trying to look big (coincidentally being standard advice should one come across a predator in the wild.)

I suppose it makes sense to end the review with the ending. Everyone else having already died, by assorted causes, though mostly act of wolf, Neeson gives up, and spends a few minutes going through the wallets they had collected from the dead, while sitting in the middle of the wolf den. For some unknown reason, the wolves hang back and let him have his introspective moment and get some last minute weaponry handy before attacking.  Awfully respectful of them, I must say. Then of course Ottway dies. (Well, implied. It cuts to black as the wolf attacks)

I think movies where man doesn't always win are artistically powerful and incredibly dissatisfying. It makes a wonderful point about how nature is not this beneficent mother Gaea, and how weak humans are in it's face, but it is profoundly frustrating to sit through two hours of gut-wrenching tension only to have the humans lose. Even the internal struggles Ottway is going through concerning his wife's death, and his relationship with his dead father don't seem to come to any resolution, with the same words he used before almost committing suicide at the beginning of the movie being his last words before being nommed by wolves. A couple of other characters go through some modicum of personal growth before they snuff it, but Ottway doesn't seem to, and he dies in a weird mix of despair and defiance. I walked away from the tv feeling like the only point of the last two hours had been to pump up adrenaline and make the point that nature kills.

The movie does an excellent job of building tension, but absolutely nothing to relieve it. I would not recommend this movie.

EDIT: One parting thought. Don't get stuck in the northern emptiness. It won't end well for you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Heeeere fishy fishy fishy

As fishermen go, I am distinctly in the amateur class. Despite now having an even dozen fishing rods, much of the minutia and technique is lost on me. I haven't ever really had a teacher or mentor for such things, and while I can cast and work lines and lures adequately, I am still in the range of flailing around like an idiot compared to people who actually know what they're doing.

Up until very recently, I was pretty much solely interested in bass fishing, with a bit of panfish thrown in for good measure. I, like many, had thought fly fishing too difficult and expensive, trolling for pike and walleye seemed dull and not a good test of skill, and being an Illinoisian, ocean fishing is a bit difficult.

I recently took out a subscription to Field & Stream magazine though, and while it informed me just how much I'd have to learn, it did make me rather more interested in fly fishing. While yes, high end fly equipment is mind-bendingly, jaw-droppingly expensive, low end, functional, entry level gear is quite affordable, and the sport is simply fascinating. It is quite different than bass fishing, seeming to be more about understanding the fish than being obnoxious and annoying enough to prompt a bite.

As the astute reader will have guessed, I bought myself a basic fly kit. After a few false starts based on bewilderingly incomprehensible instructions that came with the kit, my uncle (for lack of trying to remember exactly how he's related to me. Lots of family up that way...) took me out and showed me the proper form. I have a lot of bass-fishing habits to overcome it seems. After a few hours of flinging a piece of yarn around, my great uncle took me to his trout club for some hands on experience, where I promptly did essentially zero casting.  I was using a wet fly, which are typically fished downstream under the surface. Considering the very narrow nature of the stream, my technique was simple. Drop the fly in the water, play out line, and twitch merrily along the way.

Apparently, it worked. I came home with 5 beautiful rainbow trout. They were tasty.

This is probably a sign that I have yet another expensive hobby.


I am an addict.

Another thing about this whole experience that I found interesting was that this was the first time I have ever killed my dinner. In Florida, the captain killed and cleaned the catch, and in all previous meat-eating experiences, someone else did the dirty work.  Fishing with my great uncle, he showed me how to dispatch one fish, and I did the others. He cleaned one of them, and I did the rest. It was a weird feeling. On the one hand, I am quite fond of fish in their alive state. I have more fish tanks than perhaps is reasonable, and am getting more (see expensive hobbies.) Up to this point, I have been a strict catch-and-release fisherman.

There is an undeniable honesty to catching and killing it yourself. It is easy to walk into a grocery store and pick up a piece of shrink-wrapped flesh. It's clean, sterile, and easy.  Catching your own dinner is not. Cleaning a fish is messy. Catching them in the first place is a challenge. Fishing for dinner forces you to face the reality that in order for a human to eat, something else must die. After this, I think I'm both more aware of and more comfortable with this fact. And besides. Fresh caught trout is delicious.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bad Juju

I think we may have finally broken a curse.

One of my high school roommates and I have been trying to go shooting together for a couple years now. The first time 'round, my dad simply couldn't get the time to take us to the range. Simple enough problem. Second time, we couldn't get a signed permission slip from his parents in time to make the trip. Dad is highly safety conscious, and requires any under-age shooter to bring along written permission. Simplifies things legally as well, come to that. Still not a major problem, but more difficult than just finding time.

The next two tries were remarkable in that I have literally never seen any range as crowded as our range was. Not only was every one of the 18 stations filled (a 75 ft range too. Not exactly prime shooting real estate for most places, though golden from Chicago standards) but there was at least an hour and a half wait. Being on a somewhat limited time frame on both occasions, we had to bag it without firing a single shot.

There may have been another attempt or two in there, but I don't recall, as my memory can be a touch squirrelly. By this time though, both of us were getting frustrated both at our apparent inability to go shooting, and the progressively more irritating obstacles.

As I mentioned in passing in my last post, I just spent a couple weeks in northern Michigan for some rest and relaxation. (Theoretically, that is) This friend of mine is currently studying at Michigan State, and while East Lansing is a bit out of the way, a very nice, free range was conveniently close to his apartment, so we decided to make a detour for some shooting.

The glitches started with transportation.  Dad has a very small car, as most of the time his commute is all of 4 minutes. A Mitsubishi Spyder is a really fun car to drive around, but not the most practical for road trips. It also can't fit rifles in the trunk.  Add two tall guys and luggage for two weeks to the normal range paraphernalia, and you have a fairly crowded situation. Not the sort of thing that is amenable to adding another person to the mix, certainly.

He luckily was able to secure transportation with a friend who had a car. Unluckily, the only time his friend was able to get him there was at about two, a full hour before earliest possible arrival. Being determined to not let anything get in the way of this attempt, he decided to just stick it out and wait in the parking lot.

The curse apparently disapproved of our working around this obstacle, so of course we didn't manage to leave the house until quite a while after anticipated. Range time was starting to get a little limited, as the range closed at 5, but it was still in doable range of getting there and having about an hour to shoot.

The juju couldn't give up quite that easily though. It's parting shot was, at long last, an attempt on our lives.  As mentioned above, dad has a small car. When a small convertible has a large SUV attempt to make a u-turn through it at 80 mph, the convertible loses.

In a piece of the most idiotic bit of driving I have ever heard of, much less seen, an SUV in the right lane wanted to make a u-turn through one of the 'Authorized Vehicles Only' strips that cross the median.  He slammed on his brakes, forcing the crossover behind him to slam on his brakes and swerve into the left lane, where, inconveniently, we were sitting. At this point, the suv was in the right lane, the crossover in the left, and we were on the shoulder, still at 80 mph. And the suv kept coming.

While the gap in the median is fairly large perpendicularly, the available space is significantly lower when coming in at an angle. In fact, said space was about 6 inches smaller than the width of the car.  I give huge credit to dad for keeping us alive and (relatively) unscathed through that. The left side of the car swiped a pole, shattering the driver's side mirror and spraying glass over us.  We ended up sitting in the median in a shimmering field of broken mirror, with assorted small cuts from flying glass. Most concerningly, a large fragment of glass bounced off my glasses. Had I not been wearing them, I would likely be blind in my left eye today.

As you can perhaps imagine, this shot our travel time to someplace warm that rhymes with bell.

We finally pulled into the range lot at 4:37. There was one last shooting period to the day, so we got my friend situated at the hundred yard line with his preferred introduction to centerfire shooting. A Mosin Nagant. (He asked, don't give me that look) Hot range was called, and in an absolutely classic fashion, he sighted, fired a shot, grinned like a maniac and said, "OW."

Made it through five shots before calling it quits too.

It seems that all that was needed to break the juju was him finally getting to shoot something. On the return trip, we made the same detour without incident, and introduced him to the wonderful world of handguns. Of course, he brought a new type of juju, and managed to jam, well, everything.

I'll still take that over flying shards of glass any day of the week.

In other news, I am back, and I will be posting more. There are lots of things to think about, talk about, and write about, but a northern Michigan vacation is not the time for it. Thanks for reading.