Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review: The Descendants (2011)

The buzz amongst the critics and Hollywood types in-the-know that wander around Bernie-wood is that George Clooney will be in the running for Best Actor come Oscar time. I was trying to remember which other movies he has so elevated. Certainly O Brother, Where Art Thou. Maybe Three Kings? Oceans Eleven was meh. I did not see Up In The Air - I found the book a bit torpid. So here in this 2011 release, starring as the much troubled Matt King, Clooney has found a career defining role. With little deference to the soundtrack of O Brother, Matt King IS the Man of Constant Sorrow.

Without giving away too much: His wife is in a coma. He is the linchpin in a family trust that must decide on how to divide a little slice of paradise in Hawaii. His daughters are on the road to the borstal. His father-in-law (in a brilliant cameo by Robert Forster) is a curmudgeon. You can feel the weight building on Matt King's shoulders as his past, present and future close in. And then there is that slimy realtor he needs to deal with... It's all a bit like The Police song On Any Other Day. Claustrophobic to say the least.

Based on a 2008 novel of the same name, The Descendants plot is very good and the acting excellent. Especially Kings daughters and stoner boyfriend. The scenes around the Hawaiian islands make you want to get on Expedia. (I left the cinema humming Tiny Bubbles). The film was directed by Alexander Payne, his long awaited follow-up to the excellent Sideways (2004).

The movie theater was packed but if I ever have to sit beside the jackwagon to my left who yakked throughout the film - you will read about me in the paper.

I give The Descendants 4.5 out of 5.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The 2011 edition of Halloween has come and gone and this time the pumpkin was a hatchet job... or is that a cleaver?

There was the usual dearth of candy and that for which the boys showed disdain was dispatched by moi. Butterfingers, Whoppers, Snickers, Reeses Peanutbutter Cups... wait until the dentist sees me.

The mild weather meant some costumes were shed along the way and there was a great turn-out of trick or treaters, I would say some were bused in.

Book Review: The Plot Against America

Published in 2004 "The Plot Against America" is a what-if historical novel written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Roth. Great title, great cover, great premise... but I think he could have done even more with the subject matter.

The Plot is this: factually, Charles Lindbergh, the famed pilot, was often accused in the 1930's of being a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. In Roth's novel, Lindbergh becomes President of the USA in 1940, defeating FDR. The impact on the Jewish community is examined, as the Roth family is literally pulled and dragged in four different directions. An older brother is brainwashed down south, a nephew flees to Canada and then Europe to fight the Germans, an aunt takes up with an older Rabbi and heads to DC. Philip's father rails against Hitler and Lindbergh and almost loses his life. And Philip's mother is constantly in tears as the family is broken up, while all the time President Lindbergh buzzes around in his plane, keeping America from helping the Allies fight the Nazi's.

It was thrilling until the last couple of chapters when it became a bit muddled. I would have like to have seen the Nazi-fication of the US expounded. It covers mostly 1940-42 and would have been even more incredible if carried beyond Pearl Harbour (or does Pearl Harbour even happen in this case?). A very good read. I look forward to picking up some of Roth's other works.

Monday, November 14, 2011


On a desolate stretch of flat four lane highway about 40 miles east of Amarillo is the hamlet of Goodnight. If you did not know to look for it, you would certainly miss it. There is little more than a railroad crossing and a historical marker commemorating the last residence of Charles Goodnight, one of the true legends of Texas and the West.

Born March 5th, 1836 (the day before the Alamo fell to Santa Anna) in Illinois, the Goodnights came to Texas in 1846 and at 21, "Charlie" joined the Texas Rangers. These were the times of fierce battles with the Comanche and Goodnight was part of the troop that located Cynthia Ann Parker (a white girl abducted by the Comanche and who later became one of them). Not content with being a scout and Indian fighter, Goodnight signed up on the Confederate side during the Civil War.

From these experiences came the plan to supply the Army Forts as far north as Colorado and Wyoming with Texas beef. This was the era before barbed wire, of open range, where the Spanish introduced Longhorn roamed freely. Goodnight and his partner Oliver Loving practically invented the large scale cattle drive, blazing trails through hostile Indian territory, enduring storms, stampedes and drought. Sound familiar? The remarkable heart-wrenching scene in Lonesome Dove where Colonel Call brings Gus's remains all they way from Montana to Texas... That was Goodnight hauling the body of his friend Oliver Loving "home" to Weatherford, TX from New Mexico. Larry McMurtry's epic was no work of fiction.

And the Danny Glover character "Deets"? That was Goodnight's right hand man Bose Ikard, also buried in Weatherford with the memorable epitaph "Bose Ikard served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches, splendid behavior."

Wow! That was the real West!

In 1876, with the Army money paid for Texas beef in hand, Goodnight, with an investment from Irishman John Adair, founded the JA Ranch. Located around the Palo Duro Canyon in the southern part of the Texas Panhandle, the JA grew to be an enormous spread encompassing over 1.3 million acres and grazing 100,000 head of livestock. Goodnight was a renowned judge of cattle and horses, and worked to select and improve the breeds of both. He made peace with the Indians, preserved a herd of buffalo, started a college... The man was larger than life. In 1887, he pulled out of the partnership and later an ill-advised investment in Mexican silver mines in Mexico cost Goodnight his fortune. He died not quite broke but certainly not rich.

The JA Brand:

Goodnight did not have any heirs; ironically his second wife (whom he married at the ripe old age of 91 - she was 26) was also a Goodnight - they met as pen pals due to the same last name. Charles Goodnight died in the year of the Big Crash (1929), aged 93. His legacy is the legend around his name. He lived in one of the most exciting eras imaginable: the push Westward, the Indian wars, Civil War, cattle drives, huge ranches, the coming of the railroad, telegraph, electricity and the auto.

His biography was published in 1936, written by J. Evetts Haley, who knew Goodnight well and "faced the flow of tobacco juice and profanity" in order to capture all the epic stories. Goodnight was no wallflower and his directness was well-known. The resulting book "Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman" is an excellent read.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Last few blooms of fall

In the bizarro world of Texas weather, fall can be measured in hours. We went from hundred degree heat in late September to frost by Nov 4th. In between, the garden caught a few decent rain showers and perked up a bit again. But the short cold snap will likely end the flowers run - out of the furnace and into the frostbite.