Monday, January 26, 2015


"Foxcatcher" is a tragic creepshow, a sorrowful horror movie, a sad, scary suspense thriller that grimly unwinds with increasing fateful urgency towards its unstoppable, heartbreaking end. 

Steve Carell, who usually plays sad-sack comic roles, plays John E. ("Eagle") DuPont, one of the richest men in the world, scion of the DuPont family, a sad, damaged man-child with Mommy issues, too much money, a social awkwardness that is heartbreaking, self esteem that's delusional, and a mind that's unsettled and unraveling.  Carell's performance is astonishing, his face nearly unrecognizable under a new nose and teeth.  But it's his performance that keeps the viewer riveted by the man at the awful center of this sad drama -- a clumsy, cringe-worthy, socially disconnected, decidedly odd man, his body movements slack and  disorganized, his flat, affectless face and inappropriate conversation inept and disconcerting. For the viewer, Carell's behavior becomes increasingly alarming since anyone familiar with the story knows that this is a tale that is fated to end badly.  But because nobody in the theatre knows just exactly when that will be, the suspense builds to an unnerving level.

The other two players in this tragic troika, are Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively.  As presented, they too are damaged, trouble souls whose ambitions and dreams and emotional needs were ripe for DuPont's picking.  Initially Mark, a needy man resentful being in the shadow of his older brother, is lured to Foxcatcher Farms, the DuPont estate, by DuPont, who fashions himself a coach and "leader of men," and who's built an elaborate wrestling training camp, created "Team Foxcatcher," and wants to become the premier center for all US wrestling teams.

Initially, the relationship between Mark, DuPont and the formation of the "Team Foxcatcher" goes well, with Mark winning at the World events and everyone working towards the 1988 Olympics.  Eventually, Mark's older brother is lured to join the enterprise.  He uproots his family and moves them to Foxcatcher Farms to join his brother and the team as a coach. It is a deadly Fata Morgana for both of them.

"Foxcatcher" is one of those films that's difficult to watch because the viewer is as helplessly trapped in its relentless narrative as are the characters -- no way out, this tragedy must play out to the end.  But Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo's  amazing performances makes the horrifying trip well worth it. It won't be a surprise if there isn't  Oscar gold here for  these remarkable performances and for Director Bennett Miller for creating such a powerful, haunting, well made film.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Tipsy Great Vine Gets Righted

The Roger’s Red Great Grape Vine was getting so big and the fence posts so rotten, that it was threatening to tip the whole fence over.  So, the vine was pruned back rather severely.


My friend and neighbor, Phil, who knows how to fix things properly, arrives.


The fence is braced and the post holes are dug.


The tall metal new posts are inserted and pounded into place. When the lattice or the fence itself needs replacing, the poles will still serve as a quasi arbor to support the vine’s arms.


And braced with metal straps.


The concrete is mixed and dumped.


Below is a shot of the highly skilled expertise and critical technical assistance I brought to this whole project.



VOI LA!  Now I wait for rain and soon The Great Vine will awaken and spread her glorious leaves all over a sturdy , upright  fence. And I will dream of savoring sips of fierce, intense, ruby-red grape juice come summer.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Los Osos Woof-Woof?

LOCAC's Thursday night meeting had an update on the "Dog Park."  If you've driven by the property at Pine and LOVR you'll have seen a large sign, "Future Home of Dog Park," or some such.  Dog park for Los Osos?  Really?

Well, maybe.  The property's representatives (actually a group of investors) wish to develop the property and build 11 homes.  As you know, developing anything in this neck of the woods requires a laundry list of hoops to jump through and, being Los Osos, two of the biggest are: 1) water and 2) "mitigation." (That darned pesky Dune Snail, among other critters.)

In short, the deal for developers is to give up A in order to get B.  You turn 5 acres over to "the public" and we'll let you develop Y acres. Hence the dog park.

However, being Los Osos, there's one more hook in the equation:  Water.  In this case, the developers must find X number of water offsets/credits to equal water use by the 11 new homes they want to build in the PZ. That means retrofitting X number of homes and counting the gallons saved and buying water rights/credits from, say, unbuildable property or doing whatever gets them that guestimated average household water use number. 

Hard to do in regular, normal times, but in a drought, in a town with serious overdraft issues?  And a drought that might be heading towards a ban on all outdoor watering if we don't get enough rains by April? 

Which is why the Dog Park has been in a Sit/Stay for several years now. 

On the bright side, the LOCAC Board was enthusiastic about the project, with new CSD Boardmember Lou Tornatsky declaring that the whole project could be a happy public effort that would bring the community together. 

Having been a part of creating the first dog park in the county (El Chorro Dog Park) some twenty-four years ago, I know enough to temper that presumed "volunteer enthusiasm" with knowledge of just how hard a lift such a project can be.  How it will require a small dedicated band of people willing to take on the huge amount of work involved since "enthusiastic volunteers" have a predictable habit of being "busy" when the time comes to actually show up and do the work.  Plus, the real work begins after the park is built, since dog parks require constant maintenance and that requires hard work by an organized group willing to carry the park, often single-handedly.

Which is why I asked Supervisor Bruce Gibson whether SLO County Parks (now with a new director and now a new "stand-alone" department) could take the "donated" property ASAP, let the dog park building commence via volunteer, private effots, then Parks could develop the rest of the acreage later.  The answer was NO. County Parks is on such a tight budget and stretched so thin that they cannot accept any "free" land since they don't have the money to manage it.  Which is a profound tragedy for this County since I'm sure there have been other opportunities to acquire free gifts of land for parks and they've had to be turned down for lack of the parks budget.  Which begged the (unasked) question of Supervisor Gibson:  So why doesn't the BOS vote to increase the Park's budget? 

For now, there the Dog Park for Los Osos sits.  In limbo.  If the developers' offset plans don't pencil out, that may well be the end of the whole idea.  So, if you're part of a local group interested in helping to create an off-leash dog park, I'd suggest praying for rain, praying the developers can find those water credits/offsets and in the meantime, it wouldn't hurt to actually get formally organized and start making plans so if things suddenly pan out, you'll be ready.

Monday, January 19, 2015

American Sniper

Director  Clint Eastwood's new movie, "American Sniper," is not for the faint of heart.  It's a powerful, moving, taught, unflinching film, with battle sequences as tense as any in "The Hurt Locker." And Bradley Cooper, as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, will break your heart.

The movie is based on a memoir by Kyle, with Scott McEwan and Jim DeFelice.  And while the book focused more on the training and technicalities of being a sniper, Eastwood is after far bigger game with this film and has returned to the themes he dealt with in his earlier masterpiece, "Unforgiven."

In that film, Eastwood played a man forced out of his self-imposed pacifism by his search for justice.  And in one famous scene,  a young gunsel, whining about a pointless, undignified killing, concludes, "Well, I guess he had it coming."  To which Eastwood unflinchingly replies, "We all have it coming, kid."

And with that same unblinking eye, Eastwood takes an unsparing look at the business of killing, the business of war, whether it's a silent sniper's bullet coming out of nowhere, or the random, indifferent bullet flying down a dirty street in a fire fight to kill for no reason but dumb, blind bad luck.  A roulette wheel of death with everyone in the killing zone caught in the cross-hairs.

And at the end, Eastwood leaves it to the viewer to ponder the terrible cost paid by even the most lauded and celebrated of killers. And the pointless irony of Kyle's death--killed at a shooting range by a troubled Iraq veteran  he was trying to help -- the kind of cheap karmic ending that Eastwood wisely doesn't explore.  Instead he ends the film with a brief informative coda and real-life footage of Kyle's massive and well attended memorial service, and lets the audience make of it what they will.

While Eastwood's overall theme is men at war, the power of the film comes from the close focus on Kyle.  He is portrayed as a man raised with a strong code to be not a sheep or a wolf but a sheepdog, a  dog who stands up to protect and guard.  As a SEAL, he finds his true home in a profession that fits his core.  But, like so many others who followed his path, he was unprepared for the cost he would pay for that choice.  Since the audience can see this journey through his eyes, it is in  Chris Cooper's splendid performance that the film finds it's heart. And because Eastwood refuses all sentimentality and cheap drama, Kris's life and sad death resonates outward to include all soldiers who serve and suffer.    


Sunday, January 18, 2015