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Showing posts from 2019

Seasonal Shifts: DeGray Lake Resort Island Trail

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My wife, Carrie, and I hit the trails yesterday and took some cool pictures on the DeGray Lake Resort Island Trail. We were not expecting to find so much wildlife. We saw many deer and a fox family lurking near their den.



















Fruit Snacks

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When I was a kid, my family and I would travel from Park Falls to Minocqua, Wisconsin to go shopping. On these trips, I would look out the window when I was not reading. We would drive an hour across State Highway 70 through the scenic Riley Lake Wildlife Management Area, a 1,252 area of bogs, spruce trees, and acidic Muskeg soil. I always distinctly remember the Tamarack bogs, where spindly yellow trees contrasted sharply with the green grass they grew past. Sometimes, I imagined these bogs would overtake the earth, spreading the thin trees across the globe, their full tops seemingly overshadowed by their lank trunks. Yet, somehow, they would overpower, despite great odds. These bogs contrasted sharply with conifer groves of blue spruce trees and balsams. Swatches of poplars were also common, as well as stands of maple and alder thickets. I marveled at the different trees and grasses, and felt an affinity for the boggy landscape. I used to walk through similar bogs with my grandfath…

USA Up All Night, or Why I Watch B-Movies

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Even before I knew I was a film buff, I watched USA Up All Night, which ran from 1989 to 1998 for over 900 episodes on USA Network, learning more about B Movies than I probably ever needed to know as a teenager. I would enthusiastically tune in most Friday and Saturday nights to watch Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Gottfried screen a particular doozy of a b-movie. Before commercial breaks and between the films, they provided humorous commentary on the films and performed in skits. A notable one with Gilbert Gottfried involved him contending for the position of the fifth Ramone.

The films on the show varied in quality and classic status, but many of them were movies that would not have had so prominent a platform on other networks during the time period. Many became cult classics. These films included much of the Troma catalog, including The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Class of Nuke 'Em High (1989). Both of these movies blew my mind as I was unprepared for the low budget film making, levels…

Fears at the Door

Fear felt different when I was a child.

I remember cowering under the covers once after someone knocked on the door in the middle of the night. I could hear faint adult voices. I think I remember my father telling him that he could not stay here. I stayed under the covers shaking with fear.

Another childhood instance of fear occurred when my uncle first told me the urban legend of "The Killer in the Backseat," where a woman driving on a dark road late at night is annoyed by a truck behind her flashing its lights. She stops at a gas station to get away from her pursuer and finds out that there was a man in her back seat with a knife. The person in the truck was only trying to warn her. Of course, certain details of this story are obviously apocryphal, but it serves its purpose of cautioning people to look in the back seat. I still always do when I get in the car. As a child, this story was very scary to me, and I took it at face value.

Another time I felt true fear was when m…

Top Films of 2018: 5-1

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5. Ms. 45 (1981), Abel Ferrara, Image
For some reason, I have watched too many of this sort of film recently. Revenge fantasy movies are a dime a dozen, but Abel Ferrara's film is better than most. It follows Thana, a mute seamstress, who takes revenge on her rapists. The film is highly stylized and the cinematography is spectacular for a low-budget grindhouse feature. Ferrara respects Thana for the most part and allows her to get her revenge in fairly unexpected ways. The film starts off with cascading violence (Thana is raped twice in the first ten minutes), and I expected a much sleazier picture, but Ferrara's attention to detail and the great performance by Zoe Tamerlis Lund, without any dialogue no less, redeems a picture that on paper could read like an eighty-minute exercise in sadism. The brisk pacing and running time no doubt help.

4. The Thin Man (1934), W.S. Van Dyke, MGM
The Thin Man is not a faithful adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel, but it is a…

Top Films of 2018: 9-6

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9. Pather Panchali (1955), Satyajit Ray, Aurora
Satyajit Ray's film is the first part in his Apu trilogy depicting the life of Apurba Roy (Subir Banerjee). This installment covers his childhood growing up in a poor family alongside his sister, Durga (Uma Dasqupta), who is accused of stealing, and his ever-suffering mother, Sarbajaya (Karuna Banerjee). His father, Harihar (Kanu Banerjee), works as a priest but desperately wants to be a poet and a playwright, so he travels to make better money and leaves his family for long periods of time. Ray captures the poverty and reality of life in a small, Bengali community. Shot on location with inexperienced actors and crew, the film is beautifully shot and maintains veracity through techniques similar to Italian neorealism. Its reputation as one of the greatest films ever made is well deserved as it captures a time, a place, and the importance of family.

8. Solaris (1972), Andrei Tarkovsky, Mosfilm
While it is, undoubtedly, the most diffic…

Top Films of 2018: 13-10

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13. Marty (1955), Delbert Mann, United Artists
 Delbert Mann's award-winning Marty is a painful exploration of human nature, in part, due to Ernest Borgnine's acting range. Borgnine is good at playing the heavy or the slapstick character, but here he plays the sensitive and misunderstood title lead. His family and friends are hassling him for not settling down and having a family. He succumbs to their pressure but on his own terms. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, as well as the Palme d'Or.

12. The Other Side of the Wind (2018), Orson Welles, Netflix
 This will probably be an unpopular and polarizing choice, but I really enjoyed Orson Welles' lost film. While not anywhere near the level of his famous pictures, the experimental film holds together despite the cobbled nature of its production. The film's film-within-a-film structure complicates the viewing experience, but does an impressive job sati…

Top Films of 2018: 20-14

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20. All Through the Night (1942), Vincent Sherman, Warner Bros.

A fun Humphrey Bogart romp with a plot that often seems to be coming apart at the seams. It is held together by great performances from Peter Lorre and Kaaren Verne. Humphrey plays a gambler that becomes a detective.
19. The Square (2017), Ruben Ostlund, TriArt

The Square is difficult to describe, and beneath the oddness there is an interesting satirical film. A curator with many personal and professional issues struggles to clean up the damage that has been done to his museum after a controversial video for one of the installations almost ruins his reputation. The cinematography and color palette, as well as a few disturbing performances, lend the film a vibe that is at times humorous and at other times shocking. I recommend this one if you like art films that also provoke discussion.
18. Black Girl (1966), Ousmane Sembene, New Yorker

Black Girl, one of the first sub-Saharan African films,addresses the effect…