Wednesday, May 29, 2013

By The Light Of The Moon...

This past Saturday (the 25th) was the Full Moon for May. Native Americans refer to it as the Full Flower Moon because of the blooming that goes on around this time, and the Full Corn Moon as corn planting begins.

It was one of our cooler nights as of late, so I had to throw on a jacket for my usual Full Moon photo session. The sky was clear, its starry blanket twinkling away. Luna herself was big and bright. Just on perigee, the Moon was at its closest point to the Earth for the month. Spectacular…but then I always think the Moon is spectacular. Especially on cloud free nights like Saturday.

I don’t usually encounter any other people when I go out for one of my night time Moon strolls…for the most part. Oh, a car may pass by as it slowly makes its way through the condos. For the most part I just hear life going on around me; from the murmurings of TVs or neighbors in conversation to the rustle of a nocturnal creature foraging for its dinner. On the rare occasion that I have met someone while peering through my tripod set camera, they have greeted me as they moved past. I can remember only one particular greeting that was followed by a question: what are you doing? After a short and sweet explanation (I actually like it when I don’t meet anyone on my mini-walks as it adds to the relaxing side of my outing), they went on to say that they had seen me out at night before and wondered what the heck I was doing. It seems as if my fellow marsh denizens think me a bit odd. Oh well…I take it as a compliment…hey, at least I’m not boring. Interestingly enough, the Full Moon has long been associated with insane behavior, and sleeplessness. The Full Moon (Luna) influenced the terms “lunacy”, and “Lunatic”. An extension of the crazy behavior during a Full Moon is the fabled existence of lycanthropy, or werewolves.
(I find this one interesting...the Moon looks like some sort of glowing balloon pinned in  the middle of the chaotic looks like it's being pushed in by the protrusions.)

It was such a peaceful night. The shadows were long in the rays from the celestial Fresnel, bathing the quiet marsh in its light. It’s a common occurrence for me to see a particular setting, and imagine how it could be emulated on a stage. With actors. And dialogue. *sigh*…I miss being involved in theater…

I have stated on more than one occasion how I hope to get a camera at some point in the not too distant future that will take decent night shots. One that will allow me to capture the stars in the sky, or the mare of the Moon’s surface. (‘Mare’ are the darkened areas you can see with the naked eye.) That being said, I do like the ethereal quality I get with the camera I currently use. Due to my aversion to using a camera flash, I rely solely on the Moon to light my shots. I really dig the resultant feathery, otherworldly quality I get. The abstraction.

(Edward Lear)
While I was walking around framing up potential shots through the trees, a poem came to mind. I paused for a moment to look up at the expanse of stars, and a lovely silly little poem from my childhood popped into my head…”The Owl and the Pussy-cat”.

Described as a “nonsense Poem”, poet Edward Lear penned the short and sweet story about the escapades of the titular anthropomorphic characters, in 1871. There are two reasons I found for the creation of said poem: 1) he wrote it for the 3 year old daughter of friend poet, John Addington Symonds, and 2) he wrote it for the children of his patron, the 13th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley. Well, whatever his reason for writing it, it’s a charming little tale.

There are a couple of things in the poem that have always raised a question mark for me. The first is the mention of a “runcible spoon”. Many sources say that the word was created for the poem by Lear, and many others say that a “runcible” spoon can best be described as the more modern “spork”. (If you have ever gotten food from KFC, you’ll know what a “spork” is…a combo fork-spoon.) The other mystery mention is that of a “Bong-Tree”, which after some Googling appears to also be a nonsensical product of Lear’s brain. (For those that were thinking it, no…it is not a tree they make bongs out of…)  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Paul Weller...

A big happy 55th to Paul Weller. As I was born in 1964, I wasn't around for the original Mod movement. It wasn't until the late 1970's, that I was introduced to Mods via the Mod Revival. My chief introduction to that world was the music of one of my top 3 favorite bands of all time, The Jam. I became a huge fan of Paul and his music, and have gone right along with him on his musical journey from the Jam, to the Style Council, to his solo work. I have seen him in concert twice, both in the more recent years of his solo tours. Once at The Greek (an outdoor venue in Griffith Park in Los Angeles), and at the Wiltern Theater (also in Los Angeles). Both are among my most memorable concerts.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"The Hunger Games"...

In my usual form, here I am writing a review of a film I waited to see on DVD (which is how I watch 99.9% of movies). This flick is another film based on a book, like many films that are produced these days. For as many decent book-to-film adaptations made, most of them seem to be book-to-film disappointments. Sadly, this review is about a disappointment.

(Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen")
I’m sorry to say that this film, the “Hunger Games”, was a dud for me. Really, I am. To borrow from ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, the hype over this one wasn’t on ten, it was on eleven. I had very high hopes. Unfortunately, the hype didn’t match my inflated expectations. Before I get into the meat of things, I am going to cite another book-to-film series in order to better illustrate some points I am going to be making. The “Harry Potter” series is a prime example of a successful transition from the page to the big screen. No, not every nuance of the books is in the movies, but that is understandable considering the basic length of a standard feature film. I entered into the Potter movie world as someone who had not read any of the books prior. Several of my co-workers at the time (adults) were hooked on them, and raved about how great the books were. For whatever reason, their recommendations didn’t get me to board the ‘Hogwarts Express’. When “Sorcerer’s Stone” came out, I watched it (on DVD), and I did enjoy it. It was cute. Then when “Chamber of Secrets” came out, it was a little darker. Enjoyed it a bit more than the first. Then “Prisoner of Azkaban” came out. The slightly precious hand of Chris Columbus was no longer steering the ship; Alfonzo Cuaron was in charge this time; the darkness of the story came pouring in on ‘Little Whinging’, and I was hooked. I immediately went out and bought the first three books, soaking them up one after the other like a Dementor. I am a huge Harry Potter fan these days, and it is due to the films. Even through the cutesy vibe of “Sorcerer’s Stone”, the world was engaging, and I cared about the characters. I could enjoy the film without having read the book(s). For me that is numero uno on my list of what makes a good book-to-film transition. If a movie goer who has not read the books can follow what’s going on, and be engaged in what’s happening on the screen…can care about the good guys, and even loath the bad guys…that’s a success. That’s how a film should be.

Usually, about this point in my reviews, I give a warning about “spoilers” and then launch into a more detailed review. Give a synopsis with some pros and cons thrown in. I won’t be doing that for this one…tells you how much I enjoyed the film.

(Left: Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen"; Right: Liam Hemsworth as "Gale Hawthorne")
“The Hunger Games” left me feeling peckish, and not in a good way. Aspects of it felt derivative: “Running Man”, “Rollerball”, “Logan’s Run”, “Death Race 2000”. The fact that I was sitting back making mental comparisons to other films I was being reminded of is a huge red flag. The president in this futuristic piece (played by the great Donald Sutherland), says that the games are held to give the somewhat outcast population feelings of hope. The only hope I really had was that things were going to get more engaging, so I could appreciate what was going on.

(Liam Hemsworth as "Gale Hawthrone")
I get the premise of the story. Two teens from each of twelve districts are chosen at “random” to engage in the games. During the competition, the competitors do their best to stay alive so they can be the sole survivor and achieve fame and wealth. Meanwhile, the shallow rich people watch things unfold in lavish television style, betting on who they think will win. I will give the film credit for being visually nice. The sets, costumes, etc. are well done. For the most part the acting is good, too. As a Chris Hemsworth fan, it was good to see his younger sibling, Liam, appear in the film as Katniss’…couldn’t tell if they were best buds or boyfriend-girlfriend…anyway, he plays ‘Gale Hawthorne’. Jennifer Lawrence is decent as ‘Katniss Everdeen’ (even though I didn’t care much for the character).

Now for my main issue with “Hunger Games”. It is the latest book adaptation to make me feel that I needed to have read the book prior to seeing the movie to really be an involved audience member. It was almost as if the producers were assuming everyone watching had read the book, so why bother filling any holes? Why worry about actual character development within the confines of the film? It was destined to make a lot of money off of hype, and the young stars would draw in a young audience, so who cares about some of the finer details? Was it touching that Katniss Everdeen stepped in as tribute when her sister’s name was drawn? Sure, why not. But, with each frame that flashed by, I cared less and less about her. I didn’t even find her that likeable. The only real reaction I had was when Gale (Liam Hemsworth) saw Katniss on TV smooch her companion from her district, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and be visibly hurt at seeing her with another guy.

(Left: Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss Everdeen"; Right: Josh Hutcherson as "Peeta Mellark")
Over all it did not pull me in. Too much hype, not enough substance. I don’t know what it is with Hollywood. With each movie that is released, they seem to be resting too much on the visual and not enough on the content of the story. The plot, the characters…these should be the most important components. Instead, the visuals…costumes, make-up effects, special effects overall…these have taken over from the reason the film was made in the first place. It starts with a story. In this case, with a fantasy world designed to transport the viewer into its domain for the duration of the story. To offer some escapism.

“Hunger Games” the movie didn’t do it for me. When the credits started to role, I didn’t even have a glimmer of a thought about reading the book. I would like to say that I feel differently, but…there ya go. Will I sit through the sequel? Well, my significant other, Glenn, told me that he had watched the film a second time while I was at work. He didn’t think it was that bad the second go round. I suspect he’ll want to watch the second film once it hits DVD. I might sit in for it. It would be nice if I find the second film to be better, so I don’t feel like I wasted the two hours or so…again...stranger things have happened…

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Sunday Stroll & A Woodpecker...

Sunday was Mother’s Day. I am not a mother. No kids. Over the last several years I have had the random friend ask me if I want to have children. My answer is ‘no’. That window closed in my mid-30’s. Let me correct myself there…I ‘closed’ that window in my mid-30’s. Having children is a huge commitment. Mentally, emotionally, financially…in every way possible. I am on the verge of turning 49 this year, and I have had a couple of people ask me if I’m going to have a baby now. Again, no. I am not equipped to raise a child these days. Not only would the pregnancy be hard on me physically (my various ailments), but on that same level I don’t think it would be fair to a child for me to have one now. If nature would allow me to get pregnant, and have a healthy baby, I wouldn’t be able to participate in their life like I once could. Hell, I would be in my upper-60’s when they graduated high school. I would want to be extremely involved and present in their life. Support them in their endeavors. At my age that would be difficult.

I spent a portion of Mother’s Day at work. It was rather busy, but I expected it to be. I spend the bulk of my time as a cashier, so I witnessed the last minute purchases of a number of fathers, husbands, and children wanting to make their wives/mother’s day special. In the craft store I work in we have a large floral department. We carry a wide variety of faux flora, and much of it is really pretty…for fake flowers. Among the customers were a number of customers around my age and older who were buying flowers for their mothers. Mothers that had passed. The flowers were meant to help carry their thoughts of their mothers through the veil. To impart their feelings of love, and to let their moms know that they are not forgotten. When one reaches a ‘certain’ age, I think individual mortality comes into mental play. One connection had when one is young graduates to a connection when one is older. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel looms closer, so the connection with parents who have passed is rekindled on a foundation of mortality. We all carry memories of family and those close to us, but when we get older we think about life in a different way. Perspective shifts. Those flowers purchased on Mother’s Day acknowledge that shift.

After work I did what I usually do, which is spend a bit of time unwinding. After taking some time to decompress, I decided to do something that I haven’t been doing enough of as of late. Going for a stroll. It was a lovely day out. Relatively warm with a breeze. It was also at the point where the afternoon was giving way to the evening, so it wasn’t too bright. Very relaxing, and my preferred light level for my flash-less photos.

As I walked down the sidewalk leading from our front door, I could hear the sound of hammering.  What I perceived to be hammering, anyway. There are handy men around from time to time, taking care of odd jobs for my neighbors, so I assumed it was one of them. Then I remembered that it was Sunday, the universal day off for most.

I set a trajectory for the picnic table on the far side of the pond. My shortest path there took me across the grass area that surrounds the pool. The hammering sound got louder with each step I took, and seemed to be coming from a big green tree off to my right (in the above photo, it’s the tree on the right). I quietly walked to the tree, and ducked around some hanging moss to walk beneath the branches. I first heard fluttering, and that was followed by a rather large bird that flew down to rest on a low branch. I then heard some quick hammering, followed by more fluttering. The strong, continual hammering I had heard from before was higher up in the tree. Not one, but two woodpeckers were hard at work. One above, and one now in front of me. Fumbling with my camera, I tried to snap a decent photo of the bird on the lower branch. I would move a little to get it in sight, and it would quickly hop out of position making me have to adjust mine. This little game ended when it spread its sizable wings and flew off. 

The loud pounding from on high was pretty constant. I turned my attention to the woodpecker hammering away at the top of the tree. Luckily, the branches of the tree are spread in a way that makes seeing the top easy. I could clearly see the bird, its head bobbing up and down as it forcefully struck the wood and bark. A chunk of tree would fall here and there, a couple of pieces narrowly missing me. When I think of a woodpecker, the first image that springs to mind is “Woody the Woodpecker”, star of cartoons from the 1940’s. As for actual woodpeckers, this sighting was my first. In the past I have heard them from a distance, but have never been in a proximity that allowed me to see one. Until this particular Sunday. I became determined to capture an image of him/her.

(To listen to the video, pause the music on the player located at the bottom of the blog page.)
I first tried to capture a still photo. There was an extremely low probability that I would be able to get a decent shot as I didn’t have the tripod with me, and a camera in my hands is definitely not a ‘steady cam’. After snapping a couple of fuzzy images, I decided to try a different tack. Video. As quietly as I could, I moved around to the opposite side of the tree’s trunk, and found a spot where the setting sun cast a good amount of sunlight on the winged worker. ‘He’ continued to hammer away, pausing here and there to feast…I decided that he appeared to be looking for food. Large chunks of bark covered wood continued to be cast off. The bright streaming light made the woodpecker quite visible to my camera lens, and I was able to make out the bright red crest of its head. It looked like it was wearing a faux hawk. Which reminded me of ‘Woody’. The sound on the video above does not show the hammering to be as loud as it actually was. In person it had the firm thud of a hammer head with that echo-y quality noises of that kind have.

Once I was able to view the video on my computer, I could really see the red on its head. I decided to do some Googling to find out exactly what kind of woodpecker it was. My search was a quick one. The rather large bird is known as a Pileated (crested) Woodpecker, and they are known to get between 16 and 19 inches in length. They are fairly common in many parts of the US. My assumption that he was pecking for food may not be far off the mark. As far as protein, they are known to like beetle larvae of a wood boring variety, and carpenter ants. They also like nuts and berries. They are known to make multiple entranced, large nests in dead trees. The tree  this woodpecker was pecking was quite alive. Once I saw the close-up images of the Pileated Woodpecker, I could see Woody’s resemblance.

I continued on my stroll. Had an odd encounter with a young boy (looked to be around 10 years old) who was kicking around a soccer ball and a football. I said ‘hi’ to him, but he didn’t even give me a glance. Just continued kicking the balls. Got to the picnic table. As peaceful as ever. I acknowledged the path leading into the wooded area skirting the marsh. Every time I visit the picnic table I give a nod to the path. One day I’ll venture down it, and see where it leads.

As I retraced my steps back home, I didn’t encounter the boy again. Guess he got tired of kicking balls to himself. As is the usual around that time, the calm breezes carried muffled voices out to me. Voices coupled with the bustle and clatter of dinner being prepared. The only member of the living I met on my way home was a cat. He seemed fairly calm, and at first meeting didn’t seem to be effected by my presence. I tried to snap his picture, but he proved to be a tad elusive. He would let me get close, but not too close. Of the few pictures I took, the one above is the least fuzzed out of the lot.

I arrived home feeling calmer and refreshed. Communing with nature, and taking pictures…sublime.