Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ponderings on PotA

Let us forget that the horrible Tim Burton version of Planet of the Apes ever existed.  We have the five original movies plus the OK (from what I remember) TV series, an excellent comics adaptation, and now we have the first two installments of the _____ of the Planet of the Apes reboots. These are enough Apes related goodness to keep a PotA fan going.

After recently watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Colbinski pointed me in the direction of a recap of the original movies I wrote. This got me to thinking about the story this new reboot is attempting to tell compared to the story the original told. It makes me wonder if the producers have an overarching theme for the rest of the series. The originals had five installments although the follow-up, short-lived TV series, is often presented as movies. Those five were:

Planet of the Apes
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Battle for the Planet of the Apes

The first two originals had humans as the heroes. The third shifted protagonists to the apes that went back in time and landed in 1970’s America where they met. The fourth chronicled Caesar’s revolution (subtext in this attempted to mirror the social unrest that was occurring in America at this time) and then the final installment, perhaps the worst of the lot, but not without its moments, showed the remaining humans and apes living together and how the apes eventually took over waiting for the events of the first one to occur many years later. As a young’un watching these, I always enjoyed and was enthralled by the circle it created, even if it used time travel, mind readers, nuclear bombs, terrible NYC geography, and other outlandish claims to get there.

With minor spoilers for the new movie, I’ll just say that Caesar the Ape is the hero of both and this is the opposite of the originals. I would like to see this inverse continue for the new movie series and see if they can make another circle of a full, complete story. As Dawn ends with Caesar resigning himself to
war with humans, I see the third movie portraying the world where Apes dominate. Hollywood being
Hollywood, I gather that they want to keep Casar as the lead although it may do the series some good to jump ahead in time to a world where Apes have really taken over.  This can show the shabby treatment of the remaining humans, perhaps being treated as humans currently treat primates – zoos, experiments, inferior, etc. This would allow the tone of the series to change form Ape heroes back to human heroes, jyst as Escape allowed Cornelius and Zira to be the heroes. Killed in the end but still the heroes and that movie paved the way for the original Caesar.

This brings us to the fourth movie in the reboot.  I would like to see this follow-up on the Easter Egg provided in Rise about a lost manned spaceship to Mars. Have the lost ship land on Earth under ape rule and we can ressuruct a bonafide hero like the Taylor character from the original. This would provide a human hero countering the Caesar of Conquest. The fifth movie of the reboot can be humans, led by the astronauts of the fourth movie, trying reclaim civilization, perhaps with some newfound humility and lessons learned. Or maybe during a kick-ass battle scene, which is much more likely. It may also be interesting for the movies to span out from the northern California area and let us see how the rest of the world is faring. Maybe provide an explanation of how intelligent apes came to be in other parts. Did the virus that killed humans also move to apes all over the world and allow them to become like Caesar’s crew in the Redwoods?

I’m glad to see what they are doing with these reboots so far. I’m sure Hollywood will do its best to disappoint me in these future installments but one can hope that they continue the quality and thoughtfulness they have so far. No mind readers, please.

IPA Taste Tourney April 2014 Results - Please Excuse My Tardiness

Well, I plum forgot! The beer has been drunk and a winner has prevailed. It all seems so long ago now.

Because I take my beer drinking seriously, I take copious notes of my endeavors and have the results ready.

1-Dogfish Head 61 vs. 8-Big Eddy Imperial IPA
Dogfish Head is smooth yet earthy. It goes down easy and always leaving me wanting another sip or glass. The grape musks takes the sting away from the hoppiness but adds layers to it. A very well-balanced and good tasting beer.  In comparison, an Imperial IPA is a bit too much. Big Eddy has a rich thick honey taste and fills you up like home cookin’. Subsequent to this taste tournament I was able to sit down with Big Eddy and enjoy it on its own merits. But this is a competation and against DFH 61, it was really no contest.  Dogfish Head 61into the semi-finals.

2 - Great Divide Hercules Double IPA vs. 7 - Fegley's Brew Works Hop'solutely Triple IPA
Hop'solutely Triple IPA is another beer that may be a bit too much.  Having said that, the trusty IPA glass works wonders. The transition from bottle to glass takes the edge off. With the edges smoothed out it is incredibly drinkable. However, Hercules, even though it is from Colorado, comes across as a traditional west coast IPA. Powerful, strong, and with a presence. The hops are heavy in this Double IPA and it linger son your tongue. Both of these are well made and both have punch.  Hop'solutely  hads the heavier hands and that wasn’t quite what I was looking for in this round. Hercules moves on.

3- Ass Kisser Double IPA vs. 6 - Brewery Ommegang Hop House Pale Ale
Two brews tasting for first time although Ommegang has the more familiar pedigree. Ass Kisser provides a faint caramel aroma and goes down the gullet is easy fashion. Hop House is smooth and light. The hops are prevalent but not overwhelming. Well-balanced and well-crafted. This is a tough choice. Hop House at a disadvantage because it is not a true IPA and it is going against a double hopped one. Ass Kisser survives to be drunk another day.

4 - Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA vs. 5 - Stone Ruination IPA
The most difficult decision of Round 1. Both are excellent IPAs that I will partake in a plentiful way in the future. Stone always seem to get the short straw in these tourneys but both Stone IPAs featured here are great beers. This time Breck 471 is just better.


 Dogfish Head 61 vs. Ass Kisser Double IPA
The balance of 61 prevails. It comes off as smooth, full yet light taste compared to the double hoppiness of Ass Kisser. Both are eminently drinkable and have fragrant beers that go great in the IPA glass. As mentioned above 61 always makes me want another. To the finals!

 Great Divide Hercules Double IPA vs. Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA
A double versus a double. Two Colorado beers that have a lot in common with California west coast IPAs. Looks like we are playing on even ground. Close match, here. Toe to toe. Both are strong, powerful and have excellent presence.  Breck 471 has that something extra. It stays with you like a tender kiss. It lingers and provides a memory. This is some beer. Breck 471 moves forward.


Dogfish Head 61 vs. Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA
Extremely tough final. Two different IPAs yet they compete ferociously with one another. The smoothness and flavor of 61 climbs ahead then the power and persistence of Breck 471 begins t break from the pack. These two beers make me glad I am a beer drinker. Both I can drink again and again. As a result of this final I have a new favorite beer: Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA.  Everything seems right about this beer. The level of hoppiness, the flavor, the aftertaste, the slow buzz that creeps up on you like pulling a blanket up to your chin on a chilly night. Breck 471 envelopes you and is comfortable to drink.

This was the third IPA taste Tourney.

Previous winners:

Friday, April 11, 2014

IPA Taste Tourney April 2014

The IPA taste Tourney Returns. The brews have changed but the rules remain the same:

The beer tasting crtieria will be easy. Whichever I find tastes best. Whichever I feel like I could keep drinking. Whichever is most enjoyable. Extra points go to the IPA with a big improvement in overall taste from bottle to glass.

This is the most expensive IPA Taste Tourney yet. All beers came in a four-pack and an exorbitant price. I'm overpriced and under beered in this tourney. Every sip is important.

The seeds for this tourney are completely random. I also haven't tasted all these beers. For some I will be going into the taste test blind.

Without further ado and before I fill my special IPA glass let's introduce the beers for this challenge.

1 - Dogfish Head Sixty-One

I have had this beer before and think it is great. Excellent. It's not as hoppy or powerful as other IPAs from Dogfish Head and the other challengers. It makes up for that lack of power with terrific taste and suitable drinkability. I am actually interested in how it fares.

2 - Great Divide Hercules Double IPA

One of three Double IPAs  in this tourney. Yay me for drinking them. I haven't yet had this one from Great Divide. If you remember back to the last taste Tourney Great Divide Titan IPA made it to the seecond round before succumbing to the eventual winner Racer X.  Lets see if Hercules can move worlds better than Titan. 

3- Ass Kisser Double IPA

 I have never had any beer from Ass Kisser. Another Double IPA. Interested and excited to get going on this one. 

4 - Breckenridge Small Batch 471 Double IPA

This is another great beer I have tried before. Not to be biased but this is my favorite going into this tourney. A fantastic beer to drink. Enjoyable in every way. 

5 - Stone Ruination IPA

I haven't had this beer in a long while. Looking forward to popping it open again and trying it inthe IPA glass. Stone IPA was in a previous tourney and never made it out of the first round facing tough competition from Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.

6 - Brewery Ommegang Hop House Pale Ale

OK, this isn't actually an IPA. One of my favorite beers is Three Philosophers by Brewery Ommegang. I wanted to see how they worked with a more hoppy ale rather than the traditional Belgian style beers they excel in creating. 

7 - Fegley's Brew Works Hop'solutely Triple IPA


Well, well, well. A triple. Yes, a triple. I have not before drank a beer by this brewery or do I think I have ever tried a triple IPA before. 11.5%. Interesting. Let's see how it does. 

8 -  Big Eddy Imperial IPA

Haven't had this one before either. Big Eddy seems to be a craft brewery by Leinenkugel or as by Jacob Leinenkugel Brewery as indicated on the label.  Fancy that it is imperial. Ooh la la. 

Results to be posted as soon as I can crack open the bottles, pour into the glass, and drink them down. The only reason I can think of to cause delay is if I need seconds and thirds just to make sure.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is Laughter the Best Medicine?

This post presents the second paper I wrote for the American Film Genres class I took years ago. The first paper - Sympathy for the Monster - and more info about this class can be found here.

I remember enjoying writing this paper. I think The Wild Bunch is a tremendous, groundbreaking film and I was hay to see it on the agenda even though I had watched it many times previously. It was a contrast to other westerns we studied in class, notable High Noon and Shane. In reading this over now, I feel I may have been a bit too derivative in describing the laughter in chronological order from the film, although presenting it this way did fit into my overarching theme.

A comment my professor made about this paper is one I wish I made myself somewhere. She noted that nowhere did I point out how mirthless all the laughter between the Bunch was. It's a point that seems obvious to me after she said it aloud. I am disappointed that I was not astute enough to include it this paper. Oh well.

Laughter in The Wild Bunch 
Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. – Victor Hugo

In The Wild Bunch laughter exhibits a joining or rejoining of the group, a way of acknowledging certain truths about life, and a moving on with life. It is because of the brutal nature of the Wild Bunch’s lives that laughter is used as an intermission between events in their lives. At first glance the laughter by the characters may seem inappropriate due to the excessive violence in the film. But we will see that, more than a simple coping mechanism, laughter is both a closing door on the recent past and a springboard to the next event. This paper will examine the role of laughter in The Wild Bunch and how this may differ from the traditional conventions of the western genre.

In the opening scene, laughter by children precedes a robbery attempt turned ambush. This laughter brings the audience into the first event. The Wild Bunch, stern-looking and stoic, pass by the children who are laughing while observing a fight between red ants and scorpions in a dirt pit. The camera stays on the children even after the Wild Bunch pass them. We see most children smiling or giggling, checking to make sure that others laugh along with them. One child laughs as he prods the ants and scorpions with a stick. Two children are stone-faced and catch the eyes of other children but laughter is more contagious. The film comes back to the children as the Wild Bunch leave town bloodied from the ambush. The children continue laughing as they drop burning twigs on the pit ending the insect fight once and for all. While what just occurred in town is no laughing matter for the Wild Bunch, the children, distanced from both the battle between the ants and scorpions which they facilitated, and from the shoot-out which they did not witness, continue to laugh as the Bunch ride on past.

The children’s laughter and their actions with the ants and scorpions are different than what is seen of children in other western genre films. In films such as The Searchers and Shane children are looked on upon by the traditional western hero as representations of civilization worth protecting.   The Bunch notice the children but don’t pay any particular attention to them; some even seem to be taken aback by the enthusiasm surrounding the ant and scorpion battle. While the children, ending the battle with the burning twigs and dispersing, can be seen as analogous to the shoot-out that just occurred in Starbuck, it is by no means looked upon as worthy of protection or symbolic of civilization.
The Wild Bunch’s first group laugh comes only after the realization of what an utter failure the robbery attempt was: they were ambushed, lost several men, and the sacks of coin they pilfered turned out to be metal washers. Old Sykes, who was not part of the failed robbery, so he is already distanced from it, begins smiling and laughing at the sight of the washers. Tension has already risen among the Bunch because the Gorch brothers, Tector and Lyle, wanted to get more pay than Angel or Sykes. Sykes, whose demeanor is that of the caricature of the demented 49er dancing and exclaiming, “There’s gold in dem dere mountains”, continues to laugh. The group only begins to laugh after talk turns to the Gorch brothers whoring while Pike was planning the robbery. The laughter starts as Dutch says, “And Pike was dreamin' of washers... you were matching whores... in tandem!” Not only does this change the subject from the botched robbery and payment issues, it allows the Gorch brothers to rejoin the Wild Bunch. The laughter begins as the truth of the situation unfolds. As in Aesop’s fable, Pike was like the ant, setting up and planning everything, while the Gorch brothers were like the grasshopper, out playing and whoring. The shared laughter acts as forgiveness of past transgressions and allows the Bunch to move forward. Now that they are back as a Bunch they can all distance themselves from the violent episode that just occurred.

Further use of laughter as a result of revealed truth can be seen as the Bunch recover from the ambush in Angel’s village in Mexico. While most of the Bunch are busy enjoying themselves, Don Jose, the village elder and leader, tells Pike, “We all dream of being a child. Even the worst of us.” Laughter ensues as Don Jose indicates he knows the truth about the Bunch. Once again laughter occurs after a truth is revealed. Along with this laughter is acceptance from the village as the Bunch enjoy a festive night. The night in the village will also be their last before they venture into Agua Verde and the next event.

Laughter is used not only to signify a joining or rejoining of the group but to show acceptance within that group. This can be seen after the Bunch steal munitions off the military train and escape Thornton’s posse by blowing up the bridge. After Sykes stops any revelry after the get-away by mentioning that Thornton will be back, a whiskey bottle is passed around. The whiskey bottle makes its way through the members of the Bunch while Lyle looks on longingly. At one point Lyle is like the monkey-in-the-middle reaching for the bottle as Sykes throws it to Angel. Angel finishes off the bottle dumping what dregs remain on the ground in front of Lyle and then drops the empty bottle into Lyle’s arms. Lyle drops the bottle to the ground and walks away while the rest have a good laugh. Just as with the first group laugh scene after the failed robbery, this acts as a way for the Bunch to distance themselves from what just happened and begin to move forward to the next event. It just happens to be at Lyle’s expense that the group laughter occurs. This happens to Lyle once again after the Mexican revolutionaries come into the Bunch’s camp to collect their rifles. Tector says to his brother, “Now you listen to me, Lyle. You get up and help once in a while, I wouldn'a got caught near s'easy.” This again causes laughter from everyone after a particularly tense moment. It is also a moment where the Bunch begin to move forward to the next event and go deal with Mapache.

This action of laughter to indicate a completion of an event begins to manifest itself after Mapache is gunned down in the showdown at Agua Verde. After Mapache slits Angel’s throat and is killed, Dutch and Tector smile and laugh. Then Pike shoots the German officer causing the explosion of violence. Pike realized that just killing Mapache was not an end. Angel was dead and Mapache’s army had them surrounded.  This was not something that the Bunch would be able to distance themselves from and move forward. Laughter could not be used as an intermission as seen earlier. Although Mapache was dead, the showdown - this event - had to continue. 

The film also shows truncated scenes of laughter in areas where some truths are too hard to face and laughing is made more difficult due to a rejection of that truth. In talking about Mapache, Dutch describes him as “just another bandit grabbing all he can.” Pike responds laughing, “Like some others I can mention.” Dutch takes umbrage to this, stopping the laughter and stating emphatically that the Bunch “don’t hang nobody.” Although Pike was willing to laugh at some similarities between them, Dutch was rejecting it as a whole truth. 

Rejection of the truth is also seen in all of Thornton’s scenes with his posse. This occurs as Coffer explains what is found in Mexico: “Mexicans, what else?” and also when Coffer yells “Bang!” and acts as if to draw on Thornton, while joking around with T.C. Never once does Thornton even crack a smile and his steely gaze stops the cackling of his men immediately. Thornton is rejecting the truth of his situation – chasing the Bunch rather than being part of them - and not capable of using laughter as an intermission between events. Only when Thornton hears gunshots off in the distance indicating the posse has been killed after the massacre at Agua Verde does he crack a smile. Thornton does not laugh until after Sykes asks him to join the Mexican revolutionaries.  Sykes expounds truth in saying, “You want to come with us? It ain't like it used to be; but it'll do.” Thornton’s laughter closes the door on his posse-leading Bunch-chasing recent past.  Laughter is used by Sykes to welcome Thornton into the new Bunch. Echoes of laughter from all the main members of the Bunch are used to show acceptance of Thornton, as he joins Sykes, in the final scene of the film.

The scenes of laughter in The Wild Bunch are not during any light or comic relief scenes. They occur before or soon after highly tense, violent scenes in the film, particularly the Starbuck robbery and the Agua Verde massacre. This may explain how the laughter can be seen as inappropriate, uncomfortable, or annoying, as expressed during class discussions. The need of the Wild Bunch to laugh is not the same as the viewer’s need to laugh. The laughter of the characters is for themselves and not the viewer. Although there are a couple of scenes that elicit a chuckle, as when the Temperance Union attempts to repeat the alcohol abstinence vow of the preacher only to murmur some of the words back, and when Mapache, after shooting up Agua Verde with his new machine gun, exhorts his men to “put in on a tripod!”, the film does not use comic relief in order to allow the viewer some breathing room from one scene to the next.  Although the characters have their intermission between scenes by laughing, the viewer is pulled along without being made to laugh by the film. This is in stark contrast to a film such as The Searchers where interaction between Laurie and Martin and most scenes in the Jorgensen’s house are light in nature if not overtly comic. While it can be argued that these comic scenes are out of place in The Searchers it does allow the viewer a respite from the unfolding drama of the film. No such respite is provided in The Wild Bunch, even though characters such as Coffer and T.C. come close.  Scenes of bickering from Thornton’s bumbling posse over booty from dead bodies never reach the point of comic relief based upon the circumstances surrounding its occurrence.

The scenes of laughter may also seem out of place due to the western setting of the film. The members of the Wild Bunch lack the traditional qualities and ideals associated with the tropes of the western genre. Not only are the Wild Bunch outlaws and killers but they have the temerity to laugh after terrible events unfold. Western heroes are normally not seen laughing especially when gunplay is involved. Laughing is reserved for the likes of the grinning, black attired, gunfighter Wilson in Shane. Will Kane from High Noon and Shane take their duties as protectors too seriously to laugh. Ethan in The Searchers may laugh after uttering “That’ll be the day” but it is always a derisive laugh.  These heroes, unlike the Wild Bunch, never get to have an intermission between events; their idealized role as protectors is continuous.

This juxtaposition of the Wild Bunch committing violent acts and laughing afterward as they regroup is what allows the Bunch to continue to the next event and continue to function. The Bunch existed before the laughter of the children in the opening scene and Sykes and Thornton will continue on after the departed Bunch’s laughter in the closing scene.  In this way, although the film is contained between these scenes, the audience is invited to keep thoughts about these characters open. Even after the film ends there is no intermission granted to the viewer.