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It’s 1979. Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) is a former rodeo star and horseman who has obviously aged beyond his prime. His former boss and rancher Howard (Dwight Yoakam) has a 13-year-old son named Rafael or “Rafo” who lives with his estranged ex-wife in Mexico City. He thinks he is being abused and wants to bring him home to Texas to live with him. But Howard has legal issues and cannot travel to Mexico himself.

Mike owes Howard a favor. Howard coerces Mike to go to Mexico in his stead and essentially kidnap his son. Mike drives his beat-up Suburban to Mexico City and promptly finds the ex-wife. She is completely self-absorbed and surrounded by dangerous thugs. Rafo is a wayward kid who has gotten into cockfighting, and it appears that the only thing in life he loves is his rooster Macho.

On their way home via the backroads of Mexico, the two face a number of challenges, which bring the unlikely pair together and each is forced to face his own demons.

Cry Macho is a feel-good movie, with a little of an unrealistic bent.

Based on the 1975 novel by N. Richard Nash of the same name, Cry Macho is another Eastwood attempt to make a movie similar to Gran Torino, which I thought was a masterpiece. But Cry Macho didn’t quite work the same way for me. Eastwood was 90 in 2021 when he made the movie and starred in it. I just couldn’t be convinced that the rancher would send such an old man to do his dirty work, and when Mike, during a stop on the way home, started breaking wild horses on behalf of a Mexican rancher, none of that seemed realistic. It could been a better movie if someone else had played that role.

Some of those flaws notwithstanding, I enjoyed watching Cry Macho. It was a good movie to watch with headphones on whiling away the hours during a long flight back from Europe.

Will we ever stop beating up Ukraine?

A powerful speech at the United Nations by Germany’s Foreign Minister (the equivalent of the U.S. Secretary of State).

VIDEO: Baerbock auf Englisch zu Ukraine: “Es geht um Mia und die Zukunft unserer Kinder” | Euronews

It was winter. The mother was 35 years old. Her husband was gone, fighting in the war. She had five children. The oldest daughter was 9, her oldest son was 8, and there were three younger daughters. With them was her mother, the children’s grandmother. They packed up a few suitcases with the most important belongings and they left their home. They locked the door. They headed west. They never saw their house, their home, again.

The year was 1945.

The town was Breslau, then Germany, now inside Poland.

The mother was my paternal grandmother. She would die in childbirth two years later.

The 8-year-old boy was my father.

The invading force they were fleeing from, closing in on Germany, were the Russians.

My father is still alive today. He knows what these thousands of fleeing Ukrainian families feel like today.

About a hundred years in our future, around 2124, there is a small permanent human settlement on Mars, and permanents space stations in Earth orbit and on the moon are a reality.

The hunt for rare minerals to feed the needs of technology has intensified, and there are companies mining in Antarctica, under several kilometers of ice, using robotic mining equipment for prospecting.

In this endeavor, a mining team finds what they think is a peculiar meteor that must have been there for more than 10 million years, which is at least how long that part of Antarctica has been covered by thick glaciers.

As they study the object, however, they find anomalies that they can’t explain, and they gradually come to the realization that they are dealing with an alien artifact.

But what does humanity do with something it does not understand? Try to destroy it.

As you might expect, that starts off a chain of events that may not be stoppable.

The Sentinel is a speculative fiction book that tells a story. The characters are simple and one-dimensional, and much of the plot is fairly predictable.

I enjoyed reading it to a point, but I would probably not clamor to read more books by this author.

Devin was a Boy Scout when he was little. The picture below was taken of the two of us the morning after camping with his troupe at a Boy Scouts camp in Balboa Park in San Diego. I don’t have any exact record of the date, but I am guessing it was 1995 or 1996. Devin was seven or eight years old then.

Today we went back to re-enact the photo. I still have the same jacket, and the same chairs we used then. We got permission by the San Diego – Imperial Council of the Boy Scouts, found camp site #1, and sure enough, the fire pit was still there. We tried to match the same pose, even though this one was in late afternoon light, the old one was early in the morning.

Devin is now an experienced outdoorsman and athlete, and works for the California Conservation Corp. And I try to keep up, climbing and hiking as much as I can. It all started with the Boy Scouts.

It meant a lot to me to go back to the same spot, with Devin now three times the size he was then, and sit in the same chairs.

Too bad we didn’t bring any coffee.

Here is a meme on banning books by Jeff Zentner

 

I do not know who actually put this list of books together, but I found it inspiring.

  • Gone with the Wind – by Margaret Mitchell: Reviewed on June 15, 2011, 4 stars
  • As I Lay Dying – by William Faulkner: I read this book about 20 years ago, should write a review, but can’t remember enough about it. Need to re-read.
  • Beloved – by Tony Morrison
  • Catch 22 – by Joseph Heller: I have tried to read this several times and could never get through. I need to try again. I have it in hardcopy on the shelf behind me.
  • Brave New World – by Aldous Huxley
  • The Color Purple – by Alice Walker
  • Death of a Salesman – by Arthur Miller
  • Catcher in the Rye – by J. D. Salinger: Reviewed on March 19, 2009, 4 stars – I have read this book two or three times over the years.
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – by J. K. Rowling
  • Howl – by Allen Ginsberg
  • A Light in the Attic – by Shel Silverstein
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – by Mark Twain
  • James and the Giant Peach – by Roald Dahl
  • The Joy of Sex – by Alex Comfort: Boy, I did check that book out when I was a young man.
  • Lord of the Flies – by William Golding
  • Native Son – by Richard Wright
  • Of Mice and Men – by John Steinbeck: I have read this book but too many years ago and therefore no review
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – by Philip Roth
  • The Sun Also Rises – by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Pentagon Papers – by Office of the Secretary of the Defense, 1971
  • Sophie’s Choice – by William Styron
  • Slaughterhouse Five – by Kurt Vonnegut: I tried to read this a few times and never got into it.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee: Read several times long ago.
  • Ulysses – by James Joyce: I can’t read Ulysses and I can’t read Ulysses Take Two.

So here is my reading list. Let’s get to work!

A young widow hires Greyson Travers, a private detective, to investigate the suicide of her husband. Since she does not believe her husband would commit suicide, she thinks it was murder, but she has no proof. Travers has a great reputation for solving crimes, so she hires him to figure out what happened.

What she does not know, of course, is that Travers is a time traveler. Rather than figuring out what might have happened, he simply goes back to the time and place of the crime and watches it happen. What could be simpler?

He quickly realizes that the crime is much more complicated than it appears, and there are other time-traveling criminals involved.  He quickly finds himself ensnared by the mob and some very dangerous characters who use time travel to commit crimes.

Greyson Travers is the son of Ben and Mym Travers of Van Coops’ In Time Like These series of books, all of which I found highly readable. It is not necessary to read those books before enjoying Time of Death. It stands alone, and the author slowly introduces the concepts of time travel of the In Times Like These universe without it getting in our faces.

I have read all of those books, and if you’re interested, here is a summary of my reviews. You can click on the titles to jump right to them.

Nathan Van Coops Agent of Time Fiction Time Travel 2 Dec 13, 2020
Nathan Van Coops The Warp Clock Fiction Time Travel 3 Oct 9, 2018
Nathan Van Coops The Day after Never Fiction Time Travel 2 Jan 2, 2017
Nathan Van Coops The Chronothon Fiction Time Travel 3 Dec 3, 2016
Nathan Van Coops In Times Like These Fiction Time Travel 3 Oct 31, 2016

Time of Death is basically a murder mystery and it deals with a heist.

There was only one issue I had with the plot. The mob figures in the story have the ability to travel in time, but they organize this weird heist to collect cash from a casino. Seriously, if I were a time traveler, it would be so much easier to get rich, without hurting anyone, without cheating anyone else. Why not go back to 1980 and buy some Apple stock? Then come back to 2022 and enjoy the fruits of that decision. Oh well, there would be no murder mystery then.

I enjoyed all of Nathan Van Coops’ books, and I rated them all between 2 and 3 stars. They are always very readable and fast-paced. Time of Death is a fairly short book and a quick, fun read.

The author of The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett, at age 32, is younger than my youngest child. She apparently grew up in Oceanside, California, which is about 30 minutes down the road from where I have lived for a lot longer than 32 years. Home.

Brit Bennett is an African American woman. For the remainder of this post I will no longer say African American, but use the terms “colored” or “black” or “dark” just as she uses those terms throughout the book.

The story starts in the early 1960s, and is about the Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, who grow up in Mallard, Louisiana, a very small town in the country, almost entirely black, but the light version of black. So light, indeed, that the twins pass as white when they are out of their environment. As the twins grow up, they try to break away from the yokes of their ancestry, and each twin has her own way. Desiree is the outgoing one. Stella is the quiet one. When they move into New Orleans to get jobs, one day, Stella disappears. She is never seen again. Even private investigators can’t find her.

And that’s all I am going to tell you about the story, because you’ll need to read it for yourself.

The Vanishing Half is about racism in America, and it shows, without ever lecturing or judging, what it is like to be a colored person in our country. The subtle insinuations and the basic assumptions that we all have about black people come to life. As we experience this story, the absurdity of it all becomes obvious. The book deals not just with racism but also transgender issues, always nonchalantly, without getting in our face.

As I read The Vanishing Half, following the twins, their parents, their lovers, the fathers of their children, and their children, through their lives, I felt like I got to know them all intimately, and when the book was finally over, and I flipped the last page, I knew I’d miss the characters. I wanted it to continue. It is that kind of book.

And my awareness of what it’s like to be black in America was hugely elevated.

Brit Bennett, as such a young woman, has written a very wise book, and I will surely pick up her next ones.

And you should pick up this one.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is widely thought to have the conditions to support life, particularly when we discovered a vast ocean of liquid water below the moon’s solid crust of ice.

When unmanned probes return data suggesting that single-celled life exists, Earth sends a mission to to Jupiter to explore. Six astronauts embark on the mission. They eventually land on Europa and conduct “moon walks.” As it happens, an alien environment hosts surprises that they cannot have expected, and things start going wrong very fast.

Europa Report is a hard science fiction story on a low budget.

The space scenes during the journey, the realistic-seeming set in the space ship (see picture above of a cockpit cam), and the various extra-vehicular activities are neat to watch. The movie is trying to remain within the realm of today’s science, with not too much fiction. And that works.

The movie is not as satisfying to watch as I expected it to be.

It gets a solid one star in my ratings.

The Future is Here

George Jetson - Wikipedia

I just realized that George Jetson was born in 2022.

The farthest in the future that Marty McFly visited was 2015.

We have arrived. The future is here.

Korean family moves to Arkansas farm.

Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) is a young Korean man with a wife and two children. They live in California and both work as “chicken sexer.” Yes, I didn’t realize that either, but young chicks are separated by gender. The males are useless and have no commercial value, so they are destroyed. Did you know that? The females get to live, to lay eggs, or to eventually end up on a rotisserie. It’s apparently not obvious to tell apart male and female chicks, and some people are professionals, who check this all day long on an assembly line of baby chicks. But I digress.

Jacob realizes that he wants more for himself and his family than working in an assembly line all his life. He takes his savings and moves the family to rural Arkansas. They buy a 50-acre farm. His dream is to grow Korean fruit and vegetables to sell at markets. Jacob loves the land, and he lovingly digs his hands into the rich Arkansas soil. But the wife is not all that happy with their situation, and grandma  Soonja (Yuh-Jung-Youn) plays a critical role in the future of the family.

Imagine a Korean family in rural Arkansas. What do do the people in the village think about them? How do their neighbors feel about them? There is definitely a lot of culture shock going both ways.

Seeing the plight of immigrants in America, trying so hard to just work and make a modest but satisfying living, is educational, especially at a time when our country’s leadership has been systematically vilifying immigrants against all common sense.

As the banner says: “This is the movie we need right now!”

I might note that this movie received a lot of Oscar nominations, and Yuh-Jung Youn, who played grandma Soonja, earned an Oscar for best performance by an actress in a supporting role.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil-rig worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Things are not going well for him. He is unemployed and defeated. His college-age estranged daughter Allison is gay. She has already served five years of a nine-year sentence in prison in France for the alleged murder of her girlfriend.

Bill is sure of his daughter’s innocence, and without anything else to do, he travels to France and rents a place in Marseilles. He does not speak any French. When he tries the legal avenues to free his daughter, the language barrier and the complexity of the legal system get in the way. When it becomes obvious to him that the authorities are not going to help re-opening the case, he decides to take matters in his own hands.

Stillwater is a well-crafted tale of a vigilante father trying to make things right for his estranged daughter. The trailer made it seem like another Liam Neeson-esque story with lots of action by a bad-ass father getting even, but it’s not like that. Matt Damon plays Bill Baker like a real roughneck. Supposedly Damon went to spend time in Oklahoma getting to know oil workers to be able to become one.

He did that well, and it carries the movie. The plot has some interesting twists and that makes it worth watching.

 

A crew of three astronauts takes off on a mission to Mars. Shortly after takeoff they discover there is a stowaway on the ship, somehow stuck in the life support system. After they get him out and discuss the situation, they figure out that they can’t turn around anymore (interplanetary orbital mechanics) and – this is worse – there are not enough resources (water, food and mostly air) on the ship to sustain a 4th person for the duration of the trip. There is not much in this movie that makes sense. There are some pretty interesting special effects, particularly during the EVA, which had me fascinated. But that was all.

Don’t bother.

 

 

*** Warning Spoilers ***

How did the stowaway get into the innards of the life support system? And not make a peep all the way through launch preparations and launch?

Why did they not use tethers during the EVA? Rule number 1, use tethers at all times.

Why did they not tether the canister?

Why did they not wait out the solar storm before going back for the second canister? What was the rush?

Seriously, a couple of canisters of oxygen will make a difference between four people living and dying on a two-year journey?

How were they going to land on Mars? There was no lander in sight. If there had been, they could have used the lander to return to Earth, right?

Who designs a two-year mission that has zero margin of reserve oxygen, so that one small extra canister the size of a scuba bottle, makes the difference between life and death?

Mission control was completely absent and it appears that only the commander talked to them on her headphones. Nobody else ever communicated with them.

 

Matt (Kevin Hart), a young professional, finds himself in an impossible situation. His wife dies a day after giving birth to their first daughter.

Against all odds, he decides to raise his daughter by himself. Nobody believes he can do it. His good buddies Jordan and Oscar are always available to provide support.

In the end, Fatherhood is like a sitcom, with plenty of fabricated “funny” moments that are all predictable and that we have all seen before. The most moving part of the film is watching father and daughter clearly be “in love” and getting along with one another.

I agree, this is not a very helpful review. Just know, it’s a Netflix movie, and when you flip through its offering and can’t decide on anything, and you want to just enjoy it, feel good, and don’t think very hard, Fatherhood will do the job.

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