Alberta in widescreen

This week is written and filmed in low definition PlaidCamperScope, and I did all my own stunts. Not too sure where it is heading, rather weak on plot, but there is a happy ending.

With the ongoing grey and snowy skies, I thought I’d post photographs taken on a brighter winter day a short while ago here in Alberta. As I type this, the snow is falling once again – that’s fine by me – but it seems like we haven’t had too many of my favourite Alberta winter days, where it is about -10C and sunny. On a day like that, you can ski or hike or snowshoe for hours, admiring the sparkling air without feeling the chill. Maybe by the weekend?

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We were back at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, on a still day with lots of sunshine, and just before the next round of snow. Chinook winds had eaten a fair amount of the ground snow, but there were still deep pockets in the ditches and hollows, and plenty of ice to catch us unawares.

We enjoyed the widescreen views to distant mountains, and the close ups of red berries and golden grasses poking through the snow. Scout enjoyed peeing on everything she decided she wouldn’t eat. Very discerning…

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Parts of the park are in use as a working ranch, and I love the cinematic nature of the buildings, fences and tracks. If I had a low budget indie movie to make, one where mumbling Albertans play out their hardbitten dramas in a partially tamed yet still beautiful wilderness, I’d shoot it somewhere like Glenbow Ranch PP.

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A grizzled, hardbitten yet optimistic semi-retired teacher, with the looks, but not the politics, of an older Clint Eastwood (squint and use lots of soft focus and imagination), fights heroically and stoically to convince Albertans of all stripes to diversify the economy beyond oil and gas and think about a future that doesn’t need fossil fuels. Met with disbelief, ridiculed for being too liberal and a jeep-driving hypocrite vegetarian, the laconic educator is run out of town and goes for a long walk in a provincial park, trying to think of a good ending, and wondering how well an electric car would work in a Canadian winter…

Sadly, most of my movie ideas barely fill the back of a postage stamp, and the scripts are rather brief – but they would be pretty to look at if they got made. Perhaps I should start small and very low budget – maybe I could direct a postcard?

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My mind does tend to wander when I’m wandering in lovely locations, and I daydream about movies and stories, ones I’ve seen, and the ones still to be told. Living out west, or anywhere scenically dramatic, will do that to you I suppose. I hope future movie location scouts will still have outdoor locations worth scouting for. Post-apocalyptic dramas seem to be all the thing just now, but let’s hope they won’t be making these as documentaries in the future. I know there are “kitchen sink” dramas as well, but wouldn’t you rather see forests, lakes, rivers, natural deserts, mountains and oceans, both onscreen and for real? It’s not often I find myself thinking “I wish I could make a movie about this” when I’m doing the dishes, or “I hope this comes to pass” when a rerun of Mad Max is on, but maybe that’s just me?

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Looking south-west on the Grand Valley Road
On our drive home, this road warrior took the scenic route, meaning any road that didn’t get us back into the city too soon. Grand Valley Road lived up to the name, and I had to pull over and take a couple of pictures looking west as I drove the wrong way back on the 567.

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Hey, Mad Eastwood, Calgary is the other way…
I do love widescreen Alberta, but it is hard for me to capture it accurately in a photo. Still, these aren’t too bad for a cameraphone, a bit grainy – think 1970s 70mm film stock (I love the look of movies made then) – but they are ready for any of us to project a story onto.

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Feelin’ lucky, road punk?
Cut! And that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful weekend full of new outdoor tales and cinematic adventures!

The happy ending? Oh, ok, here she is. Upstaged by a canine co-star. Flounces off to his trailer…

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“Just the one photo of me this week?” “Yep. Get your own blog!”

 

A murderously early spring? (Is it really winter?)

A strange blog post title – what’s going on? Best answer these questions, PlaidCamper.

I thought I’d write this a few months early, as winter appears to have come and gone, and Calgary is gripped by an early spring. Temperatures hitting 12C (!) the next couple of days, and last time I checked the 14 day forecast, the seasonal daytime high of 0C won’t be happening until late December. If this keeps up, expect a photograph of a daffodil next week…

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Taken this time last year

Calgary has spring, and I’ve had man flu – very disappointing to have a winter affliction when it isn’t even winter outside. Doesn’t seem fair. Luckily, I’d never complain about the weather, and likewise, I’d never complain about feeling under the weather. Nope, I may be gripped by man flu, or worse, but you won’t hear a peep. Perhaps a sniff, sneeze, cough, and a small whimper, but that’s about all.

Having been confined to my sick bed (or sofa), I thought I’d recommend a couple of movies where winter does make an appearance. It’s the only snow we’ve seen for a while.

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Snow!

Let’s start with Wind River (dir. Taylor Sheridan, VVS 2017), one of the few decent movies  for grown ups (they let me in) released since the summer, worth your time if you enjoy a slow burn story, arresting scenery, and great performances. Sheridan wrote this, and he wrote Sicario and Hell or High Water, also good movies. If you’ve seen the others, you’ll know Sheridan enjoys a stand off. The characters he creates aren’t always the most immediately accessible or likeable, but you’ll care about them when the stand off occurs.

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More snow!

In Wind River, we start with death on a reservation, followed by death in the past, then more death on a reservation, and finishing up with a bit more death high above a Wyoming reservation. It isn’t the most cheerful of movies, although there are glimmers of hope in the troubled lives of key characters. The story touches on family grief, notions of justice, wasted lives, greed over resource extraction, racial tension, friendship and duplicity. Fortunately, there is also a sprinkling of deadpan humour. And lots and lots of snow. All this in less than two hours, and it is a taut little mystery.

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Snow in the city! A happy memory…

Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are convincing in their roles, Renner as a hunter, Olsen as a rookie FBI agent. We can thank Sheridan as writer for avoiding what could have been a horribly cliched relationship between these two. The smaller roles are well cast and well acted, and the snowy mountain landscapes are beautiful. When the mystery of what happened to the original victim is revealed in a long flashback, it adds to the drama of what happens next. Great storytelling.

If all the gloomy death and despair of Wind River isn’t for you, then let me recommend a different movie. Be warned, it also features death, but there is far more fun to be had in Murder on the Orient Express (dir. Kenneth Branagh, 20th Century Fox 2017), if you are ok with watching a retelling of a story told countless times before.

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Train glamour (and snow)

I wasn’t too sure about seeing this one. I’d seen a trailer, and it was a touch off-putting. That moustache! The hammy-sounding Brit accents (I have one of those) and ‘eavy Belgian prrro-nun-cee-ation. Hmm – cliche and scenery-chewing alert!

Well, it was a blast! It’s hard to complain about a wonderfully familiar cast of good actors clearly enjoying themselves. Branagh is confident marshalling his players, giving each just enough space to shine.

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I like the snow in this one

The train is rolling through striking mountain scenery when a disaster strikes! It is stuck on a huge trestle bridge suspended over a deep, deep gorge after an avalanche blocks the track, derailing the steam engine. There is lots and lots of snow. There is a murder! Poirot has to solve the case before the avalanche is cleared, the engine restored, and the train is able to continue.

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Mist, not steam (and sn- ok, I’ll stop now)

In what is essentially a one set movie after the murder occurs, the delights are in the encounters Branagh’s Poirot has with character after character. The movie isn’t derailed and the story doesn’t run out of steam, even if you know what happens. Branagh himself gives a distinctive performance as Poirot, humanizing him behind the huge whiskers and sharp detective intellect.

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The Prairie Express

This movie is good to look at! As well as the colourful period costumes, the train’s interiors are glorious, all cut glass, wooden sheen, crisp tablecloths and gleaming silverware. This is a throwback movie, old-fashioned yet revelling in subverting an age that wasn’t as golden or glamorous as it appears. A fun film, if a story about murder is allowed to be fun.

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I hope it is winter where you are!

There you have it, a couple of deeply different movies to enjoy on a dark winter (fake spring?) evening if you are feeling sorry for yourself with a bit of a cold. Thank goodness I was able to get a winter fix, even if it took a murder or two and some CGI…

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Monstrous!

It’s time for something scary. What follows is terrifying and true. True-ish. It isn’t quite Hallowe’en, but near enough, so I thought I’d share an irrational fear of mine. That could be quite a long list, but no worries, I’ve chosen just the one. It’s not easy to confront a fear, but I think this post could be therapeutic.

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How is this scary, PlaidCamper?

That’s right! I don’t enjoy going in the water! Or to be more precise, I don’t like what comes out of the sea. Now, I’ve watched Jaws many times, and love the movie – but not the sequels, they are scary for all the wrong reasons – yet I don’t have a fear of sharks. I’m not afraid of sea lions, sea otters are beyond cute, whales are wonderful, and seals are just fine too. So what is the problem? It’s the tangling terror and sliminess of seaweed, the near-invisible wobbliness of jellyfish. Sea slugs? Eek! Don’t even get me started on the large staring eyes of a squid. I could go on, and I probably will…

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The stuff of nightmares

For me, a lot of underwater creatures are too alien, and not in a friendly E.T. way. It’s like they’re from another world, clearly because they’re almost from another world. A waterworld. (Kevin Costner’s gills were scary, weren’t they?) I do understand that many people love the other-worldly appearance of sea creatures, but it is a world too far for me. I like to be on the water but not in it.

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A beautiful water world

Mrs. PC knows I have issues with some forms of under-the-sea life. She encouraged me to visit the Ucluelet Aquarium with her. The aquarium is very well regarded by people who know about these sort of things. She went without me the first time (I was very busy that morning, with something very busy and important that needed my undivided attention) to see if it would be ok for me to go there. She came back very impressed, said I’d like it. Friends visited the aquarium (I was busy that morning, too) and came back very impressed, and couldn’t believe I’d not been there – they said I’d like it. I was beginning to suspect a plot, some sort of intervention or shock therapy treatment, but maybe that’s how fear gnaws at you, makes you paranoid. My mother visited the aquarium (yup, busy) and came back very impressed. Apparently, I’d like it.

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The Froth! My movie treatment is scarier than The Fog, and I don’t understand why Hollywood hasn’t called me back

I caved. I visited the aquarium, and was very impressed. A catch and release aquarium full of exotic looking sea monsters – I mean creatures. The young marine biologists working there are notably enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their marine charges. Some of the specimens are housed in touch tanks (no chance) and all are displayed quite brilliantly. On my visit, small children darted here and there (rather like the small fish in some tanks) going from tank to tank, clearly excited about each exhibit. The adults seemed pretty thrilled too, but I was beginning to struggle. I lasted about twenty minutes, and then had to leave, sweaty of palm, light of head, and needing the cool air. It was the octopus that did it, clambering and tentacling (that’s a word, now) menacingly along the glass towards me. Even now, I shudder. Mrs. PC is talking about a seasonal aquarium membership, and I’m lining up a rewards card for the nearby coffee shop.

I love monster movies, and a particular favourite is John Carpenter’s version of The Thing. The special effects were very special for this nerdy young PlaidCamper back in the day. All those spidery legs and oozing intestinal items. Gross and cool when you’re a teen. The thing is, haha, whenever I see twisted piles of bull kelp washed up on the shore, I can’t help but think of The Thing. No, going back to the aquarium won’t help…

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The Thing? Look, if it scared Kurt Russell, then it’s ok to be afraid…

I don’t know where the problem started. Are the issues rooted in childhood? I do remember not enjoying rock-pooling with my grandfather on Sheringham beach when I was very young. Yes, what an ungrateful young PlaidCamper. And I hated taking the short cut through “smelly alley” in Reading, preferring the long way round rather than having to inhale the aromas coming from several fishmongers. Then there was the time I was really, really thirsty at the beach, probably after several hours of rock-pooling fun. I was so thirsty, I gulped a couple of huge – huge! – mouthfuls of clear water from a lovely looking pool (I didn’t know it was salt water until I threw up mere seconds later – experiential learning…) Oh, and I have a memory of one of my brothers eating a tadpole. That could mess with your mind, couldn’t it?

No doubt the complicated causes of my sea terrors are beyond the scope of science and modern medicine to explain. I like to think so! As if I’d exaggerate a slight dislike for the way seaweed can get tangled in your legs. A fear of sea monsters? Me? C’mon! Actually, sea monsters would be cool, because they’re not real, unlike seaweed and squid…I’m not going back to the aquarium.

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Facing my fears

Let’s leave it there, as I’m starting to feel slightly lightheaded. If Hallowe’en is your thing, then do enjoy it. I’ll be cowering indoors – what if one of the local children comes knocking, and they’re dressed as The Little Mermaid?

Thanks for reading, feel free to share an irrational/slightly made up fear for Hallowe’en, and have a wonderful weekend!

 

That snow rain forest!

Spring is making an appearance. According to the calendar, it is past due – we’ve had a fleeting glimpse in the city, but last week there was a wet hint out in the mountains.DSCF4462

We were in Yoho once again! We woke up to snowfall, and a promising day for snowshoeing. Being active and outdoorsy types, we spent the morning in the cabin, having that all important second cup of coffee. And an even more important third cup.DSCF4473

The snow ceased, and we dragged ourselves outside, ready and able, fully caffeinated for the trail ahead. Yes, the snow had stopped, and oh no, the rain started. Still, it was only a light rainfall, and that wasn’t going to be a problem.DSCF4476

At the trailhead we could see the pathway was well packed, and opted to leave our snowshoes behind. It was easy walking provided you stayed in the centre of the trail, with the only difficulty being if you stepped too far to the left or right and post-holed up to knee height. Being a fast learner, I figured that out by the third or fourth time…

Once into the trees, we thought we’d have more shelter from what was now quite heavy rainfall. This was quite true, although there was no respite from the heavy clumps of snow that began to fall from wet branches. It made for great sights and sounds, but we soon found ourselves running a snow gauntlet. I felt like Clint Eastwood in that old movie. It should be remade as an outdoor adventure movie, with the guns and bullets replaced with rain and snow. I’d go see it.

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Go ahead, clump, make my day
Being active and outdoorsy types, we were well prepared for cold and snowy weather. Sadly, our cold and snowy gear was doing an effective job of soaking up all the (even heavier) rain. Snow repellent gear isn’t rain repellent gear, or at least, not my jacket. I was gaining weight by the minute. I felt like Steven Seagal in any movie with Steven Seagal.DSCF4472

As the rain continued to fall, the pathway was becoming rather less well packed, and degrading rapidly. It would collapse underfoot without warning, causing a stumble or tumble or two. The falling down – I felt like Michael Douglas in that old movie – and the constant aerial snow bombardment was beginning to take a toll. Lovely though the setting was, I was getting just a bit weary.DSCF4461

We decided to turn back, retracing our steps along the swiftly eroding path. It seemed to be crumbling beneath our feet and before our eyes. I felt like Harrison Ford in one of those old archaeology movies. Plaidcamper Jones and the Doomed Snowshoe Trail. They should make that, and I’m available if Harrison is busy…

Absolutely sodden, but strangely happy, we made it out of the snow rain forest and back to the cabin. Adventurous fun in a white and emerald forest. I felt like an extra in that old movie by John Boorman (ok, I’ll stop that now…)

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Is Charley Boorman in there?
 Exhilarating signs of spring – not buds and birdsong, but rain and snow bombs – had us smiling as we had a cup of of coffee to recover. Hollywood, I know you’re reading this, and you’re very welcome to move ahead with the remakes. I do my own stunts.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and have a wonderful weekend!

PS Steven Seagal, I apologize. You are prolific, and I enjoyed the one where you played the president’s chef who also just happened to be ex-special forces. The one set on a train, not the boat one. I’m not ex-special forces, but I am an ex-chef and admire your knife skills. I like trains, too.

Midweek movies and music

The thread through this post is a little frayed, and a bit twisted – less thread and more like an old cassette tape that has unwound from the spool – but there is a line…

One thing leads to another, if I can borrow an old lyric. Where to begin? A splendid piece, Monster Blues and Salmon, Too, by Walt over at RivertopRambles was the starting gun – it got me thinking and following movies and music along a winding trail. A long and winding (oh stop it, PlaidCamper! Or get your own lyrics…) Walt linked to a video (you can go watch and listen to it at the link above) that had me jumping down a musical rabbit hole, chasing old memories and digging out old albums.

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(courtesy: Springsteen.net)

The Big Head Blues Club pointed me to John Lee Hooker, I took a detour with Van Morrison, and ended up traveling through Springsteen’s Nebraska. I heard and found echoes and traces of all these and more after Walt’s blues pulled the musical trigger. Hanging  out in Nebraska got me back to the Terrence Malick movie Badlands, and that reminded me I was planning to watch Malick’s Days of Heaven. So I did.

What an astonishing movie! Set in 1916, it is a rural drama played out in the fields of the Texas panhandle. Murder, loyalty, poverty, identity, family breakdown, and the threat of industrial scale farming production are some of the themes in the mix. If that doesn’t appeal, don’t be put off, simply watch the movie as a series of painterly scenes. And Brooke Adams, Richard Gere, and Sam Shepard are all quite pretty.

The  actual story is slight, fairly conventional, and the dialogue is rather stilted and spare. Fortunately, what overrides the plot and dialogue deficiencies is the voiceover delivered by the most interesting character, a teenage girl played by Linda Manz. Sometimes I find voiceovers irritating; it can seem as though the movie is unable tell a story effectively without a clunky voiceover explaining everything. The voiceover in Days of Heaven is exceptional. It reveals the real story in the movie, told almost in parallel to the events unfolding on screen, and the commentary presents the most affecting point of view.

Days of Heaven is beautiful, with frame after frame of striking images. For the look of the film, Malick was inspired by Edward Hopper, and if Hopper had ever made a movie, it might have looked something like Days of Heaven. The house in the movie was built as a set based on the painting below:

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House by the Railroad, 1925 Edward Hopper (courtesy EdwardHopper.net)

Malick’s aim was to shoot in natural light, which he mostly did and with striking results – the harvest scenes are breathtaking. The cinematographer, Nestor Almendros, won an Oscar for his lighting.

As I was watching, the natural lighting had me thinking about The Revenant, how that was filmed in a similar way, in natural light at the start and end of the day. I’m such a nerd – some quick research revealed the production designer, Jack Fisk, worked on both movies. The cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won an Oscar for his work on The Revenant. I ended up watching The Revenant again, wanting to see and compare the cinematography. What a nerd, but what a delightful landscape-heavy double feature. Shot in different seasons, and forty years apart, both movies were made (in part) in Alberta. Oh the winter grandeur of the mountains, and the late summer beauty of the rolling prairies.

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Days of PlaidCampers. Rarely seen. Shot in Montana. Beautiful lighting. Lost plot.

What a wonderful music and movie journey I ended up taking. OK, so it was through an iPad screen, and the hour got exceptionally late, but it was as close to being out of the city as I could get midweek.

There you have it. I’m not so sure I’ve managed to wind the cassette tape back onto the spool, but the music and movie trip was good for me (and for Mrs PC – she didn’t have to listen to me complaining about my nature deficit – and she seems to like my noise cancelling headphones even more than I do. Apparently they really work…)

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Good for your health – winter playtime is near!

Little end note tangent: I stayed up late and watched movies because I didn’t have “real” work the next day. Instead of teaching, I attended a workshop designed to promote positive mental health in students (and teachers) – I was a little drowsy later in the day – and one repeated theme was about being outdoors and/or in natural environments and having time to play.

The profile of the class I’m teaching this year includes many students with a mental health diagnosis, and there are several others with mental health problems. It’s quite the challenge in our communities these days, and, sad to say, increasingly prevalent amongst our young people…

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Fundamental…

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I firmly believe that being outdoors and involved in the natural world has a fundamental part to play in maintaining good (mental) health. We are better human beings as a result. In that spirit, we are planning on being out in the mountains and on the slopes this coming weekend. Winter playtime!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share a story, a music or movie recommendation, or a tip for positive mental health, and have a wonderful weekend! If you are in the USA, or from the USA, and you celebrate, I hope you are enjoying a happy Thanksgiving.

Another little end note: to meet the overwhelming demand (erm, one request) the butternut and black bean chilli recipe will be included next week – there was no need (or demand, PlaidCamper) to squeeze in more squash after last week…

Loose connections

I’ve always had a few of those…

I was sat on the C train this morning, the lazy part of my route to work where, for seven minutes between the walk each end – yup, I’ve timed it – I stare out the window and sometimes come up with a plan for what to write about. Sometimes inspiration strikes, and sometimes the mind wanders.

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Made in Dusseldorf

I like the old trains better than the new trains that are being phased in, even though the new carriages are shiny, and rattle and squeak free. The old ones were made in Dusseldorf, and for a onetime European there’s something satisfying about the low-tech solidity of the old school cars. Being busy not getting any younger, I find myself liking old stuff more and more. And sometimes my mind wanders.

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Old movie house – what’s playing?

Standing at the urinal in an old movie house last week (this is all true, and it is ok to read on, honest) I was entertained by all the movie posters plastered onto the walls. Interesting wallpaper. One that particularly caught my eye (it was straight ahead and at eye level – good etiquette suggests you shouldn’t let your eyes wander too far in this situation) was for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. I have to confess that I’ve never seen this movie but always wanted to. I have seen Malick’s Badlands, and it is one of my favourites.

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From a car

A somewhat grisly heartland road trip, featuring two young criminals/serial killers on the run, Badlands is a haunting/disturbing tone poem. Made in 1973, it is, despite the description I’ve just offered, a quite beautiful film. And what a cast! Sissy Spacek, Martin Sheen, and Warren Oates. (Warren Oates! His face, and his world weary persona, they are made to be seen on the big screen. Etched and interesting. Have you seen Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia? Yikes. Weird isn’t even close, but Warren Oates inhabits his role!) Sometimes, I miss the 1970s.

Getting back to Badlands, I first saw it on TV back when I was an impressionable thirteen year old. I don’t think I should have been watching it, but Ma PlaidCamper was a bit of a Martin Sheen fan, and so transfixed that she didn’t notice me sat there. I was mesmerized by the nature of the movie – in an environmental sense, and in how it was made. An American road trip movie with cool cars, crime, lots of fields, small towns, roadside billboards, and a nihilistic Sheen in a jean jacket smoking a cigarette. Well, how could that impressionable boy resist? Maybe I’ll watch a double feature this coming weekend – Days of Heaven and Badlands

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Cool (I like old stuff – not that this is that old)

We weren’t at the old movie house to watch an old movie. A friend was playing with her band Magnolia Buckskin – that’s a cool name, huh? It was a benefit gig to raise money to support a village in Nepal, a place rebuilding and picking up the pieces after the earthquake in 2015. As usual, Kathy and her musician buddies put on a great show. One of their songs, Edge of the Waterappeals because aside from the wonderful playing and vocal harmonies, they sing about how being at the foot of the mountain or edge of the water is to “be a part of something bigger than me…” Hard to argue with that – we are fortunate to lead the lives we do.

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At the edge of the water

I think we might have to put the double feature on hold. Weather permitting, and highways being open, we’re planning a short road trip up to Jasper, and an escape from election fever. Or is it election fatigue? (I’m mystified that there is even a doubt in this particular race. One candidate is a misogynist and xenophobe, and that information there is enough to make a sensible decision…but I’ll stop, because although the result does have an impact on our lives, it’s not our election. Back to the road trip!)

The route is one of our favourites by car, full of scenery that’ll make you feel small yet part of something bigger than ourselves. Some Magnolia Buckskin for the soundtrack, no cigarettes, won’t carry a gun, we’re not on the run, and nihilism doesn’t appeal, but I wonder?  Can I still squeeze into that old jean jacket? Might be a few loose buttons to go with these loose connections. I’m losing the thread. What was I saying? Imagine if my train journey was longer than seven minutes…

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At the foot of the mountain

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story, or a movie or soundtrack recommendation, and have a wonderful weekend!image-1

Big skies and big adventures

Prairie road trips can get your imagination going into overdrive!

Spending so much time in the foothills and on the plains is great for storytelling. You might be getting away or heading towards something in all that open ground. The huge spaces are canvases for wonderful stories, real or imagined, like a giant screen on which to project our tales. But as I’ve said in other posts, the scenery is often so much more than a background for stories. It can be a vital character, or help reveal character. It can shape events, and encourage us to confront what is real or important. In fact, the background becomes the foreground, goes from being passive to active, alive, and sometimes kicking.DSCF2325

I was thinking about this whilst watching an entertaining little movie, Cop Car (dir. Jon Watts, Focus 2015) recently. A road movie/coming of age drama/crime thriller, it is a new addition to my favourite outdoor or wilderness movies. As before, I’ve likely stretched the definition of what makes an outdoor or wilderness movie, and decided Cop Car fits the bill. For the most part, the tale is told under vast skies, on rural roads and along two lane blacktops snaking through golden grasslands. So, definitely an outdoor movie (or an almost outdoors movie!)

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Rural road
The story is quite simple, almost plotless. Two young runaway boys stumble over an “abandoned” police car and take it for a joy ride. The corrupt police officer wants his car back because there is incriminating evidence in the trunk. That’s pretty much the set up. What elevates the piece is a fine performance by Kevin Bacon, sporting a tremendous moustache and in fine scary bad cop mode. The outstanding use of the Colorado grasslands creates an unusual setting for all the drama. These elements, plus a short running time and economical script, combine to create a gripping tale. It’s rural noir! The details are all there – late model cars, old pick up trucks, lots of dust, and the occasional cow – if the movie had been shot in an urban setting, it would have been less effective.

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An occasional cow
It opens with the two young boys walking across the grasslands, repeating curse words, verbally testing where they are prepared to push the boundary, where they might cross a line. It’s a dare. They reach a literal boundary, a barbed wire fence, and choose to climb through, and push on in their attempt to escape whatever is behind them. Each time they dare each other and achieve a minor success, we know they are in fact digging themselves a deeper hole. You feel for them, recognizing their need to escape, but knowing they probably can’t.

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Bridge over the Red Deer River (and bugs on windshield)
If this all seems a bit downbeat, you might be right. However, there is an enjoyable vein of black humour and sly wit running through the movie. An example is when one boy leans over to check the speedometer, and the needle is barely flickering on 30mph. He glances at his buddy doing the driving, and then resignedly slumps back in his seat, choosing to say nothing. Haven’t we all been there?!

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These won’t hit 30mph…
Parts of the movie reminded me of Rob Reiner’s wonderful Stand By Me, where the rhythm and flow of serious, yet essentially innocent, childhood conversations are captured with such clarity. Like Stand By Me, the boys treat their situation and surroundings as a big adventure, obviously mimicking what they’ve seen on TV or read in books. You know that their relative innocence is going to be lost as the story unfolds, and they become entangled in affairs beyond their understanding. When they find the police officer’s weapons and use them as toys, it is almost too hard to watch.

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Wide open spaces (of Alberta)
Because the story takes place in the wide open spaces of eastern Colorado, there is nobody about to assist the children. They are left to their own devices. The prairie setting gives the story the necessary room to breathe, the space for it to unfold. The beauty of the landscape is a contrast to the brutality of the adult characters.

There is a sense of unease throughout the movie, contrasting with the humour that raises a smile even as it unsettles the viewer because we fear for the boys. The sight of a bathrobe-clad criminal, rifle in hand, hopping from small bush to small bush by the roadside, searching for a place to make an ambush, is both funny and disturbing. And how about playing with conventions? The cop car as getaway car? A cop stealing a car? This is a movie full of small delights.

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Our getaway vehicle
The boys’ youthful naivety in trusting adults at face value is painful, and made worse by their geographical isolation from potential help. You may predict how it will all play out, but you stay with it because it is played out so well, and in stunning locations. It might not suit all tastes, but I enjoyed Cop Car for being a little different, a blood and dust prairie road trip worth taking.

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Take a prairie trip
The movie doesn’t do much for police recruitment in rural Colorado, but it might encourage those in search of their own (peaceful) big adventures to take a road trip out that way. Big skies and big landscapes await you! Just don’t be tempted by an apparently empty police cruiser…

As always, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment. Have you seen Cop Car? Maybe you’ll catch it this weekend, or it’ll catch you! (All of the photos here were taken the past few weeks in Alberta during our prairie explorations – not Colorado, but a pretty good stand in!)