Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)

A red race car
Just one more lap. The racer and his Golden Retriever, Enzo, are best friends in The Art of Racing in the Rain. Kevin Costner voices Enzo, who is philosophical and narrates the film. Milo Ventimiglia plays Denny Swift, the racer who has a rough ride. He is a bold and talented driver hoping to join a winning Formula One racing team.

Denny has some steadfast friends who stay with him as he moves through life. They are looking forward to more and more success. Denny has many maxims shared by Enzo such as “a race is never won in the first corner.” Enzo regrets his floppy tongue that prevents him from speaking his wisdom. Despite his silence, he speaks loudly at a crucial moment in the story’s development, eating Denny’s “homework.”

Enzo helps Denny meet Eve when Enzo approaches her enthusiastically. Despite the couple’s love, Eve’s wealthy parents fear for their daughter. They are worried about the danger, travel and unavailability that come with the racing profession.

As I planned to go to the movie, I was apprehensive because I imagined a story with suspense and long race scenes. It turns out that I didn’t see Denny racing as much as I expected. Some racing footage was taken from within Denny’s car and he watched those films to help improve his racing performance. Denny seemed to teach younger drivers as much as he was racing himself. There were many emotional beats through the movie, but not the ones I expected.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is constructed with Denny facing life’s emotional challenges with grace. There’s an undercurrent of conflict between Eve’s parents and Denny. Eve’s parents selfishly think they know what’s best for their granddaughter Zoe. In the middle of the film, there is some plodding storytelling. I realize that after Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel, I need to recalibrate my expectations of action to a more earthly plane.

Enzo has tried to learn as much as he can about the art of being human. He is confident that he will return as a human in his next life. Denny’s career is not as glorious as he had hoped, but he keeps showing that he can excel when faced with challenges.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is not a high-speed race. It doesn’t apologize for making the audience to feel sad, but it is not depressing nor a lofty fantasy. The movie doesn’t need to take another lap because it shows what can happen in life after the first corner.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

a film reelAs the animated How to Train Your Dragon opens, you enter the colorful world of the Vikings living in their seaside village for generations. Surprisingly, all of the buildings are new. As the story unfolds, you learn why. The Vikings, their village and livestock often get attacked by dragon hordes that carry away the animals. Dragons, being known for breathing fire, set the village alight during their attacks.

Everyone in the village is devoted to their life by the sea and hunting dragons. However, it’s not long before you meet a youth who doesn’t fit in. Hiccup wants to help in the battles, but his temperament and physique aren’t tailored to the rough Viking life. Although he is an assistant to a blacksmith, he’s barely able to pick up the swords and axes they make. He is notorious for misguided inventions. Despite his reputation, in the opening battle, his catapult throws a net that catches a Night Fury.

Night Furies are rare and terrible dragons so mysterious that the books of dragon lore don’t describe them. When Hiccup finds the Night Fury that his net caught, he wields a knife to kill it. Then Hiccup berates himself when he dropped the knife and couldn’t kill the dragon—it was just as frightened as himself. He became even more demoralized and lost hope that he could ever become a real Viking. He was also confident that he couldn’t handle the shame if other villagers knew he couldn’t kill a dragon, so he kept his charge secret.

Soon, Hiccup was pushed to join the other teenagers in dragon hunter training. At first, he struggles to avoid getting burned during the challenges. He also gets in the way of the his classmates. However, the Night Fury teaches Hiccup many things that no Viking ever knew about dragons.

Hiccup’s life changed. With his inventiveness, he gets to experience the freedom of flying through the sky riding the dragon he befriended. The movie shows exhilarating flights through the clouds and exotic cliffs. During one of their flights, Hiccup and the Night Fury find a truly terrifying dragon. That dragon is destined to be the target of the Vikings’ biggest hunt.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is a humorous fantasy that offers a story that will be appreciated by an older audience. The Viking that is different and ostracized by the others finds that he can be useful and valued for his differences.

Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

A movie reel
In the center of the universe stands a dark tower that protects the universe from chaos and destruction. Although we see the tower only briefly, the film The Dark Tower from 2017 shows repeated attacks that threaten the worlds that it protects. Earthquakes and mysterious lights in the sky are becoming more frequent in New York and other cities.

The Man in Black is orchestrating these attacks, trying to use the minds of children which he believes could destroy the tower and unleash devastation and death. The movie begins with a horror sequence showing an attack. We see the tower assaulted by an energy beam, but the tower is sturdy. Jake is woken from a troubled dream by the ensuing earthquake.

The characters of the movie, the Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey, the Gunslinger, played by Idris Elba, and Jake, played by Tom Taylor, battle over the tower. To connect the different sites of the story, door-like portals allow travel between worlds.

When the movie opens, children are in a playground until a klaxon sounds and alarms on a few children’s wrists activate. The kids walk robot-like into a dark building with a conical roof. Soon, the reason for their alarm becomes clear.

As the movie progresses, the Gunslinger’s prowess with a six-shooter becomes more and more amazing. For his part, the Man in Black can control other people with a whisper. For example, he can tell someone to stop breathing or probe their memories to help find Jake. Early in the film, Jake escapes from the Man in Black’s agents who are identified by a seam in the fake skin covering their face.

The movie struggles to balance the horror genre, westerns and fantasy. The three aspects dance around each other, starting the movie in horror and ending with a fantasy western style. As the story unfolds, we see more and more of the Man in Black’s powerful skills. The Gunslinger is empowered by the Gunslinger’s Creed that forms the foundation of his talents. As the film progresses, Jake discovers his own power, his shine.

At his mother and stepfather’s home, Jake is tormented by vivid dreams. He has been compulsively drawing scenes from the dreams because they are too real to be a dream. His family blames the visions and psychological distress from the death of Jake’s father. However, when Jake meets the Gunslinger, he learns that his dreams have been real.

Sometimes when I see a movie trailer, I’m not interested in learning more. This movie is an exception to that pattern. In the trailer, I saw a scene of an attack on the tower. I was hoping for more appearances of the tower, but those scenes are precious and kept brief and infrequent. Perhaps the attacks on the tower would seem repetitive and lose their horror if they were over-done.

As a film, The Dark Tower is successful and meeting its promise of a battle between good and evil. Evil seems to have the upper hand throughout the movie because of the Man in Black’s extraordinary skills. He can catch bullets and kill people with a phrase. The Gunslinger is tentative in his abilities, but Jake inspires him to continue fighting.

Low sodium

a drawing of a cookbook
I decided to start taking the doctor’s advice to lower my sodium input. After all, I am taking blood pressure medication…

So, my first go is to start making my own food. I made a pasta bake tonight. I thought I was doing well.

Then I added up the sodium content. There were 7000 mg sodium in it. About 4000 of that came from the tomato sauce I used. The label advertised that the can had only had “280 mg” / serving. But, the serving was half a standard serving so their bragging about being ok on sodium was a lie. Shame on you Red Gold.

I’m not sure how many meals I made in the dish. However, I’m coming from behind in the race to beat prepared frozen dishes.

Next time, I’ll be more careful in my grocery shopping…

Correspondence

A green thought bubble
A friend of mine accused me of being old school today.

Lately I’ve been sending friends U.S. Mail letters.

I think that getting a piece of paper in the mail is appreciated a little more than a missive in e-mail. It’s got some substance that you can decide to save in a scrap book when it comes from someone special. I treasure the letters I got from my grandmother.

When you read the letter, you’re seeing more than merely the traces of my fingers on a keyboard tidied up by a spell checker. You can see that there is a real human that you are communicating with.

What’s more romantic? Getting an email from your date thanking you for a nice evening or a physical card expressing gratitude in a flowing cursive script?

I’m not real enamored with “internet time.” The passage of time gives some perspective. I’m less likely to go on a circuitous rant about the current political dispute if I take 10 minutes writing in ink. I’m not going to hit “send” with some half-baked whining that I’ll regret 10 seconds later.

Time has great power. I don’t take enough of it. When I write a letter, you know that it’s something from the heart.

Vulnerable

Thought bubble
In the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other,” Sherry Turkle said “With some exceptions, when we make ourselves vulnerable we expect to be nurtured.” (p. 235) She’s referring Erik Erikson and the expectations coming from basic trust. That’s something that’s completely counter to the way that the Internet often works. For the most part, any time you put yourself out there, you’re at risk of being attacked or ridiculed rather than built up and comforted.

One place for this risk comes from places that encourage intimacy. It’s not always easy to trust people to begin with. Letting your guard down out there in the social media dystopia isn’t always safe. If one makes comments that might be too hard to share in person, it can still end up hurting.

One reason for this is that anonymity allows people to be more negative and exhibit the dark tetrad personality traits when, in person, they wouldn’t act out. To them, the idea that people have feelings or that they are afraid of being humiliated is alien. Often, the enemy only feels good by getting some lolz.

Sometimes you can find a community of like-minded people where you can be safe. This reflects Sherry’s comment “Communities are places where one feels safe enough to take the good and the bad.” (p. 238) I’ve found some, like deviantART, are different than most social media. One reason is that to belong there, you have to put in some work. You can’t just repost an inane meme and belong. A member of dA is a creator. A pretender just looks around and is lurking.

Every time you get in front of a computer screen and post something on Twitter or Facebook, it’s possible to misstep and be misunderstood catastrophically.

Dreaming

Lightning bolts striking To The Right Right To The Left left. Two images Layered making this 30 sec, 250 ISO – f5.6 – 90mm. (C) 2011 James Bo Insogna


Last night, I had some really realistic dreams. While thinking about dreams from the past, it seems that, depending on a person’s strengths and experiences, a dream might contain different symbols.

For example, an effect of experience: I was really successful at taking tests when I was in school. A consequence of that is that I never have dreams about an unexpected test coming up or the anxiety of getting there late.

An effect of strengths: Often my dreams include text. While I can recognize the words on the page, if I look away and look back again, the words have all changed. I can’t remember the message. Apparently my brain’s system that recognizes words and letters is closer to my core than the semantic part that understands them.

One feature of my sleep is that I often have “hypnogogic hallucinations:” I start dreaming before I’m actually asleep. Past experiences have usually been the face of a single person that appears and then vanishes. Recently, the images include two people instead of one. I wonder what that change signifies?

Last night, my dreams were hyper-realistic. Everything was really detailed and pretty mundane. Nothing was bizarre or mixed up. For example, I saw a rain shower in the distance. I could see the edges of where the rain was falling and the dark clouds that were above them. In the dream, I was picking up some papers because the approaching storm could scatter them. They looked like real pieces of papers and as I piled them together, they didn’t do something strange such as transforming into a bird or a monster.

One aspect of last night’s dream was anxiety about a tornado coming. In the past I’ve had real tornadoes coming near me. Eventually, I had one pass directly over where I was hiding and I never had a tornado dream again. I didn’t see one last night, but I was worried that one might come.

Original image: To The Right Right To The Left left. By Bo Insogna, TheLightningMan.com [Image license]