A parrot in my tree

The peach-faced lovebird as I whistled to it.

The peach-faced lovebird as I whistled to it.

A few days ago, I heard the sweetest bird tweet.   I was walking under the palo brea in our front yard.  It startled me because most of the bird sounds around the house are anything but melodic.

For weeks now, angry mockingbirds shoot out from that same tree and dive-bomb my cat, Ares.  They make a war-like sucking sound, a warning.  And then squawk as they swoop down.  Even gods of war, like Ares, take cover.  I believe the mockers are trying to protect their nests and trust they are not psychotic.

Then there are also the grumpy clucks of blackbirds and starlings and the loud cries of the Gila woodpecker as it sails in to steal juice from the hummingbird feeder or to drill holes in the oranges.  That’s not to mention the monotonous whoos emitted by our messy pigeon family.

No, this was different.

The startling sweet sound of course forced me to search the tree for the voice was not only friendly but seemed to invite a conversation.  So I did the best I could to talk to it.  I whistled.  Wheet, wheet, wheet.

And, when it seemed to answer back, I saw it on a limb.  A beautiful orange face and the rest of it covered in green and blue feathers.  Ah, the peach-faced lovebird, a small parrot, once domesticated and now feral.  Families of these lovebirds thrive all over Phoenix.  Several groups can be found in our neighborhood in the central part of the city.  There is even a website devoted to the location of these birds.

I held out an index finger like I used to do with my parakeet, hoping it would perch there.   It did not. Perhaps the lovebird thought I was as addled as can be, a feeling no doubt shared by a curious neighbor.  I do not care.  I will keep trying.

I love these cheerful, monogamous birds, so innocent.  I want them to feel at home in my tree.  They make me feel happy and lighten my day.


A lack of focus: ‘3 Days to Kill’

The thing that made the film “Jaws” so much better than Peter Benchley’s book was that it ditched the author’s love story and focused on one subject.  Man v. Beast.

That can’t be said about actor Kevin Costner’s role as a CIA hit man in “3 Days to Kill.”  Without Costner’s popular brand this film would be DOA in theaters.

Costner’s character, Ethan, is torn between carrying out one last violent task of killing an international terrorist and, two, putting his estranged family life back together.  The film ping-pongs between those themes of job and family, bang, bang, bang.  Consequently neither worked for me.

And, worse, the film tries to come across as both comedy and drama.  When you see two writers credited for a screenplay, in this instance Luc Beeson and Adi Hasak, you have to wonder.  Anyway, “3 Days” is just a mess.

The plot.  The aging Ethan discovers that he is dying of cancer and has only a short time to live.  He is approached by a beautiful and zany CIA agent, Vivi Delay, to kill an international terrorist named “Wolf.”  Ethan agrees to the job only if he is guaranteed certain monies for the security of his daughter, Zooey, and wife, Christine.  The unbelievably cool and efficient Vivi eventually offers up a bonus, an “experimental drug” that may give him more time to live.

Having read no reviews, I fully expected an action flick ala “The Borne Identity.”  I was stunned when it slowly seeped in that this film was more about “family” than anything.  And schmaltzy and unbelievable at that.  The biggest question I had as the scenes rat-a-tatted by was when, not if,  Zooey would at long last call Ethan “dad.”

On the other side, there is plenty of bloodshed.  I gave up counting bodies.  But had I been in director McG’s shoes, I would’ve gone with that.  Not the thin preposterous ressurection of Ethan’s family.



Understanding Jimmy

Reluctantly, I came late in the day to the 2001 television film, “James Dean,” sensing James Franco’s portrayal of the great actor could not possibly live up to the real thing.  While I was right on that score, two historical questions kept me engaged last night as I watched for the first time director Mark Rydell’s hollow interpretation of Dean’s life.

The first question:  What was Dean’s sexuality?  Was he gay?  Or was he straight or somewhere in between?

The second:  Why was Dean’s relationship with his father so strained and what effect did it have on his life and acting career?

For the record, Dean died at age 24 in a car crash on September 30, 1955, near Cholame, CA, after rocketing to fame with only three films under his belt:  “East of Eden”, “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant.”  His legend lives on still 59 years later.  He would have been 83 years old now.

Dean’s sexuality has long been in question.  Just two years ago,  the best-done of the Dean bio films, “Joshua Tree, 1951,” portrayed the actor as gay.  Although it is of no importance to me other than in a historical sense, I was eager to see the take given to the subject in “James Dean” by director Rydell and writer Israel Horowitz.

Two scenes stand out.

One occurs at a bar.  Dean and fellow-actor Martin Landau are having drinks.  Both are unemployed.  A “producer” approaches Dean about a TV role and invites him to a party that night.  “Come late,” Dean is told.  Landau rolls his eyes and tells Dean the guy is gay and infers the invite is a “casting couch,”  sex for possible career favors.  Dean knows this but goes to the party anyway.  He is seen entering the gay man’s apartment.   From what we see, it is an all-male party.  End of scene.  We are left to decide what happens, but Dean’s career soon takes off.

The second scene shows Dean having sex with the so-called love of his life, the actress Pier Angeli, at his seaside home near Los Angeles.  To my mind the sex scene was a heavy-handed attempt to make Dean appear heterosexual above all.  Nowhere else in “James Dean” did the actor seem to have sexual interest in women.  Certainly not with his friend, the actress Christine White.

The film’s verdict:  Dean was perhaps bi-sexual, having male relationships when his career and huge ambitions came to bear.  But primarily he was heterosexual.  Ho-hum.

That said, the primary aim of “James Dean” is to imagine what caused the rift between Dean and his father, Winton, and later repercussions.

The actor is envisioned as angry and confused about his paternal relationship.  In a flashback to his childhood, Dean’s search for love is  rejected by his father time and again.  And later, in Freudian moments, Dean is seen attempting to kiss men.  In an improvised scene in “East of Eden,” Dean attempts to plant one on the startled actor Raymond Massey, who plays the father who rebuffs him.  And at the end of a serious discussion with studio boss Jack Warner, Dean lands a kiss on the forehead.  Rydell sees the father-son ordeal as central to Dean’s core.   It is what makes him tick.  It is what makes him the actor he was.

Throughout the film Dean is rejected by his father.  But, shortly before the finale, the car-crash scene that ended the actor’s life, Dean and Winton reconcile in a teary, over-wrought scene.  The father reveals the cause of his frigid feelings for his son this way:

Dean’s beloved mother had an affair and unbeknownst to Winton was pregnant when he married her.  Winton had his suspicions Dean was not really his son, and he could not come to grips with the lie.  Later, on her deathbed when Dean was 9, the wife confessed to her husband. This scene was not based on fact, but only offers Rydell’s view of what probably happened.

But I can think of another, that Winton possibly saw his son as a budding homosexual and was repelled by the thought.  After all, this was conservative, Christian-right Indiana shortly before World War II.

In any case, the film does little to give a new understanding of the actor’s life.  It is by and large the same old stuff.

The mystery of James Dean’s personal life lives on.















If Sgt. Bergdahl was black

What do you think would happen if Sgt. Bergdahl was black, Hispanic or Asian?  Under the current political climate and racist views from the right-wing, would “our last POW in Afghanistan” still be rotting away in that Taliban shark cage?

It is a very real possibility that a black Bergdahl would not have been released for such a controversial exchange of Taliban 5 prisoners held by the U.S.  After all, what is a black person’s life compared to that of a white?  Much less, the answer would likely be.  Of course conservatives would shade it in such a way as to not appear racial.

In fact, I will go so far as to suggest a black Sgt. Bergdahl would have long been dead, the Taliban seeing no value in him as a bargaining chip.

And, if those wild-eyed conservatives are threatening the white Bergdahl and his family with death, what pray tell would be said about a black one?

And if our black President, who can do no right in the eyes of some, signed off on a deal to retrieve a black soldier, would he not be lambasted — even impeached — for favoring his own race and be accused himself of racism?

That you ask questions like these tells you something about the modern America we live in.

If Miami disappears

A recent Gallup poll reveals 75% of Americans believe in God and 73% believe God either created us in our present form or at least took part in the evolutionary process.  Those statistics do not bode well for climate change.

If you believe God created not only man but the universe, chances are you believe he cares enough to protect them.  If glaciers melt, seas rise and Miami disappears, you also likely believe it is God’s will, punishment for human misbehavior.  But, in the end, God will intercede and save you.  Religion trumps science.

This is scary stuff.  There is no proof God exists.  It is a matter of faith.  It is a belief system, an ideology.

I think it is true what the economist Paul Krugman writes:  “What makes rational action on climate change so hard is . . . a toxic mix of ideology and anti-intellectualism.”

My hope follows a gut-feeling that many of the 75% who claim to believe in God are not so sure, that they will cave when all the chips are spread across the table.  I sense they will not place the planet at risk, that most Americans will understand that if Miami disappears something has gone amok and then they will act.

The problem is it could be too late.


‘Palo Alto,’ or surviving adolesence in paradise

If there is any hopeful message to be gotten from the depressing new teen-age film, “Palo Alto,” it is this.  Good kids can somehow emerge safely from even the worst environments.  A few of them anyway.

Teddy and April are sensitive and intelligent high schoolers who are swept up in the crazy world of their peers.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, despair and disrespect for everything including themselves, they reluctantly join this orgy of affluent white kids out of control.

Palo Alto, the California city by the Bay, symbolizes the best of opportunity for our children.  A land of sudden high-tech millionaires in Silicon Valley,  Good schools and facilities.  Home to Stanford University, the so-called Harvard of the West.  And yet what a wasteland we see in this cynical film.

Teddy (Jack Kilmer, son of the noted actor Val) is a budding artist, loved by his single-parent mother and increasingly in trouble with the law.  Drunk, Teddy rams into another car and leaves the scene only to be arrested later and sentenced to long hours of community service.  April (Emma Robbers) is a different story.  Hers is less than an ideal homelife.  Her mother is a distracted moron and her step-father (Val Kilmer) an addled marijuana abuser.  April seeks respite in having sex with her high school soccer coach (James Franco).

If there is a devil among this tribe of heathens, it is Fred (Nat Wolff), a charismatic but emotionally disturbed friend of the low-key Teddy.  The film’s climax concerns which way Teddy will turn:  Toward Fred and self-destruction?  Or toward April and love?

While “Palo Alto” is a nicely done film directed by Gia Coppola, it will take a great amount of patience for adults to endure.  Most adults have been there or at least observed such misbehavior as teens and parents.  Hopefully, some will even see themselves as the root of the problem.  Absentee and self-obsessed parents, physically and emotionally unable to engage their young.

The scary part of the film is envisioning America’s future.  If  “Palo Alto” truly depicts this country’s next wave of well-heeled parents and leaders, even bleaker times lie ahead.

Riding high and wet

My occasional  travels to Oahu’s North Shore over the past 30 years led to an unexpected view of myself.  I could have been, maybe should have been, a surfer-boy.

I clearly remember a few days after I was released from the Army, stopping at a road junction in northern Nevada.  I stewed there for many  long minutes pondering what next to do with my life.  Turn east to Kansas and home.  Or turn west and head for adventure, possibly on the beaches of California.

In many ways I pine for a do-over, for I did go to Kansas, get married, have children and enter the rat-race.

In my heart now, I believe I should have turned west and become a surf rider, a juvenile who matures slowly if at all while living a carefree life at the seashore surrounded by other like-minded mates.  Hacking my way through an alien “adult world” all these decades proved dispiriting.  Grubbing for dollars and owning stuff has never been a big part of my makeup.

So, having done no more than body-surf modest waves on Sandy Beach outside of Honolulu, I resort these days to watching surfer movies in hopes of catching a glimpse of what might have been.  That’s why last night I switched on the DVD player to peer into director John Milius’s 1978 drama, “Big Wednesday,” a nostalgic look-back at his own life as a surfer and coming of age on the waves.

Milius divided his maudlin tale into four ocean swells covering 12 years in the lives of three friends as they surfed a favored Los Angeles beach, sometimes together, sometimes alone:   South Swell (1962), about being young.  The West Swell (Fall 1965), focusing on life changes and differences in personality.  Winter Swell (1968), a time of separation.  The Great Swell (spring of 1974), a chance for reunion.

These unlikely friends are united only by their love of surfing.

Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent) is a world-class big-wave surfer who suffers bouts of depression and alcoholism.  Jack (William Katt) is the solid-citizen, reflective and often remote who volunteers for the war in Vietnam amid protesting peers.  Leroy (Gary Busey) is a fun-loving character with an addiction for fist-fights.   The glue that keeps these buddies from drifting apart is an older surfboard maker, Bear (Sam Melville).   Friendships are essential to life, Bear preaches, although he ends up divorced, a drunk living a lonely existence near the beach.

The climactic last scenes arrive on a “big Wednesday” with a big storm and some of the highest, meanest waves ever seen on the beach.  Matt, with the urging of Bear, comes forth to surf these most dangerous of waves.  He has tried in vain to invite Jack and Leroy to surf with him, all now in middle age.  Will they show up on their own for this once-in-a-lifetime event of Mother Nature, drawn by their deep connection to surfing and friendship?  Is there no lasting bond for these three?  Are their younger days of camaraderie, surfing and partying together, only memories and nothing more?

Milius, the director, described his film this way:

“The idea was to show the spirit of old-time surfing,” he says in a post-film commentary. “This was a time that was past, you know.  Black and white.  It was a time that had gone by and would never be the same again.”

While the idea was good, the execution was not.  Wooden, overly sentimental and bogged down in a queasy plot, the film is saved primarily by the surfing photography and watching doubles, the so-called master surfers (Ian Cairns, Peter Townend, Bill Hamilton, Gerry Lopez, J. Riddle and Jackie Dunn) do their marvelous maneuvers on large breakers.

Sometimes, in a search for a meaningful and well-done surfing film,  you have to wade a few hours in shallow water.  And that’s what I did here.