Media Monday: McFarland USA

McFarland USA could have been just another “poor kids make good,” movie.

It is that, but it’s a lot more, too.

McFarland, USA
McFarland, USA

Set in 1987, McFarland USA is the story of Coach Jim White who takes a job as an assistant football coach in a dusty and dreary spot in the middle of California. If you’ve driven Highway 99 between Bakersfield and Fresno, you’ve driven through McFarland. You probably didn’t stop though. It’s a small town, populated by mostly migrant farmworkers. The people work hard and barely make ends meet. Education is sometimes sacrificed to the need to eat and put food on the table.

Coach White has … ummm … “anger management,” issues and he knows McFarland is his last stop before he has to find another way to support his family, other than coaching. Sure enough, he crosses the head football coach and is relieved of his coaching duties. He can still stay and teach, but he wants to do more. He’s a coach. Some people are born singers, or whittlers, or bakers. White is a coach.

He notices that several of the kids in his PE class can run. They carb load on rice and beans all day, they work in the fields before school, and then they run. White proposes a cross country team to the principal.

Because McFarland USA is billed as a feel-good sports movie, you can pretty much figure out the rest of the story. They start running. They place and win some meets. Then they make it to the state cross country championships.

The movie is well-written, well-cast, and well-acted. There were a few cringe-ish moments, but overall, it’s not sentimental, it applauds hard work, both in the field and on the track. Stud Muffin did not like the quinceañera scene, but I was okay with it. He’s right, it was nothing like a real quinceañera, but in the movie, it was a gringo celebration, so it didn’t bother me.

Kevin Costner hit the right notes as a man who knows he’s staring unemployment in the face if he can’t figure out how to get out of his own way. He respects the kids and their parents and the hard life they live without complaint. Maria Bello is excellent as his wife, with a nice mix of exasperation and devotion to her husband.

Our beautiful bride daughter works in McFarland and her building has a small part in the movie. The market and taco shop which are featured heavily, are across the street from her office. Filming was a big deal for the town and its residents. They are justly proud of their cross country team, their coach, and now, their story.

Food Talk Friday: Javier’s

Fresno and the Central Valley is full of great Mexican food. You can’t swing a stuffed tamale without hitting a taco truck, fast food Mexican, or a sit down restaurant.

Javier's, from Yelp.com
Javier’s, from Yelp.com

Stud Muffin first took me to Javier’s years ago when he worked in Fresno. I loved it from the first bite. I don’t get there very often because it’s as far from me as it can be and still be in Fresno.

Last week we went to lunch and I requested Javier’s. Stud Muffin knows I love it, but he didn’t feel as strongly about their food as I did. Until yesterday. He kept saying, “This is better than I remember.” I kept sighing and eating.

The chips are light and crispy, thinner than any other tortilla chips I’ve had. The salsa isn’t hot but it has spice and flavor and is delicious. The tacos were amazing. The tortilla is thicker than what the chips are made out of, so it stands up to each bite and doesn’t fall apart. The ground beef enchiladas tasted rich and beefy. Stud Muffin said they tasted like they were made with shredded beef instead of ground.

Yes, it’s “Americanized” Mexican food. Stud Muffin’s standard is if there is lingua on the menu. And there’s not. But he enjoyed his food anyway, so that’s a ringing endorsement.

I’m so glad that he loved last week’s lunch. Maybe I’ll get to go back more often than every two to three years.

Woe! It’s Wednesday: Vacations and Birthdays and Weddings

I’m writing this before we head to Maui for a week. While there, we’ll be celebrating a daughter’s wedding, a grand-daughter’s birthday, Saint Patrick’s Day, and try to cram in some relaxing.

The view from the church yard where Charles Lindbergh is buried.
The view from the church yard where Charles Lindbergh is buried.

We love being on the water. We love watching whales at this time of year. We love hanging by the pool. We love trying new restaurants. We love just driving around the island. We love being tourists. But we love knowing some of the local hangouts and secrets for life on the island.

It took a couple of trips, but when we were last on Maui in 2013, I finally found and visited Charles Lindbergh’s final resting place near Hana.

Each trip has seemed to focus on something. Finding the Seven Sacred Pools. Finding the graveyard. Whales. Turtles.

This may be the first trip with no “must do” or “must see.”

Other than getting a daughter married. That’s the primary focus of this trip. That and then we’ll concentrate on relaxing.

We’ve had some hard news in our family recently and we’re ready for a brief respite from real life.

Where do you like to go to escape from real life?

Book Talk Tuesday: CALLING ME HOME

I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on top of Mt. TBR as soon as I catch a minute to read.

CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler
CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

The blurb: A soaring debut interweaving the story of a heartbreaking, forbidden love in 1930s Kentucky with an unlikely modern-day friendship

It’s the story of an elderly white woman, her African-American hairdresser and their shared journey.

I’ve heard good things about it and the first pages are captivating. The cover art hints at the forbidden relationship.

I’ll post a fuller review soon, but in the meantime, what are you reading? Or what are you looking forward to? What’s on top of your stack?

Media Monday: FOREVER

This is a new series and I think of it as Sherlock meets Groundhog Day. Sorta. I’m not a Dr. Who aficionado, but I think it could also be Sherlock meets Dr. Who. But I could be wrong about that.

Ioan Gruffudd in Forever
Ioan Gruffudd in Forever

The Premise:  Dr. Henry Morgan is a medical examiner in New York City. And he’s immortal. He can’t be killed, can’t die. If he is mortally wounded, just as he takes his last breath, he disappears and reappears somewhere nearby in water and naked. It’s very inconvenient.

The overarching story: There’s another immortal loose in the city. An evil immortal who is taunting Henry and killing people.

The weekly story: A murder investigation. Henry has a kinda-sorta partnership with a NYPD detective named Jo Martinez, a recent and grieving widow.

In nearly every episode, Henry is called to pronounce a cause of death. The detectives have already decided it’s accidental but Henry spots something that indicates murder.

There are occasional flashbacks to Henry’s previous life experiences. He’s been married a couple of times. He’s been practicing medicine for a couple hundred years, so he’s learned a lot. And he remembers a lot. The first few episodes slowly reveal Henry’s backstory.

We’re enjoying this one a lot. It’s on the DVR and we often watch it while it’s airing. In our house, that’s the sign of a winner.

Anyone else watching FOREVER?