Sunday, September 27, 2015

The War Wagon (1967)

Despite being a big John Wayne fan, and a bigger Kirk Douglas fan, this is a film I'd only seen once, back in high school.  I barely remembered anything about it, but a friend recently reminded me of it by quoting the famous line and rejoinder:

"Mine hit the ground first."
"Mine was taller."

And that put me in the mood to revisit this film.  I had to watch it twice, only because I didn't particularly like it on my first viewing, and so I wanted to see it a second time, see if it improved.  It did.

The war wagon of the film's title is a specially armored coach, completely with gatling gun and thirty guards, that ferries large quantities of gold between town and the railhead.   John Wayne recruits a few people to stop and rob that wagon.  That's essentially the plot.

The best parts of this movie for me are the cast, the snappy dialogue, and the Durango, Mexico scenery.  I'm not fond of the plot, but that's only a matter of personal taste.  Sure, there's a thirty-second exposition bit about how John Wayne's character, Taw Jackson (worst name ever), was framed and sent to jail so the bad guy, a smarmy Bruce Cabot as Pierce, could steal his ranch and the gold mine on his land, but watching Wayne on the wrong side of the law just doesn't sit well.  It also makes the movie both a wee bit of a revenge tale and a heist tale... neither of which I'm fond of.  (Clarification: I'm very fond of revenge tales when someone's avenging murdered family members, etc., but when wronged parties go after the person who wronged them, and it's solely about self, it never quite works for me... move on, already!)  And heist movies, with all their careful timing and experts in various fields working together against high odds to steal a lot of whatever... it's just not my thing.  So, plotwise... this movie does not push my buttons.

But then there's the cast, and they almost make up for it.  John Wayne is his normal solid self, wearing a famous outfit that I had on a poster.  Never knew what movie that poster's pic was from!  Now I do. :-D  He's great in this movie and his dialogue is perfect John Wayne dialogue.  His character is highly entertaining, despite the lousy name.

Howard Keel shows up as Levi Walking Bear, and he amuses me no end in the role, particularly his entrance, all tied up and being shot at for getting caught cheating at poker (which he feels is perfectly justified). Cracks me up.  He gets some very funny lines as well.

Robert Walker Jr. is around as their drunk explosives expert, and his presence always makes me uneasy. I'm so used to him playing psycho characters that I have the hardest time trusting him.  I keep expecting him to go off the deep end at any moment.  Poor guy!  Talk about being typecast.  And he's fine in this role too, as a non-pyscho, which is why the second viewing helped.  I could stop worrying about him flipping out.

Bonus points for Emilio Fernandez, who has a small part as bandit leader, Calita, and who I instantly recognized from The Wild Bunch, where he plays corrupt General Mapache.

But the main thing I like about this movie is Kirk Douglas.

He plays gunfighter Lomax, who has some unpleasant history with Jackson, but they put that aside for the sake of stealing all that gold.  He is sassy, smirky, confident, and all tons of smooth, physical grace.  Seriously, I could watch this movie just to watch him leap across other horses to mount his own, or climb cliff faces, or generally show  off his high level of fitness.  I also just really enjoy his interactions with Wayne.  The two actors play very well off each other, and they get the best dialogue.

Favorite moments:
  • Jackson and Lomax's rescue of Levi.  
  • The spectacular barroom brawl, cuz barroom brawls in Westerns never get old, and this one is a doozy.  I love Jackson's "Oh no!" as he gets jumped by multiple cowboys at once, and I love Lomax leaning against the bar watching the whole thing.
  • Nitro glycerin, because TNT is great fun, but nitro is just plain cool.  Watching everyone get jumpy around it makes me grin.
  • Any time Kirk Douglas gets up or down off his horse.
It's not a movie I need to own, but after the second viewing made me appreciate it more, I definitely won't be waiting another thirty years before I see it again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Our Man Flint (1966)

This is a movie I grew up on.  In fact, I can't even remember when I first saw it; it's one of those that has just always been there.  It's the first thing I saw James Coburn in, and it remains my favorite role of his, just because his Derek Flint is the epitome of self-assured, suave, smooth, butt-kicking awesomeness.

 (I love Galaxy's uniforms.  They're snazzy and cool and James Coburn looks great in one.)

Our Man Flint is a spy movie that parodies the Bond films.  A trio of scientists threaten the world by controlling the weather.  Lee J. Cobb plays Cramden, the head of ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage).  His other agents have failed to stop the scientists, and so he must reluctantly call on super duper super spy Flint.  He's not fond of Flint.  Flint doesn't follow orders.  Flint is not a team player.  Flint is constantly showing him up.  But, he is the best spy on the planet, and the world needs the best spy to save the day...

Flint tracks down the bad guys, of course, to their very strange volcanic island lair.  Where he proceeds to single-handedly wreck the entire joint and save the world (without ever using a gun... shooting people is not Flint's style).  This is not a spoiler.  He's Flint!  Of course he will prevail.  In style.  That's what makes this movie so much fun.

 (Galaxy's crazy island)

When you also grow up on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flint fits right in.  Both are Fox, both use many of the same sets, footage, and crazy science fictiony plot.  If no one's written a cross-over fanfic, I'd be surprised, as they all seem to inhabit the same version of the world.

Favorite things about this movie:

Any time Flint speaks in his own special code.  "It's based on..."  "I can imagine what it's based on..."

Flint's special lighter gadget, with 82 functions.  83 if you wish to light a cigar.

"It disappeared into thin air."

Flint napping (by stopping his heart) while stretched out plank-like, feet on one chair, head on another.  And his watch alarm.  Dude, I want one of those.

The red presidential phone and its famous ring.

Agent 0008.

Lee J. Cobb's constant, immense frustration with the Perfection that is Flint.

The fight between Rodney (Edward Mulhare) and Flint.

(Edward Mulhare and Scientist Bad Guys)

Barrels and the swan dive.  I think this may have been the part I waited for most when I was young.  Sheer awesomeness.

"Stall!  Flint is alive!"

The anti-American eagle.  "It's diabolical!"

Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding, swinging score.

My favorite scene goes along with my favorite cue, which kicks in when Flint starts climbing the multi-level outdoor ladder.  And goes up and up and up.  Although really, I adore the entire ending, from when he escapes execution to when he escapes the island.  He trashes the place, evades bad guys, fights bad guys, wrecks things, blows things up, and rescues his girls, and it's just great, cheesy, actiony, stylish fun.

(Favorite cue in the score, and a taste of Flint in action)

Yes, he has girls.  Four of them.  He takes them all out to dinner, dances with all of them, pays attention to all of them... None of them are jealous. However, every other male in the movie is clearly envious.  It's quite amusing.

(Flint and his beautiful companions, with Gila Golan as Gila)

There is a sequel, In Like Flint, that is also amusing, but not quite as much fun as the first one.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Best weekend ever

Last weekend, my sister and I went to Las Vegas to go to the annual Star Trek convention they hold there.  It was our first time attending, and it was a ridiculous amount of fun.

We got to hear all sorts of actors talk and answer questions, from the entire crew of Voyager, half the TNG crew, half the DS9 folks, George Takei, Sir Patrick Stewart (!!!), and Captain Kirk himself, the one and only William Shatner. 

Star Trek, the original series, was my childhood.  It was on constant repeats on television growing up, and we watched it just about every night for years.  I watched almost all of Next Generation while it aired (missed the last season), watched almost all of DS9 (again, missed the last season), and all of Voyager.  Tried Enterprise, but couldn't get into that one at all.  I'm told it got better after the first few eps, but I have not gone back to try it again.

The convention had really cool recreations of some of the sets. 

We really wanted this transporter to work...

There were people of all ages attending and it seemed like at least half of them were in some version of a Starfleet uniform or other character costume costume.  It was awesome.  Everywhere we went in the hotel/casino, there were Starfleet officers.  Of Klingons.  Or Borg.  Or Vulcans.

And the best part?  Everyone was happy and cheerful All Weekend Long.  I mean that in all seriousness.  Smiles, grins, laughs from absolutely everyone we saw, from the vendors, to our fellow attendees, to the actors... everyone was so full of upbeat and full of positive energy, it was rather astounding.  Not once did we see a frown, a complaint, or a hint of negativity.  Not. Once.  We got in line at one of the hotel Starbucks, and there were 40 people in line ahead of us.  FORTY PEOPLE!!!  Not one person complained, no one fussed, more people just got in line behind us, and everyone patiently waited for their turn.  How often does that happen???  (There was a longer wait at Starbucks than to see some of the actors!)

And the actors were so funny in their panels that by the end of Sunday, we were laughed out.  We'd busted a a gut so often, we had nothing left to give. 

It ended up being one of the most memorable weekends of our lives.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Run of the Arrow (1957)

I've been wanting to see this movie for years.  It wasn't available until just recently, but it is finally out on DVD, so I finally got me a copy, which arrived yesterday, just in time to add in one more review to the Legends of Western Cinema blog party.  (Look at me go... radio silence for ages, and then all these posts again... you'd think I love Westerns or something.)


This movie is about an Army Lieutenant named Driscoll.  At the beginning of the movie, it's the end of the civil war, and he's shot off his horse by a Confederate soldier, who at least has the courtesy to take him to the surgeon's tent, and not let him bleed to death.  He recovers and heads West with his regiment to fight Indians... only to be stymied in his violent ambitions by generals and peace treaties.  The nerve!  He's sent as escort (wet nurse, in his opinion) to a troop of Army engineers who will be building an Army fort in a place agreed upon by the Army and the Indians.  Driscoll immediately recognizes this spot is all wrong and has no military value.  But will anyone listen to him?  No!  However, a renegade Indian kills his commanding officer, and he finally gets to take over and do things his way.  Peace treaty?  P'fah.  He scouts out a new, completely unsanctioned (but an actually useful) location for the fort, one with a great view, and one that can only be approached/attacked from one direction.  Work gets underway, but his new fort location and direct violation of the agreement has angered the Indians. They attack en force.  With barely half a wall built, it doesn't matter that there's only one direction from which the Indians can attack the new fort.  They easily overrun Driscoll's camp, massacre the soldiers, and take Driscoll prisoner.  Because he interfered earlier in a Sioux form of justice, the "run of the arrow," the penalty is death... by being skinned alive.  Poor Driscoll.  It isn't a pretty way to go.  Fortunately for him, the confederate soldier who shot him in the beginning of the movie, has been living with the Sioux, and is on hand to shoot him again to put him out of his misery. Which nicely brings things full circle.

What?  That's not the movie's plot?  Of course it is!  From the point of view of a Ralph Meeker fan, that is.  Cuz Meeker's why I was watching the movie, naturally.

The plot everyone else is watching apparently concerns the Confederate soldier, O'Meara, played by Rod Steiger. He's so angry and bitter and full of hatred that the South surrendered, that he heads West, survives the run of the arrow himself and becomes a Sioux.  He might be full of identity issues, about himself, about the new United States, about which side he's on.  He might become the designated scout the Sioux lend to the army to help them get to the designated spot to build their fort.  He might try to keep the peace and convince the soldiers to surrender.  He might decide he's more American than Sioux, and return with the army.  The movie might actually be his story.

It's always interesting how many "movies" there are within one movie, isn't it?  LOL!

(the other guy the movie may be about)

Lt. Driscoll could almost turn into Roy Anderson, the dishonorably discharged, morally unstable lieutenant from The Naked Spur, if Driscoll hadn't been killed at the end of Run of the Arrow.  Driscoll's far more callous and self-aggrandizing than Anderson, but they're close cousins.  Which means Meeker is perfect for playing Driscoll and is clearly having fun chewing scenery.  He's rather delightful, as he usually is.  All cigar-chomping, chafing at being told "no" every other minute.  His smug grin when he finally takes over command shows no compassion whatsoever for the poor captain who's just been killed and shines with pure Meeker smirkiness.

The captain is played by Brian Keith.  He's lovely in the role, nice (too nice to survive this world), honorable, steadfast, honest, and rule-following.  He puts Driscoll in his place a few times (as Driscoll's resentment grows).  He also has some nice pointed conversations with that other guy, O'Meara.  His death was very sad, everything he worked for lost in a heartbeat.

Charles Bronson plays Blue Buffalo.  He doesn't get much to do other than show off his fine physique.  It is mighty fine.

H.M. Wynant plays Crazy Wolf, the Indian equivalent of Driscoll.  The one who passionately hates the other side, who won't obey orders, and causes no end of trouble for everyone.  If someone had just let those two hot-heads fight each other to the death, it would have saved everyone else a lot of pain and suffering. Those two really mess all the hard-earned peace everyone else is trying to preserve.

This was a surprisingly short movie, less than 90 minutes, and it feels too short to me.  I wanted more time with the characters.  However, the short running time keeps it fairly tight and ALL extraneous stuff is cut out.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It shows the Native Americans in a fair light.  There are good and bad people on both sides.  Some strive for peace, some for war.  Some live on hate, some live on love.

There's lots of action, including the titular Run of the Arrow.  It consists of giving a barefoot person a head start, and letting them run for their life across the desert while the tribe chases them down.  No one has ever survived it, until O'Meara does, with the help of Yellow Moccasin (Sarita Montiel).  Surviving the run of the arrow is what cements his place in Sioux life.

I liked this one, though didn't love it, and will watch it again when I need some smirky Ralph Meeker looking mighty fine in his uniform while he causes trouble and gets innocent people killed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lonely are the Brave (1962)

This review is part of Legends of Western Cinema week.

This Western has been part of my life since I was young.  It is a powerful movie, and one I love deeply... but I can't watch it very often because it breaks my heart.


This is a modern Western, set in the year it was filmed, but still very much a Western, even with cars and helicopters.

The basic plot:  Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), rides into a New Mexico town to try to help his best friend, Paul (Michael Kane), who's been jailed for helping illegal immigrants and faces two years in prison.  Burns may live in current day, but he's an old-fashioned cowboy, doesn't have a home, doesn't have ID or a driver's license.  He's a simple man of the Old West, out of his time, out of his place.  The world has gone and changed, and is full of fences and laws and cars and airplanes and chaos masquerading as civilized order.

He gets deliberately arrested to join his friend in jail, to convince him to then break jail with him.  But Paul has changed and accepted the modern world, and he intends to serve out his two-year sentence.  He has a wife and a son, and if he breaks out of jail, they'll all be on the run, forever.  He doesn't want that.  So Burns breaks out alone and busts for the Mexico border on his horse, Whiskey, with the New Mexico law in hot pursuit.

I'm a sucker for movies about characters lost and outdated as time, progress, and civilization steamroll right over them and their ways.  Maybe because that's how I've always felt.  Some of my favorite Westerns are all set in the early 1900's, and incorporate this theme:  Big Jake, The Professionals, The Wild Bunch.  And Lonely are the Brave.

This movie is quiet, introspective, but still has plenty of action.  It's Jack Burns' movie.  Well, Jack Burns and his horse, because the young and skittish, beautiful, flaxen-maned Whisky is a main character herself, and as important as Jack.  He talks constantly to her, she acts up in return and has more personality than quite a few actors I can think of.  This is Kirk Douglas at his finest.  He's always made a great cowboy, and how he brings Jack Burns alive is the center of this tale.  It's my favorite role of his.

There are so many scenes that are amazing.  The opening, where we see a open-aired camp, Burns lying on his bedroll, sipping coffee, Whisky in the background... when he hears engines and looks up in the sky to see three jets leaving contrails over the New Mexico sky.  His look as he watches their intrusion says it all.  The movie is full of those contrasts: Burns and his horse and open country against highways and jail and the modern world.

There's some dialogue in the first half of this movie I always liked, that always sums up the difference between Burns cowboy perspective, and the modern world taking over:

Burns: "A Westerner likes open country. That means he's got to hate fences, and the more fences there are, the more he hates them.  D'you ever notice how many fences there're getting to be? And the signs they got on them: no hunting, no hiking, no admission, no trespass, private property, closed area, start moving, go away, get lost, drop dead!  And they got those fences that say this side's jail, or that side's a street, or here's Arizona and that's Nevada, or this is us, that's Mexico.  The one between here and Mexico is the fence that got Paul into trouble.  He just naturally didn't see the use of it, so he acted as if it wasn't there. So when people sneaked across it, he just felt they were still people so he helped them."
Jerri:  "Jack, I'm going to tell you something. The world that you and Paul live in doesn't exist.  Maybe it never did. Out there is the real world.  And it's got real borders and real fences, real laws and real trouble. And either you go by the rules, or you lose.  You lose everything."
Burns:  "You always keep something."

The scene when he looks in on Paul's sleeping son, marvels at him, at what he will never have.  Not a word spoken, just watching Burns react to the young boy, to family life.

Every scene between him and Jerri (Gena Rowlands) is outstanding.  They sparkle and shine when they're together.  I love how obvious their history is in how they act towards each other.  How they take care of each other, how they talk about Paul and life, how they can really talk with each other.  And their goodbye scene...  it nearly makes me cry every time.  It's so sweet, so poignant, so perfect.  (That cue on the album has the same effect on me as the scene in the movie).

I love how amazed and rather proud Burns is when he finally realizes that Paul won't be breaking out of jail with him, how he accepts that his friend has changed and moved into the modern world.  And how he can grin about it, even as he is now alone, a last cowboy.

My favorite scene in the movie is when Burns has a chance to escape clean... if he leaves Whiskey behind.  He starts to go, pauses and looks back at her, and she's watching him.  He starts to leave again... and he can't do it.  He can't abandon her.  He just can't, even if it means his freedom, even if he gets killed.  That makes me cry too, cuz I so get that.  I wouldn't have been able to leave her either.  Their subsequent climb up the steep mountainside not meant to be climbed by anything but a mountain goat is always harrowing.

The rest of the cast is outstanding as well, with Walter Matthau as the sheriff hunting Burns, and George Kennedy playing a nasty bully of a police officer who gets his kicks beating up prisoners.  Carroll O'Connor plays a trunk driver.

The script by Dalton Trumbo is so well done.  Perfect example of how to set up your end in the beginning, how to say so much with so few words, how to convey even more without a single word spoken.  Those contrasts between modern and old worlds, the way the police can't believe Burns has no ID, nothing.  I admire the writing so much in this film.  The black and white cinematography is perfect.  This is not a movie that would work in color.

But I also admit, I usually stop the movie five minutes from the end.  The minute it starts raining... I hit the off button.  The ending is brilliant, but hard, one of the hardest in any movie I know of.  I bawl buckets when I do decide to watch it. Rough rough rough.

And Jerry Goldsmith's score... it's in my top five scores of all time.  It is amazing by itself, and it could not be more perfect and suited in the actual movie.  Jack Burns' theme, often played on solo trumpet, is so beautiful, and so lonely and sad, and so goose-bumpy.  The beautiful variations of that theme, particularly when Burns and Whiskey sneak along trails in the mountains.  And my favorite cue, "Run for It," so tense as his options dwindle, so soaring as he and Whiskey race for the forest.

(this is the only selection of music from this film I could find)

Last thoughts:  I'm 46, same age Kirk Douglas was when he made this movie.  There's some lines he says to Jerri, about why she's lucky to be with Paul, and not him, that really resonate with me personally:

"You know what a loner is? He's a born cripple. He's a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It's his life, the way he wants to live. It's all for him. A guy like that, he'd kill a woman like you. Because he couldn't love you, not the way you are loved."


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My most listened to Western movie soundtracks

As part of Legends of Western Cinema week, I'll be posting a couple Western movie themed posts this week.  Check out their page for links to other posts in this series.

First up, since I've been thinking of little else lately:  music.  Western are a huge part of my life, and the scores that go with those movies almost an even bigger one.  Most of these, I suspect most people won't have heard of, but they're a huge part of my life.

These are my most-listened-to Western film scores at this moment in time.  I have so many other Western scores I love just as much, including several all-time favorites, but they're out of play rotation right now, for various reasons.  They'll come around again.  But right now, here in the middle of 2015, these are the ones I'm playing most often.

1. Rio Conchos - Jerry Goldsmith (1964)
I think if I only had one score to listen to the rest of my life, I would not be upset if this were the one.  It is my most played score over the past twenty-five years, by any composer in any genre, and for all the hundreds of times I've played it, I am still not remotely tired of it.  It's a score that matches my mood most days. You want the essence of me in musical form?  This score just about covers it.
Favorite cue:  "River Crossing"

(Main Title from Rio Conchos)

2. Hour of the Gun - Jerry Goldsmith (1967)
I might also be fine if this was the only score I had to listen to for the rest of my life.  This one's not as dark as Rio Conchos.  It starts upbeat and ends upbeat, but covers lots of moods and action in the middle.
Favorite cue: "The Search"

(Sort of a compilation cue from the score)

3. Wyatt Earp - James Newton Howard (1994)

No, the list isn't going to be all Goldsmith (though it easily could be, LOL).  I listen to Wyatt Earp all the time.  There's a short album and an expanded album, and I trade off between them depending how much time I have.
Favorite cue: "It All Ends Now"

(My favorite cue from Wyatt Earp)

4. Big Jake - Elmer Bernstein (1971)
My favorite Western movie, and my favorite Bernstein score.  Great classic Western theme for Jacob McCandles, exactly what you expect from a John Wayne Western.
Favorite cue:  "Survey/Ambush/Buzzards"

(Main theme)

5. Lonely are the Brave - Jerry Goldsmith (1962)
I'll be talking more about this movie later this week.  But this score?  Perfection.  In every way.  It's poignant, gentle,  playful, actiony, and sad.
Favorite cue:  "Run for It"

6. The Missing - James Horner (2003)
Never seen this movie, never want to.  It would ruin the music.  I love this score so much it's not funny.  It's not the Bernstein-esque "traditional" Western sound, but it's one of my top ten favorite Horner scores.  This is a score I write to.  It's sweeping, beautiful, and aching. It's one of those Horner scores that makes me want to climb inside the music, because it's not enough to just listen to it.
Favorite cue: "The Long Ride Home," all 16 glorious minutes of it.

7. Take a Hard Ride - Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
Boy, does this one have a great main theme.  This is one of the CDs that stays in my car and I listen to it often while driving.  Not a dark score, but not a light score either.  Nicely in the middle.

8. Breakheart Pass - Jerry Goldsmith (1975)
Because train music never gets old.
Favorite cue: Here it Comes

(Main title)

9. Tombstone - Bruce Broughton (1993)
I sometimes find it ironic that I love this score, but don't like the movie at all (except for Michael Biehn).  I also find it ironic that one of the things I did not like about the movie when I saw it in the theater was that the music, in context, didn't work for me.  But I love it by itself.  (Rather like the score to Waterworld by James Newton Howard... didn't work for me in the movie, either, but it got listened to over and over and over on CD.  What can I say?  Some scores are just like that.)
Favorite cue:  "Looking at Heaven/End Credits"

10.  The Scalphunters - Elmer Bernstein (1968)
Probably the lightest, most cheerful of the ten scores listed here, but still has that distinctive Bernstein sound.
Favorite cue: "Joe Bass and the Scalphunters"

Friday, July 24, 2015

Silly Friday

Because by Friday evening, I am utterly exhausted, but happy because it's Friday, which tends to make me slaphappy, I present something fun for a change.


I love Ralph Meeker.  I love Bill Paxton.  This is apparently not remotely a coincidence... as they look like twin brothers sometimes.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Things I can't put in words but I'll try anyway

If we had a way of communicating without being limited to the palette of the written word, I could explain what music means to me.  I could show you if we had a way of sharing thoughts.  Music is color, music is visual, music is emotion, music is sensation.  It is not words.  Its power is not easily explainable with the English language.  There is almost nothing more important to me than music. 

I grew up with music-loving parents.  The classical station was usually playing throughout the day.  We’d listen to opera at night.  My parents had a vast collection of records:  opera, classical, and film scores.  We’d often listen to those records, and often we would just listen.  And I mean listen.  Not play games or cards, not read a book, but sitting and just listening.  I still do this a lot.  Music is best when you can devote your full attention to it.  Just close your eyes and listen.

Our lives are so darned busy, overwhelmed with stuff that needs to be done.  But we will always make time for what matters to us.  Listening to music matters to me.

The first thing I do in the morning is start playing music.  The last thing I do before I go to bed is usually turn it off.  I don’t listen to it at work because I’m often on the phone, but if I’m on a project where I’m not going to be interrupted, then I’ve got music playing.  The minute I go on break or lunch, I hit play on the iPod.  If I’m writing, I’m listening to music.  If I’m driving, I’m listening to music.  If I’m not listening to music, I’m humming or whistling to music playing in my head. 

Since 1982, since getting the score to Star Trek II, James Horner's music has been with me weekly, if not daily.  And on days I choose to listen to something by another composer, his name still crosses my mind.  That’s thirty-three years his music has been with me almost daily.  There’s only two other people that get thought of daily and going back as long:  my sister and Jerry Goldsmith, my other favorite film composer.  This is one of the reasons James Horner’s death has hit me so hard.  Why I still tear up if someone starts talking to me about him, or if certain pieces come on my iPod.  His music has been a constant companion for most of my life.  Through the ups and downs, through multiple novels, through moves, through trips, through friends.  Thirty-three years this man and his music have accompanied me every single day. His music will continue to accompany me daily for the next thirty-three years... but there will no longer be any new scores to look forward to. 

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Hannibal Brooks (1969)

Wow.  What a wacky mix of a movie.  WWII film, but quite different from the standard WWII fare.

Minor spoilers follow.

Oliver Reed stars as Brooks, a British POW who ends up working with Lucy the elephant at the Munich zoo.  The zoo wants to move her for safety to Austria, and Brooks, two German guards, and a Polish cook set out to walk her there.  Of course, things happen, Brooks ends up on the run for Switzerland and freedom -- with the elephant.  Throw in Michael J. Pollard as a crazy escaped American POW and... it's an off-beat, but rather delightful movie.

Of course, as a huge Oliver Reed fan, watching him and an elephant having adventures through a beautiful countryside just makes me grin.  Brooks can't abandon the elephant, and I love that, because I couldn't have left her behind either.  I liked his character a lot, as he tries to stay out of the war, but inevitably gets drawn in to the conflicts around him.  He looks great too.  (Also, opera alert:  he sings the melody to La Donna รจ Mobile in one part, and that totally made me laugh.)

This movie is a mix of quiet times, fun times, and then serious war times.  Sometimes, you forget there's even a war on, as they lead the elephant through different villages and smiling people come to see her and get rides.  Then there's explosions and gunfights and chases and a break-in/rescue.  There's also a very impressive train derailment.  And let's just say having an elephant around in war isn't a bad idea.  Also... ye gods!  The cable car scene!  That guy's really up there and it sure as hell looks like there's no safety ropes involved.  This movie was a year after Where Eagles Dare came out... I guess climbing on top of cable cars was still in vogue!

This movie has very cool characters.  Quite love Willi (played by Helmut Lohner), who ends up helping Brooks and heading for Switzerland as well.  He's sweet and nice and doesn't want to be in the war and reminds me quite a bit of Hans, from a Combat! episode, "Barrage."  And then there's Wolfgang Preiss as an SS Colonel who is chasing Brooks and Lucy, but then decides it might be time to get out of Germany himself.  Maybe.  I know Mr. Preiss best from Von Ryan's Express, but he pops up all over the place in older war movies.  There's some side characters who help Brooks along the way, characters who could easily turn him in, but they don't.  They help him and Lucy, and that's a beautiful thing too.  Also, James Donald gets a small part in the POW camp.  Reminded me a wee bit of his character in The Great Escape.

And then there's Michael J. Pollard's character, Packy (whose name cracked me up because I kept thinking Pachyderm every time I heard it.  Can't be a coincidence in a movie about an elephant, can it?).  At first I just wanted to smack him, cuz he kept trying to drag Brooks into his escape attempts (and he keeps calling him Brooksie, which also makes me want to smack him).  Then their paths keep crossing, and even while he's trying to escape to Switzerland himself, he and his Resistance fighters keep fighting Germans where they can... and I ended up liking him by the end of the movie.  He doesn't give up, he keeps fighting.  Gotta respect that.  But he's also quite loony.  The part where his bomb doesn't go off, and he just shrugs was particularly funny.  He's mad, but heroic... it's so very odd.

And there is absolutely gorgeous scenery.  This movie would have been worth it for the scenery alone.  Filmed on location and it is beautiful.

This movie also has the most unequivocal ending of all time.

And yes, that little black dot is a bouncing ball as a chorus sings those words.  Seriously.  It came out of the blue, because the rest of the movie was not corny.   But then there's this.  Wacky!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Interview and Publishing news

My latest short story, "The Right Man for the Job," is now out in print or on kindle from Amazon, in the latest volume of the Heroes in Hell anthology series:  Doctors in Hell.  This story continues the adventures of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

And also, here is an interview I did regarding the story, writing, and the writing life.  Thanks to Jennifer Loiske for the opportunity!  Check it out.

Thursday, July 02, 2015


There are losses that leave you sad, and then there are losses that tear holes in the fabric of your daily life.  Losses where nothing will be the same after that loss occurs.  The older I get, the more holes I accumulate (No duh. Age, you know.).  Nothing ever fills them, you just skirt around them thereafter, and the edges remain sharp and painful.  The ache in your chest that's so hard to breathe around eases with time, but the holes stay.

I turned to a comfort movie... Aliens.  Comfort??  Yes, very much so.  Aliens is one of my top favorite movies, and it's one I'd probably take to a desert island because I never tire of it, and because it's that good.  It is also a comfort movie in that I shared this movie in the past with very good friends who loved it as much as I did, who could quote it as freely.  And who also loved the score as much as I did.  I miss those times.  There's another painful hole there, that I skirt the edges of.

I didn't see Aliens when it came out originally in the theater, I saw it about a year later on video, when a friend of the family couldn't believe we hadn't seen Alien and Aliens and lent them to us to watch.  I loved them both.  Alien is creepier and more suspenseful; Aliens is neither, though I suppose that might depend on what you find creepy and suspenseful.  Let's just say, for me, watching Alien alone at night will wig me out, but I have no problem watching Aliens by myself in the dark.  It is just exciting, action-filled, satisfying entertainment that hits so many items on my Sweet Spot map.  It remains my favorite James Cameron movie.

Why? Because I love the characters.  Man, do I love the characters.  Every single one of them.  Ripley, of course, is amazing, but those Colonial Marines are also awesome and fun.  I've watched quite a few large cast movies, particularly newer films, and come away not knowing the names of any of the characters.  Cameron doesn't let that happen.  Even the first time I saw the movie... Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Drake, Apone, Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Bishop, Dietrich, etc.... I could name them all.  That doesn't seem to happen that often anymore.  And this movie spends time with them, lets you get to know them.  Let's you invest and become friends with them.  Sure we get to know some better than others, but almost all of them have distinct personalities.  It's so rare to have a movie with so many characters that manage to all feel real, not just cardboard cannon fodder.  Even the ones without much screen time still feel like they have a life when the camera cuts away.  I love that.  I can't tell you how much I love that.

And then there's Newt.  Newt's far and away my favorite movie kid ever.  Newt's smart, brave, wary, and intelligent.  "Why don't you put her in charge?" Hudson says, and he's not half wrong.  It's Newt who knows how to get out of the complex through the air ducts.  But she is still very much a young girl. As resourceful as she is, the movie never loses sight that she's still just a child.  I love that about the movie too.  She's not some miniature adult.  She's just a girl who figured out how to hide and survive.

And I love the plot.  The plot pleases me greatly, as things go from bad to worse to terrible, and the characters constantly work to think up solutions and a way out.  They never give up, and they never lose hope that they will make it out somehow.  People do a lot of thinking and planning in this movie trying to stay alive, and it just all works so perfectly.  It's the kind of plot I'd write... Of course I love it.

And I even love the aliens. They're fascinating.  (Or as Bishop says about one, "Magnificent, isn't it?")  They're intelligent.  They're deadly.  "They cut the power."  "What do you  mean 'they cut the power'? How could they cut the power, man?  They're animals!"  The facehuggers are far, far creepier than the adults.   I'd far rather face a room full of adults then just a single facehugger. They're nightmare-worthy.

Aliens was the first James Horner score I personally owned.  Star Trek II and III, Cocoon... my parents owned those on record, and I made tapes of them, but Aliens, I bought on LP myself.  Which I promptly recorded onto tape so I could listen to it in my walkman (watching out for Sublevel 3's stab, so I didn't jump). Then I got it on CD.  Then the deluxe edition...  One can't own too many versions.  It still gets plenty of play time, all these years later.  (And I still remember seeing Die Hard in the theater when it premiered, and going "What the????" at the end, when the start of the "Resolution and Hyperspace" cue kicked in.... which music isn't actually used in Aliens, oddly enough, but I knew it all too well from the album.)

Favorite scene:  the robot sentries! The sheer speed at which those guns go empty.  Not even 35 seconds for A and B guns to expend 500 rounds each.  (Yes, I timed it once.)  "They're wall-to-wall in there!"  And then, the sound of the aliens attacking the pressure door.  Makes me grin just thinking about it.  Also, Ripley's rescue of Newt, for so many reasons, not the least of which is because that whole end and the station's countdown is filmed in real-time.

Favorite character:  Ripley.  I want to be just like her when I grow up. 

Favorite marine:  Well, Hicks, Hudson, and Vasquez all tie.  Kind of hard to choose which flavor of awesome I like better.  I love that Vasquez gets to take point.  I love that Hicks looks out for Ripley.  I love Hudson always mouthing off.  (Although Ferro was always the marine I related to the most. I love her.)

Favorite cue: "Ripley's Rescue"

Favorite quote:  Oh man, don't get me started.  The whole movie is quotable.   Anytime Hudson opens his mouth is quotable.  "Yeah, man, but it's a dry heat" is my all-time favorite, just because it gets said or thought constantly.  And "Game over, man, game over!"  But I'm extremely fond of Ripley's, "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

For the Love of a Princess

Every time I start to write something more meaningful than just how hard Horner's death has hit me, I... can't.  Not yet. But I have been listening to music.  There's an online movie music station that has been streaming Horner scores all day.  I've been listening while at work, and mostly handling it okay (the station appears to have a limited selection of CDs), and then a cue will start that completely undoes me.

This was one.

I wore the score to Braveheart out many years ago, and I don't think I've listened to it in since then.  This was always my favorite cue, and the sheer emotion of it just got to me.  (I do find it interesting looking at in which scores my favorite cue is a quiet one, and which ones it's an action one.)