Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Awesome Food Award

The Rules: 

1. Thank the person who nominated you, as well as link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 10 questions provided.
3. Come up with 10 more questions that relate to food.
4. Nominate at least 5 people.
5. Let those people know they've been nominated.

Thanks for the tag, Hamlette!  I actually wrote this post back in early December... and then somehow never posted and forgot all about it.

1.  Would you like condensed milk or honey on your bread?  (Or both, but never mind the bread, like Pooh?)
Er... why on earth would someone put condensed milk on bread?  Honey, I can see, but milk?  It would become soggy and yucky.  Strange!  I would prefer my bread without either as toppings, thank you kindly, but I used to love hot (real) milk and honey as a drink when I was young.  Better than hot chocolate.

2.  What do you like putting on oatmeal?
Brown sugar, nothing else.

3.  Are there any foods you used to dislike, but now like?
Burritos.  I refused to eat them growing up (and missed out on apparently the best burritos ever from a restaurant that is no longer in business).  I started liking them in high school. Sadly, can't eat them any longer because of the wheat tortilla, but I still like them.  Although I still have "a real dislike of red beans," (all beans, really, but the movie quote is for red beans, so that's how my family always quotes it whenever the subject of serving me anything with beans in it comes up), so I only like burritos that do the pinto beans right.

4.  Are there any foods you used to like, but now dislike?
Chocolate.  Not so much dislike, as I simply have little taste for chocolate any longer, and so just don't eat it.

5.  Do you have certain foods you only eat around Christmastime?
No.  My family's Christmas meal is usually a repeat of Thanksgiving.  I don't cook or make anything unique to the season.

6.  Do you have any food allergies/intolerances?
Unfortunately.  Wheat and milk. I can drink lactose-free milk, but I stopped drinking milk back in college, so almost never touch it these days anyway unless I'm in the mood for tapioca pudding, and I don't miss it at all.  Wheat has become a huge problem.  Used to be it'd only make me ridiculously sleepy (as in I could not make it through a day without napping, I literally could not keep my eyes open).  Now, if I indulge in anything wheat-based, I get stomach discomfort that only goes away about two weeks after I stop eating wheat again.  The pain is bad enough that I've almost gone to the doctor, thinking something else was seriously wrong.  But nope, as soon as the wheat is out of my system, I'm totally normal again and all the pain goes away.  Needless-to-say, I've hit a point where I just steer clear of all things made of wheat. 

7.  What is your favorite restaurant?
Cielito Lindo, at Olvera Street, for their fantastically, exquisitely, delicious taquitos.  It's the only thing my family has ever ordered from them, and we've been going there since the early 70's.

 (Pic is from their website.  I'm including no other pics in this post, cuz, dude: taquitos.  There is no other food I could talk about that rivals the sheer joy these bring.)

8.  Who is the best cook in your family?
Me.  I cook, I bake, I roast, I fry, I grill, and I am very good at all of them.

9.  Do you put anything interesting in hot chocolate?  (I like chili powder in mine, for instance.)
I'd be surprised if I ever drank hot chocolate again, so no.  The only thing I ever liked in hot chocolate when I did used to drink it was marshmallows.

10.  Do you have a favorite cookbook?
The Game of Thrones website/cookbook has given me the most new recipes from a single source that I've tried and that continue to cook/bake regularly.  A few are now favorite recipes that are demanded often by my family (ie: the sherbet).  

I don't have 5 people to tag, soooooo, we'll let this dead end here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Great Caruso (1951)

This is a movie that won't work for most people, cuz this is really not much of a biography, but more of a movie for opera lovers, showcasing Mario Lanza.  There is nominal plot, and really, it takes a lot of liberties with Caruso's life.  However, it's full of entire opera arias and Italian songs and for someone like me, that is sheer joy.  It's like putting on a DVD instead of a highlights disc.  This is a movie to watch if you're in the mood for all the famous tenor arias in one place, sung by Mario Lanza, who couldn't be a more ideal choice to play Enrico Caruso.  Celeste Aida, Vesti la Giubba, La Donna e Mobile, E Lucevan le Stelle, the sextet from Lucia, the quartet from Rigoletto, Cavalleria, etc. etc. It's chock full of music I love!

I was also happy to see and hear Dorothy Kirsten as soprano Louise Heggar.  She got to sing a couple solo pieces herself, including one of my favorite soprano arias from Aida.  Yay!  My dad was always fond of her, as he grew up hearing her sing on the Voice of Firestone radio show, so I appreciated getting to not just hear her, but see her as well.

Ann Blyth plays Caruso's wife, Dorothy who falls for him the first time he sings for her.  I admit, I'm a sucker for being serenaded, so can't blame her one bit.  LOL.  She even gets to sing a song herself, It's the Loveliest Night of the Year, a song I've always loved.  I love the way she tells him she's pregnant, and the way he finds out he has a baby girl during the Lucia sextet... quite amusing.

This movie influenced many a future opera singer, including Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, and I can see how.  Lanza's in great voice, looks great, and they show the opera life as quite glamorous.  It's a fun movie for opera lovers, and one I'm happy I own, so I can put it on whenever I'm in a mood for Lanza. 

If I had a time machine, one of the things on my agenda would be to go back and hear Enrico Caruso sing.  We're lucky to have many recordings of his arias, but this was the infancy of recording, and if he sounds that good on those old recordings, imagine what he sounded like live?  I'd love to go back and find out.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ex Machina (2015)

Here's another Oscar Isaac movie that's right up my alley.  This one is an intimate, claustrophobic little sci fi movie with basically four actors:  Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, and Sonoya Mizuna.  Oscar plays Nathan, a brilliant billionaire recluse who's created Artificial Intelligence in the form of Vikander's robot, Eva.  Gleeson arrives at Nathan's remote underground research facility/home to help test Eva, to see if she really is an AI.  Things do not go quite as planned.

This movie is both scripted and directed by Alex Garland, whose script for Sunshine (2007) I absolutely love.  (I found out from the extras on the disc that Oscar Isaac auditioned for a role in Sunshine!  How cool would that have been?  Wonder who he might have played?  Sunshine is also perfectly cast, and so I'm ultimately glad he's not in it, but that would have been cool.)

The casting for this film is perfect, and what makes everything else work.  Oscar Isaac is excellent as the simultaneously friendly and intimidating genius inventor.  He pads around the film barefoot for the most part, looking ridiculously well-built and good-looking in his half-buttoned shirts.  His home/facility is fabulous, built into the rock and earth of a ginormous fictitious estate in Alaska (that you can fly over for two hours before ever reaching his abode).  The remote, beautiful home fits Nathan's personality perfectly, richly and neatly but sparsely furnished.  I love his kitchen and deck.  But the majority of the place is underground, windowless, controlled by computers, and more than slightly claustrophobic.  Worse, there are power glitches in the electrical system that lock everything down at random times, trapping you wherever you are until the power comes back on.

Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, an employee of Nathan's company, who supposedly wins a lottery to spend a week with the big boss.  But Nathan's not a chancy person.  Everything he does and sets up is very specific and with purpose.  Caleb is nice, almost too nice, and a bit naive.  He's skinny and awkward and helpful and concerned.  Nathan is much smarter, and much stronger physically, and it's a great contrast between the two.  Nathan takes Caleb on a hike up beside a waterfall, waiting politely for out-of-shape Caleb to catch up, then promptly taking off impolitely again before Caleb can catch his breath.  (This made me laugh, I admit, cuz I've been guilty of doing that to people who weren't in as good a shape as me.  But I've also had it done to me just as many times, so fair's fair.)

Alicia Vikander is wonderful as Eva, the AI Nathan has created, that Caleb helps test.  She brings so much to this role, and has just the right alien quality and humanity at the same time.  The effects on her are also amazing.  She's beautiful and a bit terrifying at the same time.  Nathan prowls his home like a bored lion, and she prowls her much smaller living quarters like a sleek ocelot.  They're both very cat-like, but as one is creator and one is the creation, this works very well.

Sonoya Mizuna plays Nathan's domestic servant, who does not have a single line of dialogue, nor does she need one.  She conveys everything with looks and action, never needing to speak.

This is not an action movie, so the conflict and tension comes from the relationships of the characters.  There's a lot of talking, but I never found any of it boring.  There are a lot of ideas in there to chew on, and I like that.  It is also a very tense movie, particularly as things unravel.  I quite liked the ending, though apparently people's mileage on that varies.

I also love all the little things that you only pick up on in re-watches.  Like Nathan only ever wears grey, black, or white clothes, and I don't think that's an accidental choice, particularly as each color subtly matches his actions of that scene.  It's kind of brilliant, particularly as just about everything in the movie is orchestrated by Nathan.

This one I bought immediately almost as soon as I returned the Netflix disc.  It is rated R for language and some nudity (not sex).

Monday, January 18, 2016

For Greater Glory (2012)

I've had this film in my Netflix queue mostly because it became one of my favorite James Horner scores from the minute I first heard it last year.  It is an outstanding, pure Horner score.  Some might deem it overly emotional, but I love every second of it.  It's big, sweeping, romantic, emotional... everything I love in a James Horner score.  I love the Latin flavor, love the action, love the love theme, love everything about it.  I’ve listened to it countless times since I picked up the CD.  Barely a day has gone by since I got it that I don’t listen to it at least once, or think of it.  It had that much effect on me.  So I had decided I wanted to see the movie, which somehow flew completely under the radar when it came out. I hadn’t even heard of it, despite having Andy Garcia as the lead. So, Andy Garcia and James Horner... I’m in.

Then I found it also has Oscar Isaac in it, so, yeah, had to watch sooner rather than later.

And I loved this movie.  Really loved it.

The album is long, nearly 80 minutes long... and to my surprise, there was a lot of music in the movie that’s not on the album.  I knew the movie would be emotional just from the score.  So it didn’t surprise me that I cried my way all the way through it.  Now, some of that has nothing to do with the movie.  Some of that is still just me dealing with Horner’s death.  Yes, I still cry when I hear his music, and this score made me cry from the first time I heard it, before I even knew what the movie was about, so adding powerful images into what is already a personal rollercoaster... I was a bit of a wreck watching this one.

The movie is based on the true story of the Cristero War.  This is a chapter of history I don't recall from any of my history classes.  The Mexican Revolution, yes, but not this rebellion, which followed it in the late 1920s.  The Mexican president attempted to get rid of the Catholic church's influence and power over the people by enacting a series of anti-clerical laws that were brutally enforced.  The people rose up again to fight for their religious freedom.  This movie fictionalizes and follows some of the players through that vicious conflict.

I admit, I'm a sucker for this kind of story.  Freedom of all kinds is very important to me.  I'm not religious in any way, shape, or form, but I believe very strongly in the rights of people to worship according to their own beliefs.  The fact that Andy Garcia's character of General Gorosteita was an atheist but fought just as hard for beliefs he did not personally share just appealed to me even more.  That's my kind of character.  I've been a big fan of Andy Garcia since The Untouchables came out and several of his movies are among my favorites.  I loved him in this movie.  His character was both strong and touching.

Then there's Oscar Isaac, who is great in this movie.  If I hadn't already loved him as an actor, this role would have done it.  His character of Victoriano Ramirez has a great, memorable entrance, great action sequences, and he gets to mouth off to Andy Garcia's character.  It made me laugh with delight to learn some of my favorite music on the album belongs to his character.  As much as I adore Andy Garcia, and as great as he was in this, I have to admit my favorite scenes in this movie all belong to Oscar Isaac.  From that grreat entrance, to how he earns his nickname El Catorce, to the scene where Andy Garcia earns his grudging respect, to the touching scene between him and Andy Garcia where they talk about failing someone.  Okay, yeah, really anytime those two were together was great.  Oscar Isaac is one of those chameleon actors who looks and sounds totally different from role to role.  And I love his scruffy, dirty, Mexican freedom fighter look in this one.

The rest of the cast is also really good.  I particularly liked Santiago Cabrera as Father Vega, Bruce Greenwood as Dwight Morrow, and Catalina Sandino Moreno as Adriana.  Reuben Blades has the rather thankless job of playing the Mexican president, and he sells it perfectly.  The actors playing the truly bad people in this movie were outstanding as well, as I hated their characters passionately.  Peter O'Toole has a small role as a kindly priest, and he was lovely, as always.

The movie's a fair bit rough to watch in a few places.  Oppressive regimes tend to do very bad things to innocent people, and a movie covering such a time period is going to have some of those moments, and that's hard.  And the end has an unnecessary "sum-up-the-movie" sequence that was the only part of the movie that didn't work for me.  The rest I loved.  I also liked the end credits that provided extra info on the fates of many of the characters.  The on location scenery in Mexico was beautifully shot.

This is a movie I'll be picking up on DVD.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Good-bye Alan Rickman

Thanks for all the memorable roles, Mr. Rickman, from Die Hard to Harry Potter, to Sense & Sensibility to Sweeney Todd, to Quigley Down Under and the spectactular Galaxy Quest. You will be greatly missed.  Rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I've wanted to post thoughts on The Force Awakens for days now.  To that end, I have a Word doc with 3000 words in it -- there's no shortage of things I can say about Star Wars.  But, as the document keeps growing and I post none of it here, I realized that these just aren't thoughts I'm willing to share.  You wouldn't think something like Star Wars would be a private thing, but it appears it is.

My feelings run too deep, and they're too intertwined with who I grew up to be.  Seeing Star Wars in 1977, when I wasn't quite nine yet, seeing it twenty-five times in the theater... it may have been nearly forty years ago, but it shaped me then and it still shapes me now.

So, I'm not going to talk about Force Awakens, other than to give basics.

  • I love it.
  • How much do I love it?  It is currently my second favorite of all the films, behind Empire. It might even end up surpassing Empire, for Reasons.
  • I've seen it six times already, and that number will grow before its theatrical release is finished.
  • Poe is my favorite character.
  • I adore Rey and Finn too.
  • Kylo Ren and Hux are great bad guys and make me grin every time they're on screen. 
  • Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke... just... YES.
  • I grin and laugh all through this movie. It's got the kind of natural humor I love, where people aren't trying to be funny, they just are.  Nothing is forced.
  • It's full of sass and I love this.  Every character is sassy. Except Phasma, which is probably why she's one of my least favorite characters, even if she looks cool.  Every other stormtrooper is sassy, except her. (Guess one of them has to stay serious.)
  • Speaking of stormtroopers.... Daniel Craig.  Best. Stormtrooper. Ever.  And I thought that before I even knew it was him in the uniform.
  • The music is fantastic, but they had better release a complete score soon, cuz my favorite cue is not on the album and that drives me crazy.  Cuh-ra-zee, I tell you!  I need that cue, precious!
  • My favorite moment and favorite cue are, not coincidentally, for the same scene in the movie. (when the Resistance X-Wings coming in over the water, in particular, the long awesome single-shot that starts with Finn, follows Poe maneuvering around blasting tie fighters, with Finn coming back into frame farther down the landscape, without losing track of either of them.  That is one beautiful, glorious piece of filming right there.)
  • Unlike most viewers, I have no desire to have all those unanswered questions answered.  Right now, I couldn't care less about anyone's backstory, or any whys and wherefores.  It's all irrelevant to my enjoyment of what's on screen.  Not knowing things is much more interesting than having things explained.
  • Did I mention how much I love love love Poe?
  • Poe is also the character I most relate to.
  • My family quotes this movie constantly, and there are many quotes that will end up in the Lifetime Quotables list, not just the heat-of-the-moment quotables.
  • This is the most emotional of all the Star Wars films for me, not because of nostalgia (though that plays a small role), but because it has genuine moments that make me tear up.  Not coincidentally, those are also all tied to moments in John William's music.  Not coincidentally, that's also one of the Reasons this movie shot to the top of my favorite Star Wars movie list.
  • Bloody awesome practical creatures and effects and amazing sets and landscapes.
  • Joy and wonder.  Rey when she sees Maz's green world.  And even when captured, Poe can look around the immense hanger of the star destroyer with a bit of awe. 

When Han says, "Chewie, we're home," he's not just speaking for them, but for those of us out here in the audience who have lived in this world ever since we first saw Star Wars.  This movie is home.

Now, where's my X-Wing???

Sunday, January 03, 2016

2015 movie overview

I saw quite a few new movies in the theater this past year, that I never reviewed or wrote about.  I thought I'd write up a quick summary now.  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t actually review any of the new movies I saw this year at the time I saw them.

Cinderella – Oh so pretty and nice.  Adore that blue dress of hers.  Probably the least stressful movie I saw the entire year, it is just... nice.  Not one I have any particular desire to see again. 

Tomorrowland – Meh.  This movie only got interesting when George Clooney made the scene, which was like halfway through.  I thought the lead girl was miscast.  She didn’t work for me.  Best part was the end fight between George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, which completely cracked me up, particularly when they stop fighting the minute they realize they’re all alone, then start up again the second they’re back.  This movie had lots of potential, but just didn’t seem to gel properly.

San Andreas – Really enjoyed this one.  Just a highly entertaining, over-the-top disaster movie with likeable characters.  I laughed all the way through, but in a pleased, I'm-being-entertained way.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Disappointing, but then again, it had impossible shoes to fill.  Too much plot, and (oddly for me) too much fighting that didn’t advance the plot.  Did have great humor, and I was absolutely delighted with all the Hawkeye stuff, cuz nothing bugged me more than people trying to make Hawkeye and Black Widow a current item in the first Avengers, and this nicely put that to rest.  I always wonder why people don’t appreciate the power of friendship over romantic love?  Loved all the new characters.  But dude, soooooooo disappointed that Thomas Kretschmann was only in it for like five minutes.  Hmph.  I didn't bother buying it on DVD, but will probably pick it up at some future point. 

Jurassic World – I’m not sure what it means when the only characters I cared what happened to were the velociraptors, but that's how it was.  The people were particularly lame and stupid (Chris Pratt excepted) and not enough of them got eaten.  I only cared about those four velociraptors, particularly Blue.  The end was quite fun and satisfying, though.

Spy – Surprisingly funny.  I was not expecting to like this one as much as I did.  Loved Jude Law, and Jason Statham was awesomely hilarious.  Those two really made this movie.  I even didn’t mind Melissa McCarthy.  I will probably pick this up on DVD.

Terminator: Genisys – I liked this one.  The time travel stuff was cool.  But whoever was in charge of the trailers was an idiot because they gave away their game in the trailers, and that really got me mad.  I think the movie would have been much better not knowing a few things.  I'm quite fond of Jai Courtney and enjoyed his version of Kyle Reese (even if I will only ever really be able to picture Michael Biehn in the role).

Ant-Man – Loved this one!  Was my favorite new movie of the year until Force Awakens came out.  Light, funny, great action scenes.  Loved the characters.  Loved the ants.  Really want that Ant-Man suit, even more than I want Iron Man’s suit.  Never thought I’d say that!  Bought on DVD immediately.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – Good, solid, but lacked the humor of Ghost Protocol and didn't have nearly enough Jeremy Renner, so it does not displace GP as my favorite of the Mission Impossible movies.  However, Alec Baldwin was a bonus, and Rebecca Ferguson was great.  Also had opera in it!  Turandot, which was lovely, even if they played the opera out of order.

Man from UNCLE – Great fun.  Loved this one too, though I wish it had a different score.  Loved the characters and actors, loved the plot.  Bought on DVD immediately.

Shaun the Sheep – Loved this one!  Sweet, cute, funny, and far more touching than I thought it would be.  My sister bought the DVD immediately, so I can watch it there, but I may have to pick up my own copy at some point.

Hitman Agent 47 – Really only went to see it because Thomas Kretschmann was in it, but it ended up being a lot of fun and very entertaining.  And Ciaran Hinds was in it, which I didn’t know going in, and getting to see him and Mr. Kretschmann together was awesome.  I may pick this one up on DVD at some point too, for Mr. Krestschmann and Mr. Hinds.  Good no-brainer action flick.

Pixels – Had a lot of fun in this one too.  Went to catch it because the trailers cracked me up.  It delivered exactly what the trailer promised, and I enjoyed it a lot.  Sean Bean and Brian Cox were hilarious together.  I loved the premise, and the whole thing was just... popcorn fun.  Those are the games I grew up playing, though I was only ever good at Space Invaders. 

Pan – Another movie I really liked.  Loved the characters, loved the fantastic visuals, and it was also surprisingly funny.  Levi Miller as Peter was adorable and perfect.  Garrett Hedlund and Hugh Jackman were great.  I will probably pick this up on DVD, but my sister nabbed it, so at the moment, we can watch at her house any time, so I'm not in a hurry.

Last Witch Hunter – Enjoyable.  Vin Diesel is always entertaining.  I didn't know Michael Caine was in this until I saw it!  I was disappointed there wasn't more of Vin Diesel in his Viking garb, cuz he rocked that look.  Really liked Rose Leslie in it as well.

Crimson Peak – I’m not a horror person at all, and only went to see this because my sister is a huge Tom Hiddleston fan and she wanted company.  To my great surprise, I loved this movie and loved the characters.  It wasn’t really horror, and wasn’t remotely scary, which was a relief.  Mostly, it’s just an old-fashioned, gothic romance.  The movie is so very beautiful, I ooohed and ahhhed throughout.  Now, it did have the most ridiculously gruesome helpful ghosts, but they were so outrageously fake that we just laughed every time they came on screen.  There were a few scenes of violence, however, that were so graphic, I had to look away.  Not scary, just... too graphic.  But we liked it so much we went back to see it again.  We took my niece... and she did not laugh at the ghosts... she thought they were freaky and quite scary... so my sister and I might be the only people who were unfazed by the ghosts.  Will buy this on DVD as soon as it comes out.

Spectre – Disappointing.  The first half was great, then the movie derailed.  I’m not sure why, but they made Blofeld the most boring Bond villain ever.  He seems patterned after Donald Pleasance’s version of Blofeld, who was also quite bland, so maybe this was actually their goal?  In which case they achieved it spectacularly.  Boring, unthreatening, and I just didn’t care.  Dave Bautista, however, was fabulous, and his exit marked the start of when this movie went off track.  It did have great action sequences, I particularly love the snow chase, and I still adore Daniel Craig as Bond.  He can personally do no wrong for me in the role.  I only saw it once, though, and it's hard to fairly judge a movie on one viewing.  I'll pick it up on DVD when it comes out, cuz... Daniel Craig, and give it another go then.

The Good Dinosaur – wow, this was surprisingly violent, dark, more than a little bit creepy and weird, none of which their trailers seemed to indicate.  The trailers make this movie seem cute and child-friendly, and... not so much.  There were more than one kid crying in our theater during this film, which is never a good sign.  One was saying, “I don’t like this movie!  I want to go home!” as he bawled his eyes out, poor kid.  So, I guess this is the Pixar film that scars a generation of young ones?  The animation of the landscape was outstanding and exquisitely done.  It’s getting to a point where it’s photo perfect.  By contrast the dinosaurs were very fake and animated.  Kind of a weird contrast. 

The Force Awakens -- First time I saw this, I liked it a lot, but had to do a lot of processing and thinking and letting it settle in my brain, then the second viewing was great and I knew I loved this movie.  Third viewing was also great, but the fourth viewing... that was the wow, I LOVE THIS MOVIE viewing, the emotional tear-up at everything viewing. My family saw it twice on New Year's Day, so that was great fun.  I love the new characters, love the old characters, love the score.  Really, there is very little I don't love about this one.  Poe's my favorite new character, but I adore Rey and Finn just as much.  Rey is wonderful.  Kylo Ren and Hux are great as our new bad guys.  Han, Leia, and Luke... yeah.  And Chewie!  Chewie has always been cool, but in this one he was even more so.  Chewie totally rocked.  I should probably write something a bit more proper on this one, given how important Star Wars is in my life.  I'm sure there will be quite a few more viewings before this leaves the theater.  (Only on viewing five right now... LOL!)  Will, of course, grab this on DVD the second it's out, and I really really hope they release a complete version of the score.  The one that's out is lovely, but it's missing some important music.

So, those were the 2015 films I saw when they were released in the theater.  Quite a lot!  Tomorrowland and Good Dinosaur were at the bottom.  Force Awakens and Ant-Man at the top.  With a lot of good solid entertaining movies in the middle.  Very pleased with this last year's theatrical releases.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

It will be hard to top 2015.  It opened with Battle of Five Armies and closes with Force Awakens.  (And I happen to be wearing Force Awakens sweat pants and a Five Armies hoodie today.  That's me... representing my favorite movies.)  I went to Australia, and that was beyond amazing, not to mention has changed my life and given me someone I look forward to seeing again.  I went to the Las Vegas Star Trek convention and had the time of my life with my sister.  I visited Hamlette and family.  I  met two favorite opera singers, re-hooked up with some old friends I haven't seen in fifteen years, and saw Duran Duran at the Hollywood Bowl.

This year had all my favorite things:

Opera, Soundtracks, Movies, Duran Duran, Going on Adventures, Family & Friends, Disneyland, Star Wars, Middle-Earth...

I even combined my favorite things and went to Disneyland on Halloween dressed as Hilts from Great Escape.  Complete with baseball glove. 

This was probably one of the best years of my life.

There was loss this year.  I still tear up thinking about James Horner.  That hole still gapes and bleeds. 

I'm afraid I reviewed almost none of the movies I saw in the theater this year.  I might do a quick summary on what I saw and what I thought of each soon.  I have not been particularly motivated to blog lately, sorry about that.  But I have a now eight-year-old nephew who is amazing and I'd just rather spend time with him.  I've gone through three nicknames from him this year as he renames everyone in the family to match whatever his current obsession is.  First was Aragorn for half the year, then Obi-Wan, and then since Thanksgiving, I'm Fi, which he pronounces Fee (I believe it's technically pronounced Fy).  This is a character in the Legend of Zelda game that he likes to play.  Who knows what names next year will bring?  It is a constantly daily delight, however, that nobody in our family goes by their real names among each other, thanks to my nephew's renaming of us all.  I have never been fond of my real name.  I would happily change it and never look back, so my nephew's predilection for changing our names is wonderful for me.  I'd much rather be called Fee any day (though I miss being Obi-Wan).  I am curious what will happen next year, though, as probably the middle of 2016, we'll show him Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Now, one of my longest running nicknames is Indy.  Since, well, 1981, basically.  My sister still has me labeled "Indy" on her cell phone today, after all these years, cuz that's been my name between us forever.  So, it's going to be weird when my nephew finally sees this movie, because, of course, he's going to become Indy for awhile.  Which will be fine as long as I get to be Belloq.  LOL!  "Archaeology is not an exact science.  It does not deal in time schedules!"

I wish everyone a happy and safe New Year's Eve, and a prosperous and fulfilling 2016!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Dear Secretary (1948)

This film's about a best-selling author, Owen Waterbury, whose secretaries usually become his mistresses.   He hires a new one, Stephanie "Steve"Gaylord, who thinks she's there to actually do secretarial work.  She finds out how wrong she is, but somehow gets sucked into Waterbury's life anyway and, as can only happen in movies, when she threatens to leave him, he marries her.  Steve's an aspiring writer herself, and both of them start married life working on new books. Hers turns out to be better than his, and their relationship disintegrates.  Hard times follow where they both hire new secretaries to get at each other, but of course, everything comes around eventually for a happy ending. 

I'm not particularly a comedy person, but I can be won over by a good light-hearted movie.  Alas, this one didn't work for me.  Which is too bad, as it might have worked with different casting.  Much as I adore Kirk Douglas, as fabulous as he is in movies like Lonely are the Brave, Paths of Glory, etc... this style of humor simply doesn't suit him.  Maybe he was too young to know how to play the role at the time, but the script doesn't do his character any favors either.  His character is an inconsiderate jerk taking advantage of any and everyone, and it's a wonder he managed to write a book with all his lazy playboy antics.  I've only seen Laraine Day in Foreign Correspondent (where I thought she was great), but I can't say she won me over here in comedy either.  I liked her best in her serious moments.  Neither actor seems to fit in this particular film.

However, if you leave the two leads out of it, the rest of the movie and cast is delightful.  Keenan Wynn was positively scene stealing.  Every time he was on screen, the movie came to life.  He made me laugh repeatedly with his smooth, charming, free-loading, bad cooking/ironing ways.  He was hilarious.  Irene Ryan as their maid and Florence Bates as their landlady were just as funny.  I also loved Helen Walker as Elsie, Waterbury's previous secretary/mistress.  Dump the leads and give the movie to these secondary characters, and it would have been a sparkling gem.  Everyone of them felt at home in this movie.  They turned silly situations and lines into genuine comedy, not forced humor.  It was just the leads who seemed like they were uncomfortable.

So, a mixed bag of a film. 


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag

I was tagged by Hamlette for the Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag.

Originally, this blog started out as a writing blog (hence the name with nanowrimo in it), but it became a place I talked about movies, and I stopped talking about writing.  I have my website for that, except... that one is on wordpress, and something happened and I can't login anymore to update.  No idea how to fix it, and that site is soooo behind.  I've had books come out!  And an audio book!  But no way to post the information anymore.  Sigh.

So, anyway, here's the writing questions from this tag.

Is there a certain snack you like to eat while writing?
What am I, a Hobbit?  No.  I don’t snack.  I eat only when I’m hungry (and sometimes not even then), and that’s the only time I think about food.  No breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, etc. for me, thank you very much.  Having to deal with just dinner every day is bad enough!  I am a Ranger... don’t stop until nightfall, eat when and if there's a good time and if there is actually something to eat.

However, I’m always drinking hot tea, so I’ll usually have a fresh pot of tea brewed before I start writing.

 (my favorite tea, about the only one I ever drink)

When do you normally write? Night, afternoon, or morning?
Usually in the evenings, after work.  This is a long-ingrained habit dating back to school days, where the only free time I had to write was at night after homework was done.  It carried through college, and then with the pesky day job taking up 8-5 every day since college, nights are still the only time available.  I also like to write Saturday or Sunday morning at a local Starbucks.  Though that is more just to get out of my house than a time of day thing.

Where do you write?
At my desk.  However, since my desk is the same space I work at for my day job 8-5, I’m mightily and profoundly sick of that desk, and it now has a lot of bad vibes that prevent me from doing what I love.  Lately, I’ve been getting more writing done at Starbucks in a 2-3 hour window on the weekend than I do at home the rest of the week.  I’m burnt out of even seeing my desk at home.

How often do you write a new novel?
Well, whenever I'm done with the current one, I start a new one.  However, I suspect this question is angling for more of a how-long-does-it-take-you-to-write-a-novel answer.  The shortest time I ever took was a 110,000 word novel in 4 months.  The longest was a 140,000 word novel in ten years. Although that latter answer involved seven years in the middle of not touching the book at all, so actual writing time was considerably less.  Nevertheless, ten years from starting the first draft, to throwing it out, and rewriting/revising the entire thing from scratch.  The average is one-two years.

Do you listen to music while you write?
Yep.  Almost always orchestral soundtracks.  Ironically, once I’m writing, I usually don’t hear a note of what I put on, but it's an initial jumpstart to the right mood.  And picking the wrong score will throw me off completely.

What do you write on? Laptop or paper?
What am I, a Hobbit? LOL!

I write on a computer.  However, I will write story or notes in a notebook when I’m out for the day.  I often keep my sister company on the weekends.  She’s a music teacher, so while she’s at someone’s house teaching, I’m sitting in the car for an hour.  I will use that time to either read or write story on paper.  But I’m not fond of handwriting anymore, as I can type so much more quickly, so it’s far easier to get thoughts down with a keyboard than a pen.  My writing, which used to be so neat twenty years ago, is now scrawly if I write fast.  Time's too precious.  I'll go with the fastest way to get story down.

Although, if I get an idea, particularly in the middle of the night, I run for paper.  Then I look like this, madly scribbling down my thoughts before they evaporate.

Is there a special ritual you have before or after you write?
I suppose making sure there is hot tea and picking the right music might count. I rarely start writing without those.  Afterwards?  Depends on how good the writing session was.  It's not a ritual, but I tend to get quite goofy after a good writing day. My family can always tell if I come over in the evening and I've been writing, vs. coming over after a day at work.

What do you do to get into the mood to write?
At home, put on the right music.  Sometimes read a bit of the scene before the one I’m working on, or read the relevant parts of my notes file.  Mostly, I just start writing in the notes file first, and when notes turn into story sentences, I switch to the main doc.  However, when I’m at Starbucks, there’s usually no music, just the ambient noise, conversations, and whatever lame music they have on their speakers.  On those days, I simply start writing.  Mood is kind of irrelevant, really.  The act of typing words puts me in the right mood.  I find it's much smoother these days to write at Starbucks, honestly, because it's far easier to focus there.  At home, there're too many distractions (cats! internet!) and it's too comfortable.  At Starbucks, I have to focus to shut out the environment.  I'm very good at shutting out the world, so the people wandering by at Starbucks are not distractions, but motivators to keep focused on my computer, if that makes any sense. Makes me work harder.

What is always near the place you write?
Well, my work desk at home has all my day job stuff on it, with all the normal desk stuff (pens, pair of scissors, tape, etc) that one expects to find at a desk.  There is also always a box of Kleenex, a bottle of lotion, Carmex, an emery board, a coaster for tea, a dictionary, and the remote control for my stereo within reach.  Those are the necessities of my daily life.  And to be fun, my Tonto Lego keychain, and my Thorin key, and my little bronze Fili figure are all sitting around my work computer monitor.

Do you have a reward system for your word count?
Absolutely not.  I don’t even know how this would work for me.  What would I possibly reward myself with?  Why would I care?  Writing is about good habits, not about bribes.  I also don’t pay attention to word count (unless I’m doing nano!).  I aim to write a full scene each writing session, but sometimes I only get a half scene.  Sometimes only a paragraph.  Sometimes only one sentence.  I've been doing this long enough that I no longer stress out over that.  Besides, I've learned that if I can't work easily on a scene, it's because I'm still missing something key about it, so rather than write words I'm just going to throw out, I'd rather spend that time thinking it through instead.  Then the next day I can buzz through the scene.

(this is often me, staring into the middle distance at my desk, thinking)

Is there anything about your writing process that others might not know about?
First thing I do before starting the day’s writing on any story/novel is to do a “save as” on the previous day’s document and create a new document with today’s date in the file name.  Learned that from writer Holly Lisle, and it’s been a lifesaver.

There isn't a single novel I've written (or started) where the originating concept wasn't sparked by an actor or actors.  Back from the first novels I wrote in high school to the one I'm working on right now, it's the one common, consistent denominator between them all.  This is different from having fun casting my stories as if they were movies (which I also do).  I mean the fundamental idea for the novel is always an actor paired with some confluence of events or ideas.  Like the first real novel I worked on, waaaaay back in the day, came from talking about James Darren with my mom while sitting in the sun, watching vultures circling over our house.  He's not even a favorite actor of mine, just happened to come up that day, and those three things -- James Darren, sun/heat through glass, and vultures -- sparked a whole novel.  Not just a novel... six novels, all set on the same world.

The most recent novel idea (and the next one I will write when I finish the current novel) came from Oliver Reed, childhood friends, and tropical islands.  It's almost always three things that start a novel.  I keep note files on every book, and they're all the same: An actor or actors, and two things. 

(These guys have all sparked a novel. In some cases, more than one.)

There is also usually a fictional pain-in-the-rumpus who keeps me on track by insidiously derailing scenes I'm stuck on with his cheerful and subtly malicious presence.  That probably makes zero sense, but it's true and all part of how writing works in my world.  For me, right now, that would be this guy:

(hullo, Agent Garrett, no, we're not alone so I'm not going to call you John)

I think most people have been tagged, but Olivia, if you haven't, I'd love to hear your answers on these writing questions!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Battle of the Five Armies (Extended Edition)

Saw this in the theater last night.  Sooooo nice to see it on the big screen again!  All those details I got to see again.  Nothing on DVD will ever touch the awesomeness of favorite movies on the big screen.  Size does matter.

Anyway, the extended edition... or as my sister and I are calling it, the alternate version.  Because it doesn't just add stuff in, in changes around some stuff that went a different way in the theatrical release.  Some of the additions are very worthy.  Some are not.  I liked most of the scenes that just fleshed out what was there but didn't alter the story.  I didn't like the changed stuff so much.  One addition made me and my sister quite mad (but will, in fact, probably delight most viewers, maybe even be the highlight of what was added.  Our audience clapped and cheered most loudly at that part, while my sister and I glowered and crossed our arms and muttered how not okay we were with that.  I suspect we're just backwards to the popular view on this one thing.)  But honestly, the theatrical release was perfect. Tight, focused, no dead weight, so it will continue to be the version I watch at home, though I will have to put the extended on occasionally for a few of the cool scenes that were added (my two favorite additions both involved Bilbo).

I am quite amused (and oddly pleased) by this, because it makes it weirdly symmetrical for me with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In that, Fellowship was my favorite of the three films, the one I saw the most in the theater, and I almost only watch the theatrical version of Fellowship on DVD.  For the most part, I don't like or need what was added to that one.  But the extended Two Towers and The Return of the King are fine and add some great stuff.  They're better movies for the extended footage.

With the Hobbit trilogy, Battle was my favorite, the one I saw the most in the theater and I will, once again, be sticking with the theatrical for my watching pleasure, for the same reasons.  However, the extended versions of An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug remain better than the theatrical, and my go-tos for those movies.

I am also amused that the extended Fellowship DVD cut out one of our favorite moments from the theatrical version.  And so did Battle!  Favorite moment -- gone.  Symmetry again!  I dig it.  You would think I'd be mad or disappointed, but I'm not.  I really really loved seeing the extended on the big screen, simply hanging with those beloved characters again, and I will like having (most of) that long version in my head when I watch the short version.  (Almost no one but me and my sister would probably even notice those two respective missing moments from Fellowship and Battle, so don't think something major has been cut.  But for us, it's often the little things we love best of all.)

I've been under the weather, so I'm not sure any of this is making any sense.

Regardless, it was a fabulous evening with a movie I love dearly, shared with an audience that loved it just as much, who cheered and clapped freely throughout.  It was great, and I've been floating around in a deliriously happy Hobbit haze ever since.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Bedtime Movie tag

Hamlette tagged me with this one, so here goes.  However, just warning you that these might be the most boring answers ever!!

1.) A movie that kept you up all night
Kept me all night how?  Physically, by staying up really late to watch it?  If so, none.  Movies are short.  I generally don't start a movie if it's going to run too late.  Or does this mean kept me awake because I was thinking about it all night?  I wish!  I have tried to think about a movie into the wee hours because I have Things To Think On, but I still fall asleep pretty quickly.  Only stressful life stuff can prevent me from sleeping.  However, if you switch to television shows instead of movies, I have stayed up way too late at night watching "just one more episode" of various shows.  Burn Notice and The Almighty Johnsons are two such shows, and both made me lose quite a bit of sleep because I couldn't turn either off at a proper hour.

2.) A movie that made you scared to sleep
Are you kidding?  None.  I love sleep!  Sleep is oblivion, so if I pull up the covers, the world goes away.  Not quite sure why a movie would make me scared to go to sleep.  Now, scared to go down a dark hall or room or into a basement?  That I can understand more readily.  But even if that is the question, the answer to the question is still... none.  Are you kidding?  I am drawn to check out strange noises in dark rooms or outside at night like a moth to a flame. Like a cat to catnip.  Must go investigate!  I am at home in the dark.  (This might have something to do with the fact that I am an astronomer's daughter, and many many many childhood nights were spent outdoors in the blackness with no moonlight and no flashlights.  I have even hiked alone at night in Yosemite... no, that didn't bother me.)

3.) A movie that made you go to sleep
I usually don't fall asleep in movies.  I may love sleep, but movies are too important to me.  But when I was young, and we saw Star Trek: the Motion Picture... I actually fell asleep in the movie theater.

4.) A movie that left you tossing and turning all night in anticipation of its release
None.  (See, I warned you my answers would be boring!)  I lose sleep over stressful things.  Waiting for a movie to come out would not trigger lack of sleep.

5.) A movie that has your dream boyfriend/girlfriend ship of two separate movies
Well, have to be honest.  I don't "ship" characters.  I just don't think that way.  It simply wouldn't occur to me that so-and-so over here should get together with so-and-so over there.  I don't even think about that in the same movie, let alone different ones.  Nor in life.  I'm no matchmaker.  I do sometimes want to see various movie characters thrown together as friends, or as a team, or as antagonists, but that's always a platonic mash-up.  I just don't think of characters in romantic terms beyond what's presented in an actual movie, usually.  Thinking... nope, got crickets on this one.

6.) A movie that would be your worst nightmare to live in
Testament (1983)

7.) A movie that reminds you of nighttime
Noir movies in general make me think night.  Murder, My Sweet (1944) is the first one that pops in my head.

8.) A movie that has a nightmarish cliffhanger ending
Kiss Me Deadly (1956).  And now I really want to watch it again. 

9.) A movie you actually dreamed about
Many.  I dream about movie stuff all the time. Annnnnd, I can't actually think of one off the top of my head.  I think one of the more recent ones from the past couple weeks was about the Expendables, right after I re-watched the third one, but I can't remember any of the details now.

10.) A movie monster you would not want to find under your bed
A facehugger from Aliens.  Not even with a well-armed Hicks and Hudson and Vasquez keeping watch would I want to find one.

I believe most people have been tagged already, so going to pass on that piece.  But please do steal and answer if you're inclined!  I love reading all the different answers to these questions.

(sleep well!)