Friday, May 29, 2009

Internet Amusement

This is a case where I should have left well enough alone... See, I did this online Mash thingy yesterday after Ginger did it, and I got Van Heflin, and it was a very nice, pleasant future indeed. But as I didn't grab a screenshot, and everyone else was posting theirs on their journal, so I thought I should do it again, and this time do it fairly and put in a (yuck) person (Victor Mature, for me... yuck yuck and yuck), and yuck locations, occupations, etc., instead of putting in everything all rosy and golden.

And this time, I got who I wanted to get the first time... Georgie! Except... one should never marry a gambler. Clearly, he has lost all our money, as... well, look:

A shack? a SHACK?? I get George Raft and our abode is a shack?? In Sicily, raising sheep and six kids, no less. That's it, I'm now in charge of the bank account. But! I did get the vehicle of my choice, as I do lurve those jeeps, and I'm living in the perfect kind of country to drive it too.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More "opera in movie" notes

Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor shows up in Madame Bovary (1949). We get part of the love duet "Ah! verrano a te sull'aure" and the first bit of Act I Scene 3. It's a wee bit odd that they use the break between those two scenes to let the characters be up and about rather than a genuine break between acts, particularly as the characters end up skipping out on Act III entirely. Well, sheesh they aren't even to Act II yet (two more scenes to go!), and if they have breaks at every scene, I'm surprised they didn't just duck out after Act I! LOL!

Memorable quote:

"I said that I did like the opera... everything except the music." -- Charles Bovary


Growing up, I paid little attention to the Director title card. Oh sure, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, George Pal... there were some names I always knew, but on the majority of the older films I grew up watching, I couldn't have told you who directed them. (With the exception of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea because there were two versions of the movie poster on my wall so I read Richard Fleischer's name every day.) Even college film courses weren't enough to really make me start paying attention. I'd watch movies for who starred in them, but not for who made them. It wasn't until much more recently that things started clicking. And the director who got me thinking about diectors was John Frankenheimer.

I absolutely loved Ronin, and I loved Frankenheimer's commentary on the DVD. His commentary on The Train was also outstanding. I think I enjoy listening to him talk about filmmaking as much as I enjoy his films. But he was the first director whose films I actively sought out, without caring who was in them, just to revel in how he put a movie together. I did the same to some extent with Otto Preminger.

But what sent me off on this topic right now was realizing last night that three of my top ten favorite movies of all time are directed by one man. There are no other repeat directors on my list. What made me realize they were all directed by the same person was the fact that all three films are scored by Frank de Vol and, like many memorable pairings of director and composer, de Vol seems to have scored a large chunk of Robert Aldrich's movies.

The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix, and Kiss Me Deadly are all on my top ten film list. All scored by de Vol, all directed by Aldrich. But my love of Aldrich's films doesn't stop there. The Frisco Kid and Attack are also favorites a bit farther down the list... Emperor of the North and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I only saw once, but I still remember both quite well, they made a serious impression on me. I'm not sure there's an Aldrich movie I don't like, though there's quite a few I haven't seen yet. I'd like to say I love Twilight's Last Gleaming, but alas, I've never seen the movie, only listened to the score (which is by Jerry Goldsmith, not de Vol, and what a score it is).

I wouldn't say there's anything necessarily recognizable about Aldrich's direction or style. Honestly, I couldn't have even told you he directed Flight of the Phoenix, a movie I've seen bajillion times, until I watched it again last night and paid attention. (I don't know if it's good or bad that 9 times out of 10 I can tell you who scored a movie, but not who directed it!) But his films are smart and well-written, with memorable characters, cleanly directed, no fuss, no frills, and with no fancy-schmancy stuff. I think perhaps it's an even higher compliment to say I don't notice his direction, that his films suck me in, don't let go, and I never get thrown out of the moment because of some distinctive camera work or unusual editing or the like. It's just seamless entertainment. I have an extremely hard time turning off his films, even though I've seen my favorites so many times I can quote the whole film back to you. His films just don't get old no matter how times I see them. They also don't feel dated. And there's nothing I want to change about them. They're perfect as they are.

So, if asked to name my favorite director, I will name Robert Aldrich first and John Frankenheimer second. William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Richard Fleisher, and Jacques Tourneur would follow close behind.

(And how come there aren't more de Vol scores out on CD??)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"I see a man in your life." -- "What, only one?"

Another actress first for me... Mae West! I've seen clips of her all my life, but never watched a complete film. She's so instantly recognizable, so cariactured she's almost a cartoon figure, and yet there's a whole lot more to her in a full movie. She's pretty, fun and saucy, smart, and actually rather stand-offish with her men. More flirt and talk than action. And despite the patented way of talking, she's unexpectedly genuine. I liked her a lot!

I watched two films, Night After Night (1932) and I'm No Angel (1933), off disc 1 of the "Mae West: The Glamour Collection" dvds. I netflixed the disc for Night After Night, which is a George Raft movie, and was actually going to skip the second film. Mostly because Cary Grant is in it, and while I like older Cary Grant, he just bugs me when he's really young. So, I put it on only to see how it started and then saw the following credit:

Well, then I had to leave it on. Story, screenplay, and dialogue by Mae West? That I wanted to see! I'm not sure how many "Suggestions" there were from Lowell Brentano, but it was a quite amusing film, with a witty script, full of snappy one-liners and trouble and love. It suited her perfectly and I'd like to think most of it was hers. I particularly like her character's knick knack shelf, where she keeps pictures of her various suitors next to animal figurines that match their personality: skunks, snakes, etc. Hee. The courtroom scene is unorthodox but note perfect for Mae West and a highlight of the film.

Night After Night was also amusing, but not as good, mostly because I really disliked the Park Avenue broad slumming around George's speakeasy, looking for a "pirate." Of course, he ends up falling for her. Gah! No no no. She needed to go. She was annoying and full of all the wrong kind of airs. George was way too smart and interesting and funny to fall for a dumb dame like her. But the best parts of the film had nothing to do with her, cuz the best parts of the film belong to Alison Skipworth. She played Miss Jellyman, a matronly school teacher George hires to teach him how to be an educated gentleman. Their scenes are hilarious, and even better... her scenes with Mae West. Boy, those two together are priceless. Alison Skipworth definitely steals the movie. I love her! According to IMDb, she was 69 when she made this movie, but I would have guessed her younger.

(Mae West in I'm No Angel -- love her smile!)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"It's only a movie!"

I'm going to revisit the new Star Trek film one more time, because I'm catching a lot of flak for criticizing it. I don't mind that, except that the flak consists primarily of the following platitudes:

"It's only a movie!"
"It's only Star Trek, what do you expect?"

And various similar comments aimed at getting me to "lighten up." Those kind of comments really push my buttons, for so many reasons, but primarily: 1) the speaker is making excuses for the filmmakers' bad storytelling (and encouraging more of it), 2) they're implying I shouldn't expect a good story in a movie, and 3) they're trying to make me excuse/accept bad storytelling.

No, I will do nothing of the sort. "It's only a movie." "It's only a book." "It's only fiction." "It's just science fiction" or "It's just fantasy." What, fiction in any media form isn't expected to be good? Why not? Entertainment isn't supposed to be good? Why not? If it's to be consumed by the masses, the standards automatically lower? WHY??? That's ridiculous! Of course it can be good. Blockbuster movies can be smart, entertaining, funny, and still rake in the big bucks for the studio. And smart, entertaining, funny blockbusters shouldn't be the exception, they should be the rule every summer. Because there's really no excuse for bad storytelling. There really isn't. Telling a good exciting story is not that hard. Except, for some reason beyond my comprehension, it seems to be too much to ask of Hollywood.

The new Star Trek film fails badly for two reasons: poor plot and poor world building. I skimmed the surface of the myriad plot problems in the last post. There's a lot more (all of it fixable too, which is what bugs me the most). But there's world building problems too. There's the big stuff (ie: the emasculation of Star Fleet, a mining ship boasting better offensive armament than warships) on which the plot hinges but that blows suspension of disbelief (again, all fixable). And there's little stuff that's almost more annoying. Take that scene where Chekov is telling the computer to do something and it can't understand his Russian accent. My, isn't that cute and funny? Let's all laugh now and watch him try to get it right! What I see during that scene: the Enterprise (or other Star Fleet vessel) being blown out of existence in some future battle when Chekov (or one of any number of other alien Federation races who might be serving onboard) gets flustered and can't pronounce their Vees or whatever letters/numbers/commands in proper English fashion and the computer fails to understand the order in time. No culture with that many aliens/languages would rely on something that arcane. That's poor world building and lazy writing.

But it's a ten-second throwaway scene, so what? So what is that they could have accomplished the same "look at Chekov's cute widdle accent" in any number of other scenarios that wouldn't compromise the believability of their world. The audience still laughs (so they've achieved their apparent goal), but without some of us thinking, gee, what happens when that command is a little more urgent? That's what writer's do. They use their skills to weave plot and character and world together as seamlessly as possible, in ways that do not dump their viewers out of the story every five minutes. And that's what these writers failed to do.

The thing is, you produce an intelligent script? The average viewer who doesn't give a damn about anything other than the cool action factor? They're still wildly entertained. They're still going to love the movie, probably love it even more because an intelligent script usually increases the cool factor. And the rest of us with brains, who aren't sheep, who refuse to love something simply because we're supposed to, or because, awww, it's Star Trek and isn't it fun to revisit that universe? We love it too. Win, win.

So, to clarify. What I hate about this film is that when handed one of the coolest universes to play in, when given great characters, a big budget, and time to do it right... those involved squandered the opportunity. That is what I truly deplore, not the film itself. That they could have given the world two hours of fabulous entertainment, and we're stuck with two hours of crap instead. It may be fun, it may still be entertaining if you check your brain at the door. But it's still bad storytelling exemplified.

And the alternate history thing? It disappoints me because they could have "rebooted" the series, still stayed within the original history, and still grabbed new viewers. Would it be harder to write? Sure. Could it be done? Of course. Look at Back to the Future II. They fit a completely different storyline nearly flawlessly inside an extremely tight existing history, and it's brilliant and glorious and it makes watching the first movie even more exciting. But the other thing is, if you're going to go with an alternate history, goddamn it all, use it! Holy smokes, do you know how exciting I find exploring an alternate history? It's why Mirror Mirror is such a good episode in the original series. The things you can do, the places you could go, the expected events/outcomes you could rewrite in eye-popping new ways. I aim this more towards the next movie, less towards this one. Because there will be a next one, and it could be the best movie of all. They got the setup out of the way in this movie. Now, go to town in the next one. But hire an intelligent writer first, please.

[ETA: I should mention that I have also now seen this movie twice. I went a second time because just about everybody I know loves this film, and I wanted to see if the problems I have with it wouldn't jump out at me on the second viewing. I wanted to see if I could join the mindless masses, stop thinking, and just enjoy it for what it is. I succeeded to a certain extent. However, I also noticed more problems I'd overlooked the first time. So, I liked it better and worse than I had the first time. Will I go see it again in the theater? No. Will I buy it on DVD? Hell no. But will I object to watching it down the line with family or friends who want to see it on DVD? No. ]

Awards and Crazy Eights

I've been neglectful in mentioning that Kate Gabrielle has awarded me the Friendly Blogger Award. I am surprised and pleased! Check out Kate's many blogs (and etsy shops) for some of the coolest artwork on the web! This award is supposed to be passed on in turn, but as most of the people I would choose to pass this along to have already received this, I'll just say thanks to Kate again.

Now, while we're on memes, I've also been tagged for the Crazy Eights meme by Ginger at Asleep in New York. It has a few extra "Eights" she threw in because weirdly, there weren't eight categories and there should be.

Eight Things I look Forward To:
1. Visiting with a bunch of crazy friends this summer
2. Watching movies starring my favorite actors that I haven't seen yet
3. Watching my nephew grow up
4. Seeing my novels on the shelf at the bookstore
5. Standing on the beaches of Normandy and standing on the rooftop of the Castel Sant'Angelo
6. Visits with my parents
7. Releases of previously unreleased Goldsmith soundtracks
8. The day they stop jerking the cameras around and doing lickety-split editing in current films

Eight Things I Did Yesterday:
1. Watched the end of City of Conquest and some of the extras
2. Finally (I think) got a Thomas the Train song out of my head -- it's been stuck there for days
3. Had my faith renewed in the police
4. worked
5. fretted over the stray cat I've been taking care of, who hasn't shown up in four days now. :-(
6. spent too much time online instead of writing
7. Admired Chris Hemsworth
8. and most importantly -- laughed and was happy

Eight Things I Wish I Could Do:
1. Go back in time
2. Become a Hollywood producer so I could rectify the problem of crappy screenplays getting filmed.
3. get my dog to let me brush him when he's shedding
4. remodel my bathroom properly
5. have enough money to quit the day job and be able to write without financial worries
6. Run my own opera house
7. Sing opera
8. Never have to eat again

Eight TV shows I Watch:
1. Combat!
2. Have Gun-Will Travel
3. Route 66
4. The Big Valley
5. Star Trek
6. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
8. Highlander

Eight Movies I Love More than Any Other
1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
2. The Dirty Dozen
3. Big Jake
4. The Empire Strikes Back
5. Raiders of the Lost Ark
6. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
7. The Wind and the Lion
8. Kiss Me Deadly

Eight Things I'm Gonna Do Today:
1. Mow the lawn
2. blog
3. babysit
4. fight this migraine
5. listen to Star Trek: the Motion Picture score again
6. eat
7. vacuum/dust/clean/do stupid household chores
8. continue editing a story

Eight Things I Promise Never To Do On My Blog Again:
1. Badmouth Cary Grant
2. Make no promises
3. er... I'm not getting any farther on this category...

Eight People to Tag:
If you wanna play, go for it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Always listen to your gut

I went and saw the new Star Trek movie. I really should have sat until the urge and the recommendations passed, because that was one sorry excuse for a movie, and I am very sorry I helped give money to make it a blockbuster this opening weekend (as I'm sure it'll be).

Heavy duty spoilers follow... stop reading now if you wish to remain untarnished.

Oh, there's nitpicky stuff galore to complain about. I hate the look of every single one of their ships (hallways that look like they belong on Senator Organa's ship and innards that are nothing but pipes... what, we run on steam now? and a Romulan mining ship that... er... I don't know what the hell that ship's all about inside). A villain so lame I rolled my eyes every time he opened his mouth (and I actually like Eric Bana too). I had a hard time with the cast, with the notable exception of McCoy, who was just about the sole saving grace of the film. Karl Urban as McCoy was awesome. Nobody else came close (maybe Spock), and it may just be me, but I couldn't feel any part of old Kirk in this new Kirk. But you know, I expected that, and I would have forgiven that. If the movie was good. If the plot was good.

Why is it people have so much trouble with plot? Particularly in Hollywood. It's not like it's one novelist sitting in a corner working alone for ten years with no feedback. You've got so many people involved in a movie production before it gets greenlighted... does no one ever raise their hand and say, um, you're hinging your story on a series of ridiculously conceived coincidences? Like Kirk meeting up with Spock on the planet? First off, no version of Spock would ever jettison anyone, least of all a Star Fleet cadet (it isn't logical). In the movie's circumstances, it's tantamount to murder (what with the planet being hostile), and it's only luck Kirk makes it out alive. What happened to the brig? Nice safe place to put people who have broken regulations. That right there boggled my mind. Then, to land on a planet and make your way (again by accident) to the one cave on the entire planet harboring another jettisoned person? Sheesh, all for what? So you can show off some computer-generated creature that doesn't even serve the plot? There's so many other natural ways Kirk and Spock could have met up.

And that's only one of the ridiciulous plot coincidence/contrivances. The entire Star Fleet is away and can't respond? Seriously? When the ships full of cadets can reach Vulcan from earth in a few minutes practically? And Kirk can figure out it's a trap just from an overheard comment of Uhura's and a description of his father's death? Seriously? You're telling me the Federation and Star Fleet have no one else following galactic events? It goes on and on. As Ripley once said, "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?" WTF were these movie makers thinking???? And the end of the movie... you can be a cadet for three years and then be promoted first to first officer, then to captain a few days later??? Excuse me?? He's Kirk, I expect him to rise in rank fast, but holy smokes, that's utterly ridiculous, and Star Fleet isn't that dumb.

Oh, but wait... it's all okay, because this movie has a trump card... it used a get-out-of-jail-free-because-we're-now-in-an-alternate-reality card. So anything goes. Great. I feel so much better now.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Character vs. actor

I have a good background for accepting different actors playing the same character, after all I love opera, and opera is nothing but the same role sung by different people. I have no problem with that, though, naturally, I've developed various favorites for various roles over the years.

Same with movies. I have no problem with James Bond being played by multiple people. I grew up with Sean Connery and Roger Moore, loved Timothy Dalton (wish he'd gotten more than two films), barely tolerated Pierce Brosnan (and only in Golden Eye, because the other actors and the director excel in the film), and embraced Daniel Craig with all my heart and soul. All that hatred I harbor for Quantum of Solace is aimed solely at the director and his cameramen; Daniel Craig can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. I even like George Lazenby.

I'm okay with various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, though Basil Rathbone is still my favorite. But I particularly enjoy Seven Percent Solution, Murder by Decree, and the wonderful Without a Clue.

So, why do I have such a huge block against this new Star Trek film opening today?

As with Bond, I grew up with the original Star Trek, but not just with a handful of films watched on Sunday Night at the Movies on TV, but with three seasons of eps. They were shown daily all through my childhood, and we basically watched an ep a day for years. So, does the sheer quantity of hours spent with Star Trek preclude accepting anyone else in the roles? Because right now, the thought of someone other than William Shatner playing Kirk... yeah, that's a grimace on my face.

And yet, I have a very forgiving background on such things. I should be able to accept this, go with the flow, kick back, and enjoy the new film.

So, do I get over my personal hangups and go see it tomorrow with family? Or do I let them go first and give me a "yes, you won't miss the original actors, you must see it" or a "skip! you'll hate it" review? That way, if it's the latter, I never have to have memories of the film in my head. But if I go with them, I also avoid spoilers, something I can't stand.

I really can't decide what to do.

It probably doesn't help that I hate the trailer.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Those that try to tangle with my derring do

I've been editing and revising and polishing, and I'm sick of it. So tonight I worked on a brand spanking new sci fi/noir short story. I've been so focused on novels that I haven't devoted much time to shorts. I've been steadily working on notes to re-write a fantasy novella, but tonight, I just really wanted to work on something completely new and unknown to me.

So, I'm spinning out an odd little tale about hunting a time traveling murderer in post-WWII Los Angeles. I have the opening paragraphs written, but the story's central conflict is currently larger than I want. I'll see if my muses can keep the idea but change the story into something less inclined to sprawl. Ideally a flash story, because I miss writing those.