Monday, April 30, 2012

Meme-ish things - the letter M

via Rabia Gale:

How to Play: Comment to this entry and I’ll give you a letter. List ten things that you love that begin with that letter and then post that list on your journal.

My List: Ten Things I Love That Begin With The Letter M

(I'm leaving off Movies and Music here, because those kind of go without saying)

1. Mario Cavaradossi (my all-time favorite opera character)
2. Maps (reading them, studying them, memorizing them, making them)
3. Masada (the score by Jerry Goldsmith, that is)
4. Meteorites (looking at them, holding them, hunting them...)
5. Milnes, Sherill (my favorite baritone, what a voice)
6. Memories (what is life, but a series of?)
7. Mountains (I'm most alive and at home in the mountains, particularly the Sierra Nevada)
8. Maximus (my Husky)
9. Musketeers (particularly that Athos guy)
10. Mythology (I think I have more books on mythology than just about any other subject except submarines)

Friday, April 20, 2012

25 All-time favorite movies

I haven't ever posted a list of my favorite movies here.  It's probably about time.  My list will probably surprise a lot of people, as despite the sheer quantity of classic movies I love, they don't actually tend to make my favorites list.  There are reasons for that.

I think that word “favorite” means different things to different people.  What makes a favorite movie to me is something above and beyond what makes me simply love a movie.  There are many movies I absolutely love and adore (and I’ve seen them enough times you’d think they were favorites) – but they don’t actually make the favorites cut.  Why?  Well, it’s actually easy to explain:

For me, “favorite movie” means:

1) a film with which I have a special, emotional bond.  Favorite movies move me emotionally in ways movies I simply love have not.  I am passionate about them, and quite a few of them have changed my life in various ways.

2) a film I have seen many many times, often in the theater.  This is why quite a few of my favorites are newer films – I bonded with them over repeat viewings in the movie theater when they came out.

3) a movie with a score that matters deeply to me.  This may seem odd, but the musical element is almost more important than any other piece.  The score is part of what forms that emotional bond with a film.  The soundtrack alone is often the difference between a well-loved movie and a favorite movie, and is one of the primary reasons many of the older 1940's films I love don't make the favorites list.  I simply don't love their music the way I do other films.  With only one exception (and that's only because the CD is currently out of print), I own the scores to every film on this list. I sing the scores, I listen to the scores, I hum them, I live and breathe them.  Many of the scores to the movies listed below rank among my top favorite music of all time.  So yeah, music really is one of the most important things in my life, and that applies absolutely to movies.

On this list, the top seven movies haven't changed in years. Nothing really displaces those films, particularly the top three, which I don't think will ever budge.  The rest of the movies change order depending on my mood.

1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
2. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
3. Big Jake (1971)
4. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
5. The Thirteenth Warrior (1999)
6. The Wind and the Lion (1975)
7. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

8. Ben-Hur (1959)
9. The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
10. The Wild Bunch (1969)
11. Aliens (1986)
12. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
13. Galaxy Quest (1999)
14. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
15. Star Wars (1977)
16. The Mask of Zorro (1998)
17. The Untouchables (1987)
18. Avatar (2009)
19. The Vikings (1958)
20. Time After Time (1979)
21. Where Eagles Dare (1968)
22. South Pacific (1958)
23. The Shadow (1994)
24. Ride the High Country (1962)
25. Diamonds are Forever (1965)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I found bloggers's old dashboard is toast as of today, and I'm stuck with this new and not streamlined, not easier to use interface.  This is the second time this week that what used to be a lovely webpage has been totally changed. The other is USGS's recent earthquake page, the changes to which vex me far more than the changes here.  They've made their site damn near unusable compared to what it used to be.  This looks like just a pain to re-learn and find where everything went.  Like so far, I haven't located where they moved all the blogs I follow.  I'm sure it's here.  I just need to poke and click on everything until I find it.  I work for a software company, so I know why software changes... but that doesn't mean I like it.  Not one bit. 

Yeah, frustrated.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Toast of New Orleans (1950)

I recently watched this second film of Mario Lanza's, and when I say 'watched,' I mean that rather literally, as I didn't actually get to hear much of the movie beyond the singing. This is the problem when there's a four-year-old around and I wanted to watch it with my sister, and we fit it in... but the volume on the dvd seemed very quiet and was overridden by household and playing child noises. And, I admit, it was easy enough to follow without the dialogue, and it wasn't good enough to re-watch on my own with the volume at a proper level.

That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable along the same lines as That Midnight Kiss. In fact, it really does play exactly like they said "Wow, we got a hit on our hands, let's repeat the formula!" which I believe is what had really happened. This go-around shifts setting, and adds David Niven (who's rather delightful as the bemused opera director), but is otherwise very similar, right down to an inexplicable twenty-second (literally) happy wrap-up that comes out of nowhere. Lots of singing, quite a bit of dancing (Rita Moreno co-stars), and lots of light, romantic entertainment.

Highlights for me were Lanza singing the Flower Song from Carmen and the finale of the movie, which was a performance of the love duet at the end of the first act of Butterfly. He makes a perfect Pinkerton, both in looks and voice. In this movie, Mario Lanza reminded my sister and me of a cross between Desi Arnaz and William Shatner. With a really good voice.

We also had great fun waiting to see what dress Kathryn Grayson would be wearing next. These barely begin to capture the gowns and dresses she wore in this movie!

(my personal favorite was this green velvet gown.)

Another movie I'm glad I saw, but wouldn't need to own.

The DVD also included an hour biography on Mario Lanza, which we watched at a different time, and were actually able to hear. What a sad, short life he had! It made me very sad to watch this man of incredible talent and see how the world he inhabited, and his own tremendous insecurities, brought him down. How after he was planted in Hollywood, he did want to go sing on stage, but was scared to, particularly as he was compared so often to Caruso -- how would anyone ever measure up to those expectations? His weight was a constant issue. As they said, he sang better when he was heavy, but he filmed better when he was thin, so he would go on these horrible diets and lose 60 lbs. in a couple months, really unhealthy. And there was alcohol, a whole lot of it. He died at just 38 years old; his wife died a mere 5 months later. So sad.

There were quite a few clips from his later movies, were he was more serious and actually go to act, and I really want to see those now. And boy, when he sings opera straight, wow. He really did have an amazing voice. These stills were in the biography and I really liked them.

(Mario and Tyrone! Love this shot, particularly as Tyrone is still my Hollywood wish-he-was-an-opera-tenor Hollywood star.)

(Mario and his wife - so cute)

(Mario and his wife again... love them reading Hemingway, even if it is a publicity shot)

(This shot is so beautifully framed, and so sad. Seems to capture how trapped he was.)

I also really like this one quote. He was talking about that moment when he would go on stage:

"I feel that it's such an exciting thing. It's a thing that brings so much beauty, to those who, at the moment, love what they're experiencing. And in it's way, isn't it true that it's beautiful, that moment of excitement?"

This expresses something that I find lacking a lot today, an appreciation of beauty. A need and a love of beautiful things/moments/etc. I recently tried to explain why I would cry at beautiful things -- such as an especially pretty moment in an opera, or a sunset, or a gorgeous view. The person I was speaking with just looked at me blankly. But beautiful things did not move them, did not matter to them, in a way they matter to me. I listen to this quote from Mario Lanza and it just resonates.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Lamp Still Burns (1943)

I quite liked this little drama, about a female and successful architect who drops everything to become a nurse during WWII. Rosamund John is very likeable as the protagonist, Hilary Clarke. When she decides she wants to help people as a nurse instead, she commits fully with passion and perseverance. I can't help but admire someone willing to give up everything for the hardships and privations nurses-in-training had to go through.

Stewart Granger seems ridiculously young in this movie, and while his is definitely a supporting role, it's still a critical one. His character, Laurence Rains, works with Hilary in the beginning of the film when she's still in her architect capacity, and he's quite taken with her, even though he's engaged to another woman. He next encounters her when there's an accident at his plant, and then things go terribly wrong and he and his fiancee both get caught in an explosion at his plant and end up in the hospital Hilary is training at, under her care. The rest of the story deals with how the love triangle intersects with Hilary's commitment to the nursing profession.

I did not know how harsh and strict the conditions for nurses in England at this time was. The sheer amount restrictions and rules are astounding. Definitely not something I could have done, which just made me admire Hilary even more. I love strong, passionate female characters. She is faced with some horrible decisions that no one should have to make. I quite liked the other nurses as well, and the various patients all had personalities. It's a movie I will definitely watch again at some point.

It's funny. I watch plenty of movie violence and it doesn't bother me, but one long scene in this movie, a surgery -- which shows ZERO gore or blood -- got to me. It was more the sounds and concept of what was going on that wigged me out. I'm sure the fact that it was Laurence Rains on the operating table was a big part of it. Since this wasn't a Hollywood movie and happy endings are not remotely guaranteed in British movies, I had no idea if he'd make it, and worrying over his character was freaking me out. I think that was one of the strong points of this movie: I cared a very great deal about all the characters. The movie made their fates matter to me, and I love that about the film. (And did he make it, you ask? Well, you'll just have to watch the movie!)

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Salome (1953)

I admit it: I'm a sucker for Biblical epics. Good or bad, overblown or great, melodramatic or understated or just perfect... I tend to enjoy them all. I love the vivid colors, the sumptuous costumes, the setting, the hair styles. Salome was more enjoyable than I expected. Hard to go wrong with the cast: Charles Laughton, Judith Anderson, Stewart Granger, and Rita Hayworth in the lead roles. But the script surprised me with some really good dialogue. That's not to say it didn't have its over-the-top factor (John the Baptist... I'm looking at you and your wild eyes!), but that's also part of the fun of Biblical epics.

(Charles Laughton makes a most excellent Herod. I also really love this shot of him.)

(Judith Anderson is perfect as the cold, desperate, scheming Herodias)

I wasn't quite sure how Stewart Granger would fit in when I started watching, but they worked him in all right, and he had plenty of screen time in his Roman outfits to keep me happy. And really, they certainly paired Granger up with some of the most lovely women in Hollywood! What a handsome couple he and Rita make!

Spoilers follow...

The plot surprised me a bit. I guess I've gotten used to Rita playing the femme fatale types, and Salome and her dance of the seven veils for the head of John the Baptist just all fit together nicely with that image... only they changed that. In this version, she dances to save him! Knock me over with a feather, what?? That was unexpected. I was also expecting her to somehow get Stewart Granger's character killed... she's good at that, and he's good at picking the wrong women and getting killed because of it... nope. They both seem to live happily ever after, and together, no less! The entire ending rather shocked me. Not that I object to happy endings, quite the contrary, it just didn't fit with the story of Salome I was expecting. I mean, who thinks "good girl" when they think of Salome?

(Good Salome?)

(no, this is more like it!)

Granger's character was also a good guy, though that I was expecting. His Roman Commander Claudius has secretly converted to Christianity, so he helps slaves, John the Baptist, and whoever else he can, getting himself kicked out of the Roman army when he openly admits it to his boss (Pontius Pilate, played with strength and unexpected compassion -- at least when around Granger -- by Basil Sydney, who I last saw playing Captain Smollett in the 1950 version of Treasure Island, really like him!). That was one of the small things that bugged me though. Claudius is ordered to take ship for Rome, and he promptly goes AWOL instead, returning to Galilee. And nothing comes from this open defiance of his orders. It's only his friendship with Pilate that prevented him from being executed for treason in the first place, and no one follows to arrest him or anything?? And he's still looking awfully Roman in the last shot of the film, no hiding out by blending in with the natives. Too bad. I'd kind of like to see a few consequences from his desertion. But, of course, I daydream. This movie is not called "Claudius," it's called "Salome."

All in all, it was a diverting couple of hours, and definitely better than quite a few other movies in this genre, and it fits the season. I think I automatically start looking for these types of movies come Easter, as television stations used to run the gamut of Biblical epics this time of year.

(Okay, I also admit that when Stewart Granger looks this good, I wasn't paying much attention to anyone else in the movie...)

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sparks Fly Upward, by Stewart Granger

I'm not much of a biography reader, but after reading this interview on TCM MovieMorlocks blog, I knew I wanted to read this book. This quote from Stewart Granger in particular just really spoke to me:

"Even the happy periods are unhappy to write about because you say to yourself, 'Why the hell didn't I know I was happy then?'"

And I LOVED this book. Really loved it. He may have described writing the book as torture, but he has a very easy writing style to read, and his way of describing things is often very funny. I laughed out loud. A lot.

The only problem with this book is that it ends. And he leaves off his story in 1960, right after he made North to Alaska. Perhaps there was going to be a second book, but alas, it was never written. Too bad, as I was so not ready to leave his world and would happily have read about the next set of years.

He has many adventures, but I think what I loved most about him is how normal he was, and how much about him I could relate to, such as our shared problem of a nervous stomach, and how many things scared him. I think I might even have loved his stories about non-Hollywood stuff more than the movie-related stories. Such as his early life, and buying a ranch in New Mexico, then Arizona, and the trials and tribulation of learning to raise cattle. I commented in my last post on how happy his character was in North to Alaska. Boy, that couldn't have been farther from his real mood at the time that movie was filmed (going through divorce from Jean Simmons), which only makes me appreciate that exuberant performance even more.

He had great stories about the crazy filming of King Solomon's Mines. About exploding planes and grabbing a cobra for a shot... only to find out its fangs were not taped back like they were supposed to be. Yikes! I was very impressed with how Jean Simmons took Howard Hughes to court -- and won! Some of the sad parts of his story broke my heart. Life is not always kind to any of us, that's for sure.

I actually don't have the book in front of me right now (I forced it, er... lent it... to my sister, after I loved it so much and I really wanted someone else to read it... even if she has no clue who Stewart Granger is, LOL!), so I can't quote some of my favorite sections right now. But there were a lot. From memory, I think my absolute favorite bit was when he first arrived in Hollywood and Cary Grant took him to the Farmers Market. This was after the war, but food had still been heavily rationed in England, and Stewart Granger just flipped out over all the food on display for sale at the Farmers Market. He bought all this stuff he couldn't possibly eat all of, just because he could and he'd gone without for so long, with a bemused Cary Grant looking on wondering what the heck. I also loved a bit about him commenting on the static electricity and getting painfully shocked by anything metal. I forget that it's not this dry elsewhere in the world, and that that might actually be a new experience for someone, not something you live with.

Anyway, I'd rank this as the most enjoyable autobiography (or biography) I've read, and it really made me like him even more as a person than just the handsome, swashbuckling actor from the movies. Highly recommended for anyone interested in either Stewart Granger or old Hollywood.