Thursday, December 31, 2009

Delightful things in 2009

The best thing about 2009 was discovering George Raft. February 2009 brought me Invisible Stripes and with it, an actor who rapidly captured my heart and stayed there (eep, that means I need to redo my top ten favorite actors list, huh?). My love for him is undiminished, if anything it gets stronger with each movie of his I see. I recently watched a VHS tape of Souls at Sea (1937). Oh man, love! I never had a chance to review the film here, but I loved it, and George's character broke my heart in it and made me cry. I even didn't mind Gary Cooper at all. They made a very fun pair. Love their duets.

There were two other actors I had minor flings with this last year. Gilbert Roland, who I've always liked, but I finally got to sit down and watch a bunch more of his work. Still adore his Cisco Kid series. And a current actor... Colin Firth. I've had friends who've always liked him, but I never saw the appeal. Just never liked the romantic comedy character types he seemed to be locked into playing. I guess I was just waiting for him to appear in a movie where he played against that type. Turns out that movie was The Last Legion (2007), a Roman/Arthurian legend retelling that I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that while the first half of the movie is really good, the second half rather sucks. But what I enjoyed most was simply seeing Colin Firth in an action role. Ahhhh, finally! He's damned good at it too. So, watched a whole bunch of his movies, but with the exception of Fever Pitch (1997) (which I really really loved), the rest were meh and did nothing for me. Which just makes me plain cranky. Damn it all, can't I write him a movie script or two? Please?

Movies I bought this year after catching them on Netflix:

Alvarez Kelly
Escape from Fort Bravo (I owned a taped copy of this, but I wanted a clearer DVD copy to better enjoy all the lovely William Holden-ess of it. I particularly love the end of this movie.)
Picnic (another one I owned on tape, but wanted a clearer DVD copy)
The Black Swan (though this was gifted to me before I could buy it myself!)
Road to Perdition (also gifted before I could buy it!)

I will be buying The Last Legion, I just haven't yet. And I really want to own Rio Conchos, but alas, it's not out on DVD yet. Grr. And I think I also need a copy of Pixar's Up for myself. (I got one for my nephew for Christmas.) Now, everything I've seen by Pixar is very good, but Up tops them all. What a wonderful, crazy, beautiful, emotional ride! It only took one viewing to make it my favorite Pixar film.

New movies I actually saw in the theater:

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Star Trek

Kind of funny, really. All big budget types. But then, given how infrequently I go to the cinema, not surprising. I had much more fun watching classic movies. If only I lived closer to Hollywood and its revival theaters. I'd be going to the theater all the time. So many good classic movies appeared that if I had the resources, I'd go see on the big screen. This next year, I'll see if I can remedy that a bit, make the trek.

2009 was a good year for me. I have no complaints. Here's looking forward to 2010!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Musings on movies

I've been musing on Avatar since I saw it (impossible not to). It made me realize a couple things. One is exactly why I hate 95% of movie comedies so passionately. Old ones, new ones, ones in the middle... sure, there are some exceptions, but they more often than not leave me cold. I've never been able to put into words before why I hate comedies. Well, it all has to do with why we go to the movies. Or more specifically, why I go to the movies. Most people I know don't feel this way. But I do not go to the movies to laugh. I do not go to be amused. Those are probably the last reasons I'd go to see a movie. I have plenty of laughs at home. Life is full of laughs. This morning, I was at my sister's, and all we did was talk and laugh for an hour or so. I'm quite fulfilled in the giggle-department in real life. I don't want or need that in my fiction.

I know I've talked about this before, but I go to the movies for one reason: to escape into a fictional world. The more completely I can escape, the happier I am. This is one of the reasons why I believe in seeing movies on the big screen, because, I'm sorry, it ain't the same when you're sitting on a couch watching a film on television, or worse, sitting at your desk chair, watching a film on your monitor. I do it, but the screen is small and my peripheral vision takes in the rest of my living room. There's cars driving down the street, the dog wanting out, the cats wanting on my lap, and a hundred other things to pull me out of the moment. I HATE being pulled out of a movie by real life. Hate it. Passionately.

Which brings me back to comedies and why they don't work for me: there's always an awareness that they're targeting you, trying to make you laugh, aiming at an audience that is outside the film. And I don't want to be outside.

Which brings me back to Avatar, and why it is the perfect movie for me: it immerses me in its fiction, and the beautiful 3D? Pulls me in even more. I was there, running along a tree branch or diving off a cliff. One of my first despairing thoughts when it ended was "I don't want to go back to 2D movies now." I disappeared completely into this movie, and that is what I want out of my films. I don't come out of a comedy with a heightened sense of being alive, with my adrenalin kicking, with wanting to take off at a sprint through the parking lot, whooping just for the sheer joy of it. I don't soar when I come out of a comedy. And I need to soar. It's why I go to the movies. I still haven't come down off the high of seeing Avatar. I probably won't for awhile. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Hey! A new movie!

I went and saw Avatar yesterday. I never even saw a preview of this movie, had no idea who was in it (other than Sigourney Weaver), couldn't have told you what it was even about other than an alien planet. But I'm a huge James Cameron fan, and I went to see this movie on the strength of my faith in him as a director. Boy, was I not disappointed. This has to be the most beautiful and visually stunning movie I've ever seen. Holy smoke. The 3D was wonderful. It was never intrusive, never in your face, or used as a trick. It merely let you be a part of the world. I loved the characters, loved the world, loved James Horner's music, loved the sense of wonder the film evoked.... I haven't been this thoroughly grabbed by a modern movie since... er... I can't remember when. I can barely stand not heading back to the theater today to see it again this instant.

I don't know about your film experiences, but modern film audiences can be rather rude. Not in this movie. Nobody got up, nobody talked, nobody's cell phones went off. They were thoroughly attentive to the film and nothing else. I was sitting next to some young kids... you couldn't even tell they were there, they were so engrossed in the movie. The only time I noticed them was when they started bouncing in their seats and cheering at one point in the movie (an entirely appropriate moment; I felt like doing the same thing). They didn't budge otherwise. Can't tell you how refreshing that was.

Highly recommended. And definitely see it in 3D. In the theater. This is a movie that will never be the same on the small screen.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes to all my blogging friends for a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Vol. 3

Yes, I did skip Vol. 2 by accident. Will come back to it. I liked this third disc. Talk about a lot of story crammed into a very short time. The first three episodes on this disc were the most interesting (and the most melodramatic). My favorite had to be the second ep, called "Confession," with Lee Marvin as Barbara's guest star du jour. Loved it! Sort of a Double Indemnity murder type story, (Barbara even compares it in her opening statements), with a spouse the wife wants to escape, a sap who proposes a way to do it... but then it twists the expectations around to paint the story in different colors. Plus, Lee Marvin's ambulance-chasing lawyer character lives over a merry-go-round, how crazy and cool (fictionally speaking) is that? Naturally, the merry-go-round plays into the story. Fun, solid entertainment.

I also really enjoyed "The Sisters," if for no other reason than they managed to portray a lot of the possible complexities of a sibling relationship, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

"Big Career" was my other favorite ep, mostly because I didn't anticipate where it was going. This is a slightly confused episode, though, with a bunch of rather mixed messages (do capable women belong in the work force, or minding the home as a housewife?). Has more useless, sponging men, strong women running businesses, and a tough old mother-in-law, this time played by Elizabeth Patterson (aka Mrs. Trumbull on I Love Lucy, among a jillion other things).

The other two eps were also enjoyable, but not as complex as the first three.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Vol 1

Just finished enjoying the first disk of this show. It's nice to have an anthology series featuring a strong woman protagonist in almost every episode. There are five eps on this first disc. I have to admit, since I'm a huge Vic Morrow fan, I got this disc more to see his ep, "Keys to a Killer," than anything else. Alas, his ep had one of the weaker stories in the bunch, which is too bad, as everything else was great about it. Barbara Stanwyck plays a deputy and sheriff's wife, transporting wanted killer (Vic Morrow) to the authorities. The car crashes, and Vic goes on the run, Barbara in tow because they're handcuffed together, and, to not let him escape, she throws the handcuff key off a cliff, banking on him not shooting her because he won't want to drag her dead body around. She's right, of course, and then she sets about trying to figure out what will break him while leading him in circles. The ultimate answer is way too easy and neat and tidy and made me want to smack the television in irritation. Just get rid of that part, and it would have been quite goood in all aspects.

Vic Morrow is one of those actors who understands subtext and how to use it. He often slips in visual things that belie the dialog, exposing what the character is really feeling. He was a master of this, it's one of the reasons I love watching him in films and television. It's his acting that elevates characters as potentially cliche and throwaway as his Leroy Benson in this ep. He has one super neat moment in this ep that is pure Vic at work. Minor plot spoilers follow...

He finally realizes he's not getting anywhere fast handcuffed to Ms. Stanwyck. His only option to get away, he decides, is to go back and get his switchblade... and cut Barbara Stanwyck's hand off. Way gruesome and so unexpected in a 1960's tv show! But the thing is, he's come to rather like her. She's treated him relatively nicely as she draws bits of his life story out of him, and he doesn't really want to do it. He just doesn't see any other option, and if it's her hand or his life, he knows which way he has to choose.

His dialog is straight-forward, unrepentant, all "I gotta do this, and that's all there is to it" type stuff. The words don't say he's sorry or that he regrets this choice, but his actions do. His body language, his eyes... he's freaking out inside at the very thought of what he's going to do to her while the dialog says something else. And for one lovely moment in the midst of it, he presses his head to her hand, as if begging silently for her forgiveness. Subtext in action, baby. Dig it. I do so love Vic Morrow.

As for the other eps on the disk, their plots seemed to get consequtively better. My favorite of the eps was "The Secret of Mrs. Randall," a convoluted little melodrama about betrayal and love and redemption that was right up my alley. Barbara plays the president of an oil company, whose mother-in-law (who's chairman of the board!) gave her the position of president when her husband couldn't cut it! WOO! Gotta love strong women running oil companies! Barbara Stanwyck is excellent in every ep, as are the supporting casts. I loved Doris Packer, who played her mother-in-law in this ep. The two have some very nice scenes together.

I'm definitely looking forward to getting the rest of the discs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nano 2009 wrap up

Finished writing my 50,000 brand spanking new words today, which successfully completes my sixth successive nano. This year was a tough one, and I learned a big lesson. Do not write the second half of an unfinished novel when you have rather large problems with the first half and you've done zero planning on the second half. It is so much easier to start a novel for nano. There's all that room to explore and you can just go with the flow. Finishing a novel though... I was tying up threads when I wasn't even quite sure yet how everything comes together. I needed more thinking time than I could spare and still meet my word count.

That aside, every scene had a critical change, and every chapter ended on a cliffhanger, and my muses did not let me down once, but kept me going even when I thought for sure I had nothing to write next. Several things surprised me, though not in hindsight. Typical. The subconscious knows what it's doing. I so liked where the second half went, that when I start novel revisions, a good chunk of the first half will go out the window so I can work with the new directions I uncovered. I also left off tonight right before The Scene, aka the cool scene that made me want to write the novel to begin with, the scene I've been writing towards since day one, so continuing through the last bit to complete the first draft won't be hard.

Random things about this year's nano:
  • I had two zero word count days this go-round.
  • On the rest of the days, the least I wrote was 313 words. The most was 3149. Considering the previous years where I always had some 4-6K days, this was definitely the slow and steady year. I also finished later in the month than I've ever done. Only one day to spare.
  • I was never able to write before work or on lunch break. Most writing was done between 8-10 pm, and 99% of the time I was in bed by 10:30. Which is a really good reminder that 1) I can work a full-time job, 2) eat/walk the dog/do chores/watch movies/read/have a life, and 3) still write that much a day and be in bed on time.
  • The day's I felt most stuck ended up being the days I got the most words in.
  • I watched nine new movies during November.
  • Most listened to music while writing was James Newton Howard's score to The Water Horse.
  • This is the first nano I didn't skip dinner at least once.
  • The internet is by far my worst enemy for stealing away writing time. More discipline required in that department, yessiree.
All in all, a tough, frustrating, but ultimately quite satisfying nano session. I'll be able to use most of what I wrote, and my P.O.W. novel is *this* close away from a completed draft.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Son of Fury (1942)

Nano sure has done a number on my blogging time! I've made time to watch all kinds of movies, but haven't written about any of them. I wanted to finish off my Tyrone Power movie binge with a write up on the last of his movies I had lined up, Son of Fury. Except I watched it close to a month ago and I've forgotten all the details I wanted to write about!

I did enjoy the movie. Nothing outstanding, but good, solid entertainment. I'm still a sucker for South Sea island tales, and I got that in part here. George Saunders is our bad guy again, very suave and cocky and cruel. A very young and gorgeous Gene Tierney shows up as our hero's love interest. They work very well together. Elsa Lancaster gets a brief role, helping Tyrone's character escape the police, and she's as scene-stealing as ever. I loved her little part.

So, instead of a proper review, a few pictures...

In nano progress, it goes. I got stuck for a bit, but came unstuck a couple nights ago when a few consecutively nastier surprises happened. Now my hero is on the run from both the police and the bad guys, and whenever I'm writing action, I write very easily. I'm hoping it'll keep up, as I'm only at 27K in nano (77K for the novel as a whole). I also need to start figuring out how to wrap this novel up. It'll probably go over 100K at this rate, as the 20+K remaining is about 10 scenes, and I simply can't see how I'd pull all the threads together in just 10 scenes. Though you never know, I may be farther along than I thought.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kate!

Happy Birthday to fellow blogger, the talented Kate Gabrielle, of Silents and Talkies! (and not to mention several other delightful online journals, like the flapperdoodles!)

Hope it's a great one!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Always trust your muse(s)

Ahhh, I do so love writing. My writing gets sparser and sparser each nano, which isn't so good for reaching word count each day, but it is better for the end result. Less editing. :-D This year, I'm writing a bit by the seat of my pants. Oh, I have a couple big scenes I'm writing towards, and I know the ending (I think), but the rest is surprising me a bit each day. So far, it's working out extremely well, and the story is right on track.

I got one of those wonderful out-of-the-blue story moments yesterday that changes everything for my lead character. And not in a good way. (Of course not. If it was good, I wouldn't be telling the right story.) All because he blurted out someone's name and let them know he recognized them. Someone he isn't supposed to know, someone he couldn't possibly know, someone who doesn't want to be known, who isn't supposed to be there. Someone who will be coming to find out how my hero knows his name.... Oh, the delight! This gives me much to work with, and that coupled with a couple other twists that popped up a few days ago, I'm seeing how things tie together towards the end. The neat -- and terrifying -- thing about nano is you move so fast -- a scene or two a day -- that I barely have time to think through the possible consequences of characters' actions before I have to deal with them the next day. So when I get these lovely muse-bombs dropped in my lap, it sure makes writing the next segment easier.

And man, I still can't write in the mornings to save my life. I'm an evening writer, and there's just no fighting it.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Nano report, or how not to get your word count for the day

Do you remember the first CD you ever bought? I do. Of course, for me it was a big deal because I come from the LP era. I didn't get my first CD until I was in college. It was Jerry Goldsmith's Rio Conchos, bought in person on my first visit to Intrada, best soundtrack store ever. It was the first CD I ever bought, and I didn't even own a CD player yet! Made a tape of the album off a friend's CD player so I could listen to it that way. It's still one of my favorite Goldsmith scores, and I've listened to it hundreds of times.

I've wanted to see the movie forever, but, never managed to catch it on TV when I had TV, and it's still not out on DVD to my knowledge. But, tonight, lo and behold... Netflix suddenly has it available for instant viewing! This being the month of Nano, finding procrastination of such a calibre is an opportunity not to be wasted! So, naturally, I just spent two precious writing hours watching it.

Three things:

1. There's a reason Richard Boone is one of my top ten favorite actors of all time.
2. There aren't words powerful enough to describe how much I love Jerry Goldsmith's music.
3. If there were no movies left on the planet but Westerns, I'd be perfectly content.

I was not disappointed in this movie, and if it ever comes out on DVD, I will probably buy it. Story's interesting and has plenty of action. It's quite violent, but not gruesomely so. But really, I was watching for Richard Boone. He just makes me grin and grin. He's perfect in roles like this. He plays a great character here. A Confederate Major who comes home from the war to find Apaches have tortured and murdered his wife and daughter. Sinks into hate and a bottle and revenge. Almost a cliche, but in Boone's hands the character becomes quite complex. His acting rounds the character out, gives him depth where another actor might not have. He lets you see his character's pain behind the flippancy and his inhumanity, and then, his remembered and regained humanity and honor. He gets the best of the dialogue throughout, and the best scenes. His character goes through a subtle redemption arc, and his scene with the dying woman and baby really got me. Really, he's the only character in the film who gets to do anything meaty, but I don't mind that.

Stuart Whitman plays the sort of upstanding hero. Sort of. (After all, it's his character's mistake that puts the rifles into the bad guys' hands.) I like Stuart Whitman, I do (Comancheros!), but really, does he ever do anything in any of his films? Jim Brown is quiet, but where Whitman is a bit flat, Jim Brown always has presence, and he gets a few nice moments. Edmund O'Brien -- hee! He's always solid, particularly playing whackos. Speaking of whackos, Timothy Carey sneaked in, in an uncredited role. in this one. But the guy is instantly recognizable, and while he's not playing a dangerous loony in this one (in fact he was surprisingly normal and low key), he's still has that loose cannon quality that always makes him a bit freaky. Every time he pops up in a film where I don't expect him, I kind of sit on the edge of my seat waiting to see what he's going to do. 'Cause you just don't know with him.

So, I'm happy, and I've nicely avoided writing tonight. Which is okay, as I wrote a bunch of notes this morning before work and I'm still digesting the new direction I want to take the story.

Though, I can't tell you how weird it is watching a movie for the first time when you know the score inside out and backwards but nothing about the movie. Always a bit surreal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I just can't resist it

I'm opting to join Nanowrimo again this year. I've successfully completed it the last five years, and I swore last year would be my last. But here we are, and it's suckering me in again. This year, though, I don't need a new novel started. I need my "POW" novel finished, so that's what I'm going to be working on, the second 50K. Unfortunately, there's a reason it's not yet complete yet... I have some major thinking to do to re-figure out some places I went astray in the first half before I can launch in. And a little over a week to do it... Typical. This also seems to happen to me every year. I'm an idiot.

And, as that means my brain is occupied and unfit for anything else, the rest of this post is dedicated to a gratuitous pic spam of Tyrone Power from The Black Swan. I didn't have the dvd when I watched and reviewed it previously (just used Netflix's instant viewing option), but thanks to a good friend's birthday present, I can now watch it and take all the screen captures I want. I swear, he looks better in this movie than in all his other movie combined. But maybe that's just me. (double-click on any pic to get the full size)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Eddy Duchin Story (1956)

This biopic about pianist and band leader Eddy Duchin is not a happy story, and yet, despite the sad misfortunes of his life, this movie was surprisingly never depressing or a downer. In fact, it was rather the opposite. There's so much love of life in this film, that death and sadness merely serve to stress how important it is to pursue your dreams and happiness. Because you never know when those you love will be taken from you, you never know how long you yourself may have.

Spoilers follow....

Eddy's story is fairly simple. Young pianist comes to NY, with Kim Novak's help, gets a job with an orchestra, works his way up until when the bandleader moves on, he steps in and takes over. He marries Kim Novak, but their happiness is short-lived, and she dies after giving birth to their son. Eddy splits on tour, unwilling to deal with her death and his new son. Five years go by, WWII is about to break out, and his friend Lou, played by James Whitmore convinces him to meet his son. His son is reserved and polite, and Eddy is devastated. Off to the war he goes. When he gets back, he tries to make amends. He falls in love with a new woman, his son, who also plays the piano, slowly learns to love him, but just when everything should be at its happiest, Eddy learns he has leukemia and is dying. A sad life for such a talented musican.

The film starts with his arrival in New York and goes through his death. Oh sure, Tyrone's technically way too old to play the young Eddy Duchin, but he's so full of energy and enthusiasm, I had no trouble believing in him. The montage of him and Kim Novak falling in love is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Sometimes, moments like that can seem cliche, but this montage really worked for me. Maybe it was just Tyrone Power and Kim Novak together. It's actually not a pairing I would have thought of, but I like them together. A lot.

Besides the falling-in-love montage, I had three favorite scenes. Kim Novak's death scene, because of how Tyrone played it. He knows she's dying, she doesn't. I thought his acting could not have been better here. I particularly like when actors let you see what their characters are thinking. It's one of the things I love about Dana Andrews. How effortlessly he conveys internal thought processes and the subtext of a scene. Tyrone does that here.

James Whitmore is one of my favorite character actors. The guy is so solid, so reliable. He can do anything. He gets my next favorite scene, where he lays into Eddy for running away from his son for five years. Eddy is a very even-keeled, happy, smiling sort, and he finally loses his temper. I'm a sucker for a good angry "Shut up!" (which is a post all unto itself) and Tyrone cuts loose with an excellent one.

My third favorite scene is the very end of the movie, which I won't give away, but it's such a simple and elegant way to end the movie. Sentimental without being melodramatic, and oddly satisfying. That's a weird thing to say about a movie that ends with the title character's death, but it's true. The writer half of me quite admires how they handled it.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how impressed I was with Tyrone Power's piano playing. In the A&E Biography of him I recently watched, it said he basically memorized the fingering in order to look convincing. That had to be a helluva lot of work, but it sure pays off. Except for a few occasions where the music's obviously way too complicated, he pulls it off. And even in those complicated moments, his hands are still in the right areas of the piano, and his fingers are moving fast enough in the right directions that perhaps if you aren't a piano player, you might not even know he's faking it then. It's so great to watch a movie where they don't have to have the piano's bulk obscure the actor. The opening scene where we first get to see him play, you see a set of hands first, and I was thinking, okay, here they go, they'll cut to his face. But nope, the camera slowly pulls back to show Tyrone playing. Because of his memorization, they never have to cut away from showing him at the piano. I really appreciate that, particularly as there's a lot of piano playing, and he does a fabulous job of making it all look natural.

Not a fabulous movie or one I need to own, but quite enjoyable. Beautiful New York location shooting, great period cars, lovely dresses for Kim Novak, great music. I particularly like the Chopin.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Man, I loved this movie. Loved! I went into it a bit leerily, as 1) I'm not particularly fond of courtroom stuff, and 2) my dad had spoiled the ending a couple months back. Silly me. It had me hooked from the first lines of dialogue between Charles Laughton and Elsa Lancaster. Well, really, it had me when Billy Wilder's name went by as part of the screenwriting duo and as director. The man makes wickedly smart movies.

The rest of the movie delighted me primarily because of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lancaster. They are absolutely delightful butting heads as a barrister recovering from a heart attack and his pesky no-nonsense nurse.

Laughton's character of Sir Wilfrid is supposed to relax and do nothing that might cause him stress, and, of course, to force a brilliant man to sit around doing nothing is sheer torture. So he neatly side-steps his way into a murder trial defending Tyrone Power because he can't resist jumping at a challenge. Poor Tyrone's character, Leonard, is accused of bumping off a lonely old widow (the wonderfully endearing Norma Varden!) for the inheritance she's going to leave him.

There's a great exchange between Leonard's wife, Christine (Marlene Dietrich), and the lawyer working with Sir Wilfrid, regarding Leonard's, ahem, relationship with the murdered woman. The lawyer, mincing around the topic, Marlene Dietrich's character unfazed and pragmatic. Cracked me up:

Brogan-Moore: 'Quite obviously, Mrs. French should come to look upon your husband as a son, or perhaps a favorite nephew.'
Christine Vole: 'You think Mrs. French looked upon Leonard as a son? Or a nephew?'
Brogan-Moore: 'I do. An entirely natural and understandable relationship.'
Christine Vole: 'What hypocrits you are in this country.'

The movie's nothing but fabulous dialogue. And the way the plot unfolds really is ingenious. But it would still be nothing without Charles Laughton in the lead role. He is utterly perfect, sneaking cigars and brandy behind Elsa Lancaster's back with as much relish as he has questioning witnesses and trying to get Tryone off the hook. I mostly know him as an actor from Mutiny on the Bounty, but I really need to find more things he's done. It surprised me a little how funny he was in this movie. His little smirk as he goofs off on the staircase lift; his delight in pulling one over on Elsa Lancaster. He made me laugh aloud more than once with the little quirky things he did. I also did not know until after I watched this film that Laughton and Lancaster were married for over thirty years!

Tyrone Power does a very good job with his role too, which is actually a rather difficult one, and not fully appreciated until you reach the end of the movie and can look back over the whole thing. He swings easily from jaunty and unconcerned, to worried, to histrionic, and back again, as needed. The trivia notes on IMDb say that William Holden was the first choice for Leonard. That would also have worked quite well. Interestingly, it got me wondering how Sunset Blvd. might have worked with Tyrone Power as Joe Gillis. I often try actors in a mental, alternate versions of Sunset Blvd., wondering how they'd fare, if put to it. I think Tyrone would have done quite nicely. But he reminds me of Holden on occasion. Both handsome and devil-may-care, both a bit shady when they want to be, both good with characters who accept the easy route even as it eats them up inside (thinking Nightmare Alley here for Tyrone, but there're other examples too), both able to charm women, young and old.

I'm not particularly a fan of Marlene Dietrich, but I also haven't seen her in very much. Her first scene with Charles Laughton, where you expect one thing from her and get quite another... her natural aloofness is used to advantage. Her character is one of constant surprises, and she conveys a lot with just an arched eyebrow. Though I also craved someone like Barbara Stanwyck for this role, just because Marlene Dietrich often seems one-note, and Stanwyck can play cold but is anything but. Dietrich seems to lack depth sometimes, but I think that might be a weird illusion. I'd have to see her in more things. And she does get to some fun, unexpected moments in this one. Besides, for a woman in her mid-fifties when this was made, she sure looks fabulous. There are women in their thirties who don't look as good.

All in all, a very satisfying film.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

Today is a marvelous day. I'm on vacation (it's my birthday tomorrow). I got to sleep in this morning, I'm listening to Manon Lescaut, and I have two loaves of homemade Italian bread rising and a mini-pot (personal size!) of homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. Unfortunately, neither will be ready to actually eat for a few more hours, but they look and smell fabulous!

I also got to watch The Mark of Zorro for a second time. Amazingly enough, I don't believe I'd ever seen the movie before now. I loved it! A fine version of the Zorro tale. Tyrone Power makes an excellent Diego/Zorro. He can turn his two characters off and on as needed. I particularly liked when he first returns home to California. He gets more and more frustrated and angry with what he's hearing about the supposed behavior of his father... and then he finds out who's really behind the people's woes. You can see him absorb the situation quickly and astutely and immediately retreat from man of action into a disguise that won't alarm the new government. Self-protection and a new game to play, all rolled into one.

A game it definitely is. He's freshly come from Spain, where life had been a series of training, duels, and trysts. He expects California to be boring... and to his delight finds it's anything but. This Diego comes alive when he realizes there's something for him to do with all his training after all. He seems to relish deceiving everyone as a fop as much as he enjoys the action and results of being Zorro.

There's great supporting cast, from the lovely Linda Darnell as his love interest, to Eugene Pallette, to Gale Sondergaard with her deliciously wicked smile. She's actually not evil for once, merely selfish and self-centered. Basil Rathbone plays Captain Pasquale. He's always toying with his sword, and you just can't wait for him and Tyrone to have at it. Most of the best scenes are between the two. Diego deliberately baits the captain any chance he can get. And Pasquale alternates between sneering at the "weak" Diego but still getting insulted. It's great fun. My only regret is that the big fight between the two happens a little earlier than I expected, and that removes the only real threat.

All in all, a great romp. Zorro is one of those characters I never tire of watching.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What happened to opening credits?

There seems to be a lack of opening credits in modern movies these days. I can't remember the last new movie I saw that actually had a main title theme and credits. Now, given that you can count the number of new movies I've seen in the theater on one hand, I'm probably making too broad of a generalization, but there's been a noticeable trend over the last few years, even to me, for filmmakers to dive right into their movie, BAM!, without ever giving any credits beyond the title.

I hate that.

Oh sure, I understand all too well about needing to grab people's attention right away, etc., but you know, nobody's going to walk out of a movie four minutes into it because they had to sit through opening credits.

When I go to the movies, even when I pop a DVD in the machine at home, I'm coming from real life. From the stress of work, or dealing with the stupid drivers on the road, or the monotony of household chores, or an argument with friends, or a gigglefest with friends... it doesn't matter whether it's stress or cheer, I've got real life on the brain. I go to/put on a movie to get away from them. And you know? Opening credits are the transition point. The theater darkens, the music starts, the credits roll. The flavor of the music sets the tone, tells me what I'm in for. I loosen my grip on the outside world, let the score and the credits relax me... so that when the movie starts, I'm there. Ready to go. Movies that tend to jump right in? I'm doing that transition during the movie's opening. I have to discard my distractions as the movie starts. Oh sure, I get there, but I miss opening credits.

When I think of modern (but, er... not so new) films that did it right, I think of films like The Untouchables (1987). Perfect opening credits. Stylish and atmospheric letters and shadows, with Morricone's dark but catchy title theme putting me into the right frame of mind... by the time the first scene starts, I am so there, body and soul, ready to go. Real life is forgotten, and I'm eager to see what's coming. Or Dead Again (1991). Or James Bond films, that give you a teaser, but also a nice set of opening credits.

That's what I miss in movies that choose to toss you off a cliff instead of letting you enjoy the view a moment, before giving you that hard shove.

I always stay through the end credits of every film for the similar reasons. Well, for three reasons really. 1) before songs became so prevalent, end credits were a great place to listen to the composer's music again without dialog and sound effects overrunning it, 2) to give acknowledgement and salute to the makers of the film, and 3) to ease back out of fiction into real life.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Of novels and movies and opera, oh my

Work on my new novel, "The Traitor," had stalled out a few weeks back, mostly because I couldn't hear the voice of one of my lead character. I realized why yesterday. He's a she. I had the wrong gender. Now, she's not only talking to me, but large chunks of the novel rotated and fell in place. They had worked fine before, but they work better now, with the whole change in dynamics that the gender change brings. Now, I can't wait to get back to it.

My movie watching has slowed lately. Must be the back-to-school season. There seems to be a hundred things to do every day right now. But I did watch another couple of Tyrone Power films I hadn't seen before. The Black Rose and Prince of Foxes.

I've always liked Tyrone Power, though I don't have a crush on him, nor is he one of my favorite actors. But I have a great abiding affection for him. As I've been watching these films lately, I realized part of why that is.

He belongs in opera.

Seriously. Tyrone Power is everything I look for in an opera tenor, he simply lacks the singing voice. He's certainly got the dark handsome looks of an Italian tenor, particularly in some of the period films I'm watching, but more importantly, he's got the personality to play all my favorite opera tenor roles. And that's a hard one to explain in words -- spirit, a certain joy in life edged with darkness but not cynicism, bravado in the face of death and pain and despair -- but Tyrone has the necessary operatic ingredients in spades, where my favorite actors do not. Sometimes, my family has fun casting our favorite operas with movie stars from certain eras, or genres, or even from specific movies. I don't think we've actually done Golden Age stars, but if we did, I'd pick Tyrone Power for the lead in most of my favorite Puccini and Verdi operas. There wouldn't even be any contest. Tosca, Butterfly, Turandot, Girl of the Golden West, Rigoletto, Masked Ball, Traviata... he'd be absolutely perfect in a movie version of any one of them.

Tyrone Power in Prince of Foxes... could easily be the Duke of Mantua about to start singing La donna รจ mobile in that outfit

As to the two films I watched, both were entertaining, but I much preferred Prince of Foxes. The Black Rose had some good parts, but was brought down by the female lead, who is supposed to be the Black Rose, but looked about 12-years-old. She was very innocent and earnest and sort of cute in a daughterly way, but really. As a love interest? As the titular Black Rose??? Weird casting decision. However, Jack Hawkins played Tyrone's best friend, and he's much fun.

And then there's also Orson Welles. He got all the best dialogue, and he really makes up for the lameness of the rest of the movie. (Tyrone plays a Saxon, pissed at the Normans, who gets in trouble at home and splits with a caravan of goodies bound for the Far East. Ends up fighting for Orson Welle's charasmatic, but bloodthirsty Mongol warlord as one of his captains, gets imprisoned in China, then ultimately returns to England with gunpowder and other technological info... which he gives to the Normans.) Welles is also in Prince of Foxes (part of why I chose these two films), and has quite a bit of the best dialogue there too. Orson Welles is a compelling actor to watch at any time, but he makes these very intelligent, but decadent and conscienceless characters, quite fascinating. What better actor to pick to play Cesare Borgia in Prince of Foxes?

"I was thinking." - Don Estaban
"Good. Practice makes perfect." - Cesare Borgia (Welles)

Orson Welles and his calculating stare

Prince of Foxes was the far better film. It was better written, better acted, better scenery, better action, and I really enjoyed it. (Tyrone plays Andrea Orsini, working with the infamous Borgias at conquering Italy until he falls in love and has a change of heart and decides to lead a revolt against the Borgias, which doesn't exactly go so swimmingly.) Man, Tyrone Power sure gets himself in trouble in his films, doesn't he? I'm starting to think there isn't a period film he was in where he doesn't get either seriously wounded or tortured. The actress in Prince of Foxes (Wanda Hendrix) was like some blonde Gene Tierney knockoff. Wide set eyes, prominent cheekbones, big lips and overbite. Not perhaps so much in a still shot, but in action, when she talked, all I could think of was Gene Tierney.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tyrone Power double feature

Captain From Castile (1947) and The Black Swan (1942). The first, I didn't particularly like. I have issues with sprawling movies that don't have cohesive plots. This one starts out okay, but then we get to the New World with Cortez and not much really happens after that point. Tyrone has minor random adventures, gets nearly killed twice, and mostly follows Smilin' Jack, aka Cortez, around the Mexico countryside while the latter prepares to conquer the Aztecs. There's no real point to it all, no conclusion either. Tyrone doesn't even get to take care of the Spanish Inquisition rat who murdered his sister, though he gets blamed for it. It's a rather sprawling, meandering, uncomfortable, and surprisingly brutal film. That's not to say it didn't have its good points. I liked the actors a lot, particularly Lee J. Cobb, love the scenery and the costumes, love the music, but other than Paricutin and Alfred Newman's famous and completely wonderful Conquest theme, there's not much memorable here for me.

I come from a family of geologists/astronomers, so one of the highlights of this film (and one of the reasons I rented it) was seeing the Mexican cinder cone Paricutin in action. It was erupting during this period, and the filmmakers made nice use of nature's display. The ash blocking the sun lends a different coloring to a lot of the outdoor shots and it's beautiful and atmospheric.

Paricutin erupting in the background, no CGI here!

The volcano's over the horizon in this pic, but look at that lovely ash cloud and the contrast it provides! Love it!

The Black Swan, on the other hand, I absolutely fell in love with. No pretenses about this movie. It's a rollickingly good, Technicolor, pirate adventure film. I don't think it's possible for Tyrone to look any hotter than he does in this movie. Being a ruffian suits him immensely, from the scruff to the outfits to the pirate attitude he tries to curb, to the swash on his buckle. And Maureen O'Hara is his lovely sassy leading lady, and there couldn't be a better match for him. They spark and rail against each other, beat each other up and fall in love on the high seas. It's just so much unrepentant and unpolitically correct (by today's standards) fun.

But really, the guy who steals the film is Laird Cregar. I swear, the man can do no wrong in a film. He's awesome in every film I've seen him in, and what a tragedy that we lost him at such a young age. He simply owns the screen when he's on, and not just because he's so physically imposing. He's got the charisma, the voice, the presence to go with it. I just love him. So many of the good moments in this film belong to him.

This is a film I'd definitely like to own. As far as pirate movies go, this one's way near the very top of my list.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Who is that guy??

So, I was watching Union Pacific (1939), with Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck not too long ago. Fun solid movie. I knew most of the actors in it but one. This guy:

I did not recognize him at all. He played a rather rougish gambler, not quite on the right side of the law. His smooth-talking charm was a nice foil for Joel McCrea's honest law-abiding character, and their scenes together were really good. Now, I'd even watched and read the credits in the beginning of the movie, seen his name go by... and I still couldn't put name to face. About 3/4ths through, I'd had it. He was driving me crazy. I had to know who it was. So, paused the film, looked it up on IMDb... it was Robert Preston.

Now, really, I actually wouldn't expect me to recognize him. I'm not familiar with him as much more than a name. I think the first thing I ever saw him in was The Last Starfighter, which I saw in the theater in 1984. No, I've never seen more than a few random musical numbers from The Music Man. I may love musicals, but never could get into that one. One of these days someone might force me to sit through the whole darned thing. So really, knowing him only in one of the last movies he ever made, how would I recognize him when he's 21 and quite the handsome young hunk?

Interestingly, his voice (if I'd paid attention) is very recognizable.

Since watching Union Pacific, Robert Preston has started popping up in all sorts of movies I've been watching. (So weird how that happens.) He showed up as the smooth-talking, ratfink bad guy in Best of the Badmen (1951) with Robert Ryan and Claire Trevor. He popped up in Wake Island (1942), in which, even knowing this time he was in it... I didn't recognize him in his first few scenes yet again. What is he, a chameleon?? Or is it just me? I had the Union Pacific and Best of the Bad Men curly-haired and moustached Robert Preston in my mind, and couldn't make the jump to clean-cut, burly marine. What finally gave him away in Wake Island was his voice.

And I notice he's also in Blood on the Moon (1948), with Robert Mitchum, which I'm due to watch next. Wonder what he'll be like in that one?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Desperate Journey (1942)

Well, there's not that much that's desperate about this journey. There should be, but Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan are having way too much fun single-handedly trying to win WWII. It's not all a light-hearted romp -- the long car chase at the end is quite nicely filmed and rather nail-biting -- but this film is pure "We laugh in the face of Danger! Hah-hah!" Definitely check any sense of reality at the door.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just depends on what you're looking for. I went into this film thinking it was going to be serious and was initially disappointed... but now I know better. This is a movie to watch when you want an exciting fantasy adventure. The plot's simple enough. Errol Flynn kicks off the story when he can't abide playing it safe. No, he's got to disobey orders and take his bomber down beneath the clouds to get the German target they're after, and promptly gets them shot down waaaaaaaay behind enemy lines. Kills their captain and a couple other chaps, and Flynn and the rest of the surviving crew go on the run. They don't make it far before the Germans capture them, but they don't stay captured for long. The rest of the movie follows their journey to get back to England. Things are complicated by a German Major (Raymond Massey, who's good here, but I can never quite get past his Arsenic and Old Lace role) personally after them because they stole his plans for some new messerschmitt factories, a side-trip to blow up a chemical factory in Berlin, because, really, when you're on the run for your life in enemy territory, you must strike a blow for the Allies while you're there. As Ronald Regan's character declares with a grin: "Look at us! We're a five man invasion!" And they are. They wreak havoc as they escape Germany, and nobody even ever stops them and asks them for their papers.

The only voice of reason in the film is Arthur Kennedy, who is young and cute and oh so very serious. He was the best part of the movie, and the only character I could relate to. He's a needs-of-the-many-outweigh-the-needs-of-the-few type of guy. He's Mr. Practical/Realistic. He's okay with their wounded comrade giving himself up to the Germans so the rest of them have a better chance to escape. Not Flynn, oh no, he must go rescue the poor chap, we don't leave our people behind, and all that. Arthur Kennedy likes to point out to Errol Flynn that there's more at stake, and Flynn likes to disparage him for Being Serious. They really do have some Serious discussions. Some viewers might think it bogs down the adventure, or that the dialogue's too tailored to get the home audience charging down to the recruitment office the next morning, but I liked whenever Kennedy and Flynn or Reagan butted heads over what it's all about. Brought a little balance to the film and gave me that more serious edge I was looking for.

Kennedy: "We haven't got the right to risk our getting back on side issues. Weigh the values."
Flynn: "That's what comes from having been a bookkeeper. You add everything up. Plus and minus. Then you stick in a decimal point and let it take all the fun out of life."
Kennedy: "Fun? I didn't get into this war for fun or adventure or because it was expected of me. I got in because it was a hard, dirty job that has to be done before I can go back to doing what I like. Before a hundred million other people can go back to doing what they like. It's no bright game to me."

At least Flynn has the good sense to admit a moment later he knows full well he's being reckless, and his logic makes sense to me. "I figure we have about one chance in 10,000 of ever getting out of here," he reasons. "If we are going to get knocked off, I just want to leave a couple of bouquets behind. To be remembered by, that's all."

I started liking his character more after that point. Sure, it may all be 1942 propaganda, but it works for me on a story/thematic level too.

The journey may not have been entirely desperate, but it was pretty suspenseful in places. I spent most of the film afraid Arthur Kennedy's character would get killed. The action in the last half is quite exciting. I really did dig that car chase. It was a good one. Maybe I just love watching those old cars and motorcycles tearing around on dirt roads. The Germans speak German with no subtitles, and I always love that. The actors are all good and look like they're having a grand old time. (Is Alan Hale ever NOT having a grand old time in any of his movies??) And for the fun factor, it doesn't get much better than Ronald Reagan, while being interrogated, pretending to cooperate and completely flamboozling Massey's character with some wonderful, made-up nonsense about how American planes can fly at high altitude. Priceless!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guest blogging - Alfred Hitchcock

I'm guest blogging at Millie's lovely journal, Classic Forever, today! As August 13th would have been Alfred Hitchcock's 110th birthday, she's celebrating in fine style by having a series of posts on him, both by her and guest bloggers, during the month of August. My entry is on one of my favorite episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Be sure to check out her other Hitchcock posts, particularly this one, the first in her series. Millie always finds the most interesting photos of her subjects to share!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The essence of my favorite music

This is going to be a long post, and it's going to ramble on about my favorite film scores for awhile, so if that's not your thing, feel free to click on to something else!

Ever try picking a single favorite soundtrack cue for each of your favorite film composers? Yeah. I guess I felt like a challenge today. Trying to choose only one is a form of torture, sure enough, but there's also something satisfying about it. Interestingly, my favorite individual cues are not from my favorite score by that same composer.

I've never done this on my journal before, but I've seen other blogs do this, so where available, I've included a link to the music.

  • Jerry Goldsmith - "Winter March" from Patton.
This one, amazingly enough, was relatively easy to choose. I think this has been my favorite single piece of music by him since I was in single-digits. Which, as Goldsmith is my favorite composer, also makes it my single favorite piece of music of all time. This cue, I believe, isn't even in the movie. I particularly love how it builds. I tried to find it online, but while the main theme from Patton is everywhere, I couldn't turn up this cue. Favorite score: The Wind and the Lion.

  • Elmer Bernstein - "Main Title" from The Bridge at Remagen.
Gee, you think I have a thing for military scores? Yeah, you'd be right. This theme I heard for the first time when I watched the movie, and I was in love on the spot. A day rarely goes by when I don't play it. And yeah, I do have a thing for counterpoint too. And minor keys. This one was also fairly easy to select. Favorite score is Big Jake. And the only reason my favorite cue isn't also from Big Jake is because I couldn't choose only one cue.

Jump to 5:40 on this one for the theme... there were a couple versions of just the theme but I disliked the orchestration in them. This is the version I like.

  • James Horner - "Genesis Countdown" from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Okay, Horner was damned near impossible to narrow down, but this cue features just about every element I love about Horner's music in one place, and it's been a favorite since I first saw the movie, so it's got longevity on its side! Horner's my go-to composer when I need an emotional fix. Favorite score is a toss-up between The Mask of Zorro and The Missing.

  • Basil Poledouris - "Nuclear Scam" from The Hunt for Red October.
This one was mostly easy (though the Battle Montage from Farewell to the King was a serious contender). But this cue has everything. Although this is also one that I cannot divorce from the movie, not that that's bad, it just gives me a slightly different listening experience. Favorite score is Flesh + Blood.

  • James Newton Howard - "Tarawa" from Snow Falling on Cedars.
Almost worse than Horner to narrow down to one cue. Couldn't decide between this cue or "Across the Desert" from Dinosaur or "The Hand of Fate" from Signs or several others. "Tarawa" won because I tend to beeline for it and it alone on its album, and because of the operatic quality of it. Favorite score is a toss up between King Kong and Dinosaur.

  • John Williams - "Desert Chase" from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This cue represents John Williams at his action-packed best. Also impossible to listen to without seeing (and hearing every sound effect) from the movie. But as it's my favorite scene in the film, I don't mind. Favorite score The Empire Strikes Back.

  • Bruce Broughton - "Attempted Assassination/End Title" from Shadow Conspiracy.
This is one of those movies I refuse to see because I don't want the music ruined by images other than what's in my head, particularly the final cue. The main title is awesome too, but it's the final cue I play more than any others. Favorite score: True Women.

  • Bernard Hermann - Main Title from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.
There is so much fabulous Hermann music, but this theme was always so romantic and beautiful and transported me to adventurous places I wanted to go. If you mention his name, it's usually the first music I start singing in my head, even over Hitchcock scores, etc. Favorite score: Mysterious Island.

  • John Barry - The Story Ends from Mercury Rising.
That distinctive quiet, pretty Barry style, but for some reason I particularly like this piece. I actually listen to this score a lot when I write, probably more than any other non-Bond Barry score, and I often put that last cue on repeat. Favorite score: You Only Live Twice.

  • Miklos Rozsa - Main Title from Double Indemnity.
Because there is no way on living earth I could choose one favorite theme from Ben-Hur. Or any of a dozen other scores, all different flavors, that he's written, from noir to epic. I love the main title from Double Indemnity particularly grabs me, with that slow almost funereal opening that slowly speeds up. Favorite score: Ben-Hur.

  • Frank deVol - "Gabriele's Death" from The Flight of the Phoenix.
This is one of those cues that never fails to make me tear up. Yeah, what's happening in the movie is sad, but that moment in the movie always got me because of the music, more than anything else. Favorite score: The Flight of the Phoenix. Hah! Finally got a match up of individual cue to favorite score!

  • Maurice Jarre - Main Title from Island at the Top of the World.
This score isn't even available in any recording as far as I know. It's probably at the top of my want list for unreleased music. I've always loved the music from this movie, particularly the main title. Jarre is an interesting composer to me. He's got a unique sound, and I usually have to be in a slightly quirky mood to enjoy most his scores. Favorite score... don't laugh, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I fricking love that score. Almost wore my LP out, once upon a time. That and my LP of Shogun.

  • Chris Young - Main Title from Jennifer 8
Ooh, this one always gives me shivers. So beautiful, so haunting. Favorite score: Jennifer 8.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Weekend roundup

I finished the final draft of my Combat! fanfiction story "In Little Stars" last week. Nice to have that one out of my brain, as it was started in January 2008, and it was emotionally taxing. It went through four drafts during that time, more than my usual for fanfic, ending up at nearly 18,000 words. But then I can rarely write short fanfic stories. My brain still prefers to work in "hour-long" episode formats when it can. I'm also glad this one's done because I have just two more fanfic stories left in me, and one's already done (first draft-completed during last year's nano), and the last story is two-thirds written. And that nicely leaves most of my free time available for the new novel.

The new novel is shifting, growing, even as I still work on chapter one. Hero's voice continues to elude me, but that's okay. With the overall growth it's doing, I'd rather keep everything fluid and open right now. I'm waiting for one more piece to click in place. When it does, I'll be ready to jump into it more firmly. But I've had that lovely bouncy excitement every day as I wait for work and daily commitments to end so I can work on it. I love that feeling!

On the movie front, watched Barbary Coast with Edward G. Robinson, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea. Meh. Not bad, not good. Just... meh. Edward G. was awesomely cool as ever (dig that earring), and Joel earnest and love-lost and spouting poetry while making horribly, terribly bad decisions. Walter Brennan adds suitable color and made me grin every time he appeared. Walter Brennan is just the best, he really is. When he gives the money he stole from Joel back to him, he's priceless! Brian Donlevy's lurking about as an oddly dressed thug... it's funny, I always think of him as a rather imposing man (a lot of that is his don't-mess-with-me attitude and the tough characters he plays), but you know, he isn't. Particularly next to Joel McCrea. Okay, that's not truly fair, cuz Joel makes most other actors look small, but still. Donlevy's still young and thin here too... and that outfit. Gadzooks, he needs to lose the unflattering, high-necked outfit. Really. Badly.

And now, to Nicole at Classic Hollywood Nerd, a very very HAPPY 20th BIRTHDAY!!!! I enjoyed a slice of Stir-Crazy Cake this evening to celebrate! (A truly yummy cake, easy to make -- very highly recommended!) Hope your birthday is a fabulous one!

Joel McCrea in Barbary Coast, broad-shouldered and handsome, as always!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

I'll admit, I am a complete sap and romantic (I think you have to be when you grow up on opera). I've got an unabashed love for melodrama too, and William Holden, of course, is my favorite actor. And so, you think I'd like this movie... and you'd be dead wrong. I absolutely could not wait for this snooze fest to end. If it wasn't for William Holden, I would have turned it off partway through, walked away, and not looked back. And this movie won 3 oscars and was up for quite a few more??

What did I like? The music (I've always loved that song, and I love Alfred Newman scores), and the Hong Kong scenery.

What did I not like? Everything else. The movie's premise was good, the dilemmas and conflicts good, it just absolutely failed for me. The dialog in particular was physically painful to listen to, very unnatural sounding, very forced, a lot of it poorly couched exposition. Blech and blech. I want to like Jennifer Jones, but each time I see a new film of hers, she just bugs me more. And unfortunately, this is her movie. She and William Holden had very little chemistry for me, and that also made the love story just not work. As much as I love him, he could not even begin to save this movie experience for me. What kept me watching was anticipating the end of the film, just because, with evil glee, I couldn't wait to see everything fall apart. How very unkind of me. Unfortunately, what I was hoping would happen, didn't. So even that disappointed me.

That's two hours wasted for which I'd like a refund, please.

(Oh, on a positive note, the DVD had a hour-long biography of William Holden on it. It's one I've seen before, on A&E or something, but it's been ages. Watching that made up for the movie, even if I did cry at the end of it.)

William Holden as a youngster, what a cutie!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Cisco Kid vol. 2 (1947)

This disc contained three films: Riding the California Trail, Robin Hood of Monterey, and King of the Bandits. The first one was the best, but that's mostly because the last two changed format. Riding the California Trail technically belongs with the vol. 1 movies, where Cisco has his gang and the stunning Palomino horse, and Baby as his sidekick. In the last two films, there's no more gang, he's got a different Palomino (still beautiful, but not stunning like the other horse), and he's traded Baby in for Pancho. Granted, the latter is just about the same character with a different name, but we've changed actors yet again to do so, and this guy is written as even more of the comic relief than the last one.

The final two movies were still quite enjoyable for me, again, just to watch Gilbert Roland having so much fun. Robin Hood of Monterey had Evelyn Brent in it as a scheming money-hungry woman, which was quite cool. King of the Bandits had Gilbert Roland jumping off his cantering horse onto a moving stagecoach. I'm surprised, but glad they let him do his own stunt as it really makes it a cool scene. I kept expecting the camera to cut, but nope, it stayed with him in one nice shot all the way into the stagecoach's driver's seat. Gotta love that. Cisco was even more laid back in the latter two movies, doing even more wisecracking, some of it in Spanish, which I wish I understood. He's even got time to read poetry now. Actually, in all six films, we never actually see him commit any crimes. Makes me wonder how he actually got his name on all those wanted posters the local law enforcement keep getting a hold of.

Also watched Beneath the 12-Mile Reef this morning. Beautiful underwater cinematography, great Bernard Hermann score (and I know the main title so well, only I'm not sure from where. Maybe it was on one of the Bernard Hermann compilation records I had growing up? Must check.) Pedestrian plot (Romeo and Juliet... again? Do we hafta??) with a few nice moments, and a 2-minute change-of-heart ending that I just don't entirely buy. Gilbert Roland and Richard Boone made the movie for me... only neither were in it as much as I wanted, though both dominated the screen when they were there. And unfortunately, despite the movie description listing each as playing the head of rival sponge-diving families, they had one, one, scene together. And they were relatively nice to each other. Dude, that's just not fair. We're talking two tough screen hombres and... no head butting, no fireworks, no fist fights? Cheated!

Most of the movie revolves around Robert Wagner's character. It's funny, but I've never had much reaction to him in any of the films I've seen him in. I neither like nor dislike him. He's simply there. There's absolutely nothing wrong with him, and I thought he was perfectly fine in this movie, he's just overshadowed by the stronger, more charismatic personalities of Gilbert Roland and Richard Boone. Peter Graves is also in the film... he appears to have played quite a few unsavory characters in his youth, this one among them. I really wanted something bad to happen to him... alas, got cheated there too.

And for the moment, (pending how strong my willpower is) that ends my Gilbert Roland spree, so I can get back to more serious work on the novel.

(Cisco Kid vol.1 reviewed here.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

That wishy-washy feeling

So, started a new novel, currently titled The Traitor, a couple weeks ago. I was getting fair daily word counts in before vacation, and now need to get back in the groove and start making some steady progress.

Problem is, I've still got this Latin-flavored mood running rampant through my head right now (thanks to Gilbert Roland) and that doesn't jive with the original concept of the novel. Doesn't help either that I keep listening to scores like Horner's The Mask of Zorro, which is perpetuating Old California motifs and not letting me get into the right headspace.

And the bigger problem is that I have this incredible urge to write Cisco Kid fanfic right now. I can't help it! I've finished watching Vol. 2 of the Gilbert Roland Cisco Kid movies (reviews of those later), and I just adore him in this role. His Cisco is cocky and irreverant, and he handles everything that comes his way with easy self-confidence and my writerly brain just screams out to write him a story where that gets taken away. Where his happy little world of tequila and women and saving the day from unworthy villains crashes down around his shoulders. Because I desperately need him in a meatier story, where the villains aren't so eye-rollingly stupid and his sidekick isn't strictly comic relief.

Which, considering my novel starts with my hero's happy little world crashing down around his shoulders (well, duh!), these feelings should be satisfied by working on the new novel.

If I could get back working on it.

And that means getting my brain straightened out. I need to stop sitting at the piano and composing Spanish-flavored melodies. I need to return the Cisco Kid dvd to Netflix and stop watching Gilbert Roland movies and his really fun guest star appearances on Zorro on youtube. And I desperately need to stop hearing my hero's dialog in Gilbert Roland's accent. Or I need to embrace it and start hearing everyone else's lines that way too, LOL! -- there is that option, I guess. Hm.

And I find this current dilemma extremely vexing because it's so unsual for me. The voice of my hero is one of the first things I hear, it's one of the things that drives the creation of a book... and in this novel, despite the planning, despite the solid images in my head -- I can't hear him clearly. And it's driving me crazy. So, I'll just keep writing, cuz I know where the plot's going, and wait for him to find his own voice.

"Hey, little one, stop fighting it, eh?
I'd make a great hero in your novel."