Monday, January 26, 2009

20... er 10 Favorite Actors

So a 20 favorite actor meme is now making the rounds, and since I'm about to head out on a business trip, I thought this would be a good way to cheer myself up.

As I did for the 20 fave actresses meme, I'm actually only listing 10. Not that there's a shortage of actors I adore. Quite the contrary, I could ramble on for hours on all my favorite men, but I'd rather keep it focused on the ones at the top, the ones who are little more special than the others. Of course, the word "favorite" can mean so many things, so what I did for this particular meme was list thirty or so actors that I really really loved, then I ranked them accordingly to how loudly I'd whoop and how widely I'd grin if they turned up unexpectedly as a guest star in a "Route 66" ep, then I picked the ten at the top. Seemed a fair enough way to figure out who was important to me. The results surprised me a little, as some I thought for sure would be on this list, when I put 'em to this particular test, I found I didn't care quite as much as I thought I would. And vice versa.


1. William Holden -- said it all already :-D

2. Lee Marvin - Yep, Lee Marvin beats out everyone else for second place. Like William Holden, I've loved him for as long as I can remember. Nobody, but nobody can play mean quite like he can, or play a good guy, or do comedy, or sing -- all while keeping that wonderful sexy swagger, and with that wonderful voice. He elevates every movie he's in, and if he's around, he always has my full attention.

3. Dana Andrews - Ah, Dana. It's hard to articulate what he means to me. There are some people who change your life, even if you haven't met them, and he's one of them. He conveys so much with those handsome eyes of his, and he has that smooth voice that never fails to melt me. He gets my full admiration and respect like no one else. More than anything in the world, I wish I could have heard him sing opera. I don't even know which opera roles he studied and sang, which opera was his favorite. His daughter told me that at the end, when he was suffering Alzheimer's and couldn't remember anything else, he was still singing opera in Italian. That makes me cry from both sadness and a strange sort of joy, that he still had that. Because love of opera is something I understand with every fiber of my being.

4. Ralph Meeker - Yeah, he's way higher on the list than I thought he might be, but man oh man, do I love him. I've seen him play pretty much all types of roles, and I like him best when he's playing morally ambivalent characters. He does Grey oh so very well, and as we well know, I'm a huge fan of Grey!

5. Sam Neill - Sam Neill was actually my first true actor crush as an adult. The first time I saw The Hunt for Red October, he completely stole my heart. There's very few movies he's made I haven't seen.

6. Ewan McGregor - He simply can play any role and make you believe in him. I can't think of any current actor I love quite as much as him.

7. Joel McCrea - four things I've learned to appreciate from watching McCrea: 1 - How well some men can wear clothes. I used to think Dana Andrews was the best dressed man in a suit. Nope, I'm afraid McCrea cleanly stole that award away. I almost never pay attention to clothes, or how well a suit or tux actually fits a guy... until McCrea made me notice without even trying. 2 - How good a guy looks after getting dunked in a river. 3 - How important romance is. 4 - And how there's nothing quite as attractive as a truly good man.

8. Aldo Ray - I think he's my all-time physical ideal. If I was ranking actors solely by how lustworthy they were, he gets top slot. Love his brawny build, love his raspy voice, love how easily he laughs, love how often filmmakers get him out of his shirt...

9. Richard Boone - I was a little surprised at first to see him beat out so many of the others to make this list, but really, it's no surprise. I've adored him since the first time I saw Big Jake. Paladin is one of the coolest characters ever put on television, but he'd be nothing if he wasn't played to perfection by Boone. Richard Boone is a great combo of intelligence, honor, swagger, and meanness (when he wants to be). He intimidates the hell out of me, but there's nobody I'd rather have at my side in a confrontation. Like all the guys on this list, I think a movie is better if he's in it.

10. Vic Morrow - A good-looking, fine actor, but more than that... from watching him in films and on television, I've learned so much about how to write a story. That sounds odd, but it's true. There's a lot of acting in writing (at least for me), and Vic Morrow is one of those actors who, for whatever reason, I feel on a visceral level, and the things I've learned about acting from studying how he says his dialog, how he physically carries himself in different roles... he taught me, more than anyone else, how to completely become (and believe in) something I'm not, and that carries into my fiction writing every single day.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"M Squad"

I've been watching the first disc of the 1957 - 1960 "M Squad" series and, I have to admit, despite the awesomeness of Lee Marvin, it's not keeping my interest. It also made me realize something else about what I need in my entertainment, because why doesn't this show work for me? Very simply: it's too straightforward.

How's that for an odd criticism? Those who know me well, who know my writing, who know my likes and dislikes are probably just nodding and going, "yeah, wanna tell us something new there?" Cop gets case, solves case. Sure there's some twists, people aren't what they seem, people lie and try to lead Frank Ballinger on a merry chase, there's action and shoot outs and some nice fisticuffs... but it hasn't yet engaged me.

I couldn't help comparing "M Squad" to "Peter Gunn," both half hour shows, both made late 50's, both dealing with crime. But "Peter Gunn" sucked me in immediately, particularly the first half of the first season. It wasn't straightforward at all, though on the surface, it's no different from "M Squad": detective takes on case, detective solves case. So what's the difference? "Peter Gunn" swings right away into noir territory and the Land of Grey, where "M Squad" is very black/white so far. It also gives me characters I care about, emotion, and the most important: things at stake for the leads. Peter Gunn, Edie, Mother, and my favorite Lt. Jacoby - they lead lives outside the case that draw me in. They make promises to each other that they can't always keep, or that get interrupted, that make me worry. They make me invest in what happens to them.

And that's what's missing from "M Squad" so far... something at stake. Something that makes me care whether Ballinger succeeds or fails. Something personal. There's nothing that takes it beyond a cop doing his job. Now, really, that's an unfair desire by me for a show like this, because I doubt it was created to be anything other than what it is: a nice straightforward cop show. But that doesn't stop me from being a little disappointed anyway.

On the other hand... Lee Marvin. Watching him brings a grin on my face a mile wide, and really, if he wanted to swagger around reading the phone book, I'm in. So I'll happily keep watching, even if the eps don't quite glue me to the set and maybe, just maybe, it'll develop into something more down the line.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Books read in 2008

Following Rachel's entry (since she's the one who got me logging my reading habits two years ago), 2008 was not a particularly big reading year for me, though I was pretty much reading steadily throughout.


  • Scardown - Elizabeth Bear
  • Worldwired - Elizabeth Bear (These two comprise the rest of the trilogy following the first book, Hammered, which I read in Dec 2007. I enjoyed this trilogy a lot; they're my favorite Bear books so far, particularly the first book, Hammered, as it was the most personal of the three. The two sequels were a little more far-reaching in scope, a little less intimate-feeling, so what happened to characters didn't hit home quite as hard as it did in the first book. But all in all a fine, exciting trilogy. A very fast read.)
  • Giacomo Puccini - Conrad Wilson
  • The Naked and the Dead - Norman Mailer (this book, as I said before, took me months to read, cuz it was heavy wading through each character's section. I've read several books this year that really helped me pinpoint what I like and don't like in books. This was one of them.)
  • Dust - Elizabeth Bear (based on the back cover's description, this novel sounded right up my alley... only it simply didn't work for me. There's a few reasons for this. 1) I don't think I'm the right audience for this book, 2) I think a lot of references that might have helped me understand things went right over my head due to my own ignorance, 3) the main characters never engaged me, and I think I need to read it again to figure out why, cuz I liked them, I just couldn't feel them or feel with them. I felt the entire book was telling me what to think, but not letting me truly feel along with the characters, which is an odd reaction to a Bear book; and 4) I'm told (there we go again with the telling) who the main villain is, and I'm told she did bad things, but I never actually saw them firsthand (other than briefly in the beginning, but while she did rather gruesome things, she didn't seem evil), so the entire end didn't work for me because I couldn't buy why I was supposed to be rooting for one team over another. Now, secretly, I'm hoping the assumptions the main characters make with their second-hand knowledge about the villain's supposed evil deeds is going to play into some greater plan (because this is the first book of a trilogy after all), but that could be wishful thinking on my part. This whole book was a surreal reading experience, like I was outside looking in at where all the good stuff happened, and I could see it and hear it, but not feel it, not get it. It was supremely frustrating because I like her work. I will read the rest of the trilogy when she finishes it and it comes out and hope the second two books work better for me.)
  • The Satan Bug - Alistair MacLean (A re-read. While MacLean is the author of my all-time favorite book, I'd only ever read Satan Bug once before, back in high school. I should have known there was a very good reason for that. This book just makes me angry. It's a prime example of how not to write a book, particularly in showing authors what information they should never keep from their readers.)
  • South by Java Head - Alistair MacLean (A re-read - This one got rid of the bad taste left by Satan Bug. This is one of the best by him. Personally, it gives me everything I want out of book. Very satisfying.)
  • A Darkness Forged in Fire - Chris R. Evans (loved it! If Sharpe was an elf and had to fight the evilest of magic and his own past, that would be this book. I was mildly disappointed that one of the characters seemed headed towards the predictable, and I'm really hoping that's authorial deception and the next book will prove me wrong! But still a quick exciting read and I can't wait for the next book!)
  • Atonement - Ian McEwan (Ugh, not even worth going into again)
  • Foot Soldier: A Combat Infantryman's War in Europe - Roscoe C. Blunt, Jr.
  • Odalisque - Fiona McIntosh (One of my favorite fantasy authors. This was the first book in the Goddess series, and I devoured it in one day. Fiona McIntosh's one of those author's whose books I start only when I know I don't need to do something else, because I will not stop until the book is done. So far, I have loved every book of hers I've read. They are exciting, adventurous, violent, scary, heart-breaking, never boring, characters grow and change, no one is safe, no one is spared. They always leave me satisfied and remind me that yes, I still really do love books, and not to be discouraged by the bad ones. I think I've bawled my eyes out somewhere in every trilogy of hers.)
  • Emissary - Fiona McIntosh (book 2 of the Goddess series, finished the very next day. Unfortunately, I didn't have book 3 then, can't remember why, now, and I got left hanging but good! I was just able to get the concluding book a couple weeks ago, and Goddess was the first book I read of 2009. Again in one day, all 550 pages of it, because there was no way I was stopping until I found out exactly what happened to everyone.)
  • Casino Royale - Ian Fleming (quick, easy read)
  • Diplomacy of Wolves - Holly Lisle (a good exciting read... again, I got left hanging because I don't own the next books in the series. Grrr.)
  • The Road - Cormac McCarthy
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
  • The Crazy Man - Pamela Porter
  • Cairo Kelly and the Mann - Kristin Butcher
  • I, Coriander - Sally Gardner
  • Silk - Alessandro Baricco
  • Catalyst - Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Foreshadowing - Marcus Sedgwick
My, but October was the month, wasn't it? The first three I read over my birthday weekend, while visiting a friend. All these books were picked for me by my friend, and all these books were fantastic. Favorites were: The Road, a post-apocalyptic setting, very dark, very affecting, very sparse and yet so vivid. It'll stay with me a long time. Catalyst - wow, powerful book. The Foreshadowing - great combo of WWI, family, and what one can do with the ability to see the future.

  • Vellum (This book took me forever to read. I started it a year and a half ago, gave up, then started re-reading in earnest back in September. It took me the full four months to get through it. And it is another book, like Dust, definitely not written for me. I like the writing, I like the characters, but honestly? This book made me work too hard for too little payoff. It's told in multiple little circles that all interconnect and swirl and re-tell each other's little mini-stories to produce the big picture. And that's cool and rather beautiful, but I prefer a straightforward narrative, it's that simple. I stuck with it, got to the end, and came away still not knowing what the hell it was really all about or what I should carry away with me when I closed the book. I know a lot of this one referenced things that went right over my head, although, because of following the wonderful journal of writer Catherynne M. Valente, I actually knew the story of Inanna. Loved the WWI bits, and everything with Finnan, but... ultimately Vellum is not for me.)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

First impressions

I'm down with the latest incarnation of illness that keep circling through the family, so I've spent the day either sleeping or on the couch watching two Route 66 eps and Key Largo (cuz I was still in a Humphrey Bogart mood after High Sierra). And while half out of it, I had a scene stuck in my head that I could not, for the life of me, place. It finally came to me.

It was from ffolkes (1979), a highly underrated, wonderful Roger Moore action film that my family used to watch all the time. Which made me realize that this movie gave me my first, rather against-type, impression of Anthony Perkins, and it wasn't as the twitchy, nervous, self-conscious character he often played in other films. No, my first impression of Anthony Perkins was as a cold-blooded, intelligent, scary murderer/hijacker. That's still the image I get when you mention his name and I realized I've never really shaken it. I've learned to accept the nervous version, but I still expect to see that cold calculating look appear any second, no matter who else he's playing.

The only other against-type first impression I can think of off the top of my head is Stewart Granger in The Wild Geese (1978). That was the first thing I saw him in, and I have never, ever been able to see him in anything else without distrusting him and waiting for him to doublecross somebody. I just can't shake that first impression.

And now I'm really in the mood to watch ffolkes, except, alas, I don't own it. Great cast (Roger Moore, Anthony Perkins, James Mason, David Hedison!), cool action, "Cigarette, Kramer?", and cats and more cats! I used to want three little white kittens, just so I could name them Esther, Ruth, and Jennifer.