Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Have you ever seen a more splendiforous crash, Boss!"

I had no expectations going into Zorba the Greek (1964). I knew nothing about it other than it starred Anthony Quinn, and he danced. That's about it. I discovered a movie that doesn't seem to fit in any particular category. It's funny, it's tragic, it's romantic, it's charming, it's shocking, it's violent, it's sad, it's happy. It's got a little bit of everything thrown in there. I honestly didn't quite know what to make of it on my first viewing. It was an odd sort of movie. I had to think about it for a couple weeks. And since it didn't leave my head, and parts of it wouldn't stop playing through my mind, I watched it a second time.

And I found I'd gotten past what I thought was odd the first time through, and I really liked it on the second viewing. It's infectious. I've always liked Anthony Quinn, and he's perfect as Zorba, but really, this movie works more for me because of the other lead, Basil, played by Alan Bates, because it is from his view that we see things. And his is the character who grows and changes throughout the film because of his association with Zorba and the latter's enthusiastic lust for life.

I've only recently discovered Sir Alan Bates, and what a wonderful actor! He's been a delight in everything I've seen him in so far. I first saw him in Royal Flash (highly amusing), then watched The Go-Between (very good), and now Zorba. He's a bit of a chameleon, appearance changing dramatically for different characters, and his performances are first rate. He has a very expressive face, his character's emotions usually transparent. I like that a lot. He's also devilishly handsome.

The story is about Basil, an English writer fallen on hard times, going to Crete to try and get a mine he inherited working. Zorba presents himself as just the man to help him do that, and Basil, on a whim, takes him up on the offer. The two become partners, and there are various encounters with the locals who live in the closest town. Irene Papas plays the local widow. She is such a beautiful woman. She has almost no dialogue, but she doesn't need it. Her looks say everything she needs to say. Lila Kedrova won an Oscar for her role as Madame Hortense. Her character was so touching and sad and full of hope, just wanting to be loved, afraid of being deserted yet again.

It's still a bit of an odd movie to me, but I already want to see parts of it again. It has that power. I suspect one day, I will probably end up owning it, just to watch parts of it when it calls to me.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve, I have the day off work, and I'm watching movies, not holiday films though. I actually only own one Christmas movie -- We're No Angels -- and I recently watched that with my niece. I was thinking about that today, how many of the classic Christmas movies I see my friends blogging about, that I haven't even seen: Miracle on 34th Street and Christmas in Connecticut and A Christmas Carol (any version) or that Charlie Brown special. I do love It's a Wonderful Life, and Three Godfathers, and I remember watching The Bishop's Wife when I was young, mostly just to see Cary Grant decorate that gorgeous tree. I couldn't really tell you much about the rest of the movie. And we always watched Ben-Hur if it was on television this time of year. And my dad would always put on White Christmas and Holiday Inn. But for the rest? My family was just not into Christmas movies.

My mom was and is an action movie person, and Christmas movies (with the exception of something like Die Hard) just don't slot into her idea of a good movie. My dad is the sentimental one, but if mom complains too much, he'll change the channel.

So, I've been simply re-watching movies I love that I haven't seen in awhile. Last night I watched Time After Time, the best time travel movie out there. That movie is near perfect, start to finish. I wanted to watch Silverado today, one of the best modern Westerns made, but darn it all, I found that somehow, I don't own it on DVD! So, I'm listening to Bruce Broughton's wonderful score instead, while I wrap the last Christmas presents. Then, I'll watch Ride the High Country, because my Western cravings will only be whetted by Silverado. I'd like to watch Ride Lonesome, but I don't own that one either, so if I have time, I might put on Von Ryan's Express. I've been wanting to re-watch that one for awhile.

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Less than a week remains to Christmas! This Christmas meme comes from Writing with Style and seemed a nice way to start out this last week before the holiday.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
Neither. Just hot tea for me.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
Alas, Santa hasn't been around for quite some time.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?
Colored lights for both. And that's the big lights, not those dinky little ones.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
They start going up the weekend after Thanksgiving.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
When I was little, it would have been the homemade Star Wars-shaped sugar cookies my mom made. Since then? Um, well, normal food gets served around here at Christmas time, so there's nothing special in the food department.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Simply waking up when it was still dark outside and creeping to the living room with my sister and staring agog at how beautiful the tree was, and the presents that had magically appeared beneath it. Creeping out there together, very quietly, to see what Santa had brought. But that first sight of the tree Christmas morning was always magical and I still remember the feeling it evoked.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don't remember now, probably around nine or ten, but I remember leaving cookies and milk out for Santa for many a year before then!

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
Used to, but now that the family's all scattered, not anymore.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?
The way my mom decorated the tree when I was little. Big colored lights with reflectors behind them, lots of icicles and garland, and only ornaments that are balls or tear-drop shaped. No things on my tree, though I love seeing the various types of decorations on other people's trees.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Loved it when I lived in it, miss it now.

12. Can you ice skate?
Yeah. Not well, but I can get by.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
Nope, but I remember that getting a bike was pretty darned exciting.

14. What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
Being with family, the festive atmosphere, and the beautiful lights everywhere. I take long detours when driving at night, just to see the lights people have up. There's the most gorgeous street a few miles from here that is so amazing. These people do it up right.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Don't have any traditions, other than decorating the tree and house and opening presents with the family Christmas morning.

17. What tops your tree?
I have a poinsettia star thingy, but I want to get one like my mom has, which was a tall pointy thingy with tiny bells on the sides.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving is always a wonderful thing, particularly to the younger ones.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
O Holy Night

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Forever Female (1954)

Well, I'll state right up front that I am not the intended audience of this movie, so take anything I say with a grain of salt. Someone who enjoys romantic comedies might like this movie a lot, but if William Holden hadn't been in it, I wouldn't have watched it, or I would have got partway in and turned it off. And that's because the two lead women characters (played by Ginger Rogers and Pat Crowley) seem deliberately to be the most annoying creatures on the entire planet. And I love Ginger Rogers, too! She's wonderful! And she's good here, it's just that her character drives me batty. And fortunately, her character isn't half as annoying as Pat Crowley's name-changing up-and-coming actress, whose very voice drove me up the wall. Both women change into different, nicer people at the end, their "true" selves, I suppose, but by then, it's too late. The movie's over.

And oddly, as annoying as the women are, the two lead male characters (Paul Douglas and William Holden) are the exact opposite. They're both nice and charming and even funny in some moments. Particularly Paul Douglas, who plays Ginger Roger's ex-husband. He's a complete sweetheart, as he puts up with everything else. For one thing, they're both honest about things and the women aren't. I just don't get it. I don't get what this movie's really trying to be about or what it's trying to say. I failed to see the humor (not surprising, really, given how not into comedies I am).

However, Paul Douglas? His character almost saves the picture, and he and Ginger Rogers are very natural and delightful together -- when her character stops being the vain actress. I love their scene at the airport, where she comes to see him off. William Holden is as handsome as ever, but he simply doesn't get much to do here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Publishing news!

Seems appropriate to post this now, following on yesterday's submarine conversation. My short story "Silent Hunter," in the anthology Sha'daa: Last Call, is now available from the publisher! This is a companion book to Sha'daa: Tales of the Apocalypse, to which I had also contributed a story. The Sha'daa is a shared world anthology about a fictional apocalypse that takes place once every 10,000 years. Invited writers chose from a set of story lines and then ran with them. When I saw one of the available stories was about a submarine, you can imagine how fast I snapped that up! I wrote a story about an inexperienced lieutenant and his experimental sub's showdown with a horrific leviathan of the deep. "Silent Hunter" ended up being more fun to write than just about any other short I've ever written.

They did a great job on this book. Each story even got an illustration. Here's the one for my story. Quite cool.

It's not available from Amazon yet, but as soon as the release is expanded, I'll post the news here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Submarine Command (1951)

One of my favorite subjects! Submarines! Alas, this movie's script is at its sharpest when the characters are ashore and there isn't a submarine in sight. The first twenty minutes were my favorite, when we're actually at sea, at the end of WWII, doing what subs do best: sneaking up and sinking the enemy, rescuing downed pilots. I really do love the opening of this movie.

Then... it derails a bit because the war ends, and the sub goes home. But at the same time, the strongest and best written parts of this movie happen in the middle, in the scenes between Nancy Olson's Carol and William Holden's Ken White, who marry shortly after the war. Their relationship is very well done, and the two actors really bring it to life. Nancy Olson gets my favorite line of the whole movie, when a cranky, irritated Holden storms out of his own party, and she says to the other guests, "Excuse me, I have to kill a husband, I'll be right back." I love their interactions in this movie. Nicely handled, and their conversations have a realistic feel.

The driving force of the film, however, comes from the beginning where Holden dives the sub with the captain and another man still on deck. I love this, and I don't mind at all that Holden's character is eaten up by guilt for most of the movie. Who wouldn't be, even if you know you did what you had to? What I mind is the fact that the film cheats the moral dilemma by showing the audience that the captain was killed before the sub dived, and by having one of the more experienced men on in the crew (William Bendix) take exception to the fact that Holden's action saved the rest of the men on the sub, particularly with a Japanese destroyer bearing down on them dropping depth charges. Excuse me? I don't buy Bendix's CPO character's reaction for a second. A younger crewman, inexperienced and idealistic, absolutely! But not Bendix. He's been around, he knows how the deal works. Bendix then carries a grudge the rest of the film, and the ridiculousness of it is compounded by how easily he forgives Holden at the end, for a completely unrelated set of events. I never did figure how the latter event would forgive the former in anyone's mind except in the realm of Hollywood. Too bad, because that initial moral dilemma is so delicious and could have been better served half a dozen ways.

The ending action... well, it reminded me a bit of Crash Dive, which had more than its share of problems too. (And would someone explain how Mr. Rescued Flyboy ends up as the one playing commando? I know it's just to keep our cast of characters together, but really.) I've never been fond of the whole submarine-as-glorified-taxi routine as a major plot of a submarine movie because it takes us off the sub to follow the people on shore. The only time it really works is in a movie like The Frogmen, where the movie isn't about the sub or its crew. Also, what the heck??? Since when do WWII subs have to fully surface to get off a radio message? You just raise the antenna which is attached to one of the periscopes. I swear, submarine movies provoke the most talking to the screen out of me when I watch them and they do dumb things.

Now, all that aside, I still enjoyed the movie. I mean, come on, my favorite actor captaining a submarine, some lovely real submarine footage... that's enough to keep me hooked and watching and drooling and wanting more. I've given up expecting much from most submarine movies anyway. I just need to remember to ignore the plot and the technical errors and enjoy the actors and the sub, both of which I love.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Turning Point (1952)

This movie had great promise. Edmund O'Brien stars as an idealistic special prosecutor out to get organized crime in the city. He really wants his cop father to take on the position of chief investigator, but his father (the always reliable Tom Tully) is reluctant because he's secretly on the take. O'Brien's childhood friend, William Holden, who is now a reporter, figures out what's up with the father, but then tries to both protect O'Brien from the truth and help the father out of his fix... with rather disastrous results. Add in O'Brien's girl, who falls for Holden, in some smooth-talking nasty bad guys, and this sounds awesome.

This is a great setup, with great actors... but the movie never quite finds its groove and settles in. It's awkward and a bit cumbersome, instead of smooth and tense, which is really too bad. For me, I think a big chunk of the problem is the love story thrown in the mix. That pesky romantic angle that Hollywood just has to toss into the middle of everything. It's the most awkward and cliche part of this film, with little chemistry between any of the parties, and it just bogs the good stuff down. So this movie ends up just okay, rather than great. Highlights include the Neville Brand as a hitman, Tom Tully as the father torn by guilt, and Adele Longmire as Carmelina, who does the right thing at great risk to her own life.

And it seems to be a trend... if Edmund O'Brien and William Holden are in the same movie, things won't go well for Holden in the end.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Proud and the Profane (1956)

This movie has the feel of a movie that wants to say something profound about the human condition. It tries very hard. It has appropriately weighty speeches, but really, it's just a lousy excuse of a movie. I did not like this film much. It was condescending, contrived, full of varying degrees of unlikeable people behaving badly, and had a lame excuse of an ending.

It's an unlikely, unpleasant, and unromantic love story, starring two very fine actors, Deborah Kerr and William Holden, who get to do nothing worthy of either of them. She plays a woman who's lost her husband in the war. She joins the Red Cross hoping to get to where he was and find out what happened to him. William Holden's character is first rate jerk who decides she's the one attractive enough on the island to go after. He lies about her husband to get close to her. He is a truly uncouth lout with no good qualities whatsoever. In one of the few honest scenes in the movies, Deborah Kerr's character actually admits he's a boorish jerk and she should dump him, but gosh, he's still attractive despite all of that! He honks his car horn and she's out of there like a flash to go out with him again. What??? Yeah yeah yeah, movies adore "opposites attract " scenarios and all that jazz, but this movie goes beyond that into ridiculous.

And Deborah Kerr's character is not exactly a sterling example either. She's cowardly and weak (clearly, or she wouldn't have let this loser of a man near her), and begs off a lot of work in the Red Cross because of her selfishness. We find out more about her character later, in a moment that's supposed to be eye-opening, but you can see it coming a mile away and as with the whole plot, the scene's set up is convenient and contrived instead of organic and natural.

Neither lead character seems remotely real. They're like overdrawn caricatures, put there to pound you over the head and make some point about Good, Bad, Redemption, Truth, Honesty (and yes, this movie wants them to be capped because they're Important, don't'cha know) that, frankly, eluded me because the characters are just so awful that 1) I don't buy any message about them, and 2) I don't give a flying hoot what happens to them. Not even my beloved William Holden. (Well, actually, I kind of really wanted his character to get knifed in one part and killed in another, but I got cheated even of that.)

However, this film does have one very bright spot: Thelma Ritter. She is absolutely marvelous! (when is she not??) She is so good and solid and entertaining, and basically everything the rest of the characters are not, that she single-handedly very nearly makes the movie worth sitting through, just for her. Considering what dreck the rest of the film is, that's saying a lot. Ms. Ritter -- my hat's off to you!!

But as far as William Holden movies go, this one is down near the bottom of my list.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And so ends November 2010

I got my 50,000 words of new novel done this year, making this my seventh successful nano. This was the year of slow and steady, where I needed the weekends to make up for the lack of time during the week days. I'm fairly pleased with how the month's writing went. I skipped over a few scenes in the beginning, but overall, everything is usable, and I did not go off on any strange tangents. I got hit with lots of surprises, mostly in the character area. I should be used to this by now, but my two intended bad guys failed the evil test and have become good and semi-good guys. One of my good guys becomes a bad guy, but I knew that before I wrote one word of story, so that did not surprise me. There was also an even bigger bad guy behind the not-bad-any-longer bad guys who revealed himself. That was a delicious revelation, because it made everything else I was doing make sense. Mwah-hah-hah.

I never did make it to the big awesome scene I had in my mind. That's still down the line a bit. I will be continuing on the novel in the next few months to completion, though not quite at the same pace.

To celebrate, I watched The Seventh Dawn (1964), with William Holden, Capucine, and Tetsuru Tanba on Netflix instant viewing. I'd never seen this one before, and I really liked it because it had multiple triangles going on -- romantic and ideological, and I am very partial to triangles in fiction. This movie takes place entirely in Malaysia and was filmed on location. It opens in Malaysia at the end of WWII, with the Japanese surrender. Our three main characters have been together awhile and have an easy camaraderie, and complete loyalty and trust and love in each other. After the war, though, Ng (Tetsuru Tanba -- who I know best as Tanaka from You Only Live Twice), heads off to Moscow to study communism. Ferris (William Holden) and Dhana (Capucine) stay behind in Malaysia, where Ferris becomes a very successful landholder and businessman. Ng returns as Malaysia is trying to gain its independence and things turn nasty as his new communist ideals put him on the other side of the line from his former companions. This sets up a nice hotbed for all sorts of my favorite things: betrayal, acting/dying for your beliefs, loyalty, the bonds of friendship, love, rebellion, racing the clock.

What I liked best about this movie was the quite complex relationships of the characters. Ferris and Ng both love Dhana, but Dhana loves Ferris and so stays with him. But he won't marry her, and just keeps her as his mistress, until he realizes too late what he took for granted. A young Susannah York also stars in the film, as Candace, who also falls in love with Ferris, but to my great delight, he actually doesn't fall for her in return. Quite surprising, and very refreshing. The only big flaw is that Ng is not given the same depth of character as the others, and I really wish they'd given him more. It was needed to balance out the sides and show where he's coming from.

Other things I liked:
  • this is not a happy movie, and that lack of rosiness really works here.
  • William Holden in a sword fight! Okay, it was a machete fight, but that's pretty darn close.
  • the on location scenery and real jungle
  • leeches!
  • William Holden (that almost goes without saying, but I really liked his character in this film)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Four Musketeers (1974)

Ah-HAH! I was wondering why a couple years back, when I was watching various versions of The Three Musketeers, I didn't like The Three Musketeers (1973) when I thought I had had good memories of it. It's because my memories were of The Four Musketeers! Which really is technically the second half of The Three Musketeers. They filmed too much material and ended up splitting it into two movies, released a year apart. I'm rather glad, actually, as the first half is crazy, oddly a bit boring, and over-the-top, and I'd really rather skip it, whereas the second half is by far my favorite Musketeers movie (seen to date). It blows away the other versions out there.

The Four Musketeers deals with Milady's revenge, which is far more interesting than the whole Buckingham/Queen of France/jewels thing. You know, when I think of the top villains out there, I tend to overlook Milady de Winter, and that is a huge mistake. She is one of the best villains ever. I'm personally not that fond of Fay Dunaway, but I honestly cannot think of anyone better for this role. Her Milady has just the right kind of cold beauty, the right manipulative smarts to be playing a very unrepentant murderess. She is a worthy adversary, and I love Fay Dunaway in this movie.

(and she has great costumes)

I had a copy of a young adult version of The Three Musketeers book growing up that I used to read over and over. Milady imprinted on me very strongly because I think she was one of the first female villains (outside of Disney and James Bond movies) that I'd ever encountered -- and she got executed for her crimes! That blew my mind when I was young. Somehow, I expected her to get off, just because she was a woman, and she didn't. There's something still a bit shocking about it to me, even if she is one nasty and deadly lady. It's been awhile now, but I think that was one of the things I liked least about the 1993 version -- they changed her character a bit and made her less evil and more sympathetic. Phooey. Wimps. That takes away the essence of what makes her such a great character!

Athos has always been my favorite Musketeer, and of course, the more Milady around, the more Athos. That is a good thing, particularly when it's Oliver Reed playing him. I really like Oliver Reed. He turns in such fascinating performances. He's compelling, dangerous, charismatic, and sexy, and hey, Athos is a perfect role for that. Reed and Dunaway play off each other beautifully in their one major scene, when they reunite. There are so many undercurrents between them, so much unsaid. The way Athos touches her cheek before he leaves, her reaction after he's gone.... It's absolutely perfect and just about my favorite scene in the movie.

All the things I expected of the 1973 movie and didn't find were in this one. This movie is also comedic to a certain extent (though tempered by more serious bits than the first movie has), but the humor is a lot more natural to the story (for the most part) in this one, instead of eye-rollingly over-the-top. I'm particularly fond of the more subtle background humor, like Aramis covering his shoulder with a handkerchief before leaning against a dirty wall. I love Constance and the key. I love Rochefort's (Christopher Lee) droll, "Why bother, I might die of old age," line, and Porthos: "This wine does not travel well." And Richelieu: "One should be careful of what one writes." I love the herd of goats crossing in front of the row of active cannons. I love the sense that this is a real world, not a set. I love the sword fight on ice, but then that's one thing both movies do very well -- the sword fights. This one has a great sword fighting finale. The sword fights here are much more realistic than the average film, with fighters using any weapon at their disposal, with longer pauses between short flurries of action. I'm surprised no one got more injured than they did on the making of this film. From the making of video on the DVD , it appears everybody did their own stunts/fights (for the most part), and it looks extremely dangerous.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention how much I loved the way this movie was shot. The angles and positioning, and lighting. Neat stuff, like this one shot across the interior of a two-storied inn, where you watch Richelieu enter the ground floor, pan up to Aramis and Porthos playing cards and Athos keeping watch across the way, and then Richelieu crosses in front of the camera, while Athos reacts across the inn... all in one take. There's a lot of scenes set up like that and I really appreciate it.

This is one I'd very much like to own on DVD and will have to pick up at some point.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quo Vadis (1951)

This is a movie that never quite works for me, as much as I want it to. It is a sumptuous feast for the eyes, from the costumes to the sets to the matte shots to the gigantic crowd scenes, it is big and BIGGER and always pretty. I love this about the film. I love that about epics in general. But the story? Simply doesn't work for me. There just isn't any substance to it.

The biggest problem for me is love story between the two main characters of Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) and Lygia (Deborah Kerr), as it is supposed to provide the emotional core to this story. I didn't buy it at all. Marcus Vinicius is an arrogant jerk who thinks he can take what he want. He's in lust with her, not love, and I don't mind that. That seems realistic. What I mind is that Lygia falls for him, when he gives her ZERO reason to do so (other than he's handsome and Robert Taylor, but yanno, that ain't enough). She's a smart and caring girl, true to her religious convictions, and she wouldn't give his character the time of day, particularly after he forcibly has her removed from her life and everything she loves, just so he can make time with her. This would still all work if his character showed more depth than a shoebox. The best love stories often start with two diametrically opposed characters, but there has to be something good or redeeming about the jerk so we can believe a girl would fall for him. And he does change his ways over the course of the film, but I don't particularly buy that change either. Vinicius's flatness is partly Robert Taylor's fault -- he does not particularly convey anything more going on in his heart beyond what's on the surface -- but mostly, it's the script's failure. This is a script that tells, not shows.

The love story that does work for me in this film is that of Petronius and Eunice. Now, they're convincing, and touching, and feel genuine. Petronius is one of the better characters in the movie. He's played by Leo Genn, who always turns in first rate work. I mostly know him from Moby Dick, but he made a lasting impression in that film on me. He is fabulous here, flattering and placating Nero, trying to steer the emperor to act for the good of Rome and not his own selfish interests. Now there's a losing battle, but it gives him some of the best and wittiest dialogue in the film. I really liked him.

And, of course, this is also the story of Nero, played by Peter Ustinov. I think it's quite amazing that Ustinov can make Nero both completely mad and yet still sympathetic. There's a fair bit of scenery chewing in his scenes, but it's the delightful, entertaining kind, particularly as he's surrounded by very staid and serious people, and his flamboyant turn provides some much needed color.

I just have to add that Poppaea had the best costumes, hair, and jewelry, and the actress (Patricia Laffan), had exactly the right exotic look to pull it all off with poise and elegance.

My favorite scene in the movie was when Lygia refuses Vinicius's marriage proposal because of her beliefs. This was the first (and only) scene Deborah Kerr actually got to do something other than be the perpetual helpless victim and damsel in distress. I loved her here. If this movie had let her do more like this, this would have been a great movie. And it was also the first scene in which I actually liked Robert Taylor's character for once.

This movie kicked off the run of epic biblical films, and I have to thank it for that. Without this one, there may not have been 1959's Ben-Hur, which is a far superior movie with a stronger, more emotional story and deeper, believable characters. Even Miklos Rozsa's score to Quo Vadis seems like a warm up to the Ben-Hur score.

Friday, November 12, 2010

16,000 words and growing

National Novel Writing Month proceeds. Nano has gotten very interesting for me. They don't really talk about how nano changes for a writer each year they participate. The pep talks, etc. all still mostly speak to beginners, or first time nano'ers. They don't talk about how easy nano gets after you have a few under your belt. Or maybe it doesn't for other people? Maybe it's just as hard for them on their tenth as it was on their first?

Not for me. Maybe because I came to Nano originally as a more experienced writer, but once I learned that writing 1,666 words a day can not only be done, but done pretty easily, that particular challenge was gone. I've successfully completed six nano's before this. Achieving word count is not really an issue. The last couple times, and this year in particular, I've become pretty lackadaisical about nano. I don't stress and stay up until eleven or twelve at night just because I need another few hundred words that day. I don't get that thrill or that excitement or that anxiety anymore, not about the month itself. About the story I'm writing, yeah, but that's a different thing entirely.

Nowadays, nano is about maintaining discipline. More than that, it's about understanding story and storytelling. About what makes a good story, what each scene needs to do in the small individual picture and in the big picture. I am not fond of writing crap. I don't have time in my life to spend November writing crap that I'll have to spend the next year re-writing into something decent. That's just a load of road apples. If I'm not writing usable material right here, right now during nano, that is on track for my goals for my novel, then there's no point in participating at all.

And so I throw out a lot of words during nano, and I tend to write pretty sparse when I write this fast anyway. I delete extra adjectives and phrases I know I won't keep in a later draft as I go. I had a scene started the other night that I was ready to end, when I realized nothing had changed in the scene. It was informational only, and the character was in the same spot at the end as at the beginning. So I deleted about four hundred words, re-thought it to make it an actual functioning scene, and re-wrote.

And that's how this writer's seventh nano session goes. It's no longer about the word count, it's about getting the story as close to right the first time through. That's the challenge now, of staying on track while moving at the speed Nano requires. And all that Nano talk about just keep writing, allow yourself the freedom to suck... that is dead-on right to encourage and create successful first time nano'ers, but it could not be more irrelevant or annoying when you're down the line. I keep waiting for the "So, you've done this before, eh? Well, now, let me tell you what your next nano challenge is going to be and how to beat it." But no one writes those pep talks.

Maybe I should.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Time Limit (1957)

Watched this film yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. Richard Widmark plays an Army colonel investigating a case of treason during the Korean War against Richard Basehart's Major, who refuses to defend himself against the charge. Widmark suspects something else is going on, but nobody's talking. The movie follows his patient and frustrated investigation as he's hounded to close the case by a General, whose son was killed at the same POW camp Basehart was a prisoner in.

The last twenty minutes really take off, when characters start to crack and reveal the truth. There is a fabulous, passionate exchange between Basehart and the General (played by Carl Benton Reid), about the nature of heroes, cowards, Army code. It could seem a bit speechy under a different director or actors, but the actors here are all strong, and they pull it off. It was so good I rewatched the ending three times. I'm particularly fond of how it keeps changing how you think about the situation as each character chimes in, and I think it ends in the right place as well, with the General's answer to Basehart's question.

Martin Balsam plays Widmark's aide, and despite his rather annoying, smarmy character, he also gets a great serious scene defending Widmark. A very young Rip Torn plays another POW member who gives his testimony in the case. He also gets some powerful moments. Dolores Michaels plays Cpl. Evans, who is Widmark's other aide. While she's mostly just a secretary, she also gets some good moments, where she stands up to Martin Balsam, and where she figures out some key points. There's some attraction between her character and Widmark's that is nicely underplayed. I really liked her.

This film was directed by Karl Malden, in what I understand was his only directing venture. He does a fine job, and I would have liked to have seen what else he might have done, how he might have grown as a director.

November madness begins

I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to participate, yet again, in NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. This will be the seventh straight year I've participated. Egads! Seven??? Where has the time gone? This is gonna be a tough year, because three nights a week are lost to kickboxing lessons. I think my weekends are going to take the brunt of it, and my parents are coming down for one of them. Should be interesting.

My project this year is the novel I tried to start two nanos ago, but after only one day, I switched projects. It's a fantasy novel, entitled The Traitor.

I have a couple films to write reviews of over the next couple weeks, as time permits.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Amanda's Cinema Survey (Oct 2010)

This is the annual survey questions from Noodle in a Haystack! Pop over to her site to read other bloggers answers.

1. What is your favorite movie starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, excluding all of The Thin Man films?
Alas, I haven't seen any of their films other than the Thin Man series, which I've seen all of.

2. Name a screen team that appeared in only one film together but are still noteworthy for how well they complimented each other.
I can't think of one, although I know there are plenty!

3. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' best film together?
I think Top Hat, although my personal favorite is Swing Time

4. Your favorite actor named "Robert"?
Robert Ryan

5. An actor/actress who, when you see one of their movies, you always wish that someone else was in his/her role?
Henry Fonda

6. An actor/actress that someone close to you really loves that you can't stand or vice versa?
My sister and I agree on most everything, no polar opposites on anybody.

7. An actor/actress that you both agree on completely?
Anthony Hopkins

8. Complete this sentence: Virginia O'Brien is to Ethel Merman as...
hm, every comparison I've come up with doesn't quite work...

9. What is your favorite film starring Ray Milland?
The Big Clock

10. You had to have seen this one coming: what is your favorite movie of the 1960s?
The Dirty Dozen

11. An actor/actress that you would take out of one film and put into a different movie that was released the same year?
Brandon de Wilde -- I'd get him out of Shane. I don't care where he goes, as long as it's out of that movie!

12. Who was your favorite of Robert Montgomery's leading ladies?
Well, as I've seen almost none of his films, I can't rightly answer this.

13. You think it would have been a disaster if what movie starred the actor/actress who was originally asked to star in it?
I hear Gary Cooper and John Wayne had been the intended stars of Ride the High Country. As much as I love John Wayne, I'm really really glad he didn't do this one. I don't think it would have worked nearly as well.

14. An actor/actress who you will watch in any or almost any movie?
George Raft

15. Your favorite Leslie Howard film and role?
Alas, other than Gone With the Wind, it does not appear I've seen any of his!

16. You have been asked to host a marathon of four Barbara Stanwyck films. Which ones do you choose?
Ball of Fire
Golden Boy
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

17. What is, in your mind, the nearest to perfect comedy you have ever seen? Why?
Well, I'm not a comedy person, but I'd choose It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World -- only comedy movie that has no serious moments that I like all of, and only one I laugh at most of.

18. You will brook no criticism of what film?
N/A - everyone's entitled to an opinion! Criticize away!

19. Who is your favorite Irish actress?
Maureen O'Hara

20. Your favorite 1940s movie starring Ginger Rogers?
Haven't seen any other than The Barkleys of Broadway

21. Do you enjoy silent movies?

22. What is your favorite Bette Davis film?

23. Your favorite onscreen Hollywood couple?
Joel McCrea and Frances Dee

24. This one is for the girls, but, of course, the guys are welcome to answer, too: who is your favorite Hollywood costume designer?
Edith Head

25. To even things out a bit, here's something the boys will enjoy: what is your favorite tough action film?
One of my favorite types of movies! I have to pick one?? Die Hard.

26. You are currently gaining a greater appreciation for which actor(s)/actress(es)?
Olivia de Havilland

27. Franchot Tone: yes or no?
Yes! Mutiny on the Bounty has been a favorite since I was a wee thing.

28. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are underrated?
Van Heflin, Glenn Ford, Dana Andrews

29. Which actors and/or actresses do you think are overrated?
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford

30. Favorite actor?
William Holden

31. Favorite actress?
Barbara Stanwyck

32. Of those listed, who is the coolest: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Steve McQueen, or Patrick Stewart?
Steve McQueen

33. What is your favorite movie from each of these genres:

Comedy: None. Oh, okay. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Swashbuckler: The Black Swan

Film noir: Kiss Me Deadly

Musical: South Pacific

Holiday: It's a Wonderful Life

Hitchcock: Rear Window

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saddle the Wind (1958)

This was a pretty good movie, and I quite enjoyed it. Mature ex-gunfighter-now-cattle rancher, Steve Sinclair (Robert Taylor), trying to keep his younger trigger-happy brother, Tony Sinclair (John Cassavetes), out of trouble. Tony claims he's learning gun play just to protect his older brother. I wish they'd done a little more with that, as it really does turn out to be one of his strongest motives, but it needs a little more to support it properly throughout. It gets overshadowed a bit by lust for power through violence. We've seen families split apart like this before, particularly in Westerns, so I was rather pleased with the more unusual ending, which twisted back to the "protecting my brother" angle.

The actors and the dialogue are the strongest part of this movie. I'm not a Robert Taylor fan, but he did really seem to settle into these kind of roles as he got older, in a very comfortable believable way. I liked his Steve Sinclair. Cassavetes works for me as the younger brother. One of the reasons I wanted to see this movie was to see him out of his expected element. I think he was just great in a Western. He brings his full energy and brooding and brings Tony Sinclair alive. Cassavetes always was good at letting you see what was going on inside the character, and that works well here to keep Tony human and someone we want to see redeemed. You see his fear, you see his determination to make it "his way," even when he doesn't realize his way is wrong. He always has the potential to see the light and turn his fate around, and that keeps you hoping he will.

The rest of the supporting cast is great, with Royal Dano a standout. He plays a homesteader reclaiming a stretch of land that had belonged to his father. His arrival and determination to stay on his own land no matter what spurs the morality of the other characters to choose sides in the battle.

I particularly love the film's first five minutes. Through the opening credits, we see Charles McGraw riding along. He could be the hero, until the credits end and the music takes an abrupt ominous turn (nice score by Elmer Bernstein!) as he arrives in town, and we realize, nope, this guy ain't the hero. He's someone you don't mess with, and he's here up to no good. The first scene where he walks into the closed bar, demands breakfast and whiskey, played against Jay Adler and Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones from Star Trek's "The Trouble with Tribbles") is simply marvelous. The give and take, the pointed words... this is probably my favorite scene in the movie. Jay Adler's line "You finished with my breakfast?" is priceless.

I really do dig the dialogue in this movie. It's a Rod Sterling script (another reason I wanted to see this movie), and I think he does really well with it. He leaves a lot unsaid, uses silence well, and that's something I always appreciate in a script.

"Sing for me, and I'll smile for you." -- Tony Sinclair

"I wanted one thing in my life, that was to see you rise up. You only got up as high as your gun belt. That's a low height for a man." -- Steve Sinclair

The Colorado scenery is also amazing. You know me, I need beautiful outdoor landscapes in my movies, and this one provides those and then some. Absolutely gorgeous country in this movie.

Does it get any prettier than a valley of blooming lupines in front of green mountains topped with snow and a brilliant blue sky?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Air Force (1943)

Still on an Arthur Kennedy kick, so watched Air Force. It's a film about the crew of a B-17, sent to Hawaii on the eve of Pearl Harbor, and then on to Wake Island and the Philippines. It's a good, serviceable film, but nothing particularly special or memorable, but definitely worth a watch. Some really nice aerial footage. I've always been fond of B-17s, and so spending time in one in a movie is never a bad thing. I like that we get to see the different stations on the plane, what the crew does while they're just cruising along trying to get somewhere, the necessity for the crew to function as a complete team in order for the plane to function.

There isn't much plot to this one. We're mostly just along for the ride with the crew as they stop at the famous battles, and then finally get to engage in one of their own. There's a few routine subplots -- the soldier (John Garfield) with a chip on his shoulder whose enlistment is up, who naturally stays in after war breaks out. He also flunked out of pilot school, but still gets to use those skills to save the plane. There's a pursuit plane pilot (James Brown) who complains mightily about those clunky big B-17s -- and then naturally ends up joining the crew and changing his tune. There's the old-timer (Harry Carey) whose son in Manila dies in combat (one of the truly sad and effective moments in this film). There's a cute dog named Tripoli the marines at Wake Island pass off to the B-17 crew, knowing they're going to get wiped out.

Not nearly enough Arthur Kennedy to suit me, but the other characters were interesting enough to keep me paying attention.

Friday, October 08, 2010

They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

I'd never seen this movie before. Watched it back in September and never had time to post about it. I think it's great that since I've seen it, several other posts on it have popped up! I love the timing!

And I really loved this movie. I rented this one primarily for Arthur Kennedy, but was not disappointed in anything else about it. In fact, everything about it surpassed my expectations. The supporting actors were all top notch. Errol Flynn made a great romantic screen Custer. Olivia de Havilland could not possibly be more beautiful. I have to admit, I haven't seen many of her films, mostly just the Errol Flynn/de Havilland combos and, of course, Gone With the Wind. She's wonderful in every one of them, but for some reason, her performance in this movie particularly struck me. Now I want to see more movies just to watch her.

This has to be one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen, in the best sense of the word. They really are a great screen pair.

And I loved Arthur Kennedy in this. Loved how he would be fighting panic every time Custer confronted him. His character wanted to be anywhere else in the world but right there, dealing with his long time nemesis. And, naturally, I loved his fate, me being so fond of that good old redemption theme.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

On location - Alabama Hills 4

Here's a few shots showing the front of the Lone Pine Film Museum. I didn't go inside this trip, but I've been in it several times before. A must for any fan of Westerns or the Alabama Hills! Great exhibits, showing posters, photos, costumes, etc. from many of the films made here. There's a short film that runs in their theater that gives some more background on films made here. I love this place! It's so much fun to visit.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On location - Alabama Hills 3

This last one is of Mt. Whitney, just peaking out from beneath the clouds. The road cutting up the Sierra in the back there is the road up to Whitney Portal (where Humphrey Bogart would have his showdown at the end of High Sierra).