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.