Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Movie Meme

Rachel, who blogs at The Girl with the White Parasol, has an interesting movie meme to finish out the year. Here are my answers.

1. What is your all-time favorite Grace Kelly costume?
Toss up between the white/black dress in Rear Window and the pink dress in To Catch a Thief.

2. What classic film would you nominate for a remake?

3. Name your favorite femme fatale.
Fiona Volpe from Thunderball. If James Bond bad girls don't count, then Claire Trevor in Murder, My Sweet.

4. Name the best movie with the word "heaven" in its title.
Kingdom of Heaven (mostly because I have seen very few of the famous movies with "heaven" in their title.

5. Describe the worst performance by a child actor that you’ve ever seen (since Laura gave me the idea).
Brandon de Wilde in Shane! That kid ruins the entire movie for me. Never ran into a kid so painful to watch.

6. Who gets your vote for most tragic movie monster?

7. What is the one Western that you would recommend to anybody?
Er... I wouldn't. There's so many types of Westerns, I don't really think of it as a one-size-fits-all. I'd be tempted to pick Silverado, though, the best of the modern Westerns in my opinion, with a fine cast, great score by Bruce Broughton, and it's a movie that hits on just about all the tropes of the genre. Good representation.

8. Who is your ideal movie-viewing partner?
My sister.

9. Has a film ever made you want to change your life? If so, what was the film?
Of course. Repeatedly. Not only that, but many films have changed my life. How could they not? Films are the biggest influence on me besides my parents and opera. I took up fencing because I loved sword fighting in movies. Without Where Eagles Dare to introduce me to Alistair MacLean, I wouldn't be a fiction writer today. But since the question is specifically "want to change" not what did change, I'll go with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I wanted to go into the Navy and become a submarine captain because of that movie (and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). I didn't become a sub captain for the sole reason that women weren't allowed on submarines back when I applied to Annapolis. If they had, I'd be in a very different place right now!

10. Think of one performer that you truly love. Now think of one scene/movie/performance of theirs that is too uncomfortable for you to watch.
I love Dana Andrews, but watching Town Tamer was one of the most painful, embarrassing things I ever sat through.

11. On the flip side, think of one really good scene/performance/movie from a performer that you truly loathe.
I hate Marlon Brando, but I found myself completely surprised when I genuinely liked him in Sayonara.

12. And finally, since it will be New Year's soon, do you have any movie or blogging-related resolutions for 2012?
Blog more frequently!

Happy New Year!


Or... your day's plans might be thrown off when you get attacked by the outdoor stray cat. I ran outside to break up a fight between him and my cat. Normally when they start to get into it, I just throw a few small rocks between them, they break it up, and go their separate ways. This time, the stray turned, charged 10 feet, and threw himself on my leg. Literally. Clawed and bit me up pretty good. I can't even remember how I got him off, but he actually tried to come after me a second time. I danced back and threw another rock, this time not aiming to miss. He finally ran.

Darn near ruined the pair of jeans I was wearing. Have to see if I can mend the holes. I have a couple of fairly deep punctures in my thigh... will be keeping a close eye on those. The scratches, though deep, are nothing.

Soooooo. Interesting. Never been deliberately attacked by a cat before. Not quite the way I wanted to go into the new year, but what's a few more scars?

Last Day of the Year

And so 2011 wraps up! I'm currently making a batch of spaghetti sauce and just started some homemade Italian bread. I'm listening to Carlo Buti, "the Italian Bing Crosby," singing popular Italian songs from the 1940s. Perfect background music for preparing an Italian feast! The sauce is the family recipe, takes 5-6 hours to cook. Finding good Italian sausages has been a near impossibility (must have fennel!!), but I finally found a little hole-in-the-wall Italian deli in Rancho Cucamonga where the owner makes his own! I bought ten, and we'll see tonight if I have a new source for the real thing.

I'm in the middle of watching two movies, one of which I don't think I'll finish. That's Black Horse Canyon with Joel McCrea. It's on instant viewing at Netflix and will go away tomorrow. I've watched the first 45 minutes or so, and I'm just not sure I can finish it. It's not a bad movie, I just can't deal with horse movies. I cry constantly. It's stupid, but they are so beautiful and amazing creatures that just watching a shot of them galloping and I'll get tears in my eyes. I can't watch horse racing either. This movie's about a gorgeous, dangerous black stallion that's escaped its owner, and about the attempt to catch and break him. The owner of the horse was a really annoying woman. I should like her because she's very strong-willed and do-it-yourself, which is always refreshing, but she still needs the men to help her. There's a lot of attitude from everyone and it gets old. I know it's just a sign of the times the film was made, but... just no desire to finish the film.

The other one is Scaramouche, with Stewart Granger. It might even make me like him and stop thinking of him as a double-crossing ratfink! (Those first impressions made by certain movies are just hard to lose sometimes.) Anyway, enjoying it immensely, particularly the sword fights. It's also filmed on one of the MGM back lots that was used in Combat! and I just love seeing the same buildings/bridge/etc. Makes me grin. When I finish this one, I'll post a review, but it's not going to be today.

I need to write today. When I'm not cooking and baking bread.

Last night I saw Vertigo with Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, and it was a great evening. It's always fun when the audience applauds for the composer (Bernard Herrmann, of course!) when his name goes by in the credits. Fills my heart with joy. Vertigo probably has my favorite Herrmann score for a Hitchcock film. Seeing the movie in 70mm just reminded me of all the reasons movies were made for the big screen. And not just because the details are lost on a small screen (Kim Novak is wearing the coolest hummingbird pin with her grey suit that I've never seen before), but because scenes have so much more power on the big screen. The nightmare scene in particular was twice as creepy and affecting as usual. And I got chills at the end.

I used to watch Vertigo quite often when I was younger. Anytime it came on tv, we'd usually watch it. But I haven't seen it in at least 10 years, probably a lot more. What a little age and maturity will do to your impressions! Things I once semi-mocked, I now understood why they were so. Things that bothered me when I was young made perfect sense now. It was a very different experience, and probably the long gap between viewings helped. Even if I knew every scene and image, I came to it a different person, and it was a different movie.

And now, off to go knead the bread dough...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The War Lord (1965)

I watched this movie set in medieval times for only one reason... okay, two reasons. 1) to see Richard Boone sword fighting, and 2) curiosity. Alas, I was gypped of number one! It appears his character favored either a mace or a flail. Damn. I've seen him fence in Have Gun-Will Travel, but I wanted to see him swinging a broadsword around. Yeah, I'm shallow like that sometimes, but I do so love my sword fights.

This was a movie that took itself a bit too seriously. Charlton Heston is the titular War Lord, and Richard Boone played a good guy for once, as his right-hand man. Guy Stockwell (Dean Stockwell's older brother!) played Heston's younger, ambitious brother, and Rosemary Forsyth was the maiden who captured Heston's heart. There's little plot to this one. Our War Lord, after serving the Duke for twenty years, is rewarded with a tower and a lousy, swampy chunk of land nobody else wants. But he's an honorable man and intends to hold it for the Duke against the Frisian (Viking) invaders. He falls for Ms. Forsyth, who is quite beautiful, and he evokes droit de seigneur on her wedding night to claim her for himself. (Although in his defense, he does offer to let her go before he even touches her, but she's fallen for him by that point and stays. Typical -- cue eye roll.) This causes the villagers to retaliate by deliberately inviting the Frisians back to attack the Normans. Big fight results.

The battles were by far the best part. Heston and Boone and their handful of soldiers are literally defending one lone tower against a horde of clever barbarians. The scenes are well done and quite tense. Battering rams, siege engines, catapults, fire, swords, arrows... they threw it all in. Richard Boone had one lovely scene where he rappelled down the back side of the tower to grab a sunken anchor out of the moat, and then climbed back up a rope to the top of the tower again -- with the bad guys shooting arrows at him, and a battering ram threatening to bust down the castle's front door. I was on the edge of my seat. Good, tense stuff.

The rest of the film, however... the movie is like an uneasy combination of old school romantic epic and the more modern violent realism of the late 1960's films. It's a bit uncomfortable to sit through at places. And as much as I love Richard Boone, it's a little weird seeing him in Medieval England (though no weirder than seeing him as Pontius Pilate in The Robe). He does wield a very mean club and can bark orders better than just about anybody, and I absolutely want him guarding my back in a fight. Charlton Heston belongs anywhere, anytime, so he was fine, but ye gods, the filmmakers were aiming for accuracy, so everyone's sporting those god-awful medieval bowl cuts that make everyone look like unattractive. There was some really nice dialogue in the film, and some really nice delineation between the life of the Normans and the life of their vassals, and what exactly it meant to survive in a world structured that way. Heston is honorable to the end, and... well, I'm not exactly sure what happens after "the end" popped up on screen, as it left things a bit hanging as far as the fate of one character. Hm.

Favorite scene (beside any time Richard Boone went into action, which kind of goes without saying), is when a wounded Charlton Heston leaned his head against Richard Boone's shoulder for comfort... just because that is an image I never expected to see in my life, and I'm still boggling over it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Madigan (1968)

This is a rather intriguing cop movie starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda. Spoiler-filled review follows....

Okay, this really is it. I've had it! Henry Fonda in a movie with an actor I love = death for the actor I love's character. Seriously, this just keeps happening! Yeah, that means Richard Widmark got it. I should have known going into the film this would happen. I think Warlock lulled me into thinking Widmark was okay in Fonda's company (although okay is relative in that movie, but at least he didn't die) . Nope, no such luck.

Anyway, this was an interesting, rather different film. Simple plot -- Widmark and his partner, played by Harry Guardino, get surprised by the murderer they're trying to bring in. Bad guy takes their guns and gets away clean. Widmark and Guardino are given 72 hours to catch him by the police commissioner (Fonda). That's really the whole plot. What I found rather unusual about the film is that it just drops you into the middle of things, never explains anything. The plot may be simple, but the characters are not. They're in the middle of affairs and potential scandals that have nothing to do with finding the escaped murderer. It's just stuff going on in these character's lives. I kind of expected things to tie together, but they didn't. This film is much more like "Three Days in the Lives of a Few Cops" than anything else. That made it rather frustrating and ultimately a bit unsatisfying, but also intriguing and energetic at the same time. Characters have all sorts of history together we're not privy to, that affects their behavior and relationships, and you just have to pick it up as you go. Gotta love that, even if it's all a bit sordid.

Things I loved about this movie: The cast! Richard Widmark, naturally, but Harry Guardino was also a welcome sight. There's also James Whitmore, Bert Freed (yay!), Michael Dunn, Warren Stevens, Steve Ihnat, Woodrow Parfrey, and Inger Stevens. Henry Fonda seemed very dour and wooden and one expression the whole time. I wanted a few more fireworks at a couple points, but that's okay.

The New York locations looked great.

I loved that the happily married family man was not the one to get killed for once. Usually, the minute characters start talking about the wife and kids and how happy they are, they get a big red target painted on them.

I loved the scene where Richard Widmark runs into Henry Fonda's charater accidentally and turns into a nervous babbling school boy trying to explain his presence. The two of them have this uncomfortable history that is never entirely explained, which is cool. The scene cracked me up, because throughout the rest of the film, Widmark was in control. But one look at Henry Fonda sapped all that confidence right out of him.

I loved the scene where Richard Widmark told his singer friend that he was in love with his wife. Just kind of refreshing in a movie with a couple affairs going on.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie, but it wasn't entirely satisfying either.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Favorite Singing Actors

Favorite male actor singing voices. And I'm limiting this to movies only, otherwise opera singers would take over.

1. Dean Martin
2. Hoagy Carmichael
3. Bing Crosby
4. Howard Keel
5. Gordon MacRae
6. Fred Astaire
7. Bobby Darin
8. Frank Sinatra
9. Bill Lee
10. Frankie Laine

Okay, sort of cheating on the last two. Bill Lee did the singing for John Kerr in South Pacific and Christopher Plummer in Sound of Music, and I love his voice so much, I have to count him here, even though I don't actually know what he looks like! I just love his voice.

Frankie Laine didn't do any acting that I'm aware of (?), but there are quite a few movies that he's sung the theme song for, where the movie would not be the same without his singing, so that puts him on this list for me.

Everyone else is pretty self-explanatory, I would think. Dino's been my favorite popular singer for ages, so naturally he tops the list, and I love his acting too. Hoagy Carmichael makes any movie he's in better just by being there. Now Frank Sinatra... I like his singing when he's young (like in Anchors Aweigh, etc.), but I honestly prefer him as an actor to a singer. I really enjoy his acting performances.

Runners up - any time an actor who is not a singer really sings in their movies. I'd rather hear Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood sing any day of the week then listen to someone dub over them. I love Sean Connery's singing in Darby O'Gill and Dr. No. I love when George Raft and Gary Cooper sing in Souls at Sea. I don't really care if they're good or bad, I just love when actors knock out a few notes on their own.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I didn't have a chance to announce it over here, but I recently had my short story, "A Hatful of Dynamite," accepted for the upcoming anthology, Adventurers in Hell. This new story is a follow-up/sequel to my Lawyers in Hell story, "Measure of a Man," and again involves Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.

The publisher of the series is having a contest for all readers out there. Here's the particulars if anyone is interested:


Perseid Publishing is excited to announce a contest open to all who wish to submit a character (dead ones only, please) to be included in a Hell story. Here are the rules:

Perseid Publishing and Zauberspiegel announce a contest to submit a character for a story in the Heroes in Hell Series:

Submit a Character to be written into Hell:

In the next volume of the Heroes in Hell series, the winning character will be included in either a new Janet and Chris Morris story, if the winning character is of sufficient depth and importance, or it will be included in an existing story.

Starting Dec 1st 2011, you will have the chance to contribute to the next volume of the Heroes in Hell series – “Adventurers in Hell.” The contest ends Dec 23rd 2011, 23:59 central European time.


Write a text of 200-400 words describing the character you are nominating: Why should this particular character be included in a story in Hell? What errors did the character make in life that will be punished in Hell? Extra credit for appropriate (and innovative) punishment in line with the character’s life on earth.

The number of words is not the determinative criteria for winning; rather, it is the character itself and your description of the character’s personality and behavior while living; your personal reasons why the character should be included in a hell story. All prospective characters must have been real living people and they must have died before 1950.

Only one story per person.

There will be three prizes awarded as follows:

1st prize: Janet and Chris Morris write a story featuring the chosen character, or the character will be included in a story, already in process, for the next volume of the Heroes in Hell series and an autographed copy of the book containing the Winner’s character when released.

2nd prize: an autographed copy of the most recently published book in the Heroes in Hell series and the appearance of the 2nd place character in the next book in the series.

3rd prize: an autographed copy of the most recently published book.

The jury is: Janet Morris, editor/author, Chris Morris, editor/author, and the Muse of Hell: Sarah Snyder Gray Hulcy.

Attention: No author who has ever been published in the Heroes in Hell series may submit a character. No present or former employees of Perseid Publishing, Kerlak Publishing or official employees of Zauberspeigel is eligible to participate.

Submit entries to the following email address: and please include your full name, address, email address, phone number.

Texts are accepted in English and German.

Winners will be announced December 25, 2011. Good Luck!

Oh, the weather outside is frightful, da-de-da, de-da, delightful...

Christmas is fast approaching! Winter is my second favorite season, right behind Autumn. The colder temps makes me feel alive, and since my dog is a Siberian Husky, we go on a lot more walks this time of year than during summer. The deciduous trees are still yellow, gold, red, but losing their leaves fast, so you can see farther. I'm big on views, that's for sure. I need to see far and, right now, with the trees in back leafless, I have a view across the valley from my bedroom that I do not have in Spring and Summer. I love that view!

So, what about Christmas movies? My family was not all that big on Christmas movies, I have to admit. We had a few stalwarts, and the rest were pretty much ignored. I've still never seen movies like A Miracle on 34th Street. This is what happens when you grow up in a family that loves action movies... Christmas movies aren't exactly action-oriented, so they weren't put on the menu.

The following four movies were the four I saw on TV just about every Christmas season growing up:

1. Ben-Hur (1959)
2. Babes in Toyland (1934)
3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. The Bishop's Wife (1947)

We did not do Christmas specials, with the exception of the Star Wars Holiday Special. LOL! Much more recently (last five years) I got to see the following three, and now count them among my favorite Christmas movies.

5. Holiday Inn (1942)
6. We're No Angels (1955)
7. White Christmas (1954)

But... I can't even make 10 films. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Die Hard, which is set at Christmas. One of my favorite action movies of all times, but it's one I watch year round. I get no particular desire to see in December over July or April or any other month. Though I do start quoting it more this time of year, that's for sure! "

So, what have I been missing out on? Any Christmas movies I should put on my to-watch list?

(my Christmas tree this year)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Favorite Actor Voices

Here's my top fifteen favorite male actor speaking voices (because I had a hard time narrowing it down to 15, and 10 was almost impossible). Not singing voices... which is another thing altogether. And not the voices I think are just plain cool... that would be yet another list! Or the voices I love that are just so distinctive and famous you'd know them anywhere.... I love all of those in a different way. (Man, there are so many ways to love and categorize things, aren't there.) This is more the list of voices I'd like just to talk to me over a quiet, candlelit dinner, where I'd be resting my cheek on my hand, sighing and listening and not eating. Perhaps I should just call these the voices I find sexiest? Hm, but it's more than that. We'll just go back to saying "my favorite speaking voices..."

For the most part, there seems to be a commonality here... I appear to like deeper throaty/raspy/purring/gravelly, well-enunciated voices.

1. Oliver Reed - by a landslide!

Everyone else (ranking quite flexible):

2. Aldo Ray
3. Lee Marvin
4. Dana Andrews
5. Yul Brynner
6. Richard Burton
7. Alec Baldwin
8. William Holden
9. Sean Connery
10. Ralph Meeker
11. Malcolm McDowell
12. Vic Morrow
13. James Mason
14. Anthony Hopkins
15. Antonio Banderas

When I got to meet Malcolm McDowell, one of the coolest things ever was just listening to him talk. Yowza, what a marvelous voice! Way better live and in person than out of that box in my living room. I could have stood there all day, just listening. Which makes me wonder how the other actors sounded in person? Mmmmm.

Least favorite male actor voice... Marlon Brando. Cannot cannot cannot stand listening to him. Nails on a chalkboard.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Listy things - Jimmy Stewart

Favorite James Stewart films:

1. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
2. The Naked Spur (1953)
3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. Rear Window (1954)
5. Vertigo (1958)
6. The Man from Laramie (1955)
7. Bend of the River (1952)
8. The Far Country (1954)
9. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
10. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Like John Wayne, there's no time when I can't remember Jimmy Stewart. He's my dad's favorite actor. I love watching all of his films, but because I gravitate towards Westerns, those are what dominate my favorites list for him. My sister used to complain that there were "happy" Jimmy Stewart roles (early years) and "cranky" Jimmy Stewart roles (later years). She prefers the early stuff, I prefer the later stuff, but he was so good at both.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Listy things -- John Wayne

My favorite John Wayne films:

1. Big Jake (1971)
2. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
3. The Horse Soldiers (1959)
4. The Alamo (1960)
5. The Quiet Man (1952)
6. Donovan's Reef (1963)
7. The Comancheros (1961)
8. Rio Bravo (1959)
9. El Dorado (1966)
10. Rio Lobo (1970)

There's no point in my memory where John Wayne wasn't part of my movie-viewing experience. I've been watching his Westerns since before I could probably talk. Big Jake is not just my favorite John Wayne Western, but it's one of my top five movies of all time. John Wayne movies are like comfort food, and I return to them again and again.

There was a statue of John Wayne at the bank we used to go to when I was young, which was Great Western (I'm still mad it's gone, and sometimes slip and call my current bank Great Western). They also handed out posters of John Wayne once, and I still have mine. It's one I should frame at some point. I used to wear a silver bracelet like his, just because he did.

Rio Lobo, on the other hand, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with. This movie got watched an awful lot when I was young. I had a big crush on Jorge Rivera for awhile. I love this movie (particularly the beginning) with one BIG EXCEPTION -- I cannot stand Jennifer O'Neill in this movie. She almost single-handedly ruins the whole picture with her inability to act or deliver her lines. She drives me insane. If you remove her (and Sherry Lansing), everything else goes fine, swimmingly, delightfully! Jack Elam is hilarious, Chris Mitchum is earnest and cute. But then, here comes Jennifer O'Neill's character, and I just cringe. So, a love-hate relationship indeed.

(next up... Jimmy Stewart)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Listy things -- Ralph Meeker

Today is Ralph Meeker's birthday! Here's my favorites of his films:

1. Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
2. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
3. The Naked Spur (1953)
4. Jeopardy (1953)
5. Paths of Glory (1957)
6. Four in a Jeep (1951)
7. Desert Sands (1955)
8. Birds of Prey (1973)
9. The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957)
10. Battle Shock (1956)

I know, I'm one of the few people who even knows who he is, but my love for him has not diminished in the slightest. There're very few actors I'll sit through movies like Food of the Gods for, but he's one of them. I love his easy, smiling charm. Paths of Glory is such a powerful, gut-wrenching movie, and I absolutely love his doomed Corporal Paris. Desert Sands is a rather ridiculous story, but he looks so good in it that I ignore the story. I really want to see Run of the Arrow, but haven't yet had an opportunity. I like all the clips I've seen from it, although I will be looking away and covering my ears for the gruesome ending, which I've had spoiled, but that's okay in this case.

But more than the films, I really wish I could see two of his Broadway stage performances: Stanley Kowalski in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Hal Carter in "Picnic," with Janice Rule. I think that he would have been fabulous in both.

(next up, John Wayne)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blaze of Noon (1947)

Time out from lists for a quick review. I watched Blaze of Noon last night, courtesy of youtube. It's a William Holden film I've never seen hide nor hair of, so this was a treat. I watched it in two halves, as I went to see a school play last night (Diary of Anne Frank).

SPOILERS follow, so stop right here if you want to remain unspoiled!! You have been warned!

Blaze of Noon is about four brothers, (William Holden, Sterling Hayden, Sonny Tufts, and Johnny Sands), who make a living doing stunt flying for a circus. This film is set in the 1920s, so we've got some lovely bi-planes zipping around. The first half of the film is rather light. We see the brothers at work, they leave the circus for the serious job of carry air mail between cities for a start-up company. William Holden falls madly in love with Anne Baxter, proposing just hours after meeting her. She eventually accepts. The first half is all kind of adventurous and fun and sweetly romantic with a touch of comedy...

Then there was the second half, in which we leave light and happy behind and swerve straight into melodrama. I find it very ironic that I viewed this film in the two segments, because it is almost like two movies! This wasn't a bad movie, but it doesn't hang together very well, and it has a lot of missed opportunities. It also doesn't hit the emotional points like it should, as there's a lot to be emotional about in this movie, but it glosses past those things.

I love Anne Baxter, so it was quite fun to see her with William Holden, who is as incredibly handsome and charming as ever. She finds marrying one brother is very nearly like marrying all four, as they all share a home and Holden can't yet afford his own place, and that starts ratcheting up the tension. The four brothers were quite good together, very likeable, though Sterling Hayden seemed to spend most of the film in a cranky mood. Of course, his character is jealous of Holden's for winning Anne Baxter's love when he wanted it himself, so maybe his crankiness is justified. The other supporting actors in the film are all fine, particularly William Bendix as another flyer who spices up his mail route by buzzing farmhouses and trains against strict orders. Flying in a straight line is too boring for him. The owner of the mail service is played by Howard Da Silva, and I really liked him. Made a great boss really trying to make a go of this new airmail service thing. The cast was definitely the best thing about the film.

Things I didn't like... well, besides wanting to re-write parts of the script to flow more consistently, I didn't like the ending. I know one of their points was that flying in those early days is dangerous, but really? REALLY???? They'd proved how dangerous it was long before the ending. Which seems kind of tacked on and I'm not sure how it helps the movie. Besides it made me very grumpy and unhappy. LOL!

I used to think only Dana Andrews needed to stay away from planes, but I was wrong. William Holden also needs to stop flying planes. His track record is getting nearly as bad. Hmph.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Listy things -- Kirk Douglas

My favorite Kirk Douglas films:

1. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
2. Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
3. The Vikings (1958)
4. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
5. Tough Guys (1986)
6. Seven Days in May (1964)
7. Paths of Glory (1957)
8. Out of the Past (1947)
9. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
10. Heroes of Telemark (1965)

Kirk Douglas is one of those actors I tend to take for granted and forget how much I really love him. He stars in my favorite movie of all-time, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Vikings is, if not in my top 10, then my top 15 movies. If you had asked me who my favorite actor was when I was a kid, I would have told you it was Kirk Douglas.

I have to rank Lonely Are the Brave at the top because I absolutely love him in that movie (might actually be my favorite Kirk Douglas performance), but as I've said before, I have a hard time actually watching the film. I have two tough-to-watch films on this list. Lonely and Paths of Glory. Those go along with The Ox-Bow Incident, on my list of very painful movies to watch, but all three are also so good.

And why is Tough Guys not out on DVD??? I love this movie. I went and saw it a bunch of times in the theater when it came out, and I'm not sure I've seen it since! I think I saw it on video once, but that's it. This was such a good, underrated movie. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas and Eli Wallach were so great in this movie. Man, I'd dearly love to see it again.

I had the pleasure of meeting Kirk Douglas at a book signing, oh man, twenty years ago now (where is the time going??). When I told him 20,000 was my favorite movie, he sang part of "A Whale of a Tale" for me. It's one of my fondest memories.

(Tomorrow... Ralph Meeker)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Listy things - Richard Widmark

My favorite Richard Widmark films:

1. The Alamo (1960)
2. Alvarez Kelly (1966)
3. Run for the Sun (1956)
4. Yellow Sky (1948)
5. The Law and Jake Wade (1958)
6. The Last Wagon (1956)
7. Warlock (1959)
8. Pickup on South Street (1953)
9. The Sell-Out (1976)
10. The Frogmen (1951)

I find it interesting doing these lists to see that I tend to have a strong sentimental attachment to the first film I saw someone in. In Richard Widmark's case, it was The Alamo, and I admit, I'm still a sucker for him in that film. Widmark is another actor who never turns in a bad performance. I've seen some rather odd movies he's been in (I'm thinking of A Talent for Loving here), but he is always great, playing smirking, violent bad guys as easily as upstanding good guys. My favorites are the rather greyer characters in the middle, naturally.

(next up... Kirk Douglas)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Listy Things -- Oliver Reed

Favorite Oliver Reed movies...

1. Crossed Swords (1977)
2. The Four Musketeers: Milady's Revenge (1974)
3. Gladiator (2000)
4. The Sell-Out (1976)
5. The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (1976)
6. Revolver (1973)
7. The Three Musketeers (1973)
8. Lion of the Desert (1981)
9. Royal Flash (1975)
10. Z.P.G. (1972)

(next: Richard Widmark)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Listy things -- Lee Marvin

My favorite Lee Marvin movies:

1. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
2. The Professionals (1966)
3. Paint Your Wagon (1969)
4. Cat Ballou (1965)
5. Donovan's Reef (1963)
6. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
7. The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday (1976)
8. Attack (1956)
9. The Comancheros (1961)
10. Seven Men from Now (1956)

Lee Marvin never turns in a bad performance. I've liked him in everything I've ever seen him in, and that includes some very fine television roles as well as his film roles. His guest star appearances on Bonanza and Combat! are particular favorites of mine. This was a hard list to narrow down. I love his voice (and yes, I even like his singing!), his swaggering stroll, the way he could play the meanest guy ever and turn around and play comedy (or both in the same movie: Cat Ballou).

The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday should probably be considered a guilty pleasure. I didn't expect to like the movie when I first saw it, but I couldn't resist the lure of seeing Lee Marvin and Oliver Reed in the same film. Two of my favorite hard-drinking, hard-hitting men together? In a comedy Western? Where Oliver Reed is playing, of all things, a Native American?? I started out watching the movie sort of open mouthed, a bit shocked, and then the movie got a little farther along, and I started laughing... and laughing. By the end, I found I'd thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyed it, irreverent as it is. And it is very irreverent. Ahem. I've known how funny Lee Marvin can be, but I didn't know Reed could be just as funny. The combination is rather brilliant. (The IMDb trivia notes on the film say the two got into a drinking contest. Of course. If they hadn't, I'd have been shocked. Apparently lasted ten hours, and Reed won, which also does not surprise me in the least.)

(Tomorrow, since I've just been talking about him... Oliver Reed)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Listy Things -- Aldo Ray

My favorite Aldo Ray films:

1. We're No Angels (1955)
2. Battle Cry (1955)
3. What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966)
4. Nightfall (1957)
5. Men in War (1957)
6. God's Little Acre (1958)
7. Kill a Dragon (1967)
8. Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)
9. Pat and Mike (1952)
10. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Mmmm, Aldo Ray. Love his brawniness, love that raspy voice, love how vulnerable he can still be despite that physical strength. If this was a "favorite roles" list, there would be a couple television episodes on here, but I chose film, so...

God's Little Acre is a rather bizarre film, but yowza, Aldo Ray is so hot, I don't care about the rest. Same with Miss Sadie Thompson. I can't say I like the film (Rain with Joan Crawford is a much better version), but it's got a good cast, and I just ignore the stuff I don't like. Besides, with scenes like the opening scene -- Aldo Ray and a very young Charles Bronson (Charles Buchinksy in those days) rising out of the tropical surf, dripping wet and in nothing but swim trunks -- I admit, any substance to that film is completely lost on me after that beginning of sheer eye candy appeal. Um, yeah... where was I? And the last film on my list is indeed an animated film, with just his voice, but I really love his character of Sullivan in that film, so I'm counting it for now.

(next up... Lee Marvin)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Listy things -- George Raft

Favorite George Raft films:

1. Spawn of the North (1938)
2. Souls at Sea (1937)
3. Each Dawn I Die (1939)
4. Invisible Stripes (1939)
5. Rumba (1935)
6. Scarface (1932)
7. Some Like It Hot (1959)
8. They Drive by Night (1940)
9. Loan Shark (1952)
10. Background to Danger (1943)

I find it very amusing that my favorite two George Raft films also star two actors I'm not particularly fond of, Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper. Yet I'll watch each any day of the week just to catch those two particular films, which showcase George at his least smooth and well-dressed. Not that I mind him smooth and well-dressed, because damn, the man can wear a tailored suit like nobody's business. But I tend to love rough-and-tumble first, and Spawn of the North and Souls at Sea deliver that. I love the first half of They Drive by Night for the same reason, rough and tumble and scruffy, fisticuffs and wise-cracking.

(up tomorrow... Aldo Ray)

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Listy things -- Joel McCrea

Today is Joel McCrea's birthday! I'm delighted to be attending the open house at his ranch in Thousand Oaks and will report in on that later. But for now, here's my favorite films starring Joel McCrea:

1. Ride the High Country (1962)
2. Dead End (1937)
3. The More the Merrier (1943)
4. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
5. Bird of Paradise (1932)
6. Sullivan's Travels (1941)
7. The Silver Horde (1930)
8. Foreign Correspondent (1940)
9. Union Pacific (1939)
10. Buffalo Bill (1944)

There are so many enjoyable Joel McCrea movies that this list was kind of hard! And I still have so many films of his left to see! Of course, Ride the High Country is still my absolute favorite by a long shot. I have a lobby card from that film on my wall. Makes me happy every time I walk back it.

(up next... George Raft)

Friday, November 04, 2011

Listy things -- Dana Andrews

My favorite Dana Andrews' films:

1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
2. Swamp Water (1941)
3. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
4. Fallen Angel (1945)
5. Laura (1944)
6. Ball of Fire (1941)
7. State Fair (1945)
8. Night Song (1947)
9. The Frogmen (1951)
10. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

It's very hard to put Ox-Bow Incident on that list, because that movie is very painful to watch, but at the same time, he's so wonderful in it that it is one of my favorites. Actually, typing up this list really put me in the mood to watch most of these. I kind of wore them out a few years back, but now I'm fresh and ready to watch!

(next up... Joel McCrea, just in time for his birthday)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Listy things! -- William Holden

I have at least three movie reviews I'm behind on, but I've been fighting a cold and can't focus on anything right now... so we're going to do some lists for November, starting with my personal top ten favorite movies from several of my favorite actors.

I absolutely love how many people can adore the same actor and yet love completely different movies starring them. As they say, how boring it would be if we liked the same things, right? And when there's a jillion movies to choose from, and only ten can go on a list... So, here's my personal favorites (ie: the most watched go-to movies when I'm in a William Holden mood). There's still a few of his films I haven't yet seen, that I have a feeling will be on this list, once I do see them, like Streets of Laredo. That's the thing... favorite lists are so flexible and ever-changing. But as of this moment:

William Holden

1. The Wild Bunch (1969)
2. The Horse Soldiers (1959)
3. Sunset Blvd. (1950)
4. Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
5. Alvarez Kelly (1966)
6. Stalag 17 (1953)
7. Picnic (1955)
8. The 7th Dawn (1964)
9. Golden Boy (1939)
10. Texas (1941)

(Up tomorrow... Dana Andrews)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Background to Danger (1943)

This was a pretty entertaining, but not great, spy movie. On the surface, it sounds like quite a winner. The plot is intriguing. Set in WWII, in neutral Turkey. The Germans aim to break that neutrality and give Germany a chance to take over by convincing Turkey Russia plans to evade. They've cooked themselves up a nice little scheme, complete with a fake invasion plan, photos, maps, etc. that the main German instigator (Sidney Greenstreet) plans to publish in a Turkish newspaper. Standing in the way of the nifty German plot are an American spy (George Raft), and several Russian ones (including Peter Lorre and Brenda Marshall).

The movie starts out promising enough. Raft manages to obtain the photos and plans, but the woman who gives them to him is murdered and Raft framed. He's then kidnapped by Greenstreet's men -- not before hiding the plans, of course. Greenstreet does not remotely play nice in his quest to recover the plans, and when Raft refuses to cooperate, our hero gets kicked down to the cellar, only to be rescued from torture by Peter Lorre, and the race is on to see who can obtain the plans first -- and stay alive while they're at it.

Alas, the second half of the movie isn't as fun as the first, but it's livened up considerably by Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. How can you go wrong with either? Lorre plays a good guy for once, albeit a devious, tricky spy, who loves his vodka. He's delightful, and his lines and delivery made me laugh outloud more than once. He's definitely worth the price of admission alone. I love when he finally tells Raft the truth, isn't believed, and kind of throws up his hands. And the way he sits crosslegged on top of a table to tell his story. He's just plain fun in this movie!

Sidney Greenstreet plays one of those pontificating bad guys who likes to hear himself talk. But, he also smart, one step ahead of the good guys most of the movie, and isn't afraid to do his own dirty work when it comes down to it (though he prefers to do it in comfort). And while he may speechify an awful lot, his dialogue is filled with dry humor and some really nice turns of phrase that also made me grin.

Brenda Marshall plays Peter Lorre's sister, and I hate to say it, but she appears to have hated making this movie or something... she put zero personality into her role. She has no chemistry with Lorre or Raft or even the scenery. She's the weakest link here, her part is unnecessary anyway (token female good guy and tacked on love interest), and I really wish her part had been cut completely. She at least gets to drive the car in the big car chase... but she's pretty expressionless there too.

George Raft turns in a mostly average performance, with a few really good moments and a few snappy lines of his own. I still adore the man. I do love when he gets that stubborn set to his jaw and that defiant look in his eye, and I love the back and forth with Peter Lorre he gets to do as both try to play each other to get what they need, and as they alternate who has the drop on the other. Not nearly enough fisticuffs from him, but there's still plenty of running and scrambling around to show off his physical grace. And he sure does know how to wear a hat and coat well.

The rest of the supporting cast was excellent, I loved the train sequences (trains in old movies are never a bad thing!), the wild, fish-tailing car chase was exciting, shadows and dark alleys abounded, and I loved the confrontations between good guys and bad guys. There was also a lame epilogue, and a couple of lame deaths, but for the most part, it still kept me solidly entertained in a B-spy movie way.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Blowing off the cobwebs

My apologies for the neglect. A combo of vacation, illness, and impending story deadlines has left me with little time for blogging in the last month. I've watched only a couple movies in the past month, and those were re-watches. Weird to go such a long stretch without watching a movie, but I read a lot in there. No fiction, though, oddly. Only biographies on Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. I loved reading about both men. Up next is another biography, this one on Travis, Crockett, and Bowie. Really looking forward to it, but man, it's a fat book!

I've also had a birthday, and I find that while I don't need quite glasses yet, I'm distinctly getting more and more farsighted nowadays. Pretty soon my arms won't be long enough, and then I'll need glasses. LOL! No problems with driving or seeing anything far off. Just the up close stuff. I also cannot read for hours and hours like I used to in my youth. My eyes take longer adjust quickly from up close to distant and back again, and reading nowadays tends to leave me with a fair bit of nausea if I try to read for too long. It's unsettling. I just try to make sure I read in bright light and for shorter periods of time. Ahhhh, how the body slowly changes with age.

Most free time lately has been spent racing a deadline for my next anthology submission. Once it's off my plate, there's another one to write... but I should be able to get back to watching old movies. I hope. I'm craving some Dana Andrews and William Holden about now!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ivanhoe (1952)

This version kind of made me laugh. It's as if someone read the story and said, "What's this? Ivanhoe spends most of the story sidelined? But we've got Robert Taylor lined up for the role! What's up with this Black Knight who keeps rescuing Ivanhoe? King Richard? Bah! Who needs King Richard, give his part to Ivanhoe!" And so, Ivanhoe becomes the Black Knight instead of the Disinherited Knight and any time there is a rescue or heroic action scene by someone else, they give that part to Ivanhoe. He becomes a bit of a superman! Nothing can keep him down. Oh, he still gets wounded, but he bounces right back up so he can go storm the castle himself. Now if you're going to have a movie called "Ivanhoe," and you're unfamiliar with the story, this version might actually be truer to your expectations. But coming to this version last, I was a bit underwhelmed.

And so far, I think the only movies I genuinely like Robert Taylor in are Westerns. I dig him in Westerns, but in these older period movies? Much as I want to like him, he's just flat and expressionless and seems a bit out of time and place.

Best things in this one are George Sanders and Joan Fontaine. Really, can you go wrong with George Sanders? He is always awesome, purring his lines with that smooth, delicious voice. He makes an excellent Bois-Guilbert in this version. I quite enjoyed his performance. And Joan Fontaine might just be my favorite Rowena in any version. She's beautiful, strong and feminine at the same time. Normally, I'm kind of rooting for Rebecca to win Ivanhoe, but not in this version. In this one, I loved Rowena. I'll admit, though, I'm not an Elizabeth Taylor fan. She was undeniably beautiful when she was young, but her voice always grates on me, and she just didn't sell me on her Rebecca. I guess she kind of fits with Robert Taylor, though.

Nice scenery, nice jousting, great storming of the castle, and a first-rate score by Miklos Rozsa also helped this version. This is probably my second favorite Rozsa score after Ben-Hur. He wrote some of the most beautiful and romantic and heroic music ever for this one, and I could listen to it all day. I absolutely love his score.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Ivanhoe (1997)

This was the next version I saw of the Ivanhoe story. This is an A&E mini-series, and it is fabulous. Just as I watched the first one for Sam Neill, I tuned into this one for another actor, this time, Valentine Pelka. He's one of those British actors most people have never heard of, but I love love love him. He plays Maurice de Bracy, which delighted me no end, after loving Stuart Wilson in the same role.

What I found was a rock solid mini-series that was gripping start to finish. It has an unfair advantage over the 1982 version because it is a mini-series. With a running time of 270 minutes, it has room for character growth and depth that the other versions, of course, don't have, and it uses them wisely. This is also a much grittier, more "realistic" filming of the story. The characters look dirty, scroungy, and like they belong in the time period much more than the 1982 version.

The cast? Really, they're unrivaled here. Everyone of them looks and fits their role and turns in above standard performances. No cheese here! Ciarin Hinds gets the plummy Brian de Bois-Guilbert role and he is perfect. I may have loved Sam Neill, but I can't say I truly cared about his Bois-Guilbert. Not so this time, I was much more invested in the character. (But again with the unfair mini-series advantage of having so much more time and space...) Susan Lynch is Rebecca, and she, also, shines. The two play off each other very well, and their scenes are some of the best in the mini-series. James Cosmo plays Cedric, and, as opposed to the complaining version in the 1982 version, this Cedric is fierce, and definitely more action less talk, and definitely no whining. He'd be a scary stern father that you wouldn't want to mess with. (You know, I don't think I've seen James Cosmo in anything but period/fantasy movies. I can't even picture him in modern day clothes!). Stephen Waddington is Ivanhoe, and is more than adequate. Valentine Pelka makes a most excellent de Bracy, even more honorable than Stuart Wilson's, and if I hadn't already been in love with actor and character, this would have cemented it! Christopher Lee is even here, being absolutely terrifying as the rigid head of the Knights Templar. Everyone else fills in their characters nicely.

Special credit goes to Sian Phillips who has a brief but absolutely priceless appearance as Queen Eleanor, who meets with her two feuding sons. It might just be my favorite scene in the film. At the very least, it's the one that made me grin the most! Brilliant dialogue as she verbally lashes her two sons. Now this is a powerful and smart Queen! She's so good, you almost wish there was more scenes with her!

The only extremely minor downside is this version does not appear to have had a big budget. There are not hundreds of extras available to storm the castle or fill in the stands for the jousts, or even to populate Prince John's castle, which seems woefully understaffed. This didn't actually bother me because the rest was so good, but I've heard other complaints that it's "too small" in scale. Rubbish. I'll take it just as it is.

So, yes, this is far and away my favorite version of Ivanhoe. It's true to the story, has a great cast, great scenery, and is meaty. A&E got this one right!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ivanhoe (1982)

I recently re-watched three versions of Ivanhoe, and thought I'd write up my thoughts on each here. The three versions are the 1952 Robert Taylor movie, the 1982 TV movie, and the 1997 TV mini-series. I'm going to start with the 1982 version, as that was the first Ivanhoe I saw. After I've written up each individually, I'll do a compare/contrast.

I did not see it when it aired, but caught it several years later on video. I rented it solely for Sam Neill, and fell in love with the story of Ivanhoe, among other things. I grew up on the Robin Hood legend, King Richard, Prince John, the Magna Carta, and that whole time period, so Ivanhoe was a natural for me. I'm just surprised it took me that long before I saw a version. (I read the book shortly thereafter, loved it too.)

This is a star-studded version, with a decent budget, lots of action and vibrant color, but a bit cheesy and/or dated in places (depending on how you want to look at it). Sam Neill plays Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the Knight Templar who falls in love with Rebecca of York, whose played by Olivia Hussey. I loved her in Romeo & Juliet, and she did not disappoint here. James Mason plays her father, Isaac of York. Julian Glover is King Richard, Ronald Pickup is Prince John, Anthony Andrews plays Ivanhoe, John Rhys Davies is Front-de-Boeuf, Michael Hordern Cedric, and Stuart Wilson played Maurice de Bracy.

I was surprised by a couple things when I saw this movie. Ivanhoe may be the title character, but he's not the heart of this story. He spends most of it sidelined with injuries he receives in a melee that was unfairly stacked against him. If not for King Richard, he wouldn't have made it out alive! So, while he moans and groans and tries to recover, the other characters take over the story. In particularly, Bois-Guilbert's forbidden love for Rebecca. In many ways, he is the main character. He's also the only character who truly has a character arc, the only one who changes throughout the story. This, naturally, makes him the most interesting character. Well, almost.

I also fell in love with Bois-Guilbert's cohort, Maurice de Bracy (and by extension, the actor that played him, Stuart Wilson. After seeing him in this, I sought him out in other films, and still keep my eye out for him. He has never disappointed me in a role yet.) De Bracy is a mercenary knight, leader of the Free Companions, but he's honorable, and I am always a sucker for honorable men. He also is lovely to watch when he swordfights. He's quick and very graceful, more so than any of the other actors. In an unstaged fight, I think he would have beaten everyone. His fights are too short, but that's what the rewind button is for! LOL!

As much as I love Sam Neill, in this particular film, I liked Stuart Wilson more. Not to say there was anything wrong with Sam Neill. He was deliciously angry, smarmy and condescending, and finally frustrated with the whole unrequited love thing. One of the things I love about this version is that he nearly takes Ivanhoe apart in their final showdown. Ivanhoe may have bested him in the joust, but I think even were Ivanhoe fully recovered from his injuries, this particular Bois-Guilbert is the better swordsman, and the victory is clearly in his hands. I loved that, because it made his sacrifice for Rebecca that much more poignant.

Things I didn't like: Michael Hordern and Lysette Anthony (Rowena). I like both actors in other movies, but they both annoyed me here. Hordern because his Cedric was a whining complainer and a bit of a fool (not the actor's fault, but the script's), and Rowena because her spunk was overridden by her simpering and sad pouting. Hard to explain, but she just annoyed me here. Too bad, because she had some sassy dialogue and showed spirit. The actor playing Ivanhoe was adequate, but his character is overshadowed by the others, so honestly, I didn't pay that much attention to him.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl!

Wow, went to the Bowl last night to see John Williams conduct the LA Phil in a concert of various movie music. The concert was sold out! The attendance sign said 16,792 people were there last night!!! It was packed to the gills, and it was AMAZING. Hundreds of people had brought lightsabers. Williams opened the concert with a medley of famous movie themes (accompanied by clips from the movies played on a giant screen), and when Star Wars came on, those lightsabers all came on and the theater glowed around us, as everyone cheered. And that was for just a very short clip of the music. It was just a taste of what was to come. We knew when the full theme would be played later that night, the Bowl would go bonkers mad.

Sure enough, at the end of the second half of the concert, Williams started with "The Asteroid Field," from Empire, and a few lightsabers clicked on. Then Princess Leia's theme. More lightsabers. And then... the main Star Wars theme accompanied by film clips... and the place went MAD in the best possible way. All those lightsabers went on. Everyone was laughing and cheering and if you could have bottled the love and enthusiasm in that audience, you could have made a fortune. It was amazing. I've been to a lot of John Williams concerts, but holy smoke, I've never quite seen anything like this.

That was technically the end of the concert, but the deafening round of applause brought Williams back out, who launched the orchestra immediately into the Imperial March. You thought the audience went mad for just the Star Wars theme? This was even bigger! And all those lightsabers? Started keeping the beat. Sheer. Awesomeness. Hundreds of lightsabers stroking the downbeat. Wow. Just wow.

After that cue, John Williams was peering out in the audience, and he realized the whole place was glowing with waving lightsabers, and he pointed, and his mouth dropped open in surprise and awe at the tribute.

We got two more encores, ET and Indiana Jones, and then, even though the audience had not quieted in the slightest, and was still clapping madly, alas, the lights came up and that was that. What a fabulous evening. Here we are thirty-four years after Star Wars came out, and John Williams and his music are still moving people that much.

And then nearly 17,000 people headed for the exits en masse...

One of the other highlights for me was when they played the How the West Was Won theme and showed clips from all kinds of Westerns. Loved loved loved that. Lots of other good stuff, more medleys, a suite from The Reivers, Harry Potter, etc. They showed the opening from Last Crusade without music, and then with music, and that was pretty cool.

I'm embarrassed to say I had no real idea who James Taylor was, but for those who do -- he was a guest narrator during The Reivers suite, and he also brought his guitar and played a piece. At the very end of the concert, John Williams brought him back on stage to show him the audience with all their waving lightsabers, and they were both boggling.

Coincidentally, Dear Old Hollywood has a great post on the Hollywood Bowl and it's history today too. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where has the time gone?

Ahhhhh, summer, it's slipping away fast. Kids are back in school, the nights are cooling and the sunlight is starting to slant that golden shadowed way it only does in autumn. Fall is my favorite season, so no complaints, but everything seems to be moving so fast!

I have not watched much of anything in the last month. Oddly, only a few newer movies. Not sure how that happened!

The quick summary:

1. Cowboys & Aliens (2011) -- which I had to go see in the theater because I love Daniel Craig. It was okay. Entertaining but ultimately forgettable. And some plot points the previews and the movie's first twenty minutes led me to anticipate didn't happen (namely, some sort of conflict between Harrison Ford's character and Daniel Craig's). But noooooooo, the aliens arrived and any pretense at actual story went right out the window. ("Is this a stand-up fight or a bug hunt? ... It's a bug hunt.") I intensely disliked the female lead. She did not seem to fit in this movie at all and it jarred every time she was on screen. But I did looooooove Clancy Brown's brief time on screen. Would have loved more of him. And Daniel Craig is always a good thing.

2. Ironclad (2011) -- I liked this one quite a bit, mostly because the actors were first rate and the dialogue well-done, but it suffered from eye-rolling character cliches that quite annoyed me. It also suffered from really really REALLY over-the-top gore that had even me looking away, and the shaky-camera syndrome that ruined all the battle scenes and sword fights. Will someone ever get it in their heads to stop this?? I want to actually see those sword fights, not catch brief glimpses of metal here and there. But I'm a sucker for the Alamo and anything resembling a one-sided fatal stand, so this movie pushed the right buttons to keep me interested. And Brian Cox was amazingly awesome as always (I really would watch him in anything), James Purefoy was perfect and brooding and handsome, Vladmir Kulich was cool and had a much bigger role than I thought he would.

3. Chain Reaction (1996) -- One I really only watched to hear the Jerry Goldsmith score and see Brian Cox. It was entertaining enough, a bit predictable. One of those where you don't want to think too closely about it, just enjoy the action and conspiracies.

4. RED (2010) -- okay, now this one, I really loved. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Mary Louise Parker, Karl Urban, and Brian Cox (again). Thoroughly entertaining. No shaking camera, either, despite all the action! Humor is dark, but made me laugh. The actors mesh well and more than deliver. My favorite character was Brian Cox's Ivan, naturally. He was classy and funny and awesome all at once. Love! It's one you don't want to think too closely about; however, because it doesn't take itself seriously, I have less problem with plot holes than I would otherwise. It's all for fun. This one, I immediately ran out and ordered the DVD.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Romeo & Juliet (1968)

I recently rewatched this film, when I was in the mood for some Shakespeare. It was the first Shakespeare story I was introduced to, back in the seventh grade, when my school showed it over two afternoons in the auditorium. My memories of that experience are still very strong, mostly because I must have bawled for at least an hour after it ended and my mom picked me up with my best friend. I still remember sitting in the car crying and crying.

I love this movie. Everything about it is note perfect for me. The casting, the gorgeous score by Nino Rota (I really love that music!), the scenery, the costumes. I'm the first to admit romances aren't normally high on my list, but if I'm going to watch one, I'll take this one. And because it was my first exposure to Shakespeare, it has always held a special spot in my heart for me.

It really struck me on this viewing how the story only works because the protagonists are teenagers. They are such typical teenagers. Instantly passionate over something, instantly angsty, instantly drastic, instantly woe-is-me-it's-the-end-of-the-world the minute something goes wrong. I think I had to get old enough to be around teenagers and witness this behavior to appreciate this about the play.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are perfect. She is so beautiful. Really, they're both beautiful people. I remember watching "The Last Days of Pompeii" miniseries because she was in it. They make the perfect couple, and I always believe it when they see each other and fall in love. They sell me on it every time. And I love John McEnery as Mercutio. I remember the first time I saw Paul Bettany (in A Knight's Tale), my first thought was of how much he reminded me of John McEnery. Not a bad thing. LOL! I'm not a particularly big Michael York fan, but he made a great Tybalt. His sword fight with Mercutio is one of the highlights of the film.

And I always feel badly for the Prince, stuck with these two unruly problem families who will not live in peace. I'd have confiscated their lands and banished the lot of them from Verona. All are punished indeed.

And I realized while watching this that there is one song I do know all the lyrics to. Shocking, I know, and probably even odder that it is the song from this film: " What is a Youth."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hollywood Collectors Show July 2011

I really wanted to meet Ernest Borgnine, so I attended the Hollywood Collectors Show last Saturday. He's in so many of my favorite movies: The Dirty Dozen, Flight of the Phoenix, The Vikings, The Wild Bunch, among many others. He popped up in my favorite movies more often than my "favorite" actors did! And I can't think of a time when he wasn't part of my movie-watching experiences. So, I got to meet him and thank him in person for all the wonderful years of performances he has given us. He was very nice, gracious, and funny. He laughs a lot! I know he's 94 now, but he sure doesn't act it! I got his autograph on his biography, which I'm really looking forward to reading. It was an honor to meet him in person.

I also chatted with Ed Asner, who was also very nice, gracious, and very funny. He cracked me up. I think I laughed more waiting in his line than any other time that day! He was eating lunch when I stopped by, and he would growl, "Whaddaya want?" to people in line -- but he couldn't keep a straight face, and he would break into a smile. I told him the first thing I ever saw him in was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and that he made such an impression on me that I never forgot his character's name (Alexi Brynov). Probably because his bad guy character died nastily by drinking sea water, and a gruesome, unusual death was guaranteed to make someone memorable in my young mind. I got a pic from Up signed for my nephew. Mr. Asner was a very cool guy.

It was a fun day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Opera at the Bowl!

I was privileged to attend Turandot at the Hollywood Bowl last night. I love the Bowl. I never tire of attending concerts there, and I wish I lived closer (and money grew on trees) so I could go more often. Although I really do need to remember that it gets cold there after dark, no matter how hot the day, and bring a warmer jacket next time!

Puccini's Turandot is one of my favorite operas by any composer. It has such beautiful, stirring, noble music -- particularly the main theme. Whenever that theme swells and the chorus comes in, I get goosebumps or teary-eyed or both. Last night was a constant state of both! The first act was so beautiful, so perfect, that I nearly cried through the whole thing. It's very rare to get a performance that measures up to a recording, but that first act was outstanding. The singers, chorus, children's chorus, the orchestra, the tempos... it was exactly how I want to hear my Turandot. The tenor, Frank Porretta (who turned out to be a sub, and thank God, as he was phenomenal), and the soprano singing Liu (Hei-Kyung Hong) were in fabulous voice, and I could have listened to them all night. I'd love to have that first act on CD.

Alas, in the second act, Turandot finally shows up, and the opera had its only downside. At least in this performance, the soprano, Christine Brewer, could not hit the high notes. (I read in a review that she has sung the big aria in concert and did fine, so I'm prepared to cut her some slack... the Bowl is outdoors, chilly, and is probably a tough place to sing an opera for the first time, particularly the role of Turandot which is a toughie.) It's too bad, as she had a really nice voice when she sang lower and softer. She reminded me a bit of Marilyn Horne, if Horne had been a soprano. Similar quality. But when Brewer should have soared, she... well, she kind of yelled her highest notes (very bizarre) and then slid/scooped back down to the next note she could hit. It was rather like watching a minor train wreck. Fortunately, the really high stuff is only in the second act, and she didn't have to stretch too much in the third, so there was no more cringing, just pure enjoyment.

And even those disastrous high notes weren't enough to dampen the evening or the opera. I had a great time. I'm very impressed with Gustavo Dudamel's conducting -- he hit everything just right. The right tempo's a big deal when that main theme kicks in in Turandot. Too slow it can be ponderous, too fast and it loses impact. Dudamel conducted it beautifully the whole evening. There wasn't one thing I would have asked for differently (well, besides Turandot actually hitting her highest notes, and I'm hoping she just suffered an off night).

And I'm looking forward to Frank Porretta performing again in the LA area, as I will definitely go see whatever he's in. Good tenors are, unfortunately, a rarity these days.

Man, I do so love opera. My first and truest love!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

It's the simple things

Yesterday, my three-and-a-half-year-old nephew couldn't wait to show me his new DVD. "It's baseball! With Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra!" I can't tell you how cool it is to hear this little boy enthuse about Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra movies. He started with Anchors Aweigh, then he moved on to On the Town. His new movie addition is, of course, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which he is already in love with. It may end up being his favorite of the three, given how much he loves baseball.

It's never too early to start the next generation on classic films!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Terror in a Texas Town (1958)

Whoa, this was a doozy of a little Western! A familiar enough story but with new trappings, and, man, did I enjoy it. Basic plot involves a wealthy man, Ed McNeil (Sebastian Cabot), buying/forcing everyone else out of a large area of land. He's not above a little murder to scare the rest of the farmers out. His hired gun, Johnny Crale (Ned Young), kills a Swedish farmer for him. But just when McNeil thinks he's got everything in hand, the Swedish farmer's son, George Hansen, shows up, played by Sterling Hayden. He proves more stubborn and ornery than they figured, and things naturally boil to the inevitable showdown -- with a few twists along the way, so that things aren't quite what you expect.

Things I really loved about this movie: Hayden's character, Hansen, never touches a gun. Doesn't ask for one, doesn't even think about one, even after he's beaten and finds out what's really going on. Hansen is a seaman (how appropriate for Hayden!) and whaler, and when he heads to the final fight -- it's with a harpoon! Now that's not something you see everyday in a Western!

Johnny Crale, the hired gun... what an interesting character he turned out to be! He's the only complex character in the film. Crippled (lost his right hand, had to relearn to shoot left-handed), ready to hang up his gun... but won't, losing his nerve... but finding it again. He seems constantly on the verge of of regretting his actions and breaking away from it all with his long-suffering girlfriend, but always returns to what he knows best: killing. And he's pretty vicious about it. Not content to kill somebody, he empties his gun into them after they're down. It's wild and a bit unexpected. He's definitely a bit unbalanced and it was so cool to watch his cold fish character vacillating. When a victim finally stands up to him without fear, he completely trips on it, and really starts losing his hold on things. It's all quite fascinating and really turns the villain into something yet again.

Victor Millan as Jose Mirada was excellent. Probably my favorite character.

And I loved how the film opens with the final showdown, cuts before you find out what happens, and then goes back and tells how we got there. The script is very tight, nothing wasted (Dalton Trumbo is the screenwriter, so this doesn't surprise me). The plot takes several standard Western tropes and twists them ever so slightly.

I think the only thing I didn't like was the score, which just seemed oddly perky and out of place. But that's a very small complaint in a movie that went way beyond my expectations. When I started the film, I thought it'd be just a throwaway Western... but that was not the case at all. This one's a keeper. It's available on Netflix instant viewing.