Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I guess I’ll be saving my Skyfall review for the end of my James Bond marathon.  My sister just picked up Dr. No for me, so… that will get under way shortly!  In the meantime, there has been almost no DVD movie watching going on here.  Just a couple more trips to the theater to see Skyfall again, and today… The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  (In 2D, cuz while I loved Avatar in 3D, that seems to be the only film I like, and I’ve found zero use for 3D elsewhere.)

Spoilers on the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings in general follow, so stop now if you don't want spoilers!

Some personal background… I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, particularly the first movie, Fellowship of the Ring.  Saw that one a lot.  But then, Boromir (favorite character in the book, favorite character in the movie) gets killed and… well…  I like Two Towers and Return of the King a lot… but I love Fellowship.  It doesn’t help that I got the worst migraine of my entire life from my first Return of the King viewing and barely could convince myself to go back and see that one a second time.  I haven’t seen that one since the theater, either.  It's very hard to watch these films on a small screen.

But the look, the feel, the gorgeous landscapes, the music, the emotion… I love these things about the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’ll admit, I got teary a lot during the trilogy, but probably not at the parts where you’d think.  Return of the King was the biggest “culprit” and there must be seven or eight parts where I could not stop from crying.  Like when the beacons of Gondor are lit.  That’s one of the most beautiful sequences I’ve ever seen on film, and the visuals coupled with Howard Shore's music… I bawl.  Return of the King has quite a few of those type of moments.  And I cannot make it through Fellowship without tearing up when the eagle rescues Gandalf from Saruman’s tower.  That giant bird is so beautiful, so awesome… usually, I’m in tears the minute the moth returns, just knowing what's coming.

How does that bear on The Hobbit?  Well, because… it was beautiful and emotional, and I got teary-eyed at quite a few places.  Darn near started sobbing at one point.

So, on to The Hobbit.  I went into this movie with rather low expectations, actually.  I read the book only once, around twenty years ago, where I’ve read Lord of the Rings quite a few times.  Other than a few key scenes, I actually don’t remember what happens.  I intend to keep it that way, as not remembering what happened in the book freed my brain up from doing the constant comparison thing.  Thank goodness.  I have also avoided almost all reviews, another good thing.

I was delighted to find out how wrong I was.  I quite enjoyed the whole thing.  I know this movie has a long running time, but it sure didn’t seem long at all to me.  I liked all the new characters (favorite of the new dwarves?  The archer, of course… Kili.  Why yes, I am so predictable.  Sigh.), I loved seeing all the familiar places and faces.  And most importantly… it felt just like Lord of the Rings, and that’s all I really wanted.  To return to that world and share in an adventure.  Some of my family complained about too much CGI, but that comment seemed odd.  I mean, there was no less CGI in the first trilogy, and with the exception of the wargs (which just looked terrible and fake to me), I thought the CGI was better and more seamless here than in the earlier films.

The negatives: oddly, the movie felt rushed!  I think this is a focus issue with the script.  By the end of Fellowship, you knew all the main characters quite well.  Not so in this one.  By the end I had little knowledge of who the individual dwarves were or even Bilbo.  The defining character moments seemed distinctly lacking.  No "it comes in pints?  I'm getting one!"  No conversations like the one between Aragorn and Boromir after they've reached Galadriel where Boromir talks about his love of Gondor (one of my favorite moments in all of the films).  You feel what those characters felt, and by extension, cared about them.  I didn't bond with the characters in Hobbit and that is unfortunate.  I'm hoping that will be remedied in the next films.

Another negative was the lack of menacing bad guys.  The goblins/trolls/orcs were icky and way too disgusting... but not actually scary.  Gross does not equal scary.  I think the only truly scary bad guy was the Witch King... and he's a familiar face and only in the film for a tiny moment.  And speaking of gross... a little too much of that, was it necessary?

So what did I cry at?  Stuff no one else ever cries at, LOL!  Mostly scenery -- aerial shots of our group trekking through absolutely gorgeous country.  And at the end, because the eagles are back.  I hadn’t remembered that, and all it took was Gandalf whispering to a moth, and I was already tearing up.  Then I had to wait and wait for them to actually arrive, but then they came, in all their swooping glory, and yeah, much waterworks.  They’re just too beautiful.  I cannot NOT cry. 

I'm still processing and need to see it one more time after things settle in my mind, but overall, it is still a worthy addition to the Middle Earth films, and I am quite looking forward to the next ones.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


During December (and probably well into January), I was going to be re-watching all of the James Bond films, in order, including the ones I'm not fond of.  I was going to start on the 1st, except that Netflix has Dr. No on long wait right now.  Grrrr.  They are messing up my grand plan!  The question then becomes, do I start with From Russia with Love and come back to Dr. No when I can get a copy?  Or wait?  Come on, Netflix, it's not like it's an obscure flick!

So, instead, I got Road House (1948), with Richard Widmark, Cornell Wilde, and Ida Lupino.  I had mixed feelings about this film.  I really loved the first half.  The first half of this film great.  Then we had a courtroom scene (yawn), and then the movie lost momentum and tension for me and sort of wandered around until it finally ended.  This does seem to happen with a lot of noir movies of this time period.  I had the same split feelings for They Drive By Night.  First half is great, second half... not so much.  Probably, not coincidentally, has a courtroom.  I know there's a few other films too, but I can't think of them off the top of my head.

The first half of the film is tense, sexy, and intriguing.  I loved Cornell Wilde as the sensible business partner in Richard Widmark's business.  He's the one who manages the finances, looks after Widmark, and in general really keeps the road house of the movie's title running smoothly.  I loved the scene where he meets Ida Lupino's character, a singer from Chicago that Widmark's brought back to sing at the road house.  It was beautifully filmed, with smart dialogue.  Ida Lupino was also great as the singer who both Wilde and Widmark fall for.  And I loved Celeste Holm as the fourth member of the group.  She might be my favorite character in this movie. Of course, this film is very early in Widmark's career, which means his character's not playing with a full deck, and his character's full psychotic rage will come into play.  I much prefer Widmark's later films where he's playing heroes, or morally ambiguous shady characters.  But he sure can play violent-crazy like nobody's business when he wants to. 

Unfortunately, the second half of the film lacked all the real tension of the first half and seemed to depend instead on the audience being worried about what Widmark will do.  That isn't enough for me, and where I wasn't sure where the first half was going (I admit, I had not actually read the Netflix DVD sleeve which gives the plot synopsis before watching the movie, so I did not know what it was about or where it was going), the second half was predictable and just made me roll my eyes.  But the first half sure was entertaining!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Here, there, nowhere

Sorry for the absence. I'm here, just working on other things and making time to blog has not been a priority. I've also been watching very few movies lately. I did go to see the new Bond movie in the theater, Skyfall. I have a review post started on it, but it's just sitting in my drafts unfinished.  Story of my life right now.  But I really loved it.  It's probably my favorite Daniel Craig Bond film, even over Casino Royale, which is a hard Bond film to top. 

Mostly my life has been filled with lots of opera, both watching and listening, at home and at the LA Opera. LOTS of opera, pretty much non-stop.  Whenever I go into an opera mood this intense, the movie-watching tends to fall by the wayside, as watching a movie gets in the way of listening to an opera.

I've also been writing a lot.  I'm not officially doing Nanowrimo this year either, but that apparently didn't stop me from jumping in mid-month anyway, just for the fun of it.  I also have a new short story in an anthology out in bookstores now.  I'll post that info soon.

The rest of the time is work and family... and blogging has slipped to the bottom of the priority totem pole.  Sorry about that.  I am reading and checking in on everybody else's post, though. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What's on your shelf?

About this time of year, I get curious as to how many DVDs I rented from Netflix in the previous year, and how many of those I liked so much I had to buy the DVD

From last November until now, it appears I rented exactly 50 DVDs from Netflix. Two of those were re-rents.  On the Instant viewing, only 12 movies.

Five of those viewings turned into DVD purchases for myself.  A sixth movie, my sister bought before I had a chance to, but I still may end up picking up a copy.  Oddly, every one is a modern movie!  Weird!  Particularly considering how selective I am in my DVD buying habits.  In fact the only classic movie I seem to have purchased all year long was "Night Song," with Dana Andrews. I would still like to pick up The Prisoner of Zenda with both versions, I just haven't yet.  I've been quite in the mood for it lately.

The DVDs I bought:

The Big Bang (2011)
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
13 Going on 30 (2004)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Lockout (2012) - the one my sister snagged ahead of me

The only one of those I ever reviewed here was The Big Bang.  I've been pretty neglectful of this journal this past year, though, and I tend not to review modern films.  Here's the quick rundown on each, and why I had to buy myself a copy.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - I admit, I haven't seen any of the other Mission: Impossible films, though you think because of my love of action they'd be right up my alley.  I'm not a Tom Cruise though, and the films just never appealed to me.  This one, I rented because Jeremy Renner was in it.  If I hadn't already been in love with him, this movie would have done it, and I'm sorry I didn't catch this one on the big screen.  I just really enjoyed this film.  I bought it so I can watch Jeremy Renner's parts over and over, but I found I also didn't mind Tom Cruise in this film, and I love Simon Pegg's character.  And Tom Cruise climbing the building?  Awesome.

13 Going on 30 - This is decidedly not a movie you'd expect me to own.  I don't do well with most chick flicks.  However, Mark Ruffalo was so adorable in this film, and I like Jennifer Garner, and did I mention how adorable Mark Ruffalo is?  So, yeah, bought it for the cute guy.  No regrets.

Tropic Thunder - Okay, I bought this one simply because I haven't laughed outloud that many times in one movie... ever.  This is a movie I wouldn't recommend to most of the people I know from the blog world.  It's most definitely R.  It's rude, it's crude, it's gross... but somehow, that didn't stop it from tickling my funny bone pretty much nonstop.  This is so rare that I had to own it.  I think I watched it about four times in a row before I returned the disc.  There's some parts I can do without (Jack Black, looking at you, buddy), but Robert Downey Jr. is priceless, and the rest of the supporting cast is great.  I've never been a Ben Stiller fan, but I actually liked him a lot in this.  If I need a pick me up, this is now the go-to movie for me.  I can't stay angry or down with this movie on.  I'm laughing just writing about it.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - This one also makes laugh outloud.  Robert Downey Jr. again (not a coincidence, I think.  I can't think of a serious actor who makes me laugh more. He just cracks me up.) with Val Kilmer.  This one has a modern noir feel to it, with Val Kilmer as a genuine private eye, and Downey Jr. as an actor tagging along.  Murder, mystery, mayhem... with Raymond Chandler book titles as chapter headers.  Downey Jr. narrates the whole film, talking directly to the audience.  Whenever he and Val Kilmer are together, it's pure gold.  The rest, well, it's also most definitely an R movie too, and there's some parts that I could do without here too, but the two main stars make up for it.

Lockout - My sister and I watched this one together and both flipped over it.  Sci-fi, action film with Guy Pearce looking extremely hot.  He's also extremely funny.  This movie is pure popcorn fun.  The whole plot falls apart if you apply any logic, but it was so much fun, neither my sister nor I cared.  We loved the characters, the actors, and the action, so it was a win-win.

Common denominators?  Yeah, can you say Avengers?  Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.  Also -- humor.  I seem to have bought only the movies I found really funny.  Even the Mission Impossible film had me laughing quite a bit, though it would be the least humorous of the group.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Backlash (1956)

I would have liked this movie quite a lot except for Donna Reed's character.  She plays a thoroughly unlikeable type with a one-track mind (to get her share of some lost gold).  She's a tough woman, who has been abandoned and has been making her way alone through the world and doing quite well at it.  That's pretty awesome, actually, particularly for a fifties film, and I wouldn't have minded her at all if she didn't inexplicably change her tune three-fourths of the way through.  All of a sudden, for no good reason, she abandons her goal.  Okay, Richard Widmark would be a good enough reason for me... but it's not good enough in the movie because she doesn't even like him, sets him up to be killed more than once... then, inexplicably she starts liking him too.  She does an unexplained one-eighty in personality and goals.

This. Does. Not. Work.  This is bad storytelling, and it ruins an otherwise very strong female character.  I guess I should be used to this, because it happens all the time, but Donna Reed plays a colder customer than most, and so her abrupt change of heart is harder to believe.

Ah well.  On the other hand, I still enjoyed the rest of the movie because of Richard Widmark, the plot, and the other supporting actors.  The plot was quite nifty.  There was an Indian massacre at a place called Gila Valley.  Five men died, one ran out on the others.  Those six men had been partners and had $60,000 in gold between them.  The gold is missing, and no one knows what happened to it or the unknown sixth person.  Jim Slater, Widmark's character, knows his father was one of the men and is trying to find that sixth man to both find out the truth and get revenge for his father's death.  Donna Reed's character is searching for husband, who was also one of the six.  It's a neat setup, and I really liked where it went.

John McIntyre was slyly evil as the head of one side of the range war.  Harry Morgan and Robert J. Wilkes play a violent pair of brothers looking for the gold and Widmark.  Barton MacLane plays a capable Army sergeant who has information Widmark and Reed need.  And William Campbell runs around as a hotshot gunslinger eager to gun down anyone who slights him.

There's some nice action scenes:  a couple of Indian attacks, some shootouts, and a range war.  It has lovely on location scenery and a satisfying ending.  Someone just needs to rewrite Donna Reed's character so she's believable and this would be well-above average for me.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I attended the Lawrence of Arabia screening last night.  This is the first time I've seen Lawrence since I was a kid.  My family went to see it on the big screen back in the '70's.  I was probably 9 or 10 years old, maybe younger.  I remember being blown away, but over the years, I retained only three vivid memories of the film.

Warning, spoilers follow!!

Those three memories were the opening scene (Lawrence crashing on his motorcycle), the death of the first kid in quicksand, and the death of the second kid when the detonator exploded.  I know, pretty depressing that my brain hung onto all the death scenes.  But they affected me greatly, particularly the last one, which haunted me ever after.  Not quite as scarring for me as the death at the end of The Green Berets, but close.  The rest of the film was a hazy memory of desert, camels, war, trains, and Maurice Jarre's music.

Thirty-some-odd years passed.  I never saw Lawrence in all that time.  I caught snippets every now and then, but that was it.  I owned the score on LP, of course, and played my tape of it over and over.  (Quick edit to add that hearing the music during the movie on the big screen, in context, was a completely different and awesome experience from simply listening to the music on record.)  But that record and those memories were my only real contact with Lawrence until last night, when I had my second viewing, also on the big screen.

May I say, wow.  I mean that multiple ways.  It's a big screen movie, meant to be seen like that, it looked great (though between the viewing last week of The Birds and this one, I'm getting annoyed with how dim the projection actually is.  Thank goodness there's a lot of sunlight/bright desert shots in this one.  But all of the night shows and even the darker indoors shots, were dim, faded, and difficult to make out the details.  There's an inherent brightness and clarity to real film, even in night scenes, that seems to be lacking in these versions).  But more than that, I realized how personal this movie was for me.  I may not have seen it for thirty years, I may not have remembered ninety-five percent of it, but I realized last night exactly how much of that first viewing imprinted on me when I was young.  It was extremely formative.  It influenced me in so many ways I can't even begin to explain it.  And I didn't even know it had been such a strong influence on my youthful self until I saw it again and recognized myriad things that shaped me.

It was quite eye-opening, and so very... I have no other word for it but "personal."  I'm quite glad I went to the screening by myself, as I needed to watch and experience the movie alone, and I needed to dwell on it afterwards alone.  I still can't entirely sum up my feelings.  Some movies aren't just movies, they're a lot more than that.  Lawrence, to my great surprise, is one of those.

As for the evening, I got there about twenty minutes before the film, and there was already a "making of" type film playing.  I don't know how much of it I missed, but I was quite bummed that I hadn't gotten there early enough.  We only had about 15 people in the audience, not nearly as many who attended The Birds, but I overheard some people saying that it had been sold out at the theater closer to them and they'd driven out here to see it because it was not sold out.  I guess attendance depends on which theater you are at?

I was quite amused to compare this movie to The Bridge On the River Kwai, which I do not enjoy and find dreadfully boring, where I absolutely loved Lawrence.  There are just as many long, loving (boring) shots of the desert in the first half of Lawrence as there are of the jungle in Bridge.  The difference for me is simply that I love the desert, I ache to go there, I find it beautiful.  I do not love the jungle.  I couldn't care less about the jungle, and I most certainly do not want to go there.  So what works for me in one movie and not in the other is due solely to my own taste in landscapes, nothing more.

As an adult viewer, I loved the story of Lawrence, and I really really loved Peter O'Toole's portrayal of him.  He's brilliant, and there's so many facets to the character as he plays him.  I'm extremely fond of non-verbal moments, and this movie gave me plenty of that.  Lawrence doesn't actually talk that much, and I love his silences more than anything else.  He conveys so much throughout -- pain, vulnerability, pride, stubbornness, fear, accomplishment. His Lawrence is so human.  And those blue eyes!! Yowza.

All the other actors are equally great.  Omar Sharif is amazing, so is Anthony Quinn, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guiness, and Arthur Kennedy.  I love the two actors playing the two doomed teenagers, who stuck in my memory over everything else.  Everyone works so well in this movie.  The scenery is beyond gorgeous.

It was an evening well spent, and I'll be thinking about things for quite awhile.  I can't wait to see it again, but I really have no desire to break my big-screen streak on this one.  So, I will wait until it plays in the theater again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Three Musketeers (2011)

I wanted to see this one when it came out in the theaters last year, but just didn't make it.  Having just watched it on DVD, now I'm glad I didn't waste my money.  This version sucked.  Funny thing is, that's actually hard to do.  The Three Musketeers, by their very nature, are interesting.  They're living in an interesting time period, with great villains and great costumes.  How do you mess that up?

Well, this movie starts by writing the musketeers with zero personality.  This is the first time I have actively disliked Athos.  Dude, that is just unheard of.  Athos is awesome.  Or he's supposed to be.  Not here.  He was... boring, flat, uninteresting, and completely lacking in anything that made me want to root for him.  Porthos and Aramis were far more interesting, and usually they're the boring ones.  They, at least, were a few pegs up the personality board.  D'Artagnan... ugh.  Just a smirking teenager.  With bad hair.  He seemed so ridiculously young... I just... yawn.

What was good?  Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort.  Now, he was well cast. Too bad they gave him so little to do, because he was interesting and an entertaining villain.  Orlando Bloom was also good as the Duke of Buckingham.  He made me grin.  And I love Milla Jovovich.  She's one of the few modern actresses I really like.  But while she looked great in her costumes, I just didn't buy her version of Milady.  I love action, and I love women who can hold their own, but there's got to be some sense of reality or I just can't get on board.

Speaking of action, there were lots of sword fights!  You think I'd have liked those, and they were some of the better moments.  Except when the camera kept going all slow-motion and making what was otherwise fun to watch devolve into stupid.  And the big fight between Rochefort and D'Artagnan just relied too much on cheats by setting it on the top of a roof.  Instead of a truly interesting sword fight between two talented swordsmen who hate each other and have the fate of France at stake, you get this sort of "but wait, we can make the fight COOLER" type of deal from the film makers.  *rolls eyes*  Most of the action moments seemed to have this great desire to outdo something... not sure what, but they certainly pushed right past even my usually willing suspension of disbelief into ridiculous land.

And airships!  I love airships and blimps.  Don't ask me how, but they made those boring too.  Not to mention lame and they appeared to quite defy physics and air currents.  It's hard to make me not like a sequence with airships fighting with cannon, but they succeeded.

The funny thing is, I really had rather low expectations for this film too.  I wasn't expecting much more than a popcorn diversion.  I didn't even get that.  Except for Rochefort.  He was my favorite part.  He looked great too.  Costumes and set decorations and interiors were all first rate, though.  It looked good, at least.

What a waste of a fine story.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Caravan (1946)

A writer!  Amnesia!  Quick sand!  Love triangles!  Revenge!  Gypsies!  Marrying people you don't love because you think the person you do love is dead! 

This movie is ridiculously full of movie cliches, but instead of driving me crazy, I actually found myself enjoying the convoluted combination.  I'm not entirely sure why either.  This isn't a good movie, by any means, but it is amusing.  Maybe it just tickled me that Stewart Granger was playing a writer? Maybe it's because the people making this film seem to be enjoying themselves?  Maybe I was just in an accepting and non-judgmental mood?

Stewart Granger plays Richard Darnell, an aspiring writer desperate to sell his novel so he can earn enough money to marry his childhood sweetheart.  He saves an older gentleman from thieves, returns him and his nearly-stolen jewelry home, and disappears into the night, not expecting any thank yous.   Richard is one of those rare Honest Men.  I loved that!  The older gentleman, (who is from Spain) however, tracks him down anyway.  Not only does he love Richard's book and offers to help him get it published, but he offers Richard a job transporting those jewels to Spain.  That's just the opening few minutes. Okay, there's a flashback in there to Richard's youth, showing how the lower class boy meets and falls in love with upper class Oriana, and how her wimpy but scheming and slimy upper class friend, Francis, resents Richard and covets Oriana for himself.  This rivalry, of course, carries into adulthood.

Sir Francis (Dennis Price) grows into a vile, loathsome creature who calls himself a man.  There doesn't seem to be any depths he won't stoop to to get what he wants, and he wants Oriana (Anne Crawford), though why, I'm not quite sure.  He certainly doesn't love her.  She loses all her wealth when her father dies, so she doesn't bring him any wealth.  I think he wants her simply to spite Richard, who has bested him at every turn his entire life.

Richard takes the job transporting the jewels, but being the honest sort, he puts his trust into a fellow "traveler" named Wycroft that Sir Francis sends along to sabotage and murder Richard.  The ratfink very nearly succeeds, and so Richard ends up severely wounded and with amnesia.  He's rescued by a lovely gypsy dancer named Rosal (Jean Kent), who falls in love with him (and therefore starts a second love triangle).

And then things get even more complicated and more cliche, and yet, it all ultimately worked for me.  It may get complicated, but it's also predictable, not necessarily in a bad way.  I found the conclusion satisfactory.

I really liked Stewart Granger in this one.  He's nice, sweet, and honest, but then he gets to show off his bitter and broody side later in the movie.  I'm quite fond of angry Stewart Granger.  He glowers and internalizes so well.  Dennis Price was appropriately slimy and nasty.  The two ladies were adequate, beautiful and fiesty and fought for what they want.  And I really love the name "Rosal."

All in all, I found this movie pretty entertaining.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds - TCM Fathom event

Many thanks to Raquelle at Out of the Past!  Through her recent contest, I won two tickets and took my boyfriend to see The Birds last night on the big screen.  The Birds has always been up in my top five Hitchcock films, mostly because of Rod Taylor, and the fact that I grew up twenty minutes from Bodega Bay.  Seeing this movie is like revisiting my youth!  We used to stop by the building used for the schoolhouse quite frequently (it is actually not near the bay, but a fair bit inland and was an antique shop last time I was there... a long time ago), we would eat at The Tides restaurant, and we'd drive around the bay past where the Brenner house would have stood.  I also really love how the bird attacks grow in scale throughout the movie, how there is zero explanation of what sets them off, how those birds are pretty darned frightening in their sheer quantity and mindless inexorability.  I also loved the subtle, wary, and complex relationships between the characters.

My favorite scene has always been the very last one of the movie, as they get warily into the car and drive away, surrounded by the temporarily quiescent birds.  My second favorite scene has always been the attack on the house at the end, watching those bird beaks slowly break through the wood of the door, Rod Taylor rushing about to prevent them from breaking in.  Loved that!  The most frightening scene for me was always finding out what happened to the farmer.  Egads!

I think I also always liked this movie growing up because -- and this will sound really odd -- but it seemed like one of the more realistic Hitchcock films to me.  The characters are caught up in their own lives, dealing with love and loss without another care in the world but their own, and into their world comes this unexplainable force of nature that wreaks havoc and forces them to rethink what is important.  I loved that collision of nature with daily human life.

Last night was the first time I've seen the movie in probably fifteen years.  I found that I appreciated the dialogue and subtext between the characters a lot more now than when I was younger.  I particularly liked Jessica Tandy now, where I didn't like her character when I was young. 

The image was not the sharpest, but other than that, I had no real complaints about the technical side of the viewing.  I really hope they continue releasing films; however, I really wish they'd do it on a Saturday instead of a Wednesday.  Weekdays are impossible for my family to attend due to work schedules.  Very frustrating.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)

I have been suffering from Stewart Granger withdrawal and so, after a very long absence from watching classic movies, I caught Madonna of the Seven Moons, with Stewart Granger, Phyllis Calvert, and Patricia Roc.  I had no idea what this one would be about going in, and I was rather surprised to find a rather serious story under a great deal of melodrama.  A few spoilers follow!

Phyllis Calvert plays Maddalena, a young woman who is attacked (and presumed raped) in the opening of the movie.  This scars her for life, and, even though she ends up happily married, she develops a split personality as a way of dealing with her fears and trauma.  When she's not shy and quiet Maddalena, happily married to wealthy Giuseppe with a very modern daughter, Angela, she runs off and becomes Rosanna, an aggressive and rather fearless peasant woman who has fallen in love with thief Nino (Stewart Granger).  Whichever personality she is at the time, she has no memory of her other self.  Both personalities are lost souls, though, and if there's one thing Phyllis Calvert is very good at playing, it's lost, doomed souls.  She never does find peace from her personal demons, no matter how hard she hides from herself.

Like I said, serious subject, actually.  The majority of the movie is about Giuseppe's attempt to understand what happened to his wife and why she does what she does, and Angela's (Maddalena's daughter) search to find her.  She's helped by her very respectable boyfriend and his best friend, who is part of an absolutely adorable husband/wife team (I loved them!).  They're contrasted by a very disreputable dancer/con artist and a jealous woman who wants Stewart Granger for herself and isn't happen when Rosanna returns.  It's rather interesting that all the good guys are upper class, all the bad guys lower... deliberate?  Or just because it's convenient to the plot?  I have no idea.

The dancer/con artist is a scheming rat named Sandro (Peter Glenville), who is Nino's nasty younger brother.  Nino may be a thief, but Sandro can't wait to get Angela alone so he can rape her, and he very nearly succeeds.  He's quite slimy and thoroughly loathsome. I thought the parallel between the daughter and Maddalena's own violent past would come into play at some point, but oddly, it doesn't.  The ending of the film struck me as not necessarily unsatisfactory, but more of just a "well, that's one way to get out of the situation" ending.

The movie was mostly entertaining, the cast worked well, the heavy melodrama suited their handling of the subject matter, and I think the only reason I wasn't more disturbed was because it was so melodramatic it was hard to take it quite seriously... even if it was serious.  Which is all very confusing, I know.  But then, I'm still rather confused about how I feel about it.  It was definitely interesting, that's for sure.

And Stewart Granger was awfully good-looking in this movie. :-D

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Indiana Jones Marathon

Yesterday, select AMC theaters were hosting a marathon of all four Indiana Jones movies.  I couldn't wait to go, mostly because after seeing Raiders last weekend, I was dying to see Temple of Doom.

I should explain up front that I am one of like 5 people in the world who actually love Temple of Doom.  I realize I am deeply in the minority on this.  For most, that film is too dark, or pushes their suspension of disbelief too far.  Most people I know (including my family) vastly prefer Last Crusade to Temple of Doom, but I'm the opposite.  Last Crusade is so full of stupid and deliberate attempts at cute/humor that it drives me insane.  Temple of Doom has the advantage of being one of the few sequels out there that did not try to follow in the first movie's footsteps.  I love that about it.  I think that is one of its great strengths.  Same lead character, totally different setting, characters, plot.  Last Crusade goes back to typical "let's recreate the wheel" realm.  Another strike against Last Crusade in my book.

Seeing all three movies in a row (which I've never done with these) really highlighted the differences.  Raiders is, of course, damned near perfect.  This viewing was far superior to last week's IMAX screening.  There were no glitches with the projection, the volume was only loud, not outrageously loud, and those two hours flew by.  I mean flew.  Fastest two hours ever.  And I loved every second of it.  I sat there grinning the whole time like I'd never seen Raiders before.  The mark of a great movie:  it truly does not get old no matter how many times you see it.  I love Indy.  I love Marion, I adore Belloq.  I love Katanga.  I love the ark.  I love that beautiful, awesome truck chase.  I love the score.  The only thing I don't like is that massive, epic Egyptian Grand Canyon that comes out of nowhere.  That is the only part that makes me roll my eyes.  Other than that.  Sheer love.

But while I saw Raiders a jillion times in the theater when it came out, my family only saw Temple of Doom about 8-10 times in the  theater.  And I've only seen it a couple times on television since, and not for a few years now, so, for yesterday's marathon, it was the one film of the three I was really looking forward to seeing again.  REALLY looking forward to seeing.  I love the musical opening credits, love Willie standing in front of the movie title.  Sure, Willie is annoying and shrill and screechy for about half the movie, but I'm okay with that.  I've known some people who would behave no differently thrust into her situation.  And she actually grows and changes as the movie goes on, something I appreciate.  Oh sure, I can do without the gross feast scene at the palace, but it's short, and it happens to be coupled with some of coolest and most pointed dialogue in any Indiana Jones movie, where Indy's finally called out on his archeological methods.  That's a great moment.

But this movie really gets going for me when Indy discovers the secret passage in Willie's room.  From that point on, I love this movie.  Short Round is one of the few movie kid characters I love.  He isn't an idiot, for one thing.  Plane in trouble?  Shortie checks for parachutes on his own, no one needs to tell him to do that.  He saves Indy's bacon more than once in this movie, and his acting never seems forced.  And I love that Indy never talks down to Shortie, lets him take on adult responsibility ahead of Willie, even.  Their relationship is one of things that makes this movie work so well for me.

Now, yesterday was a near perfect day, except for one mishap.  The theater had a fire alarm go off .  In the middle of Temple of Doom.  Everyone in all of the AMC's theaters had to evacuate to the lobby.  They did not pause the movie immediately, and so when it was finally determined the alarm was false, mass crowds filed back to their respective theaters, and the movie finally started again, the movie started about eight minutes after we'd left.  Dude.  If this had happened early in the movie, I might not have minded.  But when did it happen?  Right when Willie was about to be lowered into the pit.  When did it pick up?  In the middle of Indy's fight with Pat Roach's guard.  What did we miss in those eight minutes?  ONLY MY FAVORITE PART OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE!!!!!!

Yes, I missed The Moment.  The reason I drove forty miles yesterday to see this in the theater again.  The moment I always sit through this entire movie waiting for.  This moment:

The moment when John William's "Slave Children Crusade" theme kicks in all its full glory, and Indy is done with taking crap from the bad guys.  He is going to free those kids and no one is going to stop him.  The camera zooms in, music soars, the audience cheers... 

But no.  I didn't get to see Shortie rescue Indy, didn't get to see Indy rescue Willie, didn't get to see that famous close up, didn't get to see them rescue the kids...  It also threw the rest of Temple of Doom a bit out of kilter, so the whole movie seemed to rush after that point.  But I love the showdown on the bridge second best, so at least I got that.

Of all the eight minutes of film in the entire day to miss, it had to be that eight minutes?  Dude!!  Yeah, I'm still sore over it. Very sore.

Then came Last Crusade.  I did not like Last Crusade at all the very first time I saw it in the theater.  Then, of course, we went back to see it multiple times, and I got used to it.  I accepted the stuff I didn't like, and embraced the few moments I really did like.  Seeing it directly after Raiders and Temple of Doom, I felt like I was back at that first viewing again, where all the flaws just bugged me.  I should say that I love the plot of this movie, I just don't like the stupid dialogue that plagues this movie.  This is the only Indiana Jones movie that makes me aware of the script, which pulls me out of the movie.  I think I can count the moments/scenes I genuinely like in this movie on two hands.  In the order they happen:

1.  Indy pretending to be a Scottish lord
2. "She talks in her sleep."  Followed by Sean Connery's little smile.  Now THAT is a brilliant moment.
3.  "The floor's on fire.  And the chair."  Love that whole scene.
4.  "There is more in the diary than just a map" scene
5.  "I'm sorry, son, but they got us."
6.  The entire tank chase/capture/rescue, from "goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them" through the tank crash.
7.  Donovan shooting Dr. Henry Jones.
8.  "Indiana.  Indiana.  Let it go."

Okay, that last is my favorite moment in the entire movie, when Sean Connery's character, who has been calling Indy "Junior" the entire film, finally calls him Indiana.  I actually seem to have this big thing for that, as my favorite moment in Raiders is when Belloq also finally calls him Indiana.  It just so happens both moments are when Dr. Jones/Belloq have to reason with Indy, and his name seems to help reach him, but still.  Love it. 

And I should also say that I LOVE Michael Byrne as the German Colonel.  He is the only character who is not an idiot in this movie, who doesn't have any stupid dialogue or stupid moments.  He is awesome.  I loved him the first time I saw the movie, and I loved him yesterday.  He's the anodyne to the pain of watching the filmmakers turn Marcus Brody from smart and cool and capable in Raiders to an idiot and a fool simply for comic relief purposes.  I cannot forgive them for that.

I would actually liked to have stayed for the fourth movie, just to see how it played after the first three, but I was just kind of done with sitting at that point, and my ears were aching from wearing earplugs all day long.  The theater's fire alarm was two bright white flashing strobe lights, and that had given me a giant migraine too.  I really didn't think I could make it through another two hours.  And so, I cut out. 

So, how's that for a giant rambling post on my experience at the Indiana Jones Marathon? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

I got to see this again on the big screen for the first time since 1981.  Raiders has the record as the film I've seen the most times in the theater.  I absolutely love this movie.  It's about as close to perfect as I could ask for.  And this is also a film I never could handle on the small screen.  When it came around on television (back when they would overdub the language, there was no such thing as widescreen, and commercial interruptions were frequent) we'd watch it... sort of.  It was always disappointing.  When it came out on DVD, well, I didn't even buy a copy, and this is one of my favorite movies of all time!  I just knew I'd never watch it, so why spend all that money to buy it?  Even after all these years, I still have most of it memorized.  From "Hovitos are near" straight through to "You know, a drink?"  I have all the sound effects memorized.  All the music.  I have no need to watch it on a small screen because I can pull it up in my head at any point as I remember it.

But I jumped at the chance to go see it again on the big screen.  It's playing on IMAX screens, but the closest IMAX theater to me does not one of the really large screens, so that was a bit disappointing.  It was also played so fricking loudly that my earplugs were very nearly not sufficient.  I felt so sorry for the kids in the audience, getting their hearing completely ruined at such a young age.  I don't know how they could stand it.  I seemed to have had a glitchy screening too, as it jumped several times in the opening scene and went out of focus more than once.  It seemed to straighten out after the first ten minutes, and it was pretty much awesome from then on.

The funniest thing was, there was no sensation of seeing it on the big screen.  It just felt... normal.  LOL!  All the things I used to look at were right where I expected them to be.  Very refreshing to see it as it was meant to be seen, as I remember it. 

And it was glorious, from the Paramount logo right through the end credits.  It was a very fun evening at the movies.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl

My family and I were able to attend the concert last night at the Bowl.  It was quite an enjoyable evening, marred only by the head cold I currently have, which damped my enthusiasm quite a bit, and the obnoxious drunk couple sitting in front of us who felt being loud and rude was appropriate public behavior.

But the music was great, and that's what we were there for.  I particularly enjoyed the clips of movie swordfight scenes set to a cue from Williams' score to Adventures of Tin-Tin.  How could I not love seeing clips from Black Swan, Scaramouche, Prisoner of Zenda (both versions), Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, Three Musketeers, and too many other films to name.  But I do admit, Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger on the big screen, for no matter how short a time, sure had my attention.  Really in the mood for some good old fashioned swashbuckling right now!

They also played the last reel from E.T, with live music.  Something about that live music really made seeing that special.

They also played the theme from Laura, with clips from various romantic films over the years. I appreciated that.

And, of course, there were the standard Star Wars favorites, which are always fun.  The addition of a chorus allowed them to do "Duel of the Fates," one I hadn't heard live in quite a few years now.  Really enjoyed that.

We took my nephew, who wore his Captain America costume... with a Jedi robe and lightsaber.  I can't tell you how fun that was, observing reactions to this little boy dressed as a superhero and a Jedi.  Very funny.  He really enjoyed the concert, the Star Wars music the most, of course.  Though he kept asking us when they were going to play the love theme from Attack of the Clones, and, sadly, that wasn't on the program.  The end of ET had him spellbound (he's not yet seen that one), and he was asking for a flying bicycle afterwards.

Thanks to John Williams and the LA Philharmonic for a lovely concert.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Double feature at the Egyptian

I couldn't resist heading to the Egyptian theater in Hollywood last night to catch a double feature:  The Wild Bunch and The Dirty Dozen.  The latter, of course, is one of my top five movies of all time, but I've never been able to see it on the big screen.  That has been remedied... sort of.  These are playing as part of a tribute to Ernest Borgnine.  They've had several other movies I've really wanted to go see this past week, but alas, have to pick and choose, and I chose my favorites over seeing some new movies.

It was a pretty nice 35 mm print of The Wild Bunch.  It's actually the first time I've seen William Holden in color on the big screen, and boy, that was nice.  His blue eyes are gorgeous on television, but on the big screen?  Wow.  And Pike Bishop is my favorite character he plays, so it was really neat to see it big screen, for so many reasons.  Great experience, with a large audience that was quite vocal and appreciative.

The Dirty Dozen was not a film print, it was apparently a projected blu ray, and... that was disappointing.  It didn't seem to fit the screen right, and it just lacked that natural big screen feel that Wild Bunch had.  Nonetheless, it was still The Dirty Dozen on the big screen, and I still loved every minute of it.  And I had that new problem of what to look at on screen?  After seeing the film 50-60 times small screen, suddenly, I had to choose where to direct my eyes.  Ack!  Who to focus on in a scene?  It so made me wish it was playing again, as I'd go right back again to watch different things.  Mostly, I chose to watch my favorite character in the film, Franko, played by John Cassavetes.  But yeah, I still saw new things, read those signs in the corners, picked up on details you just can't see on DVD.  It was great.

It was two long movies that didn't start until after 7:30 pm, and I did not get home until after 2 in the morning, but it was totally worth it. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The strange phenomenon of multiple theatrical viewings

It is a rather unique joy, seeing the same movie multiple times in the theater.  Not on television or on DVD, but on the big screen, during a movie's initial run, where there are no interruptions (hopefully), everything is bigger (and louder) than life, you can't pause it, you can't leave without missing something, and you have to pick and choose what to focus your gaze on, up there on that big screen.

My family did this so much growing up, we had a name for it, and two thresholds.  We call it borching (from a book we had growing up on Boontling, a little local Northern California language, where "to borch" meant to take in an entertainment repeatedly.  Perfect, no?).  Reaching six viewings gave you a "Borch."  Reaching and passing eight gave you a "True Borch."  Why?  Because after eight times, the movie viewing experience changes a bit.

After eight viewings, you're in a whole 'nother ballpark.  Oddly enough, you can start to have "bad" viewings after eight.  "Bad" is a relative term, of course, because no viewing of a movie you've chosen to see this many times is ever bad.  But because you're no longer just watching the movie at this point -- you're catching new things all the time, you're watching what actors are doing off to the side, you're watching what the extras are doing, you're paying attention to set decoration, you're memorizing the music, you're reading stuff on computer monitors and signs, you're counting how many bad guys Iron Man flattens when he bulldozes through them.  You end up going into the movie saying, "I want to make sure I catch X, Y, and Z."  Then you look at something else at that moment and miss it.  Oddly, the more times you see a movie, the more likely it is to miss stuff you're actually watching for.  Until you get to about twelve viewings, in which case you've finally caught just about everything you wanted to see and you relax again.  Now you've finally learned just about every note of music, including which parts are in the movie that aren't on the album (always frustrating, because invariably, one of those non-album moments is one of your favorite bits).  You have large swathes of dialogue memorized without even trying.  After eight viewings, I usually spend each new viewing focused solely on a different character.  It's great fun to watch what the actors are doing things when they're not the main center of attention in a scene with multiple people, but you really can't start seeing that kind of stuff until you've seen it a bunch of times because initially, you don't want to miss something by looking off to the sidelines. 

And the most amazing thing to me is that my family doesn't tire of movies seeing them multiple times.  In fact, the more times we see it, the more we want to see it again on top of that.  It builds on itself and you can't wait to see it again, even if you just saw it.  Especially if you just saw it.

Once the movie leaves the theater, then the mad, delightful urgency to see it as many times as you can slowly fades.  Life becomes normal, boring, ordinary again.  Life shrinks.  You have to be content with memories and dreams (and acquired merchandise).  And you despair of ever finding another film worthy of that much of your thoughts, money, and time.

I'm looking forward to the DVD coming out, and I'll buy it right away, but I doubt I'll watch it for awhile.  I won't be able to bear to see it on the small screen.  It will be too depressing for words.  But at least, for now, I've memorized what it looks like BIG, so I can close my eyes and expand it back to its real size in my mind. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Publishing news!

Rogues in Hell is now out in Kindle form.  Trade paperback and other versions to follow in a few days!  This is the next volume of the Heroes in Hell series and includes my latest short story, "A Hatful of Dynamite."  This story continues the adventures of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp in the fictional Hell realm known as New Bodie.  Where my first Masterson/Earp story, in the Lawyers in Hell anthology was more about a moral dilemma, "A Hatful of Dynamite" is suspense/action-oriented. 

Check it out!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Ernest Borgnine

It was with great sadness that I pulled up my blog reading list this morning and saw in the first subject line, Ernest Borgnine (January 24, 1917 - July 8, 2012). Took a half second for that to sink in. Then I burst into tears.  I haven't really stopped crying.

Sometimes it's not the actors we name our favorites who affect us the most.  Sometimes it's the other guys, the ones who star with our favorite actors, the ones without whom, the entire movie would fall apart.  They're so good, you almost take them for granted.  They make any movie they're in better.  Ernest Borgnine is one of those guys.  I've been watching him as long as William Holden, longer perhaps.  And it's not William Holden who has three movies in my top ten films of all time list -- two in my top five.  It's Ernest Borgnine.  Add in his appearances in so many of my other beloved movies, and I'm pretty sure his name would come out on top if you added up how many appearances he makes in movies I love.

I had the privilege of meeting him last year, and I'm sure that memory only adds to be heartbreak now.  He was so full of life, so full of laughter.

RIP, Mr. Borgnine, and thank you for so many years of amazing, wonderful, awesome performances.  You will be sorely missed.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

July 2012

Happy belated Independence Day! I celebrated by going to see The Avengers again.  The film keeps getting better and better with each viewing.  It's been as near a perfect movie as I could ever ask for since the first time I saw it, and, at the moment, I can't actually think of another movie I've seen in the theater since Raiders of the Lost Ark about which I can say the same thing.  I usually have some complaint about plot or pacing or characters or dialogue or music, but not in this one.  It's 2+ hours of sheer pleasure.  And yes, that means I need to re-do my favorite movie list, because this one is in the top ten, if not the top five.

One of the problems with seeing a movie so many times, though, is you get stuck seeing the same previews over and over.  Where the movie may be fantastic, the previews can be downright lousy.  So, it was with great delight that yesterday I found I no longer had to sit through the horrid new Spiderman preview because the movie had finally opened!  Oh, what a relief.  The last few times I've seen Avengers I've just closed my eyes through it.  I was still stuck with the Batman one, though, but at least it's a much better preview.  Given how many movies they keep making about both, I'm clearly in the minority, but those are my two least favorite superheroes, right there.  Zero appeal.  I don't think you could pay me to see either of those movies.

I still have not watched any other movies.  But, where movies disrupt my mood, television (oddly) does not, so I've been watching episodes of Johnny Staccato (1959).  I really love those half hour dramatic television series in the 1950s/60s.  They packed so much in back then!  No wasted time.  So far, I'm thoroughly enjoying this series.  I love John Cassavetes, love the Elmer Bernstein score, love the noir feel of the show.  Reminds me a fair bit of Peter Gunn.  I'll review some of the episodes after I've seen a few more.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nothing new

Well, I'm afraid I have nothing exciting to report.  Still catching The Avengers in the theater.  Still in an Avengers mood.  Still not remotely in the mood for anything else.  But it's very pleasant to have something new to obsess over for awhile.  Although, musically, I've been mostly listening  to the score to Warning Shot (1967) by Jerry Goldsmith.  What a relief this score is to me right now.  I had been listening to Alan Silvestri's score for Avengers pretty much non-stop, which I honestly do enjoy and still crave, but other than when the theme kicks into gear and the helicarrier cue, there's not much else to hang onto musically or sing to yourself.  The score works great in the movie and there's some very nice parts to some of the cues, and really, I am truly and utterly thankful Avengers was scored by somebody competent who understands what a score is supposed to do.  But I was randomizing my iTunes the other day and some Goldsmith and Bernstein cues came on, and the difference musically between those older scores and even the entertaining and solid Avengers score is night and day.

And I mourned all over again a world where I can't look forward to a new movie coming out this summer with a Goldsmith score.  With great orchestration and melodies to spare. 

But at least, there are still some older movies I'm not familiar with whose scores are still being released, and Warning Shot is one of those.  I'm extremely fond of Goldsmith's 1960's scores, and the main theme of Warning Shot reminds me of his music for the Flint films which is some of my all-time favorite listening material, so I've been really enjoying this score as a change of pace.  And as a reminder of how brilliantly talented the man was.  I can't even express in words how I miss him, how his death eight years ago still hurts, how that hole can never be filled.  But he left behind a legacy of some of the best music ever written, and that's what I'm enjoying tonight.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Avengers and Don Giovanni

Well, my classic movie watching of late has been side-railed by two things:  The Avengers and Don Giovanni.  Yes, I really loved The Avengers movie.  I’ve never read the comic books, and I haven’t seen all the movies that led up to it (though I’ve seen most of them), but this movie was just the kind of movie I’ve been waiting for.  Just the right mix of serious and humor, with not too much humor.  The right mix of action.  Almost no bouncing camera!  Hooray and hallelujah!  Maybe that trend is finally going away???  Great dialogue.  Lots of good-looking actors.  All-in-all, it was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I’ve already seen it three times and will probably go a couple more times before it leaves the theater.  For anyone who knows me well and has seen the movie, then it's pretty obvious that Agent Barton/Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner) is my favorite of the Avengers.  Who else would I relate to/love?  LOL!

As for Don Giovanni, I attended a performance at the Disney Concert Hall last Friday with the LA Phil.  The orchestra was good, the singers were good, the production was terrible.  The set looked like someone had crumpled giant wads of paper all around, which in and of itself wouldn’t have been too bad – if they’d let the singers act out the story that goes with what they’re singing.  But nooooo.  Very little of what they did on stage seemed to have anything to do with the story.  Even worse, they moved in super-slow-motion or stood around frozen in place, or randomly lay down for entire scenes.  Okay, folks.  Don Giovanni is a long opera.  Do not make it bloody interminable by deliberately slowing the action down even more.  I mean I know the opera, I know the story, and I know a fair bit of the libretto.  It’s the one Mozart opera I’m rather fond of because it has action – murder, a couple assaults, an avenging statue, very funny exchanges between characters, and the lead character goes to Hell in the end.  And when I’m bored, you know the artsy and ridiculously static production ain’t working.  And I wasn’t alone in that opinion apparently, as after act one ended, quite a lot of seats were empty for act two.  People were bailing out while the getting was good.  Unfortunate, because the singers really were good.  But opera is neither just music nor just story – it’s both and more, and it all has to work together.  I don’t mind operas updated to modern or different time periods, but this was something else entirely.

(yes, please, sit around on boxes doing nothing.  And why are so many characters dressed in white on a white stage?  Are they supposed to blend in and vanish? Grrr.)

But, it put the music back in my head, so I’ve been listening to my Simon Keenlyside recording and watching better versions on youtube.  And when opera is stuck in my head, I have a hard time watching movies.  Although The Avengers is oddly compatible with Don Giovanni, so this combo has been working for me.  I alternate listening to Alan Silvestri's score for the movie, and then listening to my favorite scenes from the opera... Yeah, it's pretty weird, but it works.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

This is my favorite Sherlock Holmes film to date, with my favorite portrayal of Holmes.  Why?  Easy. Because of the outstanding script by Nicolas Meyer and the brilliant performances by Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud. The rest of the cast is big name:  Robert Duvall plays Watson, Vanessa Redgrave plays the lady in distress, and Lawrence Olivier puts in a turn as Moriarty.

Nicolas Meyer is also responsible for the script to Time After Time (on my top 25 films list), as well as my two favorite movies in the Star Trek series, II (Wrath of Khan) and VI (The Undiscovered Country).  I don't think I've seen anything written (or directed) by Nicolas Meyer that I did not like.  Both Time After Time and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution deal with a mix of characters.  In Time After Time, it's H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper, in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, it's Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a darker entry into the Holmes film, in that it deals with Holmes's cocaine addiction.  The plot concerns Watson and Holme's brother, Mycroft, concocting a scheme to get Holmes to Vienna, where he can be treated for his addiction by Freud, who has successfully helped others, including himself, overcome the addiction.  As Holmes fights to kick the habit, he takes on a case regarding a missing woman, with Freud stepping up to the sleuthing plate, every bit as brilliant in his own way as Holmes is.  It makes for a fabulous, entertaining partnership.  The first half of the film deals more with the addiction, the second half deals more of the action of solving the mystery, though both are well-balanced, and the film has always engaged me the entire way.  It makes particularly interesting use of Moriarty as well, not as the villain, but as a mathematics tutor from Holmes's childhood involved in a tragic incident.  I've never seen Moriarty as anything but the evil mastermind, and this different kind of nemesis is very refreshing.

The depth of Williamson's portrayal as Holmes never ceases to amaze me.  From the manic, obsessed-with-Moriarty, drug-addicted Holmes, to the recovered, calm and decisive Holmes, Williamson moves smoothly, brilliantly, and without a misstep between the disparate facets of the character.  He was a first-class actor who really got to shine here.  And, as usual with a Nicolas Meyer script, there's also real meat to the characters that an actor can dig into.

Alan Arkin is equally awesome as Freud, committed to helping Sherlock Holmes recover.  As they get more embroiled in the mystery aspects, it always makes me smile as the intelligence of both men both clashes and meshes.  I can never decide which character and performance is my favorite, Arkin as Freud, or Williamson as Holmes.  They're both perfect.

There's plenty of action too, from a duel between Freud and a German baron -- fought on a tennis court! -- to the big train chase finale, which includes a sword fight on top of the moving train.  The train chase across the European countryside is definitely my favorite part of the film.  It's perfectly paced to keep you on the edge of your seat, and satisfy a viewer with each step along the way to the conclusion.

I think this might have been the first film I saw Robert Duvall in, isn't that odd?  He is a credible Watson, worried and steadfast.  He doesn't have that much to do, compared to Holmes and Freud.  It is a bit weird to hear him with a (admittedly) bad British accent.  It doesn't detract from the film for me, though, just sounds weird!

I love John Addison's score to this film as well.  I've seen other films with his scores, but none stuck in my head like this one.  I think he exactly nailed the right emotional tone this movie required, and I'm particularly fond of the train chase music.

This movie comes very close to making my top 25 favorite film list; in fact, it used to be on it, but alas, something has to drop off the list when new movies come along!  This movie isn't for everyone because of the drug addiction, but it's one of which I never tire.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Without a Clue (1988)

Wow, did this movie really come out that long ago?  I've been thinking a bit about Sherlock Holmes lately, and over the weekend watched two of my favorite Holmes movies that I own on DVD.  This is one of them.  This movie is such a delight.  It stars Michael Caine as Holmes and Ben Kingsley as Watson... only this story runs with the idea that Watson is really the detective. But because he was a doctor looking for a good position, he couldn't very well use his own name in all those stories he was publishing, so he created the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes.  When the stories become a gigantic success, he is forced to hire an out-of-work, drunken actor, Reginald Kincaid (Michael Caine), to play Holmes for the public.  When Watson attempts to dispose of the actor and announce to the public that he's the true detective, he finds that it's too late: Sherlock Holmes is the only one the public will accept.  So he brings Holmes back for one more case, involving a counterfeit money scheme Moriarty (played by Paul Freeman) is attempting to pull off.

This movie could not have been more perfectly cast.  Oscar-winners Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley make this movie.  Caine is thoroughly wonderful as the amiable, but inept actor forced to memorize myriad clues and info every day in order to pull the role of Holmes.  Kingsley is just as wonderful as the real brain, with little patience for the antics of the actor he's hired. Of course, they end up helping each other, and, of course, Michael Caine will have to step up to the plate and attempt some real sleuthing... with hilarious and satisfying results. I can't imagine anyone playing this version of Holmes better than Michael Caine.

It's well-known I'm not so big on comedy, but this one plays just right for me.  The natural humor comes from the situations the characters get into and their personalities, which always works better.  The dialogue is smart and funny and doesn't get old, no matter how many times I see this movie.  There's some physical humor too, but it's not overdone.  It's quite an old-fashioned film, really, and I love it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Meme-ish things - the letter M

via Rabia Gale:

How to Play: Comment to this entry and I’ll give you a letter. List ten things that you love that begin with that letter and then post that list on your journal.

My List: Ten Things I Love That Begin With The Letter M

(I'm leaving off Movies and Music here, because those kind of go without saying)

1. Mario Cavaradossi (my all-time favorite opera character)
2. Maps (reading them, studying them, memorizing them, making them)
3. Masada (the score by Jerry Goldsmith, that is)
4. Meteorites (looking at them, holding them, hunting them...)
5. Milnes, Sherill (my favorite baritone, what a voice)
6. Memories (what is life, but a series of?)
7. Mountains (I'm most alive and at home in the mountains, particularly the Sierra Nevada)
8. Maximus (my Husky)
9. Musketeers (particularly that Athos guy)
10. Mythology (I think I have more books on mythology than just about any other subject except submarines)

Friday, April 20, 2012

25 All-time favorite movies

I haven't ever posted a list of my favorite movies here.  It's probably about time.  My list will probably surprise a lot of people, as despite the sheer quantity of classic movies I love, they don't actually tend to make my favorites list.  There are reasons for that.

I think that word “favorite” means different things to different people.  What makes a favorite movie to me is something above and beyond what makes me simply love a movie.  There are many movies I absolutely love and adore (and I’ve seen them enough times you’d think they were favorites) – but they don’t actually make the favorites cut.  Why?  Well, it’s actually easy to explain:

For me, “favorite movie” means:

1) a film with which I have a special, emotional bond.  Favorite movies move me emotionally in ways movies I simply love have not.  I am passionate about them, and quite a few of them have changed my life in various ways.

2) a film I have seen many many times, often in the theater.  This is why quite a few of my favorites are newer films – I bonded with them over repeat viewings in the movie theater when they came out.

3) a movie with a score that matters deeply to me.  This may seem odd, but the musical element is almost more important than any other piece.  The score is part of what forms that emotional bond with a film.  The soundtrack alone is often the difference between a well-loved movie and a favorite movie, and is one of the primary reasons many of the older 1940's films I love don't make the favorites list.  I simply don't love their music the way I do other films.  With only one exception (and that's only because the CD is currently out of print), I own the scores to every film on this list. I sing the scores, I listen to the scores, I hum them, I live and breathe them.  Many of the scores to the movies listed below rank among my top favorite music of all time.  So yeah, music really is one of the most important things in my life, and that applies absolutely to movies.

On this list, the top seven movies haven't changed in years. Nothing really displaces those films, particularly the top three, which I don't think will ever budge.  The rest of the movies change order depending on my mood.

1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
2. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
3. Big Jake (1971)
4. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
5. The Thirteenth Warrior (1999)
6. The Wind and the Lion (1975)
7. The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

8. Ben-Hur (1959)
9. The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
10. The Wild Bunch (1969)
11. Aliens (1986)
12. The Hunt for Red October (1990)
13. Galaxy Quest (1999)
14. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
15. Star Wars (1977)
16. The Mask of Zorro (1998)
17. The Untouchables (1987)
18. Avatar (2009)
19. The Vikings (1958)
20. Time After Time (1979)
21. Where Eagles Dare (1968)
22. South Pacific (1958)
23. The Shadow (1994)
24. Ride the High Country (1962)
25. Diamonds are Forever (1965)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I found bloggers's old dashboard is toast as of today, and I'm stuck with this new and not streamlined, not easier to use interface.  This is the second time this week that what used to be a lovely webpage has been totally changed. The other is USGS's recent earthquake page, the changes to which vex me far more than the changes here.  They've made their site damn near unusable compared to what it used to be.  This looks like just a pain to re-learn and find where everything went.  Like so far, I haven't located where they moved all the blogs I follow.  I'm sure it's here.  I just need to poke and click on everything until I find it.  I work for a software company, so I know why software changes... but that doesn't mean I like it.  Not one bit. 

Yeah, frustrated.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Toast of New Orleans (1950)

I recently watched this second film of Mario Lanza's, and when I say 'watched,' I mean that rather literally, as I didn't actually get to hear much of the movie beyond the singing. This is the problem when there's a four-year-old around and I wanted to watch it with my sister, and we fit it in... but the volume on the dvd seemed very quiet and was overridden by household and playing child noises. And, I admit, it was easy enough to follow without the dialogue, and it wasn't good enough to re-watch on my own with the volume at a proper level.

That's not to say it wasn't enjoyable along the same lines as That Midnight Kiss. In fact, it really does play exactly like they said "Wow, we got a hit on our hands, let's repeat the formula!" which I believe is what had really happened. This go-around shifts setting, and adds David Niven (who's rather delightful as the bemused opera director), but is otherwise very similar, right down to an inexplicable twenty-second (literally) happy wrap-up that comes out of nowhere. Lots of singing, quite a bit of dancing (Rita Moreno co-stars), and lots of light, romantic entertainment.

Highlights for me were Lanza singing the Flower Song from Carmen and the finale of the movie, which was a performance of the love duet at the end of the first act of Butterfly. He makes a perfect Pinkerton, both in looks and voice. In this movie, Mario Lanza reminded my sister and me of a cross between Desi Arnaz and William Shatner. With a really good voice.

We also had great fun waiting to see what dress Kathryn Grayson would be wearing next. These barely begin to capture the gowns and dresses she wore in this movie!

(my personal favorite was this green velvet gown.)

Another movie I'm glad I saw, but wouldn't need to own.

The DVD also included an hour biography on Mario Lanza, which we watched at a different time, and were actually able to hear. What a sad, short life he had! It made me very sad to watch this man of incredible talent and see how the world he inhabited, and his own tremendous insecurities, brought him down. How after he was planted in Hollywood, he did want to go sing on stage, but was scared to, particularly as he was compared so often to Caruso -- how would anyone ever measure up to those expectations? His weight was a constant issue. As they said, he sang better when he was heavy, but he filmed better when he was thin, so he would go on these horrible diets and lose 60 lbs. in a couple months, really unhealthy. And there was alcohol, a whole lot of it. He died at just 38 years old; his wife died a mere 5 months later. So sad.

There were quite a few clips from his later movies, were he was more serious and actually go to act, and I really want to see those now. And boy, when he sings opera straight, wow. He really did have an amazing voice. These stills were in the biography and I really liked them.

(Mario and Tyrone! Love this shot, particularly as Tyrone is still my Hollywood wish-he-was-an-opera-tenor Hollywood star.)

(Mario and his wife - so cute)

(Mario and his wife again... love them reading Hemingway, even if it is a publicity shot)

(This shot is so beautifully framed, and so sad. Seems to capture how trapped he was.)

I also really like this one quote. He was talking about that moment when he would go on stage:

"I feel that it's such an exciting thing. It's a thing that brings so much beauty, to those who, at the moment, love what they're experiencing. And in it's way, isn't it true that it's beautiful, that moment of excitement?"

This expresses something that I find lacking a lot today, an appreciation of beauty. A need and a love of beautiful things/moments/etc. I recently tried to explain why I would cry at beautiful things -- such as an especially pretty moment in an opera, or a sunset, or a gorgeous view. The person I was speaking with just looked at me blankly. But beautiful things did not move them, did not matter to them, in a way they matter to me. I listen to this quote from Mario Lanza and it just resonates.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Lamp Still Burns (1943)

I quite liked this little drama, about a female and successful architect who drops everything to become a nurse during WWII. Rosamund John is very likeable as the protagonist, Hilary Clarke. When she decides she wants to help people as a nurse instead, she commits fully with passion and perseverance. I can't help but admire someone willing to give up everything for the hardships and privations nurses-in-training had to go through.

Stewart Granger seems ridiculously young in this movie, and while his is definitely a supporting role, it's still a critical one. His character, Laurence Rains, works with Hilary in the beginning of the film when she's still in her architect capacity, and he's quite taken with her, even though he's engaged to another woman. He next encounters her when there's an accident at his plant, and then things go terribly wrong and he and his fiancee both get caught in an explosion at his plant and end up in the hospital Hilary is training at, under her care. The rest of the story deals with how the love triangle intersects with Hilary's commitment to the nursing profession.

I did not know how harsh and strict the conditions for nurses in England at this time was. The sheer amount restrictions and rules are astounding. Definitely not something I could have done, which just made me admire Hilary even more. I love strong, passionate female characters. She is faced with some horrible decisions that no one should have to make. I quite liked the other nurses as well, and the various patients all had personalities. It's a movie I will definitely watch again at some point.

It's funny. I watch plenty of movie violence and it doesn't bother me, but one long scene in this movie, a surgery -- which shows ZERO gore or blood -- got to me. It was more the sounds and concept of what was going on that wigged me out. I'm sure the fact that it was Laurence Rains on the operating table was a big part of it. Since this wasn't a Hollywood movie and happy endings are not remotely guaranteed in British movies, I had no idea if he'd make it, and worrying over his character was freaking me out. I think that was one of the strong points of this movie: I cared a very great deal about all the characters. The movie made their fates matter to me, and I love that about the film. (And did he make it, you ask? Well, you'll just have to watch the movie!)