Wednesday, November 19, 2014

ISTP: How I write

Charity over at funkymbtifiction has been exploring the writing processes each the different personality types uses.  This blog was originally a writing blog, though it's mostly switched to movies. Since I've been kind of burnt out on movie review blogging lately (hence the large gaps between post, sorry about that), I thought I might start sharing more about the writing side of my life here.  This seemed a good place to start.

My sister and I recently became fascinated with the personality types defined by the Meyers Briggs tests, particularly when we found they helped explain why we did things a certain way, and why some of our family members with occasionally inexplicable behavior did what they did.  Learning about the cognitive functions associated with each helped make sense of things and helped us learn to change how we communicate sometimes.  

I am an ISTP.  It took me a little bit to figure this out, (even though it was really obvious in retrospect), and it was the funkymbtifiction site, and her comparisons of how the personality types work that helped clarify things.  She also does an incredible job typing fictional characters and providing reasons for choosing that type.  Some famous fictional ISTP characters are Indiana Jones, James Bond, Aragorn...  (Indy was my nickname for years, and I still get called that by my sister sometimes.) 

But anyway, on to writing.  How do I, as an ISTP, write?

First:  reasons I write.  I have always written stories to escape, to do in fiction all the exciting things I wasn’t allowed to do in real life.  In high school, I wanted to be a submarine captain more than anything.  Even applied to Annapolis.  Only to find out women weren’t allowed to be on submarines at that time.  There went my sub captain career dreams.  So, I wrote stories about submarines instead.  My favorite author, and the most influential writer on my own writing, is Alistair MacLean.  His characters had the skills I wanted and they got to do everything I wish I could do in real life.  If he could write exciting thrilling stories about spies and make a living, then so could I.  If I couldn't becomes James Bond in real life, then I could write stories about spies.  I’ve been writing stories to entertain since the fifth grade.  I’ve been daydreaming forever.

Writing habits:  I don’t know if it’s laziness or if I’d just usually rather be outside hiking or doing something, but I have had to build discipline habits for writing regularly.  I’ve been pretty successful at this over the years.  Deadlines are my best friend.  I am most productive right before a story is due, and I haven’t yet missed a deadline.  I also do really well at Nanowrimo because it’s such a rush.  I’ve successfully completed seven nanos, though I haven’t done it for a few years because my needs are different now than they used to be.  Nano itself, I found, is not hard to complete, but I’m at a point in my writing career where my first draft needs to be on track and usable from the get-go.  If I don’t have a project that I understand well enough to keep on track for the full 50,000 words in one month, then I would end up wasting my time.  Time is way too precious to throw away on reaching the necessary word count just because.

I am both plotter and pantser.  I have to know certain things before I can begin a story (characters, character needs, setting, the ending, at least a couple carrot scenes) and I will plot things out in rough terms.  Too much plotting in advance and then I’ve already lived the story and have no great need to write it.  At the same time, as I get ready to write each day, I tend to think through/plot out the scene I’m writing that day.  A scene isn’t a scene unless something changes by the end of it, so this is just my own personal double-check to make sure I know what the scene is supposed to accomplish, and what the twist is in that scene before I begin, otherwise, I’m not ready to write that scene yet and I need to do some more thinking.  But, there’s still much room for surprises, and I have yet to write a book where the characters didn’t surprise me with unexpected actions or reactions.  The plot will often surprise me, but usually the development is something I’ve subconsciously set up and just haven’t realized until I get there.  I almost always have to know how the book ends, and that ending rarely changes on me through the course of writing the book.  That ending is usually the reason I'm writing the book in the first place, to get to that special point.

I’m a very visual writer.  The story I want to tell unspools like a movie in my head, complete with camera angles, cuts, etc.  I’ve read stories back that I wrote years ago, and I still see the scenes with the original “camera” angles.  My writing is usually described by others as visual, as well.  At the same time, I usually have to be able to get inside the head of the character’s point of view I’m writing.  I have to feel what they’re feeling in order to tell the story the way I want to be able to tell it.  Capturing the emotions is extremely important to me.  I was quite verbose in my youth, but my writing these days is concise and as tight as I can make it.  I have learned to say more with less words.

I have only written fanfic for two television shows, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Combat!.  I write fanfic to give myself more episodes of my favorite show.  Brand new adventures.  I have ZERO desire to explore parts of existing episodes, fill in holes, or answer questions episodes left unanswered.  I really don’t care to explore what a character might have been thinking in Z episode when he made that horribly wrong decision.  I don’t like reading those type of fanfics either because they mess with my concept of the original episode.  Once an ep (or movie) is shown, that’s it.  That’s how it goes.  Why would you want to change or add to it or fill in gaps?  I don’t understand this need.

I do not deal well with symbolism and am a literal reader and writer.  Do not make me guess what happens at the end of a story or I will get pissed off.  I was very good in English and literature class, except when I was asked to analyze the meaning of something.  Oh man, torture.  1) I don’t care!  2) I have a very hard time thinking about a story in those terms.  I can give you plot analyses, character analyses (looking at character motivation is much easier than symbolism/theme), but story as metaphor or things like that... I’m outta there.

I do not like to write or read or watch mysteries, either, mostly because they encourage a reader to guess and figure out the mystery with the protagonist, and I don’t want to guess or figure out anything.  Suspense is fine, mystery is not.  I want action and excitement, not whodunnits.  My goal as a writer is to provide escape to the reader, to take them on a wild adventure with people they care about, and to keep them up until two in the morning to find out what happens. 

These days, I mostly write fantasy (short stories, novellas, and novels), although due to commitments to various anthology series, I’ve written a surprising amount of horror short stories.  I’m not actually a fan of horror, so I’m not quite sure how that happened!  My fantasy stories tend to be dark, suspenseful, heroic, and violent.  I have no problems hurting or killing off even my most beloved characters.  I suffer no pangs of guilt about making my characters’ lives as miserable as the plot requires.  Rather the opposite, I’m afraid.  No character is safe.  However, mayhem and destruction must serve the story the same way romance does, or anything other part of the plot.  I do have quite a few themes that matter personally to me, and I tend to revisit those in my stories.

I also have no problem with criticism, and I need my beta readers really to tear my stories apart.  I do not take critiques of my stories personally.  I don’t feel like my baby is being attacked.  I won't cry myself to sleep.  Everything can be improved, but I can’t fix my story if no one points out that glaring logic gap in chapter 12.  If that means I have to rewrite all subsequent chapters, I am soooooo fine with that!  If the ending doesn’t work, tell me!  I can just rethink and make it better.  Nothing is more annoying than a beta reader unwilling to be honest and give it to me straight because they’re afraid of hurting my feelings.  Dude, my feelings can’t be hurt that way.  They can be hurt in plenty of other ways, but not when someone’s trying to give me info to make something better.  (I finally have the best beta reader ever, so this isn’t a problem anymore, but it used to be before I met her!)

(very similar to my first typewriter)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

We have a winner!

Of the least favorite movie category, that is.  Or a loser, depending on how you look at it.  I just got back from seeing Interstellar, and boy, those are three hours I am never ever getting back.  This if officially my least favorite movie of the year, probably the last decade, and it might end up as my least favorite movie of all time.

Spoilers follow... you have been warned.

Let's mention the good stuff -- alien planets!  They are very cool and those waterworld/ice landscapes are amazing and awesome.  They are, in fact, what got me to see the movie in the first place.  Too bad there's not much more to them than what they show in the trailer.  I could have saved myself those three hours.  The only other good thing was Matt Damon's short section. When he was there, there was movement, there was action, there was something halfway entertaining!

And that's it.  The rest sucked.  I'm a big fan of long movies.  Bring on Lawrence of Arabia, and The Lord of the Rings marathons, and all those other epics I love.  This one was interminable.  Ponderous, weighty... it's one of those films that likes to linger over things it considers important, cuz you know, we in the audience might be stupid and not pick up on Important Things.  It dragged, it lingered, it wallowed in its self-importantness, it would not end. 

I don't even mind predictable plots.  Predictable can be nice and comforting, and when done right, very satisfying.  But those movies tend to know they're predictable, and have a much faster pace, and so it isn't an issue.  This one has the pace of an inch worm and seems to think it's not predictable, and so things like Murph's poltergeist (really? Is there anybody in the audience who did not know this would be her father sending cryptic messages back to her? really? (and also, why can no EVER EVER EVER send back a non-cryptic message?)) gets emphasized unnaturally.  Anne Hathaway's character picking which planet to go to based on love rather than on facts, which you just know is going to end up being the right decision, cuz this movie has a Message.  The minute they mention there's a black hole by a couple of the planets, you just know we're going into it, and the black hole segments were even lamer than I could have imagined.

Cuz really, did no one see The Black Hole back in the late 70's?  I remember seeing that sucker in the theater, and my whole family came out going whaaaaat? when it ended.  Time has not improved black hole movies.  Seriously, they rank right up there with the "it was all a dream" movies on the scale of stupidity.  The Black Hole was a silly cheese fest with robots and a John Barry theme I can still sing today after never seeing the movie again after that theater viewing.  Interstellar was a pompous cheese fest with robots and the worst (and loudest) Hans Zimmer score I've ever suffered through.  Yes, I know.  I am not a Hans Zimmer fan.  Quite the opposite.  His name has actually kept me from going to see certain movies in the theater in the past.  And this film has only reinforced those opinions... when the king of repetition gives me a score like this, it's just plain painful.

And that's the problem.  For me, this movie was just plain painful to sit through.  I didn't like the characters, except for Matt Damon's character, and I'm guessing he was supposed to be insane despite seeming rational?  Cuz dude, he could have just said, "Yay!  You rescued me!  Let's get outta here!  My robot went glitchy and recorded bad info and this place really sucks!  Can we leave now?"  And we all would have happily left his planet and that would have been that.  But no.  He'd flipped his wig at some point.  Which, like I said, still provided the only interesting part of the movie.

But the rest of it... it isn't a happy movie, it isn't a sad one.  It isn't scary, it isn't humorous.  It isn't tense.  It isn't exciting.  It really isn't anything at all but three hours of unbelievable boredom.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to come away with.  I was hoping for a fun, exciting adventure in space.  I sure didn't get it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Tolkien party and giveaway!

If you're a fan of Lord of the Rings, head on over to The Edge of the Precipice, where Hamlette is having a really nice giveaway to celebrate Bilbo and Frodo's birthday!  Check it out.

And now for some questions and answers...

1.  Who introduced you to Tolkien's stories?  A friend.

2.  How old were you when you first ventured into Middle Earth?  I was in college.

3.  Did you read the books first, or see movie versions first?  Read the books first and wouldn't have it any other way in this case.

4.  A dragon or a balrog -- which would you rather fight?  I rather prefer a dragon!  I don’t think anyone but a wizard can fight a balrog!

5.  Who are three of your favorite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on why.)  Aragorn – who is the character I most relate to and the one I most want to be.  Frodo – who is just amazingly determined and gets the ring all the way to Mt. Doom.  I admire that immensely.  And Boromir, because he is noble and honorable and looks after Merry and Pippin and takes out all those orcs. Sure, he gets tempted by the ring, but that just makes his redemption cooler.

6.  Have you ever dressed up like a Tolkien character?  No, but the family was just talking about how awesome it would be to dress up as the fellowship for Halloween, since we all like different characters.

7.  If someone asks you to go on adventure, how do you respond?  When do we leave?

8.  Have you read any of the "history of Middle Earth" books?  Er, I've read the Silmarillion, is that what you're referring to?

9.  Would you rather drink a bowl of Ent Draught or a glass of Old Winyards?  Ent Draught.

10.  List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies. These are all from Fellowship, as that is my favorite, and the only one I watch when any regularity.  I don't think I actually know any lines by heart from any of the other movies.

"I would have gone with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor." - Aragorn
"They have a cave troll." - Boromir
"What is this new devilry?" - Boromir
"What was that?" - Merry
"It comes in pints?" - Pippin
"Watch your feet." - Aragorn
"Men are weak." - Elrond
"Have you ever been called home by the clear ringing of silver trumpets?" - Boromir
"One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep. The great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire, and ash, and dust. The very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly."  Boromir
"What are you looking at?" - Haldir. Okay, he doesn't actually say this, but one day, we had the movie muted and my family each had a character and were providing the lines (this is a highly amusing thing to do on those movies you've seen a million times and think you know by heart... highly recommended for the amusement factor), and my sister said this when Haldir's looking at Gimli in the woods of Lothlorien, and... it stuck.  It is impossible to watch the movie without hearing that line.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cutthroat Island (1995)

This is my entry for Hamlette's Piratical Blogathon.  This oft-maligned movie needs a little love.  I saw this movie in the theater when it came out and quite enjoyed it.  Is it a great movie?  No.  Is it good?  That probably depends on what you want out of a pirate movie.  Treasure, sea battles, betrayal and mutiny, a little romance, walking the plank, the British navy, tropical islands, a monkey, swordfighting... Those are things I look for, and this movie has them all.  Is it entertaining?  For me, absolutely.

This is a straight-forward treasure hunt movie.  A pirate hid a vast fortune on an island (Cutthroat Island) and gave each of his three sons one part of the map that identified where the treasure was.  Only with all three pieces can you find the treasure.  The sons, Douglas (Dawg), Harry, and Mortecai, of course, don't remotely get along.  We start the movie with Morgan, Harry's daughter.  When her father is killed, she gets his portion of the map, and the race is on to get the other map pieces and beat Dawg to the treasure. Morgan has to prove herself as captain of her father's ship and men who are skeptical she can fill her father's shoes as their leader.  She also picks up a thief along the way who speaks Latin, William Shaw, when she needs her portion of the map translated.

The ships, locations, costumes, and sea battles are fantastic.  Actually, everything about this movie looks unbelievably fantastic.  I felt like I was back in time.  I wanted to own all of Geena Davis's costumes.  Ms. Davis was criticised as being miscast... and yet she really isn't.  You need a woman who's believable as leader of a bunch of pirates, and she fulfills that.  She's a tall, brawny lady -- taller than quite a few of the male members of her crew, and you need someone physically strong like that to handle the many fist fights, sword fights, climbing up ropes, swimming, etc.

What I think can make her seem miscast is not Geena Davis... but the dialogue in the movie.  The dialogue is one of the weakest points.  Not always, there's a lot of good dialogue mixed in there too, but they seem to have given the cheesy lines mostly to Morgan.  This does her character a grave injustice.  When the dialogue is good, she rocks this role.  When it's cheesy, it can pull you out of the movie. But despite those moments, I still really enjoy her, and it is always fun to see a woman get a role like this.

There's a bit of gender reversal between her and Shaw's character.  He's the one who ends up getting rescued by Morgan more than once, not vice versa.  It's very refreshing. And Shaw (Matthew Modine) is a cool character, even if he does keep getting into trouble.  Thief, liar, speaks Latin, wheeler dealer, but ultimately loyal to Morgan.  They're great fun together, each trying to outplay each other before they finally admit they're on the same side. I had a bit of a crush on him.  Maybe it was just the nice arms!

Frank Langella is perfect as Morgan's tough, villainous uncle, Dawg.

I really like how he admires Morgan and her courage and cunning more than he did his own brothers.  When he offers her a partnership, he means it because he recognizes that she's a good captain and pirate.  One of my favorite moments is when he sees her ship creeping up on his and realizes something is not right.  He very quietly goes to general quarters and takes action.  Morgan's doing the same on her ship, and it's just fun to watch them cat-and-mouse at sea before the ships erupt in full scale battle.

When I first saw this in the theater, I knew from the opening scene I was going to enjoy the movie.  Why?  The music.  Music makes or breaks a movie for me, and this film has one of the best action adventures scores ever.  John Debney's score is outstanding.  Let me say that again.  John Debney's score is OUTSTANDING.  That opening scene that sucked me in so much, with Morgan Adams galloping her horse across a partially submerged sand spit while John Debney's awesome theme soars.  That is just plain satisfying.  Cutthroat Island is one of my most-listened to scores of all times.  It never gets old, and even better, the complete score was released a few years back.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – A Conversation

As part of Hamlette’s Piratical Blogathon, Hamlette and I reminisced about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies while simultaneously listening to the soundtrack for POTC: Curse of the Black Pearl.  We both love the original Pirates movie and thought it would be fun, rather than either of us writing a review of it, to discuss the movie instead.  Our favorite scenes and characters, why the first movie was so great and the second and third failed to capture that same magic.

Hamlette:  I remember buying this album -- so desperate to just keep the piratey joy alive once the movie left the theater.  I have track 3 up on my CD and ohhhhhhhhhh, I love this song, this bouncy, poundy sailing theme.  I had a hard time finding this soundtrack, actually, and I would listen to the Gladiator soundtrack because it has a teensy bit that sounds somewhat like this.  I had to wait for like a week for it to be in, and then once I got it, I think it stayed in my CD player all summer.  Listened to absolutely nothing else.

DKoren:   awww

Hamlette:  I remember seeing the trailer for this like five times before it came out, and just being so crazy excited for a Johnny Depp Pirate Movie!!!!  There was that swooshy thing where he holds the rope and flies up onto the boat, and I was in looooooooooooove with that moment in the trailer.

DKoren:   I remember going back and seeing this movie four or five times.

Hamlette:  I think I saw it three times.  What's your favorite moment in the movie?

DKoren:   In the end finale, when Jack shoots Barbossa and goes all serious.

Hamlette:  I'm not entirely sure if I have One Favorite Moment.

DKoren:   With Jack, I absolutely love his serious moments.  When he goes serious, I swoon.  When he's his normal fast-talking self, he’s amusing, but not a character I really care about.

Hamlette:  "So there is a curse.  That's interesting."  That's another of my favorite moments.  I love how he says "in-tres-ting."

DKoren:    "This shot is not meant for you."  That's another one of mine.  It’s another serious moment, that pleading with Will to "please move!"

Hamlette:   yes

DKoren:    But that whole moment in the finale where he slices his hand with the coin, tosses it to Will, and shoots Barbossa... that is THE reason I watch this movie.  I wait and wait for that.  And then it's over in ten seconds.

Hamlette:  Well, that's the way of Perfect Moments.

DKoren:   There're plenty of other parts I love too, just not with that intensity.

Hamlette:  If you were writing it, it would've been your Scene of Scenes.

DKoren:   Yes, the ultimate carrot scene.  That first shot of him on the rigging (where he’s again looking serious)... totally amazing moment.

Hamlette:  I think now, after four movies, it's hard to remember just how Different his Captain Jack was -- I mean, I remember sitting in the theater thinking, "DUDE!  This is all so completely new!"  I never knew what to expect one moment to the next.  Which I loved -- because it wasn't just another actiony kid-oriented movie, it was clever and devious and tricksy and... yeah.

DKoren:   That's a good way to put it.

Hamlette:  I have to say, I think Elizabeth Swan is another of those roles I would love to play, or characters I'd like to be.

DKoren:   I can see that.

Hamlette:  I remember just going, "I want to do that!  And that!  And that!"

DKoren:   She's really cool.

Hamlette:  She's very collected -- she doesn't freak out easily.

DKoren:   She's a character I wanted to be friends with.

Hamlette:  She thinks on her feet really well:  I'm going to hide here, I'm going to ask for parley, I'm going to pretend I'm not the governor's daughter.

DKoren:   Yeah, she's very smart.  I love that about her.

Hamlette:  She's not a damsel in distress at all.  Which was also refreshing, along with Captain Jack's unpredictability.

DKoren:   "She'll be insufferable now."

Hamlette:  Indeed.

DKoren:   I wanted to be Will Turner.

Hamlette:  Well, we'd make a fine pair, then!  Okay, so what makes you want to be Will?  Cuz I honestly -- like Elizabeth -- get impatient with him at times.

DKoren:   He makes swords, he practices with them, he's willing to do anything to rescue Kiera, he breaks a pirate out of jail and yells at Norrington.  He figures things out and doesn't want to be Jack's leverage.  He does everything I would do, were I in his shoes.

DKoren:   The way he thinks... I relate to that.  Like figuring Jack would be his best bet for tracking pirates.  And, of course, rescuing Jack at the end from execution and being willing to die for his actions, conscious clear.  I would totally do that.

Hamlette:  I do love the ending.

DKoren:   The swordfighting scene in the blacksmith shop is probably my second favorite scene in the movie.

Hamlette:  Oh, it is splendid!  It might actually be my favorite overall scene.  It could go on another ten minutes and I'd be happy.

DKoren:   Yes, I can watch the two of them cross blades for hours.

Hamlette:  He's more cautious and... circuitous than Elizabeth, which is probably why I identify more with her -- I just want to confront things and be done.  As long as I have a plan, I'm good.  Even if it's not a great plan.  Let’s talk a little about why Curse of the Black Pearl is splendid and the others range from meh to okay?  I think the reason Black Pearl works and the others are silly is because of the writing.  Specifically, how Jack is written. They wrote him straight in the first one, and Johnny twisted him to his own ends.  For the others, they wrote him silly, and so he became a caricature.  That's my take, anyway.

DKoren:   They assumed because Jack was the most popular character that if they took his character and blew him up to larger proportions, it would be even better.

Hamlette:  Yes.

DKoren:   Forgetting that what made him work so well is what you said, he was written straight.

Hamlette:  I mean, he does have some silly lines, the whole thing about the sea turtles... But he delivers the silly lines straight, and the straight lines off-kilter, and so it's just... unbalancedly brilliant.  But if it's all written silly, then it's too balanced somehow, and it just gets ordinary.

DKoren:   Yes.  That.  He also worked so well because Will and Elizabeth counter his personality perfectly in the first movie.

Hamlette:  They're all earnest and he's -- deadly earnest, but hiding it.

DKoren:   There's also a decided lack of a good villain in the second and third.

Hamlette:  This is true.

DKoren:   Davy Jones... sorry, but he's just silly.

Hamlette:  I think, also, in the fourth one... Jack has dignity again.

DKoren:   Yes, quite a bit more.

Hamlette:  What makes him so funny in the first one is he is so dignified!  And in the most ridiculous moments!

DKoren:   But he has to clash with a much better villain in On Stranger Tides, so that helps.

Hamlette:  Yes, that helps too.  Worthy adversary is important.

DKoren:   Also, 2 & 3 had the most ridiculous action sequences.

Hamlette:  I haven't seen them since the theater either, so memory has faded.

DKoren:   I mean, I love action, but that stupid rolling wheel...

Hamlette:  Oh, yes!  I remember the wheel.  That was atrocious.

DKoren:   Nothing in the first one is really beyond the scope of reality.  They don't defy physics.

Hamlette:  Or, a reality where there are skeleton pirates.

DKoren:   Well, yeah.

Hamlette:  But yes, people can do those things.  Boats behave that way.

DKoren:   And then it goes all unbelievable and silly.  (But Norrington gets scruffy and demoted, and that's a bonus point for 2 & 3.)

Hamlette:  (True -- he got a lot more interesting.)

DKoren:   (And Stellan is a bonus.)

Hamlette:  (Stellan!  Yes!)  About the only thing I remember really clearly from 2 & 3 is the very end, the final stinger on 3, where Elizabeth and the son were on the island, ready for Will to return.  I loved that moment, and the rest of it was just... there.

DKoren:   I do remember when we saw 2 in the theater, my sister came out and said, "Wow, I can't believe how happy I was to see Barbossa show up."

Hamlette:  Lol!  Yeah, Barbossa was a breath of stale but refreshing air.

DKoren:   Because he was such a good villain in the first one, and there was nothing like that in the second one.

Hamlette:  It lacked a tree, as I recall -- no good structure.

DKoren:   And was very convoluted for lacking structure.

Hamlette:  Turns out that just More Jack Sparrow doesn't make up for Not Enough Good Writing.

DKoren:   yep, very true.

And that's it for our reminisces for today.  Don't forget to check out the blogathon for reviews of other pirate movies and books.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Expendables 3 (2014)

Having enjoyed the first two Expendables movies, of course I had to see the third.  And I loved it.  I'm not sure if I like 2 or 3 better.  Both have things I like about them.

The biggest flaw for me in the third one is that Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) recruits some new Expendables to take on a mission.  It's all in an effort to keep his friends alive, which is a cool plot point and all, except for one thing.  I don't go to an Expendables movie to see newcomers.  I mean, duh?  I'm here to spend time with the actors I grew up with, as the first two movies have set them up:  to be smart asses while taking out scores of bad guys and blowing things up.  So I was a bit meh for awhile... but then turns out, that time with the young set actually pays off, when the big finale kicks things back into high gear.  And I actually found myself liking the newcomers... couldn't tell you the characters' names, except for Luna, but none of them were annoying, they did snazzy things, and they could hold their own.  I particularly enjoyed how (spoilers!!) they throw out Stallone's plan and re-engineer the capture of the bad guy with the use of high tech gear instead of brute force -- and it gets pulled off flawlessly.  That was cool.  The movie doesn't put them there to show they're amateurs, just that they're the new generation and have a different way of going about things.  It's a nice contrast to how the original Expendables team attacks head-first, and a dead-on reminder of how the world has changed from 1985 to current.

Mel Gibson is the bad guy this go around, playing a former Expendables, now an arms dealer wanted for war crimes.  He is perfect in the role, and he pretty much stole all his scenes.  "If you want something done right..."  I loved the final showdown between him and Stallone, how it wasn't dragged out forever, and I like how the fight ended (and it was different enough from the Van Damme fight in 2 to keep me happy).

But the best part of this movie, hands down, is Antonio Banderas as Galgo.  I haven't laughed so frequently and so loudly in what feels like forever.  His character was so unexpectedly hilarious. It is entirely possible I laughed every single time he opened his mouth.  Not joking.  I was not expecting him to be funny, which in turn just made it even funnier.

I was quite pleased with Harrison Ford too.  He seemed to be having a great time in his action scenes, and for the first time in years, he was back to acting like the sassy Harrison Ford I grew up loving.  He also had quite a few lines that made laugh out loud, particularly his inability to understand Jason Statham's character.  At the end, when he says, "I haven't had so much fun in ages," I felt like that was Ford himself talking, not just his character.

As with the last film, Jet Li gets next to no screen time, but it's still fun to see him, even for a few minutes.  I loved Arnold again, and he has a bigger role this time.  Wesley Snipes and Kelsey Grammer were great to have along as well.  All these actors feel like old friends, and I simply enjoy spending time with them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Upcoming blogathon!

Hamlette of Hamlette's Soliloquy is hosting a Piratical Blogathon on September 19th, which just happens to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  There are already a bunch of people signed up to post about pirate movies, books, and pirates in general.  There will be classic pirate films like The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood as well as newer films.  If you're interested in participating, please sail over to Hamlette's blog to sign up. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land

I've loved Richard Boone since the first time I saw him in Big Jake.  I realize that's a rather odd first-viewing impression, considering he's the bad guy... but none of that mattered.  He just had a certain charisma and presence and strength and power and intelligence that I was instantly attracted to.  It's also hard to find a villain who is a truly worthy adversary for John Wayne, and Richard Boone filled that role with ease.  I always looked for him in movies, but it wasn't until twenty years later that I finally got to see a Have Gun, Will Travel episode.  If I hadn't already loved him, that show would have done it.  The show is so well-written, so tight in its half-hour time slot, and Paladin... well, Paladin is magnificent.  Full of depth and nuance and laughter and anger and deadly competence.  He quotes classics in every other episode, goes to the opera, and helps those in need.  If I was in trouble, I'd wire Paladin, that's for sure.

I've always wanted to know more about him, so I picked up this biography by David Rothel.  It's not a normal biography, in that it doesn't tell the story of his life.  Instead, it's a composite image, composed of facts about his life, quotes and poetry from him, interviews with family and co-workers, and a viewer's guide to his movies and television shows.  The format makes for a very quick read.  The interviews were my favorite part, and I would happily have read more of those.  I liked the ones from his family best, as they were the most informative, but the various people he worked with also provide glimpses into the working man as a nice balance.

And I love him even more after reading this book.  I read a quote somewhere from someone who had said he was a lot like Paladin, and he really is.  Extremely intelligent, loved the arts, painted and wrote, worked hard, played hard, didn't put up with baloney from anyone, and supported his family and friends.  I loved reading about how much he loved children, and the charity work he did for them.

There are only two of his poems included, and I wish there were more... at the same time, I'm happy there aren't, because they are devastating to read.  The two included were ones he had written during WWII, in which he served in the Navy as a aerial gunner.  He suffered severe PTSD after the war, and wouldn't fly in a plane until fifteen years after the war ended.  The poems... There's a quote in the book from actor Jan Merlin that I particularly liked.  He said, "One of my favorite people to work with was Audie Murphy; I worked with him several times.  We never mentioned the war.  He had his European war and I had my Japanese.  What was there to talk about?  If you were in it, you knew about it; if you weren't, then you'd never understand.  It's as simple as that."

And that sums up the power of the poems.  The world of fear and death Richard Boone describes so fiercely and emotionally is one I hope I'll never understand.  But that does not make those poems any less powerful.

I really enjoyed this glimpse into his life (and also into the lives of the people who were interviewed), and I respect his talents as an actor even more.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Sea Wolves (1980)

I've always wanted to see this movie, but never could track it down.  I mean Gregory Peck, David Niven, Roger Moore, Trevor Howard, Patrick Macnee in a WWII movie filmed on location in India and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen?  I'm there!  And it turns out it was an enjoyable movie, though really, how can you go wrong with that cast?

The film is based on a true story.  A German U-Boat has been sinking Allied shipping with uncanny precision.  Gregory Peck and Roger Moore, as two British Intelligence officers, are tasked with finding out how its being done and putting a stop to it.  Turns out the Germans are transmitting the info from a freighter harbored in the neutral harbor of Goa.  Nothing can be done officially to stop them because of Portugal's neutrality in the war.  So, they bring in the veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse, all civilians now, and they stage a daring attack on the German freighter.

It's a nice combo of spy movie -- Gregory Peck and Roger Moore pose as tea merchants while they root out the spies in Goa -- and war movie -- the attack on the ship.  Roger Moore's is very Bond-like, romancing the German spy, taking out bad guys, wearing a tuxedo.  David Niven plays the retired colonel of the Calcutta Light Horse (who as a group last saw active service in the Boer War). Gregory Peck is solid as the leader.

Things I particularly liked:

1.  The veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse are awesome.  Nowadays, they play polo at their club.  All of them tried to get into WWII, but were turned down because of their age, etc.  So when asked to volunteer for a dangerous unofficial mission (no info given on what that mission is), where no credit, pay, awards, acknowledgement, or honor will ever be given to any of them, they volunteer immediately, to a man.  And proceed to acquit themselves admirably.  Kenneth Griffith is particularly amusing as Charlie Wilton, trying to keep the decrepit engine running on the boat they steal.  His reaction to being ordered to stay with the ship's engine rather than boarding the freighter is priceless.  But all the men are great, all have their moments.  I love the sequence before they head out, where each is working on getting back in shape -- doing pushups, lifting weights, etc. -- while their wives and secretaries look at them like they're nuts.

2.  The spy, Mrs. Cromwell, played by the lovely Barbara Kellerman, is not to be trifled with.  She carries a folding knife in her purse and kills anyone who gets in her way!  I love that the movie doesn't hide the identity of the German spies from the audience.  This is a suspense film, not a mystery.  And knowing she's a fink while Roger Moore falls in love with her provides a lot of tension.  I like also that she likes him too and has to struggle a bit with her own feelings in order to get her job done.  It rounds her out, gives her dimension. 

3.  The attack on the German ship seems very realistic and not very "Hollywood." Characters make mistakes, get wounded, etc. all in a very natural way.  It made the ending both exciting, tense, and still enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this one.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Little Indian (1973)

This is not a review.  I actually haven't even seen this movie yet.  But I own the score, of course, as it's composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and it has always gotten a lot of play time in my house.  I've been listening to it a lot the last couple of days, since hearing James Garner passed away.  I'm surprised how melancholy his death has made me, considering how little of his work I've seen.  But after my recent viewing of Hour of the Gun and how much I loved him in it, I was starting to look for more of his work, and his death felt all the more sad.

I've never watched Maverick or Rockford Files, or any of the standard James Garner fare, it seems.  But even so, he still made an strong impression on me in just the few things I have watched.

But the first thing I always think of, when I think of James Garner is not The Great Escape, or even his wonderful portrayal of Wyatt Earp.  It's the score to One Little Indian.  This music always gives me an image of him.  RIP, Mr. Garner.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kit 2003-2014

I had to say goodbye to another beloved pet today, my cat, Kit.  He was named after Kit Walker, the Phantom, because of the ghostly white markings on his legs.  He was a shoulder cat, would ride everywhere around the house on my shoulders.  And he had the tiniest, breathiest meow I've ever heard on a cat.  He would come running and squawk at me whenever I put dishes away, it was the funniest thing. He loved food in general and always had to have his canned food every morning, but marshmallows were the one thing he went completely nuts for.  He would do anything to get one.

(Max and Kit, Max wondering why the cat was trying to sleep against him and hoping he would go away.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Really wanted to catch this in the theater, but it wasn't to be.  My family did just catch up with it on DVD a couple nights ago, and everyone loved it.  I really regret not making a theater viewing work, because this movie would have been even more delightful on the big screen, with the way it's filmed and the attention to detail (and the hilarious animation sections).

What a difficult film to describe!  A story within a story within a story, each section set in a different decade, with a whole ton of wacky characters, all played by famous actors, having crazy adventures.  All the actors look like they're having a blast acting in this movie.  It is by turns wacky, sweet, serious, laugh-out-loud funny, violent, poignant, and bitter-sweet.  Definitely not a film for everyone, as it earns its R rating, but it appeals to sense of humor.  My family thought it was very Monty Python-esque in its sense of comedy, and my oldest niece is running out to buy herself her own a copy immediately.

The movie centers around Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the world-famous concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  I'm not quite sure how someone can play a pompous, shallow, vain, impeccable polite, warm-hearted man and still make him rather endearing, but Ralph Fiennes always has had charisma to spare, and he pulls it off.  He is hilarious in the role.  When one of his regular wealthy hotel patrons dies mysteriously, he rushes off to pay his respects -- and see if she left him anything in her will.  She did, the most valuable painting in her collection.  Her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) wants it for himself, and promptly has M. Gustave framed for her murder. M. Gustave and Zero, his lobby boy (and one of the multiple narrators), work to prove his innocence through the rest of the movie. 

Things I particularly loved.  Includes minor spoilers.

Jeff Goldblum's cat-loving ethical lawyer. "Not agreed."  He is probably my favorite character.
Bill Murray and the whole rest of the Society of Crossed Keys
Willem Dafoe flashing his business card around.  Okay, really, Willem Dafoe anytime he was on screen
The pacing of the film
The prison escape, worth the price of admission alone!  Probably my favorite scene.
The dialogue
The narration
The funicular and the cable cars
The framing of each shot - beautiful!
The 1932 version of the hotel, with its lovely interior.
The costumes
The memorable score by Alexandre Desplat. It's as wacky as the movie, but in just the right way.

I really can't wait to watch it again and catch the little things I missed the first time.  I suspect my family will watch this one quite frequently.