Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

It will be hard to top 2015.  It opened with Battle of Five Armies and closes with Force Awakens.  (And I happen to be wearing Force Awakens sweat pants and a Five Armies hoodie today.  That's me... representing my favorite movies.)  I went to Australia, and that was beyond amazing, not to mention has changed my life and given me someone I look forward to seeing again.  I went to the Las Vegas Star Trek convention and had the time of my life with my sister.  I visited Hamlette and family.  I  met two favorite opera singers, re-hooked up with some old friends I haven't seen in fifteen years, and saw Duran Duran at the Hollywood Bowl.

This year had all my favorite things:

Opera, Soundtracks, Movies, Duran Duran, Going on Adventures, Family & Friends, Disneyland, Star Wars, Middle-Earth...

I even combined my favorite things and went to Disneyland on Halloween dressed as Hilts from Great Escape.  Complete with baseball glove. 

This was probably one of the best years of my life.

There was loss this year.  I still tear up thinking about James Horner.  That hole still gapes and bleeds. 

I'm afraid I reviewed almost none of the movies I saw in the theater this year.  I might do a quick summary on what I saw and what I thought of each soon.  I have not been particularly motivated to blog lately, sorry about that.  But I have a now eight-year-old nephew who is amazing and I'd just rather spend time with him.  I've gone through three nicknames from him this year as he renames everyone in the family to match whatever his current obsession is.  First was Aragorn for half the year, then Obi-Wan, and then since Thanksgiving, I'm Fi, which he pronounces Fee (I believe it's technically pronounced Fy).  This is a character in the Legend of Zelda game that he likes to play.  Who knows what names next year will bring?  It is a constantly daily delight, however, that nobody in our family goes by their real names among each other, thanks to my nephew's renaming of us all.  I have never been fond of my real name.  I would happily change it and never look back, so my nephew's predilection for changing our names is wonderful for me.  I'd much rather be called Fee any day (though I miss being Obi-Wan).  I am curious what will happen next year, though, as probably the middle of 2016, we'll show him Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Now, one of my longest running nicknames is Indy.  Since, well, 1981, basically.  My sister still has me labeled "Indy" on her cell phone today, after all these years, cuz that's been my name between us forever.  So, it's going to be weird when my nephew finally sees this movie, because, of course, he's going to become Indy for awhile.  Which will be fine as long as I get to be Belloq.  LOL!  "Archaeology is not an exact science.  It does not deal in time schedules!"

I wish everyone a happy and safe New Year's Eve, and a prosperous and fulfilling 2016!

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

My Dear Secretary (1948)

This film's about a best-selling author, Owen Waterbury, whose secretaries usually become his mistresses.   He hires a new one, Stephanie "Steve"Gaylord, who thinks she's there to actually do secretarial work.  She finds out how wrong she is, but somehow gets sucked into Waterbury's life anyway and, as can only happen in movies, when she threatens to leave him, he marries her.  Steve's an aspiring writer herself, and both of them start married life working on new books. Hers turns out to be better than his, and their relationship disintegrates.  Hard times follow where they both hire new secretaries to get at each other, but of course, everything comes around eventually for a happy ending. 

I'm not particularly a comedy person, but I can be won over by a good light-hearted movie.  Alas, this one didn't work for me.  Which is too bad, as it might have worked with different casting.  Much as I adore Kirk Douglas, as fabulous as he is in movies like Lonely are the Brave, Paths of Glory, etc... this style of humor simply doesn't suit him.  Maybe he was too young to know how to play the role at the time, but the script doesn't do his character any favors either.  His character is an inconsiderate jerk taking advantage of any and everyone, and it's a wonder he managed to write a book with all his lazy playboy antics.  I've only seen Laraine Day in Foreign Correspondent (where I thought she was great), but I can't say she won me over here in comedy either.  I liked her best in her serious moments.  Neither actor seems to fit in this particular film.

However, if you leave the two leads out of it, the rest of the movie and cast is delightful.  Keenan Wynn was positively scene stealing.  Every time he was on screen, the movie came to life.  He made me laugh repeatedly with his smooth, charming, free-loading, bad cooking/ironing ways.  He was hilarious.  Irene Ryan as their maid and Florence Bates as their landlady were just as funny.  I also loved Helen Walker as Elsie, Waterbury's previous secretary/mistress.  Dump the leads and give the movie to these secondary characters, and it would have been a sparkling gem.  Everyone of them felt at home in this movie.  They turned silly situations and lines into genuine comedy, not forced humor.  It was just the leads who seemed like they were uncomfortable.

So, a mixed bag of a film. 


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag

I was tagged by Hamlette for the Behind-the-Scenes Writing Tag.

Originally, this blog started out as a writing blog (hence the name with nanowrimo in it), but it became a place I talked about movies, and I stopped talking about writing.  I have my website for that, except... that one is on wordpress, and something happened and I can't login anymore to update.  No idea how to fix it, and that site is soooo behind.  I've had books come out!  And an audio book!  But no way to post the information anymore.  Sigh.

So, anyway, here's the writing questions from this tag.

Is there a certain snack you like to eat while writing?
What am I, a Hobbit?  No.  I don’t snack.  I eat only when I’m hungry (and sometimes not even then), and that’s the only time I think about food.  No breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, etc. for me, thank you very much.  Having to deal with just dinner every day is bad enough!  I am a Ranger... don’t stop until nightfall, eat when and if there's a good time and if there is actually something to eat.

However, I’m always drinking hot tea, so I’ll usually have a fresh pot of tea brewed before I start writing.

 (my favorite tea, about the only one I ever drink)

When do you normally write? Night, afternoon, or morning?
Usually in the evenings, after work.  This is a long-ingrained habit dating back to school days, where the only free time I had to write was at night after homework was done.  It carried through college, and then with the pesky day job taking up 8-5 every day since college, nights are still the only time available.  I also like to write Saturday or Sunday morning at a local Starbucks.  Though that is more just to get out of my house than a time of day thing.

Where do you write?
At my desk.  However, since my desk is the same space I work at for my day job 8-5, I’m mightily and profoundly sick of that desk, and it now has a lot of bad vibes that prevent me from doing what I love.  Lately, I’ve been getting more writing done at Starbucks in a 2-3 hour window on the weekend than I do at home the rest of the week.  I’m burnt out of even seeing my desk at home.

How often do you write a new novel?
Well, whenever I'm done with the current one, I start a new one.  However, I suspect this question is angling for more of a how-long-does-it-take-you-to-write-a-novel answer.  The shortest time I ever took was a 110,000 word novel in 4 months.  The longest was a 140,000 word novel in ten years. Although that latter answer involved seven years in the middle of not touching the book at all, so actual writing time was considerably less.  Nevertheless, ten years from starting the first draft, to throwing it out, and rewriting/revising the entire thing from scratch.  The average is one-two years.

Do you listen to music while you write?
Yep.  Almost always orchestral soundtracks.  Ironically, once I’m writing, I usually don’t hear a note of what I put on, but it's an initial jumpstart to the right mood.  And picking the wrong score will throw me off completely.

What do you write on? Laptop or paper?
What am I, a Hobbit? LOL!

I write on a computer.  However, I will write story or notes in a notebook when I’m out for the day.  I often keep my sister company on the weekends.  She’s a music teacher, so while she’s at someone’s house teaching, I’m sitting in the car for an hour.  I will use that time to either read or write story on paper.  But I’m not fond of handwriting anymore, as I can type so much more quickly, so it’s far easier to get thoughts down with a keyboard than a pen.  My writing, which used to be so neat twenty years ago, is now scrawly if I write fast.  Time's too precious.  I'll go with the fastest way to get story down.

Although, if I get an idea, particularly in the middle of the night, I run for paper.  Then I look like this, madly scribbling down my thoughts before they evaporate.

Is there a special ritual you have before or after you write?
I suppose making sure there is hot tea and picking the right music might count. I rarely start writing without those.  Afterwards?  Depends on how good the writing session was.  It's not a ritual, but I tend to get quite goofy after a good writing day. My family can always tell if I come over in the evening and I've been writing, vs. coming over after a day at work.

What do you do to get into the mood to write?
At home, put on the right music.  Sometimes read a bit of the scene before the one I’m working on, or read the relevant parts of my notes file.  Mostly, I just start writing in the notes file first, and when notes turn into story sentences, I switch to the main doc.  However, when I’m at Starbucks, there’s usually no music, just the ambient noise, conversations, and whatever lame music they have on their speakers.  On those days, I simply start writing.  Mood is kind of irrelevant, really.  The act of typing words puts me in the right mood.  I find it's much smoother these days to write at Starbucks, honestly, because it's far easier to focus there.  At home, there're too many distractions (cats! internet!) and it's too comfortable.  At Starbucks, I have to focus to shut out the environment.  I'm very good at shutting out the world, so the people wandering by at Starbucks are not distractions, but motivators to keep focused on my computer, if that makes any sense. Makes me work harder.

What is always near the place you write?
Well, my work desk at home has all my day job stuff on it, with all the normal desk stuff (pens, pair of scissors, tape, etc) that one expects to find at a desk.  There is also always a box of Kleenex, a bottle of lotion, Carmex, an emery board, a coaster for tea, a dictionary, and the remote control for my stereo within reach.  Those are the necessities of my daily life.  And to be fun, my Tonto Lego keychain, and my Thorin key, and my little bronze Fili figure are all sitting around my work computer monitor.

Do you have a reward system for your word count?
Absolutely not.  I don’t even know how this would work for me.  What would I possibly reward myself with?  Why would I care?  Writing is about good habits, not about bribes.  I also don’t pay attention to word count (unless I’m doing nano!).  I aim to write a full scene each writing session, but sometimes I only get a half scene.  Sometimes only a paragraph.  Sometimes only one sentence.  I've been doing this long enough that I no longer stress out over that.  Besides, I've learned that if I can't work easily on a scene, it's because I'm still missing something key about it, so rather than write words I'm just going to throw out, I'd rather spend that time thinking it through instead.  Then the next day I can buzz through the scene.

(this is often me, staring into the middle distance at my desk, thinking)

Is there anything about your writing process that others might not know about?
First thing I do before starting the day’s writing on any story/novel is to do a “save as” on the previous day’s document and create a new document with today’s date in the file name.  Learned that from writer Holly Lisle, and it’s been a lifesaver.

There isn't a single novel I've written (or started) where the originating concept wasn't sparked by an actor or actors.  Back from the first novels I wrote in high school to the one I'm working on right now, it's the one common, consistent denominator between them all.  This is different from having fun casting my stories as if they were movies (which I also do).  I mean the fundamental idea for the novel is always an actor paired with some confluence of events or ideas.  Like the first real novel I worked on, waaaaay back in the day, came from talking about James Darren with my mom while sitting in the sun, watching vultures circling over our house.  He's not even a favorite actor of mine, just happened to come up that day, and those three things -- James Darren, sun/heat through glass, and vultures -- sparked a whole novel.  Not just a novel... six novels, all set on the same world.

The most recent novel idea (and the next one I will write when I finish the current novel) came from Oliver Reed, childhood friends, and tropical islands.  It's almost always three things that start a novel.  I keep note files on every book, and they're all the same: An actor or actors, and two things. 

(These guys have all sparked a novel. In some cases, more than one.)

There is also usually a fictional pain-in-the-rumpus who keeps me on track by insidiously derailing scenes I'm stuck on with his cheerful and subtly malicious presence.  That probably makes zero sense, but it's true and all part of how writing works in my world.  For me, right now, that would be this guy:

(hullo, Agent Garrett, no, we're not alone so I'm not going to call you John)

I think most people have been tagged, but Olivia, if you haven't, I'd love to hear your answers on these writing questions!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Battle of the Five Armies (Extended Edition)

Saw this in the theater last night.  Sooooo nice to see it on the big screen again!  All those details I got to see again.  Nothing on DVD will ever touch the awesomeness of favorite movies on the big screen.  Size does matter.

Anyway, the extended edition... or as my sister and I are calling it, the alternate version.  Because it doesn't just add stuff in, in changes around some stuff that went a different way in the theatrical release.  Some of the additions are very worthy.  Some are not.  I liked most of the scenes that just fleshed out what was there but didn't alter the story.  I didn't like the changed stuff so much.  One addition made me and my sister quite mad (but will, in fact, probably delight most viewers, maybe even be the highlight of what was added.  Our audience clapped and cheered most loudly at that part, while my sister and I glowered and crossed our arms and muttered how not okay we were with that.  I suspect we're just backwards to the popular view on this one thing.)  But honestly, the theatrical release was perfect. Tight, focused, no dead weight, so it will continue to be the version I watch at home, though I will have to put the extended on occasionally for a few of the cool scenes that were added (my two favorite additions both involved Bilbo).

I am quite amused (and oddly pleased) by this, because it makes it weirdly symmetrical for me with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In that, Fellowship was my favorite of the three films, the one I saw the most in the theater, and I almost only watch the theatrical version of Fellowship on DVD.  For the most part, I don't like or need what was added to that one.  But the extended Two Towers and The Return of the King are fine and add some great stuff.  They're better movies for the extended footage.

With the Hobbit trilogy, Battle was my favorite, the one I saw the most in the theater and I will, once again, be sticking with the theatrical for my watching pleasure, for the same reasons.  However, the extended versions of An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug remain better than the theatrical, and my go-tos for those movies.

I am also amused that the extended Fellowship DVD cut out one of our favorite moments from the theatrical version.  And so did Battle!  Favorite moment -- gone.  Symmetry again!  I dig it.  You would think I'd be mad or disappointed, but I'm not.  I really really loved seeing the extended on the big screen, simply hanging with those beloved characters again, and I will like having (most of) that long version in my head when I watch the short version.  (Almost no one but me and my sister would probably even notice those two respective missing moments from Fellowship and Battle, so don't think something major has been cut.  But for us, it's often the little things we love best of all.)

I've been under the weather, so I'm not sure any of this is making any sense.

Regardless, it was a fabulous evening with a movie I love dearly, shared with an audience that loved it just as much, who cheered and clapped freely throughout.  It was great, and I've been floating around in a deliriously happy Hobbit haze ever since.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Bedtime Movie tag

Hamlette tagged me with this one, so here goes.  However, just warning you that these might be the most boring answers ever!!

1.) A movie that kept you up all night
Kept me all night how?  Physically, by staying up really late to watch it?  If so, none.  Movies are short.  I generally don't start a movie if it's going to run too late.  Or does this mean kept me awake because I was thinking about it all night?  I wish!  I have tried to think about a movie into the wee hours because I have Things To Think On, but I still fall asleep pretty quickly.  Only stressful life stuff can prevent me from sleeping.  However, if you switch to television shows instead of movies, I have stayed up way too late at night watching "just one more episode" of various shows.  Burn Notice and The Almighty Johnsons are two such shows, and both made me lose quite a bit of sleep because I couldn't turn either off at a proper hour.

2.) A movie that made you scared to sleep
Are you kidding?  None.  I love sleep!  Sleep is oblivion, so if I pull up the covers, the world goes away.  Not quite sure why a movie would make me scared to go to sleep.  Now, scared to go down a dark hall or room or into a basement?  That I can understand more readily.  But even if that is the question, the answer to the question is still... none.  Are you kidding?  I am drawn to check out strange noises in dark rooms or outside at night like a moth to a flame. Like a cat to catnip.  Must go investigate!  I am at home in the dark.  (This might have something to do with the fact that I am an astronomer's daughter, and many many many childhood nights were spent outdoors in the blackness with no moonlight and no flashlights.  I have even hiked alone at night in Yosemite... no, that didn't bother me.)

3.) A movie that made you go to sleep
I usually don't fall asleep in movies.  I may love sleep, but movies are too important to me.  But when I was young, and we saw Star Trek: the Motion Picture... I actually fell asleep in the movie theater.

4.) A movie that left you tossing and turning all night in anticipation of its release
None.  (See, I warned you my answers would be boring!)  I lose sleep over stressful things.  Waiting for a movie to come out would not trigger lack of sleep.

5.) A movie that has your dream boyfriend/girlfriend ship of two separate movies
Well, have to be honest.  I don't "ship" characters.  I just don't think that way.  It simply wouldn't occur to me that so-and-so over here should get together with so-and-so over there.  I don't even think about that in the same movie, let alone different ones.  Nor in life.  I'm no matchmaker.  I do sometimes want to see various movie characters thrown together as friends, or as a team, or as antagonists, but that's always a platonic mash-up.  I just don't think of characters in romantic terms beyond what's presented in an actual movie, usually.  Thinking... nope, got crickets on this one.

6.) A movie that would be your worst nightmare to live in
Testament (1983)

7.) A movie that reminds you of nighttime
Noir movies in general make me think night.  Murder, My Sweet (1944) is the first one that pops in my head.

8.) A movie that has a nightmarish cliffhanger ending
Kiss Me Deadly (1956).  And now I really want to watch it again. 

9.) A movie you actually dreamed about
Many.  I dream about movie stuff all the time. Annnnnd, I can't actually think of one off the top of my head.  I think one of the more recent ones from the past couple weeks was about the Expendables, right after I re-watched the third one, but I can't remember any of the details now.

10.) A movie monster you would not want to find under your bed
A facehugger from Aliens.  Not even with a well-armed Hicks and Hudson and Vasquez keeping watch would I want to find one.

I believe most people have been tagged already, so going to pass on that piece.  But please do steal and answer if you're inclined!  I love reading all the different answers to these questions.

(sleep well!)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Night at the Opera - Live in HD

Wooo!  Autumn is my favorite season for many, many reasons.  One of those reasons is that the Met's opera season starts up again.  This gives me both the Saturday morning radio broadcasts AND the live in cinema program to look forward to.  Last night was the encore viewing of the first HD performance of the 2015-16 season, of Verdi's Il Trovatore.  (They play the live transmission on Saturday, with an encore the following Wed.)  I so love the Met's HD theater showings.  Since I can't get to New York, this gives me the opportunity to see their performances right in my own backyard. 

This is actually the second time I've seen Il Trovatore in HD from the Met. The first was in the 2011 season (wow, has it really been that long already?)

Il Trovatore was one of my dad's favorite operas, but we didn't actually listen to it that much when I was growing up, other than the famous arias.  However, I've always been entranced by the story.  It was in my opera book, and I read it over and over.  It's a crazy, horrific, awesome, this-could-only-happen-in-opera plot.  There was a funny part in one of the intermission interviews last night about how hard it is to explain the plot of Il Trovatore.  Nonsense!  Il Trovatore isn't hard.  Don Carlo, now that one's confusing.  Well, the ending anyway.  I still haven't actually figured out what really happens at the end of that one.  But Il Trovatore is straight-forward enough.

See... here's how easy it is to tell the story to Il Trovatore:

The opera opens with characters telling stories to fill in all the backstory.  Cuz it's a humdinger of a backstory and the whole rest of the opera depends on catching up to speed on a bit of history.  You see, there was a Count who had two sons.  The youngest was paid a surprise night0-time visit by a gypsy, who only wanted to tell his fortune.  However, the boy sickened and naturally, the Count freaked out and believed the gypsy put a curse on his son.  So, he had her arrested and burned at the stake as a witch.  The gypsy's last words were to command her daughter to avenge her death.  The daughter (Azucena) kidnaps the Count's youngest son, takes him to where her mother was burned, and throws the boy in the remains of the fire.  Only she doesn't.  She's so distraught over it all that she throws her own son in the fire instead!  Egads!  She then disappears into the hills with the Count's youngest son and raises him as her own.  The old Count believing his son is still alive, tasks the older son with finding his lost brother.

And that's the past history.  Now, when the opera takes place, the youngest son has grown up to be Manrico, gypsy rebel and troubadour, in love with Leonora.  The older brother, now the Count himself, is also in love with Leonora (naturally), and the two are bitter, deadly rivals.  When both show up at the same time to meet Leonora, they draw swords and try very hard to kill each other (but off-stage, darn it all), and Manrico is badly wounded.  Thinking he's dead, Leonora takes Opera Door Number Three for distraught heroines:  join a convent.  (The first two doors are, of course:  1) go mad, or 2) kill yourself.  Both happen with alarming regularity.)  Count di Luna says, no way, that ain't happening on my watch, and sets out with his men to kidnap her before she takes her vows.  Always a surefire way to get a woman who hates you and who thinks you killed her beloved to fall in love with you.  His kidnapping fails when Manrico and his men break in and rescue her.  Manrico can't bring himself to kill di Luna, but he doesn't know why he hesitates.  ("Why did he hesitate?"  Random Tony Curtis quote from The Vikings, which features a similar plot with brothers unknown to each other in love with the same woman.)  He and the gypsies take Leonora and split.

The two reunited lovers plan to marry immediately, except poor Azucena gets taken prisoner by di Luna, who realizes she's the one who "killed" his brother, and he intends to burn her at the stake.  Manrico finds out and calls all the gypsies to arms in one of the most magnificent rousing arias ever written (di quella pira), and he abandons Leonora and races off to rescue mom.  Except he fails and gets captured by di Luna instead. (once again, off-stage, darn it all... all the good action and sword fights and battles happen off-stage in this opera.)  Mom and son are scheduled to be executed.  In exchange for Manrico's freedom, Leonora swears to marry and love di Luna, who agrees quite enthusiastically to this plan.  The minute he turns his back though... she drinks poison.  As you do, of course, when you can't marry your beloved and are stuck for the rest of our life with his hated enemy instead.  Right?  Door number 2 is a very popular door for sopranos in opera.

Manrico berates her for giving herself to di Luna for his sake, but then she dies in his arms, and he forgives her.  Di Luna comes in and finds everything's fallen completely to pieces, so he orders Manrico executed on the spot.  And as soon as he's been killed, Azucena tells di Luna the terrible truth:  "He was your brother!"  Di Luna stares at her horrified, and Azucena cries out that at last, her mother is avenged!  End opera.

See?  That wasn't hard to tell.  And now you know the Crazy! Spectacular! plot to Il Trovatore (which means The Troubadour in Italian, for those curious). It's an opera filled with a lot of beautiful music, and some very famous arias and choruses, like the Anvil Chorus.  (And more than one chicken song that no one ever can make less chicken-y.  Don't ask.  Family joke.  Doesn't actually detract from the opera.)

So, my sister and I had a great time Wed night.  Same production we saw in 2011, most of the cast was even the same, but there was a different tenor and soprano.  We both liked this version better, though the other was quite fine too.  But where the other one felt a wee bit cheesy, this version didn't have any cheese.  It just sucked us into the craziness, made us care about all the characters, and sold us on the story hook, line, and sinker.  I got goosebumps at Azucena's last line.  Everything just worked.  And unfortunately, because they released the first one on DVD, this one probably won't be released, which is too bad, as we both want to watch it again.

This production has a revolving set, so it keeps things moving quite quickly.  There's a huge staircase that always freaks my sister out when people go up and down it.

Dolora Zajick sings Azucena and she's the best part of the whole production.  Her voice is amazing.  And in her portrayal of the character, her mother and son's death has driven her a bit around the bend.  She's at turns tormented, loving, sad, and defiant.  And really, this story turns entirely on Azucena, and her anguish at what she's done gave this version a quite tragic angle that just made everything else work. 

Stefan Kocan has a supporting role as Ferrando, Count di Luna's lieutenant, and he was one of the main reasons my sister and I went to catch this performance.  We've had the pleasure of seeing him live twice, in Don Giovanni and Aida, as well as catching him in several other opera broadcasts.  He's a singer we're always watching for. Great voice, and he's smoking hot besides.  He was looking particularly fine last night. ("The salted pork is par-ti-cularly fine."  Pippin, Return of the King.  For some reason this post not about movies is making me quote movies.)  He sings one of my favorite arias in this opera, the opening of Act 1 where he tells the story of the gypsy.

Anna Netrebko played Leonora, and she's always a pleasure to watch and listen to.  The tenor, Yonghoon Lee, was one I've heard in a couple previous Met broadcasts but never seen.  He was very solid in the role, with a nice voice. 

Dmitri Hvorostovsky sings Count di Luna (which is just one of the best names ever.).  He's always solid.  His appearance in this broadcast was particularly special, as he was diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumor.  Fortunately, treatment appears to have been successful, and this was his first time back on stage.  He received a standing ovation when he first walked on stage, and everyone in our movie theater clapped as well.  It's always so cool to be in a movie theater and have opera lovers treat the experience as if they were actually at the Met.  He was quite adorable in their mid-intermission interview section, when he was thanking people and saying hi to family back home.  I wish him many more healthy years of singing!  We had the opportunity to hear him in a concert at the LA Opera earlier this year... and we didn't go.  Why didn't we go?  What were we possibly thinking?  Or not thinking?  ("Why?" "What for?" "Shut up and watch."  Dirty Dozen quote.)

All in all, it was a great way to start the Met HD season, and I'm looking forward to several more operas on their schedule this year.

And here's the famous tenor aria, Di quella pira, sung by Franco Corelli.  My sister and I put on various versions of this aria whenever we need to get ourselves roused up.  It's very stirring.  I'm ready to go rescue somebody, anybody, by the time it's done!  (We're even such dorks we have an audio version with just orchestra and chorus, where we can provide the tenor line ourselves, if so inclined.  It's great fun.  Like opera karaoke, I guess!  Although only ever sung at home.  Or in the car.  Cars are quite good for singing. Yes.)

Okay, and that's the end of this (very long) opera post for today!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The War Wagon (1967)

Despite being a big John Wayne fan, and a bigger Kirk Douglas fan, this is a film I'd only seen once, back in high school.  I barely remembered anything about it, but a friend recently reminded me of it by quoting the famous line and rejoinder:

"Mine hit the ground first."
"Mine was taller."

And that put me in the mood to revisit this film.  I had to watch it twice, only because I didn't particularly like it on my first viewing, and so I wanted to see it a second time, see if it improved.  It did.

The war wagon of the film's title is a specially armored coach, completely with gatling gun and thirty guards, that ferries large quantities of gold between town and the railhead.   John Wayne recruits a few people to stop and rob that wagon.  That's essentially the plot.

The best parts of this movie for me are the cast, the snappy dialogue, and the Durango, Mexico scenery.  I'm not fond of the plot, but that's only a matter of personal taste.  Sure, there's a thirty-second exposition bit about how John Wayne's character, Taw Jackson (worst name ever), was framed and sent to jail so the bad guy, a smarmy Bruce Cabot as Pierce, could steal his ranch and the gold mine on his land, but watching Wayne on the wrong side of the law just doesn't sit well.  It also makes the movie both a wee bit of a revenge tale and a heist tale... neither of which I'm fond of.  (Clarification: I'm very fond of revenge tales when someone's avenging murdered family members, etc., but when wronged parties go after the person who wronged them, and it's solely about self, it never quite works for me... move on, already!)  And heist movies, with all their careful timing and experts in various fields working together against high odds to steal a lot of whatever... it's just not my thing.  So, plotwise... this movie does not push my buttons.

But then there's the cast, and they almost make up for it.  John Wayne is his normal solid self, wearing a famous outfit that I had on a poster.  Never knew what movie that poster's pic was from!  Now I do. :-D  He's great in this movie and his dialogue is perfect John Wayne dialogue.  His character is highly entertaining, despite the lousy name.

Howard Keel shows up as Levi Walking Bear, and he amuses me no end in the role, particularly his entrance, all tied up and being shot at for getting caught cheating at poker (which he feels is perfectly justified). Cracks me up.  He gets some very funny lines as well.

Robert Walker Jr. is around as their drunk explosives expert, and his presence always makes me uneasy. I'm so used to him playing psycho characters that I have the hardest time trusting him.  I keep expecting him to go off the deep end at any moment.  Poor guy!  Talk about being typecast.  And he's fine in this role too, as a non-pyscho, which is why the second viewing helped.  I could stop worrying about him flipping out.

Bonus points for Emilio Fernandez, who has a small part as bandit leader, Calita, and who I instantly recognized from The Wild Bunch, where he plays corrupt General Mapache.

But the main thing I like about this movie is Kirk Douglas.

He plays gunfighter Lomax, who has some unpleasant history with Jackson, but they put that aside for the sake of stealing all that gold.  He is sassy, smirky, confident, and all tons of smooth, physical grace.  Seriously, I could watch this movie just to watch him leap across other horses to mount his own, or climb cliff faces, or generally show  off his high level of fitness.  I also just really enjoy his interactions with Wayne.  The two actors play very well off each other, and they get the best dialogue.

Favorite moments:
  • Jackson and Lomax's rescue of Levi.  
  • The spectacular barroom brawl, cuz barroom brawls in Westerns never get old, and this one is a doozy.  I love Jackson's "Oh no!" as he gets jumped by multiple cowboys at once, and I love Lomax leaning against the bar watching the whole thing.
  • Nitro glycerin, because TNT is great fun, but nitro is just plain cool.  Watching everyone get jumpy around it makes me grin.
  • Any time Kirk Douglas gets up or down off his horse.
It's not a movie I need to own, but after the second viewing made me appreciate it more, I definitely won't be waiting another thirty years before I see it again.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Our Man Flint (1966)

This is a movie I grew up on.  In fact, I can't even remember when I first saw it; it's one of those that has just always been there.  It's the first thing I saw James Coburn in, and it remains my favorite role of his, just because his Derek Flint is the epitome of self-assured, suave, smooth, butt-kicking awesomeness.

 (I love Galaxy's uniforms.  They're snazzy and cool and James Coburn looks great in one.)

Our Man Flint is a spy movie that parodies the Bond films.  A trio of scientists threaten the world by controlling the weather.  Lee J. Cobb plays Cramden, the head of ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage).  His other agents have failed to stop the scientists, and so he must reluctantly call on super duper super spy Flint.  He's not fond of Flint.  Flint doesn't follow orders.  Flint is not a team player.  Flint is constantly showing him up.  But, he is the best spy on the planet, and the world needs the best spy to save the day...

Flint tracks down the bad guys, of course, to their very strange volcanic island lair.  Where he proceeds to single-handedly wreck the entire joint and save the world (without ever using a gun... shooting people is not Flint's style).  This is not a spoiler.  He's Flint!  Of course he will prevail.  In style.  That's what makes this movie so much fun.

 (Galaxy's crazy island)

When you also grow up on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flint fits right in.  Both are Fox, both use many of the same sets, footage, and crazy science fictiony plot.  If no one's written a cross-over fanfic, I'd be surprised, as they all seem to inhabit the same version of the world.

Favorite things about this movie:

Any time Flint speaks in his own special code.  "It's based on..."  "I can imagine what it's based on..."

Flint's special lighter gadget, with 82 functions.  83 if you wish to light a cigar.

"It disappeared into thin air."

Flint napping (by stopping his heart) while stretched out plank-like, feet on one chair, head on another.  And his watch alarm.  Dude, I want one of those.

The red presidential phone and its famous ring.

Agent 0008.

Lee J. Cobb's constant, immense frustration with the Perfection that is Flint.

The fight between Rodney (Edward Mulhare) and Flint.

(Edward Mulhare and Scientist Bad Guys)

Barrels and the swan dive.  I think this may have been the part I waited for most when I was young.  Sheer awesomeness.

"Stall!  Flint is alive!"

The anti-American eagle.  "It's diabolical!"

Jerry Goldsmith's outstanding, swinging score.

My favorite scene goes along with my favorite cue, which kicks in when Flint starts climbing the multi-level outdoor ladder.  And goes up and up and up.  Although really, I adore the entire ending, from when he escapes execution to when he escapes the island.  He trashes the place, evades bad guys, fights bad guys, wrecks things, blows things up, and rescues his girls, and it's just great, cheesy, actiony, stylish fun.

(Favorite cue in the score, and a taste of Flint in action)

Yes, he has girls.  Four of them.  He takes them all out to dinner, dances with all of them, pays attention to all of them... None of them are jealous. However, every other male in the movie is clearly envious.  It's quite amusing.

(Flint and his beautiful companions, with Gila Golan as Gila)

There is a sequel, In Like Flint, that is also amusing, but not quite as much fun as the first one.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Best weekend ever

Last weekend, my sister and I went to Las Vegas to go to the annual Star Trek convention they hold there.  It was our first time attending, and it was a ridiculous amount of fun.

We got to hear all sorts of actors talk and answer questions, from the entire crew of Voyager, half the TNG crew, half the DS9 folks, George Takei, Sir Patrick Stewart (!!!), and Captain Kirk himself, the one and only William Shatner. 

Star Trek, the original series, was my childhood.  It was on constant repeats on television growing up, and we watched it just about every night for years.  I watched almost all of Next Generation while it aired (missed the last season), watched almost all of DS9 (again, missed the last season), and all of Voyager.  Tried Enterprise, but couldn't get into that one at all.  I'm told it got better after the first few eps, but I have not gone back to try it again.

The convention had really cool recreations of some of the sets. 

We really wanted this transporter to work...

There were people of all ages attending and it seemed like at least half of them were in some version of a Starfleet uniform or other character costume costume.  It was awesome.  Everywhere we went in the hotel/casino, there were Starfleet officers.  Of Klingons.  Or Borg.  Or Vulcans.

And the best part?  Everyone was happy and cheerful All Weekend Long.  I mean that in all seriousness.  Smiles, grins, laughs from absolutely everyone we saw, from the vendors, to our fellow attendees, to the actors... everyone was so full of upbeat and full of positive energy, it was rather astounding.  Not once did we see a frown, a complaint, or a hint of negativity.  Not. Once.  We got in line at one of the hotel Starbucks, and there were 40 people in line ahead of us.  FORTY PEOPLE!!!  Not one person complained, no one fussed, more people just got in line behind us, and everyone patiently waited for their turn.  How often does that happen???  (There was a longer wait at Starbucks than to see some of the actors!)

And the actors were so funny in their panels that by the end of Sunday, we were laughed out.  We'd busted a a gut so often, we had nothing left to give. 

It ended up being one of the most memorable weekends of our lives.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Run of the Arrow (1957)

I've been wanting to see this movie for years.  It wasn't available until just recently, but it is finally out on DVD, so I finally got me a copy, which arrived yesterday, just in time to add in one more review to the Legends of Western Cinema blog party.  (Look at me go... radio silence for ages, and then all these posts again... you'd think I love Westerns or something.)


This movie is about an Army Lieutenant named Driscoll.  At the beginning of the movie, it's the end of the civil war, and he's shot off his horse by a Confederate soldier, who at least has the courtesy to take him to the surgeon's tent, and not let him bleed to death.  He recovers and heads West with his regiment to fight Indians... only to be stymied in his violent ambitions by generals and peace treaties.  The nerve!  He's sent as escort (wet nurse, in his opinion) to a troop of Army engineers who will be building an Army fort in a place agreed upon by the Army and the Indians.  Driscoll immediately recognizes this spot is all wrong and has no military value.  But will anyone listen to him?  No!  However, a renegade Indian kills his commanding officer, and he finally gets to take over and do things his way.  Peace treaty?  P'fah.  He scouts out a new, completely unsanctioned (but an actually useful) location for the fort, one with a great view, and one that can only be approached/attacked from one direction.  Work gets underway, but his new fort location and direct violation of the agreement has angered the Indians. They attack en force.  With barely half a wall built, it doesn't matter that there's only one direction from which the Indians can attack the new fort.  They easily overrun Driscoll's camp, massacre the soldiers, and take Driscoll prisoner.  Because he interfered earlier in a Sioux form of justice, the "run of the arrow," the penalty is death... by being skinned alive.  Poor Driscoll.  It isn't a pretty way to go.  Fortunately for him, the confederate soldier who shot him in the beginning of the movie, has been living with the Sioux, and is on hand to shoot him again to put him out of his misery. Which nicely brings things full circle.

What?  That's not the movie's plot?  Of course it is!  From the point of view of a Ralph Meeker fan, that is.  Cuz Meeker's why I was watching the movie, naturally.

The plot everyone else is watching apparently concerns the Confederate soldier, O'Meara, played by Rod Steiger. He's so angry and bitter and full of hatred that the South surrendered, that he heads West, survives the run of the arrow himself and becomes a Sioux.  He might be full of identity issues, about himself, about the new United States, about which side he's on.  He might become the designated scout the Sioux lend to the army to help them get to the designated spot to build their fort.  He might try to keep the peace and convince the soldiers to surrender.  He might decide he's more American than Sioux, and return with the army.  The movie might actually be his story.

It's always interesting how many "movies" there are within one movie, isn't it?  LOL!

(the other guy the movie may be about)

Lt. Driscoll could almost turn into Roy Anderson, the dishonorably discharged, morally unstable lieutenant from The Naked Spur, if Driscoll hadn't been killed at the end of Run of the Arrow.  Driscoll's far more callous and self-aggrandizing than Anderson, but they're close cousins.  Which means Meeker is perfect for playing Driscoll and is clearly having fun chewing scenery.  He's rather delightful, as he usually is.  All cigar-chomping, chafing at being told "no" every other minute.  His smug grin when he finally takes over command shows no compassion whatsoever for the poor captain who's just been killed and shines with pure Meeker smirkiness.

The captain is played by Brian Keith.  He's lovely in the role, nice (too nice to survive this world), honorable, steadfast, honest, and rule-following.  He puts Driscoll in his place a few times (as Driscoll's resentment grows).  He also has some nice pointed conversations with that other guy, O'Meara.  His death was very sad, everything he worked for lost in a heartbeat.

Charles Bronson plays Blue Buffalo.  He doesn't get much to do other than show off his fine physique.  It is mighty fine.

H.M. Wynant plays Crazy Wolf, the Indian equivalent of Driscoll.  The one who passionately hates the other side, who won't obey orders, and causes no end of trouble for everyone.  If someone had just let those two hot-heads fight each other to the death, it would have saved everyone else a lot of pain and suffering. Those two really mess all the hard-earned peace everyone else is trying to preserve.

This was a surprisingly short movie, less than 90 minutes, and it feels too short to me.  I wanted more time with the characters.  However, the short running time keeps it fairly tight and ALL extraneous stuff is cut out.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It shows the Native Americans in a fair light.  There are good and bad people on both sides.  Some strive for peace, some for war.  Some live on hate, some live on love.

There's lots of action, including the titular Run of the Arrow.  It consists of giving a barefoot person a head start, and letting them run for their life across the desert while the tribe chases them down.  No one has ever survived it, until O'Meara does, with the help of Yellow Moccasin (Sarita Montiel).  Surviving the run of the arrow is what cements his place in Sioux life.

I liked this one, though didn't love it, and will watch it again when I need some smirky Ralph Meeker looking mighty fine in his uniform while he causes trouble and gets innocent people killed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lonely are the Brave (1962)

This review is part of Legends of Western Cinema week.

This Western has been part of my life since I was young.  It is a powerful movie, and one I love deeply... but I can't watch it very often because it breaks my heart.


This is a modern Western, set in the year it was filmed, but still very much a Western, even with cars and helicopters.

The basic plot:  Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas), rides into a New Mexico town to try to help his best friend, Paul (Michael Kane), who's been jailed for helping illegal immigrants and faces two years in prison.  Burns may live in current day, but he's an old-fashioned cowboy, doesn't have a home, doesn't have ID or a driver's license.  He's a simple man of the Old West, out of his time, out of his place.  The world has gone and changed, and is full of fences and laws and cars and airplanes and chaos masquerading as civilized order.

He gets deliberately arrested to join his friend in jail, to convince him to then break jail with him.  But Paul has changed and accepted the modern world, and he intends to serve out his two-year sentence.  He has a wife and a son, and if he breaks out of jail, they'll all be on the run, forever.  He doesn't want that.  So Burns breaks out alone and busts for the Mexico border on his horse, Whiskey, with the New Mexico law in hot pursuit.

I'm a sucker for movies about characters lost and outdated as time, progress, and civilization steamroll right over them and their ways.  Maybe because that's how I've always felt.  Some of my favorite Westerns are all set in the early 1900's, and incorporate this theme:  Big Jake, The Professionals, The Wild Bunch.  And Lonely are the Brave.

This movie is quiet, introspective, but still has plenty of action.  It's Jack Burns' movie.  Well, Jack Burns and his horse, because the young and skittish, beautiful, flaxen-maned Whisky is a main character herself, and as important as Jack.  He talks constantly to her, she acts up in return and has more personality than quite a few actors I can think of.  This is Kirk Douglas at his finest.  He's always made a great cowboy, and how he brings Jack Burns alive is the center of this tale.  It's my favorite role of his.

There are so many scenes that are amazing.  The opening, where we see a open-aired camp, Burns lying on his bedroll, sipping coffee, Whisky in the background... when he hears engines and looks up in the sky to see three jets leaving contrails over the New Mexico sky.  His look as he watches their intrusion says it all.  The movie is full of those contrasts: Burns and his horse and open country against highways and jail and the modern world.

There's some dialogue in the first half of this movie I always liked, that always sums up the difference between Burns cowboy perspective, and the modern world taking over:

Burns: "A Westerner likes open country. That means he's got to hate fences, and the more fences there are, the more he hates them.  D'you ever notice how many fences there're getting to be? And the signs they got on them: no hunting, no hiking, no admission, no trespass, private property, closed area, start moving, go away, get lost, drop dead!  And they got those fences that say this side's jail, or that side's a street, or here's Arizona and that's Nevada, or this is us, that's Mexico.  The one between here and Mexico is the fence that got Paul into trouble.  He just naturally didn't see the use of it, so he acted as if it wasn't there. So when people sneaked across it, he just felt they were still people so he helped them."
Jerri:  "Jack, I'm going to tell you something. The world that you and Paul live in doesn't exist.  Maybe it never did. Out there is the real world.  And it's got real borders and real fences, real laws and real trouble. And either you go by the rules, or you lose.  You lose everything."
Burns:  "You always keep something."

The scene when he looks in on Paul's sleeping son, marvels at him, at what he will never have.  Not a word spoken, just watching Burns react to the young boy, to family life.

Every scene between him and Jerri (Gena Rowlands) is outstanding.  They sparkle and shine when they're together.  I love how obvious their history is in how they act towards each other.  How they take care of each other, how they talk about Paul and life, how they can really talk with each other.  And their goodbye scene...  it nearly makes me cry every time.  It's so sweet, so poignant, so perfect.  (That cue on the album has the same effect on me as the scene in the movie).

I love how amazed and rather proud Burns is when he finally realizes that Paul won't be breaking out of jail with him, how he accepts that his friend has changed and moved into the modern world.  And how he can grin about it, even as he is now alone, a last cowboy.

My favorite scene in the movie is when Burns has a chance to escape clean... if he leaves Whiskey behind.  He starts to go, pauses and looks back at her, and she's watching him.  He starts to leave again... and he can't do it.  He can't abandon her.  He just can't, even if it means his freedom, even if he gets killed.  That makes me cry too, cuz I so get that.  I wouldn't have been able to leave her either.  Their subsequent climb up the steep mountainside not meant to be climbed by anything but a mountain goat is always harrowing.

The rest of the cast is outstanding as well, with Walter Matthau as the sheriff hunting Burns, and George Kennedy playing a nasty bully of a police officer who gets his kicks beating up prisoners.  Carroll O'Connor plays a trunk driver.

The script by Dalton Trumbo is so well done.  Perfect example of how to set up your end in the beginning, how to say so much with so few words, how to convey even more without a single word spoken.  Those contrasts between modern and old worlds, the way the police can't believe Burns has no ID, nothing.  I admire the writing so much in this film.  The black and white cinematography is perfect.  This is not a movie that would work in color.

But I also admit, I usually stop the movie five minutes from the end.  The minute it starts raining... I hit the off button.  The ending is brilliant, but hard, one of the hardest in any movie I know of.  I bawl buckets when I do decide to watch it. Rough rough rough.

And Jerry Goldsmith's score... it's in my top five scores of all time.  It is amazing by itself, and it could not be more perfect and suited in the actual movie.  Jack Burns' theme, often played on solo trumpet, is so beautiful, and so lonely and sad, and so goose-bumpy.  The beautiful variations of that theme, particularly when Burns and Whiskey sneak along trails in the mountains.  And my favorite cue, "Run for It," so tense as his options dwindle, so soaring as he and Whiskey race for the forest.

(this is the only selection of music from this film I could find)

Last thoughts:  I'm 46, same age Kirk Douglas was when he made this movie.  There's some lines he says to Jerri, about why she's lucky to be with Paul, and not him, that really resonate with me personally:

"You know what a loner is? He's a born cripple. He's a cripple because the only person he can live with is himself. It's his life, the way he wants to live. It's all for him. A guy like that, he'd kill a woman like you. Because he couldn't love you, not the way you are loved."