Saturday, January 23, 2021

Coming Soon to a Soliloquy Near You

Just a quick post this morning to let you know about a whole bunch of cool blog events I'm participating in (and hosting) in the first three months of the year.  Just in case you want to take part in any of them yourself, but hadn't heard about them yet.

First up is the Home Sweet Home Blogathon hosted by Reelweegiemidget Reviews and Taking Up Room at the end of this month.  I'll be reviewing Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962), one of my very most favorite comedies.

Next up is the Lovely Blog Party hosted by Cordy at Any Merry Little Thought.  This is a month-long event!  I may do more than one post for it, but I definitely will be contributing a list of my ten favorite romantic dramas.  

Next up is the Valentine's Day Period Drama Blog Party hosted by Heidi at Along the Brandywine the week leading up to Valentine's Day.  For this one, I'll be reviewing The Three Musketeers (1948), which is the one where Gene Kelly plays d'Artagnan :-D

The last week of February is when I'll be hosting the We Love Pirates Week blog party, which will involve blog games, a giveaway, a tag, and lots and lots of piratical posts contributed by all kinds of swashbuckling bloggers.

And in mid-March, A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting the 7th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, an event I've participated in many times and always look forward to.  I'll be reviewing "The Haunted House," my favorite Andy Griffith Show episode.

You can always find buttons for these sorts of events in the sidebar on my blog or on this page, but I like to highlight them in a post too from time to time :-)

Happy Saturday to you!

Monday, January 18, 2021

A Sunshine Blogger Award for the New Year

Cordy has awarded me the Sunshine Blogger Award on her blog, Any Merry Little Thought.  Thanks, friend!

Sunshine Blogger Award Rules  

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in the blog post and link back to their blog. 
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you. 
  3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions. 
  4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog. 

Cordy's Questions

What is your favorite color of ink to write with?  Blue.  I go through a pack of blue pens every year or two.

What is a book on your to-read shelf that you secretly know you'll never get to? Well, I don't have a good answer for this because I spent a lot of time over the past year culling books from my TBR shelves that I've realized I just don't want to read as much as I thought I did.  I've gotten them down to where all the books on it are ones I definitely expect to read.  Like these:

(All pictures are mine from my IG account.)

What's a movie you've discovered that everyone but you likes? Maybe not everyone, but I'm not a big fan of Vertigo (1958), and many people are.

Do you prefer your hair to be long or short? Long.  I've never had it short.

What is a book you wish more people knew about? More people need to read Charity Bishop's Tudor Throne series!  They're so much fun, and I've learned a lot of British history from them.

Who is a fictional character that you relate to? I see a lot of myself in Lucy (Sandra Bullock) in While You Were Sleeping (1995).

Would you rather play a main character or be a stunt double in a movie? I'd rather play the main character because I'm klutzy and would probably die doing a stunt.

Depending on your answer to the last question, what movie would you choose to act/stunt in? Hmm. How about a movie version of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, where I get to play Lottie Wilkins?  Let's film it on location so I can really visit a crumbling villa in Italy.

What instrument would you play if you could? Hmm.  I think it would be fun to learn to play the bagpipes.

If your life had background music, what would be your theme song? In college, my friends picked out "Windy" by The Association as my theme song, and that's stuck pretty well all my life.

What's one of your favorite fictional couples? I love Valancy and Barney in The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery.

My Questions

  1. Fantasy or sci-fi?
  2. Tragedy or comedy?
  3. Fiction or nonfiction?
  4. Snow or rain?
  5. Orange juice or apple juice?
  6. Christmas or Easter?
  7. Middle-earth or Narnia?
  8. Marvel or DC?
  9. Star Wars or Star Trek?
  10. Old movies or new movies?
  11. Old books or new books?

My Nominees:

Play if you want to!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

"News of the World" (2020) -- Initial Thoughts

I really didn't know much about News of the World when I went to see it today, aside from the fact that it has Tom Hanks in it, it's a western, and it involves him on a journey with a young girl.  That was it.  That's pretty minimal for me going into a movie, to be honest, as I usually have at least a general idea of a movie's plot, going in.  But sometimes it's nice just to go in cold and see what happens.  No expectations.  Just take it as it's played.

I think that was a good choice for this movie, because that's very much how the characters have to deal with its events -- just deal with each thing as it happens.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) makes his living reading aloud out of newspapers in little towns across Texas.  He takes a collection of recent periodicals from town to town, charges people ten cents each to attend his reading, and then reads aloud all sorts of news from all over the country and the world.  He's got a showman's instincts to help him select stories that will appeal to each audience and, if it's a lonely and unusual way to earn a living, it's certainly an honest and useful one.

On the way from one town to the next, he comes upon an overturned wagon.  The person who'd been driving it was strung up from a tree nearby, no explanation ever made of why.  Kidd finds a young girl (Helena Zengel) hiding nearby.  Blonde, blue-eyed, freckled, and very obviously white, the girl speaks only Kiowa.  Kidd searches through the wagon's wreckage until he finds official orders the dead man was carrying, orders to take this girl to an aunt and uncle living hundreds of miles away.  Orders that tell the girl's story -- taken by Kiowa's during a raid on her family when she was three, raised by them, then taken again by soldiers during a raid on her Kiowa family.

The papers list the girl's name as Johanna, but she won't answer to it.  A passing Cavalry troop tells Kidd to take her to a nearby town, where the local Indian agent can take charge of her.  But when it turns out the agent won't be back for months and months, Kidd determines to take Johanna home to her kinfolk himself.

Thus begins a quest/journey story that pulls a lot from classic myths while reminding me of everything from The Mandalorian (2019- ) to Road to Perdition (2002) to a sort of reverse version of The Searchers (1956).  Kidd and Johanna cross would-be child-traffickers (and a very tense gunfight ensues).  Kidd and Johanna get caught up in a weird town where one random dude is trying to build himself his own little empire (and another gunfight ensues).  Kidd and Johanna stop in several places so Kidd can read the news and earn some money.  And Kidd and Johanna gradually come to understand each other.

Kidd teaches Johanna some English.  Johanna teaches him some Kiowa.  They both know a little broken German, she because her birth family was German, and he because he is a wordsmith and a storyteller and he communicates however he can with those he meets.

Kidd's really on two missions, on this journey.  He's got to take Johanna to her aunt and uncle, and he's got to say goodbye to his wife.  He accomplishes both.  But then (SPOILERS!) he realizes that one of those goodbyes was a mistake, and he begins a new life built upon the old.

One of the central themes of this movie is that you can't find your future by ignoring and forgetting your past.  You have to accept, embrace, and try to understand what has happened to you and those you love.  Only when you do that can you move forward.  I think that's a very timely lesson for this particular moment in time.  We can't move forward by denying, canceling, or trying to erase our history, both personal history and our nation's history.  Only by accepting what has happened, wrong and right alike, and by learning from and trying to understand it can we move forward.  Those who just decry and deny those who came before us will be stuck here, wheels spinning but going nowhere.

Anyway, is this movie family friendly?  Nope.  Like I said, there's some attempted child-trafficking, in that some men try to buy Johanna from Kidd for unstated but obviously immoral purposes.  There's shooting and killing, with visible blood spatter but no gory wounds dwelt upon.  There are some very scary moments, with danger presented by people, by the elements, and by a runaway wagon.  A horse falls horribly and must be put out of its misery.  There's also a scene where a woman is lying in her underclothes in a man's bed and having a conversation with him, though he is dressed and not in the bed, but the implication of their previous activities is clear to adults and teens.  There's also discussion of massacres and scalpings.  And a lot of dead buffalo carcasses being skinned.  So, no, it is not a family friendly movie.  But I think it is a good one, and I would rather like to see it again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

She Laughs

So, it's been a weird year again so far, huh?

I mean, I kind of expected a lot of people to be unhappy about the election results.  Didn't expect them to turn out en masse to demonstrate that, but last year taught us that demonstrations, peaceful or not, get a lot of attention, so I should have seen that coming.

I didn't expect Big Tech to start literally censoring those they disagree with.  But "cancel culture" has presaged that, so it's not a big surprise either.  

My blogs and website are hosted by Google-owned Blogger.  Might they pull the plug on them at some point because of my religious beliefs?  Could be.  I would be sad.  And angry.  Might not be surprised, though, by that point.  Shutting someone up online is popular these days.  Then again, I'm a pretty small fish, so who knows.

I've been battling a lot of anxiousness the last week or two.  Haven't been writing much as a result, because my creative juices have been at a low ebb.  When current events begin to severely damage my calm, that does happen.  I've spent a lot of time in prayer, reading the Bible, and thinking.

This morning, I decided I was done losing sleep and calm over this.  

It's one thing to know that the world is not ever going to love Christians, and another to face encroaching persecution.  Mentally, I know the world does't love Christ and doesn't love his followers.  Spiritually, I know that Got will work all things for the best of those who love him, and that he says "the best" doesn't equal "an easy life," but rather "a home in heaven."

But it's hard to focus on God's promises when you're afraid.  I keep coming back to that image of Peter walking on the water just fine as long as he focuses on Jesus, but as soon as he looks at the scary world around him, fear pushes its way to the forefront and he starts to sink.  But remember how that story ends?  Peter doesn't think, "Oh, crap, I am sinking, guess I'll drown."  He cries out to Jesus for help.  Jesus instantly helps.

I've done a lot of crying out to the Lord for help.  For mental and emotional calm.  This morning, I searched my heart and mind to figure out exactly what is bothering me the most about the recent events.  And I realized that it comes down to two of the things that I have struggled with all my life: change and uncertainty about what happens next.  Lack of a plan.  Lack of control.

I hate change.  I get things the way I like them, and I want them to stay that way even if change would make things better.  I like having a plan.  Even if the plan has to get revised, I like having it.  Plans make me feel secure.  I like being the one to make the plan, especially, because I want control.  Control makes me feel safe.

Hey, guess what?  I have never been in control of my life.  Ever.  I can delude myself that I have been, and I've done a great job of that.  But none of us is promised tomorrow.  None of us is promised the next minute.  God says he knows the plans that HE HAS for us.  Not the plans we have for ourselves.  Not the plans we want to make.  Not the plans we've already made and are really looking forward to.  His plans.

And once I faced that, once I prayed to God and said, "Lord, take my fear of change and my enthusiasm for control, and replace them with trust in you," you know what happened?

I smiled.  And then, I laughed.

And part of Proverbs 31:25 came into my mind:

She laughs without fear of the future.

And I realized, this was it!  This was the sinful source of my fear and doubt and anxiety and anguish.  Me holding onto my desire to control them and freaking out because I can't control what's happening. And once I repented of that, there was room for more of God's peace that passes all understanding.

Christ's words in John 16:33 has been on my mind and heart a lot these last couple weeks, so I'll leave you with them:

"In the world, you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world."

(HAVE overcome.  Past tense.  Done; finished; accomplished.  The end.)

Friday, January 08, 2021

"Two Years Before the Mast" (1946)

If you have ever read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, you need to put everything you remember from it firmly out of your head when watching this movie because it has very little to do with anything you'll see here, storywise.  At least, as far as I remember it from when I read it like a decade ago.  I remember it as being a really interesting first-hand account of life on a full-rigged ship that sails from Boston, around the Cape, to California, and then spends a lot of time describing life in California.  There was also a lot of stuff about cowhides.  Stacking cowhides, transporting cowhides, lowering cowhides over cliffs, restacking cowhides... there's not a single cowhide in evidence in this film.

Now, it is true that Dana's book brought the mistreatment of sailors to the attention of the general public and created so much sympathy for them that laws were made safeguarding their rights as human beings and so on.  The movie gets that part right, anyway.

Mostly, though, this movie is an excuse to make a seafaring adventure story starring Alan Ladd, something exciting like the Clark Gable vehicle Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), which is also based on a book that tells a true story, interestingly.

Anyway, we start this picture with a little history and moralizing:

Ahhhh, brutal drudgery.  Sounds like we're in for a good time!

Now, the fact that this is based on a book by Richard Henry Dana, and the fact that the little history lesson at the beginning talks about him rising up to champion the oppressed sailors, all makes it sound like this is going to be a movie about Richard Henry Dana.  But he's not the hero.  Because every movie needs a surprise, I guess.

Instead, the story centers around Charles Stewart (Alan Ladd), the spendthrift son of a wealthy shipowner who has no thought for anyone but himself and no plans beyond this evening.  He's never worked a day in his life, and his biggest problem is making sure the points on his collar are perfectly matched.

When one of his father's ships returns to port, Stewart decides to celebrate by going slumming in a waterfront dive.  He thinks the people there are quaint, harmless, and so very comically beneath him.

Imagine his surprise when he wakes up aboard that ship, far out to sea.  He's been shanghaied, along with a bunch of other guys.  Because very few people will willingly serve aboard that particular ship, which Stewart's father owns.

Well.  Pampered sons of wealthy shipowners are not big fans of brutal drudgery, as you might imagine, so Stewart demands that the ship turn around and take him home, and be quick about it!  However, Captain Thompson (Howard da Silva) believes that he is the Supreme Ruler when at sea.  He orders Stewart to join the ship's company "before the mast," which means as a common seaman, not an officer.

In the fo'c'sl, or forecastle, which is the part of the ship in the front (ahead of the mast) where the common sailors live, Stewart meets Richard Henry Dana (Brian Donlevy), who came to see on a secret mission.  Dana spends a lot of time writing down everything that happens.  And he doesn't let anyone read what he's writing.  But he befriends Stewart, in a way, and is the first person on the ship to be nice to him at all.

It's a treat to see Brian Donlevy as a good guy, at least for me.  I grew up watching him play the villain in Destry Rides Again (1939), and more recently in The Virginian (1946), as well as playing a crook in The Glass Key (1942) opposite Ladd.  But he's very well suited to playing a straight-up good guy too, and I would not mind seeing him in more roles like this.

Barry Fitzgerald lends some comic relief as only Barry Fitzgerald could.  He's crotchety and irascible and so loveable that it's amazing everyone around him doesn't just hug him in every scene.  He's playing the ship's cook here, and another very nice guy.

William Bendix plays not such a nice guy, as an officer who obeys the captain's orders without a qualm... at least at first.  He's pretty fond of administering punishment, and you start out thinking his character is another sadist like the one he played in The Glass Key, but he's got a good brain and heart to go with his fists here.

William Bendix and Alan Ladd were best friends for many, many years.  Ladd used his star power to make sure his buddy got work on as many of his pictures as he could, which is why you see them together so, so often.  (I've probably mentioned that before.  Sorry if I'm starting to repeat myself in my old age.)

Now let's talk about Howard da Silva a little bit.  Here's a versatile actor, folks.  I've seen him play fumbling and quiet in The Great Gatsby (1949); I've seen him play charming and sly in The Blue Dahlia (1946).  But here, he is nasty, cold, vicious, calculating, and horrible.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Two Years Before the Mast is mostly famous for the scene where Alan Ladd is beaten for striking an officer.  Justly so, because it's a very memorable scene, not so much because Ladd is shirtless (I mean, let's face it -- we see him shirtless in at least half his movies), but because he does a really fantastic job of portraying a guy who is scared of being beaten (he witnessed another man be punished early in the voyage), but defiantly holds his head up and accepts his punishment like a man.  

He's got a stereotypical character arc, going from weak and foppish to bold and manly after learning to do real work in the real world but, because it's Ladd, we sympathize so much with him, we don't care that it's kind of a hackneyed arc.

Oh, and also, we have an entirely pointless romantic subplot concerning Maria Dominguez (Esther Fernandez), a passenger they pick up along the way and take to California with them.

She's really only here to give Ladd someone to smile at, someone to champion him, someone to give him a reason to flex those lovely biceps extra often...

Still, she's very pretty, and has some nice moments.  And props to the company for getting an actual Mexian-American actress to play this Spanish-Mexican-American character.  

Maria is very nice and visits Stewart when he's clapped in irons for attempting mutiny.  She does help hammer home the idea of doing your duty and taking pains to help others instead of always looking out for your own interests and desires, so I guess her role isn't entirely pointless.

Oh, uh, yes, mutiny.  Of course, mutiny.  The crew is slowly dying of scurvy because Captain Thompson refuses to put in for fresh food because he is bent on setting a record for fastest time to California and back.  There's a cabin boy (Darryl Hickman -- yup, none other than Dobie Gillis) who's dying faster than most, and the crew are all very concerned about him in particular because he's such a sweet kid.  So Stewart decides to pull a one-man mutiny, and, well, I already spoiled how that ends up by showing you him in shackles, didn't I.  Sorry?  Maybe skip to below the shot of The End if you don't want anything else spoiled.

More mutiny happens later on, and Stewart must bid an earnest farewell to Maria.  She's going to get married to some guy in California as soon as she lands, so, you know... it's been fun, but we know they'll never see each other again.

Anyway, the crew has to decide if they are going to sail off to some South Sea island and live like kings with the natives forever like the crew of the H.M.S. Bounty, or if they're going to be good Americans and go home again and stand trial.  Thanks to Dana and Stewart, they probably stand a pretty good chance of being believed when they say the mutiny is justified.  So they go home.  But really, this picture is just here because Ladd spends the whole scene leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaning in that chummy way, and I couldn't leave it unmentioned.

Well, they get home, and Stewart reunites with his father, who likes him a lot better now that he's not a good-for-nothing anymore. Funny how that works.  The shipowners try to repress Dana's book, but fail, and oh, woe is them -- they have to start treating sailors like human beings!  Oh my!

All's well that ends well, and we're left with this gorgeous shot of the ship.  I have a terrible weakness for full-rigged "tall ships," and the presence of this one, plus the presence of Ladd, means I do enjoy watching this film even though it's kind of haphazard and cliched.  It's still a fun ride, and I'm glad the Universal Vault Series has released it :-)

Is this movie family friendly?  Yup.  The beating scenes would probably be too much for really little kids, and there are some '40s-style violent deaths, but that's it.

Friday, January 01, 2021

My Ten Favorite New-to-Me Movies of 2020

Well, this list is verrrrrrrry different from the last few years, isn't it?  Not a single movie here that was released in 2020.  I watched more than 80 movies this year, and only 9 of them were in the theater.  And, of those 9, only 2 were new releases.  Because 2020 was a really weird year.

Now, the main reason I watched about 20 fewer movies than last year is actually because I got super obsessed with The Mandalorian and watched all 8 of the first season's episodes three times.  And I've watched all of season two once, but most of them twice.  So, yeah... a great deal of my watching-stuff time this year was taken up with that, rather than movies.  

(Plus, obviously, the theaters were closed for a long time, and a lot of movies I wanted to see got pushed back or released to streaming platforms I don't subscribe to.  2020, yeesh.)

Anyway!  Here's my list of my ten favorite movies I watched for the first time in 2020.  Enjoy!

1. Ophelia (2018).  Gorgeous retelling of Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective, with some new twists on the story.  Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) falls in love with the dead king's son Hamlet (George McKay), though her brother Laertes (Tom Felton) is skeptical of the match.  Meanwhile, the queen (Naomi Watts) and new king (Clive Owen) have doubts about Hamlet's sanity.  It's based on the book by Lisa Klein, which I want to reread now.

2. A Song is Born (1948).  A musical remake of Ball of Fire (1941) in which a lot of professors (including Danny Kaye) making a history of music encounter a night club singer (Virginia Mayo) who's on the run from her mobster boyfriend.  Lots of amazing musicians like Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Tommy Dorsey have small roles, which adds to the fun.

3. The High and the Mighty (1954).  A trans-Pacific airliner develops engine trouble, and the pilots (John Wayne and Robert Stack) have to not only keep the plane in the air, but keep the various passengers (including Paul Fix, Claire Trevor, and Phil Harris) calm.

4. I Love You Again (1940).  A dull businessman (William Powell) whose wife (Myrna Loy) is about to divorce him gets hit on the head and has reverse amnesia, waking up to discover that he used to be a very smooth and interesting con artist.  Guess which version of him Loy likes best?

5. Santiago (1956).  A gun-runner (Alan Ladd) and a riverboat captain (Chill Wills) get caught up in Cuba's War of Independence from Spain in the 1890s.

6. Mamma Mia! (2008).  A girl (Amanda Seyfried) about to get married tries to figure out which of her Mom's (Meryl Streep's) long-ago flings (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgaard) is her dad.  I liked it so much more than I expected to!

7. The Court Jester (1955).  A wandering minstrel (Danny Kaye) gets mistaken for the new court jester and ends up helping overthrow a dictatorial usurper and restore the rightful king to the throne.  With many funny jokes and pratfalls and lots of singing, too.

8. The Reluctant Dragon (1941).  A man (Robert Benchley) tries to pitch a story idea to Walt Disney, and ends up getting a tour of the Disney Animation Studio in the process.  Includes a young and eager Alan Ladd in a tiny role as a storyboard artist named Al.

9. The Brothers Karamazov (1958).  Three brothers (Yul Brynner, William Shatner, Richard Basehart) try to make their own way in life, but their father (Lee J. Cobb) keeps messing everything up for them.  Well, some of them mess things up pretty well for themselves, too.

10. 1917 (2019).  Two WWI soldiers (George McKay, Daniel Mays) have to take an important message to troops far away to stop thousands of men from walking into a trap and getting massacred.  The continuous-shot filming is cool, but it's McKay's haunting performance that stuck with me long after the film had ended.

What were your favorite watches of the year?  Have you seen any of these?

If you want to read my lists from past years, you can find them at the bottom of this page.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Announcing the We Love Pirates Week Blog Party

Ahoy there!  I am going to host a pirate-themed blog party in February!  From Feb. 22-26, we will be celebrating all things piratical here, and you are hereby invited to join the crew!

This will be much like the Western Cinema Week party I co-hosted last year -- you can contribute anything you want to, from a movie or book review, to a top ten list of favorite pirates, to your favorite pirate music.  Whatever you can come up with sounds good!  (With the caveat that we DO want to remain family friendly, since participants can be of all ages, so do try to keep that in mind.)

I will also provide a tag that you can fill out, with all sorts of piratey questions on it.  And there will be games of some sort!  

Obviously, we will be focusing on fictional pirates, but if you want to do a post about real pirates, past or present, you are certainly welcome to contribute that as well!

There is no formal sign-up process, but I would love it if you commented here letting me know you intend to participate.  You can use any of these blog buttons/banners in your own posts, and add them to your blog sidebars to let other people know about the upcoming fun!

And, yes, I will be hosting a giveaway for this event :-D  Ye've been warned.