Monday, July 29, 2013

"The Blind Banker" (2010)

So, I have to admit I didn't like "The Blind Banker" quite as well as "A Study in Pink."  Not sure why -- I think the mystery just intrigued me less.  Also, felt a bit draggy in the middle, though not for long.

But I still enjoyed it immensely.  And realized that, honestly, Sherlock Holmes would be the most impossible friend.  Always knows what you're thinking, where you've been, what you've been doing, who you've been with -- he'd be the world's worst know-it-all.  Even worse as a boyfriend or husband.  But I still love him dearly, whether in this show or the original stories or other incarnations.  There's no one like him.

Okay, sorry, didn't mean to get maudlin or introspective there.  Anyway, this ep doesn't resemble any canon story I can recall, other than kind of a bit like "The Dancing Men" with the code/cipher and all.  It's about Chinese smugglers, and also about Watson getting a job and going on a date with a girl named Sarah (Zoe Telford).  A date that Sherlock crashes, which just amuses me to no end.  At the same time, yeah, most impossible friend in the world.  You never know if he's just oblivious, or if he's expecting you to think he's oblivious so he can get away with being kind of a jerk.

There I go again!  This isn't a very coherent review.  I'm sorry.  Been a long Monday.  Also, I keep remembering the scene with Holmes hopping around in the bank figuring out sight lines, and that makes me giggle a lot, and then I forget what I was going to say about the episode.

I give up.  I'll leave you with a reminder that Benedict Cumberbatch can look positively evil if he wants to:

Forgot to mention in the previous review if it was family-friendly.  Um, sorta.  Both it and this have a handful of bad words, some violence and innuendo.  Would clean up easily, I think.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Wolverine" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

I love Wolverine.  He's one of My Five, the five characters dearest to my heart.  The characters that, more than any others, I identify with, know inside and out, understand so very deeply.  The five that probably inform every character I write in some way or another.  The five I cannot do without.  Some day I'll do a post about them, but for right now, just know that Wolverine is very, very important to me.  (The other four are Saunders, Angel, Sawyer, and Sherlock Holmes, just so you don't spend this whole blog post wondering.)

Honestly, they could probably make a movie that's just two hours of Wolvie slicin' and dicin' his way through horde after horde of bad guys, and I'd be happy.  They could also make two hours of Wolvie thinking introspective thoughts and pondering the Meaning of Life, and I'd be happy too.  It's hard to displease me when it comes to putting Wolverine on screen.

And yet, the makers of The Wolverine have done just that.

To be very clear, I need to say that Wolverine the character was as wonderful as ever.  And Hugh Jackman was possibly more wonderful than ever.  It's not the fault of either the character or the actor that the story didn't work.

Okay, so quick-and-spoiler-free-if-you've-seen-the-trailers rundown of the basic plot.  Some time after killing Jean Grey to save the world (at the end of 2006's X-Men 3:  The Last Stand), Wolverine is back in his native Canada, living alone in the woods with only a giant bear for company.  Just about where Rogue found him back at the beginning of X-Men (2000), only with more hair.  One thing leads to another, as happens so often in movies, if not in real life, and Wolvie ends up flying to Japan to say goodbye to a man whose life he saved back during WWII.  The man, Yashida, is dying and has sent his granddaughter's best friend Yukio (Rila Fukushima) to fetch Wolverine.  Turns out he has more than good-bye on his mind -- Yashida says he can grant Wolverine the one thing he really wants:  mortality.

And then, of course, Wolverine meets Yashida's granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto).

I don't know about you, but as soon as I heard that The Wolverine would take place in Japan, two names came to my mind immediately:  Mariko and the Silver Samurai.  Couldn't possibly delve into Wolverine's time in Japan without involving both of those, right?

Right.  And I really loved Mariko.  She was as sweet and strong as I could hope for.  No quibbles there.

As opposed to Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova).  She was pointless.  And badly acted, ranging from campy to cringe-inducing.  Did she need to be here?  No.  She could have been replaced with any Doctor/Scientist from pretty much any other movie.  Mostly she just made me think of Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) from Batman & Robin (1997), and that's really all you need to know right there.

But what really bugged me about this movie involves spoilage about the plot, so Be Ye Warned!  Spoilage below!  If you don't want it, skip reading until after the really yummy picture of Wolvie and Yukio.

The Silver Samurai was a disappointment.  And not just cuz he wasn't the cool dude he is in the comics. Stuff has to change from the comics to the big screen -- I'm fine with that IF it serves the story.  But what disappointed me is how he was sort of just tacked on to make the finale more exciting.  Except, with an adamantium suit, he should have been a lot scarier than he was.  I never really felt like Wolverine was in mortal peril fighting him, and so what could have been a great fight (or at least an exciting one) just was kind of there.  They could have at least taken it the fun route like the fight between Iron Man and Thor in The Avengers, where they're matched evenly enough it's that joy-of-battle sort of thing.

So, what left me feeling dissatisfied and annoyed is the finale.  Up until then, the movie was full of complex character development for Wolverine himself, not to mention lots of juicy emotional changes for him, Yukio, and Mariko.  Are friends or family more reliable?  More important?  Who can you trust?  Can you even trust yourself?  Awesome stuff to delve into, and it was all handled really well.

Until the finale.

And then, it's like someone said, "But Wolverine hasn't had to fight any mutants or really exciting bad guys, just lots and lots of thugs -- quick, think up an exciting ending!  Hey, robots are really popular right now -- let's use a robot!"  And instead of making a set that looked distinctly Japanese, lots of windows and doors and nifty sliding panels like in the Yashida house, they give us what looks like a mish-mash of I, Robot and the docking bay in Star Wars:  A New Hope.  Why are there all those catwalks?  No real reason -- they just thought it'd look cool to have people plummeting off things and smashing down onto other things.  Makes no sense at all with the outside of the building.  But we have a big fight between Wolvie and two characters we don't really care about, just cuz we neeeeeeeeeeed that Big Fight At The End.  Dumb.

In all honesty, I will buy this movie on DVD.  I will joyfully watch the first 3/4 of it.  Then I will then skip to the very end when Logan gets back on the plane with his "bodyguard," Yukio, the latest in the lovely line of little sisters Wolverine is always acquiring.

Is this movie family friendly?  Um, no.  More bad language than I expect from a Marvel movie, lots of violence, implied sex, innuendo... it earns its PG-13.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

"A Study in Pink" (2010)

Yup, I'm finally watching (and reviewing) Sherlock!  I know, took me long enough, right?  Actually, I watched "A Study in Pink" last September while on vacation, but never got the chance to watch any other episodes.  So I finally got season one out of the library, after having a hold request on it for several weeks.  Which means I got to rewatch the pilot, and now I get to tell you what I thought of it.

I thought it was brilliant.  Completely brilliant.  Almost flawless.  Not sure I would change anything about it other than the fact that it looks like it was shot on VHS instead of film, but that's a minor quibble and doesn't so much detract from the show as make me scratch my head and wonder what the BBC  is up to.

Benedict Cumberbatch -- could he be any better as Sherlock Holmes?  Tall, gangly, exuding intelligence and a careless charm.  Wow.  I'm especially impressed by the people who were willing to cast him even though he's not at all conventionally handsome.  I find him kind of funny-looking, and yet... I can't keep my eyes off him when he's on screen, he's so mesmerizingly perfect as Holmes.

And Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson -- can I please hug him?  Oh, he just needs lots of hugs and the occasional pat on the back or something, doesn't he?  Completely sweet, and at the same time, stalwart.  Exactly what Watson needs to be.  Also, his sweaters and hair are adorable.  Like a fuzzy little puppy who wants to play.

I love how they updated things!  Holmes is a compulsive texter instead of a compulsive telegrammer.  He uses nicotine patches instead of smoking pipe after pipe.  He's had a drug problem in the past, though in this ep he seems to have put it behind him, but knowing Sherlock Holmes as I do, I'm expecting him to get pulled back toward it at some point.  And they keep some things just the same:  sticking his mail to the mantle with a jackknife, doing smelly experiments in their apartment, pretending to take Mrs. Hudson for granted when he clearly values her for putting up with him.  Watson having a war injury in his shoulder and also something going on with his leg.  Well done.  Bravo.

I could go on and on, but I won't because it's past my bedtime and I promised myself I'd get this posted tonight.


So the plot of this one cleverly takes bits from the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, and weaves them into a new mystery.  It has deaths in abandoned buildings, the letters "rache" scrawled near one victim, and the same profession for the perpetrator (which I won't say here so as to not spoil things for all 2 people in the world who haven't seen this yet, but want to).  It has Dr. Watson meeting Sherlock Holmes through a mutual acquaintance and becoming flatmates, then friends.

My only true nit to pick (and this is spoily, just so you know) is that when Watson is abducted off the street and dragged off to an underground parking garage or whatever to meet a mysterious man who wants to pay him for info about Holmes, the only reason it's played that way is so viewers will assume the mysterious guy is Moriarty, and then it will be heeeeeeelarious when you find out it's really Mycroft.  Works the first time, feels contrived after that.

So.  Yay!  Can't wait to start the next ep tomorrow night!

Monday, July 22, 2013

He Has His Army

This is how Tom Hiddleston introduced Thor 2 footage at Comic Con -- in all his Loki glory!

(Many thanks to Ivy Miranda for posting this on her blog, Always & Forever, and thus bringing it to my attention.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Second Opinion: "The Lone Ranger" (2013)

I went to see The Lone Ranger again last night, giving up a couple of hours of sleep to enjoy the heart-pounding, fist-pumping joy it gives me.  Since I described it here a couple of weeks ago, today I'm just going to highlight some of the wonderful nuances that make this movie so enjoyable.

First, let's start with the whole set-up that an aged Tonto (Johnny Depp) is telling this story to a little boy.  How I love this framing device!  That little boy is us, the audience, with all his/our preconceived notions of who and what The Lone Ranger was.  With that little boy, we say, "He wasn't real."  With that little boy, we say, "The Lone Ranger would never rob a bank!"  And Tonto tells us the "true" story.  Only, because Tonto is not only a biased narrator, but an unreliable and fanciful one as well, the story he tells is quirky and off-beat and not what we -- and that little boy -- expect.

Every time the narrative starts to go off-track, or makes a giant plot leap, or does something that's really quite unrealistic, that little boy is right there with us, going, "Hold it, Tonto!  How'd you get out of prison?"  And aged Tonto gets to shrug or make some semi-sensical reply, and then go on with the story, that glitch having been dealt with now.  Truly brilliant.  I know a lot of people have been annoyed by returning to the little boy and the old Tonto, but I think they would be a lot more annoyed if the story just galloped right over those inconsistencies and plot holes.

This movie is beautiful to watch, too.  Lots of the action was filmed on location in Monument Valley, and while DKoren doesn't like the sort of faded, washed-out look to much of the movie, I find it apropos.  This story is Tonto's memory of things, and as he's very old, his memory is starting to fade, which is reflected in the non-bright colors of his story.

But it's not just the scenery that's lovely.  There are some really unique shots, like having a glass of water on the camera lens, and then dripping a red drug into it from above so we see the redness swirl around as it mixes with the water.  Beautiful shot.  Or when Silver looks down a chimney, it's just the coolest image of his head framed there.  Love it.

There are so many other random touches of whimsy and intelligence that I just love.  Like when Tonto is "trading" with the dead Rangers, and he gives one of them the empty bag of peanuts that the little boy had given him -- a bleeding-through of the narrative frame into the story itself.  Brilliant, and so funny.

I love all the visual details!  Like how the aged Tonto has carved all kinds of little symbols into the inside of the frame of his display case at the carnival.  I can't wait to get this on DVD so I can study them and see how they relate to the rest of the movie.  Or when Tonto uses Cole's signature watch-flip at the end to show Cole he's got all the power now.  The way Red (Helena Bonham Carter) never says outright that she used to be a ballet dancer, but we can infer it from her portrait that she keeps in her office, so we know just how much she lost when Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) cut off her leg.  Which is also implied, never mentioned -- this movie is so great at not pounding us over the head with everything and respecting the audience's intelligence.

Sadly, from the reviews I've read, it seems that many viewers totally missed a lot of its subtleties.  I guess maybe critics and viewers alike were expecting it to be a kid's movie, and so they didn't trouble themselves with paying attention.

Okay, enough about details -- let's talk about the two lead performances.  First, Armie Hammer as John Reid/The Lone Ranger.  I love how this character sort of parallels Hammer's experiences.  He's from a wealthy family, and when he decided to be an actor, his family told him this was just some silly adolescent dream, and basically disowned him when he decided to pursue acting as a career.  Meanwhile, Hollywood honchos treated him like a dilettante and pretty boy, and it wasn't until his double roles in The Social Network (2010) that he began to be taken seriously.  Compare that to John Reid, who leaves his home to travel east and attend law school.  When he returns, his brother Dan has married John's sweetheart, and everyone treats him as someone who just wants to play cowboy but has no real place in that world.  John Reid must prove himself to everyone, even Tonto.

And there are a lot of similarities between Tonto and Johnny Depp too.  I get the sense that Johnny Depp doesn't really belong in Hollywood, even now that he's all rich and famous.  He's quirky; he wears funny hats; he's unpredictable.  And, after a string of less-than-hugely-successful movies, people are kind of not taking him seriously anymore.  He's just some weird dude in funny clothes that makes us laugh.  Compare that to Tonto, who is a self-exiled loner with a funny hat and eccentric ideas.  Because of his cryptic fanaticism, no one takes him seriously.  Just another weird Indian.  Almost everyone in the movie fails to realize how intelligent and resourceful he is.  Even the little boy at the beginning thinks Tonto is some old kook until he takes the time to really listen to him.

Okay, I'm going to stop here.  If you want to read someone else's review that really digs into what works about this movie -- and what doesn't -- go here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Want to be Just Like Victoria Barkley When I Grow Up

I was ten or eleven the first time I saw Barbara Stanwyck in anything.  I almost wrote "Miss Barbara Stanwyck," because that's how I always, always always think of her.  Because that's how she was billed on the TV show The Big Valley (1965-1969), which is where I first saw her.  In fact, it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I managed to see her in something else.  But oh, what an impression she made on me in the dozen or so rerun episodes I saw as a kid!  Her character, Victoria Barkley, was unlike any other female character I had encountered before.  She was intelligent, strong-willed, courageous, compassionate, and both respected and loved by those who knew her.  I grew up watching old westerns, both those made for the big screen as well as the small, and if you watch westerns at all, you know that they're mostly about the guys.  Girls are usually there just to be the love interest or to get in trouble so the guys have someone to rescue.  Not universally true, of course, but it felt true to a pre-pubescent me.  Sometimes it still feels true today, and not just in the western genre.  But I digress.

From the first episode I saw of The Big Valley, I knew two things:  I was in love with Heath, and I wanted to be just like Victoria.  Twenty-some years later, I'm still in love with Heath, and I still want to be like Victoria.  Season one and half of season two are available on DVD now, usually pretty reasonably, and you can watch season one for free here on  I definitely recommend trying this show out if you love Barbara Stanwyck or old western shows.  It does not disappoint, especially in its first season.

So what makes Victoria Barkley so special?  I'm going to illustrate just what kind of a gutsy lady she is by telling you the basic story of the pilot episode, "Palms of Glory."  (But I won't spoil all the plot, just part of it.  I promise!)  I could talk about any number of episodes, ones that feature her more prominently, but this one really sets the stage for her character, so I'll use it.

Victoria Barkley is a widow.  She runs a very large ranch in California, near Stockton, with the aid of her four adult children:  Jarrod (Richard Long), Nick (Peter Breck), Audra (Linda Evans), and Eugene (Charles Briles).  (I realize that "adult children" is an oxymoron, but boy howdy, I can't figure out any other way to say that.)  Into their happy, affluent world rides a young man named Heath (Lee Majors)(swoon) who claims that he is her late husband Tom's illegitimate son.

Heath, looking very grumpy and chip-on-his-shoulder-esque

Upon hearing this claim, Jarrod and Nick adamantly declare that Heath is a fraud.  No way did their daddy sire some woods colt twenty years ago!  And if by some chance he did, he definitely wouldn't leave his baby mama to fend for herself!  Not their daddy!  They try to scare Heath off, they try to buy him off, and most of all, they try to keep his claims from reaching their mother's ears.

But Victoria overhears them, and in one of the most powerful scenes I've seen in an old TV show, she tells Heath that, if he were her son, she would tell him to be proud of who his father was, and to fight for what is his because no one could deny him his birthright.

Victoria and Heath size each other up

It's a moment that makes me want to both cheer and cry, and I just can't describe it adequately, so here's a YouTube video that I have cued up to that particular scene:

It's only 2 minutes, and you get to see some lovely acting from Miss Barbara.

Only after Victoria confides in him here does Heath realize just what his presence must be doing to her.  Heath is a constant reminder that her husband found love in the arms of another woman, although he did return to Victoria in the end.  He's also an ever-present reminder to his half-siblings that their father was not the perfect person they always believed him to be.  No wonder they resent him at first.

Yes, at first.  Because Victoria believes Heath's claims.  Mostly.  She takes him in, but before she fully accepts him, she goes up to the mining camp where he says he grew up and does some pretty spiffy detective work to learn the truth (see the episode "Boots With My Father's Name").

It's not spoilage to say that Heath really is Tom Barkley's illegitimate son, since just looking at any description of The Big Valley will show you that he's one of the main characters for all four seasons.  But Victoria doesn't just say, "Okay, you can have your share of the wealth and the power and the nice clothes and the beautiful horses.  Now go away."  She doesn't try to hide Heath in the kitchen or treat him like a lesser heir because he's not her son too.  She tells the world he's as much a Barkley as her children, she brings him into the family, and she never allows herself to regret doing the right thing.

And Heath's always getting into trouble, almost as much as Nick, so you could see that she might regret it at some point, but she never does.

All the Barkleys saying grace before breakfast

That's what makes Victoria Barkley so inspirational for me:  her compassion for Heath's plight, her courage to accept that her husband done her wrong, her strong-willed insistence that the rest of the world treat Heath as a Barkley, and the intelligent way she keeps her ranch running and her family safe.  That's why her children and her neighbors love her, and even her enemies respect her.  And that's why I want to be like her when I grow up.  (If I ever do.)

(This is my contribution to the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by The Girl with the White Parasol.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon

The blogathon began yesterday!  Click the above image to visit The Girl with the White Parasol and find all the links to all the nifty articles about this magnificently talented actress.  Each day you'll find more links -- I'll be posting my contribution here on Saturday.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ten Things You (Probably) Don't Know About Me

Having been tagged by the effervescent Millie, I hereby present unto you a list of 10 things you probably don't know about me just from reading my blog.  Some of them might surprise even those who know me well in real life, we'll see.

1.  I have lived in seven different states so far.  I was born in Iowa, moved to Michigan when I was 3, moved to North Carolina when I was 12, went to college in Minnesota and lived there for a year after I graduated at got married, moved to Wisconsin and lived there for four years, moved to Connecticut two and lived there for three years, and moved here to Virginia two years ago.

2.  Thanks to all that moving, my three kids were all born in different states.  My brother and I were born in different states too, so it's a proud tradition to carry on.

3.  I have been to all 48 of the continental states in the USA.  Granted, I was only in Washington state long enough for my family to all use the bathroom at a rest stop, but still.  I was there.

4.  My favorite flavor shots for coffee are amaretto and hazelnut.

5.  In college, I participated in an all-girl version of the classic Monty Python skit "Buying a Bed."  We performed it for a talent show.  I played the husband.  Instead of singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" at the end, we sang the school song.  We did not win the talent show.  (Note -- that link leads to the actual Monty Python skit.  Watch at your own risk!)

6.  I have never had a haircut.  I just get the bottom 4 to 6 inches trimmed off a couple times a year.  Once my hair gets down past my waist, I get annoyed and have it trimmed.

7.  I had a poem published in Highlights magazine when I was 7.

8.  I have never ridden a motorcycle.  Sad but true.

9.  I loathe flipflops.  Cannot stand having things between my toes, you see.  The sight of toe socks and toe rings makes me shudder.

10.  My favorite kind of pie?  Pumpkin!  :-9

Okeydokey, that's all the fun and games I have time for!  I hereby tag Kara, Gabrielle, Analiese, and Whimsey/Rebecca.  Play if you want to, whether or not I've tagged you!

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Ten Actors Hamlette Finds Handsomest, Hottest, Most Likely to Cause Spontaneous Combustion, Whatever

So, DKoren and I decided to update our lists of our Top Ten Hottest Actors.  Here's mine, to brighten your Friday :-D  This is based on how attractive we find them, not on acting abilities or how well we like their movies or what they're like in real life.  My list of favorite actors is very different, and I'll post that sometime as well.

EDIT:  I'm adding my favorite role for each to the list so you know where to find them.

1.  David Boreanaz  (Angel on Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
2.  Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in the X-Men movies)
3.  Chris Hemsworth (Thor in The Avengers and Thor)
4.  Matt Damon (Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity and its sequels)
5.  Heath Ledger (William Thatcher in A Knight's Tale)
6.  Josh Holloway (James 'Sawyer' Ford on Lost)
7.  Val Kilmer (Doc Holliday in Tombstone)
8.  Rudolph Valentino (Ahmed ben Hassan in The Sheik)
9.  Johnny Depp (Roux in Chocolat)
10. Ioan Gruffudd (Horatio Hornblower in the A&E Hornblower movies)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain -- My Hero

Yes, it's Hero Week over at The Story Girl!  As my contribution, I've decided to blog about General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and why he is one of my personal heroes.

The real General Chamberlain

It all started when my family discovered the movie Gettysburg (1993) shortly after it was released to VHS.  We loved it.  We watched many, many times.  And from the first viewing, my brother and I were drawn to Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) and his younger brother Tom (C. Thomas Howell), who was his aide-de-camp.  They have a sweet, teasing relationship, one of the better depictions of brothers I've seen.  Tom keeps calling his brother 'Lawrence,' and Chamberlain keeps telling him not to because he's afraid the other men will think he's only made Tom his aide because he's his brother.  Chamberlain has sworn to keep Tom safe, and he figures the best way to do that is to keep him close.

Tom and Lawrence Chamberlain in Gettysburg

If that weren't enough to make me like him, Chamberlain makes this really awesome speech during the movie, all about how the Union army is fighting to set other men free, something that he says has never really been done before in the history of mankind.  It's a beautiful speech, and he makes it to a bunch of would-be-deserters that he's been tasked with adding to his ranks just before the battle.

Chamberlain speechifying

And if that weren't really enough, Chamberlain also then heroically leads the fight at the Battle of Little Round Top, where he and a handful of men repulse charge after charge by the Confederate Army.  They run low on ammunition, so he orders his men to fix bayonets and charge, a textbook move no one else thought of doing. And it works.

(Also, he quotes Hamlet in one scene.  Heart!)

One more shot of Jeff Daniels as Chamberlain just cuz it's a nifty shot

So yeah... I really loved Chamberlain in this movie.  Brave, kind, resourceful -- what's not to love?  While in college, I learned that he had written a memoir, and determined to find it.  Soon after I graduated, I bought a copy and read it.  And that book cemented Chamberlain's status as my hero.

Before I go on, I need to explain that I was born in Iowa, then moved to Michigan when I was three.  But when I was twelve, we moved to North Carolina.  Until then, I had always thought of the Civil War as something that happened so long ago that no one really cared about it anymore.  But, when I moved to the South, I discovered that people there still cared a lot about it.  They had lost, they had been humiliated thanks to Reconstruction, they had been looked down on ever since.  The defeat their forefathers suffered still stung.  I've lost count of how many bumper stickers I've seen that say things like "Yankees, go home!" or "We don't care how you do it up North."  I've been called a "d--n Yankee," right to my face.  None of that has anything to do with racism or slavery or even politics, just with people feeling like they're still being looked down on just because they were born south of the Mason-Dixon line.

So, over the past twenty years, I have come to sympathize with the Southerners a great deal.  Not with slavery or anything to do with that, but just with the people who live in the South, and those who lived there back during the Civil War.  Yes, they fought a war that, at its core, was about protecting the ugly institution of slavery.  But that didn't mean they needed to be ground into the dirt by the North's boot once they'd lost.

Okay, so that is why what Chamberlain did at the end of the war meant so much to me.  By war's end, he was a general; he'd received the Medal of Honor; he'd become very respected as a military tactician even though, before the war, he was a college professor.  Of foreign languages.  At Appomattox Courthouse, he had the honor of accepting the surrender of the Confederate infantry after General Lee signed the surrender. And it is what he did there that makes me honor and revere him so.

I'm just going to quote directly from Chamberlain's book here because I could never explain it so well.  His words here give me chills every time I read them and envision the scene -- Union troops lining the road down which the defeated Confederates must march to surrender their weapons.  Here's what he says:

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply.  I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms.  Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in th eleast.  The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union.  My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness.  Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood:  men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve;  standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; -- was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?
Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry" -- the marching salute.  Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual, -- honor answering honor.  On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
(p. 195-196.  Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence.  The Passing of the Armies.  Bantam edition, 1993.)
Oh, how that magnanimous, that gentlemanly action warms my heart.  Chamberlain took a good bit of grief for his actions, as he expected he would, but he stood by them as honorable and right.  It is his refusal to disgrace or mock the brave Confederate soldiers, his insistence that they be respected -- that is what makes Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain my hero.

Chamberlain in later years.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Last of the Period Drama Tag

The end of the challenge.  :-(  I've enjoyed this so much that I don't want it to end!  But here are the last of Miss Laurie's questions, and my answers.

1. How many period dramas did you review?

Twenty-three! Can you believe that?  And I thought I would barely manage twelve.  Turns out that I watch a lot of period dramas anyway, so it wasn't hard to find ones to watch and review for the challenge.

2. Did you enjoy reading reviews from the other challenge participants?

Absolutely!  I've made some new friends through this, and am following ten more blogs thanks to this.  Ten!

3. Did you review mostly films you'd seen before or new-to-you films?

I reviewed 10 that I'd seen before, and 13 that I hadn't, so I'd say it's a fairly even mix.

4. Of the films that were new to you, which was your favorite?

Probably either Northanger Abbey (2007) or 42 (2013).

5. What new period dramas have you discovered through this challenge that you look forward to viewing in future?

Too many to count!  I've got a list going, and they include things like Ivanhoe and Persuasion and Mirror, Mirror.

6. Would you be interested in participating in a similar challenge next year?

Absolutely!  I would love to do that.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

"The Lone Ranger" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger in the 1950s TV show

I've blogged before about how much I love the Lone Ranger -- here about the TV show, and here about the movie.  The show and the 1956 movie were a huge part of my childhood.  My brother and I played that we were the Lone Ranger and Tonto hundreds of times, switching off who was whom as the mood struck us.  We had the first three episodes of the TV show memorized, line for line, and most of the movie too.  The Lone Ranger was one of my first heroes, and one I still hold dear to my heart.  Later, I got to listen to the original radio show too, which I also find to be great fun.

I knew from the previews that the remake was not going to be a serious movie.  It was going to have a kiddie-matinee-romp feel to it, and it was going to take iconic things from the original story and twist them to its own purposes.  And I would just have to be okay with that.  Fortunately, I'm not a purist.  If the story works, then I'm cool with having to change things from the original, as long as they serve the story.  And the story worked, so I'm okay with Tonto being a bit odd, with John Reid/the Lone Ranger being kind of bad at the whole ride-a-horse-and-shoot-a-gun thing at first, with them presenting this as more legend than fact.  That last really saves the whole shebang -- mythologizing it makes things work that would otherwise be unbelievable.

SPOILER ALERT!  Skip the next paragraph if you don't know the original story and don't like spoilage.

So.  The basic origin story is intact.  John Reid and his brother Dan are Texas Rangers, and a traitor named Collins leads them and five other Rangers into an ambush by the Cavendish gang.  All the Rangers are shot and left for dead.  A lonely Indian named Tonto comes upon their remains, buries them, and in the process discovers that John Reid is not dead.  Tonto nurses him back to life, makes him a mask from his dead brother's vest, gives him the name The Lone Ranger, gives him the idea for silver bullets, and introduces him to the fiery horse with the speed of light, Silver.  And then they go on from there.

Jay Silverheels as Tonto in the TV show

My brother and I always though that, in the TV show, Tonto (Jay Silverheels) was the brains behind the whole operation.  He gives the Lone Ranger (Clayton Moore) everything, from his name to his mask to his horse.  He improves on the Lone Ranger's plans if they're not quite up to snuff.  He goes undercover to get information, rescues the Lone Ranger from certain death time and again, and probably does all the cooking too.  So I'm not surprised that Johnny Depp wanted to play Tonto.  As he said in several interviews (including this one), why did Tonto have to be the sidekick?  In this movie, they're pretty equal characters, and Tonto is definitely the one with the know-how and the abilities that get the job done most of the time.

Ruth Wilson as Rebecca Reid

Of course, they added a lot of things.  Like a love triangle -- Dan Reid's (James Badge Dale) wife Rebecca (Ruth Wilson) was once in love with his brother John (Armie Hammer).  John's been away back East getting himself a law degree, and while he was away, she married Dan, and they had a son named Danny (Bryant Prince).

It's a lot funnier than the original, and more violent too.  While the Lone Ranger still shoots only to wound, never to kill, there are a lot of explosions and train wrecks and kidnappings and deaths, stuff that reminds you this is a modern movie, not a '50s show.  There's also a whole lot of rip-roarin' fun, though.

Basically, it's your standard railroads-vs-the-Indians plot.  Not hugely original, but tried and true.  John Reid comes west spouting about progress and the future, and then learns what happens when progress and the future come knocking.  Kind of reminded me of Jimmy Stewart's character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).  Tonto (Johnny Depp) is an outcast Comanche whose entire village was wiped out many years earlier.  Together, they set out to stop the Cavendish gang, the underhanded railroaders, the misled Indians and cavalry, and save the town of Colby.  Which, by the way, was the name of the town in the first three episodes of the TV series, and I love that they used it.  I kept an eye out for Sheriff "Two-Gun" Taylor too, but he wasn't there.

But I also kept my eye out for the younger version of the railroad boss, Cole.  In most of the movie, Cole is played by Tom Wilkinson, but in one flashback sequence, he's played by a guy named Steve Corona.  And it just so happens that he and I went to college together -- he was in Cowboy's class, but I knew him and his wife because they were into theatre, and I was on the fringes of the theatre crowd.  A couple of my friends and I loved helping build sets, and we went to every single theatre production at least once, so I knew most of the theatre folks at least a little.  I got to see Steve Corona play Puck in a really fun version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he was the best Puck I have ever imagined.  But anyway, it was completely awesome to see him on the big screen!  I actually clapped when he came on, and then the people sitting next to me looked at me really funny, cuz he was playing the Bad Guy.  I wanted to explain that I knew him, but I don't like talking to strangers, so I didn't.

Okay, so anyway, this was a really fun romp of a movie.  Did I love it?  Maybe.  Did I like it?  Absolutely.  Will I buy the DVD?  Definitely.  If only for this one scene where John Reid finally gets it all together and really becomes The Lone Ranger -- they start the classic Lone Ranger theme up (actually a bit from "The William Tell Overture" by Rossini, but you knew that, right?), and it just pounds along, him riding Silver for all he's worth, and me bouncing up and down in my seat with pure and unadulterated joy.  I cheered.  Little fist pump and a "YEAH!"  And then I clapped.  And then I bounced some more.

Time to talk costumes!  I have to say, I absolutely adore the Lone Ranger's suit.

It's black, it's got this longish coat that I would love to wear myself, but it's got the red bandana and big white hat to hark back to the original.  Because, clearly, they weren't going to put him in the traditional blue jumpsuit.  This was a delicious choice.

Tonto didn't get the traditional fringed shirt look, either.  Instead, he got crazy face paint, a dead bird for a hat, and leggings.  It works.  It's Johnny Depp, what can I say?

The rest of the characters get that grimy-and-sweaty look that's popular in westerns these days.  I could not find any good pictures of Ruth Wilson's costumes, but she gets some great dresses, nothing fancy, just what a Texas Ranger's wife would manage with.  I'm going to put a picture of the two Reid brothers here to show off some more costumes and because I hadn't found a place for this anywhere else.

Is this a family-friendly movie?  Not really.  It's PG-13 for violence, action, and some suggestive material, which basically means it's a modern western with ladies of the evening in it.  Lots of low-cut dresses for said ladies, and lots of violence.  Also a cannibalism theme, and these weird killer bunnies that were never explained.  And one outlaw who wants to be a crossdresser -- really could have done without him.  Women are threatened, a little boy holds a gun, there are a handful of curse words... nope, not family-friendly.

But anyway, this is my last review for the Period Drama Challenge.  Sniff, sniff.  It's been so much fun!  I'll be doing the June recap and finale soon!  And then off I'll ride, into the sunset.

No, wait!  I'll still be here, still be reviewing movies.  Just not doing reviews for a particular challenge anymore, that's all.  But I'm not wandering off into the desert, don't worry.

Monday, July 01, 2013

My Ten Favorite Noir Films

Time for the latest installment in my "Ten Favorite" series.  This time, it's all about the dames, the dinguses, the shamuses, the femmes fatale.  Back alleys and broken dreams all the way.

I first encountered film noir when I was in high school.  Our local PBS station showed classic movies on Saturday nights, and I would record them if they sounded interesting, then watch them later.  One week, they showed The Big Sleep (1946).  I'd recently read the book, my first taste of Raymond Chandler's amazing writing.  I found the movie entrancing, this completely new-to-me style of gritty locations, tough characters, unsavory goings-on, and breathtakingly beautiful cinematography.  With just that one movie, I fell in love with a whole film style I hadn't known existed.

In case you're not familiar with it, film noir means "black/dark film" in French, and these movies are generally very dark indeed.  Usually, there's a crime committed and someone trying to right the wrong or solve the case.  Usually, there are tough men and tougher women -- some evil and some good and most in the grey area in between.  Usually, there's a sad ending, though not always -- most of my favorites end relatively happily.  But always, there is darkness.

So anyway, here are my ten favorite noir films.  Six are classic noir from the '40s, three are amazing neo-noir films, and one you could kind of call kiddie-noir, I guess.  As usual, I've provided my own descriptions and comments, and a link to my review if I've done one here before.

1. Laura (1944)

While solving the murder of beautiful Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) falls in love with her memory.  One of the most haunting murder mysteries with one of the biggest plot twists.

2. Road to Perdition (2002)

A hitman (Tom Hanks) takes his son (Tyler Hoechlin) on the run, seeking vengeance for the brutal murder of his wife and other son.  Brilliant acting from all involved, including Paul Newman, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and some dude named Daniel Craig.

3. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

PI Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) searches for a missing statue, going up against every archetypical noir character in the process.  Gunsels, damsels in distress, femmes fatale, eccentric criminals -- they're all here, and all terrific.

4. LA Confidential (1997)

Three Hollywood cops (Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, and Guy Pearce) wrestle with corruption, vice, murder, and conspiracy.  One of the most intricately plotted movies ever, with all kinds of disparate strands woven together to form a dazzling whole.

5. To Have and Have Not (1944)

Fisherman Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) gets tangled up with a wandering woman (Lauren Bacall) and a bunch of anti-Nazi French patriots during WWII.  Loosely based on characters from the Ernest Hemingway novel by the same title.

6. Brick (2005)

Highschool loner Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates the murder of the girl he may have loved, discovering a teenage underworld in the process.  One of the most creative movies I've ever seen.

7. The Big Sleep (1946)

PI Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) takes a case for a wealthy family with a lot of secrets.  Pairs Bogart again with the love of his real life, Lauren Bacall.

8. Swamp Water (1941)

An innocent bayou dweller (Dana Andrews) gets mixed up with a fugitive (Walter Brennan) and his daughter in the Okefenokee Swamp.  A very sweet movie in many ways.

9. Dick Tracy (1990)

Straight-as-an-arrow police detective Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) battles mobsters with names like Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), 88 Keys (Mandy Patinkin), Breathless Mahoney (Madonna), and Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman).  The best film adaptation of a comic strip I've ever seen.  The funny names and bright colors make it seem like child's play, but it's got a pretty serious storyline.

10. Fallen Angel (1945)

A con man (Dana Andrews) hits town intending to seduce a lonely spinster (Alice Faye) out of her money while carrying on with a waitress (Linda Darnell) on the side.  Nothing goes as he planned.  This is noir, after all.

EDIT:  I feel like I need to post a warning here.  Brick, L.A. Confidential, and Road to Perdition are rated R.  Brick and Road to Perdition are R for violence and strong language.  L.A. Confidential is R for violence, strong language, and sexual content, and it very much earns that R rating.  It looks like Clearplay has filters for all three, and I strongly recommend using one for L.A. Confidential if you decide you want to see it.  But it is not in any way a "family friendly" movie.  The other two would clean up fairly easily.