Friday, May 30, 2014

"Monuments Men" (2014) -- Initial Thoughts

I didn't know they made movies like this anymore!  Seriously, this could have been made in the '60s, back when they were making The Guns of Navaronne and The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare.  Like those classic WWII movies, Monuments Men is unabashedly heroic.  There's none of the moral uncertainty or post-modernist hand-wringing that plagues many recent war movies.  And I think perhaps that's why this movie was not beloved of the critics.  It does not feel like a modern war movie.  In fact, it's something of an anachronism -- a quiet, gentle movie in many ways, but still a war movie too.  No wonder the critics disliked it -- it's not exactly like every other movie being made right now!

And the characters.  So many nice people, these characters!  I liked them all, definitely want to be friends with most of them :-)  Also, some of them reminded me a lot of characters from Combat!, which definitely added to my enjoyment.  Frank Stokes (George Clooney) had that debonair officer thing going on, just like Lt. Hanley (Rick Jason).  Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin) was the jaunty, charming, French-speaking outsider, quite like Caje (Pierre Jalbert).  Walter Garfield (John Goodman) was the round guy who likes to cheer others up, rather like Braddock (Shecky Greene).  In fact, the movie as a whole would have worked pretty well as a Combat! episode, a two-parter like "The Long Way Home."  In fact, I was reminded several times of one C! ep in particular, "Heritage," which guest-starred Charles Bronson and involved the squad finding a bunch of stolen artwork hidden in a cave.  I'm guessing that ep was inspired by the events this movie portrays.

Because this is based on a true story, you know, of soldiers trying to rescue artwork from the Nazis.  The movie poses the question of whether or not a "priceless" painting or statue is worth a person's life, and it kind of leaves it up to the viewer to decide, though it's pretty plain what the filmmakers think.

Damon as Granger
My favorite character was absolutely James Granger, and not just cuz he was played by Matt Damon, though that did factor in a great deal :-)  He's kind, sensible, helpful, nice -- exactly what I like in a character.  (SPOILER!) Granger is a married man, and he gets to know this French woman, Claire (Cate Blanchett), and she makes it plain she'd like to sleep with him without saying it in so many words, and he turns her down, remaining very gentlemanly but firm.  (END SPOILER)

Is this movie family friendly?  More than most modern movies!  There's a fair amount of cussing, on par with a late-60s-or-early-70s war movie, and a woman very obliquely asks a man to sleep with her, but it's all implied, nothing stated in so many words.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I Made Jam! Maybe.

I've never made jam before.  Ever.  I've never canned anything by myself either, though I helped my mom can things when I was a kid.  But this is fridge canning, not "actual" canning, so this kinda doesn't count, I don't think.  But I did make jam.  At least, I hope it's jam.

Okay, let me back up.  Our first spring here at Tir Asleen, we discovered that the tree right in front of our house is magnificent.  It's a cherry-plum tree, which means it produces gorgeous flowers.

And then it produces fruit which are technically plums, but they're the size of cherries.  And very tart.  I like tart things.  So that first spring, I said, "I will make jam from these some day!"  But I had a little baby at the time, and couldn't find the time to even harvest the cherry-plums.

The next spring, which was last spring, we didn't get much rain, and our tree didn't flower a lot.  Didn't produce much fruit either.  So again, no harvesting.  I began to despair of ever enjoying more than the occasional tart morsel from that tree.

But this year, we got lots of blossoms, lots of fruit!  So the kids and I picked cherry-plums for a couple of hours one morning, and I would guesstimate we picked about 12 cups of them.  Maybe closer to 14.  We filled a whole gallon Ziploc bag and then started in on another.  And finally, finally my dream of jam could become a reality!

I found this recipe and set off on my jam-making adventure.  It took me two hours of steady work, plus the help of one small mouse who helped me remove stems before cooking, but I turned those cherry-plums above into the seven jars of jam below.

They're still cooling, and then I'll have to put them in the fridge until they're thoroughly cold, but it looks like jam to me!  Woo!

Also, I made Cherry-Plum and Blackberry Cobbler yesterday.  You can find the recipe here on my recipe blog.

Cobbler?  More like Gobbler, the way my kids attacked it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Happy (belated) Birthday, John Wayne!

I missed posting about his birthday yesterday!  How could I?  (Okay, sure, I'd just gotten home from 2 weeks at my parents' house, I was madly unpacking and doing laundry and taking kids to swimming lessons... but that's no excuse.)

So, happy birthday one day late to my favorite actor of all time, not to mention a personal hero of mine.

This kind of sums up my attitude today.

And if punching you doesn't work, I'll hit you with this pool cue!

Or maybe I'll just fix your hat for you.  (That's Ricky Nelson, in case you didn't know.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 Container Garden

Here it is!  My container garden for the year.  I thought I'd posted about this last year too, but I guess not.  I love growing things, but the soil around here is so poor you can't just plant things in the ground and expect them to grow.  You have to enrich the soil and stuff.  I miss the Midwest!  No wonder all the pioneers were in such raptures when they got Iowa.  Such wonderful, instantly-ready-to-grow-things dirt.  But anyway, we've solved the issue by building a raised bed garden for our veggies, and putting a container garden on our deck so I can grow flowers.  Actually, I have daffodils and hyacinths and other things growing in the ground too, but annuals and veggies don't seem to thrive without a lot of crazy stuff done to the soil first.

I actually planted this a couple weeks ago, but just didn't get a chance to post about it until now.  These pics were taken the day I planted everything, hence all the dirt and water everywhere.  In the leftmost pot, I have lavender.  I've tried growing lavender from seeds for two years and failed miserably, so this year I bought a plant and we'll see if that works better.

This is a closeup of the lavender pot.  It's just a terra cotta pot that I painted with these wonderful "patio paints" I found at the craft store.  They dry quickly and don't wash off!  Very fun. 

I got these amazing stackable pots new this spring!  They were originally $60 for a set of three layers like this, which I thought was a bit exorbitant, but I got one set 50% off, and the other 60% off a week later!  Very pleased.  This set by the lavender has lemon basil on top, then chives in the middle, and dill on the bottom.  I've been growing a mint plant in a container for a couple years, and decided to try some more herbs.  We'll see what happens!

In the two pots to the right of this, I planted seeds for marigolds and nasturtiums and pansies.  Those are all edible flowers!  Going to be interesting experimenting with that this summer.

The center pot has flowers I bought from the store too -- I like to start out with some color already there in my containers so I don't have to wait all spring for things to sprout and grow and bloom.  So I put yellow lantanas and a pretty yellow-and-white striped calibrachoa hybrid in that pot.  They're so cheerful!  My lantana last year got enormous, and I'm hoping this year's does too.  The calibrachoas should spread out and drape down the sides of the container, a look I just love.

Calibrachoa "superbells" hybrid


The two off-white containers to the right of the center are the same things as the ones to the left.  And then the brown three-layered pot on the right is totally planted with verbena seeds I harvest myself from plants I had last summer.  I've never tried harvesting my own seeds before, so I'm really excited to see how these do.

I also harvested nasturtium seeds last fall, which got planted in these three pots.  My three kids each got to paint a pot too, and I put them on this nifty little plant stand to add some levels and interest to my garden.  The six-year-old's is the highest, then the four-year-old's, then the two-year-old's.  Isn't it fun seeing the progression of painting abilities?

Last year I only had those middle five pots.  And that was wonderful -- I got such joy from the beautiful flowers that grew there all summer and into the fall.  This year, I'm really excited for all the additions!  This section of my deck is all filled up now, so I don't think my little container garden will be getting any bigger for a few years, but that's absolutely fine with me.  I'll try to post an update when plants are up and getting pretty!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dearest Bobby!

Happy birthday to my beloved Bobby Darin!  I'm not at home right now, where my wall calendar would remind me of birthdays and such.  I thought several times today that May 14 seemed like it was important for some reason, but it wasn't until I'd crawled into bed at 11:30 that it hit me.  Bobby's birthday!  I'm sorry I almost forgot, Bobby.  I'll listen to lots of your music tomorrow to make up for it.

Playing "Happy Birthday" for himself because I forgot to.

Giving me that come-listen-to-my-music-because-I'm-going-to-melt-your-heart look.

A still from his appearance on Wagon Train, which I haven't seen yet.  But I can't resist him in a cowboy hat.  

Bobby would have been 78 today.  Sigh.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Winner! Winner!

Three cheers for Clayton, winner of the DVD giveaway!  Clayton, I've just emailed you, so as soon as I get your mailing address, I'll be sending off your copy of A Sun Also Rises.  I hope you enjoy it!

Everyone else, better luck next time :-)  I'm kind of addicted to giveaways, so I'm sure I'll hold another one before long!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dear Rudy!

It's Rudolph Valentino's 119th birthday :-)  To celebrate, I ordered a copy of Beyond the Rocks on DVD -- I've never seen it!  Very exciting.  I hope to watch it next week.  A little late for his birthday, but better late than never.

Happy birthday, dear Rudy!

Rudy reading the birthday card I imaginarily sent him with my spiffy time machine.

Rudy tinkering with a car or something.  One of his favorite hobbies, reportedly.

Rudy with some giant spaghetti -- he used to make his own noodles, sauce and meatballs :-9

Monday, May 05, 2014

"The Sun Also Rises" (1957) -- Initial Thoughts and Giveaway!

(This is my contribution to the Power-Mad Blogathon -- go here for the official page listing all the posts!  From here on out, spoilage abounds.)

This may be a strange way to begin a blog post that's part of a blogothon celebrating Tyrone Power's 100th birthday.  But for the first fifteen minutes or so of this movie, I thought Power was horribly miscast.  He was in his forties, with a touch of grey in his hair and a lack of bounce to his step.  Jake Barnes should be in his late twenties, a survivor of the recent Great War, a still-robust young man who thinks nothing of hiking for miles and miles through the mountains to find the ultimate fishing spot.  You see, I'd reread the book prior to watching this movie version so I could compare the two (my review of the book is here), and try as I might, I could not envision Power in the role as I read.

But then we got to the scene where he sees Lady Brett Ashley (Ava Gardner) for the first time in quite a while, and all of a sudden, Power was exactly Jake Barnes and I loved him in the role for the rest of the movie.  The fact that he was older than the character in the book simply added to his world-weariness and the sense that here is a man who has seen and done too much and is annoyed with it all.

Their differing expressions when they see Brett say so much, don't they?

In fact, the cast as a whole is remarkably well suited to their roles.  Ava Gardner is very believable as Brett, a woman with a mannish attitude toward relationships who is unceasingly alluring to men.  Gardner imbues Brett with a glimmer of tears behind her bravado and a ferocious beauty that leaves no questions about why so many men are chasing her.

Mel Ferrar is quite good as Robert Cohn.  He's a love-lorn fool with his heart permanently sewn to his sleeve.  Ferrar uses his sad-puppy eyes and droopy mouth to great effect throughout.

Eddie Albert is, well, Eddie Albert.  You want a smiling guy to cheer everyone up over and over, you get Eddie Albert.  He's fine as Jake's American pal Bill, but not the only person who could have played the role.

Bill saying my favorite line:  "Caffeine, we are here!"

In fact, I think think the best casting choice was Errol Flynn as Brett's long-suffering fiance, Mike Campbell.  Still very dashing twenty years after he ran around rescuing damsels in distress, Flynn really looks like a man who could interest Brett even though he's bankrupt.  Mike is another character it would be easy to either underplay or overplay, but Flynn gives him great balance, not too accepting of Brett's wanderings, but not too worried about them either.  And underlying his determined drinking is an aching sense of loss, that he used to be much more than a drunken, penniless Scotsman bumping around Europe.

And rounding out the cast is the one actor who completely failed my every expectation for the character:  Robert Evans as the bullfighter Pedro Romero.  Sadly, I had envisioned Rudolph Valentino from Blood and Sand (1922), and the truth is, no one was going to live up to Rudy in the role.  But did they have to cast a guy who looked like this when he smiled?

I really didn't buy Brett falling for him.  Seemed more like charity than anything.

Okay, so much for the cast.  Just in case you want to know what the movie is actually about, it's pretty simple:  Jake, Mike, Robert, and Pedro are all in love with Brett Ashley.  Bill isn't.

If you want the longer version, it's this:  Jake and Brett have been in love for years, but a war injury left Jake impotent, and Brett has a voracious sexual appetite, so they've decided it's no use.  Brett is engaged to Mike, has a fling with Robert, then another fling with Pedro.  There's a bunch of bullfighting too.

If you want a much longer, more detailed synopsis, read my book review cuz this is getting plenty long already.

So.  How did I like the movie as compared to the book?  Overall, I like the book better.  But I think that as Hemingway adaptations go, this is pretty good.  Most of the characters look and sound very much like they do in the book.  Chunks of dialog even got used, which pleased me no end -- even my favorite quote about coffee made it in, which I wasn't expecting since it's not integral to the story at all.

Both book and movie are slowly, almost languidly paced, developing emotions and situations over time instead of rushing through everything.  I think the bull fights were actually more exciting in the book, but overall they did a swell job turning a 250-page book into a 130-minute movie.  They did change some things, like adding in a sequence where Bill and Mike drunkenly get caught up in the running of the bulls by mistake.  I think that was supposed to add some comic relief, but I thought it was jarringly out of emotional synch with the rest of the movie.

There are some bigger changes too, like leaving out the fact that Robert Cohn is Jewish.  I found that omission very sensible, as the book gets labeled anti-Semitic a lot, and I feel like his Jewishness really has nothing to do with the story.  They also explicitly stated that Jake Barnes is impotent, which is only implied in the book.  Harder to get across with a movie, maybe.  Or the word wasn't as taboo by 1957 as it was thirty years earlier when the book was published?

Anyway, the acting from Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, and Erroll Flynn was just superb.  What those three could do with a slight lowering of eyelids or a glance to the side, a smile at the wrong moment, a hesitation during a sentence -- heady stuff, I tell you.  This is well worth seeing just to watch three pros at work.

Tyrone hard at work playing Jake being hard at work.

Is this movie family friendly?  Well, no bad language, as I recall.  No actual bedroom scenes or adult dialog, everything there is implied.  Some violence, with one fist fight and lots of bull fights.  No blood or dead animals shown in the bullfights, though.  As clean as it can be, with the subject matter, I'd say!

But overall, this isn't a movie I want to watch over and over.  Which means... I'm going to give away my copy!  I bought it brand-new, only watched it once, and it could be yours!  Just enter the giveaway below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway runs from today through the end of Sunday, May 11, 2014. I'll draw a winner on May 12. PLEASE be sure you've provided a CURRENT email address to this Rafflecopter widget so that when I email the winner, they actually get the notification that they've won! This is open world-wide. If the winner doesn't respond to my notification within one week (by May 19, 2014, in other words), I will draw a different winner and the first one will be out of luck.

And don't forget to read all the other entries into this blogathon!  Click on this button to find the list if you didn't follow my earlier link :-)

Thursday, May 01, 2014

"Operation Pacific" (1951)

I can still remember the first time I saw this movie.  My family was staying in a hotel, back when I was in my early teens, probably on vacation.  The hotel had AMC, which once upon a time actually showed classic American movies, as its name would lead you to expect.  And we sat in that hotel room and watched most of this movie -- I think we missed the first few minutes, but not much at all.  I was probably fourteen, which means my brother was nine, and we got such a kick out of how the different officers would repeat orders into the loudspeaker system that every time anyone did that, we would repeat it too, using pens as our radio headset thingies.  We made sure to watch it all the way to the end so we could find out what it was called, because boy, did we like that movie and want to see it again.

Fast-forward twenty years, to right now.  I've seen Operation Pacific probably twenty times in those twenty years.  It's my second-favorite John Wayne movie.  It's my favorite war movie.  It never fails to make me smile.  And when my six-year-old son asked me, earlier this week, if he could please watch a movie about World War II, I knew exactly which movie we would watch.  There's not a single objectionable word in this movie, there's nothing scary, there are no undertones that I might have to hope he'd just not catch on to.  It's a straightforward, simple, charming story of the crew of the U.S.S. Thunderfish, a submarine captained by Ward Bond, with John Wayne as his second-in-command.  They fight the Japanese, they blow up ships, they solve problems.  A few characters die, in heroic and non-gory ways.  There are a few chaste kisses.  Most of the characters live happily ever after.  The perfect war movie to show to my six-year-old so and four-year-old daughter, who have seen only a couple other live-action movies before (Mary Poppins and The Absent-Minded Professor and parts of The Sound of Music) and are still frightened by things like Marshmallow in Frozen and the Heffalumps and Woozles in The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh.

But don't think this is a childish movie.  It's got great stuff going on, exploring themes like friendship, envy, pride, and duty.  And the romance between John Wayne and Patricia Neal's characters, who are divorced but still in love, is one of my favorites in all movies.  It's tender, but not mushy.

Intriguingly enough, I've recently learned (thank you, internet!) that several of the things that happen in this movie happened in real life during WWII.  I'm not going to say just what so as not to spoil things for anyone who hasn't seen this yet, but you can check Wikipedia's page for more info.

The whole movie looks to be available on YouTube, and I also bought a brand-new copy on Amazon for under $10.

Is this movie family friendly?  Yes, indeedy.