Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tolkien Party Time!

It's Tolkien Week!  Which means my Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence kicked off yesterday on my other blog, The Edge of the Precipice.  Here are my answers to the party questions.

1.  Who introduced you to Tolkien's stories?

My mom gave me The Hobbit to read when I was in high school.  I didn't really care for it, so I mostly credit my fiance-at-the-time, Cowboy, and my best friend Emily for making me go see The Fellowship of the Ring when it came out while we were in college.  That's what hooked me.

2.  How old were you when you first ventured into Middle Earth?

Probably sixteen when I read The Hobbit.  Twenty-one when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring and started reading The Lord of the Rings.

3.  Did you read the books first, or see movie versions first?

A bit of both!  Read The Hobbit first, long before the movies were made.  Saw The Fellowship of the Ring first, then read the book, and then waited to read The Two Towers until I'd seen the movie.  Ditto with The Return of the King.

4.  A dragon or a balrog -- which would you rather fight?

Um... why didn't I think up an answer to this when I made up these questions?  I guess maybe a dragon, as they're not entirely made of fire.  They're more cunning, or seem like they are, since they can talk and all, but there's a teeny chance you could reason with them and have a battle of wits instead of brawn.  But Balrogs -- whoa.  Terrifying.  

5.  Who are three of your favorite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on why.)

Last year, I talked about Boromir, Sam, and Gandalf.  They're my three absolute favorites.  This year I'll talk about my next top three:

I love Eomer because he's loyal.  Steadfast in his devotion to Theoden even when Theoden supposedly has him banished.  And he seems like a really good big brother, even taking the new king to task when he thinks Eowyn has been trifled with.  

I love Aragorn because he's not a shirker.  He's spent decades protecting people who don't like him, and who don't even realize they're being protected.  Thankless job, that.  He uses the Palantir to wrestle with Sauron.  He leads the army to the Black Gates even though he assumes he will die there.  He's not just brave, he's also willing to do whatever must be done.  I admire that. 

I love Faramir because he's thoroughly honorable.  He's a recent favorite -- I only started loving him during my last read-through of the book, specifically here.  He's like the epitome of the word "chivalrous," isn't he?

6.  Have you ever dressed up like a Tolkien character?

No.  Not yet.  One day!

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

"But I already have my whole day planned out!  Come back in five minutes when I've made new plans that can include your adventure."

8.  Have you read any of the "history of Middle Earth" books?

To my lasting shame, no.  Not yet.  Not even The Silmarillion.

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

Not a huge fan of wine, so I'd rather try the Ent Draught!  Plus, I always wanted to be 5'8", and I'm only 5'7", so maybe it'd give me that extra inch!

10.  List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

(Trying not to use any from last year.)

"What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?" -- Aragorn

"Now there's an eye-opener, and no mistake" -- Sam

"What new devilry is this?" -- Boromir

"A wizard is never late.  Nor is he early.  He always arrives precisely when he means to." -- Gandalf

"The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived." -- Eomer

"Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear." -- Aragorn

"Courage is found in unlikely places." -- Gildor

"Oft the unbidden guest proves the best company." -- Eomer

"My cuts, short or long, don't go wrong." -- Strider

"I'm going on an adventure!!!!" -- Bilbo  (Last time I was at my parents' house, I ran down their driveway yelling this, and my Mom told me to calm down.  I'm 34.  I think all hopes of me "calming down" are pretty well over.  Just sayin'.)

Please join me at the party!  You can find these questions here, enter the giveaways here, and there will be a new game each day from today through Friday, starting with this one :-)

Just a random screencap I took while prepping for party games.  Love this dress!

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Piratical Blogathon!

Avast there!  This be me 800th post on this blog!  And what be a better way to celebrate than with a tankard of grog and me very first blogathon :-)

Here they be -- a host of swashbuckling blog posts by as scurvy a crew of bilge rats (including meself) as ye've ever seen.  I hope ye enjoy reading each others' posts!  Don't forget to be leaving comments fer each other, just like ye'd like them to do fer yer post.

Along the Brandywine -- The Sea Hawk
Fiction Predilection -- Treasure Island
Flowers of Quiet Happiness -- Pirates and Prejudice by Kara Louise
A Free Mind -- Captain Blood
Hamlette's Soliloquy -- The Black Swan 
High Noon -- Yankee Buccaneer
J and J Productions -- The Princess Bride
Miss Daydreamer's Place -- The Pirates!  In an Adventure with Scientists
Reading in the Dark -- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson 
Sidewalk Crossings -- Cutthroat Island
Sidewalk Crossings -- DKoren and Hamlette chat about Pirates of the Caribbean
The Story Girl -- Arabella Bishop, forgotten heroine from Captain Blood

And don't be forgettin' that today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day!  Here be a button that'll link ye to the official ITLAPD website's handy guide to adding a bit of swash and buckle to yer speechmaking.

Me thanks go to each of ye fine swains and wenches fer yer participation.  Now hoist the Jolly Roger and bring me that horizon!

"The Black Swan" (1942)

This is my contribution to the very first blogathon I have ever hosted :-)  Click here or on that button to find the list of all the other entries and read those too!

I first saw this a few years ago, before I really had seen Tyrone Power in much of anything.  Oh, I'd seen him in two or three movies, but none of them recently.  This is the movie that made me sit up and go, "Zowie!  I need to see more Tyrone Power movies!"  In fact, most of the time I can't actually remember Tyrone Power's name -- I think of him as "Jamie Boy," his character in this movie.  (Also, I just learned I've been pronouncing "Tyrone" wrong all these years.  At least, according to the trailer for this movie.)

Anyway, on to the pirates!

The Black Swan opens with Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) and his band of pirates descending on a sleeping Caribbean city and carrying off all the treasure, wine, and women they can hold.  But Captain Waring (called "Jamie Boy" by those who love him) gets captured by the Spanish soldiers, and the governor of Jamaica puts him on the rack and tries to torture him into revealing where notorious pirate Henry Morgan is.  Of course, Jamie Boy just spits insults at him until his pirate crew comes to free him, and they stick the governor on the rack instead.

And that's when Lady Margaret (Maureen O'Hara) sweeps imperiously down the stairs, points a pistol at Jamie Boy, and demands to know where her father is.  Turns out she's the daughter of some British lord they'd just tossed in a dungeon.

Jamie Boy tells his crew he's claiming her as "captain's share" of the loot, then salutes her with his sword and trades insults with her for a bit.

Frankly, if I'd been confronted by a shirtless, scruffy Tyrone Power brandishing a beautiful sword, I probably would have swooned on the spot to make myself easier to tote.  However, Lady Margaret is made of sterner stuff than I (being played by Maureen O'Hara, after all), and instead she tries to threaten her way free.  He disarms her handily, then tries to kiss her, saying he always samples a bottle of wine before he buys it.  When he does manage to kiss her, she bites him, so he does what any self-respecting pirate would:  slugs her and prepares to carry her off to his ship.

But when he opens the door, what to his wondering eyes should appear but Captain Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar)!  Freshly pardoned by the English government and set up as the new governor of Jamaica!

Captain Morgan announces that peace has been declared between England and Spain, and that as governor, he's giving all pirates the choice of either stopping their piratical ways and settling down on land he'll give them, or else leaving the Caribbean for good.

Of course, that doesn't sit well with every single pirate, particularly Captain Leech (George Sanders) and his menacing pal Wogan (Anthony Quinn).  They declare they think that Morgan is an English spy and that they're going to continue pirating if they darn well please, and don't start ordering them around!

But Jamie Boy agrees to stop being a pirate and instead become Governor Morgan's right-hand man.  And then we have the ceremony where Morgan gets installed as governor publicly, and Lady Margaret is very upset by having a pirate as a governor, especially since it means Jamie Boy is around to bother her now.  AND he's sleeping in her old room at the governor's palace.  She flounces out into the garden, Jamie Boy follows her, and we have my favorite scene in the whole movie.

Jamie Boy tells her that he's learned a whole new set of manners, and that now, instead of hugging and squeezing a woman into loving him, he's going to try his hand at being a gentleman.

 And even with him looking this splendid, she still keeps glaring and yowling at him!

How on earth she can resist him in this outfit, I don't know.  But she does.  Like I said, sterner stuff than I'm made of.

Actually, that's what I like best about this movie -- the way these two characters grow.  They're both very selfish and proud, and they both have to learn to think about someone other than themselves before they can find love and happiness.  It's a very sweet moral, for a pirate movie, but don't worry -- it's not all about the romance.  It's mostly about the swashbuckling, and they have a sword fight every ten minutes or so just to keep things peppy.

Lady Margaret has a fancy-pants fiance named Roger Ingram (Edward Ashley), who Jamie Boy refuses to duel with because he's promised not to kill any tame rabbits today.  Which is important to the plot, but also, I wanted to mention him so I could show you this shot of how awesome Jamie Boy's cape is:

That rascally Captain Leech continues pirating all around the Caribbean, and the people of Jamaica think Governor Morgan is feeding Leech information, so Morgan sends Jamie Boy and a couple other trustworthy captains out to find Leech in Tortuga and bring him to justice.

Leech does have a spy on Jamaica, so he knows to run away from Tortuga before Jamie Boy ever got there.  Jamie Boy heads back to Jamaica to figure out who the spy is, and stomps into the assembly room or whatever it is, looking fearsome and delicious again.  The Jamaican gentry think it's either Morgan or Jamie Boy who's the traitor, and Jamie Boy gets really angry and declares he'll find Leech and stop him or die trying.  Or something like that -- I get distracted by the jaunty angle of Jamie Boy's hat and don't pay close attention to dialog in this scene.

Before he sets sail, Jamie Boy kidnaps Lady Margaret on the eve of her wedding to the tame rabbit, with the help of his trusty sidekick Tommy Blue (Thomas Mitchell).  Tommy Blue calls her a "flouncy wench" and declares she's more trouble than she's worth, but he helps anyway.

They set off to find Leech, but he finds them first and prepares to attack.  Jamie Boy decides the only way to save himself, his ship, and Lady Margaret is to pretend he's gone back to piracy and join up with Leech.  When Lady Margaret comes out on deck, there's a delightful shot of her confronting the Jolly Roger as they're preparing to run it up.

Leech sees their flag and comes over to parley, but he's not convinced.  Jamie Boy claims he and Lady Margaret are married, and she has the good sense to not disagree.  Leech signs articles with Jamie Boy, but insists Jamie Boy and Lady Margaret come sail on Leech's ship, the Black Swan, as an assurance of their loyalty.

They have to share a cabin on the Black Swan, but Jamie Boy courteously cedes the bed to her and sleeps in a hammock.  And looks all wistful and dreamy.  Honestly, has there ever been a more handsome pirate?  I think not.

And then there's a sea battle, and lots and lots and lots of sword fighting, with various and assorted feats of derring-do, as befits a pirate battle.

I'm not going to tell you exactly how it ends.  Watch it for yourself to see if Jamie Boy finally wins the affections of Lady Margaret, or if he dies in glorious battle with Captain Leech, or what.  Seriously -- this is a must-see pirate movie, and it's not hard to find on DVD.  You can pick up a used copy on the Barnes & Noble website for $7, or a brand-new one on Amazon for under $20.  Also, any self-respecting library should have this.

Is this movie family friendly?  Well, I'm not going to show it to my six-year-old just yet, but that's because I think the scene with Jamie Boy on the rack might worry him.  The action is all non-bloody, even when someone gets run through with a sword.  Lady Margaret does have her (non-bare) ankles and calves felt up on a couple of occasions, not to mention Jamie Boy forcing a kiss on her, but that's as racy as it gets.  And there are zero bad words.

Now, let's discuss those costumes a minute.  Specifically the glory and splendor that is Jamie Boy's black outfit with the swooshy red cloak/cape.  This is, hands down, the best pirate costume I have ever seen.  A screenshot can't show you how awesome the cloak in particular is.  I wish I knew how to create a GIF so I could show you how he can swoop the long right end of it up and over his left shoulder -- it's so supremely cool that if I had a cloak like that, I would wear it All The Time.

I probably should have screencapped a few more of Lady Margaret's costumes, but I did get long shots of a couple.  This one makes her look a little bit like Glinda the Good Witch, but it's sparkly and looks soft, and I would wear it if I had the figure for it.  Or a really good corset.  I don't much care for the little poofy bow on top of her head, but she pulls it off.  Because she's Maureen O'Hara.

I like this dress of hers best, with its layers of sheer and flimsy stuff, and that trailing scarf/wrap thingie.  It's the one she gets kidnapped in.  She has a couple others that are not a pale peachy color too, but I couldn't get good long shots of them.

Here's the trailer, if you want a sample this bottle of wine before you buy it:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Guest Post on A Lantern In Her Hand

Emma Jane kindly asked me to do a guest post for her Legends of Western Cinema Week.  You can read it here.  In it, I compare three different movies about Wyatt Earp and the legendary OK corral shoot-out:  Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Hour of the Gun (1967), and Tombstone (1993).

Reminder for Blogathon Participants

Ahoy!  This be a reminder for all ye scurvy bloggers who've sign on for me Piratical Blogathon.  The blogathon be one week from today.  Ye be warned.

Anyone else out there who be wishing to join in the merriment, ye can still sign on in the comments for the original post.

Also, please be rememberin' that yer post needs to include a link back to me blog so yer readers can find all the other entries as well.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

(Actually, I hate rum.  A bottle of Coke fer me.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2004)

This is the movie that drew me into the world of Harry Potter.  I had read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in college and found it clever but not engrossing, so never read any more of them.  But then the trailer for this came out, and I saw it over and over and over at the theater -- it seemed like every movie I went to for several months had that trailer before it.

And I loved the chorale rendition of "Double, double, toil and trouble."  It fascinated me, it stuck in my head, and I decided I wanted to see the movie just so I could hear more of it.  So before the movie came out, I read the first three books.  And I discovered the second book was better than the first, and the third book was really quite good.  When I got to the last few chapters, I fell irrevocably in love with a character and was completely hooked on the series.  I went to see this in the theater, and saw each subsequent movie in the theater too.

So anyway, Cowboy and I are still on our quest to watch all of the Harry Potter movies together, and so we got this from the library.  I was curious to see how it held up now that I've seen all of them, as I don't think I've watched it since it was in theaters.  And I have to say, I do think it's probably in my top 3 for this series.  For one thing, the wacky "this is for kids" tone of the first two movies is gone.  For another, the three leads have all matured and learned some real acting, which means their performances have some actual depth.

Spoilage from here on out.

I know I've talked a lot on my blogs about how much I love characters who have been wrongly imprisoned.  And how much I love prison-escape stories.  So you probably have figured out why Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite Harry Potter book:  Sirius Black.

In fact, Sirius is my favorite character in the whole Potterverse.  And while Gary Oldman doesn't physically match my mental image of Sirius from the books, he's such a strong actor that I don't mind.  He infuses Sirius with dignity and strength, with kindness and playfulness, with desperation and triumph.  In later movies, we'll also get to see his selfishness and cruelty, but here we don't get to those here yet.

One of my favorite moments from both movie and book is when Sirius hesitantly explains that because he's Harry's godfather, he's his legal guardian, and asks if Harry would like to come live with him.  Sirius is ragged and filthy.  He's still a wanted criminal.  He realizes he has nothing to offer right now that a thirteen-year-old boy might find comfortable or attractive.  And when Harry excitedly accepts, Gary Oldman's Sirius makes me cry with the joy in his eyes.

And then there's this scene, with Sirius telling Harry how much he's like his parents.  Right in the feels, folks.  But this screencap brings me to something else I love about this movie:  the cinematography.  This movie is beautiful.  I rather wish that Alfonso Cuaron had directed the rest of these movies, because this one is stunning.  Here are a few gorgeous moments:

Hogwarts is a much less twinkly place in this than the first two movies.  It has grit and grime.  There's a sense that the danger in this movie is real, not just CGI three-headed dogs and giant snakes.  It's a great transition into the increasingly grim stories ahead.

And I love how interesting Cuaron makes so many shots.  There are a few of your standard over-over-two shots, but there are also scenes like this one between Lupin and Harry, their physical distance emphasizing their differences and the fact that pretty soon, Harry's going to think he's being betrayed by Lupin.

Or how about this first look at the Shrieking shack?  That aged barbed wire is an amazing touch -- it almost has a prison camp feel to it.  Is it to keep people out?  Or something in?

And look at the great framing of this shot, the camera siding us with Harry and making Lupin and Sirius look all conspiratorial.  I love the depth.

Kind of random note, but I love the moving staircases inside Hogwarts, and they have never looked lovelier or more fun than in this movie.  They're not seen much in later movies, which always makes me sad.

Back to the main trio.  (I may have gone a little nuts with my screencapping.  You don't mind, right?)  I love how often Cuaron gets them into a shot together.  This shot from Divination Class cracks me up, because they're all so exactly Harry, Hermione, and Ron in it.  Harry is curious, Hermione is skeptical, Ron is confused.

Look!  Happy moment!

Ron has learned to roll his sleeves up just to the elbows, making himself suddenly quite attractive.

And we've got just a hint of romance to come.  Hermione grabs Ron's hand when they're watching Harry interact with Buckbeak.  It's sweet and tentative and very early-teens feeling.

Just a few more words about casting.  I've liked Michael Gambon in any number of things, from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to Amazing Grace to what little I've seen of the 2009 Emma.  But he's not an ideal Dumbledore.  Even if you don't compare him to Richard Harris, he's still too stern, not kind enough to suit me.

Emma Thompson as Professor Trelawney makes me laugh a LOT.  Mostly because usually Thompson plays sensible, proper characters, and here she's all vague and wafty and... the hair!  She's obviously filled with glee at getting to do this wacky role.

David Thewlis is okay as Lupin, but I don't love him.  He's a little too wispy or something.  But he doesn't bug me much.  Maybe I'm just used to him.

And then there are the Dementors.  They are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO creepy in this movie!  Their look changes in later movies, which annoys me, because they were freaky and horrible in this.  Why mess with them?

Okay, probably time for me to shut up now.  Basically, I like this movie and I think it's a splendid adaptation.