Saturday, December 31, 2016

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016) -- Initial Thoughts

1.  I'm almost the last Star Wars fan in the universe to see this, but I did finally see it today.

2.  I fell in love with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).  Quickly, unexpectedly, quietly, terribly.

3.  I have movie hangover.

4.  I'm probably going to see it again tomorrow, with Cowboy along this time.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Ten Favorite Christmas Albums

Inspired by Naomi Sarah (and because my cold is still addling my brain and I'm failing at writing anything more serious/strenuous -- it's taken me three days to write this post), I am going to share my favorite Christmas albums with you today.  The ones I own and listen to every year, waiting eagerly all through November for it to be the day after Thanksgiving and "legal" to listen to them.  (To be honest, though, sometimes I listen to one or two earlier, when Cowboy is not around to scold me.)

Because it's me, I'm doing this as one of my "ten favorites" lists.  And I know I'm cutting this pretty close to Christmas, but this might actually be good -- you  might be tired of the Christmas music you always listen to, and be ready for a change.  Maybe you'll find something new here you really dig!  Or be reminded of something you'd heard a long time ago and forgotten about.

1.  25th Day of December by Bobby Darin is, as you might expect from Bobby Darin, different.  He has a few traditional songs like "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night," but also a whole bunch of spirituals.  And the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy."  And a couple songs in Latin, which sounds very interesting when sung with a Bronx accent.  My favorite track is his bouncy "Go Tell it on the Mountain," but you can listen to the whole album on YouTube here.

2.  Elvis' Christmas Album by Elvis Presley is the first Christmas album I can remember listening to.  My parents have it on LP, and it became tradition (at my insistence as a tiny person) that we listen to it while decorating our Christmas tree.  I have it on CD and continue that tradition.  My favorite track is "If Every Day was Like Christmas," which Cowboy agrees is basically my theme song.

3.  My Kind of Christmas by Dean Martin is a much more recent acquisition for me -- I've only had it maybe three or four years.  Dino is my second-favorite singer, after Bobby Darin, and his effortless style on this compilation album is perfect for Christmas.  You can listen to the whole album here on YouTube, but the first song is my favorite, the cheerily seductive "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

4.  White Christmas by Bing Crosby is a compilation album I bought when I was in college.  It doesn't actually have my favorite Bing Crosby Christmas song on it (that would be "Do You Hear What I Hear?"), but it does have "White Christmas," and since I'm eternally fond of the movie he's in by the same name, well, this song is very special to me, even if it's not the same version from the movie.

5.  A Family Christmas by the Piano Guys quickly became a favorite for me.  I've really liked them for several years now, and I get such a kick out of their original and enthusiastic arrangements.  My favorite is absolutely their rendition of "Carol of the Bells," which is one of my favorite Christmas carols.

6. An Andrews Sisters Christmas by the Andrews Sisters is a compilation of Christmas songs from them, including several with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.  It's perfect for when I'm in a nostalgic mood.  My favorite track is "A Merry Christmas at Grandmother's" with Danny Kaye.

7. When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick, Jr. is one of the first CDs I ever bought -- this might even predate my obsession with Bobby Darin :-o  Without a doubt, my favorite track is "Sleigh Ride" -- listening to a sample of this track at a store called Media Play over and over is what convinced me to buy the album as a teen.  You can listen to the whole album here on YouTube, too.

8. A Christmas Album by Barbra Streisand is another one I grew up with -- my mom had this either as an LP or an 8-track tape (do any of you know what that is???), and later we had it as a cassette tape we could play in the car too (miracle of miracles!).  I absolutely adore her juiced-up version of "Jingle Bells," and the whole album is here on YouTube.

9.  Ultimate Christmas Collection by Johnny Cash is another more recent favorite -- I think I bought this after we moved to Tir Asleen, so five years ago or fewer.  It has lots of traditional Christmas hymns and carols on the first disc, and then a second disc that's a recording from 1972 of Johnny and his wife June Carter Cash, his brother Tommy Cash, and a bunch of other country artists -- they share Christmas memories and stories and sing songs together.  My favorite track from the whole collection is "Away in a Manger," but I can't find that version on YouTube, so instead I'll share "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

10.  Christmas with the Rat Pack by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. is my newest favorite -- I just bought this last year when DKoren was visiting me.  It's a wonderfully mellow, happy collection of Christmas songs by the three of them.  It has overlapping tracks with my Dean Martin collection, so I'll chose a not-Dino song to share here.  I really like this version of Frank Sinatra singing "The Christmas Waltz."

And as a bonus, here's the Elvis Presley version of "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," which is basically my absolute favorite rendition of any Christmas song ever.  It's pedestrian until 1:16, and then... blows my socks clean off.  But it's not on my favorite Elvis Christmas album, wouldn't you know?  But I couldn't not include it.  So I kinda saved the absolute best to share last.

Merry Christmas, my lovely blogging friends!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Winners of the John Wayne Movie Giveaway

Here they are!  Fresh from the Rafflecopter widget's selection algorithm whatchamacallit.  The winners!

Hatari! -- John Smith
Hondo -- Christina Wehner
McLintock! -- Ekaterina
Red River -- Annie
Rio Bravo/The Searchers -- Eowyn

Congratulations!  Please check the email address you provided to the widget for a message from me asking for your mailing address so I can send these off to you.

And my thanks to everyone who participated in the John Wayne Blogathon!  If you haven't read all the entries yet, what are you waiting for?  They span his whole career, and might just introduce you to some movies you'll decide you want to see for the first time, or watch again.  I know it did that for me :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Like This? Try These! #7

Eva asked me to come up with some suggestions for people who like the Indiana Jones movies, so here we go!

You probably know that the Indiana Jones movies were inspired by the serial adventure stories from the 1930s and '40s, stories told both on screen and in pulp magazines.  If you like their blend of rollicking adventures, historical settings, and a twist of sci-fi or the otherworldly, you might like any of these:

+ The Rocketeer (1991) -- In 1930s Hollywood, a pilot (Billy Campbell) finds a rocket pack and uses it to become a super hero, save the girl he likes (Jennifer Connelly), and defeat some Nazis.  It's based on a graphic novel.  (This one has non-gory violence, some low-cut dresses, suspense, and some mild cussing, as I recall -- I've only seen this twice, and that was several years ago.)

+ The Shadow (1994) -- In 1930s New York City, the wealthy, sophisticated man-about-town Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin) uses his mystical ability to cloud men's minds to fight evil and rescue the father (Ian McKellen) of his companion, the lovely Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller).  It's based on a radio show (one of my favorites) from the 1930s that also spawned a lot of pulp magazine stories.  (This one also has some revealing dresses, actiony violence that's mostly non-graphic, mild profanity, suspense, and some creepy stuff.  Also a shot of a man in bed with multiple women who are asleep.)

+ Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) -- In 1930s New York City, a gutsy reporter (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with her ex-boyfriend, an adventurous pilot (Jude Law), to stop giant robots, rescue missing scientists, and generally save the world.  No idea what this is based on, sorry.  (This one has implied nudity in a non-sexual context, non-gory violence, a little mild profanity, and suspense.)

As always, I hope this helps you find some movies you might enjoy.  If you've seen other movies with this same flavor, I'd love to hear about them, because I really dig this style of retro fun.  And as always, let me know if you have any movies you'd like me to base recommendations off :-)

Friday, December 09, 2016

"The Quiet Man" (1952)

I have a particular fondness for fish-out-of-water stories, which is one of the main reasons I enjoy The Quiet Man so much.  The other main reasons, of course, are my favorite actor and favorite actress:  John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.  They seem to bring out the best acting in each other, and of course, John Wayne always gave his all for director John Ford, which means he is particularly on in this film.  And Maureen keeps up with him scene after scene -- they're simply a joy to watch together.

The titular quiet man is Sean Thornton (John Wayne), an American who moves to the tiny Irish town of Innisfree.  He wants to buy White O'Morn, the cottage where he was born shortly before his parents emigrated to the United States.  But when he outbids Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) to buy it, he makes an enemy of Danaher, who vows to make his life miserable.  He finds it easy to do, too, because Thornton promptly falls in love with Danaher's sister, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara).  Mary Kate has a temper as fiery as her brother's, and the town regards her as unmarriageable.  Who would dare tame Mary Kate, or want Will for a brother-in-law?

But Sean Thornton believes himself superior in his American sophistication to these quaint, quirky Irish people who tell him this or that isn't or can't be done.  He wanted White O'Morn, and he got it.  He wants Mary Kate, so he's sure he can get her too.  He is quiet not in volume, but in action -- although he is bold, he is also kind and considerate, very unlike most of the men in Innisfree.  He sees Mary Kate is not only beautiful, but also lonely and sad.  She's spent her life keeping house for her loutish brother, and no one has ever courted her.  Under his attentions, she thrives.

And they get married.  But Will Danaher discovers he was tricked into giving his sister away, and in a towering rage, he refuses to give her the dowry he had promised or her rightful belongings.  Mary Kate expects Sean to fight her brother to get back her money and things, but he won't do it.  Sean says he wanted Mary Kate, not money and objects, and he takes her home.  But there Mary Kate gives him an ultimatum:  until he gets her dowry and the furniture she inherited from her mother, she will cook and clean for him, but she will not share his bed.

Sean still refuses to fight her brother, and so they do not consummate their marriage.  Mary Kate despises her husband as a coward, and he cannot understand why she values money and goods more than him.  The rest of the film revolves around how they come to understand each other's reasons for how they're behaving so they can find a resolution to their problem.

What I find really interesting about this film is how the problem isn't solved by the "backward" Mary Kate changing her ideas about marriage and how husbands and wives should behave.  It's "enlightened" Sean who gradually adapts to how his new friends and neighbors live and act.  It's not until he gives up on thinking he's somehow better than they are that he can understand why Mary Kate believes he's failed as a husband.  And only by sacrificing his own dignity by publicly reclaiming his wife, and then putting aside his own wishes and feelings to honor hers, does he finally prove he's a man worthy of her.

The truth is, this quiet man has been too quiet for his own good.  He's been harboring a terrible secret and refusing to share it with anyone, not even the woman he loves.  Finally, he confesses to a priest, and in a wordless flashback we see what has been haunting him, what drove him to seek Ireland in the first place.

He went searching for a new life, a place where no one knew who he had been and what he had done.  But he couldn't outrun himself.  And hiding his secret did him no good -- it isolated him from his friends, kept his wife from understanding why he wouldn't fight her brother.  It's not until he stops being quiet -- keeping his secret, being peaceful and avoiding fights, and calmly accepting his wife's behavior -- that he can find resolution and win peace.

Not only is this an intriguing look at gender and cultural differences, but it's a perfectly beautiful film.  John Ford shot it in Technicolor on location in Ireland, and you can still see how lovely this movie is.  There has yet to be a really good restoration of The Quiet Man available on DVD, which is a crying shame -- I hope someone like TCM or the Criterion Collection lavish their attention on it soon.

This has been my contribution to the John Wayne Blogathon that Quiggy and I are co-hosting here on my blog and on The Midnite Drive-In.  Please follow this link to see all the other entries in this celebration of one of the most popular actors of all time!  Also, I'm hosting a giveaway of six of John Wayne's films, which you'll find by following that link as well.

The John Wayne Blogathon + Giveaway!

It's here!  The John Wayne blogathon has arrived!  And yes, you read that correctly -- this includes a giveaway.  Info on that at the very bottom of this post.  But first, here are the awesome blogathon entries!  I'll be adding to this list as I get links to posts.  So entrants, leave the links to your entries in the comments here or at the Midnite Drive-In!  Quiggy and I will be updating our link lists as we have time throughout the next three days.


Many thanks to Quiggy for thinking up this fun event and asking me to cohost, and to all you lovely bloggers who are participating, be it by contributing a post, reading entries, or both!


I am giving away six used John Wayne movies on 5 DVDs, one each to five lucky winners.  They are Hatari! (1962), Hondo (1953), McLintock! (1963), Red River (1948), and a double feature of what are possibly his finest westerns, Rio Bravo (1959) and The Searchers (1956).  Please be aware that these are all USED -- they all load and play in my DVD player, but I cannot guarantee they will work in yours.

This giveaway runs through Thursday, December 15.  I will draw five winners (one for each DVD) on Friday, December 16, and post the names of the winners that day, as well a notify them by email. I can only send these to US addresses because of shipping being so expensive these days. Of course, if you have a friend who lives in the US that is willing to have it shipped to them for you, that's fine, but I won't send them internationally.

PLEASE make sure your information for the giveaway widget includes your current email address so that if you win a prize, you'll get the email informing you that you won! If you don't reply to my email within one week, I will choose another winner and award your prize to them instead.

The first way to enter, as you see, asks you to tell me your top two prize choices. I do my best to match winners with their choice of prizes, but that doesn't always work out. If you already own one or more of these movies, please say so with the next entry option-- that way they can go to someone who doesn't own them yet! (If you don't own any of them, you can still use that entry option and just answer something like "none.")  Enter via this widget:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Guest Post by Ekaterina: "Rooster Cogburn" (1975)

Hamlette's Note: Thanks for writing this post for the John Wayne Blogathon, Ekaterina!

Rooster Cogburn -- a review by Ekaterina
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The movie is about Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn), a religious missionary always preaching about God, and Marshal Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne), who is not very religious to say the least.  Most of the movie is about how Marshal Cogburn, Miss Eula, and Wolf (an Indian boy) chase a group of outlaws, who have also killed Miss Eula’s father and friends.  The movie mainly focused on the characters played by John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn.
Image result for john wayne and katharine hepburn movie
Some things I loved about this movie was the relationship between John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn.  They were both witty, and they were both strong characters that worked well together.  I liked how their friendship and how they didn’t end up in a romantic relationship.  Although I do like watching romantic movies, I don’t think I would have liked the movie if John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn ended up in a romantic relationship.  This movie does have a similar plot line to African Queen, but I like this movie more because of the chemistry between Wayne and Hepburn.
There was also a slight emphasis on the Civil War in this movie.  Miss Eula was a Yankee, who grew up in Boston, and Rooster Cogburn fought for the Confederacy.  I’ve found it interesting how they often made remarks on it.  I like it when westerns make references to the Civil War because you really get to see how the war impacted ordinary people, which is why I liked this part of the movie.
Image result for john wayne and katharine hepburn movie
Whenever I watch a movie, I usually go to IMDB to look up some fun facts about the movie because the movie becomes richer and more interesting.  So here are some behind the scenes facts you might want to know.
  • “During filming John Wayne was injured teaching his eight-year-old daughter to play golf, but fortunately his eye patch concealed the mark. He had been working on one lung for the past ten years and had great difficulty breathing due to the high altitude, often needing to breathe through an oxygen mask.”
  • “Jon Lormer, who plays Katharine Hepburn's father, was only one year older than her.”
  • This was the last movie directed by Hal B. Wallis.  Wallis had produced other films such as Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, True Grit, and Sergeant York.
If you liked True Grit, you will probably also like this movie.
I don’t like giving out too many spoilers, so I’ll end this post, and you will have to go watch the movie. ☺
Image result for john wayne and katharine hepburn movie

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

A Very Merry Tag

I recently started following Abby's blog Lavender Spring, and as part of her Advent celebration, she's created this delightfully Christmasy tag.  You probably know by now that I'm something of a Christmas addict, though I haven't actually made a Christmas header for this blog this year because I can't bear to replace my Alan Ladd yet.  But I made my book blog all Christmasy, which pleases me no end :-)  [EDIT:  You know you made a good choice in best friends when they read this and immediately email you with Christmasy Alan Ladd pictures so you can have your Alan Ladd and your Christmas header too.]

Anyway, here are my answers to her Very Merry Tag!  I wasn't tagged directly by anyone, but Abby basically tagged anyone who read her initial post, so... thanks for creating this and sort-of tagging me, Abby!

Does it snow where you live around Christmas? (If it doesn't, you have my sincere sympathy.) How much? Any special snowy Christmas stories? 

Not usually.  We do get some snow in January and February most years, but I don't think we've had a single white Christmas since moving here five years ago.  I've had many white Christmases in my past, and loved them, so brown Christmases tend to annoy and sadden me.  I absolutely adore snow.

I don't have any special stories about snowy Christmases, but I do have a fun memory of a very very very snowy and icy New Year's Eve from when Cowboy and I were first married.  We lived in Wisconsin then, near a lot of his family.  One New Year's Eve, all of his siblings and their families and the two of us went to their aunt and uncle's farm about ten miles from where we lived.  A big ice storm blew in and forced us all to spend the night there at the farm.  Cowboy and I and three of his siblings all worked 3rd shift, so we stayed up all night long playing board games and eating leftover food while everyone else slept, and it was a grand time.

Do you get a real tree or a fake tree? 

We haven't had a real tree once in fourteen years of marriage, but I keep saying that one of these years, we're going to drive up into the mountains and cut one ourselves.  My family did that for many years, and it was so fun.  I like the smell and look of a real tree best, but this is the first year in so long where I haven't had a kid so small I worried they would tip the tree over and spill water all over my nice wooden floor.  I did get some of those "Scentsicles" things this year to try out, and they smell really nice, if not exactly real.

What is your favorite Christmas movie?

White Christmas (1954).  I adore it!

Where in the world would you like to spend Christmas the most? 

Wherever Cowboy and our kids are.  But if we could all be together someplace awesome like Colonial Williamsburg, I would love that too.

What fictional/literary character would you most like to spend Christmas with? 

Sergeant Saunders from Combat! (1962-67).  I would do my best to make his Christmas merry and bright, even in the middle of a war zone.  We could sit cozily together by a bonfire in some abandoned barn or sawmill or whatever, not saying much, not doing much, just being quiet together, and each knowing that the other was totally okay with just sitting there quietly together.  Bliss.  I like to imagine he would think so too.

(Vic Morrow as Sgt. Saunders in Combat!)

What is your favorite Christmas song? 

"Carol of the Bells."  Here's a favorite Christmas memory:  This is actually a Ukrainian carol, and I got to sing it with my future in-laws at their church in Ukraine (where they were missionaries) one Christmas.  That was pretty amazing, let me tell you.

What is your favorite Christmas book/story (besides, ya know, the story)? 

Probably "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," a story in the Sherlock Holmes canon that takes place at Christmas and never fails to charm me.  It's one of my favorite Holmes stories, with such a great ending.  Also, it makes me laugh several times, and you know I dearly love to laugh.

Which do you prefer: multi-colored lights or white lights? 

I prefer multi-colored lights on my tree and white lights elsewhere in my house.

 What time period/decade would you most like to spend Christmas in? 

Well, I'll just say the 1940s so it meshes with my wish to spend Christmas with Sgt. Saunders, who is more dear to my heart than any other fictional character in anything at all, be it book, movie, or TV show.

Which period drama has the best Christmas scene/episode?

Welllllll, since I already used White Christmas in another answer, I guess I'll go with Little Women (1994), which opens with a beautiful example of sharing Christmas cheer with others, and also includes a Christmas scene that makes me cry (even just thinking of it, I've got a lump in my throat).  I'm speaking, of course, of the scene where Beth gets a new piano.  Too Much Wonderfulness.

I am not going to tag anyone today because I need to get school going, but I don't want this to languish unfinished anymore.  If you're feeling Christmasy and want to do this tag, please do so!