Monday, January 23, 2017

My "Cloaked" Playlist

I'm getting sooooooooo close to finishing my first draft of "Cloaked," my western reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story.  The final showdown is behind me, and I just might polish off the denouement tonight.  I had such a good stint last night -- 1,800 words of mainly actions, very little dialog!  I write dialog like the wind, but describing what people are doing takes me much longer.  I want it to be clear; I want readers to know who is where doing what, and when and how they do it.  And when I've got four people converging on one spot like I do in the bit I was working on, that takes me a while.

But anyway!  I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the music I've been listening to while writing "Cloaked."  I've had four soundtracks on heavy rotation, and part of Aaron Copland's Rodeo too, so here are some of the tracks I've used most from those, for your listening pleasure.

When I first began writing "Cloaked," I listened mostly to Victor Young's score for Shane (1953).  Not surprising, given that Alan Ladd was my inspiration for one character.  Here's one song, "Trip to Town," which gives you a good feel for the whole album, and is also a track I listened to a lot for early scenes in "Cloaked."  It's got such a happy, homey feeling, and I was trying to capture something similar for the part of the story where my main character was getting acquainted with her new surroundings.

I bopped back and forth between Shane and Jerry Goldsmith's score for Bandelero! (1968) for a lot of the first third or so of the story.  I almost never buy soundtracks for movies I haven't seen, because a lot of my enjoyment of soundtracks comes from associating the music with the stories they accompany.  But I have never seen Bandelero!, having been reliably informed that it's not worth my time.  The score, however, is extremely fun, and I bought it as mp3 files last year.  You can listen to it here on YouTube, although the tracks are all out of order.  The main theme is my favorite, but I actually listened to "Across the River" the most for "Cloaked," so here it is:

I eventually settled on music from The Big Country (1958) by Jerome Moross as the ideal fit for the whole middle section of this story.  It's cheerful, but exciting, which was precisely what I needed.  You can hear the whole album here on YouTube, but "Old Thunder" is the track I was drawn to the most for this story.  It's almost a musical description of my heroine, quirky and sweet, but with an underlying strength.

There's a dance scene in "Cloaked," which I wrote all in one evening while listening to this selection from Rodeo by Aaron Copland.  It's got "Buckaroo Holiday," "Corral Nocturne," "Saturday Night Waltz," and "Hoe-down" all strung together, nineteen minutes of music that I could just keep repeating.  Usually I don't listen to YouTube when I'm writing, opting for music I own (sometimes soundtracks, sometimes Bobby Darin -- those are just about all I listen to while writing anymore).  But I discovered that my Aaron Copland CD only has "Hoe-down" on it, which means I need to get a CD of all of Rodeo, obviously.  But I haven't gotten one yet, so YouTube it was.  Like I said, it's nineteen minutes long, so I'm not going to embed it here, but you can follow the link at the beginning of this paragraph to listen to it if you want to.

Now, so far, everything I've listed here probably makes a lot of sense to you for stuff to listen to while writing a western.  But for most of the last act of "Cloaked," and all of the big showdown, I listened to nothing at all but Patrick Doyle's score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).  And that has absolutely nothing westerny to it.  But I'd listened to a few tracks from it over and over while writing an atmospheric action sequence years and years ago, and I knew its dark energy would serve me perfectly for the heroine confronting the villain, so I asked for the soundtrack for Christmas, as I'd only borrowed it from the library before.  And I got it!  And it was practically perfect in every way.  You can listen to the whole soundtrack here on YouTube, but "Death of Cedric" is the track that I will forever associate with "Cloaked."  I hit a very emotional part of my climactic scene while listening to it, and the combination of my heroine's journey to meet her fate and this music brought me to tears while I was writing.  At Starbucks, in full view of a Saturday morning customer rush, where I blew my nose loudly into not one but two tissues before going back to the writing.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed these!  If you're also a writer, I want to know -- do you listen to music while you write?  And if so, what sort?  Do you try to find music that matches what you're working on?  Or listen to whatever you're in the mood for at the moment?  I'm curious!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Singin' in the Rain" (1952)

This weekend, Cowboy and I took our three kids to see Singin' in the Rain on the big screen.  It's the first of the classic films presented by TCM and Fathom Events for 2017 (you can see the whole schedule here), and I was so excited that we could introduce our kids to this classic on the big screen... and that I got to see it that way myself!  I've only seen one other classic film on the big screen, which was Gone with the Wind when it was re-released to cinemas in the late '90s.  So this was a pretty big deal for me as well as for my kids.

I've taken my kids to a couple other movies in the theater -- Planes (2013) and Cinderella (2015) -- but it's just really hard finding a movie I know they'll like that I'm willing to spend the extra money to take all three of them to.  However, since they already like some musicals, and Singin' in the Rain is such an approachable and fun film, I was pretty sure they would enjoy it.  And this marked the first time that all five of us saw a movie in the theater together!

They definitely enjoyed it -- in fact, we've been listening to the soundtrack several times a day since then, and they've been playing they're Cosmo, Kathy, and Don off and on, too.  They were really excited to learn that I own this on DVD already (they're very used to me going to see movies in the theater and then getting them on DVD months later), and we're planning to rewatch it again for their movie of the week.

If you like classics and have a theater anywhere near you that participates in these showings, try one out!  It was so amazing to be in a theater with oodles of other people who also knew and loved and appreciated this film -- we laughed, we clapped after the big numbers, and it was altogether a wonderful evening.  We had to travel twice as far as to our usual theater, but the extra driving was well worth it.

Before I actually review the movie, you might be wondering how old my kids are.  Sam is 9, Sarah will be 7 in a month, and Eggnog is 5.  But I've been raising them on movies both classic and modern, so they were totally ready for the slower pace of a '50s musical.  After all, some of their favorite movies are The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Operation Pacific (1951), and That Darn Cat! (1965).

Singin' in the Rain explores the struggles of actors and studios during the transition from silent films to talkies in the late 1920s.

Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are major silent stars, and when The Jazz Singer (1927) introduces talking pictures to the movie-going masses, Don and Lina's latest picture gets put on hold while the studio reconfigures everything to record sound.  Many funny mishaps ensue.  You see, Lina Lamont is beautiful, but possesses a screechy, awful voice that does not match her pretty face.  She's also a clingy brat who has convinced herself that Don loves her, and that she's more important to the studio than anyone else.

Don meets a chorus girl named Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) and falls in love with her, but Lina does everything she can to separate them.  Don, Kathy, and Don's best friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O'Connor) come up with a scheme to use Kathy's voice to save the movie, and their plan seems to work for a while, but then backfires... or does it?

If you love lavish musicals, learning about movie-making, or sweet love stories, but you haven't seen Singin' in the Rain yet, or if you've just always wondered what that iconic image above is all about, I beseech you to go find this and watch it!  It's not considered one of the finest (if not THE finest) musicals ever filmed for no reason.

Here's a bit of trivia for you:  According to the TCM opener to the film when we saw it Sunday, Gene Kelly had a 103-degree fever when they filmed the superb scene where Gene Kelly sings and dances in the rain to the title song.  You would never know it when you watch.  What a professional!

I'm hoping we can take our kids to another of the TCM/Fathom Events screenings later this year -- The Princess Bride is scheduled for October, and I know Sam and Sarah would get a kick out of it, and by then, Eggnog might be ready for it too.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016)

A long time ago, in a galaxy not far, far away... this movie came out in theaters.  And I finally saw it on New Year's Eve for the first time, and again last weekend.  I have a ton of things to say about it, and I don't know if I'll find the words for them all.  (I've been writing this post for four days more than a week now, ever since my brain started reviving after the flu).  But know this:  I am not marking spoilers.  And there are lots.

::Takes a deep breath::

So... I was not expecting to like this movie so much.  (I was also not expecting to fall in love with any of the characters, but we'll get to that.)  From the trailers, I knew it was going to be about a woman who led the mission to acquire the Death Star plans that let the Rebel Alliance blow the Death Star at the end of A New Hope.  And that she was played by Felicity Jones, who I already like a lot as Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (2007).  And I'd heard that Darth Vader would be in it.  That's really all I knew.  The only thing that said to me, "You might love this movie!" was the fact that it took place in the Star Wars universe.

I didn't know Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) was going to be the daughter of the guy (Mads Mikkelson, looking more handsome than I'd have imagined possible) who designed the Death Star.  I didn't know she'd team up with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel intelligence officer, to get the plans.  I didn't know he'd have a snarky droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) who would make me both laugh and cry.  I definitely didn't know about all the crying.

Actually, I didn't cry much the first time.  I teared up a little bit in a few spots (especially over K-2SO's demise, and Cassian and Jyn's final moments on the beach, as I realized they Were Not Going to Survive), but mostly I just sat there in shock, overwhelmed by so many strong, conflicting emotions.  I was kind of numb for the rest of the day, and into the next.  Like I said earlier, I had a movie-hangover.  I went to see it the first time with Cowboy's brother, Noumenon, and he asked me what I thought once the credits were done scrolling.  I said, "Well, I fell in love with Cassian Andor, and then he died."  And then I may or may not have given the seat ahead of me a savage kick or two.  (I promise no one was sitting in it anymore.)

And that pretty well summed up my feelings about it after the first viewing:  I fell in love, and he died, and I can't think past that.  Which meant I definitely had to go see it again.

When I did go for a second viewing, I took along two pocket packs of tissues because I knew it was going to be a rough ride.  I knew Cassian was going to get mortally wounded.  I knew he and Jyn and all their compatriots were going to die on that accursed beach.  There would be many tears at those spots, but I didn't know I would cry over Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) too, not to mention Galen Erso.  Well, no, I guess I knew I was going to cry over Galen dying, because of how it hurt Jyn.  And I definitely had become a Jyn fan by the end of the first viewing.

Wow, this chick, huh?  Loses her parents at such a young age, becomes self-sufficient, only learns to trust others again at the very end of her lamentably short life.

And pardon me while I rant about Lyra Erso (Valene Kane) a minute.  Bad, bad mothering there, Lyra.  Your job?  Protect your child.  Your husband's job?  Protect both of you.  Galen goes straight out to face off with Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), even drawing him away from the house, giving you and your daughter time to get away.  Sacrificing his freedom to keep you both safe.  Most perfect job of protecting.  But what do you do, Lyra?  Abandon your daughter.  You don't even bother making sure she gets all the way to the special, secret hiding space.  And it's not because you're being followed and want to draw pursuers away from her, or because you're injured and will slow her down, or any other acceptable reason for this.  Nope, you send her on her merry, helpless way and hustle back to Galen because you're basically the biggest dope I've seen on screen in a long time.  Your words say you love her, but your actions say, "Sorry, kid, I can't stand not being there to see what happens, and I don't trust my husband to take care of both himself and us."  Badly done, Lyra.  I shed no tears and feel no remorse for your demise, except for how it hurts Galen and Jyn.  That's basically the worst mothering I've seen since Mrs. Bennet.

But let's get back to Jyn.  Who, despite seeing her loser mom killed and her heroic dad captured, manages to run and hide so effectively that she keeps running and hiding on into adulthood, both literally and figuratively.  When we meet up with her again, she's a nameless prisoner working on what amounts to a chain gang for the Empire.  What crime did she commit?  I don't know. (NOTE:  I guess they do list off her crimes during the movie, but I didn't catch it.  Next viewing!)  Not something big enough to warrant a death sentence, and not something Rebellion-related.  Although she was raised by anti-Empire militant Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), she has turned her back on all things Rebellion.  She's decided she's too busy running and hiding to have time for political views.  Until, of course, Cassian and K-2SO drag her back into the Rebellion because they need her to introduce them to Saw Gerrera (and let's pause a minute to appreciate how his last name sounds a bit like both "guerrilla" and "Guevara," because I love that).

And I think that's some cool story-telling right there, because it's not what I expect.  They don't come get her because she's Galen Erso's daughter and they want her to help them rescue him from the Empire's clutches.  They don't want her to help them destroy the Death Star.  They don't want any BIG thing from Jyn.  They just need her to introduce them to Saw in a friendly way that will help them contact the pilot he's holding.  Just a small thing, just a favor in return for busting her out of prison, and she can go her merry, aimless way again.

It's a great move on the part of the Rebellion, too.  I like to think it's Cassian's idea.  "Let's bring her in slowly, keep it mysterious, keep her interested.  Watch her to see if she'd be helpful farther on, if she's sympathetic.  Let her decide to get more involved, because it will make her more committed."  Cassian is a captain in the intelligence branch of the Rebellion, and it feels like exactly what he'd come up with.  He's perfect for that kind of work, being close-mouthed, sneaky, quiet, watchful, a good judge of character.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees, like I said, it's love.  I am nutty about nearly everything involving Cassian, from the fact that his clothes look veryveryvery much like Han Solo's, to the way he "carries his prison with him,' to how he's simultaneously ruthless and remorseful, to the fact that he's played by the scrumptious Diego Luna.  He's incredibly loyal, but also willing to sacrifice personal interests for the greater good.  I'm entranced.

Okay, but besides Cassian Andor, I love many other things from this movie, like the way they made it intersect over and over with A New Hope.  The two wanted-in-twelve-starsystems dudes bump into them, blue milk, that moment when Bail Organa calls out Captain Antilles' name, and so on and so forth.  Those make me bounce with glee.  That moment at the end with Princess Leia -- beautiful (though, because I saw it after we lost Carrie Fisher, it made me cry both times).  Darth Vader igniting his red lightsaber and stalking toward the hapless Rebel troops was majestic and fearsome and horrible all at once.

Of course, I love stories where a disparate group of strangers has to band together to take on some great enemy.  From The Magnificent Seven to Firefly to The Avengers, that has always been a favorite storytelling device for me.  So I was probably bound to dig Rogue One just from that angle alone.  But add in a strong female lead character and a male character with a sad/tragic/mysterious backstory, and yup... I can't help falling in love with it.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Announcing I Love Austen Week

Yes, you read that right!  Next month, I will be hosting I Love Austen Week!  I've been wanting to celebrate all things Austen for a while now, but I could never figure out the right time.  And then, it hit me:  Valentine's Day.  What better day to celebrate an author I love... who wrote a lot about love?

But I have way too many ideas for this celebration than will fit into a single day, so I'm declaring that whole week to be I Love Austen Week.  What kinds of ideas, you ask?  How about a tag to fill out?  How about a game or two?  How about a giveaway?  How about a blogathon-style shindig where you get to share your love of Austen with everyone?  How about ALL of those?

Yes!  You are hereby invited to join me!  If you love Jane Austen too, be it her books, her movies, or what have you, please mark this down on your calendar.  Figure out how you're going to share your love of Austen via your blog or website, then sign up in the comments on this post.  Because Jane Austen only wrote six full novels and a handful of other things, I will totally allow multiple people to write about each of her novels.  However!  Because there are sooooooooooo many film adaptations, books about her, pastiches, and so on, I am asking that we stick with only one person writing about every other Austen-related subject.  That includes movie and book reviews, okay?  Which means if you've got an adaptation or book you really love and want to blog about for this event, sign up the sooner, the better!  The list of claimed entries will be at the end of this post.

I got a little carried away by making buttons, as is my tendency.  Please feel free to use any of these to share the news about this event!

If you have any questions, ideas, or suggestions, let me know!

Entries List

Hamlette -- The Jane Austen Guide to Life by Lori Smith, a character sketch of Anne Elliot, and Color Me Jane: A Jane Austen Adult Coloring Book by Jacqui Oakley
Abby P -- The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan
Erin -- Persuasion (1995)
Madcaphat -- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Eowyn -- Mansfield Park (1983)
Rachel -- Emma (2009)
Joanna -- Similarities in Persuasion and The Lord of the Rings
Hayden -- Emma by Jane Austen
Jessica Prescott -- Sense and Sensibility (2008)
Heidi -- Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Beauty in Austen
MovieCritic -- Pride and Prejudice (1995) and the similarities in Sense and Sensibility and Frozen
Meredith -- Persuasion (2007)
Molly Rebekah -- The Best of Jane Austen Knits by Amy Clarke Moore
Elanor -- Becoming Jane (2007) and a character sketch of Jane Fairfax from Emma
Abigail -- Pride & Prejudice (2005)
Robert -- Sense and Sensibility (1981)
Rosie Dean -- Lost in Austen (2008)
Danielle Marie -- Pride and Prejudice:  A Coloring Classic
Maggie -- Love and Friendship (2016) and Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins
Evangeline -- Col. Brandon and Marianne
Birdie -- The Third Sister by Julia Barrett
B.B. Toady -- Austen history/home/museum
Allison M. -- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Kara -- Captain Wentworth's letter
Charity -- Emma (1996 with Gwyneth Paltrow) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Natalie -- Northanger Abbey (2007)
Jane Potter -- Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
The Elf -- The Lizzy Bennet Diaries
Skyeler -- Creating a Regency Outfit
Catherine -- Bride and Prejudice (2004)

Monday, January 02, 2017

My Ten Favorite New-To-Me Movies I Saw in 2016

Time for my annual list of the ten movies I saw for the first time over the past year and liked the best!  Astonishingly enough, they do not all star Alan Ladd :-o  But almost half of them do.  As always, I've linked titles to my posts if I've written about that film.  If you want to check out my lists like this from the past two years, the 2015 list is here, and the 2014 list is here.  Remember, this is me ranking them by how much I love them, not by what movie is "best."

1.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his three new friends try to save a troubled teen from a bad guy who is manipulating him.  Also, they're wizards.  It's astonishingly good.

2.  Rogue One (2016)

A bunch of Rebels learn that the Death Star has a flaw, so a team of volunteers head off to find the plans that will help the Rebel Alliance exploit that flaw and destroy the Death Star.  I was not expecting this movie to be so very, very good.

3.  Risen (2016)

A Roman tribune (Joseph Fiennes) is tasked with unraveling the mystery about some Jewish guy named Jesus whose body had mysteriously disappeared from his tomb.  It's the story of the Resurrection told like a detective story, and it's one of the best bits of writing I have seen in a long time.

4.  Branded (1950)

An outlaw (Alan Ladd) gets a birthmark tattooed on his shoulder and uses it to convince a wealthy family he's their long-lost son.  But then he has a change of heart and decides to go find their real son in Mexico.

5.  Captain America:  Civil War (2016)

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) square off over the question of whether or not powered people should be controlled by the government.  All our pals have to pick sides.  I really need to write up a proper review of this, because I went from hating it after my first viewing to liking it after my second, to absolutely loving it after my third, and that's not a normal trajectory for my feelings toward movies, so you know it's something interesting and special.

6.  Whispering Smith (1948)

Railroad detective Luke "Whispering" Smith (Alan Ladd) comes to realize that his erstwhile best friend (Robert Preston) is involved in a series of train robberies.  This is the movie that made me fall in love with Alan Ladd back in February.

7.  The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Three Navy bomber crewmen return home, where one of them (Alan Ladd) discovers his wife (Doris Dowling) in the arms of a sinister nightclub owner (Howard da Silva).  Wifey dear dies, husband gets pegged for the murder, so he goes on the lam while trying to find the real killer.  It's the only original script Raymond Chandler wrote, and it's a beautiful bit of film noir.  My new blog header is from it.

8.  The Great Gatsby (1949)

Nick Carraway (Macdonald Carey) gets enlisted by his wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Alan Ladd), to help win back the woman (Betty Field) he loved long ago.  Ladd and Carey are excellent, as is Howard da Silva, but the rest of the cast ranges from mediocre to miscast.  Still, Ladd was basically born to play Gatsby.

9.  Donovan's Reef (1963)

Two friends (John Wayne and Lee Marvin) spend lots of time on their Pacific island home brawling (with each other and other people), drinking, and grappling with issues like bigotry, greed, and hypocrisy.  It's both funnier and deeper than I expected.  A wacky buddy comedy set at Christmas, but also a bit more than that.

10.  Ant-Man (2015)

An ex-thief (Paul Rudd) helps a scientist (Michael Douglas) and his daughter (Evangaline Lilly) stop a bad guy (Corey Stoll) from using amazing shrinking technology to do bad things.  It's quirky and fun, and amuses me greatly.

Happy New Year!  What movies did you see this past year that you really loved?