Saturday, September 30, 2017

My Ten Favorite Movies Set in Texas

My love for westerns and my enamoration with Texas are so tangled up together, I don't know where one begins and the other ends.  Texas has a mystique that has long enchanted me.  How long?  So long, I can't remember a time when I didn't wish I had been born there.

So here are my ten favorite movies that take place (at least partly) in Texas.  Astonishingly enough, two of them aren't even really westerns!  As usual, if I've already reviewed a movie, I'll link the title to my review.

1. The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) Four brothers (including John Wayne and Dean Martin) reunite at their mother's funeral and work together to find out how their parents lost their ranch. My favorite John Wayne movie!

2. The Magnificent Seven (1960) Poor Mexican villagers hire seven gunfighters to defend them from the bandit who's been oppressing them for years. Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn... magnificent, indeed!  (This starts off in Texas, and Texas gets mentioned several times, but the bulk of it takes place in Mexico.)

3. The Lone Ranger (2013) John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his Texas hometown after years away at law school.  Bad guys ambush him, his brother, and a company of Rangers -- everyone else dies, but a renegade named Tonto (Johnny Depp) saves John Reid's life, and together they try to bring down the greedy men responsible for the deaths of their family members.  It's a twisty, fable-like origin story that I never tire of.

4. Rio Bravo (1959) A sheriff, a recovering alcoholic, an old man, and a young gunslinger fend off a host of bad guys bent on springing a murderer from jail. John Wayne, Dean Martin, Walter Brennan, and Ricky Nelson play the four heroes. Angie Dickinson plays the love interest.

5. The Rare Breed (1966) A British widow and her daughter accompany the prize bull they've sold on its way to its new home in Texas, convinced it will revolutionize the cattle industry. James Stewart, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Don Galloway, and Juliet Mills -- their characters are like my dear friends.

6. Giant (1956) A spoiled East Coast beauty (Elizabeth Taylor) marries a stubborn Texas rancher (Rock Hudson), and they spend twenty-five years trying to figure each other out. One of the first movies I can remember seeing, and my favorite James Dean movie.

7. Logan (2017) An aging, angry Wolverine/Logan (Hugh Jackman) tries to save his dying mentor (Patrick Stewart) and a young mutant (Dafne Keen) with striking similarities to himself by shepherding them across the country.  It's a poignant, aching meditation on loss, aging, generational gaps, family, and love.  But also brutally violent.  (This one also only takes place partly in Texas.)

8. The Searchers (1956) Bitter, angry Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) spends years and years searching for his niece (Natalie Wood), who was kidnapped by Indians as a child. He intends to kill her to end her shame and misery from being forced to marry an Indian. Probably John Wayne's finest performance. Even if you don't like westerns, you should see this once because it's a masterpiece.

9. Texas (1941) Two young Civil War veterans (Glenn Ford and William Holden) have a series of adventures in Texas as they try to make their way in the world, one of them on the right side of the law and one on the wrong.  It's a romp with a few serious parts.

10. The Alamo (1960) Based on true events, of course, with lots of famous actors playing the roles of real-life heroes like Davy Crockett (John Wayne), James Bowie (Richard Widmark), and William Travis (Laurence Harvey).  It's sad, of course, but also glorious.

This is my first contribution to the Texas Blogathon hosted by The Midnite Drive-In this weekend.  Tomorrow, I'll be back with a movie review!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Release Day for "Cloaked" + Giveaway!

Today's the day!  Cloaked is officially available in paperback and e-book from Amazon right here.  

Wow.  This feels slightly surreal, to be honest.  I mean, I've spent how many decades thinking, "Someday, I will publish a book."  And someday is today.

Thanks to my ARC readers, there are already several reviews up on GoodReads.  Thank you, ARC readers!!!  You can now post reviews on the Amazon page too :-)

Yesterday, I asked people to hold off on ordering copies until today so we can see how big of a splash this book can make on Amazon's charts.  Today is here!  You can order now :-)  I'll pop back in later on to report on its stats.  I'm hoping we can show Amazon that yes, people want to read clean, wholesome, God-pleasing books.  #RebelliousWriting!

And yup, there's a giveaway.  Because, you know... I just can't resist doing them.

The picture shows one bookmark, but I'm giving away FIVE of them.

This is open world-wide.  Enter using the widget below, and please be sure to use an email address you check often.  I'll draw FIVE winners on Saturday, October 7, and notify them at the email address provided.  If you don't reply to claim your prize within one week, I will have to draw a new winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks to everyone who has supported me with your encouragement, time, prayers, and assistance!  Today would just be any other day without you, not my someday come true.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Song about "Cloaked" and a Request

The Song:

My book will come out
Bet your bottom dollar that
You can read
My western version
Of Little
Red Riding Hood because
It's released!
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya, Tomorrow!
Release day in one more day.
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya, Tomorrow!
There's only one day to wait!

The Request:

If you have not ordered Cloaked yet (both paperback and e-book are now available), would you be willing to wait until tomorrow (Friday, the 29th) to order it?  I'd like to see how high it would go on Amazon's charts if a whole bunch of people order it on the same day.  Here's a link to its page on Amazon.

And I'll leave you with another quotation from one of the advance readers who have already posted on Goodreads:

I'm also planning a little giveaway for tomorrow to celebrate release day, so be sure to check back by my blogs then!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Is "Slow West" a Retelling of "The Great Gatsby"?

While hosting the read-along for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald this summer, I happened to re-watch Slow West (2015) one evening.  And while watching it, I realized there are a TON of similarities between the two stories.  I'm wondering if anyone else thinks so too.

(There are lots of spoilers here and I'm not marking them, just so you know.)

Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee)

Gatsby is about a dreamer named Jay who loves a girl named Daisy.  West is about a dreamer named Jay who loves a girl named Rose.

Both Jay Gatsby and Jay Cavendish go to extreme lengths to chase down the flower-named girl they dream of.

Rose (Caren Pistorius) and Daisy (Carey Mulligan)

And both Daisy and Rose don't actually love the Jay who loves them.

There's a scene in Gatsby where Jay reaches for the light on the end of Daisy's dock across the water.  There's a scene in West where Jay reaches for the stars above him.

Both Jay Gatsby and Jay Cavendish die of a gunshot wound.  Both of them are killed over a case of  mistaken identity -- Wilson shoots Gatsby because he thinks Gatsby killed his wife.  Rose shoots Cavendish because she thinks he's one of the bounty hunters come to kill her.

Both The Great Gatsby and Slow West are narrated by an unreliable character who both admires and looks down on the character named Jay.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender)

And both stories revolve around class conflict.  Gatsby has a rich girl loved by a poor boy, and West has a poor girl loved by a rich boy.

Maybe I'm just seeing things, or I'm very drawn to stories with these themes, so of course I see parallels?  I don't know!  But I thought it was cool.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Advance Praise for "Cloaked"

Cloaked won't be released until this weekend (and I have something fun planned for a release party, so stay tuned for that), but reviews are popping up on Goodreads from some advance readers, and I want to share some of them with you over the course of this week.

The Kindle version is available for pre-order right now, and the paperback will be in a few days (just waiting on Amazon to post it, at this point).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

So... "Cloaked" is on a Best-seller List...

Um, yeah.  I took that screencap about 7 minutes ago.  My book Cloaked is currently in the top 100 of Amazon's best sellers list for YA fairy tale adaptation e-books.

It's not even released yet!  This is just pre-orders!  I am... almost in tears, to be honest.  Wow.  So exciting and awe-inspiring that people are pre-ordering my book.  And this is the e-book -- I know some people are waiting for the paperback to get listed for pre-order too.  Which it will in a couple days.


Thank you so much to everyone who has encouraged and supported me, here in the blogosphere and in other parts of my life!  This is YOUR doing.  YOU put this book on that list.  Thank you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Tag for the Tolkien Blog Party 2017

My fifth annual Tolkien Blog Party is in full swing over on my book blog, The Edge of the Precipice!  I've got games, giveaways, and more -- be sure to check it out if you're a Tolkien fan.  There's also a tag with ten questions to answer, and as usual, I'm going to answer them over here :-)

1. How long have you been a Tolkien fan? 

Since the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater in 2001.  Sixteen years!

2. Has your love of Middle-earth affected your life? 

Indeed, it has.  It's brought me quite a few friends, both in the blogging world and in real life.  Well, I guess I haven't met anyone in real life just because of Tolkien, but a shared love of his works has definitely deepened several friendships.

I think it's affected me as a writer too, because I have a deeper appreciation for mythic stories thanks to Tolkien.  I like to use the "hero's quest" form in my own stories a lot of times, and I wouldn't have wanted to learn about that if I hadn't read things about how Tolkien used it himself.

3. If you had to take the One Ring to Mordor, which character would you choose for your sole companion? 

Glorfindel!  He's extremely awesome, even if he does have a tiny role in LOTR.  He was such a great person, he actually got sent back to earth after dying during The Silmarillion.  In LOTR, he rode openly against the Nazgul and successfully fought off several of them.  I definitely want Glorfindel on my quest.  (But he doesn't go along in the books cuz yeah, that would make it too easy.)

He's not really in the movies, though supposedly he shows up at the end of Return of the King:


I'm not exactly a fan of the "smug Ken doll" look, to be honest. If I were casting him in a movie, I'd probably cast Chris Hemsworth.  Yeah, yeah, I'd probably want to cast Chris Hemsworth in just about any movie, but he wears long hair well and can do "warrior dude" brilliantly, so I stand by my casting choice.

4. Which is scarier, Shelob or the Balrog? 

Shelob.  I hate, loathe, and despise spiders.

5. Which two towers do you think Tolkien was referring to in the title The Two Towers? (i.e. Orthanc, Barad-dûr, Cirith Ungol, Minas Morgul, or Minas Tirith) 

I think Tolkien meant Barad-dûr and Minas Tirith, the dark tower and white city opposing each other.  But I think Peter Jackson meant Orthanc and Barad-dûr.

6. Whose wardrobe would you like to have? 

Bard the Bowman's. I especially love his animal-skin coat.  I actually found a replica on Etsy once, but it cost many hundreds of dollars, so yeah, didn't get that.  But I would wear anything of his!  His practical coat, his makeshift fingerless gloves, his plain homespun tunic and trousers, his sturdy boots... and also the fancier blue coat and chain mail he gets later on.  These are comfortable clothes I could live in, which is what I want from clothes.

7. What do you think an Ent Draught would taste like? 

Like a clear vegetable broth, a sort of celery-plus-onions-plus-mushrooms flavor.

8. Where in Middle-earth would you like to live?

Either the Shire or Rohan.  I do like comfort and books and good food, but I also like horses and wide-open spaces, so I'd like to live in either place.  (But for vacations, I want to go to Rivendell.)

9. Do you have any Tolkien-related opinions that surprise other people? 

Well, I like the movies of The Hobbit better than the book, which I know is pretty shocking to some people.  The awful truth is, I don't actually like the book all that well, for a variety of reasons.  But I really love the movies, especially The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

Also, Boromir is my favorite LOTR character, which kind of confuses some people.

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

 "Books ought to have good endings." -- Bilbo 

"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

"Look out for me, especially at unlikely times!" -- Gandalf

"The time of my thought is my own to spend." -- Dain

"May your beer be laid under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!" --Gandalf

"In the morning counsels are best, and night changes many thoughts." -- Theoden

"Need brooks no delay, yet late is better than never." -- Eomer

"Short cuts make delays, but inns make longer ones." -- Frodo

There!  Now I've finished this and can go read all the tag posts people have been sharing at the party.  Yay!

Friday, September 15, 2017

"King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" (2017)

I've seen this twice now, and I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet, but I think I'm starting to.  Not that it's hard to understand -- the plot is pretty straightforward.  But there is a ton of stuff going on under the surface that I appreciated way more with the second viewing.  And since layered movies are my favorite kind, yeah, I'm basically a fan of this one.

In fact, I've realized that I'm becoming a Guy Ritchie fan.  You probably already know how much I adore The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), and I would like to see his two Sherlock Holmes movies again.  I also can't wait to see what he does with Aladdin (2019?).  He doesn't play things safe with his direction, always trying new ways to tell stories or show us things, and while I don't always like what he does (the "shoulder-cam" thing in King Arthur is just doofy, I'm sorry), I have to give him props for inventiveness.  He has this cool way of telling a story in circles, giving us the bare bones of an event and then filling in details later in a way that changes our perception of those events.

Cowboy says he thinks this is a good movie if you ignore the fact that it's supposed to be telling the story of King Arthur and just look at it as a cool story of some dude named Arthur becoming king.  And I guess that works too.  But one of the things I like best about it is the way it takes familiar bits of the Arthur legend and makes them fresh and new.  I mean, the world already has The Sword and the Stone (1963) if I want a super-traditional telling, Camelot (1967) if I want a musical version, and King Arthur (2004) if I want one that includes Ioan Gruffudd (because of course I do).  So why not a swaggery retelling with oddball music and lots of new ideas for things like how that sword got in that stone?

Because that's what we have here.  Lots of swagger.  Some very odd music, and some cool music -- I've been listening to the soundtrack on YouTube, and yeah, it's odd.  But I will give the composer, Daniel Pemberton, the same props I give Guy Ritchie here.  He is trying new things, he's not just writing generic placeholder music that could be swapped out with any other actiony movie.  I love his soundtrack for Man from UNCLE, and even though this one doesn't hit me at the same level, I still like listening to (most of) it just because it's so different.

Okay, so basically, Vortigen (Jude Law)  kills his brother, King Uther (Eric Bana), and takes over the throne, but fails to kill little Prince Arthur.  Little Arthur escapes and grows up in Londinium, in a house of ill repute.  He grows up scrappy and loyal and sarcastic and lonely (so, duh, of course I like him).  When he's all grown up (and now played by Charlie Hunnam), the sword in the stone comes to light.  Vortigen knows this was his brother's sword that won't answer to anyone but the rightful heir to the throne, so he sets about systematically searching for that heir.

Arthur's very bold and ambitious, but he doesn't know he's the rightful king.  He has these nightmares about the night his father died, but he doesn't know what they mean.  Yet.  Thanks to a powerful mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), he begins to understand his dreams, his past, and what his future could hold.  Also, there's a bunch of rebels who want Vortigen gone.  And these angry Viking dudes.  Plus, Vortigen gets power from these super creepy serpent-women-octopus-things.  Like I said, there's a LOT going on in the movie, and I'm not even sure how to coherently review it.

So I guess I won't try.  If you're interested in a movie about King Arthur with a lot of magic and some cool storytelling twists, not to mention nice scenery and pretty people, give it a try.  If you're not, don't.

My favorite scene both times I watched this was the approach to the big finale, when a hallucinating Arthur rides toward his uncle's castle, unarmed and alone.  (This song is playing in the background, and it's so wacky and off-kilter and perfect for the scene.)

(He's hallucinating because the mage had a snake bite him, and I haven't entirely figured out why yet.)

It's a cool montage sequence, and it's pretty.  Did I mention this movie is very pretty?  Just like Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a beautiful movie to look at, though this one involves more CGI.

And Ritchie uses some great, unusual camera angles and staging that keeps everything so interesting, visually.  Like this shot of Arthur confronting Vortigen after the ride to the castle:

Isn't that a feast?  The opulence of the castle, the solid bulk of Arthur and the two guards bringing him in, the tiny focal point of Vortigen framed by Arthur and a guard.  It's like Vortigen is a prisoner too here, and in a way he is -- captive to his own ambition.  Also, Arthur towers over him, shadowy and unknowable.  We spend most of the movie with Arthur, but he remains apart, a bit unknowable.  Whereas Vortigen... he gets fewer scenes, but we know so much about him from them.

My other favorite scene is when Arthur pulls the sword from the stone.

Can you feel the tension, his reluctance to touch this, his confusion?  And the dreary greys of his surroundings, with him the only bright spot -- mmm, I am in love with the cinematography, for sure.

I've wanted to see Charlie Hunnam in something ever since I read this article a few years ago about how his TV show Sons of Anarchy was basically a retelling of Hamlet.  Really, I want to see him play Hamlet himself, but this was a fun introduction to him, anyway.  (Plus, he was playing opposite the only person I've seen play Hamlet live, so that was cool.)

EDIT:  I forgot to say if this was family friendly or not.  Um, sorta?  It's got loads of violence, but none of it is bloody or gory, it's just smash-bash-crash-move along.  It does have a lot of magic stuff going on, so that's not for everyone.  No sex, but he does grow up in a brothel, so there's some implications of what the girls he protects do for a living.  Does have some bad language, including that one non-sexual F-bomb allowed by the PG-13 rating.  Not a movie for kids, but I'll let my kids see this when they're teens (with my finger on the mute button).  Would be great with something like ClearPlay to take out the language.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Tea Cups and Texas -- Upcoming Events, In Other Words

Just popping up to notify you of two perfectly delightful events that you might not be aware of yet, but which I'm confident will be of interest to many of you!

First, I heard about the Tea Cup & Mug Exchange hosted by The Enchanting Rose blog this past spring, but too late to participate.  Well, I am not too late this time around, and I don't want you to be, either!  Details are here, if you're interested.

And second, Quiggy is hosting a wonderful blogathon in October at The Midnite Drive-In.  A blogathon devoted to movies set in (or filmed in) the great state of Texas.

You may not know this, but until I was about ten years old, whenever an adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I was going to be a cowboy on a ranch in Texas.  I have this deep and abiding love for that state, more than for any other state I haven't lived in.  Really, it's right up there with Iowa (my birthplace) and North Carolina (my adopted home state) in my heart.  So yeah... I am loving the idea of this blogathon.

And you know, there are plenty of non-westerns set there.  Check out this handy list on Wikipedia of all the movies set in Texas!  Doesn't have to be about dusty cowboys, honest.

Okay, that's all for today.  Go back to your lives, citizens.

Monday, September 11, 2017

I Need Advance Readers for "Cloaked"

First off, thank you all for being so supportive and encouraging!  So many of you have cheered me on while I've struggled through the process of independently publishing my first book.  We are almost there, folks.  Thanks to a heroic rescue by Cowboy yesterday (when I say my husband knows everything about everything, I'm not exaggerating), I have finished formatting Cloaked.  Which means I'm pretty confident I will be releasing this book the last week of September. 

So now I'm looking for some brave, kind volunteers who would like to be Advance Readers!  There are some requirements for qualifying as an ARC reader.  You must be able to:
  • read a PDF file
  • finish reading the book (just under 200 pages) by September 30
  • leave a review on
  • also leave a review at at least ONE of the following:
  1. Your own blog
  2. GoodReads

If you meet those qualifications, then send me an email at rachelkovaciny at gmail dot com :-)  I can't give away unlimited copies, but I do need a decent number of reviews....

(This has nothing to do with the book, I just love this shot from The Lone Ranger.)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Autumn To-Do List 2017

Okeydokey, time to post my next to-do list.  I was really happy with how many books I read from my TBR shelves this summer, so I'm upping my goals there, but cutting back on how many books I aim to get from the library.  Just to be fair to myself, because (believe it or not) I don't have unlimited reading time.


~ Publish Cloaked.  This is kind of a gimme, but hey, I like a to-do list to have a few gimmes.  Checking them off makes me feel like I'm doing well.

~ Read House of Living Stones by Katie Schuermann

~ Read 5 other books from my TBR shelves

~ Read 3 books from the library

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves

~ Go see Thor: Ragnarok

~ Make "Baked Oatmeal Bars" from this recipe.

~ Finish the skirts and cape I'm sewing for my kids

~ Finish my Newt Scamander scarf (after all, by the end of November, I probably will want to wear it)

~ Repair/update the "mouse house," which is this playhouse I made for the kids out of an old sheet that I cut and sewed to fit over a card table.  It's got a bunch of rips, and they're all 3 years older than they were when I made it, so I think it's time to not only fix the rips, but maybe make it a little "cooler" at the same time.

That's all for this season!  Do you have anythings you're looking forward to doing this autumn, or are hoping to tick off your to-do list?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Book Cover for "Cloaked"

Here it is! The cover for Cloaked, the western re-imagining of "Little Red Riding Hood" I have been working on for... well, it feels like forever, but it's actually been just a little over a year. And which, yes, will be released by the end of this month, Lord willing and the creek don't rise. In both Kindle and paperback forms, via Amazon.

I don't know about you, but I am in love with this cover. It's the work of my talented sister-in-law, Erika Ohlendorf. If you're a writer and want to see what other kinds of work she does, her website is here. Her prices are reasonable, as original cover art by a real artist goes.

If you're on Goodreads, Cloaked has a page there already. (Thanks, Elisabeth Grace Foley!!!) I have an author page on Goodreads too. And, you know, a website and a Facebook author page, that kind of thing.  Just in case you want to find me elsewhere.

 So... what do you think? Does it say "western Little Red Riding Hood" to you? I hope so!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Polishing Off My Summer To-Do List

Random picture of the Jefferson Memorial from one of our summer visits to DC.

Labor Day has come and gone, and though our summer weather often lingers through September, I'm more than ready for autumn!  Which means it's time to report in on how I fared with my Summer To-Do List.

~ Read Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome Fail.  I read the first couple chapters, realized my kids will enjoy it, and set it aside to read aloud to them.

~ Read 4 other books from my TBR shelves Check!  In fact, I read TEN!  They were: Conspiracy of Silence by Ronie Kendig, Dressed for Death by Julianna Deering, A Singular and Whimsical Problem (e-book) by Rachel McMillan, Destry Rides Again by Max Brand, The Trials of Sherlock Holmes by James Moffett, Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland, Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes ed. by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, Finding God in "The Lord of the Rings" by Kurt Bruner and Jim Ware, and The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power by Jane Chance (reviews for both of those coming during Tolkien Week later this month).

~ Read 5 books from the library Semi-check.  I read three:  Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor, Careless People by Sarah Churchwell, and Snow White by Matt Phelan.  I'm okay with this number being lower, though, as I'm really concentrating on trying to read books I already own so I can get my TBR shelves under some semblance of control.

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves Check!  I actually watched eight:  Lucky Jordan (1942), The Great Gatsby (2013), Crossfire Trail (2001), Anna Karenina (1961), The Man who Never Was (1956), O.S.S. (1946), The Fall (2006), and Dark Command (1940).  I think I might have taken more off the shelves than I added to them, for once.  Yay!

~ Rig up a new cover for our deck swing Check!  I got a big vinyl-like window shade from Ikea on clearance, cut it to size, and sewed it to the awning frame with fishing line.  I was rather dubious about how well it would work, and suspected the whole thing would rip off the frame the first time it rained hard, but nope!  It worked beautifully!  I couldn't be more pleased.

~ Finish the skirts and cape I'm sewing for my kids Fail.  Total fail.  Never touched them :-(

~ Finish my Newt Scamander scarf Fail.  But I think it's almost done -- I did work on it now and then.

The Washington monument, from the same trip.

~ Reorganize the shelves where I keep all my homeschooling materials and supplies Check!  I got them all spiffed up before we ever started school up again, and I even improved on my system from last year of how to keep everyone's books organized.  So far, it's been working nicely.

~ Order curriculum for the new school year Check!  I would hope so, right?  I mean, we started school in July, so I'd better have had our curriculum by then.

~ Make lesson plans for the class on creative writing I'll be teaching our new homeschool co-op group Semi-check.  I've got lots of ideas and resources, and I know what I'll be doing for the first lesson, but I haven't yet actually plotted everything else out.  We'll be starting up in a couple weeks, so I'd better get on that.

~ Clean up my crafting corner Semi-check.  I cleaned up and reorganized all my craft supplies that I use for Sunday School and homeschooling, but my crafting table is a disaster still.  Which is why I never managed to touch my sewing projects.

~ Organize my kids' crafting cabinet Check!  I bought some storage boxes and sorting bins so all their papers, stickers, markers, and so on are easy to find and store.

~ Publish "Cloaked" Fail?  Turns out that editing a 40,000-word book takes a lot longer than a 20,000-word story like "The Man on the Buckskin Horse."  However, I'm in the formatting-for-publication stage, so it won't be long now.  I'll be revealing its cover to you TOMORROW!!!

Six checks, three semi-checks, four fails.  Not too bad, considering how insane my summer was.  I'm pleased!

And the Washington Monument one more time cuz it's cool.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

My Ten Favorite Alan Ladd Movies

Happy birthday, Alan Ladd!  Today you would have been 104.

To celebrate, I shall list off my ten favorite movies Alan made.  This list may change in a year or two when I've seen even more of his movies, but for now, these are my top ten.  All titles are linked to my reviews.

1.  Branded (1950)  A conman (Robert Keith) persuades a drifting loner (Alan Ladd) to impersonate the long-lost son of a wealthy rancher (Charles Bickford) to acquire his fortune.  But the drifter comes to care about the family and sets out to find their real son for them.  It's unlike any other western I've ever seen, ad I mean that in the best way possible.  Refreshingly non-usual!

2.  Shane (1953)  A stubborn farmer (Van Heflin) hires a drifting stranger (Alan Ladd) to work on his farm.  The stranger turns out to be a fairly famous gunman who uses his deadly prowess to protect the farmer and his family from a bullying rancher who wants to push them off their land.  This is probably Ladd's most famous movie now, and with good reason -- he fits the role with a comfortable grace seldom equaled.

3.  And Now Tomorrow (1944)  A wealthy young woman (Loretta Young) lost her hearing in an illness.  Though her family and fiance (Barry Sullivan) try to convince her she needs to accept her condition, a young doctor (Alan Ladd) with an experimental treatment holds out hope that she could regain her hearing.  This is probably the first Alan Ladd movie I ever saw part of -- I watched most of it on AMC back in the 1990s, but didn't get to see the ending.  Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay, and he just happens to be my favorite author.  I also really liked the book by Rachel Field that it's based on.

4.  The Great Gatsby (1949)  F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic story gets a film noir twist.  A successful gangster (Alan Ladd) buys a new house across the water from an old flame (Betty Field) whose husband (Barry Sullivan) is having an affair with the wife (Shelley Winters) of a gas station owner (Howard da Silva).  The gangster's next-door neighbor (Macdonald Carey) just happens to be the old flame's cousin, and he helps reunite them.  Alan Ladd's own life story mirrored Jay Gatsby's in many ways, and I've yet to see another portrayal of Gatsby as haunting and heartfelt as Ladd's.

5.  This Gun for Hire (1942)  A remorseless killer-for-hire (Alan Ladd) gets double-crossed by employer (Laird Cregar) and teams up with a singing magician (Veronica Lake) who is helping the government stop the same guy from selling American military secrets to the enemy.  This is the movie that turned Ladd into a star, and it's not hard to see why -- he's riveting.

6.  The Blue Dahlia (1946)  A weary veteran (Alan Ladd) returns home and finds his wife (Doris Dowling) is cheating on him with a nightclub owner (Howard da Silva).  He leaves her to go stay with his buddies (William Bendix and Hugh Beaumont), but when she turns up dead, he's the prime suspect.  The nightclub owner's wife (Veronica Lake) tries to help him solve the mystery before the cops nab him.  It's the only original screenplay written by my favorite author, Raymond Chandler, and its dialog sizzles delightfully.

7.  China (1943)  An American oil supplier (Alan Ladd) and his buddy (William Bendix) are selling oil to the Japanese, who have invaded China in the early days of WWII.  A teacher (Loretta Young) begs them to help her transport some students to safety, and the cynic slowly comes to care about people and causes other than himself.  Also, Alan Ladd's costume in this was a direct inspiration for Indiana Jones' costume, which is just cool.

8.  Whispering Smith (1948)  A railroad detective (Alan Ladd) discovers that his longtime best friend (Robert Preston) is stealing from the railroad.  To complicate matters, he used to be in love with the woman who ended up marrying his best friend.  This is the movie that made me fall in love with Alan Ladd.

9.  The Proud Rebel (1958)  A widowed father (Alan Ladd) with a mute son (David Ladd) gets hired by a farmer (Olivia de Havilland) to help repair her run-down farm and keep a greedy rancher (Dean Jagger) from seizing her land.  When he learns of a possible cure for his son's muteness, he sells the boy's beloved dog to raise the money for the operation, with heart-breaking results.  I love the scenes between Alan and his son David -- they're very sweet and natural together.

10.  The Glass Key (1942)  A crooked politician (Brian Donlevy) falls in love with another politician's daughter (Veronica Lake), but she falls in love with the politician's right-hand man (Alan Ladd).  When the politician gets accused of murdering the girl's brother, his right-hand man vows to clear his name, and there's nothing, not even a merciless beating at the hands of a sadist (William Bendix), that will stop him from doing so.  While filming this movie, Ladd and Bendix became best pals, their friendship reportedly beginning when Bendix failed to pull a punch soon enough and knocked Ladd cold during filming.

This is my third entry for the Alan Ladd Blogathon I've been hosting all weekend.  Check out the master list here for all the other entries!

And, once again, happy birthday, dear Alan Ladd.  Thank you for all the joy you've brought me, and here's to many more hours spent watching your films.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

"Lucky Jordan" (1942)

When Alan Ladd made a big splash with This Gun for Hire (1942), Paramount quickly put him in two similar roles to capitalize on his new popularity.  Both of his next vehicles featured him in the tough-guy-with-a-buried-conscience sort of character that made him popular.  First came The Glass Key (1942), another film noir that paired him again with Veronica Lake, his co-star from Gun.  Then came Lucky Jordan (1942), a much lighter film that gave Ladd his first truly leading role, though with a put-the-war-effort-above-your-own-needs vibe similar to Gun.

Lucky Jordan (Alan Ladd) runs a successful gambling racket in New York City.  When he gets drafted, he's confident his lawyer (Lloyd Corrigan) will be able to finagle him out of having to serve in the military.  The lawyer tries everything.  He even attempts to have Lucky designated "socially undesirable," which Lucky resents.  "Whaddaya mean, socially undesirable?  Dames like me," he insists.

But nothing works.  So Lucky tells his lawyer to go hire some old lady to pretend she's his mother so Lucky, an orphan and unmarried, can claim he has a dependent and dodge the draft that way.  The lawyer turns up Annie (Mabel Paige), a grifting alcoholic who bums quarters off rich men to keep herself supplied with liquor.  She says for fifty bucks she'd "do a swan dive off the Statue of Liberty."

Lucky is unimpressed by Annie, but figures this is worth a shot.  But he overplays his hand, telling the draft board he gives his "ma" a thousand dollars a month.  They say if he can afford to be so generous, surely he has enough money to support her while he's in the army.  So into the Army Lucky goes.

Now comes the first time the movie surprised me.  I expected Lucky would get to basic training, a drill sergeant would yell at him a lot, and Lucky would gradually learn to work with other people and become a "good" soldier.

Not so much.  Lucky wears his silk pajamas in his tent.  When an officer comes in and yells at him, he yells back.

He ducks every bit of training and duty, spending his time in the camp canteen reading magazines, eating popcorn, and ogling the WACs who work there.

Then one day, his "ma" shows up, looking for some more money.

Lucky gets mad and doesn't treat her the way a good son would, which makes WAC Jill Evans (Helen Walker) get wise to the fact he's not everything he seems.

This was Walker's first film, and both she and Ladd feel a little uncertain at times, both still figuring out how to carry a movie.  While Ladd had been acting in bit parts and supporting roles for ten years by then, this was really his first leading role -- both This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key rested on the shoulders of other actors.  Walker and Ladd don't have much chemistry, but it's okay because they spend most of the movie yelling at each other anyway.  The character of Jill Evans is fairly flat, mostly there as a plot device, and Walker doesn't round her out much with her performance.  Lucky Jordan's not a very filled-out character either, but Ladd's got enough acting experience (and talent, I must loyally add) to make Lucky Jordan feel fairly real and interesting.

Anyway, Lucky lands in the stockade, escapes, sort-of kidnaps Jill Evans (and insists on calling her character "Cute Eyes" through the rest of the film, which Cowboy is now threatening to call me), and makes his way back to his office in NYC.  There he discovers that his head lackey, Slip Moran (Sheldon Leonard), is trying to take over Lucky's business.

Then it all devolves into this who-can-get-the-McGuffin-first story.  Moran wants to sell some American tank plans to the Germans.  Lucky stops him, not because he objects to selling American secrets to the enemy, but because he wants to sell them himself and stop Moran from muscling in on his business.  Jill Evans keeps trying to convince Lucky to be a Good Guy and give the plans back, but he's got zero time for those ideas.

Moran puts out a hit on Lucky, but remember Annie, the old lady who pretended she was Lucky's mother?  She warns Lucky, then hides him in her own shabby apartment.  And their scenes together in that apartment are my favorite part of the whole movie.  Ladd and Evans might seem a bit flat in their scenes together, but Ladd and Mabel Paige shine in their every interaction.  They make me laugh, make me tear up a little -- by the time Lucky leaves her to go stop the bad guys, I am totally invested in their characters.  I think the movie as a whole is worth watching just for their scenes together.

In fact, they're so cute, I made a GIF of her cracking Alan up.

So, yeah, Lucky decides to do the right thing and stop the bad guys from getting their hands on those tank plans.  And he does, after many thrilling heroics.

And this is where the movie surprised me a second time.  Jill Evans tells Lucky that, although he has to go back to the army, he's probably going to be rewarded for saving those plans from the enemy.  He might even get a medal.  But he doesn't.  He winds up in the stockade again, and in the very last scene is still the same unrepentant wise-guy he was at the beginning.  Which a little bit undermines Lucky's character arc (though he did still learn to care about someone other than himself, namely his "ma"), but man, it just makes me laugh with delight when he mouths off to his guard one more time.

The filmmakers clearly wanted this to be a sort of Damon Runyon story, with characters taking themselves ultra-seriously while the audience laughs at them.  It's even set in Runyon's turf, NYC, with the same mix of seedy, greedy, kindly, and upright characters he would have used.  But it lacks the true Runyon charm.  Still, it's a fun  movie that provides several laughs, and like I said, the scenes between Lucky and his "ma" are worth the price of admission all on their own.

This is my second entry for the Alan Ladd Blogathon I'm hosting this weekend.  Check out the main post here to find links to other people's entries for this event.