Monday, December 31, 2018

My Ten Favorite New-to-Me Movies of 2018

Here we are again, at the end of another year.  According to my records, I watched 89 movies over the past year.  That's not 89 separate titles, as I always do a lot of rewatching.  But I watched 89 movies.  Yay!  Here are the ten that I liked best of the ones I'd never seen before.  As always, I've linked the title to my review if I've done a review of that film already.

1. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)  A young viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) defies tradition and saves a dragon instead of trying to kill it.  His newfound knowledge and understanding of dragons ends up saving his village and gaining his father's (voiced by Gerard Butler) respect.  Oh, wow, this movie is every bit as good as everyone says it is.  Possibly better.

2. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)  Time and again, all that stands between young street rat Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and doom are his moxie, his street smarts, and his luck.  I happen to love heist movies, and this movie has heist after heist after heist, so it pleases me from just about every angle.

3. A Bear Named Winnie (2004)  The true story of how and why a military veterinarian (Michael Fassbender) brings a Canadian bear to Europe during WWI.  Sweet and lovely movie.

4. Darkest Hour (2017)  Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) and the rest of Great Britain must decide whether to defy Adolf Hitler or make peace with him and their own consciences.  Fabulous supporting turns by Ben Mendelsohn, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lily James.  I ran right out and bought a copy of this the day after I saw it at my parents' house.

5. Jane Eyre (1943)  Plain, humble governess Jane (Joan Fontaine) cares for the ward (Margaret O'Brien) of wealthy, unpredictable Mr. Rochester (Orson Welles).  Possibly my favorite Welles performance ever, and so good I had to add a copy to my collection of good adaptations of my favorite novel.

6. Black Panther (2018) T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) learns what it truly means to be a man, a leader, and a hero.  One of the coolest, most sophisticated MCU movies so far.

7. Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Legendary detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) solves a mystery on a train, and we all enjoy the ride because of how many cool people show up in the various roles.  I really enjoy Branagh as a director, maybe even more than I do his acting, and I'm looking forward to 2020's Death on the Nile (not least because Armie Hammer's supposed to be in it).

8. Red Mountain (1951) Near the end of the American Civil War, a Confederate officer (Alan Ladd) is sent to Colorado to aid General Quantrill, but ends up involved in a murder, a rebellion, and a love triangle.  I need to watch this again so I can review it, because it's a totally different movie than I was expecting, but not in a bad way.

9. Christopher Robin (2018) Adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), his wife (Hayley Atwell), and their daughter (Bronte Carmichael) gain some much-needed assistance from Christopher Robin's childhood friends, Winnie-the-Pooh and Co.  This is sweet and whimsical and heart-warming, and McGregor is so perfectly cast that I want to hug him.

10. Along Came Jones (1945)  A slow-talking, easy-going cowpoke (Gary Cooper) gets mistaken for a vicious outlaw (Dan Duryea) and falls for the outlaw's girl (Loretta Young).  This is a charming western comedy that amuses me greatly.

If you'd like to see what my favorite movies were for the last few years, click on the year to see the list from 2017, 2016, 2015, or 2014.

What were your favorite movies this year?

Happy New Year!  I'm not a big one for resolutions, but one thing I intend to change in the coming year is how present I am in the blogosphere.  Life has been hectic this year, but I'm working on streamlining it and getting back to things I love, like blogging and reading blogs, and doing less of busybusybusy stuff.  We'll see if that happens.

"Elf" (2003) -- Initial Thoughts

Yes, it's true.  I had never seen this movie before, even though it's fifteen years old.  The truth is, I'm never sure if I'm going to like Will Ferrell or not.  Sometimes I like him a lot, like in Stranger Than Fiction (2006).  And sometmes, nope, he's just gratingly annoying.  So I... never made an effort to see Elf.  Until now.

And now I've seen it, and the good news is, I didn't hate it!  Ferrell wasn't particularly annoying, and the overall premise was cute.

But I also didn't love it.  I watched it all in one go, it was nice, I was happy at the end, but I've got no need to run buy a copy so I can watch it over and over.  If my kids wanted to watch it when they were a little older, I wouldn't be adverse to getting it from the library again.

The best part, for me, was actually getting to see some old favorite actors in something new!  I've been exceedingly fond of James Caan ever since I first saw El Dorado (1967) in my early teens -- for years, that was one of my top 5 favorite John Wayne movies, as a matter of fact.  I knew he was in this, and I was kind of watching it more for him than anything else.

What I didn't know ahead of time was that Bob Newhart and Ed Asner were in this too!  Oh my goodness, that was such a huge treat for me!  Especially Bob Newhart, as he made his screen debut in the film Hell is For Heroes (1962) that has Bobby Darin and Steve McQueen and Fess Parker and James Coborn, and if you're not wanting to watch that movie already just from me listing off those names, then what are you doing with your life, may I ask?  Not to mention, it was written by Robert Pirosh, to whom I will forever be grateful because he created my favorite TV show, Combat!

And Ed Asner is nice too.

Also, Jon Favreau!  Oh my goodness, how did I not know this was directed by Jon Favreau?  Awwww, I like his Iron Man movies so much, and I love it when he pops up in movies.

So yeah, this was cute and fun, and I'm glad I've checked it off my to-watch list at last.

Was this movie family friendly?  Um, sorta?  A little innuendo here and there, some mild-ish bad language, a little mild comedic violence.  Like I said, I'd let my kids watch it when they were older, probably 10+.

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Silent Night" is 200 Years Old. Today.

"Silent Night" was first performed on December 24, 1818.  That's 200 years ago, today.  I know you needed to know this, so I'm telling you.  You're welcome ;-)

If you don't know the history of this beloved Christmas hymn, here's a nice article relating it.

Here are some of my favorite renditions that I listen to every year:

Do you have a favorite rendition of "Silent Night"?

Thursday, December 20, 2018

New Story in a FREE New Anthology!

That's right, my friends!  My "flash fiction" piece called "Knighthood" now appears in the brand-new anthology It Happened in a Flash presented by Holly Lisle.  You can get the e-book for FREE on Amazon or on Barnes and Noble, and other places too.

Flash fiction is very, very short stories, also sometimes called "short-shorts."  The sixty-four stories in this anthology all revolve around something impossible happening, and they're all 500 words or less.  And if you think it's tough to cram a full story into 500 words, with a protagonist, antagonist, setting, and plot -- you're right!  But it's totally possible, as the stories in this attest.  Including mine!

My story "Knighthood" is about an actor named Andrew who realizes one day that he needs to stop pretending to be a knight.  It was inspired by two things that happened to me in real life.  Shortly before I wrote this story, I took my kids to see a live performance of "Beauty and the Beast" at the library.  With only a handful of props and costumes, some rudimentary scenery, one actor and one actress told the entire story beautifully and cleverly.  I loved it.  I spent a lot of time thinking about how much work they put into that performance for a bunch of kids.  And a story idea glimmered into life.  But it wasn't until I remembered something else that happened twenty years ago that the story really began to take shape.

My freshman year of college, some friends of mine invited me to go to a Renaissance Festival with them, in costume.  It was crazy fun.  Afterward, we all went to a big mall for supper and just to bum around like college kids like to do.  And we stayed in costume.  Got lots of funny looks, some tourists asked to take our pictures, and we generally had a splendid time.  One of the guys was dressed like a knight, very King Richard-like, big lion on his chest and some actual chain mail, and a sword at his side.  (A fake sword.  I think.)  At one point, we strayed into a toy store.  A little boy there looked up at this guy dressed as a knight, all goggle-eyed, and asked, "Are you a real knight?"  And that guy regretted his answer, because he felt later like he should have said, "Yes, I am."  But he didn't, he said he wasn't a real knight, but he wished he could be one.  And the little boy's face just crumpled.

Well, mix that idea with the whole actor-in-a-tiny-travelling-theatre-troupe scenario, and I had me a story.  Read it yourself and see what you think.  Leave some feedback wherever you download it, or on Goodreads!

Please note that while my story is 100% squeaky clean, the anthology as a whole would be rated PG-13 -- no really smutty stuff, but there may be some mildly objectionable content in other stories.  I've only read six or seven of them so far -- none have been something I found distasteful so far, but your standards may be different from mine.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

December Articles in Femnista and Prairie Times

Just a quick update!  If you're like me, you're verrrrrry busy right now, but still have snippets of time to read things now and then.  Well, if you're looking for something quick to read, my article about candy in the 1800s will be available in the current issue of Prairie Times for another couple weeks, and my article about Ramona Quimby for Femnista is out now too.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Want to Write a Novel? Here's Some Help...

I'm crawling out from under the Christmas tree and brushing cookie crumbs off my fingers so I can share something really exciting with you.

I know I've mentioned taking writing courses from author/teacher Holly Lisle before.  I've taken quite a few, from the massive ones like How to Think Sideways and How to Revise Your Novel, to smaller courses like How to Write Flash Fiction (which is free, btw) and Title, Cover, Copy.

How to Write a NovelShe's putting together a new class right now called How to Write a Novel.  It's weekly step-by-step lessons, just like her other classes, with worksheets and demos and so on.  And right now, she's giving away a sample version of it for FREE right here.  It's the first 7-9 pages of the first 7 lessons, no worksheets or demos, but if you're a writer and looking for some guidance or assurance or new ideas or inspiration or something fun to do while procrastinating working on your WIP... definitely check it out!!!  Download the PDF, or print it out, and boom!  You've got something to do while you're riding in the car to Great-Aunt Sophy's house for Christmas dinner.

::Disclaimer 1:: I do not have a Great-Aunt Sophy.  YMMV.

::Disclaimer 2::  I'm not affiliated with Holly Lisle, I'm just a BIG fan of her writing courses.  She's helped me tons over the years.  I love her classes.  Again, YMMV.

(YMMV = Your Mileage May Vary.  Just FYI.)

(FYI = For Your Information.  JIC you didn't know.)

(JIC = Just In Case.)

(Methinks it's time to crawl back under the Christmas tree with more cookies.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

"Hamlet" (1964)

If you hadn't guessed from the title of this blog, I'm enormously fond of William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.  It speaks to me on many levels, and every time I read or watch it, I learn more about the play and about myself.  To date, I've seen 17 different versions of it, which I talk about as a whole on this page.

Today, I'm going to talk about the 1964 version that stars Richard Burton, which you can find on DVD (I recommend checking ebay, as Amazon's gone a bit pricey on it lately), and which you can also watch on Amazon Prime right here (for FREE at the moment).  This is a very special version because it was not made as a film, unlike the Olivier, Gibson, and Branagh versions you might be more familiar with.  Instead, this is a presentation of Burton's spectacular Broadway run.  (To my knowledge, he still holds the record for most performances in the role on Broadway.)

Someone in Hollywood came up with the idea of filming a Broadway play and then showing it in theaters so that people across the country could experience really wonderful theater entertainment without having to try to get to NYC.  They called it "Theatrofilm" and used something called "Electronovision" to record two successive performances.  They had to use special cameras so that they could capture the play without having lots and lots of lights like a normal filming experience would use -- they didn't even need the house lights up!

The idea of Theatrofilm never really took off, but we do have similar things today, like National Theatre Live, which broadcasts London theater on movie screens here in the US.  I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet that way twice, actually.  Anyway, Theatrofilm was going to be a big deal, except that audiences didn't embrace it like execs hoped.  You can learn a whole lot about it on this site, if you're curious -- it has photos of promo materials and interviews with Burton and so on.

This production of Hamlet opened on April 24, 1964, the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth.  It was directed by Sir John Gielgud, who I believe still may hold the record for most performances in the role overall -- he played Hamlet in 5 different productions between 1930 and 1944.  There's a really wonderful book called John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet by Richard L. Sterne, which is a transcript of things said during the rehearsals for this particular production.  Sterne played one of the random men in the Danish court, and he thought that having Gielgud and Burton there discussing this play day after day should be captured for posterity.  So he smuggled a tape recorder in a suitcase into the rehearsals (remember, this is the '60s, so it filled that whole suitcase) and captured so many amazing insights into this play, and into the process of bringing a play to life.  Which means we really know a lot about how things went behind the scenes in this production -- Gielgud and Burton discussed the character of Hamlet endlessly, and I feel like they both understood him so, so well.

Richard Burton is one of my absolute favorite Hamlets.  Probably in my top three, to be honest.  Definitely in my top 5.  He's brooding and sad, of course, but he's also dangerous and virile.  He shouts a lot, though reportedly his performances varied wildly from night to night, so maybe we just get the shouty version because that's how he was feeling the two nights they filmed this.

But what I really love about his performance is how he brings out a sarcastic humor in Hamlet's words.  The first time I watched this, more than a decade ago, his interpretation of the "Rogue and Peasant Slave" soliloquy transfixed me.  It's been my favorite of Hamlet's soliloquys ever since.  Yes, even above the "To Be or Not to Be" speech.  He goes through so many emotions there, from relief at being alone to self-rebuke, to anger, annoyance, amazement, fury, self-reproach, amusement, and cunning intelligence.  When an actor nails this speech, I am filled with delight.  And Burton does so with ease.

The other actors and actresses are good.  Hume Cronyn is an especially amusing Polonius, though sometimes he seems a little to tickled by his own lines and delivery... but maybe that's just me.  I like Robert Milli as Horatio, he's very sympathetic.  Maybe a little bland, but he has a lovely beard.  Linda Marsh's Ophelia is sweet and worried, and I like her quite well.

The entire play is performed in "street clothes," normal clothing of the day and age, some of it from the costume wardrobe and some belonging to the actors themselves, IIRC.  It's staged as if it were the final run-through before the dress rehearsal, so props are minimal as well. 

I find this helps me focus on the words, story, and characters, but my husband found it a bit silly and boring, so your mileage may vary.  Because this is stage acting, not movie acting, and because it's from 50 years ago, you may find the acting styles a bit different from what you're used to.  But if you enjoy Shakespeare or are a Burton fan, definitely seek this out.  It is well worth your time.

Here's my rating of the acting and production, for my Hamlet Adaptations page:

Hamlet: A+
Horatio: B+
Laertes: C
Ophelia: B+
Claudius: B
Gertrude: B-
Polonius: A-
Overall Production: A-

This has been my entry into the Regaling About Richard Burton Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget.  Check out the main blogathon post for links to other posts by the rest of the participants!

Sunday, December 02, 2018

To-Do List -- Winter 2018/2019

Right!  Time to figure out what I want to do in December, January, and February.  Read books, watch movies, bake and cook some stuff, do some crafting -- the usual!

~ Read Old West Christmas Brides and Holiday Grind for the Literary Christmas Reading Link-Up

~ Read 4 other books off my TBR shelves

~ Read 3 more books for my Classics Club list

~ Read 3 books from the library

~ Get back into reviewing adult coloring books on my book blog

~ FINALLY see Elf (2003)

~ Watch 6 movies from my TBW shelves

~ Go see It's a Wonderful Life (1946) on the big screen

~ Take my kids to see White Christmas (1954) on the big screen

~ Go see Little Women (1994) on the big screen

~ Go see Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

~ Go see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

(Our tree this year.  We'll be adding ornaments tomorrow.)

~ Get together with some blogging pals

~ Finish my patchwork skirt in time to wear it to church on Christmas Eve

~ Make Chocolate-Mint Crack(le) again

~ Seriously dig into decluttering this house before I drown in all our stuff

There!  Now I'll stay on track with the things I've got going on in my life this winter.  Or at least, I'll have a better chance of staying on track!

Do you have things you're hoping/planning to accomplish this winter?  Do share!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Autumn 2018 To-Do List Wrap-Up

Tomorrow is December 1st.  Time to pull the plug on my autumnal to-do list :-)  Let's see how I did!

~ Read Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge Check!  My review is here.

~ Read 5 other books from my TBR shelves Check!  I read SEVEN others off my TBR shelves:

~ Read 3 books for my Classics Club list Check!  I read four:

~ Read 3 books from the library Check!  I read five:

A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
The Bronte Sisters by Catherine Reef
Night School by Lee Child
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy

~ Watch 5 movies from my TBW shelves Check!  I watched Rough Magic (1995), Spaceballs (1987), The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016), Red Mountain (1951), and I finished season 2 of Leverage (2009-2010).  Yes, the last is not a movie, but it takes up space on my TBW shelves, so it counts.  Of those, I liked Winter's War, Red Mountain, and Leverage enough to keep.

~ Go see the 2011 Jane Eyre with a bunch of friends Check!  It was super fun :-)  We have a new theater not too far away that holds these "afternoon tea" events once a month -- basically, they show a period drama and feed you tea and treats that are themed around the movie.  I've been to three of them now, and I am firmly addicted.

~ Go see Crazy Rich Asians Check!  It was amusing, but I didn't love it.

~ Go see First Man Fail :-(

~ Go see Bad Times at the El Royale Fail :-(  I went to visit my parents right when both this and First Man came out, and I flew over two different weekends, which meant I couldn't see movies on those weekends, and I totally missed them.  I'm so bummed.

~ Go see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Check!  You can read my initial thoughts on it here.

~ Get together with some blogging friends again, somewhere, somehow Fail.  Maybe after Christmas.

~ Make copycat Frankenmouth hot buttered noodles Check!  We made them for an Oktoberfest gathering we hosted back at the end of September (yeah, I know -- but it's totally a thing.  You celebrate Oktoberfest in September if you're good Germans, and I'm half a good German, so hey), and they were FABULOUS.

~ Make apple crisp muffins Fail :-(  I did print the recipe out, but that's it.

~ Take our kids camping in the Shenandoah Valley Check!  And we all survived.  No one got eaten by a bear.  I did mess my knee up again, though.  Grr.

~ Order photos Fail :-(

~ Start writing the first draft of my next book Check!  I'm more than a chapter in, and I love it.  I don't have a good title for it yet, but it's a retelling of Snow White set in the 1870s during a wagon train.

~ Run down to Colonial Williamsburg at least once  CHECK!  I went THREE TIMES!  It was basically the perfect autumn.

All in all, it was a charming autumn.  I'm particularly pleased that I got so much reading done, because it was also a busy season.  But I did NOT let my reading fall by the wayside! 

I'll post my winter goals soon.  How was your autumn?

(All pictures taken by me.  Many got posted on my Instagram account.)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018 Wrap-Up

So, I'm done with Nano for the year.

You might remember that in my pre-Nano post, I talked about my goal of starting my next fairy tale retelling, a western version of Snow White set during the 1870s.  What I didn't really say there was that I wasn't aiming for a full 50K this year -- Cowboy says I get too grumpy when I do a full Nano, so for the last few years, I've set smaller goals for myself instead.  This year, I wanted to hit 15K, and I also had the goal of writing a western short story that's a follow-up to Cloaked.  And start my Snow White story, which still needs a good title.

Anyway, I did that!  I wrote TWO whole short stories, one a western and one... not.  I'll let you know when those are available, cuz they're both going to be free.  And I'm more than a chapter into my Snow White book.  Yay!

The NaNoWriMo site lets you set your own goals to track now, so I made a goal of 15K and tracked it all month.  Here's what it looked like:

Yes, there were quite a few days where I didn't write anything.  Mostly that's weekends you see with no forward progress.  But I wrote on fifteen days and I hit my goal, and I'm calling it a win :-)

How about you?  Did you do NaNoWriMo this year?  How are you doing?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" (2018) -- Initial Thoughts

You may recall that I really loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).  In fact, I named it my #1 favorite new-to-me film of that year (though now I love Rogue One better, but that's neither here nor there).

So yes, my hopes were high.  Manageably high, I thought, but high.  With Jude Law coming aboard as Dumbledore and the promise of a lot more Johnny Depp, plus reunited with four characters I've grown to love after watching the first movie many times, what could go wrong?

Um, so things did go wrong.  I'm not saying I hated it, and in fact, I want to go see it again.  I'm going to read the screenplay as soon as I finish the book I'm currently on.  BUT.  This movie has problems.  Mainly, the picture above is the problem.  How many people are in that photo?  Sixteen?  Yeah, sixteen.  How many of those were in the first movie?  Six.


Ten new characters.  Well, really nine, because we already know and love Dumbledore from the Harry Potter books.  But still.  NINE NEW CHARACTERS, people.  Nine out of sixteen.  That's way too many new people for me to have to invest in, while still keeping me invested in the four (fine, five, counting Dumbledore) I already loved.  It's just not going to happen. 

And it didn't.  I couldn't emotionally invest in the film because I never had time to.


The new characters who were actually interesting, namely Nagini (Claudia Kim) and Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), got almost no screen time until the end, when I was suddenly told to care about their sadness?  And the new character who got lots of backstory, namely Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), I never cared about because the writing was there, but the acting just wasn't.  Everyone else in this film was doing everything they could with their limited screen time, and she had all kinds of time to be interesting, but never was.

As for Jacob (Dan Fogler), he still stole every scene he came anywhere near.  But he was barely part of the film.  His "I always wanted to GO here!" was basically my favorite moment in the whole thing.  Queenie (Alison Sudol) got sidelined to the point where her character arc didn't make sense -- she's afraid she's going mad, and afraid of losing Jacob?  Those are two FASCINATING things to dig into, and... we never dug.  She just got moved from point A to point B and we never delved into why and how and all the juicy emotions we should be dealing with there.  Plus, in the first film, Queenie was this beautiful, surprising blend of flibbertigibbit and street-savvy.  Where did that go???

Newt (Eddie Redmayne) fared little better.  He's got some pretty juicy emotions to deal with himself, like how does he feel about the girl he loved in school getting engaged to his brother?  And then sacrificing herself for them both?  Redmayne shows us a lot just through good acting, but we should have had time to see him process this.  Instead it's bop from one action piece to the next and one plot moment to the next with no time for the characters or us to process anything. 

Poor Tina (Katherine Waterston) was barely in this movie.  I'm very angry about this.  Tina's a super-cool, fresh, unique female character, and she was handed a "play the jealous female" storyline and left there.  I hate this.  I wanted to see Tina being quirky and curious and passionate like she was in the first movie, and instead, she's almost ignored.

There were very few fantastic beasts, especially compared to the first movie.  And the titular crimes of Grindelwald were what exactly?  He kills a bunch of wizards at the end.  He has his henchmen kill some people so he can steal their house.  He uses polyjuice potion to switch places with his guard, and his guard's tongue got cut out/mutilated in the process.  He throws a little monster thing off a flying coach for being too needy.  Those aren't the kinds of crimes that get you a movie title, usually.  I guess you could add lying and manipulating to them, but still.  He wasn't all that much of a Big Bad, just Johnny Depp creeping it up whenever he managed to get a moment of screentime.

So.  Um.  Yeah.  It's not that I disliked this movie, honest.  It's just that it very much frustrated and disapointed me with its lack of focus, bloated cast, and lack of emotional content.  Rowling can do better; these filmmakers can do better; doggone it, live up to your potential, people!

Monday, November 19, 2018

"Giant" (1956)

I have a deep love for fish-out-of water stories.  This is probably because I often feel out-of-place myself, and have throughout my life.  Being a Christian, a conservative Lutheran, homeschooled,  a writer, a stay-at-home mom, a homeschool parent, loving classic books, loving old movies -- there always seems to be something about me that separates me from many of the people I come into contact with.

And because I'm pretty shy, that makes it hard to know quite how to deal with a lot of social situations.  I'm always the different one.  I'm always a little out-of-step.

Anyway, I think that sense of oddballness is probably what makes me love fish-out-of-water stories.  And that love is a big part of why Giant has been a favorite of mine basically all my life.  It contains layer after layer of stories about people who are out of place, out of step, out of their element.  Watching them navigate worlds where they don't fit in has helped me do the same.  Some of them learn to swim in their new world, and some... don't.  I've learned from all of them!

Giant begins with Jordan "Bic" Benedict (Rock Hudson), a wealthy Texas rancher, visiting a New England farm to buy an expensive horse from a gentleman farmer (Paul Fix).  Bic is broad, bulky, and feels somewhat out of place in this genteel, refined Eastern setting.  Hudson expertly conveys the feeling of a bewildered bull in a shop full of eggshell teacups.  He's gentlemanly and polite to a fault, but he doesn't really feel at ease.

Much of his unease stems from the gentleman's daughter Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), who is vivacious, bitingly witty, and fearless.  She ditches the British gent she'd intended to marry (Rod Taylor) without a qualm and pursues Bic Benedict so ruthlessly he's married to her before he can catch his breath.

But Bic isn't going to live in New England.  You can't take a Texan out of Texas for long.  (And if I was a Texan, you can bet that's where I'd stay too.  This movie is a huge part of why I adore the state, to be honest.)  Bic and Leslie take a liesurely train trip back to Texas by way of a honeymoon, and then it's Leslie's turn to be out of her element.

Bic lives in a gigantic house in the center of his gigantic ranch.  (This is a real set on location, not a matte painting.  The exterior is just a facade, though.  Interiors were shot elsewhere.)

His unmarried sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) runs the house with martial efficiency.  She's direct, bossy, and proud -- a mirror image of Leslie, all rough edges where Leslie is refined, the cowgirl opposite of the socialite.  She goes out of her way to show this eastern debutante just how out-of-place she is in the rowdy world of Texas.

At first, Leslie quails just a little.  She can't quite get a handle on how to fit in.

But then her inner ramrod straightens, and she turns herself into, as she terms it, a "tough Texian" through sheer willpower.  She's more than a match for her sister-in-law, and soon it's Luz who doesn't fit into this new world that Leslie is creating at the ranch.

Luz resents this so much, she brutalizes the horse Bic bought from Leslie's father, a horse Leslie loves dearly.  The horse (and through it, Leslie) triumphs, and Luz pays for her unwillingness to change with her life.

Leslie does not settle into the world of Texas, however.  She sets about creating her own version of it.  She befriends Jett Rink (James Dean), a poor ranch hand that Bic treats like trash, but whom Luz left a few acres in her will.  She takes an interest in the poor Hispanic workers who live on the ranch's fringes.

Leslie makes her own place in her new world, bending a little to fit it, but also bending it to fit herself.  She and Bic continue to clash over this periodically, but their differences in personality and lifestyle help each other more than they hurt.

Meanwhile, Jett Rink discovers oil on the little buffalo wallow that Luz bequeathed him.  He becomes rich overnight, entering a new world of his own.  The world of power and money and influence.  While Bic and Leslie raise their family, he raises oil rig after oil rig, eventually becoming wealthier than the Benedicts.

But money doesn't buy Jett happiness.  He longs for Leslie, the one person besides Luz who has ever shown him real kindness.  She's been gentle and sweet to him, no more friendly than she is to the other workers on the ranch, but to him, that's reason enough to put her on a pedestal.  Unable to ever attain his perfect woman, Jett becomes an alcoholic, lonely and sardonic, never fitting in with all the people from "old money" who still see him as white trash in a nice suit.  He can never have Leslie, but he sees in her daughter Luz (Carroll Baker) a version of Leslie he might be able to attain. 

Young Luz is as savvy as the aunt she was named for, and while she's polite to Jett Rink, she pities him, and he can't stand to be pitied.  Jett never finds a way to acclimate himself to the new world he moves in, and he crashes spectacularly as a result, metaphorically and literally.

Bic and Leslie's world changes as well.  Their other daughter, Judy (Fran Bennett), marries a small, modern rancher (Earl Holliman) and abandons the big home of her youth for a smaller world, telling her father that "big stuff is old stuff."  Their son, Jordan Benedict III (Dennis Hopper), becomes a doctor, not a rancher.  He marries a Hispanic woman named Juana (Elsa Cardenas), who must navigate the world of rich white people who look down at her, even refusing to serve her in the same hair salon as her mother-in-law Leslie.

Bic opposes the marriage at first, but ends up accepting that the world has changed around him and begins to figure out who he is within this modern Texas.  In my favorite scene of the whole film, he takes on a bigoted white man who insults Juana and her son, Jordan Benedict IV.  Though Bic loses the fist fight, he gains a sense of who he is.

The movie ends with Bic and Leslie, grey-haired, but not mellowed, babysitting their two grandchildren.  Leslie confides in Bic that he has never been more her hero than when he fought for Juana's honor, even though he lost.  Bic stares at her and says, "If I live to be ninety, I'm never going to figure you out."  Maybe not, but both he and Leslie have figured out who they are and how they fit in their world, which is what all fish-out-of-water must do to survive.

(I apologize for the screencaps abruptly ending midway through this post.  My DVD suddenly quit working, or my computer did -- I'm not sure which.  I'll try to add more photos later when I can get them.)

This has been my entry for the Rock Hudson Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Love Letters to Old Hollywood.  Follow either of the links in the previous sentence to read more entries into this blogathon!  Don't forget to check my sidebar to see what other blogathons I'll be participating in soon, including the one I'm co-hosting :-)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

"A Bear Named Winnie" (2004)

One hundred years ago today, the guns fell silent all across Europe.  The Great War, which we now call WWI, had come to an end at last.

To mark the occasion, I'm reviewing a book set during WWI on The Edge of the Precipice, and I'm reviewing a true story of WWI here.

I don't know about you, but Winnie-the-Pooh was a big part of my childhood.  Mostly, I watched the Disney movie The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh (1977), but my mom also read some of the original A. A. Milne stories to us once in a while.  I didn't actually learn anything about the creation of those stories until I was an adult, and even then, I just knew that Milne based them on his son's playthings.  And that his son named his toy bear after a real bear in the London Zoo.  I never wondered where this bear came from, or why it was named Winnie.

However, my friend Eva recommended the movie A Bear Named Winnie (2004) to me one day because she knew I'm a fan of Michael Fassbender.  Even then, it took me like six months to get around to watching it after I'd added it to my Amazon Prime Instant Video watchlist.  (It's still free on Prime right now.)  Well, silly me, because this movie is so good!  It tells the true story of how a bear from Canada ends up in the London Zoo, where she is adored by multitudes of sticky-fingered children.

When a Canadian troop train stops in a small town for refreshments and fuel, Lieutenant Harry Coleburn (Michael Fassbender) hops off to stretch his legs.  A member of the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, he displays his way with animals by calming a spooked horse. 

In the process, he accidentally finds an orphaned bear cub, buys it because he can't bear the fact that its going to be killed.

Coleburn charms his superiors into accepting the bear as a mascot for the regiment.  They name her Winnipeg, Winnie for short, and off they all go to training camp.

At camp, the soldiers love Winnie and her cute-little-animal shenanigans, but Colonel Barret (Gil Bellows) disapproves. 

He's supposed to be turning these veterinarians into soldiers, you see, and he thinks that Winnie is a distraction.  He's not wrong.  But she's such a sweet distraction! 

The whole first hour of the film is full of scenes of her romping about, climbing trees, eating honey, making messes, and giving Harry Coleburn slobbery bear kisses all over his face.

In fact, the most remarkable thing about this film, I think, is how very comfortable Michael Fassbender is with having a bear cub climb all over him. 

I don't know if Fassbender is an "animal person" or not, but I think he has to be on some level, because he really does look very natural with all the animals he interacts with here. 

Especially the bears (IIRC, bear siblings play the young Winnie, and then a totally different adult bear plays her as an adult), but the horses too.

The storytelling is a little bumpy -- the first two-thirds of the film are devoted to Coleburn and his pals having fun while training in Canada, and then smuggling Winnie over to Europe.  There's also this whole thing with his commanding officer (David Suchet) having some kind of mental problems borne of dwelling on past war glory and experiences. 

The first time I watched it, I thought that was really superfluous, but now I see that it sort of predicts what Harry Coleburn himself will later experience, and shows that war can damage a person's mind as well as their body.  So I get what they're trying to say there, even though I still think it could be handled a little more deftly.

Only the last thirty minutes have much to do with the war at all, and they also feel a bit rushed.  In particular, the last section, (SPOILER ALERT) with Coleburn suffering from shell-shock and being rehabilitated by Winnie coming to visit really needed to be much longer.  I so wish they would have delved more into that, but this is somewhat aimed at kids, so I suppose the filmmakers didn't want to dwell too much on the troubles of traumatized soldiers.  (END SPOILER ALERT)

Still, it's a sweet, heart-warming story that's lovingly told, and I enjoyed it so much, I now have a DVD copy so I can keep watching it even if it stops being free on Amazon Prime sometime in the future.  So please don't think that this is not an enjoyable, watchable movie!  Because it definitely is, and I totally recommend it.  Not only is Fassbender ultra-watchable in it, the bear is adorable, and Stephen Fry pops up at the beginning and end as a zookeeper who doesn't like kids, which makes me laugh.

Is this movie family friendly?  Basically, yes.  There's no significant blood or gore in the war scenes, though dead characters are shown, and one character gets killed just off-screen.  There are also injured and dead horses.  A mentally unstable man brandishes a rifle and puts lots of people in danger.  Drinking is shown, as well as gambling.  And there are two or three minor curse words.  I would let my 8- and 11-year-olds watch it, but it's still a bit much for my 6-year-old.