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!