Saturday, March 23, 2019

"Captain Marvel" (2019)

Whoooo-eeee!  This movie is a superb ride.  I saw it for the second time today, and it was even better than the first time through.  The plot is all twisty and has some nice foreshadowing that you only pick up on when you know what's coming.  Sometimes twisty plots don't hang together as well the second time through, but this one absolutely does.  I can't wait to see it again.  I suspect a third viewing will push this into my top 5 list of MCU films.  It's already in my top 10.

One of the things I liked best about it was how it blended humor and focused, purposeful action.  It reminds me of Thor: Ragnarok (2017) more than any of the other MCU movies, and you know I adored that one.  Like in that, the humor here is character-based and situational, not jokes.  And the little thingie on her neck was a lot like the one that kept Thor in submission on Sakaar.  And they did this little burbling motif in the music that got used a lot in Ragnarok too, so that was nifty.

But it's not all fun and games -- they didn't shy away from pathos either.  Bad stuff has happened to a lot of these characters, and they don't shrug and move on, they let the characters (and audience) process that pain. And learn from it, and use it.  I appreciated that side of the storytelling a lot.

Okay, spoilers will be rampant from here on out.  I'm just going to kind of gush about different things I loved.

Let's start with the '90s setting.  I kind of came into my consciousness of pop culture around 1996, so the grunge look?  I totally wore flannel shirts tied around my waist.  Video stores were basically my favorite places -- I used to dream of working in one.  So much of the music was familiar, and their use of No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" had me grinning and bouncing during both viewings.  So perfect.

Then there's the CGI younger-ing of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).  Soooooo well-done.  I think Fury's is a little better, but maybe that's because I am fairly familiar with what Samuel L. Jackson looked like in the '90s, but the first thing I ever saw Clark Gregg in was The Avengers (2012). 

And I loved Jude Law.  Oh man.  He delivered another solidly stunning performance.  I really have never seen him turn in a boring one, but he has been extra good lately, including here.  His Yon-Rogg was so smart, so strong, so deserving a mentor and then foe for Carol Danvers.  Really rocked this role.

And Ben Mendelsohn!  Oh my goodness!  I enjoyed disliking him in Rogue One (2016), I found him very compelling in Darkest Hour (2017), and he amuses me a lot in Slow West (2015), but he was just wonderful here.  Loveable, even.  Eventually.  I love that we got to see him in his human face as well as under gobs of alien makeup as Talos -- that was loads of fun.  And Talos was such a sweet husband and father, too.  I love his scenes with his family.

As for Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), I found her a really relatable character.  I too spent my girlhood with a strong desire to prove myself to everyone around me. Sometimes I failed.  Sometimes I triumphed.  But I never quit trying.  In a lot of ways, I still haven't.  There's that bit where you see her standing back up after falling on her butt time after time, all through her life, and I was like, Yes!  I know that feeling!  I liked how smart and intrepid she was, but also not absolutely sure of herself.  She had to figure out who she really was before she could go out and save the world, and that a little bit mirrored Thor's character arc in his first movie too, which I appreciated.

Let's see, what else?  It was cool to see Annette Bening again.  She got some nice stuff to do.  Oh, and Carol's best friend Maria (Lashana Lynch) was a great character in and of herself!  She wasn't just the best-friend-sidekick, but had an integral role to play and got to help save the day.  Really liked her.

Annnnnnnnnnd the Flerken. So adorable.  So surprising!  I'm super tempted to adopt an orange cat and name it Flerken.  That would be such fun.

But possibly the best thing about this movie, for me, is how smart it is.  It gets you 100% wondering if maybe the Kree aren't always evil, it convinces you of things that Vers is convinced of, and then it flips everything around at the end of the second act to reveal that nope, she's not who she thinks, the things she believes happened didn't quite go that way, and she's been trusting all the wrong people.  And it WORKS.  It's not merely flashy storytelling, it's solid all the way down, and watching it through a second time has only deepened my appreciation of the excellent writing.

Okay, maybe that wasn't as much spoilage as I thought, but I'll leave the warning where it is. 

Is this movie family friendly?  Um, about as much as most MCU movies?  It's got some innuendo, lots of superhero violence, some bad language, etc.  Teens and up.

Friday, March 22, 2019

"A Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" -- My Favorite "Maverick" Episode

I have probably seen "A Shady Deal at Sunny Acres" more often than all the other Maverick eps I've seen combined.  It's not the first Maverick episode I watched -- that would be "Duel at Sundown" -- but it quickly became my whole family's favorite.  When I was a teen in the '90s, our local video store had only those two episodes, and we rented them both multiple times, but my dad eventually found and bought this one so we could watch it to our hearts' content.  And we did.  Twenty years or so later, he proudly introduced my kids to this series with this very episode.

We watched this so often when I was a kid that my whole family tends to refer to John Dehner by his character's name in this, Banker Bates.  Dehner was actually in five episodes of the show, playing a variety of characters, but he filled this role so perfectly that we will forever associate him with it.

I loved this episode so much as a teen that I named one of my cats after a pseudonym that Bart Maverick uses in it.  He calls himself Bartley J. Mansfield II, so I named my cat Bartley J. Mansfield III.

Anyway!  I think my dad and I both love this episode particularly well because it involves a con game, and for some reason, both he and I are fascinated by conmen.  From The Sting (1973) to Ocean's 11 (1960) to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) to Sawyer on Lost, I am endlessly fascinated by con artists! My dad is a fan of all but the last of those, and we count this episode right up there with the best of the con game movies.

Okay, so, what happens is, Bret Maverick has a super-lucky night at the poker tables in a little town called Sunny Acres.  So lucky, he ends up with $15,000 in winnings, which adjusted for inflation would be about $300,000 in today's money.  He doesn't want to hold onto that kind of money -- lots of people know he won a lot, and he doesn't want to get robbed.  So he stops by the local bank, which is closed, gets the attention of Banker Bates (John Dehner), and asks to deposit the money and get a receipt.  Banker Bates takes the money, give him a receipt, and Bret goes off to his hotel room to sleep the sleep of the deeply lucky and happy.

The next morning, he goes back to the bank to withdraw a little of his winnings.  Banker Bates says he's never seen Bret before, that the receipt Bret has is not official and worthless, and that Bret definitely did not leave $15,000 at his bank the night before.  And he couldn't possibly be lying, could he?  "After all, if you can't trust your banker, who can you trust?"

Bret knows he's been swindled.  But $15,000 is not chump change.  He sits down on the porch of the building across the street from the bank and starts to whittle.  He makes no secret of the fact that he wants Banker Bates to give him his $15,000 back, but whenever anyone asks him how he's going to get it back, all Bret will say is, "I'm working on it."

Enter a handsome stranger who calls himself Bartley J. Mansfield II, but who the audience knows is Bret's brother, Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly). 

"Mansfield" lets it be known he's a speculator out here buying up mining stock on behalf of a bunch of friends.  He gets to know Banker Bates and introduces him to the merry world of speculation.

"Mansfield" rides around the countryside buying shares in old mines for pennies on the dollar, then says he's going to sell them for much more than he'd paid.  Banker Bates finds this too good to be true, so "Mansfield" invites him to come along and see the transactions.

Fans of the show get treated to lots of familiar faces over the next few scenes, for the Maverick brothers have enlisted the help of several of their off-and-on associates for this con, recurring characters Samantha Crawford (Diane Brewster), Gentleman Jack Darby (Richard Long), Dandy Jim Buckley (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), and Big Mike McComb (Leo Gordon).

In the end, of course, Bret Maverick gets his $15,000 back, or rather, his brother gets it for him.  Banker Bates gets sent to jail for embezzeling, and Bret rides out of town with the satisfaction that he's left Sunny Acres a better town than he found it.

This has been my entry into the 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. 

If you love classic TV shows AND you love participating in blogathons, I hereby invite you to join the April blogathon I'm co-hosting in honor of Vic Morrow.  Morrow not only starred on the classic show Combat! (1962-67), he made guest appearances on dozens of classic shows, as well as appearing in many movies from the mid-'50s until his death in the early '80s.  Click here for details!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Narnia Writing Tag

I'm kind of laid up today.  I started to suspect I had toenail fungus a few months ago, and when OTC stuff didn't cure it, I decided to go to the podiatrist.  I went yesterday to have it looked at, and he ended up removing my entire toenail.  I'm super sensitive about my toenails as it is, and yeah, um, it's not good.  So I've been lying on the couch all day, so thankful that my kids are old enough to pour cereal and make sandwiches because being on my feet at all makes the toe hurt worse, and being up long enough to make a sandwich is just killer.

So I gave them the day off from school, and we watched Ben-Hur (1959) while I laid on the couch and tried not to groan so loudly you couldn't hear the dialog.  It was their first time watching Ben-Hur and, overall, they really dug it.  Yay!

Anyway, now they're playing outside, and I've finished reading a book AND written a review for it, and now I need something else to do, so I'm snurching this tag from Coffee, Classics, and Craziness AND from I'm Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read).  Because I can.  It appears to have originated here.

I'm answering these about my WIP, a retelling of Snow White with the working title Seven Orphans.

Narnia: Where is your story set?

It's set in a wagon train crossing Missouri and Nebraska in the 1870s.

The Magician’s Nephew: How did you come up with the idea for your story?

Back in 2016, Jamie Lapeyrolerie did a two-part post (part 1, part 2) about the lack of diversity in Christian Fiction and called for Christian authors to address this lack.  That's right about when I was starting to figure out what fairy tales I wanted to retell as part of my Once Upon a Western series.  I already knew that I wanted to portray a more realistically diverse Old West than we see in most Hollywood portrayals and most "classic" western fiction.  The truth is, the Old West was filled with a vibrant mix of ethnicities.  Ex-slaves, Native Americans, Hispanics, immigrants from China and both western and eastern Europe -- it was truly a melting pot.  And while it wasn't always a haven of racial harmony, a lot of the time, people were more concerned about surviving and taming the wilderness than about what a person looked like.  So there were opportunities for people who maybe would have been at odds back in the East to meet and mingle and even make friends.

And then I was reading a history book with one of my kids for school one day, and it talked about the Exoduster migrations, when thousands of former slaves flocked to Kansas and other western states, seeking new homes away from segregation and their former masters.  I knew right then I needed to learn more about this because I'd already been thinking I'd like to set a story in a wagon train, and this sounded like it would provide a great setting for a book.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: How do your characters meet?

The main character is Levi, one of seven white orphans that get taken in by a wagon train of black people.  So he meets my Snow White, Stepmother, and Huntsman characters when the wagon train finds the orphans.

The Horse and His Boy: Are there animals in your story?

Of course!  There are a lot of horses, mules, and oxen.  Also dogs.  Probably going to be chickens and other farm animals along the way too.

Prince Caspian: Which of your characters turned out different than you’d expected?

Well, I'm only 4 chapters in so far, but one of the orphans has turned out to be WAY more antagonistic and truculent and generally unpleasant to be around than I'd expected.  Which adds some nice conflict.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: What is one of your character’s personal quests?

Levi's original quest is to reach his uncle in Kansas without being separated from his younger sisters or their cousins.  But that won't be his main quest.

The Silver Chair: Who is the villain?

The Evil Step-mother, of course!  Which is going to be pretty clear right from the beginning.  Her name is Lucretia Mallone, and she is my most-villainous villain yet.

The Last Battle: Does your story end the way you expected it to?

Well, I haven't gotten to the end yet, but I know how I expect it to end, and I can't wait to get there.

The Pevensies – Friend or sibling group?

I have two main sibling groups in this, but Levi also makes friends with Hopeful Mallone, my Snow White character.

Reepicheep – Is there magic in your story? If so what kind?

My books are non-magical.  I had toyed with the idea of Lucretia dabbling in some form of voodoo, but I decided that that was too stereotypical, and also, she's evil enough as it is.  I don't need that to make her look more evil.

I was going to find lots of cute graphics to illustrate this, but I'm not feeling up to it, or like it, or whatever, so instead I'm just going to post this and go back to moaning.  Latest round of ibuprofen can kick in any time now, thanks.

Monday, March 18, 2019

"The Big Sleep" (1946)

What do you get when you take a novel written by Raymond Chandler, get William Faulkner and Leigh Brackett to cowrite the screenplay, tap Howard Hawks to direct it, then cast top-of-his-game Humphrey Bogart as the lead, with brand-new starlet Lauren Bacall as the love interest?

You get magic, that's what you get.  Hard-boiled, wise-cracking magic.

Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) gets hired by a frail millionaire (Charles Waldron) to stop someone from blackmailing him.  Supposedly, he's being blackmailed because his younger daughter Carmen (Martha Vickers) has racked up some gambling debts.  Supposedly, all he wants is for Marlowe to stop the blackmail.

Supposedly, this will be neat and easy.

But folks, this is film noir at its finest.  And we all know that there ain't nothing neat and easy about life inside a noir movie.  Nothing whatsoever.

The blackmailer turns out to run a lending-library of dirty books.  (This is only marginally referenced, and Marlowe in the movie never sees any of the books.)  The blackmailer gets shot.  Someone else gets their car pushed off a pier with them still in it.  Someone else gets shot.  People get beaten up, slapped, shot at, killed, and we find out that one character at the center of the plot has been dead all along, since before Marlowe ever got called in to not-find them.

It's twisted and twisty.  It's also beautiful, brilliant, and brutal.  I love it.  It ought to be a lot higher on my favorites list than it is.  Maybe I'll bump it up a notch or twenty.

At the center of all the mayhem stands Philip Marlowe, a knight in grimy armor who follows his own code of morality and justice.  Defiant, wise, hopeful, fatalistic Philip Marlowe, the finest hardboiled detective to ever trade witty retorts for bullets.  Bogart brings him to life beautifully, though he's a little different than the Marlowe in the books.  A little softer, and yet a little less emotional, somehow.  But anyway, Bogart puts in a strong performance.  It's no wonder his co-star married him.

In my review for To Have and Have Not (1944), I talked about how great the chemistry was between Bogart and Bacall, who had just met on that film's set and were falling in love.  Their chemistry sizzles here as well, though it didn't originally have quite so much room to sizzle.  There are actually two different versions of this movie!  The original had a lot less of Bacall's character, Vivian.  I haven't watched the original yet, though it's included on my DVD (it was shown to test audiences, then changed to the final form before release) just because I love the scenes between Marlowe and Vivian, but I imagine it follows the book more faithfully, in which Marlowe does not fall for Vivian at all.

Anyway, To Have and Have Not was a huge hit, and audiences wanted more of Bogart and Bacall together, so they actually went back and filmed some new scenes with the two of them, which then got spliced into the movie, replacing a few other scenes.  The couple got married in between the main filming and the pick-ups, but their onscreen sparkage didn't suffer any the way it often does when costars get married.  They're flirty and fantastic and fun.

One of the best things about this movie is the dialog.  A lot of it comes directly from the book, and all of it is very, very snappy.  Wisecracks, witty comebacks, double-entendres, and quips riddle the script, and Hawks continues his habit of letting (encouraging?) his stars step on each others' lines to keep the fast-paced dialog zinging along.  It's quite brilliant, and quite funny.  I watched it with Cowboy the other night, and he laughed aloud several times, which is quite something for a serious noir film.  (I laughed too, don't get me wrong -- but I've seen it many times, so I knew when the funny bits were coming.  He didn't.)

Is this movie family friendly?  There's violence, including shooting and brawling.  There's stuff about gambling, people in peril, lots of smoking, some drinking, poison and blackmail, the implication that one character was drugged, and the implication that one character had pictures taken of her with no clothes on.  No cussing, no bedroom scenes.  A few smooches.  It's probably fine for teens, but not younger viewers, and kids wouldn't necessarily appreciate its finer points, anyway.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Things To Do in Spring of 2019

Here are the things I'd like to get done by the end of May!

~ Finish the first draft of my western Snow White retelling, tentatively titled Seven Orphans

~ Read 3 titles from my Classics Club list

~ Read 6 books off my TBR shelves

(As seen on my Instagram feed)

~ Read 3 books from the library

~ Watch 3 movies off my TBW shelves

~ Co-host a blogathon dedicated to Vic Morrow -- details here!

~ Go see Captain Marvel

~ Go see Ben-Hur (1959) on the big screen thanks to TCM Fathom Events, thereby fulfilling one of my longest-held movie-watching goals

~ Survive seeing Avengers: Endgame

~ Go see Aladdin

Image result for aladdin

~ Design a new author website

~ Clean up the horrible mess in my crafting corner. Why do I let it get this bad?  It's like if I don't clean it up every couple months, it just devolves into chaos.  Feh.  My room didn't look this bad when I was a teen!  Planning to get rid of at least half this stuff in my effort to rid our lives of stuff we're keeping around "just because."

Okay, that's enough.  How about you?  Got some goals or tasks you want to accomplish this spring?

Friday, March 01, 2019

Finishing Off my Winter 2018/2019 To-Do List

It's March 1.  Technically, it won't be Spring for real for like three weeks.  Oh well.  I'm as done with my winter to-do list as I'm going to get, and I'm ready to make a new one.

(I'm also ready for spring, but we're getting a wintry mix here right now, so... yeah... anyway...)

~ Read Old West Christmas Brides and Holiday Grind for the Literary Christmas Reading Link-Up  Check!  I had fun with both, but didn't love either.  Titles linked to my reviews.

~ Read 4 other books off my TBR shelves  Check!  I read Champagne for One by Rex Stout, Grateful American by Gary Sinise, Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart, and Five Poisoned Apples by Skye Hoffert, Jenelle Hovde, Cortney Manning, Maddie Morrow, and Rachael Wallen.

(From my Instagramming adventures)

~ Read 3 more books for my Classics Club list  Check!  I read The 100 Dresses by Eleanor Estes, The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

~ Read 3 books from the library  Check!  I managed 5 books from the library:  I'd Rather be Reading by Anne Bogel, Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater, The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright, Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde, and Life Beyond Measure by Sidney Poitier.

~ Get back into reviewing adult coloring books on my book blog  Check!  I posted about the Words of Wisdom coloring book of Shakespearean quotations.  I'd like to get back to doing at least one a season like that.

~ FINALLY see Elf (2003)  Check!  Here's what I thought of it.

~ Watch 6 movies from my TBW shelves  FAIL.  I watched three.  But watching things off my TBW shelves is becoming less of an imperitive now that I'm strictly limiting myself about buying unseen movies.  I'm going to reduce this target number in the future.  Anyway, the three I watched were Buck and the Preacher (1972), The Wild and the Dirty (aka Johnny Hamlet)(1968), and The Young Victoria (2009).

~ Go see It's a Wonderful Life (1946) on the big screen  Check!  I went to see it with my sister-in-law, and it was awesome!  So many details I didn't know existed!

~ Take my kids to see White Christmas (1954) on the big screen  Check!  TCM Fathom Events are basically the best thing ever, y'all.

~ Go see Little Women (1994) on the big screen  Check!  I went with lots of friends, and we had so much fun crying into our tea.

~ Go see Mary Poppins Returns (2018)  Fail.

~ Go see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)  Check!  I went to see it twice in one weekend.  Here's what I thought of it.

~ Get together with some blogging pals  Check!  We went to a book fair and a farmer's market and had a marvelous time.

(I bought a lot of books...)

~ Finish my patchwork skirt in time to wear it to church on Christmas Eve  Fail.  I cut out the pieces, but not one stitch did I sew.  It will be for next year, I guess.

~ Make Chocolate-Mint Crack(le) again  Check!  And it was magically delicious.

~ Seriously dig into decluttering this house before I drown in all our stuff  Semi-check?  I feel like I'm making forward progress, but this week was really weird, so right now, it's all the most awful mess and I want to use a shovel on it.  Ugh.  So... this is a work-in-progress.

Here's hoping my spring will be as successful and rewarding as my winter!