Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Announcing the We Love Pirates Week Blog Party

Ahoy there!  I am going to host a pirate-themed blog party in February!  From Feb. 22-26, we will be celebrating all things piratical here, and you are hereby invited to join the crew!

This will be much like the Western Cinema Week party I co-hosted last year -- you can contribute anything you want to, from a movie or book review, to a top ten list of favorite pirates, to your favorite pirate music.  Whatever you can come up with sounds good!  (With the caveat that we DO want to remain family friendly, since participants can be of all ages, so do try to keep that in mind.)

I will also provide a tag that you can fill out, with all sorts of piratey questions on it.  And there will be games of some sort!  

Obviously, we will be focusing on fictional pirates, but if you want to do a post about real pirates, past or present, you are certainly welcome to contribute that as well!

There is no formal sign-up process, but I would love it if you commented here letting me know you intend to participate.  You can use any of these blog buttons/banners in your own posts, and add them to your blog sidebars to let other people know about the upcoming fun!

And, yes, I will be hosting a giveaway for this event :-D  Ye've been warned.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

New Winter 2020/21 To-Do List

 Whatever shall I do to keep myself busy this winter?  Hmm.  I'm sure I can think of a few things ;-)

~ Finish writing a short story 

~ Finish the first draft of my Beauty and the Beast retelling 

~ Finish re-reading The Lord of the Rings

(All photos mine from my Instagram account)

~ Read 3 Christmas books

~ Read 6 other books off my TBR shelves 

~ Read 3 books from the library 

~ Read at least 1 book each month about/by someone who is not white 

~ Host a pirate-themed blog party in February

~ Watch 3 Christmas movies

~ Watch 4 movies off my TBW shelves

~ Go see Wonder Woman: 1984

~ Try making cookies with my new patterned rolling pin

~ Help my daughter make a playground for her hamster

~ Repaint the main floor bathroom

~ Get back to regularly reading the blogs I love

That ought to keep me occupied, don't you think?  

How about you?  Are you planning anything in particular you'd like to do this winter?

Sunday, December 13, 2020

"Young at Heart" (1954)


I first saw Young at Heart (1954) on AMC about 20 years ago, back when AMC showed classic American movies.  I was in college, and I only caught the middle of the movie because I was just watching TV in the lounge between classes, and that's what happened to be on.  I came in around the time that Barney (Frank Sinatra) and Laurie (Doris Day) met and spent a lot of time verbally sparring, and I had to leave before the ending, but I liked what I saw, and so I kept an eye on the TV listings for it to come around again.  

Eventually, it did, and I managed to record it with my VCR (I went to college in the dark ages, you know) and watch the whole thing.

Because I saw the middle part first, I tend to think of this as a movie about a couple who have a lot of sparky chemistry, but it's really more about how another person's faith in you is never going to make up for your own lack of confidence.

Laurie Tuttle is one of three daughters of a music professor.  All three daughters are intelligent, spirited, and musically talented.  One day, a friend of her dad's, Alex (Gig Young) comes over and causes a bit of a sensation -- he's not a classical musician like the Tuttles, he writes pop songs.  Alex is charming and funny and nice, and Laurie gets along well with him, so people start to assume they're an item.  

But then, Barney arrives on the scene.  He's Alex's arranger, and he's everything Alex isn't -- quiet, morose, acerbic, and unsure of his own talent.  He's also basically the exact opposite of Laurie too, and she finds him an exciting challenge.  Laurie is absolutely certain that Barney has what it takes to be a great composer, and she supports him with everything in her when he decides to go ahead and try to write something big and grand.

Somewhere in there, they get married.  And they have kind of a gloomy life for a while.  No matter how encouraging Laurie is, Barney remains unconvinced of his own abilities and talents.  He feels he doesn't fit in with her family and her old life, and that the life he's able to give her is just not good enough.  Barney also thinks that Laurie "settled" for him and should have married Alex instead. 

But, they eventually come to really understand and cherish each other, after many lovely songs get sung.  I do wish Sinatra and Day got more than one real duet -- I've always felt like the opportunity to have these two splendid artists sing together got largely wasted, which is my only quibble with this movie.

I think what draws me to this story is the contrast because the Tuttles' polished, pretty world and the cynical Barney who has had a very hard life and can't quite see how the Tuttle family's happiness can be real.  Or can be something he can share in.  Its his gradual blossoming, and the way that Laurie gets to shed some of her own glossy ideas about life, that makes me want to watch this movie over and over.  Culture clashes are always interesting to me, even when they're not huge ones.

Is this movie family friendly?  Yup, it is.

This has been my contribution to the First Annual Frank Sinatra Blogathon hosted by KN Winiarski Writes.

12 Delights of Christmas Tag

Heidi started this tag on her blog Along the Brandywine last week, and I'm happy to say, she tagged me with it!  Thank you, Heidi :-)  

So here we go with my answers to her questions!  As usual, all pictures are mine from my Instagram account, except ones that are movie screencaps I took myself.

1) A favorite Christmas tradition? 

Every year, we take "Christmas walks" around our neighborhood to look at the Christmas decorations outside their homes.  One of the kids gets to carry a little lantern with a battery-operated candle in it, and sometimes we sing Christmas carols as we walk.

2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside? 

I do both!  First, I go out and help my kids build a snowman, maybe have a snowball fight, maybe do a bit of sledding down the hill in our backyard.  It tends to work best if I go down the hill first, to carve out a deeper track than they can make.  Then they can just sled down in that track all they want.  When I come inside, I make hot chocolate for everyone.  After that, I curl up and watch the snow.

3) Tea or hot chocolate? 

Hot chocolate, all the way.

4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, red and green etc)? 

Red and silver and gold are my favorites.

5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie? 

I have a recipe we call "Mandi Cookies," named after a college roommate of mine who gave us the recipe.  They are fantastic for cut-out cookies, and I could eat half a dozen in one sitting.  I have the recipe here on my recipe blog.

6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)?

I like to put it up the day after Thanksgiving.  I would put it up the day after Halloween, but Cowboy would object strenuously, so I don't.  Some years, it's gone up later, though, like the years when we spend Thanksgiving somewhere else with family.

It usually takes us one day to set up the tree and decorate it, and I spend another day doing lights and decorations outside and in the foyer, and another one decorating the living room.  So it's a job for a long weekend.

7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols? 
  1. "What Child is This"
  2. "Go Tell it on the Mountain"
  3. "Silent Night"

8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)? 

I have a great fondness for Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" because one of my first college roommates really loved it and we would grab pencils for microphones and belt it out along with the radio.

9) A favorite Christmas movie? 

White Christmas (1954) is my top favorite, and you can read my thoughts on it right here.

10) Have you ever gone caroling? 

Yes!  Though not for a long time.  When I was a kid, my parents and the rest of the church choir (which my mom led) would go caroling to the homes of shut-in members of our church.  When I was a teen, our Sunday school went caroling to some nursing homes a few years.

11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding? 

Sledding!  I didn't learn to ski or ice skate until I was in my teens, and I never really have enjoyed either of them.  But I love sledding.

12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

Every year, for the last 10 years or so, I've made coconut cream pie for Christmas.  We love it!  Especially Cowboy, who loves basically all pies.

Time to TAG people!

I would love it if these bloggers took a turn with this:

And if YOU want to do this tag yourself, even though you haven't been tagged, you are 100% allowed to do so!  Here are the questions, for copying ease:

1) A favorite Christmas tradition? 
2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside? 
3) Tea or hot chocolate? 
4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, red and green etc)? 
5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie? 
6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)? 
7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols? 
8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)? 
9) A favorite Christmas movie? 
10) Have you ever gone caroling? 
11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding? 
12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

Friday, December 11, 2020

"Holiday Affair" (1949)

I've watched Holiday Affair (1949) at least four times in the last four years.  And I'm still not sure why I like it so much.  It's wildly improbable and often defies logic... but it makes emotional sense, even if it doesn't make logical sense, and so I like it anyway.

Also, the first time I watched this movie, it surprised me over and over.  I like stories that surprise me.  Not when they do stupid or awful things, but when they take turns I don't expect or have characters who make choices that aren't obvious or conventional.

If you like unconventional characters, you are gonna love Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum).  When we meet him, he's working at a big NYC department store, selling toy trains.  He takes his job very seriously, and his clientele too.  He answers questions from every little boy and girl, demonstrates the different capabilities of the train set, and is generally the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.  Steve Mason is the main reason I like this movie so much, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

There's something very watchable about Robert Mitchum, isn't there?  He seems to take everything in stride, even scary or horrible things.  I know he's played his share of baddies too, and he's definitely watchable then too, but I prefer him when he's a straight arrow (which, let's face it, is true of basically every actor I like, heh).  I'm not sure I've ever seen him play a nicer guy than Steve Mason, and this might just be my favorite role of his.

Now, Steve doesn't want to sell toy trains all his life.  He wants to design and build boats.  Not fancy yachts, just serviceable little sailboats that people can enjoy themselves on.  He's got a friend out in California who owns a shipyard and says any time Steve wants, he can hop a train out there and start working for him.  Steve's been saving up money for a few years so he can do just that, but you don't seem to make a lot of money selling toy trains.

Enter our conventional character, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh).  Well, she's got quirks too, but she doesn't like to admit it.  Especially not to herself.  She works as a professional comparison shopper, because I guess that was a thing?  She's on a mission to buy a train from the store where Steve works, and she doesn't waste any time doing so.  She's coldly polite and too practiced, and Steve quickly figures out what she's up to, but he sells her the train anyway.  

I am not a big Janet Leigh fan.  I don't dislike her, I just never find her very interesting.  She's perfectly fine in this, but you could replace her with any number of other actresses and the story would work just as well.  But if you replaced Mitchum, well, the whole thing would probably fall apart.

Anyway, Connie goes home to her son Timmy (Gordon Gebert).  And here's where we find out Connie's more interesting and unusual than we'd expected.  She calls her son Mr. Ennis and he calls her Mrs. Ennis, and they greet each other formally and pretend that he's the man of the house.  It's obviously a cute little game that they play, but it's just off-kilter enough that we get the idea that Connie has some issues going on behind her perfect hair and perfect outfit and perfect professionalism.

Gordon Gebert is a gem, by the way.  It's no wonder he got to act opposite big names like John Wayne (in The Flying Leathernecks, 1951), Joel McCrea (Saddle Tramp, 1950), and Burt Lancaster (The Flame and the Arrow, 1950).  He even played the young Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back (1955).  He is just awesome in this -- never precious or cutesy, but a sturdy little boy in the mode of a young Ron Howard.  

Connie takes the toy train home instead of taking it to work the next day, and Timmy finds it.  He's positive it's for him, and his mom is just teasing when she says she has to return it because she only got it for her job.  He's been yearning for a train like it, and he is over the moon with suppressed joy.

So, Connie's a widow.  Her husband died in the war, and she's been mourning him ever since.  She keeps his picture all over the house, and she tells everyone how much Timmy looks like his father.  Basically, she's tried to fill the gap in her life that her husband left by pushing her son to be as much like his dad as possible.  But lately, she's started to move on, and has been dating a lawyer named Carl Davis (Wendell Corey) for almost a year.  They have an easy rapport, and he's nice to Timmy, though Timmy thinks he's very boring.

Timmy is not wrong.  Carl is nice and kind and gentlemanly and boring.  But it just happens that his boringness makes Connie feel very secure and sheltered, and she's convinced herself that this is what she wants out of life.

Connie returns the train the next day and asks for a refund.  Steve tells her he's tagged her as a comparison shopper.  He's not supposed to let her return the train, he's supposed to signal the floor walker to take her out of the store and write up a report about her so the rest of the clerks know she's not welcome to buy things there anymore because she's not a real customer.  She pleads with him not to do that because she needs her job so she can support her little boy.  He gets really snarky because he thinks she's lying about having a son, and he asks how come her husband can't chip in.  But when he finds out her husband died in the war, his whole tone changes.  He's apologetic, sincere, kind... and he issues a refund for the train.

Steve then gets fired for not turning Connie in.  Nice guy finishes last when it comes to retail at Christmas, I guess.  Because yes, Steve is also a nice, kind, gentlemanly guy.  This is not a case of fall-for-the-bad-boy nonsense.  Both Steve and Carl are Good Guys.

Steve, being freshly out of anything to do, helps Connie with her comparison shopping for the rest of the afternoon, cluing her in on how not to get spotted by salespeople.  He and Connie have lunch in Central Park, talking to the squirrels and the seals and each other.  But after another round of shopping, they get separated by a crowd, and Steve gets left with all Connie's packages she's supposed to take to her job.

Connie goes home to her picture of her dead husband, her son, and the prospect of one day marrying predictable Carl.  Timmy is not a fan of this idea.  He reminds Connie that if she marries Carl, she won't be Mrs. Ennis anymore.   Connie is stricken by this thought.  Not be Mrs. Ennis?  Maybe marrying Carl won't be the safe non-change she thinks it will be.

Naturally, Steve just happens to know Connie's address because of the return slip for the toy train.  So he shows up at her apartment with all her packages.  Connie had not told Carl about spending all day with Steve.  Naturally, Carl is suspicious when Steve shows up.  Much tension ensues.

Steve ends up having a chat with Timmy after Timmy acts out and yells at Carl, and Carl yells at Timmy, and so on.  Steve takes Timmy very seriously, and Timmy appreciates that (as do all kids).  He confides in Steve about the train that he thought was for him, but wasn't, and says his mom says he shouldn't wish for big presents like that because when he doesn't get them, he'll just be disappointed.  Steve disagrees.  He thinks hoping and wishing are important, even if you don't get what you hoped for.  You have to aim high, he says, even with wishes.  He's not just talking to Timmy about trains by that point, we can tell.

At which point, Steve goes out to the kitchen and gives Connie a Christmas present.  He walks up behind her, taps her on the shoulder, and kisses her when she turns around.  It's a bit of a surprise kiss, but not a forcible one.  I know this wouldn't fly today, in a world where a person must ask permission before kissing another person because, it seems, kisses are extremely important and dangerous and must not be given to anyone unawares, or unexpectedly, or unpredictably.  This movie was made back when a kiss was just a kiss... and also, I sincerely doubt that Steve would have kissed Connie if they hadn't spent a whole long afternoon getting mighty friendly first.  

This kiss is a turning point.  Connie has slowly been realizing that she's barricaded herself into a tiny, safe, stale life where nothing can actually touch her.  Where she can control how she feels, what she feels, when she feels.  But Steve Mason has gradually elicited annoyance, surprise, anger, and amusement from her, and those smaller emotions have begun to crack open her walls, leaving her ready to feel bigger things like attraction, gratitude, and maybe even the glimmerings of love.

Steve does something wonderful and generous:  he buys that toy train for Timmy and leaves it outside their apartment door on Christmas morning.  Timmy is ecstatic -- his new friend Steve told him to wish and hope and dream big, and sure enough, sometimes you DO get what you thought you could never have!  Timmy convinces his mom to give Steve a gift too, so she finds him in Central Park and gives him a necktie she'd bought for Carl.

Carl would never have worn this necktie -- it's too loud.  But it suits Steve just fine.  Steve gives his old necktie to a passing bum, and the bum later gives Steve a gift in return.

Connie also drops the bomb that she's going to marry Carl.  All the joy leaves Steve's whole face when he hears this, but he wishes her well and says he hopes she'll be happy in the safe little world she's built for herself.  Which Connie doesn't appreciate, obviously.

Connie's dead husband's parents come over to spend Christmas Day with Connie and Timmy.  They congratulate her on her impending marriage and say they can't wait to meet the new love of her life, Steve.  Connie is upset.  She's marrying Carl!  Why would they think she's marrying Steve?  Well, only because Timmy won't shut up about how nice Steve is and how wonderful his new train from Steve is and how much he likes Steve.

And that's when the police stop by.  Did I mention this movie turns in unexpected directions?  Steve has been arrested for stealing something, which actually was given to him by that bum in the park.  But Steve has no job (because Connie got him fired), no money in his wallet (because he spent it all on that train for Timmy), and no address (because he left his rooms when he lost his job).  So he's basically a vagrant.

Happily, remember Carl?  He might be a little boring, but he's a good lawyer.  He convinces the police (personified by Henry "Harry" Morgan) that there's no evidence against Steve, and they let Steve go.

Steve ends up back at Connie's apartment for Christmas dinner.  Connie's in-laws make heartfelt toasts to each other that make me cry a little because they have so much love and affection for each other.  Carl toasts Connie and their impending marriage.  Everyone says Steve ought to give a toast too.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!  Honestly, just skip from here to after the frame that says "THE END" if you have decided you want to see this movie and don't want all the big surprises spoiled.

Instead of making a toast to health and happiness and so on, Steve asks Connie to marry him, not Carl.

Do you have whiplash yet?  Cuz wow, that just smacks me upside the head every time.  Wow.  Steve has just proposed marriage to another guy's fiancee.  I never saw this coming the first time.

As you can gather from the picture above, this does not go over well with Connie.  Steve accepts her refusal gracefully and makes his goodbyes.

Timmy is distraught at the thought of his friend Steve having spent the last of his money on this toy train set, when he should have spent it on a train ticket to California to get that job that's waiting for him.  So Timmy takes it upon himself to return the train to the store and get the money back for it so he can give the money to Steve and make Steve happy like Steve made him happy.

Do you want to hug Timmy?  Cuz I sure do.

Timmy gets the money and convinces Connie to give it to Steve.  Carl and Connie break up.  Connie gives the money to Steve and tells him she's broken things off with Carl.  She thinks this means that Steve will propose again, but it's time for another hairpin turn in the plot!  

Steve's not having it.  He doesn't want her to offer herself to him out of some kind of weird gratitude, and he doesn't want to get married to a woman who still mentally belongs to her dead husband.  Thanks, but no thanks, Connie.  Have a nice life.  Enjoy being Mrs. Ennis.

Here comes New Year's Eve, and Connie's getting ready to go out with some friends.  No date.  Just friends.  Timmy comes in, and they have a very serious conversation, and, well... 

...the two of them end up on a train to California, where they find Steve just at the stroke of midnight, and the three of them enjoy a big group hug, the end.

Like I said, don't stare at the plot too hard or it won't make much sense, but at the same time, it's completely awesome and I think I need to admit that I don't just like it, I love it.  I do.

Is this movie family friendly?  Yup, it is.

This has been my contribution to the Second Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.  I've been meaning to review this movie for a couple of years, so I'm glad this blogathon gave me the nudge to review it that I've been needing!

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Ending My Autumn To-Do List

December is here!  December is here!  I've waited a whole year for this month!  And man, it has been a looooooong year, hasn't it?

This picture is brought to you by my getting to go out and see Casablanca (1942) in the theater with some friends last month.  We all dressed up in as close to period-correct clothing and so on as we could.  (This picture also brought to you by the Keto diet, thanks to which I have dropped 15 of the pounds I picked up after my gall bladder removal a few years ago.  I finally have a jawline again.)

Anyway.  Because December is here, that means it's time to wrap up my autumn to-do list and see what I got checked off.  All book and movie titles linked to my reviews where applicable.  All pictures are my own, and most are from my Instagram account.

~ Write a short story Semi-fail  A couple days ago, I did get an idea for a short story sequel to One Bad Apple, and I've started it, but it's not nearly finished.

~ Start writing my Beauty and the Beast retelling Check!  It doesn't have a real title yet, though I call it Schoen und Stark just because I hate writing things without a title.  But I know that won't be its final title.  I've got three chapters done and will start on the fourth as soon as I finish the aforementioned short story.

~ Read Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien Check!  It was enchanting -- my review is here.

~ Participate in Heidi's read-along of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien Check!  It's still going on, and I'm still participating.

~ Finish reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome aloud to my kids Fail.  Other books distracted us, plus we've had less reading time the last few weeks.  But we're still working on it!

~ Read 1 other title for my Classics Club list Check!  In fact, I read SEVEN more classics!  They were:

~ Read 7 other books off my TBR shelves  Check!  I read TWELVE books off my TBR shelves besdies Roverandom.  They were:

~ Read 2 books from the library Check!  I read three: 
~ Read at least 1 book each month about/by someone who is not white Check!  I read:
~ Watch 4 movies off my TBW shelves Fail.  I only watched three: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Mamma Mia! (2008), and season 3 of Leverage (2010).

~ Finish the blanket I'm crocheting for my 8-yr-old's bed Check!  I'm so pleased with it, and so is she:

~ Make a new fall wreath Check!  I love how it turned out, too:

~ Go hiking Check!  We went hiking while on our staying-in-Virginia vacation this fall.

~ Toast marshmallows Check!  We did that on our vacation around a fire pit, and we've toasted them in our fireplace too.

That's all, folks!  I'll make a winter to-do list and share it soon, but for now, I'll leave you with this picture of my hairdo from my evening at the movies last month because I did it myself with no help, which can be hard when your hair is 4 feet long, but it came together at last:

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Three Things I Love in a Story

 I've been mulling over this sort of thing for years.  What do I, personally, need in a story?  What do I want?  What do I not want?  I've discussed this various times, with various people, but it's always fun to revisit, so today, I'm sharing three things I love in a good story, whether it's a book or a movie or a TV show. 

(All photos are mine from my Instagram account.)

1.  Characters I want to be friends with.  No lie -- this is make-or-break for me.  If I don't want to be friends with at least a few of the main characters and hang out with them, I won't be re-reading or re-watching this, which means I don't love it, or even like it much.  I realize this is highly subjective, as no one can really predict what will make me want to be friends with a fictional character, but there it is. 

Actually, I do have some pretty basic things I like in a character.  They need to be nice and helpful.  I also appreciate characters who are loyal, sensible, and practical.  A little quirkiness is nice, and I appreciate both sarcasm and sass a lot.  But those are all gravy.  I don't love characters who are not both nice and helpful.  Now you know.

2.  Realistic dialog.  It needs to sound like things real human beings in that point in time would say.   (William Shakespeare gets a pass for this one -- no mere mortal talks as well as his characters.  But it would be nice if we did!) 

Also, I really appreciate it when an author tells me a character has an accent, say Scottish, and then lets me imagine the accent.  I dinnae apprrreciate it when they mun go to verrrah grrreat lengths to wrrrite oot the accent -- ach, mon, it gives me a rrroarrring headache if I cannae rrread it easily.

3.  Happy endings.  And by that, I mean endings that make me happy.  I want moral balance restored to the universe at the end of a story -- good triumphs over evil, etc.  This is why I consider the ending of Hamlet to be happy -- good has triumphed, even if at great personal cost.  If evil wins, or if good kinda wins but evil is still lurking somewhere, then it's not a happy ending, to me. 

How about you?  What do YOU love in a story?

Friday, November 20, 2020

"Rocky" (1976)

So, if you've never seen this movie, I'm guessing that you think it is a typical feel-good sports movie about a guy who wants to prove himself and become the champion.  You figure it involves a lot of training montages and pep talks and some big fight scenes, and probably glorifies the manly art of punching people.

Which, if you've seen the the other movies in this franchise, is a fair assumption, I must admit.  However, that's not really what this movie is about.  I mean, it does involve boxers punching each other.  There ARE a couple training montages, and the finale IS a big fight.  But it's not about a guy who wants to win a big fight and become a champion.

It's not even really a sports movie.  It's an indie-film character study that contemplates the meaning of determination and how important it is to take control of your own life instead of just going with what other people tell you to do.  And it really zeroes in on the meaning of taking an opportunity that is offered to you, rather than turning it down out of fear.

SPOILER ALERT:  I'm going to analyze this film, and I will spoil the ending in the process.  If you don't want to know how it ends, stop reading when you get to the part where Rocky's kneeling down to pray before the fight and skip to below the blogathon button at the bottom.

I grew up watching the Rocky movies.  My dad would rent one every now and then, though usually Rocky II (1979) or Rocky III (1982).  In fact, I don't think I saw Rocky (1976) until I was in my teens, and then only once.  Probably, my parents thought parts of it were too intense or scary for us kids.  Although this is rated PG, it would've been PG-13 if that rating had existed in 1979.  

But growing up watching these movies with my dad made me kind of a little bit equate my dad with Rocky Balboa.  I think he probably identifies a lot with Rocky.  They both were told they were dumb when they were kids, and yet, they aren't.  They both worked hard to overcome learning problems and both pursued dreams that others told them they weren't good enough for.  I have a lot of respect and love for my dad, not just because he's my dad, but because of the fierce determination inside him.  Which he passed on to me.  Like Rocky and my dad, I have a great drive to prove myself TO myself.  If I prove myself to others at the same time, great, but I have a strong desire to see if I can do things that look hard.  Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can't, but I keep trying hard things anyway.

Um, anyway, time to dig into the film :-)

It starts with a little local boxing match with the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) versus some random other due named Spider Murphy (I think?  Spider something).  Rocky and the other guy bash each other for a while as the meager crowd yells insults at them and even throws trash at them.  Rocky wins, so he gets the glorious sum of $41 and some odd cents.  The loser gets $15.  As they wait in the locker room to get paid after the fight, they're both quiet, withdrawn, maybe even sullen.  You can see Rocky in particular wondering if $41 was worth getting his head split open.

Rocky lives in the decidedly unglamorous part of Philadelphia.  He's friends with people who stand around on street corners around a barrel of burning trash, sharing a bottle of cheap wine and singing aimless songs. (One of them is played by Stallone's brother Frank Stallone.)  Their lives are empty, almost dystopian, and if this is Rocky's world and his people, is his life empty too?

Yeah, it kinda is, to be honest.  He lives in a trashy little apartment, basically just one room that's kitchen and living room, with an alcove for his bed.  He's got an old mattress wrapped around part of a wall for a punching post.  He hangs his coat and hat on metal bars jutting out of the wall.  And who does he have to welcome him home?  Two turtles named Cuff and Link and a goldfish named Moby Dick.  Rocky's thirty years old, he's not married, he's got no girlfriend, and he lives in what is basically a hole in a wall.  

Yet, he's not depressed.  He's not mean.  He's kind to his pets, he's polite to his boxing opponent and the guys out on the street.  You can see already that he is a genuinely nice guy who's just living a messy, no-where kind of life.

Rocky doesn't have a girlfriend, but he's sweet on a girl named Adrian (Talia Shire) who works at a pet shop near his apartment.  Every night, if he passes the pet shop before it closes, he stops in and tells her a joke he made up.  Every morning, on his way to work, he stops in and tells her another one he made up.  They're pretty terrible jokes, but he keeps telling them anyway, as an excuse to come see Adrian.

Adrian is painfully shy.  As in, it's painful to see how shy she is.  She barely looks at Rocky.  She only nods or answers him in single words.  She's closed off and bound up and walled off.  But if he's talking to the animals in the pet shop, she looks at him.  She has a kind of frightened longing when she looks at him that shows us that she really wants to like Rocky, even if she's afraid of that desire, afraid to talk to him, afraid to even make eye contact with him.

Now, what kind of a day job does Rocky have?  Since clearly, $41 for a fight every week or two isn't going to pay for even his dumpy apartment.  Well, he works for the Mob.  He's muscle.  He threatens people who owe the Mob money, or who did something to annoy the Mob.  He doesn't kill people, but he might break an arm or something.  Which would make us start to be very unsympathetic to Rocky, except that he's still clearly a nice guy.  Like when he gets sent to break a guy's thumb for not paying up on a gambling debt, and instead he just threatens to do it and lets the guy off unharmed.

Also, Rocky has a learning disability.  He doesn't read well, and he's not great with numbers.  He has trouble remembering things, so he writes them down in a notebook.  Some of this may be from too many bouts in the boxing ring, but he says his dad told him he was dumb all his life, so he'd better learn how to make money with his muscles, so I think probably he has dyslexia or something similar.  This is a pretty masterful stroke on the part of Stallone the screenwriter, because Rocky's insistence that he's not smart and his obvious trouble with reading creates a lot of sympathy for him and keeps us squarely in his corner.  (Boxing allusion intended.)

Yes, Sylvester Stallone wrote this screenplay.  He had trouble selling it to studios because he insisted in starring in it himself, but finally won United Artists over.  The film had a budget of only $1.1 million, and it went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture and made Stallone a huge star.

Rocky insists over and over that he is not a bum.  He tells his boss that, he tells a friend that, he tells the manager of the boxing gym that.  But secretly, he wonders.  Is he just a bum?  Just like all the other bums around him?  Is he a bum like his friend Paulie (Burt Young), Adrian's big-talking brother?  Or is does he have an actual future?

Certainly, Rocky is nicer than a lot of the people around him.  And I mean, he is genuinely nice.  On the way home the next night, he sees a young girl from his street hanging out with a lot of older teens, drinking and smoking and talking trashy.  He pulls her away from them and walks her home.  While they walk, he explains why guys don't respect girls who talk dirty and act tough, and why you should want a guy to respect you.  He says if you talk like a whore, it doesn't matter what you do, people are going to think you're a whore.  Maybe he's secretly wondering if, because he talks like a bum, it doesn't matter what he does, because people just assume he's a bum.

When he gets the girl back to her home, she calls him a creepo and says several other rude things in thanks for his kindness and advice.  Sure enough, it seems like no matter what he does, people still think he's a bum.

Enter Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  By the way, this is what Greef Karga from The Mandalorian looked like 40 years ago, my friends. Anyway, Apollo Creed is the Heavyweight Champion of the World.  And he's going to do a charity match in Philadelphia to celebrate America's Bicentennial, and he's going to make a ton of money at the same time.  But he has a problem.

The guy Creed was supposed to fight is injured.  Broken hand.  Can't fight.  So Creed comes up with a great idea and pitches it to his management team:  he'll fight an unknown.  A local boy.  Some random wannabe.  It'll make Creed look good cuz he's taking the whole "land of opportunity" thing to the max, and he'll have an easy fight.  Knock the chump out in the third round, no problem.

Now he just has to find the perfect local boy to fight.  Creed wants someone with a snazzy name, so he starts looking through the fight promoter's book of fighters.  And he lands on, you guessed it, the Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa.  He'll give this nobody a moment of glory and everyone can go home happy.

(Random bit of trivia:  Sylvester Stallone really is Italian, and in Italian the word for 'stallion' is 'Stallone.')

Meanwhile, it's Thanksgiving.  Paulie tells Rocky that Adrian has invited him over for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Rocky asks Paulie over and over if Adrian is really expecting him.  If she really wants him to come over.  Paulie swears she does, that it was her idea.  Rocky doesn't want to call Paulie a liar, but Adrian's still been kind of giving him what he thinks is the cold shoulder, so he's not sure.

Um, yeah, Paulie's totally a liar.  Adrian gets upset when he shows up with Rocky and hides in the kitchen.  She says she can't have people over, she's not dressed for company, she's got a turkey in the oven, and she just can't handle it.  Paulie yells at her, calls her stupid and broken, takes the turkey out of the oven, and throws it out the back door!

Adrian does the only sensible thing she can do: she locks herself in her bedroom.  Rocky tries to leave, because this is clearly a very embarrassing situation.  Paulie insists Adrian will be fine, especially if Rocky suggests they go somewhere fun.  Rocky talks awkwardly to her door a little, and asks if she'd like to go for a walk, maybe go to the ice rink.

Ice rink it is.

I think this is the first time Adrian ever looks him in the face.  She has changed her clothes, put on her hat and coat, and she is looking Rocky in the face and going out to the ice rink with him, and if you don't think this is a HUGE deal for her, you don't know anything about shy, emotionally abused women with bullying brothers and no hope (until now) of ever changing their lives.

I said this movie is about needing to take opportunities when they present themselves, and needing to take charge of your own life.  Most obviously, it's about how Rocky gets a chance to do that.  But that's Adrian's story arc too.  She stops and looks at herself in the mirror before she goes out with Rocky, and it's like she's looking at a stranger.  A stranger who is going out on a date of sorts.  Who is leaving the house for a reason other than her miserable job.  She looks scared, but she also looks determined.

(I'm pretty sure that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode where Angel takes Buffy ice skating is a nod to this film, by the way.)

Rocky bribes the zamboni driver to let them use the rink for ten minutes even though the rink is closed.  He doesn't skate, so he runs along beside Adrian while she skates, both of them awkward.  Rocky keeps up a steady stream of chatter, trying to make Adrian comfortable.  Trying to get her to respond.  

Slowly, slowly, Adrian unfolds.  She asks Rocky how he got into boxing, and he tells her it's because he's dad said he didn't have much of a brain, so he'd better make good use of his body.  Adrian laughs, because her mother told her the opposite:  she didn't have much of a body, so she'd better make good use of her brain.

As they walk down the city streets after they leave the ice rink, they both talk.  Both share.  Both open up. Neither of them is very comfortable with the other yet, but they're getting there.  But then, they wind up at Rocky's apartment.  And he asks her inside.

Adrian stands at the bottom of his front steps, and she's unsure again.  You can see her weighing her options.  She could walk home.  She could go inside.  She's obviously been told that nice girls don't go in men's apartments.  Then again, she's known Rocky for months, maybe years.  He stops at the pet shop twice a day to talk to her.  He's a friend of her brother.  And, you know what?  She's almost thirty years old and never been asked into a guy's apartment before.  

So she goes in with him.  He gets awkward, then she gets awkward.  He offers her some doughnuts, and she declines.  He sits on his saggy sofa and asks her to sit by him, and she refuses.  She's right in suspecting he'd like to do a little canoodling, but she's also right in thinking he's a nice guy who's not going to force himself on her.  Still, she stands in the kitchen, near the door, ready to flee.

So he comes to her, little by little.  He comes closer, she backs up.  He comes closer, she backs up.  Finally, she's by the door and wants to run out it.  Rocky puts a hand on the door and another on the other side of her, but when she looks panicked and trapped, he drops the hand on the door.  She can leave if she wants.

But he leans closer and tells her he would like to kiss her.  She doesn't have to kiss him, but he would like to kiss her.  And he waits until she nods.  When she does, he kisses her.  On the cheek.

It's a kind and gentle kiss, sweet and not demanding.  Adrian closes her eyes and looks so... unbelieving.  A man is kissing her cheek.  A very large and muscly man is very kindly making her feel comfortable every way he knows how, but also letting her know that yes, he finds her pretty and attractive and interesting and worth spending time with and worth kissing.

For Adrian, it's basically a miracle.

So she kisses him back.  And there's a lot of kissing.  Quiet and gentle and desperate kissing.  And, the next day, Rocky gets the news that Apollo Creed wants to fight him.  Adrian has taken the first steps toward being in charge of her life, and now, it's Rocky's turn.

Rocky thinks at first that Creed just picked him for a new sparring partner.  When the promoter explains that no, Creed wants to give him a real fight, and even a shot at the title of champion, Rocky turns him down.  He's not interested in being a sideshow for Creed to play off to make himself look good.  But the promoter assures him it'll be a real fight, and tells him how much money he'll be paid.  It's probably more money than Rocky has ever earned in his whole adult life.

So he says he'll do it.  And he asks Mickey (Burgess Meredith) to train him.  Or rather, Mickey asks to train him, in an emotionally fraught scene in a bathroom and a stairwell that is so intense it's almost hard to watch.

Mickey is the irascible, cranky, downright mean boxing trainer down at the gym where Rocky used to train until Mickey threw him out because he decided Rocky was a bum. But Mickey's a great trainer, and Rocky's going to need all the help he can get.  By the way, we're halfway through the movie before Rocky gets the news that Apollo Creed picked him for the big fight.  When I say it's a character study, I mean it -- we spend way more time on developing Rocky and Adrian than we do on fight stuff.  Even after Rocky agrees to fight him.

Rocky and Adrian are seeing each other more now. Adrian is blossoming under his attention.  She's smiling, she's buying and wearing pretty clothes, she's sitting by him while they watch television in her living room, and she's even reaching out and touching him, shyly and hesitantly.

Paulie, who had pushed her to date Rocky, is not so thrilled with this.  Because now she listens to Rocky and thinks about Rocky and doesn't jump up to get Paulie a beer the minute he finishes a can.  So he makes fun of Rocky, pointing out that TV reporters made Rocky look really dumb during a press conference announcing the big fight.  Rocky shrugs and smiles and says that didn't bother him none.

And then privately confesses to Adrian that it did bother him.  A lot.

It's not just Adrian who's opening up an growing and learning to trust, folks.

Adrian surprises Rocky one day at his apartment.  She's bought him a big, slobbery dog named Butkus that Rocky always talked to at the pet shop.

(Random fun fact: Butkus was Sylvester Stallone's own dog.  He reportedly got so poor and desperate when studios weren't buying his Rocky screenplay that he sold his dog for $50 so he could eat.  As soon as he signed the deal with United Artists for this movie, the first thing he did was buy back his dog.)

Contrast this pretty girl in the fashionable coat and hat to the closed-down, dowdy woman at the beginning.  Is it Rocky's attention that's changed her?  Did she just need a man, and now her life is great?  I don't think that's the point here.  Yes, Rocky's attention has changed her, but it's because she's gained confidence in her self, gained self esteem, realized that she's not the worthless, ugly, helpless, pitiful freak her brother has been calling her all these years.  She knows now that she's her own person, and her relationship with Rocky has given him the same gift.  Both of them needed the nudge of thinking, hey, if this person who is pretty great likes me, maybe I should take a fresh look at myself and see what it is they like.

Now, Paulie is not pleased with this.  He has insisted that now that Rocky's going to be training for a big fight and getting all this money, Rocky should hire Paulie to be his promotor, or his water boy, or anything.  Rocky doesn't feel comfortable spending money he hasn't earned yet and won't do it.  And then, close to Christmas, Paulie comes home to find Rocky and Adrian snuggled up watching a Christmas movie on the TV, and he goes berserk.  Rocky won't give him a job?  When he gave Rocky all that support and encouragement?  Even gave Rocky his sister?

Rocky tries to talk Paulie down, but he's kinda scared of Paulie's bat.  After all, Rocky's in the hurting-people business, in more ways than one.  He knows how much damage a bat can do.  But look at this picture -- both Rocky and Adrian are scared, but who's protecting who here?  Adrian sure looks like she's trying to shield Rocky.  And she does.  This is the moment when she comes into her own.

Paulie smashes a lamp and a silver teapot while screaming about how both Rocky and Adrian owe him for all he's done for them.  And Adrian rises up, grabs Paulie by the coat and screams back.  She doesn't owe him anything!  She's been cooking and cleaning and keeping house for him all these years, and putting up with his nonsense.  She does not owe him, and neither does Rocky.

She runs off to her room, and Rocky takes his turn yelling at Paulie for how he treats Adrian and talks about her like she's trash to hand to a stranger.  He scares Paulie now, which he's had a lot of practice doing, so Paulie stays scared.

Rocky goes to Adrian's room to see if she's okay.  All she says to him is, "Do you want a roommate?"  And she looks so brave and fierce and strong when she says that, I want to hug her.  Adrian has been pushed around all her life, but now, she's going to make her own decision.  Go where SHE chooses.

By the way, don't misconstrue my love for this film to mean that I think it's okay for unmarried people to live together.  I think you can assume that they are not intimately involved when she moves in with him.  They may have been before now, but Rocky's trainer has reminded him No Women is the rule when you're training for a big fight.  Rocky is show sleeping on the couch while Adrian sleeps on his bed.  In Adrian's circumstances, I think it was her best option.  How long would Paulie stay scared once Rocky left that night?  How long before his rage and frustration came to the surface again and he turns that bat on his sister?

I wonder a little bit if Paulie suffers from some form of PTSD.  There's a photo of him in a Navy uniform in their house, and they live in an actual house, fairly nice, which implies that Paulie probably is retired from the Navy and living on his pension, plus what he makes at the meat-packing plant, plus Adrian's pet shop wages.  He's pretty mercurial, going from fawning to angry to fawning in the blink of an eye.  Clearly, he has problems for some reason.

Anyway, that's when the training montage starts.

Rocky runs on the railroad tracks.

Rocky runs through the trashy Philadelphia streets. (Random fun fact: those are not extras in these shots of Rocky running through the city.  He and a camera guy just went around Philly finding interesting spots, Stallone would get out and run, and the camera guy would drive ahead of him filming him.  This is why all the people in these shots are kind of curious and/or cracking up: they have no idea what is going on.  A guy tosses Rocky an orange, and Rocky catches it and they both laugh because the guy had no idea this dude running behind a car was making a movie.)

Rocky runs up those steps at the art museum and creates an iconic film moment.  

(Also, the inventor of the Steadicam inspired this moment -- he'd used the Steadicam to film his sister running up those steps, and used the footage to pitch his camera rig to studios.  Stallone and the film's director saw it and decided it was just what the needed for a big moment.  And hired the Steadicam inventor to film it.)

There's also a lot of stuff about skipping rope and punching bags and getting punched in the stomach and whatever.  But it's the running that people remember.

The night before the fight, Rocky visits the big stadium where he'll face Apollo Creed.  It's empty and echoing and eerie.  And SO much bigger and nicer than that dive at the beginning where he was fighting.

Rocky goes back to his apartment and lays down beside Adrian and tells her, "It really don't matter if I lose this fight.  It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either.  'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance.  Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed.  And if I can go that distance, see, if that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, you see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood."

(Random fun fact: Stallone saw that moment as the most important one in the film, but they almost didn't shoot it.  They were running over their budget and filming schedule, but he managed to squeeze in enough time for one take of that speech.  And that one take did the trick.)

Rocky doesn't want to win.  He doesn't want to be famous.  He just wants to know if he's got it in him to face the best boxer in the world and stay on his feet.  Nobody's ever done that in the ring with Creed, and if he can just stay up for all those rounds, he'll know he's not just another bum.  That's all he wants, that knowledge about himself, for himself.

Fight day arrives.  Rocky prays.

Rocky shakes Apollo Creed's hands.  (Spoilage ahead, so skip to the blogathon button if you don't want to know how this fight turns out.)

Rocky and Apollo Creed slug it out.

And Rocky does it!  He stays on his feet for every single round.  He doesn't win.  But he proves himself, to himself.

And then, when the fight's over and the reporters crowd around him, all he says is "Adrian!"  Over and over, screaming her name, yelling for her, only for her.

And, when she fights her way to the crowd and throws her arms around him, she doesn't say, "You did it!" or "I'm proud of you!"

She says, "I love you."

First time she's said that, you can see.

And Rocky says it back.  "I love you."  

And the final shot is not of Rocky standing victorious over his opponent or being praised by the crowd or getting handed a lot of money.  It's of Rocky holding Adrian close, a look of absolute contentment coming over his bruised and battered face.  He knows now that he has everything he needs.

This has been my entry for A Blogathon to be Thankful For, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane.  Thanks for reading!  Make sure you check out the blogathon for more posts involving Thanksgiving!

Is this movie family friendly?  Somewhat?  Like I said, I didn't watch it as a kid.  Paulie and his baseball bat is pretty scary, and you do have the issue of Adrian moving in with Rocky.  Plus, a lot of punching.  Some cussing, mostly low-level stuff, not nasty or often, but a bit here and there.  Fine for teens, I think, but too much for younger kids.