Saturday, February 29, 2020

"The Fugitive" (1993)

The Fugitive (1993) is my second-favorite movie of all time.  When I was a teen, I had the poster for it hanging in my bedroom.  Framed, not just taped to the wall like the rest of my posters.  Its soundtrack by James Newton Howard was one of the first CDs I ever bought.  My family made a pilgrimage of sorts to the Great Smoky Mountain Railway, where the train wreck and a few other scenes were filmed, to see the remains of the bus and train used in the film.  So, when I say I love this film dearly, I am very serious indeed.

But why did this movie grab me so hard when I was in my early teens and never let go?  Or maybe the more accurate question would be, what inside me grabbed this movie and wouldn't let go?

A lot of it is Harrison Ford, of course.  My word, that man is handsome.  As a young teen when I first saw this, I was just starting to get interested in menfolks, and I seem to have kind of skipped that stage where girls get all giggly about "cute boys" and gone straight for the meat-and-potatoes aisle where they stock Real Men.  This is probably because I was homeschooled (and didn't have many close girl friends right at that time) AND because my parents raised me on movies with Real Men in them, like John Wayne and Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood.

My parents tended to watch movies WITH us, you see.  Our TV was not a babysitter, and we did not have cable or satellite -- our TV got the regular broadcast channels, which we watched very little of, and we had a VCR.  My family would rent one movie every Friday to watch together, back when you had to drive to a store to rent a movie, not just click on it with your mouse or remote or phone or whatever.  My parents already liked Harrison Ford, and they remembered the '60s TV show The Fugitive that this movie is based on, so they rented this when it first came out.  Pretty sure they watched it without us first, since it's rated PG-13, and then they decided my brother and I could handle it, so we all watched it together.  And then, the next week, we rented it again.  And again.  For months.  (Back then, a movie would sometimes come to rental stores six or more MONTHS before you could buy it.  Be so happy you live today, kids.)

So I probably watched this twenty times in six months.  I got very, very well acquainted with it.  Now, by that time, I was already a firm fan of escaping-from-prison and wrongful-imprisonment-proved-innocent stories (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas had been a favorite book of mine for a couple years already by then).  Plus, I loved mysteries and detective stories already.  So I was absolutely primed to love both sides of the story. 

It all starts when Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is accused of killing his wife Helen (Sela Ward). 

He escapes prison custody during a marvelous action sequence involving first a bus wreck, then a train wreck.  Unlike most train wrecks in movies, which are shot with models, this one used a real train hitting a real bus, which is highly cool.

Once he escapes, Kimble dedicates himself to finding out who really murdered his wife.  Meanwhile, a dogged deputy U.S. Marshal named Sammy Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) leads a team in pursuit of Kimble.  I also love run-and-chase movies, and this has two chases, Kimble chasing the bad guy and Gerard chasing Kimble. 

Anyway.  Young teen me loved the story.  And loved Harrison Ford.  Yes, he was handsome, but he also exuded this niceness that I appreciated right away.  Richard Kimble is nice, kind, helpful, and intelligent -- there's no way I wouldn't love him, as he's everything I still look for in a fictional character. 

And I loved Tommy Lee Jones and his character too.  Though he insists he's tough and uncaring, he's also that mix of nice, kind, helpful, and intelligent that I so value.  I might sometimes even find him a teeny bit more attractive than Harrison Ford in this movie, believe it or not.

It's hard to believe this movie is nearly 30 years old.  It holds up SO incredibly well.  The taut pacing and the smart, banter-filled dialog are especially awesome, and the acting is so enjoyably on point.  Ford and Jones are both at the top of their game here, and the few scenes they share just rock my world.

This is my contribution to the Harrison Ford Blogathon hosted this weekend by Sat in Your Lap.  Go check out the rest of the entries for more Ford-related goodness!

Monday, February 24, 2020

"Crime and Punishment" (1935) -- Initial Thoughts

Roderick Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) believes that some people are superior to ordinary people and shouldn't be held to the same moral standards as the rest of us.  And he's convinced he's one such person.  He murders someone, and thinks he should be able to get away with it because he's just such a superior being.  Only he's racked with guilt, punishing himself mentally for the crime for a long time, until he finally confesses it to the police. 

I didn't realize it before, but I see now that Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope is obviously a retelling of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.

There, I've saved you an hour and twenty-five minutes of your life that you don't have to spend watching this thoroughly depressing movie.  Go watch something enjoyable and uplifting instead.

(But if you want to be thoroughly depressed, you can watch this here on YouTube.)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Teaching Creative Writing: Fiction, Part One -- Article at Blest the House

Today, I've got a new article up here on the homeschooling blog Blest the House.  It's filled with ideas for teaching kids in Kindergarten through fifth grade how to write fiction.  I've also written a sequel to it, which is for middle school and high school students, and that will be coming along later.

Monday, February 17, 2020

"Appointment with Danger" (1950)

Today is my Alaniversary.  On this day, back in 2016, I watched Whispering Smith (1948) for the first time, and Alan Ladd shot from being "that actor who played Shane" to "that actor I need to see a LOT more of right NOW."

And, over the past four years, I have done exactly that.  I've now seen more than 30 of his movies, and I have a good-sized stack waiting to be slowly savored in the future too.

Appointment with Danger (1950) is actually one of the first dozen or so of Ladd's films I watched when I went on my first Ladd bender.  For some reason, I've never reviewed it here, so today's the day, my friends!

Some people classify this one as film noir, but it doesn't really get very dark either in tone, subject matter, or visuals, so I think of it as really just an action movie, with some mystery and suspense thrown in here and there.

It all begins with an infomercial about the wonders of the United States Post Office and all the perfectly marvelous men and women who work for it.  How well it delivers our letters, how tirelessly those mail carriers go about their appointed rounds, etc, etc, etc.

Then we cut to the action.  And this movie, which is a little bit formulaic, pulls off its first surprise.  Who do we zoom in on?  A nun.  A very nice nun (Phyllis Calvert).  Who does not get murdered or murder anyone, she just has a bit of trouble with her umbrella.  A nice young man named George (Harry Morgan) helps her with it.  He and his friend Joe (Jack Webb) are hanging out in this alley with "a friend" that George says is drunk.  But he's actually dead.  The nun buys the story that he's drunk, and George shoos her away.  Joe thinks this is a big mistake because she can identify George now, but whatever, it's raining, and they figure they'll never see her again.

Well, lookee here!  It's the man of the hour!  Hello, Wonderful.  What's new?

What's new is, a postal inspector has been murdered, and they're sending a different postal inspector to investigate.  His name is Al Goddard (Alan Ladd), and he's ruthless and hard-nosed and efficient to the point that people basically accuse him of being a Tin Man and so on.  He doesn't care.  He has a job to do and he does it well, and that's all he cares about.  He doesn't quite go into a little speech about how his only friends and family are his horse and his six-guns the way he does in Branded (also 1950), but he comes close.

Al investigates the murder and turns up the clue that a nun saw the body get dumped in that alley.  So he tracks down the nun, Sister Augustine.  If he feels out of place in this holy setting, he doesn't show it.  He's all business.  Just here doing his job, ma'am, and so on.

Sister Augustine doesn't see why she should have to come try to identify any suspects.  Surely they could get someone else to do that.  She's busy here, teaching children and arranging flowers.

Second surprise of the film!  Al says, "Letting someone else do your job is a design of the Devil."  Sister Augustine is impressed and agrees.  She says he's very wise.  Al says, no, that wasn't an original thought.  It's from the writings of Martin Luther.

And that's where I bust up, because he's totally testing her, trying to see what kind of a person she is, how she responds to a little mild antagonism.  She zings right back, "Must be from some of his earlier writings."  And I bust up again.  They have a marvelous kind of friendly rivalry, Al and Sister Augustine, verbally sparring now and then, both being as helpful and yet aloof as they can.  She agrees to help him, and we get treated to a few scenes of nuns hanging out at the police station, being serene and calm and flummoxing all the policemen.

Okay, time to talk about Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.  Who, you probably know, co-starred in a little show called Dragnet 1967 (1967-70) as police detectives.  That show was a sort of sequel to Dragnet (1951-59), which also starred Jack Webb, and was created and often written by him as well.  And that show was actually a TV version of the radio show Dragnet (1949-55), which Webb created, produced, and starred in as well.  I'm quite fond of the radio show and have seen quite a number of eps of both TV iterations, so it absolutely cracks me up to see Jack Webb in this playing the very mean and very nasty and very horrid bad guy, Joe Regas instead of good cop Joe Friday.  With Harry Morgan as his bad guy sidekick George instead of his good guy sidekick Bill.

Anyway, Joe and George work for another bad guy, Earl (Paul Stewart).  Earl owns and operates a hotel, but he wants to get rich, and he's planning a great way to steal lots of money from the US Mail, which Joe and George are going to help him with.

Except George isn't sure this is such a good plan.  George has some mental and emotional issues -- his wife left him and took his kid, and all he has left are his son's baby picture and bronzed baby booties, and he's not sure it's wise to get mixed up in this mail job anymore because the nun finding them was bad luck, and he wants to go away and start over new, and yeah.

Yeah.  He's young and kinda sweet and almost a little bit honest.  This isn't going to end well for poor George.

Meanwhile, back with the other half of the plot, Al Goddard has decided to pretend he's a corrupt postal inspector instead of an honest one so he can get in with this gang and find out what their plan is.  He spends quite a bit of time in the early parts of the film insisting it doesn't bother him that everyone he meets thinks he's the world's only living heart donor, but I'm not sure he's convinced himself.  Once in a while, he goes all wistful when he thinks no one is watching.  Wistful about what, I don't know, but it definitely gives him an Air of Mystery.

I like this little trick he does where he uses his bathroom mirror to see a guy sneaking into his hotel room to check up on him and see if he's really as corruptible as he claims.

Anyway, Al gets to go meet Earl, and Earl thinks he seems pretty much on the level.  Or, more accurately, pretty much crooked.  He invites Al to go play handball.  Because of reasons.

What reasons?  Why, the reasons that Alan Ladd is a fine specimen of manhood, and we really ought to have an excuse for him to run around shirtless for a while.

I've mentioned before, I think, that I have this theory that Paramount had a policy that in any particular film he starred in, Alan Ladd had to either appear shirtless or get beaten up.  And sometimes he even got to get beaten up while shirtless.  Those movies got double points, I suppose.  This movie drew the shirtless straw, so he doesn't really get roughed up much.

Anyway, he convinces Earl he's as crooked as he claims, and Earl introduces Al to his girlfriend Dodie (Jan Sterling).  Dodie loves jazz.  Al thinks maybe he can get her to tell him about the gang's plans.  He decides to pretend he's a person and not an automaton and agrees to listen to her jazz collection.  Al is not enthused.  Dodie is, though.

Eventually, Al and Dodie dance, there in her hotel room.  You don't get to see Alan Ladd dance much, since he's usually playing tough guys who go around socking people and jumping over fences and so on.  But he dances very nicely, being so athletic and graceful.  Shame we don't get to see him dance more often.

And here's another surprise this movie gave me:  Al and Dodie don't fall in love.  They nearly kiss once or twice, but you can see it's just part of the job to Al, and Dodie's just bored and curious as to what a kind of guy he is.  I really dig that because it doesn't try to shoehorn a phony romance into a story that doesn't need it.  Also, it keeps Al's character of Mr. Heartless Tin Man more believable, with those wistful flashes being our insight into the fact that he's probably never been in love, probably doesn't know what what it would be like, maybe is a little curious, but is too dedicated to his job to really give it much thought or effort.

Anyway, remember Joe?  He's not convinced Al is as crooked as he claims.  He thinks Al's a plant.  Al has to keep proving his commitment to this robbery over and over because Joe is so suspicious.  Joe is also creepy and totally obsessed with finding that nun who could identify him and the late George.  The nun that Al totally brought to town to identify them.  Oh, Al, that was maybe not the best plan, you know.

I like Dodie.  At first she was kind of annoying, but she grows on me.  Especially in this scene, when she's sitting on the floor of her hotel room, listening to jazz and drinking, her door open so she'll see Al when he comes past.  I like sitting on the floor myself, and I like jazz, and I like that she's not pretending to be sophisticated or fascinating.  She's just a jazz-lover who makes comfy nests on the floor and drinks alone.  And waits for Al to walk past.

I mean, gosh, who can blame her for waiting for Al to walk past?

Yeah, anyway, Al finally finds out the gang's plans and promptly fills in the rest of the Post Office inspectors, and they make their own plans.

He goes and says goodbye to Sister Augustine and encourages her to go back to her home because she's done all the identifying they need, and she's probably in some danger here, so shoo now, Sister, okay?  Bye.  He is definitely not worried about her or fond of her or anything nonsensical like that, not Al.  Still the logical and robotic Tin Man, you bet.  Just because he's learned to smile doesn't mean he's turned into a human being.  Obviously.

Um, so Sister Augustine does go to the train station.  Where creepy Joe the nun-stalker finds her.  And kidnaps her.  ARGH.

This comes as quite a shock to Al when she turns up at the gang's hideout.  She could give away the fact that he's not actually crooked!  What will happen then?  Oh, the suspense!

This picture is only here cuz yum.

Anyway, back to the suspense!  We all know what's going to happen next:  Al and Joe are finally going to have the brawl they've been itching to have for like forty minutes now.

And then we have about twenty minutes of various thrilling heroics and brave battling all over the place.  Inside the shack.  Outside the shack.  Lots of running and shooting.  Fun to watch, but impossible to screencap.  Sorry.

Everything turns out great in the end, AND the Tin Man gets a heart.  Maybe.  Sorta.  I mean, not that he'd ever admit to it.  Except he can't help smiling once in a while now, so yeah... there's hope for him to join the human race one of these days.  Atta boy, Al.

Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen!  This concludes tonight's festivities.  I hope you enjoyed the show, and don't forget to toss your empty popcorn bags and soda cups in the trash on your way out.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Fairy Tale Tag

Fairy Tale Central has created their first-ever tag!  You can find the original here, along with a link-up so you can find other people who have answered it!

It just so happens that I sent off the revised version of One Bad Apple to my editor at the end of last week, and so I am footloose and fancy free for a few days, and this blog tag about fairy tales is exactly what I'm in the mood for.  I hope you are too.

(All photos are mine from my Instagram)

– What’s an obscure fairy tale you love? 

I really love The Tinder Box, which is this weird one involving a kind ex-soldier who helps an old woman who then gives him a tinder box that he can use to call these three giant dogs to help him.  I keep trying to figure out a way to retell it without magic so it could be part of my series because it's so dear to my heart, but so far, no luck.

– If you got to choose Disney’s next animated princess movie, what fairy tale would you choose to be adapted? 

The Twelve Dancing Princesses, because it's my favorite.  And just think of all the merchandising opportunities with that many princesses!  Come on, Disney, get with it!

– What is the first fairy tale you remember hearing when you were a child? 

I had a whole lot of Disney story books that came with records you could listen to while following along in the book.  I had them for Cinderella and Snow White and Mickey and the Beanstalk, so those all kind of tie for the first one I remember.

– If you were to embark on a fairy tale quest, what necessities would you pack in your bag? 

A pistol with lots of extra ammo, strong rope, lots of protein bars, a couple canteens, and a spare charger for my phone.  Also, a good camera.

– What’s your favorite fairy tale trope? 

Overlooked, ordinary person saves the day.

– If you could be any fairy tale character archetype (the princess, the soldier, fairy godmother, talking animal, mischievous imp, wise old woman, evil stepmother/sister, etc.), who would you want to be and why? 

A fairy godmother!  I'm already practicing :-)

– What animal/mythical creature would be your sidekick for fairy tale adventures? 

I'd like a flying horse, please.

– What is your favorite historical era, and what fairy tale would you love to see in that setting? 

I love the Old West, and as it so happens, I have a habit of setting fairy tales there!  So far, my Once Upon a Western series has book-length retellings of Little Red Riding Hood (Cloaked) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Dancing and Doughnuts), plus (FREE) short story retellings of Scheherazade, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Three Billy Goats Gruff.

(All those links just go to Goodreads pages, btw.)

Also, my first retelling, which was of Sleeping Beauty, is called "The Man on the Buckskin Horse" and is available in the Five Magic Spindles anthology.  Next up is my Snow White retelling, One Bad Apple, which I'm hoping will get released late this spring.

After that, I have book-length retellings planned for Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and The Steadfast Tin Soldier.  Plus there will doubtless be short story retellings in there too.

– If you could change a fairy tale’s villain into a hero, who would you choose and why? 

On a whole, I'm not a huge fan of twisting up fairy tales so the villains are the heroes and the heroes are the villains.  But I think Maddie Morrow did a marvelous job doing exactly that with her Snow White retelling "Red as Blood," which is in the Five Poisoned Apples anthology.  So let's stick with that.

– Do you prefer fairy tales with happy endings or sad/tragic endings? why?

Happy!  I prefer happy endings for everything except very specific stories like Hamlet.

And that's the end of that!  I hope you have a lovely Monday :-)  It's dreary here, but the rain has stopped for a little while, at least.