Thursday, September 30, 2021

New Femnista Article about "Dracula Untold" (2014)

I have a new Femnista article out, and it's perfectly timed for the Halloween season because it is all about Dracula Untold (2014) and why I love that particular vampire movie.  You can read my article right here.


This autumn's issue of Femnista is all about interesting retellings that put a twist on the story they're bringing to life in a new way.  Fun stuff!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Movie Music: Bruce Broughton's "Tombstone" (1993)

When I think of awesome modern western film scores, one name instantly pops into my mind: Bruce Broughton. Sure, he's composed for plenty of non-westerns, like The Blue and the Gray (1982), Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993), but he's done such a masterful job scoring westerns like Tombstone (1993), Texas Rising (2015), and Silverado (1985) that I can't help but connect him with them in my mind. (Of course, a lot of this is because I love westerns -- your mileage may vary!)

Today, I'm focusing on the soundtrack for Tombstone. I'm going to start things off slow and easy, with "A Family," a tender track that highlights the bond of kinship between Wyatt Earp and his brothers as they reunite in Tombstone, Arizona, looking ahead to a happy and peaceful life with their wives. It's hauntingly sweet, especially since we know their dream of peace will be short-lived.

Much of this soundtrack is minor, sometimes strident, and distinctly modern in flavor. Here's a good example of that:

Although that sort of music usually leaves me edgy, sometimes annoyed, I do like the chaotic flavor of this because it accurately portrays the lawlessness depicted in Tombstone.

This last selection is from the very end of the movie. It begins tentative and hopeful, then transitions into a joyous and frolicsome romp. This is my favorite track from the whole soundtrack, because it has all the major themes in it, and because at 2:30, in comes that chilling, wonderful drumbeat, those triumphant trumpets -- it's a fanfare, a call to arms, and a celebration all at once, and I love it. This plays while the end credits roll, so it's pretty long, and that is A-OK with me. Eventually, it ebbs back into quieter music, then ends with a bold flourish.

I could listen to that theme over and over and over again. In fact, I have done just that many times ;-)

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on July 28, 2015.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

2021 Tolkien Blog Party Tag


Happy Hobbit Day!  Today is Bilbo and Frodo's birthdays, so it felt like the perfect time to fill out my Tolkien Blog Party tag myself.

Can you believe this is the ninth year in a row that we've come together to celebrate all things Tolkien for a whole week?  Wow.  If you want to check out the party, go here.  If you want to enter the giveaway, go here.  If you just want to read my answers to the tag questions, well, here they are!

1. Aragorn: Favorite Tolkien hero/heroine 

Pretty sure anyone who has talked to me for more than about 2 minutes about all things Tolkien will be able to tell you the answers to this one.  And yes, I have two answers.


From the first time I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in the theater back in 2001, Boromir has been my favorite LOTR character.  I read the book after seeing the movie, which confirmed my opinion.  Boromir is wonderful.  Book-Boromir is even more lovely than Movie-Boromir, filled with courage, compassion, and a willingness to serve others.  And, yes, he is prideful and can be overconfident and even over-stubborn.  But he is my favorite.

However.


Thirteen years later, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies came out in 2014, and I fell deeply and desperately in love with Bard the Bowman.  Book-Bard is just kind of okay, but Movie-Bard... Movie-Bard rose so swiftly up the ranks of my fictional heroes that it was kind of dizzying.  He's honorable, kind, decisive, and a loving and caring father.  Nothing to see here, just a guy who's practically perfect for me in every way.

So, I love both Book-Boromir and Movie-Bard, and don't even think of trying to make me choose between them.


2. Boromir: Favorite Tolkien character arc

Annnnnnnnd I'm going to have to answer Boromir here again.  Here we have a guy who has spent his life praised and lauded for his strength, prowess, power, valiance.  He's grown up knowing that, when his father Denethor dies, he will become the next Steward of Gondor.  He's spend his adult years defending Gondor's people, putting his life on the line to keep them safe.  And not only his own people!  He's also spent time in Rohan helping them fight off the encroaching dark hordes.  He's committed to holding the line against Mordor because he knows that all those to the west of Gondor are depending on him and the armies he leads to keep evil away from them.


What human could spend their life that way and not be filled with pride in their own strength, confidence in their own abilities?  

But what happens to Boromir?  He trusts his own strength.  He relies on his own power.  His pride tells him that he has the power to wield the One Ring.  For good, of course!  To aid him in his continual fight to save others!  

And, because he trusts in himself, he falls.  He tries to take the ring from Frodo.


But his story doesn't end there.  It could have -- he could have made excuses to himself and to others.  "I didn't know what I was doing."  "The ring was lying to me."  "I was seduced by the Ring."  Nope.  He confesses everything at the first opportunity, telling Aragorn that he tried to take the Ring, and he scared Frodo away.  He sees clearly, at last, that his own power is nothing, his own strength is worthless.  He confesses, repents... and dies absolved and forgiven.  Dies because he once again put his own body into harm's way to protect others, and even though he failed to keep Merry and Pippin from getting captured, Aragorn tells him he has triumphed.  Not over the Uruk-hai, though he slew many, but triumphed at last over his own worst enemies: his own pride and self-confidence.  


Pardon me while I go blow my nose.  Must be allergies or something.

3. Frodo: Favorite song or poem by Tolkien 

I love the "Road goes ever on and on" song that Bilbo and Frodo sing snatches of here and there.  I have the verses all marked in my copy for easy finding.

4. Gandalf: Favorite wise Tolkien quotation 

"Go where you must go, and hope!"  My favorite line in The Lord of the Rings. In all of Tolkien, really.  So comforting.  And encouraging.  

My friend Vanessa Rasanen put it on a series of mugs for me, which you can buy yourself from her shop if you want one.  OR you could enter my Tolkien giveaway, because one of the prizes is one of her mugs with that line on it!



5. Gimli: A Middle-earth location you'd like to visit 

Rivendell!!!  I long to visit Rivendell.  





What's not to love, I ask you.  Books, food, scenery, fresh air, mountains, waterfalls, elves, peace and quiet... I want it all!


6. Legolas: Favorite Middle-earth Weapon 

I love Glamdring.  Now you know.



7. Merry: Favorite way to celebrate Tolkien's stories 

Besides reading his books over and over, and watching the movie versions over and over?  Well, honestly, this Tolkien Blog Party is my favorite!  Getting to share my love for this imaginary world and these imaginary people with all of you real people in the real world... it's just awesome.

I also enjoy making recipes from An Unexpected Cookbook by Chris-Rachael Oseland.  Food is such an integral part of Tolkien's stories!


8. Pippin: Favorite funny Tolkien quotation 

Basically the whole chapter "The Houses of Healing" in Return of the King makes me laugh and laugh, especially when Aragorn gets all sassy.  This is long, but I love it:
"Master Meriadoc," said Aragorn, "if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken. If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House. And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues."
Ahhhhhh, it cracks me up so much!


9. Samwise: A Middle-earth food you'd like to try

I would love to try Ent-draught.  Or real lembas.  Or Beorn's honey cakes.  Or Mrs. Maggot's mushrooms...


Happy Hobbit Day to you!  I hope you've had a chance to celebrate somehow, or have one planned for later today :-)  And if you're not a Tolkien fan, but read this whole post anyway, well, I hope it has encouraged you to give his writings (or the movies based on them) a try!

Sunday, September 19, 2021

My To-Do List for Autumn, 2021

Just a few things I'd like to do between now and Thanksgiving:

~ Finish the major revisions of my Beauty and the Beast retelling

~ Find that book a title!

~ Publish a new short story in my Once Upon a Western collection

(All photos mine from my Instagram)


~ Read The Once and Future King by T. H. White 

~ Read 2 other books for my latest Classics Club list

~ Read 11 other books off my TBR shelves 

~ Read 3 diverse books

~ Watch 6 movies off my TBW shelves 

~ Try some new bread recipes

~ Have friends over for an Oktoberfest celebration

~ Go camping somewhere new

~ Host my ninth annual Tolkien Blog Party on my book blog -- it kicked off today!

~ Co-host the Glenn Ford Blogathon here on this blog

~ Make apple-cinnamon pancakes

~ Make pumpkin muffins


Sound like fun?  Anything on there that you're hoping or planning to do this fall too?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Movie Music: Tom Hanks and Co.'s: "That Thing You Do!" (1996)

That Thing You Do! (1996) came out right when I was starting to pay lots of attention to current movies. Although I didn't get to see it in the theater, I rented it as soon as I could. I was already a huge fan of Apollo 13 (1995), and I loved how Tom Hanks incorporated lots of names from it into this movie, which he wrote, directed, and had a pivotal role in.

Tom Hanks set this film in 1964, which he said was the last summer of American innocence, before the country began to divide over issues like the war in Vietnam. He even co-wrote many of the songs for it! Here are a few of my favorites.

This is the title song (written by Adam Schlesinger), the one that makes small-town band The Wonders into a short-lived sensation. It's a smile-inducing song, like a sweet popsicle on a hot summer day.

"Dance With Me Tonight" (by Scott Rogness and Rick Elias) is my other favorite number on the soundtrack -- I used to dance around my room to it when I was a teen. I love how well it captures the feel of '60s music, which I spent my teen years listening to instead of what was on modern radio at the time. 

The Wonders can do slow and tender too, like in "All My Only Dreams" (by Scott Rogness and Rick Elias).

Not all the music in the movie is '60s-style pop, though. Check out this cheerful jazz number (by Steve Tyrell and Robert F. Mann):

I hope you dug some of this music, and if you have never seen That Thing You Do!, do yourself a favor and give it a whirl. It's sweet and funny, and great for a quick end-of-summer escape.

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on July 22, 2015.)

Friday, September 10, 2021

Closing Out My Summer 2021 To-Do List

Labor Day has come and gone, so, although where I live, summer weather lingers through September, I think it's time to look back on my summer to-do list and see what all I checked off.  (Spoiler alert: almost everything!!!)

I've decided to leave little star-ratings after the books and movies in case that's helpful to anyone, especially since I didn't manage to review any of the movies listed here.  Yet!  The book ratings should all match my Goodreads reviews of them.

(All photos are mine from my Instagram)

~ Finish the first draft of my Beauty and the Beast retelling CHECK!  You can read my celebratory post here.  I'm now working on the second draft.

~ Watch 6 movies off my TBW shelves Check!  I watched:

  • Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) (★★★)
  • Captain Blood (1935) (★★★★)
  • Chicago Deadline (1949) (★★★★)
  • The Sea Hawk (1940) (★★★★★)
  • The Killers (1946) (★★★★★)
  • Jamaica Inn (1939) (★★★)
  • The Saint Strikes Back (1939) (★★★)
  • season 4 of Leverage (2011-12) (★★★★★)

~ Reread The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas Check!  I loved it all over again, and you can read my review here.

~ Read 2 other books about/by someone who is not white Check!  I also read: 

  • Pride by Ibi Zoboi (★★★★)
  • Black Frontiers by Lillian Schlissel (★★★★★)

~ Read 2 other books for my latest Classics Club list Check!  I read:

~ Read 9 books off my TBR shelves Check!  I read a whopping SIXTEEN!  They were:


~ Make the rainbow popsicles my kids found a recipe for Check!  They were cute and tasty.

~ Have friends over for the 4th of July Check!  We had family members over that we haven't seen for a while, and we shot off a bunch of little fireworks and enjoyed watching larger ones in the distance.  

~ Co-host Legends of Western Cinema Week Check!  It was great fun, as always -- my wrap-up post is here.

~ Drive up into the Shenandoah Valley and breathe the free air Check!  I'm hoping we get up there again this fall, too.

(Taken in Wyoming, not the Shenandoah Valley.)


~ Go camping somewhere new
Fail.  But we're hoping/planning to do this next week!

~ Meet my friend Vanessa for the first time in real life Check!  And I met my friend Charity for the first time IRL, too!

All in all, I had a fantastic summer.  We went on adventures, we had adventures at home, I read a lot, I shared many movies with my family, and I finished the first draft of my new book!!!  Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

"Kidnapped" (1959)

You know what I love?


I love classic Disney movies that are based on even-more-classic books.


I especially like it when their opening credits involve a copy of the book they're based on.  There's something so homey about them.  They give me such delicious anticipatory tingles.


I first watched Kidnapped (1959) in my tweens, and I became a firm fan of James MacArthur then and there.  How could I resist his earnest portrayal of the sensible, kind, ever-helpful David Balfour?  


I think I related to David a lot, too, as a tween.  He's intelligent and level-headed, but he's plunged into a disorienting new world that has rules and expectations he's completely unfamiliar with, and it's hard for him to keep his balance there.  He's constantly needing to pick up on new social cues, ask questions, and decide whether to try to understand the new people around him, and their foreign-seeming ways, or just go on his way and ignore them.

When I was 12, we moved from the Midwest to North Carolina.  And I experienced much of the same cultural dislocation and confusion.  I think I saw Kidnapped before we moved, maybe once, but it was after we moved that I rewatched it many times.  I don't think I realized why it resonated with me so much, at the time, but I'm pretty sure now that my love for fish-out-of-water stories comes from having felt very much out of step and uncertain for the first two or three years after we moved.


Anyway, the movie opens on a sad circumstance: David Balfour's father has died, leaving the young man alone in the world, except for an uncle who lives far away, whom David has never met.  After bidding his father's grave farewell, and asking the local minister for advice, David sets out to find this unknown uncle, Ebenezer Balfour.


David is a cheerful young man, but his first sight of his family's ancestral home is not very encouraging.  Especially since a local woman tells him she curses that family every day because they're so horrible.


Ebenezer Balfour (John Laurie) is pretty scary too.  He threatens to shoot David.  Then he welcomes him into the crumbling hall, offers to share a fairly sinister bowl of gruel with him, then locks him in a spare room.  Not exactly the welcome David was hoping for, considering that his uncle is the laird around there and reported to be quite wealthy.


One thing leads to another, and David winds up kidnapped (surprise!) by some unscrupulous sailors.


The ship runs down a small boat in the fog, then rescues the only survivor: Alan Breck Stuart (Peter Finch).  And that's where the real fun begins.  Because as much as I love David Balfour, I love Alan Breck Stuart even more.  (I always hear him say his name that way, with the Stuart at the end even though he gets called simply Alan Breck most of the time.)


From here on out, what was simply a fairly interesting story about an unfortunate young man because a completely wonderful buddy movie.  Like all the best buddy movies, it forces two very opposite people to rely on each other, with delightful results.  

David Balfour is a lowland Scotsman, quiet and a little shy, good at keeping to himself and staying out of people's way.  Alan Breck Stuart is a highland Scotsman, loud, stubborn, sly, and outgoing.  They make unlikely allies, on the surface, but its their differences that make them such an effective team.


One seasoned, wily fighter and one brave-but-untested young man more than hold their own against a shipful of enemies, but they end up separated and cast ashore.  David has no idea where he is, and so, being a fine and upstanding young citizen of the British Empire, he asks some passing redcoat soldiers for help.

Trouble is, those soldiers are hunting for Alan Breck Stuart and some of his friends.  You see, Alan Breck Stuart and his friends are Jacobites, supporters of the fight to free Scotland from British rule.  In fact, he's carrying a lot of money that's meant to support the Jacobite effort.


Due to David being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the redcoats assume he's aiding and abetting Alan Breck Stuart (which, let's be fair, he did while aboard the ship), and he winds up getting hunted himself.


Happily, the two friends are reunited while fleeing the authorities, and they set off across the Scottish Highlands to deliver the Jacobite funds and find David a way back home.  

We shall now pause our narrative to admire the gorgeous Scottish scenery, because much of this was actually filmed in location in the Scottish Highlands!




Okay, that's enough scenery.


Along their way, David Balfour and Alan Breck Stuart encounter a series of interesting characters, including Robin MacGregor, played by Peter O'Toole making his big-screen debut and definitely making the most of his blue eyes and curly hair.


Alan Breck Stuart and Robin MacGregor are old rivals, almost enemies, prompting this sternly adorable glare.


Being both hot-blooded highland gentleman, they inevitably begin a swordfight inside the tiny croft where Alan and David have been staying while David recovers from a fever.  Happily, the man who owns that croft is a wise and wily man himself.  To save his house from being ruined and these two honorable-but-hasty gentlemen from depriving the Jacobites of some fierce fighters, he suggests an alternative way to duel.


Commence the bagpipe showdown!


Friends, if you've ever wanted to see Peter O'Toole wearing a kilt and playing a bagpipe while making snooty faces, you have come to the right movie.


Because David helped him so much with his quest to deliver the Jacobite funding, Alan Breck Stuart hatches a plan to help David get to the bottom of his kidnapping and maybe even acquire the estate that is rightfully his, not his uncle Ebenezer's. Which involves consulting a lawyer.


(Mild spoilers.)  It also involves the lawyer and David hiding nearby while Alan tricks Ebenezer Balfour into admitting that he paid those sailors to kidnap his nephew so he wouldn't learn that HE is the rightful laird and not Ebenezer.


This is my favorite part of the movie, because Alan Breck Stuart is so darn cunning and clever and witty and... mmmmmmmmm, he's wonderful!


All's well that ends well, and David Balfour finally gains the inheritance and new home that he set out to find at the beginning of the movie.  But he has to say goodbye to Alan Breck Stuart, who is off on another adventure, and that always makes me a bit sad.  Still, you totally get the sense that the two of them will run into each other again one day, so I don't get too sad.  After all, David has his own adventures ahead too.


Are the Scottish accents in this movie any good?  I have no idea!  And neither do I care.  I love this movie, these characters, everything.  It completely charms me.


This has been my contribution to the No True Scotsman Blogathon hosted this weekend by Real Weegie Midget Reviews :-)